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Carrie Fisher: Postcards while traveling with Meg Ryan
Carrie Fisher: Postcards while traveling with Meg Ryan
September 25, 2005
Screech and Tell
By CARRIE FISHER
We went to Newfoundland for many reasons. For one thing, we had never heard anything much about it, and by "we," I mean me; my 13-year-old daughter, Billie; my stepson, Harper Simon; my friend Kim Painter; and my photographer and friend, Meg Ryan, who took along her assistant, Learka Bosnak, and her photo assistant, Dan Hallman.
We started our trip in St. John's, the provincial capital. Over the summer, St. John's stages several historic re-enactments, including one in which Napoleon surrenders to the English. Yes, I know that it's highly unlikely that Napoleon was even in Newfoundland, much less surrendered to the English there, but like the re-enactment itself, that is another story. In the final analysis, though, a huge part of what drew us there was another absurdity: we were going to Dildo, a two-hour drive away along the scenic route. Yes, I said Dildo, the name of a fishing village in Newfoundland. Unusual, you say? Well, yes, I would have to agree with you, but it is by no means the only village with a strange name. It's just across the bay from Spread Eagle.
We set off from St. John's mid-morning, laden with cameras and overnight bags in case we couldn't find a B & B inviting enough and, more to the point, large enough to accommodate all 6,000 of us. Somehow, we managed to fit into one vehicle, trailed by the owner of the hotel where we'd stayed, the Spa at the Monastery and Suites, in his soon-to-be-vintage BMW, carrying our stuff - at least, I think that's why he was with us. Though, I also think his sudden appearance had to do with Meg Ryan's being in the first car.
The ride from St. John's is a picturesque drive through long stretches of green trees sprinkled with small homes here and there. As the roads smoothed out from rolling to winding, we found ourselves driving along the coast, looking at islands in the flat, gray ocean. And in the van we listened to some trip-appropriate local music that I had discovered online. It was by a Canadian band called the Arrogant Worms. They have one song called "A Night in Dildo," to which we sang along: "From Woody's Point to Come by Chance, to good old Ferryland / Come take a look at Gander, Blackhead's mighty grand / Don't let their names deceive you. Newfoundland's mighty fine / so spend a night in Dildo, if you think you've got the time!"
I admit not all of us knew all the words, but when it came to "so spend the night in Dildo, if you think you've got the time!" we all sang out clear and loud. Well, most of us sang out pretty clear. O.K., mostly I sang out clear and loud, and everyone else laughed at me - everyone but my daughter. She didn't think I was funny that day. She would rather have been in Toronto or Vancouver. "Could you please keep your voice down?" she admonished me, hunching down in her seat, gazing out the window away from me.
We arrive in Dildo in the early afternoon. The nifty little sign with an arrow by the roadside tells us so. We all cheer; even Billie brightens as we clamor out of the vehicle and drape ourselves around the sign for Meg to take a picture.
But I have to say, there really isn't that much of a town. Not grouped together in one place, anyway. There's no Main Street; no city hall. What they do have is a coffee-and-gift shop with a statue of Captain Dildo in front of it and a lot of houses dotting the small hills and set along the winding southeastern edge of Trinity Bay.
In the gift shop, we buy everything that has Dildo's name on it for Christmas presents and stocking stuffers. There are T-shirts with pictures of the dear captain. There are road signs and backpacks and burlap bags and potholders and handkerchiefs. We buy them all. Conversation pieces. And this is everyone in our group. We're juvenile. I'm sorry.
There is also a museum near the waterfront, opposite the coffee-gift shop. The museum's gift shop carries T-shirts imprinted with a big, yellow smiley face and the town's name written beneath it. The museum has a display of fishhooks and ropes, but that's about it, so we head to a small local diner for a late lunch. There, we talk to some ladies about how they tried to change the name of the town because everyone thought it meant "artificial penis." We look appropriately baffled.
Dildo's an all right place, but there's not much to do there. So after some discussion, we move on to Brigus, a grossly undersold town in the Conception Bay area. This place is spectacular. It's like driving into the pages of "Our Town," or being in a Grandma Moses painting. It's a poem, a prayer - a perfectly preserved 19th-century village right on land's end, where you can look down from the cliffs above the town onto the bright blue water of the bay below. With two churches on the hill opposite each other and a path leading to the cemetery, it's a place time forgot. There are no neon signs, no stores; only one soda machine. And then, of course, there is Esther's house, where you can buy pies and sit out on the front porch, waiting for Edith Wharton to come walking up the lane.
I don't know why, but Brigus is essentially empty. Whatever the reason, we are lucky because it is magic, trapped inside the Grandma Moses painting with Esther and her pies, waiting to be screeched in.
Being "screeched in" is a Newfoundland tradition: it's how visitors become honorary Newfoundlanders. If it's done right and proper, the bar where you're "screeched in" has a sense of occasion, which Christian's Bar, in St. John's, certainly has. Basically, the ritual includes kissing the mouth of a frozen cod (or the posterior of a stuffed puffin) and scraping the bottom of a barrel of Screech Rum for the dregs and drinking them while a master of ceremonies chants over you. Our screech master cheers us on, making us recite in rapid fire, "Deed I is, me old cock, long may your big jib draw!" after which Harper, Learka and Kim and I down our foul liquid shot (Kim drinks mine by prearrangement), while Billie watches from the sidelines, amused and embarrassed. Meg takes photos of our graduation into Screechdom. We even get a certificate, signed by our master of ceremonies.
So, finally, we are happy - as happy as any honorary Newfoundlander can be, finding himself winding through this not so very new but exceptional place, with loads and loads of land that these nice, fun people live in.
The morning we leave, we head over to the Napoleon re-enactment. As I said, I doubt that Napoleon ever actually visited Newfoundland, but I think that the port wine that his officers drank during their surrender is the same port wine that they have there in St. John's.
Nevertheless, Napoleon is there that morning. So we wait to get our pictures taken with him, but while we wait, the local paparazzi who shows up to photograph the re-enactment starts photographing Meg photographing the re-enactment. And then I decide to photograph the paparazzi photographing Meg. Wow, man, if we'd been on some sort of hallucinogen, this would have blown our minds, layer upon layer upon layer of people photographing something that never happened.
I have an existential breakdown on the way to the airport.
The NYTimes' Fall Travel Supplement from this past sunday was great! Carrie wrote about another trip last year, but this one made me laugh from deep down.