Prejudice Against Places
It’s time we get into the literary side of cruising. We’ve always read all kinds of things, and especially books about sailing and the sea. The tag line of this blog is a literary reference. Before we could move aboard we had to sell a library that held a copy of every sailing book known to man. And this winter, in preparation for taking off on our own cruising adventure, we read a couple of the newer books about the cruising life: Harts at Sea, by Barbara Hart, and A Sail of Two Idiots by Renee Petrillo. We identified mightily with the title of the latter.
Actually, Tom was the only one to read both of them through, I got disgusted with both and stopped. My problem was the notion that both authors presented of getting to a new place and “not liking it.” I’ve also read some of Pat’s posts on Bumfuzzle and been inspired by his riveting stories, humor and willingness to enjoy pretty much whatever comes at him. (Except for that recent really bad trip.) But even he has a post that says that they didn’t “like” one place they visited.
The sentiment in each case seemed not to be about some negative element of the place, but just not caring for it in general. I began to think some of these modern cruisers were a little pissy about the way other people live.
We’ve both done enough traveling to know that there are sides to any destination. I’m not looking to hear only that life is all sunflowers and lemon drops every place these people go. But there are things to like and things to dislike about any town. Because they’re all just towns, right? It’s all just people living together and making what they can out of a place. Oh, and yeah, most place these days are also covered in that cookie-cutter corporate skin of chain stores and restos, or a veneer of tourist kitsch, and you have to dig beneath that to get to know a place. It’s not like paradise really exists anymore. If it ever did. Just like the towns we grew up in, the cities we lived in, the places we’ve visited, we know that every place we sail to will have many faces/aspects/elements and challenges. We guard against “Meh.”
So when each of these authors reported going to a tropical island and not liking it, I called them bad names. They weren’t real cruisers, they were tourists, ugly Americans, prima donnas who needed their accustomed state-side pacifiers of Big Macs, malls, multiplexes and 24/7 WiFi in order to feel comfortable.
Then We Arrived in Biddeford Pool
It’s true, some places do have a character that hits you wrong at first. Sometimes it’s squalor, other times it’s exclusivity. Though there was nothing overtly special about the place, Biddeford Pool seemed as if it didn’t want visitors to come ashore.
After anchoring just outside the mooring field in a nice enough spot surrounded by islands, we dinghied into the pool proper and found there was no place to land. This in itself is not unusual, there isn’t always a public landing in every town.
We putted around the pool a bit looking for options, then pulled up beside the yacht club – an attractive, shingled building on a point of land just inside the entrance to the pool – and asked a man on the dock if he could direct us to a public dock or landing. He said no dock, but there was a public beach. His directions to that were vague, so we asked if it would be alright to tie up to the club’s float while we walked up to the grocery store. He got permission from the club manager for us, which was very nice of them both. We tied up and headed up the hill.
There wasn’t much to this side of town. It was residential, with the main industry apparently the exchange of prime real estate. The one store also housed a deli restaurant – something we’ve found to be common in small-town Maine grocery stores. There was a grassy area out back, with picnic tables and a view of Sunshine at anchor, which a number of people were enjoying. (Okay, there were a couple of other boats to look at too.)
The store’s prices were unbelievable. In fact, produce prices weren’t even posted. This may be okay with local homeowners who can afford gold-plated tomatoes, but it is not a good sign for cruisers on a budget. We have to know what everything will cost us, down to the penny. I had to take two kinds of potatoes – russets and reds – to the cash register and ask what each cost. The clerk had no idea of the price either. He actually weighed them and rang them up in order to find out. Though we had several more items on our list, all I bought was two of the cheaper potatoes (the russets) and we beat a hasty retreat.
On the way out the channel we found the public beach. It was hidden in plain sight, right beside the yacht club. On the way in we’d been too focused on getting a glimpse of the intriguing interior of the pool and missed this gravelly lot entirely. Though there was no place to tie up, we could have easily pulled the dinghy up on the sand for the few minutes we were in town.
We moved on to the island exploration segment of our visit. There’s a small island just offshore with an intriguing tower. Before dinner we dinghied over and did our circumnavagatory hike. The tower though proved difficult to get to when wearing only bathing suits and flip flops. The brush is rather dense and there are thorned plants that, were I in the west, I’d call Devil’s Club. What they’re called here in New England I’m not sure, but they effectively kept us from getting past the beach and into the center of this uninhabited island.
While I’m not going to say we disliked Biddeford Pool, and I’m not insinuating that anyone there was prickly, it seemed not our kind of town. (Of course we’d just been spoiled by Cape Porpoise, so …) But my point here is that there’s a good side to every place. For us, BP turned out to be a good place to drop the anchor for the night, cook potatoes and be together on our boat.
Are We Too Concerned that Places be Likeable?
I found a lesson on this liking/not liking for places in a quote from Italo Calvino. It appeared in an article about characters in literature in the New York Times Are We Too Concerned that Characters be Likeable? Which I learned of via a favorite writing site, The Passive Voice.
[quote]“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”[/quote]
And so I have to re-frame this entire discussion. What Calvino describes is what Tom and I usually do when traveling – blow right by the corporate icing that covers the waterfront and head into the neighborhood in search of the real life of the place. For some reason we failed to do that in Biddeford Pool.
Biddeford Pool is a lovely spot, a lagoon like bowl ringed with beautiful homes, marsh and woodland. And the pool itself is set within a ring of beach-rimmed islands. The people I met there were friendly enough. The houses I walked past were charming, vintage beach cottages. There is no McDonald’s! Biddeford Pool endures, and there’s a lot to like about Biddeford Pool.
Of course this little slap up side my head means I now have to go back and read the books and website I mentioned, cut the authors a bit of slack and find out what they were really talking about in their critiques.
Caught That Pot: Another First for the Crew of Sunshine
As we were exiting the harbor next morning Tom said “Stop, let’s put up the sails.”
I was at the helm and I didn’t like the idea of stopping in the middle of the narrow channel. I should have known better. But he’s usually the captain, so I did what he told me and put her in neutral.
Bad move. There were rocky islands to either side, we were heading into the wind and thus being blown backward ever so slightly. As usual, lobster pots also littered the channel. As soon as I stopped we drifted over a pot. I swung the wheel in an effort to avoid looping the line over the rudder, but no use. We caught it.
Luckily Tom loves to dive into the water at a moment’s notice. He jumped in and freed us and as soon as he was back aboard I started the engine again and got us the heck out of there, grousing the whole time about my habit of deferring to him even when I know I shouldn’t.
But all was well, and as soon as we cleared the rocks I ordered him to raise the sails and we headed for Portland.
We were hoping that this Portland was weird too, and were prepared to do out part to keep it that way.
But that’s another story.