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.

Find Carmen’s books on amazon.com

Walking the Mouth of Hell

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.

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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: Safari, Snow, Scotland and Surprising Films

world holiday ornamentAs 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.

Join the Virtual Safari

National Geographic’s Andrew Evans is on the move again, this time on safari in Tanzania. He is documenting his trip with a series of blog posts, photographs and short videos, as well as tweeting his way through some tense moments with skittish wildlife. Evans is a great communicator, managing to keep us on the edge as he tweets his adventures. His longer blog posts provide more thought-provoking reports on conservation and the beauties of Africa. Follow him @WheresAndrew.

Let it snow

Images of the winter wonderland that is Zurich, Switzerland were featured on Anisha Shah’s website this week. The photos are beautiful, showing gentle blankets of snow tucked around iconic European motifs. The result is a Christmas feast for the eyes, a gentle, dreamy fairytale digital experience. Everybody who is looking forward to a snow-less holiday season, like me here in the tropics, should spend a moment savoring these images. I especially loved the swan amid the snowflakes.

Glasgow transformed

My perceptions of Glasgow, Scotland, have been shaped a little too firmly by Ian Rankin’s novels, which are set in the seemingly much-preferred Edinburgh, so I was intrigued by artist Claire Biddles’ article in the online edition of UK’s Guardian talking about the transformation of the city into a “culture city.” According to Biddles, “The role that artist-run spaces have had in Glasgow’s reinvention as a creative city cannot be underestimated, and as long as the artistic community continues to develop, this image will be sustained – attracting artists and art lovers alike to the city.” The article describes several of the art spaces in Glasgow, painting a picture (pun intended) of a vibrant and effective effort to enrich the city “culturally and economically.” Tourists and travelers take note; there’s more to Glasgow than ever before.

Films to Inspire

Roman Coppola, son of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, teamed with W Hotels to offer a film competition: screenwriters had to submit screenplays with two ingredients: location is a W Hotel and there’s an Intel Ultrabook somewhere in it. The winners produced four short films which were recently featured on the Gadling website. The films take place at W Hotels in Doha, Qatar; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, DC; and the Maldives. The website said, “The results are quirky, touching, and sometimes eerie, but most of all great ways to inspire travel and help emerging talent get their feet off the ground.” I agree. With the help of sponsors like W Hotels and Intel, this is a great way to showcase locations, open doors to a new culture, and give wanna-be filmmakers a chance to do what they love!

The Friday Fiesta: An Odyssey, An Artist, Manners, and the Radio

dog and globeAs 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.

His Odyssey Expedition

Daily Telegraph reporter Graham Hughes started 1 January 2009 on a trip that would take him around the world without any airplane travel. After 1,426 days on the road and more than 200 countries across six continents, Hughes wrote this fabulous wrap-up in which he said: “I undertook this challenge for many reasons: to set a Guinness World Record, to raise money for the charity WaterAid, to have great stories to tell the grandchildren. But the main reason was that I wanted to prove it was possible: to show that all the great travel adventures have not already been done; to show that the world isn’t the terrible scary place so often portrayed in the media; to show that, yes, with a British passport, a fistful of dollars and the right amount of tenacity, grit and patience you can – if you really want to – go anywhere.” Hughes’ determination, accomplishment and the resulting article are all terrific.

 In the Tradition of Art Saving Wildlife

Following in the tradition of the Audobon Society and the World Wildlife Fund, both rooted in work by noted wildlife artists, California artist David Tomb has started a conservation effort called Jeepney Projects Worldwide to save endangered birds including the great Philippine eagle. A Huffpost article quoted him as saying: “Making artwork of the birds is a way to connect and personalize my experience of seeing the birds . . . The ultimate goal is to have people think: ‘That animal is incredible.'” Tomb’s artwork, included in the article, is also incredible and worth a look, if for no other reason that the Philippine eagle, weighing in around 18 lbs., is an arresting and unique creature.

 Asian Etiquette

Did you know that religious views play a role in good manners in Asia? The website backyardtravel.com, devoted to Asian travel, writes “The sole of the foot is considered such a dirty thing that it is even seen as an aggressive, rude gesture in Thailand to show someone the sole of the foot – similar to ‘flipping the bird’ in the USA, or ‘putting two fingers up’ in the UK. Continuing the theme on feet, shoes must also be removed when entering someone’s house in Asia, and in Thailand never, ever stand on anything with an image of the King on, like money or postage stamps for example.” This short and useful article gives other good tips for showing good manners when travelling in Asia. Related to this is my Rude in Any Culture post, with a similar foot warning.

Salaryless Radio Host in Peru Still Going Strong

Peruvian radio host Maruja Venegas has been on the air for 68 years, making her the longest-running radio host ever, according to Guinness World Records. Venegas is 97 and her fans are still listening to her show “Radio Club Infantil” which airs Sundays at 6-6:30 pm on Santa Rosa, a religion-oriented station. The show, which started in 1944 as a broadcast for sick children, has expanded and contracted over the years—impacted by Peru’s political and economic circumstances. Venegas, who has never been paid for the show, is her own producer and has got her formula down; the show now always includes a story, music, advice and commentary. The story is a salute to tenacity and for doing something you love and think is important enough to do, regardless of the reward.

The Friday Fiesta: Travel, Time and Not Enough Sparkly Wine

As 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.

Are You This Kind of Traveler?

The online Sydney Morning Herald reported on a Skyscanner survey of flight attendants that revealed the top 10 most annoying things that air travelers do. Snapping fingers at flight attendants is number 1, not a big surprise. Trying to get out of the plane before the light goes off and stuffing too much into the overhead bin are numbers 2 and 3.

I read the list with great smugness until I came to number 7: leaving trash in the seat pocket. Er, um, yes, the used tissues, empty sugar packets, and crumpled newspaper from seat 7B were gifts from me.

For more tips on how to be a bad traveler read my list of 25 Ways to Be the Worst Traveler in the World.

Not All Time is Equal

I’m often struck by cultural differences in time management. For example, in one country the gardener wanted to come every 15 days, rather than every other Wednesday (but mostly he never showed up at all) while in another place the cable TV bill was not always for the same duration, making each a surprise. The website yourlanguageplace.com had a thought-provoking article entitled “How Language Can Shape the Perception of Time” that is worth a read. It is an excellent discussion of how different cultures have different perceptions of time and how language feeds into that. This issue is a small but meaningful part of interacting with people from different cultures on a daily basis. Related to this is my post on cultural differences regarding money.

Changes in Latitude

The codesign website brings us a gallery of photos from 70 degrees north latitude. I clicked through the photos, riveted by the simple images that represent a photographic line through the United States. From N 40° 00’ 00” W 97° 00’ 00” Hollenberg, Kansas, 2007, to N 40° 00’ 00” W 109° 00’ 00” Rangely, Colorado, 2000 and so many other locations, this imagery collection is a significant achievement in terms of research, photography, and curation.  What I didn’t expect to find but did: a view into the culture of rural America. Added cool thing: website scrolling is horizontal, mimicking the concept of latitude. Check it out. Just lovely.

The Coming Champagne Crisis

The Huffingpost Post reports that hail storms and fungus due to overly wet weather will reduce France’s champagne grape harvest by 40%. Champagne takes at least 15 months to ferment, meaning that champagne prices for the summer of 2014 could be higher despite a reserve built up by lowered demand in previous years due to recession in the US and Europe. But demand is on the rebound at least in the US. So what’s a discriminating consumer to think?  Spoiler alert for weddings, graduation parties and book launch events.

A Little Taste of CLIFF DIVER

A Little Taste of CLIFF DIVER

Just to whet your imagination here’s a snippet of CLIFF DIVER, the first Emilia Cruz novel . . .

The diver stretched to his full extension then pushed off. His back arched and his arms stretched wide and he looked like a crucifix as he sailed over the rocks. His arms raised up over his head and his hands came together right before he impacted with the water. A spume of froth shot skywards and he disappeared into the depth as the crowd on the plaza gasped and applauded.

The diver popped out of the water beyond the rocks and the crowd applauded again. It took a few minutes before the next diver climbed onto the tiny platform on the cliff face. He was older, with a black suit and a heavy torso, and a less athletic look than the younger man. When he carefully turned his back to the ocean the crowd murmured excitedly.

“He’s got balls,” Kurt said. The back of his hand brushed against Emilia’s.

The diver launched backwards off the cliff face and twisted in the air. As his body rotated close to the cliff the crowd gasped, but he made a clean entry into the ocean, the water rippling out around him. The applause was wild.

As the sun set, they watched the other men laboriously climb up the cliff face to the small natural platform, stretch and limber their muscles and dive past the rocks to the perfect spot in the ocean far below.

“That’s me,” Emilia said as the youngest diver in the red suit stood poised on the platform, the spectacular sunset behind him.

“What do you mean?” Kurt asked. His hand turned and a finger stroked the inside of Emilia’s thumb and forefinger.

“That’s me.” Emilia’s hand turned of its own accord and gently played with Kurt’s. He was looking at her, not at the cliff divers, and Emilia heard herself babble nervously. “Falling off a cliff, not ready for it. Not knowing if I’m going to hit the rocks and be smashed to pieces or not.”

Emilia watched as the young diver swung his arms and rolled his neck and she wondered if he was doing it for the crowd’s benefit or if it was a release for his fear and nervousness. He hunched his shoulders forward, then pulled them back. His knees bent and his thigh muscles rippled and then he launched himself into the air. For a moment he was silhouetted against the blue sky and then he curled himself into a somersault. The crowd gasped as one as his body rotated and his hair seemed to kiss the cliff face. Then he stretched out, straining for distance, and completed a soaring arc that plunged him into the water like an arrow shot from a bow and Emilia felt the strain and the pain and the rush of cold water.

Cliff DiverGet it today on Amazon!

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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.

 

About the Time I was Absolutely and Terrifyingly Lost in Panama

About the Time I was Absolutely and Terrifyingly Lost in Panama

A year ago I was Lost.

No-cell-phone-service Lost. The-road-is-a-gravel-track-through-cane-fields Lost.

Set Sail One Day

Five girlfriends had set out from Panama City to go to El Valle, about two hours away. We’d go to the Sunday crafts market there and have lunch at a boutique hotel afterwards.

A quick stop for cheese empanadas and gas and we were on the road. The miles sped by as we talked and laughed and it was well over an hour before we started to look for the turnoff to El Valle. There wasn’t a sign, but the intersection was the one with the pink shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

More talk. More laughter. More miles. Eventually we turned on the GPS and it signaled a turn. Not the road with the shrine, but it was the right direction.

At Road’s End

About half a mile down the new road, tarmac gave way to gravel. With deep ruts. Then worse ruts. We passed a small village and asked if that was the right road to El Valle. Yes, we were assured. One person said El Valle was just 10 minutes. Another said 30 minutes. The GPS seemed to split the difference.

Bad ruts turned into a dry stream bed weaving through Panama’s low mountains. The doughty SUV slid downhill, the tires unable to grip the loose stones. We jolted in the car like peanuts in a tin can. A dashboard light turned on—overheated transmission. We stopped on a rocky plateau and scouted ahead only to find that the gravel track narrowed ahead. The five of us were quite alone in the hot rustling jungle.

The SUV cooled and we started off again, now having discovered that we were all Catholic and that two of us carried rosaries. The jungle gave way to cane fields. Hard green stalks as high as the car roof rattled against the windows.

Two Hours Later . . .

After two hours off-road we broke through the cane field and clambered onto tarmac again. We were on the eastern edge of El Valle. Never were five women more ready to buy souvenirs.

I learned a few things that day.

About being lost. And knowing when to turn at the shrine.

  1. Don’t be so distracted by peripherals—entertainment, Twitter, mooning over the wrong guy—that you forget to look for the shrine that points the way to where you really want to go.
  2. If you’re lost, keep going. Take a break to rethink the situation, take care of problems, or give yourself a pep talk, but don’t confuse “taking a break” with “breaking down.” Cheerlead as you go—you’re handling the uncertainty well, you’re learning about yourself and wherever this “lost” place is—even if it is inside you.
  3. The shrine doesn’t have to be the pink altar on the side of the road. A shrine can be any pointer that helps you travel where you want to go. A shrine can be the project you handled well—you can use it as inspiration for managing a bigger one. A shrine can be a passing grade in a tough subject—you know you can master the next class, too. A shrine can be a hard decision, a recovery from an illness, the day you stood up for yourself, the time when you were scared but did it anyway.
  4. Maybe today’s the day you build a shrine. The day you make a decision and carry it out. The day that you see new possibilities. Believe an inspirational quote and translate it into action. Once you build the shrine, it’s yours forever, ready to inspire if you get lost.

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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 Power of Daddy

The Power of Daddy

Once upon a time, when we lived in Panama, I was walking the dog and passed a construction site where the workers were engaged in a furious argument. The Spanish flew too fast for me to catch every word but anger came through in every red-faced yell and hostile gesture. The whole block rang with the shouts between a worker on the would-be second floor of the roofless structure and another on the ground below.

As we passed I wondered if bad karma was being transferred from the workers’ anger to the house. Would it silently bleed over into the lives of the people who would one day live in that place?

It made me think of an opposite scene I’d witnessed in Greece, when a family gathered at a construction site in our Athens neighborhood to have their new home blessed. The Greek Orthodox priest, resplendent in his embroidered robes and gray beard, solemnly intoned a blessing while swinging a huge golden incense brazier over the cement foundation. The extended family, all in their Sunday best, stood proudly together in the mud of the construction site, responding to the prayers. They would have a good life in that house, I thought at the time, living in a place infused with God’s blessing.

I grew up in such a house, a long duplex that my grandfather built. My family lived in one side and my maternal grandparents in the other. As a very small girl, I recall being frightened by a school presentation about fire and asked my mother what would we do if the house burned down. Nothing bad could ever happen to the house, my mother informed me, because when he poured the foundation my grandfather had dropped religious medals into the cement. Mary and Joseph were part of the house and would always protect it.

Years later, my husband and I were raising small children. There were no blessings or religious medals factored into the construction of suburban builder homes to keep us safe. We were on our own.

My toddler daughter was scared, she told me one night as I tucked her into bed. There could be monsters in her room that came out when the lights were off. Maybe in the closet.

“Daddy doesn’t allow monsters in the house,” I replied.

And such was the Power of Daddy that the issue was never raised again.

To this day, it remains the smartest thing I ever said as a mother.

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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 Hidden Lovers of San Miguel

The Hidden Lovers of San Miguel

In the political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, Luz and Eddo briefly escape a political scheme to buy the Mexican presidency with drug money, and spend time away from the world in the lovely Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende.  A 4-hour drive northwest of Mexico City, San Miguel is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its creative atmosphere.  The historic streets are lined with shops full of Mexico’s best handicrafts and artwork, the architecture is a wonderful mix of European inspiration and Mexican flare, and it is home to the annual San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival.

Related: Read HIDDEN LIGHT’S First 2 Chapters

Creative mecca

The conference website says it all: The cradle of Mexican Independence, San Miguel de Allende has long been a mecca for social creatives – writers, painters, musicians, poets, philosophers, liberation theology clergy. Maybe it’s the crisp mountain air. Maybe it’s the thermal pools infused with natural lithium. Maybe it’s the Dalai Lama’s blessing. Maybe it’s you.

Several years ago our family joined two others for a wonderful and memorable trip to the city.

We stayed at a “villa,” which was really a long, low house near a hotel. Perfect for a group as big as ours, the location was secluded yet within walking distance of the hotel where we went for breakfast. There was a big field in front where the kids ran around with toys we bought in the square called El Jardin: balls on a string outfitted with long flashing streamers.

The villa and the field would create a pivotal setting for the novel. Two people from opposite ends of the social spectrum in Mexico–and it is an unforgiving fact of life there–in a place where no one knows them.

No one knows who they are or what they have been through.

No one to approve or disapprove of what they want.

Photo journal

I was experimenting with art and photography at the time, and the resulting pictures inspired the trip that Luz and Eddo take in the book.

Antique lanterns in San Miguel de Allende

 

View of La Parroquia from the villa

 

El Jardin

El Jardin bustling with people and energy

 

The cathedral of La Parroquia

 

The front entrance of San Miguel’s famous cathedral, thought to be designed by a local stoneworker after seeing pictures of European cathedrals

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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 Girl on the Other Side of the Earth

The Girl on the Other Side of the Earth

When my daughter was little I wanted to give her a sense of her place in the world. We got a globe and calculated the exact opposite spot if one drew a straight line through the center of the earth from where we were.  We hit China.

We started to tell each other stories about a Chinese girl who lived across the earth from us.  She would be my daughter’s exact age, of course, and we wondered what she’d be doing. What clothes would she wear? What season was it for her? What food would she like to eat? If it was bedtime for my daughter was it morning for the girl in China?

Each time our family moved, we imagined a new girl on the other side of the earth from wherever we found ourselves. The globe has some pen marks on it now and we weren’t terribly geographically precise, but we still talk about where is the girl on the other side of the earth from us and what she is doing that is the same or different. Which was the whole point of the exercise, I think.

Right now, she’s a girl in Indonesia.

Where is that girl across the earth from you?

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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.

 

Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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