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The Chagall Suite

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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 3: Norwalk to Stratford

Today: 39140 steps/33.72 km/20.95 mi/6h 10m
Total: 83521 steps/103.06 km/64.04 mi/18h 55m

My mind and body awaken and try to do too many things at once. I start to put on a pair of underwear and realize that I've already got one on. I reach into the bottom of my bag and notice that it's wet: I've been sweating through and it hasn't dried yet, from last night. The Doubletree's plastic laundry back comes off its hanger and goes around my computer as I pack up. I'm not taking chances.

"CBS Sunday Morning" is on. They're talking about the police shooting peaceful protesters: one who was already headed away from the scene, a journalist who should have been left alone. Are protesters the police's version of turbulence and rain? Do the cops shoot based on the fear of an increase in violence, regardless of whether the situation is anywhere near severe enough?

I leave at 9:35. Yesterday was all on the Post Road; today I'll be on it for less than three miles. I don't even start there, although my hotel faces it. Google Maps directs me back behind the hotel and through the Costco parking lot. There are 32 people in line already, and Costco doesn't open until ten.

I turn onto Richards Avenue and follow it under Interstate 95, which I'll cross several times today. At once the scene becomes a prototypical idyll. Reynolds Farms beckons, "Come Smell the Roses" and "Come Walk in Our Park." Getner Farms offers horseback riding. The Country Garden Center is across from the white house of the Jacob Lockwood homestead, dating from 1842.

It's 70 degrees and bright and sunny on a Sunday, and it's hard to imagine wanting to do anything but walk. I'm capturing pictures and taking notes and I want to record the sounds, too: a dog barking, the trees rustling, kids playing. A woman rides her bicycle cheerfully, the front basket attached in perfect symmetry.

I walk along Flax Hill Road, passing picturesque-sounding streets: Woodchuck Lane, Primrose Court, Brookside Court (marked by a hanging sign in cursive print). A couple is sitting on the sidewalk, brushing their dog. It's almost too perfect, and I half-wonder whether this town has an annual day of reckoning, like in "The Lottery."

Dogs startle me, and then they retreat. The sidewalk brings me high up over the street, but because this isn't Greenwich, it brings me down properly in time. Flax Hill Road ends and I'm right by a train station, and Amtrak rolls by just to add to the mood. This picture of happiness is all accessible by train? I'm stunned.

I turn onto Washington Street and a sign welcomes me to "SoNo" -- South Norwalk. Eateries are springing to life on this Sunday morning, and I hope to find a street like this for lunch.

Washington Street crosses the Norwalk River. The smell of bacon fills the air, and now I want to capture the scents of this trip, too. I turn onto Van Zant Street and see the lavender doors of the Clockery. It's crammed with grandfather, wall, and table clocks, but of course it's not open on Sundays. At the end of Van Zant is the East Norwalk Historical Cemetery, with 200-year-old faded gravestones.

My 7,000th step is opposite the East Norwalk train station. I could imagine a worse day than taking the train to East Norwalk, browsing at the Clockery, spending some time along the river, and eating at one of the restaurants on Washington Street, before catching the train at South Norwalk. I do not know whether there is a North Norwalk. Would it be called NoNo? I'm not sure I could live there.

Norwalk is diverse; I see Black, Hispanic, and Asian people. The sidewalk ends as Westport begins; it must have the same city council as Greenwich. My route takes me to the Westport station (step 11,000) just as a train pulls in. I cross under the tracks and, 1,000 steps later, make my way over the Saugatuck River, where people kayak and an egret watches over its domain.

Now it's a long slog along Greens Farms Road. It parallels the busy Interstate 95. A man is swinging his kid upside-down, while their dog dances in encouragement. Cicadas sing. At step 16,000, a colonial cemetery dates from 1725, across from the former site of the second Greens Farms Meeting House. Some graves are mere unlettered stone stubs.

I cut across Clapboard Hill Road, which lives up to its name. It rises steeply and then descends just as steeply. At number 81 is the Morehouse Taylor house, built in around 1727. Next to the door is an American flag with just 20 stars.

I reconnect with Greens Farms Road and follow it until it merges with Route 1. For a brief time the highway is frustratingly, unconscionably bereft of sidewalks. It passes under Interstate 95 and then climbs up toward Fairfield.

It's time for lunch. A sign marks a cafe called Gruel Britannia, and I enter it, leave, and then enter it again, wondering whether the name is too twee for a visit. Eventually I commit. The tables near the building are full, but across the parking lot seats are available. I ask if I can sit there, and they assure me it's fine.

It becomes awkward. I'm the only one in that area, and I didn't mean for my server to have to keep trekking across the lot. She brings me a menu promptly, but then it's 15 minutes before I see her again, and that's when I've gone inside to check out their beverages. They've imported goodies from across the pond, and I want to see what's available to drink.

I order the Britannia burrito and a can of Club Lemon, an Irish sparkling lemonade. The cafe is also something of a British grocery store: They sell Ribena concentrate, digestive biscuits, Paxo stuffing balls, Bisto gravy granules, and Walkers crisps. The burrito arrives; the British are masters at taking another cuisine and putting their own spin on it. It's more a wrap than a burrito, and it contains egg, avocado, back bacon, bangers, and curry ketchup (which is also for sale in the market).

I signal for the bill but she doesn't understand, and she makes an extra trip to see what I need. Someone else brings the bill. I stand up so they can clean the table, and she comes out with the bill and starts to go away, but I now have nowhere to sit and still have to add the tip and sign the slip. She starts to leave, but then I have no one to hand the slip to, so she waits, slightly impatiently. Our interactions have been clumsy; every attempt I've made to try to save her a few steps has seemingly cost her more.

I continue into Fairfield, a lively town with enticing places to eat, though the almost-American flags that line the street (with the proper number of stars but just seven stripes) strike me as more optimistically patriotic than our country has earned the right to display this year. Still, there's a sense of community, and the presence of the nearby Fairfield University gives it a youthful energy.

Across Ash Creek I reach Black Rock, a peninsula that constitutes the southwestern part of Bridgeport. I notice a man on a bicycle behind me on the sidewalk, and I move over to let him pass.

"I've been fishing since four this morning," he says.

"How'd you do?"

"Sea robins," he says, somewhat dejectedly. I nod in agreement, although I have no idea why he's upset.

"That's something," I say.

"I entered a bluefishing tournament. Thirty-six dollars for a T-shirt," he says. And then he doesn't pass me; he's reached his home.

Fairfield Avenue cuts through Black Rock. It's lined with restaurants that look just plain fun, no pretense. At Road Runner, people are eating ceviches the size of soccer balls. The aroma of lobster butter wafts across the street from BRYAC. I want to bring that smell home, too.

Beyond Ellsworth Street the scene suddenly turns dodgy. Ruby's II is a strip club that looks hopelessly forgotten, but a big easel out front promises in big letters, "We're Open." Outside the post office is a shopping cart with two desk fans in it. A man is taking the shorts-below-the-underwear style to its hideous extreme. A handwritten sign says, "We Buy Houses -- Ca$h Fast." A utility box is covered in graffiti. Little food markets proudly display their cigarette prices.

I reach Bridgeport proper. It's almost deserted on a Sunday. I cross over the Pequonnock River into Bridgeport's East End and it's more of the same grit. There's some history, though: The American Fabrics Company, at 1069 Connecticut Avenue, dates from 1910, and at number 1225 is the fading lettering of the Allied Industrial Building.

Finally I turn onto South Avenue and finish the few minutes to the Quality Suites, where I'll spend the night. But I have dinner plans, so after getting settled, I walk the 20 minutes to the StationHouse wine bar. I pass numerous churches and the home of William Samuel Johnson, who signed the U.S. Constitution.

The restaurant is in the Stratford station building. Jodi, her husband, Jim, and her mother are waiting for me. Jodi is a soprano and we've performed together for more than ten years, at venues in Connecticut and Naples, Florida, and once at a concert in the Bahamas. She was one of the opera singers performing with me out at the Long Island winery earlier this month. She and Jim used to live on a houseboat not far away; now they live part of the year nearby in Trumbull and part of the year in Naples. She wants to try to get us a few gigs there in December.

"Are you OK with flying?" she asks.

"I'm fine with it," I say. "Though if I leave now..." I calculate. "Fifteen hundred miles at twenty-two miles a day...I could be there in about sixty days."

I order a steak "as rare as possible."

"How about black and blue?" the waitress suggests.

"That's good," I say. "Wave it over a candle for about fifteen seconds and it's done."

There's a singer performing. Jodi once performed here, too. When the singer finishes, it's karaoke time, and people are dancing.

"See the ratio?" Jodi says. "It's ten women for every man."

Jodi and Jim are extremely supportive of this trip. They've offered me a place to stay, but they're a few miles away, and I don't want to ride in a car. They've offered to collect my laundry and bring it back clean, but it's been only two days, and that is beyond generous. They volunteered to bring me sunscreen. I should be using it, but it's a bottle I don't want to carry. My face is tan but on the verge of red, so I may need to break down and pick some up.

I walk back toward the Quality Suites and, on the way, return a call from a colleague in New York. We're chatting about the Chopin piano preludes as I approach the hotel. There's a noisy party across the street.

"Come have a drink!" says Leesha. It's her 40th birthday.

I walk over. It's a catered affair. There are tents and tables in the yard, and a DJ is playing hip-hop music. Another woman, Sequest, brings me over to the bartender. I order something called an Incredible Hulk, but they're out of one of the ingredients, so they make up a similarly sweet cocktail.

I sit with Sequest and her friend Eve. Sequest asks what I'm doing in the area, and I explain the trip. At the next seat, someone is smoking a hookah. It's a party for family and friends, about 50 people, with children, teens, and adults.

"Does your family have gatherings like this?" Sequest asks.

"We used to have one each year. My dad's from Michigan, and a lot of the family was there, and we'd all get together. But...not this music. And now we're all spread out."

I offer to bring her a drink, but she says she's had enough. She's bopping along with the music in her chair, mouthing the lyrics.

Leesha's invitation to me may have been the last thing she said consciously before the aftereffects of too much alcohol get to her. The poison comes out on the lawn, and she is again lucid.

It's hard to imagine a friendlier or more welcoming bunch. I say goodbye and head out, but I pause for a moment. Two police cars have come by, and the cops are telling the DJ the party is too loud. Except for me, the partygoers are all Black, and I want to make sure the cops don't give them any trouble. The music goes down and the police cars linger a bit longer than makes me comfortable. But eventually they leave, and so do I.

Go on to day 4