Monday, February 27, 2017

Ingwelala 2017

Annamaria in Africa

The African wind blowing through my hair.

The Avian Chorus that sings all the day, joined by other musicians to perform the night music.

And this:

Photo: Allen Fongemie
Photo: Allen Fongemie

Nothing else for me to say.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Above the Clouds: Writing in Bulgaria

At long last, the new book has reached its final stages and the action has moved from the deserts of Iraq and Jordan to the icy mountains of Bulgaria. To the ski resort of Borovets, to be precise, which is 1350 metres (4430 feet) above sea level in the Rila Mountains, about 73 kilometres (45 miles) southeast of the capital, Sofia.

I was there about three or four years ago and took a load of pictures precisely so I had a feel and a flavour of the place for when I reached this stage of writing. It’s been very useful to look back over them now.

Take this shot, for instance, up a mountain in Borovets. I’d completely forgotten that, at somewhere around 7700 feet, for quite a lot of the time you were above the clouds, it was like looking down on a misty ocean.

In fact, the highest I went was 2369 metres (7772 feet). The highest peak locally was Mount Musala at 2925 metres (9600 feet).

The only way up is to take the gondola lift. I think the 1315m is the distance up it travels.

You certainly get the most amazing view as you slowly crank your way upwards. Not quite as much snow on the trees this far up, though – there had been too much sunshine that winter.

Down in the resort itself, though, there was the icing sugar coating effect on the trees, which was a beautiful sight.

Despite Borovets reputation as the booziest place to ski in Europe, there were plenty of entertainments for smaller visitors, like this mini dog-sled ride …

… or varying sizes of very small pony. I wasn’t quite sure about the handlebars and the horn, though.

pic from

And for the grown-ups, there was also the sleazier side to Borovets. Bars and the occasional strip club line the main street.

Hog roast is a traditional dish, and most of the restaurants had an outside spit going.

Also to keep the grown-ups happy were night snowmobile rides through the forest, which was an amazing experience and gave me all kinds of ideas.

As did some of the very unusual ‘souvenirs’ on offer in one of the local stores. Didn’t think I’d get any of this lot back to the UK on a plane. Not as carryon, anyway.

Outside the resort, the architecture had a very Soviet feel to it, like this apartment block on the outskirts of Sofia.

But elsewhere there were old tsarist palaces and places like this royal hunting lodge, the style and layout of which I have borrowed for plot purposes.

And I’ve also mixed in the location of this fortress at Veliko Tarnovo. That’s the nice thing about creating your own world, you can take reality and mess with it just enough to keep things believable. After all, we’re trying for realistic, rather than real.

This week’s Word of the Week is actually a list of words connected with snow, courtesy of the Encyclopedia Arctica from Dartmouth College Library:

Anniu – snow intended for melting into water for drinking or cooking

Apun – snow that’s been lying on the ground long enough that it can be cut into building blocks

Ballycadders – ice formed from salt-water along the shore at different levels depending on the state of the tide

Calf – a piece of ice that’s broken away from the front of a glacier or iceberg

Canopying – interlocking flakes of snow

Congelifraction – the shattering or splitting of rock due to the action of frost

Corn snow – grainy snow formed by cycles of freezing and thawing

Debacle – the break-up of ice in rivers in springtime

Duff – organic matter covering the ground in a forest, such as dead leaves, which helps preserve permafrost

Firnification – the process by which new snow becomes hard-packed glacial ice

Fonn – eternal snow

Saturday, February 25, 2017

What We Can Learn From Pinocchio


For those of you who want to know what’s happening in the world today, just shut your eyes. Your ears too, because what you see and what you hear doesn’t really seem to matter much anymore. What counts these days is whatever turns agendas—political and otherwise—into realities.

All of which brings me around to the subject of this week’s post: Pinocchio.

An epic character, perhaps the most well known character in children’s literature, who stands as a universal symbol of the perils of prevarication to one’s proboscis.

Carlo Collodi
It all began with The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) a children’s novel by the Italian writer Carlo Collodi, in which a kindly old carpenter, Geppetto, carves a marionette in the image of a little boy who lives a literal wooden existence dreaming that someday he’ll be human.  But between him and his dream stand a series of trials and a singular moral defect: Pinocchio’s penchant for lying and bad behavior.

Though some literary types have equated Pinocchio’s journey with that of epic literary heroes such as Odysseus, I think for purposes of today’s post it’s better described by Jack Zipes in an introduction to a book on Pinocchio, titled Carlo Collodi.  To him, it’s a story about those who venture out into the world naively unprepared for what they find, and get into ridiculous situations.

Enter the “nose knows.”

Alas, if only we had as ready a way of separating truth tellers from charlatans today.

But there’s another lesson to be drawn from Pinocchio.

The list of Pinocchio productions and knock-offs is endless, but undoubtedly Walt Disney’s 1940 version, praised as one of the greatest animated films of all time, is the most well known. 

What isn’t as well known is that, as originally written, Pinocchio was an obnoxious boor, whose end was not intended to be pleasant.  Disney though didn’t see that sort of character as appealing to the masses, and so he turned him into a more likeable, innocent mischief-maker, who ultimately achieved his dream of becoming real.

Today’s opinion-shapers still turn the obnoxious into the likeable, and far-fetched cinematic dreams into realities, but they’ve have added something else to the mix.  They’ve turned the common sense adage for truth—“As plain as the nose on your face”—on its ear (so to speak) by libeling any nose other than their own as a Pinocchio protuberance, not to be believed.

In other words, we now live in a world where up is down and down is up.  But that’s from another children’s book, for another time.

Assuming we get there.


Friday, February 24, 2017

The Abduction Of Lady Grange

Rachel Chiesley, known as Lady Rachel Grange, was by all accounts, a bit of a girl and rather a handful. She is best known for being abducted, by her husband, James Erskine, Lord Grange.

Rachel was born on Skye  in 1679 - just as the Jacobites were starting to flex their tartan muscles.

She was one of nine children. Her father rather famously shot dead the Scottish judge who had dared to pronounce a verdict against him. He was found guilty of that murder by the Lord Provost  and he was sentenced to death by hanging, before the sentence was carried out his right hand was cut off and the pistol he had fired was hung round his neck.

Rachel herself was one of ten children, she would have been nine or ten years old when her father was executed so I guess we could say her childhood was troubled. She was considered very, very beautiful, very passionate with a temper to match. She married Lord Grange, a successful lawyer, at the age of 28, probably after she became pregnant. Although the marriage was never happy, they had nine children together.

Her husband’s family, the Erskines, were known to be Jacobite sympathisers. The younger Earl went by the rather lovely name of ‘Bobbing John’ due to his political machinations.

Rachel was a bit bonkers – probably the result of the nine children she had. She talked of suicide often, a huge scandal at the time and it is rumoured that she slept with a cutthroat razor under her pillow – probably to keep her husband away .  She also threatened to strip naked in the middle of Edinburgh just to embarrass her husband. (This is the noise of people in Edinburgh being outraged… ‘tut’)

Rachel swore in the street ( in Edinburgh!!!) and disrupted church services, saying that her husband was a Jacobite and she had in her possession letters that would show he had plotted against the Hanovarian government in London. She insisted that he should be executed as a traitor. She used to abuse her children in the street to such as extent that they would hide in the local pub until she either calmed down or went away, and that might take two or three hours.

James Erskine, the Lord Grange dismissed divorce as a solution to all this. He decided to have her kidnapped. He paid some close friends to do it, then explained her disappearance as her sudden death and gave her a decent funeral. Interesting to note that this time he was playing fast and loose with the charms of a local coffee house owner. More interesting to note that her children,  the  eldest being in their  twenties, knew their mum had been abducted  by their Dad and did nothing to get her back. Their tutor is on record as saying that the kids were terrified of their mother and her spontaneous angry outbursts. And their mum had disinherited them all at birth.

So the Lady was taken from her home sometime during the night of  22 January 1732 by some Highland noblemen. There was a bit of a scuffle, or a bit of a rammy as we would say, and the bold Lady was removed from the premises in a sedan chair and then taken by horse to Falkirk, where she was held for six months in a empty tower. At that time she would have been about 50.

The kidnappers took their role very seriously, tearing out her hair and knocking her teeth out. They   took her off for a very long tour of the very remote Scottish island on the Western coast, ending up in Hirta of St Kilda and left her there. It sounds awful… alone in a stone walled hut with a grass thatched roof,  right beside the sea  with only goats and sheep for company… and an awful lot of whisky- actually that sounds better than living with her husband.  Until you remember the  horrific wind up there that never ever stops – most folk who lived inany part of St Kilda were deaf due to the noise of the wind and sheep knew not to go too near the edge of the cliff for fear of being blown off.

The locals were told not to give her food or clothing, and she probably didn’t share a language with any of them.
 In the end she managed to get a message to Edinburgh, to the minister of Inveresk. He was horrified by the conditions she was living in and he paid for a boat with armed men to sail to St Kilda ( no easy feat ). It had already set sail by 14 February 1741, but it she had already been moved on.

He probably got wind of the rescue attempt. (?)

Her husband lawyer had already blocked a legal application for a search warrant for St Kilda so he must have known that somebody would attempt a rescue.

Now, at Hirta on the St Kilda archipelago, a pile of rocks  are the only remains of Rachel’s house. A cleit, twenty feet by ten. In the winter she would have been scooping the snow out of her bed with her hands.  Even in a good day, the island is a bitter, inhospitable place- fortyfeet waves are quite normal.

Rachel died, without regaining her freedom on 12th may 1745, aged 66 by which time she had been effectively jailed for  13 years, and her life  has been constant fodder for stories and songs that have now passed into folk lore.

I just wonder if she was bi polar.

 Caro Ramsay 24 02 2017