After living in Johnette’s hometown of New Orleans for most of the past five years, we have been able to spend several summer weeks in Scott’s city of Newburyport, Massachusetts. When Scott first arrived in Newburyport some 45 years ago, as the roommate of two fellow Mexican Overdrive band members, the old downtown area was largely derelict, with only a few brave merchants occupying storefronts in the old brick buildings. The Firehouse Center for the Arts was a boarded-up and crumbling ruin, the fire department having moved out many years before.
Now, the city has blossomed as a thoroughly renovated community, and a destination for tourists from around the world, who flock to the upscale boutiques and restaurants that fill the downtown area. Further, the Merrimack River is no longer polluted. Fish, birds and wildlife have returned to the vast and increasingly pristine Great Marsh ecosystem that stretches for miles north and south of the city. The Plum Island National Wildlife Refuge remains a breathtaking strip of barrier island sand dunes and beach. As a result, there is a great deal of eco-tourism in Newburyport as well.
There are many layers of history here. Newburyport was once a major international port, and a center of clipper ship trade. Over 200 of of these large and sleek ships were built here, and they could reach London in only two weeks. Some brought back goods from as far away as China. The U.S. Coast Guard was founded in Newburyport, when the United States Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life Saving Service were merged (their initial goal was to catch smugglers who were evading customs fees).
Our greatest pleasure has perhaps been our daily walk downtown, past Federalist and Victorian houses that have been carefully restored; past the boat slips and wildflowers along the river; past the boat yards to the waterfront boardwalk. It’s a gentle place. For example, along with the construction of two new public bathrooms, the city is now offering free sunscreen in dispensers. The local Tendercrop Farms raises it’s own grass-fed beef, hogs and chickens, so it’s possible to eat locally almost all year long. It’s also tempting to eat too many fried clams (locals debate the merits of the clams at the Park Lunch versus The Clam Box, which is ten miles away).
I’m sure we’ll soon start missing funky New Orleans, but for now we’re enjoying the relatively cool weather and the calm New England sensibility.