The Art of Travel Without a Camera

The Art of Travel Without a Camera

The art of travel is being able to create memories. But how can we relive the experiences and relationships of an exciting or romantic or never-again adventure? Think outside the camera–the right postcard can be more of a memory-maker than all those digital photos that never leave the device.

Travel + Postcards

When I was younger and couldn’t afford to take alot of pictures I found myself traveling through Europe on a student budget. It was the era of 35mm cameras  and the cost to develop pictures was out of my reach. I began buying postcards instead, not to mail, but to keep as souvenirs.

The postcards were easy to share and display. The collection grew. I often rifle through the cards and they never fail to do what a good souvenir does–bring back memories.

Related post: The Kitchen UN

Buying Tips

People have asked about my postcard purchases and so without further ado, the three most important tips for collecting the art of travel:

  1. Only buy a postcard from a place you’ve actually been. It’s tempting to buy a beautiful scene or a painting and heck, it’s only a dollar, right? But when you get home you won’t have any association with it. So don’t bother. Stay authentic to your experience.
  2. Go beyond the ordinary color photo postcard and go with a theme. Collect map postcards. Drawings. Vintage scenes. Hunting a postcard that corresponds to the theme of your collection can liven up a trip.
  3. Look for postcards in quirky places. Museums and souvenir shops are the expected places but churches, antique malls, university bookstores, and art galleries are also good places to check, especially if you collect a theme.

The Gallery

To get your imagination going, here are some of mine and the stories they tell:

manuscript page

A British Library postcard of a page of Lewis Carroll’s handwritten and illustrated manuscript of Alice in Wonderland.  This was my first trip to London as an adult, when I went to the British Library and Sir John Soanes’ Museum and was a hopeless Anglophile for a week.

Irises

This postcard of Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises was purchased during a student trip to Amsterdam. My roommate and I rode the train from Paris and met up with a motley group of foreign students with whom we went to the Van Gogh Museum. This painting, with its thickly daubed paint and eye-popping colors fascinated me. I could have stared at it all day.

Related post: Girl Meets Paris

Amsterdam postcardThis postcard is a double art bonus: it shows both sides of the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam but also reflects the colors and layout of the flag of the Netherlands.

German village

This postcard of the medieval walled village of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany will always bring forth the memory of a trip through Germany and Austria with my mother. Rothenburg was the scene of a particularly funny beer drinking event during which my mother did herself proud at 11:00 am.

1940s postcard

The Ritz Hotel has been mentioned in many books and always seemed the epitome of high society. I crossed it off my bucket list several years ago when I had brunch there (coffee and toast that cost as much as my first car) and picked up this postcard from the lounge on my way out.

postcard of WWII

Australian artist Colin Colahan painted “Ballet of Wind and Rain” in 1945 as an official artist with Australian forces in the UK during WWII. I purchased the postcard at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, one of the most moving tributes to fallen soldiers I’ve ever seen.

Face of Virgin of Guadalupe

This is a photo of image of the Madonna imprinted on a cloth garment (the famous tilma of San Juan Diego) which now hangs in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.  I got it at the  Basilica gift shop. The postcard is simply a photo with “Expression de los ojos de la Virgen” stamped on the back and space for postage and the recipient’s address.

Scrapbook Diaries-postcards 001

This is an oversized postcard for an oversized item, namely the Viking ship or “Oseberg-stavnen” in the Viking ship museum in Oslo, Norway. On the same trip I went to the Fram Museum, the final home of the ship that took Roald Amundsen to Antarctica. I doubt the Viking tradition will ever die out in Norway.

Recent Posts

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward: Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),...

read more

Heading to Killer Nashville

I'm heading to the Killer Nashville mystery writer's conference, where 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is a finalist for the Silver Falchion award for Best Procedural. The award has multiple categories and many of the finalists are very...

read more

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, the first Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, has toppled Jo Nesbo from the top of my Nordic Noir favorites list. And I didn’t even know I wanted to go to Denmark. Some series take a few books before all the pieces are...

read more

Subscribe

Subscribe to my every-other-Sunday updates and I'll send you the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. 

Find out how she got the job no one wanted her to have.

 

Buy books

 

FYI: Carmenamato.net uses Amazon Affiliate links.

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

How Mexico’s Union Boss “La Maestra” Inspired a Mystery

When fellow fiction writers ask where to find inspiration for characters I usually reply “minor league politicians.” There is always something to be found in the actions and words of those hungry for political power. In the same spirit, I channeled Elba Esther Gordillo, head of Mexico’s national teacher’s union, the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), when creating the character of Victor Obregon Sosa, head of the police union for the state of Guerrero in the Emilia Cruz mystery series.

Here’s how Obregon is introduced in CLIFF DIVER, the first book in the series:

The two newcomers surveyed the room. One of them looked vaguely familiar, as if he’d been in the newspaper lately. He was in his late thirties, with longish dark hair slicked back from a high forehead and the sort of angular cheekbones that spoke of a strong indio heritage. He wore a black leather blazer over a black tee shirt and cuffed pants. There was a slight bulge under the left arm. He looked around as if he owned the place. Emilia stopped typing. The man exuded power.

La Maestra

Elba Esther Gordillo, nicknamed “La Maestra,” (The Teacher) has been head of the teacher’s union for more than 20 years; wheeling, dealing, passing out favors, burying bodies, and living on the national stage. Obregon, a continuing character throughout the Emilia Cruz mystery series, borrows much from her:

  • Expensive trappings of office—cars, clothes, attitude
  • Enough money and political power to manipulate politicians and keep them in his pocket
  • Able to effectively block reform and initiatives that could threaten his kingdom
  • Rewards loyalty with best jobs, gifts, favors
  • Likes power and isn’t shy about showing it off

Elba Esther Gordillo photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Imagine my surprise—the imagination reels at what I can do with this via fiction–when Elba Esther was arrested on embezzlement charges last week. The shock wave is still rippling over Mexico where Elba Esther is as famous and powerful as Jimmy Hoffa at the height of his Teamsters power. She is charged with embezzling millions in union funds to support a lifestyle that includes private jets, plastic surgery, luxury homes in San Diego, secret bank accounts in Switzerland and a nearly $3 million credit-card bill at Neiman Marcus. The SNTE has around 1.4 million members and apparently that translates into a lot of dues.

Fictional Education

Of course, it’s not like Elba Esther’s profligate lifestyle was only recently discovered but as they say, timing is everything. (See article on La Maestra corruption from April 2011) The day before her arrest, President Peña Nieto signed into law a major education reform that the SNTE had aggressively opposed. It would allow teachers to be evaluated and possibly fired. This is a big blow to the union’s current status quo: teachers don’t have to have a degree, can never be fired, and high rates of absenteeism are tolerated.

While the president may be sending the message that he’s serious about corruption, Elba Ester’s excesses would have been easier to tolerate if Mexico’s education standards were in better shape:

Looks like Elba Ester has alot to account for and no doubt she’s working up a slick defense as she waits in a woman’s prison near Mexico City. I’m sure it will be inspiring . . . at least to a mystery writer!

2016 Update

Mexican President Pena Nieto’s education reforms have sparked a slew of protests across Mexico, as teachers protest a system overhaul, including evaluation tests every three years. The reforms also include competitive hiring, more control to the federal government, and a salary system to protect against graft and waste.

But in southern Mexico, this past summer protests got violent. Nine people were killed in clashes with police in Oaxaca. Highways were blocked, leading the government to airlift food into rural areas around the city.

While the main union has fallen in line with the reforms, combatative factions are leading the protests and vowing to close Mexico’s highway system. This comprehensive NY Times article from June 2016 focuses on the violence and extremism in Oaxaca.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Comparing Crime Rates: Acapulco vs Points North

In mid-February, prompted by a spate of news reports on crime for 2012–including a list of the top 10 most violent cities in the world, discussions of violence in Chicago and Detroit, and school closings in Acapulco due to security problems–I posted this picture and the following question on my Facebook fan page:

Acapulco nightAcapulco, setting for my EMILIA CRUZ mystery series, has been named the 2nd most DANGEROUS city in the world! Have you been to Acapulco? Do you agree?

The Facebook Response

At present I have 1898 Facebook fans, spread across 7 countries. More than half are in Mexico. 291 fans “liked” the post. Responses included:

  • “Beautiful paradise turned into hell.. where teachers are being extorted . . taxi drivers are decapitated, where many women have been raped, but only when happened [sic] to foreigners the authorities reacted as if the lives of poor, common Guerrero women were worthless.”
  • “Acapulco is violent and dangerous yes, indeed!”
  • “I think people over [exaggerate] things ‘cause look what happened to those kids in school. It’s always dangerous people make it that way in Mexico everywhere not just Acapulco.” (translation)
  • “I love the photo. Just . . . Perhaps . . . this is now the motherland of Mexicans. And you have to love her as such. First, individuals must be better in order to first form a society.” (translation)
  • “The whole world has violence not only Acapulco.”

Related post: Chain of Fools

Comparing Crime

The “it’s not just Acapulco” comments made me wonder. Were Acapulco’s homicide numbers really so much worse than Chicago or Detroit? Moving further north, what about Canada? What does high crime there look like? I had more questions than ever after that simple Facebook post.

Here is what I found when I compared the homicide rates in key cities in North America:

                           Winnipeg       Chicago         Detroit          Acapulco

Population:           700,000           2,851,265         700,000          880,000

2012 homicides              39                 500                 411                 1170

Percentage        1 in 17,948           1 in 5,702        1 in 1,703         1 in 752

I was looking for context and what I got was a shocker. Unless math has changed since I went to school, Acapulco is far and away the winner of this gruesome challenge. Winnipeg has the worst homicide rate of all Canadian cities but is incredibly low in comparison.

Are Local Gangs the Key?

What will it take to make a dangerous city less violent? Gangs fuel the homicide rates in Chicago and Detroit, according to many news reports, and it is well known that Acapulco’s gangs feed drug cartel violence. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently announced a new $9 billion crime prevention strategy to combat the rise of gangs in 57 poor neighborhoods and hotspots including Acapulco. Will it work? While homicide rates never tell the whole story, let’s hope next year the numbers are smaller.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

About the time I went to Fiji

About the time I went to Fiji

Arriving in Fiji alone at 1:00 am after a 12-hour flight was unnerving but that’s the way the flights went so there I was, in the middle of the Pacific, with a heavy suitcase, an even heavier bag of scuba gear, and reservations for a hotel that was 20 miles away. I’d never been in Fiji before.

The Fiji You Don’t Know

A nation of islands, Fiji was a former British colony. When the Brits found out that it was the ideal climate for sugar cane, Indian workers from the subcontinent were brought in the raise the crop. Sugar cane passport and shellsbecame Fiji’s main export, sweetening British candy and giving rise to local rum production as well. But land in Fiji–and accompanying political power–is reserved for native-born Fijians, disenfranchising the Indian population. As the Indian population grew to rival that of native-born Fijians, the unequal status was more apparent. The Indian population’s economic and political power grew with the population, until an Indian was elected prime minister. A racially-motivated coup by a native Fijian army officer was swift and bloodless. It returned the former native Fijian prime minister to an interim status but a second coup occurred when the army ringleader took power himself.

The second coup had occurred two weeks before my arrival.

The Taxi Driver I Didn’t Know

I was wary but determined as I hauled my heavy bags outside the terminal to be directed into a taxi driven by a turbaned Indian gentleman. We headed off in the pitch-black Pacific night for Suva, the capital. The taxi was tooling along nicely until we came to an army roadblock. A single Fijian soldier stood guard, wearing a military uniform shirt tucked into a traditional Fijian sulu, or kilt, and sandals. He had an assault rifle, a flashlight, and a long wooden barrier.

The Soldier I Wish I Knew

Let me digress here and say that Fijian men are the most handsome men on earth. Apologies to singer Ricky Martin; Karl Urban–the New Zealander who played Eomer in the Lord of the Rings movies; and my husband (whom I hadn’t yet met.) Fijian men are Pacific gods. All are about seven feet tall, muscular to the point of sculpture, and have deliciously dark hair and eyes.

So back to the car. The driver stopped the vehicle in front of the barrier. From my vantage point in the back seat I saw him sweat and shake as the soldier and his nice gun approached. The driver stared ahead, steering wheel locked in a death grip, and didn’t acknowledge the soldier.

For whatever reason I rolled down my window, smiled shakily, and held out my American passport.

The soldier bent down to peer at me through the open window. Up close he was gorgeous; dark mustache  lose-yourself-in-them brown eyes, perfect teeth. “Hello,” he said, making it sound as if I was the woman he’d been waiting for all his life.

“Hello,” I replied, now confused as well as nervous.

He stepped away from the car and studied my passport in the beam of his flashlight. There were no streetlights, no other cars, the airport far behind, the empty road unspooling in front of us only to disappear into the darkness. The taxi driver continued to shake like soupy gelatin.

The soldier came back to the car and leaned down to look at me again through the window. He handed back the passport. “Goodbye,” he said, infusing his voice with Casablanca-like drama.

“Goodbye,” I said, matching his emotional tone.

He moved the barrier, the taxi driver gave a little sob, and we sped off, leaving Sergeant Fiji by the side of the road.

In Retrospect

I was reminded of this episode  when I recently unpacked a box of souvenirs. I’d made the first move in a tense situation by offering my passport to the soldier. He was alone in the dark and probably as nervous as that taxi driver. Would things have gone differently if I’d waited for the taxi driver to do something or for the soldier to demand some identification or payment?

 

Recent Posts

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward: Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),...

read more

Heading to Killer Nashville

I'm heading to the Killer Nashville mystery writer's conference, where 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is a finalist for the Silver Falchion award for Best Procedural. The award has multiple categories and many of the finalists are very...

read more

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, the first Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, has toppled Jo Nesbo from the top of my Nordic Noir favorites list. And I didn’t even know I wanted to go to Denmark. Some series take a few books before all the pieces are...

read more

Subscribe

Subscribe to my every-other-Sunday updates and I'll send you the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. 

Find out how she got the job no one wanted her to have.

 

Buy books

 

FYI: Carmenamato.net uses Amazon Affiliate links.

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Matching Books with Museums in Mexico City

Matching Books with Museums in Mexico City

There you are, strolling through amazing exhibits and you know something’s missing. Like the backstory.

Wish you’d known more before going? But there wasn’t time. Besides,  researching before going to a museum sounds too much like work.

So prep with a little fiction! Have fun and get the backstory before you go by pairing a good book with a counterpart museum. It’s like pairing white wine with fish or a cabernet with a good steak; each tastes better with the other.

Here are some suggestions for pairing fiction books with museums in Mexico City. Just like Corona with carnitas!

Chapultepec Castle and The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo

Chapultepec castle

Chapultepec Castle photo courtesy wikipedia

The museum: Perched on top of a hill, with sweeping views over Mexico City’s western sprawl, the fortress-style castle was home to the ill-fated Emperor Maxmillian I and his empress, Carlota, during the Second Mexican Empire from 1864 to 1867. You can walk through the rooms, which are arranged shotgun fashion–each leading into the other–insuring that no one at the court had much privacy. The gilded, delicate French-style furniture is an indication just how out of touch the royal court was from real life in Mexico. Take the trolley from street level up the hill, otherwise you’ll be too exhausted from the climb to appreciate the museum.

The book: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is a fictionalized account of the Second Mexican Empire seen mostly through the eyes of the American woman whose son was adopted (or seized depending on your point of view) by the childless Maxmillian and Carlota in the vain attempt to establish an heir to the Mexican throne. The book is a real gem and shows off both amazingly detailed research into the life and times of the Second Mexican Empire and the author’s ability to create wholly believable historical characters. Get it here.

The Palacio Nacional and The Eagle’s Throne by Carlos Fuentes

Palacio Nacional Mexico City

Palacio Nacional photo courtesy wikipedia

The museum: This long, stately building rises impressively along one side of Mexico City’s enormous Zócalo central square. It is a working government building but visitors flock there to see the famous murals by Diego Rivera that adorn the main stairwell and the walls of the second floor. Grandly titled “The Epic of the Mexican People,” the murals were painted between 1929 and 1935 and tell Mexico’s story from the Aztecs to the worker of Rivera’s times. Above the building’s central doorway, facing the Zócalo, is the main balcony where just before 11:00 pm every 15 September, the president of Mexico gives el Grito de Dolores, the infamous cry for independence from Spain originally made by national hero Miguel Hidalgo. Hidalgo’s church bell from the church of Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, hangs above the balcony.

The book: The murals and the el grito commemoration are integral parts of Mexio’s turbulent and at times visceral political rivalries and history. The Eagle’s Throne, written as a series of letters by a tangled net of political players, is a masterfully crafted inside look at that game. The letters reveal the story bit by tantalizing bit, with allegiances, conflicts, brinkmanship, and manipulation driving the narrative. An amazingly complex and skillful book, there is nothing else that so perfectly takes the reader inside Mexico’s political world. Get it here.

La Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s house) and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Casa Azul

la Casa Azul photo courtesy wikipedia

The museum: This cobalt blue house in the artsy Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City was the family home to iconic painter Frida Kahlo and where muralist Diego Rivera also lived during his stormy marriage to her. Kahlo and Rivera were socialist sympathizers and la Casa Azul was an intermittant refuge for Leon Trotsky 1937-39 when he fled Stalin’s Russia. The house contains numerous Kahlo artifacts and pieces of artwork. An outdoor room built by Rivera and encrusted with shells shows just how unrestricted the two were in their creativity.

The book: The Lacuna traces the life of a troubled young American man who was raised (by a free spirit mother) in Mexico City and becomes assistant, chef, and secretary to Kahlo and Rivera. Rich in imagery, poetic prose, and character development, we see the conflict and intimate life of the two artists through his own troubled eyes. Their commitment to Trotsky and the latter’s exile in Mexico City is the real centerpiece of the book. I didn’t love the end, but the novel is a dense, lavish telling of the story of Kahlo and Rivera—and all that had happened in that house. Get it here.

The Rufino Tamayo Museum and The Hidden Light of Mexico City by Carmen Amato

Tamayo Museum

Tamayo Museum photo courtesy vernissage.tv

The museum: The Tamayo Museum is the queen of contemporary art in Mexico, drawing A-list international artists and fearlessly promoting new ideas and installations in the art world. A huge curved sign occupies prime real estate on Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City’s main drag, advertising the museum’s ever-changing array of exhibits. The building itself is a piece of sculpture, a nice contrast to its neighbor, the more stolid Anthropology Museum. Well curated, it is rarely crowded and always gives fresh perspectives. Also, the small restaurant has very good coffee.

The book: In The Hidden Light of Mexico City, anti-corruption attorney Eddo Cortez Castillo talks to housemaid Luz de Maria Alba Mora in front of the museum and mistakes her for an art teacher. Their tour of the museum brings the reader right along, showing the variety of things one is likely to see in the Tamayo, from video installations, to 3-D objects of startling variety and materials, to classics like actual paint on canvas. Like it does to everybody, the Tamayo startled Eddo and Luz but also hugely entertained, leading to an unforgettable conversation about life, history, and love. Of course more happens after that—Eddo’s hunting a corrupt Minister of Public Security and an elusive cartel leader while Luz’s family implodes—but you’ll have to read the book to see how it all works out. The book takes on Mexico’s rigid social system as well as government corruption. Get it here.

Check out tripfiction.com for more ideas.

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward: Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),...

read more

Heading to Killer Nashville

I'm heading to the Killer Nashville mystery writer's conference, where 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is a finalist for the Silver Falchion award for Best Procedural. The award has multiple categories and many of the finalists are very...

read more

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, the first Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, has toppled Jo Nesbo from the top of my Nordic Noir favorites list. And I didn’t even know I wanted to go to Denmark. Some series take a few books before all the pieces are...

read more

Get your FREE Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library

2 novellas, 3 chapters

1 unforgettable woman

all in a downloadable PDF

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

The Case of the Mysterious Immigration Debate

I’m a mystery and thriller author, not a political pundit or a news commentator. My books so far have been set in Mexico, however, and if you think/talk/enjoy things Mexico the US immigration debate is never far behind.

From my optic, here’s how the debate is shaping up:

Guest worker vs brainiacs vs 11 million undocumented

Most folks want to lump things together in an effort to make the simplest news story possible for an attention-deficit audience but the phrase “immigration reform” can mean a lot of diverse things. The three deal-breakers appear to be:

  • A guest worker program (such as the Bracero program during WWII)
  • How to attract and retain skilled labor to help US economic competitiveness
  • What to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented currently living in the US

Cobbling these diverse issues together into immigration reform is a means for crafty politicians and pundits to manipulate public opinion or stymie their opposition. Or even achieve success! Now if we only knew what success would look like . . .

The economic arguments

The cost of US entitlements (food stamps, public education, etc) going to undocumented residents of the US vs contributions to the US economy being made by that same group at present and in future. For example, according to the independent National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), immigrants will contribute $611 billion to the Social Security system over the next 75 years. A path to citizenship would bring more people–who might otherwise be long-term undocumented–into the formal economy, ensuring their contributions such as taxes and payroll deductions. Yay! Become a citizen, learn what FICA is and why it eats your paycheck!

The competitiveness angle

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has the lead on this, calling the current US immigration policy “national suicide.” At a conference to promote STEM leadership in New York at the end of 2012, Mayor Bloomberg declared “Our economy depends on immigrants, and currently our immigration policy is what I call national suicide.” His personal website says: “A vocal champion of comprehensive immigration reform, Mike recognizes that fixing our broken immigration policies is essential to our country’s future – and to our ability to remain the world’s economic superpower.” Agreed–if for no other reason the lack of reform is a huge drain on our national energy.

My way or the highway

The US is not the only country dealing with the issues of immigration,  economic growth and balancing new cultural inputs with current resources. Does Canada hold a key for the US with its new plan to give priority to immigrants with critical skills? Are we looking at Singapore, which manages to do many things right? Many other countries have had guest worker programs; what worked, what didn’t?

Forgetting the past

I learned in grade school about the great American “melting pot,” which by definition is a messy thing. Not every person who comes from somewhere else to the US will make a stellar contribution. But their offspring might. My own family certainly had a black sheep of an immigrant but his descendants are engineers, architects, teachers, builders, doctors, and a US Navy officer. None of us has ever been on welfare, food stamps, or other forms of public assistance.

Well, that’s my take on the immigration reform swirl. Let the adult conversation begin.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Historic Preservation That Scares Us and Why That’s a Good Thing

Elsewhere in this blog I’ve talked about historic preservation as a means of taking the temperature of a culture. A healthy culture chooses to preserve both its good and bad: we celebrate the good and learn from the bad. The bad is often scary and it might be preferable not to remember these things but they carry unforgettable universal lessons.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: The beautiful Gothic cathedral in the center of Vienna is home to the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Vienna. It anchors the main Stephensplatz with fantastic architecture, stained glass windows, and graceful spires (445 high at its tallest point.) Dedicated to St. Stephen in 1147, the church underwent the usual Middle Ages rebuilding and fires.  After WWII much of it was rebuilt and the cathedral reopened in 1952.

Preservation: Human remains lie under the church in its catacombs. You can tour the catacombs, passing through a narrow passage to see neatly stacked skulls in one huge chamber, femurs in another and so on. The bones are the remains of the eight cemeteries that used to exist around the church. The cemeteries were closed in 1735 due to bubonic plague and the dead were taken from the cemeteries and stored under the church in what must have been a space-saving and gruesome manner. Bodies were buried in the catacombs until 1783, when most burials within Vienna were outlawed. According to Wikipedia, the catacombs hold over 11,000 remains.

Lesson: The power of disease cannot be forgotten. Those bones symbolize the destructive power of disease and the ignorance of how to cure it. This is why today we have the Center for Disease Control.

Dachau concentration camp, outside Munich, Germany

Dauchau memorial

“Never Again” memorial, Dachau. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp established in Germany, described as a camp for political prisoners. It opened in 1933, 51 days after Hitler came to power. It was in operation for 12 years and recorded 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths–like all the numbers associated with Nazi death camps take these with a grain of salt.  The American forces that liberated the camp were so shocked at what they found–and by local residents’ claim that they knew nothing about the camp—that they made the residents clean it up.

Preservation: A walk through the preserved site is like walking through a cemetery while the spirits call out to you. There is a memorial and a museum. The foundation of the barracks are left. A short walk from the barracks and the parade ground is the crematorium. One oven was sized for children and is a sight I’ll never forget.

Lesson: Man’s inhumanity to man is a sledgehammer blow of a lesson when you see Dachau. Everyone who walks through here understands it at a visceral level. But genocide endures nonetheless.

Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway

Kon tiki museum photo

The Kon-Tiki raft. Photo courtesy the Kon-Tiki Museum

Background: In 1947, a young Norwegian anthropologist named Thor Heyderdahl set out to prove his theory that ancient pre-Columbian peoples traveled across the Pacific from South America to the Polynesian islands. Using only the materials that would have been available to those ancients, he constructed a balsa raft called the Kon-Tiki. Together with 5 others, he sailed it for 101 days across 4300 miles from Peru to the remote Tuamotu islands, proving his theory that such travel voyages showed that “early man had mastered sailing before the saddle and wheel were invented.”

Preservation: The Kon-Tiki raft is now in a fantastic museum in Oslo, Norway, together with another Heyderdahl raft called Ra. His archives at the Kon-Tiki Museum are part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World registery.

Lesson: This raft and its journey hardly seem to be an example of scary historic preservation until you consider the implications of Heyderdahl’s theory. Ancients travelling the globe in pre-Columbian times, settling and spreading their seeds in far-flung places means that we could all be a lot more related than we think. And that is a scary thought to many.

Arizona Battleship Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor memorial

Arizona Memorial. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: On 7 December 1941, the day that will live in infamy, Japanese imperial forces attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. Waves of aircraft bombed battleships sitting at anchor, destroying much of the US’s naval power. On the USS Arizona alone, 1,177 crew members died, making it the greatest loss of life on any U.S. warship in American history.

Preservation: In 1961, a floating monument was erected over the sunken USS Arizona. Visitors can peer through the glass floor and see the mid-portion of the sunken battleship. I remember being embarrassed that I’d worn high heels; it seemed indecent that my feet should click against the watery graves of so many men. The 184-foot long Memorial also has an area called the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

Lesson: The Memorial is a powerful reminder of the havoc wreaked by war. It cautions us not to forget those who sacrifice.

Pompeii, near Naples, Italy

Pompeii in sun

Ruins at Pompeii. Photo courtesy wikipedia commons

Background: In 79 AD, the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed and buried under 13-20 feet of ash and lava when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted. It is hard to know how many people died that day but Pompeii was thought to have been a large and thriving agricultural town. The eruption, which lasted 12 hours, ironically occurred the day after the feast day of the Roman god of volcanoes.

Preservation: The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in 1748. One of the archaeologists supervising the ash removal devised a way to inject plaster into the bodies found, preserving their death agonies as they were incinerated or died from smoke inhalation. As I walked around the large site in Italy’s August heat, marveling at the amphitheaters and well-constructed homes, it was easy to think of hot ash raining down and to realize how much had been lost.

Lesson: Nature does what it will and we must respect and adapt to it. As the climate change debate goes on and we deal with unexpected droughts, tornados or snow in places that ordinarily don’t see these weather phenomena, perhaps it is a good time to consider that the people of Pompeii probably though they had the god of volcanoes well in hand.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Lost in Mexico has nothing to do with translation

Lost in Mexico has nothing to do with translation

In CLIFF DIVER, the first full-length book in my new mystery series, Acapulco police detective Emilia Cruz keeps a log of women who have gone missing. For her they are las perdidas, the lost ones, and sometimes it seems as if she’s the only who still cares.

I’d like to say that I made this up, that hey–the book is fiction, that there are no women missing in Mexico or anywhere else. But we’ve seen the news from Mexico over the past few years and know that the battles for money and power between rival drug cartels and between cartel interests and the rule of law have taken a heavy toll.

The conflict bleeds south through Central America and beyond; las perdidas aren’t confined to Mexico. Where I live in Central America, notices like the one above often appear in the newspapers. DISAPPEARED the headline cries. The ads are placed by the families and the size of the ad is usually an indicator of the family’s wealth. (Read my post about violence against women in Nicaragua here.)

How Many Are Missing

In Mexico, leaked government documents from late 2012 put the overall number of missing adults and children as 25,000 over the past five years. In the city of Cuidad Juárez alone, the number of “disappeared” women is hard to calculate. Most know a family with a missing female member. This riveting account from the New Statesman of what is happening to women there is well worth a read.

The Cost of Closure

Trying to find out what happened to your disappeared wife, daughter or mother in Mexico can be fruitless and expensive, according to this report from the Inter Press News Service. One source puts the cost at $23,000. FYI, the average annual salary in Mexico is just over $11,000, according to the OECD.

The dead are easier to count

According to The National Citizen Observatory on Femicides (OCNF) from January 2010 to June 2011, 1,235 women were killed in Mexico. Between 2005 and 2011, in the state of Mexico, adjacent to the capital city and notorious for violence against women, the OCNF recorded 922 victims of femicide. In the state of Chihuahua, home to Ciudad Juárez, in 2010 alone there were 600 cases of femicide.

photo courtesy of BBC News bbc.co.uk

So we’ll continue to see advertisements for the disappeared. Some places will be creative in the search for loved ones and justice, such as Chihuahua’s campaign to place notices for missing persons on tortilla wrappers the way faces and information are carried on milk cartons in the United States.  This photo accompanied this story by BBC News late last year.

I wish I’d made up Acapulco police detective Emilia Cruz’s las perdidas. I really do. But maybe fiction can generate some attention to this wrenching problem. Mexico is a country rich in resources, culture, and tradition. No one should be “lost” there.

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward: Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),...

read more

Heading to Killer Nashville

I'm heading to the Killer Nashville mystery writer's conference, where 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, is a finalist for the Silver Falchion award for Best Procedural. The award has multiple categories and many of the finalists are very...

read more

Department Q and The Keeper of Lost Causes

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES, the first Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, has toppled Jo Nesbo from the top of my Nordic Noir favorites list. And I didn’t even know I wanted to go to Denmark. Some series take a few books before all the pieces are...

read more

Get your FREE Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library

2 novellas, 3 chapters

1 unforgettable woman

all in a downloadable PDF

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Walking the Mouth of Hell

warning signI ended up with the yellow hard hat but what I really needed were safety goggles. My eyes watered from the cinders in the air. Heat rose from the black porous rocks that lined the uphill path and within minutes my jeans were damp with sweat. The smells of sulphur, rotten egg, brimstone, eddied in the strong wind.

We were climbing the marked paths around the multiple calderas of the still-active Masaya Volcano, 23 kilometers from Managua. The area is a well-preserved Nicaraguan national park–the country’s first–that includes Volcán Nindirí, which last erupted in 1670, and Volcán Masaya, which blew in 1772. The relatively new Santiago Crater was formed between the other two in 1852. Moon Guides has more about the volcano here.

park entrance Masaya

Masaya is a well laid out national park

Masaya crater

Steam billows from the Santiago crater, which experienced a partial eruption in April 2012

At the top of the first rise, we turned and tried to catch our breaths, heat wafting up from the path that wasn’t so much of a path as it was a long series of steps cut into the sides of the craters. The visitor’s center only a few kilometers from the park entrance had offered an informative series of rooms about geology, tectonic plates, Central America’s volcanoes and other scary things cloaked in science, where we’d learned that the Masaya volcano occasionally belched out the type of magma that hardened into lava bombs upon exit. The steps we climbed were bound by lumber and these big lava chunks.

rocks

Bubbly black lava rock was everywhere

We found the relatively small San Francisco crater at the top of the path. San Francisco was long dormant and the big bowl in the ground was now covered in grass and scrubby shrubs, with the occasional yellow flower poking through. As I looked over the stunning landscape with the crater at my back, the wind threatened to whip the camera out of my hand.

crater

The San Francisco crater looks like a green bowl

Nearly a mile away, we could see the smoking Santiago caldera. Above it was the cross placed there in 1529 by Father Francisco Bobadilla to exorcise the demons he believed lived within. The Spanish explorer Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo called the smoking volcano the “mouth of hell.” He had himself and another man, Friar Blas del Castillo, lowered into the caldera thinking to find gold there. He didn’t find gold but probably spent the next two days blowing ash out of his nose and wondering why his ear wax had turned black.

cross above volcano

The cross high above the volcano dates from 1529. The walkway to it is closed due to landslides.

Mother Earth has a sense of humor, I thought to myself as I watched steam billow out of the Santiago crater. It was a unique sight. Powerful and a little scary. We watched the steam drift, getting thicker and thicker, until it obscured the far side of the crater’s lip.

When we’d first driven up to the main viewing area, along a curving road that led up from the visitor center and the guard who handed out the hard hats, we’d been able to see maybe a third of the edge but now most was hidden behind a white cloud. All parking was facing out, in case an evacuation was in order. The wall built at a low point in the crater’s lip barely came to our knees but any rush of vertigo was lost in the stunning view.

sign

In case the lava bombs start falling and we have to know which way to run

We started back down, our shoes crunching on the black lava gravel. We were heated by the rocks but cooled by the wind. I started thinking about some of the other odd places I’d been and the risks I’d taken and the choices I’d made.

drop off edge

The Santiago crater is 1640 feet wide and 656 feet deep. I didn’t measure it.

volcano plain

Looking out over the plain at the craters left by the inactive volcanoes

signs

Older signs are scratched and damaged by eruptions

Masaya volcano

An incredible, majestic view

An active volcano is an unexpected thing, a sign that the solid earth is alive and moving to its own inner music. We can’t control it, which means there are risks along the lava path. But when you reach the top, inspiration and power are there for the sharing.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

A Nicaragua Christmas: The Treasures of Alter Eco

Advertising in Managua, Nicaragua, can be hit-or-miss so I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find when I walked into Alter Eco, which bills itself as an alianza hecho a mano. This “alliance” is actually a cluster of artist shops and studios near the big art and antiques store Mama Delfina.

The displays and inventory would be at home in New York or London or Mexico City. Here are some of the treasures I discovered.

cotton clothing

This charming clothing and accessories boutique has a Laura-Ashley-meets-Chanel vibe. Simple cotton and linen pieces kept to a pink, rust, and gray palette.

boutique

Visitors to the boutique are immediately drawn in by the charming wall decor featuring trees, birds and 3-D blossoms

boutique ceiling

Silver “raindrops” fall from the tree branches and blossoms on the ceiling

jewelry

Accessories included locally-sourced jewelry and lizard clutches and belts

talavera

The ceramics studio had a beautiful selection of Mexican talavera

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

The place to go for customized tequila shot glasses!

Talavera plaque reading “God Bless This Home.” My wish for you this holiday season.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

A Nicaragua Christmas: Nativities at Mama Delfina’s

For me, Christmas is still Christmas.  It is a celebration of the birth of Christ and my home would not be ready for the holiday without a nativity scene.

Luckily, Mama Delfina, the wonderful art and antiques store in Managua, had many on offer, all carved and painted in the local style. I’d seen a few in the market a few weeks ago, but the store offered nativities worthy of being passed down to the next generation.  The problem was which to choose! Check out the last picture and let me know what you think.

many nativities

Carved and painted nativities make for intriguing tablescapes

angels and holy family

Painted angels stand watch with the Holy Family

long figures

Some of the angels and Holy Family figures are fanciful, like these elongated figures

Holy Family with star

The figures and star in this nativity are all carved from the same piece of wood

wise men and holy family

This unique faceless set included the Holy Family and the Wise Men

nativity on blue shelf

This Holy Family and watchful angel popped against the store’s blue display shelf

My nativity

This was my final choice: one large figure, three Family members. I chose it because it showed a young couple awed by their new baby. Joseph has his left arm around Mary’s shoulder and she is leaning her head against his shoulder. A love story as well as a nativity.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

A Nicaragua Christmas: Shopping at Mama Delfina’s

Managua, Nicaragua, is full of surprises including the beautiful art and antique store, Mama Delfina’s.  Housed in a large white Spanish colonial building with an open courtyard and beautiful old brickwork, the place is a treasure trove of handmade holiday gifts and decorations, carefully curated to offer a collection of best locally-produced items.

While the original Delfina, whose picture is above the cash register, looked on with stiff-necked amusement, the staff graciously let me roam around and take pictures. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did!

Mama Delfina entrance

An old picture of Delfina and a painting of the store hang above the antique blue counter

artwork at Mama Delfina

The store features beautiful displays of painted boxes, frames, wooden angels and handmade paper goods

Silver frames

Some of the frames are of intricately punched metal, a technique that in Mexico is called repujado

Christmas ornaments

All the Christmas ornaments at Mama Delfina’s are one-of-a-kind

Boxes

Each painted box was a mini-masterpiece of abstract art. Loved the wonderful tablescapes throughout the store.

desk

The store is arranged as a series of vignettes showcasing art and antiques.

textile bags on display

The store carries a line of bags made from a loomed woven fabric that was prohibited during the Samoza regime but is now being reproduced in Nicaragua

archways of art

A beautiful vignette of art, holiday items, and antiques

art on wall

The store chooses and displays art with a practiced eye

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Pin It on Pinterest