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‘Sea Chantey’ Night at the Bar: A Rowdy, Joyous Ritual for Landlubbers



‘Sea Chantey’ Night at the Bar: A Rowdy, Joyous Ritual for Landlubbers

From the darkness of a tavern in Essex, Conn., the first lines of the maritime folk song “Old Maui” cut through the bar chatter: “It’s a damn tough life full of toil and strife we whalermen undergo/ And we don’t give a damn when the day is done how hard the winds did blow.”

When it came time for the chorus, almost everyone joined in.

“Rolling down to Old Maui, rolling down to Old Maui,” they sang. “We’re homeward bound from the Arctic ground, rolling down to Old Maui.”

The centuries-old harmonies overlapped, swelling to the corners of the original ceiling. Dozens of patrons stomped on the uneven wooden floorboards as they sang, sloshing Guinness over the rims of their pint glasses.

“It just gets the cobwebs out of your soul,” said Kitsie Reeves, 68, a former flight attendant who has loved sea music for decades. “It’s like a porthole into the past.”


Ms. Reeves is among dozens of regulars who come to the Griswold Inn almost every Monday night for music by the Jovial Crew, a maritime band that has performed here for decades. The folk musicians — and their fans — sing songs that grow increasingly lusty as the moon rises and bar tabs lengthen.

The music is beautiful — arrestingly so. But participants also seek out a sense of community and a weekly ritual.

“It’s like church for people,” Amanda Bunce, 38, said.

Ms. Bunce, an ecologist, has come almost every week for 18 years. During the pandemic, when the inn closed, the weeks lost their structure, she said.

“Since they opened back up, I almost haven’t missed a Monday,” she said, adding, “I felt like I needed that time marker.”


Sea chanteys (also spelled “sea shanties”) are just one form of maritime folk music, although they have come to stand for the entire genre. Back when ships were powered by wind and human biceps alone, these rhythmic tunes helped sailors haul rope in unison.

In early 2021, before Covid-19 vaccines were made widely available, one maritime song, “The Wellerman,” was an unlikely hit online. Singers sang duets, their harmonies rising across the internet as people turned to TikTok for refuge from lockdowns and short winter days.

But the maritime music tradition in Essex goes back decades.

For more than 50 years, devotees have come to hear Cliff Haslam, the lead singer, croon songs of the sea. In the mid-1980s, his solo act expanded, becoming the Jovial Crew.

Each week, they play at the Griswold Inn, known locally as the Gris, which is hung with American flags. It was established in 1776 and stands at the end of Main Street in Essex, a historic town of fewer than 7,000 people on the Connecticut River.


“People still come to listen,” said Mr. Haslam, his British accent still uncut after decades of living in the United States. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

This summer has been especially busy: Recently, the musicians had to start limiting the number of attendees, after the fire marshal started poking around the crowded bar.

For those who make it inside — longtime sea chantey fans as well as a more recent crowd of millennials — Monday evenings can get rowdy. In song after song, the landlubbers yip and stomp. Sometimes, they pretend to work together, hauling an invisible rope on beat. It’s like a “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” screening — but set on a whaling ship.

“When I describe this place to people, it’s ‘my Gris family,’” said Hillary Clifton, a 33-year-old high school science teacher who first came to chantey night as a child with her father.

Each week, her dad got the same thing: two Guinnesses, then a coffee. A longtime waitress — Lynn Ann Baldi, who celebrated her 60th birthday there on Labor Day — knew his order by heart.


“I left for like, five years — I moved to a different state,” Ms. Clifton said. “And when I came back, I felt like I was home again.”

Shawn Mulcahy, 34, who was leaning against the bar at the Gris on a recent Monday night, was in town for just five days: He had moved to California a few years ago, after spending five years as a regular.

“I don’t even like boats,” he said, laughing, as he dropped a $2 bill in the collection bucket. “I don’t like the ocean.”

But he wouldn’t miss this for anything. Out West, he plays chanteys on his own, nearly every Monday night, on a mandolin.

“It’s got a lot of nostalgia, wrapped in a bow,” he said.


Over the past 52 years, the band has expanded and changed. They have played through at least two hurricanes, lighting candles when the power dropped. They play when friends die, letting chanteys become dirges. They even play at weddings: At least three marriages have been born from conversations that started in the audience.

“They are our oldest act, and probably the longest-running tradition that we have,” said Joan Paul, a co-owner of the inn.

Chanteys are only one part of the maritime genre. The Jovial Crew also sings ballads and mournful whaling songs.

“We’re emotional historians,” said Michael Hotkowski, 33, a member of the band. “If you’re a good folk singer, you need to understand the emotional history.”

That’s the point of folk music, he said. It’s a time capsule of feeling.


“You can’t bottle that emotion up and look at it in a museum,” he said.

Maritime music has had an international following for decades. It has kept a foothold in the northeastern United States, too. Recently, the Connecticut Sea Music Festival migrated from Mystic, home of the seaport, to Essex, home of the Gris. And interest has expanded in the past decade or so, experts said.

Partially, that’s thanks to “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” a popular pirate video game from 2013 that used maritime music as its soundtrack. Then, “The Wellerman” rang out across TikTok.

“I think this appeals a lot to young people who are, in many ways, having fewer and fewer outlets for social participation in a kind of casual way,” said Joe Maurer, a lecturer in ethnomusicology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who researches maritime music.

The Jovial Crew is not interested in the social media revival — or “The Wellerman.”


It’s a little bit like asking an Irish band to play “Danny Boy,” said Joseph Morneault, a band member. Or, maybe, like expecting a country music artist to play “Cotton Eye Joe.”

In fact, if someone requested the song, the band would politely decline.

“We in the sea music field don’t like being boxed into always having to sing ‘Drunken Sailor,’” he said. “It just gets to be an irritant. We do all these great songs, and all you want to hear is ‘Wellerman’?”

Some songs are Connecticut-specific: the shad runs, the Sound. Others, especially some Colonial-era tunes, are impressively raunchy. (“Think of our founding fathers singing this song,” Mr. Morneault joked, right before starting one especially suggestive verse.)

Many are tough. Women cheat. Ships sink. Friends die.


That’s kind of the point, said Ms. Reeves, the longtime fan who is Mr. Morneault’s housemate. The songs are rough around the edges because life was rough around the edges.

After three sets, and many pints of Guinness, the musicians — and their fans — drain their drinks and settle up. Audience members help the Jovial Crew load their instruments into their cars.

“See you next week,” they say.

And most will, said Will Jakubiak, 31, a regular.

“The shtick is: Every Monday is practice for next Monday night,” he said, “and that Monday for the following Monday. So if you mess up, it’s OK.”


If you would like to start listening to maritime music, the musicians and experts quoted in this story suggested a few songs. Here is a playlist:

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In New York, Creating a ‘Port of Entry’ for Young French Artists



In New York, Creating a ‘Port of Entry’ for Young French Artists

It was a surprising diplomatic event on New York’s Upper East Side — one that started with an auspicious “bonsoir,” and ended with an unexpected “au revoir.”

Gaëtan Bruel, the director of French cultural services in the United States, gathered with dignitaries at Villa Albertine, its headquarters, on Sept. 20, to announce additional initiatives supporting increased French American cultural exchange.

Bruel, with Laurent Bili, the French Ambassador to the United States, and Catherine Colonna, the French foreign minister, offered up a greatly expanded model for artists’ residencies that would let even more French or French-speaking artists, scholars and artisans travel anywhere in the United States — or even, in one case, around the world on a French container ship.

“This France is perhaps less polished, possibly less expected, certainly more diverse, younger, more daring, surprising,” Bruel said. He added, “Why not let the artists choose where they want to go?”

In addition to the residencies, initiatives include a new bronze sculpture of the Little Prince, the boy-hero of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the French author and illustrator. It was commissioned for the city sidewalk in front of the Villa Albertine — formerly known as the Payne Whitney mansion — on Fifth Avenue at East 78th Street.


Bruel led visitors inside the 1906 limestone villa to the Atelier on the fifth floor, where another of his initiatives had been achieved: the reimagination of the studio of the mansion’s original chatelaine, Helen Hay Whitney (1875-1944).

The house, which remains one of the most lavish extant examples from New York’s Gilded Age, was a wedding gift to Helen and her husband, William Payne Whitney, from his uncle Oliver Hazard Payne, the treasurer of the Standard Oil Company. The prominent (also notorious) architect Stanford White had designed, built and furnished the villa with no budgetary restraints. White died before the house was finished but not before he went on a global shopping spree to fill it with paintings, antiques, architectural artifacts — including a marble Michelangelo statue of Cupid (it was replaced in 2009 by a plaster copy when the original went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

France bought the building in 1952 and turned Mrs. Whitney’s private studio into staff offices. Four years ago, when Bruel, at age 30, took up his posts in New York — which include being director of Villa Albertine — he decided to bring back Mrs. Whitney’s 700-square-foot salon overlooking Central Park, where she played the piano, wrote children’s books and poetry, and entertained her friends.

“I realized we had a problem,” he said in an interview. “Helen Whitney had disappeared from the story of the building.”

Rather than recreate a period room, he commissioned a tribute to her by a French architect (selected in a competition) and filled the space with contemporary French art and furniture. It will be used for conferences and dinners with artists and writers.


“Gaëtan Bruel had a vision and a program for making the French cultural services into a double-faced mirror of French culture,” said Barry Bergdoll, a professor of art history at Columbia University who was a chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art and has known Bruel for years. Bergdoll called Villa Albertine “a port of entry into the vibrant American scene for young French creatives,” and praised his “visionary experimental view” of the role of cultural attaché.

Bruel, who studied history at the École Normale Supérieure for four years and never earned a degree, nevertheless has forged his own path. He grew up in Montpellier, the son of two teachers who took him out of school at age 15 for a yearlong Grand Tour on their 40-foot sailboat, sailing between Italy and Greece.

“My parents were very liberal; they said let’s offer our children an education in a different way, in an environment of creativity,” he said.

A few years later he decided to write Jean-Yves Le Drian, then France’s minister of defense under President François Hollande, about a job.

“Le Drian was curious enough to see me and hire me,” Bruel said. “I stayed with him for four years, charged with bringing the world of cinema to the world of the intelligence community. I created a cinema department within the French army and realized that we needed art to be integrated into all parts of society.”


He still holds that belief: “In a world of crisis, climate change, A.I. challenges, we need to support artists because artists tell us new ways to confront crisis.”

Bruel subsequently worked for the French government in two other ministries: Culture and Foreign Affairs, initially as a speechwriter. Then he went to the Center for National Monuments as the administrator of the Arc de Triomphe and the Panthéon.

In 2020, arriving in New York, he secured a $1 million grant from the Florence Gould Foundation for the rehabilitation of Mrs. Whitney’s studio and the creation of its new décor through a design competition.

Bruel ordered the demolition of the false ceiling and staff offices, only to discover the original glazed terra cotta tile floor (by the New York tile manufactury founded by the Spanish architect Rafael Gustavino), and a long barrel-vault ceiling covered with neo-Renaissance motifs. He enlisted the services of a top Louvre conservator, Cinzia Pasquali, to restore the wood ceiling’s colorful painted decorations with masks, putti, musicians and artists — a nod to the original function of the space.

Hugo Toro, 34, a Mexican-French architect based in Paris, who won the competition to design the space, devised a water-themed décor inspired by one of Mrs. Whitney’s poems, and commissioned handblown wavy amber glass chandeliers to float over his interlocking lily pad tables.


Bruel helped Toro arrange loans from Mobilier National, the French agency which stores furniture commissioned by the leaders of France. In this case, they are one of a kind contemporary works, considered to be crown jewels of French design. Now Bruel’s goal is to help the designers of these pieces enter the U.S. market, as he expands the residency program.

Eve George, an experimental French glassmaker, came to New York last year to study glassmaking techniques at Brooklyn Glass and prepare sketches for a set of glass table wares inspired by the waters surrounding Manhattan.

“I thought I would do research and go home,” George said. “Gaëtan made a connection for me with the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York, and I was able to participate in glassblowing sessions there.”

Since then, Galerie Philia, a design gallery in New York, has offered to exhibit George’s new collection of glasswares during Design Week in May. “Everything went from research mode to business mode very quickly,” she said. “The gift was not just a moment in time but the creation of a creative network among all of us. It spreads like a large family.”

Bruel has created programs for museum experts, partnering with Buffy Easton, executive director of the Center for Curatorial Leadership Foundation.


One, the 2023 Museum Series, is bringing 24 museum directors, all women, to Villa Albertine for public dialogues on the future of museums.

Bruel also convinced an anonymous private donor to contribute $600,000 to Museum Next Generation, a program that sends young French and American curators abroad to visit with their peers.

“When Gaëtan first asked to see me, I thought he was making a courtesy call, but he had an entire agenda,” Easton said.

This year, he inaugurated the Albertine Dance Season, a celebration with 75 performances in 15 cities in the United States by 20 international companies and 17 artist residencies for up-and coming choreographers.

“Gaëtan has done more for French culture but also for culture at large by bringing together French and American artists and creators, more than almost anyone I know,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the director of MoMA. “He is a person who knows how to move an idea into reality. The things he imagines actually happen.”


Now Bruel’s story is taking a perhaps not so surprising turn. The cultural adviser used the Wednesday gathering to officially announce his departure for France on Oct. 1, to become deputy chief of staff for France’s education minister, Gabriel Attal, who, like Bruel, is 34.

“My job is to help rethink the place of the arts in French education,” he said. ‘‘The minister’s vision is to make the arts not optional, as they are now.”

Any regrets?

He has one frustration: That France is no longer a focus of intellectual curiosity for Americans. He cites, ‘‘The growing distance between the U.S. and Europe, notably France, on a cultural and intellectual level — and how little we can do about it.”

Between 2000 and 2020, he said, “40 percent of French programs disappeared in American universities, from 500 to 340,” in everything from language to literature. “Americans are looking away from Europe,” he said wistfully, “at a time I believe we need to talk to each other more than ever.”

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Read the Judge’s Ruling in the Trump Fraud Case



Read the Judge’s Ruling in the Trump Fraud Case

A New York judge ruled that Donald J. Trump committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets and stripped the former president of control over some of his properties. Here is the judge’s legal reasoning.

Read the Judge’s Ruling in the Trump Fraud Case

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron is a major victory for Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump, effectively deciding that no trial was needed to determine that he had fraudulently secured favorable terms on loans and insurance deals.

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Groundswell of Democrats Builds Calling on Menendez to Resign



Groundswell of Democrats Builds Calling on Menendez to Resign

A stampede of Senate Democrats led by some of the party’s most endangered incumbents rushed forward on Tuesday calling for Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey to resign, a day after he defiantly vowed to fight federal corruption charges and predicted he would be exonerated.

Even as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, defended Mr. Menendez as a “dedicated public servant” and refused to publicly move to push him out, the drumbeat for Mr. Menendez to step down grew from within his ranks. That left Mr. Schumer in a difficult position, caught between his role as the leader and defender of all Senate Democrats and the political imperative of cutting loose a member of his caucus who had become a political liability in an already difficult slog to keep the party’s Senate majority.

The most notable call for Mr. Menendez to go came from Senator Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey who has long been a close friend and fierce defender of Mr. Menendez. Mr. Booker, who testified as a character witness for Mr. Menendez during his first corruption trial, said the “shocking allegations of corruption” were “hard to reconcile with the person I know.”

He added: “I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.”

His call came amid a flood of calls by Democrats running for re-election next year in politically competitive states, who appeared eager to distance themselves from Mr. Menendez. The third-term senator was indicted last week on bribery charges in what prosecutors alleged was a sordid scheme that included abusing his power as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit Egypt.


Senator Jon Tester of Montana, who is running in a state that former President Donald J. Trump won by more than 16 points in 2020, said Mr. Menendez needed to go “for the sake of the public’s faith in the U.S. Senate.” Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a onetime bellwether state that has shifted sharply to the right over the past two presidential election cycles, said Mr. Menendez had “broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate.”

And Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada, who launched her re-election bid in a battleground state by predicting that her race would decide control of the Senate, said the corruption charges were a “distraction that undermines the bipartisan work we need to do in the Senate for the American people.”

Democrats view the fact that they were able to get all of their vulnerable senators to run for re-election in 2024 as their biggest source of strength in their quest to hold onto their slim majority next year.

By noon, those vulnerable Democrats had helped open the floodgates, with more than a dozen Democratic senators from across the country joining them and rushing to release statements calling for Mr. Menendez’s resignation ahead of their weekly lunch in the Capitol. “No one is entitled to serve in the U.S. Senate, and he should step aside,” said Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

“That’s a breach of that trust and a burden I believe will prevent him from fully serving,” said Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona. “He should resign.”


Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said later in the afternoon that she agreed with Mr. Booker that Mr. Menendez should step down.

As New Jersey’s junior senator, Mr. Booker often has described Mr. Menendez, the senior senator, as a friend, ally and mentor. But the nature of the charges — along with the political landscape of the state — appeared to have played a role in changing his mind.

Even before the latest indictment was announced, opinion polls indicated that public support for Mr. Menendez was waning, said Patrick Murray, director of the Polling Institute at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

During Mr. Menendez’s first criminal indictment, “New Jersey voters, and particularly Democrats, were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Mr. Murray said. “This time, public opinion is different.”

In the Senate, it took Democrats days to get around to condemning their colleague.


On Friday, Mr. Menendez stepped down temporarily as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, under the rules put in place by his own party, but Mr. Schumer defended his right to remain in office. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said any decision about Mr. Menendez’s future in the Senate was “going to be up to him and the Senate leadership.”

A lone Democratic voice over the weekend adding to calls for Mr. Menendez to go was Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who hails from another battleground state. He vowed to return campaign donations from Mr. Menendez’s leadership PAC in envelopes stuffed with $100 bills — an apparent reference to the indictment against Mr. Menendez, which said investigators found jackets and envelopes stuffed with cash at his home, allegedly containing the fruits of the senator’s corrupt dealings.

Mr. Fetterman, who has come under criticism from his colleagues for pressing for a dress code change in the fusty Senate to accommodate his shorts-and-hoodie uniform, on Tuesday said he hoped his Democratic colleagues would “fully address the alleged systematic corruption of Senator Menendez with the same vigor and velocity they brought to concerns about our dress code.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker from California, on Monday night also weighed in on the Menendez scandal, helping wedge open the door for detractors, saying on MSNBC that it would “probably be a good idea” for him to resign.

Some Republicans, on the other hand, jumped to Mr. Menendez’s defense, arguing that Democrats should have to weather the political consequences of his conduct.


“He should be judged by jurors and New Jersey’s voters, not by Democratic politicians who now view him as inconvenient to their hold on power,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, wrote on X, previously Twitter.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, however, said on Saturday that Mr. Menendez should go, arguing that the case laid out by prosecutors was “pretty black and white.” In contrast, Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, has defended one of his own indicted members, Representative George Santos of New York, saying that it was not up to him to decide whether he should represent his district.

“You know why I’m standing by him? Because his constituents voted for him,” Mr. McCarthy said of Mr. Santos in January.

Mr. Menendez won re-election in 2018 by a 12-point margin.

Christopher Maag contributed reporting from New York.

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