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:
AdventureMan’s favorite salad; he loves Caprese:
I had a garden salad:
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
“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.
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.
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.” 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”.
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. 🙂
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.