Airports: a beautiful collision of exhaustion, anticipation, frustration and a prime observation deck for human behaviour.
Permission for unbridled reading and loitering. Leafing through several glossy mags without purchase. Overpriced (but welcomed) pints of beer. Intense sniff sampling at duty free. Deep inhales of Paco, Izzy and D&G. A huff of coffee beans to cleanse the smelling palate.
Kim and I flew to PEI on Canada Day—an optimal time to fly as Westjet was generously “buying” our first drinks on the plane. Once upon a time a $350 flight bought you 26 salted peanuts and as many beers as you could guzzle.
Expecting sluggish holiday traffic we had arrived at the airport in Capricorn-friendly punctual terms. However, this allowed us to engage in above-mentioned over-priced pint (cancelled out by free in-flight Westjet patriot beer) and a shared plate of hybrid chicken wing/balls doused in blue cheese dip and Frank’s hot sauce at the airport’s reasonable facsimile of an Irish pub.
A frowning couple with a Lululemon-clad teen daughter sat silently at the table beside us–but completely engaged in conversation: typing violently into various Blackberrys and iPhones. It was appalling.
I was thrilled to leave the wi-fi for a week. We arrived in Charlottetown sub-midnight, welcomed in true east coast trad. Kim’s mother quickly unfurled a baked goods buffet—who doesn’t want to graze on muffins studded with dates and “granola bars” (though they contain oats, there is nothing healthy or mountain climber-like about these beauts that are laden with chocolate chips and butter) at 12am? There were tightly curled cinnamon rolls and a bounty of just-baked biscuits. “Do you want some molasses?”
Molasses is a rite of passage in these parts. Biscuits find their place amiably at any meal. “Dinner” is technically lunch and “supper” is truly dinner. Or, something to that effect. What I know for sure is that we ate a lot of three square meals and a lot of squares in between.
Prince Edward Island is undisputedly synonymous with lobster—and of course, I was certain to eat it in all its available forms—lobster-flavoured potato chips, lobster bisque poutine at Daniel Brenan’s Brickhouse and even (drum roll) as lobster ale (courtesy of the Prince Edward Island Brewing Co.).
Don’t even get me started on the 17% butterfat COWS ice cream.
This was my fourth visit to the fairy tale island of brick red beaches and mercury skies. Visiting Charlottetown chronically makes me want to become a fishmonger or build a boat. I want callused hands and a Nor’Wester and Levi’s so worn that you can see where I habitually stuff my wallet from the fade in my denim. We’d have a handsome grey-faced dog with a perpetual bandana ‘round his neck named Farley, or something to that effect.
If we lived in PEI I would be an annoying staple at Young Folk and the Kettle Black. The coffee joint on Water street is bare bones but licked with the colour of local artists and the hot pow of ground beans. Loaves of rye are easy souvenirs and I imagine stimulating convo over sharp espressos and sugary goods upstairs. The place has a wall map and clown nose-red chairs within refill distance of the kitchen. Every place—every home for that matter, needs a map. It’s fuel for chatter, dreaming and nostalgia. Coffee+map+art+a forum for sharing= very essential elements to what I think is necessary in life.
I run every morning on the island (not bothering to keep tally of baked good consumption). PEI is hosting a heat wave while we are visiting which is beyond welcome. Ontario’s “summer” has been largely sucktastic with over 530mm of rain (versus 250-ish mm last year). Ugh, yes. Ricketts. West coast flashbacks.
I run with a smirk, knowing my Sauconys are going to be stained with the brick red soil that makes Prince Edward Island a Canadian anomaly. I have African flashbacks with this same dirt burying its way aggressively into the stitching of my clothes, my laces, my being.
I follow the Stratford Trail along an inlet that begs for exploring. Crows strut in a grassy area with the swagger of a boozed up straight guy at last call. Bluejays announce their presence and swoop to a higher canopy. I love the stands of birch trees. The fallen limbs lie like bones in the tall grasses.
Post-run I find pleasure in the simplicity of the local paper, The Guardian. I like that there is a tide report—I feel like we are genuinely “away.” In addition to the tide warnings, there are detailed reports of crokinole and euchre tourneys on the island. I believe this directly supports PEI being touted as “The Gentle Island.”
We are here to celebrate Kim’s mother’s 80th birthday. And, we do it in unexpected ways—a beer tour at the PEI Brewing Co.–who wouldn’t want to spend their 80th downing blueberry ale and lobster lager? Later, we book a boat and tour the harbour and Battery Point with a playful seal teasing us with a bobbing head.
Celebrations take the fam on a road trip on the North Cape coastal drive. I am buoyed to see the massive hand basket in Richmond at the Island Traditions Home of the Basket Weavers but disappointed to miss the world’s largest hand-held egg beater at Black Road Folkart. Similarly, we have to bypass the giant sculptured potato at the Canadian Potato Museum and bypass the Bottle House in Cap-Egmont (because Kim’s sister read 1.5km away on the road sign versus 15km).
We keep on the straight and narrow to the North Cape because we have a timeline—and here we are privy to the wonder of the longest natural rock reef in North America. (And, at the Wind & Reef Restaurant located at this very point, I’d suggest, the biggest just-baked buns in North America.) Nothing says I-love-you and I-love-PEI like bacon-wrapped scallops overlooking that rocky reef and the wind turbines that turn with the tide rhythms.
Our time constraints are due to our dinner date (or supper date?) with Kim’s Aunt Theresa and George. We are embraced in true island style with moonshine and nips of a special homemade brew—Theresa’s Tia Maria.
I feel like I have been in the wilds for days and am being nourished back to health by Theresa. She plies us with hot brothy soup, pillowy biscuits, soy-kicked rice and honey garlic spareribs that are worth unbuttoning your pants for. Visiting Theresa is like entering an eating competition—after dishing out angel food cake piled high with strawberries and a cloud of aerosol whipped cream (what a delight! I haven’t had that since 1982!)—she remembers that she bought a birthday cake for Judy, Kim’s mom. There are offers for more cake and more shine. This is where the bar is set for hospitality.
This is the Gentle Island. But, my god, they are persistent in the feeding! It’s like a week-long Italian wedding!
We return home, minds still busy with all that transpired on the island. The residue on my Saucony soles and the Brackley Beach breeze are locked into memory. A loaf of Judy’s butterscotch Friendship bread awaits in our freezer. Aunt Leona’s mustard pickles await grilled sausage and angus burgers. I flip through the pictures of the North Cape and the broad, carefree smiles indicating the need for more island time.