December 10, 2018

Letter from Paris: Riots Fuel ‘Yellow Vest’ Rebellion Against Macron’s Reforms, Stir Memories of May ’68

Editor’s Note: We are watching events in Paris today with deep dismay. Nicole Logan’s topical column gives her opinion on the background to the tense situation unfolding there.

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is in a tailspin.  

The crisis started with the fury against the seven-cent tax hike on diesel fuel. The movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) spread like wildfire through the social networks as they blocked the roads all over France. For three weeks in November, the demonstrators congregated in Paris each Saturday. Their confrontation with the police culminated in scenes of violence, which shocked the world: Place de l’Etoile obliterated by the smoke of tear gas, graffiti desecrating the Arc de Triomphe, and a policeman being attacked near the monument.  

Riots have been occurring in cities all over France but are centered on Paris. File photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Since the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde were cordoned off by the police, the casseurs (hooligans) spilled over Avenue Kleber and Avenue de la Grande Armee, where they looted shops and set fire to six buildings. Hundreds were wounded and 412 demonstrators arrested. By the day’s end, a picture of desolation remained with the smoldering remains of 35 cars and streets littered with whatever was used as a projectile by the radicalized mob.

The tension is mounting. The government seems unable to contain it. The gilets jaunes are widening their demands to lower all taxes, raise salaries and retirements as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly. At this point they will not stop short of the resignation of Macron. 

It is an unprecedented, unstructured popular anger directly aimed at the president.  The opposition parties – with much glee – are surfing on this tsunami.

The government is making concessions to meet people’s demands. Unfortunately these concessions always arrive too late. The more the government concedes, the more the gilets jaunes demand, apparently comforted by their success.  On Dec. 4th, Prime Minister Edward Philippe announced a six-month freeze on fuel and utility taxes followed by their cancellation the same evening. And the price tag of this measure? Four billion euros. This was the first admission of defeat by the Macron team – a measure very hard to swallow since it went against its own environmental principles. 

What are the causes of this crisis? Mistakes made by a president attempting to reform the country from the bottom up? Ungovernable French people? Perhaps a combination of both.

During the first 16 months of his mandate, Macron undertook structural reforms  to turn France into a modern and competitive country. These reforms dealt with political institutions, the labor code,  the impressive — but somewhat antiquated — railroad system or  SNCF (Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer), crowded universities  by abolishing a chaotic and ridiculous entrance selection by lottery. 

But French people do not like changes and are attached to their privileges, tax niches and social benefits acquired over decades. An attempt at reforming the system was bound to face an uphill battle .

All these reforms were part of a general plan — a vision — which the president had placed at the core of his electoral campaign and on the basis of which he had been elected. in 2017. He gave himself five years to achieve his goals. 

Unfortunately for him the people wanted immediate results. He wanted to raise the French economy and society from the bottom up and encourage the active population. This was different from a “trickle down” process, but was not perceived as such by the French.  Soon the label,”President of the Rich,” was firmly attached to him.

Macron’s strategy was to consult with trade unions, elected local officials or business people at the Elysée Palace before making any decisions.

Apparently tetanized by the fast pace of the president’s method, the population seemed at first to accept the reforms. But gradually, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new regulations, taxes, or reforms facing them them every morning, its discontent started as an underground rumble until it finally exploded. The last drop was the additional tax on diesel. 

Overall, the French population is justified in its revolt against an unbearable tax burden. France is the world number one champion of taxes with 48 percent of its Gross Domestic Product coming from tax revenues versus 40 percent in the other European countries and less than 30 percent in the US.  One of the buzz expressions among the gilets jaunes is “ras le bol” (meaning “we are totally fed up.”) There are hundreds of hidden taxes in France. For example, did you know that here, one has to pay a tax on “oiseaux de companie” (pet birds)?

The French have a special craving for social justice as shown in their attitude toward the Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune (ISF) or wealth tax. Macron had split that tax between property wealth — which he retained — and financial holdings such as stocks. In order to encourage investments — particularly on green energy — he created a “flat tax” of only 30 percent.  What he did was misunderstood by the public opinion and may be scrapped soon.    

Today Macron’s room to maneuver is very small.  Since the opposition has no leader to replace him, where is the country going?  Cohn Bendit, the hero of May 1968, the largest French uprising in the past 50 years, gave a frightening prognosis, “I see the present movement in France as a possibly the first step toward totalitarianism, headed by an illiberal despot.” 

The situation is evolving by the hour.  More demonstrations of force are already planned …

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: An Open Letter to Ned Lamont

Dear Ned:

Well, you did it.  Congratulations on your election.  And my condolences.  The easy part of politics is over:  getting elected.  Now comes the hard part:  being Governor.

I hope you and your transition team are already working on that budget that’s due in three months.  There’s a lot of red ink ($4 billion) that needs to be mopped up.  And don’t forget those $80 billion in unfunded pensions.  But I’m sure you’ve got the solutions, right?  That’s what you promised voters, anyhow.  So have at it.

But as you are cutting and slashing, may I be so bold as to make a few suggestions on the transportation front?  Your campaign assured us you’d fix our roads and rails, so I’m sure you have your ideas.  But let’s see if these are of any help.

1)    KEEP YOUR COMMISSIONER:   Jim Redeker has been CDOT Commissioner since 2011 and nobody knows better what’s working and what isn’t.  He’s clearly the smartest guy in the room and you need his experience and talents.  Let’s not lose him to another state.

2)    FIX THE TRAINS FIRST:  You can’t keep high wage earners (and tax payers) living in Connecticut if Metro-North continues its downward slide.  Getting trains back up to speed and on-time is crucial to the state’s economy.

3)    THEN IMPROVE BUS SERVICE:  I hope you realize that the CTFastrak bus rapid-transit system is hugely important and not the “waste of money” your opponent claimed.  Not everyone in this state owns a car.  For the 15 million riders of that busway since it opened, those buses mean being able to get to their jobs.  That is what we want, right… people working?

4)    RIDE MASS TRANSIT:  You campaigned at train and bus stations, now why not get onboard?  Set an example by taking the train from Greenwich to Hartford and riding the bus with your constituents.  See the conditions first hand.

5)    GET GOING WITH TOLLS:  We both know they’re inevitable, despite your opponents’ “tolls are a tax” lie during the campaign.  Let’s stop losing revenue to out-of-staters and truckers and make them pay for driving on our roads.  Start with tolling trucks, though I doubt that’s legal.

6)    HONOR THE LOCKBOX:  Voters have spoken loudly!  The Special Transportation Fund is now padlocked.  Don’t you dare think about picking that lock or letting the Legislature touch those funds for anything but transportation.

7)    PLEASE BE HONEST:  You and your opponents glossed over the tough issues in the campaign, making vague, general comments about improving our lives.  You got the job, so now don’t give us any BS.  Tell us about the hard choices to come.  Embrace the FOI act.  Be open and transparent … and honest.  We’re adults.  We can take it.

8)    DON’T ABUSE THE MAJORITY:  Once again the Democrats are in full control in Hartford.  That’s a lot of power in a few hands and your party’s record on “reaching across the aisle” isn’t great.  Our problems can only be solved with bi-partisan cooperation, so please set the best example.

That’s enough for now.  Get some rest, maybe even a vacation, and we’ll talk again in the coming months.

Best wishes,

Jim Cameron
“The Train Guy”

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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Return of ‘The Movie Man’: ‘Beautiful Boy’ Reveals Realities of Relationships Controlled by Addiction

Editor’s Note: We welcome Kevin Ganey back to LymeLine.com. We have missed his stimulating, thought-provoking, intensely personal reviews of movies and are thrilled he has returned

Author’s Note: It seems that in the last two years, I’ve fallen off the edge of the earth when it comes to keeping up with current films. In this time, I’ve skipped the Oscars, and have not even watched trailers to highly anticipated future features. I’m also too intimidated to watch whichever new Marvel film has been released, due to fear of being unable to follow the story. But I have spent a great deal of time immersing myself in older ones, and I owe a great deal to the Criterion Collection for this. But make no mistake, I intend to continue critiquing films for the readers situated in the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.

The cover of the book on which the movie is based. Image: SODIL

I left the screening of Beautiful Boy in a depressed mood.

The film, starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, depicts the relationship of a father and son, David and Nic Sheff, during the latter’s tumultuous period of drug addiction. While many fans of Dunder-Mifflin’s greatest regional manager will take delight in seeing that Nic’s mother is played by none other than Amy Ryan (Michael Scott’s wife), this will not contain any of the goofy humor we saw on the iconic sitcom. It deals with the gut-wrenching and horrific truths of what addiction is.

This is a true story, based on the memoirs of both father and son.

It captures the grim reality of addiction. From Nic’s days of smoking weed (with his father, on occasion) to his bodily dependency on heroin and crystal meth. In several points, Nic gets sober (at one point lasting over a year without using anything), only to fall into relapse.

The film captures the ugly truth of addiction’s harm to the user, and to the user’s loved ones; depicting Nic stealing prescription medicine from his girlfriend’s family, as well as taking the only money his younger half-brother has (a mere $8).

Along with addiction, this film also brilliantly depicts the relationship between David and Nic. We get to see things through David’s perspective as he watches his son spiral out of control and sends him to rehab time after time after time. We clearly see David’s frustration as he wants what is best for his son, whom he loves more than everything.

While I never struggled with drug addiction, I could see myself in Nic pleading to David in regards to numerous subjects, asking his father to have faith in him, and David’s stern responses, all in vigilance to protecting Nic’s well-being. For once, I could understand the mindset in which my parents denied my numerous requests throughout youth, and I could see the arrogance in the “What do they know?” reaction I would give.

This is not a film to see on the basis of pure entertainment. I could hardly imagine any filmmaker with a sound conscience taking addiction as a subject with the intent of making a light-hearted humorous project. I was also dissatisfied with the story’s editing and basic setup.

Without giving away the ending, I was unable to perceive the narrative had finished until the credits began to roll. The performances were stellar, and I would not be surprised if any of the cast receives award nominations, Chalamet, in particular.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on an Historic Day of Respectful Remembrance … and Distressing Disrespect

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note:  We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan after her traditional break from writing while she summers in Essex, Conn.  She has now returned to Paris just in time for the centennial celebrations of the end of World War I, on which she provides an insightful commentary in this column.

Paris was the center of the world on November 11 – the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice of World War I.  Struggling against a strong wind and in pouring rain, 70 world leaders walked toward the Arc de Triomphe on a deserted Avenue des Champs Elysées – a striking image on an historical day.

The ceremony, taking place by the tomb of the unknown soldier, was magnificently choreographed by the French president Emmanuel Macron.  It was solemn and sober.  Not intended to be a show of triumphalism, it did not include a military parade.

The president only reviewed only some of the elite military academies: students from Ecole polytechnique, wearing bicornes (two-pointed hats), and from St Cyr (equivalent to West Point) with their emblematic “casoars” of red and white feathers, as well as students from the air force and naval academies.  The ceremony was to be essentially both an homage to the millions who died and a reminder of the importance of reconciliation and peace.

The timing of the proceedings was synchronized to the minute: at 11 o’clock  all the bells of France tolled, the five Mirages of the patrouille de France flew twice over the Place de l’Etoile in impeccable formation leaving tricolor strands of smoke in the sky.  The sounds of Sonnerie aux Morts (The Last Post) and other bugle and drums pieces added their somber touch. 

Whereas most of the foreign leaders had ridden busses from the Palais de l’ Elysée to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the American and Russian presidents as well as the Israeli prime minister were driven all the way in their cars for security reasons.  The honorable guests gathered under the transparent awning and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Finally the armored car of Donald Trump, in a convoy of 53 vehicles carrying 700 security agents and US government officials, appeared at the bottom of the Champs Elysées.  The American president had a chance for a photo op alone in front of the other heads of State.  

The seating on the first row must have ben a nightmare for the protocol people.  Trudeau was far enough from Trump and protected from him by the King of Morocco and his son.  Trump was next to Angela Merkel.  A few minutes later Vladimir Putin arrived (according to a Russian radio commentator, he had been kept in his car for 20 minutes until the Trumps were settled.)  He took his place next to Brigitte Macron.  Trump broke into a broad smile for the first and only time of the weekend as he greeted Putin.

The visit of the American president to France had started on a sour note.  He distorted what Macron had said  during his November 10 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.  In a furious tweet, he said that he found the French president’s comment about building an independent European military force “insulting.”  In fact, Macron had never used the words “against the US.”

A cultural and emotional program started with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a Sarabande of the Suite No.5 in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and ended with the 17-minute long Ravel Bolero, performed by the European Union Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.  A group of young people of all nationalities read excerpts form diaries written by a few French poilus (soldiers) among the 1.4 million killed during the Great War.  The message was the transmission of memory through the future generations.

Macron was born in Amiens, a provincial town in the heart of the devastated regions of France during World War I.  His four great-grandfathers fought there.  In his speech, the French president spoke with emotion of the battlefields he visited during the seven days prior to the centennial, saying, “I walked on the grey earth where so many soldiers were buried, which is today covered by innocent nature.” 

One of the highly symbolic moments of that week was in the clearing of Rethondes when Merkel (the first time ever for a German chancellor) and Macron sat side by side in the train car where the armistice was signed  November 11, 1918.

In the second part of his speech Macron, portrayed himself as a patriot.  Nationalism, he said, has nothing to do with patriotism and is, in fact, its betrayal.  Withdrawal within one’s borders is harmful for the rest of the world, he added.  The anger of Trump was becoming increasingly tangible as he heard those words, his face frozen in a  pouting expression.  One might describe the speech as outright provocation, but it was well-deserved .

The chasm between Trump and Macron grew deeper in the afternoon.  A Peace Forum had been scheduled at La Villette for business people, NGOs, associations and also political leaders, with the objective of  promoting multilateralism.  The American president chose not to attend.

TV viewers were treated to a surreal split screen: on one side Trump speaking at the American cemetery of Suresnes, near Paris, to honor some of the 116,000 Americans who fell during the Great War and on the other, Merkel giving the inaugural speech at the Forum, in which she supported Macron’s vision of an European army to be created in the distant future.

The American president intensified his flurry of angry tweets after his return to the US and threatened France with increased taxes on its wine exports.  In a November 15 interview held on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the French president commented: ‘I do not answer tweets. I believe in mutual respect between allies.’

How unfortunate that such a solemn commemoration was hijacked by low-level diatribe.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: ‘Getting There’ – China’s Transportation Strategy


Quiz question #1:  
What country has the largest interstate highway system in the world?  Hint:  It’s not the United States.

Quiz question #2:  What country has the most miles of high-speed rail?  Hint:  It’s not France or Japan.

The answer to both questions is … China!

China’s superhighways, most of them built since 1984, now cover almost twice as many miles as the US interstates.  And on the rail side, China’s 15,000 miles of high speed rail represents nearly two-thirds of all such rail in the world.

China’s fast trains travel up to 217 mph, linking Beijing to Shanghai (the distance of New York City to Chicago) in a five-hour run.  Trains carrying 1000 passengers each depart at 10 to 15 minute intervals.  Compare that to Amtrak’s Acela, once an hour, carrying 300 passengers at an average of 70 mph.

Sure, China is big.  Though measured in square miles, the US is slightly larger.  But with a population of 1.34 billion, China is huge compared to the US’s 325 million residents.  That means China has a lot more people to move, and they’re investing accordingly.

China spends over $300 billion annually on transportation.  Compare that to the US Department of Transportation’s $80 billion annual spending on highways, rail and air transport.  No wonder we feel like we’re living in a third world country with crumbling roads and obsolete railroads.

But more importantly, China is also investing abroad.  Chinese money is being invested in 68 countries to build highways, ports and railroads to take its exports to market on what it sees as a 21st century Silk Road.

The country’s “Belt & Road Initiative” has pledged $8 trillion in projects for under-developed countries’ projects where it will be able to conduct trade.  These destinations account for 70 percent of the world’s population, 55 percent of its GNP, and 75 percent of its energy reserves.

There is already a rail link from China to Europe with daily trains carrying electronics and manufactured goods to Europe.  After unloading, those trains return to China filled with food.  A trip that can take a month by sea now links 35 Chinese cities with a like number of European cities in just 15 days by rail.

On the high seas China is also expanding its reach, building a modern fleet of vessels and investing heavily in port operations in Europe and South America. Containers filled with cell-phones sail out from Chinese ports and much-needed oil sails back.  And where Chinese merchant vessels go, so too will its Navy.  While the US fancies itself as policeman to the world, there’s no way we can keep up.

The US merchant marine has only 175 American-owned vessels flying the US flag while 800 others are registered abroad.  The Chinese government-owned COSCO shipping conglomerate owns 1114 vessels, the fourth largest fleet in the world.  And that’s just one company.

President Trump seems headed to an all-out trade war with China, matching them tariff for tariff and Tweeting regularly about how “unfair” the Beijing government has been to us.

Meanwhile, Washington can’t even pass a domestic infrastructure spending bill to patch up our decrepit roads and rails.  To my thinking, we’re not only getting outspent by China, but clearly out-smarted.  Transportation is about trade and China is clearly planning for the future while we wallow in the past.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


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

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

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Letter From Paris: Exhibition Explores Work of American Female Artist in Male World of French Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was the most French of all American artists,” said art historian Jerome Coignard.  She was the only woman – along with Berthe Morisot – to be recognized by the Impressionist movement and therefore permitted to show her works in their annual Salons. 

A rare photograph of Mary Cassatt — supposedly the only photograph for which she ever posed.

For 40 years she developed a personal and artistic friendship with Edgar Degas, which was somewhat surprising considering Degas was well known for his misogyny.  Her long association with the famous art merchant Paul Durand Ruel, especially after he opened a gallery on Madison Avenue, increased the exposure of impressionism in the US.

The Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris is currently holding a retrospective exhibition of monographs by Mary Cassatt titled, ‘An American Impressionist in Paris.’  It is a long overdue recognition of an artist whose works are found mostly in the US, but who is better known in France.  Jacquemart-André is one of the most elegant art galleries in Paris.  It was built in the 1860s as one of the townhouses of the imperial aristocracy in the “plaine Monceau” (an area of Paris in the 17th arrondissement.)

The property is slightly set back from Boulevard Haussmann, and on the upper level, opens up onto a vast courtyard under the watchful eyes of two stone lions.  The magnificent residence, with its eclectic furniture, boiseries (wood wall paneling), fireplaces and Gobelins tapestries, used to attract thousands of guests from the high society.

In the West Wing of the Metroplitan Museum in New York, paintings by Cassatt are hung in a gallery exclusively reserved for the works of other women.  Cassatt might have been upset by this apparent patronization by critics and art historians toward domestic scenes created by women.  She might have deemed it unfair because painters like Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) or Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) are famous for their paintings inspired by the intimacy of the home. 

Art historian Guillaume Morel comments that the many mother and child scenes painted by Cassatt were, in fact, more feminist than it appears at first.  He writes that she may have found herself endowed with a mission to represent scenes to which men did not have access.  Her “maternity scenes” effectively propelled her into modernism.

La Loge (The Theatre Box) by Mary Cassatt.

At the turn of the 20th century, women were tied to their homes, seemingly leading an indolent existence limited to feminine activities, primarily the care of small children.  They almost never ventured onto the public place – like a café, race track or a prostitute’s haunt.  The subject in “La Loge (The theater box)” (1878) is a departure from this tradition: a self-assured woman is by herself looking through her opera-glasses, and apparently unconcerned by the male spectator staring at her from another balcony.

Even in France, the obstacles inflicted on women artists were enormous: they were neither allowed in the Ecole des Beaux Arts nor were naked models permitted in their art classes.  Women could not copy the grands maitres (Old Masters) in museums like the Louvre.

The special talent of Cassatt was to have overcome these obstacles by taking advantage of her place in the privileged class, traveling extensively and establishing contacts with members of the artistic elite such as Isabella Stewart Gardner (Boston), Alfred Atmore Pope (Connecticut) or Henry Walters (Baltimore.)

From a very young age, she rebelled against the formal teaching offered in the few fine art institutions open to women.  She hated the idea of learning her craft through the use of castings and copies.  She showed an intrepid personality when she told her father she wanted to pursue her artistic education in Europe.  Her father admonished her, saying, “I would rather see you dead.”

And her response to her father’s threat?  She went anyway.

Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh into a well-to-do family.  Her father was an investment banker and her mother was educated in a school created by a former chambermaid of Marie Antoinette.  At the age of seven, she sailed for the first time to Europe with her family.  David McCullough, in his superb book titled The Greater Journey, published in 2011, describes the luxury steamers carrying less than 300 privileged passengers, who could afford the crossing in comfortable accommodations in an “interior richly embellished with satin wood, gilded ceilings … and indoor plumbing.”

The co-curator of the present exhibit held in Paris,  Nancy Mowell Mathews, rejects the expression “woman Impressionist.”  She comments, “Mary Cassatt did not paint differently from other Impressionists.  What she had in common with them was her taste for rough sketches, the unfinished feel of strokes and her daring cadrages (framing of the subject) mostly used in photography or  cinematography.”

‘The little girl in the blue armchair’ was painted in 1878 by Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt’s models – mostly members of her family – do not pose in a stilted attitude, but appear relaxed and natural.  In “The little girl in a blue armchair” (1878), the little girl is literally sprawling on a big, shapeless, overstuffed blue armchair.  And so is the small boy looking at us in the painting called, “Woman sitting with a child in her arms. 

‘The Cup of Tea’ is a classic Impressionist work by Mary Cassatt.

“The Cup of Tea “(1880) is an unsurpassed exercise in Impressionist virtuosity.  Fast brush strokes  and the rejection of details are sufficient to render volumes.   The dramatic contrast between the fluffy, pink dress and the black of the solid armchair creates a strong composition.  In 1879, Cassatt was officially accepted in the Impressionist Salon.  The two following decades marked the summit of her career. 

Although Cassatt painted mostly in oils and pastels, Degas had also detected her exceptional talent as both draughtsman and engraver.  Her eaux-fortes (etchings) constitute a large part of her works, while “La Toilette” and “The letter ” (both dated 1891) show signs of japonism.  The engraving process with a pointe-sèche (dry point) is a painstaking and dangerous process since acid is used.

She was the friend of the most influential American feminists and joined their movement for equality, which had started in the US in 1840.  Toward the end of her life, she increasingly devoted her time to counseling American art collectors.  Among them was her close friend Lousine Hvenmeyer, wife of wealthy sugar baron, who owned more than 2,000 Impressionist works. 

After spending 60 years in France, she died in her estate, the Chateau de Beaufresnes in Le Mesnil Théribus, north west of Paris, although interestingly, she never took French nationality.

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Talking Transportation: Connecticut: Love It or Leave It

The recent debate over tolling our highways should remind us of just how divided our state has become.  Not red vs. blue and not even just upstate vs. downstate.  The real divide is between those who commute by car vs. those who take mass transit.

I’ve written for years about the fact that riders on Metro-North pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US, and those fares will only keep going up.  Most rail riders have little choice, especially if headed to New York City.  What are they going to do … drive?

Yet every time the fares go up … and they have increased 55 percent since 2002 … ridership goes up as well.  Why?  Because conditions on the highways keep getting worse and worse.

But those who chose to drive, or must because there’s no viable mass transit option, seem literally to hate rail commuters.  I think it’s jealousy.  During the tolls debate, the venom was dripping and one Tweet in particular hit home.

“Just because your commute (by train) is so expensive doesn’t mean mine (by car) should be too (because of tolling),” read the post.

The driver had clearly missed the point.  We aren’t looking for tolls to subsidize rail fares, just to get motorists to pay for the upkeep of their roads and bridges before we have another Mianus River Bridge collapse, which we will.

But it gets worse.

The anti-toll forces now sound like Howard Beale, the deranged newsman from the movie “Network” who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”   Doubtless, much of this is directed at Governor Malloy who enjoys (suffers from?) the lowest popularity rating in the history of polling.  Sure, the economy of our state is in bad shape.   But Malloy didn’t create this economic mess.  He just inherited it and mishandled it.

And it will get far worse, whoever succeeds Malloy in the fall.  The solutions will be few and all will be painful.  Forestalling tolls and gasoline taxes today won’t stop the bridges from rotting.

But this opposition to tolls or modest gasoline tax increases to pay for roads has now been taken to a maniacal pitch predicting that “everyone is leaving the state,” conditions are so bad.   That’s fine with me.

I was recently at our town dump and saw a young man unloading a bunch of items.  “My parents are moving,” he told me.  “Everyone is leaving Connecticut!” he exclaimed.

“Really?”, I asked.

“It’s all Malloy’s fault,” he said, sounding like a Pied Piper leading a caravan down I-95 to some Promised Land.

I asked him one question:  “Did your parents sell their house?”   “Sure,” he said.  “And at a profit over what they paid for it.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess not everyone is leaving.  Your folks are moving out and someone else is moving in.”  Someone who wants to live here.

To those who hate it so much living in Connecticut, I extend an invitation:  please leave.  Enjoy your low-tax destination.  And don’t forget to pay those highway tolls as you drive down I-95 through NY, NJ, etc.

But enough already with the “I hate Connecticut” mantra.  Some of us actually like living here.  And losing ‘the haters” will only mean fewer cars on our roadways.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron

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

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

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Family Wellness: New Beginnings

Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth.  Every year in New England nature reminds us of this.  Crocuses emerge, the landscape turns from brown to green and many animals have their babies: foxes, otters and black bears, just to name a few. 

I look fondly back on my grandmother’s stories about lambing season in Ireland.  Human babies are born year round, of course, but my thoughts went this month from lambs to human babies. 

Not only is birth the start of a new life but it is the start of a new (or newly reconfigured) family.  It is often a time of unimaginable joy, but it is also a time of stress.  Stress is defined as, “… bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.”

Few could argue that a new baby alters an existent equilibrium in ways that are delightful and challenging at the same time.  A new member (in this case tiny and cute) affects the family identity in that constellation in a whole array of ways: emotionally, physically, socially and economically.  All the resources, whether few or many, need to be allocated differently.

Just as adolescence has been described as the transition from childhood to adulthood, the transition to motherhood has been called “matrescence” by anthropologists — for more information, visit this link.  A similar term for the transition to fatherhood does not exist as far as I know, though it has received attention in both academic and popular circles and the media, with online forums such as fathersforum.com. Similarly some attention has been given to the transition to grandparenthood and “older-sibling-hood.”  (I am waiting for an especially gifted and precocious 3-year-old to blog about the challenges of losing attention to a tiny usurper in the house.)

Societies and cultures around the world have different constructs that help or hinder the development of a new family.  These constructs range from policies (paid parental leave) to the practical matters (village and neighborhood folks bringing food to the new family). 

Looking at and understanding how we can support families in transition at this stage of the family life cycle and the stressors that they face (stress being a challenge to equilibrium, not positive or negative) can only be a good thing.

Betsy Groth

Betsy Groth is an APRN, PMHS – BC and a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced certification in pediatric mental health.

She is a counselor, mental health educator and parent coach in Old Lyme and writes a monthly column for us on ‘Family Wellness.’

For more information about Betsy and her work, visit Betsy’s website at betsygroth.com

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Letter From Paris: The (Rail) Battle That Macron Must Win 

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is going through the labor pains of implementing a variety of overdue structural reforms if France is to be brought into the 21st century.  President Emmanuel Macron has tackled this objective at a dizzying speed since his election on May 7, 2017.  The pace of change was so fast that the opposition appeared unable to react until Macron turned to the reform of the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français.) 

Now that process is developing into a major crisis.  Other groups  – university students,  Air France personnel, hospital staff,  garbage collectors, violent clashes at the Notre Dame des Landes “zad” (zone à defenre), etc. – joined the movement.  To overcome the spread of the social discontent  will be the first and decisive test for the French president. 

When the government announced a restructuring of the SNCF , which involved the status of the railroad workers or cheminots, dealing with the unsustainable debt, introducing competition, and the overall modernization of the rail network – the reaction of the unions was immediate and massive.

On March 18, four trade unions – CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), UNSA (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes), RAIL-SUD and CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail) – announced  an innovative and deadly form of strikes: work stops for two days, then trains run for three days.  This schedule will be repeated for a total of 36 days during a period of three months until the end of June … longer if necessary. 

The platform at the Gare de Lyon in Paris on April 3, showing the rail strike’s devastating effect.

The French are bracing themselves for this monster strike, which will be hard for millions of working people, mainly commuters.  The specter of the 1995 strike, which paralyzed France for one month, looms over the country.  The collateral cost of a widespread strike is astronomical with the loss of work days; hotels and restaurants losing more than 30 percent of their profits; and factories momentarily having to close down and lay off employees, and the like.

Facing the angry unions was Minister of Transports Elizabeth Borne, who is a petite, remarkably qualified 57-year-old woman.  A product of the top elite school Polytechnique, part of the socialist government of Lionel Jospin, former head of the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and of the SNCF strategy from 2002 to 2005. Technocrat rather than politician, Borne knows everything, but communication is not her forte

The 150,000 cheminots occupy a special place in France and are at the heart of the nation’s DNA. This is why the government’s efforts to bring reforms have met resistance violence the like of which it may not have anticipated.  The aura surrounding  the cheminots has been significantly fed in popular culture by a couple of films. 

In Jean Renoir’s “La Bête Humaine”, 1938, Jean Gabin portrays a cheminot. He looks quite dashing as he leans out of the steam engine wearing goggles, his face smeared with black dust.  Sustained by a bottle of wine he shares with his jolly co-worker, his exhausting job is to feed the “beast” with coal in the deafening noise of an inferno while breathing  poisonous fumes. The indelible image of this hero inspired the population’s respect for the hard work of the cheminots. 

Jean Gabin as a cheminot in ‘La Bête Humaine,’ 1938.

The other film, which contributed to the collective adulation of the French for their cheminots, is La Bataille du Rail, 1946, played by non-professional actors.  It shows their courage against the Nazi occupants in provoking the derailment of many German trains.

The cheminots are fiercely attached to their special status including retiring at as early an age 52 with a very generous package of  guaranteed employment for life and free transport tickets for the extended family. The government is trying to be reassuring, saying that the changes will only concern the railroad workers hired in the future.  The cheminots will also benefit from a “social backpack” whereby they can take their special status with them in case of transfer to another job.

The SNCF is badly in the red: its debt of over 50 billion Euros increases by three billion every year and the infrastructure is in dire need of investment.  Although showing some signs of disfunction – trains are often late,  major break downs such as the ones which occurred last fall when the Gare Saint Lazare and Gare Montparnasse left passengers stranded for hours – the rail system is still one of the best in Europe.  The French people do not realize what an expensive luxury it is to have such a public transport system.  But this luxury comes at a price: its operation cost is 30 percent higher than the one of other European railroads.    

The cheminots have a visceral fear of the word” privatization.”  The government has repeatedly said that there will be no privatization.  The state will remain the sole share holder and the only change will be that, in the future, the SNCF will be run as a private company, according to directives approved by the European Council in 2001.

The opponents to reforms spread unfounded horror stories about the introduction of competition and problems it caused in other countries.  Besides, the SNCF’s structure, as a public company created in 1937, had already entered that process over the years.  Freight was privatized in 2003.  International lines – like Eurostar (to England) and Thalys (to Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany) – are run independently from the SNCF.   The Italian company Thello runs night trains between Paris and Venice.  All Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV — high-speed train) tracks are scheduled to be shared with foreign companies by 2020, according to the guidelines approved by the European Union (EU) members.

Criticisms have been expressed about the overbuilding of TGV lines at a high cost and at the expense of other lines.  The announcement of  suppression of small lines provoked an outcry from public opinion well-orchestrated by the unions.  The dense network of TER (Transport Express Regional) and inter-city trains dates back to the days after WWII.  It was a time when half the French population lived and worked in the country versus less than only 4 percent today.  Each village wanted its gare (railroad station.)  Obviously, the time has come to adapt the network to the population’s current needs.  Since 2002, the small lines are the responsibility of the 12 “regions.”

Emmanuel Macron is dealing with the most challenging issue of his presidency to date.

With the one-year mark of his mandate approaching, Macron felt it was timely to take stock of  what has been accomplished to date by his government.  His first talk took place on Thursday, April 12, during the midday news.  The president was sitting on a tiny chair in an elementary classroom in Normandy.  In a relaxed atmosphere, the president answered the questions French people – including retirees – were asking regarding the erosion of their purchasing power.

Many people expected fireworks during the second event on the evening of Sunday, April 15.  The fireworks duly happened. 

Two journalists – Edwy Plenel from Mediapart and Jean-Jacques Bourdin, from RMC (Radio Monte-Carlo ) wanted only one thing: to tear Macron to pieces.  Interrupting him from the start, their questions were bundled with disinformation.  Insults and accusations flew.  Plenel went as far as saying, “Mr. President, you only won the election by default and your program was supported by just a handful of people.”  Bourdin treated the president as a criminal — as  he frequently does in respect of the person he is interviewing, bullying them into  a “Yes or No” answer.  When the exchange touched on the veil worn by Moslem women, both journalists blasted Macron for totally opposite reasons.

Macron’s performance was superb.  He kept his cool and managed not only to answer the questions at length, but also to explain the rationale for his policy.  Among all the information he disclosed, one was crucial — starting in 2010, the state will gradually take over the huge debt of the SNCF.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Family Wellness: Does Mindfulness Work for Families?

“Mindfulness” is certainly trending these days.  Books and workshops are in abundance, aimed at children, adults and families.

For some, the concept provokes rolling of the eyes, for others, curiosity, others still, an eagerness to share how helpful the practice has been for them. Perhaps in some it may provoke an urge to purchase new yoga pants and scented candles.

I believe it definitely has practical applications for healthy and happy relationships in families. Think of it as a “health habit.”

Let’s first define the term: 

“The quality of being conscious or aware of something,” and,  “A mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, as a therapeutic technique.”

Generally, I see mindfulness as being able to identify feelings (sometimes uncomfortable ones.)  Being able to hold these feelings helps us to act — or not act — in a healthy way.

Here are some examples of mindful parenting at different developmental stages:

  • CeeCee is  2-months-old and has been fussy since three weeks of age. This makes her parents anxious, maybe even a little angry. CeeCee is thriving and healthy. By practicing mindfulness, her parents are more able to accept their own feelings as “normal” and know that these feelings do not mean that they do not love her. They look forward to CeeCee having her own fussy baby in the decades to come, so that they can reminisce with her.
  • Ben is 3-years-old and cries when he is dropped off at preschool. At family parties, he attaches himself like Velcro to his mother’s leg and will not engage with anyone of any age.  His mother acknowledges and respects her own feelings that go back and forth between embarrassment, irritation, and too- deep sympathy for Ben in this horribly scary world.  Thus her calm, measured responses to him end up making him “braver;” they do not feed into his erroneous belief about the terrible danger at a family party, and do not make him feel like a “bad boy” for being shy.
  • Sara, 10-years-old, did not make the A team in soccer this year. Before she expresses any feelings around this, her parents check in on their own feelings of disappointment and anger at the coach and they restrain themselves from immediately calling the coach. Later over dinner Sara states, “I was not really one of the best players and I like the girls on the B team a lot.”
  • Nick, age 16, is enraged with his parents that he cannot have a house party unsupervised by his parents.  His parents are considering the following responses:   1) “What are you, crazy, you little jerk?” 2) “We are so sorry you are angry with us, so we’ve changed our minds” and/or 3) “It is all our fault we raised you to even consider such a request.”  They realize all these feelings are “OK” and it is also ok for Nick to be mad. It is not their job to make him “OK” with their decision right now. They shrug, acknowledge his disappointment and move on, feeling good about their family and themselves, knowing that Nick is a good kid. Perhaps they will process this at a later time.

Mindfulness has applications across the lifespan.  Young children tend to be “in the moment,” often joyful, which is a tenet of mindfulness, but they may have trouble with handling feelings that might be perceived as less positive.  Young children can learn to “stand next to” feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment and fear, and then move on.  The elderly, sometimes looking at the past, are perhaps a bit frightened about the future.  A practice of mindfulness can be a comfort to them at their stage of growth.

Hanna Rosin, in a humorous piece in Slate, wonders if the concept of mindful parenting just identifies another way for parents to fail (e.g., I forgot to bake for the bake sale AND I forgot to be mindful with the kids yesterday.)  She raises a valid point in a funny and engaging way.  But I believe that, in the long run, a bit of this practice in family life will do the opposite; it will relieve pressure on kids and parents, and perhaps grandparents as well.

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Letter From Paris: Macron & Merkel: Can This Power “Couple” Lead Europe?

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Sept. 26, 2017, Emmanuel Macron chose the Sorbonne University to develop his grand vision for Europe.  In that seminal speech he was urging his perceived partner German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join him in tackling the lofty goals of European reforms, speeding up the integration of the Eurozone through the creation of a parliament, a ministry of finances, and its own budget.   

Macron proposed to strengthen the common market and reduce the economic inequalities through the  harmonization of taxes, creation of a minimum wage, and reform of the “detached workers” system, which leads to employment of migrant workers at cheaper rates than would likely be available locally — a practice known as “social dumping.”  His approach is based on several principles: a Europe protected by well-managed  external borders and a strong defense; the opening of Europe to free trade, but with due regard for reciprocity, and solidarity among the European Union (EU) members regarding the treatment of refugees.

After an interminable six months, the “Great Coalition” between German Conservatives and Social Democrats has made it possible for Angela Merkel to start her fourth mandate. Barely a few hours after her confirmation as Chancellor on Friday, March 16, she met with French President Macron accompanied by several ministers.  The speed with which she came to Paris shows how important it was for those two heads of state to get to work. 

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical environment allowing them to be the driving force of a dynamic Europe has shifted and even deteriorated during that long waiting period and their task has become more difficult. Merkel is politically weaker.  The continent is now fragmented and the resistance from newly-created groups within the EU has become more aggressive.  Macron will have to downgrade his proposals and make adjustments.

The political context in which Merkel starts her fourth mandate is quite different from the one existing in 2013.  Only 52 percent of the population supported the new chancellor in 2017 versus 73 percent in the earlier elections.  Compared to the consensus Merkel was able to maintain previously, it is harder now for her to keep the lid over dissenting opinions.

Even though they are part of the “Great Coalition,” several ministers stand in disagreement with the chancellor, including Olaf Scholz (social democrat or SPD), vice-chancellor and minister of finances, who believes in tightening the budget; Horst Seehofer  (head of the conservative Christian Social Union or CSU in Bavaria), who was given the  “super ministry” of the interior, who intends to be harsher toward the immigration policy in the name of the reactivated concept of “heimat” (homeland); Jens Spahn, 37, minister of health (Christian democratic union, CDU or Merkel’s own party), who is also a critic of Merkel’s policy on migrants, and Andrea Nahles, leader of SPD in the Bundestag, wants to rush through social reforms in favor of the workers. 

Even more difficult for Merkel will be the meteoric growth of the far right party (Alternative for Germany or AfD).  In  2013 it did not have enough votes to have representatives  in the Bundestag.  To-day AfD holds 92 seats out of 709.   At a recent news cast on the ARTE channel, the violent tone of a AfD member at the Bundestag was incredible.

The “Countries of the North” (as they are now called) — Ireland, Iceland, along with the Scandinavian and Baltic states, as well as the Netherlands — believe in a strict budget and are inflexible about financial and monetary discipline. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of TheNetherlands, speaking for the North countries , declared, “We have to adhere to the Maestrich criteria,” namely to keep the public deficit under 3 percent of the Domestic Gross Product.  On March 27, for the first time in 10 years, France saw her deficit fall down to 2.6 percent.  This was a significant accomplishment:  France is now a credible member of the “club.” 

The North countries ask that Italian and Greek banks clean up their toxic debts.  A “mutualization” of the debt (particularly of Greece’s sovereign debt) and financial transfers are a red line conservative parties from Germany or Holland are not willing to cross.  Like Macron and Merkel, however, Rutte sets as a priority a European Stability Mechanism (EMS) and a European Monetary Fund .

The recent Italian elections on March 8 were a blow for moderate centrists like Matteo Renzi, and the victory of two extremist, anti-system and xenophobe parties: the Five Stars (M5S) at the far left, and The League at the far right.  Italy joins now the eurosceptic countries like Austria and the Visegrad group (the former Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe.)  All these countries oppose the Macron/Merkel policies on trade, finances, democratic values and attitude toward the migrants.

Given this overview of the political landscape of Europe, it seems that the strategy of Macron and Merkel will be to start from the areas of agreement – passage toward Brexit, defense against terrorism, and protection against excessive Chinese investments in the name of the “Silk Road.”

The reactions of other EU members toward Macron’s “jupiterian” style and desire to reform are ambivalent.  In a March 20 interview published by Le Monde, Xavier Bettel  prime minister of Luxembourg said that a “directorate Paris-Berlin is out of the question, but added”  France and Europe are lucky to have him. Even if we do not agree with all his proposals, they are most welcome.” 

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Family Wellness: Screens, Media and Family Life

How invasive is technology in our lives?  Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

The idea for this column came from a LymeLine.com reader, but there is also a general clamor for information about this topic that I am privy to in my work with families.

Anna and Rosalie Shalom were the picture of old school, imaginative play in their West Orange, New Jersey, home. The two, 5 and almost 3, labored in harmony at their task, preparing an elaborate pretend dinner to be served at the tiny table in their playroom. They set out play plates. They loaded them up with wooden fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. They sat down, ready to dig in. Ah, but first: they whipped out their pretend cell phones to make sure that no pressing pretend calls or texts required their attention. Their parents cringed. Where had they learned that? (See this article published in Time magazine about raising the screen generation)

Well, Anna and Rosalie aren’t in any imminent danger, but we probably understand why this was cringe-worthy for their parents.  I did observe real imminent danger posed by cell phone use just the other day – a young person almost struck by a car while crossing a busy Boston street, chatting on her phone.  (Coincidentally, I was on my way to a conference where topics around children’s phone, screen and media use abounded.)

So how have screens, phones and media affected family life?

Let’s start with a little context to this question.  According to The Moment, a time tracking app with nearly 5 million users, the average person spends four hours per day interacting with his or her cell phone.  The amount of time children 8-years-old and younger spend on phones or tablets had increased 10 fold between 2012 and 2017, according to a study by Common Sense, which also found that in 2017, 42 percent of kids in the same age group had their own mobile device, up from only 1 percent in 2011. I have to admit to shock and knee jerk dismay at these numbers.  It should be noted that TV usage still predominates for young people’s consumption of media. 

I think we all can think of many ways technology has made our lives easer.  What in the world did we do in the past when our car broke down on the road?  When Junior did not know what time play practice finished up?  When grandmother fell?

Media and technology are here to stay.  So what concerns do families have about media use?  Or “problematic media use,” as many psychologists have termed media use that interferes with “RL” (real life)? 

Real life includes when toddlers learn to play with each other (there is some evidence that excessive screen time results in decreased social and emotional development in young children).  Real life also includes the development of closeness and trust, learning logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving and creativity (see this story published in the Wall Street Journal about how cell phones hi-jack our minds).  Real life includes separating from parents during freshman orientation (see this article published in the New York Times about the mental health of college freshmen). 

So yes, there is evidence that excessive media use and dependency can interfere with “RL.”  But there still remains much research to do into the “who, what, when, why and how much” questions concerning family media use and screen time.

So what are we families to do while we wait for more research?  Families need to self-monitor as best they by can looking at their media usage and real (family) life.  Commonsensemedia.org may provide some help for us, as perhaps can Anya Kamenetz’s new book, The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.

I tend to be a bit of a technophobe, but will end on a positive note:  My son, a “digital native,” and my elderly mother bonded over his expertise in technology and her fear and ignorance of all things digital – enhancing both their “RLs” and strengthening their relationship.

Betsy Groth

Betsy Groth is an APRN, PMHS – BC and a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced certification in pediatric mental health.

She is a counselor, mental health educator and parent coach in Old Lyme and writes a monthly column for us on ‘Family Wellness.’

For more information about Betsy and her work, visit Betsy’s website at betsygroth.com

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Letter From Paris: Visit to Franco-American Museum in Blerancourt Sparks Review of Relationship Between the Two

Nicole Prévost Logan

La Fayette nous voilà (La Fayette, here we are) are the famous words General John J. Pershing , commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, is supposed to have pronounced  on July 4, 1917 during the commemoration near the tomb of the Marquis de La Fayette at the Picpus cemetery in Paris. The entry of the Americans in World War I was a way to return the favor to the French for being an ally throughout their history. The Franco-American museum in Blerancourt, in a concrete way, furthered this enduring amity.

From the outbreak of the war even before America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, a segment of US public opinion, wanted the country to enter the conflict. Among the Americans living in Paris (there were 100,000 of them at the time), private associations such as the American Field Service,  intellectuals, writers, and artists offered to join the allied cause. Many young people volunteered as ambulance drivers.

Many volunteers served in ambulances like this one on display in the Museum of Blerancourt during the Great War.

One of them was Anne Morgan (1873-1952)  third daughter of  John Pierpont Morgan, Sr., banker and art collector.

Anne Morgan

She started raising funds to equip the French army as early as 1915, and in 1917 chose the village of Blerancourt, which was in the midst of total devastation, to carry out her humanitarian aid to the wounded soldiers and civilian population. 

The Aisne department (a department in France is the US equivalent of a county) was one of the worst hit battle fields. It is sadly remembered for being the scene of three bloody campaigns all called Chemin des Dames in 1914, 1916 and 1917 . In April 1917 alone, 100,000 French soldiers died on that front. 

Morgan worked from the barracks she erected on the terraces of the Chateau de Blerancourt – a grand 17th century private residence built by the architect who designed the Luxembourg Palace, for Marie de Medicis.  In 1919, Morgan bought the ruins of the chateau and started its restoration. In 1923, she created the association of the Friends of Blerancourt and the following year founded what was to become the Franco-American Museum.

The restored 17th century elegant rooms of the chateau are quite fitting for the historical part of the museum.  French explorers -Jacques Cartier, Father Jacques Marquette-Cavelier de la Salle, Champlain and others  – left their trace in the geography books of the New World. Their names are still vivid but the lands they discovered – from Canada to Louisiana – have long severed ties with France.  Only the St Pierre et Miquelon archipelago remained part of the mother country.

La Fayette was the first Frenchman to enlist in the War of Independence in 1777. With a great deal of panache, in October 1781, the 6,000 men of Count of Rochambeau, joined the Continental Army of George Washington, later the fleet of Admiral de Grasse encircled the English forces.  The combined effort ended in the victorious battle of Yorktown and the rendition of the British.  

Was its support in the conflict beneficial to France?  Some historians do not think so.  Claude Moisy, former president of Agence France Press  (AFP), journalist and specialist in the political history of the US, is one of them and goes as far as to believe that France was caught in a fool’s game.  

During a talk Moisy gave to the France-England Association in 2007, he described the sequence of events, as he sees it: the US Congress had promised not to sign a separate peace with the English, but it did on November 30 ,1782, after secret negotiations.

The real objective for the American government was to resume, as soon as possible, trade and economic relations with Great Britain.  Washington had dispatched Benjamin Franklin to Paris. He soon became the coqueluche (the rage) of the Paris society and suspiciously close to it. The author describes Paris at that time as a “panier de crabes” (can of worms), crawling with spies and foreign agents.

The final peace treaty was only signed 10 months later in September 1783, with the participation of Holland and Spain.

2018, – the year of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War- started appropriately with the “Cesars” selecting Au Revoir Là Haut, as best film and best director.  It is based on the 2013 Prix Goncourt novel by Pierre Lemaitre. Two soldiers- nicknamed “poilus” during the Great war-  experience the horror of trench war, including being buried alive .  (the writer may have been inspired by what happened to the poet and art theoretician  Guillaume Apollinaire, who was buried alive three times, underwent trepanation and died in 1918.).  The story continues after the war, when the two heroes, traumatized and disfigured by injuries, witness the sordid traffic of war memorials.

The Chateau de Blerancourt makes a charming picture.

The Blerancourt museum  is a lovely, luminous building,, located at about two hours drive north-east of Paris. The World war I activities of Anne Morgan -including her ambulance, uniform, wartime memorabilia and mobile library- are brought back to life. 

The Art department has just been renovated and contains more than 400 works. The collection  includes paintings by impressionist Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent and many others.  The arrival of American troops in St Nazaire was caught in Art Deco style by French artist Jean Emile Laboureur in 1918.  Singer and dancer Josephine Baker, appears on the cover of the “Revue Nègre“.  She was born in St Louis, joined the Resistance and is an idol in France.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: Annual ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ Prompts a Peek into Farming in France

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Salon de l’Agriculture (agricultural fair) is the most popular event of the year in Paris.  For two weeks, the Porte de Versailles is turned into an oversize farm   Four thousand animals – bovines, pigs, sheep and fowl – move in for the delight of both children and adults.  It is the largest agricultural show in Europe.

The French are emotional about their relationship with the countryside and never forget that they share a common rural ancestry and that, just a few decades ago, 25 percent of the population lived and worked on the land. The fair is an opportunity for rural and urban communities to get together and have a good time.

Food is a big attraction at the fair.  Thirty seven restaurants offer culinary specialties from each region: trip à la mode de Caen (tripe cooked in cider and calvados), boeuf bourguignon,  tartiflette (Savoyard gratin with Reblochon cheese, cream and pork), Toulouse cassoulet , bouillabaisse and hundreds more dishes, accompanied by the best wines.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets the much-admired cow named Haute at the Salon de l’Agriculture.

Entertainment reaches its height with the competition for the best animal. This year the star of the show is Haute, a 700 kilo blonde cow of the Aubrac breed raised in Aveyron (a volcanic plateau in the south west), whose big black eyes are made-up with mascara.  Haute has a pedigree in the same way as a racehorse and her offspring are already in line to compete in the 2024 fair – the same year that the Olympics will be held in Paris. 

From the air, the French landscape looks like a beautiful tapestry with colored patches of fields, woods and clusters of roofs huddled around a church steeple. Behind this idyllic picture, it is hard to believe that there is a tough world of fierce competition, hard work, and for some, a struggle to survive . 

Among the 450,606 working farms in France to-day, many of them are small with less than 10 hectares (one hectare is equivalent to 2.47 acres.) Their owners find it hard to make a living. The average income of a farmer is 1,525 euros for month and can be as low as 500 euros, which is well below the poverty threshold.  There are many reasons for this. 

Food today represents only 20 percent of a family budget as compared to 34.7 percent in 1960.   The agri-business and chains of supermarket distributors, in order to increase their profit margin, force the farmers to sell their milk or meat at rock-bottom prices.

Farmers are deep in debt because of the necessity to invest but they have ways to show their anger and frustration, such as pouring manure or truck loads of raw eggs on public squares.  Another effective way is for them to launch an operation escargot (snail offensive.) They bring their five-mile an hour tractors on the highways with the expected result.   

European farmers could not survive without financial subsidies from Brussels.  In 1962, the Politique d’Agriculture Commune (PAC – Common Agricultural Policy) was set up by the European Union (EU) to assist and guide the agriculture of its members.  The PAC is the second largest item in the EU budget and one of its pillars.  Methods and objectives have changed over the years.  

For a while, it requested farmers to lay fallow their cultivated land.  Quotas for milk were stopped in 2015 and sugar in 2017.  Today the PAC is putting more emphasis on the development of organic food and protection of farmers against the climatic vagaries.  France is the leading agricultural country in Europe with production valued at 71 billion ahead of Germany (56.7 billion), Italy (54.2 billion) and Spain (49 billion.) France remains the top beneficiary of financial assistance from the PAC. 

Most Europeans are hostile to the use of pesticides.  Brussels wanted to set a 10-year-moratorium on the use of the herbicide Glyphosate.  Macron fought and demanded three years.  Finally Brussels decided on a period of five years. 

In France, Monsanto has become the prime bad guy.  Europeans are also against genetically-modified food and the addition of hormones and antibiotics in meat.  The French are getting very finicky about the traceability of products   A couple of years ago, horse meat was found in prepared food produced in Eastern Europe.  The French public went up in arms.   Since then, on every package or can, the geographic origin of the product has to be indicated.

Macron, during his visit to the Agricultural Fair asked the crowd, “Did you know that that 70 percent of the meat you eat in French restaurants is imported?  It makes no sense when French meat is probably the best in the world.”  The president is not a protectionist but, in his eyes, free trade agreements have to be equally  beneficial for both sides.  At present, the signing  of  the Mercosur Treaty between Europe and four South American countries is stalled, leaving Europeans worried.

It is a “must” for each French president to visit the fair.  Macron outdid all his predecessors by mingling with the crowd for more than 12 straight hours.  Always eager to explain his policies, he did not hesitate to plunge into the fray and engage in heated discussions with angry farmers. 

The day before the opening of the Salon, Macron had invited 700 young farmers to the Elysees palace.  As always, his method was not to promise financial assistance, but help his guests find creative solutions to make their farms more competitive.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: ‘The Donald’ and Europe Grow Further Apart

Nicole Prévost Logan

In February 2017, the European Union (EU) members, gathered at the Malta summit, were flabbergasted by President Donald Trump’s hostile attitude toward the United States’s traditional allies.  One year later the world has adjusted in the opinion of the seasoned diplomat Hubert Vedrine, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002).  The French diplomat commented, “One has to get over our initial disbelief as to the unpredictable and apparently erratic policy of the 45th president of the US.”

The European opinion of Trump is not monolithic.  One has to differentiate between the North and South:  heavily indebted Greece and Germany with a flourishing economy will have opposite opinions.  The same divide exists between East and West: for example, nationalist and authoritarian countries like Poland will view Trump differently from the liberal Netherlands.

The Europeans resent Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement leaving a wide open boulevard for China to become the champion defender of the environment.  Last January, the announcement made by the controversial Ryan Zinke, US Secretary of the Environment, that he would allow oil and gas drilling near almost all US coasts from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico was considered a mistake.  The French oppose the position of Trump’s administration on the use of coal and other fossil fuel as sources of energy.  France has closed all its coal mines and does not even allow fracking for oil or gas exploration in fear of endangering the environment.

President Donald Trump

The recent financial and tax reforms introduced by the US president were characterized as a fiscal war with the rest of the world by economist and professor Philippe Dessertine.   On Jan. 26,  2018 at the Davos World Economic Forum, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), criticized those measures by saying that, subsequent to creating benefits in the short term, they would ultimately impact world  financial vulnerability.  She believes that the increase in both liquidity and the budget deficit, will eventually cause a sudden drop in the stock market.  It is interesting to note that a few days after her speech, the Dow tanked and began a new cycle of high volatility.

French economists commented that lowering corporate taxes to 21 percent in the US – not that far from the 12.5 percent of Irish tax heaven – is placing the competitiveness of countries like France at a disadvantage.  It will take five years of arduous effort by French President Macron to lower French corporate taxes to 25 percent.  The French Minister of Economy and Finances, Bruno Lemaire, criticized these reforms for technical reasons.  He commented that they will penalize European subsidiaries located in the US and also be an incentive for American companies located in France to relocate to the US.

According to French economist Thomas Piketty, 68.1 percent of the US income tax reduction will benefit just 1 percent of the population, thereby increasing the already exisiting inequalities even further.  For Gerard Courteois, editorial writer of the French national newspaper Le Monde, there is an incoherence in the statement,”Make America great again,” particularly in the use of the word “again.”  Does it apply to the boom years after World War II when it actually was a time of high taxes and international trade?

Trump’s foreign policy is scrutinized by French diplomats and geopoliticians.  Vedrine describes the American president’s policy in the Middle East as a disaster.  Trump has created a confrontational axis with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey against Iran and managed to freeze the Israel-Palestine peace process.  Regarding the European Union (EU), Trump’s objective seems to be its deconstruction.  Trump applauded Brexit and asked “Who is next?”  To European satisfaction, Congress has blocked the confirmation of a Europhobe nominee as US Ambassador to the EU.  The post has not been filled to date.

Trump’s diplomacy is not sophisticated.  It is a bully approach, forever brandishing the threat of more and greater sanctions, whether in the Ukraine, Iran or Korea.  Punitive measures are even taken by Trump toward the Palestinians.  He intends to suspend financial aid because they refuse to sit at the negotiating table.

French diplomats prefer pragmatism and negotiations.  Dominique de Villepin, former foreign minister (2002-2004) and prime minister (2005-2007), believes, for instance, that one has to accept the fact that North Korea is a nuclear power and entice that country to join the international community by helping  its economic development .

However, Vedrine says one should not blame Trump for everything.  Being realistic, France and Europe are not at the center of the world today.  If the US is stepping back, it is a chance for Europe to regain its autonomy.  Villepin suggests that Europe needs to break away from US guardianship .

At the annual Munich conference on security, participants showed for the first time their intention to step up the defense of the EU.  Last year Trump had scolded NATO members for not paying their share leading to the irritation of Washington today.  To put a stop to transatlantic polemics, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, wanted to be conciliatory and declared, “The increase in the European defense budget will reinforce the NATO European pillar.”

Judging from this non-exhaustive list of disagreements, relations between Trump and Europe are not particularly warm right now — in fact, one might be tempted to conclude they are well on the way to just plain bad.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Welcome to Betsy Groth, our new ‘Family Wellness’ Columnist

Betsy Groth

We are delighted to welcome Betsy Groth to our stable of writers today. She is an APRN, PMHS – BC and a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced certification in pediatric mental health.  She is a counselor, mental health educator and parent coach in Old Lyme and will be writing a monthly column for us on ‘Family Wellness.’  

In this introductory column, she explains the background to her column and some of the subjects she will be covering. 

For more information about Betsy and her work, visit Betsy’s website at betsygroth.com

Family is defined by Merriam Webster as, “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family.” But we all know in today’s society, family is defined more broadly both theoretically and practically speaking.

Wright and Bell (2009) define family as a group of individuals bound by strong emotional ties, a sense of belonging and a passion for being involved in one another’s lives. There is usually a generational aspect to our definition of family and a sense of development over time. We think of families that are couples, families with young children, families with older children, families that have launched the younger generation, and families caring for aged members.

There is no universally accepted definition of wellness. It has been described as “… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.” This state of being is a lofty goal for any individual or family!  But it can be a sought after goal, the “ball” on which we all keep our eye.

Development as an individual and as a family has some built-in challenges to wellness, in addition to the joys to be found at each stage. There are also some often unexpected challenges and struggles, such as illness in a family member, academic struggles, financial difficulties, strained relations within the family.

This monthly column will explore factors in family and individual wellness, and approaches to maintain the goal of optimal wellness. Topics will include stress and anxiety in children and adolescents (next month), caring for aging parents, coping with chronic illness, raising children in a competitive society, and adjusting to first time parenthood.

And of course, I am always listening to families and the areas that they would like addressed in these columns, so please drop me a line at betsy.groth.aprn.pmhs@gmail.com if there’s anything in particular you would like me to discuss.

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Letter From Paris: Book That Wins France’s Top Literary Prize Raises Chilling Questions About WWII History

Nicole Prévost Logan

Coincidence or not ?

The prestigious French literary Prix Goncourt came out came just a few weeks before the election of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurtz as chancellor of Austria.  Many would say that election marked another step by the European Union along the road toward nationalism.

The topic of the novel is the Anschluss.  With devastating sarcasm the author, Eric Vuillard, puts the magnates of German industry on trial for profiting from the Nazi regime and the Austrian people for welcoming the invading German army on March 12  1938. The title itself is ironic since L’Ordre du Jour – which translates as ‘the order of the day’ or ‘the agenda’ – refers to a democratic assembly, which in the book will soon be abolished by Hitler.

It is a very short book (only 150 pages) printed in an unusual miniature format.  But it is a striking story, beautifully written, leading the reader through shocking scenes in which cruel humor is mixed with great despair.  Vuillard, is also a film maker, which explains the way he stages the story as seen through a camera, with colorful images, a sound track, leading actors and supporting crowds.

The action starts on February 20th, 1933, in Potsdam.  Twenty-four managers of the German industry – Gustav Krupp, Wilhem von Opel, Günther Quandt, Kurt Schmitt and others – are waiting in the ante-chamber of the Reichstag at the pleasure of its president, Hermann Goering.  The 24 grey-haired gentlemen, dressed in formal black or brown coats, with stiff shirt collars and striped pants, resemble the bare trees lining the Spree river in the winter.

Goering is late but the visitors wait patiently.

When he finally shows up, the guests raise like lizards on their hind legs.  Hitler – appointed chancellor just one month before – makes his entry and greets his guests.  At the end of the meeting, as expected from them, the managers obsequiously make their meager contribution of several millions Deutschmarks to help the Nazi war effort.

Vuillard turns the Anschluss into a farce. Using threats, lies, and brutal intimidation, Hitler manipulates the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, making him totally helpless, bulldozed by the Nazi timetable.

February 12, 1938, is the second decisive date in Vuillard’s story.  Hitler has invited Schuschnigg for a secret lunch at Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.  It is an ominous sequence.  When the doors close behind the guest, the reader feels a sense of foreboding.

Overwhelmed by the hypnotic personality of Hitler, Schuschnigg caves in and has to agree to all his  demands: appointment of the Nazi Seyss-Inquart to the post of minister of the Interior;  amnesty of those condemned for the assassination of the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss in 1934; rehabilitation of all national socialist officials.  Having said that, Hitler reaffirms the independence of Austria.  Wasn’t that the ultimate?  asks Vuillard.

On the eve of the planned invasion, Mr and Mrs Ribbentrop (he is the German foreign minister) are invited to dinner at Downing Street.  The author describes in detail the menu of French cuisine and the wine list.  The conversation is light and animated.  All seem interested in tennis and the performance of Bill Tilden, who won the Davis cup seven times.

Toward the end of the dinner, a staff member brings a note to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who becomes preoccupied.  Vuillard writes: “Winston Churchill opens his big cocker spaniel eyes.”  The Chamberlains are getting impatient but, out of sheer British politeness, do not show it.  Guests start leaving but the Ribbentrops linger on, saying endless goodbyes.

The camera jumps to the car where the German couple is now on its way home.  They burst out laughing.  They knew all along what was in the note … German troops have just crossed the Austrian border.

The story reaches its climax when the German forces are ready to pounce on Vienna on March 12, 1938.  The sky is a bright blue but it is freezing cold.  The Panzers are massed by the border but a problem arises — they run out of gas and a monumental traffic jam occurs.  It is hard to pull out a tool kit by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures.

Hitler, who at first was elated by the prospect of entering Vienna with cheering crowds waving small flags and  blond-braided, young girls throwing flowers at the German soldiers, is now stuck on the road along with hundreds of armored cars.  When an army experiences a breakdown en route, ridicule is guaranteed.

Hitler cannot contain his anger and keeps shouting. By dusk, his Mercedes reaches Linz, the town where he spent his youth.  On March 15, the poor Austrian population, abused, but finally submissive, stands in front of Sisi’s palace to hear Hitler’s hoarse voice vociferate insults.  In a referendum, Austrians voted 99.7 percent in favor of the annexation by the Reich.

What happened to the 24 captains of industry we met in 1933?

During the war years, they made an incredible amount of money by employing cheap labor from Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald or Dachau.  They may have died of old age, but their empires live on, stronger than ever … BMW, BASf, Bayer, IG Farbem, Siemens, Tellefunken, Opel, and Thyssen-Krupp.

Exaggerated or not, the fact is that such a novel gives the reader a major jolt.  It is a literary feat, which revives dark moments of history that one should never forget.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: The Seine is Flooding … Again

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Paris floods crested Friday, Jan. 26, at almost six meters, therefore slightly lower than in June 2016 . They did not even make the ‘Top 10’ among the most destructive floods of the past 100 years. The monster flood of 1910 saw the river’s level rise eight meters and 60 centimeters.  However, the inhabitants in the communities upstream from the city, who have been underwater for days and have now been flooded twice in 18 months, were certainly entitled to call it a natural disaster brought on by the global warming.

The submerged tree and lamp post in the foreground show the depth of the flooding on the Seine.  The Hotel de Ville stands at right in the background while the Ile de la Cité is at right. Photo by Stylvia Logan.

Monumental work has been done in the past century to protect the capital and the resultant price is paid by the surrounding areas.   Paris is such a strategic place that it has to be protected by a system of locks and reservoirs, both up and down stream. Besides, France is endowed with numerous waterways and this is particularly true in the Paris basin.  The Seine’s tributaries — Marne, Yonne, Aube and Loing — flow toward Paris.  In the case of extreme precipitation, these small rivers easily overflow and submerge their unprotected banks.  The small towns of Champagne, Moret or Thomery, only 30 minutes by train south of Paris, had disappeared underwater by midweek.

The banks of the Seine are submerged while the Cathedral of Notre Dame still stands proudly in the background. Photo by Sylvia Logan.

In prehistoric times, the Seine was a shallow stream, indolent and undisciplined, moving its bed all over the place.  The most northern of its secondary beds followed what is today the ring of Grands Boulevards and flowed from the Bastille, along the hills of Buttes Chaumont and Montmartre, and back down to the main channel below the hill of Chaillot.   On the Left Bank, the Seine also had a secondary bed, which used to flow under the modern Boulevard Saint Germain. 

The restaurant ”Calife,” which is moored in the middle of the river near the Pont des Arts, is flooded.  Photo by Sylvia Logan.

Between 1991 and 1993, excavations prior to the building of the new Bercy district, brought to light spectacular remains of human settlements on the banks of the wandering Seine river.  Neolithic pirogues dating back to more than 3,000 years BC are exposed today in the Orangerie of the Carnavalet museum. They are the oldest found in Europe.

The construction of massive stone quays in Paris started in  the 14th century.  In 1991, they became part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

By midweek , as the peak of the floods approached, there was no panic among the city officials, engineers and technicians, but a feverish activity to prevent disaster.  By way of precaution, the RERC running along the river, was closed until the end of the month.  Already the treasures exposed on the lower levels of the Louvre and Orsay museums had been moved to safe locations.  The great danger was that the dense network of cables, pipes and wiring, providing gas, electricity and internet, and lying eight floor deep underground would be reached  by the water.

Crowds gather above the famous Zouave statue on the Pont de l’Alma. Photo by Karen Logan

Curious onlookers have been following the progress of water on the statue of the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma.  The statue was placed below the bridge in 1836 to mark one of the battles at Alma, near Sebastopol, during the Crimean war (1853-56.) 

The Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma has been a point of reference for the severity of Seine floods for centuries.. Photo by Karen Logan

The  coalition of France, England and the Ottoman Empire wanted to put a stop to the expansionist policy of the Russian Tsar Alexander II (1856-1881.) The Zouaves were part of the Algerian light brigade in the days of French Algeria — their bright red baggy pants were famous. 

Down he goes!  As the waters rise, the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma disappears deeper into the River Seine. Photo by Karen Logan

Although not very reliable – since the statue was raised by 40-80 centimeters  in 1970 – the Zouave remains the most popular indicator of the severity of the floods in Paris.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: Emmanuel Macron Goes to China

Nicole Prévost Logan

At first sight, the January visit of Emmanuel Macron to meet Xi Jinping might have appeared like the futile encounter between David and  Goliath.  But, in fact, it was a well thought-out strategic move and an illustration of Macron’s personal style of diplomacy.

Never before had any French president gone to China so early in his mandate. He timed his visit to seize the opportunity of a world stage left vacant by most of the players.

He came as an European leader, not as a French one. He stepped into the role Angela Merkel  –– still embroiled in internal political negotiations to create a coalition government — had played for many years.

The trip was put under the symbols of history and culture shared by France and China.  Instead of Pekin, it started in Xi-an, Shaansi province, where the discovery of an imperial tomb made world headlines in 1974.  The tomb contained 8,000 terracotta warriors, horses, and chariots, dating back from the golden age of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD.)

During her several visits to Asia, German chancellor Merkel had openly blamed the Chinese government for its violation of human rights.  Unfortunately, this method did not bring any positive results. 

French President Emmanuel Macron

Macron chose a more pragmatic approach, limiting his criticisms to subliminal  remarks.  According to analysts, his diplomacy can be described as “Gaullienne.”  At a press conference in 1964, General de Gaulle abandoned his aloof and philosophical tone and declared that, to talk with leaders having opposing views, did not mean having to agree with or condone them.

Linguistics can create difficulties since the key words used be the two sides may have different meanings.  Take for instance the definition of “terrorism.”  For Xi Jinping, it mostly refers to the activity of the autonomists Ouïgours whereas for  Macron it means the bomb attacks inflicted on the French population by radical followers of Daesch.

To conduct diplomacy with China is to enter a minefield.  Two examples.  One does not attack China frontally for its action in the South China seas because the Chinese government considers this region as its private turf.  Macron would like China to help with the efforts of the G5 to fight terrorism in the Sahel but it might become a two-sided sword because interference by China in the region is not really wanted.

On the crucial topic of the nuclear threat coming from North Korea, the French president could only reinforce the European Union (EU) position.  He complimented Xi Jinping for becoming the world leader in the fight against global warming, and for being a staunch defender of the Paris Accord.

Fifty CEOs of leading French companies were part of the trip, which was marked by the signing of enormous contracts.  The Chinese government ordered 134 A320 Airbus commercial  planes.  AREVA, the French multinational specialized in nuclear power and renewable energy, signed an agreement China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build facilities for the reprocessing of nuclear waste.  The largest existing plant in the world is located in La Hague, near Le Havre.  Cooperation in the agro-business will be developed.  The Chinese enjoy French beef but since 2011 an embargo had been imposed on the imports following the “mad cow” disease.

The surplus of the Franco-Chinese trade balance amounts to $30 billion in favor of China.  Macron wants too re-equilibrate those figures.  His objective is to widen the types of exports beside foodstuff or cosmetics and include digital technology, artificial intelligence and other sectors.

The silk road sounds like a romantic concept, which makes one dream. but in reality it is pharaonic project where the Chinese plan to invest around $1,000 billions to build a network of rail, maritime, land, or air routes to export its products.  Almost needless to say, this project is worrying many … starting with Macron, who declares that the silk road should be a two-way road.  Historically the silk road was developed in the Han dynasty and its starting point was the town of Xi-an (cf. above.)

During the official visit to Pekin of the French presidential couple, it was impossible not to notice the spectacular redcoat (red is a symbolic color in Chinese, meaning happiness) worn by Brigitte Macron.

Translated into Chinese phonetics, the name Macron means “the horse that dominates the dragon.”  Is that perhaps a good omen for Emmanuel Macron?

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles

“By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration – and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.” This is the theme of a compelling, engrossing, and forever cheerful story of an Russian aristocrat condemned to lifetime “house arrest” in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel in 1921.

Through the eyes and experiences of Count Alexander Rostov, in five segments (1921-22; 1923-46; 1950; 1950-53; and 1954), we are treated to a history of Russia, the Soviet Union, European literature, art, music, medicine and architecture. And dining: the Count becomes the Head Waiter at the hotel’s superlative dining room. An entire chapter is devoted to the creation of a sumptuous bouillabaisse – a foodie’s delight!

Consider this analysis: “Surely, the span of time between the placing of an order and the arrival of appetizers is one of the most perilous in all human interaction. What young lovers have not found themselves bat this juncture in a silence so sudden, so seemingly insurmountable that it threatens to cast doubt upon their chemistry as a couple? What husband and wife have not found themselves suddenly unnerved by the fear that they might not ever have something urgent, impassioned, or surprising to say to each other again?”

The good Count is forever curious, of people, events, and changing circumstances. On reading: “After all, isn’t that why the pages of a book are numbered? To facilitate the finding of one’s place after a reasonable interruption?” On how he spends his time: “dining, discussing, reading, reflection.” On history: “the business of identifying momentous events from the comfort of a high-backed chair.” On life itself: “ … life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions.” And, given his confinement, also exercising: squats and push-ups every morning, plus climbing stairs to his attic rooms.

Towles names the Count’s barber at the hotel, Yaroslav Yaroslavl, provoking my own recollections of travel in Russia, first to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) at its Hermitage in 1984 and later to Moscow and Yaroslavl in 1992. And the Count also states emphatically that, “all poets must eventually bow before the haiku,” a statement which — as a modest haiku composer myself — I endorse with pleasure!

So the Metropol becomes hardly a “prison” for Count Alexander, but rather it is his own wide, wide world.

One unusual note: all chapters have titles beginning in the letter A. And the end of the story has an unnamed lady waiting for the Count. But we know her name both begins and ends with an A …

The keynote of the eminently readable novel is “Montaigne’s maxim, that the surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness.”

Editor’s Note: ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles is published by Viking, New York 2016.

Felix Kloman

About 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: Deaths of Two Icons Leave a Nation in Mourning

Nicole Prévost Logan

From Les Invalides to the Champs Elysees, intense emotion grips France at the passing of two iconic personalities.

Within 24 hours France lost two familiar figures: Jean d’Ormesson, 92, man of letters, and Johnny Hallyday, 74, the popular singer who, for almost 60 years, enthralled millions of fans. The intensity of the emotions was incredible. For a week, politics, wars, economic crises, were suspended and replaced by an immense sadness, which united the nation. No matter how different the two men were, they shared a great simplicity and the gift of connecting with the people.

It is not unusual for the French to express their collective grief in the public place. In 1885, two million people attended the national funerals of Victor Hugo. Simone Weil, the courageous woman who showed exceptional fortitude in her public life by being a pioneer of the right to abortion, received the highest honors by being laid to rest in the Pantheon. In 1963, a human tide surged toward the Pere Lachaise cemetery to say goodbye to Edith Piaf.

Count Jean d’Ormesson

Count Jean d’Ormesson, at age 48, was the youngest “immortal” to enter the Academie Française – a literary institution created by Louis XIII to uphold the French language. He died as the dean of that 40-members council. Son of a French ambassador, d’Ormesson was part of the French aristocracy, with degrees in history and philosophy. He directed the conservative daily Le Figaro, became a prolific writer, publishing a book per year, with the last one completed three days before his death. His smiling face and piercing blue eyes were a familiar sight for the viewers of countless televised literary shows, such Bouillon de Culture, Apostrophe or La Grande Librairie.

An elegant conversationalist, he spoke with wit, lightness, and optimism. His remarks, studded with literary quotes, included gems of uplifting philosophy, such as,”Life is beautiful because we are lucky to die”, and “In the New Testament, the myth of the Wandering Jew is condemned to immortality by Jesus.”

During the strikingly sober ceremony, in the courtyard of the Invalides, a small group of guests, representing the world of politics and culture, stood stoically, whipped by a glacial wind. The eulogy given by French president Emmanuel Macron, matched the literary sophistication of the deceased academician.

Johnny Hallyday was a monument in France with an amazing longevity. From the first time he appeared on the stage at age 17, this blond, tall young man became an adulated performer and he remained a star for almost 60 years. For millions of fans, his disappearance meant the loss of a chunk of their own life. Fighting lung cancer for several years, in spite of the terrible pain, he continued performing until the very end. People thought he was indestructible, hence the extreme shock people felt when they learned about his death on Dec. 6th.

Abandoned by his father at the age of eight months, Hallyday did not grow up in the security of a proper family but bounced around from one relative to another. A cousin gave him his stage name.

Facts about his career are staggering: more than 28 million spectators attended the 3,300 concerts he gave in 40 countries; he sold 110 million records. He had a real talent in choosing the best composers and song writers, which allowed him to produce 1,000 songs, many of them in Gold albums.

Johnny Hallyday

Hallyday went through all the styles of music from rock n’roll, pop, blues, soul, country, and hard rock. Among the best known hits is, “Ah Marie, si tu savais, tout le mal que l’on m’a fait” (Ah, Marie, if you only knew how much they hurt me) about a young man, fighting in the WWI trenches and writing to his fiancee.

It is a paradox that, in spite of his love for the US, that country barely knew him. Driving full speed on his Harley Davidson with his buddies from the Midwest to California was one of his greatest pleasures. He sang with Sammy Davis Junior. Michel Berger wrote for him a song called “On a tous quelque chose de Tennessee” (We all have something of Tennesse.) The lyrics recall lines from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

He spent the last 10 years of his life in Los Angeles, Calif., with Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck as neighbors and only returned to France to perform in concerts. Some of his concerts became giant productions of a size never seen before. The absolute zenith of his career was right after France won the soccer World Cup in 1998 when Hallyday flew over the Stade de France by helicopter and was lowered into the hysterical crowd.

The public funeral of Hallyday was an incredible spectacle offered to millions of fans. The cortege moved slowly down the Champs Elysees, led by a white coffin. This was followed by a caravan of black limousines filled with family, close friends and dignitaries and then – even for people who do not particularly like motorcycles – the incredible sight of 700 bikers, who had come from all over France.

On the steps of the Madeleine church, President Emmanuel Macron, paid his respects to the rock star and invited the crowd to bid farewell to “Mr. Johhny Hallyday.”

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: A Six-Month Performance Review for Emmanuel Macron

Nicole Prévost Logan

Six months into his mandate, French President Emmanuel Macron has been working at a dizzying pace to fulfill his campaign promises.

Hubert Vedrine, former minister of foreign affairs and expert in international and strategic affairs, made the following comment : “Emmanuel Macron immediately embodied the stature of a chief of State. ”

“The French people are impossible to reform”, said Macron during his campaign.  This is why he set out not to reform but to transform France from top to bottom.  First he brought “parity” men/women into the government. 

The “moralization” of the two legislative chambers was his second objective, which meant bringing an end to the opaque system of financial privileges long enjoyed by the deputies.  Like a breath of fresh air, the professional politicians who, since the beginning of the fifth Republic, had been playing musical chairs, faded away .They were replaced by influential members of the civil society, without any political experience.

Emmanuel Macron

As a rule, the French do not really like to work during the summer.  Breaking with that tradition, Macron spent four months talking with the trade unions.  He invited – separately – the leaders of the different groups (CGT, FO, CFDT)  in order to hear their demands and make his own proposals.

The result was amazing.

The loud manifs (street demonstrations), which traditionally are the main tool of the trade unions, rapidly run out of steam.   On the basis of the summer negotiations, changes in the labor code were formulated into executive orders before becoming law.

Macron used the same strategy – divide and conquer – to defuse the revolt of the mayors. 

There are 36,000 municipalities in France.  Some of the communes are tiny with as few as 200 inhabitants, and feel unfairly treated as compared to the large and wealthy urban centers like Paris, Lyons or Marseille. When Macron announced he would drastically slash down the dotations (subsidies) made by the State, the local officials went up in arms. 

What did Macron do? 

He invited 1,500 mayors to the Elysée Palace and developed his plan to help the small communes .

Thanks to his work experience in the financial and business world, he focused on a crucial economic problem: the cost of French labor is not competitive enough. The main reason?  The cost of labor is bloated by the inclusion of “social charges.” Macron plans to have the entire population share the burden by paying a general tax.  The other pillar of his financial program is to stop demonizing capital income by reducing the tax to a flat rate of 30 percent  – a win-win system to encourage the French population to invest.

Emmanuel Macron has been described as having a velvet smile contrasting with the steely expression of his blue eyes. From the youthful, exuberant attitude he projected during the electoral campaign, he has evolved into the image of an authoritarian leader. He delegates the day-to-day running of the country to his prime minister Edouard Philippe, who is doing his job efficiently and with discretion.  This leaves Macron time to address the big picture, particularly regarding the new place of France on the world stage.

On Sept. 26, in a major speech at the Sorbonne, Macron showed his unwavering ‘Europhile’ vision. He proposes a ‘re-invention’ of Europe with action led by countries willing to make changes. To ensure the future of the Eurozone, he proposes a single budget, a ‘Super Minister’ of economy and the creation of a European IMF. He wants a “protective Europe” in relation to workers and consumers. He believes strongly in giving a central role to culture in defining the European identity.

During his visit to Abu Dhabi for the inauguration of the new Louvre museum on Nov. 8, Macron met with “MBS” (Saudi Arabia prince Mohammed Ben Salmane ) and with “MBZ” (Abu Dhabi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed)  A feverish round of diplomacy took place in which the president succeeded to  “exfiltrate” the Sunni Lebanese minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia and acted as a mediator in the growing fracture of the Persian Gulf.

On Nov. 28,  after a two-hour speech to 800 students of the Ouagadougou University, in Burkina Faso, the Q and A session turned into an hilarious exchange. “Can you help us fix the frequent power outages on the campus?” asked a student. “But this is not my responsibility,” Macron answered, “Ask your president to deal with this problem.” The reaction of his audience – was at first a roar of laughter then deafening applause. A symbolic detail of the Macron’s visit to Africa was that he was accompanied on his trip by leaders of recent  start-ups instead of the CEOs of large companies such as Areva or Total.

The three-day visit to Africa in late November was an opportunity for the French president to break, not only with the colonial era, but also with the neo-colonial era of Françafrique launched by General de Gaulle in 1960.  At a summit meeting held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where the discussions at the summit meeting dealt mostly with the immigration crisis, Macron initiated a partnership whereby Europeans and Africans should share responsibilities.  Macron did not mince words when he told his audience : “The passeurs (smugglers) are not European, my friends , they are African.”

At a time when Angela Merkel is vacillating and Brexit is looming, the role of Emmanuel Macron in Europe is crucial. 

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: André Derain: Major Artist, “Fauvism” Champion Featured in Parisian Retrospective

Nicole Prévost Logan

André Derain usually evokes cheerful scenes of sailboats bobbing up and down in the bright colors of a Mediterranean fishing port.

Actually, Derain (1880-1954) is a complex artist, who had a strong influence on the evolving avant-garde movements at the start of the 20th century.  The Pompidou Center is currently holding a retrospective titled, “Derain – 1904-1914. The radical decade.”

The curator of the Pompidou exhibit, Cecile Debray, comments, “Derain is the founder with Matisse of Fauvism and an actor of Cezanne’s Cubism with Picasso.” Never before had the artist been attributed such a crucial role. Derain was not only the link between the masters — Gauguin and Van Gogh — and the next generation of artists, but also an explorer of new sources of inspiration, including primitive Italians, along with African and Oceanic art. 

To quote Gertrude Stein (the writer and art collector famous on the cultural Parisian scene in the 1920s and 1930s), “Derain was the Christopher Columbus of modern art, but it is the others who took advantage of the new continents”

Not interested in the career of engineer planned for him by his father, the young Derain preferred to spend all his time at The Louvre, copying  the classics. He shared a studio with his friend Vlaminck on the Chatou island northwest of Paris where he was born. His first paintings had as subjects the Seine river, its banks and bridges, and the activities of workers. He displayed a distinctive technique of fast brush touches, (slightly different from “pointillism“), innovative plunging views and cropping, which give  his works the spontaneity of photographic snapshots.

“Collioure, the drying of the sails'” by André Derain.

In the summer of 1905, he spent the summer in Collioure with Matisse and was dazzled by the Mediterranean light. Derain defined light as the negation of shadow.  He writes, “Colors become cartridges of dynamite casting off light.”  The room VII of the 1905 Salon d’Automne, called “la cage aux fauves,” caused a scandal, (fauves mean wild animals.)  In 1907, the Russian art collector Ivan Morozov acquired Derain’s paintings from the merchant Ambroise Vollard for the sum of 600 francs.

The following summer,  Derain continued to work with Matisse at l’Estaque, near Marseille. His compositions became more structured, with strong lines, volumes, perspectives and plans.  He still used arbitrary colors.   

‘London’ by Andre Derain.

During two visits to London, he became fascinated by the bustling traffic of barges and tugboats on the Thames. He used the puffs of smoke mixed with the mist to decline all shades of whites. He found a new inspiration in the representation of water and sky. The apotheosis is an almost abstract sunset with the sun breaking through the dark clouds as if putting the sky on fire.

In 1910, Derain is part of the Cubist movement as shown in his representation of the village of Cagnes – an assemblage of cubes with red roofs scattered on a hilly landscape made of geometric lines and volumes of dense vegetation.

The versatility of Derain seems to be boundless. He played the piano, was  a professional photographer, and enjoyed fast cars (he owned 11 Bugattis.)  Using his virtuosity as a draughtsman, he created illustrations for humor publications along with stage and costume designs (for Diaghilev and the Russian ballets.)

The dance” by André Derain.

Before leaving the exhibit, the visitor will be stunned by The Dance, 1906 – a large (185 x 228 cm) decorative composition of three women undulating in a luxuriant forest.  The work is rarely seen, since it belongs to a private collection.  Derain was inspired by a poem by Apollinaire and called it L’Enchanteur pourrissant (the rotting magician) about three fairies looking for Merlin’s tomb. The gestures of the dancers are reminiscent of Egyptian and Indian art, and could have inspired Nijinsky’s choreography. The mysterious vegetation and the hidden meaning of a snake and a multicolored parrot infuse the ritual scene with symbolism.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Lab Girl’ by Hope Jahren

This month, let’s try an intensely introspective autobiography of a botanical scientist, wrapped in a biography of trees, flowers, and plants.

Hope Jahren, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, writes the clear, coherent, and engaging story of her upbringing in Minnesota, her education, travel and work in California, Georgia, Maryland, and Hawaii, intermixed with her study and analysis of the history and lives of plants and trees. And she apparently has a photographic memory as she recalls detailed conversations with her teachers, students, science mates and husband.

But, early on in my reading, I had a nagging question: does this intense self-analysis and self-reflection indicate something else?

Jahren finally acknowledges being a “manic-depressive woman” four-fifths of the way through her writing. She is consumed with her love of and study of plants: it dominates her life.

Fellow human beings? She acknowledges an early debt to her science-minded father, but never mentions him again after her first pages. Her scientific partner, Bill, is never granted a last name, nor is her husband, Clint. And none of those three is mentioned in her credits. She devotes one of the longest chapters to the birth of her son, but he remains nameless (mentioned only as “my toddler” and “my son.” Note he is not “our” son.)

But her often lyrical phrases continue to delight you as a reader, “a leaf is a platter of pigment strung with vascular lace,” and “vines are hopelessly ambitious,” and “being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.” Hers is a two-part, parallel story of intense curiosity – her science and her life.

Her self-analysis close to the end reads as follows:

“I’m good at science because I’m not good at listening. I have been told that I’m intelligent, and I have been told that I am simple-minded. I have been told that I am trying to do to much, and I have been told that what I have done amounts to very little. I have been told that I can’t do what I want to do because I am a woman, and I have been told that I have only been allowed to do what I have done because I am a woman. I have been told that I can have eternal life, and I have been told that I will burn myself out into an early death. I have been admonished for being too feminine and I have been distrusted for being too masculine. I have been warned that I am far too sensitive and I have been accused of being heartlessly callous.

But I was told all these things by people who can’t understand the present or see the future any better than I can. Such recurrent pronouncements have forced me to accept that because I am a female scientist, nobody knows what the hell I am, and it has given me the delicious freedom to make it up as I go along. I don’t take advice from my colleagues, and I try not to give it. When I am pressed, I resort to these two sentences: You shouldn’t take this job too seriously. Except for when you should.”

If that doesn’t arouse your curiosity to read this book, I don’t know what will!

Jahren’s conclusion, “Our world is falling apart quietly.” And her more optimistic recommendation: go plant a tree once a year! Which is exactly what my wife and I have done in our 24 years in Lyme, Conn. We’ve planted 13 Evergreens, four Red Maples, three Acacia, two Apples, one Japanese Maple, and one Witch Hazel. Yes, we’ve cut down an apple savaged by a hurricane, plus two small apples, but the latter were promptly replaced with two pears!

Do read Hope Jahren … and plant a tree.

Editor’s Note: ‘Lab Girl’ by Hope Jahren is published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2016

Felix Kloman

About 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: To Be or Not To Be [Independent] — The Catalonian Question

Nicole Prévost Logan

The tentative attempt by Catalonia to secede from Spain has failed – at least for now.  But the attachment of the Catalan people to their identity is so strong that the fight for independence is far from over.  The Catalonian regional elections on Dec. 21 are likely to take place in a very agitated, if not violent, context.

The province of Catalonia has just lived through its worst political crisis in decades.  On Aug. 17, the terrorist attack in Barcelona that killed 13 people and injured 113 left the population of that city badly shaken.  On Oct. 1, a referendum showed how divided the population was with 90.2 percent voting for independence … but with a participation rate of only 45 percent.  For several days, the two protagonists – Mariono Rajoy, prime minister of Spain and Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan President – faced off each other, avoiding any dialogue.

Then on Oct.17,  the separatist members of the Catalan parliament announced the declaration of independence by 70 votes to 10.  The situation became untenable for Puigdemont.  He surreptitiously left the country to reappear in Brussels.  For the first time ever, Article 155 of the constitution was activated — Madrid issued an arrest warrant for Puigdemont for espousing rebellion and placed the province under strict supervision. 

This map shows the location of Catalonia in Spain.

How does one explain the fierce nationalism of the Catalan people?  It is deeply anchored in their history.  Until the early 16th century, the county of Barcelona was at the center of power in Spain and closely united to the Aragon crown.  After the War of the Spanish Succession, the Catalans had to surrender to the Bourbons on Sept. 11, 1714.  The Catalonians remember that heroic battle by naming that day their National Day, calling it Diadia.  The civil war from 1936 to 1939, followed by 39 years of Franco’s fascist dictatorship, crystallized even further the Catalonians’ dream of autonomy.   

The European Union (EU) is keeping silent and uninvolved in what it considers as an internal problem for Spain.  Doomsday commentators had predicted that other regions of Europe such as Venetia, Lombardy or Corsica, would emulate Brexit. It is interesting to note that  Spain never recognized Kosovo for fear that Catalonia would follow suit.

When democracy was reinstated by King Juan Carlos, a new constitution and special self-rule status were granted to the Basque country, Catalonia and Cerdanya in 1978.  It is hard to understand why Catalonia did not accept the  favorable  terms offered by Madrid.  The ETA (Basque independence movement) did thus putting an end to their armed resistance, which had lasted for more than 50 years.

A visit to Barcelona helps understand the dynamic, feisty, almost turbulent temperament of the Catalan people.  Just mingle with the crowds on La Rambia – the heart of the city – or discover the extravagant architecture of Anton Gaudi in the Sagrada Familia cathedral. 

Catalonia can claim three artists, all larger than life and with strong personalities.  Joan Miro, the abstract artist creator of distinctive playful forms, was extremely proud of his Catalan origins.  Picasso spent several years as a teenager in Barcelona.  In 1905, he found the models for his “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” among the prostitutes of a small street by that name located near the port.  The surrealist Salvador Dali went totally wild with the design of his museum in Figueres, his hometown.

Unfortunately, the project of the Catalan separatists did not take into account the long-term problems.  By early November of this year, 2,000 companies and banks had already left the province: tourism is being affected: the stock market has plummeted, and if Catalonia were to secede from Spain, it could not become part of the EU. 

In the simplest of terms, Catalonia may now, as a result of the most recent developments, find itself in a worse situation than before its declaration of independence.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Smartphones May be Causing More Car Accidents


Traffic safety advocates believe that smartphones are causing more deadly car accidents in Connecticut and across the U.S., but new federal statistics show that distracted driving deaths actually declined in 2016. What is going on?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 448 people were killed in smartphone-related car crashes in 2015. That number dipped even further last year. However, traffic fatalities significantly rose the past two years, and a closer look at the data shows that half of all traffic deaths in 2015 involved cars that were driving straight ahead, rather than veering off the road due to weather or a blowout.

Safety experts believe that indicates that some drivers may have been distracted by their phones and simply plowed into something directly in front of them. This hunch correlates with numbers showing that pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcyclist deaths have risen sharply in recent years. For example, pedestrian fatalities rose 21.9 percent between 2014 and 2016. Over the same period, bicyclist and motorcyclist deaths jumped 15.2 and 15.1 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, studies show that smartphone use by drivers has continued to increase.

So why aren’t more traffic fatalities being classified as being smartphone-related? Experts say that some police investigators are overly focused on other accident causes, such as drunk-driving or speeding. Another problem is that it can be difficult to prove that a smartphone was responsible for a crash.

Car crashes caused by distracted drivers are a major problem in Connecticut. Individuals who are injured by a distracted driver have the right to pursue compensation in court. With the help of an attorney, it may be possible to obtain a settlement that covers medical expenses and other losses that have been sustained.

Source: Bloomberg, “Smartphones Are Killing Americans, But Nobody’s Counting“, Kyle Stock, Oct. 17, 2017

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Letter From Paris: Sexual Harassment Scandal in US Reverberates Around the World

Nicole Prévost Logan

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded in the Hollywood world, last September, who could have ever expected  the groundswell it is sending around the world, or at least the Western world.  All of a sudden, in the media, the social networks, and all the way up to the highest political spheres of government, it has triggered a deluge of testimonies from women who have been the victims of all forms of unpunished harassment and kept silent until now.  Debates and commentaries are occupying the news by storm.

In Le Monde of Oct. 22,  a headline in huge letters read, La Parole Liberée (The liberated voice.)  A psychologist writes, “Today shame seems to have changed camp.”  What took place in  the workplace,  the street and on public transport, is now being brought out in the open.  This situation has been going on for a long time.  Years ago, my three daughters were boarders in an American high school in Rome.  Their description of the behavior of Italian males preying on women was almost a caricature of what seems to be a national pastime.

A hashtag, crudely worded, #balancetonporc (expose your pig), created by a French journalist living in New York turned viral within five hours.  It is a website where women can talk anonymously and denounce their rapist.  The slogan #moiaussi (equivalent to #meetoo  in the US) provoked millions of reactions.  It is not the creation of a feminist group, but just happened spontaneously.    

In the French workplace, one of five women was subjected to harassment in 2014 but only 5 percent brought their case to justice.  In 2016, 216,000 complaints were registered.  A majority of women plaintiffs lose their job in the process.

Harvey Weinstein

The complicity of men as co-workers or business collaborators contributes to the vulnerability of the victims.  The rapid downfall of Harvey Weinstein can be explained by his failing company and the disappearance of his supporters.    

On Oct. 26, the deputies of the European parliament in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly (by 580 votes to 10, with 26 abstentions) in support of a resolution condemning all forms of harassment.  A legal inquiry has just been launched to investigate the numerous cases involving  5,000 parliamentary assistants (mostly female.)

Bringing aggression and rapes by an influential personality into the open is like a bombshell.  Such is the case of Tarik Ramadam – a Swiss Islamic scholar of Egyptian origin – accused by two women.  Grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder, he teaches the precepts of radical Islam from his Qatari-financed chair at Oxford.  One can imagine the ripple effect the recent accusations of rape will have on the large audiences of followers, who consider him as a guru. 

This week the retrospective of Roman Polanski ‘s films was met with demonstrations in Paris.  Although a brilliant movie director,  who showed his last film at the Cannes Festival, his way of denying  and belittling the women accusing him of rape, makes it difficult to separate the artist from the man.

Marlen Schiappa, the French Secretary of State for Equality between Women and Men, is working on legislation to criminalize street harassment.  However, like other societal problems, new legislation will not be enough to sanction this unacceptable reality, but when millions of women break the taboos by speaking up, this may bring about real change.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Letter From Paris: The State of the Continent – A Snapshot of European Politics

Nicole Prévost Logan

Is the far right forging ahead in Europe?

The political landscape of the European Union (EU) has shifted somewhat to the right during the past few months.  At the core of this trend is the fear of losing one’s identity following the recent surge of migrants.  Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open wide Germany’s borders – and hence Europe’s – has had a lasting impact.  Max Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign  Relations, based in London, has suggested that the trauma resulting from the decision for Europeans can be compared to that of the 9/11 attack for Americans.

Sebastian Kurz

In Austria , the legislative elections, held on Oct. 17,  gave 31.5 percent of the votes to the conservative People’s Party (OVP) led by Sebastian Kurz.  At age 31, Sebastian Kurz may become the youngest ever Chancellor of that small alpine country of eight million people with a robust economy.  He is not xenophobic nor racist and disapproves of anti-semitism.  However, Kurz may have to strike an alliance with the far right Freedom Party (FPO), which finished in third place behind the declining social democrats (SPO).

To understand Austria, one needs to remember a few facts: it  has been subjected to a flux of Kosovar and Bosniac refugees following  the late 1990s conflict in the Balkans;  it has never been a colonial power and does not have a bad conscience with regard to the economic fate of sub-Saharan migrants. According to French political commentator Christine Okrent, Austria has never gone through the process of “denazification” and considers itself to have been a victim during World War II.  The nostalgia of its past as part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian empire still lingers.

Andrej Babis

To complete this snapshot of European politics, the Oct. 20 and 21 legislative elections in the Czech Republic saw Andrej Babis’ party arrive in first place. The 63-year-old tycoon – nicknamed Trump 2 –  proclaims to be anti-immigration, but pro-Europe and pro-NATO. He shares his ideas with the other members of the central European “Visegrad group” (Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.)

Angela Merkel, after her somewhat disappointing results in the last September elections, is reaching out to the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Greens in order to give her Christian Democrat party (CDU) a comfortable majority. These negotiations may keep her off the front stage until the end of the year.   

In France, Marine Le Pen has practically collapsed after the disastrous debate against Emmanuel Macron on May 3 between the two rounds of the presidential elections. She has become an inaudible adversary in the National Assembly.  Marion, her even more right-wing niece, was clever enough to jump ship last spring.  Marine’s co- president, highly educated Florian Philippot, was ejected from the National Front (FN).  Several legal pursuits for financial “improprieties,” both for her activities as European deputy and in France, are still looming against her. 

After six years of being in the limelight , Marine Le Pen is now in the process of redefining herself. 

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Why Many Car Accidents Happen Close to Home

Part of the reason many accidents occur near home is because driving in familiar places can cause drivers to rely on memory instead of what is happening around them. This auto-pilot phenomenon can prevent people from remaining vigilant while driving, potentially causing them to miss important visual cues. It is imperative that drivers combat this phenomenon by staying awake and alert as unpredictable elements, such as other drivers, crossing animals or mechanical failure, can always cause an accident. However, because others are also likely driving on auto-pilot, motorists should also ensure that they always buckle their seat belt no matter how far they are driving.

Further, fatal car accidents are more likely to occur at certain times of times of the day, particularly when workers are heading home or when residents are out running errands. For example, 16 percent of fatal accidents that occurred in 2013 took place between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.. Further, 31 percent of car accidents in 2013 occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Car accidents that occur on interstates, local highways or even rural roads can result in serious injuries or even death. If the accident occurred due to another driver’s negligence or risky driving habits, those who suffered injuries could seek compensation for the damages they sustained in the incident, including recovering the cost of their medical bills, lost income and pain and suffering. However, some insurance companies may attempt to settle the claim for less than what the injured individuals need. In such an event, filing a lawsuit against the at-fault motorist with an attorney’s help might be advisable.

The Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro focuses on this area of the law.
Sponsored post.

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A la Carte: Add a (K)rumble to Key Lyme Pie!

Key Lime Pie with Crumble

Does it make you crazy that Halloween candy was on the shelves in August and today, in mid-October, the stores are already showing lawn reindeer? Yeah, me too. But it’s not too soon to think about Christmas presents, especially as I dream that someone will buy me an Instant Pot for the holidays?

Who am I kidding?

I want that Instant Pot now. I can get it on Amazon this very minute and, with Amazon Prime, the shipping is free!

But the holidays shouldn’t be about what I want. Yesterday I sent an Instant Pot to my oldest granddaughter, whose birthday is this month. She is a second-year medical student at the University of Minnesota. She and her roommates have little time, and Lily is a good cook. She will let me know whether I should get one for myself.

For Christmas, each of my grandchildren will get cookbooks, and over the next few weeks, I will decide which cookbooks I will buy for them. My first choice so far is Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s latest (of 30!) called “All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes and Slab Pies.”

But instead of waiting until the holidays, get a copy for yourself now. These recipes will make you Santa Claus during the holidays. All use a half-sheet pan (13 x 18 inches) and each pie or cake will feed about 16 or 24 people. Here is just one of the 100.

Key Lyme Cheesecake with Oat Crumble

from Weinstein and Scarbrough “All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes and Slab Pies,” St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017

For the crumble crust and topping
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) cool unsalted butter cut into small chunks, plus additional for the sheet pan
3 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
3 and one-half cups rolled oats
1 and one-half cups granulated white sugar
1 and one-half cups light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white at room temperature

Generously butter the inside of a 13- by 18-inch lipped sheet pan.

Using a handheld mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, nuts, both sugars, baking powder and salt in a large bowl at medium speed until uniform, about 1 minute.

Add butter chunks and beat at medium-low speed until well blended, about 4 minutes. Add egg white and beat at medium speed until mixture can hold together like dry oatmeal cookie dough when squeezed, less than 1 minute.

Scoop 6 cups of the mixture into the prepared sheet pan using clean, dry fingers to press the mixtu5re into an even crust across the bottom (even to the corners, but not up the side of the pan.

For the cheesecake
1 pound full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 14-ounce can full-fat sweetened condensed milk
1 cup fresh lime juice (I use Key lime juice, available in most supermarkets)
One-third cup granulated white sugar
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Position rack in center of the oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Put cream cheese, condensed milk, lime juice, sugar and egg yolks in a large food processor or blender. Cover and process or blend until smooth. Pour this mixture onto the prepared crust in an even layer.

Squeeze small portions of the remaining crumble mixture into little oblongs, then crumble these into little stones and pebble across the filing.

Baked until browned and set with a slight jiggle to the center of the pan, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before cutting into squares.

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A la Carte: Mushrooms by the Million? Sounds Like Soup!

I am such a spoiled princess, even if I don’t have anyone around to spoil me.

Because the temperature is dipping into the 40s at night, I opened two windows in the living room and one in the bedroom. Since I had turned on the central air in late May and hadn’t yet turned it off on the first of October, I thought I would go into this slowly. (Actually, I am not a spoiled princess in the winter—I like cold weather and keep my thermostat at around 60 degrees until late March or early April.)

Once I feel if a snap of coolness, I begin to think about what to cook for the next two seasons. In the late spring, summer and early fall, I buy a lot of fresh produce at farm markets let those ingredients speak for themselves, eating them raw, like tomatoes, sweet peppers and salads with a whisper of dressing, or simply grilled with a little olive oil and fresh herbs.

Last week I began dream of squashes and roasted vegetables and soups. I was at BJs, loading up on bags of flour and sugar (pies, cookies, cakes) and saw big containers of mushrooms. Soup, I thought. Lots of soups on the cooktop and in my slow cookers (I am also thinking about an Instant Pot. Let me know what you think about yet another counter appliance since my old blender is gone and the pressure cooker is in the garage.)’

Anyway, I made two batches of mushroom soup. I had a couple of recipes in my head, but decided that it is time to play around with soup. So this recipe is all mine. And I must say, it is better than any other mushroom soup I’d ever made. Once again, a few steps are important—saute the mushrooms and onions, add cream sherry twice (I have Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry, but I also have a bottle of Sheffield Cream Sherry of California at a fraction of Harvey’s)  If you want to add more onions or more mushrooms, be my guest. Maybe 1 percent milk would work.

Lee’s Mushroom Soup

1 stick of unsalted butter
20 ounces or more fresh, sliced white mushrooms
1 large onion, peeled and diced fairly fine
4 tablespoons cream sherry, divided (never use supermarket cooking sherry)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I use 2 percent)
1 32-ounce carton low-sodium, low-fat chicken or vegetable stock

In a large heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset Dutch oven), melt butter on medium heat and add mushrooms. Stir periodically until mushrooms take up all the butter, then add onions. Continue stirring until onions are light blonde in color. Pour 2 tablespoons sherry into the pan and cook until almost dry. Toss flour over mushrooms and onions and stir until veggies are coated. Add milk, stir, then turn heat to medium low. Add the rest of the sherry. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring periodically. Add all the chicken or vegetable stock, stirring, and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so and taste again for salt and pepper.

I wait until the soup is cool, then puree it just a little in my big Ninja of use an immersion blender. Or do neither. Soup can be served immediately or refrigerate and reheat over gentle heat. If soup is too thick, add more stock or water.

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Troubles’ by J. G. Farrell

When a world is collapsing all about us, how much are we willing to recognize? J. G. Farrell’s description of a veteran of the World War I trenches going to Ireland to rejoin a young lady he had met only once in London during the War is an allegory on human inertia and lethargy in the face of rapid change.

In 1919, Major Brendan Archer travels from London to Kilnalough, Ireland, thinking to ask Angela Spencer to join him in marriage, even though he could not remember ever asking her outright to do so. He finds an elusive young lady and a scene of inertia and decay. Ireland has entered the “Troubles” with Sinn Fein pushing for complete separation from the British Empire. And that Empire is collapsing just as the Majestic Hotel, owned and operated by Angela’s father, Edward, the scene of the entire novel, is doing the same.

Farrell gives us the Hotel dominated by “dust.” Every page describes dust, “mould”, gloom, creepers, grime, cobwebs, collapsing floors, “man-eating” plants, and an ever-expanding entourage of reproducing cats. One room featured “an enormous greyish-white sweater that lay in one corner like a dead sheep.” The weather wasn’t any better: “it rained all that July,” and the hotel residents complained of the coming  “dreadful gauntlet of December, January, February.” Both the hotel and Ireland exuded “an atmosphere of change, insecurity and decay.” But the residents continued to follow life’s rituals: prayers at breakfast, afternoon teas, dressing for dinner, and whist in the evening.

Add to this mordant scene the author’s interjection of gloomy news reports from around the world: White Russians and English military supporters being trounced in Russia, victorious Boers in South Africa, a mess in Mesopotamia and Egypt, rebellion in Poland, and, finally, the Indians attempting to remove themselves from British rule.

In the face of all this, the hotel’s owner and operator, Edward Spencer aggravates the Major: “ … his overbearing manner; the way he always insisted on being right, flatly stating his opinions in a loud and abusive tone without paying any attention to what the other fellow was saying.” Does this also describe the Brits in other sections of the world?

The Major remains always a drifter “with the tide of events,” never able to respond, dominated, it seems, by “the country’s vast and narcotic inertia.”

This is a story of the collapse of a hotel, descending at last into ashes, and an allusion to the similar collapse of the British Empire, with the Second World War being its enormous fire. It is a compelling read, one that some might say suggests some connections to the events of the second decade of the 21st century …

Editor’s Note:  ‘Troubles’ by J. G. Farrell is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1970.

Felix Kloman

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

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A La Carte: Perfect Pork Chops with a Mustard Twist

Last week I bought a new grill cover for my Weber. I was a bit unhappy, since I have only had the grill for just over two years and the cover I bought with the expensive grill, is falling apart. I’m not sure I should he surprised, but I am getting to that age where I expect quality should last a while. At least I don’t start sentences by saying “When I was younger,”

This, however, doesn’t mean the grill won’t be used all winter. My patio is just a few steps from my living room/dining room and, unless this coming winter is like the one wo years ago, during which I could barely find my grill, you will still see me throwing some chicken or burgers and hot dogs onto the Weber (without a coat on, no matter how cold it is).

I took a tour into my garage freezer and found four three-packs of pork chops I’d bought on sale at the supermarket, so I took one of the packages out last night. I can eat one or maybe two; the other one or one and a half I will cut up and toss into a large salad tomorrow. (I do the same the same thing with strip steaks I buy in three-steak packages at BJ’s—I wrap aluminum foil on each and freeze them—I can’t eat an entire steak, but it is lovely on a salad or for a stir-fry the next day.)

I found this recipe in my computer and hadn’t made it in almost a decade. I love mustard and this is a great way to cook pork chops.

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce

Adapted from Fine Cooking, November, 2008, page 94a

Yield: serves 4

Preheat oven to low (150 to 160 degrees)

8 one-half-inch-thick boneless pork chops (about 3 ounces each) or 4 thicker pork chops
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 or more tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (regular butter will do since you use so little)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed
one-half cup dry white wine
three-quarter cup heavy cream
one-half cup lower-salted chicken broth
one-quarter cup stoneground or country-style mustard

Put salt, pepper and flour in a plastic bag and dredge chops in bag, shaking off the excess.

Put butter and oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 4 of the pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer pork to a serving platter, tent with foil and place in low-degree oven. If necessary, repeat with remaining chops adding another tablespoon of oil to the pan, if necessary.

Our off any fat in the pan, add wine and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cream, chicken broth and mustard and boil until reduced to a saucy consistency, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Return pork and any juices to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce and then transfer back to the serving platter. Drizzle any sauce remaining in the skillet over the chops and serve.

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A La Carte: Incredible Cookies Combine Caramel and Chocolate

At the end of my spacious, galley-like kitchen, there is a bay window under which is a window seat that holds all my somewhat heavy, counter-type appliances. These include two Cuisinart (one a big one, one a little one), a Ninja Pro that purees faster than a blink of one’s eye, a big Crock-Pot, two grinders, a machine that turns water into carbonated drinks and a blender. In the back is an industrial-grade Bernzomatic to make crème brulee. (What? You don’t have one? Really?)

What has been missing for almost three weeks is the biggest of my tiara of gadgets: my KitchenAid mixer. It is about 10-years-old and a new one costs around $600.

At some point, the arm that holds the bowl had become stuck. Nothing I did would make it go up and down. As the diagnostician, I figured out what was wrong and looked at YouTube to see if I could fix it. It would have involved taking the head off, removing the engine, taking off the arm and buying the plastic part that was broken.

Were I able to do this, it involved about 16 screws. I am sure I would have lost many of them. So I called KitchenAid who were of little help.

Finally, HomeAdvisor gave me the name of a man in Rhode Island. He sounded lovely on the phone, so I drove the monster to his house in Central Falls. A few days later, he called and told me what was wrong. I gave him the go-ahead. A week and $166 later, my baby is back.

By the way, my diagnosis was wrong.

I am now a happy camper. I am hoping this will last for another 10 to 20 years. My aunt had one when she got married, in 1934. When she died, in 1995, I gave it to my friend Marilyn Whiney. She still uses it.

What did I make first? I doubled the recipe for a cookie that called for the muscles of a weight lifter or, in my case, my KitchenAid.

Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

From Martha Stewart Living, September, 2017, page 76

Yield: 12 cookies

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 and one-half cups packed light brown sugar
One-half cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
Three-quarter teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into one-half inch pieces
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 whole bag)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
24 caramels, such as Kraft, halved

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with racks on top and middle. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together flour, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add butter; beat on medium speed until combined but some pea-size butter chunks remain. Add chocolate chips and beat until combined, then beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.

Line two baking sheets with parchment (I use Silpat instead.) Scoop dough into 4-ounce balls (each about one-half cu), make a deep, wide hollow in each center. Enclose 3 pieces of caramel in each; roll back into a ball. Place 6 balls on each sheet. Freeze 15 minutes.

Bake, with one sheet on each rack, 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, swap sheet positions and bake until centers are almost but not completely set (press gently on tops with your fingers to check), 7 to 10 minutes more. Remove from oven. Bang sheets on a counter a few times to create cracks on tops of cookies. Place sheets on a wire rack; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Tide’ by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

A present from a New Hampshire daughter, The Tide is a delightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking mix of lucid, often poetic, language with numerous literary quotations plus detailed scientific explanations of the tides that embellish our lives on this earth. It is Aldersey-Williams’s thought-experiment.

It is also his history of the oceanic tides, mixed with a bit of mathematics. But not more than you can handle. As he notes, “You may be relieved to know that I will leave the mathematics aside here.” And, given that many tell us the world’s tides are soon to be much higher, this is a most worthwhile book.

It is, as he states, “not a book about the sea” (sailors, ships, and winds), but rather a book “about the seas” and the ever-changing space between land and water. The tide, he explains, “offers an irresistible mathematical tease” as we attempt to understand and predict it. It is both a horizontal and a vertical force. That is a “scientific challenge” and “a physical; and psychological influence on our culture.” The classic story of King Canute’s (or Cnut, as the author spells it) attempt to stem the tide may have altered the English view of nobility.

This is the author’s story of watching tides around the world, from the English Channel to, of all places, Griswold Point on the Connecticut River, with a cousin, David Redfield. Tides are entrancing: they give us slow, relative motion that produces a “hallucinatory feeling.” Water is, after all, “an inelastic fluid (that) cannot be compressed or expanded.” I too have been mesmerized: by the 10-foot tides in Tenants Harbor, Maine; by the rising waters in Bosham, West Sussex, England, that regularly swamp cars in the local bar’s parking lot; and by the rushing tidal currents in the Straits of Shimonoseki, between Honshu and Kyushu, Japan, through which we once sent our Navy ship (at slack water, of course!)

He acknowledges the inevitability of climate change and global warming, and the fact they will lead to rising seas: “The greatest impact of rising sea levels and the changing tides that may accompany them will be on human habitation.” After all, we easily succumb to the human drive to cling to shores. “In the long term, if not the short, ‘managed retreat’ is our only option. The sea always wins in the end.”

Trying to ‘stop the sea? “It is a futility that Sisyphus would understand all too well.” So New York is a potential Venice … and New London too!

But do not be deterred by such pessimism. The Tide is full of rich, poetic language, as in this description of birds above the sea: “Once aloft, the birds first coalesce as an egg-shaped cloud low over the water, before gaining height and taking on ever more extravagant, twisted shapes like a pixelated flamenco dancer.”

It is enough to send me down to the end of Ely’s Ferry Road to watch the Connecticut River slip by the marshes of Essex.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Tide’ by Hugh Aldersey-Williams was published by W. W. Norton, New York 2016.

Felix Kloman

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

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A La Carte: Apricots and Almonds Make Great Galette!

Apricot and Almond Galette

My mother always wanted to live in San Diego, but as far as she got was Troy, NY.

She was born in the beginning of the 20th century, died in the beginning of the 21st century and was buried in an ecumenical cemetery not more than 20 blocks or so from where she lived her whole life.  San Diego, she said, correctly, had the perfect climate: fairly sunny, warm in the daytime and cooler at night. No snow ever.

For me, almost any season is okay. I like the autumn smell of wood smoke in the air and in winter, curling up with two cats as I read long, meandering novels. Spring never seems to linger too long and, now, we bid adieu to summer.

No matter the season, I love to cook. I am still having such fun with all the summer vegetables. I eat two or three tomatoes a day. I am grilling zucchini and summer squash outside or sautéing them with a little butter and garlic and salt on the cooktop in the kitchen. Last night I roasted a spaghetti squash, then tossed the innards with chopped tomatoes, basil and a little butter. Today I will make a frittata with sweet peppers for a 9:30 am meeting at my house.

Next weekend I will make a little dessert with fresh peaches and almonds. The recipe below, from calls for apricots, but any stone fruit will do.

Apricot and Almond Galette

From Bon Appetit, June, 2017

Yield: 4 servings

One-half cup blanched almonds
One-third cup sugar, for more for sprinkling
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
One-half teaspoon almond extract (optional, but I do love almond extract)
One-half teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for surface)
1 package frozen puff pastry, preferably all-butter, thawed
12 apricots (about 1 and one-quarter pound), halved and pitted (or other stone fruit, quartered if large)

Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Pulse almonds and one-third of sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add egg and pulse to combine. Add butter, almond extract (if using), vanilla extract, salt and 1 tablespoon flour; pulse until almond cream is smooth.

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface just enough to smooth out any creases.

If you are using a package of pastry than as 2 sheets, stack and roll out to a one-quarter- to one-third rectangle.

If your package contains a single 16-inch to 10-inch sheet of puff pastry, halve it crosswise and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until rectangle is one-quarter to one-third inch thick, saving remaining half for another use. Transfer to a parchment-lined (or Silpat-lined) baking sheet. Fold over edges of pastry to make a one-half inch border around sides. Prick surface all over with a fork (this keeps the pastry from rising too much when baked and helps it cook through. (Spread almond cream over pastry, staying inside borders. (Chill dough in the freezer for a few minutes if it becomes too soft to work with.) Set apricots, cut sides up, on top of the cream. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.

Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake until pastry is deep golden brown and cooked through and apricots are softened and browned in spots, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

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Legal News You Can Use: Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Case

Photo by Samuel Foster on Unsplash

SPONSORED POST: To recover compensation in a car accident case, a plaintiff must satisfy the required elements of a negligence claim: duty, breach, causation and damages. Specifically, the plaintiff must persuade the jury that the defendant breached his or her duty of care, resulting in injury, by a preponderance of the evidence standard.

Element Two: Breach of Duty

As we discussed in a recent post, every licensed driver has a duty of care to operate his or her vehicle in a responsible manner. That duty includes abiding by traffic laws and paying attention to traffic and road conditions. Thus, the most contested element of a car accident case is usually not whether a duty existed, but whether the defendant driver’s actions breached that duty.

Types of Evidence in a Car Accident Claim

A plaintiff may use both direct and circumstantial evidence in a car accident case. Thanks to technology, there may be direct evidence of a defendant driver’s actions. For example, street cameras may have recorded the driver running a stop sign or red light. If a crash victim suspects that the other driver was texting behind the wheel, a subpoena to the driver’s cell phone carrier may confirm that suspicion. Many newer motor vehicles also contain an Event Data Recorder (EDR), or “black box,” which may have recorded speed and braking patters immediately before the collision.

Creating a Trial Narrative With Expert Testimony

Suisman Shapiro also has established relationships with accident reconstruction specialists. These professionals may offer testimony that interprets circumstantial evidence, such as skid marks, vehicle resting positions, EDR data, and the driver’s memories immediately before the crash. However, none of this evidence may be apparent without the skilled investigative efforts of a personal injury attorney.

The Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro focuses on this area of the law.

Source: Washington Post, “Study on drug-impaired driving gets pushback — from other safety advocates,” Fredrick Kunkle, May 1, 2017

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A la Carte: When it’s Humid and Hot, Salmorejo Hits the Spot

Salmorejo

Yes, it has been humid and hot, hot, hot.

Usually at this point in August, I am sort of done with the beach. Last Saturday I went out to dinner with friends and to see a movie (“Wind River” is terrific. Don’t miss it.). Because we  had decided to go to see the movie in Mystic, although it is not our favorite destination cinema hall (don’t like the recliners that don’t “recline” our legs), we had wine at my condo before the movie.

Nancy mentioned that I was pretty tan and had I been at the beach that afternoon. “No,” I explained, “this was pretty much left over from my four days at the New Jersey shore. Anyway, it was too hot to go to the beach,.”

As September begins to beckon, I think about cooking. Sure, I cook during the summer, but I grill meats, vegetables and desserts on my Weber, prepping salad and eating inside. Of course, produce is gorgeous this time of year and, finally, there are tomatoes.

Last week I stopped at Becky’s in Waterford and bought tomatoes, beets and a pint of those yellow cherry tomatoes. Maybe they are called Sun Gold. In any case, I ate the full pint by the time I got off I-95.

Last night I looked over my new issue of Food & Wine, the issue about Spain. I looked up the recipes and found one for a tomato soup. It sounded divine. I had enough tomatoes to double the recipe. It should be served cold. I love cold soup, especially when the weather is still sticky and hot, so I would happily eat it for a couple of days. And the recipe uses no heat, just a blender.

Salmorejo

From Food & Wine, September, 2017

Yield: serves 4

2 and one-half pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and chopped
One-half pound rustic white bread, crust removed, cubed (2 and one-half cups)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if you like
Kosher salt
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
One-half cup chopped serrano ham (prosciutto will do nicely)

In a blender, puree the chopped tomatoes with the bread, garlic, vinegar and one-half cup of water at high speed until very smooth. about 1 minute. With the blender on, drizzle in the one-quarter cup of oil until incorporated. Season with salt, Cover and refrigerate until the soup is cold, at least 30 minutes.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Garnish with chopped eggs and ham, then drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Make ahead: The soup can be refrigerated for up; to 2 days.

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A La Carte: You Can’t Beat Beets!

Borscht

Not everyone likes beets. This is hard for me to understand. What’s not to like with beets. My mother didn’t like vegetables. I found this later in life, when I asked my mother why we I didn’t have vegetables, canned or fresh, except for sweet corn and tomatoes in the summer and canned green beans and canned peas in the fall, winter and spring. Simple, she explained. She didn’t like vegetables.

She did, however, like borscht. It was one of five or six dishes she actually made. Even later in my life I found out that she did like borscht but that she never made it from fresh beets. Rather, she used canned beets.

I love beets and I especially love borscht. I make it often and, in my everlasting quest for fresh tomatoes (maybe by the time you read this, there will be local and fresh tomatoes), I am finding beets. Last week I went to White Gate Farm in East Lyme, a place I visit rarely because I find the prices exorbitant, figuring that if any place had tomatoes, they would. They didn’t, but I did see beautiful beets. I bought two bunches (beets are always inexpensive), and that evening I made borscht.

This is my mother’s recipe and requires three ingredients: beets, onions and lemons. To this, you add water, salt and pepper. If you want a bit of sophistication, top perhaps with fresh dill fronds. My family ate in icy cold, with a warm boiled potato and a big dollop of sour cream. I dispense with the potato and just spoon a tablespoon or two of the sour cream into the soup. It turns it a gorgeous dark pink.

Borscht

Yield: serves 6

6 good sized beets, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fronds of dill (optional)
Sour cream for serving

Place beets and onion into a good-sized soup pot, with cold water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then bring to a simmer for about 45 minutes, or until beets are soft. Add lemon to soup and allow it to cool. Using the grating or slicing tool of a food processor, process the beets and onions. Add vegetables back into the dark, red broth and warm the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate. To serve, pour cold soup into bowls (I love to use white bowls), stir in sour cream, add dill fronts and serve.

*I would love a few recipes for beet greens. I throw them into the disposal, but I know many think that is sacrilegious.

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A La Carte: Bring on the Bountiful Blueberries! Must be Time for a Sour Cream Cake

Blueberry sour cream cake

What would make me think that if I go from one farmer’s market to another, I will find tomatoes at one and not on another? The nice people at Whittle’s told me their tomatoes would not be available until the end of July, but that their sweet corn would be ready in about 10 days.

So I went to Becky’s, in Waterford, and found out that their tomatoes would not be ready for another couple of weeks. Corn? I asked. Not yet, she said.

I looked at the beautiful strawberries/ Are they yours, I wondered? No, they have been gone for a couple of weeks, but the blueberries are just picked, she said. So I got a quart of blueberries, even though I really like the teeny little Maine blueberries rather than the big local cultivated ones.

Just in case the people were wrong at Whittles, I stopped by two days later, a week after I’d stopped before. There was the big sign: Corn. I bought half a dozen, since I am making a corn salad for tomorrow. I peered at the baskets of tomatoes? Yours? I asked. I am sure she recognized me. No, soon, she said.

Feeling like a dweeb, I bought some of the middle Connecticut tomatoes. Truth is, they are delicious, too. As for the corn, just gorgeous.

So this afternoon, I made a recipe given to me by Edie Freeman for the blueberries I got at Becky’s. This recipe is sort of a cake, but also a little like a cheesecake. It calls for a little butter, but sour cream instead of cream. Her family calls it blueberry orgasm. It is really delicious.

Blueberry Sour Cream Cake

From Edie Friedman, cadged from Bon Appetit, sometime in the 80s

Yield: 8 to 12 servings

Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan; heat oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the center

For the cake:

One half cup butter, softened (1 stick)
One-half cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
One and one-half cups all-purpose flour
One and one-half teaspoon baking powder
1 quart fresh blueberries, washed and picked over for stems

For the custard:

2 cups sour cream
2 egg yolks
one-half cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the cake: In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together for about 1 minute. Add egg and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk flour and baking powder, then add to the mixed ingredients and stir together. Pour batter into prepared springform pan and level the batter. Evenly toss blueberries onto the batter and set aside.

For the custard: Mix well sour cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla and pour custard over the blueberries.

Place cake on the rack in the preheated oven and bake about 1 hour or until custard is set. Cool cake in springform pan on a rack on the counter. When cool, run a thin knife around the cake, then open the springform pan. Serve somewhat cool or refrigerate.

While Edie’s recipe says to bring cake to room temperature before serving, I like it colder.

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A la Carte: Savor Mexican Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Corn and Tomatoes

Mexican quinoa salad

This year out boules group will play a few more games than our usual seven or eight parties. For those of us who no longer have courts of our own, and I am one of those, I could use all the extra play I can get.

The first couple of years, all our games were pot luck. Not only were some of the members amazing players (many of our French players had been playing since childhood) and many of those same players were way beyond the rest of us when it came to cooking (Jacques Pepin, Claude Martin, Jean-Michel Scammarello) and Jean Pierre Vuillermet, Michel Nishan, Priscilla Martel and Charlie Van Over),. The parties became incredible food memories.

This year will probably be the same, but, as I mentioned, with more league play, there will be a few more pot luck dinners. Since I am among the not-so-terrific players and far from the best cooks, pot luck is my métier, to put a French lick on it.

For my teams, Marla is our captain and she has to heed to a gluten-free menu, which means there are many dishes she can’t even taste. For our first pot luck game in mid-July, I am making a salad that includes quinoa, black beans, sweet corn and fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. The fact that I love all these ingredients will make me as happy as Marla. I am tripling the recipe so that it will serve at least 15 people.

Mexican Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Corn and Tomatoes

Adapted from SimplyRecipes.com, by Elise Bauer

3 cups uncooked quinoa, well rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups water
1 cup diced red onion
6 tablespoons lime juice
3 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups frozen corn or 3 cups fresh corn kernels parboiled, drained and cooled
9 medium tomatoes, seeded and cut into chunks (grape tomatoes, halved, would be good, too)
12 ounces queso fresco or fresh mozzarella cut into one-quarter or one-half inch cubes
2 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
One-half cup chopped cilantro, including tender stems, packed
One-quarter cup olive oil (or your own vinaigrette)*

Put rinsed quinoa, salt and water into a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently until quinoa absorbs all the water, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl and fluff up with a fork to help it call more quickly.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare rest of the salad: soak red onions I lime juice and set aside (soaking onions in lime juice helps take the edge of the onions.) Mix prepped beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, cheese, jalapenos, cilantro and oil (or vinaigrette) into a large bowl.

When quinoa has cooled, mix it into the bean mixture. Add onions and lime juice, add salt, more oil or time to taste. Serve at room temperature.

*If you would like my own vinaigrette (which makes a lot and will keep in refrigerator for a month, e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Tide’ by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

A present from a New Hampshire daughter, The Tide is a delightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking mix of lucid, often poetic, language with numerous literary quotations plus detailed scientific explanations of the tides that embellish our lives on this earth. It is Aldersey-Williams’s thought-experiment.

It is also his history of the oceanic tides, mixed with a bit of mathematics. But not more than you can handle. As he notes, “You may be relieved to know that I will leave the mathematics aside here.” And, given that many tell us the world’s tides are soon to be much higher, this is a most worthwhile book.

It is, as he states, “not a book about the sea” (sailors, ships, and winds), but rather a book “about the seas” and the ever-changing space between land and water. The tide, he explains, “offers an irresistible mathematical tease” as we attempt to understand and predict it. It is both a horizontal and a vertical force. That is a “scientific challenge” and “a physical; and psychological influence on our culture.” The classic story of King Canute’s (or Cnut, as the author spells it) attempt to stem the tide may have altered the English view of nobility.

This is the author’s story of watching tides around the world, from the English Channel to, of all places, Griswold Point on the Connecticut River, with a cousin, David Redfield. Tides are entrancing: they give us slow, relative motion that produces a “hallucinatory feeling.” Water is, after all, “an inelastic fluid (that) cannot be compressed or expanded.” I too have been mesmerized: by the 10-foot tides in Tenants Harbor, Maine; by the rising waters in Bosham, West Sussex, England, that regularly swamp cars in the local bar’s parking lot; and by the rushing tidal currents in the Straits of Shimonoseki, between Honshu and Kyushu, Japan, through which we once sent our Navy ship (at slack water, of course!)

He acknowledges the inevitability of climate change and global warming, and the fact they will lead to rising seas: “The greatest impact of rising sea levels and the changing tides that may accompany them will be on human habitation.” After all, we easily succumb to the human drive to cling to shores. “In the long term, if not the short, ‘managed retreat’ is our only option. The sea always wins in the end.”

Trying to ‘stop the sea? “It is a futility that Sisyphus would understand all too well.” So New York is a potential Venice … and New London too!

But do not be deterred by such pessimism. The Tide is full of rich, poetic language, as in this description of birds above the sea: “Once aloft, the birds first coalesce as an egg-shaped cloud low over the water, before gaining height and taking on ever more extravagant, twisted shapes like a pixelated flamenco dancer.”

It is enough to send me down to the end of Ely’s Ferry Road to watch the Connecticut River slip by the marshes of Essex.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Tide’ by Hugh Aldersey-Williams was published by W. W. Norton, New York 2016.

Felix Kloman

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

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A La Carte: Corn Chowder with Lobster Makes Perfect Ending to Beach Day

Corn chowder

There are beach days and there are beach days.

I am not sure there has ever been a summer that didn’t include a salt-water vacation.

As a baby, toddler and teenager, there was Belmar, N.J. I had Angrist and Kasdan cousins who lived there full-time, although the two Angrist brothers worked in New York City, one as a librarian at CCNY and the other a pathologist at Albert Einstein medical school.

Charlie’s wife, Claire Kasdan Angrist, was a teacher of French as Asbury High School. Her twin brother had a son, who became a well known movie director. Claire and her sister, Sylvia Angrist, had married brothers. Claire and Sylvia used to play Scrabble in French.

And every day the sun shone, there was the beach.

Today is July 4, 2017. And today was a beach day as glorious as any I can remember.

Today, too, were two beach stories in The Day. On the front page was a story about the Miami Beach Association fencing in Old Lyme to stop a “significant increase in the inappropriate behavior of persons using the beach.” The second story, first page of the second section, was a feature saying Groton’s Eastern Point Beach “concession stand still serving up favorites”

My beach used to be Old Lyme. You needed a beach pass and there were very few parking places, but it wasn’t fenced.

Today, my beach is the one in Groton. As a City of Groton citizen, and an old woman, too, it costs $11 for the season. The beach is gorgeous and huge. And on this gorgeous, sunny Fourth of July, as I left the beach to go home to write this column, there are dozens more parking places available and the $1.75 foot-long hot dog is as good as it ever was, as long as a gull doesn’t get to it first.

Summer doesn’t get much better than this. And just imagine, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are still to come. I still have packets of the latter in the freezer and I bought some lobster to go with it.

Corn Chowder

Adapted a lot from an 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking

One of the best things about this recipe is there is neither butter nor heavy cream in this recipe. Sure, some salt pork for flavoring, but this is pretty healthy.

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a main dish with a salad and maybe some good bread

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 8 ounces salt pork, diced
One-half cup chopped onions
One-half cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 and one-half cups peeled diced raw potatoes (with Yukon Gold, you needn’t peel)
2 cups water
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk*
6 to 8 ears of fresh corn, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drained in iced water
Meat from claws and tail of one and one-half to two-pound cooked lobster, cut into small chunks
3 cups hot milk*
Chopped fresh tarragon, and more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into a heated, heavy-bottomed stock pot, add salt pork and sauté until browned.
Add onions, celery and green pepper and sauté until translucent.
Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are soft, around 15 minutes.
Add flour and 1 cup of milk and stir until mixture is thick.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

Vladimir Putin

Emmanuel Macron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he stayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Angela Merkel

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

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

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

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

Martin Schulz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigmar Gabriel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us hope this concept is pursued.

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Thank goodness for The Netherlands!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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