Category Archives: Commentary

Book Review: Knots and Crosses

Knots and Crosses (Inspector Rebus, #1)Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had not read Ian Rankin before, so decided to start with his first Inspector Rebus mystery.

The novel was first published in 1987 and it’s a bit of a shock to read a modern story that has no computers, no Internet, no cell phones, or any of the communications devices we use today. It makes for a much slower story.

Rebus is an Edinburgh police inspector struggling with what we would call today PTSD, a failed marriage, and keeping touch with a daughter he barely knows. We get to see the seedier side of the city where alcohol, drugs, and thieves flourish.

The story starts with the abduction and subsequent murder of two teenage girls and leads us into a search for the identity of the killer.

Rankin draws a portrait of a man who is fumbling through life and his job. The story is more about how he can continue to function day after day without breaking down than about his abilities as a policeman and how he solves the murders. It is disconcerting and defies expectations, while at the same time somewhat disappointing. The prose is strong if not elegant, but I found it a slow read, which is unusual in a mystery.

Rankin’s first book was a good enough read for me to try his second, but not enough to rave about it.

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Bourbon Street Review

From Guest Blogger Jim Luce

Two in the afternoon, I’m dodging bodies on Bourbon Street, ducking and juking from sidewalk to gutter to sidewalk to curb. Rolling with the shoulder bumps, sidestepping excuse me’s and sorry’s, pausing in doorways. The air is humid, close, redolent with the scents of this famously sleazy street–beer, whiskey and wine, come on in, have a good time, cooking grease, warm and enticing cajun/creole, cold grease odors in the alley, in a trash can down there somewhere…seafood, truck exhaust, rank sweat, faint piss smell. The soundtrack is an oddly synchronous symphony, a shout, a curse, female laughter, genuine, delighted, truck horns, car horns, impatient, c’mon, move your ass…. Open air bars, mazed by cases of alcohol waiting to move to the back room, dark narrow doorways, impenetrable to my eye, vaguely forbidding, wonder, stay out…. Cacophony of hip hop, reggae, classic rock, a little jazz on this street that was once all about great jazz and great jazz musicians. Neon signs, motionless in the limp air, Gumbo Ya Ya, T-Shirt Alley—“I Got Bourbon Faced On Shit Street”, Temptations, Little Darlin’s, Larry Flynn’s Hustler Club…. Mid-afternoon, wake up call for party animals, streets jammed already, tourists like me, deliverymen, shopkeepers, Bourbon Street residents, no-eye-contact types alert to potential prey, different drummer marchers…still room to fall down if you get stabbed, but barely.
Da wife (we’re from Wisconsin) is safely parked on a stool in one of the open air bars, Jester’s, happily out of the stream of stabbers and staggerers, sipping a 191 proof Jester’s margarita. She chats with the bartender, amiable young guy, full of stories of the street, decorative holes the size of quarters in his stretched earlobes. I take my camera and dive into the polluted gene pool swirling outside the bar. Across the street, between a cab and a tour bus, down a block.… Behind me, “Hey, brother, how ya doin’, like your hat. You at the game?” I’m wearing a Super Bowl cap, my Green Bay Packers having won Super Bowl XLV a couple weeks ago here in New Orleans. I turn back. “Good game,” I agree. “Coulda been a blow out. They dropped too many passes.”
“Was you at the game?” he asks again. His eyes hold mine, wet, rimmed bright pink, whites yellow. They don’t shift away, don’t look past my ear. Good sincerity technique. Overweight, shaved three, four days ago, from shirt collar to pants cuff a stained canvas of hard times. I hook thumbs in my back pockets to keep contact with my wallet and settle in to talk Packer football. He’s worn, wilted, well-spoken though, and he knows his football. It takes two, three minutes to get to it. Glances away for the first time, comes back, “I don’t mean ya no worry, friend. Been havin’ kind of a rough go lately. Haven’t eaten since yesterday morning. You think you could spare enough I could get a hamburger?” I have a twenty and three ones. “I can’t afford a burger on this street.” I smile. “I can give you enough for a beer to keep you goin’, though.” He grins broadly, busted. “That’ll work too.” I give him the three singles and we shake on it. As I move on he calls, “Hey, go Packers.” I flash him a thumbs up and move on downstream.
Bourbon Street. Once the home of New Orleans jazz greats. Now sleaze multiplied by sleaze–dark bars, strip joints, sex shops, subtle lurk of danger…gaudy, crowded, loud. The sleaze doesn’t bother me, it belongs here now, creates the atmosphere that lets the street live up to its billing of today. And it’s a good place to meet new friends and talk a little football.

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It Doesn’t Hurt Much When Llamas Kick

by Guest Blogger Robyn Williams

The pads on their feet resemble a dog’s, not exactly soft but spongy with thick, rough skin.  Their feet spread when they walk, which I assume is something the llama evolved to accommodate rocky, mountainous terrain, and what makes them such superb and sure-footed pack animals.

When it’s time to halter them, to cut their wool or their toenails or vaccinate, they force me to follow them to the fence.  They keep their big round rear ends to me, shifting right or left as I try to maneuver to their sides.   They each kick when I’m behind them, drawing one hind leg up and out. It’s a medium-weight Bette Davis slap, but faster than you’d imagine such an ungainly creature could move.  The trajectory’s always the same, connecting about mid-shin, and doesn’t hurt a lot. But because guard llamas will kill coyotes by stomping them to death, I’m certain they could hurt me if they really felt threatened. I think they’re just being crabby.

Once they surrender and allow me to slip a halter over their noses and buckle it behind their ears, they’re mostly docile and will follow me with little argument.  Mostly.  If one balks, the other stops dead in his tracks and there’s no pulling them anywhere. All I can do is walk around behind them and force them to circle and avoid me, and once they are both moving they’re likely to keep following. On hot summer days, I tether them to the fruit trees in the back yard where they  enjoy the shade and mow a perfect circle in the grass around each trunk.

They are fat and complacent now but when they were young and still had testicles they were fierce fighters, brawling like teenage boys.  One would get a little too close, they’d square off, stretch their necks, point their noses in the air and spit. Spitting is a normal llama-to-llama behavior and though most people think llamas will spit at humans, it isn’t really common. It is entirely possible to get caught in the crossfire, however.  And it’s not merely spit but the llama equivalent of cow cud and more than a little nasty.  If spitting wasn’t enough to get  the other to back off they’d charge, butt their broad chests and bash each other with their long, muscular necks.

Their territoriality with each other is a strange contradiction to their need to be together.  If Sparky is tethered and Alf is led away, they cry to each other in a mid-pitch, throaty hum. Alf will turn to look worriedly as he’s led away, and Sparky is attentive, ears pitched forward.  It’s clear they are distressed when separated.  They are old brothers, have been alone together nearly their entire lives.  Is it just their genetic programming as pack animals? Is it the animal version of what we  know as love?

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Quilting–a hobby or an obsession?

From Guest Blogger Margaret Loyer

I don’t sew. If necessity demands, I can replace a button or mend a hem. I can even darn socks. However, that doesn’t make me a sewer. My four sisters all sew but somehow I missed that gene.

I’m on holidays at the moment with my oldest sister. Since we drove, she brought along her sewing machine and enough paraphernalia to outfit a craft store. My sister isn’t just a sewer but a quilter and an obsessive one at that. Since she started quilting seven years ago, she’s made more than 100 projects ranging from table runners to queen-size quilts.

When planning our holiday, I knew that quilting would be a major activity. So true. In the first three days, we visited seven quilt shops and two craft stores. My sister bought 13 pieces of fabric and innumerable spools of thread and notions. Our evenings have been spent plotting the route to the next stores, usually working a circular path to encompass as many as possible in one day. If tomorrow goes as planned, we’ll visit five more stores and travel close to 200 miles, all in the name of quilting.

I never properly appreciated the variety of material available for sale. You can find fabric for any age and any theme. Animals are plentiful as are flowers, trees, and pagodas. Colours are not one-dimensional. Do you want blue? It can be light or dark, robin’s egg or midnight, with stars or unadorned. Cotton may be a type of material for the uninitiated but it’s just a guideline. You have to know if you want batik (tie-dyed), prints, or solids. Bolt after bolt must be perused to ensure the right combination of colour and pattern. Some quilt patterns call for as few as two contrasting fabrics while others ask for as many as 23 pieces of fabric; that’s a lot of perusing.

So far, my contribution has been to consult mapquest.com and to navigate. I’ve also been helpful in finding sales on thread or refill chalk. My sister will grudgingly admit that I did find the one piece of yellow fabric needed to complete a child’s quilt and that had eluded her and the sales clerk for several minutes.

Watching my sister sew has also been eye-opening. I have often said that it’s a lot of cutting and sewing, then re-cutting and re-sewing. I was right. It also requires a level of dedication that is far beyond what is applied to most careers, except perhaps if you’re a rocket scientist.

In my next life, I want to come back as a rocket scientist.

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Cooking – a Right- or Left-brain activity?

By Guest Blogger Margaret Loyer

The answer lies with recipes. A right-brainer scoffs at a recipe. If they use one, it’s only as a starting point with guidelines. They decide how to make something based on what’s in their cupboard.

A left-brainer follows a recipe religiously. It may be one from a book or from their memory because they’ve made it a hundred times. However, the base instructions must be there and only minor tweaking is allowed.

My sister, Cathy, is a right-brainer without par. Case in point, when my husband and I and Cathy were in Hawaii several years ago, we were invited to attend a welcome party with others at the timeshare resort where we were staying. I pulled out a piece of paper on which to write a shopping list of ingredients needed to make a shrimp appetizer that I knew by heart. My sister started looking in the refrigerator to see what was there. She ended up pulling out leftover chicken, tomatoes, onions, and salad dressing, then putting together an amazing topping that she spread on crackers. I was astounded that she could just wing it with whatever was on hand. What does that make me? A left-brainer.

I can look at a recipe and decide if I’m going to like it based on the ingredients. However, I cannot look at a recipe and decide what I have to change so that I will like it – unless it’s something simple like replacing peppers with celery. I have to try a recipe at least once before I’ll change more than that. Sometimes I’ll get really adventurous and I won’t put in the salt or I’ll decrease the amount of sugar. I may get palpitations as I’m doing it, but I persevere. No one can say I don’t live on the edge.

Next time I’m in the kitchen, I’m going to consider creating a meal based on the wildest combination of ingredients I can find in the refrigerator and cupboards. I may not do it, but I’ll consider it.

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