Sunday, August 29, 2010

Portland Of The East

All those cliche's about Maine; the moose crossing endless woodland trails, the fat lobsters hauled in and eaten within hours of catch, the huge lakes packed with trout and bass, the rocky rugged coast, the brilliant starlight above the red glowing dome of a campfire.

True. All of it. And we've only seen a small, relatively populated corner of the great state this weekend.

Our hosts have kept us pretty busy showing us the area and local sights, and I haven't really had as much time to take the back woods nature pics I was hoping to take; but I did get a few of our visit to nearby Portland on Saturday.

There's a pretty vibrant art culture in this friendly city, and an arts fest was going on in the blocked off Commercial Street, the main vein of the college art body here.

Lots of paintings and photographs, music, and a vibe typical of a college region. Much like our dear old valley. Down the the road a music fest was packing a park with revelers. A short walk from the arts fest and we were in Old Port, a rehabilitated port district absolutely jammed with restaurants, bars and shops.

The architecture of the town is something to take into account too. Many of the buildings stretch from Old Port to the college district are from the 18th to the middle 20th century, most restored, and all within walking distance of each other.

This hotel has the notoriety of being host to a visit from Elvis, who's suite is still restricted to most lodgers.

This building, with a giant time and temperature sign on top of it, is know locally as what? The Time And Temperature Building. Of course.

Meanwhile, the local library is a modern, blue glass affair.

The college campus is spread throughout a good section of this section of city. And the art can be found scattered all around, even outside the art district.

From this architectural wink and nod...

To this darker themed graffiti gracing an alley across the street.

Portland is a beautiful city, kin to Boston and maybe bigger than Providence. We'll have to come back for a more thorough look at some point.

But we're only up for a long weekend and there's much to do. Our hosts have been showing us as much as they can during a couple whirlwind days, and have been capping the nights with blazing chimeneas,

....good drinks, and a willing moon.

Right now it's about 10:30 am on our last day and I have to end this post here. They're calling us; apparently we're joining them for a boat ride on nearby Lake Sebago.

Boy, Maine sucks.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sky High

Northwest Passage

About two weeks ago while at work I took a wrong turn and got lost. But following an unfamiliar winding road long enough eventually dumped out onto route 10, in around the Southhampton/ Westfield line. At the time I was just glad to get back to a familiar road, but little did I know how lucky that little meander would prove a couple weeks later.

We got up early on Saturday and headed out on the Pike from Ludlow for a ride to the air show in Westfield. Not having been to an air show in a couple years, The kid in me had been straining at the reigns for this day to come. Whizzing past the Springfield 291 exit happily enough, then coming over a hill and approaching Chicopee, we suddenly came upon a sea of red brake lights.

This was crazy. The traffic for the air show was completely backed up at least from the West Springfield exit, about 5 miles away. And then, probably another 5 miles to the Westfield Exit.

So much for the most direct approach. We stopped and started and crawled and finally made it to the exit in Chicopee which, surprisingly, not many others were taking. The new mission was to find another way in to Barnes. Maybe route 202 through Holyoke, past HCC and Ashley reservoir. We criss-crossed the criss-cross streets of Holyoke and crossed under 91, but were soon awash again in a sea of red light. Ugh. The day was looking like a complete bust, and glum discussion of other options for the morning sprang up. Nothing would substitute satisfactorily, though.

That's when that back road trek of the previous fortnight came to mind. It was worth a try. We climbed up Rte 141 heading to Mt. Tom, and took that same left turn. Mile after mile wound by, and our hopes began to rise as traffic in front of us remained light to non existent. We came closer to route 10 and still nothing. Could it be? Had we found the Northwest Passage? We pulled out onto Rte 10 south, and still nothing. One more mile or so to the intersection of 202, and we knew we were in the clear. Even if there was a traffic jam the last mile to the air base (and there was, a little) we could deal with that.

Turning left into the base, we looked with pity on the poor souls virtually parked on route 10 north, their sallow expression telling the story of hours and hours of staring at bumpers.

We paid the 10 dollar parking donation, were directed to our space far out in a grassy field, and piled out of the car just as an F-16 ROARED overhead.

We had arrived.

The F-16 was half way through it's set, and for the second half slowed down a bit too be joined by that other venerable super-fighter, of a long past generation: the P51 Mustang.

Getting through the gate, security was tight. Really tight. everyone had their bags searched and pockets emptied.

Eyes were everywhere.

But so it must be, in this day and age. We got in without much more ado, as the F-16 and P-51 finished their show and stunt planes now ruled the sky.

Next up, the A-10. A pair of these former full time Barnes residents 'bombed' the field betwixt runways, to an approving crowd.

As show after show took to the skies, we wandered about, checking out the other aircraft lined up on the tarmac. Vietnam-era helicopters and titanic cargo craft.

Old and new is always the big theme at these air shows, with both providing their own interest and fascination.

Our hearing was starting to come back again, just as an F-18 Hornet wound up and catapulted into the sky.

The Navy's number one fighter put on a show as impressive and as deafening as the F-16 earlier. As for myself, I managed to get the shots I was hankering for since getting here:

The hard accelerating afterburner lightup...

...the air-pulverizing nose-up maneuver...

...and the coup de grace, a mixture of both.

This gave me tremendous, though odd, satisfaction. It was like bagging prey. Or more precisely, locking on target. I Am Become Photohunter.

Like the F-16 earlier, the Hornet was soon joined by it's mid 20th century counterpart, the Navy's F-4U Corsair, and they both did a commemorative round together.

Good show, old man. Thrilling stuff.

Things quieted down for a spell after that. Though there was always something going on above, be it engined or not.

Gliders, floaters and turbo-props. They seemed to be alternating the technology with each show.

It was way past noon now and the place was full up.

Having done a lot of walking, as is par on an broad air base, we were getting pretty hungry and decided to break for lunch. We had brought sandwiches but coolers weren't allowed inside, so we had to get back outside the gate to eat. We passed under (mostly) watchful eyes once again.

The long trek back out to the car was rewarded with a cooler full of tasty sandwiches, while WWII vintage aircraft buzz by in the distance.

The air was on the cool side, compared to the past couple months, the sandwiches hit the spot, the old planes' relatively quiet piston engines puttered overhead, and it was all pretty relaxing.

So relaxing in fact, that we decided we had seen plenty this morning and should maybe forgo waiting the couple more hours for the headlining Thunderbirds. Westfield was also having a fair this weekend, and maybe we could go check that out.

But not 15 minutes out of the gate, we (I) began to feel pangs of early-leaver's remorse. We did a drive-by of the fair but just weren't into it today. Lets head back and see the T-Birds. Now to go back might mean another $10 donation...we wanted to see the Birds, but not that much.

Plan B here was to find a good roadside clearing near the base as many a traffic jammed, frustrated populace was doing on every road surrounding the base.

We circled around and found a fine lookout at a golf course on the East side of the base. Many people were already there and we picked our spot and waited. It took a while, but at last we heard the distant panther roar of F-16 jet engines winding up.

A flash of reflected sunlight here, beyond the tree line, a streak of white smoke there, and suddenly...


It turned out to be a prime spot for the show, with several planes buzzing low right above us, the thunder terrifying and delighting the bloggerette at the same time. Too cool.

These guys, and all the pilots, earned their pay today.

The Thunderbirds capped it. Time to head back.

Two Hours To Sunset

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Talk Of Secession

It was a warish kind of weekend. Not one, but two excellent reenactments were going on, in adjoining towns, no less. Readers of this blog will know of my affinity for all things historical, especially all things militarily historical.

I've driven the family on forced marches from Lexington Green to as far as Ticonderoga, to witness Revolutionary War reenactments. So with such conditioning it was an easier load to bear simply heading only 40 minutes away to Brimfield, for daddy to get a dose of Virtual Civil War.

There was a lull in battle when we arrived. Some troops had taken to drilling in preparation for the next confrontation...

...while others languished in the shade.

...Some took cat naps...

...or ran the course that all idle, ill disciplined troops have done since war immortal: drinking, to horseplay, to fisticuffs.

The officers immediately pounced and this scuffle was cut short before it could really get going.

The drunken offenders were driven around camp in the most embarrassing way.

It was a neat little display in historical context. These reenactments are never just about the battle. Just as many participants, usually the soldiers' wives and family members, join in the fun and do their part as camp makers.

Although sometimes, then and now combine a little.

These reenactors went to some lengths to bring all aspects of this especially brutal conflict to light.

By mid afternoon word came in over the wire that trouble was brewing over the crick. Commanders were consulted, both sides slowly broke camp, shuffled to arms and readied for battle.

Best to get in your final goodbyes before the fight.

Both armies were called to muster, where final inspection of man and materiel were made.

Under the strains of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and then Dixie, both armies were marched in turn.

They headed off down a country road, around a long pond and to the hillside opposite the water, where the battle was joined.

Other reenactments we've been to allowed the spectators a much closer view of the goings on. This time we were a good distance away, and we soon heard why. The cannon brought along weren't the small field pieces the 18th century. This battle was fought with weaponry 100 years more advanced, and several times as powerful. The sound was deafening, even from this distance.

All throughout the fight, in the background of the earth shuddering explosions, shouting and echoing rifle fire, the band continued to play. It struck me that many of the real battles of old were fought this way, to music. "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" took on a more sinister, darker and somber feel. For hundreds of thousands of people, those simple horns fifes and drums were the last melodies they would ever hear.

And the families they left behind would listen to those songs with a different perspective altogether.