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Friday, December 07, 2007

Visiting Pittsfield (...Who would visit Pittsfield?)

Delayed post (originally written 9/10):

If you say you’re going to the Berkshires for vacation, nobody bats an eye. But say that you’re going to Pittsfield, you get some very odd looks. Who ever vacations in Pittsfield? It can simply be, of course, a convenient base for day trips throughout the Berkshires, so now you can relax.

But that’s not all it was. In fact, Barbara and I really did take a short vacation in Pittsfield — on purpose, even! That’s because of the Dorchester Historical Society (DHS), you see.

You don’t see the connection? Well, the DHS headquarters is the William Clapp House, and our historical connections are heavily imbued with the Clapp and Blake families. One of their branches went “out west” to Pittsfield, and their family house there is now a B&B: the Thaddeus Clapp House. So naturally we had to stay there. It turns that not only is it a truly excellent B&B, but the owner, Rebecca Smith, is a veritable gold-mine of information about the Clapp family and the history of Pittsfield.

And Pittsfield itself turned out to be surprisingly interesting. Currently undergoing something of a renaissance, it is recovering from the devastating loss occasioned by the departure of General Electric. In its former condition it had little to offer visitors, but its industrial basis was economically sound; now the industry is gone, but there’s beginning to be a replacement. Public art is sprinkled throughout the downtown area, lending life and interest to it. There are a few excellent restaurants, such as the Trattoria Rustica, though we found the better known Spice to be definitely overrated. The small Berkshire Museum has some interesting exhibits, including a cool one on toys. Self-guided walking tours are available and worthwhile.

But mostly we really did use Pittsfield as a base for day trips. MASS MoCA in North Adams is a must-see, as much for the buildings as for the art in them. We arrived during the tremendous controversy about the Büchel exhibit, getting to hear all about it and glimpsing bits of its through the half-hearted attempts to shield it from view. We liked some of the rest of the art, were puzzled by much of it, but definitely felt that it was worth seeing. (And their restaurant, Cafe Latino, was surprisingly good! Try the calmari, the fish tacos, and the anticuchos.)

The small Crane Museum in Dalton was also a surprising hit. You might not think that a museum dedicated to the history of paper would be fascinating, but fascinating it was.

So now the museum count is up to three. But there were two more big ones on our list: it’s always worth devoting significant time to the Clark Institute in Williamstown, where we saw a wonderful Monet exhibit including large numbers of works that were totally different from the ones with which we had been familiar. And the much smaller Williams College Museum of Art had an entrancing exhibit about Sara and Gerald Murphy, about whom we would have known nothing if it weren’t for reading a New Yorker article about them. (And now we’ll have to watch De-Lovely again, since we discovered that they had a pervasive presence in the life of Cole Porter, which we hadn’t noticed.)

Finally, on our way home, we spent half a day at Edith Wharton’s estate, The Mount — a stop that we highly recommend.

All in all, hardly a typical vacation, but it all turned out to be both fun and educational!

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