June 28, 2017

Letter From Paris: (Old Hand) Putin Meets (New Kid) Macron With Surprising Results

Nicole Prévost Logan

The hour-long press conference held jointly by long-standing Russian President Putin and newly-elected French President Macron in the Palace of Versailles on May 29, was a spectacle not to be missed.

Vladimir Putin

Emmanuel Macron

Putin had been absent from the high-powered week during which US President Donald Trump met with heads of state at the new NATO headquarters in Brussels and at the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily. Macron seized an opportunity to invite the Russian president. The timing, location and format of the encounter of the two presidents were a smart move on the part of Macron.

He was not organizing a “state visit” – lest he offended Angela Merkel – but asking the Russian leader to be present at the inauguration of an exhibit marking the 300th anniversary of the visit of Tzar Peter the Great to France. The two presidents met in the grandiose 17th century palace of the French monarchs. Putin would probably find similarities between the ornate rooms and his elegant home town of St. Petersburg.

The visit was organized under the sign of culture and meant to revive the historical ties between the two countries. Macron mentioned how much Peter the Great had wanted to open up his country to the West and learn about its military architecture, crafts, and sciences. Putin contributed proudly an even earlier historical fact – the marriage at Queen Ann of Kiev, daughter of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, to French King Henry I, in 1051.

During the press conference, the supposedly “novice” French president appeared self-assured, and totally in charge of the proceedings. He described how he envisaged cooperation with Russia. His road map for Syria was to guarantee humanitarian aid to the population and emphasize that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line that would be met with an immediate response from France.

Macron added that failed states lead to chaos. Hence the necessity to keep Bachar el Assad until ISIS is eradicated. In Ukraine, he stressed that an agreement should be reached within the framework of the Minsk accord. The objective there is both to stop progression of the spheres of influence of Russia in the region and the escalation of violence. He did not say the word ‘Crimea,’ however, implying that its return to the Ukraine was not on the agenda.

In his statement, Macron declared that during their three-hour-long conversation they covered all topics, including areas of disagreement. As he mentioned the treatment of homosexuals and transgenders in Chechnia, he turned toward Putin and told him to his face, “We will monitor the progress you make in that area.”

During his talk, Putin looked fidgety, ill-at-ease, squirming, and with shifty eyes. He mumbled his comments. He did say though that he would be ready to engage in a dialogue. Then, turning toward the audience of international media, he almost pleaded with them, saying, “You have to convince public opinion that the sanctions are stifling Russia. Tell the world they have to be lifted.”

French journalists raised questions about the spread of fake news on the social networks and in magazines like Sputnik and Russia Today intended to destabilize the leader of the En Marche movement during the campaign. Macron retorted that those people are not journalists and will not be treated as such.

Journalists also asked what the French government was going to do about the hacking of 70,000 documents belonging to then-candidate Macron 40 hours before the first round of the vote. Macron responded that he was not going to dwell on those events, adding, “What I want to do is to move on.”

From the exchanges between the two protagonists, it was clear that Macron was in control of the situation. His message was clear and direct. The days when Putin disregarded the EU as being too weak were now over. The power dynamic was the correct one for Macron to use and Putin understood that.

This was a textbook situation where the two protagonists, although not liking each other, could work out a resolution from which both could profit. Since 1990, Putin — a major player behind the war in Syria — has been shattered by the implosion of the Russian empire. Moreover, since sanctions are hurting his country severely, the give and take of negotiation is therefore possible.

Now, we can only hope that effective action will match the quality of this performance by Macron.

Editor’s Notes:
i) This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.
ii) Nicole is, in fact, now back in Essex, but events in France are currently moving so fast that she’s continuing to write for us from this side of the Atlantic in an effort to keep readers over here up to date.  Merci, Nicole!

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: And Then There Were Two … Candidates Left for French President

Nicole Prévost Logan

Out of a chaotic and divisive campaign to elect the president of France came a surprisingly middle-of-the-road and constructive vote.  Emmanuel Macron, age 39, Europhile leader of the En Marche (EM) movement climbed to the first place with 24.01 percent of the votes.  Marine Le Pen (Front National or FN), received 21.3 percent, both therefore qualifying for the run-off election on May 7. For the FN it was an historical feat after a long struggle, started in 1972, to be acknowledged as an honorable political party.  The turn-out was high at 78 percent of the 47 million voters.

Until the last minute, the outcome was anyone’s guess.  The four candidates – two extremists, one conservator, and one center right – were running in a close pack.  “Fasten your seat belts” said a member of The City in London on the very morning of the elections, expressing the anxiety of the whole world.  At stake were a rejection of the Euro and abandoning the European Union (EU.)  “We were on the brink of world-wide financial tsunami” said one of the BFM radio economists.  Many around the globe greeted the result with a sigh of relief.

For the French voters what was happening had a deeper meaning than the one described in the international press.  This moment marks a painful turning point in French politics by ending the traditional pendulum swinging from Right to Left and wiping out the two main parties – the right wing Les Republicains (LR) and the Parti Socialiste (PS), which had been in existance for 30 years. The two winners were outsiders.  This a wrenching process for the French, who love to criticize, but hate change.

The whole campaign was overshadowed by the “Penelope-gate” and Fillon’s other affaires (troubles) [*See Letter from Paris” published on March 5, 2017.]  Bruno Retaillau, Fillon’s spokesman, commented with some bitterness, “This was not a campaign but a trial”.

On election night, as the numbers came up on the screens, political personalities made brief  comments then left to be replaced by others.  The right wing LR members announced they would transfer their votes to Emmanuel Macron.  Jean Pierre Raffarin, prime minister from 2002 to 2005 under president Jacques Chirac, forcefully endorsed  Macron.  Jean François Copé, former president of the UMP (predecessor of LR)  and minister,  agreed that they had to block Marine Le Pen.  He stressed that he would vote for En Marche but with a sinking heart. Alain Juppe, minister of Foreign Affairs under Nicolas Sarkozy and mayor of Bordeaux, also gave his vote to Macron saying “our country needs reforms.”  François Fillon’s words were the best of his campaign, “The defeat of the LR is mine, I take all responsibility. ”

Jean Luc Malenchon, leader of the leftist movement la France Insoumise (rebellious France), was obviously very upset to have lost.  Unlike the other candidates, he did not give instructions on how to vote in the run-off.  Since seven millions supporters voted for him, this question of transfer of votes will greatly tip the scale.

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron will face off in the final round of the French election on May 7.

On election night, Emmanuel Macron shared his satisfaction with the cheering flag-waving crowd in the huge hall at the Porte de Versailles.  His first words were to thank the other candidates.  Such courteousness is usually seen on the Rolland Garros tennis courts between Federer and Nadal, but certainly not among French politicians!

The electoral campaign took a sharp turn after April 23.  All of a sudden, it became a confrontation between the two candidates, a ruthless fight to the finish.  Macron was blasted for celebrating at the Rotonde brasserie on the first night and then for being invisible during the following two days. In contrast, Marine showed her ability as a superb strategist as she pre-empted the field immediately from the Ringis wholesale food market to a fishing trawler in the Mediterranean.

On April 26,   Macron went to Amiens (90 miles north of Paris) , his home town, to meet with the Whirlpool plant workers due to be laid off in 2018.  After talking with the Union representatives, he plunged into the battlefield and was roughed up by the angry crowd for 45 minutes.

But he stayed.

He talked to the workers, listened to their complaints.  He even had a heated discussion with Jean François Raffin, who is a star in France and won a César (French version of Oscar) in 2017 for his documentary Merci Patron (Thank you, boss.)  It is a satire on the relations between the working class and the super rich employers such as Bernard Arnaud,  CEO of LVMH.  Raffin, like Macron, is a native of Amiens.

Marine Le Pen, decided to drop by the Whirlpool site the same day.  She appeared all smiles, selfie in hand, working the crowds, hugging and kissing, doing small talks.  On an amazing picture she is shown beaming as she embraces a diminutive worker woman, who is in tears.

What happened in Amiens was emblematic of the confrontation between the two candidates in a difficult situation.  The relocation of a profit-making factory to Poland, where salaries are five times lower than in France, is one of the core issues the European Union (EU) is facing.

Le Pen promised the world to the workers, such as keeping the factory in France and, if needed, having it nationalized.  In contrast, the EM leader promised only to assist with the transition to other jobs.  He had the courage to tell an overheated audience that there will be many more similar relocations and one has to adjust to the new economy.

“Çà n’est pas gagné” (we have not won yet) said Macron, getting into his car.  He is right, especially when two people are fighting on different levels — one arousing fear and hatred, the other using pedagogy to propose obtainable solutions.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Erdogan Wins Presidential Superpower in Turkey’s Rigged(?) Referendum

Nicole Prévost Logan

The good news about the victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the April 16 referedum, increasing his constitutional powers to govern, is that  his accession to the European Union (EU) has become more unlikely.  If he wins another referendum on whether to restore the death penalty, that will be “crossing the red line,” French president François Holland said and it will remove permanently his demand for membership from the negotiating table.

The electoral campaign for the referendum took place in a country traumatized by several bomb attacks.  It left little room for the opposition to express its opinions.  Acts of intimidation were observed in many voting booths.

In the Netherlands the campaign to gather votes of Turkish expatriates, was particularly  unwelcome at a time when the country was having its own elections. Unhappy with the decision of the Dutch authorities not to allow the Turkish diplomats off the plane, the Turkish government called The Hague the “Nazi capital of Europe” and their action, “barbarian.”

It pretended to be shocked by Angela Merkel’s violation of freedom of expression because political rallies by the Turks were cancelled in Germany.  The Turkish expats in Europe voted overwhelmingly in favor of the referendum.

On April 13, violent riots took place at a soccer match in Lyon for the Europa League quarter final.  Thirty five hundred Turkish supporters of the Besiktas club had bought tickets. But it turned out that 20,000 more, coming from other European countries, had somehow got into the stadium without disclosing their identity.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the referendum with a 51.3 percent majority.  In the 18 articles of the new constitution, the principle of separation of powers – executive, judiciary and legislative – has disappeared. The president governs by executive orders whenever he wants.  There is no longer a prime minister. The president  designates ministers and high officials, chooses most of the judges. Parliament will be dissolved and all the new deputies will belong to AKP, the islamo-conservator party of “justice and development.” The president could potentially be in power until 2019.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Erdogan lost the support of the middle classes of the three main cities – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.  A sort of a slap in the face for a man who grew up in Istanbul, was its mayor and considers it as his stronghold, “commented Bernard Guetta, a journalist specializing in geopolitics.  The  European Commission urged Turkey to seek the “broadest possible consensus.”

Anyone who has traveled in Turkey knows that it is made of two different worlds.  The president finds his supporters in the first group:  firstly, poor farmers living in remote areas of the Anatolian plateau without much in common with the population on the coastal regions who have always had contacts  with the West, through trade in the Aegean Sea or the Mediterranean. And secondly, the working class living in the outskirts of the cities.  Their shabby houses are the first ones to collapse during recurrent earthquakes.  The polluted air in industrial areas can reach unbearable levels.

At the other end of the spectrum one finds Roberts College, the oldest American School abroad still in its original location.  It was founded in 1863.  Among its alumni are many of the international elites who have shaped this region of the world .

In the 1950s, Turkey was one of the countries benefiting from the Marshall Plan.  In 1952 it became a valued member of NATO thanks to its strategic geographic location.  This was an invaluable role to play.  But even the relationship of Turkey with NATO is tense to-day.

Dorothee Schmid, head of the Contemporary Turkey program at the Institut Français pour la Recherche Internationale (IFRI), comments: “Turkey advances in the fog.  It is not compatible with international organizations  and its statute at NATO is under question.”

Erdogan  considers himself the heir of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, which  spread as a crescent from central Europe, the Middle East to the Mediterranean shores of North Africa from 1299 to 1922.

The Turkish president may have also be looking  further back in history to the Hittite empire.  In the second milennium BC it was one of the two great powers in the Middle East, competing with Egypt until the decisive battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC against Ramses II.  The cyclopean walls and massive gate flanked by two sitting lions still standing to-day in Hattusas, or modern village of Bogäzköy,  give an idea of the mighty Hittite empire.

The Turkish president  seems to be driven by his thirst for power:  every two years or so there are either general elections or referendums.  The pull toward autocracy provokes an escalade of tension between the ruler and the people.  During the 2011 revolution, the protest on Tahir Square lasted for 18 days and was followed by a tough repression.  Since  the putsch attempt of July 2016, 1,500 military have been put on trial and tens of thousands arrested or lost their jobs.

Megalomania is another trait of the Turkish president.  He lives in a palace 30 times the size of the White House; he is planning to build the longest bridge in the world over the Dardanelles and a mosque so big that it will be seen from any point in Istanbul.

The priority for Erdogan today is to prevent the unification of the Kurds living both in Turkey and Syria.  The ongoing conflict has caused heavy losses in the two camps and much hatred.  The violence has had an impact on the economy.  Tourism has plummeted  down by 30 percent since last year.  “Turkey feels threatened,” says Ahmet Insel, Turkish economist and specialist on that country.

The agreement between Turkey and the EU *regarding the flux of refugees across the Aegean Sea seems to be working out: in 2015, 10,000 migrants crossed the sea as compared to only 43 to-day.  Insel says, “It is in no one’s interest to put an end to this agreement.”  The 3.5 million refugees now living in Turkey seem to be adjusting after going through difficult times.  The Turkish government is even thinking of offering them citizenship.

Marc Pierini, former French ambassador to Turkey comments, “Turkey remains a major actor in the area.”  Nevertheless it is frightening to see the leverage power Erdogan holds over the EU and by way of an almost tangible demonstration of that power, the question discussed by specialists on the France-Culture radio channel on April 8, 2017, was, “How the exacerbated nationalism of Erdogan will impact the geopolitical imbroglio?”

* see “Letter from Paris,” March 19, 2016

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Paris, Berlin Need to Work Together as the EU Determines its Future

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the French, Germany can be a source of admiration or of irritation . The Franco-German “couple” has been the pillar of the European Union (EU.)   The couple worked beautifully until the departure respectively of Francois Mitterand in 1995 and Helmut Kohl in 1998.  Today more than ever, the two countries need to spearhead initiatives to bring about a new Europe.

Marcel Fratzscher , president of the German Institute of Economic Research, writes on April 6, “Without a strong France, Europe cannot pull out of the crisis. We need France to play the role of a leader with a vision of the European project.”  Without agreeing on everything, the two countries have a lot to learn from each other.

Angela Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), will run for a fourth mandate next September.  Hans Stark, professor of Germany civilization at the Sorbonne, believes  the Germans have not had enough yet of Merkel and will elect her again, possibly for the last time.  Her hold on the people is still strong as showed in the CDU winning 40 percent of the votes in the recent Saarland elections. The Social Democrats (SPD) tried to form a coalition with the Left (die Linke) and the Greens, but failed.

Merkel is pragmatic in her policies.  For instance she moved from the center to the left (stepping on Social Democrats’ turf) by adopting ideas attractive to the left such as the acceptance of same-sex marriage or opposition to nuclear arms.  In a nutshell, she remains in the center but maintains a slight tilt toward the left. 

Her longevity is explained by her ability to create consensus.  She has to be an acrobat to lead a country made up of 19 States  (Länder), six of them having come from East Germany and 13 from West Germany. 

It was the intention of the Allied forces occupying Germany to create a multitude of “checks and balances” in order to decentralize power by adding to the number of Länder already existing before the war.  Sailing on the Danube one can see the splendid architecture left by the powerful Prince-Bishops ruling Wurzburg or Bamberg länder.  The voting system by proportional ballot creates the need for coalitions and hence a fragmentation of power. 

Martin Schulz

The main opponent of Merkel in next September’s election will be Martin Schultz, who has just been elected as the president of  Social Democrats (SPD) with 100 percent of the votes. The SPD plummeted after the unpopular reforms made by Gerard Schroder  but has now bounced back. Today the CDU and SPD are running neck and neck, each with about 33 percent of the electorate.

The right wing populist party “Alternative for Deutschland ” (AfD)  represents  9 percent of the vote.  It was not founded until 2013.  Since the  end of the war, Germany has had to live with certain taboos and one of them, was the aversion  to any political system reminiscent of fascism or communism.  Today the former East Germany is more populist than West Germany.  By way of example, in the last elections in Saxony-Anhalt, AfD received 25 percent of the vote. 

Germany is an economic success story, but at what price?  The system, called Hartz I-IV, implemented by Gerard Schroder in 2003, consisted of tough labor reforms and imposing sacrifices on the work force at a time when Germany was called the “sick man of Europe.”

But the results were indeed striking:  unemployment went down by half and is now only 5.9 percent,  exports have risen by 6 percent creating a trade surplus of 250 billion, and growth is at 1.9 percent.  Alexandra Spitz, a German professor of economics, published an article in the Harvard Business Review on March 13, 2017, titled, “The Real Reasons why the German Labor Market is Booming.”  In summary, she explains these reasons are that wages have not increased as much as  productivity; collective bargaining between employers and employees is decentralized, and workers have accepted lower salaries and flexible labor conditions.

Some of the French, who have a generous (perhaps, too generous?) “social model,” believe Germans have very low unemployment, but also millions of “poor workers” with many part-time, low-paid and short-duration jobs.  Other French people do not agree and are impressed by the German performance and willing to borrow some of their ideas.

Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Think Tank, notes, “There has been an internal devaluation of the cost of labor because of the “poor workers.”  This policy can be called “mercantilism.”  It was used to boost the competitiveness of both industry and exports.  This caused  a problem for the European neighbors.  Germany is preoccupied with its own national interests and has displayed a lack of cooperation with others.  “Professor Hans Stark argues, “In 2004, the Eastern European countries, which joined the EU had low wage-economies.  This time it was Eastern Europe’s turn to practice mercantile policies toward Germany.” 

“Qualified workers have access to professional training at any time,” Professor Stark remarks. “Those persons, less qualified but having completed their “cursus,” can benefit from apprenticeships.  Those, without any qualification, fall to the bottom of the pile.  German industry is always looking for qualified workers.  In the sectors where labor is not qualified – construction, services, agribusiness – the salaries remain low.  This may constitute a problem for French farmers for instance.”  A minimum wage was introduced in 2015.

Sigmar Gabriel

Sigmar Gabriel, former president of SPD and now German minister of foreign affairs, says, “Let us stop thinking we are the cash cow in relation to the European budget.  We have also profited from Europe, particularly when the 1999 introduction of the Euro presented a devaluation from the Deutsch Mark.”

Germany has been cautious not to increase its military power (another taboo.)  The Parliament (Bundestag) has blocked the increase of the army (Bundeswehr.)  The government  abstained from taking part in the  Libyan campaign.  Now the defense of territory is becoming a priority again.  Four brigades have been deployed to defend the Baltic states from Russia.

President François Holland invited the leaders of Germany, Italy and Spain, to a mini-summit in Versailles on March 6 to discuss European defense.  Soon after, during an informal meeting in Malta attended by several EU leaders, Merkel declared, “There will be a European Union at different speeds.”

Clearly, this seems to preview what Europe may become – a number of core countries of the EU, working together on specific projects.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the First Few Days of Brexit

Nicole Prévost Logan

This was a very good editorial,  civilized and  compassionate.  It avoided throwing oil on the fire, playing the blame game or making doomsday predictions.

On March 30, in le Monde, an editorial appeared under the following title: “An Appeal to London and the 27.”  Actually it was a collective message published simultaneously by The Guardian, Le Monde, La Vanguardia and Gazeta Wyborcza.

One cannot undo 44 years of social, economic and human ties with just a strike of a pen — that was  the four newspapers’ message.   The collateral damage will be felt on both sides of the English Channel.  Three million Europeans live in the UK and more than two million British expats live on the continent. The fate of those five million people is at stake.  

The authors of the editorial suggested the Brexit process should be started on a positive note and tend to the status of the expatriate nationals right away, before starting the negotiation process.

But the day after Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, parted emotionally with the Euroskeptic David Davis British envoy,  the head-on confrontational negotiations started in earnest.

Like a chess player, Theresa May decided that attack was the best strategy and she put the central demands of the UK on the table: first, treat simultaneously the details of the “divorce” and the future of commercial relations between the UK and the European Union (EU); second, organize the future of security cooperation. 

Europe shot back in no uncertain terms.  Angela Merkel said Germany wanted to tackle other matters first and so did Francois Holland,  Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator for Europe.  The basic position of the Europeans is that no negotiations on free trade should start until the UK has left the EU totally and become a third-party country. 

The European Union (EU) wants discussions to proceed “per phases,” starting with “reciprocal and non discriminatory” guarantees as to the status of the Europeans living the UK and the 60 billion Euros already obligated by the UK to the budget of Europe. An extremely sensitive point will be for the UK to abide by the decisions taken by the European Court of Justice located in Luxembourg.

As far as the negotiations concerning the future relations between the two parties, some topics promise to be particularly stormy, particularly the “social, fiscal and environmental dumping” or whether to preserve the “financial passport” allowing the City of London to sell financial products on the continent.  The Europeans oppose discussions per economic sector, as wanted by Theresa May, and bi-lateral agreements to be signed between the UK and any of the EU members. 

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

On March 31, Donald Tusk, gave a crucial six-page document to the 27 members of the EU laying down the essential principles of the negotiations to come. The text should be formally accepted by them on April 29 at a summit meeting in Brussels.

Obviously the presidential elections in France will have an impact on the negotiations.   Marine Le Pen applauds an event which will make Europe more fragile.  At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Emmanuel Macron (En Marche party) feels the access to the Common Market  has a price and should be balanced by contributions to the European budget.  François Fillon  (Les Republicains or LR ) supports a firm attitude toward the British demands. He thinks that the Le Touquet agreement needs to be modified and the borders moved from Calais to Dover.

The ideal scenario would be to have the parties agree on these first phases so that discussion on the future should be tackled by the beginning of 2018.

The tone of the difficult negotiations has been set.  It will be a roller-coaster ride for months to come.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: One Man’s Opinion: ‘How to Save Europe’

Nicole Prévost Logan

“The sixty years since the Treaty of Rome, on March 25, 1957, have not been a long quiet river for Europe”, commented academic Robert Frank.  This is an understatement.  Today, the disaffection for the European Union (EU) has reached such a point that the need for its re-foundation is considered a matter of survival.

A good place to start the soul-searching process is by reading a gem of a book, written by a former diplomat and one of the most influential French scholars on foreign affairs today.  The book has the merit of being very short but so dense in meaning that every single word deserved to be pondered over. The book is called Sauver l’Europe and was published on Nov. 21, 2016.  The author, Hubert Vedrine, born in 1947,  was a collaborator of president Francois Mitterand from 1981 to 1995 and served as minister of foreign affairs from 1997 to 2002 under president Jacques Chirac.

First, the author makes a diagnosis regarding what went wrong.

  1. The EU has been working against nations instead of with them.  A federalist Europe, with a superpower in Brussels, Vedrine thinks, is a utopia.  Unlike the USA, Europe is made of nations with different cultures, languages and history.  “There is no democratic path to federalism for Europe.”
  2. The “elites” in Brussels have grown increasingly disconnected from the people.  There is a perception that an accumulation of treaties are drowning the public without acknowledging the opposition.  In the collective memory the worst grievance was when France and the Netherlands said “no” in a referendum about the 2005  constitutional project.  Two years later that project was repackaged and forced through in the treaty of Lisbon.  (Note: this is not entirely true because the second text included several positive modifications)
  3. Over the years, Brussels, has interfered too much  into the people’s lives in imposing annoying regulations:  how to make cheese, set the size of bananas or of the shower heads.  Europe cannot take care of everything. The key word is “subsidiarity.”  It means that competence not attributed to the Union by treaty should  belong to the member states.  Vedrine writes, “Europe was built upside down and should undergo a drastic cure of subsidiarity by simplifying the autistic hypertrophied regulations. “
  4. “Sovereignty” is a hard-won concept one should be proud of.   The final objective of Europe is not to dissolve the sovereignty of the member states but add to it.
  5. Many critics of Europe confuse the EU and globalization.   One by one, French factories have disappeared, for not being competitive enough.  One of the first ones to close was Moulinex.  In 2001 everybody went up in arms against the loss of jobs at the small plant of Normandy .  In 2016, when the Whirlpool plant was relocated to Poland, outsourcing had become the norm.  Whether the phenomenon occurred inside Europe or in Asia, the impact on people who lost their jobs in France was the same.
  6. With the wild expansion of Europe to 27 (nine new members entered the Union in the single year of 2003), it has become hard to run a such a cumbersome structure, especially when some of the states give the priority to their national interests.  This is particularly true with the populist attitude of the Visegrad Group – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia – which showed no solidarity with the rest of Europe at the time of the refugee crisis.
  7. The arrival of more than 1.5 million refugees in 2015 and also in 2016 has shaken a system unprepared for such a brutal surge.  The huge number of immigrants created an unavoidable confrontation between different ways of life, the loss of identity, exasperated by fear of terrorism,
  8. The adoption of the Euro has meant further constraints for the 17 members of the Eurozone.  The 1992 Treaty of Maestricht set two basic rules; the general government deficit should not exceed 3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the public deficit should not exceed 60 percent of the GDP.

In the opinion of Vedrine, the solution to the problems listed above is not for more integration and certainly not more enlargement. One needs to mark a pause, to listen to the people and to re-center Europe on the essential. One should return to the values of the founding fathers.  Remember how Jacques Delors, who was president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995, called the EU a “federation of States-Nations” .

To prepare for the celebrations making the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, issued a White Paper offering several scenarios for the 2025 horizon. One of them was to “allow the member-states to move forward, if they wish, in very specific areas. ” The goal is that no one should feel excluded.

On March 6, 2017 the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain met for a mini-summit in Versailles to discuss a Europe à plusieurs vitesses (going at different speeds.)  This was a format never seen before and maybe a preview of what lies ahead.

The American economist Joseph Stiglitz advocates an éclatement (breaking up) of the Euro group into four more flexible zones, until the conditions for more integration are met.”  The opinion of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and OCDE (Organization of Cooperation and Economic Development) and other economists is that the EU had gone to too far on the method of austerity.  The priority now is to create sustainable growth, rather than reduce the deficit .

The most ambitious  proposal for European defense so far has been made by the Robert Schuman Foundation.  It calls for Germany, France and the UK to sign  an intergovernmental treaty for defense and security of the EU.  Let us show more solidarity and agree to share the burden of military expenses before pronouncing empty words like “European defense.”

The author of “Save Europe” points to the mistakes  made by Angela Merkel: abandoning nuclear, after Fukushima, without enough preparation for what to do next; extending a “generous but too personal” invitation to the refugees to come to Europe and single-handedly signing an agreement with Turkey.

Vedrine wants the European way of life  to be preserved.  Even though many complain, there is in Europe a douceur de vie (gentle pleasure of life) one should treasure.  Let Brussels set objectives and the States go their own way .

A recurrent slogan in the campaign speeches of Marine Le Pen  (and of other anti-European populists), is to put la patrie (homeland) first.  By demonstrating that it is possible to keep one ‘s sovereignty, to show it is not a sin to be a patriot and at the same time be a European, would be an effective way to obliterate her arguments. 

On March 29, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, received with emotion the letter from the British Ambassador, marking the departure of the UK from the EU at the outset of the Brexit.  It was, however, both reassuring and encouraging to read this the upbeat remark in Sauver l’Europe , “The idea of a continental partnership between the UK and the EU, expressed by the Brussels-based Bruegel think-tank, could solve many problems.”  

Let us hope this concept is pursued.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Europe Sees The Netherlands Come to its Rescue

Nicole Prévost Logan

Thank goodness for The Netherlands!  

Their March 15 vote for their House of Representatives was exactly what Europe needed at this point – the reassuring voice of a founding member of the European Community (EU) expressing its belief in Europe while being open to the world. The result was greeted with a sigh of relief by pro-Europeans. It was another sign — after the victory of the Green Party-backed Independents in the Austrian elections of December 2016 — that populism and rejection of Europe are not inescapable. 

A brief look at history will help better understand the elections of The Netherlands and realize how coherent the Dutch position is.  During its “Golden Age” in the 16th and 17th centuries,  Holland was an opulent merchant class society marked by Calvinist ethics of discipline and frugality.  It stood out as being tolerant toward religions and a place where liberty of conscience was inscribed in the constitution.

The founding of the Dutch East India Company opened a maritime and commercial empire, becoming a hub of finances and trade. The first ever stock exchange was created in Amsterdam.  Erasmus (1466-1536), the humanist Renaissance scholar, gave his name to a most successful student exchange program established in 1987.

Someone described The Netherlands of that time as having high literacy and low interest. Rotterdam, until recently the largest port in the world, is still number one in Europe.  What was tolerance has developed into permissiveness and it is one of the dominant traits of the Dutch people today.  Finally, that small country, located well below the sea level, has shown incredible courage in carrying out its Pharaonic fight against the elements. 

“The Netherlands is the country, which has the most to lose from the Brexit” says Marc-Olivier Padis, from the Terra Nova Think Tank.  It shares with the UK an attachment to free trade policies and also to the unhindered circulation of goods and capital within the European Common Market.  Holland’s agriculture, horticulture and dairy industry have always profited from Europe’s Political Agricultural Policy (PAC). The reason the Dutch voted “No”  to the 2005 referendum on a European constitution was because they  worried about the seemingly uncontrolled expansion of Europe, especially with Holland being the largest of the small countries in the continent.

The participation in the March 15 elections was incredibly high at 77.6 percent.  The ballot system by proportional representation produces multiple parties.  In order to be able to govern, any of the 28 parties has to join a coalition with others. 

Here is a snapshot  of the votes showing the changes since the 2012 elections.  The winner was Mark Rutte (VVD), former prime minister, head of the conservative liberal centrist party with 21.3 percent votes and 33 seats. He lost eight seats.  In second place, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Greet Wilders, obtained 13.1 percent and will have 20 seats. Two pro-European parties, Christian democrat Appeal (CDA) and centrist reformer (D66) won 19 seats each.  Those two may share an alliance with Rutte.    

Rutte said he would not join Wilders again, as he had done in 2012.  The Labour party Social democrats (PVDA) collapsed going from 29 seats to only nine seats.  The radical left also did not perform well.  One notes two interesting developments: a young 30-year-old had a spectacular rise — Jesse Klaver has a Dutch-Indonesian mother and a  father of Moroccan origin.  His party, Groenlinks (GL)  or green- left, will secure 14 seats.

A new party, Denk, meaning “think”, headed by Unahan Kuzu, received 2 percent of the votes and will have three seats.  It is 100 percent Moslem.

Wilders, the “peroxide candidate,” leader of PPV, the only extremist party,  gained five seats.  He progressed but did not win.  “We are the party, which did not lose,” he commented.”  He is well-known for his outrageous attacks against Islam.  He wants to outlaw the Koran , close all mosques and expel the Moslems.  As a consequence, he is under constant threat.

For the past 13 years he has been living in a safe house with  a “panic room,” is under police protection round the clock and rides in an armor-plated car.  “I would not wish my life to anybody”  A “buffer zone,” to use the expression of German journalist Michaela Wiegel, isolates Wilders in the parliament. 

The Dutch elections took place at a time of high tension between Ankara and Europe.  The Turkish minister of foreign affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu was about to land in Rotterdam as part of a political campaign among the Turkish diaspora of  2.8 million.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objective is to gather the Turkish population’s support prior to the April 16 constitutional referendum on his increased powers.  After Erdogan called Holland the Nazi capital of the West and kept hurling other insults, Germany and Holland had the courage to forbid the Turkish officials from entering their territories.  Rutte was very firm and impressed the voters scrambling during the last minutes before the polls.

Today Dutch economy is so healthy as to make its neighbors drool with envy with 6 percent unemployment and an economic growth rate of 2.1 percent.  The government reacted quickly to the recent economic crises in 2008 and 2010-11.  In 2012, it was even able to generate a trade surplus.  Its rigorous austerity program was so efficient as to lower public expenses down from 65 to 45 percent.  The reforms were not imposed on the people but accepted by them in a form of consensus.

The main issues at stake are not so much economic nor social but a fear of losing one’s cultural identity and also anxiety about security.  Therefore immigration and the challenge of integration are at the core of the people’s concerns. 

Holland is a multicultural society with a surge of a Turkish and Moroccan immigration — something which has occurred during the past 50 years.  Half the population of Rotterdam consists of recent immigrants.  The Dutch have been working hard at establishing good relations with these populations: 70 associations act as go-between; a minister from a reformed church in Rotterdam just gave a sermon in a mosque; Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam, is of Moroccan origin, and is strongly against the radicalization of Islam.

The Netherlands should be considered as a model for the other EU members. Unfortunately, many of their qualities are not to be found in other countries.  It is hoped that the position and demands of the Dutch are heard in a restructuring of the EU, possibly to unfold in the next few months. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: The ‘Centre Pompidou’ Turns 40  

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Musée National d’Art Moderne (MNAM), better known as the Centre Pompidou – that crazy structure  with tubes, exhaust pipes, chimneys and metal rods in bright primary colors – is celebrating 40 years of existence.  Its revolutionary architecture oriented toward multidisciplinary activities, which turned it into what virulent opponents called  a “supermarket for the arts,” scandalized visitors at first, but is now the benchmark for art museums around the word.

In 1969, President Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude, wanted to create an institution accessible to everyone, innovative enough to arouse the curiosity and the interest of the general public.  He wrote in Le Monde on Oct. 17, 1972, “It is my passionate wish for Paris to have a cultural center like the ones they have created in the United States, which have thus far been an unequalled success.  It would be one that is both a museum and a center of creation where the visual arts take residence with music, films, books, audiovisual research, etc.”

The project was conceived soon after the May 1968 student contest, which shook French society to the core.  A location was found in a vacant parking lot in the dilapidated working class district of Beaubourg.  Construction lasted five years from 1972 to 1977.

Young architects – Italian Renzo Piano and Englishman Richard Rogers along with Italian Gianfranco Franchini – won the international competition and designed a project breaking away from the tradition of solemn museums.  Their innovative design consisted of a metal structure with six levels of flexible and open-plan floors.

The Centre Pompidou features a revolutionary design, which includes the external escalator known as the “caterpillar.” Photo by Nicole Logan.

The anchor of the assemblage was a giant pillar supporting a network of metal beams and interlocking parts.  The external escalator, enclosed in glass, zigzags its way up to the roof-top like a caterpillar (hence its nickname) along the face of the building.  The color-coded functional pipes – blue for the air, yellow for electricity, green for water and red for circulation – give a playful appearance to the construction.

The idea was to integrate the museum within its urban environment.  The facade is all glass and there is no threshold between the outdoors and the Forum or heart of the center.  Whenever the exhibits are too large to be set up inside – as was the case with the 1979 Dali retrospective, which attracted 800,000 visitors – they spill over the gently sloping piazza or the nearby Stravinsky Fountain.

President Valery Giscard d’Estaing inaugurated the building on Jan. 31, 1977 with high officials and celebrities in attendance.  Adding to the pageantry , the Garde Republicaine arrived on horseback , holding Andy Warhol-creation-like banners. Forty eight hours later, the Centre Pompidou opened to the general public.

The 40,000 visitors could not hold their excitement as they rode the escalator to the upper terraces, well above the roofs of Paris.  The organizers were afraid the building would collapse with the unexpected size of the crowds.  Looking at the metal structure, someone supposedly commented, “Why didn’t they take down the scaffolding?”

The permanent collections of modern art, spanning the period from 1905 until the 1960s, are on the fifth floor.  The plan layout allows for the easy flow of visitors between rooms of all sizes.  The walls are stark white.  A wide hallway leads to huge windows opening on a reflecting pool and a free-standing, 25 ft. high mobile by Alexander Calder.  Montmartre is in the background .

The art lover will see just a sampling or five per cent of the phenomenal collections owned by the museum, which includes works by Sonia and Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger,  Mondrian, Matisse, Picasso, Yves Klein, Juan Gris, Goncharova,  Larionov and many others.  One room is dedicated to Marcel Duchamp and includes the famous bicycle on a kitchen stool (MOMA has another copy), and the hard-to-understand Neuf Moules Mâlic, (generally translated as Nine Malic Moulds) 1914, which was a preparation for la Mariée mise à nu par ses celibataires (the bride stripped naked  by her nine bachelors).

Contemporary art, starting in the latter part of the 20th century, is displayed on the fifth floor. At present an exhibit entitled “Kollektsia” includes 250 works from the USSR and the new Russia from 1950-2000, donated by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.  Fascinating videos bring back the world of the 1960s in the Soviet era.

One video shows Nikita Khrushchev in a heated discussion about modern art with the public at the Manege. Another video shows  the government’s bulldozers  destroying the open-air exhibit hurriedly organized by the dissident Russian painters.

The Centre Pompidou, as an institution offering cultural activities at all levels, includes two special departments.  One is IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music.)  Founded by composer Pierre Boulez, it is a research center, using advanced technology working on ways to visualize music.  On the other hand, the Public Information Library or BPI is an enormous facility with resources in a multiplicity of media.  It is open to all and offers wonderfully convenient free access to its shelves.

The production of the Centre Pompidou, during the past 40 years, has included major retrospectives establishing links between artistic capitals such as “Paris-Moscow” or “Paris-New York,” hundreds of monograph exhibits or surprising sights such as the grand piano of German artist Beuys made of felt hanging from the ceiling.

The $64,000 question is, will the Centre Pompidou be able to sustain this feverish pace or will it ultimately run out of steam?  There is no question that the curators are fully committed to ensuring that this latter scenario does not happen.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Another Presidential Race, But French-Style This Time, Filled With Pride, Passion, Power, Intrigue

Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidential campaign in France is undergoing a series of twists and turns, often spectacular, sometimes violent.  Traditional politics are going through a crisis and may come out rejuvenated from the turmoil.  The rest of Europe is watching the developments with anxiety because its future is at stake.

By the end of February, five candidates were still in the race: François Fillon, winner of the right wing primary and candidate of Les Republicains or LR (The Republicans), Benoit Hamon, who won the Socialist primary, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, gauche de la gauche (far left), Marine Le Pen, president of the ultra right wing Front National (National Front) and Emmanuel Macron, independent, and head of the party he named, En Marche! (Let’s go!)

And then there were five … from left to right, the candidates still running in the French Presidential election are Jean-Luc Melenchon, Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

“Penelopegate” has been covered with glee by the media around the world.  It all started with the suspicion that François Fillon had been paying his British wife Penelope for fictitious jobs as his ’employee’ for more than two decades.  Until the three independent investigating judges have determined whether she did work or not, Fillon is presumed innocent.  But whatever they find, the damage has been done to the candidate, who had run on the ticket of a man of integrity.

Actually Fillon is not entirely to blame, he is just a product of the system. The main problem in France is the opaque system of generous perks granted the legislators.  A deputy receives about 13,000 euros monthly (base salary and allowances) and an “envlop”of 9,100 euros to pay for a maximum of five assistants parlementaires (parliamentary assistants).  The British receive twice as much and the Germans 130 percent more.  Members of the US Congress receive 10 times that amount and are allowed a staff of 18 people.  By hiring his wife and two children,  Fillon was using the privilege of nepotism to the hilt, which is increasingly unacceptable to public opinion.

He appeared even more blatantly as a member of a privileged caste when answering questions on the media. His defense strategy went through several stages.  At first he appeared arrogant, bristling at any questioning of his entitlement and of his wife’s right to work (with the tax-payer’s money).  Second stage: “I offer my apologies but I have done nothing wrong.” Third : “I am the victim of a conspiracy intended to destabilize my campaign ” . Fourth: “only Bercy (where the ministry of finances is located) can be the source of all the accusations.” His last resort was to ask his lawyers to discredit the financial prosecutor as not being competent to handle the case.

Marine Le Pen is in more trouble with justice than Fillon and has a number of pending lawsuits against her. She is clever enough to uses this situation to reinforce the admiration of her unshakable supporters.  She is being sued for using the European parliament’s budget to pay her assistants parlementaires who should be working in Strasbourg, not in Paris.   Her other cases include fraud linked to misappropriations of funds during electoral campaigns.

In a recent three-hour-long TV talk show, she displayed her skills as a sharp, articulate and smooth speaker.  Answering questions fired at her from all sides.  Winning arguments was no problem for her.  It is hard to understand how she manages to appeal so easily to people with her populist ideas while omitting to point out the financial and economic disastrous consequences her program would have for France.

The conditions were now favorable – the right and far right candidates being embroiled with justice, a divided socialist party not likely for the first time since 1974 to reach the final ballots – for Emmanuel Macron to continue his meteoric ascent.  And he is using that open road with passion.  On Feb. 22, he accepted with enthusiasm the offer of a coalition from the president of the centrist MoDem (democratic movement).  This was a perfect fit between François Bayrou, a politically-wise older man, and Macron, a 39-year-old, brilliant, highly educated, former minister of  finances and economy, although never elected.  Bayrou declared, “My priority will be to guarantee the moralization of French politics,” a promise which could not be more topical.

Macron’s style is very different from the  other French politicians.  He smiles a lot and is warm and friendly.  The project he just laid out is not harsh and does not sound like a punishment. For a man as young as he is, what he proposes is surprisingly down to earth and realistic.  His priority is to modernize the system, simplify the  regulations, and decentralize the decision process.  He introduces many innovating measures, which may go against the entrenched privileges of some French.

He is counting on the suppression of 120,000 posts of civil servants to reach his goal of a 60 billions economy.  Nothing like the choc therapy proposed by Fillon to eliminate 500,000 posts.

As a good economist, he has two sound proposals: one is to lower corporate taxes from 33.3 percent to 25 percent to be in sync  with the average European rates.  Another proposal  makes a great deal of sense: stop penalizing people for making investments.  By lowering high taxes on their capital, the French may stop hiding their savings under their mattresses.

To tackle the endemic French unemployment, he intends to make sure that the allowances are linked to the efforts demonstrated by job seekers to find a job. 

Macron unveiled his project to an audience of 400 journalists on March 2.  The other candidates were very quick to pull his project to shreds.  Vicious messages circulated in the social networks trying to demolish him, particularly for having worked for the Rothschild bank. No French president has ever been able to carry out even a small portion of Macron’s proposed  reforms.  The fight will be ruthless.

Fillon’s situation is becoming more unsustainable by the hour.  An indictment is probable. A growing number of his team have jumped ship.  He is determined not to quit the race.  The name of Alain Juppe, who came second in the primary, is being mentioned as a substitute.

Only 50 more days until the first round of elections on April 23, and still no way out of the crisis — probably one of the worst France has ever lived through.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Legal News You Can Use: Protect Your Most Precious Cargo

As the seasons change and we transition from winter to spring, many of us also experience a change in our daily lives and schedules.  The days get longer, and children begin outdoor activities. As these inevitable changes occur, the need for parents to transport their children sometimes becomes more frequent.  This being the case, it is imperative for parents to be aware of and to employ proper car safety practices while transporting their children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States during 2014, 602 children ages 12 and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle accidents,  making car accidents one of leading causes of death for children under 12-years-old.  CDC studies also revealed that in 2014, more than 121,350 children under 12 year of age suffered injuries while occupants in cars involved in accidents.

In order to lessen these disturbing statistics, the CDC recommends the following to parents while driving with their young children:

  • Use proper car seats, booster seats and seat belts in the back seat on every trip. Which option is appropriate will depend on the child’s age, weight and height;
  • Use a rear-facing car seat for children under 2 years of age;
  • Use forward-facing car seats for children ages 2 through 5;
  • Use booster seats from age 5 until the seat belt fits properly. Seat belts should fit so that the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt lays across the chest;
  • Never sit a child in front of an airbag. Children should ride in the back seat of the car, preferably in the back middle seat as that is the safest place in the car.
  • Use the proper restraint system on every trip, no matter how long;
  • Install and use car seats according to the owner’s manual or get help with installation from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician;
  • If purchasing or using a pre-owned car seat, be sure to research the make and model to check for any recalls and if necessary contact the manufacturer to obtain an owner’s manual for proper installation and maintenance instructions.
  • Set a good example for children and always wear a seatbelt.

Aside from the important safety concerns discussed above, parents can face further consequences for failing to employ proper car safety practices with children.  Connecticut law not only requires all drivers to wear seatbelts, it also requires them to ensure that any occupant of their vehicle under 16 years of age wears a seat belt.  Connecticut law also requires children less than 6 years of age and under 60 pounds to ride in a proper safety seat.  Infants less than 1 year of age and under 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing child seat at all times.  Drivers who fail to abide by these laws can face punishment including fines.

Apart from potential criminal liability, the failure to properly secure your child can affect their ability to recover civil damages for injuries they suffer as a result of a motor vehicle accident.  Such failures can be viewed as contributing causes of injuries and negate or decrease a civil settlement or verdict.

Injuries to children are some of the most difficult and emotional cases with which Suisman Shapiro deals.  We implore parents and guardians to educate themselves on and employ proper car safety practices for children.  Unfortunately, even when all proper safety steps are taken, accidents and injuries still occur.

If you or your child is injured in a car accident or due to the fault of another person, our law firm is here to help you.  Contact Suisman Shapiro today online or by telephone to arrange a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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About the Author: Roger Scully is an associate attorney at Suisman Shapiro in New London, CT, the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut. His practice focuses on civil and personal injury litigation and criminal defense. Attorney Scully has extensive jury trial experience. Prior to joining Suisman Shapiro, he served as Assistant District Attorney for the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in a diverse range of criminal matters. To contact Roger Scully visit www.suismanshapiro.com or call 860-442-4416. Suisman Shapiro is located at 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT 06320.

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A La Carte: Slow Cook Orange-Glazed Pork Butt for a Super Supper

A few weeks ago, friends and I went out for dinner. Of the six of us, three are on the board of education here in Groton. Of we three, two spend little time in the kitchen. In Rosemary’s case, she is head in a psychiatric hospital and works on the late shift. Cooking is not something she is interested in doing. Kat is married to a man who works at EB, but he loves to cook and Kat says that’s fine with her.

At dinner, her husband mentioned that he would like to get a cookbook on how to make sauces. I immediately said, “Don’t buy one. I have one at home and you can use it and if you like it, keep it.” When I got home I realized that it was one of perhaps 500 or 600 books I gave to the Book Barn when I sold the house in Old Lyme in 2014. As I schlepped cloth bags full of books to Niantic early that spring, I remember telling one of the intake people that I would probably wind up buying many back. And the only reason I haven’t is that I can’t figure out where to put bookshelves.

A week after that dinner, I made the mistake of going back to the Book Barn next to the Niantic Cinema, which is where all the cookbooks live. I found my copy, Sauces by James Peterson, and bought it, along with four or five more of my old cookbooks. Mike now has my old sauces book

I have also given many of my cookbooks to friends and family. When I bought my grandson a slow cooker, I also gave him my slow cooker cookbook.  Eventually, I bought another copy of that slow cooker cookbook and it’s a good thing I did, since I have been giving my cooktop appliance quite a workout.

Recently, I bought a pork butt, then looked to find a good recipe. The one I chose didn’t include vegetables, so I adapted it a bit. It was delicious. The recipe says that you can’t make a gravy from it, but I cut much of the fat from the roast the day I made it and made the a gravy the next day, after I was able to spoon out the rest of the fat.

Orange-glazed Pork Butt

Adapted from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, “The Great American Slow Cooker Book,” Clarkson Potter, New York, 2014.

4 pound boneless pork butt
One-half cup orange marmalade (best not to use sweet marmalade, but it will do)
One-half cup soy sauce (I use the less sodium kind)

2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
One-half teaspoon ground cloves
Red pepper flakes (about one-half teaspoon)
5 peeled white potatoes, cut into 2-inch chunks  (might use sweet potato next time)
6 to 8 large peeled carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks

Method

Set the pork butt in the slow cooker. Whisk the marmalade, soy sauce, tomato paste, cider vinegar, ground cloves and red pepper flakes in a bowl until fairly smooth; smear the mixture over the pork. Nestle the potatoes and carrots around the roast.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours in a small slow cooker, 8 hours in a medium one or 10 hours in a large one, or until the meat is quite tender but not yet shreddable. Let rest for 10 minutes uncovered with the cooker turned off, then portion the meat into large chunks or transfer to a cutting board and slice it into more manageable pieces.

Like most braises, this is even better the next day or two. This way I was able to make a gravy the day after I cooked it. If you remove the fat from the broth, pour the broth into a pan, boil it, the pour in 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour mixed with cold water. Whisk the gravy until smooth, adding more flour and water if necessary. Add salt and pepper, to taste. I also added a teaspoon of Gravy Master, but this is not necessary.

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Talking Transportation: Who Should Pay for Sound Barriers?

Sound barriers … great idea, but who should pay for them?

Building and maintaining our highways is expensive.  But here’s a quiz question:  on interstates 95 and 84, what costs a half-million dollars a mile to construct?  The answer:  sound barriers.

Why are we spending that kind of money to enshroud our interstates simply to protect the peace and quiet of its neighbors?  Didn’t they know that living that close to a highway came with the twin costs of increased noise and air pollution along with the benefits of proximity to the highways?

Do you have sympathy for people who live near airports and then complain about the jets?  Neither do I.  But the solution to highway noise is not to create a walled canyon paid for by others.

Sound barriers, in my view, are a waste of precious resources.  They don’t reduce accidents, improve safety or do anything about congestion.  And they’re a magnet for graffiti artists.  Three miles of sound barriers on both sides of an interstate would buy another M8 railcar for Metro-North, taking 100 passengers out of their cars.

Worse yet, sound barriers really just reflect the sound, not absorb it, sending the noise further afield.  But there are alternatives:

1)     Why not sound-proof the homes?  That has worked well for neighbors of big airports and would be a lot cheaper than miles of sound barriers.  Plus, insulation against sound also insulates against energy loss, saving money.

2)    Rubberized asphalt.  Let’s reduce the highway noise at its source, literally where the “rubber meets the road”.  Using the latest in rubberized asphalt some highways have seen a 12 decibel reduction in noise.  And rubberized asphalt, as its name implies, is made from old tires … about 12 million a year that would otherwise be junked.

3)    Pay for it yourself.  Create special taxing zones in noisy neighborhoods and let those home owners pay for their sound barriers.  They’re the ones who are benefiting, so shouldn’t they be the ones who pay?  And that investment will easily be recouped in increased property values.

4)    Penalize the noise makers.  Let’s crack down on truckers who “Jake brake,” downshifting noisily to slow their speed instead of using their real brakes.  And motorcyclists or those cars with busted mufflers, they too should be penalized.

5)    Go electric.  Electric cars are virtually silent.  And there are electronic ways of using noise cancellation technology that, on a large scale, can induce quiet at a lower price than building wooden barricades.

6)    Go absorbent.  Where there is room, erect earthen berms alongside the highway which will absorb the sound.  Or if you are constructing sound barriers, fill them with sound absorbing material, treating the noise like a sponge, not bouncing it off a hard, flat reflective surface.

Our interstates, especially I-95, are carrying far more traffic than they were ever planned to handle.  And there is no sign of it decreasing.  In Fairfield County the rush hour starts about 6 a.m. and runs continuously until 8 p.m. without a break.

If our state’s economy depends on these highways, we will have to live with the karmic cost of a little noise.  But if it’s too much to take, why ask others to pay for its remediation when they are the only ones benefiting from that spending?

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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A La Carte: Feeling Like a Fluffy Pancake? Make the Fluffiest Ever

Fluffiest pancakes ever.

My mother, as I have mentioned in other columns, didn’t cook much. Actually, rarely, unless it was necessary. One of those necessary times was breakfast. Every morning I would attempt to flee the dreaded bowl of cream of wheat and run out the door.

Maybe she made eggs and bacon, but all I remember is that white bowl of white cream of wheat. Never oatmeal or Maypo. And the only dried cereal I remember is Shredded Wheat. So I would grab the orange juice, swallow it up (an awful flavor after I had just brushed my teeth) and then I flew the coop.

I don’t remember going out for breakfast until I met my husband Doug, who loved to go out for breakfast. During the week I made breakfast, but every weekend, Saturday and Sunday, off we went for our first meal of the day. When we lived in Massachusetts, it was always Ralph’s in Worcester, the city where the first diner was manufactured.

Once we moved to Connecticut, it was first a quasi-diner in Plainfield. When we moved to Old Lyme, it was the Shack (originally in East Lyme, and now also in Waterford and Groton), the Broken Yolk in New London (now the Yolk), More recently, Monica’s in New London and Christy’s in Westbrook.

These days I’m either back to not eating much of a breakfast, taking a bagel out of the freezer, making an omelet out of whatever veggies I have in the refrigerator or, when I’m in a breakfast mood, to one of my regular favorite restaurants.

But as I was reading my latest issue of Cooking Light, I saw a recipe for fluffy pancakes that included ingredients like oatmeal, white whole-wheat flour and maple-sweetened almond butter, which cut the calories and up the fiber. These are just delicious.

Our Fluffiest Pancakes Ever (From Cooking Light, March 2017)

Yield: Serve 4 (serving size 3 pancakes about 2 tabelspoon sauce and berries), about 324 calories)

Two-third cup old-fashioned oats

1 and one-third cups nonfat buttermilk

One-quarter cup warm water

One-quarter cup natural almond butter (or any nut butter you have)

2 and one-half tablespoons maple syrup, divided

3 ounces white whole-wheat flour (about three-quarter cup)

2 teaspoon baking powder

One-quarter teaspoon baking soda

One-quarter teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

one-third cup fresh raspberries (or any berries), optional

Method

Combine oats and buttermilk in a large bowl; let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine warm water, almond butter and 1 and one-half tablespoons syrup, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry meaning cup, level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt, stirring well.

Heat a large nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir remaining 1 tablespoon syrup, vanilla and egg into oat mixture; add flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Spoon a one-quarter cup batter per pancake onto hot griddle. Cook until tops are covered with bubbles and edges look dry and cook, about 2 to 3 minutes on other side. Serve with almond butter sauce and berries.

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Letter From Paris: A European in Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Jan. 27,  Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the White House during Donald Trump’s era.  The prime minister’s red dress matched the US president’s red tie and they both seemed  determined to cheer each other for the wonderful things they were about to accomplish together.

On the eve of Brexit, it was crucial  for the British visitor to obtain US support. For Trump,  it was a chance to welcome the UK as a “privileged” partner, to stress how the latter will benefit from Brexit and become a model for Europe in freeing itself from the “Brussels consortium.”

Actually, at this point, the US is not in a position to be much help for England. It is a matter that will have to be worked out directly between the UK and the European Union (EU.)   Beyond the posturing, the British prime minister was trying to reconcile her vision of a “global England” open to the world with the protectionism policies launched by Trump.

The task for May is incredibly complex since she has made clear her intention not to sever all ties with the continent while implementing  the “hard Brexit”and also to avoid a “cliff edge” situation.  She will need all her political acumen to surmount the obstacles coming from all sides and negotiate the best deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets US President Donald Trump.

The “divorce” process has not even started and already dissenting opinions are being heard, even in her own camp.  On Jan. 3, Sir Ivan Rogers, the permanent British representative to the EU,  resigned after sending warning signals, and was immediately replaced  by “euro-skeptic” Tim Barrow, former ambassador to Moscow.  On Jan. 11, the Minister of Immigration, Robert Goodwill, proposed to impose a tax of 1,000 British pounds on EU workers. The business circles protested and the government backed down.  Andrea Leadson, Minister of Agriculture,  had to reassure farmers that the hiring of seasonal labor would not come to a stop.  Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer disagreed  with the minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and proposed a departure “a la carte” from Europe. 

On Jan. 24, the British High Court voted by eight to three to route the Brexit process through parliament.  This decision created another hurdle for the prime minister. The House of Commons passed the text overwhelmingly.  The House of Lords will be next.    

The worst enemy of the UK in the Brexit process is the timetable.  Once triggered, Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon will take two years to be implemented and, of course, will have to be approved by all the EU members.  After that, it will take five or possibly 10 years for Britain to be legally able to conclude free trade bilateral agreements with other countries.

On Jan. 17, May gave a major speech at Lancaster House in which she spelled out the main points of her program.  This was followed a few days later by the publication of a White Paper containing a road map.  Control of immigration is a central preoccupation for the UK government.  It is understandable,  given the fact that that, from 2015 to 2016, 650,000 immigrants entered the country  (including 284,000 coming from the EU).  Britain had opted out long ago of the Schengen Zone, which allows for free circulation of goods, people, services and capital .

Right now Britain is a member of the European Customs Union and of the European single market. * Being a member of a single market like the EU, created by the 1957 founding treaty of Rome, comes with many constraints such as the harmonization of regulations, compliance with certain standards and the required contributions to the EU budget (Britain has already  committed 40 billion euros for the period 2016-2020.)  The European Court of Justice (based in Luxembourg) enforces those regulations and this explains May’s particular dislike for that institution.

In case of the departure of Britain from the EU,  there are alternatives to its present trade arrangements such as the ones used by  Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, which are not part of the European Customs Union.  Three of them are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which puts them close to the single market. Another example is Turkey, which is not part of the EU single market, but benefits from a special free trade agreement with Europe.  After her visit to Washington, May met with President Erdogan in Ankara to discuss these matters as well as a post-Brexit trade and military partnership.

One  of the most contentious issues of the Brexit is the future of The City.  For 30 years, it has been the financial hub of activities for the huge European market of 500 million people.  By leaving the single market, The City will lose its  “European passport”  and its say over the new regulations issued by Brussels every year.

Guy Verhofstadt, called “Mr. Brexit” at the European parliament, denounced the “illusion that it is possible to leave the EU while retaining its advantages.”

Michel Barnier has been appointed by Jean Claude Yunker, president of the European Commission, to head the negotiations with Britain.  This was a good choice.  Barnier is a man of consensus, experienced and pragmatic, according to The Telegraph.   Economist by training, he has held several posts as European Commissioner of various departments including finance, banking and defense. Interestingly, it was Barnier who supported the adhesion of Britain into Europe in 1972.

*for more on Cameron’s negotiations with the EU, which led to the June 23 referendum, see Logan’s article published by VNN on March 5, 2016.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A la Carte: Craving a Crunch? Enjoy These Cashew Butterscotch Bars

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

It has been a while since we had a one-two-almost-three punch snowstorm. On the Wednesday before the storm, I had a meeting at 6 p.m. and then another at 6:30 (I was about 15 minutes late for the second one). In the first, my condo board meeting, we talked about the fact that snow was on its way.

We tried to figure out whether it was really going to be a tough one, or not. I felt it might be a real one, and I was prepared. Plenty of food for the cats (because, after all, they could not care less as long as they had a few warm velour throws, a clean litter box and cans of Fancy Feast to go with their dry food).

I do have a freezer full of people food, but that freezer is in the garage, a good walk easy when the weather is good but possibly not so if it really does snow for hours and hours. As it turned out, it snowed for around 10 hours and I couldn‘t get out of my condo for another half a day (except to shovel a path from my back door to the bird feeders).

But I had decided I wanted to cook.

It is actually my therapy, whether the weather is too hot or too cold, or too snowy. I had gotten chicken thighs from the freezer the day before and bought a big chunk of beef chuck and some ground meat for chili. For two of the recipes I used my slow cooker. I bought my first just  after my first marriage dissolved; my new one I have had for about eight years; I love my slow cooker although I usually sear the meat that will go into the crock pot these days.

The chicken thigh recipe was more work than it was worth  The pot roast was amazing (I added almost everything except the kitchen sink including half a can of Campbell’s tomato bisque from the fridge.) The chili, for which I used a package of Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Fire Chili, was yummy.

But a few days later, I wanted something sweet. Not chocolate, though. I found this recipe I had saved from the New York Times years ago. Boy, are these addictive.

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

From the food section of The New York Times, sometime within the past ten or so years

Yield: 36 bars*

Ingredients:

Two sticks plus 5 and one-half tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus butter for greasing pan
Three-quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) light-brown sugar
1 and three-quarters teaspoons kosher salt
2 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
10 ounces butterscotch chips
One-half cup plus 2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon and 2 and one-half teaspoons water
2 one-half cups salted cashew pieces

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-18-inch jelly roll pan, including sides.

2. To make the crust: in a mixer with a paddle or in a bowl with a rubber spatula, best ½ (one-half) plus 2 tablespoons butter and all the brown sugar together until smooth. Stir salt into flour, then add flour to butter and sugar mixture. Mix until dough is well combined but still crumbly; if dough is mixed until a ball forms, crust will be tough.

3. Pat the dough evenly along bottom of buttered pan, taking care not to pack the dough down. Place pan in oven and bake 5 minutes. With a fork, prick dough deeply all over. Return pan to oven and bake until sough is lightly browned, dry and no longer soft to the touch, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack; do not turn off the oven.

4. To make butterscotch topping: In a large saucepan, combine remaining 3 ½ (three and one-half) tablespoons, butterscotch chips, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon plus 2 ½ (two and one-half) teaspoons water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter and butterscotch chips are melted, about 5 minutes. Pour topping over crust, using a spatula to spread, evenly all the way to the corners. Sprinkle cashew pieces on top, pressing down light.

5. Bake until topping is bubbly and cashews are lightly browned, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting into two-by-three-inch bars.

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A La Carte: Preparing Perfect (Eggplant) Parmagiana

Eggplant parmagiana

It has been a long winter punctuated by a couple of visits to California and the march in DC

I have found that these quick visits that require long plane trips make me sick. Literally. A vicious head cold arrived from a flight from Kennedy to San Diego and the red-eye back home in six days. A drive to DC and back, still nursing that cold, dropped me like a stone with an almost-three-week flu-ish illness. (Yes, I got my flu shot in October. I really didn’t know there are other flu-like flus. Now I know there are.)

In any case, it is over, pretty much. And it’s time for dinner parties. I had made lots of Bolognese and froze the sauce so there would be enough for the winter. One couple said that would be great, but did I know that he is a vegetarian. Those of us carnivores figure once you figure out the meat, everything else falls into place, so the dinner called for a change-up.

What shall I make, I wonder?

What is even better than Bolognese?

Eggplant parm, of course, with a big salad, garlic bread and, perhaps, a blueberry (or apple) pie., This recipe comes to me from my ex-neighbor, Kathy, who got it from the Fatone family. Evidently, Sam Gejdenson used to make the Fatone family recipe to great fanfare. It is beyond delicious.

Eggplant Parmagiana

2 and one-half pounds eggplant

2 cups all-purpose flour

6 to 7 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups finely ground breadcrumbs or panko (

One-quarter to one-half pound thinly sliced provolone cheese

One-quarter cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

4 cups or more marinara (use a very good jarred sauce or the recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone pads.

Insert slicing disc, adjusted to 4 mm, into the large work bowl of the Cuisinart. Slice the eggplant into rounds. (If you do not have this food processor, use a very sharp knife and slice the eggplant into rounds or ovals.)

Put flour, eggs and breadcrumbs into shallow individual containers. Dredge each slice first in flour, then in eggs, then in breadcrumbs. After dredging in each ingredient, tap the eggplant to remove any excess. Arrange eggplant in single layers on both sheets. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. (The recipe says to flip them halfway through, but I don’t.)

When eggplant is done, take the pans from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. In two 13-inch by 9-inch pans, begin to layer the eggplant, beginning with a ladle of marinara, then eggplant, then provolone, followed marinara, eggplant and provolone until done. Top with a layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Easy and Delicious Marinara

This is my go-to recipe. If you use it with pasta, by the time your pasta water is boiling, the red sauce is ready.

Yield: enough for eggplant parm with some leftover to have with eggs the next morning.

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped fine

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 28-ounce cans excellent whole canned tomatoes (I use Muir Glen, available at BJs)*

Salt and pepper, to taste

Few shakes of red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Pour in onions and saute until just translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add red pepper flakes, if you like it a bit spicy.

*I now puree the tomatoes in my blender or food processor. If you like it chunkier, use a potato masher or your hands to the chunkier you like it.

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Winter Wildlife Eagle Boat Cruises Depart Weekend Days from CT River Museum

RiverQuest start Wildlife Eagle Boat Cruises Saturday, Feb. 4.

ESSEX  – Connecticut River Expeditions of Haddam offers cruises on the lower Connecticut River this February and March for the 14th year of Winter Wildlife Eagle Boat Cruises. This year they have teamed up with the Connecticut River Museum and will be departing from the Museum’s dock in Essex. With this partnership, passengers enjoy both the river and its wildlife from the water and also the entire Museum including their special “Eagles of Essex” exhibit.

A magnificent Bald Eagle.

As the river, lakes and ponds to our north freeze, eagles and other wildlife make their way to the lower Connecticut River for their favorite food – fish. Eagles have made a major comeback over the past few decades and more eagles are being sighted in this area. On past cruises, up to 41 Bald Eagles, three types of grebe and swan and merganser, golden eagle, many different gull and hawk species, loons, coyote, fox, deer, three types of seal, and even a bobcat have been spotted.
“Winter is such a special time on the river, it is serene and scenic and there is a sense of tranquility. With no leaves on the trees, the river’s edge offers a much different view, making it easier to find and see our winter wildlife.  On this cruise we will search for the majestic Bald Eagle and other winter species,”notes Mindy, Captain Mark’s wife, crew and co-owner of RiverQuest, pointing out, “Each cruise is different and you never know what we will find.”

Winter Wildlife Eagle Boat Cruises include more than just big birds. Passengers often site beautiful winter ducks and even harbor seals. Photo by: Bill Yule.

RiverQuest has a heated cabin, but it is suggested that you dress in warm layers since the best views will be from the open decks. Bring your own camera and binoculars, but if you forget –or don’t have — them, there are plenty on board to borrow during the cruise. 

“We are excited to be working with the Connecticut River Museum. We feel that our mutual interest in the river is a perfect match,” comments Captain Mark of the eco-tour vessel, adding, “RiverQuest is already docked in Essex at the Museum and we are ready to go. We are hopeful that relocating RiverQuest from her home berth in Haddam further south this winter will increase our chances of running every trip.”
 
“There are few places as breathtaking or as tranquil as the Connecticut River in winter. We look forward to working with RiverQuest and sharing this experience with visitors,” says Chris Dobbs, Executive Director of the Connecticut River Museum.
In the Museum you can brush up on your Bald Eagle facts and field identification. With life size comparisons of local raptors you will get a close up idea of how large these birds really are. You can also try your nest building skills and enjoy all the other exhibits the Connecticut River Museum has to offer.   Additional eagle related public programs will be offered at the Museum during the Winter Wildlife Cruise season.

Cruises will be Feb. 4 through March 19. Departures on Fridays are at 10am and 12:30pm. Departures on Saturday and Sunday at 9am, 11:30am and 2pm.  Cost is $40 per person.

For more information visit www.ctriverquest.com  or www.ctrivermuseum.org
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Letter From Paris: How France is Coping With the Ongoing Terrorism Threat

Nicole Prévost Logan

Two years after the “Je suis Charlie” massacre, how does it feel to be in France today with the threat of terrorism?  

Numbers seem to speak for themselves: France, which is the most visited European country, saw a decrease last year of almost 50 percent – equivalent to 84 million – tourists last year while website commentaries lament empty hotels, restaurants and museums.

This observation is not quite accurate and, besides, does not take into account the complexity of the situation. In the first place, France has not become a dangerous war zone and people here still enjoy themselves: restaurants are full at lunch time, the new Paris Philarmonie orchestra is booked solid for months and there are more fantastic art exhibits – such as the Shchukin collection – than ever.

For the French, the threat of terrorism is not measured primarily by the dollar amount lost through a decrease in mass tourism (which is not the country’s vocation in any case.) There are many other serious considerations relating to the effects of terrorism on French politics and society, or the measures taken by authorities to protect the citizens.    

The cover of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ two years after the horrific attack on the magazine’s office in Paris.

In recent years, the French have been deeply marked by terrorist attacks with 237 people killed between January 2015 and July 2016. These range tragically from the murder of cartoonists; the bombing of the Bataclan night club, several bistros and restaurants; a truck plowing through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day; to the gory assassination of 85-year-old  father Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit on the altar of his small Normandie church in front of two elderly nuns.

The impact on France’s national consciousness of the November 2015 terrorist attacks was enormous. As the two chambers of the parliament met in a joint session in Versailles, every single deputy stood up and sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise, a solemn event not seen since 1918.

François Hollande has been literally traumatized by the terrorist bombings. The president was immediately on the scenes of the attacks, even before the areas were made secure. For him, the defense against terrorism was a brutal awakening and a priority. The political price he had to pay was very high.

Under the intense pressure of the moment, he proposed a law on the déchéance de la nationalité (loss of nationality) for terrorists. This proposal caused havoc among the leftist segment of the French population. The president never recovered politically. Recently, when he announced his decision not to run again for another five years, Hollande declared, “I was wrong to make that proposal”.

The terrorist threat has become part of French people’s daily life. Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology, recently published a book titled, “How to Live in the Terrorist Era,” in which he gives practical advice on what to do in case of attack. Defense against terrorism is a major topic for the candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. .

France has come a long way since the affaire Merah in March 2012. The young Mohammed Merah had appeared all smiles on TV screens after killing seven civilians and military in the Toulouse area. At first believed to have acted as a “lone wolf,” he  turned out to be part of a whole network of siblings, relatives and friends. During the past five years, the French authorities – Intelligence, police,  judiciary and military both inside France and abroad – have made spectacular efforts to adjust to the terrorist threat, which is changing its modus operandi almost daily. 

Today the police wear bulletproof vests, carry attack weapons, and not only have the right, but also the duty, to intervene in the case of a terrorist threat.  The Direction Générale de Securiéte Interieure or DGSI (equivalent to the FBI) has stepped up its action, thwarting  90 percent of bombing attempts every year. In the past few months, it has dismantled sleeping terrorist cells in Marseille and Strasbourg.

France is the European country with the largest Moslem population. The latter is overwhelmingly considered to have nothing to do with radical Islam.  However, subjects which used to be taboo before, such as the relationship between extremism and religion, are now openly debated. Recent books also contribute to the change in thinking.

Gilles Kepel, an authority on the Arab world and Islam, demonstrates in his book, La Fracture, (‘The Divide’) that the only way to understand extreme Islamists is to analyze in depth their ideology. One should make an effort to understand  their strategy, which is to divide society, by teaching from a very young age, hatred against non-believers and the West, through brainwashing and conversion of an increasing number of people in both mosques and also in prisons. Keppel writes, “Prisons have become the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration or French elite school ) for Jihadists.” 

In the fall, journalist David Thomson  published “Les Revenants” (those who returned) about the young men – and women – who joined ISIS or Islamist State in 2012 at the outset of the Syrian civil war. They would announce their plans openly on You Tube  and traveled freely through Turkey toward their final destination of Rakka. In 2013 -14 their number grew exponentially. With the loss of territory in The Levant , ISIS has changed its strategy and many of the “revenants” have gone underground and become “Jihadists of the keyboard,” to use Thomson’s expression.

Is it the end of the tunnel ? Probably not and the threat remains, the experts concur. We can be thankful, however, that the Intelligence services and police have become more successful in cracking down on radical Islam.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Extraordinary ‘Shchukin Collection’ on View in Paris Attracts Massive Crowds

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is the first time ever that the masterpieces of the Russian art collector Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin have traveled abroad as a collection.  Until now only separate works have been seen in the West.  In the 1979 “Paris-Moscow” major retrospective at the Pompidou Center – a huge exhibition from Soviet state museums –  there was no mention anywhere of the origin of the art works.

It was not until  2010 at the “Matisse Malevich” exhibit held at the Hermitage Amsterdam that the French canvasses were identified as follows: “Origin: Museum of Modern  Western Art, formerly from the collection of Sergei Shchukin.”  So, it is a first to see more than half of the entire collection in Paris today.  Almost unnecessary to say that the astronomical insurance cost covering such important objects could only be afforded by Bernard Arnault, the 14th richest man in the world and CEO of LVMC (Louis Vuitton and Moët and Chandon).*

The Fondation Louis Art Museum in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris where the Shchukin exhibition is currently on display.

The thrill of seeing for the first time works from well-known artists – Monet, Derain, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and others – explains why the exhibit is attracting such huge crowds, happy to be in familiar territory.  The well-organized flow of people meanders through the Frank Gehry’s whimsical structure of glass panels seemingly billowing in the wind.  At each of the four levels, one catches spectacular vistas of the Eiffel Tower and Paris with its cluster of skyscrapers in the Defense business district or the vast wooded expanse of the Bois de Boulogne.

The wealthy textile merchant Shchukin was – with his friend and rival Ivan Morozov – the most illustrious Russian art collector at the turn of the 20th century.  He went into exile in France after the 1917 revolution and died there in 1936.  His collection was nationalized  and later divided between the Pushkin museum of Fine Art in Moscow and the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and then vanished into Siberian storage.  During the Cold War, the works were returned to Moscow, but remained in boxes.  By the 1960s, they gradually reappeared.

Shchukin was an avid and methodical collector.  Following the example of his older brothers (in a family of 10), he started collecting in the 1880s.  He acquired  paintings from the leading art merchants in Paris, such as Ambroise Vollard, Durand Rueil or the Swiss  Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.  He had an exceptional ability to detect talent.  For instance, by including the constructivist Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1905, he revealed how well he understood the importance of Cezanne (26 paintings) as the spiritual father of modern art.

The organizers of the exhibit reproduced the way the canvasses were hung in Shchukin’s Moscow residence in a touhe touche fashion, that is touching each other all the way to the ceiling.

‘Pink Studio’ by Henri Matisse, 1911.

He had a special relationship with Henri Matisse and became his sponsor, commissioning  many of his 57 paintings, among them La Danse, the largest (8’6″x 12’10”) and most beautiful version of which is today on view at the Hermitage.  The painting had caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne of 1910.  The Desserte dominates one of the rooms at the Vuitton exhibit with its decorative floral shapes and fruits scattered on a rich red background of a table dropping vertically and merging with the wall. 

‘Peasants picking apples’ by Natalian Goncharova, 1911.

His acquisition of Picasso’s works (54 canvasses) is particularly interesting.  At first  he was repelled by them, particularly by the cubist period.  Stephane Guegan, French art critic and curator at Orsay, wrote, “Shchukin compared the analytic cubism of Picasso to buckets of crushed glass.”  But gradually, he grew to appreciate the brutal forms,  such as Femme tenant an eventail (woman holding a fan) 1907.  He shared with Gertrude Stein the attraction for the preparatory studies to the seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 .

‘Woman with a fan’ by Pablo Picasso, 1908.

Shchukin was eager to show his works and educate the public.  He turned his residence into a museum that was open several days a week.  Among the visitors were the members of the Russian avant garde. They were  stunned by what they saw.  In less than 10 years not only the talented young Russian artists assimilated Western  art but were able to grow from it and create suprematism, neo-primitivism, cubo-futurism, etc. 

The Vuitton exhibit offers a sampling of the works by the extraordinary generation of Russian artists on the eve of World War I : Casimir Malevich, Larionov, Tatlin, Klioune, Rodchenko and the acclaimed female artists: Goncharova, Popova, Rozanova, Exter, Popova, or Udaltsova. 

Shchukin heirs did not try to receive financial compensation for the art taken away by the Soviet government.   All they wanted was to restore their grandfather’s memory,  the recognition for his genius and avoid breaking up the collection among different owners. 

One century later they may have fulfilled their wish. 

Editor’s Notes:
i)   This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

ii) *see Nicole Logan’s previous article published on ValleyNewsNow.com, Jan. 22, 2016.
iii) ‘Icons of Modern Art – The Shchukin Collection’ is on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is housed in a Frank Gehry building in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France through Feb. 20, 2017.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Nibbles: Sample ‘Scotch Blondies’ Soon

For me it is tough to read headlines in the New York Times these days. Maybe that is why I don’t get that newspaper every day—just Wednesdays (for the food section) and Sunday. (In truth, it’s so amazingly expensive and who has time to read it every day?)

On Sunday, first I read the book review, with my Kindle next to me so I can order a sample. But what’s that on the first page? A book about sugar, and how it is the source of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and strokes? Maybe, too, the problems in the middle east, racism, nuclear winter, glaciers coming to Fishers Island? Well, anyone who knows me knows I rarely joke about any of those things, but an entire book reviewed by Dan Barber, one of America’s best chefs, demonizing sugar?

So, why am I writing today about sugar? Because we all like sweets, sometimes. And when my friend Lisa asked me to make whoopee pies for her 50th birthday party, what could I do? Make spanakopita?

I made two different kinds of whoopee pies—one spice cake with a cream cheese filling infused with maple flavoring. and the other red velvet filled with a vanilla cream. It was fun, but certainly messed up the kitchen. For your information, you do not need to use three one-ounce bottles of red-dye coloring. One is fine. For those I used a cookie recipe. For the spice cake, I used a cake recipe. Both worked well. I tasted each and they were yummy.

So why was it necessary to make a bar cookie recipe? I guess I just don’t like rules, and reading that book review made me angry. The recipe I am writing below not only needs sugar, but butter and Scotch. They were easy to make and absolutely delicious. I ate one and shared with friends. The rest are in the freezer. Don’t eat too much sugar or butter or alcohol. But don’t deprive yourself of something special once in a while.

Scotch Blondies

From Fine Cooking, February, 2017

1 and one-half sticks unsalted butter
2 and one-half cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Three-quarter teaspoon baking powder
One-half teaspoon baking soda
One-half teaspoon salt
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
One-half cup Scotch whiskey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups mini chocolate chips

Scotch blondies

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 by 13-inch baking pan, line the bottom with parchment and then butter the parchment.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Let cool briefly. Add brown sugar and stir until combined. Add Scotch, eggs and vanilla and stir until combined.

Add the sugar mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Gently fold in chips.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and tap the pan on the counter once or twice to break any air bubbles. Bake until top is golden brown and just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the blondies, invert onto a cutting board, remove the pan and parchment and flip right side up. Cut into 16 pieces.*

You can store the blondies covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

*I cut the blondies into about 32 pieces.

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Talking Transportation: Why Metro-North’s ‘Quiet Cars’ Aren’t Quiet

What happens when a good idea goes bad?  Consider Metro-North’s ‘Quiet Car’ initiative.

Sixteen years ago a group of regular commuters on Amtrak’s early morning train to DC had an idea:  why not designate one car on the train as a ‘Quiet Car‘, free from cell phone chatter and loud conversations.  The railroad agreed and the experiment proved a great success.

Now all Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor have a ‘Quiet Car’.  They are a major selling point for taking the train … the chance to nap or read in a quiet environment.

But as early as 2006 when I suggested the same idea to Metro-North, it was rejected outright.  Then serving on the CT Rail Commuter Council, I persisted and finally, in 2011 the railroad agreed to a trial with one car on each rush hour train dedicated to what it called a ‘Quiet CALMmute.’

Almost immediately the plan ran into trouble.  Not because it wasn’t wanted but because it wasn’t enforced.

There were no signs designating which were the ‘quiet’ cars and only occasional PA announcements before departure reminding folks who sat there of the quiet, library-like environment that was expected.  Most of all, many conductors refused to enforce the new rules.  But why?

Conductors seem to have no trouble reminding passengers to keep their feet off the seats, put luggage in the overhead racks or refrain from smoking.  But all that the railroad gave conductors to enforce the ‘Quiet Car’ rules were bilingual “Shhh cards” to give to gabby violators.

It seemed left to passengers to remind fellow riders what a ‘Quiet Car’ was for and confrontations resulted.

This spring the railroad surprised even me by announcing an expansion of the program:  every weekday train, peak and off-peak, would now have two ‘Quiet Cars’!  Two ‘Quiet Cars’ on a 10-car train gives everyone a choice.  That sounds great, but still without signage, education or enforcement, the battles continued.

A commuter recently emailed me about an evening train from Grand Central with a group of rowdy drunks in the ‘Quiet Car’.  When commuters asked the offending passengers to chill out or move their seat, the tipsy  group told the complainer, “screw you.”  The quiet-seeking commuters then asked the conductor for help but he simply declared the train was too crowded and the ‘Quiet Car’ was being eliminated on that run.  “Have fun” he told the drunks.  Really?

On Amtrak trains those violating Quiet Car rules have been thrown off the train and arrested.  Even NJ Governor Chris Christie had to move his seat on an Acela once for yabbering with his staff in the wrong car.

Nobody wants these kinds of altercations on Metro-North.  So why initiate and then expand such a passenger amenity as ‘Quiet CALMmute’ without proper education and enforcement?  A few signs and friendly reminders from conductors should make passengers aware that “train time may be your own time” (as the railroad’s old marketing slogan used to say), but it’s also shared time.

Commuters want ‘Quiet Cars.’  The railroad gave them to us, but until they can get their staff to enforce the rules, consistently, they might as well not exist.

If you’re in a ‘Quiet Car’ and the rules are not enforced, report it to Metro-North on their website complaint form.  If we all raise our voices, we can get some peace a quiet.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Letter From Paris: A Transition Like No Other … A French Take on Trump

Nicole Prévost Logan

We Americans are always interested in knowing what the world is thinking of us.  From my listening post in Paris, I can say that for months the Europeans have followed the US presidential elections with fascination.

With only a few days left until Jan. 20, everyone here is watching the transition between a cerebral Democrat president and a “sanguine, non- principled” Republican president-elect, to quote professor Jean Louis Bourlanges during the popular Sunday morning radio talk show Esprit Public. The four participants in the discussion – all representative of the French intellectual elite and well-versed in American affairs – describe what is happening as totally unprecedented.

President Obama is cramming his last days in office with long interviews, articles in magazines, laying out policies to regulate the environment, drilling of oil, or family planning.  Furthermore he just made two important foreign policy decisions.

On Dec. 23, the US abstained in the UN Security Council vote on the 2334 resolution instructing Israel to stop any further settlements on the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  This represents a striking change from President Obama’s position during his eight-year mandate, especially when, on Sept. 15, he approved the largest ever military assistance package of 38 billion dollars and committed the US for the unusually long period of 10 years.

The reaction here was, why now?  Why so late?  French analysts suggest that Obama wanted to get even with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his repeated snubbing.

For instance, on both official visits of the American president to Israel, “by coincidence,” the Israeli government announced the building of more settlements.  But the real slap in the face took place in March 2015 when the Israeli prime minister gave a speech to the joint session of the US Congress, short-circuiting the White House.  The abstention at the Security Council  might be a way to express remorse for the failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an effort to set a garde-fou or safeguard for the future.

On Dec. 30,  President Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian “diplomats” for interfering in the US elections by hacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  His outrage at a foreign power for influencing a democratic process was such that he had to resort to a tool reminiscent of the Cold War.

President-Elect Donald Trump.

As to Donald Trump, the French are literally baffled by his behavior.

He is making a point of dissociating himself from Washington while anticipating his role as president in making political and economic decisions by tweets.  “Trump, Tweeter in Chief” writes Sylvie Kauffmann, in Le Monde.  She adds, “When you have room for only 140 characters, you have to be brief and forget nuances.”  Tweeting is apparently catching on as a form of communication.

Thierry Pech, CEO of think-tank Terra Nova, made the Esprit Public live audience laugh when he described former Mexican president Vicente Fox’s reaction to one of Trump’s announcements.  He sent his own tweet saying  “your f—ing wall, we are not going to pay for it.” Former French ambassador to the United States, François Bujon de l’Estang, commented that “carrying out diplomacy by tweets is like an oxymoron.”  He added, “tweets are the degré zéro or lowest level of diplomacy.”

All eyes are turned toward the US right now.  Europe, like the rest of the world, is bracing itself to see how the key players of the planet are going to manage world affairs, since the rules of the game  have changed.  Traditional diplomacy is now replaced by tweets.  Social networks are turning out to be more effective than propaganda in shaping the public opinion and hacking is widely used as a political tool.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A la Carte: Welcome the New Year with Oyster Stew

Oyster stew

Just once were we far away from home on New Year’s Eve. It was at Key West and it was wild. We ate dinner at a restaurant. I don’t remember much of the dinner (it wasn’t the champagne, honestly, it wasn’t.) But it was the first time I’d tried creamy crème brulée. Remember, it was the early 70s, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce in a supermarket and I’d never tasted oysters.

In the next few years, I added New York City to my geographical resumé and tasted lobster, Mexican food, Szechuan dishes and escargots. I began to write about restaurants, although still pretty green, but not that many people were “criticizing” food.

More important, I started to cook. I was the daughter of a woman who didn’t cook and I had married a man whose mother did cook but hated it. I had seen a way to nurture my husband. I loved to cook and I was fearless in the kitchen. My husband loved my food. We had to go out to eat. I was paid to go out to eat, but my real laboratory was my kitchen.

After that New Year’s Eve, and one at the “21” in Manhattan, our New Year’s Eve was at home or at friends’ home. The following day, my husband always made oyster stew for dinner. Now that I am husbandless, I still make oyster stew, but I no longer have to shuck them. Instead I go to one of the many fish markets in our area and get the shucked oysters and a pint or more of their “liquor.”

Oysters Rockefeller Stew

From “Chowder land” by Brook Dojny (Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA, 2015)

Yield: 4 servings

4 ounces bacon, cut into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

1 large leek, cleansed, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups bottled clam juice of seafood broth

1 cup water

2 pints shucked oysters with its liquor, cut in half if large

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I would use way less)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry (never use cooking sherry)

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crispy and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot; if there is too much, pour some off; if too little, make up the difference with additional butter.

Add butter to pot and cook leek and celery over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne. Add clam juice and water and bring to a simmer.

Add oysters and Worcestershire and cook over low heat until edges of the oysters begin to shrink and curl at the edges, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. If  there is not enough liquid, add a bit more water. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat over very low heat so the stew does not curdle and stir in spinach; cook for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in sherry, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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Talking Transportation: All Tickets Please!

Imagine you’re in a store and you see somebody shoplifting.  You’re embarrassed to say anything or to make a scene, but inside you’re pissed-off.  You pay for your merchandise, so why should that guy get it for free?  And if he’s ripping off the store, doesn’t the merchant actually make you pay more to make up for that loss?

It’s morally wrong and it’s just not fair.

Yet this is what happens every single day on Metro-North when conductors don’t collect all riders’ tickets.

Here’s a typical scene:  your train leaves Grand Central and the conductor makes his way through the train collecting tickets.  Sometimes he leaves a colored seat check, punched to show your destination, but not always. Why?

Your train makes some intermediate stop (New Rochelle, Greenwich or Stamford) to discharge some passengers and take on new ones.  You know who the new riders are, but does the conductor?

So when the conductor comes through again saying “All Stamford tickets, please” and you see that new rider not responding, you know the railroad got ripped off and that cheater just got a free ride.

Now, if the conductor had issued a seat check he’d know who got off, who got on and who owes him a new ticket.  Simple enough, but not for Metro-North which for years has not enforced their use.  Conductors who are too busy or too lazy, don’t use seat checks and we all end up paying more.

Metro-North acknowledges this problem and admits it loses millions of dollars a year to uncollected tickets.  But they’ve crunched the numbers and say that staffing trains with more conductors to be sure all tickets are collected would cost even more.

Hey!  Here’s a concept: make the existing conductors do their jobs instead of hiding out in their little compartments.  From Grand Central to Stamford you’ve got 45 minutes without stops to collect everyone’s ticket, give ‘em a seat check, say “thank you” and still have time for a cat-nap.  And there’s still time to ask people to keep their feet off the seats and to stop yapping in the designated Quiet Cars.

Back in the good ol’ days before the TVM’s (Ticket Vending Machines) came along, conductors collected cash fares to the tune of $50 million a year.  They had a money room at Grand Central that looked like a casino.  Now most fares are bought from the machines or on your smart-phone.  That means conductors should have a lot more time to make sure all tickets are collected.

Conductors on Metro-North make good money.  And they do a very important job keeping passengers safe, operating the doors, answering questions.  They’re the face of the railroad and most passengers give them high marks.

So what can you do if you see someone getting a free ride due to uncollected tickets?  Try this, which always work for me.

When I see a conductor miss a passenger’s ticket, I’ll wait until the conductor comes back and say something like “Excuse me, conductor.  I think you missed collecting that gentleman’s ticket,” and then smile innocently at the conductor and the chagrined would-be thief.

If I see the same conductor always missing ticket collections, day after day, I report it on the Metro-North website complaints page, detailing the incident by name, date, train number, etc.  That allows the railroad to “re-train” the offending staffer.

So if you’re tired of all these fare increases, let’s stop the shoplifters.  Make sure everybody pays for their ride by having conductors collect all tickets.

Please!

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Letter From Paris: Like UK’s Cameron, Italian PM Matteo Renzi Gambles His Future on a Referendum … and Loses

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Dec. 4, 2016, 60 percent of Italians responded “No” to the referendum question on constitutional reforms posed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. His aim was to modify the electoral laws, thus reducing the role of both the Senate and regions, and thereby enhancing his own power. This was a dangerous attempt at undoing the safeguards built into the 1948 constitution and intended to erase all traces of Mussolini’s fascist regime.

To better understand Renzi’s action, one should remember the omnipresent Italian dislike for a strong, centralized government. It was only in 1871 that the Risorgimento (meaning ‘rising again’) led to the unification of the country with Rome as its capital.

Beppe Grillo – the comedian turned populist – was quick to seize the opportunity and had his “Five Stars” party join the coalition opposing the referendum .

After the long “reign” of Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister in his 80s and the two-year-government of Mario Prodi, aged 70 and a long-time European Union (EU) economic commissioner, the Italian population must have found the arrival of 41-year-old former mayor of Florence as quite refreshing. Pleasant, laughing a lot and described as, “a young man in a hurry,” by a French diplomat, Renzi got along well with all the world leaders (too much so for my taste as he became close to President Erdogan of Turkey and supported that country’s accession into Europe.)

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  (Photo from Press-TV.)

Renzi’s resignation may trigger political instability given the state of financial crisis in the country. Italy is one of EU’s founding members and its third largest economy, but the Italian economy is lethargic and in a state of stagnation. The public debt is 120 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, well above the level of 60 percent allowed by Brussels. In fact, Italy is called the mauvais elève (flunking student) of Europe.

After the Greek debt crisis, a number of financial mechanisms have been put in place in Brussels under the respective leaderships of Germany and France. They include a Banking Union to assure the safety of the private sector and more stringent requirements imposed on the banks under the “single rule” book.

Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank (ECB), supervises the 6,000 main European banks. In order to boost the growth of Europe, the ECB has been pouring 80 billion Euros per month into the monetary market, buying back poor quality obligations. Renzi has often been in disagreement with these new rules and refused to be tied by institutional constraints, particularly when they come from Brussels.

The specific problem with Italy is that its banks are undercapitalized and hold about 360 billion of “toxic” loans comparable to the US sub-primes in 2007-08. Several of the largest banks are on the verge of collapse. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) – the oldest bank in the world, founded before Christopher Columbus – is in the worst shape and on Dec. 9, the ECB forbade Renzi to ask his government for a 20-day-prolongation of a four billion Euro financial assistance package.

Renzi’s relations with Brussels have been tense and he frequently refused to go along with its policies, blocking negotiations. For instance on Nov. 11, he did not agree with the decision made by the other EU members to protect themselves from cheap imports from China.

He also deemed insufficient the funds granted Italy to cope with the flow of refugees. (that request was justified though, since 500,000 refugees have entered the country in the past two years, and 171,000 since the beginning of 2016.) He was criticized by the other EU members for “sabotaging” the Brastislava talks last September about the European response to Brexit.

Referenda can be dangerous, particularly when the initiator bets his or her future on them.  In the case of Italy, however, it might have been a good thing. The departure of Renzi will likely bring more cohesion in the EU to face the many problems ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A la Carte: Pot Roast is Perfect Between the Holidays

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

It has been a busy holiday season, beginning at Thanksgiving. I will light my candles on my menorah beginning Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the first time I can remember Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve. (In the Jewish calendar, which sometimes has an extra month, Hanukkah can arrive from November through most of December and is an eight-day holiday. I do not remember my parents giving me eight presents, one on each day, but I am not complaining in any way I was deprived. Just sayin’.)

I am not also saying that I married a Protestant just so I could have Hanukkah and Christmas, but it is fun to do both. For Christmas this year, I will spend the day with my daughter-in-law’s family in Somers, Conn. And in no way did I convince my stepson to marry a Greek girl so I could also have Easter dinner and Greek Easter dinner, too, but that is sort of fun, too.

The holidays made for a lot of leftovers, but at some point you want something that masks the kitchen smell like simple comfort. I love the idea of making a  pot roast between  Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pot roast is terrific the day you make it and maybe even better a day or two days later. This is a really good recipe given to me from a friend some years ago.

Pot Roast

Adapted from Ralph Turri

4 to 5 pound beef roast, most fat removed (chuck roast has little fat)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 packet of Knorr reduced beef stock

3 to 4 cups water

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large slices

2 stalks of celery, cut into big chunks (optional)

fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour mixed into 1 to 2 cups of water

1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

one-half cup milk

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

Dry roast with paper towels. Into the large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat oil and butter. On medium-to-high heat, sear the roast on all sides. Add packet of stock and water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and bring back to a boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Remove roast to a platter and keep warm..

Strain all vegetables from the pot and herbs (I dump the veggies). Place the pot with the broth on the cooktop on medium-high until it reduces by two-thirds. Whisk the flour-water mixture into the broth stir constantly until the broth becomes gravy. Add Kitchen Bouquet (if using), milk and mushrooms and cook on simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper taste. Slice the roast onto the platter, add some gravy to the slices and serve gravy in a gravy bowl.

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She’s Back! Nicole Logan is Here Again With Another ‘Letter From Paris’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan and her Letter From Paris column!  Nicole stayed longer than usual in Essex this year in order to see the outcome of the election and celebrate Thanksgiving.  She has now returned to Paris and here is her first column of the 2016-17 series.  We know this will please the many readers who have been asking about Nicole’s welfare and (perhaps even more intensely) the future of her column — it also pleases us greatly. Welcome back, Nicole!

In the Wake of Election Surprises Everywhere, Where is France’s 2016-17 ‘Saison’ Headed?

Debates, elections, referendums, reshuffling of governments- the political landscape of the European Union (EU) is shifting.  It would be a mistake however to place the events under the simplistic label of “populism,” a trend following the startling votes supporting both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  It is more accurate to describe the ongoing turbulence in the EU as a stand taken by its members toward the future of Europe.

Au revoir, Francois

Au revoir, Francois Hollande

On Dec. 1, the decision of president Francois Hollande not to run again in next May elections, caught everyone in France by surprise.  After many months of tergiversation, Hollande, with the abysmal 7.5 percent score in the polls, made the logical — but still wrenching — announcement during an unprepared TV news hour.

It was an unprecedented move in the fifth Republic, creating , a “lame duck” a la française situation for the next five months.  What a contrast with May 2012, when, on Bastille Square, I had watched the euphoria of the population when Hollande was elected!  The new president made a point of arriving by train instead of flying, like an ordinary citizen.  A delirious crowd was celebrating the end of eight years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rule.

What went wrong with this “ordinary” president?

Specialists pondered over the assessment of his policies.  Many of his reforms, particularly to boost the economy like  the CICE (Credit d’Impot de Croissance et d’Emploi) or the Macron law, will survive him.   His mandate was highlighted by the signing of the Paris accords on climate change, the armed forces deployment against Islamist radicals on  the African continent, and the firm measures taken to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

But Hollande’s  political management was a disaster, commented Thierry Pech, director of the Terra Nova foundation.  Although intelligent and highly educated, the president lacked a visionary plan and the ability to give a direction to his programs.  He wanted to carry out reforms but never explained them in advance.

The battle to pass the el Khomry labor law was emblematic of his shortcomings.  His objectives were sound:- facilitate the laying off of workers, reject the rigid 35 hours per week Socialist taboo, and relax the rules concerning work on evenings and Sundays.  Unfortunately he presented the law proposal as a done deal and resorted to “49-3” or executive orders, which irritated the deputies in the National Assembly.  He frequently kowtowed to the anger of the street.  When the el Khomry law was finally voted on, it had been gutted of much of its content.  The scourge of high unemployment remained throughout  his mandate.

The campaign toward the May elections started with the primaries of the right and center parties.  Francois Fillon was catapulted into the lead of Les Republicains (LR) with 66 percent of the votes versus 23 percent for Alain Juppe who had been expected to win.  Nicolas Sarkozy , coming in third position, was eliminated.

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Fillon, several times a minister and prime minister under Sarkozy, conducted a discreet but intensive campaign for three years, using social networks rather that the traditional media.  His program is quite conservative: reduce the number of civil servants by 500,000, decrease unemployment allowances, complement the social security benefits by increasing the share of private health insurance.  He advocates a free market economy.  In foreign policy, he has a pragmatic attitude to relations with Putin, wants a strong Europe and to control the flow of migrants.  By preempting part of the program of Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National , he may be in a good position to beat her.

Fillon’s victory represented only 40 percent of the total electorate, so there is still plenty of ground to cover. Next will come the Socialist primaries.

Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the economy in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, is running as an independent.  Only 38, he is a brilliant  young man who had had a versatile career, including one year with the Rothschild investment bank.  On Dec. 9, the boisterous gathering of 16,000 supporters marked the start of the movement he is calling, “En marche,” under which he promises to modernize the labor market in order to create jobs and eliminate the old divide between right and left.

The battle has just began.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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The Movie Man: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is an Unexpected Delight

kubo-main_0Truly, if you enjoy learning about ancient mythology, you will enjoy watching Kubo and the Two Strings, brought to you by Laika, the filmmakers behind Coraline and The Boxtrolls. With an all-star-studded cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and Star Trek actor/turned social media personality George Takei, this stop-motion animation film does not disappoint.

We are told the story of Kubo, a young one-eyed boy, who cares for his ill mother by transforming paper into origami masterpieces through his shamisen (a string instrument indigenous to Japan). After staying out past dark (as he was warned against many times), his mother’s sisters destroy his village and attempt to take his remaining eye.

Upon escaping the terror of his aunts, Kubo comes across the incarnate version of his wooden monkey (voiced by Ms. Theron) brought to life by his own mother’s magic, and eventually Beetle (Mr. McConaughey), who join him on a quest to retrieve the armor worn by his father, a Samurai warrior.

The film often invoked reminders of ancient mythology, in which the character is forced to embark on a quest, accompanied people who are both reasonable and unreasonable, in which the protagonist must locate something precious in regards to the parent he never knew, who was a great warrior and up to whose image he seeks to live. This ranges from classical mythology to modern entertainment (think of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, prior to learning his father was the enemy he was fighting all along [not spoiling anything about this film, disclaimer] or even Telemachus, son of Odysseus in The Odysessy.)

Perhaps what is most rivaled by its story and performances is its original score, which I have no doubt will at least be nominated by many award shows this upcoming season.

It was released in 3D, a trend in movies that I do not understand. Despite being a family-friendly film, I would caution those who have very young children from seeing this. One of the main themes revolves around the title character missing an eye and his grandfather and aunts seeking retribution on his life or his remaining eye, as well as there being some frightening images and scary scenes.

But anybody above the PG-warned audience will find this movie to be an ultimate delight.

Kevin Ganey

About the Author: Kevin Ganey has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at LymeLine.com, he worked for Hall Radio in Norwich, as well as interned under the Director of Communications at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. Kevin has a passion for movies, literature, baseball, and all things New England-based … especially chowder.

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Letter From Paris – No, Now It’s Essex!  A Brave, New Museum Opens in DC

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

Editor’s Note:  Our popular writer from Paris, Nicole Prevost Logan, is back in Essex, CT, for the winter.  She does not normally write for us from Essex, but this year, she is making an exception and will be continuing to contribute articles to ValleyNewsNow.com and LymeLine.com during the winter months.  Here is her inaugural column from Essex about the opening of  a very special museum in Washington DC.

The Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will take place in Washington DC this coming Saturday, Sept. 24.  The NMAAHC, the 19th and newest of the Smithsonian museums, was established by a bi-partisan Act of Congress in 2003.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes from http://newsdesk.si.edu/photos)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes / Smithsonian Institution.)

The massive structure occupies a prime location next to the Washington Monument and contrasts with the 555 ft. slender obelisk.  The dark bronze-colored metal lattice that covers the ‘Corona” also stands out from the white marble classical architecture of most of the other museums standing on the National Mall.

It has been a long struggle for the supporters, such as Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), to make the project a reality.  They needed to overcome the resistance from several senators who advocated another location. The final approval  was more than a triumph — it might be considered a miracle.  It succeeded in making a strong statement as to the importance of Black history and culture in the American nation.

The lead designer was David Adjaye, son of a Ghanaian diplomat and the lead architect Philip Freehon, who died in 2009.  Founding Director Lonnie B. Bunch III is the visionary and driving force of the project.  During some of the many interviews he gave to the press and to a variety of audiences, including select ones like the Aspen institute, he explains the building process and his objective with a very contagious enthusiasm.

The NMAAHC is not intended to be a Holocaust museum, he explains . Its mission is to show the pain but also the joy and the creativity of African-Americans.  A daunting fund-raising goal of 450,000 million dollars had to be reached.

The three-tier effect of the construction incorporates elements from African culture, such as the Yoruban crowns from Nigeria.  Inside the building, high tech designs and the enormity of the space will make it possible to be versatile in organizing several exhibits simultaneously.

The collections had to be created from zero.  It required a treasure hunt into the attics, trunks and basements of the population.  To date 35,000 artifacts have been collected.  A segregated train from outside Chattanooga (TN) was lowered by crane and the museum built around it.  All traffic stopped on Constitution Ave. when an oversized truck delivered the control tower from a federal prison.

Artifacts showing the terrible fate of the slaves are very moving.  Such is an amulet created by the Lombi tribe in the form of a shackle.  More tragic still were the shackles for children.

But fun and the world of entertainment are also present in the displays , such as Louis Armstrong and his trumpet, Lena Horne or Marianne Andersen . The film archives will be essential to build up history, from Harriet Tubman to the human rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Washington insiders , the opening of the new museum is the hottest event in a decade.  More than 150,000 special tickets have been distributed to dignitaries while long lines of visitors gather at the entrances of the building to purchase tickets for general admission after the opening.

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Talking Transportation: Don’t Blame Malloy for the Fare Hikes

metro-north-railroad-620x400Sure, it was sleazy of Governor Malloy and the CDOT to release news of a proposed five percent fare hike on Metro-North on a Friday afternoon in July, hoping nobody would notice.  But the more I dig into the proposal, the more I realize the Governor and CDOT are not to blame.

It’s the Connecticut legislature that’s really responsible for this fare hike.

Lawmakers this session left the Governor with a $192 million budget shortfall and every other branch of government has taken budget cuts and layoffs as a result.  Now it’s transportation’s turn to feel the pinch.

Pol’s on both sides of the aisle tell me Malloy could have saved millions by facing down the state employees’ unions and their rich benefits package.  Could’ve, maybe should’ve … but didn’t.

So now we’re looking at a five percent hike in train fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East and a 16 percent boost in bus fares starting in December.  Plus closing ticket windows, reduced maintenance and fuel savings.  And that’s just on the transit side.

Highway work will also be cut, hiring postponed and less salt purchased for the winter.  Service areas will be closed overnight and the volunteers who work in the Visitor Centers will be fired. Welcome to Connecticut!

So when you calculate the impact of all these cuts on your commute, by road or rail, call your State Rep and Senator and ask “why”?

Why are they allowing the Special Transportation Fund to run dry due to the dwindling revenues from the gas tax?

Ask Senate Majority leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and the usually pro-transportation Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) why they have opposed alternative funding mechanisms like the VMT (Vehicle Miles Tax), calling it “dead on arrival” before it was even explained, let alone studied.

Ask your elected officials what their plan is to pay for our existing transportation network, let alone expand it by the $100 billion Malloy has suggested.  They won’t have an answer.

Why?  Because they are running for re-election this November.  And none of them has the guts to tell you the truth:  we will all have to pay more to drive or commute by rail … as you’ll find out after the election when they approve new taxes.

What can we do in the meantime (aside from holding them accountable during the campaign)?  There have been some public hearings in September on the fare hikes with more to come* … and we should all turn out.

It will be political theater, but cathartic.  Commuters will rant and the folks from CDOT will listen and then do what they proposed.  Aside from cutting train service, a fare hike is about the only option.

And, of course as upstate lawmakers constantly remind us, those of us living on the “gold coast” are all millionaires, and we can afford it, right?

*9 Town Transit will hold a public hearing on its proposed price increases Thursday, Sept. 29, in Old Saybrook Town Hall at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Jim Cameron - Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council

Jim Cameron

About the author: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Nibbles: Celebrating Celery … or How to Stiffen Soggy Celery!

How celery should look!

How celery should look!

On a recent Sunday afternoon, when the temperature was a humid 100 degrees outside but at just 70 degrees and dry in my condo, I decided to make corn chowder and double the recipe. I grabbed the ingredient from my refrigerator and noted that the celery was limp and sad.

Rather than go out to the market, where my hair and clothes would look the same way, I cut six of the celery stalks and put them in a tall glass of cold water.

Two hours later, the celery looked like it had two weeks ago in the produce aisle. I used three stalks for the soup and other more for a tuna salad the next day.

What a magic trick!

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘House of Lost Worlds’ by Richard Conniff

House_of_Lost_WorldsFor this month, a local author! Richard Conniff is a science writer, a contributor to The New York Times, and a resident of Old Lyme. He’s also a graduate of Yale University, one reason for his interest in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which is now celebrating its first 150 years.

It is the story of a museum and its directors, explorers, paleontologists, ecologists, anthropologists, biologists, ornithologists, primatologists, plus a few reactionaries and, of course, 14 million specimens. It is also the story of large egos listening to “the mute cries of ages impossible to contemplate”(some 50 million years).

He explores five themes: (1) a teaching dream of leaders at the start (George Peabody, the original donor, for whom “education was (his) Rosebud”), (2) the “grandiose personality” of O. C Marsh, its first director, (3) the demolition and movement of the original building in 1905 and its effects, (4) the rise of anthropology and ecology as sciences, and (5) the invitation to go see for yourself.

So how should we pronounce the name: “Pee-body” as Yalies and the donor said it, or “Pee-buh- de” as denizens of Cambridge slur the word?

The egos predominate, highlighting the single-mindedness and secrecy of many collectors.  Hiram Bingham, the sleuth of Machu Picchu, the “lost” Incan city, was one of the most notable. As the author notes, “if paleontologists were as aggressive as brontosauri they would have eaten each other.” In many respects they did: “Maybe academic life merely gives its verbally inclined thinkers the freedom to brood about it for too long, speak it too loudly, and pursue vengeance with wrath-of-God vigor.” They make this history continually exciting and amusing.

The Peabody Museum has expanded into a teaching, research, and study institution, whose practitioners take isolated pieces from the past (human, animal, mineral) to create a logical “story” to help guide us toward the future. But today they face modern visitors, “jaded and smartphone-addled, (who) expect special effects and instantaneous answers almost everywhere.”

In 1866, when the Peabody was created, there was no sign of a “Sixth Extinction” (now forecast by Elizabeth Kolbert), no “climate change,” only 32 million people in these United States (versus 320 million today), and only 1 billion on this earth (now 7.4 billion.)  Can the interest in and funding for museums like the Peabody, their teaching and research, help us alter our behavior for a more favorable future?

Like Alice, I am “curiouser and curiouser,” so I am off to the corner of Whitney Avenue and Sachem Street in New Haven to explore for myself …

Editor’s Note: House of Lost Worlds by Richard Conniff is published by Yale Univ. Press, New Haven 2016.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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A la Carte: Two Cold Summer Soups

Geoffrey's Gazpacho (Food Network image)

Geoffrey’s Gazpacho (Food Network image)

A few weeks ago, at a boules party, I asked my friend Priscilla whether the Chester Market was still in operation. She looked surprised and said it is busy that ever. I guess I am used to Priscilla sending me a press release to remind me of my very favorite market.

The next Sunday I hopped into my car at 9:45 am so I could be one of the first customers, and I was glad to find a parking place in the public parking lot on Water Street. (Chester’s market takes up almost all the town’s main thoroughfare, but because people park, buy their produce and leave to stow their bounty at home, it isn’t too difficult to get a parking place if you are a little patient.)

In addition to seeing friends, I got to pet at least 10 dogs. I bought lots of tomatoes, some sweet corn, gorgeous beets, radishes, peppers, some baguettes and a beautiful boules from Linda Giuca from Alforno’s kiosk (this boules is an 8-inch round bread, unlike the boules I play with stainless steel balls). That evening I buttered a few hunks with sweet butter and topped them with fresh sliced radishes and special salt. That was dinner.

 

Borscht (Beet Soup)

Adapted from a non-recipe created by Pauline Aronson

Yield: 4 large bowls

Years later, my mother told me she used canned beets. As good as it was in my memory, I use raw beets. And remember, beets stain. I peel them in the sink and I am careful about putting the beets in the food processor on my butcher block counter.

 

3 to 5 raw beets (should total 2 to 3 pounds)

1 large onion

salt and pepper to taste

juice of 1 small lemon

Cup greens and “tail” from the beets and peel (I toss the greens). Cut the beets into quarters or halves and place in soup pot. Add a peeled and quartered onion to the pot. Add enough cold water to cover plus a bit more.

Put pot on stove and cook on high heat until boiling. Drop heat to medium-low and cook for another 30 minutes, or until each beet is soft. Allow water to cool slightly. In a food processor fitted with a grating tool (or use a simple grater), spoon beets and onions in the feeding tube.

Put beets and onions back into the broth and heat for another few minutes. (Broth should be very red.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemon juice into the soup, turn off heat and allow to cool. Pour soup into jar or container and refrigerate. Drink borscht cold with or without a dollop of sour cream, crème fraiche or a hot boiled potato.

 

Geoffrey’s [Zakarian] Vegetable Gazpacho

From Food Network Magazine, July/August, 2016

Yield: Serves 4

2 cups cored, seeded and diced ripe tomatoes (about 3 medium tomatoes)

1 cup seeded and sliced cucumber (about 1 large cucumber)

1 cup chopped yellow or red bell peppers

½ cup halved seedless green grapes

½ cup fresh parsley, plus more for topping

¼ cup diced red onion

1 small clove garlic, smashed

¼ cup red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for topping

½ cup vegetable stock, plus more as needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Puree tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, grapes, parsley, red onion, garlic, vinegar and cumin in a blender until almost smooth. With blender running, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream until gazpacho is smooth.

Add ½ cup vegetable stock and blend again. If the gazpacho is too thick for you, add more stock until you achieve a consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper and chill in a pitcher or bowl, about 1 hour (or longer). Drizzle each serving with olive oil and top with parsley.


Nibbles: Over-the-Hill Celery

On a recent Sunday afternoon, when the temperature was a humid 100 degrees outside but at just 70 degrees and dry in my condo, I decided to make corn chowder and double the recipe. I grabbed the ingredient from my refrigerator and noted that the celery was limp and sad. Rather than go out to the market, where my hair and clothes would look the same way, I cut six of the celery stalks and put them in a tall glass of cold water. Two hours later, the celery looked like it had two weeks ago in the produce aisle. I used three stalks for the soup and other more for a tuna salad the next day. What a magic trick!

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A la Carte: Creamy Corn Risotto for a Super Summer’s Day

Creamy_corn_risotto

A delicious bowl of creamy corn risotto.

Is it possible that September is in the works? Must be, since I am writing this column on Aug. 17.

Yesterday I went shopping with my friend Barbara Sullivan. It has been so hot that, when I feel like I need some exercise after my air-conditioned condo, I get into my air-conditioned car, picking up Barbara in her air-conditioned house and driving to a mall where all the shops are outside … but air-conditioned. It seems as if this is the most exercise I can manage.

I did little retail damage (two tops at Chico, a pair of white pants—those all on sale—and a pretty blouse for the fall and winter—not on sale at Soft Surroundings). We had lunch (vegetarian risotto for me, veggie pasta for Barbara) at Burton’s and I decided to make risotto for my dinner, since I always have Arborio rice at home and tons of veggies on the counter.

Instead, since I had forgotten I had a board of ed meeting at 6 p.m., I ate a quick sandwich. Tonight I will make the risotto (and there will be more produce since I pick up my CSA this afternoon). I will stop at the supermarket and pick up some fresh snap peas, arugula and mushrooms and at the farm market at Washington Park in Groton and get some cherry or grape tomatoes to add to the bounty on my counter: sweet peppers, summer squash, sweet corn.

I like the recipe I have for corn risotto, but I will add the rest of the slightly cooked fresh veggies and add them to the risotto. Leftovers could be microwaved for lunch or dinner the next day.

I am really looking forward to my dinner.

Creamy Corn Risotto

Adapted from Cooking Light, August 2013, page 110

Yield: serves 6

1 large red bell pepper

4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 6 ears)

1 and one-third cup one-percent  milk

2 tablespoons butter, divided

2 and one-half cups unsalted chicken stock

One-half cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup uncooked Arborio rice

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

One-quarter cup dry white wine

One-half cup sliced green onions (scallions)

Preheat broiler to high.

Cut pepper in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 8 minutes or until blackened. Wrap peppers in foil; let stand 5 minutes. Peel and chop (or use jarred red peppers).

Combine corn, milk and 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes. Stir in stock; keep warm over low heat.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add onions and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in rice, salt and black pepper; sauté 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook 30 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen brown bits. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in 1 and one half cups corn mixture; cook 3 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Reserve one-half cup corn mixture. Add remaining corn mixture, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each portion of corn mixture is absorbed before adding the net (about 20 minutes total). Remove pan from heat; stir in one-half corn mixture, bell pepper and green onions.

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The Movie Man: Don’t Waste Your Money on ‘Suicide Squad’

Suicide_Squad_compressedOne would think that gathering together all of DC’s most memorable villains for a single movie would be appealing. After all, that’s how big-named stars such as Will Smith, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie were probably hooked on this project. Unfortunately, big names could not save a super-villain movie that lacked the type of lure that films in said genre should have.

I guess I have to give myself a break for ultimately being disappointed after seeing the trailers over the last year. Mainly because this film was produced by Zack Snyder, who was also behind 2013’s Superman film, Man of Steel, which I left disappointed. An opinion shared by my brother and a friend with whom we screened it.

I cannot determine what it is about this new string of DC movies that include Ben Affleck as Batman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther that turns me off. Is it the writing? It ultimately must be.

As I said earlier, it lacks the “lure.” I did partially read a review in The Washington Post that criticized this film and tried to put it aside to see if I could screen it unbiased. After several hours of reflecting, I guess I was wrong. What I can say is the film does include fitting performances for their characters, so I guess that is the silver lining?

What first lost me was Jared Leto’s portrayal of the Joker. Now, maybe this is the result of us all being spoiled (and still enthralled) by Heath Ledger’s portrayal of one of the greatest villains of all time in The Dark Knight back in 2008, a time when we were going through a presidential election that did not involve dirty tricks, lying, and childlike name-calling. Now it is possible I am being unfair, as Ledger did go on to win a posthumous Academy Award for this performance.

But Leto also earned himself the same honor in the same acting category (Supporting Role, for Dallas Buyer’s Club.) It certainly cannot be because of his acting since he seemed to give it all he had as the psychotic killer clown. But it has to be how the Joker is presented.

He is not much of a clown, as we have seen him depicted throughout the character’s history, ranging from Cesar Romero in the campy 1960s Batman series, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation, Mark Hamill’s great vocal performance for multiple animated gigs, and, of course, Ledger’s run in 2008. He is not a clown, but rather a … punk, which I believe is the word that best describes him. Nothing clown-like about him, just a crazed psycho.

Will Smith delivered, as always. It was unique seeing him as a villain, but then again, he did serve as the protagonist who ultimately had a heart of gold, mainly because of his love for his daughter. And Margot Robbie certainly proved herself as Harley Quinn, bringing back her memorable Long Island accent from The Wolf of Wall Street, making her character as crazy and, well, sexually seductive, as possible (what else will people think when a character has an outfit like that?)

I will make a prediction, as I have heard people comment on the web, that girls will go crazy over Harley Quinn and many will dress as her for Halloween this year. And one cannot go wrong with casting Viola Davis, one of the most talented actresses of our era, as she portrays the cold and heartless government agent who recruits the “suicide squad” (as Smith character, Deadshot, coins it), and she does not invest much emotion through it (after all, less can be more sometimes.)

You will hear many classic rock songs in this flick, if that will bring you to the theaters. Songs include Bohemian Rhapsody, Fortunate Sun, and Spirit in the Sky. But then again, as I have always thought, if the promotions for the movie include lists of popular songs that the viewer will eventually hear, that is an indicator of desperation.

Overall, I would not recommend this flick. Earlier when I reviewed the Bond film, Spectre, I suggested viewing it despite its “meh” quality because it was James Bond, something well embedded in our culture for over 50 years. While these DC characters have been known as long as Bond (well, Joker perhaps), it has not been as part of our movie-going experiences like 007 has. Nobody has hyped about the highly anticipated DC comics film as frequently as Ian Fleming’s iconic spy.

But to simplify it: this movie is not worth the price of the movie ticket.

Kevin Ganey

About the Author: Kevin Ganey has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at LymeLine.com, he worked for Hall Radio in Norwich, as well as interned under the Director of Communications at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. Kevin has a passion for movies, literature, baseball, and all things New England-based … especially chowder.

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Talking Transportation: America’s Mass Transit Mecca

Portland, Oregon, with Mount Rainier providing a stunning backdrop.

Jim Cameron names Portland, Ore, (with Mount Rainier providing a stunning backdrop) the most mass-transit intensive city in the US.

What’s the most mass-transit intensive city in the US?  By the numbers, New York City.  But for a glimpse of the real future of mass-transit,  the winner is clearly Portland, Oregon!

Portland has only 632,000 residents but 2.3 million in its metro area.  Yet it has, per capita, what I think is the largest, most extensive and best integrated systems of light rail, streetcars and bike lanes in the nation.

LIGHT RAIL: It was 1986 when Portland opened its first light-rail line.  Today the system covers 60 miles (including the airport, 12 miles from downtown).  In 2001 a downtown streetcar system was added.  It proved so successful that Portland now manufactures streetcars for other American cities.

Like the city’s extensive bike-rack equipped bus network, all of Portland’s mass transit operates on the honor system:  you buy tickets before boarding and only show them if a inspector boards, looking for proof of payment.

To encourage ridership, fares are ridiculously cheap.  For $2.50 you can roam the system for 2 ½ hours.  An unlimited day pass is $5 or $26 a month (about the cost of a round-trip to NYC on Metro-North).  “Honored Citizens” (seniors, Medicare or disabled) get a monthly pass for $7.50!

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT DRIVING: To further encourage use of the ubiquitous mass transit, driving in downtown is difficult and expensive.  The main transit corridors have one lane for streetcars, one lane for bikes and just one lane for cars.  Parking is really expensive, both by meter on the streets and in lots.  And yes, the freeways crawl just like in LA.

TECHNOLOGY: The bus and rail system offers free apps for trip-planning which use GPS to tell you exactly how long you’ll wait for the next trolley, directions by line to your destination and expected travel time.  And yes, you can buy and show your ticket using your smartphone.

BIKES ARE KING:     The city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird”, and the residents work hard to do so.  Outside of Europe or Asia I have never seen so many people on two-wheels traversing a community.

There are so many dedicated bike lanes that when a new bridge was built crossing the Willamette River, the bridge was built for everything except cars and trucks:  a mass transit-only bridge!

When a new Medical Center was planned on a downtown hill, designers realized it would be foolish to waste land on parking, so they built an aerial tram from unused industrial land on the waterfront.  Hospital employees and patients alike take light rail or bike to the base station (where a free 400-space bike-lot is usually full) and are skyward in minutes.

So if you are ever disillusioned by the sorry state of mass-transit in our area, take heart.  The future is now in Portland!

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 25 years.  He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

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Legal News You Can Use: Workers’ Compensation: How it Works

hph-workers-compensation-insurance-compressed
Sponsored Post:
The day begins like almost any other. You arrive at the workplace, spend a few moments interacting with your co-workers and begin the daily task. Maybe it’s a job that you’ve done a thousand times, or perhaps the demands of that day result in your performing an assignment for the first time. And then “it” happens ~ you feel a twinge in your back or shoulder; there is an ache in your hands that doesn’t subside; or there is an exposure to a substance that is foreign to you. What do you do then?

The origin of Workers’ Compensation
 in Connecticut dates over a century, the original Act becoming part of the Law in 1913. As the result of a “Contract of Employment” (whether written or implicit) with the employer, he/she/the business will cover medical benefits and lost wages for an employee who suffers an injury out of and in the course and scope of their employment. There are, essentially, three different types of injuries covered in Workers’ Compensation. They are:

(1) Accidental injuries. These are injuries that can be located in time and space; e.g., the lifting of heavy equipment, which results in an Employee screaming in pain.

(2) Repetitive trauma injuries. These are claims that arise not from one injurious situation, but are cumulative over time. Examples would include repetitive computer work with one’s hands, or kneeling on steel every day for years.

(3) Occupational disease/exposure. These injuries are those where there is a clear link between the workplace and substances to which the individual is exposed; e.g., asbestos in a shipyard; a dental hygienist contracting Hepatitis.

When an employee has sustained, or has reason to believe they have sustained, an injury related to their employment, what are the next steps?

(1) Report the injury. In accidental injuries and repetitive trauma claims, there is a one year Statute of Limitations for reporting of the injury. In Occupational Disease claims, the general rule is that the injury needs to 
be reported within three years of when the employee knew, or should have known, of the connection between the occupational exposures and the medical condition alleged.

The better approach is to report the injury to your employer at the first opportunity, or when you have reason to believe there is a connection between work activities and your injury. Employers and insurance carriers become increasingly skeptical about the validity of an injury claim when there is a delay in reporting an injury.

(2) Obtain medical treatment. Any significant injury requires treatment from a medical provider. Even if you have to use your own insurance at an initial appointment, treatment and opinions on causal connection should be obtained. Insurance companies can sort out the issues at a later date. Again, employers and insurance carriers are more likely to be skeptical about an injury if there is a significant delay in obtaining medical treatment.

(3) File notice of the injury. In Connecticut, the Form 30-C is the vehicle to place employers and their carriers on notice that an individual has suffered an injury or illness related to their employment. The Form 30-C should be sent via Certified Mail and is the ultimate protection for an injured worker. Also, note that Connecticut General Statutes Section 31-290a protects the injured worker from retaliatory actions or discrimination by an employer for asserting their rights to Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Now that the claim has been properly filed, what benefits are obtainable for the injured worker? Clearly, medical treatment is paid for by the employer or insurance carrier with no deductible for the injured worker. Other “indemnity” benefits may also be appropriate, including:

(1) Temporary total disability benefits. If an injury results in lost time from work, a weekly (or bi-weekly) monetary payment, based upon earnings in the preceding 52 weeks, is payable to the injured worker until they are able to return to their job, or some other work within their restrictions.

(2) Permanent partial disability benefits.  
If an injury results in permanent impairment to a body part; e.g., following a surgery, the injured worker is entitled to obtain a “rating” for their loss of use from their Attending Physician. Additional benefits
 are payable pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Section 31-308b. In certain, specified situations, an injured worker may also be entitled to a disfigurement award, depending on the site of the injury.

(3) Wage loss benefits. If, as the result of
 a work-related injury, the injured worker is capable of work, but cannot perform the same job and there is a resulting loss of income, the injured worker is eligible for a period of wage loss. This, too, is controlled by the Connecticut General Statutes, and appears at Connecticut General Statutes Section 31-308a.

(4) Death benefits. Where an injury results in the death of the injured worker, benefits are payable to the surviving spouse and/or other dependents of the decedent.

Being pro-active in reporting an injury and obtaining medical care will be beneficial to any injured worker.

This article represents an overview of the Workers’ Compensation System. While the System was designed to be user-friendly, complexities often arise which may dictate hiring a Lawyer.

Attorney James P. Berryman

Attorney James P. Berryman

About the author: Jay Berryman is a Director at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law in New London, CT, the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut. He concentrates in Workers’ Compensation Law and Social Security Disability claims. Attorney Berryman was named by “Bench- mark Plaintiff” magazine as a Local Litigation Star, and his department at Suisman Shapiro was selected by the 2013-15 editions of U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” among all law firms in Connecticut for Workers’ Compensation – Claimants.

For more information, visit www.suismanshapiro.com or call (860) 442-4416. Suisman Shapiro is located at 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT 06320.

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Nibbles: Savor This Sweet Summer Surprise — Coconut Pineapple Poke Cake

pina-colada-poke-cake_350Oh my goodness, I am usually good about varying my columns to you, but today I am sending you another dessert recipe.

In May (and I think I may have told you), when I was in Rochester to watch one of my granddaughters graduate from the University of Rochester, we had breakfast in East Bloomfield, NY, where my sister-in-law lives. On the first day, I noted a “cake” for breakfast. The second day I ordered the poke cake, which eight of us shared.

When I got home, I Googled “poke cake.” There were many recipes and the name comes from the holes you poke into a cooled cake. Two weeks ago, as I waited for my groceries to be toted up by the cashier at Stop & Shop, I saw a small pamphlet called “Poke Cakes and More” where all the tabloids are. Of course, I bought a copy ($4.99). The next day I bought the ingredient to make the Coconut Pineapple Poke Cake.

Most of the recipes (in addition to poke cakes there are mug cakes, cute cupcakes, snack cakes and dump cakes) call for a cake mix. However, you can make a scratch cake and play around with ingredients. I had all the other ingredients except for the mix. I did play with the ingredients; for the liquid, it called for the juice of crushed pineapple in addition to maraschino cherries. I added the cherry juice to the pineapple juice and used half a cup of liquid instead of one-quarter cup. It is really pretty and delicious. See if the pamphlet is still available at S&S.

Coconut Pineapple Poke Cake

From Pil Publishing International, Ltd.

Yield: 10 to 15 servings

I package (about 15 ounces) white cake, plus ingredients to prepare mix

1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple, (squished and one-quarter juice reserved)

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

2 packages (7 ounces each) shredded coconut, divided, and toasted

1 cup chopped maraschino cherries, drained

Method:

  1. Prepare and bake cake mix according to package direction for 13- by 9-inch pan. Cool completely.
  2. Combine pineapple, sweetened condensed milk and package of coconut in a small bowl; mix well.
  3. Poke holes in cake at one-inch intervals using fork. Pour reserved pineapple juice over cake and into holes. Spread pineapple mixture over cake. Sprinkle remaining package coconut and cherries onto cake. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until firm.
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Talking Transportation: America’s Amazing Interstate Highways

Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, from Federal Highway Administration

Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, from Federal Highway Administration

The 47,000 miles of highways that comprise America’s interstate highway system are nothing short of an engineering marvel, surpassed only by what China has built in the last few years.

We take them for granted, but when they were designed almost 60 years ago these super-highways presented both great opportunity and vast challenges.  The U.S. wasn’t the first with super-highways. Those bragging rights go to the Germans, whose Reichsautobahn saw cars zooming along at 100+ mph in the 1930s.

Most credit President Eisenhower, whose troops rode the Autobahn in WWII, for seeing the military value of an American equivalent, though engineering such a complex across the U.S. was far more difficult.

Of course by 1940 the U.S. already had the Pennsylvania Turnpike and by 1954 the NY State Thruway, but private toll roads were just the beginning.

To build a road expected to last, in 1955 the federal government, AAA and automakers first built a $27 million seven-mile test road near Ottawa, Illinois.  Half was concrete, the other half asphalt.  The 836 separate sections of highway had various subsurfaces and 16 bridges.  For two years Army trucks drove night and day, seeing which road designs would hold up.

Weather and traffic dictated different designs:  in desert areas the highways need be only a foot thick, while in Maine the tough winter and freeze-thaw cycles required that I-95 would be five feet thick.

Construction of the highways required moving 42 billion cubic feet of soil.  To expedite construction of I-40 in California, there was even a plan to use nuclear bombs to vaporize part of the Bristol Mountain range.

As author Dan McNichol writes in his excellent book, “The Roads that Built America,” “VIP seating was even planned for the event.  The (nuclear) bombing was to produce a cloud 12,000 feet high and a radioactive blast 133 times that of Hiroshima.”  Needless to say, the mountains were moved using more conventional explosives.

Outside of Greenbelt, MD, another site tested the design of road signs – white lettering on a black background, white on blue (already adopted by the NY Thruway) or, what proved to be the winning model, white on green.

Just 5,200 of the original 41,000 miles of interstates were to be built in urban areas, but those few miles accounted for almost half of the $425 billion total cost.  By 1992 the system was deemed “completed.”  Bragging rights for the longest of the interstates goes to I-90 running 3,020 miles from Boston to Seattle and our own beloved I-95, which runs 1,920 miles from the Canadian border to Miami.

As anyone who drives on I-95 in Connecticut knows, the interstates have far surpassed their expected traffic load and are in need of billions of repairs.  Little did we know 60 years ago what our automotive future might bring.

Jim Cameron

Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. 

You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com  

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

 

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A la Carte Presents a Summer Special: Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie

Woman's Day Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie

Woman’s Day Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie

This past weekend began with dinner in Mystic at Pink Basil, the third-base hit for the couple who own Thai Sawasdee in Groton, Spice Club in Niantic and, now, Pink Basil (see my Nibbles on the appetizer I adored). The next day was a 50th anniversary on Federal Hill  in Providence for friends I have known for years.

After that, I drove to Griswold for an incredible food extravaganza on a lake. Much of the food came from their smoker while desserts included two pies, a cream cake and cannoli I had bought in Providence.

Sunday was a lovely party in Lyme for which I’d made guacamole with ten avocados. Host John’s sister made her amazing ratatouille, this time topped with Gruyere.

My favorite, though, was a lemon meringue pie that, like the sirens in the Odyssey, beckoned me to slice just one more piece. I realized when I got home that I don’t have a recipe for lemon meringue pie. How is that possible? Please, please send me your favorite recipe. In the meantime, here is a great pie I wrote about 11 years ago.

Pineapple-Coconut Cream Pie
From Woman’s Day, May 31, 2005

Yield: Serves 8

Crust
20 crisp oatmeal cookies, like Nabisco Honey Maid (I use Quaker 100% Natural Cereal)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted

Filling
Three-quarters cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, in its own juice, well drained, juice reserved
1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
yolks from 5 large eggs
2 tablespoons butter, cut small
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick spray.

Crust: Process cookies or cereal in the bowl of a food processor. Add melted butter and whir. Press over bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake 12 minutes until toasted around edge. Cool on wire rack.

Filling: Mix sugar and cornstarch in a 2-quart saucepan. Add enough pineapple juice to coconut milk to make 2 ½ cups. Stir in sugar mixture, then bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally (not briskly). Boil 1 minute; remove from heat. Cool for a few minutes. Whisk yolks in medium bowl, then gradually whisk in about half the hot mixture; return yolk mixture to saucepan. Stir over low heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in butter until melted. Stir in crushed pineapple and coconut. Pour into crust. Cover surface with plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Up to 2 hours before serving, beat cream and sugar with mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread over pie. Garnish with flaked coconut, small pineapple chunks and/or mint sprigs.

Nibbles: Pink Basil

I have a friend who is a longtime resident of our part of the Connecticut shoreline. But she has never had Thai food. That sadness will end soon, when I take her to Pink Basil in Mystic.

Owned by the same couple who run Thai Sawasdee in Groton and Spice Club in Niantic, their new place is my favorite. I had (and shared) a lettuce wrap app — a bowl of fresh iceberg lettuce with minced chicken, ginger, carrot, onions, cashews, shiitake mushrooms in a dark soy sauce and topped with crispy noodles. Along with another app and three entrees, we couldn’t finish all of them. The next morning I folded the lettuce wrap (less the lettuce) into an omelet. It was incredibly delicious.

Pink Basil
27 Coogan Boulevard (Building 3B in Mystic Village)
Mystic
860-245-4470

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

 

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A la Carte: Breakfast for Summer Visitors

The Original All-Bran® Muffins

The Original All-Bran® Muffins

I expect quite a few guests this summer, including two daughters, a daughter-in-law and granddaughters, along with friends on their way to Maine or Boston or maybe just to spend a day or two with me. We will spend some time at the beach (our beach in Groton is incredible) and maybe watch the fireworks in early July. I am pretty jazzed about the new ferry that will make a few stops, including from Groton to New London. I love the idea that I don’t have to find a parking place in New London, since we can walk from my condo to the Thames River slip. I will also take the ferry to have lunch or dinner at the many restaurants in walking distance from the ferry.

We might have breakfast there, too, but I have two other choices for breakfast. Both would take place in my dining room after I have made the recipes below. The first, for bran muffins (which I love!), came to me via my friend Diane, who just moved back to Connecticut and found a condo just a few steps from my own. One of her neighbors, Linda, took her these incredible muffins, and Diane shared two with me. The other came from a woman I met when I took a cooking class in Tuscany a few decades ago. That one you make the night before, then pop the pan into the oven the next morning.

 

Andrew Wyeth’s Aunt’s Bran Muffins

Yield: 12 large muffins

2 cups All-Bran cereal

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup molasses

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup golden raisins

 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin pan with cooking oil and set aside.

Soak the cereal in milk and molasses for about 15 minutes.

Measure flour, baking sodas and salt into another bowl and blend into bran mixture. Mix only until moist. Add walnuts and raisins and mix together. Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. These are delicious immediately or warmed. I ate one at room temperature, too.

 

Creme Brulee French Toast

Yield: serves 6 to 8

 

1 cup pecans, chopped (optional)

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons light or dark corn syrup

French bread, crusts removed and sliced into 3/4 inch thick slabs

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

 

Butter a 13- by 9-inch glass pan, or spray with cooking oil. Spread chopped pecans in bottom of pan. Melt together butter, brown sugar and corn syrup and pour evenly over pecans.

Fit slabs of bread tightly over butter-sugar mixture.

Beat eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, salt and liqueur and pour over bread slices. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Serve immediately.


Nibbles: Seahorse at Spicer’s Marina

When my husband and I got our first boat, we moored it in Noank. If we were going for the weekend I took food I had made at home. But more likely, we would meet each other after work in Noank and have lunch at the Seahorse. When we got a bigger boat, Jam Today, she lived at Shennecossett but continued to eat at the Seahorse.

I guess I forgot about the Seahorse after my husband died and I sold the boat. But on a Friday night a friend and I had a late dinner there (for me clams casino and fried calamari served with an amazing marinara). On Fathers’ Day, another friend and I ate there again; this time, I had the best baked cod ever. We asked who owned the place now and was told it was Zack Tsajarikis, whom I have known for more than 26 years. The food and casual ambience: as good as it gets.

Seahorse at Spicer’s Marina

65 Marsh Road

Noank

860-415-4280

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 

 

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life’ by Edward O. Wilson

Half_EarthEdward O. Wilson, the remarkable professor emeritus at Harvard, who is known for his studies of ants, for the third time asks, “Who are we?” His first question was partially answered in The Social Conquest of Earth (2012) in which he analyzed the confusion of human existence, as our convoluted and introspective species tries to come to grips with our brief existence. Two years later, in The Meaning of Human Existence (2104), he described how, either deliberately or inadvertently, we are destroying other species even as we begin to recognize that we depend on them as much as they depend on us.

Now, concluding his trilogy, Wilson suggests a possible plan of action for homo sapiens. He continues his habit of short, punchy chapters, only one of 20 pages and most of 10 or less, even one of three. Instead of plunging into more verbiage, the reader must pause and think. His thesis: in order to survive we must commit “half of the planet’s surface to nature” in order to save “the immensity of life forms that compose it,” including us. A tall order, but is it possible?

Wilson begins with this earth’s extensive history of life extinctions. We’re lucky to be here! Should we worry? After all, the oldest major “extinction event,” at the end of the Ordovician period, happened some 455 million years ago and the most recent was a mere 66 million years back, when an enormous asteroid crunched into the Yucatan. Are we now coming close to a “Sixth Extinction”, the end of the current Anthropocene Era, as so clearly described by Elizabeth Kolbert in her The Sixth Extinction (2014)? Both Kolbert and Wilson recite alarming facts, plus suppositions, about our human relationships with other living creatures, large and small, on this earth. Are we the ultimate problem? They seem to think so.

To begin, “our population is too large for safety and comfort.” It is time to reduce, not expand, our footprint. “The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it.” But to acknowledge that, we must “… find our way as quickly as possible out of the fever swamp of dogmatic religious belief and inept philosophical thought.” We still understand too little about other species: some two million are “known” but there are perhaps some five to 100 million yet to be discovered. It is this enormous biodiversity that is the strength of this planet.

What then to do? Wilson suggests “… in order to save biodiversity it is necessary to understand how species interact with one another to form ecosystems.” But our enormous egos (and religions) tell us we are “Number One” when we are actually a small part of the action. His Solution: “Increase the area of inviolable natural resources to half the Earth or greater.” This will require a “fundamental shift in moral reasoning concerning our relation to the living environment.” We must “reduce the amount of space required to meet all the needs of an average person … habitation, fresh water, food production and delivery, personal transportation, communication, governance, other public functions (i.e. education), medical support, burial, and entertainment.” And note that this “average person” now lives in Asia and Africa as well as Europe and North America, with enormous current differences.

How will this take place? Here in Lyme, our Lyme Land Conservation Trust (www.lymelandtrust.org) has preserved in some fashion 3,000 acres of land and water resources in our small town. It and comparable efforts in this country and around the world are effective bottom-up programs. But Professor Wilson argues that these are not enough: we will need top-down guidance plus massive re-education for everyone. Is this economically possible? Do we have a choice?

Professor Wilson is obviously an optimist: “So we stumble forward in hopeful chaos.” Elizabeth Kolbert had her own conclusion: “The history of life consists of long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by panic.”

Half-Earth and its sister volumes should be required reading for all of us. Perhaps we can wake up and change.

Editor’s Note: ‘Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life’ by Edward O. Wilson is published by W. W. Norton, New York 2016.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Talking Transportation: Why Ferries Aren’t the Answer for Commuting in CT

Bridgeport to Port Jefferson Ferry

Bridgeport to Port Jefferson Ferry

Recently, NYC Mayor DeBlasio announced a $325 million plan to reintroduce ferry boat service to the five boroughs charging the same fare as subways.  The mayor says these boats could carry 4.5 million passengers a year.

So why don’t we have ferries in CT?  There are several reasons:

SPEED:  In open water, fast ferries on the Sound could make 30 knots (35 mph).  But if they must sail up inlets to the downtown areas of Bridgeport, Norwalk or Stamford, that speed is cut to 5 knots, extending travel time.

DOCKING: To keep to their competitive speeds, docks would have to be located close to the Sound.  That’s expensive real estate. And what about parking at those docks… and drive-time on local roads to reach them? Again, more travel time.

FREQUENCY: Metro-North offers trains to midtown New York every 20 minutes in rush hour carrying 800 – 1000 passengers per train. No ferry service anywhere in the country can compete with that frequency of service. Will travelers really be willing to wait an hour or two for the next boat?

COMFORT: In nice weather, a boat ride to work sounds idyllic. But what about in a Nor’easter?  The bumpiest ride on the train pales by comparison.

FARES:  The most optimistic of would-be ferry operators in CT estimate their fares will be at least double those charged on the train.  And people say Metro-North is too expensive?

OPERATING COSTS: Fast ferries are gas guzzlers, the aquatic equivalent to the Concorde.  When the Pequot tribe built high-speed catamarans to ferry gamblers to their casino in Connecticut to lose money, the service proved so expensive to run that the Pequots dry-docked the ferries in New London.

ECONOMICS: The final reason I don’t think ferries make economic sense is that nobody else does either!  Ferry operators (like the near-bankrupt NY Waterways) aren’t stupid. They’ve looked at possible service from coastal Connecticut, crunched the numbers and backed off. In a free market economy, if a buck could be made running ferries, they’d be operating by now. They aren’t operating, and there are lots of reasons why, many of which I’ve listed.

The only place ferries are run successfully is where they’re heavily subsidized (everywhere), have a monopoly (for example, getting to downtown Seattle from an island suburb), don’t duplicate existing transportation routes (like from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson), or offer advantages of speed because they operate on extremely short runs (from Hoboken to midtown).  Our situation here in Connecticut passes none of those tests.

You already know I’m a train nut. (The bumper sticker on my car reads “I’d Rather Be on the Train.”)  And I do love an occasional recreational sail on the Sound.  But it’s unrealistic to think that commutation by ferries is in our future.

 

Jim Cameron - Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council

Jim Cameron

About the author: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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The Movie Man: “The Conjuring 2” – Enter If You Dare

Conjuring_2A little disclaimer: unless you like “jump” moments in movies, avoid The Conjuring 2 (there’s a lot of them).

The sequel to the highly successful 2013 film, The Conjuring, tells the story of another paranormal case tackled by real-life demonologist couple, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Ed passed away in 2006, while Lorraine still lives in their family home in Monroe, Connecticut). The Warrens are perhaps best known for investigating the claims of the Amityville Horror.

For those who are not familiar with this legend, as well as the references and parodies throughout pop culture, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings in the middle of a 1974 night, claiming he was coaxed into committing the acts by “voices.” A new family, the Lutzes, eventually moved into the home a year later, had their priest bless the home, and claimed that during the blessing, he heard a masculine voice tell him to “get out,” accompanied by a slap across the face, bleeding hands, and flu-like symptoms. The Lutzes only lasted 28 days in the house before they took off.

Upon researching the Warrens, it came as no surprise that they were subject to a great deal of scrutiny and controversy, as many skeptics claim there are holes in their stories regarding their investigations. This can be said about the Amityville Horror, as well as another case that took place in Seymour, Connecticut, and was featured on Discovery Channel’s A Haunting program. The list goes on and on. However, even if you do not believe any piece of their stories, you cannot deny the horror that is embedded in them, and they will be sure to keep you up at night, worrying about all you cannot see.

I am not writing this as a way to propose or criticize claims about ghosts and the supernatural, although I have had certain experiences in allegedly haunted locations that have made me a believer in regards to the supernatural. The only form of apologetics I will engage in is quoting Hamlet, in regards to those who consider themselves to be “rationalists”, in saying:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, [t]han are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The Conjuring 2 opens with Ed and Lorraine investigating Amityville with the Lutzes. Lorraine goes into a trance and witnesses the massacres that took place in said home, as well as other frightening supernatural images, including a large nun with a demonic appearance. After this investigation, she urges Ed that they not take any cases for a while. Unfortunately, due to their newfound popularity, a family all the way across the Atlantic is able to plead to them for help, claiming a poltergeist is harassing them, and has taken a special interest in their daughter, Janet. Much to Lorraine’s chagrin, they take on the case in hopes of defeating the evil spirit.

There is something about director James Wan’s take on depicting this story, especially through his cinematography involving slow zoom-in’s and “jump” stills in which we suddenly see something that has transcended our senses, as if it has taken off a mask that allowed it to remain unseen (or a ring, for those of us who are fond of J. R. R. Tolkien’s stories of Middle Earth?). The soundtrack proves to be unique amongst all other forms of music, focusing mainly on violins and cellos reaching low and shrill notes. But what helps make this a great horror film is not the amount of disturbing images or loud sounds, but in its stories that are woven in and out of the main plotline, depicting Ed and Lorraine’s marriage bond, and the victim family’s sad home-life.

I have said this to many people in the past, and I will say it again: too often Hollywood makes horror films that are comprised of excessive blood and gore, and hires models, not to act, but to read lines. If you want a good horror film, you need a good story and good actors, and most of all a good portrayal of everyone’s relationships. Just because you have beautiful college girl in nothing but her underwear screaming loudly and blood sprays on her does not guarantee a critical success. Perhaps a financial success, and maybe some experience for up-and-coming actors trying to get their feet in the door, and at the very most cementing a scene from the film into pop culture (but not for good reasons).

A great film for anyone who appreciates cinema, is fond of ghost stories, loves to be on the edge of their seat, or repeatedly scared to death. Enter the theaters, if you dare…

Kevin Ganey

Kevin Ganey

About the Author: Kevin Ganey has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at LymeLine.com, he worked for Hall Radio in Norwich, as well as interned under the Director of Communications at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. Kevin has a passion for movies, literature, baseball, and all things New England-based … especially chowder.

 

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A la Carte: Molasses Cookies

Molasses cookies (Huffington Post)

Molasses cookies (Huffington Post)

Boules has begun and, as every year, it begins at the Hopkins’ house with a court big enough for two different groups to play at the same time. (Our league is gender-specific and, at the Hopkins’ house, dogs are welcome. When the pups walk through or decide to sleep on the court, we are gentle. When the men walk through as we are playing, we boo and hiss.)

As often is the case, the food is already good. While the hosts create most of the rations, co-hosts cook, too. Now that I don’t have a boules court, I like to make something for all the parties, and when I asked Christine what I could do, she said cookies would be great with the raspberries, strawberries and mascarpone. I made my mother-in-law’s molasses cookies, which are one of my favorites, but because they are made with Crisco, a no-no these days. Since I use Crisco only when I am making pies (and would shun the Crisco if I could find exceptional lard), I figured that if each person ate just one or two cookies, all of us would still be fine.

Below are two molasses cookie recipes. The first is my mother-in-law’s with Crisco; the other is from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. You decide.

Molasses Cookies

Yield: 70 little cookies

1 ½ cups Crisco (don’t laugh; Crisco makes great cookies)

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

½ cup molasses

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon each salt, cloves and ginger

2 teaspoons cinnamon

About ½ cup sugar

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixer on medium-high, cream Crisco and sugar until light and fluffy; at medium, add eggs, one at a time until well mixed. Add molasses and mix.

In another bowl, whisk the rest of the ingredients. Add to the first bowl and mix until you see no flour.

With a spoon, make 1-inch balls and coat with sugar; place each onto one or more ungreased baking pans. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

 

Three-Ginger Cookies

From Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (Workman, New York, 1994)

3 ½  to 4 dozen cookies

 

1 ½  sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

¼ cup molasses

1 egg

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root

½ cup finely chopped crystalized ginger

 

Cream butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat in molasses and then the egg.

Sift flour, ground ginger, baking soda and salt together. Stir in the butter mixture with a wooden spoon until blended. Add fresh and crystallized ginger and stir well mixed.

Refrigerate the dough, covered, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the cooking sheet. Bake until browned, 10 minutes.

Remove to wire racks to cool completely.


Nibbles: Fried Green Tomatoes

 

I wrote about the Blue Hound in Ivoryton two years ago and have visited this adorable bistro many times for lunch and dinner.  My friend Joan wanted to dine early on Saturday evening and we arrived just after 5 p.m. Originally, it would just be three of us, but another couple decided to come, too. (The restaurant  accepts reservations for five people or higher.)

I am pleased to say the food is as good or even better than it was two years ago and this time my friends agreed that the fried green tomatoes were the best. Just to let you know – it’s nearly impossible to get green tomatoes in a supermarket or even a farmstand, so if you like them as much as I do, grow tomatoes and pick them when they are still green. I do have a recipe, which I would be glad to share, and a recipe for a remoulade, which is terrific with the dish.

 

Blue Hound Cookery

107 Main Street

Ivoryton

860-767-0260

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Legal News You Can Use: What Parents of Teens and Tweens Should Know About Social Media

CautionSocialNetworkSponsored Post: Social media has forever changed our society. Nowhere is this shift more prevalent than in the arena of parenting. The exponential growth of the internet generally, and social media specifically, has created relatively uncharted territory for parents of teens and “tweens.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 22 percent of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times per day. More than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day, creating an environment where a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the internet or cell phone.

Consider this reliance on social media in conjunction with a U.S. National Institute of Mental Health study (The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction). This study indicates that an adolescent brain is constantly being “revived” and “upgraded” until their mid to late twenties. If our children do not use social media responsibly, it can be a recipe for disaster. Not only can they be victims of irresponsible social media behavior, they can also be perpetrators.

The explosion of social media applications has also created new ways for online sexual predators to find victims. Several social media sites claim to be able to verify age to ensure safety for our children, but the reality is that this verification cannot be done effectively. Predators posing as teenagers on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and in chat rooms permeate the internet and pose dangers to our children.

Some parents may try to forbid their children from even having an account on one of these sites, but it can be difficult to keep them away from social media. Should you decide to allow your children to access social media, you should implement some guidelines to protect your child. The website Protectkids.com suggests some “Rules N Tools” for social networking sites such as:

  • Teach your child to never give personal information over the internet
  • Pay attention to the photos your child posts online
  • Regularly ask your child about their online activities and friends
  • Instruct your child never to plan a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online
  • Act like a child; search blog sites children visit to see what information is posted
  • Establish rules on how your child can use the computer and how much time they can spend online

You should also set parental controls on all computing systems, instruct your child to use privacy settings on their accounts so they will limit who is able to see their social media profiles, and stay up to date on anti-virus and anti-spyware software which gives you the ability to view online activity. For an in-depth discussion of these topics, Protectkids.com has a wealth of helpful information to make your child’s use of the computer safer.

The dangers do not stop there.  There are a variety of crimes children can commit with their use of the internet, social media and cell phones. The previously referenced AAP article states rather ominously, “What goes online stays online.”

Your child may send a threatening text in anger, send or post a photo meant to embarrass another person, send sexually suggestive words or pictures, or use social media to bully someone. All of these behaviors can violate laws and lead to criminal charges. Even if a post is deleted, other people can easily capture the image or video and cause it to proliferate across multiple sites.

The most dangerous behavior is the transmission of sexually explicit images or videos. Should your child send such an image, it could be considered the transmission of child pornography. If they receive such an image, it could be considered possession of child pornography. Not only could this behavior result in criminal charges, it could result in a civil lawsuit demanding monetary damages as well.

Our office once represented an individual who was accused of making an offensive, threatening post on a social media site. Realizing their mistake, they removed the post. However, another individual had already taken a screenshot of the post and forwarded it to law enforcement. Imagine being the parent of this child and having the SWAT team show up at your door to arrest your child because of a post they made on social media. While this is an extreme example, it is a real one.

In closing, work with your child to discuss how they should behave online and set acceptable parameters for internet use. Stay vigilant by monitoring their access and utilizing appropriate filters and anti-spyware software. Talk with them so that a mistake made during their formative years will not be one which they will have to carry with them into adulthood.

About the author: Attorney Michael A. Blanchard is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in criminal and family law. Please contact him via email at mblanchard@sswbgg.com or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions regarding these laws.

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Talking Transportation: Big Brother Comes Along for the Ride

“Here in my car, I feel safest of all

I can lock all my doors. It’s the only way to live, in cars.”

Cars” – Gary Numan  1979

You may feel that your car is your last private refuge in this busy world.  But there’s someone along for the ride:  Big Brother.  And you’d be surprised what he knows about you, thanks to modern technology.

Cell Phones:   Your cell phone is constantly transmitting its location, and services like Google Dashboard’s location history can show exactly where you were at any date in time.  Don’t want to be tracked?  Turn off your cellphone.

E-ZPass:   Even when you are nowhere near a toll booth, E-ZPass detectors can monitor your location.   Want to stay anonymous? Keep your E-ZPass wrapped in aluminum foil in your glove box.

Highway Cameras:    The extensive network of traffic cameras on our interstates and parkways is used mostly to monitor accidents.  But State Police can also watch individual vehicles. The cameras are even available to the public online.  But state law specifically forbids using these cameras to write speeding tickets.

License+Plate+ReaderLicense Plate Readers:    This is the newest and most powerful tracking tech, as I saw in a ride-along a few years ago with my local PD.  These cameras mounted on police cars can scan up to 1800 license plates a minute as cars drive by at speed. As the plate number is recognized, it is transmitted to a national crime computer and compared against a list of wanted vehicles and scofflaws.  If it gets a “hit,” a dashboard screen in the cop car flashes a red signal and beeps, detailing the plate number and infraction.  In just one hour driving through my town, we made stops for outstanding warrants, lack of insurance and stolen plates.  (Some towns also use LPRs for parking enforcement in train station parking lots, forgoing the need for hangtags or stickers.)

While this may lead to very efficient law enforcement, LPRs also have a potentially darker side:  the data about plate number, location and time can be stored forever.

Faced with a string of unsolved burglaries, Darien police used their LPR to track every car entering the targeted neighborhood and looked for patterns of out-of-town cars driving through at the time of the burglaries and made an arrest.

But the ACLU is concerned about how long cops can store this data and how it should be used.  They laud the CT State Police policy of only storing data for 90 days.

In the early days of LPRs in 2012 an ACLU staffer filed an FOI request for his car’s plate number and found it had been tracked four times by 10 police departments in a database that had 3 million scan records.

So enjoy your car.  But realize that none of us have any privacy.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

About the author: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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A la Carte: Weeknight Red Curry

Red Thai curry

Red Thai curry

It was a nice quiet birthday, beginning with my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters and ending with pineapple rice with chicken at Spice Club in Niantic and a terrific movie at the Niantic Theater.

With some trepidation, I drove from home to Newbury, Mass., Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The traffic began on I-95 in East Lyme to 290 in Worcester, continued on 495, then, finally, back to 95. I watched young Casey play tennis at her school. We all went to their house while Casey changed. Nancy and I had a nice glass of red wine and then drove to Flatbread in Amesbury for salad and pizza (one of the pizzas was topped with fiddleheads and golden beets). (My middle granddaughter, Laurel, drove; even one glass of wine makes me a bit tipsy.)

With no traffic on the way home, I was home in just over two hours. I watched a little television I’d DVRed and went to bed early. On my birthday, friend Sarah and I had met at the Spice Club for Thai food and then we walked to see Love and Friendship, a new film from one of Austen’s smaller books. Don’t miss it!

Today I decided to make another. I always have cans of unsweetened coconut milk in the pantry and red curry paste in the refrigerator. (I am not sure red curry paste ever has an expiration date; in any case, I have had little opened cans, covered, in the fridge for half a decade.) I went through some recipes I’d clipped once from Cooking Light. I found a package of cod in the freezer and, as always, a finger of ginger there, too. Dinner was ready in less than an hour.

Weeknight Red Curry*

Yield: 4 servings

1 large shallot (half a small onion will do)

6 garlic cloves

1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons red curry paste

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 (14.5 oz.) can canned tomatoes (I always use diced Muir Glen)

1 (13.5 oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk

1 pound mixed vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (frozen veggies are fine)

1 pound firm white fish, skin removed

Cooked rice noodles, cilantro leaves with stems and lime wedges (for serving)

Pulse shallot, garlic and ginger in a food processor to finely chop. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add curry paste and turmeric and cook, stirring, until paste is darkening in color and mixture starts to stick to pan, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often and scraping up brown bits, until tomatoes start to break down and stick to pot, about 5 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk and season with salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until mixture is slightly thickened and flavor meld, 8 to 10 minutes. Add vegetables and pour in enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Season fish all over with salt and nestle into curry (add a little more water if it is very thick). Return to a simmer and cook just until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Spoon curry over rice noodles and top with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

*I use vegetable or chicken stock instead of, or with, water for more flavor.


Nibbles: Pittsfield Rye Bread

A few weeks ago I watched a movie in New London called “Deli Man,” part of the International Film Series. I grew up with a terrific Jewish deli in Troy, New York. It, and thousands, is gone now, primarily because  Jewish immigrants insisted that their children go to college and “make something of themselves.” As a result, there are few now, even in New York City, where there are more Jews than in Israel. Gone, also, is H&H and Ess-a-Bagel.

On a drive home from Massachusetts, I stopped in Worcester to get some rye bread, bulkies (hard rolls) and bagels at Widoff on Water Street. It, too, is gone. Instead, hoping against hope, I drove to the Big Y in Norwich. Happily, it (and many other Big Ys) still carry superb Pittsfield rye bread—marbled, seeded, unseeded, and dark rye (pumpernickel). I had a toasted slice with butter and placed the rest into the freezer for another day.

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Letter From Paris: The Grand Palais in Paris to Old Lyme — CT Impressionist Exhibits Both Sides of ‘The Pond’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Talking with Jan Dilenschneider is entering a beautiful world of marshes, rushes swaying in the breeze, ponds reflecting the sky,  and clusters of trees taking on the many hues from the painter’s palette contrasting with the softness of the wild flowers.

Dilenschneider is a Darien artist who has recently been making inroads on the Paris art scene. She was one of only a very few artists to participate in the “Art Paris Art Fair” held in March 2016 at the Grand Palais and, in a switch of continents, she will have a solo exhibition at the Sill House Gallery of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in October of this year. For an artist, whose work so closely resembles Impressionism, to exhibit her paintings in the same year both in Paris and in Old Lyme – the home of the American Impressionism –  is a remarkable and very special event.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

A classic work by Jan Dilenschneider.

For the past three years, Dilenschneider has shown her work in Paris at the upscale Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier in the Marais district, close to the Picasso Museum. I was treated to a private showing of Jan’s paintings by the gallery’s owner, who knows her well.  Then I had the pleasure of meeting Jan personally at the Grand Palais.  Thanks to the badge Challier obtained for me, I was able to enter the giant steel and glass 1900 structure through the cavernous entrance reserved for the exhibitors. 

The Paris artistic calendar is overcrowded and art professionals are scrambling to find a time slot.  The “Journal des Arts” describes the artistic events taking place in the spring as a “galaxy in fusion.”  The last weekend in March is particularly in demand.  It was therefore a real breakthrough for “Art Paris Art Fair” to be able to establish itself under the nave of the Grand Palais at that time.  The Fair has a special format — only galleries can participate, not individual artists.  This year, 143 major galleries from from 22 countries around the world showed their collections.  All media are allowed, including sculpture, design, photographs or digital art.

"Trees with broken color" by Jan Dilenschneider

“Trees with broken color #2,” oil on canvas, 36″ x 36″, by Jan Dilenschneider.

As I approached the Challier space, several potential buyers were looking at the gallery’s collection.  A striking blonde woman was standing in front of one of her paintings – an icy white and blue landscape – being interviewed by a French television team from the Canal Sat network channel “Luxe.”  It transpired the woman was Dilenschneider and after the TV crew left, she and I started chatting and did so for a long time.  I immediately liked her as a person and was attracted to her sunny personality.  Her passion for nature was contagious.

“Any work starts from the abstract, and the abstract is never far under the painting,” she explained, adding, “Each artist makes a contribution to art history.”  In one of the handsome catalogues the Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier has published relating to her exhibits, she writes, “If I were to have lunch with four artists, I would choose Wolf Kahn, Henri Matisse, Franz Kline and Michelangelo.”

In a video series named “Nec plus ultra,” produced by the “Magazine de l’art de vivre” of TV 5 Monde, Dilenschneider is shown caught in the throes of her creating process.  She paints with gusto, happily digging into the colors lying heavily on her palette.  She uses spatulas, all sizes of brushes, and even squeegees to diversify her technique.

Painting is her way of meditating, which she says she can do eight hours a day.  Even when she is not painting, she is taking photographs from trains, at airports … wherever she is, to be used in her future work.   

Dilenschneider has a remarkable way with words and writes, “I become the water, I become the trees, I become the birds and reeds — but I don’t need to tell you [that] — my paintings already do.  Living on Long Island Sound, the beauty of the world is my inspiration.”

She wants to make people enjoy the beauty of nature and is happy to use her privileged situation to make an impact.  With the help of her influential husband, whose communications counseling company is based on the 57th floor of the Chrysler building in New York City, she has created the “Janet Hennessey Dilenschneider Scholar Rescue Award in the Arts.”  This year she rescued a Syrian artist, her husband and two sons.

Although she has been painting since the age of 17, she has not exhibited her work until recently.  Thus, she has long been a hidden treasure, which now finally all can enjoy.

Editor’s Note (i): Dilenschneider’s exhibition at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts opens Friday, Oct. 7.

Editor’s Note (ii): This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Talking Transportation: Infrastructure – Dangling by a Thread

The recent fire under the Park Avenue viaduct in Harlem, which disrupted commutes of a quarter million Metro-North riders, got me thinking:  our aging, crumbling and vulnerable transportation infrastructure is close to collapse, and the effects of such failure could be catastrophic.   Consider this track-record:

JUNE 1983: Inadequate inspections and repairs cause the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich. Three people were killed and three others injured.   For almost five months, 80,000 daily vehicles had to detour through city streets.

MARCH 2004:  An oil tanker crashes on I-95 in Bridgeport and the ensuing fire is hot enough to melt steel supports on the Howard Avenue overpass.  Traffic was disrupted for a week.

SEPTEMBER 2013:    Con-Ed plans to replace a crucial electric feeder cable for Metro-North in the Bronx.  The railroad decides to forgo the $1 million cost of a temporary back-up cable and the main cable fails, disrupting train service for weeks, both on Metro-North and Amtrak.

JUNE 2014:    Twice in one week the Walk Bridge in South Norwalk (built in 1896) won’t close, cutting all rail service between New York and Boston.  Cost of replacement will be more than $450 million.

MAY 2016:  Illegally stored chemicals and propane tanks at a gardening center under the Park Ave viaduct catch fire.  The flames’ heat melts steel girders, cutting all train service out of GCT and stranding thousands.  Limited train service in the following days leads to subway-like crowding and lengthy delays.

NTSBSpuytenDuyvilDerailment2013

Aftermath of the derailment at Spuyten Devil, NY.

Mind you, this list does not include fatal accidents and disruptions caused by human error, like the Metro-North crash at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four.

Our lives, our jobs and our economy rely on safe, dependable transportation.  But when the roads we drive and the rails we ride are museum pieces or go uninspected and unrepaired, we are dangling by a thread.

WA single fire, whether caused by accident or act of terrorism, can bring down our infrastructure in an instant, cutting us off from work for days and costing our economy billions.

What can be done?  Safety inspections by engineers and fire departments looking to prevent disaster are obvious.  Better enforcement of speed limits and safety are as well.  But prevention of accidents cannot make up for decades of neglect in reinvestment in our roads, rails and bridges.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual infrastructure report card gives the U.S. a D+.  They estimate we will need to spend $3.6 trillion to get things back into good shape… less than the cost of the last 15 years of U.S. fighting in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

As the old auto-repair ad used to say, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” But sooner or later, we will have to pay.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

About the author: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

 

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