Friday, June 01, 2007

What's Old is New Again

As mentioned below, I have been reading and enjoying Casaubon's Book. I am ready to take up the 90% emissions reduction challenge or at least do the best I can considering that we live in two places 1000 miles apart. Newfoundland is a great place for this kind of life and there remain many people here who live very close to the land. It is only in the 50 years or even less perhaps that Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders have become less self-sufficient as part of a deliberate "modernization" scheme that coincided with confederation with Canada.

Last summer, when THM hosted the special project that invited North Shore residents to loan items they saw as related to their heritage, I received many things such as a homemade spinning wheel, a chamber pot, those iron things with which to repair shoes (I am forgetting their name!). Nearly everyone who visited who was from Newfoundland saw these items and remarked about them with a kind of longing in their voice, even if it was to speak of remembering them in their grandparent's home. Without getting too romantic about a past that was obviously very hard, I think it is safe to say that there were some benefits to that hardship. For all the back-breaking work, there was a yield that couldn't be measured in material wealth. And, I suspect, that was what was causing the sense of loss I heard in so many people's voices. On the other hand, I am guessing that, if I asked them if they wanted to return to using chamber pots, I would have been met with a resounding chorus of "NO!" but the spinning wheel? Many women touched it and lingered around it, telling stories about either using one or knowing women who used one, and children flocked to it. Could it be we are missing something?

But Newfoundland poses a real challenge. In many ways, returning to a simpler life here is easier in part because there are still people around with the kind of skills and knowledge that have been lost in other places. Yet, adopting or re-adopting a lifestyle without all mod cons has a kind of stigma of poverty and backwardness that Newfoundland has been trying to shake for decades. The reputation of the "dumb Newfie" has been fading in recent years, for sure, and perhaps it has faded enough so that a simpler life could be embraced as part of a heritage of self-sufficiency that is seen as a model not a bad joke.

I wonder if all this tourist industry talk about "cultural tourism" and "heritage tourism" could not have a good purpose in increasing people's pride in those kinds of unique skills so that they become not just for tourist display, but remain well-integrated in everyday life?

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