It seems like a blur when I first think back on it. People seemed to come and go so fast, but when I dig some and pin it down to more specifics so I can start to wrap my brain around the couch surfing season. Way back in late May I had my very first guests from Buenos Aires—a young couple traveling the States in a used van they bought in Boston. This is huge because it is extremely hard for South Americans to get visas into this country let alone be able to take six months to travel.
When they first walked into my home they said it was like a dream come true. Coming from the hustle of a city of fourteen million where the locals no longer feel safe, they could not believe I did not lock my doors. Security and personal safety does not occupy my brain, but it dominates theirs. But beyond that they wish to one day live off the grid as well. So there they sat at my table having come all that way from the tip of South America to the end of North America. They are classic Argentinians, bringing their mate with them and hugging to their culture as they explored mine—he with that strong mix of Italian and her with a little more French and German in her blood, looking very exotic here where she would just be normal back in Argentina.
I took them down to Popham Beach and that blew their socks off. All that beach and rolling surf and a wispy blue sky ground those weary city bones of theirs. So for three days I got to drink mate and wander with their thoughts on differences in culture and lifestyle. Their van was having problems so I took them down to Jimmas. They had the problem looked at back in Rhode Island, and the mechanic there wanted 240 dollars to replace the fan the belt. Jimma did it for fifty. Ah, how that local connection can help the traveler. They left here heading for Florida and after that, California.
Then another first happened. I had guests from the continent of Asia, Shadi from Iran traveling with her friend, Herve, from Brittany, France. She was here studying archeology at NYU. They had met while he was couch surfing in Iran. They both told me Iran has many, many hosts for couch surfers. They love and respect travelers because Iran has historically been a big trade route for Asia. Traders not only brought novelty stuff but also had wonderful stories to tell about the world outside of their own. Herve was going on about how incredible it was to travel there. So more conversations on culture and lifestyle—many differences on that one. The food, what and how it is prepared, is it processed or natural. The manner of dress, do you imbibe alcohol, coffee or tea? How families spend their Sundays and holidays. The dominance of religion in government and home. Enriching conversations. Rarely do we talk about who we are and what our culture is here. Let me ask you this right now—what is your culture? Got you. I dropped them off on the ramp to Route One in Bath so they could hitchhike to Boston. Shadi was planning on hitching to Alaska in September. Saying she hitchhikes all the time in Iran. Rarely do they drive there.
Then there was the quick lightning strike of three Canadians from Alberta. They came in fast and furious from having spent five days playing tourist in New York city while couch surfing in Hoboken. They would start out the day in the same cafe on the Jersey side trying to get as many people as possible to say “coffee”. They were a hoot. Animated in a Canadian way like Saturday Night Live used to animate Russians. Just too much. Kaylee, the ring leader of the group, asked more questions than a five-year-old. Very inquisitive and aware, she wanted to know everything. After the first hour of non-stop questions, she asked me, “What was the scariest thing you ever did?” I replied, “When I lost my virginity.” Well, that slowed her down for about a moment. I took them down to Percy’s for breakfast and Kaylee got a hold of one of the local lobstermen and questioned the shit out of him. Gave me a break. They left for Canada from there and I went home and enjoyed the silence.
There were more, some from England others from here in the states. Oceana from Australia showed up in a rented car with Casandra from NYC who had visited me two years ago. The first repeat surfer. They had met on the site bulletin board. Oceana had made plans to visit me months in advance. When she discussed her plans with Casandra to visit me in Maine, Casandra said, “Oh, I know that guy.” I have to say they moved through my house with grace and style, cooking vegan meals and cleaning up and showering without a hitch. Oceana had grown up in the outback of Australia with just candlelight in her bedroom, a composting toilet, bathing in rain water. No problema here. They got along famously. I have to say I enjoyed just sitting back and hearing their conversations. Oceana openly expressing her fears that when she turns fifty her husband may run off with a young twenty-year-old dish. Casandra replied, “Just go to Cuba. The men will love you. Age does not matter there.” She travels all over the world going to salsa gatherings and Cuba was one of them. The men loved her. I laughed so hard on that one, so much for being the silent observer.
The season ended with an Italian couple from Rome—Marfisa and her husband. They walked right in, put down their one shared suitcase and pulled out a very nice bottle of red wine from Italy that they had bought to share with me. Talk about bringing their culture. They loved sitting by the fire and being surrounded by a house made of wood and no concrete. Each separately asking, “But you do have another home?” A very enriching visit. So much passion in conversation. Marfisa raised her voice and brought her fingers together and waved them up and down when she was feeling strongly about something. Italy right here on Billygoat ridge.
This was the point at which I was going to go on about ethnic persona. You know, put it in a box kind of talk. But something happened to me the other day that changed my thinking. I was over at the Phippsburg Library having one of those days when I was struggling for a foothold. I was out at the front desk and down the stairs from the children’s room came a whole tribe of kids. A girl of about four was holding her brother’s hand. When she got a hold of my eye she gave me a smile from the depths of her soul that gave me a much needed footing and is still lingering strongly in my mind’s eye. She gave me that smile with everything she had for a long time. I took in as much of it as I could and walked out of that library in a much better place. So what I have to say is not about cultural persona but about giving the world your smile from the very bottom of your soul be you American, Italian, Iranian, Australian. Be a tourist in your own back yard. Explore every day like there are still many more mysteries to be uncovered. Love Dave.