Saturday, August 13, 2022

A Greek's View on Where His Country's Brand is Headed

Jeff––Saturday

 

Sixteen or so years ago, when I wrote (but had not yet published) the first of my dozen Greece-based novels, I raised what I saw as existential threats to much of what I treasure about Greece.   Those same concerns have played a part in each of my novels no matter the locales in which I place them, for those threats have only grown––and in the process spawned new and more insidious risks to this glorious country

 

This week an opinion piece appeared in EKATHIMERINI, Greece’s newspaper of record, written by its editor, Alexis Papachelas, speaking out against many of those same threats and more. Whether his words will lead to much overdue action, or simply more benign, political neglect, will determine much about where this unique and precious nation is headed.

 

Here’s Mr. Papachelas’s article, titled “The party has started again.”  It’s generated a lot of chatter on social media.

 


Every Greek is happy that tourism will do so well this year and that foreigners – mainly – are constantly buying land and houses on the islands. But at the risk of sounding grumpy at the time of the “big party,” one must ask questions that demand answers. On the one hand, we have a surge of visitors and buyers; on the other, we have an obvious lack of infrastructure and planning.

 

Where to begin? From the traffic that becomes unbearable during peak season when a distance that once took 15 minutes to cover now takes an hour and a half? The method of collecting and processing garbage that is still from the middle of the 20th century? The lack of water and sewage networks? The ports, whose capacity is for the 1970s? Or from the issues with water?

 

Beyond these issues, however, there is also the bigger picture. It has to do with what each island can withstand, in terms of construction. Many islands, especially in the Cyclades, witnessed years of a building frenzy that turned large areas into urban landscapes. The economic crisis came and construction halted. But now the “party” has started again, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is capable of setting conditions and restrictions.

 

Municipal authorities feel overwhelmed by challenges and pressures from small and larger interests. They compromise, remain idle and collect votes for the next municipal election. The state does nothing because the political cost will be great. People who fought for many years against those mentalities are starting to give up as they get older and see they are losing the fight.

 

My fear is that, in the end, the culture of indifference could boomerang on the country’s tourism brand. This is already the case with some of the most visited islands that cannot solve basic problems, such as security and garbage collection and management. It’s crazy for one to spend millions on a house and then realize that the infrastructure around one’s investment is Third World; or paying 1,000 euros for a room and then getting stuck in endless traffic, or seeing dirty cobblestone streets.

 

A well-traveled friend predicts that, eventually, “salvation” will come from foreigners who buy properties here and will at some point begin to demand infrastructure and services commensurate with the value of their investments. It may be so, but this makes me very angry because it shows that we cannot protect our heritage, our property, our brand by ourselves. And the damage done will be difficult to reverse if there is no planning, restrictions and strict enforcement of terms and rules.

 

Well said, Mr. Papachelas.

 

––Jeff

 

Jeff’s Upcoming Events

 

Bouchercon 2022   Minneapolis, MN

Thursday, September 8th  11:30-12:15 

"Odd Jobs: Writers Write What They Know."

Alan Gordon AKA Allison Montclair (Moderator), Julie Holmes, Donna Andrews, Linda O. Johnston/Lark O. Jensen, Annelise Ryan, Jeffrey M. Siger

Friday, August 12, 2022

Musical Youth




The Seekers - Morningtown Ride (HQ Stereo, 1964/'68) - Bing video


Last week saw the passing of Judy Durham, the lead singer of the Seekers.

Not to be confused with the New Seekers who  had one more voice but were more of an Antipodean, Scots, English mix. 

Judy always had a very distinctive vocal sound, perfect clarity and diction. But as she was born with a lung condition,  I don’t think she ever had the ability to belt it out; she just sang beautifully with a very restrained power. 

In the early 60s  world of Twiggies and Shrimps, she was a very normal looking young woman who struggled with her weight a bit. She was five feet two in her socks. Her rather frumpy frocks became as much of the image of the group as Athol Guy's dark rimmed glasses and double bass.  In the video above, they stroll through the trees, up to a large house,  like a hit squad from Little House On The Prairie.

During the week we’ve been chatting about her passing, folks  favourite seekers song, and how many of their hits Ricky Springfield wrote (Dusty’s brother). 

And in some cases a right good argument ensues about whose version was best; ie Island of Dreams.  Feel free to vote here!

For people my age, their best known song is probably Morningtown Ride, it was the theme music for a kiddies show on the radio in the late 60s, early 70s when we didn’t have a telly and busy mums sat their kids round the wireless to get some peace and quiet.

Most people either sang that song to somebody, or had someone sing it to them. Some people still sing it to their grandchildren today. One patient said that her dad used to stick his head through the curtains of the bed recess and sing it while her 7 brothers and sisters did all the actions. So that would be ten human beings living in the same room. The two adults would have a double bed sized hole in the wall, closed off by a curtain and the kids would be dispersed on every available surface. The baby would be in the bed with the adults, the toddler would be in a bottom drawer somewhere. 

Bed recesses were good places to play hide and seek and the bed could sometimes double for a stage.

Morningtown Ride brought back a long forgotten memory for me. My gran and grandad lived in Priesthill which was a rather 'interesting part' of Glasgow. I use the word interesting as in people cheered when it was knocked down as part of the slum clearances. There was a sign on the way out that said 'Well done on surviving but we'll get you next  time.'

The neighbourhood there was 'lively'.

Billy Connolly talks about the parties in the tenements in those days, folk with a 'carry out' (some cans of lager) would just walk the streets listening. If they heard loud music and the sounds of laughter, they’d be up the close and chap on the door. The phrase "Jimmy said it was okay" was the golden ticket for entry. Those parties would have been raucous and alcohol fuelled. 

Not so in our family. Our parties consisted of cups of tea, egg sandwiches and pancakes – Scottish pancakes - I think they are known as drop scones in some parts of the world, but they are small, like a flat scone.

Anyway, our 'parties' were a musical event, no TV in those days. The wireless was back in its box.  My gran was playing the accordian or the piano, there was another accordian that my dad usually played. It now sits in my writing room. I can't play it. To be honest, I can't even lift the thing up.

My mum played the lute harp, Uncle Gordon was on the spoons with Uncle Lesley ( if he was behaving himself) would be on the saw and fruitbox. And if I was behaving myself, I would have the washing board and thimbles. Bearing in mind I’d be about 4 at the time.

I think my sister turned the pages of the sheet music, and cousin Stuart was on paper comb.  Granddad  had a harmonica.

 Uncle Robert was the clever one and made sure he was always busy and elsewhere on those nights. Infact it makes you wonder, we didn’t have any phones in those days, so these spontaneous get togethers must have been put in the diary weeks ahead. 

From what I can remember, the music of the night went a bit like this;

Morningtown ride obviously.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow. We'd all do the impersonations and then my dad would say rabbit and you couldn’t sing that bit because no one knew what noise a rabbit made. 

The quartermaster's store ; clean version

The Wild Rover; shouting loudly at the 'no nah never' bit.

The Killiecrankie song; killiecrankie is a place, not a disease. Here's a wee clip from the 60's!

The Corries Killiecrankie 1966 - Bing video

Somewhere in amongst all that was The Lord's My Shepherd sung to either Crimond or Amazing Grace both of which my dad played in waltz time.

Sometimes I think its amazing I grew up as normal as I did.

Caro

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Poor old Mercator!

 Stanley - Thursday

Poor old Gerardus Mercator.

We, of course, know him for his maps that most kids in the world have used in their geography classes. They are all something like this.

Map of the world - Mercator projection

Today, however, he is being criticised for being Eurocentric and racist because the projection distorts parts of the globe, minimising the size, for example, of Africa. If you look at the map above, Greenland looks to be about half of the size of Africa. In reality, Africa is fourteen times the size of Greenland. Similarly, Russia looks bigger than Africa, except it is actually just over half the size (17.1 million sq. km. versus  30.37 million sq. km. ).

Most readers will have seen the graphic below, which shows all the countries that could fit inside Africa.



The reality is that Mercator developed the projection for the sole purpose of helping ships navigate using only a compass. And in doing so distorted the sizes of countries - making those farthest from the equator relatively bigger and those closer to the equator relatively smaller. Doing this allowed ships to follow a constant bearing from one place to another. This is called a rhumb line.

You may be asking why he had to distort the map in the first place? The answer is that it is impossible to create a flat map of earth that maintains both size and shape.

If you were to put circles of equal size on a globe, then project them onto a flat surface using Mercator's projection, the circles would look like this.


That's why Africa looks so small and Greenland so big.

While the Mercator project distorts the size of countries, it does preserve their shape (which isn't particularly useful for maritime navigation!).

About fifty years ago, some people started questioning the implications of the Mercator projection from a social perspective. Why are the European countries so big relative to African countries? Big is usually associated with power and strength, so doesn't distorting countries this way give kids an incorrect perception of the power, both military and political, of these countries?

Why are Western countries at the top of the map? Doesn't that give observers a feeling of that the top ones are superior and those at the bottom of the map inferior?

I think these are reasonable questions to ask. However, to accuse Mercator of pushing a social agenda with his map is ridiculous.

One of the people pushing this perspective was German film maker, Arno Peters. He developed a projection that generally maintained the size of countries but not their shape.

This is a map using the Peters projection of equal-sized circles. You can see clearly the differences in distortion compared to Mercator.




On a normal map, it looks like this.




In fact, Peters' projection had been developed over a hundred years earlier by the Rev. James Gall in Scotland. The projection is now known as the Gall-Peters projection.

A lot of people have taken Peter's (and others') arguments seriously, and now the Mercator projection is banned in in a number of school districts in the USA and by UNESCO. In its place is the Gall-Peters projection.

(What maps are used in countries outside the USA? Readers please chime in.)

The reality is that it is impossible to project a globe onto a plane without distortion. This is a useful short video that explains these problems.

There are actually hundreds of different map projections, each useful for a specific purpose - accurate for that purpose, and inaccurate for most others.

Even when i was young, I had a problem with globes.


If you take a close look at a globe, it is obvious that most of the land mass is in what we call the northern hemisphere.

How is that possible? With the earth spinning, you would think it would be at the equator.

Sixty or so years ago when I first noticed this, I had no social implications in my head. My concern was more practical. 

Dirt and rocks are heavier than water. Right? So, since there is obviously more dirt and rocks in the northern hemisphere, it has to be heavier than the southern hemisphere. Right? And since heavier things sink to the bottom, what we call the northern hemisphere should be at the bottom of the globe. Right? So why is it at the top?

As I became more socially aware, I began to resent the fact that South Africa was at the bottom of all maps. That, together with the weight issue, made me look around. And this is what I found.




Much better - even though it has distortions. I like this perspective.

And here is a different focus. It has a very different feel to it.


You may have noticed that Google Maps, for example, still uses the Mercator projection even though country sizes are wrong. Why is this?

It boils down to the fact that when using a GPS, you are looking at a minute part of a country - so small, in fact, that the distortion is irrelevant. And since the country shape is preserved, the map on the GPS is so close to reality to be not worth worrying about.

So, to get back where I started, I feel sympathy for Gerardus Mercator, unfairly blamed for all sorts of social crimes. However, his maps have caused reasonable questions to be raised. They deserve a debate.

During my research for this article, I found many videos of interest.

This one is a pretty good one about map projections and their problems.

And this one, despite a few errors, is an entertaining one from West Wing.

_____________________________________________

September events:

 

Launch of A Deadly Covenant

 

Wednesday, 7. 4:30 – 5:30 pm 

Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour at Valley Bookstore

The Zephyr Theatre, 601 N Main St, StillwaterMN 55082

Find out more about the event HERE.

 

Friday, 9, 1:45 – 2:30 pm 

BOUCHERCON Panel:

The Mystery of Multiple Points of View and Multiple Timelines (Writers use dual perspectives/multiple narrators and alternating timelines to tell their stories.)

Marty Ambrose; William Boyle; Mary R. Davidsaver; B.A. Shapiro; Julie Carrick Dalton; Stanley Trollip (Moderator)

Saturday, 10, 11:30 -12:15 pm 

BOUCHERCON Panel:

Under the Sun or Below Zero (You’ve heard of “setting as a character.” Well … what about the weather?  These authors’ works represent a dichotomy of climates where rising temps or bone-chilling cold are just as effective as any villain.)

Alexander McCall Smith; Stan Trollip (Michael Stanley); Catriona McPherson; Jo Nesbø ; Matthew Goldman (Moderator); Caro Ramsay

Thursday, 15, 12:30 – 1:00 pm (UK time) 

Virtual event at the International Agatha Christie Festival

Agatha in Africa

Michael, Stanley and Zimbabwe author Bryony Rheam discuss Agatha Christie’s trip to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia and its connection with her mystery thriller The Man in the Brown Suit.

 

Monday 19, 6:00 pm 

Nokomis Library event

5100 S 34th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55417 Phone: 612-543-6800

 

Wednesday 21, 6:00 pm 

Thomas St. Angelo Public Library of Cumberland event

1305 2nd Ave, Cumberland, WI 54829. Phone: 715-822-2767

 

Thursday 22, 6:30 pm 

Spooner Library event

421 High St, Spooner, WI 54801 Phone. 715-635-2792

 

Saturday 24, 1200

The Bookstore at Fitger’s

600 East Superior Street, Duluth MN 55802


Tuesday, 27, 6:00 pm 

Launch of A Deadly Covenant at Once Upon A Crime

604 W. 26th Street, MinneapolisMN 5540 Phone: 612.870.3785 Email: onceuponacrimebooks@gmail.com

With Mary Ann Grossman

October events:

 

Saturday 1, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Meet us at the Deep Valley Book Festival

Mankato, MN

Free book festival. We’ll be there from 9am to 3pm. The event takes place at the WOW! Zone, conveniently located at 2030 Adams Street in Mankato, just off Highway 14.

 

Thursday 6, 7:00 pm

Barnes and Noble HarMar

2100 Snelling Ave N, Roseville, MN 55113

 

Saturday 8. 

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 Phone:(480) 947-2974 Toll Free: (888) 560-9919 Email: sales@poisonedpen.com

Stanley joins Barbara Peters on Saturday afternoon to chat about A Deadly Covenant.

 

Friday, 14, 10 am 

Lake Country Booksellers event

4766 Washington Ave, White Bear Lake, MN 55110 Phone: 651-426-0918

 

Saturday, 15, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm 

Twin Cities Book Festival

Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Saint Paul, Minnesota


Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A Showdown of Peaches

 Sujata Massey



I consider myself tolerant of heat. Yet over the last few days, I'll admit that the air in Baltimore, Maryland, has felt like a poison gas sauna. And it's not just me. Even Daisy, my energetic Yorkshire terrier, refuses to take a walk.


At the same time, the early mornings of late are wonderful—warm without being oppressive, and somewhat shady in our neighborhood. I try to get to the farmers market on the weekend and have been rewarded with gorgeous produce that’s not available other times of the year. I'm getting purslane to use in salads. Tiny sweet plums, for devouring in two bites. Melons that taste like the sweetest perfume, and fragrant boughs of basil. Every color of tomato, and what I wait for each year: white and golden peaches. 




 

Because I'm I in an end stage of editing (Perveen Mistry Book 4 almost turned in), I decided to celebrate with a relaxing hands-on activity that was far from my keyboard. I'd been thinking about a paleo peach cake recipe that my sister emailed me. Also, I'd noticed an old recipe for something called Baltimore Peach Cake was doing laps on the Internet. I thought, why not throw caution to the wind and just bake them both? Yes, on the same day. It would be a showdown of two different styles of cake.

.

My bet was in favor of the more historic recipe, Baltimore peach cake. I first tasted it during my early years in the city, when I'd spot $3 pieces of this bargain cake wrapped as a to-go item on the counters of casual cafes and bakeries--but only in mid to late summer. I didn’t know then that “Baltimore Peach Cake” was an actual recipe for a simple yeast-dough cake topped with sliced peaches. And everyone in the city knew it, just as they know about sauerkraut being an important Thanksgiving dish. 


The most-shared published recipe for this dessert originates with an alternative newspaper, The Baltimore City Paper, which I freelanced for toward the end of college. I didn't come across the recipe, then, though. And truly, it goes back to Baltimore’s German community. I take this as gospel because I’ve had the fraternal twin to this cake, a yeast dough topped with plums, made by my own German mother. My mom’s pflaumenkuchen was rather sour because we were limited to California prune-plums that shipped to Minnesota; there were no plum trees in the state. Pflaumenkuchen was served with a bowl of sugar next to it, so the eater could ladle the sweeteners it sorely needed on top. I did enjoy plum cake, but it was strictly a connoisseur's dessert.

 

So how did a German cake get labeled a Baltimore cake? The answer is immigration. Germans began settling in the area of the Chesapeake that became the city of Baltimore since the early 1700s. The largest waves of Germans came during the 19th century, when the Port of Baltimore was the second largest entry point for immigrants to the United States. Sections of West Baltimore were built up with elegant townhouses into a prime residential district for wealthy German Jews, civic leaders who founded long-gone department stores like Hutzlers and the Hecht Company. Neighborhoods like Highlandtown, Federal Hill and Locust Point were full of German-descended Baltimoreans of all income levels and the Lutheran and Catholic religions.  It’s easy to imagine the sound of German being spoken by neighbors sitting out on their marble rowhouse steps (we call them ‘stoops’) in hot summer evenings. And Mutti (or Mutti’s granddaughter) arriving with a piece of peach cake on a napkin for a friend stopping by to catch the breeze.

 

I believe it’s the typically hot summers in our Mid-Atlantic area that make our peaches so juicy and sweet—and also the warm temperatures in July and August that make baking this cake possible. After all, it’s a yeast dough. Once that's coddled and stretched into a pan, you top it with straight lines of peach slices. It's that simple. However, the time to prep and bake was about three hours for me. Not a quickie, by any means. 





 

The second recipe on my agenda was a gluten- and refined sugar-free cake recipe from food writer Michelle Tam, whose website Nom Nom Paleo is wildly popular with people eating modified diets. The so-called 'paleo diet' is not necessarily low in calories. The eating style agets its name from the word “paleolithic,” and involves meats, vegetables and some fats, and avoids beans, milk, sugar and white flour. So this paleo peach cake recipe calls for maple sugar (although I found that maple sugar is actually VERY sweet). The cake’s batter contained both almond flour, a favorite of mine, and cassava flour, which I had never tried before. I was feeling slightly daring to try it, because I’d heard the tuber plant from South America, Africa and Asia is mildly poisonous if you eat it raw. However, if the cassava plant is dried and ground, the poison isn’t there anymore, and it becomes a highly nutritious flour. The recipe’s other ingredients ranged from the ordinary—butter, vanilla, eggs, vanilla extract and baking soda—to the more unusual: ground cardamom and canned coconut milk. I am a fanatic for cardamom and had some single-origin cardamom pods from Kerala that I was eager to pulverize for the sake of this cake.




 

Baking takes time, so I started my day of desserts by baking the Baltimore peach cake, because it was a yeast dough. I rarely do anything with yeast, and although the packet I opened was not yet expired, the granules within refused to foam up when added to warm water. I had to microwave it 15 seconds to get any action. Furthermore, the dough refused to rise, and I had a sneaking suspicion it was because my air conditioning was too powerful. In the end, I took the bowl outside, put a plate on top to keep out the bugs, and let it rise in the good old Baltimore 90- plus degree morning. 

 

The exposure therapy worked! After an hour, I thought the dough had grown slightly. I was able to easily stretch the dough to fit a 9x13-inch pan. Baltimore peach cake recipes aren’t usually specific about whether you need to peel the peaches. However, the paleo peach cake recipe called for getting the skins off, so I did take the skins off all the peaches by dipping them for a minute in boiling water. How pretty and promising the Baltimore peach cake looked once the peaches were laid in place!





This second recipe, for the Paleo peach cake, called for a round pan. The recipe's author, Michelle Tam, included tips like practicing a layout of peaches on a plate before doing the real thing, and cutting out parchment liner for the pan that makes complete sense for lifting out a completed cake. Also, I only had to deal with cake batter in this recipe--not yeast-based dough. I was pleased that this cake took less than two hours, start to finish.




 

Even six hours after baking, my kitchen was filled with the scent of fruit and sugar. I tried both cakes warm, a few minutes out of the oven. And what a surprise--I lost my earlier bet with myself. I found the Paleo cake more moist, flavorful, and worthy of gorging. The cardamom and almond flour were fantastic. However, the Baltimore peach cake contained less sugar per square inch than the Paleo one, which makes it a great dessert for people who are avoiding super sweet foods. And a pretty decent snack to take in the car, or to have with morning coffee.








I sampled each cake right after they were baked. In the evening, I had another sliver with ice cream. The fury of heat had been swept off in a massive rain storm. It was refreshing to go out with my cake and sit on the porch, savoring memories of past Baltimore summers, and knowing  I’d spent one of the summer's worst days like an old-time Baltimore lady. 

 

My revised Baltimore Peach Cake Recipe (inspired by the Baltimore City Paper)

Makes at least 12 servings

¼ cup of warm water (no more than 110 degrees)

1 individual package of active dry yeast

1 cup of milk, scalded

¼ to ½ cup of sugar, depending on your taste

1 teaspoon fine salt

¼ cup of melted unsalted butter

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 cups of flour 

1 teaspoon of crushed cardamom seeds taken from pods, or powdered cardamom spice 

Vegetable oil for greasing bowl

4 ripe peaches, briefly immersed in boiling water to peel off the skins

4 tablespoons of peach or apricot preserves or orange marmalade for glaze (optional)

 

1.     Set up the yeast by putting it in the ¼ cup of warm water for 5-10 minutes.

2.     Then, add the yeast water to a large bowl that contains all the sugar, salt and melted butter, and the beaten egg. Stand mixer or by hand are both fine.

3.     Mix the cardamom with the flour in another bowl.

4.     Add half the flour-cardamom mixture to the wet ingredients; then add the remaining amount. If the dough you’ve made is way too sticky, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of flour. 

5.     Knead the dough for two minutes, then put it in an oiled bowl, cover it, and let it rest and rise for at least an hour in a warm place. It should double. Mine didn’t, but it was still ok.

6.     After that first hour of rising, punch down the dough, and let it rise for another half hour, or hour, if you are not seeing much progress.

7.     Fit the dough into a buttered 9-by-13 inch baking pan.

8.     Pit the peaches, and then slice them ½ inch thick and lay atop the dough in rows. Press down for emphasis.

9.     Bake at 375 degrees about 30 to 35 minutes, or until dough’s edge is golden-brown.

10.  When the cake comes out, brush it with melted preserves or marmalade. Eat as soon as you like, either plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.

 

 

I only made one modification (a marmalade glaze) to the gluten and refined sugar-free dessert described by me as a paleo peach cake.  Therefore, I’m sharing the original  recipe from the Nom Nom Paleo site. Technically, it's called Fresh Peach Cake and was created by Michelle Tam.