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.

Bartender to me – “Would you like that on the rocks?” Not funny.

Now, I’m not going to say I was feeling Like Leonardo in the movie. Nor was there, regrettably, a counterpart to Kate Winslet standing bravely by my side either. But, I was on a boat in the seas off Newfoundland and there was a lot of ice in the water. And it was in early April. Draw your own conclusions.

No, I was now leaving Fogo Island for the second part of this trip. Obviously being on this island meant I was going to have to take a boat ride back to the main and much larger island of Newfoundland proper. It was a ferry in actuality, a not very large one, and it took a couple of hours.

The ferry.

The Titanic – see any difference?

Earlier I wrote about the arctic ice pack that had come in and locked up the harbors. For a large ship as my hopefully sea- and ice-worthy ferry was, this would – should be an uneventful trip.

It’s pretty common knowledge that what you see of an iceberg above the surface of the sea is only 10% of it’s size. The remaining, evil, waiting to sink unsuspecting ships, part constitutes the other 90%. Remember, the ice pack, unlike a lot of doctors, is in!

An artists’ idea of an iceberg

So, me and a bunch of other intrepid travelers including their cars, (that’ll make the ship sink faster, won’t it?) drive on and take our places on the ferry. The driveway (?) pulls up, seals the then-open end of the ship and we shove off from shore. (Wait, I think I left my toothbrush at the B&B!)

I’m not normally apprehensive about sea travel. I’ve been on ferries before! But not through icebergs. Alright, they weren’t icebergs – more like a continuous seascape of floes, large, heavy, really white, and cold ice floes. And 90% of each one could not be seen! Yes, this was a steel hulled ship; and yes, it did this every year, but… Hey, wait, every year? How strong could this barge still be?

We plowed through the ice pack slowly; the floes grinding loudly against the hull; some so large that you could feel the ship shift from THEIR weight and mass. Oh, sweet mother… two more hours of this.

Not surprisingly, we made it safely. I got some good pictures. But throughout that whole trip, at no time did I ever want to climb up on the hull and yell “I’m king of the world!” Nor did I hear Celine Dion singing in the background. There is a God after all.

I’ll have the Shiraz de Fogo, please.

If grapes grew in Newfoundland, this is what I imagine they would look like.

Indigenous to Newfoundland among other plants are the partridgeberry/lingonberry, bakeapple, elephanthead lousewort, mint, thistle, and pearly everlasting. Some of these I’d known of, well, maybe two or three. The others were new to me. But, nowhere on the island, not on any lists of flora, were there any grapes. And the same is true of Fogo Island on the north shore of Newfoundland.

So imagine my surprise when my hosts Glenn and Mathilda, while having me over for dinner, brought out a bottle of homemade wine. My experience with homemade wine has not been very good. Not that I’ve made it myself; I’m always too eager to open the bottle than wait for it to age properly. What I’ve had is mostly forgettable; some I’m still trying to forget. So it was with no small apprehension that I awaited it’s opening and subsequent decantation. What was it made from? I was already trying in advance to formulate a response to what I just knew was going to be horrible. These were genuinely nice, thoughtful people who wanted to share with me their craft and I did not want to hurt their feelings.

In anticipation of the dinner and as an early thanks to them, I had brought a bottle of wine as a gift to them. They opened it and we drank from that. It was a nice, unpretentious wine that certainly would not screw up our meal. It was a great dinner. We laughed, and talked about our families, etc. and went though the first bottle rather quickly.

Now, their bottle came out. Trapped! It had a nice label on it – Shiraz, it said with some information about its winemakers, Glenn and Mathilda. It looked OK; nice deep red color, it didn’t even smell bad. Actually, it smelled pretty good. I could not avoid this any longer, now came the moment of truth. I took a sip. I took a bigger sip. I then took a gulp. It was GOOD. I asked for another glass. My inner wino took over.

Now I don’t think Napa has much to worry about. Glenn and Mathilda’s production is rather small. But damn, it’s good. Who woulda thunk it? Newfoundland wine – yet another reason to go there. Not like I needed any more.

I go, you go, Fogo!

                                                                     From a more hopeful time.

Pardon the silliness of the title, but I’ll be off to Fogo Island on the north coast of Newfoundland. It, after arriving in St. John’s, will be the first stop in my second trip up there. It is there where I hope to find and start to photograph the newly realized core of my book, “Arn? Narn.”

Just what is that core? It’s what I had already known but not realized; then realized but didn’t understand; and now it was a growing awareness of the impact of the fishing moratorium and it’s subsequent long-term effects. It was as my Fogo Island innkeeper was to tell me, “What you see now will not be here in 10-12 years.” That wasn’t prescient; it was fact: one I was still to discover first hand.

Fogo Island is so uniquely Newfoundland. (Where else could you be greeted by The Mouse?) The name was originally Y del Fogo, meaning island of fire. There is speculation as to the origin of the name: perhaps it was the native Beothuk’s (now extinct) campfires or multiple forest fires, but no one is certain.

The island supported itself solely on fishing as had the entire province. Now it was suffering the same fate as that of the larger “mainland” island. True, it had the annual Brimstone Head Folk festival each summer on Brimstone Head, (reputed by the Flat Earth Society to be one of the four corners of the earth!) but that was in early August for only a few days. A week before that is the Ethridge Point Seaside Festival in Joe Batt’s Arm. These bring some tourists in but for a short time, not enough to make much of a difference.

I was to be here for nearly a week in which I would be able to roam and photograph across the island, talk with people directly, and get a better feel for this environment. I would learn that Fogo was the main outport/town on Fogo Island – do not confuse the two. Fogo (the town) is joined by the communities of Joe Batt’s Arm, Seldom, Little Seldom, Tilting, Barr’d Islands, and Stag Harbour. In 2006 they all came together to form the Town of Fogo, while retaining their individual personalities. More to come on Fogo soon.