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Make yourself at home
No matter how hard I try to avoid it, every now and then I learn something new.
This past week, for example, I had an excellent epiphany into the nature of Sequim, and into my place within it.
I now know why, after two and a half years here, I continue to feel like an imperfect fit.
Not a square peg in a round hole, exactly, but different.
I grew up in South Louisiana — I spent my first 40 years there — and I continue to regard myself as a Louisiana boy. As I've often told friends and family, as soon as they do something about the heat and humidity I'll be right back.
My family and I then moved to New Mexico, where for 15 years we lived in a culture that is divided into three parts: 1) Native American, 2) Hispanic and 3) rich white folks. (Or four: us.)
New Mexico is different from Louisiana, but not so much as you might think. Food is a big deal. Racial tensions are a daily fact of life. The education system is a bleeding disaster.
But anyone who believes the U.S. is one great big homogenous melting pot would do well to visit South Louisiana or northern New Mexico. They are worlds unto themselves.
That was further brought home this week when my brother Kevin came to visit us in Sequim.
He flew up to spend some time in our delicious bit of cool. We had a great time.
In fact, everywhere we went we were having the best time of anyone there. Or certainly it sounded that way.
We tend to be loud. Raucous, even.
Some people in Sequim find it frightening. Or at the very least, off-putting.
It's a South Louisiana thing. You wouldn't understand.
Kevin was astonished by the temerity of Sequim's pedestrians, who regularly act upon their faith that drivers will respect crossing zones.
We also did some touristy things, including a marvelous boat trip around Protection Island, which I had been wanting to revisit, this time armed with Mike D's VLC (Very Large Camera).
With its help, I'm now better able to make my argument that this peninsula is, at least for a few moments each year, incomparably beautiful.
Those of you who have never lived elsewhere may be lulled into complacency. I've attached photos. Take another look.
Now back to the issue at hand: "It looks so peaceful," one of my FaceBook friends wrote. She used peaceful as a compliment.
I don't get that.
Another, an old friend from Louisiana, saw the pictures of the seals. "First you make a roux, Cher," he said.
That I get.
I've always believed that peace of mind is boring.
My brother and I also had a long discussion regarding regional differences. He told me one sure measure of America's culture diversity is this: as a thought experiment, ask yourself if your U.S. senators could be elected in Louisiana.
Patty Murray thrown into the Louisiana brier patch. It's a pretty comical thought.
In a recent blog post I pointed out that Louisiana politicians have all undergone guiltectomies. Caught in flagrante, they just 'fess up, a confession almost always followed by an off-color joke.
Here is an example, courtesy of Kevin: recently the reporters in Baton Rouge thought they were on to a big story when Charlie Dewitt, the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, was accused of having prostitutes in his government-provided apartment near the capitol. The story suggested that a friend had borrowed the apartment for the rendezvous.
A Washington state politician would have that deer-caught-in-the headlights look. Not in Louisiana. DeWitt fired back with both barrels.
"Why, that's a damn lie," he told the reporters. "Anyone who knows me knows if there was a prostitute in my apartment, I would have been the one with her!"
Everyone had a good laugh. And the story died.
Years ago on one well-lubricated evening a former Louisiana politician told a group of us that he got out of government service when it became a federal crime to steal state money.
We laughed like hell. To this day, I don't know why. The sheer chutzpah of it, I guess.
Who would put up with that kind of stuff here?
Politicians in Washington tend to be very sincere, very straight-arrow. Not that there aren't any crooks; we just don't have any crooks with flair.
So, what's the difference?
This week I happened to be reading P.J. O'Rouke's treatise on economics, "Eat the Rich."
It includes a long piece on life in Sweden.
"It struck me that Sweden was the only country I'd ever been to with no visible crazy people," he writes.
"Every Swede seems reasonable, constrained and self-possessed."
When a Swede asked him for his impression of Sweden, O'Rourke told the fellow, "It's like Minnesota. You know, wholesome, hygienic, polite, cold climate, everything works."
"At shops, in restaurants, on the streets, everyone is so helpful and pleasant that it frightens Americans."
And I thought: Yes. That's it exactly.
For the first time in my life I'm living in a Scandinavian culture. And I am, by birth and thorough acculturation, a Mediterranean.
My wife and I moved to Sequim when my mother-in-law's health declined. My wife wanted to take care of her. Whither she goest, so too must I.
We declared it an adventure. And that it has been.
It's difficult to phrase exactly how moving to a place where everyone is nice, and where virtually everyone is reasonable, can be declared an adventure. But my wife and I are aficionados of culture shock. We have visited many countries, but have never stayed in a resort. We've never been on a cruise.
Once in Ireland we so tired of the postcard beauty of the touristed towns that we sought out and found what I certainly hope is the ugliest village in Ireland. To the great shock and pleasure of the locals — who for the life of themselves could not imagine why anyone with a few bucks would do so — we settled ourselves in the local pub and struck up numerous conversations.
It was the best night of our trip.
On a recent afternoon my wife and I found ourselves walking down Seventh Avenue with our dog, an unlikeable little rat of a thing that is my mother-in-law's legacy. We were making our way past the gravel lawns to our manufactured home.
And we laughed and laughed. How, we asked each other, have we arrived here?
We two have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles together. As a result we are both very familiar with one of the pleasures that this life in Sequim has provided. There is a desire among travelers, an inexplicable one, for a particular kind of moment. You may be alone, or you may be crushed within a press of people. But there it is, and for a time it just fills up your heart: loneliness.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.