“Whose coat is this?”
“Mine,” I say, to the thin, grey-haired woman marking the chairs on either side with various winter accoutrements. “Oh, sorry. I went to get a glass of wine.”
Another woman, coming up behind me, leans over and says, “It’s alright Sandy, I’ll sit on the end.”
“Are you sure?” I ask. “I can slide down so you and your friends can sit together.”
“No, dear, we’ll all be friends by the end of the night,” she declares, smiling. “Hi, I’m Georgeanne.”
And so my first PechaKucha commences.
Born in Tokyo in 2003, PechaKucha, which means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, is the brainchild of two designers who wanted an efficient yet lively forum to present their work and new ideas, as well as mingle and network. Each presenter gets to show 20 slides for 20 seconds apiece, and share their passion with the audience. The concept has taken off worldwide, and there are now events in hundreds of cities. I have the good fortune to attend one just down the road in Thomaston, at Watts Hall Auditorium with an overflowing crowd – just another example of the creative economy’s momentum, even, or especially, in Midcoast Maine, far from any dense urban locale.
The room is a who’s who of local talent and leadership, and is enthusiastically emceed by Senator Chris Rector, an amiable man with strong local ties and support. (I hope he takes kindly to my letter opposing the Governor’s environmental hatchet job). Eight people take center stage over the course of an hour, and the topics range from texturally sculpted forms (Jacques Vesery) to equatorial coffee-picking (Yvonne Smith, Roaster at Rock City Coffee) to the history of women in Champagne (Jane Barnes, wine pro and partner on the Schooner, Stephen Taber).
While the presenters are both oral and visual storytellers, their styles swing from scripted to off the cuff. Peter Digirolamo, soapmaker at Trillum Soaps, is cheeky as he flips leaf-shaped notecards downstage à la David Letterman after reading winter-related haikus from each one, while colorful slides of almost-pretty-enough-to-eat soap blocks charm us. Elizabeth Greenberg, Director of Education at the highly regarded Maine Media College in Rockport, waxes poetic about memory and nostalgia while her ephemeral photographs seduce us with their dreaminess and longing.
There’s more than a glimpse at rich and interesting lives behind the cross section of those gathered and my view of all the resources tapping away here is blown wide open. I learn how Maine coastal and island communities are leaders in US alternative energy solutions from Suzanne Pude, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute as she shares documentary-style scenes of wind turbine installations on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.
The action is equally compelling on either side of me, perched on folding chairs. To my left I meet a longtime local newspaper columnist, Georgeanne, who covers the Home and Garden beat, among other newsworthy topics and after inquiring about my earlier life in restaurants, fills me in on all the best tables from Belfast to Rockland. On my right is Sandy, who I learn is a caterer and massage therapist, just another one of those cool, many-hat-wearing personalities tucked into towns with names like Friendship, Owl’s Head, and Port Clyde (formerly Herring Gut, not the most appealing moniker in Vacationland). I take her number down right away – a good masseuse should always be on speed dial. I’m beginning to think that vibrant isn’t just a word reserved for downtowns and springtime – because smack dab in the middle of what might seem like nowhere I find a hotbed of creativity, vitality and homespun community, with an open bar and no posturing.
Like flipping through a guidebook to the Renaissance Lifestyles of the Self-Reliant and Visionary, my first PechaKucha cheers me with its generosity and lack of pretentious agenda. A roomful of strangers is just a group of friends I haven’t met yet, and I leave with a couple new ones already. Who says there’s nothing going on in February?