The “Other Portland” Reconsidered

Dinner view

My early life is a tale of two Portlands. I grew up in and around the city of Portland, Maine. It is a small city of about 60,000 people about two hours north of Boston that features century-old brick buildings, wharves, narrow cobblestone streets, and handsome Victorian houses. Growing up there it had a vibe of being cultured, yet sleepy. There were bohemian feeling cafes, concerts and a good, but small art museum. In the early 1990s I saw “Alternative” bands of the era like Dinosaur Jr. and Belly play at a mid-sized theatre. It was relatively safe and very walkable. All in all, it was a great place to grow up.

Hover, in my mid-teens I fell in love with the “other” Portland (in New England speak), the much larger Portland, Oregon that came into its own in the 1990s as a hotbed of alternative culture and is now the reigning city of hipsterism (besides, perhaps, my current home town of Brooklyn). When I moved to Portland in 2000 I had to explain to people that I was, actually from the “other” Portland (that would be Maine, in Oregon and most everywhere else, speak).  Confusing!

Portland, Maine!

I always felt like Portland, Maine had great potential to be a hotbed for creativity. It’s not terribly expensive to live there, there’s old industrial space that could be available for artists and creative people, there’s an art school and a large public university an a cultural infrastructure in place to support creative people. Did I mention the restaurants are excellent? I always felt vaguely frustrated and let down by Portland, Maine in the 1990s. While places like Olympia, Washington were becoming focal points of DIY culture making Portland seemed to not quite be able to have it together. Bands from Portland rarely toured and when they did seemed to only make it as far as Boston. People barely expressed an interest in touring bands. The local art scene was dominated by cutesy crafts and lighthouse art. Until now.

Back for post-workshop, pre-pizza party cocktails

Cocktails at Eventide Oyster Company

In the early 2000s a few businesses helped usher in what seems to be a new wave for creative people in Portland, Maine. Ferdinand started selling letterpress goods, silkscreen t-shirts and vintage finds. Space Gallery started bringing in shows by cutting edge contemporary artist and hosting emerging and established touring indie rock bands. Geno’s rock club moved up from a scuzzy (but beloved) dive bar to a sprawling new space (it used to be a porn theater back in the day, but hey…), the Nickelodeon Cinema started showing indie as well as second run mainstream films downtown for cheap, and Z Fabrics started selling beautiful, contemporary cool cloth. These places helped breath life into Portland independent culture stalwarts, like Bullmoose Music and helped re-invigorate a tradition like the First Friday Arts Walk.

Serious hipster coffee comes to Portland, Maine

Coffee at Tandem

Returning to Portland on a recent weekend I was surprised at all the new, creative businesses that have opened up and feel like the city is supportive enough of independent, DIY, handcrafted culture to make a go at it. You can now get locally roasted coffee in the Bluebottle tradition from Tandem Coffee Roasters, outfit your inner (or outer) dandy at Portland Dry Goods and David Wood (David Wood has been a leading menswear purveyor in Portland for decades), embrace the prepster aesthetic and support “upcycling” at Seabags, browse hip, vintage, local, and handmade goods at Pinecone + Chickadee, and score amazing vintage deals at Find. Did I mention eating? Try Eventide Oyster Company for craft cocktails and yes, oysters, and Duckfat, which seems to be known the world over, for hearty sandwiches and fries cooked in the restaurant’s namesake (vegetarians beware!).

All of this to say, this past weekend I walked around in a state of quasi-disbelief. What I always hoped for “my” Portland is happening. I’m not quite ready to move back, but I’m looking forward to my next visit. Sitting at dinner at the hippie pizza place Flatbread Company I overheard a member of a bachelor party near us ask in all sincerity, “Are there nitrates in the pepperoni?” To which the waitress immediately replied, “No, of course not, they are homemade.” I had to pinch myself. Which Portland was I in?

Merry and Bright

Modcloth dress, Gap cardigan, Hue tights, Robert Clergerie heels, Modcloth headband

This is just a quick entry to wish all a very festive and lovely season, whatever holiday you may or may not be celebrating. I hope that in this week leading up to the new year you will take some time to rest, reflect, regroup and spend time with the people who matter most do you and remembering what makes your life good. I am home in Maine for a few days to do exactly that, as well as be completely spoiled by my family and enjoy their incredible cooking. 2011 has been a banner year for me and I feel it has set things in motion for an even more rewarding 2012. We never know what the future will bring, but may it be merry and bright!

Cozy by the fire in my Built by Wendy sweater dress

Bright against the snow

The Way Life Should Be in Summer

It’s early October, but summer is still hanging on by a desperate thread. Every day that I put on my open toed shoes I wonder if it will be the last until next season. But this little bit of summer in fall got me thinking about to the height of summer and the time I spent in Maine then. It already seems so far away, but I wanted to share some summertime memories with all of you.

My home state of Maine has had some pretty silly slogans over the past few years. I think there was a collective eye roll when “Vactionland” was the phrase that was placed on Mainers license plates. Our other catch phrase is the slightly less insulting “The Way Life Should Be.” Well, the way life should be if you like six months of winter, a sluggish economy, and being cut off from the rest of the United States (but being significantly closer to Canada, which is a benefit in my opinion).

Downeast fashion: Preloved t-shirt, Gap skirt (my "on the road" work uniform)

Relaxing on the farm: Built by Wendy t-shirt, J Crew shorts, Espadrilles from Les Toiles du Soleil

Esther Williams bathing suit. Best bathing suit ever. On Bates and Ministerial islands, Casco Bay, Maine. My favorite islands ever.

For a few short weeks in summer Maine lives up to its slogan. Days are sunny, long and not too hot. The ocean is refreshing, but swimmable. There is ample fresh lobster and seafood to eat. Farm fresh produce is abundant. The bugs of late spring have retreated a little bit. There are opportunities for hikes, beautiful drives along the craggy coastline, and boat rides to islands that can be privately yours for the afternoon.

Sunflower. Hiking in the background by SMH.

Day Lilies. Late summer Maine special.

Causeway. Deer Isle, Maine.

Because I was in Maine for work, as well as hosting a getaway weekend for my friends, I got to drive all through the state. I took highways and byways I hadn’t driven on since I was a small child. I was able to revel in the beauty of the state and see it through the eyes of an outsider.  With a place this beautiful it’s no wonder someone thought it was a good idea to call it “Vactionland.”

Eggemongen Reach, Maine

Girl from the North Country

The other weekend I went “home” to Maine for the wedding of one of my best friends from childhood and to celebrate my birthday with my parents. Like most people I have a complicated relationship with home. My current home is in Brooklyn, New York and probably will be for the foreseeable future (unless someone wants to offer me a job in Paris or London, hint hint). But usually when I refer to “home,” I mean Maine, where I grew up and where my parents still live. When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to get out of Maine and transform myself into a bohemian urbanite. I am the first to admit I had romantic ideas about what life in the city would be like, and not a lot of idea about the heartache and hard work it would actually entail. As the years that I have lived in New York City go by I become more comfortable with where I am from, but I also don’t feel like I need to flaunt it. Accepting my home is also about accepting who I am and how it has shaped me.

Dressed up for the wedding at Hawk Ridge Farm. Brooklyn Industries dress and sweater, American Apparel tights, Robert Clergerie shoes

After the ceremony the bride and groom lead us through the pasture to the reception.Of course, being Maine the weather was something to contend with, but we're used to it.

Nola Springtime bag by Les Compasantes (a birthday present to myself), American Apparel marine sweater, Ben Simon sneakers

Hanging out with Sonny. I borrowed my Dad's jacket.

On top of Bradbury Mountain, my favorite place to walk when I'm home.

Maine springtime "color block."

Maine in Fall (An Orchard Photo Shoot)

I try to get back to New England at least once in the fall and soak in the golden light, crisp air, carpet of leaves, trees all done up in color, and of course, fresh apples. My mom captured me in pursuit of the perfect Cortland.

The bounty high in the tree

Handy tool for reaching high up apples

Apple Scouting

Coat by Brooklyn Industries, Shirt by Petite Bateau, Apples by Maine

The bounty from just 15 minutes in the orchard

Orchard Idyll

After spending time in a sun drenched apple orchard after living 9 years in New York City it’s not hard to start seeing Maine as some kind of enchanted landscape.

Rainy Beach Day

Fort Window
Originally uploaded by killerfemme

The weather managed to thwart my friend Lil and my Maine summer beach plans, so instead we explored Fort Popham, a fort that has been on the Kennebeck river since the time of the Civil War. I am modeling my Brooklyn hoodie and king of the mountains Tour de France hat in the fort’s window. Much to Lil’s friend Ben’s disapointment, the fort did not feature any moveable walls or secret passageways.

Bastille Day Sparklers

Originally uploaded by killerfemme

A little different from Bastille Day last year where I watched fireworks from the banks of the Seine, this one was spent in Maine, chilling in the backyard of the house I grew up in, where my sister now lives. Here I rediscovered sparklers, which were actually more fun when I was younger, but here is Guillome, a young visitor from France, helping me desk the time delay function on my camera.

Fresh Local Maine Greens

Fresh Greens
Originally uploaded by killerfemme

A few weeks ago I went home to Maine to visit my family, including my sister who was home from France. I had just finished reading “Aninal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver and while I was home I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. The benefits of eating locally and organically were fresh on my mind and this was certainly helped by my Mom’s garden. In Maine it was still cool enough to have fresh lettuce. I also made up a cocktail with fresh mint and lime concentrate- ‘mohito style’ you might call it. But certainly reading both of those books (though I recomend Pollan’s over Kingsolvers) has made me much more aware of where my food comes from even if I can’t just walk out to the garden and pick it myself.