Monday, March 27, 2017

True Crime: The Kidnapping of Lisa La Gioconda

Annamaria on Monday

On 21 August 1911, Lisa Gherardini was kidnapped from her Paris home.  She was not missed until twenty-four hours later.  Then, despite frantic efforts by the Paris Prefecture of Police and La Sûreté and a world-wide hunt for her abductor, with her picture blazoned over front pages of newspapers everywhere, nothing was heard of her whereabouts until December of 1913.  Here is the photo that the police used to try to locate her:


Lisa, nicknamed Mona, was already famous before she disappeared.  Once the dragnet went out to try to find her, hers became the most famous face on the planet.

Lisa was, as her name indicates, Italian—yet she was ensconced in the Louvre when she disappeared.  Leonardo da Vinci, unable to part with her and give her to her husband Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine silk merchant, took her with him to France around 1517.  After Leonardo’s death, she lived in splendor with King Louis XIV.  Louis XV didn’t much like her looks, so he relegated her to the office of one of his minions.  She went to live in the new art museum in the Louvre in 1797.

Once her disappearance was noticed on 22 August 1911, a hue and cry went up from the citizenry of Paris.  How could the administration of the Louvre have been so careless as to lose her?  And how could the Paris police and the French National Criminal Investigations Department be so clueless when it came to getting her back?   Some wags posited that the disappearance was a set-up—to boost attendance at the museum.  Had that been the case, it would have worked.  As it happened, people lined up to get in to see the empty wall where the painting had hung.

Jokes circulated: The Eiffel Tower will be next to be taken.  Cancan girls danced dressed as topless Mona Lisas.

Directors and investigators lost their jobs.

Despite every stone being turned, every vehicle being searched, every museum employee being investigated, the trail went cold.

Little did the flics know that the lady was ensconced for the next two years just a few blocks from her former home, in the humble apartment of Vincenzo (ne’ Pietro) Peruggia, who had worked at the Louvre as a carpenter.

He kept the painting hidden for two years, at which point he contacted a Florentine antiquarian art dealer—Alfredo Geri—and the Director of the Uffizi—Giovanni Poggi.  He told them that he (mistakenly) believed that the masterpiece had—as so many others had—been looted by Napoleon.   He claimed to have taken it because it was Italian and belonged in Italy.  He wanted the government to give him a reward for his patriotic caper.  Those Florentine gentlemen, handling the delicate situation with great aplomb and cleverness, got Peruggia to turn the painting over to them.  Once he went back to his hotel room, he was arrested.

Then the Hotel Tripoli-Italia, now the Hotel La Gioconda

In the course of Peruggia's trial, the story of how he managed the theft emerged.  Dressed in the typical white smock of a museum skilled worker, he entered on a Sunday and hid in a storage room overnight.  The next day, when the museum was closed and only staff members were about, he took the picture into a stairwell and removed it from the protective box in which it had been displayed.    The Mona Lisa is painted, as many Renaissance works were, on a board.  He took it out of its frame, wrapped it in his smock, and for all intents and purposes, walked out of the building with it under his arm.

Once the director of the Uffizi had authenticated it, he declared that it would be returned to France.  Mona Lisa made a triumphal tour of her true homeland before she went back to her place in the Louvre.

Peruggia, because of his patriotic claims, got off with a light sentence of one year and fifteen days.  He served seven months.

These are the facts as far as I can tell.  There is a lot of other conjecture about the affair, but I take it with a grain of salt.  Especially, the long article in the May 2009 edition of Vanity Fair—a first serial printing of a chapter of a book, The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.  For one thing, those authors—throughout their recounting of the story—misspelled Peruggia’s name.

Some authors say that it was this theft that made the Mona Lisa the most famous painted work of art in the world.  Art historians, though, say that it is a surpassingly wonderful work.

The last time I saw it, I was appalled by how it is treated as a celebrity, rather than as a work of genius.  Camera flashes are going off, several a second, right in poor Lisa’s face.  Ugh!  On top of which, another Leonardo masterpiece, his The Virgin of the Rocks hangs nearby, and none of the philistines that are taking selfies with Mona even give it glance.  Here it is.

If you show up in the Louvre, of course you should try to see Mona in person.  But spend a few minutes with this one too.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Emerging Into The Light

Zoë Sharp

This week, Spring officially sprang. In the Northern Hemisphere it was on March 20th at 10:28 in the morning. I never knew they could pinpoint it so precisely.

It feels quite appropriate, that I have just emerged, blinking, into the light of a new season. I've been holed up, head down, with a miner's lamp on my head, chipping away at the word-face.

But I have finally finished the new Charlie Fox book. Hurrah!

There have been times, I don't mind admitting it, when I didn't think that light at the end of the tunnel was ever going to get any closer.

Of course, as I write this I have yet to receive my publisher's and editor's feedback, but it feels good to have typed the last word of the epilogue and think that it all makes sense -- more or less, anyway.

So now I have to try to catch up with all the emails I should have responded to but have pushed aside because any time spent with fingers on keys should be adding more words to the book. And it also gives me time, however briefly, to catch up with friends I also have felt unable to go and see.

And that, as it turned out, was a big mistake on my part. A week or so ago I travelled north to attend the funeral of a very dear friend, someone I've known for probably forty years. Her daughter is a week different in age to me, and in the past I've had the privilege of sailing and skiing with the family. I used to be at their house so often when I was younger I think they felt either they should adopt me, or charge me rent.

Listening to the eulogy, I was in awe, as always of how much she packed into her life. She may have been taken from us early, but nobody could possibly say she squandered a moment while she was here.

It's made me realised that I, too, do not want to squander time. So, anybody who's ever airily made the offer, "Come and stay!" may soon have cause to regret their generosity. On the plus side, I'm quite handy to have around the home. I called in on a friend locally a couple of days ago, and ended up dismantling and reassembling their sticking front door lock over a cup of tea.

Finishing the book also seems to have kick-started my brain into plotting. I have two short stories with deadlines that are rapidly approaching. They were really quite generous deadlines when I first agreed to them, but with the overrun of the latest book, they're now starting to loom just a teensy bit. I vaguely looked at them while I was still working on the book, and nothing occurred, but as soon as I'd hit 'Send' on the email with manuscript attached, the bit of my brain that was obviously churning things over woke up and spat out a couple of workable ideas. I love the subconscious mind!

I also have a garden to sort, which I held at bay over the winter by covering the weeds with bits of old carpet. I now have to uncover the earth and actually plant things in there which I hope might flourish. Any suggestions for plants that someone with the opposite of green fingers can look after -- and that might have a reasonable life expectancy under those circumstances -- gratefully received.

I've been thinking of putting in some form of small ornamental bamboo, just for the wonderful calming rustling noise it makes in the breeze. But I confess that when it comes to plants I am no expert!

I also love aliums, but am not sure if I have the right sort of soil to grow them:

And any kind of interestingly shaped greenery, like box:

As well as a pair of bay trees for either side of the front door in planters:

Although, of course, first I would need to build some wooden planters! Basically, I want to put together a quiet little space where I can sit out and make notes, or tap away at my keyboard, without feeling I should be weeding constantly. What's not to like about that?

And with British Summer Time -- or Daylight Saving Time, if you prefer -- officially starting at 1am on Sunday, March 26th, the time for sitting out in the garden is nearly upon us.

This week's Word of the Week is Ostara, which as well as being the Germanic goddess of Spring, fertility and new life, is also a holiday. Her symbols include eggs, rabbits and others that denote fertility and it is after Ostara that the Easter holiday is named. Hot cross buns were originally offerings to this goddess.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Tale of Two Islands


On the surface, you wouldn’t see them as having much in common.  One is fourteen times the size of the other, with six and a half times the population. It’s also a tropical rainforest island with low unemployment and a thriving economy, while the smaller island is a desert landscape oasis amid a country of no-end-in-sight Great Depression times.  And they are separated from each other by virtually half the circumference of the globe.

One is Kauai, the most undeveloped of Hawaii’s main islands, the other (of course) is Mykonos, among the most developed of Greece’s Aegean Cycladic islands.

I’ve never been to Hawaii before, and after a week in Honolulu at Left Coast Crime, we headed off for five days on Kauai.  Quite a difference between those two islands, though both are beautiful. But Oahu is dominated by a big city, whereas Kauai seems dominated by the desire not to become one.

We did the touristic things…running all around Kauai to all the places reachable by car—the Mustang convertible is the rental car of choice here for good reason (see, sunburned nose).  Kauai truly is a paradise…as the crush of tourists and places catering to them attest.

I’m not being judgmental on that point, just honest. Frankly, Mykonos is far more touristic in season than Kauai.  Which brings me to the point of this post.

As Barbara and I like to do, we ferretted out local places, and spoke with locals. We also read the local papers.  The result was simple:  Compared to our home island of Mykonos, it’s déjà vu all over again.

The locals are battling developers who “promise” their developments will not change the basic nature of the island.  They’re also battling commercial interests seeking to establish mega-ventures in the heart of residential enclaves, notably a huge dairy farm…upwind of long established homes. Upwind means that the scents embracing your island home will not be ambrosia carried on trade winds.  To use the phrase I’ve heard (not herd) island lovers mention in describing the situation, I think “bull shit” sums up both the proposal and aroma succinctly—even though “cow shit” may be more accurate for a dairy farm.

So, what are the similarities between Kauai and Mykonos? There are no dairy farms on Mykonos, but there are sewage treatment facilities and dumps, and continuing debates over both.

There’s also the changing life style phenomenon common to both islands. Kauai has been discovered by celebrity types…Mark Zuckerberg paying a reported 100 million dollars for oceanfront property is the most current big story…and though celebrities living there are nothing new (Pierce Brosnan, Ben Stiller, Julia Roberts, Bette Midler), it appears everyone believes they can get equivalent amounts for what they have to sell.  Or rent…to tourists and locals alike. 

Zuckerberg Property

For sure, that’s now the established norm on Mykonos.

And once that mentality takes hold—that the dollar or euro is what matters—those who follow its lead only add to development, desecration, and despondency of those who truly care for their island. 

Perhaps Kauai will be different. After all, it functions under an American system of laws and has an indigenous people highly motivated to protect their history, plus a lot of newcomers willing to join in the battle.

We shall see.  After all, the worst that can happen is Kuaui will begin to look like Oahu.  I leave it to you to choose which you prefer. There’s no right answer.



Bottom line: Different strokes for different folks. And neither island is likely to give you one. Yes, we’ll be back.

Aloha—as we fly off to NYC today.  Or should I say, “Oy vey?”


Friday, March 24, 2017

Waterloo Bridge to Portsoy.

As the eagle eyed amongst you may know I was in London last week. Alan  had gone out for a walk on the Wednesday while I was at my acupuncture lecture. He walked down to the Houses of Parliament and stood on Waterloo Bridge and sent me a selfie from there. 
The same place and time  where five people lost their lives just 7 days later.
Thinks like that always make you stop to think.
Signs on the London Underground are saying today, 'All terrorists are politely reminded that this is London. So we are going to have a cup of tea and carry on as usual. Thank you.'
But on the lighter side of life Stan the man was supposed to be riding in the Cape Argos Cycle race, I think it was called off or delayed for some reason. My friend, a Scottish journalist who was the Times South African correspondant for many years, had been training for the Cape Argos and sending me regular facebook messages about how badly his training was going. I understand that these two gentlemen met over a tennis net. And discovered they had me in common!
I'm not sure what you say in those situations? 'Of all the tennis courts in all the world, you had to walk on to mine.' ?? 

On a slightly more insane note the Scottish Nationalists are at it again. They are calling for what's now known as "the second referendum".  I can’t be bothered toruturing my brain with this logic but it goes something like this. The Scottish population voted to stay in the EU so if we have a referendum and vote to go independent we will then rejoin the EU although the rules are you can’t for 7 years if you are a newly independent nation (and the Spanish have said they will veto Scotland's application for entry as they want to keep hold of the Catalans) while everybody is ignoring the fact that 34% of the SNP PARLIAMENTARY party membership voted to leave the EU.....
Meanwhile back in the real world..... last week I was in Portsoy and back in Nairn where I do believe Stan has hit the odd golf ball or two. So here is a photo flaneur of the trip.

A rainbow over Loch Ness. just  because it could!

Rannoch Moor. Bleak.

The sands at Nairn


                                                  Sunset at Nairn
                                           Just before the event at the Salmon Bothy in Portsoy
                                                        View from the walk way at Nairn
                                                                    Sunset at Nairn
                                                              Alan getting some fresh air
 The Bothy, prevent. They had make cupcakes with tiny books on them! And Prosecco!
 Miss Ramsay, Miss Grey and Miss Cleeve
Another sunset

                                                        The sell out crowd at the Bothy.

The Salmon Bothy is now a venue for arts and crafts and community activities. It was built in 1834 as a ice store and Salmon store and has been all sorts in between,  on the walls were old photographs of boys learning to be draughtsmen and girls learning to be cooks! 
Portsoy is a tiny village, population of 1700 people. It sits on the Moray Firth about fifty miles north of Aberdeen. It probably looks the same now as it did in the 1830's.

Caro Ramsay 24 03 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Easy come; easy go

Stanley - Thursday

It was 400 years after Bartolomeu Dias was the first European to set foot in what he called Angra Pequena (small bay) in 1487 that the first Europeans settled there.  The reason?  Good whaling, excellent fishing, and an abundance of guano from thousands of cormorants, penguins, and gannets.  In 1887, the village was renamed for sentimental reasons to Lüderitzbucht.  This is often shortened to Lüderitz.  (Click here for my Lüderitz blog.)

Lüderitz today - German influence is very strong.

Bank cormorant 
African penguin (formerly jackass penguin!)

Cape gannets

The area would probably remained a small trading town at the bottom of the then German Southwest Africa (now Namibia) at the southern end of the Namib desert had it not been for a railway worker, Zacharias Lewala.  As he was working on a railway line in 1908, he picked up a strange rock lying on the sand about 10 kilometres from Lüderitz.  His supervisor, August Stauch, a railway inspector, identified it as a diamond, and the rush was on.

Given that the area was under German control, most of the people who flooded to the area were German, and soon a mining village sprung up, called Kolmannskuppe.

This was no shanty town erected by poor miners.  No, because of the wealth generated by the diamonds, the local residents decided to build a German town in the middle of the desert.  Not only that, they built all the amenities a prosperous German town would have: a hospital (which had the first x-ray equipment in the southern hemisphere, a school, a power station, an ice factory, as well as the first tram in Africa.  For recreation, the town boasted a theatre, a sport hall, a casino, and a skittle alley.

All of this in the middle of the desert, all funded by diamonds.

The German Government soon declared a vast area of the countryside off limits - the Sperrgebiet, the Forbidden Area.  The size of this ended up being approximately 300 kms long and 100 kms wide (180 by 60 miles).

Two things happened to spoil the party.  The diamonds became increasingly scarce after the First World War.  Then the richest find find ever was discovered at the mouth of the Orange River, on the border with South Africa, where diamonds were just lying on the beaches waiting to be picked up.  Most of the inhabitants of Kolmannskuppe (or Kolmanskop as it is now known) just picked up and left, often abandoning homes and possessions in their haste to get to Oranjemund (Mouth of the Orange).

And Kolmannskuppe declined, and declined, and was eventually abandoned in 1956.  Since then, the desert has taken over, slowly invading the buildings, sandblasting the outsides when the wind howls, and creeping inside through every nook and cranny.

Kolmanskop today

Today, what came so easily and went so easily is undergoing somewhat of a resurrection.  Now it is a popular tourist attraction and the site of many movies and TV programs.  It will never regain its affluence of long ago, but it is one of the great ghost towns of the planet.


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


April 28-26
Malice Domestic
Hyatt Regency
Bethesda,  Maryland
Panel: TheBritish Empire
(FYI- Sujata and I will be on the same panel!!!)

May 31
Janet Rudolph Literary Salon:
"The History of Hot Places: Clashes between Colonialism and Local Cultures”
Joint appearance with Michael Cooper

Jun 11
Books NJ
Sounds of the Paramus Library
Panel: How to Write (and Read) Mystery
Signing at the MWA-NY Booth

June 16-18
Deadly Ink Conference
Hilton Garden Inn
Rockaway, New Jersey


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, comes out June 6, 2017.
Just signed the contract for the next two Aimée Leduc investigations in Paris with Soho Press.


Paper back of Rat Run published 28th March.
Signed two-book contract with Severn House.


"The Olive Growers,” appears in BOUND BY MYSTERY, an anthology edited by Diane DiBiasi celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, out in March.


Dying to Live (Kubu #6) to be released in May in UK and in October in USA