Friday, September 30, 2011

Foreign Travel

My best friend is off to Italy next week to see her daughter get married. She's a little nervous about this adventure, not having flown to Europe in a long time, perhaps not since 9/11. Everyone gives her advice. My advice was to let the AAA set it all up. That worked great for me the time I went to Italy, a trip I took with another friend in pursuit of her art history research.

I must have mentioned it to you, the time I went to Italy; I never shut up about it, my lone experience of European travel. It was a couple of years ago, and I thought it was divine. But instead of the AAA my friend let her daughter make the arrangements, which involved a 13-hour layover in the Munich airport on the way to her Italian destination. This was unacceptable to her, so she changed it to a much shorter stop. I tell you what, I could live in the Munich airport, although somewhat more comfortably if I had money for luxurious perfumes and clothes, and if there were no restrictions on my diet. My word, the food. I could just do a vacation in the Munich airport. I love that airport. But chaque'un a son gout, as they say.

Anyway she is now engaged in pulling together the minutiae for this trip. Her beloved hair mousse is out, since it will look like a bomb to the TSA. I like to fly with a tiny bottle of jojoba oil to keep my hair in line, and it's good enough for me, but Lesley is better-looking than I am and requires more upkeep. Also I have no daughter to criticize my looks.

So what's good? I want to throw this open to you world travelers out there. Annamaria, help me out. What do you need to know to get successfully from here to Italy and back? What needs to go in the one-quart plastic baggie? What needs to be in the carry-on? If you check baggage through, will you ever see it again? If it were me, I would make sure to carry on the dress I planned to wear to the wedding. I still remember the night of the Malice Domestic banquet, when the lock broke on the door to our hotel room, trapping Robin Hathaway and me on the outside of the door and our beautiful evening clothes on the inside.

Leave a comment at your earliest convenience. It's time for her to start packing.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The King’s Salt


The Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks) at Arc-et-Senans was an Enlightenment project of the architectural genius Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. At a time when salt was an ultra-precious commodity and a source of enormous income for the French crown, Louis XV signed an edict in 1773, authorizing the construction of a salt production center on the edge of the Forest of Chaux. There, wood abounded to fire the evaporation pans, and brine could be piped from the underground salt springs about a few kilometers away.

Ledoux envisioned an ideal city, where the workers would live and labor in a harmonious and healthful environment, with everything they wanted and needed to live wholesome lives while they created wealth for the King. Their surroundings were certainly beautiful, built in Ledoux’s classic style, based on Palladio’s principles of symmetry and balance.

As it often turned out with such endeavors, producing wealth for the crown turned out not to be as pleasant an activity as Ledoux imagined. Though they boasted a doctor on the premises and unlike many of their French contemporaries, they had food and shelter for their families, spending one’s days boiling brine into salt crystals turned out to be a caustic occupation. Ledoux’s design provided the workers with plots for gardens, where he imagined they would spend their off hours growing vegetables and breathing fresh air with their wives and children. Instead, in reality, salt workers were exhausted and sick.

Production at the site continued through the French Revolution, until 1895. After that, the buildings fell victim to lightning, decay, and even dynamite. By the 1930’s, however, efforts were afoot to restore and preserve them. In 1982, UNESCO listed them as a World Heritage site.

The Saline Royale that began as a ideal in Ledoux’s mind became a kind of hell for the workers who toiled there, and finally now exists as the serene and marvelous place their creator dreamt it would be.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chivalry is Not Dead—at least in New York City

Once known as the rudest city in the world, New York City has a new face. As a feeble, elderly resident, I can testify to this.

I cannot get on a subway without someone offering me a seat. Young, old, male, female, Hispanic, African American, Asian, Caucasian; everyone has offered me seats.

If I trip, ten people from ten different countries reach out to help me up and ask, “Are you all right?” Once, my life was saved by a woman who pulled me out of the path of a cyclist racing to deliver a pizza. And, I can’t count the times, when rushing for a train at Penn Station, someone has offered to carry my bag.

Recently, my husband and I spied a bookcase, in good condition, abandoned on the curb near our apartment house. Inveterate trash pickers that we are, we hauled it to the top of the three steps down to our entrance. We were contemplating the best way to get it down when two Hispanic women came running up, wrestled the bulky object down the steps, through the door, into the elevator, out of the elevator, into our apartment, and insisted on maneuvering it into place. When we tried to pay them for their services they laughed and left with a cheery farewell.

So, if you ever hear anyone calling New York a rude city, send them to me and I’ll set them straight, even if I have to hit them over the head to do it!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reunions: You Can’t Go Back Again (Because ‘There’ Is Gone)

You hear about people going to Reunions: high school, college, family, war vets, et cetera. Well, not me. For example, my high school, St. Augustine’s Diocesan on Sterling Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was already out of business when the passenger jet made an unscheduled crash landing on its doorstep in the late 1960’s, erasing all prospect of reunions. No matter, I wouldn’t have been attending anyhow. As for St. John’s University College, whose ‘campus’ was in a seven-story former bank building on Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn --- it’s condos now and even if the doorman would let me in for old times’sake, I’d pass.

I spent all of 1956 and half of 1957 at St. Augustine’s as a transfer student, having come from a low-rent seminary that was supposed to prepare you to become a member of the Franciscan Order of Teaching Brothers. St. Anthony’s ‘Juniorate’ (odd name for a high school, right?), no doubt why we boys simply referred to it as ‘Smithtown’, located as it was in the Town of Smithtown on Long Island, among the potato fields of Suffolk County. My short story: I got kicked out after two years, told I was mistaken in thinking I had a ‘vocation’ (I won’t bore you with my sins). So how’d I get there in the first place? Well, you’re graduating from eighth grade in St. Anthony of Padua grammar school (same ‘St. Anthony’, no coincidence); you’re twelve years old and, since the age of five-and-one-half, been shuttled from the school to the looming red brick Church next door when the steeple bells summoned us to prayer. There, all us boys, in our dark-blue worsted trousers, white shirt and clip-on black tie, have been kneeling for all eternity on the hard wood kneelers in the pews in the Lower (basement) Church, interminably humming the five Decades of the Rosary amidst the fourteen Stations of the Cross, as the priest parades up and down the marble-floored aisles spewing swirls of sweet smoke from his incense-burner. No surprise then: After the Good Franciscan Brother reveals to our class that some among us may be ‘called’, on Easter Sunday, at Mass in the Upper Church, drunk on incense fumes, I actually see God point a long index finger at me through the fog, and over the swell of the organ while the choir pounds out the Hallelujah Chorus, I hear Him say to me, clear as a bell: “You! You! Pack your bags!” Upon graduation in February, 1954, I boarded the LIRR, Ronkonkoma Branch, with my ticket punched for Smithtown.

One recent Sunday, in the grip of an irresistible impulse to see Smithtown once more, I get on the LIE and head for the North Shore of Long Island. To get to the school, you must drive through the hamlet of Kings Park, once home to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, which I see from my car on Route 25A, is still there, sprawling on top of a hill but empty, decommissioned. And I remember then being aboard the ancient yellow school bus, the name ‘St. Anthony’s’ painted in black on its sides--captive boys being taken to the movies in Kings Park on a Sunday afternoon more than half-a-century ago – the hospital full of life, the inmates hooting and hollering to us from their barred windows as we speed past. It’s a high point of the trip, riding past the Looney Bin: a happy feeling, I remember, as if them up there and us in our bus were connected.

No more acres of potato fields as far as the eye could see along Rte. 25A now – replaced by row upon row of suburban tracts, Divisions and Sub-Divisions.

I drive onto the grounds of St. Anthony’s. It is not a functioning school, it’s obvious.

There are some broken windows in the elongated two-story structure, and the white paint is peeling. I think of Iroquois Longhouses, I suppose because of the stretch of the building. I get out of the car and what strikes me is how small-scale everything appears: the buildings, the playing fields behind the main house, the grass badly in need of cutting. The chicken coops are gone as well as the fenced-in execution ground where I beheaded and plucked my first chicken for the Sunday dinner, on orders from the Brother in charge of the Refectory. Everything smaller than I remember it. For it’s vivid, larger-than-life in my memory. Jerome Megna, the pool shark; Joe Rogus, the polio-stricken basketball star; Bill Cullen, the gay librarian from Brooklyn and my best friend; the school’s principal Brother Henry, vain about his PhD in history; Brother Patrick “The Claw’, who taught Latin, had a crippled left hand and the DTs from drink; Brother Linus, the math teacher, who’d feel you up if you weren’t fast on your feet. I swear I remember them all, the faces and their names.

I even remember the movie we saw that Sunday in Kings Park in 1954. The Bridges At Toko-Ri; William Holden, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney starring. I wrote the movie review for the school paper, The St. Anthony Star.

Funny how it all stays with you. The important stuff.

Robert Knightly

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Recipe Time

I see that it's nine o'clock Friday night, and I haven't posted anything on the Crime Writers' Chronicle. So here comes a recipe.

Normally when I post a recipe it's because I have just spent an hour composing a crazed rant, after which I have suddenly recovered enough wits to see how offensive most people will find it. And how embarrassed I will be tomorrow when I see that I have actually posted it. Either that, or I have stopped to consider how many ways I could get sued.

This is not the case today. Today I wandered into Novel Land, forgetting entirely that it was Friday, and put together a chapter in the Work in Progress, the chapter where the crazy woman in the library, passing herself off as the Story Lady to evade pursuing police, tells a story to the Brownie troop that is so frightening it causes them all to wet their pants.

After I wrote this chapter I cooked


Chicken, cut in serving pieces, rinsed, dried, salted and peppered
2 T olive oil

Heat oil in a big heavy skillet. Brown the chicken on all sides and remove from pan.

Remove excess fat, turn down the heat and put in the pan

1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
3/4 t rosemary
1/2 t dried sage

Cook and stir until onions are golden. Add

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Cook half a minute. Put the chicken back and add

1/2 cup dry red wine

Cook over medium-high heat, scraping up the bits, until wine is nearly all evaporated. Add

A cup or so of tomatoes
3/4 c of chicken stock

Cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Add

1/2 c good black olives, if desired, pitted
8 oz sliced mushrooms

Cook, covered, for 10 minutes more. Uncover and reduce the sauce slightly.

Serve with polenta and a nice green salad. Delicious.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Annamaria Alfieri is at large somewhere in the Jura. When she finds an internet connection she will send us travelogs and pictures.

Meanwhile, consider buying her book. It's good:

Monday, September 19, 2011

6 Random Tips for Writers Gleaned from Old Notebooks*

1. Don’t be afraid to write badly. You can always fix it later.

Walter Mosley

2. You learn writing by writing.

John McPhee

3. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.


4. I got my best ideas while doing the dishes.

Agatha Christie

5. Make every sentence tell.

E.B. White

6. I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a short one.

– George Bernard Shaw

Robin Hathaway

* These are not exact quotes but as close as I could scribble them down during panels and talks at conferences and conventions.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thank You, Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wyke-Fiennes!

Tom Swan
Several successful mystery writers began their careers as advertising craftsmen. James Patterson won the 1977 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel with The Thomas Berryman Number. He had had a highly successful career as an advertising executive. So did Chris Grabenstein, a gifted multi-genre writer, who also served as President of MWA-NY. Another MWA-NY President was Tom Swan. After a distinguished career in corporate advertising, Tom produced a delicious trio of art-world-based thrillers that bear re-reading – The Cezanne Chase, The Da Vinci Deception, and The Final Faberge. (Tom's death left us with an empty space no current author fills.)

Another veteran of the Manhattan advertising world, John Verdon, has made a remarkable advent into the world of intelligent, gripping thrillers.

When the Sept. 12 New Yorker arrived, I lingered for a poignant moment over the artist's meditation on the Twin Towers, the cover titled "Reflections." Before dashing to my usual fare, Talk of the Town and the cartoons, I thumbed through the ads. Creativity? Information? Advice? Or hypnotic fairy tales?

I relish frequent doses of others' creativity and my daily intakes of information and free advice. And sometimes a comfort-laden fairy tale to counterbalance accounts of global death and destruction.

I flipped through the colors, artwork and verbiage of ads for Rolex, IBM, Louis-Roederer, Credit Suisse, T. Rowe Price, but my mind's eye stuck to the Dunhill ad, with its arresting photograph of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, that is Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wyke-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE – a prolific writer and often called the world's greatest living explorer!

His words struck a familiar chord: "Selecting the right team is crucial to the success of any expedition. And the number one rule when choosing is that you can teach people skills, but you can't change their character . . . in interviews I never asked candidates questions, I just talked to them about the expedition . . . Then I came across a saying about how we have one tongue but two ears because we should do more listening than talking. I've made fewer mistakes in the selection process since reading that little phrase . . ."

A well-executed ad should not merely encourage us to buy/use the product. Or just support the advantages and superiority of the product or service. It should educate us - as in e-ducere – lead, teach, develop our innate faculties and powers.

The explorer's words matched much of my own background and expericnce. Many crime novelists come from a professional background or work force, where part of the job was in selection, hiring, training or assessing colleagues or clients in the academic, business, social service, health care fields or any number of civilian or military environments.

I spent years putting bread on the table in professional assessment or as a management consultant, where my team and I needed to size up a client or potential colleague rapidly. This process of quick, accurate evaluation was part of my job in creating an assessment center for a U.S. based Fortune 500 corporation, lecturing at the Yale Graduate School of Management, as a consultant/workshop leader at Drake Beam Morin Inc. and Oliver Human Resource Consultants Inc. as well as in my private executive outplacement firm.

Our bible was Assessment of Men, the manual developed by noted international scholars of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services. The process, known generally as the assessment center method, was successfully applied in major U.S. corporations such as AT&T, Standard Oil, General Electric and IBM. Psychologists and managers developed and established this method of selecting people and teams in numerous manufacturing and retail organizations as well as government and non-profit organizations.

In a nutshell, the assessment center method boiled down to evaluating interpersonal kinds of behavior gained from live, interpersonal interaction with others, including asking questions, listening, evaluating. Originally developed for selection of management personnel, the process is often used for individualized counseling, management development and organizational development. It used to be installed only in large organizations with great manpower needs, but has become a staple in selection, hiring, training for civilian and military agencies, colleges and universities and many small orgamizations.

In selecting a member of a team the assessment process postulates that an individual often shows the same habitual reactions over a range of similar situations. In other words, if Mr./ Ms. Smith reacts in one way in situation A, there is high probability he/she will react the same way in situation B.

Most people possess relatively enduring characteristics that influence their behavior in various settings. Key to selecting a person on your team are these proven behavioral observations: The person will probably have the same or similar patterns in analyzing problems, planning and organizing his/her work, resisting stress and in dealing with various personalities.

For a crime fiction writer, who often deals with the very basic character qualities of a loner versus a team player, the criminal mind or the honest Joe/Jane type, these assessing principles are very helpful to the writer's mindset, especially in the plotting, characterization and constructing of a thoughtful work of fiction.

Back to the ads, I may never buy or use a Dunhill product, except maybe to outfit my protagonaist Byington Bailey. (Though I confess I did buy Dunhill cigarettes in another life!) But at the next session with my WIP I will try to listen more to my characers, their thoughts, their desires, their directions.

So, thank you again, Sir Ranulph Fiennes!!!

T. J. Straw

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chatting About the Weather, and What the Prize Was

We are back from the Gulf Coast. Here's a picture I took when we were there of a bird standing in waters roiled by Hurricane Lee. I think it was a great blue heron; I think it was expecting fish.

I promised to tell you what the prize was that I won. It was the annual fiction award given out by the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance, and they gave it to The Edge of Ruin for its depiction of New Jersey history and its highlighting of Fort Lee as the center of early movies. I couldn't be more pleased. I really did a tremendous amount of research for that book, something like ten hours of research for every hour of writing, although I lost my bibliography and looking back it feels as though I made most of it up. Well, come on. It is fiction, after all. Now I'm going to have to be on a panel with a bunch of real historians, the winners of the various non-fiction awards given out by the NJSAA, and try to look halfway knowledgeable.

Hurricane Lee, having organized itself almost before our eyes as we deplaned in Gulfport, bashed on Louisiana for awhile and then scuttled northward to flood Lambertville and New Hope for the second time in two weeks. We arrived home shortly after the last rains. The locals are mighty annoyed, some of them looking around for somewhere to fix the blame. I would say George W. Bush was responsible, for failing to sign the Kyoto accords, if I didn't think it was already too late to do anything by the time he got in office. Others will no doubt find a way to blame Obama. Or the water company. Whoever.

But even though the world is warming, and strange species of tropical mosquitoes have been sighted in town – we didn't see any in Mississippi, due to the summer-long drought – tonight the temperature in Lambertville is plummeting. Last time I went out on the porch it was 59. (That's Fahrenheit, for you Canadian and European readers, almost chilly.) I like this weather. It wakes me up. It wakes up the characters in my work-in-progress. When I returned to the computer to get going on my suspense novel I found my heroine falling in love, exchanging witty badinage with the object of her affections. It was energizing.

Stay dry. Keep warm. Better times are coming.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Jura

My husband David and I are about to leave on a trip that will take us to several interesting places, some of them famous, some relatively unknown. Our first destination is a visit with friends in the Jura Mountains in France.

The Jura are north of the Alps, between the Rhine and Rhone. The range extends into Switzerland and Germany. The French section is part of the Franche-Comté region and is a Mecca for hikers, cyclists, and skiers. Louis XIV conquered the area and made it part of France.

We first visited there considerably after King Louis but still in remote history by today’s standards. Here we are on our previous visit, in July of 1973, two wandering New York hippies, visiting friends who have remained dear to us over a lifetime.

On this upcoming trip we hope to visit the Jura’s Fort de Joux castle, which dates back to the 11th century and to see more of the region’s famous panoramas and have some more of those wild mushrooms that we still remember from all those years ago.

My posts over the next weeks will follow our trail through France and Italy with some history and pictures of the sites we see. Á bientôt!

Annamaria Alfieri

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back to School and the Lure of the Blank Page

I’ve always thought September was a better time for new beginnings, than January. January is so cold and bleak and forbidding, whereas September is warm and mellow and inviting. That enticing, fall scent is a wake-up call. Like the smell of coffee and bacon in the morning. It makes you want to get up and get going.

Then there is the school thing. All those memories of new beginnings. New classrooms, new subjects, new teachers, new notebooks… Ah, that is the real crux of the matter. That new notebook. You know the one I mean, with the black and white marble cover and the white rectangle waiting for you to write your name in. And inside are all those beautiful, blank pages with blue lines, waiting to be filled with new words. Words that have never been used before, at least not in exactly that order.

I can never let an autumn pass without buying one of those notebooks. What is the lure of the blank page? The white wall crying out for grafitti, the bare tree trunk, begging to be initialed, the bathroom wall demanding…well…back to the notebook. After I buy it, I let it sit around for a few days, enjoying its pristine perfection. Because, I know, the minute I set pen to those pages, they will no longer be pure. They will be tarnished, blemished, marred with words unworthy of their perfection. Words that will need to be changed, fixed, improved, and refined, over and over again. And even then, the result will never be as perfect as that clean, pure, empty white page. But we have to keep trying, September after September, don’t we?

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, September 11, 2011

That Day: We Remember…

September 11, 2001, a Tuesday, was a nice Fall day, I think (aging has a way of dimming memory, at least mine, no matter how ‘unforgettable’ the subject). My wife Rose and I left our apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, earlier than usual that morning to vote: it was Primary Day in New York City. At the polling place, we heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center (just that, nothing more). We went back home to turn on the TV. This is how we remember it:

ROSE: When we saw the plane had hit the Tower and it was burning, I remember thinking I’d better get on the road now before the traffic is impossible. Only a New Yorker could have had such a reaction to a disaster. I owned a boutique called Metaphors on Bedford Avenue at North 6th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, three blocks from the East River, just opposite the Manhattan waterfront at 23rd Street. Eventually, I got to my store. As I was pulling up the gate, Karen, who owned Luanna’s, an Urban Cowboy boutique across the street, hollered at me to close my store!

“Why?” I shouted back.

“Because the country is under attack.”

“But,” I said, “we have a captive audience today, The subway is shut down.”

“Go home!” she said. So I did.

ROBERT: I was working as a trial lawyer in the Queens Office of the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society. The office and the Criminal Courts were on Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens, a 7-minute ride on the G-train from the Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights. I took the train; we were a one-car family then and Rose needed it to get to the store. When I arrived, everyone was glued to the TV. Like everyone else, I stayed in the office and watched. What did I feel? Astonished! Did I see the Towers fall? I‘m not sure; maybe one? From the vantage of age 70, I’m convinced that I don’t remember more than I do remember, and depending on how much time has passed, my recollections may be mist-enshrouded.

For example, on November 23, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, I was employed as a copyboy on the New York Journal-American, an afternoon daily, one of the City’s 7 daily newspapers at the time. When the inevitable cliché is asked: And where were you on etc., etc, etc.? – I usually say I was working in the City Room that late morning when Kennedy was shot. But was I? I think I was because I have a vivid recollection of standing immovable in that room with everyone else — editors, reporters, copyboys, pressmen – transfixed by the TV showing . . . something? Announcement of his death in the Dallas Hospital? The Funeral? The assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby? I’m not sure; I’m guessing (always reminds me of the movie, ‘The Mists of Avalon’).

The Courts shut down; the subways, too. I walked the 3 miles home. I had it easier than most.

ROSE: I drove home through Long Island City, Queens, past the 59th Street Bridge which thousands of people were spilling off onto Northern Boulevard, all of them fleeing Manhattan. I stopped and offered a ride to a foursome of Indian-looking people, hoping they lived in my neighborhood of Jackson Heights, also known as ‘Little India’. I was disappointed and more than a little embarrassed to see very few cars stopping to offer rides. The man owned a newsstand in Midtown and the three women were his employees. They thanked me for being “a human being,” but alas, they lived in Flushing. I had to take them all the way, I could do no less. As we talked, I asked if they were from Pakistan. “No, No,” they cried, “India, India!”

Past Jackson Heights, of course, my 1990 GEO overheated and stalled out in unbelievably stop-and-go, snail-paced traffic. Then a passing Caddy stopped alongside, the window rolled down, and a lovely, black female arm miraculously extended a plastic gallon of water to me. My newsstand owner then exclaimed that he had been an auto mechanic in India and “Not to Worry!” And, indeed, after a brief rest and some work under the hood, we were back on the road. After leaving them off on Main Street in Flushing, I had a comparatively smooth ride home.

The next day I was determined to open for business as usual. The shop was filled all day with frightened young people. Williamsburg then was a haven for wealthy trust fund babies and poor artists pushed out by rents across the water in the gentrifying East Village. I sold one pair of earrings for $12 all day. That was all right because September 12, 2001, was a day to be together to start to feel safe again.

ROBERT: In the days, weeks, years after ‘9/11’, four things still stick in my mind: First, the names with personal detail and photographs, affixed in the thousands to every fence and empty wall in downtown Manhattan. Second, the sea of dirty-white dust of ‘cremains’ that blanketed cars, trees and streets when the prevailing winds blew towards Queens. Third, the dazed, sad look on the face of my friend, a Fire Department Lieutenant, who was on the fourth floor with his men when the North Tower fell, as he told how he’d been dug out of the rubble like a rare artifact. Fourth, the resigned-hopeful face of the young NYPD detective who’d done 12-hour tours, six- days-a-week for months at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island (Had a site ever been more aptly named?) His job and that of his brother-detectives: to rake through thousands, tens of thousands, of tons of debris from ‘ground zero’ in search of human remains. They told him to wear a mask. What they didn’t tell him? That in 2004, when I met him, he’d be forever unfit for duty, unable to run or climb without gasping for breath, unlikely to see his children get much older.

Oh, yes, lest I forget: If Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Thomas Von Essen, his handpicked Fire Commissioner, had been delivered into the hands of the rank-and-file of the New York City Fire Department after 9/11, I suspect the ‘Mayor of America’ would have been hard-pressed to explain why the Fire Department’s radios failed to deliver the message to vacate the Towers while the Police Department’s radios worked fine – especially, since the City had known, since the prior bombing of the WTC in 1973, that the FD radios were defective… Just a thought.

Robert Knightly

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Hurricanes

Having escaped the ravages of Irene, unlike a number of our neighbors, Harold and I thought ourselves lucky to be able to catch a plane out of Philadelphia and make our way to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a visit with relatives. We touched down in Gulfport, picked up the rental car and drove east along front beach. Out over the water we could see a boiling soup of many-shaped gray clouds. It was kinda pretty.

The soup was busy forming itself into Hurricane Lee, or tropical storm Lee, later tropical depression Lee. Jim Cantore, whom I had last seen on the Battery in New York City before the lights went off in Lambertville, popped up in Biloxi and began to be storm-tossed. We began to be storm-tossed. Several days of wind and rain ensued, which were not unpleasant, at least for us, since the brunt of the storm's fury went off to Louisiana and points north. Foaming surf is quite unusual for Ocean Springs. People like it. It's exciting. For the last few days the weather has been sunny and mild here, ideal vacation weather.

Now that we're getting ready to go home I see from the internet that the wretched Lee has washed out Route 29 both north and south of Lambertville, dumped enough water upstream to flood the Delaware again, and closed most of the bridges. Philadelphia Airport was said to have been under three inches of water. We hope it's okay by the time our plane lands. From time to time we pull up the web page of the USGS streamflow data for Lambertville, hoping the Delaware River hasn't gotten into our house.

Meanwhile I won an award. I'm very pleased about that. I can't tell you what it is until Monday.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Healing Power of Apples

The party was thought of months before and planned for weeks. We already had the old wooden cider press but hadn't used it for years. My Sister-in-law Kathi had discovered the pick-your-own apple orchard not far from our place in the country. So we decided to have an apple-picking, cider-making outing for kids and grown-ups.

The plan was to gather family and friends early on Sunday, drive a beautiful country road to the orchard, help the children pick apples, and go home for a barbecue and home-made pizza from the wood burning oven on the patio to be followed by apple chopping and cider pressing. Invitations were sent, rsvp’s received. We all pictured a beautiful September day and lots of wholesome family fun.

Then, five days before our party, on exactly the kind of gorgeous day we had hoped for the following Sunday, on September 11, 2001, horror struck our city.

For the first couple of days after the tragedy, none of us — mostly all downtown New Yorkers — was thinking about the weekend or anything much at all but the dreadful losses. But then on Friday evening, people started to call and ask, “Are you going to go ahead with the apple picking?” We decided we would. Many of the children were so little they did not really understand what was going on. “Let’s get the children out of the city and into the sunshine,” was the general response. So we did.

On a glorious late summer day, we drove the picturesque dirt road, went to a mountain top in Putnam County, and carried the young ones on our shoulders while they picked bags and bags of beautiful red, green and yellow apples. We carted the fruit of our labors home, while snacking on some mcintoshes and eating homemade cinnamon donuts from the farm stand.

Kids rolled out dough and chose their pizza toppings. People of all ages ate barbecued sausages with their fingers, and feasted on harvest salads and corn on the cob.

Moms, dads, and grandparents chopped apples and turned the screw to squeeze the cider into plastic cups held in little hands at the spout. Children who had drunk only apple juice from the supermarket tasted their first fresh-pressed cider.

Bathed in the sunshine and the smiles and giggles of our children, we affirmed life in the face of the worst blow our country had ever taken.

Every year, on the Sunday after 9/11, we’ve done the same thing again — with some of the same people and some new ones. Being alive and loving each other. Apples are our best revenge!

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, September 5, 2011

Snuff's Enuff

Recently I was cleaning out some bureau drawers and came across a small wooden box that belonged to my grandmother. In the bottom was a piece of paper folded over. I had never noticed it before and I doubt if it had been noticed for over a hundred years. I unfolded it, and this is what I read:

"How to Partake of a Pinch of Snuff

The true artistic method of ‘taking a pinch’ consists of twelve operations:

  1. Take the Snuff-box with your right hand.
  2. Pass the Snuff-box to your left hand.
  3. Rap the Snuff-box
  4. Open the Snuff-box
  5. Present th box to the company
  6. Receive it after going the round.
  7. Gather up the Snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and forefinger.
  8. Take up a pinch with the right hand.
  9. Keep the Snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose.
  10. Put Snuff to your nose.
  11. Sniff it with precision by both nostrils, and without any grimace.
  12. Close the Snuff-box with a flourish.

A. Steinmetz, Tobacco, London, 1857"

So you think you have problems?

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Were You There?. . .

Pearl Harbor Day
When I attended the Buie's Creek Academy in the 8th grade, a strict Southern Baptist school in Buie's Creek, North Carolina, one of my friends was Anne Green, niece of the noted Paul Green, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the famous symphonic drama The Lost Colony. Paul had also been a student there many years before.

Religion was a major theme on the curriculum. We seemed to spend a lot of time in church. Though not a Baptist, I loved the hymns. One of my favorites was the Negro spiritual "Were You There?"

As we head toward the 10th anniversary of 9-11 next Sunday, "Were You There" naturally morphs into "You Were There."

No rational adult will ever forget the where of those gigantic moments. THAT MORNING... THAT DAY...

I'd set out into the brilliant sunlit blue sky morning for a meeting, when I saw the TV in the window of the cigar store across the street. I dashed back to my apartment and stayed glued in horror to watch Katie and Matt and the other shocked but professional news anchors, as they described what was happening in real time.

The Twin Towers! OUR towers!

The Pentagon! No, it wasn't real. It was a TV horror movie!

Then the quiet, isolated, lonely field. . .

This could not be happening! Not to Manhattan, the capital of the urban world!

Or the mighty fortress near our capital. The impregnable invincible forever pentagonal pinnacle of defense in Arlington, Virginia, not far from the remains of many of our finest and bravest. . .

The minutes exploded, each frame more horrible than the last.

We huddled in our safe cocoons, but safe no more. Watched the nightmares unfold.

Helpless. Terrified. Numb. Weeping.

The acrid scent of smoke and ash came right through the TV screen. Inch by inch. Cloud by cloud. Then the sight of body by body. . .

Until it stopped.

But it never did stop, did it?

Now, ten years later, we relive one of the most difficult mornings of our national history.
The memory segues into other milestones of our lives.

And the question lingers.

Where Were You... when...?

My first memory of our nation's list of injuries was that Sunday afternoon, December 7. A day of infamy. Then the mellow, steadying voice of the old guy with his cape and cigarette holder, calming the fears of a little girl through a dark wood radio from an invisible wheelchair.

Then the old man's death, down in a tiny hamlet called Warm Springs. And the somber train procession up to his New York grave.

How quickly the years pass...

A phone call that dark November from a fellow college dean in Newport, Rhode Island. I heard her crying. "I can't meet with you today. The President's been shot. Turn on your TV!"

Another round of watching. Waiting. Glued to the TV.

Jackie's bloodied clothes. Everybody there crying.

The vain hope that would soon be dashed.

Then Walter's final solemn pronouncement.

Camelot was dead.

We may never know what drastic changes those earlier events made in our national and personal lives.

But we do know first-hand the cataclysmic upheavals 9-11 enacted in every layer and foundation of our lives now.

They touch us everywhere – on land, in the air, on the sea.

On September 11, 2001, a tsunami reached from the island of Manhattan over every square foot of Mother Earth.

May God be with us and give each of us courage and light and vision and hope, as we step gingerly into the vast unknown. The dark mist of time.

Where Were You???

You Are Here......................................................................

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hurricane Irene in Lambertville: How it Went

Here's how the hurricane went in our little town.

As regards our private lives, in the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that Harold, my spouse, grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and knows from hurricanes. It's a rare year when they don't get a tropical storm coming on shore there. So he was an anchor of calm in the wish-wash of uncertainty and fright. I bid goodnight on Saturday to Jim Cantore as he stood on the Battery predicting disaster and laid an untroubled head on my pillow, there to fall asleep lulled by the pleasant sound of wind and rain.

But the public life of Lambertville was going nuts even as we slept.

In the morning the electricity was off. This meant, first of all, no coffee. Secondly, no news. No TV, no internet, nobody in the family had an Iphone or even a battery-operated radio. Church had already been called off, a first in the history of St. Andrews, as far as I'm aware, and there were other inconveniences, other wants, but no coffee and no news were the worst. What of Jim Cantore? Was he standing there still, the water now up to his chin? What of the threatening Delaware River? What of our little town of Lambertville?

Eventually we suited up and went out in the rain and gusty wind, careful not to stand under trees. We looked at the Delaware, high, fast, and full of tree limbs, where the ducks were struggling not to be swept clear down to Trenton. Fly, you ducks! Fly! After we saw the river we walked around town. People were standing together in knots, hanging onto their hats and swapping gossip. We stopped and talked to them. They said, "Did you see the boat?"

The Bridge. Note the urn-shaped posts.
At the bridge where Union Street passes over Swan Creek a startling sight met our eyes: a motorboat on a trailer, upended in the middle of the bridge, on the upstream side of which a ten-foot length of the concrete bridge railing was pushed over and broken in pieces. Police had blocked off the street. The old urn-shaped posts and the newer, oatmeal-box-shaped posts were scattered here and there. Apparently a flash flood had come down the creek, sending debris-filled water into the city parking lot and up the sides of people's houses. High water marks could be seen.

No journalists were anywhere in evidence. As a result, exactly what happened there may never be known. As we continued to wander around in the rain talking to people we heard many accounts of the event, most involving greater or lesser degrees of incompetence on the part of the water company and various city officials. It was generally agreed that a four-foot wall of water had come down Swan Creek from the city reservoir, looming above us, confined by an earthen dam. Either water was released from the reservoir to ease pressure on the dam, thereby saving the city from the much worse fate of a burst dam, or water somehow spontaneously erupted from the reservoir as a result of the heavy rain, or incompetent water company minions lost control of a controlled release. People in the streets screamed and ran. "What were they doing in the streets at one-thirty in the morning in the middle of a hurricane?" "Screaming and running," was the reply. Many people had to be evacuated from their homes.

The water swept the boat and its trailer out of a yard that backed on the creek and hurled it into the bridge railing, which broke.

And at that point, Jersey Central Power and Light cut off the power and the city of Lambertville went dark, to remain so for three or four days, depending on what part of town you were in. The water went down an hour later, but there were still problems with the power lines.

When daylight came a tourist with New York plates was seen collecting one of the urn-shaped pieces of the bridge railing and putting it in his car. If ever you wonder why the locals here are sometimes hostile to tourists, this is the sort of behavior that brings it on.

I would love to see this story covered in a newspaper, just like they used to do in the old days. I would love to hear the thump of a newspaper on our porch, open it up, smelling the fresh printer's ink, and read a cogent account of the Swan Creek flood. But it isn't going to happen. In a few months we may read that some of the irate residents are suing the city, or the water company; houses got water in them that never had water before. It must be somebody's fault.

As for us, we remain dry, and hope you are the same.

Kate Gallison