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It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia just as summer seemed to be on the verge of fulfilling its annual promise of sunshine and strawberries, but my wife does have an academic appointment in Australia. Despite a sabbatical and the opportunity to teach a semester in London on behalf of the University of Melbourne, it was time to return to Oz. When I was young, a trip to the antipodes would have taken several days.

Now, in enormous jets traveling at over 800 kms an hour it takes, well, days. It could have taken fewer of them if we hadn’t made a detour through Portland, Oregon to visit our son and his family, but the jet lag would have been worse. Instead of two legs, our itinerary morphed into four– Halifax to Calgary, Calgary to Portland, Portland to L.A., and Los Angeles to Melbourne. It is that last jaunt, the one that Australians laughingly call the hop over the “pond,” that is tantamount to torture. I used to refer to being at the economy end of the stick as traveling “cattle class.” I don’t anymore.

A shocking investigation into the treatment of cattle transported to Indonesian abattoirs cured me of using that term forever. The video was so appalling I simply couldn’t watch more than a minute. Australian viewers were apparently of the same mind, so the traffic of live animals to other countries for slaughter was halted, temporarily. It is set to begin again, under a lot more scrutiny. “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and that video confirmed my inclination to go green in body as well as mind.  It is certainly not easy, despite the advent of so-called veggie options in restaurants.  And it does require a major shift in thinking about meals.

Mind you, I drive too much and spend far too many hours burning up the skies. On a long haul flight, you are basically immobilized for sixteen hours as the giant metal tube creeps across that vast expanse of ocean far below.

If you are assigned to a seat in the very last row, as I was, you wish they would just shoot you and get it over with. But we are highly adaptable creatures, and 21st century commercial airlines prove it. One gets used to the stultifying boredom, the noise, the dehydrated air, the toilets and the airborne equivalent of “food.” It is a luxury most of the people on this planet cannot afford, so how can one complain? I am always amazed that those lumbering machines can actually get airborne despite all that luggage.

On the tiny screen three inches from your face, you can unreel a fair selection of Hollywooden flics, Australian films, TV shows and Other. One movie I had been wanting to see was on the menu, “Oranges and Sunshine.” It tells the tale of 130,000 children who were deported from England and sent off to various countries, including Australia, under a scheme to rid the motherland of children from orphanages as well as others the authorities felt might become wards of the State. It was entirely illegal, but that never stops governments.

The heart breaking story is revealed through the eyes of the British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, who found out about it when one of the “Australian” children sought information from her about her birth parents. This happened in 1986. It is a very moving film directed by Jim Loach, with a great performance by Emily Watson and a fine cast.

We arrived home to an eviction notice. Apparently our landlord wants to sell and wishes to do some renovations to the house before it is put on the market. So, yours truly had to scramble to find a new place to park ourselves and all our stuff. That has now been accomplished, and the rest is simply packing and moving. As my sister noted, wryly, we should be getting frequent mover miles. We are not going very far, but moving is moving. Everything still has to be boxed.

For my next posts, I will be reporting from Maribyrnong. I have written about the River in a couple of posts– The Walk We Drive To, and one about the Henly regatta, if memory serves. The new place has lots of windows, so it will be a bit like moving from a cave to a treehouse. I’m looking forward to that. And we’ll be able to walk to the river.

All new pics and posts have taken a back seat to all this travel and disruption. If you are waiting for photos from our adventure on the Bay of Fundy, please be patient. I’ll get to it. In the meantime, cheers from the country and continent Down Under.

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Back in the days when I ran a bed and breakfast business in the Stewart House, I was always on the lookout for attractive words and phrases I could plug into the minimal amount of advertising we did for the place.  The tourism season was very short (basically July and August), so it really didn’t pay to put a lot of money into marketing.

The province of Nova Scotia offered the best advertising around, a write-up in a telephone-size book called the “Doers and Dreamers” guide.  The books were widely distributed to tourist offices up and down the Eastern seaboard.

In the early years, I took great pains to put together an attractive brochure,  and get them distributed in time for the summer season.  They disappeared off the tourist bureau racks, but I never saw anyone walk in with one in hand.

At some point in our decade of doing business, the title of this post made it into our advertising.  I used to kid my wife about it, because it was her doing. We are only three kilometers from the Bay, but the trees across the road make it difficult to see more than a band of silver when the sun glances off the water. The attic has the best view, but our guests never went up there.

The phrase reminded me of “Fawlty Towers”, which was my favourite John Cleese vehicle, for obvious reasons.  At the end of every season I would get grumpy, beginning to identify with the irascible innkeeper in the show. In one episode, an unpleasant older lady with a hearing problem takes Basil to task for the rather ordinary view from her window.  Basil retaliates:  “It is Torquay, madame.  What did you expect to see, thundering wildebeasts?”

My guests at the B&B would inevitably ask, disarmingly, where they could see the tides.  That was is a difficult question to answer without seeming evasive.  The Bay of Fundy tides are the highest in the world.  One hundred billion tons of water rush in and out of the mud bathtub twice a day, but the land surrounding Grand Pre is flat, so instead of climbing up the side of a cliff, the salt water covers and uncovers vast areas of mudflats.

During low tide, one third of the basin is exposed to the sky.   Many thousands of migratory birds take advantage of that, stopping to stuff themselves with mud shrimp before tackling the long trip down to South America in the fall.

It is difficult to get a true sense of 17 meter (fifty-five foot) tides without a wharf or bluff or a very small harbour where fishing boats can be seen sitting on mud one minute, then heading out to sea the next.

For a good time-lapse view of the tidal change, have a look at this video– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J2AtORivSY

Check out the “Not Since Moses” video to get a playful picture of the kind of a one of a kind race held once a year on the other side of the Bay of Fundy.  It is truly amazing–  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LBYX4aj340


The day before I left Turin for Christmas in Canada, I had two scares.  In a misguided attempt to keep from bumping my head, I caught my foot under our platform bed and did a swan dive on the floor of our flat.  I cut one eyebrow open and bruised my ribs.  The second event was far more serious.  It was late in the afternoon in the center of the city, and I was getting ready to cross a major street after descending from a tram.  Like most people in the shopping mode, I was preoccupied.  And I was plugged in, listening to a book on my MP3 player.

The  young woman beside me stepped off the sidewalk.  From the corner of my eye I could see a car coming.  My brain screamed but no words came out.  By the time I reacted she had walked into the side of the moving car.  I caught her on the rebound.  For what seemed like a long time, I held her while she shook. She was bruised and in shock, but nothing appeared to be broken.

The driver stopped and came back.  An ambulance was called.  Her partner showed up.  If she had stepped out ten seconds earlier I believe she would have been killed.  It was that close.  I will never, ever tune out the city again.  Life is too precious to be preoccupied at a crucial moment.

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The teaching position in Turin offered us a choice that we would never have considered if we had been in Melbourne in December.  We could spend the holiday in the Alps, which certainly had its attractions, or we could return to the Stewart House in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

The stars seemed aligned for a small family reunion in Canada this year.  My sister could come from Montana, a son from China.  Our daughter was already in the province attending school and her new husband planned to fly in from Hawaii. They had been married there and we had not had a chance to meet him.  He is in the Marines Corps and we are very pleased to have him in the family.

There is plenty of room in the old house.  The main trick is staying warm this time of year.  It has been at least sixty years since anyone has lived in the building in winter.  There is no furnace, no central heating and no wood stove.  There are electric baseboard heaters and five fireplaces.

During the cold snap leading up to Christmas Eve, we struggled to keep two of the fireplaces stuffed with wood (and the family with food) from morning until night.  In many parts of the province thousands of people lost power.  I was glad it didn’t happen here.  I was very grateful for electricity, grocery stores, merino wool, the CBC, and indoor plumbing.

The cold snap was followed by a warm wind on Christmas day that quickly melted almost all the snow.  The cold has returned, and I am now staring at a field of frozen, green grass with patches of snow.  A blizzard is predicted for tonight, New Year’s Eve.  No one who lives in the Maritimes expects predictable weather any time of year, so this is not surprising.

I’ll be back in Turin in a week, so the Italian lessons are not over yet.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get up the nerve to drive.  The Alps are calling.  Happy New Year!  Stay safe and stay tuned.


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.

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