Wednesday, March 28, 2007

P is for Portland

Tim’s an art director for a catalog company. For the past few years, he’s been working with a photography studio in Portland, Maine. He spends a lot of time there—I’m guessing almost 3 months per year, if you were to add up all the weeks.

The longest stint is always in spring. He left Sunday, and he’ll come home around mid-April.

This has the potential to be a real relationship stressor. If we had kids, I don’t see how I could put up with him being gone so much. If he was shooting at some studio on the other side of the country, I would be very cranky. If I were working a regular office job, we’d be stuck being apart all those weeks. But none of these things are true. We are childfree, I am a freelancer, and the fabulous town of Portland is only a 5-hour drive away.

Tim stays at a hotel right downtown on the waterfront. He can walk to work from there. There’s wireless Internet in the room, which means that I can walk to work too—the several feet from the bed to the desk. There’s a small gym, so I don’t have to miss a workout (and when lucky, I can time it to next-day repeats of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report). There’s a promenade by the bay, so when it’s nice out, I can take the fast walk instead of the elliptical cross-train. (Ah, to be a runner. I’m not.)

In Portland, I become a Pedestrian, a life I gave up when I left the city. Within 2 hours of pounding the concrete, macadam, and cobblestones, I have shin splints. I will feel it for 3 days or so. Then I’ll have my city legs back.

And there’s food. Oh sweet Jesus, there’s food.

It’s not that there isn’t food in rural Vermont. It’s just that there’s very little interesting food for the money. I don’t have to go far from home to be offered an opportunity to drop a wad o’ cash for dinner, or even a half-wad, but it’s rare to feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Where is the nearby affordable dive for me to love and frequent? It eludes me.

In Portland, even the dives are great.

People assume I eat a lot of seafood when I’m in Portland. I eat a lot of fish, not a lot of shellfish. (I eat a lot of nonfish too: Indian, Thai, barbecue, and the best duck I’ve ever had.) I’ve never been someone who thought that a bigass lobster was the treat of a lifetime.

After a 25-year hiatus, I did get up the nerve to eat some raw oysters at a nice little bar, and I didn’t hate them. I don’t crave them, but they’re interesting, so oceany, and with a crisp glass of Gavi, it’s a sweet little happy hour.

And then there’s Una, my favorite martini bar. I don’t know why I love it so much. Maybe it’s the company I’ve kept there. Maybe it’s just that I miss cities, and it feels so urban. Maybe it’s because the martinis are good. When I get there early enough to sit at the bar, I’m a happy, tipsy camper.

Have I mentioned the movies? There are eight screens within walking distance, and the downtown theaters tend to run some of the more indie stuff that may never get to my corner of Vermont. The closest movie theater to my house is a half-hour drive.

The people Tim works with are exceptional. I know, they have to be nice to Client Tim, but they’ve become our friends, socializing with us in the off-hours beyond the call of duty. Peter has invited us to two company Christmas parties at his house, parties that I, introvert, have really enjoyed. Tim sometimes plays music with George and Emma at their house; if I’m there, I hang with ultracool wife/mom Michelle.

I leave Friday to join Tim for about 10 days. I’m already getting antsy, wondering if I can wait that long. There are definitely things to look forward to. On Tim’s last trip, in January, Len turned him on to a new restaurant/bar, and rumor has it that three of us must go there one night. I’m going to love it. I’m picking up my very first commissioned piece of art on this trip, by Louise, who works in—among other things—piano parts. On Saturday night, I’m going to my first-ever roller derby, starring Heidi. I’m utterly psyched and need to start reviewing the rules.

Maybe I can get Wendy to teach me to shoot this trip. I should send her an e-mail.

Portland’s become a home-away-from-home. It’s highly artificial on some levels, of course. I mean, if we moved there, our lives would be nothing like the charmed downtown existence we lead as Tim lives on expense account and I spend my allowance on food and drink. We would be caught up in real life, life with chores always looking us in the face, life with major bills to pay, life with little time for friends because everyone’s just too busy. In Portland, we live in a hotel-room bubble. We have time for each other and other people. How does one make that happen at home?

Don’t get me wrong. I love where I live, and it helps to spend the daily grind near mountains, streams, and little traffic. There are reasons I left the city. But there’s a part of me that will always be urban, and it needs to be fed. That Tim’s job takes him to this seaport gives me that.

There are eiders in the bay. I don’t see many eiders in landlocked Vermont. And Portland mockingbirds speak seagull. I love that.

Time to Pack.


Helen said...

I was wondering when the birds were going to appear (I thought maybe the edible duck was it).I think the Portland tourism bureau should hire you as their writer. I also think that living this kind of double-life, however short the other "half" may be, would be ideal...

Deloney said...

Great post (as always).

Una, huh? I expect I'd like it there.

Indigo Bunting said...

Helen: I was worried it sounded too much like a commercial. I'm a just city starved.

Deloney: Meet you there tomorrow night? I'm seriously trying to get outta here tomorrow instead of Friday.

Mali said...

Escape from our normal lives is so important every so often - and finding a "home away from home" makes it more special ...

(hope we'll still hear from you when you're in the big metropolis!)

Helen said...

Indigo, if it sounds like a commercial it's one of those that should be entered in a commerial contest. Reading it made me want to go to Portland, even though it's never been on my list of destinations before now.

Bridgett said...

Portland mockingbirds speak seagull. Ah. That would be lovely to experience.

This makes me want to go to Portland, a city that's not even on my mental map of interesting stops. I agree with Helen--you should write for the tourism bureau.

Indigo Bunting said...

Sure hope I haven't overdone it. You're listening to the rantings of a city-starved woman. Portland is no New York or Toronto (although it does remind me a bit of Halifax--without the amazing garden).

Bridgett said...

Don't like big cities, myself. I like St. Louis, not Chicago, for instance. Athens, not Atlanta. Milwaukee, Kansas City, Memphis. I feel like I am going to be swallowed up in Houston, but I love San Antonio.