We interrupt this blog to bring you… Halloween.

Last night being All Hallow’s Eve, I couldn’t help but put something of a Newfoundland spin on it. At Christmas time in Newfoundland, in addition to all the normal festivities including the prerequisite kitchen parties, is the custom of Mummering. I’ve written about this previously, but I’ll recap. Complete strangers, oddly dressed, descend upon unsuspecting resident’s homes and demand food and drink, carouse, and usually stay until tired or their true identities are discovered and then they leave to repeat said mayhem in yet another home. It can get out of hand. Once the government even tried to outlaw it, but the Newfoundlanders were having none of that, thank you b’y.

This year, as we get ready to dole out the ritual baksheesh to the little and not-so-little ones, I got to thinking how cool it might be to dress as a mummer here in the US.

This is Alphonse.

This is a fairly typical mummer “outfit” and is not the kind of costume one gets in a store. No, this requires creativity or color blindness at the very least. These figurines are from a collection created by two Newfoundland women, Pam and Cara. They produce one new limited edition mummer every year and are usually quite funny. Yet, they are accurate and indicative of what one might have knocking on their door come Christmas time.

Nish from Merasheem.

Now, can you imagine someone showing up at your house on Halloween in this? You might be inclined to call the police or at least use some pepper spray. But generally speaking in Newfoundland, it’s usually just harmless fun. However, I would not suggest walking into a convenient store dressed like this. They do have surveillance cameras after all.

And of course in the spirit(s) of the holiday, a toast must be made. Have another one, Fannie?

Fannie from Fogo.

The other possible downside in dressing this way for Halloween is that you might get picked up for vagrancy. After all, I don’t think we’re in Newfoundland anymore, Toto.

We drive around, eat some fish, listen to music, talk to Newfoundlanders, and go to a dance.

With bellies full and hearts settled, we set out to explore. We have a map but plan on using it only if we get lost. If you know where you are in relation to the sea, you should be alright. That was our plan and we stuck to it.

We visited some antique shops in Burin and were able to get a small but nice sense of their history. Like all of Newfoundland, it was informed by fishing. And the articles in the shop reflected that: old prints of boats and fish, compasses and sextants, posters and signs from another era, hosted by a typically wonderful and friendly Newfoundlander.

Across the street was a small museum, the Burin Heritage Museum which of course we had to see. In it were displays of indigenous wildlife, a photo gallery of the 1929 tidal wave that created an incredible amount of damage, architectural records, local ceramics, histories including those of Burin’s involvement in WWII, clothes, and folk art. It was amazing how much that rather small house held.

Burin Heritage Museum                  (townof burin.com)

After that it was time for lunch. Options were limited but a restaurant was right across the street so off we went. Burin is small, it seems as if everything is right across the street. We chowed down and headed out once more.

While walking around, we found this beautiful wooden bay walk that took us almost around the entire bay. We watched while a local fisherman/artist painted a mural on the side of a meeting hall. He invited us into the hall to see more of his work. They were wall size murals and quite good in a folk art fashion, but sadly too big to take home though. He told us he had to finish it quickly as there was a dance there that evening. Everyone has a great time and we should come. Yes, they ARE that friendly to strangers. We didn’t want to commit, but told him we would try. We would. We did.

Burin bay walk. (panaramio.com)

Newfoundland dances are like no other I’ve been to. They are truly egalitarian: all ages, all occupations, no pretense. They are there for one reason – to have fun. And do they ever. Anyone can get up and sing, anyone can join the band, and everyone dances with everyone. It is a remarkable experience.

If you’re not dancing, singing, or playing an instrument, you’re at a table discussing your entire life story with complete strangers, except they’re really not strangers any longer. That is Newfoundland. You’re a stranger for no more than a few minutes.

Many of the people there are older. If you get to sit with them, prepare to share your medical history with them. That noted, it may say something about the Canadian health system that so many of them are elderly and still kicking up their heels. Or they’re just happy to be living in Newfoundland. And that last statement is fact. They do love Newfoundland.

Over the course of my trips up there, I have heard the same refrain repeated time and time again. “I moved away, but had to come back. This is home.” Or some such variation. What makes this all the more significant and poignant, is Newfoundlanders want to come back even if there is no fishing any longer. It is home, their home and they love it. How many of us can say that about where we live? And how many of us dance there?

Part 2: Kicking back at Red’s Lounge…

The afternoon was spent walking around the island taking pictures of local signage, laundry lines, wind turbines, boats (mostly in dry dock as there was no fishing here either), and coves. If it moved I photographed it. If it stood still, I photographed it. Yup, there I was again, taking pictures of nothing! But really good pictures of nothing if I say so myself. It moved, it stood still, it was a wind turbine, I photographed it.

Sidebar -There’s a woman who paints all the house numbers and signs and mailboxes on the island; a limited growth opportunity indeed, yet the local art scene is definitely defined by her! And it was sort of like being in her island-wide showroom. She was that prolific. Certainly she had her themes down: boats, flags, fish, propellers, anchors, etc.

So the light was now fading and I wasn’t far behind it. I was in need of sustenance and it was too early to go back to the B&B for a formal dinner. Since I now knew the island like the back of my hand, it was back to Red’s. I was going to check out if they had any beer left. Photographing clotheslines creates a mighty thirst.

Lucky for me they had some left. I was welcomed back by Gerard and the locals (sounds like a perfect bar band!) whom I’d met earlier and introduced to some new (to me) citizens. Someone had gone hunting and brought back some fresh moose meat. They had the aforethought to grind it up, make mooseburgers, and serve them to customers. And that’s how I came to have my first (and probably last) mooseburger. It was OK if you don’t mind eating the inspiration for a cartoon, but personally, I liked caribou better. (Please don’t tell my fiends at PETA!)

As I mentioned earlier, I stood out. I was not from there and one citizen had taken note of that and his concern was quite obvious. I couldn’t hear what he was saying to the others, but the not-so-furtive and mildly hostile glances could not be overlooked. Hmmmm – what to do? It would clear soon enough.

Granny’s Well Turnings.

Granny’s well turnings.

The sign said “Granny’s Well Turnings and Handcrafted Gifts.” So that was two more things I thought I needed to do: find out what a well turning was and meet Granny. Neither was what I thought and neither disappointed.

It was good to get out of the car and stretch my legs. Walking up to the house I was greeted by an elderly man, Bren, in work clothes. We exchanged greetings and introductions. He said I was the first one of the year. Anywhere else, I would have thought this to be the opening line in a bad horror movie in its undertones. Here it meant I was the first tourist of the year. Not surprising as it was still winter and most visitors wisely wait until the weather is a bit more clement.

He invited me into his house. Bren said he would have to get his wares out of the closet where they’d been in the off-season. We walked through his workshop where on the floor, all over in heaps and piles, were unfinished bowls and spindles and trinket boxes curing and drying before he could finish them. They came from burls he’d taken off trees. He said it was several years worth of work to do. (I did say he was elderly, didn’t I?)

Bren was and is your typical Newfoundlander – practical, unpretentious to a fault, funny, and most welcoming. And his work was beautiful. We talked some more; he wanted to know what I was doing up in Newfoundland and if I liked what I had seen. Oh, yes. I loved it. I told him where I was off to next and he asked me if I would be back his way after my trip when I returned to St. John’s, a couple of hours away. I told him I would try and get down to see him again. I would. Little did I know at the time but it would be the first of several return trips to visit with him.

Oh, by the way, there was no Granny, just Bren. And a lot of well turnings.