I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time. At first, the idea was to show those of you who live far away, or have never been here, the wonderful city of Portland, Maine. I have lived here for the past five years and have spent a lot of my life near Portland, so it feels like home to me. Now that Ray and I are leaving the area to travel for a couple of months and then to live far away for an undetermined amount of time, I wanted to share with you this place that has come to mean so much to me.
I often wonder what it is to love a place. A small city lined with brick sidewalks and cobblestones scattered here and there. Downtown shows off unique old buildings, once part of the trade and commerce of the port for which the city was named. Now these brick facades house different businesses, places to eat and many locally owned shops. Aside from an excessive number of Dunkin Donuts (I shudder to type that name) and Starbucks, the majority of the restaurants and stores on Portland’s peninsula are locally owned. I like to sit and read or write at Arabica and Bard Coffee, browse and buy reading and learning material at Longfellow Books and Rabelais, and buy thread and peruse new prints at Z Fabric. These local businesses are supported by people who care about their community as well as Portland Buy Local, which was formed a few years ago to more formally organize and continue to support the many fabulous local businesses around town.
I thrive living in a place where I travel by foot from the east to the west end in under an hour. When I worked on Exchange Street I rarely had to get in the car and would walk or pedal to work every day. In the past five years, I have spent so much time along these sidewalks. Striding purposefully, ambling along in the sun, searching for answers between every brick or just trying not to slip on the ice. I sometimes forget to really notice the historic brick buildings and the small details, a name, a pattern or element of design which is unique. When I really look around though, I always discover something new, a unique house or an unnoticed name and date on a building (like Walk Over Shoe on Congress Street), that I have never seen before. If I haven’t walked around town in a while, I feel the need to reconnect with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the streets as my feet reconnect with the brick sidewalks.
A city is, of course, more than just its buildings. I always wonder, what makes this place what it is? What makes it home to me? It is more than the abundance of restaurants that are always serving great food, often centered around what is available locally and sustainably. It is more than the cornucopia of locally grown and produced foods available here, even more than weekly trips to the farmer’s market or walking by a bakery and stopping for a treat. I admire the culture of food that keeps growing in Portland, and try to participate by eating and making. I find secret delight in the the sweet-burnt aroma of coffee roasting that permeates the air most mornings and the smell of grains brewing into beer which hangs on the breeze later in the day. When I’m not making food in my own kitchen, I love to taste well crafted vegetarian food at the Pepper Club and the Green Elephant, chocolate truffles from Dean’s Sweets and pastries from Standard Baking, pizza from Flatbread and Micucci’s, italian food from Paciarino, mexican food from El Rayo, beer from Novare Res and lots of local breweries, and to visit delicious places in the west end like Caiola’s and Aurora Provisions. There are so many other good places this list is just a start.
I don’t know if it is possible to belong to a place. What ties me to it, or it to me? There are all the faces that I recognize and see over and over. Whether or not I know them beyond the surface, these faces are part of the mosaic of my life here. From time to time, someone asks me why I look so familiar. How do they know me? It could be from the Yoga Exchange, Maples, the community garden, or O’Naturals. But I tell them: we live in Portland, that’s how. Its the small town phenomenon of this small city — I see familiar faces everywhere. Beyond just familiar faces, there are the dear friends with whom I have shared so many experiences here.
What else is great about Portland? The First Friday Art Walk, the museums and galleries, creative people and projects happening everywhere. In the summer, the sweet salty smell of the harbor and Casco Bay permeates. Being close to the water, lighthouses, beaches and islands as well as a short drive from rivers, lakes and mountains. Good people who care about the place where they live. Obviously I am just one person out of 60,000 and these are my impressions and the things that come to mind first when I think about my life here.
After slowly falling for Portland, I have more recently found that no place can be my home without Ray. We were lucky to find each other in the same place at the same time and to share a love for our little city. After having our individual experiences here, we have explored Portland together and found that, just as in our relationship, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, no matter how much you love a place, there are so many others to experience and love. So we’re leaving. Mainly because Ray has a new job which gives us a chance to experience a new city and part of the country. I will seriously miss each season here, watching the color and texture of the water change each day, walking along well trodden streets and all of the familiar faces. But, eventually, we’ll be back.