Portland to Peterborough to Hopkinton to Hartford to New Haven to Fairfield

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We set out from Portland early Tuesday morning and made our way to Peterborough, NH. It’s a cute little town that was the model for the play Our Town (which, to be honest, I don’t remember anything about except that the dead people in the cemetery sit around on stage making comments). But the town is pretty, and there are lots of nods to the play:

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Peterborough is also the home of the MacDowell Colony – artist retreat par excellence. We did a little bit of spying, but didn’t really see anyone – it’s very private and secluded.

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We were there to meet the artist Anna von Mertens, whose work I really admire. She uses traditional quilting techniques like hand stitching and dyeing to make conceptual quilts. The one above is “Frida Kahlo’s Aura, with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” where she took Polaroid aura photographs of famous paintings and reworked them as sewn and dyed panels. I like the aura panels a lot, but my favourite works of hers are ones that use data – weather events recorded in the rings of trees, star patterns at moments of particular historical significance. Her website has lots of examples. In any case, it was fabulous to meet her and to see her gorgeous off-grid house and her latest work.

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This is the view. Not too shabby!

From Peterborough we drove to Hopkinton, where we were staying at Breakwind Farm. No joke, that is the farm’s name, and has been since the 1790s. But now, they also make organic baked beans. And, of course the beans are called FARTOOTEMPTING. We tried them – they were delicious.

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We had kind of a perfect traveling experience here. When we arrived the whole place was deserted, it looked like zombies might have gone through already, and it definitely looked like the kind of place where at the very least you might get devoured by bears. But it turned out that everyone was just outside picking potatoes, there were no zombies (although there might have been bears) and it was actually magical. We ended up staying with the people who own the farm (and make the beans) and some other travellers who had retired, sold their house and were moving around the world helping people at various jobs in exchange for room and board. So we all ate beans and then went outside and sat around the fire pit while the night sky turned white with stars. It was so dark that at one point I dropped Lucy’s leash and completely lost her, but she was actually huddled against my leg. We talked about all of our adventures and what it felt like to just walk away from a house full of stuff (good), and the fire was warm while the night was cold. I’m not sure that I would want to live in an isolated farm all the time, but for a night it was pretty special.

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Lucy, post-drive, still wearing her seatbelt, showing us how it’s done (again).

The wallpaper was something else. Totally loved it.

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We left Wednesday morning for a long day of driving and made it to Fairfield, Connecticut at dinner time after stopping in Hartford and New Haven en route. We managed to hit four states before 11:20 (New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut).

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In Hartford we went to the Museum of Natural and Other Curiosities. It’s in the old State House – sort of like walking into a provincial legislature and finding someone’s collection of two-headed cows, unicorn horns and portraits of politicians. Deliciously macabre. It was actually a collection that belonged to an 19th century painter named Joseph Steward. But he thought that the public should be able to see these objects and the state legislature agreed. The collection was closed down in the late nineteenth century, but it had been advertised in newspapers so when it was put back together in the 1990s, the curators knew what to look for (although the new collection is much more about local flora and fauna than the old one with its obvious tinges of colonialism and pillage).

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Finding a two-headed calf to replace the collection’s 19th century star attraction presented a bit of trouble, but then one was stillborn in 1996 in Michigan and donated.

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Horn of a unicorn! It was advertised as such – mostly so that people would come and see the collection and Steward would get more portrait commissions. He probably knew it was a narwhal tusk (it’s still displayed as a unicorn horn).

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The juxtaposition of historical figures and taxidermied specimens was pretty funny. Chomp chomp.

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From Hartford we went to New Haven. We wandered around Yale for a while, mostly to see the Beinecke Rare Books Library.

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Plain on the outside….

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Not so plain on the inside!

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We also went to the Cushing Brain Collection, which made us both a little queasy. All those brains in jars. And most of them not healthy brains. The collection used to be housed, hidden, in the basement of a student residence at Yale. It was an adventure to crawl over pipes, take away a wall panel, and find yourself in the dark with 500 jars of brains. Not a pleasant thought. But I absolutely would have crawled over the pipes.

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Now we’re in Fairfield, CT. Lucy is totally flaked out – so far she’s been a champion, but she’s pretty tired. It was a long day and tomorrow we’re going to New York City.

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