Bordertown: a wild Finnish crime series

By Caitlin Kelly

Whew!

I just finished my latest Netflix binge, three seasons — 31 episodes in all — of Bordertown, a Finnish crime series set in the real life town of Lappeenranta, a 90-minute drive across the Russian border to St. Petersburg.

Horror writer Stephen King has proclaimed his love for it, and for the lead actor, Ville Virtanen.

I’ve really enjoyed it, for reasons I’ll explain here, but one of them, highly unlikely, is that this summer I interviewed a senior corporate executive via Zoom from her family cottage on an island in Lake Saimaa, the exact setting of this show! The opening credits for each episode are drone images of the lake, whether yachts in a harbor, a huge freighter passing beneath a bridge or logs.

It’s the largest lake in the country — 1,700 square miles.

I’ve been intrigued by the two Finnish women I’ve gotten to know a bit through this new work, my editor and the executive. I’m very interested to visit Finland now, and have been for years since discovering the beautiful black and white photography of the country’s top photographer, Pentti Sammallahti, and buying one of his images at an art show in Manhattan.

It’s a small country, bordered on the east by Russia and the north by Norway and to the west by Sweden, with only 5.3 million people, one of the least densely populated in Europe.

The show follows Kari Sorjonen, a weather-beaten detective who moves to Lappeenranta from the big city of Helsinki with his wife Paulina, who grew up there, and their only child, a teen daughter, Janina.

Unlike most crime shows, their family dynamics are as essential to the story-lines as his work: Paulina has survived brain cancer but she and Janina have a tough time with a man who shows very little emotion and leaves almost every family meal to rush to another crime scene. You really see the effects of his workaholism.

Sorjonen is eccentric as hell — and makes use of a “memory palace” to recall crucial details and make patterns of them to solve crimes. He does this in his bare feet in the basement of their home.

The crimes are varied, and some shockingly brutal, which can get wearying when you watch several shows in a row. But the music is haunting, and the landscapes and homes really beautiful and the characters complex and interesting.

It tends to run in pairs, with two episodes to complete each story arc, but its threads and clues begin at the first episode and go to the final one.

The first two seasons are shot only in summer or fall — with the final third season shot in winter, the crunching of footsteps in deep snow a part of every episode. As someone who loves and misses a snow-covered landscape, I enjoyed that.

And, if you love simple, elegant Scandinavian design as much as I do, you’ll also enjoy the stunning interiors! Lots of interesting hanging lamps, neutral furnishing colors, interesting wall colors and some very nice exteriors, whether a hotel or an office or even a hospital’s interior doors.

One really striking design element — even in all 31 episodes — no bright primary colors like red, blue, green or yellow, or bold patterns, whether in interiors or clothing. The cops all wear black, brown, navy or gray, always in plainclothes and mostly in jeans. The characters all wear shades of gray, brown, cream, pale pink — all of which are flattering to pale Finnish complexions and either dark hair or pale blond. You might see a flash of burgundy in someone’s tie, but that’s it.

And it’s so strikingly unemotional, in American terms — in 31 episodes, I think each parent says “I love you” maybe once to each other and to their daughter, even after she’s been traumatized by a crime. I wonder how much the Finnish tradition of sisu informs this: grit, determination, the pride in just toughing it out.

I noticed a striking absence by the end — not one person of color, ever. No Blacks, Hispanics, Asians; 87% of this very sparsely populated nation are Finns.

Have you seen it?

What did you think?

How it happens…

 

IMG_5790By Caitlin Kelly

This isn’t a cheery holiday post, but a bit of personal history that the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell has brought back up for me…

The authorities had been tracking Ms. Maxwell’s movements and had recently learned about her relocation to the New Hampshire home, an F.B.I. official said.

The indictment charged Ms. Maxwell with six counts, including transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for statements she made during a deposition in 2016 about her role in Mr. Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation.

“Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference on Thursday.

 

 

I was never — thank heaven — sexually groomed and victimized.

But I absolutely understand how it happens, and have written here before about this, so I won’t get back into all the grim details.

In 1998, I was a lonely, worried, isolated new divorcee, with no children, living in the suburbs of New York — an affluent place full of people with kids. This was back when we had and read weekly alternative newspapers, whose personal ads were still a thing, when the Internet was newer as a way to meet potential partners.

I answered an ad placed, it said, by a lawyer who liked to play tennis. “Integrity and honesty paramount,” it said.

But of course it did — placed by a convicted con man who had already victimized many people in Chicago, done time and moved to New York to start again.

He was, oddly, extremely kind and apparently generous, bringing me a pot of home-made soup when I was ill, “paying” for a plane ticket to Australia after I missed my flight (part of his set-up since he made me late), quickly cooing at me (which I found creepy and weird) how much he loved me.

It took me four long crazy months, and hiring a former NYPD detective turned private investigator to finally smoke the guy out, to realize what I had allowed to enter my life and terrorize me.

By then, he’d committed at least six more felonies, including opening my mail, activating a credit card in my name, using that card and forging my signature — in front of me.

And the police and district attorney laughed it all off, because it was “only” fraud.

My point?

Predators choose their victims carefully.

Maxwell, allegedly,  did her grooming very skilfully — finding young, vulnerable women who found her attention thrilling, at first.

What I learned very painfully, as an adult in 1998, is that being vulnerable and alone can leave one very easy pickings for people with nefarious purposes.

Nice isn’t always that at all.

After I recovered from my own experience, I joined a church, shored up my friendships and took a long time to trust again.

The book every girl must read is The Gift of Fear, by Gavin deBecker.

It is a brilliant analysis of all the many powerful ways girls and women are socialized to be delighted by attention and what appears to be affection.

To let a kindly stranger “help” us when we’re lonely and broke and scared.

Being vulnerable means being too open, too trusting, too quick to set aside our intuition that it’s time to flee.

From Wikipedia, and from the book, his useful warning signs that someone is grooming you:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person implies that they have something in common with their chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate him or her by disarming their mistrust.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
  • Typecasting. An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue.
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.

I admit it — I fell prey to numbers 4, 5 and 6.

 

I hope this is never your fate.

 

American rage, multi-layered

 

IMG_1352

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever had a pousse-café?

It’s a drink that contains two to seven layers of alcohol, added by weight, to create a colorful array of stripes in one glass.

 

America’s rage is a pousse-café, with so, so many layers.

 

People are being tear-gassed and shot by police with rubber bullets.

Protestors, including professional journalists, have been targeted by police and permanently blinded.

Stores have been attacked and destroyed and looted, from mass market Target to luxury brands like Chanel.

Some Americans are appalled, astonished, gobsmacked.

Not me.

Not millions.

 

 

IMG_20170928_065852632

A classic image, taken by the late photographer Bernie Boston

 

 

There are so many layers to American rage now:

— the endless lethal parade of African Americans who are shot and killed by police (ooops, wrong apartment!) or hunted down by gun-happy civilians, and here are only a tiny few of them: George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery…

— the daily fears this has created, for generations, that simply being black, going for a walk, walking too fast or in the “wrong” neighborhood or wearing a hoodie or even birding in Central Park, is an invitation, as it is, for some people to wield their white privilege and entitlement and choose to endanger or end others’ lives.

— the “talk” every black parent has to have with their children, especially teen males, about how to walk through their lives on eggshells because so many others will choose to see their basic existence in the same spaces as a threat.

— the income inequality that has kept so many Americans at such deep disadvantage in a nation whose comforting myth is “just work harder!”

— the extraordinary costs of attending even a public university or college, acquiring massive debt that dogs graduates for decades, even as they drift into poorly-paid jobs that make it impossible to repay those loans, and loans that — unlike any other — cannot be discharged by declaring bankruptcy.

— health disparities that have killed many more people of color thanks to COVID-19 because POC have underlying health conditions (“co-morbidities” in medspeak) that left their bodies more vulnerable, like obesity, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure.

— 100,000 Americans — with many more to come — already dead of COVID-19.

— a Federal minimum wage of $7.25 that has not been raised since 2009; only 29 of 50 states have made theirs higher, more than $11/hour.

— extortionate costs for health insurance.

— the loss of millions of jobs.

— the loss for millions of their health insurance coverage — because that’s how many Americans get the only coverage they can afford, when their employer picks up some of its cost (i..e. benefits.)

— widespread police brutality, even blinding permanently some protestors, including journalists

— a deep, abiding despair at the lack of political leadership, and shocking passivity on all sides, to address any of this.

 

It’s a drink that tastes very, very bitter.

 

“Trapped” — perfect pandemic TV!

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Thanks to a Nordic pal here in the U.S., we recently discovered Trapped — and loved! — this Icelandic cop show.

It’s the most expensive series ever filmed there, two seasons of 10 episodes each, from 2015.

I might be the only person left in the world who has yet to visit Iceland, but I can now really see why people go. What a spectacular and dramatic landscape it is!

It only has 364,000 people, and 60,000 in the capital, and is the most sparsely-populated nation in Europe.

The characters in Trapped are all very human, often confused, working either in Reykjavik or an isolated small town on a fjord — where the evil runs mighty deep and sometimes for generations.

There’s Andri, the police chief in Season One, who’s a tall, hefty guy with a thick brown beard and hair that always needs brushing, His assistants, Hinrika and Asgeir, are small town residents, and a real contrast — Hinrika is tough, smart and cynical while Asgeir is always vaguely goofing off and playing chess on his computer.

Their police station is small, and, like everything here, absolutely dwarfed by snow-capped mountains.

The sense of being trapped in this show has many layers: by small town life, by family dramas and secrets, by unsolved murders and disappearances, by ambition. Mostly by weather! So much snow, rain, ice! Roads get shut down and planes and helicopters grounded.

The opening credits are visually very strong and the music very good, initially composed by the late and very talented Johann Johannsson.

By Season Two, Andri has moved back to big-city Reykjavik, and Hinrika is now police chief. But her marriage to Bardur, 20 years her senior, is ending and Andri’s oldest daughter has become a rebellious 15-year-old in a lot of black eyeshadow, living with an aunt.

The pace is slow, but there’s plenty of plot development and it takes a while to finally reveal who’s the true baddie.

Along the way, we get to see Icelandic sheep farmers and ponies and an enormous ferry that is key to the first season plot. There’s a female minister whose formal collar is a white ruffle that looks positively medieval.

Several people die in gruesome ways — consumed by flames, and one with a bolt gun used to kill sheep.

But it’s really compelling and the murder of one character left us on the the verge of tears.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry about Baltasar Koromákur, its creator.

 

Have you seen it?

 

 

Rights? How about responsibilities?

img_20160928_183329860

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The pandemic has laid bare many behaviors we didn’t really see clearly before, or not as clearly.

If you grew up — as I did — in a nation with a clear commitment to the common good, Canada (yes, with terrible treatment for a long time, and still, of First Nations) — the American fetish for individual rights just seems weird.

It’s possible to live freely and still actively care about others’ health and welfare.

If you want to.

There’s actually quite a continuum from being controlled and monitored 24/7 by your government and selfish, lethal mayhem.

Welcome to mayhem.

Check this out.…images of protesting Americans determined to keep infecting themselves and others because the whole social distancing thing is such a drag.

They feel oppressed.

They’re angry that they’ve been told to stay at home, to wear a mask, to stay distant from others to protect them.

Because the number of Americans potentially walking around feeling just fine — still  shedding virus everywhere they go — could be as high as 50 percent

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told NPR that an estimated 25 percent of coronavirus carriers experience no symptoms. Meanwhile, data out of large-scale testing for coronavirus in Iceland found 50 percent of those who tested positive with COVID-19 said they were asymptomatic, according to CNN.

“Information that we have pretty much confirmed now is that a significant number of individuals that are infected actually remain asymptomatic. That may be as many as 25 percent.” Redfield told NPR Tuesday.

 

The American Constitution — amended 27 times since it was first written — promises “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Sounds lovely.

It is lovely, except that 40,000 Americans have died  — so far — from COVID-19, a lethal virus whose ability to destroy the human body is quick, powerful and still little understood.

Twice the number in one week.

Read this chilling, detailed look at its whole-body effects from Science.

“Only” a tiny percentage, many scoff.

It’s all a hoax, right-wingers still insist — maybe because their cities don’t have refrigerated morgue trucks with corpses stacked three deep outside their hospitals, crematoria running 24/7.

New York City does.

How does this happen?

Because so many Americans really hate and mistrust any government intrusion into their lives and behaviors.

They resent being told what to do.

They think no one else’s life could possibly be more important than their going to the beach!

Sitting shoulder to shoulder at a bar!

Attending a church jammed with other selfish “Christians.”

Canadians, derided as boooooring, have a wholly different Constitution, one that instead promises “peace, order and good government.”

Pretty snoozy, right?

Not HAPPINESS!!!!!!???

Not LIBERTY!!!!!???

Right now, living in a country “led” by a lying grifter of a President, I’d be thrilled for some peace, order and good government.

How about you?

6th floor life

 

IMG_5741

Our view

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The number 6 has always been a good one for me — my birthday is the sixth day of the sixth month.

We live on the sixth, top floor of our building — the third time I’ve had that spot in an apartment, first as an undergrad in Toronto, attending University of Toronto, and later in Montreal, in a gorgeous 30s complex called Haddon Hall; I dream of actually getting that apartment back! Two bedrooms, great views, perfect condition, working fireplace, tall ceilings….sigh. All for $600 a month, mid 1980s.

My ongoing decision to live on the highest floor of a building, far away from any access to it, is the result of a terrifying experience in my second year at university, when I lived in a studio, alone, at the back of an alley on the ground floor, in a sketchy downtown Toronto neighborhood.

The kind of place, if anyone had been paying attention to my welfare, someone would have said: “No way! Not a safe choice!”

But no one  paid attention and it was affordable.

One night I yelled out the window at people making noise. A few nights later (I really don’t remember), a man tried to pull me out through the bathroom window — as I was taking a bath, directly below the window.

I was wet and slippery and the window too small and narrow.

But that was the end of that apartment.

I spent the summer, recovering emotionally from this attack, in a shared sorority house on a quiet and lovely street, surrounded by other women.

My next home was the 6th floor studio at the back of a six-floor 60s building, with a balcony, overlooking a park.

No one could possibly get at me.

No one ever did.

It was a great little apartment, only one long block north of campus, so I could zip home and change clothes in fall and spring as the temperature shifted. It gave me back the confidence I could live alone, safely, and enjoy my independence again. I was already writing for a few national magazines and would sit at my desk, tapping on my pale turquoise manual typewriter, staring out over the park’s treetops, like a bird in my own little nest.

In Montreal, that high perch proved, sadly, less secure as our building was broken into repeatedly, thieves assuming that renters were wealthy, which we weren’t. I got so scared I went to the police for advice since my bedroom was at the very opposite end of the apartment from the front door — no escape. They had little comfort to offer except that burglars were likely unarmed. I lived there for 18 months while working as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette.

When my first husband and I bought this suburban New York apartment, the first attraction wasn’t its great view of the Hudson River, or the lovely grounds — it was all we could afford! I was lucky enough to have a decent down payment, thanks to an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. The place was a bit gross, thanks to wall-to-wall filthy beige carpet that stunk so badly of cat urine even the realtor stood on the balcony while we looked it over.

In the decades since, by far the longest time I’ve ever lived in one home, (the longest before that was maybe three or four years, in childhood/adolescence), I’ve repainted each room and hallway multiple times. The living room morphed from a mushroom beige/gray faux finish to a brilliant Chinese red to the pale yellow/green we last did in 2008. The bedroom went from a faux-finish crisp blue and white to aqua to apple green to Skimming Stone, a lush, warm gray from my fave, Farrow & Ball.

I really love the quiet perch of a top floor.

We’re literally in the treetops and red-tailed hawks soar close by daily, one even landing on our balcony railing once.

Our river view, looking northwest, is now obscured by tree growth, but fine in the winter. We watch barges gliding upriver and storms heading south.

In these perilous times, home up here once more feels like a nest, safe and enclosing.

And impossible, we hope, to breach.

 

 

Why now’s the perfect time to watch Babylon Berlin

IMG_6460

By Caitlin Kelly

 

A frightened world!

The economy in chaos!

Bitter nostalgia for lost glories

The rise of a silent-but-deadly threat soon to destroy the world as we knew it (in this case, Nazism, not COVID-19)

 

It all rings a little too close to home right now…

This three-season series has long been one of my favorite shows ever — and the most expensive European TV series made.

And for those newly hungry for fresh viewing content, these three seasons offer 28 episodes.

In 1929 — a year with plenty of fiscal and political nightmares — a Cologne detective named Gereon Rath moves to big bad Berlin to work with their vice squad, soon aided by Charlotte Ritter, a young woman sharing a squalid flat with her parents, grandparents, sister and brother-in-law and baby and younger sister. To earn money to keep them alive and housed, she works nights as a prostitute in the basement of Moka Efti, an enormous nightclub owned by the Armenian, a local crime boss.

The show offers many sub-plots and terrific characters, from the Berlin boarding-house owner, war widow Miss Elizabeth, to a braid-headed, firebrand, female Communist doctor to the creepy rich son playing profiteering games with wily Russians.

There’s Svetlana Sorokin, who’s desperate to get her hands on a train car filled with gold and who — of course — sings at Moka Efti disguised as a man with black hair and moustache. Greta Overbeck’s work as a housemaid to a wealthy, Jewish Berlin politician drives a major plot point.

There’s a driven journalist, (of course!), much trading of favors and access, the enormous gap between the wealthy and the desperate.

Every element is visually powerful: the impeccably Art Deco dining room of Moka Efti, with its room-length aquarium filled with pulsating jellyfish, gorgeous period automobiles and clothes, interiors filled with period furniture, wallpaper, lighting.

If you’ve ever been to Berlin — I finally spent 10 days there in July 2017 — it’s very cool to see elements of it: from its cobblestone streets to the subway to one of the many lakes where Berliners spend long sunny summer days swimming and boating and relaxing.

Sadly, the show also now feels much more relevant now with its themes of social unrest, widespread fear, no reliable political leadership, undercurrents of racist, nationalist fervor.

 

IMG_6464

 

More on Liv Lisa Fries, who plays Charlotte Ritter.

 

From The New Yorker:

 

The show plays as part period drama, part police procedural, and part mystery thriller, but there is always an undercurrent of foreboding, drawing on our knowledge of what’s to come. Hitler’s name is heard only once in all sixteen episodes; Nazi Brown Shirts first appear in one of the last. The opening lines of the show’s haunting song “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” (“To Ashes, to Dust”) capture the era’s troubled Zeitgeist: “To ashes, to dust / Taken away from the light / But not just yet / Miracles wait until the last.”

Here it is:

 

I hope you’ll check it out — and enjoy!

 

 

 

A must-see film: Capernaum

By Caitlin Kelly

Sometimes you watch a film that feels like a punch to the solar plexus.

In a good way.

I was bored and channel-surfing this week on yet another stiflingly hot evening when, at 10:00 pm, I found a film I had really wanted to see in 2018 when it came out. It received rapturous reviews, including a 15 minute standing ovation when screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Capernaum — also named Chaos — was filmed in a dusty, crowded Beirut for $4 million, starring a 12 year old Syrian refugee named Zain who’d already survived eight years in that city’s slums. The stars of the film include the most gorgeous baby — not more than a year old — and an Ethiopian woman, his mother, living and working there in menial jobs illegally.

If there is a film that more powerfully shows what it’s like to scrape every single day for food, water, income and dignity, I don’t know what it is.

The child who plays Zain is also named Zain, and was 12 at the time of filming, then illiterate. He is so tiny he looks like he might be eight or ten. (He now lives in Norway.)

Every element of this film is searing: the fate of his sister Sahar, a child bride; his abusive parents unable to care for him in any way; his resilience; the empathy and compassion Rahil shows for him (the mother of the baby) and his, in turn, for her toddler.

There’s a kind of intimacy and immediacy to this film that renders everything more slick and produced meaningless in comparison. It is in Arabic and Amharic with subtitles.

Slumdog Millionaire made in 2008 for $15 million — and which made $377.89 million — is the only other film that comes to mind like this, and Capernaum is much better.

Like Slumdog, it was made on  a small budget of $4 million (thanks to a producer who mortgaged his home), and has so far earned $68.6 million becoming a huge and unexpected hit in China.

Ironic that two films about desperately impoverished street children have proven so popular and lucrative.

I sure hope these child actors have also enjoyed some of that wealth!

Here’s the film’s trailer.

Find it. 

Watch it.

Extraordinary.

Isolation is deadly. Ask for help!

images

War correspondent, the late Marie Colvin, was a tough nut…she had to be.

By Caitlin Kelly

It has been a brutal year for New York City police officers — two of whom committed suicide this week alone, nine so far this year.

A friend, Tanzina Vega, is rocking it as host of the daily NPR radio show The Takeaway, and they did a great segment on this; link here.

The show dug into why police officers are prone to depression and to making the terrible final decision of suicide.

A key element, not surprisingly, is a professional culture of silence.

If managers and supervisors don’t allow workers to show tender, difficult feelings — of grief, fear, confusion, anger, revulsion — all of which would be normal reactions to the toughest elements of police work, where can those emotions go?

Nowhere.

If fellow professionals sneer at you for being “weak”, you won’t ever show how you really feel, no matter how toxic is it to marinate in misery alone.

A former cop who spoke on the show referred to after-work drinks as “choir practice”, alcohol being one acceptable way to numb one’s feelings after another day dealing with violence, mayhem and death.

 

IMG_3977

 

This also hit me because journalism offers a very similar culture — long hours, low pay and a lot of stress. It’s hierarchical and macho. The “best” assignments, the ones that win us front page and major awards, are often about witnessing and describing in detail the very worst events — shootings, terrorism, natural disasters.

Some journalists are as exposed to violence and gore as cops, yet we, too, have almost nowhere to let out our feelings of horror and sadness after the story is filed or the broadcast made. And co-workers and managers working on less disturbing material have no idea what it’s like, while those who do can, like cops, often throw up a thick, tight wall of defense, dismissing anyone’s emotions about it as sissy or unprofessional.

When they are human.

In my early 20s, I worked briefly at the Canadian Press, a wire service, and my Sunday night job was “fats” — short for “fatalities”. I had to find the province’s deaths that weekend — like car crashes — and write them into a story.

I began to dread it.

I really hated it when a perky coworker named Judy finally said “It’s just numbers!”

No.

It’s human beings.

The day we ignore, dismiss and bury our grief and rage — whether created by our feelings about work or politics or climate change or family dramas — is the day we turn that violence against ourselves.

 

Everyone needs and deserves a safe space to air these out.

A cautionary tale about border crossing

Georgetown

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Horrifying story about Customs and Border Patrol from The Intercept:

In retrospect, I was naive about the kind of agency CBP has become in the Trump era. Though I’ve reported several magazine stories in Mexico, none have been about immigration. Of course, I knew these were the guys putting kids in cages, separating refugee children from their parents, and that Trump’s whole shtick is vilifying immigrants, leading to many sad and ugly scenes at the border, including the farcical deployment of U.S. troops. But I complacently assumed that wouldn’t affect me directly, least of all in Austin. Later, I did remember reading a report in February about CBP targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers for scrutiny at ports of entry south of California, but I had never had a problem before, not in a lifetime of crossing the Texas-Mexico border scores of times on foot, by car, by plane, in a canoe, even swimming. This was the first time CBP had ever pulled me aside….

Cooperation didn’t earn me any leniency. Next up was a thorough search of my suitcase, down to unscrewing the tops of my toiletries. That much I expected. But then a third officer, whose name was Villarreal, carefully read every page of my 2019 journal, including copious notes to self on work, relationships, friends, family, and all sorts of private reflections I had happened to write down. I told him, “Sir, I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but I want to tell you, as one human being to another, that you’re invading my privacy right now, and I don’t appreciate it.” Villarreal acknowledged the statement and went back to reading.

That was just the beginning. The real abuse of power was a warrantless search of my phone and laptop. This is the part that affects everyone, not just reporters and people who keep journals…

Around the three-hour mark, I became completely passive. Confinement in a blank room is a soft form of torture, especially if you suffer from a crippling caffeine addiction, as I do. They were “fresh out” when I demeaned myself by meekly requesting coffee. For a long time, I sat slumped in the chair with a mounting headache while Moncivias finished typing up his report on me. He would pause, carefully consult something on my phone, and then go back to typing. This went on for another hour.

It was around 4 p.m. when Moncivias finally finished up and informed me, anticlimactically, that I was free to go. I couldn’t wait to get outside because the detention area was freezing. No wonder Spanish-speaking migrants call CBP detention la hielera — the icebox. I took my phone and laptop and silently packed up my luggage, which still lay disemboweled on the desk, underwear and all. Pomeroy was gone by this time. As I was walking out, I said to Moncivias and Villarreal, “It’s funny, of all the countries I’ve been to, the border guards have never treated me worse than here, in the one country I’m a citizen of, in the town where I was born.”

“Welcome back to the USA,” Moncivias said.

 

If you care about press freedom — hell, any civil rights — make time to read all of Seth Harp’s story.

It is chilling.