February 15, 2019

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

Paris is waging a war on wheels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sidewalks are supposedly designed for pedestrians. Wrong!

A ‘trottinette’

A ‘gyrorue’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Talking Transportation: Why 30-30-30 Doesn’t Add Up

How would you like a faster ride on Metro-North?  Who wouldn’t?!  How about a 30-minute ride from Hartford to New Haven, from New Haven to Stamford or from Stamford to Grand Central?

That’s the vision announced by Governor Lamont in his inaugural address.  It’s known as the 30-30-30 plan and sounds good compared to current running times (52 minutes, 55 minutes and 48 minutes respectively.)  But how can such vast improvements be done?  Ask Joe McGee, VP of the Fairfield Business Council, who’s been pitching this idea for years.

So confident was McGee of this concept that his Council recently paid $400,000 to Ty Lin Consulting of San Francisco to study it.  And which railroad expert did Ty Lin hire to spearhead the study?  Joseph Giulietti, former President of Metro-North … recently named as Connecticut’s new Commissioner of Transportation.

Though the Ty Lin study has yet to be released, McGee admits that the 30-30-30 idea is more of a goal than a possibility.  Yet, for as little as $75 to $95 million, Ty Lin thinks significant improvements can be made in speeding up service by accelerating Metro-North’s return to a “state of good repair.”

When he was President of Metro-North, Giulietti said it would take five years to get the railroad back in shape after years of neglect.  Today, Metro-North says a more realistic time frame is 10 years.

By fixing rail ties and overhead power lines to improve speeds on curves, by restoring the fourth track east of Milford and by adding express trains (at a premium fare), McGee claims service will improve quickly, maybe shaving 24 minutes off of the current 103 minute running time from New Haven to Grand Central. That would make it a 79-minute run, but not 60.

But wait.  If this was Giulietti’s idea as a consultant, why didn’t he make that happen when he was running Metro-North?  Or how will he now, as Commissioner of the CDOT, get his old railroad to adopt Ty Lin’s (his) ideas?  I asked, but he isn’t saying.

What seasoned professionals at CDOT have told me is that the Ty Lin ideas will cost billions of dollars and take a decade.  In other words … there’s no quick, cheap fix.

Meantime, Metro-North is planning to add six to 10 minutes of running time to all New Haven line trains for the spring timetable to better reflect the reality of current delays due to work.  For 2018, the railroad had only 88 percent on time performance (OTP).  By extending the train schedule on paper, OTP will go up and riders will have a more dependable, albeit slower, ride.

Lengthening running times, even on paper, “is not acceptable,” says McGee who hopes to release his Ty Lin study in about two weeks, fully expecting huge pushback from the railroad and east-coast consultants beholden to the MTA.

But it’s really the FRA (the Federal Railroad Administration) that’s the biggest block to faster trains.  The slower speeds they required after the 2013 Bridgeport and Spuyten Duyvil derailments won’t be raised until they’re convinced the railroad is safe.

So let the debate begin:  is 30-30-30 possible or just a fantasy?  Did Giulietti create himself a nightmare in proposing as a consultant what he may not be able to deliver as CDOT Commissioner?

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: ‘The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World’ by Maya Jasanoff

Having read all of Patrick O’Brian, plus his biography (see LymeLine, Feb. 22, 2018), and having read most of that other great author of sea stories in the 20th Century, Joseph Conrad, it was only natural to launch into this latest study of him by Harvard’s Maya Jasanoff.

Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski was as compulsive a reader as O’Brian, but this Pole added global travel to his years. Born to Polish parents in the Ukraine in 1857, he followed his banished father to Nizhny Novgorod in Russia (this city was where Count Alexander Rostov ended in Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow: see my review in LymeLine, Dec. 17, 2017!), he returned to Poland, then went to sea from France and ended an English gentleman and author.

Jasanoff’s thesis is that, “Conrad watched the emergence of the globally interrelated world …” first from Eastern Europe, then from various sailing ships in the Far East and Africa, and finally from southern England. While early on he was “obsessed with becoming a sailor” he also found that, “in books he could travel the world.” For a life at sea, Conrad wrote “There’s rarely something to look at, there’s always something to see. People are always asleep, people are always awake. You’re never alone, you’re always isolated.”

Two delightful bits that recalled to me my few years at sea: (1) “Having matured in the surroundings and under the special conditions of sea life, I have a special piety toward that form of my past …” and (2) “For utter surrender to indolence you cannot beat a sailor ashore when that mood is on him, the mood of absolute irresponsibility tasted to the full.”

Jasanoff concludes thus with her linkage of Conrad to our increasingly interconnected world, “What Conrad had made me see, I realized, was a set of forces whose shapes may have changed but whose challenges have not. Today’s hearts of darkness are to be found in other places where civilizing missions serve as covers for exploitation. The heirs of Conrad’s technologically displaced sailors (steam replacing sail) are to be found in industries disrupted by digitization. The analogues to his anarchists are to be found in Internet chat rooms or terrorist cells. The material interests he centered in the United States emanate today as much from China.”

So perhaps it was only natural that I turned again to Conrad himself in A Personal Record, first published in 1908 when he was 50-years-old. Some jewels:
“It is better for mankind to be impressionable than reflective. Nothing humanly great—great, I mean as affecting a whole mass of lives—has come from reflection.”
“Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. An imaginative and exact rendering of authentic memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety toward all things human which sanction the conceptions of a writer of tales, and the emotions of the man reviewing his own experience.”
And, of course …
“Books are an integral part of one’s life.”

Editor’s Note: ‘The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World’ by Maya Jasanoff was published by Penguin Press, New York, 2017.

Felix Kloman

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

French President Emmanuel Macron.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hard core of gilets jaunes declined to participate.

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

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

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

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

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

Violence hit cities throughout France causing widespread damage.

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s to be done?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just does not work.

Photo by Julien Andrieux on Unsplash

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

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

Then the real magic begins.

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

Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a devastating blow to the gut!

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

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

I left the theater more than satisfied.

I left fulfilled.

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Ganey

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toulouse Lautrec was his idol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Fifth Risk’ by Michael Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is this work threatened by the current administration?

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

So what is “risk”?

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

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

A most provocative and coherent analysis.

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

Felix Kloman

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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

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

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

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

She returned to the UK empty-handed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid

How would you respond to a bearded gentleman greeting you in Lahore, Pakistan, with these words: “Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance?” Followed by these, “Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened by my beard: I am a lover of America. I noticed that you were looking for something, more than looking, in fact you seemed to be on a mission, and since I am both a native of this city and a speaker of your language, I thought I might offer you my service.”

Mohsin Hamid, a native Pakistani, a graduate of Princeton University, and a former employee of a financial services firm in New York, serving clients in the Philippines, and Chile, who now lives and writes in Oxford, has created a character with similar experience to his own.  The character greets this American in his native city, wines and dines with him, all while delivering his life story.

We read only the words of Changez, the name of the narrator and guide, telling us of how his views of the United States and its inhabitants have been materially altered by events at the turn of the century. It is an increasingly critical analysis. What do we citizens of this country, protected by two oceans and enormous wealth, really know what others around this globe think of us?

Consider these quotes:

“ … my ability to function both respectfully and with self-respect in a hierarchical environment, something American youngsters – unlike their Pakistani counterparts – rarely seemed trained to do.”

 “I had always thought of America as a nation that looked forward; for the first time I was struck by its determination to look back …  What your fellow countrymen longed for was unclear to me – a time of unquestioned dominance?  Of safety?  Of moral certainty? I did not know — but that they were scrambling to don the costumes of another era was apparent.”

 “Yes, my musings were bleak indeed. I reflected that I had always resented the manner in which America conducted itself in the world; your country’s constant interference in the affairs of others was insufferable. Vietnam, Korea, the straits of Taiwan, the Middle East, and now Afghanistan: in each of the major conflicts and standoffs that ringed my mother continent of Asia, America played a central role … (and) finance was a primary means by which the American empire exercised its power.”

 “It seemed to me then … that America was engaged only in posturing. As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world. So that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums … “

This is a compelling and enlightening one-sided conversation, leading to a 
stunning conclusion.

As the author himself comments in an addendum to this novel, “I believe that the core skill of the novelist is empathy: the ability to imagine what someone else might feel. And I believe that the world is suffering from a deficit of empathy at the moment …  We need to stop being so confused by the fear we are fed; a shared humanity should unite us with people we are encouraged to think of as enemies.”

Incidentally, Hamid has written a second novel, Exit West*, which received solid reviews here and in Europe. I’ve read it, but I consider The Reluctant Fundamentalist his jewel.

Challenge your thinking!

Editor’s Notes:  i) ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid is published by Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt, New York 2007

ii) ‘Exit West’ by Mohsin Hamid was the Eastern Connecticut ‘One Book One Region’ selection for 2018.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction 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 Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

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A la Carte: Best (Recipe) of 2018’s Best … Says Lee

Many, many years ago, I did a radio show with Johnny London on WICH out of Norwich, Connecticut. We began with an hour and, after the first year, it turned into two hours. 

I grew up with radio, although my parents did get a television in 1948. But we had radios everywhere in our house—we had clock radios, a radio in the kitchen and a “console” radio in our dining room. My mother liked to iron, and we had an ironing board that came out of the kitchen wall.

When I was little, I would sit on the linoleum and play with my toys. One was a little truck or engine that you could spin back and forth a dozen times, then let it go and it would flew into my parents’ master bedroom, usually hitting on a door, the bottom of their bed or into a closet. After a few years, the linoleum in the kitchen had to be replaced.

While my mom ironed and I played with toys, I listened to the radio. In the evening, it was Dr. Christian and Jack Benny and Red Skelton. On Sunday morning, I would lie on dining room rug and read the “funnies” as the mayor of Albany read the Times-Union the same way Mayor LaGuardia did in New York City.

But back to my own radio show: I had guests in the room with me, or I would talk on the phone to chefs, cookbook authors and restaurant owners. And readers would call with questions.

Often Johnny asked me if I would run out of recipes. But, like the music made from just seven notes, one never runs out of recipes. This was a great year for cookbooks, but choosing my favorite wasn’t difficult.

Sweet Chili Chicken Thighs

From “Everyday Dorie” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston and New York, 2018)

2 tablespoons canola or neutral oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped and dried
1 and one-half to 3 peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, germ removed and minced
Fine sea salt
One-quarter cup white wine
8 chicken thighs, with or without skin and/or bones, patted dry
Freshly ground pepper
One-half cup Thai sweet chili sauce*
One-third cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 
1 to 1 and one-half teaspoon Sriracha*
Sliced scallions and crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (optional)

Warm 1 tablespoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat Add onion, ginger and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring until they soften a bit and are translucent but not browned, about five minutes

Add wine, increase the heat and cook, stirring, until most of the wine evaporates, about three minutes. Again, don’t color the onion mixture. Transfer ingredients to a bowl.

Return pot to medium heat and add remaining oil. Place thighs in the pot and brown on all sides, adding more oil if necessary. (If the thighs will be crowded, do this in two batches.) Pour and discard oil. If you have burnt bits of the bottom of the pots, remove chicken and scrub the pot, then return chicken to it.

Return the onions mixture to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated, add the chili sauce*, soy sauce, mustard and Sriracha* and stir to blend. Season lightly with salt and pepper and clap the lid on.

Turn heat down top low and cook, basting occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until chicken is opaque in the center; an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees.

Transfer to a platter (or serve right on the pot) and spoon over some of the juice. Add scallions and pepper flakes (optional). Pass the rest of the sauce at the table.

*I always have both sweet chili sauce and Sriracha in my pantry.

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The Movie Man: ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Offers Existentialism for Kids 101

In this sequel to 2012’s Wreck it Ralph, the title character and his adorable best friend, Vanellope, venture beyond their familiar arcade community into the world of the Internet.

And this depiction of the Internet is a tangible and personified version of the World Wide Web, akin to a thriving city with anthropological beings embodying many things with which we are familiar, such as algorithms and search engines (including a frustrated reminder to say “thank you” when your search engine brings you what you were seeking.)

There are some philosophical themes in these movies, at least entry-level for the younger crowds screening them (despite reading Dostoyevsky at a book club meeting later on, the film does not exactly go into themes from The Grand Inquisitor about whether we are responsible enough to handle freedom).

Vanellope ponders what the meaning of everything is beyond their games, the stark reality of being 0’s and 1’s, and wanting more, while Ralph expresses, not only contention, but joy with what his life is.

The previous film tackled the issue of personal identity and worth, with Ralph wanting to be more than just the “bad guy” character and Vanellope being included in her game.

This installment now tackles the issue of friendship, and what being a true friend really means: whatever is best for your friend, regardless of how it affects you. (And this is where memories of my Catholic education came to mind, reminding me that the real definition of love is to will the good of the other).

While the Wreck it Ralph movies have not demonstrated themselves to be Disney’s most groundbreaking movies in recent years (the plots can seem familiar at times), they still prove to be highly entertaining and filled with unique, lovable characters.

And Disney did have the joy of referencing itself by bringing Vanellope to Oh My Disney to see numerous iconic characters and environments, making everything more enjoyable. And the theme of Girl Power is brought up when she takes refuge in the Princesses’ dressing room, which will delight numerous girls (young and old.)

For the sake of pure entertainment, I would definitely recommend this film to viewers of all ages. It is not necessary for Disney to break ground through every film they release, but they certainly know how to make a good time at the movies.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Kevin Ganey.

Kevin Ganey

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Are Connecticut Roads Prepared for Winter?

Snow’s so pretty but are the roads — and you and your vehicle — ready for the next winter storm? Photo by Korey Moore on Unsplash

SPONSORED POST by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law.

Connecticut’s first winter storm of the season in mid-November caught many people off-guard, including the Department of Transportation. Snow blanketed many areas of the state just as people left work. Although the DOT salted the roads, it wasn’t enough.

Crashes and stuck cars closed three highways, causing major back-ups. A man from Florida died when he left his spun-out vehicle and another car hit him. Connecticut is no stranger to snow and winter driving, so what went wrong this time?

More snow than expected

First, the state received more snow than expected, but not by a huge amount. Fairfield County took the brunt of it, but many areas received over half a foot. This may have been enough to cause trouble. Drivers knew there would be snow, but didn’t expect quite so much of it. Connecticut drivers are used to driving in snow, and they may have thought they could handle it.

Bad timing

The storm’s timing did not help matters, either. Anytime bad weather coincides with the rush hour commute, you have a terrible combination. Commuters hurrying to make it home blocked the plows trying to clear the roads. Police had to escort them out of traffic.

Operations center failure

Unfortunately, the storm also caught Governor Malloy off-guard. He was speaking on prisoner reforms in California at the time of the storm and did not activate the emergency operations center. Nor did his chief of staff, Brian Durand, who sought advice from the Transportation Commissioner.

Are you prepared?

If you haven’t done your winter car check, now is the time to do it. You should check the following before hitting the snowy roads:

  • Battery. Many garages can test your battery. Carry jumper cables, even if you have a good battery. You may be able to save a neighbor in need.
  • Fluids. Top them off, especially windshield washer fluid and anti-freeze. Keep your gas tank at least half-full, as well.
  • Tires. Switch to winter tires if you have them. Otherwise, make sure your all-weather tires are in good condition.
  • Lights. It gets dark much earlier, and you want other drivers to see you.
  • Emergency kit. Make sure you fully stock your winter car kit with flashlights, water, snacks, a warm blanket, a first aid kit and kitty litter or sand.

Winter has only just begun. We will see more snow before the season is over. Stay safe and make sure you are prepared for the next winter storm. 

Visit the Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro  at this link for more information.

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Talking Transportation: Trucker Shortage Takes Its Toll

What does the future hold for the trucks on our highways? Photo by Rhys Moult on Unsplash

As if crumbling bridges and pot-holed highways weren’t enough to worry about, now America’s transportation network is facing a new crisis:  a shortage of truck drivers.

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), trucks carry more than 70 percent of all domestic freight, bringing in $719 billion in revenue.  It’s trucks, not trains, that deliver our Amazon purchases and fill the shelves of our favorite big box stores for the holidays. So while we hate to drive behind them on our highways, we love what trucks deliver.

But now, of the existing half-million truck drivers in the US, demographics are taking their toll as more and more retire each year, leaving those jobs unfilled. The ATA estimates the industry needs 51,000 new truck drivers.  And new candidates are not stepping forward.

Why?  Well, the ATA says Gen Z’ers don’t like the lifestyle.  They don’t want to spend long, lonely days or weeks doing long-hauls, eating bad food and sleeping in their rigs.  Even money, like $50,000 signing bonuses, isn’t attracting them.

The average trucker makes $59,000 and drivers for private fleets can make $86,000. But lengthy, expensive training courses present a roadblock to immediate recruitment.  And newly-mandated technology tracking drivers’ time on the road is exacerbating the problem.

Drivers are only supposed to drive 11 hours of every 14 hours a day, but many used to fudge their paper log-book records because they got paid by the mile.  Since last December, electronic logging has been the law, so the safety rules are impossible to circumvent.  Of course, nobody wants tired drivers on the road, but in the cause of safety, truckers are losing efficiency.

Where will the industry find new drivers?  Well, women still only represent about 6 percent of all drivers.  And minorities have seen their numbers increase 12 percent in the past year.  And the industry is also seeking a reduction in the minimum driving age from 21 to 18.

What’s this all mean to us as consumers?  Higher costs.

Amazon saw a 38 percent increase in shipping costs in the first quarter, forcing it to raise its (unlimited free-shipping) Amazon Prime membership fee from $99 to $119 a year.  Across the industry spectrum, shipping rates are rising.

But the real solution will probably be self-driving trucks.

That’s why big companies like Waymo (owned by Google), Tesla and Uber, as well as truck-builders like Freightliner and Volvo are investing heavily in the autonomous technology.

Not that we’ll be seeing driverless trucks on Connecticut interstates anytime soon.  There’s probably too much congestion to make them practical.  But there are vast stretches of interstates in “fly over country” out west where self-driving trucks make perfect sense, delivering truckloads of products to automated warehouses where robots will unload them.

Automating trucking may be good for the industry but it certainly doesn’t help with recruitment.  Who wants to sign on for a career knowing full well they may be replaced by a robot?

Sociologist and 13-year trucker Steve Viscelli says the solution is in changing the system:  paying truckers for actual hours on the road (not just mileage), including those times when truckers must waste hours or days waiting for a new load.

Whatever the solution, it’s clear who’ll end up paying:  consumers.

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is in a tailspin.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

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

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The Movie Man: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Delights, Challenges

It seems that the newest trend in film is to go from first screenings at movie theaters to permanent availability on Netflix, following the trend that TV shows have started.

Originally, it was seen with popular, but not so artistically influential, stars such as Adam Sandler. But now iconic brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have followed through on this trend with the release of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western collection of vignettes ranging from bank robberies to covered-wagon journeys.

I finished the film as I expected I would: scratching my head, pondering the meaning of every story in the anthology. But this is the case with nearly every film by the Coen brothers. This happened when I finished No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, and even The Big Lebowski.

But have no fear, in our digital age, you will not be perpetually stumped. With the assistance of Google, one can find a medium that can help you understand the artistic, and often spiritual, meanings of these films.

But make no mistake: you will enjoy Buster Scruggs. This will not be ranked as one of the Coen’s most memorable and definitive films, but you will be entertained.

They’re back at it with their quirky humor and folksy manner of storytelling that is present in every film (even ones as dark as No Country, upon further reflection.) You will also see tributes to other iconic directors, such as Stanley Kubrick (through their amazing landscape shots that help reinforce the environment of the story), and Spaghetti Western legend Sergio Leone (via silence, creating a build-up of suspense) — and this is more than fitting, being a Western movie.

For most readers, it will be quite easy to screen Buster Scruggs on finishing this review. Simply open a new tab in your internet explorer and log in to your Netflix account.

For everyone else, you will have to go through the painstaking process of pulling out your credit card and paying a whopping $8 to $14 to have thousands of videos at your disposal. It is a convenient way to watch movies now, but I believe it takes the joy out of the occasion of going to the movies … and I hope to write about this in the future.

‘Til next time, this is the Movie Man signing out …

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A la Carte: Got Leftovers? How About a Turkey Casserole?

Perhaps you are reading this column on the morning after Thanksgiving as you drink your cup of coffee or tea. It has been quite a few years since I sat with the newspaper and figured out which I should do first. I have been in my condo for almost five years and only created Thanksgiving dinner once, and only for around six or seven of us.

Many, many years ago, when my own daughter was still in elementary school, there would have been at least four little ones (two nieces, one nephew and Darcy) or up to 10 or more (more nephews, nieces, two step-sons, one step-daughter and all their parents). Even when the little ones became high schoolers, we still did Thanksgiving. Although there were extra bedrooms, there were sleeping bags filled with humans on floors everywhere.

The last Thanksgiving enormous dinner was in Old Lyme, just a few months before I sold the house and moved into my condo. That crowd included more than 20 friends and family. Many of the family members stayed over the weekend, and, except for a few sandwiches, there were no leftovers.

These days turkey day happens at my daughter-in-law’s condo in Newburyport. My stepson and Nancy have divorced, but it is amicable. My Massachusetts granddaughters will be there (one already graduated from college and living in Boston, the middle a senior at Clark in Worcester and the baby now a freshman at UMass in Amherst.) There will be leftovers, but I will leave them in Massachusetts, because I bought two Butterballs at BJs.

As you read this, one is thawing in my refrigerator, the stuffing is in the freezer, the gravy is made (with an Ina Garten recipe made with no turkey juice, which she calls a base. I will add that base to the basting as Mr. Tom comes out of the oven. With the mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, turkey and cranberry (I love the canned kind for this casserole), I will make at least two or three casseroles.

Because I never grew up with casseroles, I actually like these better than the original meal. Here is my go-to recipe for this and any kind of meat leftover this winter.

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Turkey Leftover Casserole

3 to 4 pounds of turkey, dark or white meat, slices or chunked, divided
2 pounds of vegetables (beans, turnips, Brussels sprouts, corn or squash), divided
2 to 3 pounds of mashed white potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, divided
1 to 2 pounds stuffing, divided
1 can of cranberry sauce (or made-scratch) cranberry sauce, divided
Leftover gravy from Thanksgiving, or packaged or carton gravy

In a large casserole dish (or a big gratin dish or a big Tupper-type holder), begin to layer the ingredients. I begin with a little mashed potato, then turkey, some gravy, vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing and a few slices of cranberry sauce. I end with mashed potatoes and drizzled with gravy, if you still have some. Each casserole will feed at least four to six people.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Essays After Eighty’ & ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety’ by Donald Hall

“I teeter when I walk, I no longer drive, I look out the windows … My circles narrow. Each season my balance gets worse, and I sometimes fall. My fingers are clumsy and slow with buttons. I have problems with memory, sure, but it’s short-term memory … My summer nights are NESN and the Boston Red Sox. I enjoy multiple naps.”  So did the New Hampshire poet Donald Hall define life after 80!

I know, I know … I’m about the same age.  I too enjoyed Sidney Bechet when I was younger (a famous New Orleans jazz hero for you younger lads and lasses).  I too listened to Robert Frost in person (he “said” his lines at my high school in 1950 and 1951).  And I too have tried my hand at poetry (the haiku).

Some years ago, I was advised that one should not read a book until one is the same age as when the author wrote it. I let that pass, but now, after becoming immersed in Hall’s two last books, I suspect the advice may be sanguine. But that doesn’t mean that my younger readers should avoid these two volumes. No, not al all …

In these brief, enjoyable, humorous, and always challenging essays (Hall writes that he decided at eighty to dispense with his renowned poetry, after he served as the United States Poet Laureate, shifting to the essay). He describes poems as “ . . . image-bursts from the brain-depths, words flavored by battery-long vowels” that challenge our brains and imaginations, “ . . . delicate rhythms with forceful enjambments and an assonance of dipthongs.” These essays, fortunately, are less poetic!

I enjoyed especially his warnings on writing: “Don’t begin paragraphs with ‘I’” (I failed that one!). “Avoid ‘me’ and ‘my’ when you can. . . . Avoid the personal pronoun when you can. . . . “ and “don’t be afraid of contradiction: it is the cellular structure of life. . . . The emotional intricacy and urgency of human life expresses itself most fiercely in contradiction”.

Death, of course, is on his mind. “There is only one road” and “Of course all of us will be forgotten” but these essays demonstrate a life lived to the fullest, with humor and good feeling for his years in New Hampshire.

Donald Hall died quietly in Wilmot, NH on June 23, 2018. Do read these brief, succinct and poetic essays: perfect for the aging mind, as well as for those advancing inexorably to old age. Enjoy every moment!

Editor’s Note: ‘Essays After Eighty,’ 2014, and ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety,’ both by Donald Hall were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New  York, respectively in 2014 and 2018.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction 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 Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

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A la Carte: From Lee With Love — Thanksgiving Recipes Galore!

Editor’s Note: We are running three of Lee White’s wonderful columns together today to give readers a chance to savor a selection of her wonderful Thanksgiving recipes in one place.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

For more years than I can remember, I have been writing about turkey at Thanksgiving. I get every food magazine every month and every single month, in October, a turkey is on the covers.

My mother never cooked a turkey. We had Thanksgiving at an aunt and uncle’s home in Kinderhook, New York. There was no gravy and no stuffing and the sweet potatoes were stuffed into oranges, which made the sweet potatoes taste like oranges. The first Thanksgiving with my husband and daughter was in Houston, and I ordered turkey and sides from a restaurant. The gravy was white. In following years I made turkey and sides it myself, sometimes on 20 or more friends and family. The first few times, I called the Butterball Hot Line for help.

Some years later I stopped using the throwaway aluminum pans and bought a $200 roasting pan, which I still use for every kind of roast I have ever made. It was one terrific buy. Over the years I brined turkey in a huge cooler. I bought organic turkeys. Last year I went to a friend who made a heritage turkey. I made all kinds of stuffing and once placed slices of bacon on top of the fowl. A few times I put buttered cheesecloth on the turkey. But these days I buy the least expensive turkey I can get and I buy it frozen. I make my stuffing the night before and put it in the refrigerator in an enormous plastic bag. The next morning I stuff as much dressing as possible into the thawed (but cold) turkey’s cavity. I put the rest in a casserole and when the roasted turkey come out of the oven, I add some juice to the casserole and bake it.

Forget all those other “new” ways to make turkey for Thanksgiving. Here is my favorite recipe. 

Turkey

1 14- to 16-pound turkey
salt
1 stick butter
½ (one-half) cup good white wine

Gravy

¼ (one-quarter) cup all-purpose flour
cold water
Gravy Master (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove giblets from turkey (I don’t use them; instead, I boiled them for the kitties, less bones). Rinse and dry turkey inside and out. Rub salt inside cavity of bird. Fill cavity with cold stuffing made the night before or early morning. Place bird in a rack (or upside glass pie pan) atop a large, heavy-duty roasting pan. Place in a 350-degree oven.

Add butter and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Open oven, pour wine-butter over turkey and close oven. Every half hour baste liquid over turkey. Bake until turkey is done (when the thermometer plunged into the thickest part of the thigh registered 175 to 180 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes per pound if not stuffed or 12 to 15 minutes stuffed).

Turn off the oven, remove turkey from the oven, Place the turkey on a platter and spooned the Stuffing into a bowl; cover each with aluminum foil and return both to still-warm oven. (Extra stuffing can be heated in a casserole dish; it is not as tasty but if you spoon some juice on the dish before heating, it’s pretty good.)

Remove grease from roasting pan. and place the pan on the stove. Turn heat to medium. In a large jar, add all-purpose flour and about 2 cups of water. Screw jar cover and shake. When the brown bits are hot, add flour-water mixture and, over medium-high heat, whisk constantly. If you need more water, add some. Once the gravy is ready, add and stir in Gravy Master to taste (optional). Add salt and pepper to taste.

STUFFING AND SAUCE

Cranberry, grape and apple sauce.

This was a very busy but very pleasant week.

First was a lovely party for the retirement of Betty Anne Reiter at the Mystic Museum of Art. Betty Anne and I have worked together for quite a few years, she as librarian at the Groton Public Library, creating a couple of food series at the library. She and her staff made the series such fun that I hope we will do it every May.

Then there was cookbook time. Rose Levy Birnbaum, food writer extraordinaire, was on a book tour with her newest ???????? and we had a nice lunch at Olio before she and her assistant, Woody, went to their next signing and demo in Paramus, New Jersey. A few days later,, I went to RJ Julia in Madison to listen to Dorie Greenspan (who has a house on our shoreline), talk about her newest book, Everyday Dorie. I think this may be the best of her many best cookbooks and one of the best I have read by anyone in the last five years.

I had dinner that night with Madison friends at Elizabeth’s, a new one for me. The food was delicious, the service very professional and , service just  lovely.  If the chef will share a recipe with me, I will share the  house made gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce  topped with frizzled onions. Four of us shared that appetizers, and then we ordered another.

But I digress. I will have Thanksgiving with family in Newburyport and then drive back to Connecticut have another turkey dinner the next day in Durham. For the one with my family, I will make the turkey stuffing and a new side, so here is an old and a new; none is blue but one is borrowed.

Roasted Grape, Apple and Cranberry Sauce

From Cooking Light, November 2018
Serves 12

Cooking spray
2 cups seedless black grapes (about 10 ounces)
1 and three-quarter cups chopped Honeycrisp apple (or Gala or ????)
2 tablespoons chopped scallop
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 and one half tablespoons unsalted butter
3 and one-half teaspoons pure maple syrup
One-eighth teaspoon kosher salt
One-quarter teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with spray. Place grapes, apple and shallot on prepared baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake until shallots begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add cranberries to baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until cranberries burst, apple is tender and grape skins are beginning to burst, about 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in butter, maple syrup and salt. Cool completely, about one hour. Sprinkle with thyme, if desired.

Stuffing

I make the stuffing at least the day ahead,, because it should be cold when you put it in the turkey, which is also cold. This is probably more stuffing you will use. You can put the rest in a casserole and bake for Thanksgiving, or freeze it for another turkey or chicken dinner.

I large Pepperidge Farms herb-seasoned stuffing mix
6 to 8 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, minced
1 cup celery, minced
1 small can of diced mushrooms
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I chop it with my hands because I don’t want it chopped fine)
salt and pepper, to taste
Bell’s seasoning, to taste

Make Pepperidge Farms stuffing according to package instructions.

In a skillet, add butter and melt over medium heat. Add onions, celery, mushrooms and walnuts. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and Bell’s seasoning to taste. Add to stuffing mix and stir. Refrigerate until cold (I often put the stuffing in a large plastic bag and put it in the porch, since I rarely have much space in my refrigerator.)

SPICE CAKE

Old-fashioned spice cake

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Pittsburgh to see my brother. Now, for those of you readers who are men, don’t send me letters and say I am not correct when I say that widows learn how to take care of themselves, but widowers are often reattached in weeks or months.

My sister-in-law died in March of 2018, the memorial service was in April and a few months ago my brother mentioned that he wanted me to meet Lois. As I walked down the Pittsburgh airline’s escalator, I saw them holding hands. And I am here to tell you that my brother has found, very simply, the nicest person I have ever met. In addition, she is around his age (he is 83) and they met playing duplicate bridge.

(There is that story, possibly apocryphal, about the fact that one of two duplicate bridge partners shot the other after a bad bid. My brother does take bridge that seriously, nor does Lois, but neither has a gun)

Anyway, I had a wonderful few days. One evening we had dinner at an inn where we shared oil-truffled French fries with a ramekin of srirachi. My entree was a small pork tenderloin with mashed potato side so delicious I had to ask what was in it: the sous chef said it was maple syrup and chipotle.

The second night, Lois’s three daughters and their husbands brought pot-luck to my brother’s house and called it a party. Lois’s daughters are as nice as she is, as are their husbands, although one of them showed me a picture of a 10-point buck he’d killed that afternoon.

Now I am home and the holidays have begun. For the past two columns, I gave you my recipes for turkey, gravy, stuffing and a new cranberry sauce. Although pies are de rigueur, why not make a lovely autumn cake and, if you have some extra, make a trifle? I will be driving to Newburyport, Mass., for the day, but feel free to e-mail me if you run into problems.

And my next column will include recipes for turkey leftovers.

Old Fashioned Spice Cake

Adapted from Linnea Rufo of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Yield: serves 10 to 12 people
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

1 cup sugar
one-half cup (1 stick) butter
one-half cup currants or raisins or dried cherries (optional)
one-half cup candied ginger, chopped
2 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
one-quarter teaspoon cloves
one-half teaspoon ginger
one-teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour batter into prepared tube pan. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan, set on a rack, for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and spread on icing at once, while cake is still warm.

Espresso Icing

1 and one-half cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon of espresso (use a teaspoon or so of cold coffee)
1 tablespoon milk

Whisk icing ingredients together.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Talking Transportation: An Open Letter to Ned Lamont

Dear Ned:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes,

Jim Cameron
“The Train Guy”

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

Jim Cameron

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

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

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