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The French settlers of Acadie must have wondered how they had offended God when New England militia marched into the village of Grand Pre and locked up the men and boys in the church. The proclamation of the British colonel said they were to be transported. Like the petty thieves of London, they had got themselves on the wrong side of British law. The law had been conceived by Parliament and the new Governor, who insisted that the people inhabiting the land he called Nova Scotia take an oath of allegiance to the Crown.  It was 1755.

Thus began the expulsion of the Acadians, peasants who had been living for over a hundred years in the fertile parts of Acadie, a peninsula bordering the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic ocean. They had dyked the sea like the Dutch, reclaiming rich soil off the bottom of the Bay of Fundy for farmland. They had prospered, skirting the constant wars between the French and English like squirrels living among wolves. Their day of reckoning became almost inevitable in 1710, when British troops took a strategic fort they called Fort Anne, not far from where the Princess of Acadia sails. From that point on, the land mass of Nova Scotia became British, while the population was French.

The British plan was to load the Acadians on ships and scatter them in the colonies along the Eastern seaboard, but they had not counted on the intransigence of the English colonists. French-speaking Catholics were not warmly  welcomed by English-speaking protestants, so many of the ships sailed on, seeking a place to offload their human cargo. They settled on Louisiana. The name of the people transported there was soon corrupted from “Acadien” to “Cajun.” The swamps and bayous of this new place were as different from Nova Scotia as anyone could imagine.

This year the American Association of Law Schools chose New Orleans for its annual conference. My wife had decided to attend some time ago, so I packed a suitcase for a trip to the home of jazz and Mardi Gras soon after arriving in Durham. Fortunately, we had booked into the hotel where the conference was held. The city of New Orleans was freezing!

What with the miserable weather and my lack of due diligence as a tourist, the visit was less than satisfying. I barely skimmed the surface, astonished at my own ignorance of the place, from Mardi Gras rituals to the Battle of New Orleans, which helped saved the country’s independence in the War of 1812.

It was a city I knew from books and jazz and television, a city of the imagination. I had no idea that Degas spent six months here before he became famous. His mother came from a prominent French-Creole family and two of his brothers settled in the city, engaging in the cotton business during its slow demise as an engine of enterprise. Degas did one famous painting here of his family’s cotton office, but his relatives and the place unsettled him.

There is a National Historic Site in Grand Pre commemorating the Expulsion of the Acadians and the long narrative poem it inspired– “Evangeline.” Although “Le Grand Derangement” was not genocide, the Acadians were certainly hard done by. And, as the disastrous hurricane relief efforts have shown, that was just the beginning.  The poor people of Louisiana are the Haitians of North America and the city on the Mississippi with the fascinating past has a very tenuous future.


After the long haul flight from Melbourne, Australia to Halifax, Nova Scotia at the northeastern point  of North America, heading down to Durham, North Carolina would seem to be dead easy.  There are no direct flights, but an itinerary through Washington DC was the next best thing.  We were going to need a car in Durham, however, and the only way to get one there was for me to drive down.

At one point we contemplated a rendezvous in our nation’s capital.  I would leave a couple of days before she did.  We would catch up with friends in DC over dinner and sail on down to North Carolina together.  That was before our caretaker told us he was going to be in Acapulco, Mexico so he wouldn’t be there to close up the house.

When Richard is around to take care of things, we can walk away from the old place, but his absence changed things completely.  In January a big storm can knock down the power poles and in no time the pipes will freeze.  To hedge our bets, I would have to drain the plumbing, something I haven’t done in a long time.

It is some 1400 miles (2250 kms) from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia to Durham, North Carolina heading down through the mess of New York/New Jersey.  I wanted to avoid that, so we figured out an alternate route through the hills of Pennsylvania that added mileage but cut out some of the stress.

You can eliminate some of that distance by taking a ferry across the Bay of Fundy.  I decided to shoot for the very last sailing of the year. At noon on the 31st, when my wife and daughter were heading into Halifax for an evening of celebration, I poured antifreeze into toilets and drained a hot water tank.  I had just enough time to drive to Digby and catch the 4:30 sailing of The Princess of Acadia.  It would not be much of a New Year’s Eve, but it would put me in St John, New Brunswick before bedtime.

I had made only one serious “Down Under” driving blunder since returning to North America. I pulled out of our laneway on automatic pilot, heading out onto Highway One in the wrong lane.  The driver coming my way looked up in alarm, breathing a sigh of relief as I made a quick correction. I would have to remember NOT to do that on the long drive down south.  Americans are quite fussy about their cars and they carry guns.

In the end, the journey down the eastern seaboard was uneventful.  I did manage to get stuck in the sloping parking lot of the motel in St. John.  Fortunately, the Vietnamese owner was well equipped to get hapless drivers back on the highway.  I followed a snowplow for miles in northern Maine,
then a sand truck  when the plow pulled off.  Blizzard conditions and sparse traffic made me a little nervous without snow tires or a cell phone.

By the time I reached Marlboro, Massachusetts I was in the road groove.  The lady at the front desk said  there was a decent Italian restaurant at the local mall.  She neglected to tell me that the mall was huge.  I had to enlist the aid of a mall cop to locate the car.  He was smug on his Segway, zipping around like the Prince of Wheels.  I had made his day by looking lost and asking for help.

American road food has to be among the worst in the world, but the hospitality improved as I headed south. My wife’s route route planning and the GPS managed to keep me on track through New Brunswick and all seven states.  It was chilly when I finally arrived, but I left the real wintry weather up north.  There was a new pantry to stock and a new, old house to turn into a nest, a new triumvirate of cities to explore.

I’m in the heart of tobacco land, the home of Bull Durham.  It’s a whole new ball game.


I have taken a leave of absence from life in Melbourne, Australia and from the blog.  It seems like a good time to return to the writing, even though I won’t be back “down under” for half a year.  It hardly seems worth changing the title to Up and Over to point my readers toward North America.  As I said in a previous post, my wife is on sabbatical for a semester and we are currently in Durham, North Carolina, a state that is definitely south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Our transition here was a brief visit with my son and his family in Portland, Oregon, and a two week holiday at the old place in Nova Scotia.  Grand Pre is a lovely place to spend Christmas as long as the weather doesn’t get too Canadian. Our two hundred year-old house does not have central heating and a howling North wind whips right in.

We were greeted by a cold snap that had us quite concerned for friends from Washington DC who planned to spend Christmas with us, but it warmed up to more seasonal temps by the time they arrived.  Right after they left it got very cold again.  Nova Scotia has always seemed gentler with tourists than long-term residents that way.

I have spent a number of years in hot countries, and the celebration of Christmas in such places always seemed odd.  In Hong Kong, I never got used to the neon-lit, red cloaked Buddhas driving Asian looking reindeer on skyscrapers high overhead.  The European traditions of Christmas seem singularly inappropriate when the weather is 40 degrees centigrade and everyone is heading for the beach or the barbecue.

In Canada, men dream of snow blowers at this time of year. A Muskoka man named Kai Gundt got fed up with his wimpy commercial snow blower and decided to build one with a V-8 engine.  His home-built job cleared his driveway in five minutes, throwing snow over a five story building.  The latest model has heated handlebars and a cup holder.  “I know it goes against the green initiative.  But it really works.  It takes the snow and blows it right back where it came from.”

Fortunately, we have a good stock of dry firewood and fireplaces that were built when people knew how to do it properly.  We laid in groceries and got a lovely tree that just fit into the parlour.  Our daughter did a beautiful job bringing it to life.  On Christmas Eve we went to the local church (which is about the same vintage as our house) and sat in straight back pews for the music and the sermon. It was wonderful to come home and snuggle up under the down comforter.

Today, the weather here in Durham went up to springtime temperatures.  People are out running around in T shirts.  Christmas was only three weeks ago, but our connection with the seasons has been tenuous of late;  it seems like it could have been a century ago.  This is what our village looked like then.

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