Francis X. Clines wrote thousands of lyrical, acutely observed articles for The New York Times. Here are excerpts from a few of them.
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Among his postings as a foreign correspondent, Mr. Clines reported from Moscow as the Soviet Union was falling apart. In addition to a string of Page One articles chronicling the news, he found a perfect metaphor for the crumbling superpower in its airline.
March 22, 1991
MOSCOW — Carry-on luggage has been safely stored, including a cage of twittering birds, a chunk of metal that resembles a giant gleaming cog from one of Stalin’s dynamos, bags of pungent home cooking, crockery, bootleg vodka, portable air mattresses for the three-day wait in the airport lounge, a circus performer’s trampoline — all the comforts of the lumpen jet set aboard Aeroflot.
This is Soviet Communism’s airline and the world’s largest, and a swooping, wheezing metaphor for the bedraggled state of Soviet life.
If economic competition is ever to be truly attempted here, Aeroflot will have to be severed into rival parts like some mythic creature, and its much abused passengers can only hope to witness its writhings.
By this midflight, a single cup of water has been doled out to each passenger, the sum of amenities from cabin attendants radiating the imperious frown and spirit of truculence that is the hallmark of Aeroflot.
Most comrades sprawl shoeless, many dozing open-mouthed in the permanent state of steerage that is Soviet air travel. The sleeping people resemble exhausted galley oarsmen. They are a collective droop wrapped in a trajectory trapped in a monolith, a lolling smudge of beards and fur hats, seat belts dangling in oblivion as so many were at takeoff.
Covering the Carter-Reagan campaign for president in 1980, Mr. Clines took readers behind the scenes for a tartly observed slice of campaign life.
Oct. 21, 1980
CHICAGO, Oct. 17 — “Honey, we’re late,” Nancy Reagan called from what in truth has become the Reagan hearth, the top step of the movable stairs at the door to their waiting campaign jetliner, optimistically dubbed Leadership 80.
But Ronald Reagan was still busy at the office — down on the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport in New York, where he fed a final knock or two on Jimmy Carter to a squinting, listening crush of news reporters.
He finally turned back to Nancy, who waited with a mock-scold smile of “Oh those politicians.” And the Republican candidate for president bounded up the steps, smiling at his wife with the perfect sit-com timing that all the presidential couples, Jimmy and Rosalynn, John and Keke, display across America.
News reporters were astir and skipped this curtain scene. One mellifluous man darted ahead from the pack, back to his seat on the second jet, the Reagan media “zoo” plane, and there revved himself up over the engines to tell of an unusually exciting development.
“Hello, hello,” the mellifluous man said into the plane’s microphone connection to his action-news-eyewitness-alive anchor desk. “Here we go,” he said, cocking his baritone like a revolver. “And three, two, one: ‘Ronald Reagan today agreed to a one-on-one debate with President Carter…’”
Thus did hope return that the campaign might prove to be something more than isolated jet caravans wending their way separately across America onto each evening’s TV news screens.
In 1993, the Bronx Zoo changed its name. In Mr. Clines’s hands, it was a front-page story, with a soupçon of bemused irony lurking just beneath the Timesian surface.
Feb. 4, 1993
The New York Zoological Society, deciding the word “zoo” had become an urban pejorative with a limited horizon, announced yesterday that it was dropping the word from the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo and the Prospect Park Zoo.
They are to be called Wildlife Conservation Parks beginning Monday, said William Conway, president of the society, who concedes he risks greatly bestirring much of the urban menagerie beyond the 10,000 creatures of the, uh, zoos. But he says he must do something about the little word.
“I’ve been here 37 years and it’s like changing my father’s name,” he said. “But it’s about time.”
After arguing over the idea of casting aside “zoo” for the last two years, the society’s directors finally agreed with Mr. Conway that the time had come to make the serious point to the city and the world that the society runs much more than zoos, with 158 conservation and research projects flourishing worldwide.
“It goes far beyond what you see at the zoo,” said Mr. Conway, unable himself to drop the word during an interview.
“It’s short and snappy — zoo — and we know we created a problem,” he said. “But in The American Heritage Dictionary the word ‘zoo’ has a secondary meaning of a situation or place marked by ‘rampant confusion or disorder.’ We are not confused or disordered. And it’s really too late for the simple idea of conventional zoos. We need a sea change.”
The 98-year-old society is so set on its course that it does not even want to see the word in its own title and is officially changing its name to NYZS/The Wildlife Conservation Society.