Le Retour en Acadie (2001)

This is the forest primeval…

                                                                                H.W. Longfellow
Day -1, Friday night, 8/3

We leave at 5 pm on Friday, a full four hours before the scheduled sailing time. This seems plenty. Then thunderstorms strike, weekend traffic comes to a crawl, when moving at all, and by the time we cover the first 14 miles to take an exit with the sign “New Hampshire, Maine” it’s already 6:30 pm.  The road is clear and I cruise at 75-80 mph, an unheard of speed for me, while thinking what we will do if we miss the boat. I don’t remember exactly how many driving hours it takes to get to Nova Scotia, 18 or 24. We have to register by 5 pm the next day.  I also keep recalling the ill-fated charter bus with Newton teenagers which recently overturned and killed four kids in New Brunswick because an ill-prepared and little-rested driver missed an exit at 3 am in the morning.  My fears are unwarranted. We make the rest of the way in time to board and be among the first in the restaurant to catch the sailing-off views from our table by the window. Screw the casino, we go to bed early. We have a tough week ahead.

L’Église Sainte-Marie

Le Retour en Acadie (2001)

This is the forest primeval…

H.W. Longfellow

Day -1, Friday night, 8/3

We leave at 5 pm on Friday, a full four hours before the scheduled sailing time. This seems plenty. Then thunderstorms strike, weekend traffic comes to a crawl, when moving at all, and by the time we cover the first 14 miles to take an exit with the sign “New Hampshire, Maine” it’s already 6:30 pm.  The road is clear and I cruise at 75-80 mph, an unheard of speed for me, while thinking what we will do if we miss the boat. I don’t remember exactly how many driving hours it takes to get to Nova Scotia, 18 or 24. We have to register by 5 pm the next day.  I also keep recalling the ill-fated charter bus with Newton teenagers which recently overturned and killed four kids in New Brunswick because an ill-prepared and little-rested driver missed an exit at 3 am in the morning.  My fears are unwarranted. We make the rest of the way in time to board and be among the first in the restaurant to catch the sailing-off views from our table by the window. Screw the casino, we go to bed early. We have a tough week ahead.


L’Église Sainte-Marie

Day 0, Saturday, 8/4

A huge spire-capped tower rises from the Nova-Scotian fog by the side of the road. Both the tower and the fog are pearly-grey. There is no mistaking it: it’s l’Église of Pointe-de-l’Église, the largest wooden church in North America. It is located on the campus of Université Sainte-Anne, the site of our French boot camp. After a day of frenzied sightseeing at the far reaches of Digby Neck and its islands, we made it back with 15 minutes to spare before the deadline for registration. We make a mad rush through the campus to Beaulieu building with Bienvenue banner hanging over the entrance. A couple of teenagers sitting at the desk greet us by name. No big surprise there as our names remain the last ones unchecked on their registration list. Everybody around speaks native English – not a whiff of the blood-signed contract yet to come. A few minutes later, the first reunion of our class begins at the salon.  



There are about 50 of us, ranging in age from a grey-bearded man clearly older than me to some pre-teenage boys, although women outnumber men better than 2 to 1. We listen with varying degrees of apprehension to a biggish very young man with a blond goatee. His name is Gaetan and he is the Director (!) of our one-week camp. Besides the “three-strikes and you are out” rule (this means expulsion from the camp after 3 avertissements for not speaking French) we will also be obligated to participate in all the activities of the camp. We will also have residential advisers (for the grey-bearded guy too?). In fact all the rest of the young people are animateurs and animatrices – camp counselors and counseloresses (French is prevented from ever becoming completely politically correct: you have to use gender-specific words for most human occupations). 

The introduction is over. The fateful moment of signing the campeurs contract arrives. We recite our oath and sign the banner on which it is inscribed, although using markers of various colors instead of blood. The switch to French is welcome for me and not very hard for Ben, but for many, especially beginners, it is painful. The room becomes noticeably quieter. For us une-semainers (“one-weekers”), as we would be nicknamed by the 5-weeks program campers, the enforcement of the rules is a bit relaxed: by the end of the week no one would get any official warnings. For the 5-week “detainees” the picture, especially at the beginning, is quite different. Even being in the presence of somebody speaking English could result in an avertissement, and some animateurs were reportedly so vigilant as to spy on campeurs in the woods. Predictably, they were dubbed avertissement nazis. Incidentally, the name une-semainer  was not a neutral designation either. It established a “class” system, at least among the teenagers, and the label was not easy to overcome. Ben was apparently able to do it by being reasonably good at French and at social interactions, but some beginner une-semainers weren’t so lucky. 

A brief level-placement test follows the oath. It consists of a 1-2 minute conversation with an animateur. There are only 3 levels for the one-week program, compared to 8 for the 5 weeks, and they are so broad that I end up in the same group with Ben. For now, Ben wants to maintain a strict incognito with respect to our paternal-filial relationship (this agreement loses relevance later when Ben’s reputation with his age-mates is established). 

Our residential adviser, Gilles, takes us to our dorm, Lajeuness. Although the name is French for The Youth, the dorm is actually allocated for the older set, professors and other anciens. It has single rooms clustered by four into apartments with kitchens. I am in the same apartment with George, the grey-bearded guy. Our third neighbor, Ramdani, is a professor from Lafayette University. He is Algeria-born but Quebec City-bred and a Cajun by transplantation. Gilles himself resides in Beauséjour where Ben and other kids are also placed, two to a room. In reality, the dorm names are Acadian, so that Lajeuness, for instance, is the last name of Gabriel, Évangéline’s lost lover, while the neighboring Bellefontaine is named after Évangéline herself. Beauséjour, on the other hand, is commonly known as Bozo, for reasons that become obvious fairly soon.

After souper, it’s time for the arts. We are trooped into Le Théâtre Marc Lescarbot to watch Évangéline. Although written as a poem in English by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Maine and Massachusetts, who in his many travels never set foot in Acadia, it became an Acadian icon and is of course performed in Acadian-tinged French (remember the contract does not allow us to be present when English is spoken). The play is staged as a musical where traditional pieces are mixed with Broadway-style lyrical numbers. The traditional pieces win out handily (I later find out that some of them are the French equivalent of Mother Goose while others are by authors not quite so obscure, for instance Brahms).  The acting is OK for semiprofessionals. In short, it’s interesting but not overly impressive. By the time Gabriel dies in Évangeline’s lap, the day seems to have been very long, and so it has.

Day 1, le dimanche, 5 août 

There is no breakfast the next morning – it’s Sunday. Desperate une-semainers take up a collection to go to Tim Horton’s (pronounced ortons), that ubiquitous Canadian icon – a cross between McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. The anciens can’t survive without coffee and la jeuness without donuts.  In the meantime, we are having our first Session d’Information. The practical goal is to unveil the schedule of events for the day, but most of it consists of comedy skits performed by the animateurs and games with volunteers (benevoles). The skits are funny, and the performers give their all to the roles. The first one is about a farmer (Gilles with a fake belly and a straw in his teeth) and his clever pig (Scott). The pig knows math and solves problems by responding neuf, neuf (9). When a problem with a different answer is tried, neuf won’t do. However, a kick in the pig’s ass elicits the correct answer: huit, huit (8)!  The volunteer games usually have a goal of making a participant’s ass wet. Only pictures can do justice to these games, and they are likely to be appreciated mostly by sophomores.  The schedule of events is announced with the flair of a high school football cheerleading squad, but with a pinch of irony, and like everything else in French.  


Huit, huit! – says Scott (in pink)

At this first Session campers select their ateliers (workshops). There are four choices: Art plastique, Sport, Album souvenir, and Plein air, the latter being sightseeing trips to beaches, churches, restaurants (not just for watching), etc. Self-selection is immediate and crisp: all the anciens go for Plein air, all the boys and only boys for Sport, while the younger females fill out the two remaining groups.

By the end of Session an animateur with a load of Horton’s goodies arrives. Those eager to attend a catholic mass at the église depart, while the rest are free to do anything they want as long as they don’t wander around the campus during the mass (this is implied to be improper). 

After the long awaited brunch the first trip of the Atelier Plein air takes place. Our guides for the week are Gaetan and Gilles. They herd us into a coffee-colored university van and take it to some coves and beaches. At the insistent request of most Plein airials the trip finishes chez Tim Horton’s itself – in search of another fix of café americain

The first class follows. The group is split into pairs of partners who prepare presentations on each other. Of the younger set, there is Maired, now from Halifax but whose parents travel with her on government jobs all over the world including Malta. Annette is from Marystown, Newfoundland. There are also other people from Massachusetts, including Lexington High School. Maureen is a correction officer from Truro, N.S. Of the anciens, Sally has a pottery shop near Halifax, Marge is a teacher from New Hampshire. My partner is George. He is from New Glasgow, N.S., tests tires for Michelin, plays guitar and sings folk songs at festivals and in his church (French songs too), lives with two cats, Benjamin and Oscar, and three sons, all grown up. Our professor for the first few lessons is Nadia. She is half Acadian – half Egyptian! She knows her name is Russian and is fascinated by my explanation that it really means espérance. She is actually fascinated by many things and is probably the liveliest of all the animateurs, who are not a retiring bunch by any means. She has traveled the most and studies foreign affairs in college. Still her accent is Acadian and we have an interesting discussion, with the participation of the whole class, about some of the idiosyncrasies of Acadian pronunciation of French verbs in imparfait

Another evening – another theater performance. It’s the same troupe as for Évangéline – Les Araignées du boui-boui (The Spiders of the Messy Place – a name describing the first home of the group) but this time they perform Tristan & Iseult. The music mimics medieval airs, if not truly derived from them, the story had been verified with the XIIth century sources, but the staging is Mummenschanz. Long poles of the type used in pole-vaulting serve as swords, torches, oars, bars, stretchers and anything else required for the action. The actors wear black leotards and are even more amazing than the poles. When the dragon devours a maiden, they form the body of the dragon and a live maiden actually slides inside head first, wiggling, to perish surrounded by the walls of his gut.  The scene of Iseult and Branguene sexually deceiving King Marc on his wedding night is presented with an athletic frankness admissible in America only in a high school health class. But this is French Canada, so we can relax and enjoy. 


Tristan & Iseult  with sticks

The day is not over yet. There is still Le feu de camp – the campfire. We walk in the dark through the woods and along the beach. It is a pretty big bonfire on the edge of the tide with the silhouette of the lighthouse of Pointe-de-l’Église looming somewhere near in the fog. Otherwise it’s probably like any other campfire (although how should I know), except we fry sausissons and guimauves instead of hotdogs and marshmallows. 

Day 2, le lundi, 6 août 

We are supposed to go to la pêche (deep see fishing) today. Hence, the main skit at the Session d’Information is about mal de mer (sea-sickness). In the class we learn a tongue-twister:

Trois tortues ont trotté pour traverser le trottoir. Les trois tortues ont tribuché et torsé son tendon. Traumatisées par cette terrible torsion sont trois tortues.

But water creatures of any kind, whether turtles or whales, will have to wait: the fog and the wind are out in force and la pêche is cancelled. The Plein air excursion for the day is to Église Saint-Bernard. The church is not extremely ancient: it was finished in 1942 and unlike Église Sainte-Marie is made of stone, but it can seat 1000. The problem is there ain’t 1000 parishioners in the neighborhood, hence, there is no money to even heat this huge space in the winter, not to mention proper maintenance and restoration. Tourists get polite hints that their pitching in would be appreciated. 

At 4 o’clock every afternoon it’s the piscine (swimming pool) time. Most kids go there, none of the anciens do. At first, it’s not clear what is actually included in the contract pledge to participate in all the activities, so I go. Not only is there a diving board but also a rope on which you can do a Tarzan swing over the water and relinquish it in the most stupid fall you can dream of. I try all these ways of diving, but I like even more the huge empty shower hangar in the sports building, much preferable to the small bathroom in our apartment at Lajeuness. 

After souper and the third class, it’s evening on campus and that means another big helping of theater. First comes Café Théâtre by our own animateurs and animatrices. They act out a hilarious skit Messages au cinema with Gaetan (boyfriend), Lianne (girlfriend), Nadia (old lady from a senior living residence), Serge (gay guy), and Scott (jock). Messages are passed along the row of seats from Gaetan to Lianne, and they include je t’aime’s, kisses, will you marry me’s, and other good stuff. Serge, a lanky, lithe professeur (he teaches idiomatic French grammar and expressions) is especially good as he endures the advances of the old lady on his right while pining for the jock to his left. Appearances in the skit notwithstanding, Serge is not actually gay. According to my informants from Bozo, he is the boyfriend of Jenn, the red-headed animatrice from English-speaking Truro located in the center of Nova Scotia. She, like Scott from nearby Digby, fell in love with the French language and studies at Sainte-Anne. No word on whether blonde Lianne, Chef des animateurs, is Gaetan’s girlfriend in real life.


Messages au cinema – “gay” Serge in the middle

Le Café Théâtre is rudely interrupted when everybody is summoned to Le Théâtre Marc Lescarbot once again, this time for the show prepared by the ateliers of theater, dance, and singing. They present Notre-Dame de Paris, an amateur show, animated a bit by some animateurs from the 5-week program. The most memorable of them is the narratrice, an older animatrice who steps to the footlights every once in a while to read from Hugo’s text and looks a little like Catherine Keener’s mysterious Maxine from Being John Malkovich

Leaving the theater, Gaetan mentions in passing that if I wanted to socialize, I could come to the Château for a beer. Eager to advance my French with native speakers, I follow his advice. At the entrance, I am warmly greeted by Dr. Jean-Douglas Comeau himself, the director of the whole camp. He is very cordial and even supplies me with a free beer. I plunge into the crowd (I am much bolder when in pursuit of language fluency than I normally am) and the first contact I bump into is a young guy from Louisiana whose parents sent him here to get in touch with his roots. He is apparently counting the remaining days of his immersion servitude and comes to the Château every night mostly to drink. And then, a stroke of luck – I meet Jean-Louis. He is the marketing director for a local Acadian radio station. He seems to know a bunch of languages, or at least some, a few words from each, and is terribly excited having just installed Japanese fonts on his office PC’s. His point of pride, a couple of Russian obscenities, sound more Polish to me, but no matter. For a while we discuss the relative difficulty of grammar in different language groups, and my day is made.

Day 3, le mardi, 7 août 

The daily routine is already established: le dejeuner, la session d’information, la classe, etc. A mot du jour is announced every day. On Monday it was somnambule. Today it is brouillard – fog. We are supposed to react every time the mot du jour is mentioned by an animateur. For somnambule, we have to do the Boris Karloff walk with eyes closed. For brouillard – we hum a two-note foghorn tune, in unison. There is not too much brouillard, actually, but the boatman has one of his boats engaged and the other one is not big enough for all of us. Instead, today’s Atelier trip takes us to a site of the not so ancient history of local industry – Moulin de Bangor. Moulin Rouge it is not. It’s a not yet completely restored water-powered sawmill. A large portion of the guide’s explanation consists of reciting the succession of owners of the mill. 

 The evening is devoted not to theater but to judo and dance (half-ballroom, half-folk) ateliers that show their achievements at the sports pavilion. The judo kids fight some demonstration and championship bouts. The biggest judoka, is the son of a VIP sitting right next to me, a lawyer from Louisiana who is also the president of the Société pour la Promotion de la Langue Française, or something like that. His wife is in our advanced level class. To the parents’ disappointment, their son loses the bout. They make up for it, however, when the Louisiana Step is announced for the public to join. I notice that things Louisianan play a big role in all the proceedings and are mentioned to a great acclaim, but I don’t yet fully understand why. The culmination of the evening is professional Acadian dancing by a local group – a kind of Riverdance in red (skirts), white (blouses and stockings) and blue (pinafores).  The colors are not those of the stars & stripes variety but rather of the Acadian tricolor.

Day 4, le mercredi, 8 août 

The morning is so bright and the brown cliffs of Digby Neck across Baie Sainte-Marie are outlined so crisply under the pale lower edge of the deep blue skies that we know: la pêche will happen today! I run to the beach through the forest trail and scout a white and green gazebo with all around views of the coastal plain between the lighthouse and the campus.  Back in the classroom, it’s hot on the fourth floor right under the roof (no air conditioning is usually installed or needed here). My suggestion to use the gazebo as an alternative classroom is cheered, and we spend what I consider the best school hour of my life discussing a pop personality test in view of some of the most beautiful maritime scenery in the Maritimes. 


Gazebo studies I


Gazebo studies II (with George)

And finally – la pêche! There are only so many families in Acadia. Every other village has a name which you also see on stores, gas stations, restaurants, and anything else that has a sign. La pêche is no exception. Gille’s father owns the boats onto which we are unloaded from the campus bus. Past the house on a cliff where “The Scarlet Letter” was filmed (where were you, scenic Massachusetts?) we are into fauna watching. Two well-synchronized dolphins (dauphins) trace the classic arc, just like their trained brethren in Cancun, but unlike Cancun these performers don’t show up again. The fishing is actually not to be done by us. Instead, a little trawl is thrown overboard to drag behind the boat for a while. When it comes back it’s full of mussels (moules) and some other sea creatures. The creatures go back and the moules go into the boiling pot. By the time they are ready, more than half of the passengers are passively or actively suffering from mal de mer. The passive ones, most of the teenagers, are listlessly prostrated on the benches. The active ones… well you know what they do. With a few other sturdy souls I take full advantage and consume much more than my fair share of moules with no regrets then or afterwards. They are slightly salty and you can definitely say that they had just finished a swim. 

We pass the island of curious phoques (seals) who play their usual bang-the-mole arcade game in the water. We also sail along Brier Island with its whirlpool in the strait separating it from Long Island, where the tidal flow from the Bay of Fundy meets that of Baie Sainte-Marie. Don’t forget: these are the highest tides in the world. We see some whales, that is, those of us who are still standing, mostly the anciens, save for poor George who has an active case of mal de mer.  

Having seen Évangéline inside the four walls, I succumb to the Acadian propaganda and decide to see Évangéline au Bois, the plein air version, so to speak. Although simultaneous English translation is advertised, a crowd of about a hundred assembled near the big Église is all French-speaking. A large group of senior citizens consists entirely of Acadians (I asked). There are also some Quebecois and apparently people from Louisiana. This time, the flute-playing Longfellow character appears from that very same “forest primeval” which introduces his famous poem. We step into that forest, too. Shepherds and shepherdesses are running around and through our small crowd, sing and dance everywhere, like elves. Suddenly, a scene inside Basil’s house materializes in the thicker neck of the woods. Nearby, Évangéline is dreaming on a tree branch. Gabriel serenades her across a clearing among the pines. This is not just removing the fourth wall – things move up and down and also through us as if we were bodiless spirits. We are in the same physical space with the action, but in a different dimension. 


Évangéline’s tree 


Those damn redcoats

The dimensions soon converge. We are out of the forest near the gazebo of the morning’s idyllic class. The peasants are still singing and dancing when fife and drum announce the arrival of the redcoats, so familiar to us from Minutemen reenactments of the Battle of Lexington. The king’s order of deportation is proclaimed. Women and children huddle below, while men are pushed to assemble in the gazebo under the armed guard. I am trying to clear away from the steps of the gazebo but am not allowed to: together with other male spectators I am ordered to go up the stairs under the threat of the muskets. I am a prisoner ready for deportation! Next time I walk by this gazebo I will surely see it with different eyes. 


Acadian lasses, Canadian cameramen

The dimensions diverge again. We, the “real” people, slip away, while on the shore next to us deportation is under way for the Acadians. There is yet a third surreal dimension to the proceedings: the whole performance is being filmed for the Canadian television. Cameramen move among us and the actors like a third type of matter. Now on the shore, their silhouettes mix with muskets and bonnets in the yellow and red light of the sunset. 


Le Grand Derangement (Acadian deportation) – reported live

On to Louisiana and points north for the star-crossed lovers, through spiritual sublimation and selfless sacrifice. Gabriel dies again in Évangéline’s lap but this time it happens on the back lawn of Beaulieu dorm under the curious eyes of Dominic and Andrew, the youngest members of our group watching from their window without any tickets. 

I suddenly understand why there are so many kids from Louisiana in the camp. It’s the Cajun Jerusalem! They are sent here just like Jewish kids are sent to Israel – to learn the language, to get the history, to load up on emotional connection. Past suffering and redemption is a necessary part of this connection. I talk with the actors. They are all locals: a teacher, a shop owner, college students. Évangéline’s father was played by the father of Évangéline’s impersonator, until this year. Hence, this is also Acadian Oberammergau, albeit performed much more often than once every ten years.  Without the pilgrims the program and the pageant would probably not exist.


The passion play is over (Évangéline et moi

Nothing interesting for the official program in the evening, just a presentation of jazz dance atelier – a rehashing of their scenes included in Notre-Dame de Paris two nights earlier. 

Day 5, le jeudi, 9 août 

We have a class with Serge. Anglicisms in French and old mystery stories, like the one about a midget who could not push an elevator button above the 10th floor and had to walk up to his 16th floor apartment. Then it’s beach day – at la plage de Mavillette. But first, Ben gets sick. Sore throat and sour disposition. Gaetan directs us to a campus doctor (not there), then the nearest off-campus doctor (also not there). Since I have a car, we drive off looking for the county clinic and talk on the way, keeping the contract, in French. Ben suddenly realizes that he can talk in French about anything and it’s even more natural than English. Immersion seems to work: he does not need to come up to the surface for English air. By the time we find the clinic he is inclined to just get some lozenges at the pharmacy (we continue to speak French at the checkout) and join our group at the beach (they left some time ago).    

The beach is magnificent. It reminds us of Yachats on the fabled Oregon coast. Endless sand, surf, brouillard, a pastel-colored village at a distance, even real surfers with full size boards. Nadia and Yvelle lead a sandcastle construction project. Ben is still recuperating, although he plays some catch in the surf. I follow the younger kids, wade in and little by little find myself body surfing. 

Our evening atelier is a trip to a restaurant. Gaetan was planning a fancy place but tried to reserve too late and we end up at Au Havre du Capitaine, where I finally try la rapure acadienne – Acadian rappy pie. Interesting, but not the last word in rapure-making as the future would show.

Late in the evening at the Château I see Jean-Louis again. This time he is in female company. Célèste is a professeur at the camp but she had just recently come from Madagascar. She is young, lovable and loves to hug. Jean-Louis cannot sing enough praises of her warmth and of the incredible journey she had made. I manage to recall the name of the first president of Madagascar and pretty soon we are having a friendly conversation of languages and things. I guess, this is what bars are for. 


Château nights (with Jean-Louis and Célèste)

Day 6, le vendredi, 10 août 

At the last day’s Session d’Information, it’s Ben’s turn to shine. He stars in a comedy skit as … a table. It’s about a furniture store with all pieces of furniture impersonated by animatrices. There is a floor lamp (torchére), a chair, even a fridge. A customer examines each piece, even tries the refrigerator door and the freezer (by folding and unfolding Lianne’s arm and opening her mouth). Eventually, all objects are bought and carried off to the truck by the mighty Gaetan, all except for the table which fails to attract a buyer. It’s time to clean up. Jenn does it with a mop and a bucket of soap water. The “table” is washed too, and then the red bucket, still full of water, is left standing ON the table. The cleaning lady is gone. Ben is informed that the skit is over. He is still on all fours with the bucket on his back. The public is starting to get it: this is yet another wet butt comedy routine. But with incredible grace, no doubt acquired on ski-racing slopes, Ben manages to lift the bucket off his back and get up without spilling the water. He is the hero du jour. 


A furniture store (Ben as a table)

In the last class we play a celebrity guessing game. The name of a celebrity is pinned on one’s back and is seen by the rest of the class. You can ask yes or no questions to make a guess. I go up first and to my luck get Madonna whom I guess by finding out that the color of her hair keeps changing. The rest are mostly TV personalities whom I have not heard of. The toughest case to guess proves to be Ronald Reagan, whose acting days had rolled by long before most students were born. 

The mot du jour today is valises (suitcases) and the program wraps up our immersion course. For atelier we get to see real rapure making. Bernice Doucet, Yvelle’s mom, gives us a master class in the kitchen of Bozo. The foundation of the pie is mashed potatoes but many other ingredients, including chicken scraps and spices, are poured into a big shiny steel bowl at different stages.  The whole one-week camp tastes the result later in the evening and it’s no contest between Bernice and the Au Havre du Capitaine. Rapure de Bernice melts in the mouth and tickles the palate. Cultural studies at their best. 


Rapure acadienne (Bernice Doucet in her kitchen)

We then cross the street near the church for a helping of ice-cream. A spiffy-looking gentleman in an MG pulls up from the road. Some animatrices wonder what MG stands for. I volunteer to find out and approach the gentleman. His response startles me. “I don’t speak French,” he says. Shaking off my shock I complete the mission in English (oh horror!) and find out that MG is simply the initials of the company founder. It’s just another one of those brave deeds that, by my reckoning, bring me everlasting glory later that evening. 


Animateurs and animatrices (English soiree)

The time of the English soiree at the cafeteria finally comes. All the professeurs and animateurs line up along the wall. They form a candle-lighting chain ending with Dr. Comeau. Two superheroes, one in blue one in black, burst in and struggle for a black briefcase. The blue hero, apparently the good one, wins and hands the briefcase to Dr. Comeau. He opens it, pulls out a piece of paper and sets it on fire. This is the contract (to speak only French). A huge scream shakes the building and the level of sound does not go down after that. The magic spell is gone and everybody around turns out to be speaking native English. I have not heard most of these people speak English before and am curious about their accents. Especially the ones from Louisiana. The lawyer from Louisiana delivers the commencement speech. Apparently, he has somewhat neglected his own French while promoting it for the rest of the Cajun state. His appeal to save the French language from oblivion as the language of an oppressed minority sounds a bit strained considering the existence of France, Quebec and even 800,000 Acadians in the Maritimes (I keep thinking about the 270,000 Icelanders trying to preserve their language). But no matter, people are in the mood for partying and they applaud generously. Prizes are awarded, first for the best student, then for the most improved beginner. The winners respond with speeches in French. Another prize is announced. This one is being given to students who “contributed the most” to the camp. 11-year old Andrew from our group gets called first. He receives a big mug with the coat-of-arms of Université Sainte-Anne and the words Prix d’Honneur. The third name called up is mine. Well, I was thinking of getting some souvenir… Ben tells me later that the winners of this prize were selected by a vote of the professeurs and animateurs. I don’t often win popularity contests, but I figure that this Club Med – Nerd might be one place where I had a chance. And then this brave exploit with a complete stranger in a fancy MG…


Chevaliers (et Dames) de Prix d’Honneur

The dinner is over, and now the real party is about to begin. The campus is barred for the outsiders by the police, and we feel very safe. It turns out later that some locals, already drunk, managed to get through, but no incidents occurred as a result. What does occur is an ambulance with flashing lights in the middle of the campus around midnight. A girl seems to be in a coma. She, like quite a few others, got boozed (they found this stuff after all). Then somebody gave her a cold medicine – et voilà. The girl is from Lexington and is known for her booze problem. She is scheduled to go on the ferry in the morning (she makes it there after a brief stay in the hospital). I go to bed soon thereafter, but all the young stay up and the party goes on for the rest of the night. Ben tells me later that, being one of the few sober souls (he learned to drink rationally in a Cancun all-night bar), he had to spend quite a bit of time tending to those uneducated kids in Bozo who got really sick.  His already high prestige was boosted a couple of days earlier when he showed his dorm-mates an international dictionary of obscenities. They were especially impressed that his dad had lent it to him. (Hmm, what possible use could I have made of my cool reputation, had I known about it?) But Ben regretted that his status as the responsible kid in the dorm forced him to do unpleasant chores and deprived him of more time to party.  

Day 7, le samedi, 11 août 

Everybody gets up at 6am. Actually, most kids never got down so they just continue to stay up. A university bus comes. End-of-camp farewells linger, the bus is loaded and makes a lap around the campus before leaving for the ferry. Ben takes a picture of me with George. We throw our stuff in the car and take off too on the last ride through Acadia. Ben is fast asleep in his seat. The ferry is full of Sainte-Anne alumni sleeping in chairs, on benches, and on the floor.  It glides through the Yarmouth harbor past its distinctive modernistic Yarmouth Light into the Bay of Maine. We have a day cabin where we crash and spend one of the pleasantest afternoons on record to the lullaby of the waves. When we wake up later, all-you-can-eat buffet upstairs includes all-you-can-eat crayfish. I test my crayfish-eating limits realizing that my familiarity with them has been strictly literary. Even sailing in the friendly waters of the state of Maine I am obliged to admit that crayfish is a softer, gentler, and certainly much smaller version of the famed Maine lobster. I am hooked. Hopefully, we can get more of them next year.



Au’revoir, Université Sainte-Anne!


Longfellow – out of the forest primeval