In Kennebunkport, a mix of awe, anger

Conflicted crowd gathers as Bush welcomes Putin to his family's vacation spot to mend their ties

By Lisa Wangsness and Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | July 2, 2007

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- On a breezy overlook near the crest of Ocean Avenue early yesterday, curious tourists stood training field glasses and cameras in the same direction across a cove as a clutch of television cameras.

The Bush compound, perched atop a rocky point, appeared absolutely still. The only movement was out on the ocean, where patrol boats bobbed around a Coast Guard cutter.

"You're this close to where the most powerful men meet to discuss issues that may concern all of us on this planet," marveled John McGovern , 54, a visitor from Thornton, N.H.

But when Bush and Putin finally met last night over a family-style lobster dinner, they did not discuss any of the big issues McGovern imagined.

"There were a lot of jokes," said Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who said they chatted casually about the next US and Russian elections that would sweep them both from office.

Putin arrived yesterday afternoon with flowers for President Bush's wife and mother, and enjoyed a boat ride and dinner before retiring to the guest bungalow.

Neither Putin nor Bush was in a position to see much of the estimated 1,700 protesters who had marched up Ocean Avenue, shouting for Bush's impeachment. The protesters were not allowed past a security checkpoint a half-mile from the compound.

As two world leaders in the waning days of their presidencies opened an informal meeting that might rekindle some of the warmth of their earlier relationship, Kennebunkport played host to a curious mix of people who spent much of the day gawking at one another, or straining to see -- or be seen by -- one of the famous men.

The fleeting intersection of so many different agendas created bizarre tableaus. Protesters carrying signs that read "Haven't Enough People Suffered Yet?" and "Impeach Bush" peered in the windows of quaint tourist shops as starched summer residents walked golden retrievers downtown, about 2 1/2 miles from the compound. Tourists fresh off a cruise ship stood in line to use a public restroom alongside a retired Presbyterian minister from Kennebunk who took the bus downtown to join the protest.

A mother in a flowing sun dress stood before the Arundel Yacht Club , snapping photos of elderly women in flowery hats singing songs about kicking Bush out of office.

"We're seeing the whole world go by," said Leo Gibran , surveying the scene from the porch of the boutique he and his wife own.

His wife, Mary , said the relationship between the town and the Bush family -- which has entertained there for two presidencies -- has grown more complicated since the Iraq war began. As she proudly showed off a photo of herself with President George H. W. Bush and praised Barbara Bush's work on behalf of children with cancer at a local hospital, she began to cry. The protesters, she said, had reminded her of all the parents who had lost children fighting in Iraq.

"If I had a son in the war right now, I don't think I could take it," she said.

But Andrei Enikeev , a 21-year-old cook at The Clam Shack who moved from Russia to Maine when he was 5, was all smiles yesterday as he spoke of helping to prepare the seafood for dinner at the Bush compound. He wore a Russian hockey jersey and even posted part of the menu in Russian.

"We're not expecting him to visit, but we want to make everyone feel welcome," he said.

Beverly and Alex Gonzalez came up for the weekend from Connecticut to support the president. They were delighted to see his parents and sister at St. Ann's Episcopal Church yesterday, they said, and while the president was not there, they passed along their best wishes to his press secretary, Tony Snow, while breakfasting at a local hotel.

"We need to be supportive of our country, because everyone's looking at us," Beverly Gonzalez said.

Meanwhile, some protesters who gathered on the village's small green decried Putin's crackdown on free speech and others did their best to make President Bush feel unwelcome.

Tom Childs , 42, of Standish, who wore a picture of Bush on his forehead and carried a sign that said "Off With His Head," said he was protesting "the whole philosophy of the administration." He said he hoped the international media covering the event would "spread the word that there are a lot of Americans who disagree with the administration and its culture of corruption."

In the afternoon, protesters made their way up Ocean Avenue, shouting "Impeach, impeach, impeach that son of a Bush!"

Joe Bruni, chief of the Kennebunkport police, said two protesters were arrested for criminal trespassing after they pushed past a security barrier and defied several warnings to turn back, but otherwise, the demonstration was peaceful.

At the Nonantum Resort on Ocean Avenue, cheerful vacationers massed on the hotel's large front porch, waiting for protesters to march by -- or for Putin's motorcade. It really didn't matter which, they said. They were just waiting for anything to happen.

Still farther up the road, at the sprawling Colony Hotel, about a mile from the Bush family compound, reporters from the White House press corps paced the lobby as representatives from Russian television stations camped out on the back porch.

But Jack and Jane Sullivan , of Andover, Mass., mused about both as they sat on beach chairs with their two sons. They have a special tie to Russia, they said. In 1998, they had traveled to St. Petersburg to adopt their daughter, Margaret Rose . Now 10 , she stood on the street below with about a dozen counterprotesters.

If relations have hit a low , Jack Sullivan said, "Then Margaret Rose is here to straighten it out."

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.


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