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[dropcap letter=”W”]hen you write about place the way that we do, month to month, year to year, you can’t help having some big, existential questions about what makes this place what it is. More specifically, how do those of us who live here define Maine? How does that compare to what other folks say about us? Who is the trusted arbiter of such determinations?
I can’t help paying attention to what everyone else says about us. Just for the record, when you type “Maine” into a Google search, it autofills “oil prices,” “state lottery,” and “coon cat.” But if I were to venture an old-fashioned educated guess, it is probably safe to say that many, many people — both here and from away — most often associate Maine with lobster and the lobster roll.
As I read managing editor Brian Kevin’s oral history of the lobster roll, it occurred to me that the historical rise of this simple sandwich mirrors the current upswing of Maine’s cultural stock across the country. Maine, in case you haven’t noticed, is having a moment — just ask food and travel magazine editors everywhere. Or maybe it’s more than a moment, because it has lasted quite a long time already. Whether it’s the lobster roll or the Bean Boot, Patrick Dempsey’s long run on Grey’s Anatomy, or Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, the Maine je ne sais quoi is still very hot.
I have a lot of theories on why that’s true. In an increasingly connected, ever-more-frenetic world, the Maine ideal promises a return to simpler times. In reality, Mainers, many working multiple jobs just to live in the place we love, would call that a fantasy — until that picture-perfect summer weekend when you stumble upon a swimming hole and eat a delicious lobster roll washed down with freshly squeezed lemonade. Voila, the myth lives on!
I don’t see this Maine moment fading anytime soon, thankfully, because it’s not just fluff. There’s truth to it. But, alas, national media attention and fads are indeed fickle. Consider that 100 years ago, the lobster roll didn’t exist. In another 100 years, who knows whether new generations of Mainers will even have lobsters to harvest. Maine’s mesmerizing effect on the country will surely ebb and flow. That’s ok with us — we don’t need fashion catalogs to be shot here every year (thanks, J.Crew). And just as any good therapist will tell you, focusing solely on what other people think and say isn’t a road to self-confidence. But every once in a while it is helpful to hear what others think about Maine’s broader roll. Pun intended. — Kathleen Fleury[/item]
One hundred and fifty years ago, a group of sensible Down East farmers and their families packed their houses and sailed to the Holy Land to await the Second Coming. Within a year, it had all gone wrong. — By Virginia M. Wright