Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Author Martin Limon

I first read Martin Limon when his publisher sent me a sampler containing first chapters from a number of their authors. His work impressed me so much that I immediately went out and bought all of his books.

His next one, Mr. Kill, will be his seventh, and it's scheduled for release in December. I can't wait!

Martin has studied both Mandarin Chinese and Korean and usually sets his stories in Asia, where he spent ten years of his life.

But, today, he holds forth on something entirely different: the United States Postal Service.

Leighton - Monday

The Last Full Measure
Martin Limon

            When I started writing I lived and died by the mail.  I would send out an article or a short story to some unwary publisher and wait day-to-day for their response.  For years the response was always the same:  a photocopied rejection letter.  One publication received so many of my short stories that when I finally received a small envelope from them stuffed with more than one sheet of paper, I figured it was a bill for all the man-hours they’d wasted reading my stories and rejecting them.  Instead, it was a contract for my first published story “A Coffin of Rice” in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
            During all those years of mailing manuscripts out and having them returned to me, I never once lost a story.  In fact to this day I can honestly say that the United States Postal Service never once let me down.  Still, for some reason, there are some politicians who are determined to murder the United States Postal Service.  This is no mystery.  Their motive is clear.  They claim it is losing money.
            But the Postal Service is not actually losing money, not year to year.  The reason they appear to be losing money is because of the Congressionally imposed accounting requirement that they set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to fund their retiree health care benefits for seventy years in the future.  That means they have to budget for people who haven’t even been born yet.  And all this from a Congress that is constantly blathering on about getting government off the backs of business.
            What is Congress’s real motive?  We all know the answer.  Their goal is to privatize the U.S. Postal Service.  Why destroy such a venerable and successful institution?  That answer is also clear.  Because a few of their country club buddies want to form shipping companies and make fortunes charging us poor starving authors ten times as much to mail our manuscripts.
            The U.S. Postal Service was established in Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution.  Our founding father realized that an honest and efficient postal service was important to the growth of our nation.  By enshrining a postal service in our primary legal document they thereby mandated that it should be a public utility, available to all.  I’m old enough to remember when many things that are now privatized were public utilities.  I remember when television was free.  I remember when radio had to broadcast both sides of a political issue.  I remember when telephones were plugged into walls and--miracle of miracles--they always worked.
            Those days are gone.  I mourn them but I cannot bring them back.  But I do think it is time that Congress stop undermining the U.S. Constitution and stop trying to destroy the U.S. Postal Service.  I also think it’s time people stop bad mouthing our government.  One Republican president famously said that government is not the answer to the problem, but rather that government is the problem.
            I prefer to quote the first Republican president.  He was dedicated to the proposition that our “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
            We the people must control our government and the instruments thereof and not let a few slick-talking “job creators” talk us out of what so many died to preserve.  Let us not betray those men and women who “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that our government would survive.  Let us not turn this cherished legacy over to corporations whose only “last full measure of devotion” is to lining their own pockets with profit, no matter how ill-gotten their gain.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Not Without a License, You Don't

The Chinese government, you'll be interested to know, has announced a ban on unauthorized reincarnation.

This is obviously a maneuver that anticipates the death of the current Dalai Lama; the old men in charge want to be the sole authorities on who the new incarnation is.

So I can understand the goal, even if I don't sympathize with it. My questions concern the mechanics of enforcement.

We know that the Chinese authorities keep a close eye on people, but I've always assumed that surveillance essentially ended at the moment of death. Once you slipped free of the bounds of your body, I figured you could go nya nya nya at Beijing, or speculate aloud about Chairman Mao and his Girl Guides. Or even visit Taiwan. But apparently not.

So, how does it work?

I mean, for example, who are the cops? Have the Chinese really found a way to station some officious twit in a uniform at the soul's first rest stop, wherever that may be? And what does he do? I mean, how does one detain a soul, anyway? Does he handcuff it? If so, with what? Do souls have hands? Is there a holding pen? What are the walls made of? Is there a lavatory? One, or two?  Does it flush?

Once reincarnation is approved, is a license issued? Printed on what? In what language? Does it need a thumbprint? (See question above, re: hands.) Does it spell out the soul's next destination? If, let's say, it reads HAMSTER, is there an appeals process? What about a black market? The Chinese have reinvented capitalism on this plane, so why not the next?

Why wouldn't there be a black market in reincarnation permits? A spiritual swap meet? You don't want to be a hamster? Would you prefer President of the United States (my guess is that lots of people would like to duck that one) or intestinal parasite? Or maybe there's a sort of blind lottery? If you don't want to be a typhoid carrier, would you be willing to accept, sight unseen, the next incarnation for Bob Barker? Casey Kasem? Simon Cowell? Rush Limbaugh?  The widely unmourned Leona Helmsley?

1967 reincarnation of one of the Smith Brothers

Does China get to determine the reincarnation mix? What China needs most right now are reasonably adaptable grunts -- people who aren't ambitious enough to seize power but are sufficiently nimble to supply whatever the hell will be needed in, say, 20 years. Are most people getting licenses that say ADAPTABLE GRUNT? If there's a war in the future, are there a lot of licenses that read CANNON FODDER? Or, if the one-family-one-child rule stays in effect and parents keep disposing of girls, are there licences that read ABORTED FEMALE? If so, my guess is that the swap meet is booming.

So many questions, so little space.

Here are the two big ones.

First, if a soul is refused a permit to be reincarnated, then what? Does it do time?  What's "time" in this context? Are we talking about eternity? Seems kind of harsh. Do they supply the soul with books? Board games?  The Learning Channel?  A perpetual replay of "Heaven Can Wait"?  Are there vocational classes? (I personally can think of nothing more depressing than a whole bunch of souls training for eternity to be beauticians or dental technicians.) Is there exercise equipment, and if so, what does it exercise? Moral judgment? Ectoplasmic muscle tone? And to what end, since that soul is essentially permanently on file? It's not like it's ever going to be running around as little Joey again.

And second, China is called the world's biggest a-lot-of-things, but it's unquestionably the world's biggest bureaucracy. How do the members of the Soul Patrol file their reports? Is there an office full of mediums somewhere in the Forbidden City? Do the bulletins come in via one of those mysterious eight-balls? If you're put in charge of receiving and filing these reports, to they at least issue you a corner office and a tinfoil hat?

Actually, I have to admit that I have a certain amount of enthusiasm for the idea of refused reincarnation. I'd like to see it implemented here in America, but applied to midlife reincarnations. Just imagine: no Suzanne Somers, going from TV sitcom ditz to Godlike authority on inner happiness and great thighs. David Hasselhoff wouldn't be singing in German. Madonna wouldn't be writing children's books. There would be no "X-Factor."  There would be no "Dancing With the Stars" or--shudder-- "Celebrity Rehab."  George W. Bush wouldn't be an elder statesman. Simon Cowell would be a memory, if even that.

Probably not even that.

Tim -- Sundays
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Greeks Know How to Say "NO!"

December 16, 1940
Yesterday, October 28th, was a Greek National Holiday.  One of two publicly revered ones to be precise.  The other, March 25, commemorates the day in 1821 that Greece declared its Independence from the Ottoman Empire and fought until 1832 to obtain it.  

But it was yesterday that carried a more relevant lesson for those of you who might think the omnipresent daily media frenzy over Greece’s financial situation fairly portrays the national character of the eleven million who live in Greece today.  And to those media types so quick to disparage the Greeks—or any culture for that matter—with a catchy phrase I say, ‘NO.” 

Which is only appropriate since the name of yesterday’s holiday is “Oxi Day” (pronounced “O-hee”), meaning “no” in Greek.

So what is this earth shattering revelation?

Thanks to John Pozadzides' blogsite for the photos.
On the morning of August 15, 1940, the Greek navel vessel Elli was in the harbor of the Cycladic island of Tinos.  It was peacetime and the light cruiser was anchored there to participate in a major Greek Orthodox holiday, The Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of the Virgin Mary).  Without warning the Elli was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine, killing nine and wounding twenty-four.  Although fragments of the torpedo clearly identified its source, the Greek government officially declared the nationality of the attacking submarine as “unknown.”  The Greek government may have been reluctant to declare the attacker as Italy, and therefore immerse itself in war, but the people knew who was behind it.

Ioannis Metaxas
Two months later, around dawn on the morning of October 28, 1940, after a party at the German embassy in Athens, the Italian ambassador approached Greece’s Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas and demanded that Greece surrender to the Axis powers or face immediate war with Italy.  He offered Greece three hours to decide.  Italy had seven times the population of Greece, seven times the troops, ten times the firepower, and total air superiority. 

The Prime Minister’s response was simple: “Oxi.”  And less than two hours later Italian troops stationed in Albania invaded Greece.  Occupation of Greece was critical to Hitler’s plan for isolating British troops in North Africa.  The Italians expected it to be a three-day war.  They learned otherwise. 

Oxi became the battle cry of the Greek people.  Within weeks the Italians were driven back into Albania, and repelled by the Greeks at every effort to occupy Greece.  It became clear to Hitler that Italy was not up to the task and on April 6, 1941 Germany invaded Greece, but it took even the Nazis five weeks to succeed.  Greek resistance had thrown off Hitler’s plans to capture Russia before the winter of 1941. 

The Greeks were the first people in Europe (outside of Great Britain) to stand up to the demands of Germany and its allies, but their one hundred eighty-five days of resistance took a horrific toll on their country:

One million of Greece’s citizens (13% of the population) are estimated to have died from battle, starvation, resistance, reprisals and concentration camps.

Greece’s infrastructure, economy and agriculture were destroyed.

Greece’s gold, works of art, and treasures were plundered.

Civil war followed and many emigrated.

On a purely economic basis, it is estimated that in standing up to the Axis’ threats Greece was left in financial straits twice as bad as it finds itself in today… and its societal costs were inestimably worse.

Oh, yes, and on that subject of catchy phrases attempting to capture Greece’s national character, let me offer a quote from someone who understood how the actions of the many, not the failings of a few, are what matters in any such sort of measure: “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but Heroes fight like Greeks.”  Winston Churchill.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Pastor Joke

I'm on the road  - school holidays aaargh! - so forgive the briefness of this blog, because as always the outside world ceases to exist when you have three kids to entertain. I really should learn to plan ahead and schedule blogs days in advance, but planning isn't my forte and isn't likely to be.

My eye has been taken by the Occupy London protest unfolding in fascinating fashion outside St Paul's Cathedral, in the heart of London's Square Mile. I aim to return to it in more detail next week (not least the sinister doings of the Corporation of the City of London, and its weird ancient prerogatives, which essentially make it a fiefdom within London), by which time the protesters are likely to have been evicted thanks in no small part to those in charge of St Pauls, who have been all too willing to react in preposterously queeny fashion and do the bidding of the their City betters. First they closed the cathedral to the public when the protesters made camp, despite there being no obvious reason to; now they have issued a statement saying they will ask the police (the City of London has its own force) to evict the protesters. Not because of their protest. No, they respect that right, of course they do. It's because the campers have broken the heinous law of 'reasonable use of a highway.' To back up their case, St Paul's hired a five-year-old to draw this map:

Realising that forcefully evicting peaceful protesters from near a place of worship might send, um, rather mixed messages, the cathedral chancellor, Canon Giles Fraser, resigned from his position. His colleagues were rather less conciliatory and the chances are we'll see a bit of Godly violence wielded by the saintly cops on those devil sent anti-capitalist before too long.

The press (you knew I was going to bring them into it...) have also been doing their bit to show the protesters up for the slacking sinners they are, unlike those angelic folks in the City, where it was also announced that directors pay in the top 100 FTSE companies had risen 49 per cent in the last year, on account of them having done so well. The economy is on its knees, and the companies they work for have failed to make any noticeable profit, but still, well done chaps, trebles all round.

Back to the press. The right-wing papers reported with glee, after getting their hands on thermal imaging equipment, that half the tents were empty. Meaning, they were all well-fed guys and gals who were protesting part-time and then going home at night to comfy beds, square meals and all night IPad blowouts like all good capitalists.

Look! Empty tents...

Except, there was one thing wrong  with this story. That it was a total lie. Watch this video:

My first thought, after the obvious one about media lies, was to wonder how bad thermal imaging cameras were. If  I'm ever trapped in a tent in a snowdrift, I'll take my chances with a St Bernard dog, thanks.

Still, the harm was done. Expect baton charges by the middle of next week.

More to follow as they say.


Dan - Friday

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A passage to Libya

Charles Todd is the best-selling mother-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd.  Their latest Bess Crawford mystery, A BITTER TRUTH, came out at the end of August.  They also write the renowned Inspector Ian Rutledge series.  In total they have written 17 novels (if I count correctly!).

Caroline had an unexpected opportunity to visit Libya several years ago and to visit the remarkable ruins of Leptis Magna.  With the old order changed, she reminisces about that trip, and how she found the people.  We all join her in hoping for a better future for them in the new order.

Here is her guest blog:

Michael - Thursday


One of the places I’d always wanted to visit was the Libyan ruin called Leptis Magna.  A Roman Emperor born in Africa decided to make his relatively simple birthplace into a magnificent city, second only to Rome.  And he succeeded.  The marble metropolis on the heights overlooking the Mediterranean Sea was large, elegant, and a splendid memorial to Septimius Severus.  It’s worth noting that he had a varied and interesting career before and after becoming emperor, and he traveled widely in the empire.  Indeed, he died in York, England.
Like many African cities of the time Leptis Magna eventually disappeared beneath the sand, and that preserved the city.  Some of it still hasn’t been fully excavated.  It had had a checkered career before and after Septimius Severus, and the wonder is that so much of it survived on that sun-swept bluff above the blue sea. Possibly its inadequate harbor saved it, offering little commercial value.
Some years ago I’d known an archeologist who had studied the statues from Leptis Magna, but she’d never been there for the simple reason that the city was out of reach for most of us.  She’d had to work from photographs taken at various times by others.  
Considering it unlikely that I’d ever get there, it was far down on my bucket list when an unexpected opportunity came our way in 2004.  Robin MacNeil of MacNeil-Lehrer Report had interviewed Khadafy shortly after the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie Scotland, but he’d had to do it without going to Libya or meeting Khadafy face to face.  Years later, Sven Lindblad had asked MacNeil where in the world he might like to go on one of the Lindblad Expeditions ships.  He chose Libya, a trip was then built around that choice, and it happened that one of the brochures advertising it landed in our mail box.   We signed up.
By this time we’d been to a good many Muslim countries and had a general idea what to expect when we got to Libya, although ours was the first American ship to dock there. The country and its people were remarkably welcoming, considering they’d been told for decades that the US was Libya’s enemy.  Almost as if whatever our countries thought, they were open minded.  And we not only got to those ruins, but to the museum in Tripoli and the other fascinating Roman site, Sabratha.   
Roads were fairly good, sandy on the verges of villas and village, and wide boulevards in places.  The bazaar was open, more like Casablanca than Fez. There were very modern buildings in the business area, and the people we saw appeared to have enough to eat and a reasonable roof over their heads.  The poverty we’d witnessed in some countries wasn’t  evident, but then we never went into the hinterland.  Still, we never saw anyone begging or in rags. Most of our journey followed the coast, as you’ll see looking at a map.   We never met any of the ruling family. They were not of course amongst those welcoming us.   
One early morning excursion took us to the fish market, where we got a good look at the unusual fish caught in the southern Mediterranean.  Even there the fishermen and those shopping for their dinners joked and spoke to us in the friendliest way.  All in all, we were left with a very pleasant view of the country and its people. 
So when civil war broke out, vicious and bloody, we listened to any news out of Libya. Would the ruins of those two cities survive?  Or would they be a battleground?  We’d spent hours tramping through the scruffy grass in the African heat to see the harbor, the handsome gate, the forum, the magnificent double-ended Basilica, the temples, the baths, the marketplaces, the mosaics,  all in gleaming white marble, a spectacle under a sky so clear that it invited photography. As the current news got worse, we thought of the men who had whitewashed the ladies’ room at the entrance to Leptis Magna, to be sure we felt comfortable using it.  There were the guards who walked the site so that we could safely explore—but there was no need for them, everyone seemed to be glad to see us.  Even in the bazaar in Tripoli, the merchants joked and laughed with us, coaxing us into shops, and in restaurants the staff was always polite and very helpful.   
Back then we didn’t know which tribe a person belonged to or which political viewpoint he or she held. We just knew that one of Khadafy’s sons had convinced him to open the country to us and those who would follow. The people were just Libyans, not rebels and loyalists, and a surprisingly welcoming people even though when we were docking we’d passed through a graveyard of submarines, more than a reminder that this country until recently had been our enemy.  
Will any leader rise out of the turmoil of this particular Arab Spring and be able to heal this country and make it a viable democracy?  Who knows? The human cost to reach this stage must have been unimaginable—as it has been for much of the Arab world. There’s surely a great deal of animosity on both sides,  but the hope is, Libya will look far down the road to the many tourists who will eventually want to come and see those treasures in the desert, and will take steps to protect them for at least a few more centuries. Certainly for John and for me, it was a marvelous and rewarding journey.
Caroline Todd - Guest Blog, Thursday 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book writing hiatus - Famous last words

I am still trying to finalize my book that is to be out in November, saying a lot about how quickly publishing operates in a small market such as Iceland. I have a couple more chapters to go and then the dreaded rewrite. The first advertisement for the book is being printed so I can't really back out now, can only repeat the same old "I am not going to let this happen again."  So yet again I must rely on an old post, previously uploaded on February 10th 2010. Please bear with me, I will be back to normal in about two weeks time. So here is what I had to say alomst two years ago now:

I have long envied people who manage to say something really smart and quotable seconds before their dying breath. To have the perseverance to even bother to say anything when you realize the big Game Over has arrived is a bit amazing when you think about it. Some of the quotes are good enough to make one wonder if the phrases have not been planned ahead of time, in particular if death is long in coming. Some cases even arouse suspicion that the quote has been developed using the support of those who assisted the famous person while still kicking, writing speeches and so on. If the super-organised quote is attributed to a politician this assistant would be a spin doctor, standing next to his medical counterpart, the former brainstorming out loud and the latter taking the soon to be deceased individuals pulse. This rather harmless conspiracy theory will be put to the test when Letterman and Leno pass away, these men have all the writers they need at their fingertips and must surely have asked them to spend an hour or two churning out remarkable or memorable words. I know I would if places were traded.

Having once spent a few hours reading through every quote in a book titled “The 1000 best Quotes of all time” I recall being flabbergasted at how little man has really managed to say in the form of prolific statements over the years, less than a tenth of the quotes were worth printing and if Oscar Wilde’s numerous contributions were removed this number would have fallen considerably. Although an impressive amount of quotations were attributes to him, his last words did not make the cut. They certainly merited being included: “These curtains are killing me, one of us has got to go.”

One of my long time favourite deathbed quotes was that of Charlie Chaplin who supposedly replied to the attending priest’s ritualistic words: “May the Lord have Mercy on your soul...” by saying: “Why not? It belongs to him.” However like many of the things one admires, when scrutinised they turn out to be an illusion. I did a quick verification of the authenticity of this quote and it turned out Chaplin died in his sleep and these are the dying words of someone else – Henri Verdoux, the main character of the movie Monsieur Verdoux from 1947 starring Charlie Chaplin. Too bad. The comedic retort has been removed from my personal list of favourite deathbed quotes.

Soon after realising this I was tempted to check out another favourite, but as it has a special place in my heart I decided not to, sometimes it is better to be under an illusion if harmless. The final words in question are those of Mexican rebel Pancho Villa uttered after he had been mortally wounded by unknown assassins: “Tell them I said something.” I also refrain from looking up Voltaire’s dying words for fear that they are fictional. Like the Chaplin quote, they a retort to an attending priest, this one asking Voltaire to renounce Satan to which he replied: “This is no time for making new enemies.” Just brilliant.

Priests administering last rites seem too have been an inspiration for a lot of the deathbed quotes I like, probably because their presence under such circumstances is to be expected, they often have the ringside seat, their ear in close proximity to the cracked lips of the person soon passing. Duke Ramón María Narváez y Campos, Spanish statesman was one, his attending priest asked him solemnly to forgive his enemies to which Ramón replied just before passing away: “I have none so no need. I have had them all shot.”

A number of last words are attributed to the settlers of Iceland through the Sagas. Some are eloquent, poems really and not easily translated. I will however include one I find a bit funny, attributed to an unnamed member of a posse sent to kill Gunnar Hámundarson in Njálssaga. The man is sent to Gunnar’s door to find out if he is home but unbeknownst to him Gunnar becomes aware of his approach and manages to stick his sword out by opening the door an inch and stabbing the would-be assassin fatally. The mortally wounded man staggers back to his group and is asked: “Was Gunnar home?” His reply? “This I do not know but I did notice that his sword is.” He then fell down dead.

Despite the truth of actor Edmund Gwenn’s last words: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” I would recommend to those that wish to make a long lasting deathbed comment, to go with funny rather than poetic. These seem to be remembered with more ease and there are a lot fewer quotes out there that deal with wisdom or peace of mind. However I cannot leave the subject without mentioning two such examples: Theodore Roosevelt: "Put out the light." And René Descartes: “My soul, thou has long been held captive; the hour has now come for thee to quit thy prison, to leave the trammels of this body; suffer then, this separation with joy and courage.” A bit longwinded but nevertheless it surpasses by leaps and bound those of General John Sedgwick who died in battle during the US Civil War: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..."

I have yet to come up with what I would like my last words to be, but hope I still have time to figure it out without having to rush against a fast approaching deadline. It's a bit unfortunate that I will not have a priest to bounce off of but I'll just have to make do without a pious sidekick. The first step is to realize what I absolutely don’t want to say and this bit has been accomplished, I think everyone can agree with me in not wanting their deathbed or last words to be: “Oh God, it hurts!” or: “Look over there! A crocodile!”

Finally, in the case I don’t find the time to develop something immortal then I would happily settle for: “Zzzzzzz...”

Yrsa - Wednesday

Monday, October 24, 2011

French Connection Deux

The French police force has been shaken by a corruption scandal involving Lyon's deputy police chief, nicknamed "le Superflic" for his fight against drugs, who has been arrested on suspicion of colluding with international drug barons. Liberation, the left wing Paris based paper headlined it 'le super-poulet dans le Lyonaise gril' A French cop=chicken on the grill in Lyon. (French cops are referred to as Poulet and flic and it's informal not perjorative)
Michel Neyret, 55, the bouffant-haired and charismatic Lyon detective, was arrested at home along with his wife and is being held in custody.
Michel is suspected of paying off his informants with batches of confiscated drugs; police claim that Michel then worked with the criminals to resell the products. He is being questioned about corruption, international drugs trafficking and money-laundering. Michel, however, is regarded as a hero for his success in cutting drug crime and stopping jewelery heists in the Lyon area. He appears regularly in the media to talk about Lyon's success in busting crime; he was also a script adviser on a recent feature film about Lyon gang crime. Three other senior officers were also arrested in swoops from Lyon to Grenoble and the investigation spread to Cannes on the French riviera. Others linked to organized crime were in Lyon and Cannes including a man in his 30s believed to have provided Michel with luxury cars, including a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce.
Judges working on the case said they were investigating links between the police and French organized crime as well as potentially the Italian mafia. The trafficking is said to have involved hard drugs transported from South America, linked to a Paris-region cocaine ring dismantled by police last November. Judges are investigating Swiss bank accounts allegedly used to channel profits. Michel and his lawyers contest all the allegations. Police all over France were stupefied at the arrests.
If a web of corruption is uncovered at the top of the French force, it would be a major scandal. The interior minister Claude Gueant said that if the allegations are true, it would be "immensely painful" for the French police.
The investigation comes just as Nicolas Sarkozy's inner-circle has been hit by a series of political party-funding corruption investigations - including contributions from the L'Oreal heiress Lilianne Bettencourt who a judge has ruled to be suffering dementia and Alzheimers and incapable of making decisions - putting the country in a state of soul-searching about sleaze.
Cara - Tuesday

Home Again

I’m just back from a long, long trip, have much to catch up on and haven’t got much time to write, so I’m going to bore you, instead, with some photos of my grandchildren.
And some other photos of friends I met while in Europe, one of whom looks surprisingly like me and one of which was a bottle.
First, the kids.

This one is named Fardou.

She didn’t want me to leave.

And turned her face away when she found out it was a “goodbye photo”. Her siblings, left to right, are Fraukje, Jonathan and Anner, just over a year old – and big.

Here’s the mother of the brood, reading Murder is Everywhere to the kids. Mom and Dad were married in 2002. Upon the occasion of which, they bought a case, en primeur of a very good wine.

Don’t know what en primeur means? Go here:

And, to mark my arrival, we shared their very first bottle of the stuff. Well, not just because of my arrival. Turns out, my visit corresponded with their wedding anniversary, which we celebrated in the Hague in a delightful little Michelin one-star called Callas:

Note for those of you who aren't wine buffs: Chateau Haut Brion is one of the five remaining Premiers Crus of the Classification of 1855.

Don't know what the Classification of 1855 was?

Go here:

Note to Michael and Stan: Eat your hearts out, guys!

The next day, the folks from Karakter, my fabulous Dutch publisher, wined me, and dined me and took me to a bookshop to meet this guy:

He looks surprisingly like me, don't you think?

Then it was on to Florence, where I spent two nights at the home of the delightful Annamaria Alfieri, author of City of Silver.

Here we are, the two of us, on her terrace. And, yes, that building in the background is the Palazzo della Signoria. Some location, huh?

While I was in Italy, I popped down to Sicily for a few days.

This is a shot of the highly-unusual cathedral in Palermo. Note the Moorish influence.

I also tried to take some photos of numerous bottles of Nero d'Avola.
But, for some reason, they all came out blurry.

Michael and Stan: Eat your hearts out all over again.

I returned home, somewhat the worse for wear, to get the news that A Vine in the Blood got its first review - one of the coveted stars from Publisher's Weekly:

The book launches in North America in December, but is already available, on Kindle, in many other places around the world. (English language edition only.)

That's it for this edition. Tune in next Monday, folks, for a great post from our friend and guest author Martin Limon.

If you know Martin's work (and, if you don't - you should) you'll be expecting it to be about Korea.

But it isn't.

Leighton - Monday

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Deep Waters

The waters of the Chao Phraya river continued to rise all week, threatening Bangkok and inundating the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, some forty miles upstream.  This image of villagers canoeing past a reclining Buddha suggests some of what's at stake in this city of temples, most of which are four hundred years old or older.
Don't let the blue skies fool you.  The rain continues to fall, creating water levels not seen in decades.  Ayutthaya is not a museum city; it has a vibrant life, and enormous damage has been done already.  
But to the rest of the world (and, of course, to Bangkok), the big story is Bangkok.  Some areas of the capital city are already underwater, and depending on whom you believe -- or when whoever it is steps up to the microphone -- this is either as bad as it's going to get or the prelude to the Deluge.
This is the Don Muang station, not far from the old international airport, now used primarily for domestic, military, and cargo flights.  This isn't the center of much of anything (unless you live there) but this . . .
. . . gentleman lives just beside the river, and he's definitely in Bangkok proper -- the temple in the background is Wat Arun, the "Temple of the Dawn" in the Bangkok Yai district, on the west bank.  Venerable-looking as it is, this Khmer-style spire is a youngster compared to many of the shrines of Ayutthaya; construction was begun in the first decade of the 19th century.  

Unfortunately, a gaseous flood of political posturing accompanies the wetter flood from upcountry.  Bangkok is the center of the old power elite, virtually the only part of the Kingdom that didn't vote for the new administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, and most members of the Bangkok Municipal Authority owe their sinecures to the politicians who overthrew and exiled Ynigluck's brother, Thaksin, in 2006.  Yingluck has only been in power for two months and she's already being blamed for a lack of flood preparedness that goes back for decades.

Yingluck--faced with a natural tragedy that would daunt the most experienced leader-- may have vacillated,  but she's had no help from the Bangkok Municipal Authority, whose ceremony to propitiate the river goddess, Ka Kang, would seem to have been a failure.  As water levels in the river and the canals that wind through the city continue to rise, a full-scale turf battle has erupted. 

In the meantime, here's hoping these images from Ayutthaya will bring the political gasbags of Bangkok to their senses.
They need to act before the water is as high as -- well, as an elephant's eye.

The waters aren't supposed to abate for anywhere from three to five weeks.  God only knows where things will be next Sunday.

Tim -- Sunday

What's Afoot in Athens?

Mega Athena by Aids-3D

I don’t want to talk about the societal disaster playing out across Greece in front of the world.

Instead, how about God bless The New York Times?  No, I didn’t get the review.  I just happened to come across a story this week (by Rachel Donadio) on how the financial crisis in Greece has inspired its artists and given burst to a “volcano” of creative energy.  Crisis can do that.  It also gives a lot of people a lot of free time. 

Sadly, buried in the article is the admission by an Athens’ gallery owner that “people are buying less and less.”  In a twisted way perhaps that’s encouraging, for it means even Greeks with disposable income are changing spending habits in recognition of what is upon them.  But, I fear artists and galleries that depend upon a Greek clientele will find suffering for one’s art more the rule than the exception.  

I have many friends on Mykonos who are outstanding, accomplished artists, and though I haven’t pressed them for particulars, I’m relatively confident that non-Greeks are now their primary market.  How could it be otherwise? 

Here is a sample of some of their work.

Greece is a boundless source of inspiration for the arts and so no one should be surprised that much of what’s new is good, or at least interesting.  Nor, in light of the graffiti that plagues Athens, should it shock that one of those highlighted in The Times article is a thirty-year-old British graffiti artist (and former Bristol dentist) who goes simply by the name Bleeps.  Fittingly, his work is in an area of Athens that reminds me of how NYC’s East Village once was.

Here’s a bit of Bleeps’ street art:

Where is it all headed?  That will depend upon a lot of things, much of which is outside the artists’ control.  Perhaps it’s summed up best by what is written on the placard held by the woman in my fourth posted work by Bleeps:  “I dream of love, I long for a customer.” 

May the customers come, and beauty somehow find its way through so much of life today that is not.