Today is one of those perfectly calm days, where the water in the Stonington harbor looks like a sheet of hammered silver and the boats lie perfectly motionless at anchor, as if they are moored in concrete. There’s only the slightest breath of wind, and it is so quiet you can hear the remaining dead leaves rustling in the trees, the cawing of crows, and lone human voices carrying from far across the harbor.
It’s not hard to relax here.
Back up in Stonington, Maine, where the plain-spoken, pull-no-punches street names continue to crack me up.
Let’s see — which way should I turn at the intersection of Sunset Avenue and Weedfield Road?
I prefer the grand old hotels, with their special features and fixtures, but it’s nice to get a glimpse at the new hotel trends every once in a while, too. Last night I stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn in downtown Boise that the friendly woman who checked me in said had been open for all of two weeks.
The first thing I noticed when I got to my room was the smell. With all of the shiny new, just-out-of-the-delivery-box metal, plastic, fabric, and carpeting, the room had that familiar scent that made me feel like I was going to spend the night in a new Mustang on the local Ford dealer’s showroom floor.
There were some other signs of new hotel approaches, too. The room was a kind of mini-suite, with refrigerator and microwave (complete with a packet of microwave popcorn), and the Keurig coffee maker is definitely a welcome step in the right direction. The bathroom features an enormous, blindingly white walk-in shower that is guaranteed to blast the newly roused traveler into immediate wide-awake mode. And the room has two other features that go on the negative side of the ledger — heaps of those clunky, oversized “accent” pillows on the sofa that keep you from sitting down unless you throw them on the floor, and light fixtures that you have to carefully study to determine whether they are powered by a knob, a hanging cord, a wall switch, or a step-on device on the floor. Oh, for the days when every light could be turned on by a knob beneath the lampshade!
It’s a nice room and a nice hotel, but new or old, a hotel is always a hotel. I noticed that this one also has the loud, patterned carpeting that you seem to find only in hotel hallways and bowling alleys. Some things never change.
Meet the “Stroopwaffel.” It was handed to me by a flight attendant as the snack item accompanying my cup of airline coffee with cream on my United flight this morning.
What, exactly, is a Stroopwaffel? The package describes it as a “soft, toasted waffle filled with caramel, cinnamon and real bourbon vanilla.” It even comes with instructions: you’re supposed to put it on the top of your coffee cup so the steam emanating from the cup warms the Stroopwaffel. This presumes that airline coffee is piping hot, which is a questionable assumption indeed. I tried this technique this morning, and thereby warmed the Stroopwaffel to about one degree above room temperature. Because the size of the Stroopwaffel is almost precisely the same as the size of the top of the airline coffee cup, I also strongly recommend that you not try to warm the Stroopwaffel if your flight encounters even mild turbulence, or you will either lose the Stroopwaffel entirely as it slides off the cup into airline oblivion or have a mess on your hands.
It’s kind of sad that the introduction of a new airline breakfast snack is worth noting, but such things are the stuff that fill the lives of seasoned business travelers. The Stroopwaffel is just fine as a snack, but where it really excels is its name. Who can resist the sound of “Stroopwaffel”? It blows “biscotti” out of the water in my book.
One cool feature of Stonington is the Opera House. It’s one of Stonington’s most prominent buildings, with its large green facade facing the bay and its old-fashioned lettering, complete with a period at the end. Kish and I went to a screening of Stephen King’s It there on Friday night. I can attest that going to watch a creepy movie about Maine written by Maine’s most celebrated writer in an old building in Maine, and then walking home in pitch darkness trying to steer clear of sewers, definitely increases the flesh-crawling quotient of the film.
The Stonington Opera House has an interesting back story that tells you something about how the commitment of individual people can make a difference to a town. The current structure was built in 1912 and housed opera, vaudeville, plays, and movies, but fell into disuse. (You can read about the building’s history here.) According to locals, it was abandoned and in danger of being torn down before a group of people formed the Opera House Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, specifically to renovate and operate the building. The project received donations and support, recently a new wing was added, and the Opera House now features year-round entertainment and cultural offerings. Kish and I are looking forward to attending a live performance there one of these days.
Imagine what a loss it would have been if this iconic historic building had been demolished! But because some far-sighted folks were willing to take a chance and invest their time and effort into a project, the building was saved and the lives of the people of Stonington and its surroundings are a little bit richer as a result. It sure beats the swing of the wrecking ball.
I seem to always get seated at the back of the plane. I’m not quite sure why, but the rear lavatory and I are consistently on intimate terms. On this flight, I was seated next to the window in the last row and was the last person off the plane. It’s one reason I like flying Southwest, where I can pick a middle seat up front.
Although sitting at the back of the plane stinks — sometimes literally — it does give you time for people watching, and inner heckling. “Hey Grampa, have some consideration for those of us trying to make a connection and put your freaking sweater on after you leave the plane!” “Lady, do us all a favor and use baggage check for that oversized bag next time!” “And Mountain Man, please remember when you turn around that that overstuffed backpack is knocking into the people behind you!”
Maine has a famously rock-bound coastline. Stonington is rock-bound to the nth degree — which is presumably how it got its name. Most of the rock is granite, and you see outcroppings sticking out of pretty much every bay, inlet, and yard. It’s everywhere.
Our cottage has a beautifully made foundation consisting entirely of fitted granite blocks. Visitors who’ve seen it nod approvingly and say: “That’s Crotch Island granite.” Crotch Island is located near Stonington, and the quarries there supplied the granite for most of the foundations, fences, and walls in town. It’s good granite, obviously — but why did it have to be called Crotch Island?