Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You can't eat the air and you can't drink the sea...

(This photo was gaffed from The Independent, a newspaper in Newfoundland. I'm sure the by's won't mind at all.)

I'm from a sleepy little place on the East Coast of Canada called Newfoundland. My people (like most peoples) are very proud of where we're from and it's becoming a tradition, in the capital city St. John's, that each summer a group of enthusiastic youth plant the flag of the republic in a prominent place overlooking the city. I don't capitalize republic because Newfoundland has never been a republic and probably never will. We have an "accepted" flag already. This one is more like a banished flag from long ago, a flag that was flown by rebels when our province was administered by Britain.

It's good for tourism and the local vendors sell piles of T-shirts and hats and replica flags to those visiting the island. I always like to tell people that we're the only place tough enough to put pink in our flag (don't think you'll find many others) and that it's not something that should be taken too seriously, just a gimmick, and that Newfoundlanders aren't too interested in divorcing ourselves from Canada. We've been screwed over by some of the deals we've made with the country and the other provinces, especially regarding resources like hydro and fossil fuels, which sees other regions making huge profits because of technicalities. For example, there's a deal in place whereby Newfoundland provides electricity to Quebec at rates which seemed reasonable in 1972 before the oil shocks. Now Quebec re-sells this power to New York State at a profit of roughly 4 billion dollars a year and Newfoundland can't renegotiate the contract until 2042 or something ridiculous like that. Even a billion dollars a year would mean that a province like ours with a population of less than 500 000 people would be a wealthy little place. But that's just sour grapes as far as I'm concerned. Why should Quebec or the rest of the country be responsible for stupid deals our government made decades ago?

For the last number of years a debate about this flag and the prospect of independence has been raging in the local papers. "What's wrong with the flag we've got?" some say. "Why would we want to strike out on our own?" say others. In many ways I have to agree. Not because I'm unpatriotic or anything, but because the world we live in is much more complex than that. It's a global community we live in now and by choosing to accentuate the differences we have with others would be to isolate ourselves, to become an island adrift, and counter-productive. I think it's important that people are proud of where they're from, but nationalism, in any guise, is a dangerous thing, and harping on about the republic that's never been as though it's inevitable is sheer folly. We're a lost people, wandering in search of ourselves and our identity, the things other than hardship that bind us together, and many rational thinkers in the province are boiling over because we seem to be merely treading water.

A big part of this comes from the fact that so many Newfoundlanders have been forced to move away from home, to leave our quite place for the big cities of mainland Canada, like Toronto and Edmonton, in search of work and in search of a future. Even though things have never been better in Newfoundland it still has the highest rates of unemployment in the country and our main industry, fishing, has all but disappeared due to over harvesting the stocks (something else we must take responsibility for instead of blaming the federal government in Ottawa for mismanagement). I'm one of the people who's left home. I've been on the move for almost a decade now, trying to find my place in this world and yet trying to hold on to where I'm from at the same time. This is a shared experience of our people. That we must all go away and hope to one day return, called back by the sea and the stone, by the ruggedness of the landscape and the people, the sense of community and belonging that we don't find anywhere else.

Some days I find myself yearning for home. I look through all the pictures in my shoe box -- my friends and family, the ocean that was in my backyard, the gulls and the whales and the icebergs, the music and the pubs. But more than anything what I long for on these days is the feeling of being there, the way I'm a part of it all and not an outsider as I am in these huge smoking cities filled with people watching the time and markets. I miss the stillness of my town at night, how I could walk the streets and hear only the lapping of the waves, a distant fog horn. I miss the way the sun hit the water. I miss that feeling that all Newfoundlanders know, and why we kiss the rocky ground each time we return. I miss home.

(all the images in the clip below are from in and around St. John's. Ron Hynes is one of our best known bards and his song has been in my mind all day)


human being said...

rickety cricket
sat on a rock
cursing his bad luck
didn't noticed the moss
who'd never suffered a loss
had nowhere to return to
had nothing to dream of
rickety cricket
sat on the rock
ignorant of the moss
who long for pathos and chaos

human being said...

sorry:who longed for pathos and chaos

Hopper said...

hello my corvid friend... as always thanks for your words and for your attentive reading... i've got a letter going our way soon...

human being said...

caw caaaw

Debra Kay said...

As someone who has returned "home" against the tide of outpouring okies, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be able to do that, and don't ever want to take that for granted. Of course, I still find myself being "homesick" for other places as well, the sea, Mexico, Florida, California. I love them all, and I love how the soul of each place touches my soul. Close your eyes and be comforted knowing the sea is still there, waiting for your return. I know I am comforted by the thought.

Pearl said...

Hm, not many bloggers writing from the Rock, even expats. Thanks for stopping by a couple of my blogs. Always nice to meet someone new.

Pink on a flag is a brave good thing. I'll have to keep an eye out for the Tshirts.

Cestandrea said...

Hi Cricket, I just let the song settle in my mind and body. And looking at the images and listening to the sound and the words I felt something like missing Newfoundland as a home it has never been to me:)
You created with your post a universal Newfoundland yearning!
I only know Newfoundland from the gib dogs I have loved ever since I was a little girl and because of the book I read some years ago, the shipping news.
I wonder how would you feel if you were a part of it all right now. Would you be longing for the huge smoking cities?

I know it is not the same, but living in Paris here, I sometimes dream of another life, in the soft country in an old house with wooden structures, with a wild garden and cats and dogs and a goat, and hard winters and sweet summers....

I send you lots of love

Cestandrea said...

I came back to read a bit better your post and to think about it.
The independance wish. Couldn't it be possible to point out the differences and still be part of a bigger thing? Different you must be, if you grow up in such a place, a wild place surrounded by water which, I imagine, can be brutal. And do you think that the fish will return if they are not hunted for some time?

A special place, thanks for bringing it to our minds...

studio lolo said...

I've never been to Newfoundland unless I was there as a kid and don't remember. Of course, as a pet person I love the dogs, and as a nature-loving person and Canadian, I love the "idea" of Newfoundland. The quaintness yet strength of the land and the people, the rugged coast and the call of the sea. Having grown up in New England for the most part I will always be drawn to these types of places. I can see why your heart is calling you back.

BBC said...

So go back, nothing stopping you but yourself.

Happiness is

A woman

Far far away

From me.

BBC said...

I get by on very little, anyone can if they put their mind to it. Well, I do have many skills and that helps.

And I can use them to earn good money, but that isn't important to me, I'm sticking to a small town that is getting even smaller, actually, I'm thankful for that, I'll get by just fine.

Anonymous said...

I understand why you love Ireland!other than these pubs and other pleasures of life!
I enjoy your province, I think! you have much in common with my region, Brittany (france). landscapes and this desire to be independent, for example! and without icebergs !

especially when you re calling newfoundland (with this feeling of freedom that it can obtain).
I understand that one can be nostalgic especially when the people live in Toronto, paris ... far from the sea!
thank you see you soon

french tony

sukipoet said...

A sad and beautiful post. That song is lovely and the photos. Your words too, as with Andrea, set me longing nostalgically for Newfoundland. Make me want to go there. I too read and saw "The Shipping News." But otherwise don't know much about the place. I would ask as with BBC why can't you return ? Are your folks still there?

Still, there is an edge and poignancy to being away from the place one longs for. I mean, creates an edge which can be a creative spur. Think of writers in exile/artists in exile. Sometimes the underlying sorrow and nostalgia for home brings forth great works. Be well, suki

Lynn said...

Well, I have never felt so homesick reading something someone else wrote and felt as I did reading this Hopper.

I could smell the sea, the sand, feel it under my bare feet, see the gulls, wonder about the fish, the boats rocking on the water, the waves crashing up on the beach... heart ached for you and your home...I hope you go to visit often...and I hope you get to return one day to stay if that is what you want.

I loved the music too, and the photos that went with it...
My DH would love your town, and talking to you about the fishing industry/history/music...

Do you sing and play guitar?
Somehow, I see the two of you playing side by side together.
And me sitting on an over stuffed chair in the corner listening while embroidering on cloth on my lap. ;-) Happy to be in your joined music.

Honour said...

It's a lovely testament to your home province, Jon. "Ruggedness" that's what my friend annette always describes NFLD as ... interesting that you picked the exact same word. I know I never look at NFLD the same way I did before you described it to me ... we see it with different eyes now ... that's a gift you give, as one of her patriots. (Ah - if only it seemed as feasible to do that with Alberta ... but it just won't work!)

i love you said...

I loooove Newfoundland...when I was there I kissed a cod, saw whales, stayed with kind people, and visited Joey Smallwood at his home! It was a high school exchange, but it has always stayed with me.

We stayed in Brigus and Cupids. I still have little metal pins with their names : )