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Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.

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Northwest Connecticut

You Can’t Cage Up a Social Butterfly

As a bachelor, I don’t spend a lot of time at home. I’m on the go nearly every waking minute. In fact, you can pretty much consider my home nothing more than a mere rest stop, though even that may be giving it too much credit! So, what does a single guy like me do for food exactly? Well, I could tell you honestly it’s not rotting away in the fridge or getting stale in the cupboards because both are bare! Okay, so maybe there’s a can of chicken noodle soup in there somewhere but that’s about the extent of that. Oh, and a bottle of wine on the dining room table, but food? Nope. You just won’t find much edible in my comfortable bachelor pad in the middle of rural northwest Connecticut.

Since I’m on the go so much, going out to eat is a near must. I do admit, I spend quite a bit of money on food expenses, but I do manage to eat healthy by eating at places that promise me a good meal. One of my favorite places is Panera Bread. I’m so glad we have one in our sleepy little upstate town! Since there’s no Starbucks in town, I’ll easily compromise. Panera is a fantastic place to go when you’re a bachelor in part because not only can you enjoy a hearty meal, but you can sit a while and take a load off while you engage in people watching and spending quality time with your iPad or Nook. I’m a huge nerd at heart, I’ll admit it! Spending time at a place like Panera while sitting back on the computer around a room full of people is every nerds best day. After all, who really wants to sit alone at home and eat dinner when you can be out and about around people. I’m a social butterfly, looking at four walls is not for me! It’s sort of like locking some normal person up in a padded room, eventually it will just make them go nuts and they’ll have to stay there.

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A Rockin’ Fourth of July at Lime Rock Park

This past Saturday, while thinking of where to enjoy the fireworks this weekend, I decided on making the trek up to Salisbury to enjoy the fireworks spectacular that took place at Lime Rock Park. I’ve only been to Lime Rock a handful of times, but never at night, and I must say its a rather amazing place in general. Tucked in the southern Berkshire Mountains lies this track that zig zags it’s way through a valley of high hills, and when the sun goes down, those hills seem to come alive as the sun looks like it’s being tucked away for a good nights rest.

The night began with a lot of traffic. As rural as the Salisbury area is, many people from the surrounding areas, including New York and Massachusetts, made their way to Lime Rock to take in the sights. The price was modest at $15 a car load that went to support the local Lions Club, and as a supporter of all things local, I’m willing to help, especially when they are offering up a grand old time. Parking was fairly easy as we were being directed to parking in the outfield row by row. As I parked, I noticed that people were already outside of their cars grilling away on small grills as well as enjoying a few drinks, even some enjoying a glass of wine while they laid on blankets in their truck beds just waiting for all of the action to start.

As for me, I took out my camping chair, which I always carry in my trunk, and brought it as close to the track as possible in the outfield as a crowd of at least a couple hundred sat along the hillsides as well. I arrived at 7PM and the fireworks wouldn’t start for another two hours around 9PM so there was ample opportunity to enjoy the evening. Not a soul wanted to head on up to Salisbury with me, so I was here solo, which I really didn’t mind since sometimes we all need our space, and having time for yourself is one of the many secrets to staying happy. Honest! As I looked around watching families bond together while playing frisbee or playing a game of catch, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own childhood and how the days gone by have really just flown right by! As a kid growing up, the days just felt so long, now, looking back, you are suddenly faced with asking yourself where exactly the time went. If I could relive those days, I would, as I’m sure we all would. They were some of the best days of my life, and they will be the days I will cherish in my memory bank forever.

Around 9PM, the temporary lights in the parking lot began to dim as a way to signify that the fireworks were about to begin. I was eager! Working in retail, I have spent the past 3 years unable to watch fireworks in a setting such as this since I had been working the fourth of July holiday in previous years. This being my first year off, I simply couldn’t contain the kid in me. Boom! The first one sets off sending a giant blow up to the sky and when it couldn’t go an inch higher, it opened up like a big white parachute in the sky. The crowd went wild as they cheered on for America’s birthday. One by one the sky began to lit up the dark star lit skies of northwestern Connecticut. The fireworks seemed to have made an echo through the valley as well as they loud booms danced their way through the hills.

When it was all over, the grand finale took place and boy was it ever a sight to see as dozens of them lit up over the sky for a solid 4 minutes or so, and after not seeing a show such as this in nearly three years, I was every bit of impressed, but I was also very much impressed with Lime Rock. They really know how to put on a show and steal the thunder. Sure, there’s fireworks in the cities, but nothing compares to a fireworks show in the scenic Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. A place where time just seems to stand still and you can still relive your childhood, even if it’s just for one lazy summer night.

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Discovering Raggie Culture

Iron Ore on Mt. Riga

I have been on a quest since last year, searching high and low for everything that I can get my hands on about Raggie culture here in northwestern Connecticut. What’s a Raggie you ask? A Raggie is simply northwestern Connecticut slang for someone of a social downward spiral and backwoods isolation. That slang, however, is just that, slang. To understand Raggie culture, you have to go direct to the source, and I don’t mean a typical search online or even in your local library, I’m talking about going to thee source, a place way up high known as Mt. Riga in Salisbury. It is here where the definition of Raggie is not the slang word that we use it as today, in fact it is the complete opposite.

The word Raggie has been around for generations here in northern Litchfield County. In fact, you should take note that if you travel anywhere south of Litchfield and speak the word Raggie, people wont have a clue as to what you are even talking about! The word has become widely used in our part of the woods, but the word takes on many meanings. If one were to be in Torrington or Winsted, the “home of Raggie culture”, one would find that the word actually offends some folks who take it the wrong way, almost as a form of racism. If you were to use the word in Salisbury, where the word Raggie actually originated from, you would discover that many people would think of those mountain people who lived up on Mt. Riga during the iron ore days, who had little to nothing in modern convinces, which there are still those today up on Mt. Riga who enjoy the splendor of nature without the use of electricity or running water.

Last summer, I took a ride up to Mt. Riga, a short 30 minute drive northwest of Torrington, and discovered the place for myself. I was warned before heading up there, however, that I should mind my business and not get too involved in discovery as those that live there do not want to really be bothered, how true that is I still do not know. I didn’t run into a soul up there. The drive was daunting at most. A steep incline almost the whole way to the top, along a dirt road none the less which was packed with ledges that my car could fall off of as I drove with white knuckles, and once I reached the top, thinking that there would be some sort of bustling place to see, I discovered nothing but water, trees, a cemetery, and 3 houses. Honestly? I drove myself up this big ol’ mountain for this? What was I thinking! I knew what I was thinking, I was thinking I was a nutcase on a quest to find out about the word Raggie.

I’m no nutcase though. This quest actually brought some light onto the subject for me. I had to look past what was actually in front of me. I had to not judge the cover of this place. A closer look here revealed that there was a great deal of history here. You see, Mt. Riga was home to one of the most prominent iron ores in the region. A great furnace used to reside here, which was actually quite bustling as it supplied iron to the communities in the region. Today, you wouldn’t even be able to tell how popular this place was without a little background research before heading up, or talking to some of the locals at the coffee-house in Salisbury, which many can tell you stories that will keep you in suspense for hours on end.

Mt. Riga today is a very different place than it was. It’s a place that is now entirely in touch with nature as you drive along dirt roads and hike the backwoods trails, such as the Appalachian trail which runs through the summit. In fact, an AMC Hut is located on the summit as well, which is maintained year-round for those who want to escape the elements or catch a nap. Quite frankly, it’s a tranquil place filled with an overabundance of nature that will absolutely make your head spin, not to mention that there is not a soul out here to bother you.

So, the next time someone asks you what a Raggie is, you might want to ask them to clarify. The word has more meaning than you think, and if you think you can discover the meaning online, you would be greatly mistaken as a variety of websites out there lead you to believe in the incorrect meaning of the real Raggie culture, which you really have to discover for yourself. One place to start making that discovery, however, is at Torrington’s own Brazen Betties, located in the heart of Downtown Torrington. It is there will you find these great Raggie T-Shirts that are available to you so that you may show off your northwestern Connecticut pride. Who says Raggie’s aren’t stylish?

Ann Nyberg comes to town

Ann Nyberg of WTNH-TV New Haven recently made a stop to see Julia Sloan of Brazen Betties in downtown Torrington, another great local business that does so much for the community!

It is no surprise that I am a huge advocate for the small businesses in the local area. With so many unique finds as well as having a neighborly atmosphere, you can’t help but show them support. These folks work hard, and they don’t get a guaranteed check like most working americans do every week. Many towns here in the Litchfield Hills have a great amount of these “mom and pops” and in some towns across the county like Kent, that is all that they really have to offer. A short drive from the likes of the Torrington area and you won’t find too many big box locations, if any at all. It’s what makes small town life so great.

As an advocate for these small businesses, I am also a huge supporter of the 3/50 Project, which entails people to choose three locally owned and operated stores and spend a combined fifty dollars.  The philosophy of 3/50 is this: for every one hundred dollars spent, sixty-eight dollars returns through the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. Spending that same one hundred dollars at a national chain would only bring the community forty-three dollars. Even more alarming is if you spent that same one hundred dollars online, nothing would come back to the community. Numbers like this are hard to handle, especially here in Torrington as we work hard to revitalize our downtown and bring Main Street back to life.

One thing that surprises me, however, is that most people have a hard time trying to understand the concept. Some even think they have to ditch the “big boxes” completely in order to win back a community. This, however is false as the 3/50 project only calls for spending fifty- dollars combined between three locations. Big boxes are still in the picture, but in order to bring back places like Main Street in Torrington, we have to show support to our neighbors who work hard not only for themselves, but for the community as well. Many places, such as Tummy2Teenz Consignment shop in Torrington, also give back to the community, which you could read about here in one of my previous articles about their one year anniversary here in Torrington.

JoAnn Ryan, President of Northwestern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, recently did a wonderful write-up in the Sunday September 26th article of The Register Citizen. She went into detail about what spending money can do for the local economy, and I applaud her for bringing this to everyone’s attention. Today, now more than ever before, it is extremely important to support our neighbors. As we move forward with progress here in Torrington, we look forward to having these businesses ride the waves of change with us, and they look forward to serving you for many years to come.

 Mike Valletta can be reached for comment at: NorthwestCTMike@aol.com

Be sure to check us out on The Register Citizen. Northwest Connecticut’s Local Newspaper: www.registercitizen.com

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