Slanting steeply down to the bay, St. John’s is one of the earliest settlements in North America. It’s easy to imagine it back then, the small wooden houses, the excitement and the children pounding on the wooden walks towards the sailboats that would come to into the bay bringing mail or relatives or gifts.
Today, along with being one of the oldest settlements and the farthest east settlement in North America, in my mind it will always have the title of Most Confusing City. Okinawa never had street signs, which was bad enough, but St. John’s is one worse; the streets change their names continuously.
Some intersections the street will be one name on the right, and another on the left. Add to that streets that I assume must have kept their shapes from back when there were no cars, their slow working horses giving people plenty of time to deliberate about which fork in the road they would like to take. But not for us. Streets routinely split into three different roads with no warning, leaving us at the crossroads with a split second that we can spend on astonishment before slamming our eyes closed and picking the street all the other cars are going down. (It’s never the right one.)
What is even more fun than all of that is the random one way streets that begin out of nowhere and end out of nowhere, meaning that we are happily driving along our way until we see the red NO ENTRY signs and leaving us to take the next quickest side street which was definitely not on our route, which probably will split into three different roads, which will all have different names then the one we are on now.
It’s like it wasn’t meant for these days, for this sort of time, and accordingly, has made no peace with my always right Google maps. It’s done its valiant best with this town, but it has failed, leaving me to go in never the same large rectangles all around the downtown area more than once.
It takes some getting to know, St. John’s, before the streets will welcome you in without trying to trick you, before it will let you feel like you belong, and its people are no different. They are friendly, sometimes, but never excited. They are polite, always, but not usually warm.
And so the same things happens here that happens anywhere: its people become an extension of its land, of the way the houses sit and the way the streets fit together, of the way the city remembers its long past in bright colors, of the way the water hits the harbor boats and the way its people walk into the wind, not embracing but accepting.
And I think, that with a little more time, I’d see the scandalous blue in its people’s excited eyes and the brick red in their stubborness and some strong grey Canadian winds in their anger. And I would like to learn which street turns into which street, and how the people learned which roads magically change to one way streets, and how exactly to get a Newfoundlander to talk to me with the same fire that’s in their houses. But we just aren’t here that long.
But it is beautiful. Crowded colored houses on hillsides leading to the bay, to lighthouses on bare cold coasts, snow forts and sledding. It is a college down and a water town, an old town set up with new shops and restaurants tucked inside.
And we’re going to be sorry to see it go.