Category Archives: overseas

Cross the Borders and Deceive

For the Dignified Dead

By

 Michael Genelin

A NetGalley Review

A tensely written story that crosses Europe and cultures. A female detective makes the links across multiple crimes, deaths, and countries, that culminate in a most unexpected outcome.

The writing style impressed me as it felt Eastern European in its cadence and grammar and the preciseness of a detective whose mind could make these links across so many clues and occurrences, in so many different countries.

This book did not read like an American novel. It read like a translation from a Baltic or Slavic language, which, from a western writer, was I thought impressive.

The story was complex and complicated and involved many disparate countries and police authorities. The detective amassed an enormous amount of travel miles – she hopped on planes like they were buses, in her quest to find the truth and to help find a lost boy.

In the end, she was surprised by the truth or the crimes and who committed them and just how far the conspiracy spread and who was involved and who was the mastermind, and thus just what her own role in the conspiracy turned out to be

Advertisements

Hot and steamy and up in the hills – tea anyone?

The Tea Planter’s Wife

By

Dinah Jeffries

A NetGalley Review

The Tea Plantations owners and their way of life feels hot, steamy, immensely privileged, full of snide gossip and hidden secrets.

tea_plantation

We really feel the atmosphere of Ceylon before the Second World War, as it was then known, when we read this book.

 

According to the author it is set between 1925 and 1934 and all the events that happened to the Western world have their impact on Ceylon but often some time later as information was passed along much more slowly then.

sri-lanka-map

The author lived in Malaysia as a small child so she understands the culture of Ceylon as it might have been then and the issues surrounding skin colour and who it was correct to talk to, socialise with, and even marry. The same issues were of course reflected in India at this time – the whole of the old order of the British Empire was breaking down – and the differences in lifestyle became not only more obvious but more iniquitous. Unrest amongst the workers became more common and Ghandi was speaking in India and the concept of autonomy and self-rule were suddenly being discussed amongst the natives of all the British Empire.

And yet to fuel this Empire’s economy workers had been drafted from all parts of the Empire to work in different countries where they were regarded as third class citizens – perhaps not even citizens with rights even though they may have been born in the country in which they lived and worked. All of which gave fuel to the growing unrest.

Currently Sinhalese constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, with 74.88% of the total population. Sri Lankan Tamils are the second major ethnic group in the island, with a percentage of 11.2. Sri Lankan Moors comprise 9.2%.

Tamils of Indian origin were brought into the country as indentured labourers by British colonists to work on estate plantations. Nearly 50% of them were repatriated following independence in 1948. They are distinguished from the native Tamil population that has resided in Sri Lanka since ancient times.

There are also small ethnic groups such as the Burghers (of mixed European descent) and Malays from Southeast Asia. Moreover, there is a small population of Vedda people who are believed to be the original indigenous group to inhabit the island. [wikipedia]

This multi-ethnic  and multi-cultural country did not in fact achieve independence until 1948 – after the Second World War but a universal franchise was achieved in 1931. However, the Tamils were left as a minority in the Govt as a result of this – they later demanded 50% representations for the Sinhalese and 50% for other ethnic groups but they did not receive this and the Sinhalese dominated the legislature.

The result was the Sri Lankan Civil War which began in  1983, with intermittent insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), an independent militant organisation which fought to create an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in 2009.[Wikipedia]. Of course, the way in which the plantations had been run and the Govt were the root causes of this war.sri-lanka2

But the war had not started when this book was set although we begin to see the actions that began it through the treatment of the Tamil workers on the plantations.

There are also many secrets in the family histories of the plantation owners that they kept hidden away. Family blood lines were ‘cleaned’ up to represent the line they which they had rather than the one they really had. And these family secrets begin to destroy the wife of the title as her marriage comes under increasing strain.

I don’t usually read these type of books but was intrigues by the book description and the idea of a tea plantation. As they seem very foreign and very romantic and I could almost see myself being seduced enough by the idea to become a planter’s wife – almost – but it was a very isolated life, very remote, and very formal – which really isn’t me at all!

I did enjoy the book and would probably be tempted to read the next book by this author especially having read on her website it will likely be set in Vietnam. Far Eastern travel by book…and some fascinating periods of history too.

 

The Irish Experience: Cork and Blarney

Well I guess Ireland lived up to expectations in that it was largely wet. And green.

We visited three towns whilst we were there: Cork; Limerick; and Dublin. Each town being very different in its culture and thus experience.

We actually stayed just outside Cork in a country hotel  set in a golf course with weddings every day – it was certainly wedding season! This meant that we had to drive to get to our experiences which included a wonderful wild-life park: Fota Wildlife Park. http://www.fotawildlife.ie/.  As you can see from the webpage they were great fun to visit. We saw herds of giraffes, flamingos, orang utans, tigers and other large beasties. and generally had great fun.

There was even a wallaby mum who brought her baby onto the general path and just lay there and sun-bathed.20150814_121632-1-1 20150814_120951 20150814_120958 P1030982 P1030949 P1030950

One of the more interesting areas was their newly laid out seal enclosure, where you could go downstairs to an area which was at water level to see the seals and penguins. it looked very weird from the path of course as they appeared to be in the water…

This wildlife park is only about rare and endangered species and breeding. Some animals have become incredibly rare in the wild due to habitat loss and poaching etc.

We also went to Limerick whilst in Ireland as well as Blarney and Dublin.

Blarney Castle is great. They have made a wonderful garden and generally a good experience for all the family especially those people who knit! Now why would that be you wonder?

And to explain you would need to see what the knitters have done – a group of ladies have wrapped the tree trunks in fancy knitted cosies, some embroidered, some crocheted and others just multi-coloured.

And then the kicker – they went into the garden and adorned an arbour with pom poms!

Apart from the pom poms the garden is really nice with a wetland area and other good features including a witch’s cavern and children’s activities and nice planting.

There is even a poison garden which sends you aware paranoid about what you are growing!

And no, none of us kissed the Blarney Stone!

 

P103099320150806_124033P1030961 P1030965 P1030977

Gardens of New York

Well I guess there are many private gardens in New York but lacking in the Squares that London abounds in and the Royal Parks, New Yorkers have to make do with two public parks as their joint and shared garden – and they certainly like them! The two I am referring to of course are Central Park and the High Line.

Whilst in New York earlier this year we went to both these parks – I was particularly interested to see what the High Line was really like having seen many photos and descriptions. It did not disappoint except I had thought it would be wider somehow.

It seemed to us that when we were walking the High Line the whole of Chelsea Village, friends and visitors were there too. It was very crowded where we got on but did thin out by the time we left it. I guess the ice cream vendors and coffee shops were close to where we got on and the sun had come out so…

The landscaping cleverly used much of the old railway structure with some stunning planting varieties in a prairie fashion including species tulips. But then it was Piet Oudolph who designed it, so what could you expect. And he handily provided a complete list of plants available from the website of the Friends of the High Line.

In May they also had a great art exhibition with 16 plus exhibits from photos to words to sculptures cleverly positioned so that they surprised you as you came across them. Some were very large and some small but all had something interesting to say.

P1030555 P1030562 P1030567 P1030572

Of course the other public garden in New York is Central Park. We couldn’t walk all through it but did see the following plants: Judas trees; azaleas and dwarf rhododendrons; tulips; pieris; painted ferns; hellebores; American plane trees; American elms, oaks and sugar maples as well as other maples.

Before going I had thought that Central Park was mainly grass and trees, with perhaps a skate park – my impression from the TV programmes watched, but in fact there was much more to it as the list of plants indicates.

The old stories I have heard make it out to be pretty much of a no-go area but certainly on a sunny day it was full of people enjoying themselves – locals, mums and strollers, bikes and runners, and of course, tourists.

There was a very fancy restaurant, and cafes; flowers, trees, paths, water, large boulders – glaciated granite probably – the Citadel (castle as mentioned in some books) and Shakespeare’s garden. Now this intrigues us Brits – why a Shakespeare garden?

According to the official website:

“Shakespeare Garden is a four-acre landscape named for the famed English poet and playwright. The garden features flowers and plants mentioned in his poems and plays. Small bronze plaques scattered throughout the garden bear quotes from the Bard.

The garden was first conceived in the 1880s when park commissioner George Clausen asked the Park’s entomologist to create a garden adjacent to the nature study center in the Swedish Cottage. In 1913, Commissioner Gaynor dedicated it officially to the works of Shakespeare. After years of neglect, Shakespeare Garden, just as most of Central Park, fell into disrepair. In 1987, Central Park Conservancy restored and expanded the garden, repaving paths and installing rustic wooden benches and bronze plaques with quotations from the Bard’s masterpieces.” [http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/shakespeare-garden.html]. It is not really a flower park in the way much of Regent’s Park is but still very attractive for a stroll on a nice day.

P1030548 P1030438 P1030541 P1030546

Now the clematis fanatic in me was interested to see that on the official website if you look to see what is in bloom in the spring the first 3 items are clematis:

‘Huldine’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Huldine’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to June
Location: Conservatory Garden

‘Perle d’Azure’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Perle d’Azure’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to June
Location: Conservatory Garden

‘Ramona’ Clematis

Botanical Name: Clematis x ‘Ramona’
Bloom Season: Spring
Typical Bloom Time: May to August
Location: Conservatory Garden

Pity not more of them but then as my article for the Clematis journal says, clematis are not that wide spread in the US as the winters are mostly too cold for many of them. Still there are several that are suitable for the climate depending on which zone you are in. The High Line has a set of 9 clematis also ranging from clinging vines to herbaceous including viticella and tangutica varieties and from red to yellow in colour.

 

 

 

Gardens and New England: is a lawn a garden?

On a recent visit to New England I looked especially for what I could see people were growing in their gardens – being that kind of nosy person as I am when it comes to gardens..

Admittedly it was a particularly cold winter and spring was only just arriving – indeed we were told by a native that the snow had only just melted on his drive, but the range of plants seemed remarkably small.

There were lots of magnolias but only 3 varieties – soulangeana, a few nigra and white stellata. And there are some 200 plus varieties possible! Some varieties actually come from the US – mostly grandiflora – the ones that have shiny leaves, are non-deciduous and flower in the summer on a sunny wall site,; and the others mostly from South America. Though in a woodland garden my envy grew very green indeed as I spied several yellow magnolias in flower.

This is a standing gripe of mine – I once saw a yellow magnolia in flower at Kew and ever since wanted one for myself. Normally I don’t like yellow flowers much but I set my P1030253 magnolia-yellow-river P1030241heart on a yellow magnolia.

When we reconfigured our front garden I set out to buy one for it. I had just the right space for a nice mid-sized tree. I scoured the Internet, asked Kew and the RHS – who did sell one but it wasn’t in stock and… In the end a Cornish nursery who specialised in rarer shrubs and from whom I had bought our pink ceanothus shrubs came up with one. A light yellow but still… we waited and it didn’t flower. But it was young and so another spring came round and lo one bud appeared, but a creamy white flower appeared… it’s young, next year maybe it will be yellow. Next spring came and more buds appeared, yes it was going to flower well. Lovely flowers opened but still pale cream. Yellow River wasn’t living up to its name at all! Could I encourage better yellow I asked the RHS? No, was the reply… and then, to cap it all, the nursery I had bought my tree from sent me a new catalogue with about a dozen yellow varieties to choose from! Ugh…

Our Yellow River is not quite as yellow as in this picture though… the other two magnolias are ours as they flowered this year.

So what else was growing in these New England gardens? Some small dwarf rhododendrons in purple, and  one bright pink, no other colours despite many rhododendrons originating in the US. Lots of forsythia. Cherry trees. Judas trees. Daffodils – in standard sizes and colours – dwarfs, no whites no frills. A few tulips. Some grape hyacinth. A few pansies. And grass. Acres of grass. And yet more grass. No hedges with plots running into each other both in front of houses and in their back ‘yards’ or gardens.  Sometimes some scrubby woodland but no woodland flowers.

We learnt what happens at the back from a friend who had lived in his house for over 20 years – since it was built in fact and yet he had only just started his first garden – the rest was grass – yes 5 acres of it. He had planted 3 small cherries and a small flower bed round his front door and was very proud of it as his neigh ours had nothing like it. Yet he had a stream running through the end of his garden which we would have loved to landscape.

We passed a few nurseries on the roads and they did seem very small and with few plants on display and really felt, that despite the winter temperatures – our friends said that they claimed that only conifers would grow – they had not explored the potential. It is true that my favourite winter clematis would not grow there but surely they could do better.

So here is where I started researching what they could have grown – looking initially at clematis of course.  And then some others out of interest and to complement. I will be writing a special article about clematis in the US for a journal so I need not to pre-publish here…

The USA Horticultural Society publishes a zonal map of the USA which indicates what zone a place is in terms of hardiness of plants. This is very important as many plants will not survive very low winter or very high summer temperatures.  There is both a heat zone map and a hardiness map to look at.  So when purchasing a plant you need to consider both extremes.  So for instance if you look at the hardiness rating you can purchase for Boston many of the same clematis as I have in my garden eg Westerplatte and Polish Spirit. For New York it is trickier as it will depend on where you are in the NY area, but generally it is the warmest rating similar to Boston where -15 C  is the lowest temperature likely.

Now in our own garden we have had these types of winter temperatures occasionally so we could expect most clematis to survive the winters. However, as many people will have realised this summer, it is the heat and lack of water that can affect clematis, many of mine have had very short flowering seasons and have shrivelled up seedheads and started losing leaves without enough rain (here in my area of London we have missed just about every rain cloud in the last 2 months..).

So what could you grow in New England to supplement these few I saw…

Here are a few suggestions:

“Star magnolia is well known for its resistance to winter cold and grows well in USDA zones 4 through 8. Saucer varieties (M. x soulangeana) are also popular magnolia tree owing to their prolific flowering displays; they too are cold hardy and can be planted in USDA zones 4 through 9. In areas susceptible to late frosts, select the later-blooming cultivars “Lennei” or “Alexandrina.” Magnolia hybrids such as “Betty,” “Pinkie” and “Ricki,” created by crossing M. liliiflora with M. stellata, display cold resistance to USDA zone 5, and are also later bloomers, making them less susceptible to late frost damage. If you are set on planting a Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) in a colder region, “Bracken’s Brown Beauty” is cold-hardy variety.” http://homeguides.sfgate.com/magnolia-trees-cold-temperature-65541.html

I have tried to find a clearer list of plants but mostly the sites just say to ‘look at the plant label’ in the nursery and I have tried search the US Horticultural Society too – interestingly they do not list a national clematis society so perhaps this is a plant that does not grown well on a national scale – or there is not a great deal of interest in it. All that I have managed to dredge up so far is a list of when you can expect the first frost in the year – and they are remarkably specific dates! Eg if you live in Baltimore you can expect your first frost on the 17th of November,  but if you live in Charleston  it will be on the 10th of December, but it will be the 11th if you live in Houston! Such specificity….

So failing in any details available from the USA itself I fall back on the RHS who have provided us with a hardiness rating for plants which goes down to minus 20. Not enough for all of the US but works in the UK!

So here are some plants that will survive -20: Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, selections of Potentilla fruticosa, Erica carnea and Calluna vulgaris cultivars. Ginkgo biloba, Hosta, Lilium, Polemonium caeruleum, and Viburnum × burkwoodii are also likely to survive most cold temperatures.

My final search was in the plant finder offered by the RHS where I searched for the most cold, drought and wind resistant plants and found 149 that they could recommend – a lot were shrubby of course eg Berberis or from the pinus family but they also recommended some Geraniums, Lychnis, Japanese anemones, achillea, ferns, certain grasses eg stipa, papavers, aquilegia and campanula, and of course we must be reminded that tulips will not flower unless they are cold when in the bulb.

So what could you grow in the heat? The heat zone is defined as the number of days the area receives on average more than 30C. Boston and New York are around 100 days or 3 months plus.

Cold and heat together are tricky for plants of course but you can water and prepare plants for both through good planting, mulching and cold protection with sacking let alone fleece or a greenhouse! Don’t forget shading from the sun as this can help too. And check the micro-climates in your garden – we have at least three plus a frost passage n ours which means we plant differently in different areas and have now created a shaded passageway as well.

You can then look up for heat resistant plants of course and I would strongly recommend learning from nature here California and go to the stunning https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Bancroft_Garden botanical garden in Walnut Creek and just see what you can grown in near drought conditions. When I visited I actually met Ruth very briefly as she was pottering around in the garden. We were taken around by a very knowledgeable docent and loved every minute of our visit. And as a result we grow several Agaves and Aloes in our hot spot and they are doing really well…agave

Sailing the High Seas on a Queen

On our recent trip to New York and Boston, we travelled  back across the Atlantic on the Grand Circle route – with the Queen Mary II.P1030499

Amazing how you can lose 3500 thousand or so people on a ship such that, except for lunch in the buffet or sitting in the theatre listening to a lecture, it appears (relatively) quiet. With nearly always a place to sit..but limited outlets for your phone or computer. There was a lot of entertainment including lectures, a knitting club, cinema and daily fitness classes plus a mile walk after breakfast round the deck. Think a Warners for adults heritage hotel (see the Art Deco interiors) but bigger with very few children and fewer electric scooters. Though I do confess, I ended up borrowing one of their wheelchairs as the distances were very long when you traversed from end to end in  search of the library at one end and the pool at another and so on…

P1030626 P1030642 P1030627 P1030619 P1030617 P1030649

OUr cabin was initially a challange for the three of us bearing in mind that our daughter slept on a put-u-up sofa –  but enough space – just – needed to be kept tidy, though surprisingly, there were more wardrobes and crucially, more hangers than we had been offered at either hotel which was why we had kept all the hangers that had come back with our washing.

We had a full balcony – not obscured in any way but we never managed to sit on it, despite the three chairs – as the weather was never good enough. We were later told that we should have opted for a window room as this was the same size as the ones with balcony included.. things you learn.

Look how long a corridor was – from end to end of the Queen.

Whilst on board we opted for the Asian Tasting menu on one night which was pretty good and they did manage – just – to rustle up some tofu fror me though clearly this was a challenge for them.

Would we do it again?

Well, it was our first real long distance boat trip – as going up and down the Nile didn’t really count and we were only 60 people that time – and the answer is ‘no’. Not across the Atlantic as it got boring by the end of the trip – only one act in the theatre interested us, and we walked out of the one film that we hadn’t seen as it was so bad. I only once managed to grab a desk in the library – only about 8 of them – so failed to  write anything – the internet was extortionate and so we were out of circulation completely – which is both good and bad; and there are just so many books you can read, which is saying something from me as the weather was such we couldn’t outside much at all and so were stuck in the coffee bar – shame you cry – almost all the time.

Also, the shops stocked stuff we didn’t want to buy! So the only thing we came away with was a fridge magnet and a key ring. They totally failed to sell to us!

However, some – older – women mostly – loved it and not only travelled it both ways without getting off(!!) but also did it every year. Total luxury of course. Silver service for eating, with waiters changing three times a day and always immaculate and sparkling white; lots of staff and dedicated room stewards; and generally speaking everyone was friendly and helpful.

I think we will cruise again, but stick to the rivers – smaller boats and more to see out of the portholes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston USA: eating and tourist traps

OK so we went to Boston and ate and toured some more. We ate at the:

  • Gourmet Dumpling House
  • La Galeria in Salem Street, which is a traditional Italian;
  • Xingh Xingh which is Vietnamese and we highly recommend the fresh vegetable spring rolls and the tofu caramelised in a pot. the rice ends up stuck to the bottom of the pot and is crispy and crunchy and caramelised!
  • Mare – an  upmarket Oyster and Fish bar.
  • Boston Tea Party cafe – beware – the traditional clam chowder is made with pork fat.

Now we decided to do the traditional tour of the coast and see some villages/small towns. So we hired a car and set off to Plymouth. we ate a hearty breakfast at the Roadhouse which seemed to be cowboy themed with a central bar for alcohol and very large portions of steak for breakfast…. After wandering around for a bit we drove down the road and eventually decided we needed lunch – at the Blue Plate diner. This was in a hamlet really but was full of very friendly people.P1030371 P1030377 P1030379 P1030380 P1030384 P1030385

Off we went to Providence which is very cute town indeed, with lots of very cute doggies and owners… BUT, a warning here, in Season they can have upwards of 80,000 visitors a day.. yes I got the noughts right. However, we were there before they opened up some of the shops and the beach – which isn’t cleared until June 2nd – the Season then continuing until around 1st September. It is quite Disney-like and difficult to access the beach.

As the town wasn’t really open yet when we visited we had to go back to Plymouth for our evening meal which we ate at the Bangkok Thai.

We also visited Concorde where in the Market and Cafe (which didn’t have any type of market) we had the world’s largest iced coffees for $4 and a very delicious mocha raspberry muffin. There were some nice artisan shops there with the jewellery being locally made but often pricey.