Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tickets sold out for Governor's Chamber Breakfast

It's an annual event, that's apparently more popular then ever.

Governor Jodi Rell is the anticipated feature guest at the monthly Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Dec 8.. Tickets are gone.

Every December, the governor appears to deliver a special year end speech, sometimes in the form of a Christmas poem.

The year the speech will likely be more Scrooge and Grinch, and less the endless generousity of Father Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday, Holiday on Main

As is tradition, we arrived back from Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia (where my sons encountered Santa at Macy's, and on Broad Street), we arrived back in Middletown to head to Main Street where they could jawbone with Santa one more time (one of my son's want to be quite sure that Santa knows he wants the book, Walter the Farting Dog, under the tree).

The holiday events were in full swing, with Santa, Curious George and the Wesleyan Cardinal greeting children who were in queue for a "hayride" down Main Street.

At the Inn at Middletown, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano found himself upstaged by Curious George himself. While the children squealed in delight for the michievous monkey, hugging, mugging for pictures, and high-fiving, Giuliano was ignored, and left pondering his role at storyteller - a task he handled ably.

In a story about Curious George at Christmas, the mayor ad libbed: "I'm sure we'll have plenty of snow before Christmas, and we'll enjoy it, as long as all the snow falls between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekdays." Every concientious mayor worries about overtime.

In the Creative Juice holiday stores, local artists and craftspeople sold their one-of-a-kind wares in the space formerly occupied by It's Only Natural grocery.

Talk on Global Warming and Energy Policy

The Jonah Center for Earth and Art invites the public to a talk by Roger Smith, Coordinator of the Connecticut Climate Coalition and Campaign Director of Clean Water Action. Roger will tell us what energy- and climate-related legislation is coming up in the January 2009 session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Roger Smith will speak on Tuesday, December 9, at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Room at First Church of Christ, UCC, 190 Court Street, in Middletown.

In what will certainly be another tough budget year, citizen action will be critical in order to pass progressive energy-related legislation to improve our quality of life and slow global warming.

The Jonah Center for Earth and Art ( is a Middletown nonprofit organization that promotes environmental education and advocacy, renewable energy, and opportunities for outdoor recreation and environmental art.

For more information, contact John Hall at (860) 346-6657 ext. 13.

"Grab Your Coat and Get your Hat..."

The Holiday season is upon us and the ups-and-downs of the economy has many people on edge. This is a good time to ignore the seasonal craziness and check out some of the arts events for this coming week (and it's a busy one.)

December begins with the glorious sounds of The Ebony Singers, Wesleyan's gospel group, in concert at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall on Monday the 1st. Led by Pastor Marichal Monts (a Wesleyan graduate), the ensemble's annual concert is one of the hottest on campus. The concert hall will shake with the spirit and, trust me, you don't have to believe to be moved by this music. Call the Box Office at 860-685-3355 to find out if there are any tickets available

The following night at Crowell, Peter Hadley leads the Wesleyan Wind Ensemble, better known as WesWinds, in its annual Fall semester concert. Expect an eclectic program that runs the gamut from traditional to the unexpected. This event is free and open to the public.

Also on Tuesday evening, Trevor Davis continues the increasingly popular "Jazz at the Public" from 5- 9 p.m. in Public, 337 Main Street. He brings in the best musicians from around the area and the results are quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, Professor Anthony Braxton leads his Large Ensemble (comprised of Wesleyan students and invited guests) through the creative maze of his original music. It's been quite a year for Braxton with Stamford's Mosaic Records reissuing his 1970s music for Arista to great acclaim. The music you'll hear in this concert will display the composer's impressive blend of musical influences. The concert takes place at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall and it's also free and open to the public.

The first of 2 local productions of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "The Threepenny Opera" opens on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel and the Patricelli '92 Theater at Wesleyan. Considered by many as one of the great musicals of the 20th Century, the show has great music and biting social commentary and never seems dated. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Wednesday is the "preview" so ticket prices are lower - call the University Box Office at the number above for more information.

The following night (Thursday, which deserves and will get a post to itself), the Teen Repertory Company of Oddfellows Playhouse begins its 3-weekend run of "Threepenny..." at 7 p.m. on the OP Mainstage at 128 Washington Street. The "pay-what-you-can-preview" not only offers audiences the opportunity to see a great show but also the ability to help area families in need by bringing a non-perishable food item to be donated to the Amazing Grace Food Pantry. Subsequent performances (12/5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20) begin at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, call 860-347-6143.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"A McDonald's Christmas?"

Many Middletown residents are freshly back from the tree lighting ceremony on Main Street tonight. T'was a festive occasion, what with a beautifully lit conifer, Middletown High's band playing in the cold night air, and city streets that were very, very full.

The festivities started at Middletown's Chamber of Commerce, next door to the Church of the Holy Trinity. High School students milled about, adorned both with flashing Christmas tree lights and various woodwinds. There were also warmly clad men and women huddling behind card tables. Some sold hot chocolate to parents; others gathered canned goods for the Holy Trinity's food shelter.

At 5:30 sharp, the band set off from the Chamber, marching north past Middletown’s two RiteAids and into the little park on the east side of Main Street. Five hundred or more people stood there, shivering and waiting around a darkened tree. After a short program by a school chorus (I was far away and really couldn't hear), the crowd was treated to a very small speech by Middletown mayor Sebastian N. Guiliano. While the mayor addressed the crowd, a very tall Ronald McDonald gesticulated wildly at children closest to the stage, potential customers one and all.

And suddenly there was light and a lighted tree. As this huge symbol of Christmas popped to life – 1/8th less electricity compared to last year – the band's holiday tunes once again filled the air. Almost immediately, the mayor and Ronald left the stage, parting the crowd and moving to the head of the band, which had done an about face and was pointing back toward the Chamber. The phalanx-like throng of instrument-clad students then proceeded to march back down Main Street, led by the mayor and, yes, Ronald McDonald. When the group reached the Chamber, Mayor Giuliano and Ronald were greeted by Santa Claus and a baseball mascot whose name was, I believe, “Rocky.” Ronald then took over the evening’s program, inciting the admittedly excellent band to keep playing and repeatedly complimenting both the band leader – a man named Gaylord – and the “best mayor in Connecticut.”

As I watched this scene, a few cynical people behind me were horrified that “McDonald’s has bought their way into this moment of civic and holiday pride.” My daughter and I, however, enjoyed this curious moment of Middletown syncretism, where a corporate clown and the spirit of Christmas come together to the sound of saxophones and a tight drum corps.

Governor announces open space grants for Middletown

City Planner Bill Warner notified the Eye that Governor Rell has assigned $3 million dollars of a statewide $10 million open space grant fund to Middletown. Here is the governor's press release:

Governor M. Jodi Rell today announced $10.2 million in grants to help purchase or preserve approximately 2,440 acres of open space in 29 cities and towns across Connecticut. Money for the grants comes from previously approved bond funds.

"Preserving open space is vital to protecting the natural charm and scenic beauty of our state and is a key building block in my 'Responsible Growth' program," Governor Rell said. "We are striking the right balance between economic growth and development while protecting our state's irreplaceable land and natural resources.

"One of Connecticut's greatest strengths - and its greatest attractions to employers and employees alike - is its multitude of places for people to explore and enjoy," the Governor said. "From the beach to the back country, from rustic farm country to rolling hills and forests, our small state has it all, and all within a few minutes' drive. While I am dedicated to keeping and growing every job possible in our state, we cannot do that at the expense of one of the state's greatest assets. These open space grants help us to protect that asset for our own use and for generations to come."

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy said, "The properties in each town are identified by those who know best - local people who wish to preserve land that is highly valued in their community. Preserving these properties will help preserve the character and beauty of Connecticut's communities."

The 33 projects funded under this year's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, include:

Sponsor: City of Middletown
Acres: 46.5
Title: Brock Farm Easement
Town: Middletown
Grant: $500,000
Contains 44% prime farmland soils and 33% farmland soils of statewide importance. Long Hill Brook flows through the property along the western boundary, providing a habitat for various aquatic species and is a water source for the watershed. Preservation of this farm will further preserve and protect a farmland which has been farmed for generations. The predominant crop is corn and produces one of the highest yields per acre in the state. Public access will be a walking trail alongside Route 17 & Long Hill Brook.

Sponsor: City of Middletown
Acres: 130.92
Title: Hubbard Property
Town: Middletown
Grant: $500,000
A predominantly forested parcel, this property includes Chestnut Mountain with panoramic views from the highest geological feature in the Sumner Brook Valley/South Farms section of the City. The pinnacle of the mountain is an old orchard which is fairly clear and level, providing additional wildlife habitat benefits in its meadow. Daniels Farm (another OSWA project) is across the street. An old farm road and small trails traverse the property and lead to the summit that will be cleared for hiking, biking, cross country skiing and nature viewing.

Creative Juice Holiday Shop

CREATIVE JUICE HOLIDAY SHOPPE at Main Street Market (386 Main St), where members of the Arts & Creative Industries Council of Middlesex Chamber will be selling their wares, including fine arts & crafts, photography, mosaics, musical instruments, beaded jewelry, caricatures, hand-knitted items and much more! Those participating include:

Judyth Crystal Arts, Westmont Mosaics, Waring Music,
Gr. Midd. Concert Assoc., Kindermusik, Middletunes,
Ray Ross Photography, Dougal Art / Caricatures, Karen’s Kreations, Pamela Roose / Hand Knit Items, Curtis Studio of Photography, Friedlander 2

The hours of the Holiday Shoppe are the same as Holiday On Main Street:

Friday, November 28 - 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 29 - 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 6 - 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 13 - 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, December 20 - 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For complete information about Holiday On Main Street, go to

Thursday, November 27, 2008


With the beginning of a new and brutal recession come new behaviors. If there is a bright side to tough times, it is clear that many people seem to be spontaneously thinking about those who will suffer disproportionally during this economic downturn. I am seeing this at work, where pleas for the United Way are more forceful and heartfelt than in years past. I am also encountering this phenomenon in unexpected circumstances. As “payment” for a recent martial arts training session organized by a friend here in Middletown, participants were told to bring canned food, which was subsequently delivered to a local shelter.

This is seemingly a time both for generosity and for “the new austerity.” And this makes sense for many reasons. My parents, who are retired, are feeling the pinch because they rely (as do many other people in their 70s and 80s) on IRA accounts that now generate more anguish than income. Where I work in Middletown, salaries have been frozen to make up for budget shortfalls. But comparatively speaking, we are lucky. Other friends and family members, who work in the arts or the financial industry, are more concerned about losing their job.

To consume (which is to say, to be a consumer) during such tough economic times often seems in bad taste. The scandal of the material becomes the most acute during the holiday season, of course. In our family, we have long felt like Christmas has gotten out of hand, particularly during “boom times.” Ten years ago, we abandoned the “every person gets a present” way of celebrating the holiday; instead, everybody gets a “person” to whom s/he gives a present. The booty under the tree has been cut down by ¾ and nobody complained, not even my two kids.

But this year, members of my extended family are discussing doing away with all presents. As I have suggested above, this is clearly an esthetic, moral, and financial decision. The “green” and “Zen” side of my mind is actually quite receptive to this idea. No presents means a beautiful emptiness: no plastic packages strewn about the floor, no crumpled wrapping paper, no mess, etc. At the same time, the portion of my brain that is more pragmatic and attached to my Middletown zipcode realizes that this is precisely the time when we should actually buy a few things.

What concerns me, in particular, is that people (like me) who are probably the most willing to give up holiday giving are also the most likely to frequent local shops. National behemoths like Wal-mart will weather this storm, perhaps quite nicely, but will local bookstores and small businesses? Going against much of what I have preached over the years, I plan to argue against a presentless Christmas. When negotiations commence today (around the turkey) I will make a forceful case for a locally purchased holiday.

Busy agenda for Finance and Government Operations Commission

As Jen Alexander noted in a blogpost last month, this under-publicized city committee is a hotbed of action for city business.

This month's meeting did not disappoint. It seems that this nuts-and-bolts committee concentrates on forward motion, and disposes of the usual posturing, pontificating and political maneuvering.

With a very full agenda, that Chairman Ron Klattenberg said "are all essential items that we need to decide upon for action at the December and January Council meetings."

Klattenberg urged brevity.

While the committee hopscotched through the agenda to accomodate the pre-Thanksgiving schedules of attendees, some items drew cursory attention, and others engendered hot debate.

Middletown High School Bid Waiver

Much of the heat was generated in statements given by city purchasing agent Phyllis Prokop who complained bitterly about being asked to approve emergency waivers for purchases at the new high school.

When asked by Chairman Klattenberg if this request for waiver was unusual, or part of a trend, Prokop said she was "seeing a definite trend of 'it's easier to ask forgiveness than for permission," and I will not put my name on anything that has not gone through the proper process. It's becoming pervasive throughout the system."

Committee member, and Councilman Joe Bibisi encouraged his colleagues to approve payment of some of the bills, which had been outstanding for months. In the case of Amodio movers, who provided moving services in July, an outstanding $57,000 invoice had not been paid, and Amodio was facing bankruptcy proceedings.

Because of the outstanding bills, the waivers were grudgingly passed, with much encouragement to improve the process.

Councilman David Bauer, who was sitting next to me, and at the meeting as a resident, leaned over, and in disgust said, "There's no accountability in the system. Does anyone know which employees are committing the city to goods and services provided in good faith? There's a lot of cowboy action out there, and no one takes responsibility."

City Vehicle and On Call Stipends

Vigorous debate flared again in the discussion of compensation for "subject to call" stipends and city vehicle use.

Mayor Sebastian Guiliano explained that he had issued an order to dispose of the city's ten worst vehicles. He explained that the purchase of any new city vehicle set up a "domino effect" in which employees entitled to vehicles all "traded up" in a cascading effect in which employees positioned for a better vehicle.

"You'd expect that one of those vehicles would eventually fall off the cliff," Giuliano explained. "Instead, someone who never had a car before suddenly has one, and the fleet census increases."

"You're the one who has the power to make the policies," Chairman Klattenberg noted.

Giuliano explained that his order to rid the city of ten cars caused enormous controversy, and for the time being, his order has been rescinded.

Senior Citizen Tax Relief Program and Senior Citizen Community Service Program

Even these seemingly non-controversial programs created debate over how volunteer employees would be insured.

These discussions were referred to committee.
LOCIP and the Westfield Fire Roof Replacement and Wesleyan Funding of Green Street

LOCIP is the Local Capital Improvement Program, funded by the state. With $123,000 left in the fund until March, and the very real prospect that funding will be cut next year, the committee debated the best way to allocate the funds.

A parking, and lighting improvement program for the Green Street Arts Center was passed, while funding for the Westfield Fire Roof Replacement was deferred because construction was not planned until May of 2009.

In the final bit of business, the committee deferred discussion of a proposal for Liberty Park (the Bysiewicz property) for the Economic Development Committee which followed in the same room.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bysiewicz property deal proposed

In a Thanksgiving holiday eve meeting, Middletown's Economic Development Committee entertained a proposal from City Planner Bill Warner to encourage development on Liberty Park, known in town, and to the Army Corps of Engineers, as the Bysiewicz property.

The property, on Middle Street, is one of three the Army Corps of Engineers is still considering for development for an Army Reserve Training Center. The city would prefer the selection of Cucia Park for the Training Center.

Warner's proposal comes after learning that a Berlin manufacturer would like to purchase three or four parcels on the Bysiewicz property to expand a manufacturing plant which would employ more than 100(with expansion in the next three years), and bring annual taxes of approximately $123,ooo for the proposed 70,000 square foot building.

The problem is that the manufacturer has been spooked by the Army's interest in the land, and is afraid to proceed without assurances that the deal will go through. The developer is unsure of taking the "bird in the hand" of three developed lots, when the Army holds out the promise to buy all twelve lots.

After negotiations with the landowner, Warner has proposed three alternate deals to encourage the manufacturer and developer, and to assure that the Army would not, and could not take the property for it's Army Reserve Training Center. Under the terms of the primary deal, Bysiewicz would inform the Army that he was no longer interested in selling the property (thereby ending the Army deal for the property). In return, if the Army purchases Cucia park, the city would provide tax abatements for all the Bysiewicz property, with the added incentive that the city would buy an additional development lot at fair market value, sweetening the deal for Bysiewicz.

According to Attorney Michael Dowley, representing Bysiewicz, "This agreement would not be completed unless the city sells Cucia Park to the Army. To me it's something that really works for the city."

Gerry Daley, chair of the Economic Development Committee, the deal "precludes the possibility that the Army will take this parcel, that the city will lose the opportunity to develop it and collect taxes, and it immediately encourages this commercial development."

Asked how this proposed deal might be greeted in Westfield, Westfield Residents Association President, Arline Rich said, "I like the proposal. It closes out the Army on the Bysiewicz property, and emphasizes the sale of Cucia Park."

Warner also proposed two other scenarios which proposes that the city buys lots from Bysiewicz, if the development deal with the manufacturer fails to gel on a timely basis, to prevent the Army from occupying prime industrial property, and preventing taxable development.

Committee member David Bauer, who supports the plan, asked for specific details, such as value of the proposed property, warning that a deal which is too open-ended might commit the city to expenditures it can't afford. Daley suggested that language in the proposal which hinge on the purchase of Cucia park by the Army, provide the necessary escape clause.

Officials declined to identify the potential manufacturer from Berlin.

The committee voted unanimously to send the proposal to the Common Council for consideration at its December meeting next Monday.

Holiday on Main Street Kicks Off on Friday

The annual celebration of the holiday season begins Friday on Middletown's Main Street with hayrides, train rides for the kids, holiday music, an simultaneous appearance by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and Santa Claus (so you know, for sure, that Seb is not Santa), and a tree lighting on both the North and South end of Main Street.

A listing of events is available on the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce website.

From the Chamber's press release:

The first tree-lighting will take place on the South Green at 5:45 p.m. and will be led by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and Santa. In the effort to go "green," the city will use over 10,000 energy-saving LED bulbs on the South Green tree! Also on hand on the South Green will be the Middletown High School band and chorus along with the Woodrow Wilson Middle School chorus. Last year, over 1,000 people were able to enjoy the holiday sights and sounds on the South Green and more are expected this year.

Also, there will be a parade up Main Street to the Chamber where the tree on the roof will be lit at 6:15 p.m. for the second tree-lighting of the night followed by free pictures with Santa.

After the second lighting at the Chamber, there will be festivities in front of Eli Cannon's Tap Room at 695 Main Street for the third and final tree-lighting of the night, at 8:15 p.m. Here, Santa will arrive to light the tree and there will be elves on hand to provide all children with complementary popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and other treats.

Each tree-lighting is free of charge to the public.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Army site possibility under consideration for industrial development

The agenda for tomorrow's special meeting of the Economic Development Committee lists one item, a Tax & Business Incentive Program Application for Liberty Commerce Park, LLC. Liberty Commerce Park is a 12-lot industrial subdivision at the intersection of Middle Street and Smith Street, owned by Thaddeus Bysiewicz. This property is also on the agenda for the Finance and Government Operations Commission meeting (5:30PM, Room 208). Liberty Commerce Park is one of 3 sites under consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Armed Forces Reserve Center they want to build in Middletown. In discussions about the Army base, this land is known as the Bysiewicz Industrial Subdivision.

Bill Warner, Planning Director, told me that a significant manufacturer would like to purchase three of the lots to construct a 70,000 square foot facility, which would employ 100 people. Such a use of the land would generate significant tax revenue to the city, unlike the Army Facility, which would generate none. Such financial considerations were behind the resolution passed by Common Council on October 6, which opposed the placement of the Army Facility on the Bysiewicz land. Although it is not clear that the Army would choose the Bysiewicz land instead of Cucia Park or the Boardman Lane property, by selling three lots now, Mr. Bysiewicz would eliminate the possibility of selling all of his land to the army. The remaining 9 lots would be insufficient for the army's use. The Finance and Government Operations Commission and the Economic Development Committee will consider possible tax abatements to encourage a sale by Bysiewicz to the manufacturer.

Gallery of Recycled Art

The voting is underway. Here is a selection of entries. Many others await your viewing at City Hall.

Anyone can vote, but please vote only once. Voting will start Tuesday, November 25 and run through Wednesday, December 3.

Winners will be announced on Friday, December 5! The public can come in any day City Hall is open and vote from 8:30 am. – 8:00 p.m. City Hall is closed Thursday Nov. 27 & 28th. Sculptures are on display in public areas of the building.

The Recycled Sculpture Contest is held annually in celebration of America Recycles Day. This year the theme of the contest was “Green Country, Green Planet”. 31 entries were submitted.

Connecticut Turkeys

Young turkey poults in Middetown. July, 2008

Turkey meat is so common today, whether it is sliced in a Neon Deli sandwich, or roasted and served with cranberry sauce on our family holiday table, it is hard to imagine it coming from an exotic animal. Wild Turkeys are native to northern New Mexico and the Eastern United States, and were hunted by native Americans as early as 1000 years ago. The Aztecs relied on them as a major source of meat and eggs, and are presumed to have been the first to domesticate them. Turkeys were introduced to England by William Strickland, who sailed as one of Sebastian Cabot's lieutenants to the New World almost 500 years ago. As was common during that time, the exotic bird was given the name of the exotic Ottoman Empire. In part this may have been confusion with the "turkish cock", which is a guinea fowl whose name also derived from the country which imported them from central Asia to Europe. Henry VIII was said to have enjoyed turkey for Christmas.

Almost 300 million turkeys are produced each year in the United States, and the average American consumes 17.5 pounds of turkey. Assuming that Connecticut residents eat at the same rate as the rest of the country, this means that about 3.5 million turkeys are consumed each year in Connecticut. Approximately 700,000 of our state's consumption will be on Thanksgiving Day, and another 300,000 for Christmas Dinner. Ironically, despite being native to New England, easy to raise (males reach 30 pounds in 18 weeks, consuming grain, produce, and bugs), and nearly ubiquitous on the plates and sandwiches of people of all parts of our state, a Connecticut turkey is nearly as exotic to Middletown residents as the first turkeys were to the King of England. The vast majority of these million holiday birds are raised on enormous poultry farms in North Carolina, Minnesota, Arkansas, and a few other states. 5,000 turkeys are raised in Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. Thus, only 1 out of 200 Turkeys this holiday season will be locally produced.

Fortunately, locally produced turkeys are available. Although there are no farms raising turkeys for sale in Middlesex County, a number of farms are within 30 minutes drive of Middletown. George Purtill, of Old Maids Farms in South Glastonbury (1099 Tryon Street; 860-633-6601), told me that although he has sold all of his medium and large turkeys, he still has a few small hens available. Middletown resident Sally Ross, who has gotten birds from Purtill in previous years, says that the birds are raised outside, enjoying a very large fenced area. Purtill feeds them an organically raised diet of grain and vegetables, this time of year the remaining birds are fed winter squash and pumpkins. Ross appreciates being able to meet the farmer and his animals, seeing firsthand the dedication of a local farmer, and the respect and decent life he gives to the animals he raises.

A listing of farms selling Connecticut meat products is available through the Department of Agriculture. Although many of the farms are sold out of turkeys for this year, if you are in the market for a locally produced turkey this year, call around. Prices for a local turkey from a small farm range from $2.79 a pound up to $7.50 a pound, depending on whether it is organically raised and whether it is an heirloom or a standard breed. All the farmers I spoke to said that in general it is best to reserve a farm-raised turkey by Halloween at the latest.

A future Thanksgiving feast

Monday, November 24, 2008

One man's trash

The City of Middletown Recycling Division is hosting its Annual Children’s Recycled Sculpture Contest and sculptures are on display in the lobby and second floor of City Hall. Votes are being taken from the public for the People’s Choice Award. Come see the sculptures and vote for your favorite!!

Anyone can vote, but please vote only once. Voting will start Tuesday, November 25 and run through Wednesday, December 3.

Winners will be announced on Friday, December 5! The public can come in any day City Hall is open and vote from 8:30 am. – 8:00 p.m.

City Hall is closed Thursday Nov. 27 & 28th. Sculptures are on display in public areas of the building.

The Recycled Sculpture Contest is held annually in celebration of America Recycles Day. This year the theme of the contest was “Green Country, Green Planet”. 31 entries were submitted.

H/T Justin LaSelva

Online Only's

Last week, The New York Times ran a story on the growth of reporter-written websites that cover local news -- you can read it here.

The New Haven Independent had a nice mention, on the cutting edge of the trend, along with online "newspapers" from Seattle, Minneapolis and St. Louis.

I'm always curious about the business model of these projects. [Full disclosure: in case you didn't know, the EYE is an entirely volunteer-written blog at this point.] When your website relies on shoe-leather reporting by paid professionals, there must be a sufficient income stream to keep the thing going, even though, according the story, running an "online only" news source has half of the costs of an ink and paper version. The websites named in the article run the spectrum from advertiser and subscriber-supported for-profit businesses to grant-funded non-profit organizations (more like a public radio channel). In the article, Buzz Woolley, one of the founders of, says he has become convinced that the nonprofit model has the best chance of survival.

“Information is now a public service as much as it’s a commodity,” he said. “It should be thought of the same way as education, health care. It’s one of the things you need to operate a civil society, and the market isn’t doing it very well.”

Food for thought.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Farming in the city

(painting by David Schulz)


I was at a brainstorming session, yesterday, with members of the ArtFarm advisory board. It was a great meeting, with a diverse cross section of opinionated people with creative and practical ideas.

The mayor was at the meeting, as was fellow Eye correspondent, fishmuscle. Of course, one of the topics was real estate, and the need for ArtFarm to find a permanent home. In addition, fishmuscle, and I were talking about urban chickens, harvest and hobby farms.

The mayor mentioned that the city has purchased the development rights to a number of farms in order to keep them from real estate development, and to preserve them as farms, or open space. It seems like a partnership between the city and ArtFarm could be mutually beneficial, and something our city planners and economic development proponents might see as a boon to Middletown, and a step in the right direction toward a green future.

But it also got me thinking about the economic hard times we are now experiencing, and will continue to experience for the next several month (if we're lucky enough that the recession doesn't last for years).

With all this Middletown farmland standing fallow, I'm beginning to think that it might be a good idea to pursue a program whereby some of this land is brought back into production for the common good. Towns like West Hartford, with a lot less available agricultural land, have a great program of community gardens. That could be one approach. But maybe Middletown ought to be more ambitious.

Imagine a town farm operation which would become a model farm - raising locally grown produce using green and organic principles, and maybe animals, which could then be sold commercially (such locally-produced agricultural products are in high demand), or be used to feed those who will need help in the next couple of years. It would take some money, of course, but it could be commercially viable, create some jobs, and certainly be a model for sustainability.

If we had a farm like this, and another where Shakespeare, leeks and chickens enjoyed mutual coexistence, imagine how much more progressive this little burgh would be.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Annual Red Cross Turkey Run

Broad Street was temporarily turned into a motorcycle parking lot as the Renegade Pigs Motorcycle Club hosted their annual turkey run for the Red Cross.

The motorcade pulled up in front of the Red Cross building, led by a semi laden with frozen turkeys. A bucket-brigade line of leather jackets and chaps was quickly formed in the frigid wind to pass the frigid birds from the semi to awaiting Red Cross delivery vehicles.

The gathered riders were in high spirits, though a bit bone-chilled, and the only sign of dismay was the moan that issued from the crowd any time a slippery bird tumbled to the ground.

The Red Cross will distribute the birds to families in need over the upcoming holidays.

Slow dancing all day in Middletown

(© Evrim Icoz photo)

If you're a fan of dancing close and slow, then Middletown is the place to be Saturday
November 22.

The day begins early with a blues dancing workshop at Wesleyan from 3-6 p.m. at the Fayerweather Theater Room with instructions from Philadelphia's Emiliano Estevez. If you get there early, there's an informal Lindy Hop instruction session in the dance studio next door.

Then there's an all night, 10 p.m. - 2 a.m. Blues Dance at Vinny's Jump and Jive with DJ Chris Oksanen spinning bluesy beats until your knees get weak.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Graffiti again

Looks like I'm not the only one who thinks graffiti is a serious problem. MSNBC just posted this story about a study which showed that graffiti leads to more littering and theft.

There sure is a lot of graffiti in Middletown lately. Some of these "tags" (graffiti signatures) are probably done by bored "kids", and some appear to be the work of organized crime (gangs).

But my real issue with graffiti is that it says to the bad guys: "Hey, we're open for business here in Middletown." It says that this community looks the other way when things go wrong. And that's a slippery slope.

Would you like to stop seeing so much graffiti in Middletown?

There actually IS something you can do.

First: Click on the Tags in Middletown photo collection on Flickr (if you're new to Flickr, you'll have to register -- it's easy and free). The Tags in Middletown group shows photos of local graffiti from the last few months. Click on the word "Map" to see where each photo was taken (geo-tagged).

Second: If you see any graffiti, and it's not already on the Flickr page, then take a digital photo and send it by email to I'll make sure it gets up on Flickr.

This database is a tool to help local police track graffiti tags as they appear, and to be sure that the Public Works department knows when public property has been vandalized and needs clean-up. Both departments are aware of the pictured graffiti on this website -- hopefully, cleanup is coming soon. Last year, there were some graffiti arrests. This year, someone was even caught in the act.

Graffiti is one of those things you get used to, and which seems to multiply if it is not removed quickly. Depressingly, there are about 80 pieces of graffiti on the Tags in Middletown page right now, and as far as I know, only one has been cleaned so far(that was on private property). I don't know about you, but I think we can do a better job.

Liberty Bank Diversity Award

Pictured above are three happy sons and their father Alejandro Melendez-Cooper, with Chandler Howard (right), president of Liberty Bank.

Sorry Middletown -- New London was the place to be tonight, as Liberty Bank gave a reception at Conn College to bestow their eighth annual Community Diversity Award.

The award recipient, Alejandro Melendez-Cooper, is well-known to my family, since he is the executive director the Community Health Center sites in New London and Groton. But in the long list of his accomplishments and connections, I simply lost count of all the ways that he has made a difference -- Alejandro makes community involvement look as easy as breathing in and breathing out, and the few hundred people in attendance were all bursting with pride, as each seemed to count him as a close friend and comrade. {We were so sorry to find that Alejandro's wife, Maria, had just left for a long-scheduled trip -- Maria is known to many in Middletown, as she was formerly a dean at Wesleyan, before she returned to her beloved Conn College and international research work.}

Alejandro's remarks were quite funny (especially as judged by the laughter of my table-mate Patti Vassia), like when he looked out at the crowd of non-profit types and all-around-do-gooders and quipped "You know how many 501(c)3's are in the room tonight? I'll tell you -- there are more 501(c)3's than people -- that's how many!" And as is typical for Alejandro, he deflected the praise and said that he was just representing the good work of so many colleagues during his 20+ years in America.

In honor of the award, Liberty Bank made a gift of $5,000 to the Hispanic Alliance, which Alejandro founded in New London many years ago.

Before the presentations, I had a grand time talking shop with various Middletown-connected folks in the crowd, like Patti V., Tom Cheeseman, Art Meyers, Lydia Brewster, Willard McRae, Sue Murphy, Calvin Price, Sue Peters, Margaret Flinter & others.

Of course the economy was a frequent topic of conversation, along with the general consensus that locally-based Liberty Bank should fare better than its giant cousins in the banking industry. You can read as much in Chandler Howard's letter here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Folk Performers at the Buttonwood Tree

This weekend two folk acts take the stage at the Buttonwood Tree at 605 Main Street.

If you're old enough to remember the "folk scare" when folk music hit the pop charts then you probably remember Bob Gibson. His daughter, Meridian Green is now touring with an act called The Fare-Thee-Wells, which includes Rick Grumbecker and John Heller. While the concert celebrates the music her father recorded, it's also the opportunity to promote the release of a five CD release of original Bob Gibson material.

The Fare-The-Wells perform Friday night at Buttonwood Tree, 8 p.m.

On Saturday, Melissa Spencer and Tim Sparks bring their original acoustic compostions to the Buttonwood Tree in a concert that begins at 8 pm.

Reservations for both shows are accepted by calling, 347-4957.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rammed Earth sold out

(New York Time photo)

If you planned to see the dance performance of Tere O'Connor's Rammed Earth at Wesleyan this weekend, and you haven't gotten around to getting tickets, it's too late. The performance is sold out.

Which is a reminder to buy tickets early to some of the more popular performances coming to the Center for Fine Arts. The schedule is here.

Classical Weekend on Campus

Plenty of music on the Wesleyan campus this weekend, starting with Professor Neely Bruce on Thursday night (11/20) at 8 p.m. in Crowell Concert Hall. Bruce, who is an excellent pianist, will play music by J. S. Bach, several original works influenced by that great master, and the knuckle-busting "Concord Sonata" by Charles Ives. It's worth braving the chilly winds to listen to this fine program. For ticket information, go to or call 860-685-3355.

Friday evening, Anthea Kreston and Jason Duckles (of the Amelia Piano Trio) present a Chamber Music Extravaganza at 6 The Russell House, 350 High Street. Anthea and Jason won't be playing but many of the students they instruct at Wesleyan will be performing. Expect different sized ensembles and a soloist or 2 playing pieces from different eras of classical music. Last year's show was quite impressive. The event is free and open to the public.

Saturday, you have 2 fine choices. At 7 p.m., the Wesleyan University Orchestra and Concert Choir, both under the direction of Angel Gil-Ordonez, perform in Crowell Concert Hall. The Choir will sing Spanish and Latin American choral works from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The Orchestra, as part of the Bertolt Brecht/KurtWeill Festival at Wesleyan, will perform Weill's "Symphony #2" and the "Walt Whitman Songs for Voices & Orchestra". This event is free and open to the public.

The students of Wesleyan Private Lessons Instructor Priscilla Gale present "Opera & Oratorio Selections" at 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel, High Street. As with the Chamber Music students, the quality of these performances are first-rate. Call the Box Office number above for ticket information.

Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., The Russell House presents the Poulenc Sextet in a free concert. The chamber music ensemble, composed of faculty members Gary Bennett (bassoon), Robert Hoyle (French horn), Tom Labadorf (clarinet), Erika Schroth (piano), Peter Standaart (flute), and Libby Van Cleve (oboe), will not only perform Poulenc's music for sextet but also Mozart's "Quintet." A reception follows the performance and all are welcome to attend.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Redevelopment Re-Run

If you were at tonight's Redeveloment Agency meeting, you would be forgiven for thinking you've already seen this movie.

The same two issues were on the agenda:

-Miller & Bridge Street: Nothing new to report.

-Home Ownership in the North End: Not too much change here either.

As he did at last month's meeting, Michael Taylor from Nehemiah gave us an update on the $7 million plan to build 15 units of home-ownership (plus 2 to be developed by Habitat for Humanity) on Ferry/Green/Rapallo. As we know, 10% of the funding for this $7 million project has been secured (that's the City's contribution to the project). The remaining 90% is pending, with much hanging on the upcoming appraisal by Liberty Bank of the after-rehab value of the units. With a favorable appraisal, Michael says they are on target to unlock about $3 million in a DECD HOME grant, and another $2.5 million construction loan from Liberty Bank. There were two new pieces of information about the project funding. We learned of the "wait-list" status of Nehemiah's application for about $400,000 with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. Also, Nehemiah has learned of a potential new source for about $425,000, which might replace their plans to apply for $500,000 in State Tax Credits next August (they were denied for those funds in the August 2008 cycle). Michael confirmed that they will wait to sign the construction contract with the contractor until "all the funding is in place", though they may start sooner with a smaller portion of the work, to get the environmental and demolition work going. At the request of Joe Tine (and pending adequate funding), Nehemiah offered a best-case construction schedule that might begin around April and end about a year later.

In other news, we had a visit from Michael Arafeh, who owns the Coffehouse Recording Studio, which is located at 510 Main Street behind La Boca. Michael and I are both part of the Chamber of Commerce "Creative Juice" council for arts/creative businesses. {Before the meeting, Michael mentioned to me that he's been working with a group of kids from Harford for a hospital holiday album -- sounds like a great project, and I think we are lucky to have this resource in our downtown.}

So what brought Michael Arafeh to Redevelopment? The same thing that brought him to countless downtown meetings over the last several years of North End redevelopment -- concern that construction noise would interfere with his sound-sensitive business. He made the reasonable request that he be notified of certain kinds of construction activities (like jack-hammering) so that he could re-arrange his recording schedule. During the construction of the Wharfside Commons project (by the Richman Group), Michael says that about 60 sessions were impacted by construction noise, which could have been avoided with better communication. I hope that Nehemiah can keep him in the loop on their construction!

Perhaps the liveliest part of the meeting came when David Bauer questioned whether Redevelopment should continue to use its meetings to review the North End Home-Ownership project, since the City has already committed funding for its 10% of the project -- and without many contractual benchmarks or timelines that the City could enforce -- and so it could be argued that we no longer have a dog in this race. This question prompted more discussion than any other issue, as several members voiced their various opinions about the oversight of this project, and the future of redevelopment in general. And if you, dear reader, have an opinion on this subject, I invite you to add a comment on this post!

I haven't got much objectivity on this issue -- I hope that we continue to monitor every step of the project, since we have invested $720,000 of city CDBG funds, and should be the first to know if the project hits any new delays or roadblocks. Also, though it's not perfect, we provide a forum where citizens can learn about the project and register any complaints. But I'd also love to see a higher standard of accountability in the Memorandums of Understanding that our City signs.

And now, a note to any followers of the Redevelopment Agency: in the future, we will meet at 5 pm, not 5:30. Still the Third Tuesday of the Month -- see you then.

Jaguar Dreams

Magdalena Gómez
Jaguar Dreams: Each Day A Lifetime
FRIDAY, November 21, 8pm (Potluck reception starts at 7pm)
$8 ($5 members, seniors & students)

While on an Arts International residency sponsored by the Augusta Savage Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Magdalena documented her time in Southeast Mexico during the last Presidential campaign in poetry. Magdalena met with indigenous theater, literary and visual artists, underground revolutionaries and was welcomed into a world unseen by tourists. Her poems reflect the struggles and passion of oppressed people who struggle against tyranny by organizing and art-making as a form of resistance.

Garden goods through the dark winter

Ellie Wiener writes:

We wanted to let you know that the Wesleyan Farmers Market will be continuing this winter as an indoor market. We would love to have more Middletown residents come to this community event! It will take place on the following Wednesdays beginning this week:

November 19th
December 3rd

January 28th
February 11th

February 25th

The markets will be held in Beckham Hall in the Fayerweather Building adjacent to the Usdan University Center at 45 Wyllys Ave from 11-2.

There will be cheese, bread, greens, squash, jams, meat, baked goods, maple syrup, hot soup, and more!

For more information visit

Ticket us all!

The folks on Long Hill Road are not happy, and they brought their concerns to the Public Safety Commission meeting Monday night.

Several residents from Long Hill Rd addressed the committee about a parking controversy that they claim is two years old.

The stretch of Long Hill Road which fronts condominiums between Wesleyan Hills Road and Brush Hill Road has been declared off limits for parking on either side of the thoroughfare. The no parking zone is now marked by yellow lines on both sides of the road, and tickets are regularly issued to any and all who test the parking ban.

The residents complain that until recently, parking was allowed along one side of the road, and that the recent parking ban has caused hardships during visits from family and friends. Several of these residents linked the parking ban with the arrival of Police chief Lynn Baldoni as a resident in one of the condos.

"As far as comments about this happening because I live there, I resent those comments," Chief Baldoni said forcefully. "They are not true. I'm doing my job. This is not an overnight decision. In my opinion it's a safety issue. The street is not wide enough to support parking."

According to the chief, ticketing began after complaints to a district officer about parking. Once safety studies were completed, the chief, as the ultimate parking authority by state statute, decided that parking had to be banned or the city was unnecessarily exposed to liability in case of an accident.

These explanations did not satisfy Long Hill Road residents. Louise Astin called it "selective enforcement," considering the many narrow roads in town.

"We ask for little, but we've lost much," she said. "We can no longer have our families over. In over 30 years there has not been one parking accident. The simple solution is to paint the curbs black again."

Resident Bill Arrigoni asked, "Why are we being singled out when you can go to many streets in Middletown and find the same problem. Ticket us, but ticket Vine Street. Ticket Broad Street. Ticket, ticket, ticket. Then we'll all be happy."

Baldoni countered by saying that "I don't think anyone in this room expects us to put a yellow line on every curb, on every street in the city."

When asked by commission member, Vinny Loffredo, why after all these years, parking is now banned, the chief explained that once her department discovers a problem, she must act in accordance with the law, and doesn't have lenience to do otherwise. The chief reported that to allow parking on one side, road width needs to be a minimum of 29 feet, and that Long Hill is 24 feet wide at its widest, and 21 feet wide at its narrowest.

The commission decided to ask the Public Works department if a sheath coat of blacktop could extend the road over buried utilities to provide for more parking. They also indicated they had no authority to ask the chief of police to do anything but what she had decided to do.

High School Fire Lane

In other business, the Fire Department reported on enforcement of a fire lane at the new high school. In the first months of school, the fire lane has been blocked by parents dropping off and picking up their teenagers. Commission members deemed the issue a "management" problem at the high school and suggested that those in charge at the school find alternative areas for pickup and dropoff.

Round Hill Road

Residents also complained about a hazardous curve on Round Hill Road, where it was reported at the meeting, a city snow plow was "lost" during a storm a few years back. "Shame on us," commission chairman Robert Santangelo mused when he heard about the plow accident two years ago, and considered that the problem still existed. The commission voted to recommend immediate attention to the issue by the Public Works Department.

Asbestos Removal at Dispatch Headquarters

Fire chief Gary Oulette that asbestos removal, and the problems with solvent irritants which sent dispatchers to the hospital for treatment, was complete. He indicated that the catalyst for the complaints was an adhesive used to contain affected areas. When asked what the service interruption cost the city, Oulette estimated that between overtime and equipment costs, the total is well over $10,000. The cost for the original asbestos abatement was $11, 385.

Incident on Fountain Avenue

In reviewing the report issued by the Police Department on the controversial clash of student and police after a Wesleyan party on Fountain Avenue, Chief Baldoni, and Deputy Chief McMahon explained the proper use of Tazers, pepper balls and other "less-lethal" enforcement techniques. Commission member Thomas Serra suggested that the city follow a resolution passed in 1990 which requires a monthly meeting between the city, represented by the mayor, the majority council leader, the minority council leader, the president of Wesleyan, the student assembly leader and a member of the public.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wish you were here

(Wish you were here?)

Time was when every drug store, every corner market, in every city had a rack of post cards available to buy so you could send a note to a friend, or loved one, from any city you visited.

Not so today. You've got to be in Manhattan, or New Orleans, or Provincetown to find a picture post card.

Leave it to Barrie Robbins-Pianka to begin to create a new line of photo note cards, and Book Bower owner, Linda Bowers, for encouraging Robbins-Pianka in this endeavor. Robbins-Pianka's images are not exactly standard fare, but they're damned interesting (see below).

The new line of cards will be launched this Friday, November 21 from 5-6:30 pm at the Book Bower, the new used bookstore in Main Street Market, on Main Street.

By the way, the State Hospital image is NOT one of Robbins-Piankas' cards.

The old leatherman returns

I wish Dan DeLuca the best. For now, his are the shoulders upon which the legend of the Old Leatherman rest. It's partly a joy, and partly a curse, but DeLuca has taken on the robe of leather, and will bear it until someone else becomes obsessed with a mad old hobo who didn't know better than to come in out of the rain.

DeLuca just published a handsome, and definitive set of primary research materials on the Leatherman. His book, The Old Leatherman, has just been released by the Wesleyan University Press. It's chockablock with news accounts, some as early as the 1850's, about a man, dressed all in a handmade suit of leather, who wandered a regular route through New York and Connecticut for three decades in the 19th century. DeLuca has obviously spent hours and years in dusty archives, attics and hunched over microfiche readers, rooting out these news accounts which detailed the comings and goings of a minor celebrity on the backroads of local towns.

He lived out of doors, in rock shelters throughout the area (there's one on Higby, and one in Maromas). He lived on handouts, and traded, consciously or not, on his status as an omen of luck, and his minor celebrity.

I know about Dan's obsession, because for a few years, I too was lost in those same archives searching for material that might unlock the secrets of this wanderer for me. In 1984, with some willing friends, produced a documentary called "The Road Between Heaven and Hell" (you can watch it in installments, on Youtube, here). The title is line from an old folk song written contemporaneously with the wanderings of the Leatherman.

For me, it began with a photo of the Leatherman posted in the local newspaper, with a short article about a rock shelter in which the wanderer spent a few days waiting out the great blizzard of 1888. That rock shelter was just around the corner from where I was living at the time in Southington.

So I started digging. And I was lucky enough to meet Leroy Foote, the last person as obsessed as I had become with the old wanderer. And I met the last living person to have seen the Leatherman. And I met dozens of other people who had some material, or some connection, or some old photo that helped me piece an incomplete story together. But, alas, that story would remain incomplete, as it does today.

DeLuca has done a much better job than I in his research. He has found very early news accounts which make it clear that the Leatherman spoke, farmed and worked to make his way in the early days before he settled into a routine of grunting and begging. DeLuca has also ferreted out some amazing, never-before-seen or published photographs of the wanderer, which, amazingly, except for an obvious decline in weight, health and vigor, show a man, a lost soul, whose age and identity is indistinct because of the clothing he chose to wear. I remember writing in my script that "only a handful" of photographs of the Leatherman remain. Reflecting now, I think it's amazing that so many photos were taken, with the consent of the Leatherman, since in 19th century America, if you had even one photo taken of yourself in a lifetime, it was a memorable and rare event.

DeLuca's research also seems to prove, in these early accounts, a version of the legend that was to follow the Leatherman to his grave. According to those early reports, he was involved in the leather trade, as a tanner, and he was driven mad when he lost his business and the woman he loved, almost simultaneously. This madness drove him to his wanderings, and to wear the rough leather outfit he created for himself.

For me, at some point, I realized I would never uncover the fact of the poor, old Leatherman's life. He was nearly mute on the topic of his biography, and the accounts left behind were contradictory, inflammatory and not entirely helpful. I think DeLuca has come closer to the truth, for what it's worth. But the near truths are less interesting than what this story says about all of us, all these generations, who, as Nick Shoumatoff says in the documentary, remember the Leatherman when most of his contemporaries, even notables, have been forgotten.

The real interest is how communities form myths, and how those myths have power, and are passed from one generation to the next.

I dispelled my own obsession by writing a long novel about the Leatherman. I decided to make it a set of parallel stories - that of Jack Conroy, a boy who was raised at the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane, and Jules Bourglay, the man who would become the Leatherman. I never submitted it to anyone for publication, and only a few people have read it, but I decided this weekend to start a blogpost where I'll attempt to put up a chapter each week, starting today, here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yes Noah!

When the mailman arrived today (in the mist and clouds), he left a package containing the new CD by the Noah Baerman Trio as well as the Jazz Times Magazine.

The CD, titled "Bliss", captures pianist Baerman (a Middletown resident), bassist Henry Lugo and drummer Vinnie Sperazza in the studio and at the top of their game. Everybody plays with spirit and fire, with ballad work that melts in your ears and great sound. The music is all original but the package is created from 100% recycled and recyclable material.

You'll get the opportunity to hear the Trio in person on Friday December 12 at 8 p.m. in The Buttonwood Tree. It's the "CD Release Party" and should be a rollicking good time.

When I opened the December issue of Jazz Times to pages 4 and 5, I saw the recipients of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundations's 2008 Jazz Grants. At the top left-hand corner of page 4, there is Noah. He'll be creating a special work for a larger ensemble to be presented in 2009. The other Connecticut group to be honored is New Haven bassist-composer David Chevan and his Afro-Semitic Experience.

Times are hard for creative artists but this news and the new recording is a ray of sunshine in the gray November skies.