There’s been a lot of cottaging going on in Rehoboth recently. And I don’t just mean the public indecency type, although there has been some of that too with several arrests according to the local papers. The police don’t know why this sort of behavior is going on this year. Still on the loose is a masked man who smokes cigarettes and flashes passersby. In Rehoboth this is cause for alarm; in New Orleans it’s just another photo op.

Seriously though, what’s the difference between this kind of public exposure and opening up one’s home on a cottage tour? In both instances you’re showing people what you got with the hope of inspiring them to do something.

I partook in the 59th annual Rehoboth Art League Cottage Tour, one of the organization’s primary fundraising events. It’s always held mid-week in the summer, so it’s not often that I get the opportunity to join a thousand other voyeurs in viewing the cottages so brazenly revealed.

The organizers did another good job this year, selecting a nice variety of well-appointed cottages for us to snoop through. And nose around we did, when the docents weren’t looking. I saw two women opening the drawer of a bedside table at one gay-owned cottage, hoping for something risqué, I’m sure. One older gentleman lifted toilet lids. A well-dressed woman with fabulous eyeware peeked into a medicine cabinet. Guys felt up bed linens and towels.

Amidst the questions about kitchen countertops and bathroom tiles, I overheard a couple of gals wondering about the difference between a cottage tour and a house tour.

I’ve always thought of a cottage as an East Coast term referring to a home at a summer resort, generally near a body of water. It can be grand or humble, old or new, but it must be first and foremost about relaxation and escapism. All cottages are houses but not all houses are cottages, and my assumption has been that cities hold house tours and resorts hold cottage tours.

Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood has an annual house tour. Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island hold a bay-to-beach cottage tour. Nantucket, which is most definitely a resort town on the water, has held a house tour for over fifty years. Lenox, a grand old resort town in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, runs an annual cottage garden tour. Blowing Rock, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, features a tour of homes. Obviously, things aren’t as clearly defined as I had imagined.

Referring to one’s summer home a cottage is a bit of an affectation, don’t you think? For a hundred years or so the word has been used, with remarkable aplomb, to describe multi-million dollar mansions in places like Newport, Bar Harbor, and Palm Beach. Owners, with names like Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Astor, and Rockefeller, began referring to themselves as “resort sports” and “cottagers” and their neighborhoods became known as cottage colonies. They set the pace for the rest of the country, and newspapers and magazines gave extensive coverage of the social scene at the fashionable resorts. Folks in less glamorous resorts – like Rehoboth – followed suit.

Cottaging also refers to a way of life and there are a slew of magazines like Cottage Living, Coastal Living, and Delaware Beach Life that tout it. Cottaging is idyllic, it’s about days spent swimming, canoeing, and fishing, followed by cocktails on the porch or veranda and then casual dinners. Think rocking chairs, ceiling fans, and cool breezes. It means a summer away from the hustle and bustle of city life and an opportunity to renew the spirit.

But, what a curious word choice it is, considering the dictionary definition of cottage is of a modest dwelling and most folks just think of a cottage as a small house, period. In Britain, it’s slang for a public lavoratory and for disorderly conduct. Senator Larry Craig went a cottaging in Minneapolis.

Hmmm, perhaps there’s a clue here in all this to explain the rash of indecent exposures in Rehoboth.

You don’t suppose the culprits are acting out because they’ve come to our seaside resort in search of a peaceful respite of swimming and candelit dinners at dusk and then find themselves immersed among throngs of thrill-seeking tourists on the boardwalk?

No, it’s just absurd to think that a greasy pizza could lead to a greasy weenie or that a few oddballs are taking the cottage tour thing a little too literally. Clearly, though, something’s wrong.


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