Monday, August 31, 2009

Memorable Meals and In the Flesh Shamelessness

So, yes, you may have noticed I've been on break from my travelogue (or "travelblogue" as Jeremy Edwards dubbed it) because of back-to-school busyness and a quick trip to Germany to taste some of Danielle de Santiago's delicious chutney. I'm planning to slip back into my time machine tomorrow to attend a candle-lit and spectre-haunted dinner in 1863, but in the meantime we all know a new month starts tomorrow and that means the new columns are up at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association website.

And thankfully I made it back from the nineteenth century in time to meet my deadlines so I'm actually part of the current issue!

This month's "Cooking Up a Storey" was inspired by an amazing meal I had at a friend's house two weekends ago. Of course you knew that sex, food and writing had a lot in common, but I've come up with a new twist on that connection--plus I share my recipe for a simple, but tasty soup, which always gets rave reviews in spite of the fact it involves minimal fuss to make. (My foodie fetishes aside, most of the time I like to make quick, healthy dishes). And psst, there's a tie-in with BDSM bedroom play, for those of you who like dancing on the edge. So click on over to ERWA read all about "Secrets of Seduction: Memorable Meals, Spicy Sex, and Chameleon Carrot Soup."

In this month's "Shameless Self-Promotion" I really strip down to my skivvies to tell you all my deep, dark secrets for "
Promoting In the Flesh: Launch Parties, Readings and Book Fairs." To think it was only a year ago when I was poised to go on my "national" book tour. Ah, the memories. Anyway, in this case, I'm sure you'll agree, a picture of my butt is actually a completely appropriate illustration!

Happy September to you all!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Symphony of Spices

Where did the summer go? This was an especially enjoyable one for me, not the least because of the weekly magic of our Spicy Sunday blog parties. It's hard to say goodbye, but the parting is just a little bit easier when you can drink, dance and party (underwear optional) at a good farewell bash. I can tell you the secret now--our grand finale involves a trip to Europe for some spicy surprises from a truly passionate cook. So put on your wings and fly on over to Germany where Danielle de Santiago has put together an amazing buffet of homemade chutneys, flavor-infused oil and home-doctored vinegar, that both preserve summer's sweetness and challenge your palate with plenty of complex spice. (I know I'll be trying the pear thyme chutney, pictured above). As you nibble on these palate-piquing delicacies, you can also enjoy some evocative and sensual snippets of erotic prose that feel just like stepping into a sexy foreign film--and will leave your imagination gasping for more. I can't think of a better way to finish up a fabulous feast. Thank you to all the hosts (I'll recap all of the feasts in a post very soon) and to Marina St. Clare for inspiring the party and for helping keep the fire hot all summer long!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tease Me, Baby!

As the youngest of three girls, I was often teased by my older sisters. I don't like that kind of teasing.

But there's another kind of teasing I like very much indeed. Here's the way it goes:

Usually I'm naked. Or mostly naked. And my whole body is quivering for that first touch. I know I'm going to get what I want in the end, but the path to the ultimate pleasure will be slooow, with lots of excruciatingly delicious pauses along the way. And with each stop comes a question, swirling through my head as I sigh and squirm and beg--what will he do next? Only he knows, though eventually, I learn the answer, too, with the soft, wet suck of his lips on my nipple, the carefully calibrated slap on my vulva.

It's been a deliciously long, lingering journey as we've blog-hopped through the spice rack with our Spicy Sunday blog tour. But the finale is going to finish the festivities with a great big bang. I know who's going to send us off in style. And so does Marina St. Clare. If you head over there with your tickler (a French one might do the trick), she might tell. But I'm not telling, not yet. I want to hear your sighs, your pleas. I want to see you squirm.

How far are you willing to go to get your answer?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gettysburg, Day 2: Becoming My Own Ancestor

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the things on my Gettysburg vacation wish list was to drag my family to one of those photography studios where they’d dress us up in Civil War costume and take a shadowy, grim-faced photograph to add to my existing collection of two faux historical family pictures (I didn’t show you the one of me and my older son at age two which we took the year after Herr Doktor as a Union sergeant with his infant son in a white dress). I figured we’d stop in at the studio recommended by the lady who owned the historical clothing shop and get our photo done within an hour or perhaps just make an appointment if her brother was booked up—then move on to the wax museum before dinner.

And so I led my guys up the stairs to Rob Gibson’s studio at 65 Steinwehr Avenue with only the most modest expectations, even though the brochure for the place offered this teaser for my history-loving fantasies: “Visit R.J. Gibson’s Studio, a magical place where Time Travel is possible…and The Past comes Alive.” Little did I know this promise would indeed be kept and we were about to enjoy one of the most memorable parts of our trip.

It was getting close to two in the afternoon when we trooped into the studio, a rustic looking series of rooms with tintype-style photos covering the walls. Ron and his wife Dee were just finishing up lunch after a busy morning, but they immediately welcomed us and offered to explain their services: we could get an authentic wet-plate tintype for about $80; an image done in glass, another 19th century process, for the same amount (except they break easily); or a digital photo only, which costs about $30. The price might seem high, but it’s is a bit misleading, because you get much more than just a photo at Rob’s studio. Each of the explanations (except the digital photo) involved a lesson in the process and the equipment. For example, for the wet-plate Rob uses an actual camera from the Civil War era and you can watch the plate being developed. He also showed us lots of samples that all looked spookily authentic. In fact, Rob told us that he’d seen some of his work being sold on e-bay as original 19th-century photographs and he had to change his materials to prevent further false claims.

We immediately decided on the tintype, although we’d settled for digital with our earlier family photos. We also got a tour of the wall gallery, which included a photograph of Ken Burns (above), Ted Turner and many of the actors from the wonderful movie Gettysburg. It turns out Rob played an aide to cavalry General Buford in the film and he had a photo album of fascinating candids from the filming. There were also framed magazine articles about his work and at one point Rob gestured to a frame and said, “They’ve even written about me in Japan, but I can’t read it.” “I might be able to,” I said, and he pulled down the article for me, clearly impressed.

In the meantime, we began discussing the costumes we all wanted to wear. We decided the guys would all go into the military—Herr Doktor would be a Union major, my older son as a private in the cavalry, and my little guy as a “powder monkey,” one of the 9-10 year-old boys who served on battleships because they were small enough to stand upright in the lower decks. While the men changed into their clothes with Rob’s help, I tried to make sense of the article from the Japanese photography magazine. I could see why the people who ran the local Japanese restaurants claimed they couldn’t translate it for him. Most of the article was extremely technical and probably just a repetition of the processes Rob had explained to them anyway. But I did manage to decode a few sentences, such as “Rob Gibson’s work has a mysterious depth that is impossible to capture with modern techniques. It is fascinating and you can’t tell it apart from a 19th-century photograph.”

The first family member to emerge transformed was my older son who strode out in his Union uniform including boots and a long sword. His jacket was the same one Rob wore in Gettysburg which somehow made me feel closer to the battle itself in a strange way. My son immediately assumed a rather belligerent look (he was in all the plays in school) and I felt a twinge, as if the realities of that time—having to send my son off to war—were suddenly a little too near. The next soldier was the powder monkey, his pale skin looking very white against the dark blue wool. He carried a real knife in the belt slung around his waist and Rob had warned him not to play with it because it could “cut his hand off.” Cautious by nature, my son readily complied with the warning and still looked a bit frightened to be wearing the sheathed weapon. Last but not least came Major Herr Doktor, a brilliant red sash against his blue coat, sword in hand. Officers in the Union Army seldom dressed up as flashy as the Confederates, but for this commemorative occasion, an exception would be made.

The pace of the experience was rather leisurely and I had plenty of time to snap pictures of the boys saluting and looking fierce and martial. Rob then explained that during the Civil War, the common salute involved turning the palm outwards to face the salutee in the old British-style, so I snapped a few more “authentic” salutes. Rob also demonstrated a full cavalry sword salute, which he’d mastered when he was doing reenacting events. The wealth of information Rob and Dee provided was just marvelous for a history buff like me—and the boys seemed to be equally fascinated.

In the meantime, Dee and I conferred on my costume. Apparently many tourists want to wear ballgowns for the photos, a very Farbie thing to do, so she was impressed when I immediately requested a plain day dress. She suggested I just wear a padded petticoat instead of a grand hoop because of my smaller size, and suggested the proper brooch and accessories. Interestingly enough, by the time all the guys were dressed, Dee had to take their little dog outside, so it was Rob who went into the dressing room with me to do the honors! And sure, a historical reenactor initiating a willing woman into the intricacies of period dress would make a good erotic story, too, except I didn’t remove one bit of clothing for him except my wristwatch. You can’t tell (hopefully), but the petticoat and dress were secured by ties in the back, so underneath my fancy costume I’m still wearing jeans, walking shoes and my own shirt, the collar of which is peeping out over the top of the dress. Add on a snood, a hat, and a velvet belt and I’d become an irreproachable 19th century matron.

Dressed and ready, we all walked somewhat awkwardly in our boots and hoops to the sky-lit studio itself. Rob coated the tin plate with some kind of chemical and placed it in the camera. Then he arranged us as a group, first in a way that required the boys to have neck rests hidden behind them, then in the pose you see above where they leaned against the column. He then explained that the plate would be exposed for thirteen seconds and we could blink and breath but not otherwise move or we’d look fuzzy. Men should look serious, while a woman could smile slightly. So I curved my lips a bit and tried to stand tall and straight as if I were a well-bred lady in a corset rather than the slouch that I am!

Rob gave the signal and we stood stock still for one of the longest 13-second stretches of my life. I could feel my chest rise and fall with each breath, feel each blink like an unnecessary indulgence, sense my guys around me slowing their own breathing and counting silently. One, two, three…thirteen. Later we learned that the “ghost pictures” hanging in the gallery, with a hazy figure hovering behind a seated solid person, exploited this long exposure by having the “ghost” leave mid-way through the process!

After the official photo, Rob’s assistant snapped some casual pictures of us in our finery and then we got to watch the developing process as Rob dipped the plate in the chemical bath. Before our eyes the clouds on the plate dispersed and our image appeared as if we were stepping out of the mists of the past.

I have to say that although the whole experience was totally wonderful, my reaction to the photograph itself is hard to describe. I treasure it, yet it makes me feel uneasy. My younger son’s and my blue eyes show up white in the picture, making us look wolfish. The abundance of Union uniforms give the image a shadowy quality as if it really were an old, faded photograph. And, as the Japanese article mentioned, the process captured our faces with a depth and clarity that made them seem unfamiliar. My husband’s face looks careworn, as if he were a seasoned veteran of a terrible war. My older son’s cockiness reminds me of the ways boyish bravado has been exploited by armies throughout the centuries. And my little one looks so precociously serious, as the prematurely worldly boy soldiers must have been at the time. Myself I don’t really recognize—I look starched and proper, but haunted. There is a definite creepy quality to the picture, as if we’d been transformed into at our own great-grandparents. Of course, I like creepy. Creepy, slightly disturbing images and feelings inspire most of my stories in fact! And I have to say this beats your usual touristy “old tyme” photo where I’d be dressed in a polyester bar girl’s outfit and my guys would be gun-slinging cowboys, all bathed in Photoshop sepia tones.
Just for the record, I say I look like my own great-grandmother, but here is an actual photo of my great-grandmother Hufnagel, taken on her wedding day, October 16, 1888, in nearby Hanover, Pennsylvania. I don’t look much like her at all, do I? Except for the hand resting on my husband's shoulder....

In any case, I highly recommend a trip to the past via Rob Gibson’s Gettysburg Studio. For a little over a hundred dollars (including a nice frame) we all learned so much about the 19th century in mind and body. And as the brochure promises, we now possess an heirloom souvenir from this vacation to pass on down—and up--the generations. Looking over his website, I see that Rob describes himself as a man who’s found his passion in 19th century photography. I totally felt that passion and dedication in everything he did, and it definitely translated into a magical experience for his clients as well.

So here’s to the magic of passion in all our creative endeavors!

Join me next time for a jewel bedecked dinner, 19th century style.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gettysburg, Day 2: I Like Ike

Saturday, August 8. Of course, the only real reason to get out of bed is breakfast. And since we’d left The Avenue with unfulfilled yearnings the morning before (not for the fried pickles, but now I’m regretting not sampling those with my pancakes), the family mutually agreed to return to the same diner that Saturday morning, although much earlier than the day before.

The place very busy with locals and sightseers reading battlefield guides, but we got seated after a short wait. The day before Herr Doktor had been coveting one of the homemade banana muffins listed on the menu, but I talked him into the sweet potato pancakes instead. I felt I owed him, so we did one of our usual split breakfasts where he ordered eggs, I got a muffin and we shared, washed down with my vacation treat of a bottomless cup of decaf.

What can I say? The Pennsylvania Dutch know how to do carbs in a mighty tasty manner. Most banana muffins are made with puree and walnuts, like a banana bread, but this beauty was a light, moist muffin base with chunks of real banana blended in. The banana chunks were a bit discolored, but the fresh flavor more than compensated. And the omelet was nostalgically dry, just like mom used to make (no runny French style eggs for my family, you cooked those things into submission and I was happy to see the cook at The Avenue was on board!)

Fortified by a good country breakfast, we headed back to the visitor’s center, which was totally mobbed on a Saturday morning (including some people dressed in Amish clothes which we couldn’t quite believe were real). Fortunately we were bound for a far less popular destination: the farm that Dwight Eisenhower and Mamie called their only private home. While hoards of tourists were waiting for the battlefield tour, the Eisenhower shuttle bus held a mere forty or so fans of the Fifties. While waiting, I read through the National Park Service’s brochure on the general and his life. He was actually a very handsome young man—did you know that? My image of Ike is as an old bald guy, but really he was quite a dashing young soldier.

But enough about historical figures on their own merits—what about Ike and me? Well, the thing that freaked me out about the Eisenhower Farm was that he was living there in retirement for many of the years I’d have been visiting Gettysburg (pronounced “Get-us-burg” by the locals) and I never had a clue. Of course, my family and extended family were all Democrats, back in the day when working people voted for that party based on their economic policies. FDR was a god and picture of JFK walking beside the Pope had pride of place in my grandmother’s kitchen (a pairing that was no doubt comforting for her, disturbing for the less religious, I'm sure). So maybe Ike wasn’t mentioned because he was a Republican. But a great many important things happened just down the road. Ike received the news about Francis Gary Powers being shot down over Russia at the farm. He recuperated from his heart attack there. And he often went into Gettysburg surrounded by his Secret Service Agents.

But I never knew this until just recently. Weird, huh?

To get to the Eisenhower estate, you need to board a shuttle bus at the visitor’s center. The drive led right through the field that witnessed Pickett’s Charge and it was impossible not to glance over at the Confederate starting point, then back to the wall where the Union riflemen lay in wait, and wonder how the hell a man could start off on that mile-long hike, pretty as the stroll would be today, knowing what awaited once he got into range of those rifles. (I know this act of courage or madness was made by thousands of Civil War soldiers on both sides, but Pickett’s Charge seems especially iconic and let's face it, the South may have lost the war, but they are still leaders in the myth-making of that time.) Incidentally, I learned on my trip that my brother-in-law’s great-great grandfather was a 19 year-old blacksmith from near Appomattox, VA, who served as a soldier in Armistead’s brigade. Yes, he was one of the few to reach the “high water mark of the Confederacy” and more amazing still, one of the fewer to make it back alive—proof being that he didn’t have any kids before he left home. So in a way I was related to someone who made that incredible journey and survived.

I mean it is all fantasy, pure concept in way, but still, it made me feel closer to history.

But back to another war. We arrived at the Eisenhower Farm and were welcomed by a peppy college student guide who told us a cheeky story about Mamie and Ike’s first meeting. Mamie was the belle of the town in Texas where her family wintered and somehow Ike was giving her a tour of his camp and the barracks. He warned her not to look around too much because the young men might be in a state of undress. Sassy Mamie stopped, peered to the left and right, and declared there was nothing she saw that she didn’t like.

This month’s Cosmo claims men like women who challenge them, so I guess it was true even then.

Ike immediately fell in love, but he could not get a date with Miss Doud because she was booked up for weeks. So he came up with his own strategy to win that war by dropping by to visit with her family regularly to show what a great guy he was even as she was squired around town by others. He always managed to stay late enough to say goodnight to Mamie after her date had dropped her off. His persistence charmed her and They were married within the year.

He was really cute in his engagement picture, too. I don’t know why I keep mentioning this, it was just a surprise. I could even see using Ike for a celebrity erotica story one day. Surprising is sexy sometimes.

Anyway, enough about sex, this was definitely a vacation of museums, and one of the things that occurred to me is that a museum is like a story. The curators and historians make all kinds of choices about what to display, how to describe lives in brochures, how to give the tours, and how to shape the information in all sorts of ways. So seeing a museum is like reading a text—you can just go with it or challenge it or let it take you on to new and perhaps unintended insights.

The Eisenhower years are known as a bland and boring phase of American history, or at least a big thick layer of white pie crust masking a seething stew of racial and sexual discontent and revolution. But Ike and Mamie's relatively modest house—preserved as it was when they lived there--was actually a pretty interesting glimpse into the Fifties.

The first room you enter after the entry way is formal living room where the tour group received one last mini-lecture from a guide. He pointed out the many art pieces, carpets and furniture that the Eisenhowers received as gifts from heads of state in thanks for his services as general. There was also the “pouf,” a round velvet Victorian-era conversation seat Mamie had enjoyed at the White House. She wanted one for the house, but Ike thought it was too “pouffy.” Mamie finagled one from her wealthy mother as a gift. Indeed the entire house was split into his and hers quarters. Pink and pouffy for Mamie. Manly wood paneling and rustic décor for Ike. Very gender divided, just like the Fifties.

The most lived in part of the house was the TV room—again, very Fifties. The Eisenhowers had one of the earliest remote control TV’s and the couple usually ate dinner there on TV tables. “I Love Lucy” and “Gunsmoke” were mutual favorites. Mamie liked “As the World Turns.”

There are also two bedrooms: one manly one where Ike napped and slept when he was recovering from his heart attack. It definitely has a spare, military feel. The master bedroom was Mamie’s domain, all pink and fancy. Mamie believed that once a woman reached the age of 50 she was entitled to stay in bed until noon. So I have two years and three months to go! Apparently, she did all her lady-of-the-house duties in the morning propped up on pillows. The curators placed some of the items that she would have had on the night table, all homey things like candy and Kleenex in an old-fashioned box.

I was starting to feel as if I were in my grandmother’s house. The hit of familiarity was incredibly strong—I could almost smell it. This was middle class America in the Fifties, a certain essence of the time, which most Americans shared, a communal set of “values” that hasn’t really survived (although I’d argue the conformity was not all good). Herr Doktor described the same feeling more eloquently later. He mentioned that he was used to touring historic homes from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, where the way of life was so different from ours, it was almost impossible to imagine. But the Eisenhower house was like a bridge—both historic and intimate, approachable as lived experience, at least for our generation. It was indeed like visiting Grandma. We got to wondering what the Obama house museum would be like with its quaint flat-screen TV and Michelle’s exercise equipment, back when female arms had to be sculpted and buff.

Since we’re winding up our Spicy Sunday blog tour with a special finale this week, I thought it appropriate to include a photo of the Eisenhower kitchen. Very homey, isn’t it? Most of the meals were made by the wife of Eisenhower’s African-American valet who followed him to Gettysburg from the army, but Ike himself liked to grill Angus steaks made from the cattle on the farm and do Amish style breakfasts with punhaus (minced pork product) and eggs.

I had to include this close up of the spices on hand. Just like we were all talking about, eh, Neve? Salt, pepper, chicken bouillon, oregano, some garlic salt—nothing too fresh or challenging, that’s for sure!

After a quick stop at the Secret Service’s monitoring center (a preview of Washington, D.C.’s Spy Museum), we headed to one of the barns for a docent’s talk on the D-Day soldier. I thought the boys might be interested, but my older son was having a teenage moment and sulkily sat alone on one of the benches at the back. This probably saved him from being recruited for a beach landing, because the chatty docent chose young men from the audience to wear all the gear—but he wisely shied away when we joked that my son was part of our family but didn’t want to be near us. Definitely best to avoid the rebels in the group.

Moving from the Fifties to the Forties, we got to handle the gear and clothing a soldier who landed on a Normandy beach that fateful June day might have to deal with. GI issue scratchy wool pants, smoother underwear. Bullet belts and gas masks (most discarded on the beach). Badly designed life belts. Rations of various sorts—the foul-tasting protein bars made by Hershey where apparently thrown at the heads of soliders who tried to barter them as chocolate bars to French farmers. I’d have to say the docent was a little too fond of center stage and he definitely liked to “involve” the audience in sometimes challenging ways, but it was the perfect lesson for the setting. Still, we slipped out of the talk early to catch the 12 o’clock bus back to the visitor’s center, and then back to our hotel for a picnic lunch of cottage cheese and fruit from the local supermarket. We had to get our strength for the next adventure of the day, truly one of the high water marks of the vacation.

That's when we not only hopped into a time machine back to 1863, we got to be our own great-great grandparents. So put on your hoop skirt or your Union cavalry private’s jacket and get ready for the ride. I’ll see you in pictures tomorrow!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gettysburg, Day 1

The pictures are loaded (only 108 out of 400 made the blog list) and I’m ready to take you on a trip back in time—for those who dare brave heavy doses of whimsy and a relentless camera trigger finger. I’m clearly a bit of a travel writer manqué, but that’s the beauty of blogging. I can do whatever the hell I want, so climb up on my buggy and let’s go for a ride!

So, the title of this blog post, “Gettysburg, Day 1,” is sort of a take-off of all the maps and books about the famous battle itself, the first day being an appetizer of skirmishes for the butchery to come. But I really want to start with the night before my first day in the town, when we arrived at Dulles Airport around nine in the evening, picked up our rental car, and headed through the countryside to the field of battle.

Now, I knew on an intellectual level that this vacation was going to be a trip into my own personal past, since all of the stops were places I’d either lived or visited often as a child. But I wasn’t really prepared for the flood of feelings and memories that came when I actually traveled along roads I hadn’t seen in ten years or more. The first such rush came as we glided through the night along route 15 from Maryland to Pennsylvania, a trip I must have made dozens, if not a hundred times in my youth. My mother visited my grandparents at least once a month when we lived in Rockville, MD during my high school years. The countryside around us was hidden in the darkness, but many of the neon signs for motels and restaurants were still familiar, throbbing against a blank, black background. It gave the car trip a surreal quality, as if I really were burrowing back into my own memory--a Disneyland dark ride called “Donna’s Life” (pretty scary, that, so you have to be “as tall as Mickey” to ride).

A little before midnight, we arrived at the Courtyard by Marriot a few miles outside of Gettysburg, basically in the middle of a field and parking lot. I would have preferred a charming bed and breakfast in town, but the kids wanted a pool, and I figured that was fair given they’d be subject to plenty of my museums and family gatherings. The boys approved of our spacious room, and I noticed since my last vacation that at this hotel and most of the others (the one exception being the quaint place in Amish Country), those never-laundered, germ-ridden bedspreads have been replaced by a thin, decorative “bed runner” across the bottom of the bed that is easily tossed aside. A seemingly minor detail, but you know, this could be useful information for your next hotel erotica story, right?

Since we were all on West Coast time, we stayed up for another hour or so, unpacking and finishing up some of the snacks I’d brought for dinner, although part of the goodies were sacrificed when I spilled an open bag of peanuts all over the rug. I raked up the nuts, but a visible sprinkling of salt remained on the carpet. I assured everyone the maid would vacuum it up in the morning, but she never did during our four days at the hotel! We still tipped her, though.

We finally got everyone to bed and I had one of my recurring anxiety dreams where I’m suddenly back at college, wandering around trying to find my dorm room and wondering why I still have to live like this with bunkbeds and roommates and vaguely resenting my demotion. I was so busy dealing with my second college career, I didn’t wake up until about 10 in the morning or so, thanks to the thick curtains at the hotel. So much for an early start—I tend to be a bit of a drill sergeant on sightseeing vacations—but our first day was just a get-acquainted schedule, like the battle itself. We managed to get ourselves over to The Avenue restaurant on Steinwehr Avenue (Their ad offers “Casual Home-Style Dining” with a picture of a Union soldier dining with a Confederate at a booth, no doubt to mend fences over pancakes and bacon) just in time to put in a last order for breakfast.

The drive through the center of the town was a trip back in time indeed because this area has certain features you just don’t find in the west—brick houses with porches sitting right against the sidewalk, alleyways between the blocks, thick armed trees lush with greenery. The Avenue was even more of a time warp. Gettysburg itself tries its best to take visitors back to 1863, but this place took me straight back to 1968 with its bar and booths and Gettysburg memorabilia on the walls. The waitress who seated and served us looked like one of my cousins, and since my mother had six brothers and sisters and most of them had six kids, it was in fact likely we were actually related!

There are going to be a lot of food descriptions on this vacation—would you expect less?—so of course I have to tell you about the sweet potato pancakes I ordered that first day. An order for a short stack gives you two fluffy orangish cakes on a plate, faintly fragrant of brown sugar. And they sure were flavorful, even without syrup. I did not try the house specialty of fried dill pickles with Ranch Dip, though. On my next trip perhaps? But only if you dare me. And the old-fashioned menu over the cash register definitely got the nostalgia juices flowing. You can order red beet eggs as a side-dish (see my recipe in Cooking Up a Storey)—something you will find only in Pennsylvania Dutch Country!

After breakfast, I popped into an intriguing-looking shop right next door called Abraham’s Lady. Now, one of my many fantasies is to own my own Victorian outfit--not unlike corset-loving Claire in my story, “Fezziwig’s Balls,” in Alison Tyler’s Naughty or Nice: Christmas Erotica Stories. This store was definitely a serious place to shop for such a costume, not to mention do research for Victorian porn. Donna Abraham provides all the necessary items for the authentic Civil War look for ladies—you don’t want to be given the dreaded label “Farbie” for wearing a ballgown in the woods--including the split drawers. Yep, 19th century ladies' underwear had this great big gaping hole, a necessity for the necessities when you’re wearing a hoop skirt.

Also a handy detail for an erotic story, don’t you think?

As much as I coveted a properly un-Farbie, matronly day dress with chemise, corset, petticoats and those naughty underpants, it would be a lot to carry home, so I contented myself with a pair of black cotton stockings and a small book on prostitution in the 19th century. Feigning nonchalance with my potentially disreputable purchases (all tax deductible) I had a nice chat with the owner and asked her who the best “old tyme” photographer in town was as I’d noticed several ads for these services. She immediately pointed to a brochure for R.J. Gibson, a photographer who advertised appearances on the History Channel, PBS and other impressive places. “He’s the very best, no question. He’s also my brother. But I’m not biased,” she said with a laugh.

Nepotism aside, I’m very glad I took her advice, but more on that in the next installment.

After our brunch, we headed over to the new visitor’s center at the battlefield, which truly deserved all the great reviews I’d heard. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon there, first watching the introductory film—which made me teary—and then ascending to the newly restored Cyclorama.

This 360 degree painting of Pickett’s Charge was painted in 1884 by French artist Paul Philippoteaux. The artist did a lot of research for accuracy and some of the veterans of the battle claimed they felt like they were back in the thick of it. At any rate, in spite of the summer crowds, it was pretty cool to stand in the darkened center of the viewing area and see the battle unfold all around as various parts were illuminated.

Other highlights of the museum were General Lee’s actual gauntlets—I mean, jeez, he wore these things while riding around on Traveller!—and an interactive display of the things the soldiers carried. My older son claimed the backpack he took to school was just as heavy, although I’d like to think we made some progress in terms of what we lug around in a century or so! I also picked up interesting bits such as the appeal of the beautiful countryside to the soldiers on both sides. (It really is beautiful country). One Confederate from Georgia wrote in his diary that he wished he could buy a farm here. The Union general who commanded troops at the peach orchard actually did buy the same land after the war. And General Pickett, he of one of military history's worst job assignments, apparently replied to a question of why his charge failed with these wise words: “I think the Yankees had something to do with it.”

Glad he kept his sense of humor in spite of it all.

The real highlight of the day came at dinner when we went over to the town’s central square to meet Craig, DeDe and Cyn Sorensen at The Plaza Restaurant for dinner. I’d “met” Craig early in 2008 at one of my cyber-tour stops to promote Amorous Woman, and when we decided to come to town for my family reunion, I made sure to set up an in the flesh meeting with Craig and our families to continue our chats about writing, the artist’s life, “the next level” and other such topics.

Food first, though. The Plaza made great gyros sandwiches, even providing a tasty feta-rich vegetarian version, which I highly recommend. For dessert, we walked down to the Olde Tyme Malt Shop right around the corner where I had my first opportunity to get reacquainted with a favorite local specialty—black raspberry ice cream. Back in the day, there used to be a place called “The Dairy” a few blocks from my grandmother’s house and I remember heading straight over there when we arrived on Friday nights, no doubt at my insistence. I always ordered a double scoop dish of black raspberry and chocolate chip, served in a paper cone tucked inside a metal stand, usually by one of my many cousins. Raspberry seems like an odd choice for a kid, but in these parts that flavor is truly delicious, a rich, intense distillation of the deep purple berry flavor. Herr Doktor ordered cherry, which was also excellent—like a French vanilla with lots and lots of whole, plump, fresh cherries mixed in.

All the good food was the perfect accompaniment to the delightful conversation. It’s always a pleasure to talk shop with people who “get” it, and Dede and Cyn, both visual artists, were full of wise and inspiring words that crossed genres. As for Craig, there were no surprises. He is as cool and kind and funny as you’d guess from his blogland presence. Oh, I guess there was one surprise—I hope you don’t mind if I spill the beans, Craig—but he has a discreet ponytail, which I hadn’t realized from those Carlos Santana-esque pics online. I find it the perfect accessory for a writer who pushes the limits in so many interesting ways, always with subtlety and elegant understatement!

We returned to the hotel, and the boys dashed off to the pool, capering happily for three full hours until they closed the place down at 11. But there would be no sleeping in the next day. I had plans to get us all up bright and early for a jaunt to yet another decade lost to time.

Care to join me there after breakfast on Day 2?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pickle Love!

Well, as you know, I've been on the road for the past two Spicy Sundays. But fortunately, I was able to get internet access to stop by Bad Ass Kona's for a smokin' celebration of rosemary and meals of seduction on August 9 and then celebrated the joys of poppy with summer salad, pumpkin muffins, and sexy transitions over at Emerald's.

Today we celebrate our penultimate Spicy Sunday at P.S. Haven's place with an ode to salt. There's a very salty recipe for big, fat pickles and lots of mouthwatering prose, including a brand-new story written just for this party! As you might expect, the discussion topic is equally intriguing and is sure to get your mind all juiced up with savory ideas. It certainly got me thinking about my erotic obsessions and just how far I'm willing to go. (P.S., Ranch Dip makes everything taste better).

So come join us for some salty bites and conversation on a lovely green isle in the Atlantic. And don't forget your favorite pickle!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Magical History Tour

So, I'm back from my very family vacation to the East Coast and we had a wonderful time. I took about 500 pictures with my blog in mind (although I won't post all of them!), so you can plan on a day-by-day report of the sightseeing, eating and of course the delightful in the flesh meetings with friends and fellow writers.

This trip was rich in history, first of all because our destinations--Gettysburg, Amish Country, Washington, D.C. and Charlottesville--all played an important part in American history and our collective imagination and do their best to preserve that experience today. It was also a trip into my personal past, and although I knew that on an intellectual level, actually traveling to these places brought back so many powerful memories.

We were fortunate in that the travel went smoothly and the weather was unusually mild--that is, warm, but not the steam bath the mid-Atlantic and north-of-the-south can be in August. No rain, either, just deep greenery and sunshine--and plenty of ice cream.

So, as soon as I finish up the piles of laundry and catch up on the e-mails, I'll be taking you right along with me on a trip to the past. Hoop skirts and snoods optional!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

34D for a Day

Wow, I have to say I am just blown away by the comments you all have left in response to my oral diplomacy post. Thank you so much! There is so much wisdom there, so much to think about, so much inspiration for... well, okay, here's an interesting twist. I just realized this morning that this confession of mine and the conversation it sparked has been very valuable in firming up the direction for my next novel. The one I haven't really done much work on for seven months. Part of the story will involve the protagonist taking a hard, honest look at her "promiscuous" past. Just as I'm doing. I hadn't meant for it to be "research" and yet all the feelings of hesitation, shame, anger, self-forgiveness, even tenderness are definitely going to be part of my protagonist's self-exploration. And it really makes me feel braver about going ahead with it with your support and interest.

Erobintica attended a workshop with Stephen Elliott and among other memorable things he said: "
A book that everybody likes, nobody loves." I must plead guilty to thinking too much about the market at times. As if a "downer" book won't sell. But then I do circle back to the truism that if a writer isn't passionate about her work, readers sense that. Or at least if she is passionate, then whether it's published or not, it's a job well worth doing. The best job there is.

So I'm going to go for honesty in the book and it may not all be pretty.

Even so, I wanted to end this poignant tale on an up note of sorts. After Avignon, I returned to my junior year at Princeton that autumn with a few pretentious French-isms to my speech (for about a week), some cool posters, a nice denim mini-skirt, and some sad lessons about the low exchange rate of small breasts out there in the real world. At Princeton, my "deficit" didn't really seem to matter all that much, fortunately, but I knew my days in This Side of Paradise were numbered. I decided to adopt the same wry cynicism I used to deal with the "smart-girl-as-undateable" rule that operated beyond the Ivy as well and mostly forgot about the boob issue.

But then I got the opportunity to conduct a little anthropological experiment.

One of the eating clubs was hosting a "Come As You're Not" party around Halloween. As I was pondering possible costumes, I got a brilliant idea. I would borrow my roommate's 34D bra, stuff it with socks and go as a chick with knockers. My roommate agreed although she gave me a dubious look. Before I headed out to Prospect Street that Saturday at 11 or so, I stuffed the bra and took the additional measure of dressing all in pink. Definitely not me. I was amused that my sweater was straining in new places, but I put on my innocent mask and sauntered in to the party.

The results were fascinating.

I'll start with the people who knew me. Closer friends remarked on the change immediately and seemed amused. Acquaintances gave me funny looks, as if they couldn't quite figure out what was different, and were embarrassed to guess. But the strangers--the soldier boys in town for the Army game, especially, were staring at my temporary boobs with such longing, it was hard to keep from cracking up laughing. Yep, my chest was practically smoking from all the hot male gazes trained on those twin mounds. One rather cute, crew-cutted, tipsy-looking soldier stared and stared. When I moved, the eyes moved with me, at chest level of course.

What can I say? I loved it. I really enjoyed that feeling of pulling one over on them, of turning the American male's obsession with breasts into a joke. Guess what? You're in lust with a couple of pairs of sweat socks, buddy.

I don't think I stopped smiling all night.

But I was also glad I didn't have to deal with that kind of thing all the time. It felt good to take off the bra, toss the socks back into my drawer, smooth out the sweater, and go back to being me. Still, it was an interesting study--if I'd gone into anthropology, it might have made a good thesis.

Do you think any of those army boys dreamed about that "stacked" girl in pink? Alas, nothing but a dream....

Monday, August 03, 2009

International Diplomacy and Oral Sex

I’ve been talking about "doing it" for a long time and now, well, I think I actually am going to do it. That is, I’m going to tell you about giving the blowjob to the French fireman. You know him by name now, Christophe.

And still I’m resisting. I find myself wanting to explain the reason why I seemed, and genuinely felt, I was sleepwalking through the scene. My sophomore year of college I fell madly in love with a freshman guy and we were convinced we were soul mates. For about three months. Then he dumped me and it took four long years for my heart to recover. Somehow my mind keeps insisting the why’s and wherefore’s of that emotional cataclysm are important to this story, when they are not. It’s just that another reason I was in that car, besides my small breasts, is that I had no boyfriend waiting back home.

The other obstacle goes back to Stephen Elliott’s challenge of the “truth” of memory. Certain parts of that evening are so very clear to me, yet many of the transitions that would make it a “real” story are just gone. That gives the experience a jumpy quality, like a foreign film. Which it is in a way. So, I’ll go with that.

Ready to jump around?

So, let’s leap back into that dark, throbbing disco, take a seat at that small table where swarthy Patrice was eyeing my friend and licking his lips, while Christophe smoked, looking appropriately blasé, yet somehow nervous, too. At some point, Patrice must have asked my friend if she wanted to go outside for a breath of fresh air. I don’t know think she said yes then (he kept asking), but I was alerted to the proposition and what it probably meant, so that later, when Christophe got around to asking me if I wanted some fresh air, I had an inkling of what was in store.

When he did ask and I decided what the hell, there must have been some communication with the other women that we all had a ride home, but that part is hazy. I do remember stopping by the coat check as Christophe and I headed outside. He stopped me. Non, non, non, I didn’t need my coat. But it was chilly outside and I thought I did. But he insisted, I was not to claim my sweater. It occurred to me then that this was some signal that we were “going out for fresh air” and not leaving and that it was important to him that this message be conveyed to… the coat check girl?…or some other band of watching friends who’d know he was going to score? On the other hand, I might be violating some sacrosanct French custom, one never knew, so I gave in, hoping we would indeed come back so I could get my sweater. I liked that sweater and didn’t want to lose it.

Coatless, I crunched along the gravel parking lot under a starry July sky to Christophe’s small car, the kind of French auto that feels like you’re driving around in a tuna can. We got in and he started up the car. There wasn’t much fresh air involved yet, and again I had a distant feeling of doubt as to what I was getting myself into, but I also wasn’t getting terrible vibes, either. We drove through the fields and pastures and Christophe gallantly asked me what kind of music I liked. In truth I was more interested in hearing what he—a real, live French guy—liked, but it seemed a point of courtesy for him to have me choose from his collection of tapes. He kept asking do you like so-and-so, and so-and-so? I finally settled on David Bowie and Christophe seemed much relieved he could please me.

I always found this part of casual sex rather touching, when a guy I didn’t know and would never know in any real sense, was clearly intent on charming me in a superficial way that strangers must resort to. Then again, music is an international language.

With David Bowie singing through the speakers, Christophe pulled over to the side of the road. This seemed weird and again might have been terrifying, but he just seemed to want to sit and talk. There was no fresh air involved here, either. We started kissing. He tasted like tobacco. His hand wandered between my legs and it only then occurred to me—I was having my period. Yeah, that sounds weird, too, but at 19 I’d only had about four natural periods and this was number four. Somehow I conveyed my indisposition to Christophe and he pulled away and sighed. (No really gallant cela m'est egale, I'm going in anyway, but then Americans and Japanese never did that either). Then somehow I conveyed that I was willing to give him a blowjob.

Because, you know, I had to prove that shy, flat-chested girls could be lots of fun, too, not to mention as an American, I had a duty to my French hosts to be likeable and diplomatic so I'd give them a good impression of my country. International diplomacy--that's the real reason I gave a blowjob to a French fireman in the middle of a vineyard in Southern France.

This all makes sense, right?

Anyway, Christophe readily took me up on my offer and before I knew it, he’d pushed his seat back to a reclining position and had his jeans down to his knees. This was my first look at an uncircumcised penis, which was definitely interesting. Christophe asked me shyly what we called the male organ in English, and we had a brief cross-cultural language lesson of sexual terms--we call it this, you call it that. This linguistic interest struck me as odd, but it was also touching, too. In retrospect, I do think the guy was a sweetie.

After the lesson, I took his cock in my mouth. Now, I’d always gotten good reviews on my blowjobs, although I didn’t then or now consider myself an expert. But I was licking and sucking and dealing with the foreskin when Christophe spoke up in his gravely voice asking if he could turn on the light. I hesitated. I knew guys were supposed to be visual, and I supposed it was a good sign he wanted to watch what was going on, but I also realized we’d basically be on a lit stage in the midst of a dark country road. But again, I felt an obligation to support positive international relations, so I told him oui.

So I continue licking and sucking and he’s arching back and sighing and then he cleared his throat. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

What? That was really weird. I mean, sure he was chain-smoking all night, but if he had to do it during the middle of a blowjob, he was either really addicted or my skills weren’t translating well at all. Still, agreeable as always, I said oui. So he lay there and smoked while I did it. Now and then I’d look up and he seemed so blasé and bored, I wasn’t sure what was going on. But I soldiered on to the finish.

I don’t remember much about the rest. I licked and sucked some more, he came in my mouth, I swallowed, and we drove back to the disco to collect my sweater, but only that, no more dancing or anything. Then Christophe drove me back to the apartment complex where my home-stay “mother" lived in one of a rather depressing series of gray, featureless high rise apartments. I vaguely recall having some trouble finding the place, Christophe having to turn around and double back, but we did finally make it. Before I got out, Christophe asked me if I’d like to get together again some time. I said oui and he wrote down my phone number.

I figured I’d never hear from him again, although I’ll admit, in spite of his bored demeanor during the blowjob, his offer seemed more than pure politesse.

I let myself into the apartment to find my roommate in bed awake, ready to relate her story of fending off Daniel and his invitation to go sailing on the Riviera. She made it all sound like a slapstick comedy, with Daniel grabbing for her as she slipped away leaving him to embrace empty air. I edited my story, simply telling her that the other woman went off with Patrice, I ended up with Christophe and he gave me a ride home. The kind of experience a woman with small tits was expected to have.

The only other physical sexual contact I had that summer (although there were a number of opportunities) was with an English guy who was hanging out at the campground near Avignon with another group of unemployed fellows from Manchester who spent a lot of time following us around in their van. His name was Bill and he was a long-haired hippy type with intense blue eyes. One night he and I ended up enjoying each other’s conversation at the usual café hangout. We lingered after the others, getting drunk on pastis. He showed me his wedding photo—his wife was Indian, but they were somehow not together now. Then he walked me home and told me I was the most beautiful and interesting American in the group. As a reward, I let him kiss and fondle me on the bench outside the apartment. He kept asking between tongue-tangles if I would come back to his tent. But he smelled and I didn’t really want to do more with him. I just liked the validation.

But back to Christophe.

A few days later, I was coming back from French classes in Avignon with my roommate, when Madame called out to me from her study. “Donna, you got a phone call from a French boy named Christophe.” She used the word “garcon,” although I’d thought of him as an older man.

My first thought was this: Well, I guess he really did like that blowjob.

“He said he’d call back,” she added. “It’s really interesting. The girls who stay here during the year are so serious, but the summer girls are much more cutesy.”

“I’m pretty serious,” I said.

“Pah, look at you,” she countered. “That cute little lace blouse. The winter girls don’t dress like that. And they most certainly don’t have French boys calling them on the phone.”

When we got back to our bedroom, my roommate observed, with a sparkle in her eye, “I think you didn’t tell me everything that happened that night.”

I shrugged and blushed, but I was pleased for that validation, too. I was also pleased that Christophe never did call back. I assume he was embarrassed to speak to Madame again figuring his dishonorable designs on her temporary charge were all too clear. Or it’s possible that he left his number (I’m picturing a note in Madame’s handwriting with a phone number written in the French way rather too clearly) and I didn’t call him back. I know for a fact, at least, I never called him and we never saw each other again.

So that’s the story. Not especially sexy, more than a little poignant, maybe not quite so high on the list of "most pathetic" experiences as I thought. It’s funny, I feel a little bit like Lydia in Amorous Woman after she spilled her guts to the two young Americans. I’m not sure if it was a story worth waiting for, but I’m glad I told it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Spanking for Soccer Moms?

A bit late in posting this, but I wrote a short memoir piece about my spanking experiences that was posted on Rachel Kramer Bussel's blog earlier this week to mark the publication of Bottoms Up: Spanking Good Stories.

I've been on an "honest confessions about me" roll this past week, so it's appropriate I have another chance to reveal all in blogland.

Besides, it gives me another chance to show off my schoolgirl uniform! Bottoms up!

Erotic Alchemy and Adventures in Cyberspace

I was going to continue my story about the French fireman on Friday, but some things came up, and then today I suddenly got the chance to "fly" when my son's friend got sick and slot opened up for his I-Fly birthday party (Youtube video to come--it was fun!). So I'm a bit behind in my emails and blogging, but it will happen, I promise! Thanks so much to everyone for your thought-provoking comments on "Men and Breasts." I was reminded very quickly that every woman has some vulnerability about her body, whether it's being ignored or getting too much of the wrong kind of attention. Men are not immune from humiliations either. You know, we are all in this together!

Anyway, since today marks the beginning of August, I wanted to mention that I published two new columns over at the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. My Shameless Self-Promotion series continues with "Adventures in Cyberspace: Finding Balance, Branching Out" which explores more ways to use the Internet to promote your work, such as email discussion lists, author chats, writing columns or working as an Examiner journalist for a beat related to your book. Also check out the very valuable interviews with Brenna Lyons on author chats and many other topics and Sue Thurman on her experiences as an Arizona Examiner.

Cooking Up a Storey is especially sweet this month with a look at Erotic Alchemy: Fantasy Plus Reality Equals Pecan Bars. There's a great recipe for pecan bars (I'll be bringing a batch of these to Gettysburg) and a peek between the covers of Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Morin is a sex therapist, but he departs from the usual "enlightened" approach in his field that claims the key to a better sex life is merely to reduce inhibition and shame. Instead he acknowledges that guilt and shame and other "dark" emotions can enhance the erotic experience, although he also hopes we can overcome sex-negativity in our culture and embrace the joy of eroticism as well.

This observation really struck me when I first read it and now: “Many find it discomforting to tolerate the ambiguity of the erotic experience, to accept its mixed motivations, or to observe how the erotic mind has a habit of transforming one idea or emotion into another.” I would argue (and I do) that the mysterious change that takes place when real life material is reshaped in fantasy--for example, converting sexual shame to exhibitionism, humiliation to empowerment-- lies at the heart of what we do as writers, although perhaps more consciously than a "layman" indulging in sexual fantasy. I find it all so fascinating, but enough synopsis--go read the column!