Sunday, April 11, 2010

I Can Haz Flawwer?

It's not the best exposure in the world, but it would be proof in a court of law.

All spring, The McGonagall Cat and I have waged the Battle of the Cyclamen. The minute one of them blooms (see the little splotch of pink on the left-hand plant?), M-cat sneaks into my office, tears the flower off, and spits it on the floor. Cyclamen blossoms are poisonous, supposedly, so I'm glad she's not eating them. But still...

I've tried barricading the most recent blossom. The result may be a whole new level of destruction. Why she's so obsessed with the cyclamens this year I can't tell you--last year they were in a more accessible place and she ignored them.

It's the challenge of the thing, I guess. Or some deep-seated psychological trauma involving squirrels. They mock her. I suppose I'd eat poison, too, if it were me.

IN OTHER NEWS: In case you're wondering how Our Little Town is faring after the Selectmen-Imitate-Lemmings event, we seem to be surviving. Turns out the situation is a) unprecedented and b) impossible, since selectmen can only resign to other selectmen. The first two resigned to the third, but he's stuck in place until we elect somebody for him to resign to. It may be that all three of them are still selectmen, since nobody ever accepted their resignations.

As it turns out, two of the if-not-now-soon-to-be-ex selectmen went in to the town office Tuesday and signed the warrant so the town can pay its bills. They also have signed or will sign a warrant for a quickie election. Three fine people have come forward to run for office. One of them is Stalwart Moderator George Eaton, who was instrumental over the past week in helping to sort things out. Obviously, we need him. Yay George.

IN STILL OTHER NEWS: We went to a local production of The Threepenny Opera last night, put on by the New Surry Theatre. I can't express how mind-boggling it is when someone you've known for 25 years turns out to be a chameleon onstage, and a singing chameleon to boot. Such a person is Annie Poole, mild-mannered painter and waitress the rest of the time. She played Mrs. Peacham, and she was chilling and funny and tuneful. The production itself was fun and inventive and classy. But Annie stopped existing for a while and Mrs. Peacham took her place, and that's just incredible.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April Book Review Club

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@Barrie Summy

Look at me! Three posts in six days! Don't get used to it--life is bound to intrude at some point. Anyway, it's April, and our thoughts are outside, so we need an especially compelling reason to settle down with a good book. This is it. Go get it.

Don't forget to click the icon for the rest of The Book Review Club!

A Conspiracy of Kings
By Megan Whelan Turner
Greenwillow, April 2010

I’ll have to be careful reviewing this book, the fourth in the Queen’s Thief series that debuted with 1997 Newbery honoree THE THIEF. If you haven’t read the earlier books—which you should, right now—I’d hate to spoil any surprises. Surprises are all Turner has going for her—apart from spectacular writing, deeply compelling characters, thoroughly imagined setting, and fearless plotting,.

The books follow the fortunes of Gen, the eponymous thief, in three neighboring kingdoms whose shared culture is ancient Greece with guns. Their rulers—two queens and a king, who assume a kingdom’s name upon ascending the throne—have spent the series jockeying for position and strategizing to keep larger empires from gobbling them up. The gods sometimes interfere, surprising the disbelievers.

This fourth book reunites us with Sophos, whom we met in THE THIEF as a student and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Sounis. Like the other high-born characters in the book, he must thread his way through a treacherous world, attempting to resolve the conflict between his dreams and desires and those of a leader. It’s a deeply personal coming-of-age story, but it’s painted on a broad canvas with bold, rich color.

As usual, Turner is a point-of-view trickster. We shift from third person to first person and back again, occasionally dropping into second person, gods help us. What makes this especially impressive is Turner’s ability to make us think we share a person’s every thought and then whack us with a plot twist or character revelation that we probably should have seen coming. Why didn’t we? The woman’s evil, that’s why.

She’s also gutsy. She introduces a mystery and doesn’t much worry about whether she’s confused us. There’s so much going on that we’re content to move along, confident that we’ll figure it all out eventually.

There’s romance, there’s humor… but all with an undercurrent of utter tragedy, constant, almost overwhelming. You sense that, in the end, all this maneuvering will come to nothing—or maybe the gods have some steely-eyed plan that discounts human happiness. The characters sense this, too. And then we all have a good laugh together.

I’m not sure whether these are middle-grade or young-adult fantasy. The Newbery folks obviously thought THE THIEF was for kids rather than teens, and Amazon has them at ages 9-12. Almost everyone else seems to assume they’re young adult. There is a bit of swearing here and there, but although the romance is pretty intense in places there’s no overt sex. Reading comprehension would have to be pretty good.

Regardless of the reader’s age, though, I can’t recommend these books enough.

Monday, April 5, 2010

OK, Now This Is Really Nuts

It's April 5, for cripe's sakes. We're supposed to be up to our knees in mud and freezing off our tushies for another three weeks at least.

Instead, the Tiger's Bane is about to bloom in the flower garden (at left). The day lilies (below) are tall enough to be nibbled by deer. (Handy tip: Sprinkle used -- and, er, sifted -- kitty litter around the garden to make it smell like a predator. I wasn't expecting to do this for another month, but yesterday there I was in the cellar, raiding the cat box.)

The buds on the maples are sprouting fringe a month early. We have the screens up on most of the windows. I am barely restraining myself from putting up the screen doors.

No good can come of this. It's too pleasant. This is New England. We will pay.

IN OTHER NEWS: Being a sinful woman who doesn't deserve an early spring, I utterly neglected to link to a nice interview by Kate Narita on her blog, "Classroom Book of the Week." The questions were fun to answer, and I feel terrible that my brain went on the fritz. Anyway, here's the interview, and here's her feature on THE UNNAMEABLES. And here's her blog's main page, so you get the full flavor of what she's about.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Democracy in...Wait, Did Somebody Say "Action"?

I took my camera to Brooklin town meeting this morning, figuring I'd blog about this most basic exercise in democracy and small-town camaraderie. Before I'd even unpacked the camera, the exercise turned into an episode of "Survivor: Maine."

The meeting started at 9 a.m. By 9:05, all three selectmen had resigned and walked out of the school gymnasium. Then the tax collector resigned and sat down in the audience. (At right, the last selectman standing, Richard Freethey, reads his resignation letter. Our stalwart town meeting moderator, George Eaton, is pondering what the hell he's going to do next and Town Clerk Gigi Hardy is pretending she's someplace else entirely.)

I've been a close watcher of town politics in Maine for 25 years and I've never seen this happen before. As I write this, we don't have a clear idea of how much trouble we're in. At the very least, we can't pay our bills without selectmen to sign the warrant that authorizes the payment.

There may have been two or three people in the audience who saw this coming, but no more than that, I bet. Maybe we should have been more insightful, considering that at the town election polls yesterday voters were handed a bunch of letters from town officials criticizing each other. It seemed to be the selectmen vs. the elected town office staff, the town clerk, treasurer and tax collector.

We also received a written report from a committee appointed to study how the town office operates. The selectmen had appointed the committee last spring, part of its charge being to investigate the possibility of replacing the elected town office staff with an appointed administrative assistant. The elected staff didn't think much of this idea, and a low-pressure system settled on the town office that has stayed there until today.

As it turned out, the report did not recommend replacing anyone with anyone else, but instead suggested things everyone--especially the selectmen--could do to steamline operations. Apparently, this did nothing to improve the weather. By last week, when I was hanging out in the town office registering my new car, the gale warnings were up, I'm not exactly sure why or from whom or to whom. All I know is that the air was crackling.

The three resigning selectmen said, basically, that they were sick of being disrespected. Sounded like the letters handed out at the polls were the last straw.

Thanks to the stalwart George Eaton, we went through the town meeting anyway--passed town and school budget items, approved a veterans' memorial, set a few routine policies, honored a couple of firefighters for exemplary service. Some warrant articles had to be "passed over" because we needed an explanation from the absent selectmen. At the end of the meeting, the tax collector bowed to pressure and rescinded her resignation. The town clerk said she would call the secretary of state on Monday and find out what we do next. Most likely, the state will appoint some sort of babysitter to take care of us until we can elect new selectmen.

It was all very weird and--although no one would admit it out loud--very thrilling.

Usually, town meeting has the same atmosphere as an extended rainy spell after a drought--a great big bore, but we know it's necessary and we feel a sense of solidarity and accomplishment just going through it together.

This town meeting was more like northeast gale, which you thoroughly enjoy even as it drops a tree on your car. (I don't seem to be letting go of that, do I?) I felt bad about the selectmen and we all griped about how terrible it was, but in reality it was the most fun we'd had in ages. People went around in the breaks suggesting each other run for selectmen and saying no, no, not me, not in a million years. (A possible worthy exception might be Lori Gallo, above at left, who would make a crackerjack selectman. She might have said "maybe." She and the woman next to her, Lauren Allen , were on the committee that studied town office operations. )

And we did a lot of the regular town meeting things, such as:

Voting by paper ballot for the school budget in the school library. We vote the individual line items by voice vote, but for inscrutable reasons the state insists that the final, comprehensive warrant article pass by paper ballot. We just write "yes" or "no" on a piece of paper and hand it in. Then, next Friday, we have to go to the polls and vote on it AGAIN. Inscrutable ain't the half of it.

That's former town clerk June Eaton voting in the photo at right. I bet she's glad Gigi's in the hot seat now, and not her.

Checking out the future. Below, Rob and several fellow curmudgeons examine the plans for a parking lot rehab (which was "passed over.") Rob and his fellow firefighters are in dress uniform, which he hates because he says it makes him feel like a Brown Shirt. The guy second from right is Ed Holden, who just got honored for 40 years of firefighting. In the photo below right, Fire Chief Sam Friend gives the Firefighter of the Year award to Scott Tierney, a relatively new firefighter who has been exceptionally active. (Another entertaining aspect of small town life: Years ago, Sam was a member of the elementary school Odyssey of the Mind team Rob coached. To this day, I have the power to embarrass Sam simply by saying the word "toga.")

Eating. The eighth-grade class always serves lunch at town meeting to raise funds for its class trip. It's a tricky business, because once in a while the meeting ends early and the moderator has to beg everyone to stay for lunch.

Today we finished all our business at the perfect time to eat, and then regathered in the gym to so that stalwart moderator George could exhort us all to "get with the program" and stop fighting with each other.

Hear, hear, George.