My father lives on a very cool street. He’s got a little place on a small lake. When I visit, I spend hours watching critters on and in the water.
And then I take a stroll down the road, because Dad has artist neighbors. The Ferros’ artwork decorates the street.
The Ferro home is chock full of art, almost all of it made by Tino and Carole. When Carole kindly gave me and Dad’s partner Judy a tour of the house, I couldn’t stop taking photographs. Every single inch of space contained something interesting and wildly creative.
The 1920’s home originally belonged to Tino’s parents.
They added on, sourcing materials from old buildings in the area that were being torn down. These ceiling beams came from a church.
They run a gallery, just a few miles away.
Sculptures adorn the outside lawns; here is only a sample.
Two of the couple’s offspring joined them to create the gallery. Ninety percent of the materials they use are recycled or pre-used. The Ferro family also produces smaller pieces, glass work, and paintings. Click on the thumbnail photos for a closer look.
I loved the female figures made of recycled metal strips from factory punches and stamps.
Tino and Carole worked and raised their family in Portugal from 1988-2008. Tino tells me Europeans still collect their art work.
The Ferros run a second gallery in North Carolina. I can only imagine what’s in that one. But I’m sure those neighbors love having Tino and Carole down the street!
NOTES:  For a similar post on sculpture, go to my earlier post Wine and Sculpture.  Contact info:
I’d been warned: the 5-Star reviews couldn’t last forever. “Be prepared,” people cautioned me. “Trolls are out there and sooner or later one of them will pan a book. It’s going to be ugly.” I don’t check for reviews on Amazon much as I take the long view. Writing a book is a slow process, and building up a list of reviews can take a while. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive consistently solid, glowing reviews.
I got my first 1-Star review. The German guy says Tsunami Cowboys is the worst book he’d ever read. He didn’t finish it. And, after page 56, HE BURNED IT.
WTF? Really?? In the 21st century, people are still burning books?!?
I went into shock. I was horrified. Shaken. Ashamed, even. In my worst nightmares, I never ever ever imagined someone would actually destroy my words like this. Until now, it was beyond my powers of imagination.
I got out a copy of the book. What could possibly be so offensive? I opened to page 56 and the peak of a chapter in which Coreen, one of the main characters, is trapped in a cult and can’t get out.
Ok…. Maybe the troll was upset by the topic. I sure was; that’s why I wrote about it. If he’d made it to the end of the book he would have learned the following: I’m religious. I believe in God. My heroine’s story continues well past the page where he stopped reading.
If he’d bothered with the author’s Afterword, he’d have learned my personal reasons for even including this thread in my book.
I’m appalled that someone would be so hateful. I questioned everything I am doing as a writer, and worried about the consequences of exercising my voice. Then I remembered: I just went to a high school reunion. It was a fantastic weekend spent seeing wonderful people again. By far one of the most lovely is a woman who was a missionary.
She’s read both my novels. At the reunion, she made a point of telling me that the story of Coreen and the cult disconcerted her, and she had to put Tsunami Cowboys down for a while. It hit a little too close to home. But, she said, she picked it back up a few months later, read it to the end, and liked the story I told very much.
So that reassures me.
Words contain a lot of power, more than we realize. My encounter with the troll really brings that realization home to me, and in the future I will pay closer attention. His other reviews have the same ugly caustic tone, so I’m not alone. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better, or worse.
As my dear writer buddy Nancy Carroll remarked: “You’re now in good company, Jadi. Think of the books that have been burned through the ages.”
Think about them.
NOTES:  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/
 I swear it just came to my notice that this is Banned Books Week: September 27th – October 3rd.
Event: The laying of a Stolperstein for Luise Lepman
Man in cap: “I didn’t expect the ceremony would be so rote. He put in the stones like it was just assembly line work, just one of many.”
Jadi: “The whole point is that they’re not made in a factory. He makes every single one of them by hand.”
Man in cap: “And I didn’t know that his project began as performance art.”
Amy: “That’s how it began in Berlin. He’s been deeply involved in making Stolpersteine for over twenty years.”
Man in cap: “I’ve looked at his website. If you can get past the fact that they were all murdered, some of his subjects’ lives were pretty outrageous.” The man in the cap turns without saying goodbye and heads fast down the sidewalk.
Today I want to tell you about several remarkably modest people, and one remarkable project.
Amy Matney began as a massage patient and became a friend. She’s a charming, unassuming woman from Virginia. Just listening to her accent is to hear music.
Amy works with teenagers at the Patch Barracks high school. Last year she got her students involved in the international Stolperstein project. Started by the German artist Gunter Demnig, Stolpersteine are literally ‘Stumbling Stones’. These blocks or stones commemorate the last free place victims of the Nazi regime resided before being deported or murdered. 
Amy told me, “The students I counsel have every advantage. I want them to learn compassion as well. This project was a great way to get them to think about history and the world, and those less fortunate.”
For 120€ or about $140, anyone can sponsor the laying of a Stolperstein. Amy’s students went into historical archives and researched potential subjects. Once a month the students sent out a newsletter reporting the progress of their research. They chose Luise Lepman, a woman whose family had strong connections to America.
In a moving ceremony on the morning of May 23rd, Ms. Matney, the students and their families, the commander of the base and well-wishers gathered in front of the last place Luise Lepman was known to live.
Luise boarded a deportation train on April 26, 1942. Not a single one of the 285 people forced to take that train survived.
The students talked about their experience and Susanne Bouché, the Stuttgart liaison for the Stolperstein Project, spoke.
And then, in respectful silence with no fanfare, Gunter Demnig placed the Stumbling Stone in the sidewalk.  I helped Amy hand out long stemmed roses. The witnesses laid them beside the stone.
As Amy and I talked after the ceremony, the stranger in the ball cap came up to us. I’m not sure if we were more startled by his callous words “If you can get past the fact that they were all murdered, some of his subjects’ lives were pretty outrageous” or the complete lack of understanding the comment showed.
This is why we need projects like the Stumbling Stones, and people like Herr Demnig and Ms. Matney. 
NOTES:  After you notice the first one, you start seeing Stolpersteine everywhere. They honor the dead and remind us that we always walk with and through history.  Herr Demnig places each Stumbling Stone by hand. He installed three Stolpersteine in Stuttgart on May 23rd.  Ms. Matney’s school will sponsor a Stolperstein each year.
To this day the city of Munich refuses to allow them to be placed.
She placed her unbandaged left hand over his on the table top. “Don’t think I’m only a cynic. If I lost my faith in nations, I find huge bravery and kindness in individuals. I kept my faith – and how can that be, after what religion did to my country? But I did. I believe in God. You saved my life so I am saved again. It’s more than a woman could hope for.” She squeezed his hand. “How long do you stay in Stuttgart?”
For the first time his regret about leaving had to do with a person and not with his phobia. “I should take a train tomorrow. Actually, I’m scared to fly,” Guy admitted. “I was in a forced landing once. I’m afraid of being in another.”
“Why fear a statistic chance? Why worry about an abstraction?” Nadia’s shoulders rose and fell in the Eastern European’s shrug, a slow, weary movement that expressed the futility of every question. “Think about the poor people who are in tsunamis. Or a war zone, where real fear is to think, how do you keep walking on the street as a rocket hits somewhere near, or you hear thwack!, and the person in front of you falls down? First you think, this time it isn’t me. It took years for me to stop looking over my shoulder. Stuttgart is civilized, but even here I stumble over Stolpersteine.”
Guy shook his head. “Never heard of it.”
“Them. Come, I will show you. There are some up around the corner.” Nadia refused to explain further.
She insisted on paying the bill and tucked her arm in his as the two of them headed up the Königstrasse. She led him to a stop in front of a store. “What do you see?”
Guy saw Europeans out Christmas shopping, happy people laughing and drinking glühwein, store windows filled with beautifully displayed consumer goods. Was it something special about the storefront? He shifted his weight and his heel came down on an uneven spot in the cement. When he glanced down, Guy saw gold cubes embedded in the sidewalk. He squatted to get a better look. Königstrasse 60, a stone with the name of Clothilde Mannheimer, another beside it for Jakob Mannheimer.
Nadia crouched down next to him. “The Mannheimers lived in this building. They were moved by train to Theresienstadt and died in the concentration camp there,” she translated. “These are their Stolpersteine, their stumbling stones. Wherever we go, we stumble over reminders of the past. The stones make sure we don’t forget the dead, these make sure that people today can’t push the dead from our memories.”
Guy traced the imprint of the names. The little golden cubes were weightier than their size. “Are there more?”
“All over Germany. Other countries, too. The Stolpersteine groups wish to mark the last free place where the persons lived, not where they were sent. Sometimes a family asks for a stumbling block; sometimes a local group did research for victims. And Stolpersteine are for everyone. Especially the Jews, but also the Behinderte, the ones with handicaps,” she corrected herself, “the mentally slow or physically handicapped. And gypsies, Communists. All were killed or did have to leave.”
“Knowing all this it wasn’t hard for you to become a German citizen?”
She gave another slow Eastern European shrug. “I gave up my old passport a decade ago. It was less hard than I expected. My home country is one in the heart.”
– from my chapter “What A Guy” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com. This link will get you there. I will post more on this extraordinary street art project shortly.
Let’s get one thing clear right away: Uwe and I are NOT danger chasers. We don’t pick areas to visit that are experiencing unrest or natural disasters. When we went to Luxor for a week in May 2013, tourism in the area was wa-a-y down. But it’s so far from Cairo that we never felt threatened.
A week after we were there Egypt imploded, and we would not have made that trip. As it was we had Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the ruins up and down the Nile banks to ourselves. What an experience, like getting a private tour of the world’s greatest antiquities!
Egypt was a special wish of mine for decades. My mom was a teacher, and when she died the last unit she was teaching was on ancient Egypt. At her funeral my family was touched to receive drawings from the children she’d taught. They’d drawn mummies, and Mom’s spirit as a bird. There was even a drawing of a mummified feline with a caption: Mrs. Campbell’s cat.
Some of the world’s most spectacular ruins, and there were almost no other tourists. Occasionally a lone bus pulled in with a group from a cruise ship or daytrippers from Hurghada on the coast, but most of the week we wandered in amazement all by ourselves.
I can’t even begin to understand Egyptian iconography. Gods with the heads of cows?
or an ibis? how about an alligator? A giant scarab as an object of worship — huhhh? It’s so foreign to me that Luxor was a glorious dip into an age that I didn’t even bother trying to grasp.
The scale of what we were looking at was also beyond my imagination, both in age and in sheer height! At each site we admired impossibly high ceilings. We could see the original paint, thousands of years later.
Even the air feels like it contains the dusty molecules of ancient dynasties…. We sat each evening on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the view and the heat. On the day that I became older than my mother was when she passed away, I sat looking out over the Nile.
Aside from dishonest horse carriage drivers, the Egyptians were all kind, helpful, and incredibly friendly. I look forward to returning!
NOTES: All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s images from Egypt and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.
When my friend Liz lived in Germany, she and I would go exploring. One lovely spring day she suggested a trip to the nearby town of Weinstadt. It lies in the Rems Valley, a region known for vinyards and orchards. Weinstadt has charming villages, wooded hills, wine and sculptures… all mixed together.Weinstadt is actually five towns that joined together in 1975: Beutelsbach, Endersbach, Großheppach, Schnait and Strümpfelbach. We walked through the streets and the Sculpture Trails in the latter two (Strümpfelbach and Schnait).Weinstadt’s slogan is „Kultur trifft Natur“ or “Art Meets Nature”. A family with three (3!) generations of artists reside in Weinstadt. It is their art that decorates this already gorgeous area.Bronze and stone sculptures are tucked into bushes and vinyards, yards and walls.Professor Karl Ulrich Nuss first started the Scupture Route initiative. Karl is in the middle of the art dynasty that includes his father Professor Fritz Nuss (1907-1999), and two grandchildren of Fritz: Christoph Traub (born in 1964) and Felix Engelhardt (born in 1970).
Liz and I wandered through the vinyard’s sloped hills with our cameras.
Spring was running riot with blooming trees and flowers everywhere. The flowering Nature made the perfect backdrop to the artwork …
or was it the other way around?
Amongst other places, Fritz Nuss’s work is displayed in the British Museum and the Liederhalle in Stuttgart.
I’ve belonged to a writers’ group for two years. How did I survive so long without the company of my crazy peers and fellow wordsmiths? I have no idea what I did before I hooked up with these people.
In my group you find: Short stories. Essays. Erotic (really erotic) poetry. Autobiographies. Journalism. Novels. Urban fantasy. Flash fiction. Song lyrics. Wistful thinking (this is how a member explains what he writes, and I love his description).
We come together to share and critique works-in-progress. We use writing exercises to loosen up our creative muscles. And we’re committed to public readings.
A little café named Wir Sind Babel was one venue. A brightly lit coffee house with marble floors and comfy chairs was another. And the last one…. well, that venue gets a blog post all its own.
An Irish pub I’ll call The Blarney Stone seemed like the ideal spot. The bar’s slowest weeknight was the perfect time.
We could use a side room for our event. The space looked like a library room filled with bookcases, a perfect setting for our brilliant words. Even better, the owner promised us if we could total 50 people we’d get the main room – and he had a microphone we could use! They often feature live musical acts and the entire bar was already wired to hear us. Sweet!
A Toast Master offered to be our MC. He’d read short bios to introduce each reader. We printed up fliers for the tables and info sheets to hand out ahead of time. It was all perfect…
Doesn’t this sound too good to be true?
That Tuesday we arrived with high expectations. The bar was packed. Our side room grew too small for all our friends and guests, but the main room had filled with patrons who, sadly, were not there for our earthshaking literary creations.
Every chair was taken and people sat and stood everywhere. Waiters and waitresses had to slither their way with plates and drinks through the crowds. Then we realized our side room had no door, and that meant no barriers against the noise levels that kept increasing.
No worries. We were as cool as the collective cucumber, because we had the ultimate secret weapon: the microphone. The first reader began to recite her piece.
And then the m crophone we were loan d began sh rt ng out w th ever sec nd sente ce and nex with ev ry thi d word. It g t wors . The m ke beg n to let o t awf l and ear splitt ng sccccrrre eee ee ech hhhhiiiing fee eeedb ck. We checked that the batteries were fresh and the wiring solid. We tried holding the mike in different parts of the room, closer to our lips, away from our mouths, up in the air. We recited louder, and then more quietly; none of it made a difference.
At that point every writer in the room knew we’d been rat f cked. Without saying much (not that we could have heard one another anyway over the noise in the pub) we had that group moment of grokking that this evening would not be the literary triumph we’d all awaited.
The first reader gamely made it through her piece. The second reader performed in a different corner of the room. By the time it was my turn to read I lay the mike down on the pult and basically yelled out my piece, observing every pause, emphasis and careful nuance I’d practiced.No one heard a word over the pub din.
But I am so very proud of all of us. We observed grace under pressure. We went forward despite impossible conditions (and false promises made to us). We made the best out of the debacle… and it really brought us together as fellow failed performers.
The pub owner got more than fifty extra paying guests on what was his slowest night of the week! I’d like to say he bought us a round of drinks to make up for it. I’d really like to say that our words triumphed over noise decibels. But no, that night the gift of gab got stuck in a malfunctioning microphone.
Our next public reading is in a month, and it will not be held in an Irish pub. The first moral of the story? To get over stage fright, sometimes you have to scream. The second moral to the story? Don’t mess with writers, because at some point we will write about you and what you did.
We’ll be back at the newly renovated Wir Sind Babel. The date is Thursday, May 22. Doors open at 1900. Hope to see you all there!