Chances are, you missed David Brooks’ column last week in the New York Times. You were probably too busy mucking out your basement — or you didn’t have lights or computers to read it with.
Too bad. Brooks described his family’s summer visit to 7 African safari camps. Some were simple, lacking electricity or running water. (Sound familiar?) Others were relatively luxurious, with showers, even pools.
The simple camps, Brooks said, were “friendly, warm and familial.” Guests dined together at communal tables. There were impromptu soccer games, spear-throwing and archery competitions with staff members.
The more elegant camps, Brooks said, “felt colder.” Families dined at separate tables. Tents were further apart. Staff kept their distance too.
Brooks used a Yiddish word — haimish — to describe the simpler camps. The word, he said, “suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.”
The columnist devised what he called “an invisible Haimish Line” to describe American life today. Restaurants and bars can exist on either side of it.
So can hotels. “You’ll find multiple generations at a Comfort Inn breakfast area,” Brooks wrote, with people “likely to exchange pleasantries over the waffle machine.”
In a 4-star hotel, meanwhile, guests “quietly answer email on their phones.”
So too with money. “When we get some extra income,” Brooks noted, “we spend it on privacy, space and refinement.”
That has benefits, of course — “let’s not forget the nights at the Comfort Inn when we were trying to fall asleep while lacrosse teams partied in the hallways and the rooms next door,” Brooks said — but too often we fall on the wrong side of the Haimish Line.
Last week, Hurricane Irene forced all Westporters to the same side.
Sherwood Diner — one of the few restaurants in town that never lost power — epitomized haimish. Lines stretched out the door — so strangers shared tables. Not all the staff made it in — so patrons cleared food and served coffee. Conversation flowed easily. Everyone had stories to tell — and hear.
We were haimish with neighbors, offering extra ice, beds and hands to clean up, even as we worried about our own homes.
We were haimish at the hardware store, providing little tips on how to cope with big problems.
We were haimish as we drove, stopping at light-less lights, waving others through the very intersections we always zoom by, even when red.
Westporters are not normally haimish. We like our private tables, our luxury safari tents. Given a choice — and we usually have one — we pick the Ritz over the Comfort Inn. Or at least the Marriott.
Last week, we didn’t have a choice. We had to be haimish.
So we were. And we lived to tell the tale.
Just a few days later, we’ve reverted to our non-haimish ways. We’re back at our own tables at the diner, and if the waitress doesn’t ask for our order quickly, we’re pissed. The traffic lights work again, which means we ignore them.
In fact, just a couple of days after Irene, we complained that the noise from our neighbors’ generators kept us up at night. That’s not very haimish, is it?
Westport will never live on the good side of the Haimish Line. It’s not in our DNA. Besides, it takes work.
But maybe — just maybe — now that we’ve seen what the other side is like, we can wander over more frequently for a visit.