An iceberg floats in. None dare breathe as the wind has stilled. Fog hangs everywhere except around the blue-white majestic source of the cold itself. Iceberg. Touchstone of Newfoundland tourism. Drawn by its beauty, repulsed by its danger.
These foundering castles are held in reverence. Like the whales and puffins that sylph and trundle, respectively, around them, this ice sounds a singular note to those who live along these shores: KA-CHING!
And on that battle cry, small ships set sail (well, small engines turn over, but shhh… look at the iceberg, hear the seagulls’ cry) from every wharf, and on every boat a load of visitors all traveled, lo, these many days to feel the mist from heaving remnants of the iciest, northiest lands: visitors sheathed in bright windbreakers and looking vaguely disappointed every time someone doesn’t sing or fiddle.
They are shedding money and don’t understand why things cost so much when the weather is so bad. But shhh… look at the iceberg! It is untouchable and yet… yet… someone is god-damned carving into it with a pressurized water hose! Hey! Arsehole! That is OUR MONEY MAKER! OURS!
And so the apocryphal story goes of the day the tour operators of Twillingate forgot their petty squabbles and territorial wars and came together in true community spirit to be pissy at the iceberg ice collectors for the vodka and beer that is then sold to the boatloads of berg watchers.
It was uproar! It was hoopla! It got ugly. Days of lilliputian arms waving in yellow slickers in small boats surrounding the giant, passive, melting spectacle. The very best and worst part of this story is that it was told to me with glee by someone from a neighboring community (ahem… Change Islands… cough cough) to prove that Twillingate was petty and not deserving of visitors’ time and money. But “industrial” gossip and backstabbing is not endemic to Change Islands. No my dear. Slander of neighbours is coast to coast.
Now gossip and competition are all right and good in their place. I am not shocked or disheartened to hear of people fighting over things that aren’t anyone’s to begin with or of running down a rival’s enterprise. But it brings into focus the ridiculous way Newfoundland is sold to the world.
The Newfoundlander promised to tourists is the nicest, friendliest, least grudgingest person on the planet. Maybe next to how feral the weather is, the welcome visitors receive seems warm in contrast. I don’t know how this schlock in trade became established, but I know we do ourselves a disservice by buying into, and selling it. First, because it is silly and outdated, and second because it isn’t true. And you don’t get repeat business when your ads are better than your product. The truth, and the people, are more interesting, though less balmy and “nice.” The truth fizzes like alka-seltzer, like iceberg ice; hangover cure for an overdose of sickly sweet tourism.