The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns - Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

“You fascist!”

….No, no, no, the post title doesn’t mean I’m calling *you* (friendly reader/ visitor) a “fascist.” Please don’t misunderstand. I used it because that (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) accusation is hurled in Passports during a morning, uh, “friendly exchange of views,” between Isabelle and Uncle Bill at Bill’s Rhode Island coastal cottage:

Next Bill called to the dining room. “Isabelle, toast and eggs?” Unexpectedly, he expanded the menu choices. “Want anything else? If you were being polite last night, don’t be. This is a continental house. Feel free to smoke.”

Despite being unsure if she had again misunderstood Bill’s English, Isabelle nonetheless dived in.

“White coffee and toast please, Uncle Bill. That will be lovely. Thank you.” Both feet on the floor now, she crossed her legs and pushed aside hairs hanging down on her forehead. “And so you know,” she added, “I don’t smoke. You think all the French are the same? We all smoke?”

“Well, all the French I know seem to smoke like chimneys,” Bill maintained as he advanced to the table and chose the seat across from her. Next he changed conversational topic mid-paragraph as he often did. “So what about that Mitterrand? He’s done over there soon, isn’t he? Who’ll be the next president?”

James sat on a longer side of the slightly rectangular table, between them, as if positioned inadvertently to referee. Taking some toast, he joked, “Uncle, you been watching the news on public television again?”

Isabelle responded from across the table without hesitation, “Balladur or Chirac, of course.”

Pouring orange juice, Bill questioned, “Who?” He moved the toast plate closer to Isabelle. “Please, have some more. You know, I sensed it last night. You’re a Gaullist. You fascist! Gaullists hate Americans!”

“No, they don’t,” she answered softly. “They love France. It is the Socialists who hate Americans. Mitterrand has been a disaster for France.”

Bill smiled broadly and looked over at James sitting to the side. “Nephew, you sure can pick ’em.”

“Okay,” Isabelle began to question Bill mockingly, and a bit flirtatiously, “who should be President of France, as you sit here, great American writer, judging the world from, ooh, what little state is this again? Uh, Delaware? I forget.”

Bill lobbed a calculated grenade at Isabelle. “Whoever the Socialist is. We need socialism in the U.S.”

“Bah!” she dismissed that out of hand. “You have not lived under socialists. I know communists, yes, but I do not want them to rule France. You have been with Spanish writers and Cubans. They do hate America. I bet they are communists. We thanked God that Mitterrand had to spend so many years sharing power with Chirac.”

Ignoring her charges, Bill went another route. “God? I thought young Europeans today were a lot smarter than our Bible-thumping Americans?”

Isabelle was at a loss. “Aren’t you Catholic like James and your family?”

Taking a breath, he explained, “Right. You know, Isabelle, I think of myself as a Unitarian.” Seeing her appear to go blank at the word, Bill appended, “We believe in sort of everything.”

Isabelle was underwhelmed. She knew what a Unitarian was. “But do not Unitarians believe in God?” she grilled him pointedly while grasping her coffee mug. “And to say one believes in everything is to hold nothing sacred.”

Bill pronounced, “Nephew, she is definitely French!”

James complained, “Uncle, I didn’t think I was in this breakfast debate?”

Had enough? As James has? What? You mean that back and forth didn’t cause you as a conservative to turn socialist, or vice-versa?

I follow many of you who are also authors – or musicians, or actors, or you travel blog, or you’re interested in cultural issues, or you’re just sharing thoughts with us. It should go without saying I’m flattered if you follow me. In organizing my followings here deliberately along mostly “apolitical” lines, WordPress has become for me a welcome island of friendliness, learning and calm compared to much else out there in major media.

As we know, nothing exists in isolation. In recent days I’ve been surprised by several generally “non-political follows” who’ve suddenly taken to mounting Everest-height soapboxes. They’ve filled posts with barrages of heavy-handed political invective. (That’s being “charitable” in describing the content. I could use stronger language.)

If you wish to read diatribes from those who support your “worldview” (whatever it is), it is usually easy enough to find out there. Follow a few of the crazies on Twitter. Or just click over to commenter cesspools that are found on sites like CNN’s.

In a friendly Twitter exchange I had had with a producer about so many of the incredibly nasty online comments, he noted that he simply tells op-ed contributors not to read the comments below their pieces. Can you imagine? Yet it’s easy to understand why: the bigotry and viciousness some spew via keyboard is appalling – and, one has to believe, mostly also from those who would likely never be so rude to someone’s face.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

Free Stock Photo: The White House in Washington, DC.

I know I have on occasion blogged here on somewhat contentious issues. Amanda Knox, Devyani Khobragade, and immigration, immediately come to mind. But when I do, I try to do so with moderation, within the framework of my own knowledge and experience, and while remembering my self-imposed guidelines for this blog. (See the top banner.)

Civility and respect: where have you gone? If you want to scribble vitriol online, of course you are free to do so; but I did not follow YOU to read that. I firmly believe that chest-thumping, name-calling, and jumping up and down usually wins no friends who don’t already agree with you, and rarely changes minds.

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:


In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.

A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."

U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you: in the U.S. on Tuesday. in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)

Favorite News Sources

I saw this asked on Twitter yesterday:

What are some of your favorite sources for trusted news?

I had never really considered that systematically before. I read lots of sites, so I had to think on it carefully; and I tweeted back several. Here is a fuller list of my “go to” regularly sites:

France 24
CBS News
The Christian Science Monitor
The Times of India

Looking at those again now I’ve just realized that only one – the Times of India – appears to be an outright “newspaper.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a man reading a newspaper on a bench.

Taking matters to another level, how about this? “Favorite” correspondents? Mine are:

1) “International”:

Hala Gorani (CNN), Vivienne Walt (Time, etc.), and Anne-Elisabeth Moutet (The Telegraph, France 24, etc. – and who follows me on Twitter!).

2) “U.S. national”:

Mark Knoller (CBS), and Brooke Baldwin (CNN…. who also follows me on Twitter!).

3) Extremely “U.S. local” (meaning the Catskills, in upstate NY):

Watershed Post (and which also follows me on Twitter, and is in my sidebar here).

I could go on and add some others – media outlets and individuals – but I’m sure you get the gist. Everyone has their preferences of course, and likely you have yours. Oh, and being followed on Twitter does not necessarily impact my preferences! ;-)

Saved By Univision

Although it had shown the Algeria v. South Korea match earlier, ABC in the U.S. chose not to broadcast the U.S. v. Portugal game. Thus U.S. television network priorities. It relegated the U.S. game to cable sports channel ESPN – which is majority-owned by the Disney Company, which also owns ABC.

Our rental house does not have ESPN, so we watched the game on free to air, Spanish-language, Univision. Thank God for Univision. Our Spanish isn’t great, but you did not have to be Spanish-fluent to have understood what was going on when “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!” was screamed out by the play-by-play guy.

Speaking to my Dad in Pennsylvania yesterday, he said the coverage on ESPN – a supposedly cutting edge sports channel – was itself irritatingly subpar. He told me the announcers’ voices were not even in synch with the action on the pitch for the entire game. Frankly, if we had had ESPN I might have watched the game on Univision anyway…. just to not give Disney/ABC’s ESPN the rating.

Sunday seemed to demonstrate that while increasing numbers of Americans now do get soccer, U.S. network TV executives clearly still don’t see it as mainstream. While the game did garner big ratings on their ESPN, it would have of course drawn even a larger audience on free to air ABC. They had this generation’s U.S. 1980 Winter Olympics hockey team playing World Cup soccer on Sunday at 6pm ET, and they didn’t realize it:


Then again, maybe ABC’s “World News” got the network more viewers at 6pm? Based on what I’ve seen of it, though, that program has not contained much that could be honestly termed “world” or “news” since Peter Jennings. It’s little more than a couple of quick headlines followed by vacuous gossip and tabloid features that is passed off to viewers – and presumably the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – as “news.”

Head Of State

I stumbled on this in the in-laws’ lounge the other day. After yesterday’s post, I thought another taste of British “tradition” might be worth noting. I’d had no idea “The Lady” is still being published?:


The magazine itself notwithstanding, that cover of the Prince of Wales got me thinking about this. The U.S. and France of course have the role of national “head of state” and “head of government” vested in a single individual: a party politician. (France technically has a prime minister too; but never mind.) As we well know also, that invariably means that 40 plus percent of the population – at least – at any given time largely despise their head of state…. because (s)he’s first and foremost a party politician.

Britain is different. The prime minister is a politician, yes; and those who didn’t vote for his/her party naturally aren’t fond of who’s in Number 10 Downing Street. Yet even if someone is not a monarchist, the Queen (or King) is almost universally respected as the “head of state”: the apolitical representative of the British people as a whole.

I suspect that latter was what the U.S. presidency was meant to be when George Washington was first elected: a man (1790 usage) above faction. But, as we know, the role quickly became partisan. By the time John Adams was elected in 1796, and then Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the President was also seen as a leader of a party: a politician.

I will admit I’ve become partial to the idea of the U.S. head of state being separated from the head of government – with two people in the separate jobs. Imagine a new setup in which the “president” was only a ribbon cutter, visitor to disaster areas, national comforter, attender of foreign funerals, and non-political figure, serving alongside a “vice president” who actually handled the day to day of often ugly and dirty politics? Maybe then we could all finally agree “to like” our U.S. president. :-)

Shortwave For The Eyes

This is a somewhat longer post than usual. I just think the topic is fascinating. And it seems to fall within the self-created remit of this humble blog. ;-)

You may have heard by now how Liz Wahl, an American newsreader for RT-America, resigned on air as she was concluding her 5 PM newscast on Wednesday. RT-America is part of the larger Russia Today (RT) cable TV channel that is funded by the Russian government. (The channel is seen in the U.S. mostly on the internet.) Wahl quit so publicly following a report that stated Ukraine’s new government was composed mostly of fascists and neo-Nazis.

Here’s CNN’s video of Anderson Cooper’s interview with Wahl. (A “non-major media” video I had previously thought to use for this post has been removed from YouTube.) It includes the final portion of her resignation:

Unsurprisingly, Wahl’s resigning in the manner she did caught many people’s attention. Young journalists, and uncountable others, have been assailing each other on Twitter and elsewhere on the net…. over Russia Today, its Ukraine and other reporting, and TV news “bias” generally. She’s thoughtful and honest to some; she’s a disingenuous, imperialist tool to others. Etc., and so on….

The 28 year old Wahl has since defended her action, also stating it was not about self-promotion. And this post is not about arguing about the propriety of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. Rather it is about how this debate on TV news “bias” that was set off partly by Wahl’s resignation sounds (no pun intended) all too familiar.

Continue reading

Dramatized Violence’s Sexual Divide

Dame Helen Mirren has condemned British TV drama for the growing number of murder victims who are young women:

….Mirren told the Observer that she agreed with the playwright David Hare’s recent complaints about the bloodthirsty nature of most drama on British TV, saying there was a clear sexual divide when it came to the corpses. “Most of those bodies are young women,” she said.

Hare had spoken out against the number of murder victims on television at the launch of the second of his Worricker trilogy of films last week. “I can’t personally stand the body count in contemporary drama. I just think it’s ridiculous,” he said.

The British playwright had added that the Nordic thriller series The Bridge was one of the biggest offenders, although he enjoyed it. Fresh corpses also appear in many British-made dramas and series, such as Silent Witness, Lewis, Whitechapel, Ripper Street, What Remains and The Fall, the BBC2 drama serial starring Gillian Anderson, in which a rapist and serial killer preys on a string of attractive young women….

American TV police dramas also lean heavily on storylines that revolve around killing young women. And not just killing, mind you, but ritualized, sexual brutality while killing. I recall an episode of Hawaii 5-0 a year or so ago in which I was stunned at the graphic and gruesome portrayal of a serial killer’s torture and murder of a young woman…. before the opening credits.

What about novels? We know there is a cultural overlap between modern drama in books and on TV. Are there criticisms that could be leveled about similar violence in books?


Almost certainly. Yet most novels do not permeate the public consciousness at a level akin to what appears on TV. (An exception being perhaps when one is made into a film or TV.) Most modern novels are read by only a fraction of the number of people who might sit through a single episode of, say, Lewis, or Hawaii 5-0.

If you write, I’m sure you have your own view of what level and type of violence is appropriate to your genre and writing preferences. Passports, and its coming sequel, are not crime-based thrillers; however, I do have an important character who is a successful crime novelist, and there is discussion in the book at times of what Uncle Bill produces. At one point, he exclaims:

“The French seem to love American crime thrillers, which makes me happy. Sells books!”

One wonders, though, how much drama, be it in books or on TV, is now written deliberately to be both not just thrilling and violent, but also sexually provocative and even pseudo-p*rnographic? It does seem tension and a “mere” murder…. in the drawing room with a candlestick…. is no longer nearly enough. It does too often appear now that dramatized murder has to be after a graphically described, slow, sadistic and sexualized, torture session.

In another scene in my book, “James” shakes his head at his crime novelist uncle’s writing style. Uncle Bill twenty years ago pens nothing on the violence and depravity level we encounter regularly today. Still, James remarks, “I couldn’t write what he does.”

Those are my feelings as well. I also don’t have any answers. I suppose none of us do, really.

We know that this issue is as old as the hills: what sells is what will be produced. We also know big sellers lead to imitators and more of the same. It seems there is simply a large appetite out there for increasingly graphic violence in which young women are its victims.

She Had Better Not Get Less Than A “B”

Leaving aside the question of whether one Amanda Knox is guilty, let’s briefly consider a broader issue. I had noted back in December that there seem to be Americans ages 18, 19 and 20, wandering around abroad who look just like adults. Usually they speak like adults too.

However, behind the adult facade, far too many are still, emotionally, essentially little more than “spoiled children.” Their being so far behind in their maturation process is not their fault; it is America’s fault. It should be a source of U.S. national embarrassment and a cause for soul-searching, yet it prompts neither.

It all starts at least a decade before. As they are schooled, they are “adored.” They are always assured they are “special.” As the saying now goes, “Everyone gets a gold star.”

By 18, they don’t lack for “self-esteem.” In fact, often quite the opposite. They may well possess a “superiority complex.” They think an affected naivete and a (“What? Innocent me?”) grin will always serve as a – no pun intended – get out of jail free card. They are sure they are never in the wrong, never to blame for anything.

“I am a wonderful person.” Of that, they are totally convinced. “I have a voice!” they cry out. “The world just doesn’t understand what I am.” How often do we hear that?

With that mentality, many venture overseas. If you have seen Amanda Knox interviewed, or read any of her voluminous – usually opaque, often muddled, and sometimes incoherent – literary efforts, there is something disturbingly ordinary, and irritatingly familiar, about her. You know her somehow. I suspect many of us have run into “Amandas” at times over the last two generations. (And don’t think this is only about women; they are young men also.)

Too regularly, I taught them in U.S. college classes. You can spot the type almost immediately. She had better not get less than a “B,” or she’ll complain to the Dean and her parents.


Of course, almost none of those other similarly stunted 18-21 year old Americans abroad end up going as far as also being convicted of murder. Yet given all that has been said, written, and revealed in global media about her immature behavior in Italy as a 20 year old prior to the murder, Amanda Knox is now probably the most well-known American study abroad student ever. That is nothing to be proud of as a country.