Category Archives: Arts

Lynsey Addario: A Pregnant Photographer Covers War, Famine, Other Horrors

Lynsey Addario — New York Times photojournalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur fellowship recipient, Westport native and Staples grad — has written a fascinating book. “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” provides great insight into what it’s like to cover war, famine and horror — and how being a woman has impacted every aspect of her professional and personal life.

This coming Sunday’s Times Magazine includes a long, compelling excerpt from the book. It begins with the harrowing account of being captured — along with fellow Staples grad and Times photographer Tyler Hicks — in 2011, by forces loyal to Muammar el-Qaddafi:

You have two options when you approach a hostile checkpoint in a war zone, and each is a gamble. The first is to stop and identify yourself as a journalist and hope that you are respected as a neutral observer. The second is to blow past the checkpoint and hope the soldiers guarding it don’t open fire on you.

The group’s young driver tried to avoid capture by yelling “Media!” It did not work.

Three weeks before her capture, Lynsey Addario photographed children amid the ruins of Benghazi. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

Two weeks before her capture, Lynsey Addario photographed children amid the ruins of Benghazi. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for the New York Times)

After providing harrowing details about their captivity, Lynsey describes the agonizing pull she felt between doing what she felt was her life’s mission, and her responsibility to her loved ones:

I had imposed unspeakable worry on my husband, Paul de Bendern, on more occasions than I could count. And Anthony [Shadid] and Steve [Farrell] each had infants at home. Yet as guilty as we felt, and as terrified as we were, only Steve sounded convinced by his own declaration that he would no longer cover war. Each one of us knew that this work was an intrinsic part of who we were: It was what we believed in; it governed our lives.

“We need to get to Tripoli,” Anthony said. “We will never get released if we don’t get to Tripoli. We will probably survive, it will be difficult, but we might live if we get there.”

“If we do, I am going to be so fat in nine months!” I cried out suddenly.

After more than a decade of feeling ambivalent about having a child, I knew that if we made it out of Libya alive, I would finally give Paul what he had been wanting since we married: a baby.

Later, she digs deeper into the lives of war correspondents:

Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario

There was a lot of cheating in war zones, a lot of love and a lot of mistaking loneliness for love. But the reality was different for men and women. Most male war correspondents had wives or girlfriends waiting at home while they fooled around on assignment. Most female war correspondents and photographers remained single, searching fruitlessly for someone who would accept our devotion to our work.

My romantic life was colorful but difficult: I had an affair with a Cuban diplomat in New York, fell in love with an artist in Mexico City and had a relationship with an Iranian actor in Tehran, whom I could rarely get a visa to visit. But I gave only a finite part of myself to each of these men; work remained my priority, keeping me on the road 280 days a year. I began to assume that my relationships would end in affairs and heartbreak.

After meeting her husband, marrying, getting captured and then pregnant, Lynsey continued to work:

At four and a half months, Doctors Without Borders sent me to photograph its medical outreach for victims of the drought in the Horn of Africa, from the Turkana region to the Somali refugee camps at Dadaab in Kenya. Part way through the assignment, working in remote African villages, I could no longer button my pants. I was 20 weeks pregnant. The nausea and exhaustion were gone, my energy had returned and I was eating regularly, though careful to avoid harmful bacteria, which meant a diet of bread, rice, bananas and protein bars that I carried from home.

She continued on to Mogadishu, where the situation was far worse than even Kenya. She knew that if anything happened to her — 5 months pregnant — her editors and peers would write her off as “crazy and irresponsible.” But, she says, “I couldn’t leave that story of starvation untold.” She traveled on:

Something strange happened then: the baby that I had imagined as a pea or an avocado pit for weeks and weeks started kicking. He came to life inside me as I entered Somalia, a place where so many people were dying.

Lynsey Addario was pregnant while photographing a child dying from malnutrition in Mogadishu, in August 2011. (Photo/New York Times)

Lynsey Addario was pregnant while photographing a child dying from malnutrition in Mogadishu, in August 2011. (Photo/New York Times)

Working quickly — and trying to avoid kidnapping — she photographed the death of a 1 1/2-year-old boy from malnutrition.

His skeletal chest pumped up and down as he labored to breathe. His eyes rolled back into his head and then forward again as he focused on his mother. I knelt down beside the two women, introduced myself as a journalist and asked permission to photograph. They agreed. I began shooting as the two women put their hands on Abbas’s tiny frame and then onto his face. Each time that his eyes rolled back into his head, the women thought he was dead. To my horror, they began closing his tiny mouth with their hands, a premature death ritual. They were covering his eyes and closing his mouth. As I photographed, I felt my own baby inside of me, kicking and twisting.

In Gaza — caught in the frenzy of a prisoner exchange — Lynsey started to panic.

In the Muslim world, women and children are put on a protected pedestal, and pregnant women are slightly higher up on that pedestal. Naturally, no pregnant woman in Gaza would voluntarily be in that mix of madness, but it was too late to lament my stupidity. I had an idea: I threw my arms up in the air and screamed, “Baby!” and pointed down at my very round stomach with my index fingers on both hands. “Baby!” I screamed again, pointing down.

Lynsey Addario was 27 months pregnant in October 2010, when she photographed children in the Gaza Strip. (Photo/New York Times)

Lynsey Addario was 7 months pregnant in October 2010, when she photographed children in the Gaza Strip. (Photo/New York Times)

All the men around me momentarily paused. They looked at my face and then down at my stomach, and the seas parted. Spontaneously, they made a human gate around me, cocooning me from the crowd. And I continued shooting with my new bodyguards keeping watch over my unborn son and me.

Lukas Simon de Bendern was born perfectly healthy on Dec. 28, 2011, at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.

There is much, much more in this fascinating excerpt from an important book. To read the entire Times story, click here.

Jeff Seaver Recalls A Constellation Of Stars

Last month’s post about “I Love Lucy” and Westport’s Minuteman statue — plus many of the characters in that story — struck a chord with alert “06880” reader/longtime resident Jeff Seaver. He writes:

I first experienced Westport at age 17, visiting the family of a college friend. Ralph and Betty Alswang lived on Fraser Lane. He was a theater designer of note, and we became friends. Eventually he took me under his wing as an intern in theater architecture. (Mercifully, he later suggested I leave the field and “try something more fun.”) In the meantime I helped work on Lucille Lortel’s White Barn and Playwrights Horizons, among other projects.

At the Alswang home I was exposed to an astonishing collection of the special denizens of Westport. This included the Alswangs themselves, Bob and Eileen Weiskopf, and their delightful children.

Ralph and Betty’s house on Fraser Lane had once been the studio of the sculptor James Earle Fraser. With its stone walls, imposingly large doors and windows, and dark slate roofs, the house was an architectural marvel. I understand that Fraser found the villa in Italy, purchased it and had it disassembled and brought here — along with Italian masons — to be reconstructed, stone by stone.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

James Earle Fraser and his bust of Theodore Roosevelt, around 1921.

I am told that Fraser’s original for the cast bronze equestrian sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt with an American Indian (now standing at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History) was created within those walls. Sculptures were rolled out through the 2-story-tall swinging doors on to a massive concrete loading dock, later converted into a patio.

Ralph and Betty had a lively, eccentric home life: 3 vibrant, smart kids; a pair of neurotic Siamese cats; dogs here and there; huge spreads of food; lots of laughter, storytelling and music; remarkable friends, and deeply held — usually radical — political views, loudly expressed over meals.

Ralph was a larger-than-life character. He built a coffee table sturdy enough to stand on to facilitate the delivery of his fabled orations: smart, opinionated, always hysterically funny. And everyone, it seemed — especially my college chums — had secret crushes on Betty.

The Alswang home was open to neighbors and friends like Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sydney Poitier and their families; director Otto Preminger; actor Gary Merrill (who had been married to Bette Davis); attorney Leonard Boudine (who lived across the street); Lucille Lortel, and many others.

Some were luminaries, some mere mortals, but all of them fascinating, talented folk. I would stumble out of Ralph’s studio, bleary-eyed from work, and find an assembly of guests lounging over coffee at the outsize dining table or enjoying the sun in back. As a naive teenager, I assumed this lifestyle must be how all adults lived.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrivefd for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Ralph Alswang (5th from left), with a galaxy of stars as they arrived for a session of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. The group includes June Havoc, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Jane Wyatt and Ira Gershwin.

Sad to say, this extraordinary madness was not to last. Betty Alswang, whose beauty (she was a model in her youth) was matched by her wits, died from cancer. As sometimes happens, Ralph died of a heart attack not long afterward. It was a heartbreaking loss, and the aftershocks left holes in many lives.

But the children carried on the tradition of style, talent and smarts. The Weiskopfs’ son Kim, who became a friend, went on to some celebrity as a TV writer in California. Fran Alswang became a TV producer, working with Michael Moore among others. Hope Alswang has a distinguished career as a curator of the decorative arts at various museums. Ralph Alswang was, among other things, official White House photographer for the Clinton administration. The Poitier children who once scampered around the house have found their own special callings.

Ralph and Betty and their circle remain emblematic for me of the greatest attributes Westport had to offer, when its gravitational pull attracted a constellation of brilliant lights in the theater, visual and literary arts.

Given the changes over the past 30 years in Westport, I’m skeptical such a powerful confluence could occur here again. But I feel blessed to have been invited in briefly, if only as a spectator, during that special time.

Jeff Seaver

Jeff Seaver

I later set about crafting my own dynasty. I got as far as designing and building a beautiful loft in Chelsea, filling it with Siamese cats, and marrying another talented artist.

In 1999, after 25-plus years of carving out a successful career as an artist in New York, I began searching for a life outside of the city. I wanted our 5-year-old daughter to experience exotic, rarefied things like grass, birds and squirrels.

One evening, while scouting locations in Connecticut, I looked up and recognized the road that leads to Longshore. I crossed over from there to Compo Beach, parked by the legendary cannons and stared out across the beach, flooded with recollections. I stopped over at Allen’s Clam House, and took a drive back up north to Fraser Lane, where so many other wonderful memories came flooding back.

Poof — the decision was made.

Broadway Stars Benefit Orphenians

Adam Kaplan has not forgotten his roots.

Adam Kaplan

Adam Kaplan

The 2008 Staples High School graduate scored some prime roles — Martin Delancey and a newsboy, plus understudy for lead Jack Kelly — in the popular Broadway show “Newsies.” But he has returned to Westport often, enjoying Staples Players productions and  visiting Greens Farms Elementary School music classes.

Now Kaplan is donating his talents to a fundraiser for the Orphenians, the elite high school singing group that helped boost his career. The a cappella musicians have been invited to San Francisco — the only East Coast group to participate in the famed Chanticleer National Youth Choral Festival, this March.

Kaplan has put together an all-star Broadway cast, for a benefit performance. Set to appear with him in the Staples auditorium on Monday, January 26: “Newsies” Tommy Bracco and Molly Jobe; Matt Shingledecker (“Wicked,” “West Side Story,” “Spring Awakening”); Steffanie Leigh (the final Mary of “Mary Poppins”); Robin de Jesús (current star of “Wicked”; 2-time Tony nominee for “In the Heights” and “La Cage aux Folles”); Barrett Wilbert Weed (“Heathers the Musical,” “Lysistrat Jones”) and Kara Lindsay (“Wicked,” “Newsies”).

Proceeds will help all Orphenians be able to make the trip. Click here to order tickets ($40 for adults, $20 for students and seniors). If you can’t attend but would like to contribute, click here.

The 2014-15 Orphenians

The 2014-15 Orphenians

Betsy P. Kahn’s Beautiful Westport

Betsy P. Kahn finds beauty everywhere in Westport. She sees it in places all of us love.

And in spots most of us overlook.

Yesterday, the talented photographer took this fantastic shot of a cottage on Sherwood Mill Pond, near the bridge heading to Compo Cove.

Old Mill cottage - Betsy P Kahn

For years it’s enchanted everyone who knows that secret path. But it won’t be there much longer. Damaged in Hurricane Sandy, it and an even smaller cottage next door will soon be demolished.

The train station isn’t going anywhere. No one thinks it’s particularly attractive, but Betsy makes it look stunning too.

Train station - Betsy P Kahn

(For an even better view, click on each image to enlarge.)

 

Developing News: White Barn Preserve Under Attack

As Westporters in 2 corners of town — Post Road East near the Southport border, and Saugatuck by I-95 Exit 17 — battle high-density housing, a 3rd neighborhood is also girding for a fight.

Since early 2003, Cranbury Road residents have worked to protect the former Lucille Lortel White Barn Theater property, on the Westport/Norwalk border. Nearby neighborhoods include Newtown Turnpike, and Partrick and Stonybrook Roads.

The White Barn Theatre.

The White Barn Theatre.

According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, then-Governor Jodi Rell secured 5+ acres of open space of the 15-acre property. The rest was to be taken over by the Connecticut Friends School. They would restore the historic theater and build a low-impact green school, instead of 18 houses that had been proposed.

Recently, the school decided not to go forward with its plans. The property now reverts to the Fieber Group — a New Canaan developer — which has applied for a special permit to build at least 21 homes on 7 acres. The theater would be demolished.

A new group called Save Cranbury – Again says that the proposed “conservation development” will include filling in wetlands elsewhere on the property. This may damage “the very drinking water and wildlife resources the easement was meant to protect.”

The original low-impact plan for the "green school."

The original low-impact plan for the “green school” (pink building near center).

Mandell says that the Fieber Group is using “a specific Norwalk zone where the houses are clustered and the number is determined by the amount of acreage. They are including the open space land in their calculations.”

Mandell adds: “This developer was paid by the state, by you and me, for the land to keep as open with public access. Now they are trying to double dip — on top of destroying 3000+ square feet of wetlands and building houses in the wetland setback.” He calls it “a very unsavory plan.”

Mandell says that Norwalk zoning regulations are not as tight as Westport’s — and the city moves quickly. The first planning meeting is Thursday night at Norwalk City Hall (no public comment allowed).

Mandell’s bottom line: “Over-development and its impacts do not observe town lines.”

Save Cranbury - logo

Saying Goodbye To A Westport Gem

In 2009, Sarah Kennedy moved her Cellar Workshop from downtown to Saugatuck.

The old spot — across from Christ & Holy Trinity Church — was easy to miss. Her new location — on Railroad Place, across from the train station — was warm and welcoming. It was the perfect location for the gem-maker to show off her unique, eclectic collection of rings, bracelets, pendants and pins.

It was a great move. She kept all her former customers, and added many more. They learned that Sarah is herself is a gem.

Sarah Kennedy wears one of her own handblown pieces.

Sarah Kennedy wears one of her own handblown pieces.

Now Sarah is moving again. This time, it’s a bit farther.

Tucson, Arizona.

She’s been in business here for 44 years — and in Westport far longer. Sarah is a 1960 Staples grad. Her father was the longtime owner of Compo Acres Pharmacy.

She knows Tucson almost as well as she knows Westport. Every year she attends the Gem and Mineral Show there, and stays with friends. Recently, she bought a house in the arts-minded city. “I think I know what I’m getting into,” she said.

For 5 years, Sarah has enjoyed being on Railroad Place.

For 5 years, Sarah has enjoyed being on Railroad Place.

In 2009, “06880” visited Sarah. A customer raved that Sarah’s work was “exquisite, beautiful, a museum of fine jewels.”

The woman also described Sarah’s generosity — like polishing jewelry and rings without charging. As if on cue, in the middle of our conversation, the local FedEx guy walked in. His necklace had broken. Sarah said she’d solder it, while he made other deliveries.

Yesterday, the store was packed with Sarah’s fans. They too could not stop talking about her.

Steve Halstead said, “It’s such a pleasure to have a true professional and craftsman as part of this community, for so long.”

Sarah Kennedy (2nd from left) with assistant Eduardo Ewerton and admiring customers Rosemary and Steve Halstead, and Jim Stoner.

Sarah Kennedy (2nd from left) with assistant Eduardo Ewerton and admiring customers Rosemary and Steve Halstead, and Jim Stoner.

“I’m excited and sad” to be moving, Sarah said.

“We’re all sad,” Steve noted.

Sarah asked just one thing: That “06880” make sure readers know how much she’s loved being here.

“Please tell everyone thanks, and goodbye,” she said.

All good things must end. Fortunately, the lucky owners of Sarah’s creations will have them forever.

(Sarah Kennedy’s Cellar Workshop closes on January 14. Until then, everything is 50% off. The address is 44 Railroad Place.)

If “Jingle Bell Rock” Makes You Want To Set Your Hair On Fire…

… and you seriously think about moving to North Korea every time you hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”: Help is at hand.

From now through Christmas, WWPT-FM is broadcasting 20 hours of Candlelight concerts. The newest is last week’s. The oldest stretches back 50 years.

To avoid “Hallelujah Chorus” overload, after every 3 Candlelights ‘PT runs this year’s Players/audio production broadcast of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

A collage of Candlelight Concert album and CD covers. The 1964 and '66 concerts are in the top row, starting at left.

A collage of Candlelight Concert album and CD covers. The 1964 and ’66 concerts are in the top row, starting at left.

This is not the 1st time the Staples radio station has provided a holiday listening treasure. But new this year are the old 1964, ’65 and ’66 Candlelight Concerts.

Media production instructor Jim Honeycutt digitized, edited and exported Barbara Sherburne’s vinyl records of those 3 performances. There are 17 Candlelights in the rotation: The 3 from the ’60s, then 2001 through 2014.

WWPT-FM can be heard locally at 90.3 FM. But the livestream is available everywhere. Just click on www.wwptfm.com, then go to “Listen Live” and “Click here to access the district stream.”

If you want to actually see the 2014 Candlelight concert — and you’re a Cablevision customer in Westport — it’s on Channel 78 nightly at 7:30.

And here’s a gift for out-of-towners: “It’s A Wonderful Life” is now on YouTube, too. Just click below.

Happy holidays — from George Bailey, Jim Honeycutt, WWPT and Staples to you!

 

Caroling, Caroling…

The Candlelight Concert is over, but the holiday season continues for the Staples a cappella choir.

This week, Luke Rosenberg’s singers wandered the halls of the school, spreading good cheer and great vibes. Click below to listen!

 

Downtown’ s Hidden Oasis

Downtown Westport will be a shopping zoo this weekend.

But there’s serenity there too — like the spot Betsy P. Kahn captured earlier this week:

Downtown view 2 - Betsy P Kahn

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to get stressed.

Amid all the craziness, take a deep breath.

Find a spot like the one above.

Appreciate all the beauty and joy that surrounds us, every day.

Then — refreshed — head back into the fray.

Remembering Gorham Island

Wednesday’s “06880” story on the death of Sidney Kramer included a few lines about his founding of Save Westport Now. The impetus for Westport’s 3rd political party was the construction of a 40,000-square foot glass office building on Gorham Island, diagonally across Parker Harding Plaza from Kramer’s Remarkable Book Shop.

Reader Kathleen Burke was reminded of a beautiful watercolor postcard. Artist Walter Dubois Richards created it, as part of the campaign to save the Victorian house that sat on Gorham Island.

Whether all you know of that spot is the bile-green office — or if you fondly remember the old home there — you’ll appreciate Richards’ painting:

Gorham Island - Walter Dubois Richards

Here’s another view, of unknown origin:

Gorham Island house

Noted artist Al Willmott painted this view of Gorham Island and downtown:

Gorham Island by Don Willmott

As did famed “Little Toot” artist Hardie Gramatky:

Gorham Island by Hardie Gramatky

Here’s the view today:

Gorham Island office

We can’t get that house back. But it wasn’t because Sidney Kramer didn’t try.