Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chuck and Bunny Love


          Years ago, before Chuck, the rascal cat, was even part of our family, my sister owned a pet rabbit.  Well, let me rephrase that.  She decided to adopt a rabbit.  And this particular rabbit became a treasured member of her family.  Mopsy (and honestly I can’t even remember the bunny’s name so I’ll just call her Mopsy from the famed Peter Rabbit story) lived in a cage which Cheryl kept in her bedroom.  She ate carrots and other bits of rabbit food.  Cheryl was quite taken by her and incessantly talked about all the different things that she did--rabbit things that never seemed all that outstanding, but still I listened, of course, because Cheryl is my dearly beloved sister, and if she loved the rabbit, well, what could I say?

I would never, for example, tell her that I had eaten rabbit once, when I’d stayed with friends in Italy.  Rabbit is served up like chicken in that country and it would have been very rude not to have partaken of the feast.

But I digress because even though I’d never adopt a rabbit myself, I still have tremendous respect for them, and I was beginning to notice that Chuck didn’t.  Have respect for them, I mean.  Not that he has that many opportunities to engage with rabbits, but we do have property around our house and rabbits come and go.  Chuck sits at a window, watches them hop by, and he snarls at them.  

So I decided - in honor of Easter - that I was going to do a bit of therapy with Chuck.  I sat him down, the day before Easter and with the promise of some tasty SNACKS, I offered him a proposition.  “Chuck,” I said, “I have some lovely vintage postcards to show you. Of rabbits.”

Well, he looked at me as if I were crazy. 

“I know what you’re thinking,” I said hastily.  “But, remember, you had a cousin who was a rabbit.” 

       Postcard #1 - rabbit sits under a beautiful flower

         Chuck yawned and ate a snack.
        Postcard #2 - two rabbits in the grass

          Chuck looked mildly interested and ate another snack.
          Postcard #3 - rabbit with flowers

           Chuck really looked at the postcard and ate a third snack.

           Postcard #4 - rabbit family goes for a walk

                      Chuck smiled at the postcard.

           Postcard #5 - beautiful girl with rabbit in her backpack

       Chuck was impressed.  He grabbed the postcard and scooted away with it.  

Did Chuck like rabbits now?  Or was it the pretty girl?

        Happy Easter!

        My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in mass market paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.  Average Amazon Reader Ratings: 4.7 stars

        Digital Book Today is reprinting my blogpost -- "What People Read 100 Years Ago" as part of their Best Guest Posts series on Sunday, March 31 (Easter) at 5 p.m.   If you're even vaguely intrigued . . . this blog sums up the research that was done at a midwestern library -- collating all the books that were taken out to be read over a one year period at the turn of the century.  What were Americans actually reading 100 years ago???  Simply fascinating and surprising!!! 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chuck is Lured in By the Curse of Messina, Sicily


         Curiosity drove Chuck, my rascal cat, and I to Messina, Sicily.

We heard stories. The city had a terrible history of destruction which spanned the centuries, and it was a tribute to this city that it was still standing.

On the bright side, this port city was known for its lemons, mandarin oranges, and olives -- all of which played an important part in Italian and Greek cuisine.  In fact, it was founded in 8th century B.C. by Greek colonists.

However, it was  seized in 288 B.C. by the Mamertines who went on to kill its men and take its women for their wives.  Years later, the city was free and became an ally of Rome, but this peace was short lived when the Messina harbor became the gateway for the Black Death to enter Europe.   

Yes, you heard me right!

In 1908 Messina was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake and a tsunami which killed over 60,000 people.  

Was this city under some kind of curse?

There was no denying our nerves were on edge. 

We decided it was best to be in and out of Messina in a day.  We wanted to see only two things.  

One - there was a Cathedral from the 12th century which held the remains of King Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century.  After the earthquake and after the fire (triggered by the Allied bombings from World War II) this church had to be almost completely rebuilt. Of course.  The original Norman structure of the Church was now only visible in the spsidal area only.  

We also wanted to see the bell tower which held one of  the largest astronomical clocks in the world.  The belfry mechanically animated statues, which illustrated civil and religious historical events, came alive every day at noon.  But that was only half of the amazing part.  In the background, the figures moved to the music of Ave Maria. 

Can you imagine?

For me, I hear that lovely music mostly sung at funerals.  

So, here we were, standing in the square, our eyes glued to the bell tower.  It was one minute before noon, and we waited for the spectacle to begin.  

All would have been purrfect if it weren’t for a certain street vendor.

Suddenly, the most delicious smell wafted by.

Chickpea fritters.  Street food.  An irresistible temptation for my now starving Chuck who hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast at the hotel.   

The almost largest astronomical clock didn’t matter anymore.

I thought I could trust Chuck to wait by my side, but he took off in the direction of the delicious aroma.  

I spotted the street vendor, dishing out his “fritella di ceci” to a few of his customers standing by. The fritters are made in the shape of squares, deep fried, hot to the touch, deliciously crunchy.  

“Chuck,” I shouted, “Wait.” I tried to grab him by the tail, but the belly boy was too quick for me.  He trotted off toward the vendor.

And what did he think he was going to do.  Meow for his fritter?

I raced after him, counting down the seconds in my head, knowing that my chasing after this recalcitrant cat while the lovely figures danced around the bell tower could be the ruin of the moment.  

I reached the vendor, just as Chuck came to a sudden halt next to him.

“Meow,” Chuck said.

The vendor guy, a nice Messina gentleman, smiled.  “Il suo gatto?” (Your cat?) he asked me.

“Il mio gatto affamato.” (My hungry cat.)

Then I heard it.  Ave Maria. 

My heart gave a little jump.  I was dealing with the vendor guy while my eyes should have been glued to the bell tower! 

The vendor handed me a fritter.

I reached into my smart bag for money to pay him.

He waved his hand aside.  “Mi piacciono i gatti.”  (I like cats. )


I picked up Chuck and held him in my arms.  We ate the fritter together while the mechanical statues rotated around the bell tower while the beautiful Ave Maria drifted around us.  

“Messina isn’t so bad after all,” I said to Chuck.  Then I turned back to the vendor and held up what was left of the fritter.  “Squisito.”  Which in Italian means delicious. 

My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com  Average reader review 4.7 stars on Amazon.com.    

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chuck Wants To Be Irish in the Worst Kind of Way

         Every year, about a week before St. Patrick’s Day, my rascal cat, tries his darndest to assume a different identity.
No longer content to be Chuck, he abandonS his Anglo Saxon name in favor of the more Irish sounding Cathal, which is Irish for Charles and means, “mighty,” “a great warrior.”                        .  
He insists that the dried food he loves to snack on be died a putrid color green.
He dons a most ridiculous leprechaun looking hat because he thinks it makes him look more Irish.
He demands fish and chips for dinner.
And he dances around the house, practicing what he thinks is the Irish Jig.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I would cobble together some little known facts about St. Patrick and the day that we celebrate in his honor, just in case you’re invited to a party and need some trivia to share to appear intelligent.
         And, of course, I want to keep Chuck HAPPY:


     Although many Americans spend St. Patrick’s Day drinking and carousing around, traditionally the Irish spent the day quite sober because of the Lenten season.  In Ireland as recently as 1975, the bars and public houses were closed on St. Patrick’s Day. It was only after the Irish saw how the Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, that they clamored for a change.  


     St. Patrick was first brought to Ireland as a slave when he was sixteen years old in the fifth century. He escaped to Europe, became a priest, returned to Ireland and converted the people to Christianity.  


     The first parade to honor St. Patrick took place in New York City on March 17, 1762, not in Ireland.  Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the streets.  Over the next 35 years Irish patriotism flourished, giving rise to “Irish Aid” societies, which sponsored more annual parades, featuring for the first time bagpipes until in 1848 several “Irish Aid” societies decided to unite their parades and form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 


     More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day Parades are held across the United States.  


     Up until the mid 1800’s, Irish immigrants to the United States were middle class Protestants.  When the potato famine hit Ireland, over 1,000,000 poor and uneducated Irish Catholics flooded into the United States.  The newspapers portrayed them as drunk, violent monkeys. They soon began to organize, however, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade became a show of strength.  In 1948 President Harry S. Truman attended the parade in New York City.  In 1962 Chicago began to die it’s river green on St. Patrick’s Day, starting another Irish tradition.  





Sunday, March 10, 2013

Something Fishy in Catania, Sicily OR Chuck Goes Too Far for Heart Healthy Fish Snack

When I travel in Europe, I live for the open air markets, which are different than the flea markets that we flock to in America, which mainly sell antiques.  The open air markets of Italy and France and most other European countries offer the fresh produce of the city--the meats, the cheeses, the fish, the vegetables, the fruits. 

That day--in Catania, the second largest city in Sicily and which happens to lie at the foot of Mt. Etna (a still very active volcano)--we arrived early in the morning at the open air market, eager to browse the stalls and mingle among the locals and the tourists.

Catania has an interesting history.  Situated between Messina and Syracuse it was destroyed by earthquakes twice--once in 1169 and then again in 1692.  The city also had to contend with volcanic eruptions from Mt. Etna--the most notable occurring in 1669.  The city is mostly paved in a black pavement, made from the lava, so it is difficult to forget the history as you walk around. 

The energy was intoxicating.  

And all would have gone well . . . but because we were rushing to get to the market, we neglected to give Chuck his usual snack, and in retrospect, that small event sparked a embarrassing incident.

For the Chuckster arrived hungry, his big stomach growling, and it is never a smart idea to bring a hungry cat to a place that has food--delicious food--around every corner.

Even so, who could have anticipated that a cat, even a rascal cat like Chuck, would take matters into his own hands and want to leap from the safety of my smart bag into a display of fish?

But let me begin at the beginning.

We arrived at an already crowded market. The stalls were open, their umbrellas a colorful sight.  Vendors had their wares on display.  People were milling about, making purchases. 

We minded our own business, as usual.  We wanted to browse only.  We decided to buy some bread and cheese and prosciutto for later on.  A small picnic for lunch.  So we wandered over and made our purchases, and Chuck barely whimpered. 

Our purchases did not include fish.  After all, we were tourists staying at a hotel.  We had no means of frying fish.

But still, as we passed the fish stalls, we saw octopus, snails, tiny clams, eels and rays, tuna, and were intrigued by what seemed to be thousands of sardines laying about, their silver skins gleaming--fresh.

     And we expected to smell fish.  Nothing.  That’s how fresh they were--brought in that morning from Mazara del Vallo, Italy’s largest fishing port or one of the smaller ports in Sciacca or Favignara and hauled in by the local fishermen.  

But the Chuckster, well, any cat has super sensory smell capability and from his perch, he caught a whiff of the sardines.  

Not that I blamed him, but I felt him stir.  For the first time.  Which should have been a warning sign.

It wasn’t because when you are in the open market, it is so easy to become distracted by the stirring of life there.  

So he jumped, out of my bag toward the open display case--landing on the small wooden table just to the left of the basket that held the sardines.  A very strategic jump which he must have calculated would put him near enough to begin his own private feasting on the fish.


Luckily, the owner, the proprietor, was on the other side of the stall, dealing with a customer who had placed a rather large order so he was up to this point oblivious to the jump.

I scooped up the rascal, who now smelled like sardines because his paws had landed in some kind of goop that the table was drenched in.

“You are in the biggest trouble.”

But he didn’t act like he was in trouble.  Nor did he act contrite.  He only meowed, disappointed that he’d lost the opportunity to snack down on a sardine. 

I swiveled away from the fish stall and began hurrying away from the market.  I didn’t want a Sicilian fish monger mad at me and my cat. 

“Yuck, Chuck.  You smell like fish.”

He looked insulted, but he had the good sense to say nothing.  He didn’t even meow.  


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chuck Visits Sacrificial Altar in Siracusa

           While we were touring Sicily on the Taormina side, I had a brainstorm.

Teatro Greco, one of the great theatres of the Classical Period--dating back to 5th century B.C.--was nearby. The theatre was in ruins, yes, but the ruins were magnificent. 

Because the ruins were carved out of rock, I thought that Chuck, my rascal cat, would appreciate the stop. 

After all, what cat wouldn’t want to see the ruins of an ancient theatre where the plays of Euripedes were once shown?  Where you could sit anywhere in the immense outdoor theatre on the ancient stones and hear what was being said on the stage below (without the benefit of microphones or speakers) because of the marvels of the ancient acoustic system. Where you could feel the cooling breezes from the nearby Ionian Sea in the stands because of the foresight of the planners, who chose to build the theatre near the water and take advantage of the geography.

Well, unfortunately, Chuck is not a fan of history or geography.

Usually, you have to entice him with a good story.

Ruins are ruins after all.

So I dragged my Chuck to Teatro Greco, sat him down with a SNACK, and tried to explain:

These ancient stones are not just stones . . .

Look around you . . . 

(I tried to impress him with the immense size.) This theatre was the largest ever built by the Greeks.  It had 67 rows, divided into nine sections with eight aisles.  It was eventually modified by the Romans who adapted the theatre to show different kinds of spectacles, including circus games. 

Over here is the Roman Amphitheatre, one of the top five amphitheatres left by the Romans.  Here gladiators fought and slaves were whipped into the center of a battle between wild beasts.  

For entertainment, I added.

Chuck looked mildly interested.

And here, is the Altar of Heron, the longest altar ever built: 75 feet wide by 653 feet long.  It was used by the Greeks to sacrifice hundreds of animals at once.  

But probably not cats, I added. 

Chuck scooted over.  I had caught his attention.  He stared at the altar.  What was he thinking? That how could such a terrible thing have happened?  

       Of course, I wasn’t finished.  I wanted to show him the stone quarries nearby, which were used as prisons in ancient times, but Chuck had had enough. 

Sure, he was sort of impressed by the ancient stones of Teatro Greco.  He scooted up and down the steps, sniffing, his way of discovering the past.  

And I let him. Finally, when it was time to go, I said:

Just think, Chuckie, if you lived back in the 5th century B.C., and were a Sicilian cat, this might have been your playground . . . and you’d be saying Ciao rather than Meow.

         My paranormal romance, Wild Point Island, is now available in mass market paperback and e book from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.