News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

Looking for peaches

I was planning to head downtown bright and early tomorrow morning to check out the Lowell Farmers’ market, but I’m glad I checked the City Manager’s blog where I found out that it runs from 2:00-6:00 on Fridays. That will be too late for me, so I guess I’ll be stopping at Parlee Farms later in the day. The Manager also posted a helpful link on finding farmers’ markets elsewhere in the area. I haven’t had a really good peach yet this year, so I’m on a mission!

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What’s up with Dylan?

Friends went to Boarding House Park last night to see the Wallflowers. It was a stellar night for an outdoor concert, and the opening act, Wild Light, a New Hampshire foursome were engaging and likeable. Jakob Dylan could learn something from their easygoing manner as, according to our friends, he “seemed incapable of any positive repartee with the audience.” For example, he commented that Lowell seemed “a little rough.” He said he could see that the city was trying to improve, but apparently his delicate sensibilities were offended while going out to dinner. (Where could he have gone – the restaurant wasn’t mentioned). So, fine, he didn’t see a lot to like about Lowell; he’s entitled to his opinion, but other negative comments were forthcoming – a reprimand to one of his tech crew doing something offstage, scoffing at someone in the audience for taking flash photographs (“are you making a coffee-table book?”). It all added up to an impression for our friends that “he doesn’t have very good manners.” (I guess the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree!) That said, they reported that the music was great – the drummer was fun to watch and they all exhibited great musicianship.

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Rethinking the top 100

After posting about the Globe’s top 100 New England books last week, I have a few quibbles with their choices. First of all, I think the books should be about New England or at least have some connection with New England beyond the fact that the writer went to college here. I just read “Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which I liked a lot, but it is set out west and the only connection with New England is that the author went to Pembroke College in Providence and taught at UMASS-Amherst. The same with Julia Glass who wrote Three Junes, which is a lesser book and the only connection with NE is that Glass was born in Boston. I defend the inclusion of Kerouac, because On the Road is rooted in Lowell, it is the starting point of his journey. The same is true of Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast which while being set entirely on a sailing ship is steeped in the New England sensibilities of the author, so that the people he meets and places he goes are all seen through a uniquely New England sense of the world. Some books that should have been included:
1) Come Spring by Ben Ames Williams – sure no one reads Williams anymore, but the book is so old New England.
2) Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. If I were Salem, MA, I would be strenuously objecting to the the omission of this title from the Globe’s list. Not only is it a fascinating and inspiring, and well-told tale, of a young boy who overcomes hardship to achieve success, but it is a wonderful snapshot of Salem, back in the days when her sailing ships roamed the world, bringing back exotic treasures from around the globe. A visit to the Peabody-Essex museum in Salem lets you view a portrait of Bowditch and also see intricate ivory carvings as well as a “late Qing Dynasty merchant’s house.” Salem may be more known for the witch trials but back in the day it was a proud and prosperous seaport.
3) Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler. This is a simple, but compelling true story, told by Fendler, about his experience of walking off the path on a day hike up Mt Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain. He was 12 at the time, quickly became lost in the fog that rolled in and spent 9 days out in the wilderness. It reminds me a bit of the classic, My Side of the Mountain.
4) Why would they leave off Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett? This is a classic, capturing the sensibility of the early 1900’s in coastal Maine.
5) If one is including less literary authors, such as Richard Russo and Stephen King (not really a fan), then why not Eleanor Lipman’s The Inn at Lake Devine?

More omissions keep occuring to me. In short, I feel that the list was hastily assembled without much thought going into what categorizes a book as from or of New England.

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The White Tiger

For sometime I’ve felt that some of the best novelists writing in English are Indians. Just as the Irish dominated English literature in the early part of the 20th century, with Yeats, Joyce and Shaw, I feel that Indian writers are using the English language to advance literature, to make the novel their own. Much of our contemporary fiction seems interior, airless; the art of telling a good story seems sometimes to be lost in this country. However, in India, writers like Vikram Seth, seem to honor the tradition and imitate the great novels of the Victorian age. His great book, “A Suitable Boy” explored and exhausted the limits of traditional fiction. The heartbreaking fiction of Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy and Rupa Bajwa deal with the pressure of events and circumstances on people’s lives, rather like early 20th century American fiction. Now, Aravind Adiga has raised the bar with a groundbreaking, disturbing work, “The White Tiger.” Rightly compared to Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Adiga’s book is more humorous but no less bitter. It is also suspenseful and gripping. At first I didn’t like his decision to write the book as a letter of confession, but that narrative device quickly diminishes in importance as the story is told. Once I read a few chapters, I couldn’t put it down. It rings with moral authority but is also just a good story. Thanks to India, the novel lives!

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What’s for dinner?

I’ve been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and it’s got me thinking about food of course, but more about where it comes from than what we do with it. Her story of her family’s attempt to eat locally for one year is interesting and pretty well done. I enjoy reading about their forays to the farmers’ market, their discussions of what they can and can’t have (each family member is allowed one non-local indulgence) and the descriptions of the seasons as they unfold on their Virginia farm. The educational asides are a bit pedantic and seem more like filler, especially the boring disquisition on the “vegetannual”, also featured on the book’s website. In short, I like the concept and am looking forward to reading about the family adventure through the seasons, but much preferr Michal Pollan’s thorough study of the food chain in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (see previous review). Speaking of Pollan, he appears and narrates a new documentary film called “Food, Inc.” that the New York TImes calls “one of the scariest movies of the year.” The film goes to the feedlots and soybean fields that Pollan describes in his books, interviews farmers who fear to be filmed because of the long arm of the agribusiness giant, Monsanto, and basically, “tracks your food’s journey, from the soil to the plate.” Kingsolver’s book also touches on Monsanto with a description of the giant corporation’s lawsuit against a Canadian farmer whose canola plants had been naturally pollinated by Monsanto’s patented canola plant genes. The mind boggles…

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Call the police

We may not be law enforcers, but we are the eyes and ears of our community. I was driving home this morning when I noticed a multiple-car fender bender on the Lord Overpass. Although it appeared no one was hurt, three women (one of whom was elderly) were involved in a shouting match. I heard a shrieking “You’re nothin’ but a B_tch!” and at that point, I decided not to stop and see if they needed help. Instead, I called the police on their non-emergency phone line: 978-937-3200. It reminded me of other times I’ve called the police to report an activity: one Sunday afternoon two men got into a fist fight at Tyler Park (over dog waste); another time, a group of teens were having a yelling standoff in the park. Years ago, I took a safety course and learned how much the police rely on observant citizens to stop crimes and capture criminals. Be aware of your surroundings. Notice if there’s an unknown car in your neighborhood, a lurking stranger, a door left open, or anything suspicious, and take a few minutes to notify the police if you think it’s warranted. They always welcome the information, and when they need to respond, they do it quickly.

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Home alone with Netflix

I am embarrassed to admit that, until tonight, I had never seen the movie The Killing Fields and I hearby apologize to my Cambodian friends for this lapse. (I did read Spaulding Gray’s book about making the movie, “Swimming to Cambodia”, and I saw the great, locally-produced documentary film, “Monkey Dance” by Julie Mallozi which delves into the lives of Cambodian-American teens and their relationships with their parents, the generation that survived the genocide, escaping as one Mother poignantly say, “to a place where we don’t understand anything.” In any case, if you haven’t seen The Killing Fields, do so, and have your older teens watch it as well. This intense film about the American bombing and subsequent Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in the late seventies will break your heart and sear your conscience. As the privileged ones are evacuated and the Cambodians left to their fate, little children waving cheerfully to the departing limos and helicopters, I was reminded of similar footage from Hotel Rwanda (is there a more chilling sight than young, lawless men with guns?). When will we change; why do these depredations continue? Throughout it all is the dreamy, pastoral beauty of the countryside, like a watercolor painting, even amid the wreckage.

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Happy Mothers Day

I get a lot of emails, most of which I delete without reading. But I always take time to read The Writer’s Almanac produced and read by Garrison Keillor. It is just the right size for a quick read, usually includes a poem and interesting trivia and biographical details about literary figures. Yesterday featured a beautiful poem entitled “To My Mother” by one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry. It describes a mother’s love and unqualified forgiveness of her son’s rebellious acts, forgiveness so complete that it seems to be granted even before the misdeed occurs. As always with Berry, he takes the original idea to another level, comparing his mother’s love to “the vision of Heaven of which we have heard, where those who love each other have forgiven each other, where, for that, the leaves are green, the light a music in the air, and all is unentangled, and all is undismayed.”

Check out the full poem here, and enjoy your day, you Mothers!

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Weekend drama

No, I’m not talking about the school committee, but our local arts scene: The last play of the season at the MRT is A Moon for the Misbegotten, a classic by Eugene O’Neil. Well, I say classic, but who knows? I saw this play in a college production about 20 years ago and was not impressed, as it seemed melodramatic, overwrought and dated. Still, I’m game to see it again. The great thing about live theatre is that there is always something to like, or to discuss or critique after the show. Productions can differ radically because of the added variables of directing, acting, even set design. I’m going Sunday night, but the play runs through May 17th with performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at 8 pm; matinees run Saturdays at 4:30, Sundays at 2:00. Saturday night shows at 8:30 and Sunday night shows at 7:00 pm (call the box office at 978-654-4678). The recent positive review of the play in the Boston Globe indicates to me that some of the flaws in the production that I saw so long ago might have been countered by smart directing and excellent acting. It sounds like it might even be a bit humorous! On the other end of the spectrum, we have home-grown theatre right here in Lowell – the Image Theater strikes again with an ORIGINAL play by our own Jerry Bisantz. Entitled The Straight Line, featuring “beer, romance and gun fights,” the play will be upstairs at The Old Court for the next two weekends, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm. Last but not least, Lowell High School students will perform Little Shop of Horrors, opening tonight with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 pm at the Lowell Freshman Academy Theater (how do you spell that word anyway? – er as in Image Theater or -re as in Merrimack Repertory Theatre? These are the things that keep me awake at night!) So, there you have it, entertainment and then some for your rainy May weekend. There really IS a lot to like about Lowell! Enjoy!

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