Book Essay: Boarding House Blues, Caleb Crain

Boarding House, Maryland (still standing) 19th century

Boarding House, New York State, 19th century

Caleb Crain offers an amusing but somewhat serious essay in this week's New York Times Book Review on the reprint of, "The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses,"by Thomas Butler Gunn, originally published in 1857.

If you have ever gone on any sort of retreat, stayed at a pensione (pension), stayed at a hostel, or sojourned for more than 2 nights in a town's best or worst bed & breakfast or inn, you might discover that even with the virtual disappearance of boarding houses, the atmosphere can easily be recreated in the 21st century.

As a long-time member of the hostelry system, I stayed at my share of both imaginative and folksy lodgings, with all the colour we humans can provide even without a palette. I've also made it a habit of staying at local pensiones (aka pensions), delightful B&Bs and several inns.

Entering the town of Arroyo Seco (NM)

Within the last three years my travels took me to a hostel in Arroyo Seco (NM) that was equal to a 4-year college education, with socio-economics, violence against women and poverty, the 3 main classes. It took less than two nights to learn the ins, outs, facts, fancies and stories of the hostel's residents.

In Belfast, ME, I found friendships blossoming after a few days, quick recognition, lending hands, pleasure and a great view.

In Brattleboro, VT, I found an entire 4-generation immigrant family running the least expensive spot for long or short term stays, good manners and a willingness to turn a blind eye to my unwillingness to commit to a night's lodging more than two days in advance. They also provided me with a good breakfast and more than adequate coffee.

In each, like the vignettes described in Crain's essay, occasionally sharing food and separate beds, anywhere can make for good stories, and a storehouse of memories.

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