Yesterday was a very good day. I went to Salem, MA to the Peabody Essex Museum (or go directly to museum history to get a sense of the rich history of this amazing museum) for the first time. Easy to find off the I-95, only minutes from Boston, a little over a half hour from Portsmouth NH, which makes it just under an hour from the doorstep of my home and studio. Easy to park, and as you emerge from the covered parking garage, you are immediately greeted with an imposing and impressive, newish-looking National Park Service Visitor’s Center. The recognizable logo (www.nps.org ) instantly gave me the sense that I have now stepped on a kind of sacred ground, soil as important and deep and meaningful as that of the Grand Canyon. Not to mention that on a hot and humid New England summer’s day, this is a very welcome sight, my spirits lifted by just the thought of the level of air conditioning inside. But I had other things on my mind (well, actually on my stomach, which was discernibly growling).
Immediately to the right of the visitor center is the grand entrance of the Peabody Essex Museum, and as I pulled the enormous brass handle of the Oz-sized glass door, a friendly gentleman inside greeted me with something he probably says quite often: “Heavy doors, huh?”, to which I replied “Yeah, it’s as if you are opening the whole front of the building!” The combination of his welcoming presence, uplifting light-flooded space with beautifully designed soaring walls composed of elements of brick and granite and/or marble, and the much anticipated flood of air conditioned air, all whooshed me into a blissful state immediately. I am happy to say that my initial uplifted moments in the museum were matched by the rest my time there. Since it was already a little after noon, I was beyond hungry, I had risen early and ate only a light breakfast (for me). Now that I had paid my entry fee and obtained tickets for all the special events (most of them can only be participated in with a specific ticket), the first order of business was definitely to fuel my tank (after a quick visit to the women’s restroom, which I was happy to find right at the entrance to the café). The friendly girl that took my credit card when I paid, told me that the Atrium Café was one option, as well as the Garden Restaurant, which, although the pricier choice, was exquisite. This is the kind of place that writes out the prices in word form under the food description (sixteen, for example, see the menu here). This time, being alone as I was, I chose the simpler, quicker, less expensive option. I did want to make the 1 pm gallery talk in the exhibition that had brought me into the museum in the first place. And since it was almost quarter after twelve, I had better eat and get on with it, possibly squeezing in a few first floor galleries before heading up to the third floor.
I was delighted to find two wonderful looking soups to choose from, although the salads in the display/self-serve fridge looked freshly-made and tasty as well. I chose the New England Clam Chowder over the Split Pea with Ham. A basket of what appeared to be freshly baked sourdough rolls happily came into my field of vision after I had ladled myself a paper-bowl sized portion of the “chowdah” (that is how it is said in this part of the country). A nicely stocked large bowl of small metal wrapped butter pats was right there as well, and as I removed a few of them, my salivary juices began to flow, they were softly melted, eager to join that roll in as quick as I could pay and get to the table with my tray and my soup and my nicely chilled Nantucket Nectars half lemonade/ half iced-tea. I pondered the drink options, as this was something I would never usually have, trying to steer clear of any caffeine after breakfast, and not needing the sugar. But the nice gal who took my credit card told me that it was not too sweet, she did not like their lemonade usually since it was too sweet, but this she has had and liked and she swears it is less sweet. I felt a rush of excitement as I began to enjoy my lunch, attacking the soup with the plastic spoon like a cavewoman, oblivious to how I may be looked upon by the others in the atrium and at the other tables.
-Jill Poyourow, August, 2009