Buckinghamshire

My wife and I went for a walk with her aunt during a brief visit with her yesterday. She is incredible. You’d never guess the woman just turned 80 years old.

And sometimes a photo opportunity also presents itself – as this one did for me:

Farmland, Buckinghamshire, England. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Farmland, Buckinghamshire, England. [Photo by me, 2014.]

It’s always even all the more pleasant when there’s a pub at the end of any walk. ;-)

Just thought I’d post that. Hope you’re having (or had) a good Thursday, wherever you are reading this….

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

After A Working Vacation

Noticing Mr. Scott off-duty reading what appears to Captain Kirk to be still more work-related materials, he smilingly confronts the Enterprise’s chief engineer:

Capt. Kirk: Another technical journal, Scotty?
Scott: Aye.
Capt. Kirk: Don’t you ever relax?
Scott: I am relaxing.

How many of us do that? I’m sure I’m not alone. What did I bring along as “light reading” for the beach and poolside while on vacation?:

Florida vacation “light reading.” [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hey, don’t laugh. You have your preferences too. And when she saw what went into the bag as we packed, my wife voiced surprise: “What? No Jefferson biography?”

Err, nope. Not this holiday anyway. Ah, but I knew there is always also what’s on the Kindle! ;-)

* * *

That said, I did not read or, naturally, write – other than a bit on Twitter and Facebook, a couple of emails and, of course, this blog – too much that wasn’t my manuscript. As a result, I made more manuscript progress than I had expected before we started the long trek down I-95 to the Florida Keys.

Yesterday, I assessed the full manuscript. I have enough of it now that I can pull up the in-progress sequel in .pdf and compare it to the final .pdf of Passports. Its internal format and layout will be the same as Passports. Given the books are a series, I want them to fit nicely side by side.

I even have cover photo ideas – both for front and back. I’m still unhappy with “stock model” photography I’ve seen (apologies to photographers; I do know you have to eat too), so the back cover may – may – include a photo of a “non-identifiable person” that I snapped a long time ago. I’m still wrestling with using it or not: it looks agonizingly good, though – thus my dilemma. (I could still be persuaded on “stock photos” if I saw any I really liked.)

Most importantly, it appears splitting the sequel into halves, as I had been thinking I might, won’t be necessary. I have plowed through so much since mid-June that if I can keep it up I may be able to get the whole “400 page” sequel published in one shot during the late autumn as I had hoped. Almost time again for the proofreaders….

* * *

You do learn lots, storyline, and storytelling-wise, one book to the next: what sorta works v. and what is a home run. I am immensely proud of Passports. But I promised Kam’s sister I would dedicate the second volume to Kam, so I’m determined (obsessed is probably a more accurate description) to make the second volume “better” than the first one.

Overall while the sequel is still far from finished, I’m happy about where I am now compared to where I was at this point in mid-2013 with the Passports manuscript…. long before this blog appeared in the endless internet universe and most of you knew I even existed. And, of course, before I knew most of you existed either! ;-)

What a world we live in now, isn’t it?

I hope you’re having a good weekend….

A Guy In Sunglasses….

….on a harbor tour back on Monday, with Fort Sumter in the background:

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

I recommend visiting Charleston, South Carolina. The city itself is more than worth seeing – its historic district in particular. Even more attractive, its people are just so darn pleasant.

One other thing. You can’t really tell from that photo, but it was not just sunny. It was also super-blazing hot!

Of course not that anyone would expect scorching heat in South Carolina in July? Would they? :-)

Five Centuries In Eight Photographs

Yesterday, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. For centuries, the fort was central in the town’s existence. Although it has changed hands by treaty several times, no attacker has ever taken it in battle.

That in mind, here is a history of that fort, and St. Augustine…. as, uh, illustrated and outlined, in chronological order, by some photographs:

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain's flag proudly flew over the town and fort for centuries. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain’s flag proudly flew over the fort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain's flag also looked too much like England's Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles a bit confusing. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed their flag. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain’s flag looked too much like England’s Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles difficult. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed theirs. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans.... [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans…. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bit of a history lesson. In pictures. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz to follow. ;-)

St. Augustine, Florida

We’re making our way “back north.” We stopped in St. Augustine, Florida, en route. As we do when we travel, we went to church locally last night.

And this one was pretty impressive. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in North America:

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
________

UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”

Among The Best 25¢ I’ve Ever Spent

Got a bit of a surprise on Monday in Key West. It wasn’t, as you know, at Hemingway’s house. I mean down at the docks behind Conch Seafood:

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Manatee, below a dock in Key West. [Photo by me, 2014.]

As I tweeted the other day, a manatee appeared seconds after we had fed the fish, resulting in a marine encounter the two kids – the 9 year old girl especially – loved, and which I later joked to my Irish friends was perhaps the best value for 25¢ I had ever gotten in my life. Yet the fish-feeding had proven itself to be an unexpected learning experience too. However, not in a way you might think.

It had all started when I had given our friends’ 11 year old son a quarter to slot into the dock edge (environmentally safe) fish food dispenser, which resembled an “old-fashioned” gum ball machine. Bear in mind he can no problem handle iPads and land 747s using Flight Simulator. Indeed, he is so sharp that early last year, after his mother, “Maureen,” had explained to us at their Dublin breakfast table how she was flying Emirates to Abu Dhabi on her way to India to join our now late friend Kam there, while munching his toast he flat-out contradicted her idea of her own travel itinerary:

Young son: “Mum, you aren’t on Emirates. You’re on Etihad. You’re going to Abu Dhabi.”

Maureen: “No, darlin’, I’m on Emirates.”

Young son: “You’re stopping in Abu Dhabi. You can’t be on Emirates. You would be going to Dubai.”

My wife grabbed her iPad and checked the web. Yep, sure enough he was the one who was right. “Good luck you didn’t turn up for an Emirates flight!” my wife laughed.

But that same lad in Key West the other day didn’t understand he needed first to slot the 25¢ coin into the machine and turn its handle until the coin was swallowed…. and that he needed next to position one cupped hand below the chute to catch the falling feed…. as that feed would be sliding out and down into that hand the second he raised the chute’s cover with his other hand.

Stumped by how to operate it, he hesitated. I bravely took charge of the archaic technology. Oh, and, by the way, it is “technology” that had once been commonplace in the Republic of Ireland too.

Good grief, young people these days. ;-)

A U.S. World Cup To Remember

You may know by now that the U.S.A. went out of the World Cup Tuesday in a thriller, losing to Belgium 1-2 in extra time.

Had a late corner kick while the game was 0-0 landed in front of world-class striker Clint Dempsey (instead of someone else who proceeded to make a meal of the best goal scoring chance the U.S. had had all game), it would almost surely have ended up in the back of the net – and the U.S. would have been improbable 1-0 winners. For through 90 minutes goalkeeper Tim Howard had kept the U.S. in the game. If he had not made the saves he had been forced to make by a lackluster (and at times simply outplayed) defense, the U.S. might have lost by a lot more than one goal.

Throughout the tournament, playing every game hard until the last whistle, the U.S. team had kept American fans in their seats. The country clearly appreciated the effort and entertainment. The U.S. Embassy in London even tweeted this today:

U.S. Embassy London says "Thanks."

U.S. Embassy London says “Thanks.”

The growing U.S. interest in soccer is not being lost on marketers and companies. They see it; that’s their job. For instance, if you had looked yesterday to a book a flight on Emirates, this was the U.S. homepage that greeted you:

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

Emirates.com in the U.S. on Tuesday.

That’s not something you see every day. One suspects quite a few other advertisers might also like to see the next U.S. men’s World Cup broadcast on free-to-air U.S. network TV, rather than niche sports ESPN. Uh, and by “network TV” I mean not just in Spanish. ;-)