6.19.2008

wednesday night in st. john's

We did make it out last night. First we stopped in the Duke of Duckworth, which would pass muster in any village in Ireland or England. I adore pubs - New York doesn't really have them, and it's something I love about Toronto - and I can see Newfoundland will deliver on this score. We had a pint and hung out a bit, then headed for The Ship, which I heard was the best pub in town, and had music every night.

Walking into The Ship, we were quite surprised to see a gentleman on the small stage, quite senior, sitting in a chair, singing an a capella ballad. I'd say it was an Irish ballad, but not quite: it was a Newfoundland song. There was a sizeable crowd - it's a small room, but it was full - and they were rapt, hanging on every word. We grabbed two bar stools and listened.

The man spun off ballad after ballad, each one a little world unto itself. The songs followed the standard conventions (although I had never heard any of them), and on several the crowd chanted along with the chorus.

When he finished, an emcee came up, and we gathered this was some kind of open-mic folk night. A dreadful storyteller was up next, so I was able to learn from the bartender that Wednesday is folk night at The Ship. We were sorry we hadn't come earlier, although after that last story, perhaps it's just as well.

Next up, a younger man took the stage, doing ballads similar to the older man's songs, but with modern lyrics that he had written himself. He had a good voice and a nice presence; I thought he was quite good. In between ballads, he picked up a concertina - a little squeeze box - and played a few reels. I don't know if either of my accordion-loving blog-friends still read wmtc, but they would have appreciated it.

The music soon wrapped up, but I was really happy to have found it even for a short while. I don't yet know the differences between Newfoundland music and Irish music, but perhaps I'll find out on this trip. There are several kinds of American music that use Irish sounds, but none sound as Irish as this.

We had another pint and chatted with the bartender, who is from Twillingate and wanted to make sure we were going there. To "where are you folks from", I've decided to say "Ontario". It seems to be enough information.

St. John's itself seems like a lovely town. Duckworth Street is lively with pubs, shops and restaurants, some very upscale and smart-looking. Newfoundland tourism information is trying to sell St. John's as having newly sophisticated dining, and from the look of it, I'd say there's been a concerted effort to cultivate that.

It's wonderfully refreshing to be somewhere without all the same old chain stores and logos. This is a constant theme for me; the homogenization of New York City had been bothering me for years before we left, and I certainly live in the midst of that now. When we travel, I love to go places that are free or nearly free of that scourge. That was one thing I loved about Ireland - it was all independent bookstores, cafes, pubs; nary a Starbucks or Gap in sight. St. John's has a couple of fast food chains at one end of Duckworth Street, but seems largely untouched by the scourge of chain-stores and corporate logos.

From the harbor, St. John's rises up a steep hill. The main streets are semi-circles, and there are lanes with steps connecting the streets, like passageways. Very inaccessible, but very pretty. On many streets, the house fronts are painted in varying rich colours - exactly like towns in Ireland. It's a beautiful effect, especially in a place which is often overcast and gray.

Now we're bound for Cape Spear, then towards the Bonavista Peninsula. Thanks for reading, hope you are all well.

9 comments:

Amy said...

It sounds like a lot of fun! Was Newfoundland settled by Irish immigrants? (Sorry for the ignorance of Canadian history.)

I know what you mean about the homogenization of NYC and everywhere else. Though I am not a shopper so not really in a position to understand anyway, I cannot understand why someone would go to NY or Boston or Washington and be happy to shop at a Gap or eat at Applebees. Isn't the point of traveling to try NEW things?

Have fun!

Scott M. said...

So, did you guys get screeched in? Did you kiss the cod?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I'm soooo jealous. I've been wanting to go to Newfoundland for some time now. Have a great trip!

Patrick said...

Did you make it to the top of Cabot hill? I think that's supposed to be the most east point on the continent.

I found there was music playing every night of the week in St. Johns. Very fun.

James said...

We had another pint and chatted with the bartender, who is from Twillingate and wanted to make sure we were going there. To "where are you folks from", I've decided to say "Ontario". It seems to be enough information.

Buddy Wasisname & The Other Fellers have a great fondness for poking fun at Torontonians:

Torontonian: Hey, Newfie boy, bet you don't have big buildings like this back home, eh?
Newfie: Sure we do, b'y.
Torontonian: No, not like this!
Newfie: Sure, b'y, but we lays dem on deir side and calls dem shopping malls.

Lisa said...

Sounds like you guys are having a wonderful trip! I'm totally enjoying reading your travel (b)logging!

I've never been to Newfoundland and have always wanted to visit.

I got a taste of the east coast when I lived in Charlottetown, PEI for a summer in my late twenties. PEI is very different from Newfoundland (PEI has more of a Scottish influence, was one of the first joiners to Canada v. the last, different historical trends etc etc). But it definitely had a strong sense of real community ties (almost too strong...being "from away" was almost like being an alien!), and even with it's economy being largely tourist based, there was still not a lot of commercial penetration - the gift shops were at least owned by families, not chains!

PEI is an island, and kind of (duh!) disconnected from the rest of "away" as a result. Though the bridge to the mainland that was built since I stayed there may have changed things...

I always imagined Newfoundland would have the same(ish) flavour...

L-girl said...

Was Newfoundland settled by Irish immigrants? (Sorry for the ignorance of Canadian history.)

This is way old, but maybe you're subscribing to the thread?

Newfoundland was settled by the Irish, English and Scottish, who fought with the French over fishing and hunting territory. The French were ultimately defeated, but there are many French place-names, especially along the coasts where they had established their fisheries. Most Newfies have Irish and Scottish ancestry.

And when it comes to ignorance of Canadian history, I think you're in good company, with huge numbers of Canadians. :)

L-girl said...

I cannot understand why someone would go to NY or Boston or Washington and be happy to shop at a Gap or eat at Applebees.

I say that all the time. And not just happy, but happiest, because they've found something familiar. If all you want is familiar, stay home!

L-girl said...

So, did you guys get screeched in? Did you kiss the cod?

No. Not our speed, I'm afraid. We look for where the locals hang out, sans tourists. But if you did it, I hope it was fun!