Monday, May 28, 2012

Keep That First Draft!

My father was an artist and he also taught History of Art.

He always urged his students to not only look at the artist’s finished masterpiece, but to find and study the preliminary sketches of the work. He believed that those early sketches often had a vitality and spontaneity that got lost or refined away in the finished painting.

The same can be said of a novel. Too much polishing and refining can erase the early energy and excitement of the first draft. It’s important to reread that first telling of your story before you send out your manuscript. Although the first draft is rough, in terms of vocabulary and structure, it may have an electric quality that you want to maintain. Make sure the original spark is still there and that the early energy hasn’t been diluted.

If it has – put it back again.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Do As I Say, Dummies!

Ever since I moved from NYC to Albany, I’ve been trying to tell the Albany Police Department how to do The Job — I mean, the way we did it when I was a cop in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I guess they heard me, at least in the beginning, because I wrote the directions down in an Op-Ed piece the local paper, The Albany Times-Union, published, and TV interviewed me on the street in front of my house. The spokesman for the police duly made an official response: That I was an OLD cop and things were no longer done that way in a modern police department. Yeah, right.

I then attended a few public meetings of Albany’s Gun Violence Commission — formed in the aftermath of the death of a 10-year-old playing in front of her house, killed by a stray bullet fired by a young gang mope at another rival gang mope. Again, I voiced my concern that the Albany Police Department was failing do the kind of aggressive policing that had been working in NYC for the past forty years. This was in late 2007, Rose and I were still unpacking the house, and I didn’t yet have a handle on how Albany worked. My ideas fell on deaf ears at the Hearings.

Can’t say I was really surprised. “The Commission” was the usual gathering of mopes from academia, a couple of black Reverends from local churches whose primary loyalty was to Albany’s Mayor-for-Life, Jerry Jennings, who obviously has them in his pocket for some reason — makes me want to get Al Sharpton up here to get folks up on their feet shouting — and some civilians, including a handful of mothers whose children had been gunned down on the streets like 10-year-old Kathina Thomas. Months later, the Commission published its Grand Plan to study The Problem, bring in SNUG, fund a Gun Buyback Program. What’s new?

My advice, though nobody asked? Skip the study. Create a mobile roving patrol now, staff it with three smart, aggressive cops supervised by an experienced, savvy sergeant: their primary function to spot and intercept the gunmen on our streets. Create a second unit similarly staffed and schedule it to work shifts opposite the first: that way there is always a Street Crime Unit (that’s what the NYPD calls them) on Patrol. Being a retired cop, I’m a keen observer of crime in my new hometown (and in Troy and Schenectady as well). I know four young cops who’d be perfect for the job: the partners who grabbed NahCream Moore out of that car on Grand Street and spotted the gun in his belt before he could use it on them, and the pair who stopped the parolee who tried to run them down last year, the loaded semiautomatic pistol on the car seat beside him.

The police are empowered to stop “suspicious” persons on the street and detain them to ask questions such as Where are you going? What’s your name and address? New York State’s Criminal Procedure Law Section 140.50, commonly referred to as the Stop, Question & Frisk law authorizes this.

To illustrate, here’s the play-by-play: A group is tooling along on the street (it’s always multiple mopes, never just one) looking for targets of opportunity. The Street Crime cops follow along, unconcerned at being seen since it makes the boys nervous. The cops hail the group ordering them to stop, the four officers pile out of the car and surround them. Four officers, acting in concert, has proved an adequate force to effect such stops. The questioning begins, and if the officer feels his safety threatened he may pat down the outer clothing of the suspect for a weapon. It is a commonplace of police experience that if a man is carrying a gun, he will walk in a somewhat tentative fashion, favoring the side of his body where the gun is concealed (guns are typically heavy). Faced with a barrage of questions, the gun-toter often takes off running, or occasionally the loaded gun will slip down a pant leg and clunk at the cop’s feet.

Stop & Frisk is the best friend a cop has, the primary tool he employs on the street. Last year, New York City police conducted in excess of 600,000 stops. That is why the City’s streets are safer that they’ve been in decades.

So, Chief Krokoff, what are you waiting for? The shootings did not stop with Kathina Thomas. This month, over an eight-day period, there were five separate shootings on the streets of Albany resulting in one dead, one on life-support and three wounded. All these incidents occurred in the South End, Arbor Hill or West Hill — communities that are worlds away from the gentrified precincts of Center Square and Hudson Park in the heart of Downtown Albany. Is that why no one cares?

Robert Knightly

Friday, May 25, 2012

Another Sleepy Day

So little is going on in our little town of Lambertville that I scarcely know what to write about today.

Son John has come back to spend the summer. We don't see a whole lot of him, because he's still on West Coast time and in any case is a nocturnal fellow, prowling and knocking over heavy objects while I'm sleeping. Or perhaps it was the cat.

A dedication ceremony took place yesterday evening in the park down the street (Mary Sheridan Park, named for the late mayor) in honor of the new brick sidewalk, the one where you could buy a brick and have your name put on it. The ceremony was a rouser, including a contingent of Civil War re-enactors from Philadelphia, who fired their guns, and the Lambertville Brass Band.

The ruckus they raised coincided with our choir rehearsal at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church half a block away, and confused us while we were singing. Or our singing confused them while they were playing, drilling and shooting. In any case it was Charles Ives meets the 1812 overture, especially when they began testing the fireworks for Friday's display.

Harold and I did not buy a brick, partly because I'm too cheap but mostly because he feels that Mary Sheridan Park these days is little more than a dog bathroom, in spite of the diligent efforts of civic-minded gardeners. Nearly every morning on his way to get the paper he sees SUVs pull up to the gates of the park and disgorge dogs, who madly rush to relieve themselves in the park. What, buy a brick for dogs to pee on? Not him.

Speaking of dogs, the Mary Martin memorial dog biscuit station is no more. The new tenant in Mary's apartment, as we feared, refuses to get with the program. If you leave biscuits on his doorstep they will be taken away and given to his dad's beagle.

We got our sample ballots for the primary election in today's mail. I could riff on that for a few paragraphs, but I won't. No talk of politics. Can't stand it anymore.

Lambertville. People come, people go, and nothing ever happens. (Grand Hotel. Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and a cast of similar luminaries. If you haven't seen it, see it.)

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Was Mozart Murdered?

Interest in and inquiry into the mystery of Mozart’s death wax and wane.  Every once in a while new theories surface.  Then the conundrum retreats again from public inquiry.  What intrigues me about it is how many of the conventions of mystery writing appear in the story of the great composer’s untimely death at age 35.  Misdirection, multiple suspects, various motives, clues and red herrings abound in this tale:  A confession that might or might not be false.  No autopsy.  A too-quick burial in an unmarked grave where the body could not be found if anyone wanted to exhume it.  A cover-up of circumstances to protect the reputation of the deceased.  And of those still living.  A number of theories describe natural causes that might have killed the famous man, but none exactly match the symptoms of his final illness.  If you had never read a murder mystery, you could make up the genre from the whole cloth of facts leading up to and following quickly after Mozart’s demise.

Peter Shaffer’s brilliant play Amadeus concentrates on a confession by Antonio Salieri, a rival composer of small gifts.  At the end of his life, insane with dementia, Salieri called out an apology for having killed Mozart and tried to cut his own throat.  He ended his days in a lunatic asylum.  Did he actually kill Mozart?  Probably not.  If not, who did?

Here are the true clues:
After an illness of a couple of months, Mozart died in Vienna at one in the morning on  5 December 1791 after a two-month illness.

In June of 1791, six months before his death, Mozart while strolling in a park in Vienna said to his wife Constanze, “Someone has given me aqua toffana.” He was claiming he was being poisoned with a well-known mixture of white arsenic, antimony, and lead oxide.   The effect of it is gradual and results in death only after several months.  It could easily have escaped detection by a doctor.

Though he seems to have had an affectionate relationship with his wife, Mozart had a reputation for taking advantage of the seductive powers of his genius.  In the year or so before he died, he and Constanze spent a lot of time apart—she, accompanied by a male friend, at a spa in Prague “for her health” and he in Vienna composing and giving music lessons to a beautiful young married woman named Magdalena Hofdemel.
The day after he died, Mozart’s burial consisted of a hurried funeral and pretty much the of dumping his body in an unmarked grave.  This for an ultra-famous man, who had many powerful friends, an acknowledged genius who worked for the ruling family.  He had been attended by doctors in his final illness, but their diagnosis and conclusions about the cause of death were never made public.

Vienna at the time of Mozart
Here is where the story gets gory: Magdalena Hofdemel and her husband lived on the first floor at 10 Gruenangergasse.  The day after Mozart’s death, a passerby heard what sounded like violence inside the apartment—arguing and screaming and then silence.  When no one could access to the building, a locksmith was called.  The three people who entered found Magdalena lying in a pool of blood.  Her face, neck, shoulder and arms had been slashed.  Her husband, who had locked himself in the next room, was found dead, his throat slashed, the razor still in his hand.

Magdalena lived.  Neither she nor Constanze, who lived to be 79, ever said anything about what might have happened.

Theories abound.  At least eight different diseases have been posited as the cause of Mozart’s death, none conclusively. Then there are at least a couple of possible poisoners: Salieri? Magdalena Hofdemel’s husband?

The Requiem
Mozart on the bookshelf over my computer.
One supporter of the Hofdemel theory offers circumstantial evidence that Constanze’s son, born around this time, was really the child of her male companion in Prague, and that the baby Magdalena was carrying at the time was Mozart’s.  One of this theorist's pieces of evidence is the passion one hears in the Larghetto movement of the 27th piano concerto, written during the composer’s relationship (whatever it was) with Magdalena.   Give it a listen.  Is it evidence in a murder?  Or is it just gorgeous, romantic music?  It is certainly the output of a genius. 

Annamaria Alfieri 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Overheard at a Writer’s Conference

Definition of a writer: “A shrinking violet wrapped around an egomaniac.”

“How long does it take you to finish a novel?”
“As Paul Valery said, ‘A novel is never finished, it is simply abandoned.'”

“How did she ever get published?”

“My books are always hidden behind somebody else’s!”

Successful author: “I hate giving talks and being on panels.”
Unpublished writer: “Oh, come on, you know you love it.”

“Are you coming to the next conference?”
“Over my dead body!”

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I have always been a child of the sea

I have always been a child of the sea. I am most at home when I am near or on a vast expanse of water, the sea, ocean, bay, river, wherever...

On my desk is a Breton Fisherman's Prayer... "Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small."

We are au fond alone on our seas, whatever our station in this life. No matter how many close souls we have in our life. The sea brings us cargo daily, health, illness, life, death, joy, pain, ecstasy, bereftness, little hurts, huge jolts, the little moments of happiness, the equally cold darts of horror, hurt or loneliness.

We never know what the sea will choose for us on any given day.

The sea is also the floor and grounding of of our boat.

That boat that does not belong to any other person, no matter how close the relationship.

Once a person dear to me sent me a sympathy card with a message I want to share with you today. This is a message you will each interprete in your own special, private life, and I hope it brings you some joy for that moment when life weighs heavy on your heart.


I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her , until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says, " There, she's gone!"

Gone where? Gone from my sight – that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her; and just at the moment when some one at my side says, "There, she's gone", there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout...

"There she comes!"...

May you see your own boat as it drifts gently into your own life and feel assured in your own hopes and visions.

T. J. Straw

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thickening the Plot

I confessed to a friend the other evening that I was having trouble with the book I'm working on, that, in fact, I seem to be stuck in the middle. He said, "Are you bored?"

Bored! Good Godfrey. What a terrifying question. How could I possibly be bored with a story that combines the best parts of The Count of Monte Cristo, Twilight, The Fugitive, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? No! No! Overwhelmed, perhaps. Not up to the demands of my material. Surely not bored.

My friend suggested that I abandon the project (same as I did the last four) and start something new. Problem is, I don't have anything else in me right now. No, instead I am going to take my annoying little strumpet of a protagonist by the hair and kick her hind end until she thinks of the next thing to do. That's her job, right? The characters are supposed to take over.

So here goes. Maybe I'll drop her in the river again. Cold water is said to be stimulating. I'll let you know how it works out.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Plus ça change…

Even cockeyed optimists like me can get down in the dumps.  When we express our dismay, however, we try to do it with a sense of the absurd.  So in lieu of a history lesson or a musing on the writer's life, this week I give you here a tune I liked a LOT more than fifty years ago.  (Comparing the singers in the YouTube with the ones in this picture will tell you that they are certainly in my age cohort!  They are still singing this ditty today to audiences that can still relate to the lyrics.)   Listen carefully and compare the words to today's world.  Try to laugh.  It may take some effort. Plus ça change…

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Lines That Went Nowhere

While rooting through some old papers, I came across a battered notebook listing some first lines of stories or novels I’ve never written.

I thought I’d ask you which one, if any, sounds the most promising, and if I should continue it. I no longer trust my own judgment. I need help.

  1. Pennies, which plague me today, once played a big part in my life.
  2. This morning I took my dog and my mother-in-law to have their toenails cut, which pretty much sums up my life these days.
  3. “Don’t touch me!”
  4. The face in the glass bore no resemblance to the person I know, and whose skin I have worn for almost eighty years.
  5. Every station stop on this train ride brought back memories; mostly unpleasant.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Shine, Mister?

Last month I went down to the City for MWA’s Editors & Agents Party and the Edgar Awards Dinner the next night. Mostly, to see old friends and familiar faces. A good time. But the real reason I drove to the City and back – that’s 162 miles each way – is to get my shoes shined. I take my going-to-court best, one pair of brown and one pair of black – as Aunt May prescribed for me the day I started college in Brooklyn – and hunt up a Shoe Shine Emporium in Manhattan, relying on memory. You can’t get a decent shine, you see – actually, you can’t get a shine, period – anywhere in the City of Albany. I moved to Albany in 2007 (for The Small City Experience since I’d never in my life resided anywhere but NYC). I might have reconsidered if I’d know what the shoeshine situation was in the State Capital, but you wouldn’t think, would you?

When you’re accustomed to getting a shine from a bootblack, the first place you head for is the Railway Station, right? Grand Central Station. Albany had its Grand Central once, the imposing Beaux Arts Union Station, but it moved across the River to the City of Rensselaer in 1968, a sadly-reduced presence among the 9,392 folks who live in Rensselaer. The Big Hotels? That’s the Crown Plaza on State Street (not such a great street) in Albany. Nada. In fact, I suspect if you left your shoes in the hallway outside your hotel room overnight, you might not see them again. A lawyer I know (whose shoes I noticed were on the dull side) advised me to try the State Office Building, he remembered seeing an old shoeshine man there in times past. I hightailed it over there, but too late. Word was the old guy’d taken advantage of one of those State Buyout Pension Plans, was now just a memory.

In the interest of a complete record, I confess to having gotten a shine once, that first year I was in Albany, from a hulking fellow I found lurking in one of the subterranean passageways under the Empire Plaza (the monument Rockefeller built to himself in the spirit of the Egyptian Pyramids). The shoeshine guy was a no-frills operation: he handed me up to a wooden folding chair set atop a three-foot-high platform, then set to work “with all deliberate speed” (which is a phrase judges use to describe the glacial pace of justice in their courts). All the while I’m looking down for Sweeney Todd’s trap door. Charged me $7, which is twice what a good shine man gets in the City. I tipped him a dollar out of relief at being let off the platform.

If you go downtown at noon on a weekday in the vicinity of the Capital, you can see why shoe-shining is a lost art. Watch the swarm of government workers emerge from the nether regions of the office buildings. No suits. They’re in jeans, running shoes, and, here and there, jacketless in shirtsleeves and tie. You know they’re State workers because you see the 3-by-5-inch plastic ids dangling from a lanyard around their necks (Think Hester Prynne with a pension). They’re exposed, out in the open only long enough to buy lunch from the score of food vendors lining State Street. Then the swarm recedes into the basements. (Remember ‘The Mummy’ movie with hottie Rachel Weiss? The army of flesh-eating scarab beetles flows out of The Tomb, eats the bad guy, then retreats like low tide.)

Yeah, I’m being hard on the civil servants, but they are cheapskates – never spend a dime in Albany except for that sandwich – reside in the sticks, and take all the parking spots on my block.

So I was in the City for two days and nights. The first day I wore the black pair and went to the shoemaker on East 33rd St. between Park and Madison, who’s been there forever. He has four chairs and two young Mexicans doing shines who communicate by hand signals. I don’t know names, we don’t use names. I mount the platform, sit in the leather chair with the marble armrests, put both feet in the brass stirrups and pretend to read the paper. Surreptitiously, I’m watching the boy work my shoes. He’s quick, good hands, polish-and-buff, buff-and-polish, the snapping sound of the rag comforting. Three-dollars-fifty-cents for the store, two-dollar-tip for the boy. I go back next day wearing the brown shoes. You must have on your feet the shoes as they’re being shined. Otherwise, what’s the point?

You might think to ask why doesn’t he shine his own shoes? If you did, I might answer that I shined enough shoes in the Army and the NYPD. Truth is: because it’s just not the same.

Robert Knightly

Ave But Not Vale. . .

Queen Elizabeth's address to Parliament was a real wake-up call to women who begin to count milestones after a certain age.

On her Diamond Jubilee celebration this lady will have sat on the throne of the Commonwealth that includes 54 member nations for 60 years. This includes the population of about one third of today's world.

I watched with admiration as this valiant 85 year old ascended the railingless steps and stood at a fragile mike to deliver her speech – no sturdy podium, nothing to hold on to – no teleprompter, only a few flimsy pieces of paper!

Talk about bravery!

Talk about poise!

Talk about gutsy!

All those years as an equestrienne paid off in front of the whole world, from London to Bejing, from the little isle to the tips of Africa and South America.

She spoke of the continuity of the Brits' national story and paid gracious honor to the man who was never crowned her king.

She showed she not only has grace, but a sense of humor!

I haven't always agreed with this eminent woman and at times have questioned the efficacy of the monarchy. But I confess this day she got my vote!!!

Her mother, the Queen Mum, lived to be 101. ER2 gave us the impression that she was, in the words of Mayor Giuliani, after 9-11, "Open for business!" for some years to come.

Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, known as Lilibet, was married in 1947 and crowned in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. I watched her coronation on a small school tv in Kenosha, Wisc. and thought at the time how gorgeous she was, a real "fairytale" queen, as they called her in the press.

In World War 2 as a girl of 14, she told the Brits, "In the end, all will be well, for God will care for us and give us victory and peace."

As head of the Church of England, she has been a beacon to many kinds of people. Winston Churchill described her as a child: "An air of authority and reflectiveness; sensible and well-behaved."

These same qualities came over the tv that day in Parliament. Few of us are queens, but there are many women with other titles - president, chair, administrator, governor, senator, doctor, lawyer, teacher, author – who can look to the long history of QE2 as a kind of lodestar.

When she addressed the United Nations in 2010, the Secretary General introduced her as "An anchor for our age."

If 1992 was her annus horribilis, certainly 2012 will be her annus fortunatus!

T.J. Straw

P.S. QE2 is an avid mystery reader!

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Interior Life of the Writer

I wonder, sometimes, why anyone would follow a blog written by an author who was taking keyboard in hand for no better reason than to put off working on her book. Perhaps some of you read my posts because you want to know how to achieve my stunning level of publishing success. For you, I have seven delicious recipes for beans, which I may reveal to you in next week's post. Or not.

As for my other friends, the ones with a more realistic handle on the literary life, I assume you're tuning in to see what I've been up to lately. Besides trying to keep from writing. Or trying to force myself to write. Whatever it is I'm doing.

You'll be happy to know I've completely recovered from the various conferences of last month. The seductions of the consignment shop I discovered a few blocks away from the Malice Domestic hotel in Bethesda are still lingering in my mind, though. In another year or two, if I can ever stick to a diet and exercise program, I might even be able to fit into some of those gorgeous clothes. For you size eights out there, the name of the place is Second Chance, and they have a web site at They don't sell the clothes online, but you can get an idea of what the shop is all about.

Tuesday the sewing machine came, the one I bought to replace Old Betsy, and I promised myself that as soon as I had written another two thousand words on the Work in Progress (which has been retitled Monkeystorm) I would cut out and sew up a dress. The fabric came from Mood Fabrics, a purveyor of jaw-dropping yard goods to the New York designers. Big fun. Check it out. Since they're in North Jersey somewhere the delivery was extremely fast.

So that's what I'm doing these days. I hit my word count and cut out the dress this afternoon. It might be lovely, or it might turn out to be a rag; I never know with my sewing. I have to go cook dinner now. Tomorrow I'll set myself another writing goal and when I achieve it I'll sew up the dress.

Leave a comment. Let me know what you're up to. Let me know how you make yourself write. Let me know whether you like beans.

Kate Gallison

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring High and Low Points

April and May are always filled with activities, most pleasurable, a few, not so. Sometimes too much socializing can be hard on the body and soul. My face is stiff from smiling, my throat is sore from gabbing, and my emotions are ragged from being torn between happy and sad.

Martha Grimes
It began with Edgar Week, the MWA Symposium and the Agents & Editor’s Party. The high point of the Symposium was hearing Martha Grimes bravely admit she had no publisher, and meeting this gracious lady afterward. She has been so prolific, I felt ashamed of my own poor showing. And she is still going strong. At the party, later, it was fun to meet up with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile.

At Malice, again I saw people who I had missed and whose friendship I cherish. I joined in drinking a toast to the memory of Ruth Cavin, my former editor — a sad moment. But I enjoyed the banquet and cheering the latest Agatha winners.

The next event was pure joy. Seeing my eight-year-old grandson as Napoleon in his school play. He was perfect. Didn’t crack a smile, but caused a lot of laughter in the audience. I caught a glimpse of my 2½-year-old grandson and got to push him on a swing. Unfortunately, I missed my five-year-old granddaughter’s dance program because I had to be back in Philadelphia for my 60th High School Reunion! (That’s what I mean about spring being too full!)

The reunion was a mixed blessing. It was fun to see everyone who was there, but not much fun to listen to the list of those who had departed, followed by a moment of silence.

This week I’m staying home, getting rid of the dust that has gathered, giving my husband a break from his diet of Lean Cuisines, and attacking my current manuscript which has languished on my desk far too long.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tribute to a Mother

You knew her as "Betty", with a ready smile, love of friends and a good party. The lady from Tennessee who loved to dance, sing and play a good hand of bridge.

But she had a quiet side too, the inner self that loved nature, the woods, the beach called Willoughby, her beloved back yard.

She loved to walk along her beach, collect shells, pick up little pieces of colored glass and stone and fashion pretty things with them.

She loved her birds, the red cardinals that graced her porch windows, the blue jays that chattered to her. Her great joy was to sit beneath her shady trees, beside her flowering bushes, the wall of pink roses on the bank near the back path.

She loved to watch the moon over the water, the sunsets that outlined her jetty, the twinkling lights of the two bridges, as night fell upon her well-loved Chesapeake Bay.

For hours she would sit and watch the great ships that passed like giant sentinels in front of her house, the huge aircraft carriers, the tiny sailboats. And she would delight in sighting a school of porpoises, dancing in the white-tipped waves, not far from her shore.

And in the early days, how she loved her Fred. He was more than a husband to her. He was her shining knight, Sir Galahad, Rhett Butler, Clark Gable, all rolled into one.

Now her way is once again quiet and filled with peace.

Betty is now away from all harm, back to the gentle trees, the little red birds, the wild roses on the bank. . .

Thelma J. Straw

Friday, May 4, 2012

Onward and Upward

I promised you pictures from Malice Domestic, but I must renege. Due to a number of malfunctions and screw-ups my camera will not turn its pictures loose into either of my computers in their present configurations. Many people took great pictures: Kaye Barley, Beth Groundwater,  Gigi Pandian, and various souls on Facebook such as Liz Zelvin and Robin Templeton. I can't hook you up directly with the Facebook pictures because you may or may not have an account, and if you didn't, the link wouldn't work. But if you're on Facebook you can seek out these people.

Not my machine,
but my camera doesn't work
Malfunctions and screw-ups are infesting many of the tools I use to carry on my life this week. I have to get rid of my ancient sewing machine, a 1962 Kenmore made in Korea that I bought in 1978 for $60 from a fellow state worker who lost her job and became homeless a few weeks later, and subsequently died sitting up in the Trenton railroad station. Her last words to me were to keep oiling the sewing machine. I must have overlooked a crucial oiling, because little rust spots are causing the thing to tangle the thread and rip the fabric. I guess I got my $60 out of it, though.

Tell you what. I'm going to start a home-grown Project Runway thread on my personal blog ( as soon as the new machine comes. I found a new online source for yard goods direct from Seventh Avenue. If you like clothes, or you like sewing, you can come on over and follow that. But if you're looking for tidbits about Malice you're out of luck here, because I've been brain dead since about five o'clock last Saturday.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Eliza Lynch: “Soldier of Fortune"

In a previous post, we talked about how Paraguay got its fortune.  Let’s follow the money.  At the outbreak of war, the nation had a large hoard of gold on deposit in a bank in Buenos Aires.  Estimates of the amount vary so widely, it is useless to specify how much.  Let’s just call it a king’s ransom.  The dictator Francisco Solano López instructed his agent withdraw it from the bank and send it up river to Asunción on the Esmeralda along with bolts of fancy cloth and a beautiful black landau, the last luxury goods his Irish mistress would ever be privileged to import.

Lynch added her own trinkets to the hoard: jewelry she collected when she and her South American lover were traipsing around France and Italy together previous to sailing for his home in the heart of the remote continent across the sea.  She also managed to collect jewelry in that middle of the nowhere that was Paraguay in the 1850’s and early 60’s.   Lacking a Cartier showroom, she repaired to a local church that boasted a miraculous statue of the Madonna.  As happened elsewhere in Christendom, many of the faithful entreated the Madonna’s blessing in times of peril or when a loved one was threatened by disease and when their prayers were answered, bestowed on the beloved image gifts of gold and precious gems.  (I have seen emeralds the size of a quarter and diamonds that would have made Elizabeth Taylor envious encrusted on a miraculous painting of the Virgin across the border from Paraguay in Bolivia!)  Eliza took Mary’s real jewels from her local statue and replaced them with dross.

Not stopping there, as the conflict dragged on, she began to “induce” the upper class ladies to donate their jewels (or anything else of value) to the war effort.  Well, of course, patriotic ladies would give their jewels for such a cause.  Remember the collection of the gold scene in Gone with the Wind?  The trouble was Eliza Lynch’s efforts took place after the Brazilian navy had taken control of the rivers leading in and out of the country—at which point there was no possibility whatsoever of buying anything even faintly resembling goods useful to an army.  Many have speculated what Lynch and López intended to do with the expensive trinkets they amassed in their attacks on the jewelry boxes.

Ruins of Humaita
It seems likely that the Treasure of Paraguay was dragged along with them as they fled before the pursuing enemy month after month, year after year.  To her credit, maybe, Eliza stuck by López’s side throughout the war.  She was with him in Asunción, scene of the jewelry confiscations, but also at the great fort at Humaitá, where at first she entertained the troops by dancing for them and serving the officers French meals.  When the Bolivian men of war started bombarding them, she walked out on the battlements to encourage the troops, and in the end, when the defenses were crumbling, barely escaped with her sons across the river.  Life with López after that meant breaking camp and running north repeated for literally years until he was finally felled on the first of March 1870.  Many chroniclers report that she buried him and their oldest son, who also died that day, with her own hands.

What happened to the gold and jewels in the process is still a matter of hot speculation over a hundred and thirty years later.  Here are the main theories:  She and López tossed the trunks holding the treasure over a cliff in a deserted area of the north cordillera.  He then forced the carters who had transported the goods to leap over the cliff, too, thereby ensuring that only the ruling couple would know where the gold and jewels rested.  For many years afterwards, treasure hunters scoured the landscape looking to strike it rich.  No one ever found anything.

A more likely possibility: Eliza entrusted the treasure to a third party for safe-keeping.  A close look at her lifestyle after Paraguay’s bitter defeat indicates that she never repossessed the fortune.  She did, however, go to Scotland and sue the family of Dr. William Stewart, who had been the chief surgeon to the Paraguayan forces.  She sought to recover “certain valuables” she had entrusted to his care.  She did not win her case.  Eliza Lynch, died in poverty and obscurity in Paris on 27 July 1886.  The treasure of Paraguay is still missing.

Annamaria Alfieri