Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 4

More Art edition

“When photography came into being, realism in painting pretty much died.”
“But photography doesn’t have to realistic either.”
Never letting an opportunity to tease her slip by, I tried, “Pascal once said, a long time ago, ‘How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things of which we do not admire the originals.’”
“Sounds like he was talking about Van Gogh.”
“It was long before the Earless Wonder.”
“He still had one ear.”
“Good thing he didn’t fall in love again. Imagine what body part he’d send his third love.”
“Overdoing it as usual,” she sighed. “Anyway, this Pascal dude missed the point. Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but don’t like seems absurd and pretentious at first, but only if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what they see.”
I grinned, liking it so far, but she’d never believe it, so I let her ramble on.
“If that were true, then all we could admire in a painting would be the technical skills involved in the reproduction of an object.”
“I just thought of something.”
“What?”
“I might have seen those five-legged creatures at the British Museum.”
“Moving on. . .” she sighed. (That’s two.)
“Cythera was a mythical island associated with the Goddess of Love,” I told her as she went glum again. She’d been hoping to reestablish superiority in the paintings, but I was already ahead of her.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on mythology as well,” she grumbled.
“You think I’m not going to know something about the goddess I worship?”
“That’s true,” she brightened. “I am the current priestess, right?”
“At least for today,” I bright-sided while flexing my biceps, knowing the blow would be coming. It did, but luckily she only had superhuman strength in bed.
We continued looking at The Embarkation for Cythera. To be completely honest, there was nothing in it to suggest it was a masterpiece. Except for the sky, the colors were very dark; all you could see was a large number of people heading away from the viewer toward the distant sea.
“Now that you know what it’s about,” I gave her a wicked grin, “what do you think they’re doing? Are they about to go to the island, and who wouldn’t, seeing it’s run by the goddess of love, or are they being forced to leave the island? If you look carefully, you can see they’re a bit sad.”
She looked closely for a bit longer, then turned to answer and found a stranger there. Looking around, she saw me walking toward the next gallery, but I saw the Mona Lisa was in that direction and made a rapid U-turn.
“I don’t know,” she admitted when she finally caught up with me. “which is it?”
“I don’t know either.” I interrupted her growing grin with, “Nobody knows. Watteau died of tuberculosis when he was 37, and he didn’t tell anyone.”
“Then why did you ask me?” she growled, nettled.
“No reason in particular,” I said lightly, walking along regardless of her slow pace. “You ready to stop this little competition?”
She startled, then was about to make things worse by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” but luckily refrained.
I nodded, as if agreeing with that course of action. “Can you be satisfied with being the second most-intelligent person in this country? After all, I’ll be gone soon, and you’ll be back to being number one. The sad thought is that you’ll leave too, and then where will this country be?”
She stared at me for a while, then burst into laughter, causing me to do the same. The guard there this time was obviously immune to her blandishments–or just too plain old to bother anymore–and ordered us out of the hall.
“Gladly. Let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve seen enough of Reuben and almost the Mona Lisa to last me a lifetime anyway. . .”

;o)

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Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 3

Egyptian edition.

After some more aimless wandering, and knowing me well, she thought I would want to pay my respects to my goddess in her most famous incarnation, the Venus de Milo, but once we saw all the flashes popping around it, we decided to come back later.
A little more wandering led to the Egyptian Galleries, which pleased me no end. “I know nothing about Babylonia compared to the Egyptians,” I told her, making her sigh and wish there was something she knew even a little bit better than I did.
Besides modeling, of course, though as a photographer I was well-versed–
No, best not think about that.
The first thing we saw was a bust of Champollion, who had of course deciphered the famous Rosetta Stone–or so he claimed–which was residing in the British Museum; long story. He had also been the first curator of this section of the museum back in the 1820s.
“This guy must be one of your heroes.”
“Not even close. He was great at what he did, but he could never admit he had help. Champollion was certainly influenced by Thomas Young’s pioneering work, but never gave him due acknowledgement, and went a long way to diminish it in his book. It’s true that he made the important discovery that the cartouches contained the names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, but if it wasn’t for Young realizing the hieroglyphics had some non-alphabetic signs, Champollion would never have gotten that far.”
“What does that mean?” she once again frowned.
I smoothed out the forehead lines with my fingers, which made her giggle, then explained, “Some of the symbols stand for letters, just like in English the letter A stands for the sound A. But some of the symbols also stand for certain things, like Chinese characters. An owl might stand for the letter M, for example, but it might also stand for wisdom, since the owl is the bird of wisdom. Or it could stand for the sound an owl makes, theoretically, as well.”
“Ah!” she exclaimed, seeing the light. “Good enough. Let’s move on.”
“You’ll never learn anything just by hearing the tip of the iceberg.”
“If you waste too much time, we may not get back to your place in time to enjoy ourselves enough, since I have another shoot early tomorrow.”
“You talked me into it,” I grumped comically as we moved on down the hall. Within seconds we came to a figurine, headless but still enough for me to recognize it. “Nefertiti!” I exclaimed in delight. “Now we’re getting to my area. I know all about her and her hubby.”
“I was afraid of that,” she grumbled. Then she looked closely at the figure. “Rather fat, isn’t she? Those thighs didn’t come from exercise. If she was a queen, she probably didn’t have to walk to the top of pyramids very often. I imagine a pulley system–”
“There’s two possibilities,” I told her, then ignored her usual refrain of “I was afraid of that.” “It could have just been what was in style back then; think of Reubens.” She agreed with a nod. “Or it could have been done to go along with her hubby’s look.”
“What hubby? You keep alluding to him.”
“A completely fascinating and probably crazy pharaoh named Akhenaton. He should be around here somewhere.” Then I laughed at a sudden thought. “They should bring the famous bust of Nefertiti and join it with this headless figure so they could have a complete set.”
She frowned yet again. “I’m beginning to remember. Is that bust the one in Berlin?”
I took her in my arms and pretended to kiss her passionately. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” I said after we finally separated, and her pretending to catch her breath.
“Not with incentive like that!” she murmured happily as we continued down the hall, eventually coming to the big guy in question.
“Akhenaton was a renegade who had different ideas about how he wanted to rule than his predecessors. He was a pacifist in a time of conquering, but more importantly, he believed in only one god instead of all the ones in vogue at that time, putting a lot of priests on unemployment. He worshipped the sun and nothing else. He was the world’s first hippie: love and peace, not war. And he had a glandular ailment that distorted his body.”
“I can see it now,” she nodded. “Was his wife really like that too?”
“Who knows? Maybe she had a girlish figure just like yours.” She gave me a look of askance. “Right. No one has a body like yours. Still, it’s strange that this guy was really pretty important, but his younger family member became a lot more famous because his tomb was found with all the loot intact.”
Instead of frowning yet again, this time she smiled. “Don’t tell me, I can guess this one easily. Tutankhamen, right?”
I looked at her in mild surprise. “You even pronounced it right. I’m so impressed I’ll hate to wait until we’re alone to show you how much.”
“No point in waiting, then,” she announced, tugging on my arm. “Let’s go.”
“Uh-uh.” Smile. “We’re nowhere near finished with this place. You’ll just have to show a little patience.”
Her response was an unintelligible mutter, thankfully.
“This thing has five legs!” she exclaimed in the next room.
“Very good.” I was at my sarcastic best. “It takes some people hours to figure it out.”
She looked at the figure in silence, debating whether to listen to what was bound to be an interesting story or sparing herself some more of my conceit.
But I made the choice for her. “These are human-headed eagle-winged bulls called lamasuu, mythological guardians keeping evil spirits away, found in the huge palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin.”
“Sargon?” she frowned one more time. “Wasn’t that used in Star Trek?”
“Original series, Return to Tomorrow. Kirk, Spock, and the babe of the week beam down and get possessed by these giant melon balls.”
“I remember. So go ahead and tell my why they have five legs.”
“Well, it is a bit strange, considering how boring the Assyrians are in general, but basically it’s so a person looking from the front could see the winged bull standing proudly while at the same time a person looking from the side could see it in full stride.”
“Sounds simple enough. Are these the only ones?”
“Nope I’ve seen them before, the ones from the palace at Nimrud. I just can’t remember where.”
“You actually can’t remember something?” the brunette hooted. “Is the world ending?”
I did my best to ignore her, though her body did jiggle enticingly when she jumped up and down like that, as I tried to remember where I had seen them. . . obviously not easy with her aforementioned jumping around. “Must’ve been at the Pergammon in Berlin. I can’t think of any other museum that might have them.”
“I will never let you forget this,” she promised.
This time I was the one who walked on.
As we climbed yet another staircase, we found ourselves confronted with a statue. She squealed and said, “Even I know this one. It’s the Victory of Samothrace.”
“Perfect and intact it might be only a remarkable work of art, but broken, her gown windblown against her torso, she resists annihilation with a sensuous fury.”
She nodded “Look! I have survived time itself. This is my truest victory.”
“Not bad for a model,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, obviously intent on regaining the edge in our little battle.
The murderous look in her eye did nothing to inspire fear in me, to her dismay. “All right,” she said, already sounding arrogant as we moved over to make room for those ascending, “if you’re so smart, what goddess is this? She doesn’t have a head, so that can’t help you.”
“But the wings do, as well as that marvelously sculptured body.” I grinned as I saw her glaring at me sharply, no doubt waiting for me to say something about her own figure. “Besides, the goddess’ name is written all over my shoes.”
She looked down quickly at my footgear, but all she saw was the curvy checkmark on the side. “Are you saying the goddess is Converse or Adidas? It surely couldn’t be LA Gear.” She’d done a commercial for them, and was waiting for me to remark on it.
I walked away. “Just when I think there might actually be a brain behind all that only-skin-deep beauty, you fail me again. Every third-grader knows about Nike. . .”
She quickly looked down to the placard next to the statue and saw that this was true. Then she looked back in my direction, mock-furious. Seeing I had already gotten off the stairs, she ran down them and threw herself at me, landing on my back.
The guard, wanting to do his job well despite the beautiful woman, told her to cut it out, only to find her simpering and saying she had been aiming for him; she definitely loved to flirt, sometimes way over the top. Guys were an easy sell anyway, but she would have them believing she wanted them right then and there, all the while claiming she had no idea where they’d gotten the idea.
Anyway, as the guard basked, we disappeared to another art gallery.

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 2

Archaeology edition.

Not wanting to face another embarrassment for a while, she led me toward the archaeology stuff. She knew I was far more expert at such things, but at least they weren’t open to as much interpretation as art.
She hoped.
We found ourselves in the Near Eastern Gallery after a while of wandering. It was rather dark in there, but when we approached a black stela in the middle of the hall, I recognized it instantly. I quickly left her behind and moved to it, the joy evident in my movements.
When she joined me again, she read the French explanation next to it. “Code of Hammurabi.” Then she looked up at the phallic-shaped piece of black basalt and said, “Not much to look at, is it?”
“I’m surprised you aren’t more excited to see it, considering how much of a feminist you are.”
Again she had her mouth open to speak, then decided not to provoke me and get the lecture over with. She moved her hands into position as if holding a pen and pad. “Go ahead; I’m all ears.”
Since I am always aware of my surroundings, I knew that at the moment we were alone and thus allowed my hand to land on the shapely hip encased in the blue dress. “Not ALL ears.”
She grinned and shook her head, but didn’t say what she obviously wanted to say.
“Hammurabi was an eighteenth century B.C. king of Babylonia–he’s the bearded one standing here with the god of justice–who wrote this code, which is one of the most significant legal documents in history. According to this code, women had many of the same rights as men: own property, have their own businesses, and work as scribes, which was a big thing back then, not like today when writers are treated like a lower life-form. It also stated that the strong should not subjugate the weak and gave protection to widows and orphans.”
The brunette grinned yet again. “Is that all, professor?”
I gave her a dark look, then continued at full speed so as to overwhelm her. “Most of the other laws were pretty harsh, although technically they weren’t laws at all. It was more the literary expression of his social responsibilities and his awareness of the disparity between the way things are and the way he wants them to be.”
Her eyes became either dreamy or bored, so after a quick pause for breath I kept going.
“The stela itself is written in cuneiform, in the Semitic language, covering 49 lines of writing. On the front is a prologue, 65 laws that are easily read–” She leaned forward. “–if you know cuneiform, of course.” She blushed and moved back to her original position. “There are another 40 laws on the front that are almost illegible.”
This time she saw my pause for breath and quickly got a word in. “If you can’t read them, how do you know what they say?”
I glared at her. “Next time raise your hand like a good girl.” She actually turned and looked around before remembering we weren’t in a classroom, but by that time I had continued. “This is not the only copy of the laws; others were found later in Nippur and Nineveh. On the back are 183 other laws and the epilogue.”
She suddenly looked intrigued. “Can you read this?”
“No.”
Which made her completely lose interest, typical model.

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 1

Bosch edition.

Today on Travel Thursday, we have a semi-virtual tour of my favorite parts of the Louvre, that gigantic building in Paris that houses the coolest stuff in all of France, with commentary by a mysterious (in her own mind) dark-haired model.
I helped the supposed damsel out of the taxi and then handed the driver a bigger sum than he would have expected, tip included. The man returned part of it and said something in French, which made her blush and say “Merci.”
After the driver left, she turned to see me grinning. With her mouth open to answer, I shook my head. “Never mind, I understood perfectly.”
She blushed again.
Since she was a simple girl who made more money than she knew what to do with, I let her pay the entrance fee. Once inside she turned to me. “Do you want to wander like we did in the Hermitage, or go straight for the Mona Lisa?”
Grimace. “I want nothing to do with that pathetic work. I think we should just wander. . . after I check out Bosch’s Ship of Fools.”
She sighed. “Somehow I’m not surprised.” When I frowned, she hastened to add, “Because of Bosch, not because you’re a fool.”
I shook my head at her, as if not convinced.
As had been our custom in the other museums we’d seen together, we stared at a painting we both liked for a good while before discussing it. On the surface Ship of Fools was easy enough to look at, though you could never be sure at the deeper meanings Bosch intended. It consisted of a tiny boat on some body of water, obviously a small one because of the trees growing out of it. There were two naked men swimming alongside, one holding an empty bowl while the other seemingly tried to get aboard. There were eight people on the boat: one was lying at the front, trying to raise a flask cooling in the water, while another was either attempting to talk him out of it or telling him to hurry it up. {It’s hard to tell if that one’s male or fem, but since it was holding a cup in its hand and looking impatient for the flask, we assumed it was a guy.} There was another figure looking down over the edge of the stern, which consisted of an old tree branch as the rudder; in the center, to the back, was a fat man with an arm raised and mouth open as if doing opera. And the central part was dominated by four people bobbing for a piece of bread hanging before their faces. One of these was a monk, and another was a lute-playing nun.
There were two more figures in the painting: a small man dressed as a joker, drinking from a bowl while sitting in the upper branches of the rudder, and a man up in the tree the ship had bumped into, trying to liberate the plucked body of an unlucky fowl that had been strapped to the mast.
“Rather easy to figure out,” she smirked as we sat down where we could still see it and discuss it without being shushed. “Bosch is obviously telling everyone, including those in the church, to lighten up and enjoy life.”
I would have usually agreed with such a statement about Bosch, but this time logic did not fit. “Why did he title it Ship of Fools, then?”
She had her mouth ready for an answer, then shut it and frowned, obviously thinking about it. Soon enough she pouted, “Well, what other explanation is there?”
“It could be he was warning the people about such fools. For instance, he could be angry at the way certain members of the religious orders abuse their influence. Those people are supposed to be noble and in the service of their god, but they waste their time singing and goofing off and are just as much gluttons as the rest of the people. They might have been the televangelists of their day.”
She smiled, admitting it was possible. “But then he would have made them suffer a bit, like he did in the Hell of the Garden of Delights.”
“He did. Didn’t you see the guy at the rear of the boat, the one leaning over the side, throwing up?”
She frowned again–I hope she wasn’t worried about wrinkles–and got up to make sure I was telling the truth. When she came back she seemed very contrite. “Are you going to tell me I missed something else, or can I say it’s unusual to see a Bosch painting without animals or demons?”
“Ha! You missed the owl in the tree.”
She frowned again, got up again, and walked over to the painting again. This time she did not sit back down on her return, instead grabbing my arm and hauling me up before leading me out of the room and on to another part of the museum. Some of the onlookers chuckled at her antics, especially when I grabbed the doorjamb as if to avoid being led to the slaughter, but this only inspired one guy to say, “I would go anywhere that woman wanted to drag me to.”
She blushed again.
But of course I could never leave well enough alone. “I thought you were dragging me to the ladies’ room for a quickie.”
Thanks for the set-up! her smile beamed. “Pierre. . . cuz my bladder’s empty.”
I poked her in the stomach to see if this was indeed the case, causing her to yelp loud enough to grab the attention of everyone in the next room. Fortunately she was already through the doorway, and made a quick left into the hall. I followed at a more sedate pace, not caring what people I was never going to see again thought.

;o)

Book Reviews: LA, Paris, West Virginia, and Fantasyland

Why LA? Pourquoi Paris?
A woman who has lived and worked in both Los Angeles and Paris talks about their differences, but more importantly their similarities, in a work full of visual comparisons.
After a long intro chapter, the book moves into diverse sections, the first of which is monuments. There are drawings, so it moves much faster. It took a while to get into this, but after the slow start I grew to love it. Really enjoyed all the comparisons between the cities, like the Arch de Triumph with the Paramount Pictures front gate. My surprising favorite was the Palais Garnier, which is the building featured in the intro of the Miraculous TV show, and reminds me of Royce Hall at UCLA, even though I know that one’s based on a church in Milan.
Two of my local faves—In-N-Out Burger and Baskin-Robbins—made it into this book! Okay, BR31 isn’t local anymore—it’s mentioned it’s the largest ice cream chain in the world—but it started in El Lay, and that’s what counts. That angle of Olvera Street is unusual, never looked at it that way.
I suppose it should be expected, considering the author’s background, that there’s a lot of fashion stuff in here, but it’s still the most boring part.
Two mistakes in the Olympics section: St. Louis was the first American city to host, and nobody calls the Coliseum the Olympic stadium.
In a thoroughly modern move, instead of street directions this book gives you GPS coordinates.
The drawings are watercolor, childish but lively. Despite the abstract nature, the subjects are surprisingly recognizable. The Colorado Street Bridge is so well drawn. Another beauty that’s done so lovingly is the Huntington. The Norton Simon is painted in such a lovely Impressionistic style that it could be hanging there.
You have to be in the mood for it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork, surprising myself. I think the best word I can use to describe this is playful.
3.5/5

The Unquiet Grave
My love for Sharyn McCrumb—or at least her early works—battles with my dislike for historical fiction, or in this case a necessarily fictionalized version of a true legend, the story of the Greenbrier Ghost.
There’s very little here about the actual murder trial. Of course it would be pretty dry if it was just an account of the case, but this story blossoms into over 350 pages of background on the family of the murder victim as well as one of the defense attorneys, with him telling the story many years later as he’s sitting in a psychiatric facility, encouraged by his doctor to talk about what it was like being the first black lawyer in West Virginia. The two distinct storylines made it hard for me to remember one while reading the other; the book goes to exactly the halfway mark before the two threads tie together.
At one point I thought, “So many hints about how bad Zona’s husband is; wish she’d get on with it.” So yes, I’m a jinx.
This is the kind of brilliance she can bring: “The time between their first setting eyes on one another and their wedding day was both too long and too short, depending on how you looked at it.” But the dazzling nuggets of prose are too few amongst long dull descriptions. Yes, I fully admit I’m looking at this through the kaleidoscope that was her early humorous work, but even when compared to her Appalachian series this was still a more difficult read than it needed to be.
3/5

The Spellsinger Adventures Volume One
This collection consists of the first three books in Alan Dean Foster’s long-running series that features a human from our Earth falling into a fantasy world of giant talking animals. In this place he’s a musician/magician, but his spells hardly ever turn out as he’d intended; just about the only song he got right was Sloop John B, and that didn’t end well for him either. His diverse comrades—that word used to appease the dragon—include a wise old turtle, a Cockney-accented dirty-minded otter, a dapper rabbit, an angry bat, and two gorgeous but deadly human ladies. This is more than anything a comedy road adventure, with the group fighting evil and sometimes each other on their way to a face-off with the most dangerous foe any world has even seen.
The writing doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the reader shouldn’t either; just read and enjoy and don’t try too hard to make sense of it. . .
4/5

Moribund
A supposedly ordinary teen, who previously had an encounter with magical forces that left her injured, has to find her hidden power in order to defeat a bad guy from the dark side, with either the help or hindrance of a dark princess she’s falling in love with. (Wow, I can’t believe I managed to encapsulate that, because it’s a lot more complicated.)
What drew me to this book was the violin-playing lady on the cover, but in the end the instrument had very little to do with anything. Right into it there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s well done. It’s strange: I found myself enjoying this without really knowing why. There’s so much introspection going on, all talk and no action, which would usually have bored me, but the two main characters are incredibly fascinating.
There are some genuinely hilarious lines in here. My fave: What was their weakness? Kryptonite? The color yellow? A fluffy kitten? Gah!
Can I still call it over-the-top Emo when the author mentions it. . . again and again? Hell, there’s even a Kylo Ren reference.
So this is one of those stories that’s more about the writing than the plot, but in the end I found it worthwhile.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: X Files, Paris, and Genre Fiction

“Ever have sex on a leather blanket? It’s very. . . interesting. . .”

Hit and Nun
Third in a series featuring an accidental detective, a woman who volunteers at a church where she comes across a dead pizza owner and is talked into investigating with her midlife-crisis semi-crazy best friend.
This is my first entry into this series, and it had a weird vibe to start, but I kept going. The weird vibe grew more enjoyable and by the end I was fully into it, though it was difficult sympathizing with the main character. In addition to not being the smartest person in town—and therefore easily manipulated—every once in a while she would spout some religious nonsense that had me rolling my eyes. The best part is the subtle touches of humor, especially the “caveman” diet. Thinking of two women in their mid-50s fist bumping has ruined it for me. There are also touches of not-so-subtle humor, which don’t work as well individually but fit into the weird vibe I was pontificating on earlier.
I’ll never forget the mental image of the out-of-control fire truck ladder, with or without the middle-aged semi-naked nun-dressed amateur detective on it. . .
3/5

X-Files: Season 11 Volume 1
I really hope I don’t have to explain the premise. . .
Though I’ve of course seen the 9 seasons of the TV show, plus the movies, there’s apparently one season of comics I’ve missed, which as I read this figured to be important, because things were far more confusing than they needed to be.
Really awkward exposition, one person telling everyone things they obviously already know to inform the reader; sloppy. I didn’t recognize Mulder with the mustache, which I guess I wasn’t supposed to, but worse, I couldn’t tell if the redhead was Scully; turned out she wasn’t.
Hey, Lone Gunmen!
At the end of one of the individual comics Mulder is falling off a tower, but since this is a collection you don’t have to wait for the next edition to come out. Go to the next page and find out. . . nothing. The story continues with no explanation as to how Mulder survived the fall. Even Scully asks him and gets no answer. That crap alone deserves a lowered grade.
The last story goes back to the main villain’s—not Cancer Man—story, but because I barely remember the character from the series eighth season, I couldn’t get into it. The whole thing was simply too confusing for its own good.
2/5

The City of Blood
Police force in Paris look into a time-capsule-type murder which turns into a hunt for a serial killer.
There are plenty of instances of men writing novels where the main character is a woman, but not all that many with a female author writing about a male protagonist. That is the case here, and even though I haven’t read the first two in the series, I’m confident in saying this should happen more often, if the results are as good as these.
Paris is one of my least favorite cities in the world—never enjoyed myself other than in the Louvre the times I’ve been forced to be there—but I’m liking it here; the occasional descriptions are spot on, especially the bookstore. The other highlight is in the plotting, showing off a police investigation that isn’t solved in a day like you see in most fiction, but takes its natural course, with forensics, autopsy, and interviewing all needing time to work things out.
If there’s one problem here it’s the introduction of too many characters, especially among the cops, but also later on with the suspects. Is the author assuming everyone has read the first two? Okay, one more quibble: I didn’t like the sick mother subplot, thought it muddied the pacing. No doubt it was included to humanize the protagonist, but I liked this character without it. Unlike most cops in today’s stories, he’s not dour or suffering from an existential crisis. Some of the chapters are very short, which also screws up the pacing a bit, but all that is minor. I’m looking forward to reading the others in this series.
4.5/5

Writing Genre Fiction: Creating Imaginary Worlds
Essentially a list of twelve rules for writers who want to delve into science fiction, fantasy, and other genres. Some of these fit all fiction writing, while others are more specific.
I enjoyed some of the tidbits, for example finding out that the phrase “suspension of disbelief” was coined by one of my favorite poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The most important point in this book is one I’ve been saying all my reviewing career: it’s fine to have surprise endings, but the author has to subtly signal it in advance—“in effect hidden them in plain sight within the text”—so the readers can think, “I should have seen that coming!” It’s amazing how often this is overlooked in both print fiction and in TV and movies; far too often we finish a work and wonder why we feel cheated.
Good little piece on things that should be obvious to writers but are sadly not.
4/5

;o)

Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie

Today on Travel Thursday, we have a semi-virtual tour of my favorite parts of the Louvre, that gigantic building in Paris that houses the only cool stuff in all of France, with commentary by a mysterious (in her own mind) dark-haired model.

I helped the supposed damsel out of the taxi and then handed the driver a bigger sum than he would have expected, tip included. The man handed back a part of it and said something in French, something that made her blush and say “Merci.”
After the driver left, she turned to see me grinning. She had her mouth open when I shook my head and said, “Never mind translating. I understood it perfectly.”
She blushed again.
Since she was a simple girl who made more money than she knew what to do with, I let her pay the entrance fee. Once inside she turned to me and asked, “Do you want to wander through like we did in the Hermitage, or go straight for the ‘Mona Lisa’?”
I grimaced. “I want nothing to do with that pathetic work. I think we should just wander through. . . after I check out Bosch’s ‘Ship of Fools.”
She sighed. “Somehow I’m not surprised.” When I frowned, she hastened to add, “Because of Bosch, not because you’re a fool.”
I shook my head at her, as if not convinced.
As had been our custom in the other museums we’d seen together, we stared at a painting we both liked for a good time before trying to discuss it. On the surface, “Ship of Fools” was easy enough to look at, though you could never be sure at the deeper meanings Bosch intended. It consisted of a small boat on some body of water, obviously a small one because of the trees growing right next to the boat. There were two naked men swimming alongside, one holding an empty bowl out and the other seemingly trying to get aboard. There were eight people on the boat: one was lying at the front, trying to raise a flask cooling in the water, while another was either trying to talk him out of it or telling him to hurry it up. {It’s hard to tell if that one’s male or fem, but since it was holding a cup in its hand and looking impatient for the flask, we assumed it was a guy.} There was another figure looking down over the edge of the stern, which consisted of an old tree branch as the rudder; in the center, to the back, was a fat man with an arm raised and mouth open as if doing opera. And the central part was dominated by four people bobbing for a piece of bread hanging before their faces. One of these was a monk, and another was a lute-playing nun.
There were two more figures in the painting: a small man dressed as a joker, drinking from a bowl while sitting in the upper branches of the rudder, and a man up in the tree the ship had bumped into, trying to liberate the plucked body of an unlucky fowl that had been strapped to the mast.
“Rather easy to figure out,” she smirked as we sat down where we could still see it and discuss it without being shushed. “Bosch is obviously telling everyone, including those in the church, to lighten up and enjoy life.”
I grinned; I would have usually agreed with such a statement about Bosch, but this time logic did not fit. “Why did he title it Ship of Fools, then?”
She had her mouth ready for an answer, then shut it and frowned, obviously thinking about it. Soon enough she pouted, “Well, what other explanation is there?”
“It could be he was warning the people about such fools. For instance, he could be angry at the way certain members of the religious orders abuse their influence. Those people are supposed to be noble and in the service of their god, but they waste their time singing and goofing off and are just as much gluttons as the rest of the people. They might have been the televangelists of their day.”
She smiled at the thought and admitted it was possible. “But then he would have made them suffer a bit, like he did in the Hell of the Garden of Delights.”
“He did. Didn’t you see that the guy at the rear of the boat, the one leaning over the side, was throwing up?”
She frowned again–I hope she wasn’t worried about wrinkles–and got up to make sure I was telling the truth. When she came back she was very contrite. “Are you going to tell me I missed something else, or can I say it’s unusual to see a Bosch painting without animals or demons?”
“Ha! You missed the owl in the tree.” She frowned again, got up again, and walked over to the painting again. This time she did not sit back down on her return, but grabbed my arm and hauled me up before leading me out of the room and on to another part of the museum. Some of the onlookers chuckled at our antics, especially when I grabbed the doorjamb as if to avoid being pulled on by her, but this only inspired one guy to say, “I would go anywhere that woman wanted to drag me to.”
She blushed again.
“Oh, I thought you were dragging me to the ladies’ room for a quickie.”
Thanks for the set-up! She smile beamed. “Pierre. . . cuz my bladder’s empty.”
I poked her in the stomach to see if this was indeed the case, causing her to yelp loud enough to get the attention of everyone in the room. Fortunately she was already through the doorway, and made a quick left into the hall. I followed at a more sedate pace, not caring what people I was never going to see again in my life thought.
Not wanting to face another embarrassment for a while, she led me toward the archaeology stuff. She knew I was far more expert at such things, but at least they weren’t open to as much interpretation as art.
She hoped.
We found ourselves in the Near Eastern Gallery after a while of wandering. It was rather dark in there, but when we approached a black stela in the middle of the hall, I recognized it instantly. I quickly left her behind and moved to it.
When she managed to join me again, she quickly read the French explanation next to it. “Code of Hammurabi.” Then she looked up at the phallic-shaped piece of black basalt and said, “Not much to look at, is it?”
I turned to her. “I’m surprised you aren’t more excited to see it, considering how much of a feminist you are.”
Again she had her mouth open to speak, then decided not to provoke me and get the lecture over with. She moved her hands into position as if holding a pen and pad. “Go ahead; I’m all ears.”
Since I am always aware of my surroundings, I knew that at the moment we were alone and thus allowed my hands to quickly run over the tight body encased in the blue dress. “Not ALL ears,” I corrected. She just grinned and shook her head, but didn’t say what she most obviously wanted to say.
I cleared my throat, bringing her back to attention. “Hammurabi was an eighteenth century B.C. king of Babylonia–he’s the bearded one standing here with the god of justice–who wrote this code, which is one of the most significant legal documents in history.” Then I grinned and lost my professorial look. “According to this code, women had many of the same rights as men: they could own property, have their own businesses, and work as scribes, which was a big thing back then, not like today when writers are treated like a lower life-form. It also stated that the strong should not subjugate the weak and gave protection to widows and orphans.”
The brunette grinned yet again. “Is that all, professor?”
I gave her a dark look, then continued at full speed so as to overwhelm her. “Most of the other laws were pretty harsh, although technically they weren’t laws at all. It was more the literary expression of the king of his social responsibilities and his awareness of the disparity between they way things are and the way he wants them to be. The stela itself was found in Susa in 1902 and is written in cuneiform, in the Semitic language, covering 49 lines of writing. On the front is a prologue, 65 laws that are easily read–” She leaned forward. “–if you know cuneiform, of course.” She blushed and moved back to her original position. “There are another 40 laws on the front that are almost illegible.”
She saw me pause for breath and quickly got a word in. “If you can’t read them, how do you know what they say?”
I glared at her. “Next time raise your hand like a good girl.” She actually turned and looked around before remembering we weren’t in a classroom, but by that time I had continued. “This is not the only copy of the laws; others were found later in Nippur and Nineveh. On the back are 183 other laws and the epilogue.”
She suddenly looked intrigued. “Can you read this?”
“No.”
Which made her completely lose interest, typical model.
After some more aimless wandering, we blundered into another art room, and she pointed to a painting she instantly liked.
“Do a painting like that today,” I snorted, “and the only place it’ll get shown is on the top of a chocolate box.”
“You don’t like it?” she asked, surprised.
“I love it. I just meant that the subject and style wouldn’t be appreciated today. But this guy could really paint. Look at the way he uses the colors. . .”
“Yes.” She lost herself in the painting for a while, then went on slowly, “The whole effect is. . .” She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Nacreous,” I said, and she laughed because she recognized my habit of coming up with words no one had ever thought of–or heard–before to describe something that had been described millions of times.
“Yeah, you’re right. It shimmers like mother-of-pearl.”
Closer than she knew, but I wasn’t going to credit her for what had to be a guess.
Knowing me well, she thought I would want to pay my respects to my goddess in her most famous incarnation, the Venus de Milo, but once we saw all the flashes popping around it, we decided to come back later.
A little more wandering led to the Egyptian Galleries, which pleased me no end. “I know nothing about Babylonia compared to the Egyptians,” I told her, making her sigh and wish there was something she knew even a little bit better than I did.
Besides modeling, of course, though as a photographer I was well-versed–
No, best not think about that.
The first thing we saw was a bust of Champollion, who had of course deciphered the famous Rosetta Stone–or so he claimed–which was residing in the British Museum, luckily for it. He had also been the first curator of this section of the museum back in the 1820s.
“This guy must be one of your heroes.”
“Not even close. He was great at what he did, but like most Frenchmen, he could never admit he had help. Champollion was certainly influenced by Thomas Young’s pioneering work, but never gave him due acknowledgement, and took pains to diminish it in his book. It’s true that he made the important discovery that the cartouches contained the names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, but if it wasn’t for Young realizing the hieroglyphics had some non-alphabetic signs, Champollion would never have gotten that far.”
“What does that mean?” she asked, once again frowning.
I smoothed out the frown with my fingers, which made her giggle, then explained, “Some of the symbols stand for letters, just like in English the letter A stands for the sound A. But some of the symbols also stand for certain things, like Chinese characters. An owl might stand for the letter M, for example, but it might also stand for wisdom, since the owl is the bird of wisdom. Or it could stand for the sound an owl makes, theoretically, as well.”
“Ah!” she exclaimed, seeing the light. “Good enough. Let’s move on.”
“You’ll never learn anything just by hearing the tip of the iceberg.”
“If you waste too much time, we may not get back to your place in time to enjoy ourselves enough, since I have another shoot early tomorrow.”
“You talked me into it,” I grumped comically as we moved on down the hall. Within seconds we came to a figurine, headless.
But it was still enough for me to recognize it. “Queen Nefertiti!” I exclaimed in delight. “Now we’re getting to my area. I know all about her and her hubby.”
“I was afraid of that,” she grumbled. Then she looked closely at the figure. “Rather fat, isn’t she? Those thighs didn’t come from exercise. If she was a queen, she probably didn‘t have to walk to the top of pyramids very often. I imagine a pulley system–”
“There’s two possibilities,” I told her, then ignored her earlier “I was afraid of that.” “It could have just been what was in back then; think of Reubens.” She agreed with that. “Or it could have been done to go along with her hubby’s look.”
“What hubby? You keep alluding to him.”
“A completely fascinating and probably crazy pharaoh named Akhenaton. He should be around here somewhere.” Then I laughed at a sudden thought. “They should bring the famous bust of Nefertiti and join it with this headless figure so they could have a complete set.”
She frowned yet again. “I’m beginning to remember. Is that bust the one in Berlin?”
I took her in my arms and pretended to kiss her passionately. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down,” I said after we finally separated, and her pretending to catch her breath.
“Not with incentive like that!” she murmured happily as we continued down the hall, eventually coming to the big guy in question.
“Akhenaton was a renegade who had different ideas about how he wanted to rule than his predecessors. He was a pacifist in a time of conquering, but more importantly, he believed in only one god instead of all the ones in vogue at that time, putting a lot of priests on unemployment. He worshipped the sun and nothing else. His story’s way too long to tell. He was the world’s first hippie: love and peace, not war. And he had a glandular ailment that distorted his body.”
“I can see it now,” she nodded. “Was his wife really like that too?”
“Who knows? Maybe she had a girlish figure just like yours.” She gave me a look of askance. “Right. No one has a body like yours. Still, it’s strange that this guy was really pretty important, but his little brother became a lot more famous because his tomb was found with all the loot intact.”
Instead of frowning, this time she smiled. “Don’t tell me, I can guess this one easily. His brother was Tutankhamen, right?”
I looked at her in mild surprise. “You even pronounced it right. I’m so impressed I’ll hate to wait until we’re alone to show you how much.”
“No point in waiting, then,” she announced, tugging on my arm. “Let’s go.”
“Uh-uh.” Smile. “We’re nowhere near finished with this place. You’ll just have to show a little patience.”
Her response was an unintelligible mutter, thankfully.
“This thing has five legs!” she exclaimed in the next room.
“Very good.” I was sarcastic. “It takes some people hours to figure it out.”
She looked at the figure in silence, debating whether to listen to what was bound to be an interesting story or sparing herself some more of my conceit.
But I made the choice for her. “These are human-headed eagle-winged bulls called lamasuu, mythological guardians keeping evil spirits away, found in the huge palace of Sargon II at Dur Sharrukin.”
“Sargon?” she frowned in concentration. “Wasn’t that used in Star Trek once?”
“Original series, Return to Tomorrow. Kirk, Spock, and the babe of the week beam down and get possessed by these giant melon balls.”
“I remember. So go ahead and tell my why they have five legs.”
“Well, it is a bit strange, considering how boring the Assyrians are in general, but basically it’s so a person looking from the front could see the winged bull standing proudly while at the same time a person looking from the side could see it in full stride.”
“Sounds simple enough. Are these the only ones?”
“Nope I’ve seen them before, the ones from the palace at Nimrud. I just can’t remember where.”
“You actually can’t remember something?” the brunette hooted. “Is the world ending?”
I did my best to ignore her, though her body did jiggle enticingly when she jumped up and down like that, as I tried to remember where I had seen them. . . obviously not easy with her aforementioned jumping around. “Must’ve been at the Pergammon in Berlin. I can’t think of any other museum that might have them.”
“I will never let you forget this,” she promised.
This time I was the one who walked on.
As we climbed yet another staircase, we found ourselves confronted with a statue. She squealed and said, “Even I know this one. It’s the Victory of Samothrace.”
“Perfect and intact it might be only a remarkable work of art, but broken, her gown windblown against her torso, she appears to resist annihilation itself with a fierce and sensuous fury.”
She nodded “Look! I have survived time itself. This is my truest victory.”
“Not bad for a model,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, obviously intent on regaining the edge in our little battle.
The murderous look in her eye did nothing to inspire fear in me, to her dismay. “All right,” she said, already sounding arrogant as they moved over to make room for those ascending, “if you’re so smart, what goddess is this? She doesn’t have a head, so that can’t help you.”
“But the wings do, as well as that marvelously sculptured body.” I grinned as I saw her glaring at me sharply, no doubt waiting for me to say something about her own figure. “Besides, the goddess’ name is written all over my shoes.”
She looked down quickly at my footgear, but all she saw was the curvy checkmark on the side. “Are you saying the goddess is Converse or Adidas? It surely couldn’t be LA Gear.” She’d done a commercial for them, and was waiting for me to remark on it.
I started walking away. “Just when I think there might actually be a brain behind all that only-skin-deep beauty, you fail me again. Any third-grader knows about Nike. . .”
She quickly looked down to the placard next to the statue and saw that this was true. Then she looked back in my direction and, mock-furious, ran and threw herself at me, landing on my back.
The guard, wanting to do his job well despite the beautiful woman, told her to cut it out, only to find her simpering and saying she had been aiming for him; she definitely loved to flirt, sometimes way over the top. Guys were an easy sell anyway, but she would have them believing she wanted them right then and there, all the while claiming she had no idea where they’d gotten the idea.
Anyway, as the guard basked, we disappeared to another art gallery.
“When photography came into being, realism in painting pretty much died,” I replied to her question as to the effect of photography on art.
“But photography doesn’t have to realistic either,” she argued, though she knew she was preaching to the choir on this one.
Never letting an opportunity to tease her slip by, I tried, “Pascal once said, a long time ago, ‘How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things of which we do not admire the originals’.”
“Sounds like he was talking about Van Gogh.”
“It was long before the Earless Wonder.”
“He still had one ear.”
“Good thing he didn’t fall in love again. Imagine what part of the body he’d send his third love.”
“Overdoing it as usual,” she sighed. “Anyway, this Pascal dude missed the point. Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but don’t like seems absurd and pretentious at first, but only if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what they see.”
I grinned, liking it so far, but she’d never believe it, so I let her ramble on.
“If that were true, then all we could admire in a painting would be the technical skills involved in the reproduction of an object.”
“I just thought of something.”
“What?”
“I might have seen those five-legged creatures at the British Museum.”
“Moving on. . .” she sighed.
“Cythera was a mythical island associated with the Goddess of Love,” I told her as she went glum again. She’d been hoping to reestablish superiority in the paintings, but I was already ahead of her.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on mythology as well,” she grumbled.
“You think I’m not going to know something about the goddess I worship?”
“That’s true,” she brightened. “I am the current priestess, right?”
“At least for today,” I answered, flexing my biceps, knowing the blow would be coming. It did, but luckily she only had superhuman strength in bed. . . and other places, but this was not one of those times.
At least not yet, the way things were going.
We continued looking at “The Embarkation for Cythera.” To be completely honest, there was nothing in it to suggest it was a masterpiece. Except for the sky, the colors were very dark; all you could see was a large number of people heading away from the viewer toward the distant sea.
“Now that you know what it’s about,” I gave her a wicked grin, “what do you think they’re doing? Are they about to go to the island, and who wouldn’t, seeing it’s run by the goddess of love, or are they being forced to leave the island? If you look carefully, you can see they’re a bit sad.”
She looked closely for a bit longer, then turned to answer and found a stranger there. Looking around, she saw me walking toward the next gallery, but I saw the Mona Lisa was in that direction and made a rapid U-turn.
“I don’t know,” she admitted when she finally caught up with me. “which is it?”
“I don’t know either.” I interrupted her growing grin with, “Nobody knows. Watteau died of tuberculosis when he was 37, and he didn’t tell anyone.”
“Then why did you ask me?” she growled, nettled.
“No reason in particular,” I said lightly, walking along regardless of her slow pace. “You ready to stop this little competition?”
She startled, then was about to make things worse by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” but luckily refrained.
I nodded, as if agreeing with that course of action. “Can you be satisfied with being the second most-intelligent person in this horrible country? After all, I’ll be gone soon, and you’ll be back to being number one. The sad thought is that soon you’ll leave too, and then where will this country be?”
She stared at me for a while, then burst into laughter, causing me to do the same. The guard there this time was obviously immune to her blandishments–or just too plain old to bother anymore–and ordered us out of the hall.
“Gladly. Let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve seen enough of Reuben’s fat ladies to last me a lifetime anyway. . .”

;o)