High Summer in Maine

The end of July and the beginning of August is a very sweet time in Maine, and this year, with its warm days and cool nights, has been even sweeter than usual. It feels like an old-fashioned Maine summer, a welcome relief from the past few years where it has been blisteringly hot during July and August.

Clif and I have been soaking up this fine weather. On Friday, our friends Alice and Joel came over for drinks and appetizers on the patio. There were bike rides on Saturday and Sunday. We still don’t go far, but we figure it is better to go eight miles a ride rather than no miles a ride, and we feel as though we are gaining strength.

On Sunday, our friends Dawna and Jim invited us and another couple over for dinner. Dawna and Jim have a lovely home by the Upper Narrows Pond, which truly is large enough to pass as a lake. The Upper Narrows is no farm pond.

The food was terrific.

As was the view.

The company and conversation were, of course, superb.

I wish I could bottle these days and release them during the drear days of late February and March, when everything seems to be gray drizzle and hard, dirty snow.

Away with those thoughts! August, buzzing August, is just around the corner, and Clif and I intend to squeeze every bit of delight that we can out of this lovely month.

Why, on a recent ride down a back road, I even came up with a haiku in honor of this best time of year.

Queen Anne’s lace in bloom
White ducks waddling on green grass
High summer in Maine

Welcome, welcome, high summer!

A Fine Little Fellow Comes for a Visit

This darling puppy’s name is Murphy, and Judy, his person and our neighbor, stopped by yesterday for a visit. We went into the backyard, which is fenced in, so Murphy could safely sniff and explore. And chew on a plant pot.

While Murphy and Judy visited, Liam slept in my office, and he didn’t even know there was a dog in the yard. Sad, because in his younger years, Liam would have been romping with Murphy. But as our dog buddy is now old and blind, it is probably just as well he didn’t know there was a puppy in his backyard.

Seeing the adorable Murphy reminded me of the time Clif and I took Liam, when he was a puppy, to visit a woman called Lovedy, the mother of a friend. Lovedy, known as Aunt Love to everyone, was originally from England and still had a delightful accent. Aunt Love was also wild about dogs, which is why we took Liam to see her.

Aunt Love took one look at Liam and said, “Oh, what a fine little fellow.”

Our hearts swelled with pride.

I told Judy this story and said of Murphy, “Oh, what a fine little fellow.”

Judging from the bright smile on her face, I would have to say Judy’s heart swelled with pride, too.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Murphy, you fine little fellow!


Three Brave Republicans Save the ACA—At Least for Now

In yesterday’s post, I had indicated that today I would wrap up the movie reviews from last week’s Maine International Film Festival. However, last night’s vote in the U.S. Senate regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  made me change my mind. I just have to write, at least a little, about an issue that is important not only to me but also to millions of people in this country.

For those of us who depend upon the Affordable Care Act, what a weird, scary ride it has been since last November and especially this week. A headline from a recent article in the New York Times captures the way so many of us feel: “The war in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has brought anxiety to the people whose health insurance is at risk.”

Oh, that is to put it mildly. I have been in turmoil about this because  if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA, there is no Plan B for me. My husband is retired, and I would not be able to afford health insurance without the ACA. This means I would go without health insurance for a few years until I qualify for Medicare. As a cancer survivor, that is one terrifying thought.

This past week saw the issue brought to a fever-pitch in the U.S. Senate as Republicans did their best to repeal and replace the ACA. (Need I add that the replacement still would have deprived millions of health insurance?) The Republicans hold the Senate by the slimmest majority, and it would take the defection of three Republican senators to stymie their repeal plans. There were two stalwarts—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and our own Susan Collins of Maine. (Bless her!) One more Republican was needed, and truthfully, I was not optimistic as the Senate voted last night on what was called “skinny repeal.”

But wonder of wonder, John McCain, from Arizona, returned to his maverick roots and  joined Collins and Murkowski in voting no. This was especially poignant as McCain has been recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer and had surgery about a week ago.

Who knows where the ACA will go next? But, for now, anyway, those three Republicans have ensured that millions of people will get affordable health insurance and thus affordable health care. Collins, Murkowksi, and McCain must have been under tremendous pressure. Hats off to them for not bending under that pressure.

In honor of those three Republicans as well as the forty-eight Democrats who held strong, here are some pictures of flowers from my gardens.

A day to give thanks, that’s for sure.


Three Things Thursday: My Nephew Patrick, A Movie, and Roger Deakins

In Tuesday’s post, I had written that on Wednesday, I would post reviews of the other three movies I saw at the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). However, for various reasons, including a trip to Lucky Gardens in Hallowell, the day got away from me.

No matter, I will post one more review today—of Prisoners—and the last two tomorrow. Because Prisoners was such a memorable event,  this piece will also do double duty for Three Things Thursday, my weekly exercise in gratitude. This, to me, is a winning situation as I love combining things.

First, a bit of backstory. My nephew Patrick, who is twenty-three, is a full-fledged cinephile whose taste in movies extends well beyond summer blockbusters. (He’s our nephew, that’s for sure.) Patrick is such a movie buff that he is even a fan of certain cinematographers such as Roger Deakins, whose films include No Country for Old Men, Kundun, and many, many others. At this year’s MIFF, Deakins  was honored with the festival’s brand-new Karl Struss Legacy Award for “distinguished achievement in cinematography.” Patrick wanted to go to the presentation of this award, which also included a showing of the 2013 movie Prisoners, featuring Roger Deakins’s incredible cinematography. Among others, the film stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Viola Davis. And so Dee, Clif, and I went to see Prisoners with Patrick and his mother, Rose.

U.S.A 2013—152 minutes
In English

From the moment this film opens in a bleak, dreary woods with a lone deer in the distance—a deer you know won’t be long for this world—the tone is set for this dark movie. Two families in a neighborhood join together for a Thanksgiving dinner. In each family there is a teenager and a young daughter. The Thanksgiving meal is the one bright note in Prisoners, where it is made clear that the families truly enjoy being together. After the meal, the two little girls go out, and they never come back. The families  descend into grief as the days pass, and the girls are not found. Hugh Jackman, one of the fathers, decides he knows who kidnapped the girls. Taking matters into his own hands, he crosses lines that should not be crossed.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays a tightly-wound detective who comes from a troubled background. This movie really does keep viewers on the edge of their seats, especially as there is even a scene that involves snakes. Deakins’s brooding cinematography adds a chilling menace to this disturbing film. Best of all, Prisoners never descends into cliché, where the cop and the frantic father become buddies and bring the movie to a heart-warming ending. Quite the reverse. The two men never warm up to each other, and this holds true for the entire film.

After the movie, Roger Deakins received his award and was interviewed on stage by a journalist from the New York Times. (Unfortunately, I don’t remember the journalist’s name.) Deakins spoke about how he didn’t want to achieve the same look in every movie and how he thought cinematography shouldn’t call attention to itself. For Deakins, the story is the thing. An illuminating interview with a true master.

When the interview was over, Clif, Dee, and I went to the lobby, but Patrick and Rose did not follow us.

“Where’s Patrick?” I asked.

“He wanted to shake hands with Roger Deakins,” Dee replied.

She had no sooner said this than Patrick came striding out of the theater, and there was a big, big smile on his face.

He said, “I can’t believe I just got to shake hands with the cinematographer for No Country for Old Men.”

Surely, this must be one of the best lines from a MIFF attendee.



Part I: Movies—A Political Thriller and a Doc

This year, because our daughter Dee stayed for a whole week rather than a long weekend, I was able to go to five of the movies at the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). Usually I am on dog duty as Clif and Dee start going to movies at noon and don’t come home until midnight. But because Dee stayed longer, the movies on their ten-pass were spread out, meaning they weren’t gone as long on some of the days. Hence, I,  too, could go on those days.

Each year, MIFF features nearly 100 films so picking out five movies is no easy task. However, I am happy to report that the five I picked were all very much worth seeing, and readers who are movie buffs might want to add them to their “to be seen” list.

Therefore, today and tomorrow, I’m going to post brief descriptions of the movies I saw, in the order in which they were viewed.

The Nile Hilton Incident
Sweden/Denmark/Germany 2017—106 minutes
In Arabic with English subtitles

This is a dark, political thriller set in Cairo during the time of the tumultuous 2011 revolution. The story follows Noredin (Fares Fares), a world-weary, corrupt detective who accepts bribes as casually and frequently as he smokes cigarettes. When a nightclub singer is murdered, and it’s clear the crime was committed by those in power, Noredin decides this is a line he can’t cross, despite his corrupt ways. While there are no true heroes in the film—the system degrades and punishes everyone at some level—Noredin, in the end, acts with bravery and compassion. With his magnificent nose and melancholy face, Fares Fares brings sympathy to a hard-edged, self-destructive character. The movie also shows—but never preaches—how government does indeed matter and how the bad ones pretty much make life impossible for ordinary citizens.

Lives Well Lived
U.S.A. 2017—72 Minutes
In English

This documentary came about as the director, Sky Bergman, started filming her ninety-nine-year-old grandmother as she cooked. Then Bergman began filming her grandmother at the gym “because I thought, no one will believe that my grandmother is still working out. I asked her if she could give me a few words of wisdom, and that was the beginning of this adventure.”

From there, as she approached her fiftieth birthday, Bergman became interested in the graying of America. On the film’s website she writes, “My grandmother was my guide for how to gracefully move through life and how to age with dignity, strength, and humor.”  Bergman wanted to find and film other people who were aging but who were still vital, creative, and engaged with the world.

And this she does, creating a film that is optimistic, inspiring, and moving. Many of the people profiled in the film suffered through dark times—through the Holocaust, through poverty, through racial discrimination, and imprisonment. Yet their resilient personalities somehow allowed them to not only survive but also to thrive.

If this doc comes anywhere near you, do not hesitate. Go see it.

An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

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