Holiday Kitsch and Kitchen

Laurent has written an excellent account of our recent holiday on Les Îles de la Madeleine so I won’t bore you with a rehash. However as always I thought I’d post my take on a few things.

The old fishing shacks at La Grave at the southern most tip of Les îles
have been turned into artisinal shops and cafes.
Photo courtesy Québec Maritimes – Mathieu Dupuis

On the ferry coming over the big screens looped various videos of facts about Les îles, CTMA job offerings, and advertisements for artisans and services on the Maggies. There was one for a shop that specialized in glassware painted with cartoonish representations of Island architecture in bright, primary colours. We snorted derisively and made mock of these “touristy” chatkas; I mean who would fall for them? Right? Well guess who?

We walked into Creations Nancy on the waterfront at La Grave and I decided in a heartbeat that I needed these martini glasses! Not just needed but wanted! Hey that’s okay we’re tourists!

Also at La grave we came across La Chocolaterie Eaux Îles, a delightful chocolate shop. Of course, we had to verify the quality of the chocolate being sold. I am glad to report back to you that it was excellent! I hadn’t had sponge toffee coated in chocolate in many a year and I am wondering why? During our chat the charming vendeuse asked if we were going to the Grande-Entrée, the north most village on Le îles. If so there was an exceptional casse-croute (snack bar) and we really had to try it. We were. And we did.

However it wasn’t quite a snack bar – it was a small, friendly, exceptional bistro. Bistro Plongée Alpha is owned by diver/filmmaker/photographer Mario Cyr, an authority on marine life in the Gulf and Arctic. One of his stunning documentaries was playing while we had our lunch. It was their first day of the season and we were lucky to get a shared table as it was packed. It seems that along with great food friendly service is a trademark of most eateries on the Maggies – and this was no exception. Much of the produce is local and as he mentioned in his post Laurent had the seal fillet which he found to his taste. Being less adventuresome I had a tomato and cheese pizza. Sounds like a Margherita but it wasn’t. A home made pesto was topped by great sliced rounds of beefsteak tomato and slices of Pied de vent, a splendid local cheese. Washed down with a craft beer from one of the many Island breweries it was the perfect bistro lunch.

As a sidebar on that cheese. Back in 2015 on my brief visit to the Maggies we stopped off at La Fromagerie Pied de Vent for a tasting and I was taken with their eponymous cheese. I bought a round of it and, being me, left it on the boat when we arrived back in Montréal. I made up for it this time and bought two rounds. They have to be consumed before the end of the month – I see a quiche on a future menu.

Pied-De-Vent (foot of the wind) is a local expression for the rays of the sun piercing through the clouds. Madelinots say that these rays of sun announce strong winds.

*Interesting that the facts included some warnings: conserve water it is precious on the Maggies; there is no camping/vans overnight in public places; the undertow is dangerous on the beaches; and there is limited health care available. I found that highly unusual but highly admirable and frankly brave for a place that depends on tourism.

The word for June 8th is:
Bore /bôr/: [1. noun 2. verb]
1.1. A person whose talk or behavoir is dull or tedious
1.2 A situation which is dull or tedious
2. To make (someone) feel weary and uninterested by tedious talk or dullness.
Late 18th century origins unknown but usually said to be a figurative extension on the notion of “move forward slowly and persistently,” as a boring tool does, but OED has doubts and early evidence suggests a French connection.
English being what it is this is one of four definitions for the same word – each radically different from the other.

The Grand Hibernian

A week or so ago I mentioned that a trip on the Venice-Simplon Orient-Express was still an unchecked item on my bucket list. That set me to browsing through the photos from a train journey we took back in 2016. The Grand Hibernian was a new route inaugurated that year by Belmond – the people who operate the VSOE as well The Royal Scotsman, the Eastern & Orient Express, the Hiram Bingham to Machu Pichu, and the Andean Explorer. Hibernia is the classic Latin name for Ireland and true to its name The Grand Hibernian did a tour of Ireland with an optional side trip to Belfast and Waterford. We choose the five day-four night journey which took us to Cork, Killarney, Galway, West Port and back to Dublin. I booked it in April 2015 when Belmond first announced the service. It was to be my 70th birthday celebration combined with our anniversary – I was ever the optimist.

Our tickets and baggage tags
for our journey on
The Grand Hibernian.
September 13-17, 2016

In their literature Belmond referred to it as being more relaxed than the VSOE and Royal Scotsman experience but still with all the elegance, luxury and first class service of their signature trains. And indeed it was.

The train had the quiet comfort of a country home with hints of Georgian Dublin – muted colours picked up from the tartans of the various counties and warm woods. Everything was included: meals, fine wines and premium liquors, entertainment, and tours. And there were always pleasant surprises: Laurent Perrier champagne for our cruise on the Lakes of Killarny, oysters and Guinness on the platform as we waited for our train to be shunted in at West Port, morning coffee at the manor house at Blarney Castle, a jaunting cart ride through the streets of Killarny, and a champagne lunch at Ashford Castle.

We checked in at The Westbury in Dublin and enjoyed a light lunch before making our way to Heusten Station where we were greeted by the Train Manager and a piper who led us to our train. A welcome glass of champagne was offered, we were introduced to the service crew and escorted to our cabins.

There was one hiccup as the journey begin – what we in the airline called a mechanical. After stowing our suitcases we were asked to meet in the lounge car and advised of the delay. We had been scheduled to have a very elaborate afternoon tea as we journeyed to Cork however the train would have to go off-station for an hour or so. But never fear we would still get our afternoon tea. The piper escorted us through the station – to the wondering eyes of commuters – to The Happy Hooker. Now less you fear for our moral safety a “hooker” is a type of fishing vessel – honest! And the Happy Hooker was the pub/restaurant at the station. There to even more wondering eyes we found the entire tea service from the train had been brought over and set up. We were served our oolong, savouries, sandwiches, scones, and sweets along with more bubbles from the champagne region. When it was time to return the piper led us back to the comfort of the Grand Hibernian. Did I mention this was first class all the way.

The cabin was small but comfortable with twin beds and its own bathroom with shower. It was compact but full provided with fluffy towels and fine toiletries. The sheets were Egyptian cotton and blankets were Irish wool. As much as I enjoy overnight trains I am a light sleeper which can be a problem, however the train remained stationary on a siding each evening so there was no rocking and rolling or click-clack.

Our impromptu afternoon tea had given us an opportunity to meet some of the other passengers and particularly two delightful if slightly eccentric sisters from Dallas, a charming Dutch couple, and several other couples. It also meant that the first evening’s dinner had none of the awkwardness that often accompanies the first night of a cruise or tour.

The dining cars were elegant but relaxed. Yes we all dressed for dinner – ties were not required but jackets were – and the service was impeccable but warm and friendly. The three course meals were prepared in the small galley kitchen and featured regional lamb, fish, poultry and local produce. A range of breakfasts were on offer – continental to full Irish – and in the evening pre-dinner amuse-bouches were constantly being circulated. Only one lunch was served on the train and the others were taken at first class venues at various stops. At lunch in an old (circa 1600) stone quay side house by the Spanish Arch in Galway we had a surprise concert by Nan Tom Teaimin. She is one of the great singers of Sean-nós or “old style” Irish music and it was a privilege to hear her in a private intimate setting.

The lounge car was situated at the rear of the train and the large windows were perfect for watching the green – and I do mean green – countryside go by. Every evening coffee, cognac, and liquors were served in the lounge from the well-stock bar. W e were entertained by a variety of performers: a story teller, a Celtic harpist from Trois Rivières, Quebec, a guitar duo, and the Baileys – a well-known folk trio.

The various stops along the way took us to Blarney Castle, the Lakes of Killarny, the Cliffs of Mohr, Galway town, Ashford Castle, through the lush but often rugged countryside and along the wild Atlantic Coast.

There were so many highlights of that four days but one particular adventure was perhaps the most memorable: the School of Falconry at Ashford Castle. They claim: You will never forget the moment when your hawk first swoops down from a tree and lands on your gloved fist. And they were right!

The Burren – County Clare from the train window September 15th, 2016.

When we left the train in Dublin our next stop was London and then onward to Southampton and a transatlantic journey on the Queen Mary II. After that sort of trip maybe a day on the VSOE would be a bit of a let down??

The word for January 28th is:
Adventure /adˈven(t)SHər,ədˈven(t)SHər/: [1. noun 2. dated verb]
1. An unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.
2. To engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory.
Middle English: from Old French aventure (noun), aventurer (verb), based on Latin adventurus ‘about to happen’, from advenire ‘arrive’.

Strange… Very Strange

A couple of random shots of a things here in Fredericton that I found perhaps a little odd or down right strange.

I’m not sure if this a prime example of Canadian passive agressive or just a bad translation. It was part of an art installation to engender community spirit during the pandemic?????/

Lord Beaverbrook is of course a name that appears throughout town. He and Lady Beaverbrook were generous to a fault to the city and Province during their lifetimes. It is of course only befitting that a statue of the Beaver grace the waterside park near the art gallery (sadly closed) that he bequeathed to the city. However I think I may have discovered the reason for his less than happy demeanour. Can you spot it on the rollback?

At several spots along the path on the Green beside the St John River there are trees with plaques commemorating events or people. Let’s hope the sister city relationship with Augusta, Maine has outlived the tree that was planted back in 1993.

We stopped off at a trendy little coffee shop that had all sorts of fun stuff including plants in a cup, vampire garlic crushers, tea infusers etc. Strangely they did not have a washroom for clients (Coffee – washroom a given I would have thought but these are strange times) but they did have this very up-to-date Remington!

Though not funny or odd I loved the wording on this little tribute on a bench in the TD Sculpture Garden at the Beaverbrook Gallery. A left click on the photo will give you a close up.

And then there was the response I got from SIRI when I asked for the location of a shop in the area:

I would be fascinated what Siri heard me say????

The word for September 19th is:
Possible /ˈpäsəb(ə)l/: 1. Adjective 2. Noun
1. Able to be done; within the power or capacity of someone or something.
2. A person or thing that has the potential to become or do something, especially a potential candidate for a job or membership on a team.
Late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin possibilis, from posse ‘be able’.
I don’t honestly think I have ever heard it used as a noun but OED is the authority so it is indeed possible!

On the Road Again

My friend Charlie sent me this – I’m not sure what he was suggesting about this vacation but ….

Well our bags are packed and we’re ready to go. We’re off to exotic French River on the North Shore for a week on Saturday. I’m not sure how readily available internet etc will be so postings may be spotty over the next seven days unless they were prescheduled. However we have books, sun screen, extra underwear, frozen muffins and banana bread for breakfast, and supplies.

And like the Irish boy who emigrated to Canada I promise we’ll write if we get work.

The word for July 16th is:
Staycation /ˌstāˈkāSHn/: [informal noun]
A vacation spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.
The portmanteau word staycation was originally coined by Canadian comedian Brent Butt in the television show Corner Gas, in the episode “Mail Fraud”, which first aired October 24, 2005. An academic at Lake Superior State University added it to a List of Banished Words; noting that vacation is not synonymous with travel, and thus a separate term isn’t necessary to describe a vacation during which one stays at home. So who you going to side with some la-di-da academic or Brent Butt? I’m with Brent!

Second to the Right

and straight on to morning.

One of the benefits (?) of the past few months has been the opportunity to go through things – old photos, clothes, knick-knacks, and for those of us that have blogs drafts. I began working on the photos for this one back in September after our return from England. So from a time long ago and far away (September 17, 2019) here’s a memory of a glorious day in Kensington Gardens.

My first trip to London was in June of 1969. I arrived there the evening of the 22nd and checked into my hotel on Bayswater Road. The hotel and the area was no longer fashionable but still had a slightly tatty elegance and it was on the edge of Kensington Gardens. That trip was the beginning of my love affair with London and I wrote about it here. The reason I remember the exact date is because at the included breakfast (full English with – god help me – blood pudding) the first morning the newspaper revealed that Judy Garland had died from an overdose the evening before.

After that breakfast – no I did not eat the blood pudding! – my first mission was to head across the road and into Kensington Gardens in search of Peter Pan! Or at least the statue that had been erected by James M. Barrie to commemorate his most famous creation.

I won’t go into my fascination with Peter Pan but let us just say that since childhood I have been obsess captured by Barrie’s tale of “the Boy who would never grow up”. I was very fond of the Disney cartoon but not terribly enamoured of the Mary Martin musical that showed up on television. Over time I came to realize that Disney’s version was, well Disneyfied – too pretty, too sweet, too American for lack of a better word – and really only the Captain Hook voiced by Hans Conried came close to Barrie’s creation. I’ve since come to appreciate Barrie’s original version with all its overtones that suggest a darkness that he may or may not have meant – though Barrie was such a strange complicated little man that it’s hard to tell.

But I digress, again! On our September trip we were staying in Bayswater (now returned to much of its upper middle class Edwardian glory) and choose to spend a good part of our full day in London wandering through Kensington Palace and the Gardens. And once again I went in search of Peter Pan.

“There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay on the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine they will find a May-day gift by Mr J.M. Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around. It is the work of Sir George Frampton, and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.”

The Times of London
May 1, 1912

Today we are chiefly familiar with Peter Pan through Barrie’s 1904 stage play and the subsequent novelization as Peter and Wendy in 1911. However Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s 1902 novel The Little White Bird as a seven-day-old new born. This rather strange book is a mixture of travelogue, fantasy, children’s story and possibly autobiography and is set primarily in Bayswater, where Barrie lived, and the nearby Kensington Gardens.

Peter with the fairies – Arthur Rackham’s illustration from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

Barrie introduces the Royal Park by telling us that “all perambulators lead to Kensington Gardens” as the favoured destination of nursery maids and new mothers. And in The Little White Bird the infant Peter flies out of the nursery window on Bayswater Road and lands at the small bay on the west bank of the Long Water of the Serpentine that divide the Gardens from Hyde Park: the exact spot where the statue now stands. There Peter became friends with the fairies and woodland creatures that lived in the park. The Gardens were first recorded as the abode of fairies by Thomas Tickell in his 1722 poem Kensington Gardens. Most of Peter’s adventures with them take place after “Lock-Out time” when the gates of the Garden are closed.

The 14th foot high statue was commissioned by Barrie and executed by Sir George Frampton. The life-size Peter is the eight year old boy of the play rather than the infant of the novel. It was to be modelled on a photo Michael Llewelyn Davies who had been Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan. However Frampton substituted another model and Barrie felt he had missed the devilish edge to Peter’s character.

Barrie had the bronze erected secretly on the Long Water the evening of April 30, 1912, without fanfare and, more importantly, without permission. He wanted it to seem that the fairies had created it overnight. It’s sudden appearance was announced in the Times on the morning of May 1, 1912. He then donated it to the city of London over the objection of many who felt it was unseemly of him to advertise his works with a statue that had been erected without permission in a public park.

Peter is surrounded by fairies, squirrels, mice and rabbits. A close look at the fairies suggests that Frampton may have taken a few Edwardian chorus girls as his models for the lasses of fairydom.

As well as the original Frampton made six other full-sized casts of the bronze as well as a series of small reproductions. Two of the full-size versions are located at parks in Canada. One in Bowering Park, St John’s Newfoundland, erected 1925 as a tribute to Betty Munn, who had died aged three on 23 February 1918 in the sinking of SS Florizel. The other was installed 1929 in what is now Glen Gould Park in Toronto. One of the small casts was sold for £60,000 at auction in 2016.

The original setting for the statue was a mound of grass just off the walkway along the Long Water. In 2019 the Royal Parks, a charity that manages the 5,000 acres that make up the eight Royal Parks in London, felt that the statue would show better and be more approachable if elevated. It was restored and mounted on a stone step plinth and the site landscaped to provide “a garden that evokes the ‘magic’ of Peter Pan”. There was some resistance from Barrie’s family who felt that the original intent of the statue had been breached. I tend to agree with them – some of the magic has been lost and the fantasy distanced making it just another statue in the park.

The word for June 5th is:
Fairy /ˈfɛːri/: [noun]
1. A small imaginary being of human form that has magical powers, especially a female one.
2. Offensive term for a male homosexual.
Middle English (denoting fairyland, or fairies collectively): from Old French faerie, from fae, ‘a fairy’, from Latin fata ‘the Fates’, plural of fatum.
I always liked the English phrase “away with the fairies.” to suggest being mad, distracted, in another world.

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Jerry and I get around. In 2011, we moved from the USA to Spain. We now live near Málaga. Jerry y yo nos movemos. En 2011, nos mudamos de EEUU a España. Ahora vivimos cerca de Málaga.

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