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Beyond the Lone Islands

Monday, 31 August 2009

Quotation of the Week (36/09)

"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of wisdom of a mustache."
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Chesterton is perhaps nowadays most commonly remembered as author of the Father Brown detective stories, but was a very influential writer in his day. (Highly praised by among others my own favourite C.S. Lewis). According to the Wikipedia article he wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer.

Sunday, 30 August 2009


You get amazingly close to the lions at this zoo.
All that is between you is a plexiglass wall and a thin wire.
And for a change, it is the humans who are in the "cage",
while the lions are outside, looking in...

'Then he isn't safe?' said Lucy.
'Safe?' said Mr Beaver; 'don't you hear wthat Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.'
'I'm longing to see him,' said Peter, 'even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.'
From C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #78

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 26 – At the Hospital

The Wordzzle Challenge this week (10+5): records, impulsive, really cool, bread crumbs, angels, Sponge Bob, magical moment, back and forth, suffering, good fences make good neighbors, side effects are generally mild, clingy, rooster, samples, curiosity

At the hospital, a male nurse by the name of Robert Sponge, generally called Sponge Bob, had had a difficult time getting blood samples from the Brigadier General. The female nurses, on the other hand, found the old man to be rather clingy. It was hard to understand what he wanted, because when he tried to speak, it sounded most of all like the crow of an old rooster. But one of the younger nurses going back and forth between the beds showed a bit more curiosity, and said she was sure he kept repeating the word angels. "I think he is an old darling and really cool, just a bit impulsive," she said to her older colleague, while brushing some bread crumbs off the General's chest after trying to get him to eat a sandwich for supper. "I think maybe he is trying to tell us he had a magical moment, like a near-death-experience." The other nurse looked sceptical. "Good fences make good neighbours, that's what I always say," she said mysteriously, while drawing the curtains between the beds.

Now Sponge Bob was back, trying to convince the General to take some pills a specialist had prescribed after checking his hospital records. "The side effects are generally mild," Bob said. "Trust me, the doctor does not want to cause you any more suffering." The old man sighed, and reluctantly swallowed the pills.

To read previous episodes, click the label "SlumberPartyMystery" below this post. For the rules of the game, and for more stories, go to Raven's Nest.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Waiting For Your Turn

This week I went back to my physiotherapy exercises in the rehab swimming-bath. Twice a week for six months. After that, you have to wait in line (three months) for your next turn.

The penguins at the zoo seemed to have a similar system, although with shorter intervals...

An Award And What To Do

My Australian penpal since 20 years, Rose-Anne, presented me with this Award. With compliments on my talent for writing... Thank you! I especially appreciate the effort to personalize the reasons for each of the recipients.

However. I'm a curious person, and I couldn't read the text on the picture because it was so small, and it could not be enlarged. This sent me out on a Google-search, because I don't really like to pass something on that I cannot read myself, however pretty the picture...

I found it to be a minature version of the banner of a blog - Idyllhours. The text reads: "Idyll: a mood of peace and contentment, a lighthearted carefree episode, a romantic interlude, pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicity. These are the things I hope to bring to you on my blog. Welcome!"

I can only hope that the use of it as an award originates from the Idyllhours blogger personally. Whether it does or not, I decided to pass on passing this one on. Not because of copyright doubts but because I can't even come up with a list of "5 things I love to do". Crazy as it may sound, I tried last night, but found myself getting totally stuck on the "to do" part. I have too many to-do-lists right now, and only love things that let me just be without to-do...

If I ever get round to designing my own awards, I think I'll make them to-do-free.

to-do n. ado; fuss; commotion:
What a ~! What a lot of excitement and talk!
(Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, 1974)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Descent

I can't possibly be descended from this guy.
Wish I had his arm muscles, though.
Well... kind of...

Quotation of the Week (35/09) - just and unjust

"But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?"

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Book 2, Ch. 1)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Today I Went To Africa

As one or two observant readers may (or might not) remember, a few weeks ago (during "Silly Critters" week at the photo blog), I intended to visit the zoo, but gave up at the sight of the queue. Now the kids are back in school, the parents back at work; and waking up to a sunny day, I decided to give it another go. This time, I did not have to turn around. There were still enough kids around for the "wow! look at that!" feeling. But no queue, no crowds, and good photo opportunities.

Half way through the park my camera told me its memory was full! That's never happened before. I had to sit down and erase a number of the probably most blurry ones... I came home with 150 (memory nearly full again). The digital camera has certainly changed my photographic behaviour! (With the old one, without zoom and without editing possibilities, I would have taken maybe 10 or 15. I haven't been to the zoo since I got the new one.)

I did feel a bit like skiving - again putting off more boring things I ought to do - but I'm glad I took the opportunity. It gave me another sunny photo day to look back on when the winter storms set in. And another 150 pics to experiment with...

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I read this book in Swedish translation, which makes it hard for me to quote from, but I thought I'd write a short review anyway.

Margaret Lea works in her father's antiquarian bookshop. She has made a few attempts at writing short biographies but is not a well known author. However, one day she is contacted by a successful and mysterious bestselling novelist, Vida Winter. In the past, in every interview with a journalist, Vida Winter has told a different story about her past. There is also rumour of a thirteenth story that was never published. Now Vida says she wants Margaret to tell the truth.

Margaret goes to Ms Winter's house in Yorkshire, not knowing what to believe, and it does not get easier as the story is unfolded. It has been called a modern Gothic novel, and classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are often referred to within the story itself. It is a story about which not too many details should be given beforehand, or it might lose some of its power. It is the kind of story where things are revealed gradually. I was in the right mood for it when I picked it up, and it kept me under its spell from beginning to end. It is well told, and well written. If you like proper beginnings and endings to a story, you'll most likely enjoy this one.

Whether The Thirteen Tale, like the classics by the Brontë sisters, will still be read, loved and reread two hundred years from now, is probably more doubtful. Copying the classic style, the book makes highly enjoyable reading, but perhaps hardly pioneering. That, however, is for reflecting on after you've read it...

Swedish book title: Den trettonde historien.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #77

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 24 – One More Question for Diana
Chapter 25 - More About Adam

To read previous episodes, click the label "SlumberPartyMystery" below this post. For the rules of the game, and for more stories, go to Raven's Nest.

Wordzzle 77 Mini Challenge:
class, calendar, keeping secrets, boring, fashion

Chapter 24 – One More Question for Diana

Glancing at a calendar on the kitchen wall in the General's house, Lieutentant Skittles suddenly realized that if today was Friday, tomorrow was Saturday. Before he left, Adam Challenge had said he would come down to the police station tomorrow. But the police station was not open on Saturdays. Skittles was pretty sure that the doctor was keeping secrets from him, his behaviour had been very suspicious. Maybe he had better make sure that the doctor did not try to leave town? But before he himself left this house, he wanted to ask Diana about something. He told Bumblebee about his intentions, and then found his way back through the corridor to the hall, and up the stairs to Diana's room. Her door was still open, and he found her sitting on her bed reading a fashion magazine, the very image of a spoiled upper class young lady. She looked up as Skittles entered, and put the magazine aside.

"So you are still here, lieutenant?" she said. "Don't you have anything better to do on a Friday evening? I thought I heard Adam's car leaving again a while ago. And William, too."
Skittles felt sure she had not only heard, but seen them both from her window.
"I will be off soon," he said, "but I have one more question for you. The doctor showed me an invitation card he had got for this evening. Who sent it?"
"I did," said Diana, without hesitation. "Or we. Evenings here can be pretty boring, so I asked grandpa if we couldn't invite Adam for supper. He likes the doctor, so he didn't mind. So I used one of his card's to write on."
"And why did you call it a slumber party?"
"Oh, that," said Diana. "Just a joke. Grandpa keeps nodding off half the time, Adam knows that. And then…" She gave Skittles a mocking smile. "Well, if he'd take it as an invitation to stay over night, that might have been fun. One way or the other. If he had wanted to stay, that would have been a development I honestly wouldn't mind. If he had been shocked, I would just have given him the grandpa-nodding-off explanation and looked innocent. I'm good at that," she added, with an expression to prove her words.

Skittles decided, for now, to keep to himself the doctor's opinion that the note might also be interpreted as a message from the General hinting that he intended to take his own life.

10 Word Challenge: blind panic, apartment, fleas, soap operas, cajun cooking, free and easy, legal, sangria, public school, new

Chapter 25 – More About Adam

Of course there had been no emergency call the second time he ran off from the General's house either. During the interview with Skittles, Adam had just pressed that button on his cell phone that adjusted the ringtone. Once again he had fled in blind panic from a situation he could not handle.

He unlocked the door to his house, and stepped inside. He went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, poured himself a glass of sangria and took it back with him to the living room. He wished he could turn back time. Instead of going to the General's house, he should just have stayed at home watching soap operas on TV. He wondered if he would ever get back to feeling free and easy again. It seemed unlikely.

His forced his thoughts once more back to the accident in Italy, years ago - the burning car, the death of his first wife. He had thought he would never get back to normal after that. There had also been a lot of questions to answer and legal business to sort out after Eve's death. First in Italy, then back in the States. But he had been very young. He got himself together, finished medical school, and then went to work among poor people in a big city. Closing his eyes, he could still bring back the shabby apartment buildings, the smell of cajun cooking, how he felt the first time he discovered his patients had fleas. And then he had met Linda, new teacher at the public school. They were passionate about the same things, and for a brief time, he had felt happy again. But then someone had set fire to the school where Linda worked, and she had died trying to save one of her pupils. Adam had arrived on the scene too late. He had seen the building burn, knowing Linda was inside, but had not been able to help. The police were sure the fire had been started by an arsonist, but they never found out who. Adam had not been able to bear the thought of staying in that city. He had moved on, and had eventually been able to open up his own practice, in a small quiet town.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Coffee Traditions

I posted another collage of these pictures at Soaring Through the World today, on the theme Doors and Windows. It's from inside and outside the café in a museum park. Dan wrote in a comment at the photo blog that he would love to grab an espresso here. I started to write an answer to his comment - but it got longish, so I decided to put it here instead.

Sorry Dan, but they don't serve espresso in this café. It's the old-fashioned home-baked-cakes-and-biscuits sort of café, with a choice of cakes, but only one kind of coffee. (And open only in the tourist season.)

In old Swedish tradition, at a proper coffee party, you would offer seven different kinds of cake and biscuits. (Less would indicate that you were poor, or stingy, or not a good housewife.) And for the guest, it was considered impolite not to taste all that was served.

Nowadays, the tradition of seven cakes is really only kept alive theoretically in the recipe pages of weekly magazines - and on the opposite page, you'll find the latest slimming diets! Few people dare load their plates with seven different kinds of cake in public...

But coffee with cakes and biscuits in the garden on a sunny summer day, and geraniums in simple earthenware flowerpots on the window sills of a red-painted wooden house - the combination is still just about as nostaligically Swedish as it gets!

By the way. Did you notice the saucer with the blue rim under one of the flowerpots? And a different kind of saucer under the other one. Typical of a time when nothing was thrown away. If you broke the cup, or the saucer got a small crack perhaps, it was used like this.

(PS. I don't drink coffee myself. I'm a tea person.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Serious Question About Jokes

I have a question for all you British, American and Australian friends. Do jokes/puns based on the words sheep and cheap really work in English??? This television ad for a phone company has been running for months. And I'm getting curiouser and curiouser as to whether it's funny or even understandable to anyone except a Swede with a really bad concept of English pronounciation.

Back To Business

... That is, to sorting out the estate after my mother. Tomorrow we (my dad and I) have an appointment with an estate administrator from the firm of undertakers that helped us with the funeral. Since all goes to my dad, and there are no debts involved, and I have all the papers from their last income tax returns, it hopefully won't be too complicated. But one never knows.

There are still some things I feel unsure about. For example, I found a letter of "information" from a life insurance company, dated in February this year, addressed to my dad. In terms of information, it was a really useless letter, because it didn't say a thing about in what way my dad has business with this company. It just basically said last year was not the best of years because of the market, and happy new year to all new and old customers. Does he have an insurance there? Is he a shareholder? Do they just have him on their address list anyway? I have no idea, and he himself does not remember. And of course, when I tried to phone them, they could not tell me, because of their privacy policy. I respect that, sort of - but it does complicate things that I need a different power of attorney for each company, even to just find out whether my dad is a client there at all. *Sigh* (I'll ask the administrator tomorrow if perhaps he is allowed to find out?)
(Picture found through Google picture search.)

Monday, 17 August 2009

Quotation of the Week (34/09), from Winnie-the-Pooh

Loosely connected to my other blogpost today.
(Read both, and figure it out...)

They had come to a stream which twisted and tumbled between high rocky banks, and Christopher Robin saw at once how dangerous it was.
'It's just the place,' he explained, 'for an Ambush.'
'What sort of bush?' whispered Pooh to Piglet. 'A gorse-bush?'
'My dear Pooh,' said Owl in his superior way, 'don't you know what an Ambush is?'
'Owl,' said Piglet, looking round at him severely, 'Pooh's whisper was a perfectly private whisper, and there was no need-'
'An Ambush,' said Owl, 'is a sort of Surprise.'
'So is a gorse-bush sometimes,' said Pooh.
'An Ambush, as I was about to explain to Pooh,' said Piglet, 'is a sort of Surprise.'
'If people jump at you suddenly, that's an Ambush,' said Owl.
'It's an Ambush, Pooh, when people jump at you suddenly,' explained Piglet.
Pooh, who now knew what an Ambush was, said that a gorse-bush had sprung at him suddenly one day when he fell off a tree, and he had taken six days to get all the prickles out of himself.
'We are not talking about gorse-bushes,' said Owl a little crossly.
'I am,' said Pooh.

Dangling Conversations

Thinking about the parallell worlds - off vs. on line - this song by Paul Simon (Simon and Garfunkel) kept popping up in my head.

Blog communication is an art in itself. So many conversations are left dangling, one keeps leaving comments about and forgets to go back and check for answers... (I've been writing about that before, but I don't remember where!) Mind you, I'm not saying one always should - taken to the extreme it would become impossible. It's just how it is...

Actually, it's not so very different from the off line world. There, too, a lot of conversations are left dangling. In the supermarket, on the bus, in the coffee room at work, whereever. Sometimes forgotten, and sometimes picked up again later, somewhere else.

I was kind of reminded of these thoughts again today by this blog post of Scriptor's ! (Thanks for the smile!)

Here is Paul Simon's Dangling Conversations.
He's been my No 1 favourite songwriter for about 40 years...

This is the first time I ever tried to insert something from YouTube, hope it works. Lyrics follow below.

It's a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson,
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter,
With words that must be said,
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation.
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

I Am.You Are.

People are getting back from their holidays. I run into them at the supermarket. They tell me where they've been, and they ask about me. They understand, when I tell them about death in the family (my mother), that I probably haven't been having the best of summers. But it's when I try to explain the good parts of my summer that I get that blank stare from them...

"I've been out walking a lot," I say, "with my camera, taking lots of photos."

They smile expectantly, thinking of travelling and new exciting places.

"Nowhere in particular," say I. "In the parks, around town, in the neighbourhood..."

They stare. Sounds of silence creep up on us. I know it's pointless to go on. If I add the hours I've spent at the computer, trying to grasp the mysteries of photo editing software and blogging, they will just stare even more. There's no way, at least not in the crowd at the supermarket, that I can explain about magic moments with dragon flies in the park, exploring reflections in windows and polished stones, seeing "the Niagara falls" in the little dam we pass by every day, or going round and round every statue and sculpture in town looking for new angles.

"Who have you been seeing? Who have you been talking to?" they ask next. And I say well, I had lunch with A, and B stopped by last week, and I talked to C on the phone. That doesn't really cover much, but that's as far as our common ground supermarket language goes. That language does not have room for the experience of entering other worlds through the computer screen and communicating with people who aren't "really there". I can't casually say to these supermarket friends: Dan went to a car show recently and got to sell a lot of pictures. CJ spent the summer in the Hebrides with GB and took some fantastic photos. And oh, good news, Rae finally found a house!

I went home and sat down to meditate over how I came to live in two worlds.
("I am - you are" photo taken by me at an outdoor art exhibition. There was a whole row of these white stones, with the same words in different languages.)

The Spirit of Change and Order

There is always, still, something special about Mid August. In Sweden, the school holidays stretch from mid June to mid August. Most people have at least part of their holidays from work in July. In July, you rarely find anyone in their usual place or occupation. Official business that can be put off, is put off. In August, things slowly begin to move again. It's a time for getting back to Order. The stores are filled with notebooks, pencils, erasers, binders, school books and school bags. Every year, I still get drawn into the spirit of it, even though I'm neither student, nor teacher, nor parent, nor even employee any more. It's still there, in the very air we breathe: A season of Change; of getting back into Routines, and at the same time a New Beginning, a Fresh Start. In this country, because of the seasons, much more so in August than in Janary. We may make grand New Year promises; but we usually start September with much more energy and resolution.

So yesterday, I went out and bought myself two brand new notebooks. (See picture.)
And a new backpack. Not for school, but just for Me.

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #76

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 23 - Conversation in the kitchen

To read previous episodes, click the label "wordzzle" below this post.
For the rules of the game, and for more stories, go to Raven's Nest.

The words this week (10+5): superlative, flea market, falling leaves, disinformation, who was that masked man?, keeping kids out of trouble, I'm a believer, bonnet in the attic, staff, generation, deep in the forest, government, charming, heirlooms, flabbergasted

Choosing a corridor on his left lined with so many mysterious objects that it could easily have been mistaken for a flea market, Skittles eventually found his way through the staff quarters to the kitchen. There he found the butler busy with something at the sink, and William sitting at the table, talking. Like many others of his generation, the young man seemed to enjoy using superlatives in every other sentence. High risk of more disinformation, Skittles thought.

"… keeping kids out of trouble, that sort of thing," William said. " Do you remember when she found that old bonnet in the attic for Diana to wear to the fancy dress ball, but Diana convinced her to make her a Zorro costume instead? 'Who was that masked man?' people kept asking afterwards. William started to hum a tune that Skittles recognized as "I'm a believer", but interrupted himself when he became aware of Skittles standing in the doorway.

"Hello lieutenant. We're just talking of old times while waiting for falling leaves." Seeing Skittles' raised eyebrows, he quickly added:

"Sorry, it just feels like a waste of time to just sit around waiting. My boss will be furious that I didn't get back before closing time, and I still have tons of goods in the van that should have been delivered to other customers. Knowing my boss he won't think it reason enough that I saved a charming old gentleman and his heirlooms from being destroyed in a fire deep in the forest.

Skittles looked out of the window. He did not agree that a few trees in the garden was quite the same as "deep in the forest", but let it pass. He wasn't really interested in questioning William further, since the young man had clearly not arrived until after the fire had started. He told him so.

William looked flabbergasted.
"You mean I have been waiting around for nothing?" he groaned. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to add something rude, but then he just rose, and left through the kitchen entrance, muttering something in a very low voice between his teeth. Skittles thought he could distinguish the words "writing to the government".

Skittles turned to Bumblebee.

"I do, however, have a few more questions for you," he said. "Miss Diana says she saw Dr Challenge arrive here twice this afternoon. Can you confirm that?"

"Yes, sir," said the butler. "I did hear his car earlier, before I went outside with the drinks, and I remember saying to myself, 'That car really needs a new muffler', and then I saw it disappearing down the road. He does not usually come on Fridays. But Miss Diana had told me he would be coming for supper. I don't know if it was by her invitation, or the General's. I did not notice when he arrived - it must have been while I was not in the kitchen - and I wondered a bit why he left again, but thought that maybe he had had an emergency call or something. That would explain it, wouldn't it?"
"It might," said Skittles, adding to himself: If the doctor had not known that an emergency call could have been checked out, and had instead started talking nonsense about going home to change his shirt…

Thursday, 13 August 2009


Today I was lucky. In spite of first checking in on my email and some blog posts this morning, I managed to also get to the grocery store in town and back before it started raining. We then had thunder circling around for hours; and really, really heavy rain - if I had been out in it, I would have got soaked to the skin in less than two minutes, no matter how many umbrellas.
No wonder I was feeling "under the weather" even earlier... I seem to be extremely sensitive to changes in the weather/ atmospheric pressure (??) these days, but am still having a hard time getting used to that! (Makes me feel old...) I keep wondering what I've been "doing" some days to make me feel so extra achy and miserable - and then the answer comes to me in a flash (quite literally)...
Safe and dry indoors, with the rain pouring down outside, I let myself be nailed to my bed for the worst of it this afternoon, distracting myself with a good book - the kind you just want to keep on reading but at the same time don't want to finish too fast: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I'm half way through, just hoping I won't change my mind about it at the end! The only thing I regret is getting the Swedish translation instead of the English original, because that makes it hard to quote from here...
Anyway. One of the characters in the book is a woman suffering from pain. She calls the pain her "wolf" and says the wolf attacks her especially in the hour before she is allowed to take her next dose of pain killers. I can relate to that, even though neither my pains nor my pills are of the "deadly" kind... But I believe the image will stick with me!
I'm feeling the wolf's claws in my shoulder right now so better end this post quickly.
Got some good news yesterday, though - I'm getting another 6 months period of training in the rehab pool (warm water), twice a week, starting soon. Doesn't drown the wolf, but helps keep it tamed...
Cloudy picture:
Not from today but taken by me a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Too Many Things

Too many things in my head at once.
All the things I ought to do but keep putting off.
All the things I don't even really want to think about.
All the things my mind wants to explore, but my body doesn't.
All the things I do because if I don't, they don't get done.
Allt the crazy things I do just to keep myself sane.
All the blogposts that never even reach the keyboard.
This probably should have been one of them...

Picture: Kaleidoscope made in PSP from one of my own photos.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock butterfly - Inachis io
I had no idea of its name when I took the picture
(two days ago), but managed to look it up.
Again a photo taken in close-up macro mode.
I just love how the colours of the wings
match the colours of the flowers.

Quotation of the Week (33/09)

"You must learn to heed your senses. Humans use but a tiny percentage of theirs. They barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk. That makes up for the lack of use of their other senses."

Michael Scott, The Alchemyst
(words put in the mouth of the alchemyst Nicholas Flamel)

See my book review of this book in post below.

Book Review: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
by Michael Scott (link to Wikipedia article)

Text on the back cover:

He holds the secret that can end the world.

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330. Nearly 700 years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418. But his tomb is empty.

The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects; the Book of Abraham the Mage. It's the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world.

That's exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won't know what's happening until it's too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it.

Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

My review:

The reason I picked up this book was because it was suggested reading for September in Jo's Book Nook at the Leaky Lounge (Harry Potter) Forum; even though it is a post-HP book, while all the previous books have been "classics" recommended (in some context or other) by J.K. Rowling.

Having read it, my general impression is – yes, this book is definitely post Harry Potter; and feels to me like rather a bleak attempt to accomplish something similar but different enough to avoid being accused of ripoff.

One similarity is intertwining the modern world with a magic world of surviving alchemists (besides Nicholas Flamel and his wife Perenelle, also John Dee, 16th century alchemist and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I), mythical creatures, and ancient gods and goddesses. In Michael Scott's world, the alchemists and even creatures such as vampires and the Morrigan do not stay hidden in a wizarding world refusing to use modern inventions like electricity; but take full advantage of technology such as cars, jet planes, cell phones, laptop computers and the internet.

The most ancient powers, though – called Elders of the first generation - seem to prefer to enclose themselves in a Shadowrealm that (much like Rowling's Hogwarts) quickly drains the power out of any modern battery.

The basis of Scott's ideas is that before the humans (humani), the earth was inhabited and ruled by an Elder Race. "They were creatures that looked human – sometimes – but had the powers of gods. --- The first primitive humani worshipped the Elder Race as gods and demons --- The gods and goddesses of Greece and Egypt, of Sumeria and the Indus Valley, of the Toltec and the Celt, existed. They weren't different gods, however; they were simply the same Elders called by different names."

(This is really pretty much the same idea that Tolkien expresses in his Silmarillion, although Tolkien speaks in terms of Valar and Mayar and Elves etc.)

As introduction to make kids curious about old myths and history, and wanting to look things up on the Internet, I suppose Scott's Alchemyst might work. (I have no kids to try it out on.) Personally, having read the works of fantasy by authors such as Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling and Pratchett, I find Scott's Alchemyst rather boring. There is a lot of action, but no real depth to the characters, and the choice of mythical gods – or, come to think of it, so far only goddesses? – seems random. It disturbs my sense of context to have Hekate (from Greek mythology) living in the tree of Yggdrasill (from Old Norse mythology), fighting against the Morrigan (Celtic crow goddess) and Bastet (Egyptian cat goddess). I find myself getting irritated, rather than curious. If the names had been left out, I might possibly have found it intriguing to figure out the references, but with the names there, they are too obvious (and at the same time, the combinations seem wrong).

One idea I did like in this book was that the awakening of magic is connected to a general heightening of the senses, which is not all pleasant. (Scott is hardly the first author to have emphasized that thought, though. ) And also the thought that change, once begun, cannot be reversed. But – that's about it… I also find it a bit overexplicit, really, to have the teenage girl going through the "awakening" before her male twin...

Whether I'll read the rest of the series seems doubtful at the moment, but remains to be seen!
PS. Oh - I forgot: I did -indirectly- learn something from this book I didn't know before. Terry Pratchett didn't invent Golems... It never occurred to me to look them up before, but I did now, when they appeared in Scott's book as well. Seems they belong to Jewish legend. And there is a connection to alchemy as well.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

"You can travel ten thousand miles in search of the unexpected.
Or you may find it just around the corner."

Text - from an advertisment poster.
Picture - from "just around the corner".

Madame Dragonfly

Oh, hello... What did you say? If I'd mind posing for you? Not at all.
I'm just sitting here watching some silly boys trying to impress me.
Did you get a good shot of my tail there?

Wait, let me just fix myself up a bit. Wash my face...
Did you notice the transparancy of my wings?
I even get a coloured shadow in this sunlight...

Now, if you look from this side, you'll see that my dress
is not all brown, it's got some shiny green in it, too.
Pretty isn't it? Goes well with the copper tones, I think.

And don't forget to look closely at the pattern!
Very intricate, if I may say so myself... And shiny, too!

Now, lets watch the boys... See them out there?
Looks like they've grown tired of chasing each other
and are sitting down for a rest. Won't stay that way for long,
though, if I know them right - and I do! I kind of doubt you'll
be able to catch them with that little zoomy thing of yours...

Silly things! One standing on his head,
the other one fluttering his wings like a maniac...

Down by the river in the park today, I saw dragonflies again!
The female, sitting on a rail beside the river, was kind enough to let me take a whole series of shots of her in close-up macro mode. I cropped the photos just a little bit and used some mild enhancing or sharpening effects on one or two of them; but they were otherwise really quite good as they were, straight out of the camera. The "boys", however - the beautiful blue males - were really hard to catch with my little camera today, as they were chasing each other in the air over the river... I only got two shots of them (resting on water plants in the river below me) that were sharp enough to do anything with. These I cropped very hard, and sharpened; and then, to make them a bit more interesting, I also added geometic effects (in Paint Shop Pro) that seemed to fit with the movements/position of each of them. (Round for one, and horizontal perspective for the other.)
If you like dragonflies, you might also enjoy this earlier post:

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #75

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 22 - Avoiding the humiliating truth

To read previous episodes, click the label "wordzzle" below this post

For the rules of the game, and for more stories, go to Raven's Nest.

The words this week (10+5): reluctant, sacrilege, territory, humiliating, master of ceremonies, gesture, dirty deed, crumbling, thaw, token, official portrait, personal bank account, shoulder bone, unbearable, widow

Adam still felt reluctant to answer. The truth was so humiliating. He might not have committed a really dirty deed, like murder. It was still a kind of sacrilege, considering his medical profession, to have run away from a fire without trying to help.

"Who saw me?" he asked. "I mean – who says they saw me arrive twice?" he added, a little too late for Skittles not to take his first reaction as a token that he was on the right track.

"Never you mind who saw you," said Skittles, making a mental note to ask Bumblebee if he had also made the same observation as Diana. "Just explain."

"So what if I came, and left, and came back?" said Adam, trying to regain position as master of ceremonies. "It's not a crime to forget something, is it?"

If I'm lucky, he thought to himself, no one can tell for sure when the fire started, or if I went round the back of the house the first time I came, before I left again. But he felt his defences crumbling. Or melting, like ice in thaw.

"So you're saying you forgot something?" said Skittles. "What, exactly?"

"I forgot to… change my shirt," said Adam desperately, regretting the words the moment he'd uttered them. However, this was another answer so unexpected, that Skittles again felt himself losing control over the territory.

"You forgot to change you shirt?!" said Skittles, with a gesture indicating disbelief.

"Yes," said Adam, sticking with it. "I was wearing my white shirt but noticed it had some stains on it. So I went back and changed to my lavender shirt. Since it was a party."

"But a moment ago you said you did not think it really was an invitation to a party," Skittles objected. "You said you thought the Brigadier General might be planning to commit suicide."

At that point, Adam's cell phone rang. Before Skittles had time to stop him, Adam had answered the call.

"Yes, Dr Challenge speaking," he said into the phone. "Broken shoulder bone? Unbearable pain? I understand. I'll be right over."

Adam put the phone back in his pocket and said to Skittles.
"That was a patient," he said. "A poor lonely widow. Had a bad fall. I have to go over immediately. I'm sorry, but can't I come down to the station tomorrow and fill in the rest? I've really told you all I know, and after all, it's not as if anyone died." He rose, shook hands with the astonished lieutenant, and left the room.

"Well, I never…" said Skittles to himself, distractedly taking a nectarine from the bowl on the table, biting into it. In a way, Dr Challenge was right, of course. It was not as if someone had died. Or even as if someone's personal bank account had been emptied. But there had been a fire, even if it was in all likelihood caused by accident, and had been put out before it caused any real harm. Still, the Brigadier General was in hospital, and there were some mysterious circumstances. Actually more and more mysterious, the more people he talked to. Like who sent the invitation card to the doctor, and why? And why was the doctor being so evasive in all his answers? Skittles couldn't help feeling a nagging suspicion that even that phone call might somehow have been faked, although he didn't know how. He had heard the phone ringing…

He went out into the hall, with the intention of finding his way to the kitchen, where he presumed he might find the butler, and maybe still also the boy from the grocery store. Looking around wondering what door to choose, his eyes fell on what he supposed must be the Brigadier General's official portait. He had indeed been an impressive man in his day, Skittles thought, and quite handsome, too.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Hot Summer Day

Today we've had one
of those sunny summer days
when I much prefer
to be still in the shadow
watching water running by.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Making Progress!

Yes!! I finally figured out how to put coloured text onto a picture in PaintShop, and also how to replace the standard page header of the blog with an image of my own! I'm so proud of myself... :)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

7 Months Of Blogging

I just realized that it's my 7 months bloggoversary today!
The very first post (5 January, 2009) can be read here.

In honour of the Magician's Book and the Spell To Make Hidden Things Visible, what better way to celebrate than with a picture of a really old book. (From the museum I visited on Sunday.)
Just a few weeks after I started my blog, I got this Award from Rose-Anne in Australia, a penfriend of mine since long before the Internet. (It was also she who inspired me to start blogging in the first place.) It was one of those awards that you're supposed to pass on to a number of other people; which presented me with a bit of a problem, because at the time, I had no other blogging friends to pass it on to. So instead I made a promise to "continue to explore the vast ocean of the internet, and hopefully make some new friends visiting other random blog islands out there".
Looking back, I'm amazed at how this has actually come true. I might have to create an award myself one of these days, for some of you amazing people out there. For now, I'll just say THANK YOU to everyone who follows this blog and/or drops in from time to time to leave an encouraging comment. You keep me going... :)

Monday, 3 August 2009

Quotation of the Week (32/09)

"From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other."

Arthur Conan Doyle

It's Monday and it's raining again.
Last night, I watched an old Sherlock Holmes episode on TV.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Sunny Sunday

Red currants

We have a word in Swedish, an adjective - lagom - for which there is no exact equivalent in English. Depending on context, it might be translated as "neither too much, nor too little", "just about right", "perfect", "sufficient", "enough", "in moderation"... It has often been said (by ourselves as well as by others) that this word sums up our national identity. In general, we don't much like the extremes; we prefer to be cautious and safe. Of course this is not true about every individual, but I think there's probably something in it, or we wouldn't have needed the word, or used it so frequently.

Anyway, lagom also applies to how we usually wish the weather to be, even though it rarely is. When it's not, we love to complain about it, even though (or perhaps because) the weather is one thing that no one can really do anything about. One period earlier in the summer it was much too hot, at least for my liking. Most of July on the other hand was very rainy. This weekend however, it has been just lagom... Sunny and warm, but not blazingly hot.

Yesterday afternoon, I was actually able to sit on my own balcony and relax and read for a while, without getting either too hot, or too cold, or wet.

And today I had a very nice stroll with my camera in a folk museum park, taking lots of new pictures of the old buildings there both from the outside and from the inside. They are still in the camera - about 140 of them! - but I hope to be sharing some of them both here and on the photo blog in (rainy) days to come. It's the same park from which I shared two or three pictures already on the photo blog (last week on the theme Before/After Editing).

The cottages are not always open, but they were today. Taking pictures inside was especially exciting, because it's so dark in there that you can't really see a thing. Especially not coming in from the bright sunlight outside. I took lots of flash photos with very little idea of what it was I was taking pictures of. It will be very interesting to see them enlarged on the computer screen!

Today's picture of red currants was taken yesterday in another park. No editing.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge #74

The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 21 - Fair warning

To read previous episodes, click here, or on the label "wordzzle" at the bottom of this post.
For the rules of the game, and for more stories, go to Raven's Nest.

The words this week (10+5):
fair warning, hormones, journalism, philanthropist, burgeoning, running the bulls, saturation, tossed in the towel, whine, indelicate details, hard labor, lurid, quick fix, sizable contributions, trumpet

Interviewing reluctant witnesses, Lieutenant Skittles thought, was like running the bulls. You had to keep ahead of them. First he had had to deal with that young girl, burgeoning with hormones, crying like a waterfall and babbling about the love of her life. And now the doctor, the object of Diana's feelings, seemed to have reached his point of saturation, too - breaking off in the middle of a sentence, and starting to whine about being thirsty and asking for fruit! More likely than not, there were some indelicate details the doctor was trying to avoid revealing.

The problem when being alone on a job was that you had no one to play good cop/bad cop with, you had to choose. Skittles was tempted to take the easy way out again, playing the goodhearted philantropist, but decided to wait a while yet before he tossed in the towel.

"First we finish the interview, then you can have a nectarine!" he said to Adam. "I'm giving you fair warning: Don't try to sidetrack me, it won't work. You said you thought Diana might be coming home for a summer job, but that was only after…? After what?"

Adam had had a few seconds to think while Skittles hesitated.

"After school?" he suggested, weakly, not really believing he'd get away with it.

But the unexpected answer did throw Skittles off guard.
"After school? What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, feeling confused.

"Well, she goes to school, doesn't she?" said Adam, defensively. "Studies journalism, or something of that kind, I believe."

"She said to me she's writing a book," said Skittles, thoughtfully.

"Well, there you are then," said Adam; and Skittles, again, felt completely lost. How could it be so hard to keep control over a simple interview?

"If she's writing a book, I bet it's either a murder story or a ghost story," said Adam. "She was always very much into lurid tales, even as a child."

It was really hard labor to keep this conversation on track, Skittles thought to himself. On the one hand, for all that he knew, the doctor might actually be giving him sizable contributions for the bigger picture. On the other, Skittles couldn't get rid of the feeling that Adam was just trying to quick fix some slip of the tongue he had made earlier.

"Doctor Challenge," said Skittles, in as trumpet-like voice as he could accomplish, "let's get back to topic, shall we? Who do you really think sent you that invitation card, and why?"

"Now I think it might have been Diana," said Adam. "But wouldn't the simplest thing be to ask her whether it was she who sent it or not?"

This might just go on for ever and ever, Skittles thought. Whether innocent or guilty, people always tried to hide their own secrets by directing the attention towards someone else. Then, suddenly, he remembered what it was Diana had suggested that he should be asking Adam.

"Right now, I'm questioning you," he said. "You were seen coming to this house twice this afternoon. You came, you left, and you came back. Explain, please!"


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