Thursday, December 11, 2014

36. WATER 2


One month later, we returned to Herbertville; we touched the 1954 Corvette for luck before ascending.  Herbert met us in his small conference room.

“I have something for you,” said Clair.  “He opened his palm and produced a two-headed quarter.

“Wow!”  Herbert’s eyes popped.  “For me?”

“All yours.”

Herbert beamed.  He flipped the coin several times.  Then he pocketed it.  “What progress have you made?”

“We identified the right person to help us. Would you like to meet her?”

“Of course.  Now: money.  You’re going to have equity in this, so I’m not going to pay you a lot up front.  But I want you to have some payment because I expect you to give water your attention and it’s only fair you should have money to do this. Twenty-five thousand dollars, per quarter, between you, and don’t nickel and dime me with expenses.  The way we start is this:  let’s save a body of water somewhere in Central Europe or the Middle East.  Let’s have a success, demonstrate we’re capable of saving water. Your job is to figure out what body of water we should save.”

“May I hire Joy Goldberg to conduct a study?” I asked.

Clair and I returned to Herbertville with Joy’s report. 

Herbert appeared in reception and flipped a coin in front of us.  “I won my first flip,” he said proudly, holding up his two-headed quarter.


Joy had determined that the Middle East was a quagmire and so had focused her attention on Poland and Romania.  Furthermore, she identified the Dimbovitsa River in Romania as an ideal get-off-the-ground project.  This river, which flowed through Bucharest, Romania’s capital, was terribly polluted.

“Dim-bo-vit-sa?”  Herbert enunciated each syllable.  “I love it.  Let’s do it.”

Clair began to talk about how complicated it would be to transform a diseased river into a model success.

Herbert pointed across the room to a red leather placard inscribed in gold:  It Can Be Done.  “That’s my motto.  I gave one just like that to Ronald Reagan.  What’s the next step?” he asked.

“If you approve the Dimbovitsa,” I said, “we ask Joy for a feasibility study.”

“Do it,” said Herbert.  “By the way,” he said to Clair. “The Iranians have invited me to Teheran.  I think they want me to help with new negotiations.  You want to join me?”

Clair placed his palm over his chest in mock horror.  “I don’t think you want me going with you.”

Joy focused on the Dimbovitsa and harnessed her contacts at the World Bank.  

Meantime, Clair and I breakfasted at a McLean hotel with the head of CIA operations in Central Europe and CIA’s Bucharest station chief, who happened to be in town.  The latter confirmed that the Dimbovitsa was ailing; it had become more a stream than a river, and Bucharest desperately needed clean water.

We took Joy along on our next visit to Herbertville.

Herbert, as usual, was playful and gracious.  Why can’t we, he wanted to know, do something in the Middle East at the same time as Romania?  

He had forgotten, perhaps, his own first a success model.

Joy explained that the Middle East was much too volatile for a water business.

“Then we’ll do the Middle East as philanthropy,” announced Herbert.  “They’ll be two sides to this project:  a commercial, business side—in Central Europe—and a philanthropic side, in Israel and the Middle East.  I’ve heard that the Aral Sea is in terrible shape,” he added.  “I think we should save it.”

Clair and I nodded.

Joy said, “It’s too late to save the Aral Sea.”

“That means if we do it,” said Herbert, “everyone will take notice.  I want a report on the feasibility of saving the Aral Sea.”

I scribbled a note.

Joy retreated, was excused.

Herbert said he liked Joy.  Who else, he wanted to know, could help us get started?

We offered a panel of experts on various aspects of water—a group that would brief him, one-by-one, in Washington, D.C.

Two weeks later, inside a suite at the Four Seasons Georgetown, we led with Joy.  She talked about potential water projects in Central Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia—and specifically addressed her latest findings on the Dimbovitsa River.

Second to bat, Phil, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who had become an expert on all the budding republics of the Former Soviet Union.   As such, he knew about the Aral Sea.

“Where is the Aral Sea?” Herbert demanded.

“Uzbekistan,” said Phil.

Third, Suzanne, a former executive at the World Bank; she had conducted water-related loans for Central Asia.

Batting cleanup, Bill, recently retired Eurasian Chief at the CIA.

“Where exactly is the Aral Sea?” asked Herbert.

“Kazakhstan,” replied Bill.

“Kazakhstan?”  Herbert looked at me.  “Your other expert said Uzbekistan.”

Bill shook his head.  “Nope. Kazakhstan.”

(The Aral Sea is bordered by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; each republic blames the other for that sea’s demise.)

“Well, we need to save it.”

Herbert asked the spymaster and me to return to New York as soon as possible.

One week later, we shuttled to Herbertville, left of reality, more than halfway through the looking glass.

“I met James Wolfensohn, head of the World Bank at a party,” Herbert opened.  “He says he loves my idea about saving water and wants the World Bank to help any way it can.”

“That’s great…”

“And…” Herbert shushed me quiet with his right palm.  “I met with King Hussein when I was in Amman last week and he loves our idea, too.  He wants me to do something about the Jordan River.”

“That’s wonderful…”

Herbert stopped me again.  “There’s more.  I just had lunch with the foreign minister of Romania.  He loves our idea to save the Dim-bo-vit-sa.”

To everyone he ran into, worldwide, Herbert talked up water—and everyone responded positively.  Hence, Herbert was more enthusiastic than ever, and eager to push forward.

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