A Spiderman doll lynched and hanging from a tree. This was undoubtedly the most disturbing sight I saw along the West Virginia road heading to the cabin some friends and I had rented for a weekend away. This also should have been enough to keep me from later going back to the small town nearby and exploring. Alas, it was not.
Between Christmas and New Years I went with some friends to a cabin we rented in the mountains of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, and this trip really made me recognize the differences across America, not just in landscape but also in culture.
The cabin we stayed in was really nice and a great price, affordable for us. We were far enough away from the nearest neighbors that we could comfortable play music through the outdoor speakers while relaxing in the hot tub. There was sufficient space inside for the six of us to be comfortable, a nice kitchen, a good television setup. It had everything we needed. If anyone is interested in possibly renting a cabin, this (http://www.berkeleyspringscottagerentals.com/cottage.asp?code=SH) is the link to the one we stayed in and the owners have several more to choose from.
It’s nice to just get a way sometimes and exploring new places is always fun and interesting. Like I mentioned in a different post, I haven’t seen a lot of America, so this trip was a chance for me to see a bit more. We had a relaxing weekend of hanging out, playing games, taking a walk in the woods and driving into the nearest little town to explore and have dinner. The town of Berkeley Springs is small, but cute. There isn’t much to see and you certainly don’t need all day to explore, you really only need a hour, maybe two. There are some interesting stores, from a Nepalese shop selling goods from that region of the world to an antique store and several restaurants.
We chose to eat at Maria’s Garden and Inn, and that was certainly an interesting experience. I don’t know how we didn’t notice when we walked in, but the place was literally covered in pictures, statues, and dolls of Jesus and Mary. There is no escaping them, they stare at you from every angle and it’s a bit unnerving. I’m all for people being able to express their religion, but this was a lot of expression and not something I would expect in a business. And having spent 5 years of my life attending a Catholic school, I’m not completely unfamiliar with having Mary and Jesus around, but not like this.
As we had already been seated when we noticed this, we stayed. Boy, was that a mistake. There was one other person eating in the restaurant when we arrived, a harmless looking older woman. Once we were all seated and comfortable she asked over to us how our Christmas was. We all answered that it was good and, being polite, asked about hers. This prompted her to tell us that she had a good Christmas because she lives in a country with freedom and we should all be thankful for that.
Now, I don’t disagree with her, I am thankful to live in a country with the amount of freedom that I have as an American. However, she came across as someone who thinks that the U.S. is the only country with freedom, that we are the most free country in the world. We are not the only country with freedom, and we aren’t the freest country in the world, we aren’t even in the top ten. According to Heritage Foundation rankings, we are number 12, right after Estonia. Am I glad I live in a country with a high level of freedom? Where I can write this blog? Yes, of course I am. And having lived in and travelled to less free places, I appreciate it. But I also recognize that we could be better and we should be striving to be the best.
Anyway, this restaurant made me feel a little bit like what I imagine a Tea Party recruiting center would fee like. Kind of claustrophobic and a bit repressed. This feeling did not change when another family came in and this same woman started talking to them and launched into reciting her very own poetry about Jesus. I suspect that the woman is actually the owner of that restaurant. This restaurant, by the way, is also a Bed & Breakfast. I can only imagine, based off the number of pictures and dolls of Jesus and Mary that were around the restaurant, that anyone staying at the B&B portion of this business could look forward to Jesus and/or Mary looking down on them while they’re in bed. A discomfiting thought.
Also, this same woman recommended the burgers to us, said they were amazing burgers. As several of us discovered, this was blatantly untrue. The hamburgers were obviously previously frozen, probably bulk purchased, meat patties. They were horrible. I have no problem with people displaying their religious beliefs, but the amount that were on display at this place was just overwhelming and kind of bizarre. Needless to say, if anyone is planning a trip to this town, unless you are super into Catholicism and bad food, I wouldn’t recommend so much as entering this establishment. And I actually feel a bit bad saying that, they are probably perfectly nice people, and if the food had been decent I wouldn’t say to avoid eating there, but the food really was bad.
This also points to the different cultures found in different parts of the U.S. I can’t imagine any restaurant in my area displaying quite this number of religious imagery, much less handing out anti-abortion leaflets. I think I may have actually had a bit of culture shock in that restaurant, it was just so unexpected. As for the Spiderman doll hanging lynched from a tree, I found that highly disturbing and it made me immediately aware that this probably wasn’t a place I would want to live. It’s amazing to me the difference in culture I experienced somewhere that’s only about a 4 hour drive from where I live. I’m used to traveling, to being aware that I am in a different place, that cultural norms are different and that I need to be aware of and sensitive to that. Within my own country, I am less aware and more critical of cultural norms that I’m not particularly familiar with.
From my experience, I feel like we really have become a country more divided by our differences than united by our commonalities. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is something that is going to change anytime soon, but I am now more aware of how I view cultural differences between myself and those of different ethnic backgrounds (with more sensitivity) and the cultural differences between myself and many other Americans of a similar background (critically). Maybe it’s because I have more invested in what happens here politically because of those differences than I do elsewhere. It’s something to think about, anyway.
Overall, my weekend in the woods of West Virginia was very nice. It was good to get away from home and relax with friends. The mountains around where we stayed are beautiful and I was once again reminded of how much I love nature and being outdoors. If only it wasn’t so cold outside. The idea of relocating to a warmer climate is infinitely appealing, especially when is 9° when I leave for work in the morning. Here’s to hoping this winter is short and warm weather on my upcoming island vacation!