Monday Miam-Miam: Labor Day Lobstah

I never really ate lobster in France. I do remember my mother mentioning Homard (French for lobster) Thermidor (a traditional fancy sauce). I was a kid but I heard expensive and detected a trace of envy in her voice. Homard sounded like caviar. Food my parents couldn’t afford.

When I lived in Paris I adored shellfish platters made of an assortment of clams, oysters, tiny briny shrimps, scallops, periwinkle, mussels, prawns, langoustine, and lobster claws served on a bed of ice.

But this is in 1996 over my first trip to Maine that I discovered real lobster. Fished there, prepared there, and eaten there. Since then I’ve never ever (even once) ate lobster away from Maine.

Although lobster is served everywhere throughout Vacationland, this is more often in Brunswick that my family eats the Maine signature food.

Brunswick is home to Bowdoin College, one of the three renowned liberal arts colleges of Maine (with Colby in Waterville and Bates in Lewiston). Only eight miles from Bath and twenty-five from Portland, Brunswick manages to feel urban while being small. No doubt due to the population of students coming from New England, the whole country, and even from abroad.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed the transformation of Brunswick, more noticeably when the Naval base closed definitely in 2011 to become a civilian airport. Restaurants and cafés opened along Maine Street and also steps away.

The most unique being by far Tao Yuan. My family bumped accidently into this restaurant upon its grand opening in 2012. I was so impressed that I wrote a blog post about our experience when the place was only called Tao.

Just north of Brunswick, you enter the small town of Topsham and leave the Cumberland County for the Sagadahoc County. In Topsham you cannot miss the gorgeous Androscoggin Pedestrian Swinging Bridge.

The town is also known for its historic mill building located on the banks of the Androscoggin River. The building used to be the Pejepscot Paper Company quarters. Built in 1868, it is the oldest surviving paper mill in the state. The mill is part of the National Register of Historic Places and is now a mixed-use commercial property with many tenants, including the brewery Seadog.

But my family goes to Seadog to eat Lobstah with a View.

Seadog can host lots of people inside and outside on its covered patio that overlooks the bridge over the Androscoggin River. But it’s almost impossible to find a table during the summer. Not really a problem for me as I love the place best when it’s rainy and the river roars down below my feet.

Lobster roll, fries and cole slaw: a Maine staple

But when we really crave real lobster we go to Hallowell Seafood and Produce Wine and Cheese Shop, located on Water Street in the small town of Hallowell that sits along the Kennebec River.

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Family owned and run it’s an authentic Maine small store where you’ll find the freshest fish and seafood but also seasonal fruit and veggies from the farm, and unique grocery items that don’t make their way to the neighboring Hannaford.

The Seafood and Produce Wine and Cheese Shop in the fall

The two brothers behind the counter know their turf and serve everyone with a smile, humor, and almost always with a little bit more than you’ll pay for.

They will cook the lobsters while you wait or take a short stroll along Water Street.

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Lobstah at home

Maine or the Way Life Should Be. The lobstah must have a different opinion, though.

Based on the large number of authors who call Maine home, food for the soul abounds there.

In Brunswick, I like to visit Gulf of Maine Books. The shop is located on Maine Street, feet away from Bowdoin College. The alternative bookshop, an old timer in town, offers children’s books and a wide selection of books for adults in all genres. No website but the store holds notable books.

In Hallowell, I love spending time at Merrill’s Bookshop. The store carries rare, used, and scholarly books at the top of a narrow set of stairs inside a brick building facing the Kennebec River.

This is an old blog post that I wrote in 2012 about the experience to shop there and also about books versus tablets.

 

 

Wherever you are today, whatever you eat, and whatever you read I wish you a safe, restful Labor Day!

From Maine to You

 

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Over the last months, many countries, including my native France, have been the target of particularly cruel violence. Whether the acts of radicalized Muslims blinded by the agenda of ISIS/Daech or unstable men, this violence triggers legitimate fear and more hatred. I’ve stopped reading about them, focusing instead on the simple joys of summer, especially short and hence precious here in Maine.

Before summer officially started, I was finished with the revisions I intended to complete on my new Young Adult novel. I have now started the long process of submission. Please, please, can you keep your fingers or whatever you want, crossed for me?

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While waiting for feedback, I’ve started a new story while another simmers at the edge of my mind. For the longest time, I rarely shared that I had too many stories on the stove. I thought it was the proof of an unfocused mind. Until I read that most writers had always several manuscripts on the back burner, too. Many of them renowned authors. But. They also know when to bring one of their simmering stews to the front burner. I’m undecided. Both of my new work-in-progress manuscripts are Middle Grade stories. Both are dealing with contemporary issues linked to economical and social inequality. While I’m covering pages with words and scenes, watching the lake already tipping into August, I leave you with a few photos from my July in Maine.

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Bear with me when I don’t comment on your blogs. I still think of you and wish you well. It’s just that my mind is churning ideas and trying to sort them.

Wherever you are, fill your days to the brim with the precious days of summer.

 

P.S. In my new YA novel tentatively called All the Mountains We Can Climb, there is food. A café. And three restaurants. And many meals around (or not) tables.

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This is our front lake family table in Maine. The table is my son’s age. We bought it so it could fit four children and their parents. I found a tablecloth with fish and I got the small water can at a school event. I love this table. As I love any table where so much happens besides eating.

Food for the Body and for the Soul

 

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When I started to share my new Young Adult novel with my writing critique group, everyone asked for more food descriptions. I have several scenes set in French restaurants and picnics in the California foothills. I knew there would be food in the story but not that food would somewhat play a role. Now that I’m deep into revision I realize that beyond the general “food” thing I intended to write about the value of nature, the impact of commercial real estate on our cities and towns, the importance of the places where we eat, whether they are homes, restaurants, or the outdoors. Of course, there is no way to develop each of these themes in one novel, especially for teenagers.

So, no, my new novel is not about food.

But.

Food is often on my mind.

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One thing I witnessed shortly after arriving in the US was how food seemed to be something people wanted to put out of their way. Grocery errands and cooking from scratch appeared to be a total waste of time. Eating was probably the same since I often saw people snacking or even having lunch in their cars and at the office while working. Also guilt was often associated with food. I had never heard the word “diet” as much as in the US.

“Are you done or still working on your plate?” is still the strangest American question one can ask me.

Since the 1990s when I was the weird mother who cooked and baked (nothing complicated at all), never used paper napkins, paper cups or plastic utensils when my kids’ friends came over for lunch, countless mothers and fathers have changed their cooking, eating and food culture habits.

The farm to table movement, the come back of farmers’ markets, the search for locally grown food contribute to reinforce the idea that we are what we eat and that food is more than just food. There is a true revolution around the way we grow and raise what we eat, naturally linked to politics and ecology.

And I had never met anyone who embraced this revolution as deeply and sincerely as David Levi, the executive chef of Vinland, a restaurant in Portland, Maine.

Everything he and his team use in the cooking and baking is from Maine. Including the coffee. This is why there is no olive oil, no lemon and no black pepper and that the wines come either from other parts of the Northeast or from Europe.

Vinland is not a vegan restaurant but vegetarians will find plenty options and anyone is asked about dietary restrictions. David Levi’s cooking and baking is organic and gluten free.

Price is a valid reason for avoiding renowned restaurants. But if you are lucky to live close enough to Portland, look for the off-season special menu that offers a five-course meal for less than $40 per person. I promise you that you’ll feel like tasting food for the first time and you’ll leave wanting to try to eat more consciously. For you. For your loved ones. For the world.

It is always best to let the people behind an extraordinaire project talk for themselves. If you believe in change one plate at a time or are simply intrigued to learn how a chef manages to run a 100% made in Maine restaurant, read Vinland Manifesto here, listen to David Levi’s Ted talk here, and go to Vinland.

I had been once to the small sparsely decorated restaurant shortly after its opening. I know that it is sometimes a mistake to return to a place that has left an unforgettable impression on the mind.

But.

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From the first leaf of salad to the last spoon of the salted blueberry semifreddo, from the knowledgeable but never pushy waiters to the Swedish-like soothing décor, from the gorgeous earth ware plates to the restrooms (yes, they matter in a restaurant, and at Vinland I could stay there indefinitely to read and re-read the beautiful poem written on the wall, wash my hands again and again just to dry them with the individual hand towels scented with a subtle blend of herbs), from the wild flowers in the small vases to the flickering votives I knew I couldn’t wait to come back. Again.

Because such a place leaves you transformed, wishing you never had to eat anything else, anywhere else again.

Sounds exaggerated? It’s only due to the explosion of flavors, to the freshness of the produce and the perfectly cooked meat and fish, to the exquisite presentation, and to the loving purposeful care put in every plate.

Some people cook and bake like gods and goddesses. Very few have a human plan behind their cooking. And only one in the entire world is doing that from a 100% local perspective.

Chapeau. Hats off.

I bow.

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P.S. Although I wish I could eat more often at Vinland, I can’t. But the place inspires me to make better food choices that respect our bodies and the world around us. I’m also very lucky to live with a man who makes godly ceviches and basil and lime sorbets, among other awesome dishes. His food sustains me as I revise the food scenes in my novel.

P.S.#2 The photos for this blog post are 100% made in Maine.

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En Attendant…

Après une matinée où le soleil ne semblait pas très bien savoir où donner de la tête, il pleuvine sur le Maine. Il en est ainsi du printemps dans cette région de Nouvelle Angleterre.

Ce fut un hiver doux sans vraies tempêtes de gel ni de neige.

We dodged a bullet, but we’ll pay it next year, disent les gens du coin. On l’a échappé belle, mais on trinquera l’hiver prochain.

Le lac, en ces premiers jours de mai, est une étoffe unie et grise qui se déroule sous les arbres nus. Un plongeon yodle, solitaire au milieu des eaux plates. Une famille de loutres joue à saute-moutons sur les vaguelettes.

 

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Sur les berges, les jardins sortent à peine de leurs serres et les restaurants locaux n’offrent encore que des squashs, betteraves et légumes d’hiver. A l’intérieur des terres les jonquilles sont en fleurs, contraste plein d’espoir à travers l’herbe rase et rousse. Les miennes, plantées près de la rive, montrent un bout de nez timide.

 

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Les hostas, plantes symboliques de la Nouvelle Angleterre, sortent juste la pointe de leurs longues tiges. Difficile de croire que d’ici un mois les arbres seront habillés de feuilles si vertes qu’elles sembleront huilées, que mes parterres de fleurs éclateront sous la couleur bleue verte des hostas et que bateaux de pêche et kayacs troubleront la tranquillité du plongeon et des loutres.

 

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Ces journées qui semblent ordinaires et presque ingrates le sont moins pour celles et ceux qui vivent sous le soleil une grande partie de l’année et ne connaissent pas ces transitions saisonnières subtiles et lentes.

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L’été sera comme toujours fugitif mais glorieux. Et de nouveau l’attente d’une autre saison commencera dès que les premières feuilles se vêtiront de leurs tenues pourpres et dorées, un beau pied de nez à l’hiver.

Mais pour l’instant le mot aujourd’hui s’étire. Demain s’imagine avec patience. Il en est ainsi du printemps dans le Maine.

 

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Fermé Pour la Saison

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Je n’ai jamais vécu nulle part où le rythme des saisons ne soit plus marqué que dans le Maine.

L’été y est court et imprévisible. C’est pourquoi les résidents le vivent avec abandon. Même si les eaux de l’Atlantique sont aussi frigides sur cette partie de la côte Est que celles du Pacifique en Californie, rien n’arrête un Mainer qui se baignera, parce que les beaux jours auront une fin. Un cornet de glace sur une route de campagne un jour de pluie? Pourquoi pas si c’est l’été?

Pourtant dès la fin du week-end de Labor Day (premier lundi de septembre), un changement subtil s’amorce. Les queues dans les cafés et restaurants diminuent. Les péages d’autoroute sont plus rapides. Le rythme de vie ralentit.

On remarque moins de plaques d’immatriculation ‘d’ailleurs.’ On se retrouve entre ‘nous.’

Peu à peu les jours raccourcissent, et avec les couchers de soleil plus précoces et les arbres couverts de feuilles si colorées qu’ils semblent être en feu, les maisons de week-end et de vacances ferment pour la saison, et les bateaux sont remontés sur la terre ferme.

 

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Les glaciers ferment leurs échoppes de bord de route. Certains vendent des citrouilles pour Halloween et vendront des sapins pour Noël. La plupart ne rouvriront simplement qu’aux premiers beaux jours.

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Sur le lac, les voiliers et kayacs se font de plus en plus rares. Seuls quelques pêcheurs ne résistent pas à lancer leur canne à pêche avant que les eaux ne gèlent.

Dans peu de temps les loons adultes rejoindront les côtes de l’Atlantique où ils passeront l’hiver. Leurs petits, nés pendant l’été, prendront le départ, seuls, un peu plus tard. Je m’émerveille de leur instinct qui les guide aveuglement vers l’océan. Quelle confiance que de s’envoler sans savoir où l’on va, en se laissant guider par la certitude d’arriver à bon port.

 

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Dans la campagne les champs se couvrent de citrouilles et les vergers regorgent de poires et de pommes.

 

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Une dernière journée qui ressemble tant à l’été qu’il est facile d’oublier que l’hiver arrivera.

 

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Et pourtant les températures descendent la nuit et le gel est annoncé pour ce week-end. Les tartes aux myrtilles cèdent la place aux tartes aux pommes. Celle-ci est encore chaude, juste sortie de notre four. On la déguste dehors en buvant le soleil avec le café.

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Et pourtant on parle de premiers flocons dans le nord, près de la frontière avec le Québec. Certains ne cachent pas leur enthousiasme pour l’hiver.

J’éprouve un peu de gêne à l’idée de partir retrouver bientôt un climat plus clément, mais aussi une énorme gratitude pour la chance qui m’est offerte de vivre intensément ces derniers instants.

Avant que le Maine ne bascule dans l’hiver.

Avant qu’il n’appartienne plus qu’aux gens d’ici.

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P.S. Et vous, comment vivez-vous la transition de l’été à l’hiver? Est-ce que votre automne est beau? Est-il votre saison préférée?

 

 

 

Of Pumpkins, Sunsets and Blueberries

Today is the official first day of fall. Mums, pumpkins and gourds have arrived everywhere in Maine.

 

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The lake, however, hasn’t switched yet to its autumnal appearance. Or was last night’s sunset some kind of farewell?

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Earlier this month I read a lovely, well-crafted Middle Grade book that feels perfect to end the summer season.

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord is set in Maine as her three other novels are. This one tells of the unlikely friendship between a Maine girl and the daughter of migrant workers. Tigerlily (named after the lovely orange lilies that grow almost everywhere in Maine during the summer) or Lily for short, has lost her mother in a car accident and is raised by her loving French Canadians grandparents that she call Pépère and Mémère, like I called my set of  paternal grandparents. Although Salma says that she is from Florida, her parents are migrant farmers from Mexico, who follow the crops through the entire year, making it hard for Salma to make friends. When Lily and Salma meet because of Lucky, Lily’s dog, a strong friendship develops between them despite their very different lifestyles.

A Handful of Stars is a timely novel that explores the bonds between native and migrant kids and a timeless story that tells of children’s genuine friendships and also of their fierce love for animals. Lucky is in fact an essential character in the story.

Set in the area called Downeast, here in Maine, the story provided me surprising information related to the blueberry picking, a job done by migrant workers. I started to think differently of the delicious fruit after I read the book. Small hands, like Cynthia Lord writes, are often behind the blueberries that symbolize summer in Maine.

 

 

Wherever you are I wish you all a beautiful fall season filled with great stories.

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A Son, a Loon, a Library. Writing Again.

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Last summer I was lucky enough to follow the growth of a baby loon, here on our little pond in Maine. I became a little obsessed, triggering nice mockery from my family.

Since our arrival, a couple of weeks ago, I’ve heard the strange call of the loon, either early morning or at night, and spotted one, staying at a safe distance from the fishing boats and docks.

Yesterday afternoon, my son and I took our daily canoe ride together. Since our helicopter ride and our hike to Gaylor Lakes, my son has grown to like his father’s camera a lot and has in turn become my favorite photographer.

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As we paddled our way to a small cove he noticed the lily pads and pulled the camera out.

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He was so absorbed in his task that he didn’t hear the wavering call of the loon, alarmed by our presence.

I, on the other side, hoped that we could finally snap the loon’s portrait.

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“Let’s try to get closer,” said my son when I asked him if he could take a photograph.

We did try to approach. Many times. The loon was there, so close we thought he waited for us.

“Perfect shot,” whispered my son.

But he had barely moved the camera that the loon had dived and was immediately invisible, swallowed by the murkiness of the pond. He reappeared, hundred of feet away, flapping his wings, their tips merely brushing against the water and yet creating a deafening sound, before vanishing again.

We ended up leaving the loon alone.

My son’s new interest for photography and the elusive loon were on my mind for the rest of the afternoon.

Since I arrived in Maine I’ve read a lot. The more I read, the more difficult it is for me to write. For every book is so good that I am filled with doubt. So like the loon, I dive in another story and escape.

Aware that I couldn’t hide forever I pushed myself and went to the library last night. What better place than a library to rekindle the flame? Don’t you feel safe in a library? Don’t you feel up to anything, surrounded by books and people who like them?

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A local writer was introducing her book, based on the letters of a nineteen-year-old Maine farm boy who fought with the Union in the Civil War.

Before she started, the author passed six short excerpts of the letters around and asked for volunteers to read them. She knew her topic very well and her presentation was excellent. The audience was captive.

As a reader I was interested too, but I tried to put my writer’s hat on and focused on the presentation aspect, taking mental notes about ideas I could borrow for future presentations.

After the event I spoke with the library director. She was enthusiastic when I asked her if she would like me to come over for a writer presentation.

“We always have an event for the kids before school starts.” she said. “We would love to have you and your book.”

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I drove home energized, already planning my venue. I could borrow the author’s idea and have the kids read some passages of my novel to illustrate the different stages of the writing process. I turned on our small road and reached the pond.

As I climbed down our set of stairs I heard the eerie call of the loon, more like a wail than the typical yodel – the male loon’s territorial claim. It was the call that loons give back and forth to figure out each other’s location.

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I went inside and started to write.

Sometimes all we need is a loon and a library. And a son taking you on a canoe ride.

 

P.S. A few of the books that filled me with doubt about my capability to write. Perhaps you have read them?

 

The School on Heart’s Content Road by Carolyn Chute

Raw and passionate writing from a Maine writer who focuses her work on the poor and rural residents of Maine. A terrific voice.

I’ll Take You There by Joyce Carol Oates

An unusual novel, about an undergrad college girl who searches for her identity during the turbulent 60s.  Signature Oates, one of the contemporary writers I admire most.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

I read the 2001 Pulitzer Price after its publication and wanted to read it again with a writer’s eye, that time. The story follows the lives of two Jewish cousins before, during, and after World War II.  Exceptional story telling.

 

P.S. #2 As for the photos, you will easily distinguish mine from my son’s. I write. He snaps the shots.

 

 

 

 

 

Le Coeur Battant du Maine

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Au pied de la petite maison de bois rouge, le lac s’étire comme un gros chat ronronnant près d’un poêle. Mais prenez garde, le lac se métamorphose quand l’orage gronde.

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Les samedis et dimanches, mais aussi le soir après une journée de bureau, d’entrepôt ou de chômage, les pêcheurs arrivent sur leurs petits bateaux. Parfois ils sont accompagnés de leurs femmes ou petites amies. Souvent ils viennent seuls ou entre copains. Ils tournent leurs moteurs au ralenti et finissent par les couper pour se laisser dériver dans la crique. La crique où les petits enfants apprennent à apprivoiser l’eau. La crique où herbes aquatiques et canards ont établi domicile près des bars rayés qui en font la réputation.

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A quelques kilomètres au nord, une petite ville semblable à des dizaines de petites villes de Nouvelle Angleterre, fait le dos rond. Le 11 septembre l’a terrorisée. Pensez, certains des terroristes ont passé la frontière entre le Canada et les Etats Unis à deux heures de route au nord et ont volé de Portland à Boston, à moins d’une heure au sud.

Mais c’est la crise de 2008 qui l’a éreintée.

C’est l’économie, disent les gens avec un soupir qui s’étrangle dans la gorge.

Au supermarché, produits transformés et bio se côtoient. Les tomates, courgettes, pommes de terre, carottes, et concombres venant de quelques petites fermes locales éclatent de couleur mais ne font pas le poids contre la section fruits et légumes Del Monte Made in Californie.

L’hiver a été l’un des plus longs et l’un des plus froids de mémoire de Mainois et le printemps très pluvieux. Aucune myrtille n’a encore franchi les portes des magasins d’alimentation. Celles qui sont en vente sont en provenance du New Jersey et du Canada.

Des homards dont les pinces sont liées par un élastique épais parviennent néanmoins à se déplacer dans l’aquarium du poissonnier. Dimanche, les sandwiches à la chair de homard se vendront comme des petits pains après la messe. Pour ceux et celles qui pourront se permettre cet écart de budget, bien sûr.

Malgré son estomac proéminent, l’homme qui se tient devant la caisse flotte dans son tee-shirt et jean informes. Il serre entre ses doigts épais quelques tickets alimentaires tamponnés par les services de l’état. Son visage couleur de pâte à papier, flou sous des cheveux maigres et ternes, reste fermé devant le sourire chaleureux de la jeune caissière dont le front pèle, après un mauvais coup de soleil attrapé à la plage sur son jour de repos. L’homme grisâtre paie ses courses maigrelettes avec son chèque du gouvernement et fouille dans sa poche pour régler en liquide un savon et un tube d’aspirine.

Sur le parking, un Tacoma au pare choc rouillé par des années de pluie et de neige se traine vers la sortie. Le chauffeur a les cheveux blancs et les mains parsemées de taches brunes. Il ralentit pour laisser traverser une jeune femme qui pousse un chariot de la main droite et tient un petit garçon de trois ans de la main gauche.

« Thank you, » dit la jeune femme.

« You’re welcomed, madam. » Le chauffeur remonte sa vitre après un petit hochement de tête poli.

Un autocollant sur la vitre arrière : USMC. Semper Fidelis.

A l’angle de la rue, une file de voitures serpente vers le drive-in du Dunkin’ Donuts. Tel un pantin qui sortirait de sa boite, la tête d’une femme se pointe à intervalles réguliers à travers l’ouverture de la petite fenêtre. On ne voit pas son visage derrière sa visière à l’effigie du café, seulement ses mains efficaces qui passent des tasses XL vers les chauffeurs.

Une contractuelle en short et chemisette retourne au bureau. Un homme court vers l’un des bureaux de la mairie, des papiers à la main. Trop tard. La mairie, tout comme la bibliothèque et les banques, vient de fermer. Des hommes et femmes en chemise cravate et tailleurs pantalons regagnent leurs Hondas et Toyotas garées sur des parkings privés.

La rue baigne dans la lumière perlée de la fin de journée. Deux ados mettent en place des affiches annonçant un spectacle pour enfants. Le bar à ongles a fermé depuis l’été dernier. La propriétaire est allée tenter sa chance dans le Mass (pour Massachusetts). Si ça ne marche pas, elle reviendra. Un nouveau salon de coiffure a ouvert au bout de la rue et une chaine de glaces et donuts a pris la place du petit café qui a tenu deux ans. Un antiquaire promet son arrivée pour la fin de l’été.

Quelques gouttes d’eau tombent et rapidement c’est une averse. Elle ne chasse personne à l’intérieur.

Je viens d’un état où la sècheresse a forcé l’implantation récente de mesures de restrictions d’eau, alors je tends mon visage vers la pluie douce et tiède.

Une maman entre en courant dans la boutique de vêtements d’occasion. Elle rêve devant une paire d’espadrilles à semelles compensées qui iraient super bien avec les jeans serrés sur le présentoir voisin. Et le tee-shirt ? Il serait trop mignon avec…

Je viens d’un état où le package diner + apparence éclair de notre Président coûte entre 35 000 et 40 000 dollars, alors je tourne la tête.

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Un homme un peu voûté marche sur le trottoir d’en face, une canne à pêche sur l’épaule. Il lève les yeux vers le ciel qui s’est arrêté de pleurer.

« Beau temps, n’est-ce pas ? » dit-il au barbier qui balaie le pas de sa porte.

« On ne peut pas demander mieux, » répond celui-ci.

« On a de la chance, » dit le pêcheur.

Ceux qui ont peuplé le Nord Est des Etats Unis sont partis, laissant derrière eux les vieux royaumes, en quête de liberté religieuse et de rêves sans frontières. Prêts à de vrais changements, ils ont appellé cette région la Nouvelle Angleterre. Ceux qui se sont installés le plus au nord venaient de France. On croise souvent dans le Maine des Poulain, Lapointe, Dubois, Faucher ou encore Nadeau. Ils sont arrivés le coeur battant d’espoir.

 

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Dans la petite maison de bois rouge, le mien bat dans l’attente de l’orage qui transformerait le lac paisible en océan déchainé.

 

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The Priceless Perks of a Children’s Bookstore

I like bookstores as much as I like libraries. And children’s bookstores even more. If paradise exists I want it to have a children’s bookstore.

In the US, too few are still in business. All owe their success to a good location in a supportive community but more often to the owner’s tireless hard work. In my opinion, few businesses bring more humanity to a street than a bookstore.

Yesterday afternoon, I visited The Children’s Cellar in Waterville. Waterville is home to Colby College, one of the three liberal art colleges of Maine. Waterville is also a typical American small town where residents work hard at maintaining a vibrant downtown.

It had rained all day long, and the bookstore was quiet when I entered. Two customers were browsing through the packed aisles. The wooden floor creaked just right under my pair of flats and the smell of paper made my heart beat faster.

I spotted the latest Sarah Dessen and chose it for my daughter –  a die-hard fan since the ripe age of ten years old. I saw Rick Riordan‘s books and remembered with nostalgia the time where my son read them faster than the prolific author could write them. There was a shelf dedicated to Maine authors and books about Maine. And countless picture books, lovingly arranged so young kids could dream upon them.

There was a photograph of a woman with Neil Gaiman. And it was signed by the author. The woman on the picture stood behind the counter. She could only be the owner. My heart beat even faster.

I approached her and asked if she had the latest Tommy Greenwald. I had bumped into the writer at a small local festival, but he had sold every single copy of his books. Don’t you wish it happened to you, too? I wanted his recent book because a Maine camp that my kids attended inspired the story.

“I ordered more copies,” the book owner told me.

And from there we started a lively conversation about books and authors and bookshops and Maine. She knew the owner of Hicklebee’s, one of the few children’s bookstores in California. Yes, she had met Neil Gaiman. And yes, I could leave a copy of my novel Trapped in Paris.

 

There is a war between Amazon and the traditional publishing world. There is truce between independently and traditionally published authors.

I like to think of peace between writers and booksellers.

On my way back home I passed a large Barnes and Noble. Since Borders has closed, its former rival B&N is trying hard to position itself as a ‘good guy.’ But I remember the times when small bookshops also closed when Barnes and Noble arrived in town.

The rain was now only a drizzle, yet my husband suggested buying a movie for a cozy night at the cabin. We agreed on a couple of French and American movies. But I didn’t go to the book section.

For some reason the same books stuck in their big business-looking displays didn’t strike me as inviting as their twins waiting for me on a personalized table in a crammed bookstore.

Priceless.

One Scene at a Time

I should have known that a main character would team up with a partner. I also should have suspected that a good protagonist could only make a strong come back.

Yesterday afternoon my morning loon reappeared with baby and partner in tow.

I jumped to my feet, grabbed my binoculars, meanwhile asking everyone around for a camera or at least a phone.

“They are way too far!” my daughter said. She was lazily stretching on the bench in the gazebo, a glass of lemonade in one hand, a book opened on her lap.

“Totally agree,” her friend said. Same position on the same bench in the same gazebo.

“A picture won’t work,” my husband said. He had decided to spend the warm afternoon under the screened porch. I must say that he deserved the break after his early morning airport runs.

“I got it,” I said.

The binoculars were great to observe the loons, but based on my morning encounter I knew they could disappear without any warning.

On the other side I considered the possibility for the loons to enjoy the attention. In fact many people besides me stood on their docks, boarded their canoes and kayaks in hope to better capture the lovely scene.

How to describe, I thought with a sigh, such a perfect setting?

How to plot the gorgeous loons/characters’ next move?

The three birds, like stars oblivious to the rest of the world, glided with uncommon grace across the smooth glossy surface of the lake. The baby rode on one of the parents’ back. Since both male and female loon wear identical plumage it is impossible to distinguish them. The childless loon either swam ahead or behind, no doubt checking for the safety of the surroundings.

By then a couple of canoes had managed to approach the trio. The loons, in the manner of true protagonists, were living their own lives, unaware of the brewing trouble or deliberately ignoring it.

I, on the other hand, was getting impatient by the second. I wanted a picture! But could I trust the loons to stay while I would get my phone?

Just then a motorboat zoomed by. To the credit of the driver he had no idea that two loons had picked the exact center of the lake for an afternoon stroll with their youngster.

The water rippled behind the boat, and the loons responded to the change with their thrilling calls. The baby crouched closer to his parent’s body. The parents were now frantically calling, their heads darting from one side to the other. The driver of the motorboat must have heard or sensed that some kind of event was happening because he slowed down considerably. The loons were now furiously swimming away, no doubt to seek protection along the marshy and rocky shore. The man switched his motor off but it was too late.

I set my binoculars on the dock and sat in the exact way I had early that same day. The man on the boat wore a set of binoculars and a camera around his neck.

Darn.

But he made no attempt to snap a shot at the three loons.

I would!

When the boat was closer to my dock, I caught the man shrug to no one in particular.

Like me, he had been part of a unique scene. Unlike me, he could have taken a picture of the three loons.

This is a question of perception, I realized.

Everything is, really.

Living the same moment doesn’t make us identical in our sensitivity. Our reactions are unique, the product of our experiences.

I died for a picture to illustrate this post.

The man opted against using his camera. Trusting his memory more than a snapshot or preferring the instant to its souvenir?

Where are the loons, anyway?

They must have reached the shore and once more had vanished from my sight.

“The loons were so close,” my daughter said from her bench when she saw me on my way to the cabin. “We could see them without those.” She pointed at the binoculars.

Great setting and characters will always create a vivid scene. But how we choose to see them will also always remain personal.

I stepped in the coolness of the cabin, caught my laptop and thought of all the work I have planned to do while here in Maine.

One scene at a time. That would be a good way to end a day.

I clicked on File and on Open Recent.

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