My City*: Portland Maine
This is the unedited version of my article published in the December 2016 issue of:
The Simple Things magazine (U.K.)
This gorgeous magazine can be bought online or at Longfellow Books in Portland.
Born and raised amidst the beauty that is Maine, Kim met her husband-to-be at the age of thirteen….and he would never leave Maine. Now thirty years married, neither would she.
How long have you lived in Portland?
All my life. There is magic and wonder to branching out and leaving your birthplace. But so, too, is there magic in remaining among what is familiar, where people know my name, my face, my history, or a friend of a friend.
Tell us what makes your city unique?
Portland is a gorgeous small town perched upon a peninsula overlooking Casco Bay that leads out to the open waters of the Atlantic. Our downtown bustles on the edge of a working waterfront and ferry terminals. Upscale boutiques flank piers and wharves jutting out into the bay, and boat slips fill up in summer. Our Old Port area lies in a low land with the Western Promenade to its south, a bluff overlooking the Fore River and mountains, and the Eastern Promenade to its north, which commands breathtaking sunrises over Great Diamond Island, Little Diamond, and Peaks.
What’s it like in December?
Early winter. Cold. Snow. We wear down jackets and lined snow boots. Some days are gray and dark; others are crisp with a blue sky and brilliant sunshine glistening on snowbanks. I welcome the snowfall; it’s still new in the season, so watching the gentle flakes turn my backyard white brings me a sense of peace. We pull our snow shoes and skis from storage and head to the mountains, hoping for powder, not ice.
And tell us about Christmas in the city?
Each year, a Mainer donates a Christmas tree, 50 feet tall, which graces Monument Square downtown. At the tree lighting ceremony, families bundle up and brave the cold to listen to live music, sample local egg nog, carol for the first time of the season, ride in horse drawn carriages adorned with sleigh bells, and sneak a glimpse of Santa Claus. Our personal Christmas Eve tradition is spent with friends feasting on roasted turkey, spiral ham, squash soup in Crock pots, salads, and decadent desserts including my husband’s Bûche de Nöel and croquembouche.
What’s the nature like?
Denmark. Perhaps because we are on a similar geographic line, I found when I visited Denmark in my twenties that our foliage is similar. 80% of our state is forested. We have pine trees, birches, maples, ash. Lupines, beach roses, lilacs, irises. Maine’s coastline is 228 miles long.
Where’s your favourite outdoor space?
Evergreen Cemetery feels more “park” than burial ground. Neighbors run or walk the winding dirt roads with baby carriages and dogs. Couples meander. The chapel sits quietly. Solitary folks like me walk with puddle boots in mud season and L. L. Bean snow boots in December when the deep freeze forces us to layer. Winter isn’t a problem when we dress for it. Alone, early mornings, in Evergreen Cemetery is the place that, since I was a girl, feeds my soul and sparks my creativity.
Tell us about the light and colours of your city.
Sunrises stream golden and firey orange over Portland Harbor. Sunsets glow over Baxter Boulevard.
What are the local people like?
Eclectic. Earthy, hardworking, ruddy complexions from sun and wind and cold wearing dirty overalls and rubber boots. Fashionable, white collar business folks, carrying laptops into downtown offices. Artsy, sporting tattoos, piercings and vintage clothing from second hand shops. Homeless, panhandling, in need. Young. Old. Life-long residents, transplants, and those who find their way back home.
What are your favourite places to gather with friends?
The tennis courts on the Eastern Prom with brunch at The Front Room after a game. On a friend’s boat anchored in Cocktail Cove at Great Diamond Island where boaters hang out and watch the ferries coming and going. Arabica and Crema coffee houses.
And what about the food over there?
We’re all about food. We’re gaining a reputation as a city for food lovers – purveyors of growing and buying local, and chefs who challenge themselves creatively. Our list of award-winning restaurants gaining notoriety is growing each year. Christmas food includes piping hot clam or fish chowder, lobster bisque, prime rib. We celebrate my husband’s birthday each December at Fore Street restaurant, named in Gourmet Magazine’s Top Fifty Restaurants in the U.S. The cozy, warm restaurant with its wood-burning oven, grill, and turnspit offers seafood, meats, game and roasted vegetables. The mussels in garlic almond butter, served in a cast iron skillet, are a must.
What’s your favourite way to get about the city?
Walking. Driving by car, you miss the detail of the doors on the brownstones on Park Street, the ancient brick sidewalks along State Street knarled and uneven from frost heaves, the black antique rod iron garden fences along Neal Street, the gentle beckoning of the side garden at the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow historic home on Congress Street.
What types of shops do you like to visit?
Stonewall Kitchen offers BYO-wine cooking classes through the winter in the small kitchen at the back of their Portland store. On a chilly night in December, we learn to cook, eat our delicious creations, and then holiday shop around the Old Port under city trees twinkling with white lights.
Where do you like to escape to?
Since my boys were small, we cut our Christmas tree down at the Old Farm Christmas Place on the outskirts of Portland which is a Norman Rockwell painting come to life with evergreens growing in rows, marshmallow toasting, hot chocolate held in mittened hands, and tractor rides to tote your chosen tree to your car.
What has been your best discovery about your city?
The Farmers Market in Monument Square on Wednesdays -- fall, spring, and oh my, summer. Local farmers sell their fresh produce, cage free eggs, wild flowers.
What do you miss most if you’ve been away?
Space. Kindness. Familiarity. Beauty. Nature. A sense of balance and calm.
What would surprise a newcomer to your city?
How many wonderful places there are to visit in our state – the mountains of Camden overlooking the harbor, the lakes in Rangeley, Bar Harbor’s rocky coastline in Acadia National Park, Goose Rocks Beach in Kennebunkport – many, an easy drive from Portland.
If you could change one thing about the city, what would it be?
Jobs. Jobs that can keep our children in our state so they can live the healthy lives they’ve likely experienced – in nature, safety, community.
Where would you recommend somebody to stay if they were visiting your city?
The Hilton Garden Inn on Commercial Street is in the heart of our waterfront, an easy walk to all that Portland has to offer with Standard Bakery just outside its door. The bakery is quaint, tiny, wooden beamed, with hot coffee and freshly baked baguettes, rustic bread, croissants. When my younger son was a boy, when I offered toast with his breakfast, he would say “good toast?”….meaning was it from Standard Bakery? Once you’ve had the real, you’ll never go back to factory made cardboard in plastic bags.
What keeps you in your city and where would you like to live if you could not live here?
Did I mention my husband? We’ve raised our sons here, have deep committed friendships that began in middle school, and live our lives outdoors among the mountains, lakes, oceans, clean air, and nature in abundance.
And if somewhere else? Only a peasant’s farmhouse in the French countryside could compare.
Kim’s Personal Tour
Folly 101 – perfect gifts for all occasions: glass ware, linens, baskets, blankets
Motif’s – French flair, clothes that fit me best
K. Colette – the space itself is charming: brick walls, wooden beams
Zapoteca – Margueritas made with fresh lemons and limes, guacamole, taquitos de pollo
Walters – cushy chairs in the bar overlooking passers-by on the sidewalk, Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Micucci’s Italian Grocery –my husband’s Italian grandmother used to walk daily to this authentic food shop for pasta, deli meats, cheeses
Rosemont Market – fresh produce, breads, smiles and kind words
Portland Art Gallery – a light-filled space featuring Maine artists
Best Use of an Hour
Pull your sneaks out from under your desk in the office, head down to Commercial Street, walk the Eastern Trail to the steps up to the park, take in the view of Casco Bay from the gazebo, head back to Middle Street, through the Old Port, grabbing a Starbucks on your way by, past the Mexican food truck….before anyone notices you slipped out.
Best Place at Night
On a boat near Fort Gorges, seeing the twinkling lights of the Portland sky line, Bug Light’s lantern, and the humble lights in the island cottages.
Kim Kalicky is the author of Away at a Camp in Maine and Mothers Fulfilled (available at Amazon). She writes for The Huffington Post, MariaShriver.com and blogs at LivingMaineSeasons.com (travel) and kimkalicky.com (about the lake, nature, motherhood, seeking fulfillment, and the musings trawling, brewing and bubbling up in her mind).