Portland, East End

by Neel Dhanesha

I have recently become acquainted with the distant horizon, which comes as a bit of a surprise. Distance—physical, social, or otherwise—is a new concept for me. Bangalore, where I grew up, and New York City, where I have lived for the last four years, are both populated by upward of eight million people, and my horizons have tended to be interrupted by buildings or bridges or train tracks. The sun, as far as I can tell from my apartment in Queens, sets somewhere in New Jersey. But I am not now in Bangalore or New York City; I am in Portland, Maine, my ten-day trip now in its tenth week, and the ocean is at the end of my street.

Outdoor exercise and dog walking: these are two of the acceptable reasons to go outside under Maine’s stay-at-home order, and we—this too is a new term, our nascent long-distance relationship having turned suddenly and quickly into a domestic partnership of the type involving discussions about the best way to load a dishwasher—we take regular advantage of these exceptions. We do not have a dog, but we go to the Eastern Promenade almost every day, where we ache to pet the dogs of other people (before this all happened, back when I was just visiting, many of our walks would end up at the little dog beach down at the bottom of the hill). It’s here, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean from the Eastern Promenade, that I’ve come to understand the true nature of the horizon, the vastness it achieves at sea.

In the opposite direction, away from the ocean and over a hill, Portland has gone silent. The crowds have disappeared from Congress Street, the shops and restaurants in the Old Port are locked, and the State Theatre’s marquee, instead of listing upcoming shows, asks Portlanders to stay home. The sign on top of the Time and Temperature Building, which just a few weeks ago read “THIN MINT,” signaling the arrival of Girl Scout cookies, now has a very simple message: “TAKE CARE.”

Published on May 4, 2020