Saturday, July 30, 2011

Off to Maine

We scooted out of Providence ahead of weekend traffic a shade after 1pm Friday, slipped right onto I-95 and pointed the car north. Less than five hours later, at just about dinner time, we pulled into the Bergman driveway in a quiet residential neighborhood in Orono,just a few miles beyond Bangor. The air was clean, crisp and cool, no sirens and no grit, just the quiet of the Great North. After we settled in, Susie, Joyce and Carl and I headed up the street to Woodman's Grill for a game of pool and burgers. These two things had been on my mind all week long and we were not disappointed:
Susie playing pool at Woodman's in Orono
The Stout Berger - beer-braised beef with bacon
Saturday morning Susie had a treat in store for the rest of us -- fresh, homemade sticky buns with a twist: mashed bananas and ginger in the dough, oozing homemade caramel:

We lounged about for the morning, chatting, enjoying a beautiful Saturday in the north woods of Maine. Peace and quiet aside, we came also for the water so we packed up some snacks, filled the water bottles and the four of us piled into our car and headed south by southeast in search of The Big Chicken Barn and, if the weather cooperated, a return to Schoodic Point.

To Westborough one last time

Last weekend was incredibly hot in much of the eastern United States and Rode Island was no exception. With temperatures sliding past the 100 F mark air conditioning became a virtual necessity for some folks. Susan's sister Maryhad chosen that particular weekend to hold her porch sale, shedding the last vestiges of some twenty years or so of living in New England, and getting ready for the next big move in her life: Texas, Austin to be exact.

Friday after work I drove Susie to Westborough so she could pitch in and help tag and prep things for sale -- the plan was for her to spend the night so they could kick the sale off first thing Saturday morning. We arrived about 4pm and and chatted a bit while Mary bustled about.

About 6pm we headed downtown to grab a burger at South Street Diner. The service was no nonense, right out of the 1950s (Waitress: "OK honey whaddaya have?") but we spent a pleasant time in the a/c before the girls turned to the serious work of the evening. After I helped to schlep a few larger things downstairs, I said adieu and pointed myself and the car south toward the Ocean State.

The following day, Saturday I drove back to Westborough to pick the girls up for a trip into Boston for dinner. The sale had gone off like clockwork, thunderstorms notwithstanding, and Mary even sold her car that very day as well. Anyway, their cousin Brenda from Chicago was in Boston for a confab and we hooked up with her, Frank and Cathy and Dick and Dorothy for a dinner of seafood at, where else: Legal Seafood. (Although frankly I would have preferred the food from Illegal Seafood but that's another story.)

The evening slipped by, as they usually do at such things, without anyone noticing it was time to go. We said our goodbyes, got the car out of the parking garage and headed for I-90, the Mass Pike and home.

To barge or not to barge. . .

If you’ve ever traveled to France or even considered traveling to France, I bet at some point you thought about taking a barge cruise. You know, where you sit stretched out on a deck chair, sipping a crisp white from the Loire while gliding quietly along one of the tree-lined canals somewhere in southern France, getting up only when the barge pulls alongside some small village, to let you off and bike to a nearby vineyard or perhaps just to pace the barge as it cruises to its next stopping point, and where your only worry is what will the on-board chef prepare for for dinner tonight.
Well, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Oh, sure, we thought about this in years past – but the cost is usually steep ($3,000 per person on up for a week), and frankly I don’t want to find myself trapped for a week with 8 people from Crawford, Texas who want to constantly regal me with tales of the Bush Presidency when I’m in France and want to focus on something entirely more amusing.

No, I’m talking about the do-it-yourself barging, what the British call “self-drive,” where you cruise at your own pace, driven only by the whim of the moment and where the only requirement is that you eventually return to the boat to where you got it – but even that is negotiable. In fact, some companies allow one-way cruises for a small additional charge. So for less than the cost of one person on one of the luxury barges, you can have your own boat sleeping 4 or even 6 -- and no license required.

This is what we’re thinking about for our return to France, sometime in August or September of 2012.

Over the coming months I hope to post some of the things I learn as we plan our own little barge trip. I’ll talk about the different companies that offer such trips, not just in France but also in the England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands (of course), Belgium, and now even in Italy. I’ll also look at some of the places, or rather canals, we’re considering. And I hope to review a couple of the more well-known books in English, such as Roger Van Dyken's Barging in Europe and Hugh McKnight's Cruising French Waterways.

So if you’ve ever barged and you’d like to share your experiences, please post it right here!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dinner in Douglas one more time for Mary and Mallory

Last Wednesday evening Susie and I drove up to Dick and Dorothy's house in Douglas, MA, for one last dinner with Mary and Mallory before Mary leaves for Texas on Friday. Frank and Cathy had to cancel at the last minute. (Frank was experiencing a serious bit of discomfort which, as things would turn out, would find him in the ER later in the week and in the hospital for several days.) The evening was wonderful, the food delicious and the conversation lively -- as always.
Dick, Mary and Susie

Dick, Dorothy, Mallory, Mary and Susie



A fine sendoff for Mary and Mallory.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Food in Providence

We met up with Andrea for an early dinner at Al Forno in Providence. Located just over the Point Street Bridge from where we work at Davol Square, it was certainly an easy drive. The restaurant doesn't participate in Restaurant Weeks, now underway in Providence, but that didn't seem to slow business in the least. By the time we left the place was packed with hungry eyes searching here and there for a spot to land.

We decided to skip going indoors for dinner, choosing instead to sit amidst the warmth of a green arbor that seemed to nearly envelop everyone as they walked inside. Notwithstanding the rush of traffic on nearby I-195 it was a real treat to sit outside and relax over what would be a very tasty meal indeed.

An aperitif followed by a bottle of Gavi helped speed things along and make the warm evening air seem just a tiny bit cooler. First things first, as they say, and kicked the evening off by sharing the corn fritter app. . .

. . . and while Susie and Andrea split a Caesar salad  I had zucchini blossoms:

While several things on the menu looked tempting, we gravitated toward their classic grilled pizzas: Andrea and Susie each had the fresh corn pizza and I had the calamari with arrabiata sauce.

Frankly, the squid was some of the best I've eaten eaten, the breading was just about perfect I thought and the arrabiata sauce deliciously piccante, sparking each mouthful of food.

The service was quite good, the table bread scrumptious although they seemed reluctant to provide more than a drip or two of olive oil in a tiny pitcher. Odd.  And the prices are a bit steep we thought, hovering around Gracie's and Bacaro's, but the food was wonderful, with nothing but glowing reports from all quarters.  There you have it.

Life is full of tradeoffs.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Dighton Rock to a buried Corvair to Douglas, MA

I first learned about the "Puzzle Rock" in Curious New England by Joseph Citro and Diane Foulds. Naturally we had to see it (the power of the stones had found us all the way from Brittany it seemed.)

The 40-ton Dighton Rock, as it's actually called, is a curiosity indeed. Originally found in the riverbed of the Taunton River in Berkley, MA, just a few miles upstream from Fall River, MA, the rock is noted for its unusual and mysterious petroglyhs. The marks were first described by John Danforth in 1680 so it's unlikely to be a latter-day hoax. Anyway, there are numerous theories about the origins of the drawings, some of them quite fanciful: indigenous peoples, Norsemen, Portuguese, even Chinese explorers were thought to have left their mark here.

The rock itself is probably about 10,000-13,000 years old and in 1973 was hauled out of the river and placed under glass inside a tiny museum perched over the river itself. Dighton Rock State Park.

Curious, eh?

From the mysterious Dighton Rock of Berkley, MA, to the singular oddity of Tiverton, RI.

Backtracking down Rte 24 to Fall River we picked up Rte 138 and crawled through South Fall River before crossing the state line into the Ocean State. A few minutes later and we were pulling into Pocasset Hill Cemetery. Overlooking the river to the west, Pocasset Hill -- which is set on a rather steep hill of course -- would be just another of the many quiet resting places for the local dead were it not for Rose Martin. Her grave site looks like so many others keeping watch over the river below but looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Rose was buried in her Corvair. They had to remove the engine to fit the coffin inside but Yankee ingenuity won out.

After an afternoon of curiosities it was a pleasure to sit and relax at Dick and Dorothy's house in Douglas, MA. Sipping sparkling wine, we grilled out hot dogs (the Fearless uncured beef won out over the uncured turkey from Applegate) with sides of potato salad and a green salad made with their home-grown lettuce. The meal was finished off with Susie's lemon ice cream spooned over berry financier - whoa! What a holiday weekend this is turning out to be!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

From the Forest primeval to the Ocean primordial

Early Saturday afternoon Susie and I headed off to the wilds of western Rhode Island, in search of ancient civilizations and ghosts of long-forgotten times. Obscured by the rather innocuous name of the "George B. Parker Woodland," what we found was a feast for the senses in the dark quiet of the woods.

This was a place of vanished lives, where you have to carefully pick your way along the rocky woodland floor and where you find yourself faced with dozens of rock cairns stacked there for reasons unknown by people long forgotten -- and where you can tread steps of a long-dead family which once thrived, laughed, loved and lived amidst the ruins of a farm now only one stop of a visitor's trail. This is a step back into a time when the margin for error in everyday life left little room for mistakes, where life could just as easily and quickly become death in the blink of an eye.

From the claustrophobic beauty of a ruined past to the infinite openness of the oceanic horizon took less than an hour of time to drive but still seems as if we migrated from one planet to another. A return to Sachuest Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, RI where you can look east to Sakonnet and west to Newport north to civilization and south to the emptiness of water.

After all this, it was a quiet drive home and an evening of grilled food finished off by another installment in "Foyle's War."