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May 2009

May 30, 2009

One Person's Trash...

Burlington area residents and students scrapped their well worn couches, roller blades, skis and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac yesterday at the annual Spring Move Out Project (SMOP).

SMOP is a collaborative swap provided by the City of Burlington, Chittenden Solid Waste District, Recycle North, The Center for Community and Neighborhoods, as well as the University of Vermont, Champlain, and St. Michael's colleges. For the past 10 years they have invited Burlingtonians and local undergrads to a cluttered Loomis Street: a junkyard for some, a free IKEA for others.

SMOP not only recycles the city's undesirables, it keeps soggy and haggard goods off porches and curbs.

"There was a problem with materials being left on the streets and cluttering the streets. So we turned it into a community event where the locals benefit from what the students are leaving behind," says Marge Keough, the business outreach coordinator for CSWD, whose favorite running shoes came from the SMOP a few years ago.  

Aside from collecting, disposing, and keeping the local environment clean there was also a bake sale. One Loomis Street mother and her friends took the opportunity to raise money for their children's Fourth of July Parade. 

Free stuff and cookies always equals a good time.

Video edited by Will Ryan.

May 29, 2009

Fran in France: Paris and the Champlain Plaque

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She sent this report from Paris. Click here for her earlier posts.

Thursday, May 29

Church We arrived in Paris last night and went round and round the Marais district in our comfortable, but big bus to try to find a spot to pull off that was near our hotel.  Fernando, our intrepid bus driver, let us know that he hates to take Paris assignments, but his company’s typical 25 to 30 American groups annually at this time of year didn’t materialize due to the economy. He was very happy with us, but Paris driving he could do without!  A block away was plenty good enough and we said our fond farewells.

Our hotel is called the Hotel Saintonge, named after the area Champlain came from. Brouage was a center for this area, known for people who were independent minded, ethical and great raconteurs, according to historian David Fischer. Just like Champlain! 

The hotel is on Rue de Saintonge, which is considered to be the street Champlain lived on with his wife, Helene in Paris. So, this is where we had to stay.

We may have thought previous rooms were small to American hotel standards, but in these rooms, some spouses left for the lobby while their significant other got dressed. Roommates negotiated square inches for their suitcase spots. Shower heads droop, hairdryers stay on for 10 seconds at a time, there are holes in the bedspreads. But we're an intrepid, go-with-the-flow group, and, of course, this is where we must stay! The hewn beams of the ceiling remind us this may be Champlain’s home space.

We found out today that research has been approved to find out exactly where his house was, since the neighborhood has gone through a few changes in 400 years. Some parts are still remarkably as they were in the 16th century. Henri IV, the king principally associated with Champlain, started the first planned urban complex in Paris with the nearby Place des Voges. More explanation to come... The photo shows St. Germaine L'Auxerrois, the church next to the Louvre where Champlain married his 13 year old wife, Helene.

We had dinner in an upstairs room that we had to ourselves at A La Petit Chaise, the oldest restaurant in Paris. It was built in 1609 and became licensed as a restaurant in 1680. A lot of famous people have hung out in this place! The décor is unpretentious, but the food is exquisite.  We had the honor of being joined by Francois Gautier, Consul General of France for New England and his wife, Francoise (really), who are in Paris for one day on their way to their son‘s wedding in Casablanca. Mr. Gautier has been very involved in preparations for the Vermont Quadricentennial Celebration and we all look forward to their visit in Burlington this July. A lovely time was had by all.

Finally getting to today, Historian Andre Senecal took us on his “Champlain’s Paris,” a walking tour on which he has published a pamphlet. From the Marais to the Louvre we followed Champlain’s life and the places he frequented. We had a chat with VPR from a bistro, then rushed back to change for a reception. Travel tip: Never use the labyrinthine Chatelet metro station in Paris if you can avoid it and are in a hurry.


Translation: In this street lived Samuel De Champlain, father of New France and explorer of the great lake of the states of Vermont and New York.Given by the City of Burlington, Vermont on the occasion for the Quadricentennial 1609-2009.

This afternoon’s gathering was the crowning event for organizer Dana vanderHeyden and BCA director Doreen Kraft. Once Dana got the Champlain bug and realized little had been done by the French to acknowledge Champlain in Paris, she thought a plaque in the area he lived would be appropriate. Burlington could gift it! Mayor Kiss agreed.

Meanwhile, Dana checked in with the city of Paris and the 3rd arrondissment (district) in particular.  They thought it was a lovely idea, but they suggested that instead of bronze, it should be in marble, like all the other plaques in town. Undaunted, Dana found a marble sculptor, Brent Wilson, who suggested antique verdi marble from Vermont. Perfect gift from Vermont.

This was not possible, reported back the mayor’s office. Only comblanchein marble from France would do. Working under a short deadline, Brent found some similar possibilities. By this time the Fench Isle de France State Architect was involved. A stone was accepted and then the dimensions had to be adjusted, the copy approved and the plaque made… in about a week.

It got done! Dana  can do anything she puts her mind to. But more obstacles were to come. The baggage department at the airport said it would go in baggage or would not go. “Too fragile,” said Dana. “You’ll have to get permission from the captain or crew,” said security. And so Dana and Doreen waited for the captain who amazingly agreed to keep it in the cockpit. At the security gate the officers still balked, claiming they had the last say over their matters, not the captain. They finally let the boxed stone aboard.  When we changed planes there was also a bit of a hassle, but security, struggling to read the inscription with their scanner, asked, “Who is Champlain?”  Of course, we were happy to answer. That was the first of many similar questions.

So, today, we presented the plaque to the major of the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. Incredibly, we were joined by Senator Patrick Leahy, who did some diplomatic work here this morning after arriving from Afghanistan past midnight. The end of their trip was rough with a deadly bombing of troops, but he was determined to join us and his wife for this little ceremony. He was traveling with Field Representative, John Tracy, US Senate top military liaison, Col. Philip Skuta, Military physician Michael Keith and Leahy’s senior defense policy advisor Daniel Ginsberg. President Obama has just announced his intention to nominate Ginsberg for Assistant Secretary of the Airforce for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, so he will likely be leaving Leahy’s staff soon.

The event went well. The Mayor of this district, M. Pierre Aidenbaum, even talked of a relationship with Burlington. He said this district has over a thousand Americans, mostly intellectuals and artsy types. He has hosted a US election-day celebration called American Night for several years. This year thousands came out and, didn’t go home until well after 4 a.m. when the results came in. 

The major said today, in accepting the plaque, that the location of Champlain’s home “will be found,” so they can choose the best spot to mount the plaque. We all enjoyed a brief  presentation, gorgeous and mouthwatering French pastries, a bit of champagne and good company.

Congratulations, Dana.

VIDEOS: Fran in France

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She's been recording videos of the trip on a Flip Mino, and now that we've solved the technical challenges of posting them to the web (thanks, John Canning!), we'd like to share them with you. Click here for her earlier posts.

The first video is from Brouage.

The second is from Mont St. Michel. Writes Fran, "Our guide, Francois, sings from the La Regle de Saint Benois, or "The Rules of St. Benedict."

Fran shot the third video at Omaha Beach — where Allied forces landed on June 6, 1944 — on Memorial Day. She interviews Marcelle Leahy, wife of Senator Patrick Leahy, who talks about attending the 50th and 60th "D-Day" anniversary services.

The Nation on USAID, Plan Colombia and Burlington-based ARD

About six months ago, I got a phone call from a reporter who claimed he was calling from Colombia. I automatically assumed he meant the institution of higher learning in upper Manhattan.

"Columbia University?" I asked.

"No, Colombia the country," he replied, without a hint of condescension.

The man was looking for some background info on ARD, an international development firm headquartered on Bank Street in downtown Burlington. (Former Mayor Peter Clavelle took a job there after his unsuccessful bid for governor.) Why call Seven Days? In 2007, I'd written a short piece about ARD after it was bought out by a much larger firm, Tetra Tech, of Pasadena, California, which has close ties to the U.S. military.

The reporter, whom I can only assume now was Teo Ballvé, said he was working on an investigative piece for the Nation about Plan Colombia and ARD's work in that country. He asked me about a half-dozen questions about ARD and its Burlington offices — none of which seemed particularly relevant to international narco-trafficking — then thanked me for my time and said he'd email me the story when it came out.

I never heard back from him and assumed he'd lost my email address, the story had been killed or he'd been. (Hey,drug traffickers don't waste their time sending nasty emails to your editors when you piss them off.)

This morning, Ballvé forwarded me a link to this week's story in the Nation, "The Dark Side of Plan Colombia". In it, he alleges that USAID grant money, channeled through firms such as ARD, "appears to have put drug war dollars in the hands of a confessed narco-paramilitary and two accused paramilitary-linked drug traffickers," a possible violation of federal law. 

Clearly, a lot of time and research went into this story. Give it a read, and let us know what you think.

Extra Pizazz on Dr. Kevin Dann

This week, Seven Days contributor Kevin J. Kelley interviewed Dr. Kevin Dann for an article about Dann's Quadricentennial-themed walk. I went along for the ride — literally. On May 21st, the warmest day of the year thus far, Kelley and I took the Grand Isle ferry from Vermont to New York and rode our bikes 18 miles to Northeastern Clinton High School. Why ride our bikes? I think Kevin Kelley just doesn't like to drive.

We went to the school to hear Dr. Dann speak about his walking tour — he is spending an anticipated 46 days walking from Montreal to Manhattan — to several ninth grade history classes. You can catch a glimpse of our New York excursion here.

Kelley and I arrived at the high school sweating through our shorts and t-shirts in search of Dr. Dann. We found him in the main office where he has seemed to have kept himself busy entertaining the assistant principal. 

With genuine hand gestures and swaying limbs, Dr. Dann spoke about the reason for his walk, occasionally interrupting himself by changing the subject to a less important matter such as the white flip flops he obtained from a current high school student, which he was wearing, along with a satin pink scarf, bright neon green t-shirt, and a turtle necklace. No kidding. Check out the video.

Dr. Dann is definitely  one of a kind. Erik Graham, the former SUNY Plattsburgh professor's companion for the day and his former student, told me one of his favorite stories about Dr. Dann.  "Once he told me that he and his first wife were lying peacefully in a field and when he closed his eyes, fairies transported him to another dimension."

I wanted to inquire about these fairies — are they stereotypically dainty or perhaps unexpectedly plump? Do they grant wishes? Can I order one? ...But when the whimsical doctor abruptly made eye contact with me (at least I think he did but high pollen induced blurred vision prevents me from confirming this) all I could think to utter was, "I like your necklace." 

In class, Dr. Dann captivated ninth graders with stories of his walking adventure thus far — "walking is freeing" — and with playful in class activities. But the historian in him is very apparent as well.  Aside from Champlain, Dr. Dann seems quite attached to several historical figures including Henry David Thoreau.  He also touched on other historical and supernatural concepts he has previously written about or taught. 

"What people don't understand, Kevin," Dr. Dann explains to Kelley, "is that magic is real."

Hmmm. Sure, I'm just the intern, so I listen instead of throwing in my two cents.

After a few classroom experiences with Dr. Dann, as well as this brief excursion within the town of Champlain, New York, it is obvious he has quite the agenda and to-do list. Although this historian and on-foot explorer will be making several speeches throughout his journey, there will simply not be enough time during these intermissions to listen to all of his theories and ideas. For the most authentic Dr. Dann insight, [and perhaps some fairy sitings], read his blog, Beyond Main Street. Or check out some of his books.

May 28, 2009

Comcast Polling on Support for Public Access TV

The ongoing turf war battle between national telecom giant Comcast and Vermont's community access television stations is heating up again.

This week, Comcast has been polling Vermonters around the state in an effort to gauge if they watch community-access programming,

We've covered this issue in both "Fair Game" and Blurt for months. The issue first surfaced earlier this year when Comcast petitioned state regulators to absolve themselves from giving money to the Regional Education Technology Network (RETN) to provide educational programming on Channel 16 for parts of Chittenden County.

At issue is who should have a say over what PEG channels purchase and how they provide programming to the community.

That led to the two sides inking a deal to keep RETN funded while they hammered out their issues. It also led some local school boards to voice support for RETN. The Charlotte School Board has invited Comcast to answer questions about the ongoing RETN dispute, and Comcast plans to attend the board's upcoming meeting on Tuesday.

According to people polled who contacted Seven Days, the poll questions centered on the following topics:

  • How much they watched each channel in the last month?
  • How much they would be willing to pay to support the channels (the pollster asked the caller if they knew $4.71 of their cable bill went to support them)?
  • Did they know one of the channels had a 25 percent surplus?
  • Were they aware they could borrow equipment? If so, how often had they done so in
  • last 12 months? How likely is it they would do so in next 12 months?
  • How much would they be willing to pay extra on their cable bill so the channels could buy new equipment?

These questions are nothing new to the debate. Comcast has been objecting to funding certain equipment purchases made by PEG channels — largely items that allow the channels to create web-based programming or provide such programming to viewers. Comcast believes it should not be required to fund such items as they fall outside TV programming. PEG channels say they have community boards that oversee their operations and have OK'd these purchases based on the demands of people in the viewing area — not just cable subscribers.

"We do know that, despite netting $2.5 billion in profit in 2008 and significantly increasing its own capital spending over the past few years, Comcast is attempting to significantly reduce or eliminate funding for capital equipment in contract renewal negotiations around the state with access management organizations like RETN," noted Scott Campitelli, RETN's executive director and program manager.

Top officials at RETN and CCTV say they wish Comcast had approached them about the survey. RETN's executive director noted that hundreds of people have come out in support of public-access programming in recent months.

"RETN is always interested in hearing from the communities we serve. In fact, during the past few months hundreds of Vermonters signed petitions, passed resolutions, completed surveys, and wrote letters expressing support for the work we do," said Campitelli.

Campitelli was puzzled why Comcast would conduct a poll without first consulting the local organizations it contracts with to provide public-access TV.

Comcast spokeswoman Laura Brubaker said the survey was conducted as part of a statewide assessment of "the public access-related needs of the communities we serve in Vermont."

Brubaker said Comcast "routinely surveys our customers on a variety of topics, from products and services, to customer service, to public access programming, to ensure that we are meeting our customers' needs and providing them with the best customer experience possible."

Lauren-Glenn Davitian, executive director of CCTV and the Center for Media & Democracy, said Comcast should work more closely with local groups providing community access TV so the research provides meaningful results for everyone.

"While statistics and polls shed light on numbers of viewers and awareness of public, educational and government access, we typically measure success through the vitality of our centers and the diversity and involvement of community members, citizen activists and local leaders," said Davitian. "We know that our channels are valued because people in the community let us know."

As an example of community support, Davitian pointed to Rep. Linda Myers' (R-Essex) testimonial at the end of the "Channel 17 Update" agenda item. Click here to watch.

Interestingly , RETN learned last night that it had won the Alliance for Community Media's national award for Overall Excellence in Educational Access.

Meanwhile, Comcast is in an Internet deathmatch with AIG on The Consumerist to see who is the worst company in the U.S. Currently, AIG is in the lead.

"Comcast is in the final deathmatch for the second year in a row after losing to Countrywide in 2008," the site notes. "Will this be the year that the cable giant finally takes home the top honor? Or will WCIA newcomer and top-seeded company AIG continue its total domination?"

The winner gets its name engraved on the lucky golden poo trophy.

Can't wait for the results.

Fran in France: Honfleur

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She sent this report yesterday from the port of Honfleur. Click here for her earlier posts.

Wednesday, May 27

Although its history can be traced back 1000 years, Honfleur's heyday coincided with Champlain’s lifetime. It was a bustling port then and is still today, though quite a different kind. It still looks like a 16th century town, but there are luxury yachts in the harbor and a streamlined suspension bridge to France’s second largest port, Le Harvre in the near distance.

At the mouth of the Seine River, Champlain could get to Honfleur easily by boat or land. He set sail from here over 2 dozen times to venture to the New World.

A soggy tour of the town this morning takes us to oldest wooden and stone houses, churches and buildings;  they have survived 400 years and more. The back streets are a walk through time. Public clothes washing basins are still in use. By design and I would think some luck, Honfleur was untouched by the destruction of World War II. Cleverly, the people of Honfluer allowed the Seine river to silt in the harbor, rendering it strategically useless in the war. Unlike Brouage, Champlain’s hometown that lost its maritime capability, Honfleur was able to dredge it’s port again and remain the viable port that it is today, as well as one of France’s most visited preserved towns.

It now hosts nearly 3 million visitors annually, but it doesn’t have the theme park feel of some beautifully preserved towns. It is artsy and quaint, the tourists and boaters it attracts seem to blend in.  

Among other commodities, salt was traded in Honfleur and supplied to the ships that set sail from here to preserve the catch. We visited huge stone storage houses with roofs that resembled the inner hulls of ships; they were capable of packing 10,000 tons of salt. One house was wrapping up an art exhibition and the other was preparing for a maritime festival this coming weekend, a huge event that includes a parade where children carry large ship models up the hillside to chapel. This year there will also be a dedication of a Samuel de Champlain memorial garden in the shape of our lake! Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Vermont tourism head Bruce Hyde plan to be present.

They’ll have the pleasure of meeting Honfleur’s  mayor, Michael La Marre, a busy, charming guy who threw a reception for us at the town hall. A proclamation and gifts from Mayor Bob Kiss helped open the possibility of a sister-city relationship.  

A bonus visit to Monet’s Giverny home and garden at its peak season was a real treat. On to Paris!

Samuel de Champlain Sighted on the Lake

DSCF4853 While Fran Stoddard and friends from Burlington City Arts are roaming around France to find out more about Samuel de Champlain, the explorer himself has been sighted here in Burlington!

Here's a recent press release from Robert Resnik at the Fletcher Free Library:

Monsieur Samuel de Champlain is back! He has been spotted gazing in fond affection at his beloved Lake aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen, a ship much different than the one he sailed on for his first visit to the lake which bears his name.

DSCF4845 While visiting Burlington this summer, Monsieur de Champlain will be
residing at the Fletcher Free Library, where Madmoiselle Christine Demarais, his personal seamstress and beautician, can make sure that he continues to look his best for the many social and commemorative engagements where he will be the guest of honor.

He looks quite dashing for a 400 year old gent, non?

People are really starting to have fun with this Quadricentennial thing.

May 27, 2009

Fran in France: Mont St. Michel


Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She sent this report earlier this week, from Mont St. Michel. Click here for her earlier posts.

Sunday, May 24

Mont St. Michel is an astonishing fortified village and Abbey that reaches for the sky on a small island off the coast of Brittany. Over 3 million souls venture there every year , but only 1 million make the climb to the Abbey on top. Because of the vanderHeyden connections (former St. Mike's president Marc and his wife Dana are on the trip), we were among a few hundred who made it, not only for a remarkable tour of the Abby but also up a narrow stone spiral assent. We ended up above the buttresses via the "lace staircase" — a challenge for those of us with claustrophobia and height issues, but worth the physical terror.IMG_0552

One of France’s great writers of the 19th century can offer better than I the poetry Mont St. Michel inspires and deserves. From Guy de Maupassant:

After several hours' walking, I reached the enormous mass of rock which supports the little town, dominated by the great church. Having climbed the steep and narrow street, I entered the most wonderful Gothic building that has ever been erected to God on earth, large as a town, and full of low rooms which seem buried beneath vaulted roofs, and of lofty galleries supported by delicate columns. I entered this gigantic granite jewel, which is as light in its effect as a bit of lace and is covered with towers, with slender belfries to which spiral staircases ascend. The flying buttresses raise strange heads that bristle with chimeras. with devils, with fantastic animals, with monstrous flowers, are joined together by finely carved arches, to the blue sky by day, and to the black sky by night.

When I had reached the summit. I said to the monk who accompanied me: "Father, how happy you must be here!" And he replied: "It is very windy, Monsieur"; and so we began to talk while watching the rising tide, which ran over the sand and covered it with a steel cuirass.

Montstmichel There is no direct connection of Mont St. Michel to Samuel de Champlain that we know of,  but since the first evidence of settlement there 1300 years ago, Mont St. Michel was certainly around and possibly as familiar in his time as it is in ours.  And, it is connected to the Champlain Valley as the namesake of St. Michael’s College.   

It was the College’s Edmundite Order who restored the liturgy to the Mont  in the mid 19th century. Mont St. Michel had been Benedictine since early times, but during the French Revolution, religion was squashed and many monasteries were destroyed, their stones used to build something else, or in the case of Mont St. Michel, used as a prison (like Brouage!).

In the mid 800’s there was a re-Chrisianization of France, but the Benedictines didn’t show interest in returning to “the Mont.”  So the Bishop turned to the Edmundite order who had restored the cathedral and Catholic worship in Pontigny, France.  The Edmundites agreed to take on the challenge of Mont St. Michel and were there for several decades. The government of France, however, decided to take the abbey back in 1880 and sent the Edmundites down the hill to a small chapel. The priests were smart enough to know it was time to look further afield for a settlement for their teaching and way of life and they looked to America. A spot they chose was in Vermont and the group eventually set up St. Michael’s College, named after Mont St. Michel. Who knew?

Today, Mont St. Michel continues to be owned by the state and the liturgy is run once again by Benedictines, but historian and former St. Michael’s president, Marc vanderHeyeden made sure the Edmundite piece of its history was honored with a plaque dedicated in the smaller chapel several years ago. As we descend through the medieval city, he pointed out a house solidly clinging to the tower of building that is the Mont, where he and Dana stayed with the former French Minister of Tourism.

After lunch, back on the mainland, away from the tourist crowds, Andre Senecal introduced us to a song of St. Malo, starting an impromptu French song sing-along, as we headed back to that walled city for the evening.

May 26, 2009

Vermont Reacts to Sotomayor Supreme Court Pick

Pres. Barack Obama's pick of Sonia Sotomayor as the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court won praise from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee that will oversee her confirmation hearings.

If chosen, Sotomayor would replace Justice David Souter, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Sotomayor is currently a judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City, a district that includes federal cases appealed from Vermont courts. She's served in that role for 11 years.

Pres. Obama informed Leahy of the news during a brief phone interview this morning. Leahy is visiting US troops in Afghanistan.

Sotomayor has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents, and she was twice confirmed by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support, Leahy noted.

"Her record is exemplary," Leahy continued. "Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is an historic one, and when confirmed she will become the first Hispanic justice, and just the third woman to sit on the nation’s highest court.  Having a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance of the Supreme Court: 'Equal justice under law.'"

Leahy added, "I believe Judge Sotomayor understands that the courthouse doors must be as open to ordinary Americans as they are to government and big corporations."

Continue reading "Vermont Reacts to Sotomayor Supreme Court Pick" »

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