A wise friend recently suggested an exercise to overcome my heartsickness since leaving Cartagena. She prompted me to think about the things I loved so much about living abroad and what gifts this past year has given me. She then asked me to think about ways to replicate those elements here in my “normal” life in the United States.
I didn’t anticipate maple syrup, seagulls, and frostbite appearing on that list, but that seems to be just what the doctor ordered.
My friends in Boston had just transitioned to a new home after living abroad for many years. Their place is cozy, warm, and vaguely reminiscent of the freshman year dorm room Roxanne and I shared (namely for the pashminas and post-it notes). I poured my gloomy self into their hands and gave them creative license to mold me into a happy American again.
First, they called in the Swiss, who came with buckets of melted Gruyere, a potato gratin, gallons of white wine, and a small (but deadly) bottle of something called Kirsch. The night ended with unexpected rounds of rum and discussions of Venezuelan elections.
America: +1, Switzerland: +1, Venezuela: 0 (great rum, but Chavez won)
We rented a car bright and early the next morning and set off for the Great Outdoors. After escaping the deranged passive-aggressive circus that is driving in Boston, we found ourselves snaking through orange forests. We crossed the border to New Hampshire and discovered a quiet beach town filled with homes we’ll probably never afford, but very much enjoyed staring at. At some point, there was a twinmarriage proposal.
(Let me explain: in addition to being a “let’s re-learn to love America” initiative, this weekend marks the 8 year anniversary of my friendship with Roxanne, whom I now simply refer to as twin, because we’re basically the same soul in two bodies.)
America: +2, Greece: +1
From that lovely beach town, we continued north to the woods, into a very different America. We passed “BREAK FOR MOOSE!” signs that were not sarcastic. We saw dozens of tractor supply shops. And of course, we stopped at the first roadside Maple Stuff stand we came across. We stocked up on candies, popcorn, and syrup, and chatted with friendly New Hampshirites.
With maple candies melting in our mouths, we continued farther north toward the blue mountains looming in the distance. The kind owners of the maple stand told us that the most scenic route to follow would be the Kancamagus trail. I remember scrunching up my nose in disgust at the name, imagining some contagious toe fungus. I wrote the name down in my journal with a reminder to later look up “who/what was Kancamagus??” The answer, courtesy of GORP:
Kancamagus (The Fearless One), grandson of Passaconaway, succeeded his uncle, Wonalancet, around 1684 as third and final Sagamon of the Penacook Confederacy. Kancamagus tried to keep peace between the Penacook and pioneering whites, until aggravated English harassments brought war and bloodshed.
Sorry for the nose-scrunch, Fearless One.
“Fearless” seems to be a theme in New Hampshire. The state motto is “Live Free or Die.” I got the sense that gun rights were a big thing (although one could argue that that’s a more fearful mentality). Political messages were displayed boldly, on the roadsides or on the radio. I may not have agreed with all (or much (or any)) of it, but I appreciate their passion for politics.
America: +3 for freedom of speech, -1 for the sign that says “Some village in Kenya has lost its IDIOT: Obama!” That’s just tasteless.
Finally, as the sun was starting to dip in the sky, we reached the tentative goal of this road trip: Mt. Washington. I’d been feeling like I need to climb a mountain lately, to conquer a summit, to prove something to myself about myself. So, we scaled the beast… in a car. Still counts.
The eight-mile ascent brought us somewhere between the Arctic and Iceland.
After (literally) running from our rental car to the summit for a photo and subsequently losing feeling in our digits, we high-tailed it to the nearest diner and warmed our bellies with chili, bacon-covered potato skins, and poutine. I casually noticed that we were surrounded by handsome French-speaking men wearing scruffy beards and hiking gear. Thank you, Canada, for the poutine and for the view.
I didn’t actually keep a tally of points for the USA, nor was this weekend any sort of competition. It was a reprieve from missing Colombia, a breath of fresh fall air, and a barrels of laughs with great friends. There is beauty where you seek it, and fun where you make it. Like my friend Mark recently told me, “The grass is greener where you water it.”
Time to start tending the garden.