Rustic Romance

The real Maine has been a magnet for tourists for almost as long as it has been a state, and this, paradoxically, may be why it has retained a feeling of authenticity that other parts of northern New England have lost.

The leisure industry did not displace other forms of economic activity so much as develop alongside them, and the notorious coolness of the local inhabitants to interlopers is thus an ancient tradition. It is also part of the appeal. To feel awkward and slightly unwelcome when you arrive at the lobster pound in your Honda Accord with out-of-state plates is a very comforting form of discomfort. Your chilly reception means the place is not yet spoiled, and neither are you.

The state’s license plates used to say ”Vacationland,” and I’ve always half-suspected that it was out-of-staters who agitated most vocally for its removal. We come here in search of an illusion, and we don’t want every local vehicle rubbing our face in it.

We want both to blend in and to be resisted, to pass for natives and to be snubbed as strangers. Last year, at the end of our stay, my wife bought me a lobster-colored T-shirt (made in El Salvador) that says, ”Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” Which, of course, may just be an ironic, Yankee way of saying ”The Way Life Isn’t.”