Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pagan Spring, by G.M. Malliet

Pagan SpringPagan Spring by G.M. Malliet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have begun reading the two series by G.M. Malliet: St. Just and Max Tudor, both set in England. It's a little strange that I should pick this book to write a review of, the third book in the second series of hers that I've read. But, the spirit catches you and you fall down. (Wait, that's a different book.)

I love mystery novels. I've read all of the Agatha Christie books I could get my hands on. I have thought about it and I believe that there are three aspects that I love: Characters, plot and the puzzle. In that order. I know a lot of mystery readers try to figure out whodunit before the end. I won't say that I don't do this, but it has never been the main attraction for me.

So, Pagan Spring, the third book in the Max Tudor series. We have an ex-spy (Max Tudor) who has decided to become an Anglican priest and ends up in a delightful village called Nether Monkslip. (I am always a sucker for delightful villages.) The first book in the series, Wicked Autumn, did a wonderful job of introducing the main characters in the village. So, when in Pagan Spring I read a tiny snippet about Lily Iverson, I was already familiar with her as a person from having read Wicked Autumn. This made me happy, made me feel a bit like an insider. With Max you don't get a James Bond sort of feeling. He's not brooding or arrogant. Along the same lines, he's not a cocky Poirot. Max is real, has very real feelings of self-doubt, regrets and love. It's convenient for him (usually) that he is a beautiful man who draws record attendance to his small St. Edwold's Parish church.

Not many of the people who live in the village are from the village, but they all seem to come together to make it whole. Gabby Crew is a relative newcomer and an intriguing character who adds an epistolary touch to the story with the emails she sends to a recipient – known only to her for most of the book. Even Suzanna Winship, who seems to be chomping at the bit for a bigger and better social life, has a place here, because what village doesn't have somebody who longs for just that? After three books in this series, I long to taste Elka Garth's pastries; I dream about them when I should be working. And, what village would be complete without a witch? Except that Awena Owens isn't a witch, she just has a new-age/quasi-pagan approach to life, love and spirituality. I feel that the "Writers' Square" adds to this feeling of family; it is a sort of embodiment of the sentiment. How else to describe people who come together to get on each others' nerves and defend each other to their dying breath?

I found myself trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in my head, to figure it all out before the ending chapter revealed all. I had this desire much more in Pagan Spring than in any other of the Malliet books that I've read. It started with the opening - the Prologue. I had to go back and read it several times, trying to tease from it a clue and/or its place in the overall book. I had to reread several parts of the book, trying to pick up on the stray sentence that I had overlooked, the phrase in the dinner scene that could tip me off.

Rereading these parts was not a burden. The prose is beautiful here. Some of it I have been tempted to transcribe onto a canvas and embellish with other images and found pieces to make a literary collage. Malliet has placed me off the beaten path, in a tucked away village in South West England. I feel that I know these people. When I finally did finish reading it, I had to sit for a couple of days and ponder the story before reading anything else. Some books are that way; you have to savour them for a little bit before moving on.


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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Alejandra Almuelle

A more complete exploration into the artist herself is warranted, but I haven't had the opportunity to interview her yet. I have known Alejandra Almuelle for years and I've watched her art grow. Her truly fascinating personality is reflected in her work, as she explores subjects that interest her. And, in her life she never stops exploring – exploring her own life, the world around her, traveling and people. Her mind seems always to be working, and when I see her it's as if I've stepped into whatever she's contemplating at that particular moment.

I haven't been able to figure out if the emotional response that I get from looking at her work is what she intends. I always feel that it has a dreamlike quality. It's not a pleasant, sugarplums-dancing-through-my-head kind of dream, but the kind of dream that leaves me wondering – later, when I think about and try to understand them – what my mind was doing.

Here are some pictures that I've taken recently. I encourage you to visit her on Facebook. As far as I know, she doesn't have any other web presence at the moment. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

After the Rain

It's always interesting to see what pops up after the rain. Having been in a drought for so long, one forgets what it's like. This year has been of extremes – our drought was resolved by record floods in May and floods again at Hallowe'en. That kind of rain is different. What one sees after that kind of rain is debris on fences and inside of friends' flooded homes. 

This weekend, however, we saw rain. Though the ground is still saturated from Hallowe'en, the rain wasn't enough to cause the kind of damage that we saw then. It was just a light rain lasting most of the day Friday and again Saturday afternoon. The kind of rain in November that calls for laying in bed reading with cats sleeping in attendance.

And, after the November rain the back yard is an autumnal celebration. (We won't think about fire ants whose hills pop up like the armies of Mongols, seemingly invincible and making homeowners wish they had never been born. November is not the season for fire ants.) White mushrooms have popped up overnight and the grass is green, despite the cool temperature. The ground is spongy on the grass and muddy where there is none. Everything smells... I'll say natural for lack of a better word. Clean would not describe it, but it is certainly fresh. Cool. Crisp. Alive. The cats are stalking and pouncing on the bugs who still crawl through the grass and plants. Our back yard is hardly the manicured lawn of St. Augustine grass of idealistic magazine pictures. We have all manner of greenery growing on the ground and we are happy as long as it's green and doesn't have stickers. And because it has been wet for a few weeks we haven't been able to mow, so the grass (and plants) are taller than usual, allowing the cats to crouch down with their ears flattened while they stalk their prey, and to bound through it as they cross the yard. It's more exercise than these fluffy cats have had in quite a while.

The things I see remind me of the scientifically magnified images that one sees of germs and viruses.

But, really it's just the busy work of our bug friends.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mi Vecino, Lindo y Querido

About twenty years ago I hopped on a plane with a friend and we went to visit his grandmother. It was just after Christmas – coming up on Epiphany. We stayed for a while with his grandmother and his mother, who was already there taking care of her. I met some aunts of his and a couple of cousins. We got on a bus and went into a town in the mountains and spent a couple of days there. Then we went to a ranch with his family and celebrated Epiphany, or as they called it, El Dia de los Reyes Magos.

My friend's family is from San Luis Potosí, SLP, Mexico. We had flown into Mexico City, taken our lives in our hands in a taxi that took us to the first bus to SLP to visit Abuela, and after a few days taken another bus to Guanajuato. I loved that city. It seems like it was a Pre-Columbian town because I didn't see the typical Roman layout to the city. San Luis Potosí has streets and avenues running N/S and E/W, with central parks and official building surrounding them. Guanajuato has narrow streets that go this way and that, curving up and around hills and never crossing each other again, so that if you took a wrong turn you'd have to just turn around, because there didn't seem to be much in the way of going around a block to get back to where you started. But, there were ancient buildings that are several stories high because they are built on the side of a mountain, so there are several "ground floor" entrances. My friend took me to an area where there were booths serving food, and as soon as we walked by we were assaulted by an orchestra of "Psst! Psst!" with women waving us to their booths. My friend was the expert and walked around until he found one that suited us, not responding to their calls of what they were serving, but waiting to decide which was best. It's a good thing, too, because I would have caved at the first person to demand that I eat at her booth – not that her food wouldn't have been delicious but I probably wouldn't have had the pollo con mole that I was looking for. My friend was prepared for how pushy they are and he knew that the proper response was to not respond.

A few years later I decided that I needed to see Mexico again. So, I put some clothes into a bag and boarded a Greyhound that took me to Laredo where I switched to a Mexican bus line that took me to Monterrey. At the border, before I was allowed to enter Mexico, the Mexican officer interviewing me asked me for identification. I produced my Texas driver license. He told me that I should either bring a passport, or both a driver license and a birth certificate. Then he told me to enjoy myself. I spent several days walking the city, visiting the mercados, buying food and art. Monterrey is close enough that I could just go for a few days, then when I felt homesick I came back, with every intention of visiting again.

In 2005 the police chief in Nuevo Laredo (the Laredo on the Mexican side of the border) was gunned down on his first day on the job. A quote from CNN reads, "The police chief of the violent Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo has been missing for days, and state authorities are trying to find him..." The violent town of Nuevo Laredo. This is a city where I had gone with friends to have margaritas and to shop. This is a town that is two hours and 19 minutes from my home city of San Antonio.

In 2006 The US began building a fence along the border between Mexico and the US, focusing on sites of known illegal crossings.

In September of 2014, 43 students went missing in Iguala, a town in the Mexican state of Guerrero. (A painfully appropriate name.) They are presumed dead and the town's mayor and his wife have been arrested. They were among Mexico's most wanted while they were fugitives (in Mexico City) after fleeing Iguala directly following the kidnappings. The 43 students – who had arrived to hold a protest at a conference in the town, held by the mayor's wife – had been arrested by the Iguala police, then transferred to another police department, which then handed them over to a criminal organization. The students were transported to a dump and the ones who did not die en route were interrogated and then killed. Finding the students turned up a mass grave with other murders, all suspected to be done at the command of the mayor's wife.

Now I listen to our politicians fight for stronger border security, harsher treatment of illegal aliens and a general isolationist sentiment with regards to our neighbor to the south. And I just think, What happened? I know what happened – drugs happened. An illegal drug market in the US that is being supplied through Mexico, but more to the point, the violence, corruption and instability that goes along with such a lucrative illegal market. It's the Prohibition era mobs, but on a grander scale. But, still I wonder. We are in the Middle East toppling governments and rebuilding them. Why can't we do anything about our neighbors? Why build a fence and take such harsh action against illegal immigrants who are fleeing such a hostile environment? Why can't we address the source of the problem? I'm not presuming to know how to do this, but I'm not a diplomat or part of the State Department.

When I read social media I find so much hate. So much hate for illegal immigrants. So much vehemence about border security and building this God-forsaken fence between the US and Mexico. Again I think, why? Why can't we go to the source of the problems? There is a civil war going on in Mexico that its government doesn't seem able to keep up with. If we can send soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan, can't we do something about the country that is two hours and nineteen minutes from my home city of San Antonio, TX?

Rather than fighting Mexico, I wish, I wish that we could have a relationship with them like we had before. A relationship where I could hop on a bus and go to Monterrey for a few days and visit their artisans, eat their food an talk with their people. There are Mayan ruins that I haven't gotten around to visiting. There are cities that I haven't visited. I need to brush up on my Spanish by talking with people there. And that's what they are; they are people. When I read some of the comments on social media I wonder if those commenters realize that they are talking about human beings. It's easy to hide beind the screens of our computers and our devices. But, if we could put those things aside and look around we would see people, people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to make a better life for themselves and for their children – just like us. I long to talk with these people and build a closer relationship between their country and mine. I long to do this with every fiber of my being.

--e A r n i e

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Glass Is Laughter

From The Writer's Workshop

I love coming to this workshop for a few reasons. I love to feel that I've written something worthwhile. I love to see my writing progress into something better. Feedback on my writing – to not only be able to practice, but to sense that I have actually connected with people around me. And, almost more than anything else, I love to see the people around me progress, to watch them develop their own voice and style.

On June 9, 2015 I wrote the below in an exercise on metaphors.

Glass is laughter. Walking through a store with vintage furnishings, the crystal is always in a cabinet with a perfectly clean mirror as a backdrop. It's the promise of good times with friends. It's the assurance that it has already lived through happiness and parties. Laughter from another room that piques your interest, makes you want to be a part of the fun. That is what it is to see vintage crystal displayed in a store.

Glass is fragile. The tinkling sound that it makes when it hits a surface – the floor, the counter or table. The frozen moment when everyone around stops and looks. The unbearable expression on the face of the person responsible, held on their face until the noise stops and the echos in their head die down. It's this same sound heard from another room, the hilarious quiet that ensues and the knowledge that one person has guilt written on their face and everybody else is looking at it. Nobody would bother to look at the broken pieces.

Glass is laughter. It is faceted shapes hung strategically in a window to paint rainbows across a wall at a certain point every day – rainbows dancing and jolting from ceiling to wall, across pictures and furniture. A small child's large brown eyes watching in silent amazement at the ballet where before there was just a wall.

--e A r n i e

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Is a Weed?

There is a spot in our back yard that seems like it could use some ground cover. It's a space that's rather enclosed between a building and some bricks lining the path from the back gate, around said building and up to the back door of the house, which is the only door that's ever used for some reason I haven't been able to figure out. Anyway, we bought some English ivy because I love it and it's like a tiny dream come true to have a house with a spot that I can put English ivy in. I've been warned not to let it crawl up the building or the tree, but it will be difficult for me. I long to have an ivy-covered wall so much that I could burst. I could melt. I could write a cozy mystery.

So, I'm pulling out the weeds that are in this space and I begin to wonder why. I mean, we were at the hardware megamart in the garden section and asking the wonderfully helpful lady about plants that could grow there, because the space gets a glimpse of sunlight in the morning and that's about it as far as direct light goes. But why? Why are we concerned about finding a plant to grow in a space that is already completely covered in plant? I asked Nameless about this and he said, much as I expected, "They're weeds."

"But, what is a weed?" I pondered. I mean, who's to say that this plant is a good plant to have covering your ground and this plant is not? It seems to me that in a field of cotton, a rosebush would be a weed. So, why are we (myself included) determined to extricate this plant that is thriving, only to replace it with one that we can only hope will do well? In answer to my spoken question, 'What is a weed?, Nameless said, "In other words, you throw it away." Well, that's that.

The plant in question is rather vine-like. Small leaves and tiny white flowers. When I pulled it up, I could grab handfuls and it came up like a carpet – only in a few places was it connected to the ground. It was easy to pull out because it's been raining so much. (Man, with this drought going on, did I ever think I'd write those words?) There was a smattering of other weeds in there, but mostly it was this one type. Clearly, this plant was suited to this environment. I see weeks, months and years of pulling this little guy out of my English Ivy bed.

I've put a few pictures below of the weed in question. It's not such a bad looking plant. I've pulled most of it out. I clearly underestimated how many English ivy plants I'd need to begin with, so I'll work on the project some more later. All of that to say why I have not included a picture of my English ivy bed. Right now it's solid ground with a few sprigs of ivy sticking out here and there. But, I was assured that it grows fast.

Yours truly,

e A r n i e