Thursday, October 22, 2009

Snowflakes In Their Hair

In the Old Port, Portland, Maine, 16 Nov. 2008

It's early -- not too -- but earlier than I anticipated by about thirty minutes. I woke up hungry and decided to heed the siren call of maple muffins, just now out of the oven. The coffee pot, stuck on under-dribble, needs a healthy dose of vinegar. Not with the coffee, but to clean it. Balsamic vinegar on salad is wonderful, but white vinegar with coffee sounds like mixed messages. The cat is on the prowl despite having fresh food -- it's as though he's up too early as well, but is sufficiently awake to complain about it.

Speaking of vinegar, there's a little cooking shop near the wharf that offers balsamic in a variety of flavors. I didn't realize there was more than one, but they offer blueberry, raspberry, as well as some that have been aged like wine. It's a delightful place with glass-topped jars filled with dark, milk, and maple chocolate malt balls lining the shelf near the register like the candies in a nineteenth century general store. You've seen what I mean if you recall Open Range.

Little is definitely the descriptive word for this place -- many of the shops lining the cobblestone streets that run next to the harbor are on the smallish side. It's in a section of city that is older and especially on snowy days at Christmas I feel like I've tripped inadvertently into a Dickens novel. Any second I expect to bump into Mr. Pickwick or Pip and Estella walking arm in arm, eyes only for each other, snowflakes in their hair. Clad in down jacket and boots I feel out of place and I want to pardon myself for intruding.

Perhaps this is why it's easy to remain inside, despite the crush of too many people crowding into a store where one false move can send cascades of china crashing to the floor. Where the air is filled with the scent of orange-tinged coffee from New Orleans, cinnamon boiling in apple cider, and a tiny bell, decorated with red and golden leaves, ringing each time the door opens, then closes. Strangers enter, sample and sniff, speaking in smiling tones. It's autumn, the Holidays lie in wait, and there are no strangers here. Not really.

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