I’m guest blogging today!

Check out the post on Bold Strokes Books’ author blog:

https://boldstrokesbooksauthors.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/it-started-with-a-song-and-ended-with-gangsters/

I talk about how I researched my new book, Midnight at the Orpheus, and about how I got the inspiration for it. :)

London’s Highgate Cemetery

On May 7th, I went to Highgate Cemetery, which I’d read about in Audrey Niffenegger’s excellent book “Her Fearful Symmetry” (which I highly recommend, it’s fantastic). I’m especially fond of old cemeteries (though as things go, Highgate isn’t especially old, dating from the Victorian era.) Every trip I take, I am compelled to go visit at least one cemetery.

Highgate has a number of famous burials, and I took pictures of several. I suppose most famously, Karl Marx is buried here. (I did take a photo, but the tomb is pretty pretentious, a big head, and not especially remarkable otherwise.) Other writers in the cemetery: George Eliot, Douglas Adams, Radclyffe Hall, and the brother of Lord Tennyson (though I don’t think he was a writer.)

IMG_3014

This is Radclyffe Hall’s tomb, a vault on the Egyptian Avenue, in the Western cemetery, which is only accessible to the public via a guided tour. This side of the cemetery is Grade I listed, and thus is restricted to reduce damage/vandalism/people picking flowers, etc. I’m glad I paid to go on the tour, as it was an incredibly beautiful cemetery.

Radclyffe Hall is buried with one of her lovers, and there is a plaque tribute to her second lover, who died in Italy and was buried there. Someone pays for flowers to be left there every week, which I find absolutely charming. I’d love to know who, but not knowing, I like to think it’s a longtime friend or lover, or maybe a dedicated fan.

IMG_3000

On the Eastern side of the cemetery, Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, if you’re not already familiar with him) is buried. His headstone is simple, and the pot of pens and pencils is incredibly charming. His plot is along the main road of this side of the cemetery, but it is set back a bit, and I almost missed it, as it’s a fairly low-key headstone (as compared with many there).

IMG_2989

Above is the tomb of the writer George Eliot (writer of “Middlemarch”, check out her Complete Works which is available on Kindle in all its 4000+ pages). She was a leading writer of the Victorian era, and her tomb reflects the tastes of the time, with its Egyptian pylon style headstone.

IMG_2992

I was fortunate that the weather was generally warm and sunny when I went; I was able to wander around for quite awhile, though it did start to rain later on. Though I wasn’t able to wander off the path in the Western side, I tromped along the small trails between tombs in the Eastern side. At one point, all I could see was trees and brush, and headstones. Birds chirped, wind rustled the leaves, and I could forget entirely that I was in a huge, busy city.

The best bookstore.

imageFoyle’s is quite possibly my favourite bookstore ever (with the exception of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, for obvious reasons). I could browse there for weeks and never see everything. You may be surprised that I only came out of there with one book (a biography about Sartre & Beauvoir, and their relationships with others), but I didn’t have too much suitcase space to spare. But, even better was that I finally met the most excellent Aleksandr Voinov. :)

More posts about my trip will be forthcoming!

I’m planning a trip.

It’s still in the very (very!) early stages, but the first thoughts of a trip are starting to slither around in my brain.

I love this stage, where everything’s still possible, and I don’t have to think about how much holiday time it’ll take up, and how I’ll get there, and where I’ll stay. (Though the latter is fun to ponder, especially later in the evening when I’m browsing VRBO.com.)

I like to travel in the spring, before the craziness of summer holiday travel sets in, and before the weather in most of the northern hemisphere gets too hot, although if I’d known that Chicago was going to be almost 100F while I was there, I might have picked another weekend…

And where am I going? Let me give you a hint…

The view from Sacre Coeur

Chicago’s Eats – My favourite meals in the Windy City

I can’t say enough about the delectable food I sampled while I was in Chicago. I don’t think I ever had a poor meal, and some of the meals were incredibly memorable.

A small cafe a few streets from the hotel yielded a huge spinach salad for my first day, enough to keep my energy up for over five hours at the Newberry Library. That night, my parents and I went with my aunt and uncle to Topo Gigio, an Italian restaurant in the Old Town. I had the fish special, and it was tender and delicious. We also visited a nearby spice merchant, and spotted the Bistrot Margot (more on this later).

Our hotel was right next to Ditka’s, and I ate there once, having their New Zealand lamb chops appetizer. I also learned first hand that when you ask for a Jack Daniels on the rocks, it’s not like a Canadian bar where they give you 1 oz. I almost didn’t make it down the stairs from the lounge after two drinks!

After dinner at Gibson’s… it was a little chilly in the restaurant, hence my pashmina and cup of tea.

After our trip on the tall ship Windy, we went to Gibson’s steakhouse for dinner. If there were celebrities in attendance, I didn’t see any, but I was probably too busy looking at the gorgeous old 1920s decor… when I wasn’t trying to decide what to eat. Eventually I settled on some oysters to start, and the smallest steak they had on their menu. That’s one thing I can say about American restaurants — you get a lot of food for your money. And at Gibson’s, that means a lot of steak.

Now, one of my favourite meals in Chicago was one of the most unexpected. That is, it was a completely chance occurrence, as we’d gone to visit the Art Institute (and stand in awe in front of Georges Seurat’s painting ‘Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte’ — well, that part was perhaps just me) and after several hours of looking at art (more on that in another post, as I could go on about art for ages… you know me!), we were starving.

The best tea cup I’ve ever seen.

Right across the street from the Art Institute was a crowded and large pub. We didn’t go there. Instead, we went to the Russian Tea Time. It took a bit of convincing mom that there was something on the menu she could eat, but once we were there and eating, she was quite happy. Dad had a flight of the house vodka – 3 flavours (coriander, black currant tea and lime), 3 oz – and a beer. I opted for tea, and they kept filling my glass. It was really lovely strong dark tea, and I drank quite a bit of it before the end of the meal. I had potato latkes (with sour cream and apple sauce) for the first time, and they were excellent. Of course, I was so hungry from having eaten very little before we went to the Art Institute that probably almost anything would have tasted good. ;) The service was good; our server was very definitely Russian. I think he was a bit nonplussed when we laughed after he asked my father if he wanted more vodka. You see, 3 oz of vodka, plus a large beer, was more than enough alcohol for an afternoon… but I guess we ought not to have laughed. (and my dad says it was excellent vodka.)

And finally, one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had was at the Bistrot Margot on our last evening in Chicago. I wish I’d thought to take photos of the meal, but I was too busy eating… that’s my excuse. I had a vegetable risotto to start, and it came with a soft-shell crab. For my main meal I had a smoked duck breast with green lentils. And dessert was a delightfully delicious crème brûlée. I have a fondness for French food (as you might have guessed), and I was even happier at the Bistrot Margot when I saw that the menu had its dishes labeled if they were gluten-free. It made it a lot easier and I didn’t have to guess. Also, as it was our last evening, I decided to celebrate with a glass of champagne.

Now I’m starting to feel a bit homesick for Chicago… I know I’ll go back, and I’ll be well fed when I do!

 

“I need people of strength, and gumption!”

So shouted the docent aboard the tall ship Windy as we departed Chicago’s Navy Pier. He needed volunteers to raise the sails of the tall ship, and thus, with gumption (but no strength), I volunteered. For the record, though he said otherwise, strength is needed in order to raise a sail. Fortunately I had my father to assist me, or it would have been the slowest sail raising ever.

Obligatory family photo.

I hadn’t done any sort of sailing since ninth grade, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it: the wind in my hair, the rock of the ship, and looking out over the water. Of course, being on Lake Michigan, the view of Chicago’s skyline was rather spectacular.

‘Ready the cannon!’

After the sails were raised, the program began on the main deck, and we learned about the life of a tall ship sailor. Unlike seafaring vessels, tall ships (and others) sailing the Great Lakes didn’t have to worry about food or water– the water of the lakes is fresh, and food was to be had from many ports. This closeness was good, but also difficult if you were a sailor not keen to follow orders. Like a small town, word would get around, and a truculent sailor could find themselves without work.

We learned a great deal more, but of course if I gave it all away, that wouldn’t be fair. ;) And as a special bonus, the docent, Orion, and his friend Patrick, gave us a musical treat. (see video at the bottom of this post.)

Jessie tells of the woman immured in the lighthouse.

As I like stories, and my family was attending the baseball game (yawn), I came back to the Windy for another excursion the next evening in order to hear some ghost stories. The docents (Zack & Jessie) were fantastic storytellers, with blood-chilling tales of a ghostly ship, a woman immured in a lighthouse, and several more. I’m not sure if it was just the tales that were blood-chilling, or if it was the weather–windy and overcast.

I loved both trips, and I think that one of my favourite parts of the cruises was watching the docents interact with the kids on board. During the first cruise, a young boy was keen on listening, but was shy, and slowly began to move closer in to hear the tales. The docent noticed this and made a point of including him when he addressed passengers. And in the evening’s cruise, rather than give the usual warnings for kids to behave themselves, the docent shouted, “Children! Look after your parents! Make sure they don’t get into any trouble!” Also on that cruise, a boy and girl were very keen to hear ‘R-rated stories’ (or, as one crew member put it, ‘Arrrgh-rated?’), and they were able to pick from the chest of stories. Delightedly, the boy picked the scariest one.

And fortunately, being aboard the ship as the sun was setting made for some gorgeous shots of the Chicago skyline.