Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Notes From the Winnipeg Writers Festival

Winnipeg. It doesnt seem to matter
where I fly, I always end up in
the grubby, mouldy Gate B18 of
Pearson's Terminal 3.
Crammed and stale with nothing but
a Tim Horton's donut to eat. Where do
you have to fly in order to sit in
the lounges with fancy coffees,
sandwiches and highballs that lie
just on the other side of that
plexiglass wall? Cairo? Zanzibar?
The writers are staying in a hotel
that wasnt built when the festival
booked it. I have brought
my trunks, as I've regretted leaving hotel
pools unused. But this new hotel has
no pool. There is a bold mirror in the
bathroom that enlarges the pores in
your nose. It tells you where every
follicle in your face lives. I scamper
down to the hospitality suite,
and the children's writers are heaving
down the white wine. Theyre always
the first to the liquor (it must
be hard on them). A writer from BC
thinks my shirt is atrocious. He wants
to sign the back of it. His autograph
is worth something, he says. After
the readings it's pouring out and a man
in a new suit says yes, bring the
car around. We pile into a van,
perhaps nine of us, and end up
at a cowboy bar with trucker slogans
that proudly state that, if you saw it,
a truck brought it. The man in the suit
keeps shoving over ounces of whiskey.
I am dancing now, to the Rolling Stones,
crackling from speakers that bristle with
static, as if they will blow out any
second and rupture my ears. I hit the
hay at four in the morning and have scheduled
(it seemed reasonable at the time)
an 8:30 interview. My flight leaves
in two hours. It's pancakes and
weak coffee at the pancake house
and I am being asked serious
questions. It's only when I'm on the plane
I remember my trunks. My trunks are
dry, unused, hanging from the enlarging
mirror in the new hotel in Winnipeg. I close my
eyes and think, My god I have had one fabulous

Friday, September 17, 2004

Her round, brown belly

I walk to the Bloor line. There's a handmade
BACK SOON sign at the wicket near the turnstiles.
I step through without paying. It reminds me of when
I first came to Toronto. How we crammed ourselves
through the turnstile, paying the one fare. I'm
wearing a good shirt and jacket, I know I look
respectable, I get respectable looks and that's
partly why I dont pay. To defy expectations
of civic duty. I take the Bloor line to
Yonge and then south. A woman gets on
and sits next to me. She doesnt have to,
there's lots of room. She wears pink
lipstick and jeans that are distressed. Her
knee bangs against my knee. Her
round, brown belly. She is twenty-four.
I can tell her age by the size of her head.
When I get off at Dundas, the subway train
accelerates and I see her face
staring at me, staring hard as she slips
away into the curve of the tunnel.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

My first television interview

Should I ask that question again?
He's sweating, isnt he.
I'm a little hot, I say.
Try these.
The make-up woman hands me two
squares of blue film.
It's blotting paper, she says.
I press one to my nose.
These really work?
Take your jacket off.
Can he do up that button? To hide
the microphone.
Perhaps these will work better. Youre
really sweating, arent you.
The host unfolds a pad of powdered
You could work wonders, I say, in
someone's corner.
It's the contrast, she says. From
the outdoors.
I should have arrived earlier.
And drinking coffee doesnt help.
I look her straight in the eye. It's
going to be all right.
So, she says, I'll ask you again.
What were we talking about?
Your book.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A Small Point

We're driving along fourteen lanes of
highway, in the dark, the flanks of
cars flaring past, the highway lit
like things in an oven, a moving oven.
We're driving back from Eden Mills,
having read from the book. At one
point, during my reading, I flung
my jacket into the grass. I'm unaware
of this. I'm hot and I'm dumping
heat. I'm wearing the
trucker's cap I picked up in
Carbonear, the one that has an
ad for J&L Convenience, in Small Point.
I want to wear that hat across
Canada, just so I can have the words
Small Point across my forehead.
In case anyone thinks I might make
a big point.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

A final fish and chips at Leo's

There are three excellent places to have
fish and chips on the Avalon. There's the
Atlantic Inn in St. Bride's (stop on
your way to see the gannets at Cape
St. Mary's), there's a new one, Gullies,
on your way to Holyrood (Randy, the owner
changed his batter recipe fifteen minutes
before opening day -- his batter seals
in the fish without any holes to allow
fat in, or fish out), and then there's
Leo's on Freshwater Road in St. John's.
I'm meeting my friends for one last
fish and chips before I hit the airport.
But my friends havent arrived. Go on,
Marg says, youve got no friends.
And so I hunt them down. I find them
and drive them back to Leo's.
Marg: Sure you paid those people to
come in here and pose as your friends.
I was once asked, in Leo's, if I wanted
wet or dry fish. Wet means a piece
by the tail of the cod, dry is the
nape of the neck. My friend, who loves
fish and chips, usually brings a
bottle of his own tartar sauce, and
finishes with a cup of tea. There's
nothing better after a feed of fish
and chips at Leo's, than a cup of

Friday, September 10, 2004

Barreling through Cuslett listening to The Streets

There's a moment on the Cape
Shore when you pass through
Patrick's Cove and, on the road,
is the homemade basketball
net used by the local boy
now playing in the NBA, and if
you look the other way, down
below Agnes Walsh's pink house,
you see the bare white bones
of a flake, the only fish flake
I've ever seen still solid and
ready to dry split cod. I pass these
two emblems of the modern and
the old, barrelling towards
Cuslett while listening to the
hottest new music from England,
The Streets, singing Youre Fit
But You Know It. My last day
in Newfoundland. I'm taking
Lee Enfield in a locked box
to Toronto.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Trout fishing at Cape Race

I have driven over every bit of dirt
road left on the Avalon. There are four
bits: up near Grates Cove, the road
through Markland, the road north to
Cape St. Francis, and the road
out to Cape Race. This last road I've
never been on before. I'm listening
to George Jones and Tammy Wynette
as I beat the shit out of the rentacar.
The land is barren, rusted with autumn
bushes, the road is wet and the fog
is thick and smudges out the coastline.
I stop near Mistaken Point, by a little
brook, and catch two small pink trout.
There is nothing here to burn so I fire
up the Coleman stove and cook the fish
with bacon and some bread from Georgestown
bakery -- the best bread you can get
in St. John's. I can see the lighthouse
now. Its lonely flash from the strobe
that revolves counter-clockwise. I have
not spoken to anyone in three days.
It's just been me and George and Tammy
and Lee Enfield. Yes, I'm travelling
with Mr Enfield. We went into a gravel
pit together, near St. Shotts, and
put a piece of cardboard in a tree.
I paced off fifty yards and then loaded
Lee Enfield with three rounds in the
clip. The blue pock mark of dust in
the gravel hill behind the target.
Three small bullet holes, three
inches apart. That night I camp
near Biscay Bay, in a small lot by
the sea where I'd once camped
fifteen years ago. By an abandoned
bridge. It's still there. The same
piece of ground. There's a man
salmon fishing in the river.
His English Setter stands with him,
up to his chest in water, watching
the man's line in the current.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Inside the House of The Big Why

I drove to Brigus to walk out to the
house one last time. I'd lasted a couple
of nights in the tent, catching trout and
eating them on a fire beside the brook
they were caught in. On the Cape Shore.
I had the rentacar's passenger
door window open, and the CD player
belting out Hank Williams, the
Handsome Family and Loretta
Lynn's Van Lear Rose. I drank the last
of the twelve year old Macallan's that
my publisher had given me. So I was lonely
and thought to drive out to Brigus and
cook my lunch near Rockwell Kent's old
But there were five cars parked at
the end of the road. And as I walked
along the path, three pickups near
the house.
The padlock was off the front door.
People sitting inside. A lot of people.
People dressed in modern raincoats.
I knocked.
And met Bob and Denise,
down from Alaska to take care of
Jake's house, now that he'd passed on.
They were meeting the Brigus Historical
Would I like to see the house?
I'd never been in this house. Jake,
the owner, had once let me stand in
the doorway. Odd, to be walking
through rooms I'd only imagined. On
cupboard doors two painted roses, done
by Rockwell Kent. I climbed the
stairs. The walls stripped
down to flakes of newsprint and wallpaper.
I read the line "faith, and are rejec".
Spartan. Such an unassuming house in
the end.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Painting Fields of Unripe Cranberries

We are sitting on the edge of Bell Island,
painting pictures of the slate rock and
the shore and the light on the grass and
unripe cranberries. We are using acrylic
on canvas. We took a ferry from
Portugal Cove. Now the island of Newfoundland
is the mainland. We listened to a woman say,
Danny Williams is the best man we ever got
in there. He's a multi-millionaire and
he's going to bring back the mines.
We drove down to an old cemetery. A grassy
path into a copse of spruce trees. We
enter shade and cool and then it opens
onto the patch of graves. But there are
freshly sawed stumps of trees. Ants
at the sap. Someone has cleaned the
graveyard up, and it looks a bit savage.
Brand new gravestones from the 1820s.
The mines here were the most productive
in the world. So many things about
Newfoundland used to be the grandest.
There's something to learn from that.
Later, in a fish and chip shop at
the ferry terminal, I hear the bouncy
error of an incomplete ms word command.
Then the doorbell ting of success.
Someone is working here, on their