Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Recipe of the Month: Olives à la provençale

One of the regrets of my life is that I’ve lived it in latitudes too cold to have an olive tree in my yard.
     Olive trees are beautiful. They’re humble in size, not lording it over us mere humans, but still providing shade for a picnic or a nap. Their small light green leaves move with any breath of breeze, catch the sun when it shines and seem to give it back again when clouds roll in.
     There is something special, almost magical, about an olive tree. It can easily outlive a man, if given half a chance. There are olive trees in southern France and throughout the Mediterranean that are several centuries old. They are gnarled and bent and even twisted, but they stand upright. An olive tree is an example of a verb that Faulkner held dear: they endure.
     And there’s something magic about olives themselves. If you’ve ever plucked one off a branch, you know that they’re totally inedible. So who was the first person to have the idea of taking this bitter, sour–tasting thing and macerating it for a month or more until it miraculously became delicious?
     Well, I’m not going to give you a class in curing olives because I don’t have that tree in my yard and probably neither do you. Besides, there are other sources for that. But I am going to give you a recipe revealed to me by the chef at my favorite restaurant in Provence. It makes olives that will be perfect with long, cool drinks by the pool this summer and on into the early days of autumn.
Olives à la provençale

Cut the following in a brunoise cut (i.e. diced fine):
- garlic,
- shallots,
- onion, and
- carrots.
Mix them with 3 pounds of black and green olives.
Add 1 tsp each of:
- herbes de provence,
- cumin,
- curry,
- ginger,
plus a few grains of aniseed.
Mix well.
Cover with olive oil and the juice of a large lemon and let macerate for one week.

Obviously, you may not want 3 pounds of olives - remember, this is a recipe of restaurant proportions - but you can cut it down any way you like.  And you can share it with friends.  Over a glass of something.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gripe of the Day: Moustique Mystique

I love the United States. Really, I do. But I also like to go outdoors. And that’s where Paris wins hands down.
     Let me explain.
     Mosquitoes seem to find me much to their liking. In all senses of the word. And there were zillions of them in residence around my residence in Ann Arbor this year. I could barely get out the door before they’d swarm, as if they were just hovering out there, waiting for me. And when I got in my car, they’d  bash their little blood-sucking proboscis against the windows, somehow hoping to get just a taste before I drove off. To the point that it became quite the standing joke among my friends and family.
     After all, I do puff up prodigiously.
     So with this summer being amazingly wet in Michigan, the mosquitoes are having a field day. Or a yard day. Or even an in-house day, if you aren’t careful.
     Usually it’s a problem early in the morning and then at dusk. That I can handle. It leaves me a good number of hours of normal living I can use to weed the flower beds, tend to the vegetable garden, go for walks, or just sit and read a book in the hammock. (Provided I don’t mind always reeking of citronella - or Bounce - or Skin So Soft, of course.) But not this year! Oh no! Not by a long shot!
     This year it’s been so rainy that another breed of mosquito appeared. I call it the zebra mosquito, but it’s really called the gallinipper. Yes, that’s its name. No pun intended. Although it does nip, and quite painfully so, it would appear. If you want to be niggling about it, the scientific name is Psorophora ciliata. And yes, it will leave you very psoro and phora long time. (Sorry, too good to pass up.)
     They’re bigger than normal mosquitoes (½" long body) and they have light stripes on their spindly legs, which is why I call them zebra mosquitoes. (Well, actually what I call them can’t be repeated here.) Unlike regular mosquitoes, they can bite right through cotton canvas clothing, and they do so all throughout the day, not merely from dusk to dawn. Although they’re apparently native to Michigan, they only reappear from time to time. And when they do, they live for a rollicking two to four months. Flying around and biting tirelessly all day and all night. To add insult to minor injury, their eggs can sit around for years, just waiting to hatch. After which it’s the survival of the fittest: you or them.
     The good news is that they feed on the larvae of smaller mosquitoes. The bad news is that it’s not a winning trade-off for Michiganders. Out of the frying pan, and into the fire.
     American friends visiting me here in Montmartre, or American tourists I show around France, are always surprised that there are no screens on windows or doors. They ask, "Don’t you have mosquitoes here?"
     "Not very many," I like to reply. "The French ate them all."
     As the French are known for eating snails and frog’s legs - among other strange delicacies - my Americans sometimes hesitate to realize it’s a joke. But the truth is that, outside of the Camargue region at least, there aren’t many mosquitoes... especially in Paris. What’s more, the ones that do exist fly far slower than their American cousins. Which may explain why there are less of them.
     Bottom line: I actually can enjoy the outdoors in general, and my little private garden in particular. Which is a blessing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Out and About: Exhibits - Madame Grès: La Couture à l’Oeuvre

I first became interested in haute couture thanks to Audrey Hepburn. In her movies, she always wore these wonderful dresses and I learned that they were usually designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s... all were by Givenchy. He was the first haute couture designer to break into costume design in film and Audrey Hepburn was his favorite model. Together they defined elegance to me.
     From there, I branched out to explore other fashion designers... Elsa Schiaparelli and the modernistic Cristobal Balenciaga came first. Because their names sounded exotic. Romantic.
     Then I discovered the simplicity of Christian Dior - the Little Black Dress - and Pierre Balmain, Mr. Sophistication. Plus a bit of the androgynous Coco Chanel, who came onto the scene well before feminism.
     Ultimately I began delving into the history of haute couture. And I found it fascinating. It was, at one and the same time, a breeding ground for outsider opposites: feminists yearning to breathe free in a man’s world and homosexual/metrosexuals wanting to liberate their feminine side. It seemed that if you had something different to say, you could only say it through fabric.
     I learned about the reign of Charles Frederick Worth at the end of the 19th century, the first to dictate fashion instead of just knocking off knock-offs of what the nobility was wearing. And then in the period just before World War I, Paul Poiret took the Orientalism out of art and draped it onto the female body... before it was widely accepted that Woman had one to drape. At more or less the same time as Poiret appeared the first female, Jeanne Paquin, who was also the first Parisian couturier to open multiple branches of her fashion house abroad. In the Roaring Twenties came Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou - both of whom still exist in the world of perfumes. Lanvin was all trimmings, embroidery and beaded decorations in light, clear, floral colors. Patou, who was never mainstream but always original and simple, worked with the Cubist influence that later led to Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. After the end of the war arose the timeless Madeleine Vionnet, who became one of the leading couturiers of the Thirties, basing her flowing gowns on the drapé of ancient Greek statues.
     And it all seemed to be happening in Paris.
The above is a prequel for why I went to see Madame Grès: La Couture à l’oeuvre, an exhibit at the Musée Bourdelle. It’s the first retrospective show ever of Madame Grès’s work: 80 of her dresses - ranging from 1934 to 1989 - plus 100 sketches and 50 original photos. All this is usually housed at the Musée de la Mode in the Palais Galliera. But as the Galliera is being renovated, these fashion masterpieces have been showcased in the studios where Antoine Bourdelle sculpted his massive statues and other works of art.
Similar to Vionnet in her use of the drapé and bias cut was Madame Grès (1903-1993), aka Alix Grès, formerly just Alix... and on her birth certificate Germaine Emilie Krebs, a much less suitable name for haute couture. It is said that Mme Grès didn’t know how to sew, but she knew how to cut. And by cutting the fabric diagonally - soft, gentle fabrics such as crepe and chiffon and especially jersey - the creations of Mme. Grès would cling attractively to the body while remaining totally comfortable. A woman’s body could have flaws and she’d still look like a goddess... plus taller. Natural, yet elegant and sophisticated - those words again! - they made women look glamorous and oh so womanly. Not quite naked, but as good as, if not better.
Huge volumes of fabric were needed for every single dress, especially the floor-length gowns. The pli Grès that she perfected (only one of three types of pleat that bears the name of its creator) is made during the construction of the dress, then sewn into place. With her technique, 3 meters of fabric become a mere 7 cm. You do the math.

While her sleek, fitted forms hug the body, they respect a woman’s feminine shape. Her sculpted yet flowing gowns - in which the body becomes an integral part of the dress - fit right in here at a sculptor’s studio. Her work is a far cry from the off-the-rack ready-to-wear which Grès abhorred. And it served as an inspiration for many of the couturiers who followed, including Yves Saint-Laurent.
     Among the famous women who chose the creations of Mme. Grès to make them even more beautiful were Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, Edith Piaf, Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor.
     But why hold this show at the studio of a sculptor, you may ask. Madame Grès said many times throughout her life: "I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone".
     So although the Musée Bourdelle is a bit off the beaten museum track, it’s well worth the Métro ticket. Think of it as a two-fer: sculpture plus haute couture. Which was the curator’s point, after all.

Extended until August 28

Musée Bourdelle
18 rue Antoine-Bourdelle;
Paris 15è
Métro: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe or Falguière
10 am to 6 pm. Closed Mondays
Entrance fee: € 3.50 and 7

More information at:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Paris Plage: The Sequel

Paris is a moveable feast, according to Hemingway. Yes, but not in August.
     In August, Paris has moved. Out of town. And for a month.
     When planning your Paris trip, do not, I repeat NOT, come in August. Not if you want to see the markets. Not if you want to buy a baguette at the neighborhood bakery. Not if you want to experience the bustle of Parisian life.
     But do come if you want to find a parking place, or make it across town by car in half an hour flat. Or to enjoy Paris Plage.
I posted an introduction to this event on July 21, Day One of Paris Plage - Paris Beach, in French.  Today is August 21st, the final day. After a cold and rainy first three weeks, the skies over Paris are now resolutely blue - in spite of a thunder-and-lightning-filled night storm that was short but far from sweet.
Saturday, the sun was unrelenting, in the high 80s, and any wisp of shade was a blessing. My daughter and I took a walk along the Seine... along with thousands of other people. Most of whom were dribbling melting ice cream down their chins, bought at a stand right on the river. On the street above the "beach", enterprising men were hawking chilled bottles of water - 1 € each.
     Some people elected to sunbathe outside of the sanded perimeter... which is what people do along the Seine throughout the summer anyway. But hard cobblestones are no match for sand when you want to be comfortable, so they were in the minority. Most sunbathers were stretched out between the ultimate romantic bridge, the delicate Pont des Arts, and the Pont de Sully at the far end of the Ile St. Louis, a distance of 2½ km (1½ mile).

While adults were basically just basting and roasting themselves, children could build sand castles, watch a clown twist balloons into shapes, play paddleboard, romp on a huge adventure playground or explore Disney’s replica of its famed Enchanted Castle. Of course there were buskers: a shapely blonde who belly-danced while playing with flaming swords and two young men giving a capoiera demonstration, among many others who came and went.

And in front of City Hall, the square had been turned into a football field where children were learning how to dribble footballs and shoot goals into huge inflated nets.

Sunday, the very last day, we decided to walk around the second site, the Bassin de la Villette, where I lived for six years. Back then it was already a favorite with young bikers, couples strolling, and groups of friends picnicking. But that didn’t hold a candle to this. All along the west side and halfway back down the east sand had been carted in and chaise longues and folding beach chairs plunked down - free, first come first served. But the accent here was on activities... much more so than along the Seine. There were games for young and old alike: pétanque (French bocce ball), pingpong, babyfoot tables (fussball, in English - even though that’s German!), a train ride, and the cherry on the cake: a wave machine for kids to surf!
Because of the heat, and because it probably isn’t wise to swim in this water - although some teenagers were jumping in at the far end - there was a huge mist machine to cool people down... mostly kids, but I saw a very chic-looking sixty-something woman all in white walking through it. And there was a multi-tap drinking water dispenser on either side of the canal, just to make sure no one keeled over from dehydration.
     Water was the highlight here. As there is very little barge traffic remaining on the canals that feed into either end of the Bassin, water activities were everywhere. With many Chinese in this neighborhood, someone had organized dragon boat races. And there was a sailboat to teach apprentice sailors how to navigate, being careful to miss all the rented pedal-boats, kayaks and canoes. But my daughter’s personal favorite was the large inflated hamster cages in florescent colors that twirled across the water as you walked inside them or floated with the waves and wind.
Tomorrow the sand and the palm trees will be carted away and the beach will all be a memory. September, jobs and classes are just around the corner. People are returning to Paris today and the streets are filled with cars unloading suitcases. There are traffic alerts across the country, televised maps showing the traffic jams to be avoided. Life will be back to normal soon.
     But it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Not April, But August in Paris

Having been on this planet for many years, I can remember when flying was exciting. Now you hope it  won't be exciting. Exciting could only be bad.
     But in spite of that, I persist in flying back and forth across the Atlantic several times a year. Usually not in the summer though. But because of a wedding in Paris, I had to change my routine, so here I am in Montmartre in August.
     And that’s a mixed bag.
     First of all, and on the good side, it takes far less time to get into the city from the airport. Because much of the Paris region is en vacances - on vacation. And that means no horde of commuters honking and tailgating their way to work. So my taxi glides along the highway, in spite of continuing work on the tunnel just north of the city limits. Amazing!

My apartment is waiting for me, with my daughter already in it. She’s here for the same wedding. But when I go to cross the building’s courtyard, I get a major surprise: the fig tree has keeled over! Its top branches are leaning against the building, but luckily half of its roots are trapped under the wall separating us from the building next door with the other half still in the ground. I’m frankly amazed at the number of figs that poor tree is trying valiantly to ripen, figs that are now at eye-level. To get to my door, I have to push aside the branches. My daughter tells me it was like that when she arrived four days ago. There are so few people "in residence" right now that no attempt has been made to stand the poor thing back up. Brave little fig tree, still hanging onto its leaves - or maybe that should be the other way around.

My daughter and I decide to go to lunch, it being lunchtime. So we head off, through the fig branches, to the couscous restaurant, which has become my traditional First Meal in France. Only to find someone else behind the bar, someone decidedly un-couscous-looking (read: "French"). The restaurant is still the restaurant, he reassures us, but the owner/cook is "en vacances" and won’t be back until the end of the month. So the kitchen is closed and we have to move on to our fall-back restaurant, the little Cambodian place around the corner, which is open... and delicious.
     Then it’s off to buy a Pariscope, a little magazine that comes out every Wednesday and tells you absolutely everything going on in Paris: theater, films, museum exhibits, concerts, conferences, sports... Sometime this past spring the big press/book shop on the Place des Abbesses closed, so now you have to go to a tiny shop in a side street to get your newspapers and magazines. Which we do. When we get there, we find it closed - en vacances - until the end of the month. So we head down to the Boulevard, where there’s always a kiosque journaux (a newstand) by the Métro, only to find that... of course, it’s closed! These guys never close! But this kiosque is resolutely and unmistakably en vacances. So is the one at the next Métro stop. In all my years in Paris, this I’ve never seen. And then, out of the corner of my jetlagged brain, I remember another kiosque, just a little further down, under the trees... which is open! Run by someone from southeast Asia, of course, who probably didn’t get the memo: It’s August! Close up, already!
     Yet another job that needs to be done is to replenish my garden. Many of the flowers died off from a surplus of rain plus a lack of warmth this summer. They must have thought autumn had come. The garden is sad and colorless without them. But no problem; there are five places to buy plants in my immediate area. Unfortunately, four of them turn out to be closed, en vacances, and the one that’s open doesn’t have what I want.

     Then on the way home, we do some food shopping. All the small specialized shops are closed, because they’re... (all together now) en vacances. Cheese shop, chocolate shop, the deli where I buy those delicious roasted chickens, the shop with the pâté specialties from the Massif Central... Luckily for us, the G-20 mini-supermarket is open, albeit with only one check-out counter running, and we rejoice at getting some essentials. My favorite fruit-and-veg shop is open, but I don’t recognize the man behind the counter; the regulars must be en vacances. And then, the oh-my-God moment. Of the four bread shops in the area, two are en vacances and one is closed because of electrical problems, leaving only one... the least tasty of the four.
     I’d go drown my sorrows, but I think my little wine shop with the bar in the back just might be en vacances too, because they’re closed on a day when they’re normally open and booming with mid-afternoon apéritif business.
      My head is starting to ache - along with my feet from all the walking - and I’d go get something for them at the pharmacie at the end of my street, but... (fill in the blank).
     Such are the tribulations of a Parisian in August. I think I’ll just go sit in the garden and read a book. After all, it’s a nice summer evening. And that doesn’t close in August.
Even in Paris.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Changing times

In an interview, French actor Jean Rochefort, who played Don Quixote in Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated "Lost in La Mancha", commented on how actors lose touch with the passion of their beginnings and end up accepting "comfort roles", the ones that pay the bills. "You give up your freedom with the first fridge. My friend Alain Cavalier, who sleeps on a mattress on the floor and leaves his camembert on the window ledge, is no less happy than the rest of us! Cavalier does only (the films) he likes. I often tell myself we should all have a camembert on the window ledge."
     Now I know that sounds either very profound or very absurd to most of you. But having moved to France in 1968, I know exactly what Rochefort means. He means that having less leaves you free to feel more.
     The camembert image catapulted me back more than 30 years to a tiny garret room under the roofs of Paris where the toilet was down the hall and I had no fridge but I did have a window ledge, and that’s where I kept my perishable food. In the winter it made a good fridge, but in the summer it was good only for keeping the odors out of the room! On your way home, you bought only what you ate that day, saving a bit of butter or a drop of milk for the next morning’s tea.
     There were flaws in this system, such as overflying pigeons or stray cats roaming the rooftops of Paris. But you had your secret weapon, the scrap of oilcloth (saran wrap hadn’t reached France yet), and you rolled your butter in it. And sometimes you borrowed a few ice cubes from a more affluent friend.
     Ice cubes, too, could be different. Often small plastic balls with water inside so they were reusable. (Disposable wasn’t a European concept then; World War II still loomed in the memory of those who manufactured things). As a post-war Baby Booming American, the closest I had come to the concept of the plastic ice cube was the condom, so I hated finding one floating in my drink.
     Flying to Paris in the late Sixties and early Seventies was like time travel. You boarded the plane in America in 1968 and landed twenty years back in time. Many Parisians still frequented the "bains douches", public bathhouses descended from the Roman baths... very clean, where whole families arrived with towels and soap and waited their turn for a private shower stall.
     And then there were telephones. Or the lack thereof. When I asked for one, I was told there was a two-year waiting list in my neighborhood. So for urgent but mundane issues such as meeting for dinner, people sent "pneumatiques", little blue notes, like telegrams. They were delivered through pneumatic tubes (like those at the bank drive-thru window) that ran from post office to post office through the tunnels of the sewer system. When they reached the nearest post office to their destination, they were delivered by some young man on a bicycle, an entry-level job on the way up the civil service ladder.
     For entrepreneurs, one good way to strike it rich was to rent a shop and buy washing machines and open a laundrette. Every machine was taken every waking moment because no one had a washer at home. Kitchens were too small, and bathrooms were just converted closets. So you brought a good book and sat down and waited.
     If you had a TV, or knew someone who did, or if you went down to the café in the evening, you could watch the one show playing on the one channel. It was often an Ed Sullivan-like entertainment show, or a stage play filmed at the theater before a live audience. Broadcasting started around 7 pm with a children’s show and the news, then the prime-time show. There was no morning television, just a bit of news at noon. Between the two, there was a clock with a second hand that ticked off the minutes until showtime. And there was a little toy train that ran across a toy countryside to let you know showtime was coming closer.

Now, every French home has a refrigerator and a phone plus a cell phone, and a washer (and sometimes even a dryer), and at least one car and one TV. There are still just six public channels, but if you have cable or a satellite dish, you can plug into the universe with its plethora of channels in numerous languages for every imaginable taste. The bains-douches is no more, disappeared along with the pneumatique, and there are precious few laundrettes.
     Times were simpler then, a bit less comfortable perhaps, but people talked more to each other. They went out more. They met over a coffee or a meal to discuss the day’s happenings and the road their lives were taking.
     France has caught up with America. I board the plane in 2011 and get off still in 2011. It’s familiar, globalized, but somehow much of the poetry is gone. And the window ledges are bare.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Stuff that Dreams Are Made of: Concorde

Today will see the lift-off of an experimental hypersonic "aircraft" (don't know what else to call it) that will fly at 20 times the speed of sound and reach anywhere in the world within an hour.
     Those were the headlines this morning, August 10, 2011.
     And that piece of news sent me hurtling at many times the speed of light back in time. Back to my one and only flight on the Concorde supersonic jet.

It was Friday May 30th, 2003 (even though my Flight Certificate says May 28th for some reason). Air France flight AF002 from Paris Charles-de-Gaulle to JFK in New York. I had always dreamed of flying on this miracle aircraft, ever since it took off on its first test flight on March 2, 1969. But I never had the money.
     Not that I really could spare the cash in 2003 either, but it was the last chance to see my dream become reality. So I ate pasta night after night after night for half a year, recycled my old clothes, took mass transit instead of taxis, forsake the movies... I cut corners wherever I could and paid the rest on my credit card for months. All because I wanted to fly faster than the sun.
     On the momentous day, I was out at CDG Airport long before the appointed hour. Which wasn’t a problem because the Concorde had its own special waiting room. As it was morning, they were serving scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, still warm croissants, freshly-squeezed juice and of course champagne. As much champagne as you wanted.
     I sat down in the leather easy chair with a glass of bubbly in my hand. An elderly French lady with impeccable hair looked over at me. "Do you understand this paperwork?" she asked. She was talking about the customs form for entry into the U.S. "Je ne parle pas anglais" (I don’t speak English.) So I helped her fill it in. Over another glass of champagne, she told me her story. Her husband had been a test pilot. He had wanted to fly in the Concorde. But he’d crashed in one of those test planes (not a Concorde) and so now she was taking it for him. And then flying right back to Paris on AF001 the next day, the very last flight ever on the Paris-NYC route.
     Another of the 100 passengers was an unlikely young hippy-looking man with a full beard. He stood out from the businessmen and the seniors who made up the bulk of the passenger list. We ended up talking. He was a carpenter from the pine-covered hills of the Vosges region in the east of France. Like me, the Concorde had been his dream, and like me he’d never had the money to take it. This was the last chance for both of us.
     As we sat at the window and watched the slender silver aircraft being prepared, more and more people appeared around it on the tarmac. All of them were wearing Air France uniforms, whether flight or ground crew. And they just kept arriving. There was much nose-blowing and eye-dabbing among both men and women. This was no ordinary flight for them either.
     Finally we were allowed to board. An elegant, attractive flight crew welcomed us into an interior unlike that of any other plane I’d ever been in. A very narrow aisle - for which, I learned, a special drinks and food cart had had to be designed. No overhead bins, so you could stand up from your seat without crouching. And what seats they were. Two on either side of the aisle. Plush, with wide armrests. No need to be mashed into your neighbor’s lap - who ended up being the impeccably-coiffed French lady. And all the legroom a shortish-but-leggy person like me could ever wish for.
     When it was time to pull away from the terminal, past the honor guard of probably all the Air France staff in all seven of CDG’s terminals, two airport fire engines moved into position on either side of the Concorde. They turned on their hoses and we passed under a watery arch out to the runway. There was no waiting in line for take-off. This was the flight of the day for the control tower. The last time they sent this beautiful silver bird soaring, and they were not going to have it waddle off in fits and starts. The captain was probably in no mood either. It was about one o’clock, I think.
     When we arrived in New York, it was only 10 am. We arrived before we left. At least that’s the way I like to think of it. We flew faster than the sun. and the airport fire trucks were there to meet us with a water cannon salute in the colors of the French flag: bleu, blanc, rouge - blue, white and red..
     For the 3 hours and 45 minutes (more or less) in between those two moments, I sat with my nose pressed to the window, occasionally glancing up at the digital speedometer, which was proudly hovering at Mach 2.04 for most of the flight. (We had left a bit late and the captain was determined to arrive on schedule this one last time.) Twice the speed of sound... and a bit more to boast about. I ate a lunch of lobster and more champagne at 1,350 mph. And so high up - about 10 miles high - that I could see a bit of the curvature of the Earth far below.
     As I always ask questions, I learned that of the 9 crew members, most were retiring, even early. Captain Chatelain (age 57) said he couldn’t bear to fly anything else after the Concorde because it was the "Formula 1" of the air. The co-pilot and navigator were too young, so they would be forced to downgrade. The same was true of the flight attendants; half were retiring and half were having to get used to slumming. One of them had a tear in his eye when he said, "I just couldn’t bring myself to fly on the ordinary planes... not after this."
     In New York, I had a connecting flight to Detroit, and when I checked in at La Guardia a good hour of transit later, I was still smiling. The woman behind the counter told me I looked very happy, and when I told her why - that the big sappy smile was from flying on Concorde - all her colleagues came over and started peppering me with questions. They, too, were sad to see it leave the skies.

Why were Concorde’s wings clipped? On a day-to-day basis, the SST broke even. But there were some big expenditures from time to time, and that put it into the red. And as the planes were about 30 years old, large investments were going to be needed in the on-board systems. Plus after 9/11, there was a big drop in passengers for a few years, and that hurt financially.
     And then there was the accident.
     To be fair, it was the only one in 30 years of flying. Not so bad a record, to say the least. And it really wasn’t the plane’s fault. The investigation showed that a piece of metal strip had fallen off the Continental aircraft that had taken off right in front of it. When the Concorde’s wheel ran over it, the tire blew and the strip was propelled up and through the wing, severing the fuel line. Concorde took off already on fire. But in spite of the fact that two of the engines were out, the pilot managed to steer it to a place where it would do the least damage... no mean feat in that crowded, highly-populated part of the Paris suburbs. The crash killed all 109 people on board - crew and passengers - as well as four people in a local hotel on the ground.

I’m sitting here crying silently as I write this. Concorde was a dream. A dream that lasted 30 years. A dream that should still be flying. And now it’s gone.
     The plan from the very beginning was that these jets were supposed to be only a prototype for a bigger, faster, quieter, less fuel-consuming model, the Concorde "B" model. It was never put into production, but those plans were first discussed only four months after the start of scheduled services in 1976. It could have been ready by the Spring of 1982. With it, the airlines would have seen improved performance: lower direct operating costs, a greater operating range, reduction of environmental effects, and yet crew training and maintenance procedures would have remained the same. The noise level at takeoff and landing - often maligned but actually the same as a B-707 or DC-8 - would have been improved by high-bypass jet engines that could satisfy the new international noise rules. The greater operating range would have meant U.S.-Japan links in two sectors and Europe-Australia in three. And a reduction in fuel consumption - one-third of the direct operating costs - would have made it even more marketable and allowed the airlines to reduce the ticket price. That was partially because the plane would be lighter, with control surfaces, service doors and the like made out of carbon fiber. The website dedicated to Concorde put it this way: "If the B model had been built, the range of Concorde today could have been pushing 5000 miles, as well as benefitting from the increased subsonic performance and reduced noise emissions."
     And if that had happened, yours truly would have another sappy smile on her face... all the way across the Atlantic.
An experimental vehicle that can fly at 20 times the speed of sound and reach anywhere in the world within an hour is due to lift off today.