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July 2021

When The End Times Fall

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[Illustration by Kafka]

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his lost diaries.  Here, as the learned Doktor of Laws, he has been asked to speak to the citizens of the small village of Zurau, where he is living with his sister. He is talking about the end of the Empire the townsfolk have been living under all their lives. Their Empire, and the civilization they know, is soon to be swept away. Will their lives go with it?

He speaks the truth /he avoids the truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 January 1918

This war. They wanted my opinions about this endless war. These earnest, honest men, awaiting the words from the Herr Doktor of Prague.

I agreed only to answer questions – that way I could not be accused of fermenting treason. Even in these troubled times, the law allows a man to answer questions. Assuming that the law prevails.

The law was present in the form of the policeman, attending this questionable gathering while still in uniform. He doffed his hat as he shook my hand. I would rather have him in our midst, than lurking in the hall. We have nothing to fear from him.

“Will the empire last?” This was first from their lips. And they must have needed to hear the words, for even the Emperor must know that all is lost. The Old Order, having fallen into the hands of dull and witless men, must succumb. The complacency of the age must be purged – but that has not yet happened. That awaits the next generation – and the destruction will be furious. But I do not tell them this.

I am skillful in what I do not tell them, for the truth is beyond their power to persuade or control. (Their next questions would have been more difficult had I not curbed the truth further still.) “What will happen to Zurau? What will happen to us?” And they have every right to worry. To suspect. When a society crumbles, it is those at the bottom who get crushed. But I told them that Amerika seemed a just power – not bent on retribution.

I did not tell them that a victor can do as he wants.

And I told them that we live in a secondary part of a secondary empire – the powers of destruction will be concentrated on Vienna and Berlin. I did not tell them that during the death of a snake, the spasms of the tail can be lethal.

And I told them something which could really be of help. I told them, in this coming year, to grow more food: fatten more beasts: prepare, preserve and put away. Fill their cellars and barns to bursting with food and fuel. Buy some things now, which they can use for barter later if the currency becomes worthless. Look after their families and lands. Look after each other.

16 January 1918

I did not tell them that war is the end result of injustice and arrogance, and that it is oftentimes necessary. I did not tell them that when the natural balance is upset by human action, the cost of righting it must be made in human payment. I did not tell them that a country where neighbour is cruel to neighbour is a country mean for war.

17 January 1918

I did not tell them how the Jews will always suffer in time of war. How we will be searched out, then driven as far as the east is from the west, and then be persecuted. How there will never be safety for us. Yea, even unto the land of Israel.

Olympics & Death

The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo is the proof needed that the Human Race has a strong bent toward suicide. To say nothing of insanity

Onions And Eggs Feed A Crew On A Sailing Ship To China

Excerpt from the novel “China Lily”

In 1293,  Cepa  and Matzerath  were part of the crew of The Pegasus, a ship that had sailed from Italy to China on a trading mission. After a couple of months, they arrived in the port of Zaitun,  where they encountered a local trader, Lu-Hsing.

Lu-Hsing takes the two men to a communal dining hall. This is part of their meal.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Compared to others of his experience, the crew of The Pegasus appears content with their lot. They are certainly fitting in well in the dining hall, and even mingling with other diners. Thanks to the Captain’s instructions, they are willing to try any of the dishes they encounter, though it helps that they are ignorant of many of the ingredients.

“You want something other than onions?” Lu-Hsing jabs Cepa in the ribs with his shoulder.

“I want something with my onions.”

“You’ve been looking intently at everything.” Lu-Hsing opens his arms expansively. “What do you wish?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Look at me.” Lu-Hsing rubs his belly with a roar. “I am not a picky eater. I’ll suggest anything.”

“You’ve already warned me away from soup.”

“Not warned.” Lu Hsing points back to the bubbling soup they had been looking at. “You can add a lot to soup and make a stew.” He grimaces. “But you still slurp more than you chew. Lu-Hsing wants to use his teeth when he eats.”

“We can stay away from soup.” Cepa smiles. “And I’d just as soon avoid fish.”

“Me, too.” Matzerath puts his hands up in surrender. “We eat enough salted fish to swim.”

“You boys are in the Port of Zaitun.” Lu-Hsing speaks in an authoritative tone. “Fish a specialty.”

“There must be something else.” Matzerath points. “Look at all the cooks.”

“No soup?”

“Pah!”

“Trouble-making Round Eyes.” Lu-Hsing points to a wok near the end of the aisle and starts to walk. “We’ll try there.”

“What does he have?” Cepa falls into step behind Lu-Hsing, followed by Matzerath.

“Oyster omelette.”

“Eggs?” asks Matzerath.

“As many as you want.”

“That will take a big pan.”

“He can use a high-sided wok.” Lu-Hsing pretends to whisk something in a wok. “Plop it right onto a plate.”

“We don’t have dishes.” Cepa suddenly realizes the fact. “We haven’t been back to The Pegasus all day.”

“Lu-Hsing share you his.” He barks an order at the cook, and then turns back to Cepa. “Stay right here. I’ll get them from my table.”

Cepa and Matzerath stand and watch the cook. Cepa notes he is using wood and not the black rocks for his fire. Some oil is dropped onto the metal and immediately sizzles. The cook holds up his hand and extends his fingers; one, two, three, four, five.

“Will you want some?”

“God – yes.” Matzerath nods.

Cepa holds up five fingers and the cook grins. He takes an egg in each hand and hits them together. The upper shell is flipped off and they pour into the wok. He repeats the gesture and the eggs land on top of the others. The last egg is dispatched on the metal rim of the wok and added to the rest before a hint of cooking has begun. The cook then begins to whisk and slide the eggs along the side of the wok before Matzerath has time to make a comment.

“I’d like to see you do that on The Pegasus,” says Cepa.

“I break eggs all the time.”

“I know.” Cepa laughs. And we eat the shells to prove it.”

The cook now twists and shakes the wok by its two handles over the fire. The eggs slide up and along the sides, and then settle more thickly near the bottom. With a grin and a twist of his hands, the cook turns the wok right over. The eggs start to slide out with a couple of drops hissing into the fire. Matzerath’s mouth falls open as the cook rights the wok so quickly that the eggs drop right back into it, now cooking on the other side. The cook puts the wok back on the fire.

“Bet you can’t do that,” says Cepa.

“Just once.” Matzerath laughs. “But the whole ship was heaving at the time.”

The cook begins to nudge the eggs together with a spatula. With his other hand he sprinkles a few drops of brown liquid. Then he adds some coarsely chopped shoots of a green onion.

“Hah!” Matzerath slaps Cepa on the shoulder.

After a quick swirl of these ingredients the cook plops in a bowl of small oysters. He takes his time with these, spacing them with deliberation over the quickly cooking eggs. Then – with a flourish – he scoops up a handful of flower blossoms and sprinkles them over the whole bubbling mixture.

“What are those?” Matzerath peers into the wok.

“Chrysanthemums.”

“We’re eating flowers?’

“When in Rome …”

The cook adds a further dash of the brown liquid and then folds the eggs neatly in half. He flips the whole omelette to the center of the wok and sprinkles a palm full of spring onion – this time finely chopped – over of the still-bubbling omelette. He presses the onion in place with his spatula then removes the wok from the fire.

“Timing is everything.”

The voice startles them both. They turn to see Lu-Hsing standing behind them, holding a large platter. He barks instructions to the cook, speaking too quickly for the two men to understand.

“Stick to ribs – make you happy.”

The cook divides the omelette in half and slides it onto the platter. He then takes the wicker top off a steamer and starts to add heaping ladles of red rice along the sides of the platter.

“What’s that?” Matzerath sounds suspicious.

Hong qu mi.”

“You can see its rice,” hisses Cepa.

“But it’s red.”

“Fermented with yeast.” Lu-Hsing scoops some into his palm and eats it. “Looks good. Tastes great.”

“Aren’t you having a meal?”

“Lu-Hsing eats later – with family.” He moves his hand over the top of the platter and inhales the aroma. “We eat at home – wife is a great cook.”

“I thought you’d be joining us.” Matzerath is clearly disappointed.

“Too crowded. Too smoky.” Lu-Hsing laughs. “Just the place for Round-eyes who want to make contacts. I already know people.”

Lu-Hsing abruptly steps behind the counter and stands beside the cook. He takes a look into the bubbling pots and lifts the tops off of steamers. He finally points with a barrage of Chinese. The cook gets two porcelain bowls and ladles a heaping amount of food into each.

“Got your spoon?” asks Cepa.

Matzerath takes a spoon from his pant’s pocket and holds it up.

“You?”

“Yes.” Cepa has his spoon on a chain around his neck. He takes it out from underneath his shirt and lets it dangle against his chest.

“You boys prepared – good.” Lu-Hsing takes the platter with the omelette and rice. He then points with his chin. “Take your bowls and follow me.”

Matzerath anxiously sees the platter of steaming food being taken away. He nudges Cepa and they again get into step behind Lu-Hsing, who again clears a path through the crowded eating hall. They approach a raised platform under a row of windows, much like the noble’s section in the Cannara’s own tavern. It is still a crowded space, with ten tables set not far apart from each other. Half are vacant, so Cepa can’t tell if Lu-Hsing heads for his ‘own’ table, or has the use of any that is available. He places the platter crosswise near one end of the table.

“You need drink.” Lu-Hsing unrolls a half dozen chopsticks from a cotton napkin, so they lay beside the platter. “Tea or rice wine?”

“Dear God – wine!” Matzerath plunks his bowl on the table. “It’s been a day.”

“Bring both, please.” Cepa sits across the table from Matzerath. “For both of us.”

“Tea is for thirst.” Matzerath takes his spoon from his pocket. “I want drink for more than that.”

“We can’t have you getting drunk.” Cepa lifts his own spoon from around his neck. “Even the crew has orders not to get drunk.”

You are sticking to tea?” Matzerath begins to wield his chopsticks over the rice.

“No.” Cepa laughs. “Although I am also thirsty, I have no objection to feeling ‘mellow’ as I eat.”

“And it will help you sleep.” Lu-Hsing slaps Cepa on the back. “Like mother’s milk.”

“I wish my mother had had tits of wine.” Matzerath wipes some rice from his chin and sucks his fingers. “I would have been a better child.”

Colonel Bonner Goes To The North Of Canada – Way North

In The Bonner Resolution, Colonel Bonner of Her Majesty’s Canadian Armed Forces, does a lot of work for NATO. A lot. In this novel he begins in the high Arctic. And then he goes – well – pretty well anywhere NATO dabbles their fingers into the pot of intrigue. And that covers the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The sky is clear and cold.

And blue.

This does not help while watching the expanse of ice. Colonel Bonner thought it would. He thought such a clean demarcation of surface and horizon would accentuate anything appearing between the two. Across kilometers of rippled ice that encourages the winds. The winds that make the Arctic cold penetrate his high tech parka and his thermal long johns. They talk about “wind chill” in the country Bonner is used to. They don’t know nothing.

Before this assignment, Colonel Bonner presumed he had been every place NATO could send him. He has been in war zones. He has been in safe zones where people did not know there is a war. He has been in those diplomatic zones that teeter-totter between the two. Those most of all. He has fought enemies both foreign and domestic. He has averted disaster of massive proportions on his own soil (well – legal sea boundary) that has still managed to remain unexplained.

It was cold there, too.

Colonel Bonner is lying under white camouflage blankets and upon a waterproof mat. He has been in this position for two hours. Any longer and he will be prone to hallucinations. Any longer and he will freeze his balls off – regardless of protective clothing and insulated mat. This is not just his opinion; it is the observation of his guide. His Canadian Ranger companion had nudged him on the shoulder and cupped his own groin and pointed at his watch. If he wants to have babies he’ll move his ass. The cold doesn’t creep up on you, it hits with a wallop. From one minute to the next.

Bonner looks at his own watch. Twenty minutes left though he feels he could have been here either four hours or forty minutes. Time expands and contracts at the same time. This happens during long periods of observation, wherever he has such an assignment. It happens with more force when there is virtually nothing to see. The passage of the sun is the most notable action going on before him. It proves to be of little distraction. And anyway, it is dimmed by his snow goggles.

Bonner adapts to this barren reality by accepting it is not really barren. He pays attention not only to the things the Canadian Rangers teach him, but he watches how they interact to the surroundings. With few humans to deal in an environment that can kill them, they are far more attentive to their senses than he. A creaking of ice, or the slant of shifting snow, tells them more than a manual reveals. They can smell a change coming toward them that is hours away. He makes an attempt to follow their lead. He keeps his mouth shut on the inane observations those from the south are prone to make. He has been shown his restraint is appreciated.

After A God Awful Crash, The Lemonade Stopped Flowing

Two or three days ago, I heard incessant chanting coming from children two houses down the hill.

Other than it was obvious repetition, I could not figure out that the words were. It took a day and a half for me to decipher the sing-song serenade:: “Get your ice cold lemonade here!” And they beefed up ‘here’ – they said ‘her-are”. Maybe that is what confused me.

This morning, for the first time, I actually saw some folk buying their lemonade. One fellow even crossed the street for it.

But then, in the early afternoon, a God-Awful crash came through my open window. The chanting stopped in mid sentence. And I experienced what I had actually never experienced before.

Dead silence.

It was so silent, it made an impression. There seemed to be neither bird nor wind in the trees nor cars passing. The silence stretched for long seconds. And then, a yell of anguish.

“What happened?

“How did that happen?”

“What happened?”

And I did not know what happened (nor do I) but my guess is that whatever glass bowl or container. (which I assume was reasonably large). ended up on the sidewalk. In many pieces, and awash in lemonade.

Within two minutes, two mothers were out there with brooms and rags. One of them went out into the street and yelled “No, it didn’t reach here.”

For about ten minutes there was sweeping and mopping and children picking up pieces and putting them (I assume) into some garbage container.

The mothers returned to their houses.

There has been no chanting since.

Major University Reunion Ends In Virtual Reality

I had some designs on actually attending this significant University Reunion a number of years ago. I did know it was on its way. A pandemic covering the world put a stop to that.

But, since my graduation year hit a milestone, I decided to see what was going to happen online. I fully accepted that the lobster boil was not going to be on the menu.

When all is said and done, this past weekend’s events were fine enough. Zoom takes one to sundry places and I heard a couple of talks, and saw a tour of the campus. Not greatly different – I knew where I was. One residence built in my graduation year has since been totally renovated. I have not.

I was /was not surprised by the number of participants at the class reunion of my year. Twenty (20) to start the hour, seventeen (17) at the end. One of whom I actually knew. I said my two cents worth in passing.

I regret not sharing this story at the time, but didn’t want to hog the hour.

I had gone to a couple of earlier reunions , one where I was told by a server of the lobster boil: “I like your style.” I believe I was being praised for my gusto.

It was at my first reunion that this event happened. Tables were set in long rows, filling a hockey rink surface. Each table (and in certain places, a number of tables)had a large sign announcing the year of graduation. My year had three tables end to end, the year on each of them. I’d guess seating for 50 -60 folk. All the place settings were there, and each table had three bottles of unopened wine present. What was lacking were members of my graduating class. I would say there were fewer than a dozen.

And even they started to trickle away, I assume a few went to sit with friends. I know a number went to sit at the table where Anne Murray was seated. She was getting, I believe, an Honorary Degree (and a literal carved wooden chair). She was a legitimate graduate from years before, in Physical Education.

So, shortly before the food was served, I was left by myself at my Graduating Class table. But with most of that wine (some folk scooted off with a bottle or two). Decent hefty red – Marechal Foch.

I believe I finished two bottles.

At the end of the meal, there were ceremonies. I believe that is when Anne got her chair. However, there was something called “The Roll Call of the Years” I quickly discovered that, when each year was announced, all the folk from that year stood up at their table, by their year sign, and were applauded by everyone present.

I sat alone at my table.

I did not wish such attention paid me, but I had a dilemma. What was most obvious, to keep sitting (for everyone could read the class year), or to stand on my own?

Ladies and gentlemen, it helps to have two bottles of Marechal Foch giving you good cheer.

I rose from my seat at the announcement of my year and clasped both hands over my head, waving enthusiastically. I was cheered to the rafters.

I was even asked by a couple of other tables if I might want to join them.

I declined.

There were still unopened bottles at ‘my’ table.

Slip Sliding Away – Not The Dock On The Bay

Since it had nothing to do with my childhood, upbringing, or my university days, I have no idea why I am now so enamoured by harbours, ports and the ocean. I’ve lived within a half day of them all my life, yet never yearned – let alone took advantage – to visit.


At the end of my second year of university I flew over the ocean to work on a farm in Germany – a student exchange.  I was near the port of Hamburg, where I both visited and took boat tours. I worked on a farm that was nearly on the banks of the Elbe river, which flowed into the North Sea. Canals on the farmland rose and fell with the tide.


I crossed the English Channel twice (one way in a storm so bad it made the crew sick – as it did to me).


So, perhaps with this sea and port exposure, I became enthralled with harbours and the ocean. I crave fishing villages with their small ports, and have visited many. I currently live in one of the largest harbours in the world.


Over the decades I have visited and lived in Halifax, I have walked the waterfront hundreds of times. I never tire of it.  I have written four novels where harbour and ocean play a significant part – more than just as a setting.


Decades ago, when I was just visiting Halifax, there was an anomaly on the harbour. At the very edge of where the tugboats were berthed, there was narrow slip. It looked as if it was not made on purpose, but was an erratic triangle of water  between a dock and a (at the time) jutting shoreline of rocks. Someone kept their small and narrow sailboat there. There was no signage, and I never knew if it was done legally. I never saw the boat come or go, but I often found the slip empty. This situation lasted for years, and although the sailboat was long gone, the slip itself only disappeared this year through massive changes to the shoreline.


However


At the other end of the harbour shore, where additional major changes are being made (a huge hotel, condos. restaurant, shops), between an established peer and the new construction, there is an anomaly. A narrow triangle of a slip, suitable for one solitary boat – if it is ever used.


Such a slip has now appeared in my current novel.

When The Perfect Tuxedo For The Bride Makes The Perfect Wedding

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I would have said the strangest thing I have researched – and written about – for one of my novels, was the chapter in my first Onion novel, where my characters built a bridge over a river in 3rd Century Italy.

Alison Alexandra was destined to edge me even further.

In There Was A Time, Oh Pilgrim, When The Stones Were Not So Smooth, I was writing about a wedding ceremony where the bride is dressed in a tuxedo, as are all her attendants.

She is a fashion designer, and creates a line of female tuxedos.

She unveils them at her own wedding.  

Peaked vs. shawl lapels – to say nothing of all the colours.  

One aspect of Alison Alexandra – rarely alluded to – is that in her teens and early twenties, she was a fashion model in Europe. She left the job from boredom after five years, but it is from this enterprise she gained enough sustainable income (via investments) to be left alone, and live the life she lives.  

However, her mentor – the fashion designer, Bellissima Isobella – has called her back to do a favour.

Bellissima Isobella is getting married, and has created a line of tuxedos for herself and all her attendants. What better way to promote them?  

There is an aspect of the tail wagging the dog in this research.

And, let me tell you, the Internet is awash with photos of ladies in tuxedos.

Oh – yes.

Alison Alexandra will be in red

A Police Officer Called Me “Dear” This Afternoon

I wonder how she knew.

I was walking in this mainly residential neighbourhood to go to the bank, when I came to a line of stopped cars. A long line. Not too much untoward happens on these streets, and I was wondering what was the cause. I came to the treed boulevard that crosses the street. There were the flashing lights of two police cars , and a long tow truck with a broad platform upon which they haul damaged cars.

And there were two damaged cars.

These are generally slow streets and placid streets and it is an anomaly to me that one car dashed out to crash into another. Or that the other could have been putting on the speed.

Regardless, the whole intersection was blocked by two dented and damaged cars, two police cruisers, and one big tow truck winching one of the cars onto its broad platform.

And a female police officer directing traffic.

There seemed to be no sensible route for me to take

I was the only pedestrian and she looked over at me and said:

“Where do you want to go, Dear?”

And I did not mean my response to to be funny, and I’m not certain that she took it as funny, but she gave a hearty laugh when I said that I wanted to go “straight”.

And she kept chuckling as she looked over the scene and said “I guess if you want to go straight you’re going to have to get around this somehow.”

Which seemed true to me, too.

So I watched for cars though none were moving, and took a wide berth around the big tow truck, and jumped a little at the grind and snap of some metal, and went on my way.

When I returned after the bank, the whole scene was empty.

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