Three Days of Fringe and A Camden Pre-Show

I have wanted to go to Edinburgh Fringe for so long, I kind of can’t believe I’ve actually done it. Even more, I can’t believe it was everything I expected it to be, plus some.

When Fringe is in Edinburgh, Fringe practically is Edinburgh. It’s everywhere, seeming to sprawl across the entire city. The sheer scope and layout of this festival was unfathomable to me before I was there. I’m not sure there was a room in the city not put to use.

I could live in a world of performers doing their own thing all the time. In fact, I’d sort of prefer it. Of course, that is not the world we live in. We live in a world of dollar signs and corporations. The realities of life are very narrow . It’s a rather small sliver of the world apportioned to pursuits of love.

Some people get to make careers of it. The lucky ones, we’ll call them. I’m not saying they’re not driven or talented or deserving. I’m not saying they didn’t work for it. If you have made it in any artistic industry, you have determination, at the very least. There are many talented people in the world, though, and for the vast majority of creators – those skilled musicians, talented wordsmiths, and fearless performers who hold nothing back, who put it all out there for public consumption, judgment, and sometimes ridicule – it sure as hell doesn’t pay. It truly is a labor of love.

For a month, in Edinburgh, one can pretend another world exists, a world in which those with creativity bursting out their very seams are revered for what they have to offer.

People who create for the sake of creating, not knowing if or when it will pay off, they are my people, and it was such a pleasure to spend time with them in Edinburgh.

Here’s a breakdown of what we saw during our days and nights of Fringe, with commentary –

Lizzy Mace’s “Overlooked”

This was the first thing we saw our first day in Edinburgh, and it was a very “me” comedy performance, that rare combination of comedy and heart. The show is set up as a series of short skits that showcase “overlooked” characters, including the fourth bear from Goldilocks and Emily Brontë’s lazy writing partner.

It’s right around the third skit,  with the girl ‘left holding the coats at the end of the night’, that the veil wavers and you get a glimpse of the place from which this show stems, the universal desire to feel understood and appreciated. And that’s what makes it more than just a laugh.

Daphna Baram AKA MissD

This show, we saw the same day we saw Overlooked, and it was straight-up stand-up with Joan Rivers stylings. When we were watching this woman, I honestly thought a little TLC from Joan was just what she needed.

For me, the comedy here was spotty, but what was good was great. In the ‘making the audience extremely uncomfortable’ kind of way.

There were a couple of running themes that didn’t jive for me, but when you can joke about always wearing good lingerie in case you’re the victim of a suicide bombing, you have a unique perspective that you are damn brave to share with the world.

Kitten Killers

The Kitten Killers are a sketch comedy troupe who bill their show as similar to Smack the Pony. Upon reading this claim, and a few positive reviews, Shawna was all the fuck over this. Because Smack the Pony is, quite frankly, one of the greatest things to ever happen to the world.

While there were certainly some Smack the Pony-esque elements embedded within – running gags and comedy songs – they were neither on par with, nor different enough from, Smack the Pony to be memorable.

While most of the sketches had a funny element, they were largely miss, with one exception. A bridal bouquet toss with a slow-mo fight sequence was utterly brilliant.

What Does the Title Matter Anyway?

It was real luck that, while we were in attendance at Fringe, so was Colin Mochrie. When you get a chance to see Colin Mochrie improv live, you don’t pass that up. Plus, Greg Proops.

I laughed just as hard at this on stage as I do at its TV counterpart. Not that it has a TV counterpart, because that is totally trademarked and not at all the show they were doing. Even if the games were the same, and the title sort of sounds like Whose Line is it Anyway?

Blood at the Root

Every once in a while a piece of theater comes along that just blows me away. This was that kind of theater. The subject of racial injustice was far from novel. The scenes that dealt with people of different walks trying and failing to understand each other have been done with far greater subtlety.

The use of dance, the pure physicality in this production, however, is unsurpassed, and there was enough realness to bring me to tears multiple times.

Just a marvel of theater production that couldn’t have been timelier, given the events in Ferguson.

Camden Fringe

Before we made it to Edinburgh, we spent a couple of nights in London while Camden Fringe was underway. So, we got an early start with the play Pussy.

Now, I won’t say the script was flawless. It wasn’t. What I will say is this –

There are two types of drops on roller coasters. The ones that build suspense by ratcheting you slowly up a steep hill so you have plenty of time to utter all the expletives and Hail Marys you need, and the sudden ones that lie hidden in the darkness, or at the far side of a curve, so you can’t see them coming.

Pussy managed a rather splendid sudden drop.

A Town Called Dunfermline and a Journey Through the Fjords

Magic, I find, happens where you least expect it. That’s the oldest magician’s trick, isn’t it? A little misdirection to divert the audience’s attention. “Look here! Look here!” the magician cries, because the sleight of hand is happening the other way, and where misdirection and craft meet – VOILA! – magic.

Travel can be like that sometimes. You hear about these amazing places, the ones that are advertised and make all the “Best of” and “Most Beautiful” lists. “I want to go there. I want to go there SO BAD!” That’s what you proclaim, and then you do, and sometimes they are everything they promised to be and sometimes not. Either way, though, you are anticipating the moment in a specific way – sort of like you know how the trick plays out – so, if it’s what you expected, you’re all, “Good job with that one,” but lack a sense of true amazement, because you were expecting wonderful and that’s what you got.

Or what you didn’t.

Though there are exceptions, for the most part you can end up only satisfied or disappointed. Awe doesn’t come when you anticipate it.

Awe is not knowing the trick at all, to be looking at the other hand with no expectation. Then, suddenly – BAM! – magic and you are blown clean away by it.

Like the winter before last when we had to go through Istanbul to get to Athens, and we stopped over for a night, and Istanbul was magic.

Or when we were in Italy last summer, and we stayed in Vicenza with plans for Verona and Venice, but discovered Soave.

Or just last month when we were searching for a place near Edinburgh so we could get back to Western Norway and finally go to Fringe, and we chanced upon a little town called Dunfermline.

A Town Called Dunfermline

History buffs, and people far better at geography, might already have heard of Dunfermline. I had not.

It is the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, and has close ties to a saint, Saint Margaret. A much-loved king and warrior, Robert the Bruce, is buried in the abbey there.

Now, Dunfermline is surely not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s hardly a hotspot, and the night life is practically non-existent. Aside from a few pubs and a single club that I never saw anyone go in or out of, everything in the area where we were staying closed by 6 p.m., grocery stores included.

Dunfermline is simply a working village with a few things of note, just a half-hour train ride from Edinburgh. It’s a character made up of a thousand years of history, hallowed places, rugged terrain, sweeping vistas, pancakes and meat pies.

It’s such a character, it has earned a spot of honor in my next book, and is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been, on purpose or by chance.

Here are a few photos that attempt to showcase what made this place so surprisingly extraordinary.

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Dunfermline Abbey

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Abbey Nave Entrance

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Abbey Nave

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Abbey Light Display

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Palace Gate

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Abbot House Gate

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Over Dunfermline

We stayed in an apartment in the city center, and this was our view from the parking lot out back. That sunset is 100% legit coloring.

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Sunset in Dunfermline

The Highland Games just happened to take place in Dunfermline while we were there. The best part was the announcer who was about a million years old and never held back his opinion.

“Well, you’ll see these athletes are better at some events than others.”

“That wasn’t her best one.”

“You can see the disappointment on his face.”

That kind of thing.

So, we watched people toss cabers and fling heavy weights in slightly dangerous fashions. Plus, there was this –

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Seven Bagpipers Piping

And this –

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Clann An Drumma

It rained both days of the Highland Games – it rained a lot of damn days in Scotland – so as we headed back through Pittencrieff Park toward our short-term place on the second afternoon, this happened.

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That was kind of the thing about Dunfermline. Sometimes it was so suddenly lovely, it hardly seemed real.

A Ride Through the Fjords

Midway through our stay in Dunfermline, we popped back across the North Sea for a fjord experience. We’d wanted to go fjording when we were in Oslo back in June, but the Norway public transportation system was inconvenient to such desires. This time, we opted for the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which had us flying back into Oslo on a flight that left so late we missed all the trains and just barely made the last bus into the city center, where we had to walk further than we were supposed to, and didn’t get to our hotel until after two a.m.

Since we had to be on a train at eight the next morning, and at the station by seven-thirty to pick up the tickets, it was a shaky start, to say the least.

With a little determination and a lot of alarm clock, though, we made that early call and made it onto our five-hour train ride to Myrdal, where… wait for it… it snowed. In August. In the Northern Hemisphere. It was only spitting, but it was still snow. Now, I know this isn’t that special or interesting to some of your North-North-Northerners, but it was craziness for me, even if the ride up did take us past a glacier.

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Just Before Snowfall in Myrdal

It was in Myrdal that we climbed aboard the Flam Railway, one of the steepest in the world, and somebody got very excited that, though they were using a modern engine, the cars were totally old school. For the next hour, we curved down the mountain, past this massive waterfall and these deep valleys, before pulling into Flam, where we ice creamed up and climbed aboard our fjord cruise.

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Waterfall on Flam Railway

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t earn it – when we have the time, we typically hike these things – if it was our fellow passengers, or the overcast day, but, quite truthfully, I wasn’t all that moved by the fjords from the water. Don’t get me wrong, the sheer size and long stretch of them is impressive, but I was still ready for the two-and-a-half-hour cruise to be over after about an hour.

Of course, we did have the privilege of dealing with some “special cases”. You probably know “special cases”. These are the people who wait until the last minute to get on the boat because they have other things they would prefer to be doing, like having a second ice cream, then get on and pout because all the good spots are taken. I mean, why did no one leave good seats open for them? Why doesn’t anyone recognize their god-given superiority and relinquish their own seats for their very special butts?

In this case, the “special cases” were a Spanish couple who got on so last that there weren’t even two chairs left on the top level, let alone two together. The man proceeded to sit in the chair, as the woman scowled beside him. They argued. He got up and left her. I saw him reappear on the bottom level of the boat. She was so worried about where he was that she wasn’t even looking at the surrounding scenery as she tried to call him on her cell phone again and again. He finally came back up. Somewhere, they found another chair. They put their bags in them, but did not sit in them. They walked around instead. Then, after about an hour, they decided they did want to sit, but only by the side that was at the back of the boat, aka exactly where we were sitting.

It was at this point that said couple started continuously kicking the back of my chair until they finally made enough space for themselves to squeeze a chair in where it didn’t fit, a chair in which the woman slouched down and stared at the floor, while the man went for another walk, until he returned to take someone else’s seat while the person was up.

I should mention that this couple was in at least their late-30s, not teenagers.

So, yeah, it might have been the company.

But we did see this –

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Fjording

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Still Fjording

After the boat ride of frustration, we got on a bus that took us down a mountainous road with more waterfall craziness to the train station that would carry us on into Bergen.

The best part? When the same couple stepped into our car (because we are truly blessed) about a minute before the train was supposed to depart, realized there were no seats left together, argued again, ended up having to sit separately, and I got to watch the woman scowl all the way to Bergen.

Bergen

Bergen, Norway is sort of a perfect little port town, and sort of not. It’s nice to look at, no doubt, with its harbor and its open-air seafood market and its neat old buildings. We got in on a Saturday night, though, hankering for a good meal at the Asian place we saw across the street. By the time we got checked in and ready to put food in our faces, thought, it was closed. It closed promptly at ten o’clock. Since there was nothing else right there, we walked into the main square, where too many places were closed too early and too many others were American chains. TGI Fridays taking up a prime spot, charging the equivalent of $35 for a burger? No, thank you very much.

Thank goodness, Bergen was far more welcoming by daylight, when everything was open and the waterfront was on display. We had only a few hours before our train back to Oslo, where we spent a ridiculous amount of money at Joe and the Juice the following day, before our return flight to Scotland. In that limited time, we walked along Bergen’s water’s edge, went through the old fort, ate fresh seafood and fruit, and climbed a big hill.

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Bergen Harbor

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Bergen History

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Scenic Bergen

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Bergen From Above

Sitting in Bergen that first night, after about eleven hours in total on trains, boats and buses was also the first time I ever experienced full-on dock rock. Which, unfortunately, I learned is not, in fact, a Norwegian musical styling.

Oh, and while we were in Oslo, we walked a different way and found two art installations.

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Note the man standing on the wall.

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Is this where we all pretend these are not giant boobs?

A Month in Málaga & Eight Days in Brussels

This is why we don’t plan our travel too far in advance. We are simply not a planning people. We tried to plan on saving money in Sevilla for the summer, so we could do our crazy spending in November and December, but (as you might recall from my previous post) that worked out for approximately the week it took to decide we were utterly dissatisfied (disgruntled?) with the living arrangement.

Hey, not being able to sleep is pretty much a deal-breaker.

So, our next month was spent in Málaga, which I didn’t have an opportunity to write about, given my more pressing writing, but I shall say all the pretty things about Málaga now.

Aside from that first week in our Málaga rental feeling like a damn paradise in comparison to our Seville place, Málaga was beautifully fitted to our lifestyle. Early to bed and early to rise and all that, but the truth of the matter is I am late to bed and late to rise. It’s a natural rhythm for me, and I like it just that way. So, the ability to get up and work twelve or thirteen hours ’til ten or eleven o’clock at night, then go out for dinner, a long walk and frozen yogurt at midnight? Don’t mind if I do. What a pleasure to have the convenience of things being open that late. Even if the hours for the grocery stores (and the selection) were… um… spotty, to say the least.

I had a lot of work to finish up during our time there, so my days were spent outside our mortal world. Nights in Málaga, however, were truly magical. There were many walks up the steep slope to the base of the castle that overlooks the sea, and one dedicated trip to the castle’s tippy-top. We spent a lot of time on the promenades along the waterfront, and went few nights without the best frozen yogurt in the entire world or the frozen bars just off the plaza. Unfortunately, due to someone’s work schedule (ahem), we went in nothing that was open in daylight only, which means a return trip is on the agenda.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

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Castillo de Gibralfaro

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Cool Church

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Málaga Cathedral at Sunset

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Noche de San Juan Parade

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Málaga Train Station Empty at Night

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I love this building so much.

We came in on a late train when we went back to get our stuff in Sevilla, and it happened to be the last train in, which is the only way I could ever have gotten an empty train station. So cool.

The cathedral at sunset looks exactly how it looked. Such perfect lighting.

That parade readying for Noche de San Juan took place the night of Shawna’s birthday, so she chose to believe they held it on her behalf. Speaking of Sevilla, which I did, three paragraphs ago, we did a day of sightseeing the day we went back to get our things.

So, here are a few random pics –

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Cathedral

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Cathedral Backside & Square

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Mandatory Bench Shot

And a few from Plaza de España –

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This place is simply awe-inspiring.

If you would like to see a few more photos from Málaga or Sevilla, you can find them on Photobucket: Málaga, Sevilla, Plaza de España

The password is “bubbles”.

Brussels

Though Málaga was a rather lovely sort of place to be (aside from those grocery store hours/selection), realizing we could squeeze in a week someplace else before our transition to Scotland, we looked for another place to pop for a week.

Since I endure flight best when it doesn’t require more than one take off and landing in a day, we stuck to places with direct flights from Málaga with the hope we could train to our rental in Dunfermline from wherever we ended up. The solution to this equation turned out to be Brussels. Much like Oslo, Brussels was a place I had never given much thought, aside from the fact that I would kinda like to go everywhere, but, like Oslo, I was very glad to have ended up there by chance. The ever-present comic culture is truly captivating, the chocolate really is that good, and the frites… those frites… my God, it’s like pretty much straight-up lard poisoning, and yet… yet… we stuffed them in our faces almost everyday.

There were also multiple waffles.

On a contradictory note, we did eat incredibly well in Brussels when we weren’t eating animal-fat-fried fries, chocolate and cream covered waffles, just-out-of-the-oven chocolate brioche or straight up chocolate, thanks to my latest favorite food spot, Exki. Fresh, local wraps and soups and salads, oh my! Plus, they have these juices that are practically a religious experience. My favorite was raspberry and pear, pretty much everything right with the fruit kingdom. They also made perfect lattes, and apparently the first U.S. location just opened in New York in June. Because I must have done something karmically-satisfying.

We walked all over that damn city, up and down and all around. Honestly. We did not just eat.

Here’s some proof.

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Mannekin Pis – or – La Pipi Mariachi

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Palace

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Protector at Parc du Cinquantenaire

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Belgian Comic Strip Center

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Town Hall

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Piccaso-ist Church Window Ever Picassoed

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Look! It’s an EXKI!

While spending our nights in Brussels, we also spent one crazy day visiting both Brugge and Gent. More proof.

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Idyllic Brugge

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Windmill Brugge

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Gent Castle

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Gent Ass Ad

If you would like to see more photos, you’ll find them at Brussels, Brugge and Gent. Password once again “bubbles”. There is also an album dedicated solely to Brussels street art – here.  Just a few, but definitely worth a look.

Preview with Zinneke Pis.

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I am officially on sale.

I told you I would be on sale today. Now I am.

All my books are $3.50 (USD), or the rough equivalent in other currencies, on Amazon and direct through Smashwords. Sorry, quick price changes don’t go into effect fast enough on affiliates like B&N and Apple, so if you need a format other than Kindle, you’ll have to buy through Smashwords.

I will stop the sale whenever I get up on July 27th, but you can count on these prices until at least 11:59 pm Pacific Time.

Here are the links with all my books listed:

Amazon

Smashwords

Also, don’t forget you can find me on Goodreads —> right here <— where you can read some reviews and stuff.

Godspeed.

Black Forest: Magicks Rise Release & Riley LaShea is On Sale

Before I tell you about my super exciting, ultra-awesome, one-day blowout sale situation, I must let you know that Black Forest: Magicks Rise is going to be delayed by a day. That’s right. One day. It will be up and available for purchase at Amazon and Smashwords on Wednesday, July 23rd.

The good news is, unless you are on absolute tenterhooks regarding the goings on in the Black Forest, I suspect you would choose to hold off on your purchase until a few days after the release anyway. Here’s why –

This Saturday, I turn 35. I once read 35 is the birthday when you officially become old. So, in honor of becoming old, I am holding a one-day sale of all things Riley LaShea. All my books (including Magicks Rise) will be $3.50 all day on July 26th. (I know it’s cheesy, just go with it.) At least, it will work out that way in Europe and the U.S. I will start the sale price the night before and return to normal pricing on Sunday, July 27th. I’m not sure how that works out for you other time zones, but trust there will be sale pricing some time around Saturday.

So, yeah, a small delay, but also a sale. So, if you have any of my books on your “To Read” list, Saturday is a good day to make that purchase.

Black Forest: Magicks Rise – Excerpt

Black Forest: Magicks Rise comes out on July 22nd. It begins like this.

Be warned, if you have not read Black Forest: Kingdoms Fall, much will be spoiled by this excerpt.

Chapter One
The World Left Behind

Once upon a time, a brother and sister were rushing through the forest. Thoroughly engaged in the children’s trade of play, they had lost track of the sun’s path over the treetops. It was only as the brother fell in surrender to his sister’s imitation bow and arrow that he noticed the bright blues of day fading to the purple hues of evening, and realized they must make haste for home.

Desperate to flee the night forest, and the dangers that live within, their anxious feet slapped the earth, and, joined at their fearfully perspiring hands, the brother and sister darted straight into the web of a hunter. Like the petals of a pimpernel, the net closed up around them, leaving them dangling two times their height from the forest floor. Though the children tried with all their might to break free, the netting, meant for much larger beasts than them, held fast.

Sun abandoning the sky, night fell fully upon them. Huddling close, the brother and sister listened to the cries of what they imagined to be very large and carnivorous beasts echo through the trees. When a thump came very nearby, they gave a synchronized jolt of panic, and, at the sound of soft footfalls just beneath them, the boy whirled his head, keen to protect his sister whatever he had to face. On her side of the net, the sister did the same, for she was secretly the braver of the two.

What both children discovered was no more than a raccoon, sat back on its haunches, looking up at them with mild dark eyes. In the time it took for the brother and sister to let out a joint breath of relief, the raccoon recognized the children’s need, for it had been trapped in the nets of hunters before. Clambering swiftly up the nearest tree, the raccoon leapt to the netting above their heads, digging determined teeth into the sturdy material. In no time at all, the net fell free, crashing to the forest floor, releasing the brother and sister from their captivity.

Standing on their own feet a moment later, dazed, but liberated, the brother and sister looked to the raccoon and saw the most beautiful creature they had ever laid eyes on. His soft fur shining like silk in the moonlight, his black eyes put on a clever masquerade as they regarded the children with utmost kindness. All their lives, the brother and sister had longed and begged for a pet, but their mother and father were unwaveringly against another mouth to feed on their already meager means. The children were certain, though, when their parents learned of the raccoon’s heroic feat, they would care for and love him as much as the brother and sister already did.

The raccoon’s night-eyes leading the way, the journey homeward was not nearly as treacherous, and the brother and sister followed behind, far less afraid of the howls and shadows that lived in the night.

They had not been going on long when the brother noticed the raccoon’s unusual walk. The raccoon would take two steps and limp, take two steps and limp. Pulling the creature to a stop, the brother dropped down to inspect him, finding one of the raccoon’s legs terribly mangled from a run-in with some forest foe. With a small frown toward his sister, he put the raccoon back on the ground, and again they walked behind.

It was a ways on in the wood, for the brother and sister had truly wandered far, that the raccoon led the children to a stream to drink away their thirst. Each time the raccoon put his lips to the water, to take in even the smallest of sips, he would choke and sputter, and the sister looked to her brother, certain a parasite must live in the raccoon’s throat or belly to make him drink so poorly.

Thirst satisfied, they started for home once more, and the children looked on the raccoon with more honest eyes. Each time moonlight would cut through thin branches, they would see something new. A balding patch. A missing chunk of paw. A mite carving a path through the raccoon’s fur, as it feasted upon the animal’s unclean flesh.

Sharing their findings in secretive whispers, by the time their cottage came into view, with its light and warmth glowing from the windows and their parents worrying inside, the brother and sister did not see the raccoon as beautiful. His fur did not appear at all soft or shiny in true moonlight, and he did not seem the least bit strong when he was not freeing them of their binds.

In fact, the creature had a distinct air of contamination about him, and was downright unlovable, so the brother and sister bid their rescuer goodbye at the forest’s edge, rushing across the yard to the cottage and its protection, leaving the raccoon out in the cold.

*****

At the moment, Cinderella was feeling an incredible kinship with the raccoon protagonist.

The moral of the story, the only one of her mother’s she could fully remember, was No one is perfect, and expecting perfection will leave you isolated and without aid when you need it. For, at story’s end, when the brother and sister find themselves caught in the same net again, the raccoon, weakened with illness and infestation, can offer no assistance, and the children end up being served to the hunter’s family as any other captured game.

Had she grown up under her mother’s tender influence, perhaps Cinderella would have been able to embrace the story’s true moral. Growing up as she had, with her stepmother’s and stepsisters’ hatred and her father’s utter indifference, she had developed a far different take on the narrative. She now saw it as a cautionary tale, the moral being If you let anyone see who you truly are, with all your flaws and weaknesses, it will be impossible for them to love you.

Ten cycles of the moon had passed since last she slept on the fractured bricks by the hearth in her father’s home, and she left her life in Troyale as sparkling as a princess. When too many eyes were upon her, though, Cinderella could still feel the soot and grime like a fine sheen upon her skin. The more attention given her, the less worthy she felt to receive it, and the more everyone looked at her, she knew, the sooner they would discover all her imperfections and determine her unlovable.

“Will they have to call you Sir?” The amused and muffled question drew Cinderella’s attention from the new knots in the wood ceiling, put there by the harsh winter the forest had just endured. Weather, it seemed, was its own event, requiring no man with a quill to inflict.

Glancing down at Rapunzel’s piercing blue eyes radiating amusement, the hair that hung low on her back once more shimmering gold in the light of the moon that came through the window to contrast against midnight blue sheets, Cinderella realized her gloomy thoughts had no place in the current moment.

“Sir Cinderella,” Rapunzel announced mock earnestly, before laughter poured across Cinderella’s bare chest.

Cocking her head to the side, Cinderella wondered if Rapunzel would continue to grow more beautiful each time she looked at her, or if there was a limit as to how much of her breath Rapunzel could steal. For at times, when she gazed at Rapunzel in such state of undress, Cinderella did worry about the lack of air she could take in.

“What would you propose they call me?” Her hand slid through silken hair to Rapunzel’s shoulder. She had given as little thought as possible to the coming ceremony, and none at all to the title.

A kiss dropped to her wrist where it hovered next to Rapunzel’s chin, waves of new longing rushed through Cinderella as Rapunzel considered the question, before at last Rapunzel lifted her head with a look of purest mischief.

“Redeemer… Savior… Goddess.” The term purred from full, bruised lips, Rapunzel’s long eyelashes cloaked eyes that darkened from sky to near navy, and Cinderella considered the title may be of little consequence, because she may never make it to the honor.

“Just what kind of remarkable being do you take me for?” she tried to find her breath.

“The most.” The response instantaneous and sincere, Cinderella tried not to blanch beneath Rapunzel’s unflinching gaze. If the raccoon had possessed a voice to pose such a question, she wondered if the brother and sister would have answered the same way once. It was easy to be impressed by a feat, much harder to stay amazed with its doer.

Though, for her part, Cinderella still did not know what they all thought she had done.

*****

When the courier arrived some weeks before, it had been an event in its own right.

Lounging in utter idleness before the fire with Rapunzel when Caratasa led him in, Cinderella glanced up as the courier fell instantly to one knee, head bowed, his hand steady as he held the letter out before him. Fearing a lingering proposal from somewhere in Grimm’s grand design, Cinderella looked to the courier and letter with trepidation, refusing to accept it.

“For the one who led us,” the courier stated, pausing just long enough that Cinderella thought to tell him he had come to the wrong place, before his next words quashed the hopeful notion. “Cinderella of Troyale.”

Standing with a soft smile at the courier’s back, Caratasa appeared frustratingly serene about the entire event as Cinderella and Rapunzel rose to meet the boy. For he could not have been more than twelve years.

Not knowing the customary response to being called upon by a royal courier, Cinderella thanked him as she slid the letter from his hand, and, had she started her life an arrogant individual, the look of gratitude in the boy’s eyes as he looked up would have humbled Cinderella for the years that remained in it.

“It is my honor, My Lady,” he declared, and Cinderella’s hands trembled on the scroll as they broke the wax seal.

It was one she had seen many times before when King Kardon sent news of Snow White, but never in circumstances so formal. The letter inside brief and to the point, it informed her of the joint decision of three kings – Snow White’s father King Kardon, Ruth’s husband King Balten and King Drest of Ceres, husband of Rhian, brother-in-law of Sawyer – to bestow upon Cinderella the honor of a knighthood, and requested a date of preference for the ceremony, as if she was so important she should not be expected to work around the schedules of three kings.

Even with Rapunzel quietly reciting the contents of the letter over her shoulder, knowing how she would struggle with many of the words, Cinderella was certain she misunderstood its message. She stared at the scroll in her hands for uncounted minutes until the courier hesitantly broke the silence to ask for a date he could take back with him. The simple question unleashing a torrent of words from her, they commenced with an appeal for the courier to get up off his knee and ended with Cinderella suggesting, in vain, that her contribution, and the fact that all turned out well, was reward in itself.

The courier had smiled then, even as he rose to his feet as requested. “That is one decision that is not yours to make, My Lady,” he declared. “Courageous actions, such as yours, they are not commonplace. They will not let it go without a fete.”

Staring into the boy’s pleased expression, Cinderella wished she could share in the sentiment. “Well, I suppose, should a fete be at hand,” her words weighted with worry instead, “I will be in attendance. I do not desire to disappoint them.” Nor did she desire to offend them. For, though she had built something of a relationship with all three, as a tributary of her relationships with those close to them, they were still kings, and, as she was reminded each time Rapunzel looked at her or she laid her head down in their soft bed in Caratasa’s home at night, she was nothing but an extraordinarily blessed peasant.

“If you were to decline the honor, they would not be the only ones disappointed, My Lady,” the courier said with a gentle smile. “What date can I tell them?”

Trying to think of a date somewhere between getting it over with as quickly as possible and putting it off indefinitely, Cinderella sent the boy back with her answer. At the time, it seemed distant enough. Two full turns of the moon later, that date was imminent.

Soon the eyes of every kingdom would be upon on her. Someone was bound to find a flaw.

*****

Tracing the line of freckles down Rapunzel’s right shoulder, Cinderella marveled at how things could change. In the confines of her tower, Rapunzel never saw sun enough to develop marks on her skin, and, as they came in greater and greater supply, each individual spot was of more infinite interest to Cinderella.

“I do not know the title for a female knight,” Cinderella responded to Rapunzel’s question thoughtfully. “You did not find such a word in those many stories you have read?” When Rapunzel shook her head, Cinderella wondered if there had ever been need for such a title. “Lady, perhaps?” She considered the most natural equivalent to the male title of ‘Sir.’ “Madam?”

“Madam?” The way Rapunzel’s nose turned in response, Cinderella wondered if her words had an actual odor to them. “Certainly not! It sounds so old, like a mother or a midwife or a queen.”

Smile faltering before she made it through the word, Rapunzel swallowed an audible obstruction in her throat and looked to the window, her gaze locking on the ghastly darkness beyond. For, though Grimm had gone, his world remained, with all its ghouls and demons.

Watching worry shadow Rapunzel’s features, Cinderella pushed to her elbows, the simple proximity to the softest of skin and cascade of blonde tresses offering a measure of comfort to her own anxieties. “Are you all right?” she questioned softly.

“I am not the one you need worry about,” Rapunzel responded, melancholy strangling each word. “Do you think Snow White is truly ready for this?”

“I do not know,” Cinderella answered honestly.

Snow White’s stepmother, Queen Ino, former queen of Aulis, would not only be overlooked at the coming ceremony, she was not even to be mentioned. If honors for the overthrow of Grimm were to be properly bestowed, no one was more deserving. After learning of the queen’s part in Snow White’s disappearance, though, of how she had ordered Snow White slain, even with the knowledge it was part of a grander plan not of the queen’s own making, King Kardon could find no love left for his former wife.

As understandable as his anger was, the king neglected to see how his own feelings negated those of his daughter. For the king thought there was no cause to mourn someone who had proven herself so vile and cruel, but Snow White, like all those who had witnessed the change in Queen Ino firsthand, did mourn.

“She would want to see you knighted,” Rapunzel declared, and, with an uneasy nod, Cinderella accepted the truth in the statement.

“But there is still a question as to if it is too soon,” she returned. “Snow White’s emotional state is… precarious, at best.” With good reason, she thought to herself. The sorceress’ spell that Snow White alone saw strike the queen, the agonized howl of the queen’s death, the feel of the woman dying in her arms, those were things not easily gotten over.

Hand rising to her chest, it gave Cinderella a gentle push that returned her to the pillow, and she watched a feather float into the air as Rapunzel settled her head against one shoulder.
With no answers to any of the questions between them, silence settled over the room as Rapunzel’s breath blew its hypnotic rhythm against Cinderella’s throat and Rapunzel’s body pressed warm against her, a marked contrast to the agitation Cinderella felt within. This instant – the tranquil, genuine moment – was everything for which they had fought. It was why Grimm had to be met head on, why he could not be allowed to go on dictating their futures, using them at his will.

Like the moment the uprising began, when Cinderella threw her shoe at Prince Friedrich, the seemingly innocuous moment carried awesome significance. True happiness – pure, unpolluted truth – did not exist under Grimm’s dominion. It would be a long time before anyone would take such a moment for granted.

“How are you feeling?” Rapunzel’s question was scarcely more than a breath against Cinderella’s skin.

“Do you prefer the innocent or the lascivious answer?” Cinderella returned, a small smile tugging her lips as Rapunzel shifted against her.

“I mean about the ceremony,” Rapunzel specified, lifting her head, and, realizing Rapunzel knew her fears beyond her sharing of them, Cinderella tried not to hide from the knowing gaze that looked down upon her as she opened her eyes. “And I prefer the truth.”

“It is not a comfortable sensation,” Cinderella admitted, and Rapunzel’s eyes locking intently upon hers, they seemed to search for Cinderella’s very soul inside and locate it with ease.

“You are courageous, clever, and exceedingly beautiful,” Rapunzel quietly stated. “I will never understand why drawing attention to all of that makes you so uncomfortable.”

Laughing helplessly at the assessment, Cinderella glanced to the night, wishing the moon would dim and provide her more cover. “Character flaw,” she uttered, and could feel Rapunzel’s heavy sigh upon her cheek.

“You do not have all the flaws you see,” Rapunzel whispered, seeking Cinderella’s gaze once more. “They love you,” she uttered. “As you love them. No one is going to abandon you, Cin.”

She never should have told Rapunzel that story, Cinderella realized. Rapunzel needed no help seeing beyond her moods and fears and defenses.

It was not that she did not want to believe what Rapunzel was saying, or that, when surrounded by her friends, Cinderella did not feel it. All the years spent in the company of people who hated her, though, it was difficult, at times, to accept that she could have a family free of enemies.

“And I love you,” Rapunzel’s eyes softened upon her, and thoughts of all other allies dissipated from Cinderella’s mind.

“I love you too,” Cinderella felt the words through her entire being, before Rapunzel’s lips covered her own with gentle insistence, chasing the last plaguing worry to another day.

Writing Outside the Comfort Zone

We humans are a fickle sort, aren’t we? I, for instance, am a creature of utmost spontaneity, and also one of routine.

Tell me I’m going on a trip tomorrow, and I’ll pack a bag. Move me in the middle of a writing project, and I will stare hopelessly at the computer screen for hours at a time, wondering if I accidentally boxed up my muse and left it behind in a closet in Tennessee.

Upon our arrival in Spain, we found our 2 1/2-month accommodation less than stellar. To some extent, it was our fault, because when we planned this experience, we hoped to save money, so we opted for a basic, functional rental. A no-frills place where we could simply be immersed in the reality of Spanish living.

As it turned out, such functionality was a bit too suburban for our purposes, and the no-frills place was actually a place of other people’s smells getting in through the cracks in the doors, the worst mattress ever dropped onto a bed frame, a terrible Internet connection, and non-stop noise, where we were woken repeatedly the first few nights, then wore earplugs for two and still woke several times.

Don’t get me wrong, we have endured worse conditions. Having disrupted sleep and consistent noise while trying to finish a book, though, is a mentally disastrous combination. So, that first week in Seville was rough.

Solution? Book a luxury rental in a resort area for a week, away from the noise, but near enough to the amenities to be able to walk to them. And, voila, presto, goooooaaaaaallllll!, I discover I am not so much a creature of habit as one of comfort, and I just need reasonably decent space in which to work.

So, at week’s end we will be making a more permanent move out of Seville and into better accommodations. We have also already secured a rental just outside Edinburgh for August so we can ease the process of getting to Bergen to see the fjords and of soaking up Fringe and the book festival.

In my experience, I have found successful travel is highly dependent upon one’s ability to adapt to their environment, but, as soon as you realize you cannot adapt, that you are simply not happy in your surroundings, it is always worth the expense to keep moving.

For a second there, as I sat exhausted in Seville, I wasn’t sure if I would have a book coming out next month after all. After three days of good Internet, good soundproofing and some seriously soft bedding, though, things are looking considerably more promising.

A Week in Oslo and Paris

The first vacationey leg of our extended time overseas came to a close a little less than a week ago. Now, we’re a few days deep in the domestic, everyday, ‘Holy Fuckfire, you have a book coming out in five weeks!’ portion of our adventure. Just a few things to share before going on with the reality of life for a while, though it is the reality of life in Spain, so it’s kind of a surreal reality at the moment.

Oslo in a Whirlwind

Jet lag is a bitch of a bitch, isn’t it? And overnight flights are simply cruel with their abbreviated sleeps. Our seven-and-a-half-hour flight on Norwegian Air, for some unbeknownst reason, allowed us only three uninterrupted hours of sleep between the serving of dinner and the serving of breakfast. Not that I don’t appreciate their effort at keeping me hydrated and well-fed and all, but three hours from lights-on to lights-on? Come on.

When jet lag gets me, I don’t fight it. I give in like a well-rocked baby. So, there was a nap had first thing when we arrived in Oslo, and another the following afternoon.

Our first full day of meals featured Indian and then pizza, and the second started with Asian food, indicating just how much I appreciated the local delicacies of reindeer and whale meat as dining options. Oslo does, however, have a regional coffee shop/juice shop called Joe and the Juice that I want badly to squish real small and carry everywhere with me in my pocket.

Overall, Oslo was a rather lovely place just to be in. Great architecture, a stunning waterfront, good historical feels, and some of the most fantastic parks and plazas I’ve ever seen. Plus, the sun went on and on forever, but at night, it was so chilly, we still needed our coats.

That’s a win.

The Fortress

The Fortress

Eidsvolls plass

Eidsvolls plass

Rowr

Rowr

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park

 

 

 

 

 

Palace

Palace

National Theate

National Theater

Pirates

Pirates

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Cathedral

Inside Cathedral

My favorite building

My favorite building

 

 

 

 

 

Three Days in Paris

After Oslo, we stayed four nights in Paris, but our flight between the two was in the evening, so we did nothing but walk down the street of the largely suburban, residential neighborhood of our hotel for bottles of water the first night, getting in just before the lightning began to flash in earnest and the rain started to fall.

Day two in Paris was a great washout through most of the morning and afternoon, so, though we rose late, we still got plenty soaked. When the sun finally decided to come out, though, it stayed for the rest of our time there. Before the rain let up, we had the most wonderful lunch away from the touristy area, and collected our first crepe somewhere between the park that touches the Louvre and the Champs Elysees.

Then, there were more treats and hot tea and miles and miles of walking.

Day two, we started touristy, going into Notre Dame, because we didn’t on our first visit. Then, we abandoned the more known areas and rode the metro into the northeast of the city to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, so I could see for myself that there is a waterfall in Paris. A delicious, pizza-ey pastry and more treats later, and it was back to the hotel.

Apparently, having not done enough walking that day, we tacked on a couple of miles in search of a reasonably-sized coffee, and cried when the local McDonald’s could still only produce a European-large.

Day three was devoted to Monet, with a slight smattering of other artists. Taking the train from St. Lazare to Vernon, we hoofed it the more than three miles to Giverny to make sure we saw all there was to see. It was a hot walk, for sure, but didn’t seem all that deadly. Then, in Giverny, we strolled through Monet’s gardens, alongside his lily pond, and made a beeline through his very hot and crowded house, before popping into the Impressionist Museum there, which boasts exactly one good painting. When we returned to Paris, there was enough time to pulverize some strawberries and cream and caramel custard on the steps before going in for the late-night extension at Musee d’Orsay.

It was one hell of a taxing and long day, for sure, but it was the last, so we had to make the most of it, regardless of our early flight the next morning that would have us getting only four hours of sleep.

Hindsight, seriously, 20/20.

But, first, some pictures.

The opening rain.

The opening rain.

Paris' coolest busker.

Paris’ coolest busker.

Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame

Inside Notre-Dame

Inside Notre-Dame

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset

Sunset

Monet

Monet

From Inside d'Orsay

From Inside d’Orsay

 

 

 

 

 

Parting Image

Parting Shot

 

 

 

 

 

Riley Gets Sun Poisoning

I am terribly sensitive to the effects of heat and sun. When I was a kid, this cost me many a summer day. So many, in fact, they should have revoked my pool rights and banned me from  waterparks and fairs.

So, apparently, those hours in the sun and heat, along with that early-morning flight, were a deadly combination. Amazingly, though I also don’t typically endure flight all that swimmingly either, I made it from takeoff to landing with only slight stomach upset. Then, we had to walk our carry-ons miles through the Madrid airport to retrieve our checked bag and things started to get bleak. It was through sheer force of will, and kind of out of necessity, that I made it to the public transit that got me to the Madrid train station and onto the train bound for Seville.

Hit with icky sickness, I slept the majority of the journey to keep from puking, negating the entire point of taking the train, which is also to see what wonder the way beholds. And by the time the people we’re renting from showed us into the apartment, I was in some serious shape, just waiting for them to leave, so I could fall back on the couch and try not to die.

Since we had no food, a store run was an utter necessity, so, some hours later, I dragged myself into the 104-degree-heat that was our opening temperature here in Seville to help do the shopping. On our walk back, the pukes pressed heavier and heavier upon me, until my mantra became, ‘I just need to make it back to the apartment. Then, I can puke in private.’

Good news! We did make it back, where I walked in, promptly went into the bathroom and christened our two-and-a-half-month Seville rental in vomit. For which I was glad, because, after that, I could finally eat and put coffee in my face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Flock to the shade and stay hydrated, Kids!”

Next Stop Oslo

Just before going to sleep last night, at about one a.m. Central Time, it occurred to me it was my last full day in the U.S. for at least seven and a half months. That means no Whole Foods with seed bread, or car that waits in the driveway for whenever I decide to use it, or relying on the only language I had the luxury of learning before I was old enough to realize that learning to talk can be intimidating.

It seemed so long ago that we booked the tickets to Oslo – pretty much on a whim – declaring we could decide later whether it would be a short vacation or long-term undertaking. Now, here it is, just an evening away. Our stuff stored away, bags tightly packed, tomorrow night we get on the plane and embark on an entirely different way of life, a way of tapas and romance languages and continent-jumping and public transportation systems that work.

I am not unafraid, but I am undeterred. I’m not without concerns, but I am filled with curiosity. Not just about the places we haven’t yet seen, but about how I will be someplace else, who I will be someplace else.

I find one never truly knows until she gets where she is going.

So, for those who are curious, or might be in any of the following places, here is the current itinerary of what a friend has dubbed SAREA (Shawna and Riley’s Excellent Adventure) with approximate landing times:

Oslo
Paris
Seville (landing June 13th & leaving at the end of August)
Bodrum, Turkey (landing early September, leaving late October)
Cappadocia
Istanbul
Madaba, Jordan (near Amman)(November)
Petra
Aqaba
Bucharest, Romania
Sofia, Bulgaria
Belfast (Early December)
London
Paris
Prague
Vienna
Rome
Madrid
La Manga Strip (landing late-December)

The crazy December is to see as many cities at Christmas/Christmas markets as possible, and currently we are planned/booked through January 22, 2015.

Last night in the U.S. for more than seven months is also the last night in New York for more than seven months. Guess I’ll have to drown that thought in Cava.

And away we go.

The Guy Who Intentionally Had a Period

I read this story sitting in a New York hotel room back in March, and meant to share it then, but I kept putting it off until it finally got lost in browser Neverland. The other day, I remembered it and found it again, and, finally, I get to share it.

There is something exceptionally brave in doing an ordinary thing that is taboo in one’s culture.

There is something extraordinarily compassionate about putting a world of effort into solving a problem that doesn’t, and can never possibly, have a direct impact on one’s self.

There is something deeply romantic about a gift that doesn’t say, “I spent a fortune so you could wear this and the world can see how much I spoil you,” but says instead, “Let’s do whatever it takes to find a way to make sure you are healthy. It doesn’t matter what the world thinks.”

There is something inspiring about anyone who keeps going, even when everyone turns against him, and betters people’s lives for it.

That’s this story –

The Indian Sanitary Pad Revolutionary