During the past three years Astrid and I have made but one road trip. That was a wonderful week in Gloucester in May to spend time with my sister Pip as well as explore our ancestral roots.
Recently we were three days in Boston then seven down Maine ending in Whitefield/ Waldoboro to visit Jim and Ann Silin. We arrived in Boston with rain and skedaddled home from Freeport staying ahead of a drencher. That cut short our plan to spend time in Portland. In between the soggy bookends the fall weather was just glorious.
I wrote a book “The Gloucester Poems: Nugents of Rockport.” Pip and I have been working on a sequel “Pip and Me: Coming of Age in Annisquam.“ A number of its chapters have been published in this blog.
During November that research will continue when Astrid and I will be fellows of the Manship Foundation in Lanesville which is just round the bend from Annisquam.
Paul Manship (December 24, 1885 – January 28, 1966) was an American sculptor. He consistently created mythological pieces in a classical style, and was a major force in the Art Deco movement. He is well known for his large public commissions, including the iconic Prometheus in Rockefeller Center and the Celestial Sphere Woodrow Wilson Memorial in Geneva, Switzerland.
We hope to learn more about Manship and other largely unknown artists of Annisquam and Cape Ann. We plan to have the book published during Gloucester 400 celebrating the fishing community that was established in 1623. Annisquam was settled not much later in 1631.
In preparation for our Manship residency we opted for a recent road test and shakedown for a new Apple laptop. Having always worked with PC there is a learning curve with a new operating system. It’s what we will be reliant upon and indeed there are issues to resolve.
Also there were endurance questions about hard travel while still in recovery from major spinal surgery a year and a half ago. It was indeed challenging with some 5,000 steps a day but also reassuring that I have come a long way.
A couple of years ago I wrote Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1870 to 2020: An Oral History. There has been significant transition and change since then. We spent three nights in Boston which equated to five hours at the MFA and the next, shorter day at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
It was a brief and intense visit and reassuring that there are so many dramatic changes under director Matthew Teitelbaum. Overall, the permanent collection galleries, or what we were able to see of them, felt refreshed and revitalized.
The museum that I knew and wrote about was venerable but also narrow and elitist. I was one of many who pushed the museum to be more open in collecting and exhibiting the full range of Boston’s artists and not just the social elite.
It was exciting to see the American Wing following just that mandate. Next time we are in Boston I will take up Teitelbaum on an invitation to lunch to discuss systemic changes. We have known each other since before the MFA when he was a young curator at the ICA. A native of Canada, he left Boson to become chief curator and eventually the director of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
At the AGO he initiated including First Nations artists in the permanent collection and special exhibitions. Overall, Canadian museums look very different from when I started visiting and covering them in the 1980s. That’s happening in American museums although later and at a less accelerated pace.
On Friday of a holiday weekend (Indigenous People’s Day) we headed north and Down Maine. Our destination was to visit a college chum, Jim Silin and his wife Ann, in Whitefield.
Although in constant touch by e mail and phone, it has been decades since I visited. My artist friend Harry Bartnick and I attended their wedding. It was a funky occasion on their farm with Jim fronting his band.
Since Whitefild is a spot on the map near no major highway I went on line for the nearest accommodations. Which proved to be the legendary Moody’s Restaurant and Cabins in Waldoboro, about a half hour away as the crow flies.
It took most of Sunday to GPS it up there from round about Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was leaf peeping weekend and a crawl through Freeport, home of L. L. Bean which we hit on the return trip.
We bunked in on Sunday and called to say that we would be over after breakfast on Monday.
It seems that Mr. Moody, a restaurateur of sorts, built three cabins in 1927. They rented for a buck a night and caught on. A few more, but not that many, were added later. We were lucky to get the last one available.
The lady who checked us in told us that it was the last weekend of the season. “When we shut down next week I head to Florida,” she said. “Seems the trailer’s ok but there was a lot of hurricane damage to the property. So I’ll be facing a lot of clean up.”
We found our cabin comfortable and overall right nice. First order of business is always getting on line which has improved over the years.
After getting settled and cleaning up we headed down the dirt road to the legendary diner. The parking lot was packed as we learned is routine. Even on Monday morning, so we ended being late for the super specials.
They take your name and give you buzzers for what proved to be about a half hour wait. It kindah boggled me that they are so busy but driving around there ain’t a lot of competition. Seems folks like all American diner food.
I can eat anything what don’t eat me first but Astrid doesn’t eat wheat, is lactose intolerant, and reacts to certain seafoods. So it was difficult to find something on the menu.
Checking out, and after a hearty breakfast, the best meal at just about any diner, we moseyed on over to Whitefield.
Immediately I recognized the farmhouse.
Jim and Ann Silin in their kitchen
Ann and her doodle Ted
Playing back takes from a recording session
A master of the blues
We were greeted by their dogs, Ted, a doodle or mostly standard poodle, and the smaller and snippy Daisy. They barked and sniffed us up real good as intruders.
There were greetings all around as we settled into the spacious kitchen. It’s heated by an ancient cast iron stove but there is also a conventional one. The fellah who logged the back acres for timber left a lot of scrap and large stumps which Jim cuts down to size, stacks and cures.
Ann put a pot of her fish chowder on the stove and eventually we sat for lunch.
After majoring in bio chemistry at Brandeis, by the late 1960s, he bought about a hundred back acres for $4,000. Seems the seller got a good price.
At the time Jim lived in a large house in the rural Fort Hill section of Roxbury. There was John Kostick, founder of Omniversal Design and his wife, Stephanie Watson. They were also at Brandeis. Brian and Patty Draher lived in the smaller top floor.
Initially Arden Harrison and I lived nearby on Alpine Street when I wrote for Avatar. In the summer of 1968 it all went south. Arden split and I moved in with Jim.
I got a windfall gig that summer making fifty large watercolors on the history and jazz and blues for the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans. It was enough to get to Woodstock with Wild Strawberry who I met at Newport Jazz Festival. She flew in from California.
By that fall I was hired by Boston After Dark which morphed into the Boston Phoenix. I moved first to Fallon Place, a hippie enclave in Cambridge, then the basement of the Murder Building in Harvard Square.
Rent was cheap and we lived on dope and brown rice. Jim mostly made dinner for us after which we hunkered down and watched black and white TV.
Eventually, I got a gig as jazz and rock critic for the daily Boston Herald Traveler. Since being a teenager I was a jazz fan but Jim mentored me on blues and R&B. In particular he tutored me on Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and their influence on the roots of the British rock invasion. He turned me on to the Impressions and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. What I didn’t know I learned talking with the musicians I covered.
When Jim first bought the land we made trips up to Whitefield. Initally, we bunked in the cleaned out chicken coop. Jim bought a Coleman stove which is how we made meals.
Back on the couch he and Dennis got real excited about what they were going to raise. Initial talk was about Jerusalem Artichokes. But, as it turned out Dennis, who with Patty moved in down Maine, was more talk than sweat equity.
I laughed when he flunked the driving test. “Nobody flunks a driving test” I chided. In response I was surprised when he socked me in the geezer. Later, his house caught fire and he smashed the car into a tree on his way to the fire department.
As they say down Maine, “Your house burned down but we saved the cellar hole.“
Rather soon the adjoining farm house was on the market and it was an offer Jim could not refuse. It came with more acreage,
After lunch the ladies stayed in the kitchen getting acquainted while Jim and I repaired to the living room to catch up.
On his laptop he played takes from a CD in progress which will be his fourth. He has been in bands and likes to play at clubs but in recent years Ann isn’t all that interested.
I asked him to play some blues for me but he wasn’t much in the mood. I prevailed that I had come quite a long piece to hear him. I asked for “Dust My Broom,” a Muddy standard, then he rendered a lovely soft version of Robert Johnson’s evocative “Love in Vain.” You might know it from the Stones cover.
“I didn’t know anything ‘bout farming” he said. “But I did it anyway. I wasn’t all that good at it but won all kinds of prizes for my giant onions. People really loved my onions.”
It seems they raised some of everything and lived off the land canning over the winter. That included some livestock.
”Ann knows more about farming than I do” he said. “She has a degree in animal husbandry from University of New Hampshire.”
By then the women had joined the conversation. It seems they sold spring lambs for Easter to local Greek people which they butchered and roasted for extended family meals.
“I wasn’t happy about that” Ann said. “It’s not like they were pets and I gave them names but I knew them and raised them.”
The soil in Maine is unforgiving and glacial. Early on he improved the fields by spreading manure which local farmers were glad to part with. He also cleared and enriched pastures by sowing soy and winter wheat to be plowed in. Overall, he developed into an efficient and productive organic farmer.
Not that long ago they downsized and gave up livestock. They still raise their own food but sold off the back acres and pastures. Some of the money went into repairs for the house.
As we often do on the phone we drifted into talk of politics and the economy. Once a week he stands out in protests in Augusta. Jim knows far more about these topics than I do. With a finger on the pulse I am often in awe of his take on things.
Which, nowadays, ain’t all that great. Looks real bad for the nation and heaven help the world.
But, he assured me, he and Ann are doing just fine down on the farm.