Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Pine Tree State

Just returned from Kennebunkport, Maine, where terrified lobsters hide in fear of starving tourists in bibs who want to devour them. This was our first trip to the "Pine Tree State" and it was lovely. We traveled with our good friends, Dick and Joann Bilello, who we know from childhood, and who served as our best man and maid of honor when we were married nearly 44 years ago. It's nice to be with people who share so much with you, and with whom you can be yourself. The conversation and the laughs flow easily and naturally. We are lucky to have stayed connected over these many years with such special people.

We stayed at the Nonantum Resort right on the water in Kennebunkport. Maine was once inhabited by the Penobscot Indians, and in their language "Nonantum" means "old elevator". The resort, which is four stories high, had just one antique Otis elevator that was installed when the hotel was built 127 years ago. It's about the size of a hall closet, and is actually a service elevator that must be operated by a hotel staff member. Although this might sound like an inconvenience, it really wasn't. The fresh-faced kids who work at the hotel during the summer are happy to run you up and down, and they were a pleasure to be around.

The Nonantum is an elegant old resort with a main house, and outlying smaller houses that are nice for families with kids. The rooms were clean and comfortable, while the lobby and dining rooms featured beautiful antiques everywhere. The rear lawns slope down to the river where lobster boats and sail boats depart daily for tours. There are Adirondack chairs overlooking the river and cool breezes make for very pleasant and relaxing afternoons. The front porch offers rocking chairs with a nice view of the property and close proximity to the excellent hotel bar. The staff was unfailingly polite and helpful. There are many good restaurants in the area where the food and the ambiance make for enjoyable dining experiences.

Throughout our stay there was a group of older women, all in coiffed white hair and summer dresses, who played cards constantly. There were card tables set up off to the side in the lobby for them, and in the afternoons they moved the game to the screened-in porch overlooking the water. When we first checked in I thought they were holding a Barbara Bush look-alike convention. Don't confuse these gals with Methodist Sunday School teachers though; their cocktail glasses were never empty and cold cash was changing hands after each game. During dinner at the hotel one night we were serenaded by the unlikeliest group of musicians you ever saw called the Tony Boffa Trio. Despite their looks, these talented performers entertained us for three solid hours with great renditions of contemporary standards...a very pleasant surprise indeed.

The town of Kennebunkport is like a post card come to life. Souvenir shops, art galleries, antique stores and restaurants are all jumbled together in a tiny area along the water. People wander around buying stuff they'd never look at twice back home, but they all fall victim to the shopping fever that seems to overtake modern-day vacationers. Many of the workers in these stores suffer from a common ailment called "potpourri lung" which comes from inhaling those nauseating bayberry and vanilla scents day after day. I would imagine that Kennebunkport in winter is pretty dreary and dull, but in the summer it is a delightful place to get away from the heat and humidity of New York City.

Just down the beach from us was the summer compound of the Bush family. The estate was purchased in the late 19th century by banker George H. Walker; a mansion was built on the site in 1903. Later, the estate passed on to his daughter Dorothy Walker Bush and her husband Prescott Bush. The estate is situated on the strip of land called Walker's Point which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The large central house, built in the New England shingle style, has nine bedrooms, four sitting rooms, an office, a den, a library, a dining room, a kitchen, and various patios and decks. Next to the main house are a four-car garage, a pool, tennis court, dock, boathouse, and guesthouse. The entrance is gated and guarded by Secret Service officers...very impressive little summer place.

One of the best things about living in America is the variety of geographic environments available to its citizens. We have the mountains and deserts of the Southwest, the beaches of California and Florida, the vast plains and farmlands of the Midwest and not the least of these, the rocky shore line and rugged beauty of Maine. Great friends, great surroundings, and of course good food and wine, add up to a very nice vacation. So glad we went.


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