Books Read in July

Murder on the Blackboard, a Hildegard Withers story,  I like these, but I think mainly it’s because they are set in another time, a time I do not altogether miss (the cops sometimes rough up a suspect, and Hildegard encourages that).  Hildegard Withers is a strict spinster schoolmarm.   The historical touches amuse me.

Sharpe’s Fortress: Richard Sharpe and the Siege of Gawilghur, December 1803

Author: Bernard Cornwell; This is the second of his books I’ve read, the first was an Arthurian tale, so set a few hundred years earlier.  I liked this one better.  One of the earlier chapters had some pretty bawdy elements that I would have preferred not to read, but it is a war story set in the early 1800s.  However, once that bit of verisimilitude had been added, he didn’t continue the theme. It was a very interesting story, and the characters feel like real people.  It’s perhaps a G.A. Henty sort of tale for adults with discriminating taste, or maybe Horatio HOrnblower.  It’s not that Sharpe is quite larger than life, but in order to squeeze so much first hand history into the story of one man rising through the ranks it is necessary to add a fair amount of improbabilities, but Cornwell does it very well. 
Murder in the Paperback Parlor (The Book Retreat Mysteries 2)-
Ellery Adams.  I am very ambivilant about these. They should be fun cozies, light, effortless, and they are. But there are a couple underlying themes I find disturbing.  One is that there is a secret library which exists for the purpose of keeping dangerous books with dangerous ideas out of the public’s hands and this is a good thing. I find that notion abhorrent.  And the other is a common failing of many modern books- we periodically interrupt this story to bring you some shoe horned feminism which is probably irrelevant to the story, often wrong headed and dumb (‘I don’t need a man to protect me’ spoken by a woman who actually would need help from a stronger, bulkier type in the situations she gets herself into if this was real life),  and the occasional intervention of other irrelevant to the story political opinions.  They are often so forced that it forcibly ejects you from the story. It’s exactly as pleasant as if there were lunchmeat or ketchup advertisements incorporated into the story every 10 pages or so.
Susan Elia Macneal, love the WW2 setting, see the problems with interjecting feminist claptrap into the story whether or not it fits.  Sometimes it is done more deftly and then I mind less. It’s when something that comes right out of a modern gender studies university program drops out of the air into the 1940s setting that I want to tear out the page and throw it away, difficult since I am reading on Kindle.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery, see above.

Author: Susan Elia Macneal
Jacqueline Winspear, this was fabulous. It is not a mystery, it’s delicate and lovely novel of relationships between various every day people, including the center, a young married couple.  Bring your hankie.

No Shred of Evidence: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery Author: Charles Todd  Set in the north coast of Cornwall not terribly long after the war, amongst a community devastated by the War- heirs have died, brothers have come back maimed and unable to function forever, and four upper class girls who have all suffered loss are involved in a boating accident where a young man who didn’t risk his life in the War dies.  Accused of killing him, can they prove their innocence? Are they actually innocent after all?  I thought it was well done, but rather on the sad side given the nature of the story. Todd isn’t another Innes by a long shot, but I would put him on a list of authors to look for when I’m all out of Innes, Allingham, Marsh, and Edmund Crispin

The Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keeffe (The Pot Thief Mysteries Book 7) The pot thief steals pots, ancient artifacts, and finds them good homes.  I found these quirky and interesting and mostly delightful.  This author, too, does a bit too much (at least in this book) inserting his political or social opinions and the problem isn’t the views, it’s that they aren’t really seamlessly.  They don’t feel like part of the story, they feel like an abruptly inserted message.  however, it wasn’t nearly as egregious in this as it is in the Maggie Hope books.  There was a tad bit more sex than I like in my bookss, but I like zero, and on a scale of 1-10 this was probably only a 3 and the book wasn’t saturated in it.

Leading with Cultural Intelligence, David Livermore- Quick, short, very basic and introductory.  This is more for the person who isn’t completely convinced that ‘cultural intelligence’ is necessary, but is willing to learn why it might help his or her business.

Little Tiny Teeth, by Aaron Elkins, I think what I like about Elkins is the slight air of cerebral mystery.  Innes does this better, but Elkins is good.  I am reminded also slightly of the Lockridges.  This one is set in the Amazon and the description of the humidity is something I saved to use when describing the Philippines sometimes. It was spot on.

The Creators: A History of Heroes of the

Civilization: The West and the REst by Niall Ferguson.  I only read 20 percent. It’s an interesting read, but I don’t really agree with his central premise about what made the west successful and what made the east kind of plateau and I ran out of time with my Overdrive loan.

An Alan Bradley three book bundle:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag; A Red Herring Without Mustard

As Chimney sweepers Come to Dust– Alan Bradley- I love these macabre, improbable, impossible murder mysteries where the lead detective is a prepubescent, sarcastic, chemistry savant from a highly dysfunctional and strange but on rare occasions and in a strangely twisted way, somewhat affectionate family.

Start with Sweetness.  There is a major plot twist overall in the book just before Chimney Sweepers, so you don’t want to read that one out of order.

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Beehive Ginger

 

Beehive Ginger- (Zingiber spectablis, the spectacular ginger)  It can be up to six feet tall.  It likes humidity and shade and tropical conditions. It can sprout a flower on every single shelf, 20 or more, but it doesn’t do that at all once. The flowers start at the bottom and begin blooming up, but only a few are ever showing at a time.  Water can pool in the little brackets, and mosquitoes can breed there.  It grows in many parts of the tropics, and it is used variously in medicinal and food preparations, as well for ornamental purposes.  A stem of one of these beehives, or pinecones (they are, of course, neither, but the science of identification and description  is a world chock  full of analogies) will keep for a week or more in your flower arrangements.

The colours can range from a chocolate brown to a red.  The chocolate is a variation.  The red tends to be the result of having  been in full sun (which is, again, not their favourite condition, although the red is quite stunning so I like it).

From all I’ve read it is supposed to be scented, but I couldn’t smell anything, and now I feel a bit indignant about that.

The inflorescences are basal,” whatever that means.  “An inflorescence is a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch or a complicated arrangement of branches. Morphologically, it is the part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed and which is accordingly modified.” (wikipedia)

There is a two page long paper about the species here.

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Local Eats

The cotton candy here is not quite finished. When done, it’s massive, several times larger than your head. They also serve some delicious schwarmas, a pork sandwich with an aioli sauce to die for, some tacos that are not worth of the name, and cheese sticks which are greasy but amazingly delicious.  On wednesdays you can get two orders of the cheese sticks for the price of one.  They are kind of pricey compared to other fare.  They offer great wifi (most places don’t have it) and the decor is trendy and kind of LA or Hollywood.  It’s within walking distance from the house.  Our language teacher is kind of addicted to the Mozzarella sticks now that she’s tasted them.

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All this and more for less than 8 dollars a day

Having a katabang (helper) is marvelous, I am not going to pretend otherwise.  But also, there are these little social implications and requirements and while it does free me up from cooking or dishes the days she is here (sort of, I still do breakfast dishes before she gets here because it’s a habit I cannot shake but hope to soon), it doesn’t exactly free one to do whatever one wants.

I am blessed to have had this current one recommended to me by friends and former missionaries here, so I know she’s reliable and I can leave the house while she’s here.  But a lot of people can’t.   Petty theft is a real problem here, and sometimes not so petty.  So lots of times, people who have a helper come one or two days a week cannot leave the house on those days until they are sure of their help, or until they are sure their valuables are inaccessible.  So I am more fortunate because I totally can leave.

I cannot leave the Cherub however because of her allergies.  I have explained them before, but corn and wheat are complicated when there is a language barrier and keeping the Cherub out of food is also difficult when there is a cultural practice of indulging children with snacks and goodies.

When you have a helper, you feel kind of awkward about having a jammy day.  Maybe that wears off when you become accustomed to it, or if you grow up with it.  But I feel funny about just wearing my pajamas and slouching all day when she’s here (that’s not all a bad thing, of course).  In the morning I brush my hair with a comb instead of my fingers, and I put it up in a ponytail and put real clothes on instead of the pink sleeping shorts with the owl pattern and a rubberband knotting one side of the waist to tighten it up (read keep them on, because I’ve lost weight since we got here and also because the elastic is shot but mostly because the elastic is shot), and an old white cotton t-shirt from the Men’s oversize department of Walmart.  I read books and ostentatiously take notes, and I do my Spanish and Korean lessons aloud instead of in my head, and also use the time to sew up the rips that show up in the seams of our pillow cases and pillows and clothes purchased here because they are flimsy and the tropical sun is hard on them.  There is always something to sew.

I have to provide a snack twice a day as well as food she’ll eat for lunch, which means I really need to have rice around even though I don’t want it for lunch every day.  She’ll cook, I don’t have to do that, but we’re still feeling our way around what she can make and what she thinks we’ll eat.  I have asked her several times what else she can cook, and the menu has not been terribly varied, and then she found out this week that I like chicken liver afritada very much, and she was shocked.  Hopefully, that was a bit of a break-through.   Also, when I say food she’ll eat, I don’t mean she turns up her nose and says “I don’t like that.”  But you know, I  can tell, and she’s working hard and food is important and I don’t want to give her food that is going to leave her feeling unsatiated and unhappy and even a bit gaggy (refried bean burritoes were not a hit with the previous gal).  And, keep in mind, it’s not really comfortable for her if I ask, “Tell me what you want and I’ll have it around.” There are other ways around this.

For example, during a more casual conversation I could talk about my favourite food since I’ve been here, and then I could ask her what her favourite foods are, and go about it in that more oblique manner. I could ask what our mutual friends, the family she used to work for, liked to eat and figure things out from there.   It’s hard.  I’m known as blunt and tactless among Americans, so you can imagine how much of a bull in a China shop I am here.

I do sometimes feel like a Victorian Lady of the House.   She comes and we exchange good mornings, and I explain what I thought we’d have for lunch.  At around ten I set out the first meryenda or snack.  At noon or 12;30 lunch is ready whether I want to eat it or not.  At around 2 there’s a second meryenda or snack, although she does not often take that one.  She washes dishes and  starts dinner, while I sit at the table and visit with her a bit about how her week has been, food, and I ask questions about my Visaya homework and she laughs gently as I try to figure out how to get the accent right.   She finishes dinner and leaves it on the stovetop, turning the gas off.  I’ll reheat it when we’re ready to eat, which is surprisingly early here.  She asks if I want her to start some rice.

She goes to the hall bathroom and I think does a quick spray with the cold shower nozzle (there’s no hot water heater for any water but the master bedroom bathroom), and changes her clothes.   We sit down and review accounts. She goes shopping for us at the palengke (pah ling key, with the g almost not heard), the open market in the morning before she comes to the house.  She gets better prices than we do, and I really cannot take the Cherub there.  Trust me.  Cannot be done. I couldn’t shop there and shepherd her at the same time, and teh floor is dirt and mud and vegetable or fruit scraps and very slippery in places.  So she goes over the list I gave her previously, notes prices, figures out my change, or conversely, what I owe her, and passes me the list.  I look it over and pretend I know what I am doing and then I say ok if she owes me, and she counts out the change, or I say, “So, I owe you 28 pesos?” and she confirms or explains it if I am wrong, and I pay her.
Next, I hand her the shopping list that I have already written, and she looks it over and asks for clarification if needed- usually on weight, as in do I want a whole kg, or half, or what of something, and sometimes my spelling, because I try to write as much as I can in Visaya.

Spelling- onions in Spanish are cebollas and in Visaya it sounds exactly the same.  So I heard it and have been saying cebollas for onions for months.  The thing is, I usually had to say it because I would forget to write it down.  She would have the list and the pen and as she was going over it, I would add, “Oh, and cebollas, I forgot.  4 cebollas, pulong cebollas (red onions).  One day I remembered in time and wrote them down.  Oh, my.  The confusion.

In Visaya it sounds like the spanish word, but it is spelled sibuyas, and it’s sibuyas  whether you have one or ten (the pluralizer is another word you add before the word, so more than one is mga sibuyas) .  Also, I may still be spelling it wrong.  The i and e aren’t all that different in sound, and the o and u often sound the same to me as well, but this is still an improvement over a word that looks like cab-bol- lass at best.

She will also look it over and tell me if something on the list is out of season, or ask if I want some particular fruit or vegetable newly in season, or if I would like to try some fish this week.   She will also tell me we are nearly out of laundry soap or I need more tomato sauce if she is to make afritada again, or I need fresh garlic (she doesn’t like to use the dried stuff).  Those are things I buy at a regular grocery store.

Anyway, we review the lists, I pay her and make sure she knows I have written down I much I paid her.  I thought this was kind of rude, but our language teacher tells me no, it is reassuring. It tells her we take the money seriously, we are not careless with our money , and that we are not going to have an argument someday where I accuse her of of claiming I’ve given her 20 dollars (1,000 pesos) when really I only gave her ten dollars (500 pesos).  So I write it all down in a little notebook for that purpose which I now have misplaced and have to scramble to find.

And at last, she gets up to leave and we say our thank-yous and good-byes and she steps out to the patio to put on her shoes and I go to the door and wave good-bye and close the door and I am at once truly thankful and delighted that my floors and dishes and bathroom and laundry are clean, and very likely the windows as well, and maybe even my fans, and on alternate weeks my patio, and supper is made (at least the main dish and the rice), and I sink down to the barely-cooler-than-the-ambient-temperature-of-a-sauna-tile floor (because she doesn’t like the air conditioning on, so I am sweating and have been for at least the last hour) and along with my gratitude and delight, I am also relieved and I absorb the silence and solitude into my very introverted soul,  combining both deep gratitude and deep relief in the same.  I may also stretch out a languid foot to the fan and turn it in my direction as I stretch out on the floor and try not to dissolve into a salty puddle in this heat.

 

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Bamboo stand

The trees here are as big around as my arm.  Which is amazing when you consider that bamboo isn’t a tree, right? It’s supposed to be a kind of grass.

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