Wednesday, October 19, 2011

All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt!

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Oh, and I love comments.

First an announcement. Some months ago I entered the Grace Notes Discovering the Undiscovered book-length contest. They offered feedback and that’s always a good thing. I entered my book The Incredible Journey of Freddy J. and found out this morning that I am a finalist!! That’s some pretty good feedback. I will, of course, keep you posted.

"Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad."
~ George Bernard Shaw – Something for us to keep in mind, eh?

We arrived in Hamburg two weeks ago and I haven’t written a word. I’ve just been too busy having a wonderful time, but have also still been fighting the energy-draining flu I caught two weeks before we left. I’m still coughing and having trouble with my ears, etc. So, I haven’t had any extra energy left after having fun. Today is a day of rest for me as there is a tour I can’t manage, though certainly wish I could. More about that later.

Carlo, Dirk, Henry, and Sonja
We had a wonderful couple of days in Hamburg with former exchange student Sonja and her lovely family. She and her husband Dirk are generous hosts and they showed us their beautiful city and welcomed us into their home. Their two boys, Carlo, aged 10 and Henry, aged 5, are mature and independent compared to American kids, keeping themselves entertained and giving the grown-ups lots of time and space. They also were pretty cute trying out their English skills on us. Kids here learn English starting in fourth grade and most are pretty fluent by early teens.  Hamburg is a large port city, very cosmopolitan and sophisticated, yet charming. It has more than a million and a half people, yet has a very small-town feel to it. The architecture is stunning. If you ever have a chance to visit, I recommend it.

Sonja took Dave and I to the airport Sunday morning to pick up a rental car. It was a good thing we had her along or we might have gotten some little tin box. She helped us get a great car – a Ford Galaxy mini-SUV. It’s not like any American Ford we’ve ever seen. It was very large inside and most comfortable. I never drove it, but Dave had a blast. He said it handled better than any car he’s driven and he tested it well on the Autobahn, hitting 110 mph (NOT kph) at one point, but usually keeping it at between 80 and 90. We spent Sunday driving from Hamburg to Munich – rolling hills with pretty villages all along the route. It brings to mind the beauty of Minnesota or Wisconsin – lots of dense forests and green everywhere, so unlike California this time of year.

We arrived in Munich around 7:00 to discover our “interesting” apartment for the week. We rented an apartment to share with my sister and brother-in-law, Tudy and Jake, who joined us for a few days touring Bavaria and then on to the river cruise. The apartment is on the third floor of a home, quite nicely furnished, but one of the bedrooms is down one level and the other is up an extra level accessible by LADDER! No one had told us that. Now, I had dislocated my left knee a couple months ago and all the hobbling around seems to have much aggravated my arthritic knees so I am using a cane and having a lot of knee pain. The thing that aggravates it most is stairs. I’m doing fine and can walk long distances on the flat, but give me stairs and I am in agony. Needless to say, being on the third floor and having to go up and down stairs every time I need a bathroom did not make me happy. They should have warned us.

We had a fabulous few days in Bavaria, visiting the castles of Mad King Ludwig – Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, as well as the family palaces of Nymphenburg and the Residenze. We made the sad trip to Dachau – heartbreaking. We took the cogwheel train up the Zugspitz and Tudy and Dave bravely took the cable car all the way to the tip-top of Germany. Jake and I had more sense than that. Everyone with good knees toured the BMW museum. We did a LOT of driving around the area and my droll brother-in-law commented, “Ausfahrt must be a huge place. Everywhere we go there are signs pointing to Ausfahrt.” (If you don’t get the joke, check a German-English dictionary.) We ate at lots of great little restaurants and had a great time. Saturday morning we drove to Nuremburg to start the river cruise, joined by our next-door neighbor Ed Donohue and his friend Margie.  

It is a small boat compared to the ocean cruises we have taken in the past. It is three levels with only 180 passengers. It is about one and a half football fields in length and has very nice amenities and a great crew. Every morning there is a walking tour of the area led by local guides. Because I am not the only one with walking problems (quite a few canes on this boat) they have set up “leisure” tours whenever possible which don’t see quite as much, but have an easier path with few, if any, stairs. We had an interesting, historical tour of Nuremberg that included the parade grounds that you have all seen in films of Nazi rallies. They are stunningly large and still quite impressive. I didn’t know all those cheering crowds had to pay to be there, but they did. The city was chosen for the trials because it had one of the few intact courtrooms with a working jail attached, not because Nuremberg was the founding city of the Nazi party. Old Nuremberg, surrounded by a city wall about two miles around built in the thirteenth century is beautiful and very impressive as well.

Next came Regensberg – a charming, beautiful city. It’s amazing to me to see a wall built in 179 A.D. still standing and part of the city wall. There is a beautiful stone bridge spanning the Danube that was built in 700 A.D. and is still in use today. In fact, it looks almost new. We went on to Passeau, out last moments in Germany. We took a tour boat down the Danube Gorge, then visited a monastery that has been brewing beer since about 900 A.D. We had bread (pretzels) and beer. I’m not a fan of dark beer, but it wasn’t bad. The church was “newer,” built in the 1700s and breath-takingly beautiful and ornate. The churches here are all amazing, but this one was really something special. Maybe I can post some of Dave’s pictures here another time after we have a chance to sort through them.

Today we are in Melk, Austria and the walking tour to another monastery includes a walk down 64 steps followed by 79 steps, so I am taking the day off and getting caught up with my blog. We will be in Vienna later today, then on to Budapest to end our cruise. I like this way of traveling. Our cabin is small, but very comfortable. The food is great and I have learned not to eat everything, so that’s good. They pour wine very generously at dinner, and I have to be careful to not let them be too generous. I probably won’t get around to posting again before we finish our journey in London and head home. I intend to be too busy having fun! Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Talk About Language! A Review of Healing Waters: A Hawaiian Story by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Oh, and I love comments. Spurring me on this week is the following quote.

"Once the game is over, the King and the pawn go back in the same box." ~ Italian Proverb

For my writer friends, here is a link to check out that might help you with writer’s block – something I’ve been dealing with lately:

Now, to announce the winner of the copy of The Summer ofHammers and Angels, (insert drumroll here) – Michelle Fayard! It will go out in the mail very soon. Congratulations, Michelle.

When I first began this blog back in January, I wrote a post about True Grit. I was fascinated with the language Charles Portis used for the dialogue in that book. It really set the reader in the time and place of the book. If you missed that review or would like to revisit it, click HERE.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter
In August, I attended a wonderful writer’s retreat run by the Highlights Foundation and led by the wonderful editor Carolyn Yoder. You can read about that, if you like, by clicking HERE. One of the special treats that comes with attending a workshop or retreat at Highlights run by Carolyn is that you will have some visiting authors. We had two this year: Kate Messner and Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Stay tuned because I’ll be writing about Kate Messner’s sweet books in a future blog, but today I want to write about Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s incredible book, HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story. Now I’m still having trouble with my Amazon link, so clicking on the cover of the book won’t do you any good, but if you click on the title, it will link you to Amazon where you can order the book.

Joyce and her charming husband, Chuck, had a nice long visit with us, and Joyce talked about writing, researching, and the writer’s life in general. It was a lovely time. Then, as icing on the cake, Joyce gave each of us an autographed copy of her new book, HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story. I finally found time last week, as I fought my way through a terrible flu, to read it. I have to admit, it was hard to feel sorry for my coughing, stuffy self reading this amazing story of a young boy with leprosy.

I didn’t know much about leprosy before reading this book, just a kind of horrific idea about a disease that caused body parts to fall away. I knew there had been leper colonies, but never really thought about what that meant.

Pia is quite young at the beginning of the story, and the story seems to be about his deep friendship with an older boy, Kamaka, a brother/father figure to him, and the wonderful life Pia has with his warm, extended family. A picture is drawn of typical family life among native Hawaiians. But when Pia is diagnosed with leprosy at age thirteen, Kamaka disappears from his life. No one seems to know why Kamaka refuses to see him. Shortly Pia is wrenched from his mother and little sister and sent to the leper colony on the island of Moloka‘i.

On Moloka‘i, Pia finds conditions harsh beyond belief. No one is there to protect the young from predatory people, there is no hospital or even housing, food is scarce, clothing non-existent. Pia is alone – terribly and completely alone. After living like a wild animal for some time, in order to survive, he finally becomes the slave of a man, Boki, who takes care of himself by stealing from and intimidating others. Pia becomes hardened by this life. One day, Pia faces Tamaka again when Tamaka arrives on the island with his wife. His wife, Malia, has leprosy and Tamaka found a way to come along to care for her. Malia and ultimately Tamaka force Pia to examine his life and work through his problems, becoming emotionally whole again. It is a remarkable coming-of-age story of friendship and love and persistence. And let me underline “love” in that. It demonstrates many kinds of love very authentically. You will care deeply about these characters and be moved by this story.

In this heartbreaking first-person account, Pia tells his sad tale in a most compelling voice. It’s that voice and Joyce’s use of language to create it that captured my interest from a writer’s point of view. From the first page, I heard Pia’s voice in my head as clearly as if he sat next to me and told me his story. I thought a lot about how she managed to do this, and it made me think back to Charles Portis’s wonderful book. There are some distinct commonalities. Pia speaks in a rather formal way without the use of many contractions or any slang at all. There are occasional Hawaiian words dropped into Pia’s thoughts, and they remind us that Pia did not grow up speaking English.

“Again and again I hit the man who had entrapped me. I did not think of the moment that I realized I was trapped. I did not think about the hard work I’d done for the last four years, or the cruelties that Boki had inflicted on me. I did not think at all. I simply released the anger that had collected. Anger toward Boki, toward Kamaka, and even toward God.”

It doesn’t quite trip off his tongue, and I felt sometimes as if I were listening to some of my old students who learned English as a second language. And yet, it is so subtle that I really had to study the writing to come to this conclusion. It is absolutely consistent through the book and takes you directly to the time and place of this incredible story.

When you read HealingWaters: A Hawaiian Story, you will understand the quote at the beginning of this post. Let me know if you get the connection.

Also, things will be a little different here on my blog for the next three weeks. We will be traveling around Europe, and I will be blogging about that. Of course, I might get a book or two read on the planes, so I might write about that as well. And I have another author interview coming up, so I will try to post that as well. Stop by. Should be some fun stuff here.