Monday, February 28, 2011

Where Am I Going?

        Lately, I have been asking myself this (complex and confusing) question.

        To clarify my thinking, I begin by asking myself, "Where am I not going?"

        I don't think I will be returning to Washington, D.C.  I have a mixed-to-bad history there, the monuments generally leave me cold (not the personages memorialized, however), and I go around-and-around on the Beltway, invariably ending up in the Pentagon parking lot, shaking and sweating, on the verge of fear.


        Tripoli (see above and below) is fascinating and appeals greatly for many reasons, but at least for now seems to be out of the question.  (Tunis also; I have a friend who was on his way to spend the rest of this winter there, but now finds himself unable to do so.)  

        Philadelphia, a city I have loved, seems permanently afflicted with a weakened pulse.  One-party political rule over a prolonged period (it doesn't matter which party is ruling) will do that to a place.  So, while I am in Philadelphia at the moment, Philadelphia sometimes seems not to be here.

        Manhattan betrayed us all by becoming tres ordinaire -- just another big, ugly mall, but one with no free parking.   Contrary impressions, if any, are the result of the city's television omnipresence, the blinding agents the mayor adds to the water and, sadly, pre-9/11 nostalgia.  Science can disprove these. Keep away, I say.

        This "water hole" in Ottawa:

 is to be avoided unless you wish a one-way express ticket to:


         On a more positive note, I would very much like to journey with my family to:       


      Santiago (and the rest of Chile) and finally to --


        I am currently planning a trip to Los Angeles to visit old friends and familiar places, revive memories and show Jane the La Brea Tar Pits.


        I will always return to Los Cabos filled with Hope and Joy because Los Cabos has always given me such Hope and Joy.      

      Loch Ness is good, always.

        Xanadu (aka Shengdu, a possible future UNESCO World Heritage Site) sounds nice (on John Speed's 1626 map below, it is located near the Cathayan metropolis of Cambalu, in modern Inner Mongolia) and like a worthwhile destination.  ("Where did you go on your last vacation?  Oh -- Xanadu.  Yes, that one.)    We have wanted to visit Mongolia since 1998 when we read about it (specifically the Yurt Room lounge in the Ulan Batoor Holiday Inn) in Fodor's China.   The Yurt Room seems to have closed since then and Ulan Batoor has modernized to the extent that a very attractive Louis Vuitton store recently opened there.  Unfortunately, that decreases my interest in visiting.  I would hate to think of Ulan Batoor becoming another Manhattan.

            Kubla'i Khan (1215-1294)

        Street Scene  -- Ulan Batoor

               Eadward Muybridge, Camel Racking (Please click on image for animation.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cat Chronic (Felix)

        Making what I believe is his first appearance in these pages is my cat Felix (pronounced with a short "e" vowel sound, as the name is spoken in Brazil; Felix was named by my goddaughter, Vittoria Bernardes).


        The blissful look on his Felix's face in the three uppermost photos is the result of his inhalation and ingestion of the most powerful catnip known on this planet, which we receive as an annual gift from Farm Sanctuary, a superb animal rescue and care organization in Watkins Glen, New York.   We have never before seen anything like the effects this catnip produces; it turns our 10-cat pride into a happy, but zombified, feline assembly whose energy output is focused on a single task -- ferreting out additional sachets of the stuff (you can see the colorful cloth bindle Farm Sanctuary sends in the photograph immediately below), ripping them open and blissing out.

        Felix originally came to us one January eleven or so years ago. (Jane was still a baby; Vittoria, her mother and her younger sisters were also living with us at the time.)  My assistant Jeannie Cazares' daughter Megan found him as somebody's discarded Christmas kitten (this was our veterinarian's surmise due to Felix's good health and pristine cleanliness) in Queens, New York.  Felix recognized Megan's goodness, I think, and the shelter her family could provide and quickly adopted them.  Because Jeannie knew that we were willing and had the suburban space to let this very large cat (he was by far the biggest kitten I've ever seen; we believe he's mostly Maine Coon, as evidenced by the prominent "M" on his brow) stretch his legs in the country, Felix quickly became a member of our family and Jane's special cat and helpmeet (if a cat can ever be so denominated). 

        Directly above is Jane's portrait of Felix, painted several years ago when she was taking Mary Bullard's painting classes.  We think it captures him well.   He is also pictured below in a characteristic pose.  Visitors who don't know his name tend to refer to Felix as "the big guy".  It's a good thing Farm Sanctuary only releases this catnip once a year.  Until you've exhausted your supply, cat productivity around the house goes down to zero.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shad Of Spring (Fish Richness vs. Frugal Fatigue)

American Shad

        Last weekend, feeling the first brief warmth in the air (a false harbinger of spring, as it turned out) and seeing the local fish market's sign enthusiastically offering shad and shad roe, we decided to discard one of our many 2008-11 (and counting) Depression Economies and purchase some of each.

        A long time ago, under a friend's influence and expert guidance, we learned a great deal about fish and fish cookery.  We prepared different types of fish (purchased from a very knowledgeable and sympathetic fishmonger in Brooklyn Heights) in a sort of Larousse Gastronomique assortment of ways daily, and I spent much time in my law school classes writing lists of fish names in every European language in my notebook during lectures.  I would perform formidably in a Jeopardy Fish Information session.

Thomas Eakins, Shad Fishermen (Setting The Net), Gloucester, New Jersey, 1881

        When we finally arrived at the shad and shad roe junction (or, rather, port of call) on our fish journey, we made a full stop and took a long pause, as is appropriate when encountering a major event, a masterpiece.  Shad is truly an excellent fish.  It is rich and complex in flavor, with a silky and highly appealing texture, and its roe can rightfully claim its place at the head of the fish egg line, which is saying quite a lot in view of the really exquisite qualities of this branch of the food chain, which apart from the "star" fish like sturgeon, obviously, shad and salmon, is often discarded by fishermen as surplusage unsuitable for commercial use. (N.b.: If your fishmonger will save you flounder roe, or the roe of other "lesser" fish, you can easily live on it like a king forever, inexpensively and far more healthily and happily than you would, say, on ramen noodles, unless cardboard is for you an essential food group).

        Our re-encounter with the shad and its roe was really inspiring and in light of our long separation we cooked both in very traditional ways: the shad itself a la meuniere and the roe sauted in bacon drippings and served alongside the bacon that provided them.

        Those basic  recipes are easily found, so I thought I would provide these three additional methods of cooking the fish, which are less common and which may appeal to you, as they do to me. 

        Two additional points of information that might be of interest: 

        Shad are thought to be unique among the fishes in having evolved an ability to detect ultrasound (sound at frequencies above 20 kHz, which is the limit of human hearing.); and 

        Shad serve a peculiar symbolic role in Virginia state politics. On the year of every gubernatorial election, would-be candidates, lobbyists, campaign workers, and reporters gather in the town of Wakefield, Virginia for Shad Planking.


Shad Run by Howard Breslin, New York, Thomas Crowell, 1955 (A historical romance novel set in my neck of the woods where shad do run. Breslin also wrote Bad Day At Hondo, the source material for the movie Bad Day At Black Rock.) 

        Remember -- shad and shad roe are a seasonal delicacy and it's spring (almost).  And shad and shad roe are not that expensive.

La Mairie (Registry Office), Tressan (Herault), France, 1920s

L'Alose a la Tressanaise 
Shad cooked in the style of the village of Tressan
From Mediterranean Seafood by Alan Davidson
serves 6

Reader Note:  The following recipe belongs to the "classic" tradition of shad recipes, which employ  long cooking methods to"melt" the shad's network of small, fine bones.  In today's fish markets, shad fillets are readily available, which makes prolonged cooking unnecessary and undesirable for this well-flavored, but still delicate fish. That being said, the flavors incorporated in this recipe have much to commend them and its historical details are fascinating.  If  you enjoy reading old recipes, as I do, this one has plenty of "local color" and I think an adept cook could easily adapt it for modern kitchens.

        Les Plats regionaux de France by Austin de Croze was one of the first (1928) and best compilations of its kind.  The original, printed on paper of atrocious quality, has for long been unobtainable, but a handsome facsimile edition appeared in 1977 under the imprint of Daniel Morcrette.

        Austin de Croze observes that the shad is a "real packet of spiny bones", yet has flesh of unrivalled quality.  Hence the importance of knowing how to prepare it correctly.  This recipe was furnished by M. Francis Marre, Chimiste-Expert at the Court of Appeal in Paris,  whose home was at Tressan, where shad fished in the Herault are prepared in this way.

        Catch a shad weighing nearly 1 1/2 kg (3 1/4 lb) and dip it into boiling water for a minute as soon as possible after capture.  Scale it with care, cut off fins, tail and head and open the belly with a pair of scissors and gut the fish completely. Wash the inside very carefully with water to which vinegar has been added. Next, remove the backbone, cut the fish into sections about 8 to 10 cm (3" to 4") in thickness and leave these to soak for two hours, also in water to which vinegar has been added.

        Take an earthenware marmite with a close-fitting lid, line the bottom with strips of bacon and add the shad steaks, which should come up to about two thirds of the height of the vessel. Add also 100 g (3 1/2 oz) of ham (not smoked), cut into small cubes; 75 g (2 1/2 oz) of fresh pork rind; 8 bay leaves and a bouquet garni; salt and pepper to taste; two sliced lemons; a wineglassful (150 ml or 5 fl oz) of good brandy; and 1/2 litre (17 1/2 fl oz) of dry white wine. Put the cover on the marmite, sealing it down with bread dough, and take it to the bread baker, in whose oven it should remain for at least 8 hours. At the end of this time you will find that the small bones have 'melted' and that your fish, reposing in a thick jelly, constitutes 'as delicious a dish as  you could dream of having'.  (Most readers will have to use their own oven, which should be set at very slow -- 240 F; gas 1/4.)

Seared Shad Fillets With Granny Smith Vinaigrette
From The Dean & Deluca Cookbook

        Tart Granny Smith apples act as the acidic agent here lightening the richness of the shad with a marvelous vinaigrette.  And we employ an unusual technique to get the most out of your shad fillets; cooking the dark meat of the fillet separately, until it's crunchy.  The result is an almost bacon-like quality that enables the shad itself to stand in for the real bacon that's often paired with this dish.

Serves 4

2 whole filleted shad (about 1 pound each)
salt and pepper to taste
instant flour for dredging (preferably Wondra)
1/2 Granny Smith apple, cored and finely diced (skin on)
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons hazelnut oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon plus tarragon leaves for garnish

1.  Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat and heat until very hot, about 5 minutes.

2.  Cut the shad into light-meat sections (no skin) and dark-meat sections (skin attached).  The light meat is an inner flap of the boned shad fillet that separates easily. (You should have about 1 pound of light meat and an equal amount of dark meat with skin attached.  You will need only 1/4 pound of dark meat with skin attached for this recipe; reserve 3/4 pound of the dark meat with skin attached for another use.)

3.  Cut the 1 pound light meat shad fillets into 4 portions.  Season it and the 1/4 pound of dark meat with salt and pepper, then flour lightly with instant flour.

4.  When the pan is hot, add all the shad. Cook the light-meat fillets, turning frequently to make sure they don't stick, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove when just cooked (they should be browned on the outside; just past pink on the inside.) Continue to cook the dark-meat pieces with skin, pressing down with a spatula to make them as crunchy as possible.  Remove when crackling brown.

5.  Make the vinaigrette at the last minute. Beat together the apple, the vinegar, the hazelnut oil and the two teaspoons of the chopped tarragon.

6.  To serve, divide the light-meat fillets among 4 plates. Top with diced apples removed from the vinaigrette with a slotted spoon.  Mince the crunch dark meat finely, and top the apples with that.  Pour the remainder of the vinaigrette over and around the fish.  Garnish with fresh tarragon leaves.

Steamed Shad Roe Bundles With Ginger-Lemon Sauce
From The Dean & Deluca Cookbook 

        There are 3 important elements in this recipe.  First of all, the shad is cooked in a water treatment (steaming), which helps to melt its fat. Secondly, it's cooked quickly, which helps it to retain its lovely texture. Lastly, a light, citric, Asian-influenced sauce cuts through the richness of the shad roe, lightening it considerably.

Serves 8 as a first course or as a main course (see Note below)

1 pound shad roe
salt and pepper to taste
32 large, unbroken spinach leaves
1/2 cup julienne of parsnip
1 knob of ginger, about thumb-size
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1. Cut shad roe into 8 pieces.  Salt and pepper well.

2.  Remove heavy ribs from the spinach leaves. Dip the leaves in hot water for a few seconds, or until just soft. Overlap the edges of four leaves, making one wide sheet of spinach, and place one piece of shad roe in the center.  Sprinkle with a little lemon juice, and top with 1 tablespoon of parsnip.  Fold the spinach over the shad roe, making a neat bundle. Continue until 8 bundles are made.

3.  Place the bundles in a steamer over boiling water and steam for 6 minutes.

4. Make the sauce:  Grate the ginger until you have 2 teaspoons of shreds with juice.  Mix it in a small bowl with the 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, fish sauce and sugar.  Let stand 10 minutes.

5.  Place 1 steamed shad roe bundle on each of 8 small plates.  Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, and drizzle it evenly over and around the bundles.  

Note:  If you want a slightly prettier, but fussier, presentation, you could slice the bundles and fan them out on the plates. Also, if you wish to make a main course of this, serve 3 bundles a person, with rice on the side.

Shad Roe Curry Side Dish (Telow terubok sambal) (Malaysian Indian)
From Unmentionable Cuisine by Calvin W. Schwabe

        This curry sambal is prepared by frying shad roe in oil and mixing it with finely chopped onions and chilis, a little white vinegar, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce.

Note:  I published this recipe previously in my post about Unmentionable Cuisine and have not been able to get it off my mind.  It really looks terrific.

Thomas Eakins, Shad Fishermen (Setting The Net), Gloucester, New Jersey, 1881 

Shad planking in Virginia

Friday, February 25, 2011

Race To The Pole(s) -- Friday Benison

(Lou Reed lyric; from The Velvet Underground)

That's the story of my life
That's the difference between wrong and right
But Billy said, both those words are dead
That's the story of my life

(Kevin Ayers lyric; from Bananamour)

I said I feel really happy
Happy as can be
And I'm feeling free
She said you're not happy
You're just STONED.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vocal Ministry -- Money Talks (Ray Davies Lyric and Kinks Link) + Michael Barone Article -- "Who Benefits From Government Unions?"

Show me a man who says he can live without bread
And I'll show you a man who's a liar and in debt.
There's no one alive who can't be purchased or enticed
There's no man alive who wouldn't sell for a price,
Money talks and we're the living proof,
There ain't no limit to what money can do
Money talks, money talks.

Money can't breathe and money can't see,
But when I pull out a fiver people listen to me.
Money can't run and money can't walk,
But when I write out a cheque I swear to God I hear money talk.
Money talks and, baby, when you've been bought
You pay attention everytime money talks.
Money talks, money talks.

Money talks and there's no doubt about it
Money talks and we can't live without it,
What's the point of living unless you've got money?
I just couldn't function without money.
Money talks, money talks,
Money talks, money talks.

Show me an upright respected man
And I'll have him licking my boots when I put money in his hand.
It rots your heart, it gets to your soul,
Before you know where you are you're a slave to the green gold.
Money talks and we're the living proof
There ain't no limit to what money can do.
Money talks you out of your self-respect,
The more you crave it the cheaper you get.
Money talks, money talks.


Money buys you time and people listen,
Money can buy a smile and make life worth living.
If you're ugly money can improve you.
I just couldn't face the world without mazuma.
Money talks, money talks.

Who Benefits From Government Unions?

By Michael Barone

Everyone has priorities. During the past week, Barack Obama found time to be interviewed by a Wisconsin television station and weigh in on the dispute between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the state's public employee unions. Walker was staging "an assault on unions," he said, and added that "public employee unions make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens."

Enormous contributions, yes -- to the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Unions, most of whose members are public employees, gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest public employee union, gave Democrats $90 million in the 2010 cycle.

Follow the money, Washington reporters like to say.

The money in this case comes from taxpayers, present and future, who are the source of every penny of dues paid to public employee unions, who in turn spend much of that money on politics, almost all of it for Democrats. In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.

So, just as the president complained in his 2010 State of the Union address about a Supreme Court decision that he feared would increase the flow of money to Republicans, he also found time to complain about a proposed state law that could reduce the flow of money to Democrats.

And, according to The Washington Post, to get the Democratic National Committee to organize protests against the proposed Wisconsin law. Protests that showed contempt for the law, with teachers abandoning classrooms, doctors writing phony medical excuses, Democratic legislators fleeing the state and holing up in a motel. The lawmakers played hooky without losing any salary, which is protected by the state constitution.

It's true that Walker's proposals would strike hard at the power of the public employee unions. They would no longer have the right to bargain for fringe benefits, which are threatening to bankrupt the state government, and they would no longer be able to count on government withholding dues money and passing it along to them.

But what are the contributions that public employee unions make to our states and our citizens? Their incentives are to increase the cost of government and reduce down toward zero the accountability of public employees -- both contrary to the interests of taxpaying citizens.

An argument can be made that higher pay, generous benefits and lavish pensions will attract better people to public employment. But where are the studies that show that citizens of states with strong public employee unions get better services than citizens in states without?

What citizens of states with strong public employee unions do get are higher taxes and enormous pension burdens that threaten to squeeze out funds for ongoing services, as even Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jerry Brown of California have figured out.

That's why one of the great 20th century presidents was against unions for public employees who have civil service protections. No, not Ronald Reagan. It was Franklin Roosevelt who said, "Action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable."

So while the Wisconsin unions are defying the law, Scott Walker is in effect following FDR's lead -- and if he's successful, others may follow. That would be an enormous blow to the money power of the public employee union bosses.

Public opinion seems to be with the Republicans. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 48 percent of voters support Walker, while only 38 percent support the unions.

This seems to be a sharp reversal of opinion over the last five years. Back in 2005, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sponsored a series of ballot propositions that would have reduced the power of the state's public employee unions. The unions spent something like $100 million -- all of it derived from taxpayers -- on TV ads, and all the propositions were defeated.

Now hard economic times have left voters wondering why public employees pay practically zero toward their health insurance and pensions when they have to pay plenty themselves. Wisconsin, which led the nation on civil service a century ago and on welfare reform in the 1990s, may be showing the nation the way ahead once again.
Copyright 2011, Creators Syndicate Inc.

That Lost Delicacy Of The North, The Heather Ale (No-Man's Land Part 2)


        For a little an insatiable curiosity, the ardour of the scholar, prevailed. I forgot the horror of the place, and thought only of the fact that here before me was the greatest find that scholarship had ever made. I was precipitated into the heart of the past. Here must be the fountainhead of all legends, the chrysalis of all beliefs. I actually grew light-hearted. This strange folk around me were now no more shapeless things of terror, but objects of research and experiment. I almost came to think them not unfriendly.

        For an hour I enjoyed the highest of earthly pleasures. In that strange conversation I heard—in fragments and suggestions—the history of the craziest survival the world has ever seen. I heard of the struggles with invaders, preserved as it were in a sort of shapeless poetry. There were bitter words against the Gaelic oppressor, bitterer words against the Saxon stranger, and for a moment ancient hatreds flared into life. Then there came the tale of the hill refuge, the morbid hideous existence preserved for centuries amid a changing world. I heard fragments of old religions, primeval names of god and goddess, half-understood by the Folk, but to me the key to a hundred puzzles. Tales which survive to us in broken disjointed riddles were intact here in living form. I lay on my elbow and questioned feverishly. At any moment they might become morose and refuse to speak. Clearly it was my duty to make the most of a brief good fortune.


        And then the tale they told me grew more hideous. I heard of the circumstances of the life itself and their daily shifts for existence. It was a murderous chronicle—a history of lust and rapine and unmentionable deeds in the darkness. One thing they had early recognized—that the race could not be maintained within itself; so that ghoulish carrying away of little girls from the lowlands began, which I had heard of but never credited. Shut up in those dismal holes, the girls soon died, and when the new race had grown up the plunder had been repeated. Then there were bestial murders in lonely cottages, done for God knows what purpose. Sometimes the occupant had seen more than was safe, sometimes the deed was the mere exuberance of a lust of slaying. As they gabbled their tales my heart's blood froze, and I lay back in the agonies of fear. If they had used the others thus, what way of escape was open for myself? I had been brought to this place, and not murdered on the spot. Clearly there was torture before death in store for me, and I confess I quailed at the thought.


        But none molested me. The elders continued to jabber out their stories, while I lay tense and deaf. Then to my amazement food was brought and placed beside me—almost with respect. Clearly my murder was not a thing of the immediate future. The meal was some form of mutton—perhaps the shepherd's lost ewes—and a little smoking was all the cooking it had got. I strove to eat, but the tasteless morsels choked me. Then they set drink before me in a curious cup, which I seized on eagerly, for my mouth was dry with thirst. The vessel was of gold, rudely formed, but of the pure metal, and a coarse design in circles ran round the middle. This was surprising enough, but a greater wonder awaited me. The liquor was not water, as I had guessed, but a sort of sweet ale, a miracle of flavour. The taste was curious, but somehow familiar; it was like no wine I had ever drunk, and yet I had known that flavour all my life. I sniffed at the brim, and there rose a faint fragrance of thyme and heather honey and the sweet things of the moorland. I almost dropped it in my surprise; for here in this rude place I had stumbled upon that lost delicacy of the North, the heather ale.

        For a second I was entranced with my discovery, and then the wonder of the cup claimed my attention. Was it a mere relic of pillage, or had this folk some hidden mine of the precious metal? Gold had once been common in these hills. There were the traces of mines on Cairnsmore; shepherds had found it in the gravel of the Gled Water; and the name of a house at the head of the Clachlands meant the "Home of Gold."

        Once more I began my questions, and they answered them willingly. There and then I heard that secret for which many had died in old time, the secret of the heather ale. They told of the gold in the hills, of corries where the sand gleamed and abysses where the rocks were veined. All this they told me, freely, without a scruple. And then, like a clap, came the awful thought that this, too, spelled death. These were secrets which this race aforetime had guarded with their lives; they told them generously to me because there was no fear of betrayal. I should go no more out from this place.


        The thought put me into a new sweat of terror—not of death, mind you, but of the unknown horrors which might precede the final suffering. I lay silent, and after binding my hands they began to leave me and go off to other parts of the cave. I dozed in the horrible half-swoon of fear, conscious only of my shaking limbs, and the great dull glow of the fire in the centre. Then I became calmer. After all, they had treated me with tolerable kindness; I had spoken their language, which few of their victims could have done for many a century; it might be that I had found favour in their eyes. For a little I comforted myself with this delusion, till I caught sight of a wooden box in a corner. It was of modern make, one such as grocers use to pack provisions in. It had some address nailed on it, and an aimless curiosity compelled me to creep thither and read it. A torn and weather-stained scrap of paper, with the nails at the corner rusty with age; but something of the address might still be made out. Amid the stains my feverish eyes read, "To Mr. M—, Carrickfey, by Allerfoot Station."

Note to Reader:  John Buchan's "supernatural" short story first appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, a Scottish journal originally called the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, which was published between 1817 and 1980, and which counted among its most famous contributors George Eliot, Joseph Conrad and Thomas de Quincey. Conrad's Heart of Darkness was first published  in the February, March, and April 1899 issues of the journal. Blackwood's featured both essays and a goodly amount of horror fiction and its  stories are said to have influenced the writings of Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and Edgar Allen Poe, who published two satirical pieces about the magazine entitled "Loss of Breath: A Tale A La Blackwood," and "How to Write a Blackwood Article". 

Buchan's deeply affecting No-Man's Land is, remarkably, the work of a 23-year old Oxford undergraduate.  

As Michael Haslett observed in 2005: 

"No-Man's Land' is the best of the stories that Buchan wrote to pay his way at university. It was written in 1898, when through academic and literary work he had just become financially secure at Oxford, and it appeared in Blackwood's Magazine in January 1899. It was published in book form in 1902 with five other stories under the title The Watcher by The Threshold.  The narrator is a young Oxford Fellow in Celtic Studies who during a fishing and walking holiday stumbles on a small tribe of Picts. They have survived for millennia in Galloway caves and at once thrill him with the excitement of his discovery and terrify him with their cruelty and lust to kill. He escapes, but despite the risk returns, and is again taken prisoner. He is saved by a storm and landslide, and the tale ends with an unexpected twist which leaves the reader wondering what in the story is reality and what is illusion."

The unstated, subtle driver of No-Man's Land,which reappears throughout Buchan's writing until its redemptive culmination in his last novel Sick Heart River, is an examination of how fatigue (in the form of a quiet killing force and the product of passion's exhaustion) can transform the virtuous and vital into their destructive opposites, leading a man to his downfall.  Buchan, a wildly popular writer in his time who is sometimes derided as a mere yarn-spinner (a skill at which he excels), consistently displayed in his work extraordinary subtlety of  physical and psychological observation.  No-Man's Land  shows  an  uncommonly gifted young writer very near the beginning of his artistic journey channeling the experiences of a troubled, highly educated, middle-aged man (Haslett's description of  Graves, the protagonist, as "young" is misleading;  Graves is a mature person with plenty of life experience) who is only half in touch with himself -- a person relying on mental and physical "muscle memories" that formerly propelled him to accomplishment and renown, which are now irrevocably broken, ineffective and working against him.  Despite the story's somewhat conventional, "shilling shocker" ending, one wonders:  How on earth did Buchan know about this?