Darling, yes it is moi, back again with more helpful advice. When stuck at home, it’s best to think of all the places where you don’t want to be. This increases your gratitude towards your petit pied-à-terre and makes your eyelashes grow thicker (proven in double-blind medical tests)! So I give you a tête-à-tête with my mother which will make you feel infinitely more at peace with your tiny apartment and limited food supply.
We are now going to talk about Maine.
Oh no, you are not going to rag on Maine.
ME? ‘Rag on’ a place? ME? When have I EVER had an unkind word to say about anyone or anyplace? I am the SOUL, the very personification, of discretion and kindness! Ahem. The best part about going traveling it that you get see all sorts of places where you never want to live, thus making you infinitely happier with your present domicile. And, by the way, I just got home from Maine.
Maine is a lovely place.
But of course it is. Very lovely. And my family is lovely. I adore my family very much, which is a good thing because I don’t understand them at all. With all the large, over-populated cities filled with cafés to vacation in, they chose a cabin in Maine. Yet, as I adore my family, verily will I follow them anywhere. Even to Maine.
You know that feeling you get when you can finally take off your shoes and socks, squish your feet in the sand and walk to the ocean? You don’t get that in Maine. Sea, yes. Seacoast, yes. Sand, no. Maine USED to have sand, lots of lovely soft pink sand that was deliciously satiny and the perfect resiliency for beach walking. But the Puritans decided it was too frivolous and they loaded it all on ships, dumped it in the heathen flesh-pots of the Bahamas and brought back loads of sharp, pointy rocks. Thus it is difficult, if not impossible, to get from the roadside to the actual ocean.
But those dedicated Puritans realized it was still possible to enjoy the ocean, so they sent out the fleet again to lasso icebergs and haul them home until the average ocean temperature was 45 degrees and all the minnows wore little knitted woolen scarves and fin protectors. Then the Puritans ascertained that it was STILL possible to at least get some pleasure from LOOKING at the ocean, so they directed their sails to tropical lands, used ultra-fine fishing nets to capture swarms of the most virulent, aggressive mosquitoes and set them free along the coast. Surveying the flinty beach, frozen water and hordes of bugs, they shook hands with each other, said ‘our task here is done,’ and went to work banning the sale of alcohol in the Boston Athenaeum.
But hey, beaches are not the only natural attraction which heightens peoples’ appreciation of the natural world. Maine has lots of other lovely lures. It has, for example, trees. Lots of trees. Many trees. I hate trees. I hate forests. Looking at a picture of a forest in an air-conditioned room which sipping a well-made martini is a pleasure I would deny no one but to WALK through a forest, to go INTO a forest…never.
Now let’s examine this logically. (I am a perfect slavish fiend to logic.) Maine is full of forests. Forests are full of large creatures who want to eat you. No one in the café of a large metropolitan museum wants to eat you. Perfectly clear, yes? And yet people continually ask me, “Darling, want to hike through a primeval forest?” as if “get mauled by mountain lion” was on my ‘to-do’ list. Or to put it another way – who is the scariest writer in America (besides the twit who writes the Wall Street Journal editorials)? Steven King. Where does he live? MAINE. Got it? Could it be any plainer?
When I think of “woods” I think of two life-altering experiences I had. One was the summer after I graduated high school and was on a (forced) walk up a mountain in Glacier National Park. We were walking along a path through high grass with lots of berry bushes as it was explained to me that this time and place (August amidst berry bushes) was exactly the right time and place to see bears. Up Close. Very Up Close. As the furry dears would be so enamored of lolling in the sun eating berries, they wouldn’t notice your approach until you were Right Up Next To Them and which point they would either amble away or eat you. What fun! Traumatize yours truly on her summer vacation! I was petrified. Petrified I tell you. So petrified that TO THIS DAY I am afraid of bears. I live in urban splendor and I still think, “ok, now if I hear a bear snuffling about in the hallway, I go out the window.”
Do you know what I think is bold and fearless? Ordering Vietnamese coffee in a café for which I don’t have a complete, written assurance that they know how to do proper Vietnamese coffee. When I feel quite the giddy daredevil, I go pick up my dry cleaning without first putting on makeup and perfume.
I mean this in the nicest possible way: we are not related.
The second forest experience was in Germany. I was spending Christmas at a cousin’s whose husband was in the military. They rented a small house on the edge of the Black Forest. Cue scary music. So on Christmas Day I decided to take a wee stroll in the snow on the path that went by their house and straight into the forest. For the first ten minutes I was congratulating myself on how very ‘outdoorsy’ I was, walking along this narrow, dark path in the snow which muffled everything, surrounded completely by tall, ancient trees. Then I realized that it would be very easy to believe in elves in such a quiet, mystical place. Then I realized it would be very easy to believe in goblins, trolls, haunts, and cougars in such a place. I was so desperately frightened, and for no particular reason, that I turned around and walked back. And have never willingly gone forest walking again. I’d rather drink sub-standard coffee than put myself in feeding range of a leopard.
But the woods are dark and deep.
Dark and deep indeed, and full of creatures who view you as an ambulatory snack. When I think “Appalachian Trail,” it’s as if someone sidled up to the wolves and whispered, “you know, if you just go over towards that path, there’s always something yummy for lunch.” Imagine you’re a hungry jackal, lounging on a tree branch and there, strolling along singing Pete Seeger songs and wearing half the L.L. Bean catalog comes a hearty soul – fingers for appetizers, assorted organs for main course, a leg to take away for a midnight snack. I think the whole-walk-in-the-woods things was STARTED by a carnivore consortium; all the little wolverines paying PR companies fees to get their habitat written up as prime camping locations in Down East and Outside. Do you know there are whole colonies of badgers (smart animals) who make a living by altering tree stumps to look like park ranger signs, directing clueless day-hikers into bobcat territory?
Now picture yourself in a nice, safe, happy desert. What can hurt you? The sun, if you were dumb enough not to wear a hat and sunscreen. But there’s no ticks, no poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, poison crab-grass, poison birch trees, no mosquitoes, no deer flies.
But darling, you never minded the critters in the Caribbean – rats, tarantulas, snakes, cockroaches, centipedes, scorpions hold no terrors for you.
Yes, but a) they are all Greta Gaborish and want to be left alone. You only see them when you move the rock they are hiding under; c) they are all smaller than me; and c) none of those animals see me as a major food group.
And if you aren’t in a forest in Maine, you are in a B&B in Maine.
You are going to complain about B&Bs? We can’t take you anywhere.
B&Bs are run by people with three characteristics: 1) They like to be awake in the morning, and by morning, I mean before noon. 2) They like to talk to people in the morning. 3) They are insane. Which leads to a fourth characteristic: they like to talk to you IN THE MORNING about the people who stayed at their B&B the day before, so that you know that TOMORROW morning, you are going to be the topic of conversation for the next round of guests. Thus it is VERY early in the morning, say 9 am, and you are expected to 1) speak and 2) say something that will be memorable for the next day’s guests. This is utterly beyond my facilities – pressure to perform at 9am is simply too much for a fragile blossom like me.
I don’t know how you got into this family.
In addition, this particular hypothetical B&B in Maine was vegetarian. Vegetarian as in, run by a woman who wanted to give you the genealogy of your granola, as in “this milk is from Mabel, our four-year old Guernsey. Now she had a collapsed udder last winter, but it’s a little better now, you have to tug a little harder but you rub it with a rosemary and pig-dropping compress and it heals right up, but that foot rot is still a problem. You’ll be able to tell from the taste that she got herself into the nettle patch last week, but what’s a little extra vitamin D in the milk? Now the butter is from Daisy, our five-year old Holstein…” I doze off briefly. “The pancakes are made from whole-wheat organic flour, hand strewn by Verurula Stevens who lives down the road six miles in the blue frame house which was made by her great-grandfather with beams he…” When I wake up again she is asking me, pointedly, would I like spinach, kale, cauliflower or beet in my omelet. Now if she had just put a spinach and feta omelet in front of me, I would have eaten it. I have eaten a spinach and feta omelet once of my own volition. But it was served to me by a non-earnest person who slapped it on my plate, said “eat something green, it won’t kill you,” then gave me a Bloody Mary. Not someone in homespun, standing at her kitchen door with a look in her eyes which said “I bet you put refined white sugar on your Cocoa Puffs and swill it down with non-union beer.”
Now that look in her eye, combined with the fact that it was 9 am and anything I said would be repeated the next days, made me answer the “What do you want in your omelet” question with: “M&Ms.”
In self defense I must remind you that I was totally unprepared for such a question – they never ask such things at the Ritz. There it is always “Darling, would you like a Bellini or a Mimosa, or shall I just bring three of each as usual?”
Fine. If you are going to be like that, you can just stay home next summer.