In 1688 Fort Andross was established as a trading post for fur trappers. A little more than one hundred years later, a mill was built there in Brunswick that harnessed the mighty Androscoggin to spin wool into cotton, an industrialist’s wet dream. Two centuries after, I step in. Into the bright brick and gleaming wood building, peering out large windows built over the rushing man-made waterfall, wandering, observing, and ordering lunch. The Frontier Cafe is restaurant, theater, gallery space and museum of living history. It was I and the elderly for the 2 o’clock matinee. And the spacey adolescent automatons operating the refreshment/ticket counter. The place sort of runs itself. The visitor follows her senses, more facilitated than served. Which is actually really pleasant. An usher does not take your ticket or show you to a seat, the lights don’t dim when the show is about to start. A barely audible young person does bring you the food you ordered but you bus it afterwards yourself, then move smally, artfully through the confusing installation until you realize it’s after the hour and the movie has begun.
The menu is a dilettante’s delight, just the way I like to eat when I’m alone and feeling notebookish. I had a cup of the cream o’ mushroom soup ($3.50), which is almost all I care to eat right now, and a tomato and mozzarella meze plate ($6), which is all I want most of the rest of my life. There are plenty of pleasing bottles of beer and wine, including a few of my favorites – Weisse beer, raspberry Lambic, and good hard cider, but I kept it safe and sober with a bottle of Pellegrino. The concave receptacle contained a sedimentary broth, fungal in color and a wee bit salty. I didn’t mind. I loved the minced bits of mushroom that comprised the soup, which made it almost meaty, which seems like a thing vegetarians say to be persuasive and condescending and which is almost always bullshit. But I am not one, and what I write is true. I would have licked the bowl, had there not been so many retired liberal arts professor types looking on. In the segmented plate were six slices of meh tomato, some thick balsamic which you might think is neat if you enjoy this kind of vinegar which I do not, and four medium-sized hunks of fresh mozzarella. I found this dish a bit lacking in interest and flavor. Some basil and olive oil would have been nice. I did appreciate the crusty bread, though I don’t know which component of my meal it was for. The whole shebang was presented on a solid wooden board, a dainty/rustic convention so perfectly designed for women like me. I ate deliberately and when I was done, I recycled and binned my own refuse.
An aside about me and food waste. In sixth grade my entire class went to a spring retreat in the woods – basically camp – where we sang folk songs and learned about scat and where they measured our collective week’s worth of discarded, half-eaten food and weighed it at the end of the stay. The hippie kids who were our counselors at Nature’s Classroom called this stuff ORT, which stands for something I can’t remember, and which made a big impression on our eleven-year-old minds for about three weeks after the experience. I still know all the words to “Joe Hill”, for what that’s worth. Now back to our narrative.
The movie playing today was Magic Trip, a briskly edited, quasi-interviewed and sometimes Stanley Tucci narrated documentary about Ken Kesey and his Band of Merry Pranksters. I read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in high school, along with all the accompanying texts and other source material. And while I don’t spend a lot of time applying Further stickers to my current car or decorating the inside of a VW bus with laundry detergent, I will admit that I am still a bit beguiled by that cast of characters and their consciousness-expanding endeavors. The footage was grainy and voice-overs didn’t add much, but it was pleasant, like a phone call from friends you admire or who amuse you, but whom you seldom see anymore. There really isn’t a strong perspective or commentary on the people and times in which they lived so radically, and it all half-heartedly falls apart by the end, and then you are ready to go home. I stepped out into the late summer sunlight, surprised by how warm the afternoon had grown. I walked past everything I’d already seen, back to the present, which changes so quickly you miss it, though you know it’s happening all the time.
The Frontier is a splendid place to go for a thoughtful, solitary afternoon, or to bring those out of town visitors who prefer art and hummus to the pub atmosphere of the Sea Dog across the way. I like it there a lot. Brunswick is a solid old New England college town I hope to keep exploring.