Sure, today was a travel day, but it was a touristy travel day. Our goal was to make our way down the coast on our well traveled highway 1, cutting over to Manchester at Hampton in the evening. Our plan, full of open ends, was to down stop wherever the whim hits.
We did everything we needed to do to prepare the house for the next people, and off we were--a bit later than planned, but still within a reasonable time. Our original plan was to forge through to Camden, where we started the other day going north, and go south. Knowing we'd have a late breakfast, we stopped to say adieu to Blue Hill by grabbing a coffee and a tea at the Co-op, and away we went.
We encountered the first hit of the northern spiral arm of hurricane Ophelia, she tarnished us with sheets of rain, but we drove through it and it seemed to be moving north, thankfully.
As us McClellan's are wont to do, we changed our mind mid course after reading that Rockland had a great little cafe, the Rockland Cafe. A brief moment of confusion between Rockland, Rockport and Freeport turned a 10 minute stretch of our drive into a who's-on-first routine, but eventually we figured it out and made our way through Camden and Rockland to Rockport. We got a bit lost, but found a nice guy who said our pick of dining establishments was fine, and he especially recommended the fish cakes.
So, mom had fishcakes--and reported them quite good--while I had some pretty good french toast. The diner had a sign that informed the customers that good food takes time, and if they are in a hurry the golden arches or the king up the street are available for service. Despite that dire omen, the food was actually quite quick.
We walked up the street to the Farnsworth gallery & Wyeth center. Mom and Dad always had a copy of Christina's World hanging in the house, so the Wyeth (at least Andrew) is well known to us. Also, the brochures promised, the Farnsworth gallery had works by all the Wyeths, Hopper and a few other Maine notables. Fodor's called it one of the most important small museums in the country. How could we go wrong?
Well, no Hoppers out at all. But, a nice exhibit of Andrew Wyeth's early watercolors, and a few of his Christina's World tempura paintings. A walk through the Farnsworth house--unchanged since the last of the Farnsworths died in the '30s, and then onto the secondary gallery where downstairs held a number of really nice works by N.C. Wyeth (Andrew's pop), including a number of commissioned illustrations--two that stood out were a painting of Scottish Kings, their chain mail glistening in the sun as they overlook their loyal troops, and another of Spanish Conquistadors discovering an inlet somewhere in Maine.
But it was upstairs that we found the exhibit that that made the price of our tickets worthwhile. James Wyeth's bird paintings. Truly remarkable--works that just hovered over the canvas on which they were painted. There's technically good art, there's compositionally good art, and then there's artists whose total vision seems to transcend any one aspect of its components. James was just this with these works. Manic crows and ravens, whimsical seagulls, serious chickens.
We had the option of visiting the Olsen farm, which was owned by Christina Olsen (of Christina's world), and not only is this where the painting was set, but also where a whole series of Andrew Wyeth's work. The farm is now owned by the gallery, and if we had known this was an option I think we would have made more time for it, but alas we were feeling a bit pressed for time.
We forged on, heading south to Freeport, where every outlet in the world awaits your shopping pleasure. We ate in an Italian place with an open terrace (the rain had abated, leaving behind a hot, and humid afternoon). I had a meatball poor boy (their spelling), and mom had some stew and a salad.
We made a brief pilgrimage to the L.L. Bean headquarters, shockingly alike the R.E.I. headquarters in Seattle. Someone's been copying someone... Unfortunately, we couldn't find the cheap stuff--which later--too late--we discovered was in an outlaying building.
A Starbuck's coffee (takes on whole new meaning, with Moby Dick in hand) for the road, and away we went.
We had thought we'd spend some time in Portland, first off, I felt obligated to go see one lighthouse, and as of yet we'd really seen none. Secondly, there were some promising looking bookstores in the city. Thirdly, we played with the idea of going to the Portland Art Museum, which also looked good. But, in another confusing turnaround, it took us longer than expected to find the Portland Head Light, but we were very glad we did.
It's a famous lighthouse--Hopper painted it, Longfellow wrote about it (his inspiration for "the LIghthouse"), and many a ship has been diverted from the rocks by it. Did you know that all of Maine's lighthouses have distinctive patterns, so that the ships knew which light they were looking at?
The trip was well worth it--but we were catching another spray from Ophelia. But, it would have been too much to head back into Portland. We headed south on 77, intending to cut over to 1 when we could. Our intentions were slowed by the hardest rainfall I think I've ever seen in my life. Torrential? Super-torrential. It was like a vat had been hovering over us, filled with a small lake, and the sluice had opened in the snap of a finger.
For a solid half hour or so we drove under water (me expecting a flash flood every time the car dipped into a gulley), and eventually the weather let up to a reasonable heavy rain. And from there to a drizzle. And then it stopped.
We were pretty tired at this time, so we decided to power through, and we didn't stop again until we were nearly at New Hampshire. I had since given up on stopping at my beloved bookstores, but we did pull into one last one that was open late, where we found the friendliest antiquarian dealer I've ever encountered. Harding's Rare Books. It was a joy and pleasure to leave a bit of money behind with her. In a later post, I may detail my book purchases just for fun. Only if you're lucky, but here let's just say that you should go there when around. Or call her and see if she has what you want.
We ate at a little greasy diner I was hoping to love in the Hamptons--the tons of people waiting were a good sign--but the food was so mediocre (bad even) that I won't mention the name. We had cheesesteaks, which were the poorest in my experience. Sadly, too, the onion rings we got weren't dipped in beer batter, but just a standard breading.
A short jaunt down 101 took us right into Manchester, and the waiting arms of our hotel. Showers, sleep and a flight home were all that were left. Another trip to New England over, a first trip to Maine--one of those experiences I'll never have again. But, maybe next time I'll be with someone else who hasn't travelled there yet, and we'll make sure to get to the bookstores early.
Hmmm, a bookstore only tour--with a porter to pack them up and send them on. Now that's a great idea for a vacation.
Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: September 14, 2005 11:36 PM