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Love Letters: Portland, Maine

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Mark H. C. Bessire has been Director of the Portland Museum of Art for the past four years. Before that, he served as the Director of the Bates College Museum of Art and Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art in Portland. He's also been a Fulbright Fellow in Tanzania, has written three books and is the founding board member of the non-profit Africa Schoolhouse. He lives with his family in Portland.

Dear Portland, Maine:

What's not to love about you?

We wake up in the morning to the sounds of a working port and the smell of the fresh salt air. I get on my bike and ride to work passing funky art students headed to class at the Maine College of Art, people going into Coffee By Design for their local cup of joe, and tourists from around the world! On a typical Saturday, you can find me and my family picking up local produce at the famers market in Deering Oaks Park, buying bread at Standard Baking, eating breakfast at the Port Hole on the waterfront, or on a scenic ferry ride to Peaks Island or Chebeague. There's something authentic and yet sophisticated about Portland--from the lobstermen pulling in their traps to artists creating performance art on the street--there's energy, excitement, and a sense of place that makes Portland an amazing city to live in.

The food scene in Portland is unlike anything else you will experience in New England. They say we have more restaurants per capita than anywhere, but what really matters to me is that wherever you go you will get a delicious meal. From the food trucks (El Corazon has the best fresh puree juices!) to upscale restaurants like Fore Street and Petite Jacqueline, you can't go wrong when dining in this city. I love the oysters at Eventide, fish tacos at El Rayo, and drinks at Local 188. The farm to table scene is really big in Maine with new restaurants opening everyday including Vinland in the Arts District.

For a special taste of what Maine has to offer, the annual Harvest on the Harbor showcases the best of Maine food and drink. This year our PMA Café by Aurora Provisions will be participating in the Grand Tasting on Wednesday, October 23. New England Distilling will also be there with their Eight Bells Rum, inspired by Winslow Homer and his love of spirits. Enjoy a taste of folk lore and fun!

Portland's Arts District and arts scene is thriving. The Portland Museum of Art is located in the heart of the Arts District and is a favorite stop on the First Friday Art Walk. Started 13 years ago as way to market the arts and galleries in downtown Portland, the Art Walk has grown tremendously with visitors coming to Portland now just for the event. The Art Walk spills out onto the sidewalks with artists selling their latest work, local musicians entertaining, and anyone who's anyone checking out the latest opening at SPACE Gallery. Artist collaboratives like Running with Scissors, have sprung up in the latest months, as creativity is encouraged and nurtured in Portland. What other city allows all of its students to visit an art museum, the symphony, the theater, and the performing arts for all 12 years of school for FREE?!
Shopping in Portland is all about the Buy Local experience. David Wood Clothiers is a must for the cool New England look, Pinecone & Chickadee has funky retro-gifts, and Seawall Shop is where you can find locally design, cut, and sewn clothing.

In Maine, you can leave your tie at the border but don't forget your LL Bean boots. If you are thinking of moving to our fair city, make sure you check out an insider's view of Portland on the LiveWork Portland website, where you can get the scoop on what the real scene is.

As the days get cooler and the leaves start to change color, I can't help but think, Yes! Life is Good Here! And bring on the snow.

Mark H. C. Bessire