Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Sunday in Paris: Memorial for the Deportees and Victims

This Sunday in Paris was the National Day Memorializing those Deported during the German Occupation. Every year since 1954 it's been organized with the children of the Deportee's and their families participating along with a dwindling number of survivors of the Shoah, what the French call the Holocaust. 
 The street to the Centre de Juive, the Jewish Center was closed to anyone without an invitation. As you can see the 'flic's were doing their job. Even my friend Naftali, in his 80's a Resistant who'd forgot his invitation, wasn't allowed to enter so we had to walk around the block.
 The small ceremony at the Wall of Names had ended so we joined the cortege, the parade of survivors, families, and military and ministers and the Mayor walking over to Ile de la Cité. Doesn't he look like de Gaulle?
 Michelle, Naftali's friend in purple on the left, spoke with Henri who wore his own camp clothes from Struthof-Natzweiler, the only concentration camp in France. The same camp, where Naftali's father was interned and executed, is in Alsace-Lorraine.  Henri made every step of the march. Hen
 What ceremony wouldn't be complete without a Rothschild, in the grey suit + grey hair, kissing a ladies hand. This Rothschild is a sponsoring director of the Centre de Juive.
 After the march across the Ile Saint-Louis we made it to the Deportation Memorial behind Notre Dame and various ministries and groups laid wreaths, speeches were made and a beautiful poem by Robert Desnos, a deportee, read.
 It took awhile before I realized Bertrand Delanöe, the Mayor of Paris, stood in front of us and he consented to a photo with me.
 Naftali's friends, Annick who was born in 1924, on the left with the medals and Pierette, born in 1918, with the stylish purple hat were Agents de liaison in Lyon during the war. Between them they made and distributed false identity cards, underground papers and assisted families of those arrested.
 What is amazing is that these 80 and 90 years old made it (some walked part of the way down the Champs Elysees!) to the Arc de Triomphe for the last part of the ceremony. More speeches, laying of wreaths, the military band played le Marseilleise twice, and we all stood in the cold for almost two hours in the chill April evening. The young ones (in their 70's and early 80's) held the heavy flags for almost an hour, considered an honor, and I wondered how they did it with the cold updraft that whips thru the Arc de Triomphe.
 Naftali invited Pierette and Annick, (her Resistance name) to talk and we repaired to Cafe des Dames, chosen by Annick. Notice the photo collage behind her. I taped a lot of their conversation but both were clear on one point, the Resistance was only 2% of the population and the Collaborators 2% and de Gaulle made a myth of la Resistance to unify a damaged France.
Pierette, without her stylish hat, was denounced in Lyon in 1944 and sent on the last convoy of deportees. She was interned in Ravensbruck almost a month before it was liberated but it took her a year via various displaced persons camps to get back to France. Annick, was denounced, and held in the infamous Lyon prison run by Klaus Barbie. Her interrogator was Barbie's second in command and she missed the firing squad by two people. During dinner Annick turned to me and said 'in three years Pierette will be one hundred, hard to believe, eh, she lives by herself, like I do and we still take the Metro.'
Cara - Tuesday
PS it's the last day to enter the sweepstakes to win a killer trip to Paris and join me here in October http://www.parisisformurder.com/rules.html bon chance

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Indiana Jones in Africa -- a guest post from author Susan C. Shea

I'm delighted to introduce author/friend, Susan C. Shea! Susan writes the Dani O’Rourke Mystery series. The first is Murder in the Abstract and the sequel is The King’s Jar, publishing May 1. You can read more about her at www.susancshea.com.

Even before I stood over two super-sized shipping containers, checking off a list that included everything from Cal tee shirts and collection baggies to Kool Aid packets and malaria medicine, I was fascinated by the stories of scientist explorers who went to Africa to look for evidence of a time before recorded history when large animals roamed a very different landscape, and primates descended from the trees and began to develop rudimentary hunting and foraging skills.

Imagine my excitement when I was hired as ED of the non-profit started by the scientist who had previously found “Lucy,” the 3.2 million-year old fossil that changed the way anthropologists viewed human evolution. Suddenly, I was working at the heart of paleo (old) anthropology, with a group of men and women who spent months at a time in the hot, dry, ancient  river beds of Africa’s Great Rift Valley sifting crusty dirt in search of tiny fragments of fossilized bone, and guarded by tribesmen with old Russian Kalashnikov rifles.

I was surprised with an award at the annual Institute dinner at the Metropolitan Club in New York, 1997. The Club features in THE KING'S JAR, albeit in slightly disguised form. With Bruce Ludwig, Donald Johanson and Yves Coppens. Yves was the head of the French Musee des Hommes in Paris, and a fellow anthropologist with Don. Bruce was a member of the Institute's board, one of a handful who were also members of the Explorer's Club, and quite a dashing presence! Photo credit: Anita & Steve Shevett

My sweetheart bought me a pith helmet to celebrate, but the scientists and post-docs who went to the field wore less glamorous, wide brimmed, floppy hats. They wore khaki shorts and hiking boots and the smart ones wore long sleeve dress shirts to fend off the intense sun. They looked out for snakes and large biting bugs when they went to the outdoor lav, ate Ethiopian injera and wat (goat stew on a pale, spongy bread) rather more often than ideal, and went on to find 200 small fragments of what would turn out to be a remarkably complete fossilized skull of Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species).

That skull brought the national morning news programs to our headquarters at four in the morning, national and international reporters from every strong newspaper, magazine, and wire service to interview the scientists, another National Geographic cover, the cover of Time, Newsweek, Scientific American…you get the drift.

It wasn't all hard work. Renowned photographer of African peoples and cultures Carol Beckwith (half of the noted team of Beckwith and Angela Fisher, authors of African Ceremonies and frequent National Geographic contributors) at a costume party in Napa. That's my Tim holding on to her leg! The scientists and people associated with the Institute became close and loyal friends due, I think, to the kind of intense effort they made, often without any assurance of success or comfort along the way. That they accepted me and drew me in as a friend was - and is - a great gift.

I never got to the dig site. Too busy raising money and keeping things running smoothly at home so the scientists could focus on doing what they did best. But when it came time to plan the next Dani O’Rourke mystery, I knew I wanted to incorporate some of that charged atmosphere and Indiana Jones romance of exploration into the book. I tried to weave it together with my own history as a fundraiser, courter of millionaires, billionaires and assorted overly-entitled people. And that’s where The King’s Jar landed, here in the States, with a cast of characters deeply influence by the demands of working in present-day Africa in search of the origins of humankind.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Blooms in Greece

Ahh, tomorrow I fly back to Greece.  I’m heading straight on to Mykonos to spend Easter week there, though my flight out of JFK into Athens bounces me through Constantinople.  No carrier flies directly into Athens from NYC (at least not yet) and Turkish Airlines offers by far the best price on flights into Athens from the US. Go figure.

I can’t wait.  I bet when I mention Greece the first thing you think of is either the Acropolis or deep-blue island seas.  For those of you who think pyramids, well, you’re close but no cigar. But there’s another side to Greece few ever see.  It’s Greece’s fertile mainland countryside, filled in springtime with blooms of almond, walnut, cherry, pear, apple, anemone, poppy, daisy, wisteria, rosemary, artichoke, and on and on…

I had dinner last night with a close friend visiting from Greece who shared some photographs she’d taken a few weeks back by a place approximately 26.2 miles from Athens.  I leave these for you to enjoy as I head off to experience them in person.  Hey don’t be jealous, I have allergies!

And of course, what pictorial portrait of Greece would be complete without at a venerable olive tree!


Friday, April 26, 2013

Keep on running!

Shortly after completing the New York Marathon in 1979, Chris Brasher wrote an article for The Observer newspaper. He said 'To believe this story you must believe that the human race be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, in one of the most trouble-stricken cities in the world, 11,532 men and women from 40 countries in the world, assisted by over a million black, white and yellow people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen.'
                                    Chris pace making for Roger Bannister's sub 4 minute mile


Nothing that happened in Boston will dull that spirit one iota. So whatever those two bombers did, for whatever reason, they picked on the wrong people. This year’s London Marathon, six days after the Boston atrocity, saw a step up in security (40% more police) but not one runner pulled out.     

 More than 800,000 people lined the course to cheer the runners on for the biggest one day fund raiser that the world has ever seen (over 900 million dollars over the years). The 37 000 London runners ran with black ribbons in tribute, there was a 30 second silence at the start with more than a few tears. Runners and spectators remained defiant.

Some years ago, I was lying on a hospital bed with a neurosurgeon tapping my reflexes and scraping my feet. He was telling jokes and I was feeling nothing- literally. A spinal fracture had caused my brain to fall out with my legs.  He said something along the lines of 'getting you back on your feet might prove difficult'. I said “Can I run a marathon?” He joked "Could you run one before?"

 Two years later, I stood on the starting line of the London Marathon, with 36,000 others, each with a story to tell.  Mine was ...ok ... bad spinal injury, couldn’t walk for a while, had to retrain to do that but discovered a talent for writing books that I never knew I had. Always a silver lining!! I went from weeks of lying down, to swimming, tipping wheel chair into a pool, then walking with two crutches, then one, then a stick  then unaided ... all the way to running 26 miles 385 yards. Well maybe running is a bit of a stretch.... kind of limpy jogging, like an elephant with gout.

 There is something beautiful and pure about marathon running. It’s not running against anybody else, it’s you against the distance, the fatigue, the pain and that wee voice in your head that says over and over again ... why are you doing this?

 When I ran the Marathon it was sponsored by Flora margarine so we all ran with 'Flora' on our vests. The crowd shouted “come on Flora” about 12,000 times. It did encourage us to pick up the pace a bit just to get away from the racquet. I wonder what the runners have to endure now that it is sponsored by Virgin! 


All the charity runners - even huge big hairy blokes- cross the line and cry. Some bend over to ease their breathing, some stretch, some whoop, some look at their watch to check their time (or their pulse to see if they have really survived), others get carted away by stretcher but they all wipe away a tear.


There are things that happen in a marathon that would occur under no other circumstances. The mere act of running quicker to catch up with a Viking longboat while being chased by some Mr Men is one I distinctly remember. The army run as a team. I don’t know what the technical term is but they move with a peculiar gait that is not a march and not a jog, it's a in between. They have full pack on, pounding the concrete. You can hear them coming up behind you for miles, moving in perfect synchrony. Somewhere behind them was a 
herd of rhinos.

 The Army team, the Viking longboat and the rhinos run as a group so they line up right at the back of the massed start. This makes sense as they would cause a pile up if any keen charity runners went off too quickly and ran smack into the back of them. So the mass runners go forward, safe in the knowledge that they will hear the  chomp, chomp, chomp- the crowd starts to cheer - everybody gets a wee bit patriotic and a steward will stand and part the runners like Canute. If you don't gently move to the side, you will be trampled.
Being a charity runner I didn’t give a hoot who overtook me. My friend, a GP, stopped at a cafe for a cappuccino ... twice!  She came up with some medical excuse about calcium depletion, caffeine and fluids (double shot latte in other words).  My other friend always wanted to break the three hour mark. He managed a 3.02 in a Paris Marathon, hitting the wall at 24 miles and was very upset.  He turned up at London in peak condition and collided with a banana on the final turn. He was furious this time, going through the barrier at 3.01. That was about twenty years ago and he still goes into a mood if you mention it... which I do, frequently.

Basically, the marvellous thing about marathon running is that you are all in it together and the spirit of friendship and fellowship amongst the runners is an experience that you probably take to your deathbed.
In keeping with that spirit, the Virgin London Marathon has pledged to donate £2 for every runner that finished the event to The One Fund Boston.  And I am sure that many other ‘pledgers’ will dig a little deeper into their pockets.  

Running at its core is a very honest thing to do, one foot in front of the other. The marathon is the culmination of weeks/months of training. Because the London Marathon is early in the year, the training for Scots and other northern Europeans has to be through a cold hard winter. The charity runners, who will have full time jobs, will be up at 5am in sub zero temps, running through the dark night air. It always made me feel like a ghost.

I wrote the following at the time of my first marathon. These are my memories of milling around the start in Greenwich Park, scared. Very scared.
There was a strawberry in the corner rubbing Vaseline on its nipples, absorbed in its task, greasy fingers dipped in and out the pot, the hands moving from the chest to the inner thighs. He had been at it for ages.

A mobile phone rang, the strawberry extended a green stalk, passing the phone to the elephant standing next to it. The elephant flapped his ears in gratitude; it was a trunk call one would suppose.

Silence fell as Cher emerged from the toilets, six foot four, dressed in a leather vest with a black g-string and tinfoil-posing pouch. He was wearing three-inch stilettos, a constipated smile and far too much make up. He teetered up to the end of the queue and took his place between two nuns.
A chicken got stuck in the portaloo the transvestite had vacated; unable to manage the narrow door for itself. He had to be pulled out tail first. He fluffed his feathers to regain some dignity, plumping himself up against the wasps that were now homing in on us, attracted by the smell of banana skins, ralgex and Lucozade.
Then it was time. We stood still, in reverential silence, alone with our thoughts of the pain that had passed and the pain to come.
Without exception, we put up a silent prayer as one single shot split the air.

I jogged round my first marathon and I remember seeing the green sign, 26 miles. Tired  to the core, legs on automatic pilot, knowing that I could not stop because if I did I might never start again, then the final corner into the Mall.... then angels pick you up at that point ... I was humming swing low sweet chariot..., the crowd were going mad ... for me and the other 36,000 no doubt. But I did it...
And after watching that today...
I'm getting the itch to do it again...

Watching the Marathon GB 26.04.13

PS  If you are ever in a crowded train carriage and someone is talking loudly on their mobile phone  and being very annoying, just pick up your own phone and say the first line about the strawberry very loudly. Put your phone down. Look out the window. Say nothing. You will notice that all will have gone very quiet.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Deadly Harvest

Next week (April 30th) sees the release of the new Detective Kubu mystery DEADLY HARVEST.  Naturally we wanted to tell you about it, but we decided to let Kubu himself talk about it instead.  

We were in Botswana at the beginning of the month so we lured him away from the Criminal Investigation Department of the Botswana police by offering him lunch at one of his favorite restaurants – the Caravela, a great Portuguese restaurant in Gaborone with an interesting background.  (We reported on it in an earlier blog.)

Once we had settled down and Kubu had regretfully passed on the wine because he was on duty, we chatted.  Of course we are old friends so we used his nickname “Kubu”, which means hippopotamus in the Setswana language.  Kubu doesn’t mind.  It is part of his persona and has been with him since his school days at the Maru a Pula school.

Michael asked him about being a detective in Botswana.

Kubu laughed.  “I thought you’d want to talk about food and recipes!  You know there’s a cook book out now as an e-book with my favorite African dishes?  Sometimes I think I’m better known as a gourmet than a detective.  But don’t ask me to be the cook!  By the way shall we order?  Joy says I should have a salad for lunch.  It’s part of my diet.  So I’ll start with the avocado salad.  It’s excellent.  Then I’ll have the peri-peri whole chicken.  I really recommend that.  We can wait till after the main course before we order the desserts.”

While we were wondering about the salad ‘diet’ and whether we’d brought enough pula to pay for all these courses, Kubu returned to the subject of police work.

“Michael, you have to understand that Botswana is a very big country.  The size of France.  Less than two million people though.  We have about twenty main police centers, but they all have a lot of area to cover and lots of places for criminals to hide.  And the countryside is very diverse.  We’ve got the huge Kalahari desert with very low population – mainly Bushmen.  There’s the lush northern area along the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, with all that spectacular wildlife.  But, at Kazangula, Botswana has a joint border with three other countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia.  Think of the smuggling possibilities that offers.  Then there are the cities like Gaborone and Francistown, nothing like Johannesburg, but they have their share of crime.”

We’re very interested in the situation with the Bushman peoples of Botswana, so Stan asked about it.  Kubu sighed.

“It’s such a difficult issue.  Some of the Bushmen want to live a nomadic life in the Kalahari like their ancestors, but most want the comforts of modern life, education for their children, health care, and so on.  The government is bound by the constitution to supply those things, but they can’t do it if people are in a different place every day.  One needs a consensus from the people involved – particularly the Bushmen - as to how to move forward, and that didn’t happen.  It ended up in the High Court, and Judge Unity Dow gave a judgment in the Bushmen’s favor.  But it will take time for the Bushmen to find their role in modern Botswana.”

Courtyard at the Caravela. Photo: J Everitt
We really wanted to know about muti murders: people – especially children – being murdered so that witch doctors can use their body parts for black magic.  It’s a scary practice becoming more, rather than less, prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, and it provides the backstory of DEADLY HARVEST.  Michael asked Kubu how these cases were handled in Botswana.

Witch Doctor
Photo courtesy A Zaloumis
He hesitated, then said: “You must understand that most witch doctors do good.  They have a variety of herbal remedies, usually supplied with a dash of good advice or a prayer.  My father is a herbalist, although recently…  Well, that’s another story.  Now a few witch doctors might add animal parts – like the heart of a lion to give the client strength.  But a very few – reputed to be the most powerful – use human body parts.  Children are abducted.  It’s horrible.  And the culprits are very hard to find because the victims aren’t related in any way to their abductors.  Worse, everyone is too scared of the witch doctors to give information.  Even some policemen are nervous.  Not me, of course.”

Shangaan fetishes Photo courtesy Alex Zaloumis
We said we found it hard to credit that modern educated people still believed in these types of potions, but Kubu shook his head.  “It’s supposed to give the evil witch doctors tremendous power, shape changing, invisibility.  The witch doctor I had to deal with in the Deadly Harvest case was thought to be invisible. As you can imagine, it was a very hard case to solve.  Fortunately the CID has a new detective – a woman believe it or not – who really pushed us to make progress.  We got to the bottom of it all together.”  He paused.  “These cases really shake things up.  There is the infamous case of a young girl, Segametsi Mogomotsi, which occurred in Mochudi in 1994.  She and her friend were selling oranges and became separated.  Segametsi disappeared and her mutilated body was found weeks later.  Segametsi’s murder caused the community to come out in violent protests because they believed the police were protecting the witch doctors’ powerful clients.  One person was shot and killed by a policeman.  The government eventually felt it necessary to conduct an independent enquiry, so it called in Scotland Yard from the United Kingdom.”
From The Star newspaper. Courtesy Alex Zaloumis
We nodded.  We had heard about that awful case at our first meeting with the previous director of the CID, Tabathu Mulale.  The Scotland Yard report was never released and the case remains unsolved.  To lighten the rather somber mood, Stan asked: “Have you ever met Precious Ramotswe?  You’re sort of in the same line of work.”

Kubu laughed.  “No, not really.  She’s that lady private investigator?  She solves people’s problems, but I’m after murderers.  She’s very resourceful, but our cases don’t overlap much.  Maybe I’ll bump into her one day.”

At that point the food arrived, and that was all we could get out of Assistant Superintendent David “Kubu” Bengu.