Monday, October 09, 2006

Weekend in New England

Portland, Maine, as viewed from South Portland, across the harbor. I took lots of photos in Maine this past weekend. I had a wonderful time visiting with my dear friends, and I missed all those who were unable to attend. Maine Mom has been anxious to plan a reunion weekend for us for years. Her lengthy planning and research resulted in fabulous weather, lots of laughs, great meals, too much shopping, and late-night gab sessions that revealed yet more about ourselves.

I arrived in Portland late on Wednesday evening. It was a relatively smooth trip, although we sat on the tarmac at JFK for nearly an hour before taking off. By the time I got to PWM, the hotel was not able to come get me right away, so I took a cab to the Portland Regency hotel.
I was so wired when I arrived that evening that I unpacked everything.

The next morning was lazy: sleep a little later than usual, watch the news and some morning TV. Maine Mom called and asked if I wanted to ride along to pick up San Diego Mom at the airport. Sure! While waiting for my ride, I got a call from the Cycling Mom, who lives in Maryland. She is having marital difficulties and needed some advice. Her story was a big topic of discussion over the weekend, but I won't discuss it here. Maine Mom arrived, playing tunes on her little iPod, sunroof opened to a glorious, cool, autumn morning. We zoomed off to the airport, first on the highway and then on a paved country lane lush with fall color. Now I understand what leaf-peeping is all about. We finally collected SD Mom and headed back to the hotel for her to get cleaned up.

SD Mom, Maine Mom and I like to visit the art museum whenever we go to reunion, and this year was no exception. We put on our walking shoes and hiked up cobblestone streets to Congress Avenue, one of Portland's main sh
opping areas. We stopped at a local farmer's market for sandwiches and soup in the town square and nearly froze from the stiff breeze blowing in off Casco Bay. We ate quickly and then hoofed it to the Portland Museum of Art. Glad to be in out of the wind, we ventured upstairs to see the museum from top to bottom. There was a surprisingly good collection of contemporary art. I can't say I understood much of it, but I appreciated the artistic endeavor. There was a large exhibit of paintings by N.C. Wyeth, the American realist painter and father of Andrew Wyeth. I had never seen much of his work, although I am familiar with Andrew Wyeth's work. N.C.'s paintings are more like early-20th century book illustrations. I liked them better than Andrew Wyeth's work I've seen. We were fortunate enough to see Portland's Mona Lisa. She is a 16th century portrait thought to be a study for the famous La Gioconda at the Louvre. Harvard University art historians extensively researched and tested this painting to prove its provenance. Harvard was "unable to confirm or refute Leonardo’s hand in its creation. However, similarities are remarkable, and the work contains the characteristics of a left-handed brushstroke, consistent with Leonardo’s work as a left-handed artist," according to the Portland Museum of Art. Portland's Mona Lisa is one of several copies of the original, which I have seen. Frankly, I like Portland's better: she has a mystical blue background and a lovelier face that are still vibrant after 500 years. Our main interest was the "Paris and the Countryside" exhibit of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Outstanding, beautiful, all-encompassing of style and artist. A well-produced and excellently curated display of art that displayed what "modern" life was like in late-19th century France. There were lots of posters by Toulouse-Lautrec. There were so many paintings that depicted water in some form, that we were able to compare Monet's, Sisley's, Pisarro's, and Seurat's techniques. It was fascinating to compare pointillistic styles once again -- we worshiped Sunday Afternoon at the Island of La Grande Jatte together in Chicago two years ago. Seurat's masterful technique makes each dot a point of light; the other artists' works looked like dot-to-dot. Renoir, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse swirled around us in riotous color. However, we loved James Jacques Joseph Tissot's, L’Ambitieuse (Political Woman). I was not familiar with Tissot's work, but I certainly fell in love with it in Portland. Tissot was the "pre-eminent chronicler of the Victorian era," according to the Albright-Knox Gallery. His work is brightly colored and full of the ruffled, frilly, prissy details so classic of the Victorian era. It was food for the soul.

We detoured into the LL Bean outlet on the way back to the hotel. I found a warm jacket for Wild Thing ($69 selling for $44.95 then marked down to $36!) and some gloves for him and Moose.

By that point SD Mom was exhausted from traveling, so we
headed back to the hotel for her to rest. Maine Mom and I were not tired, so we popped next door to a funky little tea shop called The Crooked Mile. As we savored our pomegranate and raspberry teas, Connecticut Mom called to say she had arrived. She came over to hang out with us, as did the Daughter of the Deep South (DDS) when she got to the hotel. [I had a tough time giving her a pseudonym b/c although she lives in Virginia, she was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. She is so much more a Daughter of the Deep South than a Virginian, or G-d forbid a "southern belle".] Before long, we wandered back to the hotel to rest up and change for dinner.

Our dinner destination that evening was Fore Street, on Fore Street,
just down the street from our hotel. Sam Hayward, the chef, was named the Best Chef in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2004. Gourmet magazine just named the restaurant as one of the top 50 in the USA. Although we weren't able to make a reservation that evening, the hostess was able to seat us right away in a cozy room off the main dining area. Maine Mom and I shared the wood-oven roasted mussels as an appetizer. I had a Maine Jonah crab and bibb lettuce salad next; the dijon-bacon vinaigrette dressing was delicious. My entree was a venison mixed grill with farm-raised venison tenderloin, housemade venison andouille sausage, and a venison-shiitake ragoƻt. I chose a bottle of 2004 Adelsheim Pinot Noir, from the Willamette Valley, for us to drink with dinner. [Wine Guy approved!] The meal was excellent, and the service was terrific. We were so stuffed that we skipped dessert in favor of a box of Fore Street's handmade chocolates to go. We nibbled on those back at the hotel, as we lounged in the lobby watching some Thursday night TV. By 11:00, we were all sated and exhausted and ready for bed.

Friday was this year's "best day ever". [Explanation: last year wh
en we were in San Francisco, a bunch of us walked the entire span of the Golden Gate Bridge (in the fog), trekked over to Greens for lunch, and watched the Blue Angels practice over San Francisco Bay. We had so much fun together on a glorious day.] We started this day a bit early with a long walk down to Hobson's Wharf to eat breakfast at Becky's Diner. Becky's is an honest-to-goodness working man's diner on the Portland wharf. It opens at 4:00 a.m. and serves breakfast and lunch. The food is plainly delicioius. Her blueberry pancakes were to die for. The Daughter of the Deep South took lots of food shots that morning; maybe she'll share some with me. After a hearty breakfast at Becky's, we did a little shopping along Commercial Street. Our first stop was the Harbor Fish Market. SD Mom wanted to send lobsters back to her man, and this was Maine Mom's recommendation. I could see why. This market had the absolute freshest fish I've ever seen. The fish and shellfish glistened with freshness; the store had smelled of seawater and fresh air, not fishy at all. We even saw a lobster that had just shed its shell.I'm not nearly the photographer DDS is, but I really loved this shot of some oysters. They were shimmering treasures from the sea.
After ogling a 140-lb. swordfish and some mackerel, we headed out for the day's adventure: Lighthouses! CT Mom graciously agreed to drive us all in her van, and Maine Mom acted as our tourguide to two of the more famous lighthouse landmarks: the Portland Head Light and the Bug Light. The Portland Head Light was completed in 1791 and stands 72 feet tall. President George Washington appointed the first keeper of the light, which was lit with whale-oil lamps. The United States Coast Guard maintains the light now.

It was a quintessentially Maine day: cloudy, blustery, chilly, a melancholy day that left me introspective and quiet. The sea air was cleansing and liberating.

We then drove from Cape Elizabeth over to South Portland to see the Portland Breakwater Light a/k/a the Portland Bug Light. The first Bug Light, a wooden structure was completed in 1855. Its replacement was a cylindrical cast-iron tower surrounded by six Corinthian columns. What were they thinking? A cast-iron lighthouse in the middle of Portland Harbor? All I could think of was rust! The little Bug Light is beautiful in its own way. It is a testament to the hardiness and fortitude of Mainers, who restored the lighthouse in 1989.
We had toured enough and needed to do some more . . . shopping, of course! Exchange St. was our next shopping destination. It was right around the corner from the hotel. We actually fulfilled DDS's DH's request to buy herself some new clothes. The five of us had a blast picking out clothes for DDS to model for us. She purchased a few new lovely things; we hope her DH (Professor Author) approves. We trotted back up to the LL Bean outlet for the other moms to take advantage of the Columbus Day sales. SD Mom scored bigtime with some cute shirts and slacks. By that time, Chicago Mom and Annapolis Mom had arrived. We caught up with them, then caravanned over to Maine Mom's house for dinner.

Maine Mom's DH, Map Man, and her dad, Maine Granddad, threw one helluva a party for us!! They boiled fresh -- unbelievably fresh -- lobsters for our crowd, roasted salmon and portobello mushrooms, boiled a mountain of sweet corn and freshly-dug Maine potatoes. Truly the bounty of the land prepared with love. Thank you, guys. I am allergic to lobster, not deathly so, but anaphylactically enough that I don't eat it anymore. I ate the roasted salmon and helped SD Mom dissect her big bug. CT Mom and I showed Annapolis Mom how to eat her first lobster. Annapolis Mom is a seasoned Marylander and knows how to eat crabs; she found tearing apart a lobster to be far more complex than
Callinectes sapidus Rathbun (Maryland blue crab). She did a great job, though. Map Man and Maine Granddad cleaned up the great mess of dinner and served us tea and dessert. Map Man is a connoiseur of tea, amongst other things. We sampled Rooibos, smoky Oolong, and other wonderful blends from his stash. I should also mention that Maine Mom's daughters were wonderful hostesses, too. The younger daughter regaled us with tales of her ponies, while the older daughter shyly showed off her new French horn. They were sweet and quiet -- nothing like the wolves that live in my house. The night was cool but still young. We moved our gabfest out on to the deck and sat around the fire-pit table enjoying the woodsmoke and night air. When it became too cold for our bones, we bid our hosts adieu and went back to the hotel to chat some more.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. We got up a bit earlier and walked down to Becky's Diner again for breakfast. We lingered as long as we could and then gave up our table to the next big group. Our bellies and wallets were full. We opted to walk off breakfast while empyting our wallets along Portland's waterfront. There were funny T-shirts and gewgaws and Bush-bashing magnets. We had an appointment at 11:00, so we dropped our bags at the hotel and walked up to Soak Portland, a foot sanctuary and teahouse. Soak is a unique concept in personal pampering: they offer up great ceramic bowls of steaming water filled with mysterious herbs and salts and smooth rocks to pamper your pedal extremities. We sat on big, comfy couches and soaked our feet and legs in great cauldrons of healing water. We wore heated aromatherapy pads on our tired shoulders. We sipped exotic hot tea and nibbled all morning. Annapolis Mom wisely chose a foot and calf massage that made us all jealous. Chicago Mom enjoyed a well-deserved neck and shoulder massage. CT Mom and I opted for some pumice therapy on our barking dogs. And, we all wished we had a Soak near our own homes.

The spa life was hard work, so of course we needed lunch afterwards. We stuffed our oily, waterlogged feet back into our shoes and walked back down to the waterfront for chowdah at Gilbert's. Even though it was a bit breezy, we sat outside by the water. We ate clam chowder in bread bowls, but we never did get our drinks. Stupid waitress. We did convince a nearby gentleman to take our picture.
Although I took the photo in color, rendering it in black and white seemed to fit the setting.
We did some more shopping after our late lunch, and some went back to the hotel to rest.

Our last night in Portland. Our tradition is to go out for a great dinner together. Maine Mom chose Pepperclub. The food was pretty good. One server was good; the other was not usually present. They had a good wine list and a good dessert menu. We took our formal picture afterwards, as is our usual. We walked back to the hotel along nearly deserted, cold streets. It gave me a taste of what winter in Maine must be like: cold, hard, isolated. Once back at the hotel, we all changed into pajamas and took over the lobby lounge to thank Maine Mom for a wonderful weekend. Our custom is for each of us to bring the reunion planner something special from our home state. DDS brought her favorite tea and a covered mug. CT Mom brought white mugs decorated with seashells. I brought tangerine butter and Temple orange marmalade. Annapolis Mom and Chicago Mom brought their gifts to the house the night before. We talked some more and made plans to meet early for breakfast the following morning, as I would be the first to leave.

We had breakfast at the hotel on Sunday. We batted around some ideas for next year's reunion, wondering whether we should change the time of year. We're due to go to them middle of the country, and we were trying to come up with some locations. New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Tulsa (look out, Oklahoma!) are possibilities. For once, I was the first to leave. It was a sad and awkward feeling, but it was time to go. I hugged everyone goodbye and promised to post my pictures and blog soon.

My trip home was uneventful. The bags took forever to arrive at the airport. I finally got home at dinnertime and was welcomed with great fanfare by all the boys. We sat down to dinner, and Wine Guy recounted the tales of his weekend with the boys. Sigh. I need another vacation.


Sock Girl said...

I love this post. It made me feel like I was there with you. I can't wait to read the rest!m

Christina said...

I love it too! Maybe I should just copy/paste your post into my blog ;-)

I'm glad that Wine Guy approved of your selection. I know that those of us drinking it sure did!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful weekend! I'm so sorry to have missed it. I think Tulsa is ready for the August moms, though I have to say, I love the New Orleans idea.

Lisa M.