Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a happy holiday (with as little time as possible on highways, in airports, and navigating the insane crowds at Stop & Shop.)

BTW the chocolate turkey is from Deborah Ann's Sweet Shoppe in Ridgefield.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Portsmouth, NH

I wanted to go to Portsmouth because I'd once heard it compared to New London. (See also: New Bedford, Newburyport.)

I said that to a friend of mine who'd been to Portsmouth a few times and she replied "Portsmouth is New London if New London got its [expletive deleted] together."

In fact, the comparison I was thinking of had not been intended to imply the two cities were exactly alike (although they both have submarines, Wyland whale murals, history, and numerous coffee shops.) It was only a reference to some specific improvement that Portsmouth had made to its waterfront or traffic patterns or zoning laws which the speaker, an expert in city planning, thought New London would do well to emulate.

Now that I've been to Portsmouth, I can say that it is not like New London. Yes, both are walkable old seaport cities with interesting architecture and many restaurants. But New London is decidedly eclectic, multicultural, and, though I think I might hate this word, gritty. Portsmouth, at least when I was there, seems to be populated almost entirely by catalog-attractive affluent white people wearing Lululemon. (And I don't think anyone who loves New London, as I do, would wish that fate upon it.) New London is also much smaller, with a larger population.

City planning ideas aside, the only important thing the two places have in common is they should both be included on all must-visit lists of New England.

Seriously, if you've never been to Portsmouth, just go. It's the sort of town you'll want to return to before you've even left. And you might want to convince someone else to come with you. That way, when you point at a perfect brick building or some adorable item in one of the multitude of little shops downtown and say "Look at thaaaaat!" you'll appear less crazy.

I was only in Portsmouth briefly, but here are some first impression suggestions.


Pickwicks Mercantile
Scallops Mineral & Shell Emporium
Sheafe Street Books
Riverrun Books
Portsmouth Book & Bar

To see:

Wyland Mural (Off Vaughan Mall)
Oracle House (One of the oldest houses in New England, Marcy Street and Court Street)
Temple Israel (New Hampshire's first permanent synagogue, 200 State Street)
Portsmouth Atheneum (9 Market Square)
Prescott Park (Marcy Street)
Commercial Alley (Between Market and Penhallow Streets)

What I'd do next time:

Strawbery Banke Museum
Fort Constitution and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, New Castle

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rockport, MA

I went to Rockport, Massachusetts, and I didn't take notes.

If I had, they would have read something like: Granite quarries, fishing boats, little shops, churches, beaches, artists, couples. Coffee shops, water views. Roundabouts, one way-streets, looming futuristic windmills. An unspoken tension between residents and visitors, expressed, as it always is, in odd parking restrictions. Ice cream, fudge and the smell of fish frying. Red and blue and weathered grey.

I did, however, take pictures.

Monday, November 17, 2014


I don't know if any paint manufacturer makes a color called "New England Schoolhouse," but if not, they should.

There's something so instantly recognizable about that red.

It looks bright on the sunny side of a building and deeper when you stand in the shadows. It can be almost pink sometimes, like a pair of preppy chinos, or dull like rust or brick.

I knew that New Fairfield's Little Red Schoolhouse was somewhere on Brush Hill Road, though I wasn't sure of its exact address. But I spotted it right away, because you can't mistake that color. It stands out perfectly against a bright blue sky, a few autumn leaves still hanging on to their branches, an early snowfall...or all three.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Camp Bethel, Haddam

One of my favorite Connecticut exploring experiences ever was the day last January when I wandered through an empty, snowy Plainville Campground. Since then, I've been on the lookout for similar sites throughout the state.

This one, located on the Connecticut River in Haddam, is called Camp Bethel. It dates back to 1878. It was built by the Life and Advent Union, which the modern-day Camp Bethel website describes as "a small American Protestant denomination. There were times in the early years that as many as 10,000 people would gather on this property for a couple of weeks in the summertime...They came from as far away as Maine to the Carolinas by boat, train and horse drawn wagons. They stayed in tents and later built small cottages on the camp sites. Some of the current cottages were built in the 1890’s and early twentieth century in the typical Victorian style of the period."

Today, the 467-acre campground is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is still used by Christian groups of various denominations. Every year in August, a ten-day Campmeeting is held here, and I imagine there must be moments when it all feels very 19th century, if you can avoid looking at the newer buildings and the cars.

Though I visited after the official end of the season, the property wasn't entirely abandoned; a few wandering people and parked vehicles remained. This made the atmosphere seem slightly less "Victorian fairytale" than Plainville Campground did last winter. Still, Haddam - where you can buy shad along the roadside and it seems like every house is a bit of preserved 18th century perfection - is a little magical all on its own. And Camp Bethel, with its little white chapel and Gothic cabins perched on the riverbank, is a world apart.


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