Monhegan tourist, no kidding
..a travel journal, harmless rant, confession and thank-you note in three parts.
(for Barbara H.)
There’s little more irritating than some half-baked journalist showing up out of nowhere, spending an inconsequential snippet of time exposing him- or herself to your hometown (or industry, or cause, or art,) and then proceeding with unmitigated audacity to write with authority about that place as if he or she actually knew anything.
I always liked that “unmitigated audacity” bit. That was from Frank Zappa.
Anyway, there is my little disclaimer. I admit openly that I have no idea whatsoever what life is really like on Monhegan Island. For two days in early June, however, I had the privilege of visiting the island (with no particular intention of writing about the trip). My purposes were two—to catch up with the schoolteacher, and to visit, along with my daughter, a friend of hers who is from Monhegan. Officially, I was there to do a bit of research, but before long, I grew suspect of my own motives.
I had a wonderful time.
There’s no point in boring you with the usual cliché descriptions of my coastal travels, but let’s not fall into the cliché of calling everything a cliche, either…some things are perhaps repeated too often but no harm is meant, it is only that so many of us love the same images, respond emotionally to the same views, something deep down sings the same song. So of course, the rockbound coast, the scenic lighthouse at Marshall’s Point which our vessel passes on the way out of Port Clyde, the feeling of leaving the “real world” for a “simpler place.” OK, the coastline and the little islands, in the early morning, as seen from the water side is the stuff of poetry for better or worse and the lighthouse says “Paint me! Draw me! Photograph me!” but that last bit is just a trimmed-up rusticator’s translation of “Hey, it’s my day off. If the phone rings, YOU get it.”
The Laura B. smelled like deck oil and fresh paint. I caught myself breathing in deeply and smiling. Was I imagining this detail, perhaps just the pleasant wooden-boat fantasy of a vacationer? Hmm. It looks like I’d better watch out. The morning was comfortable and the boat ride was easy. Some of us are not used to such as that. The crew of the Laura B. is well-versed in the wrangling of landlubbers, the very old, very young, and seriously overburdened, as well as the improperly shod and the just plain high-maintenance. They recited their safety talk and kept us few passengers in line. It wasn’t hard. Clearly, they were practiced and ready for a lot more chaos than we would provide. Aboard the vessel, aside from a small handful of day-trippers (I knew they were when I saw them get back on the boat later the same day, ha ha) were an eighth-grader heading back home to Monhegan after attending a baseball game (typical Monhegan resident using “public transportation”) and a woman with a handful of artist’s paintbrushes sticking out of her knapsack (typical Monhegan visitor).
I had my camera and tape recorder, as I was ostensibly traveling to Monhegan for "work,” but this was light duty at best and I realized, as we got closer to the island, that I just might be a bit of a tourist. Boy, what an understatement that would prove to be.
We make light of tourism, those of us, the many thousands all over Maine, who make all or part of our living reminding ourselves to be patient with those who don’t know bow from stern, or who inflict their Great Lakes “a” as in Labrador on poor brother Lobster and Scallop, who believe “antique” is a verb or who issue loud disparagements concerning the equipment yet they cannot ski at all. We on Matinicus have been known to shudder just a bit when reminded of the masses that cross the waters to visit Monhegan. “Millions of them,” we hear. “People getting off the boat in white high heels. Jamie Wyeth groupies. Lunatics. Fist fights break out over the last copy of the New York Times. It’s unbelievable.”
I haven’t got much patience with the goo and treacle of “tourist writing,” and nobody likes finding out that the stranger they chatted with in the road was a freelancer (ie. spy) who later writes them up, warts and all, assuming their local subject will never find out, and I couldn’t straight-faced call a fellow a “hardy soul” without developing a noticeable tic. Those who can label an island man “rough-hewn and salty” while an old derelict wharf as seen through fog is “steadfast and watchful” have possibly mis-ordered their adjectives. Still, standing in the Black Duck coffee shop on Monhegan Island, solving all the world’s problems with a handful of other coffee customers, having realized that I am a tourist, that I am relishing my experience as a tourist, and that just because I am a tourist does not mean I have either the right to explain Monhegan to the world or a reason to be self-conscious, I am brought up short. For years I have made fun of those who romanticize Matinicus, reminding my readers how little they know, debunking some of the cherished mythology, more or less stomping the rose-colored glasses. The shoe, I suppose, is on the other foot (now THERE’s a cliché).
No wise-cracking from me…I can’t wait to go back.
Next time: Monhegan trip part 2…I think I won the real contest
Eva Murray of Matinicus spends the summer mornings frying doughnuts for tourists, as well as for neighbors, delivery drivers and Rossi the dog.