Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

peaceful co-existence, please

Monday, January 4th, 2010

wearing a silly hat my mom gave me at Christmas

wearing a silly hat my mom gave me at Christmas - photo: Megan Hamilton

Happy New Year, all!  I hope everyone had a lovely, stress-free holiday season, whatever you may celebrate (or not celebrate – don’t want to exclude anyone…).  As usual, I spent the holidays with my family back on the east coast of Canada.  I was born and raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, and most of my family still lives there.

New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada: everything is in both English and French.  Of all the cities in NB, my home town of Moncton is the most bilingual – in fact in 2002, Moncton became Canada’s first officially bilingual city.  It’s roughly 65/35 English/French, with many of the French-speaking population living in Dieppe (the Greater Moncton Area consists of Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview).  There is even a local dialect called “Chiac”, where English and French are quite literally mixed into one language, with French endings added to English words and the like.  It’s quite hilarious to hear sometimes.  One of my all-time favorite Chiac phrases, overheard on a hot day at the Shediac wharf years ago, was “oh mon dieu, je dois “cool-ay off” (= oh my god, I’ve gotta cool off)”.  I just love that.

(…there is a Route 66 tie-in here – bear with me…)

closed-up rock and curios shop in Holbrook AZ

closed-up rock and curios shop in Holbrook AZ

Moncton is the most centrally-located city in the Maritimes, which may explain why it has become a shopping mecca for the region.  The largest mall, Champlain Place, is actually located in the French-speaking city of Dieppe.  A trip to the big mall is a linguistic adventure for any visitor.  I grew up in the place so I didn’t realize how bizarre it was until I brought my good friend Anne Marie home for a visit a few years ago.

Here’s the thing about shopping in Dieppe: most of the salespeople in the mall will serve you in French, whether you speak English or not.  They speak English too – but often they just keep going in French.  Someone from away like Anne Marie might assume that this is some pride of heritage thing, where we Anglophones are in Dieppe, the French area, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to speak English to us… (and trust me: there are more than enough anti-French and anti-English sentiments around – it’s like our version of racism)… but that’s not how I experience it.  To me it’s always just felt like everyone in Moncton knows that both languages are spoken there.  And although many people aren’t bilingual, you simply develop an ear for the other language enough to have these strange dual-lingual transactions.  Oddly, it sort of works.  Here’s how it goes:

Cashier: Bonjour, vous avez trouvé tous que vous cherchiez? (did I find all that I was looking for?)

Me: Yes, thank you.

Cashier:  Bon.  C’est dix dollars, quatre-vingt, s’il vous plait. ($10.80)

Me: Here you go.  Do you have a gift box for that, by chance?

Cashier: Oui, j’en ai. (gets box)

Me: Thank you!

Cashier: Merci beaucoup, bonne journee!

I’m so used to it I don’t even think about it.  But poor Anne Marie was baffled.  Not only did she not know what was being said to her, but she was even more confused when the cashier’s colleague walked by and the two of them spoke in English – then the cashier returned to Anne Marie (who was clearly speaking English the entire transaction and was having trouble understanding the woman’s French), and reverted back to French again!  My Moncton virgin friend just didn’t know what to think.

On my Route 66 trip, I was reminded of this whole phenomenon when I passed through Holbrook, Arizona.

Indian head neon sign on empty building

Indian head neon sign on empty building - there is a lot of this sort of vernacular iconography on Route 66, and I plan to write a whole post just on that, FYI

My father’s birthday was fast approaching and I needed to send him a birthday card.  I spotted a post office, found parking for the triangle, and went in to mail the card to my dad.  I noticed in passing that the customer ahead of me looked like she was probably Native American (or, “Indian”, as they say in these parts of the country).  The man serving her looked like he may have been Indian too, but I wasn’t sure.  He was very friendly and made small talk with her in English.

Suddenly he said something that clearly was not English to her.  She chuckled and responded in what I assume was the same language.  He said some more things in English – then there it was again: that very foreign-sounding language.  I just couldn’t place it.  I knew there were a lot of Navajo in this part of the world, so I wondered if that was what they were speaking.  They kept switching it up, English and this other language… I was immediately reminded of shopping at Champlain Place back home, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself.

When I got to the counter, I asked the man what language they were speaking.  “Navajo!” he said with a smile.  I told him that I liked how it sounded, and he responded that Navajo is a very hard language to learn.  To this I replied, “well, I guess that’s why your people were so valuable as code talkers during the war.”  “Oh,” he said, “I’m not Navajo.  I’m from Mexico!”  (What th-…?)  I asked him where in the heck he learned Navajo.  “Eh, I pick it up here and there,” he said with a shrug.  (I could say the same thing about Chiac, I thought.)  So, I decided to use the opportunity to practice my Spanish, and we completed the transaction in his own native language – which seemed to really tickle him.

I found myself missing Anne Marie in that moment.

Indian fresco on side of curios shop in Holbrook AZ

old fresco on side of curios shop in Holbrook

OK – updates on this end: I just finished crunching all of the .jpegs into movie clips for the time-lapse sequence.  This week I’ll meet with an editor to lay all 158 of them down onto a timeline, and burn a DVD to be played at the upcoming car show at Artcite.  It’s a very basic, rudimentary version of the Route 66 time-lapse sequence – this is definitely still a work in progress – but I am really looking forward to seeing them all linked together.  I think it’s going to be pretty cool once it’s all done.

I want to thank Melody Friend for curating and arranging the show of my work at Green Peas Casual Foods in Culver City.  I believe it comes down today, unless they decided to hold it over.  This was my first showing of any sort in the LA area, and I’m very grateful to Melody for all of her support over the years.  Thanks, Mel!!

As far as the hate mail goes… suffice to say, some people seem to think that it is in bad form for me to try market the work I created on Route 66.  Seems I’m not supposed to make any money from the Mother Road, even though I spent so much of my own time and money creating photographs and writing about it…

I don’t get it.  I am a photographer.  That’s what photographers do.  We explore places that are interesting to us, then we share the beauty and wonder that we find through our images.  Are we supposed to give away our work for free?  Is sharing it online for free viewing not already enough?

I understand people who are passionate about their interests, and many people are very passionate about Route 66.  It’s a glorious road, rich in history, and driving it is probably the best road trip out there.  It offers a glimpse of small-town America of days past, where people took the long road and “stopped to smell the roses”.  It’s wonderful, and I hope that more and more people opt to leave the interstate and kick around these sweet, friendly little towns.  (I finally saw the movie Cars over the holidays, by the way – and I can see how it has done a lot to promote the Route.  It’s a good thing.)  But although I love Route 66, none of this means I shouldn’t try to sell my images of it.  As most of you know, I lost my job and am trying to make a go of it as a freelance photographer/writer.  This will most likely mean I will lose my house, too.  We live in a Capitalistic society and money is a necessity.  I can’t live on air.  So, please: don’t expect me to not market my Route 66 work.  And please don’t publicly call me a “fraud”, a “fink”, a “low-down scoundrel” or a “user” when I do.

One thing I learned from the experience: fanatics can actually do more harm than good to their own cherished causes.  This angry man who claims to love the Mother Road so deeply is actually doing it a disservice by attacking those who don’t revere it in the way he thinks we should.  It is a real shame.  There should be a place for – and an acceptance of – everyone on the Route.

the famous WigWam Motel

the famous Wigwam Motel in Hobrook - more on this place later on

Fortunately there are people who are thankful for what I do, and their moral support is awesome.  I really need to thank many of you for that – and I especially want to thank Larry for the incredibly insightful email he sent once he realized my confidence was shaken.  Larry, I printed that thing out and read it daily.  Thank you so very, very much.  I hope to meet and thank you in person one day.

…enough on that!  Time to press on!  Back to the time-lapse now.  Thanks for reading.

And, play nice.  :)


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