Off to Spain

I have been watching a lecture series on DVD, produced by The Teaching Company, taught by Professor Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa,  entitled Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft. This is my first exposure to a university level course in writing, although I have taken other on-line practical writing courses and attended workshops, and read books on the subject, all practical, none with the in-depth discussion of the sentence as an art form, not considering just its function, but the way in which phrases and clauses, vowels and consonants play against and with each other. I’m enjoying this series, although some of the concepts are so new to me, that I will watch it a second time, take notes, do the exercises and explore at greater length some of the concepts, as well, I might add, as learning the new vocabulary, not included in the language I learned in medical school. It seems a practical course in many ways and it is great fun.

Sakineh: She’s still in that prison. I see that the Iranians have accepted five hundred thousand dollars as the price of an American woman accused of spying and released this week. Some people in Oman arranged it, so we are told. I wonder what it would cost to buy the freedom of Sakineh and the others.

Spain: I’ve spent the last few months trying to learn some Spanish, using the course supplied by RosettaStone, enough to be polite, and not assume that everyone that I meet speaks English. I did the same with Italian several years ago, finding that it took at least two years to gain enough language to communicate a little. It becomes more difficult as I get older, or so it seems. We’re leaving shortly, so this will be my last posting for a while, unless I have access to a computer somewhere along the way.


Our vacation in Spain is drawing closer. Our hotel in Madrid is on Plaza Santa Ana, ringed with cafes, bars and a highly-rated restaurant! The hotel itself is in a converted office building– high ceilings and large windows overlooking the plaza. We hope to visit the Reina Sofia museum of modern art to see Picasso’s Guernica on the first day, if we aren’t too tired after the plane.

So much else to do and see in Madrid that it would likely take three weeks rather than the three days we have there to begin to see it all.

We leave Madrid by the AVE, the fast train to Seville, arriving at yet another hotel in a converted building, this one in Barrio Santa Cruz. We haven’t an plan for Sevilla, although visiting the cathedral, the third largest medieval in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London, is on the list. We are there for three nights, before meeting Anne and Alan in Ronda.

The trip to Ronda will be an adventure: a bus trip through the Serrano Mountains. The owner of the villa we are renting promised to meet us that day and drive us to her finca(country property). She is also making dinner for us that evening. Visiting Ronda, a fabled town renowned in the nineteenth century for bandits and bullfights, should take at least two days of the seven we will be staying there. After that, visiting the Pueblos Blancos, the white villages, beginning, I think, with Arcos de la Frontera, the furthest from Ronda, situated on the edge of the sherry district. All the villages with frontera in their names were on the frontier, built for defence, high on the hills, the front lines of the battles to retake Spain from the Moors.

I can hardly wait!

Three assaults on women

Iran death row woman Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani to be hanged not stoned | Mail Online. The Daily Mail reports this morning that Sakineh was subject to a mock execution on Sunday. The attitude that allows for death by stoning apparently has stirred Sakineh’s captors to further sadism. They remind me of the perpetrators of serial murders, torturing their victims to get the most enjoyment before they kill them. I wonder if her jailers achieve sexual satisfaction from their actions as the serial killers do.

The Iranian media has labelled Carla Bruni, the wife of the President of the French Republic, a prostitute. This was apparently in retaliation for a letter she wrote in support of Sakineh. No free speech for any woman anywhere is their creed.

The Globe and Mail reports that poison gas has been confirmed as the causative agent in the episodes of sudden illness amongst schoolgirls in a largely Pashtun area of Afghanistan. The boys in the same schools, who go on different days, were not effected, nor were any all-boys schools. A fine bunch these Taliban, poisoning children. I wonder if the leaders giving these orders are Afghani fathers.


Finally finished reviewing the proofs for The Facepainter Murders. It should come online today, if all goes to plan. Look for it as an ebook at

My current project involves converting a first person novel into a third person, in time to submit to Penguin UK which is opening for submissions, targeting non-agented writers, creating an opportunity for me, if I can finish before we go to Spain.

I notice Michael Ignatieff is calling for folks to return to “the big red tent”. I wonder if he’s been reading John Ralston Saul’s A Fair Country, in which Saul talks about Canada being an aboriginal country, and the aboriginal philosophy of “the big tent”.

Free media, free speech.

Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail, writing about South Africa:

The government of President Jacob Zuma is being accused of harassing the media, failing to improve the lives of the poor, and favouring its own cronies in dubious business deals.

Lawrence Martin also in the Globe and Mail:

Last year, as revealed by The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lunched in New York with Roger Ailes, president of Fox News, and Rupert Murdoch, who owns it. Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper’s former spokesman, was also present at the unannounced event.

Mr. Teneycke later became the point man for Quebecor’s Pierre Karl Péladeau in his effort to create a right-wing television network modelled along the lines of Fox News. The new network is a high priority for Mr. Harper, for whom controlling the message has always been – witness his government vetting program – of paramount importance.

In this regard, he scored a fantastic coup when Mr. Teneycke became head, courtesy of Mr. Péladeau, of Sun Media’s political coverage. It’s not every day that a prime minister sees his one-time spokesperson taking control of a giant media chain’s coverage of his government.

Now, I don’t think Mr. Harper is an idiot on the level of Mr. Zuma, who until lately denied the problem AIDS presents in his country. But I do think Harper’s overweaning desire to control almost everything, is becoming hard for him to disguise. Remember at the beginning, when he decided to protect himself from the hurly-burly of the scrum by hiding in a basement room of the Parliament, with selected members of the media present and taking only pre-vetted and few questions. Now he will have a whole network to lob easy questions at him and allow him to distort the facts with impunity.

The rot started with his success in proroguing Parliament, continued with the whole census debacle and recently found a respected Mountie out the door because of his support, along with all the rest of this country’s police, of the long gun registry.

It’s his agenda, his take on what the women of the world need, his belief that we don’t need facts on which to base decisions. How does he tolerate a man like Stockwell Day in his cabinet, with his prattling about “unreported crime” as an excuse for more and bigger jails? I begin to be concerned about what new crimes will soon be announced and how long free expression can survive.


Last week and this I have been proof-reading the galley for my new book. This exercise leaves me with a renewed respect for all those who read and correct the millions—it must be millions— of words written every day.


The long spring and hot, humid summer are ending with what seems to be an early autumn. The swallows are making practice flights; the black squirrel is driving the dog crazy with his aerial foraging in oak tree; the brown-eyed susans are making a spectacular show with their mounds of intense gold and black. What does it all mean? A heavy, snow-laden lengthy winter? Our autumn will end with a stay in the south of Spain.


I’ve been reading Frances Mayles  A Year in the World. She and her husband took our trip, first to Madrid, then to Seville and on to Ronda. I hope some of the restaurants and tapas bars she writes about are still open. Spain is having a tough time economically this year.


Her fate was supposed to be decided on August, but so far—nothing. the British Government has called in the Iranian ambassador to express its deep concern. I hope it expressed the full horror of civilized nations at the barbaric crime Iran is perpetrating on its citizens, and particularly this woman and the fourteen co-condemned, waiting out the tattered remains of their lives in that foul prison.

Please sign the petition at

Sunday Roundup

BBC News – Brazil offers asylum to Iran woman sentenced to stoning.

The BBC is reporting that Brazil has offered asylum to Sakineh, but there has been no response at this time from Iran. And that’s it. On July 21st, the governemnet of Iran announced that a decision on her sentencing would be made in 40 days. In the meantime, her lawyer is missing; his wife and brother-in-law are held without charge; her sons are muzzled. All we can do is keep talking and posting, and writing about her and all the others who languish in those ghastly prisons.

Nothing new on the census front, except for the nearly universal condemnation of the government’s decision. Even the Canadian Catholic Bishops are upset.  One article calls it disconnecting the past from the future, which is what this action does. We simply won’t know how to compare what is with what was, and no way of knowing if we’re improving, or failing. In 10 years, when the census rolls around again, with perhaps, fate willing, another government in power, it may be made mandatory again. So the gap, instead of 10 years will be 20, and in those 20 years what mistakes will have been made as decisions are taken on erroneous or at the very least non-comparable data, or worse on a politician’s “philosophy”.

Our trip to Spain is coming closer. This weekend, I was able to book our train tickets from Madrid to Seville, on the AVE, Spain’s version of the TVG in France. Spain is working to connect the major cities by this very rapid transit. Madrid to Seville is a 550 km drive and takes about 6 hours by car. The train takes 2 1/2hrs and includes lunch!  I booked through RailEurope which is painless. The tickets should arrive this week. I think I’ll have to wait until we’re in Seville to get the bus tickets for Ronda.

Iceland Volcano- not all bad?

Iceland volcano to provide jobs for unemployed | IceNews – Daily News.

Like many other people, I’m concerned that the volcano in Iceland is on a years-long venting spree, that will affect our up-coming holiday in Spain. But this volcano isn’t all bad. The first link above talks about a programme in Iceland that will provide jobs for unemployed farmers and those with agricultural experience. The jobs are to help the sheep farmers in the lambing season who are struggling with the ash. There’s talk of extending the aid to the dairy farmers as well. 40 jobs, not to be sneezed at in a small country.

The insurance industry, at least Aviva, also alert to the chance of making money from misfortune, is offering a trip cancellation rider to protect against loss due to the volcano. The second link takes you to Guardian(U.K.) story about it. Aviva is the fifth largest insurance company in the world.

This of course doesn’t include the initial windfall made by gouging hotels and other hostelries. By now, I imagine, business has fallen off in the affected areas.

Always a silver lining, I suppose, if you look hard enough.

Spain and security and fear

We’re going to Spain in the fall. At the airports, in Toronto and in Madrid, we will endure enhanced security, some of it very intrusive. Will it make us safer, prevent some young man, in love with the idea of violence, as young men have been in other generations, from triggering some destructive device? Perhaps. But it seems to me that these young men need a more hopeful future, with rewards in this world, not the next. There are too many of them, these young men, as there have been in previous times. The solution in the past has often been war, and their deaths, as they follow old men who fill them with myths of honour and sacrifice, as they do now. People are framing the conflict in terms of religion. I see it as a lust for power in the men behind the violence, safe in their secret lairs.

More Spain

The new year has arrived, very quietly for us. It will be memorable, though for several reasons, starting with our retirement in March, going on to our fortieth anniversary in May, and then our trip to Spain.
The trip arrangements are going well. I found a terrific website called Inns of Spain, and booked hotels in Madrid and Seville. Nick, at Inns of Spain has offered to help if I can’t sort out the trains!
We also booked a villa at Ronda, where a nice lady called Caro will cook us our dinner the first night. Looking at the hotels on Google Earth, especially the street level views, is a lot of fun.
My story, Clarice is up at Gumshoe Review It’s a great site and I am very pleased to have Clarice accepted there.
Last year’s writing goal was to get something published, and I have been very happy to have reached it. Looking forward to 2010!

Our trip to Spain

Now that the holidays are almost over, it’s time to plan a trip to Spain in the fall. This will be our first holiday after we retire, and our third to Europe, travelling with the same friends. I’ve started to study some Spanish, putting Italian on hold for the time being. Our tentative plan is to fly into Madrid, fly on to Granada, take the train to Seville and then meet our friends in Ronda. The flights will be easy to arrange. Air Transat flies open jaw into Madrid and out of Malaga. The train is another story.
Rick Steves has a very helpful brochure on trains in Europe which is available as a pdf download, but even with its help I remain confused about taking a train from Granada to Ronda or Seville.
I have just now found some helpful information about the white villages of Spain.