Lots to Love

 

I’m not sure who made February the month of love—whether it was the Romans or Hallmark—but it couldn’t come at a better time for our battered and beleaguered little state of Connecticut.

All of us who live here have felt deeply enmeshed—either through  a personal connection or from a distance—in the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook and the many aftershocks, massive media coverage and related issues that have followed.

Six weeks earlier, we’d been dismayed by the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, and grew wary of more big weather events to come.

Later, as 2013 turned, we peered through the gloom to see yet another year of high unemployment, little meaningful job development and deep indebtedness in our state government.

And I know I’m not the only one who is very, very tired of the anger, vulgarity and witless predictability that has taken over so much of the public debate in Connecticut, especially on radio call-in shows and Internet forums.

So here we are, all fed up, with February upon us, and it’s become quite clear that Connecticut, and those of us who live here, could use a little love. Now I’m no Cupid, but I do have a few arrows in my quiver—most having to do with what a lot of us seem to forget from time to time: Connecticut is a remarkable state. Our history, institutions, culture of learning and moderation, and our people—all remarkable. And if you don’t believe me, stand back—here comes the first arrow.

Our Love Is Here to Stay. What does it mean that Connecticut has the second-lowest divorce rate among all 50 states, and the second-lowest high school dropout rate? These are signs of blessed stability in a world of flux. They show that, generally speaking, when mom and dad stay togther, the kids finish school. When kids finish school, good things happen to them and to the society around them. Now if we could provide the jobs so that those kids stay in Connecticut once they’re done with school, we’d really be on to something.

We Are Made Up of Diverse Parts. Taken as a whole, Connecticut’s population mirrors the country’s in terms of racial makeup. The state’s diversity, and the richness of its ethnic roots, can be seen in its restaurants and food festivals, its parades and churches. Take a world tour: the blessing of the fishing fleet in Stonington, the West Indian parade in Hartford, the lively communities of Japanese in Greenwich, Albanians in Waterbury, Poles and Ukrainians in New Britain and Latinos in virtually every city and town. It’s impossible to spend time in Bristol without noting the influence of the French Canadians, or the Finns in Voluntown, the Portuguese in Naugatuck, or even the New Yorkers in Washington and Kent.

We Love Our Opening to the Sea. There are 618 miles of tidal shoreline in Connecticut, meaning no one who lives here is far from a whiff of salt air, a fresh piece of fish or a bracing dip in summertime. Other pleasures of the shoreline include ferry trips to Long Island, Fishers Island and Block Island, aquariums in South Norwalk and Mystic, camping by the water at Hammonassett State Park in Madison, sailing by the Gold Coast mansions (with binoculars) and dining with a view at Abbott’s in Noank, Sage in New Haven or Marnick’s in Stratford, among many others. Birdwatchers watch birds along the shore, fishermen fish and kayakers kayak, while the rest of us can think of few greater shoreline pleasures than toasting the sunset.

We’re Smarter Than the Average State. From its earliest days, and especially when it was the Industrial Revolution’s version of Silicon Valley, Connecticut has always been a magnet for intelligent people. It appears that this remains true today. We rank third among all states in the percentage of our residents who hold college degrees, and seventh in the number of Ph.D. scientists and engineers per 1,000 residents. According to StateMaster.com, a website that keeps vast quantities of state-by-state statistics, we are the second-best educated state (behind only Vermont), the second-best in numbers of patents granted per capita (behind Delaware) and even—in another demonstration of braininess—the second-best in saving and investing our money (behind New Jersey). When the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace used to speak of the “pointy-head” folks on the East Coast, he was talking at least in part about Connecticut—and we should have been proud.

All the State’s a Stage. When it comes to the performing arts, Connecticut is an embarrassment of riches. First of all, we’re a virtual hothouse of live, sophisticated regional theater, from experimental to pure glitz. In an area just a little larger than metropolitan Houston or Seattle, we’ve got producing venues with sterling national reputations, such as Long Wharf, Hartford Stage, Goodspeed, Yale Rep and Westport Country Playhouse, along with Theaterworks, Seven Angels and presenting stages such as The Bushnell, The Shubert, The Palace in Waterbury, Stamford Center for the Arts and Garde Arts Center in New London. When you add our symphony orchestras, ballet and opera companies, chorales and resident string and brass ensembles, you’ve long since left those big city metro areas in the dust.

Into the Wayback Machine. What sort of history appeals to you? Here’s just a taste of what’s out there. If it’s art history you like, you can find it at the Florence Griswold Museum, where American Impressionists came to paint and carouse. If it’s the history of the sea, head for Mystic Seaport and the re-creation of a maritime village. Literary and Revolutionary War buffs can visit, respectively, the Mark Twain House in Hartford and the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry. Even hamburger historians can go grab a burger at its putative birthplace: Louis’ Lunch in New Haven. And let’s not forget the quiet history residing in every stone wall, old barn and town green in the state.

Pieces of the Frame. Art seems to thrive in Connecticut, not only in the hands of its practitioners, but also in museums like the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, New Britain Museum of American Art, Lyman Allyn Museum in New London, the Yale Center for British Art and Yale University Art Gallery, the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Bruce Museum in Greenwich and the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield.

To Every Season. Blossom time. A warm, hazy Indian-summer Saturday afternoon. The hush of snow falling at night. Long, soft purple evenings in July. That rainy day in late fall when all the leaves come down. The February thaw that smells like spring. The high-summer sound of cicadas in the trees.

All that, and we haven’t even mentioned the food and entertainment at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, antiquing up and down Route 6 in Woodbury, agricultural fairs in Durham, Goshen and Brooklyn, the ease of flying in and out of Bradley International Airport, the fun of watching golf at The Travelers Championship and tennis at the New Haven Open at Yale, college hoops at Gampel Pavilion and the uncommon riches that 43 colleges and universities provide.  

Thus does Connecticut bestow its Valentine on all of us. Let’s keep it close to heart.
 

Lots to Love

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