St. Pierre Day 2

The thought of the cod I had eaten the day before would haunt me later as I explored the history of St. Pierre.  But, the first order of business was a boat tour of the surrounding islands.  As we left the harbor, to our left was the L’Ile-aux-Marins described by Aurelie, the assistant at the hotel, as a living museum.  These islands comprise an archipelago: each one a series of rocky outcroppings topped with green vegetation and mostly inhabited by birds.  Although many species can be found in these islands, as we went around the uninhabited, Grand Colombier, I only spotted various seagulls.


In my backyard and on my street in New Jersey, I can sometimes see deer wandering by, pushed from their own habitat, a tragic consequence of human development.  Here the birds don’t struggle against such outcomes: they have a home unburdened by development.  And like them, I was free and content, stunned by the natural beauty surrounding me.

This state of well being didn’t last.  After disembarking, I made my way to The Heritage Museum.  Trying unsuccessfully to communicate in French, the attendant saved me by speaking English and directed me to begin my visit upstairs.  The museum houses everyday objects from an earlier time in St. Pierre: a schoolroom, a chapel, a doctor’s office, a boathouse of sorts.  The light within the exhibits recreates the late 19th and early 20th century.  The final stop was a room filled with film equipment and a documentary on a loop that mostly bemoaned the changes in St. Pierre since the early 90’s when fishing cod became illegal.  A bustling seaport became a port without purpose.  Although some residents were hopeful that new projects, such as education and eco tourism, would work, some were doubtful that St. Pierre could remain viable as most young people must go to France or Canada to finish their education and many don’t return.


As I left the museum, I said to the young women who had sold me a ticket, “C’est triste” or that’s sad referring to the film.  She agreed with me. Now I understood why the two most popular restaurants are a throwback to the 90’s.  They are literally stuck.

However, the doubts about whether or not St. Pierre could remain populated became questionable before the day was over.  The hotel offered a tour of the island.  As we made our way west, new houses are going up everywhere in the area known as Savoyard, which originally was a small fishing village.  Pierre, who runs the hotel, said that young people were coming back and although the population between 6 and 7 thousand hadn’t increased, it hadn’t diminished either.






St. Pierre- Day 1-First Impressions


I had hoped to spend some time in Sydney, the western edge of Nova Scotia, but as I didn’t get to the hotel until 2 in the morning and my plane left 10 hours later, it was not to be.

On my way to the airport, I did get to some insight into Sydney after jawing with my cab driver.  There is still commercial fishing although it has been in decline due to the 1992 Canadian government ban on cod fishing. Other sources of income are tourism and education given the presence of the University of Cape Breton.

Global warming features into this small portrait of Sydney.  Once a fisherman himself, he told me there hadn’t been any ice fishing for a few years because there hadn’t been enough ice.  Ice-skating had been a pastime every winter but no longer.  He lamented the absence of growlers, small icebergs that show up in the harbor for several months every winter. As he said, “And this is an open harbor.” Adding tongue in cheek, “No, there isn’t any global warming.”

My adventure continued with the first sight of the Air Saint-Pierre plane that would take me to the island- a propjet with 8 seats. Rain and fog didn’t bode well for my piece of mind.  As I looked across the tarmac at the small plane and young pilot, I felt in a time warp- the closing scene of the film, Casablanca. “I’ll always have New Jersey” offered no comfort.  Nevertheless, the ride and landing exceeded my expectations, safe and smooth.


My hotel, Auberge Sainte-Pierre, reminded me of small hotels in France, modest but comfortable. However, here, the staff are exceeding helpful. Immediately, Aurèlie, an assistant at the hotel, recommended she make a dinner reservation for me. And they gave me a room with a view over looking rooftops to the harbor and a complimentary bottle of wine. This might be a better version of France.


Tired from lack of sleep, I napped and at 7 made my way to the restaurant. Considering Aurélie’s recent return to St. Pierre after years of being educated and working in Paris, I wondered about such a significant life change. St. Pierre’s population is just under 6,000 and only 26 square kilometers, and, as I found out, limited to just a few restaurants.

The hotel sits on the northern end of the town and on a considerable hill. The walk to the restaurant was easy; coming back would be a workout. I had imagined an island that would visually resemble France. It doesn’t but did remind me of a frontier town with wooden houses built smack up against each other and little consistent style. Later, I learned that much of St. Pierre had burned down several times, yet the citizens insisted on having wooden abodes. They are built close to each other for protection against the elements, and many homeowners build the house themselves.


The restaurant’s, Le Feu de Briase, décor is stuck in the 90’s: a consequence of the cod ban, which devastated the island’s economy. Nevertheless, the wine list impressed, as did the food, this night, cod. It can still be fished in small amounts and only sold in the area.

The waiters danced between customers. The flirtation between diner and server eliminated any difference in status.  Who is higher on the social ladder?  I give it to the waiters.  If my French were better, perhaps, I, too, could make jokes, maybe even be charming for a minute or two. Tant pis, too bad. Nevertheless, I had a good meal with good wine after almost 24 hours of straight travel.

As I often did in whenever visiting Aix-en-Provence, I began with a Ricard accompanied by the local fois gras with rhubarb compote.  Delicieux.  Then, there was cod, my first in many years.

Before returning to the hotel,  I took a brief walk into the town.  Located around a charming port, the city center of St. Pierre faces the harbor and the picturesque island of L’ile-aux-Marins, its brightly colored houses strung like a necklace around the stark landscape. A few blocks north at the end of Boulevard Constance Colmay, a lighthouse reached by a rocky jetty fills the sky as the sun sets.

Although afternoon rain had obscured the view of the harbor, by evening, its beauty was revealed.




Going North

First day of travel

Reading the recent biography of Diane Arbus reminded me of what might be ahead.  Her experience of traveling in Europe was often one of isolation, sometime welcomed, sometimes not.  I travel alone, which for me, lends itself to extremes of exhilaration and depletion. Today began with anticipation and accomplishment.  I managed to be packed on time, made the train on time, and got to the airport in plenty of time, much more, as it turns out, than I needed.

My plane to Montreal, which would have connected me to Halifax that would have taken me to Sydney, Nova Scotia, then, to St. Pierre was delayed.  Consequently, Air Canada rerouted me to Toronto where I waited for 10 hours for a direct flight to Sydney.  I called my hotel to alert them I would not be arriving until 2 A.M.  They had no reservation for me.  I had reserved the room for the 30th of June, not the 30th of July.  Mon Dieu.  But they pulled through and I had a place to lay my head for a few hours and allowed me a view of a waterway to the Atlantic.


All’s well.