April 21, 2018

Family Wellness: Does Mindfulness Work for Families?

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

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

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

Let’s first define the term: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: “Getting There” – Grabbing The Best Seat

Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash.

It was the folks at Cunard who said “Getting there is half the fun”.  And crossing the Atlantic in style on an ocean liner certainly was.  But whatever your mode of transportation, getting the right seat can make for an enjoyable or miserable trip.

On Metro-North, I usually go for a window seat.  However, on crowded trains, any seat is better than none.  But I can still get an “upgrade”, if I pay attention.

Heading into New York, I watch for people getting off the train in Stamford.  Their seat check usually has a torn corner, so I look for them when boarding.  And you’ll usually see those folks gathering their stuff just before arriving at the station.  That’s when I pounce.

Leaving Greenwich, Conn., I try to arrive early to board my train so I get my first pick of seats.  I usually opt for the window on a three-seat side.  That way, if someone else arrives just before departure, they can take the aisle seat and the train will have to be Standing Room Only before anyone opts for the dreaded middle seat.

But it’s on airplanes that seat selection is crucial.

Never go for an emergency exit row.  There may be more legroom, but the seat dividers are rigid and the arm rests can’t be raised.

Try to sit forward of the wing for minimal engine noise.  It’s not by chance that the cheapest seats are in the rear, next to the lavatories, where the jet noise is the loudest.

Some people prefer aisle seats so they can get up and walk around.  But a recent study showed occupants of those seats have the greatest chance of being sprayed with germs from other passengers and crew.  Consider wearing a face mask for your own protection.

Again, I prefer a window seat so I can see where we are going.  But even booking in advance these seats are hard to get, depending on the airline and your frequent flyer status.

Something like 20 percent of all airline revenue now comes from “add-ons” to ticket prices for things like seat assignments, checked bags, food and yes, seat assignments.

The travelers’ advocacy group Travelers United cites an example of a passenger flying from NY to Chicago on American Airlines who really wanted a window seat but was told it would cost an additional $42.  She refused, waiting until she got to the airport to check in to try again.  There the airline said her window seat would cost an extra $76 … more than her one-way airfare!

That she could fly 700 miles for 10 cents a mile is ridiculous and speaks to how much airlines are “unbundling” their products. Their profit comes not from the transportation but the amenities.  You can take Greyhound on that route for $54 (if you don’t mind a 22-hour trip).  But “riding the dog” comes with two free checked bags, seat-side power plugs and free Wi-Fi.

Families flying together have a particular challenge trying to get adjacent seats. But last fall Congress tossed air travelers a bone, requiring airlines to seat families together at no additional cost.

Whatever your mode of transportation, be it cruise ship or jetliner, planning ahead is key to scoring “the best seat in the house”.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Mountains of the Mind’ by Robert Macfarlane

Have you ever been mesmerized by a mountain?

I have … Mount Fuji, from the waters of Suruga Wan, Mounts Rainier and Baker from Puget Sound on a cloudless day, and even Mount Kearsarge in central New Hampshire when I actually climbed it with some of our family.

What is it about mountains that seem to entrance our minds?
Robert Macfarlane, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, gives us a meditation on these heights, an enthralling “mental stimulation that explores why “the unknown is so inflammatory to the imagination.”  And why is it that almost every “prophet” of all our religions has ‘habitually been up mountains … to receive divine counsel”?
What is ‘”the mesmerism of high places”?  He explains: “ … the urge to explore space – to go higher – is innate in the human mind” and “ … the visionary amplitudes of altitude felt like the approximations of divine sight  … the spell of altitude.”
He writes “when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there … We read landscapes” as interpreted “in the light of our own experience and memory, and that of our shared cultural memory.”  In other words, landscapes are “romanticized into being,” mountains most of all.
“Contemplating the immensities of deep time, you face in a way that is both exquisite and horrifying, the total collapse of your present, compacted to nothingness by the pressures of pasts and futures too extensive to envisage … [plus] the appalling transience of the human body.”
Macfarlane’s chapters explore geology, fear, glaciers, heights, maps, theology, and conclude, inevitably, with Mount Everest and the attempt of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924. The author himself is also a climber as well as a student of mountains.
He cites John Ruskin with the idea that “risk-taking – scaring yourself – was, provided you survived, a potent means of self-improvement.”
“This is the great shift which has taken place in the history of risk.  Risk has always been taken, but for a long time it was taken with some ulterior purpose in mind: scientific advancement, personnel glory, financial gain.  About two and a half centuries ago, however, fear started to become fashionable for its own sake.  Risk, it was realized, brought its own reward: the sense of physical exhilaration and elation which we would now attribute to the effects of adrenaline.  And so risk-taking – the deliberate inducement of fear — became desirable; became a commodity.”
Macfarlane concludes, “mountains return to us the priceless capacity for wonder.”  He continues, “In ways that are for the most part imperceptible to us, we all bend our lives to fit the templates with which myths and archetypes provide us. We all tell ourselves stories, and bring our futures into line with these stories, however much we cherish the sense of newness, or originality, about our lives.”
Finally, “at bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent convictions – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans.”
So, encourage your doubts and go climb a hill!

Felix Kloman

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

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A la Carte Goes Colorful with Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Crispy cod with chorizo, white beans and cherry tomatoes.

Back in January, I was invited to a dinner party. The food was incredible, beginning with an appetizer of a seared sea scallop, topped with shredded duck and enveloped with a sunny yellow hollandaise and an arugula in subtle vinaigrette. As an “intermission,” there was glorious white lasagna which melted in our mouths. The entrée was beef and carrots in Borolo, silken mashed potatoes and fresh green beans with pine nuts.

The chef had also sent to our tables of 12 a freshly made bread that had been low risen for two days before it was put in the oven. There were two desserts—one a cassata (a traditional Sicilian cake) and soufflé. All the savory dishes were created by Tom Cherry, who spent a lot of time and love on that dinner, although his real job is plastic surgery. The desserts were created by Bette Hu, who calls herself “just a home cook.” Actually, these two may be just “home cooks,” but, truth be told, I am a home cook. These two people are true artists.

I have said before that real chefs can make magic with a few pans, a few sharp knives and a working stove. While Tom and his wife Lynn have a Viking stove in emerald green with eight to 10 burners on his cooktop and a few ovens at his disposal, he could do that in my galley kitchen and electric stove. I, on the other hand, would need his Viking to be that proficient. As I left that evening, I tried to figure out how I could sneak that Viking into my car. I couldn’t/t!

People often ask me what I consider most important to have in a kitchen. In my last house in Old Lyme, I could hold 20 people in the kitchen as I cooked, had a 42-inch cooktop with six gas burners, two ovens and a warming drawer. The granite counter held 10 and part of the counter was four inches below the regular one, so I could make pastry without making my shoulders ache. My pantry took up another room.

Today I have a fair amount of counter space and a nice deep kitchen sink, but the cooktop has four electric burners, there are two ovens but one is very shallow and most of my pantry is in the hallway closet, along with coats. I have a lot of counter-top appliances, but I have learned how to use those electric burners so that they do not ruin the good pans I have collected over the years.

What I need most in my kitchen these days are my knives (on a magnetic bar so the knife block doesn’t take up counter top), those good pans and Silpat liners for my many, many nested sheet pans, the last of which I use often.

In a recent edition of Rachael Ray Everyday, I saw a recipe for a cod that can be made in a sheet pan that fits in my shallow oven. 

Crispy Cod with Chorizo, White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

From Rachael Ray Everyday, February, 2018

Yield: serves 4

2 cans (15 to 15.5 ounces each) cannellini beans, rinsed
8 ounces cherry (or grape) tomatoes, halved
5 ounces cured chorizo, casing removed and meat chopped into small pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
One-half teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil
One-half cup panko
1 tabelspoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley plus one-quarter cup coarsely chopped
4 boneless, skinless cod fillets, 5 to 6 ounces each
3 tablespoons tartar sauce

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss beans, tomatoes, chorizo, garlic and crushed red pepper with 2 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt and one-quarter teaspoon freshly ground pepper.

In a shallow bowl, toss panko and 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper. Brush the tops and sides of the cod fillets with tartar sauce. Press the tops and sides of the fillets into the panko mixture until coated. Arrange the fish to the center of the baking sheet. Arrange the bean mixture in an even layer around the fish.

Bake until panko is golden and the fish flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the coarsely chopped parsley and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

Anne Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chateau de Blerancourt makes a charming picture.

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: Citizen Anger About Imminent Transport Funding Cuts Needs to be Directed at Legislature

In recent weeks I’ve been criss-crossing the state talking to folks about our transportation crisis:  the proposed fare hikes on trains and buses coupled with service cuts on the branch lines, and the multi-billion spending cuts at CDOT.

I call it the “Winter of our discontent” magical misery tour.

From Woodbridge to New Canaan, from Old Lyme to West Haven, I’ve talked to crowds large and small, explaining what’s going to happen July 1 and why.  Most folks knew something about our impending doom, but they all left unhappy about the cuts’ specific impact on their lives.

Like the First Selectwoman from Old Lyme who said taxpayers were going to have to spend $600,000 repairing a local bridge because, for the third year in a row, CDOT doesn’t have enough money to share with municipalities.

Or the manager of The Roger Sherman Inn in New Canaan who said she’d probably have to close if off-peak train service was cut on the branch, making it impossible for her cooks and waiters to get to work.

But the culmination of all these presentations was last Tuesday night’s public hearing in Stamford before an SRO crowd of 200+ angry residents.  I’d come more to listen than talk, but couldn’t resist and used my allotted three minutes to ask…

“What are we doing here?  Why are we at this hearing when nothing that you or I say tonight will do anything to change the inevitability of these fare hikes and service cuts?  This may be cathartic, but it’s just political theater.  The folks you should really be talking to are not from CDOT but your State Rep and State Senator.  The legislature created this funding problem and only they can fix it.  If they raise the gas tax and get serious about making motorists pay their fair share, none of these service cuts or fare hikes will happen”.

I was speaker number 11 of more than 80 who signed up to speak.  Some of them waited 4 hours for their few minutes in front of the mic.

But not the politicians.  As State Rep’s arrived, they were whisked by the CDOT Commissioner to the front of the speaker’s line, jumping the queue.  The Commissioner is no fool.  He knows who controls his budget and it isn’t the old guy with a walker complaining about the buses.

When the pols spoke it was the usual platitudes but no new ideas.  “Don’t raise fares, find other funding sources,” said one.  What funding sources?  To their credit, some of the pols did stay to listen, but others (including at least one gubernatorial hopeful) did their grandstanding and split.

One State Rep did have the guts to poll the crowd on their appetite for raising the gasoline tax and tolling our roads, both of which got loud support, much to his surprise.  The people have spoken so now’s the time for action.

By the way … what kind of message does it send when scores of New Canaan residents go to the Stamford hearing to oppose rail service cuts but take a chartered bus instead of the train?

People are angry.  But they need to direct their anger not at the CDOT but at the legislature, holding them accountable for their inaction.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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Family Wellness: Screens, Media and Family Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Betsy Groth

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

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

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

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A la Carte: St. Paddy’s Day Recipes for Any Day

Irish soda bread

Remembering St. Patrick’s Day is easy since my second oldest grandchild was born in Massachusetts on the day before St. Patrick’s Day.

When we heard that Sydney had peeked into this world early that morning of March 16, we drove as quickly as we could, legally, and were at the hospital, without breakfast, in less than two hours. I had grabbed a few clementines and I peeled them and we ate them on the way up. Our daughter-in-law, Nancy, was holding this gorgeous baby girl, as proud father, Peter, sat next to her bed.

While Doug and I stared in wonder at all three of them, Nancy waited until I sat, then handled swaddled Sydney into my arms. As I touched her face, wondering how such a beautiful baby might be in my arms, she turned her little mouth and sucked on my finger. It must have been the clementines, but she has loved oranges ever since.

That little baby graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in biomedical engineering and now lives in Boston, working on software for a computer start-up. I thought it might be fun to drive to Boston and meet Syd and her parents for dinner, until I realized that the last place I wanted be the day before St. Patrick’s Day might be Boston.

So, I will make a corned beef with vegetables (I’m not wild about the corned beef, but I love cabbage and carrots) and serve it with Irish soda bread and a grape nut pudding, the last must have been created in Boston, as corned beef was, too.

Irish Soda Bread

From Breads, Rolls and Pastries (Yankee Books, a division of Yankee Publishing Inc., Dublin, NH, 1981)
Yield: Makes 1 loaf
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons caraway seed (optional)
1 cup raisins, currants or Craisins (optional)
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk soured with 1 tablespoon white vinegar for 10 minutes)
Melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a baking sheet or loaf pan with melted butter.

Sift together flour, soda, sugar and salt. If used, blend in seeds and raisins and mix well. Stir in buttermilk to form soft dough (like biscuit dough). Turn out onto floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute. Roll into a ball and flatten top to form a loaf about 9 inches in diameter. With a floured butter knife or spatula, cut top of dough about one-inch deep into equal sections (one cut north and south through the center, the other east and west through the center. Place in baking sheet, brush with melted butter and bake 30 to 40 minutes.

Grape Nuts Custard

2 eggs
One-eighth teaspoon salt
one-third cup sugar
One-half teaspoon vanilla
2 cups light cream (you can use heavy cream)
2 tablespoons butter
One-quarter cup Grape Nuts cereal

Butter an 8-inch square pan and put aside. (You can double the recipe and butter a 9-inch by 13-inch pan.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk eggs, salt, sugar and vanilla, and set aside.
Scald cream with butter.
Add about one-quarter cup of scalded milk to egg mixture, whisking quickly. Add another quarter cup of cream, again whisking. (This “tempers” the eggs so they don’t become scrambled eggs.) Add the rest of the cream, whisking.
Pour entire mixture into buttered pan. Sprinkle Grape Nuts evenly on top. Do not mix in.
Place the pan into a larger pan to which you have pour warm water half way up the smaller pan (this larger pan with water is called a “bain Marie,” or water bath). Place the bain Marie in oven until custard is set in the middle, about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and bring to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

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Legal News You Can use: It Takes Two – Except When You’re in a Single Car Accident

Sponsored post:  One misconception people have about motor vehicle accidents is that “It takes two” – two or more vehicles to justify a claim.

Some drivers are embarrassed to say they were injured while sitting alone in their cars – as if it makes them appear foolish.

In truth, there are several major categories of single-car accidents – many of which involve negligence by a third party, even there’s no third party visible.

Here’s how it happens

  • A truck drops material on the road and drives on. You hit the lumber, or gravel, or boxes of merchandise and lose control. It’s a single vehicle accident because the truck is long gone.
  • A farm neglected to maintain its fences and several dairy cows wander onto the freeway.
  • The highway department failed to patch a pothole, or failed to erect a sign warning drivers about it.
  • Your mechanic, rotating your tires, replaced all the lug nuts but left two loose.
  • The “phantom collision”: another driver forces you off the road and into a utility pole without realizing it, and speeds away.
  • A county snow plow deposits a load of snow onto the highway, instead of carting it away.

Not every single-vehicle injury leads to a claim. If you fall asleep at the wheel and drive into a tree, that’s probably on you.

What sets these accidents apart is that you don’t file a claim against the other party’s insurance carrier. Instead, you present claims to your own insurer.

Much depends on whether your insurance policy contains a clause protecting you against actions by uninsured motorists, hit-and-runs, weather-related accidents and other situations. Most insurance policies do contain these low-cost protections.

You may learn, to your chagrin, that your auto insurance company does not rush to pay your medical expenses after a single-car accident injury. If they can deny, delay or diminish your claim, they will do so.

That’s when it’s advisable to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side and ready to go to bat for you.

The Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro focuses on this area of the law. Visit their website at this link for more information.

 

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

President Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: Why I Support Malloy’s Plan for Tolls, Gas Taxes

Am I the only person in the state who thinks Gov Malloy’s plan for tolls and gas taxes makes sense?  Probably.  But let me try once again to overcome the usual objections and explain why Malloy’s plan is fair and necessary.

TOLLS ARE TAXES:
No, tolls are users fees.  Train fares aren’t taxes, are they?  If you don’t want to pay a few pennies a gallon more for gasoline, don’t drive.  Join us on the train and pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US.  There is no free ride.

I ALREADY PAY ENOUGH TAXES:
That may be your perception.  But in 1997 when legislators cut the sky-high gas taxes by 14 cents, why didn’t they tell us that would lose us $3.7 billion in needed transportation funding?  The bill has come due.

BUT I ALSO PAY A PROPERTY TAX ON MY CAR:
Sure, but it doesn’t go to fixing the roads.  That’s a town / city tax.  If you don’t like it, tell City Hall.

WE ALREADY HAVE THE HIGHEST GASOLINE TAXES:
Not so anymore.  Connecticut’s 39 cents per gallon tax is third highest in the Northeast, trailing Pennsylvania (59 cents) and New York (44 cents) and just ahead of New Jersey (37 cents).

THE ROADS SHOULD BE FREE:
And just where in the Constitution does it say that?  This isn’t the pioneer West:  we’re talking about I-95 and the Parkways!  Driving is not like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Think of the new paradigm as an a la carte restaurant where you pay for what you eat.

TOLLS AREN’T SAFE:
Another myth since the days of the “fiery truck crash” in Milford in 1983.  Tolls don’t require barriers or booths anymore.  They’re electronic gantries over the highway reading your EZPass or license plate without slowing down.

TOLLS WILL DIVERT TRAFFIC TO LOCAL ROADS:
Maybe, for the first week.  Then people will decide if they want to waste time in traffic or pay a few cents to get where they’re going.

IF WE RAISE THE GAS TAX WHY DO WE NEED TOLLS?:
Because raising the gasoline tax can be done in weeks.  But tolls will take 2-4 years to install and by then upwards of half of all cars will be electric, paying no gas tax.  Why should a Tesla driver get a free ride?

OK, BUT JUST TOLL SOMEONE ELSE:
Sure, something like 34 percent of all traffic in Connecticut is from out-of-state.  But building tolls just at our borders is unconstitutional (and unfair).  We can offer a discount to Connecticut residents, but can’t charge those driving through our state while we pay nothing.

MALLOY STOLE MONEY FROM TRANSPORTATION:
True, money has been regularly “reapportioned” from the Special Transportation Fund for years, by Rowland and Rell as well as Malloy.  You’ll get the chance to stop that in November when there’s a referendum question on the ballot for a “lock box” on the STF.

THE REAL PROBLEM IS STATE EMPLOYEE UNION CONTRACTS:
That may be so, but the SEBAC contracts were just renegotiated and approved by the legislature, so how do we undo that before the STF goes belly-up next year?

I’VE HAD ENOUGH!  I’M LEAVING THE STATE:
Sorry to see you go.  But when you say goodbye, remember you’ll have to pay tolls to NY, MA or RI on your way out.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed’ by Dean King

This is a confession of an addict.

In early 1993, I was urged by a long-time sailing friend to begin reading a series of novels by Patrick O’Brian about an English skipper and his shipboard surgeon set in the Napoleonic Wars.

I did.

By now I’ve read – three times, no less –all 21 of the famous Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin novels, plus six of his other books, plus King’s 2000 biography. And I’ve just finished a second read of this biography, learning even more about a compelling writer, now acknowledged by many as one of the two best 20th Century tellers of sea stories (Joseph Conrad being the other.)

A re-read is often even more enlightening than the first, and so it was this time.  For Patrick O’Brian was a consummate “storyteller” in both senses of the word. First, he was not “Patrick O’Brian”, an Irish novelist. He was Richard Patrick Russ, the grandson of a German who moved to London in 1842 to seek his fortune as a furrier. He served in the ambulance corps during World War II and divorced his first (Welsh) wife immediately thereafter, taking his new wife Mary (English, but divorced from her Russian husband) first to Wales and then to southern France, as his writing career blossomed.

Patrick was indeed a well-read and curious man, whose “ … love of nature, literature, and writing arrived early, whose love of solitude would endure, and whose obsession with privacy would infuse his eventual literary tour de force, the Aubrey-Maturin novels.”

But his worlds were mostly vicarious, experienced through his reading, not through actual sea experience. While his stories give us detailed and factually-correct stories of the sea and many of the battles, skirmishes, and life at sea during the wars between 1800 and 1820, plus the intrigues of life in England at that time, they were a result of his reading and research plus his remarkable memory.As far as we know, O’Brian never went to sea in any sort of vessel!

O’Brian avoided publicity whenever he could: As he had his alter-ego, Stephen Maturin, say in Truelove: “Question and answer is not a civilized form of conversation … It is extremely ill bred, extremely unusual, and extremely difficult to turn aside gracefully or indeed without offense.”

But he was, above all, a writer: “ … he found his most life-affirming moments in this fluid act of creation … For him, the creative process was largely an inexplicable one, some magical combination of conscious, and subconscious, of instinct and intellect, all clicking at once.” In addition to his English, he was fluid, “to some extent, in Italian, French, Spanish, German, Catalan and Irish and had a good background in Latin and Greek.” He also, “possessed extraordinary powers of retention and integrated this information into his lively ken.” King concludes that O’Brian had “ … an ego of iron beneath a surface of humility.”

My connection with O’Brian’s work goes beyond his novels and biographies.  Two of us went to the Princeton Club in New York City in the fall of 1993 to hear O’Brian talk about his novels and read from one of them. Mesmerizing, but the high point was when we asked him to autograph copies of his latest work. With an impish smile he proceeded to do so: one with his right hand and the other with his left!

Most of his novels have beguiling conclusions, somewhat abrupt, if only to lead the reader toward the next “installment.” But he explained his endings in a conversation about writing with Maturin and a friend one evening on the rail of a ship in the Pacific in the Nutmeg of Consolation: “La betise c’est de vouloir conclure (the absurd thing is the desire to come to a conclusion.) The conventional ending, with virtue rewarded and loose ends tied up is often sadly chilling; and its platitude and falsity tend to infect what has gone before, however excellent.”

I noted that passage when I first read it and used it for the end of my own autobiography.  King also cites it.

Mary O’Brian died in France in March 1998. Patrick O’Brian died, incongruously, in Dublin, Ireland, in January 2000. But his stories live on …

Editor’s Note: ‘Patrick O’Brian: A Life Revealed,’ by Dean King is published by Henry Holt & Co., New York 2000.

Felix Kloman

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Coincidence or not ?

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

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

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

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

Goering is late but the visitors wait patiently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: “Getting There” Malloy’s Transportation Cuts

Fare hikes, rail service cuts and a freeze on transportation projects.  As he promised in December, Governor Malloy announced them all in January.  Rail commuters and highway drivers are justifiably outraged, but they should direct their anger not at the Governor or CDOT but at the legislature.

WHY NOW?
This funding crisis has been years in the making, exacerbated 20 years ago when lawmakers’ political pandering saw them lower the gasoline tax.  Coupled with better gas mileage and increased use of electric cars, the Special Transportation Fund (STF), which pays for our roads and rails has been running out of money.  By next year, it will be in deficit.

RAIDS ON THE STF:
His critics are quick to blame Malloy, correctly noting that he raided the STF for money to balance the state’s budget.  But so did Governors Rell and Rowland.  Blaming their past mistakes doesn’t answer the question of what we do now.

FARE HIKES:
Metro-North riders already pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US.  The proposed 10 percent hike in July, while unpopular, will be absorbed by commuters, who have no real choice in how to get to their jobs in NYC … assuming they don’t move.

PUBLIC HEARINGS:
Required by law 90 days before they go into effect, the public hearings on fare hikes will be cathartic but meaningless.  Think of them as political theater.  The CDOT will present the numbers, explain why the STF is running out of money and sit patiently as commuters yell and scream.  Then they will do what they must:  raise fares.

RAIL SERVICE CUTS:
Why is Malloy cutting off-peak weekday and all weekend service on the New Canaan, Danbury, Waterbury and Shore Line East lines?  Because, unlike the mainline, these lines are subsidized 100 percent by Connecticut, have lower ridership and are much more expensive to operate.

ECONOMIC IMPACT:
While higher fares are never popular, cuts in train service can be economically devastating.  Without daily trains, houses in communities like Wilton and Redding will be less desirable.  Property values will decrease, affecting local taxes.  Transit-oriented development dreams for communities in the Naugatuck Valley will be dashed.

FUTURE PROJECTS:
Not only is the Governor threatening fare hikes and service cuts, he’s freezing $4.3 billion worth of transportation projects across the state.  Forget about the new Stamford rail garage, Route 8 – I-84 “mixmaster” in Waterbury, the Barnum rail station in east Bridgeport, and hundreds of other projects.  There may even be a 15 perent staff cut at CDOT.  That means months or years of delays on these projects if and when money is ever found, making our state even less desirable for new business investment.

ROAD MAINTENANCE:
These cuts may even affect CDOT’s ability to plow our roads in the next blizzard, let alone fix the potholes and our aging bridges.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?:
It will be up the legislature to finally address STF funding.  None of the alternatives will be popular, especially in an election year.  But I’d expect tolls, taxes, and yes, fare hikes … all predicated on passage of a true STF “lock box” in November’s referendum.

If you’re as angry as I am, do something.  Call your state representative and senator and demand that they vote on new funding sources for the STF to stop these service cuts and project delays.  They created this problem.  Now they’ll have to solve it.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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

Betsy Groth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Letter From Paris: The Seine is Flooding … Again

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

When a world is collapsing all about us, how much are we willing to recognize?

J. G. Farrell’s description of a veteran of the World War I trenches going to Ireland to rejoin a young lady he had met only once in London during the War is an allegory on human inertia and lethargy in the face of rapid change.

In 1919, Major Brendan Archer travels from London to Kilnalough, Ireland, thinking to ask Angela Spencer to join him in marriage, even though he could not remember ever asking her outright to do so. He finds an elusive young lady and a scene of inertia and decay. Ireland has entered the “Troubles” with Sinn Fein pushing for complete separation from the British Empire.

And that Empire is collapsing just as the Majestic Hotel — owned and operated by Angela’s father, Edward, and the scene of the entire novel — is doing the same.

Farrell gives us the Hotel dominated by “dust.” Every page describes dust, “mould,” gloom, creepers, grime, cobwebs, collapsing floors, “man-eating” plants, and an ever-expanding entourage of reproducing cats. One room featured “an enormous greyish-white sweater that lay in one corner like a dead sheep.” The weather wasn’t any better: “it rained all that July,” and the hotel residents complained of the coming  “dreadful gauntlet of December, January, February.”

Both the hotel and Ireland exuded “an atmosphere of change, insecurity and decay.” But the residents continued to follow life’s rituals: prayers at breakfast, afternoon teas, dressing for dinner, and whist in the evening.

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

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

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

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

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

Felix Kloman

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

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