Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saint Pierre and Miquelon

Once upon a time Canada was not called Canada, but New France. Today, all that is left of France on the north American continent is a 17th century version of the French language, known in Quebec as Quebecois, and elsewhere as French Canadian; and just off the coast, on the Atlantic side close by Newfoundland, at the entrance to Fortune Bay, looking west towards Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in much the way that Sarah Palin once claimed to look across the Bering Straight into Siberia, two tiny islands, the one named for St Peter, the patron saint of fisherman, and the other for...well, actually for a Basque sailor and not a Frenchman at all, a man named Micquelle, who was the navigator in Martin de Hoyarçabal's journey to the New World, though the islands had already been discovered a few years earlier by the Portuguese João Álvares Fagundes, who named them "The Thousand Virgin Islands", which was optimistic, though it was St Ursula's day on which they found the place, and St Ursula is the patron saint of virgins, or at least had some virginal companions, or so they claimed. Jacques Cartier formally claimed the islands for the French in 1536, which was not a problem on the empty Saint Pierre, but Miquelon was inhabited by an aboriginal people named the Mik'maq (which may actually be the real source of the island's name) as well as both Basque and Breton fishermen.

Just six thousand people are freezing to death on the two islands today, and should be placed on the UN’s list of endangered species, from the cold obviously, but also from starvation, as the climate does not permit agriculture, the fish stocks are severely depleted, and most of what is left is cod, which Canada has banned. On the other hand, global warming will probably make of it a sub-tropical paradise, which proves that every cloud has a silver lining (except perhaps the atomic cloud, whose lining is made of fission).

Formally the islands are a "Collectivité territoriale", which is neither an overseas territory nor an independent country nor an autonomous region nor any of the other complicated ruses by means of which major and ex-major powers keep their hands on lands they have no right to, but a "territorial collectivity", whatever you would like to determine that to mean. The inhabitants are French citizens and have the right to vote in French elections, though no politician has ever been known to set up a soap-box there 
, and the babies are too closely wrapped in fur to be kissable; the islands also send a senator and a deputy to the National Assembly of France in Paris, which is good, because that makes two islanders who have jobs and therefore incomes, though they may be alone in this. 

The Territorial Council which administers the islands consists of nineteen members, and they have the honour of taking charge of taxes as well as customs & excise on the islands, a matter for which a once-a-year text message is probably sufficient, where a full email let alone an actual meeting would be excessive and unnecessary.

Ah, but I exaggerate, I know - life, as somebody famous whose name I can't remember once said, life is completely and totally meaningless unless you exaggerate. Saint Pierre and Miquelon is in fact a self-proclaimed internationally famous tourist destination, and has a website to prove it. It is actually worth reading, though mostly as an act of compassion, and occasionally for a few laughs. "Drive to France" you are invited - by driving across Canada to a port with an occasional ferry to the islands. "Fly to French Canada" you are invited - a two-seater plane can be privately hired and generally prefers to land on the water rather than risk the lack of an actual airport. And for a real treat when you get there, the number one tourist attraction - "a guillotine that was only ever used once". Does that mean it's fresh and clean and ready for someone else to have a go?  Me most likely, if any of the islanders ever read this and I make the mistake of turning up there.

Marks for: Tres peu, je regrette

Marks against: Meme pas une seule

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