Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Maine is not a pile of books by Stephen King.

I have a very distinct memory of sitting on the Mouse House porch-couch a few summers ago, clutching an "Eyewitness Vietnam" guide and explaining how most of the fun of travel - for me - is the relaxing armchair travel. The imagining was the thing.

I meant it, but I also realized that it sounded sad. Obviously, all the books on the history of the Eiffel Tower cannot measure ten minutes of standing in the crowds and summer heat, with its arches like a steel halo over your head. I can't deny this. But I also know that in travel, something always surprises you. One of my strongest memories of Paris in July is the stench of dog poop. Caught off guard (that wasn't in the guidebooks) I wasn't prepared to shrug it off. It was also an earned memory, not borrowed from a book.
My love of arm chair travel means I have several piles of travel writing and guidebook editions to places I've never been. Fifteen dollars, in my mind, is a cheap placebo when you can't finance a summer in Sweden.

In two weeks I'll be in Maine for the first time. My only literary GPS markers for Maine are Bill Bryson and Stephen King, which is unsettling. I've lived in New England and know that the trees grow thick and right up to the edge of the lake. I know Anne of Green Gables lived a few hundred miles northeast. I'm pleased with the holistic route that comes from traveling from Portland to Portland, on opposite coasts. I'll continue to dig into the books and blogs and I am excited about what I'll find.

But I'm sure nothing will match that moment when I see a lobster struggling in a cage in the water, or hear that elusive Maine accent for the first time, or, or, or...that's the part that I have to discover for myself by going, by getting off my proverbial porch-couch, that my books can't experience for me. And if I run into Stephen King when I'm out berry picking, well, I'll be prepared for that too.

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