Hammered By The Waves
A Young Frenchman’s Sojourn in Newfoundland in 1882-83
Roman numerals drive me nuts. Especially when I’m solving crossword puzzles and the clue is “Caesar’s 557” or some such. The numerals drive me nuts because I don’t know them very well despite distant years of schooling. Understandably, I’m not 100 per cent certain which page of the introduction of
[Creative Publishers] sidetracked me. Page 11, I think — XI?
The following quotation by translator Dr. James McGrath in a letter to Joey Smallwood sent me aGoogling: “...he [Henri de la Chaume, the book’s author] agrees with Casanova that Newfoundland codfish, properly prepared, is one of God’s great gifts to the human race.” Off I went to Googleland. Apparently, Casanova — yes, Casanova; buddy who successfully wooed a whole slew of women — ate some fifty-odd oysters a day to avail of their aphrodisiacal qualities.
That randy ol’ Venetian paramour ate oysters to keep up his...well, strength. He ate oysters and Newfoundland codfish, the latter of which he touted as God’s gift to the human race.
Think about this: Nothing like a good feed of fish and a bottle of wine.
Eventually, I returned from Googleland and moved past the Introduction.
is Henri de la Chaume’s account of the 17 months he spent in Newfoundland in 1882-83 when he was 20 years old. He describes his writing as, “... nothing more than a page in the life abroad of a young Frenchman, artist and poet in his day, as every wellborn man ought to be in these times.”
In light of remarks I’ve already made about Casanova, and considering the local seafood dishes young Henri was likely served with some regularity during his sojourn in Newfoundland, it’s interesting de la Chaume further writes: “And can I help it if the women there are far superior to the men and almost oblige me to spend most of my time in the study of their sex?”
Later Henri makes this note regarding several young ladies of his acquaintance: “I was confused, almost bewildered by the careless boldness with which these young girls threw themselves at young men.”
At the risk of ruffling some feathers — no, truly hoping to rumple some plumage — I present this next de la Chaume statement, albeit somewhat out of context: “In Newfoundland the men are unlearned. They never consider using their intelligence in the realms of thought.”
Makes you want to smack him, eh b’ys?
Read the book and fit those lines into the proper context — the context I’ve intentionally neglected to see if I could rile you up — and you’ll agree they’re kinda funny.
Speaking of funny, many of de la Chaume’s images are amusing. I drew at least 27 smiley faces in the margins.
Here’s a couple of dandy snippets seen in Henri’s description of one of his acquaintances, a certain Mr. Benoit, the tip of whose nose “ juts out with an invincible prejudice against straight lines,” and whose moustache is “coarse haired and stiff, yellow brown in colour and apparently always blown to one side by an invisible wind.”
At one point, de la Chaume mentions the “delicate bells of the whortle-berry.” You know what I had to do. As far as I can figure out, it’s a blueberry or one of its kin.
At another point, he comments on the “ Wildman’s cup.”
or Evidently, the pitcher plant. Just look at the remainder of de la Chaume’s remark: “... Wildman’s cup whose red veined leaves are also a vase in which, on hot days, the rare traveler finds refreshing water.”
I’ve been bog-bound, sun-baked and parched but I’ve neither sipped nor supped from a pitcher plant. Have you? Part Three — Part III — of
“A Fugue In North America,” is about de la Chaume’s travels beyond Newfoundland, to Canada and the United States.
I’ve never been much of a traveler and I have no desire to leave The Rock to visit faraway places, like Canada or the United States, so I confess I skimmed that part of the book.
Once though, Missus made me see the sights at Niagara Falls. That’s some size of a brook! Thank you for reading. By the way, should it ever appear in your crossword puzzle, Caesar’s 2011 is MMXI.