Amazon and music

 

I order a fair amount from Amazon even though I am one of those dinosaurs that actually likes to go into a store and browse. I order books too even though I work in a library and I haunt Barnes and Noble and visit the smaller book shops regularly. Amazon has books I need for my research that I can’t get by any other method.

But what I really use Amazon for is streaming music. I have a variety of playlists and I buy music, both old and new, to download to my phone, all the time.

The problem with Amazon is this: Music unlimited. Now I am willing to purchase the songs and I do, (And sometimes Amazon takes them away again even though I have bought them and downloaded them. I hate this. But I digress.) But I CAN’T buy some songs because they are music unlimited and Amazon wants me to pay $7.99 a month for access to them. I do not download that many songs per month. Besides, the time I would need by itself stops me. I am sure that Amazon believes that customers want the songs so much they will pay that amount of money. But I won’t. I think its gouging. And its not like Amazon doesn’t already make huge profits. So I don’t buy the song at all.

Still. Amazon’s control of this marketplace is both irritating and frightening. They can go into my phone and remove something I’ve paid for? Seriously? And the billions they are already earning isn’t enough? So here in a nutshell is the good and bad of the digital world. I can get odd books and yet Amazon has so much power over music as well as my phone.

September 11 – 16 years later

Taking a break from my writing activities for a moment, I thought I would mention some of the thoughts I reflected upon yesterday.

Sixteen years seems like such a short time and yet so many things can happen. On September 11, I was in Maine with my daughter and several other kids. We’d taken a ferry to an island, only to be told at the little general store/post office what had happened. We all thought it was a joke. But when we returned to MDI and put on the television, there it was.

I was frantic. My son had gone home for a new – and I think his first job – after college. In the city. I kept trying and trying to reach him or my ex-husband, he also worked in the city, but of course I could not get through. I did not hear until much later that night that both were fine. My son had to walk uptown from Wall Street through the crap in the air. A day or two later his lung collapsed and he had to be hospitalized. He missed the wedding of his step-sister which took place the following Saturday.

I worked in a Rockland County library then, near Pearl River. The funerals were on-going for police and fire lost that day. In the Library, always a diverse and warm community, there was conflict with the Muslims, who then blamed the Jews – fully half my staff at the time. Although we papered over the differences, some of those friendships never recovered.

Sixteen years later so many things have changed. One of the young men with me in Maine met his future wife on that trip and they now have a little girl. Other relationships ended and others began but all are married with kids of their own. The country as a whole has changed, more than I would ever have thought possible. Just think about the security at the airports. I can’t even count the number of pat-downs (and I am blond and blue-eyed) that I have endured. As a country we seem to be more fearful – and now have our own homegrown terrorists. If bin Laden’s aim was to destroy the America as we knew it, he certainly succeeded.

As for my husband and I, we’ve moved to Maine and back again and then several times in New York. We have different jobs now – and 2011 was the year my writing career finally took off. In some ways sixteen years has been a long time, but in others how short it is.

Talks and more

One of the things I most enjoy doing as a writer is going out and talking to readers. I have audiences from a few people all the way up to more than 100. Some of them are wonderful and some challenge me and make me think on my feet, (One audience member accused me of helping teach people how to murder.)

After this busy summer, I have a few weeks off and then I have a talk coming up at the Elm Street Bookstore in New Canaan, Ct. After that, on September 23, I have a talk on Genres (from the librarian side of life) to the local chapter of the Sisters and Crime.

In October I will be at Bouchercon in Toronto, then, in quick succession, at the Bookloft Bookstore in Great Barrington, Mass and the following Friday, October 27, at the bookstore in Chappaqua.

The exciting life of a writer!

Mechanicsburg Mystery Festival

The Saturday after the Suffolk Mystery Festival, I attended the Mechanicsburg Mystery Festival. And how lovely it was too. Like the Suffolk Festival, I met several new authors. I am always on the lookout for new authors and will read something by every one. Debbie Beamer was really nice and the readers – oh the readers – so pleasant and so book oriented. Definitely a wonderful experience.

The only fly in the ointment: the traffic for both. Coming home from the Suffolk festival we ran into heavy traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. A semi flipped and the highway was closed for hours. We saw the spot. At least a mile of crushed guard rail and blackened pavement.

Traveling in the summer can be a real challenge!

Author’s Festival, Suffolk Virginia

It has been a busy two weeks. July 31 my husband and I left for a Danube River Cruise and it was awesome! Definitely the way to travel. I will share pictures next week.

We came home on Thursday and on Friday we left for an author’s festival in Suffolk Virginia. Wow, it was fun. Got to speak to the featured authors, who were all lovely, and to many aspiring authors as well. And of course I got to do my favorite thing: talk about my books.

Next week I go to Mechanicsburg for another author event. It is connected to the Mystery bookshop there but will be held in a local church. 9:30 – 2:00.

Arsenic

Arsenic has been known as a poison for millennia. It was so commonly used during the Victorian Age it was called inheritance powder. (Seriously.) It occurs in nature and contaminates water and foodstuffs. (New Mexico has the dubious distinction of having high levels in their water and rice is particularly susceptible to absorbing arsenic.) A slightly sweet odorless and colorless powder, the symptoms of arsenic poisoning mimic cholera or some kind of intestinal distress. It has been used as a cause of death by many many mystery authors.

Women in the Elizabethan era used it in a paste to whiten their complexions. Of course it was absorbed through the skin and a lifetime of use must have meant serious health complications. (Talk about dying for fashion.)

What interests me, though, are the inadvertent poisonings. Napoleon’s hair was shown to have very high levels of arsenic. Was he poisoned by his nearest and dearest while on Elba? What about King George III, the so-called mad King who reigned during the Colonial period and Revolution? He had porphyria, a blood disease that results in dark urine and extreme sensitivity to the sun. (Some scholars think that porphyria was the original seed of the vampire legends.) Well, when they tested King George’s hair, it too displayed high levels of arsenic. Was he poisoned?

They were both probably poisoned by environmental factors. As that time a beautiful emerald green was all the rage for wallpaper. When George Washington built his house he ordered rooms papered in this fashionable color. The problem is that beautiful color was created by arsenic and in damp or humid weather the arsenic came out of the paper into the air. Instant poisoning.

 

Demon Rum – and sugar

There is no rum without sugar (this is true for any alcoholic drink). Prior to the Revolutionary War most people drank rum or hard cider. Sailors were paid partly in rum. The early settlers, however, drank it in a punch or toddy. Early on, rum was distilled in the Caribbean where sugar was grown. Then it made sense for the rum to be distilled where the prime market was – New England. By the mid-1700s, though, most rum was made, and made more cheaply too, in New England. Many fortunes were made by this rum and I’ve read that one of those fortunes was made by. the Kennedy family.

But I digress.

What were some of the consequences of this cheap and easily obtainable rum?

Well, sugar is very labor intensive so the cultivation of sugar resulted in a tremendous need for slaves and was one of the big drivers of the slave trade.

Second, sugar exhausts the soil quickly so planters had to keep finding new land. This was certainly a big reason for the push for plantations and slavery westward.

Third, Americans drank more than ever. ‘Demon Rum’ became one of the many names for rum, leading to the temperance movement and to Prohibition with all of its associated crime and other problems.

And yes, although many New Englanders were abolitionists, New England profited hugely from the trade. New England ships brought slaves to the New World. New England ships brought sugar north. And New England ships brought codfish south for the slaves to eat.

Rum drinking declined after the Revolutionary War since rye was grown in the frontier – then around Pittsburgh – and distilled into whiskey. Of course, that came with its own set of problems.

Sugar is still grown in Louisiana and Domino has a big presence there. (Their factory looks abandoned – broken windows and shabby exterior.) In Louisiana there are two plantings a year.

How much sugar do we consume now? Well, in the early 1700s, a few pounds or less might be ingested by the average person per year. In 1999, the peak of sugar consumption, it was 111 grams a day, just about half a pound a day.  In 2016, that dropped to 94 grams a day. Soda is one culprit but actually sugar and high fructose corn syrup is in just about everything.

And what about rum? Well, by Prohibition, although rum was castigated as the ‘demon’, most people were drinking whiskey. Rum’s big day had already passed. And in a weird twist, New Englanders again made fortunes by becoming ‘rumrunners’, making available alcohol during Prohibition.

And it all started with sugar.

 

How sweet it is – Sugar

 

Sugar has been known for millennia. Botanists suggests sugar was discovered in Papua, New Guinea and has been cultivated for 7000 years. (Wow!) From New Guinea, it traveled west, to India, where the Greeks discovered it. In Sanskrit the word for sugar is karkara. The name changed slightly as it passed through other cultures and ended up with the Arabs who called it sukkur. Not such a leap to sugar.

It was known in Medieval Europe but it was rare and expensive and used as a spice.

What about the Colonies? Well, by 1770 British (including the colonies, ate five times as much sugar as in 1710. That number only increased. At first sugar was used primarily in tea and coffee but was later added to baked goods (especially after the discovery that baking soda and cream of tartar formed a compound that raised quick breads) and candy.

Sugarcane is difficult to harvest (the cutter has to bend over and cut it close to the ground) and change from a sweet sap to granulated sugar. It is a very labor intensive process. The Portuguese have the dubious distinction of being the first to use African slaves but, once the sugar industry really got going in the West Indies, the British and especially the French jumped on the bandwagon. Napoleon’s Jacqueline had brown rotting front teeth from her habit of eating sugarcane.

So, what were the consequences? At the Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans we saw the pots hung over fires that had to be stirred constantly to keep the juice from burning. This was a job usually reserved for slave children. Of all the jobs the slaves performed, this was probably the worst.

 

More about sugar, sugarcane, and rum next.

Dame Schools

 

In several of my books, Rees’s children attend dame schools. I mention them almost without a description. (Of course I mention the schooling received at the hands of the Shakers. Boys and girls were segregated: boys were taught by the men during the winter and girls by the women during the summer.)

Well, what are dame schools?

The New England Puritans believed that Satan would try to keep people from understanding the scriptures so it was decided that all children be taught to read. In fact, the first American schools arose in New England. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and the Mather School in 1639 in Dorchester.In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made town schools compulsory and other New England colonies soon followed. These were for white boys only. Common schools were established in the 1700s but a tuition was charged.

If parents could not homeschool their children they went to dame schools. Considering how busy most women were I wondered how that worked out. With that said, however, there were enough educated women in the North who could function as teachers. Usually they were widows who taught in their own home. They were paid in money but also in kind – baked goods, produce, alcohol and the like. (I imagine the abilities of these untrained teachers varied widely – from essentially a day care to a real school. But I digress.)

In the beginning education focused on reading and ‘rithmetic but soon it was the four R’s; ‘riting and religion as well. Some of the dame schools offered girls embroidery, sewing and other such graces. Dame schools went up to eight grade and most girls went no farther. Boys, however, might move to a grammar school where they were taught advanced arithmetic, Latin and Greek by a male teacher.

There was also a huge divergence between the North and the South. Planters educated their children with tutors and son were frequently sent to England or Scotland for schooling. During the early part of the 1800s, it was against the law to teach slaves but schools for white children were opened in Georgia and South Carolina (1811). Segregated schools for children of all races began opening during Reconstruction and continued until 1954 when the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing segregated schools unconstitutional.

A final note: These schools went only to the eighth grade just like the dame schools. For many rural areas of the country eighth grade school was the norm until 1945.