Hiding in Plain Sight

Belfast Street Art

Belfast Street Art

Dateline: Belfast, Maine

When we arrived at our Maine cottage, we knew of Belfast only as a place to find a grocery store. Not terribly inspiring, but at least practical.

In our continuing quest to locate shoreline walks, we stopped at the Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce to ask about local possibilities there. In the course of the conversation, the Chamber’s economist pointed to Belfast as an example of what she hoped Blue Hill (already an appealing town) could achieve. “You wouldn’t have wanted to go to Belfast a few years ago,” she said, grimacing at the thought. Then, MBNA located a good-sized piece of business there and invested in cleaning up the waterfront. When MBNA pulled out of town, it all could have come apart, but, she reported with admiration, a “very smart” town manager was determined to build on what had been achieved, despite it all.

Belfast, Caprese Salad and Napoletana Pizza at Meanwhile in Belfast

Belfast, Caprese Salad and Napoletana Pizza at Meanwhile in Belfast

Along with Rockland, already a favorite from a previous visit to Maine, Belfast became our town-of-choice. Its bustling main street is festooned with fanciful street art you can sit on, galleries, and artist studios; shops like eat more cheese and Colborn Shoe Store, which lays claim to be the oldest shoe store in America; and a plethora of imaginative places to eat.

Belfast Waterfront

Belfast Waterfront

Beyond that, Belfast has worked hard to extend public access to its waterfront, including an attractive waterfront park in which, while we were there, the 20th Annual Arts in the Park was underway. A waterfront boardwalk includes passage through an operating shipyard to a public walkway over the Passagassawakeag (the “Passy”) River and would also link up with a rail trail in the making were it not for the failure of Penobscot McCrum, recently fined for dumping ammonia into the river, to agree to a public right-of-way:

City officials and residents like Hutchings said they are looking forward to the day the trail can be joined to the half-mile long Harbor Walk, which runs along the waterfront from the Belfast footbridge to the Belfast Boat House. An energetic person then could start downtown, walk to City Point along a dedicated path and circle the river estuary on Kaler and Robbins Road, crossing back to downtown on the Armistice Bridge.

“In New England, there’s nothing like this,” he said. “Show me a port city in the United States that has a six-mile walkway. It’s awesome, is what it is.”

The rail trail cannot now be connected with the Harbor Walk because the railroad crosses the Penobscot McCrum potato processing factory site on the waterfront, and the owner does not allow the public to travel back and forth there. Slocum said that city officials are “always talking” to Jay McCrum, the owner, about his concerns. [citation]

In addition, there’s the four-mile Little River Community Trail that takes in two reservoirs along its length (about which we’d strongly urge improved trail maintenance in deer tick season to keep the path as free as possible from tall grasses). Perhaps there’s nothing in Belfast that might be characterized as a “major site,” but the town radiates vitality and seems able to absorb visitors without losing its feisty, idiosyncratic character.

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Belfast, Painted Box from Arts in the Park

Belfast, Painted Box from Arts in the Park

Postscript: We were struck on this visit to Maine, particularly, by how much visual artists contribute to the vibrancy of its towns. (While in Belfast, we picked up a gaily painted box at Arts in the Park and an irresistible miniature from the Arts Alliance Gallery as a gift for Mom.)

As in Portland and Belfast, visual art contributes strongly to Rockland’s appeal. While the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland is the flagship, local galleries displayed current work that went far beyond the usual tourist fare. On a visit to Rockland’s Landing Gallery, one artist whose work caught our eye was Sarah Faragher. We circled and circled the gallery, finally giving in to the knowledge that we couldn’t leave without something more than the usual postcard to remind us of her work. The creative spirit exemplified in Faragher’s paintings, also present in Belfast’s ingenious reinvention of itself and the book-loving charm of Beyond the Sea’s proprietor, represents for us the very best of Maine. And that’s not on any map.

Sarah Faragher, Islands southwest of Schoodic, Maine

Sarah Faragher, Islands southwest of Schoodic, Maine

This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Maine. Click here for Part 1, Warning: Reflections May Be Distorted, here for or Part 2, In Search Of . . . Maine Past, and here for Part 3, In Search of . . . Maine’s Shoreline.

Lunch out in Belfast and Rockland

Chase’s Daily (Belfast, vegetarian & indoor farmer’s market)

Meanwhile in Belfast (Belfast, pizza & Italian)

The Lobster Trap (Belfast, lobster shack)

Home Kitchen Café (Rockland)

Rock City Café (Rockland)

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Listening List

Maurice Ravel, Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester) (orchestrated by Ravel), from Miroirs

On Spotify (Boulez/Berlin Philharmonic)

On YouTube (Barenboim/West–Eastern Divan Orchestra)

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Credits: The quotation from the news article may be found at the source linked in the text. The photographs, as always unless otherwise indicated on the blog, are mine.

9 thoughts on “Hiding in Plain Sight

  1. David N

    May the exception become the rule. But in any tale of a small town, isn’t there always a character like Jay McCrum? Here his like are fighting and obstructing the public rights of way through their properties – like the lovely Jeremy Clarkson, terrorising walkers on the Isle of Man. What possible harm would it do the potato baron to allow quiet, decent people a bit of extra leeway? But it was ever thus.

    As Horace sings in Blitzstein’s Regina, ‘some people eat all the earth, some people stand around and watch while they eat’. Well, the watching is over.

  2. shoreacres

    Speaking of eating: are those bachelor buttons in your salad? They surely do look like those flowers from my grandmother’s cutting garden.

    I had to go off and find the pronunciation of “Passagassawakeag.” In the process, I was delighted to learn that it’s believed to mean “a place for spearing sturgeon by torchlight.” And look at this. If you can’t walk the length of the river, apparently you can paddle.

    I have at least some sympathy for Mr. McCrum. If he could be guaranteed quiet, decent people, he might well be more willing to open things up. But there are more than a few property owners on popular Texas rivers who have had their fill of people who don’t respect their land when tubing, kayaking, and so on. Hordes of rowdy kids of every age might not be the problem there in Maine that they sometimes are here, but still… it’s a possibility. (Remember the old phrase, “crumb-bum”? It’s been years since I thought of that one. I hope Mr. McCrum isn’t one.)

    I love that you found such appealing art to bring home as a remembrance. Sarah Faragher’s painting reminds me (for whatever reason) of Edward Hopper. It’s lovely.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres, I LOVE that you looked up the name of the river, and only felt terribly chagrined that I hadn’t done so!

      As for McCrum, I’d like to encourage you to waste no sympathy on him. I walked the path that abuts his property, on both sides. The only people there, midsummer, height of the season, were wholly civilized folk who were strolling along, enjoying the views. (It’s not the kind of place that attracts what you’re talking about, and I do know what you mean.) Before I knew any of the back story, the eerie off-limits feel of the place made me wonder what on earth was manufactured there–atomic bombs? But no, it’s a potato processing factory, and it’s fouling the river. In stark contrast, the Front Street Shipyard is just steps away, and they, I’m sure as part of the deal of opening the shipyard there three years ago, allow folks to walk through, and everyone I saw in the time I was there was wholly respectful. (When they’re putting boats out into the water, the walkway through the shipyard is closed and a detour opened, to assure everyone’s safety.) Now THAT is certainly worthy of applause and praise.

      All right, enough of that, and on to Faraguer’s painting. A poet-friend of mine, also a wonderful writer about art, says, “Art makes you happy.” I am here to say, every time I walk past that little painting, which is often, I get a spring in my step. I love her sensibility, and I’m really glad we didn’t pass up the chance to bring that painting home.

  3. Sarah Faragher

    Susan!! Thank you so much for your lovely kind words about my paintings! Yours is the response I always hope for… (And thanks for purchasing a painting, too – in practical terms this means more art supplies for me, when I’m working in my studio this winter.) Best wishes from me here in Maine, Sarah

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Wow, Sarah, how nice of you to write. We love the painting and have placed it where we see it every day. May you have a terrific, productive artistic residency at Acadia National Park later this fall. Congratulations!

  4. Steve Schwartzman

    Oh: Your post suddenly had me hearing Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing “Happy Trails to You.” That in turn caused me to misread your title as “Riding in Plain Sight.”

    Your mention of Sarah Faragher coincides (via painting) with a movie Eve and I watched two nights ago, Séraphine, which I’ll commend to you if you can rent or stream a copy:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1048171/?ref_=nv_sr_1

    (English writers used to say sculptress and poetess but I don’t recall ever seeing paintress, even though the word is in dictionaries.)

    As for Daniel Barenboim, did you know that his family name means ‘pear tree’ in Yiddish? The German version is Birnbaum. (And I did just dare to eat a peach: in fact I ate two.)

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: You offer, as usual, a compendium of entertaining associations. Thanks for the heads up on the movie. I read about it, then forgot about it, but would like to see it. On pear tree/peach eating: I also ate a peach today and will probably have another, as they are in season here so actually taste like peaches!

      1. Steve Schwartzman

        It’s good to hear about your tasty peaches, but the real question is: when you went to Maine and walked upon the beach, did you hear the mermaids singing, each to each?

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