Joan McGavin, Jenny Lewis, Stonehenge, and Lord Burton’s Collection of Trophy Skulls in the Royal College of Surgeons, London

Self was going through some folders in her closet (Every time she returns from a trip, she puts her trip mementos in its own folder in her closet).  In one folder, she discovered an index card on which was printed:  ROYAL COLLEGE OF SURGEONS, LONDON (BURTON’S COLLECTION OF TROPHY SKULLS)

!!!!

Is she ever glad she decided to go through her folders today!  Or she would completely have missed this index card.  And she would never have thought to include the Royal College of Surgeons on her list of London Must-See Museums!

She’s read nearly all of Burton’s books.  He was quite a writer, though of course very much of his age regards racial distinctions and manifest destiny and so forth. But since she has read his books, what a pity if she left London without even taking a glimpse at his trophy skulls!

She can’t help being a little bit giddy at the thought that she will soon be in the UK.

She decided to sign up for a tour of Stonehenge, the day after she arrives.  The tour starts from Salisbury.  Self doesn’t even know the train schedules, but she is determined she will get to Stonehenge, no matter what.

She’s meeting up with two former Hawthornden residents:  Joan McGavin and Jennie Lewis.

Jenny has a new poetry collection out, Taking Mesopotamia.  There’s a reading at the British Museum on April 27.  She and Joan are going.

Then self is spending a few days with Joan, who teaches at Winchester University.

Another writer whose work, incidentally, self loves, is Morag Joss (Self can never get over her Half-Broke Things.  Still one of her favorite mysteries).  Two years ago, at Hawthornden, Joan informed self that Ms. Joss teaches at Winchester University.  Self’s heart is thudding in excitement, just thinking about this.  She starts daydreaming about bumping unobtrusively into Morag, perhaps in the teachers’ lounge.  That is, if English university professors hang out in teachers’ lounges.

Then, Dublin and the Tyrone Guthrie Center.

Penny, too, will be in Dublin, the second week of May.  She wrote a play, and it’s being staged there.

After she’s done with her stay at Tyrone Guthrie, she’s taking the train to Cork and staying in a country home.

And –  GAAH, self is so excited.  She’s packing very light:  all jeans and sweaters and mebbe one pair of ballet flats.  She’s bought The Man gift certificates to Biancini’s and Trader Joe’s, and lavished presents from See’s and what-not. (Just think, she told The Man, if any of her applications for visiting writer positions become successful, she’ll be spending far longer than a month in another place:  most visiting writer residencies are for a year!  Subtext:  So quit griping!)

She’s decided to bring only two copies of her collections.  Because the point of this trip, she keeps telling herself, is more discovery than self-promotion.  (Although, perhaps self would do well to devote a little more time to marketing herself, as look where she is now:  agent-less and still joining literary contests in the vain hope that she can get a book contract by winning one of those)

Self and The Man watched Muppets: Most Wanted last Saturday, and aside from being the most gloriously FUN movie self has seen in a long while, she very much appreciated the fact that a bank heist involved the Irish National Bank and was to go down, supposedly, in Dublin.  Is that synchronicity, or what?  Because self, too, will be in Dublin, in a very short while!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Scotland Forever

Edinburgh, June 2012

Edinburgh, June 2012

Self is musing about how lucky she was to visit Scotland in June 2012.  She had received a fellowship to the Writers’ Retreat at Hawthornden, about 45 minutes by public bus from Edinburgh.  She loved every inch of Edinburgh.  Every inch.  (She also loved Hawthornden).

She wrote like the Dickens.  She asked the program manager how many years she’d have to wait before re-applying.  He said, five years.  Five years !!!!  NOOOOO !!!

Self’s first time to brave the city was in the company of another writer, the poet Joan McGavin.  Joan had grown up in Scotland but now teaches in a university in England.  She was one of five other writers doing their residencies in Hawthornden that June.  One day, Joan invited self to accompany her to the University of Edinburgh, there was something she needed to check out of the library there.  So self, who never turns down an invitation to go anywhere, happily went along.

Right outside the library was this piece of art work (pictured above).  And only a short walk away was a plaque on the wall of a narrow house, saying that this was the house where Roget, creator of Roget’s Thesaurus, lived while a medical student at the University of Edinburgh.  Right away, self felt a shiver.  That shiver she only feels when she is approaching something really stupendous (Around the corner, some workmen were having heated discussion, liberally laced with “F—!”)

On that same walk with Joan, self walked past The Elephant House, the place where J. K. Rowling hung out while writing the first Harry Potter book.  In the comfort room of the Elephant House, there’s graffiti about Hermione.  Never mind what they say.  Use your imagination!  If self were Hermione, she’d be conflicted.

Anyhoo, self is thinking about Scotland again because in the 9 November issue of The Economist (Self still woefully behind in her reading, boo) there is a long article about whether or not Scotland should declare its independence from the United Kingdom.  Having spent all of one month in Scotland, self thinks she understands the impulse.  In the small library in Bonnyrigg, the closest town to Hawthornden, there was a section called The Scottish Bookshelf.  And there she saw the books of Ian Rankin, J. K. Rowling, Irvine Welsh, even J. M. Barrie.

The one author self thought should have been there but wasn’t was Morag Joss, the mystery writer.  When self mentioned to Joan that Ms. Joss was one of her favorite mystery writers, Joan said, very casually, “She teaches at my college.”

HEART PALPITATIONS!

Self has three favorite mystery writers, and they are:  1)  Morag Joss  2)  Ruth Rendell  3) Karin Fossum.  Fossum is Norwegian, Rendell is English, and Joss is Scottish.

Self remembers so clearly a sentence from Joss’s book, Half-Broken Things:  “People are so hard to kill.” (Yes, especially if one is an amateur, like the two people in the story.  In an extended scene, two people try SO HARD to kill a third, but even though the target is very old, the whole exercise becomes convoluted and appalling)

An Economist article called “A Unionist Pin-up” dissects the legacy of William Wallace, he who defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn and who, many centuries later, had the good fortune to be portrayed by Mel Gibson (in “Braveheart”), back when Gibson was not yet crazy.

They’re opening a museum to Wallace this year, “in time for the 700th anniversary of the battle.”  It will be in Stirling (Alas, self never got to see Stirling Castle, Wallace’s seat).  The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath states:  “As long as only one hundred of us remain alive we will never on any conditions be brought under English rule.”

Stirring words!  According to The Economist, “polls consistently show that about 30 – 40% of Scots will vote to leave” when the vote takes place, September 2014.

The five other writers and self who spent June 2012 in Hawthornden forged lasting bonds.  We sometimes refer to ourselves as the Quidditch Team.  When self goes to Tyrone Guthrie, in a couple of months, she fervently hopes the Team can reunite in London.

Oh, self also should mention that one of the Quidditch Team used to date Michael Palin, of Monty Python.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

GULAG: A HISTORY, by Anne Applebaum

Today, self will attempt to add more books to her reading list, by dropping by a bookstore.

She is returning Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, having read to about halfway.  It’s told from the point of view of  a rather seedy lawyer whose every thought is an analysis of how much he can make from fat-cat clients.

SPOILER ALERT!

When self got to the parts with the lawyer’s private eye, who turns out to be an extremely resourceful person, because of course he is William H. Macy . . .  whoops!  Self suddenly remembered something about William H. Macy’s character in the movie version.  Whoops, good-bye, she isn’t good with imagining William H. Macy as a corpse.  Because, after all, if he survived velociraptors in Jurassic Park 3, why cannot he survive some murderer-for-hire?  It’s just not possible!

Furthermore, after perusing last year’s reading list, self realized that she had actually read a more recent book by Michael Connelly, Nine Dragons.  She can’t remember a thing about it.  Oh boy, and here she was thinking that she was coming to Connelly fresh, having never read him before.

Anyhoo, the next book on her reading list, which she began a few days ago, is Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum.  Why she feels compelled to read a magisterial tome about Man’s Inhumanity to His Fellow Man when the evidence of Holiday cheer is just beginning, is a question she cannot answer.  Would it help to know that immediately after the birth of Sole Fruit of Her Loins, as she was resting up in her hospital bed, she was reading Dickens’ Bleak House?

But Anne Applebaum’s book is so interesting, and self hasn’t read a history since –  ok, since September, when she read Thomas E. Ricks’ absolutely enthralling book, Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq.  So here she is, in the first Monday of December 2013 (What, already?) reading Applebaum’s Chapter 2:  The First Camp of the Gulag.

The first camp was established in the Solovetsky islands, in Russia’s White Sea.  Applebaum writes:

Scattered across the White Sea are Bolshaya Muksalma, where prisoners once bred silver-black foxes for their fur; Anzer, site of special camps for invalids, for women with babies, and for former monks; Zayatska Ostrov, the location of the women’s punishment camp.  Not by accident did Solzhenitsyn choose the metaphor of an “archipelago” to describe the Soviet camp system.  Solovetsky, the first Soviet camp to be planned and built with any expectation of permanence, developed on a genuine archipelago, spreading outward island by island, taking over the old churches and buildings of an ancient monastic community as it grew.

This is the kind of stuff self finds absolutely fascinating!

In addition, self has just learned that Gulag won a Pulitzer, the year it was published.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Bookends/ The Joy of a Quiet Afternoon

Two days since Thanksgiving ended.  Though self had no one over, the clatter in her head can be quite deafening, a clatter the sole other occupant in this house is always happy to add to.  Every day brings a new spurt of instructions, whether it’s when to mail bills or covering windows with cardboard.  Mother-in-law said it best:  “My son is such a character.”

Now he has stepped out, without any prior warning: A friend of his from Ateneo, Randy, came over.  Self imagined both would want to watch the games.  But suddenly, after she’d bought all manner of chips and snacks and drinks and ham and what-have-you, she arrived to find the two men preparing to go out.  What is self going to do with all this food?  She’ll send it home with Randy, probably.  It’s either that or scarf on chips for days on end.

Anyhoo, after self watered a bit, she settled down in the tiny room she calls her “Office.”  This has all her memorabilia, all her saved literary magazines, all her knick-knacks.  Through the French doors, she can look right into the backyard:

The View From Self's "Office": What a Gorgeous Day!

The View From Self’s “Office”: What a Gorgeous Day!

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self.  It's on Laurel Street.

These bookends were from a consignment store in San Carlos, whose name is eluding self. It’s on Laurel Street.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright.  One Story faces out.

The Rabbit keeps her literary magazines upright. One Story faces out.

Now self settles down to tackle a huge pile of back issues of The New York Times Book Review.  There’s a “Let’s Read About Sex” issue, and the October 20, 2013 issue, which has more than the usual number of “Women’s Literature” reviews.  Self is bored reading about sex in the staid NYTBR.  It would be much more fun reading books about sex if she were reading something like Rolling Stone.  So she goes for the October 20, 2013 issue.

A short story collection by T. C. Boyle is reviewed in this issue.  Self really loves T. C. Boyle so she is happy to read the review (and would read anything by him, regardless of whether the review was good or bad).  There’s a review of a novel about the forty-ish Bridget Jones, and a review of a Scandinavian novel in which a traumatized woman is plagued by the conviction that her husband is guilty of a heinous crime (Don’cha just love those traumatized women in Scandinavian novels who are so . . . so noir-ishly fragile in temperament!  After all, there can never be another Lisbeth Salander.  That’s over.  That’s done.  Now it’s back to the Scandinavian women of an Ingmar Bergman movie)

Of the four crime novels reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in this issue (Sunday, October 20, 2013), two are set in Florence.  How absolutely fabulous!  That’s Florence, Italy, in case you were wondering.  The third is set in Manhattan (It’s by Jeffery Deaver, who writes about Manhattan like nobody’s business).  And the last one is set in a small town in Connecticut — but in 1956.  Self likely won’t get to the Connecticut novel, as she is easily confused by mysteries that happen in the recent past (Mysteries about the way, waaaaay past are much easier on her nerves.  At least, everything’s different, not like the ones set in the 1950s, where self keeps forgetting the decade and then wonders why she is so confused)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Day Before Thanksgiving 2013

Self is reading her UCLA Extension students’ work (This is not work; it is fun).

They had to hand in their final assignments yesterday, and self has to send feedback over the next few days.

Since it is just herself and The Man at home (Sole Fruit of Her Loins is attending a swing dance contest in Palm Springs, and Jennie is driving home to Las Cruces New Mexico), self does not feel any pressure at all to have a Thanksgiving table laid out.  She did, however, buy a prime rib roast; The Man says he will barbecue it in the backyard.

She has looked at the movies currently showing and is very excited to see that Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” has arrived at Palo Alto Square.  Moreover, “All is Lost” is still showing, as is James Gandolfini’s last movie (whose name self is blanking on at the moment; it’s a romantic comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

She looks over her reading list and adds a couple more books:  Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family; a novel about Guatemala by Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, When the Ground Turns In Its Sleep; Alix Kates Shulman’s 1972 autobiographical novel, Memoirs Read the rest of this entry »

Miami, FL: Noir-ish

Traveling again.  Now, self is in Miami.  There was a brief stop-over in Atlanta, which was warm.

Pale blue scarf, bought it two years ago, in San Luis Obispo.

Pale blue scarf, bought two years ago, in San Luis Obispo.  Took it off in Atlanta — the airport was WARM.

About Atlanta:  From the air, the sight of trees in all their fall riot of color was heart-stopping.  The light slanted a certain way (It was mid-afternoon).  The land looked lovely, reminding her of some areas of Virginia.  Manassas?  Alexandria?

Self saw her first “Sean Jean” shop, in the Delta concourse.  The clothes were like Gap meets Levis.

She tried the bacon and cheese fries from Nathan’s.  It was bigger than a triple decker and was so goo-ey.  But the large glass of lemonade (95 cents) was DIVINE.

Now, ensconced in the Doubletree behind the Hilton in downtown Miami, self confesses to wee disappointment:  the lobby and restaurants are very swank, but the rooms themselves — well, the corridors run here and there, like a warren, and the carpeting is tacky and old.  The color theme is BROWN.  Self grabbed a bottle of water, opened it, and then saw (too late, as usual) the sign:  Each small bottle of water is $2.95.  The wi-fi has to be paid for.

The Man insisted on renting a car, and the hotel charges a parking fee of $29.  “Do we REALLY need a car?” self asked the man.  “Can’t we just WALK AROUND?” “Well,” The Man said, “We can’t WALK to South Beach, can we?” Self wonders why he always seems to have an arsenal of these quips, which leave her tongue-tied.  Of course!  South Beach!  It would be CRAZY to be in Miami and not experience South Beach!

To add insult to injury, The Man demanded that self trundle along the GPS navigator that brother-in-law gave us in 2008.  When he logged the hotel address into the device, it could never “lock on”:  It kept trying to give directions to the hotel starting from REDWOOD CITY, CALIFORNIA.  Also, he engaged the clerk at Budget Car Rental TOO LONG in conversation, wondering aloud whether he should or should not get insurance.

Also, he went by himself to have dinner and found an Argentinian restaurant somewhere in the hotel that served huge steaks and good Malbeq (Self doesn’t even know how to spell Malbeq.  She never even heard of Malbeq until this evening.  She doesn’t know how The Man was able to figure out there was an excellent Argentinian restaurant on the premises.  She’s getting EXTREMELY hungry just typing this)

Self has just started reading Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and suddenly it strikes her that this is the PERFECT book to be reading in this hotel, in Miami.  The place (what she’s seen of it so far) is so noir.  Excellent convergence!  Maybe self will even be inspired to write a noir-ish story while she is here.

Isn’t Carl Hiaasen from these parts?  Maybe she will bump into Mr. Hiaasen at the Miami Book Fair!  Self hurriedly googles the Miami Book Fair Schedule of Author Events.  Apparently, highlights occur on Saturday.  There are some authors self loves, like Nathaniel Philbrick.  Like Sharon Olds.  Like Dave Barry.  But there is no Carl Hiaasen, boo.

Here’s a picture of the hotel room.  She wonders who did the large painting, somewhat reminiscent of an Olazo:

Doubletree Hotel, 1717 N. Bayshore Drive, Miami

Doubletree Hotel, 1717 N. Bayshore Drive, Miami

She was feeling resigned to the room until she started heating some water in a coffee cup and (too late, again!) saw a black spot at the bottom of the cup.  Something like a bug.  Hopefully not a spider.  Eeeeek!!!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gleaned From Wall Street Journal Books (Saturday/Sunday, Sept. 14 – 15, 2013)

  • Daniel Woodrell is an Ozarks’ based writer whose novels are very very noir.  Self plans to tackle the following of his books:  Winter’s Bone (made into a crackling good movie starring Jennifer Lawrence), the Bayou Trilogy, and his latest, The Maid’s Version.
  • Self also wants to read Bitter River, a new mystery set in a “hard-times small town” called Acker’s Gap, West Virginia.  It’s the second book in a series by Julia Keller.
  • And she REALLY wants to read a new book about the Rolling Stones, Rocks Off, by Bill Janovitz.
  • One of self’s favorite sections of the Wall Street Journal book review is the “Five Best” feature, which asks a celebrated writer to name five favorite books on a certain theme.  This week’s theme was “treason and betrayal” and the respondent was Allan Massie.  Here are three of the five books on his list:  The Meaning of Treason, by Rebecca West (published 1949); Whittaker Chambers, by Sam Tanenhaus (published 1997); and The Dark of Summer, by Eric Linklater (published 1956)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Neighbours in the Country”

Almost to the end of La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Self has read three other books by McCall Smith:  two from the Precious Ramotswe mysteries, and a third entitled 44 Scotland Street.

She’s liked them all:  McCall Smith has such an affable story-telling voice.

At first, she did not have high hopes for La’s Orchestra Saves the World.  The title was too obvious.  Would that mean the book itself was obvious, too?

It is very, very similar to Trevor’s Love and Summer, which was also a book about country folk and their secretive ways.

But no one writes plucky heroines like McCall Smith.

SPOILER ALERT!

The man La falls in love with has just been arrested for theft.  She goes to her next-door neighbor’s house in need of a little cheering up.  Then she observes how the neighbor’s son has acquired a new gramophone and an expensive leather jacket.  The neighbor is called Mrs. Agg (What a name.  Like “ugh”!  McCall Smith must believe in signifying:  Names, for him, must be much like a code).  So, here is how La’s mind begins to work:

Mrs. Agg must have known that Lennie had suddenly got his hands onto money, with his new gramophone and his leather jacket, and that large parcel, whatever it had contained.  She must have wondered where he got it; there would be no secrets in a family like that, all living cheek by jowl in that small farmhouse.  La could have told her about . . .  the theft, but did not, because just to mention it would have amounted to an accusation, and one could not fall out with neighbours in the country.  They relied on one another.  She and the Aggs had to live together, and if she denounced Lennie as a thief that would be impossible . . .  this was how evil prospered; this was how appeasement made tyrants confident.  One turned a blind eye . . .

And it was now, as she walked slowly about the garden, that she decided that she would give up her orchestra.  She no longer had the spirit for it.  She wanted simply to withdraw in her house, to read, to listen to the wireless, to struggle with her vegetables.  She would look after the hens — perhaps seek out more war work of that sort –  but she would keep to herself, in the little world that she had made for herself, where she could be safe.

But, more even than her desire to ensure her own personal safety, she must tell the truth.  So she goes to a policeman’s house, and confides in him her suspicion of Lennie, the neighbor’s son:

“You’ve seen somebody spending money?”

La swallowed.  “Yes.”

“Who?”

La held the policeman’s gaze.  If she had been a suspect, she would have found his eyes the most difficult of all.  They were the eyes of a countryman, but there was a knowingness about them.

She details her truth, what she has seen in her neighbor’s farmhouse.  And this is the response from the policeman:  He looks away.

This is simply heartbreaking:  La “could tell that what she had said was not welcome.”  The policeman’s attitude changes; it seems “more closed now.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

To Read (Five Summers From Now, Probably)

Here are self’s selections from the big, fat New York Times Book Review Summer Reading issue.  It’s sad, really, but self only came up with a handful of books.  She decided that, given the snail’s pace at which she’s been reading lately, from now on she has to exercise maximum discretion in adding books to her reading list:

two by Patricia Highsmith:  People Who Knock on the Door and Deep Water (recommended by Alexander McCall Smith)

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (Self finds the title exceedingly corny, but this one was recommended by Joy Williams)

Lady at the O. K. Corral:  The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp, by Ann Kirschner (reviewed by Sara Wheeler, who says the book “deftly conjures the thrill and squalor of frontier boomtowns and mining camps.”  Sold!)

two new mysteries:  The Square of Revenge, by Belgian author Pieter Aspe, and The Body in the Piazza, by Katherine Hall Page (reviewed by Marilyn Stasio)

three classic travel books:  Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands are Blue, by Paul Bowles; Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, by Richard Burton; and The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles (mentioned by Chris Wallace in the end-paper essay, “Literary Excursions,” about “the adventure-memoirists of earlier generations.”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Trieste Day 1

And now, dear blog readers, self is in Heaven.

No, not in Heaven.  She is in Trieste.

La Serenissima is hours away.  Here, the Adriatic is cold, pewter.  There are boats lining the harbor.  And a giant aquarium.

The taxi she took to her new digs (for at least three more days) cost 7.5 euro (about $10).  The man refused a tip.

Ah, thanks much, Alexei J. Cohen who wrote the Moon Handbook:  Italy.  Because of the five-page section he included about Trieste, self was determined to get there.

For a brief couple of minutes, she wondered if she were in her right mind, for every available seat in her train compartment was taken up by a group of very young, very athletic-looking men, who were oh so bursting with energy and high spirits.  And self had the mean thought that if these young men were all bound for Trieste, she would have to return to Venice bright and early tomorrow morning.

But, lo and behold, the young men all stayed until Trieste, and just when self was reaching up for her roll-y, one of the young men swung it down for her without having to be asked.  Ah, grazie, grazie!  He smiled and said, It was nothing.  So there you go, another of her mean assumptions exploded.  Traveling is certainly good for self, as it forces her to abandon her old thinking.

DSCN9197

At the moment, self is unwinding in her all-white room (with its rather florid chandelier) and waiting for the kettle of water to boil so she can have some tea.

A Sweet Little Kitchen

A Sweet Little Kitchen

There’s a TV (Perhaps self can get caught up in “Game of Thrones”!), but she has not turned it on just yet.

There’s a shelf of books:  John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man, Jo Nesbo’s The Redeemer, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and a travel book:  36 Hours:  125 Weekends in Europe, by The New York Times.

Self pulls down 36 Hours:  125 Weekends in Europe and browses through the Table of Contents:  London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh are all in a section called “North Atlantic.”  Paris, Lyon, St. Tropez, Madrid and Pamplona are in a section called “Southwest.”  Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna and Salzburg are considered “Central.”  Rome, Naples, Capri, Florence and Milan are considered “Southeast.”  And Copenhagen, Moscow, St. Petersburg and all of Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Finland are of course “Northern.”

Time to stop posting and start rejuvenating!

Arrivederci, dear ones.  Stay tuned.

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