Monday, August 30, 2021

Remembrance of Bouchercons Past

Annamaria on Monday



Boo-Hoo!   No Bouchercon again this year!


I was ready speed my way to NOLA for the first gathering of the crime-writing tribe in nearly two years. If that had happened, without further disasters, today I would be posting pictures of happy faces and fascinating panels. But alas, we were skunked.


Truth be told, I was concerned when I first heard that Bouchercon 2021 would be held in New Orleans at the end of August. Having spent a great deal of time on the Gulf Coast during my consulting career, I knew what it would be like: hot, very hot and, of course, it would be hurricane season. In fact, we would have been staring down the 16th anniversary of Katrina when we arrived last Wednesday.  Still, I was so ready to be with my friends in person, instead of making do with Zoom or FaceTime, I wanted to be—  Let's be honest, I was desperate to see my friends in the flesh rather than on a screen.


Many of them expressed similar feelings.  But ‘twas not meant to be.  Thanks to crimes against humanity committed by political figures in the USA, the state of Louisiana disregarded all pleas for sanity and refused any attempt at curbing the spread of the Coronavirus. In the end, it was the virus that put the kibosh on the conference.  As I write this, hurricane Ida is bearing down on NOLA.  Pictures are already coming across the wires of a roof blown off a building in the French Quarter.  Of traffic backed up on Route 10 packed with people trying to evacuate.  By the time you read this, we will know much more of the awful truth.  


So not having gone there seems far preferable, virus or no virus.


Before the threat of Ida materialized, I had decided to console myself by reminiscing about Bouchercons past and how they connected me with the MIE clan.  I am going ahead with my plan in an attempt to focus on something other than bad news.    


As you will notice, this blog post is illustrated with photographs of the MIE clan, past and present, at Bouchercons through the years.




I took no photographs of my attendance at the 2009 conference, which took place just as my first novel was a launching.  Though I've pretty much always been comfortable doing what a lot of people despise—standing up and speaking before groups, I've never been any good at all at walking into a room full of strangers and striking up a conversation. Since I knew practically no one at Bouchercon 2009, in Indianapolis that year, I spent most my time hiding out in my room, working on my second novel. The outstanding experience for me was a panel discussion called, if memory serves, “Murder at the Edge of the Map.” Given the fact that I had written about the most exotic place I had ever visited or could ever have imagined, I thought that the promised discussion would be right up my street.  Wow, was I right.  

The moderator was an attractive and engaging man named Leighton Gage. Two of the panelists will be familiar to regular visitors to MIE: Cara Black and Stan Trollip. I spoke to Stan afterwards, drawn to his and Michael’s books by our mutual love for Botswana.  Stan was the only stranger I spoke to at any length that weekend.

It was after that very successful panel that Leighton founded Murder is Everywhere, which I am proud to say is one of the most successful literary blogs there is.  Being part of this clan is one of my major blessings!

 The only time I was with Leighton in person.
He came to visit me in Florence and we drank a 
lot of wine and talked non-stop


My second Bouchercon wasn't until 2012 in Cleveland. There, I got to be on a panel and palled around with MIE folk I had gotten to know, thanks to Leighton’s invitation to post as a guest.




I don’t have pictures of the 2013 event.  I bet practically no one does.  It was in Albany, and so scattered and ill-organized that I was one of many who spent most of the time trudging from venue to venue and/or trying to find the way into one or another of the buildings.


At Long Beach, no longer feeling like an outsider, I was even awarded a Kubu tee-shirt and, as promised, wore it with pearls to the Saturday night banquet.



 We were in Raleigh, and I was such a part of this group that when I lost my phone, Michael Sears recognized it and rescued it for me!


2016 was our last gathering in NOLA, and it was perfectly lovely, and very well-attended.  (Perhaps that is why the organizers chose New Orleans for this year.  How were they to know that the Louisiana powers that be would ignore science in the worst pandemic in a hundred years.  Or that a terrible storm would actually arrive on the anniversary of the last huge one.)



The Sunshine Noir Contributors

Toronto, as far as I know, was the only time Bouchercon actually claimed its title as an international event.


I skipped 2018, since I already had plans to spend time in Japan climbing mountains with Susan.  

2019 was in Texas, and I avoid Texas, if I can.  Now I see that I should have gone, but how was I to know that the next two years in a row would be bereft of gatherings of the tribe.


Next year we are supposed to meet in Minneapolis, Stan’s hometown—at least his hometown on this continent. We say Murder is Everywhere.  “Everywhere” is a word that also applies to the people who write for this blog. We all move around quite a bit.

Hopefully, in the autumn of 2022 we will all be heading to the same destination.



Sunday, August 29, 2021

Weird, Wild, Wonderful Japan

 --Susan, every other Sunday

I've taken tens of thousands of photos on my travels in Japan. Most of them serve as research for blog posts, articles, or books on various topics. 

But every once in a while (read: fairly regularly, and with notable frequency), I run across something that begs for documentation but doesn't fit neatly into any pigeonhole except the (admittedly large) one labeled "Because Japan."

Today's post contains a smattering of images from that file. I love these pictures, and to be clear: I'm  sharing them not to poke fun at Japanese life (or English--more on that below) but because they bring me joy.

And with so much tragedy and strife running rampant in the world right now, I think all of us could use a smile.

The Japanese reads "yeast bread."
The English part appears to be explaining why there are so many of them in the box.

Quick quiz. This is:
A. Non-dairy creamer
B. Truth in advertising
C. All of the above.

This monument stands at Sensoji, Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple
Yes, those are pigeons; below them are the words and music to a popular Japanese children's song called "Po-po the Pigeon" (Hato po-po)
For the record: I have never seen a pigeon poop on this monument.

Seen in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, aka "Apple Town"
Where I must admit, they do make a mean handheld apple pie.

This is a partial view of a traditional latrine outside a historic house at Nihon Minka-En,
an open-air architectural museum south of Tokyo.
The sign reads "This is an exhibit. You can't use it."
Which compels the lawyer in me to remind you:
If there's a sign saying not to, it generally means that someone did.

"Know your poop" - trailside sign on Odaigahara, a mountain in Nara Prefecture, south of Kyoto.

Speaking of getting a s**tty deal...
If you've ever wondered how if feels to be a night soil collector
(and who hasn't?), you can get your chance at the Edo-Tokyo Museum

Takamaru-kun, the mascot of Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture
I love imagining the planning meeting in which someone
 managed to persuade an entire team of professionals that 
 "Peregrine Falcon Wearing Samurai Helm With a Castle On His Head"
was the way to go. Well played, sir. Well played indeed.

Yes, we have "beware of crow" signs.
Yes, we need them.

Seen in a cafe bathroom in Karuizawa, northwest of Tokyo.
Yes, the fish are alive.
And they've seen some things they won't talk about. 

And while we're on the topic of bathroom humor, 
submitted for your consideration:
A sign taped to the wall of the ladies' room at a cafe in central Tokyo.

With that, I'll leave you to go about your lives--hopefully a little more lightheartedly than before, if just for a moment. But don't worry . . . there's plenty more where this came from, and I'll drop another load on you some time soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Grasp a Sense of Mykonos



This month marks the third decade of Mykonos Confidential Magazine serving as the bible for high-end summertime life on Greece’s island of the winds.  They kindly asked me for my reflections on what this fabled Aegean island offers to the senses of so many.  What I wrote begins immediately after this illustration that I shamelessly lifted from the pages of the magazine—along with the rest of the visuals.


As we learned as schoolchildren, taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell are the classic five senses.  They provide our brains with the sensory information we need to analyze our environment and determine a plan of action.


I can think of no better place to bring your adult sensory apparatus on holiday than Mykonos, for the island offers a potpourri of sensual stimulation unmatched in variation and intensity anywhere in the Aegean. The operative word being sensual, not sexual, for one need not leave home to experience the latter.  


So, what are the special traits of Mykonos that make it such a joy to the senses?  Let’s examine each sense individually.


TASTE. Whether you prefer salty, sweet, bitter, or sour, Mykonos has a place for your indulgences. Today, internationally renowned venues occupy more of the culinary landscape than ever before (just look at the pages of this magazine), yet there are still bars, restaurants, and tavernas offering less expensive alternatives, often delivering more of a traditional “Greek island” experience than their pricier brethren.


TOUCH. Head to any of Mykonos’ dozens of treasured beaches, and strip down to lie beneath the warm Mediterranean sun while summertime Meltemi breezes dance along your body.  When you sense the moment has come to pause this gentle competition among the elements, simply stroll across the sand down to the sea, succumb to the embrace of the Aegean’s crystal-clear waters, and drift beneath a cloudless bright-blue sky in balance with all about you.



SIGHT. The square white Cycladic houses of Mykonos Town have long attracted architectural praise. As the island grew, that simple form remained the backbone of what’s captured the imaginations of generations of visitors.   Even commercial businesses of the sort necessary for supporting a growing prosperous community follow in some measure the island’s classic Cycladic style, for it is through this architectural consistency that Mykonos creates and maintains the mesmerizing visual magic it holds for so many.


SOUND. On Mykonos, sound comes at you in a plethora of languages.  Then there’s the music.  Often great music, played by world famous deejays. Most beach tavernas take great pride in their music, though a few opt for quiet.  There’s even live music to be found, though if you’re looking for a tsabouna experience (Greek bagpipes) its longtime maestro, Mitsaras, recently passed away, but you still might catch one of his disciples playing at a panigiri (celebration of a saint’s name day) or wedding.  If you’re looking for an isolated vista from which to gaze off in silent contemplation, you’ll likely find one on the north side of the island.  But if you’re seeking true serenity, catch a morning boat from the old harbor to the neighboring Holy Island of Delos, just a mile away.  There you can wander to your heart’s content amid restored, millennia-old ruins of the once thriving center of ancient Cycladic life…and still make it back to Mykonos in plenty of time to hit the beach and enjoy the many pleasures of today’s thriving center.


SMELL.  Visitors who only experience Mykonos during its summer season, may be surprised that in springtime the island is green and filled with the scents of flowers, plus whiffs of wild oregano, rosemary, and thyme mixed in among the blossoms.  Other unexpected scents arrive from North Africa when the wind blows in hard from the south. The most common smells are no surprise: ubiquitous crisp sea air, seductive aromas emanating from the island’s restaurants and tavernas, and of course, those that visitors bring along with them from home. Such as that suntan lotion you simply cannot do without.


Having charted the impact of Mykonos on the five senses, I have a word to say about a sixth sense, one that many claim to possess but few do.  


It’s called insight, and when coupled with a gift for bringing out the very best in people, presents a hard combination to beat. Petros Bourovilis possessed those qualities and more. As editor-in-chief and later publisher of Mykonos Confidential, he shepherded the magazine through nearing a twenty-year reign as the class of the island’s summer magazines. Sadly, Petros passed away in 2020.  He is deeply missed. God rest your soul, dear friend.



Thursday, August 26, 2021

Standing with the Stones

 The Rolling Stone Charlie Watts died this week. He was the sensible one I always thought. There are few things more unnerrving than watching Mick Jagger from the front; watching him from the back is  one of them as Charlie recently commented.

As a slight connection, I found myself yesterday, not in the company of Rolling Stones, but with Standing Stones.

Here is the Road To Nowhere- not a song by the Stones, but apt.

Kilmartin Glen lies up between Oban and Lochgilphead on the west of Scotland.You might have thought the Rolling Stones were old but these stones are over 5000 years. The stones of the Glen are one of the most important locations of  Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

About 350 ancient monuments ( 150 of them prehistoric) lie in a 6 miles radius and they  include standing stones, a henge monument and  burial cairns, the oldest burial cairn is over 6000 years old.

 Some of these, and several nearby rocks are carved with cup and ring marks.

Nobody knows why there exist here in such quantity but the land here is very flat, protected by the  surroundings mountains, yet  is within walking distance to sea, sea lochs and freshwater lochs.

  It has been proven, by very clever people, that the standing stones line up in accordance with the times of the mid winter and summer solstice. I confess I didn’t understand that but academics are still arguing about it so I’ll let them get on with it.

Indiana Jones Scottish style.

                                                 Burial cairn

A field of standing stones

There are three stones in this picture,  two in line with this one.

The small print says much about human sacrafices.
We walked round the whole areas, there was nobody else there.
 I could hear screaming and screeching on the wind.
The crime writer was convinced this was the voices of the sacraficed coming back to tell their story.
Mr Spreadsheet checked his phone and pointed out that the wee house in the corner was  in fact a primary school, and it was lunchtime!

Caro Ramsay

Bouchercon hiatus

 Stanley - Thursday

I should have been in New Orleans right now at Bouchercon 2021. But....sigh....I'm not, thanks to B.1.617.2, variant AY.1, variant AY.2, and variant AY.3, which the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classifies as variants of concern.

Instead, I'm looking forward to 2022 to Bouchercon 2022 in my home town of Minneapolis. It will take place on September 8 - 11. Put it on your calendar now and register here.

To start warming things up, eighteen of Minnesota's best writers have written short stories about Minnesotan bad behaviour. Buy it now and prepare for next year.



September 9, 6 pm

Spooner Library, Spooner, Wisconsin

Stanley talks about Kubu and Crystal Nguyen

September 21, 7 pm

Once Upon a Crime, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stanley talks about Crystal Nguyen and Wolfman