Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie

I am always humbled and moved to speak to men and women whose lives have been altered by the course of history. Refugee become statesman Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie was no exception. His story is fascinating, his observations enlightening. And in the last few minutes of the interview, I focused on the artist at the table. In his professional role as Ambassador, I don’t doubt that it is rare for a journalist to take an interest in his personal life and his other talents as an artist and businessman. Sumaida’ie seemed pleased that I picked up on the fact that he is a poet and calligraphy expert. I asked his staff if he would bring a sample of his calligraphy for the interview. He brought a beautiful rendition of a poem he wrote. “It’s about Iraq,” is all he said about it, when I asked but he added that the calligrapher of the work was one of the best living artisans of the craft.

With help from UVM professor Darius Johnathan and his student, Lani Ravin, here is a translation:

(no matter) "How many beautiful/fertile countries I've been to,
My heart beats for and longs for
For the people whose food was pain and sorrow for years/centuries.
The world endowed us with philosophy, knowledge, law, God and art;
And we returned to (pre-Islamic) ignorance anew,
As if history never heard of us."

In the small print at he bottom:
"This poem is by Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie and he composed in New York City in 2006. It is dedicated from the writer to the land that is being destroyed and to the people who follow/in the footsteps of Abbas El-Bagdadi (i.e. people of Bagdad), may God forgive his sins."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

OK, I’m not much of a blogger. I get too caught up in research. I guess I’d rather spend an extra hour digging for more information or working to reframe questions than spending time developing my own platform.

But I’d like to share this weeks research adventure. It’s rewarding---and not uncommon working in Vermont--- that a search about one person can unexpectedly shed a new light on others. Gary Hirshberg of Stoneyfield Farms Organic Yogurt (coming up March 28th) worked as the Executive Director of the New Alchemy Institute on Cape Cod when he was in his early 20’s. How interesting! That’s John and Nancy Todd’s creation. John Todd is a brilliant environmental engineer and genius, who lives part time in Vermont. His specialty is taking waste, and finding natural ways to clean it up; The Living Machine, a series of tanks of living matter to transform human waste, a swamp with the right waste loving creatures to clean up industrial pollutant, etc. I interviewed Todd and his wife Nancy number of years ago. So, it was fun to discover that Hirshbrg worked with them in his 20’s. And then I find an amazing archive online of news about the New Alchemy Institute. Someone had scanned whole articles related to the Institute. I looked up 1981 to find out news about Hirshberg. There’s an article about Hirshberg taking alternative practices to China (a tough sell in those day), raising money, etc., and then I notice that there’s an article that has something to do with “Shelburne.” Got to see what that’s about. I pull up an article from Mother Earth News about Shelburne Farms and Vermont’s first Farmer’s Market...from 1981. What we take for granted now was so novel, you could feel the author’s awe of this new experiment in farming going on in Shelburne, VT . Cool find, since I’m interviewing Alec Webb, who founded Shelburne Farms, in a few weeks.

That’s how I get my kicks.

Other news:

Congratulations to George Woodard, interviewed last fall. "The Summer of Walter Hacks" has been accepted to screen at the prestigious Boston International Film Festival in April.

The remarkable Blanche Moyse, co-founder of the Marlboro Music Festival, passed away last month at the age of 101. I remember how feisty she was in on Profile in her 90’s, still teaching, still conducting. She never let physical limitations slow her down. When she lost her ability to play world class violin, she began a stunning and long career as a choir director and conductor. RIP

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some delays in VPT’s web upgrade have slowed this effort a bit, but here are a few current musings.

Kyle “Fattie B” Thompson is such a talented, creative human being. There were too many things we could dive into! One favorite story we did not get to on air, speaks to the creative way he lives his life. He proposed marraige to his beautiful and charming fiancĂ© Emily in a hot air balloon! As I recall, the landing was a bit rough, but I am sure their marriage will soar and glide as peacefully as that hot air balloon.

I’m crushed that the rap video he made in my class at Champlain College in the early 90’s seems to have been lost to the ages. Kyle made it in collaboration with the Chittenden Correctional Center to inform inmates know about what opportunities they could take advantage of. I can still see him rapping in front of a black board with a long stick, pointing to words like “education” and "college" ...in time, of course, and then the video would cutaway to scenes in the facility. I wish I could remember the rhymes. It was brilliant, fun and informative. Corrections loved it.

Ben and Jerry have never stopped doing good, while still having fun. I continue to be impressed how both of them, who can and sometimes do run in very elite circles, are humble, down to earth guys imbued with Vermont values.

My next guest, Bill Ryerson is in that same category. I have been told his demeanor in the presence of an impoverished African woman does not differ a bit from the attention and interest paid to a Hollywood celebrity or international media mogul.

If you are interested in some sober, well documented assessments of the world, Ryerson, has endless amounts of smart material you can read on his website, populationmedia.org. There you can find a chapter he contributed to a “must read” book, The Post-Carbon Reader, edited by Richard Heinberg and Daniel Lerch. Ryerson’s chapter is entitled, "Population: The Multiplier of Everything Else." It gives a very clear and succinct argument about the effects of population and where we need to steer our focus. And you can sigh up for intelligent articles on a host of topics by signing up for his email list.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Howard Norman

What struck me about Howard is his intense sensitivity to place. How northern Canada resonates with his soul, but Vermont is home and the place he writes…about Canada, about melancholia. And then he lives in Washington DC much of the year, where he and his wife teach. I suppose having all these places to be physically and in imagination works for the vagabond in him, while family and Vermont remain a core. That Vermont remains home in the deepest sense for so many who only live here part time continues to intrigue me. Maybe it’s because Vermont stole my heart so many decades ago now.

Artists in business

Seven Days Newspaper publishers Pamela Polston and Paula Routly are essentially artists. From early on they have followed their gut instinct and passionately followed through, with music, with dance, with writing, with publishing a weekly. They continue to do what works for them, rather than what they think might work for someone else. They continue to take the kind of risks artists would explore, but too many businesses do not. Art is always an economic gamble, but the passion, creativity and work ethic that gave birth to Seven Days worked. And the gamble continues to work and grow as Routly and Polston have encouraged those around them to find their own voice and trust their own instincts.

Seven Days morgue

Before powerful servers and hard drives, newspapers were kept in a library somewhere at the newspaper offices. I used to enjoy the adventure of research at the Burlington Free Press and Seven Days library looking for past articles. Of course now everything is on line and the former “library is now a conference and multimedia room. But Seven Days still maintains a “morgue” in the basement of their office building. Stacks of papers printed before digital storage was commonplace are shelved from floor to ceiling. There’s a history in covers and shapes. We looked at the 1st issue, the 1st “B-section” and the first paper with the current size. A large table in the middle of the room was perfect to spread a few out. Paula seemed to rediscover a place she might be able to disappear to when she needed a getaway. Now I’ve blown her secret!

Monday, November 22, 2010

George Woodard’s house

I visited George at his hillside farm in Waterbury Center on a beautiful fall day. We sat on the porch (check out the view!) and gazed over the valley to Camel’s Hump while we chatted about his life. A young hired hand stopped by to get instructions on hay bailing in a lower field.

It was easy to imagine the farmhouse in the 30’s not being too different than it is today, except for the big screen TV hidden behind a fabric screen and tucked away in an upstairs bedroom, a MAC edit suit with 4 or 5 hard drives, blinking away. A half dozen or more unmatched chairs fill the rest of the room for viewers. Something wasn’t working quite right with the system, so George fired up his laptop where the whole movie and timeline was also stored and he showed me how he had incorporated music library cuts with recordings from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, composed by Pete Southerland and made specifically for his film. I had a great visit, but stayed too long and regret that I never made it out to the barn.

On the way out of Waterbury Center, I stopped by the Center Bakery on the town green. It’s worth checking out this small town center off of Route 100 at Guptil and Howard Roads! I was greeted by the lunch crowd when I walked in and asked what I was doing in town. “I came to see George Woodard,” I said. “I’ll be interviewing him on Profile.”

“Must not be George Sr., then,” was the reply.

“No,” I answered a bit awkwardly, “I believe he passed away about 2 years ago.”

“Yep, must have been Jr. you talked to. Good men. Both of them.”

I enjoyed my “to go” sandwich as much as the chat I had waiting for it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Invariably, following an interview, I will think of follow up questions I wish I’d asked or regret questions I didn’t get to. Or the conversation continues after the show and a dynamic insight or anecdote comes to light as I’m escorting my guest to the door. Through this blog, I hope to share some of these thoughts.

I also hope to offer some forethought. I’ll be writing about who’s coming up for shows in the next month or two. I may make mention of some of the many intriguing people I find out about everyday, but who can’t fit into the program’s schedule. And, as I hear interesting news of people I’ve interviewed previously on Profile, I’ll post that.

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. What questions would you ask of someone coming up? Who do you think I should “profile” on the program? Who has been a favorite Profile guest? Is there a thought or idea that a guest prompted in you that you would like to share? Were you surprised by something you heard or saw? Is there something you would like to see us do differently? Chime in. I hope to hear from you.

Gwen Ifill

As anyone who watches her on PBS can imagine, Gwen Ifill is a fun, sharp, down to earth woman. What you see is what you get. It was a delight to be in her company for a bit earlier this fall. A self-proclaimed skeptic, but not a cynic, Washington Week host Ifill likes most politicians and finds the great majority of them choosing their paths from a desire to be good public servants. It was a refreshing view, given the very different picture we seem to get from most national media, particularly during this recent political season. Of course, in Vermont we expect no les of our politicians.

Ifill’s demeanor, in general, is positive and optimistic, but she also is ready to acknowledge the trials that African Americans deal with on a daily basis and magnifies some of those in her book, Breakthrough.

What struck me most during her visit was not Ifill’s charm and wisdom (that was a given), but how she stirred the emotions and the barely invisible, but churning current of frustration and anger felt by many black professionals who live in Vermont. As white Vermonters, it’s easy to move through our lives without a clue to the cultural isolation and daily hits of insensitivity, ignorance and humiliation that people of color experience. In a small, post-talk gathering with Ifill, these professionals were able to feel comfortable talking about the exasperation of living in a place they love and with lots of good people, but where they and, most disturbing, their children, still experience too many racist comments and actions. It was another reminder that education and exposure are still critical, as Vermont continues to change demographically and embrace the richness that diversity offers. Thanks, Gwen, for your generosity of time and spirit during your visit here.


Carol Winfield passed away recently at age 92. I interviewed her nine years ago when she was self publishing, teaching yoga, running laughter workshops and drinking martinis(!), following a very full professional and family life. And every time I ran into her over the last decade, her enthusiasm for life, people and fun ideas remained as bright as ever. A rare bundle of energy and joy, Carol inspired many to laugh more freely and cherish life on a daily basis. May you rest in joyful peace.

Guests on the docket

Coming up in November and December: Political cartoonist Tim Newcomb, VT College of Fine Arts President, Tom Greene, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

Welcome To Afterthoughts

Hello! Welcome to the official Profile blog, Afterthoughts. Check back here often for updates and personal blog entries from the host of Profile, Fran Stoddard. Fran's first post should be coming up soon, so stay tuned!