Monday, July 25, 2011

Embarrassing Moments: Tumblin' Tumblewig

Here is another of my embarrassing moments from the files of Hopalong Ganny:

One March day I decided to walk the four or five blocks to the shopping center where I worked in Midwest City, Oklahoma. For some inexplicable reason I decided to wear a black wig that I hadn’t worn in a long time. Maybe I wanted to see if my co-workers would notice that I was wearing a wig.

It was a cloudy, windy day as I set out on my little trek. As I approached the first corner, I vaguely noticed a car pull up at a stop sign and wait for me to cross the street in front of it. The moment I stepped off the curb, a gust of wind blew my wig off and it went rolling down the street past the waiting car like a black “tumblin’ tumbleweed.” Embarrassed, and that’s putting it mildly, I ran after it.

Just as I got close to it, another gust of wind blew it out of reach. And so it went, with me running after my wig and the wind blowing it away each time that I made a grab for it. I became extremely frustrated and worried that I might not be able to retrieve it. But I was determined—I had to get that wig! Finally I made a desperation grab, and yes, managed to hold onto it. I tried to put it back on but immediately realized that the wind wasn’t going to let that happen.

I knew then that I would have to return home, wig in hand. I had never, not once, had a wig come loose or fall off until now. As I turned back I could imagine what a terrible sight I must seem with my own hair pulled back, tightly pinned to my scalp, with the wig tucked securely under my arm.

As I was going back up the street toward the corner where the “incident” had occurred, I noticed that the car that had stopped to let me pass was still parked at the stop sign. The passengers had all turned around, apparently to watch my progress, and were now convulsed in laughter!

I ducked my head down and ran home as fast as I could.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Margery Allingham: The Golden Age of Mystery

I am a list person. I list the books I read in the order in which I read them and write reviews of each book. I have been doing this for many, many years. I also make lists of my favorite books and my favorite authors. And those I don't put in any kind of order, especially when it comes to the Ladies of The Golden Age of Mystery.

Although their books adhere to a certain formula, their heroes or male protagonists are as different from each other as humanly possible. For example, Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie), Roderick Alleyn (Ngaio Marsh) and Albert Campion (Margery Allingham) are three sleuths who not only solve crimes differently but are complete opposites in personality and appearance. Hercule is the little persnickety (in my opinion) egg-shaped genius. Roderick is tall, dark and handsome. And Albert is a quiet, mild-mannered man. I love all three who solve crimes in their own individual style.

This week I am concentrating on Margery Allingham and my favorite of her novels: The Gyrth Chalice Mystery, featuring, of course, Albert Campion. In fact when I read it in 2006, I also included it as number one in my list of best books read that year.

My review of the book was short and I included a quote that I found somewhere, probably on the back cover blurb:

An Albert Campion mystery, published 1931. "A mystery at its British best. The Tower Room holds a priceless relic, a a chilling secret...and Campion face to face with Death!" A rousing tale, implausible but great fun.

I gave the book an A+ rating.

Wikipedia describes Campion this way: "Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses, and is often described as affable, inoffensive and bland, with a deceptively blank and unintelligent expression. He is, nonetheless, a man of authority and action, and considers himself to be a helpful and comforting "Uncle Albert" to friends and those in need." The actor Peter Davison portrayed him in the 1989/90 British TV series. I thought he personified the above description perfectly.

Supposedly, Allingham first created him as a parody to Dorothy Sayers' crime solver, Lord Peter Wimsey. Since I didn't know that while I was reading both authors' books, I never made the connection and considered the two crime solvers to be completely different.

I always enjoy an Allingham novel or short story featuring Campion and have tried to read them in the order in which they were written. After Allingham died, her husband finished her last manuscript.

I have read fifteen of her twenty novels featuring Campion and look forward to the last five. She also wrote many short stories featuring him also.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summertime and the Eatin’ is Easy

A Tribute to Hotdogs and Hamburgers

Ah, it’s that time of the year when many people go on vacation—a time to explore new horizons, relax and not worry about preparing family meals. One of the easiest ways to enjoy food while traveling is sampling the street food of the region one is visiting, such as Spanish empanadas, Portuguese salgados, Puerto Rican bacalaítos, Mexican tacos, to name only a few. And if one is visiting the U.S.A., especially large cities such as New York and Chicago, there is the dependable hotdog.

A hotdog? How can a hotdog compare to the antojitos of other countries? As I pondered this question I reflected back on the hotdogs of my childhood. At home I usually spread mustard on my bun, added the boiled hotdog, and topped it off with relish, either sweet pickle relish or the mustardy hotdog relish, sometimes even sauerkraut or ketchup. At picnics we also had the choice of topping grilled hotdogs with chili, cheese and chopped onions. Yes, I concluded—hotdogs when prepared properly with lots of toppings can be quite tasty even, perhaps, as much as the street food of other countries.

When my son was small we spent our Sundays at the beach and when it was time to eat, we bought hotdogs from street vendors who walked along pushing hotdog carts. My son, who was never into eating as a child, always wanted his hotdog plain. How boring, I thought, but at least he was eating something. I, on the other hand, wanted my hotdogs with everything! And everything in this case consisted of the bun, mustard, the hotdog of course, chopped fresh onions, relish, grilled onions and a barbecue-like sauce. These were the best hotdogs that I have ever eaten!

Perhaps some might say that hamburgers are the definitive American street food but hamburgers aren’t usually purchased from street vendor carts--as far as I know. However, they are what most people think of as the most popular of American fast food. I am one of those people who must have pickles, onions, and mustard on my burgers. Or at least until I attended college one summer in Monterrey, México. There, when I ordered an hamburguesa at a downtown eatery, the pickles were replaced by pickled jalapeño peppers! And suddenly my taste buds came alive and began to crave those hamburguesas. But, of course, back in the U.S.A. I had to return to the traditional burger. But by some quirk of fate, many years later, I have discovered restaurants—at least in the Southwest—that offer jalapeño burgers! Many are served with grilled onions to create a burger taste treat that can’t be beaten.

So, wherever one travels this summer, whether in the U.S.A. or abroad, part of the fun is experimenting with the street or fast food of the region—not only is it fun but economical and easy on the family cook as well.

Oh, and those street vendor hotdogs that I loved so well? Those weren’t American hotdogs at all—we ate them at San Gerónimo Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico!

(Originally published in Pensamientos on a bilingual webside, Está Aqui, the summer of 2001).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hooked from the Start? Part One: Mary Stewart

“Hook your readers from the first sentence.” I don’t know how many times I have heard or read that bit of advice. And I have tried to follow it with my own stories although I’m not sure I always succeed.

But I started to think about some of my favorite books by favorite authors. Did their first sentences hook me from the beginning and was that the reason I read the books? So, I went back and researched some of those first sentences to see if there was any influence on why I read those books.

I will start with Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael. I read this novel one weekend during my senior year in college. When a friend lent it to me, I thought it was going to be something tawdry and I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. The first line read: “Nothing ever happens to me.” Now for a seasoned reader in the romance suspense genre, this would have rung warning bells because the reader would know that of course something was going to happen to the heroine. But at the time I wasn’t a seasoned reader in this genre.

As I continued reading the book, I was blown away. I had never read anything so beautifully written with so much suspense. I began to read all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, looking forward to the publication of each one.

But the first sentence was not the reason I started reading the book although it is considered one of the best of first lines. A boring weekend at college did that but “the magic of Mary Stewart” captivated me and I wanted to read her other novels.

This series will continue next month with Daphne DuMaurier.