Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“Guido Brunetti Sent Us” (Rosa Rossa Restaurant)

AdventureMan and I read a series of detective novels set in Venice by author Donna Leon, who lives there. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a patient, thoughtful and smart detective, working under a lazy, corrupt and greedy boss in a country rife with corruption. Each book has a social issue in Venice as its topic, and not lightweight topics – the arrogance of dumping trash, boatloads of trash, off the coast of Somalia (had you ever heard of that before? Neither had I. But it is true, and it has ruined traditional Somali fishing), big pharma and tainted drugs, sex tourism and human trafficking, governmental bribery – Donna Leon fearlessly tackles them all.

Guido Brunetti loves Venice, and he loves his family. His solace in life is his wife, a professor of literature at the university, and his two children. His wife cooks meals that make the reader’s mouth water as they read, or Guido and one of his lieutenants will stop at a restaurant for lunch.

In one of the books, “Blood From a Stone,” American tourists give evidence to a stabbing they witness on their way to dinner. To thank them for their help, he directs them to a GOOD Venetian restaurant, and tells them to say Guido Brunetti sent them.

We don’t say that. No matter how real Guido Brunetti has become to us, we know he is not real, and we don’t say he sent us. But we do take the tiny winding back lanes to find Rosa Rossa, and while we order familiar salads, we also order Venetian specialities for our main courses.

Rosa Rossa on a tiny but busy street:

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AdventureMan’s favorite salad; he loves Caprese:

 

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I had a garden salad:

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I love black spaghetti, or Pasta Nero. It is made with squid, and squid ink, and I first had it at a lovely dinner a long time ago in Damascus, Syria, served by a beautiful Italian who swore t me that this dish is Southern Italian. If so, I ordered it anyway, in honor of Beatrice, and it was delicious.

 

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AdventureMan ordered Pasta with Squid and pepperoncini, and he said it was very piquant, and that he has never eaten so much squid in his life at one time.

 

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We passed on dessert, knowing we still had miles to walk, and possibly a gelato toward the end. We had such a short time to enjoy Venice, searching for and finding Rosa Rossa was a lot of fun, and a great adventure. They took good care of us, and the food was delicious.

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November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Italy, Local Lore, Restaurant, Venice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Creole Nature Trail

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In the next to the last episode of True Detective, at the very beginning of the episode, you see this sign, old and beaten, alongside a narrow country road.

And here is one reason AdventureMan and I have been married over 40 years. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we knew where our next mini-adventure would take us. The Creole Nature Trail is mere hours away, in a part of Louisiana we love.

Even better, this is so cool, you can download an app for The Creole Nature Trail, free, and using your geo-tracking capabilities in your smart phone, it can tell you about each stop along the 180+ miles of natural wilderness along the trail. I love technology.

True Detectives was atmospheric; the atmosphere was so thick it was like it was a character in the series. The cameras loved the bayous, and the shacks, and the run-down bars; the cameras loved the trees and the semi-swampy lowlands – and they made Woody and Matthew run through them often, LOL. The end comes in a fortification that looks a whole lot like our own Fort Pickens, but is one of what must be several colonial forts, some abandoned, some maintained, along the Gulf coastline.

The Creole Nature Trail is just past the area we know from our visit to the James Lee Burke sites around New Iberia, one of our favorite trips. We know it will be wild, and beautiful, and in some places, a little bit bleak. We know to take insect repellant, as they have world famous mosquitoes in Louisiana. This photo is from our trip to Avery Island, where they make the world’s most famous Tabasco Sauce.

I’m just thankful to be married to a man who is up for the same adventures I’m up for 🙂

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Donna Leon and The Golden Egg

“What are manners?”

“What is ‘nice’, what does it mean?”

“What is ‘kind’?” the most adorable little boy in Pensacola asked me. It was bath time, a time when we have some of our best conversations, and you never know where the conversation will go.

 

I love these conversations because I have to think, too, but most of all, because I love to watch this little boy’s mind grow in grasping concepts and perceptions. He is four; his class in school is on the letter “U” this coming week, and already he can sound out words in the books we read together. He knows what a globe is, and how it differs from a map. He knows his address, and he can point to Pensacola on the globe.

He knows things because we talk to him, and because he goes to school and his teachers talk to him. His mind is wide open and he is eager to learn, and he asks the most wonderful questions.

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Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has a new case that troubles him. He knows the dead man, not well, but he would see him in his quarter, and he often saw him helping out at the local laundry. He assumed the man was deaf and retarded, everyone knew that. When the dead man has no papers, in bureaucratic Italy, no birth certificate, no medical records, no finance records, no record of social aid (he is poor as well as disabled) Brunetti is troubled. How could such a familiar figure be so undocumented?

 

His mother is no help; her stories are transparent lies about travel to France and her son having grown up in the country with people whose name she cannot remember.

 

It is a troubling book. If you read Donna Leon, you will understand how close and wonderful and articulate Brunetti’s family is, how loved and cherished their children. We eat meals with them, we understand how the Venetian vernacular distinguishes those to whom one speaks more frankly and those to whom one lies. Brunetti’s a detective; the things he sees often trouble him, but this case troubles him more than most.

 

I can’t tell you more without spoiling the ending. All I can tell you is that it will encourage you to love your children, hold them closely, and give them all the benefits in their life-toolbox of attention, instruction and loving discipline that a parent (and grandparent!) can give.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Communication, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Fiction, Interconnected, Italy, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Parenting, Relationships, Values, Venice, Words | Leave a comment

Babayaga by Toby Barlow

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You know how books come your way in coincidental ways? Amazon.com had told me I needed to read Babayaga, so I ordered it. I’ve always loved mythologies, I devoured them like candy when I was young, always looking for more. Babayagas are very old, and exist under many names in most cultures – elderly women who usually deal with concoctions, often medicinal, who live alone. In the west, they were often called witches, in the Slavic countries, babayaga, and it seems to me there is an old woman used to scare children in the Gulf, too. It seems to be a cross-cultural phenomenon.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Babayaga:

Baba Yaga is a witch (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) in Slavic folklore, who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking elderly woman. She flies around in a mortar and wields a pestle. She dwells deep in the forest, in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs, with a fence decorated with human skulls. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out, and may play a maternal role. She has associations with forest wildlife. Sometimes she frightens a hero (e.g. by promising to eat him), but helps him if he is courageous. According to Vladimir Propp’s folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as a donor, a villain, or something altogether ambiguous. In many fairy tales she kidnaps and eats children, usually after roasting them in her oven).

Andreas Johns identifies Baba Yaga as “one of the most memorable and distinctive figures in eastern European folklore,” and observes that she is “enigmatic” and often exhibits “striking ambiguity.”[1] Johns summarizes her as “a many-faceted figure, capable of inspiring researchers to see her as a cloud, moon, Death, Winter, snake, bird, pelican or earth goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, phallic mother, or archetypal image”.[2]

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Barlow’s BabaYaga includes all the backstory, inserted here and there, the Russian purges, revolts, revolutions, the wars, the mud, the snows, following the troops, and several different Babayaga, while focusing one one, the beautiful and mesmerizing Zoya, who lives in a magical post World War II Paris. She in unforgettable – unless, of course, she has woven a spell to muddy your mind and make you forget.

What I love about this book is that if it were true, you would still think it is fiction. If every single thing happened just as Barlow wrote it, you would never believe it. LOL! A wicked sour old babayaga turns a police detective investigating a murder into a flea; he finds it a novel experience and manages to make things come right even as a flea.

A young American man, Will, loving living in Paris, works for an ad agency and also for THE Agency in the heady days of post war Paris, where the rules are not yet in place and lines are fuzzy. Falls for a witch with a long history of loving and killing men, but that’s life. Is it better to love and lose than never to have loved? What if your love is a gorgeous babayaga who helps you live life with a vibrance and intensity you have never experienced?

There is a long, intricate, time-appropriate adventure/spy/industrial-scientific plot which I am not sure I entirely followed, with murders and shootouts and the Paris jazz and club scene, and it didn’t matter one whit whether I could follow the plot line or not, it was a wild ride of a novel and a lot of fun. 🙂

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Birds, Books, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Paris | Leave a comment

Dubai: Norwegien Rape Victim Sentenced to Jail for “Sex Outside Marriage”

From today’s AOL/Huffpost:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A Norwegian woman sentenced to 16 months in jail in Dubai for having sex outside marriage after she reported an alleged rape said Friday she decided to speak out in hopes of drawing attention to the risks of outsiders misunderstanding the Islamic-influenced legal codes in this cosmopolitan city.

The case has drawn outrage from rights groups and others in the West since the 24-year-old interior designer was sentenced Wednesday. It also highlights the increasingly frequent tensions between the United Arab Emirates’ international atmosphere and its legal system, which is strongly influenced by Islamic traditions in a nation where foreign workers and visitors greatly outnumber locals.

“I have to spread the word. … After my sentence we thought, `How can it get worse?'” Marte Deborah Dalelv told The Associated Press in an interview at a Norwegian aid compound in Dubai where she is preparing her appeal scheduled for early September.

Dalelv, who worked for an interior design firm in Qatar since 2011, claims she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker in March while she was attending a business meeting in Dubai.

She said she fled to the hotel lobby and asked for the police to be called. The hotel staff asked if she was sure she wanted to involve the police, Dalelv said.

“Of course I want to call the police,” she said. “That is the natural reaction where I am from.”

Dalelv said she was given a medical examination seeking evidence of the alleged rape and underwent a blood test for alcohol. Such tests are commonly given in the UAE for alleged assaults and in other cases. Alcohol is sold widely across Dubai, but public intoxication can bring charges.

The AP does not identity the names of alleged sexual assault victims, but Dalelv went public voluntarily to talk to media.

Dalelv was detained for four days after being accused of having sex outside marriage, which is outlawed in the UAE although the law is not actively enforced for tourists as well as hundreds of thousands of Westerners and others on resident visas.

She managed to reach her stepfather in Norway after being loaned a phone card by another woman in custody.

“My stepdad, he answered the phone, so I said, that I had been raped, I am in prison … please call the embassy,” she recounted.

“And then I went back and I … just had a breakdown,” she continued. “It was very emotional, to call my dad and tell him what happened.”

Norwegian diplomats later secured her release and she has been allowed to remain at the Norwegian Seamen’s Center in central Dubai. She said her alleged attacker received a 13-month sentence for out-of-wedlock sex and alcohol consumption.

Dubai authorities did not respond to calls for comment, but the case has brought strong criticism from Norwegian officials and activists.

“This verdict flies in the face of our notion of justice,” Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, told the NTB news agency, calling it “highly problematic from a human rights perspective.”

Previous cases in the UAE have raised similar questions, with alleged sexual assault victims facing charges for sex-related offenses. Other legal codes also have been criticized for being at odds with the Western-style openness promoted by Dubai.

On Thursday, Dubai police said they arrested a man who posted an Internet video of an Emirati beating a South Asian van driver after an apparent traffic altercation. Police said they took the action because images of a potential crime were “shared.”

In London, a spokesman for the Emirates Center for Human Rights, a group monitoring UAE affairs, said the Dalelv case points out the need for the UAE to expand its legal protections for alleged rape victims.

“We urge authorities to reform the laws governing incidents of rape in the country,” said Rori Donaghy, “to ensure women are protected against sexual violence and do not become the targets of prosecution when reporting crimes.”

July 20, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | | 2 Comments

Donna Leon and Beastly Things Made Me Cry

I can always count on Donna Leon. She gives me a good read, a solid mystery, a social issue, the louche damp atmosphere of Venice and the Venetian aristocracy, and my good friend Guido Brunetti, police commissario, with his lovely wife and dear children and great Italian meals.

This time, she fooled me.

A barrel chested man is found floating in the canals with no identification. When identified, he is found to be a veterinarian, separated from his angry and hostile and broken-hearted wife.

Then Donna Leon pulls me way out of my comfort zone – TWICE. First, there are parts of the book I can scarcely read, as she talks about the meat industry. I’m reading this book, dealing with the meat industry, and I’ve just watched the movie GreY posted on the devastation meat eating causes in your metabolism and blood; the passages in Beastly Things sealed the deal – I don’t think I can eat red meat again. I’m not sure I can even be around red meat. Leon is fearless; she spotlights issues few dare to tackle. There are issues here that are not for the faint-hearted. Read at your own risk.

It’s a tricky mystery, and at the end, Leon catches me by surprise again, as she describes the funeral of the veterinarian, a very unusual funeral, where his patients are also in attendance. It was hard to read. My eyes were blurring. If you like mysteries, if you have pets you adore, this is the sweetest literary funeral you will ever attend.

October 3, 2012 Posted by | Books, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Education, Fiction, Food, Health Issues, Hygiene, Italy, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Technical Issue, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

James Lee Burke and the Creole Belle

James Lee Burke is number one on my guilty-pleasures list.

I first met his main character Dave Robicheaux in A Morning For Flamingos, a book I picked up in a military library at Lindsay Air Station, a post that doesn’t even exist any more. In the cold dark endless winter in Wiesbaden, Germany, James Lee Burke lit up my life. I had thought I was picking up just another escapist mystery novel, but when James Lee Burke puts words together to describe the way a storm moves in over the bayou, prose becomes poetry.

There is a downside. Whether it is his character Dave Robicheaux, the former New Orleans cop, now head homicide investigator in New Iberia, Louisiana, or his Hackberry Holland series set in West Texas, James Lee Burke’s books are filled with extreme violence and disturbing images that live in your head for a long time.

I’ve recommended James Lee Burke to friends, some of whom have said “Why do you read this trash??? It is HORRIBLE! It is full of over-the-top violence!”

And then again . . . he is writing about some really really bad people. They are out there. There are people who exist who inflict cruelty. I don’t understand it, I can’t begin to fathom where the urge would come from, but I’ve seen it. It’s out there. James Lee Burke pulls up that rock and exposes the dark happenings underneath.

On one level, as I started reading Creole Belle, I thought “Oh James Lee Burke, stop! Stop! It’s the same old formula! A downtrodden victim (often a beautiful woman) cries for help. You and Clete start looking for information and end up beating people up and then they retaliate by threatening your family! There is a rich, beautiful woman who seems vulnerable and who you kind of like, but she is complicated. There are rich amoral people who keep their hands clean, but who are calling the shots and never go to jail! Stop! Stop!”

Well, I should say that, and maybe I should stop. Then he starts talking about the smoke from the sugar cane fields and the bridge over the Bayou Teche, and the big Evangeline oak in St. Martinsville, and I am a goner. I’m sucked in, I’m hooked.

I detest the violence and the images. I keep coming back because James Lee Burke has some important things to say.

I’d love to have him to dinner. I’d love for him and our son to have a chance to talk about Law Enforcement. Here is what James Lee Burke has to say in Creole Bell:

There are three essential truths about law enforcement: Most crimes are not punished; most crimes are not solved through the use of forensic evidence; and informants product the lion’s share of information that puts the bad guys in a cage.

My son hates shows like CSI, and Law and Order, where the evidence convicts the criminals. He says it raises unreal expectations in juries, and makes it harder to get a conviction.

We watched a Violation of Parole hearing, or actually a series of hearings, where the judge asked each individual whose parole was about to be revoked what had happened when he or she was re-arrested. In each case, the parolee had done something stupid; drove a car with an expired license, drove to another state, was arrested driving drunk, etc. EVERY time. The judge made his point, I believe.

From Creole Belle:

But if Caruso was the pro Clete thought she was, she would avoid the mistakes and geographical settings common to the army of miscreants and dysfunctional individuals who constitute the criminal subculture of the United States. Few perpetrators are arrested during the commission of their crimes. They get pulled over for DWI, an expired license tag, or throwing litter on the street. They get busted in barroom beefs, prostitution stings, or fighting with a minimum-wage employee at a roach motel. Their addictions and compulsions govern their lives and place them in predictable circumstances and situations over and over, because they are incapable of changing who and what they are. Their level of stupidity is a source of humor at every stationhouse in the country. Unfortunately, the pros – high end safecrackers and jewel thieves and mobbed-up button men and second story creeps – are usually intelligent, pathological, skilled in what they do, middle class in their tastes and little different in dress and speech and behavior from the rest of us.

And then there are paragraphs like this that discuss the human experience, and have a far wider application than the book:

No one likes to be afraid. Fear is the enemy of love and faith and robs us of all serenity. It steals both our sleep and our sunrise and makes us treacherous and venal and dishonorble. It fills our glands with toxins and effaces our identity and gives flight to any vestige of self-respect. If you have ever been afraid, truly afraid, in a way that makes your hair soggy with sweat and turns your skin gray and fouls your blood and spiritually eviscerates you to the point where you cannot pray lest your prayers be a concesion to your conviction that you’re about to die, you know what I am talking about. This kind of fear has no remedy except motion, no matter what kind. Every person who has experienced war or natural ctastrophe or man-made calamity knows this. The adrenaline surge is so great that you can pick up an automobile with your bare hands, plunge through glass windows in flaming buildings, or attack an enemy whose numbers and weaponry are far superior to yours. No fear of self-injury is as great as the fear that turns your insides to gelatin and shrivels your soul to the size of an amoeba.

Last, but not least, this is what keeps me coming back to James Lee Burke, so much so that I buy the book almost as soon as it is released. James Lee Burke isn’t afraid to take on the big guys. He “gives voice to those who have no voices.” (Proverbs 31:8) His focus is always on the dignity of the common man, the dignity of hard work, done well, and on the dignity of doing unexpected kindnesses to those who have no expectation of kindness.

. . . All was not right with the world. Giant tentacles of oil that had the color and sheen of feces had spread all the way to Florida, and the argument that biodegradation would take care of the problem would be a hard sell with the locals. The photographs of pelicans and egrets and seagulls encased in sludge, their eyes barely visible, wounded the heart and caused parents to shield their children’s eyes. The testimony before congressional committees by Louisiana fisher-people whose way of life was being destroyed did not help matters, either. The oil company responsible for the blowout had spent an estimated $50 million trying to wipe their fingerprints off Louisiana’s wetlands. They hired black people and whites with hush-puppy accents to be their spokesmen on television. The company’s CEO’s tried their best to look ernest and humanitarian, even though the company’s safety record was the worst of any extractive industry doing business in the United States. They also had a way of chartering their offshore enterprises under the flag of countries like Panama. Their record of geopolitical intrigue went all the way back to the installation of the shah of Iran in the 1950’s. Their even bigger problem was an inability to shut their mouths.

They gave misleading information to the media and the government about the volume of oil escaping from the blown well, and made statements on worldwide television about wanting their lives back and the modest impact that millions of gallons of crude would have on the Gulf Coast. For the media, their tone-deafnessness was a gift from a divine hand. Central casting couild not have provided a more inept bunch of villains.

James Lee Burke has a voice, and he uses it. He could just cash in on his reputation as an Edgar Award winning author, but he uses his voice to speak out against injustice and corruption. He is a champion of the people. I’ve written several book reviews, and taken some trips just because I wanted to see James Lee Burke country; if you are interested in those, you can read them here.

I have a concern about this series, in that this book ended differently than all the others. So differently it made me seriously question whether Burke intends to continue writing about Dave Robicheaux or if Dave is about to hang up his shield and call it a day. He’s a guilty pleasure I am not yet ready to give up.

July 23, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Environment, Family Issues, Fiction, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Law and Order, Political Issues, Social Issues, Travel | , , | 5 Comments

Why I Love Reading James Lee Burke

For James Lee Burke, I make an exception to the paperback only rule. (Paperbacks are lighter, so if you fall asleep, they don’t hurt you when they fall over. They travel well on airplanes, and you can leave them behind when you finish them, and not feel bad. Yes, I have heard about Kindle. No, I don’t think it meets my needs. I like to pass books along.)

I was on the “mail it to me the day it comes out” list at Amazon for his newest book, a Hackberry Holland mystery set in the wilds of Texas. I hit page 2 and came across this:

“The sheriff had arrived at an age when he no longer speculated on the validity of a madman’s visions or, in general, the foibles of human behavior. Instead, Hackberry Holland’s greatest fear was his fellow man’s propensity to act collectively, in militaristic lockstep, under the banner of God and country. Mobs did not rush across town to do good deeds, and in Hackberry’s view, there was no more odious taint on any social or political endeavor than universal approval. . . “

His books transcend the banality of modern mysteries.

This book is Feast Day of Fools, and I’ll tell you more about it when I’ve finished.

October 6, 2011 Posted by | Books, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Fiction, Law and Order | Leave a comment

Operation Blue Shepherd

I was shocked to hear about this operation on National Public Radio this afternoon, and to know it was Pensacola. What got my attention was one of the police officers saying that they were shocked to capture so many local people; they had expected to attract predators from surrounding states, but not so many locals. Truly sad.

And kudos to all the men in blue and officers of the court who are putting away these people who would prey on children, taking them off the game board.

You can read the entire article yourself at the Pensacola News Journal:

25 men accused of setting up child sex encounters in Pensacola sting

Twenty-five men were arrested this month in Pensacola during a weeklong undercover operation in which suspects are accused of using the Internet to set up sexual encounters with children. The suspects came to meet the minors at a home in northeast Pensacola only to find a slew of law enforcement officials waiting for them.

The sting, called Operation Blue Shepherd, began June 20 with 30 officers from local, state and federal agencies participating, according to a Pensacola Police Department press release. The results were announced at a news conference this morning at PPD.

Pensacola Police Capt. Paul Kelly said officers used various social networking and E-commerce sites to respond to advertisements of a sexual nature and to place similar advertisements.

The suspects specifically described various sexual acts they were going to do with the male and female children, ages 12 to 14, with whom they believed they were talking. All of the suspects, except one who took a taxi, drove to the undercover house with the intent to perform these sexual acts with the children. Upon arrival, they were arrested and questioned.

Kelly said officers were surprised to find so many eager participants from the immediate Pensacola area.

“We expected to have more violators traveling from outside the area. What this tells me is that these violators do not have to travel far to find their victims. They are much closer to home than we imagined. Most of them were not reluctant or frightened to approach the door of a stranger’s house. They literally pulled up to the house and walked quickly to the door eager to meet the child,” Kelly said.

Agencies participating in Operation Blue Shepherd were the State Attorney’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement , Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police Department, Fort Walton Beach Police Department, Tallahassee Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Crime, Detective/Mystery, Florida, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Social Issues | 61 Comments

Alexander McCall Smith and The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Just back from a wonderful two day trip to Botswana, visiting my dear and beloved friend Precious Ramotswe, who owns the #1 Ladies Detective Agency. For her, I make an exception to the paperback book rule (buy paperbacks because hard covers can hurt you if you fall asleep and they fall over) and get on the pre-publication order list so that Amazon will send me the book as soon as it comes out.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party arrived Wednesday night. My husband was expecting a friend, and when the doorbell rang I thought “oh my, he is really early!” but it was the UPS guy, who had left a book-sized package on my doorstep. I had just finished an easy but fun book (The Map Thief by Heather Terrell) and was at odd ends as to what to read next, and this was an easy answer. As my husband drank Arabic coffee and sweet sweet Arabic tea, and ate delicate Middle Eastern treats downstairs, I got to start The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.

You know the books. They aren’t difficult to read, but while you are reading, you are transported to another world. Precious Ramotswe’s Botswana is not a world without problems, but the solutions to the problems are often found in softer gentler ways, ways that would seem counter-intuitive in our culture, but make total sense when you are raised in Botswana. There is a value placed on peaceable interaction, and maintaining relationships, on forgiveness, and going to extra mile. It’s a sweet world, and a great escape.

As usual, there are several intertwining plot lines with ingenious and unexpected solutions. I suspect that is what keeps me glued to this series – I cannot anticipate the solutions. That, and the gentleness of her outlook, the sweetness of life in Botswana, and the dignity and integrity of McCall’s primary characters.

I don’t know how McCall manages to keep the series fresh, but he avoids the formulaic and I find each book a treat. My favorite part of this book is how Mma Potokwane manages to wangle and invitation to Mma Makutsi’s wedding:

Mma Potokwane noticed the other woman’s uncertainty. “Yes,” she continued. “There’s that problem. And then there’s another problem. Problems come in threes, I find, Mma. So the next one – Problem number two, so to speak – is the cooking of food. You know what I find, Mma, it is this: the people doing the cooking never have enough pots. They say they do, but they do not. And right at the last moment they discover that there are not enough pots, or, more likely, the pots they have are too small. A pot may be big enough to cook your meat and pap at home, just for a family, but do not imagine that it will be big enough to cook for a couple of hundred people. You need big, catering-size pots for that.”

She was now warming to her theme. “And the third problem is the food itself. You may think that you have enough for the feast, and you may be right when it comes to the meat. People usually have enough meat – often rather too much, in fact. But they forget that after their guests have eaten a lot of meat, they need something sweet, and often they have made no arrangements for that. A wedding cake? Yes, but there will only be one small piece of that for each guest – usually not enough. So people find themselves wishing that they had had the foresight to get a supply of ordinary cake for the guests to eat with their tea. And where is this cake? Not there, Mma.”

Mma Ramotswe glanced at Mma Makutsi; this was not the way to speak to a nervous bride, she thought. “I’m sure that everything will work out well,” she said reassuringly. “And if there are any problems, they will surely just be small ones – nothing to worry about.”

Mma Potokwane looked doubtful. “I hope so,” she said. “But in my experience, it never works out like that. I think it’s better to be realistic about these things.”

Mma Makutsi picked up her pencil to add something to her list. “You said something about pots, Mma. Where would I be able to get these big, catering-size pots?”

Mma Potokwane examined her fingernails. “Well, we have them at the orphan farm. Each of the house mothers has a very large pot. I’m sure that we could do something . . . ”

Run to your bookstore and buy The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party!

March 25, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Books, Botswana, Character, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Detective/Mystery, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Shopping, Social Issues, Work Related Issues | 1 Comment