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I Tend to Wander

This blog chronicles oddly-themed travel and food adventure in the Americas and Europe

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Route 11: Artfully Artless

No one believes me when I tell them that little, meandering, unassuming, Route 11 runs from the bellowing aligator-and-nutria stew of Bayou Sauvage National Wilderness Area in Louisiana 1640 miles to the breezy porches and turreted Victorians of Rouses Point, New York on Lake Champlain and the Canadian border. And in between, what a road!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ah Cumberland! Gateway to the West!

This summer, at the absolute pinnacle of the real estate tsunami that blocked out all light and sense, we thought we'd buy a house. We drove in the little Prius and dreamed, up and down the Shennandoah Valley from painfully lovely and oddly-named Rockfish Gap outside of Charlottesville to the coffee shops and alpaca farms of Strasburg.

In May, I went to the wooded wilds of western Maryland to interview people about wild ginseng, its history, mystery, and immenent demise for the magazine Maryland Life. On the way, I scooped up Maryland Life's delightful photographer Dave Romero of Vibrant Image from his once-pigeon-filled-and-abandonded whiskey distillery and warehouse now light-filled-spectacular Cumberland artist loft overlooking the coffee shops and bookstores of Cumberland's downtown.

On the way to ginseng, Dave regaled me with the wonders of this pretty town."It's the Gateway to the West," he said. "One hundred and thirty miles from Washington DC and BaltimoreandPittsburgh. It's on the upper Potomac River. It's where the Chesapeake to Ohio canal ends and the Western Maryland railroad line heaves over the Alleghenies, and the National Road begins."

Ripe for the plucking, Brian and I bought a lovely, sooty little 100-year old Georgian townhouse on Fulton Street just across the railroad tracks from Value City with a view of a town bristling with church steeples and Alleghenies looming like shoulders over everything.

We bought it because it has a second story porch where we plan to sit on summer evenings with our
long, booted legs on the rail smoking thin, black cigars.
We plan to do this after ripping its filthy innards out (we pulled down the drop
ceiling in the kitchen and the mouse droppings fell like rice) and
seeing whether it has secretly lovely bones - we hope so, but think,
not. It has sturdy, broad-hipped washer-woman bones.

Mysteries abound. There are paw prints in the mud of the basement that we
can't identify.

Cumberland is indeed the Gateway to the West and is an old, once grand, now
pretty battered town on the Potomac. It is full of railroads and old
distilleries with huge windows and old banks full of pigeons that are
being bought up by artists looking for light and air and space and
and tax incentives to come pioneer, and lots of churches, coal trains, fetal alcohol syndrome, bingo, corbels, column, marble, brick, steel, silk and coal. Driving west, the highway passes over the whole town lifting you up among the
steeples and into the Appalachians.

Well, Max, Where haven't I been!?

Cumberland, Maryland:Mountain Hikes, Fine Art, and Cut-Rate Liquors

My friend Max Hartshorne, editor of the action-packed travel Web site Go Nomad just wrote me a note to say, "No post since May!? Where have you been, and what are you doing?!

Well, Max, you excitable, italics-waving boy, since May, a whirlwind of Americana has swept me through ginseng-hunting in West Virginia, tracking wild goats in southwestern Missouri, the procurement and resuscitation of a lovely sooty little 100-year old Georgian townhouse in the equally sooty and magnificently mountainous Western Maryland town of Cumberland, and so much more, the question becomes,"Well, Max, where haven'tI been?"

Window Ornamentation in Western Maryland