February 8, 2016

Talking Transportation: ‘Don’t Blame The Trucks’

Driving to Hartford the other day (no, you cannot really get there by train) I saw a beautiful sight:  hundreds of trucks!  Yet, motorists hate trucks and mistakenly blame them for traffic congestion and accidents that cause hours of delays.

Readers of this column know I’m a “rail guy” and would love to see freight trains replace trucks, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.  But as motorists we should not blame truckers for traffic woes of our own creation.

Check the facts and you’ll find most highway accidents are caused by motor cars, not the trucks.

Do trucks drive too fast?  Sure, but don’t we all?  Next time you’re on I-95, check who’s in the high-speed left lane and you’ll see cars, not trucks.

Should there be better safety inspections of trucks?  Absolutely!  But for every over-weight truck or over-worked truck driver, there are doubtless hundreds of unsafe cars and equally road-weary warriors behind the wheel whose reckless disregard endangers us all.

Truckers drive for a living.  They are tested and licensed to far more rigorous standards than anyone else.  And because they drive hundreds of miles each day, overall I think they are far better drivers.  When’s the last time you saw a trucker juggling a cellphone and a latte like some soccer moms?

And remember … they’re not out there driving their big-rigs up and down the highway just to annoy us.  We put those trucks on the road by our voracious consumption patterns.  Every product we buy at stores large and small, including the very newspaper or iPad you hold in your hand, was delivered by trucks.  Want fewer trucks on the road?  Just stop buying stuff.

By definition, trucks are high-occupancy vehicles.  Compare the energy efficiency of a loaded truck delivering its cargo to you in your “SOV” (single occupancy vehicle), even if it is a hybrid.  Only rail offers better fuel efficiency.

Why are trucks jamming our highways at rush hour?  Because merchants require them to drive at those times to meet the stores’ delivery timetable.  If big-box stores and supermarkets only took truck deliveries in the overnight hours, our highways would flow much better at rush hour. 

Truckers must use the interstates while passenger cars can chose among many alternate routes.  Why is the average distance driven on I-95 in Connecticut just 11 miles?  Because most of us drive the ‘pike for local, not interstate trips.

If we were smart enough to “value price” our highways (i.e., return tolling), we’d see fewer vehicles of all kinds on I-95, and those that were willing to pay for the privilege of motoring there would get real value in a faster ride.

I’m hardly an apologist for the trucking lobby.  But neither is it fair for us to blame anyone but ourselves for highway safety and congestion.  It’s the SOV crowd, not the truckers, who are to blame. 

Let’s be honest about this mess of our own making and stop trying to blame truckers as our scapegoat.  As the great philosopher Pogo once put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us!

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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

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

Share

Reading Uncertainly: ‘Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History’ by Francis O’Gorman

Worrying_“What if … ?” This is the key question that confronts all worriers, their dominant question about an ever-uncertain future. Professor O’Gorman, who teaches at the University of Leeds (U.K.) readily admits he is a worrier, and, in this slim volume (163 pages) he deftly probes, with humility plus good humor, the various definitions, strategies, relevant observations, advantages, and consolations, concluding with some fatalism that there may be little he can do about his condition. He actually begins with his end, “If we can’t ‘cure’ worry, we can venture to understand it – for better or worse.”

Here is his definition: “Worry is a form of fretfulness, of mental uncertainty and persistently tremulous bother,” the “fretful evaluations of the options in our life.” English has many synonyms: fretting, anxiety, bother, concern, fidgeting, doubt, nervousness, apprehension, and perplexity. Rodgers and Hart expressed them well in their hit song from Pal Joey (1940), “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”

The dictionary’s verb is defined as “to feel uneasy or concerned about something,” but it also has an alternative “to pull or tear at something, as with the teeth.” It is when normal worry disintegrates into the dog’s work that we become concerned.

So is worry abnormal? For many of us it is a compulsive habit, “part of the fabric of life,” as O’Gorman argues, but too often seen as anti-social. He suggests: “Life is overflowing with opportunities to fret!”

For some of us who are trying to manage organizations facing numerous “risks,” “worry’s primary concern is about an uncertain future or, more exactly, about a future that has some element of the uncertain in it.” Our problem is that one “worry leads to another, and consequential worries.”  And that is unhealthy as too many of us have a “fixed belief that there is, today, something risky about tomorrow.” We end up fearing, not relishing, the future.

Indeed, “daring to be happy is a risk” in itself to a worrier.

Dr. O’Gorman suggests that “worry” also breeds ritual: routines, religions, compulsive habits, not all pleasant.  “The fundamental tenets of the major world religions will look delusional to the skeptic atheist, while seeming the brightest of reality to the believer.” So who is right? What is sanity? The author suggests a re-statement of Descartes’ mantra: “I worry; therefore I am.”

His arguments are ripe with the pertinent and often amusing citations of an enormous range of writers: Bronte, T.S. Eliot, George Eliot, the Bible, Shakespeare, Trollope, Kipling, Auden, Woolf, Joyce, Hardy, Darwin, Gladstone, Descartes, Homer, Mill, Sebald, Boswell, Frost, and, above all, Bach. Plus, of course, numerous academics.

Is reason an antidote for worry? “Reason can gather information. It can enumerate the issues. It can search out matters pertinent to the problem in hand. But the worrier’s reason is notoriously bad at suggesting a way forward.” “Worry’s a kind of mental risk assessment that regularly fails to result in an action plan …”

O’Gorman elaborates, “Our reasoning mind has come, in the contemporary world, to be bogged down in debilitating conditions of fretful decision-making and persistent blame, the grim and politicizing consequences of the apparently innocent and cheering pleasures of choosing.” And, “We run through options, assimilating and listening for the give-away signs of ideas we haven’t listened to. We’re always alert to the snuffling in the undergrowth of bristly problems we’ve not already imagined. We’re analysts who are genuinely good at analyzing even if we take little pleasure in our gifts and frequently fail to adjudicate on the most likely outcomes.”

What is the alternative? Should we all become Doctor Panglosses who exist in this, the most perfect, world? O’Gorman does offer the idea that the “arts” (painting, poetry, and especially music) can divert the worrier, but not permanently. They are, to him, a temporary distraction.

His book was a temporary but thoroughly engaging distraction for me, a non-worrier. I think like Alfred E. Neuman, the cover cartoon character for MAD Magazine, who persistently stated, “What? Me worry?”

I’m also reminded of the classic folk song of the Carter Family, first sung in 1930, “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.” The last line is the best: “I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long!”

Editor’s Note: Francis O’Gorman, Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History, Bloomsbury, London 2015.

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

Share

Letter from Paris: Marmottan Monet Museum Offers Rare Glimpse of Villa Flora’s ‘Enchanting Times’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is a well kept secret that Switzerland’s private foundations own a wealth of  art works.  Swiss law does not require them to be registered commercially and offers them favorable tax and legal conditions, creating thus a “paradise” for art collectors.  The Villa Flora, in Winterthur near Zurich, is one of the richest of these family foundations.  Since the museum is under renovation this winter, its contents found a temporary home at the Marmottan Monet museum in Paris and currently form the Villa Flora exhibition subtitled, “A Time of Enchantment.”

In 1898  Hedy Hahnloser inherited from her father, a well-to-do textile  industrialist, a large house and moved in with Arthur, her husband.  For a short time, Arthur practiced ophthalmology in the clinic he installed on the property but soon the couple became fully engaged in the passion of their life, which was to create long-lasting friendships with painters and to collect their works.

Over the years, the rambling house was turned into a studio and an art gallery — every available space was used to place the paintings.  Hedy had always been interested in arts and crafts and in the English movement by that name.  She decorated her house’s parquets and wainscots with the geometric designs characteristic  of the 1897 “Viennese Recession” led by Gustav Klimt.

A trip to Paris in 1908 was for the couple a total immersion into the frantic artistic scene of the French capital.  Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubism, while the Fauvist movement was at its pinnacle.  The natural flair of the Hahnlosers in selecting art work was sharpened by their contacts with art merchants like Ambroise Vollard and Gaston Bernheim.

During that trip they met and struck up a friendship with Felix Valloton (1865-1925), who became a close friend, spent much time at the Villa Flora and also introduced them to the artistic circles of Paris.  They remained friends until his death.  For the Swiss couple to welcome artists and hold Tuesday coffees became a way of life.

One can compare their creative and welcoming home with the boarding house in Old Lyme, Conn., where Florence Griswold invited American Impressionists.  Or consider Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo who, like Arthur and Hedy, opened their “salon” on 27 rue de Fleurus to artists and writers.  And in yet another example, in the late 19th century, Russia also had its own artist colonies, which grew around enlightened members of the nobility.  The best known was Abramtsevo, near Moscow, created by  the industrialist Savva Mamontov.

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère) de Cannes, 1928-1934

Pierre Bonnard, Débarcadère (or L’Embarcadère)
de Cannes, 1928-1934

The Hahnlosers’ collection contained works by Cezanne, Van Gogh,  Manet, Renoir, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, the symbolist Odilon Redon and many others. But it is the abundance of  Nabis’ art, which made  it quite unique.

It was a post-impressionist movement in the mid 1890s.  “Nabi” means prophet in Hebrew and Arabic.  The leading members of this group — Maurice Denis, Felix Vallotton , Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard — considered themselves as the prophets of a new era in the arts.  Each one had his distinctive style, but there was always a message behind their way of depicting reality, whether it was religious, intellectual or emotional.  They were versatile artists, working in oil, and also lithography, wood cuts, satirical drawings, and book or poster illustration.

Vallotton stylized his subjects and used the technique of  “aplats” or flat areas of contrasting colors with sharp outlines.  There is a feeling of enigmatic  emptiness in his works. “La Charette” or cart drives away on a deserted dirt road, two slender umbrella pines contrast with the darker mass of trees bordering the road.

man&woman
Le provincial,” pictured above, shows a couple in a cafe.  One barely sees  the profile of the elegant woman wearing a huge hat.  The feather on the hat and the ruffled blouse are the only bright notes in this scene of a non-communicating couple in the male chauvinistic society at the turn of the 20th century.

Vallotton’ masterpiece is “La Blanche et la Noire”  (The White and the Black).  A white woman is lying, unabashedly naked, on a bed while a black woman is staring at her with insolence and a sort of inappropriate familiarity, a cigarette is sticking out of  her mouth. The painting is reminiscent of  the “Olympia” by Manet but with a different underlying story.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bonnard’s paintings have an effusive and warm quality.  His colors are luminous, his brush strokes seem unbridled, full of life.  He is inspired by the intimacy of domestic scenes — “Le Tub” is a picture within a picture thanks to the mirror placed at the center of the composition.   A plunging angle reveals Marthe, his wife and beloved model, near the tub.

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Pierre Bonnard, Le Thé, 1917

Bonnard cherished his villa in the Var, not far from Cannes.  “Le Thé” is a peaceful scene of young women having tea . He plays with an array of hat colors.  The vegetation seems to overflow into the porch.  On “Le Debarcadère” or pier,  young people lean over a railing, as if frozen in the contemplation of the rough Mediterranean waters.

This is indeed a rare opportunity to see an exceptional private art collection created by two extraordinary citizens, who according to the exhibition’s guide, lived their lives by following a simple mantra, “Living for art. Collecting. Such was the raison d’être of [this] couple.”

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

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

caroussel_grandpalais_460x550_v02These luxurious objects make travel by air, train or sea glamorous and modern. The visitor rides an old-fashioned, wood-paneled train and feels transported into the “Out of Africa” world of Karen Blixen, as the Kenya savannah speeds outside the windows. Several pieces of the Vuitton family’s private luggage — first seen by the public at the 1900 Exposition Universelle (World Fair) — are scattered on sand dunes, evoking the beautifully photographed scene of a couple riding in the desert near the Pyramids in the 1978 Agatha Christy’s movie “Death on the Nile.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

reseau-de-transport-grand-paris-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

Talking Transportation: Speed Limits, Safety and Fuel Efficiency

65-mph-speed-limit-sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even with cheaper gasoline, it all adds up!

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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

You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

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

Share

The Strangest New Year’s Day Ever

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

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

John_LaPlante[1]All my life, like you probably, I have celebrated New Year’s Day in winter—most often in a cold, icy, snowy winter. Not a Florida winter.

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

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

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

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

With just one exception …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year to you, one and all!

Share

Reading Uncertainly: Ruminations on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, 1854

With the advent of a new year, this seemed the perfect time to publish this wonderful review by our resident book reviewer and aspiring poet Felix Kloman. Felix looks back at a book published 161 years ago and yet finds contemporary wisdom among its pages, some of which is especially pertinent as we enter 2016.

Walden_by_Henry_David_ThoreauAs my stack of reading dwindled recently to nothingness, by chance I was drawn to my ancient copy of Thoreau’s story of his two-year-long self-proclaimed “exile” to the shores of Massachusetts’ Walden Pond. My re-read was well worth the time.

Some stimulating thoughts from the Massachusetts monk, who sought solitude but could not refrain from talking and writing about it:

  • On a Lyme summer evening’s solitude: “This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore.” I considered this observation as I, too, sat quietly on our Lyme porch, overlooking meadows, our Ely’s Ferry Road, and, closer to hand, our orange-embossed cyphea (pronounced like “goofier,” I am advised by my resident horticulturist), whose juices were being avidly sucked away by several hummingbirds. They actually seemed to squeak after each tongue-licking. As Thoreau concluded “… my serenity is rippled but not ruffled.”
  • On the delights of quiet conversation with a few intelligent friends, reminding me of my regular Friday morning “communions” at Ashlawn Farm Coffee: “Having each some shingles of thought well dried, we sat and whittled them, trying our knives, and admiring the clear yellowish grain of the pumpkin pine. We waded so gently and reverently, or we pulled together so smoothly, that the fishes of thought were not scared from the stream, nor feared by any angler on the bank, but came and went grandly, like the clouds which float through the western sky, and the mother-o’-pearl flocks which sometimes form and dissolve there. There we worked, revising mythology, rounding a fable here and there, and building castles in the air for which earth offered no worthy foundation … To converse with whom was a New England Night’s Entertainment. Ah! Such discourse we had …”
  • On spending too much time worrying: “A man sits as many risks as he runs.” Thoreau went on to explain: “The old and the infirm and the timid, of whatever age or sex, thought most of sickness, and sudden accident and death; to them life seemed full of danger – what danger is there if you don’t think of any? – and they thought that a prudent man would carefully select the safest position.” Has anything changed in the past 161 years? Doesn’t seem like it …
  • As I am an aspiring yet amateur poet, contributing occasional haiku to the Ashlawn Farm cognoscenti, I found reassurance in this from Henry David: “… but nothing can deter a poet  … Who can predict his comings and going?”
  • And, finally, Thoreau’s concluding advice: “ … explore your own higher latitudes … Open new channels, not of trade, but of thought … There are continents and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him …“

Surprises can be enthralling and energizing, if only we anticipate them with pleasure. This is just how I found my re-reading of Walden.

Do try your own re-read.

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

Share

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

SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Ganey

Kevin Ganey

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

Share

Talking Transportation: Predictions for 2016

Everybody writes “Year in Review” stories.  But rather than dwell on the past, I’ve got the guts to predict the future!  Here’s what will happen in 2016 in the transportation world.

METRO-NORTH: Slowly but surely, the railroad will drag itself out of the quagmire it’s been in since the Bridgeport, Spuyten Duyvil and Valhalla crashes.  On time performance will hold strong even through the winter, thanks to the dependable new M8 cars and mild weather.  Ridership will continue to climb, causing further crowding and standing room only conditions on some trains.

STAMFORD GARAGE: After waiting for its chosen developer (and Malloy campaign contributor) JHN Group to sign a contract two and a half years after being tapped for the massive transit oriented development project, Connecticut Department of  Transport will plug the plug on its deal and replace the old garage on its own (taxpayers’) dime.

TOLLS & TAXES: Governor Malloy’s quest for $100 billion to pay for his 20-year transportation plan will prove universally unpopular when his Transportation Funding Task Force finally issues its recommendations (originally due after Labor Day) in January. The panel will call for higher gasoline and sales taxes, tolls, motor vehicle fees and a slew of other unpopular ideas.  The legislature will react by slashing the Governor’s unrealistic plans, reluctant to have its fingerprints on anything the Task Force suggests.

EMINENT DOMAIN: Governor Malloy will try again to impose state control over transit oriented development, reintroducing his stealth bill to create a Transit Corridor Development Agency (all of whose members he would appoint) with the power to seize any land within a quarter mile of a rail station. 

FLYING: Returning to profitability, airlines will continue to squeeze more seats onto fewer flights, making flying an ordeal.  Frequent flyer rewards will be harder to get as desperate passengers will pay to ride in business or first class, leaving fewer seats for upgrades.

AMTRAK: Acela will become increasingly popular, allowing the railroad to raise business fares.  Last minute seats will be harder to get, but the railroad will still refuse to expand service by buying new railcars.  Traditional “Northeast Corridor” trains will still be jammed as the railroad tries to compete with discount bus carriers.

HIGHWAYS: With an improving economy and inadequate rail station parking, people will jam I-95 and the Merritt Parkway in even larger numbers, increasing commuting times further.  Gasoline prices will continue to decline thanks to cheap oil, sending even more people to the roads.

UBER WAFFLES:   State and city authorities will come down hard on car services like Uber and Lyft, imposing on them the same regulations and taxes now born by taxis and limos.  After “leveling the playing ground”, Uber-type services will raise fares, passing those costs on to passengers.

Will all of my predictions come true?  Check back in a year and we’ll see … meantime, happy traveling in 2016!

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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

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

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

In a nutshell, the agreement reads as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inferno, Canto XIX

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

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

Kevin Ganey

Kevin Ganey

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

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

Nibbles: Two Culinary Memoirs, Two Delicious Recipes – Enjoy Both!

Over the past month, I have been reading interesting recipes. That’s not a big deal, since I pore over recipes daily from newspapers, cookbooks and, especially, food magazines. These days I tear recipes from magazines and newspapers, then chuck them out.

Hear&Soul_in_the_Kitchen_PepinMany of my 500 cookbooks are gone, too, living at the  Book Barn. But two food memoirs I bought recently, and which I cannot recommend highly enough, are Jacques Pepin’s “Heart and Soul in the Kitchen” and Ruth Reichl’s “My Kitchen Year.” I read each of these books in bed. I am hungry while I read them, both for the recipes (which “taste” lovely) and the prose, which is glorious.

In Jacques’ book, he talks about cooking with Shorey, his granddaughter, his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak, the “greats,” like Julia Child and James Beard, his wife, Gloria (no slouch in the kitchen, either) and his daughter, Claudine. And much of the book is about Connecticut, where he and his family have lived for more than 30 years.

A-Kitchen_Year_ReichlRuth Reichl’s memoir is pretty much about one year in her kitchen in upstate New York, one year during which  she and all her colleagues lost their jobs, and we lost Gourmet magazine. She wrote and cooked and wrote and cooked, through fierce winter storms and power outages. She learned how a pantry and some great recipes can keep sadness at bay. Both books should be under your menorah or Christmas tree this year…

Both these recipes include pantry items that require little money and little time at the supermarket. Most items may already be in your own pantry.

Rice with Cumin and Green Olives

From Heart and Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2015)

Yield: serves 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 and one-half cups thinly sliced washed leek greens

1 cup diced (one-inch) onions

1 and one-half cups long-grain white rice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Three-quarter teaspoon salt (less if stock is salty)

3 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

One-half cup pitted green olives, cut into three-quarter-inch pieces

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat/ Add leek greens and onions and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add rice, cumin, salt and stock and bring to a boil. Stir in olives, cover, reduce heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked through and tender. Fluff with a fork and serve.

 

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

From My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (Random House, New York, 2015)

Yield: serves 4

one-quarter to one-half pound bacon

1 pound spaghetti

Garlic

3 eggs

Parmesan cheese

Pepper

Bring as pot of water to a boil, salt it well and toss in the spaghetti. Most brands of spaghetti take about 10 minutes, which is all the time you need to make the sauce.

Cut anywhere from a quarter to a half-pound of bacon into small pieces and brown them in a liege skillet with a couple of whole peeled cloves of garlic.

Break eggs into a big bowl. Grate a generous amount of Parmesan cheese (about half a cup). Cook your pasta al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately plunk it into the bowl with the eggs, tossing frantically so the hot pasta will cook them. Remove the garlic from the bacon and add the bacon, along with as much of the bacon fat as your conscience allows. Toss/ Add cheese. Toss again. Add salt to taste.

Grind a good amount of pepper over the pasta and serve. You will instantly understand why this quick, easy dish given so much comfort to so many people.

Share

Talking Transportation: Saving Money on Metro North

MTA logoWith the holidays upon us, let’s review some money-saving tips for riding Metro-North into the city for commuters and day-trippers alike:

TRANSITCHEK: See if your employer subscribes to this great service, which allows workers to buy up to $130 per month in transit using pre-tax dollars.  If you’re in the upper tax brackets, that’s a huge savings on commutation.  A recent survey shows that 45 percent of all New York City companies offer TransitChek, which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries. 

GO OFF-PEAK: If you can arrive at Grand Central weekdays after 10 a.m. and can avoid the 4 to 8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 25 percent.  Off-peak’s also in effect on weekends and holidays.  These tickets are good for 60 days after purchase.

BUY TICKETS IN ADVANCE: If you buy your ticket on the train you’ll pay the conductor a $5.75 – $6.50 “service charge”… a mistake you’ll make only once !  (Seniors: don’t worry, you’re exempt and can buy on-board anytime without penalty.) There are ticket machines at most stations, but the cheapest tickets are those bought online.  And go for the ten-trip tickets (Peak or Off-Peak) to save an additional 15 percent.  They can be shared among passengers and are good for six months.

KIDS, FAMILY & SENIOR FARES:   Buy tickets for your kids (ages 5 – 11) in advance and save 50 percent over adult fares.  Or pay $1 per kid on board (up to four kids traveling with an adult, but not in morning peak hours).  Seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare get 50 percent off the one-way peak fare.  But you must have proper ID and you can’t go in the morning rush hours.

FREE STATION PARKING: Even stations that require weekday parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 pm, on nights and weekends.  Check with your local town. 

METROCARDS: Forget about the old subway tokens.  These nifty cards can be bought at most stations (even combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offer some good deals:  put $5.50 on a card (bought with cash, credit or debit card) and you get a 5% bonus.  Swipe your card to ride the subway and you’ll get a free transfer to a connecting bus, or vice versa.  You can buy unlimited ride MetroCards for a week ($31) or a month ($116.50). 

BUT IS IT CHEAPER TO DRIVE?: Despite being a mass transit advocate, I’m the first to admit that there may be times when it’s truly cheaper to drive to Manhattan than to take the train, especially with three or more passengers.  You can avoid bridge tolls by taking the Major Deegan to the Willis / Third Ave. bridge, but I can’t help you with the traffic you’ll have to endure.  Check out www.bestparking.com to find a great list of parking lots and their rates close to your destination.   Or drive to Shea Stadium and take the # 7 subway from there.

The bottom line is that it isn’t cheap going into “the city”.  But with a little planning and some insider tips, you can still save money.  Happy Holidays!

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

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

SocialConquest_Mech.inddWho are we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together they require serious reflection.

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

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

Share

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

Headshot_v2We’re delighted to welcome a new writer to our fold today. Kevin Ganey joins us as our movie critic and will be submitting regular reviews of a variety of genres of movies. He has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at 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.

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

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

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

“Bond. James Bond.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s the other guy again? Jack Ryan?

Share

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But many disagree with that opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

Share

Letter from Paris: Je Suis en Terrasse — Reflections on Life in Paris After the Terrorist Attacks

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Logo_French_flag

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

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

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

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

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

Eiffel_Tower_model_flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Share