The article is illustrated with a photo of a couple kissing in Market Square. Must have been an extremely difficult shot to get, like capturing the Loch Ness monster on film. I have never, ever seen anyone kiss anyone in downtown Portsmouth.
This is New Hampshire. We are the 50th most extraverted state. We are bookish. Kind of outdoorsy. We dress down. We all look alike. Our enthusiasm is reserved for beer. And recycling, and farmers’ markets.
I love Portsmouth, but this romantic notion by a travel writer from away that our little city is some kind of Paris on the Piscataqua is a parade upon which I have to rain.
Rain, which is intermittently torrential today, is one reason. And it’s not nice rain. Soft rain. Paris rain. Irish countryside rain. It’s cold hard New England rain. It’s made of granite and ice and the tormented souls of Puritans. Sometimes it comes with a howling wind from the North Atlantic and then picks up some additional wet chill from the 100-foot-deep Piscataqua River – a cold river made of a hundred cold rivulets and mountain streams, and studded with sharp rocks, deadly whirlpools and nuclear attack submarines.
And the snow, so much snow sometimes, lumped up on the narrow, irregularly-cobbled sidewalks, lingering as brown mounds and icy patches into April. Strolling hand in hand? Physically impossible. Not that anyone would.
It’s summer for a couple of months and then, if it isn’t raining, you can drink your good beer outside on a deck perched precariously at the edge of that same river – the one the writer says offers such romantic water views – the second-fastest-flowing river in North America, with a view of tugboats, rusty bridges, cranes and metal buildings at the Navy Yard, and Maine. And, if you’re lucky, a giant container ship full of road salt from Korea.
Yes, there are the restaurants and the food is often good. There are the shops, the small theaters, the above average amount of art and music, the historic buildings. The craft brewery. The potential for romantic is probably there. And, of course, romantic is in the eye of the beholder.
But I think two important “romantic city” ingredients are missing from Portsmouth: warmth and warmth. That is: good, sunny, pleasant (or even sultry) weather, which we do get once in a while but not enough, and a warm culture, or critical mass of lively, outgoing, expressive human beings.
Go to a coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth any time of the day and half the people in there are alone, staring at the screens of their laptops, snow and ice melting off their sensible boots, as they linger over a cup of fair trade organic.
Portsmouth is interesting, intelligent, historical, appealing, reserved, skeptical, sincere, literate, tasty, worldly, provincial, pretentious, sturdy, creative, judgmental, open-minded, serious, original in the commonly accepted notion of the word, worth a visit, and a neat place to live in or near. But romantic? Eh.
Romantic poetry, New Hampshire style: Good-Bye, and Keep Cold.