Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stephen King at the Stanley Hotel

As a fan of Stephen King and living in Colorado, I just had to go and stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park where it is reputed Mr. King wrote the blockbuster novel (and film) The Shining. As a writer, I stood outside the room he used and tried to imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when the idea for the novel came into his mind. I could envision him feverishly pounding the story out behind that closed imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was living in Boulder at the time and actually wrote the book almost 40 miles away.

The Stanley Hotel is a wonderful place to stay. While I was there, a wedding reception was in progress and happy people were milling around in lovely clothes, posing on the magnificent Georgian staircase and in the grounds. It's a great place to hold an event and the staff are professional and friendly.

Not long after visiting the Stanley, having published several nonfiction books, I was inspired to write my first novel (Forbidden). One year and 78,000 words later - I can happily say "I'm done!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Princess Pocahontas at Gravesend

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan, a powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians in the Tidewater region of Virginia. She was one of many children born to the chief and his many wives, and was reportedly one of his favorite daughters. She was a loving and cheerful child with a pleasant disposition and was given the name Matoika which means “Little Wanton.”

In 1607, Pocahontas and her Algonquian tribe met the first Englishmen to land on the shores of Virginia. Much has been written about that first meeting and the fact that Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith. There may be some truth to the story, but it is generally assumed their first encounter has been romanticized over the years. However, the man who stole Pocahontas’s heart was another settler called John Rolfe. Rolfe loved Pocahontas but would not marry her until she became a Christian. This she did and took the name of Rebecca Rolfe. In 1616, Rolfe, his wife and their young son Thomas, travelled to England, a journey that would be disastrous.

After a whirlwind visit that included much of London’s society, Pocahontas was presented to King James I. She was considered a fine young woman and treated as a princess by the court of King James. Eventually, the young family made plans to return to Virginia but on the eve of their journey, Pocahontas became seriously ill, possibly with an advanced stage of tuberculosis. She was taken ashore at Gravesend where she died. She was buried at the Parish Church of St. George at Gravesend. It is said her last words to her husband were "all must die. 'Tis enough that the child liveth." Pocahontas was 22 years old at her death.

The memorial reads:

“Princess Pocahontas, the first North American Indian to become a Christian, who had been received at the Court of King James I died as she began her return journey to Virginia and was buried in the chancel of the church on 21 March, 1617.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mayan Ball Game

Imagine playing a game that if you win or lose it might mean the end of your life!

Evidence of the Mayan Ball Game can still be seen in many ruins in the jungles of Mexico and Honduras as can be seen in this photograph I took at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan recently.

It is believed the game was played with a hard rubber ball that participants had to through the vertical ring located at the top of the wall in order to score. The ball was not allowed to touch the ground during the competition and had to be kept in motion by using various parts of the men’s bodies, with the exception of the hands. The thighs and upper torso were the main parts of contact with the ball, although the lower parts of the body were also used. Sometimes, a ‘yoke’ was placed around the waist of a player which helped him direct the ball towards the desired goal.

There do not seem to be any firm rules or regulations in regard to the actual size of the courts that have been found around the world, but the court at Chichen Itza measures 12 meters high by 166 meters long and 68 meters in width. Another interesting point at the site are the carvings on the walls. These carvings depict serpents that are intertwined -- one can only imagine their meaning.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

St. Fillan's Cave

Pittenweem, ‘the place of the cave’ gets its name from the legend of St. Fillan, the 7th century missionary to the Picts. He is said to have lived in a cave in one of the wynds and had a luminous left arm by which he saw to read and write.

The cave has traditionally been associated with St. Fillan although there are stories of other saints that have lived in the area. Some evidence found in the graveyard at St. Monans (another great place to visit in Pittenweem) suggests that pilgrims came from many locations including Spain (Santiago di Compostella).

Inside the cave it is quiet, peaceful and has a spiritual atmosphere. It is still a place of pilgrimage where Christian services are still held from time to time.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dewar's Whisky & The Angel's Share

On a recent trip to Scotland, I had the pleasure of taking a tour at the Dewar's Distillery in Aberfeldy. It was built by John and Tommy Dewar in 1898 and is a great place to visit. The heritage tour begins in the old malting barn where you can spend as much time as you wish exploring the history of Dewar's. The guided distillery tour then takes you through the whole craft of making whisky, from milling, mashing and fermentation and into the Still House for distillation, and finally maturation. According to our tour guide (who was very good indeed) Scottish law requires that spirit must be stored for a minimum of three years before it can be sold as Scotch Whisky. At the Aberfeldy Dewar's distillery they allow their whisky to mature for a much longer period. They offer a Single Malt Whisky at 12 and 21 years old - both absolutely excellent and highly recommended.

There was a little mystery attached to the spirit because as it matured in the casks almost 2% "disappeared" every year. There were lots of suggestions as to who were the culprits but it was later determined the spirit merely evaporated and therefore was given the delightful term "the angel's share".