Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

July 25, 2006. Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

Wherever I go, I wonder what it would be like to stay, to get a little house (or sometimes a big one!) set myself up and settle in. In St. Louis I wanted the five-bedroom house with the splendid stained glass windows. In Kamouraska I set my sights on a more modest house, but one right on the water, by the pier. The signs said both for rent and for sale – maybe for rent by the weekend in tourist season, and for sale by the owner who doesn’t want a rental property any more? Leaving Kamouraska I stopped in the even-smaller village of St. Germain, which was also part of the painting symposium. The poster I’d bought had a painting of St. Germain – the church, the road winding through town, brightly-colored houses, green fields. I wanted to photograph the same view. I think I found it, in a spot where the road climbed steeply to overlook the town, the river, and the Laurentian Mountains on the north shore. My photo isn't very much like the painting, it was a cloudy day, the colors limited to shades of green and gray. But maybe that makes the comparison more striking, and brings out the painter’s imagination?

I wouldn’t want to live in St. Germain, even if I had a house on top of the hill with the sweeping view of the countryside. But the idea of trying to capture these landscapes and waterscapes in colors – with fabric, I suppose, I’m no painter but I am, or have been, a quilter – is intriguing. Of course I’m not going to move to St. Germain or Kamouraska or any other small town in Canada, but as I drove east it occurred to me that if I want to convert what I’ve seen to fabric I can do it as well in Virginia as I could in a little house by the St. Lawrence. So as the sky cleared and the sun brought out all the colors around me, I cruised along, happily thinking of what I might do when I get back to my little house on South Lincoln Street.

In Nova Scotia, I met a lot of people who had settled from afar. I pulled over in the town of Tatamagouche, my eye caught by an espresso sign and then an art gallery. The gallery, my first stop, was run by a painter named Sharon, who was born in Nova Scotia but grew up in British Columbia. We talked about the fascinating quilts in her gallery, elaborate landscapes that have something in common with what I’d like to do. These have very dense machine quilting, which gives them a lovely knobbly texture, and brilliant shades of blue and green to capture the landscape. Interestingly, unlike most quilts these were priced at something close to what it costs to make them, two or three thousand dollars each. Sharon and I talked about that, as well. She prices her own work high as well – paintings at five to ten thousand dollars. She recently sold one in that range, too. Good for you, Sharon!

My next stop was a combination bookshop and flower shop. I didn’t bother with the bookshops in Quebec – not only do I not need books, I need French books even less (notwithstanding my boasts about my skill in the language!). But Hanna’s bookshop looked like it had an interesting local collection, so I wandered in to browse.

Hanna and a young man ordering a floral arrangement were talking about business. When he opined that there were lots of Canadians traveling but the folks form the US seemed afraid to cross the border, I had to put in my two cents, “not all of us!” Hanna, it turned out, had moved to Tatamagouche from Vermont. She’d come up five years earlier on holiday, and never left. She and her husband had retired, but having a business in Canada would make it easier to get landed immigrant status. So when the florist shop in town came on the market, she bought it. There was space to spare, so she set up the bookshop in the front half of the store. Everyone warned her that a

Photo from Hanna's website.

bookshop wouldn’t make it, so she took her husband’s advice and only stocked it with books she’d like to own herself if the venture folded. Five years later she’s still in business, but she still only sells books she’d like to own.

Hanna loves Nova Scotia. For her, it’s what southern Vermont was twenty years ago, before so many people moved north, spreading the Boston sprawl across state lines. Tatamagouche is still a friendly village with a small-town feel – not surprising, since it is a small town. But there’s lots going on, she said – they’d just had a literary festival, soon there would be a film festival. She was so busy, she said, that she and her husband had to get away from this town of seven hundred from time to time just to have a chance to relax. She’s never been to Newfoundland, though. She’s afraid to go, she said – she might like it so much that she would never return to Tatamagouche.

Okay, so I'll admit it, I forgot to take photos in Tatamagouche. This is the sun rising over the woods somewhere near Badger, Newfoundland. Not half bad, eh?

Hanna suggested that I check out Dally’s café, an art supply store combined with a coffee house further down Main Street. That was the espresso place I’d spotted driving into town, so I headed there next. The owners, it turned out, had moved to Tatamagouche from Vancouver. He said they’d had a daughter and thought they’d move to where the air was clean. His wife added more detail – he has family in Halifax, so they hoped they’d have uncles and aunts coming to visit (and babysit). They spent eight months working on the house they bought, then opened the art-supply-and-coffee business. They were charming, outgoing folks, both of them, eager to chat with everyone. So were their customers, especially a retired man recently moved east from Calgary, who bent my ear with such a lengthy monologue that I finally had to start typing on my keyboard to give him a bit of a hint. There can actually be limits to outgoing and friendly!

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