Monday, July 27, 2015

Wallace Stevens Walk, Hartford

 THE HARTFORD

Last week, on a perfect summer day, my friend Sally (who Connecticut-based readers might know as the editor of Books, Ink at HamletHub) joined me on a little Hartford adventure that had been on my list since I moved to the capital city almost two years ago.

The Wallace Stevens Walk is one of the less-publicized attractions in a city full of half-hidden gems. It's a very simple walk, stretching 2.4 miles from the stately Asylum Avenue headquarters of the Hartford Financial Services Group, where acclaimed modernist poet Stevens (1879-1955) worked for 23 years, to the tastefully unassuming home where he lived with his wife Elsie. You could say it is part of a grand literary tour of Hartford, but it is also a commute; Stevens, who didn't drive, used to walk this route every day, mentally composing poetry along the way. 

The walk is punctuated by thirteen plain granite markers, each bearing a stanza of Stevens's inscrutable yet evocative "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The landscape of the journey - like the poem - is sometimes stark and sometimes surprisingly ornate. The markers lead you from Asylum Hill to the West End, and you follow, past grand houses and drab offices and parking lots, past wildflowers leaning against metal gates, across the mostly-buried Park River where it still flows, almost unnoticed, above the ground.

When you reach the end you are happier about the whole thing than perhaps you should be, standing on a summer day on the grassy strip that divides Westerly Terrace, imagining the snow that will soon begin to fall.


ASYLUM HILL CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH



AN APARTMENT BUILDING ALONG THE ROUTE


ASYLUM HILL CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH



THIS 1913 MANSION HAS A GREAT STORY



STOPPING TO ADMIRE A PRETTY HOUSE



ASYLUM AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH



THE END OF THE COMMUTE: 118 WESTERLY TERRACE, WHERE WALLACE STEVENS LIVED


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lowell, MA

I had two reasons to go to Lowell. First, one of my best and oldest friends, Stephanie, recently moved to the city. Second, Lowell is home to the Lowell National Historical Park, which tells the story of textile mills, immigration, labor, and industrialization in Lowell and America. As a Hartford resident, I was curious to see an urban national park, possibly similar to the one Hartford will eventually have in Coltsville.

I hadn't heard much about Lowell in the past. I think it might fit into my favorite category of place: the ignored and underrated city. Physically, Lowell felt familiar to me; it is classic industrial New England, with brick mill buildings and waterfalls, rivers and cobblestones, formerly grand Victorian houses and touches of art everywhere you look. But unlike anywhere else I can recall visiting, it is built around canals, divided by and joined together by canals, saved from an overwhelming heavy sturdiness by the surprise and occasional beauty of canals that slice and twist through the city's downtown.

The National Historical Park consists of museum exhibits, trolley and canal tours, and markers dotted along several walking trails that highlight different aspects of the area's manufacturing past. But even if all you do is stroll from one hipster coffee shop to another, you are nevertheless walking through a history lesson, past locks and gatehouses and narrow walkways connecting the massive mills that once filled Lowell with a clamor of power looms and a flood of people.

As we walked, I kept trying to compare Lowell to other places. It was like Hartford yet not like it; it resembled a mini-Pittsburgh; its canals, if this was Europe, would be lined with restaurant patios and filled with houseboats. But eventually I stopped comparing, and just took pictures.




















What we did in Lowell:

Sights and Activities:

Lowell National Historical Park
Pawtucket Falls
Lowell Cemetery

Food:

Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus
Coffee & Cotton (In Mill No. 5, see below)
Fuse Bistro

Shopping:

Mill No. 5
Van Gogh's Gear (In the Arts League of Lowell)


Friday, July 17, 2015

Nutmeg Poisoning

-I love a good state flag take-down. (Like the one from the Hairpin I linked to back in 2011.) Here's another from the Washington Post. ("Go home, Connecticut. You're drunk.")

-The New York Times found the curviest stretches of railroad in the Northeast Corridor. If you ride the train in Connecticut, be prepared to be afraid. ("The curve in Stonington, Conn., is the sharpest on the corridor.")

-My friend Jen Sharp (aka @CyclinArchivist) is writing about archives in Hartford in a series called Hartford Out of the Box. The first post is about music in Bushnell Park. ("Hartford has music in its soul.")

-Speaking of Hartford, WATCH THIS: Hartford by Drone.
 
-And finally, last week, I - along with my friend Steve Wood of Connecticut Museum Quest and historian Bill Faude - returned to WNPR's Where We Live for a third time to talk about everything that's weird in this whacky state. Because Connecticut Is Still Eccentric.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

When In Kent

JUST A GUITAR STORE. BECAUSE IT'S KENT.

The Size of Connecticut is about, as the header says, local destinations off the beaten path. This post is not about that. In fact, out of all the Town Center Strolls I've posted so far, Kent (along with Mystic) is possibly the most traveled. But sometimes one finds oneself in extremely popular destinations, and I couldn't let the opportunity for a blog post pass me by.

Kent used to intimidate me. The town, with a population of under 3,000, felt sophisticated yet rustic, blending the exclusivity of an upper-class suburb with the insularity of a small village. It always seemed that the sign at the town line reading "Kent Welcomes You" was not really directed at me.

These days I am not at all intimidated by Kent. It's a bit like the way objects which seem huge when you are small are revealed to be disappointingly medium-sized when you grow taller. The welcome sign is probably not for me, and I don't mind.

The thing is, Kent mostly just got lucky. It has a lot going for it: the preservation of Bulls Bridge, one of just a few covered bridges left in Connecticut; a stunning natural setting, full of steep hills and lush greenery; and a reputation for some of the best fall foliage in New England. It's home to two state parks, Kent Falls and Macedonia Brook. And the Appalachian Trail runs through it, meaning scruffy backpack-laden people who look like they just crawled out of the woods (because they just crawled out of the woods) co-exist, occasionally uneasily, with locals and New Yorkers weekending in the one part of the Connecticut countryside where they won't have to encounter people who don't care about New York. It also has self-consciously casual restaurants and oh-so-curated shops and numerous galleries, and there is art everywhere.

But as we all know, the lucky one is not always the best one, or the most deserving, or even the prettiest. Still, there's nothing you can do. You will go to Kent, because you can't not go there. Everyone goes there.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Kent. I'm just suggesting that if you go there, don't let anyone tell you this is all northern Litchfield County has to offer. Take the opportunity to visit some of the less-traveled towns and villages of this beautiful area. The Secret Corner site is excellent if you want to plan what to do, and I have some ideas in my Litchfield County section as well. (Oh, and a word of warning to any drivers or cyclists who don't want to be surrounded by motorcycles on the lovely country roads: go during the week if at all possible.)

JUST A CPA'S OFFICE. BECAUSE IT'S KENT.

THE NEXT TRAIN WILL ARRIVE AT...OH YES, NEVER.

ART IS EVERYWHERE IN KENT. (THIS IS BY PETER WOYTUK.)

THE LIBRARY WAS HOLDING A TEMPTING BOOK SALE WHEN I TOOK THESE PICTURES.

THE SWIFT HOUSE DATES FROM THE 1780s.

THESE GUYS COULD PROBABLY BUY AND SELL YOU.

JUST A GARDEN DESIGN BUSINESS. BECAUSE IT"S KENT.

IN THE KENT VILLAGE BARNS SHOPPING CENTER.

FOREIGN CARGO ("A FASCINATING JOURNEY IN SHOPPING")

THE PRIMITIVE HOME

J.J. GROGAN'S ("PURVEYORS OF FINE THINGS")

WHERE RAILROAD STREET ENDS.

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