Category Archives: Seeing the world

The Old Baler

McCormick B46 baler photo J StewartI don’t know how old the square baler is. There’s no paint left. The name – McCormick – very faint. Old Faithful, I call it. A friend said you can use this until you get something else. That was several years ago. We still have it. It baled the whole first and second cut of square bales this year.

McCormick baler photo J StewartWe have two other balers now, both newer. Another square baler and a round baler. Neither could be called “new” but compared to the old fella, they’re youngsters.

Every year since we’ve had them, something has gone wrong with one or both at critical moments. Haying time is often one long critical moment.

One long critical moment

In early July, you start looking at the fields. How high is the grass, how green. A walk through the fields to see what the heads of the timothy are doing. What’s the weather forecast. For square and round bales, you need at least three sunny, dry days for cutting and baling. Radio weather reports, plus localized weather apps and the farmers’ forecast. They might be accurate, they might not. With them and your gut feeling, you decide and hope for the best.

A nice stretch of 3 or 4 days of sun, light breeze, low humidity – good drying weather. Mower ready to hook up to the tractor PTO. Let’s go. Cut when the morning dew is off. Wait a few hours and toss with the tedder. Next day, toss again a couple times. Leave it when the evening dew comes out. Toss again next day. Test it to see if it’s dry enough. When it is, windrow it so the baler can scoop up the line of hay.

Rain and scattered showers and rain

This year, there was so much rain. The upside was the hay quickly grew tall and lush. The downside was the hay quickly grew tall and lush. Predicting a stretch of several dry days and nights was a crap shoot. So you have to act fast when the odds look good.

Massey-Ferguson baler photo J StewartDo square bales first, while the sun is shining and no rain in the forecast. The new baler plops out one bale, and sputters to a halt. Can’t find the problem quickly. No time to delve into it. The hay is cut and it’s not going to bale itself.

Need me, do ya?

Walking past farm equipment around the yard, fretting. You can almost hear the old baler wake up with a creak and a groan. Need me, do ya? Yes we do.

Old baler in field 2021 photo J StewartSo hitch up the old guy. Trundle out to the field, and get back to work. Bale after bale after bale pops out the back. They might be a bit crooked. Somehow the tying mechanism is looser on one side than the other. But if you were as old as that baler is, you’d likely have trouble tying too. At least the bales are made.

loading square bales sep 2018 photo d stewartJob done, the baler goes back to its resting spot. Hook the wagon on to the tractor, and head out to load it up. One phone call, and neighbours appear from all around. They head to the field and start loading.

Then in the barn, they unload and stack. So that’s a lot to be thankful for: good neighbours and a good old baler.Oscar-Chasing-Haywagon-Aug-2021-photo-D-StewartWinter Resort has more on living in the country, pre-haying days, and the reason we hay is told in the story of Jerry and Oscar. That’s Oscar above, happy to see the food truck!

Dr. Gino Strada

Friday on the news, I heard about the death of Dr. Gino Strada, Italian surgeon and founder of the medical NGO Emergency. He was 73. He’d worked in war zones including Afghanistan and Rwanda.

Wait a second, I think. So up to the attic, to a box of cassettes. One has Kigali hospital scribbled on the label. I play it. Yes. In September 1994 Dr. Strada showed our group of journalists and Canadian Forces officers around the hospital.

I’m a war surgeon

My name is Gino Strada. I’m a war surgeon. I’ve been here in this hospital since the beginning of July.

 

This was quite a peculiar war. The ratio between the killed and the wounded was rather different. Here they had more than a million deaths and the weapons used were mostly machetes to wound people. So compared to other places, say Afghanistan, much less mine injuries and shelling injuries and much more people injured by knives or machetes.

This is the surgical department. Here you have basically two categories of patients. Either war wounded or surgical emergencies like car accidents. I would say about 80 per cent war wounded and 20 percent car accident or other emergencies.

Even now? After the war has ended? Yeah, well, now you have all the people who have come back with old injuries or needing reconstructive surgery or stump revisions to fit protheses.

Land Mines

And you have the fresh cases, the fresh war wounded, wounded by mines. Like this girl here. She’s 18. She went back with her family to the house. She was the first one to walk on the path, and she stepped on a land mine. Her sister died here in the hospital three hours later, from penetrating shrapnel. She has bilateral above-knee amputations. Her father was injured also. It’s the usual sad story of this inhumane weapon that kill civilians.

When was she hurt? I think it was the first, second of August. Now she’s here, ready for physio. She’s okay, the stumps are clean. She just needs to do some physio to fit prostheses.

Some, like that man over there, both hands were blown off. There are no hand prostheses here. The only thing you can do is a lay procedure – make kind of chopsticks that can hold a fork or a pen or whatever.

We had about 45 mine injuries in the month of August, from the war. 44 civilians and 1 soldier, which is more or less the exact proportion that happens normally with this weapon. I know it is difficult to talk about land mines in front of military but I think we all agree these are absolutely inhuman weapons.

Particularly the indiscriminate laying of mines. Well, as far as I know, there is no discriminate use. When you start to scatter land mines by helicopters, how can you know where they go? You fly a hundred metres higher, you have an umbrella much wider. So it’s an excuse, this distinction. Nobody knows. You know better than we do, nobody’s mapping where the land mines are. Particularly the irregular armies – they just throw the mines wherever they can.

Emergency

For the moment, the hospital has open four basic departments: surgery, and this is the general medicine. The other side is the paediatrics and the maternity. We are in charge of surgery and maternity.

Who is we? Emergency. Yes, your t-shirt, ‘Emergency – Life support for civilian war victims’. It’s a new organization. The headquarters will be in Geneva next month. At the moment, it’s still in Milan. We only established it six months ago with the idea to have an organization with political independence that doesn’t accept funds from the government. We rely only on private donations. We want to have an organization composed of professionals in this field.

 

I’m not interested in those who want to have a 3 month adventure experience and then they go back to their private practice. I mean, it’s much better to try to build up a group of people who want to do war surgery, surgery for victims of war, on a regular basis, as a professional choice. Because this is a difficult discipline.

To do war surgery is to do something completely different from surgery. It’s a different job that you have to learn. So you have to spend a lot of time always working in this kind of situation to gain experience.

How long have you been doing war surgery? Since 1987, almost by chance. I’d been sent to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I found it extremely interesting even from the surgical point of view. If you really do your job and you’re dealing with your patients, your clients, it’s very stimulating. You learn to do surgery with a Swiss Army knife and a couple of ampoules of ketamine.

Working in a ruined hospital

We didn’t want to reopen all the services in the hospital because we had no means to run it. The hospital was abandoned, parts of this building were destroyed. The roof had got a mortar shell. Blood was everywhere, dead bodies, signs of massacres in the hospital. Patients and personnel – they were killed in the hospital. A couple of people were living inside because they had no house.

Personnel had disappeared. We had to recruit new people, just take people off the street. We picked up the first 25 people who were passing by and said would you mind helping us to clean up a bit and we’ll give you some money. And that’s the way we started!

No water in the hospital for one and a half months. And we were forced to do surgery because the news spreads quite quickly that the hospital was open. So patients arrive, and you have to do something.

At the beginning, you couldn’t expect to have extraordinary results in terms of the surgery because you don’t have the facilities to sterilize your instruments. You have to be ready to accept a certain rate of infection. But now the situation has improved quite a lot, I would say. Now we are on a good standard or an acceptable standard, I would say. Also considering that 80% of the personnel are not qualified. There are nurses – well, we call them nurses or nurse helpers, but they were, I don’t know, professors of mathematics before, or cleaners or whatever.

Why no doctors? I don’t know. What they say is that the majority of doctors, they were Tutsi and they’ve been killed. Others escaped to Zaire or Burundi or wherever. They’re probably scared to come back, if they’re still there. Nobody knows exactly. But this is the result. So far we have not seen surgeons.

 

How many people do you see a day? Between surgery and outpatients, I’d say between 30 and 40. This was a 650 bed hospital and I think it was working rather well. There were 25 Belgian doctors before the war. There was the Belgian co-operation here, and they brought in a lot of equipment. Of course most of that material has been looted.

How many people do you have here? At the moment, we have nine. Nurses, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, there’s a midwife, a gynaecologist.

Do you have the supplies you need? Yes, we have the basic ones. We will never use sophisticated equipment because, anywhere you go, it is important to teach a few locals to do some basic war surgery. If you teach them to rely on high-tech, then everything will stop because they’ll never be able to afford it.

How many patients? I think all together about 350. 120 in the surgical ward. There are about 70 in maternity, about 40, 50 in paediatrics and the rest is general medicine.

So Emergency runs the surgery and maternity ward? And Samaritan runs paediatrics and general medicine, and then there’s a dispensary run by MDM – Médecins du Monde. They see I think 300, 400 cases per day. And the Australians are here running a hospital within a hospital. Their mandate is to take care of the UNAMIR troops. What they do in fact is to take care also of civilians and give us help – great help. We do surgery regularly together. So it is good co-operation although the mandate is not the same.

When we knew they were coming, ah, it was great. To have UN troops beside you is beautiful – in terms of security, in terms of all the help they can give you, the support, the logistics, and supplies and material when you need something you don’t have.

How long will you stay here? Another 3 or 4 months, unless there is a new emergency in the country. We’ll see.

I edited this transcript a bit for continuity and length. Questions and comments were from several members of our party as we walked the halls with Dr. Strada. I never saw him again, but he has always stayed in my mind. Emergency’s website has more about Dr. Strada and their work around the world.

Also see my Rwanda for more about being there in 1994 with Canadian peacekeepers.

Padstow May Day

May-Day-Harry-Batt-1961-Padstow-Museum-artuk.org
May Day by Harry Batt 1961, Padstow Museum

Now imagine a still night, the last of April, the first of May. Starlight above the chimney pots. Moon on the harbour. Moonlight shadows of houses on opposite slate walls. At about two in the morning the song begins. Here are the words.

With a merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-come unto day
How happy are those little birds which so merrily do sing
In the merry morning of May.

Then the men go round to the big houses of the town singing below the windows a variety of verses –

‘Arise up Mr. Babyn I know you well afine
You have a shilling in your purse and I wish it were in mine.’

And then on to a house where a young girl lives –

‘Arise up Miss Lobb all in your smock of silk
And all your body under as white as any milk.’

Morning light shines on the water and the green-grey houses. Out on the quay comes the Hobby-horse – it used to be taken for a drink to a pool a mile away from the town. It is a man in a weird mask, painted red and black and white, and he wears a huge hooped skirt made of black tarpaulin which he is meant to lift up, rushing at the ladies to put it over one of their heads. The skirt used to have soot in it. A man dances with the Hobby-horse carrying a club. Suddenly, at about 11.30 in the morning, there is a pause. The Hobby-horse bows down to the ground. The attendant lays his club on its head and the day song begins, a dirge-like strain.

‘Oh where is St. George? Oh, where is he, O?
He’s down in his long boat. All on the salt sea, O.’

Then up jumps the Hobby-horse, loud shriek the girls, louder sings the crowd and wilder grows the dance –

With a merry ring and with the joyful spring
For summer is a-come unto day
How happy are those little birds which so merrily do sing
In the merry morning of May

John Betjeman, First and Last Loves (1952), A Cornish Anthology, Alfred Leslie Rowse ed. 1968 pp 265-6

Oss_Oss_Wee_Oss_Bryan-Ledgard-2007-wikicommonsIn Padstow, on Cornwall’s north coast, the Obby Oss festival for May Day hasn’t changed much since the poet Sir John Betjeman wrote this. And it hadn’t changed much in the decades, centuries maybe, before.

The chant: “Oss Oss Wee Oss!” And the song, all night and all day:

“Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.”

Oss Oss Wee Oss

In the morning, the obby osses come out from their “stables” and they swoop and swirl through the town, each with its own band, and its followers. Red ribbons for the Old Oss, blue for the Blue Ribbon Oss. Their parades take different routes, at different times of the day. They meet up in the evening at the May Pole in the centre of town. The osses dance and their adherents mingle.

Blue-oss-Padstow_Mayday_2009_3_-_geograph.org_.uk_-Andy-F wikicommons
Blue Ribbon Oss stable, Padstow Institute

Every year for who knows how long. Except for this and last year. The Obby Oss festival was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. It is not an event intended to attract tourists, But it is a huge and unique spectacle so, of course, they do come. So its absence must be an economic blow to the town. But much more than that: it’s a blow to the community itself. Its history, relationships – its communitas – is celebrated every year around the pubs, the houses and the May Pole.

I went there in the early 1990s. We were welcomed, but it was nicely made clear that outsiders were expected to behave themselves and keep out of the way. This event is for locals. And what an event it is! See it once, and it sticks with you. Every May Day, the song bubbles up in your brain: “Unite and unite and let us all unite, For summer is a-come unto day…”

The_Harbour_Inn_Padstow-geograph.org_.uk_-Simon-Huguet-2008
The Harbour Inn, former stable for Blue Ribbon Oss

Doc Rowe is a collector of community traditions and “outsider” who has been going to May Day every year since the 1960s. He told me how it acts even in reckoning time:

“If you’re here at Christmas, people get highly charged and emotional. Passionate. They’ll say, oh, only 18 weeks to May Day. I see it as the central pulse of the place. Other key events, like birthdays, weddings, funerals – they’re are all linked to May Day. So people say, well, let me think now, May Day was on the so-and-so, so it must have been such-and-such.

Golden-Lion-Padstow_Mayday_2009_4_-_geograph.org_.uk_-Andy-F wikicommons
The Golden Lion, stable of the Old Oss

“Whatever you’re talking about historically, or chronologically anyway, during the year, you more often than not find a Padstow person will start talking about May Day as the pivot. How many days, how many weeks, how many hours away from May Day it happened.”

So, with May Day being that central to the very being of Padstow, you can understand what Sir John Betjeman also said in his essay:

I knew someone who was next to a Padstow man in the trenches in the 1914 war. On the night before May Day, the Padstow man became so excited he couldn’t keep still. The old ‘obby ‘oss was mounting in his blood and his mates had to hold him back from jumping over the top and dancing about in No-man’s-land.

oss oss wee oss sweater FB Padstow Old Cornwall SocietyThe hobby horses didn’t stop for two World Wars. Nor did they for the 1918 influenza pandemic. At the end of this May Day, I hope that the final words of the May Song can come true for next year. Oss Oss Wee Oss!

“Now fare you well and bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call no more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May.”

The Padstow Museum has much more on the history of May Day. You can also check out the Doc Rowe Archives. Below is a 1953 Alan Lomax doc on May Day. Watch more recent videos of it on YouTube and you’ll see some changes, yes, but more similarities.

Pelé

In the late 1980s in Costa Rica, my Spanish language teacher was trying to convey ‘juego’, or game. She gave what she thought was a huge clue. She tapped her finger on a picture taped on the wall: a man kicking a soccer ball. I had no idea. So a whisper: Maradona. Huh? She switched to English – which she never did – so she could be PELE-1963_wikicommonssure about this. Did I really not know who Diego Maradona was? I didn’t. She was speechless. But if it had been a picture of Pelé, I’d have got it right off the bat.

I thought of this while listening to an interview on CBC’s Day 6 with the makers of the film Pelé. It will be released Tuesday on Netflix. I’ve known who Pelé is since I was a kid, but I wasn’t a soccer fan. Why, I’ve wondered.

Maybe it’s because Pelé is one of the pantheon of athletes we all know. Famous names like Muhammed Ali, Mickey Mantle, Secretariat. But baseball, boxing and horse racing have long been part of North American sports popular culture. Soccer not so much. Until Pelé.

The Beautiful Game

His career was in Brazil. Pelé played for the Santos team from 1956 to 1974 and, of course, on the national team. Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Pelé retired in 1974. Then he returned to play with the New York Cosmos in 1975. And brought soccer to the USA.

Pele_debut_v_tornado-1975-Cosmos-El-Grafico-wikicommonsI can’t remember for sure, but maybe that’s when I first knew of Pelé. Maybe a soccer player struck a chord for me because, in school, the only time I actually looked forward to Phys Ed was when we played soccer. It was only a few brief weeks sandwiched between baseball and basketball. Those team sports were nightmarish hells. But somehow soccer was different. It was fun!

I never played soccer again and, obviously, didn’t become a fan. But, maybe due to my good experience with the game, Pelé had engrained himself in my brain. Maradona did too after my language class, and I understood why my teacher was so astonished.

I have become a World Cup soccer fan. Thanks to a friend who did a play-by-play for me during the 1998 World Cup games, every four years I pick my teams and settle in to watch and cheer and cry. So thanks, Pelé. You made the game more beautiful.

John Prine

John Prine by_Ron_Baker-2006-wikicommonsWhen I hear the name John Prine, I think of Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Yesterday, John Prine died from Covid-19. Yesterday was also the 26th anniversary of the start of that 100 days of slaughter in Rwanda.

So yesterday morning on CBC Radio, I listened to Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire talk about Rwanda. He also talked about the threat right now of the coronavirus and its possible long term psychological Romeo_DALLAIRE.General_MINUAR-Enzolamine-2014-wikicommonseffects. Later, at the end of the day, I heard that John Prine had died. A circle come around.

Both these things made me think of Radio CFRK. That was the small radio station that UN peacekeepers set up in Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. One watt, enough to be heard throughout the city. I spent time in the makeshift studio with the DJ for the Downhomer show. Each province had its time slot and its DJs. They aired the music they liked.

Big Old Goofy World – Live in Kigali!

The Downhomer’s Newfoundland DJ liked John Prine. I taped him doing a mock interview with John Prine, doing both voices himself – “Live in Kigali.” Then he sang along, off air, as he played “Big Old Goofy World.” Fitting for the place and time.

It was the first time I’d ever heard John Prine, and I liked what I heard. So when I heard Mr. Prine was ill and hospitalized, like everyone who was a fan, I felt sad for a great songwriter. And I thought of that little radio station and the soldiers who tried to keep spirits up by playing music they figured their fellow soldiers and the people of Kigali might like.

kigali-sep-1994-photo-d-stewartGen. Dallaire knows first hand the trauma of conflict, of trying to provide services and broker reconciliation. He was not in Rwanda when I was there, a few months after the genocide ended. But I remember the respect with which he was mentioned by the troops who were there with him, as well as those who came later.

It’s a big old goofy world again. A different kind of goofy, different kind of danger. I’m sorry that this one took John Prine from his family and all of us. But I like to think of the solace and enjoyment that he gave at another time of danger. Thank you, Mr. Prine. Thanks also to Gen. Dallaire and to the soldiers who built and staffed CFRK in your off duty time.

Thanks to the Canadian Armed Forces, regular and reservists, for your help in this crisis at home. We’re all singing along with John Prine now.

For more on Canadian Forces and UNAMIR, see my post Rwanda as well as Rwanda 25 years ago.

Plantar Fasciitis

Nearly a year ago, I bruised my heel. So I thought. When it didn’t stop hurting, I went to my doctor. Plantar Fasciitis, he said. What’s that, I said.

The plantar fascia is a band of tissue on the sole of your foot, connecting your heel to your toes. If it tears or gets inflamed, you feel excruciating pain in the bottom of your heel. There is no sure-fire treatment for it.

strassburg sock for plantar fasciitis
Strassburg sock on Amazon

My doctor recommended a) a Strassburg sock, b) stay off your feet and c) wait. Other treatments, he said, are custom-made insoles, cortisone shots and surgery. He didn’t think they were worth even considering. Wear the Strassburg sock while you sleep, and have patience. It can take 3 or 4 months or longer to heal.

After 4 months and no real relief, I started looking for other remedies or accommodations. Almost everyone I met said they’d had plantar fasciitis or knew someone who had. So from those people and googling, here’s my suggestions. They are in addition to my now well-worn Strassburg sock and well-worn patience.

1. Compression

plantar fasciitis socks and tape photo d stewartBuy compression sleeves. They are kind of half socks that put pressure on the middle of your foot. It feels good by keeping your arch up. Before I found one, I used stretchy vet tape. Just wrapped it around my arch and heel, tight enough to feel the pressure from it. Then I bought KT tape and watched a video on how to apply it. Both worked well. Whether tape or compression sleeves, just wear under your regular socks.

2. Footwear
Dr Scholl's plantar fasciitis insoles on Amazon
Dr Scholl’s Plantar Fasciitis insoles from Amazon

Insoles and shoes – crucial to your mobility. I bought Dr Scholl’s plantar fasciitis insoles. They have arch support and a cushioned heel. I wear them in my slippers but you could also put them in your shoes. People have told me that they had orthotic arch supports custom made and they were worth every penny they cost. That’s likely my next move.

Running shoes. The big, multi-coloured type made by Nike or Reebok. I never normally wear them, but I had to have comfortable shoes. And they are! Lightweight, with arch support and cushioned soles.

mountain horse boots photo d stewartRiding boots. Cowboy boots or English paddock boots. Both have good arch support and soles. Don’t buy boots designed to look like riding boots. Go to a tack shop and buy real ones. I cleaned up my Mountain Horse winter paddock boots for public wear.

3. Exercises
  • A frozen water bottle gives pain relief as well as therapeutic movement of the plantar tendon. Put it on the floor, put your foot on it and roll it back and forth.
  • A foot massage ball works too. I don’t have one, but I do have a dog’s rough plastic squeaky ball. Same procedure as with the frozen water bottle. Just don’t press too hard or it squeaks!
  • Lift your foot off the ground and do the alphabet with it. Making the letters ensures a broad range of movement and muscle stretching.
4. Minimize walking

A step counter might be handy – in reverse of its usual purpose. Got to go upstairs? Wait until you have an armload to take up as well as to bring down. When you’re running errands do only as many as your foot will allow. Sit and rest your foot, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Take your frozen water bottle with you.

So how do you get around?

Getting around town or a work place all day? I don’t know. Maybe a walking stick to take pressure off your foot? A scooter or Segway that lets you move without walking?

snow blades photo d stewart plantar fasciitis postMy biggest problem was getting to the barn. No huge distance, but it feels it when your heel hurts. Once there, you’re in too much pain to do anything. And you still have to get back. So I got a bicycle. Pedalling doesn’t bother your heel because it’s the middle of your foot pushing on the pedal.

Snow makes a problem, however. Cross-country skis are too unwieldy. Snowshoes put the same pressure on your heel as walking. So I’m experimenting with snow blades – adapting the bindings for my boots or attaching the blades to the bicycle frame. And an ATV works.

Painkillers

I read you should use painkillers sparingly. They mask the pain, so you’ll do more than you should and therefore do more damage. Use them only at night. But if I’ve had to do more than I should and the pain is bad, an extra strength Tylenol or Advil does the trick. But remember you took the pill and don’t push yourself!

Will Plantar Fasciitis go away?

A neighbour said that, after many months, “I woke up one day and the pain was gone.” Another friend still does the foot exercises every day even after his plantar fasciitis seemed cured. Because it can come back.

I’m waiting for the day when poof, it’s gone. But until then, I have to rethink how I get from point A to B – literally. And deal with foot pain without doping myself up to the eyeballs. These tricks and products have made it much more tolerable.

Portugal Day

Portugal-Day-Corte-Real-statue-wikipediaOn this day in 1965 Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood proclaimed June 17th Portugal Day in the province. It was at the Confederation Building when the Portuguese Fisheries Organization presented a statue of the 15th century explorer Gaspar Corte-Real to Newfoundland. At the ceremony, Joey spoke about the bond between two peoples, two nations.

Premier Smallwood

“Newfoundlanders have a deep affection and a great deal of respect for the people and country of Portugal. We intend every year to have Portugal Day. It will always be a simple ceremony.

And we hope that it will be attended always by Portuguese people and they will join with Newfoundlanders here at this monument, this statue that was given to Newfoundland by Portugal. For a few minutes once every year we will remind ourselves of the long and honourable friendship that has existed between our two maritime countries, our two fishing countries.

And remind ourselves too that whatever other industries there may come to Portugal and to Newfoundland, the fisheries continue, they go on, they continue to be important to both of us.”

Portuguese-White-Fleet-archivalmoments.ca_2013_04_09
Portuguese White Fleet in St. John’s Harbour (Archival Moments)

National interests – multiplied

But by 1965 Newfoundland was part of Canada, something Joey had fought hard for. So it was no longer Newfoundland and Portugal talking; it was Canada and Portugal. When Portugal joined the EU in 1986, it was Canada and the whole of Europe. Diverse industries and interests, with Portugal and the Grand Bank fishery just one small part.

In 1986 Canada banned Portuguese vessels from entering Canadian ports after a dispute over illegal fishing. No more coming into St. John’s to refuel and resupply. Or play soccer on the waterfront, shop on Water Street, go to bars and restaurants. Play music. Visit friends and family.

Newfoundlanders and Portuguese

Tony Charana, a retired trawler captain from Buarcos: “For Portuguese to arrive in St. John’s is like arriving home.”

For him, that’s especially true. His wife was born and raised in St. John’s.

Irene Fleming Charana: “When I was small and went shopping with my mother downtown – the fishing clothes on and the long boots and everything like that, I was afraid of them. But I remember my mother saying she felt sorry for them because they were so far away from home. Little did she know that I’d end up marrying one!

Tony: “Now – I have my family. But I go to St. John’s like a tourist.”

Their friend Valdemar Aviero, another retired captain, felt it was a betrayal of history as well as friendship:

“At least thirty years before Columbus and John Cabot, João Corte-Real was there and named the land Land of Codfish. Terra do Bacalhau. 1463.”

Terra do Bacalhau

Vasco Garcia, a University of the Azores professor and former member of the EU Parliament:

“That instinct of being an ocean-goer five centuries ago with the feeling of possessing the sea: this is so hard for someone who has imprinted this, when they look to the fishing grounds of Newfoundland. For cod is called in Portugal the faithful friend, fiel amigo. It’s in the gastronomy. One cannot have Christmas in Portugal without bacalhau cozido – boiled cod – and bacalhau com batata – cod with potatoes. So cutting the Portuguese from these kind of roots is very painful. Not even from an economic point of view, but also from the heart – chromosomic, historical. It’s almost as if you are cutting the roots of the tree.

fishing boats on buarcos beach portugal 1995 photo d stewart
Fishing boats on the beach at Buarcos, Portugal 1995

A young inshore fisherman in Buarcos, José, wishing he could fish on the Grand Banks:

“It’s my life. Because it’s in my blood. My family is working on the ocean all the time, you know.”

Portuguese Waltzes

There’s long been an ex-pat Portuguese community in Newfoundland. But it’s also like there is – or was – a big Newfoundland outport in Portugal. They are the people Joey Smallwood was talking about, I think. The Portuguese, and Newfoundlanders, who looked forward every year to the arrival in St. John’s of the fishing fleet. Newfoundlanders like Art Stoyles:

white fleet hospital ship Gil Eannes in Portugal wikicommons
Gil Eannes, now a museum in Viano do Castelo, Portugal, where she was built in 1955

“I used to go down with me accordion waiting for them to come in. So they docked and they’d be off. They had their music, mandolins and whatever. One day, this buddy come up over the hill, ya know, with a great big accordion. I heard the music and said, where in the hell is that comin’ from! That’s beautiful. This guy had a big accordion – five rows of buttons. He was on the Gil Eannes, this guy. He was a captain, right. And boy, he had some outfit there. It had more bass on it than the poles on Water Street! Anyway, we played. He played a few tunes and I taped them off. After, I learned that Portuguese song.”

Portugal Day

The huge cod stock that gave the name Land of Codfish to the island of Newfoundland has been overfished to near extinction. Still, salt cod remains “the roots of the tree” for both Portuguese and Newfoundlanders. And the relationship between the two peoples goes on too. So here is Art’s “Portuguese Waltzes” on this, Newfoundland’s 54th Portugal Day. Let’s celebrate this “long and honourable friendship”.

CBC Land and Sea has footage from 1967 of a White Fleet sailing ship’s journey here. CBC also has video and audio from 1955 when Portuguese fishermen carried Our Lady of Fatima statues through St. John’s, their gift to the Basilica. At Archival Moments you can read more about the Portuguese in Newfoundland as well as at Newfoundland: The land of the Portuguese king.

Portuguese Waltzes book Richard SimasRichard Simas wrote a book about how The Portuguese Waltzes became part of Newfoundland’s music. It’s illustrated by Caroline Clarke. (2019, tap image for Amazon). Also see his article in the Summer  2019 Newfoundland Quarterly.

The quotes in this post come from CBC archives for Premier Smallwood, and from interviews I recorded in 1995 for a radio documentary.

Boogie-Woogie Piano

boogie-woogie land-photo-d-stewartToday, the 88th day of the year, is Piano Day. So CBC Radio q told me. One or another piano has kept me company almost all my life. And one very battered music book.

My sister bought Boogie-Woogie Land when she took piano lessons. So her playing was my introduction to boogie-woogie. That, and the book. There was a lot in it. The notes themselves – you could hear the music just by looking at them. Photos of glamorous people in Cafe Society nightclubs in New York City. And a short history of boogie-woogie and explanation of its techniques.

Many years later, on Holger Petersen’s Saturday Night Blues, I heard Meade Lux Lewis play Pine Top’s Boogie-Woogie. Wow. Lifted me right out of my music book. I didn’t know you could do that with ten fingers and 88 keys.

Sammy Price dedicated his music book “to all those who feel a tingle up and down their spines when the strains of boogie-woogie are to be heard.” Here’s some of its story that he told.

Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons Cafe Society boogie-woogie landThe Birth of Boogie-Woogie

On many occasions I have been referred to as one of the third generation boogie-woogie pianists… The first song that I ever learned to play on the piano was a blues. Even before that I recall a strange melody… Its title was “The Livery Stable Blues.”

Perhaps the reader is wondering why I have mentioned the blues. Let me explain that this is the basic foundation of boogie-woogie… The same chord structure used in playing blues may be used in boogie-woogie fashion by utilizing a repeated bass movement in the left hand and playing the melodic strain of a composition with the basic chords of the blues as a guide…

I believe it was originated by a piano player named Clarence Smith, who was perhaps better known as Pine-top Smith… He knew that when he took a strain of the blues and played this repeated bass, a new effect would be achieved. This he called boogie-woogie.

I have talked to a man named J. Mayo Williams, who is particularly familiar with Pine-top’s recordings. Williams met Pine-top in the middle Twenties and soon realized that here was something new and important in the field of blues and jazz. A series of conferences were held and in 1928 the first records were waxed in Chicago. On this historic day Pine-top talked continuously during the recordings to a mythical character in a red dress…

pianists mary lou williams and hazel scott boogie-woogie landBarney Josephson then opened Cafe Society Downtown in New York City and with his customary foresight he engaged Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and others who were top-notch at both the blues and boogie-woogie. Then came an event that thrilled some and shocked others; the first jazz concert at Carnegie Hall. Despite the fact that many of the critics were completely without understanding of this new music form, the recital was a success and boogie-woogie at last became respectable…

Here, thanks to YouTube, is that 1928 recording of Clarence Smith playing his Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie and telling the woman in the red dress to “shake that thing”. Oh yes, this is your grandma’s piano.

Willow Grove Settlement

On the road to St. Martins in southern New Brunswick you see a sign in a clearing on a corner. Willow Grove Black Settlement Burial Ground, it says. Behind it is a large cross and a tiny church. You stop to take a look.

sign-cross-and-church-2016-photo-j-stewartThis small meadow marks the memory of a once vibrant community, the Willow Grove Black Settlement. Its significance goes beyond local history, to the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States as well as slavery in the US.

The tiny church is a scaled-down replica of one that stood there a hundred years ago. Looking in the windows, you see photographs of what that church looked like, and the community around it. Also notices and papers pertaining to the settlers and land grants of 200 years ago.

Cemetery beside the church

inside-church-2016-photo-j-stewartThe cemetery is beside the church but there are no longer any individual grave markers. Two large granite markers tell you the history of the site and the settlement.

burial-ground-markers-oct-2016-photo-j-stewart
L: Edmund Hillyer Duval… R: The Black refugees arrived May 25th 1815… (tap to enlarge)

The settlers at Willow Grove were African-Americans who escaped the United States during the War of 1812. Royal Navy Commander Alexander Cochrane invited them: “…they will have their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Sea or Land Forces, or of being sent as FREE settlers to the British Possessions in North America or the West Indies…”

A Proclamation, 2 April 1814

cochrane-proclamation-2-apr-1814-loc.gov
2 Apr 1814 Proclamation by Vice Admiral Cochrane, Library of Congress (tap to enlarge)

So slaves took him up on this offer. Some joined the British armed forces, in a newly formed Corps of Colonial Marines. About 4000 people left the Chesapeake Bay area in 1815 on British vessels. Many went to Nova Scotia, others to Trinidad. But nearly 400 came to Saint John in New Brunswick on HMS Regulus.

A community built

The new settlers received grants of land east of Saint John. Each grant was about half the size of those given to white settlers who also came. The land was less arable and farther away from the desirable Saint John River Valley. Still, they made a community here at Willow Grove. They farmed, ran businesses and raised families. They built a school and the church.

willow grove hwy-111-base-rd-nb google
photo Google Streetview – on Hwy 111 at Base Road, east of Saint John airport

Over the following century, the community dispersed. The church burned down in 1931, grave markers in the cemetery disappeared. Only the cleared field where they stood remained.

But in the 1980s, descendants of the Willow Grove settlement brought back their history. They built the tiny church, using photos of the original. The sign and cross tell passersby what this place was, invite you to stop. Invite you to feel the lives lived there.willow grove baptist church-2016-photo-j-stewart

 

Ma Bell

Our landline was not working. So my husband calls BellAliant. Customer service representatives are all busy, would you like a call back? Thank you very much, he thought, and pressed the number for yes. Bell called back, a technician will come next day.

dog with phone photo d stewartThe technician came and fixed the line outside. He explained the problem clearly and said if it happens again, call. Ok, and thanks. Great service.

Then a call from BellAliant, a recorded customer satisfaction survey. Are you the person who placed the call, the recorded voice asked. I pressed the number for no. We will call back, the voice responded. Recorded voice did call back and my husband answered its questions. That’s the end of it, we thought.

Undisclosed service fee

The phone bill arrived. A charge for a “Call Trace” – $5. No date, no number, nothing explaining what this was. So a call to BellAliant to ask. It means a call back, the customer service representative said. You used the menu option to receive a call back from someone you called.

The only call back we had asked for was our call to BellAliant. To fix the phone service that they provide us. An option in their phone menu, but with no warning that a charge will apply for using it.

Then it is listed on the bill with no details of when or to whom the “Call Trace” was made. They must know – they’re the phone company! And, in this case, it was made to them, to report a problem with their service.

The day after making that call to BellAliant, the phone rings. It’s the recorded voice from BellAliant, a customer satisfaction survey. Are you the person who made the call, it asked me. I hadn’t been, but I said I was. I now know it’s the only way to make them stop calling.

It was a short survey. The service representative did her job well, the wait to get through wasn’t long. So BellAliant can tick the box for a happy customer experience. However, there was no opportunity to give the reason for the call in the first place.

They tape the calls they receive. So they can tell on the spot if a customer is satisfied or not. I’d like to call them again, and talk to a real human, to tell them why we called in the first place. A problem with the service we pay them to provide. But it would only generate another automated customer satisfaction survey call from them!

One Ringy Dingy

Ernestine the telephone operator would be proud. Ma Bell is still Ma Bell.