Hot TipBrown Bagging It
There's nothing worse than arriving at your summer rental after a long journey only to have to turn right around and head to the grocery store to stock up on provisions for your stay. (Okay, so maybe it'd be worse not to come to Maine at all.) That's where Blueberry Acres (207-594-9797; www.blueberryacres.com
) comes in. Run by Sarah and Matthew Vokey, graduates of the New England Culinary Institute and former proprietors of the highly rated Camden restaurant Rathbone's, Blueberry Acres will do your grocery shopping based on a list you provide ahead of time.When you arrive in your Camden, Rockport, or Rockland-area vacation house your perishables will be neatly stowed in the fridge and freezer; for an additional fee, they'll even buy fresh flowers, pick up dog food, or put away your dry goods. The only drawback? You still have to cook dinner.BooksThe Bold and the BattyBarbara Merrill's new manifesto contains a rash of daring, if impractical, proposals.
Barbara Merrill wants to be Maine's first independent governor of the twenty-first century and the first female governor in the state's history. Setting the Maine Course (self-published; paperback; 158 pages; $7.99) is her campaign book, a lively discussion of some of the more vexing problems facing the state and what she would do to solve them.
In 1994, another independent gubernatorial candidate, Angus King, produced a book, Making a Difference, in which he also outlined his take on issues. Also that year, Democratic candidate Dick Barringer turned out a campaign booklet of similar heft. But don't look for a trend here. Writing a readable political book takes more talent than most candidates have — and more time and energy than most want to spend. Besides, its effectiveness as a campaign tool remains uncertain. Although King won the election, Barringer finished well behind in his five-way primary race.
Merrill obviously hopes to follow the King model, and even improve upon it. In the opening paragraph of her book she promises readers that, whereas King "omitted the type of details that can get a candidate in trouble," her own book will contain "so much detail that most readers will find at least one or two points with which they disagree." This is a bit unfair to King, who included many specific recommendations in his book and was later periodically judged by its promises. But Merrill is right that her book contains plenty of provocative material.
Her proposals transcend partisan ideology. She advocates stronger enforcement of environmental laws but wants to cut overall state regulations by half. She calls for a retreat from the state's drive to promote municipal efficiencies through regionalism but also backs a state law reducing the number of counties from sixteen to eight through consolidation. To encourage small business development, she would abolish the corporate income tax and get rid of such programs as Pine Tree Zones and tax increment financing (TIFs), which she says favor big business and lead to inequitable tax burdens.
"Don't vote for anyone who says it will be easy to make a leaner state government," she advises, but, on the other hand, "Don't vote for anyone who says we can't cut state spending."
Merrill, a freshman state representative from midcoast Maine and a member of the Education Committee, is an ardent believer in the preservation of community schools. She opposes creation of ever-larger school districts, which she says do not save money as advertised. Bigger districts, she argues, simply have bigger administrative staffs.
Schooling is improved, she contends, when kept closer to the neighborhood level, where the opportunity and incentives for direct parental involvement are greatest. She wants communities to decide school needs for themselves, unhampered by pressure from Augusta or state funding formulas that are murky and inequitable.
Merrill has a funding formula of her own: "The state will pay for the full cost of teachers, 90 percent of the cost of transportation, [and] half of construction costs, and provide a special supplemental contribution to communities with a low property evaluation-to-student ratio. This would give us a system that lay people could understand, that is fair to all schools and that requires minimal interference with local decision-making."
She even has a specific plan to pay for this: dedicate all revenues from the state sales tax to education funding. She does not, however, explain how the sales tax money, which now helps pay for an array of budget programs, would be replaced.
Elsewhere, Merrill sets out ideas for "restoring fiscal responsibility" to state government. They include a constitutional amendment establishing a surplus account to guarantee truly balanced budgets — with good economic years offsetting poor ones — and requiring a two-thirds vote of both houses to tap that account or otherwise borrow money.
The last-minute scuttling of this proposal by legislative leaders during the 2005 session evidently contributed to Merrill's decision to drop her enrollment in the Democratic Party earlier this year — throwing the House temporarily into a partisan tie — and become an independent.
Merrill's ideas about running state government are bold, imaginative, and charged with the sort of challenge that could make for a stimulating campaign debate. Political practicality, however, is something else again. Jim BrunelleBriefly Noted
You don't need to know that the main character in Christopher Fahy's madcap and poignant new novel Chasing the Sun (Puckerbrush Press, Orono; paperback; 175 pages; $15.95) is loosely based on the gifted, irascible, garrulous, ornery, shambling, oddly affecting Rockland poet Leo Connellan (may he rest in peace). But it helps. The plot centers on an exiled poet who returns to his hometown on the Maine midcoast to receive an honorary college degree and, in his uniquely dyspeptic way, disrupts everyone's lives, most of all his put-upon host's.
North to Katahdin by Eric Pinder (Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis; paperback, 178 pages; $15.95) explores the mindsets of the thousands of people who hike Maine's most prominent peak. Pinder's thoughtful exploration of Americans' fascination with wilderness is rooted in natural history and the work of perhaps the mountain's most famous visitor, Henry David Thoreau.MusicOn the Road
Every road trip needs a good soundtrack. This summer, grab a copy of Beauty of a Heart, the latest release from Portland's own Coming Grass (www.thecominggrass.com
), for the house and another for your car, since chances are you won't want to be without it the next time you've got a few miles to drive. Fronted by husband-and-wife team Nate Schrock and Sara Cox, the Coming Grass are among the elder statesmen of Maine's thriving roots-rock scene. They've been together in one form or another since 2000, and the latest album, the group's third, is evidence of their connections — musical and otherwise. Sounding one minute like the Cowboy Junkies, thanks to Cox's assured vocals, and another like Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones, courtesy of tunes like Schrock's "Work It Out," the band put together a stellar eleven-song lineup for Beauty of a Heart. Alternately pining wistfully and rocking with a country twang, Schrock, Cox, and the rest of the crew have produced what could prove to be Maine's best album of 2006. It may not get you better gas mileage, but it'll definitely make the drive worth taking.GetawayBig Little BelfastThere's a reason this mini metropolis keeps getting "discovered" anew
Old Maine and New Age coexist happily in Belfast, a little seaport on Penobscot Bay that was once the state's chicken-processing capital. Over the past three decades, waves of artsy hippies, buttoned-down telemarketers, and well-heeled retirees have washed over this funky city at the mouth of the
(impossible-to-pronounce) Passagassawakeag River.
SHOPS A throwback to the happy days before Payless and Foot Locker — when shoe salespeople knew actually something about feet — the Colburn Shoe Store (81 Main St., 207-338-1934) calls itself the "oldest shoe store in America" (it certainly feels venerable). Portlanders who frequent The Clown (74 Main Street, 207-338-4344) in the Old Port for its mix of antiques, gourmet treats, and fine wines will want to stop at this satellite store in Belfast. Coyote Moon (54 Main St., 207-338-5659) does the Aquarian boutique thing especially well, with nice lines of jewelry, natural-fiber clothing, and stationery. From hemp to henna, composters to cotton smocks, the Green Store (71 Main St., 207-338-4045) is all about Earth-friendliness.
CHEAP EATS The 1960s live on — in a good way — at the Belfast Co-op Store (123 High St., 207-338-2532), a combination grocery store and community center that has everything you'd expect (organic produce, bulk legumes) and some things you wouldn't (a first-rate café and deli). Chase's Daily (96 Main St., 207-338-0555) is another uniquely Belfast hybrid: a farmer's market cum vegetarian restaurant. Serving breakfast and lunch only, the Summerhouse Café (228 Northport Ave., 207-338-8910) is a discovery for its great sandwiches on homemade bread and excellent haddock chowder. Three Tides (2 Pinchy Lane, 207-338-1707) is where ex-hippies and young hipsters raise martini glasses to a jazz beat.
RESTAURANTS For creative cuisine (as in, lobster cakes encrusted in pecans with a gingery crème fra?che) check out the Twilight Café (70 Main Street, 207-338-0937). The Penobscot Bay Inn & Restaurant (92 Northport Ave., 800-335-2370) — under new ownership since last year — is the talk of the town for its affordable menu that ranges from pot roast to more elegant seafood preparations. With its tin ceilings and (well-stocked) antique bar, Darby's Restaurant & Pub (155 High Street, 207-338-2339) is a local favorite, the kind of hangout where the chili comes with chicken and cashews and the burgers are made of buffalo.
ENTERTAINMENT The Belfast Maskers (43 Front Street, 207-338-9668) have made their home on the waterfront, in the old Railroad Theater, since 1987. Liv Ullmann and Ali McGraw have both guest-starred with this vibrant troupe. The Colonial Theater (163 High Street, 207-338-1930) is another of Belfast's pleasing anachronisms: an old-timey movie house that plays first-run blockbusters, but charges a pittance for popcorn.