Ode to Portsmouth: Paradise by the Piscataqua

Little-known fact: If you lined up all the bricks in Portsmouth end to end, they would stretch all the way to Jupiter, with plenty left over to build three or four gigantic, unnecessary hotels.

Little-known fact: If you lined up all the bricks in Portsmouth end to end, they would stretch all the way to Jupiter, with plenty left over to build three or four gigantic, unnecessary hotels.

PORTSMOUTH — Seriously, Chicago Tribune travel writer Josh Noel?

Portsmouth is that perfect? “So ideal that I ache, I envy and I curse my childhood for not including your idyllic splendor?”

In case you haven’t heard, “perfect” Portsmouth got a poetic pat on the posterior last week from a Windy City travel columnist who blew in for a quick visit and discovered a charming, brick-lined paradise where the only litter is dollar bills and homeless people dine on free lobster.

The breathless opening of his Port City paean — mimicked, then quoted above — has inspired considerable fresh-roasted coffee talk about whether his overly effusive tone and whimsical sentimentality included at least a modicum of gentle mockery.

Now, as a longtime resident whose family has operated a downtown business since 1978 — and as a writer who has oft paid homage to Portsmouth’s incomparable charms — I consider myself to be among the most ardent champions of our fair Market Square.

But the gentleman from Chicago has raised the bar to Old North Church steeple-like levels.

Among my favorite lines:

“Oh, Portsmouth, lovely little town of 21,000 with the perfect dab of salty grime behind the ear, mostly from the naval shipyard that calls you home.”

Little-known fact: Our intoxicating salt air is a special blend combining industrial sodium chloride, dusky New England road salt and a top-secret seasoning first discovered in the Orient by Portsmouth explorer Macro Polo.

Oh, Portsmouth: “Your cozy downtown streets curve just so, with rows of adorable shops bending out of sight with the promise of more adorable shops.”

Little-known fact: Local lore has it that our signature 9-degree street curves were designed by Sir John Wentworth based on theories advanced by Leonardo Da Vinci, Copernicus and Michelangelo.

Oh, Portsmouth, thy charm flows forth “in your waterfront seafood restaurants, where boats stream by as if on cue.”

Little-known fact: Our rugged waterfront tugs — those hard-charging, oft-photographed symbols of life on the river — have consistently been voted “most picturesque on the Eastern Seaboard” by Tugboat Aficionado. (My brother Bob once distilled their iconic significance to our city, and their power to both pull ships and inspire souls, into the slogan: “Portsmouth — Tugs at the Heart.”)

Oh, Portsmouth: “You seem to be almost wholly made of the most perfect red brick I have ever seen.”

Little-known fact: If you lined up all the bricks in Portsmouth end to end, they would stretch all the way to Jupiter, with plenty left over to build three or four gigantic, unnecessary hotels.

Oh, Portsmouth: “You have been lauded as one of the nation’s most kid-friendly, walkable, food-centric, historic, livable and romantic cities. On any East Coast car trip, you are a charming little must.”

Car trip, you say?

While Mr. Noel’s ode has created quite a buzz, he avoided poking his finger into the hornet’s nest that is Portsmouth’s parking “situation” (also routinely described as a “quandary,” “crisis,” and full-on “debacle”).

Little-known fact: Another reason homeless people might be inclined to love Portsmouth: They generally do not possess “cars,” and thus do not need to “park” them.

(Note to any homeless people considering relocating to Portsmouth: The all-you-can-eat free lobster deal is only available to direct descendents of Tobias Lear, Celia Thaxter and Captain John Paul Jones.)

Oh, Portsmouth: “You stir the soul for a simpler time…”

Little-known fact: When President George Washington came here in 1789, he did not book the presidential suite at the Sheraton Harborside.

Finally, our visitor from Chicago, in his glowing report that is certain to draw ever more tourists, quoted a local old-timer complaining that the place has become overrun with tourists.

“Really, it’s your own fault,” Mr. Noel concluded. “It’s what you get for being so darn perfect, Portsmouth.”

Touche! And thank you.

If Portsmouth ever gets too full, we’ll just sent the tourist overflow to Chicago — where the shimmering lakes are a perfect crystal blue and the homeless people eat free deep-dish pizza.

— John Breneman

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