Sunday, December 27, 2009
Danielle and Maxim share a quiet moment at the beach on Utila
Hello, friends, colleagues and well-wishers! Thank you to those of you who were organized enough to send out your cards and letters before Christmas; we now reciprocate as best we can.
2009, as it was for everyone, was an up-and-down year for the Horwich and Bellenoue families -- more up than down. Maxim learned how to walk, is beginning to talk, and is shedding his diapers. And it was a year of family reunions. Benoit, Danielle and Maxim made a long-awaited trip to France to visit Ben's family in Paris, Orleans and Montpellier -- Danielle says she met 38 relatives of all descriptions, and her conversational French improved dramatically. Here are Ben
and Maxim in the garden behind his sister Agnes's house in the Parisian suburb of Houilles. And we all met in Orlando last month where, at Animal Planet, Disney presented a wide-eyed little boy with tigers, zebras, rhinos and gibbons. Nancy and Dick visited Utila once; Danielle, Ben and Maxim made several trips to the States.
Dick revealed to the world his secret life as a playwright. He has written perhaps the most uncommercial play in history: its title is The Merchant of Venice, Act Six, and its audience needs to be on speaking terms with the Shakespeare play to which it is a sequel, which rules out about 95% of potential playgoers. Nonetheless, it received a professional reading during the spring at The Naked Stage, an East End group that supports dramatic activities out here. In the picture below, Dick is reading stage directions; the actors are Melissa Hermann, Molly McKenna, Josh Perl and Joe Brondo. The next step would be a workshop; if anyone knows a small theater group that's looking for material, please have them get in touch!
Nancy is continuing to grow as a potter and has had several shows (with accompanying sales) this year: first, as a member of the Clay Art Guild in Water Mill and also as a student at the West Side Y in Manhattan. She is setting up a pottery workshop in our basement but also will continue her lessons with master potters Nancy Robbins in Sag Harbor and Outi Putkonen in New York City. "Learning something new at my age is a wonderful thing. Making money while doing it is miraculous." Here she is at a sale of her wares in Water Mill; above are adorable Smurfy bud vases of her creation.
And finally, we peripatetic Horwiches have moved from our tiny pied a terre on First Avenue and 100th Street to a larger, brighter, and infinitely more convenient apartment at 108 East 96th St. (10128 is the Zip), between Lexington and Park, handy to Central Park and the subway and buses.
All in all, as the song goes, it's been a very good year. And we wish everyone the same for 2010.
Nancy, Dick, Danielle, Benoit & Maxim
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The picture above of our back porch will give you an idea of how hard East Hampton got slammed by the blizzard last Sunday. NYC got 12”; the deepest snow measured in Suffolk County was 26”, but I think we got closer to thirty. I foolishly left the car in the garage overnight, instead of doing what my more experienced neighbors did, which was to park it at the bottom of the driveway facing out. Much easier to clear snow off the car than shovel a 100-foot driveway. It didn’t really matter, though, because the town hadn’t gotten around to plowing the street when we had to leave on Monday. I had thought briefly about leaving Saturday morning to beat the storm, but the people who did that hit a wall of white coming at them, and at least one had to abandon her car in Nassau Country.
So there we were, on Monday morning. I had to give my final exam at 2:00 on Waverly Place. The jitneys were running, but how to get into town? We ended up floundering down the driveway and along our road to a bigger road that had been plowed. Then we stuck out our thumbs. Twenty minutes before the jitney was due to leave, a taxi – one from a company I hadn’t called – stopped for us. There were three people in it, all going to the jitney, so we were saved.
But what about that blizzard itself? Some of the forecasters were calling it a 50-year-storm, not so much because of its intensity as because it occurred (technically) before winter had even begun. The usual pattern where we live is chilly Decembers, frigid Januaries, and lots of snow in February and early March.
I believe this storm was a manifestation of global warming. Wherever the warmth is (and it ain’t here), it makes for more volatile weather all over the world -- more or less rain than usual, hotter or colder than normal. I’d love it if New York’s climate was changed into Atlanta’s overnight, but maybe we're going to become Montreal South. Last summer, June and July were like April – cool and damp. When summer did come, in August, it lasted for three blistering weeks and then it got cool again. It also seems to me that the past few years have gotten windier, though this is purely a subjective impression garnered on area golf courses.
After the relative fiasco of the conference in Copenhagen, I’m more convinced than ever that there’s no solution. The sundry nations of this world – controlled as they are by governments driven by self-interest and short term political and economic gains – are not going to lower emissions. It’s estimated that the world’s power usage will rise 50% in the next twenty years, and windmills aren't the answer. I’ve flipflopped on nuclear power; there will inevitably be accidents like Three Mile Island, but the benefits of all that clean energy outweigh them.
Rather than spend the trillions necessary to change the climate, why don’t we spend billions preparing for the worst? Holland, centuries ago, didn’t try to lower sea level. Instead, they built dykes to raise land level. That may not work for the Seychelles, but then, nothing will. Global warming, within my grandson’s lifetime, will make uninhabitable all of the tropical and most of the subtropical parts of the earth. It will correspondingly make habitable – by which I mean arable, comfortable, viable -- places like Murmansk, Hudson’s Bay, and the Cape of Good Hope. More people die in today’s world from extreme cold than from extreme heat; there will be enormous dislocations but the result, globally, won’t be all bad.
Or else it will. There’s a fair chance we’ll pollute and poison this planet until human life can’t inhabit it any more. Is that a bad thing? Yes, for human life; no for Mother Earth. Ecologically-minded people who worry about what we’re doing to the planet would be better off worrying about themselves. Some time after the last human dies, after the last V-8 runs out of fuel, after the last coal-fired power planet shuts down, Earth will start to heal itself. It may take a thousand years or a million, but eventually, it will be Eden again. Everything will be green. The polar ice caps will have re-frozen. The snow pack on Mount Kilimanjaro will have returned. The coral reefs will teem with fish. There will be isolated traces of mankind's existence, but no archaeologists to study them.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Puerto Madrynn, Argentina, is probably the northernmost outpost of Patagonia on the Atlantic side of South America, and justifiably popular, therefore, with tourists, which is what we were three years ago. Memorable are the fauna, particularly the sea lions and penguins. Unmemorable is the food. I reproduce below -- word for word -- the menu of one of the most popular eateries in town, which I just came across leafing through old travel brochures. We stuck to steak; can't go wrong with that in Argentina.
Shell fishes to the Milanese with three sauce
Variety of shellfishes to the pickle
Muffled up in flour meat in lemon and olive oil with capers and parmesan cheese
Cold meat brawn with Russian salad
Unrine ham with palmettos
Unrine ham with melon
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Nancy and I went with friends to see Clint Eastwood's Invictus the other night. It wasn't my first choice; no political movie ever is. But two of my favorite actors were in it -- Matt Damon and the inestimable Morgan Freeman, than whom no one on stage or screen has more effortless gravitas.
In case you've missed the hype and glowing reviews, Invictus concerns the successful efforts of Nelson Mandela to win black South Africans' hearts and minds away from soccer to the national rugby team, the Springboks, which had always symbolized for them the white Afikaaner nation that had oppressed them for so long. Mandela had two tasks to accomplish: first, to make a losing, dysfunctional team competitive on the world stage, and second, to convince black citizens that it was their team as well as their white counterparts.
I didn't hate the film. I was simply bored out of my skull. The film takes its title from an 1875 poem by the justifiably obscure Ernest William Henley, which is to poetry what Invictus is to film -- a collection of noble sentiments. "I am the captain of my fate, / I am the master of my soul," it proclaims, and the film's writers take their cue from that approach to discourse. Throughout, Mandela speaks only in political phrases, laying out his case not only through public addresses but to his staff and friends as well. To his aides, he says things like, " This is the time to build our nation" and "How do we inspire ourselves to greatness, when nothing less will do?" Damon is the Springboks' inspirational leader, Mandela's counterpart in the locker room, whose version of polspeak is the relentless pep talks he gives over and over: "We need to become more than just a rugby team," he tells us. He has a girlfriend with whom he won't have sex because he wants to save his anger for the field, and that's the only potentially personal relationship in the movie, Winnie Mandela (Mandela's estranged wife) having been conveniently dropped down the memory hole.
The actors sleepwalk through these roles; neither is given any recognizable human emotion to portray. What's left is a series of recurrent motifs: Mandela greeting by name and shaking the hands of overawed white rugby players; the stilted, suspicious gibes of his mixed-race security detail slowly turning into comradely banter; and scenes from the rugby matches -- largely incomprehensible to American audiences who don't quite know what happens when thirty large men in shorts huddle in a snorting, straining "scrum" and the ball mysteriously pops free and is picked up by a member of one team or the other. Just how the Springboks went from last to first in the standings would have made a good story (though it would have turned Invictus into just another sports movie, along the lines of Any Given Sunday, which takes its football seriously). Eastwood seems to think it believable that it happened just because Mandela convinced Damon who convinced the team that it would be a good thing to win every game they played. Not only do we have to watch all the huffing and puffing, we have to listen to the entire South African national anthem, which is as tedious as listening to anthems always is.
As the credits rolled at the end, half the people in the theater rose and applauded. What they were applauding was not the filmmaking, I think, so much as the PC sentiments portrayed. In the movie's limited context, South Africa's race problem had been solved, decades of hatred and resentment wiped away by men of good will who had been brought together by the towering figure of compassion and good sense that Mandela represented. (Tomorrow, December 17th, happens to be The Day of the Vow, still joyously celebrated by white Afrikaaners as the anniversary of the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus back in 1838.) In reality, I think, Mandela is indeed a larger-than-life figure, one of history's most admirable and effective political leaders -- like Gandhi. And in fact, this film reminded me a lot of Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, another interminable, dry, lifeless hommage to a fascinating man reduced to a figurehead and a symbol.
Interestingly, in conversations with people who've claimed to have enjoyed Invictus, I've been able to change their minds about it by asking whether they really enjoyed the performances, individual scenes, cinematic moments and the like. "Well, actually," more than a couple of them have said, "I can't think of anything. I guess it was a little long." Yes, but it was saying all the right things. Duty required us to appreciate Eastwood's high-mindedness, and to reciprocate by approving his PC sentiments. But I hope he'll go back to making films like Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino. Both of them, like Invictus, were about heroes. But they were also about people.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Everyone expects me to blog about Tiger, just because I used to write about golf. But this isn't golf, it's adultery -- and it takes a strange form.
When the story first broke, I thought it was just another case of a star athlete giving in to one of the main perks of the job, the hordes of groupies who wait for them outside the arena, stadium or course to make sure their nights aren't lonely. Wilt Chamberlain bragged in his autobiography that he'd slept with 20,000 women during his career -- kind of gives new meaning to the term "dunking," doesn't it? I used to know a flight attendant who worked Yankee charters and who told me that one of the ballplayers (a name you'd recognize) was hitting on her during a flight and she asked him whether he was married. "Well, yeah," he is supposed to have replied, "but I'm not a fanatic about it."
But this is different. The whole story hasn't surfaced yet, but it's clear that Tiger wasn't engaging in serial one-night stands. He was actually having affairs with two other women -- leaving cell-phone records of multiple calls stretching back over a two-year period. Was his marriage to Elin (pictured above) rocky from the start? Why did he get married, anyway? To have kids whom he'd see very little of until he retired, by which time they'd be out of college?
"I'm human," he finally told the press, after the monumental PR screwup of the initial revelation. But that's just it. Before this, he didn't seem exactly human. No one on the PGA tour came off as more driven, more disciplined. He's remade his golf swing twice in eight years; it wasn't broke, but he fixed it anyway. And people want to see (or hear) what's behind the facade; there are half a dozen YouTubes of him farting during last year's Buck Open.
But lust seems a different matter. Except it doesn't seem to be lust, or only lust. He must need something from Ms. Grubb and Ms. Uchitel that Elin isn't giving him, whether it be companionship, understanding, or what the French call nostalgie de la boue -- an urge to wallow in dark places. In a piece dated today, December 6th, Carly Crawford in the Sunday Herald Sun said that at least in the case of Rachel Uchitel, "She was the only one he loved - he told her he loved her. He tells them it's their secret. He makes them feel special. You don't talk (publicly) after that." So maybe it is just that familiar athlete's habit of ringing up scores, after all.
It will be interesting, at all events, to see how this plays out. More interesting than Tiger's doings have been so far.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and Nancy and I are starting to think about our annual pilgrimage to Utila, a tiny island off the coast of Honduras, where Danielle, Ben and Maxim live.
Utila has both its charms (it is a Caribbean resort, after all, with world-class diving) and its drawbacks (aside from the diving, there are no recreational facilities, and the beaches and restaurants are nothing to twitter home about). All that is pretty much beside the point – seeing our kids is Prioritas Uno. But getting there is something of a hassle.
Though it’s only (!) about 2000 miles away as the crow flies, we haven’t yet found a crow willing to take us there. So the usual routine is to fly to Miami, then to San Pedro Sula (Honduras’ second-largest city), then to La Ceiba (a smaller city on the coast), and then negotiate the last 20 miles to the island itself either by charter or ferry. If everything is on schedule, this takes about sixteen hours; if not, maybe 24. The trip is like recapitulating the history of air travel in reverse: you start out on a 767 and end up on a single-engine four-seat Cessna 172, manufactured sometime during the Ford administration.
A couple of years ago, we tried a different tactic. There’s a somewhat larger island only a few miles away from Utila called Roatan, on which there’s an international airport. It’s possible to fly Continental from NY to Houston to Roatan fairly quickly and easily. The catch is that there’s only one flight a week, going and coming, and you still have to get from Roatan to Utila, which ain’t easy: there are no boats (abortive attempts to run a ferry have all failed, despite the fact that there are always prospective passengers), so you’re back to flying. Anyway, we thought we’d give it a shot: we chartered a Cessna (the air taxi of choice down there) to meet our plane from the States and everything worked perfectly: we were on time into Roatan on a beautiful sunny day, the charter was waiting for us, and a smooth half an hour later we were hugging our family as we stood on the short, pitted tarmac that passes for Utila’s landing strip.
The problem was the return ten days later. Though the rainy season had ended, no one had told the clouds that were massing over the island. Rain started falling early in the morning, and by the time we reached the Utila “airport,” the half-mile-long runway was soggy, its potholes full of water. To make matters worse, there was another couple ahead of us; the Cessna would have to pick them up, turn around in Roatan and come back. When we saw it land, bouncing and splashing, we knew that would never happen. Though the pilot said he’d try his best to return, they barely got airborne, and we mentally kissed them goodbye. We had two hours to make our flight from Roatan to Houston; the next one was the following week.
Baffled, we shrugged at each other as the rain got stronger. We were joined by a girl in her 20’s carrying a large backpack; we asked her what her travel plans were, but she was vague. As we stood there, debating what to do, we heard the sound of engines. Plural. Not the lawn-mower putt-putt of the Cessna, but something more powerful. Out of the clouds appeared a small twin-engine airliner. It landed with no difficulty and taxied over the shed in which we were standing,. On its tail was emblazoned “CENTRAL AMERICAN AIRLINES.” Ben, who’s lived there for fifteen years, shrugged in bewilderment. Central American flies only between Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and San Pedro Sula, its other big city. “That’s my ride,” announced the girl with the backpack, and strode toward the plane, whose passenger door had been opened by a man in a the sort of purser’s uniform that reminded me of Pan-Am clipper days.
I followed her, splashing through the puddles, and as she boarded the plane, I asked the purser, heart in mouth, where he was going. “Roatan,” he replied. “Will you take us?” I demanded. He looked me up and down, chewed his lip, and finally answered, “Only if you pay in cash.” “How much?” “Fifty dollars each,” he said decisively, as if to forestall any bargaining on my part.
I would have paid five hundred. I stuffed bills into his hand, Nancy and I kissed the kids goodbye and hurriedly boarded. There were about 12 rows of seats, and only three passengers -– Nancy, myself, and the backpacker. As we taxied to the end of the runway, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. Now it gets weird. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, in barely accented English. “Welcome to Central American Airways Flight Six, from Utila to Roatan. Today we will be flying at an altitude of nine hundred feet, and our estimated flight time is fourteen minutes. Sit back, relax, and have a pleasant journey.” The sense of disconnect was surreal – we were essentially being rescued, but here were all the amenities of “real” air travel,
Fourteen minutes later we landed in Roatan, an hour early for our flight to Houston.
I was profoundly grateful for the travel assist, and entertained by the theatrical veneer of professionalism, which you never get when you fly on Sosa or Copa, the legitimate airlines in that part of the world. Danielle says I should take a lesson from what happened: that some solution to a travel problem always comes along, so I shouldn’t sweat these things as I do. But I think this year, we’ll go back to the longer but somewhat more predictable four-leg version of the journey.