Category Archives: People

Big Toot

The other day, an alert (and noise-sensitive) “06880” reader asked:

Do you have any idea how long the trains are going to blasting their horns through Westport? It started before we went away March 1st. I’m sure they must be getting a lot of complaints.

Though I live a couple of miles from the tracks, I’ve actually heard the horns myself. Well, maybe they’re car horns from drivers trying to navigate the increasingly chaotic Playhouse Square parking lot. Whatever.

I sounded out (ho ho) Aaron Donovan. He’s an MTA spokesman, and — because “06880” is “where Westport meets the world” — a 1994 Staples graduate.

He reported back:

This is a result of the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s long-term project to replace all the New Haven Line overhead wires, which were first installed in 1907. These original wires use antiquated “fixed termination” technology, which unfortunately allows the wires to sag ever so slightly during periods of high heat (it isn’t visible to the naked eye) or contract during periods of extreme cold, causing operations problems for trains. The DOT is updating the wires, more formally known as catenary, with a state-of-the-art “constant tension” system that will better accommodate the extreme temperature that can impact our region.

catenary lines

The good news is that this is the very last leg of the project. The DOT recently completed the section between Southport and Bridgeport, and are now turning attention to the section between Norwalk and Southport. In the current phase of the project, DOT’s contractors are out on the tracks digging holes to sink foundations for the gantries from which the new wire system will be suspended. For the safety of all personnel who are on or near the tracks, trains are required to sound their horns when approaching work zones.

The project is scheduled to be completed in September 2017.

Thanks, Aaron! That’s a lot more information than those signs that say “Good Service”!

(To learn even more about the DOT project, click here and here.) 

Missing A Life-Changing Meeting At Mario’s

Teri Schure was 14 when she moved from Bridgeport to Westport. A 1971 graduate of Staples High School, she went on to Brevard College. In 1997 she founded Worldpress, an online site offering readers a first-hand look at international issues and debates that the American media often ignores.

Teri still owns Worldpress. She lives now in New York state, but the recent news about Mario’s closing awakened some important memories. After much soul-searching, Teri wrote an intensely personal story on her blog, The Teri Tome. She graciously agreed to share it with “06880” readers.

It’s long. But it could be the most remarkable story I have ever published. It deserves to be read all the way through.

My father was AWOL. He was absent from his post without, (or perhaps with), official permission (from my mother), but without intending to desert. This is how I choose to describe my elusive father.

Mario's (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Mario’s (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On a side note, Mario’s Place, the legendary restaurant and bar in Westport Connecticut, and a mainstay since 1967, served its last meal on April 4. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about the last supper, until this past weekend. Another blown opportunity.

Mario’s was across the street from the train station, and the place to be, starting around 6 pm every Monday-Friday. Mario’s was frequented by the original Mad Men, their wives, their kids, and pretty much everyone who lived in Westport and beyond. The “beyond” is the story I want to share with you.

In my 20s, my favorite night was Wednesdays. I would jump off the train after a grueling day at the office, and treat myself to a Mario’s dirty martini with bleu cheese olives — considered by many to be the best martini in Connecticut. Several old high school friends had the same idea. We met there every hump day for martinis, laughs and some much needed sidekick therapy.

I know you’re asking yourself what Mario’s has to do with my father.

Because he was right there at Mario’s.  And I was so close to living out my father dream.

According to my not-so-long-ago-discovered 5 paternal half-siblings and 2 aunts, my elusive father followed me via private detectives my entire life.

At my first meeting they explained to me that “our” father, the man I assumed deserted me, had a “Teri suitcase” full of newspaper clippings, photos, investigative reports, and returned letters and cards he had sent to me over the years.

One of the investigative summaries was about Mario’s—and my Wednesday martini run.

According to my new-found family, I was an urban legend. And this is the story that my father often told to my half-siblings and aunts, in their words:

In December of 1978, Mike hired a detective to find Teri just after her 25thbirthday. “Bingo. Right around the corner two towns over,” the detective told him. “She gets off the train and goes to Mario’s across the street. She has a drink with her friends and eats dinner there every Wednesday. She usually gets there around 7, 7:30.”

Teri Gatti, in 1975.

Teri Schure, in 1975.

So Mike pains over the decision. Should he go to Mario’s? Introduce himself? “Hi, I’m Mike Mahigel–your father. Nice to meet you,” he tells my siblings and aunts sadly. It had taken him 25 years to get to this point. Now he didn’t know what to do. 

It was close to 6 p.m. one random Wednesday. As he gazed at his little girl in her crib, his answer was clear. He held Georgette close, said, “Daddy needs to do something very important,” and drove to Mario’s. 

He got there at 6:50. The place was packed. He found a seat at the bar, took out his wallet, and ordered a shot of scotch. He needed it badly.

He asked the bartender to make it colder in the place. He felt hot and nervous. The bartender tried to make small talk but Mike was too distracted to engage. He had a couple more shots, and was feeling no pain.

Soon Mike heard the train whistle. His heart pounded out of his chest. 

When she walked in, tears welled in his eyes. “She was tall, thin, and simply beautiful,” he recalled to his family. As she walked by her scent left him weak.

She was practically standing right next to him, talking to her friends. It had to be her – she was the spitting image of him. It was unmistakably Teri, even though the last time he caught a glimpse of her, she was 6 years old.

Mike watched her as she laughed with her friends. She walked to the bar and ordered a dirty martini, with extra bleu cheese olives. “A martini drinker,” he proudly told my siblings, “a real man’s drink.”

Mario's matchesShe opened her purse, took out a Marlboro, and asked the bartender if he had a light. Mike looked at her and said, “I have a lighter. Let me light it for you.” Mike said it a little too loudly, hoping to beat the bartender to the punch. As he fumbled in his pocket for his lighter, Teri turned to Mike. Her deep brown eyes met his.

They looked straight into each other’s eyes. “Dark Syrian eyes,” he told my siblings. “Just like mine.” She smiled at Mike and said “thank you” as she leaned close in for him to light her cigarette. Her scent drifted softly around him.

“Beautiful smile, beautiful teeth,” he told my siblings. After Mike lit her cigarette she looked in his eyes once more, thanked him again, and walked to the end of the bar to hang out with her friends. Just like that, she was gone.

He was devastated, he told my family. He was stunned–and intimidated. He felt like he had been punched in the gut. He ordered shot after shot, while trying to drum up the courage to introduce himself — and explain everything. He watched her for another hour. 

But he was a chicken—a coward. So he left Mario’s wondering if he would ever see her again. He also left behind his wallet, and never went back for it. He drove the rest of his life without a license. And he never saw Teri again. But he never forgot her face, their encounter, or her scent.

That was their story. He never saw me again. I had looked straight into my father’s eyes, and did not even know it was him. He lit my cigarette.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I sat at the table stunned. I thought about so many scenarios that could have happened. How I wish he would have put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He told my siblings and aunts that I was a high class girl, and he was just a nobody.

He didn’t know me at all. I was just a poor girl from the streets of Bridgeport. Just a nobody in desperate need of a dad.

I thought that was all my new-found family had to say. Hadn’t they said enough? I fought back tears, and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But they weren’t done with their story. Or me.

Around September of 1991, Mike learned he had stage IV lung cancer. Doctors gave him 6 months to live.

According to my aunts, all he wanted was to fulfill his dream of meeting me before he died. He wrote and rewrote his letter to me numerous times. Finally, in late 1991, he mailed it to the last known address he had for  me. Then he waited, and waited, for my response.

After a couple of months he figured I either wasn’t going to respond, or I never got the letter. He hoped it was the latter.

And then one day, to his surprise, in early March of 1992, a letter arrived from me. He was unsettled and troubled. It took him 2 days to open it.

The contents of the letter devastated his already fragile state. “Don’t ever contact me again,” I wrote. “I have no interest in ever having a relationship with you.” It was simply signed, “Teri.”

He put the letter in the “Teri suitcase,” along with all the other data he had accumulated. And he never spoke of me again.     

“Why did you not want to meet your father?” my aunts asked. “His heart and spirit were broken.”

My father passed away on March 24, 1992.

Teri Gatti Schure

Teri Schure

I wrote no such letter. It is beyond my comprehension why anyone would be so callous as to write such cold-blooded words to my father in my name. But it had been done, and now he was dead.  Even worse, he died thinking I wanted nothing to do with him. He actually believed that I had so cruelly written to him in his hour of death.

Today, as I finally finish up this blog, I’m depressed, and weary.

So to push away the darkness, I’m taking stock of what I have. I’m feeling pretty grateful.

But I sure could use one last dirty martini at Mario’s in my father’s honor.

And the Teri suitcase?  Oh, that went missing years ago.

Maserati Rolls Into Town

Weston Magazine threw a welcome-to-Westport party tonight for our new Maserati dealer. The site — across from Carvel — is the former J. McLaughlin (which in turn replaced the original Hay Day).

It was a great evening, with plenty of fine art, food and drinks.

And of course, fine autos.

Among the folks admiring the handsome cars were longtime Westport artist/icon Miggs Burroughs, and Liz Beeby.

Miggs and Maserati

This just may be the push I need to upgrade from my Toyota Camry.

Nah.

Alex Siegenfeld: A Name You Should Know

On Monday evening, I posted a brief story about actress Linda Fiorentino’s Westport house being on the market. Longtime “06880” reader and frequent commenter Nancy W. Hunter weighed in from her home in British Columbia: “06880’s name-dropping has become so, so tiresome.”

I haven’t heard her reaction to a couple of stories I’ve done since, on Mark Naftalin‘s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Kyle Martino joining “Top Chef” star Kristen Kish on a New York Times “36 Hours” TV venture.

Maybe Nancy has sworn off my gossip site forever. If so, too bad.

Nancy: This one’s for you.

Alex Siegenfeld

Alex Siegenfeld

You’ve probably never heard the name Alex Siegenfeld before. He’s not a TMZ/Page Six boldface name, despite winning (at 17 years old) a gold medal in the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Now Alex has done something even more impressive. The Westport resident and Hopkins School graduate — today a student at MIT, heading toward a Ph.D. in physics (experimental condensed matter) — has won a $250,000 grant from the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation.

It’s good for up to 5 years of graduate study (with the encouragement to pursue science “for the public good”).

Alex was 1 of 12 honorees. The original pool of over 800 applicants was whittled down to 150, for a 1st round of interviews with national leaders in science and technology. Each candidate was tested on knowledge of broad scientific principles.

50 finalists were then selected, for a 2nd in-depth interview.

Hertz_logo_115h_02Hertz Fellows are free to innovate in their doctoral studies. They are not bound by traditional research funding restrictions. They have complete financial independence, under the guidance of top professors and mentors.

Hertz Fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, found over 200 companies, register more than 3,000 patents, head major universities, and hold senior positions in the U.S. military.

Take that, Linda Fiorentino, Mark Naftalin and Kyle Martino!

(Hat tip: Mark Mathias)

Farmers’ Market Grows Into 2nd Delicious Decade

All farmers’ markets open in a burst of optimism.

Many — up to half — don’t make it past 2 years. Most — another 30 percent — fail by year 5.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is not like most.

As the Imperial Avenue institution prepares for its 10th season, it’s not just a success. It’s flourishing wildly — reaping rewards not just for farmers and food-lovers but entire families, and even Fairfield County non-profits.

Westport Farmers Market 2Sustaining a farmers’ market for a decade is just like farming: It takes patience, persistence and plenty of hard work.

When Lori Cochran took over as executive director 5 years ago, the market was limping along. It had begun in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot with great backing from Dressing Room owners Paul Newman and Michel Nischan, plus tremendous town support from selectmen Gordon Joseloff and Shelly Kassen.

After half a decade it was popular with a core group of shoppers and a small number of farmers. But there was no marketing, community outreach or special programming.

Working with Rebecca Howe, Lori dedicated herself to making the farmers’ market an integral part of the town. “Not to be cheesy, but all of us here live, eat and breathe this,” she says.

On the food side, Westport’s market has the strictest requirements of any in the state. All vegetables are organic. The fruit is grown without pesticides or herbicides. Anyone selling prepared food must use at least one locally produced ingredient, for every item — ideally, from another market farmer.

That develops a strong community of vendors who support each other.

Lori created a partnership with Staples High School and the Gillespie Center. The Westport Farmers’ Market buys local food; students in Staples’ culinary program prepare it, and market volunteers serve it at the homeless shelter just across Jesup Road.

Every week, the market hosts a different non-profit. The organization showcases its work. Many create special programs for market-goers.

The Farmers’ Market works closely with the Bridgeport Rescue Mission too. Members come to the market every Thursday. They collect food, donated by vendors. Back at the mission, a chef helps them use the ingredients to prepare great meals.

On the 3rd Thursday of every month, a local chef offers demonstrations. Only those who use farm-to-table ingredients participate. The waiting list is long, Lori notes.

Farmers MarketEach spring, several Staples seniors work at the market as interns. One has gone on to head up the organic market at his college; another founded a community supported agriculture organization at hers. They’ve grown up knowing the importance of a local farmers’ market.

So do younger kids. Thanks to partnerships with the Westport Library and Westport Arts Center, youngsters hear stories involving food, and make arts projects with vegetables. Lori is thrilled to help nurture a new generation of Westporters who understand the importance of farmers’ markets.

This year, the Westport market will introduce an “Ambassadors” program. “A lot of times people buy great stuff, but they get home and don’t know what to do with it all,” Lori explains. “So every month we’ll feature 1 lunch and 1 dinner recipe, featuring ingredients from the market. We’ll have ‘ambassadors’ right there, suggesting the best ways to use certain products.”

Lori Cochran-Dougall

Lori Cochran

Lori is proud that the Westport Farmers’ Market has become such an integral part of the community. (Along with its novel addition, the 4-year-old Winter Market held at Gilberties’ Herb Garden.)

“Westport is an incredibly dynamic, supportive place,” Lori says. “Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (1st and 2nd selectmen) do everything they can for us.”

Her mission this year — beginning on opening day May 21, and continuing through the fall — is for every Westporter to enjoy the farmers’ market bounty.

“We bring quality, healthy food from local farmers right to people’s back yards,” she says. “Everyone supports everyone else.”

They eat very well while doing it, too.

(The Westport Farmers’ Market kicks off its 10th season on Thursday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Imperial Avenue parking lot. The “official celebration” on Thursday, June 11 features music, activities, and a tribute to the 8 founding farmers who are still there.)

Kyle Martino’s Latest Kick

Westporters have always expected big things from Kyle Martino.

In 1999, the Staples senior was named Gatorade National High School
Soccer Player of the Year.

He went on to become Major Soccer League’s 2002 Rookie of the Year. On the Los Angeles Galaxy, he played alongside — and hung out with — David Beckham.

1999 Staples grad Kyle Martino on NBC Sports

1999 Staples grad Kyle Martino on NBC Sports

Martino earned caps with the US national team. After retiring from professional soccer, he joined ESPN as a color commentator. Now he’s seen every weekend as a studio analyst on NBC Sports‘ highly regarded broadcasts of Premier League matches.

Plus, he’s married to beautiful actress Eva Amurri.

But — despite his education at the University of Virginia — no one here quite expected Kyle Martino to end up with the New York Times.

Apparently, there’s nothing he can’t do.

The paper announced today that Martino will join Kristen Kish — only the 2nd female “Top Chef” winner ever — as co-hosts of “36 Hours.”

That’s a new venture the Times and Travel Channel are bringing to television.

In each 1-hour episode, Martino and Kish arrive in a new city. They’ll have 36 hours to “explore the most delicious foods and hot spots, meet fascinating local insiders, and experience the best attractions unique to each destination.”

New-York-Times-LogoEpisodes will coincide with new or updated Times “36 Hours” newspaper columns, in the Sunday Travel section. Companion editorial and video content will appear on NYTimes.com and Travel Channel digital properties.

Martino is only 34 years old. We know he’ll be kickin’ it for many years to come.

Play Ball!

Normally, the news that 2 Westport Wreckers 13-and-Under teams — Blue and White — competed in a New Haven tournament would not be “06880”-worthy. This is a blog, not a sports section.*

But last weekend’s championship game is of interest for another reason: It was not played.

The fact that Westport fields 2 teams in the same age group has caused “issues” in the past. Parents in particular have sometimes been caught up in the competition between the 2 squads.

Yet when it became clear that both the White and Blue teams would be playing for the championship, the coaches saw a chance to put the entire program first.

Jeb Backus and Sal Latella announced that the final game would not be played. Both teams would be co-champs.

Westport's Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

Westport’s Blue and White 13-and-Under baseball team: New Haven tournament co-champs.

In years to come they’ll have plenty of opportunities to play together, for more important prizes. They’re great athletes, and “06880” will follow their progress with interest.

Even if we don’t post the results of every game.

*No offense to every other baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, soccer, hockey (ice and field), gymnastics, tennis, golf, swim and other parent who contacts me about every other championship, meet, match, game and practice.

Now Playing: Westport’s Latest Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Inductee

As reported last December, Mark Naftalin was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The longtime Westporter played keyboard for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The legendary seminal blues-rock group joined Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers as members of the “Class of 2015.”

The induction ceremony took place Saturday night, in Cleveland.

If you weren’t there — and no jokes about Cleveland, please, they’re very sensitive folks — here is the band’s “Born in Chicago” jam:

The clip below is a lot longer. It’s the induction speech itself, beginning with words from Mark:

Want even more? HBO airs a special on the entire evening. But you’ll have to wait — it’s on May 30.

 

Mersene: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

For over 60 years, Silver’s was Westport’s best-known go-to store for gifts.

For the last 3 or 4 years, Indulge by Mersene was Saugatuck’s less-known, but equally beloved, spot for funky, 1-of-a-kind gifts.

This winter, Silver’s closed. Mersene planned to shut her doors too. Westporters had no idea where they could now find a friendly owner with the knack for suggesting the absolutely perfect present.

Mersene's special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

Mersene’s special style is here to stay, on Railroad Place.

To the delight of her rabid — and quickly growing — fans, Mersene is still open. The  incredibly ingenious, phenomenally generous Mississippi native has downsized, moving from 2 overflowing rooms to 1. But she’s still across from the railroad station. She’s still as energetic and creative as ever.

Now, as spring brings Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduations — to go along with timeless events like weddings, bridal and baby showers, and Sweet 16s  — she is excited to fill Westport’s niche as the destination for how-did-you-ever-think-of-that?! gifts. (And — her specialty — gift baskets.)

She’s still on Railroad Place, because her customers could not stand the thought of her closing. They helped her figure out how to stay. And they’ve helped her add another wonderful niche: corporate gifts.

The other day, Mersene was busy filling baskets for a major Stamford corporation’s Administrative Professionals Day celebration. She was also preparing a Kentucky Derby-themed event for another big company.

As she selected wrapped items together with an ease Martha Stewart could only dream of, she mentioned other projects. For Mother’s Day, she’s designed special trays. They’ll include flowers, the Sunday paper, breakfast from Commuter Coffee Company — everything a mom could love.

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

A typical day: a customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

(Here’s something else a mom — or anyone else — could love: pillows that say “06880.” Or “Westport.” Or monogrammed and/or custom-colored with anything else you can think of, from “Nantucket” to your alma mater.)

“It’s all about the packaging,” Mersene says, of her talent for pairing the exact right gifts with the perfect basket.

Anyone who steps into her shop for the first time recognizes that talent. She is the Lionel Messi of gifts — with even more grace than the famed soccer star. What other store owner happily delivers — and makes house calls?

Mersene’s renaissance has been aided by loyal customers, who help her manage the business side. She’s still not expensive — “I price things to sell,” she says — and she’ll still tell someone, “No, don’t buy that. I’m getting a better item next week.”

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Which is why the “reinvention” of Indulge by Mersene is such good news.

Many people already know her. When a Los Angeles architect visited his sister here, he asked her for “the coolest place in Westport.” She took him to the little shop near the railroad station. He stayed for over an hour, fascinated.

And he still hadn’t seen half of Mersene’s presents, or how beautifully she presents them.

(Mersene ships her gifts — and delivers in the area. She also stages homes and galas. To learn more, click here; like “Indulge by Mersene” on Facebook; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

[UPDATE] Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Linda Fiorentino’s Real Estate Dealings, Thanks To In-Depth Media Reporting

(A Westport realtor has just emailed the news that Linda Fiorentino’s house was withdrawn from the market last Friday [April 17]. He says it was first listed on November 14, 2014 for $1,250,000, then reduced to $1.1 million on January 16. Oh well…it’s an interesting story anyway.)

I hate getting scooped by TMZ.

But — because the “06880” tagline is “Where Westport Meets the World” — I have to pass along the news they breathlessly (and exclusively!) posted today:

“Men in Black” actress Linda Fiorentino knocked it out of the park as Laurel Weaver in the hit movie … she’s about to hit another homer with her farmhouse.

Our real estate sources say Fiorentino — who also played Jesus Christ’s last living relative in “Dogma” — is looking to turn her 2-bed, 3-bath 1679 sq. ft. Westport CT colonial into over half a million in profit.

The house owned by Linda Fiorentino, which TMZ is so excited about. Must be a slow news day. (Photo/Jillian Klaff Homes)

The house owned by Linda Fiorentino, which TMZ is so excited about. Must be a slow news day. (Photo/Jillian Klaff Homes)

We’re told Fiorentino bought it in 1997 for $578k — the same year as MIB. It was worth the price just for the beach house and 1/2 garden. She just sold it for $1.1 mil.

If you snag this crib, you could be MIB on the reg too … Makin’ It to the Beach. (sorry, we couldn’t resist)

Hard to believe, but in the media frenzy over Fiorentino’s real estate dealings, the journalism in New York Post‘s Page Six is much more sophisticated.

Though more salacious:

This time, Linda Fiorentino won’t be home for a “Last Seduction”-style open-house scene.

In 2006, when the sultry “Men in Black” star was selling her Upper West Side apartment, she was in the shower, unaware her broker had scheduled an open house.

Hearing voices, she ran out in only a towel to be confronted by 10 wide-eyed possible buyers.

Linda Fiorentino

Linda Fiorentino

Now, Fiorentino’s $1.1 million summer cottage and art studio in Westport, Conn., will be empty during showings.

Some sale proceeds will be donated to the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve, created after locals blocked a developer from building condos by the beach. The listing broker is Jillian Klaff of William Raveis.

I have no idea where they got that “condos by the beach” story, BTW.

(Hat tip: Rich Stein)