Thursday, September 29, 2011

A place to call my own

Ok, let's get one thing out of the way real quick: I have pictures but I brought the wrong cord so I can't upload them yet. I will have the pictures up by late tomorrow. In the meantime I will entertain you with another post.

I had a meeting at UMM at 12 so I decided to get up early and spend the first part of the day walking the town. I got up around seven and went to the restaurant next to the hotel where I had really good blueberry pancakes while listening to a very ignorant conversation in the booth next to mine about "gangs of blacks". It was weird cause the the whole thing got started when the woman in the booth was explaining the the man she was eating with that some person who had done something either criminal or maybe just annoying to her was not black at all, but some white guy. Somehow the conversation degenerated into a diatribe about folks of African descent gathering together for nefarious purposes. This didn't exactly endear me to the towns people but two things to keep in mind; 1) These folks may not have been from Machias at all and were just guests in the hotel like me and 2) Many Machians, especially natives, probably haven't had many experiences with blacks outside of episodes of Law and Order so the idea of gangs of them roaming the streets in cities causing trouble may be something of a natural progression. I tried to take it as an isolated incident and shrugged it off, instead concentrating on the walk I was about to take.

The Downeast Sunrise Trail, a multi-use trail (read: ATVs and snowmobiles as well as hikers and bikers) that runs all along the coast of Maine had a trailhead right across the street from my hotel, so I skipped across the highway and headed towards the city. The trail ran right along the backyards of the people living on the outskirts of Machias, and even, sometimes, exited right into them. There are no fences in Machias so after walking for a time I picked a yard I felt would lead me right into the heart of town and moved on to my next point of business; finding a place to live.

The houses there vary in size and age. You could be living in an early 19th century farmhouse and your neighbor can be in 2008 modular crap house, but most of the buildings fit into the old category. A lot of them are big too, and most of them are in pretty good shape. The surprising thing was how many were for sale. Every other house seemed to be on the market. The city itself didn't seem to be in any dire straights, I was seeing help wanted signs on businesses and there were a lot of new businesses in town. Also, as I said, the houses were in good shape. Driving back today, in the daylight, I could see that there were a lot of abandoned houses that were rotting away on the side of the road. Good houses too, or at least, they used to be. These houses, though some were empty, were still well taken care of, probably a difficult job due to the weather in Maine.

Despite all the houses for sale I wasn't finding anything for rent so I decided to go find some shops where there might be some postings. I knew there was a natural foods store in the center of town with an apartment for rent above it. I had sent them an email but in their ad they had only mentioned small pets and I thought maybe my dog, Hastur, was too big for them and that's why I hadn't heard back. But, I thought, it might be a place where roommates and apartments are posted, so I headed towards it. When I got there I found the shop didn't open for another 25 minutes give or take, so I decided to head towards the school. I knew from earlier research there was a bookstore nearby, another place where rooms could be advertised, and the school too might be a good place, so I headed in what I believed was the direction of the school. Instead, it turned out, I was going the exact opposite way, and ended up at some kind of blueberry processing plant.

By the way, I have a bone to pick with Maine. Everything there has some kind of blueberry theme, even the water tastes vaguely like blueberries, but I never once saw a wild blueberry. I saw about a thousand apple trees, and some really bright red berries about the size and shape of a marble which I was tempted to try in the absence of blueberries, but decided I wasn't nearly stupid enough to go through with that plan (a quick googling of "red berries maine" leads me to believe they were chokeberries).

Anyway, realizing that I was walking my way out of civilization I went back and decided to hit the health food store. I'm glad I did because it turns out the woman who runs the health food store also owned the building and was the one renting the space. Turns out she was more then happy to have Hastur there, and was a dog lover herself. The building itself is a three story building, with one of the stories being a sort of basement (it opens out the back). The building foundation is old, dating back to the 18th century, but the building itself was rebuilt in the 20s after a fire. It is right above the river in the center of town, one of the apartments has a view right across the river, the one I liked looked into the main square of the town. So, that's where I'll be living, above a health food store, antique store, and television station, with a 19th century laundromat on the other side of the building and an 18th century tavern/museum two doors down.

So, after talking to the woman at the grocery and taking a tour of the apartments I figured it was time to get to the school, except that I checked at it wasn't even eleven. I could either go back to the hotel, which wasn't a horrible idea cause the town is very hilly and I was carrying a heavy back, plus I wanted to fill out the application for my apartment. But I also wanted to actually find my way to the school, which I can also see from my building.

So I went off, this time in the right direction, and quickly found the bookstore. It was in a bright purple house tucked away behind a little gift shop that also sold live lobster. This place (the bookstore) was my strongest introduction to small town Maine. The house advertised "Books, Antiques, Cafe" but I was unsure what to expect because the place was quite small. I walked up to the door which carried a sign saying "Come on in:)" and found myself entering what would have just been somebody's kitchen if it wasn't for two hastily erected counters turning it into a makeshift cafe. A small sign on the front counter read "Be back soon, please browse".

"Ok," I thought, "She's around back somewhere, or upstairs or something." (I had a hunch the proprietor was a woman). So, as the sign suggested, I browsed. The place was insane. Like I said, it was a house, but someone had tried to turn it into a kind of cozy cafe. There were old seats and tables strewn about corners trying to find room between the stacks of books that sat everywhere. It was hard to decide exactly what the plan of this place was. I looked around for a bit, wanting to take pictures but not wanting to do so without permission, when the owner drove up. She hadn't been just outside or in another part of the house, she had completely left the premises.

After startling her in the kitchen we spoke for a bit. She was as eccentric as I would have expected and told me all kinds of things as she led me through her house. She took me upstairs where there was further clutter, each room full to the brim with books and furniture, and whose floorboards may have predated Maine's becoming a state, and then back downstairs for more conversations about winter and books and what it means to live in Maine. I got my pictures.

I had more time still so I headed over to the large grocery store, Hannafords, a New England chain, and popped in to see what they had to offer. My first stop was the produce section where I was relieved of my greatest fear; they had chiles, they had habeneros. I then toured the rest of the store, it was pretty common fair actually, though there was an unsettling Red Sox theme to many of the items. They even had Cotswold cheese. So between Hannaford's, the health food store under my feet, and the hardware store which apparently carries the best spices in town (!?) I should be able to eat pretty much like I've been accustomed too. Only difference is that I'll have to make it myself.

This will be a split post. Tomorrow I will finish with visiting the school and the drive back in the daytime, as well as uploading my pictures of Machias.


  1. As long as you can get spices and chilies, you should be all right. What did she say about winters in Maine???

  2. In Maine dogs are considered an alarm system. And when we first moved here the census listed under 700 people of color living here in the whole state. That picked up with refugee resettlement form Somali and the Sudan, and we also have a large Kampuchea community. IN PORTLAND AND LEWISTON. Wild Blueberries are July and August. Apples are now. We have very definite growing periods. And it will be the NOT GROWING anything period in about a week. That will last until April down here in SO. Maine and June up there.

    Well good luck with the drive and I do hope you will take the offer of a place to crash on the way up. Your Mom and I are good friends online but I feel like we were separated at birth sometimes.

  3. The bright berries if on a tree and the size of a marble were possibly crab apples. Hannafords is actually a huge chain of stores with differing names in different areas. In Florida it is known as Sweet Bay They can order anything on the list from any store group. They may not know that.

    Machias is rural, but USM would have been more expensive living I think.