August 25, 2016

Letter from Paris: Exhibition Explores the Elegance, History of Louis Vuitton’s Luggage

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

The exhibit “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” (Fly, Sail, Travel) at the Grand Palais takes the visitor to the elegant world of travel in the early 20th century.  It is a retrospective of the luggage, which created the Vuitton dynasty’s fame.  Every  item is beautifully crafted of wood, cloth and leather, such as the famous “sac Noé” created in 1932.

caroussel_grandpalais_460x550_v02These luxurious objects make travel by air, train or sea glamorous and modern. The visitor rides an old-fashioned, wood-paneled train and feels transported into the “Out of Africa” world of Karen Blixen, as the Kenya savannah speeds outside the windows.

Several pieces of the Vuitton family’s private luggage — first seen by the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) — are scattered  on sand dunes, evoking the beautifully photographed scene of a couple riding  in the desert near the Pyramids in the 1978 Agatha Christy’s movie “Death on the Nile.”

A huge sail reaches all the way to the ceiling.  On the deck of a yacht are displayed a wooden trunk,  fragrant with camphor wood and rosewood; a “wardrobe” trunk whose drawers and hangers contain  an elegant passenger’s apparel;  a gentleman’s  personal case complete with crystal flasks; and fancy hair brushes.

Luxury goods – labeled as “consumer discretionary” in Wall Street jargon – are an important sector of the French economy.  They combine traditional savoir-faire acquired over many generations (the Maison Vuitton has existed since 1835; the Maison Hermes since 1837) with the creative talent of artists and decorators along with  the highly complex robotic machinery used to fabricate, clothes, bags, shoes and more.

At Hermes, silk screen scarves are made from raw silk spun under the constant scrutiny of a worker; artists, assisted by colorists, create the designs.

For decades, not a single famous woman – from Jacqueline Kennedy to French actress Catherine Deneuve – has been seen without the iconic Chanel purse.  The making of the little black purse, with its gold chain, and its distinctive padded outer shell stitched in lozenges, requires the skilled delicate work of 17 people.

The world of fashion and luxury objects could not exist without money — lots of money.  In 1987, the merger of Louis Vuitton fashion house with Moët et Chandon and Hennessy champagne – produced the LVMH multinational conglomerate.  It brought together 90 of the most famous brands of wines and spirits, fashion and luxury goods, as well as perfume and cosmetics.  Dior is the major shareholder with 40 percent of the shares.

Bernard Arnault is CEO of both Dior and LVMH.  He is the richest man of France and holds the fifth largest fortune in  the world — his worth is about 30 billion dollars.  When Arnault arrived in Shanghai for the opening of a new Vuitton boutique, he was received like a head  of state.

It is not uncommon for a tycoon to be a philantropist and an art collector.  In the late 19th century, two Russian businessmen were instrumental in bringing French art to their home country — Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin introduced Impressionist art to Russia after a trip to Paris, and similarly, Ivan Morozov was a major collector of French avant-garde art.

Arnault won a resounding victory over his rival Francois Pinault when he was able to build his art museum on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  (Pinault “only” owns a few islands of Venice.)  In order to promote artistic creation, Arnault built a museum, which he called the Fondation LVMH — it was designed by the American architect Frank Gehry.  At the time of its inauguration in 2014,  it was met with a mixed reaction but gradually it has become part of the landscape. It did help rejuvenate the dilapidated  Jardin d’Acclimatation, a 100-year-old zoo and children’s attraction park, beloved by the Parisians.

Gehry created a wild structure of huge, curved glass panels flying in all directions, like spinnakers blowing in the wind.  To create an area of 125,000 square feet of molded glass, 100 engineers were employed who were supported by Dassault Systèmes, the leading French company specializing in aeronautics and space.

The inside structure, called the “iceberg,” is erratic and disorients visitors. Several intricate levels and vertiginous staircases lead to the upper terrace offering  a view over the Bois in which the skyscrapers of La Défense district appear to be framed by the glass panels.

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

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The Movie Man: Latest ‘Star Wars’ Extravaganza Forcefully Rebukes Critics

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

A young and ambitious filmmaker named George Lucas created Star Wars, which changed the face of the movie industry forever. Since its release in 1977, the Star Wars universe has expanded into other forms of media, such as books, video games, television, music, toys, and more. It spawned two sequels, which were received as well as the first film, and eventually spawned a prequel trilogy, which, well, did not fare so well, mainly due to poor stories, poor acting, and overemphasis on green screen visual effects.

And three years ago, when George Lucas’ studio, LucasFilm, was sold to Disney, and its new owner announced more movies to come, many of us groaned. How could they take this galaxy to an even lower level after Jar-Jar Binks, and shoddy acting by Hayden Christensen as a young Darth Vader?

This past week changed our opinions. On Dec. 17, the United Kingdom got the first glance at Star Wars, Episode VII- The Force Awakens, directed by big and small screen legend J. J. Abrams. To play on the immortal words of Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: “I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of Disney haters were suddenly silenced …”

Yes, The Force Awakens can be honorably added to the Star Wars saga, not out of necessity to tell the backstory of the legendary Darth Vader. Now we get to see the continuity of our heroes Han Solo, Princess – sorry, General – Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker. There are also newcomers to the story, with Oscar Isaac as pilot Poe Dameron, Daisy Ridley as Rey, and John Boyega as Finn, and last but not least, Adam Driver as villain Kylo Ren.

All performers do not disappoint … although it is very unlikely in the first place, I would have nominated them for a Screen Actors Guild Ensemble award. And who can forget the new droid, BB-8, who caught our attention the moment we saw him in the teaser trailer released last Thanksgiving?

What’s even more amazing is that BB-8 is not CGI, he is, in fact, built as a real robot. Which is another theme in this film, being that those behind The Force Awakens only used CGI effects when necessary, preferring to use practical effects — similar to those used in the original trilogy — in order to give it a more believable visual feel (the major mistake George Lucas made from The Phantom Menace to Revenge of the Sith was using the computers as much as possible).

And, of course, there returns the music legend John Williams to conduct the score

But the big question we have been asking since the second trailer was released this past April is: where is Luke Skywalker? He has not appeared in the trailers since, and is not on the poster for the film? This has spawned many fan theories that he is, in fact, the villain, Kylo Ren, who wears a mask, or that he is dead. When asked by Jimmy Kimmel the reason behind Luke’s absence (on the poster), Harrison Ford quipped, “They ran out of room.”

Readers, your questions will be answered right away upon screening. And you will see that there are many similar events that took place all the way back with A New Hope. You will perhaps see them as foreshadowing events, or even tributes, since the only way one could dislike this film would be if one is a Holden Caulfield hipster, who is critical of anything mainstream.

The film will not disappoint. And (cue the hand wave) you will return to see it multiple times.

And I can state unequivocally, I will return to see it multiple times …

(Heads up: I already saw it twice within 36 hours)

Kevin Ganey

Kevin Ganey

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

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Letter From Paris: Welcome ‘Le Grand Paris!’ New Geographical Region Becomes a Reality

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On January 1st, 2016 the “Metropole du Grand Paris” became official .  This new territorial organization, named Etablissement Public de Cooperation Intercommunale (EPCI),  includes Paris plus parts of three departements Hauts de Seine, Seine St Denis and Val de Marne– with seven millions inhabitants.

What is the Grand Paris ?  Why is it a necessity?  Is it a decisive step forward? Does it have models in other countries?  What are the  problems it is facing ?  Anyone curious to learn how France works and what lies in the future might be interested in having a look at this new concept.

The project was born in 2007 under President Sarkozy’s mandate.  When the Socialists came to power in 2012, they immediately modified the initial proposal.  But the authors of the project kept plodding away.  Its official status represents a progress toward the long term objective, which is to be ready for the Olympic Games in 2024 and the 2025 World Fair, in the event Paris is chosen.

The French capital is choking inside the beltway and something had to be done:  the town of Paris is too small and too expensive even to accommodate the middle class; suburbia, which used to provide a labor force in the former industrial economy, is hit today by unemployment ; this same suburbia feels isolated because of inadequate public transport (if you drive into work you might spend hours in bouchons or traffic jams on the highway).  The RERs (Regional Rapid Transit) are overcrowded and often unsafe.

reseau-de-transport-grand-paris-1

In the new project (see map above), the backbone of public transport will be the Grand Paris Express, six new lines of totally automated trains circling the Paris agglomeration  and connecting, for the first time, the suburbs.  For instance it will be possible to go directly from Boulogne at the west of Paris to Marne la Vallée  (the location of Euro-Disney) in the east.

Until now any change has been hampered by administrative complexity – layer upon layer of  authorities, like a millefeuille  – (a well known and sinful pastry).

The Grand Paris will  include 132 communes.  Mayors wield enormous power in France.  That power is particularly obvious at election time when building permits seem to multiply.  The mayors will have to learn how to live together and adapt to the new administrative structure, which now includes other layers of the bureaucratic millefeuille, namely the departements and the regions (this year they have been reduced from 22 to 13), piled on top.

France is essentially a centralized state.  Culture, finance, education of the elite,  research and development, luxury shops,  are heavily concentrated in Paris and the Ile de France.  Napoleon, Baron Haussmann, General De Gaulle are the great historical figures who left their imprint in the centralization process.  What we are witnessing today is an explosion of the center.  It is even likely that the boundaries of the Grand Paris may expand.

The Grand Paris will be made of ‘clusters’ (in English in the French text) to bring Paris to par with New York , London or Tokyo.  According to the official description of the project, “Greater Paris relies on seven thematic competitive clusters.”  The list includes : Air Space, Trade, Sustainable City, Digital Creation, International Trade, and Life Sciences.  A financial center already exists in the Defense district, which looks like a mini-Manhattan. ,

Saclay, 20 kilometers south of Paris, is the most impressive and modernistic of these clusters.  Until recently an agricultural land, it is now the hub of Research and Development.  Many élite Grandes Ecoles, like Polytechnique,  have  moved there, as well as 23 universities and the headquarters of major companies.  Its emblematic building, spreading over the fields like a giant flying saucer, is the Synchroton Soleil with its accelerators to study light.  Pierre Veltz, an engineer and former head of Saclay, is confident that it will become an European Silicon Valley.

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

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Talking Transportation: Speed Limits, Safety and Fuel Efficiency

65-mph-speed-limit-signCrawling along I-95 the other day in the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic, I snickered when I noticed the “Speed Limit 55” sign alongside the highway.  I wish …

Of course, when the highway is not jammed, speeds are more like 70 mph with the legal limit, unfortunately, rarely being enforced. Which got me thinking: who sets speed limits on our highways and by what criteria?

Why is the speed limit on I-95 in Fairfield County only 55 mph but 65 mph east of New Haven?  And why is the speed limit on I-84 just 55 mph from the New York border to Hartford, but 65 mph farther east in “the Quiet Corner”?  Why does the eastern half of the state get a break?

Blame the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA) in the CDOT.  This body regulates everything from speed limits to traffic signals, working with local traffic authorities (usually local Police Departments, mayors or Boards of Selectmen).

OSTA is also responsible for traffic rules for trucks (usually lower speed limits) including the ban on their use of the left hand lane on I-95 in most places.

It was the Federal government (Congress) that dropped the Interstate speed limit to 55 mph in 1973 during the oil crisis, only to raise it to 65 mph in 1987 and repeal the ban altogether in 1995 (followed by a 21% increase in fatal crashes),  leaving it to each state to decide what’s best.

In Arizona and Texas that means 75 mph while in Utah some roads support 80 mph.  Trust me … having recently driven 1000+ miles in remote stretches of Utah, things happen very fast when you’re doing 80 – 85 mph!

About half of Germany’s famed Autobahns have speed limits of 100 km/hr (62 mph), but outside of the cities the top speed is discretionary. A minimum of 130 km/hr (81 mph) is generally the rule, but top speed can often be 200 km/hr (120 mph).

Mind you, the Autobahn is a superbly maintained road system without the bone-rattling potholes and divots we enjoy on our highways.  And the German-built Mercedes and Audis on these roads are certainly engineered for such speed.

American cars are designed for maximum fuel efficiency in the 55 – 60 mph range.  Speed up to 65 mph and your engine runs 8 percent less efficiently.  At 70 mph, the loss is 17 percent.  That adds up to more money spent on gasoline and more environmental pollution, all to save a few minutes of driving time.

But even bigger than the loss of fuel efficiency is aerodynamic drag, which can eat up to 40 percent of total fuel consumption.  Lugging bulky roof-top cargo boxes worsens fuel economy by 25 percent at interstate speeds.  So does carrying junk in your trunk (or passengers!):  a 1 percent penalty for every 100 pounds.

Even with cheaper gasoline, it all adds up!

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, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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The Strangest New Year’s Day Ever

John Guy LaPlante

John Guy LaPlante

We’re pleased to republish a column by John Guy LaPlante today — this column was originally published on Jan 1, 2013, and we thought it would be timely for readers to have a chance to enjoy it again today.

It was the strangest New Year’s Day ever … and I never expect another like it.

All my life, like you probably, I have celebrated New Year’s Day in winter—most often in a cold, icy, snowy winter. Not a Florida winter.

Winter arrives on Dec. 21, of course, and New Year’s Day 11 days later, on Jan. 1.

My saying this seems silly, I know, but I say it for a reason.

My seeing the New Year in, as for you, has often meant stepping outside into freezing cold air that takes my breath away and then suffering in my frigid car until the engine begins to blow in wonderful hot air.

For many decades this was always the way I experienced New Year’s Day.

With just one exception …

That exception came eight years ago when I traveled around the world for five months. Yes, nearly all of it alone—147 days, 20 countries, 36,750 miles by plane, train, and for only $83 per day, with everything included, right down to every snack and phone call and all the visas required. That trip was my present to myself for my then approaching 75th birthday.

It was a grand adventure. More than that, an odyssey. It led to my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!” It’s a book still selling, and in fact, one that got to be published in China in Chinese—well, Mandarin, which is the principal language.

As New Year’s Day approached, I arrived in Durban, South Africa. That’s nearly as far south in Africa as you can go, and I had come a long way, all the way from Cairo near the Mediterranean in the far north.

I arrived on Dec. 28, I think it was, just seven days after the start of winter and three days before the new year dawned. However, I had crossed the Equator to get here and in fact was far south of it.

But the seasons are opposite on the other side of the Equator. Yes, it was December, but it was not winter. Summer had just started here and it was summertime, with long daylight, short nights, shirtsleeve temperatures, even bathing suit temperatures. How remarkable. How wonderful.

Durban is a big city. An impressive city. And I was here to enjoy it . I was lucky. I was staying in a nice hostel right downtown, the Banana Backpackers. Not hotel. Hostel. I was using hostels because they were cheaper (hotels for five months can get expensive) and I got an experience more true to my purpose.

Don’t ask me why that name. I never found out. And I was making friends. And I was making the most of the city, taking in everything I could—its bustling downtown, its historic and tourist attractions, its museums. It’s all in my book.

New Year’s Day was a great celebration here, too. It’s a big day all over the world. I read everything I could in the big Durban daily about activities coming up. English is the official language. There would be all the usual merry-making. I was looking forward to it. Planned to enjoy it as much as I could.

New Year’s Day rose, bright and sunny and warm and beautiful. But none of my senses told me that this was New Year’s Day. This was so dramatically different. But my brain did.

Durban is right on the Indian Ocean, just north of where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans merge below Capetown. Durban has great beaches. I had not glimpsed them yet, but I knew they were gorgeous. I intended to get to them today. They were not far, at the end of a broad avenue that nosed right into them. A cinch. I could get to them in just a few blocks.

But imagine my surprise. My stupefaction. Thousands of people were planning to do the same thing. I noticed that the minute I stepped out of Banana Backpackers. People jammed the street, walking in from various directions.

So many. Amazing. The boulevard was closed to vehicles for the day. People were heading south on it in a broad torrent. They took up the whole width of the street. All going the same way, toward the salt water. Some on bikes but most hoofing it. Carrying all the usual stuff—towels, picnic baskets, folding chairs, parasols, toys. Many with children in hand.

Instantly I saw they were all black. Durban is a typical South African city. It has the usual mix of blacks and whites, but the blacks were there first and predominate. In fact, apartheid had been the law of the land until quite recently. Apartheid mandated the enforced separation of the races, the same as in many places in our U.S.A. when I was young, but even more severely, I’ve read.

Right away I saw this was a black crowd. I could not see any whites. Of course, white people like nice, warm, sunny, summer beaches, too. Why this river of people was all black, I don’t know. And I didn’t find out. I still don’t know. But right away I decided, this is just too much. No way can I walk with them.

I gulped hard. I was so disappointed. But then I braced up. A main reason for this big and crazy adventure of mine–I knew some thought this–was to visit other countries, and the more different the better. I wanted to see what they were really like. I was deliberately staying clear of the heavy tourist areas. I wanted to see the real people in their real everyday life. So how could I chicken out now?

Uptight I was, but I stepped forward and slipped in among them. I saw dark eyes studying me but I looked straight ahead and walked on. I was uncomfortable. Nervous. Apprehensive. I admit it and am embarrassed to say so. I was tempted to drop out and head back to Banana Backpackers. What I was experiencing, of course, was plain, classic culture shock.

My head was battling with my emotions. My head was telling me that 99 percent of these people were good, fine, no-problem people. I knew that this was true of people all over the world. Yellow, brown, red, black, white, mixed. In every country the bad ones—the malicious ones—are a tiny minority. True, too, in our U.S.A.

The only thing these folks had in mind was getting to the beach for a fine New Year’s outing.

My heart made me fearful, insecure, borderline panicky. But I walked on. I was feeling this way because they were so many and they were all black and I wasn’t used to this and there was no other white person around. But on I went.

I wasn’t going to the beach to sun myself or swim. I did like these things back home. I was going because I wanted to see the Indian Ocean and smell the sea air and be part of the festivities and observe everything going on and get some exercise and see what a New Year’s Day was like in this country and how folks enjoyed it.

We got to the beach. A great big, broad stretch of sand. The Indian Ocean stretched out ahead, clear to the horizon, with not even a tiny island in between. A few pleasure boats, yes.

But know what? The Indian Ocean didn’t look a bit different than many other stretches of salt water I have gotten to see. The only reason I knew that this was the Indian Ocean was because I was told it was, period.

What I noticed was the great numbers of people. Right away I thought of Coney Island. Who isn’t familiar with Coney Island? I’ve never been to Coney Island. But I’ve seen the photos of the packed crowds on the Fourth of July.

For sure this huge turn-out would rival Coney Island in the Guinness Book of World Records. And of course all these people were black. But they were behaving just like white people would.

I became more relaxed. I began walking around. I roamed the beach. I made my way between all these people. Families in tight clusters. Kids frolicking and romping and tossing balls. Couples making out. People reading, snacking, applying suntan lotion, snoozing.

Not easy to walk in that loose sand. I made my way down close to the beach and walked along the shore on the packed sand, moist from the outgoing tide. Some people were in the water, swimming, splashing, floating, but quite few. Which is typical on any beach anywhere.

I walked a long way to the left, then a long way back and to the right. Some people looked at me and followed me with their eyes. Most people were too busy. I had my camera and I began sneaking pictures. I learned long ago it was not smart at times to face whoever I wanted to photograph and snap a picture.

I had developed a different way. I would spot someone I wanted to focus on. Then I would turn 90 degrees and face in this new direction. But slowly I would turn my camera back 90 degrees. Very stealthily, all while gazing straight ahead. And click the shutter. Sometimes I missed the shot. But often I got the good candid shot I hoped for. Rarely did anybody catch on.

Now I got bolder. I even walked up to some people. Made sure I smiled. And asked if I could take their picture. Nobody said no.

It was all pleasant. I was happy to be part of this. But this was a film camera. And of course my roll of film got used up.

In all this, I did not come upon another white person. How come? Maybe this was a traditionally black beach. Maybe there was a traditional white beach elsewhere. But I thought of this much later.

Satisfied and content, I walked back to the Banana Backpackers. I quit long before the others did. There were just a few of us heading back. I was happy I had not caved in to my apprehensions and had had what turned out to be a most pleasant experience.

Back at the hostel, I found practically nobody around. That evening I ran into a couple of people and mentioned what I had done. But they were foreign tourists, too. They were interested. But they had nothing to say that enlightened me.

Later I had another thought. It was about black people in the U.S.A. Men and women of all ages born there and grown up there. Like me. Just as much an American citizen as I.

And I thought of the many times when for sure they must find themselves alone among whites. At times they must feel as alone and isolated and apprehensive as I on this New Year’s Day. This is probably a common experience for them in our section of Connecticut where blacks are still a small minority, although the situation is changing a bit. And surely they get used to it, adapt to it, and develop a certain comfort.

I felt these disturbing emotions just for a few hours on just one day. I’m sure some of our blacks back home must feel it frequently, on and on, all their lives.

That New Year’s Day in Durban made me more understanding. More sympathetic. I learned a powerful lesson. And the lesson has stuck. We’re all much alike. Little reason to be nervous among strange.

I’d like to include some of the photos I took that day but they’re not at hand. Sorry.

Happy New Year to you, one and all!

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The Movie Man: “Spotlight” Explores How “Globe” Reporters Exposed Priest Sex Scandal

Spotlight_movieTonight, I look back to a scandal that has rocked the institution that preserved Western Civilization in the Dark Ages, transformed hospitals, and, believe it or not, science. Thirteen years ago, the Boston Globe revealed a series of stories to the public, and many in the world began to distrust her. What I speak of is the Catholic Church, and the priest sex scandal.

This is a New England film, as many big parts of New England life are displayed throughout it via product placement. Dunkin’ Donuts, W. B. Mason, and other familiar logos are seen throughout it. For those of us who know Boston well, many popular, yet not mainstream popular, or, rather “hipster” streets are seen and spoken about through dialogue.

We begin in 1976, in which a bishop visits a Boston Police station in regards to a priest who abused a young boy, and he assures the boy and his parents they will never hear from the priest again, and the bishop and the priest then drive off. Twenty-five years later, members of the Boston Globe have a goodbye party for one of their editors who is stepping down after the New York Times bought out the newspaper.

New editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes in from Miami and expresses interest in going deeper into a case involving a priest, who severely abused countless children, as he feels there is something that is being hidden from the public.

How could somebody take on a church? This is the basic theme that is dealt with as the journalists from the Globe’s Spotlight section begin to dig deeper and deeper into this horrible scandal. A member of a survivor group, SNAP, comes to them, having previously tried to contact the paper many years prior. While his organization is small, comprised of only 10 members, Spotlight eventually catches on and realizes there has to be a scandal in their midst.

While they are presented with the same facts that we are today when we discuss the scandal, that perhaps only a very small percentage of ordained priests have engaged in such awful activities, they realize they need to take action because there are numerous victims out there with stories to be heard.

Several scenes take place in which the journalists meet with the survivors (as one asserts they are survivors because some ended up taking their lives) and they tell their stories. It is a completely heart-wrenching ordeal to listen to, as they describe being initially excited that their parish priest took an interest in them, only to violate the in the most unimaginable way.

Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston at the time, is our enemy, despite his cheerful and outgoing personality. The stories of Church corruption in the Middle Ages suddenly return to 21st century America. Cardinal Law is reaching out to officials, taking advantage of loopholes to keep legal documents confirming his corruption away from the public’s eyes.

And though he only appears in three or four scenes, he does not have the lasting effect of the antagonizing villain that we see in other films, such as Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs consisting of only 16 minutes of screen time, but earning the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and being ranked by the American Film Institute as the greatest villain in the history of film.

Many interesting points are made, as people bring up that these stories were brought to the newspapers on many occasions, but turned down. Michael Keaton’s character, Walter “Robby” Robinson, notes that he originally shot down the claims when he worked for a different section of the Globe 20 years prior, and another brings up that we all stumble around in the dark and only realize what has happened when the light enters. Boston is a tightly-knit community, one character says, pointing out that if it’s true it takes a village to raise a child, as he quips, it also takes a village to [destroy him].

I will not post a disclaimer to share that I am a lifelong Catholic, myself, and have been brought up in the Church in a very intimate manner. Baptism, CCD, First Communion and Reconciliation, Confirmation, Catholic high school, and even participated in campus ministry as a student at Quinnipiac. I do not intend to bash Catholicism, as journalists such as Christopher Hitchens might have done when reviewing a film like this, nor do I seek to engage in apologies, but rather to show the honest side of the faith.

This film has been received well by the Church, of all viewers, especially by Seán Cardinal O’Malley, Law’s replacement as Archbishop of Boston, who claimed the investigation by the Globe prompted the Church “to deal with what was shameful and what was hidden.” Vatican Radio also shared similar words, calling the film honest and compelling. Anyone who is involved with their local church can describe how there is now a zero-tolerance policy for things of this nature, and how Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have made these events a main focus during their papacies.

I will close with a reference to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, since I read all three volumes this summer … to my surprise. Plus, who doesn’t feel super smart when they close an article with a quote from a piece of classical literature?

(Dante addresses a pope who is confined to be buried face down into a furnace, who is guilty of simony [buying of sacred things])

And were it not that I am still constrained by the reverence I owe to the Great Keys [1] you held in life, I should not have refrained from using other words and sharper still; for this avarice of yours grieves all the world, tramples the virtuous, and exalts the evil.

Of such as you was the Evangelist’s vision when he saw She Who Sits upon the Waters locked with the Kings of the earth in fornication.[2] Gold and silver are the gods you adore! In what are you different from the idolator, Save that he worships one, and you a score?

Inferno, Canto XIX

[1] Papacy, the “Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven” given to St. Peter by Christ.

[2] The Whore of Babylon, from Revelation 17-18

Kevin Ganey

Kevin Ganey

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

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Letter from Paris: COP 21, Part II — Reaching Consensus was a “Tour de Force,” But Much Work Still To Do

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

cop21-logoAt 7.26 p.m. precisely on Saturday, Dec. 12, Laurent Fabius, president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 21 , choking with emotion, announced that an  universal accord had been reached.  The several thousand people in the audience rose in a standing ovation and started congratulating each other.

After two sleepless nights, the “facilitators” wrenched out an agreement by consensus from the 195 Convention’s members.  The suspense lasted until the absolute final minute when Nicaragua tried to interrupt. It was too late — the president had already snapped down his gavel.  The conference could very well have been a failure – it had to overcome a block from the oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia –  but on that last day, there were no grim faces, as had been seen in Copenhagen, only a general enthusiasm. 

Credit should be given to the involvement of the French organizers.  For two years they traveled several times around the world to meet every leader.  President François Hollande was talking to president Xi Jinping just one month before the start of the Convention.  All paid homage to the professionalism of Fabius who seemed on a mission throughout the process. “You did an amazing job,” commented John Kerry,  while  Al Gore added, “This is the finest diplomatic performance I have seen in two decades.”

In a nutshell, the agreement reads as follows: 

  • its main objective is to limit the increase in temperature to “well below” two degrees by the end of this century 
  • developed countries should reduce their emissions of greenhouse gas and the developing countries should “mitigate” them 
  • Article 9 stipulates that “developed country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries” 
  • the agreement, which will be ratified in April 2016, requires an annual payment of 100 billion Euros, with a revision every five years

President Barrack Obama is expected to use an Executive Order to avoid the likely opposition of the Republican majority in the Congress; in the absence of coercion and sanctions —  a mechanism of control by satellite (France is financing the “MicroCarb” satellite) — provides an attempt at transparency and ongoing verification by a committee of experts thus making the agreement de facto binding.

Never before has there been such an awareness of the threat caused by global warming. The vagaries of the climate and the fact that 2015 is the warmest year in recorded history contributed to this sense of urgency.  Today any debate about climate skepticism has become obsolete.  

What makes the Paris conference different from all the ones before is a groundswell of positive intentions.  For the first time the main polluters of the planet – China, the US and India – are on board and are determined to make the agreement work.  Already 187 out of the 195 countries have announced their voluntary contributions.

Today the action of society as a whole is crucial.  It is important to note that, at the Bourget, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private associations and a number of organizations  were working just a few steps from the UN “Blue Zone” for government officials  (at the Lima, Peru, COP, they had been “exiled” 15 kilometers away).  Giant screens in the hallways made it possible for the general public to follow the proceedings, breaking away from the closed door policy of the past.

After the initial euphoria felt on Dec. 12,  a number of questions remains unanswered, some of the objectives are unclear – no date was set as to when to reach the greenhouse gas neutrality nor when to end the use of fossil energy, no price was put on carbon – and the unfairness of many decisions has become apparent – such as the financing  and the sharing of responsibilities between the “North” or rich countries and the developing countries — or to put it another way,  who pays whom and for what?  Until now Europe, and France in particular, have been paying a great deal.  A country such as Russia has not paid one cent so far.  Are China and India – the big polluters of the planet – still considered as part of the developing world and expected to be on the receiving end of hundreds of billions of Euros?

Nicolas Hulot, militant environmentalist and an icon in France, deemed  the agreement very positive even though it was not perfect.  “Such a movement of solidarity around the planet has never been seen before,” he stated, adding, “There is a momentum, which needs to be seized and followed by action.” 

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Letter from Paris: COP 21 Tackles Climate Change in Challenging Times

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

All eyes are on the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change taking place in Paris from Nov. 29 to Dec. 12. The “Conference of Parties” or COP, have been held every year since COP 1 in Berlin, in 1995.

In the middle of nowhere, in an industrial and non-descript vacant lot – a preview of what our world will become if the conference does not bring concrete results – the Bourget site has been turned into an ephemeral city of tents, movable partitions and kilometers of carpets. The recyclable constructions will all disappear at the end of the conference. More than 3,000 journalists are covering the event.

The circumstances were exceptional, barely two weeks after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks. France is living under emergency rules and the danger is still present. More than 120,000 police, army and special forces are deployed throughout the country. Terrorism and global warming were on a collision course. It was a huge challenge for France to organize the conference. The highways and part of the beltway were closed to facilitate the arrival of the thousands of visitors. The Parisians had braced themselves for total chaos … but it turned out to be the most peaceful two days in a long time.

The inaugural day was quite a show of protocol. There was first the greetings of the 150 leaders, followed by photo-ops and smiles. Elham Aminzadeh, the vice-president of Iran, dressed in her long robes, walked past the French president and prime minister to shake hands only with Segolène Royal, French minister of the environment. Then everyone scrambled to find his or her place for the giant “family pnoto.” Leaders of Israel and Palestine or of Russia and Turkey had to stand apart to avoid a diplomatic incident.

This year the heads of States spoke at the outset of the COP. It was believed that their declarations of intent — powerful but brief (three minutes each) — would galvanize the public and give a boost to the working sessions to follow. One sensed a definite will to reach the objective of limiting the global warming to below two degrees by 2100. “Greenpeace could have signed Francois Hollande’s speech,” commented Jean Francois Julliard, the director of Greenpeace France. Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi announced his country’s support of an ” International Solar Alliance.” China is becoming the world first producer of renewable energy. The liberal new prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is changing his country’s attitude about the environment.

Early in the conference, 11 developed countries, including the US, France, England, Germany and Sweden, made the solemn commitment to contribute 250 million Euros for a transfer of renewable technology to the poorest countries.

In the 1970s, the advocates of ecology were not taken seriously and pretty much disregarded. Things have now come a long way from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which so few countries ratified or from the 2009 COP 15 of Copenhagen, which ended up with a weak and non-binding text.

At the midpoint of COP 21, its president, French minister of foreign affairs Laurent Fabius, exhorted the participants to seize the momentum. He urged delegates not to wait until global warming becomes irreversible.

The pollution of the atmosphere is measured in particles per million or “ppm.” To-day it is 400 as compared to 250 in the pre-industrial era. In Peiping, pollution is 25 times higher than that of Paris on it worst day.

In 1990, the developed countries (also labeled as the “North”) produced 14,000 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the emerging countries 7,500. In 2012, the North had slightly reduced its emissions to 13,000 and the “emerging countries “, called G77 + China , ( actually numbering 134 now), almost tripled their emissions to 20,000. It is ironic that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is still included among the “emerging” countries.

The main stumbling block at the COP 21 is whether the developed world will have to pay 100 billion Euros per year to the other countries even though they are profiting from the technology it created. Besides, if one has to wait for the “big emergents,” headed by China and India, in the name of “climate justice,” to catch up, the planet will be gone by then.

In the early evening of the inaugural day, I saw a convoy with blue strobe lights, going against traffic in a one-way street in front of my windows. Who could that be, I wondered? It turned out it was President Barrack Obama driving toward the very secluded three-star Ambroisie restaurant on Place des Vosges. In the elegant dining room, under crystal chandeliers, the president, John Kerry and their party seemed to have a great time with Francois Hollande and his cabinet ministers.

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

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Letter from Paris: ‘Francofonia’ Explores German Attitude to Louvre Art During Occupation, but with Broader Message

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Like irritating mosquitoes on a hot summer afternoon, three fighter planes of the German Luftwaffe fly over a majestic and impregnable Louvre museum.  This is the opening image of Francofonia, a documentary reflecting on art and the courage of men fighting to protect it against forces of destruction.  A most appropriate and needed interlude at this particularly tense time for the humanity.

Although labeled a documentary, Francofonia – a Russian-German-French production – is part newsreels, part fiction, part poetic images. The film, directed by the well-known Alexander Sokurov, won an award at the September 2015 Venice Film Festival.

Count Wolff Metternich, a German officer of Prussian origin, walks down a vaulted hallway. He is there to meet  Jacques Jaujard, the French director of the Louvre.  The two men are stiff and on their respective guards.  Metternich asks Jaujard, “Do you speak German?” “No,” responds Jaujard, “The answer is, I am very French.”

A scene from 'Francophonia.' Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

A scene from ‘Francophonia.’ Image courtesy of Films Boutique.

Ironically both men are on an identical mission.  In 1939, most of the Louvre’s art work, including the “Victory of Samothrace” – the museum’s most illustrious treasure – was removed by the staff and hidden in the cellars of French castles.  Metternich had done precisely the same thing with the collections of the Cologne cathedral before the start of the war.

With an element of pathos, Sokurov imagines the visit of German military to  the Louvre.  Did they realize it was an empty place except for Assyrian winged bulls and other monumental sculptures, which might have been left on purpose to act as the watchdogs of an idea?

Two iconic guides take us through the deserted Grande Gallery.  A fat-bellied Napoleon, behaving like the host, points at the David’s painting of his coronation.  “This is me,” he says proudly. But  it is with irony that Sukurov shows “Napoleon crossing the Alps” by Delaroche as an undignified and tired man riding a mule  rather than the dashing rider imagined by David.  Our other guide, Marianne, wearing the distinctive Phrygian bonnet, repeats over and over  “Liberté,  égalité, fraternité.”

Sukorov accompanies us through an empty museum filled with the memory of treasures now gone.  A hand touches the diaphanous finger tips of a statue;  Clouet’s delicate portraits come alive;  and so do Millet’s peasants, sitting  by the fire, their deeply-lined faces showing their exhaustion.  The greyish, almost sepia, quality  of the photographs adds to the eerie feeling.

The camera moves in and out of the Louvre and depicts difficult scenes, which demand pause for thought.  A tanker is struggling in the fury of the Baltic. Will the works of art it carries in its containers survive or be crushed by the waves?  The frozen body of a well-dressed little girl lying on a street during the siege of Leningrad evokes the human suffering caused by war.

Francofonia is a complex film, which can be read on several levels.  It came on the Paris screens not long after the blasting of Palmyra and other archaeological sites by Daesh (ISIS).  The message is crystal clear — art, which is the legacy of our civilization, is too precious to die.

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: ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ by Edward O. Wilson

SocialConquest_Mech.inddWho are we?

This has been the eternal question of our curious and self-reflective species. Paul Gauguin, in Tahiti in 1897 in his final painting, expanded this question into three: D’ou Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Ou Allons Nous?  (Where do we come from? What are we? And where are we going?) As the weather cools, it is time for some serious reading …

Edward O. Wilson, the noted Harvard chronicler of ants, has embarked on a trilogy to try and answer all three. The first, The Social Conquest of Earth, addresses the Gauguin threesome in short, pithy chapters, easy for today’s creatures accustomed to electronic social networks. No Proustian rambling for him!

“We have created a Star Wars civilization,” he begins, “with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.” His argument, which represents the story of the evolution of social life and its driving forces, is controversial.

It goes like this: “The social conquerors of Earth” dominate today, but they include not only homo sapiens but also ants, bees, wasps, and termites, species that are possibly more than 100 million years older than us (we emerged several 100,000 years ago, only spreading across this globe over the past 60,000 years). It is altogether probable that these other “eusocial species” — less than two percent of  the one million known species — will remain long after we disappear.

Our human condition is both selfish and selfless: “the two impulses are conflated … the worst of our nature coexists with the best, and so it will ever be.” Our “hereditary curse” is “our innate pugnacity … our bloody nature (in which) individuals prefer the company of others of the same race, nation, clan, and religion.”

Wilson continues, “The biological human mind is our province. With all its quirks, irrationality, and risky productions, and all its conflict and inefficiency, the biological mind is the essence and the very meaning of the human condition.”

In answering the question, “What are we?” Wilson explores the origins of culture, language, cultural variation, morality, honor, religions and creative art, suggesting “human beings are enmeshed in social networks.” And in these networks, we express our “relentless ambivalence and ambiguity … the fruits of the strange primate inheritance that rules the human mind.”

Wilson submits that religions are logical hallucinations in response to the ever-unanswered question, determining that, “ … religious faith is better interpreted as an unseen trap unavoidable during the biological history of our species. Humankind deserves better … than surrender and enslavement.”

The final chapter of this engrossing and illuminating exploration asks, “Where are we going?” Do we have free will? Wilson answers his question thus: “We are free as independent beings, but our decisions are not free of all the organic processes that created our personal brains and minds. Free will therefore appears to be ultimately biological.” Are we social creatures? Wilson suggests, ” … group selection (is) the driving force of where we have been and where we are going.”

We, a convoluted and introspective species, live in an “extremely complex biosphere” in which we must respect the “equilibrium created by all the other species, plants, animals, and microorganisms around us.” Failure to do so may mean our collapse or even that of the entire system.

But Wilson concludes on an optimistic note, saying, “Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, if we so wish, into a permanent paradise for human beings, or at least the strong beginnings of one.”

This first philosophical exploration of human existence has been followed by the second, The Meaning of Human Existence, published in early 2015, and the third, The End of the Anthropocene will follow shortly.

Together they require serious reflection.

Editor’s Note: The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O.Wilson was published by W. W. Norton & Co., New York 2012.

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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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

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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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.37.33 AM

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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