Monday, December 2, 2013

Snow and Books, 7

If you read this blog last winter (or spring) you might recall that I sometimes read and quasi-review Connecticut guidebooks when the weather won't let me do anything else. Recently, icy roads and cancelled plans led me to pick up Connecticut Off the Beaten Path, the latest edition of which was written by Cindi D. Pietrzyk and published by GPP Travel (as in Globe Pequot Press.)

Pietrzyk lives in Durham, and speaking of off the beaten path, I think that town moves itself around at night. If I had a dollar for every time I've driven across its border and said to myself "Durham is here?" I'd have, like $4.00.

Today I Learned: Ethan Allen was 6'6" and prone to offering up quotable quotes in moments of great tension. Grape-Nuts Pudding is a Connecticut thing, right up there with pizza and lobster rolls. (Really?) The first auto insurance policy was issued by Travelers in 1898 and it cost two cents. (Pause here to look at your car insurance bill and cry.) There is an old Schagticoke cemetery in Kent. The word quaint, despite still not meaning what you think it means, is alive and well in guidebook writing.

Amusements: There is something called the Puritan tiger beetle, and it lives (naturally) in the Connecticut River watershed. As does the dwarf wedge mussel, the Jesup's milk-vetch, and the small whorled pogonia. Connecticut is not merely a land of contrasts like everywhere else, but a "land of odd contrasts." Sam Hill, of "What in Sam Hill?" fame, was Guilford's Town Clerk.

Listings: The book divides the state into five sections: Gateway to New England, Coast and Country, The Litchfield Hills, The Heartland, and The Quiet Corner. (These essentially correspond to Fairfleid and New Haven Counties, Middlesex and New London Counties, Litchfield County, Hartford County, and Tolland and Windham Counties.) This works perfectly well, but I sometimes wonder about these neologisms, especially since everyone from the official tourism offices to each guidebook creates their own. At a certain point, they just leave visitors open to blank stares and ridicule. This goes for other uncommon location names such as Off the Beaten Path's "Tobacco Valley." Do people really say that? If you told me you were looking for Tobacco Valley, I could guess what you meant, but I'd probably get confused. (Is that a place? a store?) Similarly, "Coast and Country," though a perfectly logical name, would mean nothing to me without the book's little map.

The attractions listed are really quite decent, but - to my disappointment - not so much off the beaten path. The deliberate downplaying of some major attractions (e.g. Mystic Seaport) does leave room for other smaller sights that probably wouldn't make it in to another guidebook.You could plan a nice Connecticut vacation with the information here, and even locals will be reminded of some slightly unusual places they've probably heard of before but never made an effort to visit. (Oh yeah, DEEP has a store.) But if you know Connecticut at all well, you're not going to be too surprised by this collection of museums, historic houses, parks, well-known eateries, shopping centers, and so on.

I can't blame the author or publisher for the beatenness of this path; I know as well as anyone (if not better) that writing about truly off the beaten path Connecticut does not get you book deals. It is, however, more interesting, so I wish it had dawned on me earlier that this would be just another regular guidebook. For some reason I naively saw the title and took it literally, as opposed to recognizing it for the marketing that it is.

One last thing. Pietrzyk makes an effort to highlight stops on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, which I have to applaud since I've raved about it too. Although...if there is a state-funded website listing these sites, can they truly be said to be "off the beaten path?" I don't know. I guess if you can cut yourself visiting, it's an acceptable designation.

Quote: The book opens with an earnest Mark Twain quote about traveling, but I have to go with our boy Ethan Allen. According to legend, when drunk and riding home from a tavern one night, he came across a group of his friends dressed up like ghosts and hiding under a bridge in an attempt to frighten Allen into sobriety. His horse was a little freaked out but Allen simply said, "If you are angels of light, I'm glad to meet you. And if you are devils, then come along home with me. I married your sister."

P.S. There's a fairly major mistake in this book. Well, major only to current and former New Londoners, I suppose. Benedict Arnold was from Norwich, not Norwalk. Norwalk has enough problems without that false accusation floating around out there.

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