Category Archives: Westport life

Westporters From Haiti, Norway React To Trump

Westport is filled with all kinds of people.

We are citizens, and we are on various types of visas. A few of us are undocumented.

We are 1st-, 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-generation Americans, and more. At least one of us — hey, Jacques Voris! – has had family in Westport for at least 10 generations.

We may be descendants of the Pequot tribe here — I’m not sure. If not, every one of us came from somewhere else.

We came from England, Germany and — hey, Saugatuck! — Italy. We came from Canada, Russia, Japan, India, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria.

We came from Norway. And from Haiti.

In the wake of President Trump’s comments yesterday — do I have to remind you he called Haiti and African nations “shithole” countries, and wondered aloud why we don’t have more immigrants from Norway — I reached out to Westporters from those specific places.

Stephanie Mastocciolo is a 1st-generation American. Her parents moved to the US to continue her grandfather’s work in the Caribbean music industry.

Her mother was adamant that Stephanie and her 2 younger sisters take advantage of the limitless opportunities in the US — in education, and for their careers. Her mother wanted her girls to become well-rounded, open-minded individuals here too.

Stephanie was born and raised in Larchmont, New York. She moved first to Greenwich, then to Westport. She has lived here for 6 years, and has enjoyed raising her 2 children in this community. 

She calls Trump’s comments “offensive, hurtful and very un-American.”

She acknowledges, “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Yes, it has a lot of political, social and economic problems. But many — if not all — nations do.”

Trump’s comments sadden her, “because America has come a long way to break down stereotypes and barriers that divide people. America was built on the hard work and ideas of people looking for a better way of life.

She adds, “All nations should be referred to with respect and facts, not ignorant opinions. His comments speak for themselves. They show the true colors of the President of the United States.”

Camilla Moe Røisland moved to Westport in September, with her husband (whose company is building windmills off Long Island) and 2 of her children (a 3rd — and their dog — arrived recently). She worked as a news presenter, reporter and producer for Norway’s biggest radio/TV company.

Camilla does not know if she should take Trump’s words as a compliment or not. She is proud of her country — but does not like it being singled out as a “good one” in comparison to others.

“That’s not worthy of a president. Doesn’t he know, or understand, that the US is built up by immigrants throughout history?” she asks. “America’s strength comes from diversity.”

Trump is right, Camilla says, that Norwegians are highly educated in general, and hard-working. But, she adds, “that doesn’t mean that we are better or smarter than others. We are lucky because we live in a country that gives people both opportunities and security.

“We have a good health system. We take care of everyone. And we believe that all are equal — you are worth a lot even if you are not a male, white, heterosexual and rich.”

So why did she and her family move here?

Her husband had a great work opportunity. They looked forward to a new experience.

It was challenging, sure. But Westport is beautiful, Camilla says. They’ve met “so many nice, warm and welcoming people. We love living close to New York, which is a very exciting and fun city.”

It’s also a city filled with people from all over the world. Including Norway and Haiti.

Westport is too.

And I believe that many — if not all — of my fellow Westporters are glad and proud to count Camilla and Stephanie as our neighbors.

Today’s Most Entitled Westporter Is NOT A Driver!

However, he had to get in his car to earn this sleazeball award.

An alert — and legitimately ticked-off — “06880” reader reports: “some jerk dumped not 1, but 2 Christmas trees in front of our house.”

The reader — who is in great shape physically, but nonetheless one year shy of his 80th birthday — adds: “Anyone who was too lazy to take trees to the town brush center, or too stupid to call the Boy Scouts for free pickup, is really a slob.”

He’s too kind. I’d have used much harsher words.

Tina’s Cousins Come To Town

A year ago, Westport said goodbye to Tina Wessel.

Over 150 people gathered in Christ & Holy Trinity Church to mourn the homeless woman who for years had limped around town. She died — alone — in a shed she frequented near the Senior Center.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from her memorial service.

A few days ago, Westport welcomed Cornelia Kunzel and Rolf Rabe. They live in Germany, and are Tina and Ludy Wessel’s first cousins. Ludy — Tina’s brother — died in 2012.

Cornelia and Rolf came to see where their cousins had lived. They wanted to meet Tina and Ludy’s friends and acquaintances; thank Human Services, and give a donation to Homes With Hope.

Cornelia Kunzel and Rolf Rabe at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, where Tina Wessel’s ashes are interred.

Accompanied by Ellen Naftalin (who helped Tina) and Larry Ritter (a close friend of Ludy’s), they traced Tina’s frequent routes through town.

They saw the shed she called home, and toured the Senior Center nearby.

They had lunch at Rye Ridge Deli — the new downtown spot that replaced Oscar’s. Late owner Lee Papageorge always fed and looked out for Tina.

They visited Christ & Holy Trinity Church, where Tina’s ashes are interred.

And they drove all around Westport. At the end of their meaningful day, they watched the sun set — crimson red — over Long Island Sound.

Cornelia, Rolf and Tina.

Christmakkah Is Cumin

Staples High and Bedford Middle School students know Christie’s is the place to go after school — and before. (Sometimes during, too).

Neighbors know the country store/deli is the place to go when power is out. Somehow, owner John Hooper keeps everyone fed, hydrated, warm (or cool) and happy.

Now Nicole Gerber knows Christie’s is the place to go for cumin.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

She lives on Woody Lane. Christie’s is around the corner — and it’s become her second kitchen.

“I’m in there all the time,” she says.

She’s throwing a large “Christmakkah” dinner party for 25 people today. John is catering.

On Tuesday, she was at the store talking with him. He was in the midst of pulling together a very last-minute request for 15 sandwiches to feed the hungry vendors at the Westport Front Porch Holiday Market at around-the-corner Wakeman Town Farm. (“He happily stepped into the kitchen and made those sandwiches himself, because the kitchen staff was busy with the lunch rush,” Nicole reports.) She told him about her brisket recipe, and went home.

Nicole Gerber at work.

Much closer to her party — while measuring the ingredients — she ran out of cumin.

“The thought of schlepping all the way out to Stop & Shop for one item was unappealing,” she says.

Christie’s was a long shot — it’s a country store, not a supermarket — but she called. John said, “Come on over! I have cumin. How much do you need?”

Two minutes later, he handed Nicole 2 containers filled with the spice.

She asked John how much she owed.

John smiled. “Nothing!” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Nicole Gerber’s cumin.

Nicole has long loved everyone at Christie’s. The staff knows her name, and her kids’ names. They know her “usual” lunch order.

But that cumin story really takes the cake.

First Night: Fun Family Tradition Endures

For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.

As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.

Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.

Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.

Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.

Everyone loves the train guy.

No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • A warming fire
  • Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic
  • Fireworks by the river

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Get yours now. They’re going fast.

Just say Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker sent you.

(For more information, click here.)

Town Hall Heritage Tree Shines

Everyone driving past Town Hall enjoys the Christmas tree on its sloping lawn. An ordinary evergreen all year long, it’s lit every night during the holiday season.

But there’s a second one worth seeing. It’s inside Town Hall, just outside the auditorium.

The Town Hall Heritage Tree.

It’s called a Heritage Tree. And for good reason: Every December, for over 35 years, new ornaments are added. Each is designed by a Westport artist. Taken together, the nearly 150 designs represent our artistic heritage in a unique, beautiful way.

Elizabeth Devoll’s ornament features historical Westport photos.

Among the many artists represented: Bernie Burroughs, Mel Casson, Stevan Dohanos, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Leonard Everett Fisher, Neil Hardy, Robert Lambdin, Gordon Mellor, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Dolli Tingle, Barbara Wilk and Al Willmott.

Tammy Winser’s Westport snowman.

This year, 5 new ornaments were added:

  • A whimsical glass ornament (“100% Santa approved”) by Nina Bentley.
  • A diamond-shaped acrylic lenticular featuring the William F. Cribari Bridge — with and without Christmas lights, by Miggs Burroughs.
  • A large, multi-faceted 20-view polygon featuring historical Westport photos, by Elizabeth Devoll.
  • A delicate pine cone, subtly embellished with text and color by Katherine Ross.
  • A glass-domed “Carrot: Building a Snowman in Westport” by Tammy Winser.

Miggs Burroughs’ lenticular features the Saugatuck bridge.

The new ornaments were hung — front and center on the tree — by Eve Potts and Marion Morra. They carry on the Heritage Tree tradition started by their sister, the late Mollie Donovan, nearly 40 years ago. The tree is sponsored by the Westport Historical Society.

Katherine Ross’ pine cone.

So don’t just drive by the Christmas tree outside Town Hall. Drive up, walk inside, and admire the Heritage Tree too.

Happy holidays!

Nina Bentley’s glass ornament.

 

Ho Ho No?

New lights on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge are not enough for at least one “06880” reader.

“After living several years in Westport, I am still amazed at how bland, boring and non-Christmas-supporting its lack of decorations are,” he writes.

“I know they spent some cash on new lights and festive snowflakes. But there is almost no spirit in shopping here.”

Holiday lights, 2015.

He’s heard blame placed on several culprits: “90-plus-year-olds running the town. Corporate store locations not supporting Xmas decorations downtown. I’ve even heard it said that it’s a Jewish town, and therefore not celebrating.”

All of those reasons, he says, “sound like nonsense. I’m from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I’m used to people singing on street corners, and the festive spirit being alive. I don’t understand Westport’s total lack of caring.”

The reader asks about the history behind this. “I’ve heard our wonderful downtown used to be awash with lights and Christmas spirit in the past. A place people would want to celebrate and shop. Seems like it would be a good story, if you feel anyone would care.”

Wow! That’s a lot to mull on (over hot cider).

A few thoughts come to mind:

  • Who are these “90-plus-year-olds” running Westport?
  • Is this really a “Jewish town”?
  • Why wouldn’t a place called Bethlehem be awash in Christmas spirit?

And of course:

  • Is it true?
  • Did this used to be a place filled with lights and Christmas spirit?
  • Is there really a “total lack of caring” for the holidays?

I have my own ideas. But I want to hear yours. Click “Comments” below.

Merry Christmas!

In 2015, a snowflake glistened near Oscar’s.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, From “06880” To All

Stevan Dohanos’ “Thanksgiving” painting drew its inspiration from the red gingerbread house at 55 Long Lots Road.

It’s still standing. And Thanksgiving is still one of Westport’s most cherished holidays.

 

Unsung Heroes #24

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

All across Westport, families and friends will gather to enjoy this warm, nourishing and traditional American holiday.

Putting on such a celebration is a lot of work. But it’s nothing compared to what goes on at Saugatuck Congregational Church.

For 47 years, the handsome white building near the center of town has hosted a community Thanksgiving feast. (With a little help from Christ & Holy Trinity Church around the corner, after the fire a few years ago.)

It’s a free meal. All are welcome. And hundreds come.

Some are alone. Others prefer the company of a community. No one asks questions. They just gather together, and enjoy the day.

A small part of the Thanksgiving Community Feast.

The turkey-and-all-the-trimmings event goes like clockwork. After nearly half a century, the church has it down pat.

Yet it takes a village to throw a townwide feast.

Over 100 volunteers make it happen. Saugatuck Church members, congregants from every other religious institution, non-believers — all pitch in.

They donate food, decorate the hall, do kitchen prep, set up tables, check in guests, cook, carve, serve, oversee the buffet table, bus tables, wash dishes and (of course) clean up. Three of them play keyboard, drums and sax, just for kicks.

They provide rides to the church for those who can’t drive, and deliver meals to those who are homebound.

They work magic.

A few of the volunteers at a Saugatuck Church Community Thanksgiving Feast.

The name of the holiday is Thanksgiving. Many of the helpers at tomorrow’s feast work behind the scenes. They never hear thanks.

That’s not why they do it, of course. Still, it’s nice to know you’re appreciated.

Which is why all the hundreds of Community Thanksgiving Feast volunteers — past, present and future — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Thank you!

Everyone’s Welcome At This Turkey Table

Caissie St. Onge will never forget the day her younger son Lincoln was born. It was the same day the family moved to Westport. While she was in the hospital, friends hauled furniture into her recently purchased home.

Back in Brooklyn, Caissie — a TV industry veteran, who is now co-executive producer of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” — usually worked right up to Thanksgiving.

Because it was hard for many young co-workers to get home for the holiday, Caissie and her husband, Matt Debenham, hosted a few for the turkey meal.

Several years ago, they revived that tradition here.

“We live in one of the smallest houses in Westport,” Caissie says. “But we can fit 20 people in our living room.”

Friends loan tables and chairs. This year, for the first time, Caissie and Matt got a tent for the deck.

The living room, ready for guests.

Some guests take the train from New York. Caissie’s son Eli shuttles them back and forth from the station.

Eli is now a freshman at Southern Connecticut State University; Lincoln is sophomore at Staples High. As they grow older, they like the event more. Both are good at talking with adults — though the guests include random children too.

Each year, the number grows. Caissie does not know some of them. “They’re friends of friends of friends,” she says. “Everyone is welcome.”

One newcomer tomorrow will be a woman spending her first Thanksgiving away from her now-grown children.

Thanksgiving can be pressure-filled, Caissie notes. “It can be lonely. Even if you stay home and cook with your family, it can be stressful. So I figured, since I’m cooking, I might as well cook for everybody.”

Clockwise from top left: Eli, Lincoln and Matt Debenham, Caissie St. Onge.

Caissie’s family provides turkey and ham. Some guests bring wine or dessert. It’s all served buffet-style.

In the past, people started coming at 2 p.m. This year they’ve pushed it back to 3.

“We’ve had snafus, like blown fuses and the timing for cooking being wrong,” Caissie says cheerfully.

Many guests stay until 9 or 10.

“It goes by in a flash,” Caissie says. “I wish it could last longer. We really enjoy welcoming people into our home.”