Friday, June 30, 2006

tut a tippler

It should be no surprise that the king who lived one of the grandest lives ever turns out to be a red wine drinker. I wonder if his bottles (giant clay casks I imagine) had pictures of cute animals on the labels?
the chicken diet

Our twelve hens are settling in down in the coop. The girls grow visibly larger almost daily, and have a list of new tricks. They now roost on the roof of the nesting boxes, on the ladder leading to the door (and the outside world), on the concrete block ledge that runs around the perimeter of the coop - just about everywhere but on the roosting bars I built for them. Joan Jett, the alpha hen, has taken to standing on top of the metal capped feeder, perhaps to get a better view of the flying bugs. Their diet has been of a pretty high quality lately, including arugala and brocolli rabe which had bolted, honeydew melon, snails, grasshoppers and whatever hapless bugs wander into their pen.

Our favorite remains Petunia, the little one, who is always first to greet us at the door of the coop, and who allows herself to be picked up easily, while the others require some serious chasing. As a result, Petunia gets the majority of snails.

It will be another week or so before we can release the hens into the outdoors. Hopefully they will be mostly safe, and return home without too much coaxing. Raleigh (our terrier mutt) remains intrigued by the hens but, so far, not aggressive. We'll see what happens when they meet without twisted wire between them.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

time for a rant

Can someone please explain to me the benefit to a company in lying to its customers? In the process of renovating our house, we've had to deal with lots of suppliers, and a friend of ours who does terrific tile work has acquired the tile and fixtures for our various jobs, and done most of the installation work as well. But the suppliers he's forced to work with are incredible. We're ordering a clawfoot tub, along with all of the hardware for the shower, drain, curtain ring, etc. Two days ago we spoke to the company about the tub and fixtures. We made it clear that our top priority was availability, as I need the parts soon. We were told, "the tub and fixtures are in stock and will take two to three weeks to get to the customer." This was doable in our time framework. Yesterday, we went throught the parts list with the company on the phone, and were told that all of the parts were available and ready to ship except the tub, which is arriving at the warehouse tomorrow (Friday). Even though this was already acontradiction of what we'd been told the day before, I said ok and we placed the order.They faxed the order back, saying the tub was on a boat and would not be in the states until the middle of July, and that although the other parts are in the warehouse, it would take 2-3 weeks before those could be shipped.

Modern American companies call this a "computer mistake" or "incorrect information," but there is a simpler word for it - lying. If a customer says their main concern is a schedule, why would you even take an order for something you can't supply in their time frame? Of course, the company takes the easy way out and asks, "who did you speak to?" as if I don't know it was the same voice I was speaking to presently.

Let's reserve a special circle in Dante's hell for these idiots.

Monday, June 26, 2006


When we moved to a farm, with four outbuildings and enough land for a significant tire dump, we thought it would be the end of 'too much stuff'. Instead we've filled the garage barn with building supplies, a lawn tractor, tile saw, band saw, paint, and 'organic' farm chemicals. The older barn is filled with several cords of firewood, furniture we don't yet have a place for in the house, and hundreds of boxes of books. The livestock barn does finally have some livestock (12 little chickens) and more building supplies, as well as 200 banana boxes of French books in the tack room. The chicken barn is still empty, mostly because it is wet most of the time. A leaky roof and condensation on the floor cause have halted my plans for a hip gallery of avant-garde books and paper to confuse the neighbors.

To remind myself that we're not the only ones accumulating things, I periodically check the accumulation project. Click on the various images to read the story of an unusual collection.

Friday, June 23, 2006

anatomy of a struggling book fair, and some suggestions

Some people have asked for a report on the Portland Book Fair, so here goes... I can't help but say that the fair seems to be on its last legs, with both dealer and customer attendance down, and none of the energy required to keep going in this difficult market.

I sold only a few dollars worth of books above the relatively inexpensive booth fee, so counting the cost of the books themselves and other expenses, I lost money. This is not an unusual occurence for me at book fairs, so my slow sales are not an indictment of the fair, but most other dealers said their sales were similar, with a few exceptions who said sales were ok.

Scouting wasn't much fun either. I bought about a dozen books, mostly cookbooks or gardening books for myself and Samantha, and one architecture book for sale. There were lots of good books there
at reasonable prices for reading, but the customers weren't there. The room was pretty empty for much of the day.

Meeting new customers is always the third reason to do a book fair, and on this count, I fared better. Not only did I meet a few interesting people, but they contacted me after the fair. I take this as a good sign, and look forward to working with these folks. It will take a bit of business from these folks to make up for the two clutzes in my booth who each dropped a $700 book. Both books cracked a hinge or were otherwise slightly damaged, so I'll send them to the "junk for eBay" pile. Neither nimble customer flinched when they dropped their book, and neither apologized. Whatever happened to "you break it, you buy it"? Next book fair, I'll be putting up a "you break it, you eat it" sign.

Bitching about book fairs is a time honored activity for booksellers, and guessing the cause of a slow book fair has taken up millions of hours of our time. Good weather, bad weather, the stock market, competing television or sporting events, an illegal war, the increasingly illiterate US population... But why was this fair slow, especially in comparison to the pretty energetic Concord NH fair of just two weeks earlier? Even amongst the busy dealers and eager customers at that fair, word was that Portland is waning, lots of room was still available, and there is no energy.

This is surprising to me in that Portland as a city has really grown in the last few years. The population seems less provincial and a bit wealthier than in the past. I was interested to hear that the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) had just finished a week long annual meeting in Portland the day before the show. The arts in general are growing in profile in the region. So where were the customers?

I have no easy answer to this, but I'll be back at the fair next year, and I'll make some suggestions now about how to get Portland back on the book fair map.

1. the three sets of players with interest in the fair must all work, together or separately, to bring in more customers. The promoter, the Maine Antiquarian Bookseller Association, and the individual dealers need to actively get more dealers and more customers there.

2. local dealers not present should be encouraged to attend. Most of the larger maine open shops were note exhibiting. I'm sure they all have differing, valid reasons for not doing so, but they should personally be encouraged to attend. After all, where better to target potential customers for the fair than at the local shops in Portland, Camden, etc.

3. use the internet. The MABA has a tiny box in the corner of their website with no real info about the fair, and a link to the promoter's website, which also has limited info, as it is really aimed at dealers. MABA should create a simple page which is aimed at the public, which explains the book fair in terms of what they might find there; books in all fields, reading copies and rare books, old things and new things. Have a picture or two. Individual dealers can link to the page and email it to their customers.

4. Dealers need to take things more into their own hands. Instead of complaining to the promoter, who is busy thinking about things like tables, labor, security, etc., so we don't have to, dealers should look for ways to publicize the show themselves. Lots of newspapers up here will run anything they get in the form of a press release. Contacting your local paper with a press release is almost free of charge (maybe the MABA page I suggested could be in the form of a press release so dealers could just print it out and send it).

5. Reach out to like-minded organizations. There are organizations out there that may be inclined to help spread the word about a book fair. The Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance, local public libraries, the Maine Arts Commission,, etc. These organizations maintain online calendars, and it is not difficult to get listed. Many orgs also have email lists they might send to.

Well, this is just a beginning. I hope others might take this list and run with it.
lightning, chickens

Once again it rains. We've had time enough to build an ark but have been otherwise distracted. Tuesday night our house was hit by lightning, which knocked out the phone service, killed the answering machine, modem and wireless router, and seems to have damaged the wall oven as well. I finally got the phone service back yesterday, and then the internet.

Despite the bad weather we've managed to get things done. The chickens are here. Twelve of them: six rhode island reds and six plymouth barred rocks. The barred rocks are slightly larger and much more assertive. They'll all live inside for a few more weeks before they're big enough to hit the yard. I bring them bugs from the garden and they seem to be looking forward to my visits now (chickens can be bribed).

When it's not raining, I'm residing the garage barn; a first time project for me. The garage is a warm up and training run for the rear wall of the house, which I'll side next. The second bathroom and various smaller projects continue more slowly, but are moving in the right direction.

Monday, June 05, 2006

two weekends in New Hampshire

Two weekends, two weeks apart, and nothing in common but rain.

Samantha and I spent a Saturday driving through last month's torrential rain in order to attend the New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival. Held on the grounds of State Fair, the event was populated with soggy sheep, llamas, apalcas, goats, rabbits and their relative enthusiasts. Appropriately, the whole place smelled like wet sheep. We were there to get an education in the wooly creatures, perhaps even pick a breed that will eventually trade a roof over their heads for mowing our lawn. Unfortunately, some of the sheep exhibitors must have stayed home, and some of the breeds we were excited to see weren't present. we cna only hope that the weather for Maine's upcoming Fiber Frolic (next week) will be better.

I returned to New Hampshire yesterday in search of a quarry with which I feel a bit more comfortable - books. The book fair, in Concord NH, was really pleasant. Just one day, a full room of dealers (most of whom I don't know or see elsewhere), and some good books to buy. Some new purchases included: a monograph on Cobra artist Pierre Alechinsky, inscribed by the author to gallery owner Xavier Fourcade, a rare Jean Tinguely exhibition catalogue, an inscribed book by poet Harvey Shapiro, and a very rare work of Paul Claudel, the first separately printed edition of his Ideogrammes Occidenteaux, published in an edition of 200 and rarely seen. A few other oddball food and famr books rounded out the purchases. It was also nice to see some friendly colleagues: Dave and Jenny Ritchie, John Waite, Greg Powers, Jim Arsenault, and others. In all, a good day.