How to be an Armchair Traveler

How to be an Armchair Traveler

I keep waiting for coronavirus to call a time out but, uh, so far . . . no.

It’s turning me into an armchair traveler. You, too?

I have missed museums. Not that I’m a rabid art hound, but museums are a great reason to get up and go somewhere new to refuel my creative engine.

Thankfully, mystery series top up the tank, too. (Like the Detective Emilia Cruz series!)

For a great armchair traveler “getaway,” match a mystery series with an online museum tour with Google’s Arts and Culture project. You can take virtual tours of scores of museums around the world. The technology gives you an experience like Google Earth, with the ability to “walk” through an exhibit.

It’s pretty amazing. Here are some recommended books to read, along with a virtual museum tour to give the story shape in your imagination.

Related: Matching books and museums in Mexico City

São Paulo, Brazil

Series: Chief Inspector Mario Silva series by Leighton Gage

With a stubborn and brooding demeanor, Chief Inspector Mario Silva of Brazil’s federal police has been described by Booklist as “South America’s Kurt Wallander.” BLOOD OF THE WICKED sets up Silva as a good cop with a rag-tag but loyal band of underlings caught in Brazil’s pervasive corruption. Expect high quality writing and an insider’s view of a fascinating culture.

blood of the Wicked

Find on Amazon: >>> BLOOD OF THE WICKED https://geni.us/blood-wic

Museum: Explore the contemporary Museu de Arte de Sa͂o Paulo  >>> https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/masp

Paris, France

Series: Aimée Leduc murder mysteries by Cara Black

Leduc is a private detective in Paris juggling single motherhood, disappearing lovers, and a shadowy organization called The Hand. Her late father was a Paris cop killed by the group, while her super-spy American mother pops in and out of Aimée’s life. MURDER IN THE MARAIS begins the series, which showcases French fashion and culture.

Murder in the Marais

Find on Amazon >>> MURDER IN THE MARAIS https://geni.us/marai

Museum: Explore the Musée d’Orsay in Paris >>> https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/musee-dorsay-paris

Moscow, Russia

Series: Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith

Arkady Renko is an ageless Moscow cop who has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of a Mafia-riddled Russia. The series is dense and absorbing, with rich descriptions of Russia, the Russian character, and decrepit Lada cars. The first is the scene-setting but slow moving GORKY PARK, but second book, POLAR STAR, is a tour de force–all the action takes place on a rust bucket of a Soviet fishing vessel. WOLVES EAT DOGS, set in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, is hauntingly memorable. Skip the last two books.

Polar Star

Find on Amazon: >>> POLAR STAR https://geni.us/pola

Museum: The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow >>> https://artsandculture.google.com/partner/the-state-tretyakov-gallery

More museum tours

Besides these, the Google Arts and Culture website has links to digital tours from scores more such as the British Museum, Mexico’s Anthropology Museum, and Greece’s Acropolis Museum. While armchair travel to a great museum isn’t exactly the same, think how much you’ll save by avoiding the museum shop . . . 

https://artsandculture.google.com/partner

WARNING: Highly addictive!

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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.

 

Armchair traveller

Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

Can a mystery author who writes about sunny Mexico really love cold places?

Yep. Besides Mexico, where my mystery series is set, my favorite country (except for home) is Norway. Not only does the country have superb natural vistas of mountains and fjords, but Norway’s history is likewise fairly amazing, if little known. Yes, Virginia, there’s more to Norway than Vikings, Voss water, and fellow mystery author Jo Nesbo.

Spectacular moments and singular people

Amundsen with dogsled and flag

Picture of Roald Amundsen courtesy The Sunday Times, UK

  • Norwegian Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to the South Pole, beating out British explorer Robert Scott
Nansen passport

Picture courtesy World Digital Library

  • Norwegian explorer and statesman Fritjof Nansen’s Nansen Passport enabled WWI refugees to remake their lives
Norwegian resistance fighters

Picture courtesy cryptomuseum.com

  • The Norwegian Resistance fought during WWII  with courage and distinction

Related post: Remembering Resistance 

  • The nation of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy looked eerily like Norway’s traditional architecture. Okay, so this is the fabled battle scene when the Rohirrim ride against the orcs, not anything architectural. But a great bit of film and you should watch it.

Museums

Stave Church

Stave Church

I’ve been lucky to visit Norway twice and fell in love with the cobalt blue sky, crystal clear water, excellent (albeit pricey) shopping, and terrific museums. The Fram Museum houses the specially built polar ship that carried Nansen north and Amundsen south. The Folk Museum, where the Stave Church is located–the interior of which was very dark and smelled like bacon–is an immense meadow outside of Oslo filled with period homes.

Related post: The Kitchen UN

It was at the Folk Museum that I learned the Norwegian words for King (Konge) and Queen (Dronning) when I bought a huge paper doll poster. Awkward to carry home, I had notions of framing it. I still do.

King, Queen, and costumes

If cut out, Konge and Dronning would be bigger than Barbie and Ken. Each doll has several different costumes, just like these smaller paper doll postcards of Norwegian folk costumes also purchased at the Folk Museum.Unni and Elin paper dollspaper doll from Norwaytraditional Norwegian paper dollsAllied costumes

The last paper doll postcard is the most interesting of all, as it looks like 1940’s fashions. Norway struggled under German occupation 1940-1945. When reading accounts of those days it doesn’t seem that many women were wearing ball gowns or fancy dresses.

Another mystery?

For a couple of years, I’ve been gathering notes for a thriller set in Oslo during WWII. It is loosely inspired by OSLO INTRIGUE, the real-life account of Helen Astrup, a British woman who worked for the Norwegian Resistance during the war.

I don’t know when I’ll write the thriller. Maybe after I finish the latest Detective Emilia Cruz.

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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.

 

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,  research 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.

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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 Friday Fiesta: A Ride, A Book, Olives and Remembrance

Party tootsAs 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.

Would You Ride?

The world’s longest and highest cable car service will reopen early next year in Merida, Venezuela, according to a BBC report. The cable system is more than 7 miles long, rising to more than 15,330 feet above sea level at the summit of Pico Espejo — one of the highest peaks in Venezuela’s Andean mountains. Originally built in 1960, the trip of around 2 hours takes intrepid travelers from Merida to the magnificent scenery of the Andes. From the report: “On a clear day, the craggy outcrop of Pico Espejo — where the resident Virgin Mary statue is sometimes covered in ice — provides panoramic views of the surrounding range, as well as a bird’s-eye view of Merida in the distant valley below.” Equal parts amazing and scary.

War and Remembrance

TheWorldisWaiting.com blog gave us a unique take on war museums this week, including some little known museums that capture events and places that are all too easily forgotten. I’ve been to three museums on the list: the Imperial War Museum and the HMS Belfast, both in the UK, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin and recommend them all. But of special note is the JEATH Museum, Kachanburi, Thailand. “JEATH stands for Japan, England, America, Australia, Thailand and Holland, which represent the nationalities of the prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.” It wasn’t just a movie.

In the same vein, here’s my blog post on resistance museums.

The Olive Harvest

Did you know how olives are gathered to make olive oil? Check out the blog post by @ItalianNotes for beautiful photographs and a video on how “In our part of Puglia the old contardini swears by the scopetta. With an old organic broom they sweep a circle around every single olive tree making the red earth hard, smooth and clean, so that olives can easily be gathered, when they are ripe and ready to fall off the tree.” The post is lovely—a simple snapshot of a an industry that reminds us of the value of tradition and the calm that comes from living close to the earth.

The First Book and it’s Not the Bible. 

John Wainwright, a computer specialist, ordered the first book from amazon.com in 1995. Do you remember amazon’s radio ads from that time? They were in an interview format, with the interviewee claiming amazon had enough books to fill an aircraft carrier and other huge spaces.But I digress.

According to The Atlantic online magazine, which has a photo of the book and the original packing slip, the book Wainwright ordered was Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. A bit of light reading. But that first book illustrates that amazon has been so successful (the website sells my books so of course it is successful!) because it carries something for every interest.

Book cover The Hidden Light of Mexico City“Romantic and suspenseful! A great mix!”

Get THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY on amazon.com today.

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