Monday, February 18, 2019

Short People of the World Unite: Fairness in Flying

Annamaria on Monday

I have a HUGE beef to air!

First of all "huge" is not a word that has ever applied to me.  I am not the skinny sylph I used to be, but I am short!  When we gather to take a group photo, my blogmates hum choruses of "We'd like to welcome you to Munchkinland."

Here is the sort of plane that took me and my friend Nicoletta around Kenya and Tanzania over the past month.  

The night before we took off in this little number, when all the bags were packed and I was already in my jammies, my travel agent sent me the vouchers for our flight the next day from Nairobi to the Masai Mara.  I gave them a cursory glance and went nighty-night.  The next morning in the car on our way to the airport, I discovered that the fine print on the ticket included a baggage weight limit of 15 kilos.  My two small bags I later learned weighed just over 24.

I figure the weight limit has something to do with the amount of fuel the plane needs to cart around a big bunch of avoirdupois.     

The guy at the checkin counter suggested that I leave one of my bags behind, at the airline company's storage.  But.  The flight was leaving in twenty minutes and my underwear was in one and my shoes in the other.  And for reasons I am sure you can understand, I did not want to sort through my undies in the airport waiting room.

I asked what the charge would be for the extra weight.  Sixty-four dollars was the answer.


Flabbergasted as I was, the basic unfairness of this rule inspired my argument.  "How much do you weigh?" I asked the hefty guy behind the counter.  His answer: 102 kilos.  "If you bought a ticket on this flight," I asked, "would yours cost the same as mine?"

This is not the man at the airport, but my dear friend,
wonderful writer and publisher--Shel Arensen.  I include
the photo to show the difference between me and another
potential passenger who would also be allowed
15 K of luggage.

"Yes, certainly, I wold pay the same," the big guy said.

So I argued that fully-clothed, shoes and all, I weigh just under 70 K.  Therefore, my "overweight" baggage and I - put together - weighed less than he, all by himself.  Therefore,  I should be able to take my bags without an extra charge.

It didn't work.  Not really.  In the end they gave me a reduction in the cost, but I still had to fork over fifty bucks for the privilege of taking my belongings with me.

Nicoletta kindly took this picture after the return flight.
The man to my left paid less to fly than I did for me and
my luggage.  AARRGGHHH!!!

Now I ask you, is this right?  Is this fair?


PS: I also think that people 5"2' should get the front seats in the theatre.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Mountain "Training" in Japan

-- Susan, every other Sunday

One major benefit of trying to climb 100 Japanese mountains in a single year is the chance to ride so many of Japan's amazing trains.

The Fuji Express. An extremely happy train.

In historical terms, railroads came to Japan relatively recently--the first train line in the country (which connected Yokohama with Tokyo--now a 25 minute trip by commuter rail) opened in 1872.

Japan embraced railroads as part of the Meiji Restoration-era efforts to modernize (and Westernize) the country. The government imported Western railroad engineering experts, not only to help with  construction and design of the initial lines, but to train Japanese engineers--with the plan of achieving an entirely Japanese railroad engineering program, and designing railway lines domestically, as quickly as possible.

Local train, Kyushu

I'd say they succeeded beyond even the Meiji Emperor's wildest dreams.

Today, Japan is a world leader when it comes to trains and railways. Some of the technology is still imported from abroad, but utilized with a decidedly Japanese spin. (Hello Kitty Shinkansen, anyone?)

For long-distance travel, the high-speed shinkansen (often referred to in the West as the "bullet train") is comfortable and stylish:

Instantly recognizable, second to none. Master of the rails.
Inside the Shinkansen.

if more expensive than the local trains.

The Hayabusa shinkansen - the fastest train in Japan.

That said, high-speed options and express trains exist for shorter distances too--like the Narita Express (abbreviated N'Ex), which travels from the mountains outside Tokyo to and from Narita Airport.

The futuristic N'Ex pulling into Shinjuku Station

Ratchet down another level, and you're talking about "local" train lines, many of which run hundreds of kilometers in length.

The workhorses of Shikoku, in southern Japan's Tokushima Station
On these tracks, you can find several different kinds of trains, ranging from the ultra-fast Commuter Express and Limited Express (which stop at only a few major stations), to the slightly-slower semi-express and special express (which stop at a few more stations), and finally the "slow-boat" local trains that stop at every station.

Themed trains--including, but certainly not limited to that Hello Kitty Shinkensen I linked above--are popular too, especially in parts of the country known for certain sights.

I've ridden a ninja-themed train in Mie Prefecture (once Iga Province, home of the Iga ninja clans)

All aboard! (There's a blue one, too - which I was riding when I took this photo.)

The "Fuji Express" in the Fuji Five Lakes Region:

Who knew Fuji had such big . . . trains . . .

(and yes, you can see Mt. Fuji from the train if the day is clear).

And Thomas the Tank Engine trains--again near Fuji Five Lakes.

My son would have loved this when he was small.

(The themed train promotes a new attraction at a nearby amusement park, which now features "Thomas the Tank Engine Land.")
The decorations are inside, as well as outside. 
Incidentally: watching Japanese businessmen in expensive three-piece suits riding to work on the Thomas the Tank Engine Express was almost as entertaining as riding the train itself.

Some of the trains, while highly familiar to Japanese people, are less familiar to foreigners--like the "Anpanman" train in Shikoku, which celebrates a Japanese superhero (and eponymous anime series) who has an anpan (bean paste stuffed bread) for a head.

Anpanman - a local hero, now with his own themed train.

When the anpanman express goes by, small children often stop and wave. (And yes, I waved back.) Even adults often stopped to look and smile.

It's easy to think of trains as falling somewhere between romantic, outdated modes of travel and the daily commuter workhorses that service millions around the globe. In proper circumstances, both are true. However, this year has taught me that trains are infinitely more than transportation--modern or otherwise. At least in Japan, they're also clean, convenient, and an opportunity for some serious fun.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Valentine's Day Apology


I know, Valentine's Day was two days ago, but instead of dedicating myself at that time to those I love, I was caught up refereeing a heated exchange on my Facebook page over a WWII era poster I innocently put up along with the comment: "This WWII poster about Greece could just as well be speaking to us today."

I thought the poster a great example of period art, offering a consoling message to greatly troubled Greece, but it set off a vigorous political debate--largely erudite and civil--over who's responsible for what Greece faces at this time and what might be done.

As interesting as those comments were, they didn't represent the sort of cozy Valentine's Day message I was aiming for.  So, as my penance to those I love who felt I let them down on the big day, here's a post I did several years back on the history of Valentine's Day.

For those of you now screaming at me to show you the poster that stimulated all this, you've not been forgotten.  It's at the foot of this post...just beyond the chocolates, flowers, and my upcoming events schedule. But first, a bit of history.

Perhaps the most famous Valentine’s Day ever was February 14, 1929.  That’s when members of Al Capone’s South Side Gang—some dressed as cops—lined up seven men affiliated with Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang inside a garage and shot them dead as part of a war for control of organized crime in Prohibition-era Chicago. 

But this piece is about hearts and flowers.  No, ye cynics, not bullets through the heart and flowers for a funeral, but those bouquets you give to your beloved on the 14th of February—or risk consequences unmentionable in civilized society.

Yes, chocolates (a rumored aphrodisiac) and cards (did you know the first card was written in the form of a poem from a royal prisoner in the Tower of London to his wife?—even he knew forgetting was not an option) are also big Valentine’s Day favorites, too, but this is about flowers.

Charles, Duke of Orleans and first Valentine's Day card sender

But first a bit of history on how lovers became so obsessed with VD—hmm, any wonder why that acronym never caught on?

One legend says it began during a time of religious persecution in third century Rome, when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for soldier-age young men.  Single men fought better, he thought. [Ed. Note: With great will power I resisted inserting a joke here.] 

A young priest thought that unfair, and kept performing marriages in secret.  When Claudius discovered the priest’s violation of his edict, the Emperor sentenced him to death.  While in prison, the priest befriended and healed his jailer’s blind daughter, and before being put to death—on February 14, 270—sent a letter to her signing it “From Your Valentine.”

Yep, Valentine was his name, and the legend goes on to say that in 496, after Valentine had been sainted, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as a day to honor his memory as the patron saint of happy marriages, engaged couples and young people.

That’s disputed though, for some claim the date corresponds to the Roman fertility celebration of Lupercalia held between February 13th and 15th, and others claim it relates more to the period on the ancient Athenian calendar dedicated to the marriage of Zeus and Hera.   You knew I’d work the Greeks in here somewhere.

Lupercalia by Beccafumi

But it’s undisputed that the romantic love connotation to Valentine’s Day began in the 14th Century with this simple line by one rather influential writer:

Translation available via Glasgow

Still, it wasn’t until the early 1700s that flowers became a tradition on Valentine’s Day. That’s generally attributed to Charles II of Sweden’s introduction to Europe of the Persian custom of the “language of flowers.”  Each flower had its own meaning, a sort of secret code between the sender and recipient.

And with the rose symbolizing passion and love, it’s no wonder roses are the number one best seller every Valentine’s Day (257 million in the US in 2014).  But there are other flowers finding their way to Valentines, and for those of you wondering just what your beloved may have meant by those flowers that arrived at your doorstep today, here’s a list of meanings.

Just don’t shoot the messenger.

By the way, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal in Greece.  No reason to be, Greece gave Eros to the world.  Now it’s only looking to get some love back in return.

Happy (Belated) Valentine’s Day, Barbara, Karen, Jennifer, Gavi, and Rachel. Okay, Jon, Terry, and Azi, too. And of course to….


My Upcoming Events

March 2, 4:00 PM
Tucson, AZ
TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS – Student Union, Tucson Room
Panelist “Masters of the Police Procedural,” with Tim Johnston and Peter Leonard, moderated by Anne Segal.

March 3, 10:00 AM
Tucson, AZ
TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS – Integrated Learning Center, Room 120
Panelist “CSI Publishers Row,” with Michael McGarrity and Martin Walker, moderated by Cara Black.

March 3, 1:00 PM
Tucson, AZ
Moderating “A Legal Thriller Conversation” with Phillip Margolin and Harriet Tyce

March 3, 2:15 PM
Tucson, AZ
Author Signing at CLUES UNLIMITED exhibition venue

March 29, 4:00 PM
Vancouver BC, Canada
LEFT COAST CRIME –Hyatt Regency Vancouver
Moderating “International Settings” with Alice K. Boatwright, G.M. Malliet, Sujata Massey, and S.J. Rozan

THE MYKONOS MOB book tour begins:

April 2, 7:00 PM
Seattle, WA
THIRD PLACE BOOKS (Lake Forest Park)
Author Speaking and Signing

April 6, 3:00 PM
San Francisco, CA
BOOK PASSAGE (Ferry Building-Embarcadero)
Author Speaking and Signing

April 7, 3:00 PM
Orange, CA
BOOK CARNIVAL              
Author Speaking and Signing

April 10, 7 PM
Pasadena, CA
VROMAN’S (East Colorado)
Author Speaking and Signing

April 12, 7 PM
Dallas, TX
Interabang (Preston Oaks)
Author Speaking and Signing

April 16, 7:00 PM
Scottsdale, AZ
Author Speaking and Signing

April 24, 6:30 PM
Houston, TX
Author Speaking and Signing

April 26, 7:00 PM
Denver, CO
Author Speaking and Signing

April 29, 7:00 PM
Pittsburgh, PA
Author Speaking and Signing

May 1, 6:30 PM
New York, NY
Author Speaking and Signing

May 2, 7:00 PM
Naperville, IL
Author Speaking and Signing

May 3, 7:00 PM
Chicago, IL (Forest Park)
Author Speaking and Signing

May 4, 2 PM
Milwaukee, WI
Author Speaking and Signing

May 9, 5:00 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Nobody Would Believe it if You Wrote it: Fake News, Post-Truth and Changing Words,” with Fiona Erskine, William Shaw, Gilly Macmillan, moderated by Paul E. Hardisty

May 10, 5:10 PM
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Sunshine Noir,” with Paul Hardisty,  Barbara Nadel, Robert Wilson, moderated by Michael Stanley

October 31-November 3
BOUCHERCON 2019---Hyatt Regency Dallas
Panel Schedule Yet to be Announced

Friday, February 15, 2019

Planes, trains, automobiles, buses, tubes, another bus...

If you’ve been following Facebook you will know that I have more reasons to be more excited than an excited person who has just won first prize in a being excited competition.

                                                   This is a bad picture of a lovely bit of London, pretty colours on the
                                          buildings, blue in the sky. 

Others have blagged and blogged about the event but I have been sworn to silence and not an utterance will pass my lips apart from the following blog that tells you nothing about it whatsoever.
It was an early start for the intrepid Scots; 4.45 rise, drove to the airport (10 minutes for us that time in the morning). Then it started to go wrong. We all got on a plane (Alan wants you to know it was an Airbus A319), a wing fell off and so we had to deplane as the Americans would say, or and get on another plane – would that be replane?  Alan wants you to know that the plane had an issue with the hydraulics of one of the ventral flap zzzzzzz.  So we were delayed a little taking off once all the baggage had all been moved around. But in true budget airline style, they had bing bonged the delay would be 3 hours so we were delighted when it was only 2.

This cut into our natural history time. The landing at Stansted was bouncy but safe. It didn’t do us much good there were no trains from Stansted into London at ‘all due’ to a ‘trespass incident’. This was some person who had neatly decided to end it all and was standing on a bridge over the train line and threatening to jump, so they cut the trains and the electricity. It caused about 6 hours of chaos for thousands of people. With folk talking on mobiles, we were very aware of missed meetings, missed birthdays, a missed wedding and a few missed connections. Clever folk gave up and arranged to Skype the meeting. I am sure, some of you might know for a fact, that a man threatening to commit suicide on Sydney Harbour Bridge was eventually pushed off the bridge by a man who had been sitting in his  car in the traffic jam for hours and just lost it.
                                                Ahhh, I am on the right street!

It seemed 47000 people were queuing for the National Express coaches. Their ticket machines ran out of paper. While it was disorganised, it was a swarm of polite confusion; the British are very good at queuing, we have a natural herding instinct unlike another nationality (that I could mention but won’t in case another MIE blogger beats me up) who stuck one person at the front of the queue and when the bus came, they simply texted their 43 friends who were in Starbucks and they thought that they could legitimately jump the queue as they were ‘with her’. Unfortunately for them amongst that huge crowd was an Airbus from Belfast, an Airbus from Dublin and an Airbus from Glasgow so some Celtic bond created a force of nature there. There was also a plane from Edinburgh but they were sitting off to the side in brogues with an early morning gin and tonic reading the Scotsman. Let’s just say the invasion from Starbucks was politely, forcibly and verbosely rebuffed.

                                                   Ready for  my close up, the morning of filming after the thing I can't tell you about..

Eventually a man came, a quiet man, from the back of the queue – a bit like Chamberlain saying ‘I have in my hand a piece of paper that the replacement bus service will be here in a minute, so form an orderly queue somewhere else’. Those guys from Dublin were fast on their feet, they were at those bus doors quicker than a Dubliner in a post BREXIT passport queue. But Celtic connections again pulled through and the Scots got on the bus for a tour round the bad lands of Essex to be dropped off at a mainline train station beyond the ‘trespass incident’ where we had to wait on a train that didn’t come as it had nowhere to come from because the train line further up was blocked by aforesaid incident. So we waited until they got a train out of storage, dusted it down and then it arrived at the platform nobody was standing at. Eventually many hours too late we arrived in London resembling those trains in India that look like a linear swarm of humanoids.
                                             A lovely breakfast shared with my editor the morning after
                                        we had been filming all morning. One take Ramsay

And then we come to a gender difference. The world has gone a bit nuts about toilets for this gender and toilets for that gender.

One gender gets of a plane, has a pint and wanders into the event.

The other has to redo hair, some make-up, change shoes because the good trousers are too long for walking around London in! (It was very posh and I do suffer from that Glaswegian thing that I always look slightly the worse for wear, as if there was a derailment and I had to walk through a forest to get back to civilisation).  Fortunately, the PR person walked in after me and was doing exactly the same thing.
This was like a posh version of  the business I own.
My has a bullet hole in the glass.

This gold writing desk  was in an antique shop across the road.

And Blackthorn is sloe, as in sloe gin, so I smuggled this back in my 200ml or less.

Yes, a separate PR company person.
A PR company with a budget behind the venture.
An afternoon tea in a five star hotel.
A no pressure meet and greet with a lot of good news to follow.
A chat and a drink with good mates.
I am a very lucky and very excited little Scottus Criminalis.

Caro  Excited Person Ramsay 15 02 2019