Saturday, January 31, 2015

So, Tell Me What Happened.


Okay, we all know what you’re expecting me to write about today. Yes, the Kardashians are actually aliens!

I read that while standing in line at a supermarket. And who am I to doubt what appears in print?  I mean, for example, if you read what the newspapers are writing in the wake of Greece’s Parliamentary elections last Sunday, everyone predicted precisely what happened.  (Though, in my own immodest moment, I hasten to point out that as far as I can tell only yours truly hit the trifecta…picking SYRIZA to finish #1, New Democracy #2, and Golden Dawn (Chrysi Avgi) #3—not to mention the story line in my second Andreas Kaldis’ novel, Assassins of Athens coming to life :)). 

SYRIZA far left, Independent Greeks far right.

Far left SYRIZA came in two seats short (149) of what it needed (151 of 300) to form a government on its own, and immediately partnered with a far right party that shared its views on ending austerity, Independent Greeks with 13 seats.  As for how much else those coalition partners share, we shall see.  Independent Greeks’ leader, Panos Kammenos, was reported as content to throw his party’s support to SYRIZA simply on the promise of being appointed Defense Minister; a touchy appointment considering the history of that ministry, so we’ll see how that plays out.

Coalition leaders, Kammenos and Tsipras

So, what really happened?

Simple. The guys who promised precisely what the people wanted to hear won. Period, end of story.

Well, not quite the end.  Now, the same folks who’ve been lambasting and vilifying the EU-European Central Bank-IMF troika for years and vowing to immediately disavow Greece’s austerity inducing debt obligations and enacted measures, have literally overnight found a new mantra on the subject: employ conciliatory, respectful language in public discussions with or about Greece’s lenders. As for those new government ministers who didn’t get the “talk nice,” memo, they’ve been dressed down in public by their party leadership as “inexperienced public communicators.”  That doesn’t mean what they said was incorrect, just that it’s not the way to put things. Any more.

Days before the Election

For example, on Thursday the EU Parliament's President came to Athens to meet with Greece’s new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and he was initially effusive in his praise of how the meeting went, particularly over Tsipras’ vow to crack down on tax cheats and corruption.  But what I found most significant was Ekathimerini’s (Greece’s newspaper of record) report of Prime Minister Tsipras’ take on the meeting:

“The Greek premier, for his part, said that his government was aiming for ‘a comprehensive European and mutually beneficial solution on matters of common interest.’ He noted that ‘it will take time’ for such an agreement to be reached. But he insisted that his administration, which wants to renegotiate Greece’s loan commitments, is open to discussions. ‘We are negotiating with safety, we are guaranteeing stability,’ he said.”

Wow, what a change...for the time being.

European Parliament President and Tsipras in Athens

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased to see that the new government has left its firebrands at the door. After all, now it’s their house they risk burning down. 

And they’ve hit the ground running, giving at least the impression things are changing.  For example, the photograph at the top of this post is of Tsipras being sworn in as Prime Minister by Greece’s President in a civil ceremony…an oath usually administered amid pomp and circumstance on a Bible in the presence of the Archbishop of Athens.

But it’s way too soon to speculate on what will ultimately happen. The knee-jerk reaction of the world's financial markets has Greek banks besieged on all fronts, and though some of SYRIZA's promises to its supporters have already been kept (rehiring cleaning people at the finance ministry) more significant ones are on hold (increasing the minimum wage).

Assuming Greece’s leadership is sincere in its more conciliatory approach, the real test will come at SYRIZA’a rank and file level when it’s Tsipras’ time to deliver on his key economic promises––goals dramatically different from what the EU says it's prepared to accept. That’s assuming, too, that his newly appointed government ministers representing the many different factions making up SYRIZA (an acronym in Greek for “The Coalition of the Radical Left) will follow their prime minister’s lead in substance as well as form.

Yes, there are a lot of thorns to prick oneself upon before reaching the rose, but on balance, public relations have been going about as well as the new prime minister could hope for. Then again, he’s always been good at that.  Still, his first steps so far over the first week seem in the right direction, even if viewed through the rose-colored glasses so often accompanying the sort of exuberant expectations generated by the election of a prayed for new broom. 

Whether this broom sweeps clean, or simply redistributes the dirt to under different rugs, we’ll find out soon enough.



Jeff—Saturday

Friday, January 30, 2015

The British Museum



The British Museum was founded 1753. It now houses over 8 million objects.

           

 It is famous for many things including the objective of our visit – the Rosetta Stone, it is infamous for a few too, the Elgin Marbles.

                                         

Like all government funded museums, it is free. Apart from the special exhibitions but you can spend days wandering around looking at ‘stuff’ and thinking….
Wow, how old is that?
What is it worth?
Who did we steal it from?
Do they want it back?
                                        
                                       


The BM was founded  by  Sir Hans Sloan, physician and naturalist  (1660–1753). He left his collection  of over 70 000 artefacts, drawings and paintings to King George II.
There is so much to look at and photograph, I’m only blogging about the bits I like. Durer is probably my favourite artist, along with Degas ( you can almost smell the horses in Jockey’s in the Rain).
Sloan had purchased much of Durer’s work. I like this….

                                      
                                                    The Walrus, 1521.

Initially the collection was housed in Montague House. The BM and the British Library were one and the same – the latter being formed from many collections including the Royal Libraries (four of them to be precise). The British Library still owns the Lindisfarne Gospels and the only surviving copy of Beowulf.

The British Library contains a copy of every book published in this country and, I think by Act of Parliament,  a copy of every new book published here must be sent to the Library. I have no idea what happens to the publisher if they fail to do this.  The library therefore expands every year and it needs… wait for it…. 1 ¼ miles of new shelf space each year.

It contains David Garrick’s collection of 1,000 printed plays!

When a trustee gifted a library of 20 000 books, it took twenty one horse drawn carriages to move them. That was January 1847.

When T E Lawrence brought back what he had ‘excavated’ at Carchemish, the whole collection had to be evacuated in 1918  due to the threat of wartime bombing. It was moved, piece by piece by the postal railway from Holburn  (pronounced Hoburn to annoy tourists), to  Aberystwyth and Malvern.

The library spilt from the BM to move to a new location in St Pancras, the final books were moved in  1997.

But more than  a hundred years before that, the trustees had realised that Montague House was no longer fit for purpose, the collection was getting too big. The light was difficult and there were issues with dampness and humidity.  They looked at a few alternative sites, including one called Buckingham House but they rejected it on the grounds of its location.
I think somebody else bought it and converted it for residential use.

In 1895 the trustees purchased  69 houses that surrounded the Museum and started demolishing them  so they could expand further. In the 1970’s the museum  expanded again. It became more user friendly. That was my first visit there, as a wee tiny person to see the "Treasures of Tutankhamun" in 1972. I only remember my legs hurting because we had to queue for so long, and being constantly told not to get sticky fingermarks on the glass.
                                 

It attracted 1,694,117 visitors ( four of them Ramsays) .
It was the most successful exhibition in British history.


It was revamped recently, the huge  central quadrangle  the ‘Queen Elizabeth II Great Court’ ( the largest covered square in Europe)  opened in 2000. I believe that no two panes of glass in the roof are the same, but I didn’t check.
                                                    

From the original collection, there are now over thirteen million objects at the British Museum, 70 million at the Natural History Museum and 150 million at the British Library. The BM website has the largest online database of any museum in the world. Over 2,000,000 individual objects.
From 2012 to 2013, the museum increased its footfall by 20%,.  6.7 million visitors.
Here are my highlights, in no particular order.

Room 4 – The Rosetta Stone, the key to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, 196 BC. My 
other half was very excited by this.

                              
But in the Kings Library...

                                      

There is a touchable replica....


                                    
And then...

                           

                        

Room 17 – Reconstruction of the Nereid Monument, c. 390 BC

                                    

Room 21 – Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, mid 4th century BC

                                 
A big nasty dog, but looking lovingly at its owner who is probably just opening the ancient equivalent of Chappie Doggy Delight. It is the Jennings Dog, statue of a Molossian guard dog, (2nd Century AD)

                                        


Room 23 - The famous version of the 'Crouching Venus', Roman, c. 1st Century AD

                                  


Room 22 – Roman marble copy of the famous 'Spinario (Boy with Thorn)', c. 1st Century AD




And a beautiful horse to  finish with.


Caro Ramsay 30th January 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Police Procedural - Broken Blue Line


Just about exactly four years ago the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) released a report called Broken Blue Line.  The report documented the involvement of members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in serious crime.  A variety of recommendations were made and there was some uptake of these by the authorities.

Yesterday the IRR and sponsor AfriForum released a follow-up report - titled Broken Blue Line 2 – to assess how the situation had changed over the last four years.  The murder rate in South Africa over that period has actually dropped by about 50%, but violent crime has greatly increased, so the background was not encouraging and neither were the findings of the report.

The report is not concerned with corruption - police taking bribes for turning a blind eye or the like – the report is concerned with the involvement of police officers in serious, mainly violent, crime.  One would hope that no incidents of this type would be identified.  (A somewhat cursory search of reports concerning the London Metropolitan police turned up zero reports of criminal activity of this nature.)  In the case of the SAPS, reports of 100 such incidents were collected in a relatively short time (a few weeks). The authors of the report claim that several hundred more instances could be discovered if more time had been allocated to the search.  The hope that real progress had been made since 2011 was rapidly dashed.

Of the 100 incidents written up, 32 related to murders or attempted murders, 22 related to armed robberies, 26 related to rapes, and another 20 related to thefts, robberies and torture.  (Some years ago, my stepmother called the police after she had been violently robbed and assaulted.  During the police investigation, her handbag was stolen. This level of pilfering would not have been regarded as serious enough to make the list of police criminal activities.)

Good guys or bad guys?
The report points out that it is to “the credit of the police, that many of these cases only entered the public domain because the police reported having arrested a suspect or suspects who happened to be police officers. This is a very good thing and we certainly came across more evidence of such arrests than in 2011. However, that is about as far as the silver lining extends…” The question is, how many more cases are out there that were never followed up or never even reported?  There are documented cases of police committing armed robberies in uniform with police service weapons!  The point is to persuade the victims that there is really no point in reporting the attack.  There is also evidence of police “clones”: criminal gangs dressed as police in police vehicles.  It is easy to see how this might help them with their dirty work.  However, the report suggests that this sort of activity could hardly take place without the involvement of some policemen.  As they put it, the criminals have infiltrated the police rather than the other way around.

 Broken Blue Line quotes some pretty unsettling statistics including that nearly 1500 serving police officers - more than 1% - have been convicted of a crime ranging from assault, through rape, to murder.  Again, one has to wonder how many have not been convicted.

The SAPS management reaction has been vitriolic. Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said the report had been released with “malicious intent” and complained that her picture had been used on the report without her permission.  "I didn't invent crime," she reportedly said.  The methodology and statistics were challenged.  So far, however, there has been no unequivocal denial that there is a structural problem within the SAPS.

It seems only fair to consider the possible bias of the authors of the report.  AfriForum is a pretty conservative and almost pure white, Afrikaans based, organization that describes itself in these terms:
AfriForum works to ensure that the basic prerequisites for the existence of Afrikaners are met, by acting as a credible Afrikaner interest organisation and civil rights watchdog – as part of the Solidarity Movement – outside the workplace on national and local level to handle the impact of the current political realities facing Afrikaners, and to influence those realities, while working simultaneously to establish sustainable structures through which Afrikaners are able to ensure their own future.

However, although AfriForum funded it, the report was written by the Institute of Race Relations. IRR has been around since 1933 and makes the justified claim that:

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the IRR emerged as the leading anti-apartheid think-tank as it used its formidable policy expertise to undermine the ideas underpinning that system and propose a workable alternative South Africa. It has believed throughout its history, as it does today, that a secure and peaceful future can be built only on the principle of one South African nation of different racial and ethnic groups, each allowed to maintain its own cultural identity, all united in a common loyalty, but all tolerant of diversity and dissent.

Frans Cronje, one of the authors. The others were Thuthukani Ndebele & John Kane Berman 

IRR is a respected institution in South Africa, albeit one which is accused of talking when more proactive action was needed in the apartheid years. A report from the IRR cannot be dismissed simply as ‘malicious’.

Broken Blue Line 2 puts forward some proposals for consideration.  Most are similar to those of 2011 but updated. They focus on raising the standard and respect for police management by requiring better levels of education, depoliticising the appointment of senior officers, and decentralising appointments.  On the flip side they recommend more teeth for the Independent Police Investigation Directorate  and an external agency within the Department of Justice.

The report concludes that “The good news is that there are policy solutions available. We are not therefore dealing with a problem that cannot be solved. Rather it is a question of whether the government has the courage to implement these solutions. Each of the solutions we propose are entirely within the powers of the government to implement.”

We will wait and see.


Michael - Thursday

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Murder is Everywhere!


We, at Murder is Everywhere, are pleased and excited to briefly introduce you to the two newest members of our merry band: Susan I. Spann, whose first post will appear this Sunday, February 1st (alternating Sundays with Zoe), and Jørn Lier Horst, who will alternate Wednesdays with Lisa, beginning February 4th.  Their photos are already up!
  
I’m sure they’ll be introducing themselves in greater detail, but here’s just a taste of the new perspectives coming to MIE, starting this weekend.

Susan Spann grew up in Santa Monica, immersed herself in Japanese and Chinese studies at Boston’s Tufts University, obtained a law degree, and returned to California to practice law, traditional archery, martial arts, horseback riding, online gaming, and raise seahorses.  Oh, yes, and write the terrific, much praised and award recognized, Shinobi Mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a sixteenth-century ninja who brings murderers to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest.

Norway’s pride and joy, Jørn Lier Horst, is a Former Senior Investigating Officer in Norway’s Vestfold Police district.  He is author of the best selling Chief Inspector William Wisting series and winner of both the Glass Key Award for best Nordic Crime Novel and Sweden’s prestigious Martin Beck Award.

Welcome!

--Jeff

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Laurie R. King: The Accidental Traveler


I’m thrilled Laurie R. King is our guest today sharing a bit of Japan with us. Even more thrilled and excited that she’s written Dreaming Spies, a new Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on the steamer Thomas Carlyle, bound for Japan. Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. Haruki Sato agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that the young woman is not who she claims to be.
Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to Oxford’s venerable Bodleian Library, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving a small book with enormous implications of international extortion, espionage, and shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

Laurie R. King’s novel Dreaming Spies, set in Japan and Oxford, publishes on February 17.

Thanks for joining us and welcome Laurie! http://www.laurierking.com
—Cara
 
http://www.laurierking.com/books/mary-russell/dreaming-spies-2015


I write a series that tends to wander the world.  My characters, Mary Russell and her rather older and somewhat more famous partner/husband Sherlock Holmes, have touched down in Jerusalem and Aden, the Orkney Islands and India,

Morocco and Lisbon. 

Sometimes, this is a way to make use of some of the wandering I’ve done myself: hey, if I found something interesting years ago when I was in Simla or Jerusalem or Papua New Guinea

then surely my characters would too?  Other times it was the other way around, with me planning a trip based on where my characters wanted to go.  Generally, this kind of thing is a second visit for me, when I can hunt down missed details.  Other times, that’s the intention, but…
A few years ago I went to Morocco, intending to use it as the setting of one small portion of a book (Salée, in Pirate King).  Instead, the country seized my imagination and demanded a novel of its own (Fez, in Garment of Shadows).

Once I started travelling my stories, I found that I had to keep up with it.  Really, I do it for the fans, right?  So, a few books ago I mentioned that my duo had spent some time in Japan.  Soon, readers began to raise their hands and say, Er, Mum? Did I miss the book about Japan?  At which point I would reassure them that no, they hadn’t missed one, just that I couldn’t write about a place I hadn’t been yet.  But I would be going, any time now.
So I did. 
With Barbara Peters

Those of us in the Crime world (fictional division) know and love the Scottsdale duo of Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, center of the Poisoned Pen, books and publishing. 
Barbara and Rob, on hearing that I was considering a trip to Japan, jumped up and said that they might like to go since they’d really enjoyed their trip there a few years before, although they wished they could have seen something of the countryside rather than one population 400,000 “fishing village” after another.
So off the three of us set to see rural Japan.  And by God, did we ever find it.
Tip #1 for travelers: if you’re planning on driving in a country where the Roman alphabet is secondary, get yourself a detailed set of maps before you go.
Tip #2 for travelers: when you find yourself in the lap of the gods—and you’re sure to, sooner or later—just go with it.
Accidental travel can be uncertain, time consuming, uncomfortable, and downright terrifying.  But it can also provide those moments of pure grace that enlighten the traveler’s mind and stay in the heart. More prosaically, they can give a writer a book—and definitely some scenes she’d not have come up with had she not been there.


(Yes, that is a warning sign for “Bear ahead” along the Nakasendo Trail.  How, I ask you, could any writer NOT use that?)
I had a vague idea of sending Russell and Holmes up one of the traditional post roads of the Shogunate, the Tokaido along the shoreline being the best known.  I also wanted to use an object in the story that combined the poems of Matsuo Basho with art by Hokusai.  To my pleasure, I found that both of them were regular travelers along both the Tokaido and the northern route called the Nakasendo, or Kisokaido. So, I suggested a quick drive through that valley on our way from one majestic garden to another, and we stuck it on our To Do If Nothing Better Appears list, and in the end, we did indeed aim our car in that direction rather than another.
We spent a day poking along the road.  There we discovered a beautifully preserved traditional village—not a museum-town, since people still live and farm there

although it did have a few museum-houses. The sorts of houses my characters might have seen in the Twenties.

I even managed to work in a mention of the bear, and the village’s water-wheel.

(I did not, however, inflict a traditional raincoat on my poor characters.)

And of course, it being spring, everywhere the characters go they find cherries.

None of which I would have seen—other than the cherries—had we not given ourselves over to the hazards and blessings of accidental travel.
Laurie for Cara—Tuesday


Monday, January 26, 2015

Telling a Story in Stone: Bernini in the Galleria Borghese

Youthful Self-Portrait


This past Thursday, for the second time in two years, I visited Rome’s Galleria Borghese to worship the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Here is the text of an email I sent to an Italian friend while I was there.  “All well here.  Hotel very nice.  Bernini is God.”

By now, you are sure I am exaggerating.  I hope to convince you otherwise.  Sort of.

A little background


Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born in Naples in 1598.  His sculptor father got work on some important Papal projects and took the family to Rome when Gian Lorenzo was eight years old.  Inspired by the classical sculptures of antiquity, he was soon earning commissions of his own.  At the age of just 23, he was knighted by Pope Gregory XV for his artistic genius.  Over his lifetime, besides great sculptures, he produced paintings, wrote plays, created surpassingly wonderful buildings and outdoor spaces, and designed theater sets.

The whole story in one moment


Bernini began his sculptures with one intention.  For his portrait busts, he chose to portray the exact second when the subject was about to speak.  You see it immediately in their faces—their eyes, their mouths.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese

Constanza, more about which anon 


For his magnificent monumental sculptures, he chose the most dramatic vision of classic or biblical stories, chiseling into the faces and the bodies all the energy and emotional intensity of his characters.


In his Rape of Proserpina, he gives us the very moment Hades gets hold of her, at the peak of her struggle to get free.



See how tightly he grasps her.  This is stone!


His David is not like Michelangelo’s contemplating his battle with fear, determination, and strategy (for which my admiration does not wane for a nanosecond).  Nor is it Donatello’s, at the moment of triumph.  Bernini’s is in the act of launching the stone.


How does one get rid of everything but the open rope!!


Then there is the work that made me fall in love—Apollo and Daphne at the point where he catches her, but she is already turning into a tree.





Those leaves!
Those fingers!
That extended leg!

My blogmates here and I have often been asked at conferences and book presentations to describe our process.  “How do you go about it?” people ask.  Most of us find the question a bit daunting, because the steps we follow, how we talk to ourselves about the act of creativity seems so shallow compared to one’s experience of doing it.  But looking at Apollo and Daphne, I found myself wondering the same thing, because I was stupefied by how Bernini could have done it.  I wish I could have watched or asked him.  Faced with a block of one the hardest substances appearing in nature, where does one put his chisel first?  Oh, he must have made drawings and likely a clay model to work from, but really?  How does one even contemplate achieving such perfection when there is no possible way to revise, to correct one’s mistakes?  Once the hammer strikes the chisel, there is no delete key!  It fills me with awe that he could do it at all.  Getting to his level of achievement seems positively divine.

A couple of days after this recent visit to Rome, at dinner, a friend and I were talking about the facts of Bernini’s life.  His most reliable biographer was his son Domenico, but according to what I could discover, Domenico sanitized some of his father’s activities. For instance, I imagine he would have wanted to leave out the more scandalous details of his father’s youthful love affair with a married woman, inaptly named Constanza.  When she threw Gian Lorenzo over for his younger bother Luigi, the great man’s behavior was anything but god-like.

Mature Self-Portrait

This got me to thinking about one of my pet peeves—that some people deny the worth of artists’ work because they don’t like the way they conducted themselves privately.  My conclusion is this: When an artist’s output inspires awe, we should embrace their real-life flaws.  It is only because of their human frailties that we can be sure that mere humans have achieved such wonders.  There’s a lot to celebrate in that.

I still have the feeling, though, that my next visit to the Galleria Borghese will inspire nothing short of worship.


Annamaria - Monday