Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Boston Athenæum Blogging!

Lisa and I have memberships to this beautiful, fantastic (private) library in Boston, though it has been more than two years for me since I came. Their hours are not the most convenient. They serve tea every Wednesday afternoon from 3:30 to 5 — teddibly noblesse oblige of us and all that — and Lisa made reservations for us to come this afternoon during our second week of vacation.

The tea was quite lovely: the obligatory fingers of cucumber sandwiches (no crusts of course) of precisely the kind which Algernon gobbled up so wickedly in The Importance of Being Earnest; currant scones with lemon curd; and various other pastries and cakes. And two kinds of tea, poured from silver teapots on hinges — pick your favorite British period piece: you've seen the kind I mean — one with a smoky China tea not unlike Lapsang Souchong, and one with plain old English Breakfast (they really should have had one from China and one from India, to be authentic; English Breakfast is Keemun, if I'm not mistaken).

After tea we came up to the private members lounge on the 5th floor where they have wireless. The sun is getting low and is lighting up the Boston city buildings (the Custom House Tower in particular) as I look out over the trees of the Old Granary Burying Ground directly below. If only the hours weren't so incredibly inconvenient; we'd come down here more often.

I still have to post what I have written about the rest of our visit to Mount Desert Island, and about my current foray into Japanese. Anyway, they're kicking me out so this will have to do for now!

Categories: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 10, 2005

Wet Dogs, Roaring Streams

The dogs aren't minding the wet that much. Every morning and evening Lisa takes them to the lawn in back of the Office -- it's surrounded by some of the original granite stone walls from Mary Robert Rinehart's estate, and under normal conditions has a stunning view overlooking Frenchman's Bay -- and they love being off the leash and running and playing. Yesterday Prospero even got to play with a lab owned by another guest here, a woman who lives in Brookline, apparently.

The dogs are getting stir-crazy, though. Even when the weather is good, they usually have to spend a fair amount of time cooped up in the car while we drive around sightseeing and stuff, but they do get their rewards with visits to Little Long Pond (the one place on the island you can run your dog offleash legally -- the rangers are pretty strict in Acadia itself about leashes) and with long hikes up and down mountains. That just hasn't been happening this trip. Usually they also get to go to Wonderland, a completely flat area southwest of Southwest Harbor with a long walk to the ocean.

Yesterday they did get one reasonably good walk, though it was on-leash, back behind Jordan Pond house along the Jordan Stream trail.

We had never seen the Jordan Stream like this: even after rains it's usually still just a gentle stream, and the dogs can usually walk back and forth through it. But yesterday it was like mighty rapids. It was roaring loudly and rushing in great white billows: it was hard to believe it was real.

Jordan Pond itself had completely overflowed its banks and parts of the Carriage Paths were under water and impassable. The dogs were having a great time and didn't get to stay as long as they wanted. I took a fair amount of video but only three pix:

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Island is Flooding ...

Little by little, Mount Desert Island is starting to succumb to the relentless downpours. Yesterday early afternoon as we prepared to leave Bar Harbor for Acadia and the Park Loop Road, I noticed that route 3 leading south of town was blocked off and the schoolyard soccer and baseball fields at the southern edge of town were completely submerged.

Later yesterday, we were prevented from driving back across the island by a policeman: route 233 leading back from Somesville was flooded partway across, apparently. We doubled back to route 102 north and tried to cut across Crooked Road, but that was no-go, too. We forded the first flood after we saw the car in front of us make it through (though the water was *damn* high and it probably wasn't good for the brakes), but the second flood was obviously impassable. Which was frustrating since we had made it most of the way to route 3. We had to turn around and wind the several miles back to 102 and then take that all the way to the top of the island, where the causeway connects it to the mainland, and then take route 3 the long, slow, winding 9 miles back down to Bar Harbor.

At night on our way back from Miguel's restaurant -- under new ownership and its menu has definitely improved: the vegetarian enchiladas were incredibly delicious, though all the sugar and tomatoes and stuff is probably one of the reasons I feel so lousy today -- we saw water bubbling out of one of the manhole covers on West Street. I just don't think the island is going to be able to take much more.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Laundromat Vacationing ...

So. It's been really hard to keep things dry. We've used the heater in the room to dry things out on an ad hoc basis: the dogs' leashes and collars, every night we've come back to the room, have been soaked through, and we've been doing things like hanging our jeans one by one over a chair over the heater -- same thing with our jackets (we had failed to bring anything waterproof, but we found a couple of cheap waterproof jackets yesterday in town), etc. They sort of come away from the heater a little stiff, and the room ends up stifling hot -- though it cools off reasonably fast when we open up the balcony door and the windows.

But some things have just been impossible to keep dry: the dog-towels are too big to really get dry with the tiny little room heater. And a couple of them have started to turn mildewy, including the dog-bed that covers the car's back seat. Our plan had been that I would do internet things in the office while Lisa popped over to the hotel laundry but since that's out of whack we had to go downtown. We had the little homemade lunch Lisa had packed in the room this morning in the laundromat, watching the tumbling clothes. Not my first choice for a way to spend the middle of the day, but if we do finally make it anywhere it's going to be impossible to dry those dogs off with these mildewy damp towels, and it would be nasty driving around with a mildewy dog-bed and wet dogs.

The rain is still very light and misty but visibility is still down to zero. Not much point in driving around much anyway.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rains, floods, gloom ...

Although the rain is coming down less hard, the visibility is actually much worse today than yesterday. Yesterday despite the harsh torrents of rain, you could still see the ocean and the islands and mainland around Mt. Desert. We drove up Sargent's Drive alongside Some's Sound and could see across it (though from the start of the drive you couldn't see the head of the sound and it looked as if the western lobe of the island was a separate landmass). Today, although the rain is weaker, everything's just shrouded in mist and cloud.

Feeling really, really, super-crappy today. Aching and sore all over, not just in the usual "pain points" like the sides, knees, ankles, and elbows. And feeling extremely weak and drained: like all the energy has been sucked out of the flesh of my arms and legs. Plus I've got quite a lot of mild, prickling pins and needles especially in my left foot and actually travelling all the way up to my knees.

Hard to know if all this is just one of those fluoroquinolone "cycles", or if it's because I've been doing a lot, or if it's because I've been breaking my diet right and left. Have had a lot of "nightshades" lately -- potatoes, tomatoes, and bell peppers -- which may (or may not) contribute to my pain. But have also been having more carbs, lots of "white" carbs, and even some sugar. The crappiness I am feeling today may be as much from the pre-diabetic insulin-resistence as from the fluoroquinolones. Today we're going to take it easy (not much choice anyway, weather-wise), and eat more carefully. Lisa made sandwiches from ingredients we got at Wild Oats in Portland and tonight we're eating at the wonderful Eden Rising Cafe -- a vegan restaurant.

Well, I'm going to have to end this posting now. The Wonder View only has wireless in the main Office, not in the rooms, and it turns out their laundry facilities are out of order today due to flooding. So I'm going to have to drive Lisa down to a laundromat in town. Back later.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Monsoon Season in New England

Well, that'll teach me to complain about FOG. This year's extra-long, extra-harsh Hurricane Season appears to have turned the usually crisp, bright, blue skies over October in Maine into a tropical mess of relentless downpours. We arrived last night in Bar Harbor, for our usual dog-friendly stay at the Wonder View Inn just outside downtown Bar Harbor. Needless to say there are no wonderful views today: it's all mist and rain over Frenchman's Bay.

We didn't leave Portland until 2pm yesterday. Of course we had to take the dogs to one of the Dog Parks (they had made it to both parks on Thursday and then "only" the Ocean Avenue (7-acre) park on Friday). Valley Street's gravel-and-sand expanse was transformed into a shallow lake, which the dogs had a great time splashing around and playing in.

There was no point in meandering up the coast along Route 1 of course. For years I have wanted to make it to the used bookstores in Camden, but they close early in the colder months of the year and we would never have made it in time with our late departure: plus there were reports of flooding near the coast, so we stuck to Interstate 95 up to Bangor and then route 1a through Ellsworth to the Island.

As a consolation prize, I asked Lisa to look up whether there were any antiquarian bookstores listed in Bangor, and there were. We managed to make it up 95 through the sheets of rain to Bangor just half an hour before the store's closing, and got lost a couple of times along the way to the store (thank goodness for cell-phones). I managed to spend a bunch there, too, and fill up my second box.

Our Thule didn't make it through the torrential deluge up 95, and our down Cuddledown pillows, shoes, and various other items were soaked. Not pretty. And the roof of the building we're in has sprung a slight leak, so there's a little drip via the heat lamp in the ceiling of the bathroom. There's nothing they can do until the rain abates.

The rain is still relentless, and if the weather reports are to be believed, it will rain at least some every day of our visit to the Island. I am hoping they're just giving us the worst-case scenario.

If the weather really ends up being as bad as the reports suggest, it will be the first and only year in the nearly 15 years we've been coming where there wasn't at least some time where it was warm enough in the sun to hike up Acadia's mountains in shorts and t-shirts, but I have noticed what seems to be a trend towards worsening weather in October. I don't think it rained at all the first several years we came, and in the past several years, there has been at least some rain each visit. Three years ago there was a Nor'easter so bad that Bar Harbor lost power. These things may not constitute a pattern, but I can't help it crossing my mind whether the intensifying hurricane patterns that many are blaming on Global Warming may not end up ruining New England's leaf-peeper season and replacing it with an autumn monsoon season instead. Let's hope not.

The Wonder View has an interesting history all its own. It's built on the site of the estate of a flapper-era mystery writer, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Bar Harbor in the guilded age used to be a playground for the rich, with mansions given the precious nickname of "cottages", just like in Newport. All this ended in the Great Fire of 1947, which not only destroyed most of the cottages but also large swaths of old-growth trees in Acadian National Park. In fact it was a fire throughout much of Maine, not just Mount Desert Island. The foundations of Rinehart's entry gate are still standing near the Hilltop building we stay in -- they look like Roman ruins. But nothing like the castle tower, complete with battlements, that used to stand in a hill over Mount Desert Street, part of the remains of an Italianate Villa that used to stand there. My father spent a summer working at Jackson Labs when I was a boy, in 1969 (we watched the moon-landing from the apartment we were renting over a hardware store on Maine Street), and I talked him into taking us up to see the castle tower, which I could hardly believe wasn't a hallucination. We picnicked up there and toured the ruins: there was a swimming pool with windows and hallways along the side. Obscenely, the villa was bought by some philistine in the 1980s and torn down and replaced with some boring, soulless modern house.

Well, we'd better go and brave the floods ...

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Maine, that is. What a great city. Friendly people, great restaurants, and very, very, pretty to look at: victorian and colonial houses, and the Old Porte has real New England charm without having the kind of fake, Disneyfied look that tourist spots can get, or the rows of tacky touristy T-shirt, fudge and taffee shops that you can find in places like Salem, Newport, or Vineyard Haven.

Arrived on Wednesday evening (the 5th) for a three-day stopover on our way to our annual October trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine. The six-hour trip straight to Bar Harbor is just too taxing, and ever since we fell in love with Portland we've made it not only a stopover but even a destination for weekend getaways or even day-trips, which is great for the Dogs because it has not one but two phenomenal fully fenced-in dog-parks -- one bigger than a football field and the other encompassing seven acres of woods, streams, trails and hills, also all fenced-in.

We arrived in thick, pea-soup fog: like something out of the Twilight Zone, the bridge over the Piscataqua from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery Maine was completely obscured in a white haze. You just had to barrell along interstate 95 hoping that the bridge really was still there. From Kittery up to Portland it was all the same: it was a strain to see the exit signs.

When we come, we stay with the dogs at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, a very warm and friendly place, if a tad bit on the pricey side. They reserve half their rooms as permanently dog-free for those with allergies, but there are rooms available for dog-owners in every price range. We usually stay in one of the "garden rooms" on the ground floor, opening directly on the beautifully-landscaped courtyard with a view of Crescent Beach.

We always do room-service from the hotel's Audubon Room for one night, and then sample some of the other options throughout the area. This year, we had lunch on Thursday at the Dogfish Café, a raucous place for hearty food like burgers and beer, and they have great iced tea. Their special that day was Vennison Chili and it was lip-smacking good.

Our discovery Thursday night was Natasha's on Exchange St., a fusion restaurant with a very eclectic menu. I had something called the Cambodian Hot Pot -- with crispy fried balls of sushi rice -- and Lisa had duck. On Friday we finally made it for the first time to at what is considered Portland's premiere restaurant, Fore Street: I had a spit-turned Pork Loin over pickled onions -- which was way too much to eat (Lisa chopped up the remainder and fried it in butter in the room's kitchenette for breakfast the next morning. I think Lisa had duck again :-).

This year we didn't make it to Mim's -- a great organic nouveau-cuisine restaurant on Commercial St, and across the street from Fetch, one of our absolute favorite pet-stores everywhere: that's where we got our pups' Doggles and Prospero's devil-dog collar.

It would be remiss of me to fail to mention one of our primary activities while in Portland: bookstores. Portland is blessed with more than four great used bookstores, of which our favorites are Cunningham Books and Carson & Turner, and also several independent shops, including the delightful Longfellow books (with dog-treats on the counter) on Monument Way, Books Etc. on Exchange, and Nonesuch Books in South Portland. As usual, I came away with an obscenely large haul: two boxes-full will have to accompany us up to Bar Harbor. Although the proprietress of Cunningham Books is always happy to see me (yes, bookstore-owners in Portland recognize me even though I don't even live there), she admonished me for having "gotten carried away again". No, I won't ever have time in my life to read all the books I own.

Categories: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,