Friday, November 15, 2013

Shower in Canada and Breakfast in the US of A. - The Life of a Foreign Correspondent

by Manfried Rieder

Having lived in the Eastern Townships across the lake and now residing in Newport, our powers that are asked me to contribute human interest stories about the border area nearby. Derby Line was mentioned as a focus of interest. "No problem" said I. Unfortunately this is like asking me to write about Montenegro; No, I take this back. I have actually been in Montenegro but Derby Line is foreign territory to me. My late wife Nancy and I have driven through there on our way to lake Willoughby or to the Derby Line thrift shop. The thrift shop is something I could write about because I have an outstanding issue with the place. There resides a vintage Sunbeam mixer complete with bowl but no hooks. I want the mixer but I cannot find the hooks. So, should I go back and buy it anyway, hoping to find the mixer hooks on E-Bay, or should I chalk it up as one of my life's great missed opportunities to own a chromium plated appliance which I probably would never use. In any case, the thrift shop will make a good story some day. I love those places and since it now lies within my area of reporting, I have the reason to go back.
Derby Line is most famous for the Haskell Library and Opera House. This "house divided" is the only institution of its kind on the planet as it spans the border of Canada and America and the actual border runs right through the middle of it. It must be pretty cool for the actors, singers, conductors and musicians to honestly state that they are international performers even though they might have only stepped across the great divide for a few feet in America, or meters in Canada. Fortunately, they do not have to be bilingual. It would be pretty funny to have to sing English on the south part of the hall and French on the other side. Thankfully the Quebec language police has not caught up on this otherwise all programs would have to be bilingual, ushers would have to take language courses and the restrooms would be marked in both Languages. Suddenly Montenegro sounds like a good alternative to this scribe...
So, in order to ready myself for the Derby Line reporting duty, this newly appointed foreign correspondent has recharged both batteries of the old Olympus camera. I purchased a new note book and labeled it "Derby Line". Then I went to learn all that can be known about the place on Wikipedia and I can proudly report that I have an above average grasp of the latest census report which seems to be from the year 2,000. It also mentions the Webster Ashburton Treaty of 1842 which is where the international border was ratified. And the most amusing note is that this border actually runs through a number of residential properties so that a meal prepared in one country may actually be eaten in another.
This is where the fun begins. I am dying to meet people who live in houses that straddle the border. It surprises me that plays have not been written or sketches done about this on Saturday Night Live or through a fun documentary done by Canada's renowned Film Board.
Imagine the scenario. You wake up, possibly to some French Canadian radio program, shower in pure Quebec luxury, which means you take a long time, possibly savor a coffee in the bathroom, wrap yourself in the best Holt&Renfrew robe and then migrate to the United States for breakfast. The change is dramatic:
Eggs and bacon await, not the Quiche Lorraine that could possibly have been had in that other country. The dog barks at you but he is the only bilingual being in the house. You now don your flannels and suspenders and the woolen hat aunt Rita had knitted for your second wedding anniversary. This of course only happens if you work in Vermont. At the house next door Yvon who owns a business in Quebec, is adjusting his beret and just lit his second DeMaurier king-size of the morning. He is contemplating a small ver de vin rouge but as it is only 8 AM and no self respecting Quebeccer drinks before nine, he decides to have another cafe au lait and that left over croissant from yesterday.
In house number one breakfast is finished and the workday is about to begin. Wife Susie is ready for her job at the local bank and cranks up the Chevy Pickup while you make another mad dash across the border because you have forgotten to put out food for Max who is a simple American mutt but really should be a border terrier. However, his food dish is in Canada.
Yvon meanwhile has left in his chic Bee-Emm-Doublevee while his wife Marie-Josie is on the cellulaire to arrange for lunch with friends.

You see what I am getting at here - A microcosm of the Two Solitudes in a place with less than 800 inhabitants, a joyful place to contemplate writing about as soon as I figure out how to get there. A friend tells me not to be silly, it's just up the street from the East Main garage where you just had our  oil changed. "You can't miss it" she assures me. "Just drive until they don't let you continue because your passport is expired". Sounds like a foreign correspondent's job to me. I shall report from the front soonest, right after I find the local Telex machine and change the ribbon in the portable Olympia typewriter.

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