Thursday, Sept 22, 2005
The good news is that almost all of the rolling has stopped. The bad news is that the pitching has redoubled its efforts. As Robert sits in the bar, he watches green water crash over the bow and into the bar windows, which is not the sort of calm awakening that he prefers.
We are, though, getting the hang of walking on a ship deck that refuses to stay still—meaning that we're not crashing into the walls when we move along, but we're still grabbing for the handrails.
We realize that this is the most isolated we've been on any of our trips. There is no cell phone coverage up here. None. Nada. Zip. No internet access. We can send e-mails out (provided they're not too long), but they charge for each e-mail (which is why we're using "re-mailers"—friends and family who are kind enough to pass our e-mails along.
There's no newspaper on board, and the only news outlet is a "news bulletin" which is full of Canadian news, but nothing from the US. So, although we know that a teenager is missing in Calgary and that the WWF has announced a new by-catch campaign, we don't know if Seattle has had a giant earthquake and tumbled into Puget Sound. Although we do figure that might make it into the Canadian news...
Robert is on deck doing some "bird watching." It's a wonderfully sunny, nice day and the seas have (finally!) calmed down, so the extent of his bird watching is "Look! There's Phil! How ya doin' Phil! Yo, Bill! Whassup, dude?"He quickly moves along before one of the serious bird watchers pitches him overboard...
We're at a lecture about Newfoundland, which was supposed to have happened yesterday, but the lecturer was too seasick to go.
Location: Newfoundland is 900 miles east of Florida, and 1200 miles north of New York. In other words, way and the hell distant from anything else.
Size: About the same size as Japan. Why Japan? Well, it's an island too (we guess).
Population: About 510,000 or "Not many." Since the cod moratorium in 1992, there's been fewer and fewer people each year.
Climate: St. John's, Newfoundland is the foggiest, wettest, and snowiest place in Canada.
There are two cities, St. John's and Cornerbook. There are 800 other communities with between 100 and 1000 people in them. All these little bitty cities are spread along the coast and are isolated, alone, disconnected, trapped.
Even though fish are very important to Newfoundlander's concepts of themselves, it only comprises 3% of the Gross Domestic Product. Forestry and oilery are about one-third and are much more important.
[We're tempted to resort to the shortcut of calling residents "Newfies," but apparently, them's fighting words to Newfoundlanders, who are none too fond of abbreviations or shortcuts.]
A big influence on wildlife in Newfoundland was the glaciers. About 10,000 years ago, the glaciers moved down from the north and took over the entire island, wiping out all animals and vegetation. When the glaciers finally receded, everything was barren, and the icy cold Labrador Current (remember that? runs from Norway to south of Newfoundland?) made it pretty hard for animals and plants to make it back.
About the only animals that could make it back were ones who could walk across the ice.
Oh yeah, that brings us to an Amazing Fact: this entire chunk of ocean (St Lawrence seaway), which is about the size of Puget Sound and (as we saw last night) is chock full of waves, freezes solid in the winter. All of it. Solid. Frozen.
So, animals that were out and about in the winter, like foxes, could just walk over, but those that hibernate or just hang out in the winter couldn't.
We have learned to appreciate (love, worship) calm seas. This time at lunch, we don't have to go chasing after the cutlery and we only see lunch once.
We have stopped at Longue Pointe (in Quebec), which appears to us to be a major metropolis after the tiny settlements of the last few days ("An 18-wheeler! I saw an 18 wheeler!" hollers Robert).
We are here because the Mingan Island Cetacean Studies place is here. This is a non-profit outfit that studies whales (mostly blue whales) and tries to figure out how the heck they live and breathe and have their being.
Our tour guide is "Frederic" (pronounced with a strong Gallic accent), but he tells us to call him "Fred" because he does not really want people like Robert calling him "Fraddereek."
We learn the following fun whale facts:
Now comes one of the moments we live for—the discovery of cultural touchstones that arise only when actually visiting a place. And today, we have discovered one of those.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present: Poutine! (poo-teen).
This is a uniquely French-Canadian dish, which consists of:
Because we are in (or very close to) the home of Poutine, they have a variety of types—Poutine Poulet (Poutine with chicken), and various other types of meat.
The gravy is a very specific blend of spices, and is a sort of brown, salty gravy (fortunately, our research uncovered a Poutine expert, who kindly informed us of some of the intricacies of this exotic dish). The "cheese curd" is cheese before it's been strained and pressed, and so is still somewhat soft—similar to ricotta cheese.
It was introduced about 1983 in Quebec (and was originally known as "poutienne"). In some places, they use mozarella cheese, but to true Poutinados it HAS to be cheese curd (and the gravy has to be hot enough to melt the cheese curd among the fries).
Directly across from the museum is a "roach coach" that specializes in Poutine (they have eight varieties) and all the Canadians on the boat are very excited to get a taste of "true" Poutine. Even Mike the Labradorian, is eager to taste the Poutine here (he prefers to make his own, but pronounces the Poutine here to be "quite fine").
Robert, of course, is among the first in line ("new exotic, fattening dishes!"), and discovers that you need to order completely in French (either they don't know English or they're not willing to reveal it to some ignorant American). Fortunately, Robert remembers enough high school French to muddle through (although it's "une" Poutine, not "un," and he mispronounced every single word in his order). He gets a "petite" ("I'm not totally crazy") and decides to go for a "pure" Poutine--just cheese and gravy, none of them fancy fixings.
Laura got as far as "gravy" in the description before she took a big pass at it. Robert opens his container (you get about three cups of Poutine for $3.25 CD) and digs in. "Yumfff!" he says as he tears through it.
You can hear his arteries slamming shut as he works his way through the Poutine.
Mike the Labradorian gets a "grande" avec poulet (chicken) which is larger than his head and requires four people to get through.
This food is perfect for Americans: french fries, gravy and a processed cheese substance. Robert predicts that within 10 years, you'll be able to get a McPoutine in any city in the US.
While Robert was busy jamming cheese into his arteries, Laura was correcting a minor oversight. Seems that our original flight was scheduled to depart "Thunder Bay" at 2:20 PM on Wednesday.
The only problem with this is that at 2:20 PM, we would be about 700 miles from Thunder Bay and still on the boat. As nice as Canada (and Poutine!) is, we'd like to get back to our own home, so some revisions in our reservations were required.
And—lo and behold!—there was a pay phone at the Whale Museum! So, Laura patiently waited in line and then talked to the travel people to reschedule our flight to leave from where we actually were at a time when we would actually be there (the next day, as it turns out).
There was a contest on board ship to come up with a label for a brand of Scotch made in your home city. We entered, and placed third (our prize was a piece of string from the Poutine-sellers parking lot and a hand-made gummi bear necklace). Although, frankly, the contest was clearly rigged, and in the opinion of many people, we should have placed first.
Here, for posterity (and possible commercial exploitation) is our label copy for
Robert & Laura