Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Boston | South End

I was hesitant to publish two posts in the "Not Connecticut" category back to back, but I figured no one would mind some additional Boston photos.

After wandering around Beacon Hill last week, my friend and I wandered over to the South End, where we wandered some more. I hadn't been in the neighborhood for years, and this time, the South End - though obviously very Boston - reminded me a little of Hartford. (If you've been to both, or read my posts on Capitol Avenue, Congress Street, and Lewis Street, you might see the resemblance too.)

We peeked into tiny adorable hipster stores and wondered how they stayed in business. We admired autumnal decorations and diminutive doors tucked beneath front stoops. We strolled down the middle of empty streets, wondering where Boston residents go on weekends.

After we had wandered long enough that I could feel blisters forming on my toes, I headed limped back to the train station. On the way I passed some white chalk lettering on a brick wall that read: IT MIGHT WORK OUT. Let's hope, chalk graffiti artist of the South End, let's hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Boston | Beacon Hill

I once took a quiz called something like "How Basic Are You?" and was surprised when my results came back at around 15%. I never thought as myself as basic, but then again, I assumed that truly basic people didn't self-identify as basic either, and therefore I might be in for a rude, pumpkin-spice-flavored surprise. But no! I am, in fact, not particularly basic. (I can't recall how many basic points were awarded simply for taking an online quiz.) But that doesn't mean I don't occasionally enjoy some very basic travel, like going to Boston for the day to wander around in Beacon Hill and take pictures of pretty houses. Which is what I did last weekend.

Beacon Hill is, of course, historic - from its name, evocative of lookouts warning of invasions, to its narrow streets and gas-lamps. It's also a perfect neighborhood for strolling, with Federal architecture, hidden green spaces, old-school independent shops, all brick everything, and steep slopes that force you to slow down and occasionally sit and rest. Beacon Hill's atmosphere is timelessly New England, the sort of place that's so easy to take for granted when you live here until you stop and imagine what people from elsewhere must make of it.

Obviously, this part of Boston can get very crowded, especially on a clear fall day. If you want to eat at one of the trendiest spots, you'll have plenty of company. But move away from Charles Street, with its packed stores and restaurants, and Acorn Street (above), with its cobblestones and klatches of Instagrammers, and you have Beacon Hill's charmingly askew sidewalks all to yourself. Well, you and the people who actually live there.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rain and Books, 19

Despite all the talk of drought elsewhere in the state, here in southeastern Connecticut it's been raining a lot lately. Miserable drizzling rain in the morning, instant-lakes-in-the-streets rain during the afternoon, alarming downpours of rain overnight - you get the damp, gloomy idea.

Luckily, I had a guidebook to read when I didn't want to venture outside: Beachcomber's Guide to the Northeast, by photographer Dan Tobyne. This exploration of the New England coast ignores the beach towns and concentrates on the beaches themselves. It combines lovely photos with information about various animate and inanimate objects you'll find along the shoreline (sea glass, shipwrecks, clams) and a guide to some notable beaches in each New England state. Despite the back cover's promised overview of "every beach from Connecticut to Maine," the actual selection is considerably more, shall we say, curated. The Connecticut section, on which I will concentrate here, features 29 beaches; a quick glance at the Connecticut Coastal Access Guide shows there are about 80 public beaches along the state's coast.

Beachcomber's Guide is divided into two main sections, the first a science lesson in poetic prose and the second a traditional travel guide. Photographs are inserted throughout. Often, in guidebooks as in life, beach photos all look the same, reducing real-life splendor to a bland, blue-and-beige rectangle that any child with a disposable camera could capture. Tobyne's are more specific, highlighting the dramatic colors in a pile of rocks or taken from an unusual vantage point to remind you that not all beaches are alike.

Like Tobyne, I grew up on the beach (I mean, not literally, I'm not a hermit crab) and his portrayal of a landscape at once familiar and mysterious resonated with me. If you, too, are one of those who always returns to the water, I think you'll like this book. Well, most of it.

Today I Learned: New England has more than 5,000 miles of coast. There are only four basic types of beach: pocket, barrier, mainland, and spit. Ancient people may have been able to walk, overland, to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Granite is a an igneous plutonic rock, meaning that it is "brought to the melting point deep below the Earth's surface and slowly cooled over time," then later exposed "after its softer rock covering is eroded away. Jasper Beach in Maine is a 3,000-foot long "giant stone dune." More ships have been lost along the coast of New England than any other place in the country. A gravel bar like the one that connects Milford's Silver Sands Beach to Charles Island is called a tombolo.

Amusements: Whelks are either right- or left-handed. A thing called a "puddingstone conglomerate" exists, and New England's best-known puddingstone conglomerate is located in Boston. Horseshoe crabs have nine eyes. (OK that last  one isn't amusing at all, it's slightly terrifying.)

Listings: As I noted above, this book offers a very limited glimpse at the choices available to a visitor picking a Connecticut beach. Perhaps the beaches that made the cut are Tobyne's personal favorites, or an attempt to showcase beaches with diverse attractions. (If it's the latter, I'd judge the attempt successful - there are large beaches and small ones; beaches with lots of amenities and simpler, wilder beaches; and beaches dotted all along the coast, from Greenwich to Stonington.) Because this book has less value as a traditional guidebook than as a meditation on the place of beaches in our lives and a celebration of all things sand-covered, all the Connecticut-based reader can really do here is search for their own favorites and check to see whether any beaches they haven't heard of are on the list. Some of my favorites made it in (Westport's Burying Hill and East Lyme's Rocky Neck, for example) and some didn't (Waterford Beach Park, for one.) Some of the selections intrigued me; I don't think I knew, for instance, that the Bridgeport neighborhood of Saint Mary's by the Sea had a beach with a "half-mile walkway for strolling." But because the description of it is essentially a paraphrase of the aforementioned Connecticut Coastal Access Guide, and because some of the other small beaches Tobyne chose to include are decidedly underwhelming in person, I would need to do more research before making a special trip to Bridgeport to check it out.

Quote: This book is scattered with quotes, and I think my favorite of them is part of a poem, "A Shell," by Fannie Isabel Sherrick:

Oh, tell the secrets thou must know
Of clouds above and waves below;
Oh, whisper of the bending sky
And ocean caves where jewels lie.

O beauteous sea-shell, tinged with red,
What dost thou know; what canst thou tell?
Unto what mysteries are thou wed,
Thou fragile thing, thou pearly shell?
A whisper of the sounding sea;
A sweep of surges strong and free;
A tale of life - a tale of death;
A warm, bright sin - an icy breath.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Durham Fair

In 1916, Durham's first fair was held on the town green. There has been a fair in the town almost every year since. (The few exceptions were due to the 1938 Great New England Hurricane and World War II.) 100 years later, the Durham Fair is the largest agricultural fair in Connecticut.

Last weekend, I ventured to Durham to see what that might entail. Though bigger than the one similar fair I've been to (Woodstock, way back in 2010 when I still had tiny blog photos), the Durham Fair was manageable; you can easily walk through the fairgrounds and see most of the exhibits in a couple hours. (It would take longer, obviously, if you went on rides, stopped to watch any of the scheduled shows, or crammed so much fried dough into your face that you had to rest and recover.) The parking situation is a bit confusing - there are many lots, at various distances from the fairgrounds, charging different prices. Free shuttle service is provided at some of the more distant lots, but I was happy to pay $10 to park behind the Durham Fire Department on Main Street, a few blocks from the entrance.

The Durham Fair is advertised as "Good. Clean. Wholesome. Fun." which I think means you're supposed to bring your kids. Having no kids, I brought my mom, who did say the experience reminded her of being a kid at the Calgary Stampede, eating corn and candy apples, and buying magic wands and kewpie dolls.

Not being into rides or fair food (though it all smelled delicious; I probably inhaled 6,000 calories worth of doughnuts, kettle corn, and fries just walking past the dozens of vendors), my favorite part of the Durham Fair was the animals. Even for grown adults, there's just something undeniably fun about getting a close-up look at so many different breeds of rabbits, birds, cows, and llamas. Sadly, we managed to miss most of the goats and sheep; their section appeared to be roped off  when we passed through. Still, there were giant pumpkins and vintage farm equipment (both surprisingly interesting) and prize-winning tomatoes and pies (not particularly interesting, yet hilarious nonetheless.) There was also a tent full of crafty items for sale, and there was wine, which I ignored but would have very much enjoyed tasting if I hadn't had to be awake enough to drive back to New London afterwards.

Oh, and of course there's the other, very important thing the Durham Fair offers, free with the price of admission: photo ops.


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