Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Guest Blogger Lisa Alber: Memory is a Slippery Mistress--Thoughts About Ireland

Lisa Alber for Cara—Tuesday

Cara asked if I (Jeff) would mind introducing her guest blogger this week, Lisa Alber. Little did Cara know that Lisa and I have a loooonnng history together.  One that always makes me smile when I think about it…and there are very few folks I can say that about. :-)   You see, back when Lisa published her debut novel, Kilmoon, and appeared on her very first author panel (at Left Coast Crime in Monterey), guess who was her moderator.  Yep, moi.  And I enjoyed it so much that a couple of years later I popped up again as her moderator on another panel.  So, folks, I know of what I speak when I say Lisa is a truly gifted writer and delight to hang out with. 

Lisa sets her County Clare series on the West Coast of Ireland, amid a setting reminiscent to me of The Quiet Man, in a county familiar to many of us from the glimpse we get of it as our planes land in Shannon airport.  That idealized image is the subject of Lisa’s post, and I must admit she raises points and feelings I share regarding the Mykonos I write about. I guess you could say that panelist Lisa is now showing the way to moderator Jeff.  Welcome, my friend, to Murder is Everywhere. --Jeff

Thanks for inviting me to join the gang for a day, Cara! For those who don’t know my novels, I represent the Republic of Ireland. I’m a Yank from Californian, with Irish blood, and I chose to set my first three novels in Ireland because a novel idea found me the first time I traveled to Ireland. I should say, a workable idea that excited me found me. From there, I started a mystery series set in County Clare. The third novel, Path Into Darkness, comes out in August.

The title of this post comes from the novel. Memory as a slippery mistress is a theme for one of my more troubled characters, Nathan. He can’t trust his memories—can’t be sure they’re the truth. Memory isn’t truth, anyhow, but we tend to think of them as the truth about past experiences, don’t we?

This came home to me last year when I traveled to Ireland for the first time in a decade. My first twenty-four hours in County Clare, driving around, reacquainting myself with old haunts and routes, were an exercise in disillusionment and righteous indignation.

There I was, expecting the march of progress to bypass County Clare. Hah! The wild and wooly nature of the area is definitely on the decline.  Tourist signage everywhere shortened distances. New housing lining the roads between villages felt more suburban than rural. The narrow roads between villages were widened and—gasp!—actually painted with dotted white lines to keep drivers civilized.

Gotta tell you, I missed barreling along just shy of head-on collisions and every once in a while pulling onto a verge to allow a truck to pass.

It took a solid two days for me to get a grip on myself and accept what I was seeing. I was there for novel research. The tourist crap and cookie-cutter housing developments were the reality. Here’s a quote from my travel journal:

… gorgeous except dismayed by my lying memories and the changes – so many more houses. The vast expanses of fields and narrow, unlined lanes not so much anymore … I realized that my disillusionment at seeing Clare again stems in large part from living with my fictional Clare for so long – it had become reality.

In other words, I realized that I wasn’t just once removed from reality through memory. I was twice removed – from memory to fiction. My fictional Clare had become more real to me than reality, more real than my memories even.

No wonder I was disoriented and resentful at first. Hold the phone, this isn’t Clare!

No, what it wasn’t was the land of my novels. I use fictional license, as we all do, highlighting some aspects of my location, not mentioning other aspects that aren’t important to the story.

What amazed me was how well my brain erased those other aspects—like the ugly rock quarries, for example, and the sad mud-coated donkeys forgotten in their pastures. Between the old stuff that I’d conveniently forgotten and the new changes, I didn’t recognized Clare at first.

HOWever, after the first few days, I was back to loving Clare and eager to experience it objectively and with an open heart. I needed the dose of reality, and, in the end, an ugly rock quarry and a housing development and a tourist cottage made appearances in Path Into Darkness.

On a deeper level, my experience helped me deepen Nathan, which helped shape the story. If my brain could erase reality so easily, what about people with actual traumas in their backgrounds? I don’t know the answers, but it’s the kind of question I like to play with in my stories.

Have you ever gone to a beloved place years later and felt it was diminished somehow?

Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa Alber is the author of the County Clare mysteries. Her novels have been called “rich, dark, and complex” and “lyrical, tense, and haunting.” The third novel in the series, Path Into Darkness, comes out in August. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Facebook | Twitter

Monday, June 26, 2017

HVSF: My Thirty-Year Love Affair

Annamaria on Monday

Where to begin to describe a requited love affair that has lasted so long.  At the beginning, I guess:

Shortly after David and I moved into our country house in Garrison, New York in 1986, I noticed a banner along Route 9D.  There at the entrance to the Boscobel Historic Restoration, it said, “Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.”

“Oh, look,” I said, “we have to go.”

David's answer was the most common that one would expect of most Americans, I imagine.  “I hated Shakespeare in high school.”

I, his Bardolator wife, wasn’t going to let that stop me.  “Oh, David, how can you say that.  You are an intelligent, sensitive, well-read man.  You can’t dismiss the greatest writer ever.”

I got him to indulge me.  One performance that summer thirty years ago and he was hooked too.

Our evenings with HVSF began with a picnic overlooking one of the most majestic views in the country.  That helped.  But it was the clear, contemporary, American style of the acting and totally entertaining productions that worked the magic. 

An early Romeo and Juliet cemented our love relationship with the Festival.  The company then performed that greatest of all love plays under a hand-me-down catering tent, with just a few props and what looked like 1950’s costuming that could have come from a thrift shop.  The players were young, looked like we did when we were teenagers.   Like all HVSF productions, the staging was simple—the show was about the intimacy of the setting, the night, the poetry, and the actors’ voices.

At the ball at the Capulets’ Romeo and Juliet danced to “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Falcons.  Brilliant.  Finally, a production of that play where the main characters were actually presented as teenagers.  And it wasn’t just any old song from my teenage years.  It was one where the imagery in the lyrics matched the imagery of the play—the stars, the moon.  At intermission, I looked in the program for the name of the director.  Terrence O’Brien, a theater magician, was the Founding Artistic Director of the company.

We love what brings us joy.  Joy is what the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has delivered to me over the years.

Eventually, the old catering tent was replaced by a venue worthy of the excellence of the performances underneath it.  Lately, I have had the addditional privilege of serving on its board.

One sterling example of joy: the night my six-year-old identical twin grandsons returned from seeing A Comedy of Errors and demanded to know if I had any DVDs of Shakespeare plays.  They wanted more Shakespeare.

These days HVSF is led by our second-generation Artistic Director--Davis McCallum, who is surpassingly  competent at creating great theater and incredibly sure-footed at company leadership.   For the 2017 season, he has given the audience our first world premier, and I got to be there for the opening night.

Joy under the tent reached a new high on Saturday at the company’s current production of Pride and Prejudice directed by Amanda Dehnert in an adaptation by Kate Hamill, who also played Lizzy Bennet to Jason O’Connell’s Mr. Darcy. They and the rest of the cast gave an exuberant, madcap rendering that was at once true to Jane Austen’s novel and a contemporary interpretation of her characters.  Hysterically funny and moving at the same time.   I loved it.  I am going back to see it again.  I wish I could bottle the joy it delivers

The setting ready for the play to begin.

The Bennet Family with Mr. Collins
Photo: T. Charles Erikson

Jason O'Connell as Mr. Darcy
Photo: T. Charles Erikson

The Opening Night After Party

Our Playwright/Our Lizzy

Jason's Mr. Darcy is more than a reserved Englishman.
He is also interpersonally inept, making him 19th and
21st Century at the same time.  

You can learn more about HVSF here.

If you are nearby, I urge you to attend.  If you are far away, the Hudson Valley is absolutely worth a visit for its many attractions.  And if you decide to come, don't miss seeing whatever is on under the tent.  You will fall in love.  I know you will.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tokyo's Oldest Temple: Sensoji

-- Susan, every other Sunday.
Japan has many ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but Tokyo's Sensōji is one of the oldest and most significant.
Sensoji sits only 2km from Tokyo's famous Skytree (lit in blue).

Sensōji stands in Tokyo's Asakusa district, and holds the unique distinction of being among the world's most frequently visited religious sites. Over 30 million people visit the temple annually, either as tourists or to offer prayers to its guardian deity, Kannon.
Kannon (Guanyin in Chinese) is the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy. According to history (or legend, depending on your view), a pair of fishermen drew a miraculous statue of the goddess from the nearby Sumida River in 628 - and shortly thereafter founded Sensōji to honor the goddess. 
Buddhas at Sensoji.
Although the original temple was destroyed by bombing during World War II, it has since been rebuilt on the model of the original.
Dominating the temple entrance (and the street beyond) is the Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate," which includes an enshrined image of the thunder god Raijin.
The Kaminarimon at night

Beyond the Kaminarimon, a long approach lined with shops:
Nakamise Street - a fantastic place to shop or snack.

Leads to the even larger Hozomon, or main entrance gate:
The massive Hozomon.

A pair of giant woven sandals hang on the back of the Hozomon. The sandals, or o-waraji, measure 4.5 meters tall and weigh 2500 kg (over 500 pounds) apiece:
One BIG shoe.

The sandals are considered "kami-sized," and symbolize the power of the nio guardians (deities who guard the hozomon, as well as the temple) whose statues sit in the bays on the other side of the hozomon:
He sees what you did there.

It takes 800 people to construct the sandals, and the town of Murayama donates a new pair of o-waraji to Sensoji every decade (and has done so since the 1940s)
Temple visitors touch the o-waraji in hopes of gaining powerful walking skills, and the ability to walk long distances without tiring. Sadly, I'm too short to reach them, but I'm hoping the visit alone is enough to give me the stamina to get through my travels in Japan over the next three weeks. My son and I fly out today, and I'm looking forward to having many more adventures to share when we return! 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

On "Being Happy": The Debunked Papal Homily


A couple of days ago a dear friend sent me what she described as “A speech Pope Francis gave in yesterday’s homily/sermon. It’s to be read and reread several times.  This is the Pope with the greatest spirituality since Peter.”

I respect my friend, and greatly admire Pope Francis, so I read the portion, and I too was moved, so much so that I decided to feature it in this week’s post as a balance to all that is so very out of whack with our world.  As is my practice, I went on line to see what more I could learn about the Pope’s words and perhaps even their inspiration.

Lo and behold, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a rush of articles and posts declaring the speech a false speech, never given by the Pope! Yes, fake news had penetrated the Vatican, in this case sometime around September 2015. 

Gideon Lasco, MD, PhD

As reported by Gideon Lasco, in a story titled “Putting Words in Pope Francis’ Mouth,” published on Inquirer.net, the text of “Being Happy” attributed to Pope Francis is “actually an almost-word-for-word translation of a Portuguese text titled ‘Palco de vida’ (Stages of life), attributed to the renowned poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Only the concluding ‘Life is an incredible show’ was changed from the less-exciting ‘Life is a no-miss obstacle.’”

No, this is not a Melania Trump situation, where a delivered speech is borrowed from another’s work, but a totally made up story baselessly attributing another’s work to a wholly innocent party.  But wait, there’s more.

Fernando Pessoa

As Lasco points out, “There’s an additional twist here: Even the attribution to Pessoa has been dismissed by scholars, citing major differences from his style and the absence of any actual manuscript. They conclude that it was likely a fabrication borne of the Internet,” innocently begun by a Brazilian blogger who’d written the final phrases as his own, only to later learn they’d gained life on the Internet as attached to Pessoa.

Lasco found the text first linked to Pope Francis “in September 2015. The Facebook page of a ‘Missionary Community of St Paul the Apostle and Mary, Mother of the Church’—a Kenya-based Catholic group—shared the same passage in English, attributing it, in what appears to be the first such attribution, to Pope Francis. Given Filipinos’ entrenchment in social media and our collective fondness for the Pope, it did not take long for someone to share it, and the rest is history.”

And, that folks, is how a false Internet story was born.  But wait (once more), because for me, at least, there’s more. 

Yes, Pope Francis never said those words, nor does he claim to have done so, but anyone reading the speech could easily see them as his own, and gain comfort from thinking he had. I know that my friend did, and from the number of Facebook views on pages posting the words as the Pope’s, I’d venture to say millions more around the world have as well.

So, in recognition of one of the few instances I know of where fake news offers at least some palliative benefit, I am reproducing the text of “Be Happy” below.  Be it a poet’s or blogger’s work, or that of some Bobby McFerrin fan inspired by “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” I frankly don’t care. 

Nor do I suspect does Pope Francis, as long as the end result for those inspired by these words is a closer kinship to its promise of Being Happy:

You can have flaws, be anxious, and ever angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you.

Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, relationships without disappointments.

To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord. It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity. Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves.

To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny's author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. It is to thank God for every morning, for the miracle of life.

Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It's to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a "no". It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us. To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple.

It is to have maturity to be able to say, “I made mistakes.” It is to have the courage to say, “I am sorry.” It is to have the sensitivity to say, “I need you.” It is to have the ability to say, “I love you.”

May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness ... that in spring may it be a lover of joy … in winter a lover of wisdom. And when you make a mistake, start all over again. For only then will you be in love with life.

You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life. But use the tears to irrigate tolerance. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculpt serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence.

Never give up. Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show.

Thanks, author, whoever you are.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Crime At The University

here is a lovely set of stained glass windows.
and me standing  in front of them.

here is the ceiling above...

and the doors...

and just  to see them to scale...

this is the  main building  of Glasgow University...

 we are on our way to the Huntarian Museum
It's all free folks,  if you  ever wander this way....

I did try  not to dance down this stairway...

I imagine that  Annamaria would  not have been able to resist..

through the opening  to the quadrangle...
all very 'Morse'

Yes the gates say 1451. The Roman empire did not finally collapse until a few years later.

the round reading  room, which was a) round, b) closed,
 We were too late to go in as we had eaten a rather nice cake.

Alan studied here for two  of his three degrees.
He boxed for the university team.

the new buildings are not up to much.

but they  have  lovely lawns with reading slabs.

Glasgow university, height of the summer...

The huntarian getting ready for our event.

The audience getting  crammed in.

the panel getting ready, you  will recognise the  other two I am sure...

Craig has been asked a question, he is looking for inspiration

Happy writers

I would like to point  out that all the writers had been up all night  watching the election. We were wearing red, blue and tartan!!  We had back up authors with us in case we broke down with exhaustion. The event was sponsored by a gin company!

Beautiful !

Caro Ramsay ( I am elsewhere at the mo!) 23 06 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories by Christopher Booker

Michael - Thursday

This title intrigued me, and I downloaded a copy and started reading. It’s a challenging book from various points of view. Booker’s thesis is that all stories—throughout time—fall into only seven rather well defined categories. He argues cogently and at length—the book runs to some 750 pages—that not only is there a reason for this apparent lack of imagination, but also any attempt to depart from one of these seven basic plot structures leads to an unsatisfactory ending for the reader. Further, he postulates why these plots are so essential, speculating on a type of psychological genetic coding that we need to develop our psyches, just as we have a physical genetic coding to develop our physical attributes.

I have to admit that I've only read about half the book so far. Frankly, it could do with some heavy editing. Many of the arguments are repeated in different chapters with a multitude of detailed examples given where one or two would do, and often the same aspects of the examples are discussed again in later chapters. I also felt that the arguments against the stories that don’t comfortably fit into the seven patterns were weak—for example, mysteries are dispensed with in an unusually brief chapter as mere mental puzzles with no depth, mainly because the protagonist is two dimensional, and merely watches the action from a distance and makes deductions. I don’t think I need to argue against that on Murder Is Everywhere! To be fair, it’s the Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie style of mysteries he rejects. He is positive about more psychological ‘mysteries’ like Oedipus Rex and Citizen Kane, which he fits into one of the big seven with no difficulty. Also, he is not blind to anything but ‘serious literature’. Box office hit movies and comic book superheroes make the cut. This doesn’t go down well in the literary establishment. The book was panned by Adam Mars-Jones, who also objected to Booker's seven-sizes-must-fit-all-if-they're-any-good approach and rejected the prescriptive application of these plot structures: "He sets up criteria for art, and ends up condemning Rigoletto, The Cherry Orchard, Wagner, Proust, Joyce, Kafka, and Lawrence - the list goes on - while praising Crocodile Dundee, ET and Terminator 2." 

I actually think that’s harsh and rather misses the point. I don’t think 'art' is as much the issue for Booker as the Jungian approach to the psychological importance and relevance of stories. The question of what we would call the quality of the writing, isn't really central. (Unless that’s in the next 250 pages!)

Certainly Booker is not averse to controversy. He has ‘alternative views’ on a variety of issues, including global warming, passive smoking, and the European Union.

So here are the plots:

Overcoming the Monster

In Overcoming the Monster, the hero needs to slay the monster which is attacking the community. For the hero’s development this needs to be done selflessly, often to rescue a beloved female character. The happy ending is when the hero kills the monster, gets the girl, and usually obtains high status in the community. Booker uses the examples of Beowulf taking on Grendel and the Hollywood blockbuster Jaws. The two stories are strikingly similar although more than a thousand years apart. Both involve a fearsome water monster that stealthily takes as prey members of the community (and eats them), both involve an underwater battle, both involve the eventual triumph of the hero against all odds. 
But, of course, the monster can be human, and may even be the dark side of the hero.

                                         Rags to Riches

In Rags to Riches, the plot is a poor boy or girl who use their own courage and character development to climb to being successful adults, usually marrying the prince or princess as the case may be. Aladdin is the obvious example and discussed in detail, but many, many, stories fall into this category. (At one point I thought Booker was going to discuss them all.)

            The Quest

The Quest is about the hero needing to undertake a journey or project to achieve a particular goal for the good of the community. The Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings are perfect examples. Watership Down and Raiders of the Lost Ark are others from different genres.

                                                                                Voyage and Return

Voyage and Return is rather like The Quest except that there may be no immediate goal for the voyage. The story may be more about the hero’s own struggle to find himself and return to his home. Booker discusses among others Robinson Crusoe and Peter Rabbit.5.  

Comedy is rather more complicated. It usually involves the confusion of a community—including the hero and heroine—and ends when the confusion has been resolved, the hero and heroine have developed, and all ends well. It doesn’t need to be funny, but usually is. Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream.      

Tragedy is when the hero or heroine is tempted and falls, and their dark side takes over. They struggle, but they have fallen too far. Eventually the path they have chosen leads to disaster and death. Dr. Faust and Anna Karenina are good examples.

This is basically Tragedy where the hero or heroine is able to redeem themselves or to be redeemed by an outside sympathetic person. Booker gives The Snow Queen, Fidelio, and The Secret Garden among his examples.

Booker’s thesis is that, in a sense, there is really only one plot and that is the development of the hero and heroine in different contexts until they ‘see whole’ or eventually do not (in Tragedy). Personally, I’m suspending judgment on it for the moment. Admittedly, it is striking how many stories ranging across time and cultures do fit into the seven molds quite neatly. On the other hand, the reasons for this seem more obscure. I’ll let you know in 250 pages time...


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, launched June 6.


Wednesday, June 28 at 18:00 Athens time
Book Presentation at 
Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum
Kalisperi 12, Acropolis