Monthly Archives: May 2010

Is that a Smurf or a Schtroumpf on your Dashboard?

On the Vacancier the palest yellow of VW bugs – the new model – clean, shiny bright and loved snugs up behind us in the next lane of parked vehicles. A young boy and woman emerge and head up topside. Walking by their car, I notice a diorama of figurines, a small community of people going about their daily business.

It’s a world of Smurfs contained within a punch buggy. I can say this because we’re in Souris, PEI. Five hours later when we dock at Cap-aux-Meules, the Smurfs magically transform into les Schtroumpfs. Try and wrap that around a tongue that grew up speaking English.

They are all epoxied to the dash so there’s no fear of them tumbling overboard. This beats the bobble heads all to hell and is sure to entertain kids. This is one bug that will stick in my head for a long time. I only wish I had asked to get shots from the back and passenger seats to capture the real effect of the smurfiest bug on the planet.

Topside, Noah meets up with the young lad from the smurfmobile and they play on and off during the five hour sail. He’s on his way to les Îles for the first time. Grand-maman picked him up in Trois-Rivières to bring him for a visit.

We adults are fully entertained for a satellite feed of the Montreal – Philadelphia showdown. In the mdidle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence steaming into Québec’s waters, we are all euphoric at a stunning win by the Canadiens. We are all part of the red, white and blue camaraderie. There’s nary a Philly fan on board. At least none have declared themselves.

As my love Mé says, we’ll remember this game for a long time.

Olé, olé, olé olé……

Crossed Wires

Perusing the media this morning, I read an item about an impending royal visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Aha,” I say out loud, “the Queen is coming to town.”

Noah and Nellie are right beside me. They are surprised at the announcement.

“McQueen,” they shout one after the other. The excitement has their eyes shining bright. I am the bad tidings guy. Neither one of them are to excited about this Queen person.

I haven’t been invited to tea but I’ve seen her a few times over the years – Paris, Halifax, Ottawa. The Hippodrome de Longchamps in the Bois de Boulogne was the first sighting in 1972. I was in my early teens and genuinely excited. We were directly across from where she was sitting with the other VIPs in the reviewing stand. She was clearly visible with binoculars and the whole family had a few gawks at her.

On that same Paris visit, my brother and I saw her again just off the Champs Elysées. There were big crowds out to see the Queen of England and her trademark royal wave. Our last sighting was her cavalcade driving by Trocadéro at high speed as we were making our way home after s sumptuous meal chez Jean-Nöel and Marie-Thérèse.

If we’re here and get anywhere close, perhaps Noah will sing out his customized, bilingual version of O Canada. He loves to sing the song. Each note is deeply ingrained in the hockey experience. He sings with pride and ends with a flourish as only he can ringing out his last words – ‘O Canada we stand on guard for free’.

Well it ain’t McQueen but she’ll have to do.

Dusking beach – Îles de la Madeleine

Sundrops are about to splash the sky shades of rosy pink as light begins its daily fade to black. The transition mirrors our sauntering pace. Slowly, we drift along the empty beach.

Licks of waves entice the kids to dip their boots in and take a step toward the fathomless deep. Then they leave the water, back on track, new treasures to gather at each footfall. The beach is in turn hard and porous. At one moment we leave no trace of our passing, the next our feet sink leaving deep imprints. Our meandering trails blink on and off.

Calls of ‘maman, maman‘ ring out across the sand then skip along the water’s surface. “Look, look what I found,” shouts Noah. A lone red lobster claw, hollow and missing a pincer. Nellie chimes in with, “Look, here, look.” It’s a sea urchin shell with its pattern of embossed perfection.

We are filling plastic grocery bags with the natural bric-a-brac that washes ashore. Quartz, rounded and polished smooth. Moon snail shells in various degrees of erosion each a marvel of flowing form and iridescent shimmer. Driftwood cutlasses, snakes and abstract sculptures are scattered across our path to admire.

Mélanie is shining. She is the sun and the kids are spinning round her. Lila, firmly strapped on her back, is riding high. She’s got the best seat on the beach. Noah and Nellie run excitedly to maman with their newest finds. Mélanie’s gaze on their sandy bibelots immediately increases their value tenfold. Her look bestows instant affirmation of their ability to find and recognize beautiful stuff. She makes each of them feel special even after being presented with the umpteenth mussel shell.

The bags are getting heavier. Nellie begins to drag hers across sections of the beach. Each discovery is as fresh as the previous one and must be added to those already liberated from sand.

In the bluffs ahead, a small grotto whittled by the waves provides a diversion. We enter the narrow red earth channel with a horseshoe opening to the sky. Layers of sediment, damp to the touch, give texture to the contoured walls as they rise to the grass turf overhead. This is a good shelter from the wind, a hiding place, a pirate’s secret den.

We set up for a quick family snap to remember this dusking clear sky on a small strip of coast that has offered us so many gifts to take home. We are all very fashionable bundled up against the wind with our de rigueur rubber boots. The kids love to pose and I can’t resist either. Nellie of course lets loose with her trademark ‘cheeseburger’ just before the shutter pops. This is our official notice that she is engaged in the photo shoot.

It’s time to start retracing our steps. We still have to finish packing. load the car and clean our temporary home at Motel l’Archipel. Before we go, we take a few frames of the kids on a rocky outcrop. There, next to the grotto, we immortalize them where they stand on the red earth between a canvas of sea and sky.

As we return reluctantly to the motel, the mass of Île d’Entrée presents changing hues in the shifting light. It is like a magnet in its aloneness seeking to attract others, a small parcel of houses sprinkled on its least elevated shoreline.

Just in time, before we pick it clean, we take our exit from the beach. We pass through what seems to be a stand of trees. Some are in the water, some rising from the sand – all reduced to gnarled stumps, public art of the natural variety. This small copse of trees awash in the sea must be the result of erosion in the not too distant past.

On the kitchen table when we get in is a copy of our hotelier’s first bande dessinée, Les Aventures de Néciphore. Néciphore, a smart and gently scheming character reminiscent of a rural Andy Capp, takes us through the seasons on the Magdalen Islands from the setting of the first lobster traps to the celebration of mi-carême in Fatima. I don’t have time to read it right away, or one of its most recent companions, Les Aventures de Winnyfred which tells of Acadie.

Now in their sixth title, Jean-François and his partner Hugues are on to a good thing. They are using the comic books as a tool to promote regional tourism. I’ll have to get my own copy of Winnyfred in a bookstore. Over time, we’ll get the whole series. This is fun reading that provides context and a big picture perspective with a smile.

Our evening is wind and sun, sand and sea. We get to hold little hands and see their wonderment. It’s a nice way for us to enjoy our last carefree moments aux Îles – at least for this time.

The Young Kids and the Sea

“Lobster,” cries out Noah enthusiastically.

“I’ve got another one,” Nellie shouts into a gust of wind.

They are a crew of two, 50 metres from the shoreline, scrabbling across the grass and scooping up lobsters in their tiny hands. Dressed for the occasion, they are well bundled in rain slicks to protect them from buffeting northwesters.

Noah and Nellie continue with their imaginary harvest as a cloud of screeling gulls hovers over L’étoile du nord chugging through the passage in the breakwater. We watch the crew bring in a catch of fresh lobster after hauling traps for most of the morning from the cold waters of the gulf. Just behind us is a fish factory. We are in the thick of it.

Play imitating life.

We are in a playground adjacent to the fishing harbour of L’Étang-du-nord in Les Îles de la Madeleine – Magdalen Islands – a small archipelago of dunes, dips and hills in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Canada’s east coast. Not everyone here is a fisherman but with $50 million (Cdn.) in annual revenues, it’s the most important sector of the local economy.

During our short stay, we come across two lovingly crafted fishing boat playspaces. One trumpets the bright colours of Acadie – blue, red and yellow. She’s built to scale and could hold plenty of stacked traps on her aft deck.

The kids run stem to stern. It’s a perpetual movement show with dollops of laughter and snatches of conversation sailing on the wind. Stomping through the wheelhouse and leaning over the bow they look out on their ocean of pretend.

This is a popular spot with the two newest crew members of the Étang-du-nord fishing fleet and we return for a second visit of imaginative play. The chilly weather is not a deterrent. The life size prop for make believe is a powerful magnet.

It’s much the same excitement at another boat 15 kms. to the south in Havre-Aubert. This is a fishing vessel too situated at the end of the historic La Grave stretch, a short swath of street modestly festooned with eateries, purveyors of art and a variety of artisanal fare. The boat borders a boardwalk on the protected harbour side. Across the road behind the storefronts we hear roiling high tide breakers hitting a ribbon of beach.

This vessel has more accessories – two slides, a tire swing and an orange buoy suspended from a rope that can be a bouncy ride, or an over-sized tether ball. The kids are in fine fettle – climbing, swinging, slip, sliding away. They flow between the three levels of play each taking turns as captain in the wheelhouse.

Up on the lookout level, I overhear talk of pirates and a whispered shiver me timbers. The mateys are a popular play theme since the recent purchase of a second hand toy pirate ship. Fortunately there’s no re-enactment of walking the plank. Below decks we find shelter for baby Lila from the rushing wind. She sits quietly, oblivious to the hurly burly circling around her.

Both communities have chosen playgrounds that are reflections of themselves. The real world ‘equipment’ leaves full rein for the imagination. The boats are a wonderful gift for us come-from-awayers as they help us connect with the place and learn through play.

They are not of the mass production mould. Their look and character are intrinsically their own. The world of play would be a much better place with more of these vernacular playgrounds that celebrate local culture and history. PlayGroundology is on the lookout for these kind of playspaces to share with readers. Drop us a line if you know of a place that fits the bill.

We have to leave the wind and waves behind and take the five hour ferry crossing back to Prince Edward Island. We didn’t come to les Îles for the playgrounds and it’s not these two wonderful boat spaces that will pull us back. When we do return though, we know there will be two playspaces inviting the kids to come sail away on blustery day, high sea adventures.