Friday, December 01, 2006

Reduce the number of witches

Ok, the title for my Random House book is hammered down (pun intended, since one possible title was The Witch's Hammer... referring to the Malleus Maleficarum in translation).

The Witches' Trinity made it through the final meeting where it could be shot down, with just one eensy tiny change. The witches are now just a witch.

The book is officially titled The Witch's Trinity.

I'm happy with that, in fact wanted to suggest it since apostrophes are slippery things and confusing. Now it's just a simple, non-grammatically-perplexing possessive. And really, though there are several witches addressed in the novel, it's a first-person narrative from the point of view of the most important one.

I'm so thrilled this title made it through the fire (again, pun intended). I am awaiting my copyediting round and the arrival of cover art. Can't wait.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The happiest post ever

Alan and I are having a baby! On Friday, we will be at 20 weeks. He took this picture the day before Thanksgiving, when I was just shy of 19 weeks. We are now more than halfway through this pregnancy, at five months. Amazing.

You may wonder why we waited until 20 weeks to announce, when most people do this after the first trimester.

We’ve had a long, long road. We actually started trying back in August of 2003, well over three years ago. After a year and a half of infertility, we began having a series of miscarriages. It was my sister the doctor who suggested we wait until 20 weeks, just to be as sure as possible that things were going right.

And despite a slew of misfortunes that kept convincing us this baby too was not long for the world, she has persevered. She is a trooper! As of yesterday, she quickened – an old-fashioned way of saying I can feel her move. Instead of sweating out the long weeks between ultrasound or Doppler sessions, I now have her own feet and flailing hands to reassure me that she’s still… well, kicking.

Now that I’m a little more relaxed about it, I am loving being pregnant. Those kicks make me feel so close to her, and now that we know the gender we are both calling her by her name and including her in absurd, ridiculous, absolutely wonderful conversations.

Alan and I send our thoughts and love to those still in the trenches… trying to conceive, trying to make a baby stick… or possibly coming to grips with the idea that neither may be possible. We will never forget the pain that this normally-joyful journey can inflict, and we send our hearts to you.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving thoughts

Has it been a whole year we’ve been without Debi?

In the midst of the joy of reconnecting with friends amid the bounty of food we no doubt take for granted, I remember a sweet friend. Debi died last year on Thanksgiving night, and I will never experience this holiday again without thinking of her. Debi was a huge supporter of my writing, and it’s so sad to think the launch party for my first novel will be held in her bookstore… without her.

Recently, I was rereading my diary from that time last year. One of the details I wrote about was how she pronounced her own name with a wonderful Southern-ish twang twinned with some kind of inexplicable bounce or lilt. I’d love to hear her voice on my answering machine one more time: “Erika, it’s Deb-bay.”


I just went to the answering machine to play all the messages and see if indeed an old one was there. Alas, no. And somehow another message I was saving has been accidentally deleted: from my friend Stephanie who also died way too young. In the message, pathetically and ironically, she was saying “Feeling better now…”

Technology is an amazing thing, where if we are smart enough, we can capture those voices we love and keep them and replay them. For the longest time, Alan was saving one of my messages to him when we had first started dating… but that was several answering machines ago. Just to end this sad post on an upbeat topic, Alan and I were cleaning out our garage today. He found an old legal pad on which he had written some goals—one of them was “still be with Erika Mailman.”

Monday, November 13, 2006

Me on South Park

Forget wedding pictures... I'm way more interested in how my South Park character would look. You can build your own at this site.

There's also a site I visited once where you can build yourself as a Lego figure. I never figured out how to copy the image, although the South Park site is smart enough to tell you to do a screen capture (Crtl+ PrintScrn on my keyboard) and then you can go into Photoshop and crop out the rest of the screen.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wedding: parents

Here's both sets of parents. Mine are on the left and Alan's are on the right.

My parents traveled from Maine and his from Kansas. Other family members came from New York state and Colorado. We were so glad to have them there and appreciated the long airline hours spent coming to see us tie the knot.

I'll post a few more tomorrow for those of you who aren't wedding'd-out... but it's time for dinner!

Wedding: groomsmen

Ah, virile, handsome guys!!!! I'm so happy I married one of 'em!

From left, it's Micha, Alan the best husband ever, Chris (Shelly's husband) and Daron, who is Alan's brother and his best man. In the background is the bridge we were married on. Well, at the foot of.

Wedding: bridesmaids

Aren't they gorgeous? From left, that's Kirsten the maid of honor on the left, me, and Shelly and Cindy.

Behind us is the spray from the fountain in the middle of the pond.

Somehow we never got a photo of the whole bridal party together, which is kind of a bummer, so I'll post the men separately next.

Wedding: the best photo

Unequivocally, Alan and I agree that the best photo from the wedding is this one of our friend Danny. Danny is an engineering mastermind who was briefly featured on a reality series about building big stuff called "The Mother of All."

I had gotten it into my mind that I really wanted people to play croquet at my wedding--but the rooftop garden doesn't allow treading upon the grass. I asked Danny to fashion a croquet set that could be used on flat ground. He was up at some ungodly hour soldering the wickets, he said, and it was well worth it. I love this noir-ish shot of him with the beer bottle in his mouth.

Wedding fireworks

It got cold fast! Luckily, we had a bunch of those kerosene pillars to keep folks warm--and we had warned people in the invitation to bring a wrap or jacket. This is my niece Jenny and me playing with the sparklers. Sparklers are meaningful to the Mailmans: every year in August (well, most years now that we're all grown up) we hit the beach in Maine, and there's always one night where we fire up the sparklers. Some years we've done a bonfire on the beach when we managed to get a permit.

Wedding boats

The rooftop garden in downtown Oakland where we were married is a gigantic three acres, leaving people space to wander the sinuous paths through the trees. We loved the garden because it is both urban and natural, combining our two loves. We visited many times before the wedding and sometimes found ducks floating on the pond.

For added entertainment value, we put two remote-controlled boats in the pond so this pod of guests could motor around during cocktail hour.

Wedding: just after

It feels like a million years ago we were married: August 26, to be precise. But I never posted photos! We didn't get them from the photographer until a month later, and then we weren't completely thrilled with the collection, so it's taken me a while to get up the juice to post these.

But here they are finally. This is us just after the fact, newly minted newlyweds, with our friend Jen behind us who was the officiant. We are standing on a curving bridge that spans a little pond. The bridge was rimmed with flower boxes holding gorgeous purple salvia. And yes: the bride wore black!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Slideshowing off

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006... that be tomorrow, people
$8 members of Oakland Heritage Alliance

$10 non-members (free if you
become a member) Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave.

Join me, Annalee Allen and William Wong for a lecture sponsored by Oakland Heritage Alliance. All of us have published neighborhood histories through Arcadia Publishing, and we’ll discuss our process of researching and writing.

Chapel of the Chimes is an architectural marvel designed by Oakland’s famous female architect Julia Morgan. It’s not so much a chapel as it is a columbarium. Beautifully morbid this space is, with ash containers shaped as books, placed upon a bookshelf.

Annalee’s book is Oakland: A Postcard History and William’s book is Oakland’s Chinatown. Mine is Oakland Hills.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The final Halloween post of 2006

I had to wait to receive this glorious, full-color photograph from Samuel Adams' Daguerreotype Emporium.

But it was worth the wait to see him and Perpetual Cow!

Voting Day 2006

Well, I'm a mere shell of myself, but I'm still going to vote. On Sunday, I was in a car accident. Completely stopped at a red light, I was rear-ended hard enough that I ran into the person in front of me, even though my foot was firmly on the brake.

When I got back into the car after all the info-exchanging, I saw that a flashlight keychain was on the floor. Previously, it had been in a little cubby on my dashboard that actually slants UP, so somehow the thing flew up against gravity to land on the floor. More sobering was seeing my sunglasses on the floor. I know I was wearing them. One of two things happened:

1. I was hit hard enough that my glasses flew off my face, or
2. After the crash, I tore them off and threw them on the floor even though they are prescription glasses.

Interactions with the woman who hit me were so aggravating I can't even blog about them. A few bits of info, though: she initially didn't seem to want to exchange information and thought there was no damage, although I'm dented slightly in front and back bumpers AND when I peered closely at my bumper, the digits from her license plate are EMBOSSED into my bumper. I could read them! She stamped me!

A police officer happened along and took a report. Hilariously, when he said to her, "So, you're the one at fault?" she hemmed and hawed and tried to construct some way of not saying yes. He said evenly, "You rear-ended her, right? So you're the one at fault."

People, I know the insurance companies tell you never to admit guilt. But come on, when two people are STOPPED at a red light and you plow into them, there's no QUESTION about guilt. And in that case, it makes sense to apologize. Even in a situation where there is questionable attribution of guilt, you can still apologize for the hassle or the situation without outright stating that you caused it.

Okay, off that unpleasant topic. And on to the emergency room!

I have an ongoing health issue that required that I visit the ER to make sure I was okay from the crash. So I called Alan, he came home and drove us to the ER. We tried to figure out which one to go to and hoped we chose wisely. We chose badly.

After four plus hours in the waiting room, I made it into the emergency room, where we languished another two hours with staff members intermittently stopping by and then disappearing for long periods. I know the ER was slammed; we saw probably six different ambulances pull up during the night. The triage system is absolutely essential, but you know it's bitter when you see someone go by on a gurney and you hate them because now your triage placement has slipped another peg.

Time spent in the capable hands of the ER: six and a half hours. It was practically a work shift. I could have taught six classes.

Anyway, I seem to be okay. Okay enough to vote!

I heard on NPR that Virginia's turn out rate in the last election was a flabberghasting 8 percent. Ninety-two percent of Virginians didn't bother to vote! Kansans similiarly had only 14 percent of residents voting. (Those are the only states they mentioned; others could be the same or worse). Oakland's city percentage last June was 33 percent. Absolutely dismal. Disheartening.

Why are we* fighting so hard to install democracy in other countries, when Americans themselves don't participate in the democratic process?

*"we" refers to of course other people.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hexe undergoes a name change

A book's title is a pretty important thing. That, and the cover art, is the first impression you get, and so it's imperative that the title catch your eye and your imagination.

And the sales team informed my editor and me that HEXE just wasn't accessible.

For one thing, no one knows how to pronounce it. It's the German word for witch, and it's pronounced "hex-uh." That wily E that sounds like an A is perplexing and some people were guessing it was pronounced "Hexy."

So, I do understand the need for a title change even while it initially dampened my spirits. But hey! It could be so much worse. The revisions I did with my editor were all embraced by me, and I never had to change the plot or the direction scenes went. I've heard from other writers who were deeply distressed at changes they had to make in their manuscript, so I feel incredibly lucky that the only change I ever balked at (and that only initially) was the title change.

We did some back-and-forthing on title suggestions over the period of two days. I picked my friends' brains and brainstormed possible titles with my agent and editor. One very fascinating tidbit of information that arose in a long, wonderful phone call with my editor: the word "devil" does better in nonfiction than "witch," but the reverse is true for fiction!

Eventually, I opened up the novel on my computer and began reading. Soon enough I was skimming because I feel like I know it now like the back of my hand and a few phrases did suggest themselves as titles... but when I got to the word trinity, I knew we had arrived.

The new title is The Witches' Trinity.

Caveat: It may get shot down in a later launch meeting, but I'm crossing my fingers it won't.

As many know, witches were reputed to mock Christianity, turning its traditions upside down and perverting them: thus, you have things like saying the mass backwards. In my novel, the witches do indeed parody the holy trinity and it in fact is part of a major plot point that I can't of course reveal. So, once the reader is finished and looks again at the title, it will resonate.

Moreover, the title Witches' Trinity is both assonant and consonant. People who have studied poetry terms (and those who took my classes at community college) will know what that means... or you can check the links! Thanks, Ira Sadoff and Peter Harris for teaching me something I still think about 15 years later.

Anyway, I'm excited about the new title and ultimately the sales team was right. It's awkward to always have to say how a title is pronounced. Hexe is dead; long live The Witches' Trinity!

Meridian fundraiser

We raised $900 for the Meridian! Not too shabby. I had just received a copy of my Ill Fame galley that very day and so stood there reading from it rather than printed-out manuscript pages, what a feeling! I was in great company with five other incredible writers. If I get photos later, I'll paste them in.

Update: here's one of Tamim Ansary, our workshop leader and the evening's emcee.

Halloween 2006 cont'd

Wanted to post the Oompa Loompa on her geometric kitchen floor. Incredibly realistic! And when I get a photo of Samuel Adams, Colonial brewer, and Perpetual Cow (his costume every year) emailed to me, I'll post that too.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Reading at Rickshaw Stop

Six authors from the
read from their works. The SF Writers Workshop is the oldest writers group in California. The reading is a benefit for the Meridian Gallery, host of the SFWW.
MICHAEL CHOROST, author of REBUILT, 2006 PEN award winner
Friday, November 3, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
(415) 861-2011. Admission $7 to $20 sliding scale.

Halloween 2006

One of the perks to not hosting Halloween and going to someone else's party is that you can win the costume contest! Which I did as Marie Antoinette, with boat in sail in my hair and blood at my neck. My friend Shelly won too, as an insanely-realistic Oompa Loompa (in fact, based on the reaction she got, we all thought she was going to win first prize, but that went to two girls dressed as Voodoo practicioners.)

We had a great time at a party in West Oakland with live bands and an indoor half-pipe for skaters, which provided amusing people-watching as women in high heels tried to get pulled up to the top by their guys.

Shelly and I got little trophies with ribbons attached. Mine said "Funniest costume" and hers said "scariest"... I think the awarder randomly pulled them out of his bag.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shane, Brukty and Tsehai

Our friend Shane Etzenhouser moved to Ethiopia about four years ago with the idea of starting up a puppet show. He met a gorgeous woman there, Brukty, and they got married. They collaborated on the show, a mixture of sock puppets and computer animation, which is now being televised to great acclaim. It’s Ethiopia’s answer to Sesame Street.

Today there were articles in the SF Chronicle and the Washington Post about them. What they’re doing is pretty amazing because illiteracy is a problem in Ethiopia and this show provides a way for kids to learn their alphabet and other important things without going to school, which many children aren’t able to do.

The show’s theme song is in Amharic and says of Tsehai, the charming childish giraffe who is the star of the show, "She asks a lot of questions because she loves learning."

Most moving was the idea that the show might be shown on the big screen in a Times-Square-esque place in Ethiopia where hundreds of street children live. Who knows if seeing Tsehai could make the difference to one of those kids, beginning to arm them for success in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Shane and Brukty, we are so, so, so, so, so proud of you. You are making the world better.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Creepier than a doctored photo

While continuing research on my witchcraft-accused ancestor, I found some discrepancy in different sources about various birth and death dates of her children. So I googled a bibliography source and found something chilling.

Apparently, the Church of Latter Day Saints has "baptized" my ancestors, at various dates in the early 1900s. I'm sure my Puritan ancestors would be delighted to think they'd be baptized in another faith 200 years after they died.

As if that wasn't wierd enough, it looks like babies that died as newborns were deliberately not baptized in the LDS church, while a child that died at six months was. What's their cutoff, I wonder?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Snuggle me

Someone I knew at Colby used to imitate the hideously-robotic fabric softener bear who would croon, "Snuggle me."
Unrelatedly, another Colby friend posted this video on his blog; I liked it so I'm posting it too. At first I was dubious because it seems a ripoff of that old commercial where the guy goes around hugging everyone, but the variety and surprise of the hugs won me over. It's great!

Wh... where'd that little girl come from???

My friend took me to Mills College, which she attended in the late ‘90s, to show me where some scary stuff had happened. She is convinced the place is haunted.

In one dormitory’s lounge, she showed me where she had discovered a hidden door in the wall – you can see it in this photograph. We pried it open once again. It’s boarded up inside but we surmise there used to be a staircase or other passageway here.

The ghost story for this dormitory is that people have heard a child in the hallway playing with her ball, but when you go and look there isn’t anyone.

I took a bunch of digital photos and didn’t download them immediately. No, I waited until I was sleepless at four a.m. when it suddenly occurred to me, hey, I could see how those photos turned out. I was convinced in the blue glow of my monitor, with no other lights on, that I was going to see spectral images within the photos.

I didn’t.

But that didn’t stop me from figuring out how to Photoshop in a little girl and emailing it off to my friend. Hope it makes her catch her breath!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ancestral depression

Ah, the residents of Springfield, Massachusetts in the year 1640… how well I know your names!

I spent all day yesterday at the Sutro Library researching the early Parsons family history, part of my project to learn more about my ancestor accused of witchcraft. And my god, it is like skipping stones, to watch the ripples that fold out and out and out. It’s exhausting. Because my ancestor was not the only one accused of witchcraft, and in fact there’s a complex network of neighbors v. neighbors, and trials affecting other trials, and bitterness pervading through the decades until more accusations are raised…

When I left yesterday, I felt like all afternoon I had been in a dim Colonial cottage, subject to the whispers and suspicion myself. It gets into your blood, gives you a distasteful feeling.

The other day I found a website that listed all the inhabitants of Springfield in a particular year… there were only about 40 of them, and yet I recognized their names, some of them, as testifiers in my ancestor’s case. As I continue to research, those names come up again and again until I almost feel I know them.

Oh, yes, here’s Elizur Holyoke, the guy who wrote down all the testimony, and here’s his son born in 1641… well, and six months later Union Moxon is born; Moxon being a surname I recognize as that of the minister’s children who had fits and caused a woman to be accused of witchcraft, which trial in turn caused my ancestor to have fits… it’s all so insular and incestuous.

I pulled out my huge family tree chart (it’s three feet by two feet) and scanned names again. Sure enough, some of the people who testified in my ancestor’s case were also my relatives. What else could you expect in such a small town?

And most chillingly, but I have to better confirm this, it looks like the father of my ancestor’s accuser shows up on my family tree, by way of what would have been a sister of the accuser. How horrible.

The picture above is Mary Bliss Parsons, the woman accused of witchcraft that I'm related to. I found the image at

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Litquake 2006

I think I ... uh... spent five hours at Litquake today. Is that possible? Am I that much of a lover of literature (and a complete slug) that I spent that many hours in an auditorium watching writers read their work? That's like the equivalent of watching two movies or even three...

I did get up and perambulate, visited the gyro place across the street and later the coffeeshop since I was getting dozy... but yup, I think I was there all day.

I had to be there at 12:30 to watch my friends Melodie Bowsher and Kemble Scott read (alas, missed Melodie since she read first and I was a little late), then I knew Tamim Ansary was reading at 3. Doesn't that just seem manageable somehow? But the portion Tamim read in was actually 3-4:30 and then we sat around talking a bit. Actually, I just did the math and it's more like four hours. OK, I feel a lot better.

What Tamim read was incredible and made me resolve to buy his book, Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky. (Tamim is male: he co-authored this book with Farah Ahmedi).

I read at Litquake yesterday and think it went fine. Litquake only allows you to read for six minutes (with six writers in a given hour, and then intros and etc.) so how much damage can you do? I was honored to be asked.

I love this week-long literary festival and think it's an incredible feat to pull off each year. Congrats to Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl for coming up with this, as well as other incredibly hard-working volunteers like Deborah Krantz and Tara Weaver.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Melancholia (delicious!)

The air is so cold I put my coat on today. Scarlet leaves on the sidewalk. Cars using their headlights in the middle of the day. I LOVE IT!!!

Something brisk and wonderful... and solemnly sad about this time of year. In my car I was listening to Luka Bloom (Christy Moore's brother), an Irishman who sings lovely ballads. He did a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going," which has the most exquisitely autumnal lyrics. I really love this song. Although: I've never heard the original! Just Luka's version.

My favorite lines are about the bully winds burying their faces in the snow, and the seasonal empire falling. Matter of fact, here's all the lyrics, courtesy of some website I googled to:

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
And shivering trees are standing in a naked row
I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I had me a man in summertime
He had summer-colored skin
And not another girl in town
My darling's heart could win
But when the leaves fell trembling down
Bully winds did rub their faces in the snow
He got the urge for going And I had to let him go

He got the urge for going
When the meadow grass was turning brown
Summertime was falling down and winter was closing in

The warriors of winter they gave a cold triumphant shout
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is getting out
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on before the snow
They've got the urge for going, they've got the wings to go

They get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in

I'll ply the fire with kindling and pull the blankets to my chin
And I'll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in
I'd like to call back summertime and have her stay jut another month or so
She's got the urge for going and I guess she'll have to go

And she get the urge for going when meadow grass is turning brown
All her empires are falling down
Winter's closing in

Monday, October 02, 2006

Oak to Ninth: for Oakland voters

When preparing for my radio interview today, I spent some time looking again at the chapter on the waterfront in my Oakland's Neighborhoods book. Our city lost control of our waterfront for its first 60 years, thanks to the scurrilous maneuverings of Horace Carpentier. Then, not long after we finally got it back, Borax Smith (who I otherwise admire) asked for permission in 1916 to take a 99-year lease on the waterfront. Mayor Davies' response was wonderfully fierce and passionate, and I read it on the air:
I will fight to the last ditch, if necessary, to prevent the voters of this city from entering into a lease which will take out of their control property for which I have fought a lifetime and lost a fortune to secure for them... Any man who would turn over municipal lands for this damnable purpose ought to be taken out and hanged.
The irony, of course, is that had Borax Smith won his 99-year term, we'd still be in it! We'd be in it until 2015. And Borax is long dead and his estate dismantled and all we've got are some mules in the backyard of the F.M. Smith Recreation Center...

So, 99 years have NOT passed, and poor Mayor Davies must be a'whirlin' in his grave... because our City Council AND our city attorney are doing exactly what he abhored: handing out public lands to private developers. Horace Carpentier is somewhere smirking! His legacy of keeping Oaklanders from their waterfront continues.

So what the heck am I talking about? The infamous Oak to Ninth project. The project stretching along the waterfront for which City Council voted to hand over municipal lands to private developers, forever ruining our chance to have waterfront access.

Back in early September, city attorney John Russo declared that the signatures collected by the Oak to Ninth Coalition were invalid. The signatures say that the Oak to Ninth project should be sent to referendum--that Oakland voters themselves should decide.

In a mere 30 days, the coalition gathered over 25,000 signatures (when they only needed 18,000). A monumental achievement --and one that clearly demonstrates that people are concerned and unhappy about this dirty deal.

John Russo said that attached to the petition was an outdated version of the city ordinance--although coalition members tried to get the ordinance from city staff and were directed to the city's website. There, a current version was posted, which was later changed as Russo continued to negotiate with developers after City Council approved a version.

The latest news is that a week ago the coalition filed suit against the city. This makes the third lawsuit against the city on this particular issue. Hmmm, maybe that's because the whole deal is illegal? And crooked and sordid?


I was interviewed today by Denny Smithson on his program at KPFA. I was nervous but he was a great interviewer with a lot of interesting questions. KPFA is a Berkeley radio station devoted to the ideas of pacifism (the P in KPFA stands for Pacific, I think).

Here's a mark of how cool the station is: the soap dispenser in the bathroom was stocked with Dr. Bronner's, either peppermint or unscented aloe vera. Yeow! Brought me back to my Colby days, when I did laundry with Dr. B's, washed my hair with Dr. B's...

Do a little dance, make a little love

Alan gleefully forced me to watch this video of the Sony robots dancing, knowing full well how creeped out I am by robots.

He read somewhere that by 2012 people would be having sex with robots... and on a regular basis. That's six years away.

My new husband then pointed out that that would "not technically be considered cheating."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back home with the ancestors

I've been asked to write an essay on my ancestor Mary Bliss Parsons, to be included in the back of HEXE when it is published next September.

HEXE is my novel about a medieval woman accused of witchcraft; Mary Bliss Parsons was my 1600s Massachusetts relative who was thrice accused of witchcraft and acquitted.


Not something you hear too often. It's a fascinating story... it seems that her money and her looks had a lot to do with her ability to skirt the charge.

My parents have sent me some family history stuff, so I've been delving into that with great interest. And of course, as always when I'm researching, I've been getting waylaid, this time by stories of other ancestors. Tucked in with the Parsons family history is also the memoir of Benjamin Cressy, my seven-greats grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War, as well as the autobiography of the seafaring orphan his granddaughter married.

Here's a bit from Benjamin Cressy's memoir of 1780, three years before the end of the war:

We were engaged that morning in putting our guns in as good order as possible, as they had got very wet the rainy night before. We did not run, yet marched a quickstep in order to gain the bridge that crossed a small river, but the enemy made their appearance on a rise of ground or hill directly on our right in less than gun shot. They hallooed and said, "Now you d-m-d yankees we will have you." Lieutenant Blake answered them and said, "Come on you redcoats, Black John is here." They understood this very well , for Black John had given them a number of dressings. We were then about half a mile from the bridge and the enemy formed a column of horse at the bridge in our front. There was an old mud fort breastwork within gun shot of the bridge and our brave captain Cushen marched us in there to rest our legs, as he said. [....]

When we had got into the old mud fort or breastwork we began a fire on the enemy between us and the bridge which continued for 10 or 15 minutes, and it was said we unhorsed eight of the enemy, but looking back on the road that we come up we espied a larger body of horsemen coming full speed in pursuit of us. Our Capt. ordered us to march out and every gun that would go off to load and not to fire before orderered; and being formed in a close column and the points of our bayonets for our flank guard we moved on a firm slow march a few rods and fired, broke the column of horse and they opened to the right and left and we marched over the bridge and drew off a number of the planks and every man of our party and prisoners, horses, &c got safe over and we gave three cheers.

Two of our men wounded, one Heath wounded by a ball that entered the bottom of the heel of his foot, one Andris wounded across the back of the hand. This small river had a very muddy bottom and the enemy could not cross it to pursue us and we returned to our regiment in triumph.

In another battle, he and his party were ambushed by the British, "and we poor fellows scattered like sheep without a shepherd in every direction, and with blood-hounds at our heels." That scene continues:

We run but a few rods when I was halted by "Stop, yankee, or I'll kill you." The first thought I had was that he had fired off his gun. I turned my head round when I was on the full run and had a fair look at his face, and he was not but a few jumps behind me and not one of our party to be seen. He was a large stout looking fellow, red face, red hair, and I remember his looks to this day. But I out-run him and turned round a small rise of ground out of his sight and crawled under a thick bunch of bushes or sprouts that sprung from a white maple stump. I lay there a short time and two of the enemy passed close by my hiding place on the other side. It appeared they were hunting up the scattered fugitives. The reader will better judge of my thoughts and feelings than I can describe them. When I could distinctly hear the shrieks and cries of the dying and wounded. When these two men were passed by out of my sight I shifted my quarters into a low piece of ground very thick with bushes and briers. There I lay till after twelve o'clock that day, but the course of nature seemed to be changed, for the sun was risen out of the southwest to me.

After the war, Benjamin's story is grim, with two wives dying young and the typical yet still heartbreaking loss of children in infancy, and a brother who continually tricked him out of money and property. Hard times!

I feel so lucky to have these records from the past. I'm also surprised how modern Cressy's memoir sounds, for having been written over 200 years ago. My parents have a painting of Cressy, one of those where because of the way the eyes were painted, anywhere you stand in the room it appears he is looking right at you. I used to get creeped out by that painting. But now that I know the sadness of his life, the next time I see it I'll give him a friendly nod.

Naptime for royalty

The effigies at St. Denis were incredible. Every bit as spooky and magisterial as you would expect.

Marie Antoinette is buried here (remains having been exhumed from initial burial site) under a fairly modern and bland plaque. No effigy for her or Louis, but there are two nice statues of them.

St. Denis also had something to do with Joan of Arc... she laid down arms here or something? I have to google it because I didn't understand the plaque in French on the door. Wish my comprehension was a hundred times better... but it is certainly improving! Since I've returned, I've watched two episodes of French in Action and I think I get it better than I did before this trip!

She's light as a feather

but stiff as a board.

Here's a tour at the St. Denis basilica, looking much like a slumber party seance. Unfortunately, all in rapid French, so I could only pine for information.

I'm back home in Oakland, still somewhat fighting jet lag five days later. It's great to be back; went to an A's game yesterday, walked down to my neighborhood cafe today, saw a movie at the Parkway last night, walked in the redwood forest... some of my favorite Oakland things to do.

And now that I have reliable access again, I am supplementing old posts with the photos intended for them, and adding a few more.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Visit my website and click on "Contact" so you can email me. I want to confirm everything got to you, you green-skinned poet.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Last post from Paris

I ate dinner at a sushi place near Gaiete. Kitty korner from me was the "New Sex Paradise" peep show, which no one ever entered or exited as long as I sat there (maybe everyone was at the Old Sex Paradise). And directly opposite me was a hookah house. I watched a very large man smoke enough to stupefy a gorilla.

And now, I shan't post anymore. Even if the most exciting and outrageous thing happens to me in the next six hours before I go to the airport, I will have to only mull it over and tell it to my friends.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably post at my layover in New York.

Musee de l'Homme

Despite being askance that there's no accompanying Musee de la Femme, I took the Metro over to Trocadero to see this museum. My guidebook had promised an anthropological extravaganza, with dioramas a plenty, and an interesting survey of the history of medicine. It also warned to go soon, because the museum might close and its contents distributed to other museums.

Well... maybe I was too late. The majority of its exhibits had closed, and they were only offering three measly exhibits with amorphous names like "Night of Man" and "All Parents, All Different." There was absolutely no information about what these exhibits might entail, and the woman at the counter was an abject diorama herself. She looked like she'd rather shoot me than tell me what those three exhibits were.

(And remember, I'm always trying my French here, so this wasn't a case of Disdain for Those who Won't Speak French.)

I took a cue from her miserableness and decided to give the museum a miss.

So let's recount:
Sewer museum makes me nearly lose my cookies, and I beat a hasty retreat.
Musee de l'Homme is a ghosttown guarded by a meanie.

What should any self-respecting traveler do but... shop? I had a great time clothes shopping. I bought three shirts, a dress and two naughty sets of gartered hose. I felt bad Kirsten was missing it -- she is really way more of a shopper than me, but she got a cute shirt and jacket in the short time she was here.

Maybe a clothing store is the equivalent of the Musee de la Femme.

WHY did I go to the sewer museum?

I thought it'd be kind of edgy to go to the Musee des Egouts (sewer museum), and perhaps helpful for my research.

But as soon as I was descending the stairs and the smell was already beginning, I started thinking, "Maybe this is a bad idea."

An English language tour had just started so another guide hustled me to it. I was just in time to hear the end of a very fascinating anecdote about a purple crocodile that is now in the Berlin Zoo. When the guide finished and we began walking to a new spot, I asked the woman next to me what the story had been with the croc. She said, "I didn't hear it myself. I just got a cochlear implant."

I smiled widely and said, "My friend has one and he wrote a book about it. Do you know Rebuilt, by Michael Chorost?"

She said, "I read it right before I got the implant."

Very intriguing and I wanted to learn more so I could report back to Mike, but the guide was already beginning her next spiel, an in-depth portrait of the machine used to clean the sewers. (actually, it was interesting. They use no motors in the sewers, only hand-pushed scrapers. If the men step in a bunch of congealed fat, it will release toxic gas and so they have 10 minutes of oxygen, to last until they get up their manhole, which are located every 30 meters. They used to use canaries but now have a little electronic device for detecting gas.)

And then, and then, and then.... man! We were looking at a flowing river of sewage and I had to walk away from the group, pressing my coat against my mouth to not gag. I tried to stick with the tour, I tried, but ultimately fled. I think I was only there about 10 minutes total. I can't believe I voluntarily subjected myself to that and paid for the privilege!

In short: sewer museum--not for me.

**** Post script.
I wanted to say what happened after I left the museum. I became concerned that I might've, in my short time down there, taken on the fumes and odors of sewage. I tried to find a smoker so I could perambulate in his/her cloud of smoke, but alas the one time I wanted smoke blown in my face I couldn't find it! And I worried that when I boarded the Metro, the hapless person sitting next to me would be overwhelmed by my "presence."

Ironically, I instead strolled a fancy street, walking past Dolce & Gabbana, Dior and Chanel. How fabulous to tremble past these places convinced one is reeking of sewage!

I saw Sephora and had the stroke of genius to go there and let 'em give me all the perfume sticks they wanted.

On the Metro, I thought, "Gosh, that person next to me has such a lovely perfume," and it wasn't until I was climbing the stairs to leave the station that I realized the loveliness emanated from me. Thank you Sephora!

Last thought: the pamphlet for the museum recommends that you wash your hands before leaving. In fact, as an escapee from my tour, I asked a guard for the bathroom to wash my hands and he agreed, "It's very important."
Should such a thing exist if it is "very important" that you wash your hands afterward?

La torchiere

Here is the replica of the Statue of Liberty's torch, the exact size! It's at the Pont de L'Alma, where there is also some flowers and memorabilia around Princess Diana's sad death in the tunnel.

I forgot to blog about the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, but it was very much on my mind. CNN was going to replay its broadcast of the day, which made me think some poor mushbrain would think we were under terrorist attack again. I had a dream related to jumping. I'm so sorry for the families hurt that day, and I'm sure five years feels like a heartbeat away.

Le wifi ne marche pas

The agony of a spotty wifi connection! This was to be my last blogging session before I return to the U.S. first thing tomorrow... but blogger isn't loading my photos.

I suppose I can go ahead and post textually and then add in the photos once I get home.

Basilica St. Denis

I went yesterday (Sunday), on patrimony day, when all the monuments are free. A great idea, but it meant the ticket kiosk was unstaffed, so I couldn't get an audioguide in English: free but incomprehensible. Also, every bored little French child was there, wailing and complaining, blocking views for history geeks like me who would've really rather just paid full price.

But! This place is cool. Lots of kings and queens are buried here, many with wonderful effigies marking their spot. Here are the feet of Francis I and Claude de France.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bonjour Dina, Olivier et Mister Book

Tonight I decided to take a different street, a promising one, near my hotel and it was wonderful. I saw a thousand restaurants I can try tomorrow. I also saw a brightly painted green-fa├žade bar. I walked past it twice before I decided to go in. And I had a great time!

Inside, a couple was playing guitar and singing French songs (one I caught was, “it’s snowing in my heart”). The interior was fabulously campy: with disco balls and Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling, blood-red walls with all kinds of paintings on them, and a dog the size of a loaf of bread with a little barrette in his hair.

The couple stopped singing and did a kind of trivia quiz, naming characteristics of someone and trying to get people to guess who it was. By the time I caught onto the nature of the game, they’d already done two people, so I focused in on the third. Based on my convoluted sense of what they said, I wanted to guess Mata Hari, but the answer was Josephine Baker. Close!

They distributed lollipops to everyone who participated in the game and also to someone who understood every twelfth word they said (me). Then Dina, Olivier and Romain came in to share my table and we had a lovely talk, being very forgiving of my butchered French. They are on their way to California, so I hope we can raise a glass again on the other side of the world!


Bird by itself

Since I was eating an apple, I gently spat out a few bits for this bird to eat, but like a true Parisian, he only wanted bread. (That's not my apple next to him, but rather a spent match and god knows what)

Birds with kids

Notre Dame birds

See them hovering by the hands, wings all a blur?

Notre Dame silver madonna

Since my wi-fi (pronounced here in Paris as wee-fee) is finally behaving the way it should, I'll go back and post some photos I meant to with the original post.

So here's the Madonna from the treasury.

Techno Vache!

Satan's cow, this one's for you! (you know who you are)

confetti at techno parade

Neon cowgirls at techno parade

Saturday: secure your every bit

I did a walking tour of the Marais through Paris Walks. They are absolutely wonderful. I’ve done three walks, with three different guides, and they were all anecdotal, interesting and totally worth it. The best guide so far was Peter Caine, the one who runs the company with his partner Oriel. He was very British and funny.

Then, as I sat to eat lunch, I saw the police putting up tape to close streets. I asked the person next to me and she said there was going to be a Techno Parade! So I went a few streets over to watch it. It was formidable! Each “float” had a different DJ and dance crowd with it. I watched and danced for a long time. Although at times the parade was sparse (see the stilt walkers), the last float and its pushing overflow crowd made me feel a little Who-at-the-Riverfront-Coliseum so I took refuge in a doorway. This parade was to benefit No Famine, so I bought a pin.

One guy on a float threw me a condom. Labeled both in French and English, it says “Toujours un coup d’avance! Bit Defender: Secure your every bit.” I wish Alan was here to defend himself.

Friday: up again

After my glum dinner, I thought of going back to the hotel, but on a whim decided to see if I could catch the Eiffel Tower doing its sparkly dance. And I did! I love you, Eiffel Tower! You are super sparkly!!!

Then I walked along the Seine for a while. It was late when I got back.

Friday: down

By dinnertime, my high had worn off and I was sad that I was in Paris without Alan and now, without Kirsten, who had flown home. My friend Naomi termed this my “withoutmyhoneymoon.” I sat in a restaurant eating dinner, morosely staring out to the sidewalk, thinking I probably looked like the Absinthe Drinker we’d seen at the Musee D’Orsay.

Friday: still up

Went to the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned for a few months before her execution. They have rooms showing the three levels of cell available. Here is the pailleurs, lowest lovel, where the poor guys sleep on straw. The mannequins express how uncomfortable it is, although now that I think about it it’s tough to get a mannequin to look like it’s comfortable. They also have a mock-up of Marie’s cell with guards spying on her over a little fabric screen.

Friday: up

Friday started out great. I emerged from the Metro on my way to the Conciergerie, but there was beautiful old Notre Dame, and as soon as I looked at it the bells started ringing. I was overcome with joy, thinking “This is what I love about Paris… the ancient sounds, the sense of history that envelops you…” I sat down to eat my apple and enjoy the sight of that venerable edifice.

There are tiny little birds that live in the bushes in front of the church, and they will sit on your hand for bread. I had fun trying to capture this with my camera. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a picture is worth a thousand words.

I went inside and was awed again at that eglise. For the first time, I paid the separate admission to enter the Treasury and saw some of the wonderful reliquaries and a silver Madonna and child.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chapel at Versailles

Last installment of the Versailles pictures. (Scroll down; Blogger posts reverse chronologically).

This is the chapel that renders Versailles asymetrical; it towers over the right wing with no equivalent on the left.

And now I must draw this blogging session to a close. More later!

Relocation made easy

When you're Jeanne de Bourbon, queen of France in 1377, you are powerful enough to simply pick up pesky little churches and carry them around.
I guess this is why they call it Crown Relocation!

Bed versus bed

Here are Marie's beds from (a) Versailles, and (b) Petit Trianon. Which one looks more sleepable to you?

Marie's theater

This trip is really a working trip for me; I'm gathering info and atmosphere for a new novel. So I've been paying lots of attention to Marie Antoinetteisms both at Versailles and in Paris (next stop: Conciergerie).

I also saw the new Sophia Coppola movie here in Paris. It's hard to ignore subtitles even when they're in a different language! I enjoyed the movie but thought it glossed over Versailles: no one had fleas, no one was pissing in the hallways...

Anyway, I'd never before seen Marie's little theater where she performed for friends. It is incredibly lovely with the scenery currently on stage, a verdant woodland path that looks like one at Versailles. The theater is behind the Petit Trianon, Marie's refuge from the crazy court life at Versailles, and only holds maybe 50 people? I should have counted the seats.

Also on the grounds at the Petit Trianon are the Rock, a pseudo grotto with running water built for her. I loved that and thought of a scene I could set there. (It also reminded me of the fake cliffs at Parc aux Buttes Chaumont, if I spelled that right, which I also really liked. Why do I like fake natural things?)

She also had a tiny chapel and numerous pavilions tossed around the grounds... it was a total playground. NOT to mention... the hameau. Which makes me wild with envy. Why couldn't **I** have a tiny mill on a brook, and swans, and a little tower with an eensy, tiny winding staircase that encircles it, and goats and sheep of a certain size and cuteness?

At the hameau (which means hamlet), Marie pretended to be a peasant (ominous irony), dressing as a shepherd. I've heard that they perfumed the animals so the smell wouldn't offend her nose. I read in another book that although she enjoyed the playacting, selling milk, cheese and vegetables from the hameau actually raised money for Versailles and was a real enterprise. It bears more research.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of the hameau. The memory card was full and I was too zonked to review the pics and delete some.


Cue David Bowie.

Kirsten had me take this picture because apparently leopard print is again in vogue, and she thought this portrait was funny. I don't happen to remember the man's name or even where the portrait hung (in the Petit Trianon, maybe?)

Also got to love his lavendar cravat and cuffs... this guy's got it going ON.

Woman statue

I've no idea who this woman is, if she indeed is someone specific, rather than just "woman with flowers."

She is one of the hundreds (thousands?) of statues that dot the gardens at Versailles. There's almost so many you can't even see them anymore, if you know what I mean. Just one would totally enrich a garden and invite thoughtful repose...throw fifty at a visitor at a time and you just walk by them.

But I thought she was lovely and I did take some time to notice her.

My favorite statue at Versailles

I love the statue of Poseidon's horses pulling his cart up out of the water... the horses are half-submerged still, hooves rearing in the air, and the effect is really cool.

We paid a few euros extra to see the fountains turned on and hear music piped through the gardens. The water sprays are exceptional for the horse fountain, because they look like water the horses themselves are kicking up. Add in a rainbow, and I felt like the official court photographer.

We've found Marie's head

One of the questions I've had in Paris is: what happened to all the heads? I saw the mass grave at Picpus where the headless bodies went... but what about the rest? What does one do with 1,300 heads? (and that's just the Place de la Nation heads, let alone Place de la Concorde)

I saw some plaque I half understood. It seemed to say that people wondered if the heads were paraded on pikes but no one knows for sure. If only blogging existed back then!

Anyway... the friends we have stayed with several nights are ex-pats Karen and Dave and their child Elodie. Karen and Dave are ***wonderful*** and I wish I had known them better when they lived in San Francisco! Elodie is a true bilingual charmer and an incredible artist. Kirsten saw some paint/bleach print she made and vowed to uncover the technique for her own work!

Elodie has a head she got from a friend of the family who graduated from cosmetology school. Unknowingly, she named it Marie and her parents had a good laugh at that. I was there for the "big reveal," as they say on reality TV, but she seemed unfazed at the idea that her mannequin might be Marie Antoinette.

Her parents say they have been totally creeped out by Marie because if you glimpse her at night in Elodie's room, she really does seem to be another person in the room, just hovering at the wrong height.... ew!

Pray that my trip gets better

Well, after arriving in Paris to find that our rented apartment was a tenement, then spending a week unsuccessfully trying to find another apartment (alternating between staying with friends and staying in a hotel), then going to the emergency room, I think this trip could stand improvement!

Don't worry, I'm all right but sort of bedbound today, so what better to do than download photos and post to my blog?

By the way, the French ER was wonderful. We each spoke muddled versions of the other's language and mostly found satisfaction. I was seen immediately by very kind people. At the end of the visit, they told me to return the next day to pay my bill. I smiled a little bit at the amount of trust involved in this arrangement, compared to the PPO Reign of Terror in the U.S.

This statue was one of the ones in the long hall of kings and queens at Versailles. I didn't happen to catch her name.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm a married woman!

Still don't have official photos from photographer yet, but here's an image from the rehearsal.


So much has happened recently that I've really behind in my blogging...

but several weeks ago our friends Chris and Shelly surprised us with a wedding shower that was INCREDIBLE. Shelly machiavellianed her way into locating email addresses for as many of our guests as she could track down, and there they were gathered in the living room shouting Surprise!

It was such an insanely wonderful day that I realized even if the wedding sucked, I would still be happy from the shower. Besides the fab cake above, Shelly cooked our Oakland faves, chicken and waffles. She only has a single waffle maker, so she literally spent hours cooking those for all the guests. What a labor of love, and what an amazing friend. And all the effort: totally worth it. We all gorged ourselves (word is her patented sugar bacon made at least one Jew seriously consider breaking down....)

We lingered in the backyard, enjoying a summery afternoon at lavishly appointed tables with linen tablecloths and small, perfect bouquets. It was heaven, surrounded by such wonderful friends... thank you guys!