Down East 2013 ©
When I think of Portland, I think of Hemingway’s description of Paris at the end of A Moveable Feast: It was the place where I was very young, very poor, and very happy. I spent much of my twenties living in a series of apartments around Portland, both on the peninsula and off, and although I’ve also lived in Boston and Los Angeles, I don’t think I’ve ever had a deeper connection to a city.
In those days, between the revival of the Old Port and the proclamation of an official Arts District, Portland had not yet become a chic culinary destination, with acclaimed restaurants around every corner. The condo boom had not swept across Munjoy Hill, and Three Dollar Dewey’s was still parked at the intersection of Fore and Union. Portland was, without question, an affordable place to live back then, even if you were a struggling writer — or in truth, a minimum-wage bookseller — as I was.
My memories of that era are impressionistic. I remember the blizzard that blew through the city one evening, and how I walked down a totally deserted Congress Street, the streetlights haloed from the falling snow, to meet a girl at Brian Boru. And the sweltering summer night I ate the best Italian sandwich in the world, a masterpiece of capicola and provolone, in the back room of Terroni’s Market on Deering Avenue while my roommate sliced tomatoes out front.
This may sound sappy, but even when I was living in Portland I was nostalgic for the city because I knew that some day I would leave it. Today, I return to Portland whenever I can, but, of course, the city has moved on, and so have I.
If anything, Portland has become more vibrant, more diverse, more urban. New Yorkers might chuckle at this, but any downtown that includes restaurants like Fore Street, Hugo’s, and Five Fifty-Five, all within a mile radius, deserves respect. Sea Dogs games, Portland Trails, the SPACE gallery, Casco Bay High School, The Telling Room (page 62), Ocean Gateway, and the new boutiques along Commercial Street — these are just some of the reasons to celebrate what Portland has become.
Has the city grown more expensive along the way? Perhaps, but as Contributing Editor Michaela Cavallaro writes this month (page 58), Portland still offers a wealth of experiences no matter how frugal you are. To indulge in all that Maine’s largest city offers, you just need to open yourself to it. I’m already planning my next visit.
Editor in Chief