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Proud to be a member

I’m reposting this statement from the MWA Board of Directors. Thank you, MWA.

A Statement from Mystery Writers of America

New York City, Right Now

A couple of people have asked if I’d write about what it’s like here in NYC these days. First, thanks for your concern, those of you who’ve asked if I and mine are okay. We are; I know what it looks like on the TV news, but this is not a war zone. I went to the Greenmarket this morning, on the north side of Union Square; the south side has been the staging area for the Manhattan protests. The farmers were selling produce and bread, people were shopping, folks were wearing masks and being orderly. Nevertheless, when I asked one of the farmers whether there’d been extra thought given to whether to come in today, she said no but they expected the market would shut down early as it had on Saturday to give people a chance to clear out before the protests started.

I’ve been hearing helicopters since Friday, sirens occasionally. I’m in the West Village, about a mile from Union Square itself and a mile from Soho, where a lot of luxury shops were hit hard. Near Union Square I saw three broken windows — a restaurant, where the bar had been looted, a Verizon store, and a sneaker store. Nothing else, though some stores are boarding up in anticipation of more to come tonight.

Will there be more tonight? I suspect so, but I also think the intensity will taper off. In normal times it would taper way off as people went back to work, but of course part of the problem is everyone’s been out of work for nearly three months.

I’ve seen videos of the looting at Gucci, at Dolce & Gabbana, and I’ve seen a lot of posts asking, “How does this help?” Also, photos of destruction with “I’ve never seen NYC like this!” captions.

First, for the NYC-has-hit-the-apocalypse crowd, I refer you to the 1970’s fiscal crisis, to AIDS, to 9/11 — oh, go look it up: the history of NYC. We’ve been here before. We’ll be here when this is over.

Second, and more important, for the “How does this help?” people, I suggest that’s the wrong question. For the record, nobody’s saying looting Gucci “helps.” But I’ll bet a lot of good upright citizens in 1773 asked, “How does this help?” when rioters seized 342 chests of tea from ships of the British East India Company — a private company — and dumped it overboard to protest government action. The rationale then was the same as now, and can be encapsulated into this: when Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest police killing black men, he was called a son of a bitch by the sitting President and he lost his job. Or this: the Tulsa Race Massacre, 99 years ago to the day today, when white Tulsa rose up and, burning, murdering, and rampaging, destroyed the most prosperous black community in the country. (Did you learn about that riot in school?) Or this: the NYC Draft Riots of 1863, when a group of white men, angry at being drafted into the Army by a white President to fight other white men, lynched black men and burned buildings, including the Colored Orphan Asylum, to the ground. (Did you learn about that riot in school?)

I suggest that instead of uttering a rhetorical gasp, people might  read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Colson Whitehead, Attica Locke, Ta-Nehisi Coates; to listen to measured voices, which are speaking even now; and to ask the only question that can even begin to stop this endless repetition, which is: “How can I help?”

New Dining Spot Opens in Far West Village

Multispecies Dining and Entertainment, Extremely Ltd., headquartered at Rancho Obsesso on Long Island’s North Fork, has opened an outpost in a leafy backyard near Washington Street in Manhattan. Appropriately dubbed the Fire Escape Café (“Where the Tweet and the Fleet Meet”) this casually intimate eatery features easy access and a limited but well-prepared menu served in a wittily re-purposed frying pan. The proprietor is eager to please and the security staff is assiduous but unobtrusive. No reservations; we recommend arriving early, as once the day’s offerings are gone the proprietor pulls down the shade and the security staff takes a well-deserved rest.

Early morning diner

 

Patron waits for entry

 

Security staff in the break room

 

 

 

Hey, all you maskless joggers!

Yeah, you who go barreling barefaced down the paths in a crowded park, huffing and spewing. Are you telling me your lungs are too weak to suck in air through a couple of layers of cloth? Or is it your brain that lacks the ability to coordinate your hand pulling a mask down when you’re not near someone else and pulling it up when you are? If either of those things is true you shouldn’t be out running, you belong in an institution.

I know you feel fine and you’re young and you own the world. Here’s the thing. The mask I wear isn’t to protect me, it’s to protect you. If you wore one it would be for other people, too. Here’s the next thing. There’s a 100% chance some of you are asymptomatic spreaders. 100%! And here’s the last thing. When your loved ones get sick and die it will be because some non-thinking moron like you breathed COVID all over them.

So how about you man- and woman-up and start acting like actual adults instead of the fine physical specimens no one cares that you think you are? Get a goddamn mask!

And to the runners who went by me today masked, thank you. May your lungs grow ever more powerful and your legs never tire.

Six Word Stories Return From Retirement!

Based on a suggestion from the estimable Marjorie Tucker, the Six Word Story contest is coming out of retirement for the duration of the stay-at-home order in NY State. That is, the s-a-h order in NYS; the contest is available to anyone, everywhere.

How it works: you post a six word story in the comments here on the blog, or on either Facebook page unto which I will share this blog post when it’s done. No topic is required, suggested, or excluded.

Each week, based on criteria I will divulge to no one, I’ll choose a winner for the week’s contest. Every Wednesday I’ll start a new contest. That way, maybe at least once a week we’ll all know what day it is.

You may begin.

 

 

We interrupt the Cuba posts…

They’ll be back. But I want to talk about Assisi. Every time I say, “Hey, I’m teaching in Assisi this summer, come do a workshop!” some of you say you wish you’d known sooner, and some say, yes, you’ll come some year…

So here’s the thing. For you folks who wish you’d known sooner, it’s January and the program starts at the end of July! This is about as soon as I could tell you!

For you folks saying some year, I get it, I really do, but: Notre Dame will be under scaffolding for the next 20 years. Yes, I know that’s not in Italy. My point: if you’d been saying “some year” about seeing Notre Dame…

I understand if you can’t afford it. Though keep in mind that one, right now the workshop has an early bird 10% off special; and two, many organizations give in-service kinds of grants to help with this type of thing, especially if you’re an educator. The dollar is strong right now and flight prices are low.

But if something besides money is holding you back, let me entice you: the hotel is lovely (we all stay there, all classes are held there, we all dine together), the food is wonderful, the town is quiet and beautiful, and — your book isn’t writing itself!

COME TO ASSISI!

 

 

 

Havana domiciles, Part 2

First, I found you a photo of Monty’s apartment from the living room looking out to the terrace. Those chairs are where we had morning coffee, fruit, and bread, before embarking on the day.

 

Now: Monty and his nephew Sam, my traveling companions, have cousins in Cuba. The connection is through Monty’s mother, a Cuban who met and married an American in North Carolina (where I’ll be in a few weeks for the Crime Scene Mystery Bookfest in Fearrington, she says parenthetically) in the 1940’s. They weren’t living in Cuba when the Revolution came, but much of the family was. What happened was, if you supported the Revolution and stayed, and you owned a house, you could keep it, though if you also had rental properties the government took them and gave them to poor families — often those who’d been renting from you. If you left, whatever property you left behind was forfeit. (Thus the supply of gorgeous Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern furniture in the used furniture shops.)

The cousins, Olimpia and Carlos, believed in the Revolution and stayed — in fact Carlos, an economist, worked at the Cuban Consulate in Berlin for a number of years. They had a terrific Art Deco house and they have it still. It was built by an artist, and has a garden and a breezeway to a rear building that served as his studio, and now houses Olimpia and Carlos’s son Pepe and his family.

Olimpia and Pepe in front of the house.

 

Back house, interior. All original 1930’s.

 

Front house, staircase.

Front house, display nook under staircase.

 

Front house, secret bathroom behind display nook.

 

 

Cousins in the garden. Monty, my buddy and traveling companion, is in the white shirt on the sofa, and Sam is the bearded guy standing on the right. Standing with him are Pepe, Pepe’s sister Claudia, and one of Claudia’s sons. Seated are Olimpia, Claudia’s other son (he’s in the Army) and Carlos. Pepe’s wife and kids were traveling, and Claudia’s husband was working. The garden has four mango trees but it wasn’t mango season, sob.

 

Havana domiciles, Part 1

I was only in Cuba for a week, only in Havana except for the day we went to the beach. So I’m hardly an expert on living arrangements on the island. I can, though, show you what I saw.

First, in this post, Monty’s apartment. He only recently bought it, so it’s still being furnished. (Thus, from my earlier blog post, the pillows, blankets, and hardware.) It’s on the 5th floor of a 7-story building constructed in 1958, designed by Maria Elena Cabarrocas, an architect from a distinguished family of Cuban architects. The light when you walk in is amazing: the front wall has two wood jalousie doors that open onto the terrace and two glass panels beside them, floor to ceiling.

View from the terrace

 

Shot with my back to the terrace, living room/dining area. (Though anytime we ate in the apartment we ate on the terrace.) Monty walking toward the bedrooms. Kitchen door on the immediate right, door to maid’s room (!) a little farther on right.

The building has 2 long thin apartments per floor, designed so every room has cross ventilation. Some of the windows are wood jalousies to allow the breeze; for some reason unknown to me Havana seems to have few mosquitoes* — although I came bug-ready, with repellent and anti-itch cream — so the jalousie windows have no screens. In each room at least one of the windows is glass, so in a rainstorm when you close the jalousies there’s still light.

My room

Monty had already bought a fridge; the way it works, sometimes there are fridges in the stores, sometimes there are stoves, sometimes there are clothes washers, depending on what ship came in. When we got there, lo! the store had stoves, so he bought one even though the kitchen still needs to be renovated. Right now, the stove in its box is serving as a coffee table.

One of the best parts of the trip was shopping for furniture. Havana has a number of stores selling mid-century modern furniture that was sold off or left behind as people fled the Revolution, or since then. Although the provenance of any individual piece might be a sad story — or not — the furniture is beautiful and Monty is happy to support the Cuban economy and give pieces new homes.

View from the building’s hallway into the apartment as the new bench arrives.

Next post, Monty’s cousins, two other homes we visited, plus some other residential exteriors, inhabited and not.

 

*There are those who say it’s the constant ocean breeze, and those who say it’s the government anti-mosquito program since the advent of dengue fever.

A week in Cuba

So there I was, minding my own business in early December, when my buddy Monty emailed and said, “I’m going to Havana for Christmas. Come with me?” Monty’s half Cuban and still has family there, cousins who supported the Revolution and stayed. He goes back and forth a lot, sometimes leading architectural tours; he’s an expert in Cuban modernism. A year and a half ago, with the help of his cousins, he bought an apartment in the El Vedado neighborhood of Havana.

I had three immediate reactions: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, and I can’t just go to Havana. I mean, we have a 60-year embargo against Cuba. The list of acceptable categories of people who can travel there is pretty tight. I’d need to have set this up long in advance…

Monty stopped me. Nope, he said. Any writer can go. Journalists with credentials have always been allowed, but also, novelists and non-fiction writers doing research.

For real?

Yup.

Well, so much for the other two roadblocks. I checked the “professional research” category on the visa application and told the calendar and the bank account I’d talk to them when I got back. Christmas Day we left at 5:00 am to get to the airport, carrying door hardware, light fixtures, blankets, and pillows, to help furnish the place, which has been undergoing renovation. We flew direct NYC-Havana, and by 3:00 pm we, and Monty’s young nephew Sam, were sitting on the balcony sipping Cuban coffee.

I’ll be reporting more over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, pix or it didn’t happen. Well, it did.

View from Monty’s balcony

 

My room

 

Waves splashing on the Malecón

 

Travel anxiety, travel excitement

Packing, worrying, repacking, more worrying — do I have everything? Am I taking too much? Travel anxiety takes so many forms. I posted about it here a few years ago and was surprised and heartened to hear from so many of you who also suffer from it. (So thank you for sharing that.) This time I’m not going far, I’m not going for very long, and I’m going with one of my favorite traveling companions, my buddy Monty. Nevertheless, I’m a bundle of nerves. It’s manifesting this time as a fear that I won’t actually get a visa at the airport and they won’t let me on the plane. Why is this an issue?

Because I’m going to Cuba!

Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. Monty has relatives there — his mother was Cuban. He, and JetBlue, say it’ll be no problem, I’m going to do professional research, to see if there’s a book in Havana for me to write. But until I’m on the plane, I don’t quite buy it.

If it all does go right, I’ll be basically out of touch except for once a day, when we can get online in one of the hotels if we want. So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, that’s a good sign. If  I can get online I’ll try to post photos, but anyway you know I’ll be taking them by the boatload.

I don’t have any of Cuba yet, though, so I leave you with this, one of my personal favorites from Mongolia. Peace, joy, and productivity to you all in 2020. May you always have new roads to travel, and may you travel them no matter how anxious you are.