Sunday, June 29, 2008
I could've strangled one of my editors last night - the only one I really don't like. It was Saturday evening near the end of my shift and I was grumpy, so when he walked over to tell me about a few insignificant edits, drawing his language out to make inane things sound important, I answered as tersely as possible get on with it.
"Is something amiss tonight?" he asked me.
"It's Saturday night, and there are a few places I would rather be right now," I said.
"Then why did you take this job?" was his reply.
I stared at him until he walked away, and an empathetic co-worker let me spew profanity for a couple minutes. Also, she said he resembles the Geico caveman. I'd never seen the character (no TV), but the concept was heartening.
And, after extensive research, I see she had a point.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
"Diet diet diet Curves fitness calories calories ooh, free brownies in the break room!" It's messed up that the conversational currency American women share is body dissatisfaction.
I couldn't apply my leaky filter fast enough a few weeks back and, when diet talk started, lost patience and muttered to a colleague, "You know, it's really not hard. The trick to not getting fat is not overeating. Just don't do it."
As people go, I'm really in no position to be engaging in diet talk.
A (tubby) co-worker is doing Weight Watchers. Fine. But she invites people to lunch on days when she "budgets" a sandwich she craves into her day, as though we should applaud her self-control or something. I overheard her and another woman complaining that eating a healthy-sized breakfast makes them hungrier earlier in the day, so they choose not to. No word on the fact that jump-starting one's metabolism in the morning is a healthier way to go through the day than is being hungry later at night when most folks are sedentary.
Yesterday, she and I and my desk-mate, a marvelous guy who is always downing yogurts to lose weight, walked into the sunny afternoon to buy coffee. When we got back, they headed for the elevator. The newsroom is on the third floor. They ended up following me up the stairs and could barely breathe by the time they arrived. Then my desk-mate offered me some M&Ms. I took a handful to nibble. He took a similar handful and dropped them all in his mouth at once - and who stops at one mouthful of chocolate?
Why don't people notice what they're doing amidst all the diet talk?
(This post from Harriet Brown spurred today's thought process.)
Monday, June 23, 2008
A Knight's Tale: Modern Jousting Sees Renaissance
by Max Colchester
LIÈGE, Belgium -- Fred Piraux has been grooming his horse Thorgal three hours a day, polishing replica 15th-century armor and taking lessons in medieval dancing.
Next month, the 38-year-old Belgian police instructor will level his lance at a fearsome opponent, Frenchman Tino Lombardi, in a bid for the top spot with the International Jousting League.
"It's not about the prize you win. It's about hearing your rivals' wives weep," says Mr. Piraux. A squire helps the chevalier squeeze into a metal breastplate. Mr. Piraux hoists himself onto his chocolate-brown steed and gallops through the fields on the outskirts of this industrial Belgian town.
The advent of firearms ended the medieval sport of jousting in the 17th century. But the Internet has resurrected it and, today, mounted men in full armor charge at each other for glory and global rank.
About 1,000 people world-wide take part in this sport, estimates the International Jousting Association, though only 200 have the equipment and expertise to joust competitively. The International Jousting League, a separate organization, has 47 jousters from San Diego to Paris who compete at castles and fields around the world.
A far cry from the mock re-enactments at Renaissance fairs, competitive jousting is not for the faint of heart or the impecunious.
On the field, jousters are judged on their ability to smash a lance against a crest the size of a dinner plate located on an opponent's left shoulder. The lances weigh 7.7 pounds, are 10 feet 5 inches in length and have screw-on balsa tips that shatter on impact with armor. To win points, the knights have to break their lances. They often also fracture hands in the process. Many jousters are tossed off their horses, but, to date, nobody in these recent contests has been killed. The most high-profile death was that of King Henry II of France, who died jousting in 1559.
As in medieval times, there are no universal jousting rules. At some competitions organized by the Jousting League, knights win points for their success in wooing damsels with a post-joust speech and medieval dance.
This year, Mr. Piraux bought a new $600 medieval dance outfit -- a red embroidered pleated coat with puffed shoulders, a matching doublet, hosiery and black riding boots. Despite his new duds, Mr. Piraux was outdanced by a U.S. competitor at a recent competition in Belgium.
Mr. Piraux has also spent about $39,000 this year in housing and upkeep for Thorgal and his second horse, Organdy, and on new steel-plate armor and a yellow-and-red wooden crest with a tower logo.
In addition, Mr. Piraux pays for the services of a team of loyal servants, including a herald who announces him at tournaments and two squires who are always on hand to help their master.
Olivier Aujer, a 22-year-old Belgian student, helps look after Thorgal and helps Mr. Piraux to dress. Mr. Piraux says he sometimes asks a friend to infiltrate opponents' camps to get them drunk before tournaments.
Since there's glory but no prize money in winning tournaments, Mr. Piraux moonlights to finance his jousting activities. A Belgian company recently hired him to joust before a group of visiting colleagues from Norway. Mr. Piraux has also appeared, clad in full armor, in an ad for a Dutch insurance company.
Sixteen jousters are expected to compete July 12 at the tournament near the Castle of Filain in eastern France. Many fans expect the 6-foot-tall Belgian police instructor to carry the day.
"He's one of the best in the world," says Callum Forbes, a 48-year-old personal financial planner from New Zealand, who has jousted with Mr. Piraux. "He puts full energy into it...[but] is really calm in the saddle."
Mr. Piraux is hungry for revenge against Mr. Lombardi. The 43-year-old French former judo instructor beat him last year at the same competition. "Fred Piraux doesn't scare me," says Mr. Lombardi, who is now employed as a state social worker in Vesoul, in eastern France. "I've won this tournament three times in a row. Why should this year be different?"
"I let Lombardi win," scoffed Mr. Piraux, as he set off for another practice round in the countryside near Liège. "I didn't want him to start crying."
Thorgal, Mr. Piraux's horse, is named after a Viking character in a comic-book series. On this recent morning, Mr. Piraux steered him energetically as he jabbed his lance through large white hoops held in a squire's hands. Speeding up to full gallop, the Belgian jouster then directed his lance at sparring partner Luc Petillot. From a standing start, the contestants ride between about 100 and 130 feet toward each other before they meet. Each pass takes about 10 seconds and there are usually three per match. A tournament is likely to go on for two days.
"It's about proving that you have still got what it takes," Mr. Piraux said as he unbuckled a pair of knee-high black leather boots after dismounting.
Later, enjoying a hot dog with his two squires, Mr. Piraux explained how the Jousting League, of which he's a board member, is trying to expand the sport's popularity. For example, there has been a growing effort to recruit women, said Mr. Piraux. The league now has six women knights in its ranks.
Tournament organizers would like to lure more Asian jousters as well, but competitions in such places as Hong Kong and South Korea have been problematic because the local horses are too small to carry men in armor.
Drawing More Fans
To attract more viewers, the league is also considering moving contests away from castles and into town centers. More than 3,500 people turned up to watch a joust Mr. Piraux organized near Liège recently, so he's now thinking about hosting a competition in an indoor ice rink.
As the sport draws more fans, there is talk of introducing a knightly game of chess to competitions organized by the league.
Speaking in medieval dialect, however, is out of the question, says Mr. Piraux.
"It would just descend into farce."
I like to think there will be a niche for my writing in the world and that, in a sense, I'm a serious writer. But I wish I was better at the nuts-and-bolts, grill-sources-and-sift-through-docs-and-find-the-wrongdoing reporting than I am.
Ledyard - Outgoing Gallup Hill Principal Stephen Panikoff's favorite job-related anecdote is about a sixth-grader who seemed beyond help, but who was listening to him.
He “gave me the roughest time in terms of behavior and constant discipline,” Panikoff, who was an elementary school principal in Ledyard for 33 years, said of the student.
When he graduated around 2000, Panikoff said, “he came back to thank me for believing in him, that he could be a student.” That student is now a third-grade teacher.
”That I could've never written a script for,” he said.
Panikoff, 61, was able to watch that student and countless others grow and thrive, across his three-decade career. Since 1975, Panikoff has worked as principal at all four of the town's elementary schools. Though retiring from Ledyard, he starts a new job at a Rhode Island charter school in July.
Current Gales Ferry-Juliet Long assistant principal Jennifer Byars will replace Panikoff at Gallup Hill with a new part-time assistant principal. Gallup Hill assistant principal Philip Genova will become assistant principal at Gales Ferry-Juliet Long Schools.
”Steve is like my family, and I'm really going to miss him,” said Mary Cherry, who has been Panikoff's assistant - and his voicemail - for all but six months of the last 17 years. Each said they can read the other's mind.
”He is a truly good man,” Cherry said, perched on a child-sized chair in the nurse's office, a quiet place to talk in the summer. “He is honest and compassionate, and there is nothing more important to him than people.”
Panikoff said he enjoys working with young children because he can make a sizeable positive impact on them.
“I get up on Monday morning, and I want to be at work,” he said.
”We try to catch kids being good,” he added.
He loved having little troublemakers call their parents from his office to tell them about something positive they did. The parents would be worried at first, hearing the child calling from the principal's office, but everyone would soon be smiling. Cherry said she was impressed by his ability to make it clear to students he was addressing their behavior, not their selves.
Panikoff taught in West Haven for five years before deciding to make the switch to administration. He had never been east of the New Haven area.
He applied to every school district in the state, he said, and Ledyard responded. He meant to leave after a few years but never did.
The sense of connection he feels to generations of Ledyard youth was clear in his response to a question about how many children he has.
”At the school?” he replied.
Panikoff - who has two kids in their twenties - lives with his wife in Groton Long Point, roller blades with a senior-citizen contingent, and keeps a desk drawer full of chocolate. He has a gentle demeanor and is a good listener. “We've all come across people in our professional lives,” Genova, his assistant principal, said. “They'll sit there and they'll nod their head, but they're not really getting it. Steve gets it."
And, number two:
New London - The bookshelves are stuffed with religious tomes, but the center table in Rabbi Carl Astor's study at Beth El Synagogue supports stacks of beginner Hebrew and Spanish text books, surrounding a nearly empty bottle of Manischewitz.
The wine stays closed Thursday mornings, but the books' contents are imbibed as Astor and the Rev. Daniel Martino of the First Hispanic Baptist Church give one another language lessons.
The two have been studying together since January, when Martino approached Astor at a New London Clergy Association meeting. The rest is history in the making.
One hour is set aside for Spanish, and the other for Biblical Hebrew. God and life, in three languages, sneak into the discussions of verbs and gender agreement.
Martino's church runs services in Spanish.
“I thought we were so different but, in essence, we're not,” said Martino of what he learned when he started to decode some Hebrew.
”Everything that you're learning is the same stuff that he learned,” said Astor, “he” being Jesus Christ.
Conjugating the Spanish verb meaning “to pray” at a recent session segued into a chat on different ways of speaking to God, and how different religions have distinct vocabularies - asking, begging, praising - for discussing prayer.
”This is a whole new world that's finally opening up to me,” said Astor, who has lived in New London for nearly 30 years but was never able to have in-depth conversations with Spanish-speaking neighbors. Martino said studying Hebrew has made him look at the Bible with a new, deeper perspective.
Astor was working on conjugating present-tense stem-changing verbs in Spanish, and Martino was conjugating Hebrew verbs in the past tense. Sitting side by side, the pair took turns quizzing one another, offering English phrases for translation.
When Martino had trouble with the Hebrew, Astor translated it into Spanish whenever he could. Sometimes, they bypassed English altogether, translating the sentence, “David ruled Jerusalem, and the people listened to David,” directly from Hebrew to Spanish.
It took Martino three months to learn to read the Hebrew alphabet, but he got it by Passover, when he read a passage at one of Astor's seders.
Astor may not have needed to learn to read a new alphabet, but Martino still asked him to pause during a passage to work on pronunciation.
”You read well, but too fast,” Martino chided.
”I know - it's hard for you Spanish speakers to keep up,” Astor replied with a grin.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
How did I learn this? I wrote about it for today's paper:
New London - Avner Gregory's new home on Franklin Street sticks out from the houses around it. His house has a stone stake in the front yard that says “Not for sale.” Also, it's an eye-grabbing shade of pink.
But 36 Franklin St., which was originally Susette Kelo's home in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and became the focal point of a Supreme Court case that sought - and failed - to save her neighborhood, is just as much a symbol as it is a house.
Its reopening at its new location Saturday afternoon drew a crowd comprising fellow plaintiffs and locals as well as activist visitors from throughout the region. Institute for Justice senior attorneys Scott Bullock and Dana Berliner traveled from Virginia for the occasion. Bullock had argued Kelo v. City of New London before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.
They all thronged the property, pervading the quiet street with anti-eminent domain spirit to the tune of resident Dan Gross singing “Shame Shame Eminent Domain” in the backyard.
Bullock “insisted the house should be pink,” said Gregory, a local landlord and preservationist, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the front steps of his new residence.
”I don't like pink!” Gregory joked, shortly before cutting the pink ribbon stretched between banisters. Kelo, who now lives in Groton, stood beside him.
The last portions of Fort Trumbull's working-class neighborhood were taken after the Court ruled that the city had the right to use eminent domain to acquire property for private economic development that would benefit the public by bringing jobs and tax revenues to the city. Since the decision, 42 states have passed amendments or laws giving property owners facing eminent domain more protection, according to the Institute for Justice.
”The Supreme Court loss energized the entire country and created a backlash that changed everything,” said Berliner, one of the attorneys. “Not a single state has adopted the Kelo decision for its own, and that says something.”
After the ribbon cutting, attendees were invited to tour the Kelo house. There was also a pink, house-shaped cake which, like the original, had “Not for sale” written on it in icing.
”I think it's great,” Kelo said of her cottage finding a new address. It was removed from its Fort Trumbull site in pieces and reassembled on Franklin Street.
”It's unfortunate we couldn't save everyone's house,” she said.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Syria, UAE, England/Switzerland, Palestine, California, New York, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona
Perhaps I should feel lucky, because my friends are a bunch of exceptional people, the sort who save the world and then write about it in beautiful prose. As one friend and I recently discussed over lunch, our social networks come from the small pool of the cultured, over-educated and cosmopolitan. The world as peopled in my experience feels normal to me but is far from a norm. (My new pal in New London thinks I'm a catch, and I keep trying to explain that all my friends are like me, but even better.)
Perhaps I should feel lucky, but I miss my friends.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
What is the opposite of a belly laugh? An interesting question, in a way, and to hear lines like “I think I just made a happy wee-wee” or “I’m making diarrhea noises in my cup” or to watch apprentice gurus attack one another with urine-soaked mops is to grasp the answer. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not opposed to infantile, regressive, scatological humor. Indeed, I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Or maybe a glutton. So it’s not that I object to the idea of, say, witnessing elephants copulate on the ice in the middle of a Stanley Cup hockey match, or seeing a dwarf sent flying over the same ice by the shock of defibrillator paddles. But it will never be enough simply to do such things. They must be done well.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
North Stonington - When the school board gave Todd Rapoport an award at a recent meeting, Wheeler High School Principal Steve Bickford stood to tell board and audience members about the graduating senior's achievements.
Bickford needed a list to keep everything straight.
Four-time class president. Captain of the basketball and golf teams. National Honor Society member. Middle school tutor. Volunteer basketball coach. Barbecue-sauce creator.
”I think they all feel too much pressure to live up to being a Todd,” said business teacher Linda Farinha, who has taught Rapoport for four years, of other students she teaches. She and others noted that Rapoport is respectful to elders and excels at cultivating a sense of inclusiveness among his classmates.
”He's very outgoing, very comfortable with different age ranges of people and types of people,” Farinha said.
Or as Rapoport's mother, Cathy Rapoport, puts it: “He's very easy to parent.”
Rapoport, 18, is overscheduled - but not overwhelmed - between school, extracurriculars and fitting his favorite activity, basketball, into a part of every day. He loves the sport because it's never repetitious or dull, he said.
”You're involved in everything in the game. You're playing defense; you're playing offense,” he said. Players work with different teammates and encounter unique situations every moment.
Basketball is Rapoport's life in game form.
Rapoport enjoys the uncertainty so much that he plans to open his own business after college. With this future goal in mind, his mandatory senior-year project paired him with a local restaurateur. The result was “The Creation of a Signature Barbeque Sauce.”
The Wheeler senior project, in its first year, required students to create their own independent projects that included working closely with faculty and community mentors as well as writing a paper and making a presentation.
Rapoport worked with Jon Kodama, a North Stonington resident who runs five area restaurants, including Steak Loft in Mystic. They dreamed up a project in which Rapoport explored people's barbecue-sauce taste preferences with a goal toward making a sauce to use at Steak Loft.
”What I told him was if he came up with a good sauce, we would produce it, or have it produced,” Kodama said. “I don't know about commercially successful, but it would be successful in terms of people being interested in it,” he said, as “a lot of people are interested in local products.”
Without prior cooking experience, Rapoport mixed, combined and tested in his mother's kitchen. He surveyed the Wheeler High School/Middle School faculty to learn their favorite brands and flavor combinations. He even held a taste-test session at Steak Loft in the winter that drew 16 teachers to test 15 of his concoctions.
”They might have had palate fatigue by the end, but they seemed to be having a good time,” Kodama said.
Rapoport was enjoying the experience too. He is entering Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall, where he was recruited to play on the basketball team. He hopes to major in management engineering before starting his own business.
Perhaps he'll begin with barbecue sauce. The senior project is over, but Rapoport continues tinkering with his recipe, trying to recreate the whole thing without using any existing brands in the ingredients. When he finds his flavor, he already has a name selected: “Sweety Todd's BBQ."
I hear the event raked in close to $1.7 million, including $20,000 each from two bidders who bought the privilege of naming characters in a future Anna Quindlen novel.
The evening was emcee'd by Chevy Chase, whose daughter is a Barnard student. He wasn't very entertaining - except by mistake. The best moment of the event:
Chase launched into a spiel urging attendees to give more, because "these girls deserve every opportunity for a top-notch education."
There was a gasp of collective indignation, and then an elderly voice called out of the crowd.
The Observer was there. Heh.
Monday, June 16, 2008
-One of my girls, age nine-ish, voice dripping with sarcasm
I spent Saturday chatting and laughing with my new friend here. She grew up in India and has lived in Dubai, and is generally thrilled to have met someone who, unlike most of us crude Americans, has heard of Dubai and of edamame. We met at yoga, and she scooped me into her world with her funny - sensitive! - Texan Navy husband.
When I feel that there are unseen recesses to a person, my brain fixates on figuring her out. I roll a person around in my mind like others play with a worn coin in resting in a pocket, treading over all the off-hand comments, body language, and eye communication I've witnessed in search of what I sense is there without being able to pinpoint why. My new friend reads people the same way I do, also getting fascinated with others and what they're thinking, but tempers it with an extra nine years' life experience.
After splitting a bottle of wine at the wine and cheese shop downtown, we tottered along the river and then headed up New London's other teensy main street back toward my apartment. We passed the yoga studio right as the owner was emerging, heading home after hosting some suspect-sounding singing bowls event.
Yoga Lady said the concert went well. We chatted for a moment, and then she said something endearing like, "Oops, I think I parked my car somewhere other than where I've been looking for it," which could have been absent-minded or could have been code for, "OK, bye!" - Yoga Lady is one of those people I can't quite make out.
She is short and curvy, but strong and flexible. She could be anywhere from 35 to 50. She is a wonderful teacher, because she is compassionate and giving, and because she stops to emphasize basic aspects of alignment that often get obscured in a class' flow. She walks lightly, with joy, her comfort with her body apparent. She's probably Irish but belts yogic chants like a champ. She has said that she's mostly lived in southeastern CT, but she lacks the sense of insular community and close-minded grittiness that it largely feels like life-long locals embrace.
Beneath her compassion and yoga philosophies, she holds a deep reserve within her; it might be sadness or wariness. It might be a past life or a side one. As she gives, Yoga Lady holds herself close, and I want to know why.
My new friend feels this too, and sometimes we brainstorm. After our encounter, I asked her why, if Yoga Lady wishes to hide something, she makes it so frustratingly obvious that she's doing so. Most people, my friend replied, don't pick up on it at all. They have no idea. I've asked another yoga teacher and a colleague who practices - both observant, lovely people - what Yoga Lady's deal is. And indeed, neither of them understood what I was asking.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I Am Feminist; Hear Me Roar Against A Clinton Mandate
The recent battle over the Democratic nomination for president was an event awash in a storm of confetti and balloons — and some seriously fruity rhetoric.
That's fine. All's fair, but I am still flummoxed by some of the missives fired from a certain segment of Hillary Clinton's camp, my fellow feminists, whose cry early on was that their candidate was the obvious choice for women voters because she's a woman, and whose cry now is that if they can't have their woman, they won't take Barack Obama.
Wait! Can you hear it? The deafening silence? That's decades of modern American feminism grinding to a halt.
My take on feminism is this: If you believe in the radical notion that women are people, too, then you know that means we think outside the box. You know that no job is the special provenance of any gender. Our genitalia does not limit our choices, whether it's how we earn our living, the compensation we receive for said work, or how we choose our political candidates. It means lots of little things, like if we go to buy a car and the salesperson only wants to talk to us about the new car's color, we turn around and leave. It means big things, too. We suffer no fools — not gladly or otherwise — when it comes to the respect we deserve. And it means we fearlessly examine and then choose our political candidates, regardless of their — or our — gender.
(In the same vein, can we stop thinking that African Americans are hard-wired to vote for Obama?)
It is beyond bothersome that in the recent foray, people who chose Obama over Clinton were sometimes — as in the case of Sen. Ted Kennedy — accused of betraying women. In a confusing essay over which I am still puzzling, comedian Roseanne Barr suggested Obama "bow to the woman," settle for the vice presidency and prepare for a run at the better job a few years down the road. Robin Morgan revisited her wonderful "Goodbye to All That" essay, in which she decried the sexism rife in the coverage of Clinton's campaign.
Morgan had a point, but only up to a point. There were some stunning missteps in the media's coverage of Clinton's campaign. One-time serious journalist Carl Bernstein reported that Clinton's ankles are too thick. This is an odd bit of reportage coming from an aging scribe who — it must be said — could stand to lose a few pounds himself. No one danced on the grave of Clinton's campaign as early and as gleefully as did MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Was I the only person who thought Matthews sounded — oh, what's the word ... shrill, is it?
And no one — to my knowledge — designed an Obama nut cracker, yet you can purchase one in Clinton's wide-stanced image for $21.95. Add $5 more, and you get special "Hillary nuts," because making fun of strong women can be fun and profitable.
That brand of plastic crap says everything about consumers who buy it and nothing about the candidate. Hillary Clinton is a big girl. She's smart, and she's tough, but I didn't vote for her, and I have no intention of turning in my feminist decoder ring.
She was not my candidate, but not because of gender. Suggesting we all move lock-step to support only the people who look like us robs grown-ups of their ability to make their decisions based on a candidates' promise and past practice.
Fill in the blank: "Because I am a woman, I must ..."
Wait, I know this one: Because I am a woman, I must think for myself because I don't trust the yahoos to do it for me.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Best article ever, at least for offspring of a gastroenterologist. It has six pages full of photos of two middle-aged (read: time for that colonoscopy) yogis helping one another through a series of bowel-friendly poses. They look so peaceful doing them.
Prose sample: "If you're in the habit of holding it in, you may lose the ability to recognize the signal - a feeling of fullness in the rectum. Waiting too long causes a traffic jam in the colon."
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Friday, June 06, 2008
(The Day is not good at headlines. At least this is no "EL Committee Decides Not To Decide on a New Principal")
New London - Joseph Gorra was quite clear: When war is woven as a tale of glorious heroics, that picture is missing large swatches of the story.
”Infantry fighting is beyond comprehension,” Gorra, 82, said Thursday. “You live like an animal. You fight to the death.”
Gorra should know. Then 18, he spent June 6, 1944, fighting his way off Omaha Beach in Normandy with the 18th Regiment of the 1st U.S. Infantry Division.
The New London native and longtime area businessman, who owned N.J. Gorra and Brother clothing store on State Street until it closed in 1982, was an infantry soldier in the D-Day fighting that would help loosen the German hold on France in the summer of 1944.
The soldiers that day were ordered to fight their way off the beach and to the top of a bluff whose only access routes were two alleyways farmers used to collect seaweed for crop fertilization, he said.
”If you want to cross the Thames River and just imagine climbing the hill to the Groton monument, that's what it looked like,” he said of the steep grade of the terrain that day.
Troops traveled across the English Channel on ships that anchored 12 to 14 miles offshore, Gorra said, and soldiers were ferried the remaining distance via landing craft, which carried about 40 soldiers at a time. When the landing craft's ramp extended toward the beach, a gunfire assault began - “the men up front were slaughtered,” Gorra said - so he jumped over the side of the small craft instead and was submerged by the weight of his gun and ammunition belt.
He was under constant enemy fire, damp, seasick and wearing a uniform saturated with a greasy-feeling chemical warfare repellent. He cried while reminiscing. But Gorra survived the day, and the troops won the tiny village of Colleville-sur-Mer.
His ammunition-bearer, a fellow infantryman, was not so lucky. He thought the man survived and returned home, Gorra said, until he stumbled upon the grave at the American cemetery above the beach in 1969.
Gorra has returned to Colleville for nearly all D-Day anniversaries since its quarter-century commemoration. He was made an honorary citizen there on the 60th anniversary in 2004.
The famous day played a big role in Gorra's life, but he remains humbly realistic about his role in making history.
”All I did was survive from the water's edge to the base of the hill,” he said.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Ledyard - “Kuvi, go use the bathroom sink,” Temina Chebelyon chided her older brother. She was tackling a daunting tower of dinner dishes, and his attempts to wash his hands were breaking her flow.
Likuvi Chebelyon, 17, smiled, then waited quietly until Temina leaned toward the dishwasher to cup his hands under the faucet.
Chebelyon graduates from Ledyard High School June 18. A karate devote, he's absorbed the philosophy so that even a hand-washing is approached with a disciplined mindset. Have patience, wait until the right moment, then don't hesitate.
Karate helped him decide to study biomedical engineering when he enters Worcester Polytechnic Institute next fall. He hopes to work with amputee prosthetics, improving movement of the body.
”It's not really a matter of what kind of body you have, it's how you use it,” Chebelyon said, noting that karate sparring partners come in all sizes, and all demand a unique approach. “Maybe we could improve it some ways in what its limits are.”
Chebelyon was introduced to karate by his stepbrother, Baxter Linn, a senior at Norwich Free Academy. Linn wants to be a movie stuntman, and Chebelyon is his partner-in-mischief. The pair recently jumped off the roof of the house, and they keep old mattresses in the front yard to practice maneuvers. Chebelyon said he avoids injuries from his escapades by rolling. But before rolling, he said, he lands on his feet.
”He's resilient,” said Chebelyon's mother, Nancy Linn. “If Kuvi was a plant, I would say he would be a perennial for sure.”
Chebelyon and his sister were born in Maryland but moved to Kenya for six years to live with his maternal grandparents, avoiding his parents' divorce. In Kenyan schools, he said, students are disciplined by stick, but kids have more freedom to roam than they do here. He speaks fluent Swahili from his years living there.
He moved back to the United States in 2001. His mother is remarried to an Electric Boat engineer who has a son and daughter the same ages as Chebelyon and his sister. The four teens clean up after dinner together on nights the Linn siblings are there, joking and jostling with an amiable chemistry. They speak in detail about topics from woodworking to downloading.
Chebelyon, it seems, is interested in everything.
His French teacher, Renee Sylvestre, said he gets so excited about learning that he sometimes forgets to finish his work, unable to resist poring over the French books she stores in her classroom.
”He could pull straight A's without a problem, but he doesn't because of the spongelike quality of his brain,” Sylvestre said. “It's hard for me to fault a student for wanting to learn more.” She said he's engaged and mature beyond his years.
”He's a joy,” Sylvestre said. “If I had a whole class of Kuvis, I would be one happy woman.”
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
"The El Malecon chainlet is known for its roast chicken, but we happen to also love its café con leche served in a paper cup on a china saucer, its quick and friendly service, and its mangú, which handily holds its own."
I happen to love its cafe con leche served in a paper cup on a china saucer. I also love the fact that it's only $1.25. Step off, posers.
And, for the record - that scarf trend? Called it over a month ago.
And finally, reprinting an excerpt from a friend's blog, because I couldn't agree more:
"Starting your day with shopping, coffee and good friends is pretty much the best thing ever. Second only to hanging out with a friend in the gorgeous sunshine in a park, sprawled out on a blanket and people-watching (I mean, kid-watching) with, um, coffee. And then recovering from the exhausting experience with ice cream."
I miss you already, kid.
It was an intellectual, friendly, honest conversation - the sort that seem to drop at my feet, dead-pigeon-off-a-live-wire style, in New York. New Yorker as aesthetic product, anyone? Feminism and adulthood?
This woman proctored my final college exam, and we recalled together that the first thing I said to her upon completing it was, "I'm not dead!" I don't miss that mindset, I told her, but one thing I do miss about my old life is taking care of children, and that there's one certain toddler who keeps my heart grasped in her tiny, grubby hand (she doesn't like washing them). My follow-up thought was, "Is it normal to be a young adult with many fruitful connections and missions in the world and spend so much time wishing to be negotiating with (and hugging) a three year old who is not my three year old?"
Probably not, but then I rarely qualify for normalcy. That apartment was my next stop, and I felt more at peace helping the child color and chatting with her nanny than I had in many weeks.
These are things I know: children keep us older folk honest and present; love is love is love; I like taking care of others; her parents, as with those of my other kiddies, feel like adopted family. I wish I could waltz in and out of lives without so much emotional investment, but it's that devotion that makes me an exceptional caretaker and leads to my acquiring extra aunt and uncle types, a welcome addition to extra little sister-cousin types.
This writing is awkward and I'm tired and sad to be back in New London and going to work. And I miss that little girl, who started throwing toys when she realized I wasn't staying long.
My fellow refugee editor e-mailed me yesterday:
"Just remember. It's nearby - always. That doesn't change."
Why does "nearby" feel so far?