Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Loveliness and Ugliness of Anne


Never in my travels have I been to a place that is so personified by a fictional character. Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada's smallest province, is as sweet and red-headed (thanks to iron oxide in the soil) as Anne Shirley, the lively heroine of Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Cavendish, Lucy Maud's home and the setting for the books, is now the province's biggest attraction.

Anne fans from around the world make the pilgrimage to Cavendish looking for the down to Earth country spots described in the books, often with Anne's made up place names like "The Lake of Shining Waters," and the "White Way of Delight." The irony is that nearly every place in PEI lives up to these dreamy expectations of bucolic bliss except Cavendish. Sure all of Lucy Maude's old haunts are there from her birthplace and home to her grandfather's house - and these are lovingly restored to be quaintly beautiful - but somewhere in time, tourism went wonky and someone decided to set up a tacky tourist strip not unlike San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. Spread out along a well-spaced out strip of highway there's a Ripley's Believe It Or Not, an Anne theme park, a water park, amusement park, indoor blacklight mini-golf and a wax museum to name a few. In between are the charming houses of yesteryear filled with old photos and small town stories of a talented woman who loved her island for its simplicity and natural beauty.

Lucy Maud's love of her natural surroundings inspired her books, her books have inspired possibly millions of young girls, many who come to visit, and the visitors inspired tourism to pave the whole damn place over for tour bus parking. It's a common story I suppose and really Cavendish isn't as garish as I'm making it sound, it could just be so much prettier. I hope that at some time the area will develop more towards what Lucy Maud loved and wrote about that inspired dreams of simple happiness to generations. I'd love to see a botanical garden theme park with real flowers and lakes lit by the sun and the rain with cute little benches, rose bushes and weeping willows, all animated by real happy children running around and playing in the dirt. I'd bring a picnic and Lucy Maud I think would smile at us.

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