Watercolors is free today through Friday.
I hope you’ll get it, read it, and if so inclined, review it.
Lights illuminated the hilltop. Shadows danced across the wide expanse of oceans. The almond trees in full blossom sent out into the night a most luxuriant smell. From certain vantage points, one could make out their various poses through the arches of the aqueduct that stretched across the old cobblestone streets. The impressive structure had been built during the reign of King Urbain, whose public works in the area also included a home for the destitute. Its elevated domed roof edged heavenwards, and the inner garden was meticulously cared for by those thankfully afforded a place to rest. Palm trees towered above, their leaves stretching out as if the king himself was smiling most benevolently upon them.
One should not, however, imagine that it was only a city for the struggling as there was indeed great prosperity, due in large part to the high demand for the Nouvelle almond, whose taste and texture had made it one of the world’s most prized varieties. Businessmen had come from the more prosperous countries of the north to invest and had established an active minority presence. They built for themselves grand houses with fountains and statues. Their children were educated at a school that had been established by the Sisters of Mercy. There was a Catholic church and synagogue, and the local cemetery, which although predominantly Orthodox, had a resting place for Catholics and Jews as well.
Surrounding Nouvelle were mountains dotted with pine trees and villages with stone houses that could only be reached by windy roads and hairpin corners. Here a simple life could still be found, and everything was at a decidedly slower pace. Small stores still catered to individual needs. The seamstress could with a roll of fabric and pattern design a dress one would be proud to wear on the occasion of a baptism, wedding, or name day. The bakery with its freshly baked bread gave the morning air a pleasant scent, although the unmistakable smell of animals was still everywhere. While the huge cows might startle the newcomer, the residents were used to their presence. Goats agilely climbed the rocky hillsides nibbling whatever they could find. Chickens scurried about in a frenzy. Flocks of sheep roamed mountain pastures taking orders from barking sheepdogs and shepherds with their knotty staffs, whose haunting melody could sometimes be heard in the city during the early morning hours.
On clear days, one could see in the distance an island, which had in antiquity been the source of gold that had brought great wealth into the area, and whose marble had been highly praised throughout the realm.
Along the port, a variety of fishing vessels were anchored. Filled or emptied wooden crates were a common sight both on and off the ships. The intense sun brazened the faces of the fishermen smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and threading nets. Different languages could be heard spoken by those who had come hoping for a better life. Ships were named for loved ones and mythical heroes of the past. Fishing was a huge industry, and stalls sold the latest catch.
Cats, forever on the lookout for a meal, stealthily crawled about the streets. Wary of dogs, they always managed to escape their grip by sliding beneath cars. At other times of the day, when the boats had gone out to sea, they frequented the window ledges of houses.
The market was alive again with fresh fruit and vegetables. Young and old alike advertised their wares as though they were chanting the Divine Liturgy: “Oranges, fresh oranges, fresh juicy oranges! Tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, fresh juicy tomatoes!”
Spring seemed to be everywhere. The swallows had returned, and their mud nests were carefully constructed in balcony corners. They swooped about, and the sky was alive with their graceful movements. There was also the sound of the collared dove, whose hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo was a resonant herald of spring; it mingled with the scent of flowers that were everywhere exploding with color and the sun’s renewed strength.
The storks were again in their massive nests, constructed with care atop telephone poles. Their fluttering wings could be heard as they flew in search of food for their young. Dogs scurried about the streets without masters but were more than willing to accept the hospitality of any they might come across for a little something to eat or drink. They were always on some mission or another, usually running at a steady pace, sniffing about and marking territory as their own. People were generally leery of them, and parents had taught their children to avoid them. A young woman might easily freeze in her tracks if one approached. When they gathered in packs, even the large-hipped middle-aged women in colorful skirts peddling intricately woven baskets were frightened. From families that never settled in any one place, the menfolk worked the almond fields or sold whatever goods they happened to obtain. The women gave birth to children at an early age, and their presence near the aqueduct was a familiar sight. Their baskets were much in demand and stood outside many a store.
The young boys scoured them for their favorite pieces of candy. The girls, their hair in ponytails, were much more restrained. But then again they attended classes in piano and ballet. After putting down their jump ropes, they would slowly approach the baskets, commenting on the beautiful design. Delicately lifting the lid, they would gaze inside before deciding what might be to their liking.
Old women wearing the traditional mourning color talked in worried tones of the afflictions presently plaguing them. Elderly men with canes walked slowly down the streets of their youth or sat on the hard wooden chairs at the coffee shops that were exclusively their domain. Sipping their coffee loudly, they wondered what else their eyes would see, eyes that had already seen so much.
Their country was at the crossroads of nations, and the great powers had considered it important strategically, and they had suffered accordingly. War had played a part in their lives ever since they could remember. In the days in which their fathers had trudged through the cold across frontiers in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. When sleet felt as if bullets had again been unleashed by the caprice of a merciless god. For many it was their only experience of the outside world, and it would forever shape their perception. As for their children, they would find themselves in another war. Some were taken for labor, working in factories amongst the splendor of majestic cities like Vienna, which the war had not yet ravaged and whose Danube flowed peacefully, oblivious of the turn of events that were unfolding. Years later, they would receive a tiny pension in Austrian schillings. Soon they would make another kind of journey but to a place from which they would never return.
The cemetery was located on the outskirts of the city. As one passed through the gates there was a chapel with icons hanging to be kissed, white and tan candles to choose from, and a coin box. Scarcely did a day go by that another funeral wasn’t held, a grave opened, and wreaths placed upon the mound of dirt covering the newly deceased. A woman in black, her nose reddened from crying, clutching a handkerchief, stood still after having lit a candle near her husband’s grave, unable to move from the spot.
There were all manner of tombs, and without glancing at the date of birth, one could understand which were old, and it was not just the worn marble that had lost its original luster. Clearly in the present no one would deem a tomb with a wrought iron fence surrounding it and steps leading down into a crypt an appropriate resting place. Yet, others had withstood the passage of time: cemetery columns, on top of which were angels, a cross, or the crucified Savior.
Photos of the deceased were on the gravestone as were lanterns lit. If one passed at night, one would be reminded that the souls of the deceased still lived. Flowers were carefully arranged in vases. Bees, buzzing about, did not have to wait for their paradise in the afterlife: it was in the here and now. In their wake, the marble was dotted with wax. Pollen coming down in clouds from the huge cypress trees also thinly coated the surface.
On Sundays people went to honor their dead. As they made their way to the gravesite, they glanced at the dates stretching back in time. A family whose members held some key to longevity, the earliest dying at eight-six, and the oldest at one hundred and four. And in an area where tall weeds sprouted, funeral shrouds and withered wreaths inexplicably littering the ground, was the grave of a four-month-old still immaculately kept some thirty years after his death.
In the case of the elderly, the death was often preceded by years of hardship faced by the family as they witnessed their loved one’s slow demise. Lost from nearly all contact with the world around him, not realizing that the home in which he was staying was his own, he was still remarkably able to multiply large sums, speak coherently in a foreign language, and understand that he had crossed his Rubicon. At the end, he could not comb his hair or brush his teeth. He was no longer able to recognize his wife, daughter, or even himself. The sea breeze had once blown into the family home, but now the air inside was stale, thick as the blankets used in vain to try to keep his body warm. Well looked after, he was still unable to realize how very fortunate he had been as a person.
But solace would come to the bereaved, and to some extent, the irretrievable loss of their beloved was alleviated by the visit to the graveside and the care and attention spent.
Marie sometimes went to the Catholic cemetery to light a candle for those whom time had forgotten. Occasionally on tiptoes, she glanced over the wall into the Jewish cemetery and saw the headstones with their Hebrew letters, and the pebbles left atop by visitors.
No, I’m not talking about someone being released from prison.
It’s the title of my novel, you see.
For those who do read it, and like it, a review would be greatly appreciated.
As you can imagine, it’s difficult to find a picture of empty space so I have improvised accordingly.
My drive for a Bentley shall we say has crashed. Don’t get me started on that wonderful villa in Lugano that I set my heart upon.
Empty space, however? At present, it still appears to be free. My novel will be as well on December 27. I’m going to begin playing with the price from Monday so be forewarned. If you wonder why a $.99 novel is suddenly priced at $99, you’ll understand. By the way, what would you rather be in possession of an electric chain saw or a novel? Please, don’t answer.
Lest you think I’m doing this:
I’m going to enroll Jean Desjardins in KDP Select and as a result, I’m not supposed to have more than 10% of the novel on my blog. Never having been particularly good at math and not particularly inclined to count percentages, I’ve deleted the extracts I earlier posted on this site. Uncle Joe would be proud of me.
For those of you who are interested, Jean Desjardins, is now available for purchase at $.99. With the great profits I plan to reap a whirlwind of hard cash that will allow me to quit my day job and live out the rest of my years in Lugano with a Bentley.
From this Wednesday until perhaps the End of Time, I’ll be posting excerpts from my novel, Jean Desjardins, which should, barring some weird alignment of the planets, be available on November 29. If interested, click here.
For those of you like I, who were born on Thursday, and have far to go, take a listen to Lee Marvin crooning Wand’rin’ Star.
The Sacred Wall is the last remaining vestige of a temple built in antiquity by those who hearkening to the whisper of the wind fled northward from devastating flames that threatened to engulf the entire world. It is now the resting place of Paul Boulard, celebrated archaeologist and linguist, who stunned a country on the point of revolution by unearthing ancient lost cities long thought to have been a myth. Jean Desjardins, a university student, lives with the consequences of this discovery. Nearing graduation, he watches with concern as his professors fall into disfavor with the harsh nationalist government of François Régimbal. As strict legislation is enacted and freedom of speech curtailed, he falls in love with Marie, an art school graduate with a passion for Dutch still lifes. When his wealthy bumbling landlord takes a mysterious trip abroad leaving him in charge of his affairs, the lucrative contract Jean signs is not everything it seems. But then neither are Enoch and Elijah, the two extraordinary dogs who have befriended the young couple.
Of course it doesn’t. But since announcing that Jean Desjardins is coming out in November, I kind of wish it had.
Be assured, progress is being made, and I do hope by the time I have proofread and edited* it for the thousandth time that it hasn’t turned into a short story. I also hope there aren’t any typos.
For those who haven’t visited my other blog, you should know that I have decided to price it at $.99. I had originally planned on asking $1.99 thinking it would entitle me to the 70% royalty option. (Come to find out that requires it be priced at $2.99.) In the future I may raise the price so as to take advantage of the higher royalty but this is not going to be in the near future, and if I do decide to do so, I’ll let everyone know way ahead of time.
*As far as I’m concerned the following is the greatest tongue twister ever: Ed had edited it.
If you follow this blog, you may recall I said I was pricing my novel, Jean Desjardins, at $1.99. I did this wrongly assuming it would entitle me to to the 70% rather than the 35% royalty option. I take it my misunderstanding has to do with my inability/unwillingness to follow instructions. It’s a good thing the military turned me down all those years ago. If not, I might have found myself court-martialed.
What I’ve decided therefore is to price it lower at $.99 and perhaps at some point in the future, raise the price so I can take advantage of the 70% royalty option. I’m not planning on doing this any time soon, but if and when I do, I’ll be sure to give everyone fair warning.
I know it sounds as if I’m a machine, but if in doubt I can only say that in the future scenario pitting robots against humanity I will not be on the side of the robots.
Tomorrow I’ll be posting Chapter One on my other blog. For the next few weeks while continually keeping that proverbial wolf from the door (I actually like wolves, and think they’ve been given a bum rap.) I’ll be trying to get the formatting done. As Ringo, the most loveable of the Beatles sang, It Don’t Come Easy.
In the meantime, take a look at the first chapter or look through some of the poems you haven’t yet read.
Unlike Jonathan Swift in A Modest Proposal, I’m deadly serious.
Consider this a heads-up for those considering parting with their hard-earned cash or ill-gotten gains.
Jean Desjardins is short. At just over 40,000 words, it might be better classified a novella. However, it’s said to be a word in bad repute these days, and besides I’ve never much liked the term myself
If you like literary fiction and/or magic realism, the book might be of interest. If you’re interested in lots of action of the bomb-blowing variety, it’s not for you.
The first chapter, which I’ll be posting next week, will probably give you the best indication of whether it’s something you’d like to read in its entirety.
I’m in the final stages of formatting, having spent more time than I care to admit on proofreading.