Travelling in Dreams with AWAKENING MACBETH

Travelling in Dreams with AWAKENING MACBETH

AWAKENING MACBETH, is full of secrets.

My family secrets become my character’s secrets.

Their secrets become a frightening truth.

“A page turning paranormal romance”– KIRKUS REVIEWS. Cue the trailer!

Family secrets

My grandmother used to say never wake a sleeping child too quickly. Their soul wanders in sleep and needs time to return before the child fully awakens.

I never asked her where this strange notion came from. Where does the soul wander? How much “wake-up” time is enough time?

Later I heard someone say that if you die in a dream, you’re dead in real life.

It wasn’t hard to put those two notions together. Add a troubled veteran and a woman coping with her father’s suicide. It’s a recipe full of secrets.

Location, location, location

AWAKENING MACBETH takes place in many of my former haunts:

Charlottesville, Virginia

The novel begins in Charlottesville VA, where history professor Brodie Macbeth plans to give bad news yet ends up getting some instead. I went to the University of Virginia for my Masters degree and taught US Foreign Policy there for a year.

Related: Read Chapter 1 of AWAKENING MACBETH

The University of Virginia campus was designed by Thomas Jefferson. The heart of the university is The Lawn with the original student rooms still in use. I lived off campus and when I walked to classes early in the morning, I often saw robed students with pails of toiletries on their way to the community bathrooms. (On a day like today, they’d be walking mighty fast)

University of Virginia

University of Virginia, courtesy UVA.edu

Some of my favorite scenes in the book take place at the University, including a cocktail party in one of the gardens enclosed by Jefferson’s serpentine brick walls. The graduation reception for my department was held in one of the gardens and I still remember the air of colonial elegance. Another favorite scene takes place in the University-owned Boar’s Head Inn. One night a bunch of girlfriends and I got dressed up and went there for drinks. We were all on the brink of a shiny new graduate degree and the world was our oyster, as the saying goes.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Photograph taken by Michael Reeve, 15 September 2003. Realesed under GFDL by the author.

Several years ago, we took a family vacation to Edinburgh. Our timing was off, however, and it was hard to find a hotel in the city. We ended up at the Dalmahoy golf resort and were we glad we did! In between tramping the city, touring Holyrood castle, and inspecting Loch Ness for sea serpents, we explored the walking trails and the small church on the Dalmahoy estate.

The Dalmahoy became the inspiration for the Dingerhoy hotel and golf course where Brodie and Joe Birnam have dinner, watch the sheep on the hillsides, and talk about survival, grief, and strength.

Entrance to the Dalmahoy golf resort, courtesy of www.dalmahoyhotelandcountryclub.co.uk/golf/

Entrance to the Dalmahoy golf resort, courtesy of www.dalmahoyhotelandcountryclub.co.uk/golf/

Another critical conversation takes place in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Garden, a beautiful bowl-shaped park in central Edinburgh. With all the fantastic architecture, art, and shopping that Edinburgh has to offer, it is easy to forget that the city is very green and offers wonderful spots to take in the city’s history. Right after that conversation, Brodie has her palm read by a knowing Gypsy, at a café in the shadow of the magnificent St Giles Cathedral.

Literary destinations

Throughout AWAKENING MACBETH, Brodie deals with the legacy of her father’s suicide. He ahd left her a library of British history and his will stipulates that she must read them in order. Why, you ask.

That’s another secret.

She dreams of the places she reads about. In her dreams, someone will kill her to learn a secret about her father–that Brodie doesn’t know.

Here is where those nightmares take her:

–Shakespeare’s London and the Globe Theatre from SHAKESPEARE by Peter Ackroyd

–An Antarctic island with a polar expedition from ENDURANCE by Caroline Alexander

–A pub serving British flyers during WWII from FIGHTER BOYS by Patrick Bishop

–The Tower of London during Anne Boleyn’s execution from THE WIVES OF HENRY VII by Antonia Fraser , and

–With Wellington’s army in the Battle of Waterloo from  NAPOLEON AND THE HUNDRED DAYS by Stephen Coote

So if you’d like to travel through British history in Professor Brodie Macbeth’s dreams, AWAKENING MACBETH is the novel for you.

More Macbeth?

When I first wrote AWAKENING MACBETH (with the cringe-worthy title of SOUL MATE, of which there are a dozen or so books already called that) I envisioned a trilogy (AWAKENING MACBETH, HUNTING MACBETH, KILLING MACBETH, you get the idea.) AWAKENING MACBETH ends with unanswered questions, the most compelling of which is what happened to Brodie’s mother’s soul?

I even wrote two chapters of the next book, which answers the question and sets up a new soul-stealing challenge for Brodie and Joe to surmount.

Related: Romance’s Newest Hero is a Wounded Warrior

But I don’t know if I will ever write a second MACBETH book, let alone a trilogy. A writer has just so much time and emotional effort to expend.

Let me know! How many more secrets can you handle?

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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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Are you travelling to Mexico but getting nervous when you read the headlines?

Yes, there are security issues in Mexico, many of which I write about in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, but more than likely you aren’t planning to travel to the real hotspots. Rest assured, safe travel in Mexico is possible. Mexico is a beautiful, intriguing, and expansive country with a rich culture to  enjoy. With dozens of fantastic destinations, from beach resorts to art hubs to big city museums, it is virtually impossible to be bored there.

The trick to enjoying Mexico is to be prepared with good security habits. As a mystery novel author whose main character is Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz, I spend a lot of time immersed in these security issues and know that a little common sense can go a long way.

Check out three tips for avoiding problems and having a great time in Mexico.

1. Passport to Paradise

Protect your passport; it’s your most valuable commodity. Don’t take it to the beach or the market. Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport with you. The original can stay in a room safe (along with copies of credit cards and contact numbers for the issuing companies.) Along with the copy of your passport, keep handy the phone number and business hours of your embassy in Mexico and the phone number and address of your hotel.

Related post: From Beach to Book: 3 Favorite Hotels in Mexico

2. No New Conversations

Getting into and out of a vehicle can be a particularly vulnerable time. A parking area is full of hiding places for would-be thieves and it is very easy to be distracted from your surroundings by the process of loading and unloading people, packages, strollers, etc. When we lived in Mexico our family rule was no new conversations getting in or out of the car. This meant fewer distractions for parents, faster loading/unloading, and zero scary incidents.

3. Expect the Unexpected

Once upon a time I was a student in Paris and travelling through Italy during Christmas break. While on a local train somewhere near Brindisi a group of boys got on shouting and throwing firecrackers, disorienting everybody in the carriage. The boys swarmed over our luggage, kept up the ruckus for the 10 minutes it took to get to the next town, and left, having taken everything out of my friend’s unattended purse.

Be prepared to encounter similar disruptions in Mexico. Getting accidentally squirted with water/mustard/liquid soap while strolling a market, being accosted by kids trying to give or sell you something, and other unexpected encounters can be a prelude to being pickpocketed or getting a purse stolen by those making the disruption or their accomplices.

Reduce your risk by being alert, not wearing ostentatious jewelry in obvious tourist areas, and keeping your bag closed, preferably with a zipper. Consider trading a backpack (worn on your back where you can’t see if someone is opening a pocket) for a messenger bag.

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

Was this helpful? Do you have a story about safe travel in Mexico?

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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.

 

Mexico, Two Dogs, and An Unexpected Gift

Mexico, Two Dogs, and An Unexpected Gift

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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 few weeks ago, I cleaned out the room I use as an office and writing lair. Piles of paper got shifted from one side of the room to the other, new artwork went up (thank you, Command hooks) and some much-needed tax receipts got organized. And I found a CD with the cryptic label “Photos 2004 Mexico.”

I put it aside, too busy shifting piles, and only today stuck it in my laptop and clicked to see what I had.

A treasure trove

More specifically, two dozen photos of our dogs, both of whom have sadly passed away after enriching our lives, keeping us safe, and teaching us about unconditional love.

I never wanted a dog

We got both Rex and Rudi in Mexico, at the Mascota store in the Santa Fe mall. I’d never wanted a dog, but my husband and the kids were all for it so 4 July 2001 we went to the store and my husband asked for a recommendation for a family dog. The clerk suggested a bulldog, but by then we’d already spied the German Shepherd puppy sitting quietly in her glass cage, taking in everything and not making a sound. She was about 6 weeks old. $900 later and she was ours.

Rudi the wonder dog

Rudi at about 2 years old, wearing the ill-fated slip collar

Rudi grew fast into a sleek, powerful, and all-too-smart dog. She developed firm habits very quickly; she only pooped in a certain place, when she was annoyed with us she went under the stairs, she knew lots of tricks but was never swayed by treats or praise. If she wanted to show off at that moment she would; if not she gave you a pitying look and moved on with her agenda. She was tireless in her pursuit of cats, rabbits, and herding small children. She never barked.

People either stopped us on the street to ask if they could breed their dog with her or crossed to the other side to avoid her menacing look. It took some doing to get her to walk beside us; at one point she burst a slip collar near Chapultepec Park. Bits of steel sprayed everywhere and we ended up looping the leather leash around her harness-style before she mixed it up with the park’s legion of strays.

Rex the labrador retriever

Rex, Mr. All-American. That tennis ball had once been yellow, but was now dyed with dirt and slobber. Note the well kept grass LOL

Never the boyfriend

After a year of life with the dominatrix, we thought she might be lonely, and brought home Rex, a 4-month-old Labrador Retriever. Rudi hated Rex on sight and he didn’t help by being constantly happy, drooling in her food bowl, and sleeping with his head on her tail. Rudi perfected her I live with stupid people expression and bit his leg a few times a week as a reminder that she was the queen. Rex was good at eating dishtowels, stealing toys (Houdini Dog), and woke me up at 6:00 am every morning by bumping his chin–drool spraying in all directions–on my pillow next to my face. No alarm clock needed.

2 dogs

Once Rudi showed Rex how to open the front door and turn on the outside lights, she never did either trick again. Note the plastic bottle hanging from the tree. Rudi could jump for hours. Rex wasn’t so light on his feet.

Home security

Both dogs functioned as our home security system and we never had any problems with crime directed at the house. Rex had a bark like the end of days and it sounded like thunder when all 140 lbs of him got running fast, but Rudi was Silent Death, never barking, growling, or whimpering.

The exceptions to Rudi’s silence were: 1. getting on the leash before walk time, 2. a tetherball set we set up on the back patio that was extremely thrilling until she chomped the ball into submission. She was what the books call a “determined chewer.”

After Mexico, Rex went to live with my husband’s parents, where he finally got to be king. He passed away about two years ago at the age of 10.

Wonder Dog

Rudi stayed with us, traveling the world until last December when, suffering from advanced hip dysplasia and deafness, she said her final goodbye. She was 13, the first dog I ever loved, and I still look for her on the blanket we arranged on the carpet in the living room. For years she’d slept in our room but in the last 6 months she could no longer manage stairs. I hated leaving her there by herself every night.

I cherish the time we had with these two dogs, especially with Rudi who was by my side through so many transitions and was even the star of my first and only bit of flash fiction. It is amazing to think we walked together in 5 different countries.

It’s taken me 3 months to be able to write this and I’ll need another glass of wine when I hit “publish.” But some gifts, like the lost CD, are harder to open than others. Cherish those, for they make life a little sharper, a little sweeter.

Thank you for listening to my dog stories. I’d love to hear yours.

German Shepherd Rudi

Rudi, the Wonder Dog

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.

 

Why Navigation With a Map Still Matters

Why Navigation With a Map Still Matters

Love your GPS? Love how easy it makes getting from Point A to Point B? If you’re like me, your GPS saves travel time, keeps you from getting lost, and provides an Australian or British voice so you can get directions from Ned Kelly or James Bond, depending on your mood.

But while GPS is a great tool, I think we’re losing the skill of navigation. And basic navigation is one of those skills we need to possess in order to be confident that we can find our way, no matter where we happen to be. Navigating with a real map means–

  • You’re self-reliant. Not wholly dependent on electricity, satellites or the phone company.
  • You’re in control over where you are going and willing to learn new skills along the way.
  • Personal achievement! Another deposit into the emotional bank account!

Plus you get a really cool souvenir.

Related Post: The Art of Travel Without a Camera

In the Ice Age, before internet and GPS, I traveled with (gasp) paper maps! Newer maps, like the laminated Streetwise series by streetwisemaps.com are compact accordions that fold to the size of a business envelope. The older maps are Technicolor murals that led me across Europe, the South Pacific and Down Under.

Revelation time

I recently sifted through the box where I keep those old paper maps and had a revelation:

I probably wouldn’t be writing books or this blog if I hadn’t had those formative experiences, if I had never learned that I could do things and go places on my own with just the help of a map.

Where I’ve been

map of Florence, italy

 Tourist map of Florence, Italy, circa 1981. A friend studied there during my year in Paris.  We met up several times in Florence and made the rounds of the museums. I learned about male anatomy staring at Michelangelo’s David

Venice

Map of Venice, circa 1981. The paper is stiff. the muted colors are those of the sea beyond San Marco’s square. Of all my maps, this one is the closest to artwork.

Biarritz

 Map of Biarritz in the south of France where I lived for a month, taking and failing an intensive French course prior to the school year in Paris.

Related post: Girl Meets Paris

Amsterdam mapMap of Amsterdam by streetwisemaps.com. Amsterdam is not big but it is incredibly picturesque and very walkable. The Anne Frank House was more than moving; it was a powerful lesson in history. And humanity instead of hate.

BrusselsBrussels is a lovely blend of big metropolitan city and old Europe. French fries are served with mayonnaise. Still getting over that.

Oslo city

 Oslo is one of my favorite places. The sky is bluer in Oslo than anywhere else on earth. The seafaring tradition + Scandinavian design + the legacy and legends of polar exploration make it a fascinating place to visit. Travel by ferry to the Fram and Kon-Tiki Museums was a highlight.

Pot MoresbyThe map of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, is a huge affair from the country’s National Mapping Bureau. The thick paper is only printed on one side.

Related post: Land of the Unexpected

map of PompeiiI walked around Pompeii in August and the temperature was around 100 F. I felt like I was inside a volcano not viewing the ruins of one. Sweaty hands nearly turned the map (came with admission) to mush. This is the eastern side of the site.

Rome italy subwayRome, Italy is noisy, chaotic, crazy, amazing. Every street is full of clothes I want to buy, food I want to eat, and books, art, & pharmacies with unique lotions and potions. The city is compact enough to walk nearly everywhere but Streetwise’s metro map was very handy.

Mexico City street mapMexico City is so big you need a whole book, called the Guia Roji, to navigate. My copy was falling apart after three years there! This page is the Lomas de Chapultepec area where THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY is set.

Sydney, AustraliaIf you ever get a chance to visit Sydney, Australia, take it! Sydney is a beautiful city with lots of things to do and friendly people. This map helped me navigate to the first Virgin Records store I’d ever seen, where I bought Midnight Oil LPs for a friend and Man of Colors by Icehouse (“Had a little accident, nothing too serious“) for myself.

Fremantle, AustraliaThis map of Fremantle, Australia, on the country’s west coast, was created by the Western Australian Tourism Commission. Below the seal it says William C. Brown, Government Printer, Western Australia. The map itself is about six square inches; the rest of the big foldout (both sides) lists things to do such as the America’s Cup Museum or the Royal Australian Navy Corvettes Association Memorial Monument Hill.

As a final inducement to brush up on your navigation skills, here’s what author and Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings had to say in his great book, MAPHEADS:

“Almost every map, whether of a shopping mall, a city, or a continent, will show us two kinds of places: places where we’ve been and places we’ve never been . . . We can understand, at a glance, our place in the universe, our potential to go and see new things, and the way to get back home afterward.”

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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 Art of Travel Without a Camera

The Art of Travel Without a Camera

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

Travel + Postcards

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

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

Related post: The Kitchen UN

Buying Tips

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

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

The Gallery

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

manuscript page

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

Irises

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

Related post: Girl Meets Paris

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

German village

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

1940s postcard

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

postcard of WWII

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

Face of Virgin of Guadalupe

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

Scrapbook Diaries-postcards 001

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

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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: Travel with a Filmmaker, A Camera, Disappearing Destinations, and Titanic II

husky with suitcaseAs a fiction and mystery author I draw on my own world travels and experiences living in Mexico and Central America. But online travel is also a  terrific way to discover news and places worth celebrating. Let this review turn your Friday into a fiesta!

Life Tips from a Director

Director of Oscar-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild Benh Zeitlin talked to Filmmaker Magazine and while you might think this doesn’t have any relevance for you—especially if you didn’t see the movie which didn’t star any Hollywood big names. But the thoughtful interview, in which Zeitlin “proves that to make a powerful film today, you don’t need gimmicks, a convoluted strategy, or even connections in the business” is a lesson in what success should mean for each of us. Zeitlin believes that “all you really need is a story so strong that it’s impossible not to make.” Read the interview with this thought in mind—if your life was a movie, what story would you believe in so strongly that you’d have to make it come true?

50 Photos From an Airplane Window

It takes time to load but this gallery of photos from twistersifter.com is worth the wait. The photos have all been taken from the window of an airplane and are simply the most arresting collection I’ve seen lately. Mt. Rainer, San Francisco, Rio, Mexico City, Greenland, Miami—they are all gorgeous. Two or three don’t show but don’t let that stop you from being amazed by this stunning virtual photography exhibit.

Disappearing Destinations

Gadling.com blogger Reena Ganga offers a review of travel destinations that are focused on preservation efforts or groups that can use your help to spur preservation efforts. My favorite idea from this post is to volunteer at a World Heritage center. “There are volunteer projects across the globe, including diving along the Great Barrier Reef to help threatened coral, conserving the Medina of Fez in Morocco, and restoring archaeological sites in Tanzania.” Many countries don’t have the resources to take care of historic sites. Travel with heart and your next vacation could be anything but ordinary.

Related post: 5 Ways Historic Preservation Scares Us and Why That’s a Good Thing

Iceberg Beware

The new and improved Titanic will sail again, according to AOL’s travel site. A perfect replica of the ship is being built by Australian zillionaire Clive Palmer. If things go according to plan, the Titanic II will cross the Atlantic in 2016. Passengers will wear period costumes to mimic the original Titanic’s 1912 cruise. What won’t be imitated is the original brush with that fatal iceberg. Palmer reportedly told a UK newspaper that due to climate change “There are not so many icebergs in the North Atlantic these days.” Titanic II will, however, have enough lifeboat and life rafts to accommodate all 2,435 passengers and 900 crew members. Cue Celine Dion!

 

About the time I went to Fiji

About the time I went to Fiji

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

The Fiji You Don’t Know

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

The second coup had occurred two weeks before my arrival.

The Taxi Driver I Didn’t Know

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

Related: Talking money in Papua New Guinea

The Soldier I Wish I Knew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Open Letter to Readers about Sex

In Retrospect

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

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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: 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

Friday Fiesta: The Real Big Bird, Famous Birthdays, and Beer for Fido

Coming 30 January! CLIFF DIVER: An Emilia Cruz Noveldog in birthday hatAs a fiction and mystery 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. Join the movement and share your own good news stories on Twitter with hashtag #FridayFiesta.

Red Robin

The 1to1media.com website carried this super story about the Red Robin restaurant chain’s official policy of random act of kindness. Red Robin’s signature “Ymmmmm” also means that management and wait staff are empowered to cut customers’ bills, offer on-the-spot specials for customer events and other actions that elicit customer testimonials. We’re not talking just a few comments a sidebar. There are so many comments on the Red Robin website that it is a whole section. Now go get a burger.

Sistine Chapel aged 500 and colder

About three years I was lucky enough to tour the Vatican. I walked through the Sistine Chapel with my head canted back in awe and the rest of me roasting in a herd of tour groups. This amazing space celebrated its 500th anniversary last October and several websites like the Cultural Travel Guide celebrated the occasion with a story or retrospective. But keeping this 500-year-old wonder in good shape is a herculean act of historic preservation: dust, dander and other “bodily debris” from the thousands of tourists who pass through every day dirty it up. The UK’s Guardian quoted the director of the Vatican museums, Antonio Paolucci as saying that the Vatican will install a special carpet and air handling systems to ensure that “visitors who traipse sweat, dust, skin flakes and hair into the 16th-century chapel will be ‘dusted, cleaned and chilled.’” Maybe next time I’ll bring a sweater. One that doesn’t shed, of course.

A Tubular Birthday

London’s subway system, the Tube, is 150 years old this year. Guardian reporter Stephen Moss celebrated with a 52-mile ride on the Central line, including the 6 miles used before 1994. His commentary is consummately British and clever (From Epping I go just one stop – to Theydon Bois. I’ve never been to Theydon Bois, but have always been captivated by the name, which suggests a Victorian actor-manager or a well-meaning but talentless amateur captain of the England cricket team c 1910) and the journey, as well as key moments in Tube history, comes to life in his words. He does mention the price of a go-anywhere ticket, which made me gulp, but it is a ride on a piece of history.

Beer in the Doghouse

According to paste.com, Boneyard Brewery in Bend, Oregon, has created an alcohol-free beer for dogs made of vegetable broth, water and spent grain from the brewery. Paste.com says the beer, which is sold in 16 ounce bottles, can be enjoyed by Fido as a treat by itself or mixed with dry food for the ultimate dinner. Let the party start!

Carmen’s books on amazon.com

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