mardi 30 juin 2009

A Walk in the Park

But not just any park. Lincoln Park, our favorite park in Seattle. Neko loves to walk but her enthusiasm flags a bit when it gets hot. I can't blame her; she basically wears a fur coat at all times. Even with her recent cut she suffers when the sun is too bright.

What I love about Neko, though, is that she just stops for a few seconds when she gets tired and pants with her tongue out. She picks a shady, grassy spot and plops down to expose her belly to the cool grass. I always bring a small bowl and cold water, which she laps up from her belly flop position. Then she gets to her feet and moves on.

Back to Lincoln Park. It features a nearly deserted crescent-shaped beach that leads to the Fauntleroy ferry dock. Coleman Pool, an outdoor pool, is filled with salt water and looks out on Puget Sound. Both face west and then southwest as the path arks around, so the wide gravel path leading around the pool is generally in shade. Once past the pool, you can take one of the concrete uphill trails leading into the park. These lead to a wide dirt trail that takes you along a cliff and back to your starting point. It is always in shade, flanked by huge towering cedars, hemlocks and fir trees.

In 1970, when I was 14, I signed up to go on a 10-day hike (through the CYO - Catholic Youth Organization) in the Olympic Mountains that involved climbing Mount Olympus. My twin sister Cathy, our friend Sherry Baynard, and I decided to get in shape for this hike and climb - our first real one - by filling our rented backpacks with hardcover books and walking to Lincoln Park from Shorewood Elementary school and back home again. We packed some food and bought candy at the little store (a Rexall, I think) next to what is now Endolyne Joe's, a restaurant. We wore hiking boots we had rented from REI (to this day, REI employees gasp when they see my membership card, because I am practically a founder) and of course did not think about protecting our tender feet from blisters.

It was a rude awakening! I think we made it to and from Lincoln Park, though I can't be sure we didn't give up and call for a ride. I will guess that it is about an 8-mile round trip.

As unprepared as we were, it was a great 10-day hike and climb, except for the fact that one of the members of our party was killed and another seriously injured. Here's what happened: After climbing a mountain, it is customary to slide back down. This is called "glissading". It is really fun. However, you have to beware of crevasses, some of which are not easy to see until you are up close. Father Dalton, who was the priest on our hike (believe it or not, there were enough to go around back then for assignments like this), saw a huge and gaping crevasse and stationed himself in front of it to alert others to the danger. Jim O'Neil, who was a 21-year old seminarian, decided to come down the mountain on a tarp, for extra speed and thrills. There is nothing wrong with this, by the way. But he was unable to stop and ploughed into Father Dalton, who was trying desperately to keep him from falling into the abyss. And they both disappeared into the dark and icy crevasse. Miraculously, there is or was a UW glacier study center on Mount Olympus, so a helicopter and rescue crew were brought in. Unfortunately, Jim had broken his neck and did not survive. But Father Dalton did, with broken ribs and fractures of all kinds. He nearly froze to death as well. He was airlifted to the nearest hospital.

The other day, my brother Charlie gave me a letter he had found while cleaning out my mother's house. It is from Jim O'Neil's father, also called Jim, to Father Dalton. Father Dalton was unable to attend the funeral, but all of us Nanamakee girls did go. And we sang. We sang the title song from the Sound of Music. It probably sounds corny and maudlin, but it wasn't. I still get tears in my eyes when I think about the funeral, Jim's parents, our voices blending to say goodbye to that young man.

Here's what his dad wrote, just hours before going to meet Father Dalton for the first time. Jim's dad wrote the letter because he wanted to be sure and say everything he wished to say when the moment of meeting came:

The funeral was a completely overwhelming experience for us, and I'm sure for all others who were fortunate enough to be there... The frosting on the cake, so to speak, was having all the young CYO group there who sang so beautifully. It was just overwhelming.

The death of Jim O'Neil became a pivotal experience in my life, and I am sure that this is true for many of my fellow hikers. I often think of Pauline Cline, who was the director of the CYO Nanamakee program for girls and a PE teacher at Blanchett. She was probably in her late 20's when this happened. She and the other counselors, aged 19 to 25, were responsible in loco parentis for a bunch of 14-year old girls. When this accident occurred, we were in the middle of the Olympic Mountains. We had to hike out, in part through the rain forest. I'll never understand how she and the other "adults" managed to remain so composed and adult, dealing with their personal grief (Jim was a fellow counselor and their friend) and shock, and with our 14-year old ways of coping. They remain for me models of how to keep your head together when you have every good reason to fall apart.

I remember Jim O'Neil's father as a soft-spoken and extremely courageous man. A few days after losing his oldest son in a tragic accident, he wrote this, just hours before meeting Father Dalton, the man who almost lost his life trying to save a life:

Jim was thrilled beyond words at the opportunity of going on this climb. He was most excited and could not have been doing anything he liked better... So you see, Father Dalton, he was happy in doing what he was doing, he reached his objective in life as well as the top of the mountain because he was so happy being with the young people that he loved, and doing the things he liked most... Please believe us when we say we have no regrets at all.

Every time I go to Lincoln Park, and look out across the water to the Olympic Peninsula, I have a thought for Jim O'Neil and for Father Dalton, wherever he is. I am always brought to the same thought, though I didn't remember until recently that Jim's father had written about it in the letter. We have no regrets at all, he wrote. Life is such an improbable and glorious gift, and harboring regrets is a way of letting it slip through your hands unappreciated.

vendredi 26 juin 2009

Une icône de la pop est morte... depuis des lustres

Avec le décès de Michael Jackson, les événements qui se déroulent en Iran sont passés au deuxième plan. Mais pour moi, le Michael Jackson qui a fait Thriller, un album mythique et géant, est mort il y a longtemps. Ses déboires, son recours sans cesse au bistouri (qui l’a rendu méconnaissable et effrayant à regarder, une sorte d’épouvantail vivant), sans parler de ses problèmes avec les jeunes gens… toutes ses histoires ont fini par enterrer Michael Jackson. Puis, les rumeurs insistantes qui courent ses dernières années sur sa situation financière, fragilisée par les procès pour abus sexuels sur mineurs. On dit qu’il laisse derrière lui une montagne de dettes, de quelques 400 millions de dollars.

Le prix de la célébrité est lourd, très lourd.

jeudi 25 juin 2009

Twice in a Lifetime

I thought I was in Heaven when I saw David Byrne at Benaroya in February of this year (see blog entry). Who knew that four months later we would get the chance to see him at the Paramount - for free? (Thanks Prdeep and Frontier Bank!) Was it the Same As it Ever Was? Not quite. Some of the same songs, but not all. And then this special surprise at the end. I had never seen a marching band that looked to have strippers, cross-dressers and possibly trannies among its membership. They did a gig later on at the Comet Tavern and when we left the Paramount they were doing an impromptu performance in the lobby.

The only scary moment came when people were dancing to Burning Down the House. We were on the mezzanine and it was shaking, literally shaking. I had thoughts of disaster.

lundi 22 juin 2009

Neko, chienne increvable

Une fête des pères bien boisée mais pas trop arrosée

Pour la fête des pères, Neko a proposé une promenade en forêt à son maître, qui a accepté aussitôt. Comme nous étions convoqués plus tard à un BBQ pour fêter la même occasion, nous avons décidé de trouver une balade près de chez nous. Direction Cougar Mountain, qui est en réalité une colline habitée mais peu importe. Il y a pleine de belles balades à faire et la forêt est dense et verte. Il y a plusieurs variétés de fougères, de fleurs sauvages et de bêtes. La flore et la faune quoi. Qui pourrait demander plus ?

Neko a aimé et, malgré les dix kilomètres de marche, elle ne s’est ni arrêtée ni ralentie son pas une seule fois. Je me disais que dans une vie antérieure elle était certainement une chienne de traineaux, qui portait son maître « musher » sur les neiges éternelles de l’Alaska sans jamais se plaindre. Elle était husky, samoyède, malamute, groenlandais ou alaskan…

jeudi 18 juin 2009

Could frumpy be the new fabulous?

The unexamined life, as Socrates maintained, may not be worth living. But it sure is fun to watch!

Wow. I can't believe I watched the season finale of The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Nor can I believe that Walt and I actually had a serious conversation that involved him defending Danielle as having shown class relative to the other four housewives in the drunken catfight that erupted when Danielle threw a copy of the book in which her past (as a cocaine whore and stripper whose real name is Beverly) is revealed. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. This is a good sign. My argument was twofold: one, that class, relative or otherwise, is not a word that applies to this tacky group; and two, that Danielle got the upper hand, which is not the same as having class and not hard to understand. She did this by employing a four-pronged strategy: she surprised the others by throwing the book at them, so to speak; the others were drunk by the time this happened, which slowed and slurred their reactions; Danielle slyly set the two sisters against their sister-in-law, thereby creating a catfight within a catfight; and the party hostess, what's her name, is so frigging ditzy that a four-year old could get the better of her in an argument about how to tie shoes. Unable to speak a coherent sentence, she did what any real housewife of NJ would do under similar circumstances: she upended the table and started shrieking.

We first discovered this show on our Jet Blue flight from NY to Seattle. I had finished my book and did not want to get up and retrieve another from my bag in the overhead storage bin. So I started looking for something to watch. And there it was. Tacky. Mindless. Unscripted humor. Short sound bites. Unbridled vanity. Trout lips. Botox. Fake "bubbies" (that's boobies with a Joisey accent). Home fitness centers. Cougar sex. Pouty, spoiled children. Expensive designer handbags and shoes. Vague dissatisfaction against a backdrop of ungodly wealth. Endless trips to the hairdresser. French nails, the better to scratch you with, bitch. Big old SUVs, even for the teens. Huge McMansions.

You know, the American Dream and all that.

Is it because they are just like us or people we know that we find them so fascinating? I doubt it. I think it is because they embody the American cliché with such obvious gusto and lack of irony. We the viewers get to enjoy all the smug irony. The real housewives get to enjoy the notoriety that goes with letting it all hang out on national television, not to mention the perks they probably get from the show's sponsors. Before, they just ran New Jersey. Now America knows that they run New Jersey. Therein lies an important nuance, though I can't quite figure out what it is. The importance of not just doing but being seen to be doing it. Viewers embrace their inner voyeur; the viewed embrace their inner exhibitionist. Everyone wins. The lives of the viewed are enhanced by fame of sorts. Not for accomplisments or uncommon courage; just for putting it out there. The lives of the viewers are enhanced by the knowledge that they get the joke, they are in on the irony and hthey ave escaped living a cliché. Or so they desperately hope.

One comment I read on a blog entry about the show nailed it: "I watched a preview of this series a few weeks ago and was so horrified I immediately decided to watch it."

Now that we have seen the wives of just about every affluent American community on display, I'm thinking the backlash will be television programming that features Susan Boyle type frumps. Now that would be radical. Maybe the first in what will inevitably be variations on a theme could be about the real housewives of Seattle. Casting call for all Seattle housewives who are frumpy and proud.

samedi 13 juin 2009

Sally and her posse

Sally on her big day, surrounded by her four daughters

Presenting Sally and Ron Santucci

They did it!

vendredi 12 juin 2009

My mom is getting hitched today!

Today is a big day for my mom, Sally Malone Ganong, and Ron Santucci. They're getting married at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Magnolia, in the presence of their twelve children (six each) and the significant others of their twelve children, the children of their twelve children and one child of one of the children of their twelve children (my brother Charlie's daughter, Kristi, and her husband Tim have a son, William, now 21 months old. After the wedding mass, we will be treated to a spaghetti dinner made and served by a few of Ron's friends. My twin sister Cathy is the maid of honor; Ron's son Bob is best man. Apparently, these two roles needed to be filled by people who had attended Mass in the last six months. I'm sure Cathy is lying -- anything to be maid of honor!:)

I don't know how many grandchildren there are. My mom has nine, plus the four kids of Terry, Carolyn's husband. That makes thirteen. The six Santucci's probably have at least as many between them. I've met a couple of Bob and Helen's kids (their son Bobby played baseball for Walt), and two small children who belong to one of Ron's daughters (like Sally, Ron has four daughters and two sons). William Mc Quillan, the son of Charlie's daughter Kristi and her husband Tim, is the only great-grandchild.

mardi 9 juin 2009

Remembering Tiananmen Square

I have been meaning to write something about the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4, 1989. In China, it is referred to simply as "the June 4th incident". Listening to and reading the numerous eye witness accounts, as well as interviews with today's 20 year-olds in China, who of course were not born or just born when it happened, has dredged up a lot of memories. By 1989 I had left China for France, but I doubt that China had changed enormously in the three years since my departure. Actually, it had probably changed significantly on one level - let's call it eye level because I love this double palindrome - and not at all on the other, deeper level. On the deeper level, all is chaos and anarchy. On the eye level, all is order, discipline and repression.

During the eighteen-month period I spent in China, I had the good fortune to teach adults: young students at the Chinese Foreign Language Institute (which was renamed a few years ago) in Shanghai, but also students at Fudan University and a group of professional journalists. I would not be surprised to learn that they took part in the 1989 movement. My students were curious, courageous and adventurous. Some of the journalists had suffered during the Cultural Revolution, as had Deng Xiaoping, who was China's leader when I lived there. He is widely credited with starting the reform movement in 1978, after having survived tremendous political challenges. One of my favorite Chinese jokes perfectly captures who Deng Xiaoping was at the time: three inmates are languishing in a Chinese prison. Prisoner one says to prisoner two: why are you here? I am here because I opposed Deng Xiaoping. Prisoner two asks prisoner one: why are you here? I am here because I supported Deng Xiaoping, he replies. They turn to prisoner three and ask, in unison, why are you here? Prisoner three replies: I am Deng Xiaoping. His first name (Xiaoping) also means little (xiao) bottle (ping). People told me he was aptly named because, like a bottle thrown in the sea, he always managed to stay afloat.

I felt China moving towards greater freedom when I was there. This was in the early to mid eighties, before China really opened its doors wide to tourists from the West. This was a good thing: without many infrastructures of control/tourism in place, Westerners who had permission to be there had great freedom of movement. We were paid in local currency and had the right to use it and pay Chinese prices (China has since done away with its dual currency system). We could travel peasant class on the trains if we wanted. We could stay in Chinese hotels and go to Chinese restaurants - as opposed to the hotels, restaurants, shops and train cars reserved specifically for tourists. We were foreign experts. Most of us were teachers, teaching the very people who would go on to demand that democratic reform accompany the economic miracle whose foundations were being laid.

Three years later, standing in the living room of a beautiful Parisian apartment located across the street from the Collège de France, one of the world's foremost seats of reason and erudition, I watched from a great distance in horror as events unfolded in Beijing. I could not help but feel that these were people I knew, being gunned down by soldiers of the People's Army. The People's Army, turning on the people. I think that many of those gunned down made the same mistake I did: believing that the People's Army would never turn on the People.

samedi 6 juin 2009

Black Dynamite

The guy who runs the Warrent Report blog said it was THE film to see if you only wanted to see one SIFF film this year. We went. We saw. We enjoyed. This film will do well at the box office. It is a total spoof and everyone in it apparently had a great time pimping and hamming it up. My only complaint is that sometimes it felt as if they were having more fun than the audience. Speaking of the audience, the director Scott Sanders and the male lead Michael Kai White were among us. They stayed for a Q&A session after the film, but we did not. It was late (SIFF movies never start on time and this one was no exception) and I loathe Q&A sessions with the audience. Most of the time, it is a series of bores who try and disguise their monologues by tacking a question on the end.

The best thing about the movie is its length: spoofs have to be relatively short to work because a one-joke movie always goes cold quickly. The second best thing was the names of the various bit players, most of whom portray pimps or dealers: Cream Corn, Nipsy (a nod to Nipsy Russell), Tasty Freeze (played by Arsenio Hall), Kotex and Chocolate Giddy-up are the most memorable ones.

vendredi 5 juin 2009

La folie douce de Séraphine de Senlis

Séraphine, une production franco-belge de Martin Provost qui a gagné le César du meilleur film français en 2009, a été projeté hier à Seattle dans le cadre de la 35ème édition de son festival de cinéma international. Le temps étant à la canicule depuis quelques jours, j’étais contente d’être dans une salle obscure bien climatisée. Le film a eu un grand succès populaire en France, malgré un consensus critique plus mitigé. Je me range plutôt du côté du public, même si je comprends parfaitement la réticence des juges professionnels du cinéma.

Le film est lent, mais pas ennuyeux. L’histoire est mince et, à mon avis, c’est parce qu’on ne connait pas grand-chose de la vie de Séraphine de Senlis : elle est issue d’un milieu modeste, elle perd ses deux parents à un jeune âge, elle travaille comme bergère avant de devenir femme de ménage. Elle aime Le Seigneur et les anges, et puise son inspiration artistique dans la vie spirituelle. Séraphine aime la nature et communique avec elle. Ses voisins et ses employeurs pensent qu’elle est excentrique et peut être folle, mais ils ont besoin de linge propre et sa folie ne l’empêche pas de s’en occuper. Elle fabrique ses propres couleurs et peigne non pas en cachette mais à ses heures perdues. Elle ne se cache pas, mais elle ne se montre pas non plus. A vrai dire, elle semble complètement indifférente à l’égard des gens qui l’entourent. Elle est marginale, certes, mais pas malheureuse.

L’arrivée d’un collectionneur célèbre à Senlis – il détient la plus grande collection de Picasso et découvre le douanier Rousseau – va faire basculer sa vie de femme de ménage le jour, peintre chantant la nuit. Ce monsieur aime ses toiles et pense qu’elle a du talent. En toile de fond, l’armée Allemande qui avance, qui avance, première guerre mondiale oblige. Wilhelm Uhde et sa sœur doivent partir vite, laissant derrière eux Séraphine et ses toiles. La guerre se termine, ils se retrouvent, et une carrière d’artiste peintre couvée par un collectionneur puissant se profile. Puis, le krach boursier fait trembler la planète et surtout les riches, qui n’achètent plus d’art. La folie douce de Séraphine ne se traduit plus dans ses toiles et s’extériorise. Elle est internée en asile psychiatrique et finira ses jours la-dedans : pauvre, folle et oubliée. Elle est enterrée dans une fosse commune.

Voilà pour l’histoire. Yolande Moreau, l’actrice belge qui joue le rôle de Séraphine est parfaite. On dit que la peinture de Séraphine, l’autodidacte, la range dans la catégorie d’art naïf. Uhde n’est pas d’accord et moi non plus. En revanche, Séraphine – telle qu’interprétée par Moreau, est une femme naïve. Quand elle gaspille l’argent qu’elle commence à gagner grâce à son art et aux soins de son « agent », ce n’est pas par extravagance ni par cupidité. C’est tout simplement parce que l’argent est juste une chose de plus à découvrir. C’est une chose qui permet d’acquérir d’autres choses, jolies celles-ci. C’est sans importance pour Séraphine. Tellement sans importance qu’elle dépense sans compter, jusqu’à s’acheter une maison modelée sur un château célèbre, avec l’argent de son agent. Il reçoit la facture du notaire, mais ne peut pas payer.

J’adore Yolande Moreau. Elle n’est pas belle, mais elle est radieuse. Ses yeux bleus semblent par moment enterrés derrière son front et ses paumettes, et pourtant ils brillent. Elle n'est pas grande mais elle est potelée et se déplace comme un ours. Pourtant, elle est pleine de grâce et de vie. Son rôle dans La fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain est mineur et pourtant, quand je pense à ce film, je pense d'abord et surtout à elle, qui incarne Madeleine Wallace à la perfection. Pas étonnant que le César de la meilleure actrice a été discerné à Yolande Moreau en 2009 pour son interprétation de Séraphine. Elle avait déjà été primée en 2005.

mercredi 3 juin 2009

Derrière les chiffres il y a des hommes

I've been thinking a lot about Air France flight 447. For one thing, it has gotten extensive media coverage, which is only natural given that air accidents of this magnitude are - thankfully - rare. A debate rages in the blogosphere about whether or not air travel really is the safest mode of transport. Something like 2.6 billion people were transported by plane last year, with a surprisingly small number of deaths. The thing is, as everyone says, when a jumbo jet goes down, there are many, many deaths at the same instant.

I have flown a lot in my lifetime -- not as many hours as a pilot or a flight attendant, of course -- so I feel exposed when I hear about a crash. And I have developed strategies for keeping anxiety at bay when I fly. How many people truly enjoy flying, though? I really don't, especially now that flying has become totally banal as an activity. Except on international flights -- and sometimes even on them -- conditions are barely acceptable. No food, not much refreshment, not much leg room, too much stuff crammed in overhead compartments, seats too small and too close together. On the last flight I took, returning from NY to Seattle, the rather large woman in the seat next to mine had her arm resting on the controls for my music and visuals the entire time. Had she not been asleep, I might have asked her to move so that I could find some suitable music or watch some crappy movie to pass the time.

One of my false beliefs is that disaster only happens on take-off or landing. If the plane can get off the ground without something going really wrong, then there will be nothing to fear until it is time to land. And landings have gotten much, much smoother in the last ten years or so. I bet everyone would agree with this. It is obvious. Air France flight 447 disappeared after more than four hours in the air. In other words, it violated one of my sacred wrong beliefs. My sacred wrong beliefs are the ones that keep me from having an anxiety or panic attack and, on occasion, I have felt that these beliefs actually help to keep the plane in the air and on course. I know this is utterly ludicrous. I knew a Canadian woman in China who was pathalogically afraid to fly. She was a career expat in Shanghai, which meant that the occasional trip back home to Vancouver, BC, had to be taken by sea. She told me that she actually did force herself to fly once, and knitted the entire way. She was afraid that if she stopped knitting the plane would go down. She did stop for just a second and the plane immediately entered a pocket of turbulence, thus proving the basic psychological truth of her wrong sacred belief. She had no choice but to stick to the knitting.

I heard a Norwegian woman being interviewed on the radio today, who had lost her daughter and one of her grandchildren in this tragedy. Her son-in-law and second grandchild had taken a different flight because they had some frequent flyer miles to use up. Their flight landed at Roissy at 4 pm, which is when the son-in-law and his child learned that flight 447, due in earlier the same day (at 11 am), was lost and that its passengers had perished. Another woman who was interviewed had to change her plans at the last minute, or she would have been on Flight 447.

Finally, Le Monde has written the article that captures the human element. 228 names and lives lost; many more destinies shattered. It delineates the process by which a raw piece of news slowly becomes a story of individual sorrow. Here's a quick translation:

For a few hours, they were just numbers. Classified according to the general criteria used by airlines and their insurers. Two hundred and twenty eight missing. That's 12 crew members and 216 passengers. Among the latter, there were 126 men, 82 women, 7 children and a baby.

A little later, they became a list of names. And finally, a small society of individuals, couples, families struck by fate. Alexander Bjoroy, 11 years old, was returning from Rio via Paris to his boarding school in Bristol. He had just spent a few days on vacation with his mother, Jane, and his father, Robin, an engineer for the Brazilian oil industry.

Ten French employees from the same company, CGED, each one accompanied by a spouse or a friend, were also among those aboard flight AF447 Rio-Paris. They had won a company-wide contest that, each year, rewards the top ten salespeople in the French Southwest. In Bordeaux, in Artigues, in nearly every one of CGED's small regional agencies, at least one employee was lost. Like Stéphane Artiguenave and his wife, Sandrine, "much more worried", explains a colleague of Stéphane, "about the reputation Brazil has of being a dangerous place and of losing their two children (aged 9 and 4) than of an airplane accident".

At the regional headquarters of CGED in Bordeaux, people are also counting the terrible twists of fate. Like this young saleswoman for CGED, 23-year old Laetitia Alazard, who got to go to Brazil because one of her colleagues was unable to. Since her boyfriend could not get away, she asked her best friend, Aurélia, to go with her. "Viva Brazil!", she had written with enthusiasm on her Facebook page.

CGED is not the only company in mourning. While there were more than 150 tourists aboard flight AF 447, there were also many business travelers, attesting to Brazil's recent economic development.

Michelin also lost three top executives. Luiz Roberto Anastacio, 50 years old and with Michelin for twenty-seven years, had just been appointed chairman of Michelin Latin America on May 4. He was en route to Clermont-Ferrand, where he had a meeting at the tire manufacturer's global headquarters. He was traveling with Antonio Gueiros, head of IT at the Rio office, and a French engineer, Christine Pieraerts, who was returning to France after a vacation. "In addition to losing two men and one woman who were loved, we are losing highly valued managers", says a spokesperson for the company, who adds that the company lost its own chairman and CEO, Edouard Michelin, in a boating accident.

The city of Ermenonville has lost three elected officials. Three friends, Nathalie Marroig, 41, and Marie-Josée Treillou, 70, who were on vacation in Brazil, and Anne Grimout, 49, who was the head of the cabine crew on AF 447. A seasoned professional, she frequently worked the Rio-Paris flight.

In fact, the entire crew was made up of veterans. The captain, aged 58, had 11 000 flight hours under his belt, of which 1 700 on planes of the same type as the Airbus A330-200. His two co-pilots, aged 37 and 32, had logged in 9 000 flight hours between them.

But these flights, which link one end of the planet to the other, are also little worlds unto themselves. The passengers represented 32 different nations: France (73), Brazil (58), Germany (26), China (9), Italy (9), Switzerland (6), the UK (5), Lebanon (5), Hungary (44), Slovakia (3), Norway (3), Ireland (3), the US (2), Poland (2), Morocco (2), Spain (2) and Iceland (1). (According to the NY Times: "The airline said victims included 2 Americans, an Argentine, an Austrian, a Belgian, 58 Brazilians, 5 Britons, a Canadian, 9 Chinese, a Croatian, a Dane, a Dutch citizen, an Estonian, a Filipino, 61 French citizens, a Gambian, 26 Germans, 4 Hungarians, 3 Irish, an Icelander, 10 Italians, 5 Lebanese, 2 Moroccans, 3 Norwegians, 2 Poles, a Romanian, a Russian, 3 Slovakians, 2 Spaniards, a Swede, 6 Swiss and a Turk.")

After France, Brazil paid the highest price in lives lost. Taken the night before the flight, one photo has appeared in all the Brazilian papers. It shows Eduardo Macario, a young lawyer, and Bianca Cotta, 25, the woman he had just married. The young couple had planned to honeymoon in Europe, after celebrating their union the night before with 500 guests at a club in Niteroi, the city across from Rio on the other side of Guanabara Bay. Monday, after the accident was announced, the young woman's father spent the day glued to his computer looking at maps of the Atlantic, and trying desperately to find an island where the plane could have effected an emergency landing.

Pierre-Louis d'Orléans-Bragance, 26, one of the heirs to the Brazilian imperial throne, was also on the Rio-Paris flight. Born in 1983 in Rio, with a degree in economics, the young man was fourth in line to the throne. He was returning to Luxembourg, where he lived, after visiting his parents, who live in Petropolis, the city where the former imperial palace is located. "Dom Pierre-Louis" was the great-great-grandson of Isabelle de Bragance, the princess who, in 1888, abolished slavery, just a year before the Empire was wiped out.

In the UK, in Italy, in Germany, a thousand similar dramas played out. For example, that involving a 61-year old British engineer named Arthur Coakley, who had gone to Rio on business for his oil company. Coakley was supposed to be on the earlier flight, which was overbooked. So he was transferred to this Air France flight.

The story of Brazilian choreographer Gustavo Ciriaco is a miracle. For 200 euros, he traded his ticket on this flight with a young woman who had a seat on the earlier flight.

Italy lost a mayor from the Trentino region, Luigi Zortea, who had gone to Brazil to establish a sister city relationship with the village of Zortea, which bears his name, in the state of Santa Caterina. Germany lost one of the executive directors of ThyssenKrupp, Erich Heine, who was returning from a visit to the Brazilian subsidiary. His compatriot, the architect Moritz Kock, was returning from a meeting with his famous Brazilian colleague, the centennial architect Oscar Niemeyer. And three young Irish doctors, an American geologist, and so many others.

They will be remembered in their country of origin. An ecumenical ceremony was held this afternoon at Notre-Dame, in Paris. Next Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet with the families of the French victims.

Written by Raphaëlle Bacqué with Jean-Pierre Langellier in Rio, Marie de Vergès in Berlin, Philippe Ridet in Rome and Virginie Malingre in London.

Translated by Peggy Ganong

lundi 1 juin 2009

Neko visits Sculpture Park

Neko finally got to Olympic Sculpture Park on Saturday night. This is the best shot of her. Too bad the photographer cut off the top of my head.

The Eagle has Landed

This is Eagle, the work that in many ways defines Olympic Sculpture Park.
This painted steel sculpture by Alexander Calder was finished in 1971. It weighs about 6 tons.


Remains of the Day

These photos indicate what inspired the word "Olympic" in the park's name. In both, the Olympic Peninsula looms on the horizon.

Mount Rainier catching the last rays of a beautiful sunny day