Sunday, May 1, 2016

Let the Beltane Fires Burn

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Since today's May 1, and I'm following on the heels of Jeff Siger's fantastic blog about Eastern Orthodox Easter in Mykonos (here's the link, if you missed it), we're heading 4,000 kilometers north and west, to look at another island's spring tradition:

Beltane.

Beltane Fire on Calton Hill (public domain image)

Beltane was one of the most important Gaelic seasonal festivals, and traditionally falls on May 1, halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In Ireland (the island we're speaking of today) the festival has been celebrated for over a thousand years.

As Beltane approached, many Irish families--and in some cases, entire villages--would decorate a hawthorn tree with ribbons, shells, and flowers. Originally, the embellishments were intended to please the local spirits and aos sí (literally "people of the mounds") and thereby encourage a blessing or answered prayers. Over time, the custom lost its spiritual significance in many places. (A not-uncommon fate for religious rituals in the modern age.) The tree (which was sometimes a symbolic branch, and sometimes an entire tree) became known as the "May Bush" or, sometimes, the "wishing tree."

Not a May Bush. Possibly the home of the aos si.

People also celebrated the approach of Beltane by decorating homes, especially doorways and windows, with yellow flowers, and by leaving gifts of food on the doorstep for the local spirits.

Traditional Beltane rituals included lighting ritual fires and driving cattle between, around, or over them while druids offered prayers for the beasts' protection during the summer season. (Since Beltane coincided with the movement of grazing animals to summer pastures, the herds required special protection at this time of year.)

In need of protection, at Beltane and otherwise.

Ritual meals were also cooked on the bonfires, and after the fire died the ashes were used to bless and protect people, crops, and animals. Farmers also made ritual circumnavigations of their farms and holdings, saying prayers and performing rituals at the cardinal points of the compass, to ensure fertility and blessings for the harvest.

People also visited holy wells and other druidic power sites (like stone circles) during Beltane, either for organized rituals or for personal worship and prayer. By tradition, people circumnavigate these sites on foot and moving from east to west--following the path of the sun.

Druidic stone circle, Galway

When the Catholic church arrived in Ireland, many of the druids' holy wells became the sites of churches (to take advantage of the local religious customs, to wipe them out, or both, depending on who's telling the tale).

Killursa Church, Galway

Killursa Church in Galway is constructed on the site of one such well, which apparently lies directly beneath the petitioners' entrance to the church. (If true, this represents a major offense to the druids, who considered it absolutely forbidden to step on or cross directly over a holy well.)

A pagan holy well apparently lies beneath this door.

While teaching at a writers' retreat and tour in Ireland last summer, we visited a number of druidic sites, including some that featured in Beltane ceremonies and other Gaelic rituals.

Leprechaun Hole. Sadly, he wasn't home when we visited.

Modern pagans continue to celebrate Beltane, in Ireland and elsewhere, and many non-pagans recognize Beltane as a cultural event (again, not an uncommon practice. See also: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Halloween). As a fan of religion, culture, history, and celebrations, I'm both respectful of those for whom Beltane represents a religious event and happy for any excuse to celebrate the advent of summer--though I must admit I'd rather be celebrating it in temperate Ireland than scorching Sacramento, California.

Yellow flowers...Happy Beltane!

Like me, they'd rather be in temperate summer pastures.

So...shall we dance around the Beltane fire tonight?

Happy Beltane!







Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easter on Mykonos


Tomorrow is Greek Orthodox Easter. The simple answer for the difference in the date used by Greeks and others of the Eastern Orthodox faith from that followed by Protestants and Catholics is that the former calculate their Easter based upon the Julian calendar while the latter use the modern Gregorian calendar.  If you want to know precisely how the date is determined, check out this link to my post a few years back around this time.

But no matter how the date is determined, Easter is by far the main event in Eastern Orthodoxy.  It is preceded by more than a week of significant religious and cultural observations.  And on Mykonos, Easter literally brings the island back to life.



In the winter, Mykonos is a sleepy island village with virtually no tourists, no business, few open bars, fewer restaurants, and no clubs.  But come Easter Week everything changes.  Red and yellow springtime poppies burst to life all over the island’s hillsides, and those and still more varieties of flowers embroider the blanket of green covering the nearby holy island of Delos.  There are Church services every day of Holy Week, as well as daily preparations for the feast to come at the end.  Breads and cookies are readied on Monday and Tuesday, baking is done on Wednesday, and eggs are dyed red on Thursday, the day before Christ was put up on the Cross.



By Thursday, Mykonos is filled with mainland Greeks flocking to their vacation homes and others looking to participate in a perfect example of spiritual and temporal coexistence: Easter church rituals strictly observed during the day, followed by the island’s as nearly hallowed party traditions through the night.  But that taste of the coming mid-summer craziness is short lived, for if you don’t catch the action that weekend come by in June, because Mykonos is back in hibernation come Tuesday.

Evening services on Good Friday start at seven in the old town’s three main churches, Kiriake, Metropolis, and Panachra.  At precisely nine, each church’s clergy and worshipers leave their church in separate processions carrying their church’s epitaphios (the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ on a bier elaborately adorned in spring flowers and symbolizing his tomb) along a prearranged route, winding past the other two churches before ending up back at their own to complete the service.  It represents the funeral of Christ, and Mykonians and visitors line the route, some standing on balconies and sprinkling the participants below with a mixture of rose water and perfumes, the rodhonoro used on Christ’s body when taken down from the cross.


The same three churches serve as the scene of the following night’s Holy Saturday services.  Most generally start heading off to church around ten, but for certain everyone is there by midnight.  For that is the high point of Easter, when church bells ring out across Greece and even total strangers exchange the traditional Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti greetings that Christ has risen, kiss each other, and light each other’s candles to share the light and joy of the occasion—a light brought to Greece for just this purpose from the Holy Flame of Christ’s nativity cave in Jerusalem.  Worshipers carry the light back into their homes or their favorite restaurants, except for the hearty souls who remain in church for the balance of a service that lasts hours more into the morning.


Now it is time to challenge each other with the customary one-to-one smacking of those dyed-red eggs for good luck to the winner (mine always cracks first) and devour the traditional mayiritsa soup (made from parts of a lamb you may ask me about if you really want to know), fluffy tsoureki easter bread, and salads to break the forty-day fast leading up to Easter.


But the big feast, the one everyone looks forward to, comes on Sunday.  That’s when all the work of the week and all the spring lambs find their purpose.  There is church, too, of course, but this day is more about celebrating with family and friends.  And eating.


Dieting starts Monday.  Kalo Paska


Jeff — Saturday

Friday, April 29, 2016

What's your three favourite books?

Sometimes it is a strange life, being a writer. Almost as strange as Scottish weather. I think this is the only country where the snow can fall on your sunburn. In the same day.
For me yesterday was a somnambulant stroll through dog walking, busy clinics, hospital visits, then  driven to my book launch, where my pal and I changed in the loos, sticking on our make-up leaning over the sinks like teenagers. Then the book launch, yes, it was the launch of the new book- then home to fall asleep immediately.




Today is clinic, meetings, writer’s group and then hospital in and out the sunshine/rail/snow/hailstones/weather of choice of that moment. And tomorrow I am going on the radio… to discuss my three favourite books.

                                                        
And using the same material for the radio show as I am using for the blog. What would your three favourite books me? On Liberty by John Stewart Mill was number four but I don’t think the top three was ever in doubt – Black Beauty might have made it. The Jeff Siger big book of jokes might have made it. But I stuck with me original three. I don’t know if my choice would change with my mood, probably not. The world can always do with good crime fiction and a good laugh!
So my first choice has to be…….( big dramatic pause )…The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
                                

And I am  not alone. There was some vote on the TV about the greatest novel ever written- and THHGTTG was second to ‘Hobbits etc’… (can’t recall exactly which one but I haven’t read any Tolkien, as I think it can be a bad hobbit to get into!) THHGTTG was originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 ( 1978 ) and was then all sorts of things… the stage shows and the novels. I didn’t watch the film ( 2005), it would have been too painful. The books have been translated into more than 30 languages. As we all  know it’s about  Arthur Dent, the last human being alive and his adventures following the demolition of the planet Earth by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
                                
 Where would the world be without Marvin the Paranoid Android?
                                 
And my favourite Slartiblartfast. His words will be on my tombstone…. ‘I’d far rather be happy than right.’
Famously Douglas Adams said that the idea had come to him lying drunk in a field near Innsbruck while hitchhiking round Europe. But added that he had told that story so often it probably wasn’t true as he couldn’t recall Innsbruck or the field.
                                    
                                              Peter Jones in the late 60's

I read that the production team really wanted a "Peter Jonesy" sort of voice for the book. They auditioned actors for three months to find one with a Peter Jonesy sort of voice. Then settled on Peter Jones.
The famous theme tune used for the radio, the television and the LP versions is "Journey of the Sorcerer", an instrumental piece composed by Bernie Leadon and recorded by The Eagles on their album One of These Nights. Douglas Adams liked it for its futuristic appeal--- and the fact it had a banjo in it.
And of course it was "a trilogy in five parts" which led to another blurb- "the book that gives a whole new meaning to the word 'trilogy'".
Adams died of a heart attack at age 49 in 2001. That was very sad. But as we say ‘So long  and Thanks for All the Fish’
                                                 
The second book has to be ……. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Of course it had  to be! By Agatha Christie of course. First published in  June 1926, it was the third novel to feature Hercule Poirot as the lead detective.
The novel has always been remarkable for its ending. In 2013, the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever. It is, I think, Christie’s most controversial novel, its wonderful twisty ending had a huge impact on the genre. In my crime writing library I have two books about the book ‘The Murder Of Rodger Ackroyd,’ and the fact it nearly ruined crime fiction for everybody- but it did not, in almost reinvented the genre of… well of what…the reliable first person narrator? Reliable but selective?
                                                     
The third book is the Children of Men. It is a stunning book. PD James best. This is the book she always wanted to write  while her publishers kept asking for another Dalgliesh. It a very classy, dystopian novel, published in 1992. Set in England in 2021 the story centres of the population suffering from mass infertility.  The population is declining,  the present population is ageing.  Euthanasia is compulsory, England is run by a council of philosophers led by a benign dictator.
Then one woman gets pregnant and the novel takes on an intellectual pursuit  of the great argument- the right of the individual versus the right of the state. The book is full of sadness- women have dolls provided by the state that they use as children just to help their sanity. Puppies and kittens are  doted on as if they are treasured children. They even have christenings.
And some woman do now have their animals dressed up and treated as babies. And I attended an acupuncture/medical lecture given by a very eminent Swedish professor. He opened by asking the audience what the biggest threat to humanity on the face of the planet was- we guessed all the usual stuff. His answer was the amount of hormone in the food chain. It’s making the human race sterile.

Interesting thought.

Caro Ramsay 29/04/2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

BOLLAPELA CULTURAL FESTIVAL

Michael - Thursday - talking to Angela Seiphetlheng


 We’re often asked whether our books are sold and well received in Botswana – a natural question since that’s where they’re set.  Botswana has a small population, and an even smaller group who read fiction, but all our books are always on sale in Gaborone.  Still, you can imagine how thrilled we were when we met Nyane Angela Seiphetlheng, she was enthusiastic about the books, and decided to choose A DEATH IN THE FAMILY as the centerpiece for one of Botswana’s major arts and culture festivals that she organizes in the Shoshong area.

It’s a great honor, and I’m going to be at the festival to enjoy every minute of it.  Anyone planning a trip in southern Africa, please join us!

I wanted to find out more about the festival and about Angela – who is one of Botswana’s amazing go-getters.  She is one of those people who does the hard things at once, and takes a little longer to do the impossible!  So I asked her about the festival and invite you to share the discussion.

Would you tell us a little about the Festival and why it takes place in Shoshong?
Nyane Events, will host a cultural activity on the 4th June 2016.  The cultural event in Shoshong will have a special feature to it based on a novel launched in August 2015, Botswana- Gaborone, by its authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip called, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. This is a detective crime series novel with part of its setting covering Shoshong, Tobela, Mochudi and Gaborone.

After a study carried out in 2010 around the Shoshong constituency, it emerged with areas for potential investment being Agriculture, Tourism; Eco-tourism, Mining, Solar Energy, Waste Management; Biofuel, Potential opportunities presented by the B112 road linking major villages of Molepolole, Shoshong and Serowe, to be marketed as a gateway to major tourist sites of Maun, Chobe, Okavango and Victoria Falls, to list a few. I am a member of a village development committee (Shoshong Your Investment Destination committee) and as its Vice chairperson, I am tasked with the mandate of taking the message to the world about this gem area of Shoshong constituency and it’s potential.

The Shoshong Hills in late afternoon
Shoshong area has:

       Colonial Heritage includes buildings, and missionary heritage sites.
      Historical Heritage- Shoshong is the first village of Baphaleng, Bakaa, Bangwato, Bakgalagadi and other early Tswana Communities.
       Archaeological Heritage includes pottery remains, burials and monuments.
      Natural Heritage include Hills that have historical storylines associated with them as well as rocks that are associated with the village identity such as Lesoso, bollapela, majwe-maswaana to list a few.
     Cultural Heritage Sites: Marele Engraves ( referred to as Ntswe le tswa batho) in the Kodibeleng area; Marele Hill (Kodibeleng); Old Shoshong site where we find the church bell and Ironstones outcrops; Mareletsane Gorge, visible from tarred road from Mahalapye, Sunyaneng Gorge found in the Shoshong Hills; Pitsane Hilltop found in Shoshong Hills;  
      The historic routes: There are also routes that link up Shoshong and Kalamare, passing through the Old Shoshong hill site, passing by the magnificent view of Sogwang. This route is less than 20km. There is also a breath taking route to Mmutlane that can take less than 15minutes going on top of the hill from Shoshong. When you are in destination Mmutlane at the hill top, there is flat land. This route has been used for years and is still being used to date.

View of Shoshong from the Hills
It is against this background that the Bollapela Cultural festival will try to promote tourism, culture and arts in the form of dramatization of certain parts of the novel, drawing or painting as well as sculptures of scenes or characters from the novel. This will form a great part of the celebrations of the cultural day activities of traditional games, music, ancestors worship, folklores and stories of Shoshong area.

The event will be held under the theme:
CELEBRATING CULTURE AND ARTS IN PROMOTING TOURISM IN THE SHOSHONG RICH HISTORIC AREA.  

What persuaded you to have Detective Kubu as the centerpiece of this year’s festival?
I read the first Michael Stanley novel- A CARRION DEATH - and got hooked from the day I opened the first page in 2015. As I got to follow them as I was also researching on Shoshong and its surrounding areas to promote, I came across information that their fifth novel was to be out by August same year and its partly based on Shoshong and Tobela. I couldn’t wait to see what the big, opera and wine loving Kubu would be doing in my village Shoshong.

The novel not only embraces a great place in Botswana with a rich historic background but also promotes the area internationally as a potential tourist destination. Detective Kubu had to be celebrated in Shoshong and the 2016 cultural event had to embrace him for his services in Shoshong.

And on a personal note, I love the work of Detective Kubu because I grew up watching my father, the Late Kgakgamatso Seiphetlheng who was a famous Crime Detective Investigator in Botswana from a small village in the middle of a horse shoe of hills- Shoshong. Admired by a lot of his peers in the police department, having worked in areas of Maun, Lobatse, Palapye, Francistown busting crimes and catching thieves. Well-known as Silverfox by women, children and criminals. He was also called as part of the investigation team for the ritual murder case of the young girl Segametsi Mogomotsi at Mochudi. I am also excited that Michael Stanley wrote DEADLY HARVEST novel based on this incidence. I so wish my dad was around to appreciate this art.

That’s fascinating Angela. We were told about the Mogomotsi case by a previous director of the CID, Rra Mulale.  We knew that one day we would have to write a book based on it.  I wish we had met your father.  Maybe our detective would be called Silverback instead of Kubu if we had!

What attracted you to A DEATH IN THE FAMILY in particular?
I found the novel to be God sent, a novel that touched on issues of culture, effects of developments on culture, youth, the elderly and change, mining in the area of Shoshong- Tobela, the rich history found in the Shoshong area and the huge potential it has on tourism.  It also talks of corruption that comes about with globalization, invasion of the Chinese into Africa, particularly Botswana and the Americans. All these aspects are covered in a creative manner, by great authors, passionate about Botswana and they packaged the Shoshong area in an artistic way that would attract both the young and elderly to take a moment and look at Shoshong and Tobela.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the groups interpret the issues that we raise in the book! Has there been a lot of interest in the theme?
The part that will be dramatized are the ones where activities happen at the Kgotla. The theme derived of the novel is- How the Kgotla setup can enhance the development of rural communities through fruitful deliberations from both the youth and the elderly.

There has been lots of excitement around this theme from the village leadership being Chiefs. The Chairpeson of House of Chiefs- Kgosi Gaborone is aware of this project, the Shoshong chiefs have been made aware and will be launching the Kgotla that will be built at the events venue. Not only will this Kgotla be used for drama but the Chief would like to do all official opening of event and welcoming of Chief Oscar Mosielele of Moshupa- the guest speaker at that Kgotla to embrace our culture. Kgosi Mosielele already has a copy of A DEATH IN THE FAMILY.

The Shoshong youth drama group (Black Tswana Drama Group) who have been struggling with exposure and having a career with what they love most being drama have read the novel and excited to be given this platform. It’s the passion they have to try and wow the world about their skill and a great novel. Regardless of the financial challenges they are facing now to meet since they travel from Shoshong to Kalamare to meet up with other team members, it’s the passion in their eyes created by this novel that melts me. Most of them are unemployed.

One of the unemployed young ladies in her twenties from Shoshong heard me making a presentation about the event and asked to read the novel. She completed the novel in 3 days saying she couldn’t put it down. She has since produced a song about Detective Kubu.

Would you tell us a little about the food that will be available at the event.
Setswana variety of foods will be at the event. Bogobe jwa mabele (sorghum meal), bogobe jwa lerotse, seswaa (pounded meat), mokoro, nama ya tlhogo, serobe (tripe stew) sebete (liver stew), morogo wa dinawa (beans leaves), phane worms.
There will be game meat, game biltong and sausages.
As a way of appreciating the international features of the novel, we will be having Chinese and American foods stalls, to embrace the different cultures that determine the diet of people of Botswana and Shoshong now.

Do you feel the Detective Kubu novels realistically reflect life in modern Botswana? I know you will be absolutely honest!
YES, YES, YES, Ohhhhh YES. That’s why I easily related to it. I visualized the areas and activities of the novel that I can’t wait for someone to do movies of series for Detective Kubu. I guess that why I wanted to see how people could translate it in drama, paintings or drawing of scenes they visualize as they read the novel.

Angela, thanks so much! I’m really looking forward to being at the festival.  It will be a highlight of the year!

Monday, April 25, 2016

What the Crime Writer Saw


Annamaria on Monday




Here is what New York City looked like this past week.  I didn't go any place special to see these sights.  They are just what I passed by while going about my business--going to the grocery store, walking to the subway or to a restaurant to meet friends.  Every once in a while, I just had to pull out my phone and snap a shot.  Listen to this while you are looking at the photos: