A quirky little square on an autumn afternoon

Posted on October 5, 2013 by

Spent about an hour in Congress Square on Friday, waiting for repair on my iPhone and taking in the ambience of this quirky little slice of downtown Portland, Maine.

There was a craft fair going. It happens the first Friday of every month, explained a well-dressed gray-haired woman in the music studio/art gallery that shares space with my tech guy fixing the phone.

Gazing out the window from her second floor perch, she said, “Look at those pot holders she’s making. They remind me of my grandmother’s.”

Indeed, the lady below had heaps of kitschy potholders and tissue box covers, crafted in garish hues like magenta and burgundy. They recalled a time in the ‘80s when the covers were a home décor fashion statement with craft fair fans. The lady crafting them wasn’t selling any, but that didn’t stop her from frenetically crocheting more.

Nearby, another guy was selling jewelry between nuzzling with his pug-nosed bulldog – so ugly he was cute. And a dozen other crafters plied their wares from haphazard tables set up around the plaza — all manner of stuff that no one needs but everyone looks at.

There was music, too, and an odd assortment of blacksmiths demonstrating their trade to those who stopped to look. Not sure why they were there, but it added to the square’s eccentricity, along with the anticipation in the throngs passing through, happily punch drunk on a late Friday afternoon in early October as they considered possibilities for the weekend ahead.

Congress Square is in the midst of change — developers want to gentrify it with a new hotel and visitor’s center. But the people who claim this park as their own have staged a protest at Portland City Hall and were out in force, too, on Friday with signs demanding that the city let the “people’s park” prevail.

I kept looking around for a familiar face, for this square and all its hipness and coolness and yes, weirdness, reminded me a little of Lowell and its array of quirky characters.

I half expected to see Kathleen Pierce and her artist husband Patrick mingling with the musicians, blacksmiths, art students, homeless and hipsters that made up this mass of people. They’ve moved to Portland and it seemed like their kind of place.

My own preppy persona didn’t fit in. I should have had on black with a scarf looped around my neck, not the turquoise T-shirt, flowered top and sneakers I’d put on that morning.

And my white hair made me stand out among this younger, hipper crowd.

As I left to retrieve my car, I felt relief but sadness, too. I used to love cities – couldn’t get enough of them. Now I crave quiet, calm, the peacefulness my new place affords.

Does it mean I’m getting old? Could be. But I plan to revisit Congress Square soon and assess my feelings then. But the potholder lady won’t be getting my business. I’ve passed that phase and don’t need any more kitsch cluttering my life.

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