Editor’s Note: In the current issue of National Review, we have a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “The State of Maine: Not all lobster bibs and brisk swims.” This “Maine Journal” in his Impromptus is a supplement to the piece. For Part I of the journal, go here.
Portland is a liberal city, filled with people from elsewhere — who come from states south of Maine. It is a classic “latte town.” (A beautiful one, too.) On the main drag, or what I think of as the main drag, there’s a shop pushing “fair trade” coffee. (Have never been entirely sure what that means.) The shop’s slogan is “Changing the world through coffee . . . one cup at a time.”
See what I mean? That is exactly the spirit of a “latte town.”
‐I have a conservative friend in Portland. He says he doesn’t have many people to talk to, politically. He can’t really open up. You have to keep your lip buttoned, all the time. Others, of course, are free to talk about politics sans cesse.
Isn’t it frustrating? “Unfair,” as little kids like to say?
‐Exploring Portland, I don’t hear many Maine accents. I hear a lot of neutral speech — neutral American speech. The Portlanders could hail from anywhere. I might as well be in my hometown of Ann Arbor (Michigan).
But I do hear some obvious Mainers. One of them is black, which interests me — a black man of about 50.
Thomas Sowell once explained that black Americans used to sound like where they were from — same as other Americans. Sowell, for example, spent his first years in the South, but did most of his growing up in Harlem. And he has a honking New York accent. He rails against the “Mawxists,” for example.
Charlie Rangel is another one who has a honking New York accent. (Don’t expect him to rail against the Mawxists, though. Expect Sowell to rail against him.)
There came a time, however, as Sowell explained, when black Americans coast to coast started to sound southern. This is a highly interesting phenomenon, and it requires a separate paper, and I’m just doing a breezy lil’ journal here.
So . . .
‐Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a Portlander. (Wonder what his speech was like.) And he looks pretty good, sitting here in Longfellow Square, the very image of a New England sage. (I’m speaking of his monument, of course.)
‐Not far away, there is a moving Civil War memorial. The image is of a woman, Our Lady of Victories. The inscription is “Portland / To Her Sons Who Died / For The Union.”
The memorial is moving indeed. But aren’t all Civil War memorials, wherever they are, grand or humble? You know?
‐It’s nice to see a ballpark in Portland — a baseball stadium, Hadlock Field. It’s the home of the Sea Dogs, the Double A team for the Red Sox, I believe. The Sea Dogs have a mascot named Slugger. He has a dog’s face (though maybe I shouldn’t assume Slugger is a he). He also has flippers, I’m pretty sure.
A few weeks ago, I was complaining about the mascot of my Detroit Tigers, Paws. (Gag me.) Slugger is just as dorky, which makes me feel better, somehow.
‐When I was a kid, I came to Maine for a stretch of summers. There is now something new under the sun: East Africans on the streets. It is an amazing sight, for someone who remembers Maine back when.
Portland has a sizable Somalian population. The thought occurs to me, “They must be very grateful to be here.” Somalia is one of the worst places on earth, along with North Korea, Syria, and a few others. Can you imagine being lucky enough to leave that hellhole and land in the lovely latte town of Portland, Maine? I mean, that’s the jackpot.
I have no doubt that many Somalians are grateful to be here. But they have brought with them some of the maladies of the Old World.
These include gang warfare and brutality toward women. The Somalians are stressing the police, the welfare system, and everything else.
Some Somalians very much want to integrate, and become Americans. To melt, so to speak. And other Somalians make it very hard for them to do so. They consider integration a kind of betrayal. Which is tragic, and despicable. May they lose, decisively, over time.
A friend of mine who lives here — not the aforementioned one — says that racism is being stirred up in Portland. Tension hangs in the air.
And a third friend, Tucker Carlson, whom I mentioned earlier in this journal, makes a sardonic observation: “Racial strife is the only problem we didn’t have in Maine, so we had to import it.”
‐The heart of Somalian Maine — that’s a funny phrase — is not Portland. It’s L-A, about 35 miles from here. “L-A”?
California has an L.A., and Maine has an L-A: Lewiston-Auburn, twin cities, divided by the Androscoggin River. Lewiston in particular is a “little Mogadishu.” I will get there in due course.
‐There are a couple of divisions in Maine. One of them is “Portland and everywhere else.” There’s Portland, anchored in the southwest, and then the entire rest of the state.
You might enjoy this: I ask a young woman in Portland whether she has ever been to Bethel (which is 70 miles away). She answers, “No, I don’t really go up to Maine.” Then she catches herself (because Portland is in Maine, right?): “I mean, to northern Maine.”
In truth, Bethel is in the southwestern part of the state — but I know just what the young lady means: Virtually no one lives above the 50-yard line of Maine. Up there be caribou and the like.
So, you have Portland-and-the-rest. You also have coastal versus inland. Coastal Maine tends to be prosperous and postcard-worthy: “Vacationland,” as the state’s nickname has it. (Maine has two nicknames, actually. The other is “The Pine Tree State.”) Inland Maine is grittier, more Appalachian.
‐Maine has always been a poor state, to one degree or another. It has high levels of welfare dependence. It has also been a booze-soaked state, always. Why’s that?
As one of my Maine friends says, “We’re remote, cold, and dark.” And that adds up to alcohol — as in Russia, Finland, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, etc.
So, Maine has never been free of problems. But the old ones have intensified and new ones have arisen to bedevil the state. I’ll keep going with this tomorrow, dear readers. Thanks for joining me.