Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Contra Dance

I stopped by the Contra Dance this evening at Wesleyan's Beckham Hall. While others danced, I mostly sat on the side, enjoyed the music and chatted with friends. There was a wonderful feel of community in the room -- contra dance regulars, Wesleyan students, Middletown folk & local teenagers all sharing the space.

Here's a photo of the dance in full swing.

Mark your calendars for the next contra dance on Friday, March 27th!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wesleyan claws back but loses by a fingernail to Tufts

The Wesleyan men's basketball team lost a heartbreaker this evening to Tufts. We arrived with 8 minutes left in the game. Tufts was up by about 5 or 6. The Jumbos soon extended that lead to 7, but two consecutive three pointers (one by the tallest man on the team that brought incredulous hoots from his friends behind us) put the Cardinals within 1 with only a minute or so left. Things looked promising until a Wesleyan power forward was called for traveling while trying to drive the lane. There had been a questionable traveling call earlier in the game, but this one looked reasonable. With only 9 seconds remaining and still down by one, Wesleyan was forced to foul as soon as Tufts inbounded the ball. This put Tufts on the free throw line. Tufts then proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one. Poor boxing out however allowed one of the Tufts forwards to snag the rebound. Wesleyan was forced to immediately foul again, putting Tufts on the line yet again. And again Tufts missed the front end of the one-and-one. But Wesleyan decided they didn't want the rebound this time either, and let the shooter grab it instead. Wesleyan fouled a third time, and again Tufts went to the line -- and yes, you guessed it, the Tufts player missed again. Finally the Cardinals decided to grab the rebound and fed it to the guard, who drove the ball up the right side of the court. The clock was at about 5 seconds, ticking down. It almost looked like there might be a replay of the Amherst game, but the long shot fell slightly short and rattled of the rim and backboard. Fortunately, the Wesleyan center was perfectly placed to push the ball back in, but his attempt fell just shy -- and the clock ran out.

A tough loss, but a great game nonetheless. Particularly impressive were some of the set offense plays. One involved a tricky double pick, where the inside pick rolled slyly to the basket and was fed the ball by the guard for an easy lay-up. This was with about 4 minutes remaining.

And if all that wasn't exciting enough, we then headed over to Beckham Hall and caught the last two hours of the jam-packed Contra Dance. Lots of dancers of all ages, and a wonderfully talented band.

[photo courtesy of Mark Masselli]

Post-script: The Wesleyan men's basketball team plays Bates tomorrow at 2. And the women's ice hockey team plays Connecticut College at 3.

Mayor Giuliano, unions and school board discuss city fiscal crisis

Early this week, Mayor Giuliano invited city and union leaders to discuss ways to reduce the $10 million  budget shortfall for Middletown. About three dozen people met for over an hour in Council Chambers on Friday afternoon.  Leaders of Local 466 (representing laborers), the MMPA (representing managers), the AFT (representing teachers and paraprofessionals), the Police union, and the Firefighters union, assembled with most of the Republicans on Common Council, several city department managers, the schools superintendent and assistant superintendent and all but one of the Board of Education members.  As this meeting involved labor negotiations, it was closed to the media and members of the public.

After the meeting, Geen Thazhampallath, Aide to the Mayor, told me that union leaders acknowledged that balancing the city's budget would be painful on all sides. He said that the budget was facing unprecedented pressures this year, the anticipated large deficit results from a shortfall in anticipated state contributions to the education budget, and contracts with the unions which require an increase in city expenditures. He said that all the participants in the meeting understood that painful cuts will need to be made on all sides. The city is looking at the possibility of rebidding the city's Health Insurance coverage, at shared services, he said, "Every expense, every revenue, will be looked at." 

Mayor Giuliano expressed his gratitude that union representatives were willing to participate in the discussions, and said the meeting allowed for a free flow of ideas and possible solutions to the city's budget shortfall.  The topics of discussion included unpaid furloughs, which would leave in place the raises that have been negotiated and are part of current contracts.  Union leaders were noncommittal, and no agreement was reached.  

Strikingly absent from these discussions were any of the Democratic Common Council members, including Mayoral candidate Ron Klattenberg.  Mayor Giuliano said that the current budget situation was unprecedented, and expressed his disappointment that no Democrats were willing to take part in this meeting.  In a press release, he said, "Instead of offering solutions, they would rather hide in the bushes and watch, this way they won't lose their opportunity to criticize."  

Further discussions will take place after more of the budget numbers are available.  Friday the tax assessor's office released the grand list, which increased by 0.7% over last year, giving the city about $650,000 more revenue if the mill rate does not rise.  A much bigger number in the budget will be available on Wednesday, when Governor Rell will announce her budget for the state, indicating how much money will be provided to Middletown.  City officials are bracing for a $6 million reduction in state contribution to the school budget. On February 10th, the Board of Education will take Rell's number and propose a finalized budget for the schools.  Mayor Giuliano indicated that after this, he would hold further meetings with all of the parties to discuss ways to balance the Middletown budget.  

Oil Spill in CT River

Cleanup began today of an oil spill which occured Thursday in Portland near the Arrigoni Bridge. Local TV and news reports quote the DEP as saying the spill was more than 1,000 gallons.

Contra Dance at Wesleyan Tonight

If you like traditional folk music, and dance, and you haven't made it to one of these events yet, shame on you.

The young men and women of Folk Revival Initiative have proven that folk musics have an evergreen quality which continues to attract generation after generation of enthusiastic listeners and performers.

These dances encourage newcomers, since for so many of the students this is a first attempt at organized dancing.

Tonight's dance features music by Ethan Hazard-Watkins, Anna Patton and Owen Marshall with calling by Rebecca Lay.

Kudos to Emily Troll for being a major force behind keeping trad music alive at Wesleyan.

Contra Dance
Beckham Hall
Wesleyan University
8-11 pm

Neurobiology of Addiction Project Receives Grant

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce:

Anthony Salvatore, President of the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), announced The Middlesex County Community Foundation has awarded a planning grant to MCSAAC for its Neurobiology of Addiction project.

The project, supported by eleven school superintendents, will include a museum-type exhibit, 20-minute documentary film, and written materials. The project will travel school to school throughout Middlesex County, helping teachers explain the impact of alcohol, tobacco and drugs on the brain. The foundation’s planning grant will help MCSAAC prepare its application for a $1.2 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes for Health. The planning grant was made possible through the generosity of the Foundation’s River View Cemetery Fund.

For further information about the Neurobiology of Addiction project, please contact Betsey Chadwick at MCSAAC at 860-346-5959 or email her at

Athletes Inducted Into Middletown Sports Hall of Fame

(Inductees George Baldwin, Edward McMillan, Leslie Kestenbaum - photos Lucy McMillan)

Sixteen of Middletown's finest athletic achievers were inducted into the city's 16th Annual Sport's Hall of Fame ceremony Thursday night in a ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Middletown.

George Baldwin - Former Swimming Coach at Woodrow Wilson High and Middletown High
Robert Michalski - Xavier High track and field standout, and cross-country writer.
Leslie Kestenbaum - Gifted baseball player and swimmer at Woodrow Wilson High, and a current high school basketball referee.
Daniel Maloney - Basketball and football standout at Middletown High.
Matthew Hoey - Baseball and football star for Xavier High School and Weslyean University.
William Glynn - The Voice of Middletown sports on WCNX-AM and WMRD/WLIS-AM.
Amedeo Carta - Star running back, and all-state, all-league team member for Xavier High.
Richard Byrd - Three sport standout at Woodrow Wilson High.
Fred Duval - Three sport star at Middletown High and at Worcester Tech.
Edward McMillan - Brilliant pitcher for Xavier High, American Legion and a star shortstop at UCONN
Jordan Russolillo - Soccer standout at Middletown High and Southern Connecticut State University. He played for the Chicago Fire, Major League Soccer team.
Laurie Boyce - Helped establish girls basketball at Middletown High, and was one of the first school basketball star.
Stanley Krol - Posthumous award for basketball and baseball standout who help start Middletown's softball leagues.
Robert McMahon - State champion track and field performer at Middletown High.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Public Lecture: When Does Civil Resistance Work?

Dr. Peter Ackerman, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict
February 2, 2009
4:30-6:00 pm
Woodhead Lounge, Exley Science Center
Reception to follow from 6:00-7:00 pm

[Note: The Exley Science Center is the tall building across from Olin Library. The Woodhead Lounge is on the ground floor, near the annex to Shanklin, on the east side of the building.]

Dr. Peter Ackerman is the founding Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, DC, and one of the world’s leading authorities on nonviolent conflict. For more information on Dr. Ackerman, click here.

Parking Department Proposal Moves Forward

The Finance and Government Operations Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to send a plan to create an autonomous Parking Department to the Common Council for a vote.

Downtown merchants urged the commission to follow the recommendation of the parking study group and create a department which would focus exclusively on parking issues in town. Currently, parking matters are handled by the Police Department.

Because a parking department would actually raise revenue, estimated at $700,000 annually in it's first year, the creation of a department would require an additional $122,000 of that money earmarked for salaries, office space and other expenses, added to the current $230,000 which is currently budgeted.

Merchants and downtown property owners like Marc Levine, Peter Harding and Welles Guilmartin claimed that the new department could help solve the ongoing downtown parking problem, and increase revenue from lots like the one at Mellili Plaza where 70 cars a day are estimated to avoid the parking fee by simply waiting until the parking attendent is off duty.

The Common Council will consider the recommendation at its next meeting.

In other business, the commission tabled a request by the Police Department for upgraded Mobile Data Terminals until it becomes clear how much the state will contribute in the coming year in Local Capital Improvement (LoCIP) funds.

They also turned down a request from the Water and Sewer Department to attend a conference based on a pledge to prohibit conference attendance except in cases where accreditation is at risk.

The Commission approved confined space training for the Parks and Recreation Department, and they accepted a "Safer" grant for $494,727 which the Fire Department received from the Federal government to increase staffing levels for specially trained personnel.

The Commission also decided on a workshop session for a new resolution on the use of city vehicles by municipal employees. The new resolution would explicitly restrict the use of vehicles to on-call purposes and prohibit personal use by employees.

The Commission also approved an increase in budget for snow removal for 2009 due to the increase in storms, particularly storms on weekends, causing overtime costs.

Teenagers in town

For a teen who is ready to get involved in our community, there is no shortage of opportunity -- and there are a lot of advantages. That was the message at Monday night's District Parent Partnership Advisory meeting in the new Middletown High library.

Justin Carbonella, coordinator of the city's Youth Services Bureau, led a panel of Middletown High students as they talked about their experiences with volunteering in town. A mix of parents and administrators made up the audience.

The students spoke about a wide range of community activities, from Link Crew, which helps freshmen adjust to high school, to Dragons in Action, which jumps in on community service projects all over town. One Middletown High senior talked about what a kick he got out of mentoring at Bielefield elementary: "They just think it's so cool to hang out with us, just shoot baskets or talk or whatever."

During question-and-answer though, some parents dug a little deeper into the question of what makes some Middletown High students get involved in activities while other students just hang back. Certainly the kids on this panel are involved in lots of teams, clubs and other school projects. What makes it work for them?

These active kids pointed to three main things that helped them get involved:

first, these kids have parents who support them, giving rides and engaging them in service projects from an early age. One Vo-Ag student named Julia made the following impromptu and eloquent statement: "I can't imagine what my life would be like if my mom had always said no instead of yes. The thing parents have to remember is that every experience a child goes through helps build who they are."

second, it helps if their friends are also involved in the activities, letting them multi-task socializing and service. Along these lines, any activity that offers "pizza" was a winner for senior Steven Benevidas.

third, it takes a teacher or some other adult mentor to link a student with the right kinds of community service opportunities. Several of the students named their relationship with Mr. Carbonella or Mrs. Neidmann (MHS school psychologist) as the key step in getting them started with volunteering in the community.

Bringing more kids into the community service projects at MHS is clearly a priority for Mr. Carbonella. And I hope he acts on the suggestion of one parent, Larry, who noted that community service shouldn't always be something done away from school for some other people -- maybe some of the more reluctant or inexperienced students could get involved in projects that happen right after school for 20 minutes or so. As he noted, a lot of kids can fall through the cracks when getting involved means getting a ride or showing up in the evening or on weekends.

The session also included a presentation on the Change ReACTion project, by MHS students Nyanda Maille, Pauravi Chhaya and Anne Machuga. With the help of a powerpoint show, they described the work that their group did last summer to study the way that the media affects the relationship between teens and adults. Through interviews and surveys with adults and teens in Middletown, they examined teen stereotypes. I appreciated how much attention they gave to asking good questions -- some of them were intriguing. For example, they asked participants to recall the latest media story that they had heard involving teenagers -- 72% remembered something negative and just 18% remembered something positive. Parents in the room were drawn to the slide that showed that more than 20% of adults admitted to "stereotyping" teens who were visiting their child in their home. As one parent said, you don't want to think you are making assumptions, but maybe you are.

At the end of the presentations, many of the adults encouraged Justin Carbonella to get a wider audience for the good work that these teens are doing. And at least one elementary adminstrator in the room was ready to recruit these active MHS students as mentors and role models for her students.

To learn more about the work of the Youth Services Bureau, check out Justin Carbonella's blog.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

City commemorates loss of Dingwall

On the ninth anniversary of his death in the line of duty, the Middletown Police Department, and municipal officials commemorated the life and accomplishments of Sgt. George Dingwall. With tributes from Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, dressed for the homeless count, Chief of Police Lynn Baldoni, and current and former presidents of the police union, the group honored Dingwall and paid respects to his widow, Kim.

Authors on History

Benny Morris will speak at Wesleyan Monday night February 2 at 8 p.m. in Room 108 of the Usdan Center on Wyllys Avenue. His recent book, "1948: The First Arab-Israeli War" (Yale University Press) is a fascinating look at the birth of the Israeli state and the conflict that followed. Over the years, Morris had been a critic of the Israeli version of the conflict but following the 2000 Intifada, he veered sharply to the right. However, his book looks critically at both the Arabs and the Zionists, at the myriad mistakes made and how those same mistakes have been magnified into the "no-win"situation that exists today. The disarray of the Arab states and their inability to deal with both the Israeli leaders who initially pleaded with the Arabs to stay and the refugees created by those heads of state who expected the new state to be crushed makes for compelling reading.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

This invitation came today from the Friends of the Wesleyan Library.

On Thursday February 5, Wesleyan University Library will celebrate the life of the noted author and historian William Manchester, who passed away in 2004. This event, entitled "William Manchester: Portrait of a Writer," will be held in the Smith Reading Room on the first floor of Olin Library, 252 Church Street. At 7 p.m., Leith Johnson, Project Archivist, and Jenny Miglus, Archival Assistant for the William Manchester Papers, will speak about the author's career and writing process as documented in his papers. There will be a brief reception from 7:40 - 8 p.m. At 8 p.m., there will be a lecture by Clare Potter, Wesleyan Professor of History and American Studies. Highlights from the Manchester Collection will be on exhibit at Olin Library through March 15. The event is sponsored by a bequest of William Manchester and the Friends of the Wesleyan Library. For more information about the event, contact the Friends at 860-685-3897.

Homeless counts in Middlesex County

Tonight the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness will conduct their annual counts of homeless people in Middlesex County, focusing on Middletown, Cromwell, and Old Saybrook. This is a "point in time" count, to determine on a single night how many people are homeless. An intensive effort to canvass at one time all possible places where the homeless might be is likely to give the most accurate estimate of the number of homeless, as it avoids selective surveying and possible double counting. Similar methodology is often used by biologists to determine animal populations.

Last year's count found 28 families and 197 single adults homeless in Middlesex County. This represents about 7% of the state's homeless population (in comparison Hartford had 23%, New Haven 19%, and Stamford/Grenwich 8%). Middlesex County stood out however, in having a much higher proportion of homeless spending the night outside of shelters. Our county had 85 households unsheltered (14% of the state's unsheltered population, compared to Hartford's 19 households unsheltered (3% of the state's population). Hartford's sheltered homeless population was far greater than Middlesex County's: 773 households in Hartford (27% of the state's population), versus 140 households in Middlesex (5%).

These Point in Time counts are extremely labor intensive, as large regions must be thoroughly canvassed the same night. The CCEH also collects information from the homeless at the same time, using a long survey that asks about income, race, last place of residents, eduction, military service, health, etc. The full reports for the 2007 and 2008 Point in Time counts are available.

Anybody interested in volunteering to help with the 2009 Point in Time Count for Middletown should meet at 6PM at The Connection Inc. Supportive Housing for Families' office, first floor at 282 Main St. Ext. in Middletown. All help will surely be appreciated.

In Middletown, Mayor Sebastian Giuliano was part of a team lead by Lydia Brewster, who helped found NEAT, and now works for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. The team, which included two volunteers, and which was tailed by two reporters, and a TV crew from Channel 61, combed the North End in the Bridge and Miller Street neighborhoods looking for homeless individuals.

On a night when the weather indicated that many homeless had found shelter, or had hunkered down in covered shelter, the team did not identify any homeless in the first hour of its survey.

Chamber Breakfast Meeting with Don Williams

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce:

The Chamber will feature Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams at a breakfast meeting on Thursday, January 29 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at the Inn at Middletown.

Senator Williams will share some of his plans and goals for the 2009 legislative session, and members of the Chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to ask questions and bring up some important issues on the 2009 legislative agenda.

“We are pleased to welcome Senator Williams and look forward to his insights with the 2009 legislative agenda,” Middlesex Chamber President Larry McHugh said.

For more information on the breakfast meeting, please contact Jeff Pugliese at the Chamber at (860) 347-6924 or email him at The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has over 2,350 members who employ more than 50,000 people.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bysiewicz Informs Press Her Hat's in the Ring

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz has informed the Middletown Press that she intends to file papers in a run for governor.

Wes Wednesdays Music Series at Public

Wesleyan Phd student Bill Carbone is attempting to share the wealth of great music in and around the university with Middletown, through a new concert series at Public, on Main Street. The series is planned to run weekly, on Wednesday, at 10 pm.

This is an opportunity for the general public to catch some of the up-and-coming bands on campus (several of which have gotten national and international attention), and who often appear in for-Wesleyan-students-only shows on campus.

This week, on January 28, the series features Orquestra Fiebre, a 12-piece salsa combo with three vocalists.

Upcoming concerts include:

Weds Feb 11 - Buru Style, a dub reggae experience that blends the deep meditative grooves of Jamaican dub with jazz and electronic improvisation.

Weds Feb 18 - Red Wire Black Wire and The Yes Way. Modern pop. and

Weds Feb 25 - Precision Libido and Bottle Up and Go (tentative) and

Weds Mar 4 - Buru Style with a very special guest TBA soon!

For the not-so-shy, each Wednesday begins with Karaoke at Public.

Wesleyan Fruit and Veggie Co-op

Would you like to receive a share of Organic fruits and vegetables every week?

Join Wesleyan's Fruit and Veggie Coop! The cost of one share is $165 for the semester (that's $15 per week through May). Pick up will be every Thursday from 5:00-7:00 behind weshop at Wesleyan. Last semester, 250 students participated in the coop which orders through Albert's Organics.

What we receive varies each week but a sample share is:

1 head cauliflower
1 bag Fuji Apples
2 cucumbers
1 package portabella mushrooms
4 red potatoes
2 Bosc Pears
If you would like to join the coop, which will begin a week from Thursday, or have any questions, email

Wesleyan Farmers Market Cancelled This Week

From Ellie Weiner:

Due to the predicted snow storm Wednesday morning, the Wesleyan Farmers Market is canceled this week.

The next one will be held in two weeks on February 11th with some new vendors and hot local lunches.

Jazz, John & Charles: A Reminder

It's shaping up to be a busy Arts week here in town. Tonight (January 27), Tuesday Jazz at Public, 337 Main Street, wraps up a month focussed on vocalists with Raphaelle Brochet fronting an ensemble featuring Kris Jensen (saxophone), Doug Schlink (piano), Ben Belillo (drums) and Brian Jenkins (bass.) Ms. Brochet has studied and performed music in Paris, India, Iran and Montreal with interests that range from South Indian Carnatic music to Iranian traditional music to classic jazz. Her website,, has several examples of her ability to sing in different styles. The music starts at 5 p.m. Fort more information, call 343-8850.

Composer John Luther Adams comes to Wesleyan this week for a lecture, panel discussion, demonstrations and sound installation. The last item takes place first; "Veils" is a series of electronic "soundscapes" installed in the World Music Hall, Wyllys Avenue, that takes 6 hours to unfold. One can "walk into the piece" at any time and experience its many different sonic "colors." The event begins at 5 p.m.

Tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. in the CFA Cinema, Adams delivers a lecture titled "A Personal Journey into the Music of the Arctic." The Alaskan citizen has become well-known for his music built on the solitude of his adopted landscape. Both events are free and open to the public.

Adams will take part in one of the panel discussions surrounding the "Ives Vocal Marathon" that runs from Thursday through Sunday. Professor/composer/pianist Neely Bruce has done a tremendous amount of work on this project, bringing teachers, researchers and performers from throughout the country (and beyond) to Middletown. Composer Kyle Gann gets the ball rolling Thursday evening at 8 p.m. in Fayerweather Beckham Hall, Wyllys Avenue, with his keynote address "Must a Songs Always be a Song." For all the pertinent information, go to For tickets to the concerts, call the Box Office at 685-3355.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunday Herald gone

If you're a Middletown Press subscriber you already know this, but some news from Art Michael:

With no pre-notice and only a couple of column inches in today's Middletown Press, the Herald Press (the Sunday Edition) will no longer be provided to Middletown Press subscribers.

I called this morning to advise them that we didn't receive our Sunday paper yesterday and was told - that's right - no Sunday paper any more.

When I asked about the fact that we had paid for a full year's weekly subscription in November, I was told (and this may be wrong), that they only charged for 6 days a week delivery and the Sunday edition was free - therefore, No Refund.

In today's notice on Page 2 of the press, in the rather late notice of the demise of the Sunday edition (Journal Register no longer owns the New Britain Herald), there is a mention re refunds and 'plaints. I haven't followed up on that yet.

I'd be remiss if I did not tell you (again) what a great service the Middletown Eye is. I check it daily and sometimes more often to find out what's whoopin' in Middletown.

Agreement on Condo Walkways

Last Thursday the Planning and Zoning Commission met with principals in the development of a condominium complex on Jackson Street called Jackson Commons.

In contention was traffic over the Jackson Street bridge, safe pedestrian travel, and egress onto Washington Street.

The group agreed to settle the lawsuit on the grounds that the city would construct a traffic light for the Jackson Street Bridge, and the developer would create sidewalks the length of Jackson Street. The intersection of Jackson and Washington will also be widened, and the developer will provide additional landscaping at the development.

Westfield Fire Marshall to speak in Westfield

Art Higgins, Fire Marshall of the Westfield Fire Department, will be the featured speaker at tonight's quarterly meeting of the Westfield Residents Association. He will be joined by Ed Dypa, a longtime volunteer fireman in Westfield. Higgins and Dypa will present tips for preventing fires during cold weather, and will also discuss recent actions by Common Council.
7:00PM, January 26
3rd Congregational Church
94 Miner Street (just a few blocks from the Westfield Fire station on East Street)
The Westfield Fire District was chartered by state law as independent of the Middletown's central fire department (South District is also independent). Westfield Residents pay the lowest tax rate for fire protection in Middletown by far, benefiting from a relatively high tax base because of all the industrial development in Westfield, and from being staffed almost entirely by volunteer fire fighters (only 2 out of over 50 firefighters are paid). In January, the Common Council voted to authorize a committee to study the cost of providing fire services. Although this resolution specifically stated that a merger of the fire districts was not to be on this committee's agenda, residents in Westfield are concerned what this "City-wide Fire Services Cost Committee" will recommend.

The Westfield Fire Department's newsblog currently features recommendations for dealing with water pipes in cold weather.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ice Skating this year

It has been a cold winter in The Netherlands. Since the earliest days of that glorious country, the frozen canals have been the scene of play, commerce, and transportation. One of the highlights of every winter in years passed has been De Friesche Elf Steden, a magnificent 200km tour/race that goes through 11 towns in Friesland. This year the skating on the canals has been the best in a decade, and there is hope that the Elf-Steden will take place for the first time since 1997.

Closer to home, the Middletown Parks and Recreation Department has announced that Ravine Park (by Highland Avenue), Swales (by Snow School), and Butternut (on Butternut Street) are all open to the public for ice skating. Call 344-3552 for updates on ice conditions.

The Arrigoni Bridge in New Britain

I was surprised, as I am usually pleasantly surprised on any visit to New Britain's wonderful Museum of American Art, to find a large canvas I hadn't seen before.

It's called "Bridge," and is a heroic depiction of the very canvas-worthy Arrigoni Bridge. It's part of a series of monumental architectural oils that Waite has become known for.

If you've been around the area long enough, you may remember Waite as a cartoonist for the Hartford Advocate in its early years. He created a series which foreshadowed Keith Haring, and was as pointedly political, and completely hysterical, as any cartoon series about Hartford since.

Drums on Main

We discovered a pleasant way to pass Sunday afternoon last week, at the drumming circle at the Javapalooza Café on Main Street. We sipped our hot chocolate and listened to the acoustic jam. When a seat opens up, anyone is welcome to join in a give it a try -- as this six-year-old did. He wasn't too shabby!

It starts at 2 pm and runs until about 4 pm, depending on the crowd.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Protesting the Industry of Death Exhibit

A traveling exhibit version of a Scientology museum in Los Angeles entitled: Psychiatry: An Industry of Death" was picketed today by protestors, mostly anonymous, with several wearing Guy Fawkes masks like one worn by the hero in V is for Vendetta, who claim that the exhibit is Scientology propoganda.

The exhibit, mounted by CCHR (The Citizens Commission of Human Rights International) in Main Street Market was covered uncritically by the Middletown Press, and it's something of a surprise in a town with a strong mental health industry, that no one has stood up to challenge the public exhibit prior to this protest.

The group protesting outside of Main Street Market Saturday claim that they hide their identify in fear of a vendetta they feel the Church of Scientology uses against former members who speak out against the church.

Middletown Community Coversations, Compiling the Results

A group of organizers for the Middletown Community Conversations which took place on Inauguration day in locations around town, met Saturday to begin compiling results of the conversations.

Judged a success because of the enthusiastic community response, which engaged hudreds of residents, the conversations collected hundreds of comments and suggestions about progress that could be made in Middletown.

A good portion of the conversation Tuesday, appeared to center around governance, particularly as it applies to the budget process. Residents are hoping for more transparency in government, better communications, more engagement by municipal leaders, and a process which allows public input.

Other topics of interest included education, transportation, town/gown relationships, crime and safety, development, regionalization, senior issues and accountability.

The committee hopes to have the results compiled and available for distribution to city, state and federal leaders in a matter of weeks.

In addition, the group is already planning the next of what it hopes will be an ongoing set of conversations which bring residents together to talk about topics of interest.

Downtown Comings and Goings

As 2008 wrapped up, one Main Street eatery closed their doors for good.

Sangwich Deli, in Metro Square near Dunkin Donuts, posted a notice from the Rossitto family that thanked their customers for their daily and weekly support (you can click on the photo for a closer look.) I know that the family put their heart and soul into starting the deli, and I wish things had turned out differently for them.

But in spite of the economy, Middletown maintains its reputation as the "IT" town for restaurants, and two new ones will be opening soon.

On lower Court Street, Ted Tine is opening Fishbone, which has a seafood-themed restaurant on the first floor and a blues and jazz lounge upstairs. This building sat vacant for many years, and I've been stopping by over the past months of renovation, and it looks terrific. Last week, while doing some painting in the bar area, Mr. Tine told me that he plans to open by the end of the month.

I've also been watching the progress at the site of the new Esca Wine Bar & Restaurant on the corner of Washington & Main. They won't be ready to open for some time yet, but they are making steady progress inside. This building is owned by the family that owns Cortina Tile. Their oldest daughter is the new owner of the wine bar and they've been doing everything right, from the powerwashing of the exterior last summer, to the interior finish. In this photo you can see that they've divided the space to create a mezzanine, which looks like it will be a cozy spot with a great view of Main Street. They hope to open within a month or so -- I'll let you know when I hear more.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Much to Do About (Middle)town

This image of a Russian Schoolhouse in the town of Serpuxov is a work by Wesleyan graduate (2001) Sasha Rudensky. The Russian-born photographer, who received her MFA from Yale in 2008, is now a Visiting Instructor in the Art & Art History Department at Wesleyan. Her first major solo exhibition opens this Saturday at the Ezra & Cecile Zilkha Gallery on campus and will be celebrated with an Open House tonight (Friday January 23) from 5 - 7 p.m. She'll deliver the Gallery Talk at (approximately) 5:30 and you'll get to view the images fromm 2 of her photographic series, "Remains" and "Demons." Regular Gallery hours are 12noon - 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (12noon - 8 p.m. on Friday and the exhibition is up through February 15. To view more of her excellent work, go to

Also on campus tonight, "A Conversation with Tony Kushner" takes place at 8 p.m. in Memorial Chapel. The playwright will discuss his Abraham Lincoln project, his award-winning "Angels in America" and many other topics. For more information about this free event, call the University Box Office at 685-3355.

The Buttonwood Tree has a musical weekend on tap. Tonight, the performance space welcomes the duo of Sonny & Perley. Perley Rousseau is the vocalist and her husband Sunny Daye plays the keyboards. Their program mines the "Great American Songbook", the worldsof Jazz and Latin American music in a delightful and irresistible manner. Over the past 12 years, they've issued 4 CDs and toured venues throughout the Northeast and beyond. The music starts at 7:30 p.m. To get a taste of Sonny & Perley's sound, go to Then, head downtown to catch them live.

On Saturday, The Buttonwood welcomes the high-energy funk, jazz and r'n'b sounds of the Leah Randazzo Group. The septet, lead by the feisty 24-old year vocalist, features a really "tight" rhythm section and a "hot" 3-piece horn section. Randazzo possesses a strong and pliable voice, equally at home in quiet ballads and more raucous songs. The weather is expected to be quite cold on Saturday night; I expect the Leah Randazzo Group will warm you right up. To learn more about the young lady and her band, go to For more information about The Buttonwood, call 347-4957.

Film Featuring Former Middletown Record Store Makes Festivals

From Karen Swartz:

Exciting news to report- “I Need That Record!” will be showing this Friday 1/23/09 at Mystery Train Records in Amherst Mass at 7pm. In addition it has been accepted to San Francisco’s Noise Pop Music & Film Festival, KRAAK Festival in Brussels, and Handclaps Club Transmediale Festival in Berlin!

“I NEED THAT RECORD! THE DEATH (OR POSSIBLE SURVIVAL) OF THE INDEPENDENT RECORD STORE,” is a documentary feature examining why over 3000 independent record stores have closed across the U.S. in the past decade.. It prominently features Record Express of Middletown as the film captures the sad end for our beloved hometown record store, interweaving this story with commentary from many well known musicians and other icons.

This film is a visual treat and tells an important and interesting story. It has been receiving press including a two minute story on Capital 9 Albany News and a review in Ghettoblaster Magazine.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chamber Honors Mentorship Sponsors

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce:

Kenneth MacCormac, Chairman of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, announced sponsorship recognition of Middletown Mentor Program at a Breakfast for National Mentoring Month hosted by The Governor’s Prevention Partnership. The Breakfast will be held at Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell on Wednesday, January 28 at 8:00 a.m.

The Middletown Mentor Program corporate sponsors that will be recognized are: Citizens Bank Corporation, Connecticut Valley Hospital, Liberty Bank, Middle Oak, Seasons Federal Credit Union, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Other sponsors of the Middletown Mentor Program to be recognized are: Citizens Bank “Not Your Typical 5K” Road Race, Middletown Board of Education, and Middletown Motorcycle Mania presented by Trantolo &Trantolo and WCCC.

“We are very thankful for the outstanding support of these organizations and for the hard work of Program Director Hal Kaplan. The program continues to be a great success because of these two very important pieces,” Middlesex Chamber President Larry McHugh said.

National Mentoring Month aims to raise awareness of the benefits and value of mentoring; recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have a waiting list of young people; and promote the rapid growth of mentoring by engaging organizations—including businesses, faith communities, schools and community groups—to encourage their employees and members to become mentors.

For more information on the Middletown Mentor Program, please contact Jennifer De Kine at the Chamber at (860) 347-6924 or by email at

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Middlefield residents vote in town meeting to preserve Merriam property

Protection of the 50 acre Merriam tree farm is a two-part deal. Last week the Middletown Common Council voted to allocate a maximum of $250,000 to buy the development rights for the approximately 25 acres of land on Middlefield Street in Middletown. Last night Middlefield’s equivalent body, the representative town meeting, voted 49-2 in favor of protecting their 25 acres.

In homey contrast to Middletown’s formal dais, microphones, and televised proceedings, the Middlefield meeting took place in the community center’s auditorium. Residents sat in folding chairs with the First Selectman (Jon Brayshaw), and a few others, at a table in front of the stage. As we said the pledge of allegiance the women around me remarked about needing a new flag, or at least dusting off its base. Marianne Coronas was asked to give an overview of the proposal, and Sheila Stoane, the Chair of Middletown’s Conservation Commission read the resolution unanimously passed by the Middletown Common Council. Then began a lively discussion.

Selectman Brayshaw held up a trim copy of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (which in Middletown would take at least two hands unless the revision process is changed) and explained that the goals they had laid out together in their plan – which included maintaining rural character - would be met by protecting the Merriam property. “What we did in 2002 is we adopted a way of life in Middlefield.” He went on to tell them that if passed, the cost would be about $15-20 per household per year – well worth it.

In the background – literally stage right – a DVD with soft jazz and continuous photos played on a laptop. The wildlife pictures were shot by some hunter friends of Bob Merriam, some gorgeous, some surprising. A tiny fawn with mother in a lime green wetland. Antlers and a black nose peaking out behind a tree. A tawny long-legged coyote. A male turkey on his way to full display.
A representative from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission reported that at their last meeting they had unanimously approved the purchase – “there wasn’t a word against it”. The first selectman said that they were not buying just 25 acres, but the connection of hundreds of acres, given the boundaries with other protected open space, such as Wadsworth Falls State Park, land trust land and City of Middletown property.

Jerry (if I was a real reporter I would have gotten his last name but I’m not, so I didn’t) said that he had moved back to Middlefield because of the rural nature of the area. He thought purchasing the development rights was a good idea.
Melissa Greenbacker , from Greenbacker Farm in Durham told them that they farmed there because the land was protected with an easement, and that protecting the property now is protecting their future. A woman behind me piped up “the last crop you’ll ever plant will be a house”.

But $250,000 is still a lot of money, and Middlefield has its shares of financial worries. One woman who asked about the property taxes the town would collect should the land be developed elicited respectful contradictions – the $5,000-$6,000 in taxes, for example, wouldn’t begin to cover the annual education of even one child (estimated at $10,000); economic analyses by the UConn extension service indicate that open space brings more savings to a community than housing ; and that protecting this land from development was not exclusionary, as one woman complained, but balanced.

Seb remarked that he had benefited by being educated in Middletown many years ago, and that he understood that the City saw this as a partnership. “That’s important…” he said; “this can help us grow our relationship with Middletown.”

The meeting reached a point where everyone seemed to have said their piece, and was satisfied they had been heard and their point understood. A moderator was elected, the motion brought and seconded, and instead of the “all in favor…” I was expecting, a secret paper vote would be cast. Hubbub ensued as a line formed from the stage, with much chatter and socializing. The result – 49 in favor, 2 against. And that was it! A town meeting which started at 7pm ended at about 8:20. As great as it was to see the Merriam property come one step closer to a being a protected chunk along the Coginchaug river, it was also pleasant, and oddly exciting, to see rural democracy in action.

Skating away

From Stephen Gaarder:

While driving west on Pameacha Avenue yesterday, my daughter and I noticed an ice-skating snow shovel toting good samaritan working hard to clear this area of Pameacha pond for ice skating. I returned today to snap some pictures for this post and It looked to me to be in the neighborhood of 20 feet square. Of course that is easily expandable for anyone with a snowshovel. I can't attest to its safety, but it does make a wonderfully appealing image of wintertime New England.This spot is located on the north end of the pond just across Pameacha Ave. from Extra Space storage.

More Community Conversation

Melissa Pionzio from the Hartford Courant did a great job covering yesterday evening's Community Conversation at Russell Library. Phil Pessina was the facilitator, and you can read all about it in her blog.

I covered the earlier conversation at noon at the Library -- and so I know it's not easy to keep track of all the comments and controversy. I really appreciate how thorough she was in reporting what people were saying.

Thanks Melissa!

Middletown High Students Speak Out

Last night, the Board of Education met in the cafeteria at the new Middletown High. They did not discuss the school budget, as they have at the last several meetings. Instead, they conducted their regular business, with a full 45 minutes devoted to comments from the public.

Over the last month, Middletown High School has suffered through a bomb scare and an alleged after-school rape of a 15-year-old girl by two 18-year-olds, which is still under investigation. So the unofficial theme of the evening was "Is Middletown High Safe?" Two parents spoke with concerns about how the administration handled the mid-December bomb threat, which was reported after one student overheard another student possibly discussing a bomb and was handled by Middletown and Hartford police. Parents were notified through an electronic phone call, which went out immediately after the incident, and letters which were carried home by students. MHS principal Robert Fontaine noted that the phone call system is new this year, and there may have been errors which left some parents out of the loop.

But the bulk of the public session was a positive report from seven Middletown High students who came out to reassure the Board that they feel safe and protected at school. The students were recruited by Athletic Director Mike Pitruzello, and they included a diverse range of teenagers who were poised and assertive at the microphone. In most cases, they said that they felt that problems caused by a small number of students should not be allowed to define the character of their school.

Student Trey James struck a chord when he said that he felt that these incidents draw so much attention because they are not the norm -- he said "I'm proud of that."

Junior Anne Machuga and a friend (whose named I missed) sat at the microphone together and said they'd learned that they have to speak up against teen sterotypes. "We're letting you guys know that there is a lot of good going on in our school."

These comments were echoed by Ava Donaldson, a senior at MHS, who is the official student representative of the Board of Ed, and sits at the table at each meeting.

A special portion of the meeting was devoted to a report from Principal Fontaine about safety and civility at the high school. He gave an interesting report about their efforts to change the culture of discipline at the school, especially the shift from "teachers teach, the assistant principal does the discipline" to a system where all adults share responsibility for monitoring standards of behavior. In conjunction with this, they have moved away from a detention-based discipline program, to finding more "appropriate consequences" for misbehavior. When pressed for examples, he mentioned that a kid who makes a mess in the cafeteria might be assigned to community service -- cleaning the lunchroom. Also, he said that they have devoted a lot of professional development time to helping staff understand the importance of developing relationships with students as a groundwork for effective discipline.

I'm not familiar enough with the on-the-ground results of these efforts to evaluate their effectiveness, and the EYE would welcome any comments or reporting from those with a better inside view!

The Board meeting also included a recognition of Santo Fragilio, the founder of the Middletown Cultural Council. That's the group that has been bringing musicians, artists, actors and dancers into our schools to perform and to teach for the past 40 years. If you've had a child in the Middletown schools during those decades, then you've had the benefit of Santo's volunteer efforts. He has a hand in every step of the process: writing the grants, booking the artists, coordinating with the schools. He works with a small group that includes people like Marco Gaylord (the school system Fine Arts Coordinator and High School band director) and Pam Tatge (director of Wesleyan's Center for the Arts), among others. I know all this because I became a member of the Cultural Council this past September and I'm wowed by what Santo can do. Congratulations Santo!

The next Board of Ed meeting will be on February 10th, when the Board expects to adopt a budget for the 2009-2010 year, which then gets passed on to the Common Council to see if they will support that level of funding. Also, there is a February 24th workshop and special meeting scheduled, when the Board will consider the official School Improvement Plan and will also consider their priorities for the budget, in case future cuts are needed.

And by the way, if you want even more Board of Ed news than the Middletown Eye can give you, you can now watch the Board meetings live on Channel 19. They are re-broadcast the Sunday following the meeting at 6 pm.

African Dancing and Drumming

First Church of Christ in Middletown welcomes Aly Tatchol Camara, a native of the West African country of Guinea, on January 25, at the 10 am worship service. First Church of Christ, Congregational is located at 190 Court Street in Middletown. Aly, the principal dance instructor for the New Haven School of African Drum and Dance at Yale University, will explain the role of drumming and dancing in the life of his native Guinean community and teach the church a traditional African song. He will then perform a special dance, accompanied by First Church’s own African drumming ensemble. Worshippers will be invited (but not required) to join Aly on the dance floor and follow his simple movements.

Anyone in the community, regardless of religious affiliation, is warmly invited to attend this special service, offered as part of First Church’s effort to foster awareness, understanding, and appreciation of a variety of religious traditions in the world.

For more information, call the First Church office (860) 346-6657 to speak with John Hall (ext. 13) or Shari Lucas (ext. 11).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The end of a historical day

Inauguration night for many ended in a well-attended party at Main Street nightspot Public, where celebratory patrons toasted the inauguration of Barack Obama.

I found my way to Public after a stop at one of the final Community Conversations at First Church.

There was jazz, and dancing, and an amazing aura of community on a Tuesday night in Middletown.