The flavour of the place is already evident on the ferry where the coffee is served with the biggest welcome, and the bulletin boards publicize things like the “Chase the Ace” event in Joe Batt’s Arm.
No fuss about font or lack of a Copy Expert store; just straightforward marker on board, in a bright orange, plunked up for all to see. What you see is what you get on Fogo. The people you meet there are easy to meet, eager to make you feel at home whether it’s in an art studio or a restaurant. The longest drive you can take is three-quarters of the way around and through the island to Tilting, and my B&B, Foley’s Place, owned by Tom Earl. Though I generally don’t like the word ‘charming’ to describe a place, this time the word is apt. Fog island and its residents are charming.
This is the view from the back windows of Foley’s Place.
Though he hasn’t been the owner for long, already Tom’s breakfasts are legendary. I got my first taste of the also legendary partridgeberry in his scones. You, Len, have had them many times before.
So we proceeded to explore, going back to the town of Seldom and its old cemeteries. We found that we couldn’t get to Wild Cove any more unless with a guide as people were relocated south into the town in the 60s. Next time we’ll plan an excursion through the bush to where your family’s house was, and your school, to the rocks you walked on there. But didn’t we enjoy tea with Florence Budgell, now Florence Eveleigh, and her husband. She would be your second cousin I think, though too young for you to have met her. After all, your last visit here was many years ago. Partridgeberry pie and muffins with lots of raisins in them. We should have gone back, where does the time go.
At the Library I read some of your letters to a mixed audience, two women visiting from Boston, island residents, and a troop of cub scouts and their leaders. They loved your writing, asked so many questions afterwards.
Not far from the B&B, a small museum based in the oldest house at Tilting, with clear evidence of the changes it has gone through, the extra floor space, the extra floor, the stairway built by a cooper, like climbing in a spiral inside a keg, and under the wallpaper, the bumps where the barrel stave construction is easily seen. In the stairwell, feel the irregularities with your fingers, and in the next room, the outer curve. Here is the docent looking up at me.
She told me of the space under the floor where an indoor fire pit had been, and the story of the terrible priest who did not like the little church the local people had built, and how he’d had everything from the church thrown away.
Here in the back room and in the ‘attic’ are some of the rescued items, statues with bits broken off, old blackened silver crucifix. A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses. Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats.
A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses. Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats. Told stories of his favourites and how clever goats are compared to sheep. I think this was Len’s greatest disappointment, not seeing any more goats with wooden collars to stop their going through fences.
I loved this museum for its human connections. Nothing fancy and put behind glass, all left to further gently disintegrate. Museum curators would have a bird. Here a crib and the sign that says whose it was, how long it had been in use, and that a particular child’s teethmarks can still be seen on it. Len and I could TOUCH, feel the stories through our fingertips.
But Fogo is taking this whole preservation thing seriously and intelligently. there is a fine marine museum at seldom, and Zita Cobb’s Shorefast foundation has enabled small business, arts and crafts to flourish. So you find a studio, an ice cream business called Growlers, a restaurant, the older houses being built or restored. The island is attractive. Wherever you look there are the hills and berry patches, old cemeteries,
houses brightly painted, anything to do with the fishing industry freshly painted, decidedly picturesque. Here there is a balance between letting time show its toll, and saving the past for the future.
Two more things I will mention and then you just have to go to Fogo and see for yourself: The Partridgeberry Festival, a festival like none you have ever been to. It was held in the Arena at the center of the island, and decorated not only for fall, but also for a wedding. Saturday at 3:00 pm, the bride was escorted from a side door, the groom was waiting in front of the fall colours and hay bale setup in the middle of the floor. Hundreds were there, and it wasn’t easy to see what was going on. All we could see, as in the photo, was the groom’s head as he was taller than most of the people there. Also, a secret visitor was there, so secret that he was pleased no one recognized him. Along with his retinue, Prince Albert of Monaco mingled, enjoying his anonymity.
The arena was filled with craft tables, food tables, (mostly jams), displays of paintings, displays and demonstrations of rug hooking, quilting, needlework. The geologist in residence at the Fogo Inn had a table with his charts and rock samples, the Fogo Inn chef in residence for the weekend (from Becta in Ottawa!) made exquisite sliders using Fogo Island seafood; there was a large children’s area where various activities went on all weekend. It was wonderful that here the children could handle a drill with adult help, hammer nails, make their boats and paint them. There were items made of seal skin selling for peanuts. I saw the same items in St John’s for three times as much. There were dancing displays, music for adults and children. It was a lively place…And on Sunday I got to read there.
I could write about that festival for a long time, about how the groom had to shoot a gun (outdoors) to finalize his marriage vows… and so many other craftspeople.
The last thing I’ll talk about are the trails. There is one to Brimstone Head, one of the corners of the Flat Earth. Another out of Tilting called Turpin’s Trail that leads up to one of the famous studios, another on the east side of Tilting, Oliver’s Cove Trail. There are fourteen hiking/walking possibilities; most of which I didn’t have time for. They are remarkable. A geologist can tell why and how, and I loved hearing about it from the resident geologist at the Fogo Island Inn while I was there, but there is also the quiet peace of these trails, their seaside vistas, the varieties of plants and rocks and rock formations as we walked.
We were on one of the last ferries from Fogo when the hurricane weather hit the East coast. Len, you were my courage on the drive back to St. John’s, four hundred kilometres in driving rain. Not long after we passed, the main road was closed with great craters at Terra Nova and Clarenville. I’m so glad you were with me for hundreds of reasons. I loved seeing Fogo through your eyes, sharing all its wonders. Weren’t we both exhausted when we got to our hosts’ house by the harbour. Didn’t we keep talking about it all over a few pots of tea in Beth and Stan’s kitchen…Didn’t we talk about next time.