Em…. how many states make up New England again? I can’t believe I had to ask that question. I suppose I didn’t HAVE to ask it. Knowing the answer didn’t immeasurably change my life in any deep and meaningful way, but there’s a curious streak in me that has to know the facts, even if I rarely retain them. For a few minutes, or hours, or sometimes even a day, I feel as if I’m in the know.
Maine is definitely in New England. That much I knew. Driving across the Canadian border was quite the experience and this was even before the current low in US/Hungarian relations. The immigration guys weren’t interested in me – even though I’d handed them the wrong passport and there was no evidence of my ever having entered Canada on the one I showed them, but they didn’t seem at all concerned. They were more bothered with visa waivers. It could have been worse. Six dollars and 30 minutes, we were on our way.
I’d wanted to go on this trip to see New England in the fall, something that’s been on my bucket list forever. But I think I picked up an acute case of Stendhal syndrome in Cape Breton. There’s only so much beauty I can marvel at without lapsing into a sort of vague acceptance of it all. I swear I lost millimeters from my chin given the number of times my jaw dropped open in awe, but by the time we got to Maine, I was as full as I’d ever be with leaves.
We overnighted outside Bangor in a place called Brewer and the next day headed off to see Bar Harbor. Back in its day, it was the holiday choice of gentry and today, it’s still pretty, in a twee’ish sort of way. TripAdvisor says there are 102 things to do there… alongside the 102 000 other people visiting for the day, most of whom were either shopping or sitting. Soon after, though, we discovered one of Maine’s delights – the names it has chosen for its towns. Having failed spectacularly to find Belfast on PEI, we just had to detour to see what Maine had to offer in its version. A lovely spot, notable for its marked absence of pubs. But it did have its own brewing company and a very impressive two-storey bridge.
On the road again, we passed through towns with all sorts of associations. We’d been through Mexico before we realised it and the anticipated shot of tequila never came to pass. Massive wooden houses set off against a backdrop of mountain ridges and fall foliage did their best to blend in and not for the first time I found myself wondering what everyone does for a living in this part of the world. The few people we did see seemed to spend their time watching the world go by from the vantage point of their front porch. I think we might have been the first foreigners ever to stop at the River Valley diner – but it made my day to see a typically southern chicken-fried steak on the menu so I didn’t mind the looks. I think that if I lived in the state long enough, I’d become paranoid.
We made it as far as Kennebunkport (only 35 things to do!), too, not to pay tribute to George W., but to find some reference to Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote fame. Jessica lives in a fictitious town of Cabot Cove which, we thought, was in Kennebunkport. And it sort of is… [there are many theories as to where it might be] but no one in the town realises it. Not usually shy about cashing in on tenuous links to international TV, this was more than surprising. But perhaps, with George W. paraphernalia on sale, the down doesn’t have room for another hero. But it was the price of seafood that nearly brought on the heart-attack. Outrageous.
I struggled for a day or so to figure out why I wasn’t getting that nice, homely feeling I normally have in the US of A. I’d been to Maine before, briefly, to shop, and perhaps I’d been too concerned with testing the limits of my credit card to pay much attention to how I felt about the state, but I simply wasn’t doing it for me. And then I realised … there was very little red. No maple trees. Lots of yellows and greens but none of the richness I’d grown used to over the past week and that had somehow upset my kilter.
That said, our best hotel of the trip, the Senator Inn in Augusta [the state capitol, settled by the English in 1607], also had a great little restaurant and a fantastic bathroom. Getting excited about the size of a bathroom is a sure sign that I’ve been on the road too long. Changing hotel rooms every night can take its toll. And as I said, there’s only so much leaves a gal can swoon over.