Friday, April 18, 2014

Vacation

I was tempted to title this post "Blogcation," but I would have hated myself for it.

I'm taking a break from blogging for a few weeks, to concentrate on work and stuff. (Stuff = maybe going to the gym or cleaning my apartment or making something for dinner that's more complicated than a cup of grapes.) I'll be back in May. Until then, I'll be on Instagram (@johnnakaplan) and Twitter (@johnnamaurie) and I'll also be posting and editing content at Hartford City Center HamletHub.

Let's hope that when I return, it will be legit sundress and flip-flop weather. Please.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grace, Niantic


Maybe it's because too many of my formative years were spent in Fairfield County, but few things make me as happy as a good shopping discovery.

When I walked into Grace in Niantic, I was not expecting much. What I was expecting was a slew of that tacky, touristy junk you find in gift shops in so many coastal towns. Or, worse, the $250 brightly patterned tunic blouses you find in gift shops in so many other coastal towns.

But what I found instead was the kind of store you wander into and instantly feel compelled to buy all the clothing (arranged by color!) and the accessories (so cute; probably meant for girls half my age) and the adorable inexpensive ceramics. I actually stood for a minute with my hand on the cover of a pretty book about juice fasting, wondering if I needed it. (Fasting, I need. A decorative volume explaining it, probably not so much.)

I resisted, mostly. If I'd had more money, it could have gotten out of hand.








Monday, April 14, 2014

Nice Block.

When I first moved to Hartford, one thing that surprised me was how much blocks mattered.

I looked at one apartment in a building a few streets over from where I now rent, and the building employee who showed me the place said, "You're a nice lady, you don't want to live here." He meant not the city or the neighborhood, but the block. After I moved into my current apartment, many people told me, on seeing my building, "This is a nice block!"

I've lived in many towns with relatively better and worse neighborhoods, but I hadn't encountered that kind of specific block-awareness since Manhattan in the early- to mid-90s. Remember when the common perception of New York was that one wrong turn would lead you into certain doom?

But what I have found about living in a place where blocks are so distinct is that every turn can place you in a new world, or a new time. My current favorite block is the bit of Capitol Avenue between Main and Hudson. With its red doors, its little street-level nooks and gates, and its grand, refined apartment buildings, it is entirely different in appearance and character than any of the blocks that surround it. 

It's popular to talk about how small Hartford is. But when you think of the city as being made up of thousands and thousands of unique blocks, it begins to seem very large indeed.












Friday, April 11, 2014

American Writing Paper

Here, on the Hockanum River in Manchester, they used to make paper.

There have been paper mills on this site since 1784, before the establishment of the town of Manchester. At that time this was a village called Oakland, where the workers of the Oakland Mills lived. The buildings in these pictures were constructed to replace earlier wooden mills when the Massachusetts-based American Writing Paper Company took over in 1899.

In 1933, the paper mills went out of business, and these buildings were used for other types of manufacturing. Until, of course, they weren't.

Now they are so dilapidated that the commission that oversees open space in Manchester advises people not to use the trails that run alongside them. Apparently, loose bricks - or whole walls for all I know - could come tumbling down on hikers at any time.

What with the risk of death by falling masonry and the reminder of how quickly industries we take for granted can fade away, this should be a foreboding place. But I find there's always something calming about the sight of a crumbling old mill, dignified in its failure, holding on beside an indifferent river.










Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Long Walk

When I was in college (back in the Pleistocene era) my "long walk" consisted of commuting on foot from my apartment in the Village to my classes in deepest Chelsea. At Trinity College in Hartford, "long walk" refers to the row of buildings above.

I wrote a bit about my first visit to the Trinity campus on HamletHub, but I thought the extra pictures deserved a blog post of their own.









Monday, April 7, 2014

Frog and Turtle Barn

I wish I had just come across this old barn in Hartland by accident. It would have been a great surprise find.

But in fact, I went looking for it.

I was afraid it would be a wild barn chase - sometimes projects like this are temporary, intentionally or not, and by the time you try to find them, they've crumbled or faded away.

But the Frog and Turtle Barn was still there.

Just standing on a quiet road, ready to be found by those who go looking for it and discovered by the lucky few who don't.

(So how did I find this place? On the Hartland Historical Society's page of miniature historic buildings for sale.)

Friday, April 4, 2014

North Canton Schoolhouse

I stepped on the brake because of the church, white with double doors set wide apart like a cow's eyes.

I turned into the parking lot because of the little school, half-hiding in the church's shadow. It was a Sunday morning, and the lot was full, the church packed with people. I wondered if they might all stream out just in time to catch me crashing though the small snow bank I had to climb to get to the front of the schoolhouse.

But they didn't come out, and I didn't fall. I just took my pictures, walked back to my car, and drove away, a godless heathen having a bit too much fun on a Connecticut Sunday morning.




Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Snow and Books, 10

Some time during one of the last 57 snowstorms (I can no longer distinguish them by date or by silly name, as they all blended into one endless nightmare of parking bans and shoveling) I read the sixth edition of the Rough Guide to New England.

There was a period shortly after I graduated from college when I wanted to magically disappear from my own life - which consisted of scouring the auditions section of Backstage and literally pounding the pavement of Manhattan attempting to convince retail stores to give me a day job - and reappear transformed into the woman who hosted the Rough Guides TV series. I would have better, less trendy hair, of course, and I'd be American, but I would get to travel the globe and stand in front of interesting places while talking about them wittily and wearing sunglasses.

This, clearly, never happened, and the TV show - as far as I know - is no more. But on to the guidebook. As usual, with books that cover Connecticut as well as other states, I'm only talking about the Connecticut section.

Today I Learned: Montpelier, VT is the only US state capitol without a McDonald's. 

Amusements: Westport is "an entirely different world." The Litchfield Hills is an "alternative to the Berkshires." "Tourism here is of a sophisticated sort." "Driving in the winter is actually less perilous than you may expect." The Hartford Courant is a "smaller paper." And anyone reading this book who hasn't been to New England before would be forgiven if they thought the people of Connecticut subsisted entirely on pizza.

Listings: Reading the Rough Guide to New England, I kept having to remind myself, "it is what it is." Since I'm not normally in the habit of repeating cheesy catch phrases to myself, this got annoying, but it was true. This is one relatively compact, roughly (heh) 500 page book that sets itself the task of covering all of New England. There is no way to do that in any real depth, so it helps to see this is a guide for people traveling to Massachusetts who also want some idea of what surrounds their destination. To put it another way, 80 pages are devoted to Boston alone, 109 to the rest of Massachusetts, less than 50 to Connecticut, and 33 to Rhode Island.

With that taken into account, the Connecticut section is...fine. It concentrates primarily on Mystic, New Haven (which it views as essentially part of Fairfield County), downtown Hartford, and, to a lesser extent, Litchfield County. The focus is on facts rather than descriptive writing, and the facts are mostly correct, though occasionally a detail requiring a more nuanced understanding of the state comes out embarrassingly wrong. (E.g., the statement that New London is reviving due partly to the Pfizer offices located in Groton.)

This book proffers only the obvious, even though some of the obvious is curiously omitted. A major Connecticut travel guide that almost ignores Essex seems odd to me, though perhaps it is a relief to the residents of Essex. The Quiet Corner is criminally neglected, and given only one paragraph. (Guidebook crime: it's a big problem these days.) Another strange almost-omission? The Dutch. For a book that tries to go into the background of the region and of individual locations, I found the strong emphasis on British colonial history - with a dash of smallpox-afflicted Indians - to be a bit jarring.

I had always, perhaps wrongly, equated "rough guide" with a sort of spirited edginess (perhaps the fault of my one-time TV idol and her trendy hair.) Reading this book I suddenly realized it might instead mean "rough" in the sense of a rough sketch. There's nothing new or unusual here, but for a brief overview dotted with tourism's greatest hits, it works.

Quote: "The capital of Connecticut, Hartford is fast becoming one of the most alluring destinations in New England." Why thank you.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Sabbath Day House x 2

About a year ago, I wrote one of my favorite posts, about the Sabbath Day House in Durham. I like to think that I know a fair amount about Colonial Connecticut, but sometimes I come across an object or concept I had no clue existed, and that was one of those times. (I also love the comment on that post, telling me that what I thought was a cow is in fact an ox. Of course, being a city girl by birth and at heart, I will always think of any large, vaguely rectangular animal as a cow. I could see a mastodon out the car window, and I'd point and yell "Cow!")

This post is somewhat of a follow-up to the one on Durham's Sabbath Day House and my own cluelessness. Despite being fairly familiar with the area around Union Street in Guilford, I had no idea that on that road stood two Sabbath Day Houses, right next to one another.

One was built by Daniel Bowen in 1734 and one by Pelatiah Leete in 1715, and they are now inhabited by real live modern people. Who hopefully were not at home while I stood on the sidewalk staring at their adorable houses and wishing parents would start naming their children names like Pelatiah again.





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