My River!

I was born on an ancient river in a country which no longer exists. The country, then Yugoslavia, split into many parts, including my home, Serbia. The river was the Danube, an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools.

And I love both the river and my home country with a passion and a longing that is part of my very being.

This come to mind now because of a wonderful video,

The Danube in Serbia: 588 ImpressionsDanube in Serbia photo

(Link to video at end)

I was told stories about the Danube when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river. The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were.

The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace  – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tan.

When my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in. By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in superstitious awe of it. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx.

We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

~~~
The above was excerpted from an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death.

You can watch the whole wonderful video at YouTube HERE

Comments welcome HERE

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How Long Did it Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?

When inspiration strikes, a work of fictional brilliance can be produced in a matter of days. Others take a bit longer.

From ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ which the author, John Boyne, claims to have written in 2 ½ days, to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien which took 16 years to complete, printerinks.com has collated 30 of the world’s most famous books to compare how long they took to create.

One of my longest novels, The Secrets of Jin-shei, was written in less than four months; another took …mumbleyears.
How long did it take? infograpicRead more at printerinks.com HERE

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Books, not Pokemon

Inspired by the success of Pokemon Go, a Belgian headmaster has developed an online game for people to search for books instead. Aveline Gregoire’s version is played through a Facebook group called “Chasseurs de livres” (“Book hunters”).

Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they “release” it back into the wild.

Searching for books: Reuters story HERE

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The Only River

A couple of years ago I put together an anthology entitled simply “River”, a collection of stories by some remarkable writers, including Irene Radford, Nisi Shaw, Joshua Palmatier… In my editor’s foreword, I explained the concept and recounted my own history with a river.

That there is only one river in our world and our mind and our consciousness and our spirit, was not a new idea. I had been cherishing the concept of an anthology built on that premise for years, a collection of stories any of which may or may not take place on the banks of the same body of water as any other in the treasury of tales… and yet which would all tell of the same River, in essence, the River that flows through all the stories of all the world.
The River coverMap Of Contents When a friend and and colleague, Steven H. Silver, proposed an issue of an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, I contributed an essay. This is what I wrote:

There is Only One River

I was born on the banks of the Danube – when it is already an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools. This was the river that held my own imagination. I was told stories about it when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river.

The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were. The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace and you could walk up to it, point to the fish you wanted, and it would be expertly extracted and brained and decapitated and wrapped up for you while you waited – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tank…

I was told that when my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in (and you probably wouldn’t catch anything too bad if you swallowed a mouthful or two). By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe. One didn’t walk barefoot on the shore – at least not where there wasn’t open sand – without paying close attention to where one stepped.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in a sort of superstitious awe of the thing. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx. We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

Mark Twain’s gift to me was to realize eventually that there was a way to make something into an archetype that transcended the mere quotidian. My Danube would have been a stranger to a Twain riverboat, or a black slave running away to freedom; the Mississippi would have equally been a stranger to sleigh races on ice, or to the specific kind of water reeds that grew on its banks. But I like to think that the catfish of both rivers would have found a common tongue between them as they slipped past the archetypical waters of all rivers and of all time. And I like to think that some day, if I find myself with my toes curled into the mud of the banks of the old downstream Mississippi of the Twain stories, I will instinctively be watching out for sharp seed pods which could not possibly be there.”

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Buy a copy of River at Amazon HERE

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At Daily Kos, Ojibwa tells us about

Women Warriors Among Northern Plains Indians

What is usually missing from the non-Indian descriptions of Northern Plains Indian warfare is the fact that women were often warriors. Take Tashenamani, for example:

TashenamaniTashenamani (also called Moving Robe; She Walks With Her Shawl) was a Lakota woman among thousands of other Sioux and Lakota camped at The Little Big Horn. When Lt. Col. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry attacked, she led the counterattack.

During the battle, when a soldier asked her not to kill him, she replied:
“If you did not want to be killed, why did you not stay home where you belong and not come to attack us?”

Read more at Daily Kos HERE

 

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Like Books PosterBut make that strong coffee. 

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RIVER

RiverRivers have always been very important to humankind, I say in the intro to my anthology, River.

They’ve been called gods. They’ve been blessed and cursed and venerated and used and enjoyed and exploited and polluted since the beginning of recorded history. They’ve been sung about and dreamed about and followed on epic journeys of discovery.

Gypsy Ninja has picked 10 mighty rivers which made the world in what it is today, including MY river, the Danube, on whose banks I was born in a country which no longer exists.

DanubeThe Danube is the most international river basin in the world. It springs in Germany’s romantic Black Forest, travels a total distance of 2850 km (1770 mi.), passing through 10 countries and 4 capital cities. It was an important transport route for medieval Europeans. Throughout most of its history, the Roman Empire held the Danube as its northern border. Before the Romans, the Greeks were navigating the river’s lower reaches. With more recent events like the Main-Danube Canal being built in 1992, the Danube is connected to the Rhine and from there to the North Sea.

Read the whole story HERE

Buy River, the anthology, HERE

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You’ve read how many?
How manyBuzzFeed

So little time, so much to read, Michelle Regna says in introducing this list at BuzzFeed.

It’s not a definitive list — it doesn’t even have one of mine, for example — but a neat quiz nevertheless. How did you do?

Read the whole story HERE

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29 Surreal Places In America You Need To Visit Before You Die

If you live in the U.S., Arielle Calderon says at Buzzfeed, you don’t need a passport to see what mother nature has to offer.
TulipsRuthChoi / shutterstock.com
Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

This is one place I know well. It is only a few miles from my home and I have scores of photos like this one.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the tulip fields between April 1–30 to see these gorgeous flowers in bloom. The festival is designed as a driving tour since there is no one designated “site”.

See all the remarkable places HERE

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Elves and Dragons Doing a Fantastic Job of Protecting Iceland’s Environment
Elves Hill
Originally Icelanders used mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island, now they protect it, Sola Agustsson writes at AlterNet.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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Nasa’s Curiosity rover finds water below surface of Mars

New measurements from the Gale crater contradict theories that the planet is too cold for liquid water to exist, Hannah Devlin reports at The Guardian.
water on mars
The Curiosity rover is currently ascending Mount Sharp, in the centre of the Gale crater.
Illustration: Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.””

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the day

A child who reads will be an an adult who thinks.

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s
story in the slightest.” ~ C.S. Lewis

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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