Tag Archives: Railroad Square Cinema

An Old Story that Never Gets Old

IMG_8531Last night, Clif and I went to Waterville for a Cinema Explorations meeting. (Cinema Explorations is a community-curated film series that runs from January through March at Railroad Square Cinema. Clif and I are on the planning committee.) As we sat at the long table in Buen Apetito and drank margaritas and ate chips with salsa, we talked about the 2015 film series. Overall, it was a success, and there will be a 2016 Cinema Exploration film series.

Once business matters were settled, we moved on to other topics. I sat across from Sam and Alan, who manage Railroad Square, and we talked about the glorious spring we are having. Perhaps it’s no nicer than any other spring, but after the hard, cold winter we had, this spring seems especially sweet.

Sam said, “Alan and I love to go to a swamp not far from where we live and listen to the peepers this time of year. We went the other night, and the peepers’ song was so loud. I am always moved by it.”

I knew what she meant. “It is the oldest story in the world,” I replied, “but somehow it never gets old.”

Each spring, after the quiet of winter, life bursts out in every direction: leaves and blossoms on the trees, flowers in the garden, unfurling ferns, and the green flush that spreads across the lawns and fields. Insects emerge—some welcome, others not so much—and the small frogs sing their loud, ardent songs.

At the little house in the big woods, I wait for the return of certain birds that have come to seem like old friends. The loons, with their wild, lonesome call, have returned to the Narrows, and we live close enough so that we hear them almost every day. Yesterday, when I was hanging laundry, I heard a hermit thrush, a modest brown bird with the most piping, ethereal voice. Soon the humming birds, with whir of wings and flash of color, will return, and I will hang out their feeder filled with sugar and water.

For thirty years, I have been rejoicing when the loons, hermit thrush, and hummingbirds return. This familiar cycle never gets old or stale. It never loses its charm. I suppose you might even call this rejoicing  beginner’s mind, a Zen Buddhist concept “where everything is fresh and new,” even when it isn’t.

My friend Barbara Johnson, who has been dead for ten years, was the perfect example of someone who had beginner’s mind. Barbara was a keen observer of the natural world, and she studied it with the zeal of a true naturalist. One time, when we were driving somewhere—I can’t remember where—Barbara suddenly cried out, “Oh, stop, stop!”

She startled me so that it’s a wonder I didn’t drive into the ditch. Somehow, I managed to safely park the car on the side of the road. On the other side of the road was a snapping turtle laying eggs. The car had barely stopped when Barbara jumped out, racing across the road to observe the turtle.

How many times had Barbara observed a snapping turtle laying eggs? Many, many times, but with Barbara this event was as fresh as the first time she saw it. Truly, Barbara had a beginner’s mind that a Zen master would envy.

When it comes to spring, it seems to me that most people have a beginner’s mind. With sheer delight they greet the return of leaf, flower, and bird, even though they may have seen this return many, many times.

As William Wordsworth wrote, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.”



Busy Day, Busy Weekend

IMG_7626Today, friends are coming over for lunch, and yesterday I made a big batch of minestrone soup using lots of Farmer Kev’s vegetables: yellow and green beans, yellow summer squash, garlic, and carrots.  The soup is warming in my trusty Crock-Pot as I write. I’ll be making corn bread to go with it.

This Saturday, we will be going to Cinema Explorations, the winter film series Clif and I helped organise for Railroad Square Cinema. In the afternoon, Mike, Shannon, and the dogs will be coming over to the little house in the big woods to celebrate Mike’s birthday.

A busy but fun weekend that will certainly perk up this housebound family.

Learning about General Tso

IMG_7262For over ten years, Clif and I have been on a committee that organizes a winter film series held at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine. At first the film series was called MIFF in the Morning, but it is now called Cinema Explorations. And explore cinema we do, choosing foreign films and documentaries that would not normally be showing at a cinema near you. The film series starts in January and runs every other weekend until March. (For specific information about the movies and the times, here is the link to Maine Film Center.)

The first film in the series, the documentary The Search for General Tso, was shown last weekend, and Clif and I went on Saturday, on opening day. How gratifying it was to see the lobby full of people and to hear the happy hubbub of people as they ate bagels, courtesy of Bagel Mainea. It was a good thing The Search for General Tso was shown in the largest cinema because the house was three quarters full, and people who came late had a hard time finding a good seat.

As the title suggests, The Search for General Tso is about one of the most popular Chinese dishes in America. That is, General Tso’s chicken.  The filmmakers ask the question, who was General Tso,  why do we Americans love his chicken so much, and where did this dish come from? During the course of the film, we find out that General Tso was indeed a real person in nineteenth-century China, and he might have loved to eat chicken. The film also explores the history of Chinese immigrants in American, the extreme prejudice they faced, and how opening restaurants and laundries were two of the limited options available to them to earn their livelihood.

I’m not going to spoil the mystery of The Search for General Tso. I encourage readers to watch this snappy doc for themselves. It is well filmed, the pacing is great, and the animation used to recreate scenes is really nice and not at all cheesy, the way non-animated re-enactments  often are. On the General’s website, there is a list of cinemas showing this movie, and it is also available through VOD.

After the film, there was a brief skype discussion with the engaging Jennifer 8 Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Unfortunately, she was getting ready to board a plane when we skyped, and we didn’t hear half as much from her as we would have liked. Still, it was good to hear her comments about the film, however brief those comments might have been.

What to eat after the film? Why, Chinese food, of course. Clif and I, along with our friends Joel and Alice, the unofficial chairs of Cinema Explorations, went to Jin Yuan on Temple Street in Waterville. Clif, Joel, and I ordered General Tso’s chicken. (Alice broke rank and ordered and a curried dish.) The three of us thought the chicken was very tasty. A good end to a good  film.