Some time during one of the last 57 snowstorms (I can no longer distinguish them by date or by silly name, as they all blended into one endless nightmare of parking bans and shoveling) I read the sixth edition of the Rough Guide to New England.
There was a period shortly after I graduated from college when I wanted to magically disappear from my own life - which consisted of scouring the auditions section of Backstage and literally pounding the pavement of Manhattan attempting to convince retail stores to give me a day job - and reappear transformed into the woman who hosted the Rough Guides TV series. I would have better, less trendy hair, of course, and I'd be American, but I would get to travel the globe and stand in front of interesting places while talking about them wittily and wearing sunglasses.
This, clearly, never happened, and the TV show - as far as I know - is no more. But on to the guidebook. As usual, with books that cover Connecticut as well as other states, I'm only talking about the Connecticut section.
Today I Learned: Montpelier, VT is the only US state capitol without a McDonald's.
Amusements: Westport is "an entirely different world." The Litchfield Hills is an "alternative to the Berkshires." "Tourism here is of a sophisticated sort." "Driving in the winter is actually less perilous than you may expect." The Hartford Courant is a "smaller paper." And anyone reading this book who hasn't been to New England before would be forgiven if they thought the people of Connecticut subsisted entirely on pizza.
Listings: Reading the Rough Guide to New England, I kept having to remind myself, "it is what it is." Since I'm not normally in the habit of repeating cheesy catch phrases to myself, this got annoying, but it was true. This is one relatively compact, roughly (heh) 500 page book that sets itself the task of covering all of New England. There is no way to do that in any real depth, so it helps to see this is a guide for people traveling to Massachusetts who also want some idea of what surrounds their destination. To put it another way, 80 pages are devoted to Boston alone, 109 to the rest of Massachusetts, less than 50 to Connecticut, and 33 to Rhode Island.
With that taken into account, the Connecticut section is...fine. It concentrates primarily on Mystic, New Haven (which it views as essentially part of Fairfield County), downtown Hartford, and, to a lesser extent, Litchfield County. The focus is on facts rather than descriptive writing, and the facts are mostly correct, though occasionally a detail requiring a more nuanced understanding of the state comes out embarrassingly wrong. (E.g., the statement that New London is reviving due partly to the Pfizer offices located in Groton.)
This book proffers only the obvious, even though some of the obvious is curiously omitted. A major Connecticut travel guide that almost ignores Essex seems odd to me, though perhaps it is a relief to the residents of Essex. The Quiet Corner is criminally neglected, and given only one paragraph. (Guidebook crime: it's a big problem these days.) Another strange almost-omission? The Dutch. For a book that tries to go into the background of the region and of individual locations, I found the strong emphasis on British colonial history - with a dash of smallpox-afflicted Indians - to be a bit jarring.
I had always, perhaps wrongly, equated "rough guide" with a sort of spirited edginess (perhaps the fault of my one-time TV idol and her trendy hair.) Reading this book I suddenly realized it might instead mean "rough" in the sense of a rough sketch. There's nothing new or unusual here, but for a brief overview dotted with tourism's greatest hits, it works.
Quote: "The capital of Connecticut, Hartford is fast becoming one of the most alluring destinations in New England." Why thank you.