A Few Thoughts On Turning 65

It started when I went to McDonald’s for a coffee over 15 years ago. The young kid at the register said “25 cents please.” Startled, I handed over a quarter and looked around the posters on the windows looking for the special on coffee. Nothing. Puzzled, I sat down, started to sip, and my eye caught the receipt, containing the horrible phrase: “Senior Coffee.” I wasn’t even 50!

Next it was at a movie theatre: “$10 please.” Wait, admission is $7.50 each, so for two that should be…OK, sure, I get it, here’s $10. Without even asking, I was getting away with paying less than full money’s worth, compensation for having avoided the early death lottery.

I started getting comfortable with the notion. For some reason though, I hated the words “senior discount.” Instead I coined my own term: “Gray Hair Discount.” When asked whether I was a senior, I’d just point to my silver mound of hair, and ka-ching – out popped the discount.

There’s more to turning 65 than discounts. My good buddy and avid reader Randy recently turned 65 while on a flight across the ocean. Since he happened to be occupying the left seat of the cockpit, this required that he immediately exit the pilot’s compartment and take his place in the cabin. No one gets to fly airliners at age 65. Care for some warm nuts?

Turning 65 also means medicare, medicare advantage plans, medicare supplement plans, medicare Rx plans, Part A, Part B, Part D – is it really this complicated? Or I am just getting old?

I don’t think anyone in their 50’s feels like a senior citizen, yet as soon as you turn 50, the AARP somehow finds you and sends you pictures of healthy, virile, active men and women with grey hair. Sign up and you get even more discounts! And magazines with more gray-haired people, including starlets you remember lusting over when you were a teenager. They have grey hair now too, but the wrinkles are all photoshopped out.

In your 50’s, even your early 60’s, you can fool yourself that you aren’t a senior. You’re still middle-aged, getting older, but not a senior citizen. My dad was definitely a senior citizen at that age, but not me.

When you hit 65, it’s all over. You cannot deny it any longer. You are the very definition of a senior citizen.

I just turned 65. I am a senior citizen. There – I said it! But I still don’t believe it!

On reaching 65, a male born in the 1950’s no longer faces an early death. Too late for that. Any death from now on is timely, he led a full life, he beat the odds, he lived beyond life expectancy, wasn’t it nice that he lived as long as he did?

It’s just the passing of another day, another year, yet this is a bigger milestone than anything since turning 16 and becoming able to drive (and fly an airplane solo). Less fun, but at least as meaningful.

Oh sure, they say, growing old is better than the alternative. But really, how do you know? It isn’t like someone tried both, and came back and said this is definitely better, keep on trucking, don’t do that other thing. We just accept the notion, realizing that the aches and pains will not dissipate, the sharpness of thinking will not improve, and the ability to make wild, passionate love all night long might survive as a memory of earlier times but that’s about it.

So we persist, thankful that we made it this far, making the best of every day, doing what we can to ignore the side effects of living life this long.

© 2017 Ken Fransen

The writer is a retired attorney who now travels North America, still living in denial that he is now a senior citizen.

 

Dispatch from the Field: What I will miss about Canada

more Canada

After my last post, we left Maine, blew through upstate New York, and spent a few days in Southern Ontario, mostly visiting relatives and briefly reacquainting myself with my hometown of Toronto.

It turns out I have a lot of really cool relatives! My family left Southern Ontario for the prairies when I was 11, and for California when I was 14, so I never really got to know most of my cousins and other relatives, who now number approximately 235. Or is it 350? Who can possibly keep count? There, it just grew again. (Congratulations on the new baby by the way.) As if that wasn’t enough relatives, two of my wife’s siblings (all from California) married Canadians from southern Ontario, moved there, and their families are growing there as well. (Congratulations on the new baby by the way.)

Having left Canada with our passports tucked away for awhile, I’ve had a chance to think of the things I will miss most about Canada, and things that I will not miss.

THINGS I WILL MISS ABOUT CANADA:

  • 18% butterfat cream wherever you buy a cup of coffee.
  • Friendly people everywhere.
  • Peanut butter as well as jam for your toast in the little container at the table of every restaurant.
  • Feeling fairly confident that the person tailgating or otherwise driving aggressively toward you does not have a handgun or assault weapon.
  • Overhearing lovely conversations in French at the table next to you even though you have no clue what they are saying.
  • Tim Horton’s. (Aside: Tim Horton – number 7 – was my favorite member of the Toronto Maple Leafs when I was kid. He had the good fortune to start the most successful donut and coffee shop chain in Canada, but had the bad fortune to be screwed out of it long before it really took off.)
  • The metric system – it just makes sense – and the constant mental exercise involved in converting metric to US.
  • The 20% discount on everything due to US-Cananda currency exchange.
  • Butter tarts everywhere! This alone would make moving to Canada a reasonable option.
  • Inukshuks – the hundreds and hundreds of Inuit-inspired rock sculptures along many roads that are in the likeness of humans and traditionally mean “you are on the right path.” This elaborate one was shot by John Mackey because all of the ones we saw had been knocked down by vandals, and now have the traditional meaning of “pile of rocks” or “some people are real jerks.”inukshuk
  • Primary roads that have almost no traffic. All across the Trans-Canada Highway I was amazed how comparatively little traffic there was. Especially trucks. By contrast, for example, I-5 is horrible all the way from San Diego to Seattle, and I-80 can be messy most of the way across the US. Okay, this comment does NOT apply to roads anywhere near Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver).
  • Canadian accents eh?
  • A country that appreciates its diversity and the contributions of its immigrants to such a degree that it has a National Museum of Immigration. (If you look carefully you will find the name of my grandmother, who came to Canada as a young single mother with SEVEN young children in July of 1926.)
  • No pennies – you round to the nearest nickel.
  • A system where policy still matters, campaigns last 11 weeks, special interests can’t buy elections, and elected representatives have to actually answer to each other, in public session, every day. (Now coming oh so close to violating the No-Politics Zone – let’s move on.)
  • The Canadian flag. flagCanada’s flag, by the way, is considered one of the world’s best by world-renowned Vexillologist Ted Kaye, who literally wrote the book on what makes a good flag: “Good Flag, Bad Flag.”
  • Fall Colour worthy of its name.
  • Loonies (one dollar coins) and Toonies (two dollar coins) – just because it is so much fun to say Loonies and Toonies.
  • Singing along with the Canadian anthem until I choke up. (BE SURE TO CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.)
  • Poutine!

THINGS I WON’T MISS:

  • No free refills of coffee. I was amazed how after spending $5 or $6 on an espresso beverage, my smiling request never yielded a free refill of coffee, a request routinely granted below the border. To prove the point, I am currently finishing this post at The Bean in Las Cruces, NM. After finishing my morning espresso, I have just gone to the counter and asked the lovely Lauren how much it would cost to trade my empty mug for a full one of coffee. She smiled sweetly, and said, “oh, nothing.” Thanks Lauren:

lauren 2

  • The prices of just about everything, which are higher than in the US even after the currency conversion.
  • Hardly any rest areas on highways. How is one supposed to have their morning and afternoon naps? (Ah, the retired life.)
  • The metric system – how can you figure out what you are really paying for fuel?
  • Apparently a lot, so let’s add fuel prices to the list.
  • The challenge of trying to find a coffee shop that is not a Tim Horton’s. (The challenge now that I am back in the States is to find a coffee shop that is not a Starbucks.)
  • Lounge music masquerading as jazz.

BUT WHAT I WILL MISS MOST ABOUT CANADA IS CANADIANS:

 

 

 

Dispatch from the Field: The Red Phase – Fall Color and Lobster

fall color pano

We somehow stumbled into Maine during the height of Fall Color Season. When you start your trip in August, with a flexible and oft-changing schedule, you have no clue when the show will begin, but we got lucky this year. And we didn’t have to go far to find it. This tree was next to our RV site:

rv site tree

Sometimes, it was fun to just inhale the intense splash of color:

splash of color

Other times we savored the mixture of greens and yellows and purples and reds, with a pond thrown in for good measure:

mixture of colors

Touring Acadia National Park, you get it all:

Acadia everything

Watching the waves from the Atlantic Ocean crash into the rocky shore was mesmerizing even without the changing colors of Fall:

rocky shore b:w

Beyond Acadia National Park and the opportunity for leaf-peeping, Maine is known for lobster. Sometimes the best part of lobster is the people who are attached to them:

bob and kathie.jpg

Bob and Kathie are friends from our time in Clovis, California. They are not only great people but big supporters of the Boys & Girls Clubs. She grew up in Maine, inherited some of the family coastal property, and they go back and forth between California and Maine. Our luck, they were in Maine while we were passing through, and they invited us over for lobster supper. A seminar in how to eat lobster was included, and the meal and conversation were wonderful. We enjoyed lobster so much we went to a number of other lobster suppers:

lobster pot

It doesn’t get any fresher than this:

fresh as it gets

 

And you can’t beat the price for Maine lobster in Maine! Complete lobster dinners for 18.95!

Being from Portland Oregon, we couldn’t go to New England without visiting Portland Maine, which has a lovely, very walkable waterfront and downtown area. There was a remarkable community art project consisting of nothing but a mass of colorful locks:

lock art

It reminded me of the Pearl District with its art galleries:

art gallery

and interesting shops and restaurants, including a unique donut shop featuring REAL MAINE POTATOES:

donut shop

And, of course, there was lobster:

portland lobster.jpg

 

With this dispatch, the West Coast to East Coast portion of the trip is complete, and the Portland (ME) to Portland (OR) leg of the Tour begins. How we get there is anyone’s guess.

Dispatch from the Field: Lighthouses, Scarecrows, and Walking on the Ocean Floor

If you ask about where to go or what to see in Nova Scotia, Peggy’s Cove and its beautiful lighthouse are always mentioned. Here is the traditional view of the lighthouse, with people crawling all over it:

peggy lighthouse

And here is my artsy fartsy interpretation:

artsy fartsy

Either way, it is a pretty lighthouse, but before you even get there you pass a memorial for the SwissAir flight 111 that crashed in the Cove less than 20 years ago. Carved into a massive rock are three notches (i.e., “111”), with the direction of the notches pointing directly to the place not far offshore where the flight ended in the Atlantic Ocean:

swissair-111.jpg

Everyone was quiet and respectful and I wondered if anyone there had lost a loved one in the crash. It did not seem appropriate to ask.

Nearby, Mahone Bay was trying to drum up some late season tourist business with a Scarecrow Festival.

mahone-bay.jpg

The town itself is absolutely gorgeous, situated as it is right on the water, and it appeared that every single home or business in the town was heavily invested in the competition. Here are but a few entries:

oz

quilt store scarecrow.jpg

My favorite:

kiss

The average tide worldwide fluctuates about 3 feet. At places in the Canadian Maritimes, they can fluctuate anywhere between 32 to 46 feet. At Hopewell Rocks, you can watch it happen. Here is what it looks like just after high tide:

high tide

And this is what it looks like, walking on the ocean floor 3 or 4 hours later:

low tide

The Park officials are very careful to kick everyone’s butt out when the tide starts turning, because it can move quickly.

With this post, we have completed our trip across Canada, and we somehow managed to be here just when the leaves started turning brilliant:

fall colour

Nova Scotia-born singer, Anne Murray:

Dispatch from the Field: Canadian Rednecks, and the Tragic Loss of Life and Property in Halifax

 

cruise-ship-reflection-e1507639926296.jpg

Had my initial experience with people from Halifax been otherwise, I might have immediately concluded that Halifax is a really cool town. See: Dispatches from the Field: Calgary – What is Hip?

After all, Wanda (whose real name is Kate but inexplicably changed her name) at Second Cup made sure I knew about all the great places to go in Halifax. Great live music at the wanda kateCarleton, creative cocktails at Lot 6, the longest civil rights protest ever in Africville. I told her she made me feel at home with her wild hair color and tattoos, Portland being a haven for both. She has a young daughter about 8 years old, who shares the same fiery hair color, but no tattoos as yet. Another barista, also named Kate, who did not change Halifax Kateher name, reminded me in her mannerisms of my non-Kate daughter Jen (real name Jenny), and this Kate also wanted to make sure I knew all about their town. I always seem to find a home base, usually a coffee shop, where I can work on this blog, catch up on emails, read the news (which is inevitably about Trump, Trump, Trump, even in Canada) until I can’t take it anymore, and if I am lucky I will meet someone helpful like the two Kates. No, if my first interaction with the people of Halifax was with Wanda Kate and Kate, I’d have loved the town from the outset.

But my initial experience in Halifax was just sour enough that it took a day or two to realize that Halifax was a very nice city. And it wasn’t the drivers blasting around the motorhome, or cutting me off, or otherwise driving aggressively as I was trying to find the campground. As readers of last year’s dispatches will recall, Canadians do all of these things, but they are always smiling politely as they do them.

No, it was the initial experience at the campground that did it. First, as I parked to register in a two lane area, there was a big, black pickup parked going the wrong way, blocking one of the two lanes. Some of you may know that I have a thing about big, black pickups, or at least the people that seem to want to drive them. Not all of them, mind you. My good friend, avid reader, and retired airline pilot Randy drives a big black pickup, and Randy is one of the absolutely nicest guys you would ever want to know. Really, you ought to try to get to know him. And my other really good retired airline pilot friend, avid reader Paul, has a son in law who drives a big black pickup and I know personally that he is a really nice guy. But for some reason, regardless of country or other geography, if you someone cuts you off, tailgates, or otherwise drives aggressively towards you, the odds are 50/50 or better that he is in a big black pickup. Unless you have just crossed into Fresno County, in which case the odds are 100%. Check it out. Every time. Bank on it. So when someone is parked the wrong way, blocking the only lane allowing access to the campground now that I am doing the mandatory stop and register routine, it did not particularly surprise me that it was a big black pickup.

Walking in and saying hi to the nice woman at the desk, I noticed two men, one older and one younger, slouched on a sofa and easy chair respectively, dressed in full camo and looking about as sullen as one could imagine. I quickly determined that older camo-man was the father of younger camo-man, and that the nice lady was the wife and mother, respectively, and whom I came to pity. I requested a site that was satellite friendly, saying I wanted to watch the Green Bay Packers game that evening. Grumbled one camo-man to me: “They’re all takin’ a knee tonight.” Not wanting to get into a political discussion, this blog being a Politics-Free Zone, I simply replied “yep, that’s freedom.” I then overheard the other camo-man say to the first under his breath: “one of THOSE.” Apparently “freedom” was not a popular concept among Canadian camo-men that day. It shall come as no surprise that the big black pickup was that of one of the camo-men.

That night the Packers locked arms, did not kneel, and won their game, so perhaps all was well in camo-land after all, but it bothered me that in Nova Scotia I could not simply get a campsite without having to be confronted with the detritus of US politics.

But thanks to Kate and Kate, I came to appreciate others from their community, and ultimately became a Hali-Fan. It turns out Halifax has a rich history, mostly involving the tragic loss of life and/or destruction of property.

 

Case 1: During WWI, a munitions ship and a Belgian relief ship collided in the narrowest area of Halifax Harbor (aka Harbour), appropriately named The Narrows. No explosion. That happened an hour or two later when the crippled munitions ship, by then on fire, hit the shore. A large portion of Halifax, primarily along the waterfront, was incinerated and thousands died.

Case 2: When the Titanic sunk, the deceased were all taken to the nearest port, Halifax. The survivors were picked up by a nearby ship, the Carpathia, and they sailed on to New York, but Halifax became the largest morgue in the world. Fun fact: First class dead passengers were removed in coffins. Second and third class passengers were taken off in canvas bags. Think of that next time you think about saving money on your next cruise.

Case 3: There are over 10,000 shipwrecks in Nova Scotian waters, though some think the total might be as high as 25,000. Each red dot below is a shipwreck – so many it looks like a red line around the entire coastline.

shipwrecks

Case 4: The Black neighborhood of Africville, founded centuries ago by former slaves who were freed when they fought for the British during the American Revolution, was destroyed in the 1960’s in the name of urban renewal. The residents were relocated, their possessions transported with exquisite symbolism by city garbage trucks. One resident, Eddie Carvery, returned to Africville in 1970 to protest the loss of his home and community. He has never stopped. This photo shows what remains of Africville:

africville part In the distance just beyond the park you can barely see four trailers, and Eddie’s is the one on the right with the tattered sign “Africville Protest.” In 2005, the city of Halifax formally apologized and built a museum:

africville museum

Halifax turns out to have a thriving cultural scene, and some very interesting stores, including one catering exclusively to women called Venus Envy: venus envyI do not know what that means, but stayed clear anyway. In addition to an array of museums and art galleries (including the Canadian Immigration Museum, a concept that would somehow seem more appropriate in the States right now), I saw a poster for the most unusual poetry reading I have ever come across:

nudi-tea

 

Having already bought tickets to the Thom Swift gig at the Carleton, we had to skip Nudi-Tea, but enjoyed our time with the singer-songwriter who reminded us of another Canadian balladeer, Gordon Lightfoot:

thom swift

So Halifax turns out to be a fun place, as long as you don’t talk about football and try to stay out of the way of big black pickups.

halifax-sunset.jpg

Dispatch from the Field: Cape Breton and a Gaelic Kaylee

Breton pano

Cape Breton Island is at once beautiful and culturally significant, as it is home to a massive amount of Acadian and Gaelic culture and history. The French Acadians were evicted from the southeastern part of the Island when the British beat the pants off the French during the Seven Year’s War. Acadians subsequently came back to the northwestern part of the Island where the high lands (now known as the Cape Breton Highlands) gave them some protection and cultural insulation. It worked! There were as many Acadian flags (the French tri-color with a gold star on it) in that area as acadian flagthere were Canadian flags. Many Acadians also moved to other parts of Canada as well as Louisiana. Avid reader and Cajun music lover “shortforcanyon” will appreciate (and no doubt already knows), that after the Acadians got to Louisiana the persistent southern accent converted “Acadian” to “Cajun.” Same great traditions and same great music.

In addition, centuries ago Gaelic immigrants from Scotland came by the tens of thousands and made Nova Scotia, especially Cape Breton, their home. The Gaels, with their Celtic language and rich culture, have helped shape Nova Scotia’s identity.  More on that in a bit.

For now let’s focus on the Cabot Trail which circumnavigates the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Cabot Trail signWe did the 200 mile Trail (meaning road but Trail sounds oh so much more adventurous and that is what they call it) in a day, with a stop for lunch at the Keltic Lodge, enjoying the breathtaking view from the restaurant. We took some short hikes along the way, and I took a short nap, and we got back to the motorhome in time for dinner. Doing the Cabot Trail in two days, and spending more time along the way, might be the better option. But geez, not in a motorhome. Parts of the road are windy, steep, and tight. Hence we took the Jeep, and I was too cheap to stop half way through and rent a room somewhere.

breton coast line

Along the Trail, there are a bunch of hiking opportunities, and we took the one called “The Bog.” Clearly, it does not sound as inviting or as sexy as “Skyline Trail” or “Middle Head Trail,” but it was supposed to have a good chance of us meeting a Moose. What we would do in that event, it was not clear. The issue was moot, however; no Moose, just bog. But as bogs go, not a bad one.

bog

As beautiful as the Highlands were, the highlight of our Cape Breton experience was attending a Ceilidh (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) at The Gaelic College. Let’s just call it a gaelic collegeKaylee and focus on the event rather than the spelling or pronunciation. A Kaylee is an old Gaelic tradition roughly meaning gathering, as in let’s get together in the kitchen and play music, eat, dance, and tell stories and lies. Carol was hoping “drink some Scotch” would be a part of it, but two of the performers, Dawn and Margie, instead served all of us tea and cookies. Yes, the performers served tea and cookies to everyone there, like we were in their kitchen. And that was the point.

Since The Gaelic College is all about preserving the Gaelic culture, KayLeelanguage, and traditions, they hold many public Kaylees, and we attended a doozy. Margie and Dawn started off the show, playing the fiddle and
keyboard, and were ultimately joined by three more performers. They all traded off playing the fiddle, the keyboard, the guitar, and dancing. There was even a Gaelic song, sung in Gaelic that nobody understood, but we all sort of got. Another tune was from a Gaelic song literally translated “She put her knee in him.” Sadly, the title and the song were not explained. The music pulled me in like a magnet on iron. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up on the stage and dancing with them. Well, that and lack of talent.

One of the performers was Rod MacDonald, who played the fiddle and danced, sometimes at the same time. The Gaelic tradition is all about dancing to the music, even if you are playing the music. It was a wonder to see. It turns out that Rod is not only the CEO of the College, but also the former Prime Minister of Nova Scotia. (Just teasing, Canadians, he is the former Premier.) We talked to Rod after the concert. He was pretty sweaty from all the performing, so I guess that’s why Carol is hugging me not him. He with rodtold us that prior to becoming Premier he was at various times the minister of tourism and culture, and immigration, and this, and that. Essentially, when he became Premier he knew pretty much everything about what was going on in the government. We asked him if he would consider moving to the States and running for higher office, but he politely demurred and instead invited us to return to Cape Breton another time. We actually might.

When we were at the Keltic Lodge (and I know they can’t seem to get the spelling straight – is it laurenKeltic or Celtic? Apparently no one knows), we met Lauren, who now lives and works in the Cape Breton Highlands. I asked her where she was from and she said “Sydney [Nova Scotia] but I’m not going back!” Why? “Because there’s nothing to do! The coal mines and steel mills have closed, and it’s kind of depressing.” So, of course, the next day we went to Sydney. She was right. There was one thing though that I did want to see in Sydney – the Odditorium. What better place to go for a blog that enjoys the weird and the quirky. It apparently specializes in old rocks and minerals and other relics of the past. However, the Odditorium enjoys odd hours too. It turned out that they are open – briefly – on Monday and Friday, and otherwise by appointment only, and we were not there during the open hours. And it was very, very hard to find, unless you happened to already be heading to the medical marijuana dispensary next door. Hmm, that’s odd. Coincidence? Lauren, I’ll never doubt you again.

Our last night, tropical moisture from hurricane Maria mixed with a cold front from western Canada, resulting in the most intense series of Cape Breton thunderstorms in decades. Torrential rain. Lighting. Thunder. It started around 4 in the morning and lasted for three hours. The experience of thunder and lightning is a bit more intimate when your campsite is at the top of a plateau, you are all by yourselves in your motorhome, there are no other tall objects nearby, and your head is on a pillow separated from the metal superstructure of the RV by about three inches and a thin wall. Every time there was a flash of lightning I counted the seconds before the boom. Five seconds means it is about a mile away, and luckily the strikes never got closer than that. Storms like that make for little sleep, but great sunsets.

breton-sunset.jpg

Dispatch from the Field: PEI and the Search for the Silver Tin

pano pei campsite day

Notwithstanding the photos and video clips you see from RV company ads, it is rare to have a campsite that is honestly on the waterfront. Above is the view from our campsite in PEI. The picture at the end of this dispatch is also from our campsite. We enjoyed our time there so much we added some extra days, one of which involved staying at the campground and just enjoying the view. For those who know me, this is rare.

Knowing I was heading to Prince Edward Island (known officially as “PEI”), avid reader and fellow jazz aficionado Joe writes: “I lost a stash of weed in a campground on PEI in 1977. I appreciate your keeping an eye out for a silver tin and a pack of Zig Zags.” The loss apparently still hurts as he followed up with a further email after I agreed to take on the search: “Ok. I seem to recall the tin was packed with the finest Hawaiian weed available on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue. God how I missed that, and it impacted the general tone of the rest of my cross country trip. My buddy and I had to rely more frequently on Strohs and Old Overholt for our kicks after our great loss.”

More about the search later, but whereas we couldn’t find enough to do in other places, we could easily have stayed in PEI another week. We didn’t even get to spend any time at the Art Gallery, or the Museum, or attend a couple of other plays that looked interesting, or get to know Bill the actor/story-teller/playright who goes around town, coffee shop to coffee shop, with long, scraggly, graying beard and hair, and wearing only a robe and sandals, referring to the pastries he wants to purchase as “bird droppings.”

But we did meet Paul, a semiretired software engineer, now a consultant helping startups who works with a business incubator down the street. He is a business powerhouse, having managed a number of Nasdaq companies, but fell in love with PEI. Why? “It’s small, only 135,000 people on the entire island, and only 35,000 in Charlottetown. People care about each other.” He lives on the north edge of the Island, along the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “Friends often get together for dinner at each other’s homes. Last weekend there were 14 around our table. Tonight there will only be 8.” He doesn’t mind the weather, despite the howling 60mph/100kmh winds coming off the St. Lawrence in the winter.

churchills-pub.jpgWe met Paul at the best curry place in Canada – Churchill’s Pub. There were four curries to choose from. We ordered two – both great. But what got Churchill’s into the Canadian foodie show “You Gotta Eat Here” was their Deep Fried Mars Bar. I’m a big fan of Winston Churchill. My favorite speech by anyone was his speech at the beginning of WWII to a graduating class somewhere, where he got up to the podium, paused, looked around and said in its entirety, “Never give up, never give up, never, never, never, never give up!” And he sat down. My kind of guy.

Now some of you, maybe all of you, may know that the foregoing story is a myth, that the quote was a short excerpt from a two page speech, and that this portion of his speech actually read: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” And he kept going. I like my version better, but I liked their Deep Fried Mars Bar best of all:

deep fried mars bar

We also met Hamad. Having been immensely disappointed in the fish ‘n chips served at Jungle Jim’s in Fredericton (my fault – who else would order fish ‘n chips at a chain called Jungle Jim’s?), we went to Brit’s Fish ‘N Chips in downtown Charlottetown. We immediately noted by his accent that our server was hamadnot British. He volunteered that he was from E-Ron. “You may know it as Eye-Ran.” He came to Canada 10 years ago with his family, but it took them 13 years of effort before that to gain admission. He started working at the fish ‘n chips store with his brother, then when the owner decided to sell, the family bought it. There were lots of choices on the menu but I asked for the traditional fish ‘n chips and a beer. He asked where we were from? I said Oregon. He said “most Americans think Canadian beers are…” and he paused, hesitant to continue. I said, that’s OK, tell me. “Cat piss.” So I ordered a pint of cat piss, and here is Hamad presenting it to me. As cat piss goes, it was not too bad. A bit mild, not too hoppy. Your standard yeoman cat piss.

Of course, PEI is all about Anne of Green Gables, and we went to the Anne Museum, the Anne National Park, and one of two Anne plays then playing. Not having done my homework ahead of time, I had not read the book. Or books. I guess there were a bunch. But I found one thing very interesting. The guide at the Anne Museum said they rent out the place for weddings of “Canadian and Japanese couples.” I asked why the reference to Japanese couples as compared to any others. “Green Gables was translated into Japanese just after WWII and proved to be very popular among Japanese women. Anne was a strong, and independent woman, and this resonated among Japanese women whose culture did not encourage that independence.” While we were there, at least half the people attending were Japanese. Here is a picture of the Green Gables house:

green gables house

Not the real one mind you, but an exact replica built in Japan and one of the most popular tourist sites there.

The drive out to the Green Gables area took us through many picturesque villages, and with some effort we finally made it to the north shore, and saw the Gulf of St. Lawrence:

gulf-of-st-lawrence.jpg

Charlottetown is historically significant to Canadians. It is where delegates from the various colonies north of the US gathered together in 1864, and agreed to create the union we now know as Canada. This was all very dry stuff when I attended Canadian schools when I was young. It would have been way more interesting had I known the truth. In fact, the meeting was only for delegates from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI, but politicians from what we now know as Ontario and Quebec crashed the party. They wanted something bigger and better – a new country to be called Canada, consisting of all of their collective territory. With crates of champagne to drink, the delegates spent more time at the banquets and on the dance floor than in meetings. The “Canadians” wined and dined the Maritimers for 8 days, basically wearing them out, until they realized this could work out for their benefit. Either that, or they agreed in order to get the Canadians to go home. The conference ended with a grand ball that lasted into the wee hours. Finally, at 4am, a procession of undoubtedly very giddy politicians marched down the main street to continue the celebrations aboard the SS Queen Victoria. Think how much could be accomplished these days if politicians actually partied together!

Back to Joe’s missing silver tin. Despite an intense search consisting of me standing at our campsite and looking around with my head down, Joe’s tin remains at large, but I did notice that the people at the campsite four down from us were very, very mellow.

sunset-pei.jpg

Dispatch from the Field: The French Fry Capital of the World

So Edmundston was not a hit for us, but at least tiny Florenceville-Bristol, located an hour or so down the road in the middle of New Brunswick, is the French Fry Capital of the World. It used to be just f-b signFlorenceville, but a few years ago it merged with Bristol. When Port Arthur and Fort William merged they came up with a great name with a lot of punch: Thunder Bay! It was such a great name that Paul Shaffer decided to come from there. But the best the elders of these two little towns could come up with was Florenceville-Bristol. They could have saved a lot of money on their signs if they had come up with something shorter.

It acquired the French Fry Capital of the World honor because McCain Foods started here and it is the largest french fry producer in the world. If you are eating French fries while reading this post, one out of three of them was produced by McCain. And, by the way, stop it. The salt and starch are terrible for you.

It is also the home of the Potato World Museum, the only exclusively tuberous museum in the world, which also includes the Potato World Hall of Recognition. Tammy Fowler, shown here in front of the donor wall, runs the Museum and the adjacent restaurant. tammyShe gave me the whole story. Turns out that old man McCain was born here and started a potato company, turning out french fries. The business took off, and they have plants all over the world now. Tammy runs the non-profit museum and restaurant during the tourist season, and the rest of the year she and her husband haul produce all over Canada and the US, especially out west. As a result, she had the most curious and engaging accent that combined her Canadian roots and a western drawl. It was quite lovely. One cannot come to the French Fry Capital of the World without having french fries, so we enjoyed both regular and sweet potato fries:

fries

Had I room, I would have ordered their Iced Chocolate Fries for dessert, or maybe their Iced Caramel Fries. The McCain lab is next door, and I got to wondering why a potato company needs a lab, but I didn’t want to think about that too much, and kept eating my fries. I know, I told you to stop eating your fries and here I am finishing mine. But these are the best in the world so get over it. Or come to Florenceville-Bristol.

That was originally going to be the end of the post, but then I saw an article in the national newspaper Globe & Mail highlighting the hot water you get into when you marry potato money. Canada is in the middle of tax reform, and the tax proposal of head tax dude and finance minister, Bill Morneau, would hit small businesses but shield family trusts and corporations from increases. You’ll never guess who is a beneficiary of such trusts and corporations. OK, you figured it out, but can you guess why? Morneau married Nancy McCain, and now has substantial wealth in a McCain family trust and various McCain corporations. So, eat the fries, but marry for love.

green pig.jpg

On the way out of New Brunswick, we stopped at the Green Pig Country Market and mega-marshmallow farm. I bought some butter tart squares, and asked the baker who came up that idea. “I did,” she said proudly. I asked to take a picture of her, and she turned me down. First time that’s happened. I am losing my touch.

Why the name “Green Pig?” Daisy Lewis, born in 1911 and now passed on, started the place with husband Stewart. It was a busy and popular spot, where you could buy candies, odds and ends, and great pies. One day, according to the official Green Pig History, “Stewart came home with a whole bundle of sickly green paint. ‘It was on sale’ he said. So they painted the whole store with it, therefore the nickname ‘the Green pig.'”

OK, there is a logical flaw here, in that naming something a pig does not necessarily follow from painting that something green, but it does give me the opportunity to show a picture of the lovely Daisy who is no longer around to turn me down.

daisy

Dispatch from the Field: An Apology to the People of Edmundston

I mean no offense to Edmundstonians, but their town Edmundston in New Brunswick required all of about 15 minutes to tour, and not a photo was taken. I suppose I could have taken a photo of the attractive but standard-issue cathedral at the top of the hill, or the pulp mill that had the most phallic smoke stack I’ve seen on this trip (not that I am cataloging them), or the walking bridge that, so far as I could tell, simply got you to the other side where you would look around, and then get back on it and come back, but really, why? There was also an old, deteriorated wood sculpture of a squirrel in the park that I think was intended as a beaver, but it was so deteriorated you could not tell. And deteriorated not in an artistic sense deserving of a photo, but really more in the “are you kidding, why don’t you restore this poor thing or chop it up for firewood?” sense.

I did spot a sign for a covered bridge and after many miles of traveling, and lucky guessing at a T intersection that failed to provide further guidance, I did find a covered bridge. The rules of these types of blogs requiring a photo at least every couple of paragraphs or so, here it is.

covered bridege 1

Just a covered bridge with a tiny sign identifying it as the Boniface Bridge constructed in 1925, and a whole lot of modern safety signs that completely detract from the historical rustic-ness and artistic value of it.

I drove through it and shot the other side, thinking how could it be any worse?covered bridge 2

In fairness, we were in town on a Sunday, and it was pretty much closed down, so I was unable to strike up a conversation with anyone except the person who took my order at the local coffee house. She took pity on me and spoke English – everyone else was conversing in French and took absolutely no interest in me.

Our campsite was notable not only for being one of the most comfortable, spacious and beautifully landscaped sites we have had, but also perhaps the closest to an operating railroad line. This is not a problem for us. In fact, railroads and campgrounds go together like curbs and gutters, since the property value diminution caused by the one makes the other economically feasible. And anyway, we like trains. But this spot was notable because we could feel the rumble of the trains in our motorhome just about the time we heard it. At first we couldn’t figure out what it was. A semi barreling in to the site next to us? A phalanx of semis rolling down the road in formation at 100kmh? Do they have black ops helicopters here in Canada too? We peeked out the window and this was the view:

CN

The campground was also notable for having only a single washer for those of us needing to do laundry, but no dryer. Now if we were in Yuma, I could understand no dryers, but this was the Maritimes and I was as puzzled as the look on the host’s face when I repeated “no dryers?” Oui. We deferred doing the laundry to another time.

On our way out of Edmundston the next day, we stopped at a local cafe, where once again all the customers were speaking French. So much for thinking we had left French-speaking Canada when we left Quebec. It turns out that New Brunswick is officially bilingual, which I think means everyone speaks French except servers and cashiers.

Our server had a tattoo visible above her ankle. I told her seeing her tattoo made me feel at home, since just about everyone in Portland has a tattoo. She said it’s one of six, and that her first was a butterfly “down low on my…back.” She said it was addictive, and she has plans for more. I asked her what was there to do in this town? She hesitated, paused, thought. I asked where do you go to have a good time, and she said “Moncton.” Trying another angle I asked, well, what is the one thing you need to do when you come to Edmundston, what is the highlight? She thought a little more and then her eyes lit up and she said: “Me! You need to come to this restaurant! I am the highlight!”

melissa

And she was.

Dispatch from the Field: FrancoPhobia

QC from ferry

I do not have a fear of walking backward, naked, into a glass door-knob like Johnny Carson did. I do, however, have a neurotic, almost incapacitating fear of being in a room full of people who only speak French. Not that the educational institutions in Canada didn’t try to teach me enough French to find my way to the washroom. That they failed was simply due to my not having the gene allowing the learning of multiple languages.

My FrancoPhobia, however, predates my junior high French class, because the worst thing about growing up in a bilingual country was the cereal boxes. When I was young, the front of the cereal box was for the cereal name and logo, the back was where all the fun stuff was that kids care about. Descriptions of free toys inside the box, puzzles and games, offers for things to send away for. french-toast-crunch-boxMy parents always let me pick the cereal, and my decision was solely based on the back of the cereal box rather than what cereal was inside. When Canada got serious about bilingualism, it all changed. The front was English and the back was French. Unless you were in Quebec, in which case the front was French, and the back was English. Either way, gone were the free toys, the puzzles and games, and the offers. How was a kid to decide what cereal to buy?

Canada is officially bilingual so at some point you have to get over the cereal box thing (say, at age 25 or 30). Except that in 1977 Quebec adopted Bill 101, which requires everything in Quebec to be in French and French only. Well, there are exceptions, but I had read over the years about shopkeepers that put English signs next to their French signs in their Quebec stores and were hauled off to court. They are so serious about this that there is a government office known only by its initials (OQLF –  because the actual name is in French), staffed by 230 people who enforce these requirements. They even have 15 language terminologists who take English words that have come into the parlance and decide on French equivalents that must be used. Want to send an email in Quebec? That’s a $7,000 fine from the language police. You must call it a “courriel.” Want to take a selfie? Better call it an “egoportrait” or you may get a visit from the tongue troopers.

In fact, Bill 101 has had vast consequences. According to Statistics Canada, up to 244,000 English-speaking people have emigrated from Quebec to other provinces since the 1970s, primarily due to the cereal box debacle, and many businesses and jobs fled the province. Recently, Quebec has relented a bit, so you no longer have to say “sandwich au fromage fondant” – you can now order a “grilled cheese sandwich” with no fear of repercussions. Nevertheless, it added to my irrational fear of waking up in Quebec and having to understand someone who was legally obligated to speak only French.

Hence, the plan was to blitz through Quebec without going to either Montreal or Quebec City. We’d return some day as a part of a tour group where someone else can do the communicating and we could just smile. If we were lucky, we could maybe make it all the way through without even having to fuel up (“eh, how you say, “diesel?”).

We did not make it. We ended up stopping for night at a KOA not far from Quebec City. In fact, it happened to be very close to the ferry that goes to Old Quebec City, the walled city built on a cliff, still preserved after centuries. The first night, we dipped our toes in the French water, going to a highly rated restaurant in the little town of St Nicolas, the Cuisine du Marche. The server could not have been nicer, yet the language barrier was there. Between pointing, and a whole lot of smiling, we chose well, and had a wonderful meal. The next morning, I thought, “what the hell,” and we took the ferry to one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

ferry to qc

You enter Old Quebec from the ferry by one of two ways. First, a $3CDN trip up the Funicular (French, “Funiculaire”), or second, a scramble up the cliff and over the wall followed by a visit to the emergency room. We took the Funicular and enjoyed the view.

funicular

Quebec is made for walking, and many streets are still made of cobblestone.

cobblestone

It remains a fortified city with walls and gates except where cliffs and other topography made those needless. By the late 19th century, there was a movement to remove the fortifications as obsolete and as an obstacle to urban development. Fortunately, Lord Dufferin correctly anticipated 20th century tourism and successfully led a movement to preserve them.

wall gate

Following the sound of live music, and lured by the hope of internet access, I  found myself seated in Pub Irlandais Chez Murphy’s (English translation: Murphy’s Irish Pub), where I met JoHanne and Simon. They are friends, both from the island of Ile d’Orleans, not far from Quebec City.

joHanne

She’s a teacher, but dealing with the struggles of an aging, and ill, parent. Her father was at a nearby hospital undergoing a procedure, and she was taking a break before going back. We should go to Gaspe, she said. And Newfoundland. Yes, people from Newfoundland are very nice, “but people in Quebec the friendliest.” Which is true, since she initiated our conversation while sitting 3 stools over. She said goodbye and left for the hospital again, and I stayed to enjoy honest, live, Canadian pop music.

live at the pub

 

More walking around, beautiful buildings, statutes, and landscaping everywhere:

red roof

The red roofed building is actually a restaurant and jazz club so later that evening, it was time for more jazz (French translation “Le Jazz”), except that I have found that in Canada, jazz is a loose reference to, how you say, “musique lounge” or “lounge music.”

jazz lounge

I’m really aching for some good PDX Jazz again.

All in all, spending a day in Quebec was not the torture I thought it would be, primarily due to the fact that every single person I interacted with also spoke English. But I tried to pick up some of the language, primarily from menus.

By the second day in Quebec, I was like an old pro standing at the counter of Tim Horton’s:

Me: “SVP, un Glace d’l’maple, por favor, y un cafe a un creme.”

The server smiled and said “OK, that was a nice try. Three dollars please, and have a nice day.”