September 13, 2009

HAUNTS OF THE GREAT By guest blogger G. M. Malliet I’m not much of a fan. I don’t collect artifacts or mementos of the famous. I don’t follow celebrities or create Google alerts for the names of people I admire. In fact, I am so out of touch with the Zeitgeist I am often mystified by the feature in the Washington Post called “Reliable Source,” which rather breathlessly lists sightings of celebrities in town to promote their pet causes. Who are these people spotted at, for example, the DC Spy Museum or Café Milano, wearing jeans, a baseball cap, and a button-down shirt? (“Reliable Source” always tells us what the stars are wearing and/or eating, presumably because someone cares.) Notice I don’t give you specific names or examples. I might recognize Brad Pitt if I tripped over him—especially if he had Angelina and the kids swarming around him—but fully eighty percent of the celebs mentioned in this column I’ve never heard of. Yes, it is getting to the point where my cluelessness is embarrassing, at least to those in my orbit under the age of thirty. No doubt it’s the first step on that slippery slope to Old Fuddydom. All this by way of confessing that from the moment I heard Greenway, Agatha Christie’s vacation home in Devonshire, was being opened to the public this year, I knew I had to get there. In fact, I think the phrase “If I have to crawl on my hands and knees” was called into play. Fortunately, there are passenger ferries that can take you to Greenway from Torquay (Agatha’s birthplace) and from other towns along the coast of Devon. But it wasn’t that easy to get there by train from Oxford, our starting point, so was it worth it? Definitely. For one thing, the area where she purchased the house and grounds lives up to Agatha’s claim of being “the loveliest place in the world.” What do we hope to gain from visits to the haunts of the great—or do we hope to gain anything? For my part, the journey helped orient me in terms of Agatha’s life and her stories—places that were mere names are far more meaningful to me now. And yes, I think there was an element of wishing that by standing where she had stood, seeing how she worked and lived, inspiration for another great puzzle of a book like And Then There Were None might come to me. (Still waiting on that.) Are there any writers’ haunts you’ve been to that have really made an impression, or that you would like to visit one day? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- G.M. Malliet’s Death of a Cozy Writer, previously a Malice Domestic Grant winner, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2008. It has also been nominated for 2009 Anthony, David, and Macavity awards and a Left Coast Crime Award for best police procedural. It won an IPPY Silver Medal in the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller category. Kirkus Reviews named it one of the best books of 2008. The second book in the St. Just series is Death and the Lit Chick (April 2009) and the third is Death at the Alma Mater (January 2010). Malliet and her husband live in Virginia.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? Posted by Sheila Connolly (apparently Sarah Atwell is a dog-lover) I mentioned briefly a few weeks ago that we had lost one of our cats, Felix, at age fifteen. It was unexpected, since he seemed to be in good health, and it was sudden. Given that one of our cats, Heidi, is now twenty, we had expected her to go first, but she soldiers on, happily gumming her food. Our other cat Raisin is ten, no longer a kitten. You don't "replace" a cat, because each cat has its own unique personality. So after we mourned, we (my husband, daughter and I) discussed getting another cat. Heidi (left) does not interact with other cats–heck, she barely interacts with humans, unless she wants food. Raisin (right) is very shy, and we knew we'd have to consider her feelings, so we thought that a pair might be appropriate–they could amuse each other without bothering her too much. Although both my parents grew up with dogs, they never planned to have pets. The reasons are lost, although I thought they sounded phony at the time. I don't know what would have happened if we had not moved into a rental house where the prior tenants left a Siamese cat and three of her offspring (from two litters) in the garage. We kept the mother and one of the daughters for a few years, then downsized (giving the daughter away, because my mother had bonded with the Siamese, who she had dubbed Beauty) when we moved into an apartment. Beauty lived until my senior year in college. When I moved into my first apartment, I immediately went cat-hunting. I wanted another Siamese, and through an ad in the paper I found a guy in Dorchester who had a litter. He turned out to be a crazy Vietnam vet who thought raising cats was the ticket to quick money (maybe he had trouble holding a job?), but I bought one and carried her home on the T (after he'd whacked holes in a box for me with his army-issue machete). That was Victoria, affectionately known as Dum-Dum. She had a habit of greeting new people by jumping on their shoulder–from the floor. With claws out. She traveled with us to our first married apartment in North Carolina, then to California, then cross country again to Pennsylvania, and she lived to be eighteen. Siamese are a hardy breed. My husband found Heidi in a parking lot and brought her home. She was the cat from Hell–the staff at the vet's used to don elbow-length leather gloves when they saw her coming. She never did quite manage the intricacies of the litter box. Yet we still have her: we take our cat responsibilities seriously. I ransomed Tommy, another Siamese, from a mall pet store, not because I approve of them (I don't), but because I knew he didn't belong there, and besides, he kissed my ear the first time I picked him up. He was a sweetie, gone before his time to a kidney infection. We got Felix from a shelter in 1994. We brought home another cat, Cleo, from the same shelter a couple of years later, but she didn't last long because of an undiagnosed thyroid problem. And little tortie Raisin was the last, from a different shelter. For the past ten years we had been holding steady at three cats, one for each member of the family (although we argued about who was whose). Then Felix was gone, and we faced a decision. There are those who might say that it was too soon to get another cat. I know my sister, who had to put down a much-loved pet, has sworn never to get another, because it's too painful to lose them. I see it differently: we've had wonderful experiences with our cats, and I don't want to give that up. Getting a new cat is a tribute to those we've had before. So I tracked down the local pound–no easy feat, since it's hidden away in a crumbling industrial backwater a couple of towns away. Of course they had plenty of cats. Sad to say, because of the recent economic downturn, far too many people have been dumping their pets. Some own up to it by bringing them in to the shelter personally, often with kittens; others drop them off and run, or worse, leave them behind when they move out of an apartment. The shelter is overflowing, with two and three cats per cage, and more farmed out to foster parents. I will say that they were all clean and healthy, because the people of work there really care about animals. So it was our civic duty to provide a good home for a cat, right? Or, in fact, two: a pair of orange and white siblings, a boy and a girl, four months old. We brought them home Friday. They are closely bonded to each other, comfortable around humans, and a joy to watch. I had forgotten how much fun kittens are–it's been a long time. In my life so far I've had a total of eight cats. Now I have two more. But who are they? For the last three days we've been wrestling with names. How do you name a pet? We've run through literary duos, film pairings, even silly names, but we're still stumped. All suggestions welcome. And make them good, because I hope we'll be living with them for a long time. Meet the new ones. The one with more white is the girl.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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