At Home among the Bluenosers

  1. ''Nova Scotia—conjunction of improbabilities,'' I say. ''What do you think?''

    ''I like it,'' says Alexandre, once a Russian translator, now a practitioner of the Japanese tea ceremony.

    ''It certainly applies to us,'' says McGee.

    My spouse, Graeme Gibson, and I first met John McGee in Kyoto, Japan, where, having escaped from a Canadian dairy farm, he'd become a tea master at the Urasenke school there. He looks more like a pirate than a tea master, but he used to travel the world, assisting the grandmaster as he performed the tea ceremony for the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and the Prince and Princess of Wales. Now here McGee is, on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, presiding over a tea center in Lunenburg. People come from everywhere to study with him. Three times a year, groups of Japanese women in kimonos make their way up the hill to his meticulously restored house to participate in tea sessions.

    ''What does Lunenburg think of all that?'' I ask. ''The tea, the kimonos? It's not what you'd picture as typically Nova Scotian.''

    ''Lunenburg takes it in stride,'' says Alexandre. He might have added: just as it took in stride the Protestants from Germany, Switzerland and Montbéliard, in France, who founded the town in 1753, the Norwegian sailors who trained here during World War II and many others.

    Like most who move here, Alexandre Avdulov has now become quite Nova Scotian himself. He's collecting local recipes, and already has an array of pickles to rival my grandmother's...