Tag Archives: books

Apache Cookbook, Italian

The Italian edition of Apache Cookbook is now available, and I have a copy sitting next to me as I write. The title is “Apache Cookbook”, which struck me as a little odd. There seems to be a significant mix of English in the book. I’m not sure where you can get a copy, since the ISBN doesn’t seem to show up in Pricescan or Amazon, and there doesn’t seem to be an amazon.co.it

The smells of Africa

A comment made on my posting about Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight got me thinking about smells. The commenter notes that Fuller always talks about the smells of a place. This didn’t really strike me, but the comment reminded me of the smells of Africa. The smell of the Nairobi City Market: the fish mongers, the wonderful dust/sweat/wood smell of the wooden carvings, the smell of the flower vendors and the fruit vendors. The smell of Biashara street, with the spice stores.

And the smell of Dagoretti.

Dagoretti is a little town that you go through if you catch the bus going the wrong direction at the Rhino Park Road bus stop. The bus still gets you to the same place, but instead of going through Karen, it goes through Dagoretti.

Dagoretti is the place where the herders bring their cattle to be butchered. You can smell it a couple miles away – the thick stench of rotting carcasses that almost gets stuck in your throat. As you drive into Dagoretti and past the abattoirs, you see skulls and vultures. Wooden pens, perhaps 2 or 3 meters on each side, and stretching up about the same height, stand in front of and beside each abattoir, all along the side of the road. Each one is filled with skulls, in various stages of decomposition. Vultures cluster thickly around each, picking at those skulls that still have enough on them to be worth it.

As the bus toils through Dagoretti, you struggle to hold your breath for the 6 or 7 minutes when the stench is the strongest, and, when that fails, you try desperately to think of something else so that you don’t start gagging.

As the bus finally pulls out of Dagoretti, you deeply inhale the dust and diesel coming up from the road, in an effort to purge your nose and lungs, but the smell will linger in your clothes all day.

Of course, if you happen to get there on slaughter day, the smell is entirely different, and the trip much slower. The streets are clogged with thousands of dusty, skinny, bawling brahmans. (Although I assure you they don’t look anywhere near as good as the ones at that link!) Usually young boys will be driving them, smacking them with little sticks and yelling at them to move along. Then the smell is one of dust and manure and excitement. The cows stumble along unprotestingly, and you can almost imagine that, in their emaciated state, the slaughterhouse is looking like a pretty good thing for them.

My brother and his wife are in Kenya this week, and I’m *ssooooooo* jealous.


Morbus Iff has created a game called Ghyll which is a kind of fictional Wikipedia. The degree to which people have gotten into the game in the short time it has been running is absolutely amazing.

Writing again

Last night I figured out a story problem I’d been worrying at for about 4 months. I knew what the character in my story had done, but I couldn’t figure out why he had done it. And that, of course, was the key to the story. Well, once I figured that out, large parts of the story just about wrote themselves. I think that if I ever get this one done, it’s going to be a really good one. And then maybe I can go back and fix the one that I got not-quite-written last year. At this rate, this book is going to take about 7 years to write.

In one of his essays about how to write (I think it was actually in Cat’s Pajamas), Ray Bradbury said that you should stop writing while you still know what’s going to happen next. That way, the next time you start writing, you know how to start.

Apparently, if you ignore that advice — if you write until you don’t know what happens next, you’ll spend the next 5 or 6 months trying to figure it out.

So, hopefully, since I left off before I was done, and I know exactly what needs to happen next, I can actually get through this chapter before the end of the year. 😉

So, Chris, how’s your part of the story coming?

A candidate for sainthood

I’d like to nominate for sainthood the bloke who thought it would be a good idea to throw some tincans up in the air and have them tell us where we are. The Global Positioning System is one of the top hundred inventions of the last 100 years. I think I’d put it right up there with the Internet.

Of course, if it wasn’t for the Internet and the GPS, I would not be lost deep in the woods …

The image displayed here shows me walking in (I believed) a straight line, between about 12:15pm and 1:55pm today. The point at which I decided I was lost is left as an exercise for your imagination. This is the backtrack from my GPSr, intermittently losing contact with the satelites, so you can assume that my actual path was even more circuitous. (Note: I changed the image a few times, because I wasn’t sure I had the right part of the track. I’m certain I have the right bits now.)

If you read the book “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”, and didn’t understand why it was scary, here’s a few friendly tips for you.

When you’re lost in the woods, everything looks like a trail. Right up to that “Dear God I’m going to die in here and they’ll find my bones next spring” moment. Then nothing looks like a trail, even if it has a yellow center line. So don’t leave the trail, because you won’t find it again.

If you believe, as I once did, that carrying a GPSr ensures that you cannot ever get lost, make sure you take your cell phone with you. You’ll find that you get the best signal if you climb to higher ground.

When you’re deep in the woods, the GPS starts lying to you. For a time, it will tell you that the destination is 300 feet ahead of you. Then it will say that it’s 2 miles behind you. Then it will stubbornly refuse to tell you anything at all. Then, suddenly, you’ll crest a hill, and it will tell you that you just fought your way 500 feet through thorns in the wrong direction.

When you’re lost in the woods, all spiders are poisonous, and even pinecones can transform themselves into rattle snakes. Don’t ask me about the mechanics of this. I think it’s covered in “Tom Gordon.”

0.15 miles is approximately 750 feet. This may take you about 3 minutes to walk on flat uninterrupted ground. When you are lost, this may take more than an hour, because you are incapable of maintaining a straight line for any distance, and although you are certain that you are correcting back to the straight path after going around an obstacle, you’re wrong.

And, if you missed the other tips, here’s the important one. Never leave the trail. Never leave the trail. Never leave the trail.

Ok, that was a *REALLY* scary hour. Or was it just 20 minutes? I’m really not sure.

Then, suddenly, you emerge back onto the 4-foot-wide pave trail, with startled pleasure-walker tourists and their kids in strollers, looking with mild curiousity at your wild eyes and soaked-to-the-waist jeans, and it all seems vaguely silly and not worth talking about. “Oh, don’t mind me. I just spent the last 2 hours – or was it 15 minutes – in terror and certain that I’d be eating leaves and grass by sundown.”


Oh, and just so there’s no confusion, I *did* find the cache, and logged it. So there. Nyeah.

Reading group

In college I was an RA (Resident Assistant). That means, roughly, that I was supposed to keep the children … um … men from destroying the dorm, killing one another, or operating illegal businesses out of their rooms. At least, that’s how I understood my tasks.

(Typical conversation: “Room check! Ok, you still have a room.”)

One of the rooms on my hall contained two freshmen who were intent on annoying everyone else to the point of distraction, keeping the noise level at or above the pain threshhold anytime that someone might possibly want to sleep, give the hall the aromatic features of a petting zoo, and carpet their room entirely in banana stickers. Names are withheld to protect the guilty.

So, fast-forward 14 years.

Last night, one of these fine gentlemen called me and invited me to attend a reading group, which will be reading books on the topic of social justice, featuring the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others. I was honored that he would think of inviting me to the gathering of upstanding young men who will be attending. And although I like telling college stories about this guy, he’s a great young man, and, as long as I’m complementing him, he’s got a beautiful wife and daughter, too.

Oh, and, for the record, the other guy is operating a mission organization that works with street kids in Kathmandu and Calcutta, among other places. So he turned out ok too. Although he’s still a little weird. 😉

Exotic and strange

As I’m reading “Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight”, I find myself thinking, hey, maybe I could write something about my Time In Africa, since these books seem to do fairly well. And, since I’ve been struggling to write a novel for an inordinately long time here, with no apparent progress, maybe that would get things moving in my brane.

But, then, this is followed by the obvious observation that my life was hardly as exotic and strange as the ones depicted in the latest bunch of “growing up in Africa” books that I’ve read. (Although *someone* should write about the body that those guys found in the woods.)

And, of course, this observation is immediately followed by …

If their lives were exotic and strange
they would likely have gladly exchanged them
for something a little more plain
maybe something a little more sane.
We each pay a fabulous price for our visions of paradise.
(Rush – Mission – The Spirit of Radio – 1980)

There’s also the problem that my memory isn’t the keenest. I tend to have a foggy impression of some of the events of my time in Kenya, with Turi probably being the sharpest memory, or perhaps Nairobi. I suppose I should write some of this stuff before it blows away completely.

Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight

I’ve been reading (listening to) Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight by Alexandra Fuller. It’s an account of a childhood in Africa. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, to be more specific.

Fans of politically correct speech will find the book abhorrent. She makes no effort to hide the way that they viewed their African neighbors in the Bad Old Days.

I find the book oddly nostalgic. While her life was utterly different from mine (Zimbabwe is much more African than Kenya, particularly in the 70s and 80s) there’s a lot that’s very common. Particularly her descriptions of school. And the language that she uses is the same language that we spoke at Turi.

Also, I’d say that it’s a good read if you’d like to understand why Mr. Mugabe is acting the way that he is. At least, a little bit. Yes, clearly he’s a dangerous lunatic. But there’s a certain amount of historical reason behind his lunacy.