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The French novelist Balzac wrote, “The whole world can be found in a village.” For international journalist Martin Walker, that village is the fictional St. Denis on the Dordogne River. It’s the setting for a series of mysteries featuring Bruno Courreges, the local chief of police. In the latest novel, Bruno deals with a series of regional and international problems. Local duck and goose farms that produce foie gras are attacked by animal rights protestors. Terrorists threaten to disrupt a meeting between French and Spanish officials. An archeology dig unearths a “modern” skeleton at one of the region’s ancient sites. Martin walker joins us to discuss current events and his new mystery set in the French countryside.
- Martin Walker editor-in-chief emeritus and international affairs columnist for United Press International, and senior director of the Global Business Policy Group.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “The Crowded Grave” by Martin Walker. Copyright © 2012 by Martin Walker. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For more than three decades Martin Walker has been an international correspondent reporting from all over the world. He's been a frequent panelist on our Friday News Roundup. But, increasingly, his attention has been on an area in France known for its cuisine and its historic sites. Both play a prominent role in his latest crime novel featuring Bruno Courreges.
MS. DIANE REHMHe's chief of police in a fictional town of St. Denis on the Dordogne River. The title of his new book is "The Crowded Grave." Martin Walker joins me in the studio. I hope you'll join us to welcome him. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Martin, it's so good to see you.
MR. MARTIN WALKEROh, it's lovely to be back here, Diane. Grand to see you.
REHMMartin, you have broadened your life so extraordinarily.
WALKERWell, yes, I guess. I mean, I'm half involved in living in France and writing my novels, and I'm half involved in trying to make sense of the global economy. But I'm still involved in journalism. I still write a weekly column, but the world has just become an extraordinarily different place from what it was when I started out in journalism. And I guess journalism itself has changed as we all know.
REHMIndeed. What got you started writing the crime novels in rural France?
WALKERWell, about 14 years ago, when I was based in Brussels for The Guardian as the European editor, we decided to get a house in this part of France where we had some friends who lived. In fact, I was actually in The White House about to attend the press conference with Clinton when my wife rang me and said, I don't care what you're doing, drop everything, get on the next plane. I found us a house.
REHMOh, my gosh.
WALKERAnd we just fell in love with the area for all sorts of reasons, not just the food and the drink and the lovely climate and the people and so on. And so I became very lucky in that I'm a very bad tennis player but an enthusiastic one. And I joined the local tennis club where I found myself partnering a chap called Pierrot (sp?) who is our local village policeman, who turns out to have been one of the most remarkable characters I've ever met.
WALKERI mean, he's a former soldier. He's a wonderful cook. He's a passionate hunter. And we have no crime in our commune because, every morning in winter, he's teaching the kids to play rugby. And every morning in summer he's teaching them to play tennis. So all the children, for the last 25 years, have grown up not wanting to offend dear old Pierrot, and he has this knack of getting everybody to do what he wants.
WALKERSo when I'm there in the winter, I have to turn out and help him teach the kids rugby. I now find myself I'm president of the kids rugby team. And we've got three boys teams and a girls team, who the girls are by far are the more ferocious.
REHMBut I gather, going back to the time when you were 14, you had actually spent a summer there in France. And, probably, that got you yearning for more.
WALKERWell, France has always seemed very exotic to me from that very first visit. I was on one of these school exchanges where I spent about a month in Paris with a French family, and their son came back in the summer. And it turned out to be that springtime, that April when the -- in French Algeria at the time, the Algerian war of independence was on. And the French Army mutinied, and they took over Algeria. They were threatening to launch a military coup against de Gaulle. And de Gaulle ordered the French Air Force to shoot down any of the planes that might be carrying parachutists to come to Paris.
WALKERWhat I remember is every police station and the public buildings were surrounded by sand bags. There were armored cars on the streets. And unknown to me at the time -- this was when Maurice Papon, the prefect of police, who, in fact, had been working with Vichy in World War II -- but he was a prefect of police in Paris in '61 -- was presiding over a police force that rounded up some 200 Algerians, manacled them together and tossed them in the river Seine.
WALKERIt was a very nasty period in French history, and that sense of history and of cleavage is something that I try to bring into my books because it's there all the time around me. I mean, I've got neighbors who've shown me the wooden sabot boots they made in World War II, the only shoes they could get. Another neighbor showed me her wedding dress which was a dyed set of flour sacks that she had then.
REHMIsn't that extraordinary?
WALKERAnd it's this -- and in my village, there are families who don't talk to each other because one side was resistance.
WALKERThe other side was collaborators. We had a -- couple of years ago, we had a Montague and Capulet kind of event when a young couple just ran away from the village and got married in Paris because their families wouldn't have let them married for those historical reasons.
REHMTell us about your hero, Bruno, and you've already said you have based him on the chief of police in your own area. But you've created a whole fictional village, St. Denis.
WALKERWell, I have. And it's sort of -- I have to say that my hero, Bruno, is somewhat younger than my policeman. And he's not quite as plump as my policeman. And he's not married, whereas my friend, Pierrot, is married with a family. But many of the other characters all -- particularly the mayor, particularly the baron, the local landowner are also drawn from people I know and friends I know.
WALKERAnd it's become an almost compelling thing for me to live in this imaginary village. And now that the books have become best sellers in Europe and we're getting more and more TV crews coming in, the entire village seems to have got caught up in this. So we have a German -- German television is making a series based upon the -- from this.
WALKERAnd because they've had several TV crews coming in and they want to film Pierrot the policeman as he walks down the street every morning going, kissing all the women down the street, the women have now put their foot down and said, no, we're going to have to have at least 72 hours notice before you get a film crew in so we can get our hair done.
REHMWell, what does this man do? How effective is Bruno as chief of police?
WALKERWell, he almost never carries a gun. He tries never to arrest anybody. And what he understands is that most crime comes from long, local traditions and that the way to discover it, or the way to unearth the real villains or the real responsible is not to focus so much, as so many modern police people do, upon DNA and forensic evidence but to understand the people and to understand the people who are involved.
WALKERSo the very first novel "Bruno, Chief of Police" was about the murder of an old Arab which was initially ascribed to some extremists from the national front. But in the end, it turns out that it goes back into the history of World War II and of the resistance there. The most recent one, this one, "The Crowded Grave," begins with an archeological dig. And this is the center of archeology and pre-history in the world. There is more -- this was where the original Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man was discovered.
WALKEROne of the great hotels near us is called the Cro-Magnon. It's the Lascaux caves with the great chapel of prehistoric art, which was about 10 kilometers from my place just up the river. And so we have archeology. We have -- and we have this archeological site being investigated by a bunch of students under the German professor, and they find, among the 30,000-year-old skeletons, another skeleton. This one is wearing a Swatch, and...
WALKERA Swiss -- one of those Swatch plastic...
WALKERAnd as a result they realize obviously this is a more recent one, and this brings in some of the current rather haunting experiences of the Basque terrorists, the ETA. Because while I was working on this book and what really kicked it off was that the first French policeman was gunned down by an ETA killer group in France. This was about two years ago. And now we have a cease fire for the first time that seems to be holding. But the ETA killed over 800 people in the course of their campaign.
REHMOf course, the other thing you've included in these books are meals and food and recipes almost.
WALKERWell, my dear old newspaper, The Guardian back in Britain, said that I'd invented a new genre which was gastro-porn.
WALKERAnd now it turns out, I've got to write a cookbook of Bruno because people want to have the recipes, but, as you know, my wife is a very...
WALKER...is a great cook. And we're living in a part of the world which is the gastronomic heartland of France. This is where the truffles come from, which was the plot in my third novel, "Black Diamond." It's where foie gras comes from. It's -- we're right where the Bergerac wine district meets the Bordeaux wine district.
WALKERWhen I take a train from Bordeaux to my village, I go through little station hops called Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. It's a glorious part of the world. And the food is so good, and I'm just terribly happy cooking and eating there.
REHMSo this novel begins with ducks and geese having been freed somehow by animal rights activists.
WALKERThat's right. The controversies over foie gras are emerging not just in the U.S. where in California they've now been banned, but also in Europe as well, including in France where we have People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaigning against foie gras. And so I brought this in because it gives Bruno a kind of a very ambivalent approach towards this. Because he understands that some of these food factories are appallingly cruel and vicious to the ducks and the birds.
WALKEROn the other hand, this is a local tradition that's been going back for centuries. More than that, I was caught into -- my books are now out in French, so I was caught into a debate in one of our local large towns with some of the animal rights people. And I said, you are aware that when ducks -- that ducks and geese are migratory birds, that when they -- every autumn, when they take their very, very long migration flights, they have to store their energy somewhere.
WALKERAnd they eat and eat and eat, and quite naturally they swell their livers to three and four times normal size. The problem with these food factories is that they stuff them until it's seven, eight, nine times normal size.
REHMAnd that is not natural.
REHMMartin Walker and his new novel based on Bruno, chief of police, is titled "The Crowded Grave." We'll take just a short break and be right back.
REHMMartin Walker is here. You know him as a frequent guest on this program, part of the Friday News Roundup, a very astute commentator on international as well as national politics. He has a brand new mystery of the French countryside. It's titled "The Crowded Grave" and features Bruno, chief of police. If you'd like to join us call us on 800-433-8850. Martin, before we get to what's happening internationally, economically and with banks in this country -- because food figures so prominently in all the Bruno mysteries, read us from.
WALKERWell, I'll read a section about Bruno cooking for some friends, Carlos, a Spanish policeman and a former girlfriend of his called Isabelle. "Bruno bent to the delicate task of slicing the raw foie to just the right thickness as Isabelle warmed the shallots on a low heat. 'No fat for the foie?' Carlos asked as Bruno put a jar of honey alongside a heavy black iron pan that had been heating for some time. 'It contains all the fat it needs,' said Isabelle.
WALKER"Bruno laid slices of the foie in the pan so hot that the surface of the liver was seared to keep in the juices but its own fat seeped out steadily into the pan. Carlos looked up as he noticed Bruno humming to himself. 'That's how he times his cooking,' said Isabelle. It takes Bruno 45 seconds to sing 'The Marseillaise' and 30 seconds if he stops before 'Aux Armes Citoyens.' Steaks get the full version, but the foie needs only 30 seconds a side.
WALKER"Bruno turned the slices of foie and began humming again using a spatula to keep moving the liver around the pan. As the first tendrils of smoke began to rise, he stopped singing to himself, removed the pan and poured out the excess fat into a waiting jar. He stood the foie onto a hot serving dish and took a bottle of balsamic vinegar, poured in a couple of spoonfuls. The spatula scraped back and forth with the heating vinegar to cleanse the bottom of the pan, and then he added three large spoonfuls of honey and swirled it into the thickening sauce.
WALKER"'So simple,' said Carlos 'but it smells so good.' Bruno draped two slim slices of cooked foie onto each piece of toast, drizzled the honey-vinegar sauce over each one. Isabelle took the plates to table as Bruno brought the open bottle of Mont Bassillac from the refrigerator, four fresh glasses and joined his guests around the big table in his living room. 'A glass of this with the foie,' he said, pouring out the rich golden wine of the Bergerac, 'and bon appétit.'"
REHMMartin Walker reading from his new mystery of the French countryside titled "The Crowded Grave." Do join us 800-433-8850. Martin, you have to tell us a little bit about the body that's found in this archeological dig.
WALKERThe body turns out to be that of a former member of the Basque ETA who was -- the body is found with his hands still tied behind the back with electric wire and with a bullet in the back of the head. And, as so often among these terrorist groups, it appears that it was done by fellow members. But there had been a lot of ill treatment of the body. Clearly, there had been some torture taking place before the death. And Bruno has to try and work out first of all how on earth the body got there into the grave. Who would know about the existence of the other grave?
WALKERAnd, secondly, how on earth it was that this bunch of students who were unearthing the archeological site should happen to zero in right upon the spot where this body is found. And it brings in not just the Basque ETA group but also some members of the old Red Army faction from the German radical left of the 1970s. So it brings in -- it's really a very European kind of assemblage, which I suppose reflects the way that it's now doing rather well in lots of European countries.
REHMAnd this is the fourth in the Bruno series.
WALKERThis is the fourth in the series. Number five is written, and number six, I'm writing at the moment.
REHMMartin, that's just extraordinary, and all the while you have been watching what's going on internationally, economically. First, what's happening to the euro?
WALKERWell, the euro -- by all economic standards, the euro ought to collapse. There is no longer much of an economic justification or financial justification for the existence of the euro. Greece is a complete disaster area. Spain is crumbling and becoming a new Greece as we speak.
REHMEven though they got this huge bailout last week.
WALKERThey got the 100 billion euros bailout, but the moment that it came -- first of all, we learned that there were some conditions with this. The Finns said that they demanded collateral and got it. The Germans said that this would be seen as a loan to the Spanish state and therefore added to the Spanish debt. But on top of that, the moment that this loan was formally agreed, then the Spanish individual regions, like Valencia and Murcia, began to confess that actually they were bankrupt, too. They needed their own bailout.
WALKERAnd one of the biggest of them, Catalonia, owes over $50 billion. So the same thing is now happening in Italy where Sicily has now started to confess to the huge debts that it owes as one of the Italian regional provinces. So it's not simply a matter of state debt. It's also regional debt. And the banks are in very serious trouble. But this is not just a financial project. The reason why the euro is still holding together, it's an act of political will by the Europeans. And the question is, how long will the paymaster, Germany, continue to apply that political will to holding it together?
REHMOr will there be the kind of unity that some had called for, a kind of political rather than just economic unity?
WALKERThe difficulty is that I don't think that such a political move towards a federal union if you -- like United States of Europe. I don't think that would get the support of many countries, and far less of many electorates. The popularity of the European Union as an institution has been dwindling for some time. But it's taken a very severe knock because of the collapse of the euro or the crisis of the euro.
WALKERAnd because of the way in which the European political elite -- particularly Germany -- is insisting upon more and more austerity cuts, cuts in public spending, we now have over 50 percent youth unemployment in Spain and in Greece.
WALKEROver 50 percent. This is just -- a modern state cannot handle this kind of crisis. And at the same time, we all know we're going to have to renegotiate the social contract because the rising costs of pensions and health care are going to bring a further crisis in the very near future.
REHMBut tell me about your own health care in France.
WALKERIt's probably one of the best health care systems in the world in France. But I'm afraid it, too, is becoming bankrupt. The French spend about 13 percent of GDP upon health compared to 18 percent in the U.S.A. It's almost all done by what they call (unintelligible). That is, you pay your insurance through your trade union or through your professional association. And you get the vast bulk of your money back.
WALKERWhat the French do, like the British do, is they spend as much money as they can in the first two or three years of life rather than in the American tradition spending a massive proportion on the last weeks of a patient's life, which is wonderful for advancing medical knowledge. But in terms of getting as it were a medical bang for the buck, the really best investment is to invest in babies and in children and in the health care of the young people. That's what endures throughout their lives.
REHMAnd that's what you see in France now. What about those who have lived there all their lives? Do they feel insecure at this point about what's coming?
WALKERI think, yeah, my friends in Paris and some of the big cities -- particularly those with children are having trouble getting jobs or fear that they will graduate into a lack of work. They're very, very nervous. In my valley, in my village, nobody worries very much. We've never been terribly prosperous there. And all summer, we live on our vegetable gardens. Most people, including me, we have our own chickens and our own hens. We live upon the venison and the boar that we hunt as well in the winter.
WALKERIt's amazing how close to being self-sufficient people tend to be in rural France still. And my own chickens -- I'm in a bit of a quandary because my cockerel is called Sarko after the former French president Sarkozy. And when he lost the election, I was asking one of my neighbors what on earth I should do about Sarko. And he said, Martin, no problem, coq au vin.
WALKERBut I really can't eat an animal I've named.
WALKERSo we've still got Sarkozy and his hens.
REHMAre there doctors in the village?
WALKERYes, there are. We have a wonderful little medical clinic where there are three doctors. We're 3,000 people in our commune. But in the surrounding villages altogether, there's three doctors for about 6,000 people. And they are very good. And you go along, and your consultation, you pay about 5 euros on the whole for a consultation. And then your medicine is free.
REHMWhat happens when you come back to the States? Do you no longer own property here?
WALKEROh, yes. We keep on the place that -- we have an apartment just by DuPont Circle, and I'm here quite a lot. My daughter, Fannie, was here just recently where she was taking part in some slam poetry contest. Julia is here as well. We come here seeing our friends. And since I'm still working for a think tank, which is based in the U.S.A., I still have American medical insurance so on that level we're okay.
REHMMartin Walker, his new novel, a mystery of the French countryside, is titled "The Crowded Grave." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. So, as an international journalist, you're continuing to write a weekly column "Walker's World." What is usually the subject of this column?
WALKERWell, frankly, over the last year or so, it's been overwhelmingly about the international economy because it really is pretty difficult -- pretty grim shape. At the moment, it looks in the short term, really, very, very worrying. We're seeing China slowing down. Europe is in recession. The U.S. is slowing down. In the medium term, we know we have these problems of handling longevity and pension costs and health costs. In the long term, I'm probably one of the most optimistic people that you'll come across.
WALKERI've got a long essay in the current Wilson Quarterly saying why I think the U.S., come the next decade, could be really going through a big boom. The development in new energy sources means the U.S. is likely to be energy self-sufficient by about 2025. At that point, half of the U.S. trade deficit disappears. I'm watching at the moment a boom in the U.S. petrochemical industry -- over 30 billion of new investment going into it.
WALKERAnd American manufacturers now tell me that they are more and more tempted to bring factories back from China because the this energy cost is becoming so low here. And what's wonderful about this new energy development is it looks -- given the transfer from coal fired power stations to gas fired -- as though, by 2020, the U.S. could actually be meeting those Kyoto protocol targets on carbon emissions it never signed up to.
REHMMartin Walker, his new book is titled "The Crowded Grave." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Of course, what you're talking about is the fracking that's going on in this country. And there are concerns, a lot of concerns about what fracking could do to the water table, especially in Marcellus Shale. To what extent have you looked into that?
WALKERQuite a lot. I mean, there's three main concerns. One is about seismic activity and whether it can produce minor earthquakes and so on.
REHMAs it seems to have done in Ohio and West Virginia.
WALKERAnd it seems to have done it -- and in northwest England as well, but much less than traditional coal mining does. The second real concern, as you say, is the water table. And I think it's important to remember that this is a very new technology. So when it began, some of the slick, that is, the liquid that was being pumped down, mainly water but also sand and other chemicals, some of it contained really bizarre things like diesel oil, even cyanide in some cases. But there are now slicks which contain no toxics at all.
WALKERSchlumberger has developed a very good one. This is a technology which is developing and improving. What we've also learned, because of the way in which different states have different regulations, is that when you have really good regulations that put, for example, a triple casing around the drills as it goes down through the water table, then you've probably got a fairly secure system. And I think what we're all learning -- not just from the U.S.A. but in Europe, in China as well -- is that we're going to have to follow the American very best practice rather than the worst practice to make this safe.
REHMAnd one of the problems has been the reluctance on the part of the fracking companies to release the content of what they were fracking with.
WALKERWell, a lot of them claim it's proprietary information. They don't want to sort of share it with their -- I think that there is now -- the chap, Mr. Hackett, the man who runs Anadarko, is running a new organization of these gas exploration companies. And I think that they've come up with a solution to that particular problem. There is going to be a -- they are going to reveal to the Department of Energy exactly what the nature of these chemicals is going to be. And I think that's going to be useful.
WALKERThe other great problem is about water and water shortages. And there's a lot of alarmist talk about this. But if you check out the actual use of water, the average American drill is using about as much water in its operational lifetime as a Florida golf course uses in five weeks. Now, there are an awful lot more gold courses in the U.S.A. than the 2,000 drilling rigs that are producing the fracking.
REHMBut the concern is about the effects on that water table and what could happen.
WALKERAbsolutely right. But this is a problem that we've also had with oil in the past. The water table tends to be around about 2,000 feet or so below its surface level. Most of these gas reservoirs are 6- , 7-, 8,000 feet below. It's really a matter of -- so you won't get very much contamination directly. The real problem is whether the drill itself is going to produce the -- the drilling will produce contamination through leakage.
WALKERI think the fracking industry was, in a way, its own worst enemy originally by being so secretive and by being so irresponsible in some of the stuff that they were pumping down into the slick. But this is a learning process that's taking place. MIT did a study that they published last year, and they gave the fracking industry a relatively clean bill of health, certainly by comparison with the coal and oil industry. We've seen nothing from fracking even to begin comparison with what happened with the great spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
REHMTell me what else you're so optimistic about the U.S. economy over the next decade.
WALKERWell, once again, just as we did after Henry Ford developed the assembly line, we're living in a world designed in America. I mean, if you put together Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Facebook, Twitter, Google -- I mean, these are companies that have changed the way the we live, and they could only have been developed in America, the only country that's got the mix of venture capital, huge consumer market, research labs, government support that makes this kind of thing happen.
REHMMartin Walker, his new book, "The Crowded Grave." Short break and right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. My dear friend Martin Walker is here with us. He's been on this program many times, usually in the role of journalist or commentator on our Friday News Roundup. He's here in a brand new role today as the author of a series of mysteries featuring Bruno, chief of police. Martin Walker's latest is "The Crowded Grave."
REHMHere's an email, Martin. I want you to address this early on. He says, "I'm enjoying this interview. I don't read paper books anymore, and not many of yours are on Kindle. Any chance of the older books being released on Kindle?
WALKERWell, I hope so 'cause the last one, the third in the series, sold more on Kindle than it did in hardcover.
REHMIsn't that interesting, that transition?
WALKERIt's happening more and more...
WALKER...except in Europe where there's still a lot of resistance to it, particularly in Germany where they have a fixed price system so nobody can undercut the local bookstores.
REHMI see. All right. Let's open the phones, going to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning, Diane. And good morning, Mr. Walker.
RICHARDTwo quick things. One, I'm not familiar with your books, and I intend to rectify that now. I'm glad you were here to -- in this capacity today as author. Secondly, you talked about your primary character's interest in cooking, which makes me think of the character Carlo Brunetti. But what other characters have informed characteristics of your protagonist? I mean, is he physical like Irene Huss? Is he angry like Martin Beck? Is he forward like Meg Gray or...
WALKERNo. He's very French like Meg Gray and cares a great deal about his food. And I'm interested. You had said Carlo Brunetti who's, of course, Donna Leon's character set in Venice. Because she and I are -- we're bringing out an anthology at the end of the year with -- we've got short stories about our characters. The -- I think one of the biggest influences on me was a negative one. There's been a passion lately or a fashion lately for detectives, particularly Scandinavian ones, who are alcoholic, utterly miserable, can't talk to their children, never have decent relationships with women.
WALKERAnd I don't know many people like that, and so I wanted to write about this really rather decent, wholesome, genuinely wise fellow, whom I know, my local village policeman, and to make a -- and to write stories that anybody can read. There's not a great deal of bloodshed. There's no overt sex going on. I mean, it's -- there's a lot of romance going on, but I just think that it's about time we recognize we need heroes. And I decided to write about one.
REHMHow's that, Richard?
RICHARDThat's a wonderful answer and a wonderful effort. I'm looking forward to reading the books.
REHMThanks for calling. Let's go to Bethany Beach, Del. Good morning, Carol Anne.
CAROL ANNEHi, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm fine. Thank you.
ANNEThank you so much for having Mr. Walker on again. I was in La Botte this winter having a few days' visit with friends and heard Mr. Walker speak. And he got a standing ovation. That crowd loves him, and I can understand why. It was a brilliant, brilliant lecture. And I was kind of skeptical, you know, to go from that to reading a book -- you know, a novel in France after such an intellectual discussion.
ANNEAnd I just enjoyed -- I did get an autographed copy, and I took it on to Cuba. And I have to tell you our guide talked -- I gave a little story about a -- you know, what went on during the period where the Cubans were starving when the Russians left. And they had chickens. A lot of times they had chickens as pets. And so here's your solution. What they did, because they couldn't cook their own chicken, they swapped with their neighbor, and so...
WALKERBut then I -- my neighbors and I are eating so often at one another's houses, I'd still end up eating Saco (sp?).
REHMOh, that is too much.
ANNEI just had to share that. And I tell you I so enjoyed your book in Cuba, and then I passed it on to a friend right now. She's probably listening, too. I called her up before. I said, put it on because Mr. Walker's going to be on this show.
REHMOh, good. I'm so glad. And, you know, there's one possibility. But as you say you're eating and dining with your friends. Let's go to Laineen in Corpus Christi, Texas. Good morning.
LAINEENGood morning, Diane. Good morning, Mr. Walker.
LAINEENDelighted to hear your voice. My husband and I have been avid readers of yours, but, unfortunately, not of your novels. We're going to change that immediately.
LAINEENWe read you before we went to Russia, while we lived in Russia, after we left Russia. We were over there as teachers. Want to know your views, not on your novel but on the Russian-Syrian connection and also a little bit about Russian politics currently. You have great insight. You have great erudition, and we would really, really appreciate your comments and your thoughts.
REHMThanks for calling, Laineen. Of course, you spent numerous years in Russia.
WALKERIndeed. I was a correspondent there all during Perestroika. And I -- like many people, I had my heart broken by the way in which the collapse of the Soviet Union and the birth of what was meant to be a democratic Russia has been somewhat perverted in recent years. And I'm still hopeful for the future. There is a new generation in Russia. The amount of courage that we've seen on the streets of Russia by the demonstrators -- demonstrations against Putin have been very heartening.
WALKERBut I think that part of the problem is the way in which we have this much more shock than therapy kind of western policy towards Russia after the collapse of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it led to a situation in which, quite simply, the country was looted, in part, by (unintelligible), the power -- forces of power, many of them former KGB, in part by the oligarchs.
WALKERAnd Russia has now got a deeply flawed -- a deeply dysfunctional economic system which can't last very much longer because one of the results of fracking gas is that Russia is losing its markets. And to plan to have -- to be saying it's (unintelligible) gas to the U.S.A. It's being forced to negotiate downwards its price for contracts for gas for Europe. The Chinese won't be buying Russian gas. Russia is going to have to do a major rethink about its economic strategy overall. And I don't think that the Putin Administration is remotely fitted to do that.
REHMAnd yet together with China, Russia has been blocking any UN action regarding Syria. What is the relationship between Russia and Syria?
WALKERWell, there were two aspects to this. The first one is that Russia does have a long traditional relationship with Syria both as a diplomatic friend and as arms supplier, which is an important aspect of the Russian economy. But more than that, the Russians are digging their heels in simply because they can. They are simply trying to reassert that they -- in their view, they remain a great power.
WALKERThey have to be taken seriously. No big internationalization can take place without them. And I think that that strategy is running its course simply because of the progressive -- what is now a civil war in Syria.
REHMThanks for your call, Laineen. Let's go to Jakarta, Indonesia. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEGood morning. I'm a native Floridian who works for the French in Jakarta in a French public, overseas public school. And my question is, with education reform in England where students -- university students are required to pay more and more university fees approaching what we start to pay in the states and education being relatively free, public -- higher education in France, how do you think the future of the United States is going to play out with higher education becoming exorbitant for young people where many people are not even choosing to go to university?
STEVEHow do you think that's going to affect the boom that you spoke about earlier in the coming decade?
WALKERThat's a very good question. I think we're at just the very beginning of a revolution in the way we approach higher education, partly because of the extraordinary growth that we're seeing in distance learning, that is the role of the Internet and the wide dissemination of lectures by star lecturers now over the Internet. We're seeing this now with Harvard, with Yale, with Stanford, with some of the classic American universities.
WALKERI think also, what we're starting to rethink, whether the extension of adolescence, that is to say sending people away for college for three or four years when an awful lot of them major in beer and parties. It's not necessarily a good idea and that education is perhaps something we ought to think about staggering over all of our lives as we go from one job to the next and so on. And yet, ironically, the problem that we're facing is that, when we come to the world's top research universities, all of the international measuring standards come down to the top 20.
WALKERThere's always about 16 or 17 or them that are American and the rest are British. Ironically, the Germans, the French are nowhere. The highest French university in the global rankings is the Sorbonne, around about number 45. The highest German one is lower than that. It is extraordinary how bad French and German and most European universities have become lately simply because they are underfunded. And they have extraordinarily high proportions of students to professors.
REHMBut isn't there concern in this country about the extent to which a full four-year college education, plus graduate school, plus even a PhD, lead nowhere in the world of work?
WALKERWell, it's still the case that you'll more likely be unemployed if you don't have a high school diploma than if you have any kind of degree.
WALKERBut the level of cost that we're seeing in the U.S., I think, has now become so gargantuan and so swollen that it is going to encourage the move towards different forms of university education, distance learning and so on. It is quite extraordinary that you have to spend something like $200,000, $250,000 to get even a fairly middle grade education these days.
REHMAnd think about the professional education that so many people want to go on to. Where is the country going to be if we no longer have those brilliant-minded researchers who are doing what needs to be done to move the country forward?
WALKERAbsolutely. One thing we cannot ever afford to do is to stop investing in excellence, particularly in research excellence and particularly in basic research. Whether the university is the best way to do that is an open question. Whether we -- whether researchers should also have to spend part of their time teaching, this is one of the questions I think that this revolution is going to really start to unfold.
WALKERBut in areas like the professions of the law and medicine, we're already seeing more and more young people coming out of law school unable to get a job as lawyers. We're already seeing a rethink about the nature of the general practitioner, doctor, whether it makes sense to maintain that model. We -- I think in so many ways we're at the beginning of a series of conceptual revolutions in the way we organize society, not just in our conceptive work, in our conceptive education. I mean, I'm terribly excited about the way the world is changing.
REHMYou're an optimist, Martin.
WALKERI really am.
REHMMartin Walker is senior director of the Global Business Policy Group, editor-in-chief emeritus and international affairs columnist for United Press International and author of a series of mysteries featuring Bruno, chief of police, the latest of which is titled "The Crowded Grave." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a caller here in Washington, D.C. who remembers you, Martin. Lisa, good morning.
LISAGood morning. Can you hear me?
LISAMartin, I used to talk to you at Rosedale with our dogs.
WALKEROh, hello, Lisa. How are you?
LISAI was there -- I remember talking to you -- well, I was talking to you when your first detective story came out and Julia invited everyone at the dog park to your book party.
REHMSounds like Julia.
LISAAnd I went and bought it, and I read it. I thought I was going to read it out of politeness, but I loved it. I couldn't -- you know, as soon as I got to the murder, I couldn't go to -- I stayed up for the rest of the night to finish it.
WALKERWell, you'll be delighted to know that Mr. Benison, my basset hound, has settled down very, very happily in France. And I'm sure he has very, very fond memories of the dog park, as do I.
REHMWell, Bruno is an animal lover. He has his dog Gigi and horse Hector.
WALKERAnd he has his chickens and his ducks as well, just as I do.
REHMSo now you're going to have to tell us about Gigi and Hector.
WALKERYeah, well, Gigi is the basset hound who is the -- Bruno's hunting dog and also a dog who's been trained to look for truffles, as indeed my dog has now been trained to look for truffles.
REHMTo look for truffles.
WALKERYes. Well, you either take a pig to look for truffles...
WALKER...but the problem with the pig is that, first of all, it wants to eat the truffles, so you need a muzzle.
WALKERBut a dog will find his way back to the same tree where he's found the truffles before. So this is why my Benson is such a wonderful truffle hound.
REHMDo the truffles continue to grow in the same area year after year?
WALKERThey will come back not necessarily every year, but, normally, every second, every third year, they will be back in -- where they originally found their home in the bowl of one of these white oak trees which is where you look for them. And the best thing you can do with a really good fresh truffle, if you take a Brie, slice it in half and then put some slices of truffle in between them, close the Brie back up, leave it for 24 hours, my god, it's wonderful.
REHMOh, Martin, you do make us all hungry. I'm going to read you a final email. This from Gay, who says, "I'm a great fan of Mr. Walker's books, enjoying this interview. I just read "The Crowded Grave." Great fun." She says, "I am madly in love with Bruno." Now, Bruno is apparently someone who has innumerous relations.
WALKERWell, he fell -- in the first novel, he fell in love with a very attractive young and very ambitious young French police woman called Isabelle who was lured away to Paris to a very important job with the ministry of the interior. And Bruno realized that that was the end of it, and he sort of found solace in the arms of the mad English woman as she was called, a woman called Pamela who raises horses in the area. And -- but then Isabelle keeps on coming back.
REHMMartin Walker. The new book is titled "The Crowded Grave: A Mystery of the French Countryside." Congratulations, Martin.
WALKERThank you so much. Lovely to see you again, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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