June 30, 2016

The Movie Man: See ‘Spectre’ … Though It’s Not Bond’s Best

Headshot_v2We’re delighted to welcome a new writer to our fold today. Kevin Ganey joins us as our movie critic: he will be submitting regular reviews of movies in a variety of genres. He 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 Shoreline Web News LLC, 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.

He opens his column series with a review of the latest Bond movie, ‘Spectre:’

"Spectre poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

“Spectre poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

“Bond. James Bond.”

Since the 1962 release of Dr. No, six actors have had the pleasure of playing the iconic James Bond, or 007. For many years, it had been consider blasphemy to assert that any of the six actors aside from Sean Connery was Bond, as in he truly embodied the character and was the first actor moviegoers would think of when somebody brought 007 up in conversations. However, on a cold night in November of 2012, as I left the Niantic Cinema after seeing Skyfall, I literally proclaimed to others that Daniel Craig, not Connery, was Bond.

I do not think that I am alone when it comes to this opinion. My younger brother shares it, and he also proudly tells people that he knows every line to Craig’s first film as Bond, Casino Royale. We are fans of Craig’s gritty approach to the character, a quiet man with a killer’s stare, a force with which to be reckoned. He was not as comical as Roger Moore, or as suave as Pierce Brosnan, or, as my mom says, “campy” like Sean Connery. Each actor brings a new approach to Ian Fleming’s iconic spy, and I must say that I am more than satisfied with Daniel Craig’s interpretation.

So, it was with great pleasure that I embarked on a journey to Westbrook’s Marquee Cinema 12 on the premiere date for Eon Production’s 24th film about the secret agent, Spectre. When I was 11-years-old, my parents gave me a DVD collection that contained seven Bond films, which included Dr. No, Goldfinger, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Licensed to Kill, Goldeneye, and Tomorrow Never Dies, and I was quickly captivated by this heroic figure. As soon as I learned this film’s title, I immediately remembered the organization of the same name that Bond was constantly combating in the earlier films. The name stood for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.

This film begins just weeks after Skyfall left off, with Judi Dench’s M still in the memories of all MI6 agents, replaced by Ralph Fiennes. Bond has just completed a semi-rogue mission in Mexico City (ordered by Judi Dench’s M just before she died in a video message), thwarting a terrorist attack during a Day of the Dead celebration. Grounded by the new M, Bond requests help from Moneypenny and Q to make him disappear in order to find more information in regards to the mission he just completed.

He is led back to a member of QUANTUM, a criminal organization — Mr. White, whom he encountered in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, now leads him on the trail to the even bigger organization “Spectre,” headed by a mysterious man named Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. M also deals with the emergence of a young government official, whom Bond calls C, running a new organization that monitors criminal activity, who also seeks to bury the Double-O system.

This film brings the previous four Bond films together, as all the villains were connected somehow before, and, without giving away too many spoilers, Oberhauser reveals this to be a form of revenge against Bond, as he knew him very intimately in the past. And I take a further risk by saying this to ardent Bond fans: Oberhauser reveals himself to be a memorable character from the earlier films.

I was expecting a great performance from Waltz, since he has won two Academy Awards over the last five years, but sadly, I was unhappy with his portrayal of a Bond villain. And my disappointment was compounded because Javier Bardem, who played the villain in Skyfall, and is also an Academy Award winner, gave what I consider to be one of greatest performances as a bad guy in that movie.

But Spectre does have its redeeming qualities. Sam Smith’s credit song, “Writing’s on the Wall” (I think this was also a reference to an exchange between Bond and Q in the 1995 installation, Goldeneye) was enjoyable and had a similar approach to Adele’s “Skyfall.” Q provided entertaining gadgets, including the classic donation of a multi-purposed watch, as well as humorously “giving” Bond an incomplete Aston Martin.

The main team that we are familiar with at MI6 (M, Q, and Moneypenny) is much more hands-on than they have been in the past, with all members in the field, partaking in the missions, in contrast to previous installments when Q stays in his lab, Moneypenny helps brief Bond and shows hints of her crush, and M behind the desk scolding Bond for going rogue.

But the way I saw it as I entered the movie theater, as long as you did not have a song by Madonna or an invisible car (both came from Die Another Day, which was the reason for rebooting the series), we were in for a good Bond film. Granted I should not enter a movie theater thinking “as long as it was not as bad as X, then it’s a great movie!”

What I will say is that it was a decent film, worthy of being a part of the Bond series. It is not the best, as I came in expecting greater things, but nonetheless, I have no problem including this on a list of Bond films to binge watch (an interesting millennial term) in a weekend. I would definitely recommend this movie to fellow movie-goers, not because of its critical value, but simply because it is an installment of the world’s most famous spy.

Who’s the other guy again? Jack Ryan?

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the Aftermath of Friday the 13th

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.10.55 PMThe Nov. 13 attack was not the end of it.

The Parisians lived through a first somber weekend listening to the non-stop sirens of police cars. On Nov. 18, RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion), assisted by hundreds of special police forces launched a massive assault in St Denis, barely one kilometer from the Stade de France and next to the 12th century basilica of the kings of France. At four in the morning and for seven hours the tiny street became a war scene of incredible violence. Explosions shook the shabby buildings so much that walls and floors collapsed.

Two suspects, a woman and a man, unidentified for almost two days, were found in the rubble. Terrorist Salah Abdelslam was still on the run. Every day the police uncovered new details about the terrorists — in Montreuil and in the 18th arrondissement. On Nov. 23, a belt with explosives was found on a sidewalk in Montrouge, south of Paris. The Belgium connection intensified, particularly in Melenbeek, a town with a mostly Moslem population and 85 mosques. One week after the French attack, a major terrorist threat forced the Belgian capital to shut down for several days.

How are the French coping? They feel “80 percent anger and 15 percent pain,” commented Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Fondation. One feels outraged that petty delinquents, often on drugs, would commit such atrocities. A mood of mourning and solidarity spread throughout France.

We are now in another era, prime minister Manuel Valls declared, and we will have to learn how to live with terror but must not give in to it. The French people have heard this sobering message and are behaving with great dignity, albeit with nervousness. At no point did the citizens feel an infringement on their personal freedom. Public debates , such as the Friday night TV show “Ce soir ou Jamais”, are more heated than ever.

There was a temporary disconnect between the politicians and the general public. During a stormy session at the Assemblée Nationale, Les Republicains (LR) (new name of UMP) gave a hard time to the prime minister. Catcalls and jeers made his speeches barely audible. The right wing daily Le Figaro explained how Christian Jacob, leader of the LR parliamentary group, instructed his party to calm down. On the following day, the behavior of the deputés was exemplary as they voted unanimously to prolong the Etat d’urgence (state of emergency) for three months.

To reassure the population, the government took several security measures including the creation of 10,000 posts in the police and border control personnel. A major change in the Code Pénal was put in place to facilitate searches of private homes and house arrests, as well as preventive arrests without the intervention of a judge. Close to one thousand searches were carried out last week, which is more than during a full year under normal circumstances. To enhance the efficiency of the police, the definition of legitimate defence is being altered.

The Patriot Act, signed into law by the US Congress on Oct. 21 2001, developed surveillance on the whole nation and the gathering of “metadata.” It is very different in France, since the new administrative and judiciary steps, taken by the Executive, are targeted at a concrete enemy of about 11,000 dangerous individuals, registered on the “S” form, living in the midst of the population, practically next door. In the US, the task of protecting the country is shared between the Justice Department, the Homeland Security, the FBI and the 50 states. In France, overall responsibility lies with the Ministre de l’Interieur – at present Bernard Cazeneuve.

When it became known that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was finally identified in the St. Denis assault, a co-author of the terrorist attack of Nov. 13, had been on the loose for several months, it literally infuriated public opinion. Flaws in the surveillance system became obvious. That man was well known by the Intelligence officials, had taken part in four out of six recent aborted attacks, and, at one time, was convicted to 20 years in prison. He made several round trips to Syria and apparently passed easily through porous airports, including Istanbul.

Close to one million migrants have entered Europe since the beginning of the year and there is no end in sight. Should the Schengen principle of free circulation of people and goods within the European Union (EU) be suspended? The Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thinks that, to abandon Schengen, would be a very serious threat to the survival of Europe.

But many disagree with that opinion.

The “Schengen Space” was created in 1985 for five countries and intended to function in peaceful and normal times when the external frontiers were real. That is not the case any more. How can Greece, financially broke, stop or at least control 80 percent of the migrants who have landed on their shores?

The European Commission is trying to alleviate the situation somewhat. One decision is to apply the PNR (passenger name record) even on EU nationals entering the continent. The other is to intensify the controls of arms and assault weapons’ spare parts coming mainly from the Balkans. The idea of depriving bi-national jihadists of one of their nationalities is also being considered.

On the diplomatic and military scenes, the repercussions of Nov. 13 have been huge. It seems to have caused a major turn- around in the main powers’ policy – a 180 degree shift, one might say. No one wanted to admit they were making concessions, but they did. Suddenly Putin recognized that the Russian plane had indeed been blown up over the Sinai desert. He changed course and started limiting his air strikes to Daesch (ISIS) and no longer to Syrian rebels. In a recent interview in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace, John Kerry did not mention the ousting of Bachar al-Assad as a preliminary condition to negotiations. The French, who had been the most hawkish among the warring countries prior to 2012, skipped Assad’s removal as well. It is concentrating the action of its Rafales on Rakka, the self-proclaimed capital of Daech. At this point, none of the main powers are willing to put “boots on the ground.” The only boots one has seen so far are Kurdish boots.

This will be a marathon week for François Hollande: Cameron on Monday, Obama on Tuesday, Merkel on Wednesday and Putin on Thursday. His objective is to build up a single coalition against Daech.

Intense soul-searching and analyses by experts are going on to try and understand a conflict to which we have never before been exposed. Can we win a war against terrorism? No, said former minister of foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin. We cannot defeat this invisible enemy, which we have helped create.

What is Daesch really and what does it want? To destabilize our society by increasing the divide between Moslems and our secular values, says Gilles Keppel, professor at Sciences Po and a specialist on Islam. Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut believes that Daesch is not just reacting to the bombings. He says that by nature it is a conquering culture and today it is on a crusade to destroy the West.

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: Je Suis en Terrasse — Reflections on Life After the Terrorist Attacks

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the second time in 2015, Paris was the target of the terrorists. But, in contrast to the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre, the attacks were not made in the name of an idea, like freedom of expression — especially of the press, or to single out the Jewish community, but aimed at French society as a whole. The blind rampage was intended to butcher the greatest number of normal Parisians having fun on a Friday night.

The killings took place almost simultaneously in five places obviously following a well prepared scenario acted by three professional and heavily armed commandos. Never before had the French been exposed to kamikazes. The carnage left 129 dead, 355 injured including more than 99 in critical condition.

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It all started at 9.20 p.m. at the Stade de France, north of Paris, on Friday, Nov. 13, where the Bleus were playing against a German soccer team in front of 80,000 spectators. President François Hollande was in the crowd. He left discreetly at half time. In spite of two explosions, the match went on uninterrupted to avoid the panic. Afterwards the public lingered on the lawn, still dazed. Spontaneously the crowd started singing the Marseillaise. Outside the stadium, the double suicide had left a scene of destruction. The social networks went to work. Taxis offered free rides. Twitter launched an operation “open doors” to disoriented people.

In rapid succession , the terrorists drove from one crowded place to another in the 10th and the 11th arrondissements to proceed with their slaughter: Le Petit Cambodge, the Carillon bar, the Cosa Nostra restaurant and finally La Belle Equipe on Rue Charonne,

An American rock group was on stage when four terrorists broke into the concert hall Bataclan packed with an audience of 1,500. They started shooting blindly at people. From the account of a seasoned policeman, the scene of horror was apocalyptic. Bodies were lying in pools of blood. After holding a group of hostages for three hours and using them as ramparts against the assault of the special forces, the terrorists blew themselves up, using their belts padded with sophisticated explosives.

Why was the 11th arrondissement again the main target of the terrorist attack? Since I live there, I have pondered over this question. Ann Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, gave some of the answers during an interview on TV. The 11th, she said with some pride, is a multi-ethnic, socially mixed population with large and visible religious communities. It has a distinct personality, rebellious and rather impertinent. The French call these types of people “bo-bo” (meaning bohemian-bourgeois.) It is an unpalatable cocktail for the IS (Islamic State).

The other reason why terrorists seem to be attracted to the 11th might be the availability of good hiding places in this working class arrondissement – the largest of Paris. Geographically the 11th is close to “difficult” suburbs. Finally, It is near the highway leading to Brussels. The inquiry has revealed connections between the authors of the Paris attack and the Molenbeek district, a hotbed of radical Islam in Belgium.

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As it is often the case at time of crisis, people show their best side. It certainly was true with the French who rose up above their usual attitude of self-disparagement. Here are just a few examples — the police, the SAMU (ER), the Red Cross, the army, the BRI (brigade de Recherche et d’Investigation), the RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion) and other elite units could all be considered as heroes. Doctors and surgeons happened to be on strike on Friday Nov. 13, but returned to work with news of the killings. Some even volunteered in services other than their own. At the Pompidou hospital, dozens of volunteers waited three hours to donate blood. People living near the attacks opened their apartments to wounded victims.

François Hollande acted as a compassionate and strong president during the crisis and announced immediate security measures to reassure the population. He declared a etat d’urgence or highest state of alert, suspending temporarily individual liberties and including the delay of all street manifestations, of public gatherings and the closing of monuments, etc. It was a bleak sight for the tourists to see the Tour Eiffel lost in darkness. To emphasize national unity, Hollande convened a Congress made up of the National Assembly and Senate in solemn Versailles. It was the first time that had happened since the Algerian war in 1962.

The French colors appeared on monuments around the world in an amazing show of support. President Obama was the first leader to make a declaration; Angela Merkel, who marched in the streets of Paris on Jan. 11, extended her message of friendship; David Cameron declared – in French – Nous sommes tous solidaires. The Moscovites laid flowers in front of the French embassy in Moscow. In a different tone, Bashar al-Assad told the people of France: you suffered last night, but think of what the Syrian population has lived with during the past five years.

One detects an acceleration of terrorist attacks: Ankara in October, Lebanon and the crash of a Russian plane in November. IS is now exporting its war to other countries. It is an assymetric war since one side welcomes death. Zero security is impossible to guarantee. All one can do is to minimize the danger .

For the past 15 years, France has been on the front line of the war against radical Islam and acted alone in the Sahel, Mali, Nigeria, Chad. For the past two and half months, France has taken part in the air strikes over Syria. This is a brave but dangerous policy, probably untenable in the long term.

Bernard Guetta, specialist in geopolitics and commentator on France-Inter, described the Nov. 13 tragedy as a shock therapy, which might lead to a strong coalition able to defeat IS.

On Sunday, two days after the attack, the Parisions were still nervous. I was walking on the Bastille square when police cars suddenly cordoned off the avenue — rumor of an explosion spread. In a panic, people started running. I had to run also so as not to be caught in the stampede. Thankfully, it was a false alarm!

It is your duty as a citizen, a comedian joked on the radio the other day, to sit on the terrace of a cafe and have a drink to show you are not afraid. To-day, one does not say, “Je suis Charlie,” but rather, “Je suis en terrasse.”

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Legal News You Can Use: The Gift of Real Estate From Parent to Child

real-estate-giftShould I gift my house to the kids now, or leave it in my estate? This can be a tricky question. There are also many other factors to consider, including mortgages, capital gains tax, Medicaid regulations, and other risks.

GIFT TAX

The current federal law gives each donor (maker of a gift) a $5.43 million lifetime exemption from the federal gift tax. The Connecticut statutes provide for a $2 million lifetime exemption from the Connecticut gift tax. Therefore, there is no gift tax due unless the donor has made more than $2 million in taxable gifts during his/her life.

Each donor receives a $14,000.00 annual gift tax exclusion per donee (receiver of a gift) for gifts of a present interest, meaning that the recipient can use and enjoy the gift immediately. For example, the exclusion for a gift from a parent to two children may total $28,000. If both the donor and their spouse join in the gift, the exclusion would be $56,000.00. That is, the value of the gift for gift tax purposes would be reduced by $56,000.00.

The $14,000.00 annual gift tax exclusion is not available for gifts of a future interest, such as a gift of real estate in which the donor reserves a life use. So, if your total estate is below the $5.43 million federal estate tax exemption and the $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption, there is really no practical difference in this case.

MORTGAGE

Most mortgage documents prohibit the borrower from transferring an interest in the real estate without the lender’s written consent. To be assured of avoiding trouble with the lender, be sure to seek this consent before making a transfer.

CAPITAL GAINS

A donor may have purchased real estate many years ago at a price that is much lower than the property’s current value. Because the gift recipient’s basis for capital gains tax purposes is the same as the donor’s basis, if and when the donee children sell the property, they could anticipate paying capital gains tax on a substantial gain.

By contrast, if the children were to inherit the property at the parent’s death, the children’s basis would be the fair market value of the property at the parent’s date of death. In that case, if the property were eventually sold, the gain upon which capital gains tax may be due would be much smaller than it would be if the property were received by gift and then eventually sold.

MEDICAID

The current Medicaid regulations provide that if a person makes a gift of assets, and subsequently applies for Medicaid sooner than five years from the date of the gift, a period of ineligibility based on the value of the gift will apply. For instance, if a parent gifted real estate to a child on September 1, 2014, and the parent or the parent’s spouse needed to apply for Medicaid to pay for the cost of long term nursing home care prior to September 1, 2019, the parent or their spouse would be ineligible for Medicaid. Because of this five year look back rule, it is important to examine what other assets are available to pay for long term care.

OTHER RISKS

What if your child passes away before you do? As much as we don’t like to think about these scenarios, this can be particularly problematic if the parent has not reserved a life use in the gifted property. In this case, the deceased child’s interest would pass under his/her own estate plan documents, possibly to a spouse or to the deceased child’s own children.

Other unexpected events such as bankruptcy, or an accident suffered by one of the donee children, or a divorce, could leave the gifted real estate vulnerable to claims of creditors or claims of the child’s spouse.

The long and short of this complicated discussion is that it is very important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before making the decision to gift property to your children.

Attorney Jeanette Dostie is a Director at Suisman Shapiro in New London, CT, the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut. She has a wide experience in estate planning, ranging from simple wills to complex estate plans designed to maximize estate tax savings for clients. 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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Letter from Paris: Fabulous FIAC Celebrates Contemporary Art Throughout Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

She’s back! We’ve probably been asked more often about what has happened to Nicole Prévost Logan than any other of our wonderful writers. You see, Nicole takes a break from writing for us in the summer when she is living in Essex, Conn. But now she has returned to her house in Paris and (metaphorically) picked up her pen again … and we’re delighted … along with many of our readers!

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In late October every year, France attracts visitors from around the world to take part in the FIAC (Foire Internationale de l’Art Contemporain.) Multiple exhibits open, not only in museums, but also hors murs (outdoors) on the grounds of historical monuments like the Chateau de Versailles, or on public squares and parks like Place la Concorde or the Jardin des Tuileries .

For a few days, Paris becomes the capital of arts, fashion and design. The main event of the FIAC takes place in the Grand Palais and was attended this year by 75,000 professionals in the arts and owners of the 173 most prestigious galleries of the world. (not individual artists.) The high entrance fee was set at $40. The works exhibited were in all media – paintings, sculptures, videos, installations. Values of the objects varied from a few thousands euros to several millions.

What makes the specificity of the FIAC is that it expands every year and becomes increasingly accessible to the general public. The French minister of Culture and Communication Fleur Pellerin, who occupied the media center stage during the week, stressed the civic importance of the richness and diversity of culture open to all in the public space.

When walking around Paris it seemed impossible not to stumble over some work of art: on the banks of the Seine in the new Cité de la Mode et du Design, in the department stores or the elegant lobbies of five-star hotels palaces. In the historical districts of the Marais, or St Germain des Prés, unbridled art creations were the norm. The “off” art found additional space under white tents. Digital art celebrated its tenth anniversary near the Alexandre III bridge.

The “Outsider Art Fair” (art brut) – made up of the works of mentally disturbed , marginal or self-taught artists – placed its 38 stands in a private mansion. It included the works of the well known American artist Henry Darger whose permanent collection is in the New York American Folk Art museum.

To stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries was to be in for a great treat. One could admire whimsical, mostly thought-provoking artistic creations on lawns, near the two pools, along the tree-lined paths. Young and articulate art students from the Ecole du Louvre described the works to the curious passers-by.

Just two examples. Heimo Zobernig, who lives and works in Vienna, created a tall androgynous statue. The body was made of three pieces from three different sculptures scanned in 3D. The head, legs, and torso were assembled digitally, raising the question of figurative sculpture. On the Tuileries bassin rond, a transparent sphere, of about 10 feet in diameter was floating under the motion of a crystal chandelier hanging inside and spinning around. The artist’s intention was to show the hidden properties of objects by the incongruous mix of an inflatable toy, a scooter’s chain and a 24 volt rotating mechanism.

The visitor reaches the Place de la Concorde. Four pavilions mesmerized the crowds. They had been erected by St Gobain – the French company specialized in construction material for the past 450 years (it built the Louvre pyramid.) The pavilions showed the company’s innovations for the future: how can sensorial modules create thermic and acoustic comfort or a 21st house being built entirely from materials created by 3D printers.

After an absence of a few months, what better way than the FIAC to reacquaint oneself with the Paris scene?

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Legal News You Can Use: Know Your Rights When Unexpected Injury Occurs

Car_accidentAn unexpected injury can be frightening and disorienting, whether from an automobile accident, slip-and-fall, or a “freak” accident. It is helpful to know your rights, and consider in advance the important steps you should take in these situations.

#1. Seek Emergency Medical Care

This may seem obvious, but take a minute to be sure you’re alright! If you are able to do so, check on any passengers in your vehicle, or on others who may have been injured in a motor vehicle accident. Once you have taken precautions for your safety, move your vehicle out of the lane of travel, if possible. Then, call 911.

If you refuse treatment at the scene, go directly to your doctor or the local emergency clinic to be checked out, even if you think your injuries are minor. Often times it is well after the adrenaline wears off that we start to experience pain.

#2. Inform Authorities and Get Copies of Reports

Wait for the police to arrive on the scene, and, respectfully ask that the other driver do the same. If you have been injured in an accident on the premises of a business, notify the manager or supervisor immediately, or, inform the homeowner if you have been injured on residential property. Always remain calm during the course of any conversations with the police, authorities, business representatives, or other parties involved. Remember to ask for copies of any accident reports that are generated.

#3. Exchange Insurance Information and Take Photos

Try to get the names and contact information for any witnesses to the accident. If you have been in a motor vehicle accident, you should exchange insurance information with the other driver. If you were injured on residential or commercial premises, ask for contact information for the appropriate insurance company. Take photos of any visible injuries and damage to your vehicle or property.

#4. Don’t Ignore Follow-up Medical Treatment, and Keep Good Records

Don’t skip follow-up appointments, and be sure to obey the recommendations of any medical professionals who are treating you. Not keeping your medical appointments or failing to follow your doctors’ advice may hinder the healing process, and can also have an impact on any compensation to which you may be entitled. Insurance companies often try to reduce compensation for failing to do these things, calling it “failure to mitigate damages”. Your medical records will provide documentation in the event that the insurance company asks for it. Save copies of doctors’ notes, time off from work, and receipts from any expenses incurred.

#5. Seek Legal Counsel

It’s important to understand your rights after an accident. It usually takes time to assess the full nature of your claim, including your injuries, property damage, loss of wages, out-of-pocket expenses associated with the claim, etc. Do NOT sign any documents, releases or checks from the insurance company without first consulting with an attorney.

Beware of insurance companies who are quick to offer you cash after you have been injured. Often, accepting a cash payout from an insurance company shortly after the incident means signing a written promise that you will not bring a claim or a lawsuit against the insurance company or the party they insure. If you discover additional injuries or property damage after you have made this promise, you may inadvertently waive future recovery to which you may be entitled.

#6. Claims

Many, but not all, motor vehicle collisions have a two-year statute of limitations. This means that you have the right to bring a lawsuit claiming damages arising out of the collision up to two years after the date on which it happened. On the other hand, in some situations, if you fail to notify certain parties within as little as 60 to 90 days that you intend to bring a claim, you may forfeit certain legal rights. The time limits prescribed by Connecticut law vary depending on the type of accident and if the responsible party is an individual, business, municipality, or other entity; where the accident occurred, and other factors.

It is wise to consult with a competent attorney who can advise you as to the statute of limitations that applies to your particular situation. It’s important to understand your rights after an accident. Many people mistakenly assume that if they file a lawsuit, they will be required to go through the stress and anxiety of a court trial. However, the majority of lawsuits that are filed settle before reaching the point of a trial. Following the important steps above will help make the road to physical, emotional and financial recovery much smoother.

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Attorney John A. Collins III

Editor’s Note: Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 70 years with a wide range of legal services. John A. Collins III is the Managing Partner of the firm and a Director/Shareholder who concentrates in the areas of Personal Injury Law and Civil Litigation. 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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Lori Warner Gallery Hosts Ann Lightfoot Jewelry Summer Sale Today

AnnLightfootSALE15_hands

A plethora of jewelry by Ann Lightfoot. Photo courtesy of Ann Lightfoot Jewelry

CHESTER — In appreciation of their customers’ loyal support and enthusiasm, Lori Warner and Ann Lightfoot have teamed up to host the Ann Lightfoot Jewelry Summer Studio Sale on Saturday, Aug. 22, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Earrings by Ann Lightfoot. Photo courtesy of Ann Lightfoot Jewelry

Find a curated mix of samples, one-offs, past seasons’ pieces, as well as many designs offered exclusively at this event, all at deeply reduced prices.

A portion of all sales will help fund the art programs in local public schools through the Lori Warner Gallery Scholarship Fund.

The Lori Warner Studio/Gallery is a unique source for artwork and objects that make a lasting impression. The gallery exhibits a small number of exclusive and award winning work and regularly hosts informal events featuring their represented artists and designers.

The gallery is located at 21 Main Street in Chester, Connecticut.  For more information, visit www.loriwarner.com or call  (860) 322-4265.

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Nibbles: Summer Just Isn’t Summer Without Ratatouille (and a Five-Bean Bake!)

Ratatouille is always a welcome addition to any summer meal -- or as a meal on its own.

Ratatouille is always a welcome addition to any summer meal — or as a meal on its own.

I am so enjoying this summer.

I do love my CSA baskets (Hanukkah or Christmas every Tuesday afternoon), but I still delight in visiting my local farm and farm markets twice a week to get more tomatoes and sweet corn, either at Whittle’s in Mystic or Becky’s in Waterford.

If that were not enough, a neighbor, who is a scientist at Pfizer, asked if I liked tuna. “Fresh tuna?” I asked. Sure enough, her colleague was going tuna fishing the next day and she came home with two simply gorgeous tuna fillet.

The next day I marinated it with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh tarragon. Aside from the fact that I overcooked the tuna, it was amazing and my plate shared space with two big tomatoes with burrata (from Fromage) and sweet corn. Life can be pretty darn good.

Over the July 4 weekend, I went to a party at John Colton’s house in Lyme. His sister, Beverly Picazio, made two salads—ratatouille with fresh vegetables and another that can be whipped up with pantry staples.

I loved both of them so you might consider making these from your next potluck or party. The ratatouille is not only a great side dish, but, with a crusty loaf of bread and a salad, it is a terrific vegetarian dinner.

Ratatouille

Slightly adapted from recipe of Beverly Picazio of Stonington

Yield:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 4 large cloves of garlic, minced

One-half teaspoon crusted pepper flakes

2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled and chopped

3 zucchini, chopped2 green peppers, chopped

2 8-ounce packages of sliced mushrooms

4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

1 can lima beans

1 yellow squash, chopped

2 28-ounces crushed tomatoes

Fresh ground fresh black pepper and salt, to taste

Chop all vegetables to about the same side.

In a large (or Le Creuset) Dutch oven, saute garlic in oil. Add pepper flakes. Stir in all the vegetables, including the tomatoes. Bring ingredients to a simmer, then cover and bake until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Season to taste.

Beverly thinks the dish is better made a day or two earlier. When reheating, water if ratatouille is too thick.

Five-Bean Bake

From Beverly Picazio of Stonington

Yield: serves 12 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

8 bacon slices, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

1 28-ounce can Bush baked beans

1 19.75 ounce of black beans, rinsed and drained

1 16-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can lima beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup ketchup

Three-quarter cup firmly packed brown sugar

One-half cup water

One-quarter cup cider vinegar

Cook bacon I a large skillet over medium high heat until crispy. Remove bacon, reserving 3 tablespoons drippings in skillet. Add diced onion and saute until tender. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Add all ingredients into a 9-inch by 13-nch baking dish and cook in the oven covered for 1 hour; uncover and bake another 30 minutes.

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Talking Transportation: PT Barnum and Metro-North

What do Connecticut’s own PT Barnum and I have in common? No, not just a love of circuses. We are both “rail advocates” fighting for the interests of commuters.

This amazing piece of news about Barnum, a man better known for his showmanship and menageries, came to me while watching a speech at the Old State House in Hartford broadcast on CT-N (every policy wonk’s favorite channel). The speaker was Executive Director and Curator of the Barnum Museum Kathleen Maher.

She explained that Barnum was more than a showman. He was also a railroad advocate. (He also went on to be part-owner of a cross-Sound ferryboat service that’s still running today.)

In 1879 Barnum wrote an impassioned letter to the NY Times promoting a street railway be built in New York City along Broadway between Bleecker and 14th Street, enlisting the support of local merchants such as the Brooks Brothers and, “the carpet men, W & J Sloan”.

Earlier, in 1865, Barnum went to Hartford representing the town of Fairfield as a Republican — later he became Mayor of Bridgeport. As he writes in his autobiography, he arrived at the capitol to find that powerful railroad interests had conspired to elect a Speaker of the House who had protected their monopoly interests in the state.

Further, he found that Connecticut’s “Railroad Commission” had been similarly ensnared by the industry it was supposed to regulate and that one member was even a clerk in the office of the NY & New Haven RR! Barnum pushed through a bill prohibiting such obvious conflicts of interest.

Then he turned his sights on helping commuters. Barnum noted that New York railroad magnate Commodore Vanderbilt’s new rail lines (now the Hudson and Harlem divisions of Metro-North) were popular with affluent commuters. Once Vanderbilt had them hooked as passengers for their daily ride into and out of New York City, he jacked up fares by 200 to 400 percent.

Sensing that Vanderbilt might try to do the same to Connecticut riders on the new New Haven line (in which “The Commodore” had a financial stake), Barnum set to work in the legislature to make sure the state had some control over “its” railroad. Barnum said his only ally in the fight was then-State Senator Ballard of Darien.

So spirited were they in their lobbying that the railroad’s “man” on the state Railroad Commission “took to his bed some ten days before the end of the session and actually remained there ‘sick’” until the legislature adjourned.” (Sound familiar?)

Fast forward to the present and we could again use Barnum’s help.

Though Connecticut hires Metro-North to run “our” trains on “our” tracks, our contract with that New York state agency gives us little say and no seat on it board. As one lawmaker noted, the Connecticut Department of Transport defends Metro-North much as a kidnap victim fights for its captor (what he called the Stockholm syndrome).

Jim Cameron

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, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Talking Transportation: Transportation News Updates

It’s time to update you on some of the hot topics we’ve discussed in recent weeks:

MALLOY’S TRANSIT LAND GRAB:
Remember the Governor’s stealth proposal for a “Transit Corridor Development Authority,” described by some as “eminent domain on steroids”? Well, the initial idea to allow the state to acquire any land within a half-mile of train stations was modified, then killed in the legislature. I predict it will be back.

BRIDGE WOES:
Just as planning begins to replace Norwalk’s 118-year-old railroad bridge, which opens but doesn’t close, another ancient bridge is suffering the same engineering arthritis. On July 1st the Devon Bridge in Stratford was raised but wouldn’t close, delaying every train that ran across it for days. Estimated replacement cost, $750 million.

STAMFORD GARAGE:
It has been two years since the CDOT tapped Darien developer John McClutchy as their choice to demolish the old rail station garage. (That announcement came 10 days after, just coincidentally, McClutchy’s wife donated $10,000 to the state Democrats.) But a final deal has yet to be signed for reasons unknown, so any work is still many months away. Meanwhile in April of this year the old garage was crumbling so badly that the CDOT closed it for safety inspections. Those inspections were completed, but the garage is still closed, displacing 700+ daily commuters.

THIS IS “SAFETY FIRST”?
On June 29, Metro-North allowed two trains to run toward each other on a single track just south of New Canaan. Fortunately they stopped before a collision and one of the trains backed up and out of the way. When reporters first asked Metro-North what happened, they insisted nothing was wrong. Later, they described the incident as “undesirable train routing”, an amazing euphemism for a near collision.

TAKEN TO COURT IN HANDCUFFS:
Is it reassuring to passengers to see MTA conductors and engineers on a “perp walk” for the news media? Thirteen current and former employees of the MTA were taken to court last week, indicted on charges of cheating on safety exams that were testing their knowledge of signals, speed limits and safe operation of trains. The cheating ring ran for more than two years in a period just before Metro-North was hit with a series of derailments and collisions. Eight different exam cycles were compromised before the MTA’s internal investigators started their probe.

HOW LATE WAS YOUR TRAIN?
When the 11:39 p.m. left Grand Central on the night of July 1, passengers settled in for a nap en route to Stamford and a 12:48 a.m. arrival. But instead of taking one hour, their journey took three. Near Woodlawn, the train entered a section with inoperative third-rail and coasted to a halt. The train sat there for 90 minutes before a rescue train arrived, taking 40 minutes to pull them to a station where passengers got on another train. To their credit, the crew did pass out water to the stranded passengers … never a good sign when you’re on a stranded train.

Jim Cameron

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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Letter from Paris: The Rise of Islam in Europe, Reactions and Results

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

As we were driving toward Baden Baden in Germany, our tour director pointed to the brand new mosque rising above the red-roofed houses. “This mosque was not there last year,” he commented. On a recent river cruise through five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland – it was impossible not to notice the increasing presence of Islam — or at least our perception of it.

In the tense international context of conflict with the Islamic State, there is a feeling in Europe of being caught in a two-pronged threat, both from within and abroad. This is why many believe that it is more important than ever for the Muslims living in Europe, moderate in the majority, to speak up with a loud voice against Daesch violence.

muslim_womenThere are more than 40 million Muslims in Europe, which translates to an average of 8 percent of the population. France has the largest percentage with 10 percent versus 0.6 percent in the US. The Muslim inhabitants are mostly concentrated in urban areas, where they can sometimes reach 20 percent and even 30 percent as in Basel, Switzerland.

For an American readership it is hard to grasp the impact of such a concentration on the urban landscape. Living in Europe, one has to adjust to the changing profile of the Muslim community. Take, for instance, the recent announcement made by the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris that the number of mosques existing today — 2,000 — in France needs to be doubled.

In early April, L’Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF — the Union of Muslim Organizations of France) held its 33rd annual gathering at Le Bourget, north of Paris. For three days, thousands flocked to this event, bringing their families and looking forward to do some shopping or attending seminars. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed some concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, which conceived this event, might exert too much influence on the crowds.

One forum attracted many visitors and one, an older man, said, “At the mosque, I am a Muslim — in the street I am a lay person. When I became French, I accepted the 1905 law of separation of Church and State and I respect the idea of a secular State.” A young lawyer retorted, “I was born in France, which gave me some rights. Today I demand that these rights be respected.” This heated exchange epitomizes the contrast of attitudes between generations of immigrants.

A disturbing trend is the radicalization of the European Muslim community by the Salafists – a conservative Sunni sect. They want Islam to return to its original form with a strict application of the Sharia. A journalist describes how, 20 years ago, a suburb outside Montpellier had a theater and drama workshops, where young people loved to practice on the stage. Today the theater is run down and empty. The Salafists have ordered the premises to be closed, and forbade the women to appear in public. Le Monde published an article describing the growing number of Salafists in Dusseldorf, but also stressing the distinction between Salafist true believers and “pseudo Salafists,” who are potential jihadists.

Once more France is in the line of fire for its military interventions in several parts of the world. Recently the screens of TV5 Monde, a television station broadcasting programs in the French language to 200 countries, turned black for 20 hours. One viewer, in Zarhle, Lebanon, said, “I am not even French, but for me the programs offered by TV5 Monde represent culture, a window onto the free world.”

One can only hope that the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites, the attacks on journalists and the hacking of channels of communication with their social networks, are not going to be followed by further cyber attacks.

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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A Letter from Paris: Munich Museum Celebrates Tragically Truncated Careers of Two German Artists

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

PARIS, FRANCE — The promise of two young men to become among the most important German artists of the 20th century was cut short when Franz Marc (1880-1916) and August Macke (1887-1914) were both killed on the front at the outset of World War I.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

Animals in a Landscape by Franz Marc, 1914.

The Lenbachhaus museum of Munich, built at the turn of the (20th) century when Munich was the capital of German art, will hold an exhibit in May entitled. “Two Friends.”  It shows how Marc and Macke met in 1910, discovered their mutual works with enthusiasm and struck a friendship, which was to last until their death.

The eve of the “Great War” was a time of artistic explosion, not limited to the Impressionists, Cézanne and other great French masters. All of Europe, including the Russian giants like Malevich, or Tatlin, was set ablaze and the German schools of painting played an important role in the cross-pollinization of the art movements.

In 1905 Ernest Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) founded Die Brucke (the bridge) in Dresden. The human figures he painted are very distinctive with an angular and depraved look. The Nazis called him “degenerate.”  Die Brucke was part of a larger German Expressionist movement based at the Sturm gallery in Berlin and characterized by the rejection of any form of academism, the acerbic satire of the bourgeois decadence, and the crude, almost perverted, representation of the bohemian life the artists led in their studios.

In 1909, Wassily Kandisky (1866-1944) wanted to distance himself from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (NKVM — the Munich New Artist’s Association) painters and settled in Murnau, a small village on the edge of Bavarian Alps with a group of artists including his companion Gabriele Munter and Alexej Jawlensky. For Marc and Macke, it was a pivotal moment to meet them there.

Zoological Gardens by August Marc, 1912.

Zoological Gardens by August Macke, 1912.

Even before knowing each other, Marc and Macke had shared a love for painting animals, particularly cats. Both were fascinated by the artistic developments taking place in France. In 1907, and again in 1908 Macke was in Paris and visited the galleries of Bernheim-Jeune, Ambroise Vollard and Durand Rueil, to see Pissaro, Monet, Dégas, Renoir and Seurat. Marc travelled several times to France from 1903 onwards, spending long hours at the Louvre, where he was particularly attracted to Van Gogh’s paintings.

August Macke’s city scenes showed silhouettes of slim and elegant women, admiring the latest fashion at shop windows and a sophisticated urban population sitting at cafes or strolling leisurely in a park. Macke looked for harmony in humans and in nature. His colors were vibrant and the atmosphere serene in sharp contrast with the violent, even depressive paintings of the Expressionists like Otto Dix, George Grosz or Max Beckman.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Blue black fox by Franz Marc.

Before being an artist, Marc had thought of becoming a theologian. In 1909, he left Munich for the wilderness of Bavarian Alps to paint animals and eventually moved closer to Murnau. He sought the essence and the purity of animal through a theosophical view of the cosmos. Instead of being naturalistic, his representation of deers or tigers was increasingly stylized. The young wild horses seemed to bask in their freedom. In 1911 Wassily Kandisky and Marc created Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, named after the themes of horses and cavaliers found in their paintings.

At a time when the abstraction was like a tidal wave – Picasso and Braque in France, Paul Klee in Switzerland, or Mikhail Larionov in Russia – it is not surprising that Marc and Macke were drawn to these new forms. Robert Delaunay and Italian Futurist Gino Severini became their inspiration.

But sadly this was to be a brief adventure, since both artists were killed prematurely in the war.

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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A Letter From Paris: A Look At Little (But Oh, So Powerful) Luxembourg

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

PARIS — Although Luxembourg is a minuscule country, with only 476,000 inhabitants, it is one of the world banking powerhouses occupying second place with 2.4 trillion euros under its management. It is one of the founding members of the European Union (EU) and has been an active participant at every step of its construction.  How did this happen?

The capital occupies a spectacular site on a rocky ridge overlooking the precipitous ravines of the Petrusse and Alzette rivers. From the Roman streets (Cardo and Decumanus) intersecting in the Marchė aux Poissons (fish market) to the all-glass museum of contemporary art designed by I. M. Pei, a visitor to Luxembourg can admire many periods of architecture including the ducal palace built in a rare 15th century Spanish-Moorish style.

Luxembourg's Ville Haute has a stunning location

Luxembourg’s Ville Haute has a stunning location.

After centuries of domination by neighbors, including France, the Netherlands and Belgium, the 1839 Treaty of London granted the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg both its independence and definitive borders. Grand Duke Henri is the incumbent ruler of the reigning Nassau-Weilbourg dynasty .

The vocation of Luxembourg was at first to be an impregnable fortress. In 963, Count Sigefroi chose the rock of Bock to build a fort. When, in 1684, Napoleon laid siege to the town, he turned to his renowned military architect Vauban to expand the fortifications, which are still visible today, with ramparts, towers, tunnels, bastions and casemates (military blockhouses), all dug out of the cliffs.

Luxembourg has also enjoyed another vocation — to be chosen sometimes as the ruler of Europe.  In 1308, Count Henry VII was elected King of Germany by the Prince Electors and soon afterward crowned as head of the German Holy Roman Empire.  Since December 2014, the EU President –  its highest executive – is Jean Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg has been closely associated with the process of unification of Europe. Robert Schuman, born of a French father and a Luxembourg mother, was among the founding fathers of Europe.  In 1947, the BENELUX convention, which created a customs union, was signed between Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.   In 1950, Schuman and Jean Monet from France created the ECSC  (European Coal and Steel Community). In 1957, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium signed the Treaty of Rome, creating the EEC (European Economic Community).

The 1985 “Schengen Space”  agreement, abolishing borders within Europe, took its name from a small Luxembourg village. The ‘quartier européeen’ has sprung up as a small Manhattan on the Kirchberg plateau with the sky scrapers of the European institutions like the European Investment Bank, the European Court of Justice, and most of the 150 international banks emblematic of modern Luxembourg.

In the 19th century, the discovery of iron ore brought Luxembourg into the industrial age. On the eve of World War I, it was the sixth producer of steel in the world.  But, with the decline of steel metallurgy after the 1970s, Luxembourg had to reinvent itself and turned toward financial activities, which today constitute more than 30 percent of the country’s GDP.  In 2001 the “Clearstream” scandal raised the suspicion of tax evasion.

Currently the trend is toward increasing transparency in the banking business. In early March of this year, during  an official visit to Luxembourg by French president Hollande, “tax optimization” was discussed. It was decided that, by 2017, the exchange of information will become automatic between the two countries.

The policy of Brussels, led by Juncker, is to launch a program of “quantitative easing” or QE (similar to the one carried by the Federal Reserve in the US), of 3,000 billion into the European economy. Countries are now scrambling to qualify for the bail-out funds by presenting their most innovative projects.

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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Reading Uncertainly: Book Review of ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson

This is the remarkable and intricate story of the computer, the Internet and the World Wide Web, all of which transformed and continue to alter this globe. It is a story of human collaboration, conflict, creativity and timing, from Ada, Countess of Lovelace in 1843 to the more familiar names of Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John Mauchly, John von Neumann, Grace Hopper, Robert Moore, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and, of course, “Watson,” the almost-human Jeopardy contestant of IBM.

Isaacson stresses the importance of the intersection of individual thinking combined, inevitably, with collaborative efforts. Ideas start with non-conformists, in many of whom initiative is often confused with disobedience. But it is in collaboration that we have found the effectiveness of the Web, a “networked commons.”

These changes have come about through conception and execution, plus “peer-to-peer sharing.” Isaacson cites three co-existing approaches: (1) Apple with its bundled hardware and software, (2) Microsoft with unbundled software, and (3) the Wikipedia example of free and open software, for any hardware. No one approach, he argues, could have created this new world: all three, fighting for space, are required. Similarly, he believes that a combination of investment works best: Government funding and coordination, plus private enterprise, plus “peers freely sharing ideas and making contributions as a part of a voluntary common endeavor.”

In his concluding chapter, Isaacson raises the question of the future for AI, artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking has warned, yet again, that we may create mechanisms that will not only think but also re-create themselves, effectively displacing homo sapiens as a species. But Isaacson is more optimistic: he sees and favors a symbiotic approach, in which the human brain and computers create an information-handling partnership. Recent advances in neuroscience suggest that the human brain is, in many ways, a limited automaton (see System One of Kahneman). But our brain, with its ability to “leap and create,” coupled with the computer’s growing ability to recall, remember, and assess billions of bits of information, may lead us, together, to better decisions.

His final “five lessons” are worth inscribing:

  1. “Creativity is a collaborative process.”
  2. “The digital age was based on expanding ideas handed down from previous generations.”
  3. “The most productive teams were those that brought together people with a wide array of specialties.”
  4. “Physical proximity is beneficial.”
  5. To succeed, “pair visionaries, who can generate ideas, with operating managers, who can execute them.”

Isaacson’s final lesson: humans bring to our “symbiosis with machines . . . one crucial element: creativity.” It is “the interaction of humanities and sciences.”

And we wouldn’t have LymeLine without the Innovators!

Editor’s Note: “The Innovators” is published by Simon & Schuster, New York 2014.

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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Letter From Paris: Greece Given Four Month Debt Deal Extension … But Then What?

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

During the last week of February 2015, intense negotiations took place between the Greek government and the three members of the “Troika” – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Central European Bank (CEB) and the Eurozone. On Feb. 27, the Bundestag, by a massive majority, approved the four month extension of aid to Greece.

It looked very much like a “déjà vu”scenario: Greece deep in debt, Greece kept alive thanks to several rounds of loans, Greece repeating its promises to curb public spending, and put a stop to fraud, corruption and tax avoidance. The creditors, however, wanted to give the new government of Alexis Tsipras. a chance to prove itself. The objective was to strike a compromise between austerity reforms and measures granting some respite to the most vulnerable segment of the population. The Greek government had five days left before running out of money.

Greek President Alexis Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Greece joined the Eurozone on Jan. 1, 2001. Before 2000, the Greek deficit was about 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) By some miracle, in order to meet the criteria for joining the European Union (EU), the deficit was brought down to 3 percent, or more precisely to 3.07 percent. Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other organizations, pondered over the figures. The situation was confusing, especially after the Goldman Sachs experts helped Greece with some “creative accounting” by deducting currency swaps and derivatives amounting to 2.8 billion from the calculation of the deficit.

Before 2012, Greece’s creditors were mostly private banks, such as the Société Générale in France. In March of that year, the banks agreed to cancel 70 percent of their loan or 107 billion. In 2010 and 2012, the “Troika” granted two rounds of loans, amounting respectively to 110 and 141 billion. Germany supports 30 percent of the Greek loan, France 23 percent (or 40 billion) and Italy 20 percent. The participation of the Eurozone members is proportional to the size of their population. The loans’s maturity is 30 years, 10 percent of the loan carries zero interest and the remainder has interest as low as 2 percent in 2015. It is important to note these facts in order to counter a lot of disinformation available on the internet.

The discussions, held in Brussels, went well until the disastrous final press conference when the new Greek minister of finances Yanis Varoujakis posturing as a cool Bruce Willis, (to use the Le Monde expression) first demanded that the “Troika” change its name and then asked for a “restructuring” of the debt. His tour of European capitals, ending in Berlin (where he should have started) was not much appreciated by the German Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schauble, who commented, “We agreed not to agree.” Varoujakis retorted, “We did not even agree not to agree.”

At a time when refugees and migrants try desperately to reach Europe, the immigration policy of the Tsipras’s recently-elected Syriza party is quite unsettling. Their plan calls for the retention centers, where refugees and migrants have been held until now, to be turned into “open centers;” to grant citizenship to 150,000 second generation children born in Greece; and to provide housing, schooling and medical care. How are these programs going to be financed? The wall built to protect the border between Turkey and Greece fell into disrepair after recent floods. Maintaining this wall is not a priority announced the government.

There is pretty much a consensus about Greece’s inability to ever pay back its debt. The creation of the European Funds of Stability and Finances in 2013 to “mutualize” the debt will help Europe absorb the Greek default with more serenity.

But it is far from a done deal. In four months, before your know it, there will be fierce opposition to write off the debt. Countries like Portugal or Spain are struggling through austerity and are are not about to continue bailing out Greece.

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: ‘Loi Macron’ Indicates a Sea Change in French Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

In January 2015, in a forceful declaration, French president François Hollande officially announced a break with the Socialist program, which had been the basis of his 2012 presidential campaign. It was a sharp turn toward a more liberal, market-oriented policy. The Loi Macron, named after the young (33-year-old) Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron, was to embody the new trend.

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

Expecting that the law would not pass, the government decided to use a joker – the article 49.3. It was a gamble since, in the event that the motion de censure (vote of no confidence) of the opposition succeeded, the government of Manuel Valls would be disavowed and fall. But the motion de censure received only 234 votes when it needed the absolute majority of 289. The law passed.

The article 49.3 is included in the constitution of the Fifth Republic. It allows the government to act in force to push a text through the Parliament without the need of a vote. It is a powerful but dangerous device. It has been used 82 times since 1958.

The last time was in 2006 when Dominique de Villepin, under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, tried to promote the Contrat Premiere Embauche, or CPE (first hiring contract). The students demonstrated in the streets. Shortly thereafter the CPE received national funerals. The champion of article 49.3 was Michel Rocard who in the late 1980s used it 28 times.

After 200 hours of consultations and 1,500 amendments granted by the government, it looked as though each article had been accepted separately. And yet, by the time of the final vote on Feb. 17, the far right (Front National), the far left (Front de Gauche), most of the right (UMP), and the 40 Frondeurs, or splinter group from within the Socialist party, joined in an alliance to put road blocks to stop the government’s proposal. Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron made their concluding speeches among jeers and interruptions. On the face of many deputies could be seen a rather despicable sarcasm.

In fact, the manoeuvre of the government deserves to be applauded since, to push a text in force, was the only way for the Executive to succeed. The Loi Macron reperesents an enormous task attempting to reform the fabric of French society. It meant dismantling the century-old system of privileges and protected niches enjoyed by whole segments of the population, including the five million civil servants, known as notaires — in France, notaires are a specific type of French attorneys overseeing all legal transaction while collecting taxes on behalf of the government, doctors, veterinarians, taxi drivers, auction houses officials, etc.

All the professions are regulated and benefit from a a special satus. The right to work on Sundays, and allowing intercities busses were hard-won victories. Only indirectly, the Loi Macron dealt with unemployment and ways to jump-start the economy.

The law is insufficient and has its defects, but is a step in the right direction. It represents a real effort to bring changes and to satisfy Brussels. Angela Merkel, in Paris for more discussions about the Ukraine, expressed her satisfaction.

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: Minsk 2 – Another Truce for Ukraine … Maybe

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petroshenko.

From left to right, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Petro Porosnhenko. Photo credit EPA/Maxim Shipenkov.

After a 16-hour long marathon of negotiations on Feb. 11, and a great deal of suspense, Angela Merkel and François Hollande wrenched out a hard-won agreement for a cease-fire in Ukraine from Petro Porosnhenko and Vladimir Putin starting on Saturday, Feb. 14 at midnight. All parties to the agreement were extremely cautious and hoped that “Minsk 2” would last longer than “Minsk 1” signed in September 2014.

More than 5,500 people have died in the conflict during the past 10 months, which makes it the deadliest in Europe since World War II. There was a sense of relief that the agreement went through and thus a disaster had been avoided. In the morning, Putin joked that he had had better nights but felt satisfied.

To continue the negotiations rather than slamming more sanctions on Putin, as some Washington pundits advocate, was the objective of Minsk 2. Sanctions have a cost for Europe (for example, the Russian government retaliated to earlier sanctions by blocking the import of produce from Western Europe.) More dangerously, they exacerbate the nationalism of Putin and enhance his popularity in Russia.

In the face of a threatening strategy of Daesh* making well planned inroads to destabilise Europe by recent acts of terrorism, Russia and the European Union (EU) have a common enemy. For decades, the extremist Moslem opposition in Chechnya and Central Asia has been a great fear for the Russian government..

The talks in Minsk started in a polar atmosphere. Throughout the night, Petro Poroshenko’s and Vladimir Putin’s teams moved like a choreographed ballet. Early in the morning, Putin left the room, slamming the door, only to reappear a few minutes later. The Franco-German duo is to be credited with an unflappable tenacity to reach an agreement. The two worked perfectly together. Merkel needed Hollande since she wants to avoid making foreign policy decisions alone and prefers,“Leading from the center,” to use a formula coined by the German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen.

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Minsk 2 includes modified provisions to make the process move forward. The buffer zone – cleared from all heavy armaments – has been widened from 30 km to 70 kms. The European Council for Stability and Security will be monitoring the application of the agreement. Putin expressed his demands for the autonomy of the Luhansk and Donestk regions..

The EU widely considers that Ukraine is both a corrupt and failed state. It cannot afford to help it financially nor envisages its adhesion to the EU any time soon. Kiev does not want to lose the industrial and mining Donbas region, but its action is disorganized. For many months, Putin has claimed that he never intervened in the conflict taking place in Eastern Ukraine.

One wonders whether he really controls the Russian separatists, so different from the sophisticated Maidan crowd. The Donbass miners and blue collar workers are products of massive transfers of population forced by the Soviets at the time of the German offensive to compensate for the relocation of highly skilled workers to the Ural Mountains. Another headache for Putin is the presence among the Russian separatists of clans whose leaders have political ambitions .

It is hard to understand Putin’s strategy. Obviously he does not want NATO to choke him nor nuclear misssiles to be installed in the area. He does not have the means to support the Donbas. His priority should most likely be to allow a corridor from Rostov on Don, through Mariopol on the Sea of Azov and then leading to the Crimea. At present his only access to the Crimea is through the Straits of Kerch, which is some distance away.

*The new nickname for ISIS widely used in France, Australia and some other countries because ISIS supposedly dislikes it intensely — it is a loose acronym of the Arabic description of ISIS, which does not acknowledge any statehood for the organization but rather can be roughly translated as, “One who crushes something underfoot,” or, “One who sows discord.”

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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Talking Transportation: Is Metro-North Irreplaceable?

What is Connecticut’s relationship with Metro-North? Client – vendor? Shared partnership? Stockholm syndrome? Or is the railroad a “fanged sloth” hanging around our neck?

All of those analogies has been made to the state’s 30+ year relationship with Metro-North, part of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). But given their dismal safety record and deteriorating service in recent years, many have asked, “Is it time to fire Metro-North and find someone else to run our trains?”

I posed that very question almost four years ago and people were shocked, not knowing that such a thing was even possible. Now there are even laws being considered in Hartford to rid us of the railroad.

But even though Metro-North works for us, CDOT’s Commissioner Jim Redeker says they should not … in fact, cannot … be replaced.

Redeker recently testified that Metro-North is uniquely qualified and staffed to run a commuter rail operation of its size and that there are no other potential competitors he’d consider as operator, let alone try to build our own agency from scratch. On this point he’s probably right.

Where he’s wrong is in arguing that replacing Metro-North would mean we wouldn’t be allowed to run “Our trains” into “Their station,” Grand Central Terminal (GCT).

There are plenty of railroads with operating rights on others’ tracks. New Jersey Transit has no trouble getting into Penn Station. Virginia Railway Express runs into downtown DC. Does Commissioner Redeker really think that our Congressional delegation couldn’t force the MTA to give us access to GCT? It wouldn’t be an easy fight, but this is certainly no deal-breaker to replacing Metro-North.

Alternative #3 is to renegotiate our contract with the railroad. This opportunity only presents itself every five years, and 2015 is one of those windows. Maybe we should get them to commit to service standards, as their current contract has no metrics to measure their performance. But again, Commissioner Redeker seems reticent to fight for our state or its commuters.

He reminded lawmakers that the last time Connecticut arbitrated the contract, we were out-smarted and ending up with a worse deal than we’d had before. The MTA’s army of lawyers took us to the cleaners, costing us millions more in payments to Metro-North each year. Apparently the Commissioner thinks we’re not smart enough to negotiate a better deal, so why even try?

So, just to recap … our Commissioner of Transportation says we have no real options, that we have to work with Metro-North, but we’re probably not savvy enough to get any better deal than we have now. So let’s just wave the white flag before the battle begins and keep paying $70+ million a year for lousy train service.

Now there is inspired leadership! Declare defeat and just walk away. Let the “fanged sloth” continue to hang around our necks. We really have no choice. Suck it up because Metro-North, our vendor, is running the show.

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, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Letter from Paris: Patrick Modiano receives 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature

Nobel_prize_for_Literature_2014

…”all those wasted years during which one did not pay enough attention to trees, to flowers”…) says the main character in Modiano’s latest novel ‘Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier’ (which translates roughly as, “To avoid getting yourself lost in the neighborhood”)

France had the distinctive honor of receiving two Nobel prizes in 2014: Jean Tirole was the recipient of the Prize for Economics for his work on the financial crisis and the banking system while Patrick Modiano received the Prize for Literature. He will join an illustrious pantheon of writers from Gunter Grass (Germany) ), Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Gabriel Garcia Marques (Columbia) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Soviet Union) to Albert Camus (France) or Ernest Hemingway (USA). Modiano is the 16th laureate from France, giving that country the largest number since beginning of the Nobel awards in 1900.

The press release issued by the Swedish Academy of Sciences selected the French writer, “For the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Occupation.” The prize was a recognition of his abundant literary production (30 novels) centered on the protagonists’ search of their own past, in the urban setting of Paris, going back to World War II.

He writes like a sleep walker, plodding through a mysterious, sometimes disjointed sequence of events looking for his lost childhood when he was tossed around from one home to another. Since his first novel, ‘La Place de l’Etoile,’ published in 1968, he has created a world where autobiographic notes are interwoven with the “bad dream” of the Occupation.

Modiano is a tall (6′ 6” ) man of 69 with a kind face and fluttering hands as he speaks. During a 45-minute acceptance speech in Stockholm, his modest personality must have made him endearing to the distinguished audience, particularly when he dedicated his award to his Swedish grandson.

A writer, he said, is usually a poor speaker, who leaves his sentences unfinished, because he is used to editing his text over and over again.

He explained that he belonged to a generation when children were not allowed to speak up and, if they were given a chance to speak, they expected to be interrupted at any time.

During an interview he gave in his study, surrounded by thousands of books, he asked, “Why would I write another book when so many have been already written?” Then he added, “It is probably at the sight of his own bookcases that a discouraged Scott Fitzgerald took up drinking.”

He claims, with incredible modesty, that “It is with bad poets that one obtains prose writers.”

According to Alice Kaplan, head of the French department at Yale University, Modiano can be labelled as the Marcel Proust of modern times.

Claire Duvarrieux, head of the ‘Books’ department of the daily newspaper, Liberation, describes the works of Modiano as a collective memory of France during the war, the German Occupation, collaboration, the persecution of the Jews and finally, the war in Algeria.

With Louis Malle, he co-wrote the scenario of Lacombe Lucien in 1974, one of the best French “New Wave” films.

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: Marcel Duchamp at the Pompidou Center

Marcel Duchamp i(1887-1965) is well known in America.  Most people have heard of his readymades like the famous (or infamous) Fontaine, which is, in fact, a public urinal.  Stiglitz immortilized the original in a 1917 photograph before it disappeared for ever.  The bicycle wheel set on a kitchen stool is a familiar sight for MOMA vistors.

Nude descending a staircase No. 2

Nude going down a staircase No. 2

Since his first trip to the US in 1915, the artist made multiple visits to that country, avoiding the two World Wars.  He acquired American nationality in 1955.  It was at the 1913 Armory Show that his cubist painting  ‘Nu Descendant un escalier No. 2′ (Nude going down a staircase No. 2) became a huge success.

Some critics have labelled Marcel Duchamp as the creator of modern art while others say he destroyed it when he advocated “non-retinal” painting.  Volumes have been written about him.  In an amazingly short time – since he abandoned art for chess at age 36 – he was able not only to produce art, but also to integrate into it the latest discoveries  of science and modern technology.

The Marcel Duchamp exhibit at the Pompidou Center just closed its doors after several successful months.  It was a monographic approach consisting of about 100 paintings  and drawings little known in France (most of them are part of the Louise and Walter Arensberg collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) covering the 1912 to 1923 period and leading to his main creation, ‘Le Grand Verre.’

Born in Normandy, Duchamp belonged to a talented family of six children.  The mother was a distant figure, which may explain his alienation from women.  ‘Sonate,’ 1911, represents the three sisters playing musical instruments.  The mother stands stern and erect . Strangely enough she seems to be enjoying the concert, although she is deaf.

He had a deadpan sort of humor and provocation was his tool.  He enjoyed playing  tricks on the Regardeurs  (viewers), giving wrong titles to his works.  He relished plays on words, for example, he called himself Rose Selavy (Eros – that’s life) in the photograph Man Ray took of him.  To put a moustache and a goatie on Mona Lisa was a virtual iconoclastic gesture and he made it even more outrageous by giving it the title of LHOOQ (if  the letters are pronounced in French the meaning is shockingly vulgar) .

Duchamp joined his two brothers Jacques Villon and Raymond-Duchamp in the Puteaux group of Cubists.  ‘Dulcinea’ and the ‘Joueurs d’échecs’ are among his superb cubist paintings.  Borrowing the technique of chronophotography and cinema, he introduced time and movement in ‘Jeune Homme Triste dans Un Train 1911-12,’  where the real accomplishment was to show a person in a train in motion while also suggesting his sad mood.

La Mariée mise a nu par ses célibataires,’ meme (also called Le Grand Verre) was his major work.  It consists of two free-standing glass panels.  In the lower register, nine Moules Maliques*  (an officer, a gendarme, a priest, etc) stand beside a chocolate-crushing machine, which rotates non-stop.  By means of sexually-related devices, gas travels up toward the mariée, who is hanging limply at the top, having gone from the virgin to the bride stage.  The work alludes to the universal themes of erotic love and the inaccessible woman.

* I am not even attempting to translate these nonsensical words!

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: Ten Days Later

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

Ten days after the assassination at the Charlie Hebdo office including the magazine’s editor and leading cartoonists, France is on high alert. Threats against persons and acts of vandalism are multiplying. The Jewish community is scared, the Muslims feel stigmatized, the Catholics are worried. It would be exaggerated however to describe – the way a Fox News journalist claimed – that certain areas of Paris, such as the 11th arrondissement, are dangerous and should be avoided. Incidentally, the journalist quickly withdrew his remark.

Prime minister Manuel Valls and minister of the Interior Bernard Caseneuve have launched maximum security measures: the Vigipirate alert system (at first created by president Giscard d’Estaing in 1978) now includes 10,000 troops from the Foreign Legion, the army and the police. They are positioned throughout France to protect monuments, schools and places of worship, as well as strategic points like airports or railroad stations. On Thursday, Francois Hollande was on the air force carrier Charles de Gaulle in Toulon to review the 2,000 troops before their departure for manoeuvers in the Indian Ocean. France has currently nine Rafales in Jordan and two Mirages in Saudi Arabia.

The criminal investigation has been fast and efficient. In lightning speed, they uncovered more ramifications of the jihadists’ organization, extended to their families, friends and acquaintances, with the “Buttes-Chaumont connection” at the center. The Belhoucine brothers are on the list of suspects. A large number of individuals have been taken for questioning and nine are currently in police custody . In the Paris region, five caches of weapons have been located and searched.

Reinforcement of the legal system to control the jihadists’ travels and activities is being studied by the government. Measures such as the creation of special files on terrorists similar to the ones kept on sexual offenders and withdrawing the French nationality of returning jihadists are being considered. Voting on a new law should take place as early as the beginning of February. Control of internet has become a priority. The social networks constitute a counter culture expressed in simple manichean terms to be accessible to the largest possible numbers. Calls for violence and hatred never stop.

The recent events have marked the French. On Wednesday, January 14, after a powerful speech by the prime minister at the National Assembly, all the deputies stood up to observe a minute of silence. Then one voice started singing the Marseillaise and soon everybody followed in unison. The last time this happened was on November 11, 1918! At the Institut du Monde Arabe and during all the official ceremonies, the president and the prime minister reiterated their basic point: the French government is not against Islam nor the Muslim population. Around the world, French diplomatic representations and economic interests are under attack. The TV news shows the fury of violent mobs shouting their hatred in the streets of Niger — quite a contrast from the calm of the people in the streets of Paris on January 11.

Laicite (secularism) is a specificity of France, and the outcome of a tumultuous history, starting with the 16th century wars of religions, opposing monarch and church. It took a whole century for the Catholic Church to accept the separation of church and state in 1904. That principle was enshrined in the first article of the 1958 constitution at the outset of the fifth Republic. It is alien to most of the other countries and should be “formatted” (to use a computer science term) in order to be understood beyond our borders.

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Paris, saw the places where the violent attacks took place on January 7 and used warm words (in French) to express his support of France.

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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Welcome, Felix Kloman: Our Newest Columnist

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

We are delighted to welcome a new columnist to our ranks today. Felix Kloman will be writing book reviews under the column title of “Reading Uncertainly” and we are pleased to publish his first review in a separate article today.

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. Her characters also explore the world, causing murders or tripping over bodies in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Stockholm, Sweden, Hamilton, Bermuda, Newport, R.I., Bainbridge Island, Wa., and, believe it or not, Old Lyme, Conn.

He can be reached at fkloman@aol.com.

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Reading Uncertainly? Book Review of “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The_Sixth_ExtinctionRats!  Is there a real possibility that rats may be the species that survives the human race?  Elizabeth Kolbert suggests such an outcome in her engrossing perambulation around this modest earth on which we live, since we may well be living at the start of the “Sixth Extinction.”

Science tells us the earth has experienced five earlier “extinctions,” when many living creatures, small and large, disappeared because of a major change in the earth’s constitution or because of an errant asteroid.  But these five occurred approximately 450, 375, 250, 200 and 60 million years ago, in a universe that is 13.5 billion years old.

So we are minute upstarts on this planet.  But, as a thinking and intensely curious species, we’ve tried to understand that long past, plus our present and a most uncertain future.

Kolbert’s question: are we creating our own Sixth Extinction?

Like Pogo, she suggests “the cataclysm is us!”  “Since the start of the industrial revolution,” she writes, “humans have burned through enough fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere.  Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons.  Each year we throw up another nine billion tons or so . . . . The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today . . . is higher than at any other point in the last eight hundred thousand years. . . . It is expected that such an increase will produce an eventual average global temperature rise of between three and a half and seven degrees Fahrenheit . . . (triggering) the disappearance of most remaining glaciers, the inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities, and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.”

Then add to that “ocean acidification.”

We know that all species on this planet are interdependent, but are humans also an “invasive species?” Yes, we seem to be collective problem solvers (much like ants, according to E. O. Wilson) but we seem to be unable to solve our biggest problem: us!  “Though it might be nice to imagine there was once a time when men lived in harmony with nature, it is not clear he ever did!”

Is it possible, then, as Kolbert suggests, “ . . . a hushed hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man – the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories – will all be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper?”

Kolbert visits locations all around this earth – some 11 countries – very much like Alan Weisman’s research for his Countdown, exploring current rates of extinction.  One is on an island in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, looking at the erosion of coral.  Another is the decline of bats in the eastern United States.  Still another is the Panamanian golden frog.  Together, she says, they indicate we are a part of the Anthropocene epoch, during which we may well become extinct.

This is a sobering analysis of current practices and signs.  She acknowledges the possibility that “human ingenuity will outrun any disaster that human ingenuity sets in motion.”  But I’m left with the likelihood that our friend the rat, who has hitchhiked to almost every piece of this earth with us, and who successfully scavenges our debris, may survive us.  As Ratty pronounced, in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (my paraphrase), “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing —  half so much worth doing as simply messing about with humans.”

Her book is “one of 2014’s best” according to The Economist.

HFK_headshot_2005_284x331About 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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Letter From Paris: Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Our French correspondent Nicole Prévost Logan was in Paris last Wednesday when the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office occurred and for the subsequent days of terror in the environs of Paris. This column reflects her thoughts on the tragedy. She writes:

Je_suis_Charlie_v3

They were a talented, irreverent, friendly and humorous bunch of cartoonists and journalists. They were like family. We knew them by name. Charb, Cabu, Wolinski (Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski) and the others were also incredibly courageous. Round the clock they had to be protected by police and body guards. In 2011, their office was blown up in an explosion. Charb, leader and editor-in-chief of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical newspaper, was on the ‘Wanted’ list of Al-Qaeda as someone to be eliminated.

On Wednesday, January 7, at noon, I was walking by the Bastille, near my apartment, when police cars, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, fire trucks – their sirens howling – seemed to be converging on the square. Strange, I thought. When I met my daughter for lunch, she told me that the entire editorial board of Charlie Hebdo had been shot. Being “connected” with her smart phone, she was able to follow every minute of the crisis

The crisis lasted for three days with the pursuit of the two Kouachi brothers by tens of thousands of police and special forces. Two more attacks (related, as it turned out later) occurred in Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes with the taking of hostages by a third terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly. Seventeen people died during the 72 hours, including four Jewish hostages who had been held in a Kosher supermarket.

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb.

The emotion in France was intense. The French have always relished their iconoclastic derision aimed at everyone … women, Jews, Moslems, blacks, no exceptions … and their making fun of politics, religion and other serious topics.

The tragic end of an entire editorial staff of a newspaper at the point of a gun in the name of a principle explains the incredible shock wave of sympathy with spread around the world in a few hours. A journalist from Los Angeles said in his grief at the talent lost that, in one throw, more cartoonists were killed than the total number existing in the US. The victims have become the heroes, for having pushed to the extreme the right to say, write or draw anything in a free democratic society.

One may quote Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it.” Humor rather than violence or a call to violence, this was their motto. This weekend France became a libertarian banner and the world seemed grateful to France for doing what no one else dared to do. This attack and the planet’s reaction that it triggered can be seen as a fight for a secular state threatened by obscurantist developments, both in the regions where ISIL is taking hold and against terrorism anywhere in the world.

The French opinion from all parties, (except the Front National) is that President François Hollande managed the crisis superbly. He was on the front line at all times. He scared the police forces beyond belief when he came to the Charlie Hebdo street barely one hour after the attack, even before the area was made secure. Hollande was at the helm of the operations and gave the green light for the two final assaults to be perfectly synchronized. He addressed the nation several times, avoiding grandiloquence and photo-op opportunities.

Instead of being belligerent and declaring “at war” status, what he stressed was the national unity and the need of inclusion of the overwhelmingly moderate Moslem population (about four million or 6.8 percent of the population, by 2012 figures.) He urged the leaders of that community – imams, clergy, intellectuals and associations – to speak up and to join the march organized on Sunday. Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque of Drancy, a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants, declared on television, “What they have done is not Islam, we strongly condemn their acts.” This is important because the problem of “integration” in France (one remembers the hostility caused by the ban on the veil) is a difficult process.

For three days, men in black, super-equipped with helmets, bullet-proof vests, shields and heavy arms, occupied our television screens. We learned more about the elite groups which carried out the assaults. In Dammartin-en-Goële, it was the GIGN (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), part of a 400-strong military elite corps based in Versailles. At the Kosher market of the Porte de Vincennes, RAID (Recherche pour Assistance Intervention Dissuasion) is part of the police. It was the first time ever that GIGN and RAID collaborated.

A question was immediately raised: how was it possible that Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, young French men with murky pasts of convictions, prisons terms, and, most of all, trips to Syria and several months training in Yemen with the most dangerous groups of Al-Qaeda (AQPA) in the Arabian Peninsula, included on the US “no fly list,” could have been overlooked by the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure)? Pierre Martinet, one of the heads of the DGSE explained that the data about all these people has been collected, but they do not have the manpower to put several thousands potential terrorists under surveillance.

Gilles Keppel, a Middle East specialist and professor at Sciences Po) revealed that France has been designated as the prime enemy. There are about 1,200 French Jihadists, the largest group in Europe. The era when terrorists learnt how to fly planes is over — today the social networks have created another situation when Al-Qaeda is less an organization than a system. Private individuals make decisions, hence the difficulty in controlling them.

In an interview Monday morning, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, summarized the priorities: control the calls for violence on the internet; in prison, separate radical islamists to prevent their radicalization of other prisoners; and intensify the coordination of intelligence agencies within Europe and around the world. The Socialists are reluctant to introduce legislation comparable to the Patriot Act in the US at the expense of the rule of law.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand together in defense of the right to free speech.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand in solidarity in defence of the right to free speech.

Sunday, January 11, saw the march of the century. Forty heads of state participated in the demonstration. François Hollande led the march, accompanied by Angela Merkel and 40 other heads of state. Some commentators wondered whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence was politically motivated or, as for the others, to defend the principle of freedom of expression.

Four million people were on the streets, almost half of them in Paris. The crowd, including many children, was calm and disciplined, sang La Marseillaise, and applauded the police – probably for the first time in French history.

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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 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: “Getting to the Airport”

The old Cunard line used to say that “getting there is half the fun.”  But anyone who’s endured the challenges and indignities of air travel know that getting to the airport can sap your strength, if not your wallet.  Consider the alternatives.

A car service is certainly convenient.  But at $110 one way to LaGuardia,  $140 to JFK and $150+ to Newark, getting to the airport can often cost more than your air fare. (Mind you, these are the advertised rates, so I wouldn’t be shy about asking for promotions and discounts when you call to book.  It’s a competitive business.)

But car services aren’t just expensive, they’re also wasteful.  Couldn’t solo travelers share a car with others in a “limo-pool”?  Is one passenger in a Lincoln Town Car an efficient use of limited space on I-95?

How about Connecticut Limousine? Now there’s a misnomer!  Since when is a cramped van a limo?  And try explaining that name on the receipt on your expenses to your company’s accountant.  “Really, boss … it was just a van!”

Being thrifty, on a few occasions I’ve actually rented a car at the airport, driven home and then dropped the car the next day in Stamford.  A day’s car rental is about half the cost of a car service.

Some regular fliers hire neighborhood teens to drive their own car to the airport, drop them off and drive the car home, repeating the process on their return.  That’s less expensive than a car service, but puts double the miles on your car.

My preferred airport transfer is in my own car. Airport parking is $39 a day. Not cheap, but certainly convenient. And nobody complains about my cigar smoking en route to the airport.

Another alternative, believe it or not, is Metro-North. Get off at 125th Street and catch a cab or livery and you’re at LaGuardia in about 15 minutes.  There’s also a new Express Bus, the M60, that whisks you from 125th St to LGA in about 20 minutes.

If you’re heading to Newark, definitely consider Amtrak.  Many Northeast corridor trains stop at Newark Airport where a convenient connection to the airport monorail has you at the terminals in just minutes.  The train sure beats the Cross-Bronx and GWB any day. And fares are as low as $28 one way.

Mind you, New York’s three airports aren’t the only choices. Westchester County’s White Plains airport offers non-stop jet service to many cities on a variety of major carriers including JetBlue.  Hartford’s Bradley Airport offers another alternative, including low-fare carriers like Southwest … if you don’t mind an hour plus drive to get to the airport, north of Hartford.  One faithful reader extols the virtues of New Haven’s Tweed Airport where US Air flies to Philly where you can connect to most anywhere.

Clearly, the trip to and from the airport can start and end a trip on a very sour, and expensive, note.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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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Letter from Paris: The Magic of Merkel

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

She has been the German chancellor for 13 years, longer than any of her predecessors since the creation of the country in 1949.  Forbes magazine puts her #1 on the world’s list of powerful women.

The key to understanding Angela Merkel and the successful way she runs her government lies in her upbringing.  She was born in 1954 in Hamburg.  When she was three, her father – a Lutheran pastor – moved the family east of Berlin in order for him to head a home for mentally disabled children.  Growing up in one of the most repressive countries in the world, she always feared being spied on by the East German State Security Service – commonly known as the ‘Stasi’ – and was careful not to put the life of her family in danger.  No wonder the wire-tapping of her cell phone last July hit a raw nerve.

Between a distant father and the dreary atmosphere of East Germany, she found security and stimulation in hard scientific work.  She obtained a doctorate in physics and wrote her thesis on quantum chemistry.  She also became an excellent Russian speaker — a skill she has used in her relations with Putin.  Her Polish ancestry – her mother came from Gdansk (formerly Danzig) – will undoubtedly make her close to the new president of the European council, Donald Tusk.

She is a shrewd politician, pragmatic enough to adjust to changes.  She likes consensus and has accepted a coalition between her Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU – Christian Democratic Party) with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD – Social Democratic Party).  She treats politics like a science , taking a long time before reaching a decision, thus giving a comforting stability to her performance.  She wants power, but hates being in the spotlight.  This is why she preferred the “Merkozy” (Merkel-Sarkozy) days to being alone in dealing with the European Union.

Merkel has a difficult task to accomplish.  Her obsession with the rule of balanced budgets is creating austerity, which many members of the Euro zone now reject.  Her policy is increasingly being criticized by economists.  Emmanuel Macron, the new French Economic Minister, and Wolfang Schäuble his German counterpart, strongly disagree with her positions and think that growth is more important than austerity.  Marcel Fratzscher, professor of macro economics and finances at the university of Humboldt, also thinks that the priority is to invest in the crumbling German infrastructure.

Germany is perceived abroad, and particularly by the US, as carrying Europe financially.  However, this assessment should be corrected by keeping  in mind that the European Central Bank capital is made up of the contributions from the national banks.  The Deutsche Bundesbank contributes 19.99 percent, Banque de France 14.1 percent, Banca d’Italia 12.3 percent and so on. The burden of the debt is shared by all the countries of the Euro zone.

On Dec. 10, 2014, Angela Merkel was reelected by an astounding 99 percent of the votes as head of the CDU, which she has led since 2000.   After a 10-minute-long standing ovation, the party members proceeded to enjoy three more days of the Cologne Congress.  Today, an overwhelming  64 percent of  Germans would like her to run for a fourth mandate as chancellor in 2017.

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost 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: Chinese Make Increasing Inroads into France

china-france-300x161Chinese president Xi Jiping , wearing oversize headphones, appeared on the cover of the French weekly Nouvel Obs on Dec. 4.  “Are they spying on us?” asked the magazine.

The same week, huge parabolic antennae showed up on the roof of an inconspicuous building four miles from Paris.

Some people found the picture rather amusing and did not take this disclosure too seriously.  But not everybody.  In fact, the way China is making inroads into the French economy is somewhat disturbing for many.

This week, the International Monetary Fund announced that China surpassed the US as the largest economy in the world.  The sheer size of this sub-continent, which represents over one fifth of the world population, is rather frightening for a small country like France.  The economic strategy of China starts with the creation of partnerships with foreign companies, then a growing participation in their capital, and finally their acquisition.  It is by absorbing the ideas, the know-how and the technology of older countries, that China was able to race to the number one slot.  French officials and heads of private companies facilitate China’s grand design.

Economic relationships between the two countries have existed for years, but what is new is its accelerating pace.  In 2007, China had no high-speed trains.  Then it turned to France (Alstom), Germany (Siemens) and Japan ( Shinkansen) to obtain the transfer of their technologies.  Today China has the longest fast train network in the world.

In 1992, Donfeng Motor Corporation and Peugeot-Citroen, the leading carmaker in France entered in a joint venture and started manufacturing cars in China.

In March 2014, China Donfeng became an equal share holder of Peugeot-Citroen, thereby bringing to an end the 200-year-old family dynasty.

France sold the idea of Club Med and the Shanghai-based Fosun company is currently fighting to win a bid for its acquisition.

For the French, it feels like selling the family jewels when they see their prestigious wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, along with their chateaux, being bought by the Chinese.

But the most unsettling development so far just took place on Dec. 4.  Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy, signed an agreement with a Chinese consortium granting it 49.99 percent of the capital of the Toulouse airport.

It is a disastrous business move by the French government.  Toulouse is the country’s fourth largest airport.  Extensive work has just been completed at a high cost.  The airport has been a money-making undertaking, so why sell it for a dismal 308 million – the price of one Airbus?

The answer is simple: France is under extraordinary pressure from Brussels to lower its deficit.  It needs money.

The new giant facility will handle 20 million passengers a year, multiplying by five the number of Chinese tourists visiting France, with direct flights to several Chinese provinces.  Anybody, who has ever been to the “pink city” (pink is the color of the stone) on the banks of the Garonne with its quaint historical districts, will feel shocked by this decision.

Besides, Toulouse is the European capital of aeronautics as well as an important center of nuclear and spatial research.  A large Chinese presence in the neighborhood understandably makes some people nervous.


HeadshotAbout 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 UK and Europe: Divided, We Stand Together … for the Moment

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

France and the rest of Europe look at the United Kingdom with some envy: the UK is currently enjoying a three percent growth in its economy, unemployment as low as six percent, a paired down number of civil servants and the dynamism of the City as a world financial center.  No wonder young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to Britain from the continent.

This week the spotlight was on Prime Minister David Cameron.  On Nov. 28, he gave a resounding speech to an industrial audience in the West Midlands.  The main thrust of his message was to stress the inability of his country to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and job seekers.  He announced that, if reelected in May 2015, he will renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).  In the case of refusal, he would organize a referendum on “Brexit” (the colloquial expression for British exit).

To control immigration, his demands include the expulsion of  immigrants still jobless six months after their arrival in England and a four year waiting period for new immigrants before they can receive benefits, tax  credits or social housing .

David Cameron’s position in regards to the surge of immigration should not be singled out. An increasing flow of migrants is taking place around the world, from Australia  to America.  In Europe, the phenomenon is compounded because of several circumstances: sub- Sahara persons fleeing for political or economic reasons, refugees escaping the Middle East military conflicts and finally, the recent surge of migrants from Eastern to Western Europe (228,000 this year — the highest number ever registered.)

According to the “Schengen Zone Agreement”, Rumania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, had to wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to enjoy full rights to travel and apply for work within the Schengen space.  This explains the spectacular increase in the number of immigrants from those countries to England during the past nine months – increases respectively of 468 percent of Rumanians and 205 percent of Bulgarians.  Government corruption, hard to integrate “Romas” and a lagging economy in both those countries explain why other EU members are reluctant to open the flood gates too soon.  This week David Cameron sent a special message to the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, to reassure that his demands would not apply to job seekers from her country.

On Nov. 25, the Pope, speaking in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg,  admonished the Europeans for being too egoistic and urged them to coordinate their immigration policies.  The Mediterranean, he said, should not become a cemetery.  Stressing human dignity, the Pope puts immigration at the center of his message.  The choice of Lampeduza as his first trip out of Rome was symbolic.

David Cameron is under pressure from the Euro-skeptics  and the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party).  It is clear he is ready to moderate his demands since he does not want to sever links with the EU.  The desire to negotiate is also strong on the other side of the English Channel.

HeadshotAbout 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: Gambling on the Impressionists

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

One could describe the exhibit as intimate.  Only 80 paintings hang in the small rooms of the Musée du Luxembourg, some of them never seen before.  The style is familiar. the colors are soft, the scenes are peaceful — we are in the Impressionists’ world to meet old friends: Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Eugene Boudin, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt.

poster for Musee_de_luxembourg_ExhibitThe title of the exhibit is, “Paul Durand-Ruel. The Impressionist Gamble – Manet, Monet, Renoir,”  and it tells the endearing story of the first art dealer in history … and also one of the most influential.

The artwork is stunning: in “Le Pont à Villeneuve -la-Garenne,”  Sisley creates the fluidity of the water by using multicolor brush strokes and in Renoir’s dance scenes, 1883, couples twirl around happily, women’s eyes bright, their ruffled dresses contrasting with the dark suits of their older escorts.   “Liseuse” by Monet  shows a young woman sitting on the grass, enveloped by vegetation, spots of light dots her pink dress and in “Le Foyer de la Dance,” Degas’ dancers warm up, others are stretching, while, in the foreground, a little old lady, slouching in a chair is reading a newspaper.  Nearby another painting is identical, except for the empty chair — the little old lady is gone.

The story behind the artwork is equally fascinating.  Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) became an art dealer by accident.   Attracted to a military career, he entered Saint Cyr  (equivalent of West Point) but  renounced for medical reasons.  He was struck by the paintings of Eugene Delacroix exhibited at the 1855 Exposition Universelle (World Fair). He became fascinated by the artists who were refused access to the official Salon of the Academy of Fine Arts because of their innovative techniques.

In 1871, Paul met Monet and Pissarro in London where they had taken refuge from the Franco-Prussian war.  After his return to Paris, he visited Manet in his studio, liked his work so much that he bought 23 of his paintings at one go.  The Luxembourg exhibit includes two of Manet ‘s major works:  “Clair de Lune at Boulogne” and “Le Combat du Kearsage et de l’Alabama.”

Left alone after the his wife’s death, he turned his art dealership into a family business with his five children.  He opened galleries in London, Brussels, New York and later, Berlin.

In 1874, a group of young artists – who were given, at that time, the collective term of ‘Impressionists’ – showed their work for the first time together in the studio of   photographer Nadar.

Durand-Ruel fought to help the artists, both morally and financially, and became their friend. He borrowed money to purchase their paintings. He offered his living room on Rue de Rome to a penniless Monet and lent him money to move to Giverny. Years later, when he was rich and famous, Monet wrote, “We would have starved to death without Paul. ”

In 1886, the American Art Association invited him to organize an exhibit in New York.  It was a success and became the first official recognition of the Impressionists.

One cannot help compare the story of such a life to the speculation around art today and to the giant art fairs (like Art Basel) when  intermediaries are commissioned by owners with deep pockets.

The exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg continues through Feb. 8, 2015.

HeadshotAbout 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: New European Union Commission Leadership Faces Rocky Road

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Nov. 1, following the mandate of Manual Barroso (2009-2014) from Portugal, the 12th Commission of the European Union (EU) moved into its headquarters at the Berlaymont  in Brussels.

The selection process of the Commission – the key institution of the EU and a formidable machine employing 25,000 persons – has greatly changed since its beginnings in 1951.  The mandate was shortened from nine years to five ;  whereas the president of the Commission used to be designated by the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the present European Council), he (or she) )  is now elected by the Parliament.  A major turn in the composition of the Commission took place in 2004 with the addition of 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe.  The present rule assigning one commissioner per country creates an odd situation: Malta, with a population of 400,000, has the same representation as Germany with a population of 82 millions.

Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxemburg, a member of the European People’s Party, was elected by the Parliament with 422 votes out of 751 as the new president of the Commission.  Angela Merkel strongly supported him.  Linguistically and culturally he stands half way between France and Germany – a real asset for the most important official of the EU.

Upon his return from the G20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid November, Juncker had to face the “Luxleaks” crisis exposed by the press.  Forty international newspapers, including Le Monde, the Guardian and the Suddentsche Zeitung, investigated the tax breaks granted by Luxemburg to 340 multinationals, like Google, Apple or Amazon.  Yuncker’s critics said that, while he was serving as prime minister and minister of finances, Luxemburg became the leading tax haven of Europe.  To put an end to these practices, the “rulings” – holding companies and other devices used for tax “optimization” – were suspended.  As the new president of the Commission, Yuncker reaffirmed his commitment to fight tax evasion.

The post of commissioner of economy and budget was given to Pierre Moscovici, the former French minister of economy. The choice seems ironic since France almost flunked the rule imposed by the Pact of Stability and Growth requiring a deficit of 3 percent of the GDP (France’s deficit has reached 4.4 percent)

The new High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs is Federica Mogherini , 41,  a diplomat with an impressive record.  Her intention to improve relations with Russia was not appreciated by some of the Eastern European countries.

Tibor Navracsics, a former minister with the ultra conservative Hungarian government was to become commissioner of culture, but his nomination was voted down by the Parliament.

It is a tumultuous time for the new team of the EU.  In the guidelines he presented to the plenary session of the Parliament in July 2014, Jean-Claude Yuncker set his priorities as follows: a plan of public and private investment of 300 billion over three years to stimulate the economy, harmonizing budgetary policies of the member states and coping with the explosive surge of refugees.

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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Tunisian Election Outcome Offers Remarkable Example to Countries Dealing With Terrorism, Violence

TunisiaTunisia did it again!  This small country in North Africa was the one to start the Arab Spring in December 2010.  On Oct. 26 of this year, the parliamentary elections marked the return to some degree of normalcy after a difficult period of assassinations and violence.

The latest elections revealed a “collective intelligence,” to use the words of a French political scientist – the result of a well established civil society.  Instead of a single party hijacking the political scene, the people voted for several parties.  The liberal party Nidaa Taures won with 38 percent of the votes.  In order to reach a majority of 109 seats in the parliament, it is willing to form a coalition – quite unusual in this part of the world.

The Islamist party Ennahda secured second place with only 28 percent of the votes and 69 seats — or 16 seats less than in the previous election.  Wisely it  conceded defeat.  How to explain the resistance of the population to the Ennahda program?

The answer lies for a large part in the key role played by women.  They spearheaded the resistance against the strict enforcement of the Sharia or moral code, which limits their rights in many areas: inheritance, divorce, veil and regulations on clothing, custody of children, adultery sanctioned by stoning or “honor killing,” right to travel, right to open a bank account, and access to higher education, etc.

In the text of the constitution approved in January 2014,  Ennahda had reluctantly agreed to replace the expression “complementarity of men and women” by “equality for all.”  A journalist had the nerve to make the following extraordinary comment, “This was a small victory for a few Tunisian feminists”.

The “Personal Status Code,” which was installed by president Habib Bourguiba in 1956,  had given empowerment to Tunisian women, thus making them the most emancipated in the Arab world.  This revolution was at the center of his program in order to model his country on Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular  and modern country.  Incidentally, it is interesting to note that both Turkey and Tunisia have almost identical flags.  Bourguiba is said to have remarked at one time, “… the veil – that odious rag.”

Tunisia can be considered to-day as a bulwark between a dangerously chaotic Libya and an Algeria unable to control terrorism (on Oct.14, a  Frenchman visiting the rugged mountainous area south of Algiers, in order to train young Algerians to become mountain guides, was taken hostage and  beheaded two days later.)   In other words, Tunis is of great importance not only as a model of democratic process coexisting with a moderate Islam but also, one hopes, as an oasis of stability for the whole area.

HeadshotAbout 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: Picasso in Paris – A New Museum Opens

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

After five years of over-budget restoration, the Picasso museum in Paris reopened on Oct. 25.  It was worth the wait — the new museum is spectacular.

I decided – like the rest of Paris, it seemed – to go to the opening.  The logistics to handle the thousands of visitors passing through the magnificent courtyard of the XVII century Hotel Salé  (thus nicknamed because the owner was a salt tax collector) in the Marais was the best I have ever seen in France.

The renovation has doubled the exhibition space.  The museum gives a feeling of openness thanks to the series of rooms opening onto the garden; wide thresholds and corridors facilitate the flow of visitors.  The classical architecture – grand stairs, loggia with arched windows and baroque haut-reliefs – coexist with modern minimalism.

The walls are stark white, allowing the creations of Picasso to literally explode.  The lighting of weathered bronze and white resin is imaginative, but discreet.  The upper level, which houses the private collection of the artist, was carved out from the original attic.  The enormous wooden beams constitute a stunning setting for Cezanne, Matisse, “Le Douanier” Rousseau (a nickname given to Rousseau related to his occupation as a toll collector), or artifacts from the South Pacific.  The exhibit spans the long life (1881-1973) of the artist.

At an early age in Malaga and la Corogne, Pablo Picasso showed his precocious talent.  His supportive father — an art teacher — acknowledging the genius of his son, put down his paint brushes in 1895 and never painted again.  In the first room of the museum, the portrait of “L’homme à la casquette” reveals  the virtuosity of the 14-year old.

picassomuseum-1

A self portrait, 1901, showing a middle-aged man (although Picasso himself was only 20 when he created the piece) belongs to his “Blue Period.”  A gaunt, almost emaciated acrobat  (1905) with elongated hands and sad eyes is part of the circus world which fascinated Picasso.  In 1906, he begins working on the Demoiselles d’Avignon.  Gertrude Stein, foresaw the importance of what was to be one the major works of the 20th century and bought most of the preparatory sketches of the unknown young artist.  The painting hangs today at MoMA in New York City.

A voyage to Italy in the early 1920s inspired Picasso to return to the classicism of ancient Rome.  In La Course, painted 1922 in surprisingly small dimensions, two gargantuan women run on the beach, their  heads touching the clouds.

Women – whether wives or mistresses – are his sources of inspiration:  Fernande, Olga, Dora Maar, Marie Therese, Françoise, Jacqueline – each of them represents a new start.  Picasso reinvents himself continuously and keeps experimenting with new techniques and media.

There is a recurrent theme of violence in his depictions of bullfights, wars and erotic scenes.  He deconstructs his models and reassembles them in a shamble of distorted strokes which have become his trademark.  Les Amoureux, 1918, is the most irreverent and humorous example.

Picasso’s sculptures – made of crude recycled material and always full of humor – are interspersed with the paintings, which gives the visit a lighter angle. In September 2015, an exhibit on “Picasso the sculptor” will take place at MoMA.

Nicole Prévost Logan headshot

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: Tragic Death of Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, Stuns France    

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On the night of Monday, Oct. 20 , the visibility was poor at the Vnukovo  airport.  The control tower had given clearance to the Falcon private jet to take off.   A few seconds after leaving the ground, the pilot saw a snowplow on the runway but was unable to avoid it.  The landing gear caught the roof of the vehicle, flipped over and crashed a few yards away.  There was just one passenger on board – Christophe de Margerie, CEO of  the world’s fourth largest oil producer.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The late Christophe de Margerie.

The news hit France like a bomb.   At Total’s headquarters in the district of La Defense employees were stunned.  The country reacted as if a chief of state had died.  Tributes poured in from everywhere.

Total has a capital ranking second in the CAC 40 (the ‘Cotation Assistée en Continu’ is a benchmark French stock market index) and employs more than 100,000 people in 130 countries.  It is hard to believe therefore why such a company – the jewel of  the French economy –  should have so many detractors in France.  The day after the accident, the conservative daily Le Figaro published an article entitled, “The man who wanted the French to make peace with Total”.   That man, Christophe de Margerie, was a charismatic  and jovial person, full of warmth, direct but tough .

De Margerie came from an aristocratic family that could be described as representative of, ‘vieille France.’  Family members occupied prominent positions in the world of high finance, diplomacy (his cousin was ambassador to the US) and the arts.  He was the grandson of Pierre Taittinger, the founder of a champagne empire.  Several of his relatives own and live in an elegant apartment building tucked away in a garden, behind massive walls and a monumental gate, right at the heart of the Faubourg St Germain.

He joined Total about 40 years ago and was named CEO in 2007.  In 1995, he became the head of Middle East Total, which explains his particular interest for that part of the world.  The Jubail giant refinery inaugurated in 2013  by Total and Saudi Arabia, is but one example.

The main criticisms against the company concern its huge benefits, which do not profit the French economy because the company pays practically no taxes in France.  The ‘marée noire’ (black tide) caused by the oil spill off the coast of Brittany in 1999 has not been forgotten.  In 2010,the decision to close the Dunkirk refinery and the associated firing of more than 1,000 workers outraged the opinion.  Finally, de Margerie’s policy of creating joint ventures with Russian companies Loukoi, Novatek or Gazprom and his rejection of the sanctions enforced by the West have isolated him.

De Margerie wanted to project a positive image and show his concern for the environment by encouraging renewable energy.  In recent years, signs of transformation of the company had been noticeable, particularly in the reduction and higher selectivity of investments.  The question now is whether de Margerie’s successors, Thierry Desmarets as chairman and Patrick Pouyanné as CEO, will bring changes to the company’s strategy or maintain the course.

Nicole Logan

Nicole 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 will write 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 will cover 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” is Back! Amidst Economic Depression, Two Nobel Prizes for France Lift the Communal Spirit

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Logan, who has returned to Paris for the winter from her summer home in Essex.  She writes our weekly, “Letter from Paris,” which gives a unique insight into France and the French.  Today she writes about the depressing state of the French economy and contrasts it to the tremendous excitement that winning two Nobel Prizes has brought to the country.

It is the time of year when financial laws are voted on and budgets submitted.  The 2015 budget represents a triple hurdle for France since the country is under scrutiny from the European Union (EU) Commission in Brussels headed now by Jean Claude Yuncker from Luxemburg; the Eurogroup (made up of the ministers of finances from the 18 members of the euro zone) and led by Jeroen Dijsselbloem from the Netherlands; and finally by the European Council, presided over by Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium.

Will France meet the criteria set in the 1992 Maestrich Treaty, namely an annual deficit of less than 3 percent and a public debt no more than 60 percent of that GDP?   It is most unlikely, since the latest figures stand at a 4.3 percent deficit.  François Hollande is criticized for not having used the two years respite, granted in 2013, to undertake structural reforms.  Instead, he has limited his action to carry out an austerity program by steadily increasing taxes on the most vulnerable individuals like retirees, wage earners or small entrepreneurs.

So to-day the French government is scrambling for ways to reduce its expenses by 21 billion Euros.  Three sudden measures have shocked public opinion:  closing of the Val de Grace hospital, an historical institution in Paris, the military base of Chalon, and the oldest air base of France in Dijon.  More savings are on the table but promise to provoke violent confrontation since they are all considered as untouchable taboos.

Given the fact France’s economy is the second of Europe, the widespread opinion is that it cannot be allowed to fail.  Imposing sanctions of 0.02 percent would make it even more impossible for the country to pull out of a recession with dire consequences for the rest of the continent.  Behind the scenes, the new French Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron and his German counterpart are at work on the elaboration of a common investment policy.

Two Nobel prizes have just been awarded to French nationals. This unexpected news has definitely lifted the spirits here.

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano

Patrick Modiano received the prize for Literature, following in the footsteps of Camus, Sartre and Gide.  Several of his many novels take place during the German Occupation of France. One of them inspired Louis Malle for his outstanding 1974 film Lacombe Lucien.

The Nobel prize for Economics is particularly interesting because it rewards  not only an individual, but also an institution.  Jean Tirone, born in 1953 and a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, holds a PhD from MIT.  In 2007, he founded  the Toulouse School of Economics (note that this name is in English), inspired  from an American model.  It is today one of the world’s 10 most important centers for economic research.

Tirone belongs to the school of economists using a rigorous scientific and mathematical approach.  His research is centered on the regulation of free market economy.  Tirone’s nomination follows the phenomenal success of Thomas Piketty ‘s ” Capital in the Twenty First Century” published in 2013.

Headshot

About the author:  Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter.  She will write 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 will cover 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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Transportation: Why a Another Fare Hike Seems Inevitable

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but chances are we will see another fare hike on Metro-North in the coming months.

Not that any elected official would endorse such a plan (at least not before the November elections), but once again Connecticut is not totally in control of its financial destiny when it comes to our trains.

True, fare increases in Connecticut must be initiated by the state regardless of what NY does to its riders, but the financial numbers speak for themselves.

We are tied to NY’s operations by an antiquated contract going back 30 years.  The cost of running “our” trains is born by both CT and NY, and those costs are soaring from $70 million a year to $110 million thanks to remedial track work and expected contract settlements (with four years of retroactive pay hikes).

How will Connecticut make up this $40 million deficit?  There are only three choices:  raise fares, cut service or find that money elsewhere.  The latter two choices are either undesirable or impossible, leaving the prospect (necessity?) of fare increases.

After a year of slower, unreliable and often-disrupted service, it’s hard to explain to commuters they should be paying more… especially in an election year.  So when the rumored necessity of a fare hike was floated last week, Governor Malloy expressed outrage and bewilderment.

But our governor and his Dept of Transportation knew darn well this was coming.  They’re the ones who pushed Metro-North for badly needed track work after derailments and deaths.  Who did they think would pay for that?  And one wonders… does CDOT ever audit Metro-North’s ever-increasing budgets and bills to our state?

Fares in Connecticut are already the highest in the US because our subsidy of those fares is the lowest.  Upstate lawmakers who dominate our legislature loathe the idea of subsidizing fat-cat investment bankers’ trips to their high-paying jobs in New York City.  But they have no trouble taxing their incomes, do they?

Fairfield County residents represent 26% of our state’s population but pay 40% of its taxes.  Legislators made us subsidize Adriaen’s Landing ($770 million) in Hartford and the UConn football stadium ($90+ million), neither of which we are ever likely to use. So why can’t they keep residing in Fairfield County affordable by keeping Metro-North safe, on-time and affordable.

Since 2012 we’ve already had 12% fare hikes, thanks in part to Governor Malloy using rail fares to balance his budget (a move I called that more of a tax on commuters than anything else.)

The good news is that a fare increase in Connecticut requires 90 days notice and public hearings.  And with the November elections just weeks away, no right minded politician will pull that trigger.

Mind you, it was now-GOP nominee Tom Foley who recently told reporters he thought we in Connecticut spend too much subsidizing mass transit, so who knows?  It should be an interesting campaign season and my hope is that Metro-North will be a much debated topic.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 23 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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Adios Dear Deep River!

John Guy Laplante

John Guy LaPlante

Well, Friends, it’s time for me to say goodbye to the town I love. I never thought this day would come. Never wanted it to come. I have been happy here. Fifteen years ago I chose Deep River as my retirement community– chose it deliberately, mind you.

It’s a strange story: I had my whole career in Massachusetts.  Just retired, I came here to Connecticut for a one-week program at what is now Incarnation Center in Ivoryton.  Well, one thing led to another and I became the director of its big and fine Elderhostel Program.  Spent eight good years there.  And that’s how I got to discover Deep River.  I caught the town at the cusp, it seems.  It was just coming out of a prolonged sleepy period. My instinct told me it was about to flower. How right I was.  What I longed for was real, genuine small town life.

Within a few days I bought a condo at Piano Works—yes, the one I am living in.  It turned out to be perfect for my needs.  Then right away I applied to join the town Rotary Club.  Rotary had long appealed to me but I was always too busy. That was another smart decision.  It was a happy day when the Rotarians swore me in.  I made friends in the club and in town.  I became involved in remarkable programs—Rotary always commits to serving its community however it can.

A big project was the creation of Keyboard Park with its pretty Gazebo and Fountain. Another very meaningful one was our annual Patriotic Fourth celebration on Independence Day right there at Keyboard Park.  Another was the purchase of what is now the Town’s  iconic Elephant Statue in front of Town Hall. That was a big expense for our club but we considered it important.

Here’s a nice memory. On one Deep River Family Day we inflated balloons through the elephant’s trunk! Honest!  Handed them to delighted kids. I admit we had a second motive.  We wanted to prove to everybody that that statue is really a fantastic water fountain. Water shoots out the elephant’s trunk!  I still don’t understand why water hasn’t been connected to it permanently.

Another project was the re-dedication of the Observation Deck at the bottom of Kirtland Street that overlooks the Connecticut.  It’s Rotary that made that deck possible years ago.  We had a beautiful ceremony with speeches, a fife and drum corps, the whole works.  (But know what? Some vandal has destroyed our beautiful brand-new plaque for it!  I’d like to shoot him. Or her.)

I’m happy to tell you that those projects were always accomplished with the full cooperation of the Town and the help of First Selectman Dick Smith.

Yes, Deep River Rotary was wonderful. I’ve lived in numerous places, but emotionally I’ve considered Deep River home. In fact I’ve loved the whole area,  including the delightful neighboring towns and villages on both sides of the Connecticut Estuary.

Oh, I had been a journalist on a big newspaper.  Here from Deep River I found fresh outlets for that passion of my younger days.  And I’m still enjoying creating articles and now blogs … though momentarily I’m slowed down by all the work of selling out and moving to California.

The reason I’m leaving is simple.  I’m old and feel it and show it.  My dear daughter Monique out there in Morro Bay wants me under her wing.

Know what?  Many times over the years, I’ve heard the call,  “Go West, Young Man!”  Well, after all these years, and now far from young, I’m saying yes to that call.

But for sure there will be tears in my eyes when I do go to Bradley to fly off for that big and ultimate chapter in my life.  Living at Piano Works in this gorgeous corner of the world has been great.  Thank goodness I’ll have wonderful memories to sustain me.  And I hope to come back and visit.

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“Talking Transportation: Is It Safe To Ride Metro-North?

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

It has been seven months since a drowsy engineer drove a speeding Metro-North train off the tracks at Spuyten Duyvil, killing four and injuring 59. Months earlier a derailment and collision near Bridgeport sent 70 to the hospital.

Ever since, the railroad has promised that improving safety is its top priority. So does that mean the railroad is now “safe”?

Aside from taking the word of management, how are we to know? Just because we haven’t had another accident doesn’t mean the railroad is safe. Nobody suspected it was unsafe until those two accidents last year showed us just how dangerous our daily commute had become.

In April this year The Commuter Action Group surveyed 642 commuters and asked them, “Do you feel safe riding Metro-North?” and 56% said yes, 15% said no and 29% said they “weren’t sure”.

Neither am I, but I ride those trains regularly, hoping for the best. And so far, so good. I take the railroad at its word when it says safety is its top priority, but I have no way of telling it that’s true. As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Waiting on a station platform, how can the average commuter look at the tracks, the overhead wires or signals and know that Metro-North is safe? We can’t even see the engineers because they hide in their control booth behind jerry-rigged cardboard curtains ‘lest riders should watch them at work.

Here’s what we do know. The trains are running slower (on-time performance was only 79% in May). And last week we also learned that an entire class of conductor trainees had been dismissed because they were caught cheating on a safety exam. Good for the MTA for catching and disciplining them. But the worry is whether this kind of cheating has been going on for years. Reassuring?

The only way to be sure that Metro-North is safe is better federal oversight by the FRA, the Federal Railroad Administration. That agency still hasn’t issued its final report on the May 2013 derailment… and only fined the railroad $5,000 following a Metro-North trainee’s mistake, which killed one of their own track foremen. As US Senator Richard Blumenthal put it, “The watchdogs were asleep. The FRA has been lax and sluggish.”

That’s why commuters should be reassured that Senator Blumenthal will soon introduce a bill to give the FRA some real teeth: increasing civil penalties for railroad mistakes, strengthening railroad oversight, mandating new safety gear, introduction of a fatigue management plan for personnel, requiring anonymous reporting systems for whistle-blowers, installation of cameras, alerters and redundant safety systems for track workers.

Further, the bill would also require stronger safety standards for crude oil rail-tankers, the “pipelines on wheels” carrying crude oil and petroleum products on US railroads.

The only thing missing? Mandatory transparency. I’d hope that the FRA would be required to explain its oversight and reassure all railroad riders of their safety in a simple, understandable manner. That would make me feel safe.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 23 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

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Talking Transportation: America’s Interstate Highways

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 US 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 1930’s.

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 US was far more difficult.

Of course, by 1940 the US 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 sub-surfaces 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, Fla.

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

Jim CameronJim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 22 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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Letter From Paris:  Van Gogh at the Orsay Museum

During the last four years of his life, Vincent Van Gogh produced a phenomenal number of works. But it was also the time when he suffered episodes of madness, which were to lead him to suicide in 1890 at the age of 37.

The Orsay museum chose this period of intense creation and of psychological despair to present the current exhibit entitled, “Van Gogh/Artaud. The man driven to suicide by society.” This new approach to the genius of Van Gogh is through the eyes of Antonin Artaud, a poet, actor and artist, who suffered serious mental illness, was interned nine years and underwent shock treatment.

In 1947, he had a chance to see a major retrospective of Van Gogh’s works at the Orangerie museum. He wrote, “Van Gogh was not crazy, he was saying a truth that society could not accept.” He went on by denouncing the prejudices of morality and science, which were unable to fit genius and madness within the accepted norms. Throughout the exhibit, the paintings and drawings of Van Gogh are commented upon in poetic terms by this troubled soul mate.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist's work at the Musee d'Orsay.

Visitors study the Van Gogh paintings in the new exhibition of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Orsay.

The exhibit opens in a very dark room, with incoherent sentences scattered on the black walls with a back drop of moaning sounds. Forty six of Van Gogh’s strongest works have been selected along with some graphic works. The visitor travels through four periods of the Dutch painter’s life – in Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy-de-Provence and Auvers-sur-Oise.

Several among the more than 40 self portraitsVan Gogh painted throughout his life are — for the public — like a brutal confrontation with the artist. They certainly are not an exercise in complacency, but a harsh and almost merciless exercise. American art historian Meyer Schapiro remarks that, for Van Gogh, creating a self portrait was a form of therapy and a way to reconstruct his inner self. The artist used it to protect himself from crises of instability.

In contrast, portraits of ” La Berceuse” and “Père Tanguy” express the peaceful and introspective mood of the models. In both paintings, the background — floral in one, Japanese etchings in the other — shows his attraction to pure decorative and aesthetic considerations reminiscent of Matisse’s. The portrait of Dr. Gachet, at first his psychiatrist and then his friend, seems to radiate kindness, but also melancholy. Van Gogh writes, “This man is in as bad a shape as myself. He wears the sorry expression of our times.”

After the tragedy of the night of Dec. 23, 1888, when he had a fight with Gauguin, who was visiting him in Arles, Van Gogh sliced his left ear. At his own request, he was admitted to the Saint-Paul hospital, near Saint-Remy-de-Provence. However, he was authorized to go out and, on those occasions, painted some of his most powerful landscapes.

His trees are soaring into the sky and dwarf the silhouettes of people. In “Cyprès avec deux femmes“, June 1889, the tormented volutes of the trees are an ominous shape hovering over two young women walking. In “Arbres dans le jardin de l’hopital Saint -Paul,” October 1889, the twisted trunks tower over a barely visible woman carrying a red parasol. His “Foret de pins au declin du jour ,” (Pine forest at dusk) December 1889, is a frightening scene, where the trees are beaten by the wind. They are outlined on an acid yellow sky and a smoldering orange sun.

During his last months in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris, he painted farm houses with red tiles or thatch roof, giving them a quaint and welcoming touch. Only the sky, scratched with jagged lines, reveals the artist’s tension.

The most important work of the exhibit – “Champ de Ble avec Corbeaux” (Wheat field with crows) – is projected on a screen, drawing the onlooker into the heavy yellow mass of wheat swaying under a stormy sky. The tracks on the path combined with the birds everywhere create a harried movement with little time to spare.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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: A Report Card for Metro-North

Jim CameronIf Metro-North were a student and commuters its teacher, the railroad’s winter report card would be a D+ and the comment would be “needs to improve”.

As new Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti finishes his second month on the job, he’s making the rounds to meet and listen to commuters. But his 100-Day Plan for bringing the railroad back won’t conclude until mid-June, so I thought that now would be a great time to survey riders and get a baseline of their sentiments against which we can measure any gains in the months ahead.

Our unscientific online survey ran for seven days and got 642 responses. Clearly, those who wanted to opine were probably those with gripes, so take the results with a grain of salt.

Asked to give Metro-North a letter grade based on the past months’ performance, the railroad got an average D+.

Asked if service was getting better, 22 percent said yes, 31 percent said it was getting worse and 47 percent said it was “about the same”.

When asked what their biggest complaints were (respondents could list multiple issues), 88 percent said it was late or delayed trains, 60 percent said poor communications when things went wrong, and 59 percent said it was lack of sufficient seating on trains. Another 30% percent complained about the train cars’ heating / cooling system (or lack thereof), while others (18 percent) said there was insufficient station parking and 15 percent said the stations had poor upkeep.

The survey also asked how commuters reported their gripes. Ten percent said they never had complaints, 46 percent said they didn’t complain “because it seemed useless” but 61 percent said they did complain to conductors or to Metro-North. Of those who did complained almost half of respondents (45 percent) said their problem was never fixed.

We also asked who commuters thought was to blame for the railroad’s problems. An overwhelming 90 percent blamed Metro-North management, 48% percent said they were due to the Department of Transportation, 35 percent said it was their state legislature’s fault, 28 percent said it was because of Metro-North employees, 12 percent blamed the Federal government, and 9 percent blamed their fellow commuters.

Our last question was most telling: “Do you feel safe riding Metro-North?” 56 percent said yes, 15 percent said no and 29% percent said they weren’t sure.

We designed the survey to be brief, taking maybe two minutes to answer. But we also gave space for commuters to comment, and 267 of them did, some at great length. Here’s a sampling of their opinions:

Sorry to be so harsh … It is 2014, pseudo-modern, wealthy society and the most laughable public transportation system in any advanced country and metropolitan area.

This service is really shameful for the amount that we pay. I have not been on a train in the last 6 months that has arrived on time.

When I moved here 10 years ago you could set your watch by MetroNorth. Now the timetable is just a suggestion.

The Danbury Line is the orphaned stepchild of the system.

The lack of self control of “irate” commuters does not help the situation. Makes us look bad.

The full results of the survey and all of the comments are available online via links from our website, www.CommuterActionGroup.org

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 22 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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Letter From Paris: Two Local Elections — Two Remarkably Different Outcomes

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Local elections have just taken place in Turkey and in France. The outcomes of the elections speak a great deal about these two countries .

Primeminister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, already in power for 12 years, is showing no intention of stepping down. His aura at the polls was barely affected by the scandals and accusations of wrong-doing. Particularly the violent repression of the popular manifestations on Istanbul Taksim Square, the allegations of frauds directed not only at him, but at his family, the murky circumstances of score settlings.

His recent strategy includes the taking over 85 percent of the main TV channel and the curbing of social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Nevertheless Erdogan’s party, the AKP (Party of Justice and Development), passed the test of the polls with flying colors, not acknowledging the distress of the public opinion. These events did not speak much for the democratic system of that country and should constitute a red flag for the 28 EU members next time Turkey knocks at their door.

In contrast, the French municipales (local elections) were a reflection of the French opinion’s strong disapproval of the policy of the Francois Hollande government and brought on major changes.

The municipales, are always an important and colorful event in France, when mayors and council members of 36,500 communes (towns) are elected for six years. But this time they turned into a tsunami, which modified the political landscape of the country. The vague bleue (blue wave ) showing the gains of the Right and even the vague bleue marine (navy blue wave ) named after Marine Le Pen, head of the far right Front National. Just a few figures: in 2008 in the towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants, the Left had 509 mayors and the Right 433. In 2004, the Left was reduced to 349 and the Right grew to 572. Emblematic was the town of Limoges, which had voted socialist since 1912, and turned conservative.

Paris resisted this tidal wave and remained socialist. Incumbent Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had groomed his assistant Anne Hidalgo to be his successor. Together, they engaged in an intensive and efficient campaign. The Mayor of Paris is elected according to a special system of voting in three rounds. The first two rounds each Parisian vote for the mayor and council in each arrondissement. Then mayors and councils vote for the mayor of Paris. The fight to the finish between Anne Hidalgo and her conservative opponent Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet , was fierce, to say the least. The former won by 53.34 over 44.06 percent.

The map of Paris to-day is made up of two halves: a blue west, and a red east. With 11 versus nine arrondissements, Hidalgo leads but not as much as Jacques Chirac did in 1983 when he won all of them. These results will be important in the next senatorial elections since the members of the Senat (high chamber) are elected by the mayors.

Barely 24 hours after the closing of the polls, president François Hollande appeared on TV. He declared that he had heard and understood the people’s message of disapproval of the policy he conducted since 2012. He reassured his audience that appropriate measures would be taken.

A day later he announced the remaniement (reshuffle) of the government. The soft spoken, kind-looking prime minister Jean Marc Ayrault was replaced by tough and energetic Manuel Valls, former minister of the interior. The number of ministers was trimmed down from 38 to 16 and the parity men/women respected. The new ministers are more experienced and some of the “heavyweights” remained, like Laurent Fabius, at the Foreign Affairs desk.

The decision concerning Bercy (ministry of Finances and Economy) was crucial given the urgency to reduce the budget deficit and increase the competitivité (competitiveness) of the French industry. The new prime minister Manuel Valls decided to split the responsibilities between two ministers: Michel Papin handling Budget and Finances , Arnaud Montebourg becoming minister of Economy. This will be a “hot” area since France has to work in a partnership with Brussels.

Ségolène Royal The second spectacular move was the nomination of Ségolène Royal as the minister of Ecology, Sustainable Industry and Energy. She will rank as number three in the new cabinet. She is an old timer, particularly in the environmental field. Her appearance in the courtyard of Hotel de Matignon made quite a splash. Royal is a highly educated woman, used to be Hollande’s companion for 29 years, the mother of their four children and the last contestant for the presidency against Sarkozy in 2002. Her appointment will be helpful to Valls’ government because she brings her strong connections to the lower working class with her.

The outspoken Housing minister Cecile Duflot left the Matignon in a huff and a puff , showing her overwhelming dislike for Valls. Her colleagues in the Green party at the Assemblée Nationale, were upset by her move as they were willing to work within the cabinet.

The overhaul of the new government was greeted by salvos of criticisms and gibes from the UMP and naturally from the extreme parties – this is normal in France. However, the composition of the new government was interpreted, by more unbiased analysts, as the determination to follow the road map set out by François Hollande at the Jan. 14 press conference and to keep the course on the Pacte de Responsabilité, but to implement it with more determination, more speed and more pedagogy.

Failure is not an option and Brussels will not ease off the pressure.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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: Following a New Silk Road

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Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidents of the United States and of China were in Europe this week. It was the first visit of a Chinese president to the European Union’s (EU) headquarters since 1975. He will meet with the presidents of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, of the Commission, Manuel Barroso and of the Parliament, Martin Schuls, showing a nascent interest in Europe as a political entity.

However, Europe has been the largest trade partner of China for a decade, with German leading the pack. Why then did president Xi Jinping choose France as one of his four stops in Europe in spite of that country’s small trade and investment with the Middle Kingdom ? The reasons are historical, cultural, the Chinese’s attraction to gastronomy and good wine, and, finally, the desire to acquire more areas of French “savoir faire” and state of the art technology, heretofore unexplored.

Xi Jinping and his beautiful star singer wife Peng Liyuan opened his three-day state visit in Lyon, the French silk capital, and announced his intention to promote a “new Silk Road.” Started with French King Francis I, the silk-making industry in Lyon was flourishing by the 17th century. In the 1920s cultural ties developed between China and France. Chinese students entered French universities, among them several future political leaders. In 1964 General Charles de Gaulle was the first Western chief of state to establish full diplomatic relations with the Middle Kingdom.

In this file photo, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan wave to the crowd.Mutual interests in literature, cinema and art have created special bonds between Chinese and French intelligencia. Chinese fans of the “Nouvelle Vague” films (new wave) are sometimes more knowledgeable about the names of the directors that the French themselves. The 1992 film “l’Amant‘”(the Lover), directed by Jean Jacques Annaud, based on the 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, was a huge success in France. The plot is the affair a “Chinaman” struck with a young French girl on a ferry boat crossing the Mekong river. French readers cheered on the high school “Joueuse de Go” (Go player) character created by author Shan Sa, whose courage symbolized the determination of the Chinese population fighting against the impending invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese in 1931.

But the objectives of the Chinese president and of his cohort of businessmen and investors who accompanied him were more down to earth: they were here for serious business. Both by making inroads into the French industry and by opening their own market to French goods in order to tilt the massive trade deficit between the two countries. The car company Dongfeng just acquired 14 percent of the PSA’s (Peugeot-Citroen) shares. The Chinese have been trying to take over 46% percent of Club Med’s (touristic villages) capital.

Whether it is nuclear energy or aeronautic technology, automobile industry, or fast trains, the transfer of technology has always been a touchy point for the French. The most striking example of this situation is the TGV (Train à grande vitesse) or fast train which was designed by Alstom in France in the 1970s and was further developed jointly with other Western countries. Now the Chinese network is ten times longer than the French and in July 2013 ”Harmony Express” surpassed the speed of the French trains.

On a televised program, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government was asked the question about transfer of technology. She said that the Chinese now are pretty much caught up, ( which is certainly true with telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE) and that now their policy was veering toward “partnership and cooperation” – language to be expected from a government spokeswoman.

The Chinese love France. Millions of tourists speed through the most famous halls of the Louvre. The growing middle class and the wealthy are increasingly fascinated by luxury goods. They are not satisfied anymore by the pirated brands one finds all over the world. Now they can find the real stuff 72 percent cheaper in France than to the system of “detaxe“ at the airport, avoiding also import duties into China.

During the many years we lived in Africa with the American Embassy, in the 1960s and 1970s, I had a chance to observe that, in those days, the Chinese lived in spartan compounds totally secluded from the local population , working on Guinea tea plantations or building a soccer stadium in the Gambia. They have come a long way. To-day they visit France to do their spring shopping and buy Chambertin ou Chateau Lafitte wine, Hermes silk scarves or Vuitton bags.

Agribusiness is a field where improvements would be welcome. One remembers the problems China suffered a few years ago with contaminated powder milk. The Chinese are very fond of foie gras and cheese. They have just discovered the “Jambon de Bayonne.” It takes many hours of preparation and manual work to prepare the dark red ham meat. The traditional “savoir faire” has existed since the 13th century in the south west of France. Its commerce is labeled “IGP” (Indication Geographique Protegéee) or geographically protected. Pork is one of the main food staple in China and there the huge market is promising. Will the transfer of “savoir faire” be followed by the loss of the brand?

During the elegant dinner at the Elysees palace and the following night at the Opera Royal of the Chateau de Versailles, what was president François Hollande thinking of – 18 billion euros of new contracts or the difficult political situation he is in right now after the disastrous (for him) recent local elections?

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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: Eight Little Known Facts About Flying

We may never know what happened to that Malaysia Airlines 777, but there’s plenty more we should know about flying, even domestically.  Here are some little-known truths of aviation as shared by pilots and flight attendants:

Lavatory Doors Don’t Really Lock:  They can be opened from the outside by just sliding the “occupied” sign to one side.  This isn’t so attendants can catch “mile high club” wannabies, but so they can be sure the lavs are empty on take-off and landing.  And those ashtrays in the lavs?  Even though smoking has been banned for decades, the FAA still requires them. 

Oxygen Masks Can Save Your Life:  But only if you get them on fast!  In a rapid decompression at 35,000 feet, the oxygen is sucked from your lungs and you have 15 – 30 seconds to get that mask on or die.  And the on-board oxygen is only good for 15 minutes, so expect an express ride down to safer altitudes.

Airlines Are Suffering from a Pilot Shortage:  New regulations for increased rest time and more experience aviators are making it tough for airlines to keep their cockpits filled.  Boeing alone estimates that aviation growth worldwide will create demand for a half-million new pilots.  And just like Metro-North, airlines are now losing their most experienced crews to retirement.

Your Pilot May Be Asleep:  Actually, that’s a good thing during most of the flight, which can be pretty boring as the auto-pilot runs the plane.  And a good nap should make your pilot refreshed for landing.  But the FAA is also proposing to test ‘heavy’ pilots for potential sleep disorders so they don’t nod off at a crucial moment.

Keep Your Seatbelt On:   Otherwise, unexpected turbulence will see you bounce off the luggage racks like a ping-pong ball.  In an incident like that the hysterical screaming is bad enough, so stay belted.

Flight Attendants Aren’t In It for the Glamour: .They don’t get paid when they arrive at the airport or when they greet you boarding the plane.  For most, their pay starts ticking only at take-off.  They travel for a living and have to endure endless abuse for things that are not their fault.  For all that, median salary for flight attendants is about $37,000.  Food stamps they have to apply for separately.

Planes Are Germ Factories: Most older jets recycle cabin air to conserve fuel, so if one passenger sneezes, everyone’s susceptible to a cold.  The air is also dry and the blankets and pillows (if you get them) haven’t been cleaned since the previous use.  The same is true of the headphones they pass out.  And your seatback tray table?  Just imagine whose baby diaper was seated there where you lay out your in-flight snack.  Moral to the story:  BYO sanitizer!

Don’t Drink the Water:      Unless it comes from a bottle, water on planes comes from onboard tanks that are rarely cleaned.  At least when they use it to make coffee it’s heated.  Again, BYO.

Overall, based on passenger miles, flying is the safest form of transportation in the world.  But it’s not without its risks, some of which you can help minimize using common sense.

 JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 22 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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Letter From Paris: Mr. Putin, You Have Much To Lose

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

At the foot of Mount Mithridates, in eastern Crimea, stood the ancient city of Pantikapeion founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists.  It is where King Mithridates killed himself in 63 BC by the sword since his body was immune to poison.

In 1992, I joined the archaeological expedition from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts led by Dr. V. Tolstikov, head of the department of near eastern antiquities, and Dr. Michael Treister, curator, in order to publish an article in Archaeology.  That season the Russian team was researching the acropolis and a vast architectural complex with a colonnade dating from the 2nd century BC.  Below the steep cliff, one could see modern Kerch and the Russian shore of the Krasnodar region across the five kilometer-wide Cimmerian Bosporus.

The scholars from the Pushkin museum were among the many Russian, Ukrainian and foreign archaeologists who have long been researching the rich strata of human occupation on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  They have also studied the Scythian civilization, whose “kurgans” (tombs) contained the famous gold treasures.

The Institutes of Archaeology in the major cities, like Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, the universities and most of the museums, have their own expeditions. For instance, Odessa conducts regular excavations in Olbia, one of the major “emporia” (commercial trading post) for the export of cereals, fish and slaves to Greece and for import of Attic goods to Scythia.  On the outskirts of Sebastopol, the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus has been excavated jointly by teams from Ukraine, the University of Texas and the German Institute of Archaeology.

Archaeologists, historians and other specialists exchange the results of their finds and publish joint papers in scholarly journals.  The Center for Research on Ancient History, located in Besançon in eastern France, is an invaluable source for the Black Sea region and has collected works from scholars, irrespective of their nationality. Periodically, a Black Sea symposium, which attracts several hundred scientists, meets in Vani, Georgia.

After this long description of the archaeological scene in the Black Sea region, the question arises: what is going to happen to this fruitful scientific collaboration currently happening across the borders ?

During our sail along the Black Sea coast in 1991 (see the Feb. 8 Sochi article posted on this site), we saw dozens of wind turbines near Evpatoria in western Crimea.  Today Ukraine and Russia have ambitious plans to create a wind farm of 3,000km2 for a grid power of 16,000 MW.  Aeolian energy is readily available in this area, thanks to the shallow waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

On March 20, Le Monde published an article entitled, “Antonov mirrors the break between Russia and Ukraine.”  The article explains how the plane was built with technology and software from Dassault Systemes, employs 16,000 Ukrainian workers, but 40 percent of the parts are Russian.  On March 22, a Moscow official announced that the extension of the capital’s subway had to be put on hold since they could not take delivery of some of the construction material ordered from the Ukraine.  In the art world, a Paris galerist told me they were expecting difficulties in the near future.

Human, cultural and economic ties between Ukraine, Crimea and Russia are so interwoven that the break up of the Ukrainian territorial integrity and the announced sanctions from the West are bound to have serious consequences.

Vladimir Putin is supposed to be an excellent chess player.  One assumed that each one of his moves was made according to a planned strategy.  This does not seem to be true anymore.  He has won the Crimea, but what about the long term waves he is making?  Problems are going to catch up with him.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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: The Feds Deep Dive into Metro-North

Jim CameronIt was worse than we’d ever known. Metro-North was almost an accident waiting to happen.

That summarizes the Federal Railway Administration’s “Operation Deep Dive” report issued last week, following 60 days of probing into every aspect of the railroad’s operations. All of this comes on the heels of collisions and derailments in the past year that have taken the lives of four commuters and two railroad workers.

The 28-page report confirms that what was wrong at Metro-North was not just old equipment but a failure of management with very misplaced priorities. “On-time performance” was what mattered most, even at the expense of safety.

Among the report’s findings…

• Half of the personnel who dispatch and monitor the trains have less than three years’ experience, are not properly trained and are so tired they make mistakes

• The railroad’s “safety culture” was “poor”. Safety meetings went unattended.

• Fatigue by train engineers, track workers and dispatchers may have affected performance.

• The trains themselves are in good shape, but the tracks are not.

I’ve been following Metro-North for more than 20 years, so much of this is not news to me but just a substantiation of my worst fears. Still, the report makes for interesting reading because it cites many examples as proof-points for these findings:

Metro-North has known for a decade that they were facing a “retirement cliff” with 20% of its employees, those with the most experience, reaching their 30th anniversary of employment to retire on fat pensions. But the railroad was clearly inadequate in hiring and training their replacements.

Fatigue becomes a factor because soon-to-retire veterans grab all the overtime they can in their final year to increase their income and their railroad pensions. They are among the oldest employees and least resilient.

Metro-North’s management wasn’t even enforcing its own rules. The report says employees were “confused” about cell phone use on the job. Any teenager studying for his driver’s license knows not to use a cell phone while driving, but track workers at Metro-North got away with it.

Additional funding for staff and infrastructure are important and must be found. But turning around a culture of lax enforcement and lip-service to safety is going to take more than money.

Only a month on the job, espousing “safety is our top priority” at every turn, the new President of Metro-North, Joseph Giulietti, recently saw the first fatal accident on his watch: a track worker, 8 years on the job, was struck by a train just outside the Park Avenue tunnel. Why?

There are no quick fixes to this mess. It took years of invisible neglect for Metro-North to slide into this abyss, and it will take years to rebuild the railroad and regain riders’ trust.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 22 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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Letter From Paris: A Week Like No Other in French Politics

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the center of an extraordinary week in French politics.

It has been a week out of the ordinary in French politics, to say the least. A summary of the sequence of events may help the foreign reader in deciphering the situation.

It all started March 2 with a few revelations about the UMP (Union for Popular movement) right wing party. Jean François Copé, UMP president, was denounced in the weekly magazine “Le Point” of surfacturation (over billing) of expenses incurred during the 2012 electoral campaign. A “dot.com” company had obtained the contract without preliminary invitations to tender. Copé, looking wan and thin, reacted almost emotionally to the attack. He announced that all the accounts of the UMP would be locked in a sealed room contingent upon the other political parties as well as the media, doing the same .

Then, on March 3, the whistle-blowing satirical newspaper, “Canard Enchainé,” reported that Patrick Buisson, a collaborator of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, recorded the latter’s conversations. Buisson was part of Sarkozy’s first circle and his closest adviser. He made the recordings himself for hours on end, from morning to evening, with an old-fashion dictaphone carried in his pockets. Some of the recorded conversations took place just prior to a planned cabinet reshuffle — in other words, they were politically sensitive.

The question was: who gave the recordings to the press? Buisson’s lawyer vouched that his client did not. But what was suspicious was the fact that Buisson told his son (father and son have been estranged for two years) that those recordings were a “life insurance” and that cela peut toujours servir (One never knows, it might be useful someday)

But this was just the beginning. An avalanche of revelations, which followed – all involving the wiretapping of Nicolas Sarkozy to hamper his return to the political life – was even more serious and turned into a full blown political crisis reaching the top level of the Executive and of the Judiciary.

Four legal cases or “affaires,” which had been dormant, were resurfacing now: the 2008 arbitrage-granting of 403 millions to businessman and former minister Bernard Tapie by the Credit Lyonnais; the “retro- commissions” obtained from Pakistan after the Karachi terrorist attack in 2002 ; the alleged financing from Libyan president Gaddafi in 2007 ; the funds given by Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in the world and heir to the l’Oreal company.

These four affaires share the common factor of suspicion in involvement of the illegal financing of Sarkozy’s electoral campaigns of 2007 and 2012. Last October, Sarkozy was cleared and received a non-lieu (no ground for public prosecution) in the Bettencourt affaire.

On March 6, the headlines of the daily “Le Monde” were a bombshell: the former president’s phone had been tapped since April 13 by orders of the judges d’instruction ( investigating judges running preliminary inquiry) – a totally unprecedented occurrence in the French Republic. In early March, the judges opened an inquiry for traffic of influence and corruption against Sarkozy, his lawyer Thierry Herzog, and Gilbert Azibert, general counsel at the Cour de Cassation (highest judiciary court in France).

An aggressive perquisition (search) was conducted in Herzog’s Bordeaux residence. Ten police and judges showed up at eight in the morning. The lawyer’s computer and his portable phone were seized. The taking of the former president ‘s personal “carnets” (agendas) created a great commotion. In a television talk show, the president of the Bar commented that these actions were reminiscent of the Stasi.

Up to that point it was all bad news for the former president. The socialist government had remained prudently quiet. The wiretapping of Sarkozy was legal (he did not have immunity any more) as long as there was a suspicion of infraction. However, the accumulation of proceedings against him was beginning to be seen as harassment. By coincidence, Eliane Houlette was appointed in the new position of “National Financial Attorney” on March 3 in order to deal with corruption and tax frauds. The first case was to be Sarkozy’s.

Then the blame game seemed to move from the opposition to the majority. As a journalist commented, the government turned this gold – Sarkozy on the run – to lead, with the government violating the independence of justice. The Garde des Sceaux or Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, a high-spirited and smart woman, born in Guyana, was put on the defensive and even accused of lying.

Did she know the content of the recordings? When did the prime minister and the minister of interior (Secretary of the Interior) know? Their evasive and even conflicting answers made them appear guilty when their main sin was probably just to be disorganized.

By the end of that memorable week, “Le Monde” published a letter, co-signed by the most eminent members of the judiciary corps, calling for moderation. The letter praised transparency, but said that lawyers were not above the law, and that wiretapping was only legal if carried out by independent judges. It also demanded a return to one of the basic rules of the French (and American) institutions – the separation of power between Executive and Judiciary.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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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My Take on Embattled Ukraine

KievI’ve been getting one e-mail after another: “John, what you think about Ukraine? What’s it all about?  How do you feel about it?”   Why those emails?  Because many of you know that I served my Peace Corps hitch–the full 27 months–in Ukraine. And that was barely four years ago.

I never dreamed this awesome historic event would happen.  That I’d see the Ukrainian protestors —revolutionaries, in fact–storm into Kiev and topple the government. See their hated president abandon his office and take off to Russia to save his life. See the revolutionaries take over their parliament, the Rada. And set the country on a new and so-longed-for course—toward affiliation with the West and the European Union!

Read Full article on John LaPlante’s blog

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Letter From Paris: US Academy Awards Spark Thoughts on ‘Le Cinéma Francais”

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The ceremonies of the 86th “Oscars” and of the 39th “Césars” took place this week within two days of each other. In comparison with the glamorous and giant show of the American Academy Awards, the French Césars seemed almost like an intimate affair. But for the French it is very important as a way to evaluate the status of the film industry and for professionals in this field to reassert their contribution to the country’s Culture (note that ‘Culture’ is usually spelled with a capital “C” in France.)

In recent years – and this a very personal opinion – the French art of making films has been losing its edge as a leader in the industry, as it did for instance during the days of the Nouvelle Vague associated with the names of François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard in the late 1950s. Nowadays, the subjects of the films are so specifically French as to be un-exportable. Too often they turn into crowd-pleasers with simplistic plots and actors, who seem to have become the pet actors for the foreign market.

“The Artist,” which received multiple prizes in several countries in 2012, is the best illustration of this remark. It catapulted Jean Dujardin from a second tier actor in France to a star. Moreover, giving the award to a silent movie represents a negation of what makes French films special — that is, the thought-provoking ideas (such as Men and Gods, 2011) or the humor (such as the Intouchables 2012.)

Cecile de France, hostess of the 2014 Césars was most entertaining. She kept the proceedings at a fast pace and had several funny quips. She remarked, “Nobody’s perfect ” about the Belgians. This obviously alluded to her own origins and also to the fact that the director of the best foreign film was Belgian. Taking advantage of sexual orientation as the main theme of the evening, she addressed the audience thus, ” If there are any heteros in the theatre, it’s OK. There are still a few among us who are.”

Francois Cluzet, the President of the Cesars, as he appears (left) in Les Intouchables,François Cluzet (the lead actor pictured above, who plays a wealthy quadraplegic in the Intouchables), who was the chairman of the ceremony, made a few political comments to support the ongoing crusade of the intermittents du spectacle (show business workers) to defend the exception française (French exception.) For them, special unemployment benefits are at stake.

Guillaume Gallienne’s,”Les Garçons et Guillaume, à Table was voted as the best film and received five Césars. Gallienne is a societaire from the Comedie Française, the prestigious theater company founded in 1680. He developed the idea of his film from the one-man show he created. It is a funny, but mostly touching, story of a boy, who was brought up as a girl by a chain smoking and insensitive mother.

Mocked at home by his two older brothers and ridiculed by all, he survives years in French and English boarding schools. He continues to be the suffering nice guy always wearing a big smile on his face, until one evening at a roof party. The hostess calls out, ”a table, les filles et Guillaume” (“dinner’s ready, girls and Guillaume.”) He finally realizes he is not a girl. The film is centered on the brilliant acting of Guillaume, who also plays his mother, using the same voice.

The day after the Césars, Alain Resnais, a monument of the French cinema, died at age 91. He will be remembered by many movies, including, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, 1958 (after a story by Marguerite Duras) and ” Last Year in Marienbad“, 1959 (after a novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, who was the champion of the Nouveau roman.)

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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 Complex Conundrum of Ukraine

The future of Ukraine remains uncertain and the problems multiple.

After three months of violence opposing the people of Kiev and the government of Viktor Yanukovich, the situation culminated in a bloody clash on February 19, leaving over 60 dead and hundreds wounded. Why did the confrontation last so long? The West holds part of the responsibility. Some voices from abroad were just throwing oil on the fire, such as an inflammatory piece of Bernard Henri Levy entitled “Vive l’Ukraine Libre” in the Huffington Post. Besides, the European Union’s position was unclear and some of its members made unattainable promises.

The EU may have been slow in acting but when it did, its stand was tough enough to force the Ukrainian government to back down. Brussels mandated the ministers of foreign affairs of Poland, Germany and France to act as mediators, then announced immediate sanctions -cancelling visas of government officials, freezing assets of Ukrainian oligarchs abroad. At the same time, Angela Merkel, the chief mediator, was on the phone with Putin, both of them conversing in Russian and German. As early as five days after the peak of the violence, a few signs of appeasement began to turn the situation around. US secretary of state John Kerry said what needed to be said: there should not be a partition of Ukraine; the Ukraine should not be put in a position to have to chose between Europe and Russia. Even more promising was the statement made by Sergei Lavrov , the Russian foreign minister: “We want Ukraine to be part of the European family in every sense of the word” .

The Yanukovich government collapsed overnight. In rapid succession, the mayor of Kiev, the minister of defense ,the whole police force of Lviv in Western Ukraine, the president of the parliament and 40 of its deputies defected. Calm returned to Maidan square. One thousand policemen were escorted peacefully out of the city by the insurgents. An interim coalition government was rapidly formed and general elections were to be held before the end of the year. As to president Yanukovich, he just vanished.

Ukraine is not an easy country to govern. The politicians’ class is rampant with corruption and can be violent. Since it acquired its independence in 1991, at the implosion of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine has been in a state of turmoil marked by the “orange revolution” of 2004. The government’s way to deal with the opposition has been either to poison its members ( every one saw on the television the pock-marked face of former president Viktor Yuchtchenko allegedly poisoned by dioxine) or throw them in prison (prime minister Yulia Timoshenko was condemned to seven years behind bars in 2011). Fights in the Rada (parliament) are not uncommon. Seats in that assembly are for sale to the price of one million dollars. Deputies may be offered a large amounts of money to change camp.

Therefore it is not surprising that the people, who put their lives on the line during the civil war, refused to trust their politicians. The reaction -or rather the lack of reaction- of the crowd when Yulia Timoshenko appeared in a wheel chair on Maidan square and made an emotional appeal, is very revealing.. One might have expected a wild clamor of support. Bu no, it is not what happened. The people stood, almost frozen, listened to her politically-clever words but did not seem to buy her message.

Many foreign pundits, apparently influenced by the continuous media coverage of the events on Maidan square, seem to forget the other half of the Ukrainian equation -the Russians. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the fact that Ukraine is part of the historical past of Russia and also of its culture. Therefore it is not only Putin who refuses any interference in the territorial integrity of Ukraine , it is also the Russian people.

Historically and culturally Ukraine is the cradle of Russia. The Russian nation started as a Kievan state. In the 10th century AD, Slavic prince Vladimir ruled over a huge territory including Novgorod, was baptized in 989 and absorbed the Byzantium culture. The magnificent mosaics and icons in St Sophia cathedral, completed in 1041, attest to those beginnings.

The cultural heritage of the Russians is also linked in many ways to the Crimea. The great Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva joined other writers, like Osip Mandelstam and Andrei Bely. in the writers’ colony of Koktebel, in the eastern part of the Crimea. The short story “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov, which takes place in Yalta, is practically memorized by every Russian child in school. Based on a Pushkin’s poem, the ballet entitled The Fountain of Bakhshisarai (a town in central Crimea) is part of the permanent repertoire of the Bolshoi.

The violence which started in Simferopol only one week after the end of the uprising on Maidan square is a reminder that the situation remains explosive in the area.

What will be the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis ? A federation of autonomous republics, similar to the Crimea whose status was recognized by Russia in 1997 but only for a period of 10 years?

Another thought. Joseph Beuys, (1921-1986) is probably the best known artist in Germany to-day. As he was flying with the Wermacht in 1944, his plane was shot down over the Crimea and saved by a Tatar “shaman” . Beuys’ installations and other works are inspired from that unique experience. This is what Ukraine may need- a Tatar shaman .

Editor’s Note: This piece was written prior to the invasion of Crimea by the Russians.

 

 

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Letter From Paris: Monsieur (le President) Hollande Goes to Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the first time in 20 years, a French President was invited for a State visit to the United States. François Hollande was greeted with the highest honors, including a colorful pageant on the White House Lawn.

There was no better way to emphasize the historical ties between the two countries than a visit to Monticello, the plantation of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Jefferson, ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789, was an ardent francophile. But he was also a brilliant statesman — particularly when he bought Louisiana from France in 1808, which probably represented the best real estate deal of all time.

In happier days, French President Francois Hollande and then companion Valérie Trierweiler. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The logistics of the official dinner at The White House were the source of an intense “buzz” as to who would be sitting next to the American president in the absence of a French “First Lady,” after the recent break up of Hollande from his long-time companion, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, shown above together in happier times.

The meeting of the two presidents in Washington had a strong symbolic importance aimed at reinforcing their respective statures on the world scene. France is one of the staunchest allies of the US today. It has an aggressive foreign policy demonstrated by military interventions in Mali and Centrafrique and the essential role it played during the international, ongoing negotiations regarding Syria and Iran.

Last summer the attitude of Obama was widely interpreted a slap in the face for Hollande when the latter was left high and dry after his offer to provide military assistance to the US against Syria. Laying out the red carpet in such a manner on this visit might be interpreted as a form of gratitude toward France.

Most of the difficult questions were asked during the press conference, but both Obama and Hollande chose to avoid contentious topics; criticisms were muted. The resentment felt by France and the rest of Europe about the NSA surveillance was not brought to the forefront. However, Obama did express his discontent about the untimely presence of a group of French businessmen in Iran even before any agreement was signed with that country.

Unlike Sarkozy, Hollande was not invited to speak in front of the US Congress. This is not entirely surprising since the presence of a socialist leader could have ruffled too many conservative feathers.

Since the major press conference Hollande gave at the Elysees palace on Jan. 14, it seems that a government plan to turn around the French economy is developing. The declaration of a “Pact of Responsibility” between the state and the private sector, by waving the obligation to finance social benefits (a reduction of 49% of the cost of labor), constitutes a substantial stimulus for the economy.

This new policy was reaffirmed by Hollande’s remarks made during his stay in California. In fact, many thought he looked as if he were becoming more “Liberal Democrat” by the hour. The exposure to Silicon Valley, dynamic French companies and start-ups, successful young French computer scientists, the stimulating atmosphere of flexible working conditions and the surprising remarks about “crowdfunding” were all, in the minds of many, like fresh air blowing from the West coast.

The French President enjoyed having lunch with the CEOs of giant internet companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Mozilla and Twitter. In 1984, the French President Francois Mitterand similarly enjoyed meeting a certain Stephen Jobs, then 29-years-old.

The stay in California triggered a real “digitalomania” (my own neologism) in France. The media offered multiple talk shows about robotics, artificial intelligence, bio genetics and the like. Analysts pointed out that the information technology was the key to the restructuring of the French economy.

While a major snow storm impacted 49 out of the 50 American states, the French president, flying the northern route, ended his short, but definitely positive, visit to the United States.

HeadshotAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She will write 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 will cover 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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