Tag Archive: wine

Niagara to Navarino and Beyond

Monday 2 July 2012

I had an interesting encounter over the “limited continental breakfast” at the two-star we stayed in last night in St. Catharines, Ontario. I overheard the elderly gentleman at the cereal station in front of me pronounce the Italian phrase “questo quà” like “keesto kwah”, which sounded a lot like the way Zia Silvia pronounced it in our family’s village in the hills near Formia, Italy, south of Rome. I asked him in Italian, “Excuse me, sir, where are you from?”, and after some prodding, got him to be specific about his hometown: Caserta, about 70 kilometers southwest of my relatives. I may have lost much of my proficiency speaking Italian, but I can still identify the family dialect!

Putney and I left for Hamilton, New York, after breakfast, and wound our way through Niagara-on-the-Lake and the northern part of the Niagara peninsula in Ontario. It’s such a lovely area, lush with orchards and vineyards and dotted with some one hundred wineries, many of them very fine. I bought two bottles of wine, but had to resist the temptation to buy fresh fruit, because we couldn’t carry it across the border into New York. At the third stop, however, I gave in, and bought a pint of red raspberries, which I put paid to in fifteen minutes. We ascended the Niagara Escarpment and looped around onto the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge to the US; for the first time in memory, the American border agent was friendlier than his Canadian counterpart.

It was out of the way, but I was lured into driving a few miles further north to New York State Route 18 and the Lake Ontario Parkway by the azure sky and warm air, and again stopped to taste wine and buy fruit, this time sweet cherries to eat out of hand and sour cherries to turn into a cobbler later in the week. As we cruised along on the great plain of western New York, the vast surface of Lake Ontario glimmered under the sun to our left; I was reminded of how diverse the terrain of New York is, as I anticipated the dip southward to the dramatic hills east of the Finger Lakes around Skaneateles, Navarino, Lafayette and Pompey, and eastward pretty much all the way across the state.

I don’t live there now, but my heart lives in a beautiful, unsung part of the world.


Down East Discoveries

Bar Harbor, ME
18 June 2011

A trip to Maine always reminds me of my aunt, who first introduced me to some of the best of the Pine Tree State twenty-five years ago. We camped at Camden Hills and wandered the coast from Boothbay to Lubec. Breathtaking scenery, even for a teenager.

But since those formative trips, I’ve visited places the family avoided (Shall I name them?). Bar Harbor is one of those places. Actually, on that first rip in August 1986, we detoured through Bar Harbor. Before we crossed into the village, though, we rolled up the windows and locked the doors. We never stopped. We just cruised through, gazing at the touristy shops and the tourists much like rich suburbanites pass cautiously through the ghettos, as if to scare the kids into obedience: “This is what happens to bad teens who drink beer before turning 21…” In our case, it was the fate of those who stayed in city hotels instead of rural motels with asphalt front lawns and “vintage” aluminum deck chairs outside each unit.

This time, I found Bar Harbor rather charming, if not yet overrun by summer hoards. Many schools are still in session, or finished yesterday. Even wanderlusty parents couldn’t pack the kids that soon after the final dismissal bell rings.

Poppa was a brochure man. He picked up tourist pamphlets all over the place, or sent away for them. Maybe that’s where I got it. I pack too much to read before leaving home, then amass a library of brochures, local weeklies, new books and slick magazines, none of which I ever have time to read, compulsive as I am about exploring from dawn to dark everywhere I go.

Today, reading guidebooks and studying maps and looking out over blue water, grey rocks and green hills makes me long to see more, to stay longer. I want to chain myself to a tree in Blue Hill, eating Nervous Nellies Jams & Jellies with my hands, fingers cupped like a primitive spoon for scooping sweet blueberry preserves out of jars and right into my mouth.

My sister served steamed lobster and clam chowdah Wednesday night. That was yummo. Last night, we had lobster “subs” at Roy’s in Auburn. Big helping of shredded meat with too much mayo. Described as a sub, I expected lettuce & tomato. My traveling companion asked for coleslaw with his. “We only have fries.” There was — literally — not a single vegetable in the place, except for relish. The clientèle, all locals, looked like they weren’t much for veg. I guess you play to your audience.

We had an EXCEPTIONAL meal of local food at Cleonice in Ellsworth last night. The 1930s-era ice-cream parlor has booths with original wooden arches setting each apart like a little room. The long counter is still there, but the shelves are lined with spirits, some of them local, memorable. I plan to slip away today to go up to Bartlett’s Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro. That French white oak-aged dry blueberry wine is worth the detour when one is so close already. And now they make brandy.

Who has a scheme for how to stay the summer?