When I first met RemyC., in the snowy first days of 2001, I didn't know what to make of him. Tall, lanky and French, Remy was wrapped in threadbare flannel and an old scarf, as he rummaged through the Connecticut office of E Magazine, sorting through a small mountain of paper set aside for recycling. He huffed and puffed as he schlepped his worn cloth sack down to his old Toyota wagon, which had scraped and bottomed out when it entered our parking lot. Inside the sack was the "good stuff": press releases, newsletters and periodicals addressed to the magazine but no longer needed by the staff.
Remy made another pass -- his long, silvery hair bobbing down the hall -- and the rest of the week's paper was put in blue bins on the curb (with permanent marker lettering so absurdly big that we always wondered if the people who kept stealing our bins ever felt even a little guilty). In the bins went the most psychotic of the prison mail, some of it covered in hundreds of tiny hand-drawn swastikas, as well as press releases from UFO cults and esoteric Western ministers with big chest hair, Raelian cloning announcements, faxes from local Italian delis and old DSL bills.
Then there were the books. After the other E editorial intern at the time warned me not to be fooled by Remy's striking resemblance to both Christopher Lloyd and Kramer, she nervously whispered, "Remy hates us interns." Why? "Because we are in competition with him for the books," she said.
True, one of the few perks offered to us unpaid interns was the chance to score free books all environmental of course, or at least vaguely so. (Also some on UFO cults, water birth, left and right politics, media reform and other topics). Interns got first pick, then anything else was fair game for Remy. What did Remy want with all that stuff? (see photos below). He was building the foundation of what is probably among the world's finest libraries of popular environmental content, in books, periodicals, video, music and more.
For the past couple of decades, Remy has been building the Environmental Library Fund, book by book, newsletter by newsletter. He has received some support from other green visionaries, such as Elliot Maynard, Wendy Brawer, Bruce Meland, David Hatcher Childress and others. For years Remy stored his ever-growing collection in his mom's house in Connecticut (again, see pics), but he also gave the resources life by lending them out to journalists, city planners, architects, designers, and especially models.
Remy grew up in the editorial offices of French Elle, where his father was a lead photographer. As a boy he met Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and the Shah of Iran, as well as hundreds of models, designers and fashionistas. Remy came to believe in the transformative power of beautiful, stylish, intelligent women with fires in their bellies, who can grab a banner of any cause and lead the troops to victory. If they happen to show a little skin along the way, that's ok with Remy (though this view has sometimes made him controversial in the environmental movement). And so Remy spent months mentoring super green model and TV host Summer Rayne Oakes before she blew up, and shared his knowledge with an eager Olivia Zaleski, now an accomplished blogger and host for CNN online.
Most of all Remy invested in the stunning, enigmatic Betcee May, whom he still believes will carry the anti-nuclear flag over the mountain of public apathy, disinformation and nuclear industry lobbyists, to eventually throw the switch at the ceremony to shut down for good the unpopular Indian Point nuclear power plant. But Remy is passionate and not always easy to work with, and the lives of models are often destabilized with hectic shooting schedules, international jet setting and an overdose of lust and desire from others.
RemyC. at The Aquarium
But as these "after" pictures show, Remy has finally found a home for his remarkable collection of environmental materials. Just doors away from E Magazine, Remy has opened The Aquarium, at 10 Knight St. in Norwalk, Connecticut. Over the past months, Remy has taken the former office space and installed a gorgeous reclaimed wood floor (with materials and help from Bill Thomas of Always Build Green). There is fantastic art on the walls by local Joe Lurato, via Bridgeport's Day One Skate Shop, as well as a vintage poster of Tintin, one of Remy's favorites. There are ultra-comfy faux leather couches and comfortable chairs, and a small screening room with TV-video setup. There's even a back room, with funky reclaimed furniture, where Remy keeps his more racy, esoteric materials, in a kind of "adult swim" area.
There's a kick-ass sound system, including Tiki speakers, and the walls are lined with red IKEA shelves (bought after Remy ran out of reclaimed wood). Those shelves are packed with titles on green design, fashion, architecture and city planning. There are spectacular coffee table tomes on the arctic tundra, alternative artists and the striking devastation caused by logging and mining. There are academic books on environmental science, from global warming to invasive species, as well as vegetarian cookbooks. There's a whole section on China and the environment, and big sections devoted to transportation, cars and electric vehicles and batteries. There are books on activists, history and the latest theories in green business. There also soon will be copies of nearly every environmental publication that has existed around the world (including a healthy representation from Europe and Asia, in native languages), as well as archives of all those old press releases and newsletters.
The eccentric, inspiring space has also already played host to meetings of Fairfield County's Green Party, and will soon host yoga classes led by Wei Huang of nearby Westport's Arogya. The space seems like it would be a relaxing, positive place to work on downward dog.
I helped Remy sort and move some of his collection from his house to The Aquarium. He REALLY needed a physical library space.
More than one critic has tried to convince Remy that he would be better off giving all the green materials away and dispensing with the idea of a brick-and-mortar library, since we're deep into the digital age, and are more likely to spend our time updating Facebook than standing in line at the local branch. But Remy believes that the Internet has made The Aquarium even more important. He worries that today's youth have lost some of the spontaneity that comes with wandering the physical stacks of a library, when you're following cryptic Dewey Decimal numbers, and get loss in more interesting topics along the way. Remy believes in the power of print, and especially of the power of bringing different spheres of thought and culture together, to create new combinations. At The Aquarium you'll find the coolest comic book art next to a reference work on space-age textiles -- perhaps just the inspiration that a designer needs for creating the next line of sparkling green fashion.
One of the slogans of The Aquarium is that "A library is the arsenal of liberty." Remy hopes the welcoming space will become an incubator for the environmental movement, much as he says the tiny World Affairs Center in downtown Westport spawned and fueled local activists during the 1970s. (The Center also had detractors in its day, and eventually lost its nonprofit status after being accused of political activity on the part of Barry Commoner.) Remy hopes The Aquarium will link and work with environmental efforts around the world, online and in meatspace.
Yep, all this is Remy's house, before the opening of the library.
Some of Remy's critics have said he should have set up shop in a place like Berkeley, Asheville or even nearby New York City. But Remy countered that the space was most needed in Fairfield County -- which is also one of the wealthiest parts of the country, and therefore hosts a high percentage of movers and shakers. Fairfield County is also home to many marketers, hedge fund managers and media folks, all of whom have the power to reshape our world in a greener image. In fact, just a few miles away is the famed Greenwich, the birthplace of George W. Bush, as well as countless Gordon Gekkos.
Perhaps the most valuable resource at The Aquarium is Remy himself, who has devoted much of his life to researching and understanding complex environmental and social issues. The Aquarium weaves together his diverse interests (Heavy metal! Babes! Pirates! Tiki! Green!) and personality, much as Los Angeles' Museum of Jurassic Technology reflects its eccentric founder, David Wilson. Remy has served as an informal reference librarian and personal researcher for dozens of journalists, editors, designers and students. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of green publications and topics, and has shared resources and time with others around the world.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether The Aquarium finds devotees in the community, both locally and in a wider sense. Rents in Connecticut are high, and the space's future finances are uncertain. Remy is always looking for grants, donors and investors. For now, head on over to Norwalk, kick your feet back, and soak in the revolution. It's only about an hour from NYC, and you can take the train.
Also check out this feature documentary I edited for Remy, Toaster 66, on his trip down historic Route 66, hoping to pave the way for a highway filled with electric vehicles.
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