At the New Bedford Whaling Museum yesterday, Rosemary and I found in the gift shop a collectible mug whose design features about 20 memorable first lines of books, including Melville’s “Call me Ishmael.” from MOBY DICK, which is why they had it on sale, but the mug also had “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.” from Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD. Someone in Lowell ought to be selling this mug. We need more Lowell stuff in the shops and galleries. More product connected to the city.
Greatest First Lines of Literature mug (web photo courtesy of thephilosophersguild.com)
New Bedford has a national park, like Lowell, and the historic district near the waterfront has a ton of character and many cool places to eat and shop. The area has plenty of historical markers, plaques, and signs that give people walking around interesting information and useful directions.
The Whaling Museum is a world-class museum operation. The artifacts are “killer” (excuse the pun) with a half-size whaling ship, an astounding panorama painting of a whaling voyage on a scroll that was presented in entertainment halls in the late 1840s like a kind of movie, cultural artifacts brought back by sailors from around the world, huge whale skeletons suspended from the ceiling, a top-floor observation deck with a view of the port, and much more. Across the street, in the Seamen’s Bethel, an 1830s whalemen’s chapel, we sat in the so-called Melville pew (the chapel is described in MOBY DICK). We walked over to the port where the ships were crowded around the wharf, a gritty, colorful scene with vessels named Fearless, Voyager, Halina M, Narraganset, Miss Maegan, Ocean Lady of Newport News in Virginia, Explorer, Pacer, Michigan.
A view inside the Whaling Museum during the annual marathon reading of MOBY DICK (web photo courtesty of New Bedford Whaling Museum)
Everywhere we looked there were copies of the Downtown New Bedford Guide and Map for 2015-16, a handy 24-page brochure that lists events for the year, points of interest, festivals, galleries, antiques, lodging, shopping, transportation, colleges and universities, etc. The marketing materials were uniformly of high quality and distributed widely in the historic district. In the national park visitor center the rangers were helpful and knowledgable. The visitor center is full of displays and has a short film, as does our own VC at Market Mills.
For both Rosemary and me the visit was a revelation. I did not have a very positive image of New Bedford before getting there. While the area was not jammed with visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend (the Whaling Museum was busy), there was a steady stream of people going in and out of the various cultural sites. We had a brunch-hour Portuguese breakfast at Tia Maria’s European Cafe’ around the corner from the park visitor center, and had to wait a few minutes to get a table because the place was full. We strongly recommend eating there if you go to New Bedford. Other favorites suggested to us are th Cork Wine & Tapas Bar and Rose Alley Ale House. We looked in at a couple of galleries and souvenir shops. The area was clean and livened up by lots of flower pots. Permanent and temporary public art was integrated effectively into the historic area.
New Bedford is an easy ride southeast that takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. There’s a City parking garage near the national park visitor center. The historic district and port area are conducive to walking. It’s a compact area.