One tree too many?

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.

IMG_5376 (800x600)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.

IMG_5340 (800x289)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.

IMG_5358 (800x600)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… IMG_5373 (800x597)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.

IMG_5374 (800x600)IMG_5395 (800x600)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 IMG_5403 (800x600) (2)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.

IMG_5481 (800x600)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.

IMG_5409 (800x600) (800x600)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.















Bonnetts, buggies, and shakers

When driving through parts of Kentucky, it’s not deer you need to keep an eye on but the Amish and their buggies. One of the Anabaptist denominations (which also includes Mennonites and Hutterites) the Amish are a breakaway group formed in 1693 by Jakob Amman, who figured that the Swiss Mennonites weren’t nearly as strict as they should be in their shunning of society.

IMG_4815 (800x600)The Amish began to emigrate to the USA in the eighteenth century and have since split into ‘new order’ and ‘old order’, the former accepting social change and technology, the latter holding fast to traditional ways. What stands them apart from Protestantism is the idea of adult baptism. Young people get to spend a year with ‘the English’ before deciding whether or not to join the Amish community through baptism. What stands them apart from American society at large is a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way.Their group norms is largely at odds with the individualism that is central to American culture.

They don’t have churches but  instead rotate between families who open their homes and barns to the local congregation (generally of a house-able size of 75).They don’t play musical instruments (considered worldly and vain) but they do sing but in unison, though never in harmony.

IMG_4809 (600x800)Everyday life is governed by the Ordnung, an unwritten code of behaviour which is largely interpreted and enforced by the Bishop. It covers everything from child bearing to what they wear, from how they work to how they spend their weekends.

Not ones to sit idly by when someone breaks the rules, the Amish are known for their practice of shunning: An Amish person may be shunned for a variety of offenses, ranging from major moral offenses to using improper technology. In accordance with the teachings of Jakob Amman, an Amish person in good standing may not buy from, sell to, eat with or sleep with a shunned person, even if the person is one’s spouse or close relative.

IMG_4806 (800x600)For the Old order, The use of electricity is a no-no. It’s seen as the main connection to the outside world, a world full of temptation. They do have washing-machines and other ‘white goods’ that are run on propane, though. And one way to spot an Amish house is to find a plain house, painted in white, with a barn, and no electricity lines.

The list of rules would appear endless. Men must grow beards when they marry but should never have a mustache. All clothes are made at home, with no zippers. The women never cut their hair and jewelry of any kind is forbidden. There’s little problem taking photos of how they live but they don’t like photos being taken of themselves, believing that photos are graven images and thus violate the second commandment. On this note, their dolls are traditionally faceless. Set apart from the rest of the country, the Amish don’t vote or serve in the military. They don’t have social security or other types of insurance. And any sports they play are for enjoyment – competitive spirits should be kept at bay. An interesting way of life.

IMG_4861 (800x600)But not nearly as interesting perhaps as the Shakers. We went to see the Shaker museum at South Union and I am still reeling a little at what those lads got up to… or didn’t, as the case may be.

Known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, referred to as the shakers because of their ecstatic dancing,  they were celibate: they did not marry or bear children so one has to wonder who they lasted for 200 years and are still going today (one small community left in Maine). In something reminiscent of Jesus calling on his disciples to leave all their worldly goods and follow him, the Shakers left it all behind – family, property, and money –  to join ‘holy families‘  where men and women lived as brother and sister, where all property was held in common, and where each participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming the earth into heaven.

IMG_4863 (800x600)Founded by an illiterate English factory worker named Ann Lee, Mother Lee send eight pilgrims to America in 1774 to spread her gospel in the New World.  Her followers believed her to be the second coming of Christ. In 1787, coinciding with the signing of the American Constitution, Shaker women were officially bestowed with equal rights. Before the emancipation of the South, the Shakers freed their slaves and bought others out.  Their inventions are still in use today: the clothespin and the circular saw…. and they were, apparently, the first to put seeds into printed paper packets to sell! Way ahead of their time,the New Hampshire Shakers had rigged up electricity in their village while the state capital building was still burning gas.

Amazing what you learn when you visit Kentucky.