Monday, February 11, 2019

Spinning Nostalgia on Vinyl

Spinning Amnesia at the Concinnity Deli
On Friday, I woke to the sound of falling rain, and I thought it would be a good day to drive downtown and duck into the Concinnity Deli on Front Street, and breathe in the essential aromas of coffee, sweet breads, and black bean soup. If a cup of Joe and chocolate-chip banana bread wasn’t enough to brighten my mood, the vinyl record spinning soft rock behind the counter would surely do the trick. Truth be told, I favor Concinnity for two reasons: their fresh menu and their sense of nostalgia. A few weeks ago, Ginger, the owner, invited me to bring my most cherished vinyl record, Amnesia (Pousette-Dart Band 1977), to the deli some morning when I could linger and enjoy the music as I remembered it. Of course, to win this invitation, I had to tell her the whole story of Pousette-Dart Band, and why I missed playing their ballads on a record player and hearing their wistful sound. As an artist – a culinary artist – Ginger understood, and that’s why her invitation meant so much,  but I didn’t bring Amnesia to her deli right away; I waited for the right occasion. When the rain came on the eighth of February, I knew it was the right time to pour a little of PDB’s tonic for the soul – music that would carry me back to a sunny day.

Jon Pousette-Dart, vocalist and guitarist, in 2005
The lyrics of Amnesia took me back forty-two years to a concert on the Hill in Worcester, Massachusetts. The band was from Boston – Cambridge to be exact – and I’d never heard of them until that spring day. While introducing the group, the lead singer repeated the name John more than once, and I remember thinking it was the best name for guitarists in a rock band. (I’ve always been a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon.) Later, I learned the guitarists names by heart: Jon Pousette-Dart, John Troy, and John Curtis. Of course, there were percussionists and a guy on keyboard. And after reading the album cover, I can include their names: Jeff Teague, Kenneth Buttrey and Mike Utley. PDB earned a multi-album deal with Capitol Records in the mid 70s because it was one of the most popular touring bands in New England. Amnesia was its second album, and it put PDB on the Billboard Album Chart. In a fickle world, Amnesia would prove to be the band’s most memorable soundtrack. On side one, there are two songs that have left an indelible impression on nostalgic souls like mine: Amnesia and Fall on Me.

Lost, the ABC drama that captivated us for six seasons
Do you remember the American drama series Lost? From 2004 to 2010 – before reality television buried creative storylines – we followed the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 after their plane crashed on a mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific. The story was peppered with the supernatural and science fiction, and it captivated our imagination and fueled our emotions for an hour every week. Wistfully, Fall on Me was the song that kept repeating during episode eleven of season two. I recognized the music and lyrics immediately. And just like playing the vinyl record at the Concinnity Deli, I allowed the soundtrack to conjure up feelings of nostalgia:

If you’re gonna fall
Fall on me.
And if you’re goin’ down,
Hold on to me
I can see the sorrow in your eyes
I can feel your heart wondering why

The cold, the snow, and sometimes the rain, of February lends itself to introspection; it drives us inside. Whether we spend our winters in Bath or Belfast, Portsmouth or Dover, Boston or Worcester, Middlebury or Rutland, Mystic or Newport, winter is a time to reflect. And that’s why the coffee houses, movie theaters, and lunch spots are still busy long after December and the holiday rush. We like to gather, watch movies, read books and talk about deep rooted feelings. Music has always been a great connector – in time and in love.

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins
Preparing for stormy weather, my husband and I decided to see Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, in January. I saw the original Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, in 1964 shortly after its premiere and two years before my tenth birthday. As a die-hard romantic, I still have the soundtrack album; however, the music in Mary Poppins Returns is new because it’s a continuation of Mary’s story, not a remake. Don’t worry. It’s equally as charming in every way. And the fact that this 2018 minted film gives us a glimpse of two iconic actors, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, also fills our need for something old and something missing. I've always believed it's important to remember the history of art. Once you hear Mary Poppins' lullaby, Where have All the Lost Things Gone, you’ll understand why the magic of Disney endures, and you’ll hear your own story in the words:

       Do you ever dream
       Or reminisce
       Wondering where to find
       What you truly miss
       Well maybe all those things
       That you love so
       Are waiting in the place
       Where the lost things go

The Banks children with Mary Poppins and Jack
I’m not sure why, but the theater was rather empty when Joe and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. Anticipating a crowd, we had ordered our tickets online. When we entered the theater fifteen minutes early to find a good seat, we discovered that only about a dozen seats were filled, and that didn’t change. We also noticed that our fellow moviegoers were about our age; they were not children; they were not young adults. At the end of the movie, many of us applauded, and I even heard a few genuine sighs. For a couple of hours, Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda had taken us on a fantasy tour of London, and they had left us with lighter hearts and a renewed faith that good things happen, and they won’t be lost.

It’s still February; it's still cold, and I need a little music to keep warm. Today, I think I’ll look for an old-fashioned record player on eBay and purchase it. If I’m lucky, it will arrive before March. In the meantime, I’m going to dust off my Fleetwood Mac album and bring it to the Concinnity Deli. Maybe I’ll see you there. I hope so because the best part about going downtown is the possibility of running into friends, especially in the heart of winter. And speaking of friends, I have to reveal that my favorite Pousette-Dart Band album, Amnesia, belonged to my college roommate, so when I graduated, I lost that sound until I found it in Lisle, Illinois, at Dave DeMarco’s. Dave was my husband’s best friend at work; a Dartmouth grad and connoisseur of obscure New England rock bands – among many other things. We attended one of his parties, and PDB was playing on his stereo. As soon as I told him my connection with their best-selling album, he gave it to me, and that was the start of a wonderful friendship. Here's to short winters and long friendships!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Begin with a Grateful Heart

When we prepare for Thanksgiving and the merry weeks that follow, “Home for the holidays” repeats and repeats in our head like an old-familiar song. And if we’re lucky, sweet memories abound, like setting the table for six or twelve; stuffing the turkey; stirring the cranberry sauce; filling plates; slicing pie, and topping off dessert with a scoop of ice cream, a cup of tea or coffee, and a long story about someone we have loved for as long as we can remember. We are all pulled home this time of year, and that’s the beauty of the season. In Maine’s Cool Little City, there’s a cherished tradition fostered by Main Street Bath. A few days before Thanksgiving, city councilors, local merchants, and residents of Bath and neighboring towns gather on the historic steps of the Customs House at One Front Street and take a group photo with Santa hats and a few Comet-like antlers. And with the snap of a camera, an Old-fashioned Christmas begins, but first we all rush home to get ready for Thanksgiving!

Every year like clockwork, at eleven o’clock in the morning on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Patten Free Library opens its doors and invites everyone to make ornaments for Bath’s Christmas tree, which will be lighted by Santa and Mrs. Claus when they arrive around two o’clock. While scores of children wait for a seat at one of the ornament tables, they can choose to have their faces painted by an elf, sail a boat around the Children’s Room, or listen to a story. Of course, some of the children manage to do all of the above before it’s time to decorate the tree and wait for Santa! The children are willing to wait – they’re good as gold – but a few adults have other places to go before the Jingle Bell Walk to City Hall and a chance to visit one-on-one with the jolly guy in the red suit!

The grown-ups who slip away usually dart to Treasure Island Toys to find the most wished for gift. And then they duck into The Mustard Seed Bookstore to see ballerinas dancing overhead – like a page from the The Nutcracker.  They're greeted by Susan Shipsey and Alissa Ford, two ladies who could melt an icicle with a single smile and know how to help you find a good book to keep and read, or wrap and give away. Next, the adults on their shopping mission stop at Gigi’s, a deeply purple variety shop that’s filled with all sorts of new and vintage items, like sofas and hats, purses and scarves, and even sunglasses! And all of these shoppers are pleasantly surprised to discover the new businesses that have popped up in time for Christmas, Hanukah, and the New Year. 

The New Place serves pour-over coffee
One of the newest shops has an unusual name: The New Place. It’s only fitting that The New Place is the first place to serve pour-over coffee in Bath. The youthful owner, Lucy, is bringing lots of new, fresh ideas to her market on Front Street: flowers that say I love you, gift baskets filled with cheese and other tempting treats, and lots of good cheer in the form of adult beverages – my favorite is one of the red wines, La abeja y la flor, or The Bee and the Flower. It tastes even better than it sounds! And then there are those delicious deliveries from the Standard Baking Company: French baguettes and multi-grain loaves to feast on at breakfast, lunch, or dinner! 
Concinnity Deli and Lounge on Front Street
There’s also a bunch of new restaurants to frequent over the holidays: The Bath Brewing Company, No Coward Soul, and the Concinnity Deli and Lounge. I must admit I’m a regular at Concinnity because I’m partial to their morning scones, but I also know that their rice bowl and gluten-free offerings are a hit in downtown Bath. And if you like to listen to Simon and Garfunkel on vinyl, Concinnity should be on your radar. The food is farm fresh, but the music is hauntingly nostalgic – just the way I like it! No Coward Soul, owned by Bath native Johnny Lomba, is filling big shoes because it's located where Solo Bistro used to be. This Portuguese restaurant adds a little exotic spice to our dining fare. Maybe it’s the typewriter keys set into the bar, or the Iberian vibe, but this soulful establishment reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, Pamplona, and the Running of the Bulls! One can only imagine what music Johnny will choose for the month of December! If you’re drawn to history, Bath is a target-rich environment. For example, the Bath Brewing Company opened in a red brick building, circa 1854, that was once home to the Morris Povich clothing store. Bath Brewing Company and Windward Development won a  2018 Economic Development Award from Main Downtown Center because of its masterful renovation. The smart and beautiful project also won a 2018 preservation award from Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc. If you haven’t enjoyed a locally brewed beer from the newest pub in town, do it before the year runs out!

Trolley caroling through Bath begins on Friday, December 7, from 4 to 8 in the evening; repeats on Saturday, and then continues that weekend schedule until the end of December. In order to truly appreciate this fun-filled tradition, you must grab a hat, scarf, mittens, and blanket and stand in line at the trolley stop near City Hall to reserve a seat. And then, shop a little until it’s your turn to board the merriest trolley ever, but remember there’s a risk. When you start hugging your kids and singing those carols, you’re apt to feel NOSTALGIC! Hopefully, that feeling will take flight, and you’ll end the ride with gratitude for the past and hope for the future. 

November and December are the best months for counting our blessings. One blessing I’m counting this year is the Cosmopolitan Club of Bath. In 2018, the Cosmopolitan Club was dissolved by its membership, and its clubhouse for over one hundred years was sold. I was blessed to be a member of one of Bath’s first social clubs for women, and this fall I was grateful to be present at the Winter Street Center when Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc. presented Michele Ober, the last President of the Club, and Tom Johnson, the new owner of the club's home, with an award for historic preservation. It was both a beautiful ending and a beautiful beginning for 894 Washington Street and its unique history. Last summer, when I was a docent at the Donnell House at the Maine Maritime Museum, I often mentioned that William T. Donnell's daughter, Gussie, and I had been members of the same club. The Bath Historical Society's 2019 calendar features the members of the Club in 1915 on its November page. It's available for sale at many downtown shops!
The Cosmopolitan Club (courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum)

Nostalgia, hope, and gratitude all play a part in our holiday celebrations. In Bath and around the globe, let’s begin December with a grateful heart. Today I’m grateful for my family, friends and neighbors, and all the caring souls I’ve met in Bath, including Alissa Ford, who works at The Mustard Seed. On Black Friday, I entered my favorite bookstore with my two-year-old granddaughter, but she was not happy because her parents had just left for a night away. I purchased a large chocolate chip cookie at the counter in hopes of consoling her, but my sweet girl put that cookie right back in the bag. And then Alissa came over with a little toy horse. The tears began to subside, but the eyes were still not smiling, so Alissa brought over a paper ballerina just like the ones dancing over our heads. Like magic, the eyes smiled and my granddaughter and I walked back to the children’s reading corner and read Blueberries for Sal. Today, I would like to fill Alissa's mailbox with a thousand thank-you notes. When my little granddaughter woke up on Saturday morning, she colored pink ballet slippers on her paper ballerina and imagined leaping through the air. And for that, I am eternally grateful! 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

It's a Docent's Life for Me!

The Mary E (1906 Bath-built schooner)
October has arrived! In Bath that means the high season is about to end. On this chilly, fall day there’s a ghost pumpkin sitting next to an orange pumpkin at my front door, and for the first time I’m lamenting that the tourists are leaving. In case you’re wondering why I’m emphasizing the word first, I’ll clarify. Last spring, I decided to become a volunteer at the Maine Maritime Museum. For two weeks in the middle of May, the museum’s curator, volunteer coordinator, and veteran docents taught me volumes about our shipbuilding history, and I was amazed by the treasure our city has to offer visitors from around the globe. After completing my training, I wanted to be a docent at a cornucopia of exhibits, including the Mary E, the oldest Bath-built, wooden schooner still afloat, but I felt I would be a better docent if I committed my heart to only one exhibit. And then I had an epiphany! If I volunteered at the Donnell House, I would be delving into Bath’s shipbuilding history as well as its rich architectural history. Two for the price of one is a bargain in any century! Besides, if you’ve read my novel, Daughters of Long Reach, you know that I have an affinity for seafaring, shipbuilding, family love stories, and the drama of the Donnell family supports that affinity!

A stencil found on the attic floor at the Donnell House
It’s not a secret, but only a handful of people know that docents at the Donnell House receive a special tour. During our training, a member of the staff takes us up to the second and third floors – where visitors are not permitted – and we are shown the more private spaces of the house! Family sagas are the most intriguing part of maritime history. And I must admit that the Donnell story – brimming with joy and heartache – captivated me all summer long. I have never hesitated to extend my shift to tell one more story about the Donnell family: William T., Clara, Harry, Gussie, William R., and Addiella. My tours usually begin at the front staircase because I like to point out the stunning gas light that was electrified in the 1890s. It rests on a handsome Newel post at the foot of an 1840s bannister that calls forth all the people who have slid their hands along its smooth surface for almost 180 years.

The key keeper at the MMM gift store
Since June, I have been jumping in my car and heading south on Washington Street every Tuesday to report for duty at MMM. I usually arrive a tad after twelve, so I have to circle the parking lot to find a spot, and I’m always rushing to the gift store to pick up the key. The shop is busy at noon, but I rarely have to wait more than a minute for a fellow volunteer in a navy-blue polo to recognize me. There’s no password or secret hand shake. As long as I’m wearing my polo with my name tag attached, I’m greeted with a smile and the key to the historic home of William T. Donnell, the nineteenth century shipbuilder whose charming and gregarious family brought Bath’s social scene to the south end. In today’s vernacular, the Donnell family was popular!

            I have taken visitors from as far away as Switzerland and as close as Brunswick through the Donnell House. And after showing it to hundreds of people, I have concluded that the parlor is my favorite room because it has a wall of family photos. Whenever I describe the families that occupied this simple Italianate that was was updated in 1892 to an Eastlake style, I feel history come alive. It isn’t flat, like the page of a textbook; it’s three dimensional and palpable. William and Clara Donnell married in 1860, and they had five children between 1863 and 1880, but only four would survive infancy, and only three would live to enjoy adulthood. The youngest daughter, Addiella, died when she was twenty-four years old due to an infection that occurred after an appendectomy. She was engaged to be married, and her untimely death shows how difficult it was to grow old before the invention of antibiotics! The photos of Addiella are beautiful and haunting at the same time. All of the visitors, whether they come from Germany or Hawaii are affected by Addiella’s story. I can see it in their faces. Our common humanity shows!

The Donnell House at 279 Washington Street 
Even though William T. Donnell experienced great sorrow in his lifetime, I believe he was born under a lucky star, and I know he married well. His wife, Clara, was the daughter of Martha and Henry Hitchcock. The Hitchcocks owned the shipyard on the south end of Washington Street, but in 1856, while still in his forties, Henry died at the port of New Orleans. His wife Martha managed to hold on to their home and shipyard until their middle daughter, Clara, married William T. Donnell in 1860. Martha then sold the yard to William T. in 1869 which was three years after he opened the Deering & Donnell shipyard. His partnership with Gardiner Deering lasted for twenty years. Together they produced seventy schooners, and William T. went on to build eleven more vessels. The Donnell yard closed in 1901 after building its one and only steamer, the ferry Hockomock. The era of wooden ships was coming to an end. Percy & Small rented the yard in 1907 to build a five-masted schooner, and then the yard was closed  until 1917 when it was sold to the Pendleton Brothers. From the opening of Peleg Sprague’s yard in 1804 to the closing of the Pendleton Brother’s yard in 1919, a total of 115 vessels were built on the site best known as the Donnell shipyard.

Where the tour begins!
Family sagas are the most intriguing part of maritime history. And I must admit that the Donnell story, brimming with love and loss, has captivated me. Truth be told, the Maine Maritime Museum is an enchanting place. I tell almost everyone I meet that they should go to the museum and experience the stories of our shipbuilders, sea captains, sailors, and lobstermen. At a time when many of us are looking for inspiration, and wondering where all the heroes have gone, the stories of Live Yankees may encourage us to stay the course. At the end of the day, I think we are drawn to what we need most.

A family love story at MMM - a gift
In reviewing my training manual from MMM, I learned that the museum was founded as the Marine Research Society of Bath in 1962. The society published its first book, A Maritime History of Bath by William A. Baker in 1973. And the Maine Maritime Museum published Live Yankees with Tilbury House in 2009. I read both of these scholarly tomes before writing my novel, and I reference them in my book. As fate and Bath would have it, the copyeditor for Live Yankees, Genie Daley, was the editor of Daughters of Long Reach, as well. Affinities may be hard to explain, but they do exist.
See you next season, or maybe sooner, at the Maine Maritime Museum!