July 4th is Independence Day for the USA. Patriotism isn’t just waving the flag, it is about supporting democracy. It may not be a perfect system, but it is the best foundation we have for peace, harmonious societies, and stable markets.
In this time of hyper-partisanship, this is a nonpartisan call for a concerted effort to invest in all of the institutions of a transparent democratic society:
- Recognition of the worth and dignity of every person;
- Faith in majority rule and
- Minority rights (equal rights and opportunities)
- Freedom of speech and freedom of the press
- Respect for the balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative.
It seems that last one: respect for a balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative – holds up all the rest of them. When one branch seizes power from the rest, it threatens all of our rights and freedoms.
This is not just an American institution; activists and leaders around the world are fighting for basic freedoms every day. If the standard falls we must rally to pick it up. As the U.S. flag waves this week, I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman expressing the ideals on which democracy is built.
Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between people, and their beliefs – in religion, literature, colleges and schools- democracy in all public and private life.
The San Francisco Chronicle (6/13/2020) asked infectious disease experts to rate the risk of some popular activities as we begin to get back out into the world. Here they are on a scale of 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk). I think it is worth sharing.
1. Staying home!
2. Swimming in a Public Pool – low, but more risk comes when you’re out of the water: are you using a crowded locker room? Are people congregating on the stairs and hall?
2. Running, Hiking or Cycling – low risk when you’re outdoors with more space between people. Give them a wide berth and carry a mask to put on as soon as you’re within 30 (!) feet of another person, on a narrow trail.
3. Picnicking with Friends – a moderate risk. You’re outdoors, but if eating, you won’t have your masks on. The risk goes up in crowded city parks. Avoid sharing food, utensils etc.
3. Staying in a Hotel – moderate risk. Wipe frequently used surfaces. The experts advise against travel as you will come into contact with more people, putting yourself and others at risk. They worry that travelers will transmit the infection to lower risk communities.
3/4. Attending a Zumba Class – high risk if exercising indoors – should be avoided. If outdoors, the risk is lowered, but physical exercise can induce heavy breathing which increases respiratory droplets as well as inhalation. Most people do not wear masks during cardio exercising so you need to double the recommended 6 foot radius.
4. Getting a haircut – high risk but varies depending on how many people in the room, how large is the space and how long will you be there? There’s no way to have safe distancing while cutting someone’s hair. To minimize risk, avoid conversation wear a mask(!) over your nose and mouth and sanitize your hands.
5. Going out for Dinner -they rate this as the highest risk. People won’t be wearing a mask while eating and you may be sitting there for a while. Experts advise you keep your mask on while talking/listening, time your meal to avoid the crowd and sit outside!
5. Attending Large Events – another activity rated in the highest risk category, especially if indoors, talking to others or unable to maintain social distancing. Avoid.
I’m sick of staying home too but, hey I’m just the messenger. What do you think?
Continuing our journey down the Rhine. For those of you who joined us late, Patricia and I missed this river cruise, but I’m pretending we are traveling along instead of sheltering-in-place. Join us on our armchair travels!
Day 5— Speyer, Germany
This morning we disembarked to visit the historic town of Speyer. The City’s six towers dominate the skyline and the Altpörtel, or Old Gate, is what remains of the town’s old walls.
We would have loved to go to Heidelberg, but the all day tour (no doubt spending a good deal of time on a crowded bus) put us off. We’ve been traveling and sight-seeing nonstop for the six days since we left our homes. Patricia and I agree to relax on deck, sip Moselle wine and read in the lounge chairs on this beautiful day. Besides they are taking us to dinner onshore tonight.
Day 6— Strasbourg Highlights
“Another Gothic cathedral,?” I sigh….but this is one of Europe’s finest. We admire the lovely rosette window, beautiful red sandstone portal and remarkable astronomical clock. Construction started in the 12th century and wasn’t completed until 1439. Amazing how one generation after another took on the work of their fathers, even knowing their life work would not be finished during their time on earth.
The picturesque Petite France area is crisscrossed by canals and covered bridges with their defensive towers. We stroll past quaint, half-timbered buildings that make me think more of German than French architecture–call it Alsatian. This may be my favorite place – what about you Patricia? I love this City steeped in both French and German culture.
I have a story about this area – perhaps some of you read it before. Years ago, I stumbled upon a long trough and embankment that ran into the trees, not far to the east. I realized I was standing next to an eroded trench where young men had fought and died in WWI. That discovery still gives me a chill to think of what played out there – over a century ago now.
Day 7 Black Forest
We disembark early to drive through the dense, lofty fir and pine forests of Germany’s Schwarzwald, a land of cuckoo clocks and fairy tales but also vineyards cradled in the undulating hills. I’m not big on bus trips but the scenery is enchanting. We stop at a hotel and I choose to walk through the forest while Patricia debates whether to explore the cuckoo clocks or the glassblower.
Our last stop is the town of Freiburg where I have a long lost friend who was a university professor, but Ulrich has retired and I am unable to find him. At any rate, they didn’t even give us enough time to sit with a coffee and a slice of Black Forest cake. Maybe I’m just sad that this is our last day… but that night at dinner they serve Black Forest cake or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. This chocolate layer cake with cherries in the middle and whipped cream on top is delectable! A fine way to end our day.
Patricia and I are both history buffs so this is the perfect cruise for us. (Here’s hoping we can reschedule it for real next year.)
My long-time friend Patricia and I have dreamed of a river cruise together and things finally fell in place for this month…. Then the Corona virus hit. All our plans and research up in smoke, but we’re still dreaming. Here is where we should be – on our vicarious trip.
Day 1 Thursday: We arrive at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam – Patricia from JFK and me from San Francisco. She was already on the boat so I text her (free or cheap compared to calls when traveling), “Meet me at the Centraal Station and we’ll take a canal cruise.” First we stop to buy euros from an ATM “geldautomaten.” I use my bank card because the rates are better than with credit cards.
It’s a little rainy so we decide to stick with the covered canal cruisers. They range in price from 16- 23E@, but we decide to take the pricier one because we can hop on and hop off all day. They take us through the red light district first, then down Prinsengracht (where our handsome young guide tells us “gracht” means canal). This is a wealthy neighborhood with grand houses and the canal is charming with its many bridges. Then we float down the Egelantiergracht which is quiet and serene. We see the trams go by and we’re told they are fast and frequent.
After a stop at the famous Riksmuseum to view paintings by Rembrandt and the Dutch masters, jet lag catches up with us and we head back to the ship. There are still some handsome tulips in the gardens we pass along the way. Alas not enough time for this delightful city.
Day 2 Friday: KINDERJIK. This corner of Holland is shaped by the Rhine Delta and known for its remarkably preserved windmills. We’ve read that much of the Netherlands is below sea level, but this is nonetheless startling when we notice that the ship is actually a higher elevation than the dikes! We get to step inside a working windmill and Patricia says, “Fabulous. So well thought out.”
Day 3 Saturday COLOGNE. We are taken to see the spectacular Gothic cathedral, which towers over the Old City. Began in 1248, it was built over the next seven centuries. The largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, with beautiful stained glass windows, it miraculously escaped the damage during World War II. We learn that Cologne has a Roman as well as a medieval history along its historic streets. The Romans built the walls of a fortress that still stand 2,010 years later, as the oldest stone structure north of the Alps.
Day 4 Sunday Koblenz – Located at the confluence the Moselle and Rhine Rivers. We sail along a particularly scenic stretch of the Rhine today, looking up at turreted castles and fortresses on the hills. We have to choose between two tours, 3 hours each: 700-year-old Marksburg Castle or the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein.
The history of the Ehrenbreitstein site stretches back to 1100, but what is seen today was constructed in the early 19th century to protect against the French. Have you been there? Our decision might depend on how strenuous & steep the walking is. I’m leaning towards Marksburg Castle (but I guess we have time to decide, if we ever really make this cruise!) A stone keep was built on the spot in 1100 and expanded into a castle around 1117 to protect the town of Braubach. It is one of the view undamaged castle along the Rhine. (I had a hard time finding a free image of Ehrenbreitstein and have perhaps the opposite problem with Marksburg: this video is 5min. long? But it is cute and nicely photographed. Opps WordPress will only let me post the link 😐 -sorry.)
Help us decide- Ehrenbreitstein or Marksburg: which would you visit?
Tomorrow Speyer & Rüdesheim, then on to Strasbourg and the Black Forest. Who wants to come along?
We will soon be beginning our sixth week(!) of sheltering in place with no definitive end in sight. I thought I would have gotten through my spring cleaning and buckled down to serious writing, but I’m not getting as much done as I intended to. What I am doing is reading and missing our library, but making use of my Kindle and the local bookstore (who will run books out to your car for you). Here are a couple of suggestions to read while you’re confined at home.
It’s been years, okay decades, since I’ve read Walden by Henry David Thoreau and this is a perfect time to pick it up. An ode to solitude, he found joy in living a simple existence, free of the distractions of ordinary life. This was in 1854, but certainly sounds familiar today. He built his own cabin and raised his own food, while relishing introspection. He called it his personal experiment, observing the seasons and nature around Walden Pond.
The Martian by Andy Weir is about an astronaut stranded on Mars during a giant sandstorm who must use his ingenuity to survive. You would think he was a goner when he gets knocked out, his spacesuit is punctured…. and he is presumed dead. Highly intelligent, he perseveres by thinking creatively how to grow food and obtain water. I‘ll give away no more – it is good read about imaginative solitary confinement! The Martian was made into a movie starring Matt Damon.
Or maybe you’re ready to tackle those long novels on your to-read list by the likes of Tolstoy or Follett? If you are in to fantasy… I leave it to you dear readers to make suggestions below for everyone.
The San Francisco Bay became a hotspot for the corona virus and 7 counties in the area banded together to issue a “stay home order.” That was a week ago, followed only a few days later by California’s Governor Newsom ordering all residents to “shelter in place” and leave home only for essential trips. Today the state confirmed 2,382 cases (experts say there are more awaiting testing or test results) of Covid-19 zooming up from 565 last week. In our county alone the cases (86) have jumped >85% in a week. (source: Calif. Dept of Health)
We are among the “vulnerable” so my husband and I comply (as do most people.) Tomas was a little slow – insisting on Day 2,one last trip to the hardware store for wood to repair our deck; he needed a project. I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and gardening when weather permits (its unseasonably cold for March). A writing project, long on a back burner, is propped on my desk as well.
I draw some comfort from a friend who wrote “this too shall pass.” That is surely true, but when and at what cost? Epidemiologists think our local legislatures may have acted swiftly enough to tamp the worst of the outbreak in our area and a few other states.
We are lucky that we have some well-educated state governors and smart officials with moral fiber who– unlike the present US administration – listened to the experts. On January 22 Trump boasted “We have this totally under control” and a White House advisor a few weeks ago claimed “we have contained this.” How could they, when in 2018 he eliminated the National Security Council’s global health unit (our warning system for pandemics), the Center for Disease Control funding was cut by a third, and Hospital Preparedness within Health and Human Services cut by half? (Source: Time Mag.3/2020) Several high level government health positions have yet to be nominated, 3 yrs. into his term. Hence we were not prepared for a pandemic. There’s a saying “Poor planning on your part…..constitutes an emergency” …in this case on “we the people.” (Thus concludes my rant.)
Surprisingly time passes in our semi-confinement and we are not bored yet. The saving grace is we are allowed to go outside for exercise and to walk the dog.
A few days ago we went to our little “secret beach” and we were still the only ones there. Then when the sun came out, we decided to hike a local trail that often has wild flowers and not well-used in the past. That was then and this is now. The first clue was some traffic on the rural road, followed by lines of parked cars 100’s of feet from the small parking lot. With every one off work and home with their kids, they decided to enjoy nature just like us. It was strange sharing the trail with so many, but only one young guy refused to yield the 6-feet of “social distance” (in spite of my waiting and saying “excuse me”). We saw few flowers, but on the drive home I did find a field of poppies – alas on fenced private property, so we could only enjoy it from the road… but oh my!
How are you and yours faring in your corner of the world?
I guess I dropped out of my blog recently, while trying to decide whether to keep it up. But it is Women’s Month and I am watching a CD of RBG so I am inspired to salute two women I admire.
“I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Happy Birthday Justice Ginsburg! (born March 15, 1933 ) And wishing you many more!
RBG is a fascinating biopic exploring Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s exceptional life and career. Her early legal battles changed the world for women; she also took on a case for a single parent father and won “widow’s rights” for him. This from a tiny, soft-spoken women who somehow made her voice heard and became a justice on the Supreme Court. Here is the official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biIRlcQqmOc
Like many women scientists of the time, Franklin was robbed of recognition throughout her career. Her story is a web of sexism and rivalry.
Since I first heard about Rosalind Franklin I’ve been mad that she did not get the credit she deserved when Watson and Crick published their findings on DNA. She was the person who “photographed” the double helix structure of DNA by x-ray crystallography. A colleague, Maurice Wilkins, showed Watson and Crick her x-ray without consulting her. They could not have built their model without her x-ray – yet shamefully they did not acknowledge her work. In 1958 at age 37, Rosalind Franklin died of cancer probably due to her research with radiation. Maurice Wilkins was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 along with the two men.
There was a PSB special on Rosalind Franklin last year, but I wonder how many people have even heard of her. For more information on her life and other scientific contributions go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin
This is a short tribute to these courageous pioneers in their fields, but I encourage you to delve deeper – the details are fascinating.
Who do you admire? Who are your heros?
The Amazon deforestation, the oceans, droughts, famines, fires, pollution, endangered species… I could write a blog on each of them. They are all linked to something few seem to talk about these days: Overpopulation. Is this such a moral landmine that we ignore it – to our peril? Population multiplies all of these problems. The current global population has crossed 7.7 billion and is heading upward; growth is exponential as are the demands our limited resources: water, land, trees, food and fossil fuels.
Here’s what Jane Goodall has to say:
Mitigating population growth would have more impact than virtually any other climate policy! Women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families. Let’s promote female empowerment, especially in the developing world. Reproductive rights are an environmental as well as a social issue.
Let me end with some pictures of our beautiful world.
A planet worth saving.
My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.
You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.
What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.
Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.” (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”
In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife. Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.
What was your inspiration for these stories? When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell. Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)
What books, writers and other artists have influenced you? Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.
Describe your writing environment
Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.
When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing? That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.
Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?
Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them. My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.
Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph: Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.
“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.
I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”
Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot? I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.
What would you call your genre – why did you choose it? I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.
I agree. I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?
So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.
I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names? So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.
Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?
They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.
To get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy. I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!” I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!
James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here: Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666; Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/; Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/