Monday, October 8, 2012

I Scream for....

Life. It’s that thing that pulls you away from your blog for a few months.

But I didn’t want to not wrap up my stories of my little jaunt to NewfoundLAND, especially since, five months after the trip, I still find myself thinking often and fondly of the place.

Okay, it’s worse than that. Five months later, I still think regularly about running away to live there.  Not that I have any transferable skills. I can’t imagine there’s a great, big, screaming need for entertainment lawyers in Conception Bay South.  But hey, you never know. Maybe I could pick up a gig as Buddy the Puffin:

Seriously, someday I"m going to be a mascot. World's. Best. Job.

But anyway, how can you not love a place where, after you return safely from  your iceberg tour, and not so safely from yet another encounter with MAGELLAN (which tried to turn me the wrong way down a one way street...more than once), you follow the instructions of no less than a New York Times travel writer and stop by the the local ice cream shop:

Now come on, even if you don’t love ice cream – and if you don’t, are you human? – you’ve got to love the looks of this place and you have to love even more that, like every ice cream and coffee bar I saw in St. John's (except for one mercifully empty Starbucks), it's not a chain shop.

And if you do love ice cream, congratulations for being human, and take a gander (ten points for anyone who understands that’s a NewfoundLAND reference) at this:

That, my friends, is Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake Ice Cream.

That, my friends, is worth the price of the whole trip in and of itself.

But it was time to head off to Mass – yes, I still go to Sunday (or Saturday evening) Mass, wanna make something of it? -- so I scarfed down the ice cream and headed off toward…well, you can probably tell from this picture where I was headed:

If you can’t, you’ve been in New York too long, you irredeemable heathen, you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The End of the New World...

Had to take a mental health break from the blog for the last few days.  My Mom, a loyal reader and former English teacher, informed me that I was using "its" when I should have been using "it's," and that sent me into such a tailspin of grammar-and-usage-induced depression that I needed to step away from the computer.  You see,  I unfortunately lost my ability to discriminate between it's and its while I was teaching; I saw the wrong variant used so many times that first I started to second guess myself, then I started not to notice, and finally I forgot the correct usage completely.  The comp and rhetoric faculty where I used to teach would call this  "the evolution of the language."  I call that BS, so now that my Mom has given me a handy-dandy little way to remember which its is it's, I can continue. (Handy-dandy little way:  The apostrophe means something is missing.  What's missing is the "i" in "it is,"'s is it is.)

In any event, speaking of my folks, I decided to email them this photo from Iceberg Quest as we motored over to Cape Spear to see:

A HILL!  Excitement.

Actually, that hill is the easternmost point in North America.  So there it is -- the end. (An optimist would tell you that it's the beginning.)  So it wasn't that impressive from the boat. I did get there by car despite the best efforts of Magellan on Day 2 in St. John's, and it's actually very impressive. But what this picture really got me pondering was this:

From a small tour boat in the North Atlantic, took a picture of Newfoundland on my Blackberry and emailed it from that Blackberry to my parents, who received it on their computer on Long Island thirty seconds or so later  (yes, yes, I know, we should all upgrade to 4G to make it really fast).  When my parents were young, Blackberry was only a fruit, Newfoundland was not yet a province of Canada, television didn't yet exist, and in order to make a phone call from  her house on Long Island, my mother had to speak to an operator over their party line.  (My father, being a doctor's son in NYC, suffered no such indignities as his family had a dedicated line.)

Talk about how much can change over the course of a lifetime...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


It is really hard not to hear Celine Dion in your head, and to envision her chest-thumping her way through “My Heart Will Go On,” when you’re out on an iceberg tour in the North Atlantic, especially when your cell phone has a perfect signal (NOTE TO AT&T: I have had great service in Alaska and Newfoundland, but my phone doesn’t work in my office in Times Square. Something wrong with this picture?) and you can update your Facebook status with a picture of the icebergs you’re viewing, prompting your friends to respond as follows:

“It's April 15, 1912 all over again.”
“Titanic, anyone?”
“Your heart will go on, Carter... And Celine will thump her chest for you...”

They are so concerned about my safety, it’s heartwarming. But speaking of Celine…

This little guy is what they call a “Growler.”  Awww…cute little iceberg, right?

Not so much.  In the words of Captain Barry Rogers of Iceberg Quest DSV:  “Now that berg is what we call a growler. Growlers are the most dangerous kind of ice there is, because it’s hard to pick them up on radar, and growlers live mostly beneath the surface.  You hit a growler at night, it’s like hitting a brick wall, and that’s what we believe took down the Titanic.”

Near….far….whereEEEEEEEVVVVEERR you are…              

It was definitely time to go below deck for a drink.

That, my friends, is Newfoundland Screech (aka really, really tasty local Rum) and Coke. 

The ice? A piece of the growler that one of the crew hacked off so we could use it in our drinks. 

Iceberg Quest: 1, Growler: 0.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Iceberg Quest: Insert James Horner Music Here!

13,000 years. That's how old they estimate the ice in the icebergs floating down from Greenland every spring to be.  Which makes that ice older than the planet, if  you believe some new-Earth creationists, or makes that ice from the era of "humans sharing the planet with dinosaurs" if you believe some of the less-new-Earth creationists.  Me, I'm just an ordinary old Catholic, so I have no problems with the timeline of the icebergs, and "Iceberg Quest" proved that its somewhat (ok, totally) cheesy name is not false advertising.

But first, since we're talking about advertising, a brief ad from me:

These homes, along the Battery in St, John's, were among the first things we saw from the Iceberg Quest boat, or IQ for short.   They don't stink, do they? So just head on over to Kickstarter today and contribute to the "Buy Carter a Writer's Retreat on the St. John's Battery" campaign.  If you'd all be kind enough to kick in, oh, $25,000 each, that'd be great. And, as is usual for a Kickstarter campaign, I'll give you something really great in return, like an "I Helped Buy Carter a Writer's Retreat" pin. (For $50,000, I'll make it a baseball cap).

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Remember those "little" icebergs in the Atlantic, as seen from Signal Hill? These guys?

Yeah. They weren't so little:

Those pictures don't really help all that much to determine scale, I suppose, because however big they are, the Atlantic Ocean is bigger.  But this may help:

See that boat off to the right side of the image? (You may need to click to enlarge).  That's not a little dinghy or speedboat. It's a 15-foot-long fishing boat.  Yes, iceberg biiiig.

But not all icebergs are big, which brings us right back to our friend my next post. (Sorry. I'm a tease.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sorry about the missed day, ye faithful readers.  I had a good excuse:


Maybe it's not such a good excuse, actually, because nobody won the Stanley Cup last night, but I took the night off to watch hockey, which seems somehow appropriate when writing about Canada.  Oh, and while watching the game, I was crocheting with yarn I bought in Newfoundland. So really, I was still on-topic.

I am embarrassed to admit how much I spent on that yarn, because I'm usually a "buy-the-no-dye-lot-acrylic-and-make-a-blanket" kind of girl.  But I found this yarn at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.  They have quite a few of these publicly-run shops scattered about the province (New York State Council on the Arts, are you listening???), and they are dangerous in the extreme, meaning you will exit with a substantially lighter wallet.  Some of the pottery and glasswork was screaming my name, but fortunately I didn't have a way to get it home easily.  Some of the jewelry was also screaming my name, but then I saw that it was made in Ontario and decided it would have to wait for a trip to...right, Ontario.  So I defaulted to yarn.  But not just any yarn.  It's a hand-dyed, hand-spun knitting yarn with several different types of fibres (Canadian spelling!)/wools woven together, and it is soon to be a hand-dyed, hand-spun multicolored scarf for next winter (I couldn't wait to get at it, so I'm going to be ready for winter before I'm ready for summer).   The embarrassing admission?

I spent $70 on two skeins of yarn. Yipes. I am going to have to make about five Project Linus blankets in penance for spending that much on yarn.

But it's amazingly beautiful:

Actually, I just found the fibre artist who makes this yarn on the web.  She's here, her yarn is amazing, and I'm completely and utterly happy I spent that much on her yarn.

If the Cup Final goes a few more games, the scarf may actually be finished before my blogging about the trip.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hollywood and Jelly Beans

Bear with me here.

The most money I've ever made on a screenplay was about $15,000.  I earned that money off awards and grants for a screenplay called In Ntesinan, which was a laugh-a-minute comedy (not) about the horrible plight of Innu in Labrador ("Ntesinan" is the Innu name for Labrador), where gasoline huffing had become a way of life among the young people.  Being a broke student at the time I wrote it (and thus having no possible way to put my boots on the ground in Newfoundland), and also figuring that, when it comes to things Canadian, Hollywood is easier to fool than the bouncy but not too bright Golden Retriever who is TOTALLY SURE you've thrown that tennis ball,  a little bit easy to fool, I wrote the script without ever setting foot in the province about which I wrote.

Granted, I still haven't set foot in Labrador (see: turbo-prop), but part of In Ntesinan took part in St. John's, which I described as "a small city nestled against the stormy waters of the North Atlantic."  I'll give myself a shard of credit for using a homey word like "nestled," but other than that, no pats on the back for the generic "can't-you-tell-I've-never-been-there" writing.

Yes, I know what you young 'uns reading this are thinking. You're thinking, "Carter, it's called Google Earth. Or Google Images. Or just plain Google. Any one of these things would have solved your problem."  And I'm thinking, you little smart alecks, this was 2001, when telling someone to "google" something meant you were slurring because the alcohol was talking.

Well, in any event...a big oops about my description of St. John's. And thanks, Hollywood, for being so entirely gullible.  I enjoyed every dollar you paid me, and Sallie Mae, Chase Student Loans, and Mastercard enjoyed those dollars exponentially more as they got to keep them.

So here's that dark-and-stormy city, St. John's:

This is also St. John's:

As is this:

And this (the blue and orange house there is clearly owned by one of St. John's many Mets/Islanders fans):

It's just about the most vibrantly-colored city you'll find north of Bermuda.  They call these brightly colored houses "Jelly Bean Rows," and they're all over town.  They clearly deport people who paint their homes beige straight off to Nova Scotia.  It's just not done, luv.

The best thing about Jelly Bean Rows: You can find them with Magellan safely locked away in the glove compartment, serving his time-out.

The worst thing about Jelly Bean Rows:  You may feel a serious urge to paint the exterior of your brick Astoria walk-up magenta upon your return from Newfoundland. My landlady, Mrs. LePera, and I are currently negotiating as to whether this is called "artistic trailblazing" or "vandalism."

Near, Far, WhereEEEEEver You Are...Fighting with Magellan, Round 1

A friend of mine has a Garmin GPS unit voiced by an Australian chickie he calls Rayleen. My GPS at home is voiced by a very proper Brit I have named Nigel. My GPS in Newfoundland quickly earned itself no name other than "Magellan," which proved to be the most ironic name ever given to a GPS unit.

But maybe I actually started the fight.

MAGELLAN:  Please enter destination.
ME: I.C.E.B.E.R.G.S.

I didn't figure Magellan would respond, but the confounding letters kept him busy spinning his wheels for a few seconds until I took pity on him and entered "Signal Hill."

MAGELLAN:   "Make left turn on Cavendish Square."

Naturally, I went right, because I figured -- correctly, as it turns out -- that if you're driving uphill instead of downhill, perhaps you're headed to the top of Signal HILL.

"Recalculating....Turn right on Lower Battery Road."

I took a big risk here and turned right on Signal Hill Road.


Eventually, after infuriating Magellan ("turn left at hairpin curve and throw self into Atlantic"), I arrived at:

 Signal Hill.  This is it, ladies and gents. The place where:

the first transatlantic radio signal was received by Marconi, which led, inevitably, to the worst line ("Marconi plays the mamba") in what has been voted the worst song ("We Built this City") in pop music history, especially, perhaps, because "mamba" is not a dance (that would be mambO), but an extremely poisonous snake.

Luckily for all, there was no, er, mambaing on Signal Hill this day, only my new friend, Schooner.

Schooner's pretty hard to see in the picture (who took these crappy pictures anyway?) but Schooner's a Newfoundland dog, like this guy:

I tried to convince Schooner to eat Magellan for lunch, but he had better sense than that and, like most Newfoundland dogs -- and Newfoundland people -- Schooner was about the friendliest thing going.  Unfortunately, and hopefully unlike the people of Newfoundland, Newfie dogs are also huge droolers and, based on my past experience with a Newfie dog, chicken thieves.

Other than Schooner, impressive enough in and of himself, I got to see what I had come to see when on top of Signal Hill:


Whoops! Not Celine, I mean this:

ICEBERGS! In the Atlantic! So, you can't see them really well from the top of the hill, and they were kind of smallish ones, from the looks of it (Hold that "smallish" thought for a later post and, by the way, see how I did that? Kinda hooked you in about a later post so you have to come back? High five), but which, nevertheless, made me think of:

and also made me adamant that I'd get up close and personal with those icebergs. Perhaps even make a snow cone, with good old Newfoundland Screech (i.e. rum). But first, Magellan needed to go on a time-out.  Because, really, who needs a GPS when... can get there from here?

Random Irish People

After a pitched battle with Magellan, who -- in what was obviously an abortive attempt to make me circumnavigate the globe -- kept sending me down unlit surface streets (obviously moose-infested) instead of putting me on the Trans-Canada Highway or other large sounding roads, I arrived at the Sheraton Newfoundland to be checked in by an Irish girl with a great brogue.  At least I thought she was Irish and it was a brogue (hold that thought; more on it in a later post) because I couldn't fathom any other country or any other accent that would lead a girl half my age to say, "Have a g'night, luv, y'hear?"  Truth be told, I couldn't get past the "luv" part.  Unexpected terms of endearment from strangers always give me the willies (and the wanna-slaps if they're from strange men).  I've even talked to my psychiatrist about this (whose mother is from...drumroll...St. John's, Newfoundland) and didn't get very far, as the conversation went something like this:

ME: I'm not good with random terms of endearment from strangers. Or acquaintances, actually. Or, come to think of it, friends...or family.
PSYCHIATRIST (with a blank look on face):  You're from an Irish-American family on Long Island.
ME:  Yes, but shouldn't I be able to accept affection from people --
PSYCHIATRIST: You're. From. An. Irish. American. Family. On. Long. Island.
ME:  So you're saying I'm frigid?
PSYCHIATRIST: I'm saying you're from an Irish-American family on Long Island.

Which I guess means there's nothing I can do about it, luv.  I'm from Long Island.  It's a handy-dandy excuse for a multitude of sins.

Monday, June 4, 2012

No Exit

LaGuardia was the usual: delayed planes, cranky people (yes, you will even find cranky Canadians at the Air Canada gates in LaGuardia), and scenes out of No Exit.

But here's the thing.  See that map in the previous post, the map of Newfoundland? Newfoundland is an island IN THE ATLANTIC. Now, being somewhat -- but not much -- smarter than the average American high schooler (a large percentage of whom think Toronto is in Italy, which, you have to admit, is a good guess if you know...absolutely nothing), I know that Toronto is in Ontario, which is north of the Great Lakes. This makes Toronto a somewhat out-of-the-way stop when you're trying to get to Newfoundland.  In fact, it turns what should be a three hour direct flight into a Homeric odyssey involving two nations, multiple security checks ("you want to wand me where???"), and a time zone change that leaves you one and A HALF hours ahead of New York time. Yes, that's right, Newfoundland is one-and-a-half hours ahead of New York. Why? Not a clue. Hey, it seems to work for them, and who am I to judge?

TRAVEL HINT TO ALL AMERICANS CHANGING PLANES AT PEARSON: If you check your baggage, you have to retrieve it at Pearson, clear customs, and then recheck it, and by that point, if you're not thinking about Sartre and his definition of hell again, you're a better person than I am. Instead of checking, jam whatever you have to into your oversized carry-on and rely on Canadians being too nice to point out that your "carry-on" is the height and weight of your average pony. Works every time.

Once safely on the flight to "newfenLAND" as the locals pronounce it, I met Cal, who's a newfenLANDer but who works in the oil industry in Northern Alberta.  Cal informed me that instead of driving home (home being two hours north of the airport), whenever he flies in at night, he stays at an airport hotel, because there are "too many moose" on the road for him to drive home safely.

At first I thought Cal was hitting on me using the old "too many moose" come-on, but he seemed pretty earnest.

For those of you who read my Alaska blogs a few years ago, you know I have a thing about moose. Moose are not friendly animals, in fact, moose are particularly large, ugly and violent, especially in...drumroll...SPRING.... when they have baby moose (also as homely as a dog's back tooth) tagging along with them (yes, yes, they're called calves, what do you think I am, National Geographic Explorer?).  But if Alaska taught me one thing, it is how to survive a moose attack:

TRAVEL HINT TO ALL AMERICANS TRAVELING NORTH:  The best way to survive a moose attack is to roll under a car and stay there until the moose loses interest. Be sure to pick a car that does not ride too low to the road. I have a recurring nightmare of being trampled by a moose as my delusions of smaller-than-I-am grandeur lead me to try to roll my schlumpy American body under a Ferrari.
The second best way to survive a moose attack is to run around large obstacles, like cars or like tree trunks because moose, also like your average schlumpy American, have a wide turn radius, and you should be able to outrun them.

So, pondering the likelihood of running into moose YET again, I looked out the window of the plane as we were landing to get this lovely picture I call "NewfenLAND at night":

KIDDING!  That's North Korea.

NewfenLAND was actually a lot more lit up than I had imagined. For my fellow Lawn Gylanders, it kind of reminded me of coming in for a landing at Islip-Macarthur, complete with wicked cross-winds but with the added benefit of a few icebergs floating in the harbor just off the runway to make things interesting for fearful flyers.  Yes, that would be people like me. We landed with James Horner's music to Titanic playing at full blast in my mind.

TRAVEL HINT TO ALL AMERICANS TRAVELING TO "newfenLAND":  Oh holy cow, it is cold at night. Bring your Patagonia. (That sounds so snobby I want to slap myself.)

As I raced to my rented Chevy, my eyes darting left and right to spy the meeses I just knew were hiding around the next SUV in the airport parking lot, I realized that if the meese hiding behind the SUVs didn't get me, the Arctic wind blowing off the Atlantic would.  But while exiting the airport and fiddling with the GPS, I discovered who my real enemy on this trip would be:


Friday, June 1, 2012

Newfoundland: The Prologue

Now how can you not love a country that puts hockey on its money?

Well, maybe you can, but I am completely incapable of not loving a country that puts hockey and a dad teaching a child to skate on its money. So sing it with me: O Canada, your comics are so funny/As if that's not enough, there's hockey on your money.... If you don't know the tune, you haven't seen enough hockey or, for that matter, figure skating back in the 1990s when Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko were racking up the World Championships.

But it's not Canada as a whole that I'm here to spout about in my patented snarky-yet-affectionate way. It's just this part of Canada:

or, if you are more geographically inclined, this part of Canada:

Ok, not nearly the whole of that part of Canada, as that part of Canada is actually very, very big, and seeing even a decent part of it, especially the "Labrador" part, would have involved one of these:

Life is short, and in my somewhat paranoid universe, turbo-props inevitably make it shorter. So, as I had forgotten my Xanax and rosary beads, Labrador was out.

 In fact, nearly all of the gargantuan province was out except for St. John's, the capital city down in the southeastern corner of the province.

But like too many travel stories, this one started at LaGuardia. And like too many travel stories that start at LaGuardia, this one stayed at LaGuardia for far too long. More on that in the next post.