Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Backroom deals

During Tuesday’s CBRM council meeting, CAO Marie Walsh revealed — very matter-of-factly — that she and regional solicitor Demetri Kachafanas had met with developer Martin Chernin after the expiration of Chernin’s waterfront pre-development contract to discuss a new proposal. She even admitted that she and Kachafanas had presented that proposal to council during an in camera session.

Martin Chernin

Martin Chernin addressing CBRM council (Dwight Rudderham in background), 12 October 2021.

Council — to its credit — refused to discuss the matter in camera, so it was on the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting.

Deputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin stated, in no uncertain terms, that council had given no direction to staff to negotiate another contract with Chernin and said she was not going to sit there and “wear it.”

Mayor Amanda McDougall assured the Deputy Mayor that no contract had been negotiated, that Chernin had merely exercised his right as a CBRM citizen to come in and discuss an “idea” with staff.

And then, Chernin himself weighed in on the matter in yesterday’s Post:

Chernin told the Cape Breton Post on Wednesday that he had put forth what he thought was a reasonable proposal that would include development on property he owns and adjacent land owned by CBRM.

“We were hoping to get a year and a half to develop the property, excluding the library, meaning my property and the municipality’s,” Chernin said. “We had worked out an agreement with (chief administrative officer) Marie Walsh and (solicitor) Demetri Kachafanas and my lawyer Dwight Rudderham (from The Breton Law Group).

“We had worked out an agreement.”

Chernin clearly doesn’t see what’s wrong with this — to his mind, this is how things are supposed to work. Developers, like himself, who have built “over 400,000 square feet of space” in the municipality should be allowed to work out backroom deals with municipal staff who then usher those deals through council during in camera sessions. If all had gone well, council would then have voted on the deal in public, with no discussion.

You can’t blame him. This is, after all, how a lot of business has been done here. But it’s rare for a developer to be so blunt about it.

Chernin says he’s done with the CBRM, he told the Post anything he builds in future will be in “Port Hawkesbury, New Glasgow, Halifax, wherever,” but before he takes his blueprints and goes home, I’d like to thank him for pulling back the curtain at “City Hall.”


Stranger than fiction

My Brilliant Friend (cover)And now for something totally different.

A few summers ago, I and all the bookworms of my acquaintance were deep into Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet — four novels set Naples, Italy, chronicling a friendship between two women, the narrator Elena and her best friend Lila.

I loved everything about the books — I still do — but this week I heard some interesting information about the author’s identity and it’s set my mind racing madly off in all directions.

“Elena Ferrante” is a pseudonym for an author who has refused to reveal her identity since the publication of her first novel in 1992. She communicates with the world via email and her English translator often serves as a kind of surrogate for interviews and readings. I honestly didn’t care who she really was and hadn’t thought about her much at all since finishing the fourth book. But this week, I heard Jessa Crispin, host of the now- (as in, minutes before I discovered it) defunct Public Intellectual podcast discussing the “unmasking” of Elena Ferrante — an “unmasking” that had happened in 2016, as in, before I’d ever even heard of Elena Ferrante.

This “unmasking,” the work of Italian journalist Claudio Gatti, appeared simultaneously in Italy’s Il Sole24 Ore, Germany’s Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung and the French website Mediapart. An English version of the articles was published by the New York Review of Books.

Gatti used real estate and financial records (obtained from an anonymous source) to identify “Ferrante” as Anita Raja, a Rome-based translator married to the Italian novelist Domenico Starnone. Gatti said payments to Raja from Ferrante’s publishing house have “increased dramatically in recent years and appear to make her the overwhelming beneficiary of Ferrante’s success.” You can make up your own mind about Gatti’s theory, but I have to say, I find it pretty convincing.

As Ferrante’s career took off and her books became international bestsellers, payments from her publishing house to Raja increased and she and her husband bought a seven-room apartment in an expensive area of Rome, a country home in Tuscany and a second, 2,500-square-foot, 11-room apartment in the same Roman neighborhood.

Writes Gatti:

…the new financial information leads directly to Raja, while leaving open the possibility of some kind of unofficial collaboration with her husband, the writer Starnone.

Public Intellectual with Jessa CrispinStarnone, you see, was born near Naples and has a background more like that claimed by Ferrante — who has published a collection of autobiographical “fragments” — than does Raja.

Gatti’s initial article was met with a flurry of angry responses from critics who felt Gatti had invaded Ferrante’s privacy and that his suggestion Ferrante was actually a couple suggests women are not able to write “without leaning creatively on a man.

The critics won the day — the response to Gatti’s revelations seems to have been to ignore them. But Gatti’s work inspired Crispin’s Public Intellectual podcast, as she explained on her Patreon page:

You known, it was weirdly the unmasking of Elena Ferrante that got me thinking about doing a podcast like this. Every hot take think piece was exactly the same — taking the position of oh this poor woman, oh this aggressive man victimizing this poor woman. There were so many angles to the story that were left lying around, like the fact that this writer who presented herself as against marriage was not only married herself, but was the creation of a collaboration between a husband and wife. Or why artists choose retreat and anonymity and why audiences often refuse to grant them this. Or how she fits in with the other great fabulists who make up whole backgrounds, as she did in her memoir, to sell a certain idea of herself.

I like her take, because it means I get to have my cake (the Neapolitan novels) and eat it too (thinking about all the implications of Gatti’s revelations, which is really quite fascinating.)


Best bets?

Peter Mansbridge, "Off the Record"Speaking of books, Peter Mansbridge has a new one.

It’s a memoir called Off the Record:

With humour and heart, Peter shares never-before-told stories from his distinguished career, including reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the horror of 9/11, walking the beaches of Normandy with Tom Brokaw, and talking with Canadian prime ministers from John Diefenbaker to Justin Trudeau. But it’s not all serious. Peter also writes about finding the “cure” for baldness in China and landing the role of Peter Moosebridge in Disney’s Zootopia. From the first (and only) time he was late to broadcast to his poignant interview with the late Gord Downie, these are the moments that have stuck with him.

“Walking the beaches of Normandy with Tom Brokaw?”

Another distinguished Canadian, Ron MacLean, says of Off the Record:

This book is Peter’s handshake. I’m willing to bet a penny—the book explains why pennies matter while money does not—you will be grateful to take the hand which is offered.

I’ll take that bet.

And speaking of bets (the segues are just writing themselves this morning), check this out:

Bet On Me the Podcast with Annette Verschuren


Although it has the look of a podcast in which Verschuren will tell you how to get ink stains out of dress shirts, it is actually:

…an evolution and extension of Annette’s national best-selling book, “Bet On Me.” Annette hosts candid conversations with some of Canada’s most inspiring leaders, uncovering what it takes to succeed in business, while balancing profits with purpose.

Canada’s “most inspiring leaders” include Verschuren herself, CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall, New Dawn CEO Erika Shea, Cabot Cliffs co-founder and CEO Ben Cowan-Dewar, Wesley Colford of the Highland Arts Theatre and Gordie Sampson.

I actually like and respect some of those people, but “Canada’s most inspiring leaders?” That’s like me calling myself a “great Canadian journalist,” which I clearly am not — I have never even been to Normandy, let alone walked its beach with Tom Brokaw.

Judging by the way she is literally beaming in all the photos on her website, Verschuren seems to be heartily enjoying this stage of her career — the stage where she becomes Peter Mansbridge.

Am I a bad Canadian for not being interested in either of these creative offerings?

Don’t answer that.