Museums, Speakeasies and Screech-Ins, Oh My!

Museum

Have you read Quidi Vidi Vici? You might want to check it out.

I wake up today to more freezing rain, mixed with snow, mixed with wind, mixed with blustery cold temperatures. The only thing it isn’t mixed with is sunshine (and also some rum). It seems like a great day to go to a museum which is exactly what I do. The Rooms is the museum in St. John’s. It’s five floors of Canadian history, artwork, ecology and more. I trudge the three blocks uphill and, by the time I arrive, my backside is soaking. Truly a great day to go to the museum.

Upon entering and shaking of like a wet dog, I drop my coat in the coat room, pay my $7.50 entrance fee, get some instruction from the nice lady at the counter and head upstairs to begin my visit. I decide to start on top floor – there are four plus a small bonus one at the top of the fourth – and work my way down. The third and fourth floors have the most to see with a history and cultural area as well as an art area.

View from The Rooms

Painting – View from The Rooms During the Opening, 2005, Artist Jean-Claude Roy
Photo of View from The Rooms on my visit, 2014, Photographer Carole Rosenblat

Some highlights from the museum are:

  • From This Place, Our Lives On Land and Sea, through which I learn a little about the four Aboriginal People of Newfoundland (Innu, Inuit, Southern Inuit and Mi’kmaq.
  • Here, We Made A Home, which explores the settlement and culture of the livyers (early European settlers) and how they survived and thrived.
  • Around the Sun, by Dan Hudson, which was my favorite. It includes a striking sound and video installation comprised of a yearlong time-lapsed video of the seasonal changes and leisure activities of visitors to a natural public park, juxtaposed (fancy word which scores big in Scrabble) with audio montages of news, weather and sports from the same year. I believe this might be a temporary exhibit so get there quickly.
  • Zeke Moore’s: Dispose is, well, not really my favorite. It’s Moore’s commentary on what society throws away. Moore reclaims discarded cardboard boxes, milk crates and blankets and recreates them in bronze and aluminum. To be honest, I threw them away for a reason and now here they are lying on the floor of a museum. It’s like Groundhog Day.

Got kids? Oh, this is a great place for them, as they have a kids’ craft area where, The Rooms Kidstoday, they’re making bird houses out of milk cartons. Someone should tell Zeke Moore as I bet these kids could make a car out of those cardboard boxes. They also have a nature area where kids of all sizes can touch and learn about plants and wildlife. There is traditional Inuit clothing to try on and toys with which early settler kids played, and many other areas for little and big kids alike.

Finally, while I only have tea at the café, people rave about it, so you might just want to grab lunch there. And the view is fantastic!

Now that I’m dried out, I venture back outside (it stopped raining!) and go back to the B&B to get ready for tonight where I’ve made dinner reservations at the Black Sea Restaurant. The Black Sea is just below the Franklin Hotel on Water Street, which is the main street through downtown and also claims to be the oldest street in North America. It’s a warm, quiet place with great delicious food. I order the Caprese Salad along with the Lamb Tangine. Oh, and wine, yes wine, of course. The Lamb Tangine is a tasty bowl of heaven and I would highly recommend you try some there. Better yet, take me to dinner and we can experience it together (not sharing, I don’t share). While I could sit there and enjoy wine all night, Whiskey Bar I pace myself and head on over to my old favorite, Yellowbelly. But tonight, something different; I walk downstairs to The Underbelly. This is the cave-like whiskey/rum speakeasy. Jo, who has now become my regular waitress, bartender and Yellowbelly tour guide is there for good conversation and a nice pour.

After tipping back a nice scotch and another glass of wine (yay, no car to drive here), I head up one block to George Street. If you’ve been to St. John’s you’ll know what’s coming next. George Street is a block or two that houses 25 bars. In fact, it boasts the most bars per square foot in North America. In the summer, this place is blocked off to cars and packed nightly. In the winter, it gets close to this on the weekends. I’ve come on Sunday night so, while I can actually move, it’s still a fun time.

There’s a traditional ceremony called a Screech-In, which takes place at many of the bars on George Street. I head over to Christian’s as I’ve been told that it’s the best Screech-In in town.  A Screech-In is a multi-step ceremony that, when completed, gives the title of Honorary Newfoundlander to all who take part. It’s something that Newfoundlanders themselves don’t take part in as, well, they’re already Newfoundlanders. Is it a bit of a tourist gimmick? Sure, but sometimes you should just have the experience.

I walk upstairs where the ceremony will take place and meet Michael, the bartender. Michael has lived in Newfoundland all his life. Originally from western Newfoundland he’s been in St. John’s for four years. He tells me that this winter, particularly this last week, has been the worst weather he’s seen. Uh, I’m honored? I sign up for the Screech-In which will take place at 11:15 (hoping people bring presents!). I sit and talk to Michael for a while. He reminds me of a California surfer dude yet, trying not to insult California surfer dudes, he’s very smart. While we talk, a few more Screech-In inductees arrive. There’s Michelle and her mother, both Canadian, but not from Newfoundland (though Michelle lives here). Then there’s a group of six college-aged people, two of which aren’t from these parts, one from Windsor and one from Argentina, and will be screeched-in tonight as well (as they’re asked for ID’s I wonder why I was not. I’m liking Michael less).

At 11:15 the ceremony begins. Michael puts on a traditional, yellow fisherman’s hat, pulls out a wooden oar and begins telling us some history of Newfoundland. St. John’s is the oldest city in North America – I knew that. Water Street is the oldest street in North America – I know that. John Cabot was the explorer who is credited with settling St. John’s – I knew that. The first transatlantic wireless communication was received in St. John’s. Newfoundland was the first to respond to the Titanic disaster – didn’t know that. St. John’s, Newfoundland is the most sexually active city North America – didn’t know that.

Images from a Screech-In

Images from A Screech-In

We’re then served up a tray of what is known as the steak of Newfoundland – bologna! This isn’t your thinly sliced Oscar Meyer pre-packaged stuff. This is at least a one-inch chunk of greasy, processed meat. We swallow it down and move onto the important part, the rum. Screech Rum is made in the tradition of Jamaican Rum and is well-known in these parts. We’re handed tiny-plastic cups they serve medication in hospitals. We toast to Newfoundland

Kissing the Cod

Kissing the cod

and swallow our drinks in one gulp. Then comes the part we’ve been dreading. It’s time for the kissing of the cod. Michael reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a frozen cod. One-by-one we’re told to put on the yellow fishing hat and pucker-up. When it comes to me, I’m fearless (I’ve kissed worse). I plant one on that sucker and promptly grab a napkin to wipe my lips (the fish might now be wearing a little pink lipstick). We are asked to repeat the swearing-in phrase, “Deed I is me ole cock and long may your big job jaw.” It’s explained to us but, as I’ve already drunk the Screech Rum, I have no idea what I’m saying. With that we are pronounced honorary Newfoundlanders (ooh, free health insurance). A few minutes later we are handed our certificates attesting to our honorary status.

Screech-In certificateI leave that night with a great appreciation for my new “home.”

Tomorrow – Finding Religion and Virgins

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