The other day I got an interesting message from Benjamin Cruse, director of youth services for Leadership Greater Hartford.
Cruse, if you don't know him, is one of those young up-and-comers who gives a cynic like me faith that as dismal as city leadership is now, there's real hope for the future.
He's dedicated, driven and always looking for ways to make his native city better. "A few of us are brainstorming about what we could do to counter all of the violence," he recently e-mailed. "Any thoughts?"
So, it wasn't a surprise to see the thread he started soliciting ideas for a list of what he called Hartford's 50 Hidden Jewels.
Cruse cautioned that he wasn't looking for the usual spots.
He was looking for places that otherwise get overlooked, neighborhood gems that most wouldn't know about unless they lived and loved the city the way he does.
"I'm talking about the Rose window at Charter Oak Cultural Center," he wrote. "seeing deer at dawn or dusk at Cedar Hill Cemetery, dinner at the Cozy Spot restaurant on Barbour Street, a cold beer at the Sidewalk Cafe on South Street ... or stopping by Colt Park on a Saturday to watch baseball and basketball games."
Nice, but I didn't think too much more of his thoughtful inquiry until the responses started coming in.
•Playing Frisbee on the Capitol hill at Bushnell Park.
•Carillon concerts at Trinity in the summer on a blanket with some wine and snacks.
•Tapas Tuesdays at Costa Del Sol with commentary from Don Pepe.
•Shish kebabs (pinchos) on the weekend at Colt Park.
•The sanctuary of Immanuel Congregation Church on the corner of Farmington and Woodland.
•The view of the Hartford skyline from the Prospect viewpoint of Elizabeth Park early in the morning or after dark.
•Estrella Bakery, wrote council member Luis Cotto. "Come to think of it," he continued. "Hartford has a wonderful bakery tradition. A friend from DC had me drive him to as many [bakeries] as I could before he went back home and he left with an international Smorgasbord of baked delights."
•And another from Cotto: The pews at Charter Oak Cultural Center — "they are so magical!!"
They are, but as I read the responses, something struck me — and not just the realization of how much of Hartford I was missing out on.
This list, it revealed more than just the guarded gems of die-hard Hartfordites.
It showed a genuine appreciation for a city that too often gets bashed, belittled and otherwise dismissed as being nothing more than a pit stop between two other real cities.
We spend so much time talking about what's lacking in Hartford that we forget about the one thing that we have plenty of in this city — people who really care about it, and who can see through all of its issues to embrace everything it offers.
Cruse wants to highlight the hidden jewels on a website or in local newspapers and magazines.
It's a good idea.
In the meantime, take it from people in the know, and check out some of these spots.
I'd start with those pews.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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