21 December 2014

Keeping the X in Xmas

by Leigh Lundin

When I was a kid, a controversy arose regarding the abbreviation of Christmas as Xmas. Many argued it was disrespectful or downright sacrilegious.

This issue surfaced again in college. With large numbers of scholars around, the consensus turned out differently. Those who studied history and Greek deemed the Χ dated back to the earliest days of Christianity, that the Greek letter chi was used among the sect to identify themselves. Even illiterate adherents might could recognize and use the letter Χ, the first letter of Χριστός ➟ Xristos ➟ Krīstós ➟ Chrīstós ➟ Christ.

So not only is Xmas not blasphemous, it’s actually blessed. One of our favorite web sites, Grammerly, discusses it further.

The ‘i’s have it

poinsettia v poinsetta

Grammerly, which brings us the Ghost of Future Perfect Subjunctive (we understand even if Scrooge doesn't) is fun and educational for writers and readers, offering use and spelling snippets often in the form of graphics and fan contributions. The above represents an example of poinsettia versus poinsetta. The latter is flagged as an error both by my word processor but also by the Oxford Dictionary. I might add I was taught the red peppers in Spanish olives are pimientos, not pimentos. However, some people distinguish pimiento as the fruit and pimento as the plant itself.
Fox 35 Xmas weirdness

Danny Boy

Fox News has published a list of 35 Christmas practices from around the world. (See list at right.)

Far be it from me to suggest Fox News might be anything less than truthful (oh, God, my eyeballs are rolling uncontrollably), but I spent Christmas in South Africa and didn’t come across Numbers 1 or 34. I never encountered a single deep-fried moth nor an angry izigebengu (bad guy) named Danny.

Maybe they were fresh out of moth larvae, or possibly they were hiding in some township somewhere deep in tribal lands… We're awaiting confirmation from our South African correspondent.

Stop Presses!
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Our African correspondent reports: “The Emperor Moth caterpillars, referred to here as the Mopane worm (moh-pah-nee), are a southern African delicacy, not traditionally Zulu, more a staple in Zimbabwe and northern SA. They are huge, as long as one's hand. Tried dried crispy in Zim— not too bad. The other offering of soft and squidgy made me gag – EEEUW!

As for the Danny story — never heard of it. Certainly not an English tale and Danny is not an African name. If there’s any substance to it, my guess is possibly Afrikaans / Dutch - from Daanie (pronounced Dah-nee) diminutive of Daniel.”

The Fox is at the door

Fox contends annually that a ‘War against Christmas’ is about to end the holiday any time now. As I’ve written earlier, Christmas for my family has traditionally been not merely ecumenical, but all inclusive and non-proselytizing. That’s worked pretty well. But yeah, there’s always someone who found coal in their stockings and Fox manages to track them down. Here’s an example from a couple of years ago.

Black Christmas

Here in Florida, when the State House allowed Christmas presentations, the courts held that any ‘religious’ organization could erect Christmas displays, even Satanists, bless their hearts. However, Fox chose to focus on the, er, Festivus pole, as highlighted by Jon Stewart. And then they go on to snivel about Santa and being white. They have no problem with a green Grinch? Listen folks, when I was a kid, my parents took us to black churches and we learned young that Father Christmas is whatever folks need him to be. That's the magic of the season.

White Christmas

Earlier this month, I encountered an Australian doo-wop group called Human Nature, now appearing in that soul of Christendom, Las Vegas. They’ve released a Christmas album, which is bleedin’ good. Their cover of White Christmas does Bing Cosby proud.

Here’s the live version if you have Facebook and audio-only from YouTube.

May your Chanukah wrap up wonderfully and your twelve days of Christmas be merry and bright.

20 December 2014

Have a Confusing Christmas!

By Melodie Campbell

The following story is true.  And it may explain the slightly manic sense of humour I have been displaying on these pages over the past six months.


Most of my life, I have been confused about Christmas.

This is because I am the quintessential Canadian mutt.  Four parts Italian, one part Irish, one part English, one part Chippewa, and the final bit was a surprise.  It overlaps with the English part (wait for it.)

The Italian part is easy to explain.  Every year, my Sicilian grandmother put the plastic lighted crucifixes (made in Japan) in glaring rainbow colours, on the Christmas tree.  I was a bit confused by that, not only because it was gawd-awful tacky and fought with my budding interior designer.  But the part in the 10 Commandments about ‘no graven images’ seemed to be at risk here.

Nevertheless, we all looked forward to the blazing orange, green and red crucifixes, unaware that it was a sort of macabre thing to do to a Christmas tree.  Did I mention Halloween is my favorite holiday?

The Chippewa part was a tad more elusive.  I first got a hint that there might have been First Nations blood in our family when someone asked why we put ground venison in our traditional Christmas Eve spaghetti sauce.  True, we had a freezer full of deer, moose, salmon, and not much else.  Later, it occurred to me that I actually hadn’t tasted beef until I was ten, when for my birthday, Dad took us to the A&W for a real treat.  “This tastes weird,” I said, wrinkling my nose.  “It’s made from cow,” Dad said.

Of course, if I had been more on the ball, there were other clues.  But at the age of six, you don’t necessarily see things as out of the norm.  That summer in Toronto, I loved day camp.  They split us kids into groups named for First Nations tribes.  By happy coincidence, I got placed in the Chippewa tribe.  When I got home and announced this, the reaction was: “Thank God it wasn’t Mohawk.” 

The camp leaders were really impressed with my almost-authentic costume.  (Everyone else was wearing painted pillow cases.)

But the real confusion about Christmas and my provenance came many years later.

I spent most of my life not knowing we were part Jewish.  I was about forty, when the designer shoe (a bargain on sale at David’s) finally dropped.  Dad and I were eating pastrami on rye at Shopsy’s Deli one day (which we did on a regular basis, once a month – a reasonably intelligent person might have considered this the first clue) when Dad wiped a drip of mustard off his face and said:

Dad: “I haven’t heard from my cousin Moishe Goldman in a long while.”

Me:  “We have a cousin named MOISHE GOLDMAN??”

Of course, if I had been thinking, all this made sense.  We had lived in a Jewish neighbourhood.  Our last name is Hebrew for antelope.  And I was only the only kid in school who got Halvah in their Christmas stocking every year.  (Damn straight.  I really did.  I still do.)

So I’m hoping this may explain why we have a five foot lighted Christmas peacock on our front porch this year, and a lighted Christmas palm tree in our back yard.  “A Peacock in a Palm Tree” may be confusing to you folk who know the song and are expecting a partridge with pears, but to those of us who have been confused about Christmas all our lives, it is mere icing on the proverbial Kugal.

Melodie Campbell writes funny books. You can buy them at Chapters/Indigo, Barnes&Noble, Amazon, etc.  Sometimes even at the discount table at Zehrs and Walmart.)

The Peacock.  You thought I was kidding.

19 December 2014

The Cell Phone as Murder Weapon

by Dixon Hill

Melodie Campbell's post on December 6th gave me the idea for this post, so if you don't like it complain to her.  Because it's her fault!  (Just kidding of course.)

Surely everyone has read about cell phones being used to detonate improvised explosives, but I'm not going to address that issue in this post.  Clearly, too many bad guys already know how to set up such triggers, and -- though I think I have a pretty good idea how to rig one up -- I am not going to propagate such knowledge among more of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

There is an aspect about cell phones, however, that some mystery writers may be unaware of, which could potentially render them highly useful as items involved in fictional extortion plots, arson plots, and even potential murder plots.

I don't feel I'm letting anything out of the bag by writing this, because:

  1. This aspect is widely reported on the internet, complete with accompanying photos.
  2. Recent television newscasts have covered this aspect, and its associated potential for downing aircraft.  
  3. I have certainly never been trained in using a cell phone as an explosive device, as this aspect did not exist -- or, at least, was not nearly as wide-spread -- during my military career.
  4. Having a certain rudimentary knowledge that something is possible, is a far cry (imho) from having the technical expertise and equipment to successfully execute that thing.


The aspect of cell phones that I'm addressing is:  Exploding Batteries.

Now, you may have just scoffed, and asked, "How much damage could one little battery do?"
Below is a photo of a house reportedly gutted by the fire an exploding cell phone battery started:


Is there any question in your mind, now, that a cell phone battery could figure prominently in the plot of a mystery concerning arson?





These two photos show folks who have survived phone battery explosions or fires:

I recall being told of a case, in which terrorists set up a booby trap, which fired a small explosive device mounted behind the mirror on a car's sun visor.  The daughter of a man, whom the terrorists were trying to influence, owned the car and often used the flip-down mirror (which had lights on either side, that came on when it was flipped open) to do her makeup.  The idea behind the attack, was not to kill the daughter, but to maim her.  To mar her face.


This is a horrible thing to do to someone, but since we write about horrible people perpetrating crimes, consider:  Imagine how organized crime members might use a cell battery to carry out their threat to maim family members of someone they were trying to extort into doing something illegal.

Sound like part of a plot?

What if the explosion that hurt the man's ear, in the photo above, were amped-up to be more powerful?  The target gets a call, and when he answer it -- WHAM!  Of course, the device would probably be more effective if the battery detonated five to ten seconds after the target answered, increasing the likelihood that the phone was tucked tight to the target's head (Charge-to-target contact -- remember?).  Now, we could be talking about fictional murder.


To watch a BBC clip concerning exploding cell batteries (along with some interesting demonstrations) CLICK HERE

CLICK HERE to read about ways to prevent cell phone batteries from exploding.  The idea here is: Learning what prevents them from exploding, might help you get started, when it comes to plotting techniques that your fictional character can use to make his/her targeted cell phone battery explode, wreaking fictional havoc upon the opposition.

CLICK HERE for Times of India information about "call bombing" and how this might help a cell phone to cause damage.  Scroll down to "How and why do mobile phone blasts happen?" for the requisite information.

Now: Let's be frank.  If you've read through some of the links above, then you know that most phones and batteries are well designed and manufactured, and very seldom explode.  Further, even if a battery were to explode, I think it would be quite difficult to rig up a system that would make it explode at a specific time -- which is an important consideration when working with explosive or assassination devices.  After all, if the thing blows up when it's nowhere near the targeted individual or structure, the blast will not accomplish the desired results.

On the other hand, we're writing fiction here.  So . . . maybe -- using the links above, and possibly others -- you might figure out a way to sell such an exciting plot, in a way that's convincing to readers.  If so, I hope you "Have at it!"

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

18 December 2014

Absolute Powerlessness

by Eve Fisher

Back in August of 1970, when I was 16 years old, I got caught up in a riot in Los Angeles. Wrong place, wrong time. At the time, I had no idea what had sparked it. All I knew was that I was on foot, alone, in a part of the city I didn't know, and couldn't get out of except on foot. (No buses were running, and I didn't have taxi fare even if I'd spotted one.) Meanwhile, there was a lot of action, everywhere I looked, and none of it looked good. There were cops with sticks, cops with guns, cops with tear gas, people throwing bricks, everyone screaming, running, tripping… And then, as night fell, the scavengers came out, and things got very bad.

East LA riots

I was lucky: I found shelter. One of those strange blessings that I could never use in a story (truth is always stranger than fiction), a man came out of a building and said, "You need to get off the street. Now." And gave me his apartment for the night. For free. He even went somewhere else. I spent the night, barely sleeping - I didn't really trust my good luck with him or the mob in the streets - but in the morning, it was safe to get out and go back to my base.

File:RubenSalazar.jpg
Ruben Salazar (1928-1970)
A few days later I was told that it was all about the death of Ruben Salazar, a Mexican-American journalist, back from reporting in Vietnam, and who had turned his attention and articles to the unjust treatment of Chicanos by the LAPD. Naturally, he was hugely unpopular with the LAPD. Anyway, he'd been covering a Chicano march/rally against the Vietnam War and slipped off to have a quiet beer in a local bar. What I was told at the time was that the police had firebombed the bar, killing him, and then claimed they thought he was a drug dealer they were looking for.

What really happened? Well, for whatever reason the LAPD decided to break up the rally, despite the fact that everyone agrees it was peaceful. The police claimed they'd gotten reports that a local liquor store was being robbed; reason enough to declare the rally (20,000+ people) to be an illegal assembly and call out the riot squads. Tear gas, guns, the whole nine yards; the marchers retaliated; 150 were arrested, and 4 killed - including Salazar, who was having a quiet beer in a local bar when a deputy sheriff lobbed a 10-inch, wall-piercing tear gas missile (designed for barricade situations according to Wikipedia) into the bar, hitting Salazar in the head and killing him instantly. The LAPD claimed that they thought the robber had gone into the bar; then they claimed that there were drug dealers there. The deputy sheriff was never indicted or even reprimanded. That part of Los Angeles burned for a while, but that was nothing new. Nobody cared.
"It is a cliche that 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' Like all cliches, it has a considerable element of truth. Nonetheless, one of the major purposes of any AVP workshop is to empower the participants, and to teach them to share power in community for the benefit of all. This is essential because the negative side of the old cliche is as true as the positive: 'Powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely.' All people need, for survival, a measure of power over their own lives and over their own environment... If people are deprived of the legitimate use of their necessary power they will use what power they have destructively and with violence." — Alternatives to Violence Project Basic Manual - p. C-2, my emphasis added.

riotsI've been thinking about the underlined passages above for a long time. I've been thinking about it because of everyone raised in homes are virtual prisons of alcohol, addiction, or abuse, as tightly controlled as a tomb. I've been thinking about it because of all the slaves in history, from the days of Gilgamesh to current-day human trafficking. I've been thinking about it because of all the subject peoples of military empires in history, from the Sumerians under Sargon the Great to the current day economic and political empires. I've been thinking about it because of all those who believe, deep down in their hearts, that some people just should not be allowed to have any power, any rights, any pleasures. And work very, very hard to make sure they don't get any. And then are horrified and appalled when the worms finally turn.

Look, fear, intimidation, bullying, all work very well at getting obedience. So does suborning the judicial process, whether within the family or in the town or on up the food chain. You can strip away every shred of power from someone and virtually (if not literally) own them. But rebellion will out. And when there is absolute powerlessness - where there is literally nothing you can do against whatever or whoever is controlling you - rebellion can come in some very strange forms. Rage. Cutting. Depression. Rage. Anorexia. Hostility. Aggression. Rage. Rioting. Burning. Rage. Things will happen.

Martin Luther
Of course, none of them are the right things. Whenever there has been an attempt at redress of grievances by the underlings, the people in power have always considered it outrageous, unjust, ridiculous, insane, criminal, animal, and generally unacceptable. Violent protest is ipso facto proof that the protesters are wrong, aren't capable of reason, and should not be listened to, only punished. I read the comments on-line calling the Ferguson protesters dogs who should be shot, and it didn't surprise me at all: In 1525, during the Reformation, when the German peasants revolted against their lords, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet telling the nobles to kill them: "It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you." Yes, Luther was a social conservative. No, nothing much changes in history. During the American Revolution, the "Sons of Liberty" were seen by the British as "truly nothing but a drunken, canting, lying, praying, hypocritical rabble without order or cleanliness" who needed to be shot on sight.

Mr. Gandhi
Nonviolent protest doesn't earn any more respect. Listen to Winston Churchill on Gandhi: "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir [which Churchill pronounced faker] of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor." Martin Luther King, Jr. received constant insults, arrests, death threats, and was eventually assassinated, as were Medgar Evers and others. It's no better on the family level. The person who leaves is always a selfish traitor who should have stuck it out to the end; the one who tries to live a separate, different life is stuck-up and needs to be brought down a notch. And, if it's an abusive marriage we're talking about, there's a good chance that the spouse who leaves will be harassed, assaulted, stalked and even killed.

So basically, from the point of view of power, neither violent nor nonviolent protest are acceptable: instead of protesting, trust the existing system to dole out rights, etc., as the system deems appropriate. And, of course, if there is no protest, then nothing is wrong, and nothing needs to change. "But you never complained..." "You never said a word about this when you were a child!" "She never said no!" "I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!" "S/He never told me to stop…”

And that is what makes people crazy.

Meanwhile, there is the alternative of "shar[ing] power in community for the benefit of all." That's hard for many people, who see life as a zero-sum game, and are terrified of having to share their toys, their power, their breathing space. But we had all better be prepared to do this, because no one - I repeat, NO ONE gets to hang on to all the cookies forever. Every empire has collapsed and/or been conquered. Every tyrant - whether they ruled empires, countries, kingdoms or families - has died. And there are no U-hauls behind hearses. When the last rattle comes, we are all absolutely powerless.

drawing by Allan Fisher©

17 December 2014

Any Flat Surface



by Robert Lopresti

Still thinking about Bouchercon.  (When you only blog every other week this kind of postmortum can take time.)

Attached you will find a photo of Catherine Dilts, standing in front of a mountain of carrier bags.  This picture was taken at Bouchercon, and is used by her gracious permission.

You see, upon arriving at one of these hootenannies you receive a specially made goody bag (just like the Oscars!) containing information and a whole bunch of free books.  Different bags get different books, all random. Inevitably some of the books will not match up perfectly with your reading preferences.

I heard one conference-goer asking: "Will there be a swap table for books?"

The volunteer replied: "Any flat surface."

Which brings up the odd phenomena of the book as physical object at these events.  Upstairs there is the Dealers' Room, filled with wonderful people who have traveled, in some cases, thousands of miles for the chance to sell you books. At least one had a long, lovely display of old and rare volumes. 

But all around the hotel there are publishers eagerly giving away books, in the hopes of getting you to read the rest of a series. 

Many years ago I visited a publisher's office and an editor asked "Have you read so-and-so?"  He took me into a little storeroom and started piling books into my arms, like I had won the grand prize on some quiz show.  I was flabbergasted.  Weren't they supposed to be trying to sell the things?

Back to the recent Bouchercon.  Someone did set up a few swap tables and, to my astonishment they did not fill up.  A dozen books would appear and then, a few minutes later most would be gone.  I expected that on Sunday, the last day of the fest, there would be a stack-up as people decided which books fit in their luggage for the plane.  But it hadn't happened by the time I left.  I am guessing that this conference (in Long Beach, an hour from L.A.) had a higher than usual percentage of attendees traveling by car.  So they had plenty of room for another dozen or so extra titles.

There was a mailing service there, as well, happy to box up your books and ship them home.  I took advantage of that. All the illustrations in the blog today are books that were giveaways - except one gift -- Thanks, Kate Thornton!

Last time I went to a Bouchercon the swap table was piled with tomes on the last day.  As I was shuffling through them I found an ARC (advance reader copy) of the new unpublished Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block.  As I grabbed it up I remember thinking: 1) who didn't want a copy of that? and 2) where the hell was I when they were giving them out?

It's weird how we feel about these remnants of dead trees.  Almost every day I bring one to put on the freebie pile in my library, hoping some college student will enjoy it.  Others I cherish and have carried along with me since high school.  And some books I am happy to read on my tablet and never own in a tangible form.

Back when I was even younger than I am now I remember buying a hardcover book at an event and taking it to the author to be signed.  His proud publisher was standing next to him.   "Oh, you'll enjoy that one!" said the publisher. 

"I know," I said.  "I already read it."

They stared at me. 


"I don't buy a hardcover unless I know I want to keep it."

Well, money was tight in those days.  And by God, I still have that book.

How about you?  Which ones do you keep and which do you give away?



16 December 2014

Mystery And History--A Story

by David Dean

A number of my fellow SleuthSayers regularly contribute pieces based on history, and I usually find them intensely interesting.  Eve Fisher has done some wonderful pieces, as have David Edgerly Gates, R.T. Lawton, and others.  I've taken a stab at a few myself.  I like history, especially American, English, Native American, and when it's not too turgid, Catholic history.

A few years ago my wife, Robin, gave me a very slim book entitled, "A Journey Into Mohawk And Oneida Country 1634-1635."  It was not so much a history (at least it was not intended to be so) as a journal of a Dutch surgeon/barber sent with two merchants to renegotiate a trade agreement with the Iroquois.  All three were employee/colonists for the Dutch West India Company and living at an outpost known as Fort Orange near present day Albany, New York.  It appeared that the impetus for this dangerous task was French interference in the lucrative beaver pelt trade.  They threatened to undercut their Dutch rivals with their Algonquian alliances, so an adjustment was needed from the Iroquois in order for the guild to continue to prosper.  All pretty cut and dry, and to be honest, the author, while diligent, was not putting together a future best-seller here.  Nonetheless, I was very excited to have, and anxious to read, the little volume simply because it was a rare, and very early, first-hand account of life among the Mohawk and Oneida.
Battle Between Iroquois and Algonquian Tribes

But where's the mystery, you may be asking yourself?  To begin with the author was the mystery.  The man attributed to writing this brief record never identifies himself within its pages.  It was a journal, after all, which he was keeping for the company records.  He probably just assumed that the audience he was writing for would know who had written it.  After all there were only three of them, and they had been commissioned by the Company.  His two companions are identified within its pages.  However, for the historians, it would take over two hundred years for the author's identity to be revealed.

This began with the fortunate discovery of the document itself in 1895; stored in a forgotten archive in Holland.  It was one of the very few Dutch West India Company records to have escaped the great purge that was accomplished when that institution was dissolved hundreds of years before.  Its discoverer was an American, who recognized its worth, bought it, and brought it back to the States.  It would take additional minds and decades before a list of possible authors was made up based on colonial census records and passenger lists from Holland.  In the end, it was narrowed down to a young man in his early twenties who recorded his profession as surgeon/barber when he boarded a vessel for the colonies.  His name was Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert and bound for New Amsterdam.  He was the right age, at the right time, practicing the right profession, and headed for the right place.  There were no others that fit that bill so exactly.  Once identified, his name was found numerous times throughout the colony's transactions and history during the 1600's.  He was to prosper in the New World and grow into a much respected figure.  He would not die that way.

Bogaert's selection for this dangerous, but important, assignment gives us some indication that he was well thought of and trusted after only a few years in the colony.  His being a surgeon (read blood-letter, and first aid practitioner) was, no doubt, a part in their decision-making process.  There must have been a feeling of great urgency in this matter, as well, as the intrepid three were being sent forth just days from Christmas during an intensely cold winter.  Wearing clothing and footwear totally unsuitable for the journey ahead, they followed their Indian guide out of the village and onto barely discernible trails knee-deep in snow with drifts sometimes chest-high.  Their all-day treks were measured in mere miles; often traveling no more that two or three in a day.  During all this Bogaert makes entries in his journal that are both brief and laconic.  In their first encounter with the natives, they chance upon and surprise a group who throw down their packs and flee into the trees upon seeing the white men.  The Dutchmen and their guide then proceed to help themselves to any food that they can find among the Indians' discarded goods, while the owners watch them from the shadows.  The natives make no move to stop, or molest them, and the trade party moves on.  Bogaert makes no further comment on this episode. 

When they reach the first village of a chain they must visit, they are greeted warmly.  It is never expressed in Bogaert's diary, but one gets the impression that the Mohawk chiefs had been apprised in advance of their arrival and were expecting them; knew their purpose.  Brought into longhouses containing as many as forty occupants, the exhausted travelers are given a place by one of the many fires.  Bogaert and his men are wet and frozen.  They are fed bear and beaver meat.  Bogaert never offers his opinion of this fare, but it is apparent that he eats it readily.  They do some trading, sleep, and move on the next day with a new guide to the next village.  These actions are repeated throughout their adventure, with only chance observations of how their hosts lived; their customs.  He writes once of a chief showing him the tribe's "god," a stuffed marten with protruding teeth, decorated with beads and feathers.  In another example he records, with chilling understatement, that one of the braves they are bedding down with for the night wishes to cut him.  They arise the following day and move on with no further mention of the threat, or how they spent their night.  The writer in me couldn't help but wonder--did they sleep?  Did they ask for the chief's intervention and protection?  Was there any trouble that night, or did the threat turn out to be completely baseless?  And what was the warrior's motivation in this instance?  Had he been offended, or was he just curious to see if the Dutch bled the same color as the Iroquois?  Maddening little details.

On another occasion they are treated to a curing ceremony conducted by two of the tribe's shaman.  Inside a small bark-covered longhouse filled with smoke from a roaring fire, the two sweating elders put sticks down their throats and projectile vomit onto the hapless patient, a young man laid low with fever.  Again, our hero offers little enlightenment.  Being a surgeon, had he asked to witness one of their healing ceremonies?  Was the patient cured?  What were his, and his companions, reactions to this extraordinary display?  Silence.

As to his own doctoring abilities we are given only a glimpse.  When one of his companion's legs begins to swell, he records cutting it three times with his knife and dressing it with bear grease.  We can only assume that the result was salutary, as they all continue their travels shortly thereafter.

We are left to infer that the Mohawk and Oneida are lacking firearms at this date, as Bogaert makes no mention of them, but records their fascination with the European's guns.  Though on two occasions the trio is entreated by entire villages to discharge the weapons into the air, they steadfastly refuse to do so.  Bogaert writes of their disappointment, as the Indians are well aware of the fire and thunder the guns produce and are excited to witness it, but again frustrates the reader as to the reason for the refusals.  One can only guess that the Dutchmen were loathe to empty their one-shot weapons and become helpless to defend themselves.  Perhaps this was the Iroquois' secret intent, or our pilgrims feared it might be.  After all, there had been that troubling earlier instance with the warrior and his knife. 

Yet, at the end of Bogaert's brief journal the adventurer-merchants return unharmed to their colony.  Perhaps due to the success of their efforts, Bogaert himself becomes a respected trading merchant in the coming years, and prosperous enough to buy part ownership of the privateer vessel, La Garce, and uses it to prey on Spanish shipping in the West Indies.  At twenty-nine, he marries a woman living in the colony and they have four children over the next several years.  He continues to gain both wealth and stature within the hard-working community.  Then, at age thirty-six, he is charged with sodomy and flees the colony for the relative safety of the Mohawks he had visited years before.  Just like that, everything changes.

Van den Bogaert stood accused of having sexual relations with a black male servant in his employ named Tobias.  The servant was captured while Bogaert remained at large amongst the Native Americans.  Undaunted, it seems, the colony appointed a man-catcher to go after him and bring Bogaert out of Indian country.  Whether this was a difficult undertaking, or not, is never explained, only that his capture results.  On the return trek, Bogaert manages to escape once more, and in his desperation, attempts to flee across a frozen river.  Unable to support his weight, the ice gives way and he plunges into the frigid waters and perishes.  It is not recorded if his body was ever recovered, or if an attempt was made to do so.

Likewise, we never learn of Bogaert's own feelings about the events he participated in during his extraordinary travels among the Iroquois.  He never once expresses his own feelings and impressions in his terse, business-like journal.  The historians responsible for researching his time among the Iroquoian peoples wisely refrain from interpreting his writings to conform with modern opinions and prejudices.  The scant, and ultimately startling, events comprising the biographic introduction to the piece are, likewise, left to tell their own tale without interpretation or embellishment.  We know what happened, but not why.  There are so many unanswered questions that I find it tempting to fill in the blanks.  Clearly, this was a capable and complex man.  Ultimately, we know what he did, but not who he really was, and it is difficult not to assign him modern motives and thinking.  But that wouldn't actually be the truth, would it?  We so seldom know what our own contemporaries really think and feel; even when they do express themselves freely and often.  So, in the end, Herr Bogaert forms the juncture of both history and mystery, revealed in his actions and writing, but still shrouded in the mystery of human behavior--an intriguing, but frustrating, cipher.

15 December 2014

Odds & Ends, Bits & Pieces

By Fran Rizer


Yes, today is Jan's day, but she's sick, so I'm filling in.  Just add "write blog" to the list above.  My first thought was to write about "a few of my favorite things."  That song has been hanging out in my mind several days and would work well with the idea of naming lots of my greatest loves, but I decided to save that in my list of "possibles" for the future.


Next, I thought about telling everyone about the horror novel I'm presently revising.  That brought the above cartoon to mind.  I love it for several reasons: (1)  I really enjoy reading King whether it's horror or sci fi--almost anything he writes (2) I taught a young lady when she was in fifth grade who read King and wrote stories that sometimes got the same reaction as the above cartoon.  She ran away from home two years later and I pray that she found her way to a good life.








I love this warning sign.  It's posted on the door to my office, and if the reason for a break is that lunch is ready, it had better be something good. .





I've included this one because I sincerely believe that some English teachers do stretch the limits on symbolism and other literary devices when analyzing literature with their students.

Also, because, since I've expanded my genres, I am using an occasional word that would not have fit into the Callie series.

My copy reader informed me that I misspelled the "m-f" word the first time it appeared in one of my manuscripts.  I got the letters right, but I never can remember what kind of compound word it is--open, closed, or hyphenated.





After posting the Beaufort, Lowcountry, Frogmore stew recipe from A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, I received several emails from readers who had tried it and liked it.

In honor of the season, I now present you with Pa's favorite holiday recipe:






Pa's No-Bake Bourbon Balls

Ingredients

12 ounces gingersnaps, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, or animal crackers, completely crushed
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Optional:  powdered sugar, cocoa, nuts for coating the outsides

Directions

Stir everything together except the granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Shape into one-inch balls. Pour granulated sugar in a paper plate with an edge or a shallow bowl.  Roll each ball in the sugar (or one of the optional coatings), then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  These are actually better a day or so after making them, but they don't freeze well.

Notes

Pa's favorite version of these is to make them with gingersnaps and bourbon.  The vanilla wafer ones are especially tasty with rum.  Pa cautions, "Don't use cooking beverages. I use top-shelf bourbon or rum.  If I won't drink it, I don't cook with it."  He also advises that one way to crush the crackers is to put them in a gallon-size zipper bag.  Close it tight and crush with a rolling pin.  (Don't use a sandwich bag because they are thinner than the larger ones.)




Whether you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," the busy-ness of this season sometimes makes writing even more difficult.  Just remember the above quote.  If it was sometimes that hard for Hemingway, we can expect some bumps along the road.



Enough said!

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!