Daily Prompt: The Transporter

Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

Staircase I bought this hand-wash at the supermarket, it appealed to me: tea-tree oil and coal tar fragrance…  Coal tar…  As I washed my hands it came back to me, through a mist of memories, as in a dream…

The narrow streets, the ancient doorways with stones for riders to dismount, and metal rings on the walls to secure the horses, the steep wooden stairways that appear to rise for ever to mysterious lofts…  And then I am there again, a boy still, in the small medieval town, the cobbled lanes, and you, in the cold air of an early eastern spring, and the smell of coal tar the town uses to repair the side walks – so long ago…

Nostalgia overcomes me and I start writing


On Gemini and an award

Seductive and addictive Gemini of http://geminisub.wordpress.com/ is a gifted sub and lovely blogger: if you have not yet visited her poetic blog Geminiwords please do without delay! Moreover Gemini was recently nominated for the Liebster Award by another delicious sub at http://thedreamingsub.wordpress.com/, and has honoured your servant by nominated him in turn! A big thank you to Gemini, in particular since this gives me the opportunity to visit some great bloggers in my co-nominees…

Some duties are attached to the award, such as posting eleven random facts about oneself, and answer eleven set questions. Then one should select eleven new nominees and post eleven new questions for them. Setting aside the question of why eleven  – may be you know reader, the origin of it! – I am more than happy to oblige with a slight variation (which I have used before), namely I’d rather post about some of my characters, who are by far much more interesting (I hope) than their creator! Anyway is there any better way to understand a writer, even one in training, than through her characters?

The questions:

1.What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far? – Erm… possibly to have kept up with this blog which is my main training vehicle as writer!

2. What do you still want to accomplish?I have two novels in the work, and you can read some excerpts in these pages here. I want to complete them, and dependent on feedback, maybe publish them. How and when I have no idea at this point.

3. What was your favorite toy as a child? – my bike!

4. You can be a Disney villain princess hero for one day, which one and why? – Evidently Donald Duck 😛

5. What are you afraid to try of?  – I really can’t think of anything!

7.  Are you messy or a neat freak? – I am no freak, just a geek 🙂

8. What has been your favorite vacation? – Dolomiti/Dolomites/Dolomiten

9. Coffee or tea? – Most definitely coffee, but indulge in herbal tea in the evening, now you know!

10. What was the best gift you were ever given? – my fist novel by Stephen King

11. If you found out you were having a child, what would you name it?  Well, a bit tricky this, but referring the question to Gorgeous, she says: Jean-Pierre…

And now for the random facts:

  1. Given that he is my alter ego, I want first of all to mention Julian Dutoit: he’s the central character of The Page, which is a sweet story. Julian has one quality: he’s a good ten years younger than his creator! (he also has his own Facebook page!)
  2. Susan is still a half hidden secret. I mentioned her in my previous post. Susan holds a very dark secret, which, I am sure, must reflect my own inhibitions. I have said a bit more about her elsewhere in these pages.
  3. There is an entire crew, and you can read about them all here. This is a piece of work that draws from my obsessions with: a) The Pacific Ocean, b) Japan, c) Kafka on the Shore (the novel by Monsieur Murakami), d) Post-Soviet Russia… All of them hold a bit of me. Paul, the owner of the Arrakis, is married to Katrina, and what a pair!
  4. Melissa is Julian’s Nemesis, and her story is, in some distorted ways, that of the woman I never was. Melissa is dead, contrary to Susan who’s very much alive. Both are very present…
  5. Aomame is not one of my characters, but how I wish she could be! She’s the hero of 1Q84, of which more here. The more I think about her the more I admire her creator: a perfect woman, in all her imperfections, and an everlasting love, under the light of two moons: genius!
  6. Sarah is Julian’s wife and his anchor. There isn’t much space between her and… well, Gorgeous, my wife. Worship is an understatement for the feelings Julian has for her.
  7. Jane is Julian’s younger sister. There lies a deep nexus, but Jane is a good girl. So it is left to Susan to cross that border.
  8. In 1Q84 Tengo is Aomame’s love, and they meet, at last, right at the end of the novel. To me Tengo is a mystery, greater than even Kafka Tamura, the hero of Kafka on the Shore. Tengo was superbly gifted, but opted for the quiet life… Yet there is something incredibly powerful and attractive to him, and only Aomame can unravel the mystery.
  9. Piotr and Lara Nevelskoï are the skippers of the Arrakis. They represent  – arguably – a longing for a past which is now unfathomable, because history has moved on so much. They are twentieth century heroes. As obsolete as this writer in learning is!
  10. This and the following are closer to the writer: I do have a publisher, to be, and I hope she succeeds in her venture!
  11. I am a very slow writer, and cannot rush things. I need time.

Now for the “questions” – things that I hope are worth asking!

  1. Which fictional character do you wish you had created?
  2. Which historical person would you consider writing a novel about?
  3. Name a book you want to read but never had the opportunity to
  4. Name a writer you may wish to emulate
  5. Pen or keyboard?
  6. Scotch or vodka?
  7. On the Transsiberian to Vladivostock who would you wish to have as travelling companion?
  8. Sea or mountains?
  9. Glass or paper?
  10. Spring or Autumn?
  11. Water or Ice?

Tentative nominations:

Tentative because I am uncertain as who has already received this award! Of course it does not really matter, but still… All are bloggers who matter!

Guy at http://guylejeune.wordpress.com/ (brother in arms)

Mike at http://mattafoto.wordpress.com/ (fantastic shots)

Kathy at http://www.kathydisanto.com/about/ (a Pro)

Mindy at http://www.mindysue528.blogspot.co.uk/ (speaks, and writes, her mind)

Karen at http://www.thescarletdogma.com/ (a Pro, and outspoken)

Lady Day at http://rlbk75.wordpress.com/ (special to me, haiku poet and more)

Georgia at http://broadblogs.com/ (who knows about us!)

JWH at http://zombiemechanics.com/ (who knows about Zombies!)

(I haven’t counted!)

#WritersWednesday: September 5 – Julian’s summer: Mother and Son


 He admired Sarah for her resilience, her ability to work long hours, to keep a clear mind, to  be the long haul woman she was. Travelling made him broody: strange dreams came to him at night, projects he never worked on, women he had never met, but yet look familiar to him, men who appeared to have a grudge for unknown or forgotten reasons. He feared falling asleep at the wheel, a recurring nightmare, a dream where he woke up, driving, his car out of control, facing imminent disaster. As they were navigating through Münich, the Sunday traffic smoothly flowing through the roadworks and narrow lanes, Sarah said to him he had to take the time to readapt. He thought about this for a while, then starting talking as if Sue – the girl from Apple – was in the car. As he was driving his thoughts drifted back to the busy London street. Sarah decided not to ask questions: Julian in this mood, half here, half elsewhere, had to be left drifting, lest too sudden a recall to reality made his driving less rational. They were pulling out of the city now, the traffic clearing up, powerful cars on the fast lane disappearing at vertiginous speed. Tall pine trees bordered the autobahn, dark hills appeared on the horizon shrouded by little grey clouds. The car instruments were showing a cool 20 degrees ambient, the ideal temperature for Julian’s working brain. He remembered the stiffling 32 degrees of the belgian motorway.

Sarah at the wheel, her naked thighs a source of lusty meanderings in Julian’s tired mind, they crossed the Europa bridge, the Brenner Pass, then they were in Italy. Somehow the sky seemed bluer, the air lighter. As they left the motorway, the Pustertal opened in front of them, and he reflected how lucky he was to know this place, how lucky he was to have met, and been accepted, by his wife. The usual guilt feeling – “I am not worthy” – invaded him, then went, swept away by the cooler air through the car windows. At St Laurenz Sarah veered towards the mountains and Val Badia, a familiar and always renewed feeling of “going home”. The stream was flowing, silver tide through the shiny rocks. Drifting, he was thinking Sue would be a good mother too: strong legs, generous hips, a madonna smile. Sarah was talking to him: they had arrived, their mountain towering above them, their host welcoming.

He woke up with a vague headache, still dreaming of a girl both alien and familiar, a contradiction he did not attempt to resolve. The previous night’s storm had left the air clean and cool. Big white clouds were slowly dissipating, the sun shining bright. The mountain shone in the light, streams of rain water flowing down the cliffs. Sarah was cheerful and smiling: she reminded him that it would take a couple of days to adapt to the altitude, the pure air and the slopes! He smiled, and remembered how carrfully they had packed their gear, lifelong habit of the professional mountaineers they had now almost become. The long road and the heat would soon be forgotten, their legs tired at first, getting stronger.

They went up with the ski lift, reaching a a small plateau, and followed a path that wound its way through the pine tree. The sky was blue with small white clouds, the smell of the pine trees strong in the morning air. He had now forgotten about Sue and was watching his wife’s brown legs with a deep pleasure. Sarah strode on, her beautiful thighs shining below the grey shorts, her muscled shins and arms glistening soon with a light sweat. The climb was at first easy, then got steeper. He knew the magic valley altered his mind, his feelings, his soul, he knew the place was inhabited by spirits older than man.

It took him another couple of days to feel his legs’s strength coming back, that wonderful rise of power in the calves and knees, being able to climb, the going back to primeval life. He sometimes thought that mankind genesis was in the mountain. There was security and food, safety from the evils of the plains, its dangers, its plagues: pure air kept mankind evolving, developing skills, farming, breeding animals, the plentiful of medicinal herbs, the plants that feed and heal. Much later had come the luxuries of the plains, the easier life, and corruption, perdition, and then societies that no longer recognised the natural order of seasons and time, and ignored the spirits. He talked once with Sarah about his beliefs, she smiling indulgently, “here goes my romantic and ever so dreaming husband…” She kissed him and said she did not believe in his story. Far from being mortified, he laughed too. He knew there was little evidence for his theory, and that, to the contrary, if there was evidence of early development, it was in the fertile plains of the great rivers of the Middle East that such existed. Yet, like Reinhold Messner, he believed in the mountain people as a source of a universal culture. And there was ample evidence of extraordinary resilience in the face of implacable odds. Here in the Südtirol, the Ladin culture had resisted persecution, economic disaster, invasions and worse. As recently as the Second World War, they had been at the vortex of power struggles and mad schemes to reshape the geography, human and physical, of their valleys.

They drove up the road to the pass, surrounded by magnificent views, sensing a rising tension around him. Sarah and their son were talking climbs and times of ascent. Slowly the traffic was building up, the sky was blue, little clouds had started their own ascent. The tension was probably all his: after a week in the mountains he felt tired, although at home in the landscape: it always took him at least a week to adapt, to the climate, to the changing scenery, to the air. He had become a creature of habits, and finding back his Tirol’s habits was taking time. They got to the car park, below the telepherique, the big batallions had not arrived yet, there was plenty of space. Sarah and the boy got their gear out of the car trunk and got ready. The boy was no longer a boy, he reflected, in fact people could take mother and son for a pair of handsome lovers. Part of him wished he could go with them, part of him was just happy having to drive back. They waved at him from the cabin as he left the car park. The sun was already hot.

He stopped at the next town, bought some special flour at the pharmacy (the pretty girl at the till tried to sell him more specialties), then drove to the supermarket and refilled in pasta, rice and olive oil. He knew the place, the car park where Italian drivers queued, the incredible view over the massif above through the shop windows. Back in the house the older brother was getting ready for his own expedition. The tension subsisted and this surpised him. He considered calling Sue: she had, after all, given him her phone number. He thought better and decided not too. He sat down for a bite, heated up some coffee, opened his laptop and started reading. He was hoping to finish off the Cryptonomicon this holiday, but he was becoming a very slow reader. Slow reader, slow worker, slow walker: was he just getting older? A vision of his son and wife overwhelmed his mind: him, tall, trim, athletic, all muscles and bones, his very seductive male face, her, so beautiful: mother and lover, no, mother and son… He knew of the medieval portraits of Madonna in the little church, where the Mother was eclipsing the Son.

It had been a long walk, with, at the end, the scary progression on the scree, the narrow path, the climb, up to the little charte where the alpine club bivouac was. They looked up and Sarah explained which way she and their son had gone. She said the descent was even scarier. The way up was nearly vertical with a long steel rope guiding the climbers. Their path curled around the mountain, down at first then up again. Walkers had gathered near the bivouac, looking at climbers and telling tales of past exploits. The view over the Tofanas was magnificent. The drop from the top was awesome: a smooth and very steep descent, just scree. He thought he’d hated that if he was to climb. Sarah was dismissive. He thought she did not really trust him to do anything that difficult. Well, the guide said one of the most difficult klettersteigs of the Dolomites. Sarah said their son had to lift her over an overhanging rock. His mind wandered, on the vertical cliff, the beautiful young mother and her handsome and skillful son.

He said “for another day”, and she laughed. Later they’d argue about car parking and trivial things. In the WW1 Open Air Museum, a steep slope towards the Hütte, they looked at small shelters, carved form the rock, officers quarters, food stores, dormitories for the troops. The entrance to the long caverns was there. Sarah asked him if he wanted to visit: the steps were in complete darkness, visitors having to wear helmets with lights, like deep coal miners. He declined, the place was a great emotional strain for him. The path was busy, families and kids playing where those soldiers had suffered and died. This was the advanced front line of the war in the Südtirol. The Austrians had held out for the most part of the war, until their food reserves were exhausted, and supply lines cut. Around the mountain was his favourite climbs, the Kaiser Jäger Steig, carved by the Austrian élite troops, winding its way to the summit over the void. An Italian flag flew over the Hütte. The view from the top, 360 deg., was extraordinary. They drank Malacchio, and ate a piece of struddel. The air was cool, even cold when the sun disappeared behind the clouds. For him Sarah pointed out the summits, the Civetta, the Sassongher, the Sella, even the Neuner, towering over the Farnès. On the bus he fell asleep, exhausted.

This story continues here


#DiaryOfAWriter – May 13: a cycle ride

The rain stopped on Friday, leaving time for the roads to dry a little. This morning an immaculate blue sky welcomes me: a call for the open road. Just after  8am I am getting the bike ready: this ritual is soothing, and a good prelude to warming up on the pedals. First checking the tyres’ pressure, the level of the saddle, the bar alignment, the side bags, and their content: the small tools, the spare tube, the lock, and finally I am ready to pack the water bottle, the phone and the identity papers, just in case I end up squashed and crushed like a snail on the tarmac. Shoes on, helmet, gloves, last look at the gear, yes a touch of grease on the chain, and off I go.

Before 9am the motorised hordes are not yet away from the breakfast table: a good ride on the main road, to the round-about taking me to that beautiful little village, the old bridge, the lovely pub that would be noisy and crowded a few hours later… On the brow of the little hill, just before turning off to the small road, I am overtaken by a couple of much younger cyclists, all black-clad, riding super-duper road bikes… I take my old bear across the road and turn off into the poetically named Knatts Valley Road. Very quickly I am out of the village, on a narrow and still wet country road: on both sides small hills overlook the hedges, in a mix of sharp green and violent yellow colours. The sky is beautifully blue, the air fresh and clean. The legs are getting into the rhythm, a welcome change to the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of the gym.

Soon the road follows small woods, the occasional farms, and there is no traffic. After ten minutes a girl runner comes towards me, waves, I wave back and continue, nearly regretting not to have taken the camera to seize some of the scenery. I left home less than an hour ago, and this looks like deep countryside! I ride pass a few beautiful houses, some decidedly old, of Edwardian or older architecture. My imagination is beginning to free-wheel.  A large 4×4 drives past, at a good speed, but the driver leaves a large enough space for this fragile rider. The road is indeed fairly narrow, just enough space for one car and one bike. There is a small hill and I stay in high gear deliberately: good training for those legs (not that I have any Olympic ambition, please believe me)… Around the bend is a small hamlet. And then a long stretch without any building.

Then, perhaps a kilometre or so after the hamlet, I see the house, apparition half hidden by a stone wall, overlooked by tall trees. I feel like stopping, perhaps prompted by a need to drink water, and also by an irrepressible curiosity. I stop, stand the bike safely against the wall, and armed with my water bottle I walk towards the gate. This is a massive wood construct, and it is half open, enough to let me in through the massive wall: and curiosity trumps my usual reluctance to trespass, I walk into a paved front yard. The house is old, probably much older than the ones I rode past earlier. It is Sunday morning, but there is no vehicle in the yard. I look up, there is one floor, and the windows appear dark although the façade is bathed in sunlight. The front door opens: a svelte young woman appears at the top of the steps, smiles and asks me how “they” can help. Bemused I say something about cool water, gesturing to my bottle, and starts an apology for the trespass. She laughs, the crystalline laugh of a very young person. She must be in her twenties at most, a pale elven face framed by very dark shiny hair masking her gaze, she wears a long grey frock that falls all the way to her bare feet. “Come in, the others are waiting in the kitchen” she says – and, puzzled, I follow her. What others? She turns towards me, as we progress along a long corridor between white-washed walls and dark lintels. “Don’t look so surprised” she smiles, her long hair obscuring her face, as she let me in into a huge old-fashion kitchen. The ceiling is low, the stone walls are decorated by bright copper pans of various sizes. From a huge chimney a wooden fire lit the space: at a long solid wooden table sit four people: a man and three women. Contrary to the elven princess who let me in, those four I recognise well, and I cannot hide my amazement. The man says: “Welcome to our place, we were hoping you’d find your way here on such a beautiful morning. You remember Sarah, Jane and Melissa of course, and I guess you don’t need me to introduce myself. But you did not know Ruth, and we thought it was best for you to meet her first: a promise of a new future, as it were.” Julian adds the last sentence with a smile, and invites me to sit at the table. There is fresh apple juice in a carafe on the table, and Ruth serves me a generous tall glass. I smile and thank her. Then, for the first time, I see her light green eyes, and I shiver a little. Follows a few minutes of silent peace. I drink some cool juice, suddenly happy to be here with them

Julian then says:

“The four of us have been talking for sometime. Sarah prompted us to act, whenever the opportunity would arise. And then Ruth said it was high time you took notice of her. She’s impatient to come alive…” he adds turning towards Ruth who sits, demure, hands crossed on the table, and gives me a smile to shatter an army. “You see, continues Julian, we realise you got yourself into trouble… because of us. For example, you got into a real pickle with me being in love with my sister!” “Yes, intervenes Jane, with uncharacteristic audacity, there is nothing ambiguous between us, Julian and me, we do appreciate each other but there is not a shade of anything deeper”. “Moreover, starts Sarah, you left me in the lurch with Julian ill, his sister, here, clinging to me, and then Melissa standing on her beach, probably catching a cold!!” They laugh, and I laugh. “Of course, resumes Julian, it’s not just us – your characters – it’s also you, as the writer, getting just too close, not taking some distance, wanting to rationalise things back to your own reality, or your view of it.” “For example, observed Sarah, suddenly grave, I am not quite myself according to you, more like a shadow of your own wife, I think she said that herself didn’t she? But I am not your wife you know, I am Julian’s wife. I know there is, how shall we say? some lineage, but some important differences too, and I am my own woman. You are not Julian either, are you?” I acquiesce, silently. Melissa’s voice then rises: “You cannot use us solely to exorcise your own demons, your readers will get bored, and your story line will get lost in the sands of your own psyche. Take me for example: I am supposed to come back to haunt Julian, but I feel I am haunting you, you seem to try to avoid any contact with me, literary speaking, and it’s a great shame.” I thought  about this for a while. They are silent now. The fire burns brightly. I notice the high windows, showing trees and what looks like an old cemetery. Then Ruth speaks: “We, your characters, including myself who you had not met until today, want to help, but you have also to help yourself. No more introspection, no more self-indulgent returns to your past. We are real, as far as fictional characters can be, we have a life of our own. So, from now on, don’t try to rationalise everything, let us play, live the way we want. And you will find things taking  a far better, easier shape.” She smiles directly at me, and I feel overwhelmed.

For some minutes, or is it longer? I look at the walls, the deep dark colour of the wooden table, at the sunlight filtering through the windows coloured glass… and then I realise they have gone. I am alone in this beautiful old kitchen, the chimney is full of ashes… and yet, I feel elated. I find my way back, the corridor where Ruth guided me. The front yard is inundated by sunshine. The door closes behind me as I walk through the gate, which I carefully shut, and get back on the bike.

I follow the old road, past farms and country houses, and at the junction take the well known road through woods and gardens which I love so much in the summer, because of the shade. At home, after the delicious shower, I start working. Green eyes are looking over the page.



In the following days he was entirely absorbed in his work. The new project occupied his mind totally. He had suppliers to meet, staff to brief, some new technologies to explore and get practical knowledge of. His was busy. His staff adored him when he was in that mood: enthusiastic but ready to pause and explain, leading from the front, positive always. He worked longer hours. Mrs X wrote to his boss to express her deep thanks at the work Julian had done in Paris. His boss said there was a new business proposal with an offer to pay for Julian to work for one year there. The horizon was blue. Julian was happy. Sarah and him were preparing their summer holiday. The Alps. The long hikes. He following her on those cliffs. Her supple body. The southern winds in the night. He’d switch off the phone. Two weeks of paradise…