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Shortly after I left off taking pictures and headed home, the rain began. It was cold and heavy. Some of the riders dropped out. They were on their way from Annapolis Royals to Hubbards, a town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. The race is billed as a unicycling equivalent of the Tour de France. At the end of the second day, it was neck and neck, the Germans leading the Kiwis by only six minutes, with the Australian rider in Team Smile just two minutes behind.

Beth Amiro, one of the Nova Scotia riders, had no idea the long-distance unicycling community was so big. She didn’t even know there was a community. She started riding a unicyle as a child, then took it up again in her twenties. For many locals, it is nothing more than a circus toy. Beth would love to have a dollar for every time someone asked if she knew how to juggle.

It is obvious from the turnout for this race that some people take it very, very seriously. The best riders in this race are expected to zip along between 20 and 25 kms an hour on their 36 inch wheels. The race includes time trials and a criterium, a multi-lap race around a small circuit. Today is last day, a gruelling final stage in rugged Cape Breton.

William Sklenars, one of the young riders from New Zealand, learned to ride when his sister moved away from home to a flat in town. He needed a form of transportation to visit her and a uncicyle “seemed the most sensible choice” at the time. He studies music, rides his wheel frequently and is “stoked” to be representing New Zealand on an international scale.

The sport has become popular enough to develop splinter groups. In addition to the small-wheel unicycles and the large-wheel, long distance unicycles, there are a handful of hardcore cyclists who ride the “ultimate wheel.” It is a unicycle without a seatpost or saddle. Nothing more than a wheel with pedals. It is said to be extremely difficult to ride. I’ll take their word for it.

Catch up with the race on the web site: http://ridethelobster.com or on the blog “One Wild Ride” at http://ridethelobster.wordpress.com/

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The Canadian province of Nova Scotia harvests a lot of lobsters and, from the air, is said to look like one.  At one time, the province was a major player in the economy and politics of this country, but those days faded long ago. For some years now, the principal product of the province has been tourism.

The scenery is picture perfect, the people are hospitable and the land resonates with historical significance for Americans. Many of the Loyalists (the losers in the American Revolution) ended up here. This was the end of the underground railroad during the days of slavery. The survivors of the Titanic were brought to Halifax. This is where the Cajuns came from.  Historically, Americans have always been the most numerous visitors.  The weak Canadian dollar almost ensured their arrival every summer.

But when the currency of your primary market drops like a calved iceberg, notions of niche marketing kick in. The next best thing to having a product that people actually crave, like sex, fabulous food, great wine or a Blackberry, is inventing a unique desire– like racing on one wheel for 800 kms across the province.

To convince people from all over the world that they actually want to do this would seem to suggest the sure hand of a marketing genius.  Actually, it was Edward Wedler, a Nova Scotian book store owner who has yet to make it more than five meters on his own unicycle. For some reason he thought it would work. If you dream it they will come. And they did.

Over one hundred fifty unicyclists from 17 countries qualified for the relay race. Australia, sad to say, is represented by a single rider– Geoffrey Huntley. He was born in Sydney but spent his formative years in Hong Kong. He’s been riding for a little under a year. Mind you, in that year he rode from North to South Vietnam.

The cyclists to beat are from New Zealand, those upstarts to the east, who managed to cobble together enough strong riders to actually form a team. Not to be outdone, South Korea sent two. Among the racers will be world record-holder Sam Wakeling, an Englishman who rode his unicycle 453 kilometres in 24 hours.

Despite the fact that most of the highways have no shoulders and much of the asphalt (bitumen) looks like it has been assaulted by a hyperactive teenager with a jackhammer, Nova Scotia is not a bad place to ride. It has been settled so long there are hundreds of little roads that are unused by anyone except farmers.

But it is not flat. And the weather this time of year can be absolutely miserable. Late in the afternoon, after I caught up with the racers in Middleton and snapped some pictures, I felt the first drops. Cold, hard rain. Nothing like Nova Scotia weather to dampen the spirit. But if you are crazy enough to do that distance on one big wheel and one small seat, a few hills and a little rain may just whet the appetite.

More on this event next post. Catch the action on-line at http://www.ridethelobster.com/race/


You know you are north of the 49th parallel when the burning question of the day is: what will the world come to if the CBC loses the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme song. We are all about to find out. The unthinkable has happened.

This bizarre episode began in 1968, when Dolores Claman, a classically-trained composer, was asked to come up with theme music for something she had never seen first-hand, a professional hockey game. She pictured Roman gladiators on skates, and five notes suddenly popped into her head.

Even though the song went on to become one the country’s most recognizable commercial tunes, it never made her more than a modest income. She and her husband composed more than 2,000 jingles and theme songs.

Even with their commercial success, Dolores lived in relative obscurity until five days ago, when the hockey night ditty sold to CTV, a commercial broadcaster, for an estimated one million dollars. After agreeing to pony up $850,000, the CBC bailed out of the bidding war.

The eighty year-old jingle writer, who now lives in London, said the song “just arrived in my head.” She wanted it to reflect the narrative arc of hockey itself– the arrival at the rink, the battle on the ice, the trip home, with a cold beer at the end of it all. What could be more Canadian than that?

The CBC has been apologizing like crazy to irate listeners and viewers for losing the well-loved theme, but they hope to generate enthusiasm for a new theme with a country-wide competition.

A far more somber apology was issued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on Thursday. Taking his cue from Kevin Rudd, the Conservative PM apologized for Canada’s efforts to wipe out aboriginal languages and culture in the name of assimilation, and, in particular, for the policy of removing native children from their families and placing them in residential schools.

Despite feelings by some Liberals that the apology reeked of political opportunism, Harper’s speech was well received and there were many wet eyes in the House.  It seems to have been one of the few acts since he  became prime minister that has been well regarded by most of the Canadian people.  The least favourable comments in the latest survey came from his fellow conservatives.

Unfortunately, Harper made no promises to improve social conditions.  It was one small step for Canadians on the long road to reconciliation and respect for the native population of this land.


Our current living quarters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, are about as different from our rental house in Melbourne as it is possible for two places on the planet to be. The place in Melbourne has an art deco influence, but it is ultra modern. This is a 220 year-old colonial farmhouse of post and beam construction. It was probably put together from sugar pines that were growing on the property.

This land was home to Micmac Indians from time immemorial, then French settlers arrived in the early 1600’s. They built dykes and farmed rich soil reclaimed from the sea. They called themselves Acadians. Their deportation by the British, starting in 1755, and their subsequent diaspora is the subject of a long narrative poem by Longfellow, an American poet. Many of the French peasants ended up in Louisiana where they were dumped in a completely different environment, hot, humid, swampland. An English corruption of the word “Acadien” led to the word “Cajun.”

Even though Longfellow never came here, he set the story in Grand Pre because his best source material, the journal of Colonel John Winslow, was local to this area. It was reasonably accurate and the story he related could have happened. I believe it caught on in the public imagination because the poet made this place sound so idyllic. And in summer, it truly is. Longfellow made the expulsion of the French peasants from “Acadie” sound like the Garden of Eden story set in historical time, with the British thrust into the role of God.

A young Acadian woman named Evangeline and the son of a blacksmith named Gabriel are about the get married when the soldiers arrive. The men and boys of the village are locked in the church until ships can be found to send them on their way. Evangeline gets put on one ship, Gabriel on another. She spends years trying to find him, finally gives up and becomes a nurse in Philadelphia. She grows old. One day, making her rounds, she comes across an old man in the hospital. It is Gabriel. They have a brief moment of recognition, then he dies in her arms.

In 1755, the soldiers burned the buildings and killed the farm animals to prevent the Acadians from returning. For five years the fields were fallow. Then the Crown invited settlers from New England and the other colonies to come and settle. My wife’s ancestor came from Scotland by way of Ireland and New England about 1770.

The people who came and replenished the land were called Planters. Most of them were from protestant farming stock, often the second or third sons of New England settlers. They built houses like the ones in Connecticut and Massachusetts. This is one of the few that has stayed in the same family since it was built.

Wherever we are in the world, it calls to us. We feel compelled to come back and do the endless repairs and updates that the place seems to need. The weather in the Maritimes is hard on buildings. Someday, perhaps, we’ll settle in for good. In the meantime, it is the one place that brings us back to our senses.

All five at once. It makes us glad to be alive.


For those of you who have been wondering why there have not been any new posts in awhile, there’s a simple explanation. I’ve been on the road. The road, of course, is up above the tree line at around 35,000 feet. We boarded a plane at 10:30 in the morning in Melbourne and touched down seven hours later in Singapore. That was the short flight, a mere preliminary for the long haul– Singapore to Paris.

When you live in a country that is its very own continent, you soon get used to the idea that going anywhere (even at 800 kms an hour) is going to take awhile. The long haul would take 13 hours, putting us into Charles de Gaulle airport just in time for early morning rush hour into the City. We were zombies.

I had arranged to rent a studio apartment in the Marais district so we would have room to stretch out and be able to eat some meals chez nous. It was only marginally less expensive than a hotel, but there were other amenities. It was comfortable, quiet, and cooking even a handful of meals saved us a small fortune. Such is the strength of the Euro. The food shops in the area were amazing and the cat across the courtyard was better than any gargoyle.

We settled into the old building and lugged groceries up the well- worn oak staircase. We wandered the streets and hit the major museums, stumbling across fascinating exhibits at every one. A show about Babylon at the Louvre, Louise Bourgeois at the Pompidou, Lovis Corinth at the Orsay, Les Femmes du Monde at the Palais de Chaillot and Georges Rousse at the new Maison Europeene de la Photographie, within walking distance from our flat. Check out his work sometime. Post modern trompe d’oeil.

My wife managed to pull herself away from the art just long enough to attend the conference which was the ostensible reason for our trip. I could hardly contain my jealousy when she described her evening at Versailles. It was one of the perks that had tempted me, even at $600. Louis XIV was the Sun King, after all, and watching the yellow orb descend on the long reflecting pool while dancers in 18th century costumes bring in fine food and wine… Everyone should live like a king at least once, n’est-ce pas?

Thanks to one of the organizers, I was able to enjoy the evening with the participants on one of the Bateaux Mouches night cruises. The music, food and wine were excellent, and the sights weren’t bad either. The highlight of the trip for me was almost free– a visit to the rose gardens in the Bois de Boulogne. It was breathtaking. We stopped and smelled so many we were practically swooning.

All good things come to an end. We took off June 1 for Montreal and a backtrack flight to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We are now comfortably spread out in the old Stewart house, our home away from home on the other side of the world. There are horses in the pasture and blossoms on the apple trees; all’s right with the world.

Stay tuned.

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