U.S. Servicemen Help Prevent Murder Spree

Their bravery cannot be commended enough. They should be invited to the White House. Yesterday these men – 2 U.S. servicemen (one not pictured), a long-time friend, and a British man – sensed trouble on a high-speed Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. In Belgium, and unarmed themselves, they reacted decisively:

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

Reports state one of two servicemen involved (the one not pictured, presumably because he had been sliced with a boxcutter during the melee and was under medical attention) in subduing the assailant is based at a U.S. air force base in Portugal’s Azores.

Continue reading

Land Of The Free, Home Of The Sweatpants

What one learns. Did you know that dressing like a rumpled mess is a sign of “freedom” and a declaration of one’s “Americanness?” Neither did I until now:

Screen capture of Time.
Screen capture of Time.

The writer states she doesn’t see dressing “casual” as being the opposite of “formal.” Rather, it’s the opposite of “confined.” She also asserts:

To dress casual is quintessentially to dress as an American and to live, or to dream of living, fast and loose and carefree.

Observing that is supposed to be, presumably, suitably – no pun intended – patriotic?

Continue reading

A Short Stories’ “Sabbatical”?

I spent a good part of yesterday with new characters “Brad” and “Clémence,” as well as with a couple of “old timers,” and filling in additional details and description in several chapters. In the process, I dropped in a couple of thousand more words at least. I became so immersed in it all, I lost track of the time.

The afternoon flew by. As I finished up, I realized again just how unwilling I am to let go of “my friends” quite yet. I’m not “done” with them by any means.

I ended up again pondering what could follow immediately after Distances. I know there will be a fourth novel eventually, and I already know its very general contours. But I’m now pretty drained mentally from writing these first three, and I suspect I will need something of a “sabbatical” to recharge.

Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.
Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.

I had been mulling over the idea of taking “six months” post-Distances and declaring, “Eh, that’ll do for now.” It seemed reasonable. After all, three novels of nearly 100,000 words each over three years is nothing to sneeze at.

By comparison, my HarperCollins published uncle has written eight novels since the early 1980s. Uh, not that I’m comparing myself to him! Even if I am there, uh…. a little bit. ;-)

Continue reading

Reminder: Airplanes Are Not The Living Room…. Or Another Room

With so many more people flying than ever before, and with space on board planes becoming tighter, people are, umm, closer than ever on aircraft. Perhaps too close. Rightly, Valerie wants everyone to respect each other a bit more: “Dear Couples Who Love To Fly”:

Screen capture, Valerie & Valise web site.
Screen capture, Valerie & Valise web site.

We’ve all endured clueless, inconsiderate idiots on planes. But reading her open letter also made me smile, because whenever I see something like it I also recall an experience I’d had some twenty years ago – the single, strangest one I’ve ever had on a plane. (And that includes having once also shared a row with a Frenchwoman and an Amish man.) I first posted this in May 2014, and thought it worth a repost here this morning:

Continue reading

Confronting National Stereotypes

Yesterday, I had a terrible headache which virtually incapacitated me all day. I’m not 100 percent my old self yet, but I finally feel a bit better this morning. I can at least function. (When I get a headache, I can become very ill.)

While I was waiting for the pain to subside, I stumbled on this on Twitter from the Matador Network. It’s an entertaining travel and international site, which (full disclosure) also follows me on Twitter. I thought it was worth a blog post:

Twitter screen capture.
Twitter screen capture.

The tweets that went back in response were about what you might expect. However, one of them included an old canard. It’s hard to tell if the tweeter, apparently a man, was joking; he may well have been trying to be lighthearted. The sixth tweet down: it’s about women who (apparently use too much) perfume and don’t shave (under their arms):

Continue reading

“It is America. Everyone goes to university!”

The first two novels laid the groundwork. As they are an ongoing tale (although could be read as stand alone books) with most of the same characters, writing them I’m naturally with them for years – literally – watching them change. And I’ve said before that, given their ages, that some of them even feel at times sorta like adult kids of my own.

Who’s my favorite? I’m not saying: What “parent” would ever answer that? They are by now so distinctive in my mind I think of each of them are pretty remarkable (in both good and not so good ways), and I can’t honestly say any one of them is “my favorite.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a classroom with a teacher.

In Distances, “Béatrice” will finally visit the United States. She won’t be going to New York or other tourist spots, though, only to New England. She’ll see one part of New England in particular:

Continue reading

Spinning Out Of Control

I’m sure some of you reading this were born in the late 1980s and 1990s. The era of which I write about in the novels is therefore in a real sense “history” to you. It pre-dates either your consciousness of the wider world…. or even your birth itself! ;-)

Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]
Strasbourg, France. Home of the European Parliament. [Photo by me, 1996.]

It’s trite to point out that one can’t hope to begin to understand the present without understanding the past; yet it’s absolutely true. And trying to appreciate the human outlook of any “past” is a vital aspect of that effort. This article in Die Zeit about Germany’s attitude and approach to the world since 1989 could in large measure apply elsewhere in Europe as well as to the U.S.A.:

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall … we’ve woken up and it feels like a bad dream….

….Crisis has become the new normal. The years between 1990 and now were the exception.

The psychological repercussions of this fundamentally new situation on Europe’s political elites are both brutal and curious at the same time. Those aged 45 to 65 currently in positions of power have only known growing prosperity, freedom and cultural sophistication. They were, and to a large extent still are, predisposed to exert themselves only modestly, act responsibly and expect that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor. And suddenly history has unceremoniously grabbed them by the scruff of the neck. Do we really need to fight now? More than ever? And what does our cardiologist have to say?

I’m sharing that article and writing this post because that piece hit me hard. I fall into the “early part” of that age group; but I was certainly not “powerful” in 1989. (Nor am I now!) Speaking here only for myself, of course, I also vividly recall the post-fall of the Berlin Wall atmosphere: it fills my novels and is meant to do so.

Continue reading

Will The Office Chair Help?

Finally, I have a proper desk chair! It was a surprise from someone close to me, who ordered it to arrive on Saturday morning. And it’s perfect:

My new office chair! [Photo by me, 2015.]
My new office chair! [Photo by me, 2015.]

I’m told now that there is no excuse if the third novel isn’t absolutely magnificent. ;-)

Continue reading

When Social Media Turns Ugly

If you are reading this, you may be on social media yourself too – with a blog, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. Recently, some “guy” I’d never encountered before evidently took umbrage with my voicing my opinion on too many U.S. study abroad students’ immature behaviors. Regular visitors here also know I attribute those primarily to overzealous parenting coupled with inexperience with legal alcohol; but apparently “he” thought attacking me on Twitter personally would get a reaction.

Free Stock Photo: Bright colored computer mice.
Free Stock Photo: Bright colored computer mice.

I yawned: I’ve seen much worse. When you put yourself out there publicly in even the smallest way, you have to expect criticisms and even degrees of nastiness. We all know it comes with the territory.

Continue reading

Americans Make The Movies (And At Times, We’re Really Sorry)

I’ve spent much of the last 25 years often as the (only) American in the room – be it with family, friends, or workplace colleagues. As you know if you visit here regularly, I’ve now also spent several years writing novels in which I’ve created characters sourced from some of my (especially early) “travel” and “expat” experiences. They are full of types of people I’ve encountered, and even cherished, and what I’ve seen here in Europe.

I can’t begin to list the nationalities I’ve met in just London: nearly every European country; Africans from Egypt and Morocco all the way to South Africa; Afro-Caribbeans; Middle Easterners; Indians; Chinese; other Asians; Canadians; Australians; New Zealanders; Brazilians; even a few other South Americans. And all the religions: not only Christians of course, but Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. It feels like a far more “diverse” city than even New York.

I will always remember a Pakistani student, right after 9/11. He offered me personal condolences. He flat out called the attackers “terrorists”: no qualifications, no hesitation.

Continue reading