This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

THE WEASEL TWO-STEP: On Syria, France replaces the U.K. as Washington's gung-ho ally—but what good will come of it?

 Remember when Fox News was bashing the French as "weasels," Homer Simpson dismissed them as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" and the Congressional dining room handed Paris the ultimate insult of replacing French fries with Freedom fries on its lunch menu? 
     Consider the irony of the flip-flop that has just taken place on Syria. Britain, which hurtled headlong into George Bush's Iraq adventure in 2003, will sit this one out following a Parliamentary vote against military intervention against Syria. France's Socialist President François Hollande, meanwhile, announced that despite Britain's defection, France would stand by the U.S. in a still undefined punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to retaliate for his alleged use of chemical weapons against his own rebellious population. 

     "The chemical massacre by Damascus cannot and shall not remain unpunished," Hollande told Le Monde on Thursday. "Otherwise, we would risk seeing an escalation that would normalize the use of these weapons and threaten other countries." Quite a change from the dramatic speech of former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin who eloquently defended his "old, proud nation" in its refusal to join the U.S. and Britain in their ill-considered attack on Iraq. 

     What's going on here? French public opinion, like that in Britain, is heavily weighted against taking any direct military action in Syria. But France's presidential government, unlike Britain's parliamentary system, does not require the chief executive to seek parliamentary approval for foreign military interventions. With a freer hand, Hollande is able to take whatever steps he deems to be in the French interest—and his own political interest. But what is his motivation?
     Though the Obama administration is doubtless pleased to see the French lining up alongside the U.S. on this issue, Hollande's main consideration was not to ingratiate himself with Washington. Beyond his stated determination to punish what France considers a moral and legal atrocity, he seeks to reinforce his country's role as a major player on the international scene. France's recent incursion in Mali, like its earlier support for the anti-Gaddafi forces in Libya and its calls for direct support of the Syrian rebels, is in line with an interventionist reflex that has been evident for decades. The era of Gaullist neutrality is long over. 
     Another apparent motivation for Hollande is a desperate need to shore up his public image at home, where he has become a highly unpopular leader with a reputation for feckless leadership in the face of an entrenched economic crisis. Even though French public opinion opposes action in Syria, it may be in Hollande's interest to demonstrate toughness and decisiveness in the international arena. 

    The real question about the threatened U.S.-French action is what good it might do. Hollande says
the aim is not to provoke the fall of Assad regime, but to encourage him to negotiate with the rebels. This is a total delusion. Anyone who knows anything about Bashar al-Assad, or his late father Hafez al-Assad, or any mideast dictator for that matter, should realize that they would never consider negotiations whose only outcome would be to weaken or strip away their own power. Whatever action the West might take in this instance or in the future, Assad will most probably fight on until he is defeated, captured, or killed.
     As for the possible negative fallout of an intervention, the scenarios are chilling: Syrian retaliation against U.S. allies Israel, Turkey and Joradn, terrorist strikes against Western targets, a defiant re-use of chemical weapons, or an escalation that leads to a boots-on-the-ground action by the U.S. The ultimate danger is that of a broader proxy war involving Iran (in support of the Assad's Alawite regime), Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states (in support of the Sunni rebels), and Russia (Assad's main international ally and arms supplier). Given that most military experts and diplomats doubt the effectiveness of a slap-on-the-wrist action in changing the course of the Syrian conflict, the risks appear by far to outweigh any possible gains in terms of soothing our consciences and preserving our "red line" credibility. 

 Of course it is impossible to ignore the horror of seeing 1,400 Syrian civilians, including 400 children, indiscriminately murdered by chemical weapons. Assuming Assad's regime is ultimately proven to be the culprit—which few seem to doubt at this point—he should and must be punished. But why the rush, and why is an immediate military strike the only approach under consideration? Here's my modest proposal: file formal war crimes charges against Assad and other top Syrian leaders with International Criminal Court in the Hague. That may seem like a largely symbolic act—until and unless Assad ultimately falls from power or is captured. In that case, he could be tried and convicted as a war criminal and end his days in prison instead of his gilded presidential palace. That would be a moral—and legal—stance against breaking the taboo on chemical weapons. In other words, let the punishment fit the crime.

Friday, August 30, 2013


We live on the outskirts of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 12 miles west of Paris, on the edge of what was once a region of small farms and fruit orchards. The farms are largely gone now, eaten up by suburban expansion, but a five minute walk from our house takes us to the remnants of the orchards. When we moved to this area in 2000, a number of them were still active, producing raspberries, apples, pears and peaches for sale in local markets. Today, sadly, most of them are no longer cultivated. They lie fallow and overgrown as their owners presumably wait for land prices to rise so they can sell their fields to housing developers for a tidy profit. We are witnessing the end of an era that goes back to pre-Roman times.
The nearby village of Mareil-Marly, first populated during the Celtic period, was for centuries surrounded by prosperous vineyards. Like most of the vines in France, they were killed off by the Phylloxera virus in the mid-19th century. Those around Mareil-Marly were never replaced, but the fruit orchards survived. One of our great pleasures when we moved here was to walk through the picturesque village and follow a narrow path, surrounded by ancient stone walls, that led to a pear and peach orchard on the edge of town. The neat rows of trees had been pruned and shaped for more than a century,  their branches curving out and upwards until they resembled candelabras. From early summer on, the pears would appear on the branches, grow bigger, and finally ripen in September.
Another of our favorite walks, often with our German shepherd Tasha, took us down a narrow country road lined with plum, hazelnut, and walnut trees. Off the road, behind a thicket of bushes, there was a big field enclosed by hedges. On its periphery, there were regular rows of apple trees bearing tons of fruit that no one bothered to collect anymore. They weren't much good to eat, but my son Julian and I used them to play a game we invented called "apple baseball." As soon as one was hit with a bat, it exploded into a spray of pulp, soon to be replaced by another pitched apple, then another.
Tasha would run around in frantic circles trying to catch the apples in midair. In the center of the field there was a double row of raspberry bushes that were tended and harvested by people we never saw. We would help ourselves liberally to the berries, as we did to the plums, hazelnuts and walnuts we encountered on our walks.
    Tempus edax rerum, as the Romans used to say. Time devours all things—including our beautiful orchards. The other day, Sylvaine and I tried to return to that field (without Tasha, long since devoured by time) and see what remained. The bushes and trees around it had grown so thick that we almost needed a machete to get through. The owners (whoever they are) had piled brushwood and branches across the path to block the entrance. But we persisted and finally penetrated into the field. It was much the same as we remembered it. The apple trees were still there, and so were the raspberry bushes, but no one cultivated them anymore; they were overgrown and infested with weeds. We helped ourselves to a few stray berries then left our field of dreams with no intention of returning. We knew what the future held for this idyllic place.
  It is the same future that is in store for the ancient pear and peach orchards nearby. On a recent walk, we saw a sign announcing that the fields would be cleared this fall and construction would begin on 60 housing units. This ancient land where vintners and fruit farmers tended their plants for more than two thousand years will soon be covered by concrete and cinderblocks. When we return to France next summer, we won't be walking this way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Interviewed recently by French magazine Nouvel Observateur, author Richard Ford describes the months, sometimes years, of preparations that precede the writing of his novels. He says he makes hundreds of notes and stuffs them in his refrigerator, along with notes for other unfinished projects, and only takes them out when he's ready to actually start writing.
     I have never tried the refrigerator method, but I find Ford's approach intriguing as I begin work on a new novel set in New Orleans. My two previous novels, The Armageddon Project (2007), and one whose name I will withhold as it is currently making the rounds of publishers, were plot-driven thrillers set largely in France. My current project (also to remain nameless at this point) is much more character-based and is set in my home town, which makes it a very different kind of novel requiring a different approach.
     Consider the setting: paradoxically, coming from New Orleans makes it difficult to write about New Orleans. The more you know about a place, the more you may take for granted in terms of what general readers know about it. But if you spell out too much, describe well-known things, events, and landmarks, you risk falling into clichés. And a lot of what is written about New Orleans—or depicted on the screen—has this defect. Consider the film The Big Easy or the TV series K-Ville.
    The bigger challenge is the depiction of characters. That's where Ford's approach is useful, because portraying characters requires, obviously, that the author know those characters as intimately as he knows his best friends. If characters are modelled or suggested by real people, an author can rely on observation and personal knowledge to transform them into fictional figures. Characters that are wholly invented require that the author create their personalities, physiques, and backgrounds out of thin air. Much harder. But in both cases it is necessary to fill in all the blanks, to know the complete back story of each character, sometimes going back several generations, even if only a fraction of those stories winds up on the page.
     That is the stage I am at now. So I am having fun making notes on the characters, inventing their histories, anecdotes from their past, frictions with their parents, traumas suffered, hopes and dreams, quirks and flaws. Fiction writing is like playing God: whatever you want to happen, you can make it happen; whatever you want a character to do or be, you can will it. And of course, you get to decide the outcome. Real life is not like that, which is a good thing. Who'd want the responsibility?

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I've just discovered that I have readers. Until now, I had no idea if anyone was reading my posts. I recently started clicking on things and it turns out I've had about 20,000 "hits" since I started the blog, and average more than 100 a day. I don't know how that compares with the norm, but it is heartwarming to learn that people are actually seeing what I write. And a number of them respond with comments that, for some reason, don't appear at the end of my posts. I clicked on a "comments" link today and, lo and behold, found a bunch of intelligent, funny, and encouraging remarks from readers. So for those of you who have sent comments, thank you. And if anyone knows how I can manage to have them appear with the posts, please let me know.

Friday, August 23, 2013


The French novelist and poet Victor Hugo once wrote that "Paris is the capital city of every educated man." The African-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker proclaimed "I have two loves, my country and Paris." Ever since the French Revolution, Paris has been a magnet and a refuge for foreigners rich and poor. Since the independence movements of the 1950's and 60's, natives of the former French colonies in Africa, Indochina, and the West Indies have flocked to Paris and other French cities in search of work, social benefits, and a better life than they left behind. As a result, some 11% of the French population is now of immigrant origin. Paris has become a cosmopolitan city with an ethnic mix that frightens some—witness the rise of the far-right, anti-immigrant Front National party (20% in the polls)—but strikes others as as a source of cultural richness. Sylvaine and I observed this fascinating human patchwork on a recent trek from the Buttes Chaumont park in the east of the capital to the Gare de l'Est in the center (see map). Along this promenade, Sylvaine snapped pictures as part of a photo project showing various aspects of Paris. Highlights:

Belleville, located on a hill south of the Buttes Chaumont park, dates back to the 16th century and was incorporated into Paris only in 1860. In the 19th century, it was such a source of working-class ferment that the Baron Haussmann, who redrew the map of Paris under Napoleon III, drove the Boulevard de Belleville through its centre to allow for troop movements and buffer the bourgeois quarters from the revolutionary masses. Today, it is dominated by Arab and Asian immigrants whose languages and native dress give it a Third World tinge that contrasts sharply with the traditional French architecture. The southern part of Belleville, largely inhabited by Asians, is particularly striking with its ubiquitous Chinese and Korean ideograms emblazoned over shops selling everything from Peking duck and egg rolls to Chinese vegetables, computers and cell phones. Were it not for the view of the Eiffel Tower visible in the distance, it would be hard to guess that this bustling quarter was part of Paris.

Chateau d'Eau, near the Porte Saint Denis, is a transported slice of Africa. Black youths dressed in flat-billed baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts like American gangstas congregate on street corners and exchange rapid chatter in various indecipherable (to us) languages, while older immigrants in native dress stroll down the street with shopping bags or pushcarts, stopping to munch on ears of grilled corn sold by a sidewalk vendor who cooks them over open coals.

Place de la République, one of Paris's best-known landmarks, is a towering stone column encircled by haut-relief bronze plaques depicting various historic chapters in the march of French liberté, égalité, and fraternité from the storming of the Bastille prison in July 1789, to the proclamation of the Third Republic in September 1870. It is surrounded by a fountain and an immense open square where hundreds of people congregate on these hot summer days to sip coffee and beer at outdoor tables or cool off by wading in the fountain. Fittingly enough, the ethnic mix here is a snapshot of the modern French republic, from Français de souche (those with French roots), to Asians, Africans, Arabs and of course backpacking tourists from around the world. Unlike the feeling of separateness one gets in certain ethnic neighbourhoods, the atmosphere here is one of people coming together, or at least enjoying a peaceful coexistence. The illusion of the Front National xenophobes is that somehow the "foreigners"—most of whom are actually French citizens—can be sent home and France can reclaim its racial and cultural purity. Like it or not, these diverse ethnic communities are permanent strands of the modern French tapestry.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Continuing the series of posts prompted by photos and documents discovered in my attic near Paris:

I'm not Jewish. I didn't grow up in Brooklyn. I don't make movies. I'm not even very funny. But I do have one thing in common with Woody Allen: a passion for traditional New Orleans jazz and for the antique Albert system clarinets favored by the old players we admire. I can't claim to be a pal of Woody's and I don't hang with him, but this shared passion has brought us together on several occasions.
     I first met him in 1989 at Michael's Pub in New York, where he held sway every Tuesday with a band led by banjoist Eddy Davis. Eddy introduced us and we had a brief chat between sets. The conversation quickly turned to Albert system clarinets, now obsolete but far superior to the modern Boehm system for reproducing the fat sound of the legendary jazzmen like George Lewis, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet and countless other long-departed greats. It turned out Woody and I both had large collections of old Alberts.
     In both cases, the collecting began with the realization that you can't just walk into a music store and buy a new Albert system if a bus runs over your favorite horn, or it gets blown up by airport security while you're off having a coffee in the departure lounge (this actually happened to a friend of mine). So you start buying Alberts whenever you come across one. The problem is that a lot of them are in bad shape, or out of tune, or otherwise defective. So life becomes an endless search for the perfect Albert (named after Belgian instrument maker Eugène Albert).
     The photo above shows Woody and me comparing clarinets in October 1989 (okay, we both look a little older now). It was taken for TIME magazine to accompany my profile of Woody as a musician. (,9171,958826,00.html)   My clarinet was a Buffet-Crampon, once owned by the great Lorenzo Tio, Jr. Woody's was an Italian-made Rampone. The combined age of these horns was probably 150 years. Woody was unhappy with his horn, which was considerably out of tune. That didn't really bother him, because he thought being out of tune made you sound more authentic, like the old records, so he would make his band un-tune before they played. But his Rampone had leaks and cracks and the keys were worn out.
     Tired of trekking through pawn shops and flea markets in search of a good horn, Woody finally approached the Buffet factory in Mantes-la-Jolie, near Paris, and asked them to make him a brand new Albert system. They had not made one since the 1930's, but Woody was a star, so they got out their old templates and made him a matched pair of Bb Alberts in elegant leather cases with brass fittings.
     When Woody's band toured Europe in 1996, he called and asked me to meet him at the Buffet factory. He was going there to make some adjustments on his new horns, and the Buffet folks offered to show him their collection of antique clarinets. I met him there and we had a ball examining and trying out the vintage horns, all in beautiful condition. Woody fell in love with a metal instrument and kept playing the same riff over and over. He asked if he could buy it, but the Buffet folks said it was part of their history and they could not sell it at any price. Woody persisted in his offer, but finally gave up. (You can see this sequence in Barbara Kopple's 1997 film "Wild Man Blues.") As we were leaving the factory, Woody handed me one of the two custom-made Buffets. "Consider it a long-term loan," he said. I was delighted, and sent him a vintage horn from my collection to reciprocate.
     Several months later, his secretary called me in Paris and said Woody's main horn had problems and he needed the other one back. I Fedexed it to him and he returned the horn I had loaned him. Some years later, he invited me to his Fifth Avenue apartment to see his collection. It filled a walk-in closet. There were probably 30 or more horns in there. He gave me two of them that he said he was not interested in. I kept one and traded the other to a French musician for the marvellous instrument I play today: a 1900-vintage rosewood Selmer. Don't tell Woody, but it is perfectly in tune. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


One of the exciting things about being back in my old house near Paris is rummaging through the attic and discovering long-lost treasures. Among them is a trove of photos. Many of them are family snapshots of interest only to those who know the family. But others deal with my early experiences with the old jazzmen around Preservation Hall, later European travels, and reporting  in 2000, showing me with Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and his assistant floating over the Alps in a hot air balloon. It immediately brought back memories of that extraordinary ride and my airborne conversation with Piccard. Here is my account as it appeared in TIME’s Oct. 23, 2000 issue:

I'm afraid of heights. that should have made me the least likely candidate to float 3,000 m over the Alps in a hot-air balloon. But the prospect of taking the trip with a world-famous adventurer like Bertrand Piccard, the man who made history with his 1999 round-the-world balloon flight, was enough to overcome my inhibitions.

Piccard, a 42-year-old Swiss psychiatrist, hypnotist, balloonist and acrobatic sky-diver, proposed a 7 a.m. rendezvous at a ballooning field in Chteau d'Oex, near the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. Piccard's pale green eyes glow with enthusiasm as he explains his philosophy of ballooning. "It's a metaphor for life itself," he says. "The balloon is pushed by the winds and is a prisoner of them, just as a human being is a prisoner of life. For a balloon to change direction, it has to change altitude and find other wind currents. In life, we also have to change altitudes  psychological, philosophical and spiritual  and find other directions."

The day is just dawning, and the air is chilly. While we wait for copilot Bernard Klaus, Piccard elaborates on his theory of risk. "Contrary to what most people think," he says, "the biggest danger is not stress but routines  everything that makes humans function in an automatic way. True adventure confronts the human being with the unknown and forces him to find other ways to relate to himself and to others. Risk is an apprenticeship in flexibility, a game with life's unknowns."

At 7:30 a.m., Klaus arrives in a black pickup truck with a canvas-covered trailer behind. Along with an assistant, he starts to pull off the tarp, revealing the wicker gondola, the burner and other bits of equipment. The gondola looks disturbingly fragile to me.

As the balloon begins to float gently skyward, I am disturbed to note that the first thing we fly over is a cemetery. I swallow hard and gaze over the side at the green valley below. The cows look like ants as they graze on the green pastures. As we fly over a series of lakes, Piccard grins and looks out with an almost childlike delight at the panorama unfolding below. "This is the light I love," he says. "The mountains to the left are bathed in sunlight, those on the right are still in shadow." He points out the Jura range, Mont Blanc with its majestic snowy cap, Lake Geneva, the blue-gray Plaine Morte glacier over Crans-Montana. The scene is breathtaking, and my anxiety eases in the face of all that beauty.

"Speaking of risk taking," I ask, "what is the most dangerous thing about ballooning?" "Having to land in a bad place," Piccard replies. "That can happen when there is no wind and your gas starts to run out. You can find yourself blocked over the Alps for two hours and have to land on a forest or a rocky mountain peak." I'm sorry I asked.

The balloon has reversed direction and is now headed northeast. Piccard checks the altimeter: 2,700 m and falling, back from where we came. "I have to brief you on the landing," he announces suddenly. "When we hit the ground, it can be a real jolt. Bend your knees to absorb the shock, hold the handles on the side of the gondola. Otherwise, you can be ejected." Piccard squeezes the throttle to prevent the balloon from descending too fast. We feel the hot blast of the burners. Piccard points to a barnyard where a dozen or so pigs are running frantically in a circle. "Pigs always go berserk. Sometimes one of them drops dead of a heart attack, and the farmers make us pay for it."

Notwithstanding the porcine panic, Piccard eases the craft toward a field less than 100 m from the pigpen. I brace for the jolt, gripping the sides of the basket to avoid the indignity of being ejected into a pile of cow manure. But the gondola lands like a soap bubble on water. The pickup truck arrives within minutes to collect the equipment and take us back to Chteau d'Oex. As far as I know, all the pigs survived. And I am elated to be back on terra firma. I have faced risk, braved the unknown, and, hopefully, emerged a better man for it. But I'm still afraid of heights.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Still in Europe until October 1. Just a handful of concerts on tap over here. Will resume regular Preservation Hall and Palm Court gigs after I return.

Friday, August 30: Le Gramophone, Marly-le-Roi (France), with Enzo Mucci, bass, and Christophe Davot, guitar. 8:00 - 11:00 pm

Saturday, Sept 21: Veerhuis (Belgium), with the Fondy Riverside Bullet Band. 8:00 - 11:00 pm

Wednesdy, October 8: The Columns (New Orleans), with John Rankin. 8:00 -11:00 pm

Thursday, August 15, 2013


“The beneficiaries of what happened today are the preachers of violence and terrorism, the most extremist groups, and you will remember what I am telling you.” So said Egypt’s interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei in announcing his resignation after Egyptian military forces gunned down hundreds of peaceful protesters on Wednesday.

If history is any guide, ElBaradei’s grim prediction is well founded. In 1991, Algerian authorities cancelled the results of parliamentary elections that Islamic parties were poised to win. Result: a ten-year civil war during which militant Islamic groups, cheated of a democratic victory, went on a rampage of terror that cost between 60,000 and 150,000 lives on both sides. In Egypt, not only was the Muslim Brotherhood robbed of its victory with the ouster and arrest of its legitimately elected President; its peaceful protests have been met with murderous repression by military authorities apparently bent on eliminating the Brotherhood and its Islamic allies. 

Yes, Morsi was a lousy President and some elements of the Brotherhood may have nurtured hopes of one day imposing sharia law and turning Egypt into an Islamic Republic. But they were historically committed to nonviolence and, in the wake of Mubarak’s fall from power, embraced the democratic process. You can forget about that now. The brutal repression of the Brotherhood is rallying all the Islamic parties, including the most militant, into a united opposition whose violent reaction could tip Egypt into an Algerian-style civil war. 

For the U.S., which annually gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid, the risks are enormous, including the loss of its most reliable ally in the Arab world, the possible collapse of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and ever more enmity in the eyes of the Islamic world—if that is possible. Washington's entreaties to act with moderation and seek a negotiated settlement have left the Egyptian generals unmoved, raising pressure on the Obama administration to turn off the aid spigot. President Obama stopped short of that in condemning the bloodbath Thursday, but announced the cancellation of joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercises. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Saint Germain-en-Laye lies 12 miles west of Paris. This is where I spend my summers in a house we bought when I worked in the Paris bureau of TIME Magazine. We lived here full time from 2000 until our move to New Orleans in 2007. Now it is our vacation house, where we come each year to escape the New Orleans heat, get back in touch with our French friends, and soak up the food and culture for which France is famous. But the most significant thing about Saint Germain is not that we have a house there. It is the fact that Louis XIV was born here in 1638, in a chateau built by his ancestor François I. The chateau still stands majestically in the middle of Saint Germain, surrounded by manicured gardens and parks laid out by Le Nôtre.
       Another vestige of the former royal presence here is the nearby Forêt de Marly, part of the royal domain surrounding the former Chateau de Marly. For years
I have jogged in this forest. Apart from the narrow roads and trails, it has been left in its original unspoiled state, with dense stands of oak, beech, birch and plane trees. I always take the same path: Route de la Dauphine. I know every tree, every clearing, every bend in the road by heart. But every time is different. The light changes, the weather, the wild flowers come and go, marking the seasons. The smell changes, too—pungent and sappy in the spring and summer, dank and musty in the fall and winter. 

      In the old days, the forest was teeming with deer and wild boar, and foxes, and the king and his courtiers would hunt them and serve them up in sumptuous spreads of wild game back at the chateau. Today the king and the hunters are gone. The chateau is gone. But the deer, the boar and the foxes are still here. Along with the trees, some of them hundreds of years old. Some of them were here when Louis roamed the forest; maybe a few still bear the scars of his stray bullets or arrows.
      The other day, as I was about a third of the way into my five-mile run, I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. Then I heard the rapid clump of little hooves. It was a fawn, come to drink in the little ditch that runs along the path. It retreated into the forest, then turned around for a moment and studied me. Seeing that I was not a predator, she continued calmly along her way and soon disappeared behind the thick trees.
        I witnessed another interesting thing as I was doing my cool-down stretches. In the distance, on the same path I had taken, I heard the chatter of children’s voices, and saw a group of little kids on bicycles. A man was walking with them, wielding two walking sticks. When they drew closer, I saw that the man, apparently in his late 40’s, was blind. He advanced at a good clip and, judging from his well-developed calf muscles, was a serious walker. The kids surrounded him on their bikes, two in front, two in back. They laughed and chatted and rang their bells and did what kids do when they are riding their bikes and having fun. In the middle of them, the father (for I assume it was their father) strode along with no hesitation, guided by the little voices around him. His children were protecting him, showing him the way.
       They passed by me and continued down the path toward the busy two-lane highway. When they reached it, the kids looked left and right, then proceeded across. The father advanced with them, unable to see if any speeding cars were approaching, but trusting his children to make sure the way was clear. When they reached the other side, I kept watching this marvelous display of mutual aid, until the forms of father and kids finally disappeared into the woods.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


My old buddy David Paquette, inspired by my previous post about the shirtless tourist at Versailles, reports that he saw "an Aussie in speedos" walking around Copenhagen yesterday. Our esteemed musical colleague, violinist George Washingmachine, who happens to be an Aussi, informs us that these skimpy men's swimming trunks are called "budgie smugglers" where he comes from. This prompts me to share with you all a passage from my forthcoming novel that deals with this unfortunate item of male apparel. Herewith a sample:

"Walter wore one of those miniscule male bikinis that barely covered his genitalia, a style that was considered fashionable by European men but would probably lead to an arrest on any public beach in Connecticut. Men who wore such things apparently considered them sexy, Céleste thought, but they didn’t seem to realize that the molded outline of their floppy scrota was rather repulsive. Especially when, as was the case with Walter, their bulging bellies hung down like watermelons over the tight waistbands and made them look like pregnant women."
If you want to read the rest of the story, you'll have to buy the book when it comes out.