Its human nature, to covet what you do not have. I wanted cold, wet and foggy. Newfoundland became a logical summer destination. The weather stinks. “Out of 70 days of summer, we had only 60 days of sunshine. Will the temperatures rise above 20°C?” lamented the regional radio broadcaster to their ten listeners. This was the question that followed us throughout the trip (that and how to get rid of those raccoon pests). It might be an unlikely dream vacation, but for me it was escapism at its best.
Perhaps one day I will retire in a remote fishing village but meanwhile I want to be properly screeched in….Let me start from the beginning.
We had just arrived at Cow’s Head campground in Gros Morne National Park on the Western Coast. As the second in command, it was my job to jump out of our cozy home on wheels into the drizzle and guide the driver into the parking space. In reality, I looked more like an aerobics instructor than a NASCAR flagman. Our neighbors, standing around a campfire, unfazed by the weather, witnessed the whole episode with amusement. “What happened to your RV?” they remarked when they noticed the bashed in front, followed by a convivial “You guys want a drink?”
That’s the other reason to visit Newfoundland. The people are friendly. Not polite, but “here’s a beer” friendly, of a variety I didn’t even know existed outside of clichés. We were also exceptionally lucky, having rolled into deep fry night and a veritable feast. Our welcoming committee, proud Newfies from Corner Brook, possessed a level of hospitality often attributed to Bedouins nomads. Instead of sage tea, they offered crackers with home cured Atlantic salmon and capers, fried dough with molasses and mounds of fried chicken.
As the evening turned from gray to black, our knowledge of Canada’s eastern most Province was no longer limited to a few travel guides. We now knew Newfoundland’s favorite band, Buddy Whatshisname and the other fellas (“Get the serious stuff”, we were told), it’s most famous brew, Quidi Vidi from St. John and how to become an honorable Newfie.
“We need to screech you in!” we were told with enthusiasm “you’re not a real Newfie until you do!” except the vital ingredient, Jamaican Rum, was not on hand.
The following day we changed our itinerary. We headed to Corner Brook to find a liquor store at 9 am in the morning and skipped the visit to James Cook National Historic Site (priorities, after all). It was there I realized that becoming an honorary Newfie is much more complicated than I ever imagined, requiring the following lengthy procedures:
- First and foremost, you are required to drink an ample amount of Newfoundland Screech rum (according to the certificate, a bountiful taste of Newfoundland’s finest rum).
- You must kiss a cod fish (dead but not cooked, definitely not salted).
- You must wear a sou’ wester hat (named after the south westerly winds), similar to Paddington bear’s favorite, rain or shine.
- You must eat a piece of baloney.
- You must kiss a puffin. Even Newfies realize the difficultly in this endeavor and a picture of a puffin is enough.
- After drinking the ample amount of rum, you are required to read a tongue twister while wearing the sou’ wester hat (extra points for standing on one leg).
- There must be an official Newfoundland Screecher committee to validate and sign the papers.
According to the fellows in the liquor store, the cashier and the two waiting on line, this isn’t a tourist gimmick but a tradition that is done on weddings and anytime the opportunity presents itself.
So how did Screech get its name? According to one story, Newfoundland’s rum was as hardy as the fishermen who drank it. During World War II, one uninitiated American serviceman stationed on the island was invited for an after dinner drink. Without hesitating he downed the liquor in one gulp, turned red in the face and let out a blood curdling howl. As the legend goes, an old American sergeant was the first to run to the poor man’s assistance and demanded to know “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?”
A taciturn Newfie responded, “The screech? Tis the rum, me son”
Others believe the name is derived from the shriek of the wind in the schooner’s riggings as it heads home to Newfoundland or the cry of the Arctic terns flying overhead. Through generations of trade, Jamaican rum has become Newfoundland national drink, while salt water cod, so abundant off the rocky banks has become a staple on the Caribbean island.
I never did get screeched in. I managed to buy a bottle of Screech Rum, a “Made in China” sou’ wester hat that looks more like a bonnet and a handful of unsigned certificates. I boarded the ferry back to the mainland, wondering when I’d ever be back.
Meanwhile, sitting on a shelf in the suburbs of Tel Aviv I have a bottle of Screech Rum waiting to be opened.