Sunday, April 20, 2014

Guest Blogger: M.L. Longworth–"After the darkness of war, the light of books."

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places.  We’re honored to have with us today France-based novelist Mary Lou Longworth who writes as M.L. Longworth.  Mary Lou has lived full-time in Provence since 1997 and has written about the region for The Washington Post, The Times (UK), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She writes a mystery series, set in Aix-en-Provence, for Penguin USA: Death at the Château Bremont, Murder in the Rue Dumas, and Death in the Vines. Her fourth book, Murder on the Ile Sordou, will be released in September 2014. She divides her time between Provence, where she writes, and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University.

Welcome, M.L.  And thank you.

Each August, before the fall semester begins at New York University's Paris campus, I hesitate whether or not to keep Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast on my reading list. Younger colleagues, I know, (although they don't tell me) find the book 'cliché' and old-fashioned. But come December, before we break for the holidays, the majority of the students tell me how much they loved reading it. Papa Hemingway's memoir is so many things, and each student gets something different from it: it's a trip back to 1920's Paris; a treaty on discipline and how to write; a culinary travel through Montparnasse; and above all, a love letter, and apology, to Hadley.

I think of Hemingway when I'm in certain neighbourhoods of Paris: near the Place Contrescarpe (then, a "cesspool"), or the Jardin du Luxembourg, where the young writer would bump into Gertrude Stein walking her dog. But I think of him most often when I'm in a Parisian haven for Anglo Saxon expats: The American Library of Paris:

The American Library Association founded the library (pictured above, on the right) in 1920. Hemingway was one of its first trustees, as was Stein, and Edith Wharton. What began as a shipment of books for WWI soldiers, it is now the European continent’s biggest English-language lending library. Hemingway wrote articles for the library's newsletter (I've never been able to find copies of them), called Ex-Libris, derived from the library's moto: Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux. After the darkness of war, the light of books.

It may feel strange--as if one is being lazy--to live in a city where French is the spoken language and yet to yearn for a place where one is surrounded by English-language books. But the American Library of Paris feels like home--insert your town's public library name here--although you can often hear French being whispered by patrons and staff. It's a great place to do research, or amble through the stacks and pick out books higgledy-piggledy, or sit comfortably in one of the sofas or armchairs and read a magazine (my first choice: The Wine Spectator. I sometimes miss California, Oregon, and Washington State wines, and love reading up on young maverick winemakers).

During the German occupation library director Dorothy Reeder and her staff bravely opened an underground book-lending service, providing books to Jews barred from the city's public libraries. Also during this time, the Gestapo shot a staff member when, very sadly, he failed to raise his hands quickly enough during a surprise inspection. I always thought that the library stayed open during the occupation thanks to its very brave staff. Brave as they were, it was family connections that kept the library open: an early chairman of the board was Clara Longworth de Chambrun, sister of the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nicholas Longworth (no relation). One of Clara's sons married the Vichy Prime Minister's daughter.

The library has always been a bridge between the USA and France, as is the Foundation Mona Bismarck, just across the river at 34 Avenue de New York (you can walk across the lovely foot bridge, the Passerelle Debilly). The exhibitions are diverse, from quilts to Yosef Karsh and Andrew Wyeth retrospectives, to American ceramics. Check their calendar for lectures or musical events, too; the setting, Mona Bismarck's Paris home, is stunningly glamorous, as she was:

And to end on a Hemingwayesque note: where to eat in the neighbourhood. Around the corner from the Bismarck Foundation is one of my favourite bistros in Paris: Aux Marches du Palais, 5 rue de la Manutention, 01-47-23-52-80. Lunch is a great time to eat in this very busy, and authentic, restaurant. They offer a set lunch menu (last time I was there, it consisted of two dishes, with a 1/4 liter of quite good wine, for 21 euros). The food is fresh, seasonal, and prepared daily. It's not for vegetarians, of fussy eaters. Hemingway would have loved it.

Guest Blogger M.L. Longworth—Sunday

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter and Springtime Redux on Mykonos

Tomorrow is Greek Orthodox Easter. It's also Easter for Protestants and Catholics.  The Julian and more modern Gregorian calendar are in synch this year for Easter.  If you want to know precisely how the date is determined, check out this link to my post a couple of years back.  

In celebration of this coming together of the faiths I'm showing you what springtime looks like on Mykonos. If the photos look familiar, you're right; I've run them before, a couple years back at Easter time. Please accept my apology, but I'm too busy recovering from jet lag and greeting old friends to run new photos. Besides the flowers still look the same.:)

It’s sunny and into the 60's, praise be the Lord!   When I arrived four days ago, the old town was just coming out of hibernation, but now restaurants, bars, and shops are open everywhere, pumped up and ready for business. 

Nature, too, is in full bloom, giving the island a blanket of green covered in red, yellow and purple wildflowers.  But it will all be gone by the advent of tourist season.  It’s a picture of the island few tourists ever see.

Although the religious rituals and local traditions practiced during Easter Week on Mykonos are something special to behold, I also covered that in the same post a few years back, and so I thought I’d share with you this Springtime pictorial view of Mykonos and its neighboring island of Delos.  The photographs are from the files of the master collector of all things visual Mykonian, Dimitris Koutsoukas.  Enjoy.

The harbor and windmills.

The Countryside.


Kalo paska.


Friday, April 18, 2014

The Island Of Dreams

An island map

Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.

The words of a very famous song, the identity of the author is long lost in the mist of time. As is its meaning.
It might have been written by a soldier, waiting for death at the hands of the enemy.
Or more popular is the version that it was written by a soldier returning north after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops in the 1745 rebellion. Or it could refer to the Celtic belief that if you die away from home, the faeries will take you back via the 'low road', some kind of transport friendly underworld. Or it be that the high road means ‘hanging by the neck until dead’, the low road means ‘by foot’ i.e. the faithful will get home before the traitor.

The banks of Loch Lomond are indeed bonnie. The loch has many islands, about 60 in low water and about 20 at high water. With that lot on a loch 18 miles long and 4 miles wide you’d think I’d find one suitable for my new book.

But alas not, so I invented one.

The islands are dotted with religious buildings, follies, old ruins and castles and in my case, some dead bodies. There are also a fair amount of crannogs (also found in Scandanavia) where ancient types also had difficulty finding an island to suit them so they built some. Probably some ancestor of Ikea.  One upright stake sunk deep into the loch bed, then stones piled round it until it breaks the surface and hey presto - your own island. They were used as homes, status symbols, refuges, hunting and fishing stations. They date back 5000 years, some of them were still in use in the mid 1700s.

                         A member of the Moray Club took this picture, he blinked and the deer was gone.

As well as the famous wallabies, there are white deer that swim the loch looking very ghostly and rather magnificent.

Here’s a run through of the islands - 

Bucinch (island of goats)
Has no goats.   

Used to be owned by the Earl of Lennox. In 1225 he gave it to his clerk ( a Buchanan ) for an annual rent of a pound of wax. The Buchanan’s became a very powerful family from this small start. This island has it’s own wee crannog, Keppinch or The Kitchen.

Ellanderroch (island of Oaks)
Has oaks.  Very big ones, for a small island.  One oak was weakened by a big hollow in the trunk so the locals filled it with concrete. It was then struck by lightning leaving only the concrete. The loch has many squalls and this is the Island the fisherman head for safety.

Fraoch Island (Heather island)
Covered in heather. Only 150 metres long and  12 metres high.  Has little soil to it dries quickly and autumn appears here a month before anywhere else on the loch. A 1792 map shows  the island as a prison. It is also said to have been used as a deposition site for nagging wives.


 Inchcailloch The island of the woman
The woman being St Kentigerna.  This is the most accessible of Loch Lomond’s islands. In the 13th century a church was built in her memory and the Buchanan family used to row across  for their  Sunday worship. The church was abandoned in 1670  but the graveyard was used until  1947.


Inchconnachan (Colquhoun's Island)
Although no real evidence of occupation remains, there are signs of a grain drying kiln and rumours abound of an illicit still closeby. This is the island of the walllabys. Rarely seen but the place is covered in their droppings seemingly. Or are the sightings of Australian wildlife and the production illegal hooch somehow related....


Inchcruin (Round Island)
Inchcruin  has a couple of sandy beaches but is mostly rocky.  At low tide it touches Inchmoan island at a strait called  ‘the geggles’. Previous owners kept a ex-US army truck on the island. Handy as there are no roads.
Inchfad (the Long Island.)
Boasts its own  canal. The canal gave access to a (legal ) distillery on the island. The grass is rich here and is thought to sustain the white deer.

Miniscule. About 25 feet high. Probably an overgrown  crannog.  The surface is covered by the remains of a castle built by the Galbraiths of Glen Fruin.

Inchlonaig (Yew tree Island)
Has Yew Trees! They were planted by Robert The Bruce. His army used up all the previous ones, using the yew for the bows of his archers

Inchmoan (peat island)
Locals used this island as a source of peat obviously. Has some splendid ruins.  Swimming here is relatively safe ( but never warm), but the interior is impassible due to  gorse and rhodedendrons.


Inchmurrin (St Murrin's island)
The largest island,  1½ miles long, 300 ft high. St Mirren, the saint not the football team, is said to have had a chapel here but no remains have ever been found. Inchmurrin was renowned for its whisky until the exciseman got a boat and put a stop to all the fun.


Inchtavannach (Island of Monks)
Monks, not monkeys. ( some people have misheard it)   At Ton-Na-Clag  the monks used to toll their bells to call the faithful to worship.

Isle of Inveruglass
'Island of the Black Stream', the Clan MacFarlane had a nice castle on the east side. Oliver Cromwell destroyed it.

Tarbet Isle (Isle of the Portage)
Tarbert is a Gaelic word  meaning, literally  'to carry over' or 'portage'. Here it refers to boats being dragged over a narrow strip of land. In this case the land lies between the north ends of Loch Long and Loch Lomond where the Viking King Haakon's men dragged their longboats across to get access to Loch Lomond  where they  caused havoc.  Sweet justice was forthcoming  as they lost ten ships in a storm on Loch Fyne, as they sailed to join Haakon’s fleet at the Battle of Largs.

The loch and its islands are in the top ten of the greatest natural wonders in Britain.

English  writer, H.V. Morton wrote:
What a large part of Loch Lomond's beauty is due to its islands, those beautiful green tangled islands, that lie like jewels upon its surface.

I'm away now to design my own island, with an illegal still, monkeys, duck billed platypuses and ....sunshine

                Caro Ramsay 18th April 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson and the Pilgrim' Rest gold rush

South Africa’s history, particularly in the last 150 years, is woven around the discovery of its amazing mineral wealth, particularly diamonds and gold.  It is the history of people and countries trying to grab these resources to make themselves rich.

Needless to say, there are interesting people associated with these developments – names such as Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato (read about him here) to name two.  But one of the strangest is a man few know about – Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson, a taciturn, eccentric loner.

The search for gold in South Africa goes back at least a thousand years, perhaps even more, with diggings at Mapungubwe in Limpopo province.  Gold from there found its way to such diverse areas as Arabia, India and Phoenicia.

In modern times, the first gold rush occurred at what is now known as Sabie in the province of Mpumalanga (Place of the Rising Sun) in 1873.  [The name Sabie is derived from the local word ulusaba, which means 'fearful river' because of the ferocious Nile crocodiles that lived in it.]  

One of the people who arrived in Sabie to make his fortune was Alec “Wheelbarrow” Patterson.

He earned the nickname “Wheelbarrow” because, as the story goes, when he headed north out of Cape Town (1700 kms south of Sabie), he had a donkey to carry his meager possessions.  Apparently, one say when he was loading it, the donkey kicked him, so he decided to move to a more technologically advanced machine, one that wouldn’t hurt him as much - the wheelbarrow.  So he ended up pushing the wheelbarrow the remaining 1600 kms or so.  If that was not enough, the area around Sabie is mountainous, making the feat even more amazing.

"Wheelbarrow" Patterson

After some time, Wheelbarrow decided that the diggings at Sabie were too crowded for his liking, so he wandered off and soon found alluvial gold in a stream about 5 kms from Sabie.  Not liking crowds, and possibly because he, like all gold seekers, was greedy, he didn’t tell anyone.  He just kept on panning.

Panning for gold

Unfortunately for him, another wandering gold digger, William Trafford, came along and also found gold in the stream, which became known as Pilgrim’s Stream because, as another story goes, when he found his first gold, he shouted “The Pilgrim is at rest!”  Unlike Wheelbarrow, who had kept his find a secret, Trafford officially registered his claim.  The area, which became known as Pilgrim’s Rest, was officially proclaimed a gold field on September 22, 1873, causing a huge gold rush, far bigger than that of Sabie,  In less than a year 1,500 diggers were working 4,000 claims.

The site of the gold rush next to Pilgrim's Stream

A claim, by the way, was 150 feet by 150 feet (47 metres square) and marked by corner pegs, which were scrupulously observed by the diggers.  Despite the reputation of gold seekers as being no-gooders, no claims were allowed to be worked on Sundays, nor between sunset and sunrise on all other days.

Although most of the gold was in the form of dust, some nuggets were also found, the largest verified one weighing 6 kgs (214 ounces).  At today’s prices that nugget would be worth more than $250,000.

When the alluvial gold started to run out, some diggers went to nearby Barberton where more gold had been found, some went to Johannesburg, where gold was discovered in 1885, and some stayed and started mining deeper into the soil.  This, of course, required heavier machinery, so the largest hydro-electric power plant in the southern hemisphere was built nearby and Pilgrim’ Rest became the second city in what is now South Africa to be electrified.  The first was another mining town – Kimberley, which Michael has written about (Click here to read that blog.).  The real cities and towns came later.

Electricity was needed to move the ore.

The Pilgrim’s Rest mines continued producing well into the 20th Century – and was the reason my grandfather, Hugh Scott MacGregor, left Scotland for South Africa.

So what happened to Wheelbarrow?

I wish I had a romantic story of how he pushed his barrow to the next stream and found more gold, or of how he made his fortune and retired to a life of luxury with someone else pushing the barrow.  But nothing is known of what happened to him.  He just passed into history having found an area that ended up producing hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold.

Most of the land in and around Pilgrim’s Rest was owned privately by a company that became known as Barlow-Rand.  It sold the land to the government of the then province of the Transvaal.  In 1986 the entire village of Pilgrim's Rest was declared a National Monument as a living memory of the early gold rush days.  It is a delightful town to visit, as are other gold-rush towns in the area.

Pilgrim's Rest today

Downtown in Pilgrim's Rest

Stan - Thursday

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Signs of the Times...

Seeing as how I am using all of my available words to wrap up a somewhat overdue book, I thought I'd bring you a little photo essay on one of my perennial favorites, Chinese signage.

As always, click to embiggen...

First up: Police.

For an authoritarian state, China sure has some interesting depictions of police officers...

To protect and to serve?

Apparently, a police supermarket

And at times the public safety messages can be a tad confusing…

"Do not panic and run in wrong way!"

Toilets deserve their own special category…

As do trash cans…

Here are a few interesting housing options…

Then there are things for which I have no explanation.

"Clown Fresh Flowers"?

I might worry about eating here... 

"The tongue explodes the chicken cube"

I'm happy they are jolly

Finally, realize that tourism and sight-seeing can be a serious business….

"Don't go barebacked in public places!"

Lisa…every other Wednesday...