I regret to review a Christmas movie

Two things I need to state up front:

  1. We all know made-for-TV Christmas movies are dreck.
  2. I rarely feel the need to dump on someone else’s creative work, at least not publicly like this.

However.

Last night my Lovely First Wife and I chose to watch The Knight Before Christmas, a Netflix original. It looked to be nothing more than a typically flaccid, vapid holiday flick, and yet it was so much less. It was horrific. It was lazy. It was an offense to the human tradition of storytelling.

tl;dr: Sir Cole, a 14th-c. knight, is transported by a crone for no good reason to the present day to complete his “quest,” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. He is taken in by Brooke, a high school science teacher who nevertheless lives in a huge home WITH A GUEST HOUSE. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

At least he’s cute.

 

We begin with Brooke confronting a student about her lackluster performance on a “midterm” and being told by the girl that her boyfriend dumped her and she’s been distraught. Oh, says Brooke, true love is a chimera and although they’ve been taught by society to look for a knight in shining armor to rescue them, that’s a fool’s errand.

Hold that thought.

One never expects historicity from these things, but you get the feeling that the scriptwriter and the producers deliberately avoided knowing anything about the 14th century, starting with Sir Cole in all probability not speaking a lick of English, and certainly not modern English, and especially certainly not with a plummy BBC Received Pronunciation accent.

Or glass windows in castles. Or Christmas trees being a 19th-c. fad. Or hogs in tubular steel pens.[1]

Nor did they seem particularly interested in physics, for that matter: after Brooke runs into Sir Cole in her car, he simply bounces off into the snow with no injuries sustained either to him—or to his cuirass. Snow comes and goes depending on the exigencies of plot with no impact on the ensuing action. Cole whacks down a Christmas tree in one stroke, inspiring another, random man to do the same (never mind why Christmas trees are growing in the lot).

Logical human behavior is never a hallmark[2] of these movies, but merciful heavens—within 24 hours of his arrival in 2019, Cole

  • knows how to wrap himself in a towel after asking for a bath[3]
  • expresses no astonishment at anything he sees other than a couple of clumsy “where’s that music coming from” gags
  • is seen operating a TV remote the morning after his arrival
  • apparently picks up enough modern lingo during his one night of binge-watching TV to be able to understand Brooke’s 21st-c. code (like “binge-watching”)
  • does not think pants are odd

Brooke’s friends express mild concern about her taking in an oddly-dressed and clearly mentally ill man with no identification, but no one makes any effort to get help for him or to find out who he is or where he came from. (On the contrary, Brooke’s sister cheerfully provides him with a wardrobe from her “boutique” in the mall.)

Script failures littered the landscape:

  • Brooke’s cheating ex is seen in the background a couple of times, but vanishes from the script without even one snide scene
  • an icky neighbor is introduced, but is used only once to try to flirt unsuccessfully with Cole
  • the crone shows up once when Cole first arrives at the Christmas Village, but never again (although I think she’s in the background at the big charity event—maybe a victim of the cutting room floor?)
  • the girls who go outside in a blizzard to practice their “swordplay” who—after being warned to stick close to the house in a blizzard—nevertheless go all the way to a park with a not-quite-frozen lake
  • Brooke willingly gives Cole the keys to her car (presuming he “remembers” how to drive); he can put it into reverse and drive, but cannot manage to steer it into a wide-open parking space rather than onto the sidewalk
  • the whole premise that Cole has until midnight on Christmas Eve to “complete his quest” is completely lost; only the occasional date thrown on the screen reminds us that time is running out—for what?
  • the idea that Brooke assumes Cole has amnesia also vanishes; he’s just a cute man who lives in her guest house and meanders through her holiday chores
  • late insertion of David, the single dad who works two jobs to support his four kids, being the recipient of Cole’s (offscreen) fundraising[4] despite being present at Brooke’s fupping Christmas Eve fundraiser the express purpose of which is to raise money for people like Dave

And most of all, the entire movie gives the lie to Brooke’s advice to her student at the opening. Indeed, Brooke backtracks on the advice near the end when her student bounces up to her and tells her that she told her boyfriend to take a hike.[5]

All in all, the thing was a disaster. It was incoherent, even by the extremely low standards we have for these things, and it gave the feeling that it only took a week to film. The frankly amateurish quality of the script was appalling.

So could this movie have been saved? How about this:

  • clearly define Cole’s need for this “quest” and make it his paramount concern[6]
  • define Cole’s chivalry as solidly of the 14th-c., with all the misogyny involved, i.e., he’s cute and he’s helpful, but there are limits to his sensibilities
  • play off Brooke’s culturally-ingrained “knight in shining armor” complex to create the romantic tension: she wants to love him, but…
  • embed Brooke’s crappy ex and David the single dad more into the plot, thus giving us three versions of what a man can/should be
  • end it with Cole returning to the 14th-c. and Brooke realizing that everything she actually values in a man is right there in David, the single dad

Here’s my point: if I can come up with a more interesting and still sappily romantic plot on the spot, why is Netflix greenlighting dreck like this without demanding that the entire team go back to the writing table?

—————

[1] Or the bubonic plague. Or Sir Cole most assuredly being shorter than everyone in the modern world.

[2] See what I did there?

[3] To be fair, this was simply to show off Josh Whitehouse’s lissome 6’ 2” body. I’m amazed we didn’t get a bathtub scene.

[4] How?? He knows no one other than the people standing right there around him.

[5] Which I realize is the whole point of these movies. Smash the patriarchy.

[6] No clue what this might involve, since the whole premise is idiotic, but I bet we could come up with something less lame than rescuing a kid from a frozen pond or tackling a pickpocket.

So this happened…

We have decamped to Fernandina Beach for the weekend with some dear friends and are having a great time so far.

Last night, I and two others strolled out the boardwalk to see the ocean. You know how some boardwalks have little benches built into them for some unknown reason?

Here’s a photo of one:

And here’s a photo of the one we sat in:

Yep, there was a creak and a groan, and we found ourselves flat on our backs. It’s pretty miraculous that none of us sustained even the least injury; I think it was because it gave way slowly at first and so we were already mostly down when it failed completely.

So other than a little spilled prosecco and a spell of hysterical laughter, no harm done. (We have alerted the property agent that they might want to do a structural integrity check.)

How was your Friday night?

New Cocktail: Jasper

I’m not at all sure of the name here, so I’m sticking it with Jasper for the time being, in my ongoing series of gemstone cocktails.

The Jasper

  • 3/4 oz barrel-aged gin
  • 3/4 oz Amaro CioCiaro
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
  • 4-5 drops Alpine Herb Bitters

Stir with ice; strain. Orange peel garnish.

It’s dark, herbal, and the piney bitters give it just enough punch to make it very interesting.

A recipe: Pistachio-Shrimp Pasta

Here’s a meal I whipped up last night. No photo, because we had eaten the meal by the time I thought I should preserve this recipe. But that’s how good it is: very subtle mixtures of pistachios, herbs, and textures.

Pistachio-Shrimp Pasta

serves 4

  • shrimp (4–5 per person), shelled/deveined
  • fettucine

sauce

  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. chopped pistachios
  • 4 tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. cream

marinade

  • 1/2 tsp zataar seasoning
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • olive oil, salt, pepper

finishing

  • 1 1/2 tbsp breadcrumbs/panko
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 4 tarragon leaves, chopped

serving

  • whole pistachios
  • tarragon leaves
  1. Set the water to boil for the pasta.
  2. Add the white wine, chopped pistachios, tarragon, and lemon juice to a small pan and boil to reduce by half. Add the cream and continue simmering until reduced. (This step always takes longer than you think. Start it first. You can even start this before you peel the shrimp or chop the herbs/pistachios.)
  3. Put the shrimp in a bowl to marinate with the zataar, lemon juice, olive oil (enough to coat plus a little more), salt, and pepper.
  4. When the sauce is nearly ready, cook the fettucine. (That’s usually about 9 minutes; check the package.)
  5. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and marinade. Cook about 3 minutes per side.
  6. Drain the pasta, add the sauce to it.
  7. Finish the shrimp by adding the breadcrumbs, parsley, and tarragon. Stir until combined and the shrimp is coated.
  8. Serve the pasta with the shrimp on top. Garnish with the whole pistachios and tarragon.

The ties I did not keep

This past weekend I had to attend both a memorial service and a wedding, and thus I had to wear a tie. Since I’ve retired my need for a tie has been greatly reduced, and I certainly no longer need the ≈60 ties I still had in my possession. Believe it or not, I culled the collection right after GHP lost me in 2013, but I hung on to most of them for some unknown reason.

Now it was time for them to go, though. It’s been on my to-do list since Saturday, and today I decided to do it. All in all, it took only about 20 minutes and was surprisingly painless. I had intended to limit myself to ten ties, but when I ended up with sixteen, I was OK with that, too.

A review:

Yes, it’s true, I once had more ties.

And yes, they’re hung by color range.

The reds:

The yellows/oranges:

The greens:

(The Slytherin tie was an immediate keep, of course.)

The blues:

Some tough choices here.

The purples/pinks:

Prior to my leaving East Coweta High School in 1997, I had far more purple and purple-adjacent ties. They were disposed of 22 years ago, needless to say.

The grays, browns, and golds:

The oddballs and sentimentals:

(Yes, there were some oddballs in with the others…)

The literary:

The holidays:

The Christmas:

Even when I was checking out books to kindergartners, I wore a jacket and tie most days. The holiday/Christmas ties were mostly in service to that. The majority of the others were ‘nice’ ties for other days, and especially when I worked at the Georgia State Department of Education as the director of the Governor’s Honors Program. What with nearly 100 ties and a plethora of jackets and suits, I was a well-dressed educator.

But a burner doesn’t really need ties—although I have been known to wear a bow-tie while serving craft cocktails to the hippies[1]—so in running through each pile I was not tempted by sentiment (mostly) nor by “what-ifs.” There will never be an occasion where I will need to be so traditionally fashionable again. And if for some reason I am compelled to re-enter that life, I will simply buy more ties.

The winners:

Fifteen (plus a couple more I added after this photo), excluding the two Christmas ties.

Here are some I did not keep.

These are all GHP-related. The two rightmost I wore to the AgScience open house, of course. The child’s drawing of the cat I bought one of my first summers there when Jouree Petersen, my more-than-able assistant in the Media Support Services department, insisted I accompany her to the PX at Moody Air Force base (her husband was military) to see and buy this tie.

The one on the left is the one I always wore as director of GHP on the last day: it was the colors of the GHP Alumni Association—silver, for the value of the learning experience at GHP; blue, for the loyalty of GHP alumni to the program and to each other
; and black, for the lifelong nostalgia for the program. For a couple of years, alumni were able to order honor cords for their graduation:

Good times.

But the space where I wore those no longer exists, so I don’t need them any more.

One of several elementary-themed ties that went. I won’t miss the Sam-I-Am so much, but I might end up keeping Curious George.

This one goes to my son, who (I think) gave this to me for Father’s Day one year. It was given to him by Carol Lee (see comment below) and somehow it ended up in my keeping.

It is custom-made with a photo of Sam, our magnificent Maine coon. He was Grayson’s cat to begin with, but stayed on to live with us until his passing late in life.

(You might be interested in the book I created to read to kindergartners about color: Sam Cat’s Colors.)

Anyway, if you are interested in any tie you saw, or if you need a tie with specific colors, let me know. Soon. I no longer need them, and I will be giving them away.

UPDATE 10/24/19: The ties have been donated to the Gwinnett School of Science, Math, & Technology, which maintains a supply of attire for students who need jackets/ties, etc, for interviews/internships. Thanks to Jobie for the beg!

—————

[1] No, the bow-ties were not culled.

Maine 2019, Day 4

This post is late, because our Friday was a late night with many fabulous cocktails, so it might have been a little too hard to get it done on Saturday morning, what with travel and flight and stuff.

On Friday, we began by going across the road to the College of the Atlantic to snag breakfast at their café, which was not open because they’re not in session yet. This campus focuses on human ecology, and it’s lovely.

Pear tree

I made some notes for when I win the lottery and build the Lichtenbergian Retreat Complex.

We then made our way to Acadia National Park.

Acadia is the only National Park in the northeast, which is odd I think. It sprawls across several islands and contains multiple features of interest. There are shuttles there, just like at Grand Canyon, so we hopped the Loop and rode it straight around. Because we were on a tight time schedule, we didn’t hop on and off. Instead, we noted where we’d like to visit, then drove back there.

Typical view from the shuttle bus

One of those points was the Wild Garden, where volunteers have created a small garden with different areas representing the differing biomes in the park: conifer forest, bog, pond, roadside, etc.
I was there for the ferns. I will now bore you with multiple photos of ferns.

There were other plants, of course.

And frogs.

One of the attractions of the park is Sand Beach. “Sand” Beach, I hear you ask? Yes, of course: New England is not known for its pristine white beaches, and this place is an anomaly. In fact, it’s the only one. Its cove has a rocky island blocking the ocean’s full access, and so the surf has pounded shells into sand which has accumulated like it does normally elsewhere in the world.

Not pictured: a group of children in bathing suits frolicking in the freezing water. Mainers, amirite?

(In creating this post, I found on the official park website that Sand Beach and Thunder Hole (a tidal thing) were closed that very afternoon because of the storm surge from Hurricane Dorian. We escaped just in time, apparently.)

Have some seaweed.

We then drove to the peak of Mount Cadillac, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi.

—click to embiggen—

It was stunning. Like Grand Canyon, there’s nothing to keep you from plunging to your death if you’re an idiot. The views are spectacular: rocky coast, islands, Bar Harbor.

The plants are already getting ready to go for fall.

Maine is not called the Granite State for nothing. I liked the lichens.

Finally it was time to head back south. Normally we would have snagged a hotel room online during lunch, but we skipped lunch while we clambered around Mt. Cadillac—snacks only—and so we found that it was harder to find an affordable room on the road mid-afternoon. We had planned to return to Portland (there was a distillery I wanted to visit), but we ended up in Augusta, the capitol, at the comfortable—if kitschy—Senator Inn.

A capitol city, bustling with attractions and nightlife, right? You are thinking of Atlanta. Augusta is not that.

We did our research on where to eat and ended up in Hallowell, a small community right on the other side of Augusta. The Liberal Cup is a foodie place posing as a brewpub, and the meal was delicious. I especially appreciated their cocktail menu:

We asked our waitress where she would recommend for music and cocktails, and she immediately said, “The Maine House: Leah makes the best cocktails in town.”

Y’all.

First of all, it was tiny, it was crowded, and it was fabulous. There was a duo up front playing all the top 40 covers—my Lovely First Wife sang along to all of them—and the cocktails… Leah is a genius.

The Plaid Shirt is one of the best cocktails I have ever had, and everyone else was in heaven with their choices as well.

The duo up front took a break, and we strolled around Hallowell (it’s only a couple of blocks long) looking for our next good time.

Hallowell is our kind of place. This was on the wall on one of the buildings:

And this is what they do for fun:

If you don’t know what contra dance is, think Jane Austen movies. As I said, my kind of people.

By some schedule unknown to us the musicians at every single place were on break, and we decided we would head back to downtown Augusta and check out the night life there.

We headed specifically to The Oak Table & Bar, right there on State Street past the Capitol.

There we encountered Kyle, another genius. Tall, still athletic—he was ranked 37th in the nation as a lacrosse player in high school—and voluble, he made fabulous cocktails while we grilled him on how he got to where he is. Cool story: in the service, his buddies paid for him to go to bartending school because of his skillz. Out of the service, he was considering a 6-figure career in security consulting, but then had a son, now three years old, and he made the decision to stay home instead. We loved him.

By the time we emerged, Augusta had turned out the lights. We were literally the only car parked on the street.

We slept, we rose, we breakfasted, we drove to Portland, and we flew home. The end.

Next: Pro Tips.

Maine 2019, Day 3

We headed north out of Freeport, determined to stick to U.S. Hwy 1 as we drove towards Bar Harbor, thinking perhaps it would be like California’s Hwy 1: we’d whoosh up the coast like in a car commercial, zooming along the rocky coast towards lobster nirvana.

It seems we were misinformed. Hwy 1 will sometimes hug the coast, but it more often resembles a drive through north Georgia. However, the towns are much quainter, New England having invented the concept. (I was driving today, so unfortunately I don’t have any photos of all the quaintness.)

You do come across things:

Our immediate goal was the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. This collection was started by the Farnsworth family and is now a city block of buildings and exhibits. Its main claim on our attention was the repository of Wyeth family work: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew, currently living Jamie, and a small flock of other relatives.

But the first exhibit to catch our eye was a small gallery of screens. It was lovely:

This was a fascinating piece of woodwork, and then you walked around to the other side…

…and found this dazzling, gold-leafed version. If I have time when I get back, I’ll share a video of how the surfaces reflected each other as you moved around.

There were a couple of others, all beautifully crafted.

The actual first exhibit we saw was an exhibit of Jamie Wyeth’s portraits of his wife Phyllis, who died this past January. She was an avid horsewoman—her horse Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes in 2012—and was known for her independent spirit, despite having been injured in an auto accident in her early 20s. She was a lover of animals, and Jamie painted this “tapestry,” as he called it, to celebrate that.

Phyllis is the figure on the right in the red hat, zipping through her farm on her motorized scooter.

Outside the main museum is the Farnsworth complex, including the original Farnsworth homestead…

…and the Wyeth Center, housed in a converted Methodist church.

There we found an exhibit of Jamie Wyeth’s work, Untoward Occurrences and Other Things. Jamie is, for lack of a better word, a deeply weird artist. We decided that he either consciously or unconsciously decided to be the weird kid, playing off his father and grandfather’s reputations as calm, rational, organized, and beloved. He paints with bravura, but the paintings in this exhibit at least present you with some very disturbing narratives.

For example, one of the paintings is of the artist Rockwell Kent, whom Jamie apparently had a big old man-crush on. Kent is standing on a beach, with a fogbound cliff behind him. You don’t even notice the vague dark figure plummeting headfirst off the cliff. At first. The fact that this may reference a lover of Kent’s who was found dead beneath the cliff is just part of the weirdness.

Worth seeing, the whole museum.

(There will be more discussion of some of the art over at Lichtenbergianism.com next week.

We found a chocolate place, a “beans-to-bar” establishment. The chocolate is good, but on the whole just buy locally: the owner’s presentation on how they do it is not as interesting as he thinks it is, and his pronunciation of ‘cacao’ is odd for one whose business is all pods and nibs.

Here’s a fun thing:

“Collins” is Maine’s “moderate” Republican senator Susan Collins, who is renowned for being awfully concerned about her party’s shenanigans. She will wring her hands, issue sternly worded statements—and then still vote for the president (who imprisons children)’s agenda. The final straw seems to have been her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. At any rate, the voters of Maine are out to get her. Good for them.

Onward. We stopped in Camden for lunch at the Waterfront Market.

Food was great, and the view couldn’t be beat. Traffic was heavy, though, what with one yacht or another heading out to sea.

On up the road to Bar Harbor. We had to swerve off into the overlook area when this appeared:

Hard to see, but it’s the tallest inhabited structure in Maine: the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, with a 40-story observation deck in the left-hand tower.  It’s part of the Fort Knox state park. It was about to close, so we passed it by. Perhaps on our way back?

At lunch, we all whipped out our phones looking for lodging in Bar Harbor. Pricewise, the Edenbrook Motel was acceptable, and it looked charming in the photos. When we got to Bar Harbor, my phone got confused and took us up into the hills to a golf course. When I corrected it, we were led through neighborhoods until we came across what looked to be a seedy, rundown establishment.

I was excoriated for my choice in motels.

However, the rooms are huge, modern, and clean, and the view:

…well, let’s just say I was vindicated.

The sunset was nice:

We headed into Bar Harbor proper, found a parking place—which even in the off season is a feat; I cannot imagine trying to park during the season—and looked for a restaurant. We settled on Salt & Steel, and it was the best meal we’ve had so far. Great bar as well: they not only had green Chartreuse, they had Tom Cat barrel-aged gin as well—I could get a Bijou, and did.

Tomorrow, our last full day, we will spend in Acadia National Park, and then return to Portland.

Maine 2019, Day 2

We awoke in our cozy Chebeaugue Island Inn, which looks like this:

Well, I awoke. Everyone else slept in while I worked.

photo credit: Marc

What am I working on?

The placement map for Alchemy. Why? BECAUSE HIPPIES CANNOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS AND ARE JUST NOW REALIZING THEY NEED TO ASK FOR CHANGES IN THEIR PLACEMENT.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT I FINISHED THE MAIN DRAFT OF THE MAP ON SATURDAY BEFORE WE LEFT JUST SO I WOULDN’T HAVE TO WORK ON THIS STUFF.

KENNETH.

Even now, the hippies are squinting and poring and telling their computers to Enhance just to get a sneak peek of where their camp is and who their neighbors are.

Tough noogies, hippies.

My Lovely First Wife took off for a bicycle ride around the island and had a great time. But then she’s adventurous like that.

After a late breakfast, it was time to pack and head to the ferry. More about that in a moment. First, here are the treats we found in our room.

Shame on you! Those are lobsters.

We got to the ferry and waited while all these people poured off and started walking up the hill.

The crew unloaded all the Amazon packages, and then all those people poured back down the hill and back on the boat. Odd, we thought.

Not so odd as we set sail and the captain began murmuring indistinctly over the fuzzy speakers about this island or that: “murmur murmur WWII murmur murmur residents…” It transpired that the ferry is not mainly a transport between Portland and the islands, it is also a tour of Casco Bay—hence the debarking and embarking of all these people at each stop: we were taking the long way back to the city.

It’s always colder on the water, and today was actually nippy, which for me means FREEZING COLD. I was wearing a sweater, a lined coat, a scarf, a woolen hat, and gloves, and I was miserable.

The Lovely First Wife, on the other hand:

She gave free rein to her inner Golden Labrador and stood on the bouncing prow in the freezing seaspray for the entire ride.

Once back on shore, we retrieved the car and set off for Cape Elizabeth. We needed to see the lighthouses, because that is what one does in Maine.

Here, have a lighthouse:

It is indeed picturesque, as is the rocky coast of Maine. (Like the “mighty Colorado,” you have to say “rocky coast of Maine,” or they look askance at you as if you’re not entering into the proper spirit of the thing.)

More:

—click to embiggen—

The place is not barren. Just of out camera range, there’s a wide variety of plants and shrubs.

See the little bee? She was just wallowing in the flower, having a great time.

Also there at Cape Elizabeth is a well-known lobster roll establishment. We had been told that these were the best, for a multitude of reasons, by people who know these things.

However, we are heathens and were not at all impressed with the concept or the execution. The blueberry pie, on the other hand, was primo.

Then it was back in the car and back up the coast to Freeport. (We did take a quick detour through Fort Williams Park to see another lighthouse, but didn’t stop.)

As we pulled into Freeport, we did a hard U-turn to go back and stop at the Cold River Distillery, where we sampled some gin and vodka. I bought the gin, of course. (No photo yet.) I was hoping it was the gin I had back at the Inn, and that I had misheard the name of it: Cold Shore, I thought. As it turns out, I had misheard it, but it’s actually Hard Shore, not Cold River. This is what gin will do to you, boys and girls.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel, then headed back out. One of our company wanted to buy a pillow from CuddleDown, a local concern, because the pillows at the Inn were simply delightful.

Then we headed to the Maine Beer Company, which is a very nice establishment: they pay their workers an extravagant wage, plus three weeks of vacation, plus full healthcare, plus retirement. They donate to all kinds of ecological causes. They support local charities.

And their building is gorgeous:

Out of frame to the right is a pizza parlor. Great place for a date or a get-together.

We moved on to dinner at Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro. When you stop to taste the gin or the beer, ask where the best restaurants are.

And finally, late at night…

Can you guess where we are?

That’s right, we’re at L.L. Bean.

Our intrepid fellow travelers, Marc and MF

It was great fun to ramble through the enormous flagship store. However, I was really impressed to find that I needed nothing there. After five years of burning, I have everything I need for comfort and safety, although I did buy a “tick nipper” to keep in the first aid kit. Nasty little bloodsuckers—keep your mandibles off my bacon.

Finally, back to the hotel and bed.

Maine 2019, Day 1

Yes, we’re off again, this time to Maine. Don’t ask me why. Somehow going to Prague for the week was deemed impractical, and so (naturally??) the coast of Maine presented itself as the obvious option.

At any rate, we boarded a plane in Atlanta and landed in Portland a couple hours later. We snagged our rental car and headed into town.

Portland is charming, as advertised, and we had a long lunch at Dimillo’s, mainly because it took forever to fill our orders. The food was tasty.

Then we wandered a bit in Old Port, one of those great formerly dilapidated areas now booming with bougie tourist shops targeting the likes of us. My favorite stop was Vena’s Fizz House, a craft cocktail bar with a twist: they have an astounding collection of bitters, antique glassware, and almost every other cocktail accoutrement that you can imagine.

Their especial trick, though, is to serve you a fabulous cocktail, made with hard-to-find bitters and house-invented ingredients— then sell you all those ingredients.

Thus, the Campfire, with bourbon, lemon juice, smoky hops, Vena’s Bitter Armand. Here you see the drink with materials I had already selected for purchase:

And here you see the additional materials I purchased after finally tumbling to the shtick:

This trip is remarkable in that my Lovely First Wife, who is known for her rigorous planning of these things, decided that on this trip all we are going to do is fly to Portland, then drive Hwy 1 to Bar Harbor. It takes three hours to do that, and we’re here for four days. We have no reservations and no plans.

So at lunch, I whip out the phone and open up Hotel Tonight, and find a great deal for the Chebeaugue Island Inn, which is only 1.9 miles away from where we were lunching.

Here’s the thing: that’s 1.9 miles as the crow flies. After I had booked the place, I noticed in their blurb that I should call for the “ferry schedule.”

Wait what?

Yes, that’s right, there is no bridge to these islands. It’s ferry service only, and the last one of the day was at 5:45. Not a problem. I went to book our transport online, then rather than wait for their call to confirm, I called them.

That’s when I learned that ferrying a car was abnormal, usually done weeks in advance. And then it dawned on me: we park the car and just take our luggage on the ferry. Doh.

It also dawned on me that an hour-long 5:45 ferry ride meant we were on Chebeaugue Island for the evening. No prowling around the Old Port neighborhood for cocktails and funsies. No, our destiny was going to be a bit more… sedate.

And it has been fabulous. We were met at the ferry by the Inn’s van and driver (a charming young man from South Africa, whom we advised to look into winter employment at Grand Canyon or Lake Louise in Canada), and were whisked away to the Inn, the only such establishment on the island (pop. 350).

Lovely, wooden, comfortable. Great bar. I’ve learned of Hardshore Gin, a Maine distillation which I will be looking for.

We had cocktails from the bar, watched the sunset from the lawn, and finally settled in for dinner, which was phenomenal.

View from the firepit
Lobster, of course.

We also decided that rather than brutalize ourselves to get up early enough to catch the 6:20 ferry, we’d just sleep in and catch the 11:35 ferry. I mean, what else do we have to do?

A musing about joy

Short prologue: I bought a set of cards with inspirational questions on them to use as writer’s prompts down at Backstreet Arts, and in a fit of masochism decided that if I weren’t actively working on anything while I was down there, then I was required to draw one randomly and answer it.

Full prologue: https://www.lichtenbergianism.com/blog/2019/6/10/perverse-task-avoidance

So today’s question was:

Ugh. This is the kind of gross self-affirmation any of which I do not need. But an oath is an oath, and I think I’d like to share my response.

Ha. I am perpetually self-indulgent. Every day I enjoy what I do—and I do what I enjoy. This idea of not enjoying life is completely alien to me.

This includes the things I have to do, duties and burdens—far be it from this atheist to claim biblical inspiration, but the verse, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” [Ecclesiastes 9:10] seems to have stuck with me from Sunday School. Why not commit to your tasks with joy and appreciation?

It’s certainly not the case that I am a Pollyanna about life—there is plenty in my life that frustrates me or makes me unhappy. But it has never made sense to me to regard all of life as roadblocks. For one thing, taking things “personally” is the quickest way to misery: if the universe is out to get you, how are you supposed to enjoy your existence in the face of that?

To revisit the Ecclesiastes, here’s 9:9–10 in the International Children’s Bible:

9 … Enjoy all the days of this short life God has given you here on earth. It is all you have. So enjoy the work you have to do here on earth.

10 Whatever work you do, do your best. This is because you are going to the grave. There is no working, no planning, no knowledge and no wisdom there.

Here is existentialism in a nutshell: this life is all you have, and it is not long. Choose to do well at it. Choose to live it with joy.

So yes, I make cocktails and sit in my labyrinth. I read. I make dinner and run errands. I write letters. I go to burns. I serve on the burn board of directors.

I try to do it with “all my might”—why do it grudgingly? Do it with joy, and then you don’t have to find a way to give yourself “permission” to enjoy life.