I was on assignment for Island Journal; just under the southern coast of Newfoundland, on the (very) French islands of St. Pierre & Miquelon.
If you ever have a chance to go there….go. They are beautiful, challenged, haunting, charming places, redolent of centuries of maritime toil and history.
The most recent bonanza there was American prohibition, during which vast fortunes were made thanks to the prudish mentality down in the States wherein drinking was banned. I slept in what was purported to be Al Capone’s room at the Hotel Robert, the lobby of which actually has a shrine to Mr, Capone and the short-lived financial joys of prohibition.
People there get a wistful, far-away look at the very mention of those years, but today there is no panacea for being an isolated rock in the North Atlantic. It’s a lovely island, but it has seen better days.
Those better days included several centuries, beginning in the 1500’s, when European fishermen came and based themselves there as they harvested the unimaginably rich stocks of fish that were salted and shipped back to Europe. It’s such a perfect harbor, in such historically fabled waters that it’s impossible to be on these islands and not feel the enormity of their maritime history.
One day I took the little harbor ferry over to I’lle-aux-Marins (The Island of the Sailors) to poke around a bit. It’s a truly fascinating place….something of a ghost-town, with a beautiful small “cathedral,” a very photogenic shipwreck, lighthouse, cemetery, etc., etc.
I absolutely loved it. More pix will follow someday...
But of all the images I made that day, this is the one that had me most engaged in the making. Les graves are small plots of beach stones that were, ages ago, hauled up to the higher elevations of the low-lying island, to create drying yards for the vast amounts of fish that had to be cured before being shipped off island. There being virtually no trees on these windswept, bony islands, the people used what they had…lots and lots of rocks, which provided at least some airspace under the fish as they dried.
I’m an admitted sucker for decaying houses and this pair, in varying states of decrepitude drew me near. Much of I’lle-aux-Marins is covered by the les graves (pronounced with a long, soft “a”), and as I composed this image I was, almost inevitably in the middle of one.
Suddenly I was drawn earthward…I lay down and put my face right down into the rocks…I wanted to smell the centuries of fish, the centuries of toil, the soul and history of the place.
And I did.
A smell I will never forget.
A place that calls to me this minute.