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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

6.10.2007

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggidie-Jig

Thank God for cars. And husbands. And the resilience of the human butt. Because I seriously thought mine was going to lose circulation and fall off during the 16-hour drive home.

I used to resent all you New England'ers for moving to the South. Now I understand. Living in an area with low economic growth; overcrowded living; public roadways that are jammed with idiots who either crawl or light out at mach 5; toll roads; stupid local government; high taxes; too many unions; where you're not even allowed to pump your own gas (New Jersey)? Yeah, I'd fly South too. Even a short trip to urban New England helps you understand the prevailing terse attitude with which you are "welcomed". Everyone's hacked off at how crappy it is.

Not only is everyone unhappy with the crappiness, they have to let everyone else know about it too. As if they didn't already know how crappy it was. Spread the joy. Whine and moan about how crappy things are while you work your arse off. Because, oddly, as disgruntled as the urban New England'er seems to be, he's a hard working son-of-a-gun. Things move. Fast. And the people who make them move don't have any time for you to take your time. You'd better make a decision and make it quick. Because they'd just as soon yell at you as take your order.

And honestly, I rather admire this sort of rationale. It has a certain logic to it. "Things are crappy. I don't want to be here doing this job. So I'm making the best of it by busting my hump. Now, could you maybe make up your mind what you'd like for lunch so I can get busy preparing it for you? The motion takes my mind off how crappy things are." And even if you do take your time and make your server irritated, they have something new to complain about. Almost like bragging rights. Something to talk about over beers when the shift is over. Something to complain about other than higher taxes and the snow.

But actually, if you look past the attitude, you'll see lots of (vocal) people working really hard to help their fellow man. They might be loud about doing it, but they get it done. Secretly, I kind of admire the permission New England'ers have given each other to say what's on their mind. Growing up in the South I was always taught it was bad manners to speak your mind, complain, get passionately worked up or (God forbid) have an outburst. I dare you to drive from East Providence to Connecticut and not find someone having at least a dozen of all four.

The food's good though.

Where Tef grew up is predominantly Portuguese, Irish, Italian and French. I'm partial to the Portuguese because that's the heritage my husband is most strongly allied with; his great grandfather stepped off the boat at Ellis Island. To me, that is beyond cool. I'm not really sure where my family is from... My father's side is Welsh and Dutch, my mother's side supposedly Irish and German (and Cherokee, rumor has it). But we never inherited any sort of ethnic tradition. When people ask me where my family is from I give them the county in the state of my father's birth. That's about as close as I can get. I don't mind being Southern. It's nice. I have an excuse for my vegetable garden, my yard full of flowers and my predisposition to talk to perfect strangers. But... there's nothing for me to point to and say I'm allied with or proud of. The rebel flag? Hardly. NASCAR? Don't think so. I don't fry much chicken and I eat Indian food whenever I can... I don't really fit into the stereotype of the old South.

I'm much more "New England" in my work ethic and "speedy" expectations than "Southern". I will work to the point of utter exhaustion, unconscious of the strain I'm putting on myself, until the job is done and every muscle in my body is on fire. I like it. It makes me feel alive. I don't take things slowly and I don't drive the speed limit. I don't want to eat the same thing every day and I like being able to go to the store without somebody asking how my day is. The South could learn a thing or two from New England. Move faster, talk more quickly, waste less time.

But Tef actually knows his heritage. And practices it. A diluted heritage, to be sure -- immigrants come to America and use as much of their "new" country to create the "old" as they can. Dishes are modified to accommodate local ingredients; "old" traditions absorb influences of "new" environs. Still, there are Portuguese bakeries, restaurants, neighborhoods and churches. And touring them is endlessly fascinating. The bakeries especially; pastry counters a mile long with wares baked fresh every day; fresh bread; specialty custards; certain treats baked only on certain days of the week; salted cod; exotic ingredients; good olives and fresh sausage. Tef can take me to these places and show me new things. I however, have little to point to. I must admit I'm a bit jealous.

But not jealous enough to want to move there. Hour 12 of driving home made me long for rolling green hills and a Southern drawl. Space and room to breathe are always what I come back to. The city makes me crazy and tense. I do not see how anyone survives in it. One of the last nights we were in Rhode Island, we got together with some old friends of Tef's for dinner. He was picking on me about how concerned I always am at the amount of rainfall we get. I'm always worried about the corn. We all laughed as I explained my rationale. I then explained that when I was growing up, the closest grocery store was a 25-minute drive. Ours friends' eyes got big. "How did you ever handle that? I would hate that!" I shrugged. I just did. Everybody did. It was normal. Because what was in between were cornfields, wheat, soybeans and turkey farms; wide open spaces where you could make your own decisions on your own time without being rushed. There was usually no one waiting in line behind you, trying to make the 5:30 train.

I'm glad we went to New England. But I'm glad we're home.

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