Tuesday, July 18, 2006


When I travel, sometimes the most prosaic, ordinary things will cause me to chuckle at the Bizarreness of Life.

Here I am in Saint John, New Brunswick, two weeks after July 4, the day we Americans celebrate our independence from Merrie Olde. Back in those days of Revolution, Saint John was home to numerous Loyalists who fled the colonies, unwilling to break away from their motherland and King. It’s a sort of mirror image, what America would have been had there been no Revolution. There’s a picture of Queen Elizabeth on every coin, on every piece of currency. They even have a picture of some guys playing hockey on the $5 bill. (What, no curling?)

And Tim Hortons. Let’s not forget Tim Hortons, purveyor of the infamous Canajan Crack.

Saint John is the home of a few Notable Personages. Movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, as well as actors Donald Sutherland and Walter Pidgeon, all hail from the Land of the Fog-Eaters.

Tonight I supped at the Church Street Steakhouse with a small crowd of fellow sloggers from the Great Corporate Salt Mine, my second experience there. The first time a group of us had gone there, it was a fucking disaster, owing to a massively shorthanded kitchen and a bewildered waitress. The entrées took months to arrive, and almost all of them were overcooked to a fare-thee-well. Our host was incensed, and she took the restaurant’s management to task. Smart businessmen they, they halved the monster check (we had a Gang of Twelve dining there that night), thus (barely) remaining in our group’s good graces.

Some people earn forgiveness, others buy it. Culinary weregild, you could call it.

But tonight’s dinner was just fine. Appetizers and main courses were delivered promptly and prepared to perfection. I had the left side of a cow, done medium rare, with a couple fingers of Lagavulin to whet the appetite.

What struck me as amusing was the list of Nightly Specials on the menu. In honor of some local Cultural Event with the nasty appellation “Salty Jam,” these specials consisted of a selection of dishes collectively titled “A Taste of Louisiana.”

Great, just great. Here I am in Maritime Canada, and they’re trying to sell me Cajun Food.

But in a strange way, it makes sense. This, after all, is the home of the original Cajuns, the French-speaking denizens of the Acadian Peninsula who were exiled by the British to points south - in some cases, far south - in the early 1800’s. Acadians + 200 years of garbled English = Cajuns.

There was Seafood Gumbo on the menu, but it was a Gumbo no Louisiana Cajun could imagine in a fever dream. Salmon. Haddock. Mussels. Scallops. Plus a crawfish for garnish. Garnish! I would not have been surprised to see it come with a liberal sprinkling of Grand Manan Dulse in lieu of filé powder.

Fuck that, sez I. I can get real gumbo at home. Hell, I can make it myself. That’s about when I decided to order the cow.

I was almost disappointed when it didn’t come garnished with dulse.

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