Monday, August 30, 2010

How the Loving Local Blogathon Helped Two Old Friends Re-connect

Yesterday on my Loving Local blog post I mentioned the Belsole family who were friends with our family when I was growing up and I posted a picture of a picnic held at their house nearly half a century ago. This post lead to a series of interesting events which culminated in my reconnecting with Mike Belsole whom I hadn't heard from in probably over 40 years. Mike lives in New York now with his wife Angela and he said he loved the photo and asked if I had other ones. That is Mike and his mother Rosie in the photo below:

Subsequently Mike and I wound up "friending" each other on Facebook and this morning I spent some time looking at the photo albums he has posted. One of the pictures was taken this Spring at his mother Rosie's birthday party. I was so delighted by the picture I emailed Mike and asked if I could post it here:

Yup, check that out! What is one of the featured dishes at Rosie's birthday party? You guessed it - pickled eggs! Since I had just posted a Loving Local blog about pickled eggs this made me very happy.

So, not only has the Loving Local Blogathon given us lots of great recipes but it helped two old friends connect - and "share" some pickled eggs, too.

Thanks, Mike, thanks, Tinky, and thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Loving Local: Remembering Corn Roasts, Picnics, Catching Frogs

I came across this picture recently and it seems perfect for this blog. It was probably taken around 1957 and is from the slides in my Dad's collection that I brought back after he died. It is a picnic held in the yard of some friends of our families. That's me with my two brothers in the foreground. If you look closely at our plates you'll see evidence of one of the highlights of the summers of my childhood – roasted corn-on-the-cob. Every summer of my childhood it seems like the summer was measured in the number of memorable corn roasts held.

My Dad (who most likely is behind the camera here) and Mike Belsole (in the blue shirt) were corn roasting pros. The way it works is this: first you need a metal barrel with a tight-fitting lid into which some holes are punched. Then you need a wire basket that is fit down into the barrel so the baskets bottom is about a foot short of the barrel's bottom. You build a fire with a cement block on either side of it. You fill the bottom of the barrel with water and fill the basket with corn from which the outer husks and silk have been removed. You put the lid on, lift the barrel to balance between the cement blocks over the fire and you let the fire and the smoke do the rest. Sometimes hot dogs were added in a second basket on top of the corn. I'm sure if it were done here there would be clams in there.

This resulted in the most delicious, smoky tasting sweet corn in the world. That roasted corn was the highlight of many a summer picnic. The Belsole family in the picture here lived out in the country. That's their barn in the background and I remember fields of corn and lots and lots of apple trees there. Take a look at the car in the background – that was Dad's. Lots of memories tied up in this picture.

When we had corn roasts at home, Mom would send up up to get the corn from Mr. Brown who lived up the hill from us. I loved going to their house. Mr. Brown built hand-made grandfather clocks that were so beautiful and Mrs. Brown was always cooking. She had pots of flowers everywhere in her house. It was the first place I remember seeing amaryllis. So we'd get the corn (and usually a couple of fresh-from-the-oven cookies) and come home. Sometimes we had hot dogs with the corn but, more often, all we added was fresh-from-the-garden sliced tomatoes and radishes and, of course, cucumber salad. Mom's cucumber salad was delicious. No matter how much she made it was never enough:

Mom's Cucumber Salad
Slice 4-5 fresh young cucumbers into thin sliced and put them in a bowl with a garden-fresh onion also sliced thin. Chop up some fresh dill and sprinkle on top. Mix together ½ c. salad oil, ¼ c. white vinegar, and 2 tbsp. sugar. Pour over the vegetables and let sit ½ an hour before serving.

I remember one time in Marblehead I had visitors from Canada. We had gone to a farmstand early in the day and I bought cukes and corn to go with the lobsters we had for dinner. When I put the bowl of cucumber salad on the table one of the guys pulled it over and placed the whole thing on his plate. He said, “You can have my lobster if I can have all of this.” Turns out his mother had served the same salad when he was a boy growing up on a farm in Ontario and he hadn't tasted it in years.

So another summer is in its sweetest and most lovely days – the last couple of weeks before autumn. The picture below was taken a couple years ago at another picnic. Those are my nephews Pat and Thad and the frog they just caught. My brothers and I caught a million frogs on similar picnics. So, the world keeps on turning despite the insanity. But as long as people keep looking forward to fresh corn-on-the-cob and kids keep catching frogs I guess we'll turn out okay.

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens

Wishing all of you a glorious end of summer and thanks for reading.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Loving Local: Potato Pancake Picnic

Back home in Pennsylvania the end of summer always brought one particularly festive event, the annual Potato Pancake Picnic held at the Sportsman's Club. A traditional Potato Pancake dinner includes 4 foods that are perfect for using the delicious produce so bountiful at this time of year: mountains of crispy potato pancakes, accompanied by bowls of freshly stewed tomatoes, sweet creamed corn, and spicy applesauce. You can't have a proper potato pancake dinner without them.

Potato Pancakes
Grate 3-4 large potatos. Mix with:
2 egg
1 medium grated onion or 3-4 shredded scallions or ¼ c. chopped fresh chives
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
Mix well.
Heat oil in a heavy frying pan and when it is very hot drop the mixture in by the spoonful. Flatten out. When crispy on one side, flip and fry until golden. (This recipe is from my cookbook, Fry Bacon, Add Onions, my cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. )

Stewed Tomatoes
Wash 4-5 tomatoes and bring a pot of water to a boil. Stick the tines of a fork into the stem end of tomato and plunge into boiling water until skin begins to crack and peel. Do this to each tomato. Hold under cold water and peel skin off. With sharp knife remove stem. Cut tomatoes into pieces, place in a clean pan with small amount of water, cover tightly. Heat on medium for 15 mins. stirring occasionally. Add 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. white pepper, 1 tablespoon sugar. You can add 1 tablespoon minced onion, chopped green chilies or minced green pepper if you like.

Creamed Corn
Once you make home-made creamed corn you'll never be happy with the canned kind again. Butter and sugar corn is the best!
Make a roux from 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons four. Add in 1 cup milk and simmer until thick. Add 1 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp. cracked pepper. Stir in 4 cups corn cut fresh from the cob. Simmer over medium heat until corn is cooked through.

The best applesauce is made by using 2-3 varieties of apples. Make sure you have some Macintosh but also try Granny Smiths, Red Delicious, Gala, Jonathans, etc.
Peel and cut 3-4 lbs. of apples and cut them into quarters. Place in heavy pot with 1 cup water, juice of 1 lemon and a few strips of the lemons peel. Stir in 1 tablespoon cinnamon or 3” of cinnamon stick, ½ c. brown sugar and ¼ c. white sugar, ½ tsp. salt. Simmer until just tender. Remove lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. Mash with potato masher or leave chunky.

Speaking of cooking with fresh corn once, when I was living in State College, PA my Dad called me on a Friday afternoon and asked if I could come home for the weekend. Seems a farmer friend of his had an abnormally large corn harvest that had to be brought in ahead of an early frost that was predicted. Dad and my brothers were picking corn as fast as they could and the farmer was giving everyone several bushels of corn to whoever helped pick. Dad said they were going to need help putting up all that corn.

So I drove home and discovered my parents in their kitchens (my parents' house had two kitchens, Mom's, and Dad's downstairs next to his shop). They were boiling up the corn and it was my job to cut the kernels from the cob and pack them in to jars to be processed. Well, we worked all night and we sure had plenty of corn for the winter. But I didn't realize how much juice I was getting splashed with as I cut the corn! By the time I was finished my hair was standing straight out from my head and was stiff as boar bristles! It took three washings to get all the corn starch out of my hair! Ah, the joys of a bountiful harvest!

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens. 

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Loving Local: Cherry-Rhubarb-Brambleberry Sauce

There is so much delicious fruit throughout the summer that it is endless fun to find delicious ways of serving it. Of course here, 90% of it gets eaten in as close to its natural state as possible. My mother and Gram Werner made rhubarb sauce throughout the summer as the rhubarb was ready. They simply sliced up the rhubarb and put in a heavy pot with as little liquid as possible. Covered and cooked on low it stewed down into a delicious sauce which they sweetened and served with meals. It was good on pancakes or ice cream or just out of a bowl.

Over the summer I have been putting berries in the freezer in zipper bags and I recently acquired a few more stalks of tender rhubarb – much of it has gotten woody by now – so I decided to cook up a rhubarb sauce with “extras”. I stewed the rhubarb and added in the wild raspberries and blackberries I'd frozen earlier. I had about a pound of cherries and a small container of currants from my favorite farmstand so I threw those in too. As they cooked down my house just smelled better and better.

Finally, I stirred in about a cup of blueberries I'd been saving for pancakes but decided they would be better in my fruit sauce. You have to cook it for quite a long time to get the liquid to reduce by about half. Stir often and don't let it scorch. When it is getting nice and thick stir in a cup to a cup and a half of sugar (or other sweetener - I like Truvia™). It will thicken up more when it is chilled. All together I used about 1 pound each of rhubarb and cherries, 1 qt. each of raspberries and blackberries, a cup of blueberries and a half cup of currants.    
Here it is shown with hot buttered cornbread but it is good on pancakes, ice cream, or just in a bowl. Don't be afraid to experiment – peaches, apricots, black plums, and virtually any berry can be used, too. It keeps in the refrigerator for quite awhile, if you have the self-restraint for that! Below is a lovely little dessert -- the sauce with some cultured cream:

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Loving Local: Pickled Eggs with Red Beets & Onions

Back where I come from in Pennsylvania pickled eggs with red beets are frequently served in bars. When I tended bar in a local tap room we made crocks of these every few days. The picture below right was taken by my father in 1964. That is my mother at my Uncle Gus's camp and that is a big jar of pickled eggs she has just placed on the table. I love that picture.

Pickled Eggs with Red Beets & Onions
If you have half a dozen fresh little red beets, cut the tops and roots off and simmer them in hot water. Remove, cool by submerging in cold water and slip the skins off. 

Then place the beets in a pan and cover with fresh water. Simmer until the beets are tender.

Farm fresh eggs are wonderful for this. Boil a dozen eggs (or more if you have a jar that can hold them). Peel them and pack loosely in a large glass jar.
In a saucepan mix:
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 large red onion sliced thin
1 cup of juice from the red beets
2-3 cloves (optional)
Simmer until the sugar is melted and the onions are just slightly tender. Pour over the eggs and add the beets. Store at least 48 hours before serving. (This recipe is from my cookbook, Fry Bacon, Add Onionsmy cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. )

My mother had a friend who raised guinea fowl and sometimes he would bring us eggs. They were small, about the size of the yolk of a regular egg, and Mom loved to pickle those. They were so flavorful!

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Loving Local: Yummy Green Tomatoes!

If you are lucky enough to have a garden or access to lots of green tomatoes you are rich indeed! The most obvious and simple way to fix green tomatoes is to fry them. Just slice them about 1/4” thick dredge in a mixture of cronmeal and cornstarch with a little onion powder added and fry in very hot oil. But there are many other wonderful things to do with them. This is an easy recipe for green tomato pickles and they are delicious!

Green Tomato Dill Pickles
Clean and cut into bite-sized pieces:
5 pounds of green tomatoes
Pack them into sterile jars and to each jar add 1 clove of garlic, a few slices of onion, 1 whole clove and 3-4 dill heads.
Place in a large pan:
1 quart of vinegar
1 quart of water
1/3 cup salt
sugar as desired
Simmer for five minutes then pour into the jars over the tomatoes.
Seal and process for 20 minutes. These are really delicious!!!
(This recipe is from my cookbook, Fry Bacon, Add Onions, my cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. )

Grandma Valentine's Green Tomato Sandwich Spread
My Grandmother Valentine had a huge garden and every year she would make this with the leftover green tomatoes. She had this big cast iron food grinder that clamped on to the kitchen table and she would let me help her grind the vegetables. It was very pretty and delicious on turkey sandwiches especially.
Combine and let stand overnight:
2 qts. ground green tomatoes
1 pt. ground onions
2 each of red, yellow and green peppers, ground
½ cup salt
Next day drain the excess liquid and place in a heavy pot. Add:
1 pt. white vinegar and 2½ cups sugar
Bring to a boil and let simmer 20 minutes mak ing sure it doesn’t burn. Chill thoroughly then add 9 oz yellow mustard and 1 pint salad dress ing. Stir well and seal in jars.
(This recipe is from my cookbook, Fry Bacon, Add Onions, my cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. )

Green Tomato Mincemeat
This is a fabulous old-time recipe worth growing green tomatoes for... why wait for them to ripen?
In a large,heavy pan combine: 3 quarts chopped green tomatoes, 1 1/2 quarts peeled, chopped green apples, 2 cups raisins, 1 cup currants, 1/2 cup diced candied lemon or orange peel, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon each allspice, ground cloves, and mace, 2 teaspoons salt, 3 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed, ½ cup each vinegar and lemon juice

Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer until it is thick, dark and somewhat sticky. Ladle into sterile 1 quart jars and process in a deep water bath for 20 mins. It will also keep in the fridge for quite a long time.

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Loving Local: Spicy Fish Stew

With the dual blessing of fresh fish caught locally and fresh veggies from the Farmer's Markets, it is time to make Spicy Fish Stew. I like this better than chowder and you can vary the ingredients according to what you have on hand. Normally I put potatoes and celery in this but for this recipe I skipped them but added finely diced red peppers and a dash of red pepper flakes for extra spice.

In kettle sauté 2 medium onions, diced, and 1 red pepper, chopped fine, and 1 sliced carrot in a little olive oil until just tender. Add 4-5 firm, garden-fresh tomatoes peeled and cut in chunks. Add 1 ½ lbs. haddock or cod cut in bite-sized chunks and simmer until just opaque. If you want to add small scallops they make a fine addition.

Add one large can of diced tomatoes in puree, 1 tsp. thyme (if you have fresh thyme you may add more), 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (more or less to taste), 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, and ½ c. dry white wine. Simmer for 15 minutes.


This recipe is from my cookbook, Fry Bacon, Add Onions, my cookbook/memoir of growing up Pennsylvania Dutch.

This post is part of Loving Local, a blogathon to support Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit that helps farmer's markets. The blogathon was the idea of Tinky over at In Our Grandmothers' Kitchens

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Loving Local Week Begins!

This week Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts begins. Bloggers all over the state will be blogging their favorite ways to cook locally grown and harvested foods. See the Loving Local Blog for more information:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Silk Bag in Plum and Gold

I've spent pretty much the entire day in my sewing room working on this new bag. It is made from the scraps left over from a shirt I made out of one of the 100% silk saris I bought from India a few months back. The bag is just lovely, I'm so happy with it. The outside is silk and the lining is a gorgeous pale mauve satin. I'll post more about it tomorrow... I'm tired...

Back with pocket:

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Apologies to my GoodReads Friends

A few months ago I got involved in a program on to supply free copies of my books to readers. Because I am a Good Reads Author I was invited to supply Good Reads with copies of my books that would be given, free of charge, to avid readers who would then review them. I offered 20 copies each of my two most recent books, the novel Each Angel Burns, and my cookbook/memoir Fry Bacon. Add Onions. I filled out all the paperwork and waited to see what would happen.

Well, what happened was life. Business got crazy, someone who was helping me with marketing became unavailable, one darn thing after another and somehow the GoodReads project got away from me. The program closed and, of course, it had slipped my mind completely. Never rely on the memory of a post-menopausal woman.

Anyway, I recently realized I had never followed up on this and discovered that there are a bunch of wonderful GoodReads readers waiting to receive the books I'd offered. So I wanted to take this opportunity to tell them: THE BOOKS ARE ON THEIR WAY! They should arrive hee next week and I will get them out to you as soon as I possibly can. Thank you for your patience and for taking an interest in my books. Sorry I forgot about you!

I look forward to getting them to you and reading your comments and reviews.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More About Marie Laveau: “Voodoo Dreams”

In May 2006 I posted a blog about re-reading Francine Prose's Marie Laveau which was one of my favorite books when I was young. It is a dreamy, heady myth about one of America's strangest characters. Once in New Orleans I visited her grave (below, left) in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and it is a sort of spooky place (frankly, the whole cemetery is a spooky place) where believers leave offerings including the tall, painted glass-enclosed novena candles that I love. So, when I read about Jewell Parker Rhodes' book Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau I decided to give it a read. I'm glad I did.

Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes has a distinguished background. She is the Artistic Director for Global Engagement and the Piper Endowed Chair of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. As an African-American woman of considerable accomplishment her perspective on Marie Laveau is considerably different from that of Francine Prose but both are equally fascinating. Rhodes' Marie Laveau is very much a woman of her times, a free black woman raised by a grandmother who was once a slave. She may be a free woman in the sense of not being owned by a white master but freedom in her time was nothing we would call freedom.

As a child young Marie longs to be reunited with her beautiful Maman. Growing up on Bayou Teché (the scene of so many James Lee Burke novels) she knows nothing of her past and very little about the world. Her Grandmere was once a voodooienne but left that world, became a Catholic, and moved from New Orleans to Bayou Teché after the execution of her daughter Marie, young Marie's Maman. By the time Marie is 12 Grandmere reluctantly agrees to return to New Orleans and in short order Marie meets three men who will determine the course of her life: Jacques Paris, her future husband; John, the voodoo practitioner, and Louis, a white Yankee journalist who loves Marie despite her rejection of him.

Very little is known about Jacques Paris and Voodoo John (Louis, as far as I can tell, is a totally fictional character) but in Rhodes' recreation of the story both become irresistible characters. Jacques is a handsome sailor who rescues Marie from the wrath of a brutal white aristocrat and marries her. John is a controlling, manipulative, power-hungry voodoo practitioner who enslaves her sexually, just as he did her beautiful mother, and her own grandmother before her.

Set against the turbulent era of pre-Civil War slavery the story unfolds with Marie beginning to understand the scope of her own power and the desperation of the people --- free blacks, slaves, and former slaves --- who come to her desperate for a little bit of hope and dreaming of a tiny bit of power, if only the power to own their own lives. Freedom might sound wonderful but the reality of it is very different when even free blacks can be beaten, abused, and murdered with no consequences. As Marie's power and reputation grows she realizes that her powers are not what are important, it is her appearance of power that is a source of comfort and hope to the people who follow her.

Though John controls Marie and uses her beauty and growing reputation to put on spectacular shows for the increasing number of followers, he also resents her. He resents her power and he resents the love people have for her. To me it was entirely believable that, while protecting Marie from the desires and manipulation of the white aristocrats who desired her, John was every bit as cruel, demanding, and enslaving as they were. Rhodes creates hims as a sort of 19th century Ike Turner and it works.

But Marie is growing up. As she comes into her own power and realizes that she has grown past John's power to contain her she becomes the powerful, fascinating symbol of feminine strength and self-determination the blacks of New Orleans longed for to look up to and draw courage from.

Though no one knows the true story of Marie Laveau I found Jewell Parker Rhodes' vision of her entirely believable. There is much color and ceremony in her tale and some intriguing touches of mysticism but overall it is a well-crafted depiction of a regrettable time in American history and of one woman who rose to a degree of power despite the limitations of the times. Excellent reading.

I see Rhodes has written two more novels, contemporary ones, that imagine a modern day descendent of Marie Laveau who is now a doctor in a New Orleans hospital. I ordered them from Amazon and look forward to reading them.

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

The World's Best Recipe for Ranier Cherries

My opinion of the very best way to serve fresh, fat, juicy Ranier Cherries:
1. Wash
2. Put in dish
3. Eat

Thanks for reading.

Discovering Steve Berry

I love the way Amazon creates these sly little “Suggestions for You” lists that offer their idea of what you might like based on what you've bought in the past. It’s a sneaky way to get you to spend money and expand your book collection. For someone like me, who reads all kinds of stuff on all kinds of subjects the list is often a godawful jumble but I do find nuggets of gold in it.

A few weeks back Steve Berry's books showed up on my list, probably because I'd ordered a couple books by Daniel Silva, so I ordered two of them, The Third Secret and The Templar Legacy. I finished them recently so here I am. First of all let me say Berry writes well. I never found myself getting annoyed at the writing style as I invariably do with Dan Brown so that is a plus although let me plead with Mr. Berry, should this blog ever come to his attention, please don't make Cotton “scamper” ever again. Please. Tough, hard-boiled, former Justice Department heroes do not scamper, they just don't. They stride, they leap, run, bound, dart, dash, rush, spring and tear after but they don't scamper. Especially when they are named Cotton because, you see, sir, it makes him sound like a demented rabbit when he scampers after the bad guys, okay? Thanks.

Ever since The DaVinci Code there has been an explosion of books with themes based in the history, mysteries and lore of the Roman Catholic Church. Since The Church is one of the oldest, centrally-located, continually operating institutions on earth there is a lot to draw on and, since we live in an era when it is very fashionable to denigrate the Church and its members some writers have run amok with this. Fortunately for us Catholics Berry uses the history and lore but manages to avoid, or at least soft-peddle, outright abuse and criticism of the Church. He is not afraid to take issue with certain personalities and issues within the Church which is fine --- most Catholics feel that way, too. But he manages to explore the history, use the mystique to build his plots without grandstanding or pontificating (I love using that word when writing about the Church). Good for him.

He does an excellent job with research. Both stories focus on very interesting, mysterious aspects of Church history. In The Third Secret he creates a thriller around the three secrets given by Our Lady to the children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. He weaves into the story other visitations by Our Lady as well as the writings of St. Malachy. The tale takes the reader inside the Vatican and into some of the more intriguing mysteries like the secret archives and the rituals that surround Conclave and the election of a new Pope. The characters in the story, a pope and his secretary, a requisite villainous cardinal with his holy henchmen, a surly, reclusive translator-priest in a remote Romanian village, and, of course, the-girl-he-left-behind (he being the handsome, Irish papal secretary.) Mix this all together and the game's afoot.

In The Templar Legacy Berry revisits elements of the story told in The DaVinci Code with less fantasy and more substance. Here retired Justice Department operative Cotton Malone leaves his peaceful retirement in Denmark to travel to the village of Rennes-le-Chateau in search of a mysterious book. He is accompanied by his former JD supervisor Stephanie Nelle whose late husband made a life's work of studying the Knights Templar, those intriguing warrior-priests, and the treasure they are alleged to have secreted in the French Pyrenees. There they encounter a modern day band of Templars with the requisite Templar Father General Bad Guy. And, again, the game's afoot.

As I said before, Berry writes nicely (except for that scampering thing) and his research is sufficiently extensive to keep the story fascinating. In both cases I found the plots a little fantastical but then, when you think about it, why wouldn't they be? When a plot involves contemporary Knights Templar and secret messages handed out by the Mother of God, well, it's not like chasing down gun-runners, terrorists, or drug cartels, is it? I see that NPR has named The Templar Legacy to its Top 100 Thrillers list! Bravo! Both books were a darn fine read and I know I'll read more by Mr. Berry. Cotton Malone is no Gabriel Allon (Daniel Silva's captivating hero) but he's a big improvement over the meretricious Robert Langdon (I'll even grant that “scampering” isn't as annoying as “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed”.)

The Venetian Betrayal arrived yesterday from Amazon. Darn those Amazon people anyway...

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Triumph of Archibald Dillinger

In the 2006 NBC series Kidnapped, the hero, Lucian Knapp (played by Jeremy Sisto, right) tells someone that as a child he had an “imaginary enemy” named Archibald Dillinger. “What happened to your imaginary enemy?” the person says. “He's still around,” Knapp replies. Boy, is he ever and he seems to have multiplied.

For several years now I've been watching the growth of open hostility and general nastiness that seems to be spreading, especially on the internet, but in the rest of the country, too. For years I participated in a local internet message board and over that time it seemed the enmity got worse and worse and worse. At first attacks were mostly situational focused on the subject under discussion but gradually every argument became ad hominem to the point where there was no need to construct a coherent argument because no one would read it, the attacks would be entirely personal. About a year ago I quit posting there and about six months ago I stopped even bothering to read there and I must say my life has improved because of it. Nobody needs that much negativity in their life.

But I have been paying attention to the nature of insane, hate-filled nastiness which seems to be everywhere on the internet these days. As news sites, opinion sites, blogs, etc. increasingly add Comment sections, those that are unmoderated have become increasingly filled with hate. Last week I was watching a YouTube video of a gorgeous performance by  Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwoʻole and made the mistake of scrolling down to the comments. I was flabbergasted at the meanness of many of the remarks about the man (who is dead now) and all I kept thinking was what did the people who posted those comments get out of writing them? What need in them did that fulfill?

It is something of a coincidence that in the same week that Anne Rice announced her resignation from Christianity and denounced Christians as “quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious” one of the kindest, warmest, most wonderful Christians, Sister Denise Mosier, O.S.B. was killed by a drunk driver. I've been following the discussions of both of these events on Anne Rice's Facebook page and Huffington Post's article on Sister Denise and all I have to say is no group, Christian or otherwise, has a market on being quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious. The only people more quarrelsome, hostile, [and] disputatious than Christians are the people who hate Christians – and there are many of them.

Last night I watched two documentaries, one on about a community's hatred toward gays in their community and another on YouTube about the rise of white hate groups in America. It's frightening. This has gone way beyond personal bigotry into outright hate-filled rage against just about everyone – blacks, browns, gays, the poor, the overweight, the unemployed, the disabled, Christians, Catholics, non-Christians. The list is endless. And it seems the more well-meaning people (like Ms. Rice) attempt opening dialogue the more the hatred rages and spreads. It scares me. Having had my own problems with liars and a stalker out to ruin my reputation I know how dangerous this is.

It's epidemic. Teens are committing suicide because of bullying. Brown gangs are fighting black gangs. Faux-Christians like the horrible Westboro Baptist Church are making a full time practice of fomenting hate. And beautiful, loving souls like Sister Denise Mosier are dying at the hands of a drunk driver. The Sisters of St. Benedict made a plea to the public to not politicize (anti-immigration) Sr. Denise's death but to no avail.

Comedian Russell Brand (left) has a hilarious segment in his Live in New York Comedy Central special where he reads some of the hate-mail he received after his notorious comments about George Bush at the VMA awards a few years ago. He's very, very funny (of course he is, he's Russell Brand) but listening to the content of the letters you can't help but wonder what is wrong with these people? Are we an entire nation of the mentally ill? Brand poses the question why someone would bother to take the time to write these letters instead of just changing the channel. It's a very good question. Why indeed.

I'm starting to wonder if all these opportunities for “dialogue” are a good thing. Especially because very few people seem to be dialoguing – they're just ranting. And ranting and ranting and ranting.

Time to change the channel, people. Seriously.

Here's Izzy:

Thanks for reading.