In the dead of winter, and especially when you live as self-sufficiently as possible, there aren’t a lot of reasons to leave the farm. And with the amount of snow-storms the Maritimes have had this year, and the higher-than-average accumulation in northern New Brunswick, travelling isn’t always possible even when you DO need to go into a town because your library books are due or there’s a doctor’s appointment.
As I haven’t had an overnight away since coming here last May, and with both Valentines and my birthday coming up, we decided ONE night away (if Smitty the nerve-riddled rescue dog would allow it) was deserved, at the very least!
We had noticed that in one of the nearby towns (all our towns are about equal distance from us – 40-45 minutes!) there were posters up everywhere for a Masquerade Ball this past Saturday. Now, this just seemed so unlikely in Boonesville, Appalachia, (most social events centre around church, hockey, cards, or if there ARE dances, they are country and western ones for the seniors, over at The Music Ranch, where ole Harley tunes up his fiddle-players every week!) so we were quite excited to see what this Masquerade Ball was all about. Thus, since we had also been wanting to see inside the eccentric Castle Inn in Perth-Andover, and because I was a guest at the Saddle Club meeting down there on Sunday, we made arrangements for a neighbour to spend Saturday night upstairs in Mom’s suite (she’s in Florida with her Aunt Jane to get away from the last ravages of winter here). So we gave the keys to ‘our castle’ to Zeb, and we packed up and went. Twenty-four whole hours away from the farm!
This is the poster that started it all:
Perth-Andover is a lovely town bordering on Maine, and with the Tobique River running through it and a Maliseet First Nations Tribe with a reservation on one end. Upon arriving in town we went for lunch at our neighbour’s sister’s bistro. It’s a lovely little spot, always decorated for the occasions, and facing out onto the river, reminding me very much of all the bijou cafes in the national park town of East Glacier, where I lived in Montana.
The photo across the river is of a large building that was once the courthouse — more on this later, but the town is full of more historic homes than you can imagine, very “New Englandish” but with the kind of large early Victorian homes and architecture that remind me of what I envisioned as a youngster to be Nancy Drew’s hometown of Riverside in New York, along the Hudson …Visitors down further south in Fredericton will also enjoy many of these types along the Saint John river there:
above, Richard, at our back table at the Riverfront Bistro, whose owner grew up next door to us in the hills of New Denmark… even though Perth is 45 minutes from Blue Belldon Farm, you’re still liable to know nearly everyone you run into! see Mary’s’ Bakery, below!
Richard and I had a lovely luncheon at the Riverfront Bistro, but we forewent Shirley and Charles’ decadent desserts because I wanted to enjoy our Castle dessert later that night, while cozied up at the fireplace I’d seen photos of! So we went next door into Mary’s Bakery for a muffin instead. (I’ll just do one of my typical Facebook rants here – BUY LOCAL! Although Perth has the usual Tim Horton’s (which drive me nuts anyway, but don’t get me started on all the reasons why on that one!) and Subways, WE make sure the lovely downtown of any of our 3 towns have our business instead, and I wish more people would be considerate of the small-town shop-owner in this way.) Although I have recently done a LOT of publicity for the Valley Horse and Saddle Club, trying to help them plan of series of clinics for this season, as well as some theory nights, I was disappointed to learn (as Mary is on the board of Directors for the club) that the meeting was postponed on Sunday. So, there went the first big disappointment of our special weekend plans! (I WAS boosted to find that the editor of the local Blackfly Gazette, which I will be mentioning later as well, HAD kindly and free of charge put in both the ad I’d mocked up as well as the article I’d suggested about the club’s efforts to build their membership and activities. Thank you, Stephanie! More later…)
Below, Richard entering Mary’s Bakery, with actual photos of the Saddle Club activities on her walls, and some of her family and friends, too- yup, that’s how small town and rural this part of New Brunswick is! While some in large cities worry about posting photos of their children or grandchildren ANYWHERE for fear of preying eyes, folks in these parts proudly display their kiddies on the walls of their shops!
Below, both the Riverside Bistro and Mary’s Bake Shop, all decorated for Valentines!
We then climbed the mountain to the castle. This is what it looked like part-way up:
The Castle was built in the 1930s (when most others were struggling financially) as a summer home in the then very-touristy Perth-Andover. It was designed to replicate an even larger mansion that the family’s friends owned on Long Island.
Above, two old geeks who don’t get out much, attempt a ‘selfie’. The icicles hanging from the roof of the inn were GORGEOUS! The river rock was collected from both the Tobique and adjoining Saint John rivers.
Upon registering, we discovered our second disappointment of the barely-started weekend: the restaurant was CLOSED for the months of Jan. and Feb. Despite the Castle, with its spa, pool and jacuzzis in most rooms being a romantic attraction for the month of February, it seems to me – the place was on skeleton staff and there were only the two of us and one family of 4 staying there! Thus, Richard was proud to be given the actual Keys to the Castle, as we told them we’d be out later! Here he is, entering via the keys to the place:
Although bitterly disappointed that we wouldn’t be having the romantic cozy dinner right within the confines of the inn, and huddled up to the fireplace I’d seen photos of, with a glorious mahogany mantle and bookshelves, I still thought our room was pretty and the jacuzzi was exactly what my old legs and feet needed after 9 months of rugged moving, gardening, harvesting, renovating and entertaining! Also, Smokey the purr-ball was happy to greet me and have a cuddle in the lounge.
After my bath and reading for a bit, we went exploring the basically-closed inn. I was disappointed that while the pool was open, the big hot tub was also shut-up for the season. I’d been looking forward to some serious relaxing in there as well, and I do think the manager should have told us what parts of the inn WOULD be closed when I called to make the reservations! Alas! Here are some photos of the historic architecture and SOME of the offerings the Castle Inn has to offer – when IN SEASON, anyway!
After a nap and some more reading, we began to get ready for the Masquerade Ball, which, as you may have noticed on the poster above, said “Formal Wear is Encouraged…” I couldn’t find my old dressage tails, but I did have my dressage top hat for Richard, and a ‘soldier’s’ suit jacket I thought would look especially dazzling. I spent some time making our masks as well, because I gave away most of my costume collection from various drama-teaching tickle trunks when we moved out here. I curled and wound up my hair, and got out a fan and shawl, and we took another (better) selfie:
I told Richard that I wasn’t going to remind him of how to waltz, as it would jinx it and the ‘ball’ wouldn’t have any good waltzing music. But he did request a few steps be taught, and thus, we jinxed it as I knew we would. When we arrived at the venue, (3/4 of an hour late, as we thought we were being ‘fashionable’) the parking lot was still primarily empty, and we could hear (gulp) rap beats and see flashing disco lights . As we entered, we had to fight our way past smokers on the porch who were wearing camouflage and baseball caps, and spitting into the snow drift off the railing on which they leaned. This, of course, did not bode well, but I still held out some hope, and was relieved to see that the 3 or 4 teens behind the counter who welcomed us were wearing somewhat dressy attire and had masks on. ( I later learned, bless ’em, that these were the 4 19 year-olds who’d organized the whole thing, one of them being a VERY gay young fellow who must have struggled all his life to find a niche in these rugged rural mountains, and thought he’d help arrange this dance!) At the front counter was also a table full of beautiful masks which were laid out for attendees to wear if they’d forgotten their own. I thought all of this was a good sign at the time, but though it was now nearly 10 o’clock, when we entered the dance hall (full of white-covered, rose-petal-strewn tables and seating for about 200) there was only 1 table at the back full of already-drunk ,20-somethings wearing, if they were male, jeans that fell about their cracks, with punk chains intertwined through various orifices and, if they were female, jeans so tight, regardless of their shapes, that you could SEE their buttock cracks anyway! All had on sweatshirts with various beer slogans. No other tables had ANYONE at them, save one near the front with a couple in their 60s who HAD, it seemed, made an attempt to dress up and wear masks. We later figured out they were the supportive grandparents of one of the girls who’d helped organize the ‘ball’! We sat at the table right behind them and awaited more attendees…
The music at first, was horrifying – just recorded ‘songs’ (mostly rap) at the requisite full blaring volume with the only two words we could make out of the lyrics being “SEX” and occasionally “BITCH”. At least 3 long numbers passed like this, where no one danced, but a few of the ‘kids’ came and ground their hips about for 20 seconds here and there…
Still, no one else came into the hall, and only the back table, and the 4 of us at the front were sitting in the hall at all… but at least the music changed to a good variety of songs from the ’70s and ’80s. A few pieces Richard and I might actually have danced to HAD THERE BEEN ANOTHER SOUL ON THE DANCE FLOOR. But we could imagine what that table of drunks at the back would do if we got up and started sashaying our way around to “Jack and Diane” …
Then, around 10:45, some more people DID start to come in – first, a couple both wearing cammos, with matching baseball caps. Then, a couple of ‘good-ole-boys’, weighing in at about 350 pounds each, and with ripped jeans (NOT ripped by Abercrombie and Fitch, either!) Next came a handful of farm-boys who, as Richard said, had just come in from ‘sloppin’ the hogs’. They had on tall and very clunky rubber boots, not the stylish slim-fitting type of Wellingtons we often wore in England. More mud on them than snow. They did not sit at any tables, but hung around the door. I suggested to Richard that I might want to take a photo of them all there, and he said ‘Fine, if you’d like to see me get beaten to a pulp and taken to the hospital with this mask punched into my cheekbones…’
Thus, we have this illustration:
We did not stay long after this last group came in, but I did hear the next day when we stopped for lunch on the way home, that the young organizers had been SOOOO disappointed, and so were we! For them, as well as for ourselves. Just goes to show that when you try to introduce something new to a rural area, it is NOT met with positive results. Rural people do NOT like to try anything new, nor go out of their comfort zone in any way. I know this, as I’ve been a tomboy and country person my whole life. But I am ALSO a person who loves history, the arts, culture and, while a tomboy and home-body at heart, I do like to dress up and get out once in a while. This night was NOT worth it.
We’d ended up having overly-spicy pizza in our room instead of a romantic meal in a historic dining area by a fireplace, and we’d ended up dressing up for a Valentines dance where we didn’t dance and no one else came in dress code – or really, even CAME! We left, feeling quite gutted that our brief weekend was turning out so askew, although we COULD see the humour in the “Waltzing Wellie-wearers”.
Trying to make the day not an entire waste, Richard suggested we make use of the pool and go for a swim. Being a tomboy, and one who has mostly worn breeches and boots or blue jeans most of the summer months, rather than shorts or swim-suits, I do NOT like the water much. But Richard went to test the water and said it was VERY warm.
I went in up to my waist. It was NOT warm. I got out.
However, Richard did enjoy himself briefly with a quick trip down the water-slide (shown below) and 10 minutes in the steam-room (not allowed to show)…
Our room’s view was very pretty, right at the end of the castle, partly dug in to a hillside, and there was a beautiful full moon. It should have been the perfect Valentines’ get-away, really, had all gone according to plan. Anyway, the moon was there:
The last thing I was looking forward to that night was SNL. As we have no television at the farm, I wanted to see Alex Baldwin host Saturday Night, and LIVE, for once, instead of via youtube feeds, RIP that insane Twitler/Humpty Trumpty to shreds. I did catch Melissa’s Sean Spicer, but fell asleep before Alex Baldwin came on in the People’s Court skit. So that ended all my exciting forays into “Fun Off the Farm” for THAT day! We are pathetic!
The next day I did enjoy another jacuzzi in our bathtub, and Richard brought me a bagel and strawberry from downstairs, so that was romantic. He apparently actually TOASTED the bagel himself, though why he can’t manage the toaster at home, I’m not sure….
Then, as the Saddle Club meeting was postponed, we headed for home. I’d like to say a little something about organizing things of a rural nature, here. Most readers will know I ran the Carlisle Country Craft and Old-fashioned Market Mercantile for years in Ontario. It SHOULD have had more than 500 people attend it over the two days each summer, but alas, it was never to be more, despite moving to a busier location in the 3rd year. Everyone also knows that despite constant and on-going publicity, the Rural Creators’ Collective shop never garnered the kind of attention I felt it deserved. And here in N.B., things don’t seem much different. There is an artists’ collective shop in Perth as well, but though it said in the Blackfly Gazette that THEY were going to be open Sunday morning, we went by and they were not…. likewise, despite two weeks of work on publicity for the Saddle Club, est. in 1972 and inc. in 1982, (-in less than a week I helped get their FB page followers from 47 to 108!, AND had the following Blackfly Gazette articles published). Yet, rather than going along with this advertising momentum and hopefully picking up more members with the publicity including the treasure hunt and prizes I was offering, they unceremoniously ‘postpone’ the advertised meeting, (they also did the same thing for the January meeting!) with no reason given or any attempt to just move it elsewhere. ( I also attended ANOTHER meeting this past week here in New Denmark — where yours truly, Chip the Tomboy who has never worn nail-polish, rarely worn a dress or make-up, and who buzz-cuts own hair with nail scissors, was DELEGATED to organize the Danish FOUNDERS’ DAY BEAUTY PAGEANT this spring! Another bit of hilarious irony that will have to wait for another blog posting. I don’t even BELIEVE in pageants, but it is part of their tradition, and I do believe in THAT). Some of you may know of the Christmas church choir disappointments Richard and I suffered this past holiday as well. So – like the lasses (and one lad) who organized the Masquerade Ball and decorated the dance hall so beautifully – did I mention the amazing job of streamers, curtains, hearts, cut-outs, balloons and ribbons all arced over beams of the ceiling? – I am very discouraged these days with how no one in rural communities sees the need to EVER change, or listen to others’ fresh ideas, or embrace a new event or to use publicity to their own benefit! This coming weekend we are holding a Games Night at the farm. Out of 15 couples invited, only 2 have responded that they’d like to come, and they only want to play Scrabble, despite several other games being offered. It’s winter in the rural valley, folks. GET OUT OF THE RURAL RUT and try something new! If it’s not offered FOR you, try organizing it YOURSELVES (doesn’t mean anyone will come, but at least you’ve tried!)
Now, about this fabulous Blackfly Gazette out of Perth. It’s run by Stephanie Kelley (an incomer from Florida, who is proof that a new idea in a rural area CAN work if you keep plugging away) and Jonathan Gagnon. Ever since we arrived here in May, I’ve been picking up this great little local paper wherever I see it, as it is FULL of fun verses, editorials, articles on rural living, and especially, a great directory for events going on in the big valley in which we now reside! For someone new to the province and living self-sufficiently as we are trying to do, it’s the perfect balance of variety and humour about this area and the resources at hand.
Here are some examples of the last two issues, articles I particularly love as they are so in-keeping with the area (as always, click on any to see the entire photo/article)
From the Bistro window, remember, I took a photo across the Tobique River to the other side of the town, where the beautiful old courthouse stands. The Blackfly did an article on this this week, and I feel VERY strongly about it, and must quote part of Stephanie’s own writing here, as many of you will recognize that these are similar to my own words, which I’ve reiterated time and time again in many rants… Stephanie is a little more eloquent and a little less angry than I am, but nonetheless, the message is the same:
“The Old Courthouse is a building that should be a showcase for our historic downtown with an art gallery, a tea room, boutiques. It could become a destination business, the kind of place that draws visitors in to visit from out of town. We need more of these places, businesses that people get off the highway and come into the village to see what’s going on. This is why arts and crafts and good restaurants that are INDEPENDENT AND SERVE GREAT FOOD, not corporate junk, can help to turn a village into a tourist destination….”
She then goes on to give several examples and some ideas for what could be done with the lovely old building, and ends by saying these sentences, very near and dear to my own heart: “This may all sound like pie in the sky dreaming, but we are at a cross-roads in time, and there is truly a battle going on for our minds and souls. Do you want to play the Matrix Game, where it’s all about consumption of cheap stuff and where ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’? In the end, the communities and their people that survive and thrive will be those that are LOCALLY BASED, with local production of goods, services and especially food.”
So there, to all of you who didn’t go to the Valentines’ Masquerade Ball. So there, to those that don’t book yourself and your sweetheart into an amazing Castle Inn, so that they DON’T actually have to SHUT DOWN in the most romantic of seasons! So there, to all of you we saw going in to Tim Hortons and Subway (a whole hockey team!?) as we drove out of the lovely town yesterday. So THERE to those of you who don’t appreciate the good work of publicity and organization others do FOR you, whilst you just sit on your laurels and complain (or postpone/cancel). And a final So There, to those who could have made a rural pioneer art show and shop, full of eco-friendly local artisans actually MAKE A GO OF IT! (Not TOO bitter about all of that, still, NOPE!)
This is what Stephanie and Jonathan’s Blackfly Gazette did for the Valley Horse and Saddle Club this issue, JUST BECAUSE I ASKED. God Bless ‘Em! And I’m going to make sure they get all the attention they deserve, and that I can bring to that great little paper for years to come!
She even gave my coaching at the clinics and Rustic Revivals (above) a little plug for free, which is greatly appreciated. I want to do the same for them, even if the rest of the club never mentions these efforts! Thank you, Blackfly Gazette!
And, just as a post-script to our 24 hours away from the farm, which ended in so much disappointment… that damn dog REFUSED to go out of the house for Zeb. Flatly, stubbornly refused. The poor kid tried everything he could within safety confines we’d structured for him (Smitty DOES bite, as he’s always so anxious). So he went a full 24 hours without going outside to do his business (he didn’t go inside either!) and thus also never got fed, as the kibble was meant to be put in his bowl ONLY when he was safely out of the house!)
So, what with that issue, and all the others, I doubt very much if my long-fought-for ‘romantic weekend away’ (which I’ve actually been asking for at Christmases and birthdays for the last THREE years) is likely to happen again any time soon.
Not to mention, come spring, we hope to have draft horse, dairy goat and laying hens to add to the roster of “animals that need looking after!”
Thanks a whole heap of pig-manure, you moose-hunting/pig-slopping dance-goers!