A Sailor’s Rest House

The view out my early morning window was one of beautiful timelessness. The small village square two stories below me was quiet except for the sound of a distant highway and the cooing of pigeons. The rough cobblestone streets below undulated with the effort of hundreds of winters and the romanesque Catholic church opposite our building was undisturbed except for the elderly woman who appeared from a side street some time around six AM and disappeared behind it’s massive oak doors. Perhaps she did this every morning. The old brick sidewalks were silent and empty and the fresh, low rays of the sun briefly lit up corners that would likely be in shadow for the rest of the day. It was the epitome of Europe and expressed to me perfectly why I loved it so much.

Except I wasn’t in Europe. Just three weeks before, I could not have imagined that such a place existed so close to home.

“Absolutely not. There is no way that I’m okay with that. No way at all.”

I’m a pretty laid back guy and can usually be relied on to be agreeable to any hair brained adventure. I don’t put my foot down often but this was one of those rare times. Action Girl looked back at me with a, “That’s very sweet, but you worry too much” look on her face and told me that it was probably fine and that I was blowing things way out of proportion.

What she had proposed was spending the night in Boston. This was hardly something to strike terror in my heart. She and I had been loads of times, either together or on our own. We love Boston. What worried me deeply was where she was intending to stay… Alone.

As in, “With out me”.

She had been working as a longshoreman for a local ferry company for quite a few years now and had of late, bent her will to studying for her Captain’s license. She had worked her way up to Mate and now wanted to have the helm to her self. I was all for this and did my best to assist with studying and flash card quizzes over the dinner table. She had her sea time requirement fulfilled and had been studying her guts out with riveting tomes such as “Chapman Piloting & Seamanship” and other text books so dry that you needed to dump your water glass on them before attempting to read.

Now it was time to go take the test. That took place at the U.S. Coast Guard facility in Boston and the test started early in the morning, necessitating an over night stay. She told me about the discovery of a great, cheap place she could crash at, right down the street from the exam facility! She was intending to spend the night at place especially set aside for sailors and sailors only, right down on the waterfront. All I could picture was the flop house where Ishmael first encounters Queequeg, the tattooed behemoth when they had to share a bed. Action Girl is tough and all but as a concerned party for her well being, I had problems with this. I needed to know more about this house full of sailors, down by the wharfs before I was going to even entertain the possibility of her staying there alone. I’d find the money somewhere for a room at a real hotel.

As I dug for more information about this place, I started to feel a little better about it. The sailor’s home had apparently just had a major refitting in the last year. The rooms were private and the facility actually had a religious component that it was built on. The place is called the Mariner’s House and was established in the 1800’s as an alternative abode for sailors on leave to the whore houses and taverns . There are non-denominational religious services in the chapel, breakfast served on the premises, no drinking or smoking allowed in the building and absolutely no one other than proven sailors, their spouses or children allowed inside. No exceptions. I felt a lot better knowing this and relented in my opposition. Action Girl was kind enough to let me think that I had a say in this decision in the first place.

I was still a bit uneasy when she left but a phone call from her once she arrived put the last of my fears to rest. She took the test the next day, passed and it was official, I was married to a sea captain.

When she came back home, elated with her new hard won rank, she had glowing things to say about this place. We needed to plan a trip soon. A few weeks later, she returned with her hesitant husband and proceeded to check us in. It was actually quite rigorous. She needed to have proof that she was in fact, a sailor and then we needed to provide a copy of our marriage certificate to prove that she didn’t just pick me up from the Gigolo’s Home for Excessively Handsome Men.

Ok, that wouldn’t be hard to prove.

Once inside I was impressed with the simple antiquity of the place. The building dates from the early 1800’s and the architecture shows it. Huge, double hung windows open onto a European style village square where cars are few in the early day and the Italian language burbles up from the streets below as morning news is shared among locals. The high ceilings inside make the otherwise smallish rooms feel airy and the furniture, though simple, was new and comfortable. It was wonderful in every way. We were nestled in the heart of the North End. That night we had our pick of the fantastic restaurants down the street and finished off the night with cannoli from Modern (service with an attitude) Pastry. It was the perfect way to enjoy this corner of Boston.

We have since spent many more nights at the Mariner’s House, both as a couple and with our kids. Short Stack takes to city dwelling well and helps me make dessert runs to the pastry shop (I find that the service improves markedly with a well behaved two year old in tow). We only went once this summer and are hoping to make a trip again soon. We’ll leave the hoards of leaf peepers driving north and clogging the secondary roads while we pretend to be city folk for a weekend and do our best to blend in. For us, the Mariner’s House is the only place to stay. We wouldn’t dream of going elsewhere. We’ll see if our usual room is available, go out for a much appreciated Italian dinner and after our ricotta fix is taken care of, head back to that old sailor’s rest. Queequeg won’t be joining us I hope. It’s not really his type of place.

The Fog Monster vs. Action Girl

Spring is starting to get down right summery out there and since we live on the coast of Maine, this means one thing for sure: Fog.

At the moment of this writing, I’m sitting on our couch. Lulu Belle is lying down next to me, happily making “Nook, nook” noises as she chews the ever loving bejeezus out of her pacifier. The day is early, earlier than I prefer to see it, but in a bid to get Action Girl some badly needed sleep, I’m taking over as the first shift warden for our two month old and have moved her to the living room. As she wiggles away, I’m watching thick rolls of fog out side, moving through the neighborhood, making my already tired vision seem that much blurrier… but that’s okay.

I have fond feelings for fog. When I was a kid, I spent as much of the summer as possible at the family camp in Maine. We lived in New Hampshire and though it got foggy there too, it was mostly down in the swamps, which rather lacks romance… unless you’re an amphibian, I suppose. When we were in Maine, you could hear the fog horn distantly blowing from the lighthouse off shore. You had the sounds of sea gulls, hidden from view, wheeling in unseen air. The fog, like thick, wet bats of cotton would visibly roll down the streets and cover everything in beads of water. To me, it was a big part of the experience of being on the coast and I loved it. Still do, really. I’m nostalgic by nature and today’s foggy morning takes me back to those times of my youth.

Action Girl… she has other feelings. To her, the mournful, far away call of the fog horn makes her stomach drop. She hates the fog. It makes things harder than they have to be. It makes her day longer and means that she’ll be that much more exhausted when she gets home. You see, Action Girl is a sea captain. She dives rather large vessels for a living and to her, a day of fog means a day of driving by radar, never taking your eyes off the bow and watching out for knuckle headed bozos in other boats who don’t know what they are doing. Judging by the stories she has told me over the years, the bay isn’t short of knuckle headed bozos.

Her feelings about fog have become seared into her being. After visiting at a house not too far away last night, I decided to take the coastal route home, rather than through the village. It was dark out and the tide was in and I was hoping to take a peek at the breakers on the shore. I figured, “Hey, we live on the coast, we might as well enjoy it form time to time”. As we came around to the shore road, the picture was one of quintessential Maine. Rough rock faces were being slammed by towering white waves in an endless fight between land and ocean as lobster buoys bobbed some distance off and a bell buoy could be heard clanging in the distance. The air was warm and the whole scene was shrouded in fog. I immediately smiled and was happy we went this way, then I heard the groan from the passenger seat. Sitting next to me, Action Girl looked out at the exact same scene. What I saw as an oil painting waiting to happen, to her looked like a lot of work.

In just a few days now, Action Girl will be going back to work after a long hiatus following her pregnancy and birth of Lulu Belle. It’s been ages since she’s had to deal with fog and now it looms large in her mind. It’s just another factor that makes her job that much harder, and I sympathize.

As I look up now, the sun is shining warmly and the fog is quickly burning away. The warning horn from the nearest lighthouse is still blowing, but will stop soon. By the time she gets up today, I’ll be on my second cup of coffee and Lulu Belle will be on her third diaper, but the fog monster will be gone and I won’t mention it to her. She has enough stress in her life.

Secretly though, I’ll continue to enjoy the sight when it comes. It’s part of living in Maine and thus, part of why we’re here. I’m just glad that I don’t have to drive in it too. Sorry, Action Girl.

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