Thursday, June 30, 2011

Exam time

I’m sitting down to write this blog with a sigh of relief.  I’m deserting the large majority of 150 first year examination scripts that demand marking.  I’ve already gone through enough to have seen the highlights and lowlights and to have discovered that there are ways of getting the questions wrong that I hadn’t dreamed of when I set the paper.  But overall the students are doing pretty well.  In short, all my interest in the process has gone.
I know we have at least one other teacher out there, and everyone who has been a teacher has faced the same state of desperation.  Paper follows paper, nothing new under the sun.  One invents excuses for coffee, to do email, to phone this one or that one, to check the stock market, to write a blog.  Anything but face the remaining hundreds of papers.   And when eventually the excuses are so petty that you can’t abide them any more (I remember emptying the wastepaper baskets on one occasion), you are left with a taste of ashes.  What is it all for?  Does it make any sense to assess a student’s understanding and knowledge of a course on the basis of a one and a half hour examination where much of the result will be determined by memory, repetitive exercises and garbling the text book and the English language? I’m sure that some students are convinced that the staircase marking method is in actual use.  (This is a system where the marker throws the examination scripts down the stairs and awards marks on the basis of how far they travel.)  What other reason can explain a student filling three exam booklets in one and a half hours?
No scripts were hurt in making this picture.
Assessment is divided between summative and formative.  The former should be designed to determine to what extent the student has met the goals of the course. (Unlike in the dark ages where it sometimes seemed that the goal of a course was for the instructor to start at the beginning and to see how far he got, it is universal practice these days to share with the students in advance what you are going to do and what you expect them to do.  While this does reduce the element of surprise, it introduces an element of fairness into an otherwise somewhat random process. But I digress.  Anything to keep away from the marking.)  
Formative assessment is much more interesting.  Here the idea is that the student benefits from the process, seeing his mistakes, correcting her misconceptions. Unfortunately this often just reduces to handing back the marked papers so that the students can complain about their marks.
The sad part is that a lot of very thoughtful people have put a lot of worthwhile time into thinking about these issues.  Multiple choice questions – marked by computer – can be valuable in both types of assessment if properly designed. (Incidentally Stan designed one of the first systems of this type.)  Computers have finite but large (gigabytes and megahertz) of patience.  They are quite willing to keep testing students, giving canned feedback, presenting further questions and so on.  But intuitively we feel that eventually a human has to read the material if deep learning is to be assessed.  Well, maybe not. It turns out that the word structure of the answers can be assessed by computers too if the computers are trained with appropriate model answers.
The question is, is a formal examination the best way to assess students at all?  Look at what we do.  Tell them to swot everything up for a certain specific day, learn as much as possible by heart, and forget it immediately thereafter.  This is just what they are going to do in their future careers, right?  Work in isolation, leave the project unfinished after a set period of time, and do so with no reference to their notes, books, colleagues or the internet.
So why don’t we use other forms of assessment?  Project work, open book examinations, on-going assessment, group work and so on.  Well, it’s hard.  I do that with my fourth year students. They find it demanding.  The open-book or take-home exams are harder (and harder to set and mark), one worries about copying and how to handle it, how to assess the individual contributions within the group.  There are plenty of ways that these issues can be addressed, but it needs time and work and acceptance by all the stakeholders. For 150 freshmen? I don’t know. I can do it, but can they?
Churchill famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I have an awful feeling that examinations are the worst form of summative assessment, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. 
Okay, I can’t put it off any longer. 100 papers are queuing for my attention.

Michael – Thursday.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who you gonna call - elfbusters?

Elves have been in the news this past week. And they are up to no good.

A road tunnel is being excavated through Óshlíð in the Icelandic Westfjords. The contractor in charge of the works suspected foul play when two of his excavators broke down, followed by another two the following day. By foul play I am not referring to everyday vandals as here when earthwork equipment breaks down it is a surefire sign of piss off elves. Anyway, on the third day, while blasting in a quarry on the outskirts of Bolungarvík the explosions went awry and large rocks were catapulted into the air, landing on houses and yard in neighboring, residential streets. No one was hurt but property was damaged.

The photo to the left shows why the people of Bolungarvík need a tunnel - the road it will replace is quite trecherous. It is therefore important that all goes well. So the day before the blasting accident, the contractors involved in the project met with seers in an attempt to appease the elves. The minister of the Bolungarvík church also attended, saying a prayer intended to call a truce. It did not work.

I heard an interview on the radio with the blaster who described the explosion using a very strange metaphor. He likened the rock to a loaf of sliced bread with a bomb underneath. When the explosion went off, slices of bread, or rocks, were thrown every which way. This does not have anything to do with the elves but his words just stuck with me as they were so odd and non-descriptive that I had to mention this small tidbit.

Opinions differ as to whether the elves are upset because of the quarry works or because of the tunneling. One person quoted said that he believed an elf was killed during blasting in the tunnel and this was the reason for the elves’ sabotage. No elfish body has yet been found to verify this version of events but seeing that the elves are known as the hidden people because they are invisible, one would not expect a corpse to come to light.

Those in the loop say that the elves are tired and sad because of how the project has treated the hillside where the quarry is situated as well as the area around the tunnel openings. They would have preferred to have been consulted beforehand, maybe offered a seat on the project’s steering committee. It might sound odd that prior knowledge would have made a difference but it should be kept in mind that the elves live inside the rocks. I am sure most of us would appreciate a heads up before a wrecking ball came flying through the air towards our dwellings.

Politicians are no fun. Ever. The town council and the mayor of Boungarvík refused to participate in the dispute mitigation that took place the day before the quarry incident. The mayor has also declined requests to make an apology on behalf of the town to the elves after it happened. Such a public statement, made facing the quarry, is believed to help quell the elves’ anger. But the politician said that he considers that the events have been rationally explained and that no further incidents will take place if correct safety procedures are followed. Come on – only a politician would bring up HSE procedures when discussing an amusing a topic as elves.

So, abandoned by their town leaders the people of Bolungarvík took matters into their own hands. With the help of a man the elves engaged to settle the dispute, today they gathered below the quarry and spoke to the elves, asking their forgiveness and setting up a small concert for their enjoyment. A piece pipe of sorts. The below link shows footage from this gathering from this evening news. The Icelandic might be a bit hard to understand but if you listen carefully who knows?

I for one think that there will be no more accidents or machine breakdown. And I would like to believe that it will not be because of HSE procedures.

I think the University of Iceland would agree. They run a web site where people can ask questions and professors from various departments provide replies. The reply to the question “Do elves exists?” ends off saying: Elves are the embodiment of the uncertainty that surrounds our cosmology. There is more between the sky and the earth than what humans have pinpointed. More questions exist than answers and this particular question is one of the unpaired. Do elves exist? We simply do not know.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

in Modigliani's footsteps

La Rotonde at Montparnasse
Modigliani, Picasso and Andre Salmon photographed by Jean Cocteau in front of La Rotonde.

On the hunt

Two blocks away on la Crande Chaumiere where Modigliani lived and painted in his last studio

Gaugin had an atelier here too

Up six flights

the stairs haven't changed

The artist who lives in the studio below Modigliani's and still paints in her eighties. Notice her charcoal stove.

a body is discovered...
Cara - Tuesday
to be continued....

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Serra da Capivara

This creature is a capybara, the largest rodent in the world.
The females, larger than the males, can measure up to 130 centimeters (4.3 ft)  in length and weigh as much as  65 kg (140 lb).

Capybaras are abundant throughout Brazil and have been for many thousands of years.
They’re reputed to be quite tasty, with a meat not unlike pork.

But this post isn’t really about capybaras,
It’s about the Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara  (Capybara Mountain Range National Park).

The park named after the mountains, named after the capybaras that once lived there, is located in the  northeastern State of Piaui.

And it’s there, where that little green dot is located, that you will find the vestiges of the largest concentration of prehistoric small farms in all of the Americas (North, Central and South).

And a remarkable collection of rock paintings, some of which were created more than 14,000 years ago.

There are four main cultural themes.


Sexual Practices.


Rituals performed around a tree.

and animals.

There is also quite a bit of entirely incomprehensible iconography, like human bodies heaped on a pyramid.

The paintings of the Serra da Capivara are neither as old, nor as beautiful as those of Lascaux:

or Altamira:

But their great age makes them pretty impressive, all the same.

Leighton - Monday

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heir Apparent?

On July 3, Thailand will hold its first national election in years (and perhaps most the hotly contested ever), and the elegant young woman to the left will be in the the thick of it.  If she wins, she'll be the first female prime minister in Thai history.  But that's almost a footnote to the real story.

By way of background, in 2001 the billionaire industrialist Thaksin Shinawatra was elected Prime Minister and went on to become the first Thai PM ever to serve a full term.  Even more extraordinary, he was elected by a landslide (among allegations of massive vote-buying) to a second term.  

He used that mandate to rule with an iron fist and not to bother with the velvet glove -- his anti-drug campaign was just institutionalized brute force, with a shocking number of collateral deaths.  On the other hand, he worked effectively to reduce poverty.

In 2006, the Army, at the bidding of the traditional Thai power elite, moved tanks into the streets of Bangkok, and Thaksin was overthrown in a coup.  (He was visiting then-president George W. Bush at the time.)  He was charged with corruption and with having become (one of my favorite Thai terms) "unusually rich" while in office.  He declared his worth when elected at about 15 billion baht, and it was estimated after the coup at 76 billion, although that is, of course, the opposition speaking and he did sell his corporation during that time.  He's been persona non grata in Thailand ever since.

After his overthrow, two of his closest associates were elected to fill out his term.  Both were deposed, and then some elected members of the legislature were expensively persuaded to change their allegiance, and the current prime minister, the young, attractive, Eton-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed to the post.  

In a country that's not noted for good-looking politicians, this is a real movie-star contest.  In a Hollywood film, they'd probably wind up falling in love with each other, jettisoning their corrupt advisers, and starting a third party dedicated to peace and social equality.

But that's not going to happen. The normally placid surface of Thai politics, in which the usual weapon is a silent knife in the back, was shattered last year by the riots between the red shirts (Thaksin's supporters) and Abisit's (the yellow shirts), and the split hasn't even been wallpapered over.  This election will (in theory, anyway) determine which of these factions will rule the Kingdom.

And to make things a lot more intense, the woman in the race is Yingluck Shinawatra, a younger sister of the deposed and reviled Thaksin.  As if that didn't already have some people anxiously sniffing the air, she's said her first goal as Prime Minister will be  reconciliation, which can be read two ways: peace between the factions or an official "welcome back" for Thaksin.    

Thaksin, who's never been a shrinking violet, just gave a speech by Skype from his current residence in Dubai, promising to kickstart his anti-drug campaign after his sister is elected and sounding, basically, a lot more like a Prime Minister-to-be than the brother of a Prime Minister-to-be.  

And overriding all of this is the potential for violence and the open question -- wide open -- of whether the power elite will allow any of this to happen.  I'll be practically sitting on my television beginning July 2, since Thailand is half a day ahead of us.  

Oh, and if you want to see Yingluck's facebook page, it's here.

Greece is in the News, in case you've been on Mars

In a comment to my post last Saturday, I was asked about the current state of affairs in Greece.  I demurred, saying that I preferred to skirt the media feeding frenzy focused on events in a very tiny bit of ground in central Athens in front of Parliament, Syntagma (Constitution) Square, and concentrate instead on the beauty and glories of life in Greece that draw me there like a moth to an energy saving, non-heat producing bulb [Gotcha, bet you thought I’d write “flame” as some sort of a wink and a nod unstated political opinion].
Greece's Parliament Building
But to be honest, these days it’s virtually impossible not to talk about what’s “going on” in Greece.  It’s the topic of every Greek’s conversation.  Next Tuesday or Wednesday the Greek Parliament will vote on whether Greece shall adopt additional stringent measures required for it to receive the next round of bailout funds or go bankrupt.  Some choice.  This past Tuesday the political party currently in power called for a (successful) parliamentary vote of confidence in order to demonstrate to the (financial) world that it still had control of the government.

If you want to read about the pros and cons of all that, and what should be done or not done, just pick up any newspaper or magazine and you’ll find opinions.  Make that a bushel of opinions.

There is no need to add mine.  Instead, I’ll quote from a character I created in a novel written and published in Greece long before the current crisis (US and UK title, Assassins of Athens).  Whether the speaker is a bad guy or a good guy I’ll leave to your judgment:

Not BSF, a prophetic cover
“What this country needs is leadership, not more terrorists.  How many Greeks love their country?  Answer, all of them.  How many love their form of government? Answer, most of them.  How many love their politicians.  Answer, none of them, not even their mistresses can stand them.  Why is that?  Do I really have to tell you?  Because they’re all alike.  Name one who ever has gone to prison for corruption?  The people have no faith in their politicians and have given up on finding better ones.   What I want to give them is hope.” …

“Greek children are rioting alongside their parents in the streets.  Widespread vandalism, arson, and assaults on police are dismissed by our government as ‘democracy’ in action, and law-abiding Greeks, who once watched such protests in horror and disgust, now call the demonstrators justified!  Our countrymen are sick of their politicians and their parties.  They want a new beginning and they want it now. They know it can happen, no matter how unrealistic it might have seemed at other times, for they have seen the impossible happen [elsewhere]…. But it requires a fresh leader to emerge, one who can unite the left and the right, the rich and the poor, under one political banner and offer new hope for our beloved Greece.”

Again, and for the record, those are the words of a fictional character before the current crisis—not mine.

Perhaps now you see why I prefer to go for the light and airy.  After all, as far as I’m concerned that’s really what this land of enchantment called Greece is all about.  And why I love it.


Friday, June 24, 2011

I had that Steve Jobs in the back of my cab...

There's an app for everything, so the Apple advert said. 

Which patently wasn't true by the way. There wasn't an app that made me a cup of tea. There wasn't an app that gave me a quick response to an idiot on Twitter. There wasn't an app to tell me what to tell my daughter when she asked me what sex was. Modern advertising is just blatantly dishonest. Over here there used to a be a body which monitored adverts for unfounded claims. So when Victor Kyam came on and said the Remington would shave closer than your blade or he would give you your money back, he bloody well meant it (note to self: check Google and see if Kyam was lying and was ever challenged on that claim.)

So this stuff about Apps (horrible word, on the list for ugliest new word, it's up there behind 'webinar') is a load of old rubbish. But we know that. However, it would be churlish to deny that a few apps aren't useful. There's…um…er..actually I can't think of a useful app. I use Spotify  to stream new music but I see that more as a piece of software. But the difference between an app - for me, a gee-gaw for your phone or computer that does little than distract you like a ball of wool dangled in front of a kitten - and software - something you buy to make your life easier or more pleasurable - has been blurred somewhat. But that's the thing with new words - you can make them mean what you want. I knew an old lady who referred to apps as 'abs'. I didn't know what they were either. Which reminds me: I need an app to help get some abs.

But this week I learned of a potentially helpful new app. Those who have been to London know the iconic status of the black cab. The problem with is that in the driving rain, in the dead of night, and you need your bed, you want an actually taxi and not an icon. It's a truism that you can walk around all day in London seeing black taxis with their orange letterbox glow showing they're free for hire, but when you need one there's none in sight, and the ones you do see have their lights off and a driver doing all he can to avoid eye contact. And don't even try and find one south of the river (actually, just don't go south of the river - it's horrible down there.)

So, this new app tells you where the nearest available black cabs are to you. Download LDNtaxi and you will never be left marooned in London again.

Except…for this app to work cab drivers need to have signed up to the system. Given they drive around London listening to frighteningly right-wing talk radio all day, much of which is fulminating about the encroachment of Big Brother into our live, and the resulting loss of privacy, I can't see many of them signing up. As far as I can make out London cab drivers love to moan about congestion charges and parking laws. I can't see them going doolally over a system that allows them to be tracked, and a photo of their grizzled faces beamed to a young IT consultant stood freezing down a side street with his girlfriend so they know what he looks like when he arrives, like some weird online dating society.

Plus, it's all part of the fun, the romance of London. Standing in the rain, watching cab after cab pass you by, finally flagging one down, watching the meter rise inexorably to eye-wateringly high levels, the cabbie moaning to you about socialists and lesbians, while some idiot on the radio rants about political correctness gone mad, trusting him to take you the quickest route home only to realise he's taken the scenic route and that'll be £45, sir.

Actually, the app I'd like best is the one that can tell me The Knowledge. The Knowledge is what every cab driver has to learn before he can drive a black cab. It involves acquainting yourself with every side street, square and alley of London. It takes on average three years. You can spot cabbies learning The Knowledge because they drive around on mopeds and scooters, learning the roads, memorising the turns and topography. In a city of this size it's a truly staggering achievement. 

I may be wrong, but I don't see this app catching on. Black cab drivers are a law unto themselves. And long may they be so. Hunched over their wheels, circling around and around in the dead of night, on empty streets, taking home the drunk and the weary and the lost, they travel to their own tune, and not the whims of technology. I envy them.


Dan - Friday

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Will NyamiNyami be reunited with his wife?

And if he is, what will be the extent of the tragedy?

David Livingstone, intrepid explorer that he was, was probably the first white man (in the 1850s) to see the falls where the mighty Zambezi plunges 110 metres (365 feet) on its way to the Indian Ocean.  He named the place Victoria Falls after his monarch.  The locals knew it as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders, from the plume of spray that sometimes rises several thousand feet in the air.
If you go to Vic Falls, as they are generally known, not only will you see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, but you will also be at the site of some of the planet’s best whitewater rafting.  A day’s rafting below the falls will take you along the bottom of a series of gorges – the falls of earlier times - over 19 rapids, many of which are rated 4.5 or higher.  When I last rafted the Zambezi, we had to portage around one 6.0 rapid – too dangerous to attempt.
Generally the rafting trips start just below the Boiling Pot, where the river changes direction at the base of the falls, from First Gorge to Second Gorge, creating a swirling, roiling, turbulent cauldron.  The Rafting Companies will tell you the Boiling Pot is the home of NyamiNyami, the river god, protector of the river, with the face of a fish and the torso of a snake.
But the Rafting Companies are wrong, according to the BaTonga people, who have lived in the Zambezi valley for centuries.  They say that NyamiNyami lives farther downstream in what is now Lake Kariba, the vast expanse of water behind Kariba Dam.  And they believe he is angry.
In about 1950 the governments of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia) started to build a hydro-electric dam across the Zambezi, at a place called Kariva, which means trap, which was the home of NyamiNyami and his wife.
The BaTonga elders objected, not only because most of their people would have to be relocated to higher ground, but also because NyamiNyami would be angry.  They predicted that NyamiNyami, protector of the river, wouldn’t allow the dam to be built.
Kariba Dam
In 1957, with the dam making good progress and the waters of the lake beginning to rise, the Zambezi experienced a 1000-year flood, way beyond anything in living memory.  Much of the dam was washed away and a number of people died, including whites.  When the bodies of the whites couldn’t be found, the BaTonga were asked to help since they knew the river better than anyone else.  A white calf was killed as a sacrifice to NyamiNyami and floated on the river.  The next day it was gone, and the bodies of the white workers found – something that has never been explained.
In 1958, the Zambezi flooded even higher than the previous year, and again major parts of the dam were washed away.  The BaTonga knew what was happening.  NyamiNyami was angry at the disruption to his river and, to make things worse, the dam had separated him from his wife.
But construction continued and in 1960 the dam was completed and electric power started to flow.  And continues to do so even today.
The BaTonga still believe that NyamiNyami will destroy the dam, pointing to the recurring tremors and earthquakes (over 20 with a magnitude of over 5) in the area which, they say, is NyamiNyami trying to be reunited with his wife.  And if NyamiNyami is successful, it is difficult to imagine the catastrophe that will ensue.  The lake is now over 225 kms (140 miles) long and up to 32 kms (20 miles) in width; it covers an area of over 5500 sq. kms (2,150 square miles) and has a maximum depth of 100 metres (320 feet), with an average depth of about 30 metres (95 feet).  Not only would huge areas be suddenly flooded below the dam, but there is a chance that the huge Cahora Bassa dam downstream could be damaged.  And if it broke as well?  Mozambique would suffer another tragedy.

To give some indication of the potential catastrophe, in March 2010, the sluice gates of Kariba had to be opened to cope with the flooding Zambezi.  Over 150,000 people had to be evacuated from the floodplain. What if this or worse happened without warning?
So what do you think?  Will NyamiNyami succeed?  Will he be re-united with his wife?
I do.  But I hope not.
Stan - Thursday
PS.  Even though the rafters are wrong about where NyamiNyami lives, almost all of them wear his pendant for good luck on the river.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Killer Arms

I cannot write much of anything today for reasons relating to both my arms which are undergoing extreme pain and numbness. I can best describe the condition by likening it to feeling as my arms are undergoing labor contractions. Not exactly a nice feeling and I will become very upset if my arms give birth to baby arms. Especially since I am in my late forties and these baby arms would probably have Downs syndrome. But this scenario is unlikely to happen as I have been diagnosed with one of two things, either an extreme allergy to mosquito bites I got on my vacation or a disc prolapse in the neck. I must mention that in Iceland we do not have mosquitoes so some of us react rather badly when bitten. And we have no cockroaches either. Most Icelanders are pretty afraid of bugs and lizards as a result, I am not since I grew up in Texas and have seen my share of creepy crawlies.

But anyway, I am now on steroids in the case it is an allergy and am scheduled to have an MRI scan to see if the discs in my neck are shot to hell. The steroids are helping so hopefully it is not the disc thing since that requires physiotherapy and/or surgery which has to be done from the front of the neck although it involves the spine which was in the back of the neck last time I checked. In addition, this operation would leave me with a scar that would really increase the head transplant look I have spent the last two weeks trying to get rid of.

But my medical history is not all that interesting so I will tell you the one newsworthy thing that has happened to me since I returned on Monday. Much to my joy my last book “I Remember You” just won the Icelandic Crime Book of the Year Award and will be Iceland’s nomination for the Nordic Glass Key Award. This is what the judging panel had to say about the book:

In this book, Yrsa Sigurdardottir shows how well she handles the most important aspects of a good crime novel: brilliant plotting and ever increasing suspense.

Furthermore, Yrsa shows that she is fully capable of playing with the genre of crime fiction itself in a creative way and not entering the formula realm sometimes associated with the genre. Yrsa utilizes the heritage of Icelandic literature, working with ancient folk tales, mainly old ghost stories that originate from the isolation and darkness aptly described in the book. As she‘s done before, Yrsa uses an Icelandic environment to create a mystical atmosphere, and mixes it with motives derived from the European horror tradition. Thus, Yrsa opens the door for a literary genre that has hardly any tradition within Iceland: the horror story.

One of the main things characterizing Icelandic crime fiction is how it mirrors Icelandic society. In I Remember You, the financial crisis is used as the background and in this respect it is interesting that the main subjects of the book are betrayal, anger, revenge and the vicious circle of fear and violence.

Thus, Yrsa‘s work can be interpreted in numerous ways, in addition to being multifaceted and using the Icelandic literary heritage in a modern way. All threads come together in a convincing plot and the forte of the book is that Yrsa succeeds in doing what is an absolute must in all accomplished crime novels and thrillers: firmly grabbing the reader's attention and not letting go until the very end.

I apologize for using the panel’s words for self-promotion but I am just so happy and pleased that I could not resist. And with pregnant arms I must make the most of the good stuff life throws my way.

Lastly, I can only hope that I will not be drug tested, being on steroids I would probably be disqualified and stripped of the prize. Pride comes before a fall.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

a little of this, little of that, all French

Celine's face stared at me from the bookshop window across from the Cluny museum. I love this store, go every time I'm in Paris. A whole window was devoted to Celine; his books, critical essays on him, anthologies. Reminded me of my post a while ago on the controversy over Celine being named to the pantheon of great writers. POST. For a man who stirred controversy in his life and even stirs the pot even now he's still a bestseller in France. I picked up a literary magazine with Celine on the cover and devoted to his life and how the world looks at him now.
Amazing. Celine had been a true contradiction - an amazing writer, doctor who treated the poor and vocal anti-Semite. His wife lived in the house they'd inhabited like gypsies, recluses outside Paris in Meudon. She died this year and had only given one interview in her life after his death. But that goes to the point of how can people revere a man's writing and ignore his life - in Celine's case a rabid anti-semitist who escaped France with the Vichy government when the Allies arrived. And settled for a while in Sigamarin, a German castle refuge of Nazi's until exile in Denmark.
During his life Celine, treated prostitiutes, the outcasts in Montmarte and the unfashionable suburbs then slums. Wouldn't he have made the corollary between the way the Jews were regarded? An enigma, a contradiction and he never apologized. Just kept treating the poor. I've met few writers whose work I admire and revere. And one of those - his elegant sweeping prose knocked me then and now for a loop - disappointed me as a person. I always wish I'd never met him - let the rose tinged view of his work remain not colored by his real persona

On a hot dry Saturday, during the longest drought to hit Paris in 133 years, I spent an afternoon baking in the sun at the Memorial service at Mont Valerian for the Resistants who were imprisoned and shot here. Mont Valerian was a former fortress then prison taken over by the Germans during the war.
An odd place just outside Paris and bordering the Rolland Garros tennis courts - which was in full swing at the time. Waiting for the bus up the hill, too hot to walk, two men with tennis rackets started talking to me in English. Americans here for the tennis tournament. They couldn't understand why I would go to a hot prison to a ceremony about the war. Visit the American cemetary, they suggested, you get a great view of Paris from there. I didn't know either except that Toli, my 84 year old Polish Resistant friend had given me his invitation before leaving on a trip. Somehow I felt I needed to go.
Reaching the double walled prison I found security gates. Now the Ministry of Defense ran the place and no one was allowed in. The solider informed me to take a long walk around the walls and find the ceremony. Birds chirped, the dry grass blew and Paris spread below me...did I mention this was on a hill?
Chairs were being spread out in a hot dry open parking lot. I was two hours early. I found a water tap put my neck under it and found a bench. Next to me was Marie-Claire, who it turned out had been ten years old when her Jewish parents took her to a village in the countryside to hide with other children like her and cared for by a Protestant priest. I ended up spending the afternoon with Marie-Claire and her friend
both active in children of the deportée's associations. She explained the ceremony to me, introduced me to other children of deportée's and even got me into the area at the wall where the men were shot. This all took several hours in the heat. An honor guard of twelve year old boys and girls stood to attention, one of them fainted and crumpled. Before she hit the ground one of the old Resistants, an eighty year old man bedecked with medals, ran to catch her before she hit the ground. Then another boy wavered in the heat and was caught before he passed out.
But in all those long hot hours not one of the old people - we're talking a crowd of octogenarians - batted an eye. Tough.
But then they'd been through a lot, a little weather didn't seem to phase them. But as one of them said, we want to do this, it's important and every year we lose a few.

Cara - Tuesday
PS Shaken - the short story anthology benifiting Japan's Tsunami Victims offered on Kindle - a work spearheaded and edited by our Tim Hallinan - which I and 20 authors were honored to contribute to - has GREAT news! Amazon is now NOT taking any percentage of the profits as of yesterday - a first - ALL the proceeds are going to the Tsunami victims. Please support this project - every penny,euro, pound goes directly to the people.