The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Lifestyle Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:43:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Concert review: Portland String Quartet gives a ‘stunning performance’ of Brahms Quintet No. 2 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:43:26 +0000 By ALLAN KOZINN

The Portland String Quartet took a detour from the standard quartet repertory for its Sunday afternoon concert at Woodfords Congregational Church. Only one of the three works the group performed – the Brahms Quintet No. 2 in G major (Op. 111) – is played frequently enough to be regarded as a staple (the Portland Chamber Music Festival performed it in August), although its requirement of a second violist limits the frequency of its appearances, somewhat. The others, William Grant Still’s aptly named “Lyric Quartette” (1960) and Giuseppe Verdi’s Quartet in E minor (1873) are heard in concert once in a blue moon.

In the case of the Still work, that’s a pity and also a bit of a mystery, because the three-movement piece is filled to the brim with attractive themes that range from the folkloric and rustic to the gracefully sophisticated, and plush harmonies of the kind that quartets revel in and listeners find hard to resist.

Perhaps its problem was that it wasn’t what listeners thought they wanted at the time. Composed in 1960, when new quartets were expected to be more experimental and harder-edged, Still’s “Lyric Quartette” sounds like a hybrid of late Dvorák and Samuel Barber, a blend that was considered woefully conservative in its day.

It could be, too, that listeners expected Still, as “the dean of African-American composers” to incorporate quotations from spirituals or other black musical forms, as he did in some of his best-known works. There is little of that here. You can find a hint of it at the start of the third movement, but that morphs quickly into something else entirely – a bright-hued passage in a Renaissance dance rhythm, of all things.

But the distance of 56 years gives us the luxury of hearing this piece for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. In a musical world where many new-music orthodoxies have been overturned, this is a well-wrought, pleasing score that is worth reviving, and the Portland players – violinists Dean Stein and Ronald Lantz; violist Julia Adams; and cellist Patrick Owen – made its case in a beautifully shaped, sumptuous reading.

They brought those qualities to the Verdi quartet as well, but that work is never likely to be much more than a mildly interesting footnote, Verdi’s only instrumental score (not counting the overtures to his operas, of course), composed as he whiled away the time during a three-week delay in the Naples production of “Aida.”

If some of the expectations early listeners brought to the Still seem unreasonable now, it is not unreasonable to expect Verdi, a composer beloved for his shapely vocal themes, to have lavished his melodic powers on his quartet. But he clearly regarded this work as a different kind of exercise, a study in gesture and texture, rather than melody building. It has some nice dramatic touches, and every now and then – during a rising trilled figure in the first violin part of the finale, for example – you feel as if a Verdi aria, or a reasonable facsimile, might burst forth. But in the end, there is little memorable here.

The second half of the program was devoted to the Brahms, for which the quartet was joined by violist Jesus Alfonzo, a Venezuelan who now teaches at Stetson University in Florida. Alfonzo was a founding member of El Sistema, his country’s renowned music education program; the Portland musicians first collaborated with him during a visit to Venezuela to work with the program’s students.

A late work, composed in 1890, the Brahms is an explosion of passion, with an occasional backward glance (the opening of the second movement revisits the opening of the Third Symphony’s Poco Allegretto movement, composed seven years earlier), as well as measure of the rhythmic vitality that recalls the “gypsy” style Brahms cultivated in more youthful works.

The quartet and Alfonzo gave the score a stunning performance, with tempo and color shifts executed with tightness and precision, sharply accented phrasing in the high-energy finale, and a deep, rich sound throughout. But the group’s technical polish was not the focus here; this was an emotionally gripping reading, one of the best I’ve heard the Portland String Quartet produce.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn

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‘Saturday Night Live’ makes fun of Trump’s tweets, and he tweets his disapproval Mon, 05 Dec 2016 04:25:53 +0000 There’s an emerging theory that Donald Trump distracts us all with his tweets. But on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, it was Trump getting distracted by his own tweets.

In the cold open, Alec Baldwin returns as the retweeter-in-chief, shrugging off important policy briefings to pass along the social media musings of 16-year olds and other random Twitter users. There is also a cameo from Stephen Bannon, a plate of mashed potatoes and a brutal joke at Mitt Romney’s expense.

And – perhaps at the risk of proving “SNL’s” point for it – shortly after “SNL” made fun of him for getting distracted by insignificant tweets, Trump took to his preferred medium to voice his disapproval at 12:13 a.m. Sunday.

“Just tried watching Saturday Night Live – unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad”

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Skiing Santas raise money for Bethel area Mon, 05 Dec 2016 02:33:21 +0000 The Sunday River ski resort’s annual fundraiser to benefit the Bethel-area community, featuring scores of men and women dressed as Santa Claus, raised nearly $3,000 on Sunday.

Spokeswoman Darcy Lambert said the Newry resort’s 17th annual Santa Sunday attracted 180 Santas, who rode the Barker Mountain Express chairlift Sunday morning, before skiing or snowboarding down the Ecstasy and Sunday Punch trails.

Participants were required to wear a red Santa hat with white pompom, a red Santa jacket, red Santa pants, and a Santa beard.

Predictably, a few tumbled, but no Santas were harmed.

“This is the right way to start the holiday season,” said Yelena Walsh of Boston, who has participated for the past four years. “It’s so much fun.”

Lambert said Sunday’s event raised $2,845 for the Sunday River Community Fund. Participants who donated a minimum of $15 to the fund received a free lift ticket for the morning as well as another lift ticket that has to be used before Dec. 16.

The Community Fund provides financial aid to local organizations whose mission is to enhance the region’s quality of life. Past recipients include the Bryant Pond Learning Center, Bethel Library Association, the town of Bethel’s Recreation Department, and the Lifeflight Foundation.

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Concert review: ‘Christmas at the Cathedral’ balances devotional, cheerful Sun, 04 Dec 2016 23:29:20 +0000 ChoralART likes to get a jump on the holiday season by making sure that its annual “Christmas at the Cathedral” concert is the first Christmas concert of the year. Exactly how the choir manages to maintain its pride of place is not entirely clear, since 10 days had elapsed between Thanksgiving and this year’s program, on Saturday evening at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Another choir determined to jump the queue would certainly have had ample time. Or perhaps not. Giving a Christmas concert any sooner might be seen as an unseemly intrusion on the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

Robert Russell, ChoralART’s conductor, has established several traditions for these concerts, and he honored them fully on Saturday. His programs are typically balanced between the purely devotional and the seasonally cheerful, with a mix of antique sacred settings and 19th-century carols, as well as a few contemporary pieces. The choral music, moreover, is juxtaposed with lively instrumental arrangements, played with energy and measures of both verve and finesse by the Portland Brass Quintet.

A tightly scripted, thoroughly effective theatricality is a tradition of these programs, too, at least in the opening and closing segments. The choir begins, as in past years, with a pair of antiquities, performed by a handful of singers holding candles, both at the transept and just before the sanctuary, in an otherwise darkened cathedral.

This year, these mood-setters were a 13th-century chant, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,” sung first in Latin and then in English by two tenors, Brad Longfellow and Simon Smith, as well as a Praetorius hymn setting, “Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen,” for which soprano soloist Molly Harmon was joined by the choir from the back of the cathedral. The full choir then filed into the aisles surrounding the pews to sing, with brass and organ accompaniment, a Renaissance carol, “Personet Hodie Voces Puerulae.”

The finale, again by tradition, is an expansive version of “Silent Night,” first in a lovely solo rendering, in German, by soprano Bryn Sewell, then in English, by the full choir. Another soprano, Heidi Seitz, added a vocalise with the choir on a final verse, before the ensemble finished its account by humming the melody while moving toward the front, and behind the sanctuary.

This year, the choir’s opening sequence was preceded by a magnificently inventive (and, at times, robustly dissonant) improvisation on “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” by the cathedral’s organist, Christopher Pelonzi.

I had not previously heard this organ on its own, and was impressed by its power and color, as well as the way it fills the cathedral. Much as I admire the Kotzschmar organ, it is clearly not the only organ in town worth hearing, and since the cathedral is a much better place to hear organ music than Merrill Auditorium, it would be great to have a recital series there as well.

Another highlight of the program was the premiere of Travis Ramsey’s “On the Night You Were Born,” a work commissioned as part of ChoralART’s celebration of its 45th season. Ramsey, who studied at the University of Southern Maine and Boston University, provided a richly contrapuntal, pointedly emotional work built around Psalm 139 and the title poem, by Nancy Tillman.

It was in the intricacies of the Ramsey work that the choir was at its best. Elsewhere – in the Kyrie and Gloria from Schubert’s Mass in G, and in the opening section of a spiritual, “Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King” – there were moments when it sounded more anemic and less fully blended than it has in other performances.

That said, the spiritual gradually caught fire, and there was much to admire in the choir’s gentle reading of the Sanctus from Gounod’s “Messe Solenelle,” and in semi-staged excerpts from Gian Carlo Menotti’s tuneful Christmas opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” (a work that the Williston-Immanuel United Church will present in full on Friday and Saturday). The program also included a sweet-toned performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” sung by Molly Harmon, and arrangements of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” in which the audience was invited to sing along on the first and last verses.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn

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Theater review: ‘Broadway at Good Theater’ pays spirited tribute to 1970s Sun, 04 Dec 2016 23:06:00 +0000 With Christmas just around the corner, the Good Theater is shaking up the season with a spirited tribute to the 1970s in its annual “Broadway at Good Theater” holiday show. Broadway star Kenita Miller returns for her fourth year, joined by an all-star list of performers, featuring Daniel Patrick Smith, who starred as Buddy the Elf in the national tour of “Elf.”

The Good Theater stage has been transformed into a traditional Christmas scene with one delightful exception – an iconic 1970s disco ball suspended above the stage. Two trees tastefully trimmed in glittering red and silver, surrounded by red and white poinsettias, bring warmth and cheer to the intimate theater.

There isn’t a dull moment in this year’s two-hour “Broadway” show, from Miller’s ultra-soulful opening performance of “What Christmas Means to Me,” to the rockin’ Christmas medley finale. Director Brian P. Allen and musical director Victoria Stubbs have packed the two-act set with a fun-filled list of ’70s-era Broadway show tunes, sprinkled with Christmas songs.

The first act on Friday included trio performances of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” (“Company”) from Meredith Lamothe, Jen Means and Marisa Sheltra Brown, and “Easy Street” (“Annie”) from Lynne McGhee, Steve Leighton and Jen Means. Both numbers were animated, with strong harmony vocals.

Jeff Christmas and Laura Houck charmed the audience with their duet of “Not While I’m Around” (“Sweeney Todd”), with Houck’s facial expressions adding a hysterical twist to Christmas’ buttery smooth vocals. And the theater was filled with laughter as Smith and Conor Martin delivered “Beauty That Drives Men Mad” (“Sugar”), dressed in gowns worn in past Good Theater productions by Amy Roche.

Standout solo performances included “Broadway Baby” (“Follies”) by Roche and a moving rendition of “In My Own Lifetime” (“The Rothschild”) by Peter Allen.

Shannon Thurston and Miller, backed by the company, delivered roof-raising performances respectively of “Don’t Nobody Bring Me … News” (“The Wiz”) and “What I did for Love” (“A Chorus Line”).

The company of performers delivered nearly 40 songs total, with the second act as engaging as the first. Jenn Manzi and Smith performed a lighthearted duet of “Lovers on Christmas Eve” (“I Love My Wife”), followed by a touching performance of “I won’t Send Roses” (“Mack & Mabel”) by Smith that showcased the expressive performer’s sensational vocal range.

“More and More/Less and Less” (“The Grand Tour”) by Peter Allen and McGhee was a show highlight, with Brian Allen stepping in as the object of their admiration/hate. The audience cracked up with laughter as he pantomimed the lyrics with comic facial expressions and antics. His Barbara Eden-like genie was priceless.

Miller returned for commanding performances of “God Bless the Children” and “Lion Tamer” (The Magic Show”) that engulfed the audience with emotion.

After delivering a memorable medley of “Light of the World” (“Godspell”) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (“Jesus Christ Superstar”), Leighton, who is the lead vocalist for the Old Orchard Beach-based band Beyond Reason, led the company in a rousing Christmas medley. The mini-concert featured such rock classics as “Ring Out Solstice Bells” (Jethro Tull), “Wonderful Xmas Time” (Paul McCartney), “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano) and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (Bruce Springsteen).

The Good Theater pulled out all the stops with this year’s “Broadway,” kicking off the holiday season with an evening filled with talent, “little known gems to delight” and holiday cheer.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: ahboyle

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‘Moana’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts’ top weekend box office Sun, 04 Dec 2016 22:11:59 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Audiences came back for a second helping of “Moana” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” this weekend. Both family friendly films topped the post-Thanksgiving box office charts, with “Moana” bringing in $28.4 million and “Fantastic Beasts” earning $18.5 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Disney’s animated “Moana,” in only its second weekend in theaters and second weekend at No. 1, has grossed $119.9 million, while Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter spinoff “Fantastic Beasts” has earned $183.5 million in three weeks.

Paramount’s sci-fi mindbender “Arrival” took third with $7.3 million, while the company’s World War II spy thriller “Allied” placed fourth with $7.1 million. Disney and Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” rounded out the top five with $6.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $215.3 million.

The weekend’s only new opener, the micro-budget horror film “Incarnate,” fell short of modest expectations and took in only $2.6 million. The film, which stars Carice van Houten and Aaron Eckhart, was expected to earn in the $4 million range.

“We are disappointed that we fell short of our goal and repeating the success of our previous releases,” BH Tilt executive John Hegeman said. “The low-cost nature of the BH Tilt films and release model enables us to experiment and take risks, and we look forward to seeing what we can learn from this weekend for our future BH Tilt slate releases in 2017.”

In limited release, the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman in one of the year’s buzziest performances, earned $275,000 from five theaters. Another awards contender, “Manchester by the Sea” expanded to 156 theaters and brought in $2.4 million.

– The Associated Press

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Kennebunks celebrate 35th Christmas Prelude Sun, 04 Dec 2016 21:04:27 +0000 KENNEBUNKPORT —Heather and Michael McKellar stood amid a light display in the heart of the Christmas Prelude festival in Kennebunkport on Sunday while she snapped photos of their son, Wyatt, 6, holding a plate-sized cookie.

The McKellars said they visited the Christmas Prelude a couple of years ago and loved it so much, they told themselves someday they would live in Kennebunkport.

“Now we are here,” said Heather McKellar.

The McKellars said living in the town during Christmas season is like dropping into a movie set where everyone is friendly and the police officers hand out treats.

“It is almost surreal. It’s like ‘The Truman Show,’ ” said Michael McKellar, referring to the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey.

The McKellars were among a number of people pinching themselves at the annual festival, which started Thursday and runs for two weekends in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square and Cape Porpoise village and Kennebunk’s Lower Village.

Now in its 35th year, the event draws thousands of Christmas lovers to the downtowns, which are transformed into Santa’s villages.

Lobster pots dangle from the bows of a towering tree in Dock Square.

Vintage cars toting Christmas trees are strategically parked along Route 9. A Christmas tree rises from a rowboat moored out in the harbor.

The festival, organized by the Kennebunkport Business Association, depends on hundreds of volunteers from local churches, schools and civic organizations, which also use the event to raise funds.

On Sunday, Laura Prichard and her husband, Jean Clermont, of Arundel stood along the sidewalk selling Quebec-style pea soup for the Downeast Divas running team, which raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“We are doing great,” said Prichard.

She said by Sunday the group had raised $1,000 toward its $2,800 goal.

“This town is so generous,” her husband said.

Jeannine Gingras of Bow, New Hampshire; her sister, Jeannette Carignan of Hooksett, New Hampshire; Gingras’ daughter, Doreen Robinson of Boscawen, New Hampshire; and Gingras’ best friend, Jacky Murphy of Mineral, Virginia, arrived in Kennebunkport on Thursday for a 3½-day visit. Gingras said she has made an annual pilgrimage to Christmas Prelude for the past 30 years to shop, eat and get into the holiday spirit.

“We ate lobster, lobster and lobster and threw in a little fish, too,” said Murphy.

They said they also shopped a lot.

“Not much room left in the car,” said Robinson.

The festival continues through Dec. 11 with daily events, many of them free, including a pooch parade, several visits by Santa and fireworks.

“If you leave here without the Christmas spirit, you are like the Grinch: you are born with a heart three sizes too small,” said Prichard, with a nod to Dr. Seuss.

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Scientists expect warmer water will taint more oysters Sun, 04 Dec 2016 15:19:29 +0000 DURHAM, N.H. — For the past 25 years, researcher Stephen Jones has tried to understand the threat that bacteria may pose to oysters in New Hampshire’s Great Bay estuary. He often couldn’t get funding to study the problem. But that is beginning to change as scientists notice “something is going on.”

Scientists are recognizing that a waterborne disease sickening tens of thousands of people each year is associated with warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico moving northward, partly because of climate change. The problem is extremely rare in New Hampshire and neighboring Maine, but scientists have seen cases elsewhere in New England and expect it to become a bigger problem.

“We have this situation in the northern part of the United States and other cooler climates where people haven’t thought this had been a problem,” said Jones, of the Northeast Center for Vibrio Disease and Ecology at the University of New Hampshire. “In the last 10 or 20 years, it’s become very apparent that there is something going on.”

In a paper in the science journal PLOS One, Jones and other scientists reported their findings that illnesses from vibrio bacteria have jumped significantly in New England – from five cases in 2000 to 147 in 2013. Disease-causing bacteria can contaminate oysters, leading to infections such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Jones and his colleague, Cheryl Whistler, concluded that warmer waters in the Great Bay, higher salinity and the presence of chlorophyll all contributed to higher concentrations of one of the more common vibrio species that makes people sick – vibrio parahaemolyticus. The researchers are hoping their findings will serve as the foundation of an early warning system for the region’s booming oyster industry.

Currently, all experts can do is monitor the waters and rapidly cool harvested oysters to halt bacteria growth.

“Eventually, we would want shellfish managers to have access to these models that would allow them to communicate to the growers that conditions have changed and that we now need this to manage the potential risk to reduce whether there will be exposures,” Whistler said.

The bacteria fueled by warmer temperatures are also a stark reflection of the impact that climate change is having on the world’s oceans, experts say. An August report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that warming waters were linked to waterborne food poisoning, especially from eating raw oysters.

“There is similar reporting in Alaska where it has been found that increased cases have been occurring where it has not been reported before because of the temperature rise,” said the study’s lead author, Rita Colwell, of the University of Maryland.

The industry has welcomed Jones and Whistler’s work, noting that outbreaks like the one that occurred last month in Massachusetts need to be avoided. Nearly 75 people were sickened.

“When you are involved with a recall because people have gotten sick, you are a losing tremendous amount of money and a tremendous amount of credibility,” said Tom Howell, president of Spinney Creek Shellfish Inc., in Eliot, Maine, which harvests oysters from the Great Bay. A predictive model would allow the industry to move more aggressively to avoid an outbreak, he said.

But Howell and Chris Nash, New Hampshire’s shellfish program manager, said that day could be far off.

“We are still learning what seems to trigger these pathogenic strains to multiply … We don’t have that knowledge yet and it may be that we never do,” Nash said. “We are talking about biological organisms … They react to their environment different, the same way humans do.”

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Maine Marathon donates $10,000 to Toy Fund Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:52 +0000 Organizers of the Maine Marathon felt especially generous with the organization’s charitable donations this year.

And thousands of Maine children are going to have a brighter holiday season as a result.

The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts received an unexpected $10,000 check from the Maine Marathon last week. The money will help buy new toys for Maine kids who face a Christmas without presents because of hardships faced by their families.

“Kids have always been the priority,” said race director Howard Spear, who has led the organization for 18 years. “Everyone knows the toy fund. We hope that it will be go toward helping them break their $200,000 mark. It’s a great cause.”

More than 3,000 runners participate in the organization’s marathon, half-marathon and relay each October. The Maine Track Club uses between 14 and 20 percent of the proceeds from the races to benefit charities, Spear said, and most of the money goes to organizations that help children. Since 1997, according to Spear, the races and race participants have raised nearly $4 million for charity.

The annual donations typically total about $100,000, with half going to a primary charity that changes each year. The primary recipient this year is the Dream Factory of Maine, which grants dreams to critically and chronically ill children.

But, the 2016 marathon was the 25th, and the anniversary prompted the board to double the usual total charitable donation to $204,000. “This being our 25th year, we’ve kind of gone overboard,” Spear said. Among the beneficiaries was the toy fund.

The $10,000 gift to the Press Herald toy fund was celebrated as a major boost for the nonprofit, which raises most of its donations from individual newspaper readers and rarely receives a five-figure check.

“Many families will be happy because of this gift,” said Kathleen Meade, the fund’s director.

Saturday’s Toy Fund donors

Maine Marathon Race Committee $10,000

In memory of Marthann Hartford – Buzz and Sandra Hartford $50

In memory of Jim and Lutie Barr $300

Harry Konkel $500

Merry Christmas from Speedy Stop $250

In memory of my mother, Marthann Hartford, a longtime Fund volunteer – Wendy McCann & family $20

Merry Christmas from Leslie and Rich $100

Anonymous $50

In memory of Joe Guertin, who loved toys $50

Happy Holidays! – Luka and Lydia $25

From all the good little boys and girls in the Newell family – Christopher Newell $100

In memory of Roscoe and Evelyn Seabury from Marjorie Estabrook $100

In memory of our mother, Peggy McKinnon, who loved Christmas, from “All her kids” $100

In memory of Lora A. Lemanski $50

In memory of Rick $20

Merry Christmas from Sandra Michniewicz $50

Polly Carmichael $50

Merry Christmas from Caleb $25

In memory of the Busby family $50

In honor of our wonderful grandchildren, Piper, Scarlett, Dylan, Camdyn and Memphis, Merry Christmas! $50

In memory of Jack Deering $75

Greg Soper Woodworking $100

In memory of Red and Dot Swett $100

Happy Holidays to all! Derek Berg $500

In memory of Ken E. Morse and Devon Higgins; in honor of Jaime L. Higgins – the Morse, Higgins, Holt and Currier families $50

In memory of Frances & Joseph Morse, Ken Morse, Devon Higgins, Bill Keith, Helen Keith Gallant, Arthur Gallant, Bill Keith Jr. $25

In memory of Jeanie and Audrey Keith, Vickie Gallant and Bruce Chuluda from the Morse, Higgins, Holt and Currier families $25

In honor of James D. Wallace – we love you and miss you, Grampie/Dad $200

In memory of Josie $30

For the children, in memory of Joseph A. Barbarino of Joe’s Deli and Pizza $50

Paul & Katie Dexter $50

David Lloyd $100

Anonymous $200

Anonymous $10

Flip Meyer $200

Anonymous $20


In the name of Gladys Celeste Polland $100

In loving memory of Earl & Shirley Witham, who loved Christmas and children $100

Because every child should have a gift at Christmas $50

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays! from the Averbach/Popkin family $100

Bob and Bonny Brown $20

Total to date $39,375.60

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It’s a happy ‘Gilmore’ return Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 From Bedford Falls of “It’s a Wonderful Life” to Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show,” the idyllic small town has always held a special place in American pop culture, providing fictional refuge in times of real-life turmoil.

This holiday season, anyone exhausted by the effort of avoiding political conversations with that one uncle should consider a visit to Stars Hollow, Connecticut, the impossibly quaint and harmonious community at the center of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.”

Nearly a decade after “Gilmore Girls” concluded its seven-season network run, the whimsical dramedy about quick-witted single mother Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), her overachieving daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) and WASPy mother Emily (Kelly Bishop) has returned in a much-anticipated Netflix revival. It began streaming Nov. 25.

Consisting of four movie-length episodes written and directed by creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, “A Year in the Life” finds each of the Gilmore women at a crossroads months after the sudden death of family patriarch Richard (actor Edward Herrmann, who died in 2014).

“Gilmore Girls” was never a major ratings hit or awards darling, but it earned a devoted base of fans, few of whom were pleased with the final, Sherman-Palladino-free season. Since its cancellation, “Gilmore Girls” has only grown in popularity, thanks to its availability on Netflix and the enduring appeal of its core mother-daughter relationships.

The “Gilmore” DNA lives on in the likes of “Jane the Virgin,” another cleverly written show following multiple generations of tightly knit women. But even in the era of Peak TV, entertainment that’s sharp, funny and relatively family-friendly remains a scarce commodity.

“A Year in the Life” is a perfectly timed, if imperfect, slice of holiday escapism that retains the original series’ signature mix of fast-paced banter, intimate family drama and small-town eccentricity.

Fans will be delighted, and newbies will be able to follow along with minimal assistance from Wikipedia. Many will even find themselves eager to go back and consume the whole series from the beginning. (Lo, the binge-watching circle of life continues.)

Stars Hollow appears to be “constructed inside a snow globe,” as Lorelai knowingly puts it early in the new season. It’s a place untouched by the culture wars that have cleaved the country, where everyone seems to have enough money even when they don’t have jobs and the most divisive issue is the town sewer system.

The locals are quirky in an endearing, nonthreatening way and, for better or worse, nearly all of them are back, including deluded entrepreneur Kirk (Sean Gunn) and snooty hotel clerk Michel (Yanic Truesdale). At the same time, the people of Stars Hollow – especially Lorelai – are anything but rubes.

Residents name-check celebrity chefs and New York Times columnists and could hold their own at dinner parties in Park Slope or Silver Lake. “Gilmore Girls” is Norman Rockwell by way of the New Yorker, a salty-sweet confection that balances out its “snow globe” quality with cultural savvy.

This seemingly contradictory blend of old-fashioned and modern, of wholesome and worldly, makes “Gilmore Girls” seem essential at this particular moment.


As ever, the series will be especially rewarding to pop culture connoisseurs who will understand Lorelai’s references to the steam-room scene in “Eastern Promises” or Omar Little’s burners in “The Wire.” But even those less well-versed in the oeuvres of David Cronenberg and David Simon will find something to relate to in Stars Hollow. The series conveys the universal through the highly specific dynamics of the Gilmore family.

Rory and Lorelai were always flawed, deeply human characters, and they remain so in “A Year in the Life.” The revival is clear-eyed about Lorelai’s shortcomings, revealing how her abrasive wit is a defense mechanism that keeps grief and other painful emotions at bay, often at the expense of those closest to her – especially her grieving mother, Emily, and endlessly patient partner, Luke (Scott Patterson).

Rory is subjected to less scrutiny, though, truthfully, she probably deserves more. The youngest Gilmore is now 32, roughly the same age as Lorelai was when “Gilmore Girls” began, but is caught in a state of protracted adolescence.

Her once-promising journalism career has reached a plateau, and her love life is even more of a mess. Though we’re meant to sympathize with her millennial angst, Rory comes off too often as an entitled globe-trotter prone to selfish dithering and poorly justified romantic choices.

Sherman-Palladino rivals Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino in her talent for densely allusive, rat-a-tat dialogue, and some performers are more naturally suited to her manically loquacious style. Graham seems born to deliver highly caffeinated rants about things like flying on planes “surrounded by people with consumption, diphtheria, scabies.” Likewise, Bishop inhabits the Scotch-swilling, silver-tongued grand dame Emily like a second skin.

But at the risk of offending “Gilmore” superfans, I’ve never found Bledel quite as convincing; Rory has always sounded, to me, like a girl impersonating her mother. This awkwardness made sense when the character was a teenager, but she’s now a grown woman without a voice of her own.

The four-episode format provides a neat timeline for the overall story, but at roughly 90 minutes each, the installments sometimes drag. There are a few superfluous subplots involving supporting characters you probably forgot about long ago. (The thing about reunions, whether on TV or at your high school, is that you don’t really want to see everyone, do you?)

Your enjoyment of “Gilmore Girls” will depend on your tolerance for quirk, which is as pervasive in Stars Hollow as disembowelments are in the zombie wasteland of “The Walking Dead.” Anyone who grows queasy at the thought of, say, wacky small-town musicals or adorable pet pigs should probably steer clear.

The rest of us are happy to pour another cup of coffee and indulge.

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Judging albums by their cover (songs) Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 have been there, done that do this

Musicians in the twilight of their careers usually return to what they know.

The Rolling Stones are about to release their first album in 11 years, “Blue & Lonesome,” a collection of classic blues covers. For the Stones, who began as a blues cover band, this is the equivalent of a Great American Songbook tribute album.

For them, as for many legacy acts, these retro roots offerings – reworked versions of songs they came to know as adults, or cut their teeth on as children – have become the musical equivalent of safe spaces. They’re ideal parking places for artists who haven’t released an album in a long time but want to remain relevant, or who want a hit but are no longer sure about their ability to write one.

Back-to-their-roots cover albums have been around almost as long as rock ‘n’ roll itself. Some of them are great. Some of them are cash grabs. Some of them are cash grabs that are also kind of great.

The ’70s offered up a handful of classics: David Bowie’s “Pin Ups” (rock covers, mostly British), Harry Nilsson’s “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night” (standards) and Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” (also standards, sleekly done).

In the ’80s, Linda Ronstadt released big-band albums arranged by Nelson Riddle that would remake her career in same way the “American Recordings” series would reinvent Johnny Cash’s in the ’90s.

In the 2000s, Rod Stewart released five standards albums in eight years. They sold millions of copies and inspired countless imitators, although their increasing awfulness eventually hastened the demise of the genre. These days, back-to-their-roots albums aren’t the sure things they once were. Consumers are slower to equate these retro offerings with authenticity, and baby boomers, their target audience, generally can’t be relied upon to buy albums like they used to.

“I don’t think there’s much cash to be grabbed,” says Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. “I just don’t think the money’s there. Fifteen years ago, when Rod Stewart was doing these standards albums, they were on CD and you could go to the store and buy them. He’d sell 5 million of them, and you could make that case. But people just got tired of hearing them. They ran that string out as long as it could run.”

Some highlights and lowlights of the post-Rod era, in chronological order:

Rod Stewart, “The Great American Songbook, Volumes 1-5” (2002-2010)

Most artists who release retro standards albums have a genuine feel for the material, or at least a willingness to fake it. But Stewart’s albums are notable for their complete lack of enthusiasm and imagination, and their willingness to strip pop music’s most venerable songs for parts. Even the usually reticent Bob Dylan put him on blast: “I’m not going to knock anybody’s right to make a living,” he told AARP magazine last year, “but you can always tell if somebody’s heart and soul is into something, and I didn’t think Rod was into it in that way.”

Aerosmith, “Honkin’ on Bobo” (2004)

When done right, back-to-their-roots cover albums will remind audiences of what artists used to do well, before they lost their way. This raw-nerved and brutish collection of Sonny Boy Williamson and Willie Dixon blues-rock covers sounded like vintage Aerosmith, before they ran into trouble with too many drugs, or Diane Warren songs.

Peter Gabriel, “Scratch My Back” (2010)

Most cover albums from legacy acts present the artist in a newly tasteful guise, singing carefully curated songs they may be only pretending to have loved since childhood. It’s unusual to find one that offers a window into contemporary songs an artist genuinely loves and values. Gabriel’s collection of covers felt like his personal playlist, with an emphasis on Starbucks-friendly indie rock acts such as the Magnetic Fields and Bon Iver, their delicate compositions often beefed up with swelling orchestral arrangements. It’s the rare cover album that is a work of art in its own right. “And I’ll Scratch Yours,” featuring the artists Gabriel had covered, covering him, was released in 2013.

Paul McCartney: “Kisses on the Bottom” (2012)

Roots-minded cover albums are meant to do for artists what they can no longer do for themselves, such as write catchy, marketable songs, or reliably sell albums. The then-newly married McCartney’s almost-all-covers collection of iconic songs from Johnny Mercer and Irving Berlin evokes the songs he used to write. It’s as jolly as the jolliest Merseybeat song, as sentimental as a Wings album.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga: “Cheek to Cheek” (2014)

Gaga waited out her post- “Artpop” early-career meltdown with this authenticity-conferring duets collection. Stylistically, Gaga and Bennett didn’t always gel – he was gallant and reserved, she went full musical theater kid. But it’s a timely reminder that the Great American Songbook isn’t the sole territory of legacy acts; it’s also useful for younger artists who just want to sound old.

Bob Dylan, “Shadows in the Night” (2015) “Fallen Angels” (2016)

A matched set of standards albums, in which Dylan reinterpreted songs sung by Frank Sinatra. Dylan seems to genuinely like these songs, as much as Dylan ever seems to like anything, and his rusted-out voice suits them better than it has a right to. These albums are poignant and enigmatic and weird, their motivating force remaining a mystery.

Ryan Adams: “1989” (2015)

Adams’ somber, affectionate take on Taylor Swift’s giddy electro-pop behemoth, rooted in his familiar acoustic-based rock, is one of the few cover albums in history to confer an equal amount of legitimacy upon both singer and subject. For Swift, it demonstrated that even though she was now a pop star, her compositions were still substantial enough to be taken seriously by one of Americana’s greatest songwriters. And it endeared Adams to an entire generation of Swift fans, who probably briefly followed him on Instagram.

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Styxx, Portland’s biggest gay nightclub, is closing after 35 years Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Styxx was one of the first places Tim LaBerge says that he was able to “let my guard down.”

The 25-year-old from South Portland came out as gay about 2 1/2 years ago. With no gay friends, he felt somewhat lost until he found Styxx, a night club on Spring Street in Portland.

“No one is there to judge,” LaBerge said. “It provides a more personal connection, that I feel you lose with online dating and all the other dating apps my generation uses. After this election, a lot of people in the community feel vulnerable, so having a safe space is so important.”

Many in the local LGBTQ community will be losing one of their safe spaces after New Year’s Eve, when Styxx is scheduled to close. Bigger than a bar, with room for 300, Styxx is Portland’s largest gay nightclub. It has been a safe haven, political rallying spot and a source of strength for the area’s gay, lesbian and transgender communities for 35 years.

Beginning as The Underground in 1981, the club became known for its dance deejays, massive dance floor, drag queens and campy stage shows. Bouncers would walk people to their cars late at night, as anti-gay slurs were hurled by drunk passersby. It was also known as a place to go to rally people for gay rights and other causes. Dances, pageants and other parts of the area’s annual Pride celebrations have been held at the club as long as anyone can remember.

The closing of Styxx is heartbreaking for those who remember when it was one of the few places gay, lesbian and transgender people could feel safe for a night out in Portland. But as society has become more accepting, people in the LGBTQ community have more options for a night out and for meeting people. Online dating and dating apps have also contributed to dwindling numbers at gay nightclubs, which are closing all over the country. Some worry that even as people find it easier to dance and party wherever they like, the safety and comfort provided by a gay nightclub can’t be replaced. And given the recent election of Donald Trump as president, the loss of Styxx could be felt even more acutely.

“There will be a tremendous hole in our community. That club has been around for so much of the progress we’ve made as a community,” said Chris O’Connor, 43, who has deejayed at both The Underground and Styxx, and is development director for Equality Maine. “Times are a little scary now. Post-election, many people in our community are more concerned with public safety. (Gay clubs) are part of our history and our culture. They were the one place people could come and have fun and dance and not worry about being oppressed. I’m sad for the young people who won’t know the kind of power a place like that can have.”


On a rainy Tuesday night, Styxx owner Josh Moody was chatting with three or four regulars at the bar. They all said Moody, and the welcoming vibe he radiates, is the main reason they come to Styxx.

John Larochelle, 26, calls himself the club’s “resident straight guy.” He started coming to Styxx because it was more fun, more about dancing and less about “hooking up” than other clubs in the area.

“It’s a very comfortable place, for everyone, and that starts with Josh,” said Larochelle, who lives in Durham. “He might have been able to keep it going with a different business model, trying to attract a different crowd, but that would change the place. He kept it going as long as he could, for the people who love it.”

Moody, 36, grew up in Warren, near Rockland. He lived in Colorado for a while and began working as a bartender at Styxx soon after moving back to Maine in 2004. He bought the club in 2009.

Moody says the main reason for the closing is the steady decrease in business over the years, as people find other ways to meet people and find new places to have a drink. He’s not able to keep up with the Old Port rent, taxes, insurance and other expenses.

It’s not just a question of getting people through the door. There’s no cover charge at Styxx, so the money is made at the bar. Years ago, in less accepting times, people would spend their whole evening at The Underground/Styxx and spend their money on drinks. More and more, it seems people eat or drink somewhere else then come to Styxx late, just to dance, Moody said.

“There was a Saturday a few weeks ago when we were packed, but my bartenders had nothing to do,” said Moody. He also said the club’s size can be a problem. It’s so big that with 50 people it can look empty. And people looking for a fun night out don’t want to go to a club they think is empty, he said. Based on business, he said, he probably should have closed the club a year or two ago.

“I’ve been trying to keep it going for everyone in the community, I just didn’t want to let it go,” said Moody, who has no specific plans for what he’ll do after the closing.

Styxx, located in a basement space, is no spiffy, shiny dance club. It’s got exposed pipes running along the ceiling and the floors are cement. It looks like somebody’s unfinished basement fixed up for a dance party. Its Facebook reviews are mixed, with some patrons loving the vibe and the people, others complaining that they were treated rudely or thought the place could have been a lot cleaner.

The area where Styxx is located, near the intersection of Spring, Middle and Temple streets, has changed a lot since the 1980s. Within a block or two are many new upscale restaurants, bars and shops, such as Urban Outfitters, Novare Res Bier Cafe and Starbucks.

After Styxx closes, a retail store will take over part of its space, according to Drew Swenson of Six City Center LLC, the building’s owner. He said plans for the other part of the Styxx space had not been finalized yet.

There are still other venues in Portland known for welcoming members of the LGBTQ community, including Blackstones on Pine Street, billed as “Maine’s oldest gay neighborhood bar” and Flask Lounge on Spring Street. Blackstones has been in business since 1987. Both are smaller than Styxx, though they have music and live entertainment as well.


Styxx began as The Underground in 1981. It was a time when gay men and lesbians in Portland were “beginning to come out of the closet and into the streets,” said Randy Scott, who started The Underground with Paul Hood.

“People were still in hiding, but the activism was starting,” said Scott, 62. “There was a need for a club like this, both as a safe place for socializing and dancing, and because there was a community rapidly forming.”

There were other gay bars, as now, but no real nightclub, Scott said. But it wasn’t just about partying.

In the 80s, when AIDS became rampant and gay men were dying, the club became a place for fundraising and for people in the community to come together and support each other, Scott said.

Scott and Hood ran The Underground until about 1994, when it was sold to Deb DiLuiso, a telecommunications software designer. She bought it with a co-worker, who didn’t stay involved, and ran it herself until 2004, when the name was changed to Styxx.

“I was just sitting there one day, I loved sitting at the bar, and the bartender said the place was for sale,” remembers DiLuiso. “So we decided to buy it.”

DiLuiso said that once she bought the club, more women starting coming in. The place already had a drag queen scene and pageants, and it was involved in various Pride celebrations and events.

Through the years Styxx has continued to be one of the first places where people coming out feel comfortable, like LaBerge.

Society is more accepting of the LGBTQ community than it was 20 years ago, and so there are more places to socialize, drink or dance. But LaBerge said he still doesn’t feel comfortable dancing with another man in other bars in Portland.

“I don’t know how other patrons may react,” he said. “Mix that with alcohol, and it might create a bad situation.”

Conor Tubbs, 29, grew up in South Portland and started working at Styxx when he was 20. He said during the time when he was “transitioning to who I was,” he found it crucial to be in a place like Styxx where he could talk to “people who’d been through it already.”

Tubbs tended bar at the club and performed in drag under the name Cherry Lemonade. In 2015 he was contestant on the TV singing show “American Idol” and held viewing parties at Styxx. Tubbs, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, worries what Styxx closing will mean to the area’s LGBTQ community. People in the community still need a place to have fun and forget about life’s troubles, he said. And to find strength from each other.

“The younger people today may not feel the same need for a place like that,” Tubbs said. “But have we really evolved far enough in Portland where gay clubs aren’t needed? I’m not so sure.”


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Deep Water: ‘Watercolor Painting Class, Northern Ireland’ by Jeffrey Thomson Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

Jeffrey Thomson lives in Farmington with his wife and son and teaches at the University of Maine at Farmington. He is also a world traveler and a naturalist, spending time regularly in Costa Rica and many other places.

This poem arises out of his time as a Fulbright scholar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It reminds us how in some places a violent history lurks below the surfaces of everyday life. And it reminds us how nature’s transformations can hold some element of violence within them.

You might also notice that Thomson’s poem is one long sentence that pushes us headlong down the page toward that “seedpod ready to explode.”

Watercolor Painting Class,

Northern Ireland

By Jeffrey Thomson

Once a week above the rooftops

of Queen’s Quarter – skylights

and chimneypots providing

the order the eye asks for – inside

an old girls school turned studio

where I was the youngest student

in a class retired long ago from

daily life in Belfast, checkpoints

and rifles, parades and old enemies

in mask and balaclava, pressure

of a city mounting toward the fires

of July, I worked my morning into

gardens of amaryllis and lily,

small pastoral welcome of geese

among outbuildings gray and streaked

as the rain crashed its shrapnel

on the exhaust vents for the kilns,

and, one day, as the sky crawled by

in its uniform of grim and somber,

I painted a close-up of the small star

of a sunflower with all the colors

of the light I’d missed that winter,

filling the canvas with warm petals

of citron and blonde, champagne

and canary, and, at the heart of it all,

the black of the seedpod ready to explode.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Thomson. It appears here by permission of the author.

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‘Through a Naturalist’s Eyes’ captivates as it educates Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “Pieces of a folksy quilt, with widely varied swatches woven together to create a pleasing whole.” So, in the introduction to “Through a Naturalist’s Eyes,” Michael J. Caduto hazards the way an artist might think about New England. “But this is a living tapestry of complex bioregions and natural communities whose compositions of plants and animal …” Oh, no, I thought. The comparison seemed to point resolutely, if inadvertently, to the contrast between literary style and what I might call eco-speak, with the author heading toward the latter.

I could not have been further off the mark.

The book is a series of some 50 short essays that use Caduto’s personal experiences in the natural world to jump-start a little scientific education. Nature, as the reader is implicitly reminded, can be found everywhere, so long as one is open to it, and it doesn’t have to loom large with weighty epiphanies.

Caduto has been using his deep knowledge of ecology, together with his talents as a storyteller and musician, to promote environmental awareness for over 30 years. From giving CPR to a chipmunk in front of a troop of young campers to encountering two centuries of animal effluvia in the old house he lives in, his encounters with New England’s flora and fauna from the most obvious to the most obscure are a delight to read.

Starting off, the stories are packaged under a helpfully basic series of sections: Animals, Plants, Habitats. In one, he parses the various small rodents that the uninitiated might call “mice” when they find them. In another he informs us that, far from being passive, “Plants Fight Back,” and goes into the variety of ways they do it.

Winter has a section all to itself: Plants and animals use fascinating strategies to survive in frigid New England, including making their own antifreeze. Beavers and muskrats change their metabolism to allow for longer dives under the ice. How some mechanisms work is still mysterious. “Scientists have yet to discover exactly how the normally air-breathing turtle survives submerged all winter in oxygen-challenged conditions,” he tells us.

Natural history gets even more complicated in the section called Interrelationships. Come winter, snakes snuggle down with frogs and salamanders, “animals which, in autumn, might have been the snake’s prey.” In summer, hummingbirds follow sapsuckers around, sipping the sap from the neat rows of holes they leave. Caduto calls these “nature’s soda fountain,” and they are used by numerous birds besides hummers.

Patterns and Perceptions addresses nature’s knack for creating designs like hexagons and spirals. It is fortunate we find them so aesthetically pleasing, he says, because all it is forming are “patterns that create the most efficient spatial relationships.”

There is a whole section for bio-foodies, Harvests and Hunts: If you are only into ramps and fiddleheads, you haven’t lived. That many of the items on his forager’s list come from Abenaki lore is not surprising. Caduto has written a number of books on Native American stories and customs.

Looking through a naturalist’s eyes is all the richer when those eyes are Caduto’s. Watching a spotted turtle drift by in a pond under black ice, he sees a “window into another world, that clear crystalline floor beneath my feet, was the turtle’s winter sky.” And speaking of ponds, I personally prefer his likening them to “liquid eyes gazing up to the sky and catching the sun’s life-giving energy,” over Thoreau’s dubious reference to “Earth’s eye” and measuring the depth of one’s own nature.

In the final section, Stewardship, one essay goes through the impacts of dams on the life of rivers and what happens when they are removed. As compelling as are the details, I find his vision quite enough: a river “swelling with the abundance of a cloudburst or trickling through sun-blanched cobbles during the height of summer drought.”

Not that there is only the poetry of nature in these pages. Caduto is quick to reinforce his own impressions with the knowledge of an expert, often from a fish and game department or a watershed council.

Perhaps my favorite is the physician’s assistant who gave the town of Plainfield, New Hampshire, its official “town mollusk” and created “Mussel Beach” on a stretch of the Connecticut River. The dwarf wedge mussel, Caduto admits, is hardly as spectacular as some endangered species, but it has an interesting life cycle and, to aquatic biologists, is an “underwater version of the canary in the coal mine.” And Plainfield “just happens to think its tiny Town Mollusk is kind of cute.”

Natural history will always be a rich opportunity for discovery. “Through a Naturalist’s Eyes” celebrates why it is also such fun.

Thomas Urquhart is a former director of Maine Audubon and the author of “For the Beauty of the Earth.”

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Hail to the queen, and the rest of the royal gang, in Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Every crumb of Netflix’s Buckingham Palace drama “The Crown” is scrumptious, all 10 hours of it, but job No. 1 remains the hardest: How do you make two of this planet’s dullest people even halfway interesting?

That would be Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Philip Mountbatten, and the answer, of course, is to make them young again and more beautiful and fascinating than they probably ever were – or still are – in real life.

“The Crown,” which began streaming in November, qualifies as the epic masterwork from creator/writer Peter Morgan, who has come at the modern Elizabethan era a couple of ways now, most notably with the 2006 film “The Queen,” an intimate rumination on the burdens of royalty in the scandal-driven infotainment era, when an aging Elizabeth (Helen Mirren, in an Oscar-winning performance) fought to comprehend the national grief and dismaying shift in protocol that followed the tragic 1997 death of her ex-daughter-in-law, Diana.

“The Queen” excelled by zeroing in on a one-week period, chronicling a crisis of public relations. “The Crown” is a deeper and more deliberately constructed saga, spanning eight years, starting with the 1947 wedding of Elizabeth (”Wolf Hall’s” Claire Foy) and Philip (”Doctor Who’s” Matt Smith) and working its way through the earliest years of her marathon reign. Even then – especially then – every action in Elizabeth’s life would be pre-considered through the optics of public perception, in a palace still roiled by the shocking abdication 11 years earlier of her uncle (Alex Jennings), known to the family as David and to the world, briefly, as King Edward VIII. She’s a girl who understood early on that her life would never be her own.

The essential theme, therefore, is always the same: “The Crown” invites sympathy about the burden of duty and the loss of self in service to country. From the amount of blood that Elizabeth’s father, King George VI (Jared Harris), keeps discreetly coughing into his handkerchiefs, it can only be a matter of time before the young bride ascends to the throne – and Morgan gets there in a matter of two episodes, which feels a little rushed.


The first episode is curiously stripped of character development, and the pace seems slightly off. Viewers never learn why Elizabeth loves Philip or why he loves her – or even how they met and decided to marry. There is whispered disapproval of the marriage from Elizabeth’s mother (Victoria Hamilton) and her grandmother (Eileen Atkins), but it’s up to you to Google around and figure out why from royal historians. Only after two episodes does it become clear that Morgan isn’t interested in making a love story.

Instead, it’s about a house full of people experiencing their own versions of identity crises: a queen terrified of seeming incompetent; a husband who feels publicly and personally emasculated. To that add a sister, Princess Margaret (Vanessa Kirby, going at it with true relish), whose casual take on celebrity is about 40 years ahead of her time, with instincts that are more Kardashian than Windsor. Finally there’s the biggest prima donna – the entitled, petulant, newly re-elected prime minister, Winston Churchill. John Lithgow plays the part with such a commanding presence that it becomes surprising and genuinely moving as the layers are peeled back and we see Churchill at his most vulnerable.

After the royal wedding, which is lovely to look at, we jump so far ahead that their first two children, Charles and Anne, are already ignored and seldom-seen toddlers. Not one episode – nor any significant scene – examines Elizabeth’s feelings about motherhood or the traveling that took her away from her children for weeks and months at a time. We learn more about her relationship to her champion horses and her companionable corgis. For all the beauty and grace that Foy brings to the part (a little too much of both), her performance and Morgan’s writing struggle most in moments meant to humanize the central character. Heavy lies “The Crown,” indeed.

And so the show’s sense of momentum relies mainly on tragically beautiful eye candy, high manners and lifestyle – the building blocks of televised Anglophilia. It’s so much to look at and consider, it often feels like Netflix has given us an extravagant and beautifully wrapped present. Morgan excels at mixing the historical record with sensitive imagination – he takes us inside the hushed elegance of Elizabeth and Philip’s world with such a careful instinct for realism and detail that makes it easy to believe that what we’re seeing is exactly how it happened.

But it’s not all luxurious fluff and nonsense – and anyone who tells you that “The Crown” is the new “Downton Abbey” has beans for brains. “The Crown” is far more thoughtful and serious than Julian Fellowes’s sudsy fixation with the incidental dramas between the upstairs and downstairs.

What viewers have here is the opportunity to watch 10 one-hour movies about Queen Elizabeth’s world. It’s one of the rare cases in which I’d recommend watching the series slowly, at a rate of one episode per week, if you can show that sort of discipline. Pieces of “The Crown” are more brilliant on their own than they are as a series, taken in as shorter, intently focused films like “The Queen” and another Morgan achievement, the play and film versions of “Frost/Nixon.”

There could, for example, be a stand-alone movie in the episode where Elizabeth discreetly employs a tutor (Alan Williams) to help fill in the gaps in her dreadfully narrow education. There could also be a terrific movie in the testy but meaningful exchanges between Churchill and painter Graham Sutherland (Stephen Dillane), who is hired to make a portrait of the prime minister at 80. (Churchill hated the painting, by many accounts a masterpiece. Lady Churchill, played by Harriet Walter, had it destroyed.)

And smack in the middle of the series, there’s a terrific mini-movie about Elizabeth’s official coronation, not up close and personal, but as seen from Paris, where a disinvited Uncle David, the Duke of Windsor, gathers friends and his wife, Wallis Simpson (Lia Williams), to watch the event on the newfangled telly. After flinging a few barbs at the young woman he nicknamed “Shirley Temple,” the duke finds himself deeply moved by the ceremony.

“Symbol upon symbol,” he says. “An unfathomable web of arcane mystery and liturgy, blurring so many lines no clergyman or historian or lawyer could ever untangle any of it.”

“It’s crazy,” one of his guests remarks.

“On the contrary, it’s perfectly sane,” the duke replies. “Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose, when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination. Wrap her up like this and anoint her with oil and hey, presto – what do you have? A goddess.”

Then and now, you also have captivating TV.

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 08:28:34 +0000
In Henri Matisse’s art books, a reminder of deceptive simplicity Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “The Art Books of Henri Matisse” is a lively and timely exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art featuring scores of prints from four of Matisse’s dozen or so book projects.

Matisse’s book images range from simple line drawings and decorative elements to some of his best known works from any era, in particular the colorful paper cutout compositions from his 1947 graphic masterpiece “Jazz.” While Matisse’s power as a painter is most immediately obvious through our visceral response to his color, his graphic work features his subtle virtuosity with line. Unlike many of his peers, Matisse tended to use line best as outline which we see as boundaries between positive forms and negative space. To think of this as objects and their outlines, however, is to underestimate the artist.

Matisse set forms to ebb and flow between positive and negative space. In “Destiny” from “Jazz,” for example, we see this toggling between interlocked pink and black forms as the primary content of the image. Instead of playing the historically common role of art as a linear narrative to be properly unfurled toward a singular understanding, this kind of work puts its internal systems logic to bear as a function of the viewer’s real time perception. In other words, Matisse often needs you – the viewer – to bring his works to life. And no one has ever been better than Matisse at achieving such an accessibly delicious here-and-now experience.

“Pasiphaë, Song of Minos (The Cretans)” is the 1943 retelling by Henri de Montherlant of the Greek myth in which Poseidon cursed Pasiphaë, the wife of the insufficiently-sacrificing King Minos, to mad desire for a bull, resulting, nine months later, in the Minotaur. It’s a disturbing tale caught between the dirty Surrealist age and simmering wartime anger (Matisse’s beloved daughter was tortured by the Nazis). Matisse, however, outstrips Montherlant in terms of beauty, anguish, tenderness of form, passion and compassion. Matisse’s images are reverse lino cuts (light image, dark backgrounds) sometimes made with a single stroke of genius – quite literally, for example, in the case of “Anguish.”

The standard story of the 20th century’s top two painters says that Picasso was the drawing guy and Matisse was the painter – rather like Ingres and Delacroix. Matisse, however, more than makes his own case for line throughout “The Art Books of Henri Matisse,” but particularly with “The Poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.” Matisse’s lines flow with the idyllic vitality of spirit for which Mallarmé pines so eloquently in his frustrated ennui.

Matisse’s least interesting works were made for Poèmes featuring the late-medieval texts of troubadour Charles d’Orléans (1394-1465). Matisse gives us fleur-de-lys after fleur-de-lys scribbled quickly in crayon like bored afterthoughts on kids menus.

“Jazz” was published in 1947, six years after Matisse (1869-1954) was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. After surgeries that left him unable to paint or sculpt, Matisse took up scissors and paper to create some of the most influential and beloved works of the 20th century. Behind their popularity, however, are boundary-shattering qualities. Matisse worked with paper painted with the same gouache used to make the book using stencils. In other words, these can rightly be seen as paintings, drawings, graphic works or even collage – except for the fact that Matisse pinned instead of glued his paper elements so that he could keep adjusting them. “Collage” means “glued” and it is hardly ironic that Matisse would have an attitude about the technique, considering it was invented by his arch rival’s (Picasso) partner in Cubism, Georges Braque. While this might seem little more than chuckle-worthy pretend-drama, it’s a serious point. Matisse’s cut-outs and Cubist collage, after all, comprise two of the most influential moments of painterly modernism, and both pointed away from traditional painting toward mass culture and post-modernism.

The fundamental truth about Matisse is an oxymoron: Among leading artists of the last century, his work is the most accessible while being among the least explainable. It is visually indulgent, saturated and satisfying. It defies our ability to describe its success because it arrives as subtleties on waves of apparent simplicity. It makes us not want to question why we like it as much as we do, so Matisse is able to slip the brilliance of his content in through the back door, beyond the reach of our critical faculties. And this was by design: It’s what Matisse meant when he famously (and rather controversially) said he wanted his art to be “a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.”

“Jazz” is, in fact, a trip to the circus. It features clowns, knife throwers, sword swallowers and trapeze artists, and even what we can assume was Matisse’s intended frontispiece featuring the word “Cirque” – circus. The title “Jazz” was a gesture of the publisher. It was not only a savvy marketing gesture, it more fairly captures Matisse’s artistic content: It is not posed, contrived and well-rehearsed sleight of hand, rather, the work is improvised, loose, bold and yet immeasurably nuanced. It contains a few crafty undercurrents, like the doubled “Wolf” which is commonly taken as reference to Hitler. Some of Matisse’s most beloved images are from “Jazz,” like the dancy dot-hearted “Icarus” and the celebratory swag-hearty “The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown.”

“Jazz” is arguably the art book masterpiece of the 20th century. And it’s an argument worth having: You can see this and, an hour and a half later, Picasso’s Vollard Suite now on view at Colby College. But this conversation also looks to today. Then, new technologies like color magazines and intercontinental airmail were changing the public’s – and artists’ – relation to graphic arts. Now, with digital photography, digital printing and the internet, we are again facing a complete rebuild of our understanding of graphic arts and imaging. “The Art Books of Henri Matisse” is a reminder that, while Matisse’s work is easy to digest, it should never be underestimated.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at

]]> 0, 03 Dec 2016 15:49:31 +0000
Michael Chabon probes truth via fiction about family lore Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It is the morning after the election. I am on a plane to Washington, D.C., confused and distraught about what happened. Someday, we will tell ourselves stories about this day, and what happened next, and perhaps our stories will carry the theme that our worst fears often do not materialize. Or we will tell our loved ones stories about how sometimes, our worst fears come to pass.

This day and the period that comes next seem destined to become family lore for many American families. How we voted, what we did, what happened to us – all of these will be spun into stories that we will tell ourselves about ourselves, and that we will tell our children and their children about who we were and how that shaped who we are today.

These family stories are the subject of Michael Chabon’s new book, “Moonglow,” a collection of deathbed stories told to a character named Michael Chabon by his grandfather. I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out whether the author’s real grandfather told him these stories and he just embellished them for the book, or if they are all made up. I’ll save you time – the stories are made up.

Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001 for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” likely would argue these stories always are made up, but they contain kernels of truth anyway. Our memories are imperfect, after all, and we color the stories we tell others. Stories are passed around families, changing shape each time. This is the essence of our oral histories and in them, Chabon argues, we can find the truth of who we think we are and who we want people to think we are.

Chabon never names his fictional grandfather, or his fictional grandmother, but they are brought to vivid life through his grandfather’s colorful stories, and, occasionally, stories told by others.

The grandfather was a hell-raiser, a liar, a warm lover, an obsessive about model rockets and space. The grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, struggles with mental illness, has a caustic sense of humor and possesses a theatrical heart. The couple’s relationship, relayed through the stories, is a moving one.

At one point, the fictional Chabon learns that many of the stories he heard obscured an important, and distressing, fact about one of his relatives.

He describes the strange feeling of having to reconsider what he thought he knew: “One by one I began to subject my memories of my grandmother, of the things she had told me and the way she had behaved, to a formal review, a kind of failure analysis, searching and testing them for their content of deceit, for the hidden presence in them of the truth.”

The book has flaws. For one, another family’s stories are never as interesting to outsiders as they are to loved ones. “Moonglow” lacks a sense of propulsive momentum for most of its first half. I wondered, not a few times, why are we here? Why should I care?

This issue made me consider what makes stories about others – which almost every work of fiction is – riveting. What is “Moonglow” missing? Why am I getting the same feeling – boredom, impatience – that I get when a mom on the playground goes into great detail about her son’s soccer game?

Chabon – the character – discusses why he decided to write the book like a memoir, and not like a novel. “Sometimes even lovers of fiction can be satisfied only by the truth,” he writes. “I felt like I needed to ‘get my story straight,’ so to speak, in my mind and in my heart. I needed to work out, if I could, the relationship between the things I had heard and learned about my family and my history while growing up and the things I now knew to be true.”

But how interesting is a memoir about a person we don’t know, or who isn’t famous enough to pique our interest? “Moonglow” is, for long spans, a collection of stories that, while colorful, serve mostly to tell us a lot about a (fictional) person we don’t know and a family we will never know. They lack a hook for the reader; that hook, it turns out, is pretty important.

What are we moving toward? How much do we care about the character’s search for the truth about his grandparents? Perhaps some readers will feel more invested.

That said, Chabon’s writing is lovely, and some readers will enjoy it so much they will forgive the lack of propulsion in the story. After all, occasionally, we all run into people who tell such good yarns it doesn’t matter that it’s about their kids’ soccer goals.

Beyond the writing, Chabon’s decision to explore family lore feels especially fresh and relevant. What will we tell our grandkids about these days, and our roles in them? Did we stand on the right side of history? Millions of us are writing family lore right now, stories that we will pass down to our loved ones, shaped, many of us hope, by profound relief that events turned out not as badly as we had feared.

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Cornville Christmas tree farmer shows the spirit Sat, 03 Dec 2016 23:46:48 +0000 CORNVILLE — Bryant LaPlante treats every Christmas tree at his farm with care, and every customer as if he or she were family.

“We sell about 3,500 trees a year and we’ve been planting around 7,000 – pretty much 2-to-1,” LaPlante said.

LaPlante, 70, has been in the Christmas tree business 44 years at The Forest, on West Ridge Road, where he owns 20 acres and leases a total of 80 acres within a 3-mile radius.

LaPlante loves his customers, enjoys watching children get excited about Christmas.

He drove his 320 horse-powered, three-wheel, red 2017 Polaris Slingshot motorcycle in a holiday parade Friday night in Skowhegan and handed out 500 coloring books to children and brochures that explain how a tree farm operates. He calls the motorcycle “Santa’s Sleigh.”

LaPlante also gave the city of Waterville a 50-foot-tall balsam tree when he heard the old blue spruce tree in Castonguay Square had to be cut down because it was diseased. After he read a story about the tree’s demise in the newspaper, LaPlante, a former elementary school teacher in Waterville, called the city’s parks and recreation director, Matt Skehan, and told him he had a tree that would provide a quick fix for him.

“I said, ‘It’s not your answer for the future, but it will get you by now,’ ” LaPlante recalled telling Skehan. “It’s Christmas, you know. I didn’t hesitate at all to call him.”

LaPlante said he hasn’t yet seen the tree all lit up next to Waterville City Hall, but he plans to drive his big motorcycle to Waterville to see it.

]]> 0, 03 Dec 2016 18:58:23 +0000
Madonna slams Trump at Miami concert Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:36:40 +0000 MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Madonna kissed Ariana Grande, repeatedly criticized President-elect Donald Trump and said she was ashamed to be an American in a magnetic performance in Miami on Friday night where she raised more than $7.5 million for the African nation of Malawi.

The Material Girl dug deep into her personal treasures, auctioning off pieces from her own art collection, a costume from her tour modeled by Grande and black and white photos from her 1985 wedding to ex-husband Sean Penn shot by the late photographer Herb Ritts. The trio of wedding photos sold for $230,000.

Penn, who attended the fundraiser and bid on several pricey items when the auction stalled, handcuffed Madonna and crawled through her legs at one point as the two tried to coerce the audience to bid higher.

“For once, he’s not the one being arrested,” she joked.

The party lasted until early Saturday morning when Madonna took the stage for an hour-long performance before a star studded crowd that included Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Courtney Love. The fundraiser was just one of the many parties during Art Basel Miami Beach, a contemporary art fair.

Madonna, who performed in a pink sequined clown top and fishnet stockings, seemed to hold nothing back, especially her opinions on the election, joking with the audience that she had promised to perform sexual favors for those who voted for Hillary.

She coyly said she’d been in Donald Trump’s bed, but later revealed it was for a magazine photo shoot and that Trump wasn’t even there.

– From news service reports

]]> 0, 03 Dec 2016 17:06:33 +0000
Kittens join downward-facing dogs in Saco yoga class Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:21:45 +0000 SACO — Yoga is all about focus and concentration, but at the Samudra Studio on Saturday the 20 yoga students found a lot of distractions.

Five 14-week-old kittens, rescued by the Homeless Animal Rescue Team – or HART – in Cumberland, pounced and romped around them as they moved from mountain pose to downward-facing dog and on to child’s pose.

“Find your point of focus or your kitten of focus,” said yoga instructor Sarah Spiegel, who has been operating the studio at 200 Main St. for the past six months.

Lauren Bean, with Carla Mahaney, gives a kitten some love before yoga class Saturday at the Samudra Studio in Saco. Five kittens roamed about during the session to keep away negative energy.

Lauren Bean, with Carla Mahaney, gives a kitten some love before yoga class Saturday at the Samudra Studio in Saco. Five kittens roamed about during the session to keep away negative energy. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

The students were participating in what may have been Maine’s very first cat yoga class. Spiegel got the idea from a friend in Washington, D.C.

“She told me about it and I thought I must do this,” Spiegel said.

Spiegel said that yoga and cats seemed like a natural fit. She said even though yoga is about focus, it is easy to find the mind wandering, sometimes in a negative direction.

“So I thought this was a way to have positive thoughts instead,” said Spiegel, who has taught yoga for about four years.

The concept immediately caught on and the class quickly filled up, with half studio regulars and the rest self-described animal lovers.

The response was so strong that Spiegel said she plans to organize another cat yoga class in January.

Sarah Spiegel, right, leads a yoga class Saturday in Saco. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Sarah Spiegel, right, leads a yoga class Saturday in Saco. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

On Saturday the students erupted in giggles as the kittens scampered around the room. Some abandoned their poses completely to spend one-on-one time with the felines.

“I love it. My two favorite things in the world are yoga and animals. You put them together and I will never want to leave,” said Jennifer Willett of Portland.

The session also served as a fundraiser for HART, a nonprofit shelter for cats founded in 1997 and run by about 80 volunteers. The $20 fee to attend the class was donated to the animal shelter. Students also donated food, litter and cat toys.

Four of the five kittens at the class recently arrived at HART from Tennessee. The fifth was from Vassalboro.

All of the kittens rescued by HART spend their kittenhoods with foster families so they are well-socialized. HART has a strong record in getting them adopted, said Lisa Gamage, a HART volunteer.

SACO, ME Ð DECEMBER 1: Tien Quang plays with a kitten before the start of a yoga class Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 in Saco, Maine. The yoga studio had kittens at the session as part of a pet adoption effort. (Photo by Joel Page/Staff Photographer)

Tien Quang plays with a kitten before the start of a yoga class Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016 in Saco, Maine. The yoga studio had kittens at the session as part of a pet adoption effort. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

About 110 adult cats live “free range” at the Cumberland shelter.

Sarah Michniewicz, a HART volunteer, said the yoga class was beneficial for the kittens.

“It is good to expose them to new environments, ” Michniewicz said.

Spouses Libby and Veronica Newport of Westbrook broke their poses to each hold a tiny calico kitten that caused a commotion on one side of the room. The couple said when they heard about the class they decided they couldn’t pass it up.

“It is about opening up your heart. It is about opening up your heart to kittens. You just feel good,” Veronica Newport said.

Rachel Beyea of Scarborough said the kittens were so distracting that she barely did any yoga. She said she formed a close bond with an all-black male kitten named Winky instead.

She was heavily contemplating adopting the kitten at the end of the class.

“We are in love,” Beyea said.

Correction: This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. on Dec. 4 to correct the number of cats that live “free range” at HART’s Cumberland shelter. There are about 110, not 150. 

]]> 0, 04 Dec 2016 13:06:28 +0000
Comic Katt Williams pleads no contest to assault charge Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:14:46 +0000 GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Katt Williams has pleaded no contest to assault and battery charges stemming from an incident with a bodyguard in north Georgia.

The comedian, whose real name is Micah Sierra Williams, was charged in March after authorities said he threatened the man while an acquaintance beat him with a baseball bat. Defense attorney Drew Findling said Williams on Thursday agreed to a plea deal.

Williams was ordered to serve five years on probation. Findling said a related marijuana charge will be dismissed once Williams completes probation.

Williams must submit to twice-monthly drug tests.

– From news service reports

]]> 0 Sat, 03 Dec 2016 17:04:04 +0000
Nutritional tips could help ward off the winter blues Sat, 03 Dec 2016 18:08:28 +0000 Physical disorders can negatively affect a person’s mental condition, so experts recommend ingesting sufficient nutrients to stimulate the brain and other parts of the body to maintain mental health.

Vitamins tend to be a doctor’s first recourse as nutrients that are good for improving mental condition. A number of studies have established that vitamin D and folic acid help deal with depression.

Vitamin D is produced when provitamin D, a substance contained in the skin, is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. In winter, when exposure to sunlight is shorter, it’s easy to suffer from insufficient vitamin D.

In regions where sunshine is extremely limited in winter, the number of people suffering from depression increases until early spring.

Hiroshi Kunugi, director of the Department of Mental Disorder Research of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, has written books about the issue, including “Kokoro ni Kiku Seishin Eiyogaku” (Nutrition effective for mental health).

“The theory that a shortage of vitamin D is related to depression is widely supported,” Kunugi said. “It is also believed that vitamin D improves the functions of neural transmitter substances inside the brain, and works to protect it.”

Mushrooms and seafood are rich in vitamin D. Folic acid – a kind of vitamin which is found in large quantities in spinach – has received attention for its benefits for prevention and treatment of depression.

Insufficient folic acid is known to cause such ailments as anemia, and is believed to increase the risk of depression. It is also related to the syntheses of neural transmitter substances, including dopamine and serotonin.

According to researchers, the level of folic acid in the blood of people with depression tends to be lower than that in healthy people.

Natto and liver are also rich in folic acid. An appropriate intake of folic acid is also possible through proper use of commercially available supplements.

In addition to vitamins, the nutrient iron, a major mineral, is also essential for maintaining mental health.

Iron is vital to producing hemoglobin, which transfers oxygen in the blood. If there is insufficient iron, this function of hemoglobin weakens, and less oxygen is carried around the body. This causes iron-deficiency anemia.

Brain function is also affected. Iron deficiency can cause a syndrome in which sufferers feel pain, itching and other senses of discomfort in their legs whenever they lie down. Some people experience sleep disorders due to the symptoms.

There are also cases in which sufferers develop symptoms similar to depression, such as frustration, lack of concentration and loss of interest or attention.

Liver, red meat and fish contain a lot of iron. Women tend to suffer an iron deficiency when they menstruate.

Among women in their 30s to 40s, more than 20 percent are estimated to have low levels of hemoglobin.

It is believed that some cases of postpartum depression, in which women develop such symptoms as depression just after childbirth, are related to a shortage of iron.

“Postpartum depression is caused by changes in hormone balance, and environmental and various other factors,” Kunugi said. “An iron deficiency is assumed to be one of them. There aren’t many cases in which an increase of iron totally cures postpartum depression, but it’s worthwhile taking a blood test to check it out.”

Internal organs build up iron reserves. If an iron deficiency lasts too long, reserves begin to decrease. Iron reserves can be measured by examining serum ferritin levels in the blood.

However, excessive iron will adversely affect the internal organs and the health will suffer. A blood test is useful to determine the proper iron intake level.

A serum ferritin test is not included in ordinary health checkups, so you need to consult a doctor if you want to have your blood tested.

There is a theory that the brain and intestines affect each other, so if the intestines are healthy so is the brain.

Recent research points to the possibility that enterobacteriaceae, or the intestinal bacterial group, affects the brain via the intestines, and vice versa.

Irritable bowel syndrome clearly shows that mental stress affects the intestines. Sufferers develop such symptoms as abdominal pains when boarding an overcrowded train.

Although there is no problem with the intestinal tract, sufferers feel abdominal pains or have loose bowels when they become tense. They also may suffer from constipation or a distended abdomen over a long period. It is said that 10 percent to 15 percent of adults suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.

It has become widely known that sufferers have an intestinal bacterial imbalance in many cases.

“There’s a report saying that inside the intestines of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, beneficial bacteria such as bifidus have decreased, or detrimental bacteria such as clostridium have increased,” Kunugi said. “If the intestinal bacterial imbalance worsens, abdominal pains and other symptoms will occur more often. With increasing stress, the intestinal bacterial balance will deteriorate further. Patients could fall into a vicious cycle.”

The condition of intestinal bacteria could be related to depression symptoms.

One report said people who had ingested lactic acid bacteria and bifidus for a month showed a clear reduction of depression or anxiety, compared to those who had not done so.

To maintain a healthy, stress-free condition, it is important to consume fermented food containing lactic acid bacteria.

“I hope that people consume nutritious food that contains beneficial bacteria, such as dietary fiber and oligosaccharides,” Kunugi said.

]]> 0, 03 Dec 2016 17:17:26 +0000
Maine Public looks to raise $3 million for more broadcast equipment, programming Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Maine Public is starting a $3 million public fundraising campaign to enhance the radio and TV network’s equipment and create more local programming.

The effort is the final phase of a $30 million campaign begun in 2013, when the network began “quietly” soliciting major donors and companies for money to help implement it’s long-term strategic plan, said Chief Executive Mark Vogelzang.

That money has already helped Maine Public launch its new Maine Public Classical radio network, which began in May with three stations and a fourth added a few weeks later.

Some of the money was used to buy transmitters for each of the seven Maine Public Radio stations that carry news and information programming, he said.

Reaching the $30 million goal is important because, if reached, a $1.2 million donation from an anonymous person will kick in. The donor pledged a total of $2.4 million, half right away and half when the $30 million is reached.

The money has already helped hire an education reporter for Maine Public Radio and add five people to help produce and research news programming, including the daily “Maine Calling” radio program.

The network, which includes five TV stations and 11 radio stations as well as a website and digital programming, has a total staff of about 80, Vogelzang said. The network was known as Maine Public Broadcasting Network until September, when it changed its name to reflect that much of its content is online.

Vogelzang said he’s asking the public’s help in raising the last of the $30 million to continue to broaden the network’s impact. He said Maine Public has just bought a fifth station for its classical network, which will be heard at 93.7 FM in the Bar Harbor and Ellsworth areas by mid-December.

The Maine Public Television network is creating a new program for high school students, called “Maine’s High School Quiz Show,” which will air in 2017. Already, about50 high schools have expressed interest, Vogelzang said. He hopes the fundraising will help with more new programming.

The $30 million is on top of the annual operating budget of about $12 million. Of that, more than 73 percent comes from membership and community donations, while the rest comes from the state, federal funding and grants.

]]> 0, 03 Dec 2016 16:01:39 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Christmas Fair and Luncheon. Menu will include fish chowder, corn chowder, chili, hot dogs, chips, ice cream sandwiches and whoopie pies. First Baptist Church of Gardiner, 47 Church St. 582-4747. 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

Trinity Christmas Fair. Wreaths and other greens, crafts, antiques, jewelry, hand-knit goods, decorations, books, baked goods and candy galore. Children’s room. Free. Trinity Episcopal Church 580 Forest Ave., Portland. 774-7421, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday

First Congregational Church Scarborough Fair. Free. 161 Black Point Road. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday

Freedom From Attachment. Drop-in meditation classes. Learn to tap into an endless and reliable source of contentment. $10. $5 students and seniors, The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland, 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Buddhism Unwrapped. Open to both beginners and advanced practitioners, this class will introduce the path to Buddhahood. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham. 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday

Dances of Universal Peace. Chants from world spiritual traditions with simple circle dances. All dances taught. All are welcome. $5-$15 sliding scale. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland,, 2-4 p.m. Sunday

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. St. Augustine Anglican Church continues its Bible study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough, where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church.

Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols with Bishop Deeley. The Festival of Lessons and Carols is an Advent tradition that dates back to the late 19th century. It is a blend of Scripture, prayers and Christmas carols. Free. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 Congress St., Portland. 7 p.m. Friday

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 20:35:41 +0000
Reflections: The ‘singing of angels’ inspires belief that God uses the world for our eternal good Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.”

– From Luke’s Christmas Gospel

Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard somewhere mused that the mature person ultimately came to an acceptance of our being edge-of-the-world dwellers who envision celestial habitations. Fantastically contrived, we are creatures who in the end must up and go, drop everything like children who discard their toys on a playroom floor when called to bed. Shakespeare upped the ante when he said, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” The riddle of our whence and whither seems destined to lie outside the boundaries of what we can know. A puzzle to ourselves, we elect to look outside ourselves – to that “other” – to God for explanations, understandings and guidance.

When I look to this “other,” however, I am pretty much on my own. Yes, I know what the Bible says, am aware of the multitude of portraits of this “other” construed by other faiths and I know what Tillich and Niebuhr say. In the last, however, I decide which “other” I will follow home – the God to whom I shall turn for explanations, understanding and guidance. Scientific cosmology, wrote scientist Chet Raymo, shows us a God who reveals himself in and through his creation “as law and chaos, light and darkness, creator and destroyer.” Prophetically, the biblical God through the prophet Isaiah provides an antiphonal response affirming our scientific notions: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe – I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

No amount of sentimentalizing can take away the fact that this God whom we revere in our prayers is the great I AM – the wholly other who traceless in his coming and going may occupy the inner regions of our beings with or without our consent. We cannot fathom this Intelligence of raw power who from 94 natural elements with a rage for order has fabricated this universe. Knowledge is not an adequate tool for exploring the whole of this place; nor can we know God as God knows God. The Hindustani Upanishads described God as “Thou before whom all words recoil.”

Of course there are words: stand-alone words … dogmatic words, iron words, creedal words meant to lock up truths; however, today’s world is not necessarily persuaded. Still, the questions remain: Who? And why? And to what ends? The savviest among us wisely settle for those intimations of what is that hides in the stories we tell, the poetry we honor and what musicians and artists offer us. Barry Lopez, in his essay Crossing Open Ground, wrote, “I think of the dignity that is ours when we cease to demand the truth and realize that the best we can have of those substantial truths that guide our lives is metaphorical – a story.”

The yule tale began with a miraculous singing of angels and the story never wears out: “a baby slung in a feed-box back in a barn in a Bethlehem slum.” With such words my celebrations begin – God gifting us with himself as a “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” God takes on the mask of one who becomes one with us – Immanuel. You and I are the shape of God’s longing – “God so loved the world … sending his only Son into the world so we might live through him.” A conundrum for the vagabond men of wisdom.

Gratefully I bask in the knowledge of being the object of God’s desire. It is the New Testament’s “singing of angels” that has me humming authentic tidings of invisible things. This “singing of angels” tells about God using this world’s unbendable facts for his own ends and for our eternal good. Decidedly, the facts and figures of human doings are subject to God’s last rounding off. What saddens me is that I may be persuaded of the underlying graciousness of God at work in the Christmas tale, but for multitudes of folk whose lives have been ground down into a miscellany of despair and world-weariness, it will always be a tough sell! Not everyone hears the “singing of angels.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Church, Saco, Maine. He may be contacted at

]]> 0 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 20:41:36 +0000
Comic actor Andrew Sachs of ‘Fawlty Towers’ dies at age 86 Sat, 03 Dec 2016 03:35:41 +0000 LONDON — Comic actor Andrew Sachs, known primarily for his role as the well-intentioned but somewhat dim character of Manuel in the 1970s comedy “Fawlty Towers,” has died. He was 86 and had been suffering from vascular dementia.

Actor John Cleese, who played alongside Sachs in the TV show, led tributes Friday to the German-born British actor, who made the role of the bumbling Spanish waiter with the massive moustache all his own.

His son, John Sachs, said his father was not interested in being a celebrity or seeking the limelight. What he loved was the craft of acting.

“He stuck that big moustache on because he didn’t want to be recognized,” Sachs said.

Born Andreas Siegfried Sachs in Berlin on April 7, 1930, his family moved to England when he was 8 to escape Nazi persecution of Jews.

Though he performed in a number of television shows in the 1960s, he shot to fame in 1975 with “Fawlty Towers,” about a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay. The program centered around owner Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, whose acidic wit and rude behavior offered the irreverent backdrop to efforts to run a hotel visited by eccentric guests.

Even though only 12 episodes were made, it was voted number one in the British Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Television Programs in 2000.

In the program, Sachs played the lovable waiter Manuel, who struggles with his English and whose trademark “Que?” led to some of the program’s most humorous exchanges.

“There’s a certain Charlie Chaplainesque talent that he had,” his son said, noting that Manuel’s limited language skills made movements and athleticism all the more important. “He brought that to Manuel.”

In one episode, “Basil The Rat,” Manuel keeps a pet rat, which he mistakes for a Siberian hamster. Basil catches him.

Manuel: “I say to man in shop, ‘Is rat.’ He say, ‘No, no, no. Is a special kind of hamster. Is filigree Siberian hamster.’ Only one in shop. He make special price, only five pound.”

Basil: “Have you ever heard of the bubonic plague, Manuel? It was very popular here at one time. A lot of pedigreed hamsters came over on ships from Siberia.”

Later in the same program, as Basil tries to reassure him with a slap on the back, Sachs offers the line that was often associated with Manuel.

“Don’t hit me! Always you hit me!” he said.

At a reunion of cast members in 2009, Sachs spoke fondly of his memories of the show. He said some politically incorrect material may prompt complaints from viewers now. Even so, he hoped “we can always get away with good comedy.”

Cleese, the co-creator of the program, told the BBC that acting with Sachs was “like playing tennis with someone who is exactly as good as you are.”

“Sometimes he wins and sometimes you win, but somehow there’s a rapport and it comes from the very deepest part of ourselves,” he said. “You can work on it, but in our case we never had to work on it, it all happened so easily.”

In 2008, Sachs found himself at the center of a controversy when comedian Russell Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross left lewd messages on his answering machine and joked on air about Sachs’ granddaughter.

Viewers protested to the BBC, which was forced to apologize. “It certainly upped my profile,” Sachs said after the incident that became known as “Sachsgate.”

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Selena Gomez tops Instagram site Sat, 03 Dec 2016 02:56:09 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Selena Gomez rules Instagram.

The photo-sharing site released its year-end data Thursday showing the 24-year-old pop star has the most followers of any celebrity (103 million) and was responsible for nearly all of the most-liked celebrity posts in 2016.

Gomez beat out bestie Taylor Swift (93.6 million followers), Beyonce (88.9 million followers) and Kylie and Kendall Jenner (79.5 million and 68.9 million followers, respectively) to top the site’s list of most popular celebs.

The only men among the top 10 were soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (82.3 million followers) and Dwayne Johnson (71 million followers).

Gomez also had eight of the 10 most popular celebrity photos and seven of the top 10 celebrity videos.

Her most popular picture, with 5.2 million likes, is an ad for Coke. It shows the singer in a red dress, her lips around a red-striped straw in a bottle she holds with long red fingernails. Other popular snaps show her performing onstage and posing with a fan. Ronaldo posted the other two photos on the list: both of him with the Euro 2016 trophy.

Gomez’s top video, with 20.1 million views, shows her dancing and singing with a young fan.

Swift, Kim Kardashian and soccer star Leo Messi claimed the other three spots on the list of top celebrity videos. Swift’s video is of her cat. Kardashian’s and Messi’s are of their children.

Apart from the celebrity stats, the site also said that Disney and Universal theme parks were the most popular places among its 500 million active users over the past year. Other oft-Instagrammed spots include New York’s Times Square and Central Park and the Eiffel Tower and Louvre museum in Paris.

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‘Harry Potter’ play may hit Broadway by spring of 2018 Sat, 03 Dec 2016 02:45:25 +0000 LONDON — The stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” has become London’s theater event of the year. Producers hope Broadway will shortly be under its spell, too.

Talks are underway to bring the show to The Lyric Theatre by the spring of 2018.

The Ambassador Theater Group owns the space and plans an extensive renovation to make a smaller playhouse – from 1,900 seats to 1,500 seats. It plans to kick out the Cirque du Soleil show “Paramour” in April to start work.

The play was written by Jack Thorne from a story by Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany. It picks up 19 years after the end of the final Harry Potter novel.

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Film, TV, stage actor Don Calfa dies at 76 Sat, 03 Dec 2016 02:12:16 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Don Calfa, the film, stage and television actor whose credits included “The Return of the Living Dead,” “Weekend at Bernie’s” and “Barney Miller,” has died.

Calfa died Thursday in Palm Springs of natural causes, said his publicist, Michael Perez. Calfa died two days before his 77th birthday.

The New York City native started out on Broadway in the 1960s. Calfa appeared in dozens of comedies, dramas and horror flicks, notably as the mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in “The Return of the Living Dead.”

Calfa worked with directors such as Steven Spielberg (“1941”), Martin Scorsese (“New York, New York”) and Blake Edwards (“10”). He also had a busy career in television, working on “Barney Miller,” “Hill Street Blues” and “Kojak” among other shows.

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High court considers cases of church-affiliated hospitals’ pension plans Sat, 03 Dec 2016 01:00:26 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will decide whether some of the nation’s largest health providers can rely on their church affiliation to avoid complying with federal laws covering pension benefits for workers.

The justices agreed Friday to take up cases involving three nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding their employee pension plans. Lower courts ruled against the hospitals, saying their pensions do not qualify as “church plans.”

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Pope Francis puts American priest on path to sainthood Sat, 03 Dec 2016 00:52:10 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has put an American priest killed during Guatemala’s civil war on the path to possible sainthood by declaring him a martyr.

Francis signed a martyrdom decree Thursday for the Rev. Stanley Rother of Oklahoma. He was killed in 1981, one of several priests slain during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war. Rother had been in Guatemala translating the New Testament into an Indian dialect.

The martyrdom declaration paves the way for Rother’s beatification. Unlike regular candidates, martyrs don’t need a Vatican-certified miracle attributed to their intercession to be beatified. A miracle, however, is necessary to be declared a saint.

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Philadelphia to keep Robert Indiana’s ‘AMOR’ sculpture Sat, 03 Dec 2016 00:22:31 +0000 PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia is permanently putting the “amor” in the City of Brotherly Love.

The city says the bilingual version of Maine-based pop artist Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture – on loan for Pope Francis’ visit last year – will remain in the city.

The sculpture will be formally dedicated Friday at Sister Cities Park, near the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

It had been temporarily installed outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, atop the steps featured in the movie “Rocky.” The pope celebrated an outdoor Mass there during his visit.

Amor means love in the pope’s native Spanish and in Latin, a traditional language of the Roman Catholic Church.

The original “LOVE” sculpture is sitting near City Hall while its namesake park gets a face-lift.

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Independent movie ‘Holly Star’ starts filming in southern Maine Fri, 02 Dec 2016 19:32:14 +0000 A movie about Christmas in small-town Maine began filming Friday in Biddeford and will be shot in four communities in southern Maine this holiday season.

The independent film “Holly Star,” a comedy, will be shot around downtown Biddeford and at Ferry Beach in Saco, as well as locations in Kennebunk and Portland. Filming is scheduled to last until Dec. 21, said Scott Taylor, one of the film’s producers.

Friday’s filming took place on Gooch Street in Biddeford. Taylor said some of the scenes to be shot in the coming weeks include a car crash and a “Hollywood-style” Christmas tree lot.

Both Taylor and the film’s director, Michael A. Nickles, are Maine residents, though they’ve worked in Hollywood. Taylor lives in Brunswick and Nickles lives in Saco.

The movie is a Christmas comedy focusing on an aspiring puppeteer who loses her job in New York City and returns to her home in a small town in southern Maine. The plot involves her search for a sack full of money she believes her grandfather buried somewhere in town years ago while he was dressed as Santa Claus.

The film’s actors all have experience in Hollywood films and TV, though none are stars. The aspiring puppeteer is being played by Katlyn Carlson, who played a TV executive in “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and had a small role in the new film “Going in Style,” starring Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Joey King. Others in the cast are Teya Patt, who played Janet in one season of the TV series “Weeds,” and Brian Muller, who has appeared in episodes of the TV shows “Blue Bloods,” “Madam Secretary” and “The Good Wife.”

Taylor has worked on other indie films that were shot in Maine, including “The Witch Files” and “Night of the Living Deb.”

“The Witch Files” was shot this past spring in Brunswick, Bath and Portland and starred Holly Taylor of the FX series “The Americans” and Paget Brewster of the CBS drama “Criminal Minds.”

Nickles’ work includes the golf drama “Swing Away” and the horror/thriller “Playback” with Christian Slater.

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Concert review: ‘Turning of the Year’ celebrated in festive spirit Fri, 02 Dec 2016 18:06:35 +0000 Their goal was to celebrate “The Turning of the Year,” or the coming winter solstice. But the warmth and good cheer coming from the touring company of musicians who played at One Longfellow Square on Thursday night would have felt good in any season.

Liz Simmons, Lissa Schneckenburger and Flynn Cohen, who perform and record as Low Lily, were joined by legendary Irish-style accordionist John Whelan, up-and-coming Scottish-style fiddler Katie McNally and upright bassist Corey DiMario for an evening of winter-themed music and other songs rooted in Celtic traditions.

Performing in various combinations, as well as all together, these spirited players and singers projected a real sense of pleasure in music-making and kept things lively before a large audience during a two-hour show.

Many songs gained momentum by arrangements that featured a staggered entrance of instruments, building to an overall intensity, with smiles and shouts being shared among the players.

McNally took the spotlight first, introducing pieces by reference to their geographic origins. An Acadian march led to an Essex wedding song. With Flynn accompanying on guitar, McNally launched into a medley of Cape Breton jigs before adding DiMario’s bass to the mix for a bridal march from the Shetland Islands. Variations of rhythm and bowing techniques by McNally kept the music fresh, even as an almost hypnotic center to the music suggested a sense of its age-old roots.

Whelan was a cutup throughout, offering many quips based on his seniority among the players. He danced a bit. But the real dancing was done by his thick fingers as he masterfully worked the mother of pearl buttons of his accordion. With Flynn and DiMario along for the ride, Whelan offered a variety of hornpipes, polkas and jigs, all jauntily rendered.

With Low Lily at center stage, the traditional sounds initially veered a bit more stateside. A lighthearted take of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” was followed by a James Taylor-esque vocal by Flynn to his own tune.

An evocative arrangement of “Good King Wenceslas” got things back into the seasonal spirit. The traditional “The Snow That Melts the Soonest” was another highlight, with Low Lily vocals in the fore. And, an all-hands-on-deck finale of Richard Thompson’s “We Sing Hallelujah” concluded a memorable musical celebration.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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MaineVoices Live: Videos of interviews with luminaries from the arts, politics and business Fri, 02 Dec 2016 18:00:13 +0000 0 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:00:13 +0000 Concert review: Jesse Feinberg offers fresh listening with improvisation Fri, 02 Dec 2016 17:23:33 +0000 Jesse Feinberg is the kind of omnivorous musician who is comfortable in several styles, and is therefore likely to turn up around town performing in any one of them. It might be accompanying a singer in a classical recital or performing new works at the Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival at the Portland Conservatory, where he is on the faculty. But his real love is jazz, and when he performed on the conservatory’s Noonday Concert Series, at First Parish Universalist Unitarian Church on Thursday, he devoted his piano recital fully to improvisation.

You could argue, of course, whether the music he played was jazz or classical improvisation. Feinberg would say jazz, and many listeners think of classical improvisation as an oxymoron. But it is not. All the great composers, well into the 19th century, improvised; Bach, Mozart and even Beethoven, in his younger years, were revered in their day more as improvising pianists than as composers and many of the works we know and love – the Bach Toccatas, the Mozart Piano Concertos – began life as improvisations and were written down later.

In some corners of the classical music world – most notably, among organists – improvisation has remained a prized skill, and every now and then, you run into a player like Friedrich Gulda, or more recently, the British violinist Nigel Kennedy or the Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein, whose passion for jazz has led them to keep their improvisatory chops fresh. But in general, the abandonment of this crucial skill has been one of the tragedies of classical music, because it has transformed performers into executants and interpreters rather than creators.

Feinberg played seven pieces, with two or three entirely extemporized, including the elaborate, almost cinematic opening piece, and the rest based on his own compositions, some of which can be heard on “Spectral Metamorphosis,” the album he released in January. His busy, hard-driven closing piece, for example, was the album’s title track, though in a version that allowed for spontaneous elaboration over its vibrant chord progression.

The music drew on Feinberg’s considerable range. There were jazz moves, of course – exploratory top lines over brisk chordal accompaniments, sudden shifts of tempo and meter, harmonies couched in traditional jazz harmonies, ragtime figures, with specific hints of Fats Waller’s rhythmic style, and glances at Latin beats and melodic accents.

But where Feinberg’s recording is unequivocally a jazz disc, the concert performance was more ambiguous. You could hear his classical roots clear in his third piece, “Success,” a meditative work that, for all the blue notes in its melody line, also drew on figuration that would not be out of place in Chopin or Rachmaninoff, and had the overall spirit of a Nocturne. The live account, in fact, was in some ways a mirror image of the recording. On disc, the piece begins gently and grows more intense and outgoing; live, it began dramatically and pulled back.

Other pieces, like “Banana Split Sunday,” the fifth work he played, veered toward contemporary classicism too, or at least, moved freely between that style and jazz, with chromaticism and syncopations serving as a common denominator conduit of sorts.

Feinberg spoke briefly at the start of the concert, noting only that he would be improvising, and that in the spirit of spontaneity, he had not chosen the pieces in advance. Judging by the handful of audience questions he took at the end (“so, improvisation is kind of like composing?”), what Feinberg was doing was new to some listeners. He answered gamely, but he might have offered more help during the performance itself – for example, announcing the titles of pieces that had them, and letting his listeners know when he was about to improvise freely, without the comparative safety of an existing piece.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn

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Animal Refuge League in Westbrook opens shelter with lots of room to roam Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 WESTBROOK — Hayley Chaimowitz has an enviable job title during her volunteer shifts at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.

The 24-year-old South Portland resident is a “cat socializer.”

Once a week, she spends an afternoon playing with cats while they wait to be adopted. This week she could be found in the kitten room of the Animal Refuge League’s new shelter in Westbrook.

The animals and staff moved last week into the 25,000-square-foot building on land behind their former home on Stroudwater Street, where it has operated since 1956.

“All the space for the cats is amazing,” Chaimowitz said. “It’s huge. They get to walk around.”

The Animal Refuge League previously operated in three separate buildings with a combined 12,000 square feet. Four years in the making, the new shelter brings all operations under one roof with features that include a modern surgical center, isolation rooms for sick animals and outdoor play areas. The nonprofit raised $6.5 million for its construction, including a $1 million donation from Portland developer Arthur Girard, for whom the adoption center is named.

“The goal is really to showcase them,” said Jeana Roth, director of community engagement. “We made more space for each animal.”


The Animal Refuge League oversees more than 4,000 adoptions each year. It finds adoptive homes for stray and surrendered cats, dogs, rabbits and other small animals.

The old shelter had a capacity for about 300 animals. The new building isn’t meant to increase the number of pets available for adoption; instead, it will give each one more space to live and play.

The new location opened to the public last Friday, and Roth reported 49 adoptions in that first weekend – including three cats that spent nearly one month at the old shelter. The animals had moved into three new rooms with glass windows that look onto the lobby, where visitors immediately noticed them.

“We’re seeing the benefits of the thoughtful design, and it’s definitely helping animals find new homes,” Roth said.

Cats roamed or napped on the ladders in three new multi-cat rooms, which in nice weather will have access to a screened-in outdoor “catio.” Most cats lived in kennels at the old shelter.

“The goal was to have more free-roaming, natural spaces for them,” Roth said.

Justin Reid, 33, scratched the ears of a black cat named Charlie. He was planning to adopt a cat to keep his friend’s cat company at their Portland apartment, but he had not chosen one yet.

“Let it happen organically,” he said, watching Charlie play with a stuffed Santa Claus on the floor.

Large dogs had smaller kennels at the old shelter, but their new rooms are bigger, with glass doors instead of metal grates. So Peg Gautier has ample room to visit the large dogs like Titan, a 7-year-old American pit bull terrier mix. When Gautier retired about seven years ago, she joined more than 250 regular volunteers at the shelter.

“They’re all great dogs,” she said. “They have had a certain amount of socializing.”


The new shelter also has an updated surgical room for spay and neuter procedures, as well as a classroom. Roth said the Animal Refuge League will now be able to run camps for young students out of its home base.

“We know if we can teach kids at a young age to responsibly care for pets, they’ll grow up to be adults that responsibly care for pets,” she said.

Fay Harrington and Kylee Austin, both freshmen at the University of Southern Maine, giggled as they petted a 2-year-old orange tiger cat named Ollie. Harrington’s cat Pebbles recently passed away, and she’s been thinking about adopting another from the Westbrook shelter.

“They all need homes,” Harrington said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday, and the shelter’s annual open house event is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.


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Grant Tinker, who left an indelible mark on TV history, dies at 90 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 01:00:00 +0000 His MTM Productions developed ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ ‘Bob Newhart’ and ‘Hill Street Blues.’

Grant Tinker, the plain-spoken, silver-haired executive who led a prime-time renaissance at NBC and developed shows that helped redefine series television in the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 90.

The cause of death was not disclosed.

“Grant Tinker was a great man who made an indelible mark on NBC and the history of television that continues to this day,” NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke said.

Tinker’s company, MTM Productions, which he founded in 1970 with then-wife Mary Tyler Moore, helped change the course of television comedy over the decade that followed. Thanks to such series as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Bob Newhart Show,” the juvenile escapism prevalent in the sitcom genre during the 1960s gave way to adult sophistication. The company also developed Steven Bochco’s innovative police show “Hill Street Blues,” which introduced a higher level of realism and new narrative structure to TV drama.

Appointed NBC’s chairman in 1981, when the network had been in a prolonged ratings slump behind CBS and ABC, Tinker helped achieve a major if gradual turnaround, opting to stick by low-rated but critically acclaimed programs – including “Cheers” – that eventually blossomed into long-running hits.

Other series introduced by NBC during those years included “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties” and “Miami Vice.” David Letterman also began his late-night series after “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

The changes did more than just heighten NBC’s prestige. By the time Tinker left in 1986, after General Electric purchased NBC from RCA, the network’s profits had almost increased tenfold, to more than $400 million.

Tinker built his reputation as a hands-off manager who nurtured quality and stood behind it – an attitude that lured talent to NBC and MTM.

Bochco recalled approaching Tinker when he joined MTM, asking, “‘Do you have any thoughts about what you’d like me to be working on?’ He said, ‘No. We asked you to come to MTM to work on what you want to do.’ This was a guy who created an environment in which writers were genuinely free to create and produce their work.”

Tinker downplayed his role in the victories with which he was associated.

“I just had the good luck to be around people who did the kind of work that the audience appreciates,” he said in a 1994 interview coinciding with the release of his autobiography, “Tinker on Television.” “The success just rubbed off on me.”

Similarly, when Tartikoff died of cancer in 1997, Tinker credited him as the architect of NBC’s ratings turnaround. Reminded of his own contribution to that process, Tinker said only that the time for that would be in his own obituary.

Although he was associated with numerous Emmy-winning programs, Tinker was also willing to try commercial fare that he freely admitted was not to his personal taste. A key component of NBC’s success during the 1980s, for example, was the fanciful action show “The A-Team.”

When Tartikoff gave him the script, he nervously waited for Tinker’s response, finally calling to gauge his reaction. “It’s pretty good, if you like that sort of stuff,” he recalled Tinker saying.

Later, running his own production company, Tinker launched “Baywatch.” NBC canceled the show, which eventually became a long-running international smash in syndication. Eager to see the project find new life – and make NBC rue dropping it – Tinker sold the rights back to the producers for $10.

“I don’t have any problems with programming for mass audiences even a lowest-common-denominator show,” Tinker said in a 1983 interview. “I just don’t want to have ’em every night of the week.”

Tinker was born Jan. 11, 1926, in Stamford, Conn. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Tinker joined the NBC radio network in 1949 as a management trainee and became operations manager.

He left NBC in 1954, becoming deputy director of Radio Free Europe, but soon segued to the ad agency McCann-Erickson to develop TV shows.

Tinker worked in a similar capacity at another ad agency, Benton & Bowles, before returning to NBC in 1961 as a programming executive.

In 1970, Tinker and Moore (who had married in 1963, while “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was running on CBS) formed MTM, taking its initials from the actress’ name. The logo – a parody of MGM’s signature introduction – featured a kitten, instead of a lion, giving forth a soft meow.

MTM’s first program, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” turned into a hit for CBS, and a parade of hits followed: “The Bob Newhart Show,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” and “Mary” spinoffs “Rhoda,” “Phyllis” and “Lou Grant” among them.

Even the medical drama “St. Elsewhere,” though never a major commercial success, was widely considered one of TV’s best programs.

Tinker and Moore’s 18-year marriage ended in 1981, the same year he began at NBC.

As part of his TV legacy, Tinker’s sons Mark and John have both become producers, with John working on “Chicago Hope” and Mark having spent several years on “NYPD Blue.”

“My father set the bar high both as a television executive and a father,” Mark Tinker said Wednesday.

Another son, Mike, became a Los Angeles police detective, who played bit roles on his brothers’ programs.

All four of Tinker’s children (the other being a daughter, Jodie) came from his first marriage, to Ruth Byerly, which ended in 1962.

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Santa Hustle, Festival of Trees: Things to do in Maine this weekend Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:57:29 +0000 0, 02 Dec 2016 21:53:11 +0000 Prince Harry joins Rihanna to mark Barbados independence Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:44:10 +0000 BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — Britain’s Prince Harry joined Rihanna in celebrating 50 years of independence for her native Barbados.

The prince, visiting the sixth of seven nations on a two-week Caribbean tour, and the singer shared the stage Wednesday night with the prime minister during a concert and dance performance marking the date the island broke away from Britain.

Harry read a message from Queen Elizabeth II congratulating Barbados and saying that the island should be “rightfully proud” of a vibrant culture and natural beauty.

He spoke before a crowd of about 20,000 people at the Kensington Oval cricket ground.

He also encouraged residents to work together to confront challenges such as climate change and the effects of technology on the job market.

Harry is on a two-week tour of the Caribbean that is also a celebration of the 90th birthday of his grandmother the queen.

He will stop next in Guyana, where he is expected to make a trip to the rainforest, meet with President David Granger and place a wreath at a memorial to that country’s independence.

– From news service reports

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Former Bieber sidekick gets year in beating case Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:23:35 +0000 LOS ANGELES — Justin Bieber’s former sidekick, Lil Twist, has been sentenced to a year behind bars after pleading no contest to beating and robbing a Nickelodeon actor.

Los Angeles County district attorney spokesman Ricardo Santiago told The New York Daily News that the 23-year-old rapper, whose real name is Christopher Lynn Moore, entered the plea on the first day of his scheduled trial Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the charges stemmed from an occasion two years ago when “Zoey 101” star Christopher Massey asked Moore to leave a party. They say Moore returned to the party with others and beat the actor.

– From news service reports

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Photos: Young Maine dancers take a turn with the Moscow Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ Thu, 01 Dec 2016 22:53:00 +0000 Twenty-two dancers from three local dance studios performed in the Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” on Thursday at the State Theatre in Portland.

Twenty-two children ages 7 to 17 were chosen during auditions this fall. Local students are given opportunities to perform with the troupe as part of a program run by the Moscow Ballet.

The students filled such roles in the holiday classic as mice and snowflakes.

]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 23:07:40 +0000
Concert Review: Twiddle, always good for a jam, falls short on songwriting Thu, 01 Dec 2016 21:13:11 +0000 If the first generation of jam bands was led by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, and the second was led by Phish and The String Cheese Incident, then bands like Twiddle are at the fore of the latest generation. After a decade spent honing their chops, the band is rising at a rapid pace, nearing affirmed, lasting success and earning their place in this lineage.

As a Vermont-based quartet, the comparisons to Phish are inevitable, and Twiddle embraces them, seeing Phish not only as musical models but clearly as career models.

Just like Phish did in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Twiddle is touring ferociously, working the jam-band-friendly markets such as the Northeast, Colorado and Oregon, and consciously aiming for bigger rooms on each visit. In Portland, they sold out Port City Music Hall earlier this year and followed it by playing the much bigger State Theatre just months later — and if they didn’t sell it out, then it was better to have empty space than to leave any prospective fans wanting.

Like many jam bands, ascendant or otherwise, they wisely group shows around holidays to boost the notion that their concerts are events. So they played the State Theatre on the evening before Thanksgiving. If it seems unwise to the outside observer to play a concert on one of the biggest travel days of the year, then it’s worth noting that many fans traveled from the outside Maine just to come see them.

It’s clear to see why they’ve inspired such devotion. Twiddle is a thoroughly likable and phenomenally gifted quartet that hops right into an often-complex blend of jazz, rock, reggae and funk and stays locked in for the whole duration. Fronted by Mihali Savoulidis, a Santana-like guitarist with a diverse sonic range, the band listens to each other closely and easily conjures up danceable rhythms and melodies during their improvisational excursions.

To new listeners, it is difficult to discern if their jams are going from a point A to a point B. They seem to move in cycles rather than straight lines, trying out different textures for a few minutes at a time before moving on to the next one. They employ fairly standard tricks of jam bands, such as dramatically shifting from frantic play (tension) to gloriously sustained notes (release), and briefly feinting away from their own momentum taking it to the next level of intensity. They’re very liberal in their use of such tools, giving their performance the feel of a DJ set more than a concert.

The songs themselves are Twiddle’s Achilles’ heel. Phish was criticized for their lyrics, but their compositions have always have been tight, imaginative and effective across a wide range of musical genres. Twiddle’s melodies aren’t potent enough to differentiate one upbeat, reggae-tinged song from the next, and it often seems like the verses are just something to pass the time until they can uncork another 10-minute improvisational session. The lack of memorable songs, despite incredible jams, made the show seem like all flight and no launchpads, but this band is heading for great heights.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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Concert Review: Barkada Quartet is strong ensemble hampered by repertory Thu, 01 Dec 2016 19:50:25 +0000 The four young saxophonists of the Barkada Quartet approach their work with the energy of a jazz ensemble and, when they are at their best, the suppleness of a string quartet. Saxophone ensembles can be a tough sell in the classical music world – the instrument was invented in 1840, which makes it, for the most conservative classical listeners, nearly as newfangled as the synthesizer – but these musicians have done remarkably well since they banded together in 2011. Among their other accomplishments, in 2012 they became the first saxophone ensemble to win the grand prize (as well as the gold medal in the wind division) at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, a contest with a good track record for spotting promising groups.

The quartet paid a visit to Corthell Concert Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus on Wednesday evening, and played a program that demonstrated the considerable strengths of this ensemble, which is arrayed like a string quartet, with soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones.

But that said, the program also helped explain why classical audiences remain so resistant to the saxophone, except when it is used either as a color instrument (for example, in Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”) or as a no-holds-barred engine of avant-garde exploration (as in the works of John Zorn and Nick Zoulek).

It’s the repertory. The works the Barkada Quartet played on Wednesday were all pleasant and energizing, and one – Pedro Iturralde’s “Pequeña Czarda” (1949), an arrangement of a set of lively variations, originally for alto saxophone and piano – was clever, virtuosic and a lot of fun. But there was not much music of great depth or consequence here. The concert was a bit like going out for dinner and ending up at a cotton candy stand instead.

Of the premieres, the more ambitious was the Quintet No. 2 “Sierra Vita” (2016) by David Martynuik, an associate professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Martynuik tells us in his program note that he loves to ski, particularly in the western United States and Canada, and that the work, which is scored for saxophone quartet and piano, embraces the range of feelings skiing gives him, from the excitement and anticipation he feels when driving off on a ski trip to the various kinds of snow he might encounter and the feeling of speeding through the final stretch of a ski run.

You can feel that joy in the music, which is tightly scored and full of bright, cheerful melodies, particularly in the soprano saxophone line, and insistently burbling accompaniments. As a quintet for saxes and piano, though, it doesn’t work so well. Mainly the problem was balance: from where I sat, toward the front of the hall, the ensemble so consistently overpowered the pianist, Anastasia Antonacos, that only an occasional rippling, Rachmaninoff-like figure or between-the-sax lines chordal burst could be heard.

It’s possible that Martynuik meant it this way – that as a chamber piece, the texture was meant to be heard as a solid whole, without the piano having a solo role (though that is generally not the way quintets for piano and either winds or strings typically work), or perhaps the relationship would have sounded more equitable in another hall. But at this first performance, I spent much of the work’s 26-minute duration wondering what the piano was meant to bring to the proceedings.

The second premiere, Christine Delphine Hedden’s “An Daingean” (2016), a brief, misty reminiscence of a visit to Ireland, was generally more pleasing. It lasts less than five minutes, but Hedden’s ability to resist the saxophone’s robust side, and to give the ensemble fluid, meditative, harmonically nebulous textures, serves her (and the players) well.

The quartet opened its program with David Salleras Quintana’s “Tango Pour une Princesse Désésperée” (“Tango for a Desperate Princess,” 2006), a frenetic, punchy vignette, with a brief slow section that let the quartet demonstrate its ability to phrase subtly. The program also included Alfred Desenclos’ Quatuor pour Saxophones (1964), a three-movement study in Gallic urbanity.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: kozinn


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Join a singalong on tour of light displays in Bath Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:22:08 +0000 ]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 18:12:10 +0000 When it comes to navigating holiday sales, it helps to be crafty Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:18:20 +0000 ]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 11:37:37 +0000 Single mom turns to Toy Fund after illness drains her gift reserves Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 A single mother in southern Maine survived a difficult battle with cancer this year, but her medical expenses have left little money for holiday gifts. She turned to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund for help putting presents under the Christmas tree for her three children.

“We want the children to enjoy the holidays after the worry and stress that they have had this year,” she wrote in a letter to the toy fund.

Since her diagnosis with acute myeloid leukemia over the winter, the 41-year-old mom has spent weeks at a time in hospitals for chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant. She was often away from her kids.

“They’re very happy to spend Christmas with me,” she said. “They didn’t think I was going to be here. They kept asking, ‘Are you going to be home for Christmas?’ ”

The kids’ father has helped take care of them during her illness, but she said he is disabled and doesn’t have much income to spare. While she is currently in remission and recovering well from the transplant surgery, the mother hasn’t been able to return to her job in health care yet. When she found out about the toy fund through the children’s school, their mom said it was one example of the kindness she has experienced from friends and strangers during her illness.

“I’m so grateful to people I don’t even know,” she said. “There’s a lot of bad, but there’s also a lot of good.”

The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is using donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund – now in its 67th year – is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties.

Applications can be downloaded at or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland.

Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made on the website or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

For more information and to donate online, go to

See more stories about the fund at


William A Pond Sr.   $150

In memory of Eugene Debor   $100

Merry Christmas! The 12 Cs   $120

James & Mary Currie   $30

Bob Steele   $100

Nancy Peck   $50

Anonymous   $50

Joan & Robert Nigro   $100

Richard & Nancy Lemieux   $200

In memory of my Aunt Frances who was always so generous to her nephews, from John E. Dooley   $250

For the children, Arnold & Susan Harmon   $100

Merry Christmas to all – Deborah & Allen Cairns   $50

In memory of John Ganem   $25

Barbara Rachel   $50

Merry Christmas from Rusty & Sally Bennett   $100

Thanks for doing this, Marie R. Barlow   $200

Anonymous   $300

Judith C Bromley   $50

Stanley & Kathleen Murray-Allain   $350

A friend   $25

Anonymous   $100

In honor of Long Island Town Hall employees   $75

Total to date  $17,655.60

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Book seller pulls strings to lure Boss Thu, 01 Dec 2016 02:33:09 +0000 DENVER — Bruce Springsteen stopped in Denver on Wednesday as part of a nationwide tour promoting his new autobiography, “Born to Run.”

An estimated 1,100 people who bought advance tickets lined up at the Tattered Cover Book Store to get a pre-autographed copy of the book and a photo with the Boss. The line extended out of the store and down the street.

The store posted a YouTube video earlier this year urging Springsteen to visit during his book tour. The new, incoming co-owner, Len Vlahos, is seen playing guitar and singing “Growin’ Up” while walking through the store.

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Everyone goes nuts for Penn State’s Squirrel Girl Thu, 01 Dec 2016 00:29:59 +0000 STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State students know her as the Squirrel Whisperer, or even Squirrel Girl. Which suits Mary Krupa just fine.

Four years ago, the 22-year-old senior became an internet sensation for placing tiny hats on the ubiquitous rodents that live near Penn State’s landmark Old Main building, and coaxing them to hold miniature props.

Though her Penn State career is winding down, Krupa is still up to her old tricks. Her photos of “Sneezy the Penn State Squirrel” continue to garner thousands of likes on Facebook and have been featured in magazines and calendars.

“It’s nice to make something and see that people like it. But I didn’t think it would last this long or become this popular,” said Krupa, who graduates in December.

She began interacting with Penn State’s famously friendly gray squirrels her first week on campus in 2012. Krupa idly wondered what one would look like with a hat on its head, and, pleased with the result, sent a photo to her grandmother, who loved it.

With Penn State reeling from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, Krupa decided her fellow students could also use a laugh.

“Everyone was really just down in the dumps, and I figured that Penn State needed something good to take their mind off things, cheer up. And so I started posting these pictures on Facebook.”

Krupa’s anthropomorphized Sneezy would become an unofficial mascot – Penn State’s very own Rocket J. Squirrel or Chip and Dale – and, over the course of her college career, the English major dreamed up many amusing scenes for the squirrelly star.

There’s Sneezy pushing a tiny shopping cart filled with acorns. Sneezy holding a jack-o’-lantern at Halloween. Sneezy raking leaves, rooting for the home team and drinking tea, mostly while wearing an assortment of squirrel-size hats.

Mara Fitzgerald, 21, a Penn State student from Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, is a longtime fan.

“I honestly knew who she was before I even got to Penn State because my older sisters went here and they told me about her,” she said. “My mom knows who she is. I think everybody does.”

Krupa is an unlikely celebrity. Growing up in a wooded neighborhood outside State College, she had always been fond of the birds, squirrels and other wildlife around her house.

People were another matter.

Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism, Krupa said she was a loner in high school, antisocial and awkward. Sneezy helped Krupa come out of her shell.

“The squirrel’s actually a good way to break the ice, because I’ll be sitting here patting a squirrel and other people will come over and we’ll just start like feeding the squirrels together and chatting about them,” she said. “I am a lot more outgoing.”

On a mild November afternoon, Krupa looks for Sneezy in and around the majestic trees bracketing Old Main, calling softly, a container of roasted, unsalted peanuts under one arm.

A few minutes later, a plump female climbs up Krupa’s arm and takes a seat on her lap. It’s the current incarnation of Sneezy (there have been several). Krupa strokes the squirrel, then places her favorite hat – a fruited concoction made with her brother’s 3D printer – atop Sneezy’s head. It promptly falls off, and the squirrel scampers away.

Even after she graduates, Krupa plans to stay in the area – ready to welcome the next class of Penn State squirrels.

“They’re definitely wild animals, and I always respect them for being wild animals,” said Krupa, who is minoring in wildlife science. “But at the same time, it’s neat that they’re willing to let me interact with them. We do seem to have this mutual trust.”

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MaineToday Magazine: ‘Tis the season to be merry Wed, 30 Nov 2016 23:38:59 +0000 0, 30 Nov 2016 18:39:15 +0000