I’m writing today’s column while visiting a Chinese restaurant that is only 25 kilometres from McCallum. The chicken I’m eating is delicious, and the service I’m receiving is as good as any I have ever experienced. How can this be so? How can there be a tasty, exotic, well-managed restaurant near McCallum that Coast of Bays’ residents haven’t heard about? Because it’s in St. Pierre, France and, actually, Le Mandarin is not the only eatery to be found here—this tiny French island overflows with great food, fun and friendliness.
Yep. I’m eating with chopsticks, paying with Euros, neither my waiter nor I speak the same language, it’s all happening in France AND in North America, and I’m only 16 miles from McCallum. In fact, on a nice day, I can see the entire distance.
But as most readers know, it took me twelve hours over two days on three highways and two ferries to travel here. Because, as close as McCallum is to these French-owned islands when you travel the way that guillemots and gannets do, St. Pierre may as well be in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, given the amount of time and energy it takes to travel to it by car. But the difference is that while I figure North Sydney to be a filthy fleabag, St. Pierre is a pretty place. (My apologies to some of our North Sydney neighbours but once upon a time I had truck trouble while travelling through that town and ended up waiting a week while watching pathetic liars pretend to be competent mechanics. So I came to conclude that for all the natural beauty that Cape Breton brings, it’s urban northern shore is culturally bankrupt compared to the rest of that incredible island), but I digress.
I stayed last night in Fortune, a friendly but not too pretty or prosperous town at the bottom of the Burin Peninsula, and this morning I took the Arethusa across the sea to St. Pierre. Upon arrival, seeing the colourful historic buildings along the city’s shoreline, I immediately felt the fascination of being in a foreign location.
Witnessing the way France has clearly committed to preserving everything that is old about their islands, in an effort to sell such sights to the world, is another reminder of how the French are culturally superior to the English. Not that I’m blind to Frances’ and French peoples’ shortcomings—like us all, they have their insecurities. Just that I’ve concluded the French’s capacity to care for their culture, and their desire to design and develop attractive objects is second-to-none (cars, homes, clothing…). Even their old American cars are done up in subtly different ways than I’ve seen in the fifty years I lived in a car culture. For example, this morning, I saw some sleek sexy wheels mounted on a mid-‘90s Firebird while it sat in front of an interesting art gallery.
Even the roads these people drive on are different—interlocking stone paving placed in ancient patterns, rather than asphalt used simply for its cost effectiveness, can make a place pleasant in such a way that tourists will come more often, stay a little longer, and spend more money.
Now all I have to do is figure out which of my Newfoundland neighbours might wish to make this trip that—in their fast little fishing vessels—is only a one-hour boat ride from McCallum.
McCallum’s feller-from-away, David can be reached at email@example.com