Monday, July 31, 2006

Be it ever so foggy, there's no place like home

Greetings from St. John's. Apologies for not posting in the past four days, but as it turns out Gros Morne doesn't have readily available internet connections ... or at least, our motel did not. But more on our accommodations later.

The photo above is a tease -- I'll post the Gros Morne Diaries over the next few days, with pictures that do no justice to the magnificent landscapes but still manage to be pretty spectacular. Suffice it to say, the three days we were there were not nearly long enough to even scratch the surface of that incredible place.

Meanwhile, I'm back in St. John's after a three month absence and feeling quite at home again already ... albeit with most of my clothes still in bins and much of that needing to be laundered. But it was quite a relief to turn off the Trans-Canada and into Greater Metropolitan St. John's (after an eight-hour drive, the day after an epic hike up and down Gros Morne Mountain, which made our muscles sort of calcify into their sitting positions in the course of the drive, to the point that Kristen and I were more or less hobbling like lepers upon emerging from the car -- but again, more on that in the near future).

I left off last Thursday however promising more pictures from our evening in Port-aux-Basques. So here they are. First, the view from the long, steep, winding driveway up to our hotel down on the rather festive town center:

Something you see in all the travel ads and brochures for Newfoundland are the brightly coloured houses and buildings that festoon the towns and cities here. I always remember, prior to actually coming here, thinking that this was an advertising ploy -- they were probably showing occasional instances of bright palettes being used as a strategy for making the province's towns look uniformly colourful. But then you get here and realize that this is the norm.

I suppose the reality of long, gray winters makes people more inclined to surround themselves with colour. Or perhaps the paint jobs one sees are simply the outward manifestations of the rather colourful personalities that populate this island. Theories, anyone?

The fog does have a tendency to make things haunting, though ...

Finally, before I sign of: a challenge! The image below is one posted all over the ferry from Cape Breton to Newfoundland:

Now, we did eventually discover the meaning of this rather cryptic icon, but I want all the readers of this humble blog to invent meanings for it! What is this sign telling us to do?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Back on The Rock ...

... or on the southwestern tip of it. Greetings from Port-aux-Basques! Kristen and I have been making our way out east in stages since last Sunday, with stops at her parents' cottage outside of Peterborough, Edmundston NB, Fredericton, Cape Breton, and the world's longest covered bridge. Seriously.

I love Canadiana. We also passed the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory in Ivanhoe, Ontario (alas, too early to make a stop), as well as such blandly named towns as Saint-Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! in Quebec. The drive has been mostly painless, with only one long day, from Peterborough to Edmundston (eleven hours, 1050 km).

We caught the ferry this morning for an uneventful seven-hour crossing, which deposited us here in Port-aux-basques just in time for dinner. It was quite foggy for most of the journey across, which made the entire experience a bit bland. We camped out at a table and read and played Scrabble, with only one venture up on deck. Normally I love to be topsides, but with the fog there was nothing to see. Also, it was flat as a mirror the whole way, which to my mind is simply boring. I keep hearing horror stories of ferry rides in tall seas, and have so far been disappointed not to experience that myself. It barely feels like you're on the water when you've got weather like today.

But I digress.

So we're now relaxing in the St. Christopher's Hotel in Port-aux-Basques, having a post-dinner drink. This is of course only my second time in this little town, having passed through last May on my way out. Then, I arrived in the evening just as darkness fell along with fog so thick it made today's look like a mild haze. So all I saw of the town was what I could see for about twenty feet in every direction ... and the bar at the Hotel Port-aux-Basque, where I killed two hours or so with a few crosswords and a few rusty nails.

So today was a bit of a revelation. This is a charming town, and quite picturesque. They've gone out of their way to make it inviting and vibrant, and though here and there it's a little twee, it's quite lovely. Kristen and I walked around before dinner, and it felt rather nice to be back in Newfoundland.

[OK, Blogger's doing that thing to me right now where it stops uploading pictures. I'll log on later and post my pics of P-aux-B and complete the post]

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The year of Morgan

Today was the lovely Morgan's birthday party, and as you can see, only a few people managed to make it out for the festivities ...

I am still in awe of my neice. And of my brother and sister-in-law. I mean, really ... look at what they made!

I've known my brother all his life. There was a time, long ago, when I could beat him up. Then he got big, started playing rugby and joined the army, and that little idyll was a thing of the past. Still, he was just a little (big) tow-haired punk. What business does he have fathering such a perfect child as this?

Mysteries never cease.

Happy birthday, little girl.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A riddle ...

... if Stephen Harper is magnanimous and there's no PR person there, does it make a sound?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Happy birthday, blog!

Yup, it has been exactly one year since I first settled this humble little corner of cyberspace. It didn't begin auspiciously -- merely a line or two promising things to come.

Very strange to look back over it now. I've written a lot! I'd be interested to know what my total word count is so far.

Blogs are interesting. It has been weird initiating myself into this particular online community: makes me think that there is some psychological / personality study to be done about blogs and the way they reveal truths about the individuals who write them. I have persued probably hundreds of blogs now in the past year, and not a single one is the same as another. Diaries for a (potentially) mass audience ... it certainly changes the dynamic of what one might write when you know it's in the public domain as opposed to being in a personal journal.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who has visited or left comments here's hoping year two of "An Ontarian in Newfoundland" provides some entertainment for everyone involved.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The new TV addiction

It is ever so humiliating to be an outspoken critic of reality TV and then succumb to a series ... and yet, here I am. Lately, Kristen and I have been glued to the TV on monday nights to see Hell's Kitchen, one of the latest competition / elimination shows to grace the screen. And I must say, it is brilliant.

Actually, like all such shows, it's crass, contrived, and humiliating for all those involved. But it also stars Gordon Ramsay, everyone's favourite foul-mouthed, caustic, supremely arrogant British chef, who in every episode browbeats his incompetent would-be cooks to within an inch of their lives as they compete with each other to be worthy of the ultimate prize: a job as executive chef at a brand new multi-million dollar hotel/restaurant in Las Vegas.

Never having been someone who takes inordinate pleasure in the misery of others, I am quite appalled at myself for the great delight I experience when I see Ramsay utterly destroy the competitors. I do console myself however by reminding myself that each and every one of the people on the show are, to a person, utterly unlikable and incompetent. Wherein lies the big "Huh?" of the show -- no matter what paces Ramsay puts these unfortunates through, I cannot imagine that they could ever rise to the challenge of running a genuinely prestigious kitchen. What high-flying restaranteur has been convinced to fall on his sword for this sake of this show, I wonder? Hopefully he's getting reimbursed by the network when the "winner" runs the business into the ground ...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Morgan update

Last weekend I was in Toronto, and of course went to see my beautiful niece Morgan -- right now, just a week and a bit shy of her first birthday.

One year old! She has her party next saturday, the day before Kristen and I start driving out to NF -- continuing the tradition, then, started last summer when we began our trek to the east coast the day after Morgan was born.

My blog, not coincidentally, is also approaching its first birthday, and one of my first posts featured this picture of the slumbering infant:

And here she is last weekend. A lot happens in a year, eh?

Talk about your chickens coming home to roost -- when my brother Matt was a little kid, he was a determined tow-headed imp with the kind of boundless energy that inspires parents, babysitters, preschool teachers, etc. to sit down and weep in exasperation and exhaustion. Well, you should see this little girl motor! I wished I'd had a radar gun ... when she spies an open baby-gate, there's no stopping her. And she often wears an expression of determination and concentration that makes one woder exactly what she's plotting ....

Daddy's blackberry is a favourite toy.

That look of diabolical determination I was talking about:

Monday, July 10, 2006

World Cup postmortem

Only one thing to say, really ... which is that in the future I now intend to express my ire by head-butting people in the chest.

Thank you, Zinedine Zidane. I will now be quitting those anger management classes.

Oh, and Viva Italia.

Dear Stephen Harper:

I just wanted to write to thank you for the one percent reduction in the GST. I can tell you, I can now barely restrain my spending when I think of all the money I'll be saving on my purchases. Case in point, I just bought myself a new pair of hiking shoes, on sale for $80 -- and believe me, that eighty cents I saved is going right into the bank, until I make a comparable purchase, at which point the $1.60 I saved will get re-invested in the economy in the form of an extra large double-double from Tim Hortons. Because you know, I do believe in buying Canadian, in name if not in reality (I suppose I could buy frostie from Wendy's instead, but I'll maintain my illusion that buying coffee from Tim's is a patriotic choice).

So. Yes. Wow. I'm strapping myself in so that when this economy goes through the roof I won't be knocked off my feet.

Though I do have another question for you, if that's OK Steve (I can call you Steve, right? Steve-O? Stevemeister? Stevereno?) ... I got an email last week from the payroll people at Memorial informing me that the total deductions from my pay would be going up, because someone saw fit to reduce the base claim for personal income tax. Now, given what a tax-cutting maven you are -- I mean, just look at that now-almost-nonexistent GST! -- I just know that this has to be a mistake. So if it's all the same to you Steve-man, I think I'll leave that eighty cents I saved in the bank for the time being. Once you've got this whole income tax thing sorted out, I'll release the purse strings and help get this economy chugging along.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Campus wildlife

I want to know: has there ever been a biological or ecological study done on university campuses as being their own unique ecosystems? I ask, because this morning, walking over to the parking offices here at UWO, I passed a mother raccoon shepherding her four babies across the lawn beside University college, through a parking lot and into the woods behind the buisiness school.

Seriously, it was adorable. But it also sort of puts paid to anyone claiming that human beings have little or no impact on animal behaviour. Raccoons here at Western ceased to be nocturnal years ago -- I think the combination of better daytime garbage pickings and the realization that the human beings here were harmless led some of the more enterprising raccos to venture out in the daylight hours. Nevertheless, the shift from nocturnal to daytime lifestyles is pretty significant ... from what I know of biology (which is, admittedly, very little), that sort of behaviour is more or less hardwired after millenia of evolution. It's a pretty hefty environmental change to engender such a change.

Not that I necessarily think this is a bad thing (unless you're terrified of raccoons and would have a massive coronary to see one of them sitting on the picnic table next to you at the GC patio blithely munching away at a discarded pizza crust -- something I have seen on more than one occasion) ... animals living on university campuses have it made. There are quite frequently wooded areas and/or rather pastoral pathways, bodies of water like ponds or rivers or creeks, a population of humans highly unlikely to cause them harm (a question to the scientists: do campus animals go into hiding during O-week, Homecoming, and the end of the terms to avoid drunken undergrads more likely to hurl stone or adopt groundhogs as residence mascots? have they adapted to human stupidity as well as kindness?) ... and most importantly, there is an excess of food overflowing the numerous traschcans.

It strikes me that a campus like Western supports its own unique ecosystem, one well suited to cohabitation with homo sapiens ... we have numerous rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, ducks and birds -- all of which have more or less lost their fear of us. The number of times I've been sitting outside eating lunch and had a gang of chipmunks approach my feet with an expectant look is more than I can count. There are also predators: a variety of birds of prey inhabit our various trees and neo-gothic towers.

Seriously, I would think campuses would provide biologists and zoologists with an ideal sort of human-inspired ecosystem, kind of like a shipwreck, that provides a controlled environment in which to study animal adaptation. And if there hasn't been a study like this done, I invite scientists to steal my idea (as long as I get credit, and some sort of new species named after me).

Monday, July 03, 2006