Friday, April 28, 2006
The lure of Lowell: a short drive from Carlisle
Gone are the days when "greater Lowell" was just another oxymoron. The apt advertising slogan of the city today is "There's a lot to like about Lowell" and the motto on the city seal, "Art is the handmaid of human good," is expressed in many ways. There are well-known attractions like the Lowell Folk Festival, the many museums, and the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT), but what else might lure us to Lowell? We asked that question of several Carlisleans who regularly make the 20-minute trip to Lowell, where there is ample, inexpensive parking and so much to do and see.
City walks and movie theatres
The first National Historic Park in the U.S. was established in Lowell in 1978. The visitor center at Market Mills on Market Street has an award-winning show, "Lowell: The Industrial Revelation," that Ellen Huber "never tires of." In addition, she is lured by the great places to walk among the mills, along the many miles of canals, and along the river. Yes, we have wonderful walks in Carlisle, but as the British say, "a change is as good as a holiday." When the long-legged Hubers go to the movies, they enjoy the complex at CrossPoint because "it is the most comfortable." The stadium-style seating means that the people sitting behind them are happy too.
Mike Dundorf, a 34-year resident of Carlisle, was first lured to the city by his late wife but then took on volunteer tutoring in high school math in Lowell. Over the years he developed "such a warm feeling for Lowell" that Dundorf has now moved to a place at the top of the Boott Mill overlooking the river. He is looking forward to enjoying "the little places — the neighborhood nooks and the diners — places that may not be open for dinner but serve breakfast and lunch. I plan to find them all." He is only a few minutes walk or a bike ride to Middlesex Community College and U-Mass Lowell where he plans to audit classes. When Boston beckons, he can take the train.
Martha Supnik was lured to Lowell nearly 20 years ago by the New England Quilt Museum, which is now in attractive premises on Shattuck Street just a block from the National Park visitor center. She has been volunteering at the museum for the past 10 years. When her husband attended the opening reception for an exhibit of "Landscape Quilts" he knew the museum would benefit from having a web site — so he encouraged his wife to create one and she is now the web site manager. If you go to www.nequiltmuseum.org, you will find information about the current exhibit, coming exhibits, workshops, community quilting projects and the museum's research library and gift shop. It is not too soon for quilters and quilt fanciers to mark the dates for the city-wide Lowell Quilt Festival on August 3 to 6. Other lures for fiber fans are the American Textile History Museum on Dutton Street and Friends Fabric Arts on Merrimack Street where you can take classes and even have a fiber arts party.
Everyone I spoke to recommended Lowell's restaurants. Supnik put it best when she said that many of the visitors to the Quilt Museum ask for restaurant recommendations and regardless of their preference for any country's cuisine, she can direct them to somewhere suitable whether Greek, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, Brazilian, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Chinese, and probably others. For dyed-in-the-wool fiber fans there is the café at the Textile Museum. The Hubers like the Viet Thai Café opposite City Hall where $16 including tip can feed two people.
If Boston is too far, too expensive, or far too expensive, consider the Lock Monsters for hockey and the Lowell Spinners for baseball. And what about less popular sports? Would you have guessed that Lowell is the venue for the international championship of the less-than-serious-and-maybe-never-Olympic sport of human dogsled racing? Not quite a biathlon but definitely a multifaceted event — teamwork and speed are important, but prizes are also awarded for attire where the goal is more Halloweenish than L.L. Beanish. In April the more serious Men's World Curling Championship took place in the Tsongas Arena.
Ann and John Ballantine often have a big Merrimack attack in the early morning and find themselves lured to Lowell to row on the big beefy river at the Merrimac River Rowing Association. The club is open to the public and has a very popular learn-to-row program. The charter is "to encourage the amateur sport of rowing." The Ballantines are also lured by music and restaurants. There is live music in lots of the small restaurants on a regular basis, big name performers at the auditorium, well-known groups at Boarding House Park during the summer, and the now-famous Lowell Folk Festival (this year's dates are July 28 to 30).
Two heads are more than one
I am often lured to Lowell by the activities of the Revolving Museum, whose aim is to provide "an evolving laboratory of creative expression for people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities who seek to experience the transforming power of art."
The description doesn't begin to convey the exuberance that bursts out of all its programs. It is not your typical museum — and it's a place that believes two heads are better than one. First, there's Jerry Beck, the artistic director, whose head is the source of many of the strange and wonderful programs. His head looks normal and pretty much the same from month to month. Then there is the "Big Head," a sculpture that sits on Middle Street in a courtyard of the museum, and has never been normal. It intrigues, delights, and puzzles both locals and visitors with its changing, often-whacky looks. The museum offers a broad and refreshing array of visual arts and performing arts. It is located on Shattuck Street, but the art can also be seen all around town.
© 2006 The Carlisle Mosquito