When I travel I like to stay in one place for long enough to feel at home. Or, at least to get more of an impression of the place than you get from passing through. Having a home away from home is always better than staying at a hotel, if possible. Jon and I have rented dozens of houses, and apartments in lots of diverse places. We’re good at temporarily moving into other people’s homes and instantly, making them our own.
During the month of August we like being a tourist in someone else’s touristy town. It’s more fun than getting annoyed at tourists invading our own hometown of Nantucket. Feeling displaced has become less desireable than being a tourist in someone else’s town.
When you go to a place and settle in for a while you get to know a few locals. You frequent the restaurants, wander into the local bookstore perhaps, have breakfast every morning at the same diner, maybe even take an exercise or Yoga class. It’s fun to enjoy a normal routine doing normal everyday things, like shopping in the local market, only in a different place from home.
We are in Napa Valley, CA. Every day we do one thing that we don’t do at home. Yesterday we took a cooking class at the CIA. Jon thought he was going to spy school until I translated Culinary Institute of America. We had no interest in cooking but it was a very cool thing to do in a really cool building that looked like a medieval castle.
We enjoyed everything about it although we both agreed we would never take an hour to make chutney sauce for lamb chops that were consumed in ten minutes, or to buy the 22 ingredients required. However, it was our second visit to the CIA and the woman, Marni, behind the desk recognized us, gave us a ten percent local discount when we told her we were there for the month and suddenly we almost felt like locals.
This is a friendly place. People act the way they do on Nantucket in the off-season when you know everyone you pass in town. The town we are in is Calistoga. It seems everyone but us has been here, or has passed through as we got all sorts of suggestions from just about everyone in Nantucket before we left.
The best thing about living on Nantucket is that we know how resort towns work. We know, for example, that tourists are reluctantly welcome as a necessity of life, but not always happily. We try to be good tourists, if there is such a thing. We are interested in the culture wherever we go and try to get to know as much about the place as possible, in order to enjoy it to the fullest. We visit the surrounding towns and while we take lots of suggestions to heart from our island friends, we also try to find our own out of the way spots. It’s not easy. Nantuketers are great travelers. They know all the “good” places to eat, cultural events not to miss. But there are hose things that locals do in every community and we like to participate. There’s always a free concert in a community park wherever you go. There is the impromptu local band at the fire station or a spontaneous art demonstration that just happens when you’re there. There are Farmer’s Markets and lots of things that the locals in any town support. These are the things worth attending because this is where the residents of any area are living their lives. You get to scope out who they are, overhear conversations and see them interacting as a community – just like here on Nantucket. Joining in community activities gives us a brief feeling of belonging elsewhere.
Sometimes the music is positively dreadful, but who cares? A local high school performance might not be as good as it would be if the kids performing were your own. But being part of the community for a brief moment somewhere else is a neat experience. We are anonymous when we are away. It can be kind of cool for a little while. Feeling at home away from home, temporarily, is fun. And when the waitress from the restaurant where you ate last night nods in recognition as she sways to the music with her family in the park, you feel like you belong, if just for that moment. It makes you ask yourself, “could I live here?”