Monday, September 30, 2019

Picture Me in California

Annamaria on Monday

I fully admit it.  I am having too wonderful a time this week to write seriously about anything.  My mind and heart are too taken up, at this moment, with the following:
  • how happy I am (I managed to write about that last week) 
  • how the characters in my WIP are going to solve the troubles I have caused them and do so in the next and final three chapters
  • how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends and these glorious days to spend with them
  • how drop-dead gorgeous are my surroundings
  • how sorry I am going to be leaving this place this coming Thursday
  • how, for many people that I dearly love, this Monday is the beginning of the year 5780 and how important it is for all people to look for and embrace new beginnings, whenever and however they present themselves
In lieu of words more words, I give you these, with minimal explanation:

The view from where I am sitting, as I write.

First full day!

View from the lunch table
SFMOMA had an exhibit of early photos of Egypt, including
one of the Temple of Dendur....
...which now resides at the Met Museum in NYC.  I visited
it there two months earlier

This is a sculpture, not a person.

Lovely Walnut Creek

Where we lent support to the young people, begging the
world to keep the planet habitable for them.

A walk along Tomales Bay

Follow the Leader!

Point Reyes National Seashore

I'm feeling a little sad to be leaving soon, but I still have
a few days of this level of joy!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A Visit With Some Not-so-Deadly Mushrooms

--Susan, every other Sunday

In Japan, autumn has arrived. We're still waiting on colorful foliage (which won't show up in Tokyo for at least another month), but even so, the celebration of all-things-autumn has begun.

The changing seasons are an important part of life in Japan. From clothing and menus to special activities, just about everything here has a seasonal flair.

When autumn arrives, many Japanese people head to the mountains for hiking, to view the autumn leaves (an activity known as momijigari--紅葉狩り--which is very popular in Japan), to hike, or to spend an afternoon at one of Japan's many fruit and vegetable farms. Fruit picking is popular all year long, but particularly enjoyable in autumn, when grapes, apples, and nashi (asian pears) are all in season.

While looking for a place to pick autumn fruit, I discovered the website for Uchinuma Mushroom Park (, a dedicated mushroom farm where visitors can pick--and grill--several varieties of cultivated mushrooms (the variety available depends on the status of the crop and season).

The sign reads "Enjoy Mushroom Hunting! Uchinuma Mushroom Park."

I also learned that this weekend was the official start of the farm's shiitake season . . . an opportunity I couldn't miss. I made a reservation, and yesterday morning I hopped two trains and a bus and traveled two hours northwest of Tokyo to visit the mushroom farm.

Uchinuma sits five minutes' walk from the bus stop, at the base of a forested mountain.

The entrance to the mushroom farm. (The building on the left is where we eat them.)

Signs mark the way, so although the road is curvy it's pretty much impossible to get lost.

"Mushroom Hunting. Uchinuma Mushroom Park. Cafe"

When I arrived, I checked in at the cafe, where I received a warm welcome from the women who run the shop and mushroom farm. They had copies of the mushroom-picking instructions in English, as well as Japanese, though fortunately the instructions are so simple that even my limited Japanese was good enough.

Shiitake mushrooms, growing on logs.

One of the women walked me from the shop to the mushroom greenhouse, where the mushrooms were growing on stacks of logs.

So many mushrooms...

Many commercial mushroom growers use manure or dirt for growing mushrooms. However, in the wild many varieties of mushrooms grow on trees (living as well as dead), and according to Uchinuma's owners, mushrooms taste better and absorb more healthy nutrients when grown on wood. (On a personal, and entirely unscientific basis, I find wood a more appetizing substrate, too.)

Dirt or poop? I know which one I pick.

Shiitake mushrooms are ready for harvest when the caps open up like flat umbrellas. The larger, flat-topped mushrooms taste the best and are more tender (and less woody) than their smaller counterparts.

This one is ready.

The mushrooms at Uchinuma were in all stages of growth, and the woman who showed me to the growing shed explained that I should hunt for the best-looking ones I could find.

This is what dinner looks like in the (sort of) wild.

When I found a good candidate, she explained how to pinch the stem at the bottom and gently wiggle it free from the log. Ripe mushrooms release fairly easily, which is another way to ensure you've chosen well. If a gentle wiggle doesn't loosen it, move on.

Wiggle, wiggle, little shroom . . .

Hunting through the shed reminded me of hunting for Easter eggs as a little kid - I felt a thrill every time I saw another good one.

These are my shiitake. There are many like them, but these are mine. . .

I harvested two bags of mushrooms (which Uchinuma sells by weight, at a price that is significantly lower than what you pay for premium shiitake mushrooms at the store). After weighing and paying for them, the women showed me to a table in the dining tent, where a little charcoal grill was hot and waiting.

Mushrooms on the grill.

Because everyone knows that the real point of picking mushrooms is eating mushrooms.


Which I did.

I love all kinds of mushrooms, and have eaten them many times, but I have never tasted any as tender and fresh as the freshly-picked-and-grilled ones I ate Saturday at Uchinuma Mushroom Park.

The farm also has a cafe with a menu that is unsurprisingly mushroom-forward. I opted for the mushroom (and bacon) pizza - which did not disappoint.

Mushroom pizza.

For years, I'd wanted to go mushroom hunting, but demurred because foraging for mushrooms can be a risky proposition in the wilderness--even if you know what you're looking for. Uchinuma took the guesswork (and the risk) away, which is nice because although the title of the blog is Murder is Everywhere, I prefer to keep the murder-shrooms it out of my dinner bowl.

People seem to have strong opinions about mushrooms, so . . . what say you? Mushroom hunting: yea or nay?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Past is Back Upon Us


We just spent a delightful few days with some great friends from Germany who were holidaying on Mykonos.  For the sake of this post let’s call them Chris and Nolan.  They’re among the nicest, most gracious, and hospitable couples I know, and seven years ago we spent a week touring Bavaria with them.  We began to reminisce about our visit to their Bavaria and they mentioned a post I’d written after my return to Greece from that trip. I’d forgotten all about it. They had not, and suggested I run it again, emphasizing that what I wrote about in 2012 is particularly relevant to our world today.

So, at the suggestion of my friends, here’s that post.

Chris, Nolan and I are all about the same age and share a deep love for Greece.  In fact, we met on Mykonos some umpteen years ago.  Chris was born in Germany but is well acquainted with living in the United States and Nolan was born in the U.S. but lived most of his life in Europe.  They are an insightful pair of internationalists with countless mesmerizing stories to match, and a willingness to share their knowledge on so many things Bavarian.

I’ve never been to Bavaria before.  It’s in southeast Germany bordering the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland (across Lake Constance).  It is a unique place, idiosyncratic some might say vis a vis the rest of Germany, for it still regards itself as independent, the “Free State of Bavaria” to be precise.  It is Germany’s wealthiest and second most populous state and at the risk of incurring the ire of the other fifteen states, from what I’ve seen it just might be the most beautiful. 

There’s no escaping the magic of its landscape: verdant farmland neatly peppered with houses of the sort you expect to see under a Christmas tree, fawn-color dairy cows with doe-like eyes grazing amid waves of green, locals in lederhosen and dirndl, all set against the sharp, white-topped, gray-green Bavarian Alps. 

Even Bavaria’s most heavily trafficked tourist attractions maintain the integrity of what makes them so popular.  For example the castles of King Ludwig II (1845-1886) still take your breath away (and not just because of long walks up a hill from the parking lot).  

My favorite was not the one Disney ripped off (Schloss Neuschwanstein), but the smallest of his palaces, Linderhof, inspired by the French Sun-King Louis XIV’s Versailles.  It comes complete with his own private underground grotto—think Phantom of the Opera, but grander. 

And Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is as cosmopolitan and vibrant a city as any in the world, filled with world-class shopping and a thriving economy driven by such industries as BMW (yes, I slipped that one in), film production, and publishing. 

Bavarians have rebuilt their capital in a first class way; one that integrates what remains of its past with what it has become.  Heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, Munich does not attempt to hide from its part in those horrific times.  Nor does it forget the eleven Israeli athletes who perished at the Olympic Games it hosted in 1972.  It has accepted responsibility and grown wiser from it.  More so than many places in the world. 

I also visited Dachau just outside of Munich.  It was the first Nazi concentration camp created after Adolph Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in I933.  I’m not showing any pictures of that.  Nor am I showing any I took from the top of The Eagles Nest, a retreat built for Hitler on the border with Austria.  Both are places not to be missed on any trip to Bavaria for they represent something never to be forgotten by Germans, Jews, Greeks or anyone on this planet. 

But I prefer not to use photographs to make that point.  Instead, let me quote from something I read at the Dachau museum. It describes how Adolph Hitler managed to take a radical, marginal political party he helped form when he was thirty-one—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party  (“NSDAP”)—and within a dozen years emerge as Germany’s all-powerful Fuhrer.

[T]he NSDAP remained a peripheral political force during the stable years of the Weimar Republic.  This changed dramatically with the onset of the world economic crisis.  In the [Parliamentary] elections of September 1930, the NSDAP succeeded in increasing its share of the vote from 2.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent; in the [Parliamentary] elections of July 1932, the NSDAP emerged as the strongest party with 37.3 per cent of the vote. 

The party made use of both brutal violence against its opponents as well as modern propaganda methods and tactics.  The party succeeded in evoking the impression that it alone was capable of meeting the divergent interests of a number of social groups.  By mobilizing resentment and exploiting images of threatening enemies, the National Socialists were able to conceal the internal contradictions riddling their political demands.—The Dachau Concentration Camp, 1933-1945

[Ed. Note: The Nazis were the prime instigators of the very violence they decried and used it to gain support among a demoralized middle-class by making them believe they alone could restore law and order.  Among Hitler’s promises were vows to revive the economy by unstated methods, restore German greatness, and overturn the Treaty of Versailles.  The two 1932 elections had confirmed that NSDAP was Germany’s strongest political party, and as the country had been unable to form a majority in Parliament since 1930, political pressure ultimately led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany] 

Those who endured understand “Never Again.”  Let us hope the rest of the world doesn’t forget.

End of post…but sadly far from the end of the story.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Desert Island Books

It was the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival last weekend.  The sun shone, the torchlight parade was spectacular. The  winner of the McIlvanney Prize Manda Scott  said that they were all winners and promptly divided the prize between the four short listers.

I wasn't around much, my publisher was stuck on a train and  late for lunch, so I had not pencilled anything in for that time.
 And she gave me homework so I had to go home and do it.

My panel was gamely controlled by Jonathon Whitelaw who will be guest blogging shortly. ( It was a lot of homework so I might have a few guest blogs. The downside of having two publishers is that sometimes they want things at the same time!)

He kept me, Abur Mukherjee and some old bloke called Craig Robertson in some kind of order.

We had lined up some books to take onto out desert island.
I had planned to take 'How to survive on a desert island' and the follow up 'How to make a raft from the skeletal remains of fellow crime writers'

I pointed out that men have big skulls but small brains and that if I hit Craig over the head with a coconut, took out the brains, then I could the skull to paddle myself to safety.

This is now the Olympic sport known as Sculling!  

Craig's first choice.
The book that got him into crime fiction.

My back up choice,  the CWA  voted this book as the best crime novel ever.

 My first choice.... it changed the law in the UK and is the fifth biggest selling book in the English language.

And my second choice, but I think the MIE crowd would know it would be on the list somewhere.

Abur's choice. We debated about  blending fiction and fact.

You see, five novels in one so I sneaked a lot onto my island.
This book is about what happens when the wrong person is voted president!

My third choice, was set in the future when I first read it. it's actually set in 2021.

Abur's choice. Craig didn't care for it much, I don't think I finished it.

Abur's choice again.
A classic.

And Craig's final choice, once we got the pronunciation of the title sorted. 

Craig's third pick was about an Irish police officer on a bicycle solving a crime in a Dantes Inferno kind of a way. I can't recall the exact title, but I am working on it!

So fellow bloggers, what would your big three be?

Caro Ramsay