I passed a plastic box affixed to a stick planted in the ground. On the box, stuffed with white sheets of paper, was written, "These poems are brought to you by the Poetry Readers of Gates Street." New poems are added every other week, and "there are extra copies in the back!" That week's offerings included Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore and Robert Frost.
Poetry as a civic right? Aren't we getting a little professorial, Portsmouth?
But then Vern Stump, 71, a former interior designer in Boston who moved here 15 years ago, said it gets even better. Through his church, he volunteers to feed homeless people once a week. Different restaurants take the lead each week, and one of them routinely serves gourmet meals.
"Once they served a lobster and shrimp bisque, with pieces of lobster this big," Stump said, holding his hands about 4 inches apart. "But the gentlemen there, you know, they'd rather have meat and potatoes."
OK, so there's one down side to you Portsmouth: You're a tough place to be homeless. I mean, the lobster is so large and plentiful!
But Stump had a few complaints of his own. He missed when you were a little more blue-collar and hardscrabble, a motif that he said started to flee in the 1960s.
"So much money has moved in," he said. "And it used to be more local. There used to not be tourists in winter. Now it's all year round."
Really, it's your own fault. It's what you get for being so darn perfect, Portsmouth.
If you go
Getting there: Portsmouth is about 60 miles north of Boston. For any New England road trip, Portsmouth is a worthy stop for a couple of nights. The closest airports are in Boston and Manchester, N.H., about 45 miles away.
Eating: Several locals insisted Portsmouth has "the most restaurants per capita," and though I could find no evidence of that, it is an undeniably rich restaurant scene. Highlights include Black Trumpet bistro and wine bar (29 Ceres St., 603-431-0887, blacktrumpetbistro.com), Cava, a wine bar that serves tapas (10 Commercial Alley, 603-319-1575, cavatapasandwinebar.com), Portsmouth Brewery, where the food is just as good as the house-made beer (56 Market St., 603-431-1115, portsmouthbrewery.com), the steakhouse Four (189 State St., 603-319-1547, fouronstate.com) and Mombo, which is heavy on red meat and fish (66 Marcy St., 603-433-2340, momborestaurant.com).
Staying: The hotel landscape is dominated by chains, but for an alternative, consider Ale House Inn (121 Bow Street, 603-431-7760, alehouseinn.com; between $119.99 to $299.99, plus tax, depending on room and season), which has 10 loftlike rooms in a former brewery warehouse and includes in-room iPads.