Monday, May 30, 2016

War and Remembrance

Annamaria on Monday

One great thing about blogging on Mondays is that, given the way we Americans arrange out holiday calendar, I get to write about quite of few special days every year.  For me, Memorial Day always brings memories of WWII.  I was old enough by the time it ended to have my own memories of it--vague, fleeting ones to be sure, but affecting.

Then there is the historian in me.  Susan Spann and I share honors as the in-resident MIE historians.  In my family, I fulfill that role all by myself.  Most of what you are going to see in this post is from my family archives.  But first let's talk about the background of the holiday Americans are celebrating today: the day we now call Memorial Day.  It started as much more than a long weekend to kick off summer fun.

Here is an Internet description of the first Maytime act to honor the fallen. I find this recounting incredibly moving.

Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.

When Memorial Day became an official holiday a few years later, it was called Decoration Day, because people honored the war dead by placing flags and flowers on their graves.

Today I am honoring two from my family who served between 1942 and 1946.  If you have visited us here before on the last  Monday in May, you will have seen this photo of my mother's brother--John Pisacane, who was killed in action in Europe in 1945.

What follows are photos and memorabilia of my father's service.  I am putting it all here because I hope you will find the images interesting.  And also because I want to publish them for the record.   Otherwise, I fear they will be lost completely when I am not around to preserve them.  Most of these photos came from my father's scrapbook, documenting his service in combat in the Pacific and as a China Marine after the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao.

Samuel F. Puglise




CHINA: 1946

Sam liked to sketch and sculpt in clay.  I am not sure
 where he was when he drew this.

Because I am so grateful that my father came back to us, I always watch this film clip and weep on Memorial Day.   I will be doing so a few times today.  Please join me. 

War is raging in so many places on our poor planet these days.  Think too of the children whose parents are fighting today.  And the children whose homes have become horrors.  Weep for them too.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday ... Under the Sea

-- Susan, every other Sunday

It's been a while since I took you on a visit "under the sea" to my aquarium, and since Jeff's latest dispatch from Greece has me in a summery mood, this seems like as good a time as any to take you on the shortest journey possible: approximately two feet to the left of where I sit as I type this post.

Here's the view:

The view from my writing desk.

I've had The Reef (a 60 gallon marine "show tank" - meaning it's almost as tall as it is long) since December 2010, and quite a few of the current inhabitants have been with me almost that long.

My watchman goby, Max (actually "Emperor Maximus Angryfish I"), was the very first fish on the reef and remains one of the most opinionated.

Emperor Max disapproves of your shenanigans.

If you ask him, he'd tell you his territory consists of "all the light touches" -- but for defensive purposes, he only gets truly feisty if someone attempts to invade the cave on the left side of the reef.

Max, defending his castle.

When that happens, all bets are off.  

The oldest corals in my tank are a lovely pink Kenya Tree:

Look carefully - there's a seahorse hitched to its base.
... and a colony of Tubastrea - common name "sun coral" - that has not only survived, but reproduced at a rate that's rare in captivity.

The parent is at center frame. The one at the top is an offspring.

Most of the other sun coral colonies in the tank are "children" of that initial frisky sun.

Sun coral babies, attached upside down to the filter motor.

While the Kenya Tree is photosynthetic (like a plant, although it's actually classified as an animal), the sun coral uses its tendrils to capture meaty foods, which it consumes through the mouths located at the center of each polyp. Mine get a mixture of live phytoplankton, oyster eggs, and (defrosted) frozen mysis shrimp--delivered nightly by eyedropper.

The "stars" of the reef don't live as long as the corals and most of the other fish. Hippocampus erectus--common name "Lined Seahorses"--live only 3-4 years, on average, and my tank is currently home to its third generation of seahorse-kind.

Moya - a male, in a rare moment out in the open.

I buy my seahorses from a breeder in Florida that raises them entirely in captivity. They arrive via FedEx overnight delivery, and need to be picked up at the FedEx office to minimize the time they spend in the box.

Which means that every few years, I get the joy of walking into a FedEx shipping office and telling the clerk I've come to pick up live seahorses -- a statement that never fails to startle whoever is working behind the counter.

This is what the seahorses look like when they arrive, at 3-4 months old:

Approximately 2.5" long. Cute as buttons.

And this is what they look like two years later:

Vega, a female. Adult length: 8"

Moya, close up.

Keeping a seahorse reef requires choosing only tank mates--fish and coral--that won't sting, pinch, harass, or upset the seahorses. Not an easy task, but not as difficult as you might imagine. While I'm limited mostly to "soft" corals and peaceful fish that hug the reef and avoid the water column at the center of the tank, that still leaves a wide variety of corals, fish, and invertebrates to choose from.

Porcelain crabs are peaceful creatures, no matter what the pincers tell you.

One of my favorite non-fish, non-seahorse tank inhabitants is Oscar, the abalone. (Extra points if you get the joke before you read the caption on his photo.) I've had him for almost three years now, and he's grown from a three-inch baby to a nearly ten-inch creature my husband refers to as the "living booger."

My abalone has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R...

Unfortunate nickname aside, I find Oscar fascinating. Abalone have light-sensing organs, and excellent senses of smell, but they don't see well (in fact, they're almost blind). Despite this, and their tiny brains, Oscar has learned that I supplement his diet of living algae by clipping sheets of dried seaweed to the top of the aquarium, and I can tell when he's hungry because he heads to the top of the tank and wanders around the rim, sticking his snout above the water level, looking for the seaweed clip. When he finds it, he'll scrape the remnants off and wait beside it until I notice him hovering there and add more food.

Oscar, enjoying his seaweed.

Not too bad for a sentient booger.

Obviously, I could go on at length, but I'll leave it there for now, but we'll visit again in a few more weeks, and I'll tell you more about the odd and lovely things I get to see on the reef.

Red-legged hermit, checking the seahorses' food bowl for treats. Yes, they eat from bowls.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bars Have Rites Too.


They say good things run in threes.  Bad things too.  Though Native Americans use four as their magic number and Chinese five.

All of which gave me pause to mention CrimeFest so close behind Michael’s and Caro’s posts, but what choice do I have?  I want to know what happened at its bar scene!  My fondest memories of Bristol are of Icelandic culinary treasures on the order (and crowd-scattering odor) of kæstur hákarl smuggled into the UK by Agent Yrsa and freely shared amid strong drink with willing Viking wannabes, and the deadpan comments of Toby (of Bill and Toby Gottfried fame). How I miss the inebriated vitality of it all.

Come to think of it, I miss that aspect of the bar life everywhere I go, because I stopped drinking three years ago.  Nah, this isn’t an AA sort of confessional piece, because my reason for stopping had nothing to do with anything other than avoiding the curse of Mykonos-life: 24/7 booze.  It’s a way of life here, from tsipouro in the morning with a fisherman to shots at a bar in the wee hours with the bar’s owner, it’s all part of island camaraderie. And to refuse is an insult…unless you don’t drink.

But by no means have I stopped going to the island’s bars. They’re what drive this place and its reputation, and are fertile sources of research for my work. More so now that I can scribble down notes in handwriting I’ll actually be able to read later on.

In fact, I’m honored to say many places now stock non-alcoholic beer, undoubtedly in an effort to buoy up their bottom line from the fiscal disaster of my decision.

Bars and clubs are an intrinsic part of life on this island, and though few have licenses that allow them to carry on the businesses they actually run, they survive through a Blanche Dubois “kindness of strangers” relationship with the municipal authorities.  And on those rare occasions where a particular establishment so offends the polity that action is demanded, an elaborate, stylized drama and dance (think Grand Kabuki theater) ensues involving a ceremonious yanking of the license by the town hall, followed by a prompt race off to court by the owners to stay enforcement of the yanking until some “future time,” which is inevitably after the tourist season ends, leaving the courts to blame for a more-things-change-the-more-they-remain-the-same result.  By the way, did I mention that lawyers in Greece have been on strike for nearly half-a-year?

Maybe sobriety isn’t the answer?

Anyway, I have my favorite places on this island in which to spend my time and others where I find the sorts of characters few believe exist in real life…outside of supervised captivity. However, in light of the context of this post I don’t want to mention any names of places or folks, as their mention might be misconstrued.  Suffice it to say that Mykonos has successfully established itself as an island unlike any other.  Its draw is worldwide and its nighttime scene ever expanding—both as to time and space.  And it’s only May.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Crimefest 2016

Although you might not think it from yesterday's blog, I too was at Crimefest. I had the ghostly dashing presence of one who is wayyyy behind with their book and has a deadline looming. As my lovely editor Kate said the minute she saw me 'So are you not due to deliver soon?'  Like I was in maternity somewhere.
Anyway here's what we were doing when that Zoe Sharp and the clever South Africans were next door. I had my spies out.

A full house for Conspiracies, Lies and Secrets. Why did they think I would be a natural chair for that?

Interviewing the rather lovely Matt Johnson, ex soldier, police officer, ex lots of things with guns. I am rather in awe of folk who can go there and do the dangerous stuff that keeps us safe in our beds at night. I wanted to ask him who would win in a fight between him and Andy McNab. I wanted to ask him if the SAS and Mossad ever played cricket, would anybody be allowed to watch. Matt even bought me a jar of honey from his own bees, trying to sweeten me up no doubt. For reasons of veganism,  his dastardly ploy failed.
Read Wicked Games... well just read the Amazon reviews and judge for yourself. Scarily real book.

Serving police officer Lisa talking about catching peadophiles and the dangers of conspiracies as explored in her book Mercy Killing. On the panel she explained that some people don't know the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician. One of the big dangers of vigilantism is that some folk are not that bright.

After all my sensitive talk with Lisa and Matt, I have just asked Daniel what is Luxembourg famous for apart from Radio, the Eurovision Song Competition and It's a Knock out. His expression says it all. He wanted a new moderator. I read a novella of his called the Candidate ( set in Luxembourg, very good and kind of sexy Russian ladies all walking over bridges in strange moods- I can see the film in my head!)  but the new one is set in Amsterdam - The Harbour Master.
I think he should set his next book in Govan.

I asked the panel for a secret. Lisa had nearly arrested  Matt Lucas while he was filming 'Come Fly with me' for his very odd behaviour; in drag and throwing coffee cups around.

Daniel admitted to dressing in yellow at the London Olympic games opening ceremony. I watched it. making sure he was not keeping a bigger secret about him falling over but he stayed on his feet.

Pete Adams, at the end of the panel is consulting his lawyer as to who got him involved in this nonsense and how much can he sue for. His book, The Barrow Boys Cadenza is a book like no other I have ever read. Tom Sharpe meets Jane Austin. Meets Minder. Very funny. But not a little scary.
He has a trilogy of eight.
Matt admitting to turning down an auditioner for lead singer in  his rock band. It was Simon Le Bon.

Lisa wondering why my secret was being in a room with Frank Sinatra. Naked. Except for one piece of leather. Well, you should have been there!

Pete waiting for his lawyer to call back. He had gone into a hat shop in 1974.
 He came out with a hat.

Not the hat. But a hat. On his head.,

Now a panellist with Vassem, Suzette, Len and that Bendoris bloke. He invented the term 'Doing a Bendoris'. It means going to someone else's book launch and out selling them. He wrote Killing With Confidence. A self help book for serial killers. Like most things Scots it's funny and dangerous at the same time. Like Matt. 

On my panel, sitting next to Bendoris. Asking the good lord for help so I don't succumb  to smacking him  in the gob. Two Scots together. There will be trouble. 

On my secret spy phone, asking Matt if the SAS do homers.

Len Tyler trying to keep order
in a panel about detective duos. I had the true detectives. Suzette has cats and dogs, Matt has journalists, Len has crime writers and agents, Vassem  has a baby elephant called ganesh. Are you keeping up with all this? 

Suzette pondering how her life came to this.

Me paying attention to Len just to prove that I can.

At half seven the next morning I was outside,  doing some editing. Told you I was behind.

As Alan looked along the road out of Bristol, wistfully.

Caro Ramsay  27 05 2016