Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Where Poverty and Beauty Flower

I spent the good part of an hour yesterday afternoon standing in a lobster shack. Outside it was pouring. As I waited for the skies to clear, I chatted with a woman whose given name is Storme.

Each summer after lobster season ends, Storme and her partner transform this shack (on the right in the photo) on the New Brunswick coast into a shop, where they sell their photographs, pottery and paintings. Transform is a nice way to put it: the women have to scour the shack of the stench of lobster, haddock and mussels so summer tourists see only a cute gift shop. It is hard, smelly work.

My husband and I like to vacation like this, nice and slow. We love to take in the local flavors, learning a little about another corner of the world. This summer, we are spending time in a town called St. Martins, population 386.

St. Martins sits on the Bay of Fundy in Canada, which boasts the highest tides in the world. Our boys are with us, as is N., a friend of G.’s who turns 16 tomorrow.

Today, Storme told me, buses filled with cruise-ship passengers will stop at their shop, buying the $2 magnets or $3 postcards with stamps. They will spend just 30 minutes around the corner at sea caves formed by the powerful tides.

The tourists, who come in August, she said, don’t spend much, she said. They’re thrifty: they have paid $399 for a four-day cruise from Bayonne, New Jersey to the Canadian Maritimes. But she is grateful for every penny they spend.

I’d just walked back from those sea caves, where the boys spent most of a fog-filled afternoon. The big excitement for them was throwing rocks against a rocky ledge, and watching the rocks shatter. This is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. The boys cycled over to the caves and then back to the farmhouse we are renting.

Storme and I chatted about St. Martins, how she moved here from her native Nova Scotia and how her partner has 51 first cousins in the village. Because the village has no supermarket, she wrote me a list of farms where my husband and I could buy beef from grass-fed cows and organic vegetables.

It doesn’t bother me to learn from Storme how poverty flowers among the stunning beauty of these cliffs and tides or how the unemployment and obesity rates are high. This is a place where Beauty and sorrow sit side by side, just as they do every place else.

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