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Spreading the Gospel of Historic Portsmouth

Esha Samajpati  by Pinaki Chakraborty

Reaching the Web generation

There is a gray-bearded old history guy in every New England town and it comes as a recurrent shock that I have joined their ranks. In my mind I’m a twenty-something tourist just discovering this funky place, not the fearsome ancient mariner telling tales in Market Square.

But there I was again the other day, talking to Esha Samajpati, a writer from GoNOMAD.com, an alternative Web site with “a commitment to sustainable and responsible travel.”  GoNOMAD encourages travelers to hike, ride bikes, conserve resources, and interact with communities to preserve their culture and heritage. It espouses the opposite of the “ugly American” tradition.

Esha’s editor knows Deb Daigle whose agency works with the state’s Travel and Tourism Division. Deb contacted tourism manager Valerie Rochon at the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce who set up a two-day visit for Esha and her husband Pinaki Chakraborty.

Both visitors were born in Kolkata, India (formerly Calcutta) and lived in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) until Pinaki got an IT assignment in the States. Esha quit her job in advertising and they currently live in Connecticut where this week Esha is working on her Portsmouth article.
“When I was a kid,” she says, “my parents took me with them on all their travels. I can say that there is not much of India that I have not seen. I guess the traveling bug stayed with me.”

I’ve heard all my Portsmouth stories before. What fascinates me are the impressions of those who are seeing our tiny seaport for the first time – especially when their impressions will impact future visitors. My goal is simply to nudge their opinions toward an appreciation of Portsmouth history. I want them to know why this city looks old and acts young. Perhaps that is my own story too.

“I actually sat on one of the Market Square benches for the better part of an hour,” Esha says, “happy to be just sitting there. The next day I felt the same way about Prescott Park. If I ever needed to unwind and relax without feeling too removed from humanity, Portsmouth is the place I would choose. The shops and cafes keep the crowds coming but there is an inherent sense of peace and quiet.”
Pinaki wandered the narrow streets clicking away with his camera. He says he loved the downtown architecture and the picturesque waterfront. "Portsmouth is a photographer's delight,” he told me.

Esha writes: “Armed with a water-tight itinerary, I came to Portsmouth on a weekend assignment determined to keep to my schedule…But what I really enjoyed was meeting the people of Portsmouth. Their stories ranged from adventure, history, fishing, maritime trade, shipyards to lobsters, shopping and dining. Proud of their heritage and skilled in their profession, each person contributed to the seacoast in their own way.”

The former advertising writer could not resist applying her skills to the city. We don’t have a “brand” as yet. Esha admits that what makes this seaport special is its almost indefinable quality. But she came up with a one-liner just the same – “Portsmouth. Rich in history, dependent on tourism, artistically inclined and very lively.”

Okay, that catch-phrase will need a little tweaking. But Esha gets us.

We’re old and we’re lively. We’re inclined toward the arts, though sometimes reluctant to pay the tab. We badly need those tourists – especially the “sustainable” ones -- because our small population cannot support all this history and culture without outside dollars. To sustain our incredible quality of life, we must share it. The dollars will follow only if we tell our stories loudly and often and well.

Copyright © 2010 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson writes books about local history. His column runs every other Monday in the Portsmouth Herald. Robinson is editor and owner of the history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this article appears exclusively online.

Esha Samajpati  by Pinaki Chakraborty
(c) SeacoastNH.com




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