A Hands-on Primer for Hosting Guests in Maine
'Tis the season again — that wonderful time of year when we were meaning to catch up with all the friends around town whom, what with one thing and another, we hardly glimpsed all winter. (I use "winter" here in the traditional sense of Labor Day to Memorial Day.) Only now that the season is upon us, we have no time to see our friends, nor even our spouses, because we're expecting visitors from away.
This is cause for celebration, of course. It's nice to live in a place that old high-school friends and distant relatives and professional colleagues overseas who happen to be passing through on their way to Atlanta are eager to visit for a week or two. It reaffirms our decision to move here in the first place, despite being warned by our friends and relations and colleagues that we were crazy. Entertaining these fine people along with their mastodon-sized wolfhound and their daughter's vegan friend from school affords us a golden opportunity to say, "We told you so." Which of course, being Mainers, thus naturally well-mannered and tolerant, we would never do.
In any case, they're coming — they're probably hunting for their luggage while cracking jokes about the name of the Portland International Jetport right now — so it's best to be ready. Toward which end, a few suggestions:
Rusticate. The point of visiting Maine — see Thoreau for details here — is roughing it. Don't throw the children out of their bedrooms, don't break out the very best linen, don't repaint the kitchen in this year's colors. I mean, it's okay to clean up a bit. Turn over the sofa cushions to hide that wine stain. But don't make a fuss. Mainers don't make fusses. It's part of our rustic charm.
Our very first guest from away — deplaning within weeks of our settling into a tiny cottage with a newborn daughter — was a sophisticated New York editor, a worldly woman who arrived unsure what language was actually spoken here, as she found the local dialect incomprehensible. We put her in the loft with a futon and a chamber pot. A chamber pot. (Excuse me, I just love typing that.) We figured a trip to the outhouse in pitch darkness might be a bit too much. The next day we took her shopping for used books. She had the time of her life and comes back every year, sometimes more than once.
Don't get creative. Sure, you know lots of cool little places that are off the beaten path. Don't take your guests there. Have some compassion for these people. In a little while they'll be back home gushing to their friends about what a wonderful time they had in Maine. Their friends will all say, "Oh, how lovely! Did you see Acadia? Did you see Bar Harbor? Did you see...?" So anyway, take them to places they've heard of. And tell them how much nicer it is in the off-season.
Expect bad weather. Being a Mainer you probably already do, but your guests probably do not. Their thinking runs along the lines of: July = summer = endless sunshine. There's no point trying to disabuse them of this; nature will take care of that for you. The obvious tactical response will be to rent videos, except that your guests have seen every movie ever made, and anyway they can watch videos back home. My advice: lay in a few board games. Traditional favorites like Scrabble and Clue will do fine — nobody plays board games anymore, so everything old will be new again — but for variety you might toss in something new and different, like Settlers of Catan. Read the rules first and bang up the cardboard tiles a bit. Spending a day stuck indoors playing board games is always so much more fun than you think it will be. Your visitors will marvel at how wholesome your life has become these days, no matter how many gin-and-tonics you put away.
Don't go all cosmopolitan. Yeah, you lived in the city once, you know how it's done. But leaving the New York Review of Books lying casually on the coffee table will accomplish nothing. (It doesn't matter if you are a subscriber.) Likewise taking your guests to the new Italian restaurant that just opened up in the town next door, or making a dutiful trip to the Alex Katz show at the Farnsworth. If you happen to be cruising through Rockland, point out the big EAT sign by Robert Indiana making a spectacle of itself on the roof, and give it a pass. Dine out, if you must, at some unpretentious local spot, ideally with a view of the water, where the waiter will greet you by name.
Finally there is the delicate matter of clearing guests out of the house in time to get ready for the next batch. J.P. Donleavy offers sensible tips in this regard in his matchlessly wicked The Unexpurgated Code, including a helpful chart matching length-of-stay with domestic projects that visitors may lend a hand with. After two days, it's "chopping wood"; three brings us to "land clearing"; at five we hit "roofing work" and six means "estate road repairs."
"Outright violence," Donleavy notes, "although being the most immediately effective, should only, as a matter of courtesy, be resorted to last."