This article appeared in the Travel section of the September 2003 issue of “Die Zeit” - Hamburg, Germany
Lovely and expensive
The Claremont Hotel, Maine
On the coast of Maine lies Mount Desert Island. Discovered in the 17th century by a French seafarer who mapped and compared it to a bundt cake, not a luxurious cake- a dessert for the hungry captain. The rounded mountains could also have been described as breasts in the sea. Strangely, those who live on this paradise pronounce “desert” as the French would, putting the accent on the second syllable, which is very unusual for American speakers. Mount Desert Island and the group of islands that make this pine-forested archipelago represent the changing geographical history of the United States. At one point a piece of real estate on this island, which was the size of the German city of Hamburg, belonged to the Rockefeller family. They donated the mountain in the middle of the island to the national government, and this is the beginning of one of the most beautiful national parks of the United States. There are free busses to take visitors around until they land in the tourist trap, Bar Harbor. Those who choose to get off in Southwest Harbor will find a true delicatessen where Rockefeller himself used to buy his peanuts. One can either stay in a bed and breakfast inn, or spend a few days at the Claremont Hotel. One could not find a nicer, more suitable location than this.
It is located on the shore overlooking more islands and the entrance to the longest fjord in America, Somes Sound. This hotel is not luxurious with its yellow-painted, wooden façade and modest amenities. On the well-manicured lawn are two croquet courses where you will find children and seniors participating in this strange game. The colliding wooden balls “cling” with a well-to-do air. Outside of this there is not much else to listen to. There is no elevator music, just the seagulls screaming overhead and distinct groans from the tennis court. The rooms are not fancy, but display a more simple elegance that is New England and which represents “old money.” Style takes the place of Luxury. Also in the summer months of July and August is an open, doublewide foyer where one can appreciate a crackling fire in the fireplace. Not because it is cold, but because the management wants to show: We have lot of wood in Maine.
Aside from this, the Claremont Hotel has a good wine list and serves fresh lobsters for $18. In the kitchen there is a chef working who does not know what “nouvelle cuisine” is. God bless him! The personnel? There are many well-raised, agreeable, American college students who consider this temporary work. They like their customers, but do not know if one should serve from the right or the left.
Formerly, there was a tie and jacket code in the dining room. This was interesting in as much as the hotel guests stood in line for dinner in shirts, summer jackets and ties. I personally favored the frog green jacket that a crazy guest left behind seventy years ago. To it went a decent nylon bow tie. Unfortunately they have let this requirement slip. In the meantime, an open shirt is acceptable, but no tee shirts are allowed.
The Claremont is a relic from another time, where America was very aware of the division between rich and those who aspired to be rich. With its unobtrusive, well-proportioned surroundings, one is reminded of the novels of Thomas Mann. A path leads to the crystal clear, cold water (16-18 C,) of the Atlantic where one can see a pair of boats and a small bar which no one to knowledge actually takes seriously, and where I have never heard anyone dry for more martinis. In this situation there seems to be no reason to worry about life. One gets the feeling that one could solve the world’s problems in one round of croquet.