Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Shopping in Lucca

Lucca, the walled city, is 31 miles west of the of Florence, Italy’s magnificent and historic city. We joined Lucca’s citizens and walked on the wall—in fact Lucca once had three walls. If you live there you can ride the wall on a bike, enjoy a picnic or just stroll along the ramparts. My hubby and I strolled ignoring the rain that fell and the edge of the ramparts—a drop of approximately 40 feet.
The town is blessed with old world charm—fruit and vegetable stands have taken the place of an ancient nunnery, the pungent aromas wafting out of cheese stores made out mouths water and there are expensive boutiques where a tourist on a budget can window shop. A statue of Puccini graces the town square and each year Lucca hosts a festival in his honor. Carrara marble from the old Roman Amphitheatre fronts one of its many churches. A medieval palace—Torre Guinigi—has six ilex trees that have made a home for themselves on its top, the tree’s roots have grown into the room below. Villa Reale—once the home of Napoleon’s sister, Princess Elisa, is famous for its gardens—begun in the 16th century and recreated halfway through the 17th. Concerts are sometimes held in the Teatro di Vendura, a theatre sculpted out of hedges.
As we walk through the streets we remember we have a few more Christmas presents to purchase and on a side street, we find a small, boutique with prices we can afford. The proprietor doesn’t speak English and I fumble with my cassette learned 50-words of Italian before remembering the pocket dictionary I bought for the trip. Every one in the shop takes turns with the dictionary and with laughter and pantomime I describe the friends we need gifts for the 105-year old mother of our best friend, the neighbor who gathers our mail, the friend who over-waters out plants and mementos for ourselves. We buy enough gifts to fill every loved one’s stocking before we manage to board the wrong train as we head back to Florence—a part of our adventure in a city we’ll never forget.



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Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Fierce and ugly, with forty-two needle-sharp teeth by the age of two, the terrier-sized Tasmanian Devil is not the most loved of Australia’s marsupials. But on a visit to the Tasmanian Devil Park and Wildlife Rescue Center in the Port Arthur region of Tasmania, Australia, my husband and I met a little Devil that the unwary might find as cuddly as a plush toy.
The jet-black, course-furred, eight-month old was an orphan being raised in the park’s nursery; this carnivore’s sleepy appearance gives him a look of complete innocence. A triangle of white accents his hindquarters and matches a strip across his chest; dark eyes and pink ears complete the picture. Born blind and deaf, young Devils called “Joeys,” have bad eyesight and flash photos are forbidden. Lactose intolerant, infants are fed special formulas to keep them healthy. It takes about forty weeks to wean a baby and Joeys are encouraged to drink from bowls as soon as possible. At about five and one-half months they begin to teeth and chew on bony shin bits.
A loner, the Devil begins to breed by the age of two; the female visits the male den for a interlude of about two weeks in March and the blessed event takes place about three weeks later. At birth, the Devil has been described as being the size of a jellybean. Up to thirty “Jelly beans” try to make their way to their mother’s backward-styled pouch; nature’s way of ensuring that dirt doesn’t enter when mom is tearing into carrion. Since there are just four teats in the pouch only three or four survive. The Joeys latch onto mother’s milk teats for about three months then they’re left in their grass and leaf lined den – a cave, a hollow log or an old wombat burrow – while mom forages for food. Later, they may hitch a ride on her back or follow along behind. Though they achieve independence by twenty-eight weeks and are agile enough to climb a tree, many never reach maturity as predators often attack them. At night, these nocturnal creatures usually meander along secondary roads looking for road-kill; unfortunately automobiles often hit them as they feast on a diet of wallaby, rodents or lizards. A Devil, fortunate enough to survive the hazards Devils face, may reach the age of six to eight years.
Grown Devils feed at 11:00 am; the former jelly bean now has a broad head, reminiscent of a bear, a muzzle with long whiskers and a squat body with a short, thick tail and back paws with four toes. Devils enjoy nothing so much as a good fight or chase around the enclosure; when angry their pink ears turn red with increased blood flow. Weighing anywhere from nine to twenty-six pounds, they’re particularly aggressive when it comes to food. Snorts, whistles, growls, screeches and demonic screams, worthy of a Stephen King horror movie, rend the air when a Devil protects its find or a competitor ignores the challenge of a sharp sneeze. An overwrought Devil emits a pungent odor only a deodorant manufacturer would enjoy. Often a Devil will sport scars or missing patches of fur earned in combat. Endowed with the strongest jaws and teeth of any animal, nothing edible goes to waste when this marsupial devours carrion or prey. The Tasmanian Devils at the Park are either orphans or have been bred here. Females and their young are kept separate from the males who exhibit no paternal pride in their offspring and would make a happy meal of them.
Fossils have been found all over Australia, but living Devils are found only in Tasmania, having lost a battle over the same food supply favored by the Dingo, a wild dog brought to the mainland by the Indigenous People over 600-years ago. The Dingo never crossed the 150-mile Bass Strait that separates the Island of Tasmania from the southeastern mainland and here, the Devil survives.
A rough period for Devils began in 1830—farmers considered them a nuisance as they ate livestock and poultry. Van Dieman’s Land Company paid a bounty of twenty-five cents for males and thirty-five cents for females and many a Devil was poisoned or caught in a trap. It wasn’t until June 1941, that Devils came under the protection of the law. Today they are a symbol of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service and farmers realize they have a place in the food chain; they clean up the carrion that would pollute the land and prey on mice and other pests that consume agricultural produce. NOTE: Since our visit, the Tasmanian population has been devastated by a facial tumor disease sweeping through the population. The disease kills more than 90% of young adults in high density areas and is spread through biting. Australian scientists and medical personnel are doing their best to find a cure and keep the Devil from extinction.

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Monday, December 12, 2011


A bit of light verse:

My sheets are damp, in disarray

A devil incarnate joined the fray

Should he poison, slash or shoot?

That single print must match his boot

The P.I. who will solve this case

How many puzzles does the lady face?

Has she a partner? A dog? A cat?

Is the cat the one to smell a rat?

The cop is loaded with testosterone

Of course that accounts for his deep baritone

Will their dialogue move the plot?

Does Chapter two stall? Or not?

Need a couple of clues for readers to glean

Perhaps a red herring in-between?

I've wrestled my pillow to the floor

While adding a touch of blood and gore

At last! It's here! the morning light

it's time to rise, time to write.



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Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Before I begin to make the coffee in the morning, I turn on WQXR, the public radio station in New York--the only one that plays classical music. I continue listening as I fix breakfast, clear the dishes, and make the bed. When I sit down at the computer to begin writing, the music plays in the background--the radio stays in the kitchen and the music is muted allowing me to concentrate on the characters that will become the most important part of a story or novel. While I love jazz and show tunes--once upon a time singing in shows and small clubs--I would now find lyrics intrusive. A distraction from my work.

Would love to know if other writers call on music as they begin their work?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Mr. Twain

Today is November 30, 2011 and we celebrate Mark Twain's 176th. birthday. He was named Samuel Langhorne Clemens, when he entered the world as the sixth child of a judge, John Marshall, and his wife, Jane Lampton Clemens. When Twain was four, the family moved to Hannibal, Mo., a port city where steam boats arrived from St. Louis and New Orleans. I imagine the port and the steam boats influenced Twain and encouraged him to become a river pilot's apprentice when he was in his teens. By 1858, he had become a licensed river pilot and acquired the name, "Mark Twain"--a term which means the depth of the water is being sounded and is safe to navigate. He began writing as a newspaper reporter in 1861 and in 1865, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County, was published in the New York Saturday Press. Roughing It stemmed from his adventures out West and every child and adult reads and rereads Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Happy, Happy birthday Mr. Twain.



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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


The first Thanksgiving celebrations I can remember took place at my grandmother’s apartment. I’m not sure why we called their home grandma’s as grandpa lived there too along with the two youngest of my mom’s siblings who weren’t married yet. May be it’s because grandma did the cooking.

The celebration later moved to either my mom and dad’s apartment or one of my aunts. The afternoon was spent telling jokes, trying to top each other with puns, and having political discussions with everyone including the children offering their sometimes heated opinions in addition to eating, and enjoying the warmth of being with those we loved.

I became the Thanksgiving cook as a newlywed and the tradition continued with my in-laws and my parents, relatives and friends who were visiting New York.

After our parents passed on, the thought of Thanksgiving without them was hard to contemplate and we decided to take a trip to Italy. On Thanksgiving we were in Sorrento and the staff of the hotel prepared a special dinner for their American guests. All the appetizers were delicious and we anticipated the turkey as the lights in the dining room were lowered, a recorded fanfare sounded and the waiters paraded around the room each holding a large platter with a paper Mache turkey on top. We could hardly wait.

We raised our knives and forks and tried to cut a bite. The knives dug deeper and deeper—we sawed and sawed but finally, defeated, ate the side dishes knowing it’s really the thought that counts.

We returned to our rooms and heard fireworks, ran to the window and watched the sparkling patterns light up the sky. Fireworks, we thought, in honor of our holiday. The next day we learned the fireworks were in honor of a wedding. A very special occasion for the newlyweds and our Thanksgiving.

Have a happy Thanksgiving,


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Friday, November 18, 2011

A Roman Brigadoon

A day of rain in New York. Windshield wipers are busy. Umbrellas try to fly and sometimes make a crash landing leaving their hapless owners wet and grouchy. Not a bit like "Singing in the Rain." The day and now the evening remind me of the first night we spent on a vacation in Rome. I stepped off the plane sniffling, sneezing and coughing--no way to begin a trip in Italy. When my hubby and I got to the hotel on the outskirts of Vatican City, all I wanted to do was stretch out on the bed and feel sorry for myself. Hubby was hungry.
"You go eat and bring me back something," I said.
Hubby reminded me there were no fast food places in the area and not many restaurants. I bundled up and we walked through the streets. Suddenly a warmly lit Trattoria appeared in front of us. No one was sitting at the tables but we were greeted by a welcoming owner. I ordered Minestrone--hot and delicious--it was the best minestrone I had ever eaten and I suspect ever will eat. The next morning I awoke fully recovered and knew it would be one of the best trips we would ever have. We searched for the restaurant, planning to eat there again before we moved on to the next leg of the trip but though we walked all over the area, we never found the place again. I firmly believe it was a Roman Brigadoon--a magical, mystical place that welcomed a poor, undernourished American to that wonderful city.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Not a Good Tech Day and I'm Venting

1. Have had and loved my Nook (the first edition) for over a year then last Friday, I bought a copy of John Lithgow's Biography and downloaded three free classic mysteries at the same time. When I tried to read the bio., I got a message telling me I needed to use WiFi. Since I never needed to do that before even though I have WiFi on the Nook, I called tech support. The tech I spoke too couldn't correct it and told me it was the telephone even blaming a specific company that has nothing to do with my phone service. Went to Starbucks and used their WiFi but before I buy anything more, I'd like to find out what happened and wrote to customer service. Waiting for an answer.
2. Tried to play a DVD, turned on the TV and the screen read No Signal. Called the company last night and after many things were tried, the tech said she would leave notes and I should call back this morning. the new tech had no notes and told me to use the television remote,then tried to blame the TV set. Asked her to send a live Tech and she said I might have to pay for the visit.

What's going on? Thanks for listening. Feel better now.

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Friday, November 4, 2011


This year is the 125th anniversary of The Statue of Liberty. Given to our country by France in honor of the friendship between out two nations, the lady means much more to the immigrants that longed to reach America's shores and become a part of our democracy. Emma Lazarus wrote the words, that most of us learned by heart, "Give us your tired, your poor..." On my mother's side, my forefathers came to America from Russia. They were grateful to escape the pogroms (hidden by a neighbor until the Cossacks passed) that swept that country whenever the Tsar needed a distraction. I have a photo of the ship they arrived on and the manifest with their names. It's framed and on the wall of my bedroom. Their name is engraved on the wall at Ellis Island with all the others who endured harsh voyages, bad food, crowded conditions and the need to learn a new language, new customs and face the prejudices of those who came before them and wanted to shut the door to our land. They loved this country and passed that love to their children and their children's children and on and on and on to each succeeding generation. From shoemakers and hat cutters in dismal factories came teachers and social workers, doctors and lawyers, performers and a writer. G-- bless America.


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Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

My cousin Randy's birthday coincided with Halloween and when we were children we would spend the afternoon stuffing ourselves with candied apples, corn candy and ice cream in-between playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and bobbing for apples. My Aunt Betty would make a slit in each apple and insert a penny. A treasure for a child. One birthday, Randy swallowed the penny and the doctor advised letting nature take its course. Eventually it did. My father won the penny (I never did find out why,) and claimed it would bring him luck.

Whenever my parents, aunts, uncles and friends got together for a fierce game of penny and two poker, my father would bring out the penny. The penny's magic didn't work when my father played cards but he kept on trying. Perhaps the luck was in the laughter and love we found in the family.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Along The Marble Road

I kneel to examine an advertisement (thought to be the first Roman infomercial) drawn on the glistening Marble Road that begins at the Koressos Gate and extends to the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey. I see a woman’s head and a heart--interpreted as waiting for love—a footprint—turn here—and two fingers—one finger points to the library, the other to the remains of The Brothel of Ephesus built across from the library.
A twenty-minute bus ride from the spirited port town of Kusadasi, Turkey, 55 miles south of Izmir has brought me to the ancient metropolis of Ephesus—a major Greco-Roman excavation site—a city built of marble, once the most important of the 12 Ionian Greek cities built during the 11th century BC and a major departure point for trade routes in Asia Minor. Blessed with water, a beach with a fresh-water spring and a sheltered harbor Ephesus grew into an impressive international center of commerce and culture, inhabited by 250,000 people.
I follow the finger that points to the Library of Celsus and stop in front of a two-story façade, splendidly decorated with copies of statues (the originals are in Vienna), recessed in Corinthian columns. Inscriptions on pedestals holding the virtues show that they represent Episteme (knowledge), Sophia (wisdom), Ennoia (intelligence), and Arete, (virtue). The bright morning light coming from the east shines through the emptiness between the columns where three levels of galleries held over 12,000 scrolls kept in cupboards on double walls; the gap between walls protected the rolls of parchment from humidity. Three entrances, the highest and widest in the center, invite both casual tourists and archeologists to study the history discovered during excavations.
The library, one of the most spectacular structures in Ephesus and the third largest in the antique world, is a stately memorial to Celsus Polemeanus—Roman Senator, General Governor of the Province of Asia, and an avid collector of books. His son, Proconsul Gaius Julius Aquila began the library, designed by the Roman architect, Vitruoya, as a tribute to his father in 110 AD. The Governor rests inside a marble sarcophagus—decorated with garlands, rosettes and figures of Eros and Nike—buried beneath the library’s ground level.
Citizens walked along the Marble Road to The Great Theatre, the largest theatre in Asia Minor and of vital importance in Ephesus. First built during the Hellenistic Period, 3rd century BC, and enlarged during the rule of the Emperor Claudius in 41-42 AD, today’s theatre seats 24,000. The bustling three story structure, whose façade was ornamented with columns, reliefs, statues and niches, is located on the red and brown slope of Panayir Hill. Large bronze or clay vessels placed at different points around the theatre improved the sound—no mikes in those days. I decide to test the acoustics, look around the strikingly designed structure and belt out a few notes from Rodgers’ and Hart’s musical, The Boys from Syracuse adapted from Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors—the setting is Ephesus. Dropped pins, coins and recitations echo around the theatre—the acoustics are excellent.
A box sculptured from marble was reserved for the Emperor and seats with backs (made of marble) were occupied by persons of merit who enjoyed concerts and plays, religious, political, and philosophical discussions. The Harbor of Ephesus presented a spectacular view but gradually became victim to silt and is six miles from the Aegean Sea. A protective high wall around the orchestra attests to gladiatorial contests and mortal combat with exotic beasts that followed higher pursuits. stork, wild and innocent, resting on the column.
Ephesus, throughout its history has been governed by many powerful nations. In the mid 6th century BC by Croesus, “The Golden Monarch of Lydia,” Persia ruled under King Cyrus. The Persians were driven out by Alexander the Great in 334 BC and under his rule, Ephesus grew. The city passed to the Romans around 133 BC, remained a thriving commercial center, and the capital of the Roman Province of Asia. Crushed by the Goths in 262 AD, Ephesus faded. Citizens succumbed to malaria, trading declined and Ephesus became uninhabitable. In 1090 AD, Turkey conquered the area but Ephesus, despite a renaissance in the 14th century, was forgotten until excavations began in 1863—and thankfully, for those of us who like to time travel, they continue today. Temples, artifacts, public buildings, sculptures and portraits have been uncovered and offer a vivid picture of an ancient world. The 21st century knows Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, as one of the world’s grandest archeological locales.



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Monday, October 17, 2011


Why do some professions produce fictional heroes? Others lend themselves to villainy and still others sprout heroes. Royalty is chock full of victims and villains—Shakespeare’s live on. Politicians? Many more villains than heroes--example The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. Perhaps we'd better stay away from politicians unless we're writing about George Washington. Most of John Gresham’s lawyers are role models. Professors can be exciting—think of Harrison Ford chasing after The Holy Grail. But stay away from Colin Dexter’s Oxford and a few of the professors that teach there. Those dastardly intellectuals keep Inspectors Morse and Lewis busy solving their crimes. Then we have doctors—in real life and most television shows we are filled with admiration and usually follow everything prescribed but fiction? A doctor often falls off the pedestal he or she is placed on. There is the crusading newspaper reporter—a hero and the gossip columnist who wrecks havoc with lives and careers. Politicians? And victims—Susan Isaacs In her book Compromising Positions used Dr. Fleckstine, a dentist as a victim. Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell—a former SS dentist, featured in Marathon Man made a splendid villain. I’m sure movie patrons lived with excruciating pain before keeping their dental appointments. But I’ve never read about a fictional dentist as hero—fellow writers the character is all ours.



(photo by Sfn1/

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Friday, September 23, 2011


The NY Times had an article in last night's paper, written by Abby Goodnough, that told of our beloved Mark Twain having had a book banned in Charlton, MA 105-years ago. Hard to believe that anyone would ban a book by the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn but in 1906, his book--titled "Eve's Diary"--was.

The ban was voted because of illustrations by Lester Ralph that showed a lovely and naked Eve wandering through Eden. The ban was lifted yesterday and two copies may now be borrowed from the library. There is also a modern day touch--an audio version has been produced for those still too shy to look at the illustrations.

The library will display an old edition of the book in a glass case, the centerpiece of an exhibit for National Banned Book Week.

According to Miss Goodnough's article, Twain called the trustees that banned his book, "the freaks of the Charlton Library." Today's library hopes to make up for the book's forced departure.



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Saturday, September 17, 2011


Today I'll be interviewing Willow, a calico cat who decided New York City was the placeto be.

"Willow, why did you choose New York? Weren't you afraid of being a little cat in a big city?"

"Since cats have nine lives, I decided to live mine to the hilt. I wanted to make it big in the big city. Like the song says, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere..."

"Wasn't there another cat who went to London to visit the Queen?"

"I don't want to get into politics but I happen to be a Democrat."

"Everyone is wondering how you managed the 1,800 miles between Colorado and New York. Did you hitch a ride? It's a long walk even with four paws. Or did you travel with some handsome Tomcat? and if you did, will we get to meet him?"

"A lady that will tell that will tell anything."

"Are you looking forward to going home?"

"It will be nice to see family and friends again. Of course, once you've been bitten by the travel bug, you keep getting the urge to see the world. Italy, France, Australia...who knows what tomorrow will bring."

"Thanks for visiting with us today, Willow. Have a safe journey home and wherever your travels may take you."



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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


A car alarm blasted the night air--I woke and peeked through the venetian blind to see a car flashing its lights. My block is dark with few streetlights but I could see a young man emerging from the car and running down the block. His movements were that of a lanky teen and he wore a hat reminiscent of one worn by the Dead End boys in an old movie I'd seen on television that starred Humphrey Bogart as a gangster. I believe it was called Dead End. The thief was fast and before I could reach the phone to call the police, he had disappeared from sight.

I went back to bed and perhaps ten minutes later the alarm sounded again. I got to the window and before he disappeared, I saw him halfway down the block with a bag dangling from his arm. An unmarked police car drove the wrong way down the street, stopped and two men wearing tee shirts with NYPD stenciled on the back ran in the direction the thief had taken. A minute passed before they were joined by several other cars.

A duo of officers began searching the car--the alarm sounding every time they opened or closed the doors.

I wondered why the thief had chosen that car--though it was dark, I had the impression it was old. Perhaps he knew the owner and thought the bag was filled with drugs. Why did he return when he knew the alarm would go off? How did the police get to the scene so quickly? Why did they search the car for so long a period? Could they have staked out my neighborhood? My block?

I'll never know the answers to my questions. Unless, unless I write a short story that will satisfy my curiosity.

Any theories?



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Monday, September 12, 2011


On Friday, Sept.9, an obituary in the New York times noted the passing of Michael Hart. He's the man believed to have created the first eBook when on July 4th 1971, he typed the Declaration of Independence into a computer and informed users that the Declaration could be downloaded. His undertaking became the oldest digital library--known as Project Gutenberg. Hart believed in the sharing of information and his goal was education and information. According to the Times, Hart first typed the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the King James Bible and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" into the projects's database.

Most of the 30,000 books in the database are in the public domain except for a few that are reproduced with the permission of the copyright holders.

As a writer I have mixed emotions about free books. I find it an enormous help to research books in the public domain that can verify aspects of history, geography, etc. but the internet is rife with piracy as every writer knows and often a book with copyright is stolen without guilt by readers.

Opinions, anyone?



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Thursday, September 1, 2011

National Treasures and Pop Icons at the Library of Congress

My piece about The Library of Congress may be viewed on Page 67 in the online September edition of Recreation News. The Library is celebrating the 60th anniversary of I Love Lucy, there is an addition to the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment introduced by Stephen Colbert, a gallery devoted to cartoons, illustrations, graphic novels and original drawings. The Library holds the nation's treasures including a recreation of Thomas Jefferson's Library.



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Thursday, August 25, 2011


On August 22, seven lines in the Memorial Section on the obituary page of The New York Times, a tribute to Richard Plantagenet could be read. Remember before God, Richard III, King of england, and those who fell on Bosworth Field, having kept faith, 22 August, 1485. Loyaulte me lie.

Shakespeare's play--the last of four Shakespearean plays were about the Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster. Richard III, third son of Richard Platagenet, Duke of York, and the brother of Edward IV seized the throne by force in 1493. The last Plantagenet to fight the first Tudor Monarch and lose--he appeared in Tudor histories and Shakespeare's plays as one of the most vicious rulers in history. In Shakespeare's drama Richard III, he is physically deformed, cruel and guilty of locking his nephews in the Tower of London and having them smothered to death. There is no historical truth to the story and Richard is said to have instituted many reforms, fought courageously at Bosworth Field in 1485 and met death bravely. But Shakespeare's play will forever influence a reader's opinion of Richard.

In our century, Peter Shaffer wrote a play titled Amadeus after hearing about Mozart's mysterious death in the late 18th century. Salieri, the court composer for the Emperor of Austria, was written as a jealous rival who would do anything to vanquish the young genius. It didn't happen but Shaffer's brilliant and vivid writing lives on. the play won five Tony Awards, including best play and eight Oscars, including best picture.

After reading the Memorial, I began to wonder if one of the reasons we write is to remember someone or something, hold on to a piece of history that we hold dear, shape it or perhaps be a part of it or have a bit of ourselves remembered forever.



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Monday, August 22, 2011


There are 365-days in a year and it’s been said that Belgium has a beer suitable for each day. Others claim the number and varieties of beer hover between 450 and a thousand. Beers from all over this constitutional kingdom have their own taste, aroma and character: dark, blonde, sweet, sour, bitter, tangy, and fruity (cherry is a favorite). No wonder the Belgians are devoted to beer and the Confederation of Belgian Brewers describes their country as a “Beer Paradise.”
Belgium even has a patron Saint of beer. During the middle ages, breweries were local, and the beer often produced in monasteries. In the 11th century, when an outbreak of plague convulsed Belgium, a Benedictine monk thrust his crucifix into a brew-kettle to persuade Belgians to drink beer as a substitute for water (boiled, filtered and or fermented during the purification process, beer is a much safer drink). To quote Ben Franklin, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” The plague ended and the monk was beatified as Saint Arnold.
Every year, Brussels holds a Belgian Beer Weekend in Saint Arnold’s honor; the celebration begins as a church service followed by an academic session and a parade of costumed brewers, dressed as King of the Mashing Fork, through the streets to Grand Place where the public is welcomed, beer stands offer brews from around the realm and lively music and entertainment add to the festivities.
Grand Place 10 is home to the Belgian Brewers’ Museum (Musee des Brasseurs Belges.) Operated by the Confederation of Belgian Breweries, the Knights of the Mash Staff.; the museum, in the vaulted basements of the Brewer’s House, exhibits modern and traditional techniques. Brewing and fermentation tubs and a boiling kettle may be viewed along with other equipment and supplies used in an 18th century brewery. A café transports the visitor back in time with exhibits of stained glass windows, paintings, pint pots, antique pitchers, vintage tankards and to parch the beer devotee’s thirst - the perfect pint.
Abbey beers come from a great many different abbeys; and abbeys often produce two distinct types of beer: double (a sweet and dark taste) and triple blond with a heavy percentage of alcohol. Trappist beers refer to the type of abbey that manufactures the beer.
One of the most traditional beers today is Lambic; (a beer that ferments spontaneously from wild yeasts found in the local air.) The non-malted wheat beer naturally ferments from three to five years in wooden hogshead barrels. The first taste is sour and acidic; after the second the dry, tart flavor turns into a delightful, refreshing drink.
Lambic beer is produced at the Cantillon family run-brewery in Brussels. Established in 1900, the brewery conducts tours and has a small museum Musee Bruxellois de la Gueuez. Gueuez is a mixture of lambics, and shimmers like a glass of champagne. The beer improves after years in the bottle. Cherries added to Lambics produces Sweet Kriek and may also be made with raspberries—a beer often imbibed during the warm summer months. Bierre Blanche is lighter and Witbier (made with wheat) is traditionally drunk with a slice of lemon. Candy sugar sweetens a Lambic known as Faro.
Bruge has two breweries in the heart of town; De Gooden Boom that specializes in Tarwebier, a wheat beer and Bruge Tripel with a 9.5 alcohol content. De Straffe Hendrik produces another aromatic wheat beer.
Many beers have their very own beer glass; the glass designed to enhance the taste is used exclusively for a particular beer. For example: a glass for an Abbey Ale is shaped like the chalice used by monks for centuries. Belgian beers are served in snifters, flutes and champagne glasses. Brewers use a champagne bottle, corked and wired, for beers that will be re-fermented. A good beer is as prized in Belgium as a fine wine is cherished in France. Since antiquity, aficionados are reputed to favor Belgian beer above all others for their taste, quality and diversity.

Where is your favorite beer brewed?



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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


While in Northern Italy some years ago, my husband and I visited Bolzano or Bozen—a former Austrian town lost after World War I to Italy—is often called the “Gateway to the Dolomites.” Located in the northeastern Italian Alps, close to the Adage River, the longest stream in Italy after the Po, Bolzano is surrounded on three sides by awesome, towering mountains composed of vividly-colored limestone, jagged clefts and plateaus—Nature’s skyscrapers. In winter, the region invites skiers, in spring and fall a brisk hike beckons, in summer there is nothing like a romantic stroll.

The pedestrian center of the town offers restaurants, both Italian and Austrian, beer gardens, a Piazza named for a troubadour—Piazza Walther—and for the studious, streets named for Dante and Goethe, a Conservatory named for Monteverdi and an orchestra named for Haydn. Bolzano is also the home of the ice-man, affectionately known as Oetzi, a 5,300-year old gentleman who receives callers at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology.

Oetzi discovered in the Oetz Valley region between Austria and Italy became the object of a heated discussion between the two countries. Was Oetzi an Austrian making his way to Italy or an Italian heading to Austria? By examining his teeth, scientists have now decided that Oetzi was from the Eisack Valley in the South Tyrol in Italy and lived during the early copper age.

In his backpack Oetzi carried a flint knife. Dapperly dressed in leather and hide, he carried a bow, a fur quiver holding fourteen arrows made of viburnnum and dogwood and a copper axe. Forty-five years of age, poor Oetzi suffered from arthritis and stuffed his shoes with straw to keep out the cold. He now lies in a special glass walled fridge at a temperature of six degrees centigrade.

DNA samples from his stomach show he took pleasure in a dinner of venison before being killed by an arrow and enjoyed berries and mushrooms. He also chewed on bones no chewing gum in those days. Wounds on his hands and head indicate Oetzi was involved in a fight for his life. He suffered a wound from an arrowhead that severed a major blood vessel. He managed to escape for a short period of time but died in the gully where he was found millenniums later. Scientists later discovered wounds on his hand and new X-rays show major bleeding in the back of his brain and a skull fracture. Doctors now believe Oetzi may have been attacked twice.

The museum at Museumstr. 43, 1-39100 Bozen-Blozano, records the history of the South Tyrol from 15,000 BC through 800 AD. Archeological finds, exhibits and reconstructions and videos are both captivating and illuminating.

From the Bolzano’s train station the Dolomite peaks glow as the sun sets. Located close to the station is the cable car that takes visitors to the mountain woodlands and to meadows with dazzling views of the Dolomites.



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Saturday, August 6, 2011


A soft, steady rain washed the neighborhood last night. I inhale, close my eyes and smell the aroma of warm, damp earth as it drifts past my open window. A small ensemble of weeds, conducted by a morning breeze, sways gently, lulling me into the half-sleep of remembrance.
I lean over the sill and study the garden. Once nurtured by two ancient German refugees, on a small narrow plot of land supplied by our building’s landlord, the garden now suffers from neglect. The apple trees have been cut down, along with bushes and flowering plants. Nothing is left but dry earth that sparrows love to bathe in.
Through the years, I watched my suburban neighborhood of mostly one and two family houses grow into a sturdy community of apartment buildings, two supermarkets and a cut-rate drugstore. The garden stayed the same. Coaxed, chastised, inspired by Emile and Anna – the refugees – it pulsed with life. We knew spring had arrived when the crocus and daffodils were joined by tulips and baby’s breath. The azalea flowered next—a showy display of crimson and claret. Roses, the color of peaches and cream, grew in June and emboldened by the heat of August squirrels knocked apples off the trees.
Emile and Anna loved the garden as much as they disliked each other. Every morning, the sound of shovels, a wheelbarrow crying for oil and their constant bickering would wake the tenants on the garden side of the building. No one dared complain. Better Emile and Anna’s squabbles than a hard, dry courtyard. At night, the pungent scent of flowers in full bloom wafted into my bedroom, encouraging me to dream of distant lands, exotic adventures. Dreams only occasionally interrupted by the high pitched mews of cats using the greenery for assignations.
Chrysanthemums grew well into September and lasted ‘til the cold warnings of winter forced them to fade. After Christmas festivities were past, Emile could be seen gathering discarded evergreens, tinseled branches twinkling in the morning sun, and placing them on the perennials. There they would rest while the tenants anticipated spring.
I don’t know why the landlord ripped up our garden. I heard rumors that a squirrel jumped from a tree and peeked in someone’s window and another neighbor mentioned cats keeping her awake. I think Emile and Anna must be turning over in their graves.



My cozy eBook mystery titled Scene Stealer may be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Carina Press and wherever eBooks are sold. An audio book has been produced by Audible .com

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