Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Very First Time


It's Saturday morning and my best laid plans have left me high and dry (in several manners of speaking) insofar as posting the grand idea I had for today's post.  You see, I planned on writing it while flying from New York City to San Francisco for the kickoff of my California Book tour, but fate intervened in the form of food poisoning I picked up at the Newark Airport, and that experience consumed all of my attention for the ensuing six hours. Thus, my first reference to "high and dry."

By the time we gathered the car, the luggage, and the meds available at the nearest pharmacy, we barely had time to shower, regain composure, and drive to Janet Rudolph's Mystery Literary Salon in the hills of Berkeley for a wonderful evening shared with Cara, Lisa Alber, and two dozen inveterate fans of the genre.  That's the three of us up above, as photographed by Catriona McPherson.  

I'm told the homemade food brought by the guests was terrific, for I dared not partake in even a sip of water (my second high and dry moment).

This morning, stabilized as I feel, if I spend the time writing a blog post as opposed to taking Barbara to the promised San Francisco sights for enduring all she has over the past 24 hours (not ill, thank God, but putting up with one who was), I shall not only be left high and dry, but likely drawn and quartered as well.

Cara, Keith Raffel, Barbara, Frank Price

So, in substitution, I offer you my very first official post as a member of the Murder is Everywhere team.  It went up on November 6, 2010, titled, "Mystras and Goethe, Together Again."  My how time flies when you're having a good time! Hope you are, too.



A tiny bit of the medieval city Mystras
It’s Saturday morning and welcome to Greece!  I’ll be here every Saturday, god(s) willing.  How I got here (to Greece and MIE) was explained on Wednesday in a piece I did filling in for Yrsa, so if you’re interested in that sort of history please go to “What’s in a Name.”  For a spot of more ancient history, please stay here.

Frescoes at Mystras
All my books in one way or another touch upon my home island of Mykonos, but Greece is a land with places of endless intrigues for the conjuring of thoughts mysterious and murderous. To some, the realities those venues have hosted far outstrip what most think believable, even in fiction.  But inspiration is out there, waiting to be discovered.

The Peloponnese
I’ve just returned from a few days in the southernmost part of mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, an area approximately the size of the American state of New Jersey. Originally a peninsula, it technically became an island when the Corinth canal was dug across its northern end in 1893.  The Peloponnese served as the setting for much of the true-life drama played out across ancient Greece.  In its southern, Laconia region stood Sparta, ancestral home to Spartan power that once rattled the ancient world much as its legend still dominates today’s.  That’s where I went searching for ideas for my new book.

Modern Sparta is a place decidedly different in locale and life from its antiquity namesake.  It sits on a plain along the Eurotas River between ribs of not so distant mountains running north and south.  The community is one based on agricultural, not war, and its groves of oranges and olive trees support twelve thousand souls still proud of their ancient heritage.
Modern Sparta Town Square
Mystras Castle Fortress
But to experience truly inspirational ancient insights you must travel northwest eight kilometers, to the mid-13th Century Byzantine fortress city of Mystras, and its looming castle atop a foothill of massive Mount Taygetos. 
The old city and castle are wonderfully restored and maintained, and Mystras’ history reflects that of much of the entire region.  Following the Fourth Crusade the Franks built the fortress to defend the southeast Peloponnese, but by the mid-13th Century Mystras was in Greek hands and remained so for 200 years until the Turkish conquest.  Let me put it simply: the goings on and battles during those years involving, emperors, knights, churchmen, and most other sorts would cross Dan Brown’s eyes. 

Hotel Pyrgos Mystra
In a Trip Advisor moment of digression, may I suggest you head on to relax in the adjacent more modern village of Mystras.  It has its own quaint charms and one of my new favorite inns of all time sits there.
From the mid-14th to mid-15th Centuries Mystras served as the heart and soul of the Peloponnese, so much so that at the end of that period some believed Mystras was the actual site of ancient Sparta, and by the 17th Century that was the generally held belief.  It was not until the very beginning of the 18th Century that Mystras regained its status as a separate and unique place, a source of mythical inspiration to travelers and artists’ souls.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Which brings me to Goethe.  In 1824, in his second part of Faust, he chose Mystras as the place for classic beauty “uniting” with romantic chivalry.  Trust me, I know that only because I read it in a guide book, BUT, Goethe’s words caught the essence of it’s time, at least that’s how it seemed to me as I sat amid it all reading these words:

So many years deserted stood the valley hills
That in the rear of Sparta northwards rise aloft
Behind Taygetos: whence as yet a nimble brook,
Eurotas downward rolls, and then along our vale
By reed beds broadly flowing, nourishes your swans.
Behind there in the mountain dwells a daring breed
Have settled, pressing forth from the Cimmerian Night,
And there have built a fortress inaccessible,
Whence land and people now they harry as they please.

The one catching my contemplative Goethe moment as that imperceptible dot on the wall below the site's upper parking lot is waving from the very top of the fortress. 
From Mystras it was on to Mani, a place the Turks could never conquer, and The Godfather would have called home had Mario Puzo been Mario Puzopoulos. But that’s for another week.



  1. Well, if you had actually been HIGH and dry, you might not have minded so much... although Barbara might have minded more.

    As for Goethe and "the rear of Sparta," well, I think I'd best not go there, nor anywhere near there...

    Be well, my friend!

  2. Great post definitely worth rereading. The advantage of advancing age is that one's memory becomes less comprehensive shall we say. And one can enjoy reading good writing we've read before as if new!

    1. The trouble is, Michael, when the re-reading is of today's newspaper. :)

  3. I'd echo Michael's words, Jeff. I even forget stuff that I've written myself. Doubly annoying when I open up an old file that stops halfway through a story and I have absolutely no idea where it was going.

    1. Hope you had a good time at Janet Rudolph's lovely home, btw, and that the food poisoning in well and truly out of your system, as it were!

    2. The time to worry, Zoë, is when you open a new file and can't remember where it's going. As for the state of my health, yes all's well that ends a manner of speaking.

      And yes, the even at Janet's was as lovely as ever. A terrific place to be. Now off to Corte Madera...

  4. Bro, I am so glad you made it to Janet's. I hope you hugged Cara for all of us. Thanks for the flashback. It does make me want to see these places for myself, she says from Siracusa, once the largest and most powerful city of ancient Greece.

    1. Yes, in fact Cara had to swat me with one of Aimee's famous heels to stop the hugging. Enjoy Siracusa, with its a lot better whether than Syracuse, uhh.

  5. We had a fab time! Thanks Jeff for graciously letting Lisa and I tag team...feel better and enjoy Monterey!

    1. I'm the one to say thanks, Cara. It wouldn't have been the night that it was without you and Lisa! Monterey here we come...tomorrow early.

    2. Then it's on to Vroman's in Pasadena on Tuesday, January 31, at 7PM.

  6. Yikes!! Feel better Jeff! I'm so sorry I missed seeing you and Cara and Lisa at the literary salon. I'd planned to be there, but a number of client emergencies kept me at home and at my desk instead. Boo!! Here's hoping I see you both at Left Coast Crime!

    1. We missed you too, but thank you for reminding me why I gave up on being a lawyer. :) And a big DEFINITE on Left Coast Crime!