These are Nicoline’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.
We took a trip down memory lane to Short Hills, NJ. Odd how we recognized hardly anything anymore. Or maybe not so odd, since it's been over 16 years since we lived there. Both Eric and I were amazed to see how far the playground in Millburn was from our house. We sometimes walked there with the neighbors, observant Jews who couldn't drive on Saturdays, and whose kids were a little older than ours. Frank and Mark would walk there, play, and walk back without a problem, but it really seemed quite a hike when we drove the distance today. We also took a little tour around South Mountain elementary in Millburn, which was home to a preschool that Frank and Mark attended at the time. It seems to have been converted back to its original purpose since. Then we drove back to Short Hills, through the street where Mark spoke the immortal words: "But mommy, my noggin is full of talk!" when I asked him to be quiet so I could hear the news.
We drove by the Bed, Bath & Beyond store where I met my friend Marianne and her two daughters all those years ago. The grocery store where I used to shop was also still there. Then we took the exit to get back on the highway and onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Some heavy traffic due to construction on the way, but otherwise quite uneventful. We were home by 1.30 p.m. and I went inside to pet the cats and assure them that we had really come home, while Eric unloaded the car. Then Eric sat down to process pictures and what not while I unpacked, sorted laundry, fed the cats (not that they hadn't been fed, but just to show everything was back to normal), and took a shower. It always feels good to be back home!
Last stop before home: Paramus, NJ. Tomorrow we'll zip down the Garden State Parkway and be home in time for dinner. We won't even have to get up early to make it.
Truth be told, we didn't get an early start today either. It was nearly 10 before we were on the road this morning. Then we went to Woodstock, just to see what it was like, and sent some people we think will appreciate it a Woodstock-ish postcard. There really wasn't that much to see, though, apart from the "historical" markers Eric especially wanted to see, so we continued on to Hyde Park, FDR's home on the Hudson. We got there about 11.45 and didn't leave until nearly 3 p.m. But there was a lot to see there. For starters, there are the grounds. By the time of Roosevelt's death the estate was about 1,500 acres. We didn't walk around all 1,500 acres of course, but just getting from the visitor center to the house and from there to the library involves a fair bit of walking.
The original 1880s house had "only" 17 rooms, and as Roosevelt had a lot of people over, and he and Eleanor had 5 kids, it was getting a little tight. So they enlarged the house by adding two wings, which brought the total number of rooms up to 35. Some of these rooms have been used, not only by Sara Delano (FDR's mother, who inherited the place when her husband died), FDR, Eleanor and their kids, but also a host of guests .The Roosevelts apparently also hosted George VI of England, and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall - though not at the same time, I would image - Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, as well as countless politicos from the time he was a New York state senator, an under-secretary of the navy, governor of New York, and finally President. The house was never modified to accommodate FDR's disability from when he contracted polio, though a trunk lift, which was used to lift heavy steamer trunks to the second floor, was minimally adapted so that his wheelchair (made from a kitchen chair, otherwise it wouldn't fit in the narrow corridor) would fit into it.
The Roosevelt family fortune originally came from sugar refining. The earliest Roosevelt to settle in New York, which was then still New Amsterdam, came in 1649. The Dutch West India Company had been set up in 1621, partly to help protect the fur trade in the Hudson Valley, and partly because the West Indies were conducive to growing sugar cane. Later on the family branched out into railways and all kinds of other business interests, but they really got their start in a business that relied heavily on the use of slaves. Which makes it more than a little ironic that Eleanor Roosevelt was such a civil rights activist.
She truly was an activist, not just for civil rights, but also for the right of women to equal pay for equal work and subsidized child care for working mothers (which we had for a while, during WW II), but also for civil liberties. She criticized President Truman for instituting a loyalty program for federal employees in 1947, which allowed the FBI to investigate the political convictions of thousands of federal workers. The FBI apparently considered her a dangerous person, because her file is several thousand pages long. The Ku Klux Klan put a price on her head when she went to Tennessee in 1957 to speak to a gathering of people working for racial integration. The local sheriff was a klansman, so her safety was far from guaranteed, but she went anyway. She did, however, obtain a gun permit, and, presumably, a gun. Eleanor lived to tell about her trip down South, though. She died in 1962. Both she and FDR are buried at Springwood, in front of a surprisingly modest grave monument. The one with the American flag is FDR's.
Before we had seen all the exhibits at the museum, up to and including Roosevelt's car with the custom hand controls, it was almost 3 p.m. and we wanted to get to West Point. Unfortunately, we caught yet another downpour, and there had also been an accident involving a schoolbus on the narrow two-lane road that runs along the Hudson River. Incidentally, you can barely see the river for most of the way down. It wasn't until after West Point that it became visible in place, and even then the Empire State puts parking spots in precisely those areas where the view is obscured by trees. Go figure. All in all, we got to the West Point visitor center just as it was closing, so we could only take a look at the exhibits they have there without being able to go into the museum. And since they're having a home football game tomorrow, there won't be any tours tomorrow, either, so it would be useless to stay in the West Point area overnight.
Today was the first lousy day of this trip. We got in the car in Lévis in rain and fog, and by the time we were on the highway it was a downpour that got progressively worse. A couple of time I had to turn the wipers up high and slow down, if I hadn't already slowed down for "travails." It stayed that way most of the way down to Saugerties, NY, just south of Albany. Just before we got to the NY Thruway, Eric had to slow down to 45 mph or thereabouts and turn on his hazard lights. And would you believe it, there were idiots driving without lights on even in this weather, both in Canada and the US!
People in Québec probably don't need to do the stairmaster machine at their gym. Good grief. The whole city seems to be one big staircase, and if you're not walking stairs, you're on an incline. I wonder what they do if they have an ice storm. Those stone steps and steep sidewalks will become positively lethal.
However, today just started with fog and drizzle, which didn't bode well to our uninitiated eyes, but we soon found out that it was actually a bit on the warm side for getting such a cardio workout. Because we'd ended up in Lévis yesterday, which is across the St. Lawrence River from la vieille cité Québec, and we had happened to notice signs pointing to a ferry, we took said ferry across this morning.
Québec is a very European-looking city, up to and including the fact that they don't seem to make any attempt to exclude car traffic from the old town, in which the streets are scarcely wider than streets in medieval Flemish and Dutch towns of our acquaintance. The French also didn't believe in laying out cities on a grid, so the streets are charmingly winding. It's easy to lose your way, but the old city isn't so big that that's a terrible problem.
The ferry docked at what is known as the lower town, and the first thing we noticed was that they have an incline (funiculaire) similar to the one we rode in Pittsburgh last year. Of course, we need the exercise, so we disdained the incline and instead walked up I don't know how many steps to Dufferin Terrace in the upper town. Contrary to our earlier experience in Québec (the province), tourist information was easy to find, very helpful, and blessedly bilingual.
I really did make an effort to speak French, but it was early in the morning and explaining that we wanted to do a self-guided walking tour of the old city is beyond my linguistic ability. At any rate, they gave us a booklet and a map, and we set out on a walk around town. We wanted to see the sound & light show of the military history of Québec at the Musée du Fort, but the English language show wouldn't start until about 45 minutes after we got there, so we decided to do part of the walking tour first and come back for the show later.
Having read Fred Anderson's magnum opus "Crucible of War. The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766" after our trip down Braddock Road to Fort Necessity, and Pittsburgh last year I had a passing acquaintance with the way in which Canada came to be British instead of French. But I believe it takes a peculiar mindset for a country that has been beaten out of continent to choose to house its consulate in the very mansion where the surrender of the French was signed in 1759. It reminds me of a rather cruel World War II era joke: "How many divisions does it take to defend Paris?" Answer: "Nobody knows, it's never been tried." I also noticed that, while Québec is very proudly French, I did not see any French cars in the city. Plenty of American, Japanese, Korean and German ones, but not one Peugot, Renault, or Citroen. And what's up with calling a territory Nouvelle France, but naming pretty much every town and every street after some saint or other? Apart from Orleans, there aren't any French towns worthy of being called Nouvelle (or Noveau, I suppose) something-or-other?
We had got as far as the Anglican cathedral of the Holy Trinity, where the panels commemorating the British and Commonwealth war death listed more Québeqois who died in World War I than in World War II, when it was time to go back to the museum for the sound & light show. The cathedral also has a special seat in the balcony that's reserved for the reigning monarch, and it features a piece from the bombed-out ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which is somewhat odd, given that the guide book mentioned that the cathedral was modeled after St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
The show at the museum was actually pretty well done. They had a scale model of the city and the rivers (St. Lawrence to the south and St. John to the north) that surround it, and little ships and buildings and regiments and things that lit up to illustrate what the narrator was saying, and lines of lights that showed whose troops marched where and so on. General Wolfe's attack on the city in 1759 succeeded because he realized he could not overcome its seaward defenses - though he tried - so he decided to attack from the landward side, even though that involved breaching the city wall. Back in those days, even soldiers were bilingual in English and French and when a guard challenged the redcoats (or the American irregulars that were part of Wolfe's forces) he answered in such fluent French that it quelled suspicion. War isn't just about who has the larger army or the niftiest weaponry, eh? Because it was still foggy and drizzly, we decided not to walk out onto the Plains of Abraham, where the 1759 battle was fought, but instead limited ourselves to a tour of the citadel. It wasn't part of the original fortifications, as it only dates back to the 1820s, and then walked back to the Rue d'Auteuil, where there's a monument to two conferences between Churchill and Roosevelt in 1943 and 1944. There's also a monument to Canadians who fought in the Second Boer War (1899-1902).
From there we went on to rather more peaceful pursuits, such as perusing a store full of Crocs. The kids will no doubt be thoroughly disgusted, but I am all about comfortable shoes, and whatever else you can say about Crocs, they *are* comfortable. Or a visit to a store called Les Délices de l'Erable, losely translated as Maple Delicacies. We had passed several signs of people advertising their skills as érablières, and I had absolutely no idea what that could possibly be. They're producers of maple syrup. I never did find out what dépanneurs were, though, until I looked it up just now. It comes from the verb dépanner, meaning "to help out of difficulty" or "to troubleshoot," but what it really is is a convenience store. Who knew.
As it happened, we were in need of a dépanneur by then, because it had stopped drizzling and started to pour, so we ducked into a coffee place on the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, where we treated ourselves to a cappucino with a meringue for Eric and and a gateau au érable for me. It was very good. From there we went on through the little park opposite city hall, which has a statue of the first Canadian cardinal and is directly across from the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, which is a very beautiful church. We were in luck, because someone was playing the organ, and there's nothing quite like organ music played on a church organ.
After the Basilica-Cathedral there were two more stops on the walking tour, but they didn't seem that interesting to us, so we just stopped to buy some post cards and mailed them at Post Canada around the corner, then walked down the Rue de Remparts down to the lower city, where we came across a kitchen whole sale store which happened to have red serving trays! Yay! I'd been searching high and low for one, and I hadn't been able to find one. A somewhat utilitarian memento of Québec, I suppose, but it will be put to good use (by our cat Cleopatra).
For some reason, the lower city has an entirely different feel to it than the upper city. Probably because most of its buildings are older. Or perhaps it's because it's not quite so touristy as the upper city. At any rate, it was lovely to walk around in. There was a plaque commemorating the landing of 65 Filles de Roy, who had been especially selected by the crown and given a dowry for the express purpose of landing a husband in Nouvelle France. There was no shortage of men wanting to marry them: Some 700 colonials applied to take one of the king's daughters as his bride. I don't know how they settled the matter, seeing as there were more than 10 men for every girl. But the ploy served its purpose: The colony's population tripled in the space of a few years.
By now we were tired and hungry, and within sight of the ferry building, so we plonked ourselves down at a Beaver Tails (Queque de Castor) establishment, where Eric tried a #3 queque de castor au érable and I finally got to eat poutine. It was actually pretty good, but so much I couldn't finish it all, so Eric ended up finishing it. He liked it, too. We treated ourselves to a small maple-walnut ice cream and walked back to the ferry. Back at the motel, I spent most of the evening writing up this account of today's events with my feet up on a chair, because they feel about ready to fall off.
An adventurous day for two suburbanites. We drove north on Maine highway 11 because that's how you get to the end of Route 1 on the Fort Kent bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge is undergoing major maintenance and the sign was nowhere to be seen. Also, the Canadian border inspection guys found us suspicious enough that they made us park and wait for them to do an additional inspection. In the end it amounted to precisely nothing, because we really are who we are, but it was an unsettling experience.
Then we drove into New Brunswick, where the tourist information office was closed and no one anywhere had any maps of the area for sale. We couldn't find the New Brunswick map we picked up the last time we went into Canada, and we had been stupid enough to leave the Canadian maps that I got from Freecycle sitting at home instead of packing them with the rest of the stuff. Served us right, I guess. Not knowing much of anything about Canada we thought that only Quebeqois had that separatist streak, but it seems there's a wedge of New Brunswick west of Edmunston where people apparently believe they are French before they are anything else. Everything is in French, many houses fly the French flag, and everybody speaks French, too.
We did the best we could with what little French we still have from way back when, and finally managed to buy a map of the province of Quebec, so we'd at least know in what general direction we should be heading. My French had recovered sufficiently that I was able to ask the lady at the gas station if the white curly thingies were what people put on poutine. She answered in the affirmative, and I bought a small baggie of cheese curds, which squeak between your teeth when you eat them, but they're not bad. And then we drove and drove, and drove some more, until at last even we got tired of it. Then we switched to the highway and took an exit that had a promising sign for a motel 3 km down the road. I managed to get a room for us in my best French, and we were very pleasantly surprised to see not just a hotel room but really more of an efficiency apartment, complete with kitchen.
So we plunked down our stuff, took half an hour to check facebook and email, and headed into town to find a supermarket to buy breakfast stuff and get some dinner. We found a supermarket easily enough, but dinner was a little more difficult. We criss-crossed le vieux carré de Lévis, but couldn't find any restaurants whatever, other than the chain restaurant places up on the highway. But at last we managed to find our way back to the highway quite by accident, and ended up having dinner at a Normandin restaurant. They had a special going, paté a l'oie, which looked enticing, so I tried that. It was pretty good, even if I didn't know what an "oie" was until was back at the motel where I could google it. In case you're wondering, it's goose.
Today was our last day in Baxter. We went canoeing on Kidney Pond. The weather was gorgeous and the silence was just what the doctor ordered for today. We drove back to town to run a load of laundry at the local laundromat, where they blessedly had no irritating TV on, and finally had dinner at McDonald's, which is something we only do during vacations. The last picture is a panorama that Eric stitched together from pictures taken at Lily Pad Landing, across from the canoe dock at Kidney Pond. Tomorrow we're off to Quebec.
We started lazily today, partly because it was a drizzly Sunday and partly because I wanted to keep an eye on FB posts from family members about my Oma, who had suddenly fallen ill and appeared to be dying. So we spent most of the morning in bed, reading and keeping an eye on my newsfeed.
By 10 a.m. nothing much seemed to be happening, and it had stopped raining long enough for us to contemplate another hike. We decided to try an area just south of Baxter State Park, which was listed as having good opportunities for viewing wildlife.
We found the River Pond Nature Trail easily enough, and hiked down the trail marked with blue blazes to the edge of a pond said to be frequented by moose. We found their droppings, all right, but no moose. We also saw other droppings that I believe may have been black bear scat. This is definitely bear country, and the last thing you want to do is surprise a bear as s/he is foraging in preparation for hibernation. So I whistled, and banged my hiking pole against any rock I happened to come across, just to give any bears around plenty of warning. It must have worked, because we saw neither bears nor moose. FYI, moose are mostly docile, but can become aggressive when they feel threatened, and you definitely wouldn't want to be charged by an adult male moose that can weigh upwards of 800 lbs.
The trail as well as the road leading up to it are the property of some logging outfit or other. I suppose they are made to cater to hikers and do so grudgingly, because trail maintenance definitely seems to be a low priority. Also, Eric and I both have the impression that they marked the trail with as many zigs and zags as they possibly could, out of sheer perversity. "That'll teach you tree-hugging idiots to hike on our land!" But we made it back to the parking lot all right, and looking up at the sky, decided against further hiking expeditions.
Instead we went further down what we think must be some kind of logging road. At least I hope that's what it is, and not the State of Maine's idea of proper highway maintenance. To say that it was like a washboard would be to insult the humble household appliance. I'm convinced Kabul has better roads than this! In some places it looked like someone had been shelling it, or else dropping logs on their ends from a great height, causing potholes the size of bath tubs. Oddly enough, in places the potholes were neatly patched, and in other spots the pavement was as smooth as can be. If anyone can explain this, please feel free to do so in the comments.
Avoiding potholes and the worst ribbled patches was quite a challenge. On more than one occasion I had to drive on the left hand side of the road, which feels so completely wrong it's hard to describe it. But I wasn't about to drive through these huge craters. They looked like they might easily swallow a wheel, and how would we get a tow in a place that probably had no cell phone coverage? Better to be careful and arrive with all four wheels still attached.
I'm happy to report that I managed to do so, and we reached the town of Greenville safe and sound, and hungry as bears. We stopped for dinner at the Black Frog at the southern end of Moosehead Lake. Driving down there we saw one warning sign after another about moose crossings. It's rutting season, or close to it, so if the bulls are anything like deer, which are their first cousins, they pursue any available female ruthlessly and without regard for their personal safety - or ours.
Outside of Greenville, and for part of the way back to Millinocket, the same thing. Moose warning signs galore, but no moose in sight. Probably just as well, because you don't want to see a moose with the nose of your car. We did see some wildlife: a deer, and a group of vultures. But I'm disappointed all the same, especially since the guy in the glass shop on the Schoodic peninsula said we'd be sure to see moose if we went to Moosehead Lake. So far, the closest we've been to moose is this:
Since Mt. Katahdin is 5,271 ft high (1.6 km), according to the official Baxter State Park map, we knew all along that climbing to its top would be way beyond our hiking capabilities. But since it is the end (or the start) of the Appalachian Trail, and we've been doing day hikes of the same, there's always that little nugget of a thought: "Maybe, just maybe...." Yeah, right. We saw the real thing from a distance, as well as as a scale model in the rangers' office, and it was simply not on the cards. Two-thirds of it is above the treeline!
But we did do a hike, and even hiked part of the Appalachian Trail today. The woods were ready for fall, and lovely beyond description, almost like a fairy tale. Eric puts a lot of effort into his pictures, but they still don't do the trail justice. I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see a gnome or two, or perhaps even the big bad wolf. But there aren't any wolves, bad or otherwise, in Baxter. There are black bears, but we didn't see any. Nor did we see any moose. We saw several squirrels, who are reddish-brown here, as squirrels should be, instead of gray or black as they are in Maryland. They were, however, terribly offended at being interrupted while storing food for winter. They make a noise that's kind of between a rattle snake's rattle and a high-pitched bird call. And they would not sit still for a picture, so we looked at mushrooms and moss instead. Mushrooms and moss, because in some cases the moss appeared to grow on or even through the mushroom...
We also saw a remarkably tenacious little fir tree, growing *in* a rock, and a variety of lichen, some of which are unique to Baxter, according to the brochure. I don't know anything about lichen, other than that some make pretty patterns on stone, but Eric is standing next to some that almost look like leaves stuck to a rock. We even found a library in the Daicey Pond campground, and we learned that you can rent a canoe or a kayak on the honor system, $1/hour. If the weather is any good tomorrow or Monday, we'll definitely spend some time on the water instead of gazing at it.
We certainly didn't set any speed record today, since it took us nearly three hours to hike 5 miles or so, but in our defense, it took about forever to get from the park entrance to the trail that the park ranger suggested for us, and that over gravel roads at a speed of 15-20 mph. We've seen maybe a sixth of the park, which comprises 327.3 sq miles (847.8 km²). Our hike was around three ponds in the lower left hand corner of the map.
It was four o'clock by the time we were out of the park, so we decided go get some groceries. Fixing a meal is fairly easy with the aid of a microwave and Lean Cuisine, and it saves having to get dressed again after stepping out of our sweaty hiking outfits and into the shower :-)
I can't decide if it bodes good or ill that we saw Santa on a motorcycle as we drove into town for the next leg of our journey around Maine. Maybe we've been so good that he's going to make Christmas come early for us? Then again, maybe we've been so bad that he's already working on his list, and, having checked it twice, decided to clear out before we got here.
Anyway, we're at Millinocket, as near as you can get to the south entrance of Baxter State Park without leaving civilization. I can't get over the fact that there must be so much wilderness still left in Maine! If you look at the state tourism map, you see that most of the northern part of the state seems pretty much uninhabited. There may be the occasional hermit by the shore of his/her Walden Pond, but there are no towns and very few roads there. Some are logging roads you can only use by prior permission. Yet it's a state on the East Coast, some of the earliest settled area of the country, right?
Tomorrow we'll begin exploring a tiny bit of the park. Good for old Percival for designating it as an area to be kept wild in perpetuity, and for setting up a trust fund with which to finance it. I'm sure the people overseeing Baxter love having nothing to do with state or federal funding in these days of sequestration.
Today, however, we got up at 5 a.m. so that we'd have enough time to drive into Canada via Calais. I'm still not quite sure how they pronounce it here. It's different, but I can't reproduce it. Seeing as how it took us years to figure out how to pronounce Montpellier the American way (Mont-PEE-lee-ear) instead of the French way (Mon-pell-YAY), I don't think I'll learn any time soon. But we drove into Canada, stopped at a visitor information center and with the help of a very enthusiastic lady at the center decided to visit the city of Saint John.
New Brunswick Route 1, part of the scenic Fundy Coastal Drive, took us to the city that's called Saint John because explorer Samuel de Champlain happened to arrive on that spot on June 24, 1604, the feast day of St. John the Baptist. It remained something of a remote trading post until loyalists, fleeing the fledgling United States, settled in the city en masse in 1784. There's a even a huge boulder near the harbor that marks the spot where they supposedly came ashore. Given that history, we decided to do the Loyalist Walking Tour. I'm not sure exactly what all the sites we saw had to do with loyalists, but it was a lovely tour all the same, not least because the weather was perfect. One was the city market, which is thought to be the oldest common-law market in Canada. Its charter dates back to 1785, but the building that now houses only goes back to 1876. It apparently escaped the great fire of 1877 by virtue of being one of the few stone buildings in the city at that time. Another was the house where Benedict Arnold lived. His way of doing business and his arrogance apparently didn't go over very well with his fellow townspeople, and at one point they burned him in effigy. Serves him right, too :-) Long story short, Saint John is a lovely city, and we were sorry we only had a few hours there.
On the way back we chose to follow part of the River Valley Scenic Drive along the St. John River. There are a few towns along the route, but it really seems very sparsely populated, especially for an area between a busy Atlantic sea port (Saint John is a cruise ship terminal) and the provincial capital Fredericton. We had beautiful river vistas to enjoy, but we needed to be back in Millinocket, Maine, before 8 p.m. so we left the scenic route for highway #2, the Transcanada Highway. Keep on driving west and you'll end up on the Pacific Coast in Victoria, British Columbia. Too bad we couldn't do that, but we'll keep it in mind as our next project :-)
To our great surprise, we came across a town called New Maryland. It's now part of Fredericton, but in the early 19th century it was the site of an apparently famous duel. The cause of the quarrel seems to have been a case of mistaken identity. I thought it was surprising that Canadians, who live in a pretty cold climate, should engage in such a hot-blooded pursuit as dueling. But then again, there was this famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804...
We stopped for a quick bite at a Tim Horton in Woodstock. Its claim to fame is not the festival, but the fact that it's the first town in New Brunswick. We crossed back into the U.S. of A. at Houlton, Me., at about 5 p.m. Is it very provincial of me to say that there's something very comforting about seeing a road sign point to I-95? Unfortunately, the comfort only lasted as long as the actual border crossing. I'm sorry to have to report that the quality of road compared quite unfavorably to that of the Canadian roads we had just traveled on.
It has been a long day, and even Eric didn't feel like taking pictures of our surroundings in Millinocket, other than a quick overview of the Katahdin Cabins where we'll be staying the next few days. Ours is second from the right, almost entirely in the shade.
The weather again refused to co-operate, so I was glad we'd canceled our kayaking trip for today. Who wants to be out on the water in rain and temperatures in the low 60s? But that meant we had to find some other way of keeping ourselves occupied and reasonably dry.
We decided to go visit the Big Chicken Barn book & antiques store. We'd passed it on our way down to Bar Harbor last Monday, but we wanted to get where we were going, so we hadn't stopped. There were flyers for the place out in the breakfast area today, so....
For those of you unfamiliar with what passes for antiques in these parts: It is what we would charitably call nostalgic, "uit grootmoeders tijd" but it's really junk. They even had a sign up on the door saying: "No, we won't buy the junk from your car!" I expect they've been asked that question once too often. Anyway, the antiques store was fun to browse, even if we didn't actually want to buy anything. Unfortunately, the second hand book store wasn't much better. Someone had cleaned them out of Agatha Christies :-(
Still, we passed a rainy morning in relative comfort, and by the time we were through browsing the weather had cleared up, so we drove back down to Bar Harbor and rented bikes for the afternoon with a nod to our Dutch roots. At home I've been riding a second-hand bike with a saddle that's like concrete, against which my behind protests vehemently. The rental came with a "comfort saddle" but it's apparently still not comfy enough for my delicate - though amply padded - hind parts. Or Eric's, either. But we biked from Bar Harbor up to Acadia, around Eagle Lake, and back again, which the guy in the rental shop told us was something like 12 miles. So we felt quite accomplished.
We returned the bikes and drove back to the park to visit the Sieur de Monts area of Acadia. Pierre Du Gua de Monts, to give him his full name, was a French explorer and trader who received from king Henry IV of France the right to colonize lands in the Americas. This was not some itty-bitty piece of territory, either. It stretched from what is now Philadelphia to present-day Montreal. Samuel de Champlain acted as his navigator and cartographer. De Monts and his party founded a colony on St. Croix in 1604, but left to find more hospitable climes after the first winter. According to Wikipedia, a Dutch adventurer employed by the West-India Company robbed two of De Monts ships in 1606, but I don't know how accurate it is. His exploits against French interests in the Americas aren't mentioned at all in the article that relates his importance in capturing the Spanish silver fleet. Piet Heyn and all that; Dutch readers will understand the reference. But as this Hendrick Corneliszoon Lonck lived from 1568 to 1634, it seems feasible that it's the same Lonck, although his major exploits against the Spanish took place in the 1620s.
After paying due homage to our French heritage - a heritage we Americans tend to forget or sweep under the carpet, depending on the current state of our diplomatic relations with France - we decided to go back into Bar Harbor to get a bite to eat and turn in early, so we can leave for Calais - Maine, that is - at the crack of dawn. I will let you know how Yankees are supposed to pronounce Calais as soon as I find out.
It's a bit early for a blog entry, because it's only 4 p.m. but we're at the Ellsworth Public Library where Eric can finally connect to the internet and I can connect to his laptop, which allows me to add a few pictures. It's in a beautiful old Federalist mansion called the Tisdale House, right in downtown Ellsworth. According to a flyer from the library, the house was built in 1807 by Col. Meltiah Jordan, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Seth Tisdale, a boat builder from Massachusetts was the fourth owner. The fifth one, George Nixon Black, a great-grandson of Col. Jordan, had it remodeled to house a library in 1897 and it has been used as such ever since. It must be quite a challenge for the Ellsworth Public Library to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their patrons. The Howard County Library Miller Branch was housed in a 1960s building, and they had great trouble fixing the place up to have internet access and adequate wiring for everybody to plug in their laptops and what not.
Someone told us that the Schoodic Peninsula, the lower end of which is part of Acadia, is really much nicer than Mt. Desert Island, because it's so much quieter. Hardly anybody goes there, probably because it has far fewer services than the main park, or because they don't know about it. It really is lovely, and even the drive to get there is along a route marked as "scenic" on the Maine tourism map.
The first stop of the morning was at the scenic overlook just before you cross over to the Schoodic Peninsula. There's also a nature preserve a mile or so off Route 1 North, where you have a great view of the rapids. The waters must really be quite treacherous. They didn't manage to build a permanent bridge until 1926. The one they had some years before that got eaten by termites and washed away by ice floes, and prior to that, everything had to be carried across by ferry. The main product of the area was granite, so that would have been cumbersome, to say the least.
From the overlook we drove leisurely toward Acadia, stopping along the way to take pictures (across the bay, looking at Mt. Desert Island) and also to buy a souvenir (well, two, actually) at a glass studio that we happened to come across. It's unusual to find Route 1 designated as a scenic road. Where we live, it's generally run-down and seedy-looking, despite efforts to improve the Rt. 1 corridor. The owner of the glass studio congratulated us on finding our way to Schoodic and away from the madding crowds and the price gouging (as he saws it) in Bar Harbor and environs. So there you have it. If you ever want to come visit Acadia, you will be much better off staying somewhere on Schoodic. There are plenty of guest houses and things, though no mini golf places and far, far fewer lobster shacks and all the rest of the tourist traps.
The last town we came to before entering Acadia was Winter Harbor. It looked like it could have been the setting for "Murder, She Wrote" though Wikipedia tells me the outdoor shots for the fictional town of Cabot Cove were all shot in Mendocino, Calif. and not in Maine at all. We decided to drive through the park first, and try and to find a kayaking outfit in Birch Harbor, on the other side.
But the park was so beautiful that we lingered there for quite a while, and by the time we got to Birch Harbor it was too late to go kayaking. We could have rented a kayak to go out on some nearby lake, but we wanted to go out to sea, and they sensibly don't allow tourists to do that without a guide. Oh well. The kayak lady was very nice and suggested a cruise boat trip, and we would have gone on that had we been able to find it in Milbridge. But we never did find it, and by then it was after 3 p.m. and it probably would have been too late for a cruise anyway.
Acadia is also home to an educational institute called the Schoodic Education and Research Center. They have classes and lectures that are open to the public, but of course we don't have time to take any of those, even if they happened to be available today. Definitely something to put on our list the next time we visit Maine! It would be worth it just to be able to go into Rockefeller Hall, one of the buildings on campus. Instead we drove a couple of hundred yards further to Schoodic Point, and decided to have a picnic lunch there. It's not often you come to a place that combines two scents that bring back so many childhood memories: sea, for the beach vacations we used to have when I was a kid, and pine, for the place where my paternal grandparents vacationed, in the middle of a pine forest.
Even if we didn't find a kayak or cruise outfit today, we did find some unusual road signs and things that are always good for a colorful picture or two. The way people in Maine keep going on and on about lobster, you almost hope one day one of the lobster will grow as monstrously large as that and chase all those lobster trap setting barbarians out of the sea :-) The lobster buoys are colorful, though. I didn't think we'd find such a redneck lawn decoration in Maine, of all places, but they did at least find a good use for all those ugly colored bathroom fixtures. And what's up with naming a town T9-SD? Too much Star Wars, d'you think? As it happens, there is still unorganized territory even in Maine. Kind of like Dakota Territory in the 1890s or something. Who would've thunk....
I picked up a brochure for a cruise out of Bar Harbor at breakfast today, because we decided to cancel the sea kayak tour we booked yesterday. The weather forecast calls for rain and temperatures in the low sixties. Not exactly kayaking weather, and certainly not to the tune of nearly $100 for the two of us. So we'll have to see what we do tomorrow. We may rent bikes, perhaps even a tandem, and ride some of the carriage roads in the main park... Stay tuned!
That hot tub session at the end of our day was great, but I think it pretty much did me in for the night. My legs feel like lead right now. All this, of course, after we spent the day hiking in Acadia National Park. We went to the visitor center as soon as it opened, but waited until the horde had finished interrogating the park rangers on every conceivable subject. Instead, we browsed the gift shop, where we found a water proof hiking map, a new ANP bumper sticker to put next to the one we got in Utah last year, and a post card. Then we sat through a 12-minutes video on the history and the purpose of the park. Unfortunately, it was not very informative, but the pictures were absolutely gorgeous!
When talked to one of the park rangers, we asked what hike he'd recommend that we could do in half a day. There's always so much to see at national park, you don't want to do just one thing and feel you've missed out on a lot of other great stuff. He pointed us to Gorham Mountain, saying it would involve hiking over boulders, but nothing too strenuous. Well, I'd sure hate to see any trail he describes as difficult! Eric and I were soon drenched in sweat from head to toe, so that waterproof map came in handy, even if it wasn't the rain that was the problem. By the way, if you look closely at some of the pictures below, you'll see either a Bates cairn, which is small stone "table" with a pointy stone on top to mark the direction, or blue blazes. They are used more or less interchangeably, but the cairns are of course more durable in a sea climate like Acadia's.
The rain had stopped some time early in the morning, after a torrential downpour that last only a few minutes but woke both of us up. We thought the lingering fog might be a problem, but it actually worked out, because with the sun it would have been much too hot (and probably too muggy) for a pleasant hike. Of course, we didn't get to enjoy all the spectacular views we might otherwise have seen, but the ones we did see were plenty spectacular anyway. If the sky had been any clearer, I'm sure Eric would have gotten twice the number of pictures he did, which would mean he'd be processing them until about midnight or so.
The foggy weather did nothing to deter any of the other folks who had elected, like us, to stay in town past Labor Day, thinking that traffic would be more manageable that way. Unfortunately, that was a bit of a miscalculation on our part. Bar Harbor is kind of like Ocean City, only smaller, and traffic in Acadia was bad enough to remind us of when we visited Yellowstone on our trip around the country in 2007. It looked pretty much like the Capital Beltway at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning.
Even though the summer crowds had thinned out, according to the locals, there were still entirely too many people. We had wanted to have tea and a popover at the Jordan Pond House, but we had to park at some overflow parking lot, and even there it was difficult to find a spot. The restaurant was packed, and we both thought that what they charged for it was absolutely ridiculous, so we gave it a miss.
Instead, we drove on to take a look at Somes Sound, which the park bills as the only fjord on the East Coast, but which is not actually steeply walled enough to count as a fjord. Therefore, they call it a fjard. I suppose it makes sense to somebody. But it looked lovely in the late afternoon sun, and Northeast Harbor, the town we drove through to get there, looked like Bar Harbor's more upscale sister. None of the tacky souvenir shops and pizza places.
Still, we had to drive back to Bar Harbor to make a reservation for a sea kayaking tour on Thursday. We had hoped to get on one tomorrow, but they were all booked up. Making that reservation about did us in, not because they gave us a hard time about it, but because we were tired. Neither of us felt like going into any kind of restaurant. I doubt we'd have been welcome, still in our sweaty, smelly hiking outfits. So we stopped by the supermarket once again to pick up a sandwich, drove back to the cottage, and called it a day.
EDIT 9/3/2013: Eric's laptop has decided overnight to allow me to connect to it, so now I can add pictures :-)
We left Richmond for Bar Harbor today in the rain, thinking it might clear up later. Well, it didn't. In fact, the weather got progressively worse. We found the cottage where we're staying until Friday pretty easily. It's right in the flight path of an airfield, but on the upside, it's not like it's Bangor International Airport, so I think we'll be OK.
Unfortunately, Eric can't seem to get his laptop to connect to the interwebz here, so I can't add pictures. Not that there's anything much to add... It's been raining and miserable and dreary all day. He took a couple of pictures on the way, but nothing like the 150-200 or so he normally does. We came upon and stopped at a second hand book store and added to our collection of Agatha Christies, and we had lunch at an Irish pub in Ellsworth which had the slowest service anywhere on the East Coast. Seriously. Thirty-five minutes before they managed to serve a Reuben and a burger. What's up with that? The food was OK, though, and it kept us out of the pouring rain. I would've tried the lobster ale, but it didn't seem to be on the menu anymore and it would probably have taken too long anyway. Besides, the weather didn't exactly make you long for a cold one.
Since outdoor recreation was out of the question, we decided to find a laundromat and get the laundry taken care of. That went surprisingly smoothly. I googled laundromats, found a couple in Bar Harbor, and, having seen that's it's a really small town, we just drove over, took a fairly random left turn into town and happened upon one of the ones I had seen online. By the time the laundry was done, it was getting foggy and dark, so I suggested we stop somewhere to pick up something to drink. And guess what? There was a big supermarket right behind the laundromat where I found a bottle of St. Remy cognac, marked down to $11.99. Got an 8-pack of Coke for Eric, and we're all set for tonight (and the next couple of nights, FYI). Tomorrow we'll head into Acadia National Park and if the weather permits, we'll go kayaking.
After a good night's sleep thanks to Old Rasputin we woke up to the smell of coffee and trudged downstairs to get some. Richard, the owner of the Richmond Inn, was up and about and fixed us some sticky buns. We sat and had coffee and chatted. The man has led an adventuresome life, to say the least. Joined the Navy, first aboard an aircraft carrier, and later he volunteered for submarine service. Then he left the Navy and worked for a defense contractor on some part of the Gemini program. He's also been a wildlife and travel photographer. If you look at the art work all over the place, he's been absolutely everywhere. Now he owns a bed and breakfast with a sauna, which attracts a big crowd of locals as well as return B&B customers.
It would have been fascinating to sit and chat with Richard all day, but he no doubt had stuff to do and we wanted to visit the Maine Maritime Museum, so we excused ourselves after an hour or so and went on our way. There is quite a lot I don't know about history. For example, I didn't know that there had been a big Civil War battle (on sea) in Maine. Look it up, it's the Battle of Portland Harbor, June 27, 1863. As Canada was neutral during the Civil War, it drew quite a few Confederate ships looking to take on supplies to smuggle back through the Union blockade into the Confederacy, or for Union ships to raid, as the CSS Alabama did until she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864. Maine also sent more men into battle per capita than any other state in the Union.
Another thing I was surprised to learn was that there had been an English settlement by the Plymouth company on the Maine coast in Popham, on the mouth of the Kennebec River, that predates Jamestown, which was settled by the Virginia company a month or so later. Popham didn't survive its first winter, so it doesn't "count" the way Jamestown does. Volunteers are raising funds and trying to build a replica of the first and last ship built at Popham, ironically called the Virginia.
Ships from Maine also had pretty extensive trading ties with the Far East, which I would have thought the English and the Dutch pretty much had locked up in those days. Nowadays, there's apparently a weather station in the North Atlantic that's manned by crews from the U.S. and The Netherlands in turn. I have no idea why. It makes no sense geographically... The station is close to Greenland, so why not the Danes? Somebody explain this to me.
After we had taken a cruise on the Kennebec River and seen everything we wanted to see at the museum - which was by no means everything, but there's only so much you can take in, and we'd been there for four hours already - we went into the town of Bath. That didn't take much of our time, as it's a pretty small place and the downtown area consists of about two or three blocks. So we decided to back track a little and go to Freeport to see the huge L.L. Bean store with its shoe outside. It was fun to look at stuff, but we didn't really need anything in the way of clothing or shoes, so we decided to head back to Richmond and see if we could use the sauna. Unfortunately, it didn't open until 6, but we used the pool in the meantime, which is also nice if a little cold, even though it's indoors.
Neither Eric nor I had ever been in a sauna before, so we could only stand it for maybe ten minutes at the time, but the cool down in the pool afterwards was great! I had been dreading plunging into cold water right from the sauna, because I'm wimpy that way, but it actually felt really good! So we did another go-around in the sauna and also in the hot tub, until we decided it had been enough and it was time to work on our blog (and check facebook and stuff, of course). The sauna is in the building to the left. The one with the Stars & Stripes is the pool.
We thought we'd go down to the Old Goat Pub again tonight, grab a sandwich and listen to some life music. We got the music, all right, but the kitchen had closed before we got there. So we just had two drinks each (and some potato chips) and decided to call it a night :-) On the other hand, I did learn that the city of Tilburg has its own brewing company and makes a very nice dark beer called the Tilburg. How come I have to travel half way around the world to a town in the middle of nowhere to find out about this?
A lot of driving today. We took I-95 from Mystic, Conn. into Maine. A lot of memories on the way, like when we passed the exit for Danvers, Mass. We remembered staying in there in 2007. Mark came down with an ear infection and he and I spent an afternoon getting a Rx for antibiotics at a local hospital. I guess they didn't have walk-in medical clinics then... Eric took Frank to look at planes flying in and out of Logan Airport and had to deal with rather hair-raising Boston traffic... I think we still have the cotton wool I bought for Mark :-)
After we entered Maine, we switched to U.S. route 1 and a host of local roads, because Eric absolutely wanted to see the Biddeford Light House. It took some doing to get there, but very pretty pictures. Route 1 reminded me of nothing so much as the over-developed tourist areas in the Black Hills of S.D. or the Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tenn. The only thing that kept it from being quite as bad as Hilton Head, S.C. was the fact that we saw only one mini golf course and two regular golf links :-) After we had gotten all the pictures we needed of the Biddeford Light House we drove along state route 9 for quite a while, until we got tired of it and switched to I-295 to get past Portland.
We arrived at Richmond Inn in Richmond at about 4.30 p.m. and spent an hour or two unwinding, before heading into Richmond to find something to eat. We ended up at the Old Goat pub, which served a great pizza, as well as a very large selection of beer. I started out with a German beer they had on draught, and later tried an ale called Old Rasputin, which kind of did me in for the night. So if you don't mind, I'm keeping it short and turning in early.
Y'all will have to be patient with me tonight, because I'm enjoying chocolate-ganache covered cheesecake while I'm working on a blog entry. The drive from the ferry terminal at New London, Conn. turned out to be a short one. An exit or two north we decided to call it a day, checked into an Econo Lodge and had dinner at the Mystic Diner, where a very nice waitress recommended this particular variety of cheesecake. It is very good. Eric doesn't like cheesecake, so I get to eat it all by myself :-) Today was a day full of history, wittingly or unwittingly, so if you don't feel like a history lesson, feel free to skip this entry.
We left the HoJo in Queens at about 9:30 this morning and managed to find the Long Island Expressway (LIE) pretty easily (that tends to happen when Eric navigates). It was only about 30 minutes to Oyster Bay, but I had noticed when I pulled up a Google map of the area that if we should take the exit to the south of the LIE we would end up in Levittown. This being pretty much the template for post-World War II suburbs around the country, we decided to take a look around. We found it, and a friendly post office guy at the Levittown post office showed us how to get to the Levittown library, which was sure to have more information on the town's history. So we spend an hour or so at the library, going through some of the books they have on the subject. One of the first things we noticed was a mural, which had graced one of Levittown's schools until 1984, when it was closed. From left to right, it depicts "The Scarlet Letter," "A Tale of Two Cities," "MacBeth," "Canterbury Tales," and "Beowulf." By 1984, the baby boom had clearly abated to the extend that Levittown no longer needed all the 11 elementary, 3 junior, and 3 senior high schools that had been in operation at the end of the baby boom in 1968.
A pretty amazing development, when you consider that in 1947, the area same area was known as Island Trees and needed only one three-room school with two teachers. Long Island settlement dates back to 1644, when a group of Englishmen from Connecticut who had been given land as a thank-you for their effort in the Pequot War came down south. Dutchmen arrived a little while later, and the county that includes Levittown is called Nassau County (est. 1899) to this day. Until the early 20th century, the area was farmland and farmers grew so many cucumbers (among other things) that several pickling plants operated in the area.
However, by the late 1930s a blight, golden nematodes, had struck the potato crop in the Island Trees area. This probably helped Brooklynite and World War II veteran William J. Levitt acquire the land pretty cheaply. Levitt had earned his construction chops in the construction company owned by his father before the war, but the need for speedy, cheap, and sturdy construction of military bases in the Pacific allowed Levitt to develop a way to mass-produce housing at a time when recently demobilized GIs and their families were clamoring for homes. Levitt turned his skills to building a town on the former potato land, and the result was that by 1948, several thousand people lived there. Of course, there were some problems. Until 1948, Levittown schools operated in Quonset huts because material shortages made it impossible to build both houses and schools. Also, the earliest homeowner contracts contained a clause that forbade black or Asian people to own Levitt homes. As Levitt said: "We can solve a housing problem or we can try to solve a racial problem, but we cannot combine the two." However, this clause was removed as early as 1948, following a Supreme Court ruling that said that racial covenants could not be enforced.
Levittown had a very active community association from the very start. The Levittown Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1951. A monument outside one of the fire stations commemorates Lt. Ronald T. Kerwin, who was killed on September 11, 2001. the library is also one of the oldest institutions in the town, operating out of a book mobile at first. Many stores did the same. Until stores could be built, businesses made deliveries of all kinds of things, from baby formula to milk and groceries. Levittown had three public swimming pools and was connected to public transport so that the wives would not be stranded miles from anywhere while the husbands used the car - if they even had one - to get to work.
This legacy of community involvement stood Levittown in good stead when the original covenant was due to expire in 1976, which could potentially have opened the door for rezoning and infill development. The Levittown Property Owners Association's board voted to keep the restrictions in place, whereupon several developers took the LPOA to court. The case was fought all the way to the Supreme Court, with the result that the original covenant restrictions were upheld in the mid-1980s. This doesn't mean that the LPOA acts like your regular garden variety HOA-nazis. The houses, Cape Cods and ranchers, no longer look all the same. It just means that homeowners banded together to defend their interests against developers.
That makes it appropriate to juxtapose Levittown with a resident of Long Island with a much longer pedigree: Theodore Roosevelt. We visited his estate, Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, which is now a National Historic Site, after our visit to Levittown. TR is well-known as a reformer. According to one of the displays in the museum, he visited the office of Jacob Riis, author of "How the Other Half Lives" about the squalor and misery of the tenements, and left his card with the note: "I read your book and I am here to help." One of the things he insisted upon was a square deal for the working man, so that a person would have a job that covered more than just the very basics, and would, at the end of the day, leave him with enough time and energy to do his part in the governance of his town or neighborhood. He was also the first president to receive a black person, Booker T. Washington, at the White House as a guest, and generally viewed racial discrimination on the same level as discrimination based on national origin or creed.
Lest you think he's a saint, he was also one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the Spanish-American War of 1898 and an avowed imperialist and disciple of power politics. During his presidency the U.S. helped foment an uprising in a province of Columbia we now call Panama, so that it could seceded and let the United States come in to build the Panama Canal, which had originally been planned to run through Nicaragua. Roosevelt's enthusiasm for war as the supreme manly pursuit cost him dearly in personal terms. His son Quentin was killed in 1918, and his son Theodore, jr. during the Normandy Invasion in 1944.
From Oyster Bay we drove east along U.S. 25A all the way to Orient Point, from where we were to take the Cross Sound Ferry at 8 p.m. We had plenty of time, and it's only about 80 miles, but we both thought it was farther than it looked on a map. It is called *Long* Island for a reason, I suppose. Nevertheless, we got to Orient Point before the 6 p.m. sailing of the ferry, and since they had enough space, they let us go on the earlier one. Which was a stroke of luck, because "he Cape Henlopen Ferry was built as a World War II landing craft (LST 510) in Jeffersonville, Indiana and participated in the D-day invasion at Normandy," according to longislandferry.com. We wouldn't have noticed it, but for a fellow passenger pointing out a sign to someone in her party, which I happened to overhear. I asked Eric to take a picture of it, and when we got to the motel - which has an excellent wifi network - he found out that it had been a D-Day landing craft. Who would've thunk...
The books on Levittown history, in case you're interested:
Lynne Matarrese, The History of Levittown, The Levittown Historical Society, 1999-2005
Margaret Ferrer and Teva Navarra, Images of America. Levittown - The First Fifty Years, Arcadia Publishing, Dover, NH, 1997
Just got back to the hotel from a day of traversing New York City by train and metro. It's great that it's such a tolerant city; nobody gives a damn what you do as long as you're not bothering anybody else and on the subway you see a great cross section of humanity. But there are so many of them! I'm suppose that means we've become irredeemably suburban, but after a whole day of dealing with those cross sections, both Eric and I are completely done in. We bought a beer (for me) and an ice cream (for Eric) at the corner store, had a quick shower and now it's time to report on our day.
We traveled to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn for a Chassidic Discovery Tour. Those kinds of groups always fascinate me. I wonder how they make somewhat sane and rational men and women believe all that stuff. Like the men are supposed to study for an hour and a half every day, including Saturday, and pray in the synagogue for a good bit of time after that. So how they fit in work I don't know. They're supposedly adhering to the rules set by an late 18th century Russian rabbi, and their rules are full observances that may or may not have made sense in tsarist Russia, but what mental acrobatics make it OK to use cell phones and iPods and what not, but not magazines, radio, television and the internet? But it's OK to use the internet to have a 24/7 view of the goings-on in the synagogue that we got to visit. Of course, being unkosher infidels, we did not visit the synagogue itself, but watched the proceedings from behind one-way glass like you see in crime series when they line up possible suspects.
But you always learn something. For example, I didn't know that the tefillin, the small black boxes attached to leather straps that orthodox Jewish men wear during prayer are not made of wood but of leather, and that the one they wear on their head is different from the one the wear on their arm. In India, where there is apparently also a sizable Jewish community, they import the tefillin, because Hindus aren't allowed to kill cows (though it's OK apparently if the cow dies of old age). Only men use tefillin, because women are already so spiritually pure and what not that they don't need to. Supposedly the tefillin work somewhat like spiritual accupuncture by applying pressure on especially sensitive points. Or something.
Chassidic boys and girls are separated from an early age, and must not touch one another at all, because if they let go of those rules even a little bit, the men allegedly turn into rabid beasts and they'd defile all the women without - gasp! - marrying and procreating. Did you know that if Hassidic couples can't conceive, it's OK for them to use IVF? Except they can only have it done at Cornell, because Cornell has a rabbi on staff whose job it is to make sure that all the fluids go where they're supposed to and aren't intermingled with those of heathens. Also, one of the 613 commandments Jews are supposed to follow is that they do not wear clothing that combines wool and linen. Of course, with all the made in China or Bangladesh or the gods only know where stuff comes from nowadays, who knows exactly what's in a piece of clothing, right? But not to worry, a store like Saks Fifth Avenue employs a rabbi who comes in once a month to check that a wool suit doesn't have its buttons sewn on with linen thread and he uses a microscope to figure this out. So I asked what they did before they had microscopes, but apparently people could trust their tailors back then. Any other combination of materials is fine, so wear all the polyester-cotton blends you like, it's just the wool-linen combination that is an abomination in the eyes of the lord. Am I to understand that he keeps a big ledger in the sky in which he tallies up any demerits you earn for breaking such persnickety commandments? And that if the demerits get above a certain number, you don't get to go to heaven? Or can you work them off by doing good works or something?
Unfortunately, the rabbi did not answer any of those questions, so we continued on our unenlightened way to the Lower East Side to the Tenement Museum. Before laws were put in place in the early 20th century, tenements did not have running water or indoor plumbing of any kind. In fact, the landlords fought tooth and nail, all the way to the Supreme Court, to keep from having to put in privies and later two indoor flushing toilets per floor. Considering that as many as 12 people shared one 325 sq.ft. apartment and there were four apartments per floor, this could hardly be called excessively luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. By 1935 mayor LaGuardia made such dwellings illegal, with the result that some of the tenements were so to speak frozen in time. Some were used for storage, but no one lived there or took an interest in them until the late 1980s-early 1990s, when the Tenement Museum acquired some of the properties and started looking at them the way an archeologist looks at Nineveh. One of the apartments has now been restored to what it would have looked like ca. 1870, and another ca. 1925. Both are fascinating examples of how the other half lived in those days. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the apartments, so you'll have to make do with some outside views.
At any rate, we were glad to be back in the here with respect to creature comforts. And even, truth be told, a little more than comforts. Eric really wanted to visit B&H, a huge photography store on the corner of 9th Ave and 34th St. It's his go-to place for photography stuff. As it happens, it is owned by orthodox Jews and they shut down their website every week in observance of Sabbath and Jewish holidays. It's not a store that would normally be high on my list, but I told Eric that he should at least take the opportunity to look at carbon fiber tripods to replace the elephant-hunting one he now lugs about. Or that I lug about, as the case may be, because he already carries a 40 lbs back pack of photography equipment. He saw a couple of nice ones, but of course he wants to take the time properly research the various brands etc. so he didn't buy anything. But that's OK, B&H does a great job shipping stuff around the country. It's happened more than once that he selected the low-cost shipping option, thinking that the item he ordered wouldn't come in for a couple of days but it was actually delivered to our doorstep the very next day.
The last item on our list for today was to go have real Belgian fries for dinner. Proper fries, with plenty of sauce for dipping. There's a frietkot on Second Ave. where we indulged ourselves and it was really good. Unfortunately, it was a tad out of the way, so we had to trudge up and down Second Ave. to get from the subway station to the frietkot and back again, but it was worth it. On the way back to the hotel in Queens we were fortunate enough to make the 7:35 LIRR from Atlantic Center to Hempstead, so we were "home" by 8.30 and particularly thankful to kick off our shoes.
Tomorrow it's off to the Long Island Expressway to Oyster Bay, where we'll visit Theodore Roosevelt's house, and then onto Orient Point for the 8:30 ferry across Long Island Sound to New London, Conn. We tried to find a map of Long Island, but all we could find was a touristy one which is none too detailed. In combination with Google directions it will have to do. Wish me luck, because I'll do the driving.
Long day today. We got up fairly early, fed the cats, had breakfast, loaded up the dishwasher, and packed our stuff into the car. When that was done and it still wasn't time to leave, I picked about a pound of tomatoes to give to Terry, to deliver together with the house key. She's going to rescue the stuff in the freezer in case of a power outage. You never know during hurricane season.
By 9.15 we were on our way and by about 11.30 we were at a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike having lunch. New Jersey folks must be very disputatious. Automated signs over the highway can not only tell you to slow down, but also *why* you should slow down: heavy traffic, accident, road work, weather conditions, and who knows what else. Really, if the Turnpike Authority doesn't tell people why they should slow down, they'll give them a hard time about it? Luckily the signs didn't light up while we drove to New York, but once we made it past Elizabeth, NJ, which reminded us of our time in the Garden State and how we used to take Frank and Mark to Ikea at Elizabeth, which allowed unlimited time in the ball pit, and then we'd sometimes have lunch or a snack there in the restaurant overlooking Newark Airport, but I digress, we ran into very heavy traffic toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The only thing that bothered us was that the State of New York apparently doesn't care to put up welcome signs like every other state, so we missed out on that picture.
Still, we found the Howard Johnson motel on Jamaica Avenue in Queens quite easily, and it's literally half a block from the Long Island Rail Road station Queens Village, so getting to Coney Island was a cinch, albeit a time-consuming one. It took us about an hour to get there. Coney Island is apparently a Yankee corruption of "Konijnen Eiland" (rabbit island). I sure hope they manage to keep the bunnies in check; it can't be wonderful for their flood defenses to have Long Island riddled with furiously tunneling bunnies. Anyway, we waded in the surf for a bit, sat on the beach, and walked on the boardwalk. Of course we rode in the ferris wheel and ate a hot dog at Nathan's. Then we went back to the boardwalk and waited until it got dark enough for Eric to take pictures of the luna park attractions all lit up. We had lugged along the tripod that is sturdy enough to catch elephants with especially for that purpose. I understand the need for a tripod for nighttime picture taking, but oh. my. gods. Is that thing heavy and unwieldy! You stand out like a sore thumb anyway as a tourist in New York City, but this accentuated our provincialism mercilessly.
Also, whatever the advantage to brain development in certain animal species from city-dwelling, the disadvantage of visiting a city is that there are entirely too many people. Never mind rabbits breeding like konijnen, people sure do their part. But we managed to brave our travails and were even rewarded with a visit to a Brooklyn Target store while we waited for the train back to Queens Village to pull into the station where they had an escalator for shopping carts. Of course, one of the natives managed to jam the thing with a family pack of paper towels, but whatever. You don't see elevators, either for carts or for people, at the suburban stores we usually visit.
Long (Island) story short, we made it back to the motel, had a shower and updated the blog. That's all, folks. For today, anyway.
PS For some reason, I can't persuade my laptop to log into Eric's laptop, so I don't have access to pictures. That will have to wait until tomorrow, or whenever the laptops decide to cooperate.
To do list for today: - Pack - Get Rx refill - Clip cats' nails - Vacuum - Clean Eduard Lawnbott & store him in the basement
All that is done, and now we just wait until it's time to leave tomorrow morning. Somebody should invent a speeder-upper thingy for time...
Poor Eric is doing all this work to get our blog up and running again, and I'm not doing a darned thing to help out. On the other hand, there's not a lot I *can* do about the website, anyway, and I'm canning home-grown produce. While it's not as hot as it has been, it's still no picnic to be hovering over a 10-quart pot full of boiling water. So I'm not exactly consumed by guilt :-)