Friday, July 31, 2015

The Writing Is On The Wall..


In the beginning was the word and the word was Aardvark.

The weather here is awful.
I mean really awful.
The central heating is on and the wood burning stove is burning bright although I confess I can’t actually verify that as  the stove itself is obscured by a large pile of  cats, dogs, pine martins,  polar bears etc.
Believe me, it’s cold. This July has been the wettest ever on record and that is saying something for Scotland.
Then we  saw the weather forecast...

Ian Georgson took this picture of a gritter, for the Scotsman newspaper.
We now have snow warnings.
In August.

So I am in cheer up mode. I was going to blog about Scottish politics (which is as depressing as Greek politics but at least they have sunshine.) So I thought I had better warn Jeff that if he is coming to Bloody Scotland and wants to wear a bikini, it should be a fur one. ... with matching wellies and sou’wester.

Anyway, I was reading that witty graffiti  is on the way out due to teenagers not roaming the streets at night. Or maybe the weather is just keeping them in. Some graffiti has of course become a legit art form  but over the years I have collected a  lot of books about graffiti, you know, the clever stuff that is chortlesome.... this kind of stuff...

On a wall in Amsterdam…
Does the Netherlands Royal family suffer from Dutch Realm disease?

Outside a maternity hospital in Paris… 
Liberte – Egalite – Fraternite – Maternite 

Some more Paris wit (in 1969)…
Je suis Marxiste – Tendance Groucho 

These Parisians again…
To do is to be – Roussaeu
To be is to – Sartre
Do be do be do – Sinatra

One of my favourites, written outside a lift at University Collage, Cardiff…
In case of fire do not attempt to use the lifts,  – try a fire extinguisher.

Whereas the university of Durham has some stellar advice…
Half the girls at this college have TB, the other half have VD, so sleep with a girl who coughs.

And in Hertford...
Watch this space. Why what’s it doing?

Some things don't change. From the Polytechnic of the South Bank, London. 
Before the Thatcher Government came to power we were on the edge of an economic precipice – since then we have taken a great step forward -

Outside a social disease clinic
VD is nothing to clap about.

And some true philosophy..
There is no fury like a vested interest in masquerading as a moral principle.

Amd one that made me think of Annamarie… this was sribbled on a wall in  the Station of New Yorks finest…
We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.  We have done so much for so long with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing. 


                                     Is the  grave of Karl Marx
                                    just another communist plot

Abstinence is the thin edge of the pledge

On Bristol University Notice Board...
Lecture this evening on schizophrenia.  I’ve have half a mind to go
I’m in two minds also

I’d give might right arm to be ambidextrous.
You can have mine, I’m left handed.


On a door in the English Department of English, Columbia University New York..
Back in a minute

Don’t vote! The government will get in – Oxford University

Notice in the music library...
Handel’s organ works
          so does mine

An advertisement for the London Underground showed Henry the Eight buying a ticket and saying 'Tower Hill, return please.'
And a single for the wife.

I like sadism, necrophilia and bestiality am I flogging a dead horse?

Balliol College Oxford
Tolkien is hobbit forming 

In a Cairo hotel..
There are pharaohs at the bottom of our garden

And a selection of the usual...

Amnesia rules o…
Einstein rules relatively okay
Dyslexia lures KO
Scots  rule och aye

Have a good weekend all, wherever you are,

Caro 31 07 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Week with Kubu

It’s been a hectic week, and it’s not over yet!  Tuesday saw the South African launch of our new Detective Kubu mystery – A Death in the Family, a curtain raiser for the main performance when the book is released in North America in October and in the UK about six months after that.  It’s been a long gap since the last Kubu adventure was released in South Africa, and we didn’t want our readers here to have to wait any longer.  Stanley came out from Minneapolis specially for the launch.

This is the cover of the book designed by our new British publisher, Orenda Books – very different from the US one which you may have seen in our recent newsletter, or maybe you saw the head-to-head between the two covers on Kittling Books.  We love both covers and feel they reflect different aspects of the story very well.

Stanley & Michael being interviewed by Samm Marshall
The week kicked off early on Sunday when we had to be up by 6 AM for an interview on national TV at 7:30.  Not exactly peak time, but still a good opportunity.  Being there on time was made more difficulty because half the city was closed for a “walk the talk” charity event – the half between us and the TV station.  But we took the great circle route to the west and really enjoyed the interview.  Samm Marshall did a great job, and we all had fun.  Here’s a link to it

An interesting twist was provided by an actress who was on right after us.  She needed an old camera as a prop for the short scene from a fifties-era play.  Security were adamant – no cameras, which is a strange rule since everyone was allowed to bring in their cell phones!  However, she immediately became aggressive, calling for the manager, saying it was obvious that the camera didn’t work (how?), and criticizing the attitude of the staff.  Her dissatisfaction persisted when she went to make-up – they eventually told her to do it herself - and she sat grumpily alone without talking to the other guests of Morning Live.  Once on air, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Stanley & Michael with Irene at Le Soufflé
Tuesday was launch day, and we kicked off with a book-club lunch at a popular restaurant, Le Soufflé.  It was delightful, and the book-club members are always receptive and fun to chat to over a glass of wine.  Or two.  We only returned home at 4pm – just in time to head for the official launch at Love Books, one of Johannesburg’s few remaining independent bookshops.  It’s a delightful little shop, tucked away in one of the older suburbs close to the city, with books stacked from floor to ceiling.  Kate Rogan – the owner – is as delightful as her store and a big Kubu fan.  Even better, her family is involved in the wine business and Joostenberg wine is really good.  

Michael & Stanley chatting at Love Books

Looks like people are listening

Chris Avant Smith
Then yesterday started with an interview on Radio Today – 9am this time – on Chris Avant-Smith’s show, Rant and Rave.  He can certainly do both.  But we need not have worried; he loved the book, and we couldn’t have had a better or more informed interviewer.  Definitely on the Rave side of the title.  You can link to the interview hereThen on to the second launch event that evening.  This one was at Montecasino in the northern suburbs at Skoobs, Theatre of Books, which couldn’t be more different from Love Books.  Montecasino is a theme park/shopping centre supposed to be like wandering through an Italian village…on your way to the casino. The night sky is painted on turquoise concrete with inset twinkling lights.  Michael can’t stand the place; Stanley is more positive.  But the bookshop there is a different story.  Spacious, packed with an eclectic variety of books, sporting, as well, both good coffee and a champagne bar.  As we said, very different from Love Books, but really a good venue all the same.  Anyway, how can you not like a bookshop that hosts a Detective Kubu launch?

'Night' inside Montecasino
Getting set up at Skoobs - Stanley & Michael with Jassy
...and underway

Jassy Mackenzie
Well-known South African author, Jassy Mackenzie, graciously agreed to put us through our paces and did a great job of it.  She writes excellent thrillers and racy romantic fiction. At the beginning she commented wryly that the latter were available at the store - under the self-help section.  No one was willing to comment on that!

After dinner with good friends at a Chinese restaurant, we staggered home to a nightcap and bed.

But the week is still young!  On Saturday we have a lunch event, and on Sunday a signing at the South African Book Fair.  Next week we’re off to Botswana to launch the book on its home ground so to speak.  Then off to Knysna and Cape Town. 

At some point exhaustion will set in, but not yet!

Michael and Stanley – Thursday.

Thanks to Jonathan Everitt for the event pictures.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are you ever too old to wear a bikini


Never. It must be a French thing. Or so says a French blogger.

Last year, a minister was quoted saying, "It is a French woman's duty to wear a bikini on a beach." This from the former minister for families, Nadine Morano.
Ms Morano, 51. She provoked a political argument by complaining that she had seen a Muslim woman sitting on a French beach in headscarf, long-sleeved tunic and trousers while her husband stripped off and bathed in the sea.
"When you choose to come to a country of secular laws like France, you have an obligation to respect our culture and the liberty of women. Or you go somewhere else," Ms Morano wrote on her Facebook page.

However this week an attack on a woman in France because she wore a bikini in a public park has sparked outrage on social media.
In Reims, the 21-year-old victim was beaten up by a gang of reportedly Muslim young women – aged between 16 and 24 – when she was sunbathing with two friends. She was attacked allegedly because of exposing herself in the public. Why there, why then? No real explanations from the alleged culprits other than she was indecent.
Protesters wearing bikinis and swimsuits flooded social media.
But apart from the religious divisive issues on bikini's there is an underlying controversy. Muriel, a French woman blogger, brings up 'Are you ever too old to wear a bikini?'

Below, I've quoted what Muriel - a French woman - said in her blog:

 I hadn’t realized that there was a bikini police, but apparently when a woman hits 35 or 40 she has to dress more conservatively. This means that we are not supposed to wear crop tops, mini skirts, or bikinis. I know that it may come to a shock to you but although I feel 25 in my head my official age says something slightly different. What can I say? Time flies. It’s part of the many unwritten rules more mature women have to follow: dress sensibly.
Seriously? Says who?

My response is as follows: enough with the fashion diktats. In fact, I believe that it should be a woman’s duty to wear a bikini. Don’t get me wrong, I am not patronizing anyone here. I just believe that wearing a bikini at the swimming pool or the beach is just as normal as breathing or walking. Why? Because no woman, of whatever age or shape, should be ashamed of her body. There it is
So, tell me, when did we become such prudes? I remember that most women were sunbathing topless in France when I was growing up, and nobody batted an eyelid. Some were well in their 70s or even 80s. Others had scars of an old C-section. And what was wrong with stretch marks again? Nobody cared. Your body was telling your story. Frankly, there was nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the opposite, in fact. You were showing that you were proud of your life story. What happened? Where did it all go wrong?

For various reasons, being fashion, religion or self-esteem, women’s body is now something to hide. Or denigrate. And I believe that’s the real shame.
 Personally, I have had enough. I will do as I please. Yes, I am older, and if I want to wear a bikini I will do so. Period.
I say it’s time to unleash your inner French, and wear a bikini, or whatever you like.  Once again, it must be my French side.

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 2015: #PONTIFEX morphs into #POTUSINKENYA

The high and the mighty continue this month to stalk my characters.  Now that the Buenos Aires-born Pope Francis has left Bolivia and Paraguay, President Obama has made his way to the land of his ancestry, which also happens to be the setting for Strange Gods, my fourth novel.  I have to tell you, I am loving this!

The POTUS is getting a great reception in the land of his forebears.  If I had a wish for him, it would be to be able to go to the places I went when I was there last August.  He deserves a break from the slings and arrows of his job.  He needs to watch the elephants mommies nursing their babies.

So do I, as you are about to see.  I am feeling my cranky side grumbling in the background as I type.  Here’s why.

The Prez made a pointed reference to corruption in his speech to the Kenyan people.  I could not agree with him more about the hatefulness, the destructiveness of corruption on the part of politicians and businessmen.  It is the height of selfishness.  It harms only the innocent and benefits only the guilty.  I despise it.  Wherever it thrives poor people will not.

But I also have had it up to my neck hearing the sanctimonious diatribes about corruption from the holier than thou whose ancestors spent a lot of their time, and earned a lot of their wealth, sowing its seeds.  (Needles to say I am not talking about Obama here.)

PLEASE notice this is about perceptions.  It does not
include a question about the way the people near the
top of the chart behaved when they invaded the countries
at the bottom of the chart.

My ire about this subject began to reach continental proportions as the Northern European ire over Greece got splashed across the world media.  “We are tired,” a friend reported his Scandinavian friends complaining,  “of people wanting a handout.  Their country is rife with corruption.  We want them to pay their debts.”  No admission was given that the poor of Greece will suffer while the corrupt sail off in their yachts.  In fact, as far as I can see, the EU powerbase does not care how many people are starving, how many young lives are ruined, as long as they get “their” money back.

Just about everywhere one goes, one hears a lot of distain from the well-off for all those corrupt, darker-skinned folks south of Alps all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.  In my hemisphere, it’s from the Alamo all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego.  I have heard a lot of this same drivel within the Italy: The northerners “tired” of the meridianali, blaming them for their poverty.

But where did this susceptibility toward corruption come from?  Is it a genetic propensity linked somehow how to skin color?

As it happens, I have spent the past couple of decades researching the history of Latin America and Africa and most recently, Sicily.  Here is what I know.  None of these places were sinks of depravity before more powerful and technologically advance people invaded their borders, destroyed their indigenous cultures, and grabbed whatever they could get to make themselves rich.  Almost invariably, the technological superiority involved ways of killing people.  And almost without exception the invaders came from the north.

The Brits, for example, found many clever ways to impoverish the African tribal people and then turned the word “beggar” into a pejorative when describing them.  Hey, Jack, they weren’t beggars before you got there.

And by the way, Jack, do want to give back the “Elgin Marbles” so the Greeks can use them to pay down their debt?

A small sample of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum

The scene of the crime when they were stolen

The cleverest beggars imitate their outsider overlords—they grab whatever wealth they can.  They see getting rich as the only way to a satisfying life.  Usually they take the lucre under the table.

President Obama is trying to help the people of Africa find ways to develop their legitimate economies.  I pray his efforts succeed.  I do not pray that the self-satisfied people of the north will stop calling the Africans (or the Greeks, or the Italians, or the Spanish) nasty names, and labeling them all as corrupt.  People have been praying for that for centuries.  God is not listening to those prayers.  The powerful may be right when they tell themselves that God is on their side.

Maybe the Pope can change God’s mind.  I sure hope so.

Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Oh, Deer!

During my recent trip to Japan, I spent a day in Nara, the capital city of Nara Prefecture and one of Japan's most important historical cities.

Nara lies about an hour south of Kyoto--slightly less if you take a direct train out of Kyoto station. It was the capital of Japan during the "Nara period," which lasted from 710-794.

Today, Nara remains a major tourist stop for Japanese nationals and foreigners alike. It is the home of Todaiji, a Buddhist temple that dates to 728 and houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

 The Japanese call the statue "Daibutsu" ("giant buddha"), and the hall which houses it, "Daibutsuden."

Daibutsuden - home of the giant Buddha

During our visit, my son crawled through a hole in one of the Daibutsuden pillars which measures the same diameter as the nostrils of the giant buddha (18", in case you were wondering). According to legend, passing safely through the Buddha's nostril means your soul will reach enlightenment.

Finding enlightenment by escaping the Buddha's nose.

In the case of my 6'2" son, it also means you'll get a loud ovation from the crowds around the nostril.

We also visited Kasuga Taisha, a famous Shinto shrine that will feature heavily in one of my upcoming novels--and also, another blog post here at MIE, so I'll leave that story for another day.

Main gate of Kasuga Taisha

Another of Nara's unique attractions--and one that draws almost as many tourists as the historical sites--are the sacred deer.

That's not a cow, deer...

Sika (which, in Japanese, means "deer") are sacred to Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, one of the four gods enshrined and honored at Kasuga Taisha. According to Japanese history (which mixes with legend the farther back you go), Takemikazuchi appeared in the area riding a white deer many years ago, and the deer which remain are the descendants of that sacred steed.

Killing, or even harming, a sacred deer in the Nara region was punishable by death until the 17th century, and they were officially considered sacred until after World War II. At that point, the deer lost their official status as sacred animals--but received the designation "national treasure," so it's still illegal to harm or molest the deer. (Deer molesters, take note.)

Is that a cracker I hear?

Today, it's legal to feed the deer, provided you purchase "deer crackers" ("BAD TASTE FOR HUMANS," according to the signs) from one of the licensed vendors in Nara Park.

The deer know this, and also know when someone is purchasing crackers. They will swarm you until the crackers are gone--and woe betide the unfortunate soul who tries to hide one in a pocket, or run away.

He bought crackers...

They will hunt you down like fuzzy, wet-nosed terminators.

These people have no crackers.

Ironically, the deer have also learned the universal sign for "please don't mug me, I have no cookies and I surrender." Raise your open hands in the air, and the crowd dissipates immediately--or at least, as soon as they've sniffed your pockets and tucked a nose up the back of your shirt to ensure there isn't a cracker in hiding somewhere.

The deer have no objection to being touched, and some of them walk over like dogs, hoping for a pat or a scratch behind the ears (or a cracker, if you don't mind...). I'd heard about them before my trip, and "seeing a deer up close" was high on my list of hoped-for events.

Dozing under the trees...dreaming of crackers.
I did buy crackers--and did get to pet them--and seeing them up close was even better than I hoped.

No bicycles...Yes deer.

As it turned out, I also saw--and petted--the sacred deer on Miyajima Island, which are more relaxed than their counterparts in Nara (perhaps due to the total absence of deer-cracker sales on that island, so the only reason for deer to approach a person is the aforementioned scratch around the ears).

Relaxing on Miyajima Island

Whether they're mugging you in Nara, or just hanging out on Miyajima, sika are special. And, at least to me, it's not very difficult to see why.

Yes, he really did try to follow us in for lunch.

-- Susan, who finds the sika quite...en-deer-ing.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

An August Moment

FaceTime is messing up my life.  Last Monday I left Greece, making 2015 the first time in a decade I won’t be spending August on Mykonos.  That alone is a downer.  But then I have my Mykonian buddies making sure not to pass up any opportunity of reminding me of my misfortune. 

As if endless barrages of photos and film clips showing quintessential Aegean island scenes were not insidious enough, there is now the daily FaceTime call, with happy faces popping up posed against familiar Mykonos haunts, and cheery voices (orchestrated for sure) asking me, “So tell us, Jeffrey, how’s the weather in New York?”

Brutal, simply brutal.

No, not the weather (at least not yet), I’m talking about those callous FaceTiming souls I need not name in order for them to know the error of their ways.  And believe me, summers on Mykonos offer oodles of err to attribute to their ways.

I guess I should be flattered and take all their attention as a sign that they miss me—rather than as the cautious among them merely seeking confirmation that I’m finally off the island, like plague. :)

I must admit FaceTime is a godsend of a way to stay in touch.  My daughter and two-year-old granddaughter did it practically everyday I was away, making the baby’s jump to two and a half not all that startling.  Proximity helps keep events in perspective. 

Which got me to thinking about my feelings on leaving Greece. I felt as if I’d walked out on my family in the midst of a crisis, if not a full-blown disaster.  Though my return to the USA had nothing to do with events in Greece, and my remaining behind would not have made an iota of difference, I still felt deeply uncomfortable at leaving.

But a strange process has taken hold.  I’m not sure if it’s sheer physical distance or a burst of insight that’s responsible for my thinking, but what I sense is that a good many Greeks in Greece and I share the same perspective at the moment:  We have absolutely no idea what the future will bring—and are taking a time out. 

We just don’t want to think about the hard realities.  We’ve been stunned, if not shocked, by a government doing the direct opposite of what it so often solemnly promised to do, a Parliament passing measures with the far left, center, and far right aligned in common cause on matters literally unimaginable a blink of an eye ago (and denounced as wrong by practically every lawmaker voting for them), ministers now welcoming with open arms (?) the very same foreign financial “overseers” they once denounced as occupiers (though due to “security concerns” they’ve not yet found a suitable place in Athens for the reunion), a barely functioning banking system, a 400% increase in illegal immigrants flooding across the nation’s borders, etcetera, etcetera—all amid political egos far more comfortable with displays of public masturbation than in doing what they must in private to assure the chance of a better future for the people they’ve sworn to serve.

It’s almost too much to take.  And so Greeks in Greece are suspending serious thinking on the subject. Instead, they’re focusing on getting through August, the month at the very heart of the nation’s tourism—the biggest driver of Greece’s economy.  September will be here soon enough.

The question is, will the government?  And, if so, in what shape?  Oh, and let’s not forget the 3.2 billion euro payment due the European Central Bank on August 20th.

But I digress. 

Happy August everyone…no matter where you’re enjoying it.  Kalo mina.