Monday, March 29, 2021

The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia by Michael Korda


Here's some Vivaldi.

 Hercule has been in suspense all week.

And now to relieve you all of the suspense you've been feeling all this week:


Last week our music library at the University where I work decided to give away all their vinyl records.  They were free to anyone who wanted any as long as they promised not to sell them.  

 I waited until the students got what they wanted and took the rest.  I am now the proud owner of  over 500 classical records, most of them in prime condition.

It took some rearranging, but I got most of them on the bottom shelf of the dining room bookshelf.


 The ones I am currently listening to are under the table in my work room:

My record player is in my work room where the birds, pigs and I can enjoy them.



All I need is a tower and I could run my own Classical Radio station.  The only drawback is having to jump up every ten minutes to change sides.


But I'm not complaining.  It's said that vinyl has a "warmer" sound than digital.  Maybe it's a cognitive bias, but I think it's true.

I do not know if this is the best biography of Lawrence of Arabia, but I certainly felt I learned a lot about the Middle East during WWI and Lawrence's role in helping the Arabs and consequently the British gain control of several of the Arab countries and bring about the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

This book does not glamorize, nor romanticize Lawrence's life, nor T.H. Lawrence as a person, but neither did it seem slanted the other way. Lawrence is enigmatic as a person, but also quite fierce as a warrior.

War is brutal and Lawrence had to act brutally as well as be brutalized. We gain a lot of insight in just how inhumane soldiers can be to each other. Think of the most inhumane practices you can imagine and then double it and you have how the Arabs treated their enemies. Double it again and you gain an idea of how vilely the Turks treated their enemies.

And then there were the western countries who fought through the Arabs (the British, the French) and those that fought through the Turks (the Germans, and the Russians) in order to gain access to valuable oil land and sea ports. It allows one to gain insight as to how leadership in various countries, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey was appointed and why the Middle East has the sort of 0leaders it has today.

Considering the profoundly significant role these countries play today in world events, it behooves all of us to learn the history of the Middle East.



Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: a true story by Cara Roberston

 I'm listening to the Sonata no. 8 by Prokofiev, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy.


 Hubby cubby and I have been busy little bees these past two weeks.  After living with it for a year, we finally bit the bullet and switched my art room and the library.  Even with sky tubes, there was no view for my birds and me when I worked, which was not good since that is where I spend most of my time.  


Now my library has just enough light for reading. I keep my fiction here.





And now my work room has light with views, which I enjoy while working.

Even my birdies have a view.  I got a branch from the woods and propped it up in an old Christmas tree stand.



 I have another surprise but it will have to wait until next week.  (That's called a "teaser", folks.)


The Trial of Lizzie Borden was a good, step by step exploration of the mystery of the Borden murders.

We all know the rhyme:

Lizzy Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
Gave her father forty-one.

But did she? She was acquitted for the murder.

To start at the beginning:

Lizzie Borden was ironing handkerchiefs in the dining room and Maggie, the house servant, was washing windows on the top floor.

Around 11:00am, Lizzie called to Maggie to come downstairs quickly for someone killed her father. Later her stepmother was also found dead in the upstairs bedroom. Both had been murdered with an ax.

According to autopsies, and blood coagulation, the mother had been killed an hour and a half earlier than the father.

The community of River Falls, Massachusetts, was completely unprepared for such a grotesque crime. The police seemed to be the least prepared. They couldn't find the murder weapon, they found no clothes of Lizzie's that had any blood on it, and although fingerprint samples were available at the time, they refused to use them, considering them unreliable.

Friends seemed to have incriminating evidence, such as one who had a note written by Lizzie, refused to cooperate and the police refused to press the issue.

Eventually an ax head was found but without the handle. It turns out Lizzie burned a dress the next day of the murders and her statements and alibis were tenuous and contradictory.

However, all the police had to go on was circumstantial evidence.

Cara Robertson takes the reader through everyone's testimony, the events themselves and the court trial. Some of it gets a bit long, but is still interesting. I felt both the prosecutor and defense lawyers used too much speculation and subjective feelings as to how or why Lizzie Borden, a wealthy young woman, could or could not be capable of such a heinous crime.

In the end, the defense won. It took the jury barely ninety minutes to decide the Lizzie was not guilty. Apparently Lizzie's gender and station in society won the day.

But did it?

After being set free, Lizzie determined to return to her home and continue as she left off. But the support that her friends and church gave her while she was on trial eroded and she soon found herself alone.

She and her sister
Emma decided to move and bought an expensive house on an estate. Lizzie then began to show peculiarities that showed another side to her. She kept strange, bohemian friends. After a while the home life became so unsupportable for her sister that she moved away.

It also came out the Lizzie was a thief. Furniture and jewelry stores discovered she was stealing from them and refused to accept her patronage after that.

The case has been cold since 1893 and some questions will never be answered:

If Lizzie Bordon didn't kill her parents, who did? The house was securely locked. And where was the murderer hiding for an hour and a half undetected between the murders?

Was Lizzie a psychopath or temporarily insane?

What happened to the murder weapon?

We'll never know.

Or will we? Robertson mentions concealed documentation of the trial that is classified because of some ruling over 120 years old. Maybe a law can overturn the classification and the documents can be unsealed and shed new light on one of the most famous cold cases in America. 
The only books in the art room I put on the top shelf for Percy to shred.  Cheapest parrot toy ever and no more than what those authors deserve. 

And a hint for next week:
What are those things on the bottom of my art book shelves in the dining room? 

 Tune in next week to find out. Same Bat time; same Bat channel.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Crooked Hinge by John Dickson Carr

 Love Chopin?  I do.  Here's Maurizio Pollini playing his Nocturnes.
I believe this is my first John Dickson Carr. I've learned to trust publications that focus on mysteries from the first half of the 20th century. They won't have gratuitous violence, language or sex. Maybe because of bad old censorship, but these poor authors had to rely exclusively on story line and character development.

At first I wasn't really sure who the hero was going to be, assuming there was a hero. Dr. Gideon Fell doesn't come into it until much later. Perhaps if I had started with the first of the series, I'd have been clear about who the detective was going to be. It did become apparent after a while.

The plot is original in many respects: It is the 1930s. The Local Squire, Sir Dudley Fairleigh has died. His younger brother, John, is the next in line but has been gone since he crossed the Atlantic on the Titanic in 1912. A year previously, it turns out he did, in fact survive the crossing and comes to claim his title. He married Molly, the little girl who was sweet on him in his youth, and has been living quietly ever since.

Then another man, a Patrick Gore, arrives on the scene. He claims to also have traveled on the Titanic and also survived. In fact, Gore claims that he is the real John Fairleigh, and the current Fairleigh is an imposter. He is really Patrick Gore and they switched identities when they met on that ill fated crossing.

So. Who is telling the truth? The answer is not so straight forward and there are many surprises and unexpected twists. I really had no idea who was what and when a main character is unexpectedly murdered, the reader is even more lost.

This is an unusual detective story because it not only has a murder to be solved, but is creepy. One of the characters practices witchcraft and may have discovered the secret to a 18th century mechanical doll called the Hag, that is stored in the closet. Is this Hag somehow responsible for the murder?

It certainly scared a maid to the point of death.

The ending is completely a surprise, coming out of left field, but then again so do many turns and twists. However, I must admit the whole story is logically put together, although I think the author is sometimes guilty of drawing it out longer than it needed to be by inserting extra little twists and turns here and there. It reminded me of the old Dickens' serials.

Anyway, I'm glad to find a new author to enjoy. 
                                        But is it art?



Monday, March 8, 2021

Strangers in the House by Dorothy Gallagher

 I wrote this review two weeks ago.  Today it is 75 degrees outside.  Crazy Texas weather.  The saying is if you don't like the weather in Texas, wait around.  It'll change.


What a crazy week!  As I write this I am stranded in my house because, unlike the north, we do not have equipment to clear our roads.  What am I talking about?  This:

Our back porch:

From our 2nd floor:


 At least we still have power.  My sister lives in Denton, just north of Dallas and they are having rolling blackouts.



Still listening to Carols from King's College Choir.



I bought this book because I enjoyed the author's previous book, "How I Came Into My Inheritance."

While the writing here is as witty and sparkling as that book, I must say that I felt that it would been more appropriately titled: "How all these People Used Me, Treated Me Poorly, and Ripped Me Off Because of the Really Bad Choices I Made in my Friends and Sex Partners."

Maybe I just found the history of her parents and their relationships with her more intriguing.

The most interesting part are the chapters devoted to when she did finally settle down and marry the Publisher, Ben Sonnenberg (author of Lost Property:  Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy). They got married with their eyes wide open, because he already had M.S. and reading about the road they took as his condition disintegrated from using a cane, to a wheelchair, to being paralyzed from the neck down before finally succumbing is poignant and alone worth the price of the book.

Well, no. Also the chapters about her Russian relatives who somehow survived Stalin's genocide, including the ones who moved to the U.S. and then moved back to the newly minted Soviet Union to live in a "Socialist Utopia" is painful and touching as it imparts a fascinating part of history: Anti-Semitism. Somehow her relatives thought Communism would eradicate that defect in Russia's make up. They were wrong.

Gallagher lived in an interesting world (still does for all I know, she's in her eighties). She's a writer, living in New York City. Her life is right in the middle of other writers, artists and all sorts of bohemian folk that are the ingredients to an interesting story, or so Kerouac believed when he wrote, "On the Road."

I don't find them all that interesting. After reading about so many immoral, selfish people with chaotic lives, they start to blur together.

Still, I would rank Strangers in the House above Kerouac's On the Road, maybe due to Gallagher's writing, which is very good, or because she was able to delineate the different people in her life, giving them a little more individualistic color.

Anyway, the book is still engaging and I read it in two sittings.