April 23, 2019

Letter From Paris: And So It Goes On … Brexit, That Is

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Order, Order!” barked John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons before announcing the results of the third-time-around vote on Theresa May’s Brexit “deal” .  “The ayes to the right 286, the noes to the left 344,  the left have it.”

It was that fateful day, March 29 – chosen by the Prime Minister as the deadline to decide on the “divorce” of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).  The masterful and funny Speaker was able to control his troops and even to provoke laughter, telling one Member of Parliament (MP), “Get a grip, man, do yoga, it will be beneficial to you.”

In retrospect, not much progress had been made to resolve the Brexit issue on the British side since the June 23, 2016 referendum. It seemed that the government was taking its time and fantasizing about the legal elbow room it actually had to make decisions. (See my previous articles published on 3/5/2016; 4/6/2017 and 12/29/18)

Action in the House of Commons started really in earnest on Nov. 15, 2018 when Theresa May’s original deal was voted down. A second vote on the same motion, and a third with almost identical text were also rejected by the MPs. By drawing red lines, the tenacious but inflexible Prime Minister made it hard for herself to negotiate.

During the winter months, the parliament at Westminster offered the world a spectacle of one “decisive week” after another with votes ending in an inability to reach a majority. By March 14, Theresa May had lost her voice and the headlines in the press read “Game over.”

On the eve of the March 29 deadline, the situation turned surrealistic with two superimposed pictures (to use the words of Le Monde special envoy to London) of a vote on May’s deal and eight others on alternative proposals the MPs had organized on their own.  In a dramatic gesture, Theresa May used her last joker – stepping down from office – in case her deal was supported.   

The Prime Minister described the situation as “the end of a process” with the MPs having said no to everything : to the deal, to the absence of a deal, to Brexit, to Article 50 itself, to the eight separate proposals. In the face of this total collapse of a possible way out of this impasse, Donald Tusk, European Council President announced an extraordinary summit in Brussels on April 10.

A surprising amount of information and live coverage is now appearing on the French media,  shedding a new light on Brexit.

One report showed to what extent the public opinion was in fact manipulated.  More than 80 percent of the British press was hostile to Europe and contained “fake news” items.  The “Brexiteers” promised that the Commonwealth would save the UK. The famous red bus of Boris Johnson traveled throughout the country, displaying the number of 350 million pounds sterling ($455 million) in giant letters . That is the amount “BoJo” (Boris Johnson’s nickname) claimed that the UK is sending the EU every week instead of using it to fund the National Health Service (NHS). 

A Canada-based web site called AggregateiQ, created by Dominic Cummings, utilized private data collected from social networks and used it to “microtarget” individuals with “dark ads.” The “Vote Leave” site used a strategy comparable to that used by Cambridge Analytica, a company heavily implicated in the 2016 US election manipulation.

Other reports helped better understand why re-establishing a border between the two Irelands was a visceral impossibility. The Good Friday agreement in 1998 brought peace back but the catholic and protestant communities in Belfast, are still separated.

In this fragile context, the Irish people fear that a 300-mile external border with the EU would jeopardize the hard-won peace agreement. Trying to solve the problem of a border is an attempt at squaring a circle. The only solution might be a border at the bottom of the Irish Sea.  The backstop which allows the border to remain open until a final treaty is signed, is only a temporary solution.

It was not until the 11th hour – or less than one week before the March 29 deadline – that a significant turn occurred in London.  Prime Minister May entered into talks with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, in spite of their sharp disagreements.  It was such a breakthrough that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond declared on April 5, “the threat of the UK crashing out of the Union is heavily diminished.”  The Conservative party began to lean toward a “soft Brexit” and the possibility of the UK remaining in the Custom Union.

During all these months, the Europeans showed a consensual unity.  Their only caveat being that another delay would have to be justified by a clear plan such as general elections or a second referendum.  Their patience though began to wear out by early April as some divergences of opinion emerged. 

The priority for Angela Merkel is to avoid a no deal Brexit and she will bend over backwards to make that happen.   Although sharing many views with the UK in economy or trade, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, confirmed his alignment with the collective position. 

The “flextension” of one year suggested by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, might not appeal to everybody. President Macron and EU Commissioner Juncker sound tougher on more delays. However, Macron reaffirmed on April 1, that he will stand by the decision made by Brussels and will not use his veto.   

The repeated postponements requested by Prime Minister May (April 12, May 23, June 30) forced the MPs to cancel their Easter recess. Much more serious, is the imbroglio caused by the colliding of the Brexit discussions with the European elections scheduled to take place May 26.

This long saga turned rather nasty when Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, ultra Brexiteer, tweeted on April 5, “Let us stay [in Europe] and this way we will be able to damage the Union from the inside and oppose our veto on any Brussels decision”.

And so, the suspense goes on.  During these final hours, the two Houses of Parliament are scrambling to find a solution and seem to agree that a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable.  The Europeans do not want to push the UK out of the Union.

Chances are that the outcome will be Britain remaining in the Custom union, an à la carte solution, which was almost obvious from the beginning.  The British should take heart.  It only took 22 years for Norway to establish relations with the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA), and 29 years for Canada to negotiate with Europe through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)!

Since all the thorny issues – the City, fishing , citizens’ rights, Gibraltar, etc – are included in the 27 pages of the non legally-binding Political Declarations, a  second part of Article 50 (in other words, swept under the rug ) will have to be negotiated later . Brexit will continue to haunt both the divided British opinion and also Europe .

Some may think it is the UK’s vocation is to be independent from Europe and turned toward the rest of the world.  It certainly seems British people consider EU membership a straight-jacket. Interestingly, these are the same reasons General Charles de Gaulle gave persistently more than 50 years ago as to why he was against the original entry of Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC).

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: Present Pace of European Politics is Dizzying

Nicole Prévost Logan

The unity of Europe is being put to the test now more than ever: the deadline of the Brexit pushed back from March 29 to April 12 is heightening the uncertainty to an almost unbearable level, the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Italy, Monaco and France is preoccupying several members of the European Union (EU), and the populist votes in recent European elections are gaining strength.   

On March 22, British Prime Minister Theresa May was in Brussels, waiting for a decision by the European Council gathered at an extraordinary Summit. She obtained a short “technical” extension of the Brexit deadline until May 24 in the event the House of Commons reaches an agreement.  In spite of their weariness, the 27 EU members wanted to show some benevolence by granting a few more days.  Another reason was that they did not want to be the ones to lower the hatchet on the UK.

Xi Jinping and his wife, a former opera singer and general, Peng Liyuan, landed in Rome on March 21.  The president of China has found in Italy a major beachhead for its Silk Roads initiative in Europe.  Italy, which fell into recession at the end of 2018, needs money to invest into its infrastructure. Presidents Giuseppe Conte and Xi Jinping signed contracts for billions of  Euros, including some earmarked for the development of  Trieste and Genoa commercial harbors. It is extremely worrisome that one of the G7 countries would grant access to Schengen Space to a foreign power.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned the official visit of the Chinese couple in grand style with a program loaded with symbols … an overnight in the famous Negresco Hotel in Nice; watching the sunset over the sea from the museum-villa Kerylos (a replica of an Athenian residence) in Beaulieu and thus alluding to Ancient Greece as the cradle of European culture; dinner at the Elysée palace for 200 guests, including – at the request of Xi Jinping –  a French actress from the most popular TV series in China.  The top pastry chef, cheese expert and wine sommelier of France were collectively watching over the dinner, the menu of which remained a secret.  Last time Paris went all out for a Chinese president was in 2004, when the Eiffel Tower was turned red to mark the visit of Hu Jintao. 

But the crucial message of the visit came out loud and clear when Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU  Commission, together greeted the president of China.  The message was to present a joint European front.  In his address, Macron formulated the general guidelines of future relations between China and Europe avoiding no confrontation, a partnership based on reciprocity while not appearing to be naïve.

In recent years, the Chinese have invested more than 140 billion Euros in Europe.  Since 2014, they have organized “16+1” summits attended every year by 11 Eastern European and five Balkan countries to expand economic cooperation.  In announcing his vision for “renovated multilateralism,” Macron hopes to hamper China’s strategy, which has been until now to pressure individual countries with its power and capitalize on their vulnerability.  Finally, Macron stressed that European countries must preserve their sovereignty and stop the take-over of strategic installations by foreign countries. 

Although Europe appeared united as a bloc in the face of Brexit, recent developments in The Netherlands , Hungary and Poland are emblematic of changes taking place in the political landscape.

In The Netherlands, elections took place on March 20, the day after the terrorist attack on the tramway in Utrecht.  A new party, “Forum for democracy (FvD), headed by jurist and historian Thierry Baudet, age 36. caught up in the polls with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the “Popular and Democratic” party (VVD).  Baudet is a right-wing Eurosceptic, anti-migrants, and a supporter of Donald Trump.  He is for a “tolerant and inclusive nationalism.”  He denounces political “élites”and a multicultural society.

On March 16, Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer, divorced and pro-choice, won the presidential elections in Slovakia, a very catholic country of close to six  million people.  She won in the second round of the ballot against Maros Sfcovic of the leftist populist party.  Having worked before for an ONG defending human rights, she holds liberal views on the economy.  The elections were influenced by the murder, one year ago, of a journalist and his fiancée — the journalist was investigating the links between the Italian Mafia and the Slovakian Central Executive.  The protest demonstrations in Bratislava that followed the murder were the largest since the independence of Slovakia in 1993.

On March 4, Gdansk again showed its importance as a center of the opposition in Poland.  After the murder of  Pawel Adamovicz, the city’s mayor, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the mayor’s deputy, won the mayoral election with a landslide.  She may become a strong adversary to the government.

In another development, Robert Biedron, head of the party Wiosna (spring), 42, and Poland’s first openly gay politician, wants to end the monopoly of two parties in power since 2005, namely, PO –  a civic platform, conservative but liberal economically — and PiS or “law and order,” the ultra-conservative ruling party.  Although far behind the two major parties, this new candidate, who is anti-church, pro-women’s rights, and an ecologist, is a sign of change in Polish politics.

Hungary is the country making the most waves.  On March 20, ultra-right prime minister Viktor Orban’s party Fidesz was reprimanded for putting up anti-Brussels posters, and for his repressive policy.  The European parliament decided to take action and suspended  Fidesz from the Parti Populaire Europeen (PPE) with an overwhelming majority of 190 to. 4. 

Many are sickened by Orban’s provocations.  He appears obsessed with George Soros, the American  billionaire of Hungarian origin.  The European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to maintain Soros’ Central Europe University. “We put Orban in the freezer and Van Rompoy* holds the door”(*Herman Van Rompoy, a Belgian, is former president of the European Council) commented a Belgian Euro-deputy.

The suspension will at least prevent Orban from joining hands with Matteo Salvini of the Far Right League in Italy and the Law and Justice party in Poland.

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: Connecticut’s Hometown Railroad

The worldwide logo for Genesee and Wyoming Inc.

You might not realize it, but Connecticut is home to the world headquarters of a $5 billion international railroad company on whose trains you’ll never be able to ride.

In a small office building across from the Darien railroad station sits the offices of Genesee and Wyoming Inc, a “short line” railroad conglomerate.  The original railroad, founded in 1899, hauled salt on a 14-mile track in upstate NY.  Today, G&W owns 122 different railroads on three continents, serving 3000 customers with over 16,000 miles of track.

A “short line” railroad, as its name implies, only operates over short distances, sometimes thought of as rail freight’s first and last mile.  They pick up boxcars and tankers at factories and plants and carry them to junction points where they hand them off to the major railroads which carry them to their ultimate destination, a journey often completed by another short line railroad.

In the US G&W’s railroads are as short as a single mile in length and as long as 739 miles.  They operate 1300 locomotives and 30,000 railcars.  But they only carry freight, not passengers.

And because they only travel short distances, they’re not looking for speed as much as customer service.  Moving along at 15 mph saves a lot on track maintenance.

How does G&W’s sales team sell companies on shipping by rail instead of truck?  Fuel costs.  Trains are four times more energy efficient, a crucial consideration when you’re hauling tons of stone, coal, or wheat instead of Amazon boxes filled with packing peanuts.

The G&W’s most local affiliate, The Providence & Worcester, runs a train on Metro-North tracks each night, hauling crushed rock from Connecticut quarries to Queens NY.  I can hear the train from my home, usually just before midnight, as its locomotives strain under the load and rumble through town.

That’s about the only freight train left on the New Haven line.  But that’s another story for another time.

Overseas the G&W owns some much larger railroads, but still dedicated only to freight.  They run trains, container terminals and freight yards in the UK, Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Down under in Australia the G&W runs a huge freight operation running north-south through the heart of the continent serving the iron ore and manganese mines hauling intermodal containers through the desert-like interior.

How does a tiny, 20-person office in Darien oversee such a massive railroad network around the planet?  It doesn’t.  Each of G&W’s nine operating regions is locally managed with capital allocated from headquarters.  Keeping the decision-making close to the customers, not being second-guessed from thousands of miles away, has been the key to G&W’s success.

But one thing that all of G&W’s railroads do share in common is the color scheme of their logos, originally designed by Milton Glaser (famous for the I Love NY logo).  Every G&W railroad’s logo is orange and black.  Not just any orange, but Princeton orange, harkening back to its former chairman’s alma mater.

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: Will Europe Fight Back in Face of World, Local Challenges?

Nicole Prévost Logan

The European Union (EU) is under attack from all sides.

Will the EU strike back?

The most serious threat against Europe is the dislocation of the world system of security and defense, which Europe relies on as a protection.  During the past two years, an avalanche of steps taken by the US is unraveling the Atlantic-dominated framework with a possible US pull-back from NATO;  a hasty and sloppy departure of US troops from Syria in December 2018 putting the European allies in front of the fait accompli; breaking away from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in February 2019 (immediately followed by Russia doing the same thing the next day.)

The noxious transatlantic relations came to light during the Munich Security Conference (MSC), February 15-17, an annual event, since 1963, attended by the decision-makers of the world.  Angela Merkel was the voice of many worried Europeans. The contrast between her speech and US vice president Mike Pence’s was striking. 

Without a script, the German chancellor made a passionate plea for multilateralism, clearly pointing at the US, Russia and China to save the world order which she sees in danger of decline and destruction. 

She received a standing ovation.

After her spirited performance, the US Vice President’s words sounded leaden.  “He admonished Europeans the way Brejhnev did the Iron Curtain countries back in the USSR days,” commented a French analyst.  Pence’s speech was met with an icy reception.  There was an incredible moment when he brought Donald Trump’s greetings. 

An interminable and deafening silence followed.  He clearly was expecting applause from the audience. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed to prolong the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty after 2021. This treaty – limiting the number of long-range nuclear missile s- is one of the last remaining from the cold war era.   

Sylvie Kauffman, editorial writer for Le Monde, commented, “The Europeans feel left out in the cold, tetanized by the major powers working out a system above their heads.”  Sigmar Gabriel, former German minister of foreign affairs, wrote, “In a world of carnivorous geopolitics, the Europeans are the last vegetarians.  After the departure of the UK, we will become vegans, then prey.”

One way to attack and therefore weaken Europe is to capitalize on the fact that it is divided.  Some foreign powers have become quite adept at using the “Trojan horse” strategy.

On Feb. 13-14, the US and Israel chose Poland as the location of a conference on the Middle East. In Warsaw they were able to meet with the other members of the Visegrad group (V4) —  Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. These four countries are run by populist and authoritarian governments and clear in their intention to unravel the EU as it exists today.  There was little media coverage here about the conference, which was by-passing Brussels.  Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, was not even present.

Steve Bannon, former advisor of Donald Trump is busy traveling all over Europe, giving his support to populist countries like Italy and Hungary.  He proclaims that Brexit is a great thing and advocates the creation of a possible axis through Rome/Budapest/Warsaw to counter the Franco-German “couple”.  He has purchased a monastery near Rome and turned it into a training center for “sovereignists.”

Europe represents a juicy market of over 700 millions inhabitants.  It is particularly vulnerable because it continues to respect some rules, which are disregarded elsewhere.  The most striking illustration of unfair competition is the recent failure of the fusion of the two European railroad  magnates Alstom and Siemens.  The EU Commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, stopped the process lest it violates the antitrust rule, a rather outdated notion when one considers the size of the giant telecommunications companies in the US.  The danger for Europe is that this decision in Brussels leaves the way wide open for China.

China is by far the main predator trying to wedge its way into Europe, hiding under a charming euphemism of “silk road” (the Chinese call it also the “Belt and Road Initiative.”)  The investments of Xi Jinping’s government have increased in leaps and bonds to reach a peak in 2016, particularly in the infrastructure of smaller and poorer Eastern European countries, where they are financing bridges, tunnels, or taking over commercial harbors, airports.  Even in Western Europe, they are rescuing failing companies or acquiring new ones — China has already taken over the electricity grids of Greece, Italy and Portugal.

How can the EU strike back?

Nathalie Loiseau, French Minister of European Affairs, 55, an extremely intelligent woman and a candidate to watch for in the May 26 European elections, wants to be positive and stresses what has been accomplished, “We have gained more in 18 months than in decade on the subject of defense … Germany has joined us on the idea of a common budget for the Euro zone … Poland agrees with France on the PAC  (Common Agricultural Policy) … There is no cohesion among the nationalist governments … Austria and Hungary disagree on many topics.”

Business leaders of the MEDEF (Movement of French enterprises) met in February to reassert their economic sovereignty against malicious cyber attacks and industrial espionage, “Being liberal, they say, does not mean being naive.”

On March 4, the French president Emmanuel Macron published a “Letter to the Citizens of the 28 EU countries.”  His vision for the “renaissance of the construction of Europe” is consistent with the seminal speech on foreign policy that he gave at the Sorbonne on Sept. 26, 2017, and also with the Aix-la-Chapelle Treaty of Jan. 22, 2019, between France and Germany.  Macron advocates a protective Europe with external  borders guaranteeing free “Schengen Space,” a strong defense and security treaty, the harmonization of salaries, and protection against cyber attacks during elections.  

The reactions of the 28 EU members were favorable, although several of them said that trust is more important than the creation of new institutions. 

The attitude of all the member countries of the EU to Brexit has proved that those 27 countries do not, in fact, want to leave Europe.  Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has so far accomplished the almost impossible in keeping his troops together. 

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: Current Crisis Continues Long History of Franco-Italian Love-Hate Relationship

Nicole Prévost Logan

A diplomatic crisis is going on between France and Italy.   Salvoes of insults proffered by deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini (extreme right) and Luigi Di Maio (anti-establishment) are flying  across the Alps.  A red line was crossed when Di Maio went to France and met with the most radical gilets jaunes who openly demand the resignation of the French president and the overturn of all political institutions.

This constituted a provocation and a never-seen before interference by one member of the European Union (EU)  into another’s internal affairs.  While on an official visit to Cairo, French President Emmanuel Macron disregarded these heinous remarks with total indifference. Paris recalled its ambassador to Italy – the first time since June 10, 1940 when André François Poncet left Rome following the declaration of war by Mussolini to defeat France. (The French ambassador is already back in Rome)

Tension is high. It is part of the long history of a difficult relationship between the two countries. During the unification of Risorgimento (1848 -1861), France often came to the rescue. At the famous battle of Solferino (1859), a Franco-Sardinian army led by Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II  defeated the Austrians under Emperor Franz Joseph I.  In contrast, the annexation of the county of Nice and the Savoie region to France, decided by the Treaty of Turin, was deeply resented by Italy, as was the loss of 550 sq. kms. including the mountain passes of Tende and La Brigue in February 1947.

The second cause of friction between the two countries stems from remnants of a colonial past. Italy often challenged France’s intrusion into what it considered its zone of influence. It never really accepted the Bardo Treaty of 1881, which created  France’s protectorate over Tunisia. In 1911, Italy had colonized Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, which were to become Libya.  So, when the French and British conducted air strikes over Libya with UN support  in 2011, Italy complained of having been kept out of the loop.

Economic and commercial dissensions between the two countries are not unusual. Some might recall that Italy refused to participate in the World Fair of 1889 in Paris.  Today the STX shipyard of St Nazaire may pass under the control of the Italian company Fincantieri in spite of France’e efforts to retain a majority vote. At stake in this confrontation is construction of the largest cruise ships in the world, such as “Harmony of the Seas,” which has become the latest vessel to join the Royal Caribbean fleet.

While Italy and France often behave like quarrelsome siblings, they are more than close culturally: they are complementary. Take art for instance.  At the turn of the 20th century, France may have been the center of the art world with Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin and others, but at the same time, a new school of painting called “Futurism” was growing in Italy with artists like Marinetti, Boccioni, Cora, Bala, and Severini.  The lattet were champions of the fast pace of the city, depicting cars, planes and all forms of modernity as well as being pioneers in the expression of movement and speed.

On a lighter side, a Franco-Italian film currently showing on French screens, is the perfect illustration of the closeness of those two “cousins.” The plot of the Estivants (the vacationers), directed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – sister of Carla Bruni, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife – is  set in a beautiful residence on the Cöte d’Azur.  A well-off and rather dysfunctional Franco-Italian family spends long hours on the terrace overlooking  the Mediterranean framed by cypress trees. Mixing the two languages, the guests discuss every subject under the sun, including societal conflicts evoked by the servants. Well-known actor Pierre Arditi is perfectly odious in the way he makes disparaging remarks about the lower classes while he older mother is at the grand piano playing the background score created by a talented Italian composer.

The present crisis between France and Italy is linked to the flow of migrants since 2015. Due to the “Dublin rule” making the European country of entry responsible for the refugee status and because only 200 kilometers separate Italy from the African shores, Italy has been on the front line in facing the surge.  Salvini accused other EU members, particularly France, of not sharing the burden of welcoming refugee seekers.  

The Italian government worked with the Libyan authorities to block the departure of migrants from Africa and prevented humanitarian ships from entering Italian ports. The “Aquarius” had to remain on the high seas for two weeks with dozen of migrants on board. it is worth noting that both France and Italy have about the same percentage  (10 percent) of immigrants.  Also, more than two-thirds of the sub-Saharan migrants come from former Italian colonies.

Di Maio is erroneously accusing France of investing the “Franc CFA ” (African Financial Community currency) in its own economy. The fact is that eight African countries asked Paris to put the money in the Banque de France‘s  vaults for safe-keeping.

For Salvini and Di Maio, Macron is the prime target.  For them, the French president crystallizes the policies rejected by their populist government:  a progressive, multilateralist program with an integrated Europe.  Their plan is to create an axis through Italy, Poland and Hungary of authoritarian and non-liberal states capable of countering the actions of the Franco-Germanic “couple” – an ominous trend for Europe.

The Italian economy is sitting on a time bomb.  Its public debt is 133 percent of the GDP, only second to Greece’s. It ranks at the bottom in Europe for GDP growth. The populist program of increasing minimum wages, lowering retirement age and other social measures, is bound to increase the deficit.  Scolded by Brussels. the Italian government had to revise its budget. Of course, the fact that Pierre Moscovici, the Commissioner for Financial Economic Affairs in Brussels, is French, contributes  to the sour relations.

What does this crisis hold for the future?  Seen from here, the histrionics of the Italians are not always taken seriously. Paolo Levi, Paris correspondent of La Stompa recently commented that Salvini was able to intercept a malaise and his political movement might not last.

How sad that both France and Italy were founding members of the EU that was created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 …

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: Life in the ‘City of Light’ is a War Zone … with Wheels!

Nicole Prévost Logan

Paris is waging a war on wheels.

In order to survive crossing the street, pedestrians have to defy car drivers while on the sidewalks, the war is between the people who walk and those on wheels in a multitude of forms.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a socialist, has made it her mission to reduce pollution in the French capital by shrinking the space open to vehicles.  It is a laudable cause and many Parisians appreciate its immediate results. 

Thanks to the closing of the roadways along the Seine, people have regained the previously lost pleasure of walking leisurely near the water, away from the noise of the traffic, while their children can play freely.

It is possible now to walk miles and discover Paris from east to west.  More boats line up at the quays and have become floating cafés.  In warm weather, tons of sand and palm trees appear overnight to give the berges (banks) de la Seine a summery look. 

But the process of narrowing avenues with larger sidewalks and creating bicycle and bus lanes can be overwhelming for residents.  For months, the ambitious project to reduce the Bastille circle to merely an intersection of avenues has turned the area into a gigantic worksite. 

People have to struggle through ever-changing makeshift paths amid the noise and dust of heavy equipment that is variously moving mountains of dirt or asphalt, installing fire hydrants and electrical cables, and relocating bus stops.  Everyday the urban landscape changes causing irritation among Parisians and resultant excessive horn-blowing. 

For pedestrians, crossing a street feels like an obstacle course.  When the lights change, motorcycles seem to think they are at the Le Mans 24 hour race (the most famous car race in France), backfire their engine to make as much noise as possible and surge forward riding only on their back wheel.  Pedestrians had better get out of the way! 

Arriving at a traffic light, drivers will not stop until it turns to amber.  The crossing space, called les clous in France (it used to be-marked by what looked like oversize thumbtacks), is encumbered with trucks, cars and busses through which one has to meander to find a passage. 

Even when the light turns green, a war of nerves starts between drivers and pedestrians. Tourists and out-of-towners hesitate and are too polite.  This is a big mistake, which is interpreted as an opportunity to move forward rapidly by drivers.  But old-time Parisians are more daring and will bluff their adversaries at the wheel.  At busy intersections, the vehicles coming from side streets do not even slow down, turning the scene into ridiculous grid locks .

Sidewalks are supposedly designed for pedestrians. Wrong!

A ‘trottinette’

A ‘gyrorue’

Today the latter share the space with an ever-increasing number of humans on wheels: big-engined motorbikes taking a short-cut then parking right in front of their destination, bicycles, skateboards, electric scooters or trottinettes — the current rage — and monowheel scooters or gyroroue.  The list is open-ended since technology invents new devices all the time. 

Traffic on sidewalks is not regulated and follows the rule of the jungle, which means no rules at all.  

Last month, I attended a big event along with hundreds of residents of my arrondissement to hear our mayor present his New Year wishes.  Among the elected members of the conseil municipal (town council), I spotted the person in charge of transportation and commented on the war-like atmosphere in our streets. 

He was very evasive, saying, yes, we are aware there is a problem, but I wondered what this transportation official was actually doing besides “being aware of the problem.” 

I almost forgot … I should add another category to my story about the wheels onslaught and that is the hordes of tourists pushing their suitcases … on wheels!

Living in Paris is an enjoyable challenge.  Having no wheels definitely keeps you on your toes.

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: It’s Been a Rocky Ride, But Will Macron Still Make It?

Nicole Prévost Logan

France always seems to stand out by doing the best or the worst through social and political upheavals.  The movement of the gilets jaunes has been like an earthquake shaking the system to its foundations.    It has created the most serious political crisis the Fifth Republic has known since its creation by General de Gaulle in 1958. 

It is a pivotal moment for France and many other Western democracies when the mechanism of political institutions does not seem to work any more. 

The gilets jaunes are the voice of a rural population never heard before and which feels abandoned.  It is a lower middle class of workers and retirees, who can’t make it to the end of the month and feel squeezed between the very poor — benefiting from social relief — and the more affluent middle class. 

At first overwhelmingly supported by the public opinion, their number –occupying roundabouts and tolls — has reduced from over 280,000 on Nov. 17, to about 84.000 today. Public opinion is becoming weary of the continuous violence.

“Act XI” is taking place as this article is being written. 

French President Emmanuel Macron.

A spectacular fist fight on the footbridge linking the Quai d’Orsay and the Tuileries garden marked the month of January.  Over time a hard core of  gilets jaunes has become more radical, asking for the dissolution of Parliament, the suppression of the Senate, and basically total destruction of the system in place.  It refuses dialogue while chanting “Macron. Demission” (Macron. Resign.)  

The Rassemblement National (RN) extreme right party of Marine Le Pen and the communist party or France Insoumise (LFI) are riding the wave. They help circulate false news to discredit Macron and his government.  The terrorist attack in Strasbourg in early December or the recent deadly explosion due to a gas leak in the center of Paris were just diversion tactics by the Executive, they say. 

On Jan. 23,  France and Germany signed the treaty of Aix La Chapelle to reinforce cooperation between the two countries and facilitate trans-border relations.  The treaty was followed by the announcement of outrageously distorted news on social networks that Alsace-Lorraine was being returned to Germany. 

Eighteen months into his mandate, Macron started  to suffer a catastrophic collapse in the polls. It was not a first for a French president:  Sarkozy and Hollande before him suffered the same disaffection soon after their election. For Macron though, the intensity of the fall was all the more spectacular as his victory had created a surge of hope.

Today he is trying to turn the tide around and pull the country out of its crisis.  And his method? A “Great Debate” throughout the country lasting until March 15.

On Jan. 13, the president posted a “Lettre aux Français” suggesting four themes open to discussion: taxes, public services, energetic transition, and political institutions, including immigration.  France is being turned into a laboratory to experiment with new forms of government – representative, participative or direct (with frequent referendums).

The hard core of gilets jaunes declined to participate.

Macron’s initial step was to face some of the 35.000 mayors of France.  First 700 of them in Normandy, then two days later 700 in the Lot department (Occitanie region.)  It was an impressive show of participative government in action.  Selected mayors presented their grievances related to very concrete and local problems: closing schools, disappearance of public services, medical “desertification,” lack of accessible transports, inadequate internet and phone access, hurtful impact of giant shopping malls on small business, and the demise of downtown areas of small town and villages.

Each speaker was polite, direct and, at times, quite tough. Macron’s performance was phenomenal.  As each speaker took the microphone, the president was taking notes furiously.  For close to seven hours, he absorbed the remarks then answered each one, recalling the interlocutor’s name.  His language was familiar, bringing smiles to the faces in the audience and devoid of any demagoguery. 

For instance, he expressed his opinion on how dangerous popular referenda can be, especially when based on false information — citing the UK’s Brexit vote as an example. Overall it was refreshing to witness courteous and constructive exchanges, far from the heinous invectives to which the president has been submitted lately. 

The “Great Debate” is a courageous, but risky exercise.  Talking to the mayors was the easy part. It will be harder for him to convince broader public opinion — including the moderate gilets jaunes — how to make a synthesis from all the wide array of  grievances and turn them into immediate and concrete measures?

Macron must meet some, if not all, of the demands being made by the gilets jaunes without appearing to be weak and submissive. In spite of the popular pressure for lower taxes and more benefits, he cannot afford to lose his objective, which is to reform France and make it economically competitive. Finally, time is short since there will only be two months left after the debate before the European elections are held. 

Violence hit cities throughout France causing widespread damage.

The violence brought on by the weekly street warfare in Paris, Bordeaux and many other cities has tarnished the image of France abroad.  The damage caused  to the urban landscape, small businesses and whole sectors of the economy can be numbered in millions of Euros. The loss of one point of France’s GDP has even become worrisome for the IMF. 

On Jan. 22, Macron invited 125 of the most important world CEOs, who were on their way to the Davos Economic Forum, to  a lavish lunch at the Chateau de Versailles, in order to reassure them of his country’s viability and stability prior to a possible Brexit.

The polls have risen slightly in favor of Macron but the president still faces an uphill battle. France is fortunate to have a young president full of energy … but the jury is still out on his future.

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: Global Warming vs. Northeast Travel — An Apology to Future Generations

GWhat follows is a public apology.  Not to you, dear reader, but to future generations.

“To my grand children:  I’m sorry we left you with this mess.  We should have done more, when we still had time.”

What am I referring to?  Not the national debt.  Not even global terrorism.  No, this apology is about coastal flooding that threatens the Northeast Corridor’s rail lines.

I won’t even get into the debate about what’s causing sea-level rise.  Whether it’s man-made or natural, it is happening and we have not been planning for its inevitable effects.  Sure, when the tides are high and the winds are from the east, we already see a little flooding along the Connecticut coastline.  “Look Dad!  The beach parking lot is under water,” the kids would say.  But the tides and winds then subsided and we’d forget about it.

Aside from pretty beaches and expensive homes, what else is along Connecticut’s coast?  Our railroads:  Metro-North, Shore Line East and Amtrak.  And according to a long hidden report, those tracks, and the trains that run on them, are being threatened by sea level rise.

Just before Christmas, Bloomberg wrote about a three year study, “Amtrak NEC Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment,” that was finished in 2017 but never released to the public.  Using an FOI request, they got hold of a redacted (censored) portion of the study, and its findings are frightening.

The Northeast Corridor of Amtrak runs 457 miles from Washington to Boston and carries 12 million passengers a year on 2200 daily trains.  Those tracks not only serve Amtrak’s inter-city trains but also many commuter rail lines, like Metro-North and Shore Line East.  And the rising sea level is already lapping at its edge, where in some areas those tracks are just feet from the ocean. By 2050 the water may be two feet higher.

When it was originally built in the 19th century, the coastline made perfect sense as a location for the railroad tracks:  the coast is where the major cities were and the terrain was flat, perfect for trains.  Sure, there were storms (even hurricanes) that caused short-term flooding, but nothing that was persistent.  Until now.

So what’s to be done?

Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration have no plans to raise the tracks.  They’re already facing $40 billion in unfunded projects just to keep the darn trains running.  As for building a “wall” to keep out the sea water, even a temporary version erected before a storm would take 12 to 30 days to assemble and cost $24 million a mile.

Keeping this all in perspective, Amtrak reminds us that the cities they serve along the coast are also in danger of flooding, so what are a few damp railroad tracks when your city-center looks like Venice?

What’s most concerning is that this study was suppressed by Amtrak and the FRA because, as Bloomberg wrote, “The disclosure of that information “could possibly cause public confusion.” 

I’m not confused, are you?  Maybe enraged, but not confused.  I may not be around to see these predictions come to pass, but I do feel some sense of obligation (guilt) to future generations to whom I can offer little more than an apology.

Sorry kids.  We left you with a mess.  We should have done more.

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: Picasso’s Early Years on View in Blue … and Pink

Nicole Prévost Logan

In October 1900, Picasso – at age 19 – arrived at the Gare d’Orsay in Paris from Barcelona. So, it is appropriate that the Orsay Museum would host an exhibition about the young Spanish artist.

The blockbuster, which opened in the autumn of 2018, was called “Picasso. Bleu, Rose” and refers to the 1900-1906 years. It is a long overdue theme, never before treated in France.

For several reasons, this period is unique among Picasso’s long career. It reveals the precocious virtuosity of such a young person as a draughtsman;
never again will he express such intense emotions; Harlequin — a main character from the Commedia del’arte — is introduced for the first time and will remain his double throughout his life’s work. The image at right shows “Arlequin with an acrobat” (1905) portrayed as a young and emaciated boy.

Between 1900 and 1904, Picasso made several trips between Spain and Paris, until he settled permanently in the French capital where he rented a studio, along with other artists, in a dilapidated building baptized the Bateau-Lavoir (washhouse.)

He liked to hang around at the tavern of Els Quatre Gats (Four Cats) in Barcelona where he met Catalan friends – such as Santiago Rusinol or Ramon Casos. The exhibit shows hundreds of the small portraits and sketches, sometimes humorous, that he created at full speed.

With a voracious curiosity, he would watch the colorful, loud crowds at cabarets, bordellos, night clubs or caf’concs (cafés with a music hall performance) of Montmartre.

Toulouse Lautrec was his idol.

Like him, Picasso depicted the dejected night-life customers stunned under the effect of absinthe. “Arlequin and his companion” (1901, Pushkin museum, Moscow) shown at left represents a couple totally alienated from each other, sitting at a bistro table, with vacuous expressions on their faces.

The man is Harlequin, dressed in his usual costume with lozenges.

The “Portrait of Gustave Coquiot” (1901, Musee d’art moderne, Paris) at right is emblematic of this garish night life. The collector and art critic is depicted as a well-fed individual, with half naked girls dancing in the background, his mouth snarled in a lecherous grimace, under an insolent mustache.

But those years were lean years for Picasso. Both in Barcelona and in Paris Picasso lived in utter poverty.

This was the height of his “Blue Period” — the color of the bottom of the abyss. Beggars, orphans, the poor — Picasso showed his empathy for all of them.

He would take for models the former prostitutes incarcerated at the Saint Lazare prison in Barcelona, where many were dying of venereal diseases .

One usually links the Blue Period with the death of his close friend Casagemas in 1901 The painting at left of the young Catalan artist on his death bed, (1901, Musee Picasso, Paris) is realistic and shows the bullet wound on his temple after he committed suicide. The feverish multicolor strokes around the candle are reminiscent of van Gogh’s technique.

Abject poverty did not prevent Picasso from leading a lively, bohemian life among artists, poets, writers in the Montmartre district of the French capital, which was the center of the artistic world at that time.

The German art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler immediately discovered the genius of Picasso. Things started looking up when art merchant Ambroise Vollard bought several of his paintings. His melancholy disappeared when he fell passionately in love with Fernande Olivier, one of his many companions whose body and face he kept deconstructing.

The distinction between Blue and Pink Periods is rather artificial. Sadness lingered on through both periods.

Pink became predominant when the artist became interested in the circus world. Several times a week he would go to the cirque Medrano. But unlike other artists like Seurat, Rouault or Matisse, he was not interested in the spectacles per se but rather in what happened backstage and in the miserable existence of the acrobats.

In “Acrobate a la boule” (at right), a frail adolescent is trying to keep his (her) balance on a round ball watched by a heavy set acrobat sitting on a massive cube. Art historians give a deep meaning to the scene, to the contrast between the spiritual world, taking risks, being continually in motion with the stability of life grounded in the earth.

In the summer of 1906, Picasso’s life took a new turn. Being with Fernande on the hillside village of Gozolf, he seemed totally happy, enjoying the sun and inspired by the pink and ochre color of the clay. He discovered the Iberian sculptures of the fifth and sixth centuries BC influenced by Phoenician and Greek cultures as well as 12th century medieval sculptures.

His art seems to be changing course. In “Deux Nus” (1906, MOMA), shown at left, the bodies of the naked women, are deformed, with disproportionate legs and heavy torso. Picasso was ready for another discovery … African art.

Matisse showed him an African statuette in the apartment of Gertrude and Leo Stein. Picasso was stunned.

As a result, after numerous sketches, (the Steins bought most of them when Picasso was still unknown), Picasso produced the ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907, MOMA), which remains probably the most important painting of the 20th century.

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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The Movie Man: The Joy of Going OUT to the Movies

As the calendar progressed through December, most people were looking forward to Christmas with joy and anticipation.

For me, as I looked at the calendar last year, I found myself looking back to a December from my childhood. The year is 2003, and I am recalling the day I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on the big screen; to this day it remains my favorite movie-going experience of all time.

I’m writing this because one of my recent reviews published in LymeLine.com was for a direct-to-Netflix release, not by some forgettable children’s movie, nor an attempt at slapstick by Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler … rather it was a film by the Coen brothers.

Years ago, we witnessed the vanishing of record stores with the digital revolution via iTunes. I was not alive when it was a social occasion to go to the record store and check out whichever new album had been introduced, but I did have a high school teacher who still raves about that to this day (I’m talking to you, Mr. Braychak.)

Going to the movies has always been magical for me. I recall that Steven Spielberg shared on Inside the Actor’s Studio that even he still takes his family to the theaters.

Years ago, I wished there were ways for me to see classic films on the big screen … how they were originally released. Lately, I’ve been able to see that wish fulfilled by catching The Big Lebowski, The Shining, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly courtesy of promotions by Regal Cinema, and the treasured Coolidge Corner Theatre (for those of you who have been in the Boston area).

And I firmly hold that catching a film on the big screen in its original run is as exciting and memorable of attending a live sports event. Both sources of entertainment you can watch at home, yes, but there’s nothing like being caught up in the energy of the moment.

A while ago, I developed the mindset of thinking that seeing a film by your favorite actor or director on the big screen is akin to seeing your favorite athlete compete. I am proud to share that I frequented Fenway Park and saw David Ortiz play. In time, I’ll talk of that in the same way that older folk today mention having seen Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams play.

Similarly, the day will come when Leonardo DiCaprio departs this world, and people will tell the younger generations about being caught up in Leo-mania with Titanic; or when George Lucas leaves us, people will recount the time they saw the unexpected sci-fi empire of Star Wars take flight at their local theater in 1977.

But as this ‘release via Netflix’ trend continues to gain momentum, I have to ask if we can really imagine replacing certain occasions that are meant for the theater to be changed to accommodate the streaming method? So many romantic relationships have begun with a date at the movies (Barack and Michelle Obama saw Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee on their first time out together).

Imagine this … “Alright! I got the computer ready … wait, the battery’s dead. Let me grab my iPad! Yeah, I heard this is supposed to be really great, didn’t you say you had a crush on … oh, come on! The Wifi is down? I thought I took care of that! Give me a couple of minutes to fix this!”

It just does not work.

Photo by Julien Andrieux on Unsplash

Going to the movies is quite simply magic … even if the movie does not entertain you. I always loved the process of lining up for my ticket (and skimming the list of other flicks that are playing), getting the drinks and popcorn, and picking my seat during the idle pre-showing ads.

Then the lights slightly dim for the previews, and you make remarks to either your friends or self as to whether the movie looks interesting or you plan on skipping it. Then the lights dim all the way until they’re out, save the little ones in the aisle.

Then the real magic begins.

And when it’s over, you leave, and you chat with whoever you came with about what you thought of the movie. Good, bad, whatever, and you marvel about the people attached to the project, and when their next movie is coming out.

Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash

The Lord of the Rings remains one of my all-time favorite movies. My love for the trilogy is increased all-the-more whenever I recall the day I went to see the final installment on the big screen on Dec. 20, 2003 … mainly because I felt like I was on my own personal quest towards seeing this film.

From Christmas of 2002 until the day I saw The Return of the King, I was on a metaphorical journey through the trilogy, in which I waited several months for opportunities to see each installment on DVD. This was also accompanied by a move to the home in which I would spend the rest of my childhood. Granted it was from Old Lyme to Lyme, so I would not be dropped somewhere with which I had no familiarity whatsoever, but leaving the place I had spent two thirds of my life was a big deal.

Not exactly like being taken halfway across the country and plopped in a totally foreign environment, like some others experience. But I was leaving the home that I had lived in for nearly nine years — three quarters of my life. It was all I knew.

We moved from Chestnut Hill in April of that year. But we did not move into our eventual home on Hamburg Road until that November. The home’s previous resident had dozens of animals on her property (some of you may be fondly smiling as you will recognize to whom I’m referring) and her new residence was not finished.

We therefore arranged a real estate deal that involved us renting the home to her, and since we had already sold our home, we briefly rented a home on Griswold Point. It was a beautiful home right on the Lieutenant River, and my mother raves that it was her favorite house. The only downside for my brothers and me was … it had no cable. Not something kids want to hear. But no cable meant … more time for The Lord of the Rings.

When we finally moved to Hamburg Road that November, the adaptation of the journey’s end in The Lord of the Rings seemed to go hand-in-hand with the fact that my own residence journey had also ended. All I had to do was wait another month.

But lo and behold, I was never a good student, and I got in trouble academically, resulting in the loss of my media privileges for over a month, which, in turn, meant I could not see The Return of the King.

What a devastating blow to the gut!

However, my mom understood how much this movie meant to me, so she made a compromise: if I went an entire week without a teacher calling to say I was missing homework, my punishment would be lifted (how bad a student do you have to be for a compromise like that?)

Luckily for me, I made it in time, and the Saturday after the film was released, Dec. 20, I ventured off with a friend to the Marquee Cinemas in Westbrook to catch the final installment. I remember standing in the long line, fretting over whether we would find a seat with a good view, drinking all of my soda before the movie started (and subsequently suppressing my need to use the bathroom for the next three hours), and once the movie was over … clapping vigorously when the words ‘The End’ appeared on the screen.

I left the theater more than satisfied.

I left fulfilled.

But I wonder how different this story would be had Netflix started the streaming business back then, and Peter Jackson opted for this method? I could not imagine myself getting hyped up for a groundbreaking movie that I would watch at home, leaning forward on my couch at the TV, no matter how sophisticated the device is?

If this is an action/adventure movie, and special effects are supposed to be out of this world, do I really want to see it on a 50-inch TV, and miss out on the sound system the theaters have? As much as we rave about Game of Thrones and treat each new episode as a social occasion, we can tell the special effects are not of the same quality as those we enjoy in full-length features. It’s almost as if everybody in the entertainment industry understands this.

Should the next Star Wars movie have the option for watching at home, I surely would skip that and go through whatever it might take to see it on the big screen, as it deserves. My plea to Hollywood legends is to not opt for the easier option, regardless of how much profit it might generate.

I certainly pray that if Mr. Spielberg reads this (first, I would faint upon learning he decided to read LymeLine.com!), he continues to respect the importance of the social aspect of movie-going … and that the rest of movie-dom join him in that belief.

Editor’s Note: Top photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

Kevin Ganey

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

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Michael Lewis

Is our government too bloated, too intrusive, too expensive?

Is it a “swamp” that needs to be drained if we are to survive?

Michael Lewis, the author of such jewels as Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Big Short, Flash Boys (see my review of 12/15/2014) and The Undoing Project (see my review of 1/22/2018), has been stimulated by the election of Donald Trump and Trump’s “willful ignorance” and “subsequent incoherence” to step back and take a serious look at a few departments of our government.

Lewis has selected the work of the Departments of Energy  (controlling nuclear waste), Commerce (predicting the weather), and Agriculture (assuring food safety), and using in-depth discussions with selected government servants illustrates what is seldom acknowledged – the long-term contributions of much of what goes on at the federal level.

Part of the problem in Lewis’ word is that we have ”two million federal employees taking orders from four thousand political appointees. Dysfunction is baked into the structure of the thing …”

He leads this analysis with the words of John MacWilliams, the Department of Energy’s “first ever chief risk officer.” MacWilliams offers his top four risks as the threat of nuclear disaster, North Korea, Iran, and protecting our electrical grid from cyber-terrorism.

But topping all four is the broader inadequacy of “project management” in the US. MacWilliams states, “managing risks (is) an act of the imagination. And the human imagination is a poor tool for judging risk … They (humans) are less good at imagining a crisis before it happens—and taking action to prevent it.”

Lewis goes on to explain, “ … the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions,” results in, “ … the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created.” He concludes, “We need doubtful and forever curious students of possibilities.”

Lewis’ answer is that the long-term and continuing government work of managing the risks of nuclear waste, unusual weather, and food safety has been successful … if not exceptional.

But is this work threatened by the current administration?

To Lewis, “Trump’s budget … is powered by a perverse desire—to remain ignorant.” And that seems to have led to “a rift in American life … between the people who are in it for the mission and the people who (are) in it for the money.”

So what is “risk”?

Lewis quotes David Friedman, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who says, “Risk is uncertainty about the outcome.” We can never be certain of what will occur, but we can certainly try to be.

And that leads to his final sentence, “It’s what you fail to imagine that kills you.”

A most provocative and coherent analysis.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Michael Lewis is published by W. W. Norton, New York 2018.

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, which 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 Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

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With Approach of Brexit Deadline, a New Conundrum Emerges as UK Grows More Divided, EU More United

Nicole Prévost Logan

It was a close call for Theresa May and probably the most difficult time of the 900-odd days of the Brexit negotiations. 

On Monday, Dec. 10, her proposed “deal” faced opposition from all sides. Several of her ministers had already resigned: Boris Johnson,  Dominic Raab and David Davis, successive Secretaries of State for Brexit. Even her own Tory party was divided. 

Europhile Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, refused the terms of her “deal.” On the left, the Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, wanted to remain in Europe, but within a large customs union, to maintain trade relations and be in control of immigration. Both Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP), on whom May’s Conservatives rely for a majority in parliament, preferred  a “Norway plus” formula. 

A coup de theatre occurred in the House of Commons on Dec. 12: the leader of the conservative Brexiters, Jacob Rees-Mogg, led a motion of no confidence against the prime minister. She won by 200 votes to 117. This vote meant  a reprieve for May until Jan. 21, 2019 to make a final decision on the “deal.”  She cannot drag out the timetable indefinitely, however, since the process has to be completed before the European elections on May 26.  

During that fateful week, in a desperate effort to save her plan, the British Prime Minister raced from the House of Commons to make hasty visits to the European countries most sympathetic to her ideas such as The Netherlands or Germany.  She returned to London and made a statement in front of 10 Downing Street on a cold winter night, cheered a little by a Christmas tree standing nearby. On Dec. 13, she was back on the continent to attend a meeting of the European Council hoping to wrench out a few more concessions from the weary Europeans.

She returned to the UK empty-handed.

May warns that “no deal” would be catastrophic for the UK.  She says that only by achieving a deal can the UK hope to preserve its independence and remain in control of its economy and borders. The Brexiters’ argument is that during the transition period, which starts on March 29, 2019, the UK will remain within the EU Custom Union, unable to sign bilateral cooperation agreements with other countries and forced to make financial contributions, while having no say in the decision-making process.

The 27 EU members ratified the hefty 600-page withdrawal document of the UK after smoothing out a few thorny issues. One is the administration of the Gibraltar enclave.  Spain had to be satisfied lest it used its veto. The other one dealt with the demands by fishermen from France,  Denmark and a few other countries to retain access to the waters — rich in fish — around the British Isles.  Until today, they have been allowed to do so as per the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

But by far the most crucial point is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Both the UK and the EU want a “backstop” — a device designed to maintain the UK with the EU Customs Union until a trade agreement is signed — but for different reasons. For Brussels, it is a non- negotiable red line, a temporary measure, like an insurance to be applied during the transition period scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2020. Ireland does not want to see the re-emergence of the bloody conflict, which finally ended on Good Friday 1998.  

Theresa May wants a legally-binding text agreement that proposes a backstop to prevent the return of a physical border. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his team are ready to make adjustments to create a “backstop” more palatable to the British, saying, “Let us be imaginative and creative.”  He now offers other solutions such as setting up control points about 10 miles from the border in industrial buildings .  

On the whole, the 27 European Union (EU) members are displaying an exceptional show of unity, which may come as a surprise for outside observers.  One would  expect the EU to be tough with the UK to prevent a possible ‘domino effect’ inspiring others to leave a continent already torn between populism and nationalism. 

In fact, the exact opposite is happening. and none of the 27 seem willing to leave Europe. In France, Marine Le Pen changed her mind quickly about keeping the Euro.  In Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras and his Syriza party are not in conflict with Brussels any longer.  The Italian government has agreed to reduce its deficit in accordance with the EU rules.  Eastern Europeans appreciate greatly the assistance they receive from Brussels and also the protection the latter gives them against their Russian neighbor They do not show any intention of leaving the EU.. 

The scenario of a new referendum is gaining ground.  Since the European Court of Justice has just declared that a EU member state can unilaterally withdraw its intention to leave the Union, the task of the “Remainers” would be simplified. If they win the referendum, it will be back to square one — an outcome generally favored by the Europeans. 

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: 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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