Spy Profile: Michael Fiorentino at Sultana’s Helm


The Spy sat down this week with new Sultana helmsman Michael Fiorentino.

Fiorentino, a New York native and recent captain of the Lady Maryland, was hired by Sultana Education Foundation in January after Tanya Banks-Christensen stepped down following seven years of award-winning leadership at Sultana’s helm.

Fiorentino has a 500-ton Master of Oceans license and has spent the last eight years sailing the Chesapeake Bay, along with four years of teaching in the prestigious Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore.

He also has an extensive background in marine carpentry. He studied at the International Yacht Restoration School in Rhode Island among others, and describes his transition from traditional carpentry to marine, and finally into sailing tall ships.

The new captain is excited about exploring different parts of the Bay, experiencing a new ship, and becoming a part of Sultana Educational Foundation’s expansive teaching mission. He’s familiar with Chestertown from several Downrigging Weekends, has family here, and loves the area,

He’s been out on Sultana, “learning the ropes” from Banks-Christensen since March and is now readying for Sultana Education Foundation’s busy summer sailing season.

Here, the new Sultana captain describes his journey to the Eastern Shore.

Spy Weekend Tip: Grab a Ticket for Bradford Lee Folk

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If there’s one rock-solid certainty in this world, it’s that Southern native Bradford Lee Folk works damn hard and plays damn hard.

By day, he’s out on a John Deere tractor on a 400-acre-row crop operation in Nashville, tilling the land for a living. But at night he’s tearing it up on stage with his Bluegrass Playboys, playing the rough-edged blend of bluegrass tradition and true country grit that’s his stock-in-trade.

And that is starting to get noticed by some of the top critics. In fact, Americana UK calls “Somewhere Far Away,” Bradford’s latest release, “the best, the most rounded and intelligent album that you’ll get to hear this year.” Not bad for a country boy with a day job.

So, go see the magic on Saturday night.

Bradford Lee Folk
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Doors: 7:30 p.m.; Show: 8 p.m.
Stoltz Listening Room $20

Carol Minarick’s Art at the Academy is Definitely Not a Series


With the floor to ceiling canvasses of Easton resident Carol Minarick’s new exhibition at the Academy Art Museum providing an intimate, at times moving, journey into the artist’s interests, worries, humor, and love of materials, it is tempting for a viewer to assume this must be an organized series on the part of the artist.

But Minarick, predicting that kind of impulse on the part of her audience, cleverly preempts that by entitling her show, “Beowulf: A Series That Is Not A Series”. While there might be a bit of wordplay in that title, another one of the artist’s many fascinations, it does allow the viewer a certain liberation in viewing her work without seeking themes. Not unlike one’s own consciousness, her images drift from the profound to the superficial, using raw materials, from paper to stone, to highlight the randomness of human thought and expression.

In her interview with the Spy, Carol Minarick talks about her intent, or lack thereof, with the fifty-five panels on display, and selects a few of them to discuss the nature of her work.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Carol Minarick
Beowulf: A Series That Is Not A Series
April 18 – July 19, 2015
Academy Art Museum, Easton


Out and About (Sort Of): Changing for the Worse by Howard Freedlander

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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware has been a wonderful vacation venue for members of our family for more than 60 years. The allure is diminishing.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 7.36.28 AMLike Sussex County, in which it is located, growth and more growth seem to be the guiding planning principles. As I wrote more than four months ago complaining about the ugly transformation of Middletown, DE in New Castle County, I see only commercial and residential development gone awry, seemingly unchecked, in our once favorite beach town.

Build and they will come. That seems to be the mantra.

My wife and I spent three days in Rehoboth Beach last week, finding ourselves incredulous about the number of people on the beach in early May and the number of cars on Route 1 leading into and out of this beach city. The shopping outlets continue to be immensely popular in a state already popular for its lack of a sales tax. Traffic in the summer months is horrendous.

Since this is my second rant about runaway development in the First State, readers may conclude that I am anti-development, anti-change and just plain cranky about our neighbor to the north. Not so.

I simply see no planned development, no thoughtful strategy. Farmland continues to vanish in the face of commercial and residential development. Does anyone care?

Rehoboth Beach has always been special to our family. We feel comfortable there. We have celebrated numerous special occasions at this beach resort. And it is so convenient to Easton.

Our new plan is this: visit Rehoboth Beach only in the fall and early spring. That’s too bad.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and journalism and a master of science  degree in strategic intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College.

It’s Small Wonder by George Merrill


I believe that children have, if human beings can be said to have one at all, a default position. It returns naturally to attitudes of awe and wonder. This is why children bring so much joy to their parents and grandparents; through them we vicariously live the awe and wonder we once knew in that brief one-sixth of our lifespan we called our childhood. It happens, I suspect because most everything a child engages in is a first. First’s are always memorable and elicit a level of excitement leftovers don’t. We older folk of course experience awe and wonder, but because we’re often bogged down with the “same old” we tend to be more discriminating and less spontaneous about recognizing what’s wondrous and awesome.

I discovered wonder recently: it was, as they say, totally awesome.

I was at Grandparent’s Day recently at the Seventh District Elementary School in Baltimore Country where two of my grandchildren attend. There were more grandparents there than children. The school was a multigenerational zoo.

I’ve watched documentaries of apiaries. You see hundreds of bees, all squirming and wiggling this way and that, endlessly buzzing and all the while performing the particular tasks for which providence has equipped them. The trick is in knowing which bee is doing what. It was like that with the kids. Like beehives, the activity seemed chaotic but was definitely informed by an invisible intelligence.

Granddaughter Hildry’s third grade had arranged for grandparents to join in discussing student class projects about inventions. The children had researched the history of common household items like radios, cameras, telephones and washing machines. The event was staged like show and tell where a student shows an object and then tells you what he knows about it. One child showed us a rotary phone and told us about Alexander Graham Bell. Children heard from some grandparents about party lines, where families shared access to the same telephone line. Another child showed old phonograph records. We also saw pushbutton phones and one of the first transistor radios. I told the class that in 1945 I had a crystal set (which I described) that actually received radio broadcasts. They appeared unimpressed. One student researcher on cameras said that when Kodak issued its first Box Cameras their use was prohibited on beaches. One child researched the history of washing machines, gave a brief history and told us they were too big and heavy for him to bring one to show. One grandmother allowed as to how her hair once caught in an old machine’s ringer. Her hair had to be cut loose to free her. That thought generated considerable awe among the children.

Scan 1

Granddaughter Winnie is in the fifth grade. The children were assigned riddles to answer. The children divided into two groups. One group made up the riddles. The other guessed them.

Winnie’s team invented this riddle:

It’s a cat not a pet,
It has fur but no hair,
It likes to play but not with you
What is it?

I thought Winnie would be a grandparent herself before I’d ever figure it out.

The young minds were ingenious in constructing the riddles, and the joy in their faces was palpable as they collectively attempted figured out the answers. Winnie’s team read their riddle.

As she read, the other group’s faces grew intense; brows knitted, mouths pursed, lips pressed tightly, some heads rising enquiringly, other heads falling in concentration. Like a litter of pups, the kids moved and nudged each other, while figuring things out. Heads would shake, no; then some nodded, yes, hesitantly. Then, as one or two children got it, I saw light appear in the children’s eyes the way neon tubes, when first turned on, flicker before they fully illuminate. I was witnessing the human soul’s equivalent of a nuclear reaction. It was like a bolt of atomic energy had been released in their bodies, exiting through their faces, especially through their eyes that sparkled with irrepressible delight. The children were experiencing the exhilaration and pure joy of discovery, the sheer wonder of engaging their minds with a mystery while struggling to understand its meaning.

When the psalmist wrote how the awe of God is the beginning of wisdom I suspect he had children in mind. The psalmist is alluding to the wisdom in spirituality that invites our awe, arouses our wonder and brings us joy. Another way of saying it is that viable spirituality enthuses. The root meaning of the word “enthusiasm” means to be “in God,” to be excited in finding the meaning in the small mysteries that life presents us with daily. It’s the pure joy that’s available to young and old. It’s just easier for kids. They have the advantage of confronting so many novel situations. Novelty whets our curiosity.

After the classes, grandparents and children went to the book fair to buy books. My grandchildren enjoy reading, so we bought a number of books. And speaking of awe, I had no idea children’s books had become so expensive. I wondered why.

By the way, the answer to Winnie’s riddle: a lion.

Poetry Pays Off: Alexander Vidiani Wins WC $63,000 Kerr Prize


A Washington College senior who spent four years honing his skills as a poet has won the largest student literary prize in the nation, the Sophie Kerr Prize, this year worth $62,900.

Alexander Viviandi hugging a finalist as his name is announced.

Alexander Vidiani hugs a finalist as his name is announced.

Alexander R. Vidiani, who grew up in the Hunt Valley suburbs north of Baltimore, was named the Sophie Kerr winner Friday evening, May 15, on the Washington College campus, at an event where he and five other finalists for the Prize read from their work. As specified by the will of benefactor Sophie Kerr at her death in 1965, each year the English Department faculty at the historic liberal arts school awards the Prize to the graduating senior who, in their judgment, shows the most literary talent and promise. This year the professors reviewed 25 writing portfolios submitted by Prize hopefuls before selecting six finalists and ultimately bestowing the cash prize on Vidiani. The other 2015 finalists for the Sophie Kerr Prize are Julia D. Armstrong, Valerie A. Dunn, Ariel J. Jicha, Paige Kube, and Sydney I. Sznajder.

Jehanne Dubrow, a poet who directs the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, says Vidiani’s talent was clear when he enrolled in her introductory creative writing course his freshman year. “He had an incredible ear for the music of poetry, he just needed to learn how to be disciplined about  doing the work.  Once we talked about how talented he was and where he could take that talent, he became one of our most dedicated students. He will revise a poem 100 times or more if needed. He’s the finest student poet I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my seven years here at the College.”

Vidiani’s prize portfolio is filled with poems about loss, masculinity, fatherhood and the way we use language to connect with one another. His subject matter was inspired in part by the work of poet and memoirist Nick Flynn, who came to Washington College to read and talk with students in March 2012. Vidiani, still a freshman, delved into Flynn’s work, including his debut poetry collection, Some Ether, which focused on family trauma and relationships. It inspired Vidiani to move on to weightier subjects in his own writing.

“Alex’s poems come out of the elegaic tradition, which seeks to transform mourning into memory and melancholy into monument,” says Washington College English professor James Hall, who was Vidiani’s advisor for his senior thesis (“Masculinity and Male Paternity in Contemporary American Poetry: Why Fathers Matter”).  “He gives form to feeling, and transforms the particular into the universal. Alex has discovered that poetry offers liberating forces for difficult subjects.”

English Department chair Kathryn Moncrief adds that the jury found Vidiani’s portfolio to be “beautifully crafted and polished, and tightly edited. It felt like the beginning of a book manuscript. We could see the book this could become in a few years,” she says.

A graduate of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, Vidiani majored in English with a minor in creative writing and served as poetry editor of the student-run literary magazine The Collegian while at Washington College. Last summer he interned with the poetry editor of Summerset Review, Meredith Davies Hadaway, and he was recently named a senior poetry reader for the national literary and arts journal Cherry Tree, published by the Rose O’Neill Literary House. Two of his poems will be published soon in respected online publications, Cleaver Magazine and the independent journal Juked. This fall, Vidiani plans to enter the MFA program in poetry at the University of Maryland, where he has been awarded a Teaching Assistantship.

Out and About (Sort Of): Sunrise By Howard Freedlander

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“…It is always sunrise somewhere…”

A celebrant at the church service I attended in Easton the past Sunday citied the naturalist John Muir’s quotation in extolling the Easter message of joy and hope.

The message struck me deeply as I thought about the most recent episode in the sad saga of the Rev. Heather Cook, the bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland charged with the alcohol-induced killing of Thomas Palermo in December 2014. Palermo was biking in north Baltimore when struck by a Subaru driven by Bishop Cook, who had served the Episcopal Diocese of Easton at one time.

Amid the terrible chaos two weeks ago in Baltimore, as rioting and destruction engulfed West Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore City police, Bishop Cook resigned as bishop suffragan and agreed she would no longer serve as an ordained person in the Episcopal Church.

Does Bishop Cook deserve grace and sympathy as she confronts her actions and alcohol abuse? Do we extend that same forgiveness and hope to the Episcopal Church as it faces its obligation to understand and respond to alcoholism among its priests and parishioners?

In finding a cause for grace—as in wishing that Heather Cook achieves sobriety and clarity in the consequences of her destructive behavior—do we run the risk of overlooking the tragic loss of a 41-year-old bicyclist to his family and friends?

The Palermo family is suffering due to the human weakness of the former second-highest ranking cleric in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The Palermo family has to face a grief-ridden future. It likely cares little about Heather Cook’s struggle with alcoholism and the diocese’s apparent lack of attention to a serious illness afflicting its Bishop Cook.

Sudden, tragic death has visited itself on the family.

Why then does sunrise happening somewhere give me pause in assigning Heather Cook to a purgatory of endless disdain? Do I feel the same sympathetic way about Freddie Gray and so many African-American males killed daily on the violent streets of Baltimore and other cities and towns?

My answer is one based on optimism and hope. I place my faith in recovery.

If she goes to prison, I hope that Heather Cook will find herself and help others do the same. She can serve those who need her in an unwelcoming venue. She can recover her worth as a loving, spiritual person.

I hope that the Episcopal Church searches its soul, as I suspect is already the case, and determines a way to help its flock confront their demons. Perhaps the church can recover its credibility as an institution willing to make hard choices in its selection and retention process.

I hope that Baltimore City, where I was raised, can address the ravages of poverty and hopelessness. I pray that the city’s political, religious, and civic and business leaders can pull together to help its most destitute communities feel enfranchised.

And, finally, I hope that the Palermo family can overcome its grief, and believe that Tom Palermo’s life, though ended far too soon and unnecessarily so, was worthwhile.

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

John Muir’s entire quotation bespeaks natural beauty, joy in God’s creation and hope in the preservation of goodness and grace.

Mid-Shore Lives: Eddie Cutts and the Inheritance of Design and Craft


Eddie Cutts lacks no self-awareness that he and his brother Ronnie grew up in the house of brilliant, if eccentric father. Self-taught and obsessed with design and craftsmanship, Ed Cutts, Sr. broke away early from Long Island and took his young family to Oxford fifty years ago to establish Cutts and Case to pursue those passions. Within a decade, Cutts, Sr. had established himself as one of the great wooden boat builders of his era.

It is never a given in any family with such an intense intellectual and engineering foundation that the children would have the genetic gene pool, or the desire, to follow a father’s footsteps. And yet both Eddie and Ronnie never thought of a life without boats. Taken under their father’s wings early and often, both boys not only provided the manual labor required in the boat business, but were quickly brought into decisions of design with some of the leading engineers of the day.

In his interview with the Spy, Eddie Cotts recalls the inheritance of design and craft from his father, the impact it has had on he and his brother, and the fundamentals of wooden boat building that continue at Cutts and Case to this day.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length

Spy Reconnaissance: The Avalon with Al Bond and Jessica Rogers


While no one at the Avalon Foundation will say it’s a done deal, it is increasingly likely that after two decades of being a renter in downtown Easton, the nonprofit arts organization will finally control their flagship performance center with its purchase from the Town for $405,000 later this year.

This rather historic accomplishment is perhaps the best example of how mature the Avalon Foundation has become, and the kind of community support and goodwill it has generated over the last twenty years. In fact, the Avalon is now the largest arts organization on the Eastern Shore.

In their interviews with the Spy, Executive Director Al Bond and General Manager Jessica Rogers talk candidly about the Avalon’s growth, the challenges of running a business of this size, and what it will take to keep it a sustainable in the years to come.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

Remembrances of a Mother by George Merrill


I think of my mother on Mother’s Day although differently than I did when she was alive.

In my mid-life, long after she was gone, I began having thoughts of my mother, mostly little things about her. It’s in the little things where time stores the memories of our loved ones.

I recall how she smelled; the scent of a woman mixed with Apple Blossom perfume and cigarette smoke. Not an endearing image for others, perhaps, but for me, I cannot pass a woman that smokes and not have affectionate images of my mother waft through my mind.

I grew up in the late 1930’s and 40’s. Then childhood ills were treated primitively and only crises sent folks to doctors.

It was the era of castor oil, cod liver oil, and mustard plasters, iodine for cuts and scrapes and Argyrol for sinus infections and sore throats. Enemas were popular for treating most GI disturbances except diarrhea.

Sickness kept me from school although its costs sometimes outweighed benefits when my mother might administer frightening treatments. During mumps, she slathered a greasy salve on my swollen glands. It was black, smelled like insecticide with the consistency of axel grease. I felt like an ailing crankshaft.

However, my mother read me books when I was sick. I liked that. That’s when I first realized I loved hearing and telling stories. Once when I had measles and was in bed, I cried when she read me, “The Yearling.” I still hear her voice when, as a very small child, she read me an English nursery rhyme called, “A Frog He Would a ‘Wooing Go.” The tale bobs along musically with nonsense words: “With a rowley, powley, gammon and spinach,

Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley”

Before I was ever able to articulate it, I knew that she was having fun reading it. I didn’t know what ‘gammon and spinach’ were. It didn’t matter. It was enough to experience the intimacy, intimacy that’s always there, even in conflict, between a child and its mother.

Mother’s explanation for medical treatments was formulaic. Why did I have to take castor oil, or be slathered with salve, be covered with a mustard plaster? She would only reply “it’s good for what ails you.”

Her remedies were therapeutically doubtful. But the confidence she exuded announcing, “it’s good for what ails you” made me feel safe. Predictability and confidence are comforting during illness. Little things like nonsense words often communicate the sense of an abiding presence, like tree frogs we hear at night but never see.

My mother was a skillful cook. She liked making soups, all kinds: broccoli, spinach, Manhattan clam chowder, tomato and potato soup – not vichyssoise just potato soup – my mother was not pretentious. My wife once asked her how she made broccoli soup. “Oh, a little bit of seasoning, you know, some butter, a dash of cream” and on she’d go. She was fudging, guarding her recipe, I thought. I don’t think so now. I understand now what mothers do; they wing it. Mothers are, above all, intuitive. Maybe they can’t articulate their methods but for most challenges they find successful solutions without having any idea how they did it. No culinary school, diagnostic manuals or psychology books are required: for many moms, it’s all about flying by the seat of their skirts (few women wore pants in those days.)

Families mediate our sense of place. My mother and father came from old Staten Island families. When I was a boy the Island was rural, like the Shore. I’m fond of the Eastern Shore because the Island’s tidewater marshes, creeks and open spaces were then similar to where I live today.

After I left, I’d return home to visit. On one visit we went together to Fort Wadsworth to shop. At the time she knew she had cancer and limited time. The historic fort is a beautiful promontory that overlooks the Narrows. I watched as she looked over to Brooklyn. It was a lovely day, windy, with whipped cream clouds and blue sky. As she faced into the wind, it blew through her hair and she looked happy and at home. I was happy to be there, at home. In June of 1964, she died and that November the Verrazano Bridge was completed and open to traffic. Within two years the Island was savaged by overdevelopment, and my mother died because of cells that ran amok because they too, like overdevelopment, couldn’t regulate their growth.

But I don’t want to leave my reflections on Mother’s Day with only thoughts of sadness. She died a “good death” meaning that she died safely with my sister’s care at her home and my brother and I living close enough to visit regularly. I had long talks with her or just sat silently with her as she dozed. She suffered minimal pain.

And as mother’s can do, she managed the tasks of her dying with grace, just as she had managed her life, a dash of this, some of that, a few nonsense words, flying by the seat of her skirt and intuitively saying the things that would help us let her go and to heal gently from the loss she knew we’d soon feel.