Wednesday, January 31, 2018

#MeToo; When Women Travel

Sujata Massey

When women began posting accounts of sexual assault a few months ago, I listened. I counted myself fortunate to make it through a little more than a half century without rape. Also, I haven't experienced workplace harassment. But as the #MeToo stories have continued, some uncomfortable memories are surfacing. 

The first time, I was fifteen. It was a summer that I traveled with my mother and younger sister, exploring Germany and Austria. A summer of great times: going bowling and disco dancing with my cousins, eating lots of curry wurst, taking long rides on trains and watching little villages flash by the window. We had arrived the Nymphenburg Palace, a famous site in Munich. My mother was in the ticket line and I was standing around with my younger sister. A middle-aged white German man approached me and spoke in broken English. He was a professional photographer. I was so pretty. Could he take my photograph? 

That was exactly the kind of language to flatter an awkward teenager and make her acquiescent. 

The photographer told me to stand a little bit away from the crowd; he was getting the angle right. I smiled as he took a few pictures. And then he suddenly rushed forward and began unsnapping the front shoulder fastenings of my overalls. I felt his fingers fumble at my breasts. I began weeping as I twisted away, realizing that I’d been tricked. My little sister rushed toward me, also crying loudly, and the stranger vanished into the crowd. I cannot remember if my sister and told my mother. I know that I considered myself to blame  in allowing the man near me and my precious little sister.

Decades passed, and I became a young woman who dated a lot of nice guys and a few jerks. I was comfortable saying no and setting limits on behavior that made me uncomfortable. At 27, I married and began a career as a self-employed writer. I wrote novels that took me on solitary research trips to Japan. I marveled at being able to walk around at eleven or twelve at night in Japan without fear, at being able to eat alone in restaurants without interruption, at disembarking at lonely train stations without hassle. It was a pretty charmed travel experience.

Yet my second bad experience happened while I was traveling again in Europe. I was sent on a short book tour to Finland, a country where the Rei Shimura novels are very popular. Meeting readers was a very cheering experience. I chatted, signed books, and thoroughly enjoyed the company and assistance of my Finnish editor as I traveled through the capital city, Helsinki. 

During the tour, I had two days free, so I traveled by myself, taking an efficient train west to a small town with a spa where I booked a night’s stay. I looked forward to some long walks outside, and perhaps some spa treatments.  I requested an hour-long massage at the spa. The receptionist was sorry to say that all the regular massage therapists were booked. Then she had an idea. She would phone in an alternative massage therapist, not a regular spa employee, someone in the area who had offered to work part time if the need arose.

When I checked in for my massage the next morning, I wasn't worried to discover the masseur was a male. I’d had excellent, professional massages from therapists of both genders. I walked into the massage room, and when the door closed, the man told me to undress and get under a sheet. But here’s the strange thing. It is standard operating procedure for a massage therapist to leave a client alone to undress and get underneath the sheet. This man stayed put, his eyes glued on me.

I would like to say that I walked out of the room then and there, but I didn’t. I was a traveler, and I thought maybe they did things differently in Finland.  I felt very uncomfortable as I turned my back to him and began undressing, trying to wrap the sheet around myself for privacy while doing that (an impossible task).

Once on the table, he began the massage. I was lying on my stomach, and I noticed right away that his touch was very light and did not seem to be following a pattern. He was unskilled at therapeutic touch, I thought with annoyance. And then he told me to turn over.

Suddenly, I decided to believe what my instinct was telling me. This man wasn’t a professional massage therapist at all. I told him sternly that the massage was finished and I ordered him to leave the room. It took a little more yelling, but he did go. I dressed in a flash, my body shaking, and I went to the reception desk.

The person there didn’t realize the extent of my complaint about the nonprofessional, ogling therapist. I was likely too upset to be able to communicate the seriousness of the situation.I had prepaid for the massage; there was no refund. And honestly, money wouldn’t have helped. He saw what he saw of me. Nothing could erase the sense of violation.

With my Asian appearance and American accent, I stand out as a visitor in Europe. And the sad reality is that women who travel are an easy mark. Molesters can make quick hits, guessing that victims have nobody nearby to call to for help, and that victims will chalk it up to bad luck during travel. Such perpetrators also know that foreign women are less able to communicate effectively with local police and give the kind of details that would lead to apprehension.

Women who travel cannot anticipate these sudden intrusions. Also, we don't have enough time to mentally store the details of attacks, the way you would about a coworker you know or someone you’re dating. Think about all the groping incidents on subways and buses throughout the world. Even planes are territory for molestation. A first-class airplane seat was where a woman reported relentless physical harassment from Donald Trump in the early 1980s. The New York Times video of her account is embedded below.

An effort to shield women from sexual abuse in public is one of the arguments behind purdah, the conservative custom of women staying behind veils or confined to their homes. Purdah began hundreds of years ago among mostly Muslim families in the Middle East and South Asia, but included wealthy Hindus as well. I write about purdah in The Widows of Malabar Hill, my latest novel). The custom largely died out in the early twentieth century, but it helped build an international misbelief that good women stay home and disreputable ones roam. And now that the Taliban, ISIS and other radical conservative groups have taken over villages and towns in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, enforced purdah is back and crueler than ever.

I suspect the men who went after me were locals in their communities who acted alone. But there are increasing situations where groups of men set out to simultaneously molest a lot of women and girls. Consider the multiple attacks by an alleged 2000 men against approximately 1200 women celebrating New Years Eve 2015-16 in public in Cologne, Germany--and copycat incidents in other countries.

Men who prey on women travelers usually get away without being named.  But our voices do carry, and my hope is that molesters will someday find their sordid occupation is no longer a safe adventure.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Day in Livorno

Annamaria on Monday

This city on Italy's northern Mediterranean coast is the country's third largest port and the third largest city in Tuscany.  People have lived in the area since the Neolithic age.  These days, while not on the usual tourist track, it is a bustling exchange point for international commerce.  This Sunday, it was bustling for a different reason.

When the weather forecast predicted 60 degrees F and sunshine, my friend Nicoletta suggested an outing. I enthusiastically accepted since I had never visited and any day spent with Nicoletta is a pleasure.

Mother Nature cooperated with a glorious day.  Here is what it looked like:

First stop for Italians, coffee.  And for this American, a tiny ciambella.

As we walked along the seaside promenade -

Confetti on the pavement, a sure sign that it's carnevale.
And that means kids in costume.  Here's my favorite,
especially since I will soon be photographing giraffes
in the wild!
I took a great interest in the Italian naval academy, because it has a connection to a new character in my soon-to-be-released The Blasphemers. An Italian nobleman introduced in the story is an admiral.  So he must have gone to this school. 

Cadets waiting for the bus across the street from their academy

Then lunch!

We chose a place called Crudomania, that we happened upon because it was in front of a parking place we had found.  I know of nowhere else in a world where one can find such excellent food so easily.

It was a fish place, of course, decorated with entrancing three-foot long sculptures
made from miscellaneous materials.

Nicoletta chose the san pietro (john dory), upper left.  We shared all our courses.
I apologise for the fact that there is a bite taken out of every course before I thought to photograph it.   

Appetizer: Cod with sweet and sour onion

Pasta course: Spaghetti with sea urchin.  A first for me.

What the main course looked like on it's way to oven.  It was gone before
I thought to take any photo. :)

Chocolate dessert.  Quite a few bites already gone.
Cafe macchiato to finish off.
Then a stroll through the Venezia District -

So named, because it has a system of canals

Some of which run along ancient forts and bridges.
But also modern shops (This one was closed on Sunday)
My favourite Italian hero.  And a gull.

What a glorious day!

Happy, happy, LUCKY me!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Burns Night Poems And Some Strange Facts About Robert Burns

Zoë Sharp

This weekend I find myself moving house, yet again. Nothing quite like it for making you get rid of clutter. And I have indeed taken the opportunity to thin out my “stuff” but nevertheless, I seem to have a depressing amount of it still.

a picture of Too Much Stuff. Can anybody spot the cat?
I always start off with the best of intentions. I swear that this time I will not simply pack and move everything, but will sort through things in an organised manner and only move the things I really want to keep. And, as always, I have ended up throwing things into boxes with a cry of “I’ll get round to eBaying that later!”

Meanwhile, I was invited to a party last week to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet. The haggis was superb, as were the tatties and neeps! And the Ecclefechan tart. I passed on the whisky, though, being a lightweight.

Ecclefechan tart
Our hosts did make one request of their guests, that we bring a favourite poem or two to read out. The first of my choices was this one, written by Rose Milligan in 1998 and which first appeared, apparently, in The Lady magazine. It most accurately reflects my attitude to housework.


Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go - and go you must -
You, yourself, will make more dust.

And for the second I chose this one, which I admit to penning myself at the prompting of fellow scribe Donna Moore, for the panel she moderated at CrimeFest way back in 2010.


I like a bit of murder
Armed robbery can be fun
I’d electrocute you all day long
Or shoot you, with a … SIG Sauer P226 9mm semiautomatic, most likely

I’m all for decomposing
And disembowelment’s good
Poison IS my poison
You know I’d stab you if I could

Blunt force trauma

Witch’s brew or gypsy’s curse
Voodoo spell or evil nurse
From Cosy to Outright Perverse
Dream of ways to get you in that hearse

But (and I’m sure you’ll all agree with me on this)

Subjecting you to Verse
Is a Fate that is by far the Worst …

In looking for a suitable picture of Mr Burns, I came across this article in the Scottish Daily Record listing 10 facts you didn’t know about the man himself. I’ve put only the headers here, so if you want the full info, please visit their site and have a look-see.

1. There are more than 50 statues of Burns all over the world.

2. There are lots of famous pop culture references to Burns.

The title of Salinger's Catcher In The Rye
 is a reference to Burns' poem 'Comin' Thro The Rye'  
3. He had twelve children with four different women.

4. He collected pornographic poetry which he kept locked in a drawer.

5. His was the first face to appear on a bottle of Coca-Cola, in 2009.

6. Michael Jackson was a huge fan.

7. A book of Burns’ poems was carried into space and orbited the earth 217 times.

8. He is the great, great, great uncle of fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.

9. Auld Lang Syne is one of the three most popular songs in the English language.

10. Burns' skull was unusually large.

You might think that, but I couldn't possibly comment ...
So, what's your favourite poem or quotation?

This week’s Word of the Week is defenestration, meaning to be thrown out of a window, and comes from an incident in Prague Castle in 1618, which kicked off the Thirty Years’ War. In its turn, that incident was known as The Second Defenestration of Prague as there had already been one such event, in Prague City Hall in 1419, which started the Hussite war. The word comes from New Latin, de- being out or away from/removal, and fenestra being a window or opening. It’s particularly apt if the window in question is broken in the process.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is Greece Back on Its Feet?


This threatens to be a sure-fire eye-glazer of a post, but it’s the #1 question I’ve been asked on tour.  I’m the last person to field that question if you’re seeking investment advice, yet it is encouraging that so many, in so many different parts of the US, care enough to ask it. 

By the way, my questioners aren’t Greeks. Perhaps that’s because Greeks already know the answer; are among those so polarized in their political views that they see the nation’s economic circumstances strictly through the prism of party loyalty; or are so worn down by it all that they don’t want to hear any more about it.

With that in mind, for purposes of reading this post I suggest following the longstanding advice of Warren Buffett, and “put aside personal politics when it comes to investment decisions.”

Let’s start with some of this week’s economic headlines on the Greek economy.

“Spanish, Greek bonds shine after ratings upgrades.”

“Approval of 3rd review and release of tranche to Greece expected in Brussels.”

“Greek current account deficit shrinks in November, tourism revenues rise.”

Looks promising, and certainly better than going in the opposite direction. So, let’s look at what the headlines mean, starting at the bottom and working up…which seems appropriate for the situation.

According to figures supplied by the Bank of Greece, in six of the past eleven months Greece did better with its account deficit than it did during comparable months the year before.  But, it’s a sawtooth type of graph, not straight-line growth, and improvement is credited almost entirely to a decrease in the balance of goods, raising the question of whether the shrinking deficit is because Greece sold more, or bought less.

Surrounding the impending “final” 6.7 billion-euro bailout tranche payment to Greece (5.7 in February and 1.0 in April) and official end of the bailout program in August, there is a lot of talk over whether this signals the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning to Greece’s fiscal crisis. New taxes, and budget cuts demanded by Greece’s foreign creditors have severely affected much of the country, and anxieties are running high over what’s next to come.  With elections in 2019 (if not sooner), there’s a plethora of suspicion (or a paucity of confidence, if you prefer) in government promises and projections on what the future holds.

On the subject of bonds owed to creditors—not to be confused with the sense of bondage many Greeks feel in service to foreign creditors—for the first time in two years, Greek bonds have kicked up a notch in their ratings! Hallelujah.  But before anyone starts passing out cigars, take note that Greece’s bonds are now rated ‘B’ according to S&P, while Spain—the other peripheral EU economy—was upped by Fitch to ‘A-” despite its Catalan crisis.  The news had yields for Greek short term and five-year bonds falling (going down shows confidence in the bonds), but yields on its long-term bonds actually went up slightly (yields on all of Spain’s bonds fell).  Most analysts agree that the future for Greece depends on how well it manages its exit from its bailout program. That’s the sort of imponderable answer I feel most comfortable leaving for the gods to sort out.  

So, what other relevant news is out there this week suggesting the true state of the Greek economy?  What caught my eye was an article analyzing unemployment figures recently released by the Greek government.  From the story’s headline, I think you’ll see the direction in which the article is headed, but assuming the reporter’s figures are correct (Anthee Carassava, reporting in, there’s a lot to reflect upon.

Here’s the headline, followed by relevant excerpts from the article: “Greeks stuck in lousy, part-time economy as government claims success.”

“Greece’s once record jobless rate of 27 percent may have dropped seven points since the start of the financial crisis, but nearly six in 10 people are stuck in a market dominated by part-time on-and-off jobs.”  [N.B. For those under 25-years-old, the youth unemployment rate hovers at 40%]

“But worst of all, the gigs have demanded full-time work for part-time terms of employment. ‘You’re hired for a weekly 15-hour Friday-to-Saturday job and before you know it, your boss is calling you in, forcing you to work Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays without extra pay or time off.’”

“In Greece, state statistics released this week show a troubling trend: Six in 10 people are stuck in lousy, insecure part-time jobs.  While the trend first exceeded the startling 50-percent mark last year, experts expected the figure to quickly recede as the Greek economy, strangled by seven years of budget cuts and austerity reforms, grew by nearly 2 percent. But it hasn’t, spelling what experts now call ‘hollowed growth’ for a country struggling to claw out of the worst financial crisis ever to hit a European Member state.”

“In the startling statistics released this week, five in 10 Greek workers are owed an average of six paychecks by exploitative employers already paying part-time workers less than 500 [$600] a month.  Women, meantime receive 50 percent less.”

“With the government registering each person who works at least two hours a week as employed…private labor groups and think tanks put the real [jobless] figure around at least 25 percent.”  [N.B. To be fair, for US statistical unemployment rate purposes, one hour a week is considered employed, and the US rate is currently 4.1% (8.9% youth)]


Those figures—if accurate—are alarming.  But what I see as perhaps the greatest threat to Greece “getting to its feet” is reflected in the comment of a 26-year-old female college graduate interviewed for the article: “You can sit and hope Greece plays catch-up, or you can pack up and leave for a better future until then.”

I now have a question for my audience.  Does anyone disagree with the proposition that the greatest threat to a nation’s long-term growth and prosperity is the loss of its industrious and entrepreneurial young to other lands?  After all—and you can take it from me—it’s hard to get back up on your feet relying on creaky old knees.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, published on January 2, 2018, and here are the remaining stops on the first stage of my book tour:

Friday, February 2 @ 7PM
Centuries & Sleuths (Forest Park)
Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 3 @ 12 PM
Once Upon A Crime

Minneapolis, MN

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Teacosy Of Inspiration

Neil Broadfoot, Gordon Brown, Douglas Skelton, Mark Leggat

"He dropped his trousers, slowly, shamefully to reveal the tea cosy of inspiration."

Not a sentence one hears often in a lifetime. Unlike, 'here’s that tax bill you’ve been waiting for' or 'Yes I do love the book, it's great apart from the end, the beginning and I think the middle could do with some work as well.'

The former sentence was the demouemout of the show ‘Four Men in Search Of A Plot.’  Or four guys in need of a kick up the bahoukie to my mind.  ( A bahoukie is exactly where you would kick four men who should know better.)

It’s a  scary format, four guys on stage, one laptop, one tea cosy of inspiration and no idea what the audience were going to come up with when asked for a protagonist and a murder victim.  Suggestions are shouted out, for sake of fairness it’s normally the first  heard that is accepted. So   at Bloody Scotland the not so fab four were landed with killing Stuart McBride with a potato peeler, and let’s face it, who hasn’t had that thought cross their mind before.

This time, they had to write a story  about Rabbie Burns being killed with a kite. Thinking back now, they didn’t manage that. They killed a bunch of nuns with a mini exocet missile ( you can tell Mark Leggat is a James Bondy type).  The line about 'And they woke up naked in Venice' got lost in the hysteria somewhere. 


The audience selects the first poor victi…writer and off wee go. The chosen one takes the laptop and has to wear the tea cosy of inspiration, or perspiration if it's a warm venue,  as he batters out the first part of the story. The others take questions from the audience, or chat amongst themselves if nobody else is listening, which is more likely.

When the enthusiastic clatter of the keyboard stops, the writer reads out what he has written and obviously leaves an impossible cliff hanger that the next writer has to sort out. Like Godzilla appearing in  a play park in Dumfries for no reason at all,  allowing/forcing the next writer to say something like ‘Rabbie realised the drugs were now taking effect’ and so it goes on  and on and on...  to the magnificent (?)  reveal which in this case was the smuggling of a tea cosy in a place a tea cosy was never meant to be smuggled.

I like to think that Four Guys was the warm up act for the main event.


This was going on at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries and as the name suggests it is a proper theatre so it was a big gig for the Carry on Sleuthing squad. We were presenting the second outing of the much lauded 'Murder at the Knickerage'. It's what I like to call dangerous theatre, the jokes are bad for your health.

                                               Douglas Skelton- a very talented man.
                                                   Nobody knows what at though!

There are times in my life, like when I’m gluing tassles on to a hairy cushion at 3 am,  endeavouring to create a comedy sporran,  standing in the back garden as the spray glue is toxic to lungs, – at times like this I wonder why I even speak to Douglas Skelton. The times when I find myself on stage massaging the buttocks of a pantomime horse called Trump I wonder why I even speak to him at all. 

           The best actor on this stage is the dead body. At least he didn't bump into the furniture.

Seriously though,  the gang were all at Dumfries which is in that little pocket in the south of Scotland and I was more than a little scared with Letitia’s first outing in a proper theatre with bank seats. And an audience who had paid good money to see both the shows. 

I do have to say that Trump the pantomine horse was a triumph. He stole the show, probably by being the worst presid...sorry pantomime horse that has ever graced a stage. He tried to pee on my leg at one point. He wouldn't get off the stage- cue lots of jokes about how difficult getting rid of Trump can prove to be.

Oh satire.

The jokes were bad, the audience groaned, we lost our place in the script, we drifted onto another script altogether.... somebody came out on stage when they shouldn’t have and vice versa.

                                              Letitia and Bunny.....upstaged by Silas Bounce the deceased. 

And this is why.....
Dear Bunny....he's a terrible gossip, he's all ears...
Or related to Prince Charles....

 And there was a stand up fight for the spotlight that resulted in one fractured feather duster and one bruised ego. It looked a chaotic mess  that had been flung together with no rehearsal at all. But it was all meticulously planned and rehearsed down to the last, finest detail, believe that if you will ( I am a fiction writer). 

Seriously there is nothing in the world that warms your innerds like making people laugh and I can understand why people torture themselves to do it.

 Comedy can be dangerous though it can have a long lasting effect. On the night of this performance, my 82 year old aunt was involved in an incident with some very bad people. However even shocked and stunned, she memorised the number plate of the getaway car. The police are now on their trail. 
When I was told,  instead of asking 'do they have anybody in custody yet?'
The repetition of the script somehow took hold of my brain and I said 'Do they have anybody  in custardy yet? 

Oh yes it’s a dangerous business. This is some dangerous DNA experiment in twinning from Grantown On Spey.


Next month, Carry On Sleuthing is back fundraising for victims of abuse for the Break The Silence charity.

There is a rumour that Carry on Sleuthing is doing some big gigs next year. Alan was musing if Americans would understand it?  Would they sit mouth agape, bemused beyond comprehension and probably thinking that if this is the way the Brits behave maybe the EU, given the choice, would have voted to get rid of them.  Have Americans ever witnessed the wonder of Binky Huckaback and my personal favourite, Dame Celia Molestrangler........ I bet you go and google them right now!
                                                      Gasp In Amazement!  We got off the stage alive!

Applause, applause

Dame Caro Ramsay, Theatrical lovey,  26 01 2018