Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
















Westside Saint John, winter 2007–2008.

© Copyright photographs by Cohen Isaac Scharnberg, January 2008
 

Saint John is a city of scrambled eggs. Its neighbourhoods and some 70,000 plus inhabitants are splattered across hills and flats made of jagged rock outcrops, stunted trees, and poor soil. It is the battered and abused survivor of monopolized industrial growth and decay, scraped with a cheap, black plastic spatula from a long simmering, rusted, black iron frying pan, its fortunes coming and going since its first incarnation as a fortification in 1631, like the Bay of Fundy ebb and flow, trying to reinvent itself, shackled in the yoke of the Irving dynasty.

She is a dirty city. And yet, she has her jewels, her pearls. If you dig a little, if you spend some time with the tired old girl, you can discern and discover her beauty. It is still apparent beneath the pale, rough, disease-ridden skin, an invisible shimmer just below the surface, sacrificed to years of toil—hints of the working girl’s simple beauty that once was.

I am visiting for the third time in four years, forced to come east just to see my son, pulled here by uncomfortable family circumstances. Other summers he returns to Vancouver to see the Scharnberg branches of the tree. My son moved east, nine and a half years old, in mid-March 2002. His mother was homesick. I spent a month here in summer 2002, ten days in January 2003, and now another three weeks.

It is the first weekend of August 2006. We walk his neighbourhood streets on the Westside, just up from the Digby ferry. A pubescent voice shouts insults from the second floor of a butterbox house. Cohen replies with a “Shut up, Jordan”, and tells me this is one of several bullies he has had to deal with at Beaconsfield Middle School. In September, he enters Grade Nine at Harbourview High School on Douglas Avenue, within days of his fourteenth birthday.

It appears inevitable: the Bay Ferries’ Princess of Acadia is to die this autumn, sinking in a sea of rising fuel costs. This is bound to have harsh consequences for the local tourism, those travelling to and from Nova Scotia for work, and students attending university in Fredericton and Saint John. Another blow to her arthritic body.

We visit the New Brunswick museum, Uptown at Market Square, appreciative of the cool retreat from the clammy, muggy heat. It is three floors of local and regional history, whale and mastodon skeletons in the natural history section, sailing ship models and artifacts. Two centuries of local artwork, predominantly paintings, of a high calibre, some famous, some less well known artists. A walk-through of the earth’s evolution in the last 65 billion years.

The museum employs young volunteer guides—young, intelligent, knowledgeable women who walk about asking visitors, “Hi, how are you?” and “Do you have any questions?” My son and I chat some twenty to thirty minutes with each of the three presently on shift. The first approaches us in the Saint John history section. Cohen asks interesting questions. He is always feeding his deep philosophical nature and fact-finding curiosity. The tall, slender, dark-haired woman brightens at our willingness and eagerness to ask and discuss. Her dark eyes sparkle, her smile ready to melt any heart. She goes by her middle name, Tatiana. She is stunningly beautiful, trying to overcome her slight shy nature. She is dressed in a lilac vee-neck t-shirt, delicate pearl necklace nestled between her perky breasts, and a light knee-length summer skirt of pale flowers. She comes from a family tree traced back to the 15th century (Dutch), cross-pollinated and grafted with Russian, Acadian, and local Irish branches. We share from our respective family trees. Her chat is the longest of the three, sidetracked by a passing supervisor reminding her to circulate, as we find ourselves standing by the wood section of ship’s ribs, scaled railway tracks and boxcars, and canoes and fishing dory. The second woman approaches us later, as we admire a Japanese wedding kimono and the long wall of glass cabinets resplendent with fine bone china and other old pottery. She is a little shorter, slim to the point of bone-protruding skinny, long red hair, pale skin and freckles, as if freshly emerged from a cool, scented bath, representative of the stereotypical Irish lass, in clean blue jeans and white short-sleeved lightly frilled cotton blouse. The third woman is the shortest, I’d say about 5’2”, short blond hair, a pert nose, deliciously plump, all the curves in the right places, her breasts sitting high under a light, pale yellow, fine-buttoned cashmere sweater, ample beauty in a tight grey skirt. As we descend the last stairs for the lobby and gift shop, the three women wave to us and say, “Good bye, come again.” They are standing together in a corner, talking quietly, smiling and nodding their heads in our direction. Cohen says to me that they were probably talking about us, comparing notes on the interesting chats they had. Sometimes the volunteers have long, lonesome shifts when few visitors are present, few questions are asked, or no one is in the mood to talk. I like to think we gave them a lift, a sunny upbeat note to match the day outside.

Some local gossip and rumours has it that Tim Hortons spikes their coffee with nicotine. Oh, great. A way to ensure repeat customers? And I already notice there are a lot more smokers here than in Vancouver, especially among the women. On my first trip here I counted twenty-two Timmies within the city limits. Possibly there are a few more since then. The women are very friendly, as customer service and people in general are around here. All part of that Maritime charm and friendliness. People actually make and have the time to slow down a little, making each experience personable and personal. People still look you in the eyes. They still have the time. Life here in Saint John is at the pace of Canada maybe 20 or 30 years ago. And they usually know when you are “from away.”

Until Irving loosens its grip on the brow-beaten region, and to a lesser degree the province, Saint John will have a difficult time building for the future, becoming a healthy, vibrant community once again. Meanwhile, the locals hang on any way they can, surviving on their tough spirit, friendliness, and charm. Resourcefulness helps too.


*   *   *

Late Saturday, July 29th, I flew the first of two flights with WestJet, flight WS 702, Vancouver–Toronto (YVR–YYZ); 2004 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 32762/1501, C-FWSY, “222”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on April 28, 2004; delivered on May 11, 2004; winglets fitted in November 2004.

We had a scheduled departure from gate A5 at 22:50 PDT, but left 25 minutes late, sitting on the tarmac as strong tail winds would push us there early. But because Toronto has curfews—because it is a busy hub airport, and gates are at a premium?—we were not permitted to arrive before 6:13 EDT. Our original scheduled arrival was 6:22 EDT. We connected to gate C27 in Terminal 3 at 6:30 EDT. Following our flight progress on the small seatback TV screens, I saw that we reached speeds of up to 610 to 620 mph, and altitudes of about 40,700 to 40,800 feet.

Early Sunday, July 30th, I continued, flight WS 706, Toronto–Moncton (YYZ–YQM); 2005 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 34155/1772, C-GWBN, 
“235”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on August 5, 2005; delivered on August 19, 2005.

We were scheduled to depart gate C39 at 7:30 EDT, but left ten minutes later. Our scheduled arrival was 10:32 ADT, but we were a little early with 10:20 ADT. I managed to get some shreds of sleep on this leg.

Carrying only two pieces of carry-on, no checked luggage, I was quickly out the front door after a washroom visit. The cabbie at the head of the line was standing between the two sets of automated glass sliding doors. With a “Taxi, Sir?” and my affirmative head nod, away we were to the SMT (Eastern) bus station in downtown Moncton in a burgundy Chevrolet minivan operated by AirCab. It was $19.00 plus a $3.00 tip. He had estimated $18.00 into town. I immediately purchased a one-way ticket for Saint John, at $28.50 clearly a better deal than the cab. I suspect there is no bus pick up service at the airport as the taxi companies have a transportation monopoly into town—their most profitable gig.

Acadian Lines bus 10604, a Prevost, left Moncton at 12 noon from Bay 4. I sat in seat 17 (window), right side. Our first stop was at Via Rail Moncton at 12:06 ADT. Five minutes became twenty-six, getting enroute again at 12:32 ADT, after waiting for Via Rail to locate the luggage of three boarding passengers just arrived on the train from Montréal. I slept through the quick stops at Salisbury and Petitcodiac, coming to for Sussex, 13:26 ADT for three minutes. Next was Hampton at 13:49 ADT for two minutes, and Saint John at 14:15, five minutes behind schedule, the driver having pushed to regain some lost time.

A quick, free call to Dominion Taxi got me to my son’s house on the westside for $8.00 plus a dollar tip. It was almost a quarter to three, Cohen answering my knocking and door chime with a big, warm hug, and “Dad, I’m glad you’re here.”


*   *   *

I returned home Friday, August 18th, getting up at five in the morning. Cohen got up with me—sad I was leaving. It will be one year until he visits us in Vancouver again. At 5:30 am I left him teary-eyed with a hug and handshake, and walked a block down Rodney Street to the bus stop on Ludlow Street, awaiting the first bus of the day, the 1 East, Rothesay Avenue. $2.25 got me to the stop at the commercial building Place 400 on Main Street, from where I descended Chesley Drive a block and a half, curving lightly left past the T intersection and underpass, for the Acadian bus depot. The ticket to Moncton Airport was $33.50, boarding bus 15595 for a 6:45 am departure. I sat in seat 17 (window), right side. We passed through harbour fog, rising a little above it on the Trans Canada as we rolled out past Quispamsis, shrouded on our left. The green rolling hills were bathed in the warming sun. We had the usual short, scheduled stops in Hampton, Sussex, Petitcodiac, and Salisbury. We pulled into the Moncton depot at 8:40 am, giving me just enough time to buy a large coffee, and sandwiches for the flight, before boarding Acadian bus 10602 for the short ride to Moncton Airport. I had the window seat, second row on the left.

I did not take long to be confirmed for the first leg of the flight. We were about 85% filled for flight WS 673; 2004 Boeing 737-7CT(WL), c/n 32765/1574, C-FUWS, “228”; powered by two 24,200-lbf CFM International CFM56-7B24 high-bypass turbofan engines; crew of two (pilot and co-pilot), passenger seating of Y136 (economy class), short- to medium-range, narrow-body airliner; built by The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington, USA at Renton, Washington; first flight on September 9, 2004; delivered on September 22, 2004, test registration N1786B; winglets fitted in February 2006.

We walked the tarmac from gate 3, in bright sun, mounting stairs either at the front or rear. I had seat 10D. We reached speeds of over 510 mph, and altitudes of over 41,600 feet, arriving 25 minutes early, 11:55 EDT, in Toronto at Terminal 3’s gate C40. I got off to be confirmed for the next leg to Calgary, and was soon back aboard, this time on the the left in seat 10B. We encountered some light turbulence over the Great Lakes, and into our approach to Cowtown, flying speeds in the mid-490s, altitudes in the 38-8s to 38-9s. We arrived a quarter hour ahead of schedule, at 14:56 MDT, gate D46.

The last leg was WS 411, Calgary–Vancouver (YYC–YVR).

3 comments:

Expat Traveler said...

Very interesting family story. The photos remind me of a mix of San Fran and then back east all in one...

Anonymous said...

In light of Vancouver's recent playoff behavior, which is appalling, disgusting and the SECOND TIME THEY'VE RIOTED OVER A HOCKEY GAME, the fact that the ferry still runs, Irving is not our downfall, it is actually one of our biggest pick ups, our east side shopping area is alive and well with new stores being built ALL the time, like Costco, Target and new multiplex cinemas... not to mention our incredibly vibrant and thriving cruise ship/tourism boom, I would venture to say this entire farce of an article is complete garbage. You should also know it's Douglas Avenue, not street, just for the record. The way you talk about the museum ladies is borderline creepy/perverted. Yes, we have a lot of Timmies, but according to their website, there's no more here than Vancouver, again just for the record. We have incredible places to visit, such as Irving Nature Park, Rockwood Park, Cherrybrook Zoo, New Brunswick Museum, Loyalist House, Loyalist Cemetery, Lily Lake, City Market, Fort Howe and Martello Tower just to name a few. That list grows if you factor in our outlying areas, such as Hampton, Grand Bay-Westfield, St.Andrews, St. Stephen, St. Martin's, Hopewell Rocks, and Parlee Beach has the warmest ocean water north of the equator!!! And I'm not sure if giving out your son's address on a public blog was the brightest parenting move. You might want to think about removing it, since anyone can Google it and look at his front door now. You won't find friendlier people or cooler places to visit, please don't let this sucktacular blog throw you off of visiting!

Stephan Alexander Scharnberg said...

Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment. (By the way, why are you Anonymous? Have you no courage to show your name? It's always easier to comment, somewhat defensively, when you can hide behind a nameless veil). My son's address has been removed—an oversight during the copying and editing process, and a dumb parenting move. While you are allowed your opinions, I, of course, am allowed mine. What I wrote is how I felt and observed things at the time. They stand as they are since this piece is from summer 2006. Any writer worthy of their trade will not rewrite the past just because it upsets or offends others. I will not change what I wrote then, even if another visit to Saint John would likely result in a quite different article. And, rest assured, I will not delete your comment as your opinion is important, too, despite words such as "farce" and "sucktacular". Thanks for the Douglas Avenue/Street typo—I had taken the designation from a map. I disagree with the comments about my observations of the women in the museum. In many travel and literature articles and books you will read the depictions and descriptions of people from all walks of life. Some of those will include aspects of admiration for women and the female form. I love women, I admire their beauty and intelligence. Women are usually far more interesting and complex people than men. I hear from my son of the many improvements in Saint John in the past five years. The job market is growing. People are returning home. I am glad to hear the Bay ferry is still in operation. My son loves the city. I believe it is a better place to bring up children than in urban-sprawl Vancouver and the suburban Lower Mainland (from where many of the rioters came with shopping/wish lists of goods they wanted, and canisters of fuel, axes, and fire extinguishers, starting to riot in the few minutes between the end of the game and the first dressing room interviews. Why the police didn't catch on to this, I don't understand. I too was appalled at the atrocious behaviour of the rioters—people who take for granted that we do live in the best country in the world). I have been to most of the wonderful places you list above, my favourites being Irving Nature Park, Mispec, the Saint John River swimming beaches, St. Martin's, City Market, and the historical city centre. Somehow you missed that I did mention the Maritime charm and friendliness. Maritimers are friendlier than most Vancouverites.