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Greig Lamont

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Falling for Maine

Posted: 10/23/2013 11:48 pm

Maine has much more to offer than its unimaginative invitational slogan would suggest. Take a trip North East during Fall and you'll discover why it's worth a visit -- and a lifetime.

You can tell a lot about a place from the slogan it brands itself with. That self-professed badge of honour it fixes to its chest, the indelible stamp it sears into its flesh for all to see: the standard by which it thinks it ought to be judged.

Tourism slogans are the peacocks' feathers of places. The mating call of a chunk of land enticing into its clutches passers-by and peregrinators alike, bidding them in for a spot of geographical dalliance, possibly even a cultural roll in the hay.

Some countries get it spectacularly wrong. Colombia famously spent a great deal of time and money carefully crafting its cataclysmically unfortunate catchphrase: 'The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.' It's a bold move in the poker game of tourist seduction to lay out on the table the possibility of returning home in a body bag. It also conveniently ignores the machete-wielding, drug-dealing warlord inevitably hiding in your hotel wardrobe, not to mention the stats. When you're three times more likely to be murdered in Colombia than Liberia, playfully joshing with talk of 'risk' in an attempt to woo international jetsetters isn't exactly your strongest suit. Best stick with Iceland or Fiji -- or maybe Australia.

Fiji learned the slogan lesson the hard way. And by 'hard way,' I mean through international ridicule. It's difficult to put your finger on exactly what was so creepy about 'Fiji me,' but it's difficult to get excited about visiting a country whose self-styled slogan sounds like something Catholic priests got in trouble for doing to choirboys.

While we're on the subject, Australia hasn't fared much better on the catchphrase front either. It revolutionized degrading self-parody in 1984 when a topless Crocodile Dundee, flirting dangerously between the precipices of innuendo and double entendre, told the world he would "slip an extra shrimp on the Barbie" for you. Twenty years later, with the humiliating wound of Hogan's slogan having barely healed, and our antipodean friends Down Under were already screeching "so where the bloody hell are you?" at potential patrons like deranged park-dwellers.

On second thoughts, probably best to just stick with Iceland.

When it comes to tourist-grabbing slogans, U.S. states are no different to their macroterritorial relatives. These regional units offer a veritable smorgasbord of catchphrases ranging through the good, the bad and the ugly, all the way to the downright crap.

California is 'The Golden State' where you're invited to 'Find Yourself.' West Virginia used to be 'Almost Heaven' but now limits its claim to being merely 'Wild and Wonderful.' Meanwhile, Massachusetts is the 'Spirit of America,' Tennessee 'America at its Best,' Texas 'Like a Whole Other Country' and Kansas (bless it) 'as Big as You Think!'

And then there's Maine. 'Maine Invites You.' Maine, rather unimaginatively, proclaims it's 'Where America's Day Begins' as well as a 'Vacationland' -- all of which, let's face it, frankly fall into the 'downright crap' category.

Maine is one of those odd, oft-forgotten states of the USA. Oft-forgotten because, as far as America goes, it's in the middle of nowhere on the road to nowhere. Odd because, well, for exactly the same reason.

It's the pine tree state, but is, ironically, at its best during fall. At this time of year, Maine, Vermont and the other New England territories are stuffed full with like-minded Leaf Peepers -- a soubriquet that to the uninformed ear sounds like it might be synonymous with knicker-sniffer or something that would get your name on a government watch-list.

Foreigners don't get Leaf Peepers or, for that matter, Leaf Peeping. It's hardly surprising. We don't do fall like the Americans; we don't take it as seriously as a season. We've got the raw materials, is it that we just lack the psyche?

Fall has the same significance wherever the leaves drop. Its seamless blending of birth and death, its unforgiving clearing of the old to make way for the new, poignantly personifies the fragility of our temporal existence. It reminds us that for all the permanence we can build out of the earth, we remain mere leaves subject, ultimately, to the cycle of the seasons.

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Leaf Peepers stand in bewildered wonder like Eliot's Magi who questioned whether they had "been led all that way for Birth or Death?" Just like the Leaf Peepers, they weren't sure: all they knew was that they'd witnessed something important, something profound.

No, it's not the people that make fall so special here. Not the culture that gives it its significance. Rather, it is the land itself. As you sit in Maine, in the mid-October sun, next to a sparkling-glass mirrored lake, surrounded by a firework display of folia hues streaking through the sky in one last, final hurrah, there's something here - something in the earth, the cool, crisp, autumnal zephyr - that reaches out and grabs you, and pulls you in to the heart of significance.

It takes a special place, a magical state, to reveal this to us. But, somehow, Maine manages just that.

Maine has another tourist motto that I didn't tell you about earlier. And this one hits the slogan G-spot on the head: 'Worth a Visit, Worth a Lifetime.' Neither corny nor nonsensical; creepy nor nauseatingly profound. The Ronseal of state slogans -- just perfect.

 

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