Barnes & Noble Back In Business

Less than 2 months after closing their Post Plaza location, Barnes & Noble is back.

The new site — the former Renovation Hardware — is smaller than the previous store, a couple of miles east.

Restoration Hardware was the previous tenant, for 20 years. For 80 years before that, this was the Fine Arts movie theater.

But there’s plenty of room for books of all types, games, puzzles and the like. The space is bright, fresh and airy. The shelves — as a press release noted — are “bespoke oak.”

There is no café. “There are plenty of good places for coffee and food downtown,” an employee says. “We want to be a good neighbor, and help everyone.”

Around noon, a steady stream of customers enjoyed downtown Westport’s newest retailer.

(Photos/Dan Woog)

 

Fanne Foxe Dies. Yes, There’s A Westport Connection.

Back in the days when sex scandals could actually ruin a political career, Fanne Foxe was at the center of a doozy.

At 2 a.m. in October 1974, police pulled over a Lincoln Continental that was speeding, without headlights, near the Jefferson Memorial.

The Washington Post recalls:

A female passenger in an evening gown ran from the car, climbed the stone parapet along the Tidal Basin and — acting on what she later described as a frantic impulse — leaped headfirst into the frigid, inky water. Her splashdown would ripple into one of the capital’s most infamous sex scandals.

The woman, 38-year-old Annabel Battistella, was a plumage-shaking striptease dancer with the stage name Fanne Foxe. She was billed as “the Argentine Firecracker,” and patrons of the local burlesque circuit were captivated by her elaborate costumes — complete with five-foot-tall headdresses and tropical-colored ostrich and pheasant feathers — as well as the artfulness with which she removed them.

Fanne Foxe

On that particular night, after a boozy party at the Silver Slipper club, where she had performed, she got into a loud quarrel with her married lover….

With her plunge into the Tidal Basin, Ms. Battistella (later Annabel Montgomery), who died Feb. 10 at 84, secured her place in the annals of political scandal. Standing near the car — drunk and bleeding — was her paramour, 65-year-old Wilbur Mills, the gravelly voiced chairman of the tax-writing U.S. House Ways and Means Committee and a man esteemed as a pillar of Bible Belt rectitude and respectability.

Mills said that Foxe — a divorced mother of 3 who lived in the same luxury apartment complex as he in Arlington, Virginia — was a “family friend and a social companion of his wife, Clarine.”

Mills was re-elected to his 19th term a month later. But after an alcohol-fueled appearance with the Argentine Firecracker in Boston, he was removed as Ways and Means chairman, and treated for alcoholism.

“With his career in tatters and citing exhaustion, he left office in 1977 and became an advocate for recovering alcoholics until his death in 1992.”

Arkansas Democratic Congressman Wilbur Mills and Fanne Foxe.

As for Foxe — renamed the “Tidal Basin Bombshell” — she soon earned more than 5 times the $400 a week she made at the Silver Slipper. She acted in low-budget films, and an off-Broadway show called “Women Behind Bars.”

She gave up stripping after a December 1974 arrest in Florida, for public indecency. She was cleared of the charge.

So what’s the Westport connection?

The Post story says:

The next year, she was living with her children in Westport, Conn., in an eight-bedroom, seven-bath manse called Tally-Ho that needed constant upkeep. The only stripping she was doing, she told a reporter, involved. paint.

After marrying contractor/businessman Daniel Montgomery in 1980, Foxe moved to Florida. She earned a BA in communications from the University of Tampa in 1995, and two master’s degrees — in marine science and business administration — from the University of South Florida.

Foxe — then known as Annabel Montgomery — died in Clearwater, Florida this month. She was 84.

(Click here for the full Washington Post obituary. Hat tip: Marc Selverstone)

Unsung Heroes #179

This hasn’t been the worst winter.

But it hasn’t been the best. We’ve had several snowfalls, with a decent number of inches.

Each time, we’ve been out and about quickly.

Thanks to our plow guys.

Some work for the state Department of Transportation, or Westport Public Works. Others are private — employed by landscaping or other companies, or completely on their own.

All are crucial.

We seldom see them. We’re inside, drinking cocoa. Or asleep.

There’s a real art to clearing roads and driveways, efficiently and quickly. I can’t imagine what a mess I’d make if I tried. Very quickly, I’d need to be plowed out myself.

We never know how much we need our plow guys, until we do.

Thanks to all, for all you do, for all of us.

I just hope we don’t see you again until 2022.

PS: Want to give your own favorite snow plower a personal shout-out? Click “Comments” below.

(To recommend an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

 (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

 

Roundup: Healthcare, Music Festival, Y’s Women, More

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The healthcare open enrollment period has been extended through March 15. If you do not have an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, you can get coverage through Access Health CT for you and your family. 

Connecticut residents can click on AccessHealthCT.com or call 855-805-4235 to review their coverage options and sign up for a plan. 

Click here to learn about enrollment assistance. Make sure you have the information you’ll need for yourself and anyone in your household if you’re ready to enroll in a plan. 

Hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents have lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic. Access Health CT provides a safety net for displaced workers and their families. Click here for more information if you lost your health insurance because you or a family member lost their job. (Hat tip: Congressman Jim Himes)

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The Westport Library’s Lockdown Music Festival will be a low-key, fun and funky fundraiser for Neighborhood Studios of Bridgeport.

But the stakes just got higher. Longtime Westporter — and devoted Library patron — Dan Levinson will match all contributions up to $10,000.

The March 13 (7 p.m.). event is a virtual concert. Curated by Fairfield resident Chris Frantz of the Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, it celebrates optimism, resilience and the power of music.

The Library’s concert partners are the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and WPKN-FM. Neighborhood Studios — the recipient of funds — provides arts, music, theater and dance education and opportunities for underserved  Bridgeport students. It will be livestreamed form the Library’s state-of-the-art Verso Studios.

Click here to register for the concert (and purchase a special concert poster).

Chris Frantz and his wife, Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth

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The Y’s Women are not just for women!

The great community group makes their virtual speaker series available to everyone. The most recent: Bill Harris, of the “new and oh so improved” Sacred Heart University Community Theater. Click here to view them all.

And (women only): Click here to learn about satellite groups (book and movie clubs), and how to join Y’s Women (for just $45 a year).

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Spring is tentatively creeping into town.

The sun rises earlier. The air is a little warmer. The joggers — and birds — are out.

Here are 2 shots from Compo Beach. Enjoy!

(Photo/Curtis Sullivan)

(Photo/Pam Kesselman)

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And finally … Lawrence Ferlingetti died Monday, in his beloved San Francisco. He was 101.

On a visit to San Francisco 20 or so years ago, I wandered into City Lights Bookstore. He’d always been my favorite poet. But for years, I’d assumed he was dead.

Yet there he was, standing by the counter, talking about books with someone who may or may not have known the old bearded guy was one of the most famous poets in the world.

I just listened. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.

Board Of Ed Discusses Capital Projects, Vaccines, Student Surveys

After an announcement about capital projects and their impact on new grants, last night’s Board of Education meeting focused primarily on COVID, social health issues, and an upcoming equity study.

Brian Fullenbaum reports that the board learned that 6 capital projects across multiple schools from 1998 to 2006 were not properly closed out. That affects new grants for those schools; there is a 20-year waiting period between grants. The board will explore statutory ways to solve the issue.

The COVID news is relatively good. Westport is no longer in the “high level” risk category; only 9 student cases were reported in the previous 2 weeks.

As of March 1, the vaccine will be offered to all educational staff. Some schools might be used as vaccination sites for staff, perhaps as early as next Thursday.

As previously announced, Staples High School is moving to a 75% in-school model on March 1, meaning students will learn in person 3 days a week. Administrators see a trend of students leaving distance learning, and returning to school.

Board members discussed a possible tutoring program for remote learners at the high school and middle school levels. High school students could be utilized as tutors.

With the number of quarantining students decreasing, school officials have looked at seating charts and bus videos for a more critical analysis of which students should quarantine. Greater accuracy would lead to even fewer quarantines.

A survey from assistant superintendent Michael Rizzo, coordinator of psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich, townwide director of human services Elaine Daignault and Margaret Watt of Positive Direcctions provoked a long discussion.

The survey would be distributed to 7th through 12th graders next month. Questions would address social, emotional and physical health of students, and include a racial injustice module. Parents could opt their children out of the survey.

A long discussion about the survey — concerning privacy and other issues — followed. The issue was not resolved.

Another study, on equity, provoked less discussion. Done in conjunction with NYU, it would collect benchmark data to analyze possible systemic inequalities in education in Westport education. The goal is to create a multi-year plan to address any inequalities. Data would be collected in March, with an action plan ready by September.

After a brief discussion of 2 drafts for the 2022-23 school year calendar, the board heard an early report on a policy on recruiting minority staff members to the district.

 

Heather Grahame’s Worldwide Adventures: Thank You, Mill Pond!

Heather Grahame has done it all.

She captained her 1972 Staples High School field hockey team, then played at Mount Holyoke College.

During college summers she leveraged her experience as a Compo Beach lifeguard to teach swimming, water safety and first aid in rural Aleut villages. 

After graduating from the University of Oregon law school, Grahame practiced utility law in Anchorage. She placed 6th at the 1988 Olympic bicycle racing time trials. As a competitive sled dog racer, her top international finish — 6th — came at the 2000 Women’s World Championships.

In 2010 she moved to Montana. She ran her first triathlon at age 56, and found another great sport.

Not enough? Grahame also completed a full Ironman. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run.

Not even COVID could knock out Heather Grahame. Though pools closed last spring, she did not miss a stroke. 

I should mention also that Grahame is a gifted writer. This was published recently by the Montana Masters Swimmers. “06880” reprints it, for all of us back east.

I learned to swim at the Sherwood Mill Pond, a marshy tidal basin in Westport, Connecticut. It was connected to Long Island Sound, with the water swiftly going in and out of the pond with the Sound’s high and low tides. To this day I recall being terrified of being swept to sea as the tide went out.

Sherwood Mill Pond, and the outlet to Long Island Sound. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Later I spent many summers as a lifeguard at the town’s 3 beaches, watching from my chair for swimmers in trouble and, as the water became very warm in August, signs of sharks with their ominous fins.

Little did I know that my years of swimming and lifeguarding, and the accompanying swimming/water safety/first aid skills, would provide the foundation for years of adventures.

The first involved spending summers in small, isolated Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea. Villagers hunted and fished for subsistence – there were no Costcos, Safeways or other stores.

Summers required going out in boats in the dangerous waters of the Bering Sea or fishing from the shore for enough salmon to provide for the rest of the year. Falling into the icy waters often had deadly consequences, as there were no pools in which to learn to swim.

To address rural Alaska’s high drowning rate, for several years the state funded a program in villages in the Aleutian Chain and Bristol Bay. For 2 summers while I was in college, I lived in 4 rural Aleut and Yupik Eskimo villages to teach swimming, water safety and first aid.

I flew to Anchorage (3 1/2 hours from Seattle). Another college student and I got on a 4-seater bush plane for 3 to 6 more hours. We were finally dropped off on a gravel airstrip with a month’s worth of pilot bread, peanut butter, cornflakes and evaporated milk. We had to find a place to live and teach.

Heather Grahame (Photo courtesy of Helena Independent Record)

In each village we found a pond by the Bering Sea for the swim lessons. What quickly became clear was that water safety was the most important tool we could teach, together with the ability to tread water or swim a few strokes. If a person who fell overboard or waded too deeply had confidence to tread water or swim a few strokes while another person extended a jacket or pole, they could be rescued.

The kids loved the program. Adults sometimes wanted to learn as well. I spent hours standing in cold ponds in my old Speedo lifeguard swim suit with the equally cold Bering Sea wind whipping around me teaching floating, treading water, a few strokes of freestyle, and how to extend a pole or jacke.

Toward the end of my month in Egegik, I saw a young kid fall into a shallow pond. Before I could help, another kid extended his jacket and pulled him to safety. I have never forgotten the significance of that.

Swimming opened the doors to many other adventures. In Good News Bay I lived in the jail, except on the July 4th when a few villagers needed the cells more than I did.

In Unalaska I lived in a large barrel-like structure near a stream in which I often caught salmon, as an alternative to pilot bread and peanut butter.

The most remote village was on the island of Atka. It did not even have an airstrip. I flew from Anchorage to Unalaska, then get on a very small plane to Adak (a Navy base). I had to wait for days to take a 9-hour tugboat ride to Atka.

It’s amazing I actually made it back to college on time because due to repairs, the tug only made it to Atka and back 3 times. Had it not made that 3rd trip, I would have been stranded on the island for nearly a year.

Other adventures are much more recent. While they were not rugged, they are equally memorable, and made possible by my swimming skills.

I was fortunate to race in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in 2016 in Mooloolaba, Australia. The swim took place in the Pacific Ocean, with the surf pushing us to the shore at the finish. Sweet!

After the race I asked officials about what appeared to be crab pots just beyond the racecourse buoys. I knew they could not be crab pots, because the water was too warm. I learned they were the tops of shark nets, to try to keep sharks out of the swim area. I’m glad I asked after the race.

Heather Grahame in Ironman action.

I raced in the Atlantic Ocean in 2017 as part of Ironman 70.3 Maine. When my husband and I had dinner on a high pier overlooking the buoys designating the course, I was a little intimidated. They extended straight out from the beach directly into the Atlantic for what appeared to be infinity.

I got into the water a day before the race. I swam along the buoys until I could easily see the turn buoy, and realized there was no reason to be concerned.

In 2018 I raced in the International Triathlon Union’s Multisport World Championships, in a channel in Denmark off the island of Funen.

The water was a comfortable temperature. There were no surf, tide or shark risks whatsoever. Easy!

When I reached halfway in the 1.2-mile swim and dove off the turnaround platform, I decided to change how I normally race. Instead of swimming conservatively and saving my energy for the bike and/or run portions of the race, I decided to truly race, in appreciation of my Helena swimming buddies and coaches who had helped me get ready for the event (thank you, guys!).

I finished with the second fastest swim time for women in my age group, due to the confidence and fitness achieved through the Helena Ridley swimmers and coaching.

All of these experiences flowed from my early years learning to swim in the Sherwood Mill Pond in Connecticut. From those moments of swimming terror I have enjoyed years of adventure, joy, challenges and friendships, and the treasured camaraderie of the swimming community.

Heather Grahame, swimming in Montana.

Pics Of The Day #1408

 

 Sherwood Island scene … (Photo/Bill Armstrong)

… and Sherwood Island metal detector (Photo/Molly Alger)

Roundup: Chiller Island, State Street, Senator Blumenthal, More

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Wendy Crowther helped create the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve, at the site of the old Allen’s Clam House. She thought she knew everything about that amazing area.

But the other day on Google Maps, she saw a reference to “Chiller Island.”

That’s the tiny spit of land — not an island at all — near the tidal gates leading out to Compo Cove. There were once 3 small homes there. One was destroyed by a 1950s storm. The other 2 were demolished a few years ago, after being damaged beyond repair in another storm.

The area is now a pocket park. Should we call it Chiller Island Park?

If so, we’d need some history. If you know where the name came from — and when and why it fell out of use — click “Comments” below.

Christmas tree at the pocket park on “Chiller Island.” (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Of course, that’s not the only throwback name Google Maps uses in Westport. Some sections of the Post Road are still called “State Street.”

That was changed in the 1970s. Right around the time Sergey Brin and Larry Page — the founders of Google — were born.

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The Westport Library is slowly reopening. Hours are still limited, and restrictions apply.

The Library’s digital services, meanwhile, are available to cardholders 24/7/365.

Popular books, magazines, audiobooks, music and movies — it’s all there.

You don’t have to be a technical wizard to access it. Staff members can help, with everything from setting up accounts to choosing and selecting materials.

Click here for details. And don’t overlook the little blue “Help” button on the bottom right.

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Do you have a question for Senator Blumenthal? Go to Instagram, and DM @DaveBriggsTV.

Westporter Dave Briggs — former CNN, NBC Sports and Fox News anchor — interviews him on IG Live at 4:30 p.m. today (Tuesday).

You can catch the conversation @GreenwichMag.

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Snow has canceled several Red Cross blood drives. The pandemic has made collections even slower.

There are several drives upcoming. Appointments can be made on the Red Cross blood donor smartphone app, at RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 800-733-2767.

Click here for a full list of sites. Among the local drives:

FAIRFIELD

  • Feb. 23 (today): 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Scandinavian Club, 1351 South Pine Creek Road
  • March 3: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Scandinavian Club, 1351 South Pine Creek Road
  • March 8: 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Black Rock Church, 3685 Black Rock Turnpike
  • March 8: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Black Rock Church, 3685 Black Rock Turnpike

NORWALK

  • Feb. 23: 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., St. Philip’s Church, 25 France St.
  • March 3: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., St. Philip’s Church, 25 France St.
  • March 12: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., United Church of Rowayton, 210 Rowayton Ave.

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And finally … Peter Fonda was born today, in 1940. He died in 2019.

Craig Bergamo: Westport Kids’ Best PAL

Craig Bergamo has quite a back story.

He grew up “everywhere,” he says — in and out of shelters. He and his brother were shuttled from place to place.

When Bergamo was 17, his parents died. He wanted to join the military, but for his brother to keep Section 8 housing, Bergamo had to live there as his dependent.

During tough times, police officers had always been nice to Bergamo. He looked up to them. To give back, he studied criminology in college.

Craig Bergamo

In 2006 — just 22 years old — he was hired by the Westport Police Department. His duties include overseeing the car seat program, motorcycle instructor and field training.

Bergamo won the Medal of Valor, for his actions in the Westport force’s first shooting in 30 years.

He also earned a Community Service Award for his fundraising with LivFree, a pediatric cancer support group.

Giving back is a key part of who Bergamo is. He coached in Norwalk’s Pop Warner football program for 6 years.

Early in his Westport police career, PAL athletic director Carmen Roda suggested he get involved with the local program. He became head football coach for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, then volunteered as secretary and vice president.

Now he’s in charge of the entire Westport PAL.

Earlier this month, Bergamo succeeded Ned Batlin as president.

It’s a big job. PAL serves thousands of youngsters through football, lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, rugby, track and cheerleading programs.

PAL also runs a robust scholarship program, the ice skating rink at Longshore — and Westport’s annual Independence Day fireworks.

Plenty of (pre-COVID) action at the PAL Rink at Longshore.

“This is an amazing organization,” Bergamo says. “The motto is ‘All about the kids and community.’ It’s safe and friendly. There are not many Police Athletic Leagues still out there. But ours is going strong.”

Bergamo is already planning new fundraising efforts — like a car show, digital events, perhaps a gala “when things are normal.”

Wrestling is one of Westport PAL’s many programs.

For someone who grew up in shelters, and lost his parents as a teenager, offering hope and activities to youngsters is crucial. In addition to his PAL efforts, he coaches his daughters in softball.

“When I see 3rd graders I coached move up to high school, and then graduate. I get chills,” Bergamo says. “I’ve had great interactions with them, and their parents. That’s what PAL is all about.”

(To learn more about Westport PAL — and participate in the See’s Candy Shop fundraiser — click here.)

Pics Of The Day #1407

Don’t worry, Lele — it’s not even March! (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Bonus Pic: Rare February rainbow over Compo (Photo/Marc Frankel)