The door to the dining hall sticks and the sign states “Push Hard!” so I do and it opens without a fuss into a large space with two rows of two handcrafted wooden tables. The chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling by mooring lines, and authentic Newfoundland outpost décor is tastefully placed about the room to capture a seafarer theme. I use this opportunity to have a look around before my dining companions arrive, stopping to study some old photos on the walls. Earlier in the day Nelson, our tour guide, had mentioned that the joists are hand carved from the full length of the trees including the roots. I walked up to the wall and looked up at the ceiling. Just as he had said, the joists that hold the upper floor secure are created from the natural bend between the trunk of a tree and its roots. “Ha, imagine that, so clever,” I say to myself, rubbing my hand on the sturdy piece of framing. I was not aware of this ingenious use of the stump part of a tree in building construction.
The dining guests start trickling in and I take my place at my assigned table. The two couples that came in are dressed up in suits and dresses. I drop my gaze down to evaluate my own attire. A simple cotton V-necked top in bright yellow and a pair of blue capris, a necklace and a new bracelet that my co-worker/friend Tracy, gave me as a gift for this trip. I am not under-dressed, I would call it evening-casual wear, but I suddenly wonder if I should have brought something a bit more dressy. The foursome of stylish guests are having a ball, laughing and talking among themselves, lifting their glasses of wine in cheers. I have not been introduced to this group, but at lunch I did introduce myself to those seated at my table. I meet Sofie and her aunt, who are seated facing each other on my right, and a lady named Paige and her husband Cory, face each other on my left.
Just them Sophie and her aunt arrive. “Bonjour!” they say one after the other, I return the greeting in-kind. Sophie removes a light cardigan she has worn, it is part of her outfit more than as protection. The room is comfortable and cozy but it will be a wise item to have as the evening progresses. The on-shore breezes could bring a chill to the air. They take their seats. Both are dressed in about the same style as I am and I feel a bit better about my clothing selection. At lunch Sophie had told me they are from Quebec and Sophie’s aunt doesn’t speak English, so while they chit-chat in French, I pour myself a glass of water from the pitcher on the table and take comfort in the basket of rolls sitting beautifully wrapped in a cloth napkin directly in front of me.
Flipping over the fold of the cloth I take one of the still-warm buns and place it on my bread plate and offer the basket to Sophie’s aunt. They continue to talk of their day in French but Sophie interprets some, of their conversation. “We are planning to go jigging cod tomorrow.” She does a little hand movement demonstrate what she thinks it involves. “Oh that will be fun,” I nod looking from her to her aunt with a smile, as my eyes search about the table for the butter dish.
When Paige and her husband arrive, he helps her remove her cape, then asks her, “Would you like me to pull out your chair dear?” She replies, “Oh yes please.” He pulls her chair out and she takes her seat and as he leaves her side I find myself gawking in complete disbelief. My head swivels around, tracing his every step around the end of the table to take his seat opposite her. Was that real? It was only when I realized I was being rude, staring, that I pulled my eyes away. Now I have seen in movies where men stand up when women get up from a dining table, and I have read in books set in Victorian England where members of the haute ton pull a chair out for a lady to be seated, but I have never seen it in real life. Wow.
Being the only solo in the entire group, everyone around me seems quite sophisticated and I am feeling a little out of place. This morning I was seated at a picnic table on the boat dock, drinking coffee I made over a single burner camp stove, and now I am experiencing fine dining.
I am not completely ignorant of dining etiquette. I am just a little rusty and I fear I may pull a faux pas. One of the servers comes up behind me, swinging a dish over my left shoulder, “Here you go love,” and places my special vegan meal in front of me. “Thank you,” I say as she turns away. I wouldn’t have though it possible to get such a special dietary meal so far off the grid.
I order a glass of wine to have with my dinner and the conversation around me flows easy, Sophie and her aunt have travelled several times together and on this vacation they are attempting to drive the entire length of the Trans-Labrador highway. Not the easiest of tasks. “I hope to do it myself one day when the road is completely paved,” I say. I tell them about some of my travels, including my road trip around the Gaspésie, Quebec,
I am included in the conversations on both sides of me. I learn Paige is a speech pathologist, she and her husband lived in California for many years and raised a family but decided to return home. They have travelled extensively and had seen most of Newfoundland and Labrador. I tell her of my trip so far and my planned stops on the way back home. “You must go to the French bread-oven in Cape St George,” she says and takes a forkful of salmon. I nod and say, “It is on my list.”
“My meal is delicious,” I say out loud lifting a forkful to my mouth. I hear someone say “Sumptuous!” though I am not sure who, and everyone vocalizes their pleasure with their meal through moaning and eye-closing while they chew. There seems to be a salmon filet meal, and a white-fish pie set in a deep-dish with a flaky pie crust but I failed to ask what everyone was eating. I Just took notice of how beautifully presented this set dining experience was. Each meal pre-selected at the Mary’s Harbour kiosk when we purchased the tour.
A couple at the next table are celebrating, I believe it is their fortieth wedding anniversary. Half-way thorough our meal, the gentleman stands and presents his wife with a gift, then gives her a long kiss. The room erupts into clapping and cheers. I clasp my chest with my hands, giddy at the chivalry I am seeing this evening.
While the dishes are being cleared, Peter, the manager, invites everyone to the pub in the upstairs loft which will be opening at 7 pm. Checking my watch I see there is still 45 minutes till it opens. Lowering my fork and knife to my plate I dab my mouth with my napkin and I excuse myself from the table. Then I make my way over to Una and Jim (the couple I met in Battle Harbour, NFLD. Part Two) and ask them, “Will you be joining me at the bunkhouse for some warm white wine in a plastic cup?” She chokes down a laugh and says they will be right over there after they change.
Please Join me again as we rock the pub in Battle Harbour, NFLD #4.
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