Signing at the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady

I am looking forward to the signing at the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady this coming Sunday. Noon. With me will be Susan Sundwall, Frankie Bailey, and Carol Pouliot. We are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Sisters in Crime and the tenth of my chapter; the Mavens of Mayhem.

Paul Bunyon and logging

When I was a child my mother told me and my brothers stories of Paul Bunyon and his big blue ox Babe.  Re was a giant, as was his ox, and they had many adventures. There is even a statue to him in Bangor, Maine.

 

Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor, Maine.JPG

In my childhood mind, he ranked right up there with Batman and Spiderman. Human, yes, but with extraordinary powers.

When I was researching my latest book, however, I discovered that Paul Bunyon represented a certain truth about the early American experience: the loggers or lumber men. In Maine, logging camps were set up in the woods and the massive trees were cut down with nothing more than human sweat and axes. Lumber was important for building, yes, but this was also the era of sailing ships and tall masts were a requirement.

In the spring the loggers would ‘drive’ the logs down one of the many rivers to Falmouth. The lumber drive would end in Falmouth with a celebration. (I’ll bet. Talk about dangerous work!)

If by chance you should visit Maine, you can see the art of log rolling on the road between Ellsworth and Acadia.

 

Politics

The recent election was acrimonious and ugly. People have unfriended erstwhile friends or just simply stopped talking with them.  While there may be unusual facets to this election, those in the past were not nice or gentle. I am including a section from my new book: The Devil’s Cold Dish, where I describe some of the unfortunate aftereffects of politics. Now this was in 1797 and I wrote this in 2014, so the emotional tenor is based solely on my research.

Turning her gaze to Rees, Jerusha said, “Your cheek is bleeding.”

“Yes, it is,” Rees agreed.

“Fetch me a bowl, Abby,” Lydia said. “And put some warm water in it, please.” She urged Rees into the side room and into a chair, despite his protests. “What happened?”

“Oh, Tom McIntyre had another customer. Mr. Drummond, a gentleman from Virginia by his accent. One of those land speculators. He was holding forth on George Washington and why he should have been impeached. I don’t know why people can’t leave the man alone.” With last fall’s election, John Adams had won the presidency and Thomas Jefferson the vice presidency. Washington had gone into retirement, a battered, aging lion.

“Was Mr. Drummond the one who did this?” She gestured to the cut upon his cheek.

“No,” Rees said. Drummond had already left when the argument exploded.

“I suppose you had to speak up,” Lydia said, her voice dropping with disappointment. “I love your sense of justice but I do wish you didn’t feel the need to fight every battle.” A former Shaker, she abhorred violence. Besides, she worried about the consequences, especially now after the serious injury to Sam.

Rees knew how she felt. He was trying to curb his temper, mostly because he wanted Lydia and his adopted children to be happy in Dugard. But so far he’d broken every promise to do better that he’d made to himself.

“We wouldn’t have a country without the president’s leadership during the War for Independence,” Rees said, hearing the defensiveness in his voice. After fighting under General Washington during the War for Independence, Rees would hear no criticism of the man who’d become the first president. Those who hadn’t fought, or who had only belonged to the Continental Army between planting and harvest, could not possibly understand what Washington had achieved.

Rees hesitated, fighting the urge to justify himself, but finally bursting into speech. “Mac and that Drummond fellow both favor Jefferson and the French. Drummond said that President Washington’s actions during the Jay affair smacked of treason. And when I said that the president had done his very best and that if anyone was guilty of treason it was John Jay, Mac said that the problem was that General Washington was a tired, senile old man.” He stopped talking.

When McIntyre had called Washington senile, Rees’s temper had risen and he had pushed the smaller man with all his strength. Since Mac probably weighed barely more than nine stone, he flew backward into the side of the mill. Flour from his clothing rose up at the impact, filling the air with a fine dust. That was when Zadoc Ward, Mac’s cousin, jumped on Rees and began pummeling him. Rees had already had a previous fight with the belligerent black-haired fellow who was usually found in the center of every brawl. Rees had caught Ward bullying Sam in the tavern and would have knocked him down if Constable Caldwell hadn’t broken up the fight and sent Rees on his way.

Rees permitted himself a small smile of satisfaction. At the mill, he’d put down Ward like the mad dog he was. But by then Mac’s eldest son, Elijah, and some of the other mill employees had arrived. They’d grabbed Rees. In the ensuing altercation, Ward, who was looking for revenge, had hit Rees in the face and sent him crashing to the ground in his turn. But Rees had bloodied a few noses before that. He didn’t want to admit to Lydia that he had participated in the brawl just like a schoolboy, but he suspected she already knew. She frowned anxiously.

“Well, you can hardly blame Mr. McIntyre for his unhappiness,” she said, turning Rees’s face up to the light. “The British have continued capturing American ships. Wasn’t his brother impressed by the British into their navy? Anyway, it’s not only the French who were, and still are, angry about Mr. Jay’s treaty. You were the one who told me he was burned in effigy all up and down the coast. And that the cry was ‘Damn John Jay. Damn everyone who won’t damn John Jay and damn everyone who won’t stay up all night damning John Jay.’”

“Yes,” Rees admitted with some reluctance.

“And now, with the Bank of England withholding payments to American vendors, Mr. McIntyre might go broke and lose his mill.”

“But none of this was President Washington’s fault,” Rees argued. “He has always striven for fairness. To be neutral in all things. Personally, I blame Mr. Hamilton.”

“I’m certain Mr. Jefferson bears some of the responsibility,” Lydia said in an acerbic tone. “He is so pro-French.” Rees wished he didn’t agree. Although he concurred with many of Jefferson’s Republican ideals, the vice president was pro-French and a slaveholder besides. And Rees could not forgive Jefferson for turning on Washington and criticizing him. “Discussing politics is never wise,” Lydia continued. “You know better. Passions run so high. And I see your argument resulted in fisticuffs.”

“Mr. McIntyre struck me first,” Rees said as Lydia dabbed at the cut above his eyebrow. The hot water stung and he grunted involuntarily. “You know how emotional he is.” Mac had spent his life quivering in outrage over something or other, and for all his small size he had been embroiled in as many battles as Rees. But now, with the wisdom of hindsight, Rees was beginning to wonder why Mac had been so eager to quarrel with him. They’d always been friends. Yet Mac had been, well, almost hostile.

“He can’t weigh much more than one hundred twenty or so pounds soaking wet,” Lydia added in a reproachful tone.

“I know. This,” he gestured to the cut, “came from his cousin, Zadoc Ward.” In fact Ward would have continued the fight, but Elijah had held him back. “I knocked him down, though,” Rees said in some satisfaction. Lydia did not speak for several seconds, although she gave his wound an extra hard wipe.

My Mother always said never discuss politics or religion. Failing a neutral topic, fall back on the weather. I find that advice hard to take – I’m sure it was just as difficult to follow it in the past as well.

Presidential elections – 1796 and 1800

With the upset in the recent election, I thought it would be interesting and important to look at it with a historical perspective.

In 1796, George Washington was at the end of his second term. Beset with ill health and in-fighting in his Cabinet, he decided not to run again. The Federalist Party put up John Adams as the candidate with Thomas Pinckney as his running mate. The Federalists were a party of bankers and businessman, the money party rather like the Republicans of today. The Federalists were pro – English and for high tariffs. The Democratic-Republicans put up Thomas Jefferson with Aaron Burr as his running mate. This party was pro-French.

George Washington, by the way, did not belong to either party. He felt the President should rise above politics. He was the first, and probably the last, Independent President. But I digress.

The Constitution at that time did not make provision for a candidate and a running mate; winners were based entirely upon electoral college votes. John Adams won the Presidency, and Thomas Jefferson the Vice-Presidency. This is the only time the President and Vice-President were from opposing tickets.

The exact same thing happened in 1800 except that this time the Democratic-Republic party won and Jefferson and Burr won the same number of electoral college votes.

Both elections were characterized by vicious smears directed at the opposing party, juggling for electoral college votes and regional divisiveness.

The contested election was sent to the outgoing House of Representatives. On the 36th ballot, Jefferson was elected.

To prevent this kind of thing from happening again, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1803. It called for the electors to make a discrete choice.

 

Speaking Engagements

I had a great talk at the Newburgh Library last Wednesday. I have two more coming up. On Sunday, October 23, I will be talking at the Orangeburg Library – in Rockland County, New York. The talk begins at 2.

The following Sunday, I will be speaking about witchcraft at my own library – the Goshen Public Library in Goshen, New York. Hard to believe but I have never spoken there. I felt shy pushing myself into a slot where I work.

Come and ask questions.

I haven’t blogged for almost two weeks – but for a very good reason. I was on vacation in Italy.

The food; the wine!

But more than that, what a beautiful country.

We started in Sorrento, a small town about an hour outside of Naples.

sorrento

From there we went down the coast, stopping in Positano and taking a ferry to Capri.

positano

It is called the vertical city and you can see why. The houses are literally built on one another.

And Capri where many of the rich and famous keep second homes.

capri

Stunning, yes? I did not know Italy was so very hilly.

We also saw Pompei with Vesuvius in the background.

vesuvius

It is still an active volcano and so is closely monitored.

 

What a beautiful country. From Southern Italy, we went to Florence. The Tuscan hills were, incredible as it seems, even more stunning.

Beignets and sugar

A beignet is a square of fried dough sprinkled – or in some cases dredged – in powdered sugar. These are a specialty in New Orleans and very good they are too.

But they are also a feature of French Canadian cooking and are eaten in Maine. Because of the Arcadians (who were expelled and went to Louisiana. Arcadians = Cajuns. Does anyone remember the poem Evangeline by Longfellow?) French cooking went as well. There it combined with some Spanish but mostly African cuisine to make Cajun food.

But surely beignets were not eaten with powdered sugar in the 1790s? Well, you can make powdered sugar from regular sugar with a mortar and pestle so yes, probably they were. However, beignets are delicious with regular sugar too. And sugar has been around for millenia. It was discovered/invented in India and went from there to the Middle East. In the Middle Ages it was considered a fine spice and was wildly expensive. The transformation of sugar cane (growing, harvesting and cooking down to the granulated state) is very labor intensive. But, by the early 1700s, plantations – worked by slaves – were already being set up in the West Indies.

From there, sugar cultivation went to North America, primarily southern Louisiana. The slave trade from Africa, already begun in the West Indies, went to the South of the colonies. One of the tour guides said that sugar cultivation – so labor intensive and so lucrative, was primarily responsible for the explosion of slavery. (I would guess cotton comes in second.)

From 1710 to 1770, sixty years, the per capita consumption of sugar went up five fold. Today we eat many tons.