adventures in the far east β€” of canada!

Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Regatta Day, 2009

In culture, friends, lingo, st. john's on August 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm

After some uncertainty about whether Regatta Day would go on Tuesday night (August 4)–in fact, that was why Jeanne and I retired home earlier from the bars on Water Street (not George Street this time–it was the last day of the George Street Festival, so entrance would’ve come with an all-inclusive $15 cover), as neither of us had a lunch ready to go if we did have to go to work, and she was going to help sell shirts at the event at 9 am. To be safe, we left downtown not long after midnight, after taking in a weekly quiz event at the Rose and Thistle, where teams of up to 4 answer 30 trivia questions; winning team gets a $50 bar tab, and the team with the best name gets 4 free rounds of shots. There is no fee to play, so why not, right?

It was only us two that we could quickly scrounge together (the plan to hang out after work was a same-day email she sent, “Want to hang out?”), but we didn’t do too bad…something like 14 or 16 out of 30. The winning team had…20 or 21 correct answers or so. If we tailored our team a little better, I’m sure we would have been much more competitive.

Questions are general knowledge, history, pop culture, entertainment, science, and so on. One question I was quite pleased with was “Which burger chain created the famous ads with the slogan, ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” Okay, I admit I struggled between two answers (Wendy’s and Burger King), but I got it right in the end by trusting my gut, which had instantly responded with Wendy’s! before the question even finished. Another good one was something about naming 1 of the 2 nuts featured in the Bible…there were some grumbles–I guess we were all pretty irreligious–but the host was good fun. During the answer, he said, “Okay, you only need 1 of the 2. You could have put down…religious.” (Religious nuts, har har). After some laughter, he amended that it was actually pistachios, and something else I don’t recall.

After that, we went next door to The Grapevine for some free live music. That place is lounge-y, classy, and the music was mellow. We had a drink each, bumped into Jeanne’s roommate Shannon and her beau, hung out some, and then called it a night. There was talk about rain Wednesday, and I hoped not, with the lunch thing and going to bed early…

Weather permitting, Regatta Day is a unique holiday for Newfoundlanders every first Wednesday of August. By “weather permitting,” I mean that if it rains, it is announced in the morning on radio and TV and such that Regatta is postponed, and everyone grumbles and goes to work. That continues until a clear day comes along, and Regatta Day goes on, and most everyone gets a day off. It’s the oldest continuing sports competition in North America, and teams of all men or women rowers train intensely for a chance to win some medals. It’s held at Quidi Vidi Lake, where I took in the Canada Day fireworks.

Well, Regatta happened! I rushed off early in the morning to get there by 9 am–a coworked of mine was on a team, and her boat of racers were long pegged along with another to be the competitors to beat. The best teams race early in the morning; in the evening, the top 5 then race for the championship, so as to give them the most time to rest as possible.

I met up with Jeanne on the way there, but sadly, I missed that first race by a few minutes. 😦 Still, I was there to speak with my coworker, run into some other Target compatriots, and hear the results; their boat finished second at 5 minutes, 4 seconds or so. She and some others told me some cool Regatta facts…that the women’s record time is 4:58, and most years, the best womens’ boats come in at 5:10 or later. So this year, they were doing very well…granted, they were beat narrowly by the other boat, but this wasn’t the finals yet. It’s always a possibility that teams hold back some for the big race…

After some chatter, I left them and Jeanne to her shirt selling, and wandered around the Regatta grounds around the lake. It was like a fair ground…vendours selling pretty much everything, some charities present, fairway games, some minor gambling, a billion food stalls, some basic thrill rides, bouncy castles for the kids…it was like a mini-Stampede. After taking in a few races and having some delicious lunch at an Indian food stall, I headed home. My coworker’s race would be at 7 pm, and Maria and I had made plans over email earlier to meet there later in the afternoon. Retreating inside the house (it was a stiflingly hot, humid day), I did some chores and was soon contacted by–surprise, surprise!–Angus, a great guy I met at the CouchSurfing bonfire last month! He and Maria were at the Regatta, and making some arrangements to meet, I headed back out.

…after first talking to my new roommie (first arrived late Tuesday night), the probationer/druggie replacement. The guy’s sane, thank goodness. That’s all I have to say about him, really, a normal guy, which is fantastic haha.

Anyway, after much confusion as to where we were, I met up with Angus, Maria, Lisa, Celine, and Philipp. Jeanne was still selling shirts until 6, but I spoke to her while I waited for Angus and Angus waited for me, both of us hidden from view from each other probably not even a hundred meters apart. We all hit it off again, hung out, etc. etc.

We soon retired to a shady patch of grass away from the crowd a bit…it was getting even more disgustingly hot, and we wanted to make plans for a farewell for Maria, Lisa, and Celine; excepting Celine who would be leaving Saturday and Philipp next week, they were going back to Germany early Friday. 😦 It was also Maria’s birthday Friday…but here’s the funny thing. On Thursday, it would be a day before her birthday here in Canada…but in Germany, it would already be Freitag, them being a day ahead. So wouldn’t it be her birthday in normal circumstances? I dunno.

While we lazed around the grass, Lisa quietly took each of us aside to sign a lovely gift they’d bought for Maria. It was a ceramic coffee cup, in the shape and form of the disposable Tim Horton’s cups, but with a resealable rubber lid as well; she told me that in Germany, they had no such cups for coffee! Weird, eh? So we all signed it, they had drawn some Canadian/Newfoundland pictures on it both as jokes and best memories, and it would be sealed later so as to become permanent.

In a random tangent, we also spotted a funny spider walking in the grass–it was noticeable because of bright red somethings on its back. It was not part of its normal colouring, but looked like giant, bright red orbs stuck to the sides and back of the spider. Looking closer, we figured it had to be mites…but man, those were big mites! I mean, proportionally, it would be like six or seven monkeys on your back…it was kinda gross/sad.

Anyway, Jeanne joined us after 6, and we chatted some more/watched races until near 7 pm, when I insisted we go closer. Sitting by the lake with our bare feet dipped into the deliciously cool water, we watched my coworker’s boat finish……………………….second. 😦 Oh well, they gave a good chase!

And what do you know, we bumped into Whitney, the CouchSurfing member whom I attribute my explosion of friends to, along with the Australian with the yummy bread at the bonfire, and a few of their friends! Together we all caught up, and watched the last championship race, the men’s (who have longer races, clocking in times of around 10 minutes).

After the last race, the bright sunny day very suddenly gave way to a mass of dark clouds blowing in…it couldn’t have been a better closer! We took our leave from the other CouchSurfers, Celine and Philipp also headed home, but the rest of us stayed for Angus’s invitation to hang out at his place.

In conclusion regarding the Regatta Day event…enjoyable, but not amazing. The races were neat to watch, but I doubt anyone watched them all, and the fair grounds were, as I said, just like a mini-Stampede with no giant rides. Great excuse for a day off, though, and it was really well attended–the radio said that it often draws in excess of 50,000 people. Think about that for a second–remember how many people St. John’s has? A little over 100,000. That’s right–nearly or over half the population at one place! Incredible.

This year, there were 18 races…but I was told last year, there were like 30 to 40. And years before that, even approaching 100! They were lamenting the decline of rowing, the rising cost of entry, and the need to interest youth again. Yeah, I can totally see how it could be a much more exciting and fast event with like 80 races in one day! With only 18 races, 2009’s Regatta Day races were usually set a lengthy 30 minutes apart.

Backtracking a bit–while we spoke on the grass, the Germans expressed a desire to eat seafood for the farewell dinner. There was a suggestion to cook it, as it would be cheaper, but no one had a big enough place to host everyone. There was also talk about going to the Thai restaurant, but I killed that by warning them against that…and asserting that if they wanted to try out some tasty Thai green curry, that I’d be happy to show them what it’s really supposed to be like! This is relevant, because I offered to go home first, and bring to Angus’s some of my cooking–a lovely rich and spicy brocolli, onion, and goat cheese soup, and the aforementioned Thai green curry. While I retrieved that, Angus would prep some rice.

The dinner was a hit! πŸ˜€ I love feeding people, and they loved the food! We chatted for ages about some brilliant and random things, Angus shared some chewy cookies and wine and I shared some of my spiced rum, and the Germans tried some real Canadian maple syrup with his crackers! We had to round out their final experiences in Newfoundland, see.

Angus also educated us all on some more Newfoundland lingo! He showed us some old “grammar worksheets” he made a while ago for fun with Newfoundland vocabulary and grammar. I shall share what I remember…I reminded him today that we’d love some scans!

World’s shortest conversation:
(A fisherman yells to another returning from the sea): “Arn?”
(He replies): “Narn.”

Isn’t that great? Back in the day, “Arn?” meant, “Did you get any fish out there?” or thereabouts, and “Narn” meant “Nope.” In the case that fish was found, it’d be a fuller reply, I imagine, as both words sound so similar.

Mealtime confusion:
Dinner
in Newfoundland can mean lunch…but it can also mean the evening meal, supper.
Supper here always means supper, however…
…but both of these words are used! So if someone asks about dinner, they could either mean lunch or supper. I joked that if I were invited to dinner, I would in all likelihood arrive 6 hours late!

Newfoundland “conjugation”:
Add -s to all verbs. So you’d say, for example–“Yeah, I likes it,” “Yes, I sees it,” and so on.

Newfoundland terms of endearment:
Me love
or m’love is for men to women who are strangers
But you may call friends a trout, duck, or ducky, usually preceded by “me,” “my,” or “m’,”–m’trout, my duck, or m’ducky. Angus said you can certainly mix it up by saying something like, “Me ol’ trout.”

So in review of this lingo and previously covered lingo, I ask any readers–Where’re ya at, m’trouts? πŸ™‚

Pure magic (“ALALESTO!”)

In culture, food, friends, st. john's on July 27, 2009 at 2:17 am

Saturday evening, I went to the Lantern Festival at Victoria Park.

The event began since 2 pm, but I was exhausted Friday night (Jeanne and a coworker friend of mine went to see Orphan at the theater–a rare, decent horror flick, and Esther may become the new, evilest child to beat in the genre), so I slept in, and had a sloooow day. I did some chores, cooked some, and finally decided to go at around 8 pm. The march or procession was slated to begin around 8:30 or so, and it was a little over half an hour to walk to. Thankfully it was a cool night, some light drizzle had stopped so the march would go on, and so I trekked it happily with camera in tow.

In short, it was gorgeous, and the lanterns were utterly enchanting! I took 3 million and 8 pictures. Or so.

But first, some background. Friday, I was also helping Jeanne put up posters for the event around town; she was volunteering, and so would be there all day Saturday. Prior to the event, there were a number of free workshops around the city where you could go in and learn how to make a decent lantern, which she and a friend of ours did. I must admit–I did not do it because I thought it’d be lame. My first instinct was that it was for children, a silly bit of amateur craft designed to make you feel good about the project, satisfy the kids and their parents. A cynical view, I know, and one I regret…

Tangent! St. John’s, a small city with 10x less population than Calgary (fast becoming a favourite comparison of mine), is far more open-minded and liberal in its attitudes. See, this is counterintuitive for me, albeit in a delightful, welcome way: I’d always generalized that the bigger the urban centre, the bigger the mix of people, cultures, and lifestyles. With enough people, any minority will still number as a large group, making them not so alien, easier to relate to, encounter, and learn from. It works the other way of course–very few people will dispute that in very small towns, folk tend to have very limited experiences and be ultra conservative, and be much more likely to be racist, religiously hardline, and homophobic.

Here, however…as we put up Lantern Festival posters, we noticed there were Pride event posters (it was Pride Week here in the city until Saturday or Sunday) listing every event around the city, its venue, time, and without any vandalism. These existed right alongside other posters advertising bands, flea markets, dances, shows, etc. This may not seem significant; perhaps it is an isolated event.

But I doubt it. Karen told me about her friend or something who used to live here, a straight dude who supported the community and either put a mini rainbow flag on his truck, or a mini rainbow sticker. He never had a problem here…but then he moved to Calgary. And suddenly, he would sometimes find his truck tires slashed, the windows cracked, the paint scratched, and his siding spraypainted on; the last, she said, is a startling indication of vandalism done by younger people–it just can’t be 30 or 40-somethings or older running around with spray cans. After the guy quietly endured some of this, she told him, “Stop, it’s not worth it–it’s nice you support the community, but it’s not worth all the damage you have to pay for.” So he stopped.

Sorry, why is this important? Only recently have I become more or less certain my renter and her best friend are a couple, and so have a vested interest in the community. Tracy even told me outright that people here are very good with this stuff, and she feels safe. That’s when I told her it was too bad I couldn’t with any confidence say it’d be the same way in Calgary…

The longer I live here, the more I miss my good friends back home–but not the city.

Anyway, the Lantern Festival promised free entertainment (live music, of course!), food concessions, face painting, bellydancing, a magician, and so on, until the main event, fire juggling and acrobatics and the procession. For all my languor of that day, I didn’t take in the rest of this (Jeanne told me it was nice, but not amazing anyway), but I’m pretty sure I saw the best of it that evening.

Soon after bumping into John and meeting up with Jeanne, a rousing drumbeat began, accompanied by a bagpipe (sounding joyous, rather than the sombre tunes we’re used to on Remembrance Day), and together they led people on a march around the park if you cared to follow the leader. Little lanterns swayed on sticks, and people clapped along until the circuit was complete. Before long, the fire juggling, twirling, drumming, whipping, eating, blowing, sparring, etc began on the cordoned-off baseball pitch of the park. It rose to hills all along one side, and that’s where everyone sat amidst the trees to spectate and cheer.

It was a good show, but myself, I was more taken with the stretch of lanterns arranged up the hill and watched closely by fire wardens and volunteers behind yellow caution tape (later, Jeanne told me they strung all the lanterns together with invisible fish line, so it was a definite fire hazard should the general public be allowed in too close). As the sky darkened, the lanterns came to life–and what a setup they had! Is there any wonder why I took 22 trillion and 6 pictures? Unfortunately, many are blurry, because to take these images with a sucky digital camera, it takes several long seconds before it can gather enough light. And no one–no one–can stay absolutely still from head to toe until the picture is captured. I did not bring a tripod over to St. John’s, or have a much nicer digital SLR.

If it’s not apparent from the pictures, the setup they made (Jeanne told me it was not planned, but constructed into its scene based on what lanterns were available from submissions) was like a little city–there was a beautiful river and boats at harbour on the bottom of the hill with a lighthouse, city buildings spread out to one side with cars and buses, stars, suns, the world, and air balloons twinkling above, and some miscellaneous–like the drum set, the dragon, the puffins, the mushrooms and caterpillar… I’m disappointed many of the pictures are blurry (I have even more than what I’ve put here), and I’ve tried to choose the best here. Some turned out excellently–but I must say, these are still a poor substitute for the real thing! It really was enchanting that night–I felt like a kid again–and everyone was just marvelling at and enjoying the soft, wavering glow, the artistry, the gentle sway of those suspended in the breeze… As I said, it was magical.

After the show, Jeanne, John, and I headed to you-know-where for a drink and to chat some more. On the way home, I passed an awesome store that sold sheet metal, fronted by many tin men. It was hilarious. After a few drinks at Bridie Molloy’s, we all headed to The Rock House to take in Mercy, the Sexton, a very talented indie rock/pop group also doing pretty well for themselves. We met and spoke to the keyboardist Duncan prior to the show, and the backup singer/tambourine player Geraldine afterwards. Again, people here, performers even, are so willing to meet with you and talk.

Also ran into a group of my work friends there, so I visited between my friends. πŸ™‚ It was a lovely night, and I had a little too much to drink with too little food in me, so I had to indulge in some Newfoundland chips, dressing, and gravy (their “version of poutine”) at one of the sinfully delicious mobile concessions outside (the most popular here being Ziggy Peelgood’s, but John recommended to me Winky’s for their wedge fries); dressing is a term easily misunderstood (“More sauce?”), and is actually like stuffing. Very tasty, but something I’d typically avoid, but it was a good night, and we stayed at the show until closing (around 3:30 am) before trekking it back home in a soaking rain.

As a result I was tired Sunday, but not as bad as before. I may be getting partied out! Nevertheless, I still can’t wait for next week–the fabled George Street Festival. Oh my goodness, my brain’s going to explode! πŸ˜€

International Relations

In culture, food, friends, st. john's on July 20, 2009 at 12:07 am

Saturday, I was phoned up by Jeanne–

“Hey, do you want to play squash today?” Yes. YES! Oh my gosh, yes!

“Oh, this afternoon? Uh…sure, yeah.” πŸ™‚

I had asked her if she wanted to try it one day, and she was game. So we went in the afternoon, she borrowed a racquet, and a guy leant us a ball (it seems Kevin, now back in Calgary, took the ball). I taught her how to play, and we spent a few hours rallying, and me running her through some exercises and practice things, and so on. She said she liked it, and we could try again another time. Another newbie initiated…

Anyway, it was late afternoon, it was pouring out, and neither of us had had lunch yet. I proposed that we try out the vegetarian/vegan restaurant in town, Sprouts (upstairs, it’s also where the Idlers practice their stuff). We walked to my place (we both needed to shower), had some rum and Coke (one of the only places I’ll drink pop; rum is one of my special weaknesses, especially Lamb’s spiced with vanilla and cinnamon–liquid heaven!), took turns in the washroom, and then we were off!

It was almost 4:30 when we arrived, and they told us they closed until 5 (for dinner). No late lunch for us, then. Oh well, we walked around downtown instead, and Jeanne wanted to see if she could find a cheap wok.

Along Water Street, we bought some stuff at various stores. Myself, I went back to the sports store and bought a new squash ball, and “speed” jumping rope–I’ve started to skip like mad between sets of things at the gym to keep the heartrate up, and it really makes for a more intense workout. Anyway, the guy at the shop remembered me, and he asked how my squash was going. We chatted briefly, and I explained how my partner returned back home and such–I was a little caught off guard, but pleasantly surprised. When we bade each other goodbye, Jeanne and I talked about how nice and common it is here that shopkeepers, staff at places, and so on all seem to make a special effort to remember you and your unique situation and treat or chat with you more personally. It’s a nice feeling!

We also stopped by Hava Java, so Jeanne could speak with her roommate, who I’ve also become friends with. At the cafe, we bumped into Ben, the big tattooed dude at the bonfire! We all chatted briefly, we extended an invitation to our Sprouts eat-out, but he had other committments. However, he informed us that he’d be hosting a house party at his place for CS members and friends next week, and he was going to tell everyone soon and that we had to come. Of course we would…and just like that, there’ll be another lovely get-together. πŸ™‚

Anyway, he had to leave, and Jeanne consulted with the roomie–they were off to a show that night on the last evening of the Jazz Festival on George Street, and they had to figure out the ticket thing and other logistics. We let her go shortly (it was busy and she was harried), and continued looking for the Asian Variety Store (to see how they compared to another Asian grocery/paraphenalia store, The Magic Wok, a place we’ve both visited). As we left, we caught a glimpse of Mark, the frontman for the Idlers walk by in the opposite direction, but he was already too far along when we exited the cafe. First Ben, then Mark…one random encounter is one thing, but two…little did we know, however, it was just the beginning!

As we continued down Water Street, we suddenly ran into Maria, one of the CS German ladies at the bonfire event we had such a great time meeting with. She was wanderin around alone, and we were all pleasantly surprised to see each other. Discovering that she was indeed just wandering about, we invited her along to our (eventual) Sprout dinner.

She was initially hesitant–she had no money, as the ATM system that day had totally blitzed (it was not just her Euro currency thing), and of course there weren’t tellers around this late into Saturday. She insisted she’ll come, but just not eat, but I assured her it was not a problem if I paid for her dinner, as we’d rather have her along than not, and how often do I meet friends from Germany? It was my pleasure.

We continued just as before, chatting happily, and I’m pretty sure that’s why we totally walked by/did not find the Asian Variety Store, even though I had had an idea of where it was. Suddenly, we found ourselves near my work place, and Water Street did not continue much further. Oh well! I settled for showing Maria the War Memorial by Target instead, explaining its significance and the wreaths and such.

Jeanne decided the wok could wait for another day, and that we should eat–a wise decision. So we went to Sprouts…

Such amazing vegan food. I was mighty impressed by the menu–I really did want to try it all! Well-priced, and they all sounded so tasty! It was a cute place, too, with stuffed puffins suspended flying over our heads, and the interior delightfully coloured. I knew it was going to happen, but Maria humbly ordered only a single small soup, so Jeanna and I resolved to share as much of our food as she’d take, and she was just overwhelmed by the gesture and our insistence, and told me I was sweet. πŸ™‚

And just to be clear, we’re just friends–she has a Mexican boyfriend, but was just genuinely touched by all the friendliness of the place (beyond myself and Jeanne). Besides, I love to feed people, and a bit of food is small beans for an international visitor!

Speaking of beans…I’d ordered a black bean chili, and asked for spoons for everyone to share–it was big enough that it could have been a meal in itself for one person, along with the bread. Wow. That was amazing chili, so expertly spiced, and so cumin-y. It was so good, you wouldn’t even notice the absence of ground beef. Maria was being a little cautious again, so near the end, I made her eat the rest.

She had a miso soup (“Me-so Hungry”), and they really did it different–this wasn’t the standard miso soup you get so easily from Japanese restaurants, they really refined it from just the miso paste with water thing. It was tasty.

For the main, I had their vegan Pad Thai (I’ve heard that it was amazing), and Jeanne couldn’t resist trying a vegan poutine “with a twist” (remember, vegans cannot have cheese). The Pad Thai may actually be better tasting than real Pad Thain with meat–not kidding. Wow, that was really good stuff! And the “poutine”–very interesting and tasty, but not so different. We shared everything, and after dinner, we just sat there and talked and talked and talked!

Jeanne had earlier in the day informed me that Montrealer Jason was getting screeched in today, as he was leaving soon–he’d be at Christian’s Bar at 10. I told Maria about it, and she on board as well–and bonus, there will be people there (aside from Jeanna and I) that will have already done it, so we can take all the pictures for them!

After dinner, Maria had to meet up with Celine at her place, so we all went. She was thrilled to see us, and invited us in–later as we chatted over their dinner (with Celine’s roomie, from St. John’s), but minus Jeanne who had to rush home and get the tickets to Shannon. I stuck around, and the ladies had delicious cod, salad, and German-ish potatoes (they insisted I have some, so I took some salad…); I also stayed because I was optimizing the roommate’s laptop. She’d told me it was slow–a common complaint–but boy did she mean it! Launching Internet Explorer literally took 20 minutes from when it was clicked…I offered to try and fix some things up given her permission (I’m not about to rummage through another’s laptop uninvited), or at least do the best I can.

As I got to know everyone even more, the Germans once again marveled at the people here, telling me that they have never gone anywhere or met anyone so briefly (and they’re fairly seasoned travelers), and so quickly invite us into their home. It was such a warm and gracious compliment.

In the end, I did a big cleanup of the HP Laptop (crap, just like Dell’s stuff–both of them fill their computers with dozens of useless junk programs many people don’t know how to remove), and while it was agonizingly slow at first, it got faster and faster and faster. Near the end, things actually happened as you clicked them, in real time! Stacy was so excited and impressed. πŸ™‚

As I worked, Lisa arrived from an on-call shift at a hospital (always grueling work), and they fixed up dinner for her. By 10, I wasn’t quite finished my work with the computer, but it was already so much better than what it was, and I promised I’d be back if she didn’t mind; she couldn’t have been happier, and she saw us off as we made our way to Christian’s.

Jeanne and Jason were already there, as well as some other friends of the ladies’, including another German there for the same program/work, a dude named Philip. Another great guy, if a little shy because of language, but we got him talkin’! We all went upstairs, they signed up for the ceremony, and chatted jovially yet some more over beers, waiting for the event to begin at 11:15 pm.

What can I say but it was another full house, and everyone was super entertained? Every screech-in is a little different, and I was glad we all goaded Celine into doing it, as she was so adamantly against kissing the frozen cod. In the end, she had a lot of fun. πŸ˜€

With that, Jeanne had to leave for her show just a little further into George Street, and the rest of us sat and…you guessed it, chattered! And marveled at their certificates…Maria seemed so pleased, she handled hers so carefully! I’m so glad it’ll be something she’ll remember, none of them could stop smiling.

It was getting late for me–I do the morning runs on Sunday, and regretfully had to take my leave. When I left, they all gave me a hug, declared we had to hang out some more before they leave (too soon, too soon!) and it was once again quite astounding to think we’ve only just known each other for two days. Jason told me if I ever went through Montreal, I had to give him a message, and the girls, when they did leave, the same for when (not if) I visit Germany.

They were in a dancing mood, and I believe Jason led them to O’Reilley’s (Irish pub), where people inside seemed to be having way too much fun–from what we could hear and see, there was a lively band of musicians playing that traditional fiddly jig, and at the front of an enthusiastic crowd were guys and gals doing their best Riverdance impression. Brilliant…wish I coulda went, if not for the run!

I closed the book for that grand day, and hurried home before I regretted it too much!

Friday: Couch Surfing bonfire meet-up!

In culture, friends, st. john's on July 19, 2009 at 1:31 pm

The much anticipated event has passed, and I’m still smiling!

Having joined the Couch Surfing community to meet friends and hopefully one day do some traveling, I discovered that groups based in cities across the world organize monthly (or so) get-togethers that any CS members, world travelers, and their friends can attend. Yesterday, in many cases complete strangers came together (and gave rides to others to Topsail Beach) in Conception Bay South, just 20 minutes or so out of the city, to a big bonfire meet-and-greet. We roasted hot dogs, marshmallows, baked bread from some tasty dough an Aussie gal brought, drank some booze, told stories, there was a song, and even some half-hearted interpretive dance. All in all, it was a glorious night, and everyone came away friends eager to meet again.

The speed in which we all connected was incredible…it’s like when you typically make friends, you invite them to things, see them a few times, and then get to feel you know them better in a few weeks. Here, it seemed all condensed in one night–and I don’t mean it in a bad way–and all the formalities (if there were any at all) disappeared, and everyone raced ahead, eager to know you.

I brought Jeanne along because we’re pretty good friends now, but I was wholly prepared to go myself if she couldn’t. It’s always nice to have someone you know along. Along with another Montrealer, Jason, we took a ride with a lovely young St. John’s couple. Jon greeted us happily at my place (had Jeanne over for a light dinner, so they could pick us both up easily), and somewhere between negotiating seating and rearranging our bags of stuff–blankets, food, and booze–we were already kinda joking around. It’s almost a nice icebreaker, I think, to have a squishy car, and be obliged to sheepishly apologize haha.

The couple have been in the province pretty much their whole lives, but were Couch Surfing newbies, as was I (minus meeting Whitney); it was another small bonus, another small point to bond over, our mutual inexperience and excitement over our first events. Jason was a more seasoned traveler, and was just in St. John’s for a while before he headed elsewhere–he leaves Monday, unfortunately.

At the party I was pleased to meet with Jenna, one of the moderators of the St. John’s group–so warm, so motherly, so full of life and stories. She was very happy to meet and welcome me into the St. John’s CS group, and made sure all the newcomers had a great time; she even provided prizes for things like the best story, best dance, song, and food. Small things, but the effort and gesture was touching.

Myself, I shared my naming story. πŸ™‚ It got 2nd prize for best story, and I received a pair of fabulously giant, kitschy glasses–in the shape of stars lol. Jenna proclaimed, “And you get these, because you’re such a star!” I hope you can get just a small sense of her lovely self from my entry here, though words can’t really do it justice.

I also got to know 3 lovely German ladies, here to do some nursing/health care/med stuff at Memorial University and at one of the hospitals. They leave early August, much to my disappointment–they are so cool! They told us Canada has a great reputation for having excellent programs or practicums and such for the field, and they had wanted to see the East Coast. They were so friendly, polite, open, and so ready with their laughter, and were an example of that amazing European phenomenon of knowing too many languages–one of the gals, Maria, speaks German, English, French (she could confidently converse with both Jeanne and Jason), Spanish, some Italian, and some Swedish. It’s so normal for them there, where so many different countries are at their doorstep!

As a result, they seemed so cultured and adventurous–they were so into all this foreign cuisine, so thrilled to try the seafood here (among them, they’ve never or only once in their lives had lobster, because it is prohibitively expensive in Germany–now in St. John’s, it doesn’t get much cheaper or tastier!), so well-traveled, and so curious about other people and cultures. They were a pleasure, and I hoped I would see them again…and I did, but that’s another story. πŸ™‚

Beyond the incredible range of backgrounds there, this was also a venue to meet great people I may never have met normally. Ben, a big guy with many tattoos looks like a rough character–but he’s a really sweet, affable guy. A real free spirit, he was the only one to wade into the ocean, shirt off, and into the night…he insisted it wasn’t that cold, we just laughed and watched. Like many other CS members, he just has this sense of adventure and curiosity, and far from being prejudiced, related a story when he was briefly in Toronto, and was both delighted and startled to encounter such diversity–for years, he’s been so used to the cultural and racial composition here, which is much more predominantly European and caucasian. He’s got a big North American trip lined up–his first significant trip–and he’s super excited.

There was a weird, instant connection between myself and another dude, Angus–barely into our first conversation, it was revealed he was a graphic designer. Hehe, there’s just something about us design people, and from there we were already comfortable and swapping stories. It was unfortunate he had to leave early, but encouraged me to keep in touch. No need to ask man, I hope we’ll hang out some more, and maybe even trade some typography jokes! πŸ˜‰

These are just those I got closest to, but there were many other wonderful people. I wished I was able to speak with them more, a few were a little more reserved, but I do hope to see them again some time, because my experience with everyone was still very positive, if perhaps not as thorough.

In a strange coincidence, I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone yell playfully, “Natrix, go home, it’s past your bedtime!” during the night. Investigating, I discovered it was Karen and Tracy from the house with their own friends!

The event ended at 1:30 am, and almost on cue, a light drizzle started. I was more than happy to stay longer, as were most of us, but the rain convinced most to head home. Some stuck around a little longer, particularly the latecomers. Jeanne, Jason, and I took the ride back with Jon and Shantille, and on the way back continued fostering our own little group that developed on the way there.

Man, what a night! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten my camera, but it was pretty dark there anyway for decent shots. Despite that, I don’t think I’ll forget this one, and plans began to take shape to screech in the Germans and Jason….. πŸ˜€

PS: if it’s not been clear enough already–thank you Couch Surfing, I love you.

An evening on Water and Duckworth (Afghani food)

In culture, food, friends, internship, st. john's on July 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

CBC was in the studio yesterday to film about the Pitcher Plant, part of the logo Target developed for the provincial brand. There was a lot of hustle, pretend meetings, and warnings of no phone calls to Creative; I wondered if another free music concert at the Park (despite not being Friday, it just happens a lot) was annoying the film crew. Hopefully not.

After work, I met another person in response to my long-ago ad. If they don’t drop off the face of the earth a step before meeting, I always set up a meet with them (at a public place, of course).

Hava Java again, one of the popular, hipster coffee/tea places here, such as in Calgary Higher Grounds (Kensington) or Caffe Beano (downtown). Had a hot chocolate–literally! It was called “Cocoa del Mexico” or something, and it burned your throat. It was good, though, but it made for a bad impulse purchase on a very hot day…

The girl I met was nice, if a little shy, but it certainly says something that she agreed to meet. I found I had to start the conversations or topics usually, until much later when she decided I wasn’t horrible or something, haha–which is fine, I can work with that, I like trying to make people comfortable. She pretty much grew and lived here her whole life, so there was good chatter about the city and how things go here. I am still learning!

After over 90 minutes, I declared I shouldn’t hold her up any longer–it was a little past 7, and neither of us had dinner, and she’d told her parents she’d be back for that! So we departed, and hopefully I’ll see her again.

On the way home, I decided I didn’t want to do some late cooking, and strolled down Water Street instead (which is where the cafe was located, anyway), scoping out a restaurant to try.

Thursday evening there were buskers as always, a guitarist/singer, the bagpiper, a group of 4 young guys drumming…as ever, downtown St. John’s was fairly lively. There was a big lineup by a cotton candy machine on the sidewalk, and I stepped aside, not really looking to buy sweets. But the lady asked me, “Do you want some free cotton candy?”

I looked again–their sign proclaimed jubilantly, “FREE COTTON CANDY!” Cool! People were happily clutching big clouds of the pink fluffy stuff on paper cones, adults and children alike. I laughed a little (it just made me happy), but politely declined–true, I wasn’t looking to buy sweets, but hunting for dinner, I guess I wasn’t looking for free candy either (appetite and all that). But I thought it was a lovely little thing that they were giving free cotton candy to passerby. There was no event happening, at least not that I could tell.

Anyway, there seems to be a lot of tourists in town at this time of year. A lot of families and groups clutching maps, walking around, heads up looking at everything. I’m still like that, minus the map, now; I pointed the way to one group looking for George Street, as they were heading completely in the opposite direction.

In the end, I found the tiny little family-run Afghan restaurant on Duckworth, just one street up. I’d looked it up before, and knew it was either on Water or Duckworth. Their menus proclaimed they were St. John’s first Afghani restaurant, but I thought they could up the prestige and change the wording to St. John’s only Afghani restaurant. Because categorically, they’re the only one listed…but it may not be correct, as there are some fast-foody, bistro-ish places that sell shawarmas and such.

For such a tiny place, I was surprised how fast the food came. I ordered, and a few minutes later, it arrived. It’s really tasty stuff–I don’t think I’ve ever went to a self-identified Afghani restaurant that serves nothing but–and the food really reminds me of Indian food, but much milder, and a little less elaborate (not a bad thing, just a characteristic). And it was super, super cheap!

You can easily have a satisfying dinner for about $10 there, but since I was there to try something new, I ordered almost $20 of food. I was hungry, but more importantly, I was curious!

Super cheap, but weird pricing–why not just round it to the nearest dollar, or 5 cents? I thought it had something to do with the HST–once factored in, I guessed maybe it would even out the sums. Nope.

I had:
Beef kabab (apetizer, $3.99)
Chicken curry (main, $7.83)
Rasgulla (dessert, $1.74)
Baklava (dessert, $1.93)

The chicken curry is more complex than the name suggests. Besides a huge serving of basmati rice and a sauce that covered their own halves of the dish, there were 5 smaller spots of different marinated vegetables or sauces on the rice. Very flavourful, and very fresh. Speaking of cheap food, I recall in the appetizers there was a Vegetarian Pakora available for $0.50, and a Veggie Samosa for $1.50!

I went home suitably pleased; service was quick and pleasant (if a little shy), the food was wonderful and inexpensive, and I didn’t have to cook for a night. πŸ™‚ I don’t get lazy with that often, but it happens!

Besides…I ended up cooking anyway. Another big pot of spaghetti sauce for future lunches, a light, citrusy curry chicken, shrimp, and scallop sauce, with onions, carrots, cashews, and asparagus. Mmm. Now I have a larger roster of food to choose from: Thai curry, butter chicken, beef stir fry, and now this!

I am an honourary Newfoundlander! And a note of sadness

In calgary, culture, food, friends, internship, lingo, st. john's on July 12, 2009 at 1:18 am

On the long-awaited Friday night, I got screeched in with my friend Jeanne!

But firstly…holy hotcakes, we’ve been having great weather. So good, I don’t like it–like 26 degrees, very sunny (I gradually get more uncomfortable for every degree above 20). I’m baked.

Friday at work was great…it was a light day, and most everyone left earlier on account of the weather. In fact, we were encouraged to–“Get the fuck out of the office!” the higher ups in the offices urged. I did, but only an hour early, because I was finishing up some work I don’t ever want to touch again. You’ll begin to understand why with this brief description: densely packed maps I standardized, only to find out each one is sized differently depending on the section (so some maps are 83%, 100%, 125%…). I had to proportionally determine the ratio to increase or decrease each symbol on the maps, and rearrange the type…the stuff of nightmares.

But that’s been how I’ve been discovering some of Newfoundland’s crazy place names like Dildo and South Dildo a little further…south. A few more random ones: the town of Goobies, and an island called Random Island.

Target is near the harbour, and right across from Harbourside Park. Beautiful place, and every Friday afternoon, there’s a free lunchtime concert there! And as it so happened, the Idlers did a free hour show there, to a very large crowd. It was great, kids dancing everywhere, people basking in the sun listening, and while watching (even though I would be at the show that night), I met some of the friends I’ve made there. The other Karen was there too (being a co-worker of John), and she invited me to her own birthday event at her place Saturday. Suddenly, another event, but that’s another batch of stories and pictures.

Some of Friday's crowd at the Lunchtime Concert

Some of Friday's crowd at the Lunchtime Concert

Idlers at Harbourside Park, across from Target

Idlers at Harbourside Park, across from Target

After work, myself and two co-workers (including my lovely intern buddy) went to Taste of Thai. Hmm. Good food, but pricey, no free foodstuffs, and honestly–the Thai green curry I make is far superior. I ordered it to see how well they do theirs, and it was white. Guys, it’s called green curry for a reason…I knew instantly it wouldn’t taste right, as it had to be lacking a whole lot of the green herbs. A disappointment overall, sadly (my first…not bad, but disappointing eat out in the city), but it’s the only Thai place in the city. Maybe there needs to be at least two of something to upkeep quality, like the two Japanese restaurants, or the two Indian places?

However, that’s not the note of sadness I mention. One of the friends I’ve made, Kevin the fellow Calgarian, told me he was leaving for home…flight at Saturday 9 am. WHAT! We got along great, we played squash, dammit, shared a number of beers, and were looking forward to hanging out more. He couldn’t find a job in his few weeks here–I think he was getting a little impatient, he’s only been around for 3–so he won’t be back until September for school. 😦 He was awesome, and now I am back to having no squash partner.

I found out when I called to confirm with him our screech in; obviously he couldn’t come, as he had to pack and leave so soon. So, it was down to myself, Jeanne, and her roommate, who is tons of fun, and I know we’ll be seeing more of each other. My intern buddy showed up to take pictures for me as well, which was brilliant because she had to cancel earlier as well.

Anyway, the screech in…so much fun! The guy at Christian’s Bar is so entertaining. The ceremony was full of laughter and good-natured fun, and telling locals afterwards, they’ve all been pleased we did it at Christian’s, apparently the best place for it.

The place was jam-packed. It cost $15 a person, and the presiding guy was larger than life–he was dressed in fishing gear, and carried a big wooden canoe paddle, and his accent was wonderfully befuddling. He regaled the crowd with jokes, and asked everyone participating their names and where they came from. There were surprisingly a ton of people from out of town, and I don’t just mean elsewhere in Canada. When I announced my name, he remarked to the crowd, “Well, we don’t get many Natrix’s out here, I tell ya!” and so he renamed me Captain Eli for the remainder of the ceremony haha.

Keith, master of the ceremony, myself and Jeanne

Keith, master of the ceremony, myself and Jeanne

Keith's fierce!

Keith's fierce!

We all ate a hunk of canned fish meat on toothpicks, and he told us some of the history of screech and such which was cool, and then led us through a raucous sing-along of a tune that reminded me of the Twelve Days of Christmas. No, not the melody itself, but the way it was structured…you know…”5 golden rings! 4 calling birds, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree! On the 6th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” It started at 1, progressed to 2, then 3, and so on to 10, and each time, he sang what preceded it, faster and faster. It was quite impressive actually when he got to 10, he was singing the words faster than any auctioneer!

Fish cube on a toothpick!

Fish cube on a toothpick!

We had easy responding lines like, “What will you sing me?” (about him singing us a song, to which he answers that he’d sing us a number*, which increased) and then we sing back something like, “What will the one* be?” All the numbered things were all nautical…I think haha. His accent was impressive.

Then we were made to get down on our knees, and he produced a frozen cod from a bag; we each had to kiss it on the lips. What a riot, eh? Okay, thinking about it more thoroughly, probably not the most hygienic thing, but it was fun, and most of us did it with gusto. One young woman near me was so freaked out about kissing it…she got within inches of it many times when it was offered to her, and she was always at the last moment turn away in disgust, grimace, and physically shudder! Even our peer pressure couldn’t get to her, and the host (Keith, I think) playfully jerked it and cried, “BOO!”, startling her after a few too many tries. I mean seriously, it’s all in good fun, lighten up lady!

I'm kissing the cod, you just can't see it...

I'm kissing the cod, you just can't see it...

KISS IT! Lady in red had the trouble

KISS IT! Lady in red had the trouble

Next came the screech…we each had mini shots of Newfoundland rum. I love rum, so it was no big deal for me…it’s a little stronger, yes, but still tasty to me. Earlier, the host taught everyone the appropriate response to a question often asked by Newfoundlanders: “Have you been screeched yet?” The proper answer is:

” ‘Deed I is me ol’ cock, long may your big jib draw!”
(sounds like: “Dee-die is me ole cock”)

BRILLIANT. Let’s break it down…” ‘Deed” is a contraction of indeed, ” ‘ol” is of course old, and don’t think inappropriate things for “cock,” it’s shorthand for the British cockney, which over here can mean friend. To the question “Have you been screeched yet?” the first part in essence says, “Indeed I have, my old friend.” The second part is wishing someone good fortune, a saying you can find in many cultures. A “jib” is the triangular sail on a ship, so literally you say to the person, “May your ship’s sail draw wind for a long time.”

After the shot, he went around challenging the participants to recall and say it again. Most couldn’t without screwing up, but I did fine. πŸ™‚ One guy who disappointed got his bottom paddled a few times by Keith’s oars! Acting frustrated that most couldn’t say it properly, he just told us all to keep saying, “Yes.” After the great show (because it was that enjoyable), he pronounced us all honourary Newfoundlanders, and passed out certificates!

Cheers!

Cheers!

Just screeched in

Just screeched in

My screech certificate!

My screech certificate!

Keith was great man, he kept us on our toes, and he was good on his own–every performance has to be a little different. He worked fluidly with what he had–for example, when Jeanne (again, from Montreal) was passed the fish, he warned, “No French kissing!”

Something to remember for sure. Immediately afterward, we went to The Dock beside Christian’s and watched the Idlers play. They’re so good live, we danced our shoes off! I stayed after their show (ended 3 am), bought a CD from John for $10 (such a good price, and so well done), went up with John and Kate to the band suite (bands get like a top floor suite above the establishment with its own bar, nice washrooms, couches, flatscreen TV, etc) where we hung out for a bit, and then we all had to leave (bars legally should not be open past 3 am, even on George Street). But the three of us and Mark, the frontman and trumpeter for the band who I’d also met that day at the cabin, invited us over to his place for a nice chat until like 5 am. It was nice, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him much at the cabin, and he’s a remarkably cool and down-to-earth guy for being a frontman. He grows so much of his own food in gardens, and he’s so socially and culturally aware.

Idlers at The Dock

Idlers at The Dock

Friday was everything I’d hoped for and more! And I’ve found out that I may have a day off Monday. Huh. My afternoons and evenings are so delightfully occupied these days. I slept late, and almost missed a lunch thing with a university prof I met here as well, but that’s for later.

Suddenly everything is okay…

In calgary, culture, friends, lingo, st. john's on July 6, 2009 at 11:53 pm

…because I now have a squash partner. YES! πŸ™‚

Met him yesterday, and as luck would have it, he’s also Calgarian! So we had a lengthy chat at Bridie Molloy’s, and then Christian’s Bar when it opened later (because I love the free popcorn there too much).

We’d met because weeks ago, I put up a “friends” personal (a rare category among any Classifieds site), a callout to interesting people around my age, guys, girls, or anything in-between, to have coffee, a beer, hang out, play squash maybe…and he was one of the respondants. There were a few more whom I’ve traded a few emails with, but they’ve suddenly dropped off the face of the planet when a meet was actually set up. So it was just myself and Kevin.

Awesome guy–arived at the city like a day before me. Being Calgarian, we had even more to talk about than normal, and it really was thrilling to compare notes on St. John’s–just to even find out, no, it’s not just me having this grand old time; I thought perhaps I was being a little more positive with all the excitement of coming out here.

Nope…we giddily traded wonderment about the whole “There are 10 times less people here, but it feels like there’s more than in Calgary,” and marvelled mutually at how excellent the live music is here. Neither of us were big bar or pub goers in Calgary–he actually only began drinking beer here in the city!–but both of us were happily going often now on George Street. It’s the vibe, man…as I said, with people clapping, stomping, and singing along to music, it’s such a lovely thing! I’ve since invited him to the big screech-in happening Friday, and seeing the Idlers later.

Friday can’t come soon enough!

Anyway, he’d always wanted to try squash, and I was happy to show him the ropes–myself and others (Roxy mainly) have done a lot of introducing, and it’s such an easy sport to pick up. He loved it…and he may have been the best beginning player I’ve encountered. Barely missed the ball, got serving down only after a handful of serves, really fought hard to try and get the ball (diving, sliding, etc.), was playing the front and back… He loved it, and expressed (like some of our squash-ees at the SAIT facilities) almost an addiction to the game. As a newbie, he was huffing and puffing, but he was driven, and we played for quite a while, again longer than other people I’ve taught. He’s determined to beat me, and I’m sure he will one day if he improves as fast as he took to the sport!

He says we must do this often. Excellent!

And randomly, I’ve realized a correction to some of the simple lingo I’ve described here–“by.” Sorry guys, it’s actually “b’y” with an apostrophe. It makes more sense now (I thought, why the word by of all things?)–it’s actually a crazy contraction of the word “buddy”! So yes, it does indeed sorta act as a stand-in to “man,” but it is more accurately a stand-in for “buddy”–“What’s up, buddy?” Things said to me before: “Yes, b’y,” and “Hey, b’y.” Now I know.

Took the Metrobus transit here for the first time, a free shuttle service around downtown. Handy (it was labeled, “Free Ride With Buddy,” and its site were questions about the service with the happy-face character answering, “Yes, b’y!”–how I found out). Also bought a 10-ride card, just to have just in case, for $20. Did I mention how smart the system here is? Aside from the computerized card that is refillable (and programmed to whatever you want–10 rides, a monthly, etc.), it recognizes whether it’s a transfer or a new fare (I guess from the time it was last scanned). And the Metrobus…Kevin, who takes it a lot, says they are very on time (we ranted that night, “Why does Calgary Transit, despite having so much more money, buses, and even trains–suck??), within a minute or two. In fact, on their site is an updating list of the routes, and how behind they are–3 minutes behind, 1 minute ahead, etc., all there for the public. Brilliant.

One other random thing…Kevin, into history, corrected me that not only is St. John’s one of the oldest cities in North America, it is the oldest city on the continent. And the street where Target Marketing is on, Water Street? That’s the oldest street in North America. Pretty cool.

That’s it for now. I have more free time these days as my routines–cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, making lunch, laundry, etc.–are getting done quicker. Not a bad feeling.

Meetin’s, greetin’s, and eatin’s at the cabin

In culture, friends, st. john's on July 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Today, I was picked up by mutual friends Karen (another one) and Mike (with the CBC, and also a good friend of a co-worker of mine–small world!), brought to Sobey’s to pick up some food with Jeanne, and ferried to John’s cabin, the guy I met yesterday with his girlfriend at Bridie Molloy’s. They are coworkers to Jeanne, whom I saw first at Christian’s Bar. It was a post-birthday celebration.

Before I continue–what is it with the names of places in Newfoundland? Oh my gosh, they’re hilarious. The cabin was located in Conception Bay South (CBS), but that’s not that bad. But then you can also find: Placentia (town), Dildo (town), Woody Island, Come-by-Chance (town), Blow Me Down (provincial park), and Nameless Cove. People in Dildo celebrate Dildo Day every year, a family-friendly, celebrate the town thing.

Anyway…I had a great time at the cabin. I met a lot of new people, and they were all fantastic and we talked like old friends. A lot of vegans or vegetarians in the bunch (you’d be proud Jenny–I had for the first time tofu cheese, soy cheese, and egg-less chocolate cake), and there was endless food and even more drink! I helped Chris make the giant vat of pasta salad–pasta, black olives, green and white onions, every colour of bell pepper, tofu cheese, salt, and spices–surprisingly good!

On the lake (although it’s called a pond–but a lot of things here are called ponds officially, but they are all massive enough to be lakes, easily), we could paddleboat or canoe. I wish they had a kayak (my preferred small ship for its speed and incredible maneuverability), but the canoe was still excellent!

After our time on the lake, more of John’s friends arrived, and one was the frontman of his band, Mark. He mentioned he was in a local band to me Friday night, but I had forgotten–a 10 or 11 piece band, of which he plays trombone.

And here’s the tangent on the music scene of St. John’s: it is HUGE. It is like nothing else–so many people here are in some way connected to a band. And it is not uncommon for many members of bands to play 3, even 4 different bands. So many people have mastered an instrument or 3, and when I say local bands, you have to banish all presumptions of “amateur” or “unpolished”–during the night, listening to John’s galactic-sized iTunes playlist (of which most was local), the talent here is staggering! Tons of indie, tons of rock, folk, jazz even, anything at all–it was explained to me that the music culture here–everyone listens to local first, then everything else.

The rest of the country may be waking up to the coolness of indie and alternative music, but here everyone’s one more step ahead–they generally only listen to the artists we follow, indie or otherwise, if locally there isn’t something just as good. And with the amount of music being produced here, it is more often than not that there’s a local artist just as accomplished musically, if not as well-known nationally. There are a few places here that sell local music, and they’re full to bursting.

In February, there’s a challenge to put out albums in St. John’s (at least 35 minutes long). Last time, Chris said 78 (or so) were fully produced, and on George Street, there would be an accompanying event where each artist who made it can play just one song from the album to massive crowds curious about new hits. Since there were so many, one establishment had to be A to N and another O to Z!

While they spoke amongst themselves of bands they’ve played, great bands right now, and movements of members in bands, they kindly tried to get Jeanne (from Montreal) and myself into the conversations, but we knew literally nothing of any of the hundreds of bands they must have rattled off. I didn’t mind, it was amazing just to absorb this cultural insight of a place so in touch and in love with music, and how it functions.

Anyway, Kate put on some of John (red-shirted paddleboater) and Mark’s music–SO good (love the track “Little Woodstove”)! They’re getting big here, and will be touring across the country soon, and for the first time will be west of Ontario–into Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, and yes, will be in Calgary August during the reggae festival! And that’s just it–they have such a unique and joyous sound. In the huge musical tapestry of St. John’s, I think they’re still fairly unique as a reggae group. Check out their website, the Idlers. They’ve got 1 album out, and a second coming out in the fall. It’s already all done, just not released, but it was all on John’s Apple, of course.

Next week, they’re playing at The Dock on George Street, and he says they’ll get us in free. πŸ™‚ I’ll be buying their album from them there (Mark and his friends left earlier with the band van, which always has copies on hand) so they get 100% of the money, and I hope to get it signed! Also on Friday next week, Jeanne, myself, and some others plan to be screeched in at Christian’s Bar, the local custom for becoming “honourary Newfoundlers.” We were going to do it yesterday, but some people couldn’t show–the more the merrier, I say, so we’ll be seeing the Idlers after that raucous ceremony of very hard booze, strange sayings, kissing a cod, and a certificate. πŸ˜€ I can’t wait!

Some random good times:
-hula hooping with Krista, Mark’s girlfriend
-the impromptu guitar sessions between Mark and one of the guys with him, Patrice, a visiting Montrealer
-Chris’s cheeky “How I met my boyfriend” story
-I played authentic horseshoes! (you chuck horseshoes at a certain distance at a pole, and score according to distance from it)
-the garden I thought was a funeral plot…
-long chatter about anything and everything

In the end, we stayed up entirely too late, had entirely too much to drink, and I had too few hours of sleep before Chris drove Jeanne and I back into town. It was brilliant, and I’m already looking forward to the coming Friday!…

Canada/Memorial Day pt. 2 (but first: today!)

In culture, friends, internship, st. john's on July 4, 2009 at 3:02 am

I’m having a blast. πŸ™‚

The workplace at Target is so…free-flowing, and collaborative, and so casual. Creative is right by Production, and so we’re (but not me yet, as I’m not making the big decisions) always working closely with them. A typical scene we get into:

(One of the projects the company’s been a part of is Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism–a government account. Every year there’s this nice direct mail piece that comes with great coupon deals, encouraging people to vacation in the province, because it pretty much has everything. One is for Quilting, and a Quilting Tour or something).

PRODUCTION HOLLERS: There’s a typo in a coupon!
ART DIRECTOR I WORK UNDER: What? Where?
PRO: I’m pretty sure you mean, “for local quilters,” and not “for local quitters.”

And everyone just breaks down in hysterics. XD

Or the ever-snarky (but terribly friendly) co-worker: “Wow, I mean, I was skeptical about quilting, but here they also include a quilting tour?? I’ll have to go.”

After work today, in the awesome wake of the Couch Surfing encounter, I met with the roommate I got to know some from Ontario who was the friend of a friend of my CS’er contact. After work and my own quick meal, I met her on–where else–George Street, at the pub we plan to be screeched in on next week with a male roommate of hers (see it’s amazing how just making 1 or 2 friends instantly expands your social circle). Unfortunately, he could not attend this weekend, so we’ve postponed until we can all do it together!

Anyway, had some very cheap (as in not expensive, but very good) beer, and had complementary popcorn at Christian’s Bar. Got to know this student from Ontario a lot more, and she’s fantastic; we have similar interests: foreign films, new experiences, world views, etc. It’s like we were old friends, very easy to talk with.

Later, we met up with a pair of her own work friends from Memorial University at Bridie Molloy’s Pub & Eatery (literally less than a minute’s walk, during which I noted Green Sleeves Irish Pub that has live entertainment every night, and a place that’s a 24-hour karaoke bar), one celebrating his birthday. We introduced ourselves, chatted, swapped stories, drank, ate, and got along so well, I’ve been invited to his birthday thing at a cabin 15 minutes out of the city Saturday! I humbly accepted, and we were both excited to meet him and his friends tomorrow. Our waitress also worked with my buddy at the university, so there was some friendly banter there as well.

The beer in St. John’s is cheap, and they have some great local brews. All in all, I spent a little over $20 for…2 Keith’s, a pint of local brew from Quidi Vidi (“kiddy viddy”), a pint for the birtday boy, and nachos to share between the 4 of us. And while we were there, Lamb’s Rum was giving out a ton of free drinks–very tasty rum you can taste cinnamon in (one of my favourite things…), and they kept providing free sample shots of it in Pepsi or ginger ale.

The live music was raucous and energetic (some Newfoundland tunes–many clapped or stamped along with the beat, and sang with the singers! It was joyous, I wish I knew the words), and the company even better…we all left a little tipsy, very happy, and excited for tomorrow!

I’ve never been much of a pub-go’er in Calgary, but the vibe here is so different. There are a few DJ’ed dance clubs, but everywhere else–as I said, everyone stamping, clapping, and singing along…

Back to Canada/Memorial Day
Honestly, not a whole lot more to tell! After the Confederation Building tour, I took more pictures around the place, and headed back to the Hill to take in the last of the cultural performances. You know, like what you’re used to seeing–bellydancing, a tai chi demonstration, more contemporary Indian dance…a nice reminder that yes, although St. John’s is a small city, it is also still multicultural. Perhaps not to the point of Calgary, but no one seems to treat me any differently.

Pretty dancing

Pretty dancing

John Bingley Garland, the first speaker

John Bingley Garland, the first speaker

A row of speakers

A row of speakers

Provincial shield**

Provincial shield**

Confederation Building lobby, emptied

Confederation Building lobby, emptied

John Cabot, a Newfoundland icon

John Cabot, a Newfoundland icond

Confederation Building

Confederation Building

**Constructed by the Johnson family (if you recall, rich philanthropist who also did the Geo Centre).

Contemporary Indian dance

Contemporary Indian dance

African drumming

African drumming

Taoist Tai Chi Society

Taoist Tai Chi Society

Belly dencers

Belly dencers

And now for something interesting:

River trail

River trail

Where am I...?

Where am I...?

…I’m actually in St. John’s, still. The city has a lot of walking trails, and on the one I took that day, I was suddently struck by how natural it felt. I paused on the path, looked around to either side…and could believe that I was not in St. John’s anymore at all (more specifically, I was going through Pippy National Park. Very dense trails, thickly lined trees everywhere.

That just about finishes my Canada Day activities–the cultural demonstrations and presentations went without a hitch. I went home, had dinner, and did chores until the very last thing–fireworks over Quidi Vidi Lake.

Quidi Vidi was once a village, but it’s been absorbed by St. John’s for a while now. They border its lake, and it houses the city’s oldest brewery.

I timed my trip walking to Quidi Vidi Lake so I’d arrive on time to see the fireworks. Bad idea!

First of all, I was worried I’d get turned around in the dark. But when I stepped outta the house…the cars passing me I noticed were all going in the same direction. As I entered the main roads–suddenly the streets were filled. I mean filled. Like an endless street of people heading towards Lake Ave. Cars were held at intersections for a long time as we all crossed, and some just parked nearby and walked the rest of the way. There was no way I was going to be lost!

As I said, I wish I arrived earlier–upon arrival, I discovered a multitude of food and snack stands on Quidi Vidi Lake, happily feeding people willing to pay. There were live amusements and entertainers there for people before the show. I witnessed the tail end of a fiery poi dance, fire juggling, and a guy who ate or blew fire. It wasn’t long before the first fireworks erupted, and everyone just turned away.

Poi

Poi

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks here were very pretty. As I said before–scenes with water are always best, and fireworks are no exception–with every explosion and colour echoed by Quidi Vidi Lake, it was incredible! Every so often one would be fired behind some clouds, but whatever.

When I returned, Karen told me of a few other places you could see the fireworks at (one of which she was just at), and they were similarly jammed pack with people (Signal Hill, and some neighbourhood hill). It was ridiculous to think about–walking back from the Lake, the people crowded into that one, closed off road; looking back, I couldn’t see the end of the human mass! Once again, St. John’s citizens show their passion and liveliness…

What a day it was–I was exhausted! However, it was a lot of fun to experience Canada Day in a completely different place in the country; when you live too long in a city, I think you stop caring or knowing all the local things that happen, or have seen it too much already to be bothered. It’s so refreshing to experience it all over again.

Memorial Day/Canada Day (part one: “Only in Newfoundland…”)

In culture, st. john's on July 2, 2009 at 2:28 am

In Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1st is a time of both celebration and somber remebrance.

During World War I (when it was still the Dominion of Newfoundland–recall they were last to join Canada in 1949), the Newfoundland Regiment suffered terrible losses in the Battle of the Somme in France, July 1, 1916. The battalion was almost all wiped out–but as you should be aware, so were many others in a brutal trench war that was decided by who had the most bodies to sacrifice (where I work, it’s right beside the War Memorial that commemorates the soldiers in the same battle).

So to this province, honouring Memorial Day came first, when it began in 1917, an interesting thing to learn during the Sunrise Ceremony.

Yes, I went. I contend that it should be called the Fog Festival, instead. I only got about an hour of sleep, and headed out at around 4:30 am to take the free shuttle up to Signal Hill (I was only supposed to get 30 minutes of sleep, but you know, when you’ve had so little and the alarm goes…). No loss at all, because I just woulda been stuck up there waiting in the freezing drizzle and wind. My hands were numb, I was damp, and the view that morning on Signal Hill was like we were in the middle of a cloud.

Overall, the Sunrise Ceremony was pretty lame. It began at 6 am (I arrived around 5:10 am), and on arrival, I got a nice summary of the day’s events on paper, a sheet of Canada stickers, a Canada pin, and a hardy paper flag that survived all the drizzle. The Ceremony itself consisted of a bunch of government representatives or dignitaries speaking. They all had their speeches prepared and written out in front of them, so there were some laughs when a few began with like, “Thank you for joining us on this wonderful morning…”

Then a pair of Mounties unfurled and raised the flag, and we sang the bilingual anthem. Then a pair from the Newfoundland Regiment did the same for the province’s flag, and everyone sang Ode to Newfoundland, which I didn’t know, but I suddenly see at my elbow on a tourist map:

When Sun rays crown thy pine clad hills, And Summer spreads her hand
When silvern voices tune thy rills, We love thee smiling land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, smiling land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimm’ring white, At Winter’s stern command
Thro’ shortened day and starlit night, We love thee, frozen land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, frozen land.

When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore, And wild waves lash thy strand
Thro’ spindrift swirl and tempest roar, We love thee, wind-swept land
We love thee, we love thee, We love thee, wind-swept land.

As loved our fathers, so we love, Where once they stood we stand
Their prayer we raise to heav’n above, God guard thee, Newfoundland
God guard thee, God guard thee, God guard thee, Newfoundland.

Haha–even the provincial anthem readily acknowledges that the province is cold and windy…

Anyhow, after the happy stuff, in honour of Memorial Day, both flags were lowered to half-mast.

Then everyone got free milk, 2% or skim chocolate (you cannot find the brands Lucerne or Dairyland here–all the milk here is from Central Farms, of this province), everyone got a piece of cake. And that was it. Still, considering how early it was, Signal Hill was milling with people. At the end, I also got a spruce sapling in a baggie ready to plant, and a shirt because I answered a piece of super easy trivia. Somewhat disappointed, I shuttled back down, walked home, and got some proper sleep until 1 pm or so. But a few images from atop Signal Hill:

Cold, pre-dawn St. John's

Cold, pre-dawn St. John's

Signal Hill, and seats getting filled

Signal Hill, and seats getting filled

Miss Teen Newfoundland was there

Miss Teen Newfoundland was there

Mounty, raising the flag

Mounty, raising the flag

Hilarious mascot...

Hilarious mascot...

Walking home, I took a few images of the neighbourhood. Again, St. John’s is an old city, so old trees dwarf everthing:

Government house obelisk

Government house obelisk

Fun with lawn mowing

Fun with lawn mowing

Home along Monkstown Road

Home along Monkstown Road

Home near mine on Maxse Street

Home near mine on Maxse Street

After a quick lunch, I set off again, this time bound for the Confederation Building; it was the site where all the events for Canada Day were taking place, all the multicultural performances, songs and dances, and learning!

Upon arrival on Confederation Hill, I watched a contemporary Indian dance routine, and listened to some provincially celebrated, bilingual Jazz pianist before I fled into the crowded Building’s lobby, where other performances, local and international, were occurring.

Confederation Building lobby, full

Confederation Building lobby, full

Sadly, I missed all instances of Celtic Fiddlers–I must admit I’ve always enjoyed me some upbeat Irish jig, and Irish things are a foundation of Newfoundland culture and song–but after a Chinese gu zheng performance, a trio played some Newfoundland tunes I enjoyed. The sound quality isn’t perfect, but you can hear a portion of the audio here (I was going to do the video, but it’s big, so here’s a photo you can animate in your head :)):

Petty Rogues

Petty Rogues

It’s a little less jovial than what I prefer, but I don’t mind that sort of sound, either.

At 3 pm, there was a last tour of the House of Assembly. and this is where I learned the most–but truly, very interesting stuff! Newfoundland has got some quirky history, and there are many unique points about how their government functions, and some funny anecdotes. I’ve never been one for political history or day-to-day process (but I’m all for voting, and being informed of issues!), but this was the exception. Bear with me…

Only in Newfoundland…

  • In our government system, the majority party always sits on the right hand side of the Speaker of the House…but not in Newfoundland. It’s reversed, and the opposition is on the right. It all has to do with the very first assembly they held back in January of 1833. The first Speaker of the representative government then was one John Bingley Garland, and there wasn’t an adequate place to hold it. Januaries here, I’m told, are freezing. Mr. Garland rented out a tavern for the first government meeting, and back then in taverns, the fireplace is on the left side of the room; as Speaker and thus considering himself the most important person, he hogged a spot nearest the fire, and the other members of the government, desperate also for warmth, clustered as near as they could to the heat. As the Speaker sits facing inward, there was far less space to his right, as it’d be the corner of the tavern. From that day onward, the governing party sits to the left of the Speaker.
    House of Assembly

    House of Assembly

    Speaker's...throne

    Speaker's...throne

    The opposition

    The opposition**

    **As I said, the opposition in Newfoundland sits to the Speaker’s right rather than the left, the groups of 1, 3, and 9 desks. The 1 lone seat is for an NDP member, and the 3 group is for the Liberals. What are those other 9 opposition members? Actually…the provincial Progressive Conservatives here have such a majority, there isn’t enough room on the left side to accommodate them! The 9 there is overflow from the majority side, so every day they literally have to cross the floor to begin…

  • Notice the painted portraits along the walls?Β  There’s one for every Speaker that’s ever been in Newfoundland. In 1834, it was Thomas Bennett…and until fairly recently, he had no portrait. No one knew what he looked like–no photographs, no nothing. One lady in the local press (The Telegram) made it her mission to find out what he looked like–to find a portrait, a photograph, anything. She searched through the provincial archives. Not a single image. She searched through the national archives in Ottawa, still nothing. She then decided to follow up on Mr. Bennett’s various ties to England–for example, he grew up in London. After going through all of their various archives, she still had nothing! It was like he never existed… Upon returning home, she was contacted by a man in St. John’s, who head heard about her quest. He revealed that Thomas Bennett was his great-grandfather, and he had a whole trunk full of memorabilia and his stuff! So in the end, after scouring fruitlessly for any trace of the man at all the obvious places, he shows up in some attic in St. John’s… Mr. Bennett now has had his portrait on the wall for a few years, now.
  • In 1977, French actress Brigitte Bardot first protested Canada’s seal hunt (you may recall she’s returned on occasion for the same reason, and always raises a fuss), and it upset the people here. TheΒ  House of Assembly was determined to fire back somehow in support of sealers, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until 1991 or so–all their chairs needed replacing. And what do they do? In a strong “SCREW YOU!” message, all the pale green chairs you see are seal leather, a demonstration that it is much more than just the fur (a misconception caused by animal rights activists, that seal hunting is wasteful because only the fur is desired). Actually, Karen told me that seal has a very distinct flavour, and so I’m very curious to try it–she has some frozen left over that I can have some day, muahaha! πŸ˜€
  • It is tradition when a province joins Confederation that all the provinces already in Confederation give gifts (so as the latest province, Newfoundland received the most gifts in 1949). The most important is the mace at the end of the table in the centre of the room–apparently an important ceremonial item, and given to them by British Columbia. This is significant because as the most important object during Assembly, BC giving it represents the unity from one coast all the way to the other. Prince Edward Island’s gift, a silver gavel, is preserved because usage began to warp the soft metal.

Admit it, those facts were pretty cool. πŸ™‚ After some questions from the crowd, the tour was completed, and so was the entertainment in the lobby. Confederation Hill performances still continued, however, and I’ll cover a few remaining miscellaneous Confederation Building things next post, a bit about the remaining Hill acts, and of course–the fireworks!