USA Temperature: can I sucker you?

How fake news is used to give “scientific” proof to the masses. Masses, beware.

Open Mind

Suppose I wanted to convince people that temperature in the USA wasn’t going up, it was going down. What would I show? Let’s try yearly average temperature in the conterminous U.S., also known as the “lower 48 states” (I’ll just call it “USA”):

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Ancient wine & Dionysus


In my books, the characters often drink ‘spiced wine’.  In book I, The Road to Alexander, Ashley sips a cup of wine and notes it has a faintly spicy taste. Sometimes she says she has a cup of honeyed wine.

We cannot time travel, as Ashley did, to ancient Greece. But we can time travel – by reading history, myths, visiting a museum, or doing something slightly differently – such as drinking wine like the ancients did. Wine – one of the most ancient of human inventions. In the pantheon of Greek gods, the god of wine, Dionysus, is the most mysterious, whose origins are obscure. The most common origin given for Dionysus was that he was the son of Zeus and Semele. Zeus seduced the princess of Thebes, but then jealous Hera tricked Semele into demanding that Zeus reveal his true form to her. As a mortal, Semele could not look upon a god’s true form without dying. Zeus managed to rescue the unborn Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. A few months later, Dionysus was born from Zeus’s thigh. In other stories, Dionysus’s mother is Persephone, and that Hera sent Titans to kill the infant Dionysus. Regardless of the mother’s identity, the myths remained consistent that Zeus sewed Dionysus into his thigh. Thus, Dionysus was known to have been twice-born and was sometimes called “dimetor” (of two mothers).

In ancient Greece, wine was often drunk watered down and savory flavors added such as garlic or assafoetida (to our modern noses, a foul-smelling onion type root), as well as raisins, honey, or other spices. Pine pitch was sometimes used when the wine had gone sour, and a pine cone is part of the wine-god’s sceptor.

Dionysus (or Dionysos) was the Greek deity of winemaking and wine, of ecstasy and madness.  His symbol is a thyrsus – a stalk of giant fennel (narthēx) segmented like bamboo, sometimes with ivy leaves inserted in the hollow end and topped with a pine cone. According to legend, it dripped honey – and so we can imagine that fennel, pine, and honey were traditional additions to cups of wine.

Here is an ancient recipe for wine –  Enjoy!

Recipe for Mulsum

Also known as Conditum paradoxum, from Apicius’s De re coquinaria

Wall painting from Pompeii showing silver vessels on a table

1 bottle dry white wine
¾ cup (6 ounces) clear honey
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
Pinch saffron threads

1. Pour 2/3 cup of the wine and the honey into a 2-quart saucepot and bring it to a boil.
2. Remove the saucepot from the heat and add seasonings to the hot wine; set it aside for 5 minutes.
3. After 5 minutes, add the rest of the wine.
4. Serve mulsum warm or transfer the mixture to a glass jar, cover, and refrigerate. As a modern variant, this drink can also be enjoyed cold over ice.

Related image

In the Medoc, we have friends at the Winery Tour Haut Caussan who make wine. This year, they made a limited edition of a form of rosé called claret. It’s darker than traditional rosé wine, because the color comes from the grape skins, and the skins also protect the wine because they have a higher amount of tanin. Sulphur addition dampens fruit aromatics and bleaches colour, which is why white wines and rosés have a higher amount of sulfates. There is nothing really wrong with sulfates – our own bodies produce them naturally – but some people say they can cause headaches and so prefer red wine. The claret is a rosé that has not been bleached by sulfates, and as such, is a clear ruby color. But besides the delicious taste, it was the design on the bottle that caught my eye!



Storms Over Babylon

Winery Tour Haut Caussan


Another year, another birthday – surfday!

So it’s that time of year again – the earth whirled around the sun like a swing on the end of a rope, and here we are – another year older and (hopefully) wiser. I doubt the wiser part. I can’t seem to shake stupid, but the gray hairs multiply and the wrinkles are more pronounced. That doesn’t bother me, strangely enough. I thought I’d be vain, but since I wasn’t vain as a younger woman, it hasn’t hit me yet (and hopeully never will) – I’m vain enough to brush my hair and teeth, shave a leg now and then, and “do” my toenails. Does wanting to have cute toenails count as vanity? I suppose so. I searched for the perfect summer shade – since I refuse to wear shoes in the summertime. It’s flipflops or sandals – or my golf shoes if I really have to…

How old am I? I lie about that so much I keep forgetting. I thought I’d stop at 25, but my kids caught up with me, so now I’m sticking to 45, and to hell with anyone who doesn’t believe me. Otherwise I’ll just say 95 and hope I get there. I’ll either get a “You look older than 45…” or “Wow, 95! You’re so well preserved!” Pickled, more like it. Preserved? Makes me sound like strawberry jam. Which reminds me. I have several projects for this week – and one includes hitting the pick-your-own fruit and veggies, and getting stranwberries for jam. And plums, and tomatoes, and whatever else is ripe and ready.

For my birthday, we went surfing. I never surfed – in all the years I lived in the Caribbean, I only went body surfing. When we lived with Holly, she had a big surfboard that we would carry (it took all three of us: Holly, Julie and me, helping, and sometimes Peter although he was little). So we’d take the surfboard and head down the road, down the big, rutted, red dirt road that plunged down the mountainside, until we got to the beach – Mandhal bay. Image result for Mandahl bay St Thomas

This is what the bay looked like back then, and you can see the small stone jetty and the big one, just behind. Well, we’d sit on the surfboard (it was big enough for all of us) and paddle across the lagoon, mostly to try and catch crabs. We never actually surfed on it. In the back,  where the boats are, is a shallow, warm, and muddy salt pond full of sea-cucumbers. We would pick the up and squirt ink at each other.

Anyhow, I never surfed in St Thomas – there isn’t a wide shelf so the waves never roll in, they just flop down on the beach. So this year, for my birthday, my hubby got us a surfing lesson with a real surfer dude, on a real surfing beach in the Medoc (where we were because he gave a polo clinic there).  And there is terrific surfing there.

We had a wonderful time – never got to the standing position – I got as far as the bouncy frog, Stef made it to the wobbly dog – we tumbled and rolled, slipped and surfed, and laughed. It was a lot of fun. Our teacher was patient, but you could tell he really wanted to surf (the waves were big that day) so I gave him my board and off he went, making Stef and I envious and determined to do better next time!!

Image result for montalivet surf

Image result for montalivet surf



Here is my interview with Jennifer Macaire


Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.


Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

My name’s  Jennifer Macaire, and I always lie about my age!

Fiona: Where are you from?

I was born in NY, and lived in the Pacific and the Caribbean, then moved to Europe when I left school. My dad was in the marines, both parents were teachers, we moved around a lot! I always wanted to visit Europe, so when I left school and started to work as a model, I asked to be sent there to work.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

I just had my book, ‘The Road to Alexander’, come out in audible – I love it!

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

Ever since I could talk, I told stories. Writing just came…

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Hear, Hear!

Here is is – and hear it, you can! Buy now HERE!

The narrator is lovely – she does Ashley’s voice perfectly! What do you think?

The Road to Alexander cover art


Ashley is a time-travel journalist who has fought to prove herself in a world that that believes her road in life was paved by her parents’ fortune. After winning a prestigious award, she is selected to travel through time and interview a historical figure.

Choosing her childhood hero, Alexander the Great, she voyages back in time for less than a day to interview a man whose legend has survived to the present day. He mistakes her for Persephone, goddess of the dead, and kidnaps her.

Stranded in the past, cold and aloof, Ashley has to learn to befriend, to trust…and to love.

What’s in a name

I just got a horrible review for one of my books. It bothers me (of course) but the reviewer didn’t say anything contructive, so I can’t use it, and I can only guess at why she hated the book. In her (or his – it could be a man) comment, she mentions that Plexis – the name – was the reason the book tanked for her. I guess she didn’t get further than the word that struck such a bad note, she had to stop reading.

So why did I choose the name Plexis for one of my character’s nickname?  I had Usse – which was a wink at the Greek’s fondness for names ending in  “us” – and I used some of the French spellings for some of the names (this is fiction – a time travel book – so I took a few liberties…) Anyhow. Plexis. Why? Well, I liked the sound of the name. Hephaestion is stuffy, and the Greeks had nicknames, just like anyone else, so why not Plexis?

The word Plexis comes from the Proto-Indo-European “pleḱ”- (“to fold, weave”).  It’s associated with the Latin plicō, Ancient Greek πλέκω (plékō). I thought the folds and weave of a cloth would suit Plexis’s character – he comforts Ashley, he’s Alexander’s best friend, he is quixotic, but at the same time he has a practical side to him. He’s a complex character, with many layers to his personality.

And there you have it. A name, just a name, and a reviewer crucifies the story. Maybe the name wasn’t at all what the reader hated – but the whole review, just one sentence – only mentioned the word Plexis as if it were the worst thing the reader had ever come across, so I felt I had to explain in case someone else reads the book and wonders where I found the name – now you know, Plexis is a name I made up from an ancient word that means the fold or weave of cloth. It’s nothing too deep, just a sound I happened to like with a meaning that spoke to me.

A bronze head once in the Farnese Collection, then in the Collection of king Philip V of Spain, in San Ildefonso, Palacio Real, now at Madrid, Prado, which has been recognized as the portrait of Hephaestion


It’s been a busy time over here in Mantes La Jolie – we’ve had visitors.  I love houseguests. When I was little, we always had hoseguests during the summer – our cousins would come up and stay, or my grandparents, or uncles and aunts, or friends. We were a “relax, have fun, don’t worry about a thing” host – we would never worry about what to eat (an impromptu barbecue, some sandwiches, tomatoes from the garden…) or what to do – The creek is for swimming, go for a walk in the woods, play in he tree fort, kids! The adults would sit around and chat, the kids would run free – summer evenings were alwys spent watching the sunset, catching fireflies, or playing kick the can.

That was when I was little. When we lived in St Thomas, we had tons of houseguests. They came to visit the islands, and stayed with us. No problem – here’s a set of keys, we eat around seven, have fun! People were always dropping in, so I got used to being a host, got used to having to quick scramble for some clean sheets, find sleeping arragements for everyone, and stock the fridge with cheap eats for everyone. It became second nature. I hardly remember a time when we didn’t have a house guest. It is one way we remember time – “when did that happen? Was it when Jewel was staying with us, or Henry?” 

Then I grew up and left home, and met my husband, and we started to travel, and everywhere we went, we had houseguests. We had guests in Argentina, in England, in France – my husband got used to people literally calling from the airport (and twice waving and calling to us as they walked across the polo field – “Hey, Jenny and Stef! Just came over for a few days! Can I stay with you guys?” )  We filled the house, we had fun – and we still get houseguests, and I feel so lucky that people want to stay with us.

Our latest guests were my cousin’s daughter and her friend – they stayed four days on their epic trip across Europe. And now it’s my nephew – who has come to enjoy some French bread, rest and relax after graduating, and have some fun. Tomorrow we are off to the pick-your-own farm, and Friday we are headed to Paris to see the dino exibit and to have a picnic in the Biois de Bologne.

Houseguests, at least for us, are more than welcome!

7 things you (probably) didn’t know about Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great! His name still echoes in the corridors of time. Deified and vilified, his legend exists in nearly every language on earth and in the four major religions. We know he was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of twenty.  Ten years later, he’d created one of the largest empires of the ancient world. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders, and he died just before his 33rd birthday. But do we really know him?

File:Alexander the Great mosaic.jpg

Alexander the Great

1- Alexander played polo. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great was about to invade Persia in 334 BC, Persian King Darius III sent him a polo mallet and ball. Either he was inviting the Macedonian to a game or suggesting that he stick to games and avoid war. Whatever the intention, Alexander is said to have replied, “I am the stick and the ball is the Earth,” before going on to conquer Persia. But since polo had been around for at least a thousand years and Alexander was no stranger to Persia, he most likely saw polo games, and perhaps he even played the “sport of kings”.

By Arifi (d.1449) – The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain.

2-  He may have been in a glass diving bell, his fleet was hit by a tidal wave, and he struck oil. Almost immediately after his death in 323 BC legends began to accumulate about his exploits and life which, over the centuries, became increasingly fantastic as well as allegorical. Collectively this tradition is called the Alexander Romance and some stories feature such episodes as Alexander ascending through the air to Paradise, journeying to the bottom of the sea in a glass bubble, and journeying through the Land of Darkness in search of the Fountain of Youth.

It’s possible that he saw, or was in, a glass diving bell. There are several accounts of him going to the “bottom of the sea” in a glass bell. Aristotle describes sponge divers using a diving bell in his Problematum as early as 360 B.C., so it is concievable that Alexander, who was curious to learn about everything, tried it himself.

As for the tidal wave, according to some accounts, the Macedonian fleet (of Alexander the Great) was anchored for some time in the Indus river delta. The fleet was damaged by a tsunami generated by an earthquake off the Makran Coast in 325 BC.

He could have found an oil well. In another story, supposedly taken from a letter to his mother, he speaks about a fountain of olive oil that sprang from the ground although there were no olive trees nearby! He also mentions trees that sing. Most likely the oil was mineral oil, but the singing tree was from too much wine…

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Underwater diving of Alexander the Great, painted by Flemish illuminator Jehan de Grise, 14th century.

3. We know what he looked like: the Azara herm is a Roman copy of a bust of Alexander the Great that was almost certainly made by the Greek sculptor Lysippus. Thanks to its original antique inscription, this figure can be definitely identified as Alexander the Great, son of Philip II of Macedon.  It’s in the Louvre in Paris. Now, since this is a Roman copy, it was made a few centuries after Alexander’s death, and because it was a copy, it’s most likely not as precise as the original. According to Plutarch (more about him later…) Alexander made Lysippus his “official” portrait artist. Now exhibited in the Louvre, this bust was unearthed in 1779 during an excavation at Tivoli organized by Joseph Nicolas Azara, the Spanish ambassador to France. Azara gave the sculpture to Napolean Bonaparte. For a time, this was the only known portrait of Alexander the Great. It is most likely the surviving portrait that looks the most like him.

File:Azara herm Louvre Ma436.jpg

Portrait of Alexander the Great. Pentelic marble, Attic copy of the 1st-2nd century AD after a Greek original

4- Plutarch’s writings about Alexander are mostly fiction. Plutarch wrote a whole book about Alexander, but he had some major faults. He lived 400 years after Alexander, and by that time, even contemporary writings were scarce. He was Greek – and the Greeks would always see Alexander as an upstart barbarian.  He starts off his book by saying he’s not writing “history”, but rather “a life story”, because, as he goes on to explain, it’s better to get to know a guy from his jokes than from the endless battles he’s fought and won. He pretends to glorify Alexander beyond reason, saying things like, “On his father’s side, he was descended from Hercules.” However, since Alexander had claimed the title of “son of Zeus-Amun”, this was definitely taking him down a peg. He  he has some fascinating tidbits of information, such as the battle of Gaugamela was fought during an eclipse, and that Alexander spent the night before in his tent with his diviner Aristander, performing certain mysterious ceremonies and sacrificing to the god, Fear.

5. Alexander’s favorite weapon was the phalanx. The phalanx was developed by Alexander’s father, Philip, and was a formidable fighting machine. No other army had such thing. It was uniquly Macedonian. According to Arrian’s Anabasis, “Alexander drew up his army in such a way that the depth of the phalanx was 120 men ; and […] he ordered them to preserve silence, in order to receive the word of command quickly.” The spears were 5 meters long (18 feet!) and made of sharpened wood or metal-tipped wood. Interestingly,  Polyaenus (in Stratagemata) says that Alexander spitefully armed his men who had previously fled the battlefield with the so-called hemithorakion – a half armor system that only covered the front part of the body. This punitive experiment made sure that the soldiers wouldn’t turn their backs on the enemy.  But, the soldiers in a phalanx would not require much armor, since coordinated, fast movement was what made the phalanx so effective. So Polyaenus was probably exagerating somewhat. In fact, the soldiers were lightly armored with only helmets (kranos), light shields (pelte), greaves (knemides) and a long pike (sarissa). I think the shields were more like leather plastrons, and I have a feeling most of the men fought naked (despite the drawing below of the men wearing cheerleading skirts).


6 – The funeral pyre for his friend, Hephaestion, was astounding.  When Hephaestion died, Alexander went into a frenzy of mourning. He wrote to the Oracle of Siwa and asked if Hephaestion should be honored as a god or a hero. The Oracle replied that he should be honored as a hero, and so Alexander went all out for a mausoleum/funeral pyre that would knock the socks off everyone. He settled on a simple monument. According to Diodorus, it was: “seven stories high […] The first story had 240 ships painted gold with red flags flowing in between. In the second one the columns resembled flaming torches surround by golden wreaths, serpents and eagles. Above mounted a hunting scene, towered by a battle of centaurs and mythological creatures. The fifth story was a golden jungle of lions, bulls and elephants, shining like planets in the dawning light. The next tier presented the arms of Macedon and Persian, while the seventh level bore sculptures of sirens with a hollow interior where women would chant in lament. On top of it all rose the sarcophagus of Hephaestion.”  It was so huge that Aleander had to break down one of the walls of Babylon to get it into the city. Then he set it on fire, and it must have made life absolutely miserable for everyone as it smoked and smoldered. He plundered the treasories of all his cities to pay for the monstrosity, and it has been estimated to have cost the modern equivalent of two billion dollars! It was most likely the most expensive funeral in history.

7 – He’s associated with a prophecy about the end of the world. The Caspian Gates was the narrow region at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, through which Alexander actually marched in the pursuit of Bessus, although he did not stop to fortify it. Somehow, the Caspian Gates, Alexander the Great, the Caucasus Mountains, and the tale of Gog and Magog became mixed up in a fanciful romance of Alexander dating from the 6th century AD.

The tale of Gog and Magog is Biblical in origins with elements in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. They will supposedly appear at the end of time to destroy humanity. Revelation 20:7-8: “… And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed from his prison, and shall go out to seduce the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall draw them to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea…”

According to the legend, Alexander the Great, while conquering the world, came to the Caucasus Mountains where Prometheus the Titan had been chained long before. Here, the Macedonians discovered the evil hordes of Gog and Magog laying waste to the peaceable tribes around them. The country of these wicked raiders lay beyond two great mountains named Ubera Aquilonias, the Breasts of the North. Alexander forged gates of iron and brass to seal the narrow way. These Caspian Gates were further strengthened with a magic metal called asiceton, which was proof against fire and steel; steel shattered upon asiceton, and whatever fires which touched it were instantaneously quenched. And further, Alexander built a mighty wall spanning the entire Caucasus range, closing off the civilized south from the forces of darkness. This wall became known as the Alexander wall. But at the end of time, the gates will open and the wall will break down, and Gog and Magog will burst forth to destroy the world.

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Alexander building the Caspian Wall (from a Persian manuscript)

Some further reading:

A Passion for Polo. The American museum of Natural History.

Alexander the Great – Imact of the 325 BC Tsunami in the North Arabian Sea upon his fleet, George Pararas-Carayannis.  Copyright © 2006. All Rights Reserved.

The Anabasis of Alexander or, The History of the Wars and Conquests of Alexander the Great, Arrian of Nicomedia, Translator: E. J. Chinnock. Project Gutenberg [EBook #46976]

Library of History, Book XVII, (Funeral for Hephaestion: Sections 114 – 115) Diodorus Siculus,  Vol. VIII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1963*.html

Some Passages in Polyaenus Stratagems concerning Alexander, N. G. L. Hammond. (N.b.: Polyaenus or Polyenus was a 2nd-century Macedonian author, known best for his Stratagems in War, which has been preserved.)

A Discourse Composed by Mar Jacob upon Alexander, the Believing King, and upon the Gate which he made against Gog and Magog,” E. A. W. Budge (translator), ed. (1889). “, in The History of Alexander the Great Being, the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (in Syriac).


Review of “Storms Over Babylon” by Jennifer Macaire

via Review of “Storms Over Babylon” by Jennifer Macaire


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4/5 stars…… Review: An intriguing time-travel novel set in the time of Alexander the Great. For fans of this time period and setting, this must-read adventure is a great summer pastime as the main character, Ashley, travels back in time to meet up with the man himself, Alexander, and is mistaken for the goddess Persephone. If you love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, then take a journey with Jennifer Macaire into ancient Greece where her MC entangles herself in history, literally.

Check it out here: