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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Egypt I’ll Always Love Exists Only In My Head

I have a little house near Luxor.  It’s tiny, really, a diminutive whitewashed house with only a few rooms.   But it’s cool in the heat of day, and blood red roses climb the walls.  The Valley of the Kings is within walking distance.  What more do I need in life?  As a pretend archeologist, more specifically, a pretend Egyptologist, the location of my little home suits me perfectly.  I spend most winters in Egypt.  I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a rather interesting family of Egyptologists who live close by:  the Emersons. 

I could spend so much time discussing them all; but will have to be satisfied with only describing the matriarch of the family:  Amelia Peabody Emerson.   Amelia has black hair and steel-grey eyes.  Instead of a long, floor-length skirt, as most nineteenth century women are accustomed to wearing; she often dons a split skirt, practically the equivalent of trousers.  To complete her ensemble she adds sturdy boots, a helmet, and a customized belt that allows her to carry various instruments she considers important, such as tools for picking a lock.  These tools come in handy more often than not.  Amelia has a penchant for trouble, just as much as she has a knack of discovering unheard-of treasures beneath the Egyptian sand.

Amelia is so much fun to be with that I follow her everywhere:  from the streets of Luxor and Cairo to the Valley of the Kings, from dark tombs filled with the stench of bat guano to the luxurious ballroom of Shepheard's.  Amelia is rather witty, and she never lets me down.  Here are a few reasons why I enjoy spending time with her.  I quote:

"Five years of marriage have taught me that even if one is unamused by the (presumed) wit of one's spouse, one does not say so."

"There is nothing like continued proximity to strip away the veils of romance."

"I always say there is nothing more comfortable or commodious than a tomb."

"A woman's instinct, I always feel, supersedes logic."

"No woman really wants a man to carry her off; she only wants him to want to do it."

"Though I had slept only a few hours, I felt quite fresh and full of ambition. Righteous indignation has that effect on my character."

"When one is striding bravely into the future one cannot watch one's footing."

"All is fair in love, war and journalism."

"When I am in one of my philosophical moods, I am inclined to wonder whether all families are as difficult as mine."

In my imaginary Egypt, I’ve followed Amelia for the past several years, and enjoyed her wry and often pithy comments.  I’ve learned much about the history of ancient Egypt and the state of the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  More than ever, I wish to be able to go in person to Egypt to see the things that I’ve only read about, but judging by the current state of affairs, that’s not what I consider to be a Very Good Idea.  So, for now, I will continue to enjoy the friendship of the amazing Amelia, brainchild of Elizabeth Peters, (aka Barbara Mertz, PhD in Egyptology and a fantastic writer), and go on living in the Egypt that exists only in my head.  :-)




Friday, September 20, 2013

Who's Your Literary Boyfriend?

I like to tease my sister.  In a very sweet, sisterly way, I assure you.  So, if anyone read last week’s blog, they might have noticed my not-so-subtle dig at a certain Mr. Rochester.  They also might have seen my sister’s response, where she valiantly and vehemently defended the poor man.  I smiled when I read her response, but then I got to thinking.

Any teenage girl you meet on the street immediately understands when asked:  “Team Edward or Team Jacob?  Team Peeta or Team Gale?”    Most know who Heathcliff is, even if they haven’t read the book.  Who doesn’t recognize the name:  “Mr. Darcy?” 

We girls love imaginary guys, don’t we?  The funny thing to me about it all is that “imaginary” is exactly what they are.  Fake people.  Guys who are nothing more than ideas hatched from the brains of the individuals who wrote the books.  And yet, we love and defend our literary heroes.  Swoon over them.  Secretly long for them.  At least, teenagers do.  Well, apparently more than a few middle-agers do too, if you remember anything about the recent “Twilight” trend. 

I’m not going to try to psycho-analyze in depth this whole “Fake Book Guy Thing.”  I think it’s pretty obvious why we girls love our imaginary boyfriends. 

Drum roll please: 

They never disappoint us. 

That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?  Heck, let’s say you’re dying over Heathcliff.  For some reason, this guy is always seen as a romantic hero.  In my opinion, he tops the list of the biggest Literary Losers, but here’s the great thing about imaginary boyfriends:  it doesn’t matter.  Why?  Because you can redeem him in your mind, and continue the story!

Try this:  Heathcliff doesn’t die, but wanders the moor, desolate over the loss of Cathy.  He languishes under some stupid tree, practically starving to death while black crows peck at his filthy hair, until one day a lovely young woman who happens to wear your face stumbles upon him.  He looks at her; she looks at him, blah blah blah.  They live happily ever after, move to London and open a tattoo parlor/tea room that caters to brooding, literary heroes. 

Browsing online, I found a little quiz:  “Who is your literary boyfriend?”

I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I took the quiz.  Trust me, in Real Life I’m “Team Dave,” all the way, but I still took the quiz.  The result:  Jay Gatsby.  Seriously?  Sadly for me, thanks to Hollywood, when I think of The Great Gatsby I picture Leonardo DiCaprio’s face.  I don’t mean to be snarky, but that’s not a pleasant experience for me. 

I don’t even know who else was in the list of possibilities for literary boyfriends, here.  At least my answer wasn’t Heathcliff.  Or Edward.

So who is your literary boyfriend?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Forget Mr. Darcy---I'm swooning over Barney Snaith!

I read somewhere that Mark Twain referred to Anne Shirley as “the dearest and most loveable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”  Have you ever read “Anne of Green Gables?”  How about any of L. M. Montgomery’s other books featuring Anne Shirley, maybe eight in total?  Ever seen the fantastic movies made in the Eighties, starring Megan Follows as Anne?  (Anne will always have Megan’s face in my mind).  If you’ve read at least the first book and/or seen the movies, you might remember scenes such as Anne breaking her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, Anne getting her friend Diana drunk with “raspberry cordial,” and Anne’s many wild and imaginative schemes.  Good stuff, I’m telling you!

Now, forget all the “butterflies, lollipops and rainbows.”  Anne of Green Gables is full of sad undertones.  Anne is orphaned and sent to live with a kindly but somewhat emotionally distanced older couple who must grow, over time, to love her. She never gets any “breaks,” but creates them herself.  Through courage, wit and her continued use of imagination and sheer determination, she succeeds in creating a happy life for herself.  This is one of the many reasons I love L.M. Montgomery’s books.

Now:  forget Anne!  Ever hear of Valancy?

A dear book-loving friend introduced us twenty years ago, and I’m forever indebted.  Thanks, Barbara!  One of L.M. Montgomery’s lesser-known books is entitled “The Blue Castle,” and all I can say is, it rocks!!!  (No apt Victorian equivalents of this expression came to mind.  Do forgive me!)  It’s the early 1900’s, and Valancy is an “old maid,” living with an unfeeling mother and supremely annoying aunt, and the description of her colorless life is chilling. Yes, chilling!  Then, one day, Valancy is shocked to learn that she has only a year to live.  What she decides to do with her final year on earth is fantastic, and results in some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read.  Yes, the book is around a century old, so some passages and dialogue might seem wordy and stilted-sounding to modern ears.  Not quite as much as when reading Jane Austen, mind you. J

Anyway, I adore Valancy, and I also love another character.  He’s s a man who, in my mind, rivals even the famed Mr. Darcy.  The man is named Barney Snaith.

Barney??  Yes, it’s a horrible name for a romantic hero, but Barney Snaith he is, and he is a true hero!  The love story that occurs between Barney and Valancy is truly one of the sweetest, most genuine love stories I’ve ever read.  "The Blue Castle" also provides the reader with many, many examples of L.M. Montgomery’s wit and perfect ability to describe a character with a few, choice words:

·         “Mrs. Frederick (Valancy’s mother) had been a Wansbarra and the Wansbarra smile was not an asset.”

·         “She (Valancy) had always liked the old sinner (a man named Roaring Abel).  He was such a jolly, picturesque, unashamed reprobate and stood out against the drab respectability of Deerwood and its customs like a flame-red flag of revolt and protest.”

·         “[Cousin Gladys] had neuritis—or what she called neuritis.  It jumped about from one part of her body to another.  It was a convenient thing…always if any mental effort was required she could have neuritis in her head.  You can’t think with neuritis in your head, my dear.”

·         “Uncle James.  Handsome, black, with his sarcastic, trap-like mouth and iron-grey side-burns, whose favorite amusement was to write controversial letters to the Christian Times, attacking Modernism.  Valancy always wondered if he looked as solemn when he was asleep as he did when awake.  No wonder his wife had died young.”

·         Valancy describes herself in this way:  “…apart from her eyes she was neither pretty nor ugly—just insignificant-looking.” 

·         She thinks of Barney like this:  “He was not a great talker.  He told a great deal in a few-well-chosen words…and he had a knack of saying things without opening his mouth at all.  ‘I like a man whose eyes say more than his lips,’ thought Valancy.”

The requisite happy ending is reached by the end of the book, not without a few twists and turns.  Should you read this book?  If you’re a guy, maybe not.  But, if you’re a girl, yes!  If you swoon over Mr. Darcy (whose first name is Fitzwilliam, and who is not a self-made man), or drool over Mr. Rochester (a liar who is willing to commit bigamy) then you must give Barney a chance!  You must, I tell you!  Tip:  You can buy the paperback online for .99, plus shipping.  No, you can’t borrow my book.  I read it so many times it fell apart.

Cheers to Ms. Montgomery, and happy reading!




Friday, September 6, 2013


My friend, Spring, has a great blog:  "Write Now Anyway," where she posts writing prompts.  I've had some fun ideas come to me as I use her blog to help inspire me to write.  Today I've decided to share something that Spring's blog helped me create.  The prompt was the first line of the short story posted below.  Not sure where I was going with it, I just started to write, and ended up with something I rather liked.  (It's perhaps a bit on the creepy side.  Don't judge me too harshly)!  :-)

Here' a link to her blog:

Here's my story.  You'll know right away that I went with a rather "Harry Potter-ish" theme.  Happy Friday!


Her head throbbed with excruciating pain. 

Perversely, even as she moaned, Ilaria couldn’t help but dissect the word “excruciating.” The Latin term, “cruciare,” meant to torment, or…Ilaria grew dizzy as a slight shake of her head shot jagged pain, like lightning, through her head.  Oh, yes.  It also meant “to torture.”

While she fought to ignore the violent pounding that felt like a booted thug was stomping on her skull, Ilaria struggled to make sense of her surroundings, and to remember how she’d arrived at this place, which was dark, cramped, and smelled of used kitty litter.  Panic rose as she tried to sit up and fireworks ignited in her skull as it met a hard surface.  She was in the trunk of a car!  How?  She fell back and tried to think.  Her body swooped and swerved, and for the briefest of moments, Ilaria imagined she was a Quidditch player zooming high above the pitch.  Quidditch?  What in the world?

Still reeling in a fog of confusion, Ilaria ran through the past few weeks, which were finally coming back in bits and pieces.  Her agent wanted her to “polish” her novel and do more research before he tried to push it on publishers. 

“It’s brilliant, Ilaria, but it takes place in England, girl!  England!!  And you’ve never even set foot there,” Greg had said.  So she’d emptied her savings and booked a flight.  Quivering images flashed through her brain:  the plane landing in an “English-y” fog; a tiny room in a not-so picturesque inn; greenery so lush it seemed fake to a girl from Arizona; that delicious English accent, spoken by the good looking guy with black hair and flowing robes…

That’s it!  The man from the Festival!  Ilaria, thirty-something professor of Latin and a few other dead languages at a small private university, had loved J.K.’s books from the very first spell.  (Oculus reparo, to be exact).  She’d been excited, no, ecstatic, to discover that a Harry Potter Festival was in full swing during her stay in England.  She’d driven precarious roads, found the village where the festival was held, happily joined in the festivities and gotten sorted into her house.  Hufflepuff.  Ah, well.  She’d purchased a wand at Ollivander’s.  She’d joined a crowd of cackling teenagers who took turns performing their impressions of a young, soprano-voiced Harry as he opened his very first letter from Hogwarts.  Ilaria had giggled along heartily with the group as she sipped her Butterbeer in absolute geeky bliss.  Then, she’d spotted him.  Severus Snape! 

Ilaria, who had secretly harbored a crush on Alan Rickman for about fifteen years, felt her heart turn over for a moment.  In seconds she stood before him, panting like a pathetic teenager.  And of course, he wasn’t Alan; but the guy wasn’t bad.  Gleaming black hair sprouted from his scalp and fell perfectly onto his broad shoulders.  His robes were custom-tailored, with decorative embroidery on the long sleeves.  Ilaria felt like someone must have slipped a love potion into her butterbeer when the man had looked down his long, sharp nose at her and her insides melted.  His eyes were a surprising, pale blue. 

They’d chatted, she and Severus.  He’d insisted that was his real name; and gamely, she’d gone along with it, blushing a tiny bit when he’d told her that her green eyes were bewitching.   They’d wandered over to the local high school gym, which for the festival had been converted to the Great Hall at Hogwarts.  Severus had found them seats at one of the long tables.  The pumpkin juice was disgusting, but the cake, decorated with tiny chocolate frogs, was fantastic.  They’d eaten, they’d laughed.  Then, Severus had turned to Ilaria, leaned in close, and kissed her.  His lips were warm and strong on hers, and Ilaria felt herself wanting to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him back.  And why not?  So she did.

And then, he’d whispered in her ear.   “I love you, Lily.  Always.”  And something had pricked the back of her neck, and that was all she remembered, until she’d awakened with a dynamite explosion of a headache in the trunk of her rental car.

He’d called her Lily.  Merlin’s beard!

The car slowed to a stop.  A door slammed.  Footsteps crunched outside.  Light burst into her eyes as the trunk was opened.  Ilaria fought to keep from crying out as she was lifted.  Instinct told her to pretend she was still unconscious.  She was in no shape to struggle.  Severus, or whoever he was, murmured in her ear as they moved: “Soon, my love.”

Think, girl!  A new emotion warred with the terror twisting inside Ilaria:  rage.  Crucio! Ilaria imagined herself yelling as she pointed her wand at her captor.  That’s what the Death Eaters shouted as they pointed twisted wands at poor Harry and his friends, and the good little witches and wizards would writhe in agony. 

Ilaria gasped.  She’d never finished dissecting the word “cruciare!”  The root of the word was the Late Latin word “crux.”  Cross.  Hanging tree.  Impaling stake.  Her hand fluttered to her neck.  The silver cross her grandmother had given her was quite ordinary-looking, but inside was something special.  Twist the cross and the bottom part came away.  It was pointed at the end.  Razor sharp.  “Just in case,” Nonna always said.

Shifting her fingers until they felt the cold metal of the cross, Ilaria succeeded in freeing the shaft from her necklace. 

Sorry, Severus, she thought to herself.   But you’re one sick dude.   As she jabbed the sharp metal into the man’s chest, a word burst from her lips: 


Ignoring the sobbing screams behind her, Ilaria fled back to her car. 

“Lily!” the voice behind her howled.  “Don’t go!”   Ilaria put the car in gear, thanking God that the man had left the keys in the ignition, and roared down the cobbled lane.  Her head still throbbed with excruciating pain, but she was free.