Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow and Books, 16

My very first Snow and Books post, back in February of 2013, was on the Insiders' Guide to Connecticut. (Go read that post for the Wallace Stevens quote, it's the best.) This time I'm huddled inside, cursing the weather for ruining all my plans, and reading the Insiders' Guide to the Connecticut Shore

Insiders' Guide is an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, in Guilford, and this edition's author, Doe Boyle, is described as "a lifelong resident of the Connecticut shore." Perhaps that's why I really, really like this guidebook. No, I'm serious. I'm not whiny and dismissive all the time. (If you know me in real life, stop smirking.)

The best thing about this guide may be simply that it covers every single town on the Connecticut coast, from Greenwich to Stonington, so no one is left out, even East Haven. It is also funny, with early history getting the brunt of the snark.

I only really disagreed with one statement in this book, the assertion that New Haven "sports a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan style" than Hartford. I can only assume that Boyle is simply much more familiar with coastal places than inland ones; she does, at least, know that "Stonington Borough is the most beautiful and evocative of all Connecticut shore towns."

Today I Learned: Greenwich is 29 miles from Times Square (I probably did know that, but thinking about it is always sort of mind-boggling, no?) and in 1644 its entire native population was massacred by combined English and Dutch forces. Stamford has a church shaped like a fish. Bridgeport has more designated historic districts than any other municipality in the state. Branford (of all places) does not allow out-of-towners on their "public" beaches in season. Flanders in East Lyme was so named because its cottage textile industry resembled those in Belgian villages.

Amusements: "In...Darien, the most exciting event to happen in a long time was the British raid on the parish church in 1781, when the Reverend Moses Mather and the men and boys of his congregation were carried right out of the services and carted off to prison for their Patriot sympathies." Rowayton has "funky establishments." (Next you'll tell me Cos Cob is edgy.) "Westport usually needs no is well known as the suburb of suburbs, with a dash of panache rivaled only by its imitators." "Let Waterford surprise you."

Listings: The book's focus is on beaches, boating, and nature, with a good amount of museums and a few unique shopping options thrown in. It includes two of the often ignored attractions that make me feel like I'm in good guidebook hands: Rocky Neck State Park and Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park.

Not that it takes much at this point, but this guide seriously made me long for summer. Though I'm a fan of Connecticut beaches in winter, there's something undeniably lovely about being on the water when it's 90 degrees out and you're drinking iced coffee and you're not wearing a massive scarf wrapped around your head. It also made me oddly nostalgic for things I didn't even particularly enjoy at the time, like fighting through the crowd for an overpriced salad at Firehouse Deli.

I rarely read guidebooks' dining and accommodations listings anymore, because, as I've said here before, they're almost always outdated and even if they weren't, it's becoming increasingly silly to depend on a physical book to tell you about restaurants and hotels. That's why it took me until New London (the towns are listed west to east) to realize that something was very wrong here. Namely, the suggestion to stay at the Lighthouse Inn. That was when I realized this book was copyrighted in 2006. Oops. (As my friend who also grew up in Westport said when I sent her the hilarious Westport section, which includes a line about the slim chances of sitting next to Paul Newman in a restaurant, "To be seated next to Paul now would indeed be astonishing.") This is not a problem if you're not reading the book for the listings. But it's somewhat of a waste to do what I did and pay $13.95 for a book that claims Clinton, where the outlet mall blasts announcements in multiple languages, is lacking in true tourist attractions. (I'm not aware of an updated edition, but maybe one is lurking out there.) Still, if you come across it for less or at the library, or if you're more interested in the timeless qualities of the shoreline, it's worth reading.

Aside from that problem, mentions of Westport's sidewalk sale, the Pequot Library's book sale, Point No Point in Stratford, Pine Orchard in Branford, and Waterford's old rope ferry are proof that Doyle really knows what she's talking about, which sadly is not a given in guidebooks.

I even came across some places that I'd never heard of or that had never caught my interest for whatever reason. Now on my list are the Greenwich Audobon Center, Cove Island Park in Stamford, the Life-in-Connecticut WPA murals at Norwalk City Hall, the trails around Lake Saltonstall, and Chaffinch Island Park in Guilford, among others.

Quote: "A connection with the sea is one not easily denied or forgotten."

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