Saturday, October 20, 2012

foggy birthday to you

When I told my girl many weeks ago that I would be in Portland soon, she piped up right away  -- oh, you should have dinner where we ate -- Fore Street. Who says kids don't remember?

We'd been to Portland. It was the bonus I thought up during a college tour. So long as we're on the east coast, let's go to Maine! My girls were used to such impulses.

In those days, I always, too, paid attention to food. These were my restaurant years: my money from moonlighting at L'Etoile went right back into food. Prepared by others.

And now, since today is no ordinary day, I decide to go with my girl's impulse (especially since Ed and I are splitting the tab; thank you, honey pot!). Still, I hadn't reserved a table. I wanted to show up and make my case for a spot at the bar.

I'm eating at the bar as I write this.

The fog rolled in sometime at night and when I finally left the big comfy bend (without a cat in it!) in the morning, I knew at a glance that the damp clouds weren't going to give up their hold without a good fight. That kind of fog doesn't lift easily.

Breakfast at the Inn on Carleton is a big deal. Most people love this about b&b stays. For me, it's a worry. I'll not easily forget a breakfast  Ed and I had at a northern Wisconsin b&b: there were enough calories on our plates to sustain a family of ten for a week. Since then, I ask ahead for a gentler approach to the morning meal.

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Toward the end of it, I see that the two couples there besides me are lingering, itching for a quick exchange. It's our anniversary -- one of them tells us. Ours too! -- the other responds. Me too -- I add. Only my sweetie's back home!  I can almost feel the question marks start to form, along with the polite silence that cautions - don't ask.

And still, I explain: I like to travel more that he does.

[Right now I just finished as exquisite half dozen of oysters -- in honor of Ed and I. We love oysters. Dear one -- you would have loved these! I am about to start in on the Hudson valley duck, with Henn of the Woods mushrooms and hard cider braised cabbage...

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... For the foodies among you -- Portland is worth a special detour,  just for this restaurant.]

Breakfast done. I'm out now. And excited! This is the part that I love so much -- the 'let's get going, there's a whole world to explore' -- moment of travel.

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So I get going. And I don't mind the fog. Because it's Maine, not the Mediterranean, for Pete's sake. Tough weather out here. It's to be expected.

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My first stop is actually (surprisingly?) at the Portland Museum of Art.  To pay homage. You should know that the reason I first thought of coming to Portland was because I'd read in the NY Times that the Winslow Homer studio -- the place where he painted in his last years - would be open to the public (for the first time) this October. But though I called within minutes of reading this -- I was too late.  I could not get tickets to the Studio. but I can, now, buy a ticket to see the special exhibit at the Museum -- of Homer's painting and the title of the exhibit is "Weatherbeaten." Canvas upon canvas of Homer's art depicting the rough seas along Maine's coast.

Since it's a special exhibit, I cannot take photos, but I did take some in other parts of the Museum. And it is a spectacular place! A fragment of it:

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this is the only Winslow Homer painting in the entire museum that hasn't a bar on photos

Okay, by noon, I'm again on the drizzly damp streets, heading toward the ferry.

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From Internet notes, from my host, Buddy, from so many others, I am told -- go take the ferry to Peaks Island. And so I do that.

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I love this about island ferry rides: you can eavesdrop on another way of life. Yes, there'll be the tourists (though rare at this time of the year), but you'll also have the baker taking cupcakes over to an island wedding, the guy with the cable repair services, the couple back from a food shopping trip on the mainland.

But what I love most is the view out onto the foggy foggy sea.

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It's a short ride. Twenty minutes maybe and we're there. My first port of call is actually the small cafe just by the landing. A cup of chamomile tea to keep me nimble. And I set out.

Within a few minutes, I pass a place with a bunch of bicycles in the courtyard -- one tumbling over the next. A couple is there, trying to right some decent bikes. I pause and ask about this: are they for hire?  It seems that you pick your bike and pay when you come back. An honor system. No one is there. They trust you to do the right thing. Okay, why not.

Here's why not: the bikes are rusty, the ride is not easy and in any case, biking keeps you to the main road, even as some of the side paths beckon. I ride for a half hour, then give back the bike (yes, I pay, even thought no one would know if I did not).

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And so then I walk, for hours, really...

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... and I get properly lost, but hey, who could mind -- I am on a foggy day (it rolls in, it rolls out, it rolls right back in) on an island with a pounding Atlantic surf to the east. It's a heady experience.

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I catch the late afternoon ferry back, in time to take a brief stroll through Portland's downtown. And here I have to be impressed. Portland is in a way like Madison. Same size, same leanings, only here they have the ocean and there, back home, we have the lakes. But Portland sells itself well. Peaks Island was lovely, but our lake shores are lovelier still. And how is it that Maine, especially southern Maine, manages to successfully promote itself as the place to buy anything form anywhere and at a discount? I walk into one gallery... nice. Funky Maine. Good folk art. Okay.

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I walk into a potter's shop. Lovely ceramics. Fine. I understand. The next -- oh, what's this? Ceramics form around the world, including Italy and Poland? Poland?? In Wisconsin, we seem to stay with the cheese motif. We're so local that, so far as I know, no one comes to Madison to shop unless you live in the hinterlands and you make the trip to pick up what you need from Target. I admire Portland for looking beyond the Target shoppers.

Finally, it's approaching 5 -- the time when Fore Street opens its doors for the populace without a reservation. The line forms, I'm toward the front of it. And now I'm inside, with a coveted spot at the bar!

So again, happy anniversary, Ed! Thank you for understanding that I love being places. Even as I love, too, coming home to the farmhouse. And, happy birthday. There, I said it!

The moon shines brightly on us, yes, it surely does...

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