Newfoundland, St. John’s, July 25-27, 2008, Part 1

20 02 2009

St. John's Harbour

We Made It! We Made It!

The ride from Fortune to St. John’s was sunny and if anything traveling the Burin Peninsula for the 2nd time was even more glorious because of it’s marvelous but alien beauty. We arrived in St. John’s at twilight, and I felt some kind of intellectual but not emotional triumph as we passed by Mile 0 of the Trans-Canada highway in downtown St. John’s, which meant we had spanned the entire thing, even if we weren’t on it the whole time. St. John’s had a more metropolitan feel than I had expected for it’s size, which is about 125,000 people. At the same time it felt like a giant fishing village, with it’s downtown-front harbour and brightly painted “Jelly Bean” houses. Our hosts Bart and Undrea live in one of those houses, and when we pulled up in the Boogie Bus we were greeted with balloons and noisemakers, and a sign announcing our “Eastern Checkpoint”.

A Happy Reunion

A Happy Reunion

We would be staying in St. John’ for over a week, as the whole impetus of this cross Canada Boogie Bus Adventure of 2008 was to attend Bart and Undrea’s wedding, and in fact, Step was the Best Man. (In my opinion, Step is always the Best Man, ‘though when I asked Undrea how it felt to not be marrying the Best Man she didn’t seem too perturbed).

The next day was sunny, which is apparently quite an unusual circumstance in St. John’s and should be taken full advantage of. Step and Bart decided to do an outside project on the van, and I went with Undrea to pick up her wedding dress. The dress had been bought by mail order but it was being altered at a local tailor. Undrea is really tall and skinny like Bart, and when she put on the dress she looked to be about 8 feet, but it was okay because I think Bart is still taller than that.

After the wedding dress we went to a garage sale where I bough a politically incorrect souvenir plate with an “Injun” on it and Undrea bought a glass shaped like a naked woman and then we stopped by “The Rooms”.

The Rooms

The Rooms

The Rooms are probably the most controversial piece of architecture in St. John’s. (You know, every city has one). Most fishing villages have shacks by the sea where fish are cleaned and equipment is kept, and they are referred to as “the rooms”, so “The Rooms” of St. John’s riffs on that. Built on the highest point of the inner city and dominating the skyline, they are shaped like 3 gigantic shacks, one of which houses the art gallery, one the archives, and the other the museum. We visited The Rooms several times while in St. John’s, and it was always time well spent. One reasonable entrance fee of $7.50 gets you access into all 3 areas, or you can just go to the atrium part for the view and Red Oak Restaurant for free. We had to wait about half an hour for seats at the restaurant, and when we were seated we discovered each table had binoculars on it to better enjoy the amazing city vista. The menu was East coast comfort food meets Nouvelle Cuisine. I had a seafood casserole sort of thing that was pretty tasty but maybe a little too rich for me.

The House of Woodrow

The House of Woodrow

Later in the week we saw a really good art show in the gallery, Woodrow by Graeme Patterson. Undrea told me all the art shows had to have some connection to Newfoundland, because the whole concept of The Rooms is to promote local culture, but this show was about Saskatchewan, particularly Woodrow, Saskatchewan. (Graeme Patterson had been a resident artist at The Rooms at some point, so I guess that was the East Coast connection). Patterson was born in Saskatchewan and had gone back to explore his roots after his Grandfather died. He spent two years in his Grandfather’s woodshop creating the show, Woodrow, which is large scale models of buildings around Woodrow, and he put little robots and animations in them. The buildings are things like an old decrepit grain elevator, the hockey arena, and even the town sink hole complete with garbage and little worn out appliances. There is a deer and monkey theme threaded through the show, mainly through the animations, some of which you watch by peering into the little windows of some of the models. We really liked this show, and if you have read this blog you know we had recently been in Saskatchewan and can attest the show really captured the feeling of the place, even though Saskatchewan is not infested with rascally monkeys or deer with eerie glowing eyes. He also made a pretty good website of the show, and although it’s not quite the experience of seeing it live it is still worthwhile to spend some time on it: http://www.graemepatterson.com/WoodrowMapFrameSet.htm

The Giant Squid attacks The Ship

The Giant Squid attacks The Ship

Another time when we visited The Rooms I saw an exhibit in the museum about Giant Squid. Newfoundland is a “hotspot” for giant squid carcasses and they have one which is believed to be not full grown on display at The Rooms. It’s maybe 18 feet long, if I remember correctly, and somewhat grizzly. Even though I find giant squid to be sort of fascinating, I don’t know much about them, but that is true of humans in general. I guess what I find fascinating is how we think we collectively know so much, but here is this gimungous creature living in the seas we share which no one had ever seen alive until 2009, and indeed, there mere existence was entirely mythological until the mid 1800’s. How many other creatures do we share the Earth with that we don’t even suspect exist?

We also saw a show at The Rooms that were photographs of life in Labrador, of particular interest to us since we would soon be there, and a show of antique furniture in Newfoundland that was disappointing to me in it’s plainness.

Settler's, anyone?

Settlers, anyone?

For this week of the trip we were moved out of the Boogie Bus and into the house, which was in a constant state of flux for the remaining time we were there. This is entirely understandable, of course, since the wedding was in it’s final ramp up and more and more visitors kept arriving. One of the first nights we tried to play a game of City and Knights of Catan, since Bart, Step and I are all avid Catan players, but the game got derailed by wedding stuff and after a couple days of allowing it to take up table space we all accepted that we would never finish it and we put it away. We thought Bart and Undrea might need a little decompression at this point in the wedding week, so we all decided to go camping.

The Nuptial Couple

The Nuptial Couple

Read Part 2 of St. John’s here, and Part 3 here.

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