There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays.

So begins the greatest soliloquy on blondes written in the twentieth century. Perhaps in any century. It goes on for a very long paragraph, which would put most blondes to sleep, but it is a very good passage, written by that master of English prose Raymond Chandler whose books are full of twists and turns, bodies and rooms, landscapes, cars, cops, cigarettes, drinking, wisecracks by the barrel, and blondes. Chandler wrote about crime and criminals with an innocence that turned his books into medieval romances, the knight in shining armor defending the lady fair, though many of these ladies were not the kind who appear in sitting rooms, at least not with their clothes on.

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The Butter Cream Empire



window of Zauner Konditorei in Bad Ischl

IF you walk down the main street of Bad Ischl, a spa town in Upper Austria, you will soon come to Zauner, the famous pastry shop where the Imperial family took their cream cakes and chocolate fantasies with cups of rich dark coffee, often enlivened by a dollop of Schlag.  Still now, in the window of the Konditorei (as a patisserie is known in Austria), you may see a perfectly sculpted head of the late Empress Elisabeth, assassinated in 1898 in Geneva, affectionately known as Sissi when she was alive, and shortened for no reason to Sisi in the last century.  It is a soft buttery yellow-white head garlanded by roses, as so often the heads of the Madonna or her son are garlanded in Italian Renaissance paintings.  But Sisi’s head is fashioned in vanilla butter cream, the last substance a sculptor might turn to when choosing a material intended for posterity.  Marble would be a more predictable choice, or granite, even limestone.  But this is Austria, empire of Schlag (whipped cream), where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops, or so it is believed and has been believed for hundreds of years, the reality of the world notwithstanding. Continue reading “The Butter Cream Empire”

On the Brink



Out of the dusk they came, the ground vibrating with their approach although they moved slowly, the air still filmy with warmth as they made their way, mothers and children, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and the young sons.  They ambled without haste until they came to the stream, a silver ribbon of water against the reddish sand.  There they stopped.  The tiniest elephant stood between its mother’s legs.  The convoy fanned out in a long line at the water’s edge and drank with their trunks, then lifted them high above their heads to get the water down, trumpets against the sky.

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