Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend In New England

For some, traveling south of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time is an experience as exotic as a trip to Cairo or Tibet, but without the jet lag. Armed with ingrained images from the movies Deliverance and Mississippi Burning, they tentatively leave the familiarity of their metropolitan airports and drive into our kudzu covered environs wondering, “Will I be able to converse in Hillbilly? Will a toothless banjo playing inbred drop from a tree onto the hood of my Prius?” and most importantly, “Will I have to squeal like a pig?” Just the mere mention of our state’s melodic name elicits fear in some, admiration in others. We are the “Hillary Clinton” of the Nation. You either love us or you hate us.

I have to admit that I was ethnocentric enough to believe that we were the only region blessed with redneck culture. I just didn’t think that Northern states had them. I thought they just sprouted here in the fertile fundamentalist soil of the South where guns, God and good ole’ boys reign supreme. But I was wrong. Before my first trip to New England I imagined a cultivated society where pipe-smoking Harvard grads read Yeats aloud to girls named Muffie while sailing their million dollar yachts. So when a childhood friend of my husband who was marrying a girl from up East invited us to the wedding, I jumped at the chance to see this Beaver Cleaver Land up close. It was to be held in New Hampshire on an island on the very lake where the movie “On Golden Pond” was filmed. Envisioning a Kennedy-esque weekend of boating and Bellinis, I excitedly packed my little black dress, strappy heels, Jackie O’ shades, and jetted off to what promised to be my first posh New England experience.

The drive from Boston into New Hampshire started to look a little too familiar. The terrain of trees, rolling hills and more trees, made me realize that this was not going to be a country mouse visits city mouse kind of trip. As civilization disappeared in the rear view mirror I adjusted my Jackie O’s and wished I’d packed my hiking boots. When we finally reached the address of the Bed and Breakfast that had been reserved for our weekend stay by our gracious northern hosts, we see a non-descript house the size of our own, with more than twenty Harleys shimmering in a sea of Budweiser cans. As we pull the car around to the back yard parking lot I look out my window to see four pig hooves sticking up out of an old claw foot bathtub as straight as table legs next to a guy in a Do-Rag cranking a chain saw. I turned to my husband and said, “I can get this at home, we are out of here!” After spinning gravel back down the drive and into the next town we did finally find a charming white clap board inn with red geraniums spilling from window boxes overlooking a lake with, yes, yachts.

I left for home satisfied that you can’t judge a region by its media image and that no matter where you travel you realize we are more alike than we are different. I know that when our northern neighbors do reach their tourist destinations, be it Oxford, Athens or Savannah, they do seem quite relieved to realize that: yes, we do speak the same language although its slower with more syllables, yes, we do have toothless banjo players but we send them on to Nashville where they get veneers and tour with Allison Krauss, and yes, we do have some pig squealing but it usually results in some of the best bar-b-que this side of New Hampshire.