Inspiration from Place #UpbeatAuthors

Note: This was a previously-committed to post for the #upbeatauthors group. If you want to read about my response to Hurricane Harvey, it is the post above this one. I am not ignoring the suffering.

Trish Milburn‘s topic for the day is “Places that Inspire”. That covers a lot of ground. I can find ANY place I visit inspiring. I keep detailed travel journals when I go anywhere, and write up the details, especially sensory details. I collect maps and historical information. I collect contact information for chambers of commerce and tourism boards, so when I write about a place, I can go back and get the emotional geography correct.

Because setting is a character in my work (and I teach courses on it), it’s important to me to get the physical and emotional geography of a place correct. I’m pretty good at discerning when an author hasn’t visited a place and hasn’t done enough research to understand its unique feel/personality. Yes, it’s fiction, and it’s important to use imagination. But, if you are going to use a real place, or do what I call “stretching geography”, where you add the fictional places that support your story into a real environment, you need to get the physical and the sensory details right.

That’s a lecture for another day. 😉

For today, I am going to share with you some of the places that have inspired specific pieces of work. I’m having trouble posting photographs, but clicking through the links will get you all kinds of great images and information.

New York City
I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and spent plenty of time there. After a year of college elsewhere, I transferred back to NYU for film and television production, and then, after two years in San Francisco and a miserable year in Seattle, I moved back and worked my way up in theatre until I worked on Broadway. I loved the city, especially Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the various New York Public Libraries, NYU itself, and all the neighborhoods. I lived through 9/11, in which 42 people I knew (firefighters, mostly, and cops, and people I’d gone to school with who worked in the towers). New York is an important part of my work.

It’s the primary setting for the Nina Bell Mysteries, which are in the 1990s, following a college graduate trying to build her life in the arts. She lives on E. 6th Street, and is an NYU alum, and works at theatres similar to the Public. I use my diaries from those years to make sure I have the geography right, and the events and how they affected those of us trying to ignore said events.

It’s where TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery starts and ends. The book starts in the Gramercy Park area, and has major events at the main New York Public Library and a chase scene inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(The book re-releases in January 2018. Visit http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com for more information).

PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle mystery, releasing on October 2, takes places in various NYC locations, most of it in the Broadway neighborhood, since much of the action takes place backstage on a Broadway show. So that’s midtown. I used to live in the area, on the corner of 42nd St. and 8th Avenue, over a strip club which is now a comedy club, across from the Port Authority bus terminal, and a short walk to the Broadway theatres at which I worked. I’d regularly walk back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could spend time in Central Park. ANGLES also has scenes in Greenwich Village and Morag’s Upper West Side apartment. The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY is mostly set in Greenwich village, around the publisher for whom Bonnie works, and the bookshop that Rupert owns, with forays to the Upper West Side and down to the Bowery. Most of the books in the series will have NYC locations, although I plan to get them out of the city at times! (http://www.coventinacircle.devonellingtonwork.com)

SAVASANA AT SEA, the first Nautical Namaste Mystery that releases in November, starts in New York City, at Union Square, where yoga studios have bloomed in the last few years. It also has locations at the cruise ship piers, and Sophie shares a brownstone in Brooklyn, inspired by one owned by a friend of mine.

I love the city deeply; I just don’t want to live there any more!

SCOTLAND
I have a deep love of Scotland. Two of my shows have been produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I lived in Edinburgh for a month at a time with each. I’ve visited the city frequently, and travelled a good deal throughout the country: St. Andrews, Skye, the borders, but especially Ayrshire, where I’ve rented an apartment in Culzean Castle through the Scottish National Trust a couple of times.

The area is amazing — friendly people, beautiful scenery, great food. A basic conversation in passing can be the seed of a story.

A big chunk of TRACKING MEDUSA is set in a fictional town in Ayrshire, not far from Culzean, where Gwen and Justin confront Gwen’s past and discover the secrets of the Medusa statue.

Eastern and Western Scotland are very different from each other, in atmosphere, in geography, in sensory detail. The jet stream allows Culzean to grow tropical plants. The coast around St. Andrews can’t mistaken for the isle of Arran in the west. And the Highlands are a world unto themselves (not to mention that the signs are in Scots Gaelic first and sometimes English underneath). Someone from Glasgow speaks differently than someone from Edinburgh than someone from Skye. The cadence is difference, the timbre is different. Yes, there’s a “Scottish” accent different from English or Welsh or Irish, but there are also regional differences within it. Each one is delightful in its own way, but easy to pick up a false ring in a piece.

It’s very obvious when a writer sets something in Scotland and has never visited — it comes across more like a Rennfaire in upstate New York than genuinely in Scotland.

Northumbria
This is Hotspur Percy country, which is why I originally visited when I first graduated high school, and I keep coming back. The border shifted — it’s England, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s Scot– you get the idea.

Northumbrians have a thick north England accent, thicker than Yorkshire, but different from Scotland. They are very proud of their area.

My favorite places are Alnwick (now famous because the castle is used for Hogwarts) and Alnmouth. But my ultimate favorite is Lindisfarne, Holy Island, still cut off by the tide twice a day.

Lindisfarne has the ruins of a Priory, where illuminated manuscripts were created, and a castle. Two hotels, several pubs and shops, holiday cottages, a few people, a lot of sheep. When the tourists leave and the tide comes in, and it’s cut off, it’s magic.

I first learned about Lindisfarne when I was a kid, reading HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, when they had a story about monks saving the illuminated manuscripts. I vowed to visit, and did, right after high school. I can’t stay away. I have photographs that show the erosion of the ruins over the years.

A section of TRACKING MEDUSA is set there, at some of my favorite places, including the Abbey, the beach, and the kilns.

I’ve also visited the battle site of Otterburn. It was autumn when I was there; no one else around. I walked through the darkening woods, it got quieter and the birds stopped chirping. You could feel the weight of the dead. I had similar sensations when visiting Glencoe and Culloden in Scotland, but because Otterburn is smaller, more isolated, and more overgrown, it stayed with me more strongly.

Prague
Prague is an amazing city, centuries of history handled like they happened last week.

Locals sigh and talk about how nothing has been the same since The Battle of the White Mountain. I thought that was in WWII, and understood how it could still have an impact. Then I looked it up at it was in 1620! That gives you a good sense of the emotional geography of the place.

One also always has the sense of being watched. It’s not “Big Brother” or left over from Soviet occupation. It’s all the statues on the roofline that stare down at you.

I plan to use Prague as a setting for several pieces, but it’s in an upcoming serial novel about filming a television show, and part of the pilot is shot in Prague. There’s a lovely sequence on the Charles Bridge between Old Town and Mala Strana, because it’s so different on either side of the bridge.

Cape Cod
One of the reasons I moved here is because the place inspired me so much. My family’s visited since 1968. The National Seashore at Eastham and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are two big favorites, as is the Aschumet Sanctuary with all its holly trees, closer to where I actually live.

I’ve set a lot of pieces on Cape Cod. Morag’s family has a house here in PLAYING THE ANGLES. I’ve used it in quite a few short stories, and in an upcoming novel called THE TIE-CUTTER (Ayrshire, Scotland, is also heavily involved, as is Iceland).

Living here and visiting are very different, so I encourage any author who writes about the place to do more than a flying visit, if you expect me to believe your characters are more than summer people! No matter how many years I live here, I will always be a washashore, which is fine with me. It’s also a term I’d never heard in all the years I visited, but everyone made it clear to me once I moved in!

Any place can provide inspiration, if you look for it. Take time and get to know your home region. When you travel, don’t just post on social media and take video with your phone — experience the place directly, and then it will resonate in your writing.

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Monday, December 14, 2009


Iris likes to be under the blankets

Monday, December 14, 2009
Waning Moon
Cloudy and mild

I have a post up at Sole Struck Fashions (up yesterday, actually), about quick gift ideas.

My eye hurt like crazy yesterday, but it seems better today. I just kept using drops, and chamomile tea bags on it. The vision’s no worse than usual — it’s just the movement that hurts.

They know me at Michael’s, because I’ve been in there every day for the past week! Sigh! Of course they didn’t have the garland I wanted, but they did have one left of a really lovely one — green with silver and blue accents — it works perfecatly over the ktichen, and I have my cat ornaments hanging from it — it’s the “cat garland”. It took two hours to do the other garland — I realized, once I was done, that I should probably do all the fastening BEFORE I put it up, instead of standing on a chair! What I usually do is fasten the blank garland and then decide where I want to place the elements I add.

Anyway, they both look really good. The coffee table’s done with the centerpiece and a slew of nutcrackers, another surface has most of my Santas (although there are Santas and angels and elves and snowmen peering at one from every shelf and surface in the house — it’s sort of like being back in Prague, with all the statues on the buildings staring down at you). The faux mantel is done. The tree is 2/3 done — I have one more box of ornaments to hang. The ribbons are up around the doorways — I put red ribbons on either side of the doorways, with pine cones or ornaments at the top, and that’s where I hang the cards. I have some ornaments that need to go to Ornament Hospital, which I will set up probably tomorrow. The Advent Table’s not yet finished (and there’s only one more Advent left!), and the kitchen table (the only table where we can eat) isn’t done, because I still need it for baking and Ornament Hospital. It’s the only working surface other than the living room floor that I have.

The little live tree looks cute — I have most of the Solstice ornaments on it, and it will be the centerpiece for the Solstice Ceremony next Monday. I’ve been trying to name the tree something meaningful and the tree keeps going, “Uh, no, that’s not my name”, but I don’t yet know what the name IS yet.

All six hours of TIN MAN ran, followed by all four hours of ALICE yesterday. I watched favorite bits of both in between the decorating (I never just have the TV on as background — it drives me nuts. I’d stop and watch and bit, then go back to decorating, then go back and watch a bit, and so on). SyFy’s going to have to cut some serious residual checks for yesterday! 😉

I’ve been having really odd, busy dreams the past week. Last night’s may turn out into the good foundation for a story. Here’s hoping.

The weather was dreadful yesterday. Although we didn’t get snow, the temperature fluctuated enough so there were patches of ice with rain on top of them. And lots of fog. I had to pick up my mom at night (she can’t drive at night anymore). With all the accidents on the highways (there was a 50-car pileup in CT), I took backroads. Very little traffic, and easier to see.

I’ve got butter softening in the kitchen. I’m back into baking mode today. I need to frost the cookies that need it and take inventory, and bake some more. I can’t store the cookie platters once they’re made — I have to prepare them, load them, and deliver them in one fell swoop — so I’ve got to make sure I have enough of everything. I may test some new recipes on family for the New Year.

I also have to sit down with the recipes, copy them out and put them in the protective sleeves, and make notes on what did and didn’t work, so I have a jump on future years.

I retrieved my coats from the cleaners. They look fabulous. I just have to put new buttons on them, and I’m all set.

Good writing session this morning, thank goodness, and now it’s off to baking. I’ll do another push on the cards tonight, once the baking is sorted.

Devon

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 8:46 am  Comments (8)  
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cool

Have you see the “Simon’s Cat” animation pieces on You Tube? Someone tweeted about them yesterday, and I spent way too much time watching them and howling with laughter. “Cat Man Do” is one of my favorites, although I love them all.

The scumbags actually gave us heat yesterday, without me having to call the Health Department first. I’m not sure if they just did it because they got a clue that we won’t back down, or if someone else called the Health Department. It was only a puff, in mid-afternoon, but it made a big difference.

My editor sent back the essay with some suggestions for cuts — I’m curious to see if her cuts are the same as my first cut instincts. The other editor was pleased with the cuts in the short story, which I thought was interesting, since I felt those cuts took all the detail and charm away, but whatever.

I’m doing the final prep for the workshop, so I can post the first exercise tomorrow. I’ve decided to rearrange the exercises a bit. The conference officially starts on Monday — it will be a busy week. I may stop into a couple of workshops — last year I took a couple of writing workshops — I world-built again in Karina Fabian’s wonderful class, and I took both Kim Smith’s cozy workshop and Jamieson Wolfe’s short story workshop. I developed a new book in Karina’s workshop, which is in the To Be Written Queue; Kim’s workshop was the start of the first Helena Francis mystery, which is nearly done; and the short stories I started work on in Jamieson’s workshop are making the rounds — one of them was published in THE RANFURLY REVIEW, and the others are on submission, and there are more to go to create a volume of linked short stories. This year, I don’t really want to create new material — I’m up to my eyeballs in partials that need sorting and completion. So I’m looking into workshops dealing more with business and practicality. There’s also a research workshop that looks wonderful, especially since I’m about to start digging in the National Archives.

I read most of the material for Confidential Job #1. I will finish it write up what I have to either today or tomorrow.

I was supposed to go to a Morgan Horse event tomorrow, but, honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to it after this week.

Plus, I need to get back to the Prague essays.

I’m delighted that the President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When you travel outside of the United States and get away from the viewpoints of the liars and the hypocrites, the only people who come across on the world stage as fools are the obstructionists and screamers who are scared that an educated, rational viewpoint might hold some sway in the world, and that their own personal pockets will be lightened when the special interests no longer own the country. It’s going to take a long time to cut out the cancer that is comprised of corporate interests, but, hopefully, the people will continue to demand it. Our President is trying to do it peacefully and legally, and that is the way most people want it done, which is why he was elected.

And Representative Alan Graysin rocks — good for him, not kowtowing to the morons and telling it like it is.

Devon

Prague Diary: Day 1: City Tour, Castle, Mala Strana, Mozart

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National Museum

First of all, I want to apologize in advance — I can’t get the keyboard shortcuts for the various accents to work in the way I need them to work.

We’re up to Wednesday — our first full day in Prague apart from the arrival day, and we can’t believe it’s already Wednesday. We survived our first breakfast debacle in the hotel, and were out the door by 9AM and on the metro shortly thereafter.

We got off at the Musetek stop, which looked like it was the closest to everything we wanted. The first thing we saw, coming up out of the metro, was a place called “Coffee Heaven”. The sign alone made us laugh, and, as the week progressed, we figured it must be some sort of chain.

We turned towards a long, wide plaza with an imposing building looking down at it from the top of the hill leading away from the metro. We figured the building was an important museum or government building, and, in fact, it was the National Museum. We hoped to go back and visit it later in the week, but never actually managed so to do.

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We wandered up the plaza — very wide, stores and money change places and restaurants and hotels along it. The famous Hotel Europa is on that stretch, originally built in 1889, rebuilt in 1903 in the Art Nouveau style. When my mom was in Prague, sixty years ago, it had some of the most luxurious movie houses in Europe. Now, they’re tacky casinos.

We did find a discount bookstore called Luxor, with English-language books, though.
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It turned out that we were in St. Wencelas Square, where many famous events in Prague’s history took place, and the large statue near the top of the square on the horse is St. Wencelas, with four patron saints of Prague around him: St. Procopius, St. Agnes, St. Adalbart, and St. Ludmila (St. Wencelas’s grandmother, whom we would continue to meet frequently on our jaunts through Prague). The square was named in 1848 and the statue was erected in 1912. St. Wencelas is the Big Kahuna saint of them all, a murdered king whose legacy we will explore in more detail in our many hours at Prague Castle.
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The central plaza in the Square is beautifully kept, changed seasonally, and, currently, in the center, was a photographic exhibit. One photo, of a group of people supposedly listening intently to a tour guide, made us laugh because it was shot from the back, showing that, in reality, they all had their hands on each others’ asses.

We bought tickets for a city tour from a company called Martin’s, figuring that it would be a good way to get our bearings in Prague. We asked directions to the Old Clock at a hot dog stand, and just had enough time to scurry down the 500 metres of cobblestoned streets and take a quick peek at it before returning for our city tour.

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Old Town Square is pretty amazing. The clock itself has an astronomical dial with positions of the sun and moon and information on the constellations, and representations of the months, in addition to telling the time (although it’s hard to actually read the time, so they have a small, common black-type on white clock like one finds in classrooms on the side of the Town Hall so you know what time it actually is and what time the fun starts.

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Every hour, there’s a walk of the Apostles — the figure of Death bangs his drum, and, above, the figures of the Apostles slide across in those two little windows above the clock face. The whole thing takes about 45 seconds, and you kind of laugh uncomfortably and go, “That’s it?”, but if you’re in the area near the top of the hour, you still scuttle back and stare up at it with the hundreds of other tourists.

It’s actually quite wonderful, and the detail work on the clock is fantastic. It was created around 1410, with the calendar dial added probably around 1490. The sculpture of Death was added in the 17th century. The legend surrounding the clock is that a clockmaker named Jan Hanus built it. The City Council was delighted with the piece, and so upset when the unsubstantiated rumor reached their ears that he was under commission to build a clock for someone else that they had his eyes gouged out. We learned even more about the legend during the Ghost Walk on the Saturday of our trip, which I will share when I write about that day.

There’s controversy about the accuracy of both the legend and the names of the creator or creators of the clock, but, to me, the legend is quite consistent with Prague’s bloody and judgmental history.

We hurried back to the place where the bus tour began, and spent two hours that, in true Prague fashion, were both fascinating and frustrating. We were on a mini bus, with people from all nationalities. We had a driver, but our “tour guide” was actually a recording. They provided the guide in 26 languages — sort of like listening in on an UN session.

The person who taped the information had a thick Liverpuddlian accent, so it was kind of like having one of the Beatles early in his career talk you through Prague.

One of the funniest statements was that the recording provided the tour in “the language of your choice, no matter what the mood of the driver.”

Imp and I howled with laughter.

We were jetlagged, but still, it was obvious that we were driving around and around in circles for a good portion of the trip. Almost every building in the city has a fascinating history, but the tour galloped over most of them, picking and choosing only a few here and there. The problem was that we couldn’t really see out of the front of the bus (although the driver rolled back the roof so we could look up), so sometimes the guide spoke about a building we were approaching, but then got stuck in traffic, so by the time we got to the building, the recording was talking about something else. I started taking notes, but, as the tour continued, the notes got snarkier and snarkier, so I stopped. And because we were driving around in circles, we never really got oriented, which was part of the point of the tour.

And whenever traffic got REALLY bad, the recording switched over to classical music. Road rage prevention, perhaps?

Like I said, funny and frustrating.
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Here’s a photo of a building nicknamed “Fred and Ginger” because, supposedly, it looks like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.

All of our frustrations melted when the bus rattled up the looooooong hill to the Castle and spit us out. The tour told us we had 30 minutes to wander around, and if we weren’t back at the meeting spot on time, it was assumed we had chosen to stay, and the bus would leave without us.

The Castle itself is amazing. I’d been warned to spend at least a day there –we wound up spending nearly three.

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But it was St. Vitus Cathedral that sent chills of delight up our spines and made all the frustrations of the tour worthwhile. It took 500 years to build, and the gargoyles, architecture, and just plain artistry of the place is stunning. We wound up spending a lot of time at St. Vitus, and, in those 30 minutes, we photographed a lot of the outside of it.
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We also witnessed the Changing of the Guard. The morning guards wore a lighter grey uniform jacket than those coming in, and I’m still trying to find out why. The uniforms were designed by the costume designer for the movie AMADEUS. The sentries are not allowed to speak, much in the way the Guards in London aren’t — so people treat them like props, which is just disrespectful.
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We had lunch in a little cafe on Old Town Square — sandwiches and iced frappucinos and macchiatas. Very good. We were fighting the jet lag, but wanted to see more.

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Walking around a bit, we found the Estates Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in 1787. It’s a gorgeous building, and we’d love to attend a performance there just to be in the space. In the small street on the side of the building containing the stage door, across from it, hangs a structure from a building that looks very much like a miniature version of St. Vitus Cathedral. Fascinating.

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We also stopped at Tourist Information to get directions to Betramka, the Mozart Museum, where we wanted to attend a chamber music performance that evening. We wanted to walk, but the woman told us it was too far, and through too much of an industrial area. She showed us how far it was comfortable to walk in Mala Strana, and then to hop onto the #9 tram and get off at the Betramka stop, and it was “right there.” I said, “We don’t have to take any streets or go anywhere else?” And she said, “No. It’s right there.”

Ha!

We walked back to watch the clock do its little dance, then wandered through Joseftown (formerly the Jewish Quarter) and along the Vlatva River to the famous Charles Bridge. The Bridge, which started construction in 1357 to replace the Judith Bridge, was renamed “Charles” in about 1870. It has 30 statues decorating it, and each statue has a story. Many of the stories are false, created by societies who wanted to gain more statuRE by putting up a statUE. Richard Burton has a wonderful chapter on the bridge and its statues in his book PRAGUE: A CULTURAL HISTORY.
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It’s also filled with vendors and pickpockets during the day. And, on our wander across, filled with construction, so about half the width of the bridge was not available, making it even more crowded.

Once we reached the other side of the bridge, the area known as Mala Strana, we found a small bookshop tucked away down a flight of curved iron stairs. I got a small book written for children about Prague history, because I figured it was easier to dissect the layers in a children’s book!

We skipped the Torture Museum. Hey, we lived under 8 years of Bush and Cheney. We don’t need to visit a Torture Museum. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if any of the devices in the Torture Museum were also in the Sex Machine Museum over in Old Town.

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We found a shop selling Cannabis Vodka, which struck us as funny. We’re both convinced it must taste awful. But I guess if you drink enough of it, you don’t care.

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(Inside the Glena Pub)

We found a place called The Glena Pub and stopped for a beer — this time a dark beer, which I’m not all that fond of, but it wasn’t bad. The bartender tried to get us to try Budweiser, explaining it’s very different than the American Budweiser, but I didn’t fly all that way to drink Budweiser!
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Along the way, we found a sculpture of a series of disintegrating people. We didn’t know what it was. Later, I read that it’s supposed to represent the disintegration of Communism. A plaque would have been nice, to explain it!

We got on the #9 Tram and, yes, it was kind of a long way. We got off at Betramka. There was nothing that looked like a Mozart museum, nor where there any signs. We walked around for a bit — this was not a tourist area, but more residential. There was a lovely old cemetery, unmarked, unnamed on any of our maps (which we want to go and investigate in detail on another trip). Finally, I pulled a Tourist Move, pulled out my map, and we figured out where we were and where we needed to go to get to Betramka.

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It was down a street and up a Very Long Hill. There were no delis or anything, and we were parched. We got to the museum, bought our tickets, and asked if we could buy a bottle of water, or even a glass of water. The guy at the desk refused. He said the cafe was closed and all he could offer was was “water from the toilet.”

That is not an acceptable way to deal with customers.

It is also typical of Prague.

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We sat in the garden, waiting for the concert to begin. It was beautiful — you can see why Mozart enjoyed writing here, in peace and quiet. I bet his hosts, Duskova and Dusek, would have been horrified at the lack of hospitality provided to modern guests by the current staff.

Additionally, the concert was nearly a half hour late starting because they were waiting for a busload of Belgian tourists who were “having trouble getting there.” Once they arrived, at least half of them were sick as dogs, and spent most of the concert sneezing, coughing, and hacking up a lung. H1N1 anyone?

The concert itself was lovely. It was a trio called Trio Orbis, with a young woman on violin, a young man on cello, and another young man on piano. They played three lovely pieces, and the concert took just over an hour. Completely lovely musicianship and beautiful interaction amongst them.

As I listened, I plotted two short stories. One of which is a Jain Lazarus adventure set in Prague, about six months to a year before HEX BREAKER.

I asked for directions to the metro stop that looked like it was close o the map. A young woman on the staff gave them to us. I did not ask the rude guy — he’d have given us wrong directions on purpose.

Going down the hill was much easier than going up. We easily found the Andel metro station. There was an Apple store in the complex — I was tempted to toss my iPod at them and pitch a fit, but I’m sure the customer service, Apple or no, would be typical Czech (as in non-existent). There was a Mexican restaurant filled with English-speakers on one corner — I’m pretty sure there were a lot of Americans, because the women had so much Botox they couldn’t move their faces to chew.

We avoided that restaurant and went across the street to a small local joint where, again, we were the only English speakers. There was only one waiter handling the entire restaurant and the bar. He was exceptionally disinterested in the customers, which I understood. I would have been very unhappy to be that understaffed.

It was cheap, the Pilsner was fantastic, and I had a gorgeous mustard-encrusted pork chop. We split an order of potatoes (vegetables don’t come with the entry, they’re separate. And usually you have 17 choices of potatoes and maybe some cabbage. But they sure know what they’re doing with those 17 choices of potatoes).

We watched a pair of cops outside ticket a car. The female cop (Asian) wrote the ticket, photographed, did all the work. The male cop (Czech), posed and swaggered. He was so aware we were watching him that it was hilarious.

We bought tickets at the Andel metro. A homeless guy was trying to get change from us, asking if we spoke English. I spoke to him in French and disconcerted him. A young Czech woman went off on him, as near as we could tell, berating him for being young, healthy, and not getting a job. We escaped into the metro while she yelled at him.

We were on the “B” line, and, two stops later, switched to our “A” line and scooted home.

You always feel watched in Prague, not because of leftover Communist regime energy, but because every building is full of statues staring down at you.
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Previously: Getting There
The Hotel

September 29, 2009

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Iris gave us a scare

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury DIRECT
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and cooler

Thank goodness Mercury goes direct today. I’m drained.

The next Prague essay, “The Hotel” is down below.

The day was tiring, but I actually got quite a bit done, much to my surprise. I caught up on most of the email. I worked on the Prague essays. I got out the necessary correspondence, including a certified letter to the scumbag landlord. I pitched to a local school. I tweaked the two residency proposals, printed them out, printed the work samples, put it all together, wrote the checks, and sent it off. I got started on the NYFA grant proposal. I pulled some information for a job pitch I want to put together.

It’s always more stressful to submit residency or grant proposals than a regular submission. When a regular submission is rejected, they’re rejecting the piece — it doesn’t fit the issue, the vision, they’re done too much like it recently, the reader’s got a migraine, whatever. They’re rejecting the piece. But, when it comes to grants and residencies, they’re rejecting YOU. They’re saying, “We don’t think your creative vision is worth the support. We don’t think you fit in with us.”

When I worked in a lot in theatre, I couldn’t even apply for many of them, because of my schedule. I did a good but odd one in Dorset one year, and I did a fabulous one at Palenville Interarts very early in my writing career, which was one of the best experiences of my life.

So I found these two very different residencies for next year, at different times, and applied. I think I have a pretty good shot at one of them — I’ve spoken to the guy in charge a few times, and we seem compatible. It’s a very no-muss, no-fuss, do-your-thing kind of place, and that’s where I do best. The other one is a bigger name, and I may not be “literary” enough in their eyes — although I bet you I’m one of the few people applying who actually make a living doing this! We’ll see — I won’t hear back from one until February and the other until April, so all I can do is not fret about it and move on.

The NYFA grant is something I haven’t tried for in years, and, when I tried for it, I didn’t have a lot of credits, but then, neither do a lot of people who get funded. I looked back on the list of people who’ve received the grants in the past ten years, and I’ve only ever heard of two of them. Which isn’t a bad thing (I mean, let’s face it, how many people have heard of me, right?), but I wonder how many of the recipients make a living at their art, and how many still have day jobs? Does the grant give them a year’s relief, or does it help vault them to the next level? For my purposes, I want it to do the latter, but that’s going to depend on me more than anything else. I’ll give it a shot again this year; either I’ll get it or I won’t. If I relocate before the decisions are made, I’ll probably have to pull out — although I will have been a resident for the years they demand. If I move before the decisions, I will let them know and let them make the call. Their decisions don’t come out until next May.

William Zinsser’s WRITING PLACES is a fantastic book. It makes me want to re-read ON WRITING WELL — which I’m pretty sure I have in storage, and should probably have on my reference shelf. Since I’m writing a lot of non-fiction lately, I bet re-reading it will help clean up some of the prose. Or maybe I should just by the 30th Anniversary Edition!

My book on Rudolf of Bohemia and his Magic Circle arrived from Strand yesterday — very excited. It’s about Prague in the Renaissance, during the time of astrology and alchemy.

Iris gave us a scare last night. All of a sudden, she couldn’t walk properly. Her back legs gave out. She was shocked. We settled her down and kept her quiet for a bit. We checked to make sure nothing was broken. She seemed fine, so we thought maybe she landed badly when she jumped off something. But, about 45 minutes, it happened again, and she got agitated, looking around as though she was watching a fly none of us could see.

I found a 24-hour Emergency vet in White Plains, packed her into the carrier, and we drove off, through the rain and the fog, with Iris screaming like a banshee the whole way.

They saw us right away — and Iris seemed perfectly fine. She jumped off the examining table, wandered around the room, climbed into the space where they keep the wastebasket, stood on her hind legs to peek into things. The vet checked all her signs and they were good. Her heart’s strong, her circulation’s good, there’ a steady pulse in both legs, her color’s good, she’s responsive (especially when you scratch her under the chin). She was a little wary at first, but by the end of the session, she was curled up, content as could be, in the vet’s lap.

It’s not a stroke, which was my first concern. The vet told me to keep her under observation for a few days — they could do it at the hospital, but it would be better at home, because she wasn’t showing signs of anything, and it would be worse for her to be stuck in a cage in a strange place. The vet’s two top concerns were an inner ear infection (she said I’d know if that was the case, because Iris would start to roll over when she walked), or that she’d licked or eaten something toxic and had a mild seizure. The final possibility, remote as it is, is that she’s going to start having seizures for some reason, and that’s not predictable. If it happens again, I’ll need to bring her in for a full blood and all-over work up — but as of right now, she seems perfectly healthy and exceptionally adaptable. The doctor said she’d be available by phone any time I needed her, and said, even though she’s doing well now, it was the right choice to bring her in.

So I left with both my wallet and my heart lighter — although they charge rates far more reasonable than a lot of places around here.

We got lost coming home — Iris was not amused. But she was back to her normal self when we got home and seemed fine, and rather proud of herself for having an adventure the other two didn’t. Elsa was puzzled and Violet was beside herself. Iris and Violet have NEVER been separated since they were a month old. The longest they weren’t in the same space was when they were spayed.

The only thing I can think of that caused the problem is food. I’d brought back Happy Tails cat food from the trip, because they like it and one can’t get it here. For some reason, Violet wouldn’t touch it. Elsa ate and promptly threw up twice yesterday morning. And Iris had a seizure. That’s the only thing that was different in the routine. I’m going to contact Shaw’s — where I bought it — and Happy Tails, to ask them to run tests. I contacted Shaw’s, but can’t find information for Happy Tails. Of course, I don’t have the can anymore –I cleaned it and recycled it right after I fed them.

I caught the end of CASTLE, too exhausted and worried to really pay attention. The chemistry between the actors was great, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the plot — which is MY lack of ability to pay attention, not anything having to do with the show.

This morning, everyone was back on the Trader Joe’s food, and seems fine. Let’s hope it stays that way.

I’m going to check the car’s tire again — it was fine driving last night, but I want to make sure. I’ll spend most of the day at the Greenwich Library, working on the rewrite of the essay.

Devon

Prague Diary: The Hotel

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We stayed at the Hotel Juno, which is in Praha 10, away from Tourist Central, in a quiet, more residential part of the city. There was a bus stop right across the street, and the metro was about five blocks away, with other busses and trams also available.

The hotel was bigger than we expected, and clean. The inner part of the lobby was set up kind of like an English pub.

The clerk told us that there was a water problem (hence the workmen in the street), so we couldn’t check into the room yet. We figured we’d sit in the restaurant and have a meal — after all, the website boasts a restaurant on site and even lists a menu with prices. But, for some reason, the restaurant was closed.

The clerk gave us directions and recommendations. We locked our luggage in the luggage room, checked out the grocery store, checked out a flea-market type affair near the metro, and then walked through the lovely residential neighborhood to the restaurant. The market was interesting — it reminded us of the Asian markets down near Canal St. here in NYC — with lots of knock-offs, low prices, etc. There was a pair of red leather stiletto boots with a silver side buckle that tempted me — but I rarely wear stilettos — something that marked me as an odd woman in Prague, where stilettos are the norm, even on the cobblestone streets.

There were two restaurants, side-by-side, and we couldn’t remember the name of the one recommended.

We walked into the one on the corner — obviously a local joint, very simple, clean, full of local guys smoking. I was the only woman in the place. We took a table and tried to sort out the menu, which was in Czech. We figured “goulas” was “goulash” and we couldn’t go wrong, so we both ordered that, and some beer, since the country’s famous for its beer. Costume Imp isn’t much of a beer drinker, but when a place is famous for something, you try it, right?

The beer was very good. The goulash was quite different than the Hungarian-style goulash I usually think of as “goulash.” it was chunks of beef and liver (neither Imp nor I have eaten liver since childhood) in gravy and something called “bread dumplings”. Those are a dumpling-like concoction cut like bread slices (and made of bread?) to soak up the gravy. The food was fine — in spite of having liver in it. And the beer was good. And it was inexpensive — about $8 for the whole meal.

We wandered back to the hotel and checked in. Our room was on the first floor — which in Europe is the floor above the ground floor. It overlooked the parking lot, which we didn’t think, at the time, would be a problem.
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The room was fine — beds, long hallway with closets (one third blocked off, one third usable, one third shelves and a small safe). The beds weren’t traditional beds, but pallets, as you can see from the photo, quite low to the ground, but comfortable. There was one chair, and three small night stands on wheels, but no desk, which meant I either wrote up my notes each night sitting on the floor using the nightstand or sprawled across my pallet. There was a small television which got a variety of Czech, German, and Italian channels, along with CNN.

I took a tepid shower — no less than I expected. We rested for a bit, and then were hungry again. The restaurant in the hotel was still closed, so we went back to the other restaurant in the neighborhood, U Kasparka, which turned out to be our favorite restaurant in Prague.

They were really nice and spoke enough English so we could all get by. It was mostly German-themed, with a lot of German dishes, but also Italian, Czech, and even Mexican — there was no way I was going to try one of those! The service was good and friendly. The food was outstanding. I had chicken schnitzel, which was fantastic, and Imp was in rapture over the pork. We had more beer, which was excellent, and after-dinner coffee. Again, the whole meal was maybe $12.

Wine is more expensive than most of the entrees, and I’d been warned to stay away from Moravian wine, no matter what, because it’s awful. So I skipped the wine for the trip, although more and more French wine bars are opening near the center of town.

We were quite proud of ourselves for still being up and about.
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The walk back through the soft night air was beautiful. Really lovely. There’s a vast array of architecture in the neighborhood, which is interesting. We stopped at the grocery store — since it was obvious we weren’t going to be able to use the restaurant!

We settled in the room as busses arrived in the parking lot, disgorging batch after batch of tourists. We watched TV — I have to say, watching CSI dubbed in Czech is pretty funny.

So, the positives: The hotel was in a great neighborhood, near good restaurants, convenient to public transport, and was very, very clean. Once the water problem was fixed, we had fantastic, hot showers all week. I’d been warned that the cleaners burst in early in the morning and had prepared signs in Czech asking them to return later, but we never needed to use them. I’d also been warned that they stole from guests, but we never had a problem. We didn’t use the safe — they wanted a 500 czk deposit. We used my locked suitcase. Never a problem.

The problem was the busloads of tourists and the fact that the overworked staff was unprepared to deal with breakfasts for 400-500 pushy Eastern Europeans (I think we were the only English speakers all week — most of them were German, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, etc. And the Germans were the politest of the lot, which is saying something), acting like they were in a breadline every morning. That was the only time the restaurant was open — breakfast — even though they had signs in the elevator advertising “Hamburger — 2 pieces” and meals from 11:30-3:30.

What we soon discovered was typical in the area was that, if something doesn’t work, you keep doing it instead of finding a better way. They’d actually bar people from entering the breakfast area, and then, when they let people through, the buffet was nearly stampeded. The buffet was huge — there was no way they were running out of anything — certainly not the cabbage and sour cream.

Most of the breakfast offerings were a little too heavy for me: Stew, steamed vegetables, lots and lots of cabbage and sour cream. At 7:30 in the morning, it was a bit too much. Their cakes were lovely –especially the one morning they served an exquisite poppy seed roll, which is just about my favorite thing in the world after eclairs — and sometimes I ate a roll with some ham or something. But most of the time, I had a few squares of pound cake lightly flavored with anise and a few square of gingerbread and that was it. As the week progressed, the busloads grew larger and the cakes grew staler.

The coffee was decent, thank goodness, or I would have wound up splattering some of those rude tourists against the wall. Unfortunately, the tourists would stand in front of the machine and stare at it instead of using it. Two at a time could use it, and the buttons were in six languages. It had a sensor, so you place your cup on it, press the “coffee” button and it knows how much to put in. Then you add the milk from a pitcher.

But they’d just stare at the machine, or only use one spout. I stopped caring about pushing past and using it after the first day. Don’t get between me and my coffee, and trust me, my Ugly New Yorker can beat your Ugly Eastern European any day of the week.

We were always pleasant to the staff, albeit sometimes through gritted teeth. But some of those other guest were absolutely vile.

And yet, the dogs were all beautifully behaved.

My other problem with the room, that revealed itself throughout the week, was that, since it overlooked the front door and the parking lot, we got all the cigarette fumes and noise of people standing around smoking and talking, and all the bus fumes when the busses revved up in the morning to scoot everyone off to their next stop. Between 7 & 8:30, the room was carbon monoxide central.

Had I realized it in the first day, I would have asked for a room change. As it was, we soldiered through — we were up pretty early (poor Costume Imp, who is not a morning person, was one this week) and, after the debacle of the first morning, we went down to breakfast after 7:30, when the hordes were toodling their luggage out to the busses –we missed the majority of the rude ones AND the majority of the bus fumes.

The only other issue we had was on the Saturday of our stay, when they didn’t make up the room and gave us attitude when Imp asked for clean towels. Needless to say, we got the towels.

We did like the neighborhood and the convenience to transport. The hotel was cheap and very, very clean, and if you like cabbage for breakfast . . . 😉

The bar was closed most of the time we were there, too (it called itself a “saloon” with US Western-themed doors that were usually padlocked). But we did manage to return early enough one night to be the only one in the saloon and try slivovice, which is a native drink, kind of a plum brandy. It was very good and quite strong, which why I wanted to try it at the hotel.

My feelings about the hotel are mixed. It was fine for what we needed, and a good price. We had hot water, which was more than I’d hoped for. Would I stay there again? If I could afford a different hotel (we found one on our travels we want to stay in), no, but if I needed a cheap, clean, convenient base, yes. But not in the room directly over the front door and the parking lot!

Previously: Getting There.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 7:03 am  Comments (3)  
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Prague Diary: Getting There

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Monday, September 14:

Since Mercury’s retrograde, I was determined to give myself enough time to get to the airport with obstacles. I ate a huge pasta lunch to fortify myself (because I am an army that moves on my stomach).

My mom drove me across the street to the train station with my luggage (since it’s uphill). I caught the 1:19 train, which was only three minutes late — a record for Metro North. No problem getting the seat in the front with the little indent for my suitcase, the backpack sitting on top of it. All good.

The train ride was exceptionally smooth. That should have been my first clue that something was going to go wrong down the line! The train even came in on an upper platform. I’m convinced that, whenever they see I have luggage, they radio ahead to say, “Make sure you put us as far away on the lower level as possible — she’s got baggage!” But we came in on an upper track.

The Samsonite bag rolls so smoothly that I kept looking back, thinking maybe the handle had come off in my hand and I didn’t have a suitcase with me.

Got across Grand Central, wandered across the street to the airport bus. Bought a round trip ticket. The bus came a few minutes later, I was loaded on, and off we went.

Costume Imp texted me that he was in the car on his way to the airport.

It wasn’t bad until we got onto Long Island. For some reason, there were cops EVERYWHERE and it was a parking lot. I wondered if there was some horrible accident, but we kept inching forward.

Costume Imp arrived at the airport and checked in. I was getting a bit tense.

In actuality, it didn’t take all that much longer than usual to get from the city to JFK — maybe an additional 15 minutes. But I had visions of not making the flight, in spite of leaving early.

I got there, Imp was waiting for me, and check-in was a breeze. I didn’t have to wait at all. Got the boarding pass, we went through security, and headed for our gate. We bought overpriced water and really bad coffee. I bought a couple of Godiva bars, in case British Air decided to act like a US carrier and not feed us.

We sat in our lounge. My iPod Touch wouldn’t connect to anything, which was frustrating, since I’d been promised everything would now work properly.

We also noticed that there were an awful lot of extra SWAT-types walking around, Feds, and various other guards. They walked through each lounge, making eye contact with every individual. In other words, they were looking for someone specific. But we didn’t know who or why. It was a little disconcerting. I was relieved that they were on top of it, but you could tell they were stressed.

We later learned that a terrorist plot aimed at New York had been thwarted, with several figures arrested, a key figure arrested in Denver, who was shipped back to New York for prosecution. Several raids had happened in Queens, which was why there were so many cops on every overpass, and traffic crawled. Again, disconcerting, but glad that they were on top of it and tragedy was averted.

And, when we got on the plane, there were extra police checking out each individual as they entered the ramp and then again, at the bottom of the ramp, just before we entered the plane.

We got settled in our seats. I had the aisle, Imp was in the middle, and there was a very nice young woman in the window seat, on her way to study for a semester in London. The seats on BA were much more comfortable than on United or American. They also gave us pillows and blankets, and little kits with headset, socks, eye mask, and toothbrush. I felt very pampered, after the US carriers who act like they’re doing you a favor by letting you on the plane in the first place. Imp still didn’t think they were as good as Virgin, but, never having flown Virgin, I couldn’t make the comparison.

We took off only a little late, settled into the air just fine. They served drinks — I had a rather mediocre red wine from California. Dinner was okay — some tortellini, with more mediocre wine and some of the worst coffee I’ve ever had in my life. We weren’t really in the mood to read, so we chatted.

Later, Imp tried to nap. I started Italo Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER, which is great, but I wasn’t in the mood to read. I wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I listened to some quiet music and tried to rest.

The descent into Heathrow was bad for my ears. Really painful, in spite of the precautions taken.

And then, we were regurgitated into the infamous Terminal 5, the new international terminal that’s supposedly so brilliant.

I loathed it.

I felt like a gerbil in a Habitrail.

We walked through glass-enclosed corridors up and down various levels (Habitrail), went through security and went through the terminal. We didn’t have a lot of time to make our connection. I wanted to get a British newspaper, but there was only one WH Smith close to where we disembarked, and nothing close to our next gate. I got progressively crankier as other people showed up in the lounge with newspapers! We did get some decent coffee, so I somewhat revived.

Our departure gate was A-10, which is another Habitrail maze they put you through before loading you on busses and driving you far out onto the tarmac before loading you onto the next plane.

I took the middle seat this time, giving Imp the aisle. These seats were larger and more comfortable than on the overseas leg. We got into the air reasonably on time. Unfortunately, the entire flight was just at the altitude that causes my ears the most pain, so the hour and change was agony. They fed us a fake English muffin (cold) with some sort of fake salmon spread on it and more bad coffee.

But we touched down in Prague on time. The first thing I saw made me froth at the mouth –all of the runways to the planes are plastered with Citibank logos. Now, we bailed them out with millions of dollars of TARP money so they could paint their logo over the Prague Airport? Needless to say, a letter to the TARP overseer is going out.

Security wasn’t a problem, and there we were. Mid-morning in Prague, up for nearly 24 hours.

I’d assumed we had vouchers to get to the hotel, but we didn’t; it wasn’t part of our package. I later found out hotels in Prague don’t do that. Taxis screw you and the airport shuttles aren’t much better. Fortunately, I had downloaded directions from the hotel’s website. We found an ATM for Imp to withdraw money (I had my first 4 days’ budget already in Czk).

We had to take a bus and then a metro. The ticket machines only had coins and we only had bills, so I left Imp outside with the luggage, smoking, and I went back in to get change. I found a transportation desk, and asked for the ticket that allows us to transfer. He shook his head and said we were going too far out to risk it — the ticket is only good for 75 minutes and one transfer. Praha 10 is far away, and we should purchase a day pass. I said I’d risk it. He also said we had to pay child’s fare for our suitcases. That’s not in any of the guidebooks, but since I know the fine is 900 czk if you don’t have the right tickets, I bought them. I later found out that it wasn’t a scam, that’s actually true.

I gave Imp his ticket and his suitcase’s ticket, and the 119 bus rolled up shortly thereafter. When you enter the bus or the tram or as you enter the metro station, you stamp your ticket. It gives the date and time. The inspectors can ask to see your tickets at any time and then fine you if you don’t have them or if they’re expired.

We got on the bus, punched our tickets, and got our first views of Prague. Out by the airport are still the beige concrete walls with barbed wire and then the block houses built under Communism. It reminded me a lot of East Germany in the 1970s and just after Reunification in the early 90s. Lots of busses, lots of streetcars, so public transport is the way to go.

It was about a 35 minute ride to Dejvickå, the first stop on the Metro line we needed, and the last stop for the 119 bus. We got off, rolled out suitcases into the station. Since it was the starting/ending stop of the line, we didn’t have to worry about direction. We knew our stop was 11 stops in, and the stop before it was a long stop starting with a “Z” — which we nicknamed “The Z stop” for the duration of our stay.

The metros are great. They run underground, are clean, fast, easy to navigate. One has to push the button to open the doors — they don’t open automatically. The metro was crowded, but a very nice woman sat opposite us. She reminded me of my mom’s best friend. She told us what phrase was used to mean the doors were closing (there’s no way I can spell it, so I won’t put it here). She loved Scotland, especially Glasgow, and was a big fan of Charles Rennie Macintosh. In fact, she was on her way to borrow a book about him from the library.

We got off at our stop (only 20 minutes from our starting point, well within our ticket time) and headed in the direction indicated by the hotel map. We saw “Billa”, the grocery store which was mentioned in hotel reviews, and headed in that direction. It was definitely a residential neighborhood, with blocks of flats on both sides of a wide boulevard. We headed towards a street called “Solidarity” — mostly because it was something we could pronounce. We saw a large building sticking up, and when we turned the corner, there was the Hotel Juno, which was to be our base for the coming week.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

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A view of the Astronomical Clock, Prague

I’m leaving you with a photo of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, Prague, to really confuse you, jumping between Cape photos and Prague photos! 😉
Devon

Published in: on September 26, 2009 at 1:14 am  Comments (2)  
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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A view of St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague

Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Waxing Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Cloudy and warm

Here’s a photo to whet your appetite a bit.

I am so full of schnitzel and beer and so jet lagged that it’s not even funny.

The trip was fascinating. Prague doesn’t give up its secrets easily and has layers and layers of history. The Czechs are known for their rudeness — I found it more passive-aggressive behavior, typical of countries that were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Also, Costume Imp and I had less trouble than a lot of people because we’re New Yorkers. We’re unfazed by unsmiling abruptness, and we don’t need every checkout clerk or waiter to be our best friends. The lack of problem-solving skills and an unwillingness to think ahead, coupled with either the inability or the deliberate passive aggressive anger that makes tasks such as giving correct directions impossible got a bit frustrating. I’ve never travelled anywhere where, in order to figure out how to get anywhere, I needed five maps of the same area. Of course, none of them were compatible with any of the others, and it was like solving a Rubik’s cube to get anywhere. I understand a lot of the mentality is left over from being an occupied area under Communist stronghold (as well as other defeats and occupations over the centuries), but when something doesn’t work, they just keep doing what doesn’t work instead of finding a better or different way. Until they explode and start executing people or defenestrating them. The first response to a question is to either say “no” or just stare blankly. As New Yorkers, we simply pushed back, and they immediately backed down into “victim” mode (again, leftover from being under occupation for so many years — even though that ended twenty years ago). And then they were shocked when, once we got what we wanted, we then said “thank you” and moved on.

Let me put it this way — the dumb fuck Republican politicians who whine that we’re turning Communist don’t know what they’re talking about and wouldn’t last ten minutes without being killed in an actual Communist or socialist regime. Except for the ones who’d switch sides in the blink of an eye because they’re not working from any deep-seated belief or value system, but from a desire for money and power. In other words, they’d make excellent Communist officials.

Students often romanticize Communism, and politicians can’t be bothered to learn what it really is. Here in the West, we tend to think the demonization of living under such a regime is propaganda. It’s not — the atrocities committed under the regime were not exaggerated, and when you are face to face with the realities of it, you realize just how spoiled we really are.

The transportation system is fabulous, and it’s easy to get around. We had outstanding restaurant karma and ate exceptionally well for very little money. We overheard on the plane other visitors complaining about the food — but they ate at tourists venues that charged about four times what we paid for bland, uninteresting food, while we stayed off the beaten path most of the time, were the only Americans in the place, and ate very well. We didn’t see many vegetables — except bowls of cabbage for breakfast and about 17 different ways to eat potatoes with dinner (which were all very good, but I was desperate for green vegetables by the time we got home)! And, although eggs are used in baking, we didn’t see eggs on the menu, and were delighted to go to the Globe (expat bookstore/cafe near the National Theatre) for a leisurely brunch — with lots of eggs — towards the end of the week.

I only used one of my two Czech phrases because, let’s face it, nobody gives a damn if you ask them how they are! 😉

The coffee was fantastic, and the pastries — let me just say I’ve recommitted to baking my way through THE COFFEEHOUSE COOKBOOK, which has recipes from Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic this winter!

We walked about 12-15 miles a day, in addition to using public transport. We saw all the “musts” on our list, yet feel like we barely scratched the surface. There were things that just had to drop off the list, and a few things we’d have liked to see, but couldn’t find.

I’m organizing my diary entries and will share essays based on them, probably starting next week. I made myself stay up every night, no matter how tired I was, to write the 10-12 pages of what we did that day, but didn’t have the energy to analyze any of it, so I’ll go back and do that as I write the essays.

My mom was sick while I was gone –as in, sick enough to have to go to the doctor and get antibiotics — but she seems better now. I ran around yesterday, changing money back, which I promptly blew on candles, decorating for the Equinox, roasting a chicken (and green vegetables, hallelujah), doing four loads of laundry, packing for the Cape, and trying, just a bit, to catch up on some email.

Heaven forbid the iPod touch work properly — it seems I have to choose between a working computer and a working iPod — not amused, and Apple will hear more from me again.

I fell asleep around 6:30 last night, and woke up at 4 this morning. I always have a more difficult time coming back, no matter which direction, than heading out.

I got some good news — a short story made the first cut for a magazine, and I’ve got my fingers crossed it will make it through to publication. Also, an essay I wrote for a book over a year ago that seemed doomed has come back for another round of revisions. When I return from the Cape, I’ll tackle that.

Had we stayed any longer in Prague, we would have needed to get a flat and start creating our own schedule a little more. I was itching to get back to a regular writing schedule by the end of the week, even though I kept pretty decent notes of what we saw and did. I definitely want to go back and get at the next layer of Prague, get more in-depth. It will probably be at least two or three years before I can do so, and by then they’ll be on the Euro and probably more expensive, but oh, well.

I’m going to get as much done as I can today, and tomorrow I head out early in the morning for the Cape.

More soon.

Devon

Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 7:20 am  Comments (6)  
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Monday, September 14, 2009

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Garden at The Mount, Lenox, MA

Monday, September 14, 2009
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and warm

I leave today for Prague. I can’t believe it — after all this planning and preparation, I almost feel like I’ve already gone and returned.

While I’m gone, I have a roster of wonderful guest bloggers scheduled, starting tomorrow, who include Michelle Miles, Lori Widmer, Colin Galbraith, Susan Johnston, and Lara Stauffer. I hope you’ll stop by and visit.

If I can slide in a few words here and there from Prague, I will, but don’t count on it.

When I return, I will run a “poetic justice” contest for my new novel. I wanted to post it today, before I left; however, I think I need to format it so it’s responsible and not snarky, and to be around to answer questions. So the details will go up probably in early October.

I still have a few errands to run (like paying the phone bill and picking up a few last minute items at CVS. I’ll leave a little bit after noon; I’ll return a bit after midnight in a week. The cats are beside themselves, but they have round-the-clock care here, and their every whim will be attended. I’ve set up my mom as far as food and medication, so she should be fine. I have one more bill to write that doesn’t need to be mailed for a few more days. The proposals are in good shape; I should be able to do one more read-through and then send them out in the 36 hours between returning from Prague and leaving for the Cape.

I just want to get on the plane already!

I look forward to sharing my adventures with you when I return.

Devon
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New York Botanical Garden

Published in: on September 14, 2009 at 7:56 am  Comments (7)  
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

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Maine

Sunday, September 13, 2009
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Sunny and mild

I’m over at Sole Struck Fashions today, talking about Fashion Night Out.

I was completely useless yesterday. I ran some errands, got the groceries in, tried to get my mom settled in her new medications, fiddled more with packing, got my watch fixed.

It was rainy and icky, so the cats and I napped in the afternoon (they are such a bad influence on me), and I worked on the proposals. I’m seriously considering sending out at least one tomorrow morning, the one I really, really want. Nothing like last minute, right?

I can’t believe I’m leaving for Prague tomorrow. In addition, I’m planning for the gig on the Cape that will happen 36 hours after I return, the trip to Washington DC in November, and a trip next summer to the Bay of Fundy (since New Brunswick is quickly rising on the list of possible relocation sites).

Thank goodness I cleared off my deadlines early, because I am just a waste of food.

As soon as I get through security at the airport tomorrow, I can relax. But hauling the luggage onto the train and the bus and then, the worst, standing in line at the check-in counter, is what stresses me out.

Well, I’ve got to do the last-minute things to get ready, and make sure I leave everything here as organized as possible.

And I want to get that proposal out.

Devon
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Eastham, MA

Published in: on September 13, 2009 at 8:43 am  Comments (4)  
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

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View of the Cape Cod Canal

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde
Cloudy and cool

The weather folk are saying it will be a mild winter, yet the cats are growing in thick coats and the birds started heading south last week. I think I’ll believe the critters!

I got out a lot of submissions yesterday, catching up on most of my backlog. I found a couple of pieces I want to rework, and a few to retire, but, for the most part, everything that can earn its keep is going out the door so to do.

Finished Vaclav Havel’s TO THE CASTLE AND BACK. Havel says something about political parties, with which I agree, and I think this country has forgotten: “They (political parties) should not be superior to them (government, parliament), but, rather, serve them.” (p. 119, material in parenthesis mine) and: “Parties must not be more important that the public interest. They must, on the contrary, serve it.” (p. 120). It would be nice to see that in practice.

You can feel the heaviness descending on the area that always does in the days leading up to 9/11. This will not be an easy week.

I didn’t sleep well. It wasn’t the cats’ fault this time — I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep, I just couldn’t. I finally drifted off as the sky lightened –and a PC Richards truck pulled up BEFORE 7 AM to spit out the new appliances for the two apartments that are being renovated on the first floor. Lovely. Not. There was lots of jabbering into cell phones as they tried to find/wake up the super, who’s far too busy running his own business on the side with the building’s resources to actually do anything for the building. Now I get to listen to them install the appliances all day. Oh joy, oh rapture. I will probably have the iPod in all day — though, suddenly, it’s only giving me sound in mono instead of stereo (headdesk).

I’ve got some business correspondence to take care of today and a few more things to wind up this week. Six days and counting. This time next week, I should be in Prague, and there will be a guest blogger in this space.

I’m getting to a point in AMENDS where I need to stop and make some notes so I can stay consistent. Overall, though, it’s going well.

Devon

AMENDS, first draft: 23,000 words out of est. 75,000
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Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 8:36 am  Comments (5)  
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Saturday, September 5, 2009

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A view from Eastham, MA

Saturday, September 5, 2009
Waxing Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and warm

Nine days until Prague!

Yesterday was busy — out of the house early, up to Stamford. Visited the currency exchange — got the first four days’ worth of my budget in Czech krona. So there’s a start! Also got some more British pounds sterling, since we’ve got that 4-hour layover in Heathrow.

Went to the bookstore and got my fourth plane book: Italo Calvino’s IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER. I can’t wait to read it. But I have to wait until I head for the airport! 😉

I bought some books for my mom. She loves the writing of Mary Balogh, so we’re getting all of her books.

I seem to have fixed the power cord problem with extensive jiggling.

Visited the Staples in Stamford — no luck on the memory card for the camera. I don’t want 16GB — I want 2 GB, and not the tiny card, but the one that actually fits my camera. The card will only hold the photos from this trip. I keep the memory cards — in addition to backing up the photos on them, I also work directly from the cards. I don’t erase them and re-use them. That is my choice. I shouldn’t have to change the way I work because a store doesn’t feel like carrying what I need.

Drove to Larchmont, to that Staples. It’s on the site of what used to be a VW dealership when we first moved to NY in 1968. It’s now a fantastic Staples — not only is it huge, but the employees are helpful and friendly. They had what I needed, they helped me double check the reference just to be sure, and they had most of the other stuff I needed, too (although not the pen refills I need). Most importantly, they were pleasant and helpful. So they will now be my first choice of Staples around here, instead of going up the street to the one that never has anything or all the way to CT.

There was also a fantastic organic market in the same plaza, so I stocked up on a few things!

I started reading the novel PRAGUE and put it aside. It takes place in Budapest, and while that is part of the novel’s irony, I am not in the mood for irony right now; I wanted to read something set in Prague. I found myself muttering about it on every page and not doing the novel justice, so I’ve put it aside until I get back.

I tried to fact check something for an article that needs to go out with English Heritage, who runs the property. And got an email telling me it takes 21 days to check this fact. WTF? They can’t look it up or forward the email to the site? Puh-leeze. I’m going to see if I can get better information via the Northumbrian Tourist Authority. They’ve been very helpful in the past. And the National Trust usually gets back to me within 48 hours. Update: Lindisfarne Priory got in touch with me directly to answer my question — exactly what I needed. Article will go out this morning. Phew!

The CD version of DIXIE DUST RUMORS arrived, so now I’ve got something for people to have in hand when I give readings.

I’ve got to work on the guest blog posts this weekend, write my Sole Struck article, and get out at least one more essay.

I had a great morning’s work on AMENDS today. I wrote the scene with the Alzheimer’s sufferer. It’s true to life and there’s sadness there, but it doesn’t divert the themes and intent of the book.

I hope to get more work done on it today.

I received my first royalty check from PERFECTLY PLUM!, the anthology in which my essay appeared a couple of years ago. It’s earned out its advance, and we got some royalties! Love that.

If you’re a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and haven’t yet checked it out, I hope you do.

My play, THE MATILDA MURDERS opens the day before I leave for Prague, so I won’t get to see it until I get back.

NYFA’s funding cycle covers both fiction and playwriting this year, so I will probably apply for both. I’m going through my work to decide what to submit for that, and what to submit for the residency in Maine next summer. I’m also working on another proposal for an overseas residency. I don’t think I’ve got the serious lit/academic credentials they usually go for, but I’m trying to shape the proposal to make that a strength.

A friend of mine suggested that if I’m serious about ex-patriating (which, if the US doesn’t stop its ridiculous, destructive downslide to the hard right that I hoped would cease with last year’s election but hasn’t, I certainly am), I should consider Switzerland. Honestly, I’d never even thought of Switzerland. I haven’t thought about Switzerland since I visited in the early 1970’s, except when I re-read Noel Coward’s autobiography.

The Democratic Party Platform: All have the right to equality and social justi–ooh, shiny!

The GOP Party Platform: ME, ME, ME! Die, suckers!

We need more legitimate parties than just those two. For all the chaos in the UK, at least they have a variety of valid viewpoints.

Which is why I am not affiliated with either of the above parties.

The only thing I remember about Switzerland is mountains, mountain passes, and riding a paddle boat on Lake Zurich and the paddles broke. So we waved and waved, and people waved back, thinking we were being friendly, until some Scandinavians with rope in their rucksacks figured it out, tossed us a line and towed us back in. I remember the floral clock in Geneva and the bears in Berne. And that’s about it.

I hope to get a lot of work done on AMENDS this weekend, and also learn at least a few more phrases of Czech. I’m tired of preparing — I just want to get on the plane and have the experience.

Of course, the fact that Mercury is in retrograde for the entire trip should add some, uh, interesting twists!

Devon

AMENDS: First draft: 20,937 words out of est. 75,000
27.9%
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Another view of Eastham, MA