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My Weekly Post

The Magic of the Magic People

I am working on a new book, which will hopefully be published this spring. *In Love with New England* is a collection of some of the stories I've written in the past, about unusual and interesting people, essential Yankees, if you will. This has sent me hurtling back in time and I have been lost in their worlds, each one so distinct. At the end of each story, I am writing an update about them. What has happened to these people and to their labors and to their passions is interesting to me because so many have good endings, such as David Carroll, whom I wrote about back in 1993, a story called "The Man Who Loves Turtles." At that time, he worked in virtual anonymity as he tried to save the habitats of turtles, turtles he had named and whose lives he followed, one year to the next, wading through a huge marshy area near his home in Warner, New Hampshire. On his sketch pads, he recorded their markings and the beauty of their shells, where he had seen them last. This diary became his first book, *The Year of the Turtle*. He and his wife, Laurette, also an artist, lived from one paycheck to the next, the beneficiaries of the kindness of friends, who gave them old cars they no longer needed and the mercy of an old house, never mind that it was falling down. It was their beloved home. And so it was gratifying to learn that three years ago and four books later, David Carroll was given the so-called genius grant, a MacArthur Foundation grant of $500,000. That is truly like winning the lottery except that it comes with the unmistakable benediction of those who award the grant, as close as United States comes to bestowing knighthood. In a sense, then, David Carroll became Sir David. I can't think of anyone who deserved this more.

I've been writing stories like this for 32 years and counting so it's not a surprise to find that many of these folks have passed away and yet, it's interesting for me to learn that many of their contributions to this world have become landmarks and their treasures will remain as they always were, working farms or fabulous collections. Finding the ends of these stories has been a process of discovery. Then on Friday, as if to my bidding, the *Boston Globe* published a front-page story about Le Grand David Magic Company, a troupe of magicians who work out of a restored theater on the Main Street of Beverly, Massachusetts. It was my privilege to write about these amazing people back in 2002 when the Company was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since then, I have been blessed with their friendship. Cesareo, a Cuban who came to this country during the Revolution, in 1962, has been the core of this group, its founder, director, designer, choreographer and the lead magician until 2005 when he suffered a stroke. After intense physical therapy, he was able to get back on stage but the past couple of years he has been in a wheelchair and very frail, his once-booming voice reduced to a raspy whisper. When I interviewed Cesareo ten years ago, he surprised me by telling me that magic is all about relationships. When he was not on stage, sawing someone in half or making a table rise into the air, he taught psychology at Salem State College. And the person who took him under his wing when he first came here from Cuba was not a magician but the renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow, father of self-actualization. And so, when Cesareo told me then that magic is all about relationships, I had to stretch a bit to figure that out. I got it, I thought.

Cesareo's band of magicians came together in the 1970s at a time of idealism and dreams. Many of them still perform on this stage and some of their children have spent their growing up years on that stage as well. Whenever I went to see the show, which has been often over the past ten years, my sense of what he meant about the relationships grew as I realized I was watching, among the dozens of performers on stage, a display of dense, layered relationships: brothers and old college roommates, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters and, most of all, friends of many years, pulling doves out of thin air, balancing plates, and rising into the air with no apparent support.

In the *Globe* article, the writer asks the question: how much longer can this go on? A burst of practicality in the midst of all that magic. This is a reasonable question, a bittersweet question, a somewhat uncomfortable question, Cesareo now frail and the other members of the troupe aging ("the people leeping in and out of boxes stiffer, the clowns more stooped," is how the *Globe* put it). And yet the answer is not so obvious. Since we all know the average lifespan of a friendship and/or a marriage in today's world, the shelf life of a business and of business relationships, how they all twist and turn and often break, I realize the continued existence of this group is, quite simply, magic. Somehow, the Magic Company, thirty-three years and counting, is now rising into the air on its own with no apparent support. I see now that the resilience and elasticity and endurance of the many relationships that weave together Le Grand David, onstage and off, is a conjuring act I wasn't aware I have been watching all this time. Read More 
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The Sweet Smell of March

I went off on a bit of a chase for spring on Friday, without really knowing that was what I was doing. I was to write about a woman who lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, outside of Portland, about three hours from here. I left early to be able to arrive at 11. The hills of snow around my house had begun to melt with the milder temperatures of that week. Two weeks ago, we had a dump of almost three feet land on us and then high winds and heavy rains, a kind of winter hurricane, some called it. A lot of people were out of power for a while. I felt very fortunate not to be among them. Clean-up crews and utility trucks continued working on the roadside all along the way. As I made my way east, the sun rose strongly and I noticed roadside sugar houses were boiling, emitting big clouds of steam from their rooftop vents. I knew that if I stopped, got out of my car and took a deep breath, I would smell that sweet smell of March.

By the time I reached Cape Elizabeth, there was no snow on the ground and when I got out of my car, I could hear, though I did not see, robins and the clear note of a cardinal. Just seeing the brown grasses underfoot was an inspiration. On my way home, I stopped at Hampton Beach. The ocean storms had also been strong and there is something about heavy surf that gets me going. I wasn’t disappointed. Waves rolled in one right after the other, thrashing the sand and sending heavy spray up into the wind. Fortunately it was near low tide as otherwise, I might not have had a place to walk on the sand, hard packed from the outgoing tide. The beach was almost empty, save for a few joggers and dogwalkers, which is how I like it, just me and the raging sea.

There was still a lot of snow reflecting off my headlights when I arrived home but I think there was less. The evening was so warm, I only built a small fire in the stove, just to take the dampness from the house, before going to bed. In the morning, I drove up to Walpole to see some old and dear friends who were gathering there. It was an unusual opportunity as they were from all points: San Francisco and London and Burlington and Amherst, Massachusetts. To celebrate, we dined on a lavish late lunch of rack of lamb, new potatoes and fresh green beans. With family around the table and the bright pot of tulips, it felt like Easter. After lunch, we all put our coats on and went out for a walk – a walk which turned out to be more than three miles, up into the hillsides above the village, past interesting old houses and wonderful views of rolling hills which were beginning to shed their snow. Every turn of the road seemed to reveal a well-composed landscape painting, the angle shifting as we walked. We even passed by Ken Burns’ house, with his iconic (and somewhat incongruous) paean to Thomas Jefferson on the hilltop above his house Someone inquired what the wires were running from tree to tree at the edge of the road and I explained that this is the “new” method for collecting sap. The tubing runs downhill into a central tank, more efficient, I am told, than the old style of buckets hanging on every tree but not so scenic, this is sure. The snowbanks along the roadside were melting so fast, if we stopped, we could hear them melt. Periodically, chunks of snow fell off the banks into the road. Water ran merrily down the pavement where we walked. There were puddles, a novelty in mid-winter. We heard more birds, unidentified but happy songs. It’s hard to gripe about global warming on such a day.

We ended our walk in the village, stopping at the irresistible Burdick’s in the center and ordered, instead of hot chocolate, lemonade and iced lattes. It was that kind of day. We bunched together around a small table by the window. It was only March 6, we reminded each other. Those who would be returning to California and London were simply enjoying the sunshine, immune to the thrill of the high temperatures at this time of year. I was basking in all of it, the friends, the good food, the beauty, the warmth on such an early March day. Surely there will be more storms but the sap is running and it was all a gift, such a respite, a bridge to get us through till spring really does arrive.
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Rock of Ages

People are always saying newspapers are full of bad news. I don’t find that to be the case, in fact, I find some of the best good news in our local papers. Maybe I just breeze by all the bizarre murders, ghoulish kidnappings and international wars, straight to the little notices that cheer me no end. I’ll admit it does take a bit of work to find it, but, like anything worthwhile, the work is rewarding. Here is what I found in just one week’s news.

A wallet was lost in the downtown area of Peterborough. The wallet was later found with “a significant amount of money and credit cards still in it.”

Police engaged in a “low-speed pursuit” that continued through two towns before the driver finally pulled over. The 93-year-old driver said he didn’t know the police were trying to pull him over.

A front page picture showed a newborn who emerged quite unexpectedly in a pick-up truck in 10 below zero weather, the 24-year-old mother and father the only ones in attendance of the birth. "It was like, holy crap, I just birthed a baby in the front seat of my pick-up truck!" commented the young father. All are thriving.

High school students set up a card table in the snow to collect money to help pay for the funeral expenses of an old man who had died unexpectedly in an accident.

Our neighbor and political activist Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who walked across the country in her ninetieth year to promote campaign finance reform, turned 100 years old. There were multiple celebrations, including one at the New Hampshire state house where she delivered an address to the assembled representatives. She attended all the parties under her own steam, though leaning on a walking stick. And wearing a crown.

And then there was the rock. Route 101, a major New Hampshire state highway that passes right through the center of the little town of Dublin, has to share the passage with the town’s eccentricities. For the past 100 years, there has been something called “the oval” in the middle of the highway. The oval was designed and donated to the town by a wealthy summer resident. In the middle of the oval is a flagpole and a historic marker. The flagpole is distinguished as being the only flagpole in the middle of a highway in the entire state (and perhaps any other state) and the marker states that Dublin is the highest village in the state. Lots of superlative. So the oval protects history as well as, some say, drivers. At the western end of the oval is a large rock, about the size of a small car. The rock, as it is known, was placed there in 1916 as a memorial to the same wealthy resident’s mother. Of course, 1916 didn’t see much vehicular traffic but nonetheless the rock has been there all this time and no one has ever run into it. Ever. Not until about six months ago when an intoxicated man smashed his car into it one day and three days later, someone having a medical emergency smashed into it all over again. It was bizarre. The rock was unmoved in either case and neither driver was seriously injured. The police chief was quoted at the time as saying, “In my twenty years here, I’ve never known this to happen even once. Now it has happened twice.” Since then, engineers from the state have declared the rock a safety hazard and have ordered it to be removed. I can’t count the number of articles in these papers that have been devoted to the proposed movement of the rock but both papers gave the issue lead editorials. Opinions are split. The police chief has no opinion. The fire chief thinks it should go. Most residents think moving it is “crazy,” many declaring their love for the rock which, in summer, is covered with a crazed tangle of euonymus and gives the impression of a wild garden in the middle of the road. Many think the rock slows things down. One resident was quoted as saying, “I think it’s kind of silly moving a rock that’s been there for 100 years. If they don’t plow into the rock, they’ll plow into the flagpole or something else.”

Why is this good news? Because it shows that there are still some issues about which no one is certain, issues that don’t lean left or right. They just sit in the middle of the road, unmoved until the votes are cast.
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