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Current topics, themes, musings and travel notes

July 11, 2022

From the South of Italy to way way north in the Atlantic

Did I say Canada ?

Summer travels took me from Campania’s sweltering Mediterranean coast to a place I’d never really thought of going until recently : northeastern Canada’s cool-clime Newfoundland and a series of remote islands in the North Atlantic.

Starting in Saint John’s, more than 600 miles Northeast of coastal Maine, my wife (this was all her plan) and I embarked on a 10-day Adventure Canada cruise that featured Birdlife International and A.C.’s frequent artist in residence: the still intellectually vibrant and feisty Canadian writer/icon Margaret Atwood, at 82.

Hiking on Saint Pierre and Miquelon – France's last archipilego off North America

Much of the time on Soviet-era ferry the Ocean Endeavor, we were off the telephone and internet grid, but smack in the middle of networks of dolphins, whales, puffins, wild horses (of Sable Island) and seals.

There is something about beholding such creatures in action – say a humpback whale beating its tail against the surf and breaching skyward, or a white-sided dolphin seemingly changing colors as it glides alongside the ship – that gives you something like hope.

It also makes you want to do something about mankind’s invasive imprint. On virtually uninhabited Sable Island for instance, a team is studying debris including grain sized pieces of plastic and other synthetic junk that beaches there. (Where did that headless Barbie originate?)

Drinking Canadian at Saint John's Mallard Cottage

On the wine front, we drank Canadian — picking up wine whenever we docked near a town with a wine/liquor store. Canadian wines are mostly Bordeaux blends and Burgundy monovarietals (the best examples from the west coasts’s British Columbia as well as Quebec with some strange and trendy wines like bubbly (refermented) piquette thrown in the mix.

Newfoundland has a small but creative food and beer scene. One of the more interesting named breweries is the Dildo Brewing Co. located in the picturesque coastal town of Dildo (pop 1,200 – about 60 miles west of Saint John’s). One theory about the historic town’s name origin is that it comes from the French name for the island — Ile d’Eau – for its abundant fresh water.

Speaking of water, as much of the U.S. and Italy suffer this summer from drought, it is worth noting that Canada holds about 20 percent of the planet’s freshwater reserves.

Yet, surprisingly, Canada isn’t yet building a wall on its southern border, and proclaiming “Stay away from our water!”

This may be because Canadians (save the occasional Quebecois who takes offense at the speaking of English), tend to be unfailingly polite. And genuinely nice. That goes ten-fold for Newfoundlanders.

Canada does have proud Dildoians. But, it seems, fewer dicks. 

At the Dildo boutique in Saint John's

Maybe there’s a humility that comes with being north of a Superpower neighbor — that prides itself as “the greatest.” Canadians are spared such ambition, and judging from their Canada Day commemorations, they seem sincerely interesting in wanting to do better.

In the U.S. you might say we learn a love of country. Canadians seem to love their land.

That love of place is a common theme in my wine writing from the Old World and Italy. I see wine not as just a drink but a way of managing and valorizing the landscape. And I think that is enriching and important in our world.

Check out the latest installment of my Robert Camuto Meets… column  on the evolving style of Sagrantino in Umbria’s Montefalco.