Friday, December 31, 2010

In Memoriam

In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson [1809–1892]... in honor of the year that's passing into the recesses of history to leave room for the coming bright, shiny, new year...

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife,
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweet manners, purer laws.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Open Letter to the Readers of Cogitations and Meditations:

I apologize for the long unexplained silence my end. Unfortunately, I probably need to the end of the year to completely kick this thing off. Health. That word encompasses all that I've been going through the past weeks.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday. See you in the new year!


Monday, September 27, 2010

London Trip ... Part Three

This is my final installment in my Trip to London series. Part ONE and Part TWO are found here.

Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soane used his entire London townhouse like an advertisement for his architectural business (which he ran out of his home) as well as a showcase for his myriad collections of Greek, Roman, and Chinese ceramics, paintings, woodwork, etc. He was an early adopter of gas lighting inside the house (1824) for the same reason. He put together vellum bound copies of all his ideas, designs, and projects as a marketing tool for new clients stopping by. He also made extensive use of Picture Planes— multiple panels of framed ideas that either he or his assistants drew and painted that could be opened and blended in seamlessly into the wall when closed. Soane was known for his use of lights and spaces. Colored glass and mirrors, all angled and/or curved, is how he manipulated the light and space of a room. Soane also believed in curvaceous didactic architectural details that are natural as opposed to geometric lines that are man-made. He did bow to his clients' demand for Gothic and Palladian features, which were in fashion then.

Soane was lucky that his wife came into some money fairly early in his career, so he was able to buy into the Lincoln Fields terrace houses (two side-by-sides made into one). This edge of Grosvenor Square was like an architectural and artistic ghetto. Architect Robert Adam, painters Turner and Jackson, and Shakespearean actor Garrick were Soane's contemporaries. Garrick and Soane shared their love for Hogarth and Shakespearean folios. Soane was very fond of John Robbins's Regency furniture. Hogarth's Rake's Progress is a series of paintings that depict the wheel of fortune turning in a gentleman's life. Hogarth painted these not for money but for social commentary. (Asides: Turner's yellow color is a non-hierarchical color and lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson was Garrick's teacher.)

Soane was very proud of his Seti I's sarcophagus that he acquired from Belzoni in 1817. (Yes, one of the myriad Egyptian treasures Belzoni stole from the Valley of the Kings he excavated.) The British Museum dithered over the price of 20,000 pounds, which Soane promptly paid. He then held a three-day open house. The sarcophagus was lit from within and outside with specially commissioned lamps. All of London came to gawk, including Prinny.

Soane's townhouse is the norm for London town homes: steps leading up to a polished door with brass fittings and knocker. A narrow entry way and hallway lead to a long rectangular library on the right and stairs to the kitchen downstairs and to the upstairs bedrooms on the left. The library was the most spectacular of all his rooms, since this was also the room he received his clients in. Most of his portable treasures are displayed in the room. The ceiling is painted, paneled, with extensive mouldings and finials and also features paintings.

One narrow door leads to the breakfast parlor in the back. Another even narrower door leads to his small study that leads into his dressing room (so if a client showed up while was working, he could be appropriately coated and bewigged. This leads further back into his atelier, which also has a back entrance so all this staff could quietly come to work without disturbing the household.

Upstairs, he had an informal ante-drawing room that led to the main formal drawing room, with tall Georgian windows, expensive silk wall coverings, mouldings, the requisite pianoforte, and graceful Regency furniture (read: curvy). (The ottoman was particularly funky: rectangular with a top that dipped and curved up, so one end was higher than the other, supported by two short legs and two long ones.)

British Library

We saw the Magnificent Maps exhibit (temporary) and the manuscripts room (permanent). Handwritten manuscripts from 500, 1000, 1500 years ago. Yes, my breath stopped time and time again in my throat as I toured the manuscripts room.

"Reader — I married him." So begins the concluding chapter of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë in her own hand. Jane Austen's notebook and actual writing lap desk (yes!) was a few cases down the row. Personal opinion: Jane had better handwriting than Charlotte. Wordsworth's was execrable. Milton's was rather odd; it changed radically even across two facing pages, and especially when he changed languages. Darwin loved white space—between words and between lines, too. Freud hated it—yes, amateur psychoanalysis labels him anal-retentive if judging by his handwriting. Oscar Wilde used horizontal curvy lines as strikethroughs instead of the standard straight lines.

Thomas Hardy was distressed when his critics in 1890s called his book Tess of the d'Urbervilles "a mere story of adultery." A hundred and twenty years later, reception for romance novels hasn't changed much, has it?

On July 10, 1843, Ada Lovelace wrote a letter to Charles Babbage that set down on paper the first principle of a computer program that was a group of calculations solely by machine.

Whoever wrote Beowulf had gorgeous writing. Eleven hundred years old. I wanted to cry as stared at it.

I was less teary-eyed but nevertheless touched as I looked upon Cuthbert's Gospel of John from the late seventh century (it was discovered in his coffin); the Codex Alexandrinus, the earliest whole bible in Greek, from the fourth century; the Golden Haggadah; and the Mamluk Qur’an.

There they were in all their glory: the Magna Carta, Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the first printed Gutenberg Bible, and a personal prayer roll (rolled parchment, not in book format) with illustrations and fancy lettering.

The biggest disappointing part was the absence of the Lindisfarne Gospels; they were off being restored. The best surprises were two Persian manuscripts in the medieval Pahlavi language. The fourteenth century Shahanshahnama by Ahmad Tabrizi from Shiraz in southern Iran was the most beautiful illuminated manuscript in the entire room; it's an account in verse of Genghis Khan's conquest of Baghdad. The second surprise was the 1610 Persian court translation of the Panchantantra Tales from Sanskrit to Pahlavi, illustrated in the Mughal style at the court of Prince Salim (who later became Emperor Jahangir of the Taj Mahal fame) in Allahabad, India.

Musical manuscripts also formed a part of the collection. The Anglo-Saxon Neumes are graphic signs showing the direction of the melody and the details of the music, but not the precise pitch since they lacked staffs and measures. The Caligula Troper was written during the Norman Conquest and is a bound, illustrated book with alternating lines of notes with lines of words. Beautifully illustrated with color, it features colophons for the first letter of the first word of every new verse. Handwritten sheet music by Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Purcell features off liner notes with jokes, asides, and stage directions. Schubert's sheets were so messy, it's a wonder anyone was ever able to read them.

I held my hand over the glass case, as though through osmosis via the air and glass, I could be closer to Austen's words and Mozart's notes. You could feel the collective reverence in the air as people gazed in awe at the manuscripts, some of them 1500 years old. If nothing else, that convinced me that thinking of a book as merely its contents and not its original format was a disservice to the value of a book. Centuries ago, the hand of genius had dipped its quill in ink and scratched across the surface of that paper, enshrining the glory of creation forever. No digital recreation can encapsulate that.


It was a hurried trip and there were many discussions during the tour, so I didn't get many notes written down; I only have impressions of the rooms I walked through. Robert Adam was the architect and built Osterley as a Palladian Palace, with a staggering entrance that was a covered front Porte-cochère-like area set up from a series of elephantine steps that lead into the grand entry hall inside magnificent front double doors. Everything in this house is built to a scale ranging from grand to grandiose.

A few things that were unusual: young misses of the house took harpsichord as well as pianoforte lessons, the fireplace grills were made of an alloy of copper and zinc called paktome, the inner shutters were designed to be flush with the wall when open and folded back, and the downstairs public rooms had double doors for privacy (for example, to separate women in the drawing room from the men in the dining room after dinner).

There were eager National Trust docents (warders?) in every room to impart very detailed information of every aspect of their rooms. They had so much stuff to tell and because I showed interest in listening, they talked my ear off. One even followed me into two other rooms and entered into three-way discussions with the other warders. My many thanks to them for their dedication and their willingness to educate me.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Picture Day Friday

The following historic perfume bottles are courtesy of the Museu del Perfum in Barcelona, Spain.

GREEK ARYBALLOS (below) from Corinth is from the sixth century BCE. It's a ceramic of yellowish clay, with geometric design consisting of concentric circles with lines joining them at the neck. Notice the two owls in black and red, an allusion or symbol of Athens, with floral motives.

EGYTIAN PALETTE (below) from 1557-1501 BCE is made of Libyan Jasper. The emblem in the center depicts Amenofis I, Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, along with two urechis, or serpents, that are the symbol of royalty.

TURKISH ESSENCE BOTTLE (below), from the 17th century CE (AD), is a pocket-sized, crystal jar with a circular belly and a bell-shaped extension on the neck, all covered with exquisite gold filigree.

Visit the International Perfume Bottle Association for a look at the extensive international collection of perfume bottles. Their pictures are unfortunately not open for reproduction.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

History of Perfume

The giving of perfume as a gift to an honored guest is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years, not merely fueled by modern-day commercialism surrounding Valentine's Day. Religious, royal, and important individual events were all marked by fragrances.

Perfumery began independently in ancient India, Mesopotamia, and Egypt and was further refined by the Arabs, Greeks, Romans, and Persians.

Attars have been used in the entire Eastern world for thousands of years and are popular to present day. Archaeological excavations (Indus Valley civilization) have revealed round copper stills, used for making ittars, that are at least five-thousand years old. Also known as Ittars, they are natural perfume oils derived from botanical sources through hydro or steam distillation. The oils thus obtained are generally distilled into wood oil bases, such as sandalwood and agarwood and then aged. Attars entered into popularly written eastern history during the middle ages in Indian, Arabic, and Persian courts. They're also mentioned in sixth century Sanskrit literature.

For ease of transportation and storage, Egyptians blended perfumes in fat solids and either carried them in amphoras, in lockets around their necks, or in cones under their wigs. Excavators found that the Sumerian queen Schubab who lived in 3500 BCE was very fond of perfumes and cosmetics. Prescriptions for perfumes are found in numerous hieroglyphs in caves. The world's first recorded chemist is considered to be a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. In 2005, archaeologists uncovered the oldest European perfumery in Pyrgos Mavroraki, Cyprus, dating back to 2350 BCE, the Early Middle Bronze Age.

Perfumes entered into European history via the Italian and French courts and the all powerful Médicis during the Renaissance and quickly became very popular. The court of Louis XV was even named "the perfumed court" due to the scents which were applied daily not only to the skin but also to clothing, fans, and furniture. The French Revolution had in no way diminished the taste for perfume, there was even a fragrance called "Parfum a la Guillotine." Ahem.

The eighteenth century saw a revolutionary advance in perfumery with the invention of eau de cologne. In the nineteenth century, alchemy gave way to chemistry and new fragrances were created, paving the way to modern perfumery. Soon individual perfumers gained prominence as they made their wares into highly-desired luxury products through limited productions, expensive crystal bottles, and exclusive marketing. The modern fragrance industry has once again made perfumes available to the masses, not merely restricted for wealthy connoisseurs.

All this to really talk about personal perfume collections. If you're in the mood for a splurge, how about this one:

Crown Marechale Original: Limited Edition and certified No.84 of 250 in existence. "This exquisite Baccarat crystal flacon is filled with one of the world's rarest perfumes. Originally created in 1669 for Madame La Marechale D'Aumont, wife of Antoine, Marshal of France, this fragrance is of extraordinary complexity. The Crown Perfumery Company successfully recreated Marechale from the original perfumers records from 1670, the secrets which now lie in the Crown's archives. The result is an imperishable model of perfumery composition; a delicate scent of floral rose, blended with guaiac wood exuding subtle spices and exquisite florals. The mold used by Baccarat is the original from the 18th century." Price: 2.4 oz for $2,500.

My favorite place to try out new perfumes is The Perfumed Court, which I was introduced to by Amanda McCabe. I recently ordered a new batch of my favorite decanted perfumes in two-ounce sizes: Neroli by Laura Mercier, Basic Instinct by Victoria Secret, Chanel No. 5, For Her by Narciso Rodriguez, and Daisy by Marc Jacobs. In addition, I bought Plumeria Vanilla from Island Heritage and Relaxing from The Chopra Center.

Do you have a favorite perfume? A favorite brand? Any recommendations for me to try?

Monday, September 20, 2010

London Trip ... Part Two

I loved London. For the sights, the sounds, the smells...everything. Above all, it's the sustaining sense of history. People have been here through hundreds of years, and some of those places have been in continuous use till present day.

Mayfair Walkabout

The London Walks is a marvelous way to visit places. It's just not something you'd want to do with kids. You meet outside designated tube stations and pay when you meet (so if you change your mind, that's OK). Be warned though, the guides talk and walk fast. There's almost no time to click photos, much less take notes. Also if the crowd's big, hearing the guide talk can be a challenge. The Mayfair walk was especially interesting, because they give you juicy historical on dits that you wouldn't find in most guidebooks or research guides. Walking down the streets, staring at the building façades while a voice in your ear tells you something naughty about its famous residents is a lot of fun. We saw Brummell's house, Handel's garrett where full-blown operatic vocal rehearsals were held (often times not to the delight of the neighbors), Shepherd's Market, a club that Lady Diana Spencer loved, and so on. Seeing the poky entrances and dingy kitchen quarters gives you a renewed sense of how hard life was for the ones belowstairs. Seeing those ancient trees in Berkeley Square gardens were a great lift. People I'm writing about walked through the same lanes I was now treading on.

British Museum

I mainly visited rooms 40 and 41, which were the medieval rooms. Gawked at the sheer number of bright, yellow gold jewelry and household items. Unsurprisingly, gold was also used in warrior-ware, such as sword fittings, surcoats, and horse buckles. Was surprised to see so much glass objects in daily use in the early middle ages: cups, beakers, footed bowls, and serving bowls. Case in point was a brown glass claw beaker from sixth century Kent. Lesser metals, such as silver and bronze, and woods, such as burr walnut and maple, were also used to make bowls, ladles, spoons, cups, and other household goods. Poorer folks made do with lead alloy jewelry (especially brooches) in lieu of more expensive pieces made from gold, silver, bronze, and precious and semi-precious gems. Horn, cowrie shells, bone, crystal, amber, and glass beads were also pressed into service for elaborate pieces.

I readily confess, this was the first time I had clapped eyes on a real sword. This was a battle sword, but one of the more agile ones (not a longsword or a broadsword). I laid my arm against the case glass to measure how long it was (full arm length plus eight inches). I stood there for a while trying to work out how my adventurous heroine could get this out of her stolen scabbard attached to her waist. Her arm would simply not have been long enough to pull it out all the way. I tried moving my body and arms in various poses and angles, only to realize I was attracting considerable amused attention from others around me. *sheepish*

National Portrait Gallery

Visited the Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, and Regency rooms. The highlight was seeing Cassondra's sketch of Jane Austen. Bought a postcard of it. She was beautiful! (I didn't have time, but if you have ten minutes to spare, you can get an 11 x 14 poster printed on site of any picture in the Gallery.) Of course, Prinny was there in full portly glory, the overhang very visible given that I was viewing his picture from below. The Elizabethan room was for Ms. Wee, because she adores dresses with panniers and she adores Amanda McCabe whose heart was captured by Queen Elizabeth I in college.

Tower of London

I'd been told that this was a highly visited tourist spot. So I applied Michelle Willingham's Disney World principles: Buy tickets online beforehand, get there when it opens, and do the heavily visited bits first. As a result, there was no line for the crown jewels. We went around the displays from the front and back twice. It was exciting to see the various coronation and daily crowns. Two of the notable diamonds that the British Empire stole and fitted into a sceptre and crown respectively are: The Star of Africa was 530 carats of perfect clarity and the Kohinoor Diamond of India was 186 carats of perfect clarity. The Kohinoor was added to their treasury when they annexed the Punjab in 1849. The Kohi of Noor (Mountian of Light) was said to be unlucky for men and thus was only set for queens, so it was fit into the crown that Queen Elizabeth II's Queen Mum wore. (Aside: Visited the famous Ravens of the Tower. I hadn't realized ravens are so much bigger than crows. I was hoping to see jackdaws (even bigger), too, but no luck there.)

The Beefeater Warders' tour gave a great overview of the history of the folks unlucky to find their way within the walls. Our warder's crowning comment to the Americans in the crowd: "See, if you'd only paid your taxes, this history could've been yours." Hah! We skipped touring the prisons and locations of the more gruesome events. The Fit for a King exhibit in the White Tower was a fun look at armors and weaponry through the ages. It was great to see how plate armor evolved and became more ergonomic, so if a knight fell, he didn't need couple other people to hoist him upright and back up his horse. Here, Ms. Wee proved especially helpful, because she'd memorized all kinds of details about chainmail and armor and served the voice in my ear as we moved from one station to another. We even had a much ewww-inducing look at the garderobe. Walked out to take pictures of the Tower Bridge.

Noticed three animal duos used on shields at various times in the past millennium: the lion and the unicorn, lion and lion, and hart and lion. Two commonly used mottos on the shields were: "Dieu et Mon Droit" and "Honi soit qui mal y pense."

St Paul's Cathedral

That magnificient dome, that's part of London's skyline, remained standing despite targeted runs by the Luftwaffe. The staff was smart to remove all the stained glass and store it away in the basement so none of it was destroyed as it happened all across the city. The current cathedral, the fourth to stand on the same site, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675, after the former one was destroyed by the Great Fire of London (started by a careless baker). There're three walkways that are higher and higher up the dome, and while the walk up the 400+ steps to the very top is a hike, the close-up look at the carvings and paintings plus the views across the city from the very top are worth every huff and puff and pant along the way. Take a strong pair of binoculars if you don't wish to make the hike up. And do thank Queen Victoria for this beautification of the interior—she complained that the dingy, dreary interior was most undevotional. The thrill for me was in looking at the tombs of some of the most famous residents of the city.

In August, choirs across the city take holidays. Some churches, like St. Paul's, don't have alternate choirs and offer recited prayers in lieu of Evensong (usually 5pm). While we waited for the service to start, we heard the magnificient organ in play, the very same the 1695 organ which Mendelssohn once played. Diana and Charles were married there in the rotunda under the dome where we stood. And William, when he chooses to marry his Kate, will be married there, too.

Westminster Abbey

We took another London Walks tour for the Abbey. Westminster was founded as a Norman church by Edward the Confessor in 1065. The white stone of parts of the Abbey is the expensive stone versus the cheap yellow Cotswold stone. The Dark Cloister that leads to the the living quarters of visiting clergy is the only remnant of the original medieval structures; it's squat with pointy arches. The Dark Cloister has rooms to the right. The left side that looks into the central courtyard, known as the Cloister Garth, has tall window arches without shutters or panes and a long-running stone bench under the arches. The rooms on the right include the Muniments chamber for housing legal church documents, the Pyx chamber (which formed the undercroft of the monks' dormitory) for chests of documents, the Chapter House chamber where everyone went in the morning for their daily chores list (aside from regular assignments), and the relics (pieces of the true cross and the Virgin Mary's robe and the stone Christ stepped on before climbing up to the cross). A door within the vestibule dates from around 1050 and is believed to be the oldest in England.

Part of the thrill here, too, were the tombs and plaques in place of tombs for some. Some of the tombs are adorned with life-like death masks. Darwin is buried there—perfect irony: reject the man, accept his fame. However, not all the clergy was against Darwin. In the memorial sermon the Bishop of Carlisle, Harvey Goodwin, preached in the Abbey on the Sunday following the funeral, he said, "I think that the interment of the remains of Mr Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen…It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr. Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and belief in God."

Some of the entombed denizens include, Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Elizabeth I and Mary, Mary of Scots, Chaucer, Henry Purcell, Newton, Handel, and even Laurence Olivier. Plaques are in place for Austen, Byron, Samuel Johnson, Milton, Wordsworth, and other poets, writers, scientists, musicians, architects, and actors.

Among the many treasures of the Abbey is the Coronation Chair. The Stone of Scone, stolen from the Scots, is currently at Edinburgh Castle, and will be returned to the Abbey for the next coronation. We walked through the Great West doors of the Abbey, through the nave, past the quire (with the choir seating), and stood under tall square ceiling opposite the Great North doors. It's a path walked by all the kings and queens have taken, since Duke William of Normandy, for their coronation. William, when he ascends the throne, will be crowned there, too.

(Aside: On 17 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to set foot in Westminster Abbey.)

We went there one evening for their Evensong service (5pm except Wednesdays). The choir was on holiday but were replaced by the visiting Ely Cathedral Choirs of Girls and Men. Imagine voices accompanied by the grand pipe organ raised to the 100-foot-high ceiling of the Abbey. Those soaring high As and Bs. It's indescribable. I was in tears. This was our last evening of the trip. And it brought this trip and my previous trip to England in full circles. In my previous trip in 2002, I had visited Lindisfarne and St Aidan's Church in Bamburg. The Evensong service was in memory of Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne in 650. The service was also in memory of Princess Diana (that's how they wrote it). The choir's final piece was a traditional American spiritual from A Child of our Time by Michael Tippett (1905–1998).

Monday, September 13, 2010

London Trip ... Part One

As you all know, I started out with a highly ambitious itinerary. As reality would have it, weather (rain and cold) and family necessitated some changes. Despite it all, we had an enjoyable, educational, and successful trip. Heartfelt gratitude for it goes to my family for their patience and for making it all possible.


We rented a poky, dusty, regrettable place in a highly desirable location: steps from Charing Cross tube station. This made trips to see everything 10-15 minutes at most. We bought an eight-day travel card for the Underground and used that exclusively. (Much cheaper, faster, and reliable than cabs.) However, be careful when choosing which zones you'll be traveling in. Off-zone extensions are expensive as are bus tickets (two pounds one way, change only). We bought roundtrip tickets on the Heathrow Express (the Connect is slightly slower but much cheaper) from the airport to Paddington and then took the cab to our apartment. These two trip to and fro the airport were our only cab rides. We also got one of our cell phones unlocked before leaving on the trip and bought a cheap SIM card from a store in the Strand for ten pounds. Free wi-fi is readily available with most lodging options (flats or hotels). We grocery shopped at the local Tesco for breakfast things and ocassionally picked up ready-made (AKA take-away or prêt à manger) from Marks & Spencer stalls in most tube stations. We took our camera with an additional zoom lens, a secondary camera for when we did separate things, and binoculars (useful in churches, the Eye, and for shows). Carrying a detailed street map and tube map are essential. Public institutions are free to everyone but also closed on bank (national) holidays.

Pet Peeves

Bottled water is extremely expensive (one to two pounds for a litre bottle). Drinking water fountains are rare, as are toilets. The last was the most irksome, especially when traveling with kids. This, however, did yield one rare benefit: We were allowed to use the Queen's bathroom at Buckingham Palace. No, the toilet seats were not gold-plated, but the soap was Molton-Brown and the hand-towels were a marvelous blend of cloth and paper and handsomely decorated.


We ate at: Grosvenor Arms, Lebanese, Korean & Japanese noodles, Oaxaca Mexican, Indian (west), and Italian. Everything was so mouthwateringly delicious, except for the Italian. That was execrable. Realized that small hole-in-the-wall places are more eclectic, bold, and tasty as opposed to a proper sit-down place (Italian) with linen tablecloths. Food, in general, is spicier than the average American food, even British pub fare. Finding the best chicken tikka masala I've ever eaten in a pub was surreal to me. Our agenda did include a mandatory pub meal. We ended up with two and excellent ales to accompany. Kids, even in the evenings, are allowed in the front section of pubs.

Touristy, Family-Oriented

We were tourists, first-time visitors to London, and we made no apologies for that. That did not mean, we ran around expecting people to talk American English or were rude/offensive in any way. Courtesy always wins back courtesy. However, we did do things that many visitors pooh-pooh as too gauche, such as riding the double-decker bus, making a phone call from the telephone booth, taxi ride, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, fountain in Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Lion King, and climbing trees in Osterley Park and in front of John Soane's Museum. In all our travels, what we've discovered is that we remember the silly, the mundane just as much as the profound, and for kids, it's important to give a broad spectrum of experiences.

What we should've avoided (and did leave partway through) was the Changing of the Guards, because it's more pompous than pomp and more ceremonious than ceremony. A brief conversation during this with two women next to me resulted in this nugget of wisdom: If those guards in their pouffy hats and hot multi-layered costumes actually had an emergency that required the palace to be defended, they'd have to call The Metropolitan Police and the army.

Another funny incident was overhearing a copper explain to a tourist that the queen was not in residence, because her flag wasn't flying overhead. But the flag that was there was the Union Jack. Do visitors truly not recognize the flag of the country they're visiting?


First impressions were that Londoners were rude to us and rude to each other, but then I realized that they weren't rude precisely, just impatient and curt. To some extent this is true of people in major metropolises versus smaller towns, but London seemed to be particularly prone to it.

I loved that everyone seemed to talk with an accent. The impression outside the UK is that there's a "British" accent. Well, not really. A person's accent is affected by the area they grew up in, the language that's spoken at home, the type of school they went to, their education level, their social class, etc. So our "different" accents were just thrown into the mix, not drawing much attention.

London's multiculturalism is a dream for travelers — I ADORED the sounds of so many languages, fabulously delicious food of every imaginable kind, colorful clothing, and the sights of people not trying to melt into one homogenous mass but rather exhibiting their Britishness as well as their ethnic origins. At the same time, it felt like streams of people flowing past each other carefully avoiding inter-mingling, co-existing but not very comfortable with the sounds, smells, and looks of their city. I felt pressure in the air that had nothing to do with the press of people around me.

But going back to courtesy. While Londoners seemed more self-involved than most folks in cities that we've traveled to — Parisians across the board were warmer and friendlier despite my execrable murder of their beautiful language — a smile, a look in the eyes, and a quick comment was always reciprocated. In the end, people are people. You treat others the way you'd want to be treated, and it's returned most times. It's these interactions with people that I treasure the most from my travels.

Modified Itinerary

Thursday: London Walks tour of Mayfair, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery (open till 9pm on Thurs & Fri)
Friday: Tower of London, St. Paul's
Saturday: Sir John Soane's Museum (closed Sun & Mon, do the guided tour for five pounds), British Library
Sunday: London Eye, Lion King at the Lyceum (buy tickets here)
Monday: London Walks tour of Westminster Abbey, Osterley (at least four hours)
Tuesday: Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace (three hours), Evensong at Westminster's Abbey (best evensong)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Friday, August 20, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Now you people who read my blog know that I rarely succumb to gratuitous beefcake pictures. *snork* Ahem!

Richard Armitage image copyright by MeAndRichard.wordpress


I gave in to a wee temptation above after listening to this sampling of Richard Armitage read the book THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE by Georgette Heyer. (Thanks to Nicola Cornick for the link.)


In this interview, RA talks about why he enjoys working on audio books and about the challenges audio presents an actor, in general, and him in particular. On the stage or on film, he uses his body as well as his voice, but on audio books, every emotion and nuance has to be conveyed via the voice. This can be difficult to do, but since he's musical, he enjoys the challenge.


By the way, RA plays the flute and the cello.

...Musical Ability...

*sighs* How I adore thee, RA, let me count the ways.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anglo Saxon Recipe: Braised Fennel with Ginger

Courtesy of The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson (British Museum Publications, 1987), comes this recipe for braised fennel with ginger. The original version of this recipe is from Forme of Cury, which is a collection of 196 recipes copied by Richard II's scribes at his cooks' directions.

Fenkel in Soppes

1.5 lb fresh fennel root; trimmed, cleaned, and cut in matchsticks
8 oz onions, thickly sliced
1 tsp (heaped) ground ginger
1 tsp (level) powdered saffron
0.5 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 fl oz or 2/3 cup (each) dry white wine and water
6 slices (thick) coarse wholewheat or wholemeal bread (optional)

Put the fennel in a wide, lidded pan with the onions. Sprinkle with the
spices and the salt, then the oil, and finally pour over the liquids. Bring
to the boil, cover and simmer for 20–30 minutes or till the fennel is
cooked without being mushy. Stir once or twice during the cooking to
make sure the spices get well distributed. Serve it alone with roast
meat or griddled fish, or place one slice of bread on each warmed wide-mouthed soup plate, cover it with the fennel, and pour over the juices. Serves 6.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chatsworth has Attics to Let

Image copyright by Bakewell Derbyshire In a new twist on the American practice of garage sales, the 12th Duke of Devonshire is selling off family bric-a-brac from his vast ("the length of village streets," according to the Guardian) attics.

Rediscovered beneath layers of dust, these objects were once part of the fabric of the many great houses that have featured in the Devonshire family's history. Chatsworth, Devonshire House (on Piccadilly in London, demolished in the 1920s), Bolton Abbey, Chiswick House, Hardwick Hall, Lismore Castle, and Compton Place have all contributed items.

The sale comprises 20,000 objects in over 1,000 lots, ranging in value from £20 to £200,000, covering over 500 years of Devonshire history. These rediscovered objects are from many of the Devonshire estates: Chatsworth, Devonshire House (on Piccadilly in London, demolished in the 1920s), Bolton Abbey, Chiswick House, Hardwick Hall, Lismore Castle, and Compton Place. Sotheby hopes to raise £25m, a conservative approximation. Go here for images of some of the objects on sale.

Image copyright by The TelegraphThis lovely carved white marble chimneypiece by William Kent, featuring George II circa 1735 is from the Saloon and estimated at £200k—300k.

Image copyright by The Guardian The sale will also feature a splendid royal scandal: the massive bookcase that was used to conceal the door through which Prinny (the future George IV) passed to meet the Roman Catholic Maria Fitzherbert in the next room at Devonshire House. The bookcase is estimated at up to £80,000.

So, if you are in need of a dining table that would comfortably seat 60 or a red carpet 62ft in length, hie yourself off to Chatsworth for the public viewing (by catalog only, check link for ordering) October 1—4 and for the auction October 5—7.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

IASPR 2nd Annual Conference

The second annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance is being held in Brussels, Belgium from August 5 to August 7. Here's the schedule.

Coffee and Registration

Introductory Remarks

SESSION 1: International Romance

Natalie Pendergast (University of Toronto, Canada): Expressions of Romance in Comics: Young Romance andOniisama e …
Eric Selinger (DePaul University. USA): Shame, Postmodernity and the Poetics of Popular Romance Fiction
Magali Bigey (Université de Franche Comte, France) : Romances: Novels Ceaselessly Evolving. What Mechanisms Are at Work?

Lunch (Provided)

Special Presentation
Allison Norrington (De Monfort University, UK): Romantic Comedy / Chick Lit as a Transmedia, Immersive and Participatory ‘Experience’ for Women

SESSION 2: Romancing History: Echoes of Times Past

Amy Burge (University of York, UK): “Weird and kinky and medieval”: The Idea of the ‘Medieval’ in Contemporary Popular Sheikh Romances
Piper Huguley-Riggins (Spelman College, USA): “Pride in the Ancestors”: Beverly Jenkins and the Historical Romance
Sandra Schwab (Johannes Gutenberg-University, Germany): There Be Dragons: Romance and the History of Stories

SESSION 3: Paratextual Identity and Reclamation of Ephemeral Texts

Faye O’Leary (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland): Nora and J.D.: Identity in Nora Roberts’ Romance Fiction
William Gleason (Princeton University, USA): Paratextually Yours: Story Papers, Seriality, and the Shape of Late-Nineteenth-Century American Romance Fiction
Cora Buhlert (Universität Vechta, Germany): Love for a Dime – A History and Taxonomy of the German “Liebesromanheft”

Coffee Break

KEYNOTE 1: Lynne Pearce (Lancaster University, UK): Romance and Repetition: Testing the Limits of the Love


Friday 6th August

SESSION 4: The Language of Romance

Stephanie Moody (University of Michigan, USA): “Is that another crack about my weight?”: Using Discourse Analysis to Study Romantic Fictional Dialogue
Artemis Lamprinou (University of Surrey, UK): Translated Romances: The Effect of Cultural Textual Norms on the Communication of Emotions
Heike Klippel (Hochschule fuer Bildende Kuenste, Braunschweig, Germany): The Signs of Romance: Visualizing Love and Romance in German Soap Operas

Coffee Break

Session 5: Power, Gender, and the Female Gaze

Pradipta Mukherjee (University of Calcutta, India): Indian Popular Romance: Devdas in Bollywood and Reading Three Screen Adaptations
Sarah S. G. Frantz (Fayetteville State University, USA): Alpha Male: Power, Confession and Masculinity in Popular Romance Fiction
Pam Rosenthal (Independent Scholar, USA): The Queer Theory of Eve Sedgwick and Homoeroticism at the Edges of the Popular Romantic Imagination

Lunch (Provided)

KEYNOTE 2: Celestino Deleyto (University of Zaragoza, Spain): The Comic, the Serious and the Middle: Desire in Contemporary Film Romantic Comedy

SESSION 6: Film, Genre, History, and the Construction of Identity

Giselle Bastin (Flinders University, Australia): From A Royal Love Story to Whatever Love Means: The Charles and Diana Biopics as Soap Opera
Roger Nicholson (University of Auckland, New Zealand): Romancing the Past: Historical Fictions and the Fear of Nostalgia
Claudia Marquis (University of Auckland, New Zealand): Shakespeare and the Modern Romance of Adolescence: 10 Things I Hate About You

Coffee Break

SESSION 7: Life Stages in Romantic Comedies

Betty Kaklamanidou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece): “The Bells Are Ringing for Me and My Gal” or How the American Rom Com ‘Wedding Cycle’ Found its Way into Greek Cinema
Claire Jenkins (Warwick University, UK): Romance and the Single Parent in Contemporary Hollywood
Margaret Tally (State University of New York, USA): “It’s (Not That) Complicated”: Hollywood Construction of Middle-Age Romance in the Films of Nancy Myers

Conference Dinner


Saturday 7th August

KEYNOTE 3: Pamela Regis (McDaniel College, USA): Criticizing Romance: The Last Quarter Century”
Respondent: An Goris, (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium).

Coffee Break

SESSION 8: Romance Forms: Perspectives on Sex and ‘New’ Romance

Ashley Greenwood (San Diego State University, USA): Violent Sex or Sexual Violence? The Gendered Language of Sex in Contemporary Romance Novels
Angela Toscano (University of Utah, USA): “When my lust hath dined”: Rape, Ravishment and Forced Seduction in Romance
Jin Feng (Grinnell College, USA): Who is the Ideal Hero? Consuming Web-based Time-Travel Romances

Lunch and Special Panel

Séverine Olivier and Agnes Caubet (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium) : Francophone Perspectives on Romantic Fiction: From Academic Field to Readers’ Experiences

SESSION 9: Sex and Gender in Vampire Romances

Jonathan Allan (University of Toronto, Canada): Theorising Virginity in the Romance
Chiho Nakagawa (Nara Women’s University, Japan): Finding True Love and Finding Her Sexuality in Vampire Romance Novels
Tom Ue (McGill University, Canada): Gender, Romance and Performance: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and the Female Knight Errant

Closing Roundtable

Monday, August 2, 2010

Photos Galore from RWA

I've uploaded all my photos to Facebook. If you've friended me, you should be able to see them there. Otherwise, HERE's the public link.

This is How I Feel about Nationals


(With Anna Campbell.)

I'm Home......And in a Video

Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell took a music video of folks at the RWA Literacy Autographing last Wednesday evening. She had various people lip-synching to a soundtrack. It makes for a fun viewing, because it brings back all the memories of all the people I met there.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Off to RWA National

Image copyright by RWAImage copyright by RWABlog will be on hiatus while I'm attending the national conference of the Romance Writers of America in Orlando (not Nashville as the logo indicates; that was the original destination, but due to devastating floods, the conference has been moved to Orlando).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Video Day Friday

Thanks to Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell for this Old Spice Commercial guy touting the goodness of libraries.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In Praise of the Humble Comma

Image copyright by liebchen11.files.wordpress.comIn June 2001, journalist Pico Iyer wrote an essay in praise of the humble comma for Time magazine that for the first time made punctuation humorous, inviting, and fun for me. Until then, it had been nothing but an unceasing drudgery of rules and rote memorization. Of course, Lynne Truss's book Eats, Shoots and Leaves was to follow later and indelibly impress upon my mind the importance of grammar with verve and wit.

Image copyright by St. John the Evangelist Catholic School & National Punctuation Day"The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said — could it not? — of the humble comma." So starts Pico Iyer's essay. He, then, goes on to write: "Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it, and the mind is deprived of a resting place."

"By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words. Punctuation, then, is a civic prop, a pillar that holds society upright."

Image copyright by St. John the Evangelist Catholic School & National Punctuation Day"Punctuation [...] becomes the signature of cultures. The anarchy and commotion of the '60s were given voice in the exploding exclamation marks, riotous capital letters and Day-Glo italics of Tom Wolfe's spray-paint prose. Yet punctuation is something more than a culture's birthmark; it scores the music in our minds, gets our thoughts moving to the rhythm of our hearts. Punctuation is the notation in the sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; [...] Punctuation adjusts the tone and color and volume till the feeling comes into perfect focus [...]"

"Punctuation, in short, gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between the words. 'You aren't young, are you?' loses its innocence when it loses the question mark. Every child knows the menace of a dropped apostrophe (the parent's 'Don't do that' shifting into the more slowly enunciated 'Do not do that'), and every believer, the ignominy of having his faith reduced to 'faith'. Add an exclamation point to 'To be or not to be...' and the gloomy Dane has all the resolve he needs; add a comma, and the noble sobriety of 'God save the Queen' becomes a cry of desperation bordering on double sacrilege."

This essay is quite simply marvelous, isn't it. Go HERE to read it in its entirety.

Image copyright by Pico Iyer and Oregon LiveJust who's Pico Iyer? Here's an interview of him by Scott London. "Pico Iyer once referred to himself as 'a global village on two legs.' It's a fitting description for someone born in England to Indian parents, immigrated to California as a boy, was later educated at Eton and Oxford, and now spends much of his time in Japan." Another interview with him by Oregon Live.

(Oh, yes, and National Punctuation Day is September 24.)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Seattle scored the grand prize in this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest with this entry by Molly Ringle:

"For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil."

Contest judge Scott Rice, a professor at San Jose State University, praised her "outlandishly inappropriate comparison" to the Seattle Times. "It is a send-up of writers who try too hard to be original, and it is a send-up of those revolting couples whose public displays of affection make them poster children for celibacy," he said.

Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton, author of the words "The pen is mightier than the sword," wrote the following in his novel Paul Clifford (1830):

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

This first line of his novel is what led the English department at San Jose State University to create this hilarious (and painful) annual contest in his name.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Copyright Central Asia Institute

Children of Korphe at their weekday studies in their tiny village on the windswept, bone-chilling cold Pamir mountains of Baltistan in northwest Pakistan.

One day, a lost, sick mountaineer stumbled into Korphe. He was taken in and cared for by these people who had nothing. When he was leaving, Greg Mortensen asked the wise man Haji Ali what he could do in return. Ali said, "Listen to the wind." Hearing the children's voices at their recitation, Mortensen understood. The children had a teacher who showed up thrice a week for a few hours, and they wrote in the dirt with sticks.

A year later, Mortensen returned with stones and stonemasons, and together, the village raised a school building equipped with books, pencils, and teachers.

Pennies for Peace is a program of the non-profit organization Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson, for building more such schools in the region. He's the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace...One School At A Time.

The mission of Central Asia Institute focuses on community-based education, especially for girls, in the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Central Asian countries. Research from the developing world reveals that a fifth grade education for a girl improves not only the basic indexes of health for her and her family, but also helps her spread the value of education within her community. Literacy, for both boys and girls, provides better economic opportunities in the future and neutralizes the power of extremist leaders.

For more than a year now, we've been saving all our change and sending periodic checks to Pennies for Peace. In addition, we donate, along with company match, a chunk of money. We've read and re-read and re-read again Greg Mortensen's books for adults and children.

One man...can much.

Copyright Central Asia Institute

Monday, July 12, 2010

Online Anglo-Saxon Archive

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The GuardianOxford University has embarked on an ambitious "mission to create the world's largest online archive about the period," according to The Guardian. Dr Stuart Lee, who is running Project Woruldhord, hopes that it will be a teaching resource of use to schools, historians, literature students, archaeologists, art historians, and the general public. To that list, I add historical fiction writers!

From the Project Woruldhord website:

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"Members of the public, of academia, of special interest groups are asked to submit via an online web site any images, documents, audio, video they have of material they would be happy to share with the rest of the world to further the study of Old English and the Anglo-Saxons.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"We would welcome images of buildings, sites, artefacts; teaching handouts or presentations; audio of readings or interviews; video clips of crafts, sites; and so on. In fact anything that you feel would benefit teachers, researchers, and interested parties who wish to learn more about the Anglo-Saxons.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"Oxford University will collect the material together and then make everything submitted freely available on the web for educational purposes to a worldwide audience. You will retain copyright over anything you submit but you will simply have to agree to its redistribution on the website.

Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard image copyright by The Guardian"The collection is now open, and will close on October 14th 2010 (only fitting, said Lee according to The Guardian, as the date 'marks the Battle of Hastings and the end of Anglo-Saxon rule'). The period covered by the archive runs from the fifth century to the 11th or 12th. Go to the collection site to make a submission."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Maldives: thousands of reasons to visit, zero to not.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Historical Inaccuracies in Romance Fiction

I'm a little late in commenting on the kerfuffle that raged in Romancelandia last two weeks about historical inaccuracies in historical romance fiction and should it matter and if so, how much?

THIS review of Bonnie Dee's JUNGLE HEAT by Sarah Frantz that questioned the main protagonist's musing about his sexuality in context with his time period and location and the lack of socio-political impact of the surroundings on the characters, led to a heated discussion about how much actual and accurate history should romance novels adhere to, admittedly, an oft-repeated refrain in Romancelandia.

Katiebabs presented her viewpoint in THIS post by asking, "I [have] wondered if an author doesn't research enough or have their facts correct, should that be a big deal?" She answers her own question by saying, "I feel as an author, if you're writing a historical piece of fiction, you should to the best of your ability [to] research the time period." The key words here being "to the best of your ability." [KS: I agree. An author cannot possibly research exhaustively (an infinite problem), nor can she do better than her abilities.]

THIS post on History Hoydens by Kalen Hughes started focused discussion off in grand style by commenting: "To me, it seems ridiculous to even bother writing 'historical fiction' (be it romance, mystery, whathaveyou) if the 'historical' part is optional." She also posed a relative question: Should books be "HISTORICAL Romance" or "Historical ROMANCE"?

In THIS post, Courtney Milan lists how much she researches each of her books and why the research and her chosen time period are important to her. So her avowal that she's "not writing period pieces" is puzzling. She further states, "I think the past is a vehicle for the present." [KS: This is where she and I part company. You could say that for a contemporary novel, the past is the vehicle for the present, or a character's backstory is the vehicle for his current motivations, but for a historical novel, this is precisely the reason why the novel would feel modern.]

In a follow-up post HERE, Sarah Frantz writes, "...for historical m/m romance in particular, the historical accuracy is of paramount importance to HOW the romance progresses." [KS: To me, this statement holds true for all historical romance.] Sarah writes further, "The historical accuracy of the way people thought about themselves, about love, about sex, about IF they could fall in love and WHO they could fall in love with, the etymology of the terminology they used to imagine their relationships, is vital to the progress of their relationship because the very WORDS we use define how we think and how we see and interact with our world." [KS: I agree. Sarah puts it far more articulately here than I do below in my comments section.]

Commenter Jo Beverely asked, "What’s really interesting, and comes up in this discussion, is what modern readers have against virginal heroines. Once they were the norm and were also in most cases historically accurate. Now, for many readers, they're seen as a negative." [KS: Indeed. Even in modern-day India and Pakistan, for example, virginity for women and men is still the norm in middle-class first marriages. So I for one would believe that 200 years ago this was the norm in upper-class England. Many modern western readers find it laugable. See the different lens through which we view that same England of 200 years ago?]

Courtney Milan then caps off the kerfuffle with a hilarious laying out of options HERE, where clearly only one is correct. "When people talk about a 'historically accurate book,' they can mean any of the following: attempt to recreate a period piece, in which the author mimics the formal sentence structure and word choice of Regency-era works.
2.a book, set in historical times, where the author gets all of the major (e.g., plot-dependent) details right, and the vast majority of the minor ones.
3.a book, set in historical times, wherein the author demonstrates that she has done her homework by including as much detail as possible.
4.a book, set in historical times, wherein the characters adhere firmly to the strictures of their time, without any deviation, no matter their (otherwise historically accurate) motivations."

As a reader, I object to this comment by Sara Lindsey: "I do my best to keep my setting authentic by means of accurate historical details, but my characters' conduct is largely modern, and I think it has to be in order to appeal to today's (predominantly female) romance readers." [KS: Speaking strictly for me, if I wanted modern conduct, I would read a contemporary. I read a historical for historically appropriate conduct (with latitude).]

* * *

In all of these discussions, most everyone was talking about the details (events, word usage, things, real long-dead people, places, etc.), except for Sarah Frantz who refered to how a person thought.

THAT is at the crux of a historical novel to me. It's not what's without, but what's within that sets a historical in a particular time and place. All the external details are nothing without the characters' reactions to them and emotional feelings and thoughts about them. Our historical characters are people of their times, and just as how we react to our current political, socio-cultural, etc. goings-on, so did they.

Therefore, no matter if an author sets her scenes with completely accurate historical details, if her characters think like twenty-first century people, it'll be a wallpaper historical.

It's the Cogitations and Meditations (hah!) of our characters that makes historical fiction HISTORICAl.

That is not to say that internal or external motivations cannot make a character deviate from the norm, nor does every character have to embody every appropriate reaction to every thing in his environment. In fact, all characters better not be the norm, nor does your book have to bloat with all historically accurate socio-politico-economic thought, otherwise you'll end up with a boring book that'll never see the light of day. But there have got to be historically accurate justifications for every motivation that forges a new path. That is what a story is all about. Just Because is simply as commenter Janet Mullany called it: [the author's] Well of Laziness.

Commenter Anna Carrasco Bowling sums it up perfectly: "Give me (and let me write) love stories that couldn't have happened at any other time and place and live fully within the world as it was at the time, and I am one happy reader/writer."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Intriguing Cover Design

After reading Jessica's post about iconic romance covers at Read, React, Review, I was primed for debut author Maisey Yates's post about her October release that features one of the first new Mills & Boon Modern Romance covers.

See this...

Image copyright by Maisey Yates and Mills & Boon

Versus the old style...

Image copyright by Maisey Yates and Mills & Boon

Now the cover has become a modern women's fiction novel cover. It has come of age. Brava to the Mills & Boon design team!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blog Schedule

I used to write a five weekdays a week sort of blog. At least that was the plan that I was able to keep up fairly well, with occasional misses and some planned hiatus. However, unfortunate circumstances—that I won't get into here—force me to say that from now, it will be an intermittent blog, as and when I'm able. Some day I hope to return to the regular Monday to Friday blog. I do love blogging and responding to you all who visit so faithfully. I thank you for your time and energy in visiting and reading. Hope you have a grand summer and do stop by from time to time, because I'll have something to say about this-n-that-and-oh-that-too, never fear.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Robin Hood's Bay, England

Robin Hood's Bay England photo from

Monday, June 28, 2010

Delhi 2 Dublin

I usually talk about historical stuff, because I'm a historical writer. But an occasion like this requires a break in routine.

Copyright Delhi 2 DublinYesterday, I was privileged to happen about a brilliant concert by Vancouver-based band Delhi2Dublin at the Anand Mela (an Indian street fair). Their sound blew me away. A mix of bhangara, Punjabi fusion, electro, acoustic, celtic, with a touch of reggae, breakbeat, drum n' bass, and hip hop. Simply contemplating that combination does no justice to what that band of five young musicians can do.

They play electric fiddle, electric base guitar, electric sitar (whoa—the sound is similar but the shape and size has been modified so it can be worn and carried like a guitar), dhol, tabla, and synthesized electronic music, in addition to vocals in English and Punjabi. Tarun Nayar plays the tabla and electronics, Kytami the fiddle, Sanjay Seran does the vocals, Andrew Kim plays the sitar and guitar, and Ravi Binning the dhol and tabla.

Copyright Delhi 2 DublinDelhi2Dublin was formed for a one-off live collaboration performance at the Vancouver Celtic Festival on March 16, 2006. They were so popular that demand for future performances led them to band together. They're all Canadians with Sanjay, Tarun, and Ravi of Indian ethnicity, Andrew Korean, and Kytami Irish and a mix.

Their self-titled first album, released on December 13, 2007, reached #3 on the Canadian world music charts. Their second album reached #1 on the CHARTattack world music charts. They've performed at the Vancouver Olympics, SXSW in Austin, the Keelung City Ghost Festival in Taiwan, and various international music festivals.

Here, listen to them and see what has me so fascinated...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Neha Dalvi of Mumbai, India, is competing for the Miss India 2010 and Miss World 2010 contests. She's a model and a fledgling Bollywood actress. HERE are more of her amazing photographs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Technical Troubles

Where is the world has Keira been? Health's OK but computer adapter went caput. So I've had almost no intryweb access these past few days. Adapter's now arrived and computer's all charged up, so expect blog posts to resume soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Picture Day Friday

Petra, Jordan image copyrighted by World Nomads

Al Deir at Petra in Jordan is one of the places I want to visit before I die.

Hidden amidst nearly impenetrable mountains to the east of the valley connecting the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea stands the ancient city of Petra. One of the world’s most visually stunning archaeological sites, Petra (meaning ‘the rock’ in Greek) is an abandoned necropolis of temples and tombs cut into towering cliffs of red, pink, and orange sandstone.

Located in a remote gorge, northwest of the center of Petra, Al Deir is the largest and most visually stunning of all the structures in Petra. Carved entirely out of the red sandstone of a mountain wall, the temple is 50 meters wide by 45 meters tall and has an 8-meter tall entrance door. Inside the single empty chamber (12.5 by 10 meters), the walls are plain and unadorned except for a niche in the back wall with a block of stone representing the deity Dushara.

The chief deities of the Nabataeans were Dushara, Al-Uzza and Allat. The name Dushara means ‘He of the Shara’, referring to the Sharra Mountains on the northern border of Petra. Like the Hebrew god, Jehovah, Dushara was symbolized by an obelisk or standing block of stone (and this indicates influences from archaic Sumerian, Egyptian and megalithic cultures) and his symbolic animal was the bull.

Primarily known as a commercial and ceremonial center of the Nabataean culture during the centuries before and after the time of Christ, this region of Petra was inhabited in far greater antiquity. Archaeological excavations have revealed a rock shelter of the Upper Paleolithic period, dating to around 10,000 BC, and a Neolithic village from the 7th millennium BC. While evidence of habitation during the Chalcolithic and Bronze ages has not yet been found, the region of Petra was again occupied in the early Iron Age, around 1200 BC, by the Edomite culture of the Old Testament (Edom, meaning 'red', is the Biblical name for this region of the Middle East).

Petra’s prominence also derives from its proximity to ancient caravan routes, its easily defended location, stable water resources and proximity to rich agricultural and grazing lands. The Nabataean capital was strategically situated only twenty kilometers from the crossroads of two vital trade routes; one linking the Persian Gulf (and thereby the silks and spices of India and China) with the Mediterranean Sea (and the empires of the Greeks and Romans), the other connecting Syria with the Red Sea.

The above text is taken from Sacred Sites. For an in-depth essay on the history of Petra and it's modern-day discovery GO HERE!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Picture Day Friday

The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa image copyrighted by

The Palace of the Lost City in South Africa ranks as one of the world's most extraordinary hotels. The interior features mosaics, frescoes, and hand-painted ceilings depicting South Africa's wildlife and culture. It is a fantasy world of Africa's jungles, cliff-tumbling gardens, streams, waterfalls, swimming pools, and al fresco entertainment areas. The King Suite is the epitome of regal luxury with hand-carved walls, frescoed ceilings, and hundreds of custom-designed items. Legend says (well, you know Legends, they could be lying) that the Palace of the Lost City was built as the royal residence of an ancient civilization of South Africa, but was destroyed by an earthquake. It has now been restored to its former glory.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Books to Buy at RWA National

I'm eagerly looking forward to reading these books. Most of them will come out before the RWA conference convenes at DisneyWorld in Orlando on July 28. However, I'm coveting signed copies of these books. Yes, I intend to stand in line, greet these authors so dear to my heart, buy the signed copies, and lug them home via overpriced postage.

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley
Courtesan's Kiss by Mary Blayney
Harmony by Jodi Thomas
The Stolen Bride by Jo Beverley
Barely a Lady by Eileen Dreyer
Sugar Creek by Toni Blake
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne
My Reckless Surrender by Anna Campbell
A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James
Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas
Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas
The Secret of Everything Barbara O’Neal
She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn
His at Night by Sherry Thomas
— Anything I don't have by Nicola Cornick
— All 2010 books available by Tessa Dare
The Irish Warrior by Kris Kennedy

Copyright by Julia QuinnCopyright by Lisa KleypasOf these, Julia Quinn's signature will be the trickiest to obtain, because the lines for her books are usually verrrry long. So I hope some of my author friends can sneak me in beforehand. She lives the next town over, and sporadically does local events, so there's a possibility, I might be able to obtain a signed copy or two from her, if I miss her at National. I think Lisa Kleypas plans on going to Nationals this year, Copyright by Jane Porter because that would be my only chance for signed copies. Despite her living only an hour away from me, she doesn't do local events, so I never see her till Conference. Luckily for me, Jane Porter lives close by and is very active in the community, so I can always buy signed copies of her books here and also meet her at events.

Five authors whom I wish would attend the Conference are: Laura Kinsale, Linda Lael Miller, Jodi Thomas, Jo Goodman, and Loretta Chase.

Which of these books are on your list to buy this summer? If you're going to Nationals will you buy signed copies there, or perhaps, you'll be traveling light and so purchasing them at home?

Monday, June 7, 2010

May & June Book Buys

Here are the books I bought in May and June from Amazon. Many of these aren't new releases. I'm hoarding some of them so I can buy them signed at RWA National in July. (More on this later this week.)

Sweetest Little Sin by Christine Wells
Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran
Welcome to Harmony by Jodi Thomas
Montana Creeds: Logan by Linda Lael Miller
Wild Oats by Pamela Morsi
The Sweethearts' Knitting Club by Lori Wilde
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase
Everything and the Moon by Julia Quinn
The Secret by Julie Garwood
Forbidden by Jo Beverley
Hazard by Jo Beverley
Forbidden Magic by Jo Beverley
Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley
St Raven by Jo Beverley
Skylark by Jo Beverley
The Rogue's Return by Jo Beverley
Lovers & Ladies by Jo Beverley
The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale
Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
In The Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot

(This completes my Jo Beverley and Laura Kinsale collections.)

Oh, and also this: Taylors of Harrogate, Yorkshire Gold Tea, 160-Count Tea Bags. Nope it's not books, but it facilitates book reading. Besides, this is the cheapest source of this tea anywhere online.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Julia Quinn PRIZE

Julia Quinn publicity photo copyright by Julia QuinnThank you all for reading and commenting on the Julia Quinn blog yesterday. The winners are...

OKIE     and     KIM

Congratulations to you both. Please e-mail your mailing address to me at keira at keirasoleore dot com.

Picture Day Friday 2

At just 10 feet across by 26 feet high, this teeny house in London, England, occupies the former site of a wine vault that once served the pub next door.

Picture Day Friday

Notting Hill Carnival image copyright Find London Attractions

The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event, which since 1966, has taken place on the streets of Notting Hill, London each August over two days. (Fortunately, we're going to be visiting London then.) It is led by members of the Trinidad and Tobago Caribbean populations, many of whom have lived in the area since the 1950s. The carnival has attracted up to two million people in the past, making it the second largest street festival in the world.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Julia Quinn GIVEAWAY

Ten Things I Love About You cover copyright by Julia QuinnAt 7pm PST on Wednesday July 26, Avon launched it's first ever live virtual booksigning. Julia Quinn helmed Avon's launch with her book Ten Things I Love About You. The event was powered by VivoLive, which allowed JQ to do a reading, answer questions, and sign copies for everyone who attended, in-person or online. Powell's Books hosted the event.

Even if you missed the event, you can order a signed copy from Powell's HERE. As a bonus, you can read their Q&A with her.

[GIVEAWAY Details: I'm giving away two extremely rare book coverflats from JQ's older books and two coveted Bridgerton bookmarks to two commenters. More details below.]

Julia Quinn publicity photo copyright by Julia QuinnJQ has long been a pioneer of new and innovative ways to market and promote her books and, most importantly, connect with her readers. JQ's writing style has earned her thousands of loyal fans, and consequently, she could rest on her laurels, and not make any further attempt to promote her books, and still have a comfortable career. Yet, she's constantly seeking new ways to reach her readers. She participates in book signings locally and nationally, speaks at conferences, gives workshops, and pioneers new ideas.

What Happens in London cover copyright by Julia QuinnLast year, JQ led the free e-version download giveaways program for Avon with her summer book What Happens in London. Her book trailer for that book set a new standard for book trailers. I talked more HERE about her promotion for WHIL.

If her innovation on her book trailer for WHIL wasn't enough, she's topped it with one for Ten Things I Love About You. This video is whimsical and follows the artwork of her UK covers. When you read the book, you realize, this is vintage JQ at her finest.

Here are Ten Things You Should Know about This Book (taken from JQ's website):

1. Sebastian Grey is a devilishly handsome rogue with a secret.
2. Annabel Winslow's family voted her The Winslow Most Likely to Speak Her Mind AND The Winslow Most Likely to Fall Asleep in Church.
3. Sebastian's uncle is the Earl of Newbury, and if he dies without siring an heir, Sebastian inherits everything.
4. Lord Newbury detests Sebastian and will stop at nothing to prevent this from happening.
5. Lord Newbury has decided that Annabel is the answer to all of his problems.
6. Annabel does not want to marry Lord Newbury, especially when she finds out he once romanced her grandmother.
7. is shocking, 8 is delicious, 9 is downright wicked, all of which leads the way to
10. Happily. Ever. After.

Here are Ten Things You Should Know about This Book (taken from VivoLive's website):

1. Quinn's writing is clever, sensual, and refreshingly humorous.
2. She's been called our "contemporary Jane Austen."
3. You will catch yourself laughing out loud multiple times.
4. Her hero has a totally endearing "secret" profession, not to mention a sleeping aliment.
5. The heroine's grandmother gives her permission to "ruin" herself.
6. You will be completely swept into the world of London society.
7. She has crafted a slimy villain who literally made your skin crawl.
8. Much of the story centers on the heroine's "ample" hip size.
9. Any book with the phrase "his grandmother always said that [tea] was the next best thing to vodka" goes on the keeper shelf.
10. You will not want to see this uplifting story end!

For one-on-one contact with JQ online, you can visit her on Facebook here or here, via Twitter, or on the message board.

GIVEAWAY Details: I'm giving away TWO extremely rare book coverflats from JQ's older books and TWO coveted Bridgerton bookmarks to TWO commenters. Please comment by 12pm US PST Friday, June 4.

Are you a long time fan of Julia Quinn' books, a recent reader, or have never read her books? If you've read her previous books, which ones are your favorites? And why?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Our London Itinerary

My husband proclaimed that if we all forgo inessentials, such as eating, sleeping, and bathing, and all three of us do things in parallel (the old English war tactic of divide and conquer) and then compare notes, we might, possibly, be able to cover the main items on my list (per advice from all of you).

Well, so I pared down the list. The family got one day to choose what they wanted to do. The rest of the time, they're going to be running after me as I speed walk through museums and points of interest. I have given fair warning, if anyone dares to fall sick, they'll have to stay at the apartment by themselves. Can't expect me to interrupt my schedule.

(At least, on this trip to England, I can claim to have a current map. I've been known to venture into Northumberland with a map of medieval Northumbria, much to the exasperation of my brother, who did a lot of the driving, because of my tendency to sidle into ditches and bushes on the wrong side of the road, for Pete's sake.)

So here's our itinerary, subject to change if members of family protest The Maternal Plan of Torture, or you experts think this is preposterous and completely undoable.

Day Zero:
Might as well begin as I mean to go on. This is the day we land around noon at Heathrow. On the agenda are travel to our apartment in the Strand via the Heathrow Connect, figure out weekly Tube passes, and groceries. Also:
— Trafalgar Square
— London Eye

Day One:
— Old Mayfair walk with London Walks
— Pick up lunch from Selfridges
— Grovesnor Square
— St. James' Street
— Hatchard's
— Floris Perfumers (block behind Hatchard's)
— Locke & Co. Hatters
— White's
— Boodle's
— Bond Street
— Oxford Street
— Tea at Fortnum & Mason's
— Hyde's Park

Day Two:
— Tower of London
— Museum of London
— St. Paul's Cathedral & Evensong

Day Three:
British Library
British Museum

Day Four:
The Notting Hill Carnival
Lion King at the Lyceum

Day Five:
— The Secrets of Westminster Abbey with London Walks
— Big Ben
— Sir John Soane's Museum

Day Six:
— Buckingham Palace, changing of the guards at 11am
— Osterley Park

Day Seven:
Travel to airport with a heavy heart.

Is this is a workable itinerary that will not result in bilious family members who will bar me from all future vacation planning?