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» Monday, October 11, 2010Land From the Past
We were up about 7:30 for breakfast downstairs. The breakfast area was so busy we had to eat in the armchairs near the fireplace. I hope this calms down after the holiday!
In the absence of chocolate yogurt I tried the blueberry; it wasn't all that bad. Usually this fruit-flavored stuff is too sweet and artificial.
Since it was Columbus Day, the traditional day for leaf peeping, I was reluctant to go northward only to be stuck in traffic. So we headed for a different destination, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
In 1939 Lois Lenski wrote Ocean-Born Mary, a fictional adventure based around a real historical figure, a little girl whose life and family's lives were spared by a pirate in exchange for her being named "Mary" after his mother. The story took place in "Strawbery Banke," the original name of the settlement which became Portsmouth. Many years ago the city of Portsmouth reclaimed the area that was "Puddle Dock," a tidal inlet, and created an historical area. Now, I've thought it was chiefly a colonial-based restoration, but it turns out the whole history of the neighborhood, from colonial era to the 1950s, is represented.
But before we reached Portsmouth, we stopped at the New Hampshire welcome center and I discovered a flyer for the USS Albacore, a 1950s submarine that was used for submarine design research. So we went there first.
This sub is really in drydock; in fact, it's mounted on concrete supports in a hollow of land. One of the things they were testing was the design of the sub itself, and it looks like a big porpoise, with an unusually smooth skin with few protrusions. There is a guided tour via speakers set along the dry dock and inside the sub.
As in all submarines, I constantly wonder how on earth they managed in that small, small space. The bunks appear barely two feet apart. The top ones sometimes have bolts or valves protruding into them. On this sub, even the captain had to share his stateroom with the executive officer. Everything is so tightly packed together you wonder how they can breathe. Nevertheless, it's neat crawling through the hatches and seeing all the equipment.
The ticket building also has a small gift shop ("It's a state law," as Daniel Kiernan always says) and a tiny submarine museum that is mostly plaques from other subs, but also has a small display about cooking on board a sub, a tribute to the sunken sub Thresher, and other small items. James found three books for himself: one on Albacore herself, one about the Portsmouth Naval Yard, and one listing all naval vessels you can see.
From there the GPS directed us to Strawbery Banke. It was about noon and we should have had lunch, but instead I stuffed a couple of Odwalla bars and some crasins in my pocket for us and we went on.
It was a neat tour. Some of the houses have been restored, some haven't, some are restored but are private homes; the ones that are open have a flag next to them (usually a US flag, but a couple of colonial homes have British flags). The first place we saw was the Goodwin Mansion, originally the property of the first Republican governor of New Hampshire. Some time during his ownership a young woman worked as a maid there. She later married and had a son who became governor of New Hampshire, and she appealed to her son to save the house from urban renewal. It was cut into pieces and moved from a nearby street to be reassembled at Strawbery Banke. This came with a lovely garden out back and at the side, including a "fairy garden" of shells and twisted wood.
One house was simply an example of how they deconstructed the homes and did the research. Another was a duplex that showed two different tenants of a building, one from 1790 and one from 1950. In another, a man was giving an exhibition of fireplace cooking; he even had a real sugar loaf. One had a lovely herb garden. One was the home of a childless widow who brought up her nine English nieces and nephews. One building was an 18th century tavern. One contained early tools.
One home was the property of the grandparents of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, the author of Story of a Bad Boy. He visited there and lived there for four years during his teens, an only child who was indulged by his parents. The docent there was quite opinionated!
Our favorite exhibits were the Shapiro house and the Abbott store. The Shapiro house was the home of a prosperous Ukrainian-Jewish family who arrived in Portsmouth in the early 20th century. This house had a woman re-enacting the role of the lady of the house. She showed us each of the foods she was preparing, including the Ukrainian version of biscotti, which, she told us, is a cookie each culture has, they just call it something different. I was enchanted by her kitchenit had the painted beadboard and faucets that reminded me of my grandfather's house.
The other was a small grocery store that had been operated until 1950, but which was dressed out as a World War II era store. It was closed when we went by there, and we waited under an arbor munching on our Odwalla bars, then checking out the herb garden, and the World War II display in a shed at the side of the store (there was also a victory garden). Then a stout middle-aged woman dressed in clothing that a woman in that era might have worn came hurrying along, telling us that she was Mrs. Tucker, a neighbor who Miz Abbott had asked to do the favor of re-opening the store. Miz Abbott herself had to run down to deliver a telephone message. She asked that we write out our grocery orders and leave them on the counter and they would be put together when Miz Abbott returned. The store is fab, with all old brands in their 40s containers on the shelves.
Our last stop was the art gallery that had beautiful paintings of the area. One was particularly striking; from a distance it looked like a photograph, and the artist used white paint in a way that made it mimic beaming sunlight. It was lovely!
We went through the gift shopit's a state lawand found something neat: a big trade paperback called Produce & Conserve, Share & Play Square: The Grocer and the Consumer on the Home-Front Battlefield During World War II. It tells the story of WWII food rationing against the backdrop of the Abbott store. It was a private press book and we were quite afraid to ask the price, but it turned out to be only $10! Majorly cool.
By now we were ravenous, so we drove over the river to Kittery, Maine, where there is a humongous string of outlet malls. We ate at the Weathervane, a seafood restaurant; the baked stuffed shrimp was quite good, with crisp crabmeat stuffing to boot! Then we went next door to browse an overstock store called "Ooops!", drove down to check out a hobby shop (just radio control stuff), and finally ended up at a huge establishment called the Kittery Trading Post (which started in 1932 in a shed) which sells outdoor clothing, camping stuff, hunting gear, knives and guns, warm indoor clothing like women's flannel nightgowns, and even books. (Yes, another one found me. It's The Big Book of New England Curiosities.)
We had a slow ride back to the hotel, as traffic was very thick and stop-and-go in several places. We got back just in time for House, then watched a Law & Order rerun before the steampunk episode of Castle.