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THE MAIN THING IS THAT MAINE IS NICE
By Michael Matthews
April 12, 2007 -- This is a hotel column--or at least it's about putting one's head on a pillow somewhere other than your own home.

When and how does that happen? Either at a hotel, of course, or when you stay with friends.

For some reason, I am always nervous about staying with friends. Perhaps it's because I suspect how much trouble I will be to my host. You know, big-time hotelier shows up at your home with white gloves looking for dust…

Or, perhaps, it's the result of an experience I had as a very young man.

I was living in Toronto when I was headhunted for a position to run the Canadian offices of a deluxe hotel marketing company. I was flown to corporate headquarters in New York for the final interview. Following a successful session, my boss-to-be invited me back to his home in a well-to-do New York suburb to meet his wife and family and have dinner.

The meal and the evening went extremely well and it was suggested that I stay overnight rather than take the train back to Manhattan. The next morning I used the guest bathroom for my normal morning ablutions. On flushing, there was an almighty explosion. A gusher that would have made Old Faithful proud erupted from the toilet. It covered the walls, the ceiling, the whole damn bathroom and yours truly.

It was certainly the most embarrassing experience of my life and, as I said, it may be the reason why I hesitate before accepting invitations to stay anywhere but in a hotel or my own home.

Last summer, though, my wife and I were invited by two very old friends to come to Maine and go sailing. He's a very big wig in tourism and she's an airline guru. They both have a passion for sailing and have totally rebuilt a 30-foot sailboat that would make anyone's mouth water with jealousy.

They have a beautiful home sitting on the water in the Maine woods, just a short trip from the boat's marina. Their own clam bed is at the end of the garden. They have five cats and a big old lab who answers to the name of Charlie. The boat, Moondancer, doesn't go out without Charlie lying by the helm.

Theirs is an almost-perfect life.

Now I don't know if you've been to Maine, but it is unquestionably one of the nation's more beautiful states. There's water, sailing, lobsters, parks, trees and much more. Our friends live in Brunswick, a delightful small town only minutes from Freeport, home of L.L. Bean and big-name outlet stores galore. I found slacks for $9.99 and a cashmere jacket from Brooks Brothers for $75. I needed both like a hole in the head but, of course, I bought them. After all, one of the things you do in Maine is shop.

Our hostess, Mrs. Airline Guru, had really gone to town. The place was spotless. She was obviously terrified that this hotelier would critique her home and run his white gloves above the picture frames and under the bed. How silly to think a guest would actually do that. (By the way, there wasn't a spot anywhere and my gloves are still spotless.) We were even shown the basement. You could have eaten off the floor.

Now to the Moondancer. She was as shipshape as a ship could be. And my wife and I looked the part right down to our brand new Top-Siders, purchased especially for the occasion.

When you go sailing, everybody on board has a job to do. You probably know that. But I did not. I thought one sat back sipping a gin and tonic, admiring the scenery. Not so. My job, it seemed, was to pull hard on a rope making sure that my head wasn't bashed in by the big wooden thingy attached to the mast. I was required to do this every couple of minutes.

There is something idyllic about sailing through the islands and inlets of Maine with the waves lapping against the hull. At least there probably is if you're not pulling and ducking for five hours. And I didn't use the head. I was frightened that it might explode and sink us all.

Mrs. Airline Guru was in charge of feeding us. The food was superb. Smart hosts, they played it safe. How can you fail with boiled, fresh lobster?

Anyway, Maine is wonderful. As I mentioned in another column, there are apparently a lot of moose in Maine. But a suggestion to Maine's tourism honcho: Put some big cut-out moose peeking out from the trees all over the state. It will keep Dad and the kids happy. We didn't see a single moose despite all of the signs warning us to watch for them.

It was all so wonderful, in fact, that we are going back in October. This sailing thing is addictive. Or is it the lobsters?

I will leave the white gloves behind this time. And maybe I'll use the restrooms, too.
ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

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