Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

August 3 (again), 2006.
Port Morien

I took the slow route from Louisbourg back to Sydney, where I had an August 4th reservation on the ferry to Newfoundland. On the way, I stopped to check my email in the town of Port Morien – a stunning place by most standards, but ordinary for Cape Breton. The Canadian government, in an effort to bring its people together and make information accessible, is supporting a program of community access to the internet. Dotted around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland – and no doubt other provinces – are CAP sites, marked with a big @ logo on their signs. Internet cafes are few and far between, so I tracked my progress around Cape Breton by following those logos, the only way to get my email and stay in touch.

They are a mixed bag, the C@P sites. The good ones are in municipal offices, with wifi that is always connected. In the evening, on Saturday mornings, any time at all, you’ll see middle aged folks huddled near the locked doors with their laptops open, and you'll know you’ve met fellow travelers desperate for communication with the outside world. But other sites have hard-wired computers in local libraries, open no more than a few hours a week, invariably not on the day when you happen to be there. If you do catch one open, the librarian usually knows nothing about the computers, and the users are mostly teen-aged boys playing computer games.

When I saw a C@P sign driving through Port Morien I figured I might as well stop. This one turned out to be in the basement of the Canadian Legion building, and it was staffed by a young woman from the town, for whom this was a summer job. I checked my email, and we chatted. She had just finished high school, and was going to start nursing school in Sydney, just down the road, in the fall.

She asked if I liked Port Morien, and when I waxed eloquent about the wonderful views of the sea she remarked that she guessed she just didn’t notice them. I don’t think she’d ever left Nova Scotia – maybe a trip to Toronto once with her parents? She wanted to travel, to see big cities, and other countries, and any place beyond the quiet world where she’d grown up. Whereas I, who have seen big cities and other countries, am entranced with her quiet world.

I told her about my travels, and she was intrigued. So I showed her my website, and we looked at some pictures. A few days later I got an email from her boss, who wanted to tell me more about the charms of Port Morien.

In a way it’s one more Cape Breton town, prettier than some, less pretty than others. But the residents clearly have a sense of humor. Every summer they launch the “summer people” competition – I think it’s a competition, anyway. In front of almost every house and shop were the summer people, life-sized stuffed creatures in all kinds of garb, making wisecracks to the folks passing by. When I finished with my email, I parked Matilda and went for a walk to check them out. If you have the good fortune to be in Cape Breton in the summer and you tire of tourist kitsch, go to Port Morien and visit the summer people. They will restore your faith in the humor of ordinary humanity.

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"Mom, 'member I tole you I was dating Johnie?? WELL..." "The good ol' days" - a reference
to the closing of the fishery in 1992.