Monday, October 29, 2012

Celebrating the apple

One of the things my sister Ellen and I did while she was here was go to the annual Apple Festival at Lakeside Orchards in nearby Manchester. We both enjoyed it enormously. As Ellen put it, it was a bit of Americana, New England style.

Besides being able to go out into the orchards to pick your own apples -- which Ellen and I didn't do, as we'd already purchased a few of their apples a couple of days before, from the bins they have in their little shop (which was when we found out the festival was coming up) -- there were craftspeople with their wares on display...though not as many as in previous years...little kids being led around a circle on a pony (this actually made me tear up, it was so sweet, smacking of another time), a very energetic young magician keeping a whole slew of kids, and accompanying parents, highly entertained, lots of those big plastic things for kids to jump up and down on, and the usual hotdogs and hamburgers being sold by church groups.

There was also a really excellent bluegrass band, which I gather was actually parts of two different bands: the Sandy River Ramblers and the Maranacook String Band. For this outing they were being billed as Stanley Keach and Friends. The fiddler, Jay Smith, who disconcerted me by bearing an uncanny resemblance to my nephew, was absolutely fantastic. He was very serious while he played, and indeed, didn't seem to be having much fun. However, when I went up to the edge of the stage during one of their numbers, to try to get a written sheet with information about them (no luck, but I put my name & email address down on their list to receive announcements about their upcoming concerts), I glanced up at him and said, "You're great," and he flashed me a big smile and said "thank you." Boy, do I love talented people.

I was quite disappointed that there were so few craftspeople. Later I found myself talking to one of the people who organizes the event -- to my amazement, she was one of the parents attending our Children's Hour at the library the following Wednesday, and mentioned that she had seen me at the festival -- and according to her, the event has been the victim of bad weather so many times in recent years that many of the craftsmen decided not to take the chance. And then of course, the weather was lovely, if a little windy.

But despite the reduced options for shopping, Ellen and I each managed to find something for the other. She bought me two beautiful pair of earrings, at the super bargain price of $5 each, and I bought her a little mouse in a dress. Not a real mouse, of course; one of those things you put out as a decoration. Ellen is very into decorating her house for the different holidays, the different seasons, and she declared that Little Mousie in her red dress would be perfect for Christmas.

All in all, a splendid afternoon. Followed, on both our parts, by a nice long nap.  One of the fortunate things about this visit: we were on a par in terms of stamina.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Playing host

My sister Ellen, who lives in Colorado, finally arrived for her visit, a couple of weeks ago.  It was her first ever trip to Maine, and she was properly impressed, though this was not one of our "glorious" autumns. I think it was too warm and dry too long for the trees to produce their usual flaming scarlets/salmons/ yellows. And naturally, after two solid weeks of absolutely gorgeous weather, the weather chose not to cooperate the week she was here. The first day after her arrival (in the dead of night) was forecast to be the only reliably sunny day of the week, so we raced off to the coast, as a coastline, dotted with almost obscenely picturesque towns, is one thing they do not have in Colorado. We hit Rockport and Camden -- lots of photo ops in both places, with their beautiful little harbors full of boats -- would have gone on to Rockland, but both of us had run out of steam.

At Camden we had lunch in a very pleasant little Greek cafe called Cafe Mediterranean. Adorable, tiny interior, but we ate out on the small terrace, which was lovely. I've since learned, at good ol' Tripadvisor and elsewhere, that the place has gotten very mixed reviews, and my own review would be mixed. Service was painfully slow, as several people mentioned (and we were hungry!), the dish we both ordered -- salmon kebob -- was o.k., to my mind, but not distinctive, which was also true of the tzatziki we shared. When properly made, this yogurt and cucumber dip is out-of-this-world delicious. Admittedly, I may have been spoiled by having spent six weeks living in Greece, years ago, and experiencing the real thing.

Actually, small disappointments were connected with most of our dining-out experiences. Another day we had lunch at Slates, located in Hallowell, and arguably the best restaurant in the Augusta area (see Note of Feb. 15, 2010). While the dish I ordered, crab and artichoke crepes, was excellent, when it first came to the table it was barely warm, and I had to send it back. And since, being "purists," Slates does not believe in having a microwave on the premises, it was a bit of a wait for the dish to be warmed up. This has happened to me more than once when I've eaten at Slates. Don't know if the problem is one of kitchen management, so that the multiple orders at a particular table are not ready at virtually the same time, or one of simply needing a better heat lamp (or maybe they don't have one of those, either!)

One day we "did" Portland. It was cool and very grey when we first got there, in the late morning, but the sun had come out by the time we finished our guided tour of the very interesting William Wadsworth Longfellow childhood home, which made it possible for Ellen to get some postcard-perfect shots of Portland Head Light, where we headed after lunch. For lunch we sought out a little-hole-in-the-wall place called Fisherman's Grill on Fore Street (not to be confused with The Fisherman's Net, which is just a few doors down from it) that I had found recommended online. This place is extremely hard to find/easy to miss. And there are few seats, so I imagine if you got there at lunch time (we arrived at almost-two) you would either have to wait for a seat, or take out. And service was very slow, with only one counter man, with whom you place your order, and one cook. Even though there was only one couple ahead of us, we waited over half an hour for our duplicate orders of the crab-and-swiss toasted sandwich and cup of clam chowder.

However, the sandwiches were delicious, and so full of crab that we both found we could eat only half, and so were able to take the other half home for a later snack. And we agreed that we'd never had a clam chowder with as many clams in it. An unusually thin chowder, more like a milky soup, to my mind. But very good.

Our one unalloyed lunch success was at the Riverfront Barbeque and Grill, located on Water Street in downtown Augusta (see Note of April 29, 2010). We both had the seafood and sausage jambalaya -- hot and spicy in true Cajun fashion -- and loved it. And they give you so much, we took home enough for another meal each.

For me being able to eat out is one of the pleasures of traveling. Ellen is pretty much as uninterested in cooking as I am, so I hope (and trust) our various gastronomic experiences were a treat for her.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Buona sera!

A couple of weeks ago I started a beginner's Italian class, through the local adult education program. I had hoped to make it to Italy this past spring -- it didn't happen -- but I am determined to make it happen next spring. And I believe in being able to speak the language of anyplace I visit, at least at a very basic level ("Please," "Thank you," "How much?" "Where's the bathroom?")

The teacher, who is Italian, and speaks English with a pronounced accent, is very exuberant, and keeps encouraging up to wave our hands around, say "Mama mia!" whenever it seems appropriate, and in general be as Italian as we can be when we speak the language. With this basically shy, reserved person you may sure that's not going to happen -- I would feel like a fool exclaiming "Mama mia!" -- but I will say that speaking the language, even to the small extent that we've done it so far, tends to make you feel lighthearted and even, yes, exuberant. This is not a lugubrious language. It's fun to speak.

I do love learning a new language. It's learning a new skill, a useful skill. One that goes a long way toward winning hearts and minds, as we Americans are trying to do, generally unsuccessfully, in various hostile parts of the world. And it inevitably impresses people, when you can break into a foreign tongue when needed.

I'm always interested in who the other people are, whenever I take a class like this. In this case we're all women. Two, who are from Maine, grew up speaking French (not uncommon among older generations from the north of the state, where many folk are of French-Canadian descent), and just decided they wanted to learn Italian. One of these women is a recently-retired nurse, and also an artist, which I thought was an interesting combination.

Another woman is a recently-retired French teacher, who also thought she'd try Italian. One woman -- the only one of us who is young -- has been traveling to Italy with her sister every year for the past five years (to the unqualified envy of all the rest of us) and says while she can generally understand pretty well, she wants to improve her speaking skills, and her self-confidence. Another woman also traveled to Italy with her sister, and the sister so fell in love with the place that she bought a house there -- shades of Under the Tuscan Sun -- which they are fixing up to rent out ("Where do we sign up?" I asked.) The final woman I know nothing about -- because I had to make a trip to the restroom right before it was her turn to introduce herself -- except that she looks like the stereotypical aging hippy, complete with baggy, shapeless dresses, Granny glasses, birkenstocks with socks, and the long silver/grey hair pulled back in a thick pony-tail.

And I, of course, am a professional librarian who would love to be able to retire, but can't afford to do so, who misses all the traveling she did when she was younger, and is determined to at least get herself to Italy, before she's too stiff and ache-y to move.  A bunch of late-middle-aged ladies (except for Kim), who decided they'd rather try to learn a new language than sit and watch the usual two hours of T.V. on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why did he do it?

I have to admit I'm worried about the Senate race here in Maine. Since moderate (and very popular) Republican Olympia Snowe is not running again, her seat is up for grabs. This would be the perfect time to get another Democrat into the Senate. Unfortunately, Angus King, a former (very popular) governor, insisted on running as an Independent, rather than as a Democrat. This decision will certainly split the Democratic vote, since some people will undoubtedly vote for Cynthia Dill, the Democrat who won in the state primary in June. I can't believe all that many Republicans will vote for King, despite his emphasis on being a successful entrepreneur who understands the problems of small businesses (which is what makes up the vast majority of business in Maine). He makes the following statement on his web site:

"Dealing with both of these issues – jobs and the debt – would not be easy in the best of circumstances, but is practically impossible in the current toxic political atmosphere. We simply have to start talking to each other and put aside the partisanship and constant bickering that dominates today’s Washington. The urgent reality is that the American people can no longer afford a broken Congress. This is an historic moment for America which, if met with honesty and courage, can reset our course for prosperity and opportunity."

I'm sorry, but this is laughable. This is exactly what Olympia Snowe tried to do -- to work with the other side of the aisle in a bipartisan way, to get things done -- but she got no support from her own party, and could not, with a clear conscience, go along with some of the Democrats' positions. What on earth makes Angus King think he can be more successful at reaching across the aisle, when somebody from that party could not move those intransigent folk?

I think it's pretty clear by now that the dream of bipartisan cooperation is exactly that, a dream, and needs to be replaced by good old-fashioned party unity, Democrats working together to get things done despite the Republicans' refusal to compromise. Which means, quite simply, that we need to get more Democrats into the Senate and the House. We definitely need to keep control of the Senate. If Angus King's decision to run as an Independent loses that important seat to another Republican (Charlie Summers by name), I will be really pissed at Mr. King.