Monday, August 17, 2009

Recollection: Little Stamps and a dream of St Pierre et Miquelon

When I was 6 years old my mother and I sailed to Istanbul, Turkey to take care of my grandmother (my father’s mother) and to bring her back to Paris. It was very hard to travel so soon after World War II and we had to wait for a long time to get passage on a ship. It took about 10 days from Marseille to Istanbul, with a few days’ stop in Athens, Greece. On the map below you can trace the trip from Marseille (south of France) to Istanbul, Turkey (southeast of Bulgaria.)

Click on picture to enlarge it.

We stayed in Turkey about 5 months and came back on another ship with GrandMama. I loved the ship and enjoyed the trip very much; that is where my love of traveling started. I’ll talk about this trip in another post.

When we came back to Paris I asked my parents when we could travel abroad again and was disappointed when they told me that we would not. To console me my mother gave me a stamp collecting album and several stamps from various countries.

This way, she told me that a stamp collection together with my postcards collections would let me “travel” to foreign countries from Paris. I had stamps from Egypt, Spain, Canada, the USA and many other places. I decided then that I would visit all these countries when I grew up and learn as much as I could about each one. I was very inquisitive and wanted to know everything about the subjects l cared for. Several readers of my posts said that I would make a good tour guide. That could be because, after all these years, I still want to know and learn and have not lost the “what, where and why?” from childhood.

Some of the stamps were very pretty, some interesting but I had four little stamps, of the same scene, in different colors that intrigued me the most. They were from the French islands of St Pierre et Miquelon. I found these islands on the map. They seem so far away but I dreamed that, someday, I would go there.

Over time I did travel to many countries but never forgot St Pierre et Miquelon. This group of small islands is located about 16 miles from the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. They are part of the French Overseas Territorial Collectivity. They are the only remnant of the large French colonial empire which included Louisiana (when Louisiana was 1/3 of the USA) and parts of Canada.

French fishermen have lived on this island since the mid 17th century. Cod was so plentiful that many fishermen would sail from Brittany and Normandy in France for the fishing season near these islands. Many stayed permanently.

Cod fishermen, 1921

Britain and France fought over these islands repeatedly but with the Treaty of Paris of 1814 the two main islands of St Pierre et Miquelon plus several little islands surrounding them have been French.

A passport is needed to enter these islands and the Euro is the local currency. You can ask anyone in the US where is there sovereign French territory in North America and likely no one will be able to answer. During Prohibition the American rum-runners used St Pierre and Miquelon to warehouse Canadian whiskey which brought some extra revenue to the islands.

Rum-runner boat, 1920s

Finally in August 2008 my husband Jim and I went to St Pierre et Miquelon. It had been a very long wait and a long journey since I was 6 years old and my dreams of childhood, but I always thought that, somehow, I would make it there.

(RF means République Française - French Republic.)

I was never afraid and dared to have big dreams. I was convinced that if I really wished to travel somewhere – I would – that the opportunity would arise. I never doubted. I am not rich, but I traveled to 44 countries so far and I am not finished yet… In a future post, I’ll tell you more about our trip but if you are curious about St Pierre et Miquelon, click here.

The things which the child loves
remain in the domain of the heart until old age
-Kahlil Gibran (Lebanese-American Poet, 1883-1931)

Painting by Daniel Garber (1880-1958)


DJan said...

VB, your post is an inspiration. I too remember one day, long ago, standing in front of a picture of Machu Picchu and said that I would go there one day. And so I did.

The fact that St Pierre et Miquelon held the same for you, and for a much longer period of time, says much about what desire and intention can accomplish.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

What an inspiring post. I live much closer to those islands, and yet have never visited. You didn't say if the visit held up to the dream . . .

Sounds like you have led one very interesting life. I look forward to hearing more about it in my visits here.

Marguerite said...

Wow, Vagabonde, 44 countries!! Some of my French Acadian ancestors hid out in St.Pierre Miquelon, after their deportation from Nova Scotia. I have always been interested in learning more about the place and the people. Thanks for this fabulous post! Loved your stamp collection, too. I will look forward to the post about your trip.

Elaine said...

How satisfying to finally realize your dream of traveling to a place you had dreamed of visiting for so long. As we begin to get older we realize that if we are going to accomplish the things we dreamed about doing then the time to do them is now or they may never happen. Your mother gave you a great gift in inspiring you to learn about faraway places and giving you a means to do that.

I have a stamp collection that I began as a child and have stamps from around the world too, but it is sitting in a box and I haven't looked at it in a long time. Raising a family got in the way and I have never gotten back to it.

Thanks for writing about St Pierre Et Miquelon. I will admit that I am one of those who did not know about it. Maybe that comes from being a West Coast girl all my life. I learned something new today, and it will be interesting to learn more about it when "we" tour there.

Val said...

i came here form Bonnie's Original Art Blog and i am so glad i did; you both have wonderful blogs. I so enjoyed the story of the islands from a childs stamp collection! i have an old stamp collection too and am sure i have some of these! well done - you got there :-)

claude said...

C'est bien de pouvoir retourner dans des endroits qui ont marqué notre enfance.
J'ai vu plusieurs reportages à la télé sur St-Pierre et Miquelon. C'est une charmante île, mais je ne pourrais y vivre. Trop froid là-bas.
Quand je parle de cet endroit je pense toujours à des amis que nous avions rencontrés en camping en Espazgne (j'étais alors une toute jeune fille).Elle avait été une Demoiselle Saint Pierre et elle avait épousé un nommé Michelon.
Sur la carte du mariage, il devait y avoir écrit "mariage Saint Pierre et Michelon". J'ai toujours trouvé ça marrant.
J'allais oublié, J'avais commencé une collection de timbres, puis mon plus jeune fils l'avait continuée, puis elle est tombée dans les oubliettes.

Reader Wil said...

Excellent post Vagabonde! I didn't know either that France had oversees colonial territories. When I was a child I also travelled a lot by ship. When I was a baby I went to Indonesia where I stayed for four years. Then back to the Netherlands for a year, for my father had to return to Holland every fifth year to study. He was a sailor. an engineer.I was six when we went to Indonesia again. Then came the war and my mum, sisters and I became POW's in a Japanese concentration camp. After the war we went to the Netherlands never to return to Indonesia.
Thanks for your comments! I love goatcheese too and always buy it at the market. I don't know if the Dutch Land Goat produces enough milk for cheese!

Reader Wil said...

Hi, me again! Hugo the Groot became Swedish Ambassador in France. France was at war with the Netherlands. So the Prince of Orange had nothing to do with Hugo the Groot anymore. Hugo de Groot fled in an empty bookchest of course.

Friko said...

Hi Vagabonde,
You are teaching me a great deal; I had never even heard of these tiny islands, although I have been aware of French colonies as part of my European history lessons.
This is a lovely post, informative and entertaining at the same time. I also admire your determination to travel to all the places you have and that you have kept your curiosity intact all these years.

sablonneuse said...

That was fascinating reading, Vagabonde. I followed the link and that led to others and I just didn't have enough time to find out all I wanted.
How wonderful that you fulfilled your childhood dream at last.

Paty said...

beautiful post, touching! i´m glad you could visit those small islands,i´ve never heard of them.
The last phrase you written by Kalil, i love it, that´s really true.

Darlene said...

As the saying goes, I learn something new every day. Today I discovered just how ignorant I was. I had never heard of the sovereign French territory in the North American Continent. Thanks for enlightening me.

I acquired wanderlust at a very early age, too. I went by train with my grandparents to Florida and loved travel from that moment on. It never leaves you once you have the bug.

Karen said...

Ah, synchronicity. I had just learned of these Islands from the France magazine I subscribe to. I had to go dig out one of my old stamp albums to see if I had any stamps from there but, alas, this one has none.
Why is it we all seem to have held on to old stamp collections?
You asked me about the Library Thing on my blog. When you list on Library Thing and download the Widget to your blog, the pictures just appear. I also linked to my associates account on Amazon. Easy to set up if you don't have one. Otherwise Library thing gets credit for any clicks.. which is fine if that's what you choose.
Thanks for reminding me, I have a pile of books I need to add to the list.
I love your blog..

Celeste Maia said...

I so enjoyed your trip to St. Pierre Et Miquelon, your dream destiny after collecting the stamps of the same image in different colors. What an adventure it must have been to travel to Turkey at that time, and then remain there for 5 months, no wonder you became the Vagabonde. I love your blog, it always makes me dream and I always learn something new.
Funny, I also did an entry about a destiny that has been in my imagination all my life - Patagonia. And it was even better than all my dreams and reading of that vast place. I loved it and dream of it all the time. How about Tristao da Cunha, have you been there Vagabonde? That is another end of the earth.

Baino said...

Bonjour (God I hope I spelled that right!) I thought I would return the courtesy since you were kind enough to correct my poor French. Love your blog and I'll pop back. I see you're a keen photographer too? Great hobby isn't it. And you even have a Kangaroo reserve! Excellent. I'll be back. Take care :)

Pondside said...

I'm so glad to read about someone else with a childhood island obsession! I dreamed of visiting the Falkland Islands, and finally did so in January 08.
I hope you have a wonderful visit to Cape Breton. It's really the home of my heart (sounds trite, but it's true)- I was born there and my roots go down seven generations - deep for the New World. I look forward to reading about our trip.

Frances said...

What a beautiful post. It has caught the wanderer, the traveller, the lover of beautiful stamps in so many readers.

Do you know of the late artist Donald Evans. I bet that you do. If not, please do google or whatever and you will discover a master of the art of the stamp.

Thank you also for your comments. Glad that you saw the Julie and Julia film, and very much enjoyed your technical comments on the film. This is just the sort of thing that I would have noticed, had I know Paris of that time. Well done! I totally agree that someone involved with the film should have checked all that out!

Sen. McCarthy is another story altogether. He really ruined lots of lives. Perhaps he really was trying to protect this country from those whom he thought were Communist sympathisers.

I am just very glad that some folks had the courage to stand up to him.

There are lots of movies that deal with this situation. One interesting one is The Front. Its star is an unlikely Woody Allen.

Please do keep telling us about your travels. xo

Vagabonde said...

DJan, Bonnie, Marguerite, Elaine, Friko, Sablonneuse, Pati and Darlene – Thank you all for your nice comments. I am pleased that you enjoyed my stamps. I had not looked at them for a long time, and it was fun to go through some of them.

Val – Welcome to my blog and I hope you will visit again.

Reader Wil – what a childhood you had. I liked the Indonesian trainees I worked with here in the states, then when I visited them in Indonesia they were quite welcoming, but it was a different situation than you had. Thanks for your comments.

Vagabonde said...

Claude – Je crois qu’on a tous fait collection de timbres, on n’avait pas trop à faire à cette époque là. Merci de ta visite.

Karen – thank you for explaining on the widget – I’ll pass this to my daughter in California who established my blog – she is quite a computer geek – so she’ll help me.

Celeste Maia – I just read your trip to Patagonia and it sounded like you fulfilled your dream too. Thanks for sharing.

Baino – welcome to my blog and I am pleased that you took my French correction well. Thanks for your comments.

Pondside – I look forward to our trip to Cape Breton too, but it will be so short.

Vagabonde said...

Frances – thank you for telling me about Donald Evans. I just looked him up – he was quite an artist. I shall look at his work more fully. As to senator McCarthy I’ll have to read on him more, but he sounds to me now as an arrogant monster, maybe I am wrong, maybe he was just a “True Believer” but these types are sometimes ever more frightening.

Ratty said...

This is fascinating. A great story with a happy ending. I did not know this place was there. I only knew about large sections of Canada where they speak French, and the Louisiana territory. There are also many places in my city of Detroit that still have French names too.

TorAa said...

What a story.
And it seems you learned to travel the same way as me.
Though your first trip by boat was far longer than mine. My first was by boat from Oslo to Copenhagen in 1947, with my mother and grandmother (mothers mother). We were sent from a very poor Norway after the WW 2, to family in Denmark just to be fed up!. I was only 2 years at that time.
And when my mothers Uncle Nick came to Oslo with "The America Boat" some years later, I realized it's lots more in the world than Oslo.
My kids learned to travel even younger. To day my youngest son is married and lives in Michigan. My daughter will live in Düsseldorf, Germany and hers in-laws are both born in - believe it or not: Istanbul.

With other words, childhood means a lot's when coming to the habit of travel.

TorAa said...

What a story.
And it seems you learned to travel the same way as me.
Though your first trip by boat was far longer than mine. My first was by boat from Oslo to Copenhagen in 1947, with my mother and grandmother (mothers mother). We were sent from a very poor Norway after the WW 2, to family in Denmark just to be fed up!. I was only 2 years at that time.
And when my mothers Uncle Nick came to Oslo with "The America Boat" some years later, I realized it's lots more in the world than Oslo.
My kids learned to travel even younger. To day my youngest son is married and lives in Michigan. My daughter will live in Düsseldorf, Germany and hers in-laws are both born in - believe it or not: Istanbul.

With other words, childhood means a lot's when coming to the habit of travel.

RennyBA's Terella said...

I stumble upon your as I love traveling too. What a great and readable blog you have!

Interesting to read this about the history and your Vagabond background - keep up the good work :-)

bathmate said...

I liked it.

CrazyCris said...

I love that quote by Kahlil Gibran, very true!

I wasn't following your blog yet when you wrote htis, so I'm glad you linked to it on your most recent post about travelling!

My curiousity of foreign lands was similarly increased by coins! I never cared much for stamps (my mother has desperately tried over the years to interest us in her collection), but coins from far and away and once upon a time always fascinated me! I already had the travel bug, this just increased the intensity.

Ça fait quand même bizarre de penser qu'il y a deux petites îles au large du Canada qui restent Françaises... les gens sur placent se considèrent 100% Français?

Margaret said...

Fascinating. I can see I must peruse your blog if an when my husband and I ever travel far abroad... or a bit closer to home! Just fascinating.

Arti said...

No, not just a tour guide, you're a historian and archivist. I'm totally at awe of your extensive travel experiences, and the depth of your recollections. Vagabonde, you should write a book, definitely, may volumes of them.

I've never heard of St Pierre et Miquelon islands, albeit being a Canadian all these years. Do you still have your stamp albums? You've had a wise and good mother. I had to pack my own stuff when I immigrated to Canada when I was 14. Without any adult supervision (my mother was already in Canada working for a year to sponsored us over), I gave away all my stamp collections, among other memorabilia, which included cinema synopsis which I'd collected throughout childhood. Those were printed on thin, almost transparent papers, placed at the entrance of the movie theatre giving you a summary of the film. Maybe only in Hong Kong?

Anyway, back to your recollections... my utmost admiration.

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