Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Politeness formula la formule de politesse

Writing a letter - in French - whether to a government agency, a business, a thank you for dinner or a birthday gift can be fraught with danger.
A high wire act which must encompass the proper French formula de politesse i.e. pretentious words and old fashioned salutations and sign offs, the object of your missive clearly stated and with appropriate Reference i.e. memo heading or case number and the action you wish to happen or have acknowledged.
It goes on. My conundrum was how to end a formal letter correctly in French. Why? Because there are many ways to do that: 1-Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l'assurance de mes sentiments respectueux 2) Avec mes remerciements, je vous prie de trouver ici, Madame, Mademoiselle, 3- l'expression de mes sentiments distingués Recevez, Madame, Monsieur, 4-mes salutations distinguées Croyez, Madame, Monsieur, Or more simply 1a)Bien à vous 1b) Votre dévoué 1c) Cordialement 1d) Toutes mes amitiés These are just the tip of the iceberg. At the end I chose Cordialement Cara Tuesday

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ingwelala 2017

Annamaria in Africa

The African wind blowing through my hair.

The Avian Chorus that sings all the day, joined by other musicians to perform the night music.

And this:

Photo: Allen Fongemie
Photo: Allen Fongemie

Nothing else for me to say.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Above the Clouds: Writing in Bulgaria

At long last, the new book has reached its final stages and the action has moved from the deserts of Iraq and Jordan to the icy mountains of Bulgaria. To the ski resort of Borovets, to be precise, which is 1350 metres (4430 feet) above sea level in the Rila Mountains, about 73 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Sofia.

I was there about three or four years ago and took a load of pictures precisely so I had a feel and a flavour of the place for when I reached this stage of writing. It’s been very useful to look back over them now.

Take this shot, for instance, up a mountain in Borovets. I’d completely forgotten that, at somewhere around 7700 feet, for quite a lot of the time you were above the clouds, it was like looking down on a misty ocean.

In fact, the highest I went was 2369 metres (7772 feet). The highest peak locally was Mount Musala at 2925 metres (9600 feet).

The only way up is to take the gondola lift. I think the 1315m is the distance up it travels.

You certainly get the most amazing view as you slowly crank your way upwards. Not quite as much snow on the trees this far up, though – there had been too much sunshine that winter.

Down in the resort itself, though, there was the icing sugar coating effect on the trees, which was a beautiful sight.

Despite Borovets reputation as the booziest place to ski in Europe, there were plenty of entertainments for smaller visitors, like this mini dog-sled ride …

… or varying sizes of very small pony. I wasn’t quite sure about the handlebars and the horn, though.

pic from SnowSphere.com

And for the grown-ups, there was also the sleazier side to Borovets. Bars and the occasional strip club line the main street.

Hog roast is a traditional dish, and most of the restaurants had an outside spit going.

Also to keep the grown-ups happy were night snowmobile rides through the forest, which was an amazing experience and gave me all kinds of ideas.

As did some of the very unusual ‘souvenirs’ on offer in one of the local stores. Didn’t think I’d get any of this lot back to the UK on a plane. Not as carryon, anyway.

Outside the resort, the architecture had a very Soviet feel to it, like this apartment block on the outskirts of Sofia.

But elsewhere there were old tsarist palaces and places like this royal hunting lodge, the style and layout of which I have borrowed for plot purposes.

And I’ve also mixed in the location of this fortress at Veliko Tarnovo. That’s the nice thing about creating your own world, you can take reality and mess with it just enough to keep things believable. After all, we’re trying for realistic, rather than real.

This week’s Word of the Week is actually a list of words connected with snow, courtesy of the Encyclopedia Arctica from Dartmouth College Library:

Anniu – snow intended for melting into water for drinking or cooking

Apun – snow that’s been lying on the ground long enough that it can be cut into building blocks

Ballycadders – ice formed from salt-water along the shore at different levels depending on the state of the tide

Calf – a piece of ice that’s broken away from the front of a glacier or iceberg

Canopying – interlocking flakes of snow

Congelifraction – the shattering or splitting of rock due to the action of frost

Corn snow – grainy snow formed by cycles of freezing and thawing

Debacle – the break-up of ice in rivers in springtime

Duff – organic matter covering the ground in a forest, such as dead leaves, which helps preserve permafrost

Firnification – the process by which new snow becomes hard-packed glacial ice

Fonn – eternal snow

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What We Can Learn From Pinocchio


For those of you who want to know what’s happening in the world today, just shut your eyes. Your ears too, because what you see and what you hear doesn’t really seem to matter much anymore. What counts these days is whatever turns agendas—political and otherwise—into realities.

All of which brings me around to the subject of this week’s post: Pinocchio.

An epic character, perhaps the most well known character in children’s literature, who stands as a universal symbol of the perils of prevarication to one’s proboscis.

Carlo Collodi
It all began with The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) a children’s novel by the Italian writer Carlo Collodi, in which a kindly old carpenter, Geppetto, carves a marionette in the image of a little boy who lives a literal wooden existence dreaming that someday he’ll be human.  But between him and his dream stand a series of trials and a singular moral defect: Pinocchio’s penchant for lying and bad behavior.

Though some literary types have equated Pinocchio’s journey with that of epic literary heroes such as Odysseus, I think for purposes of today’s post it’s better described by Jack Zipes in an introduction to a book on Pinocchio, titled Carlo Collodi.  To him, it’s a story about those who venture out into the world naively unprepared for what they find, and get into ridiculous situations.

Enter the “nose knows.”

Alas, if only we had as ready a way of separating truth tellers from charlatans today.

But there’s another lesson to be drawn from Pinocchio.

The list of Pinocchio productions and knock-offs is endless, but undoubtedly Walt Disney’s 1940 version, praised as one of the greatest animated films of all time, is the most well known. 

What isn’t as well known is that, as originally written, Pinocchio was an obnoxious boor, whose end was not intended to be pleasant.  Disney though didn’t see that sort of character as appealing to the masses, and so he turned him into a more likeable, innocent mischief-maker, who ultimately achieved his dream of becoming real.

Today’s opinion-shapers still turn the obnoxious into the likeable, and far-fetched cinematic dreams into realities, but they’ve have added something else to the mix.  They’ve turned the common sense adage for truth—“As plain as the nose on your face”—on its ear (so to speak) by libeling any nose other than their own as a Pinocchio protuberance, not to be believed.

In other words, we now live in a world where up is down and down is up.  But that’s from another children’s book, for another time.

Assuming we get there.