Wednesday, July 31, 2013

When words are lacking

Today is not a good day to blog. I feel extremely uncomfortable to have to be the one to do the first regular posting after the tragedy that is the passing of our friend Leighton Gage. He is the one that came up with the idea for this blog, the one that gathered us together and the one who did the hard work of keeping us dedicated and reminding us that missing our spot was not particularly good for this venture. All of this he did with extreme politness and warmth so one never felt that he was totalitarian, simply precise and of strong ethical character. Which shone through his writing and his every human interaction.

I have at some point mentioned Hávamál, the verses containing sayings of advice and wisdom from the Viking age. There is one verse within this collection that applies perfectly to Leighton. I have looked up the English translation but find it lacking the spirit of the original. So I will simply put it here in the original language Icelandic or old Norse:

Deyr fé deyja frændur,
deyr sjálfur ið sama;
en orðstír
deyr aldregi
hveim er sér góðan getur  
 
I am certain that where ever you are Leighton, you will be able to read this and understand.
 
My thoughts and those of my husband Óli are now with Eide, whom we hope we will be lucky enough to meet again.
 
Yrsa - Wednesday
 



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lenny Kleinfeld on Leighton Gage.

Leighton Gage (May 13, 1942--July 27, 2013)

The first good friend I made in college was a guy I met on the film committee, where we booked movies to show at the student union. He was also a projectionist. We were hanging out in the booth one night while he was screening Maltese Falcon. He asked if I'd read the book. When he found out I hadn't read any Hammett, he told me I had to read all of it. And then all of Chandler. A few days later he gave me a collection of the Continental Op stories.

In 2000, when he was in his early 50s, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given three months to live. He went fifteen.

In 2003, when writing my first novel, I named the protagonist after him.

The book failed to sell to the majors. In 2009 it was published by a tiny outfit that mainly sells to libraries. About six months later I got an email from someone named Leighton Gage, who said he was on the  Edgar nominating jury for best first novel. He was outraged he was the only one to vote for my book, and wanted to let me know that, after the awards were announced—he was very scrupulous and fair-minded—he would go online and push the book. He wanted me to know in the meantime the work was appreciated by a fellow author.

What a guy. We began to correspond. Early on I asked if Leighton Gage was a pen name, a pun on Late Engage, because he'd become a novelist later in life. You could hear the chuckling in his response. And it turned out we both loved Portugal, and fado music. Leighton became the best friend I've had that I've never met; we had a digital-Victorian, epistolary relationship. The one Bouchercon I attended was one he missed.

He was of course better than his word. He invited me to blog on MIE, and he posted guest blogs and chat room comments doing everything he could to push a first novel by a complete unknown, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do.

In addition to being floored by Leighton's generosity, I was grateful to have a correspondent so intelligent, so perceptive, so polite, considerate, so in love with his family, so deeply infused with saudade at the memory of the daughter he lost in Lisbon long ago, and just so fundamentally decent, that knowing him, even at a distance, was a seminar in what an adult is supposed to be; a subject at which, at age 64, I'm still grading out at no more than C-. 

And I really enjoyed his novels.

This winter Leighton said he was going to be at a convention in Chicago this summer.  I immediately responded I'd be there no matter what. I was looking forward to taking Leighton and Eide out for an epic dinner. 

He was having trouble with his stomach. The symptoms kept getting worse. His ailment kept getting mis-diagnosed. After too many months, it was finally identified as pancreatic cancer. 

Leighton began chemo. He wrote that he hoped he'd bounce back in time to make it to Chicago. I didn't write back that that wasn't going to happen; even if the chemo worked, it was going to be a heavy version that gives you a thorough poisoning and butt-kicking. But the odds were the treatment wouldn't work; it's a disease that's usually fatal by the time it's advanced enough to be diagnosed.

Yesterday another good friend, a good man, died, hard.  I can't imagine what such a profound loss means to Leighton's family, and to friends who actually got to meet him.

Made me cry. My wife too. 

Lenny––in for Cara on Tuesday

Monday, July 29, 2013

Leighton, a personal remembrance



At Bouchercon in Indianapolis in 2009, Leighton Gage moderated a panel called Murder  at the Edge of the Map.  The other writers on the dais included Yrsa and Stan.  Since my first novel, out just a month, was set not only far away, but long ago, I was anxious to hear what other, more experienced writers had to say on the subject of stories set in exotic locations.  The meeting room was packed with people.

Leighton showed the audience a bracelet he wore, made by a Brazilian Indians, that was a charm to boost ones creativity.  I remember wishing I had such a thing, but I was too shy to introduce myself to Leighton, much less ask him where I could get one.  Had I been more courageous, I have no doubt he would have sent me one, if not taken his off and given it to me on the spot.  That was the kind of man he was: generous, giving, helpful, encouraging.  But I did not know that yet.

Several months later, out of the blue, an email from Leighton arrived in my inbox.  He had searched me out to tell me that he had read City of Silver as part of his service on the Edgar Awards jury for best first novel.  He had been disappointed that the book had not garnered a nomination, and he was talking it up on internet chat rooms because he knew how difficult it is to get a good book noticed.  He invited me here to Murder is Everywhere to do a guest post.  He stayed in touch, always encouraging, open, warm, and charming.

Then, one day, we found we would both be in Italy at the same time.  He came with his friend Jes to visit me in Florence.  We had two days to eat good food, drink good wine, and talk writing, books, the biz, life.  In those days, Leighton learned of my husbands Alzheimers disease.  One of the things I confessed to him was that my weekends were lonely, when I was caring for David on my own and when the love of my life could no longer be a companion.  After that, on Fridays Leighton would write me an email posing a subject for discussion, usually one having to do with writing fiction.  Then, through the weekend, he would keep me company in long written conversations.

In the past few days, with comments here on MIE and on Facebook, it has become clear how many people Leighton befriended in just such ways.  Its impossible to fathom how he had the time to do all that while being a loving husband and father AND writing such wonderful booksone every year.

The people Leighton gathered around him are themselves a warm, welcoming, affectionate bunch.  They are generous and bring out the best in one another.  They are different from Leighton and from each other in many ways, but not in all the virtues one would desire in a colleague and friend.  He brought out in others what was wonderful in himself.  It seems a magic trick, but he performed it.  Then he gave us one another.

My gratitude and love and admiration are Leightons forever.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leighton




We at Murder is Everywhere are leaving the stage dark today in honor of the memory of our dear colleague, mentor and friend Leighton Gage who passed away yesterday. This is the announcement of his passing by his daughter, Melina Gage Ratcliffe:
"My mother, my sisters and I are devastated to announce the passing of our father, Leighton Gage. Thank you friends and family for all the love and support. 
A message from Eide Gage:
'My Dearest Friends,
The light of my life was extinguished last night.
Leight passed to eternity peacefully in his sleep.
Should we cry because he died or smile because he lived?'"

Sunday...From all of us at Murder Is Everywhere...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Life in Greece is All About Balance

“Jeffrey, where are you?”

“At my place, about to drive into town to pick up more books from my publisher.”

“Right now?”

“Yes, they’re expecting me.”

“But I have a flat tire.  Can’t you go later?”

“If you need me.”

“Sure do.”

Where are you?”

“By that little taverna on the road to Paradise, just off the Airport road.”

“The one we went to last year out by Kremmides’ farm?”

“Yes, that’s it.  Come, I’m waiting.”

I must admit that something about the call gave me pause, because although the caller was my best friend, he had a sense of humor that followed his sense of life:  Enjoy the moment, for it shall soon be past.

When I told my girlfriend our trip to town was off because of my friend’s flat tire, she just smiled and did not offer to join me on my mission of mercy.  I took that to mean she was pleased to get back to her painting.  Though on reflection she probably realized better than I that any call for “help” from my buddy around tsipouro time—ouzo without the anise, favored at around eleven in the morning by men who’ve been working hard since dawn—was suspect.

But off I went, in search of a flat tire.



I was greeted by chickens.


I parked under a fig tree.


I stared around for a flat tire.


But found only a gathering of Mykonian friends escaping from their island’s high season madness. 



Fishermen.



Farmers.



Bakers and tradesman.


In a throwback to old, non-glitzy places.



Filled with memories of other times.



And those who made them happen for so many.



Zorba would have loved it here.



I sure do.

As for the original misrepresentation that lured me to Karteri (the name of the place), all is forgiven for there I found inspiration for this post.  But, good buddy, I suggest you re-read a certain ancient Greek’s fable about the guy who cried “flat tire” once too often—even if for a fun-for-all purpose. :)



Jeff—Saturday

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Royal Baby


GB has had two main topics of conversation this week. 1) The weather. And we have had a lot of weather to talk about. In the last hour we have had brilliant sunshine, flash floods, gales, thunder, lightning and hail. I am just waiting for the yellow warnings about locusts and plague.

2) The new royal. Yip, we have another royal small person, as yet unnamed at the time of writing. It took a month for Charles to be officially named so nobody is holding their breath. The bookies favs are George,  John,  James, Alexander but ---- and this is not  pro Scottish  prejudice, this is a quote from British BBC TV News this morning--- 'The royal couple met in Scotland, are very fond of Scotland so it's  thought there will be a Caledonian name in there somewhere.'

Tradition says that they cannot name the child while a royal is alive with the same name. So that rules out Andrew as a first name, but they might stick a Bruce or a Wallace in. Not Hamish one would hope. For the moment he is the Prince of Cambridge. His surname will be Mountbatten-Windsor. His dad is William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten- Windsor.
                                          

From a Scottish POV, the cynics are already saying that if that's so, it's an attempt at showing unity as the independence election looms large.  If we do get independence the present queen will be our Queen Elizabeth the First (technically). The other 'Elizabeth of England the First' cut the head off Mary Queen of Scots.  Ok that was in 1587 but we will just not let it lie. I was told today that when the young Queen Elizabeth  2 came  to Scotland as a new monarch, she was not allowed to wear the Scottish crown  but she was allowed to touch  it. At that time there was a passion for burning the new post boxes that had ERII (Elizabeth Regina 2nd) on them.


                                                               
The other new thing about this wee chappie is he didn't need to be a boy to be next in line to the throne. He will also be allowed to marry a Catholic if he wants. Previous monarchs could marry anybody of any faith but not that one.  I'm not sure if they also changed the law about the PM  not being a Catholic either and if they didn't they should have while they had the rule book out. The new royal will be able to marry without applying to the monarch for consent. Up to now, what if he was monarch when he decided he wants to marry? Did he ask himself?


                                      
                                      
                                      


Anyway, thousands flocked to the palace to see the notice going up on the easel. They knew it was coming because the royal messenger was seen leaving the front door of the hospital, and nipping away, trying not to smile.


                                    
                                     
The notice "announced the 16:24 BST delivery of the baby, 8lb 6oz." Then "King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery and Honourable Artillery Company will fire gun salutes in London later. At 14:00 BST on Tuesday, the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery will stage a 41-gun salute in Green Park, after riding past Buckingham Palace."


                                     
There was also a 62-gun salute from Gun Wharf at the Tower of London. Hope that was out of earshot of a wee baby trying to get to sleep. And his exhausted mum.


                                         
What does amaze most folk here is the fascination the foreign media have for the royal family. The cameras outside that hospital were from all over the globe, we had snippets on our news of  how the birth was reported in China, the USA, outer Mongolia ( Ok I am lying about the last one) but when we saw that the Washington Post has a special correspondent for the 'Haricot bean' (Rhyming slang for 'the queen')  it makes us think a bit.
About the £245 million pounds this wee kid is worth to the ailing British economy.
The dad was present at the birth and he said that they 'could not be happier".  A statement said "The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry and members of both families have been informed and are delighted with the news."
Prince Charles (granddad) added his own congratulations. He and the Duchess of Cornwall were "overjoyed at the arrival of my first grandchild". Then said "It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy. Grandparenthood is a unique moment in anyone's life, as countless kind people have told me in recent months, so I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future."


                                   
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones both congratulated the couple on behalf of the Scots and Welsh peoples. As "they enter their journey into parenthood".
The birth of a child in direct line to the British throne is an event that only occurs once every 30 years or so. This wee chappie can trace his line back more than a thousand years to good King Egbert of Wessex. And barring revolution, his life is mapped out pretty much. At some point, in about 50 years, he will ride to Westminster Abbey in a golden coach to be crowned monarch.
He can look forward to a life of intense privilege. And will live under a dark shadow of  intense scrutiny and pressure that none of us would wish for our own. It must be said that some of them in the past have suffered from 'not being the brightest spark in the tank' and others have had debilitating self doubt. It must be incredibly difficult to feel that you are worthy, and indeed develop a sense of self worth when surrounded by high achievers, knowing that you yourself have never had to prove a thing.


                                     
That's why I'm glad Catherine and William seem well grounded, Catherine has already said that her son will be surrounded by as much normality as possible.
Apart from the charismatic Kate and Wills, and Queenie herself,  everybody's favourite/most respected royal is Anne probably.  She is the hardest working royal. She swears, she  gets cross at horses. Let's face it, horses don't care if you are royal or not, they will still throw you in a puddle. Olympians get there by hard work. As did daughter Zara. Money might buy them the best horses but sheer grit got them what they achieved.
It's that old sense of unearned privilege of a hereditary system that the meritocrats and republicans detest above all else. BUT William and Harry are out there working, testing themselves in the wide world and getting the chance to grow as people and find their own feet among peers. William is an RAF search and rescue pilot. Harry is going back to join his unit in Afghanistan.
If the wee chap needs any lessons on how to be a great monarch, he needs to look no further than great granny! She has guided that family through some terrible times and even the staunchest of republicans must admire that woman for what she has achieved.


                                      
So, I wish them all well...

Caro GB 26/07/2013
PS Since I wrote that bit, he has been named - George Alexander Louis. Proving very popular already- both baby and name. Present Queen's dad was George ( although his first name was Albert) Alexandrina was actually Queen Victoria's first name ( she was Alexandrina Victoria) and of course wee George's dad is Louis after Lord Mountbatten. Previous Georges are interesting- one got beheaded and another drowned in a vat of mouldy wine.



Thursday, July 25, 2013

Atlantis found!

Stanley - Thursday

I am grumpy again!



I've recently returned to South Africa, to enjoy my endless summer; to launch Dead of Night in the country where most of it is set; and to revel in the glories of spring in the smallest floral kingdom on the planet - around Cape Town.

So why grumpy?

Well, I'm still smarting at being called a deplorable from a shithole country. I've also been catching up on my reading about the Scramble for Africa - formalised at a meeting convened by Otto von Bismark in Berlin in 1884. One of the main agenda items of the meeting was to create rules by which Europe could divide Africa - something most major European countries wanted because of the cheap labour and abundant natural resources. There were no Africans at the meeting. King Leopold II of Belgium conned the others into giving him what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo as his personal possession. In forty years Africa went from being 10% European controlled in 1870 to 90% in 1910. Not a friendly take-over. And millions of local Blacks were killed or maimed.

Kids hand a hand cut off if the didn't work hard enough.
And I'll write sometime soon about the African refugees seeking asylum in Europe.

Grrrr.

To alleviate my grumpiness, I went back to a blog I wrote over 5 years ago. I moaned and groaned in it too, but I also explained how Africa also brings me solace.

Here it is, from July 2013.

______________________________________________________________

Those of you who read my blogs probably realize that I think that Africa is much (and unjustly) maligned by people in the West.  I attribute this to ignorance as well as prejudice.

I could write blog after blog supporting my thesis that whenever most Westerners think about, write about, or talk about Africa, their frontal lobes seize up, resulting in sweeping generalizations that have little currency in reality.

For example, 'Africans are uncivilized.'

Have people who make this statement, which I've heard in various forms hundreds of times, either forgotten or do not know that the pyramids, the Sphinx, hundreds of other temples temples, are in Africa?  Long before Archimedes lived, the Egyptians were using his principle to float 100-ton pieces of stone hundreds of miles down the Nile.  Yes, they slung them under boats rather than carry them on top, thus effectively lowering their weight by the weight of water displaced.

Have these people either forgotten or do not know that one of the greatest libraries of ancient times - the library at Alexandria - was in Africa?  It was subsequently destroyed - the details of which are somewhat murky - by Europeans and Muslims.  After the great library had gone, scholars worked in a branch library in a temple call Serapeum.  This was subsequently also destroyed  - by decree of the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Theophilus.

Have these people either forgotten or do not know that one of the great libraries of today is in Timbuktu, Mali?  Actually, calling it one library is probably a misnomer, because it comprises many smaller private libraries.

 I don't think these people have forgotten these things.  I think that they do know these things (with the possible exception of the libraries in Timbuktu).

What these people actually mean when they say Africans are uncivilized is that black Africans are uncivilized.

So let's take a look at this statement from one aspect of what is regarded as one attribute of civilization, namely art.

Picasso is one of the most admired artists of all time, known for his daring shapes and use of colour.  We know he lifted most of his ideas on cubism from African art.  Yet he continues to be the once who garners the accolades - not the artists whose works he drew so heavily from.  But then they were African!

Here is a Fang mask, similar to the one that Picasso saw in 1907 in Paris, which resulted in changes to his famous painting, Les Demoiselles D'Avignon.  Most people have heard of Picasso; most people haven't heard of the Fang.



Here are a few photos from my collection - you can see why Picasso was so influenced by African art.







My favorite story in this regard - the intersection of Western bias and African art - took place around 1910.  A very interesting German explorer, Leo Frobenius, discovered a remarkable piece of art in Southwestern Nigeria, in an area called Ife (EE-fay).  It was a bronze head made using the lost wax method (you can read about this sophisticated process here).





As you can see from the photos of similar heads (his has disappeared), they are very appealing, combining a physical beauty with an ethereal expression.

Frobenius was so amazed by the beauty of what he had just found that he immediately announced that it could not have been made by a black African.

Instead he decided that he had discovered Atlantis, not an island under the sea but a part of West Africa, and that the piece had been made by Athenians who had travelled across the Sahara and conquered the people of Atlantis.  The New York Times reported this in some detail.



The Kingdom of Ife thrived economically from about 1100 to 1500 and was home to artists (African artists) who produced heads (and other things) made from both metal and terra cotta.  Since 1910 many more heads of both types have been found.

To my eyes they are stunning.

For many years, whenever I was in Johannesburg, I went to an art gallery owned by a legendary collector of African pieces, and drooled over two pieces - a terra cotta head and a bronze leopard, both from Ife.  Both five hundred years old. They were both well out of my price range.  However, a year after I had recovered from colon-cancer surgery, I was again in Johannesburg, working with Michael on DEADLY HARVEST.  Of course I went to the gallery to drool yet again.  But this time, I said to myself, why enjoy these magnificent items only for a few minutes a year.  And after all it only takes money to acquire them.

So I spent far more than I should ever have and bought the terra cotta head.  Buying both would have put me in the poorhouse.

Now I enjoy my Ife head all the time - and if I ever need the money I am sure I can sell it.

As far as I know there are only three terra cotta heads in American museums, including my home town's Minneapolis Institute of Art.  and now there's one in the Trollip gallery.

Terra cotta Ife head in Minneapolis Institute of Art - stunning!

Ife head in the Trollip collection

And I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have a piece of African art that stands with any sculpture ever made and to have my friends drool over it.  I am a lucky man indeed.

It also serves as a constant reminder as to how much further those in the West have to go before they see Africa as it is, not as they believe it to be.



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Inflation in Helium prices


The geothermal beach at Nautholsvík where the sea is heated up for bathers
The sun has finally made an appearance and we are told by the media that Iceland is now besieged by visiting celebrities. Well by our standards anyway. In total over the past month a whopping nine famous people have been here. Probably not all that spectacular in other places of the world. Especially if you take into account that one of these famous people is a news anchor. Oh well.

People line up for ice cream down at the harbour

When the sun shines we Icelanders usually consume a lot of ice cream. It is actually a year round thing but peaks when it is warm and sunny. So much so this weekend that ice cream was sold out in certain parts of the country. Also helium. But that particular shortage is a global thing. It is not a result of too many celebrations or over the top balloon releasing at opening ceremonies. Apparently MRI machines use a lot of helium and they are to blame, aided by use in laboratories. There will be no helium available to party throwers or happy kids until late August according to the local distributer. And no, he did not say it in a squeaky voice which was an opportunity lost.

One of the celebs that has made a number of visits this summer is Ryan Gosling. Sightings are reported here and there, one involving an accident on of the main roads in Reykjavík. According to the source, a passerby, he seemed very courteous and did not try a hit and run despite being best known for a movie named “Drive”. He was also praised for driving a very modest car. I should note that celebrity sightings in Iceland seldom involve a photo. We have no paparazzi here.
 
Anyway, turns out the man involved in the accident was not Ryan Gosling at all. It was someone that supposedly looks a lot like him. This guy was obviously interviewed, this being no-news Iceland and he mentioned that he had received numerous comments prior to the accident thing about him looking like Gosling.

Two of the Icelandic Ryan Gosling lookalikes - note that the real deal is the one in the middle 
Next thing you know you can’t open a paper without an interview with someone Icelandic who also supposedly looks a lot like Gosling. It was almost a week of Gosling doppelganger news. The look-a-likes could have started their own union. But before it came to that the stories ended up hitting the world media. And they did not see the likeness in the same way that Iceland did. What they said was “somebody please get these guys a mirror” and “Icelandic men think very highly of themselves” and “What is in the drinking water over there?”

So we were shamed which is all OK and fine. A little shaming every now and again is good for inflated egos. Uninflated we will match the party balloons we can no longer fill with helium.

 

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Every summer I treat myself and re-read an Inspector Maigret novel by Georges Simenon. Ok, they're dated but also timeless, short tomes and full of pipe-smoking and a Paris mostly gone. They're character-driven, not so concerned with plot, but the character I love as much as Jules and Madame Maigret is
Paris.
There still is one pissoir left, of the hundreds that used to be on the corners and the smell that you got a block away, on the boulevard in front of La Sante prison.
But this weekend I had some fun bling time talking about gritty Paris and the darker side of the city of light at the Beverly Hills Library.
 Here's Jimmy Stewart's war memorabilia

 Here Denise Hamilton and I speak with Judith a book maven on Beverly Hills cable!
More to come
Cara - Tuesday