Monday, March 20, 2017

Going to Extremes

Annamaria on Monday

My winter in the Eastern Hemisphere was extreme in a number of ways. 

At 83 days, it was my longest time away from home ever.

I logged a lot of air miles: one trip took me from Hoedspruit to Jo’burg to Dubai to Rome to Florence in 28 hours.  And the trip back to New York, last week—from Florence to Dusseldorf to London to New York, lasted just under 24.

During my stay in Cape Town, Stan took us down to the Cape of Good Hope, which to me, growing up in New Jersey, has always seemed like the other end of the world.

But more than the physical, it was the emotional extremes that made my last three months so intense.    

For one thing, my adventurous spirit burns as bright as ever, but I am still learning to fly solo.  So venturing forth comes with a great high of anticipation, but also a daunting unfilled need to validate the experience by sharing it with a dear companion.  Full and empty at the same time.

This yin and yang followed me wherever I went, most intensely during that week I spent in the bush, where my soul was nourished, as it ever has been in that sacred environment.  But still my heart was tugged by an ever-present longing for what was missing.

I carried two photos with me the whole while.  One is my favorite photo of myself, at age 14 months.  I still feel this exuberant, enthusiastic, loving child inside me, reaching out.


The other is my favorite picture of David, one I took of him looking out over the vast Serengeti.  What I had with him is also still with me, though it is gone forever from my daily life.

While in this complicated state of mind, it helped me to pay close attention to the night sky.  Perhaps that old saw is truly wise—that the vastness of the universe puts our petty problems in perspective.  But perhaps there is a deeper truth—that all that darkness and those intense lights become truly beautiful only if we experience them as two aspects of the same picture.

The Moon and Venus as seen from my terrace in Florence

There is a tree next to Stan’s bungalow at Ingwelala.  He told me that elephants had come into the garden and, inexplicably, after eating a few leaves from the top, broke the tree in half, leaving only a stump.  It seemed dead.  Then, afterwards, a new branch grew from the bare trunk.  I fell in love with that tree.  It seemed symbolic of my life.  Something came along, something that seemed random, that tried to kill it, but it grew a new branch, and it lived.

At my request, Stan took this picture of me with that tree.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dawn on Diamond Head

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Like Jeff (and Sujata), I'm in Honolulu this week for Left Coast Crime.

Taking one for the team in Honolulu.

It's been a wonderful, relaxing conference filled with friends, books, and mysteries. The location isn't too shabby, either...

Wish you were here.

Since this is (regrettably) my last morning on the island, I got up at 5am (everyone rises before the sun when on vacation, right?), met up with with fellow mystery authors Gigi Pandian and Diane Vallere, and headed out to hike Diamond Head -- also known as Lē'ahi, a volcanic mountain that dominates the coastline at Waikiki beach.

It takes a little over half an hour to hike from the park entrance to the top of the mountain, and we hoped to catch the sunrise, so we started early.

We spent the blue hour before dawn hiking upward along an earthen trail already fairly busy with fellow pilgrims:
The hour before dawn, at the base of Diamond Head.

After tackling the switchbacks we emerged at a small plateau.

We weren't the only pre-dawn travelers on the mountain.

And then continued up more stairs, through a tunnel...

Not a hike for the claustrophobic.

... and onto a second platform, which we reached just as the sun appeared above the horizon.

Dawn on Diamond Head.

From there, another, steeper set of stairs

Right at the end. In case you thought the first part was too easy.

which led to (and through) a World War II pillbox installation that remains at the top of Diamond Head. (Sadly, I didn't have the ability to stop for photographs inside.)

World War II pillbox on Diamond Head peak.

Although we didn't reach the absolute top before sunrise, the view was still spectacular:

Waikiki from Diamond Head

Although the pillboxes were a sobering reminder of the World War II-era history of O'ahu (which is also home to Pearl Harbor), Diamond Head is a lovely hike, and a beautiful place from which to view the island.

Another view from Diamond Head.

I'm not usually keen on rising before the sun, but for something like this I'll always make an exception.

Dawn from the peak of Diamond Head.

Especially when I can take the rest of you with me through photographs.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hawaii? Fine Thank You.


Okay, folks, let’s be real. Or rather, allow me to be real…as in honest.

There are still two feet of snow on the ground at my farm west of NYC, and the temperature remains below freezing.  On the other (ungloved) hand, it’s in the eighties and sunny in Honolulu at Left Coast Crime. So, how much of my remaining time in this paradise do you think I’m spending cooped up in my hotel room writing a thoughtful blog?

Those of you chortling at the image are on to something, so please step forward and receive your commendations for prescience.

But all is not lost, for here are photos of a bit of what’s transpired during this wonderful week at a terrific mystery conference hanging with old friends, making new friends, and acquiring Hawaiian shirts.  It’s tough work for sure, but someone has to do it.

Our Hotel:

The view from our hotel room of the complex hosting the conference:

Our Murder is Everywhere blogmates hard at work...on the right:


Faces in the crowd:
Maryglenn McCombs, Ovida Yu, Dru Ann Love,  Anonymous Photobomber

Robert Rosenwald, Barbara Peters, Interloper

Ragnar Jonasson, Barry Lancet

Island Scenes:

ALOHA, y'all.  Time to get back to work.


Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dangers Of Online Democracy

Democracy is too precious to be wasted on the masses. Somebody else said that, and on first glance that seems very sensible. Looking around the world, at the people who voted for Brexit as they thought it would stop 'this country being  swamped by immigrants' and that was their only reason. And those who vote for  Scottish nationalism because they don't like the English, and that is their only reason.

And those who voted for the orange one  in the belief that he would make America great again. When was it great before? And by what criteria? And a few countries already have the prefix Great and as I live in one of them, let me assure you, it's not Great. It's not bad, it's better than most but not 'great'.

 Overall it’s Ok with some dodgy bits and I am sure the USA is exactly the same.

But ‘Let’s make America Ok’ was never going to be an election winner was it?

There has been a very interesting and amusing story over here for the last few months, that  shows the upside and the down side of true democracy  and the dangers of the internet. 

Would you leave it to the Great ( or  mediocre ) British public – the  online public at least – to name your child? 

Imagine the Queen did that and some wag nominates 'Crowny Potato Bottom ' for a name, and everybody has  a laugh on the basis that nobody  would ever vote for a numpty name like that- then everybody does  for a laugh, just to get away  from the Victorias , Elizabeths and Charlottes. And before we know it, we have  King Crowny Potato Bottom.

I wonder if King Edward had a potato bottom.

And of course, in the national census so many wags filled in Jedi under the section Religious faith ( others, please specify), that it is now an official religion of  GB.  I do believe 2% of Police Scotland are technically Jedi. May the force be with them!
                                          RSS Sir David Attenborough

So it was when the National Environmental Research Council wanted a new name for the 200 million pound research vessel, they were maybe not best advised to let the online public choose.  A website was set up for them to suggest names, and vote.

Then a school communications officer thought he’d stick in a daft name for a laugh. He then came up with “Boaty McBoatface” and thought it rather fetching.

It caught on.

It became front page news.  The RSS was then put in a quandary. Legally they had the final say, but could they be seen to reject a name that the Great (?) British public had overwhelmingly voted for? Mr James Hand the man who came up with the name originally said he was ‘terribly sorry’ so he sounds jolly British as well. The name won by over 15,000 votes .
Other serious contenders were the RSS Henry Worsley, the RSS Sir David Attenborough and the RSS Pillar of Autumn. As the boat will be working in the Artic and the Antarctic from 2019 there was a suggestion she should be called the RSS Pingu or the RSS Boat Marley and the Whalers. Somebody did suggest the RSS Titanic but that name had already been taken.

Was it an apposite name for such a noble vessel?

 The renaged of course and  the boat was called ;The sir david attenborough' which is jolly spiffing and rather ( Great) British )  They did however name the submarine scout vessel Boaty McBoatface and he had his inaugural sink this week, to huge media coverage and much applause. The public adore him, he must be one of the most famous submersibles the world has ever seen. Although his name originally was  thought unfit for purpose.

And he makes people smile.

And he is also a kind of orangey yellow. And now underwater. And now popular.

So if any country out there has something orange and unpopular that could be considered unfit for purpose, just put it underwater for a week  and see how the world looks then.
                                        Starring Boaty McBoatface!

Just a thought,

Caro ( In London!)

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Michael and Stanley - Thursday

Stan can be emotional!

It is exactly one week since Stanley gathered with a group of old friends at Boulders Camp in the Kruger National Park to celebrate the milestone of turning seventy. Lion, herds of buffalo and elephant, and even hyenas and wild dogs made an appearance to pay their respects. It was all great fun and the Afrikaans word gesellig best describes the camaraderie.

View of Boulders Bush Camp

Boulders is a delightful camp set against a rocky outcrop or koppie some distance from the nearest tourist camp. You book out the whole camp – which has just six bedrooms – and Stan very generously did just that and invited us all to join him for the best part of a week. From the deck in front of the dining area we would watch klipspringer on the surrounding boulders. They are remarkable little antelope with hooves that seem to stick to the rocks that they choose to make their homes.

The first night Aron and Jenny Frankental put together an amazing spread of sushi made on the spot. Freshly made sushi in the middle of the bush in summer? Amazing!

Sushi spread

The guest of honor with
Ant, Michael, Aron, Stan and Mike
The main event was last Thursday, of course. It kicked off with a magnum of vintage champagne with smoked salmon, and then came the surprise of the evening. In the background we heard the singing of African voices getting closer. Amazing in the middle of the deserted bushveld. Then a team of singers appeared, entertaining us with wonderful African harmony. Eventually we even had Happy Birthday. At Stan’s request, they sang the national anthem Nkosi Sikelel, reminding us of everything that is right with the new South Africa. How Mette pulled off this miraculous event at short notice in the middle of nowhere is still a mystery to us.

Stan's emotions overflowed when the singers arrived.

The entertainment

We join in for the national anthem.
(Stan's singing isn't as bad as he says it is.)
That was followed by Mette’s magnificent fried duck breast dish which is among the best duck dishes I’ve ever tasted.  This was washed down with a delicious Volnay from 2001. 

Stanley's friend of more than sixty years - Ant Gear - kicks off
 with a slide presentation on their school days together
Mike Hart recalls their university days
Michael picks up the story of bush days and Kubu nights
Then there were a few words from Stan’s friends before my cherry flambé was rescued by Rosemary Gear’s homemade ice cream. (Another miracle – homemade ice cream in the middle of the African bush in summer made with a contraption brought all the way from New Zealand!) And a bottle of Sauternes with cheese board rounded out the meal (to say nothing of the shape of the guests).

Somewhere along the line Stan got creamed by Jean Hart.

And then Stan finally had a chance to defend himself.

The final event of the week was a braai out in the bush arranged by the nearby camp restaurant after an evening drive.

Getting stuck into drinks at the bush braai

Thanks to Mette Nielsen and Inga Page for the pictures.

I’ll leave it to Stan to have the final word. I don't do that often. But after all it was his birthday...


Stanley - in reply

As most of my friends know, the bush is where my soul is, so it is an obvious place to gather with close friends to celebrate a milestone.  Everything exceeded exception - they should rename the camp to Buitenverwachting (Beyond expectation).

I know I have wonderful and talented friends, but having four spectacular dinners for twelve hungry diners in the bush, prepared by teams of three as described by Michael was astonishing.  And how Mette, on the day of the big celebration, persuaded the two staff members to sing is testament to her wonderful and irresistible personality.  And then it was five singers, then eight, and finally nine.  No one else in the group had any warning of the singing, and I'm sure we were all bowled over by the haunting sound of Dumela iAfrica (Hello Africa) wafting into the dining area from the African darkness outside. 

If you haven't celebrated in the African bush, do so.  It is magic upon magic.  And invite Michael to be the sommelier, barman, and filler of glasses.  There is none better.

All that is left to say is "Thank you, my friends, for making this a memorable occasion!  Ke a leboga!"