Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oui, Madame

Attentive readers of Peregrinations will have noticed that pal Mary, commenting on my whining about the bad weather in my last post, slapped me upside the head. Smartened me up right good, she did. I decided I’d better watch my step for awhile. The weatherman promised a half decent day Saturday so Jan and I ran off with Lynn and Louise after work on Friday, heading to Isle Madame, an Acadian French enclave at the southeastern corner of Cape Breton. En route we stopped at the Bras d’Or Inn in St. Peter’s and dined in high style on steamed and baked mussels.

I’ve noticed before that the Acadians appear to be significantly tidier than the rest of us. Houses and front yards on Isle Madame and its sisters – Petit de Grat, Janvrins and a cast of smaller islands – are neat and tidy; roadsides are uncluttered by litter. We know right away we are not in a Scots part of Cape Breton: stop signs tell us to Arret, road signs all start out with Ch, which stands not for Charles as I pretended to imagine, but Chemin. The Acadia flag flies proudly everywhere.

We stayed – for a bargain price – in one of the simple but charming trio of two-bedroom cottages at Robin’s on the southside of Arichat harbour. When fog permitted, the cottage commanded a fine view of Arichat village. Robin’s hostess, Anita, was the first but by no means last of several friendly mesdames to enhance the visit: on Saturday morning she surprised and pleased us with a delivery of milk, butter and fresh raisin bread.

We spent much of Saturday rambling from one end to the other of roadless Delorier Island. Mary will be pleased to hear that since the skies were sometimes blue and sunny we enjoyed excellent views right across Chedabucto Bay to Canso on the Nova Scotia mainland. Delorier provided much to gawk at, including a diverse array of geology: beach rocks included volcanics, sandstones, vivid red and yellow siltstones, and an assortment of conglomerates, some so striking that Jan took to going on about Mother Nature improving on Jackson Pollock. The birding was good too, headlined by numerous and noisy osprey, herons, willets.

Beachcombing on Delorier delivered other, not-so-natural finds. The islands are lobster country; we spotted bait boxes, bait bags, and those little rubber thingies fishermen put on lobster claws to ensure they don’t nip your fingers off. My favourites are the ones marked ‘Wild Canada’. Their size is perfect for another purpose; slipped on the business end of a walking stick at boot-top height they make excellent depth gauges – before stepping into that questionable bog, take a reading to ensure you won’t go over the top. To my eye the most intriguing find was a framed portrait – rather Goyaesque I thought – of an outstandingly appointed young woman wearing nothing but a sassy pair of brown leather boots. Perhaps the lobsterman who owned it had grown tired of the splendid Chedabucto vistas, but how did the fine art wind up going overboard?

After the day’s exertions we stopped at the Arichat Coop to buy the wherewithal for a sumptuous Sunday breakfast. At the adjacent NSLC outlet another friendly madame kindly informed me that a medley of Vitamin B6 and magnesium oxide are the clear thing to fend off future kidney stone attacks. Seldom do my beer store stops reap such useful intelligence. We left Stony’s Takeout with a feed of seafood and clam platters, sufficient to founder a horse. Back at the cottage we submitted to another bananagrams thrashing at the hands of Lynn and Louise.

Sunday brought the world back to customary fog and drizzle. Never mind, with Mary in mind I soldiered merrily on. I had taken it into my head to look for Harry Whittier, the most memorable and influential of my Dalhousie English professors, who lives on Isle Madame. Yet another friendly lady, at the D’Escousse store, assured me that, yes, Harry is alive and well, and told me where to find him, at the end of the road to Cap le Ronde. Alas, Harry was not at home but I left a note for him with the lady at the D’Escousse store.

On the homeward leg of our little adventure we stopped at the historic St. Peter’s canal. Business was so slow here that the bright young historic parks guide dashed out to greet us and convey all we needed to know about the old locks. At Big Pond I remedied long-standing negligence: I had never accommodated Jan’s wish to visit to Rita’s Tea Room. Perhaps due to the inclement weather, we had Rita MacNeil’s establishment to ourselves. Rita herself was not on site but her son substituted capably. The tea and oatcakes, it goes without saying, were of the highest order. Grand, dear, just grand.

It was a weekend made all the better for having been comprised entirely of simple pleasures. Now of course the usual fog and drizzle have returned. But don’t mistake me – I’m not grumbling – the prospect of another of Mary’s smacks upside the head has me in my very best, cheeriest form.


Mary Sanseverino said...

Alright Alan! Sounds like you are embracing your inner Scot!

Mary Sanseverino said...
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