Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Over-the-hill Revolutionaries

I am no fan of "Madmen." Glamorizing the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties seems to me the last thing the world needs at this moment. I admit that I have seen only one episode, the first, and about twenty-three minutes of the second, but that was enough to turn me off from the series for good.

My favorite "good times" of the second half of the twentieth century involve the antidote to the culture of Madmen – the international effort that is still spreading known in those days as The Women's Movement.

Betty Friedan and Friends
If you are fifty-five or over and worked for a living during the 1960's, 70's, and 80's, in the US, Canada, or Western Europe, you participated in this revolution that profoundly and forever changed the entire world.

If you are younger than fifty-five and came of age or were born into a world where working women’s rights were protected, stick around find out a bit about how we got to where we are today.

Bella Abzug
There were, in those early days a few widespread influences: books like "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and "The Female Eunuch," by Germaine Greer; "MS. Magazine"; the marvelous New York Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. The National Organization for Women emerged eventually. We did have a well-publicized march for equality – down Fifth Avenue. My father, the World War Two combat Marine, pushed my daughter in her stroller in that demonstration, while I carried a sign that said, "THREE GENERATIONS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN." But none of these publications, societies, or events can be credited with the Movement’s widespread success.

Rosie the Riveter
Of course, the demand for equal rights did not come out of nowhere. A wonderful example was set by the Civil Rights Movement. The employment of women in war-time manufacturing during the "Rosie the Riveter" era had changed women’s self-image. The demographics of the country – a growing economy and a lower birth rate pointing to a need for more entrants into the workforce also had an impact. All of that history and more. Yes. But.

Whatever the historical factors, I doubt the revolution would have gotten off the ground it were it not for thousands and thousands of ordinary women on the line who fought the battles on the job, who showed up every day and got the work done, and thought up imaginative ways to thwart the status quo when it stood in the way of progress.

I know a lot of stories from the pink collar wars. Here's one of my favorites. It is a perfect example of what made the Movement move:

In the state of Nevada in the 1970's, there was a thriving printing business. Big firms stamped out mail order catalogs, magazines, Sunday supplements for newspapers, all kinds of color work on shiny paper. The jobs were divided into heavy printing and light printing. Those who did heavy printing were all men and made near twice the hourly rate of those doing light printing, who were all women. The women wanted into the higher paying positions, but a state law stood in their way. Nevada’s books said that if the job required employees to lift more than twenty pounds, the work had to be done by men. Women protested, testifying that females in everyday life regularly lifted more than twenty pounds. Any mother of a toddler or housewife who did laundry and grocery shopping for a family of four could have told you that. Nevada women took their case right up to the State Supreme Court. But the justices held their ground and upheld Nevada's right to "protect" women in the printing industry from getting a sixty percent increase in their wages.

Not ready to be frustrated once and for all, the ladies looked for another way.

Printing was the second biggest industry in the state. The first biggest was gambling. And that's where our “light” printers found their answer. The big-time casinos employed hundreds of women who waited tables at the headliner dinner theaters. They preferred ladies with long legs and pretty faces. The statuesque, scantily clad members of the "weaker sex" hefted huge trays piled with dishes, glasses, cutlery.

Casino Waitress
The printing women did a little study. One Saturday evening, when the restaurants were packed, they got the waitresses to weigh their trays. About a third of them were over twenty pounds.

Nevada had two choices. Either force the casino owners to put men in the place of the waitresses in stiletto heels, or change the law and let women do jobs that required them to lift more than twenty pounds. The casino owners, with their enormous political clout, weighed in, as it were, on the side of the women printers. The law changed and so did the take home pay of hundreds of women workers.

It happened that way over and over, a little triumph here and rule changed there. Progress.

Things are not perfect yet. But they have gotten better. And will continue to do so. Because of the revolutionaries in pantyhose who made it work those decades ago.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, November 28, 2011


Why do left-overs sometimes taste better than the original? My mother used to buy an extra big turkey for our Thanksgiving dinners so she would have an abundance of left-overs to last through the following week. My brother and I, from an early age, would begin the ritual by sneaking into the kitchen after dinner and picking at the carcass which always had ample meat left on it. After that came the turkey sandwiches, turkey hash, turkey salad, and ultimately – the soup. By that time even my brother and I were a bit tired of the turkey taste and I suspect much of that dish went down the drain.

At some point during my teenage years my grandmother (on my father's side) decided to take charge of Thanksgiving dinner. "To save my mother work," was the excuse. But my grandmother lived in a small apartment and didn't know how to cook, so taking charge meant eating Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant and she would pay for it. The nearest restaurant was on the first floor of her apartment house. A cold, cavernous room at the best of times, on Thanksgiving it was almost empty, except for a few lonely widows or widowers or others who lacked family ties. The waiters were stiff, the menus were stiff, the napkins were stiff, and as a result the conversation was stiff. Actually, we were afraid to raise our voices for fear an echo would come roaring back at us, like a Bush man's boomerang and knock us dead. And of course there were no left-overs. (The custom of taking home what you couldn't eat in a baggie had not been invented yet.)

Nowadays when my brother and I have families of our own, and we are together on Thanksgiving, I wait for him to give me the high sign, and while others linger over their coffee and pumpkin pie, we sneak into the kitchen to enjoy our ritual of picking at the carcass.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Puppy Love, Pink Bats and Armageddon

It wasn't Jill Abramson's elegant elevation to the top of the tree at the Times that grabbed me. (Though I have total respect for any woman who could do that!)

It was the cover of her book, The Puppy Diaries.

That face !

Her golden retriever Scout, the highly acclaimed addition to the "dogoir genre", that grabbed my heart!

My own thriller series features a golden retriever named Honey. Though her coat is a bit darker than Jill's puppy, now I will always see her as a grown-up Scout!

The courage of Leon Panetta captures me at another level. That guy really loves his country!

Enough to leave his cherished walnut farm to fight as our SecDef in our "blizzard war."

A true blue wise man who leads us on multiple fronts, as needed, even in a possible unspeakable face of an Armageddon.

A rara avis who got all 100 votes from those folks in the Senate.

They say he "calls it as he sees it" – with a Midas touch of negotiating skills, who with little experience in spycraft won over that whole building of Langley spooks.

I'm a pushover for unique creativity.

I give a gold star to a woman named Alexandra Meyn, who has built herself a treehouse up against an old mulberry tree in Brooklyn, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant

Talk about a childhood dream come true!

Her treehouse even has lights, a record player.

Pink bats on the wall!

Plus glass windows "that dangle on the ground floor level like earrings."

What a retreat!

What a writer's sanctuary!

If I had a treehouse with pink bats and those earrings, I bet I could win an Edgar or two.

Maybe a whole Nobel!!!

T.J. Straw

Friday, November 25, 2011

Made Ya Look

Phishermen and spambots are getting cleverer and cleverer about getting people to click on their toxic links. For example, someone called Helen Wotzername sent me an email with a convincing Facebook look to it, blue logo, everything, claiming to have posted a comment to my wall: "You're full of $&^%." That, of course, would be perfectly true about a lot of what I post on my wall, but most of my friends are too polite to say so. Furthermore I don't know anybody named Helen Wotzername.

Viewing my mail was the first thing I did this morning. I was not yet wide awake. The email offered me a link to click to view the comment thread, and, Lord help me, I clicked it.

Luckily the site had been somehow dismantled before I clicked the link. In any case I saw at once that it was bogus, and clicked right off again. But it could have been bad. And you could be offered stuff like that. "Look at this picture of you. LOL." That's another good one, tough to resist.

So what if I click on this link, you ask? Well, if it's a Facebook hacker, you could be made to look like a complete horse's patoot in front of all your friends, acquaintances, and Facebook frenemies. Posts signed by you will begin to appear on Facebook: "Ooo! Ooo! I'm having so much fun playing (fill in the game of your choice). Won't you come and play with me?" "I just won a free IPad! Clik here and u can win one 2!" And that's the best that can happen. Worst case, they'll steal your identity and clean out your bank account.

I suppose you're expecting me, as a self-declared left-leaning tax-and-spend Democrat liberal, to demand that the government do something about these sleazy intrusions into our cyberspace. Well, I'm not. The government has no place in our cyberspace or anyone else's. Let the government get its own house in order.

What I am going to say is, watch out. There is no law west of the Pecos, and it's all west of the Pecos out here.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Am Grateful For...

The New York City Subway, the medicines my husband takes, my iPad, white linen, Netflix, fountain pens, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my Francis Francis espresso machine, Di Palo Italian grocery, my little red sports car, digital photography, sapone al melograno from the Farmacia of Santa Maria Novella, white Burgundy, pants with elastic waists, the moon, my electric stapler, a two-book contract, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Scrabble, curly hair, Faicco's sausage, the speed of light, steam heat, hot showers, the Chrysler Building, the weeping beech, lionesses, air travel, Wikipedia, red leather gloves, foie gras, comfortable shoes, spell check, the Ponte Sant' Angelo, reading glasses, peonies, the eastern box turtle, Don Giovanni, Tintagel,........

And these are just some of the THINGS.

I won't even try to list the people I'm grateful for. One of them is you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Cousin, the Carlyle Hotel Barkeeper or It's All Relative, Relatively Speaking . . .

"Why do you write a scene at Bemelman's Bar in every book?" my agent asked. "You got stock in the joint ?"

"Well, relatively speaking, it's sort of a signature, like Stuart Woods and his scenes at Elaine's."

Truth be told, I've felt like kin to the place ever since the Carlyle Hotel became part of the Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, of which group Caroline Rose Hunt is the elegant Chairperson. Yes, THAT Caroline, with the rose-red lipstick and HER signature, double strand of pearls. The lovely but tough grande dame of the Dallas Hunt clan. One of the richest ladies on the planet, but a frugal boss, who has been known to press used pieces of soap together for re-use.

I never met her, but we're kind of related. My great uncle's daughter, Rose Mary, married Caroline's brother, Lamar Hunt. ( Before they split and he married Norma.) I met Rose Mary once, a few years ago, but figured it was not kosher to ask, "Say, Cuz, why'd you split with the golden boy?"

I've always figured Caroline and I are kin, she being the blood sister of my second cousin's Ex. Kind of like all in the family.

So, since she took over the Carlyle and its famous Bemelman's Bar, thus becoming, so to speak, the head barkeeper, I feel duty-bound loyalty to said bar. Like it became part of me too.

This all started with my maternal great-grandfather, Ransom D. Whittle, of Knoxville and his pretty bride, Sarah Elizabeth of Byington, TN, who loved pretty things and cats. They owned the famous Whittle Trunk and Bag Co., that made trunks for people and early automobiles. Alas, the trunks went the way of the Carolina hosiery mills – but Ransom, Sarah and their family of ten did okay.

Their youngest, Ralph, was a whiz at building things. Big things – like bridges and tunnels and army camps. He moved to Dallas and built spillways - Iron Bridge, Forney Dam, Cedar Creek and Lake Livingston.

He met up with a rich guy named Huntington Lafayette Hunt, better known as ole H.L., the Texas oil tycoon who they say built a fortune by trading poker winnings for oil rights. H.L. had two wives, one mistress and about 14 children.

Gossip has it the TV series DALLAS was inspired by his familia!

Meanwhile, I guess Uncle Ralph and H.L. must have shared a drink or two, a game of cards and maybe a pew at the University Park Methodist Church. Maybe Sunday dinners. Maybe that's how Rose Mary and Lamar got together.

Lamar was no slouch either. He created the American Football League and was known as a big sportsman. After attending Culver Military Academy, he graduated from the Hill School in Pennsylvania, then became a geologist with a B.A. from Southern Methodist University. Owner of the Dallas Texans, connected with the Dallas Cowboys and sports teams in Kansas City and Chicago, he is credited with inventing the term "Super Bowl." He was a triple inductee – the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. (Maybe Rose Mary wasn't into sports!)

That and a few billion silver dollars entitles you to a long OBIT whe you leave the planet!

One of the few business ideas Lamar had that did NOT materialize was to buy the island of Alcatraz and develop it into a tourist park.

H. L's kids did pretty well in carrying on the family name, wealth and fame. His youngest, Swanee Hunt, served as Bill Clinton's Ambassador to Austria and founded the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

But back to the Caroline-cousin-Bemelman's-connection. By the way, she wrote a book on Pumpkins – so we have one thing in common, being fellow writers!

I haven't picked up her soap habit yet, but I also wear pearls and rose-red lipstick!

I sometimes think what fun it would be to sashay up to the bartender at "my" bar on Madison and 76th and order a double dry martini, and say, "Just charge it to Ms. Caroline Hunt. We're distant cousins, you see!"

Thelma Jacqueline Straw ( who also writes as Ransom D. Whittle )

Friday, November 18, 2011

At Large in the Groves of Academe

As I probably mentioned to you about four thousand times, I won a prize, or The Edge of Ruin did, from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance, for the best historical novel of 2010 about New Jersey. A few weeks ago I went to New Brunswick to accept the prize and appear on a panel along with the other award winners, all real historians, in the Pane room of the Alexander Library at Rutgers.

Harold and I showed up at the Alexander Library a little early. I asked the information lady where the Pain room was. She thought for a moment and said, "Ah. The Pah-Nay room. It's that way." And so it was. I posed with a bust of Dante while we waited for the others.

The panel went well. Librarian Chad Leinaweaver introduced us, and we spoke for awhile about our work, Michael Adelberg, Joseph G. Bilby and me. The audience consisted almost entirely of members of the Alliance, all of them real historians, many of them distinguished college professors. In the middle of the first row sat a stern-looking man who fixed me with a gimlet eye as I rambled on about what a pill Thomas Edison was considered to be by the independent film makers of the early twentieth century. Turned out he was the foremost Edison scholar in the universe, Professor Paul Israel. He is the keeper of Edison's papers, a huge hoard.

Yikes. When I was first working on that book and folks in the publishing world urged me to say nasty things about the god-like Edison as a way to get attention, I had a sneaking feeling that i might run into one of his adherents somewhere down the line. I little knew how soon, or how great an adherent.

He came and spoke with me after the talk. I'm happy to say he didn't bawl me out for being mean to Edison, but mildly disagreed with my assertion that the early peep-shows were men's entertainment, and then tried to excuse the elephant. I hadn't mentioned the elephant, actually, although it's often on people's minds. Edison had the creature electrocuted on camera. The elephant was a rogue elephant; it had killed a guy; the demonstration had nothing to do with the struggle with George Westinghouse over alternating vs direct current, because by the time they juiced the elephant that fight had been settled.

That's what he said. I have no reason to doubt him. And, hey, he bought my book. I thought he was charming.

Kate Gallison

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writer’s Block: Symptoms and Cure

Writer’s paralysis, more commonly known as “Writer’s Block” is an insidious disease
that can come on suddenly and take many forms. Mild cases may be called procrastination.

More serious attacks are referred to as – sloth. And the most severe cases as – paralysis.

How does a writer cure this disease in its early stages? First, recognize the symptoms.

  1. You put off writing by doing miscellaneous chores such as dishwashing, bed-making, vacuuming, or minor home repairs such as fixing the toaster, replacing burnt-out light bulbs, paying bills, (you know the kind of thing).
  2. You finally make it to the computer, but the first thing you do is check your email, Facebook and Twitter, and answer all communications found there.
  3. You respond to all physical demands such as hunger pangs, caffeine and/or (heaven forbid) nicotine cravings instantly.
  4. Nap-time.
  5. Dinner with a little wine.
  6. TV, party, movie, whatever…
  7. Bedtime. Restless night due to bad conscience, guilt, feelings of worthlessness, followed by nightmares: taking a math test unprepared, giving a party with no refreshments in the house, appearing on a panel and getting tongue-tied.
  8. Waking tired, unrefreshed, ready to begin a new day, repeating all of the above.
  1. Set alarm for six AM.
  2. Rise, shower, dress, have breakfast with a heavy shot of caffeine.
  3. Turn off cell phone.
  4. Go to computer. Do not check email. Do not check Face book. Do not check Twitter.
  5. Go directly to Word or its equivalent.
  6. Bring up a blank page.
  7. After some serious thinking (no more than ten minutes) start typing. Continue typing until noon.
  8. Break for lunch. (Optional: Do dishes. Make bed)
  9. Back to computer. Print out what you wrote in morning. Read it. Edit it. Revise it, if necessary.
  10. Dinner
  11. Exercise: Walk, jog, bike or visit gym. Recreate: TV, read, fraternize with family or friends.
  12. Bed. Sleep dreamless, guilt-free sleep. Awake rested, refreshed, ready to repeat all of the above.

Note: Those who work fulltime or care for small children must adjust their schedules accordingly. Try to set aside two or three hours in the early morning or late evening for writing on a regular basis. For you, the challenge is greater, but it can be done.

P.S. Please know, I have suffered all these symptoms and have come close to becoming a terminal case. I also know that this disease has a habit of recurring. No cure is permanent. There is no telling when the dread symptoms may appear again.

Be on guard!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reunion: Where All the Old Men Pack Heat

There is one place where once every two years I feel at home: the Biannual Reunion of Former Members of the 83rd Precinct, NYPD. Of course, among the several hundred men (and a smattering of women) who packed the Knights of Columbus Hall on the night of September 16, 2011, a Friday, in Valley Stream, Long Island, there were also in attendance current members of the Command –young enough to be my children (if I had any). But being retired cops, we don’t go to see them (we don’t know them); we go to see each other, familiar faces, comrades – we go to see who’s left. And everyone who is, is carrying a concealed weapon.

Well, not quite everyone. Joey ‘G’ doesn’t have his – scruffy, his clothes as disheveled as I remember (could be the same leisure suit); the curly, unkempt blonde hair going to grey as you’d expect of a man in his mid-sixties. In the 1970’s, Joey ‘G’ was our go-to guy: a cop needed a ‘junker’ to get to and from work, see Joey. What else? Drive the Family Car in, park in and around the Precinct? With the neon light flashing; “COP’s CAR! COP’S CAR!” Definitely NOT – not in Bushwick, the car-theft capital of Brooklyn, not to mention the army of home-grown arsonists who were busy reducing streets of wood two-and-three-story homes to vast vacant lots.

Of course, this is not the Joey ‘G’ we remember: the hand you shake is no longer heavily callused with thin lines of grease in the cracked skin of the palms, and the soiled uniform shirt is gone – gone years ago with the Job and the pension, after his arrest. On the bright side, no one knew more about the Chop-Shops of Bushwick than Joey, or handed out more free ‘intel’ on the locations to the big ‘collar men’ in the Precinct. Joey ‘G’ has not aged well. (Naturally, I don’t use last names to shield the identities of the Indicted and Unindicted.)

I mingle, keep moving: no choice in a ballroom full of steely-eyed suspicious men; they might think I was wearing a wire (although the Statute of Limitations expired decades ago). I scan the faces, most of which are as familiar to me as family. I’m looking for Louie ‘R’, one of my former partners who hasn’t showed his face here for several reunions, the last time being shortly after his release from Federal prison. He’d served nine years for being part of a Drug Conspiracy selling heroin in Bushwick and neighboring Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In the late 1970s, Louie and I had been two of the four cops assigned to a special patrol unit called the 83 Pct. Conditions Car. Under the supervision of a gung-ho Patrol Sergeant, Freddie ‘S’, we patrolled in uniform in an ‘unmarked’ brown Plymouth – three normal-sized cops stuffed in the back seat, John ‘M’, our own Super-Cop, the driver and Sgt. Freddie, the Navigator. Our task? To stop all crime, arrest every bad guy the Sector ‘RMP’ (Radio Motor Patrol) cars could not manage because assigned to specified geographic areas, having to respond to an endless stream of assignments in their sectors from the Police Radio Dispatcher.

So we did the drugs, the gangs, the guns, the counterfeiters, chop shop garages, disorderly premises and who or whatever else needed Special Attention, within the two square miles comprising the 83rd Precinct. We executed Search Warrants which, being a lawyer (but not yet admitted to practice, my application having stalled in the Character Committee) I drafted, based on information provided by our stable of a dozen Registered Confidential Informants (‘CIs’). CIs were criminals we’d caught in the act and, with the acquiescence of the Brooklyn District Attorney and the Courts, we allowed to remain at liberty in order to ‘work off their cases’ on the streets. It was all according to Hoyle, strictly on the up-and-up, according to the customs of the day. The CI’s real names were recorded, their pictures taken, and a code name assigned to each man and woman, and they were duly warned that they must not commit any new crimes themselves while spying on their colleagues (theoretically). We rode herd on our CIs, of course, but after awhile it became unnecessary, almost counter-productive. Despite the obvious danger, they really got into their new roles, as if they were cops themselves (and in a sense that was true: they were our Deputized Agents, we told them).

One not-so-young female drug user whom we’d christened ‘BlueEyes’ had missed her calling. She’d developed a repertoire of tics – pacing back and forth, circling, twirling her hands, throwing her head back in loud laughter – to indicate the seller was holding. She’d let us know before she went on the set just what moves she’d be employing that day. Watching BlueEyes do her routines was like watching good opera (Violetta’s boudoir death scene in La Traviata comes to mind). Nothing as unremarkable as scratching her head or removing sunglasses for Ms. BlueEyes. It helped that she already had a reputation in the neighborhood as ‘loco’ before she hooked up with us. And, truth is, we felt affection for BlueEyes and responsible for all our CIs, careful never to put them into a situation we couldn’t control. Likewise, we cops were a tight band of brothers – until Louie retired and afterward did the unthinkable.

Louie was caught by the DEA in possession of a large quantity of heroin. After he’d retired in 1978, he’d worked as a courier for an Hispanic Drug gang. He was Puerto Rican and Bushwick, since the 1970s, was predominantly Puerto Rican and Dominican, and Louie was a street-smart ex-cop. When a big-time dealer or his lieutenant is caught (and Louie was so regarded by then), he looks to make a deal: give the cops a bigger fish or a more exotic catch. He chose the latter, implicating our former partner, John ‘Super Cop’ in drug dealing in Bushwick. This was in the late 1980s. I was retired a few years already and John was a Detective Second Grade, the best investigator I’d ever seen, with more eyes and ears in the street than any cop in Brooklyn. His name was on the lips of every junkie and law-abiding citizen in Bushwick, and he was one of them, a Puerto Rican. For all those reasons, the Feds liked him for a dirty cop, and initiated a year-long investigation that ultimately came up with nothing. Yet he’d had to endure the endless questions from the Internal Affairs Bureau within and the DEA without.

So when Louie showed up a few reunions ago, the stage was set for a violent confrontation (which cops who’ve been drinking have been known to do).


Robert Knightly

Friday, November 11, 2011

Processing Food, Processing Words

Modern life offers many annoyances, ranging from the fact that I have to take off my shoes in the airport to the fact that many of my friends and relatives are dead. However, the twenty-first century does have its upside. I finally got a food processor.

Twenty or thirty years ago I was in a friend's kitchen (she's still alive, btw, for those of you who might be worrying) where a friend of hers was explaining a recipe to me. "You put it in the food processor," she said.

"I don't have a food processor," I said.

This lady looked at me with naked pity. You'd have thought I just admitted to not having indoor plumbing. My friend frantically attempted to save my face. "But she has a word processor," she said.

Still, those were my priorities, back in the day. I'm a good cook, but I'm never going to be a professional chef, and for all this time I've been content to process my food using a bowl, a spoon, and a good sharp chef's knife. And yet last month when some online emporium offered a 12-cup Kitchenaid food processor in cinnamon red for 30% off full price I was there.

That baby is now in my kitchen. You should see how fast and how thin it cuts up a cucumber. You should see how easy it is to make pie crust. If you keep the ingredients good and cold it's as flaky as anything you could mix by hand. Just brrt! brrt! and there you have it, a perfect ball of dough.

And how is my Work in Progress coming, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. Words are a lot harder to process than food.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Song Lyrics

The days of runny noses,
Got an achin' head, want to stay in bed,
Taking Benadryl and drinking orange juice,
Nothing I do is of the slightest use

My breathing passage closes,
Got a hacking cough, now my brain turned off,
Supposed to write a blog but haven't got a clue.
The days of runny noses are blue.

Addabaria Alfieri

Monday, November 7, 2011

3 Literary Anniversaries Worth Celebrating in 2011

The 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible
The 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens
The 100th Anniversary of the publication of Peter Pan

In 1611 King James appointed a committee of 54 scholars to prepare an English translation of the Bible. They worked in teams for 7 years, translating from Greek, Hebrew and older English texts. The result was a massive tome of nearly 1500 pages, 10 ½ inches wide, 16 ½ inches high, printed in beautiful black Gothic type. It is probably the single most influential book in the English language. At present there is an interesting exhibit about the KJV at the American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway, in Manhattan.

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was a writer whose stature has never been surpassed. His novels are as rich and lively today as when they first appeared. Many of his characters have become fixtures in the minds of readers all over the world. And his depictions of the workhouse, debtors prison, and orphanages served to bring about major reform in these institutions. The Morgan Museum in New York City has an exhibit about him until February 12, 2012.

Peter Pan
Although Peter swore he would never grow up, he has reached the age of 100 years in 2011. James M. Barrie’s character has appeared in book, theater and film, delighting children and adults alike. In honor of his centennial, an annotated version of the original Peter Pan has been released by The Annotated Books, edited by Maria Tatar.

As we all clapped at Tinker Bell’s request in Barrie’s famous play, let’s applaud these three anniversaries before 2011 comes to a close.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, November 6, 2011

L'Envoi at Prout's Neck, Maine

by Thelma Jacqueline Straw

The woman stood on the cliff that rose above the Atlantic Ocean and let the rain mingle with her tears.

If she dropped the man's ashes into the water the tides might take them as far as Cape Finisterre on the northwest tip of the coast of Spain.

Unless they drifted south and hit the beaches of the Azores.

You never knew with ocean tides.

The grey ashes might end up at Baffin Bay or even drift among the Hebrides.

The rain came down harder now.

The rocks were cold and hard beneath her thin-soled sandals , as she held the silver box tightly to her chest.

She felt like an ancient Trojan woman, pouring the remains of a warrior into the wine-dark waters, or a Celtic princess, poised above the Irish Sea, performing rites that had begun way back in the mists of time.

She felt guilty at her mixed feelings.

Had the English prince been torn in his heart as he cast a spadeful of earth over his former wife under the trees of her private island in the lake at Althorp Park?

She could still hear the song, the sad, poignant lyrics that had echoed the lament of millions of mourners.

"Now you belong to heaven, and the stars spell out your name... like a candle in the wind."

The man had come from an old New England family, but not twenty generations.

Two hundred years was not a long time when you compared it to royal centuries.

But did the man belong to any heaven?

Would his name be in any star?

He had taken so much from her life and given her back so little in return.

He had grown dark, then darker, until it took all her strength to recall that he had ever borne any light at all.

She had tried to honor her sacred vows, covered over with so many layers that no one ever knew what lay at the bottom of her emotions.

Let the dead bury the dead.

But she was not dead.

He was, reduced to a small silver container that fit in the palm of her hand.

She opened the box and held it upside down and watched the ashes and bits of bone mingle with the rain as they fell down to the water below.

"Go with God," she whispered, as the tiny particles disappeared from her sight.

Then she turned to walk toward the rain-spattered Jeep at the edge of the road.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lights Out!

The storm on Saturday knocked the power out again, three hours in the dark for us, longer for others. Some folks in North Jersey and Connecticut are still in the dark. Last month – I think it was last month – the power went out in Lambertville for three days after hurricane Irene. I haven't even restocked the freezer from that. Seems like this sort of thing just keeps happening. The worst part is not knowing how long it will be off.

But I didn't come here to complain. If we're going to lose the electricity all the time we'll just have to figure out how to get along without it gracefully, right? My great-grandmother didn't need electricity to keep house.

Well, okay, my great-grandmother had a cook and a maid. And gaslights. And a wood stove. Furthermore, if you want to know, she was sick in bed all the time, so she probably didn't care whether the lights were on or off.

As for me, I intend to fix myself up with the necessary stuff to withstand the next onslaught in comfort. I laugh at the electric company. Ha, ha. Do your worst. Here's what we'll need:

Oil for the oil lamps. Yes, we have enough oil lamps to light much of the house. Not very brightly, but hey.

A gasoline camp stove. We have a little propane camp stove, and a couple of cans of propane, but it isn't big enough to cook a decent-sized pot of pea soup.

One of those crankhandle radios. I almost got one at Radio Shack right before Irene but they only had one left and the handle was lost.

Shelf milk, sardines and vienna sausage. My mother-in-law keeps shelf milk against any eventuality. It saw her through Hurricane Katrina when thousands were starving. And drowning.

And okay, a high-end smartphone. The only people in Lambertville who seemed to know what was going on during Irene were finding it all out on their smartphones.

So there's my shopping list. Probably I'll add some more stuff to it. Next time Mother Nature rolls over the power company Harold and I will be ready. Drop by and see us. We'll be lounged up in comfort, trying to read by the light of the oil lamps. We'll share our vienna sausage with you.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Namesake

Regular readers of the Crime Writers Chronicle may recall how I chose my pen name: it is my mother's first name and her mother's maiden name, chosen to honor two very bright women who never had my educational opportunities. I have since learned that my great-grandmother's name actually was Annamaria Alfieri. I honor her, too.

Today, I want introduce you to another writer named Alfieri, who is probably no relation at all, but I will brag about him anyway. I had never heard of him when I took his/our name. When my dear Florentine friend Nicoletta Pini told me that Alfieri was a great literary name, I took an interest.

Count Vittorio Alfieri (16 January 1749 – 8 October 1803) was a playwright and is considered Italy’s greatest writer of the eighteenth century and founder of modern Italian drama.

Alfieri was born in the beautiful small city of Asti in Piedmont. His father died when he was very young, and after his mother’s remarriage, he was sent away to the Academy of Turin. His greatest interests were literature, especially ancient Greek plays, and horses. His enthusiasm for equestrian exercise lasted the rest of his life.

After a year in boarding school he went to live with an uncle, who took charge of his education, but who also died within a few years. At age fourteen, having inherited great wealth from his father and uncle, he was free to focus on his third great pursuit: travel – he wandered all over continental Europe and England, looking for an ideal place to live and falling in love with married women. His peccadilloes caused at least one aristocratic divorce. His greatest love was Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gerdern, the wife of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Their love affair began in Rome in 1778 and continued there and in Florence for the rest of his life. He had a Byronic persona, which shows in this portrait painted by David’s pupil Fran├žois-Xavier Fabre in Florence in 1793. Fabre also painted this portrait of Louise, also known as the Countess of Albany.

Once Alfieri’s first play “Cleopatra” was performed, in Turin in 1775, he was hooked on writing for the theater and continued to produce his verse plays until he died. In the process he transformed Italian drama from stilted set pieces to naturalistic, gripping portrayals of life.

He is buried in Florence’s magnificent Church of Santa Croce, resting place of some of the greatest Italian intellectual lights including Galileo, Ghiberti, and Rossini. I took this picture of his tomb. On either side of him on the south wall of the church are the tombs of Michelangelo and Machiavelli.

The tomb of Princess Louise is also nearby!

Annamaria Alfieri