My first book! – Free on KindleUnlimited right now

kindle image

This is a reblog of the post about my book. For a limited time, it will be free to KindleUnlimited readers if you would like to download it. It is short and an easy read.

I finally did it and my first book, Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan is now available as an EBook from Kindle/Amazon from both the UK and US sites as well as other European countries. For a brief moment it was the best selling guide to Cairo when it had only sold 10 copies – I guess no-one wants to go to Cairo… It is a short book and the title says it all, ‘This is a memoir not a travelogue’. There is another book with the same title but it is much more expensive than mine and I bet it’s not as funny! The current price is $4.49 – about the price of a Venti Latte. It is published on Kindle Select so they may reduce the price at times to market the book. It is available on a variety of Amazon sites including Amazon UK.If you don’t have a Kindle you can download it to your PC or other small device with this app – https://www.amazon.com/gp/digital/fiona/kcp-landing-page?ie=UTF8&ref_=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd

It is a poignant, hilarious and revelatory memoir about our expatriate posting to Cairo during the second Gulf War between 2002 and 2004. Some of you may empathize if you have been to third world destinations but the essence is about my battle to deal with illness in a foreign country during a very stressful time. The book is short, despite 10 years of writing, editing and agonizing about writing a memoir. Although I had worked as a research writer in the old country this time gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills for pleasure. Writing this blog has opened my eyes to the joy of sharing with other writers and photographers. Thank you, all my followers, for giving me the confidence to finally publish. A very special thank you to Ed Mooney, my very first follower, who encouraged me and taught me WordPress etiquette.

This is the link to the book on Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0
If you read it (some may be able to borrow it) please give me a review.

A tour of El Paso

tiffany-dome

Tiffany Dome

El Camino Real Hotel Downtown El Paso

El Camino Real Hotel
Downtown El Paso

Who would have thunk it? An exquisite original Tiffany dome over the bar of El Camino Real Hotel. I was awestruck. Since I was not driving, I booked a well recommended tour Border Sights Tours with tour guide, Rudy, at the wheel. He picked me up first and then a young guy who had just driven his unwilling (to return to base) military friend back to Fort Bliss from the Pacific North West. That is a hell of a drive. Rudy took us all over El Paso, more in future blogs, but this bit of gossip (below) tickled me.

Original Hilton Skyscraper El Paso

Original Hilton Skyscraper
El Paso

If you look at the top of the building you can see an additional smaller section on the roof. This is the penthouse suite where Elizabeth Taylor and her first husband Nicky Hilton spent their honeymoon. How cool is that?? The view from the top must be astonishing.

balcony-kennedy
hotel-cortez

Rudy told us that President John F Kennedy gave a speech from that balcony of the Hotel Cortez. I guess El Paso was the ‘happening’ place back in the day, eh? Wouldn’t it have been fun to see JFK or Elizabeth Taylor – wow? One of my favorite parts of the tour was when we visited a genuine Mexican bakery and could choose a cake or pastry. Rudy told us that they were less sweet than traditional Texan desserts because they used unrefined sugar. My churro was yummy!

Gussie's Bakery

Gussie’s Bakery

I loved this mural outside the bakery. More tales of our tour next week, including Fort Bliss.

How to read maps…in El Paso

Church of the Immaculate Conception, El Paso

Church of the Immaculate Conception

This is the Catholic Church I was looking for, however, if you look at a map upside down you end up at the other end of town… I traipsed across an Interstate, train-tracks and found myself in a pawn shop area. There was a beautiful Anglican church below – which I would have gone into, if it was open. Eventually, I did the sensible thing and went into the pawn shop and asked where the church was. Even with that, I had to go into the police station, closer to the Immaculate Conception to check where I was. Usually, I am a good navigator but I guess God was leading me on a different path.

'Not the Catholic Church' St Clement Anglican Church

‘Not the Catholic Church’
St Clement Anglican Church

Both churches were really beautiful but the sky around the Immaculate Conception church was breathtaking. It was a small church within the downtown area and there were some parishioners praying. Suddenly I was back 40 years because one of the ladies had a long scarf over her head. Back in the day, women couldn’t enter a Catholic church without a head covering. A scarf was sufficient, occasionally a Mantilla, but today I was wearing a $3 Fedora.

This is just the sort of church I love. Small, intimate, beautifully decorated by those who care for it.

stained-glass-el-paso

Station of the Cross Christ consoling the women

Station of the Cross
Christ consoling the women

St Anthony and stained glass

St Anthony and stained glass

One of the comments on my previous church post referred, with astonishment, that there could be intact stained glass windows all over Texas. I am astonished that anyone could break a stained glass church window but perhaps that’s my naivety. My rose tinted illusions about the USA are getting shattered daily. Doesn’t everyone have friends of different ethnicity, religion and color? What’s wrong with the world?

Catholic Masons.

Catholic Masons.

I think I could get smitten for that… For those who don’t know, the Knights of Columbus are not dissimilar to the Masons. At one time Catholics could not join the Masons, so they had their own society. I don’t approve of Masons, Knights or Sororities but I was one of the Drama Group Geeks who always felt on the outside. I was so shocked when I discovered my paternal great grandparents were both Masons. WHAT! I didn’t even know they were Protestant… 👿

Masonic Sphinx

Masonic Sphinx

I loved this Sphinx in front of the Masonic Hall – just trying to balance things. 😇

El Segundo Barrio, El Paso

Sombreros!

Sombreros!

I was so excited after I saw my room, that I immediately changed into one of my shorts outfits. I think they are glamorous and chic; perhaps a little young… Anyway, I particularly wanted to visit the area close to the border with Mexican shops. At one time you would just have crossed the border. An attractive young lady was leaving the hotel at the same time and I asked her if she could tell me how to get there. Not only did she take me there by foot but gave me her telephone number in case I wanted to cross the border with her. Then she emailed me during my visit. This was typical of the friendliness of the residents and she represented both El Paso and her ancestors who were Syrian. A Syrian community had settled there many generations ago. I just have to make a small point – American Arabs have been here for hundreds of years.

Fancy dress shop for weddings and events.

Fancy dress shop for weddings and events.

Mexico or Texas?

Mexico or Texas?

We said goodbye and as you can see from the header photograph, I quickly felt I was in Mexico even though it was Texas. When the violence and cartels came to Cuidad Juarez, many of the residents sought refuge in El Paso and set up similar shops. I had arrived after a cold snap and most people were wearing trousers or leggings. Not only did I stand out with bright blonde hair but I was wearing less than everyone else. Then I noticed a Hispanic Ranchero walking alongside me, crossing at each traffic light. He was about my age, well dressed with white hair and a Stetson. When we stopped at the lights he would very deliberately look me up and down as though I were a prime heifer (at my age, I would made into cat food).

I was getting anxious about whether I was dressed appropriately when he finally went ahead of me but just waited… As I passed him, he whispered something to me in Spanish. It was too low for me to make out with my bad Spanish but I suspect it was –

• An invitation to join him somewhere for love, sweet love
• An inquiry as to how much I charged for the hour
• Or a simple compliment

I dashed off in horror (that my Nana was right about Women who wear outfits so skimpy you ‘can see their breakfast’) and immediately shopped for an appropriate outfit to buy. There was a real mix of Hoochie Mama style and basic stuff. Eventually I choose a long tunic and some leggings and was brave enough to ask the shopkeeper, a lady with ample assets on show, if I was dressed appropriately. She poo-pooed my concerns and said that it was just the cold weather front. Perhaps she wasn’t the right person to ask? Eventually I got the balance right, modest for church and barrio; cougar style at the hotel.

There are murals all over downtown El Segundo Barrio. This is Pancho Villa.

There are murals all over downtown El Segundo Barrio. This is Pancho Villa.

This a link to the history of El Segundo Barrio (The Second Ward)

Despite my encounter, I felt no fear in the shops or the area which was, in parts, a little down at heel. Downtown is so small that you quickly go from Wells Fargo headquarters (hiss, boo), fancy hotels and restaurants to the Barrio. I eventually bought a $3 fedora because the sun was hot on my head. The first shopkeeper went to great lengths to send me to another shop because he didn’t have what I wanted. When I arrived at said shop, I noticed that not everything was new (to me). I am not really very fussy but I would like my hat to be brand new – fortunately, they were. Some of the other shops also had a mix of new and secondhand clothes. Wonderfully fascinating unless you have airs and graces like my Teddy who turned his nose up at the thrift shop shirt I got him (dry-cleaned and in perfect condition). He will wear it (by royal thrift decree)!!

anson-ii-flowers
This an example of a fancy new restaurant with a beautiful flower display, just 2 minutes from the Mexican shops. Below is the sidewalk clock.
sidewalk-clocksidewalk-sign

More adventures to come…

The architecture of Salt Lake City

The Latter Day Saints Temple complex is the icing on the cake, as far as architecture is concerned, with beautiful buildings and gardens but I was fascinated by other buildings I noticed. The Greek Cathedral, below, fascinated me. I had no idea that the second influx of immigrants (after the Mormons) was Greek.
holy-trinity-cathedral
holy-trinity-sign
Brewing companies seem relatively common all over the country these days and I liked the use of the older building.

Salt Lake Brewing Company

Salt Lake Brewing Company

The Karrick Building

The Karrick Building

I mentioned that the City Creek runs through the mall, a feat of architecture that amazed me. When I left the mall I noticed that they had constructed a waterfall – how beautiful.

Man-made Waterfall at City Creek Mall

Man-made Waterfall at City Creek Mall

Replica Pioneer Building

Replica Pioneer Building

This is a replica of a Pioneer house – quite an evolution in building.

Brigham Young Historic Park, SLC

Pioneer Farmer's Wife

Pioneer Farmer’s Wife


When you are in the temple complex of the Latter Day Saints, it is easy to envision what drew Brigham Young to settle in this area of Salt Lake City. Within the city limits there is a small canyon and a creek that runs through it, City Creek and Canyon. To my utter fascination, it runs right through the modern shopping mall – beautifully designed. This historic park is a lovely way to demonstrate how hard it was for the early settlers to tame this harsh environment. This is a lovely little oasis in the center of the city although the Salt Lake City is generally serene with a beautiful backdrop of mountains.

Pioneer planting methods

Pioneer planting methods


model-waterwheel
Original City Creek running through the modern mall

Original City Creek running through the modern mall

My cousin told me a wonderful tale which I thought might be apocryphal until I researched it – The Miracle of the Gulls. In 1848, when the first Mormon pioneers were struggling to grow crops, they were almost devastated by an invasion of what is known as ‘Mormon crickets’. They are really members of the Katydid family – shudder… When all seemed lost in came a migration of gulls that regularly ate at the Salt Lake. This time they gorged on the Mormon Crickets, so much so that they regurgitated the first buffet and then started again thus saving the crops. Isn’t nature amazing? If I was a pioneer, I would have been convinced that it was a miracle instead of something naturally occurring. Maybe it was a miracle?

Mountain view from Salt Lake City

Mountain view from Salt Lake City


When you look at the landscape you have to admire the tenaciousness of the Mormon Pioneers. They had almost nowhere else to go, having been persecuted for their beliefs in other states, and yet managed to conquer this inhospitable place. It is as hot as hell in the summer and incredibly cold with major snowfalls in the winter. A wonderful environment now that we have tourism and modern facilities, especially air conditioning. It is a rich state and their hard work has made it so.

Pioneer Gardener

Pioneer Gardener


City Creek Mall

City Creek Mall

Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake City

Altar, Cathedral of the Madeleine

Altar, Cathedral of the Madeleine

Given the somber appearance of the outside of this Catholic cathedral, I was astonished when I walked inside and saw the wonderfully colorful interior. The Cathedral was built between 1900 and 1909 under the leadership of Bishop Scanlan. Whenever I visit Catholic Churches in the States, I expect either an Irish name, as in this case, or a Spanish name. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family and it was common in the old days for the oldest boy of a family to go into the priesthood, whether he wanted to or not. Our Parish Priest was a wonderfully arrogant example of this…😇 (When you read to the end of this post, I think you will agree that I am headed to Purgatory for bloggers…) As I looked at the engraving of Bishop Scanlan below, I wondered about his long journey to the alien landscape of Utah.

bishop-scanlan

When I researched The Cathedral of the Madeleine, I noted that the interior was inspired by the Spanish Gothic style of the late middle ages. Although I visited Madrid years ago, I don’t think I have ever seen a Cathedral that looked quite like this one. It was magnificent. I could imagine a Lenten Mass with the incensor or thurible burning with that evocative smell of the Middle East.

Stages of the Cross

Stages of the Cross

All Roman Catholic churches have a set of pictures called the steps of the cross which depict the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. This one was unique and slightly surreal. Before Easter we traditionally prayed at each stage. Our church, in Scotland, was very modern, created by some fancy architect but not really appealing to the majority of the parishioners. I looked at current images online and I couldn’t recognize it – all the colors had been changed to white which really emphasized the beautiful stained glass. There must be so few parishioners that there were just some chairs – no rows of kneeling benches. It was so busy when I was growing up that it was standing room only. How sad and yet reflective of our times.

Epistle Altar

Epistle Altar

I loved this epistle altar to the right of the main alter. The colors are so rich – imagine how lovely it would be on a cold Utah Christmas Day? There is always a funny story to every travelogue and this one happened as I was trying to cross the road to enter the church. There were some roadworks and it made it difficult to see where the pedestrian crossing was. I noted that all the locals religiously crossed when they should, so I followed the herd. At the Cathedral, I just couldn’t figure out where it was so just decided to cross the road – jay walking, I guess. I was obviously a tourist lady who was lost trying to get to her church but a truck slowed down, when I was in the middle, and shouted, “Use the Crosswalk!” My first thought was to shout, ‘F*****g Asshole’ but I was inhibited by being in Salt Lake City and in front of a cathedral. Instead I yelled, “Shut Up” which seemed to surprise him. I was so mad that I had to stay outside the Cathedral for a while because I couldn’t go inside with all the thoughts of what I would do to that trucker if I saw him again… 😈 I guess he didn’t like Catholics – join the club!

Anyway, once the devil hopped off my shoulder, I went in and lit some candles for all my friends, family and bloggers who are struggling just now. 😇

Ybor City, Tampa

Ybor City State Museum

Ybor City State Museum

Before we visited Tampa, I had no idea that it had a historical area of such significance. From the periphery, Tampa looks like many other modern cities in Florida, with the exception of Miami and its wonderful Art Deco buildings. Ybor city was named for Vincente Martinez Ybor, an entrepreneur who had moved his cigar business from Cuba to Key West.

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

Mural with Vincente Martinez Ybor

That hadn’t been entirely successful so he decided to settle in Tampa in the 1880s. The cigar workers were skilled so many of them came from Cuba and Spain, followed by an influx firstly of Italians, then Eastern European Jews, Germans and Chinese, many of the next stage immigrants serviced the city with restaurants and other industries.

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant

cigarshop

Cigar Shop

It was an eclectic mix that was stable because each ethnicity had their own social club with welfare and benefits. Additionally, the work was plentiful and well paid. Each worker had their own little Casita, some of which are preserved, others have been renovated. The docent at the Ybor Museum told us that they used Ybor City’s welfare system as a template when they set up Medicare and Social Security in the 40s. That fascinated me more than anything else.

Streetcar in Ybor City

Streetcar in Ybor City

Ybor City reached its zenith at the beginning of the 1900s but cigar making started to decline after the Great Depression and World War II. Surprisingly, many of the original buildings remain with their exotic tile work. Artists started to flock to Ybor in recent times and it is being renovated block by block. It is a peaceful little oasis in a busy modern city with lovely tram cars. There are free range chickens on every porch because they outlawed harming chickens to stop cock fighting. You can read more of this in the The Chicken Murder. I noticed with a chuckle that you can have an event or a wedding in the garden of the Museum , but just look out for hungry hawks…
spanish street posters2

Water and light

Old Tampa Bay

Old Tampa Bay

Morning view from the Grand Hyatt in Tampa of the old bay. There is something about sunshine, water and palm trees that makes us all feel good. There is a manatee viewing point beside a power plant just down the coast from Tampa. Off we went, excitedly, only to find it is closed in low season. It is weird to think that summer is low season anywhere! So no manatees but we drove down to a lovely marina near Apollo Beach and spotted an osprey in her nest in a palm tree. It seems such a short time ago that ospreys were endangered and now you can see them almost everywhere. That makes my heart sing.

Osprey in her palm tree nest

Osprey in her palm tree nest

The marina was small and less grand than many. We had a lovely lunch in the Circles Waterfront Restaurant looking out at this lovely vista, below.

marina

I was fascinated by this boat ‘car park’ at Land’s End Marina. There are also boats at the forefront in dry dock. How many thousands of dollars are parked there, I wonder? 🙂

boat car park

“Oh yes, she’s back…”

Happy Hibiscus

Happy Hibiscus

I have missed everybody and it’s great to be back. I’m not very good at following advice that I would give someone else but this time I did the sensible thing and took a break from everything. Work, blogging, socializing – if I had a cave I would have gone to stay in it.

My slow recovery and continued pain from the eye surgery was contributing to my low mood but fortunately my regular eye doctor has provided huge relief by inserting little collagen stoppers into my leaky tear ducts so that some liquid stays in the eyes. He said I had striations from the dryness which was causing pain up to the scale of 10. When I started researching my eye problem, I reduced a variety of factors that were contributing to my chronic dry eye. I cut back on my essential medication to a manageable level, stopped taking the painkillers and anti-histamines. Then I cleaned my diet – more Omega 3s, less caffeine, less alcohol and more vegetables. I walked every day for 3 or 4 miles and was vigilant with eye drops and cleansing.

It all helped but the honest truth is that I think most of it was a mechanical problem – the tear ducts were just not working properly. This is common, particularly in menopausal women but the less said about that the better… I am not having hot flashes – it just gets suddenly hot in the sub-tropics. 🙂 With more liquid in my eyes the vision is my post cataract eye is much better and I have super spidey vision with tiny writing. It’s a nice plus in a protracted recovery.

Last weekend I knew I was feeling better because I suddenly wanted to go on a solo trip with our air miles. We have been very thrifty (our water bill has increased from $10 to $10.10!) and it was a relatively inexpensive trip with a free flight and a fantastic Hotwire deal on a historic hotel in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. This week I will be telling you all about it. Sometimes you just need a literal break away.

This red link “Kerry chatting” will take you to a little video of me chatting in my dulcet Celtic tones – I just want to say thank you, literally, for all the support you gave me. It meant so much.