With summer in full bloom, it’s time to enjoy Canadian Literary Fare al fresco. Whether it’s a barbecue in the backyard, a picnic in the park, or a beverage on the terrace, it’s nice to have a good book close at hand.
When summer arrives, I think of gardening and the poet Lorna Crozier.
As for the food, I vowed never to mention it to my father, who managed once or twice a month to snare a few rabbits in the woods behind the house so we could have our meal of meals, rabbit stew, our only fresh-meat meal. My mother sometimes cobbled together “shipwreck” dinner or jig’s dinner, boiled cabbage and potatoes and salt beef, along with pease pudding made from peas boiled in a cloth bag. Mostly we ate salt cod and potatoes.
Wayne Johnston, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, 24
For Joey Smallwood (first Premier of Newfoundland, narrator of Johnston’s TheColony of Unrequited Dreams), rabbit stew is the meal of meals – the occasional hint of fresh meat in a diet of sald cod, salt beef and more than a fare share of hunger.
I bring you two “meals” this week – neither of which I cooked. There is much satisfaction to be had in artfully arranging croissants on a plate and then calling it a day.
The meals in question hail from Mylène Gilbert-Dumas’ Les Deux Saisons de Faubourg, set in the Faubourg St. Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood of Québec city. Adélaïde lives with her daughter, Marjolaine, on the second floor of a triplex. Accounting clerk turned chocolatière, Adelaïde is very careful with her money. Once a week she allows herself a treat: one café au lait on the way home from work. Here, in this café, she cuts out her coupons and writes out her weekly shopping list in accordance with said coupons.
Today marks the final stop on our “Capital Meals” tour: St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Literary fare tied to the sea is central to St. John’s, as are stories of human tragedy. E.J. Pratt’s poem “The Ice-Floes” relates the events that befell the Greenlander in 1898 when a number of men perished after becoming stranded on the ice during the seal hunt. As a young man, Pratt watched from St. John’s harbour as the dead were brought ashore. Gales had caught the sealers off guard, separating them from their ship and isolating them on the ice pans. Many died from the brutal cold before they could be rescued. The men’s tragic sacrifice was made simply to provide for their families:
And the rest is as a story told, Or a dream that belonged to a dim, mad past, Of a March night and a north wind’s cold, Of a voyage home with a flag half-mast; Of twenty thousand seals that were killed To help lower the price of bread; Of the muffled beat…of a drum…that filled A nave…at our count of sixty dead. (27-28)