Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Donna Leon Crossing Cultures

I’m in the middle of a Donna Leon read-fest. When I wrote the reviews the last time, I saw three books by her I had never seen – and I comb the aisles of Barnes and Noble when I am in the US, and Half Price Books, looking for titles by her. I am guessing some of her books haven’t been printed in the US, but I was able to find them from the UK

The two latest books I have read by Donna Leon are timely. The first, Fatal Remedies, starts out being about Commissario Guido Brunetti’s wife, Paola’s crusade against the sex tours to undeveloped countries, her outrage against trips that allow grown men to exploit the poverty and need that the poorest of families will sell their own daughters and even young children to satisfy these men’s uncontrolled lusts. Her outrage leads her to a jail cell in her own husband’s precinct.

But just when you think you know where this story is going, it turns, as many of Leon’s books do, and tackles another subject, one very much in the eye of the news – falsified medications. There is a huge profit to be made, and huge wrongdoings in the medical supplies field, as expired medications are shipped to the most needy countries, and prescription and over-the-counter medications contain ingredients that are at best, harmless, and at worst – poisonous!

Guido Brunetti follows the money, and exposes the cheats.

In the second book, The Death of Faith, the issue – corruption in the church – comes close to home, as Brunetti’s daughter gets a low grade from her religious education instructor for asking questions, logical questions, about the dogma of the Catholic faith. Leon also tackles the issue of the order of Opus Dei, the same mysterious order featured in The DaVinci Code, an order that does exist, but about which solid knowledge is murky. What is known is that the order, in jihadist fashion, seeks to establish the Catholic church as the supreme guide to behavior on earth, it’s own version of sharia law to be the ruling principle in every country.

This is an anethema to Commissario Brunetti, and to all thinking Italians who savor the separation of church and state. He asks the eternal question – who decides? Who decides what behavior is acceptable, what questions are allowable? Religious belief, or the lack of it, is so very personal – this is a very timely issue that all nations are struggling with. Religious rule? Secular rule?

Underlying all the Donna Leon books is the sweetness of daily life with Brunetti’s family, his beautiful and principled wife, his teenaged children, the food they eat, the family discussions they have, the flowers he brings home and the strength of the connection they have with one another. The Venetian setting weaves its own magical thread through every novel, as we ride with Brunetti in the vaporetto on the canals, as we sit with him in a local bar for a quick coffee – or something stronger – and as he walks the streets from home to office, or to talk with a witness.

And last, but not least, the utter corruption in the Venetian system reminds us that veniality is not restricted to the United States, or to Kuwait, or to Nigeria, or Italy, or to any one country, but wherever man seeks to impose order, the chaos of corruption must be slowly and surely overcome by the building of an honest bureaucracy, people like you and me, serving in seemingly hopeless situations, but doing our best, day by day, like Guido Brunetti, to build a better world for our children.

June 20, 2007 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Generational, Health Issues, Italy, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Venice, Women's Issues | 4 Comments

Blarney Blarney Blarney

There is a two syllable word that starts with “b” and has to do with bulls and excrement and you use it to imply that someone is saying something that is not true. It is not a polite word, but there is a perfectly good two syllable word that also starts with a “b” and that is “blarney.”

When Adventure Man is chatting me up about something, and I can see where it is going, him spinning all these illusions and wanting my buy-in and this is the perfect “b” word to use: Blarney, Blarney, Blarney. We always end up laughing.

And Blarney is the word-a-day for today:

This week’s theme: toponyms coined after places in Ireland.

blarney (BLAHR-nee) noun

1. Flattery.

2. Misleading talk.

[After the Blarney stone, a stone in Blarney Castle in Blarney village,
near Cork, Ireland which, according to legend, gives the gift of the gab
to anyone who kisses it.]

A Word a Day is in the blogroll to the right, or you can subscribe to A Word a Day here.

June 20, 2007 Posted by | Blogroll, Communication, Cross Cultural, Language, Lies, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Tools, Words | 5 Comments

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

In Alexander McCall Smith’s newest book about Mma Ramotswe, it is a time of transition and unease. Unthinkable things happen. Mma Makutsi quits her job as Mma Ramotswe’s assistant detective, and Charlie, the apprentice, quits to start his own taxi service. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni feels a restless urge to try out his detecting skills and everything is in turmoil.


And underneath, amazing things happen. When you think differently, there is room for change, and forgiveness.

With Mma Makutsi back in her usual place, the heavy atmosphere that had prevailed that morning lifted. The emotional reunion, as demonstrative and effusive as if Mma Makutsi had been away for months, or even years, had embarrassed the men, who had exchanged glances and then looked away, as if in guilt at an intrusion into essentially female mysteries. But when the ululating from Mma Ramotswe had died down and the tea had been made, everything returned to normal.

“Why did she bother to leave if she was going to be back in five minutes?” asked the younger apprentice.

“It’s because she doesn’t think like anybody else,” said Charlie. “She thinks backwards.”

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who overheard this, shook his head. “It’s a sign of maturity to be able to change your mind when you realize that you’re wrong,” he explained. “It’s the same with fixing a car. If you find out that you’re going along the wrong lines then don’t hesitate to stop and correct yourself. If, for example, you’re changing the oil seal at the back of a gearbox, you might try to save time by doing this without taking the gearbox out. But it’s always quicker to take the gearbox out. If you don’t, you end up taking the floor out and anyway, you have to take the top of the gearbox off, and the prop shaft too. So it’s best to stop and admit your mistake before you go any further and damage things.”

Charlie listened to this – it was a long speech for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni – and then looked away. He wondered if this was a random example siezed upon by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, or if he knew about the seal he had tried to install in the old rear-wheel-drive Ford. Could he have found out somehow?

In another place, Charlie has just told Mma Ramotswe of his plans to start the No. 1 Ladies Taxi Service:

For a minute or two, nobody spoke. Mma Ramotswe was aware of the sound of Charlie’s breathing, which was shallow, from excitement. We must remember, she thought, what it is like to be young and enthusiastic, to have a plan, a dream. There is always a danger that as we went on in life we forget about that; caution – even fear – replaced optimism and courage. When you were young, like Charlie, you believed that you could do anything, and, in some circumstances at least, you could. . . . .

“I will tell all my friends to use your taxi,” she said. “I am sure you will be very busy.”

And oh yes, in the midst of all this, three mysteries get solved – a case of inventory gone missing, a case of a string of inexplicable hospital deaths, and a case of a husband potentialy gone astray.

GREAT summer reading, deceptively simple. You find yourself mulling over the situations, the responses and the outcomes, and trying out new ways of thinking. Give it a try – you don’t have to read the whole series to enjoy each volume.

This eighth book in the series is available from for a mere $12.70. It makes great summer reading.

June 20, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Books, Botswana, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Locard Exchange Principal, Marriage, Poetry/Literature, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment