Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lost in Translation

Land Rover Expedition Time: Mid May 1998

We’d scored a "contentment troika" - a two-night stop, a cat to pat and beautiful scenery. We settled into a cute little holiday cottage on a sheltered bay in Maine, near Acadia National Park. As well as sightseeing, we had time to wash our clothes and clear emails, while the on-site tabby rubbed around our legs. Each night the moon rose a buttery salmon colour over the bay, mirrored on its still waters. When I described this to TH one night, thinking I was being romantic, he said that I must think about food all day. He was right, of course, but this didn’t mean I wasn’t romantic as well.

We toured Mount Desert Island, which is the largest island within the Acadia network. The Bass Harbour Lighthouse crouches on the southern most tip of this Island.

The land finishes in chunky slabs of pinky-golden granite, with the Atlantic crashing against them. They were like a jagged margin of giant stepping stones and I had to take huge strides, leaps really, to walk along them.

After this brief sojourn, we resumed our journey heading north towards Canada. On our way we tracked down two remote Land Rover parts dealers - one in Maine and the other in Vermont. Providing parts, restoration and tours provided the owners with a reasonable living, as well as a good life style. Most of the work happened over the nine warmer months of the year, and in the worst of the winter, they toured warmer climes in their Land Rovers.

TH fossicked amongst their stock to find some extra items that could be handy for our expedition.

Over coffee at one of these stops, we asked what the sign "Frost Heaves" meant. We had seen the first of these near Cape Cod, then several since and wondered what they meant. Our hosts looked surprised that we didn’t know and advised that these were warnings about uneven surfaces in the road. They explained that, if rainwater settled into cracks in the road and then froze, due to a heavy frost over night, then the road would buckle upwards from the expansion of the water turning into ice.

New Zealand has a more temperate climate, so we had never encountered this phenomenon before. Most of the recent backcountry roads we had travelled on were uneven, so we hadn’t really noticed extra upheavals. And, of course, with my love of language, and its proper usage, I still hadn’t quite got used American practice of turning verbs into nouns. I had always regarded "heaves" as a verb, as is usual. Up until then, whenever I saw the signs, I had read them out to TH and asked, "But, what does frost heave?"

We stopped for lunch at one of those truckers’ cafés, which always provide big meals at cheap prices. There was a sign by the cash register: "We cash personal checks [cheques] up to a maximum of $20 if you have six pieces if ID and leave a $50 cash deposit until the check [cheque] clears."

On Maine’s northwestern boundary to New Hampshire a sign welcomed us: "Brake for Moose. It could save your life. Hundreds of collisions". And, of course, there again was the sign with New Hampshire’s proud slogan: "The Granite State". With the collision warning, I wondered if the moose were made of granite, too. Fortunately, we never got to find out.

Up-state New Hampshire and Vermont is really pretty with its rolling green hills and picturesque red barns. It was beautiful day, like that of a postcard. In fact, any moment I expected to come to the edge of the postcard and into a rainy, grey day. But, the sun and scenery were all for real. Either that or it was the biggest postcard in the world.

However, I did wonder if the women we overheard later in a restaurant were for real. They talked their entire meal about house furnishings, and particularly on the vexed question of linoleum versus tiles. While eavesdropping, I wrote one of their best utterances on a serviette:
"Although I have tiles I sometimes get jealous of those who have linoleum, as it’s so much easier to clean. Then again, I have tiles because they are so much nicer."

I could imagine a future group of Miss World contestants chattering about the next genuine cause – keeping tiles clean – rather than wasting any more time on world peace, cures for cancer and saving the whales.

We filled up on cheap American petrol just before the Canadian border. We were asked a number of questions by Canadian Immigration officials, but nothing like the rigmarole of the previous border crossing into Canada on the West Coast: It seems that having a tame, regular rental car does not raise eyebrows as much as an old Land Rover does.

We were now in the province of Québec and it seemed rather odd to suddenly encounter French signs while still in North America. We had got used to bi-lingual English/French in British Columbia, but it appeared that only the English speaking part of Canada was required to be bi-lingual. The French Canadians seem to have inherited the traits of their Gaullic ancestors and decided that they didn’t need to bother with bi-lingual signs.

This arrogance also applied to business brand names. Kentucky Fried Chicken had buckled under the pressure to re-brand as Poulet Fritte Kentucky in this part of Canada. But, now that Kentucky Fried Chicken had re-branded across the world as KFC, they had the global meaninglessness of PFK in Québec.

I remembered the Montreal business students we had met, while they were on holiday in Cape Cod. They told us that they were very concerned that the strict French language code, even for global branded companies, was driving business away from Quebec.

If we remained here, Eventful Woman would have to become femme mouvementée and "the husband" would turn into LM (le mari).

Although I can read French, we decided to do our bit for the English language business-branding cause, and to keep driving west until we found a bi-lingual sign for accommodation. We both agreed the defiance was worth it, even if this meant breaking our "5 pm find-a-bed-for-the-night" rule. Fortunately, we were not kept up too late, as the first we found was only after we had driven over the provincial line into Ontario. Then, many bi-lingual signs miraculously reappeared. We found a quiet motel with an attached restaurant, which had a reasonably priced banquet meal. We stuffed ourselves full to celebrate our business acumen.

The next day we cruised along Route 2, by the Great Lakes St Lawrence Seaway. This is a deep draft waterway extending 3,700 km (2,340 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean to the head of the Great Lakes. We stopped at The Iroquois Lock to watch the ship, "Canadian Progress", trundle through. I was very impressed how this huge ship was manoeuvred within such a tight space.

The distance between the lock gates was 285 metres (934 ft) and the lock was 24.5 metres (80 ft) across. The biggest ship they could handle was 222.5 metres (730 ft) long and had a beam of 23 metres (75ft 6 ins).

The weather had been warming up in the last few days and now it was quite humid. The back seat of our rental Chevrolet was piled with our jackets and jerseys. We had fortunately thought to put one pair of shorts each into our holiday bag. The rest we had left in the Land Rover for shipping. We were hot and sticky by the time we arrived at our Canadian friends, Lander and Terri, who lived in Hamilton, Ontario. There were hugs all around and we were soon slurping cool drinks.

We had met Lander while he was hitchhiking his way through New Zealand. He was doing his "O.E." (overseas experience/holiday) while Terri, then his girlfriend, was finishing her PhD. A classic car friend of ours had been on a car rally in Christchurch, without a navigator. When he saw Lander standing on the side of the road, taking photos of all the classic cars zooming past, our friend had stopped and asked him if was any good at navigating. He was, and they finished the entire rally together. Later, our friend and Lander cruised up to Auckland together. They stayed with us, and we have kept in touch with Lander ever since.

Lander and Terri provided a 2-day holiday haven. Most of the time was spent talking, eating and drinking. We also caught up on washing, photo processing and emails. As we were in a rental car, we didn’t have to spend our precious leisure time on vehicle maintenance. Hoo-bloody-ray!

© Eventful Woman, 2008
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