THE BLOG
09/08/2014 01:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Miquelon and Queen Tut -- A Little Bit of France Off Canada: Canadian Odyssey on the Looney Front, Part 11

The Midnight Knock On The Door. Well it's not exactly midnight. Actually it's 6.45 a.m., and it wakes Yours Truly up with a right start. And it's not the secret police. It's Madame, the owner of the St. Pierre B&B on the tiny speck that is all that remains of France's once vast North American empire, and she's even worse. For some reason she's taken to scolding me like a little child.

She apparently told me yesterday to buy the boat ticket for Miquelon, St. Pierre's sister island a few miles off the coast of Newfoundland. When I returned without either boat ticket or recollection of her telling me, she got in a right huff, clucking and tutting, and asking why didn't I do what I was told. I told her she sounded just like my mother 75 years ago. That went down like un ballon de plomb as they say in French.

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Miquelon scene

Then I suddenly remembered I'd reserved the 15-minute plane flight - the catamaran takes an hour - weeks ago in New York. Instead of a kindly smile and a there-there-you-good-boy hug, I got a torrent of new cluckings and tuttings and didn't-I-know-that-morning-fog-in-Miquelon often disrupts flights and if-I-didn't-know then why-didn't-I-know.

I asked her to check the weather forecast for the morrow. With an enormous quintessential Gallic shrug, shoulders soaring to the heavens, chin sinking down into the chest and onward to hell, she was forced to note that Miquelon would have brilliant sunshine all day, though she immediately cast aspersions on the forecaster's accuracy. Anyway, I retired for the night, the score 1-0 in my favour.

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Another Miquelon scene

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And another

Now, as I crack open the door, she tells me with great delight to get up at once and race down to buy my boat ticket because a once-in-a-hundred-thousand-year fog has descended upon poor St. Pierre instead of Miquelon, and the flight is being cancelled or seriously delayed. I peer outside and she's frigging right. It's London before any clean air act.

She's still clucking and tutting as I slink out of the house and blind-walk my way down to the port, buy my ticket and board Le Cabestan. On arrival in Miquelon, the sun's blindingly brilliant and they haven't had the slightest soupçon of even the thinnest of hazes. So much for Madame's weather wizardry.

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Miquelon town street

Miquelon is like an hour glass, two islands joined by a low narrow 12-mile long sandy isthmus, and if global warming does to the oceans what it's supposed to do, it very soon will indeed be two islands. The northern part, called Great Miquelon or just Miquelon, holds the main town, also Miquelon, home to most of the 600 residents.

But a small population doesn't prevent the island from having its own 'national' flag - the kakawit bird on a green background beneath an Acadian flag (the French tricolour with a golden star in the blue segment), holding the Basque, Breton and Norman flags in its beak according to the official version - trying to eat them according to my on-site evidence - all set above three laughing fishes on blue.

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Miquelon flag

As opposed to St. Pierre, Miquelon town is flat, but it's also full of brightly painted wooden houses in all the colours of the rainbow, and then some. There's a fading blue wooden church with a delightful interior with painted frescoes of biblical scenes. Just behind it is a beautiful red-roofed purple-walled wooden chalet proclaiming itself 'public toilet.'

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Miquelon town church

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Church interior

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Church painting

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Nearby public toilet

The town hall is a pretty green and yellow two-storey wooden building with the French tricolour flying proudly above the flags-eating kakawit. Nearby a statue of a guy is tapping away at his morse code transmitter, attesting to the island's role in the early telegraph.

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Town hall

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Telegraph tapper

The southern part of the hour glass, called Little Miquelon or Langlade, is much wilder, with higher hills reaching almost 800 feet, more trees and several pretty rivers. It's home to the little hamlet of Langlade, where boardwalks through the woods lead to several homes, and to a blue public telephone box operated by solar panels sitting proudly on a grass perch atop a craggy bluff.
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Langlade beach

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Langlade boardwalk

The whole island complex, a mass of isthmuses, strands and lakes, often cliff girt, with several ranges of craggy hills in the north, centre and south, weighs in at 79 square miles and makes for a very pleasant visit.

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Langlade's public phone

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Another view

The modern French phrase 'ne vous dérangez pas' means 'don't bother,' or 'don't put yourself out,' but in times of yore the noun dérangement had a much more sinister meaning. By the side of Miquelon's church there's a monument to the Grand Dérangement, very much a 'putting out,' when in the course of their wars the Brits kicked out all the Acadians, the French settlers in this part of Nouvelle France.

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Monument to the Grand Dérangement

They packed them off to Louisiana, Maine or other parts of the U.S.A, or back to Europe, and many died in the process from disease, starvation and other causes - ethnic cleansing pure and simple. Of course, the Acadians themselves did a nice little be of dérangement of their own with the Mi'kmaq and other indigenous peoples hereabouts.

The French called the Mi'kmaq savages, but even so the Mi'kmaq came to them here in St. Pierre and Miquelon for help because the Brits across the narrow strait in Newfoundland were treating them even worse.

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Miquelon houses

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And another

The islands changed hands between the Brits and the French eight times from the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1536 until the second Treaty of Paris in 1815, which finally gave them France.

Anyway, the point of all this is the next time somebody in Paris says to you 'ne vous dérangez pas,' you reply that you had no intention of ethnically cleansing yourself in the first place.

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More Miquelon houses

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Another house

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And another

Meanwhile back at my St. Pierre B&B, it's move over King Tut; you may have been Pharaoh in Egypt, but you can't hold a candle to my hostess in the tutting department. She's just asked me if I had a good time in Miquelon and appears most disappointed when I reply: 'Oui, Madame.'

She's tutting up a real storm, with some very pronounced egg-laying clucks thrown in. 'Ah oui,' she echoes prosecutorially, showing quite clearly she doubts I had the right sort of good time. She's now shaking her head to the side, widening her eyes, and giving me all sorts of stern school-ma'am looks. Her eyebrows soar skywards.

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Langlade houses

'No,' her gestures are telling me, 'you clearly didn't enjoy it in the way that you should. Now if I'd been there, I'd certainly have made sure that you enjoyed it comme il faut.

Well comme il faut or not, Madame, the time has come for my departure and could you please have the goodness to phone for a taxi to take me the three minutes to your magnificent international airport, s'il vous plait.

She phones, tells me the taxi will arrive at 8.15 a.m., that it's a very busy time with the 'rush hour' - rush hour in St. Pierre? - and I must wait for him outside by the gate so that he can pick me up at once, drop me off, and get on with the rest of his 'rush hour.'

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Miquelon rock

'Should I go and wait outside now then, Madame?' I ask respectfully

'Ah oui,' she tuts.

It's only just after 8, hours before 8.15. So I exit, with my scolded tail between my legs.

When I arrive back in St. John's after the 45-minute flight, they keep us waiting on the plane for 20 minutes more because the immigration room is overflowing with passengers from a Westjet plane that has just arrived from Dublin.

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Langlade scene

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By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

And Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.