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From my journal, May 1994:

"Did you see the annular eclipse? It was a perfect day for it here: high- clouded blue, the trees leafed out or leafing, still pale green, a trifle rumpled with unpacking. Light breezes in the dappled grass. Clean rainwashed air. By one, the flawless clarity of light began to dim. A queer dark, neither dusk nor overcast. Underexposed. The moon worked strange equations of light and space and time: as if the world were bright but somehow distant, or later on but here, or nowhere, now. Sharp shadows, and a cooler spectrum, a flattening and heightening of space- time, like a scene in a camera obscura. Like a view of Delft. (Vermeer composed his pictures through a camera obscura, casting its image on the canvas, painting light not line. It gives a dreamlike surreality.) A few birds clamored in the trees, confused or settling.

"Then the air was tranced. The trees were underwater, underhill. Elsewhere. Dark-dazzled, like a world enstoned in crystal: dark within, but lightedged, and refracting light.. Glimpsed sidelong through film, the sun was crescent, heavy, like a raindrop streaming; but of fire. Ablaze but coldly: vermeil, silver-gilt. The oddest thing I’d not expected, and
it stopped me with a shock of wonder. (I must have read of it, long since; but I’d forgotten.) Through the screen of new leaves, at the fringes of the shadows, the sun cast thousands of light crescents, imaging itself. It spelled itself on earth.

"This evening clear, the sky almost colorless, faint gold; then the deepest endless blue and Venus riding air." 

In there

29 July 2017 02:02 am
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Charlie Gard has died, poor little soul, just a week from his first birthday.  His memory for a blessing.  He never really had a chance.  Genetics dealt him the cruellest of hands:  incredibly rare, inherited mutations in the gene RRM2B.  Almost from birth, he was dying.  Week by week, he suffered devastating seizure-storms, leading to severe, irreversible, progressive brain damage.  He was deaf.  He was functionally blind.  He lost the power to move on his own, to breathe. 

Like Charles Wallace Murray’s in A Wind in the Door, his mitochondria were failing, his cells and organs shutting down; but unlike in that story, there was no war in heaven for his sake—only a terrible court battle.

Charlie spent most of his short life at Great Ormond Street Hospital for children (to which J. M. Barrie left the copyright to Peter Pan)*.  Back in January, his doctors there were willing to try an experimental American treatment with nucleosides, one that had never been attempted on a child with his specific rare syndrome.  (Only 16 cases have ever been diagnosed.)  But before they could begin, the infant’s condition took a sharp downward turn.  It was concluded, regretfully, that further treatment would be futile.  Would be cruel.

But the parents had caught fire with hope.  They knew—just knew—that if they could get Charlie to that doctor in America, he would be cured.  They knew their beautiful, unblemished child was in there.

In there is powerful.

It led Anne Sullivan to work miracles with Helen Keller.  Yet that belief in the real child, a perfect mind imprisoned in a damaged brain, has also led to the barbaric torture of neurologically atypical children with “treatments” like bleach enemas and chemical castration; it has led to profoundly disabled people being used as flesh planchettes, to spell out the manipulator’s fantasies of buried genius or atrocious abuse.  In there is hope.  Humans have sat beside whirring, blinking, whooshing bedsides, willing a beloved person to be in there, to wake up.

In Charlie’s case, in there led to agonizing litigation.  His doctors at GOSH (“The child first and always”) thought he might be in pain.  They considered his case hopeless.  They petitioned to have his ventilation withdrawn, to let him slip away in peace.

His parents fought like tigers for the nucleosides.  They simply would not believe that Charlie could be suffering, could not be made better somehow.  They believed (so they told the press) that he liked to watch videos with them.  Their agony of hope was moving and persuasive:  they crowdfunded £1.3 million to bring Charlie to America.  Even now their denial is obstinate:  “had Charlie been given the treatment sooner, he would have had the potential to be a normal, healthy little boy.”

Then everyone jumped in.  Right-to-lifers stalked the hospital and court with signs.  They sent thousands of abusive messages, even death threats, to the pediatric staff at GOSH.  Small Hands—spit!— tweeted his enthusiasm.  Two Congressmen—taking a moment from strangling healthcare for millions of less well-funded babies—offered Charlie American citizenship.  (I can’t even.)  The Pope offered him a Vatican passport.

And then the miracle-worker himself, Dr. Michio Hirano, descended.  He admitted to the court (to its “increasing surprise and disappointment”) that he hadn’t so much as looked at Charlie or his brain scans or his records before promising wonders.  “Further, GOSH was concerned to hear the Professor state, for the first time, whilst in the witness box, that he retains a financial interest in some of the NBT compounds he proposed prescribing for Charlie.”

He may be a very good wizard, but he’s a very bad man.

The report concludes:  “Devastatingly, the information obtained since 13 July gives no cause for optimism. Rather, it confirms that whilst NBT may well assist others in the future, it cannot and could not have assisted Charlie.”

I hope his parents devote that £1.3 million to help those others.  That would truly make his memory a blessing.


*The best endowment ever.

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Whish ... Whish ... it said up in the sky as the northern lights flickered and flared; they were the Snow Queen’s fireworks.

I am going to Finland, though not in the robber girl's mittens.  And what I carry to be read will not be written on a stockfish, though it all goes into the saucepan of story.   Whee!  "The Snow Queen" was always my favorite of Andersen's tales, with its puzzles of ice, and its intermezzo of flowers, and somehow later on the Finland woman morphed into Mally.  "The Little Mermaid"?  Huh!  Titus Andronicus with fish!

And let's not talk about "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf."

I have a day's layover in Iceland on the way.  So cool.

The Worldcon 75 programme is enticing, with its blacksmith and its bears.  They've given me a very brief schedule, which leaves all the more time to look and listen.

Thursday, August 10

3:00 PM
Magical Libraries and Archives
Greer Gilman, Kathryn Sullivan, Lauren Schiller, Kat Takenaka

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural to Warehouse 13 through Librarians and Doctor Who - libraries and archives have hoards of amassed knowledge and magical items! How is this trope handled in audiovisual media and does the reality becoming more digital have an impact?

Friday, August 11

4:00 PM
Invented Languages

David J. Peterson, Anne Lyle, Greer Gilman, John Chu

Many fantasy worlds contain their own languages. Are they any good? Can the quality of a fantasy world be measured by its language?

Sunday, August 13

10:00 AM
Reading: Greer Gilman, William Ledbetter

I have no idea why I've been paired with a military SF guy—we will mightily puzzle each other's audiences.

Silly me—I didn't sign up for an autograph session, because there are never many people—sometimes none—and it's embarassing.  But once or twice at every con, someone thrusts a battered old Moonwise or an archival Faces of Fantasy at me (an old fan at Readercon this year brought six).  And I didn't think, hey, Finland is a whole new crowd of people.  Maybe I should ask to be squeezed in?

Things I've been told not to miss in Helsinki include the red squirrels on Suomenlinna, the Aeolian Sibelius monument, and Helene Schjerfbeck's paintings.  I look forward to cloudberries, mushrooms, and herring.

I can't believe I'm doing this.  I must be mad.


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I dreamed that all the personal names in a mystery manuscript were wrong, and called my dream-editor with changes:  the middle-aged detective-figure and her brother the Duke were now Helen and Humphrey, and their eccentric brother, Lord Instead.

I wish my waking muse were that inventive.

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Jamie Parker, who sat on the panel that chose Michelle Terry to lead Shakespeare's Globe, describes her as a "genuine collaborator, who at the same time won't sacrifice the courage of her artistic convictions. ... No one can possibly accuse Michelle of being a regressive traditionalist, or backwards-looking. Her work speaks for itself. That said, she is also in-tune with the building as a theatrical instrument and she has her own understanding of the imaginative contract between the actors and the audience. That is the bedrock of everything that happens on Bankside."

"Theatrical instrument" is well said. If you've been in the Globe, it resonates like a drum: its players speak high and clear, like pipe and tabor, sackbut and shawm. And hearing a play in the Wanamaker is like sitting inside a lute.

It's sad that that commentators keep apologizing, as if a love of Shakespeare were reactionary.

Michelle Terry says: "The work of Shakespeare is for me timeless, mythic, mysterious, vital, profoundly human and unapologetically theatrical. There are no other theatres more perfectly suited to house these plays than the pure and uniquely democratic spaces of The Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I am so proud and excited that I will be in the privileged position where I can offer artists the opportunity to come together to reclaim and rediscover not only Shakespeare, but the work of his contemporaries, alongside new work from our current writers. For us to then share those stories with an audience that demands an unparalleled honesty, clarity and bravery, is all a dream come true."



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And as long as I'm musing on British actresses, my stars, Fiona Shaw!   An interviewer asked her. "Richard II.  What about playing a man?"  "I didn't really approach it as playing a man.  I approached it as playing a god."

Her Waste Land is a masterclass in speaking poetry.

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With thanks to the falcon-eyed Catherine Rockwood, who spotted this glorious map by Sasha Trubetskoy.


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(Wooden) O thank heavens.

I can go back to the Globe!  They've announced Michelle Terry (a brilliant Shakespearean actor) as the new artistic director of the Globe.  It's back in the hands of the players, where it began, where it belongs.

I trust her taste.  I've seen her (only on DVD, alas), as Rosalind, Beatrice, Titania/Hippolyta, Rosaline, and the Princess of France.  All terrific.  I wish I'd seen her as Henry V.  What I remember most vividly is a moment from the Dream.  The play had begun with masked figures of Titania and Oberon, seducing and inspiriting Hippolyta and Theseus; then a battle of Athenians and Amazons, bow-women all, with sigils on their brows.  After Hermia's stormy declaration of love and the pronouncement of her patriarchal doom, the silent queen came up to her, looked long, and traced a sigil on her brow.  Perhaps she meant, There are other sisterhoods.

Before it was invaded by meaningless noise, the old Globe did Shakespeare very well indeed, thank you.


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My twenty-seventh! (of 28) Readercons went rather nicely.

How I love listening to intelligent people!  And it’s exhilarating (if scary) to try to make sense on panels.

Only three mishaps, one on the way over.  The highway traffic was appalling, bumper-to-bumper, and my lift, distracted by Siri’s countermands, slid gently into the car ahead, out of which burst an irate and vengeful Chinese couple, dancing like furies round and round both cars, heedless of the six-lane traffic, shouting, “You pay cash!  You pay cash!”  But on the sight of a cellphone, they vanished like spirits at cockcrow.

Next, I discovered that I’d left my carefully curated selection of chocolate and tea—all carefully matched to my program—on a chair at home.  Ah well, there were M&Ms in the green room.  And Taylor’s of Harrogate tea, not at all shabby.

After my reading, I found I’d lost an especially pretty and unmatchable hand-painted bead-button from a favorite dress, and was disconsolate.  It could have fallen off anywhere in the hotel.  But I searched what I could search—my room—before checking out, and discovered the button in the darkest corner of the closet, glinting back at my Light app like a mouse’s eye.  I felt (as one does) disproportionately elated.  I swear it hadn't been there the first six times I looked.  Don’t you love happy endings?

I heard four remarkable readings.  Sonya Taaffe gave us intense shards of poetry and a short story about the post-punk tutelary spirit of a Birmingham canal; Lila Garrott read from their astonishing misfits-in-Utopia novel-in-progress, which is stranger than you can imagine, and utterly lucid; Kathleen Jennings read part of an Australian Gothic novella about an outback town invaded, all but strangled, by alien intrusive flowers, and a tale of a wandering exile oneirically entangled in a Briar-Rose-like labyrinth.  And the peerless John Crowley read from his essential mythic tale of an immortal crow, Ka : Dar Oakley in the ruin of Ymr.  It will be out at last in September!  He gave me an ARC!  Calloo!

For all the brilliance, all the wisdom, wit, and passion lavished on the dizzying array of panels, the hour I remember most vividly was the hilarious Terrible But Great, on irresistibly awful books.  What a hoot!

Of my own panels, Good Influences and Sororal Fantasies were simply a joy; and I plume myself on getting through the Deaths of Gods with James Morrow and Max Gladstone without being cut to ribbons intellectually.  It was like jumping into Double Dutch with lasers.  But I sideslipped the Tetragrammaton:  I went pagan, and talked about the voice from the island crying, “The great Pan is dead,” and about walking down through San Clemente in Rome, from Baroque exultation, down through mediaeval austerity, the abyssal ἰχθύς of the catacombs, the rock-hewn and bull-blooded temple of Mithras, down to the ever-welling spring.

And my reading—always the locus of hope and anxiety—went quite well.  There were more than a handful in the audience:  they listened intently, laughed at the right places, and asked impassioned questions.  They loved the scene I hadn’t read before, about John Donne’s wife and daughter and the compasses.  And wonder of wonders, I have a recording!  As many of you know, Readercon has been recording its panels and readings for decades, way back to wax cylinders (for all I know), and squirreling them away in a vault somewhere.  Possibly in catacombs.  After the apocalypse, I imagine they’ll be used to recreate civilization from scratch.  Gods help us all.   I’ve been asking forever and ever where the archived recordings go.  Some of us would love to revisit fondly remembered hours.  (There was that panel on language when Crowley recited the first page of Lolita...)  This time, the sound guy (there's only one, racing about like an electron) said, Sure.  Got a USB stick?  I had, and he just popped the files onto it.  Golly.

The bookroom is simply paradise.

Over the four days, I had lively and engaging conversations with (among others) [personal profile] ashnistrike , [personal profile] sovay , [personal profile] rushthatspeaks , [personal profile] gaudior , [personal profile] yhlee , [personal profile] negothick , Crowley, Michael Swanwick and Marianne Porter, Glenn Grant, Michael Damian Thomas, and too little time with John Clute and Liz Hand, Chip Delany, and Suzy McKee Charnas.  Long may they all continue!  Oh, and the little Fox came on Sunday and charmed everyone.  He's just learned to wave bye-bye, and has acquired an enchanting deep chortle when you fly him overhead.

Then I tottered home and slept eleven hours...

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The last word in elegant prams went by, one of those leggy things cradling a hooded nest.  I could see nothing of the baby but an immaculate white cloud of blanket and a pink starfish hand, holding an iPhone.

A Warner Brothers cartoon for the twenty-teens.

I hope that phone was a toy...

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"Emma Rice's last season in charge of the Globe opens with loud defiance."  If she can't have it, she'll trash it.

Remember that appalling Midsummer Night's Dream?  Her Romeo and Juliet outdoes it in vulgarity.

"I see no reason why Shakespeare’s words should be screeched."

This production "roars and giggles and stamps its feet. ... The ball scene is engulfed in a chorus of YMCA; Romeo turns into the Columbine killer."


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Readercon 28.  Gosh.  Here's what I'm on:

Thursday July 13

9:00 PM    
A Hero by Any Other Name.
Randee Dawn, Greer Gilman, Elaine Isaak, Kenneth Schneyer (leader), Tamara Vardomskaya.

Would Maleficent be less terrifying if her name were Suzy? Would Arthur Dent and Zaphod Beeblebrox have been able to have each other's adventures? In literature, names can serve as shorthand to imply a character's age, ethnicity, time or place of origin, and emotional and psychological makeup. This panel will explore the art and psychology of character names.

Friday July 14

3:00 PM
Good Influences.
Scott Edelman, Greer Gilman, Elizabeth Hand (leader), Rosemary Kirstein, Ilana Myer, E.J. Stevens.

In contrast to the bad influences panel from past Readercons, these panelists will discuss authors who were positive influences on their writing during their formative years. Who showed them what good worldbuilding is, what strong narration looks like, and how to deepen a plot with social commentary? Panelists will share, discuss, and praise their problematic and unmitigatedly awesome mentors.

5:00 PM   
The Deaths of Gods.
Martin Cahill (leader), Greer Gilman, Max Gladstone, John Langan, James Morrow.

In Philip Pullman's Golden Compass series, two children literally kill God. In Victor Koman's The Jehovah Contract, a hard-boiled PI is hired for the same job. Max Gladstone's Craft books and Robert Jackson Bennett's City trilogy explore the deaths of gods in polytheistic worlds. How do these narratives of mortals killing supposed immortals differ from ones where gods destroy one another? It's too simplistic to think of these as atheist narratives; how do they explore the power of belief, and the intrusion of incontrovertible fact into a belief system?

Saturday July 15

10:00 AM
We Have Always Lived with the Magic.
Phenderson Clark, Greer Gilman, Victoria Janssen (leader), Kate Nepveu, Naomi Novik.

Guest of Honor Naomi Novik's Temeraire books take a slow and clever approach to a common issue with alt-historical fantasy: if magic has always existed, why have historical events gone essentially the same way that they did in our magicless world? Her focus on the familiar territory of Western Europe during the Napoleonic Wars gradually broadens to include other regions that look very different. This panel will examine this and other techniques for integrating magic into history, including using the appearance or reappearance of magic as a timeline divergence point, limiting magic or paranormal entities to a particular region of the world, portraying paranormal communities or magic-users as hidden and secretive, and entirely reinventing history from the Neanderthals on up.

2:00 PM 
Reading: Greer Gilman.

Greer Gilman reads from a work in progress.

Sunday July 16

12:00 PM
Sororal Friendships in Fantasy.
Greer Gilman, Naomi Novik, Julia Rios (leader), Tui Sutherland, Fran Wilde.

One of the central relationships in Guest of Honor Naomi Novik's novel Uprooted is between the heroine and her best friend. Agnieszka and Kasia were raised together and have a deep bond that is explored throughout the novel. This depiction of female friendship is unusual in fantasy fiction and gave rise to much discussion (and no small amount of fanfic from fans who either wanted to see more of the friendship or felt it ought to have been a romance). This panel explores sororal friendships in fantasy and the ways they can alter or comment on familiar tropes such as the maiden in the tower and the questing band of brothers.




5 July 2017 10:50 pm
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Had a lovely, low-key Fourth with [personal profile] sovay 's hospitable extended family, including her cousins [personal profile] gaudior  and [personal profile] rushthatspeaks , and their little Fox (aged 8 1/2 months) in a Delft* blue-and-white onesie, like an animated chocolate pot.  (They're too tall for a teapot.) [personal profile] spatch , alas, had to work.  [personal profile] choco_frosh  very kindly gave me a lift to the festivities, which he adorned until he had to rush off to ring one of the bells for the 1812 Overture.  I've never asked who does the cannons.

Besides excellent company, there was a lavish repast:  lobster! along with the classic trinity of hamburgers, hot dogs, and potato salad.  There was Virgil's root beer (and other potations).  There was home-made—though not hand-cranked this year**—strawberry ice-cream.  (To every season, churn churn churn...)  [personal profile] spatch  and [personal profile] sovay had made a perfectly cloudlike angel cake with sharp lemon curd and whipped cream.  Sublime!

Fox was having a perfectly amazing afternoon, meeting in swift succession their first spoonful of strawberry ice cream, their first slide whistle and first bongos, their three-year-old cousin's trampoline***, and their first (architectural) step, which they handled triumphantly, clambering both down and up


*Or maybe Royal Copenhagen.

**The replacement crank was still in transit.

***They can just about stand for a second or two without a handhold, before going boom, but they were eager to *J*U*M*P*.

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Flour on Mount Auburn had a variant of this today.  Traditionally, it's strawberries dolloped with heavy unsweetened whipped cream into which shattered meringues have been folded.  Fabulous!  Their take used raspberries--they swirl beautifully--and added slivered almonds, which I didn't think improved the dish.

It's proper to the Eton-Harrow match, so totally Lord Peterish.

I had mine in the Radcliffe garden on a bench by the fountain, watched by a quizzical tapestry-rabbit, on a flawless June day. The irises and peonies have nearly all gone by, but the roses are in full cascade.

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The Actors’ Shakespeare Project is back on form.  They’ve done some amazing productions over the years—a water-elemental Twelfth Night and a galleried Henriad and a Cherry Orchard so poignantly comic that I forgave them for doing it in an inaccessible venue in the wake of a blizzard.  They’d found an immense drawing-room of exactly the right period to play it in, and packed it up around the audience.  Oh, and that 2 Henry VI, with Gloucester doubling as Jack Cade as Mr. Punch. 

But they’d lost ground of late.  Last season, they did A Winter’s Tale with so few players that Mamillius had to be a small voice off.  Doesn’t work.  (The best local Twelfth Night I’ve seen had a wonderful grave child with a teddy bear, who haunted Leontes’ soliloquies.)  The ASP Hamlet last fall was swallowed by the church they played it in; their Tempest (with Prospero and Milan cross-cast) had a sadly weak Miranda and Ariel, but an absolutely cracking Caliban/Stephano/Trinculo trio.  I was getting worried.

But they’ve come back amazingly this spring.  They did a stunning bath-house Edward II, with “Vndique mors est” painted starkly on the wall behind the audience.

And I’ve just come from a lovely little Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by the Revels veteran Patrick Swanson, in which the double and triple casting works like a marvellous toy.  Oberon and Titania/Theseus and Hippolyta, of course; but also Egeus/Bottom and Philostrate/Puck; and a quartet of endlessly inventive young actors as the lovers and the rude mechanicals and their Pyramus and Thisbe avatars and the fairy court.  (The downside being that they can’t snark at themselves in their play.)  All excellent, but I was much taken with two new players.  Equiano Mosieri is a scarily enticing Oberon, all menace and mischief.  Monica Giordano as Snug is the epitome of all Helena’s insecurities; but just at the end of her performance you see her lose herself in Lion, batting and blowing and inhaling that mantle with a kittenish ferocity.  When she steps back, she’s glowing like a child with joy.  Steven Barkhimer is most of an utterly fantastic  Bottom (his me-thought-I-had is played by someone else’s arm, upholding an apple which Titania bit).  And he plays the bones, duetting with Titania on finger cymbals.  Bliss. 

The rest of the music is a cello in the gallery, and songs (their “Philomel, with melody” setting is lovely).  There’s no scenery, except a rollaway bank-whereon for the FQ and Bottom; the effects and properties are goofy, the magic flowers being trick bouquets, and Peaseblossom &c. being puppets.  Hermia’s dream, though, is amazing:  a serpent made of fairies, advancing through and through each other’s legs.

A young girl (nine? ten?) I spoke with in the intermission had had her parents bring her back a second time:  “This is my favorite play in the world.”  That’s doing Shakespeare right.

Three more performances, Saturday and Sunday

I bought a subscription to their upcoming “Downfall of Despots” season.  I hope it works.


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"An amateur historian has unearthed compelling evidence that the first Australian maritime foray into Japanese waters was by convict pirates on an audacious escape from Tasmania almost two centuries ago..."

Hamaguchi wrote of sailors with “long pointed noses” who were not hostile, but asked in sign language for water and firewood. One had burst into tears and begun praying when an official rejected an earlier plea.

A skipper who looked 25 or 26 placed tobacco in “a suspicious looking object, sucked and then breathed out smoke”.

He had a “scarlet woollen coat” with “cuffs embroidered with gold thread and the buttons were silver-plated”, which was “a thing of great beauty, but as clothing it was gaudy”.


The skipper gave instructions to a crew that “in accordance with what appeared to be some mark of respect” followed orders to remove their hats “to the man, most of them revealing balding heads”.

They “exchanged words amongst themselves like birds twittering”.

A dog on the ship “did not look like food. It looked like a pet.”



Another samurai chronicler called Hirota noted the crew offered gifts including an object he later drew, which looks like a boomerang.

One sailor bared his chest to the disguised samurai to reveal a tattoo of “the upper body of a beautiful woman”, Hamaguchi wrote.

Another produced “a big glass of what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage and indicated that we should drink”.

“We declined by waving our hands, upon which they passed the glass around themselves, one by one tapping their heads as they drank to indicate the good feeling it brought them, and finished the lot.”

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After our chilly wood-near-Athens spring in which the blossoms lingered in a trance of green, and everyone had shocking colds, it was (quite obscenely) 100º today.  The skies have just opened and I went out and danced—rather wimpishly, under the portico, as I think there was hail mixed, and some fine fierce lightning banging away like Jove's stapler.  I refuse to be spatchcocked by the gods.

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At Mount Auburn, the Sargent crab is in flower.





And look who's hanging about the graveyard...


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