This is a transcription of Remembering the Concorde and Two New Books — 04 August 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a backlist title from the queen of rom-coms Elinor Lipman.
David: A novel about four friends a horrible teacher.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: I’m going backlist today! I recently read Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman, and if you’re looking for a light, humorous read that packs an emotional punch, this is a good one. I’m a longtime Elinor Lipman fan. I’ve been reading her books since her first — ‘Then She Found Me’ — came out in 1990. She’s compared to Jane Austen a lot for her comedy-of-manners plots and feisty heroines, but I think she’s the new E.M. Forster.
Melissa: Like Forster’s classic A Room with a View, Elinor Lipman’s novels are moving, funny, biting, and filled with details that anchor them in time and place. And at the heart of the story, there’s usually a heroine who would be just fine if she trusted her instincts but often finds herself in a muddle instead.
Melissa: The setup for this novel is really good. Our heroine Jane Morgan has a great life. She’s a successful attorney. She has a good relationship with her twin sister. And she owns a swanky New York City apartment with a garden on the roof. Bonus, she’s got a flirtation going with a handsome, slightly younger man from her law firm.
Melissa: One evening, they find themselves in her rooftop garden, enjoying the evening air and sexy banter. One thing leads to another, and clothing is shed. Their adult fun time is spotted by an old prude in a neighboring building. Instead of being normal and averting her eyes, she calls the police! Jane is sentenced to six months house arrest and the humiliation of tabloid headlines like ‘Lewd & LAWscivious.’ Things are looking pretty grim.
Melissa: Then Jane learns she’s not the only one with an ankle monitor. Turns out, a very eligible bachelor in her building also made a white-collar mistake and is trapped in the building for the next six months. They begin a prickly relationship that’s a catalyst for all kinds of amusing hijinks involving Jane’s friends and family.
Melissa: If you like screwball comedies, pleasantly messy families, and the TV show ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ you will love this book. It’s Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman. And if you want to do an Elinor Lipman reading project, I’ll put links in show notes to my essay about her and my reviews of her other books.
David: My book is Speech Team: A Novel by Tim Murphy. This is a story about how the words we hear as children stay with us our entire lives. And what, if anything, we can do about that. It’s about four friends who were on a speech team in high school in the 80s. They reconnect 25 years later after one of their teammates commits suicide.
David: That friend, the now-dead friend, left behind a Facebook post mentioning a devastating comment made to him by their former team coach. Each of the friends recalls similar cutting words. They look up the speech coach. They find out he’s living in a retirement community in Sarasota, Florida. And they decide to go see him.
David: Reviewers mentioned the snappy dialogue, the dark comedy, the 80s nostalgia – and the rich look at forgiveness. Someone liked it for the ‘delicious messiness.’ I’m very curious about this book. It just came out last week. It’s Speech Team: A Novel by Tim Murphy.
David: And now, our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
Melissa: As you’re listening to this, we’re on a road trip to see family and friends in the United States for the first time since 2019. While getting ready for our trip, I spent way too much time anticipating our long trans-Atlantic flight. Two-ish hours to London and then almost 8 from London to Philadelphia. To say I wasn’t excited about it is an understatement. And that got me daydreaming about Concorde. The magical flight with the tagline ‘Arrive before you leave’ because it took just three hours to fly from Paris to New York — flying at 60,000 feet — that’s about 11 miles above the ground. It’s so high you could see the curvature of the Earth from the window. And traveling at more than twice the speed of sound.
Melissa: Concorde — note that it’s called Concorde, not THE Concorde — was a joint project between the British and the French. The name concord was chosen because in both English and French, that word means agreement, harmony, or union.
Melissa: However, the French spelling with a final E was chosen for the plane, which, according to Wikipedia, created a national uproar that only died down when a representative of the British government explained that the final E represented ‘excellence, England, Europe, and entente.’
Melissa: But then the Scottish got upset because E is for England, but part of Concorde was made in Scotland. The British politician got creative and said that the E also stood for ‘Ecosse,’ the French name for Scotland. In his memoir, he said, ‘I might have added E for extravagance and escalation as well.’
Melissa: The interior of the plane wasn’t all that posh, especially compared to some of the super fancy first-class seats available now. It had standard airline seats arranged four across. But the champagne flowed from the moment you arrived until you deplaned. The menus were designed by Michelin-starred chefs. Your lobster, smoked salmon, fillet mignon, and fois gras were served on Damask table linens and Wedgwood china.
Melissa: Before the inflight smoking ban in 1997, Cuban cigars were available, and passengers took home gift bags with Waterford crystal paperweights and fancy Smythson stationery that were custom-made for the airline.
Melissa: Although most of the passengers were finance bros, celebrities also loved Concorde. Famous passengers included Princess Diana, Steven Spielberg, Calvin Klein, Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Johnny Cash, and Bruce Springsteen. Paul McCartney was known for busting out his guitar to sing during the flight. Dolly Parton was known to flirt with the pilots, and once, the model Cindy Crawford fell asleep before takeoff, waking up an hour later to find Mick Jagger sitting at her side.
Melissa: But all that glamour had a cost. In 2000, a flight from Paris to New York’s JFK exploded. The plane’s tire hit a piece of metal, the fuel in the wing caught fire, and all 100 passengers, 9 crew, and 4 people on the ground were killed. All Concordes were grounded until 2001. By that time, cooler heads had prevailed and realized that Concorde’s financial and environmental costs were too high. The jet required about a ton of fuel per seat to fly so high and so fast, and the airfare of $12,000 meant the planes were often only about half full. In 2003, both British Airways and Air France ceased operation of Concorde.
Melissa: If you’d like to see Concorde, Air France’s F-BVFA, the first Concorde in service and with the most flight time, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. The museum curator rode on one of the last flights of Concorde and wrote a really nice account of his experience. I’ll put a link to that in shownotes, along with links to photos and other stories.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more about the books we discussed and all the links you need to explore Concorde.
David: Thanks for joining us in the Libary of Lost Time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent book store to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious! We’ll talk to you soon.
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