Monday, October 16, 2017

Limericks for Mental Health: Bouchercon Hiatus

Annamaria on Monday


For many years now, I have written limericks to let off steam. Perhaps the rigidity of the form forces me into a more logical place in my brain, which would be very helpful when I am about to go over an emotional cliff. Limericks have been a source of glee and groans and, I think, sanity in our house since my husband and I got together. Though he was always a classy man and often hilarious at the higher levels of humor, there ran beneath his quick wit an indomitable sophomoric streak, often fueled by the limericks he memorized in his youth. Those included many I cannot publish here. According to Wikipedia:

“A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following example of a limerick is of unknown origin.

The lim'rick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”

 Here is one of David’s unclean favorites that (with two small changes) I think I can safely include.  He recited it whenever anyone mentioned the woman’s name:

There once was a woman named Harriet,
Who dreamed she made love in a chariot
With seventeen sailors
A monk and two tailors
Dick Cheney and Judas Iscariot

David and I once won a limerick contest. We were traveling in Wales and stayed at a hotel that had once been a castle. The hotel staged a fake medieval dinner each evening in which, in addition to eating lamb stew with one’s fingers, the guests were invited to submit a limerick to a contest. The first line was given.  The weekend we were there, the required first line was: “A Squire with a hole in his shoe.”

The wittiest Brit wrote took second place with:

"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Invented a substance called glue.
The source was a horse.
He boiled it, of course,
And the smell killed a family in Crewe."

But to the great surprise of all, David and I – two Yanks, no less – took first place with this little ditty:

"A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Was badly in need of a screw.
With his tool in his hand,
He scoured the land,
But decided a small nail would do."

A few years ago, while renovating our apartment, an architect appointed by the building management was delaying our simple project for months and running up his bill, which we were required to pay.  It was costing me sleep as well as lucre. While I lay awake at night fuming, I preserved my sanity by writing a cycle of twelve limericks describing how an architect by that SOB's name destroyed every great building project in history.  I give you one stanza of my poem, concealing his identity by substituting the words “Sir Note:”

To span an English river of renown,
“Let’s build London Bridge,” decreed the Crown.
But then enter Sir Note,
Who declared and I quote,
“If we never put it up, it can’t fall down.”

By the way, I gave him a Spanish-i-fied  moniker and killed him in my second novel—Invisible Country.  That character, Ricardo Yotte’ is so hideous that it is almost impossible to figure out who killed him, since everyone in the village wanted to.

Not all my limericks have been pejorative.  Some celebrated my friends—their birthdays, their achievements.  But I wrote my favorite one just for fun.  Here is my proudest limerick achievement:

In the subways of Paris, his home
This elf forever will roam.
So if you hear “Tick tock.”
Don’t think it’s a clock
Undoubtedly, it’s Metro Gnome.

I should apologize, but I can’t. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bouchercon Hiatus: It's Those Pesky Greek Gods Again.

During Bouchercon week we’re picking posts from among our favorite blogs of the past. I find it impossible to choose which I “like the most,” so I’m taking the easy way out and going with what our readers continue to favor more than any other of my posts. It's a compendium of three posts on the Greek Gods titled, “The Gods Will Be Back,” “A Visit With The Gods,” and “Greece’s Sun and Moon God Twins: Apollo and Artemis.” 
So, here they are, three visits with the gods, back to back:
I long for the day when the mention of Greece will once again first bring to mind ancient gods, epic tales, and a land and sea infused at every inch with the seminal essence of western civilization.   Someday that will happen, for financial crises are transient and gods are immortal, though not eternal—after all, they do need nectar and ambrosia to sustain them.
Ahh, yes, the good old days of true Greek gods quick and strong, knowing all things, capable of miraculous achievements.
It’s been a long while since I’ve read up on the ancient gods, and I must admit to often getting them mixed up, but I’ve just learned that my confusion puts me in illustrious company. 
Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)
According to Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology, even Socrates was confused by the varying number of seemingly same gods (one Aphrodite or two?) and multiple names for one god (Zeus in summer was called Zeus Meilichios, the friendly god, and in winter Zeus Maemaktes, the angry god).
Some think that’s attributable to disparate early Greek tribes who even after coalescing as a single race kept the original names for their separate gods despite obvious similarities to each other (Dione, Hera, Gaea, and Demeter). 
But call them what you wish, the essential purpose of the Greek gods was the same: their existence and interactions explained to mortals the natural order of things, e.g., the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, storms, waves, and on and on as needed.  
What made Greek gods so significant was that the essentially human form of the Twelve Olympian Deities of Mount Olympus and of the lesser gods living in other environs gave to those who worshipped them the sense that their deities could understand and relate to a mortal’s needs and fears. 
The mythological explanations offered by the carryings on of the gods largely centered upon the three supreme rulers of the world: Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus. 
The first to rule was Uranos.  He represented the heavens and, as the husband of Earth, brought forth life and everything on our planet.  
Uranos with Earth
His son, Kronos, ruled next as god of the harvest, ripening and maturing the forms of life brought forth by his father. 
Kronos and Rhea
And, lastly, ruled Zeus, bringing order and wisdom to the universe. 
Zeus overthrows Kronos (Van Haarlem 1588)
I think it’s safe to say that Zeus hasn’t been around for a while.  Or has he? 
Whatever, all of this impresses me, as it should every writer, artist, and musician who freely borrows from the tales of the gods in their own creations, albeit sometimes consciously oblivious to the source of their inspiration.  So much of what we think unique to modern culture is simply a new way of retelling of what ancient Greeks witnessed in their deities. 
I wish I had time now to say more.  But there will be later.  One must always make time for the gods.
I’ve often wished there were a way to journey back to the heyday of the ancient Greek gods.  Just to drop in, say “Hi,” and ask what they think of our current times.  These days I’d likely have to make the trip alone, because my Greek buddies—make that all of Greece’s eleven million souls—have more than enough all-knowing, all-powerful forces to contend with in the form of the EU-IMF-ECB troika, plus a hundred-fold that number of homegrown politicians governing their country as if immor(t)als.
This, though, isn’t about current events; it’s about my interest in visiting Olympian deities and, in particular, one called “father of gods and men, ruler and preserver of the world, and everlasting god.”  In other words (courtesy of Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology), I’m talking about the boss man himself: Zeus. 
But before I wave goodbye and click those ruby slippers together (couldn’t find a reasonably priced pair of Hermes sandals), let me share a little background on how Zeus got to be Numero Uno.  And for you Wizard of Oz aficionados out there, don’t worry about Dorothy’s shoes whisking me off to Kansas instead.  I have it on the highest authority they’ve been re-programmed to route me to the otherwise inaccessible, cloud-shrouded Olympos of Thessaly.
Zeus’ upbringing certainly wasn’t what most normal folk would call traditional, unless of course you happen to be a fan of the Dr. Phil sort of stuff inhabiting weekday afternoon American TV. 
To begin with, his daddy (Kronos) and mommy (Rhea) were brother and sister.  But since his grandparents were the original paired begator (Uranos) and begatee (Gaea) of what love, via Eros (Cupid), had fashioned out of Chaos (the great shapeless mass at the beginning of the world) to prepare the world to receive mankind—that might be considered an extenuating circumstance under modern consanguinity laws. 
Eros and Chaos (by Treijim)
Besides, it was a substantial improvement over his grandparents’ marital arrangement.  Uranos, the husband of Gaea, was not her brother.  He was her son.  And when Uranos “mistreated” their children, Gaea sided with her son/grandson (Kronos) to destroy her husband/son (Uranos).  Got that?
But it gets better.  Zeus’ father (Kronos), alert to how children could treat their fathers, swallowed his first five children as they were born.  Zeus, the sixth child, only escaped because his mother (Rhea) deceived her husband/brother (Kronos) into thinking Zeus, too, had been swallowed. 
Kronos (Saturn) by Francisco De Goya
When Zeus reached manhood he enlisted the aid of his grandmother (Gaea) to convince his father (Gaea’s son/grandson) to yield up Zeus’ siblings, which Kronos did.  One was Zeus’ sister, Hera (Juno), the love of Zeus’ life … and later his wife.  Like father like son, I suppose.
Zeus had many affairs and fathered many children, at times in rather unorthodox fashion, but Hera was his only wife, as was the way in Greece.  Some say Zeus didn’t gallivant around as much as people liked to think, but gained his reputation innocently through an historical accommodation.  When the disparate tribes of Greece came together as one race, each brought with them their own Zeus stories, and all those separate tales were incorporated into one mythology that multiplied Zeus’ fathering experiences far beyond what any individual tribe had believed on its own.
If Zeus got Hera to buy that story, it’s good enough for me.  
Hera with Zeus
By the way, let’s not forget that all this played out for Zeus against the time of man on earth. 
At the beginning of Zeus’ rule it was the Silver Age of the human race.  Men were rich, but grew overbearing, were never satisfied, and in their arrogance forgot the source to which their prosperity was owed.  As punishment, Zeus swept the offenders away to live as demons beneath the earth.
Then came the Bronze Age, one of quarreling and violence, where might made right, and cultivated lands and peaceful occupations faded away.  Ultimately even the all-powerful grew tired of it all and disappeared without a trace.
The Iron Age followed with a weakened and downtrodden mankind using their bare hands to toil for food, thinking all the while only of themselves, and dealing unscrupulously with each other. 
Zeus had seen enough.
He brought on a flood that destroyed all but two members of the human race.  A husband, Deukalion, and his wife, Pyrrha, were spared and commanded by the gods to propagate a new human race upon the earth. 
Pyrrha and Deukalion by Andrea di Mariotto del Minga
That, folks, is supposed to be us. 
If I recall correctly, Zeus didn’t think much more of the new batch than he did of the ones he’d wiped off the face of the earth. 
But this is 2017, and the human race is so much different now than it was in Zeus’ day that we have absolutely nothing to fear from the big guy for the way we live our lives today. 
Hmmm.  I really can’t wait to get going.  Honest.  But time travel these days isn’t as predictable as it once was (what with all those amateurs clogging up the astral planes) and I’d sure hate to pop in on Zeus on a bad day.  God(s) knows where/how I’d end up. 
On reflection, I think I’ll put those slippers away for now—at least until after the elections. Which elections, you ask?  Good question.  I’ll wait for a sign from the gods on high and let you know.
It’s hard when you watch a sunset on Mykonos not to think of the island of Delos less than a mile away to the west. 
After all, Delos is where Apollo, god of the sun, and his twin-sister, Artemis, the original divine personification of the moon were born to their mother, Leto, out of her assignation with Zeus.  Delos wasn’t Leto’s first choice for a delivery room, because back then it was little more than a rock bouncing around the Aegean Sea.  But she had little choice because Zeus’ wife (and sister), Hera, had the world fearing her jealous wrath, and only tiny Delos saw nothing to lose in making a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you bargain” with Zeus.
Birth of Artemis and Apollo to Leto
From the moment of Apollo’s birth, when golden light flooded down upon Delos, the island prospered, so much so that it rose to emerge as one of antiquity’s bastions of commerce and religiosity.
But Apollo didn’t stick around his birthplace very long.  Jealous Hera drove Leto away from her children forcing Apollo to grow up quickly—in a matter of hours to be precise (on a diet of nectar and ambrosia)—and begin a pilgrimage that launched his myth, one of the oldest of all Greek myths and one of the few of entirely Greek creation (as opposed to foreign influences).
Although Apollo’s exploits gave rise to his being known by many different names and titles—Karneios, Hyakinthios, Pythios, Thargelios, Nomios, Delphinios, Ismenios, Hebdomeios, Lykios, Musagetes, etcetera—they all in one way or another derived from his link to the eternal operation of the sun and all that the ancients attributed to it.
In much the same way Apollo’s sister, Artemis, found that the qualities attributed to the moon—bringing fertility to the earth through cool, dew filled nights and casting light into the dark night offering protection to flocks and hunters—had her identified with those traits (fertility, hunting) and called by names and titles linked to those perceived powers of the moon: Agrotora, Kalliste, Diktynna, Britomartis, Eleuthro, Orthia, Limnaia, Potamia, Munychia, Brauronia, Amarynthia, etcetera.
Adonis and Artemis
As a duet, Apollo and Artemis might be best known for a bloody, Bonnie and Clyde-style episode brought on by an affront to their mother (and them) by the daughter of a king who boasted that her own children were “more beautiful” than Leto’s.  Talk about perturbing the wrong folk.  Artemis and Apollo promptly punished the prideful mother (Niobe) by slaying all of her children, Artemis by arrows the daughters, and Adonis by arrows the sons.  In her anguish the mother turned to stone.
On the off chance I’ve written something that a buddy of those Delosian twins might find offensive, please don’t come looking for me.  You’ll want to talk to Alexander S. Murray who wrote Who’s Who in Mythology.  It’s his book that’s responsible for driving this post…so help me gods.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Haggis Hiatus

During Bouchercon week we’re picking posts from among our favourite blogs of the past.

For me, I think it has to be this, one of the earliest blogs I subjected you to.

A couple of years ago my friend and I went for a walk in a graveyard at midnight.
As you do.
 The route was marked by candle lanterns. We had been fortified with hot tomato soup in the barn that acted as a holding pen for the walkers. We had to walk alone or in pairs and in silence. We went off at five minute intervals. It was a bitter cold, icy night with a bright bombers moon, with that kind of low lying fog that Hammer films are so good at. The cold wind whipped words from our lips as we walked nervously along the path that wound through the gravestones.
 It was midnight on January 25th.
Among the gravestones we heard a crow cawing in his Victorian cage. The Grim Reaper passed in front of us then vanished into the smoke from the smouldering fire.  An old man in a night shirt walked past us, the curve of his palm protecting the single flame of his lamp. He was clutching a bible under his arm and muttering.
The church with its brightly lit windows came into view, the noise of cheery banter floated out to us over the night. But to get there we had to walk across the bridge that runs over the babbling burn to the church beyond. We stepped on the bridge and were instantly assailed by the screeching of witches, the clattering of horses’ hooves, a heart rending neigh of a horse in pain. We flung ourselves flat against the walls with fear. The noise died on the cold air and then we heard the chanting ...  just a whisper at first  but  growing more insistent...
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg, 
And win the key-stane o' the brig; 
There at them thou thy tail may toss, 
A running stream they dare na cross. 
But ere the key-stane she could make, 
The fient a tail she had to shake! 
For Nannie, far before the rest, 
Hard upon noble Maggie prest, 
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle; 
But little wist she Maggie's mettle - 
Ae spring brought off her master hale, 
But left behind her ain gray tail; 
The carlin claught her by the rump, 
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
Which translates as....
Now, do your speedy utmost, Meg,
And beat them to the key-stone of the bridge;
There, you may toss your tale at them,
A running stream they dare not cross!
But before the key-stone she could make,
She had to shake a tail at the fiend;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie pressed,
And flew at Tam with furious aim;
But little knew she Maggie’s mettle!
One spring brought off her master whole,
But left behind her own grey tail:
The witch caught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
And we knew we had just been passed by the spirits of Tam O’Shanter and Meg on their flight from the witches...

The poets amongst you will know that  25th Jan is  the  birthday  of the great national bard of Scotland him what  you will,  farmer, smuggler, tax man,  libertine,  lover, adulterer, socialist, humanitarian. Robert Burns (1759- 1796) was all of those things and much, much more.

"It is a well-known fact that witches have no power to follow a living soul further than the middle of the next running stream. You may be advised that if you are travelling and fall in with a bogle, the bigger danger may lie in turning back!"
Here is Burns...quite a froody looking dude. Dundee Uni have just recreated his face forensically and confirmed that he looked nothing  like this but who cares.

But all this is an excuse for me to do another very Scottish blog because Hogmanay and Burns Night are very close together in the calendar honest!
 The big thing about Burns to me is that he was a man of the people and still is, his words are clear and simple, nothing high faluting and clever, just beautiful. His work includes poems about the welfare of war widows, the evils of the tax man, the poor not having enough to eat, the hypocrisy of religion, the greater hypocrisy of politics, the fact that all men are  equal under the skin. Mankind might think he is smart but mess with mother nature at your peril. All sounds good to me, also sounds as if they could all have been written yesterday.

Burns night is a big thing  here. Next year I have been asked to do the Reply for the Lassies at   a very prestigious Burns Club. They invited me this year to get a feel for the event as these vary from all male outright drunkenness to an elegant dinner with lots of recitals and polite clapping. They all follow the same format though.   The company is assembled, men in kilts, women in frocks. We stand behind our seats, a piper pipes in the top table to rhymic clapping. Then the haggis is piped in. It is dead by this point.  Just to make sure a fierce man in a skirt wielding a very sharp knife kills it again while doing the address to the haggis. Then we get to sit down thank God.

Quote  There’s also much drinking of Scotch whisky at Burns Suppers which  makes the understanding of the “Address” so much more difficult, but apparently you don’t worry about it so much, instead, it helps let the rich words wash over you in a haze of literary genius.”
Here’s a wee taster of the haggis address if you pardon the pun.

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.

The third verse actually contains the word entrails...  as does the haggis!
Funnily enough the line about ‘great chieftan of the pudding race’ was translated into German... as “ king of the sausage people!”

 Before the meal we have the well known Selkirk grace, I have heard many men break down and cry at this bit...
Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat, 
And some wad eat that want it; 
But we hae meat, and we can eat, 
Sae let the Lord be thankitt
The meal consists of cock a leekie soup, haggis, (it was traditional to pour whisky over it but now it comes in a whisky sauce), neeps (turnips all mashed up), tatties, (potatoes all mashed up),  steak pie and cranachan for dessert. (See killer cookbook  recipe!!)
There are weird folk who say that the haggis derives from those Vikings again, on a long boat, killing beasties and shoving their waste entrails in the stomach of dead beast to eat later. These people are obviously English. And should be ignored!
If I can get all David Attenborough for a minute, the haggis eaten at Burns suppers is now farmed.  The wild haggis (Haggis Scoticis) is still found in the Highlands, usually well above the treeline. It has been well recorded by Darwin among others that it has legs on one side of the body longer than those on the other, so that it can run around the bens without falling over. The Hebridean Haggis has been tracked by its DNA to be the oldest species.  The Benbeculan Haggis is the breed that the haggis farms use as it has legs all the same length.  This is because Benbecula is as flat as a billiard table.

A Benbeculan Haggis (Haggis Benbeculae) pup. They lose their mane as they grow to adulthood.

The second half of the Burns Supper is fab if you are a Burn’s fan, hell if you are not. There is a toast to the queen. Which is rather interesting as Burns was anti monarchy.
Other recitals on the evening include a speech commemorating Burns and a toast to the great man, known as the 'Immortal Memory' (no jokes in that one), the 'Address to the Lassies' (very sexist and jokes about women drivers etc)   and of course 'The Reply from the Lassies' (which is about men being useful only as an abstract concept. Why did they ask me to do that one I wonder ....)
Interspersed with all that is much solo singing, bagpipe and fiddle music. Recitals more than the clapping along and jigging about stuff.  Lots of people claim that Burns wrote everything in sight but he said himself that he recorded much of what he heard around him. He sent a letter to the Scottish Musical Museum with an old song he had written down. It had never been in print before. Some of the lyrics of this song were "collected" others were “fashioned” by Burns. The song in that  letter  was "Old Lang Syne". 
And on that note I will sign off as I need to take the haggis out for a walk. They get restless indoors you know.