Wherefore art thou, Newfoundland?
October 21, 2012
“This call’s for you,” Orllyene says. We’re in the midst of a barbecue with friends. It seems I’m to fly to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, to stage a beauty pageant in two days. I explode with joy. “What an adventure!” I say. “He doesn’t know what he’s getting into,” Orllyene murmurs.
Three times a year I fly from Vegas to Montreal to stage shows at the Chateau Champlain Hotel, so I’m familiar with Canada. Newfoundland is a different matter. I pick up my ticket from the travel agent, fly to Montreal, and connect with a provincial airline that serves Eastern Canada.
It’s a choppy flight. As we begin our approach to land, the weather socks in. We settle into our glide path, finally reaching treetop level. Suddenly the engines roar and the nose of the plane juts skyward. “Nothing to worry about folks. We’ll make it next time,” the friendly intercom voice says. If there’s nothing to worry about, why didn’t we land the first time?
The landing strip straddles the shoreline of a bay flecked with adolescent icebergs. Misshapen trees, in various degrees of malnutrition, struggle to become a forest. I stop at a small cafe style store to arrange for a taxi. On the counter is a large jar of pickled eggs. Everything else is packaged or wrapped in cellophane. A heavy stain of cigarette smoke fills the air.
The Government of Newfoundland is commemorating their entry into the Canadian Federation, and because most fishing villages are tucked away in some distant fjord, Corner Brook has been chosen for the celebration. The beauty pageant is one of the festivities.
Everything about my hotel is old world. The white table linens, and sterling silver implements in the dining room, are particularly charming. I order a cup of tea and wait for the pageant committee to arrive. Then it hits me. I’ve never set a beauty pageant in my life. I have no idea what I’m to do. I don’t have any music or even my tape recorder. By the time the organizing committee arrives, I’m in a panic and confess my doubts. “Perhaps we should ask your general manager to come,” they say. My ire is aroused. I tell them that wont be necessary.
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All night long, I fidget restlessly, and can’t sleep. I fight the dragon of not knowing what to do. A bevy of young contestants are going to show up for rehearsal, and I’d better have a plan ready. But I don’t.
Next day I go to the theater. We have one day to rehearse and then “it’s show time.” I meet with the four-piece musical group who will perform. I settle on “Daniel,” a number that will be easy to move to. The contestants arrive. They are filled with excitement and high hopes. We have one afternoon to rehearse. Next night the gala event gets underway. The girls are sweetly innocent in their evening gowns. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our lovely contestants,” a voice booms, and the girls march gingerly down the aisles from the back of the auditorium to the stage. The applause is thunderous.
The emcee enters and the pageant gets underway. Each girl is introduced, parades across the stage, says a few remarks, and exits stage left. It’s all very simple, yet effective. When the winner is crowned, something wonderful happens. The girls rush onstage from the wings, and spontaneously start dancing. It’s a finale of the highest magnitude. I wish I’d thought of it.
The next morning, I’m homeward bound. I rent a car, get a road map, and head south. In the months that follow, Orllyene and I are asked to return and rehearse six touring groups who will visit all those remote fishing villages. The icebergs are still there and when we step off the plane, the snow is blowing sideways. Ah, Newfoundland.
Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.