Thrillers are Tastier on Talavera Pottery

Thrillers are Tastier on Talavera Pottery

If you read this blog with any regularity you know the following;

  • I am a mystery author
  • I drink too much coffee
  • I love Pinterest and Twitter
  • I find inspiration in unlikely places

Talavera Pottery

The latest thing to jog my imagination is talavera, the beautiful and colorful Mexican pottery. The only authentic talavera comes from Puebla and the surrounding villages “because of the quality of the natural clay found there and the tradition of production which goes back to the 16th century.

talavera

Traditional talavera pieces. The store owner eyed me suspiciously when I took the picture but was less suspicious when ringing up my purchases.

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

Talavera pottery pops against a yellow wall at Alter Eco

You can buy talavera online at La Fuente and Direct from Mexico.

Tasty Writing

Talavera was featured in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY. The main protagonist, Eddo Cortez Castillo, is from Puebla. His family runs one of the oldest and wealthiest talavera companies.

Talavera,” Tomás said. “The Cortez family owns Marca Cortez, half of Puebla, and the land the new Volkswagen factory is on. Eddo is still the family’s legal advisor and sits on the board of directors. Don’t know how he finds the time. It helps that he never sleeps.”

Eddo is rich. Richer than the Vegas, even richer than the Portillos. “Puebla,” Luz said. “The city or the state?”

“Both.”

Phenomenally rich.

Real talavera is relatively expensive, although when I lived in Mexico City it was popular to go to Puebla and order service for 8 of a particular pattern. I knew of one family in Mexico City that refused to let their domestic help eat off of their talavera plates, prompting this intense scene in HIDDEN LIGHT.

Luz blinked at her sister. Lupe’s bottom lip was trembling. “Okay,” Luz said, drawing it out. A tiny white lie could put this awkward conversation to rest and Maria could be told the truth later. Luz took a deep breath as if embarrassed. “I . . . uh . . . broke a dish.”

“Six hundred fifty pesos for a dish?” Tío shouted. Everyone jumped. Someone’s spoon clattered to the floor.

Luz shrugged. “It was talavera.

Tío’s hand hit Luz’s cheekbone with a stinging smack. Her head snapped back, her eyes watered, the room sparkled with vertigo and she tasted blood.

Through a curtain of dizziness, Luz watched Juan Pablo rise up and throw a wide looping punch across the table. He put his weight behind it, his chair spurting out behind him, his feet nearly coming off the floor. Fist connected with jaw and Tío spilled to the floor.

“Don’t you touch my sister!” Juan Pablo yelled furiously.

“She’s a stupid girl,” Tío roared, scrambling to his feet. “Breaking dishes when her family needs the money.”

“So you can drink it?” Juan Pablo was barely in control.

“Lupe is pregnant,” Tío shouted.

“If you’re so worried, why don’t you get a job?”

Tío threw a counterpunch across the table but Juan Pablo was younger and faster and sober. He jerked back to avoid the blow, then lunged forward, and suddenly they were snarling and grappling like two wild dogs, hands locked in each other’s shirts. The table between them rocked wildly as they wrestled over the dishes and the tortillas and the clay cazuela full of rice and seafood, ready to kill each other in the small cramped kitchen with everyone else sitting like shocked statues. Plastic glasses spun crazily and tipped over, flatware clattered to the floor, and Luz’s plate slid onto her lap.

I have a few pieces of talavera and this fishy pitcher is my favorite.

Carmen Amato bookshelf

My talavera pottery fish serves a noble purpose

 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Little Silver Miracles

Little Silver Miracles

I’ve been thinking about visual inspiration lately, as I tackle KING PESO, the 4th Emilia Cruz mystery. Thankfully, Mexico is replete with visual cues to creativity, from large (the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City’s Zocalo, assorted volcanoes) to small (shots of tequila, Chupa Pops, silver milagros).

The word milagro means “miracle.” Milagros are small charms, typically silver or tin, that represent an intention. The Zanzibar art website, which carries folk art from around the world, talks about milagros on its page devoted to Mexico.

The bearer typically is asking a saint to intercede on their behalf. They may be asking for health after an injury or illness, a successful romance, or the survival of their livestock. The charms are in the shape of an item related to the request, such as arms, legs, hearts, animals, etc.

The requestor leaves the milagro at the shrine of the saint that they are asking to intercede on their behalf. Mexico is full of statues and crosses covered with the silver charms, including those pinned to ribbons or threads adorning a statue. In many cases, the milagros are pinned to clothing worn by a statue. A milagro can also be carried for protection and good luck, in the way Detective Emilia Cruz carried her rosary with her in DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd Emilia Cruz mystery.

I used a milagro as visual inspiration in The Angler, a stand-alone short story that takes place before the books in the Emilia Cruz mystery series.

When I left Mexico, I took some milagros with me, in the form of this crucifix and a shape known as a Sacred Heart.silver charms adorn a purple cross

Mexican milagros charms

I’m writing in the room where they hang. KING PESO is coming together, albeit slowly.

Not that I’m praying for an intercession, mind you.

But visual inspiration that turns into faster typing wouldn’t hurt.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

A Box, a Mystery Series, and Some Lacquer

A Box, a Mystery Series, and Some Lacquer

She came back a moment later with a box decorated in the traditional rayada carved lacquer technique. It was the size of a loaf of bread and the bottom was fitted with a small drawer with a tiny gold knob.

This is a most special and precious item,” Tifani said as she moved the other items aside and spread a velvet cloth over the glass-topped counter. Lupita placed the box reverently on the fabric. “A relic of the most holy martyr Padre Pro.”

Emilia’s breath caught in her throat. “Really? Padre Pro?”

“Who’s that?” Kurt asked.

“Padre Pro,” Emilia said, as her heart thumped. She was glad she was already sitting down. The rayada box was lacquered in blue and black with an etched design of crosses rather than the usual animal motifs. “He was a priest. A martyr of the Cristero War.”  (DIABLO NIGHTS)

As I start work on the 4th Emilia Cruz mystery, KING PESO,  I’ve been collecting (at least mentally) the unique Mexican influences that will underpin the story. Visual inspiration is important to me, as readers of this blog might have guessed by now, and I’ve done the same for all of the books in the Emilia Cruz mystery series.

Related post: Acapulco: Locating the Emilia Cruz Series

The quote above from the first chapter of DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd book in the mystery series, narrowed the country’s turbulent religious history down to a riveting moment in a Catholic shop. But my favorite detail was about the box containing a purported relic from Padre Pro, the real-life Catholic martyr.

In DIABLO NIGHTS, the relic is housed in a rayada box. Rayada is the Mexican technique of carving lacquer. Markets in Mexico are never without trays, boxes, and even gourds decorated with this painstaking technique. When we lived in Mexico City, I was picky, always looking for the right shade of red or bypassing pieces that weren’t as finely made.

Related post: How to Find Love at Mexico City’s Markets

I now wish I’d bought more besides the two below. The red box, with its exceptionally detailed lacquer carving, has long contained my desk supplies and directly inspired Padre Pro’s relic box. The small tray functions as a coaster for my coffee mug.red rayada laquer box from mystery serieslacquer box from Emilia Cruz mystery seriesrayada technique tray from mystery series author Carmen Amato

I never knew just how much effort went into these little artistic gems, until I read ta description from worldexperience.com. Possibly as much time as it took me to write DIABLO NIGHTS, if you don’t count the time I spent rearranging sticky notes on the master outline, pretending to be both characters during Emilia-Silvio argument scenes, and drinking coffee.

Diablo Nights by Carmen AmatoSo what happens in DIABLO NIGHTS after the infamous rayada box is opened?

Tifani slid the drawer closed and opened the lid of the box. She took out two pieces of styrofoam and set them aside. She reached back inside the box and drew out a small rectangular display case. Lupita whisked aside the now-empty enamel box and Tifani set the glass case on the velvet pad and turned it so that the front faced Emilia and Kurt.

The sides and top of the display case were made of clear glass. The wooden base was stained a dark mahogany and bore a small brass plaque with an inscription that read A Relic of the Most Holy Martyr Blessed Padre Miguel Pro Juarez, S.J. 1891-1927.

The back was decorated with a color picture of a priest in a bloody cassock lying with arms outstretched at the feet of an officer holding a sword and wearing a garish Napoleon-style uniform.

But it was the object inside the display case that took Emilia’s breath away. A long-lost relic of Padre Pro. Her life had come full circle.

 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past

The Ghost of Christmas Past

What if you were truly haunted by the ghost of Christmas past?

Sometimes I think I might be.

That First Christmas

We spent our first Christmas as a married couple in a fairy tale setting. It was crisp and cold that year in Vienna, Austria. We strolled through the market in front of the Rathaus. Recalling my love of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, I fell in love with the nutcrackers of every shape and size.

Christmas past in Vienna

Jumping into the local culture with the appetites of youth, we sampled gluhwein (hot spiced whte wine), ate wurst larded with cheese from sidewalk stands, and  found a charming pub-style restaurant at the end of the tram line that specialized in groestl, a hash made with potatoes and ham. When we had enough local food we visited the 2-story McDonald’s.

The trip was an introduction to eiderdown comforters. We snuggled in a double bed slightly larger than a twin, and watched German television piped in from Bonn. For some reason old American sci-fi movies dubbed in German were popular. The 50’s flicks were campy, with specific effects depending on aluminum foil and string. The spacecraft looked like flying yams.

The commercials were the best part, especially the English language ad touting Spandau Ballet, “the band that styled the 80’s.” We recognized the song “True,” which had gotten decent air time in the US, but fell over ourselves with laughter at the tag line. Even today, one of us will suddenly come out with it, and for some reason it is still as funny as it was then. I mean, come on.

The Band That Styled the 80’s.

You had to have been there, I think.

End of an Era

While we were in Vienna, the reign of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu came to a gruesome end in neighboring Romania. He was the last Communist leader in Eastern Europe to fall. I saved the edition of the International Herald Tribune with the story of the Christmas day execution of  Ceaușescu and his wife. You can read this Huffington Post article about it.

Suddenly, there was another tear in the Iron Curtain. Romanians came flooding across the border into Vienna, stuffed into tiny cars or by the busload to see what the free world looked like. They were slightly shell-shocked in their drab, poorly made clothes, as they took in Vienna’s magnificent architecture, restaurants, and pastry shops loaded with food. They gawked at the markets loaded with high quality Christmas decorations.Trams of Christmas past

A McDonald’s Moment

The McDonald’s was a magnet for the Romanians, although they couldn’t afford it. My husband and I were in the restaurant at one point, eating our way through a sizeable meal. A Romanian couple sat nearby, sharing a single Happy Meal. They ate slowly and with great wonder.

Related post: What I Learned at McDonald’s and it isn’t about the food

That meal was a gift in many ways. It made me realize the joy there is in freedom and to never take it for granted. I recognized how lucky I was to be able to watch the awakening of a nation, yet not have to carry the burden of the past or the fear of change.

Ghost of Christmas Past

That couple in the McDonald’s in Vienna is my ghost. But in a good way. Rarely does a year go by that I don’t think of them. They were about our age, amazed at what the world outside Romania was like.

I hope things worked out for them and that they are prosperous now. Maybe getting ready to enjoy Christmas, laughing about how naive they were that first time out of Romania. Thinking about the American couple they saw in McDonald’s and how they looked like freedom.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

The Right Fork

The Right Fork

A number of years ago, when my children were young and we were living in Mexico, my family was invited to the residence of a NATO ambassador and his family for a New Year’s Eve dinner.  Our children were all the same age and the wife and I were close friends, both of us dealing with the challenges of setting up house in a new country, helping our children adjust, and learning a new language.

I’d been told that dinner would be casual but it was in the formal dining room with a table that could easily seat 30. Placesettings were as elaborate as if this was a diplomatic affair, with enough sterling silver on the table to make a small battleship and rows of wineglasses above each fine china plate. The meal was served in courses, starting with an array of caviar and smoked fish on a tray passed around by the butler.

My son, then eight, was seated next to me and watched the butler’s progression with alarm. “What fork do I use?” he whispered urgently.

There were four forks at each place: salad fork, dinner fork, fish fork, dessert fork. I silently thanked the fact I’d been brought up near the Oneida Silver factory store where Oneida silverplate was the mandatory gift for every occasion. “Start at the outside and work your way in,” I replied out of the side of my mouth.

The next course came. “Which fork this time?” my son asked.

“The next one over,” I told him.

“There’s a fork on top,” he said worriedly. “Dessert,” I hissed.

“What if dessert is flan?” His whispering was beginning to sound like a bad off-Broadway ad lib as our host’s mouth twitched with suppressed laughter.

“Use the spoon.”

“Which one?”

And so the long night wore on.

When we got home, I realized that my children needed to learn a few more skills in order to be prepared to go anywhere and participate in the world in any way they chose. I wanted them to be able to learn from and ultimately be enriched by the culture around them no matter where they went.

In an increasingly mobile world, we can travel anywhere, talk to anyone anywhere around the world, all at the push of a button. Citizens of the world. But what does that mean?

Here’s what I came up with:

  1.  Manners:  A World Citizen is aware of the local cultural norms and social etiquette wherever they go. They know what is polite and what is regarded as rude. They actively try not to offend.
  2. Desire for Information: A World Citizen has an open mind and is ready to put in the effort to learn about other cultures, the history that has shaped them, and why that culture is what it is.
  3. Connected:  A World Citizen uses technology to seek out information and connect with others.
  4. Tolerance: A World Citizen accepts that others will have a different belief system, or none at all, and does not judge (at least not in public.)
  5. Environmental Awareness:  A World Citizen realizes that we aren’t getting any more real estate on this planet and doesn’t trash up their part of it or anyone else’s. They respect efforts to renew and reuse and understand the need for basics like water and sanitation.

I’ll be sharing more here on what it means to be a World Citizen and asking you for your own ideas and experiences. Connecting across cultures isn’t a new concept but reading the news on any given day suggests we haven’t gotten very good at it.  So let’s start a new dialogue and see where it goes.

Maybe if we know what to do with all the forks, we won’t need so many knives.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

Friday Fiesta: Focus, Book Discoverability, and a Discount

The Friday Fiesta is stuff worth celebrating from the past week. This week it’s how to focus on a goal, the quest for discoverability, and a book sale in defiance of the trolls. The margaritas are on me.

Focus

What with one thing and another, I’m having some trouble finishing the last big scene in the next Emilia Cruz mystery, DIABLO NIGHTS. Stuff that is less hard keeps getting in the way, like designing the new Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel blog. (more on this in a few weeks) My writing buddy has been missing his deadlines as well, so it is easy to laugh it off.

But books don’t write themselves. This coming week I need to renew my focus and “git ‘er done,” as Larry the Cable Guy says. I found this list of 8 Daily Practices for improving focus from The Culture-ist and thought others might benefit from it as well. 

Discoverability

I’m not the expert in this field, but an online chat this morning with a Facebook friend led me to comment that too many authors neglect their Author page on Amazon, missing an important opportunity. Some don’t even link all their books to their page . But the Amazon author page is like a one-stop-shop for projecting your author image. So a couple of tips in case you are an author:

Capture_amazon

 

  1. Use the same picture for your author page as you do on Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  2. Write a bio that gets up front the sort of books you write and who would enjoy them. Amazon lets you write a sizeable bio but only a certain portion shows when folks land on the page and most won’t click to see more.
  3. Make sure all your books are linked to your page. This isn’t automatic, you must add them via the Author Central interface.
  4. Link your blog, using the RSS feed address, via the Author Central interface. Ditto book trailers and related videos.

This week Amazon liked my review of IN THE WOODS by Tana French so much it shows up 3 times on my author page. Tech love.

Discount

Made in Acapulco_final_300pxI recently realized that a troll left a 1 star review for MADE IN ACAPULCO, complaining about a computer program. Obviously this has nothing to do with the book. For those who don’t know, trolls are people who surf Amazon and Goodreads, leaving damaging reviews at random. Often, the same review is given to multiple books.

In defiance of the troll activity, I’m offering MADE IN ACAPULCO for $0.99 this week. MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of 5 Emilia Cruz short stories. (Get the first story FREE here.)

MADE IN ACAPULCO takes place before the action in CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE. They reveal Emilia’s first troubled first year as the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. Many of the stories are based on true events in Mexico, including poet Javier Sicilia’s rallies to raise awareness of the missing in Mexico.

Nothing to do with some computer program.

So in defiance of trolls, MADE IN ACAPULCO is $0.99 for Kindle this week. If you pick up a copy, please leave a very non-troll review. Thank you!

In Other News

Did you see the March update for water.org? The Writing for Water team has now provided 10 people with clean water for life  because of readers like you. Goal for the year is 25.

Have you gotten your copy of The 3 Minute Guide to Great Book Reviews? It’s free when you subscribe, along with a free copy of THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz Story, plus The Top 10 Most Riveting International Mystery Series.

Thank you! All the best, Carmen

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

I blame my oldest sister, really. She was studious and serious and had a lot of books. She organized them tidily on bookcases in the basement where they joined books my uncle had left when he joined the Navy and headed for Vietnam. The shelves also had room for an ever-growing collection of hardbacked Readers Digest Condensed Editions and assorted odds and ends from friends and church jumble sales.

Those basement books became my reading roots; books that formed my reading tastes, taught me the power of words, and inspired me to take on a literary career. There’s usually fewer than seven degrees of separation between those roots and whatever I’m reading now.

HEAVEN HELP US! by Herbert Tarr

A dog-eared paperback came to live in the basement donated by a friend. It was an unlikely book for a young Catholic girl to pick up, with a cover showing a man in a yarmulke. But the 1968 story of young Rabbi Gideon Levi and his Long Island temple congregation was and still is one of the most cleverly written books ever.  Tarr, a rabbi and former Air Force chaplain who wrote several other books, made the Jewish religious experience universal. He had an engaging, lighthearted style that I’ve never quite seen replicated. Sophie Kinsella comes closest albeit from a female perspective.

HEAVEN HELP US on amazon.com

EXODUS by Leon Uris

Rabbi Levi’s congregation exclaimed so much over it I wondered if it was a real book and lo and behold it was. EXODUS was published in 1958 to major acclaim and turned into a movie starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo (neither of whom looked anything like the character they played). It is the sweeping, engrossing story of Israel’s birth, moving from the early Zionist movement to Polish Jews escaping the Nazis, Ethiopian Jews emigrating after the war and the start of hostilities with neighboring Arab states. Although a novel, it was my first primer on Middle Eastern politics and shaped my political views for years.

All of Uris’s epic historical novels (MILA 18, QB VII, TRINITY) have the same breadth, strength, and excellent writing but EXODUS stands apart. It made me wonder if I could ever write anything so big. Still wondering.

EXODUS on amazon.com
THE LITTLE WORLD OF DON CAMILLO by Giovanni Guareschi

Don Camillo is a strapping fictional parish priest in Italy’s Po Valley, ministering to a small village congregation. His arch frenemy is Peppone, the Communist mayor of the town, who–as is to be expected of a Communist–says he does not believe in God. It is sometime after WWII and the two men fought together as partisans in the hills against the Nazis. The book is a series of softly humorous and philosophical stories in which Don Camillo and Peppone argue over conflicting beliefs (Peppone wants to baptize his son Lenin–oh the irony!), the welfare of the little village (both try to rig a soccer tournament between the church team and the People’s palace team), and the true meaning of friendship. Oh, and Christ on the cross in Don Camillo’s church talks to him/is his conscience.

I routinely re-read this book when feeling unsettled and always find both humor and solace.  Guareschi, a journalist from Milan who also illustrated the book, wrote other Don Camillo stories and several unrelated novels and stories which can often be found on amazon or abebooks. I was recently thrilled to find an excellent blog on the Don Camillo series. Enjoy!

THE LITTLE WORLD OF DON CAMILLO on amazon.com
THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS by P.G.Wodehouse

My sister had a copy of THE MOUSE THAT ROARED by Leonard Wibberly. It was clever and inventive and I hoped there were others about the silly Duchy of Grand Fenwick. So I’m a high school freshman at the public library searching the Ws in Fiction and where WIB should be there was WOD. Wodehouse to be precise, which was almost as silly a name as Wibberly, and I was hooked.

Wodehouse’s books are all suspended in 1920’s England, where people pass time at big country houses getting wires crossed and trying to extricate themselves from nonsense. His language is a swift patter of hysterical dialogue, British slang, and light comedy. THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS is my favorite, with a cast of characters who appear in many Wodehouse books. It is one of the Jeeves books narrated by Bertie Wooster, whose valet (“my man, don’t you know”) Jeeves is constantly extricating Bertie and friends from impossible romances and other ill-judged escapades. I have multiple copies of this book, including the one in the 20-lb set of all the Jeeves and Bertie books I bought at the oracle of British bookstores, Hatcherd’s in Piccadilly, and hauled home back in the days before there was a 50-lb weight limit on suitcases.

THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS on amazon.com

THE KITCHEN MADONNA by Rumer Godden

This book is firmly rooted. It was in at least two of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Editions. Wikipedia lists it as a children’s story but it is a universal story of a dysfunctional family in London that changes for the better when the young son decides to make a homemade icon for their Ukrainian housekeeper, Marta. His effort takes him across London on a quest to do something for someone else for the first time in his life. Rumer Godden, who was raised in British India and wrote numerous books for adults and children, nine of which became movies, created one of her most uplifting stories. The book is sweet and thought-provoking and makes a unique gift.

THE KITCHEN MADONNA on amazon.com

GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

I can still see this book in my mind’s eye: the hardback cover is deep blue and the bottoms of the pages are wrinkled from having been inadvertently dunked in the water while I was reading and taking a bath at the same time. It topped my 5th grade reading list, back in the days when I knew what a “beau” was but had never heard the word pronounced.

The book got progressively more dog-eared through middle school as I read and re-read it. It wasn’t the Civil War theme or the love triangle between Ashley, Scarlett and Melanie. No, it was the way that Mitchell put me right into Scarlet’s head.

Do you remember the scene when Rhett deserts Scarlett as they flee Atlanta before Sherman’s army? There was a line something like this: “Her mind jumped around, trying to remember what Gerald had called balky mules and Mr. Lincoln.” But nothing came and Scarlett ends up just calling Rhett a cad. My quote may be imperfect, but it was the first novel I read that showed how to bring the reader deep inside a character’s point of view.

Gone With the Wind on amazon.com

The novel was better than the movie, too.

Fiddle dee dee, Carmen, how you do run on.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

35 Ways to be the Worst Traveller in the World

35 Ways to be the Worst Traveller in the World

I travel internationally about every 4 months or so. This means I get to watch fellow travelers, many of whom unsuspectingly offer colorful characteristics and situations ripe for my next mystery novel.

Yes, I admit it. I travel with a notebook and all too frequently jot down crazy things I see other passengers do. Especially when entering a new country–and culture–few of us seem to anticipate what they will find upon arrival.

So if you want to travel internationally, here’s how to do it badly.

1.  Wear a strapless dress while trying to lift a heavy carry-on into the overhead bin. Laugh nervously while doing so.

2.  Don’t change your home currency into the local currency. Doesn’t everyone use dollars/pounds/euros?

3.  Walk into the restroom, ignoring the attendant and the sign that says the cost to use the facilities is 2 pesos/kroner/zlotys (toilet paper included.)

4.  Travel without tissues (see #3 above.)

5.  Don’t carry a pen on international flights. Instead, pester strangers for a writing implement so you can fill out your immigration form. Do so while they are filling out theirs.

6.  Wear flip-flops to walk through A. the butcher section of a mercado  B. a hiking trail  C. European cobblestone streets or  D. any formal restaurant.

7.  Speak loudly in a language the listener does not understand no matter what your volume.

8.  Tourist loudly through a house of worship while a religious service is in progress.

9.  Walk around with your purse open or unzipped or stuff hanging out of your pocket.

10.  Wear short-shorts in conservative countries where the locals don’t wear anything shorter than capri pants.

11.  Jump into a taxi without knowing the local norms—are there meters, are fares negotiated beforehand, which are the unlicensed taxis and are they safe? Also–you took a taxi there. How are you getting back?

12.  Don’t have any idea how to read a map. Be unable to figure out where you are in any given city.

13.  Talk back to the guard at the museum who reminds you that flash photography is not permitted.

14.  When at a tourist attraction, talk loudly to your companions when all are wearing headphones. Double negative points if headphones are attached to museums gizmos that describe the exhibits.

15.  Don’t check local weather before arriving. Who needs a coat in Helsinki in March?

16.  Don’t travel with Pepto Bismol.

17.  Ignore instructions to put airline seat in the upright position during takeoff or landing. This way, you can get to know the people ahead or in back of you when thrust forcefully against them during takeoff/landing. Oh hi!

18.  Get drunk during a flight and offer your drink to the possibly underage person next to you.

19.  Pack porn for a trip to the Middle East.

20.  Try to dance through the metal detector at the airport.

21.  The sausages in Austria were supposed to be great but there is just wurst on the menu. Seriously, wouldn’t you think they’d serve their best?

22.  Don’t set your watch and/or travel clock to the local time zone.

23.  Call room service and ask the hotel to provide American TV channels.

24.  Although you don’t understand the difference between football/fútbol/soccer/rugby/Aussie rules, talk a lot as if you do.

25.  While in China, ask people if they realize that ping-pong is not a sport.

26.  Eat partially cooked eggs. Add points by combining with #16, above.

27.  Drink tap water when everyone else is drinking bottled water. Again, see #16, above.

28.  Use a shopping bag or other open bag as a carry-on so you can share everything in it with the rest of the plane passengers during landing.

29.  Don’t use sunscreen. More negative points if you then get on an airplane where the air is really really dry . . .

30.  Damn. “Wet season” actually means rain.

31.  Spoiler alert:  Turkish coffee, Turkish delight, and Turkish toilets are not all equally nice.

32. Call the hotel concierge, TSA agent, or tour guide “dude.”

33.  Let your screaming children be the center of everyone’s attention in the hotel restaurant/breakfast buffet/line at Disneyworld attraction/butterbeer stand at Hogsmeade.

34.  What, they don’t speak Latin in Latin America?

35.  Try to score drugs in a foreign country. Dude, seriously.

But be a great traveler with ideas from these travel websites!

www.afar.com  the online portal for AFAR, the unique travel magazine

www.smartertravel.com a safe travel guide as well as a place to find deals and advice

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Friday Fiesta: Love, Murder, African Design and the Final Frontier

dog reading paperAs the author of a mystery series I love to weave unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Join the movement and share your stories on Twitter with hashtag #FridayFiesta.

A love list by President Harry Truman

He’s better known for “the buck stops here” than for romance but the Smithsonian recently gave us a fascinating list that President Harry Truman wrote capturing his life with Bess, his wife of 53 years. He made a brief notation beside the date of their anniversary each year. Many entries evoke the time period the Trumans were living through. A really interesting way to capture our milestones. Some examples:

  • June 28, 1922 Broke and in a bad way
  • June 28, 1927 Presiding Judge – eating again
  • June 28, 1944 Talk of V.P. Bad business
  • June 28, 1947 Marshall Plan + Greece + Turkey

Murder in the Library

The British Library has a new exhibit featuring the sound and text of British crime fiction writers. Murder in the Library: An A to Z of Crime Fiction is the British Library’s current free exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery in the Entrance Hall. As reported in the Library’s English and Drama Curators’ blog, the exhibit includes recordings including Edgar Wallace reading his short story ‘The Man in the Ditch’, from a 1928 commercial disc; Arthur Conan Doyle speaking in 1930 about his most famous literary creation, Sherlock Holmes; Agatha Christie in 1955 explaining how she began her career; Raymond Chandler in conversation with Ian Fleming in 1958; and an extract from a 1943 radio version of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

Maybe I find this fascinating because I write a mystery series, love museums, and appreciate the innovation that goes into a non-standard exhibit, but the British Library has created an intriguing display, especially if visited on a dark and stormy night . . .

House of Kenya

Art and design is taking off in Kenya, according to the ever-fresh thecultureist.com online magazine.  Both London and Los Angeles will host an Africa Fashion Week this year and Berlin’s Fashion Week will include an Africa Fashion Day. A few of the names that are behind this recognition by the tough-nut-to-crack fashion world are Kenyan designer Anna Trzebinski who will open her first U.S. boutique in New York in late 2013 or early 2014, Nigerian-born Adèle Dejak whose workshop in Nairobi focuses on using sustainable materials for her accessories line, and Penny Winter who sells fashion accessories in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, as well in Browns in London. Watch out Dior and Chanel—Kenya’s cultural fashions are creative, colorful, and wearable.

The Final Frontier

The cleverness of some folks! Reddit.com “redditor” boredboarder8 superimposed a map of the continental United States on a comparatively-sized image of the moon. The result? The US covers nearly half of the moon. As Robert Gonzalez, writing for website io9.com, said: “A rough estimate, but it’s certainly good enough for government work when it comes to illustrating the Moon’s relative dinkiness. (Or America’s hulking hugeness, depending on how patriotic you’re feeling.)” Take an eye-opening look at America’s final frontier here.

Friday Fiesta: Saving the Food Chain, A Language, Literary Thought and Your Self-Esteem

dog with sifesaver

As the author of a mystery series I love to weave unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Join the movement and share your stories on Twitter with hashtag #FridayFiesta.

The Fish at the Bottom of Your Food Chain

The Peruvian anchovy, known as anchoveta, lives at the bottom of a global food chain you probably have never thought about. According to AP, the little silver fish “thrives in the cold, plankton-saturated Humboldt Current along the coast of Peru and Chile and accounts for about a third of the global fishmeal industry used to fatten farmed seafood and livestock, from salmon in Norway to pigs in China.” But due to overfishing, the anchoveta population is about half what it was 10 years ago. That’s a serious concern for people who know what a food chain is and Peru is taking action by setting quotas, levying fines for illegal harvesting, and making the fish more accessible to its own population to combat childhood malnutrition. Paul Phumpiu, Peru’s vice minister of fisheries, framed the situation: “It’s a paradox, having a resource so rich that it feeds other parts of the planet but barely reaches Peruvians.” A little fish with a big job, it seems.

Saving the Language of Jesus

Writer Ariel Sabar recently followed scholar Geoffrey Khan of the University of Cambridge through Chicago in his quest to find speakers of pure Aramaic, the 3,000-year-old language of Jesus. Aramaic, the language in which Jesus uttered his last words, is down to its last generation or two of speakers. Khan looks for “elderly folk who had lived the better part of their lives in mountain enclaves in Iraq, Syria, Iran or Turkey” and records those whose language skills have not been diluted by slang or dialects. His work is “an act of cultural preservation and an investigation into how ancient languages shift and splinter over time.” This terrific article, published in The Smithsonian, is beautifully researched and written.  I loved this line: “the sounds of a language in twilight.

Be Proud, Get a Badge

Lifescouts.org is an online social community of people who share life experiences and get real badges for those experiences. You can join the social community and store the story about how you earned a certain badge like Sky Diving, Haunted House, Swimming With Dolphins, etc. More are added every month. Each Lifescouts badge costs 3.00 BPS and comes as a round enamel pin. I love Lifescouts for two reasons: 1. Find other folks who have similar experiences and 2. My daughter realized that she’s accomplished more than she sometimes gives herself credit for. A couple of little pins is a terrific reminder of our Small Victories. And some big ones, too.

A Literary Festival in Myanmar. Really

Myanmar recently held its first literary festival, the Irrawaddy Literary Festival. As reported by Publishing Perspectives, it drew “thousands of attendees attracted by the opportunity to hear speakers ranging from Vikram Seth, Timothy Garton Ash, William Dalyrmple, to the festival’s patron, Nobel Peace Prize winner and worldwide icon for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.” It was organized by the wife of the British ambassador to Myanmar, Jane Heyn who saw opportunity in the country’s recent loosening of censorship. Two years ago, such an event—attended by previously jailed writers and others who once had to hand out their works in secret–would not have been possible. While creatives still must tread carefully in Myanmar, the literary festival was “a platform to exchange ideas,” according to Heyn. That can only be a good sign.

 

Friday Fiesta: An Artist, An Astronaut and the Unexpected in Nepal and on Kilimanjaro

globe on a plateAs the author of a mystery series I love to weave unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Join the movement and share your own good news stories on Twitter with hashtag #FridayFiesta.

Meet Mr. Fabulous

In a guest post for abduzeedo.com, the avant-garde art site, Brazilian artist Marco Torres interviews a fellow artist known as Mr. Fabulous. The Q&A about his evolution as an artist and sources of inspiration is quirky and fun, as well as surprisingly thoughtful. Mr. Fabulous makes art with simple markers and pencils. The rest of the abduzeedo site is equally fun; it’s a prescription to end the winter blahs and boost creative inspiration.

Art from an astronaut

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield photographed Earth from the International Space Station and posted them on Twitter. UK’s The Telegraph pulled a selection of Hadfield’s photos of Earth to create a gallery of Hadfield’s best on the publication’s website. Breathtaking and crisp, these photos of Earth truly give us a new perspective on this place we call home as well as Hadfield’s own experience as an astronaut.

Zipping in Nepal

Backpacker Becki is a self-described “a British solo female traveler and adventure seeker” and her website lives up to the description. She is currently on a two year tour of parts unknown and documents the highlights such as her zipline adventure in Nepal. She writes that the zipline near Pokhara is the world’s longest, fastest and steepest. It is over 1.8km long, with a 600 metre vertical drop that gets riders going at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Unlike most other ziplines the rider sits in a harness foor the ride which swings over the Seti River. The pictures are great and while Becki admitted to being nervous, she clearly adored the adventure! While I envy Becki the experience, I’m glad it was on her bucket list, not mine!

The Kilimanjaro Restaurant Experience

It you have a bit of time mid-month, join a tour to Tanzania that includes an expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro, a stop at a gourmet restaurant on the way down the iconic peak, and two days volunteering at a local school. According to website weblogtheworld.com, “Departing February 18, 2013, from Washington, D.C., this one-of-a-kind trek up Africa’s highest mountain boasts an amenity that no other tour provider offers: a gourmet feast prepared by African Chef Pierre Thiam, who will open a temporary restaurant at a base camp at 12,500 feet above sea level exclusively to celebrate the fund-raising climb. After summiting Mount Kilimanjaro via the scenic Machame route, climbers will descend to the base camp restaurant to dine on Chef Thiam’s African regional cuisine.” The core purpose of the expedition is to benefit St. Timothy’s School, a school and children’s home, and the climb and gourmet experience are great ways to generate interest. So if Kilimanjaro is on your bucket list, here’s the best way to do it!

The Friday Fiesta: From Guatemala to Antarctica, with Museums and Manners, too

bottle with sailing ship insideAs a fiction author I love to weave  unique cultural gems into the plot. Most of the time I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America.

In these Friday Fiesta posts I highlight cultural stories worth celebrating. The unique, the odd, the thought-provoking. Enjoy and share to make the world a little smaller today.

Navigating the Ship of State in Guatemala

With an intro that declares “A potential “failed state” is clawing its way back to something like normality,” the online version of The Economist magazine recently took a look at Guatemala. Last week, after being in office for a year, President Otto Pérez Molina pointed to improvements in security, public health and fiscal reform. The murder rate has gone down substantially, more criminals are getting caught and punished—including corrupt police—and “the death rate among those with acute malnutrition has fallen by half.” The president’s job can’t be easy in Guatemala which had a 36-year civil war; half of children under five suffer from malnutrition and drug cartels help keep it on the list of the top 20 most violent places in the world. But even slight progress is better than no progress at all.

#FollowaMuseum

With the teaser “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive,” the folks behind the culturethemes.blogspot.de blog work to promote museum exhibits and other big cultural events by asking folks to join Twitter hashtag tweet fests related to those events. The next one is 1 February. Tweet a great museum experience, with the museum’s handle, using hashtag #FollowaMuseum. You’ll get a culture fix and great ideas for your next outing.

Antarctica Rescue Goes “Forward”

Hard to imagine for many of us, but it is the Antarctic summer right now. This means nearly 24 hours of light, manageable temperatures, fewer wind and ice storms. Yep, it’s the South Pole tourist season, the height of international travel. But Antarctica and the seas around it are never danger free as the cruise ship Fram recently found out. Incidentally the word “fram” means “forwards” in Norwegian. The cruise liner is the namesake of Roald Amundsen’s much more famous ship Fram, now on display in Oslo in the museum I’ll be tweeting about next week! But I digress. The good news here is that when today’s Fram was caught in pack ice off the coast of Antarctica, ice-breaking vessel HMS Protector, on patrol in the region, was able to “crack through the 13-foot-thick ice that had encircled the cruise liner.” Neither ship was damaged and no one was hurt. Skol!

Mind Your Manners

Simply put, I love this website. Etiquettescholar.com gives you tips for manners everywhere. From table settings, to wine selection to tea etiquette, the website is a fund of information to help you enjoy smooth sailing anywhere (okay, maybe I’m taking the ship theme a bit too far.) Surf around the sight before your next international travel for some great tips.

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