I thought going up to Maine by coach would feel a bit adventurous, reminiscent of Hollywood Greyhound driven road trips. It turned out to be pretty tame, a very sedate and well-organized three and a half hours on a comfortable bus, complete with free bottled water, full-length (children’s ) film on little screens and back-of-the-bus rest-room.
I spent six wonderful days as a houseguest on the Northern coast – lovely house, lovely welcoming loving relatives and fun kids. Walks, coves and drives along the infinite meanders of inlets, islands and bridges to get round from one tiny village to the next.
When the weather was rainy, the greyness didn’t totally blot out the ever-present patriotic flags fluttering from shops, on poles and front lawns. Flags everywhere. I looked up the numbers: sales of flags in the USA are consistent year to year, some 150 million a year, 95% of which manufactured in the country*. A large industry. Couldn’t find any reliable numbers for Italy: hardly anyone owns a flag here, most people wouldn’t dream of flying one except when a World Football Cup is on (=soccer).
What I saw were stretches of Atlantic calling forth from the horizon and reminding all of the quest to find and settle these new lands, with lighthouses dotting the seascape like in seafaring times.
And lobster cages, lobster buoys, lobster industries and local eateries to stuff on lobster to your heart’s content.
They told me that like most seasonal visitors, I was “from away”. You’re either born in Maine or “from away”. People who settle in the State can live there for decades before losing the distinction, if ever. Safer to be born there if you don’ want to be “from away”.
They told me that off-season is a whole different proposition. The vacationers leave, and the local inhabitants – who have jobs in basic services, with not much else to fall back on unless you are a writer or artist of some kind – curl up in their homes and sit out the long autumn and winter cold, rain and snow with log fires and quilted blankets. It was hard to imagine in the bright sunlight of long August days.
Back home, by coincidence, I turned on the TV a few nights ago and caught a couple of episodes of Olive Ketteridge. I’d never got through the Pulitzer-prize winning novel. So I watched the TV episodes till the end, riveted by the very scenery that had attracted me – the houses, the roads, the sea and the people. A work of fiction, but it offered insights into how the spectacular natural environment could also foster forms of nostalgia, or worse, depression under greyer harsher skies.
So yes, I was “from away”….