A Kinrowan Estate story: Fall (A Letter to Tessa)

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A letter from the journal of Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, to her friend who was in Constantinople as of this letter. Alex, as she was known, copied her personal correspondence into her Journal. She noted in her will that her letters were to be part of the Estate Library upon her death. Isabella would live to well over a hundred, even longer than Her Queen would!

Dear Tessa,

Though it’s hot and dusty where you are, Fall arrived here this week. Though it’s warm by mid morning, we’re now in the high thirties overnight and the days are now substantially shorter. No frost yet, but I won’t be surprised to see it early this year, as the past fortnight has seen clear nights with very low dew points and not a breath of wind.

I’ve had my staff doing last preps on the firewood with the best (oak, ash, spruce, and maple) being reserved for the Kitchen and the Library, as I swear no one else really appreciates how good it is. Head Cook put in a claim on whatever applewood is to be had, for he loves the smell. We also cleaned up the spruces of dead branches and old cones this week so they’ll be used to start fires as they’re high in pitch.

The orange tabby you named Gefjen has lived up to her name as she’s most definitely pregnant! Right now, she’s hiding in the rooms of Isabella, the new Librarian, when she’s not looking for warmed milk and bits of meat from the Kitchen Staff. Oh, I do wonder what the kittens will look like!

You sadly missed the dance we had in the Courtyard under the Oaks that are now changing their colours, which is early for them, suggesting another harsh Winter is coming. We had a guest caller up from London who introduced the Neverending Session to a tune book he had with him called Thomas Skillern’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the year 1780 which has many a lovely dance tune in it. The dance lasted ’till well after midnight and even the Kitchen staff slept in, so we all had a very late breakfast.

The blackberries we planted several years back are now in full force though I admit I hate them, for trimming their canes in a month will be a beastly exercise! Oh, but warm blackberry tarts with vanilla ice cream on top are oh so wonderful. There’s also a promise of blackberry wine as well.

One of the Several Annies, Ingrid, had a handfasting with one of my lads, Angus, this week. You’ll remember her as you taught her how to press summer flowers properly. The Steward granted them use of a crofter cottage provided they fix it up. Angus is keen to restore the Mill Pond dam so we can use it as a proper skating pond and a place for curling games. We now use the field that floods every Winter and freezes hard for those games.

I must be off now as there’s a butchering going on of the pigs as it’s time for smoking hams and such so I need to select the pigs to be killed.

Affectionally yours,


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What’s New for the 9th of August: two London based urban fantasies, Devolving Europe Festival, Oysterband live and other interesting things…

There’s nothing for your comfort in the place where I was born 
Someone’s got the roses ’cause my people got the thorns; 
My people are the poor ones, their country made of stones 
Their wealth is in persistence, in stories and in bones

Oysterband’s ‘One Green Hill’


Autumn will be soon upon us –  Summer’s already waning as the plants in our gardens are just now showing their form of botanical entropy, which puts them on their last legs before first frost kills them off entirely. So Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, and his staff has been drying beans and apples, preparing root cellars for carrots and the like, braiding strings of onions and garlic, sending cornucopias of produce to the Kitchen for Mrs. Ware and her staff to pickle, can or freeze as they see proper.

And you want to know about all the banners flying high in the rafters of the Great Hall? They represent some of the ‘lost’ nations of Europe, such as Alba, Andalucia, Breizh, Catalunya, Crsu, Cymru, Eesti, Elsasz, Euskadi, Føroyar, Friesland, Gallega, Jura, Kernow, Mannin, Northumbria, Occitania, Samiasne, Savoie, Ulster, Vlaanderen, and Wallonie. These all have delegates here, as do some newly re-emerged nations such as Slovenia and Kosovo, for The Devolving Europe Festival, which is being held here for the next two weeks.

(One of our reviewers, Richard, looked at a fictional take on a very fractured Europe in reviewing David Hutchison’s Europe in Autumn and its sequel, Europe at Midnight.)

Now, these are not advocates for violent overthrow of the existing order, but rather like-minded folks who know that keeping their local cultures alive in an age of an increasingly homogenized European society is a matter of food being prepared and shared, ale brewed and drunk deeply, literature being written and read, plays being performed, and music being played long into the night.


Un Lun Dun, a fantastic look at a London that is just out of sight, gets a very detailed review by Kathleen: ‘China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, The Iron Council) is renowned for the world he has created around the great, multi-species, many-storied city of New Crobuzon. Those are adult works, beyond a doubt: ferocious and frightening, full of the incandescent mysteries and fatal sins of maturity. At the same time, one of the conundrums of Mieville’s style has been the sense of a small boy peeking through his writing; the kind of little boy who delights in snot and crawly bugs, who chases his sister with a frog and forgets to take that interesting dead bird out of his lunch box. Sometimes this gleeful grossness amuses the reader in turn. Sometimes it seems unnecessarily provoking. But it has always reminded me of how young Mieville is.’

Richard finds another book in that genre: ‘Hidden, magical London is all the rage these days. First there was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, then China Mieville’s Un Lun Dun. And now there’s Mind the Gap, a collaborative effort between American novelist and comics writer Christopher Golden and British horror novelist Tim Lebbon. To be sure, that’s fast company for any book to be in, but Mind the Gap manages it more than respectably, and is an enjoyable, engrossing read that delivers plenty of thrills while deftly avoiding the numerous clichés lurking in wait for it.’

Rebecca likes Celtic Memories, a collection of stories, songs, blessings and charms retold by Caitlín Matthews and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan. Rebecca thinks this book would work wonderfully for reading aloud to children, and ‘Whelan’s pictures are charming, with bright, bold colors and a very Gaelic fondness for spirals and swirls.’

Robert was appreciative of booth the content and the cover art of Glen Cook’s A Cruel Wind: ‘Many years ago I read Glen Cook’s first Dread Empire trilogy, A Shadow of All Night Falling, October’s Baby, and All Darkness Met. I was impressed. Here was a heroic fantasy that cast aside the mold of Tolkien and Andersen, incorporated what was useful from Leiber and Moorcock, and then struck out on its own. Night Shade Books reissued the trilogy in an omnibus edition, graced with another of Raymond Swanland’s expressionistic covers, A Cruel Wind, and believe it or not, it’s better.’

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The Robin Hood legend has been used for better worse times in print and video including a memorable retelling in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but Cat found a possible unique telling in the Robin of Sherwood series: ‘If the Robin Hood that had Patrick Bergin at its centre was a telling of Robin Hood as the embodiment of the Saxon/Norman conflict, Richard Carpenter decided to make his series an explicitly Celtic telling. ‘Celtic’, you ask, ‘How so?’ Well, let’s start with Robin having as his Lord, Herne the Hunter! Yes, The Hooded God Himself! OK, so how did Carpenter get to this vision of Robin? Why Robin as the Hooded Man?’


A book by Evan McHugh on Irish pubs and drinking Guinness really, really disappointed Gary: ‘I love good beer, and I love to travel. I also enjoy reading about both. I find beer writing more interesting than wine writing, because beer experts tend to be less stuffy about their craft than wine experts. And a good travel writer can make you feel almost as though you were along for the ride. So I jumped at the chance to review Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search Of The Perfect Guinness. Writing about travel and beer! What could be better?’ Now read his review to see why this was not sorority him.


Robert brings us a look at several takes on Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic. The first is Gaiman’s own: ‘Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic — the original story, not the series — began when DC Comics approached Gaiman about doing a series that would bring together the “magic” characters of the DC Universe. Gaiman created the character of Timothy Hunter, a twelve-year-old boy who has the potential to become the greatest magician of the age — our age.’

And we continue with John Ney Rieber’s continuation of the series: ‘John Ney Rieber’s continuation of Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic is a complex, multilayered story that focuses not so much on Gaiman’s mythic connections (although they are there in full measure) as on Tim Hunter: finding his magic, and his bearings in the world(s) he inhabits is intimately tied in with growing up, which Tim does a lot of in this series.’

And finally, Robert brings us his take on the “update,” Si Spencer’s The Books of Magick: Life During Wartime: ‘Life During Wartime represents a distinct break with The Books of Magic as it had been developed by Neil Gaiman and John Ney Rieber. Si Spencer, working with Gaiman, “updated” the characters and took them into a new set of trials that speak strongly to a contemporary audience.’


Alistair looks at a release from the Celtic Fiddle Festival: ‘Play On is the fourth release from a group of musicians who had no real intention of continuing as such beyond a one-off concert series in 1993. The enthusiasm, both on and off stage, generated by that project, which featured three of the Celtic world’s most noted fiddlers, Irishman Kevin Burke, Scot Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre from Brittany has resulted, twelve years later, in hundreds of performances and numerous successful international tours.’

David sees Jean-Paul De Roover at the Pearl Company: ‘It was a quiet Thursday, and my wife was having some friends over. I had received an email about a last minute concert at The Pearl Company, but with such short notice I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. Rich couldn’t make it, Ralph wasn’t home, Jesse was away, and so on. I had to go out to allow the ladies space, but did I want to go to a concert alone? I could just go to the bookstore, have a coffee, browse for a couple of hours. Ah, what the heck, it’s five bucks, and maybe it’ll be good — after all, the review online compared this guy to Robert Fripp.’

Gary found ‘moody, dynamic music’ played by Norwegian jazz bassist Mats Eilertsen’s septet on their album Rubicon. It ranges from the klezmer-influenced opening track “Canto” to other types of contemporary jazz, including the ‘atmospheric noir jazz’ of a tune called ‘March’ that Gary likes very much.

Bassist Mats Eilertsen also plays with the Nils Økland Band on their album Kjølvatn, which Gary says is ‘an acoustic, tradition-based project by (the) Norwegian hardanger fiddler.’ The band is a mixed folk and jazz ensemble making contemporary music that sounds ancient, blending folk and Baroque sources, ‘and always with a distinctive Nordic feel to it.’

Gary also reviews another recent jazz release, the Peter Erskine Trio’s As It Was. It’s a box set that collects all four of the trio’s albums released from 1993 to 1999, featuring Erskine on drums, Palle Danielsson on bass and John Taylor on piano. Gary says ‘It’s four hours of music that covers nearly all the bases of contemporary piano trio possibilities, from sublime ballads and melodic post-bop, to a bit of swing plus lots of abstract contemporary works.’


It won’t surprise you to discover we’ve all got favorite reading places, mostly in the Kinrowan Hall (mine is my hidden space behind the Bar). So it didn’t surprise me that Zina has a cool place, one I hadn’t thought of: ‘The landing on the staircase on the first and second floors, with the window seat. I tend to disappear into my books, so noise and people walking past is never a problem. Maeve is not a ‘drape yourself across the reading material’ sort of cat, so as long as I’m not taking up her favorite pillow, she’ll deign to let me sit with her for a while and sometimes will even purr for accompaniment.’


As you might have guessed from the lyrics at the top of this edition, the song this time, is ‘One Green Hill’ as recorded off the soundboard on Bremen, Germany on the 3rd of April 1996′. There’s a splendid version of it on their Alive & Acoustic album which I think is the same cut on their Granite Years and Trawler collections.


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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Wood Between The Worlds

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Gutmansdottir, our resident expert on The Wild Wood that forms an impossibly large region of this Scottish Estate, has a new theory on what is and why it contains literally multitudes of very queer things from Herne the God of The Wood to whole communities that look a thousand years behind now. Her theory as given over a late evenings worth of summer ale is something she calls The Wood Between The Worlds.

She first noticed something wasn’t quite right late autumn afternoon, several years back when she heard a commotion headed towards her. For sometimes nothing was visible but then she saw a fox with a white blaze across her face running well ahead of a mounted hunter in leathers. What was really odd was that the box never attempted to lose the hunter but instead stopped when it looked like the hunter would lose the fox in the denser areas of the woods. She soon lose track of both of them and went back to cataloguing plants.

Winter that year fought a fascinating encounter that she and another staff member saw when they were skiing through another area of the wood after dark on a night when the Aurora Borealis was particularly bright. They had reached the top of a tall hill when they heard a fiddle playing a spritely tune that neither recognized. So they looked for the fiddler and found a being that looked almost human bout wasn’t when you saw her close him as her eyes had no irises and her ears were slightly pointed. Not like the Truebloods who live across the Border but definitely something akin to them. They listen to her for quite sometime before they continued on to home.

It took little time for her to realize that gross of all sorts were commonplace here and that none of them would harm mortals though each other was another as she had watched the two old kings fight for hours and rather brutally hacking away at each other. She noted that they were the only ghosts that was always there though not everyone could see them.

Gutmansdottir asked for another summer ale before continue on to tell the oddest tale of all. She’d been here long enough that she had an intuitive feel for the geography of the Wild Wood that allowed her to know where she was without thinking about it, so she was very surprised one evening (and yes, evenings were when things were out odd there) near summer solstice when she had no idea where she was. She looked around for something familiar but there was nothing at all.

Not even the trees were right as the season was clearly late fall and not the midsummer it was in her world. And once again, there was a female red fox with a white blazer across her face watching her as she had so many other times in her world. The fox looked at her and obviously wanted here to follow her which Gutmansdottir did which brought her back into her world.

She watched in amazement as the fox clearly turned into a red human with a silver streak through her short cut red hair. Dressed in a green skirt, she wore a circlet of silver around her head and her carriage was that of royalty, so Gutmansdottir bowed to her and our Summer Queen nodded to her in turn. Gutmansdottir left her standing there in the dying sun as she walked towards the Estate Building.

So the Wild Wood might truly be the Wood Between The Worlds.

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What’s New for the 26th of July: Ravens musical and otherwise, Totem Poles, some novels by Charles de Lint, new music and old music, and Other Matters

One flies in to case the joint,  boldly struts around.
Two fly in to make it three,  laugh a while and knock each other down.
Four flies in with a frowning walk  gains a laugh from out a squawk
but it’s five who owns the place  and proves it with a look, stopping
six and seven in their tracks from smuggling a book.

SJ Tucker’s ‘Ravens in The Library’

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The only Raven I’ve ever known to be let in the Library is Maggie, the one eyed corvid that showed  up here one late Autumn with a damaged wing and a scarred over eye some decades back. She can’t fly all that well anymore as she has a certain lack of balance from the eye damage and the wing,  which even with the assistance of our hedgewitch Tamsin, didn’t heal right so she sticks close in the trees just beyond the outside Library entry and has her own nest just inside that door so she’s safe at night and in bad weather.

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Gary reviews the first book in a new fantasy series, Kevin Hearne’s A Plague of Giants. It begins with the invasion of the continent Teldwen. ‘Five of the six peoples in Teldwen have a kenning or mystical power that is linked to them as a people, and to the place where they live, and perhaps to the spirit or god of that place. A Plague of Giants, in addition to being the story of the war sparked by the giants’ invasion, is also the story of the discovery of the sixth kenning.’

Phil Brucato’s Ravens in the Library: Magic in the Bard’s Name anthology was done as a fundraiser for SJ Tucker who was seriously ill at the time. Tucker’s doing much better now but do read Leona’s review to see why you should seek out this stellar work for a fine summer read!

Richard looks at a novel I’ve enjoyed reading several times:’Seven Wild Sisters, a collaboration between Charles de Lint and Charles Vess, holds no surprises, and that’s a very good thing. The companion-cum-sequel to their earlier collaboration The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, the book delivers exactly what it promises: Gorgeous illustration and an encounter with the otherworld that’s ultimately more about wonder than it is about peril.

Robert starts off a review I think is perfect for Summer reading this way: ‘I’ve long followed Charles de Lint’s writing, starting with, if I remember correctly, Moonheart way back when, and I’ve been as close as I ever come to being a fan for years. (I even got my hands on some early stories, somehow.) So when I was asked to do a review of The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, I said, “Yes. I haven’t had a chance to read de Lint in a while.”’

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Robert’s discovered a nifty kitchen short-cut for those fond of Indian cuisine: Trader Joe’s Masala Simmer Sauce: ‘I know one thing about Indian food — I love it. I don’t claim any real expertise in that particular cuisine (although I do have an Indian cookbook stashed away around here somewhere), but one of my favorite nice things to do for myself used to be to go up to an Indian restaurant in the neighborhood and hit the buffet — then invariably, I’d waddle home and take a nap.’

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The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is an expansion of a much shorter work by de Lint and Vess entitled A Circle Of Cats which Mia says is ‘is not a novel, or a novella, or even, at 44 pages, a chapbook — those are merely convenient labels assigned by publishers and booksellers to assist them in categorization. Call Cats instead an enchantment, a weaving of words and pictures into pure magic. Charles de Lint is adept at converging the mundane world and the Otherworld: at touching them together briefly to produce intense moments and life altering episodes, and then gently letting each world retreat from the touch and settle back into its own normality, usually with both sides all the better for the experience.‘

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Reaching way back in our Archives, Asher has a look at Aliens Alive, a Nordic recording that definitely stretches musical boundaries — ‘Annbjørg Lien finds, in folk music, everything from fairy tales to science fiction. Indeed, the title of her previous album, Baba Yaga, is drawn from a fairytale. Aliens Alive is a selection of live performances culled from Annbjørg Lien’s 2001 Norwegian tour.“

Ahhhh, summertime and the living is fine indeed which is why Gary says ‘The Sadies’ In Concert Vol. One is my feel-good disc of the summer. Put these discs on, crank up the volume, and rock out!’

Robert takes a look at a recording that rapidly became a favorite: Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet: ‘I’ve remarked before on Morton Feldman’s propensity to shape sound with silence, a tendency he shares with Toru Takemitsu. Listening to Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet, a late work, written two years before his death in 1987, I realize that the juxtaposition of sound and silence in Feldman’s work is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.’

And now, Robert takes us back in time, about 600 years, more or less, for The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin: ‘In spite of the dearth of records concerning his life, we do know that Josquin was the foremost composer of his time. Although his music was largely overshadowed by that of Palestrina and Tallis for literally centuries, Josquin has, over the past hundred years or so, been rediscovered.’

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For this week’s What Not, Robert takes us to one of his favorite places, and one of his favorite parts of that place: Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: The Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples: ‘I’ve come to think of the Field Museum as the “everything museum” — from evolution to paleoanthropology to conservation to meteors: it’s all here. . . . One of the more intriguing areas is the Alsdorf Hall of Northwest Coast and Arctic Peoples, which is just what it claims to be.’

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I’m going to finish this edition out with Tucker performing ‘The Raven in The Library’. This performance is at ConFusion in Troy, Michigan on January 23, 2010, and the performer you see here with Sooj is Betsy Tucker.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Green Lady

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If we’ve left the impression with you that we’ve only encountered only Green Men on this Scottish Estate down the centuries, that’s not correct. There’re stories about The Green Lady in Sleeping Hedgehog, our Estate community newsletter, as far back as the Sixteen Hundreds.

Sometimes she appears completely human until you get close enough to see that her apparently tanned skin is ‘nought but fine grained wood. Though there were other  times she was definitely nothing more than a plant vaguely shaped like a woman. The Welsh have Blodeuwedd, a being made of roses and owl feathers, but that’s not this being. She’s all plant from her toes that restlessly seek the nearest soil to her hair that looks to be tangled dreads but is actually very fine -eafed strands of ivy which are always moving.

Like the Green Men we see here, none of them speak. However, none of the Green Ladies plays an instrument whereas all the Green Men do, but instead they seem to be all gardeners instead. I’ve seen them in our gardens, apparently talking in a low rustling voice to them. I know that I said that they didn’t speak but what I’ve heard is something far older than our speech is. Something felt in my soul more than heard with my ears.

One was apparently tasking bees to do certain pollination, an impressive task that Gus felt was more a dance of thousands than mere work. They don’t take notice of we mortals, fey or human alike, but neither do they not know we’re there.

I assume they live in the Wild Wood but not even Gutmansdottir, our resident botanist studying that region, has seen them there.

Now, shall we head over to the Pub for some of the mead that’s been made from the hives they tend? It’s a truly blessed drink.  

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What’s New for the 12th of July: Aaron Copland’s ‘A Fanfare for The Common Man’ as performed by the Rolling Stones, Tanya Huff’s Peacekeeper series, a Zelazny collection, UK folk trio The Young’uns and some other matters

Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood. — Jane Yolen in her Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood

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We’ve a long tradition here on the Kinrowan Estate of giving storytellers who make it here the same boon we grant musos of food, drink and a place to sleep. Nothing fancy mind you, but good enough that a few of the storytellers ended up staying here during the Winter for extended  periods. Mind you not as storytellers, but as staff working for the Groundskeeper, in the Kitchen  or, in centuries past, for the Gamekeeper or our Gillie.

We all tell tales, be the writer of a given work, the reader of that work and the reviewer of the same work. The tale we tell will always differ from person to person and none of us is wrong about what we think of a given work.  So don’t be offended if our review of a given work differs with your opinion of that work.

Now shall we see what’s up for this time? Of course we should! We’ve got a tasty collection of reviews and other things, so let’s get started…

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Richard  sets an appreciative eye on a Andrew Cartmel novel: ‘The second in the JACK NAPIER, The Run-Out Groove is as much shaggy dog story as it is detective novel. Yes, there’s death, attempted murder by burning alive, and all sorts of other dark and violent goings-on, but the book’s tone is so light and its voice so off-handedly charming that it doesn’t register as ferocious. Instead, it has the feel of a yarn spun by a friend over a couple of drinks, and the telling is too good for you to call bull on any of the more outlandish aspects.’

Richard also says a certain novel is a delightful mess: ‘There’s a thin sliver of overlap in the Venn diagram of books that are bad and books that are compulsively readable. It’s the territory Dan Brown occupies, and it’s now got a new resident: George Mann, whose novel Wychwood is a hopeless pile of hokum that nevertheless keeps the reader eagerly turning pages until the end.’

Robert has a look at the first two volumes of a new series by Tanya Huff, Peacekeeper: ‘Tanya Huff has started a new series, a spin-off of her Confederation novels, again featuring now former Gunnery Sergeant Torrin Kerr leading a group of her former Marine comrades. Kerr may be out of the Marines, but she hasn’t left fighting for the Confederation: she and her group are now free-lancing doing those jobs that need to be done but that no one wants to admit any involvement: call it “black ops,” with plausible deniability.’

While poking around in the back reaches of the Library, Robert ran across an old favorite, Roger Zelazny’s collection The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories: ‘Although he published his first story in the early 1950s, Roger Zelazny didn’t really impact the science fiction scene until 1963. That’s when I remember reading “A Rose for Eccelsiastes” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (with their best cover ever illustrating Zelazny’s story). He followed it up the next year with the title story of this collection, which won him his first Nebula award. Zelazny and his contemporaries went on to become the American branch of science fiction’s New Wave, and pushed the envelope until it was altered beyond recognition.’

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Charles  Stross, the noted SF and fantasy writer who’s English by birth and resident in Scotland by choice, has a look at the Scottish fry-up here. And I found  recently an article in The Register called ‘The ultimate full English breakfast’  – which is subtitled ‘have your SAY Forget Brexit, lets use grease and dead things to heal a gaping political chasm.’ The article is thisaway and do read the comments on it as they’re worth their weight in greasy fry bread.

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Gary reviews the new release by American jazz pianist Vijay Iyer’s sextet. Far From Over is, he says, ‘an hour of jazz that roars and soars and sings with defiance and joy.’

English musician Jack Cooper’s first solo album is called Sandgrown. Gary says it’s ‘a song cycle of sorts painting a sonic picture of his hometown, the port city of Blackpool on the Lancashire coast in northwestern England. This is a quiet record, what might have been termed shoe-gaze in the ’90s, with lo-fi production and Cooper apparently playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals.’

Jo has a detailed look at Itzhak Perlman’s In the Fiddler’s House: ‘From the formal opening triumphant strains of “Brave Old World” to the highly-varied, improvisational closing “Di Gayster,” this recording explores the nooks and crannies of Klezmer music. The brain-child of Michael Alpert, violinist for the group Brave Old World, this recording explores four of the best-known contemporary Klezmer groups (the Klezmatics, the Andy Statmand Klezmer Orchestra, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, and Brave Old World) and, in the process, gives a brilliant overview of what Klezmer music is all about. The addition of Itzhak Perlman is the piece de resistance.’

Kim has a conversation with several members of Danú, an Irish group when they were early on in their career: ‘I spoke with Ciarán Ó Gealbháin (vocalist) and Donnchadh Gough (bodhrán and uilleann pipes) about the influences on Danú’s music, and the blending of new sounds with the old traditions. Their main stage set on Friday evening was one of the high points of the evening for me, they were enthusiastic, with both great instrumentals, and a vocalist with an actual great voice. Danú hail from Co. Waterford, although several musicians have come from other parts of Ireland, and the fiddle player, Jesse, is a U.S. expatriate.’

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Here at GMR, Dori Freeman is one of our favorite new Americana singers, Teddy Thompson is one of our favorite journeyman folk singers, and dad Richard Thompson is one of our favorite musicians ever. Dori has a new album coming in September, and just released the first single. Teddy produced the album and sings harmonies, and RT plays guitar on the single: here’s ‘If I Could Make You My Own.’

The up-and-coming UK folk trio The Young’uns have a new album called Strangers coming September 29.  The first single off Strangers is a stirring anthem based on a true story about courage and the personal quest for justice called “Be The Man,” and it features piano, violin and cello accompaniment. The signature harmonies are there in the third verse, though, so do check out “Be The Man.”

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Our coda is Aaron Copland’s ‘A Fanfare for The Common Man’ as performed by the Rolling Stones. Yes the Rolling Stones! A number of bands including Styx and ELP (Emerson Lake and Palmer) have adapted it for use. So here’s their decidedly offbeat version. And if you think that’s odd, come back next week for the story of a well-known metal band that performed in the Antarctic, making it the only band so far to perform on all seven continents.

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What’s New for the 5th of July: four American baseball films, an opera by John Gay, live music from from Mavis Staples, dim sum in Hong Kong, Middle-Earth maps and much more!

To the people who insist they really do have a great idea but they just can’t write, I’d say that given some of the books I’ve read, or at least started to read, it would appear that not being able to write is absolutely no obstacle whatsoever to writing a book and securing a publishing contract. Though becoming famous in some other field first may help. ― Iain Banks in Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram


If you’re looking for Iain, our Librarian, he’s off again on a vacation trip, errr, I meant another short concert tour with his wife, violinist and vocalist Catherine, in the Baltic nations. While he’s gone,  Gus has the Library Apprentices, the Several Annies, assisting him with much needed gardening work, so I’m writing up What’s New this edition without their usual assistance as well.

I just remembered that I’ve got a tale of how Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-Earth came to be a learning lesson for a group of Several Annies which  you can read here. For just how important Tolkien thought maps were to creating his world, go read our review of his epic work, The History of Middle-earth.


Cat looks at a classic SF novel: ‘Until the likes of Iain M. Banks with The Culture series and Neal Asher with the Polity series came along, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote In God’s Eye was quite possibly the best space opera of all time. This forty-year-old novel that took the space opera novels of the 1930s and 1940s and very, very nicely updated them.’

Speaking of Iain M. Banks’s Culture series, Gary read recent editions of the first and third books in that series, Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons. It wasn’t the first time he’d read them, but he still found both gripping, as he says in his dual review.

Kathleen has the fortunate luck to review a work by an author who passed on far too soon: ‘Terry Pratchett began his series of Discworld stories for younger readers in 2003, with the marvelous Wee Free Men. There he introduced Tiffany Aching, shepherd’s daughter and witch-in-training. Her adventures continued in A Hat Full of Sky (2004), likewise excellent. These books are technically juveniles — the publisher recommends them for 6th grade and up — but they are as good or better than Pratchett’s adult novels. They are full of beauty and wisdom. They are hilariously funny. They have the characteristic Pratchett sense of justice, honor and wonder. Wintersmith is the third entry in Tiffany’s saga: and it is grand.’

(Steeleye Span’s Wintersmith is their musical take on this novel as Kathleen says here: ‘It would be easy to say that a collaboration between Steeleye Span and Terry Pratchett was always inevitable, given their respective histories and their proclaimed admiration of each other’s work.  It may be an example of retrospective inevitability now that it has actually happened in the form of the Wintersmith CD, however.  In any case, the end result is one that is overwhelmingly a credit to all concerned; worthy of the names involved and their reputations.’)

Michael looks at a centuries old opera: ‘First put on in 1728, The Beggar’s Opera set the stage for centuries to come, revitalizing the comedy genre, and recreating the musical comedy genre in a new light. John Gay’s work borrows from a variety of sources, starting life in the concept of “Quaker pastorals” or “a Newgate pastoral, naming the whores and thieves there.” Posing in various forms as social commentary, a satire on Italian opera, a ballad opera, and a musical comedy, there’s no doubt that The Beggar’s Opera has inspired playwrights and composers ever since, and its popularity has never been in doubt.’

Robert had to rethink his idea of “dark fantasy” after encountering William Schafer’s anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2: ‘I don’t think I’m alone in thinking of “dark fantasy” as a sort of combination of urban fantasy and horror: vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, and less pleasant creatures confronting more or less normal people who may have the resources, or just the dumb luck, to survive the encounter. Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 is not that.’

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Michelle starts off her look at American baseball films this way: ‘In the big inning, God created baseball. Or perhaps it was Loki, patron of athletics and other tricks; the origins are shrouded in antiquity. There is also debate about which mortal first received the divine inspiration. Abner Doubleday often gets credit, though some historians claim the game was played in England in the 1700s. What is known is that, in 1845, a team called the New York Knickerbockers adopted the rules of the game we know as baseball. In New Jersey that summer, they played the first organized baseball game, and America acquired its own pantheon.’  You can read her delightful essay here.

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A guide by Hong kong based food writer Liza Chu gets an appreciative write-up by Richard: ‘Dim Sum: A Survival Guide is roughly half as useful as its author intended, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not useful. As a basic overview of popular dim sum dishes, bracketed with some supplementary historical and other content, it’s a great introduction to the topic. Where it falls down is in the commentary the author and a few of her friends provide on the dishes in question.’ This book was sent to us from the publisher in Hong King making it the longest a book travelled to get to us!

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Robert takes a look at yet another comics reboot, Green Arrow: Year One: ‘To re-invent an ongoing character who has been in existence since 1941 is no small undertaking, although in the case of Green Arrow, a/k/a Ollie Queen, there was a lot of history to draw on — this is not the first time Green Arrow has been re-imagined, not to mention resurrected.’

And, as part of yet another reboot, Robert brings us his take on the distaff side in Gotham City Sirens: Union: ‘Gotham City Sirens is another installment of Batman Reborn and, like Batman and Robin, it seems to be marking time until something significant happens, somewhere.” Hmm — maybe you should read his whole commentary.

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Scottish-born singer and cellist Robin Adams wrote a song called ‘The Devil’s War And God’s Own Deep Blue Sea’ in early 2015 when most people were barely aware of the Syrian refugee situation. It has now grown into an international crisis and Adams has turned his single into a compilation to benefit a refugee aid organization. Gary says Refugee is a mostly somber collection of songs, all new or unreleased, by musicians including Linda Thompson, Bonnie Prince Billy, Alasdair Roberts and more.

Michael in his review of C’Mon notes they broke up after recording a single album. Well the same is true of Mackeel, the band they came out of, as Jack notes here in reviewing Plaid: ‘You’ll never hear them live, so buy this CD to hear how good they were. Rumors are swirling on their list that the band is reforming with new personnel, but I doubt it will happen. And if it does, they won’t sound the same — even if a red-headed banshee of a fiddler replaces the present fiddling banshee!’

Michael states what he thinks of most Celtic music in his review of C’mon: ‘To my pleasant surprise, he was right. I didn’t just like Rook, I loved them. And coming from me, that’s high praise indeed. You see, I have a somewhat unfortunate flaw. I don’t like Celtic music on the whole. Oh, sure, I’ve been known to enjoy specific bands, or certain songs, or some styles. But on the whole, I’m not really a Celtic music fan. I don’t know why, but after a while, it all starts sounding the same to me.’ Sadly this would be the only disc from Rook as they too broke up shortly after releasing it.

Robert noticed Michael’s review of The Beggar’s Opera (the book), and thought we should run a review of the actual opera — which in this recording comes with highlights of Edward German’s Tom Jones: ‘According to Wadham Sutton’s commentary, we have Jonathan Swift to thank for Gay’s ballad opera – he had written to both Gay and Alexander Pope suggesting “a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves,” opining that it “might make an odd, pretty sort of thing.”’

And guess what — as long as we’re doing ballad operas, how about a Singspiel? It just so happens we have a review of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte for you. Says Robert: ‘I love Mozart. His music is one of the things I’d insist on if I were going to be stranded on a desert island. Otherwise, I’d just refuse to be stranded. Among my favorite works by Mozart is The Magic Flute.’


Mavis Staples marked her 77th birthday a week ago on July 10. What better time to listen to a recent live performance in Canberra, Australia, in April 2015. And, for better or worse, what better time to hear her sing Stephen Stills’ landmark song about unrest in the streets, ‘For What It’s Worth‘?

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Rebekah And the matter of Jewish baked goodies

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If we’ve left the impression in these posts about the Kinrowan Estate that the Several Annies, the Library Apprentices here, are the ones that are the learners and we who teach them are just the teachers, then we’ve given you a false impression. Everyone here learns as much from them as they do from us. Perhaps much more.

Take the matter of Rebekah, a Several Annie from Israel who’s in her first year here. Other than the formal lessons chosen by Iain Mackenzie, our Librarian, each one chooses what they are interested in learning, be it something academic or something more hands on. As long as someone here knows what they’re interested in and has time to teach them, it’s fine with Iain.

So Rebekah, who has a strong interest in baking, got paired off with Brigid, our Head Baker.  Being observant of Jewish traditions but not following strict dietary teachings, she fit nicely in our farm-centric kitchen, which includes a lot of meat of various sorts. What she added to the kitchen was a keen appreciation of Jewish cooking, including holiday treats such as  hametashen, rugelach, coconut macaroons and mandelbrot, not to mention an awareness of the culture that created these goodies.

So our winter holiday season has been graced by a lot of great food that we hadn’t had before. And Rebekah in turn says she’s had a great time learning the practical aspects of production baking. Even her parents were very proud of her decision to seriously learn production baking, as her grandfather, before moving to Israel to live on a kibbutz, owned a bakery with his late wife.

Now I’ve got the jones for some of the rugelach that I know were just baked. Shall we head down to the Kitchen?

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What’s New for the 14th of June: fey ethnography courtesy of Terri Windling, a song from Peter Beagle and other fascinating things.

“I am no king, and I am no lord.
And I am no soldier at arms,” said he.
“I am none but a harper, and a very poor harper
That has come hither to wed with thee.”

Peter S. Beagle’s ‘None But The Harper’


It’s a bright Summer evening  a short time before Solstice as I write these words. Iain’s off with his wife on a short concert tour, so I get the honour this week of writing this up. Fortunately, the Pub will be quiet this evening, as there was a hand-fasting earlier today and they’re celebrating out in the old Church sancturary that’s now our gathering space — and there’s a contradance in the Courtyard starting shortly, so most everyone’s anywhere but here.

Oh that’s rhubarb wine sitting on the Bar. I’m not sure about the idea of rhubarb wine which a Several Annie convinced Bjorn, our brewer, to play around with. We’ve enough rhubarb growing on this Estate that it’s just possible we could commercially produce it but I doubt I’ll ever have anyone asking for it in the Pub… ale, cider, metheglin, whisky (Irish and Scottish) and bourbon  are the main sought after libations here in the Green Man Pub. Though The Sleeping Hedgehog in the Victorian Age notes that we produced for our own consumption a number of fruit wines including blackberry, raspberry and elderberry.

Now let’s get started…


Iain looks at Angela Carter’s The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera. As he says of her in his review, Sometimes the Reaper is just too damn unfair. Angela Olive Stalker Carter died of lung cancer in 1992 at the far too young age of 52. Writer, feminist theorist, folklorist, opera buff, playwright, poet — she was these things and much, much more. ‘

Joel says ‘Jasper Fforde is the author of the Thursday Next detective series, starring the detective of the same name, whose specialty is crimes of a “literary nature”. The Big Over Easy marks the beginning of the  Nursery Crimes series, a slight departure, though still well in the same quirky neighbourhood that Fforde’s chosen to explore.’

Mia tells us about a charming Appalachian folktale for all ages, as are many such works intended for children: ‘Prequel or stand alone fairy story, A Circle of Cats is a bewitching little book, much bigger inside than out, and a wonderful collaboration between two enormous talents. There’s a place of honor on my bookshelves for this one … when I can finally stop going back to it every little bit and actually bring myself to put it there.’

Richard was the lucky reviewer for this tasty literary treat: ‘Where Nightshade’s epic five-volume set gathered together all of Manly Wade Wellman’s extant short fiction, The Complete John Thunstone instead focuses on all of the appearances of that singular character. While not as well known as Wellman’s signature character John the Balladeer, Thunstone actually predates him; his appearance in “The Third Cry to Legba” dates back to 1943, nearly a full decade before the first Silver John story. In many ways, Thunstone lays the ground for John. It’s in these tales that the mythology of Wellman’s mysterious Shonokins first appears, and the fascination with and respect for folklore that marked Wellman’s later work is already present.’

Robert brings a look at a book populated by archetypes (or stereotypes, depending on your point of view) that actually works, Neil Bartlett’s Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall: ‘The story is a simple one, a romance set in a time not too far past, a place not too far away: London, probably, perhaps in the 1970s: boy meets older man, they fall in love, and after trials and tribulations, they live happily ever after.’

And Robert is very enthusiastic about a series he thinks you should check out: Leona Wisoker’s Children of the Desert. You can start the journey with Secrets of the Sands. For some background on the early years of a major, and very mysterious character, see our review of Fallen City.

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Iain, our Librarian, is an open critic of  the Peter Jackson film version of  Lord  of The Rings, but if you are looking for a fantastic film experience that will keep you engaged for a while, I’ll recommend all three films worth which get reviewed here, here and thisway respectively. If you’re a purist, you most likely won’t be happy, but I found them most excellent viewing with popcorn to munch on.

Robert takes a look at a film that he mentioned earlier in today’s reviews: ‘Shortbus is one of those films that comes apart if you try to look at it element by element. There’s not much of a plot, which we should all be used to by now. The characterizations are not startling for their depth: the people being portrayed are not much different than the rest of us, not particularly deep, not remarkably shallow, just awkward, charming, vulnerable, stubborn, funny and dumb. I will say, however, that they are right on target.’

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A certain Elizabeth has a chocolate story for us: ‘Best chocolate? Here’s a story: About ten years ago, my sister-in-law gave my family, gathered some 20-odd strong in Vermont, a box of extremely expensive Belgian chocolates for Christmas. (I can’t recall the name of the company, but I’ll check later.) We spent the week eating them, and then when there were only a few left, my 8-year-old daughter Callie picked one out, bit into it and cried out; then held out her hand to display a small metal bolt. (Fortunately no teeth were broken.) I took the bolt, and when we got home to Maine, wrote a very nice letter to the chocolate company’s American office, explaining what had happened, and sent it off with the offending metal. I then told Callie and her four-year-old brother, “We will now be supplied with chocolate for life.” Well, we weren’t set for life, but a week later an ENORMOUS box of chocolates (huge box, and three layers deep) arrived with a very nice very apologetic letter from the company. We ate those chocolates for about a month. They were fabulous. Sadly, I’ve never been able to afford to eat them since.’

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So let’s see what’s up for music reviews this time…

Kim looks at a very special recording in the form of Willie’s Last Session: ‘Imagine old friends getting together to play one last session, nine days before one of their members passes on from cancer. Folks who have an ease of playing together that can only come with the years. This is that album, recorded in 1993 and assembled on disc in 1999.  …The selections are mostly happy tunes, as befits a dance band and a final musical celebration for an old friend.’

Not to be outdone, Gary reviews a new release by Golfam Khayam and Mona Matbou Riahi, Iranian musicians who play guitar and clarinet, respectively. Gary says that on their album Narrante, ‘these two are combining Persian and western musical traditions in unusual ways. Their music to my ears sounds like it draws heavily from Andalusian traditions, Spanish classical guitar and the like, with other influences from contemporary classical and avant-garde styles.’

Paul says of the Strange but True: 25 Years of Friends & Tunes that ‘Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell has long been one of my favourite musicians. I can’t exactly put my finger on why; whether it’s the sublime playing, the always eclectic choice of songs and tunes, or even something as frivolous as knowing she was the inspiration for the lead character in one of my most-loved books, The Little Country by Charles de Lint. A lot of it has a great deal to do with the wonderful instrument she plays, the Northumbrian smallpipes, which are neither as harsh as the Scottish bagpipes nor as low and mournful as the Uilleann pipes.’

Robert, a/k/a “The Weird Music Guy” here at GMR, comes up with some very unusual classical Indian raga in a performance by Dr. N. Ramani and Hariprasad Chaurasia: ‘When we think of Indian raga, most of us will think of the sitar, and perhaps the sarod, the most common instruments used in performing this classical Indian music. What we don’t think of is flutes, in the case of this performance of the Raga Hindolam/Malkauns as a flute duet (known as a jugulbandi) that sounds in places like “Benny Goodman Goes Subcontinental.” ‘


Our What Not this time is an excerpt from The Old Oak Chronicles: Interviews with Famous Personages  by Professor Arnel Rootmuster which is published by the Royal Library Press. It’s an interview with Sneezlewort Rootmuster Rowanberry Boggs the Seventh, a young faery at just over two centuries old. Our thanks to Terri Windling for transcribing this from the Elvish it was published in.

Raspberry dividerUsually whoever of us is writing the weekly edition up would give you a song or tune as the coda to the edition. And so it is this week but we’ve got a treat for you that’s just a bit different — Peter S. Beagle, author and composer and musician, singing ‘None But The Harper’ which he wrote about the same time as The Last Unicorn which would be in the late Sixties! When it was recorded is not at all clear but his voice and playing is quite superb, so let’s listen to ‘None But The Harper’!

Oh and his first new novel in a long time, Summerlong, will be out this Summer. You can read the press release from the publisher, Tachyon Publishing, here. Of course we’ll have a review of it soon, as Cat’s reading the galley now.

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: Turkish Coffee


Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, andas sweet as love. — Old Turkish saying

We’ve been playing backgammon to escape the heat of the summer, gathered round small tables at the Green Man Pub, or in the common areas of Kinrowan Hall. One of the players, Zina Lee, has been telling me about her liking of a certain beverage that’s popular in this building: ‘There are certain things that make civilization more . . . civilized. Overall, they tend to be the ones that encourage a sense of luxuriousness in one’s existence, and if they support a sense of community and of sharing with other people, so much the better.

For me, the inky little cups of Turkish coffee are exactly that — it’s not so much the coffee itself that’s so wonderful, but what tends to happen over the cups of it, even if I’m drinking it alone. I was in a tiny, tiny village in the pastoral English countryside visiting friends a bit ago, and after dinner we had Turkish coffee, some tunes, and a great deal of talking and laughing, in the lovely, warm, hospitable dining room of that unbelievably old house.

‘And I’ve just come back from a lovely little Turkish restaurant in the East End of London, having had a wonderful dinner with two handsome English gentlemen of my acquaintance. One is quiet, slender and dark, with a sardonic twitch to his mouth; the other is bluff, solidly-built and fair, with his sardonic twitch in the lift of his left eyebrow; but both of them are devastatingly intelligent, both can be dismayingly erudite, and also the both of them are vastly quick and entertaining. Over snifters of Turkish brandy and those tiny white cups of sweet hot coffee, the two had me giggling non-stop with their sharp, witty, and exquisitely detailed descriptions of the worst English towns one might have the misfortune to visit, in a rather loopy reversal on the more normal litany of sights one really must see.

Turkish coffee doesn’t cause these experiences, exactly, but they form an ineffable, intrinsic
of the conversations I’ve had while drinking the stuff.’

I’ve been sipping cups of Turkish coffee with Béla at a very small food stall that appears to have existed for quite some years near the Library in Kinrowan Hall… a small square of achingly sweet baklava, some Turkish coffee, and a friend’s company have been a luxury for a late afternoon break for no little time, thanks to the proprietor, a small, neat, clean-shaven gentleman of a certain age with a spotless white apron highlighting his closely-cropped jet-black hair and eyes.

He’s very skilled with his mortar and spoon, our host, grinding the beans to a very fine fluff, or gently stirring in the foam of the coffee as it boils in the gleaming ibrik over his little burner; part of the pleasure of the experience is watching him prepare the coffee after you’ve ordered it.

Something I never noticed until after the conversations with Zina about her digestif of choice is that, as soon as the Turkish coffee makes an appearance on the table, there’s an almost imperceptible relaxing of body tension, of the conversation turning towards something just that much more enjoyable, just a gentle click towards ‘civilized’ on the dial of the day.

The Turks have another old saying about coffee: ‘To drink one cup of coffee together guarantees forty years of friendship.’ At this point, Béla and I may have to live a few extra centuries to celebrate a friendship blessed with many cups of foamy Turkish coffee. May there be many more.


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