I’m never worried boarding a train, plane, automobile or boat. That is, I wasn’t until today.
In the book, “The Shipping News”, the main character takes a job as a reporter in a small town in Newfoundland, but finds his main job is taking pictures of car wrecks. We aren’t in Newfoundland, but we’re nearby in Nova Scotia, and we’ve just taken a tour which promised a visit to a beautiful little bay, and something about the Titanic.
Our guide, who I’ll call Mary, welcomes us to Halifax, then launches into a full safety briefing about the tour bus. “When you leave the bus be careful to … If the engine catches fire then ….” I’ve never heard such a detailed briefing before, but reckon Mary is just thorough.
We’re off. We learn that Halifax is actually a large city that has four seasons – “we have Nearly Winter, Winter, Winter’s Still Here, and Roadworks.” Everyone chuckles at the oft repeated lines, but we also start to imagine the dismal Christmases the Haligonians must have as Mary adds “and our snow mixes with rain so we get a sort of wet slush most of the time.” Hey look, it’s a beautiful day outside and we’re heading to Peggy’s Cove, a spot renowned for its natural beauty.
Mary grabs the mike again – “The story of Peggy’s Cove is really tragic.” She goes on to recount a tale of the wreck of a ship called The Atlantic in the late 1800’s, and a survivor named Margaret (Peggy) who took up residence in the area after being washed ashore. It’s a sad tale, but it ends well for Peggy, so we all reckon it’s Ok.
The ride to the cove is fairly long, but Mary has done it before and has a few more amusing little anecdotes to keep us entertained. “Did any of you fly to Boston before you started your cruise? You did? Well, let me tell you about the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111. It happened right near here, and all two hundred people on board died! Oh, then there’s 9/11…”
Mary has just finished her airplane stories when we pull into Peggy’s Cove. It really is a pretty place. We step out into the bracing cold Atlantic wind and look for vantage points for that special photo (remembering, of course, Mary’s stern warnings to keep away from the rocks where unsuspecting tourists can be swept to their deaths by freak waves called “sneakers”).
All too soon, it’s back on the bus for a tour along the coast and the yet undisclosed Titanic thing. We wind our way past little coves and inlets, looking at houses where famous people once spent a night. Then, Mary starts her monologue again – “Now, I’ll tell you some more about our Titanic stop.”
I’m a bit confused, because I know the Titanic was built in Ireland, sailed from England, and sank a long, long way from here. Alas, there’s another tragic tale for Mary to tell. “They retrieved about two hundred bodies from the Titanic, and they were all brought right here to Halifax. Our next stop will be the graveyard where most of them are buried.” Really? Yep, really. And, to top it off, Mary has memorised a wealth of tragic facts about people who were lost. “Oh, and after we visit the graveyard, I have a great story to tell you about an explosives ship that blew up right here in Halifax Harbour.”
I reckon Mary could get a job writing the Shipping News, no worries.
Addendum: It’s now 8:30pm. We’re sitting in the ship’s theatre listening to the MacDonald sisters, two locals who travel around playing Nova Scotia songs on the fiddle and guitar. They’ve just finished a Gaelic piece which they described as unusual “because nobody dies, nobody sails to a far-off land with the wrong girl, and nobody loses their horse.”
“Our next piece is a folk song about a young man working on a cargo ship. He’s engaged to be married, but gets washed off the deck by a freak wave and dies. It’s a bit sad, but the music’s cheerful enough.” They sure breed them tough in Atlantic Canada.