New England´s Fabulous B´s -- Boston, Berkshires, Baseball, Baritones And Beauty

FEATURE by Willard Manus

Visiting New England for two weeks was a big high. The area simply has everything: history and tradition, urban and rural delights, high and low culture, superb food and drink. All that and friendly, English-speaking natives.

Our trip started in Boston, America's oldest, longest-inhabited city. Oldest is the operative word where Boston is concerned: oldest American school, courthouse, port, church, pub, customs house, you name it. Same goes for our hotel, the Parker House. America's first hotel has been renovated many times over the centuries--most recently by the Omni chain--but it still retains the old-world charm and atmosphere that made it JFK's favorite home away from home. (Its bar remains the favorite hangout of many of Boston's top lawyers). Even its kitchen is famous, if only because Ho Chi Minh and Malcom X once worked there.

JFK is practically synonymous with Boston. The library and museum named after the late president was designed by illustrious architect LM Pei and is a national memorial and resource center that also offers panoramic views of Boston's skyline and Harbor Islands.

We were introduced to some of Boston's other best-known attractions on the Duck Tour, which took us through the city in an authentic WW II amphibious vehicle. After traversing downtown Boston and observing such sites as Boston Commons, the Holocaust Memorial, Beacon Hill, the headquarters of the Underground Railroad, the crystal-palace John Hancock skyscraper and the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), the Duck slid into the Charles River and gave us a taste of aquatic Boston with its graceful bridges, sailboats and yacht clubs.

The smell of all that salt water prompted us to visit the Union Oyster House for lunch. Established in 1826, the Union House has preserved much of its decor and funkiness, which makes the scarfing down of chowder and shellfish an authentic New England experience.

We walked off the feast by following the Freedom Trail, the 3.5 mile walking tour that runs through downtown Boston, marked by a red brick line. The Paul Revere House, the Old North Church and graveyard and the statue of Samuel Adams (the man they named the beer after) were just a few of the historic sites we visited on foot.

Boston is just a 4-hour car ride away from Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame--and the Glimmerglass Opera (see OPERA for a Glimmerglass feature).

The Hall of Fame is packed with enough baseball goodies to satisfy the hundreds of thousands of fans who visit it every year: a library containing more than 2.6 million baseball-related documents, a gallery lined with plaques of all the museum's honorees, exhibits of baseball cards and artifacts, a movie house showing baseball films and video clips, a Babe Ruth room, a Henry Aaron and Home Run room, and more, much more. Adjoining the museum is a pristine ballfield where kids and adults can compete and make like their heroes.

The Cooperstown region is chockablock with history and human interest. Named after its famed native son, author James Fenimore Cooper, Cooperstown--"Where Nature Smiles"--adjoins Otsego Lake, a nine-mile-long body of glistening water that once was the favorite fishing grounds of the local Iriquois Indians. (Otsego means "the meeting place"). The lake figures prominently in two of Cooper's Leatherstocking tales ("The Pioneers" and "The Deerslayer").

Today the lake can boast of three parks and a world-famous inn: The Otesaga Resort Hotel. Built in 1909, the Otesaga is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America and offers 136 elegant rooms and suites, a challenging and scenic 18-hole golf course, swimming and boating, a fitness center and tennis courts, a Main Dining Room and the more casual Hawkeye Bar & Grill.

We stayed elsewhere, in two different local inns, the Hartwick Guest House and Cottage in nearby Hartwick, NY, a charming 100-year-old renovated Victorian house; and The Inn at Cooperstown, an award-winning, three-story B & B that was built in 1874 as an adjunct to the famed Fenimore Inn. Both were designed (in the Second Empire French architectural style) by by Henry I. Hardenbergh, the architect whose later achievements included the Dakota Apartments and the Plaza Hotel in New York. The inn, which is fronted by towering golden sugar maples, was fully restored in 1985 and has been tastefully improved on every year since. Quiet, comfortable, and known for its sumptuous breakfasts--The Inn was an ideal haven for us.

When it comes to museums, Cooperstown has more than just baseball to offer. The Farmer's Museum, for example, takes one back to the rural life of the 1800s and re-creates in athentic detail the years when Cooperstown was the hop king of the USA. (Hops is a vine whose flowers are used in the making and flavoring of beer). Migrant workers from all over the country flocked to the area to live in tents while they picked hops, ate, drank and partied--and sometimes fought--communally.

The Fenimore Art Museum is located on tree-lined property that once belonged to the author's family. The 1930s mansion contains furnishings, paintings and memorabilia relating to Fenimore, plus exhibits of 19th-century paintings, American folk and Indian art, bronze sculptures and modern art. The museum is also the headquarters of the New York State Historical Association.

Next we drove though the green, heavily forested Berkshire landscape to Stockbridge, MA where we visited the Norman Rockwell Museum, which holds 600 paintings and drawings by America's favorite artist and illustrator, plus an archive of more than 100, 000 photographs, letters and materials. The Museum's campus includes the artist's original studio, moved from the center of town, where he hung out in Ed's Bar with his fellow Saturday Evening Post illustrators, Mead Schaeffer, George Hughes and Jack Atherton (some of whose work is also shown at the museum). It was particularly pleasurable to peruse Rockwell's 1967 portrait of "Stockbridge at Christmas" and then walk down the very same street a little later, realizing how little it had changed over the years.

Next we drove a half hour away to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in nearby Williamstown, where a major exhibit of the paintings of J.M. W. Turner (1775-1851) was in full swing. Turner has always been known as Britain's greatest landscape painter, but this exhibit showed another side to the man. THE LATE SEASCAPE gathers together for the first time many of Turner's renderings of the sea in all its moods--the ebb and flow of the tides, waves crashing on jetties and beaches, the ferocious violence of storms, battles and shipwrecks. It was a revelation to discover just how deeply Turner was affected by the sea--and how magnificently he painted it, with a luminosity, immediacy and power that are unforgettable.

(This fall the Turner exhibit will travel to the Manchester U.K. City Art gallery; in May 2004 it will visit the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, Scotland City Art Gallery.)

Seeing the Turner paintings capped our New England trip, one of the most pleasurable and memorable we've ever made.