Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Tinos International Literary Festival and Me.

Today is the third and final day of the 4th Tinos International Literary Festival held on Mykonos’ neighboring Aegean Greek island of Tinos. 

The harbor of Tinos is nine miles northwest and virtually equidistant from the old and new ports of Mykonos. How long that trip takes depends upon whether you travel by freighter, ferry, or fast boat.  Since I brought my car, I went by ferry, and shall return the same way on Sunday.

Almost every regularly scheduled commercial passenger vessel in or out of Athens’ port cities of Piraeus and Rafina that stop on Mykonos also stop on Tinos. That’s not just because Tinos lacks an airport, but because it serves as home to the Lourdes of Greece—The Church of Panagia Evangelistria—and the extraordinarily influential earthly power behind it, The Panhellenic Holy Foundation of our Lady of the Annunciation of Tinos, better known simply as The Evangelistria Foundation.  Not surprisingly, the Evangelistria Foundation is one of the sponsors of the Festival, along with the Municipality of Tinos and The Tinos Cultural Foundation.

The Festival takes place in three unique locations on the island, and is described by its organizers as aiming “to present the various cultural sides of Tinos while making the island a reference point and meeting place of international contemporary literature. The program includes public speeches, readings, discussions, roundtable meetings between the public and the writers, in combination with local music and dances. Authors and poets will read their work in their native language, while the texts will be available in Greek and English translations."

My involvement in all this stems from an invitation I received from Dinos Siotis, Artistic Director of the Tinos Cultural Foundation.  He was familiar with the Andreas Kaldis novel I’d placed on Tinos (#4 Target: Tinos) but did not realize I lived on Mykonos. Imagine his great joy upon realizing the travel costs I’d just saved him.

As it turns out, I’m the only USA attendee and only mystery writer among a handful of non-poets. In fact, I’m the only native English-speaking participant, the rest hailing from Greece, Albania, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Kurdistan, Mexico, and Slovenia.  In deciding what to read (and have translated into Greek) I originally went with a lengthy funeral lamination poem I’d composed for my new Kaldis novel coming out in October.  Don’t worry; I won’t saddle you with any of that here. I’ve already covered that ground elsewhere.

US-China relations poetically at work

But on reflection I decided to avoid competing with such extraordinarily talented, well-recognized international poets, and played to the local audience by allowing them to hear how a non-Greek mystery writer described their island’s most hallowed institutions and landscapes.  I delivered that address at the opening ceremonies Thursday night, and I’m still breathing and out of custody.

Blending in with the audience.

Today I participate with my new-found colleagues is a round table discussion open to public participation, titled, “The Writer in an Era of Crisis.” We’ll see how I fare in that. 

Below are some photos of the events and venues, capturing at times some of the participants, namely:

Yiorgos Blanas / Greece
Xenophon Brountzakis / Greece
Stratis Haviaras / Greece
Christos Ikonomou / Greece
Laurie Keza / Greece
Elsa Korneti / Greece,
Kleopatra Lyberi / Greece
Yiorgos Rouvalis / Greece
Klety Sotiriadou / Greece
Minas Vintiadis / Greece,
Ardita Jatru / Albania
Maja Klaric / Croatia
Hiwa Panahi / Iranian Kurdistan
Evridiki Periocleous-Papadopoulou / Cyprus
Enrique Servin Herrera / Mexico
Jeffrey Siger / USA
Nicolaj Stockholm / Denmark
Natassa Svikart Zumer / Slovenia
Mindy Zhang / China.

Dinos Siotis, artistic director of Festival and his wife, Barbara
Our chaperone, Xenophon

Checking in...
Checking out...
The pool area

Poetic inspiration in a bottle
Our limo
Taking our show on the road
Croatia and China
First night line up, China, GR, US, GR, Mexico, GR

Yes, she's reading poem composed on her fan!
Preparing for after party
It’s been a remarkable experience.  And with any luck I’ve convinced some of my newfound colleagues to do guest spots on MIE, though considering their preferred literary form, I think it more appropriate to label their contributions as “PIE.”


Friday, July 25, 2014

Facing Up To It...

Many moons ago I sat  through a lecture on facial recognition.  The lecturer put on the screen  a selection of faces - all blonde ladies. There were 30 pictures and we had to study them for three minutes and say how many women there actually were. I spotted an unusual eyebrow more than once…. 15 times in fact. Ahhhh! I thought, there are only 16 ladies featured. 15 singletons but every second picture was Miss Eyebrow. The lecturer was trying to catch me out.

Of course there were only two ladies…15 pictures of each. Most of the students in our group answered between 15-30 different women. In Holland, students on the same course got it 100% correct. Because the ladies were a Dutch pop star and a Dutch newsreader. So if you ‘recognise’ a face, you are more likely to …err… recognise a face.  

The moral of that story is that you should not be a career criminal if you look like somebody famous.  Unless you bear a remarkable resemblance to another career criminal I suppose.

Facial recognition is fraught with problems. We find it difficult to verbalise specific facial features unless they are odd in some way. It would be difficult to describe George Clooney


to a another person well enough  for them to recognise who exactly you were describing, but throw in a notable feature like Owen Wilson’s nose,

 Bruce Forsyth’s chin,


 Prince Charles’ ears
and it becomes easier. Stature, race, height and build are too generic for recognition.

But unfortunately for forensic purposes, most folk are average. Which makes mathematical sense.

The photofit system invented in the 70’s was useful, but not realistic. It suffered  from weird horizontal lines. It was difficult for the witness to  specify a likeness as it relied heavily on single feature recall while our brains use a more holistic system. As humans, we see a face, not a set of eyes, a nose, mouth etc.  We have no memory for those individual features. And there was the obvious problem that there might be no match in the  photo fit system for the witness to use. Does it actually possess Owen Wilson’s nose among its variations. The system was only ever supposed to give a ‘type likeness’, never a recognisable image of the specific features of the person concerned.
Here are some famous folk  by photofit. I managed to guess two correctly.

Answers below...

And I had a go at photofitting myself. I know my own face reasonably well but it’s c**p isn’t it!

Another test?  A  composite picture that consists of the top half of one famous face and the bottom of another. The brain struggles. So automatically we cover top or bottom with our hand and immediately say

David Bowie and Harrison Ford

Angelina and Helena

Scarlett and Helen 

                                                                  Hugh and Meryl

Separated, we can hone in on a feature we recognise but our brain can’t pull that recognisable feature out the composite.
Only the whole face is ever stored in our memories.
You can see it is still problematic – and that is with faces you know well. How accurate would it be for a stranger’s face seen fleetingly, in an emotionally charged situation?

Now there is a more advanced system. The computer gives nine basic images… then hones and morphs the face as a whole, remodelling as the witness says ‘image four is good’,  but eyes more like five. And the computer remodels with the witnesses best guess. Even at that the witness was describing  Dame Judy Dench. The system operator guessed he was trying to describe Jo Brand.


Recognition we find easy, but recall is not.

2.5% of the population have prosopagnosia – face blindness, including Brad Pitt seemingly. Does that mean I could tell him I  was Angelina and he would  believe me.
‘Monica’ has the condition. Her own daughter was standing in front of her in a bus queue and she didn’t recognise her at all,  until she spoke, and moved.  Monica is drawn to distinctive looking people. She is fine meeting folk for the first time, but when she meets them again she has to rely on them recognising her and saying hello to her.

But then we have contact bias. We recognise best the type of faces that we see every day. Somebody who lives in a white society can discriminate fine details of the ‘white face’ as a whole, but when confronted with an Asian or Polynesian face – they will recognise only the racial features. 

Some bloke who was nifty with a pen wrote this….
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under’t.

(from Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5)

Wouldn’t stand up in court though would it?

The answers....

Caro Ramsay  25 07 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A wild woman

I am currently reading a fascinating book called WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES – Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.  It is research for the thriller Michael and I are working on that has an extraordinary woman as the protagonist.

The word wild here does not mean what we currently associate with the word, such as crazy, uncontrolled, or outside normal behaviour.  Simply put, it means natural, as in close to nature.  And close to nature doesn’t mean living in a jungle or on a beach.  A wild woman is a woman who is as close as she can be to her natural self – not constrained by male, female, or societal expectations, not afraid to show her true self, and with an awareness of what that is.

Needless to say, the wilder a woman gets, in the sense above, the more frequently she is frowned upon or ostracized.  She makes people uncomfortable, usually men.  My guess is that woman too, at least publicly, shun her because that is what they are meant to do, but perhaps deep down there is a twinge of envy.

My aunt Dorothy was the wildest woman I’ve ever known.  And she certainly suffered the approbation of many of her contemporaries.  What was so wonderful about her was that she was remarkably talented in many ways and wasn’t afraid to let her talents blossom.

There are of course favorite family stories of her exploits.  Among other things, she was one of the first women pilots in South Africa and won a prestigious air race against an all male field.  She must have loved that.  She was also South African junior tennis champion and a fine field hockey player.  I think she represented the Transvaal province in that sport.

Then there is the time, the story goes, that she was at a party, probably in the late 1930s, dressed in her full-length evening dress, when she accepted a dare to walk out of the party and go to Cape Town – nearly 1500 kms (9000 miles) away - just as she was.  So she walked out then and there.  For nearly two weeks, nobody heard from her, neither those who dared her to go, nor her family, which was beside itself with worry.  But she made it to Cape Town and then back again.

During World War II, she joined one of the women’s auxiliary services and served in Kenya where, after the war, she decided to settle.  It was here that she became well known for the polo ponies she reared.  But it's another event that put her in the headlines around the world.

In the early1950s, the independence struggle had started in Kenya, and the most active against the oppressive British rule were the Mau Mau headed by Jomo Kenyatta, who was later to become President of an independent Kenya.  The Mau Mau freedom fighters often used violent means to discourage the mainly British settlers and to make the country inhospitable to colonists.  For example, some farmers were murdered (mutilated is a better word) by the Mau Mau, as were some indigenous Blacks who either supported the whites for whom they worked or who opposed the freedom movement.  

Jomo Kenyatta as president

The situation became sufficiently grim that all farmers took careful precautions.  My aunt and a friend, Kitty Hesselberger, lived on a farm in the highlands.  On one occasion, the Mau Mau attacked their stables, hamstringing the polo ponies.  As a result, every evening when the two women were sitting in the lounge reading, they had handguns on their laps or next to them.

Armed grocery shoppers

On January 5th, 1953, they were listening to the evening news, Dorothy in her chair and Kitty standing at a table cracking nuts, leaving her gun on the mantelpiece.  One of their servants came in carrying hot water, but he looked frightened, which alertted the two women.  A few seconds later, several large men came in wielding pangas (cane knives or machettes) or simis (two-edged knifes sharp enough to shave with).

One of the men grabbed Kitty and pushed her over the back of a chair and was about to stab her with his simi when their pet boxer dog, Damsel, flew at the man and caught his knife arm in his teeth.  Meanwhile Dorothy shot one attacker, then turned her gun on the one who had grabbed Kitty.  She shot him, but unfortunately also killed Damsel.  The man, wounded, ran from the house, only to collapse and die outside.  Seeing another fleeting figure, Kitty dropped that man with a single shot.  

Then they heard noises from the toilet – the door was locked.  So they blasted through the door, but the man, also wounded, had climbed out of the window and escaped.

Source unknown, but pretty accurate!

Outside every farmhouse in the area was a light at night that neighbours could see.  If it went out, the neighbours came to the rescue.  Kitty shot the light out, and an hour later help arrived, only to find three dead bodies, one dead boxer, and two women, who probably each had a scotch in their hand and a cigarette in their mouth.

Aunt Dorothy and Kitty Hesselberger shortly after their ordeal

Aunt Dorothy later in life with a painting of Damsel in the background.  Damsel's collar is drape over the picture.

Dorothy and Kitty were the first civilians to repel a Mau Mau attack, which deed was reported around the world and eventually made itself into their friend, Robert Ruark’s book Something of Value.  He wrote an interesting article about the Mau Mau in Time magazine, which you can read here.

Cover of Time containing Robert Ruark's article on the Mau Mau. (That's not him on the cover!!)

The women received the Order of the British Empire, and Damsel was given the doggie equivalent.  I have a painting of him, his citation, and his collar in my home in Cape Town.

I didn’t see much of Dorothy when I was young because she lived in Kenya and I didn’t.  But her visits were always eagerly anticipated, not only for her unconventional approach to the world, but also for her stories.  I remember once I was obviously talking too much at dinner and holding up progress, so she grabbed the back of my head and pushed it into the soup bowl admonishing me to suck it up so we could get to the main course.

I think that it was after that visit the she and another aunt, Margaret, drove from Johannesburg to Nairobi in a Morris Minor.  What a trip that must have been.

After I left school, I saw her more often, usually in England where she spent many years after leaving Kenya, or in South Africa where she spent the rest of her life.

When she turned ninety, I gave her as a present a flip in a Tiger Moth – an open cockpit biplane, similar to the one she had learned in in the 1930s.  Even though her eyesight had deteriorated considerably by then, I don’t think I have ever seen a happier person as her after she landed.  She was ecstatic.

Aunt Dorothy after her flip in a Tiger Moth

Dorothy, or Dot as we called her when she wasn’t around, was a truly wild woman.  She has always been an inspiration to me – her life and attitude inspired me to listen for my own drum and then to march to it.  Sometimes it's not easy to hear it, and sometimes it's not easy to march to it.  But I certainly enjoy it when I do.

Stan - Thursday

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

King of the Monsters!

I am presently in Orlando Florida, writing away. Between chapters I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, mostly shopping related activities. One of the shops I have gone to is one named Party Central, selling supplies for various fetes. The reason I went into this establishment does not relate to the party I intend to hold for Iceland Noir in November. Those of you intending to visit can relax, the refreshments will be of a more grown up kind.

My grandson is however turning 8 in September and it was for this occasion that we took him to this esteemed Party Central boutique. He was to pick out plates, napkins and party favours for the friends and relatives he wants to invite. There were various themes to pick from, so many that he was hard pressed to choose. He ended up deciding on a Godzilla/Despicable Me blend. I must say that the indigo and greyish setting of the Godzilla stuff clashes horribly with the bright yellow of Despicable Me but this did not seem to bother my grandson so who am I to butt in. I must admit I did try to talk him out of it. More than once.

My grandson has never seen a Godzilla movie, despite being very enamoured with his image on the napkins. Honestly, what is there not to like? Fangs and claws and spiky stuff sticking out of his back. Hundreds of tons of angry dinosaur-thing. But I thought it right to get him acquainted with his theme of choice, i.e. half of it anyway and have him watch the original Godzilla movie. I have seen the new one recently out and it did not feel age appropriate for a still 7-year old. Nor was it very good.

Despite having seen all of the old Japanese Godzilla instalments as a child it turns out my memory did not do them justice. They are a bit goofy but fun. Not only the guys in monster suits beating up on each other that I recall. The best one of those we have now watched was the 1956 instalment: Godzilla King of the Monsters! (the exclamation mark is not my addition - it is part of the title)

What makes this movie interesting is the postproduction which seems to have incorporated an American character into the original Japanese movie. This must have been done for the foreign market and is today hilarious. The American actor is supposed to be a journalist and for most of the movie he is the narrator, explaining what is going on in a very dramatic voice. He is also seen in added scenes where he stands with two or three Japanese looking people – brow furrowed and always, always: pipe in hand. When he speaks to the other, original major characters these people always have their heads turned away from the screen so that we only see the backs of their heads. Obviously because these are not the actors but just some black haired people in LA used as stand-ins.

The American journalist character wears the same suit for all of the incorporated scenes: black with a white shirt and a skinny tie. Even when he is shown running up and down a mountain he is wearing the suit. And smoking the pipe. The only time the pipe is missing is when he lies on a stretcher after having been inside a house Godzilla attacked. My grandson noticed this and promptly noted that the pipe had probably been broken when the building collapsed. He somehow manages to find an open tobacco store in smashed up Tokyo as he continues smoking once he has left the hospital.

Anyway. I recommend this movie. It has everything going for it, a monster, an American that has been pasted into the storyline, a scientist with an eye patch and an oxygen bomb that is so terrible the movie’s maiden nearly faints when shown how it works in a fish tank. The final scene with the eye-patch scientist in a scuba suit that seems to date from the time of Jules Verne is not to be missed. Amazing stuff.

Finally. We have come a long way since 1956. We do not need to add English speaking characters into foreign movies in order for people to watch them world over. Not that I have anything against English, I sure understand it better than Korean for example. Bringing me to my true recommendation: if you have not familiarised yourself with South Korean movies you are missing out. They are great, being both plot and character driven and containing some extremely good acting.

In case you are interested, to start off try these: I Saw the Devil, Chaser Old Boy and Cresent Moon. You will not regret it although some of the scenes and rather tough to watch. Make that very tough to watch.

You see, Godzilla has nothing on humans when it comes to violence.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paris prison + Gare de l'Est Nazi style

Last week I posted about the old women's prison torn down in the 1930's. Here's breaking news about the last prison in Paris, La Santé. Update today from the Guardian: 
France is about to turn the page on a shameful chapter of its penal history by renovating its most notorious prison, La Santé.
La Santé, named after a neighbouring hospital in southern Paris, has held some of Frances's most famous prisoners in its colourful 147-year history. They have included poets Paul Verlaine and Guillaume Apollinaire, and the playwright Jean Genet, as well as Carlos the Jackal, war criminal Maurice Papon and the Algerian revolutionary leader who became independent Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella. Although the prison had a VIP wing, Ben Bella told an interviewer: "The French put me with the prisoners who were being guillotined. I could see the guillotine from my cell."
In 2000, the prison's chief medical officer was so shocked by the brutal conditions in the overcrowded jail that she published a diary about her seven-year experience that sparked a parliamentary inquiry.

"Three inmates fought with knives. I was standing in blood until about midnight. The next day, it starts all over again … multiple injuries. It's the humidity, the sun, the suffocating heat in the cells that makes them go crazy," Véronique Vasseur wrote in the diary. Her description of a jail infested by rats, cockroaches and lice was a vision of hell. Some prisoners in the cramped shared cells drank drain cleaner or rat poison to put an end to their misery and others suffered from skin rashes caused by the lack of hygiene with only two showers allowed each week, she said.
La Santé was built to hold 1,400 prisoners, but at the time of the exposé by Vasseur – who received death threats after publication – it was housing more than 2,300. Since that time the most insalubrious blocks have been closed, and on Sunday, the last 60 prisoners were moved out under reforms ordered by justice minister Christiane Taubira, who has ordered a four-year facelift.
When the prison reopens in 2019, it will contain 800 cells.

I'd meant to post about visiting under Gare de l'Est, the train station where many French soldiers, 'le poilu', left for the front in 1914.  This time to highlight what we saw in the bunkers circa the Second World War, the war the Great War was fought to prevent.  I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

an aerial view of the station and lines leading East
Below Gare de l'Est the hangout room for the train hobby club - all former and present SNCF who love trains big and small
Here's a set up and the club work on this all the time
Going deeper below the station
Ring the bell to enter the shelter/bunker

This is what it looks like on the platform and you can get out through the grill if needed. I used that in a book and was so thrilled to have this photo as proof.
Cara - Tuesday