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Nick Pelletier (on ladder) helped Kennebunkport, Maine, inn owner Jack Nahil hang a banner in anticipation of Russian President Putin’s arrival next Sunday.
Nick Pelletier (on ladder) helped Kennebunkport, Maine, inn owner Jack Nahil hang a banner in anticipation of Russian President Putin’s arrival next Sunday. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)

Not all in Kennebunkport await summitry with glee

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- They are stocking up on Stolichnaya Elite vodka and caviar from the Caspian Sea at Hurricane Restaurant on Dock Square.

At the town offices on Elm Street, the secretaries and clerks are signing up for a Putin potluck lunch, featuring such Eastern European favorites as cherry-pear compote, eggs baked in butter and sour cream, and fiery chicken paprikash.

But at his post inside a shingled attendant's booth at the busy Dock Square parking lot, Calvin Bryant was in no mood to whip up a batch of borscht just because President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is scheduled to arrive Sunday for talks with President Bush on the issues that bedevil the US-Russian relationship.

"He should've stayed in Russia," grumbled Bryant, 64, a former Navy man. "He comes up on a holiday weekend, jams all the traffic up. We don't get any cooperation from the guy, so why should we put up with him?"

As the leaders prepare to huddle for two days at the Bush family compound on a rocky promontory called Walker's Point, Kennebunkport is a resort town divided. Residents here are caught be tween excitement over their town's renewed identity as the stage for high-level international diplomacy and dread over the bottlenecks and headaches bound to ensue when swarms of journalists, protesters, functionaries, and security officers arrive at the kickoff of July Fourth weekend.

Some spoke in personal terms about the role the town could play, as though if they served up enough vodka, lobsters, and Yankee hospitality, they might set the stage for a historic breakthrough. And if not, at least the flood of visitors will have been good for business.

"It should be a real good week for us," said Brooks MacDonald , co-owner with his wife, Luanne , of Hurricane Restaurant, a bar and grill that serves freshly shucked oysters and littleneck clams. "It's history-making -- it really is, in a tiny little town like ours."

Talk of geopolitics ripples from The Clam Shack on Route 9 to the basement of Christ Church across the river in Kennebunk, where members gathered last week for a fish chowder luncheon.

"I hope they'll come to some agreement about where they're going to put those missiles," said Linnea Young , as she served slices of her home-baked walnut chiffon and choco-mint pies to fellow church members. "We need friends. We don't have many now in the world, I think."

Putin has threatened to retarget his missiles toward Europe if Bush forges ahead with his plan to locate a radar system in the Czech Republic and missiles in Poland, both members of NATO. Washington insists the system is designed to deter threats from Iran, but the Kremlin, which maintains closer ties with Tehran, considers the deployments a threat to Russia.

"This could very well be the most important foreign dignitary that's come to town in a long time," said Steve Kingston , the owner of The Clam Shack, who has been working closely with Bush's chef, Ariel De Guzman , to make sure there is enough fresh lobster, swordfish, and clams for the summit. "And what's even cooler is to think that world policies are being talked about or negotiated in your backyard, especially if they're good for the whole world."

Kennebunkport hosted its share of international summits when George H. W. Bush occupied the White House. A steady stream of world leaders, including King Hussein of Jordan, Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia, and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel visited Walker's Point. Residents grew accustomed to massive security precautions -- a Coast Guard cutter circling off the Point, Air Force planes patrolling the skies, and a Secret Service checkpoint on Ocean Avenue near the Colony Hotel.

But it has been more than a decade since the resort town has played the role. After the first Bush left office, the town returned to the seasonal rhythms of a beachside resort. In town, the former president became George, the guy who guns his cigarette boat and fishes for stripers off Walker's Point; the first lady became Barbara, his frequent dinner companion at the Cape Arundel Inn, a 19th-century manse that overlooks the Bush property.

Until now, President George W. Bush has preferred to invite foreign heads of state to the arid grounds of his ranch in Crawford, Texas. But with US-Russian relations at a post-Cold War low, the president is calling on his father's favorite resort as the stage where he will try to set matters straight.

"What the president wants to do is have the ambience and have the background and the life out here just as it is when our family is here," the elder President Bush told WGME in Portland. "We want it to be like it was when I had François Mitterand, the president of France, here. You sit down, no neckties, sit in a beautiful house looking over the sea and talk frankly without a lot of straphangers, and note-takers, and people who have separate agendas handing you notes."

Kennebunkport residents familiar with past summits do not expect to see Putin strolling beyond the gates of Walker's Point, much less tucking into a plate of littlenecks at Hurricane.

"What they'll do is just whip him in there and stay there," said Lucille Gentsch , 59, who was at the chowder luncheon. "I can't imagine they'll go out to restaurants."

"It's going to be nuts," said Jack Nahil , owner of the Cape Arundel Inn, who has festooned his porch with red, white, and blue bunting in honor of Putin's visit. "There will be two countries' worth of security forces here."

Instead of glimpses of world leaders, residents are expecting streets clogged with hundreds of protesters, who are planning to march on Ocean Avenue, calling for the impeachment of President Bush and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Hotel rooms have been booked for weeks, disappointing would-be tourists hoping for a last-minute trip to the beach. For the hundreds expected to pour into town, crowds and chaos await.

But some are happy to see the return of the crazy parade of tourists and officials.

"No doubt, there will be a lot of firepower in this town," said Kingston, at The Clam Shack, "but it's always exciting."

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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