Views of New Orleans

The main reason we went to New Orleans was to attend Bouchercon, the premier conference for mystery readers and writers in the USA. Since Harold was with me, though, what we mostly did in that astonishing city was to hang out in the streets and be tourists. It was hot. It was humid. Sometimes it rained. Here are a few pictures we took.jacksonsquareJackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter. The newspapers said that some group was planning to ambush the statue of Andrew Jackson and pull it down for some political reason or other. I would hate that. Whatever you think of Jackson’s treatment of the Cherokee, he did keep the British out of New Orleans. Anyway tearing down that statue would be disrespectful to the horse.alleyway

fleurdeparisThe French Quarter is full of charming alleyways and streets.sharps4shot

superheroesOne of the things I like best about New Orleans is the shops, fusty, dignified, relics of a bygone age. We visited one where antique guns and collectible superhero figures were displayed in glass cases like fine jewelry.costume

masksOthers had what I guess must be Mardi Gras wear displayed in the windows. Or Hallowe’en costumes.It rained off and on, but never the frog-stranglers we had experienced the last time we were in New Orleans, years ago, when the water rose to our ankles. This time it was good weather for walking around and seeing the sights.

A feature of city life these days is the mimes. I guess you call them mimes, although they don’t move around, but dress up in strange clothes and hold poses. Here’s one outside the Cabildo. I loved his hat, but his boots were truly remarkable.mime2

I Took a Trip on a Train

AMTINDP8269_18X24_CT POS.inddLast week Harold and I traveled from New York to New Orleans on the fabled Southern Crescent, now called simply the Crescent by Amtrak. Wanting to lie flat down and sleep through the night, we engaged a roomette in one of the sleeping cars, an experience I haven’t had since I was seven. Come to find out this entitles passengers to first class treatment. From the time we arrived at Penn Station in New York to the time we got off in New Orleans we were treated like royalty.

First of all the lady behind the counter at the entrance to the Amtrak passenger lounge, upon glancing at our ticket, cheerfully told us we were in the wrong place. “You want the first class lounge. It’s on the other side of the waiting room, through the gold doors.” Gold doors! Yes!

HaroldReadingThe first class lounge receptionist told us to find seats and wait for the escort to take us to the train. Comfortable chairs! Free refreshments! The escort showed us right onto the train and steered us to our “room,” a cubicle with just enough space, taller than it was wide. A little table folded out between our seats with a chessboard on it. Sadly, we hadn’t brought chess pieces. Harold read, I knitted. The scenery in the East is not as inspiring as the scenery you can see from the western railroad trains, they say, but it was pleasant enough.

Robert, the  porter for our car, a tall young man with amazing dreadlocks, stopped by to tell us he would be back and make up the beds when we were ready to go to sleep. After awhile he strolled through the car announcing the first call to dinner in a booming voice. A real dining car! Waitress Tanya was pleasant and charming. The food was tasty.

Roghoststationbert made up the beds by flipping the seats around for the bottom berth, putting a three-inch mattress down, lowering the top berth from its place near the ceiling, and presenting us with blankets. Harold chivalrously took the top bunk and closed his curtains. I left mine open so as to experience night on the railroad. Lights from oncoming trains woke me sometimes but it was all good. At two in the morning the train stopped at Greensboro. (My iPhone told me it was two o’clock and we were in Greensboro.) I was charmed by the way the station looked, all empty, and took a picture.

And so it went. Robert called us to breakfast. I like being summoned to eat food. While we were eating he put the beds back into seating. The day passed in watching Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi go by the windows. We were late getting into New Orleans, but being on time wasn’t the point.

Was it like it used to be? Was it like the last trip I took with my mother and sister from Philadelphia to Bangor, in 1947? Was it like in the movies, Twentieth Century Limited, Some Like it Hot?

Not exactly. I remember our old roomette having more room. The old bathroom was separate, for one thing, whereas the potty in the current roomette is kind of an emergency convenience under a fold-down shelf which is used to step up into the upper berth, as is the shelf under the fold-down sink. It’s rather a climb. There is certainly not enough room  in the roomette for Carole Lombard to throw a good tantrum, or enough room in the bunk for two, even if they were very thin, except maybe two small children sleeping foot-to-foot.

I recommend it, though, train travel, certainly over modern air travel. It may not be quite what it was, but what is? I thought it was great, the whole trip.

New Seasons

autumnpearsThis morning I came downstairs to rooms that were cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air of the town blowing through, for the second day in a row.

Glorious! It feels like new beginnings, the start of another year. For almost the whole summer the air has been so thick and hot that we had almost to push our way through it, laboring to get it in and out of our lungs. A person could drown just standing on the street. Today is a taste of what fall might be like if we all live to see it.

I’ve had a look at the fashion magazines, and the ladies are going to be wearing the same things I wore last year, except for the silly stuff that nobody wears anyway. My wooly sweaters will do fine. If I can fasten my winter pants I should be all set. I’ll have all the time in the world to devote to Art, Literature, and improving my mind. (And extensive dental work. But I’m not going to think about that right now.) I’ll probably sign up for the gym again. Fitness! Within my grasp! And maybe a series of little dinner parties.

Isn’t it great, the charge of energy you get at the end of a long, oppressive summer? A feeling of going back to school without actually going back to school. I’m ready for a power nap.

The Joy of CreateSpace

girl2A few of you (hardly any, really, which is partly the point of my story) will remember a book I self-published a few years ago called Monkeystorm. It sold fewer copies than anything I ever wrote, with the possible exception of Master Mechanic, a sci-fi novella that Deb Snyder and I composed in a brown school notebook when we were seven years old. I couldn’t even write cursive yet. After I moved to Illinois the only copy got lost. But I digress.

Monkeystorm was quite a nice book, but the title was stupid, and the cover, let’s face it, was monstrously unattractive. “Is it a horror novel?” somebody asked me. It was then I knew that the packaging I had devised for this charming piece was all wrong.

So I’m bringing it out again, calling it Girl on the Run, and putting a lovely young woman on the cover instead of an enraged monkey. Don’t give me a hard time about using “Girl” in the title. I could do a lot worse. I could call it Monkeystorm again. If you’re one of the five people who read Monkeystorm you don’t want Girl on the Run, although it would be swell if you stopped in on Amazon and gave it a review, since you’ve already read it. Otherwise, keep an eye out for it at Bouchercon, where it will be among the available freebies. Or get the Kindle. I like this book a lot. Somebody besides me should read it.

I can’t say enough about the ease and cheapness of Amazon’s CreateSpace. As long as you’re willing to do all the work yourself—and they make it really easy, with templates—the only cost involved is the cost of producing the physical paperback, which varies with the size of the book and the kind of paper. I figure that supplying fifty books to Bouchercon will cost me less than the ice cream I bought for everybody in 2010, the time that they all ate my ice cream and forgot my name.

If you want to self-publish a book on CreateSpace you will need patience, a sharp eye, a copy of Word, and a good program for manipulating images, such as Photoshop. I use Gimp. You should probably have a friend look your work over for typos. I’m not sure what CreateSpace books are good for except hand-selling at festivals and such. Bookstores won’t take them because they can’t return them. But they make sweet little books, items you can be proud of, and if you know how to market them you know more than I do.

Movies in the Bookmarks

Margaretta-Scott-and-James-Mason-and-Barry-K-BarnesAugust being  slow month in the writing game, and life in general being at a lull right about now, I thought I’d improve the time this morning by going through the hundreds of old bookmarks in my browser (Safari), seeing which of them were still worthwhile, removing duplicates, and sorting them so that I could find them when I needed them.

An amazing exercise. I started collecting these bookmarks two computers ago. Many of the pages they point to are out of date, and some of the links are dead. Why I saved a link to some of these pages is no longer clear to me at all. But there were a few nuggets of pure gold. I bookmarked the Internet Archive at some point, though I kept forgetting to go back to it. They have everything. You want to check it out, expand your mind, entertain yourself. Movies! Yow!

Here is the link to Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, made in 1937. It has everything you want in a Pimpernel flick except for Leslie Howard. Produced by Alexander Korda and Arnold Pressburger, it even has James Mason in it, playing a small but passionate part. I recommend settling down to watch it on one of these hot afternoons, in front of a fan, with a cold glass of lemonade in your hand (or a gin and tonic if that be the tipple of your choice).


Stalking Your Quarry

11spyingA couple of times this week I got attacked on Facebook, once by a stranger who accused me of being a coward for not getting up in people’s faces with my political opinions and the other time by a woman on my friends list whom I’ve never met.  The “friend” misunderstood something I posted, and jumped down my throat under the mistaken impression that I was attacking her for some reason.

It’s true that I don’t like drama in my life. It’s also true that my attempts at humor are not always easily understood. I brooded over that a little bit while I went through the list and unfollowed every Facebook friend I had with whom I had never personally interacted, figuring better safe than sorry in these volatile times, with everyone on a short fuse. Farewell ladies, gents, I’ll see you all after the election.

For the record, as those of you who actually know me know, I am a cradle Democrat, thought the Party disappoints me from time to time. Before I would vote for a Republican, I would stick my head in a fiery furnace, even if their candidate were someone other than a tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced proto-Nazi in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Yes, Hillary is something of a bitch, but that only makes us sisters under the skin, all the more reason for me to vote for her.

I trust that my position is now clear.

Still I was asking myself today, was I not a coward for declining to re-post the most amusing of the Trump memes I came across? They’re all good for a laugh. And then I was thinking about what to take with me to New Brunswick to wear to the Deadly Ink mystery conference, which is this weekend. The baggy green linen dress, so appropriate for the bohemian atmosphere of Lambertville? The pin-striped suit that makes me look like a trial lawyer? No. Something clean, attractive, and unobtrusive. But why unobtrusive? Can it be that I really am guilty of cowardice?

No. I’m a writer.

The first rule of being a writer is to keep your eyes and ears open, not to get up in people’s faces. I think that means we must seek not to obtrude. We are here to observe and analyze the human condition. Dorothea Brande said in Becoming a Writer, “keep still about your intentions, or you will startle your quarry.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m keeping still about my intentions.

And I’m watching you.

Cool as a Cucumber

jajikMany years ago, in another life, I used to subscribe to a monthly magazine called House and Garden. Every issue had a themed cookbook section in the back. The most fun were the exotic ethnic cookbooks, and the best of those was in the February, 1963 issue: The Middle East Cookbook. I tried many of the recipes in that, and several of them made their way into my permanent repertoire. The best of these is a tart cucumber and yoghurt salad, just right for a hot summer’s day.

Here is a recipe for Jajik.

4 cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups yoghurt
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise, then slice thin. Sprinkle with the salt and let stand 15 minutes. Drain well. Mix together the garlic, lemon juice, yoghurt and dill. Mix with cucumbers. Pour oil over the top and sprinkle with mint. Serve unchilled. Serves 8.