Category Archives: Westport life

Camilla’s Neighborhood

Camilla Moe Røisland spent more than 20 years as a news presenter, reporter and producer for TV and radio, in her native Norway. She worked in communications for the oil, gas and shipping industry, and for unions and organizations.

Camilla Moe Roisland

Last year, she, her husband and 3 children moved to Westport (he works in wind farms). Camilla found an outlet for her creativity: chronicling the ups, downs, ins and outs of life in her new country.

And her new town.

Camilla Blogg” describes the beauty many of us take for granted — the beach, for example, and Saugatuck Island. She also sees jarring sights many of us never think of — like the “Private Property” signs that keep so many others from enjoying much of our beautiful shoreline.

A recent entry explored her neighborhood. She saw it through fresh eyes. Now let’s look at our town through hers.

When we moved to Westport a year ago, an area known for its prosperity and many “stay-at-home wives,” several people wondered if our new neighborhood would be similar to the 1990s’ “Desperate Housewives” series. I was excited myself, and a little anxious about what I would experience.

Various factors made us choose to settle in this affluent city of Westport in Connecticut, a beautiful place on the eastern coast of the United States. The neighborhood we ended up in was more random.

Camilla’s neighborhood.

The only advice before we tried to find a place to live came from Aunt Tove. She is married to our American Uncle Pat. Her whole family lives in Minnesota. “Just keep away from the areas where the most wealthy people live. These people, in their huge houses and gardens, have usually enough with themselves,” she told us.

The other day, a Spanish friend and expat told me, “Many people in Westport do not have neighborhoods, at least no knowledge or ties to their immediate surroundings. They hardly know their closest neighbor. We only know one neighbor because we have children at the same age.”

I usually describe the big houses of Westport as “castles ” and “mansions.” Several of these homes are amazingly beautiful, but when some of them are hidden behind tall fences or hedges, or are far from the road, it is not easy to create the unpretentious, random and often good contact with neighbors. Many of these large homes are on busy roads without pedestrian areas too. It is difficult to meet neighbors while driving back and forth to your garage, which is part of your main house.

An English girlfriend knows only 2 of her closest neighbors. They had to introduce themselves because there were trees they wanted to chop between the gardens. “We have been invited to a party once,” she said. “That was nice. Despite that, we never see any of our neighbors.”

There are some close neighborhood in Westport: those living near the sea, places with little traffic and where the distance between the houses is not too big. It also means a lot if homes have a common meeting point, such as a beach, playground, etc. If you can walk along the road in the neighborhood, you are also more able to chat with others. I often talk to other dog owners when I go for a walk in our neighborhood. My English girlfriend, on the other hand, cannot walk in her neighborhood because there are no sidewalks. She must play with the dog in her own garden, or drive elsewhere.

Camilla’s friends and neighbors.

The neighborhood we ended up living in was picked by coincidence. The house seemed nice, the rental price was within our budget, it had enough room for a family of 5, and seemed to be in a quiet, beautiful area with hiking opportunities not far from the sea. The meeting with an older woman on a bike, originally from the Netherlands, also meant a lot.

This Dutch woman had lived in Westport for 20 years. When I explained that we had the choice of moving to Darien or Westport, she gave a very convincing answer: “Westport is the best place, no doubt about it. It is lovely with all kinds of people, from artists to people working in investment banks. It is a very diverse community with a lot of nice, open minded people.

Now, one year after moving to this little neighborhood on the coast of Long Island Sound, I admit we have been very lucky with both the choice of Westport and our neighborhood. Even if the houses and gardens are smaller here near the sea (much more expensive per square meter due to the location) and there are fewer pools and tennis courts (sounds wild and maybe a bit disgusting, but I am not complaining about it!), it is wonderfully cozy.

A cozy neighborhood.

Neighbors gather on the beaches or at each other’s house. There are barbecues, we share some wine, people invite you for coffee and we all enjoy a more relaxing life, especially during the summer. The kids cycle or run between the houses, play basketball in the driveways, kayak, paddle board, and go out boating. It all reminds me a little of the life we ​​lived back in Norway.

I like to chat with someone jogging or passing by, and with the mothers who each day follow their children to the school bus. Some nice neighbors invited us for lunch, and we`ve been drinking wine and coffee at someone else’s house. My husband has been taught how to play paddle tennis by one, and we have made some of our best American friends not far from here. We do not have family here, so these people are important for our well-being in our new country.

What I like about Westport in general, and our neighborhood in particular, is that people of all ages with different backgrounds live here. There is a stand-up comedian, a talented musician and producer, a wonderful lawyer couple, and many “stay-at-home moms” like myself. Even Olaf lives here. He is a charming Norwegian who started to work here several years ago, married a beautiful American woman and never returns to Norway except on holidays.

More friends.

For creating a good neighborhood and communities, you need engaged and enthusiastic people. We find them all over the world, including here. These are people who take initiative to create and maintain traditions to meet. They care about the community and their neighbors.

In our neighborhood people open their houses so all – old and young, veterans and newcomers – can meet for a Christmas party, etc. Everybody brings something. We also meet on our little local beach to greet the summer, and were recently at our very first clambake, with whole lobsters, corn and other delicious food. We also saw photo albums that showed how our little “Association” has developed over the years. Fun!

It was a real nice clambake.

Aunt Tove was right that it is easier if you move to an area where people live closer to each other, and not high fences between the gardens. Whether people are rich or not has nothing to do with their kindness as neighbors, unless they choose to hide in their own home and garden.

What makes a good neighborhood is the people. Here, the people are accommodating and kind. I have so far not found any intrigues like in “Desperate Housewives” (in Norway called “Frustrated Housewives”). I have not seen a handsome “pool guy” like the one in this series either. Unfortunately, some would say. But without a pool, how can you have a pool guy?

Of course, I have to admit I am often frustrated –- whether because of the political debate and governance of this country, or being a stay-at-home mum with all those duties, and what that life lacks at times.

It is natural to be frustrated sometimes – both for you back in Norway, and for us here in Westport and in the rest of the US. On the other hand, I do not think most of us are desperate, as the English title of the series indicates. At least not that I am aware of, and at least not for now.

(Click here to read and subscribe to CamillaBlogg.com) 

Beachside Actors Take Their Show On The Road

Beachside Common is one of Westport’s hidden gems.

The 18 homes — 33 adults, 24 children — nestle up against Burying Hill Beach and Sherwood Island, off Beachside Avenue. With no through traffic, it’s tight-knit and neighborly.

Shortly after Nico and Robin Eisenberger moved in 5 years ago, she had a minor operation that limited her mobility. The couple had not said a word — but they found warm dinners delivered by neighbors to their doorsteps, 11 days in a row.

Beachside Common also throws an annual block party. Kids play, everyone eats, adults drink, and someone brings out a guitar.

This year, the Eisenbergers decided to add something new. For years, Nico has wanted to act — for fun. As he learned of and seen Westport’s rich arts history, the urge grew.

He remembered his childhood in Bernardsville, New Jersey, when neighbors staged a yearly play. The lightbulb lit up: Let’s do it here!

The Beachside play …

The Eisenbergers’ next door neighbor, Alli DiVincenzo, is a popular logo, brand and website designer for businesses and organizations.

She’d also just written a short book, poking gentle fun at affluent communities. It’s funny, ironic, and ends with a splash of redemption. Why not turn her book into a play?

Laura Pendergast — a common friend, fellow Greens Farms Elementary School parent and owner of TheaterCamp 4 Kids (who also teaches adults to act) — quickly adapted Alli’s story. Then she offered to direct it.

Actors — young and old — were recruited from the neighborhood. After just a few rehearsals, Laura whipped everyone into shape. (A little wine helped.)

Last Saturday, Beachside Common held its annual block party. And its first-ever play.

… and the Beachside Players.

“There’s nothing particularly momentous about this story,” Nico says. “The cast were rank amateurs. The staging — in the middle of the street — was basic. The performance was barely passable.

“But it was memorable for both our small audience and the performers. We stepped out of the uber-busy, uber-online, world-in-turmoil, everyone-for-themselves environment. We did something in-person and creative together.

“It was super fun. And it was definitely inspired at every turn by the history and best traditions of Westport.”

Will the Beachside Players return?

We’ll drink to that.

Water, Water Everywhere

An alert (and very worried) “06880” reader is still drying out from Tuesday’s 3.5-inch rainstorm — and the 7-plus inches that cascaded down on Westport just a week earlier. She writes:

I know mine is not the only neighborhood in town suffering from this problem.

Like many others, 2 feet of water caused terrible flooding in our basement last Tuesday. Fortunately it was immediately sucked out by our sump pumps — but the damage was done.

The high water mark on an “06880” reader’s garage is very high.

We have lived in our house for 9 years. We had a similar problem once before, but it only resulted in 4 inches in the basement.

It is my observation — and that of my neighbor, who has lived in her house for 30 years — that this is a progressively worsening problem. It is due to the huge swaths of land that have been cleared, so new homes could be built behind ours.

Where there used to be trees and forest, there is open land. The new houses are bigger than others.

There is nothing to absorb excess water. It just runs over the huge lawns to the lowest point: my driveway.

My drain can’t keep up, so it backs into the basement.

Another view of recent flooding.

My parents — who live in another part of town — have seen huge rivers of rain wash down their road, which they never had in the 30+ years they have lived in their home. They think it may be due to huge houses being built in the neighborhood above theirs.

Is this a larger town issue, with all the new construction and water being diverted as it hadn’t before? Is there a way for me (or anyone else in this situation) to have someone from the town look into this?

If so, who would that be? I know the weather has been more extreme, but I think there is more to it than that. Any insights from “06880” readers would be appreciated.

Westport Signs: The Sequel

Yesterday, “06880” posted a(nother) story on sign pollution. It featured (sigh) a stop sign with another sign at the bottom pleading “Please No Signs.”

At the end, I challenged readers to send photos of the worst sign polluters in town. I promised to post the “winner.”

Aka, the “loser.”

John Karrel is our man. He cites his “least favorite” corner: the intersection of Hillspoint and Greens Farms Road.

(Photo/John Karrel)

He writes:

  1. It is an UGLY sign
  2. You’re not supposed to pitch a business.
  3. Would someone really choose a fitness option this way?!

Please don’t answer that.

Westport Signs: A Classic “Tragedy Of The Commons”

It’s come to this:

We’re putting up signs to remind each other not to put up signs.

Alert — and sign-sated — “06880” reader Chris Woods spotted that bizarre scene recently, at South Morningside Drive and Clapboard Hill Road.

(Photo/Chris Woods)

Chris notes that despite the Planning & Zoning Commission’s July pledge to crack down on illegal signs, they persist.

“The floodgates have opened,” Chris says. “It’s a free-for-all, making our community look as tacky as possible.

“The rainy August sprouted a bumper crop of signs on every public green space in town. There’s even an ad on the huge construction mural on the Daybreak development.”

Chris calls yard signs “a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ situation. No matter how much it ‘costs’ the community overall to be littered with unregulated billboards, the cost to the polluter is currently less than his potential gain.”

Chris would love the P&Z to levy a fine on transgressors — and pull any permits until it’s paid, and the sign removed.

So who is the worst sign polluter in town? Click “Comments” below.

The “winner” gets his or her photo posted on “06880.”

Case Of The Missing Story Walk

Village Pediatrics is a full-service practice.

As part of their mission to connect young patients and their parents, the pediatricians laminate children’s books. They spread them on pylons along the length of their very cool walkway over the Saugatuck River, behind their Riverside Avenue office.

Kids and adults enjoy the story — and the gorgeous view.

They’re not the only ones. Joggers, dog walkers and others also like them too.

The riverwalk behind 323 Riverside Avenue.

The book choices are not random. The Village staff carefully reflects the season, or something relevant to the time of year. Around Election Day, for example, they displayed “Duck for President.”

Recently, they changed the story walk. “The Kissing Hand” is a beautiful book about a raccoon nervous for his first day of school. His mother teaches him that they are always connected — even when they’re physically apart.

Many youngsters and parents appreciated it, as they got ready for school to begin.

An illustration from “The Kissing Hand.”

The other day though, the pediatricians looked out their window. The story walk was gone!

They also had a small live cam taped to one of the pylons, so everyone in the office could watch the swans rotate and eventually hatch their eggs. That camera was taken too.

They’ve asked “06880” to help. Please return “The Kissing Hand” and/or the camera — no questions asked.

Village Pediatrics wants our entire village to enjoy the book!

The Remarkable Bookcycle: If You Build It, They Will Read

Last weekend, “06880” reported the remarkable story of the resurrection of the Remarkable Book Shop. The beloved pink shop suddenly appeared at Compo Beach, as a free library balanced on a 3-wheeled bike.

World popular author (and longtime Westport resident) Jane Green masterminded the project.

But she couldn’t have done it without the help of Ryan Peterson. The recent Staples High School graduate transformed Jane’s old cargo trike into a new/old/way cool lending (and donating) library.

Pictures told the story. But now — just before heading to Fairfield University, to study engineering — Ryan’s sent along a video of his handiwork.

Enjoy it. And remember: Jane knows the Remarkable Book Shop only through stories. She moved here after it closed.

Ryan was not even born then.

It takes a village to nurture a book store. And then bring it back to life.

Truly remarkable.

Remarkable Bookcycle: The Back Story

Saturday night’s Pics of the Day was one of “06880”‘s most special — and most commented on.

The photo s– sent by a reader who did not identify him or herself — showed a 3-wheeler. In front of the pedals sat a wooden structure, filled with books.

It was painted pink — just like the old Remarkable Book Shop.

More remarkably, the front featured the beloved store’s dancing man logo.

And — in case you missed the other clues — a sign on the top said “The Remarkable Bookcycle.”

The photos were taken in and around Compo Beach.

Readers loved it. But no one knew the back story.

Now it can be told. And the tale comes courtesy of Jane Green: author of 19 novels, with over 10 million books in print in more than 25 languages. Besides being (duh) a huge book lover, she’s a longtime Westporter — and a very involved neighbor. She writes:

It started with George, although really, it started with the Remarkable Book Shop. Ever since I moved to Westport almost 18 years ago, everyone has told me that I would have loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Esther and Sidney Kramer were neighbors of ours, and I’ve harbored a secret fantasy of re-opening the bright pink bookshop for years.

Which brings me to George: a cargo tricycle we bought from neighbors of ours at the beach about 12 years ago. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a way to transport picnics and children back and forth to the beach, but those children are now teenagers, and George has languished in our garage for years.

More recently, I found myself obsessed with Little Free Libraries. The Little Free Library is a non-profit organization founded in the 1980’s to encourage people to read, and to bring communities together. Usually, people build them at the end of their driveways, giving away free books, bringing strangers together, chatting about books.

As a novelist who created the Facebook group Westport Front Porch for exactly that reason — to bring a sense of community back — and as an avid reader, I had always wanted a little free library. Also, my house is threatening to topple over with the piles of books everywhere. But I live on a small private street, and suspected my neighbors might not be so happy with an influx of readers coming over.

A mobile Little Free Library suddenly seemed an excellent idea, one that could travel around the beach and bring a bit of happy nostalgia to our town, for who doesn’t feel good when they remember the Remarkable Book Shop? I found a wonderful new Staples graduate, Ryan Peterson, to rebuild George and transform him into the bookshop. I downloaded pictures of the store for him, and with my husband Ian Warburg, who grew up here and has so many happy memories of the bookstore, designed the cart as a double-sided library where people can take home free books.

Jane Green stocks the Remarkable Bookcycle library …

I was ready to paint the sign myself, but realized that Miggs Burroughs would do a much better job. I sent him an email asking for his help with a secret project, with no idea that his mother, Esta Burroughs, worked at the book shop from the day it opened until the day it closed. (How remarkable is that?!) Miggs was thrilled, and painted both the sign and the instantly recognizable dancing man.

We have loved parking the Remarkable Bookcycle (pronounced bicycle!) by the beach this weekend, and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. At some point soon, we’ll have a website set up with news of how to donate books. In the meantime, look for the Remarkable Bookcycle around Compo, raise your glasses to the spirits of Sidney and Esther Kramer and Esta Burroughs, and don’t forget to stroke Heathcliff the cat while you’re picking out your book. Yes, there’s even a Heathcliff the cat tucked in amongst the books in the Remarkable Bookcycle!

… and takes an inaugural ride, along Compo Beach Road.

Friday Flashback #104

Perhaps it was a slow news week.

More likely, a Westport Woman’s Club member’s husband was a high-ranking Life Magazine staffer.

Whatever the reason, on August 11, 1947 America’s leading photo magazine featured the organization in a 2-page spread.

Describing the town of 8,258 just 45 minutes from Manhattan, Life said Westport “pleasantly combines the character of New England and the up-to-date bustle of a commuting population.”

Like most American towns, Life noted, Westport has a woman’s club. But ours had “little time for lectures, cards and teas.”

The Life magazine story included this photo of members of the Westport Woman’s Club.

Instead — already 40 years old — the Westport Woman’s Club had transformed our “once somnolent” town through good works: organizing and funding street signs, public drinking fountains, garbage collections and trash cans, playgrounds, sidewalks, street lights, hot lunches in schools, and lifesaving equipment and a pavilion at Compo Beach.

Now, Life said, the club was focused on a visiting nurse service, free milk for underprivileged children and a free dental clinic. They also provided over $1,000 in scholarships each year.

Life reported that Ann Jones, 18, won a $300 art scholarship from the Westport Woman’s Club.

With 693 members — but annual dues of only $3 — members relied on the Yankee Doodle Fair to fund those projects. The 1947 event raised $18,000, with attractions like a merry-go-round, dart games, pony rides, and a raffle with prizes including cars, washing machines, luggage, watches and cases of scotch.

The Yankee Doodle Fair, as shown in the August 11, 1947 issue of Life Magazine.

More than 70 years later, the Westport Woman’s Club — and Yankee Doodle Fair — are still going strong.

Which is more than can be said for Life magazine.

(Hat tip: Paul Ehrismann)

A caption for this Life magazine photo described children of Westport Woman’s Club members, playing on a sidewalk that the organization helped build.

“Oh? So That’s What That Arrow Means? My Bad!”

At first glance, this Entitled Parking photo doesn’t look too bad. Just one car straddling a parking spot line, and another plopped in what clearly is not a parking space.

(Photo/Miggs Burroughs)

But look closer. That’s not a fat parking line that the Acura is parked over. It’s a directional arrow, pointing one way into the lot behind Serena & Lily, in the Baldwin lot on Elm Street.

And that Volvo is also smack over another arrow, pointing the way out.

In other words, these 2 Very Important People completely block entry and exit into the lot. In order to get out or in, drivers had to go all the way to the back, near the fence, then circle around.

Of course, there were several empty spots nearby.

But at least the weather was nice. So these 2 guys (or gals) could enjoy the very brief walk to wherever they urgently needed to go.