Thursday, August 31, 2017

Madagascar – Part 1: The nightmare

Madagascar – Part 1, the nightmare

Three weeks ago, ten of us descended on Antananarivo (usually called Tana for obvious reasons).  The main reason was to celebrate Michael’s 70th birthday.  Other reasons were to explore the country’s amazing flora and fauna, as well as to taste the Malagasy culture.

And taste it we did, but a lot of the taste was very sour.  Unripe lemons when expecting a mango.

The problems started when eight of the group arrived at Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg for their flight to Tana.  Despite their tickets declaring the baggage limit was 23kg and having checked on this online and in person, the eager travellers found the check-in clerk insist it was 20kg.  A frenzy of moving clothes and shoes around helped, but didn’t solve the problem, merely reduced it.  Eventually after paying usurious fees, the journey began.

A wee dram or two on board helped the travellers relax and stoke their anticipation.  What was not to look forward to?  A new country, lemurs, chameleons, baobabs, and a host of potential lifers for the birding-inclined.  And good company.

Except . . .

The tour company we had used to put together our two-week itinerary was not at the airport to meet the flight.  Having worked their way through the typically third-world airport at Tana, which meant going to a counter to have some form filled out, taking it to the next counter to pay a fee.  Then to another counter for the visa to be inserted into the passport, and finally to have someone else check that you and your passport were in sync, before you could go and retrieve your bags.  Or in Michael’s case, a suitcase and several large boxes of carefully protected vintage champagne and other fine wines.

Ivato International at Tana
When the frazzled group emerged from customs and immigration and found no one holding up a sign MADAGASCAR NATURAL TOURS – SEARS, frantic phone calls ensued.  Eventually, someone arrived and the group headed for their hotel.

Except . . .

It wasn’t the hotel that had been booked.  Eventually the harsh truth bubbled up.  The entire trip had been booked using an early itinerary, not the final one.  Consequently everything was a day off.  Hence no hotel.  We were expected the next day. 

So Michael’s carefully planned welcome dinner, with its highlight of vintage Bollinger champagne, went by the board.  Wrong day, wrong place, and no ice to chill the bubbly.

Meanwhile, Mette and I had headed for Tana after spending a few days in Paris – on a circuitous route via Amsterdam and Nairobi.  The flight to Amsterdam was late, causing us to miss our Nairobi connection.  Catching the next day’s flight would have put us a full day behind the rest of the group.  With a little gentle persuasion, we were rerouted, now out of Paris the following morning, direct to Tana.  A much better flight, despite a 0400 wake-up call to catch the first flight back to the City of Lights.  Eventually, we too arrived in Tana, late at night, but at least on the same day as the others.  And we were met and taken to the new hotel.

Next morning, we awoke early, ate a quick breakfast, and prepared to leave for the East coast.

Except . . .

The bus we had been promised did not materialise.  Instead we were squeezed into two SUVs.  Not ten of us, but eleven, because our guide had to come too.  All the bags had to fit too, so you can imagine the stack on top of the vehicles.  And the squash inside.

Our best vehicle, driven by the ever cheerful Mr. Henri

Tying them back on. The bags didn't always stay on the roof.

The roads in Madagascar are the worst I have ever experienced.  Narrow, with potholes that doubled as swimming pools, they often went through villages where market stalls came right to the edge of the road, and people, dogs, zebu, pedal- and people-powered tuk-tuks, and wagons covered the street and competed for space with cars, motorcycles, scooters, vans, petroleum tankers, and 16-wheelers.

Potholes everywhere


Zebu - a common sight

Zebu wagon
Zebu wagons carried anything and everything.

Typical narrow road - Route Nationale 2

Typical narrow road - Route Nationale 2

Kids filled in potholes, hoping for tips

Click here to see what driving on Route Nationale 2 looks like.

Except . . .

The driving in Madagascar is the best I have ever seen anywhere.  Not only are drivers skilled in handling their vehicles, but they are patient, courteous, and always signalling their intentions.  The hooter (horn) is used to alert anything ahead that you are behind.  A few taps clears out the thronged streets mentioned above.  People slide to the side, let the car pass, then return to claim their spot in the middle of the road.  Cars pull off the road to let you pass, as do large vehicles.  Quite remarkable actually. 

I guess if people weren’t this courteous, they’d all be dead.

To end up this description of the grim arrangements, here are a few other highlights.
One of our vehicles was not 4x4, so when we arrived at an impassable section of the road to the ferry to our hotel, our guide had to hire a 4x4 from a local and transfer passengers and luggage.

Same on the way back.
A particularly difficult section.  4x4 necessary

On our way back from the east coast to the west, the tour operator eventually found a bus for us, and it was ready for a typical 0700 departure.

Except . . .

It wasn't licensed for the province we were going to.  So we left at 1100.  Unfortunately, the bus had been designed for Lilliputians – and the heating couldn’t be turned off.  So we abandoned it at our next stop.

A hotel at our furthest point held us hostage until we paid the bill.  Our tour operator had failed to do so.  How could a hotel do that? you may ask.  Easily, in this case.  It owned the ferries crossing the nearby river.  They wouldn’t take us until we paid.

The next hotel let us go without paying.

The flights back to Tana from the west-coast town of Morondava had either never been booked or the flights cancelled.  Our money wasn’t refunded, of course. 

Again we were up at 0700, and eventually an improved bus showed up to take us back to Tana.

Except . . .

Our tour operator had only paid the 50% deposit, and the driver refused to budge without full payment.  Smart man.

So WE had to hire vehicles to drive us back the whole way to Tana, so we could catch our flights.  At our cost. This meant we lost a whole day in which we should have been enjoying what we came to see.  We left at noon and had to stop halfway at yet another hotel that hadn't been paid for.
The next day we left on time and headed for our final hotel in Tana.

Except . . .

The hotel we should have stayed at wasn’t booked.  An alternate hotel turned out to be seedy in the extreme, so it took time to find an alternative.  Too late to go to the restaurant at which Michael and Pat had arranged a farewell dinner.  Which is too bad, since I was looking forward to seeing Michael’s face when the dancing girls appeared.

We are all back at home or nearly so.  The bad memories of woeful disorganization, of lack of any attempt to rectify the situation, of blatant failure to provide what we had paid for, and of interminable hours on the road will hopefully fade, and all we’ll remember are the amazing things we saw, which will be chronicled next week.

Sadly, Michael's birthday trip was not what we had hoped for, but we managed to celebrate whenever possible.
All was not lost, Michael enjoyed the Bollinger later in the trip.

As a teaser for next week, what is it I photographed in picture A below?

Picture A: Mystery subject

And in this one?

Picture B: Another mystery subject


Upcoming events

Saturday, September 2, 1315: Stanley live interview by Monocle Radio, London (


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Knocked Off Their Pedestals in Baltimore

Sujata Massey

I cannot call myself a native Baltimorean. However, I've spent almost two-thirds of my life in thi so-called "Charm City," so I call myself one by conversion. I love my town.

When I arrived here fresh off the plane for college, I believed I was going to a Southern city--but I quickly reversed my thoughts, as I realized I was 3 hours from New York, 1 hour from Philadelphia and Washington DC, and almost everyone at school was from the Northeast. Yes, there were crabs that came from an amazing microclimate on Maryland's Eastern shore, but the accents were nothing like true Southern accents. But evidence remained. Before the Civil War, Maryland was a slave-holding state--although its proximity to Washington DC put it on the Union side during the Civil War. 65,000 Marylanders fought for the Union while 22,000 joined the Confederate troops.

The Civil War ended with President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all people in the US from slavery. For some, that was a hard pill to swallow. All across the South, efforts were made to keep blacks from living free and dignified lives. Jim Crow laws established boundaries between blacks and whites. In Baltimore in the early through mid-1900s, Confederate organizations raised funds and got permits to put up four monuments to their past on public land.

But statues aren't just placeholders in parks.

Earlier this month, a heavily-armed white supremacist rally gathered to carry torches and shout messages of hate at a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, that the city had voted to remove. "Unite the Right" brought together Nazis, the Klan, and new white supremacy groups. And then they turned on the peaceful counter protestors who'd come. One woman died and 33 people were injured during hours of violence where the police stood by. Although President Trump took it in stride, many people in the country were aghast.  And mayors and governors of Southern states realized that the monuments on their streets could very likely bring the supremacists to visit them.

Within days of the Charlottesville rally,  Baltimore's recently-elected mayor Catherine Pugh ordered the monuments removed. Her action was received with relief by many Baltimoreans, including myself.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney's statue stood at Mt. Vernon Place

This monument's base has bloody-looking trickles of red paint

To the outside, the action to remove might have looked like a quick reaction, but it was a long time coming. Many activists in recent years have showed up to protest the Confederate sympathizers who chose to gather at the Robert E Lee/Stonewall Jackson monument during Martin Luther King weekend. As my friend who organized a silent vigil there over many years said, it was stressful for her children to see the people come to mourn the loss of slavery. It seemed like a slap in the face to do it during the King holiday, although the Confederates explained to the protestors they were doing it at the time of both Lee and Jackson birthdays.

Some people have suggested that removing the Confederate statues is an act comparable to the what the Taliban or Isis has done when they've conquered places. But these statues were erected many decades after the Civil War. They are not part of the city's slave history. The organizations that erected them were shrewd to place them in the city's most beautiful and prestigious locations, near museums and colleges where visitors to Baltimore would have to see them. The monuments were put up during times that whites were intent on pushing back civil liberties for racial minorities.

Baltimore tried to deal with the statues gently. They experimented with placing plaques next to the statues explaining this provenance--but the statues were still upsetting to people. A commission of Baltimoreans appointed by the previous mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, studied the issue and recommended removal of two statues, but to leave two in place with plaques of explanation. The two the commission decided to leave were the ones relating to Confederate soldiers who perished--rather than Roger Taney, the former Supreme Court chief justice who affirmed the right of slave owners, and Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy's most famous generals.

Why shouldn't the statues remain with plaques of explanation? My mind was changed after I heard Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott speak. He said that slavery is a 9-11 for African-Americans. Allowing the statues of those who loved slavery is tantamount to putting up statues of the hijackers who hit New York's World Trade Center in 2001. And these statues weren't destroyed. Right now the removed statues are safely covered up and waiting on an undisclosed city lot. They have a future, somewhere.

I drove around last weekend to look at what was left of the monuments. The bases were still standing. Some of them had been hit with red paint that looked like blood, and others with graffiti.

On right, Cellis; to left are members of UXU, the multi-media organization that produces his videos

When I arrived at the site of the former Robert E. Lee-Stonewall Jackson monument, I was intrigued to find a cluster of young men there. Several had cameras out, a boombox was playing, and one man sat atop the statue performing a rap song.

After the song was done, I met  the rapper/songwriter, Cellis, who is a well-known artist activist. Cellis comes from Baltimore and has recorded strong songs about outspoken on police brutality and gay rights. His new song will be a proclamation of resistance to white supremacy.

The Baltimore Sun's photographers have photographed the statues and their sites before and after. See whether you think we suffered a devastating cultural loss. The Baltimore Office of Promotion and Arts is inviting artists to create sculptures to stand where the old monuments were. A beautiful future, which we can't yet imagine.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Twenty years ago in Paris

Twenty years ago this week, and it feels like the proverbial yesterday, I bought a Paris MATCH magazine from my local newsagent, Sam. I live in San Francisco and he stocked all the European newspapers, magazines and international as well. He even had the Charlie Hebdo issue after the terrible tragedy. Sadly, Sam closed a few months ago...just too tough for the printed word and glossies these days.
Paris MATCH always has great pictorials and the gossip, too. A guilty pleasure I admit. Towards the rear of the magazine was an article and paparazzi photos of Princess Diana sunning on a yacht deck in the turquoise Mediterranean with her new squeeze a Doti Fayed.
Paris MATCH always had the celebrati, aristo, billionaires etc often caught in flagrant delicate somewhere in the Mediterranean or South of France. So did the Guardian.

Well, Doti was new to me, whoever he was, she looked amazing, relaxed and really hadn't been on the front pages or on the news burner for a while (this was August 1997). Just another royal celeb with a new secret boyfriend caught by the paparazzi.  It stayed in my mind since I felt happy for her.
Diana and Doti flew back to Paris, stayed at the Ritz on August 30 and 31, and you know the story, left the Ritz late that night. I had literally opened the newspaper the day after I'd read Paris MATCH to headlines of Diana's death.

Here's is the Telegraph UK's timeline using CCTV footage and photographic evidence from which they built up an accurate timeline of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed's final hours.
4.35pm Princess and Mr Fayed enter Ritz by rear door with Trevor Rees-Jones,bodyguard. Take lift to first floor suite.
5.42 Mr Fayed and Mr Rees-Jones drive to jewellery shop, returning seven minutes later. Member of staff later takes two rings to Mr Fayed's room.
6.53 Couple driven to Mr Fayed's apartment near Arc de Triomphe.
7.05 Henri Paul, chauffeur, goes off duty.
9.51 Couple return to hotel via front entrance.
10.08 Henri Paul returns to hotel.
10.20 Mr Fayed talks to night duty manager, who spends six minutes talking to Henri Paul and two Ritz chauffeurs.
10.30 Henri Paul makes first of five trips to Place Vendome in front of hotel, speaking to paparazzi on last three occasions.
11.51 Mercedes and Range Rover sent on "dummy run" to test reaction of the paparazzi.
12.06am Princess and Mr Fayed go to exit at back of hotel. They hold hands and cuddle.
12:12 Henri Paul waves to paparazzi who have gathered at the back of the hotel.
12.17 Mercedes leaves hotel, driven by Henri Paul, with princess and Mr Fayed inside.
12.22 Mercedes crashes in Alma underpass
Here in the Mercedes, Diana, her bodyguard who is also in the de-planning photo, Doti and the chauffeur who has been said was drinking at the Ritz bar.
 These photos were from the paparazzi trailing them leaving the back entrance of the Ritz and then to underground tunnel.

Now I bring this up because whether you dislike the royals, the hoo ha, the massive outpourings of grief or feel the royals changed or became more approachable after the tragedy, it happened in Paris. A French woman told me that when Diana's body left the Hospital on the Left bank, people stood up at the cafe's and Parisians paused on the street in respect as the hearse drove by. She said in some awful way they felt responsible.  You might have followed the story, or not, or were touched by the funeral or followed the investigation. Yet still it was a shock, unexpected, seemingly random that left two young boys without a mother. And the aftermath seemed to go on forever, right? All these theories, a conspiracy of the MI-6 or is MI-5? The Queen's vendetta for an embarrassing Princess, the paparazzi's on motorcycles, the phantom white Fiat Uno that might have engineered the accident?...on and on.
But it happened in Paris and Paris police were in the eye of the storm. All the world was watching. 
The police, like most Parisians, had just returned from the August holiday and were gearing up for la rentrée back to school and work and opening up the city again.
In 2007, I met Jean-Claude Mules head of a unit in the Brigade Criminelle, the elite Paris homicide squad, for lunch. I'd known Jean-Claude for three years at this time. He'd agreed to lunch and was late. He apologized in his way saying 'uhh I just got off the Eurostar, what a morning.' I asked if he'd been in the UK and why. He proceeded to tell me he'd had to speak English all morning - so fatiguing - he only spoke French with me- and all these men wore their funny wigs. I pressed him do you mean like judges wearing wigs? Ah yes, such a morning I had to give evidence, yet again, in this final court hearing. But what trial is this I asked since he'd never talked about an English trial. Ah, it's been ten years, you know and this was it we had to settle this case of Doti's father. Then it hit me, it had been ten years since Diana's death in the car crash with Doti and his father had brought a criminal trial. But why were you there? Ok, I'm slow to the game I admit but I felt particularly stupid when he said 'but I was in charge of the Diana investigation, for ten years and it's taken ten years off my life.' Open mouthed I asked why didn't you ever tell me? He replied 'you never asked.' Call me dumb.
Jean-Claude told me when he'd been called so late that August night in 1997, he was angry at the dispatcher, demanding to know why he was being called out to a 'traffic accident' as it was relayed to him. But when he arrived and saw the reality, his life changed.
But this was too good a chance to get the 'real' scoop with him right at the table and my mind whirred, my next book was set in 1997 why couldn't I set in September with the fresh backdrop of the Diana tragedy and investigation? I did. It's used as background in that book, but I was always thinking what a great thriller this would make - beloved foreign royal dead by accident or plan and the British secret service covering up.
Any way it must have been in 2009 or 2010 when Leighton Gage and I happened to be in Paris at the same time (Eide and some of his family too) that we were doing a reading event together at Shakespeare and Co bookstore. I remember Leighton rushing in - Metro snafu- and telling him and the audience we'd have a special treat at our reading because Jean-Claude Mules, now retired, formerly of the Brigade Criminelle and in charge of the Diana investigation would make an appearance since he had so kindly helped me in research for this book.
 Here's Leighton reading at Shakespeare and Co.
Then it was my turn. We both talked about our books and there is Jean-Claude in between us. Needless to say the audience went nuts to hear the added treat. Jean-Claude held them spell bound. I had to apologize to Leighton later, because he sort of became the star of the evening.
Here's a 2007 article from the Express with the same content that basically Jean-Claude told us that evening.
Jean Claude Mules, who ran the initial French investigation, said his officers found compelling evidence that the car carrying Diana and Dodi Fayed collided with the Fiat seconds before it crashed. 
If officers had been able to trace the driver they would have “had their killer”, he added. As Britain today marks the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death, Mr Mules’s comments will re-ignite anger that the Fiat Uno driver has never been traced.    
They will also intensify claims that both the French and British investigations into the crash were failures. And they will fuel the fears of those who believe that Diana, Dodi and driver Henri Paul were killed in an Establishment plot. MI5 and MI6 agents were known to be on the ground that night.    
The Fiat was spotted entering the tunnel at the same time as Diana’s car. The failure to find the driver – or the Uno itself – has given rise to numerous theories, including the possibility that the Princess’s car was targeted by a secret service assassin who forced her vehicle to crash.   
Two men were named as possibly being the drivers – paparazzi photographer James Andanson, who has since died in mysterious circumstances, and French-Vietnamese security guard Le Van Thanh, who continues to deny any involvement.   
Mr Mules said yesterday: “It’s a good thing that we didn’t actually find the owner of the white Fiat Uno, otherwise he would have become the Princess’s killer.”    
Mr Mules was senior commander of the elite Paris Criminal Brigade, which originally gathered evidence into the crash in the French capital. In the early hours of August 31, 1997 – soon after Diana’s Mercedes ploughed into a pillar in the Alma tunnel – Mr Mules found compelling evidence that the luxury saloon had collided with a white Fiat Uno seconds before impact.   
Yet, 10 years on and despite extensive searches all over France, the Uno and its driver are still unaccounted for. “We found that there were approximately 7,000 to 8,000 Fiat Unos and we examined 5,500 of them,” said Mr Mules, who was speaking in Paris where he is now retired.   
“We checked all their cars and their owners, who had to tell us exactly where they were on the night of the crash, but we never found it.”   
The inability of the French police to find the Uno driver was highlighted in the British report into Diana’s death, published last December.   

Until now, that Fiat Uno has never been found. At this time of year I think of Leighton, who's left us and I miss him. I still see Jean-Claude and think how in some ways the world changed after this. 

 And of Diana who touched a universal chord in her troubled, glamorous life. Whatever you believe, the Fiat Uno, a conspiracy or an over the limit driver, here's thinking of Diana and her boys,  who'd she'd probably think of as her best accomplishment, today.

Cara - Tuesday
Oh, and before I forget, if you're in Paris this fall please come on by. I'll be doing some events and would love to see you.

Thursday Sept 28, 6-7PM
at WHSmith on rue de Rivoli

Tuesday Oct 10, 3-5PM
at Café de la Mairie on rue de Bretagne in the Marais

Monday, August 28, 2017

Where in the World is the Heart of King Robert Bruce?

Guest again: Michael J. Cooper has returned to answer that question we asked on his last visit.  Here’s his Mystery at a Great Divide.

The Church of St. Andrew's occupies a unique position in Jerusalem. With a dramatic view of the walled Old City a few hundred yards to the north and of the Mount of Olives and the Mountains of Moab to the East, the church sits on the Jerusalem watershed ridge. Like the Continental Divide of the Americas, the Jerusalem watershed ridge is a hydrological divide; rain falling a few feet to the west ultimately drains into the Mediterranean Sea while water falling a few feet to the east moves toward the Dead Sea—that is, if it can make it without evaporating or seeping into the parched red earth of the Judean Desert. But whereas the Jerusalem watershed ridge offers a clear choice, the Church of St. Andrew's contains a brooding ambiguity.

In the chapel of the east-facing church, a burnished plaque set in the floor of the sanctuary reads; “In remembrance of the pious wish of King Robert Bruce that his heart should be buried in Jerusalem.”

Along the plaque’s outer margin, a wrap-around inscription reads; “In celebration of the sixth century of his death – 1329, 7th June, 1929. Given by citizens of Dumfermline and Melrose.” The plaque was, indeed, presented to the church by the people of these two Scottish cities: Dumfermline, where the body of Robert the Bruce was buried and Melrose where Bruce’s heart was actually interred. 

Why was Bruce’s heart initially buried at Melrose Abbey and not in Jerusalem despite his “pious wish?” To answer this question, we must return to June of 1329, as Bruce lay dying in Scotland, possibly from leprosy (the great sickness).

According to an English translation of the 14th century Chronicles of Jean Froissart; “…it fortuned that King Robert of Scotland…was charged with the great sickness, so that there was no way with him but death…then he called to him the gentle knight sir James Douglas, and said before all the lords, “Sir James, my dear friend, ye know well that I…promised in my mind to have gone and warred on Christ’s enemies…to this purpose mine heart hath ever intended…I have taken such malady…that my body cannot go nor achieve that my heart desires. I will send the heart…to accomplish mine avow…as soon as I am trespassed out of this world, take my heart out of my body and embalm it…and present my heart to the Holy Sepulchre…”

After his death on June 7, 1329, Bruce’s body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey—reflecting the fact that many members of Scottish royalty are buried there.  Before his burial, his heart was taken from the body, embalmed, placed in a silver casket, and given to his “dear friend,” Sir James Douglas, whom Bruce had charged to carry his heart to the Holy Land for burial. With the embalmed heart in its silver casket hung on a silver chain and close to his own heart, Sir Douglas set out for the Holy Land in the spring of 1330 with six other knights. Among them was Sir William St. Clair of Rosslin, whom I single out since the St. Clair bloodline, along with Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, are the two threads that connect all three books of my Temple Mount series.

The knights sailed across the North Sea, stopping briefly in the Netherlands then south to Spain, to make their way overland and take ship on the Mediterranean coast for the Holy Land. But they never reached that coast. In Granada, they came upon King Alfonso XI of Castile commanding a Spanish army that was laying siege to the Moorish castle of Teba.

According to historical accounts, and embellished by legend, the small band of Scottish knights joined the fight and soon found themselves surrounded by a host of Moors. In the extremity of this circumstance, Sir Douglas lifted the chain and the silver casket off his neck, spun the heart of Bruce around and around over his head shouting, “Brave heart, that ever foremost led, forward as thou wast wont, and we shall follow!” With that, he threw the heart of Bruce toward the Moors, and the vastly outnumbered knights charged forward with drawn swords to their death.
In homage to their bravery, the Moors returned the bodies of the Scottish knights to Scotland along with the silver casket containing the heart of King Robert Bruce. As with the remains of other Scottish kings, Bruce’s heart was buried at Melrose Abbey.

But it didn’t stay buried. Six hundred years later, in 1921, during an excavation by His Majesty’s Office of Works, a lead container holding the embalmed heart of the Bruce was unearthed in the ruins of the chapter house at Melrose Abbey.  Once the contents of the cone-shaped container were examined and ascertained, the lead receptacle was encased within a larger one with the following engraving: “The enclosed leaden casket containing a heart was found beneath Chapter House floor, March 1921, by His Majesty's Office of Works.” The box containing Bruce’s heart was then reburied at the abbey.  

I couldn’t resist recreating and embellishing this episode in my historical mystery novel, Foxes in the Vineyard. In my fictionalized account, the protagonisttwenty-three-year-old Evan Sinclair, is among the graduate students who unearth Bruce’s heart during a dig at Melrose Abbey in 1921. Evan immediately begins planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to fulfill Bruce’s “pious wish,” but when he returns to the locked and secure holding room for antiquities, Bruce’s heart is gone.  The now 50-year-old Evan recounts this episode in a 1948 conversation that takes place in the Church of St. Andrew’s in Jerusalem. He is told that the heart was reburied at Melrose Abbey soon after it was unearthed. I won’t spoil the plot twist by telling you who reburied it, but I can tell you the reason: it had something to do with the fact that in 1921 there was no fitting place for the heart of Bruce to be reburied in Jerusalem.  Only in 1927 was the building of St. Andrew’s begun, as a memorial to the Scottish soldiers killed fighting the Turkish Army during World War I, which brought to an end seven hundred years of Ottoman rule over Palestine–a watershed moment in history commemorated by a church on the watershed ridge! This was the reason given to Evan for the reburial of the heart at Melrose Abbey instead of in Jerusalem.

But is the heart of King Robert Bruce still at Melrose Abbey?

Little did I realize when I began writing Foxes in the Vineyard following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995, that there would be another archeological dig conducted at Melrose Abbey in 1996 with the discovery in late August of an outer leaden receptacle containing an inner leaden casket with the engraving from 1921 as noted above. The find was taken to a laboratory in Edinburgh for safekeeping and extensive examination. According to press accounts, the heart remained in Edinburgh for almost two years until it was returned to Melrose Abbey where it was reburied on June 22, 1998 in a private ceremony, followed two days later by the public unveiling of a sandstone marker.

Here’s a photo of me at Melrose Abbey a few months ago, looking down at the marker and wondering if the heart of Bruce is a few feet away or if it’s really in Jerusalem.

And speaking of Jerusalem…

I traveled to the Holy City at the end of 1999, since I figured that it would be good to be in Jerusalem in case the world really ended at the stroke of midnight 12/31/99 as proposed by a host of “Y2K” fringe groups. So, instead of “stocking up on food and guns” as suggested by Jerry Falwell, I took the family to Jerusalem. Since I expected that the world wouldn’t end, I was still working on Foxes in the Vineyard and took the opportunity to speak to a long-time friend, a session elder at St. Andrew’s, and the director of the West Jerusalem YMCA. I showed him the New York Times clipping about the discovery of Bruce’s heart at Melrose Abbey in 1998 and asked him directly if it had then been reburied in Jerusalem beneath the plaque at St. Andrew’s Church.  The Scots had, after all, at the moment, an opportunity to fulfill Bruce’s “pious wish.”  My friend didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. He became uncharacteristically taciturn and evasive, refusing to discuss the issue. I next tried inquiring at the church itself, and with the same non-response. I persisted, but to no avail and was left feeling that someone wasn’t telling me something.

So, where is Bruce’s heart?

Was the heart truly reburied at Melrose Abbey during a private ceremony, or was it smuggled into Israel and secretly buried beneath the plaque on the altar of St. Andrew’s Church in Jerusalem? I suspect the latter, but I don’t know for sure. The truth is shrouded in ambiguity, which is ironic since it’s only fitting that the position of St. Andrew’s on the watershed ridge warrants a clear binary answer; east or west, yes or no.

Instead, we’re left with ambiguity, and short of prying open the burnished brass plaque in the floor of the chapel at St. Andrew’s or digging under the marker at Melrose Abby, I’ll never know. But since it was the wish of a dying king that his heart be buried in Jerusalem, wouldn’t it be fitting to fulfill that wish?

Has that wish finally been granted? I’d like to think it has.

And, does it matter?

It does to me.

King Robert Bruce - One of the thousands of mysterious
images carved into the walls and pillars at Rosslyn Chapel

For more about Michael J. Cooper and his books, visit him at: