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St-Pierre-et-Miquelon: A taste of French freedom for N.L.ers

Crowds at the Balades Musicales at l’Île-aux-Marins, on St-Pierre-Miquelon. — Alexandra Hernandez photo
Crowds at the Balades Musicales at l’Île-aux-Marins, on St-Pierre-Miquelon. — Alexandra Hernandez photo - Submitted

I was happy to see the back page of the B section in last Thursday’s Telegram dedicated to an article about my home archipelago St-Pierre-et-Miquelon (SPM). But I was somewhat disappointed by the choice of photo of the Canadian Press to illustrate it, which really didn’t do justice to its joyful prettiness. And the descriptions and reasons to go there weren’t totally accurate or complete.

Related story:

New ferry will allow Canadians to drive to French territory off Newfoundland

Having grown up and worked a few years in St-Pierre and now living in St. John’s since 2014, I’ve had time to notice the similarities and differences. I have also sadly discovered that very few Newfoundlanders have been to SPM. And even when they have, many don’t know there’s a direct 45-minute flight (3 times a week, $350 return), and most went in Grade 7 — which is generally a good memory, and to which I reply “So now that you’re a sophisticated adult, when are you going back?”

Because teenagers cannot fully appreciate the virtues of the French Islands, even if some were lucky enough to go clubbing at 16 (which is the legal age there).

Young tastebuds cannot savour our amazing selection of French wines (with some very decent ones around $5 only), imported French cheese (of which some are made with raw milk), goat cheese from Miquelon, foie gras, locally made pâtés, terrines, merrines (seafood equivalent), and a wide variety of local and French dishes, at the restaurant or in grocery stores.

Stores that mostly close like offices for lunch (not restaurants, that wouldn’t make any sense!), because we all go home to eat our main meal, which will often include a starter, a green salad with or after the main course, and dessert. And despite that, Saint-Pierrais and Miquelonnais are overall slimmer than Newfoundlanders — because we don’t add sugar everywhere.

Even Hungry Heart Café’s yummy chocolate and caramel squares I love and was proud to bring over to my French girlfriends was too sweet for their liking.

And we drink things room temperature, no refrigeration or ice, thus fewer straws used, which is better for the environment.

And plastic bags have been banned for years. We all use reusable bags, like some responsible people in N.L. already do. And we have two organic stores for the small population of 5,600 in St-Pierre. And we have delectable pastries and chocolates, so much more refined than what can be found in Newfoundland, sorry b’ys!

Otherwise, we have many French products, such as Renault, Peugeôt and Citroën cars and leisure activity vehicles which might interest a few musicians, like the one my drummer friend noticed when we were there for a lovely gig.

Which brings me to another great thing about St-Pierre-et-Miquelon: its festivals. From the end of June to the end of August, it’s roughly non-stop: the Miquelon 25k run (with wild horses trotting along, and truculent roast lamb at the party), the Halifax/St-Pierre sailing route, Bastille Day, the Dunefest in Langlade, the Rock ‘n’ Rhum festival, the Seafood festival, the Basque Celebration…

Which brings me to two last important clarifications: although our Basque origins are the strongest, our French is closer to that of Brittany.

And we don’t have segregating, binge-inducing beer tents. We can drink anytime anywhere during all our celebrations.

We actually all come together at our National Day, instead of staying home like most Canadians just to be able to have a beer. The festivities are for everyone, not just kids. Sipping away all day probably helps us put up with the extremely excited youngsters while enjoying ourselves too! And we actually honour live musicians with our presence right in front of the stage. Last summer, I was at l’Île-aux-Marins, probably my favourite place ever (where I’m hoping to marry if ever I have the honor of meeting my Mr. Right). It was during the very natural and romantic Balades Musicales, organized by my talented musician friend Alexandra Hernandez. Three hundred people were picnicking, with wine, beer, bread, cheese, pâté and saucisson they were able to bring or purchase on the abandoned island, and waltzing away to the sound of the accordion in front of the old school, and breathtaking scenery.

Just for that, you should all ride or fly to St-Pierre and to Miquelon!

Stephanie Bowring

Newfoundlander and Saint-Pierraise

St. John’s

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