I’m in St. John’s, Newfoundland, this week on business. It’s been tough to do much sightseeing as by the time I’m out of work it’s chilly, windy, and pitch black, but I’m trying to do my part. It’s a pretty magical little city of 120,000 people, barely 20km across, barely 20 minutes to anywhere at rush hour.
The accents are awesome. It’s mindboggling how many dialects there seem to be in this tiny city. No two people seem to enunciate the same (if at all). The lilts of their everyday conversations are lighthearted and melodic.
They seem to have found a way say the word “fuck” as if they’re wringing the word like a washcloth. It’s something halfway, if you can imagine, between “folk” and “book”.
Everyone here seems to work for a church, or is related to someone who does. The nice lady I’m working with here is a different religion than her husband, and their daughter is yet another religion and is undecided between biology and theology for university. Here, Christmas is the time of year with nary a vague “happy holidays” in sight or on the radio.
The radio is something else. I must have flipped through 5 or 6 stations until I found something with no accordion. When I did, I switched back to the accordion. Driving through these windy, windey streets calls for no less.
The hospitality is legendary. I’ve been addressed with more endearing terms by waiting staff at a restaurant, diner, and mall kiosk than my wife has probably called me all year. Some such terms that immediately come to mind are:
- me boy
- me son
- me ol’ son
So tonight I hoped to go for a bit of a walk and buy a little treat for the Mrs. I took a very peaceful stroll a ways up Water St. and checked out some of the shops. I’ll not say what I bought, lest I ruin the surprise, but it wasn’t an easy decision as there were all kinds of charming curios, knitted sweaters and mitts, and other kitchy effects of local colour.
I also kept an eye out for a place to eat. I saw more than my fair share of pubs – some even with towering copper vats for fermenting local beer – but somehow it didn’t strike my fancy today. I passed a curious place called Hong Kong Grill which, quizically, though founded over a decade ago purportedly served “Chinese and Canadian food” (wasn’t Hong Kong English then?). In the end I settled upon the spectacularly charming Velma’s Restaurant.
The place is adorable, adorned with intricately embroidered chairs, frilled curtains, and various golden nautical ornaments, with posters and paintings of the maritime landscape about. I was warmly welcomed by a waiter, doubtless 5 years my junior, who called me “son”. Halfway through reading the comfort-laden menu he dictated the day’s specials and I couldn’t refuse the house specialty cod.
He brought me homemade bread, more a slab than a slice, which warmed my hands and my heart as I swallowed it down with butter. The portion appeard skimpy but very attractive, served with “scruncheons” (I hadn’t the forethought to ask what they were), sliced cooked carrots, scoops of mashed potatoes, and a sizeable bowl of gravy on the side. The cod was barely seasoned, rich, and fantastically satisfying, and the scruncheons, whatever they might have been, added a salty alter-ego.
As I ate alone I enjoyed watching bundled-up folks pass by and I listened to the light banter of the various elderly patrons as they spoke of Christmas and church. They’d all ordered 2 or 3 courses and could finish none of them. The waiter ribbed them playfully for not finishing their suppers.
I took some homemade muffins (blueberry and partridgeberry) which I’ll enjoy with my wife tomorrow, paid, and tipped no less generously than was well deserved. The parting pleasantry bestowed by the waiter was genuine.
I made the short walk back to my hotel. The chill could never permeate my fuel-filled furnace, and the blustery winds made me smirk as if they whispered childish jokes as they passed. A heartwarming, childlike elation washed over me.
I’ll be back.