Ten things we miss in Portsmouth

When I say “we” here, I’m acknowledging a widespread sense of loss voiced by friends and neighbors. Some of these places I know by reputation only, though I still see signs where they were. And others are places I valued.

When I first came to New Hampshire more than 30 years ago, Portsmouth still had a funky feel through much of its downtown. But real estate prices have been soaring, and that’s taken a toll. Ouch!

  1. The J.J. Newberry’s store. A real old-fashioned five-and-dime emporium with its classic soda fountain, knickknacks, and distinctive aroma downtown. Its closure meant many items could no longer be purchased within walking distance.
  2. Seavey’s Hardware. This was one of those family-owned hardware stores where you could find just about anything you’d need if you owned an old house. They could find old fixtures in original packaging and offer it to you for a fraction of what you’d have to pay, if you could locate it at all anywhere else. Alas, when a new generation failed to step up, the buildings were sold … for a constantly changing lineup of boutiques.
  3. Ciabatta bakery and café. Yes, real bakers rising way before dawn to create artisanal breads, pastries, and cakes. And great coffee long before Starbucks was anywhere near our corner of New England. Again, owning its own building helped. But the toll of long hours with few breaks finally led its owner to move on. Boo-hoo. I see it as an emblem of many other dearly departed eateries. Sakura, a small Japanese spot, and the inexpensive Stock Pot overlooking the harbor (great pies, by the way) are two I especially miss.
  4. A real downtown grocery. I don’t remember its name, but it was handy, especially if you were about to go out on the water or wanted an impromptu picnic in the park.
  5. The Pick’n Pay. Within walking distance of downtown, this family-run grocery built a loyal following for all of its special little touches and its personal sense of a social gathering spot. Everybody seemed to know everybody, so I’m told. Many still lament its sale in 1999 to the Hannaford chain after five decades of independence.
  6. Funky, cheap stores. The storefronts have almost all gone upscale now. How many pricy clothes do people need, anyway? How many souvenirs and gifts? How many real estate brokers?
  7. The old Prescott Park arts festival. Yes, the programs continue but they just don’t seem the same. Is it the lineups? Or just us?
  8. Community spirit. Something in the laissez-faire bohemian air I recall has turned bourgeois, even puritanical. The children’s museum had outgrown its original space but was rebuffed repeatedly before leaving town altogether for Dover a few years ago (Hallelujah!), but the pattern continues. We hear story after story of sourpusses and grumblers who are upset by the ice skating rink at Strawbery Banke (it’s pure Currier and Ives, for goodness sake) or the self-deputized posse searching brown paper bags at the Prescott Park concerts and calling police. It’s the old “we got ours, now get out” attitude that will soon make the town unwelcoming even to itself.
  9. A small-town scale. One historic neighborhood, just north of downtown, that didn’t escape urban renewal long sat as a bizarre quasi mall in the middle of a big parking lot. The houses it replaced had been, I’ve heard, elaborate Victorians whose craftsmen builders had filled with stone carvings, fantastical woodwork, and fanciful windows. What was left, admittedly, was an eyesore. Initially, nobody seemed to object when plans were announced to redevelop the site. What’s gone up, though, is a few square blocks of relentless four- or five-story rectangular structures befitting a big city but alien to the architectural character it borders. These monoliths with national chain retailers and eateries on the ground floor and residential condos above just don’t fit in. Well, considering that the city also banned buses from downtown – to get one to Boston, for instance, you have to take a “cute” trolley out to the transportation beside Interstate 95 – you just might start wondering how long it will be before someone tries to convert the whole place to a gated compound.
  10. Easy parking. Yes, the parking garage has long been a sanctuary, considering the shortage of street parking downtown, but now even that’s usually overflowing, especially in tourist season.

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What do you miss in a place you’ve frequented?

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Well, the vibe’s right …
… even if the shots were taken on a Sunday afternoon in Tamworth, New Hampshire.

 

Ten favorite restaurants in my experience

Some of these no longer exist, other than in my memory. And while some are expensive, others are quite the affordable but deserve kudos for skillful preparation and good ingredients.

  1. Big Night, Dover. Anything Chris and Linda did here or in their later incarnations in South Berwick, Maine, was always masterful, often with a French or Mediterranean base. Small-scale, as in a two-person operation, can truly be beautiful. They’re the standard by which we now measure all others.
  2. Fore Street, Portland, Maine. On a larger scale and an industrial style room, this is simply great food. We had a sauvignon blanc that was delivered with very little markup from retail simply because the owners thought this would be perfect for our meals – and we’re still searching for another bottle that comes close. My wife will rattle off the details of our meal and why we were so thoroughly impressed.
  3. North, Providence, Rhode Island. Another small setting – 18 seats, plus a small bar – this Asian fusion laboratory was a revelation with tastes I didn’t know even existed.
  4. Gasperetti’s, Yakima, Washington. A small setting – about 48 seats at the time – this was considered by many to be the best Italian restaurant in the Pacific Northwest when we lived there.
  5. A tiny Japanese restaurant near Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Four tables, as I recall on my first and only visit to the city. My introduction to raw fish (shashimi), sake, and plum wine. Heavenly.
  6. PB Boulangerie, Wellfleet, Cape Cod. Wonderful French with a chef proprietor from Lyons.
  7. Little Saigon, Worcester, Massachusetts. I love Vietnamese, and this one most of all.
  8. Lobster in the Rough, York, Maine. Many fine Sunday afternoons here with a cover duo and families playing bocce. They knew how to make fine onion rings and French fries, in addition to haddock and lobster. And don’t overlook the slaw. Straight-forward fare like this can be a tough test for many restaurants. We really admire the ones that pass with flying colors.
  9. Wonderland Café, Watertown, Massachusetts. Unpretentious Chinese cuisine that demonstrated the importance of fresh ingredients. This was takeout that was welcome a two-hour drive away a day later. ’Nuff said?
  10. Ta-boo, Palm Beach, Florida. My first truly upscale restaurant experience, thanks to my girlfriend’s parents. Had my first raw oysters and first orange flambe while being entertained by a Yale glee club. After that, everything’s a delirious swirl.

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So how about your favorites? And what makes them stand out?

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A Corinthian column on the exterior of the Bradford Congregational Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a classic touch. The screening is to keep birds at bay.

Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.

Ten sets of wheels in my life

  1. My 2002 Camry. Coming up on 300,000 miles on the odometer.
  2. My wife’s 2013 Prius.
  3. Her Saturn before that.
  4. My Plymouth Neon.
  5. My VW Fox, a two-door wagon.
  6. My 1600 model BMW coupe. Oh, the memories!
  7. The company car, a Chevy Impala. Burgundy.
  8. My Subaru, when they were first being imported into the States.
  9. VW Bug. Classic memories. Anyone else ever pop the clutch to get started?
  10. A ’66 Buick Skylark, purchased from my dad.

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So what are you driving. And what’s been your favorite?

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Nothing I’ve ever owned. This Pontiac convertible got a lot of attention in mid-coast Maine. Look at this as inspiration.

Why this year is a hippie jubilee

What a pivotal year 1969 would turn out to be. Hard to think that was 50 years ago now – seems so long ago and yet, for those of us who experienced it, still so vivid. The hippie movement spread from a freakish fringe happening and out across the nation. So much of its impact we now take for granted, and so much remains to be accomplished.

Fifty years! That’s the jubilee, if only we’d have the corresponding release promised in Scripture.

Here are ten big things that happened that year.

  1. Richard M. Nixon becomes president of the United States. And we had thought Lyndon Johnson was bad? We were in mourning. January 20.
  2. The Beatles final performance. Where would rock go? January 30.
  3. Chappaquidick Affair. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy loses control of his car and plunges into a pond. A woman’s body is found later in the vehicle. The Kennedy magic ends. July 25.
  4. First moon landing. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as astronaut Neil Armstrong says as he first walks on the surface. Anything is now thought to be possible. July 29.
  5. Charles Manson cult murders five people, including the Hollywood actress Sharon Tate. Are these villains hippies? August 5.
  6. Not the only big music festival that year, but the most famous. Suddenly, hippies have come out of the woodwork and are visible everywhere. August 15 to 18.
  7. First message sent across Arpanet, precursor to the Internet. Little does anyone know of the life-changes ahead. For me, it’s emblematic of the far-out thinking that accompanied the hippie revolution. October 29.
  8. March on Washington to protest the war attracts 250,000 participants. The largest demonstration to date. November 15.
  9. Draft lottery instituted. Young men now have a clearer idea of their chances of being conscripted for military service. Will this defuse the antiwar fever? Many did utter a big sigh of relief. December 1.
  10. Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Event marred by Hells Angels, violence, and deaths. December 6.

Other significant events include the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Stanley v. Georgia declaring “the State may not prohibit mere possession of obscene materials for personal use” (April 7), the black students’ takeover of Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University (April 19), widespread police crackdowns on student protests elsewhere, and the Stonewall Inn gay club riot in New York City (June 28).

In my novel Daffodil Uprising, similar pressures are building in the hills of southern Indiana. Look how chaotic these events remain when viewed together.

TEN MORE PERSONAL TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

Travel’s been largely on hold for me – just too much to do at home, for instance, especially when it comes to writing. But what if that were to change?

  1. San Francisco, Seattle, and Yakima. I haven’t been back to my beloved Pacific Northwest since leaving in 1990. This would provide a basis for an memorable sweep.
  2. The East African Quakers have much to teach the rest of us, and I can’t think of a better introduction to this mysterious continent.
  3. Cumbria, England, and Lurgan, Northern Ireland. These two places, a short hop apart on the Irish Sea, are central to my Hodson ancestry. I’d love to see where we’re from.
  4. Apart from the museums, classical music, and theater attractions, I’d want access to some early Quaker minute books – especially those pages marked “too faint to microfilm” in Lurgan’s surviving records.
  5. Alsace, France/Germany, and Switzerland upstream. On my Grandma Hodson’s side, these are my places of origin.
  6. Kyoto, especially. Did I mention my long fascination with Zen Buddhism or Japanese cuisine?
  7. The Himalayas. Or my interest in Tibetan Buddhism along with the world’s tallest mountains? (Yes, I know it will make it more difficult to appreciate the summits back home, but that’s got to be well worth the encounter.)
  8. Canadian Maritime Provinces. These are just up the coast from us but have remained a world away. Think I can fix that in the upcoming future?
  9. Anasazi ruins and Albuquerque. The American Southwest is a huge blank in my explorations. This sweep would end with a visit to some very special friends in their new locale.
  10. Australia and New Zealand. From here, they seem incredibly unimaginable. Only one way to fix that.

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What’s on your travel dream list?

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Continuing the poetry parade, see what’s new at THISTLE/FLINCH.

TEN THINGS I LIKE ABOUT DECEMBER

  1. The Metropolitan Opera broadcast season begins.
  2. Asteroid showers. Some of the year’s best, and the night sky can be intensely sharp.
  3. Bundling up … including sweaters.
  4. Advent … seriously … and its end.
  5. Candlelight.
  6. Brussels sprouts.
  7. Christmas cards and letters.
  8. Christmas Eve … the tree comes in, gets decorated, then we hit the ‘nog and cookies. They’ve been off-limits till now.
  9. Christmas morning … where gifting is an art.
  10. Boston Revels’ production at Harvard’s historic Sanders Theatre.

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What do you like about December?

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Wrapping doesn’t always have to involve ribbon.

 

TEN THINGS I LIKE ABOUT NOVEMBER

In all frankness, it’s the dreariest month. In a flash, the trees are bare. The switch from Daylight Saving Time has many folks going to work before daybreak and coming home after sunset. Still, we can try …

  1. Harvesting root crops.
  2. Chill mornings with fog wisps rising from ponds and rivers.
  3. Election Day. We can always hope for a miracle. A return to sanity, for starters.
  4. Ministry and Counsel retreat – even years in Deerfield, Massachusetts; odd years in Winthrop, Maine.
  5. Days can be warm enough to work outdoors … or go for a hike.
  6. No bugs. Beware of ticks, though.
  7. Neighborhood souper. Everybody brings a pot of their own creation, then eats what everyone else has concocted. It’s outdoors, though, rain or clear.
  8. Tagging a Yule tree.
  9. Thanksgiving dinner. Why mess with tradition?
  10. Community Thanksgiving service. It’s turned into a showcase for local church choirs.

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What do you like about November?

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A sampling of carrots and parsnips from our garden.