Category Archives: People

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.

The Two Oh Three Gives Back — On 2/03

Tory Brown grew up in Westport. But the 2009 Staples grad never appreciated her hometown until she headed to Ohio for college. She loved it there — but she longed for the water, and the flexibility of “living in the 203.”

She missed snowboarding in Vermont and the beaches of Cape Cod. She missed New York City, Compo, bagel shops and eating seafood caught the same day.

Her brother Roscoe graduated from Staples last spring. Talking with Tory, he realized he too had taken a lot for granted: paddle-boarding after school, cliff-jumping at Devil’s Den, apple-picking at Silverman’s, and feeling comfortable anywhere in town.

“Everything I’m passionate about, I owe to being raised here,” he says.

Over a year ago, the siblings had an idea. They’d create a lifestyle brand to unite all the towns that make up “the 203.” (That’s our area code. Duh.)

With shirts and windbreakers, Two Oh Three apparel says there's no place like "home."

Two Oh Three’s shirts and windbreakers say there’s no place like “home.”

Together, they created a cool-looking line of clothes — quarter zips, short- and long-sleeve tees, windbreakers and shirts — all with the “203” logo.

But that’s not what this “06880” post is about.

Part of Tory and Roscoe’s mission is to make this entire area “an even better place than it already is.” They planned beach cleanups and town beautification days during the summer.

Now, The Two Oh Three is gearing up for 2/03. (That’s February 3. Duh.)

At 6:30 p.m. they’ll gather on Jesup Green. Together with volunteers (that’s you!), they’ll deliver hand-knitted gloves to folks who need them. Afterward, they’ll walk over to the Gillespie Center to distribute donated food.

Two Oh Three’s 2/03 Community Day caps off a month of giving. Throughout January, Tory and Roscoe encouraged the brand’s fans to tag them on social media. Anyone who tweeted about picking up trash got $1 off their next order. Anyone posting 10 different acts of kindness won a limited-edition “203 Community Day” t-shirt.

Clearly, 203 is batting 1.000.

(For more information — or to get involved — click on the “203 Community Day” website.)

203 logo

 

 

Cleanup Time!

It takes a government ban to produce a scene like this:

I-95 after snow - Nico Eisenberger

That’s a shot of I-95 without a car in sight. Nico Eisenberger went cross-country skiing at Sherwood Island, and enjoyed this view from the Beachside Avenue bridge.

A bit further east, Chip Stephens saw 25 or so trucks parked near the Athena Diner. From Texas.

Their drivers don’t have much to, other than laugh at us panic-stricken Easterners.

Tree crews -- Chip Stephens

Meanwhile, Mark Mathias cleared his driveway. We all know the Board of Ed member/Mini Maker Faire co-founder is an energetic guy, but this video will blow you away.

Just like the snow.

PS: Seems like every gas station on the Post Road is open. Every liquor store, too.

 

Mersene Moves On To A New “Stage”

Mersene — like Pele or Madonna, she uses just 1 name — is the beloved owner of a funky, 1-of-a-kind shop across from the train station.

There, in 2 overflowing rooms, the incredibly ingenious, amazingly energetic and phenomenally generous Mississippi native whips up gorgeous gift boxes. (Can you tell I love this woman?)

Filled with ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine, the gifts look so lovely recipients hate opening them.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

But Railroad Place is a tough spot to draw in gift box customers. This is Mersene’s 2nd store; 2 years ago, Hurricane Sandy flooded her out of Bridge Square.

The 3rd time is the charm for this charming woman. Next month, Mersene moves on to the next stage in her creative career. Working out of her home and barn, she’ll focus on staging.

Parties, events, rooms, tablescapes — whatever you need to showcase warmth and love, Mersene will provide it.

And she’ll do it with her winning Southern smile and style.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or events, or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Whether creating gift boxes, staging rooms or putting together an outfit, Mersene has a style all her own.

Mersene is idolized by her customers. Sitting in her overflowing store the other day, our conversation was interrupted by a stream of women singing her praises.

Jill Jaysen called her “a treasure.” Another said she is “a true artist.” A 3rd teared up after learning that Mersene is closing her store.

“I don’t want to lose anyone,” Mersene says. She wants to make sure her customers — “friends,” she corrects me — know that she’ll still help provide unique things for their own friends, relatives and clients.

She’ll still do gift baskets, of course, for individuals and corporations. But she’ll focus more on, say, staging birthday parties: putting together just the right mix of china, flowers, hors d’oeuvres, cake and entertainment.

Another example: Mersene will take a room you feel is “tired,” move some things around, bring in a couple of new pieces, and — voilà! — she’s injected tremendous new energy and life.

Mersene’s style combines elegance with simplicity. For a client’s baby shower, she recommended only some orchids, a cheese platter and a 3-tier tray with petits fours.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

Mersene can make any scene look warm and inviting.

She brings that same creative eye to every staging challenge. She pours the same love and attention into a table or living room as a big charity gala.

As she prepares to close her Indulge by Mersene store, her many fans are sad — but looking forward to her new focus.

“I’ll follow her anywhere,” one says.

Fortunately, Mersene is not going far.

(The 22 Railroad Place store closes at the end of February. For more information on her staging and gift boxes, click here; email mersene@indulgebymersene.com, or call 203-557-9410.)

 

Sam Appel’s Alice B. Toklas Connection

As a child, Sam Appel created “menus” of cereal and yogurt for her parents — and asked them to pay for their meals.

At Staples High School, she took every culinary class she could. She served as a teaching assistant for instructor Cecily Gans; worked at her summer cooking camp; helped with her catering jobs, and assisted on a cookbook.

Sam was drawn to Chef Gans’ “personality, artistry, and beautiful food.”

She was similarly inspired by English teacher Gus Young. He introduced her to the “art and magic” of food writing.

Not surprisingly, Sam’s college application essay was about food writing.

She had thought about culinary schools. But when she discovered Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration — with its focus on hospitality — she realized that the business side of food was as intriguing as cooking it.

Sam Appel

After graduating from Cornell in 2010, she joined restaurant software company Avero as a consultant. Last May she moved to a marketing position with Chipotle. (Her territory includes Westport — so, coincidentally, she’s involved with their soon-to-be-opened restaurant here.)

Sam loves her job. But she’s just as passionate about the Toklas Society. Named for the legendary cookbook author/creative salon hostess Alice B. Toklas, the 2-year-old nonprofit provides opportunities for empowerment, networking and professional growth to women in the (traditionally male-dominated) food and hospitality industry.

As director of communications, Sam hears plenty of stories about — and is inspired by — female chefs and entrepreneurs.

The Toklas Society has just partnered with Food & Wine Magazine. The prestigious publication and Toklas will feature leaders and rising stars in the food and beverage worlds (on Twitter, follow #foodwinewomen).

Sam Appel is proud that she can support talented women in an industry she loves. She is equally proud that her passion was stirred by 2 key people — Chef Cecily Gans, and English teacher Gus Young — a decade ago at Staples High School.

 

 

A Blooming Miracle

For months, Westport teenagers have been looking forward to tonight’s Counties: the junior girls-ask-guys formal dance.

It was postponed yesterday, when the weather forecast for today was grim.

But word came after all the flowers had been ordered, and corsages and boutonnieres paid for.

Flower Basket logoWestport mom Jennifer Jackson called the Flower Basket. To her amazement, owner Charles Case said he’d honor all flower orders for the postponed date: Saturday, February 7.

He wouldn’t charge anyone for the “do-over” — even though he’d already spent money on inventory, and had all the flowers ready to be picked up this morning.

Jennifer doesn’t want him to have to make that sacrifice. But she was impressed and touched by his gesture.

Her son will be thrilled too. She’s using the dance as a learning experience, to teach him to buy and pay for flowers himself.

Thanks, Jennifer, for passing along this “good neighbor story.” Thanks too to the Flower Basket, for going waaay above and beyond for Westport’s youth.

 

A Tres Chic Snowman

Mersene — the owner of the beloved Indulge by Mersene gift basket store on Railroad Place — is one of the most creative people I know.

She is legendary for her staging: parties, events, rooms, whatever.

She even stages snowmen. Just see how much a scarf and a few well-placed leaves transforms generic Frosty into a very chic Frostie:

Mersene snowman

Petey Menz’s Hasty Pudding

Wikipedia calls Hasty Pudding “a theatrical student society at Harvard University, known for its burlesque cross-dressing musicals.” They were described by John Wheelwright in 1897 as “a kindly association of men of all ages in a gay evening of simple enjoyment.”

The meaning of “gay” has changed a bit since then. Hasty Pudding has not.

Presented annually since 1844 — except during 3 war years — the comedy productions still feature exactly 12 male performers (6 play men; the other 6 play women). There is a live pit orchestra, but no computers or synthesizers. The plots are silly, the jokes crude, the production values low, the puns anachronistic and sophomoric.

A typical Hasty Pudding show.

A typical Hasty Pudding show. Those guys are lookin’ good!

But it worked for Hasty Pudding members of yore like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Randolph Hearst, Alan Jay Learner and Jack Lemmon.

And writing the Hasty Pudding show helped launch the careers of — more recently — comedian Mo Rocca, librettist Mark O’Donnell (“Hairspray”), and Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “Boston Public”).

Petey Menz hopes some of that magic fairy dust rubs off on him.

The 2011 Staples graduate is co-writing the 2015 Hasty Pudding show. In a rare exhibition of burlesque cross-dressing musical genius, he also helped pen last year’s production.

Petey Menz

Petey Menz

The 2nd and 3rd times were the charm for Petey and his freshman roommates. They entered the writing competition as a lark that 1st year. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” he recalls. “But it was fun.”

Harvard students are smart. So Petey and his pals figured out what they needed to do to succeed. In the summer of 2013 they were chosen to write the 2014 show. Last year, they were picked again.

Yeah, it takes that long to write — then produce — the show.

It’s not your average theatrical production. There are 30 or so dates in Cambridge (this year’s opening is February 6). Then it goes on the road, for more performances in New York and (I”m sure there’s a reason for this) Bermuda.

“There’s a lot of spitballing in the beginning,” Petey says of the writing process. (The term refers to brainstorming, not the juvenile game that may seem appropriate to a Hasty Pudding production.)

Eventually, Petey’s team came up with the settings: Victorian England last year, medieval Spain this time. Then they had to create scenes (making sure each character had equal stage time — another tradition), write lyrics, and make sure it was all appropriately sophomorically funny.

The bulk of the work is done during the summer. Because Petey and his co-writers were all in different places, they communicated via Skype and Google Hangouts. (I don’t think that’s the way it was done in 1844.)

Hasty pudding logo

The Hasty Pudding logo

It’s a “self-consciously antique form of theater,” Petey admits. “This is one of the last institutions in the world to do theatrical drag shows. But it’s fun to to beef up what started as a skeletal scene, and it’s rewarding to see that jokes you’ve fine-tuned actually get laughs.”

Petey hopes his 2 years as a Hasty Pudding collaborator will help get him a writing job after he graduates this spring. He’s got a joint concentration in English and art history. [Insert your own finding-a-job joke here.]

Behind The Baron

The Baron is back in the news.

For years, Westporters have talked about “Baron’s South” — the hilly, wooded 30 acres of municipal land, once owned by “the Baron” between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue. (“Baron’s South” differentiates it from the old “Baron’s property,” the 32 acres across the Post Road on North Compo, renamed Winslow Park after the town bought it nearly 3 decades ago.)

The Baron’s house — Golden Shadows — is in the news too, as Westport debates what to do with that perhaps historic, perhaps blah 1959 home on Baron’s South.

But who was this guy? Was he a real baron? Or was this just a high-falutin’, self-styled nickname, the way Elvis Presley called himself “The King”?

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

He’s legit. His real name was Walter Langer, aka Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria. But I guess barons also need day jobs, so he became a chemist (and a Ph.D. doctor).

He founded Evyan Perfumes in the mid-1930s, bought the South Compo estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983. Evyan was meant to “challenge the French perfume industry.”

His wife — the baronness — was British-born Evelyn Diane Westall. She was also known as “Lady Evyan.”

I know this thanks in part to Wendy Crowther. She loves the Baron’s property, and wants to preserve his home. She sent along a couple of fascinating articles.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

One — from the “Vintage Perfume Vault” blog (“Where the scent of yesterday’s vogue lives”) — says that Evyan’s famed White Shoulders perfume was launched in the 1940s. It’s remained very popular, through Evyan’s sale to Elizabeth Arden. It may even be “the iconic American fragrance.”

(Fun factIt was named, perhaps, for Lady Evyan’s beautiful white shoulders.)

Wendy also sent a link to a 1987 New York Times story. Back then, all eyes were focused on the baron’s North Compo Road land. A referendum — ultimately successful — was held on whether to acquire the property by condemnation.

The cost was $8.75 million, and the town wanted to act quickly. With the baron’s estate “tangled” thanks to 5 wills and many legatees, the cost was expected to rise in the future.

The baron had bought it in 1970 — 3 years after purchasing his South Compo estate. He was seen as a savior, since the previous owner — developer Albert Phelps — wanted to put a B. Altman shopping center there. (Click here for a fascinating story on the previous history of what is now Winslow Park, including a sanitarium and the most luxurious estate in Westport.)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

But back to Baron’s South, and “Golden Shadows.” The estate — which at one point included not only his house but others on the land, plus magnificent gardens and arbors — got its name from another Evyan perfume.

Golden Shadows — the scent — was launched in 1950. The Baron created it himself. The New Yorker called it a “first cousin” to White Shoulders (with a “more nonchalant mien”).

Baron’s South will be a major topic of discussion in Westport, for months to come. We’ll talk too about the fate of Golden Shadows.

As we do, we should remember the man behind the land, the home, and the perfumes that provided the fortune that enabled him to buy — and preserve — such magnificent open space.

Sidney Kramer, Jack Adams Memorial Services Set

Two legendary Westporters will be honored at memorial services soon.

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer — the founder of both Save Westport Now (SWN) and Remarkable Book Shop — died in December, 1 month shy of his 100th birthday. The public is invited to celebrate his many contributions to Westport this Saturday (January 24, 11:30 a.m., Westport Library McManus room). Afterwards, friends and relatives will gather at the Westport Woman’s Club (44 Imperial Avenue), to chat and reminisce. 

Jack Adams

Jack Adams

 

Jack Adams — beloved public school and private lesson band teacher — died earlier this month, at 88.

His memorial service is set for Saturday, January 31 (1 p.m., Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road).