Boy’s T shirt with insect appliqué – purple on blue-green; a new novel by Donna Leon


Boy’s T shirt with stag beetle appliqué (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Stag beetles are one of nature’s stunning lookers whose form I find I can sort of admire without ever wanting to come up close to. I’m further put off them on discovering that fancy mechanism on the head isn’t decoration, or even a useful tool kit but a pair of  unusually large mandibles which, on a body up to 12 cm (c5 inches) are pretty impressive, both comparatively and absolutely. Even an average size stag beetle shapes up to 5cm/2 inches long and that’s still lots bigger than I like my insects to be. Research assures me that the beetles are harmless and without a bite to match the size of their mouth parts – though in mating rituals I dare say unsuccessful males would have something to say about that. Further they are endangered and we should take care to conserve them – should I have a garden bigger than a pocket handkerchief I would gladly permit them a pile of gently rotting wood in the corner of the garden. Otherwise, I’m more than happy to appliqué one of the small person’s T shirt.

Stag beetle appliqué (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I’m curious as to what we will make of this time when we have all been living in our own little worlds. An email from my granddaughter’s other granny mentioned how little she will have seen of the littlest child (in particular) between 2 and 4 years of age – a time of such changes. Then daughter No 1 says how sad it is that friends with a baby of 7 – 8 months have been able to share so little of the child’s early life with their parents.  Both of which are nothing compared to the people who have had to leave relatives to die alone. Still, these gaps in family togetherness, ever so slightly sad as they are, will I’m sure lead to joyous reunions of a very special and unique kind, to be written in florescent technicolour in memories and photo albums. It will be well worth waiting for.

Detail: stag beetle appliqué (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

For some time I’ve been thinking it a good idea to focus more on travelling in the mind for holidays, through reading rather than doing too much of the real thing, especially if it involves air travel and associated energy consumption. I would have liked to have taken my husband on just one trip to New York to go round the art galleries, but for a soon to be 84 year old I think the insurance may be too expensive. (Thank you to The Frick for the wonderful Cocktails with a Curator  during lockdown.) Perhaps later when Brexit complications have been ironed out, we might think about Amsterdam.

Boy’s T shirts with beetle appliqué (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

Meanwhile, I’m indulging in Italian crime – the literary sort, obviously, so I was delighted to see there is a new Donna Leon just out – almost unbelievably the 30th in the series built around the happily married family man, Commissario Guido Brunetti  who almost always manages to get home to eat a proper lunch with his feisty, aristocratic, food loving wife. (1 cook book and 30 crime novels, now that makes me very happy as I realise there must be books I haven’t read – what fun.) Read these books with a map of Venice to hand to follow Brunetti in his investigations – fortunately Venice is so small and leaves such impressions, it isn’t very difficult.  In this latest book Transient Desires, Brunetti considers the two two sides of tourism. “”For years we Venetians had wished the tourists to disappear and give us back our city. Well, we had our wish, and look at us now.”  Leon, an American who lived in Venice for many years but who now I think lives in Switzerland, is very clear about the Italy she loves. The books don’t shy from political corruption, incompetence, the labyrinthine bureaucracy. A new hospital is opened and only then is the lack of plumbing discovered (I think a true case.) I once knew someone teaching English in Italy whose job was taken off him because an Italian had more points in his favour. The case went to trial in Venice but the legal papers were dropped in a canal as the lawyer left the boat on his way to court and it all came to nothing. Trained teachers with brilliant academic records wait years for posts to come up. Then, in December of last year flooding hit Venice – despite the city having installed MOSE,  a system of retractable flood barriers. A problem with weather forecasting meant the system failed to operate.

“The country of Dante, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Galileo and Columbus, and 2,000 men competed for jobs as garbage men. O tempora , O mores …” .

Crossing St Mark’s Square, Brunetti, “ambled, delighting in the flags swirling about in the breeze, and the horses poised, front legs lifted delicately, gazing down the Piazza, as if pausing which way to go. How wonderful they were, even if only copies…”

All quotes from the book come from Mark Sanderson’s review of Donna Leon’s Transient Desires in The Times, 20 February 2021.

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  1. Amara Bray
    Posted February 22, 2021 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    These books sound right up my alley thank you! I love vicarious travel through books. Would you mind explaining to me how Brexit is complicating travel for you? I’m sorry I don’t understand from over on this side of the Atlantic.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 22, 2021 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      The Brunetti books are great fun populated by characters you can relate to and care about (insofar as you can care about literary inventions). Venice shines through, though thorny social issues and problems of migration and integration (which all modern societies face) lie beneath most of the criminal activity.
      Well, of course at the moment ordinary people can’t go to Europe at all because of travel restrictions. Lorry and delivery drivers can but have lots and lots of paperwork to fill in. I think we are not insisting on doing this to deliveries coming into the UK for 6 months or so. (Deliveries of fresh seafood to Europe are often delayed so long that the produce is unsaleable.)
      Personally, I feel it will be better to wait a while before visiting Europe in the hope that things sort themselves out in or are dealt with in ongoing negotiations. It will be more expensive and we shall just have to factor that it.
      I love the different cultures of European nations but prefer not to be part of the larger bureaucratic structure of the EU. We initially joined for reasons of trade but our relationship became just too enmeshed and complicated.

      • Amara Bray
        Posted February 22, 2021 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        Got it. Thank you.

        • Mary Addison
          Posted February 23, 2021 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          That’s very much my point of view Amara, many others will differ.

  2. ceci
    Posted February 22, 2021 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Ah this is my favorite insect shirt so far! I would love to see a 5 inch beetle, will have to research where they are. Amsterdam has some lovely galleries, and wonderful Indonesian food, those and bioluminescence on waves from the North Sea are my chief memories, how nice to revisit them!


    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 22, 2021 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Well thank you Ceci – an insect lover!
      We would really like to visit Amsterdam and its galleries and shall savour the idea of a future visit.
      I have never seen bioluminescence on the sea, it must be a wonderful sight and it has obviously formed a memory that is giving you continued pleasure – the best sort of memory.

  3. Posted February 22, 2021 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Like you, I prefer my insects a little smaller than stag beetles, although I also agree that they are a striking and dramatic motif. I just have no interest in meeting them socially!

    A happily married detective is such a rarity in fiction that I’m not at all surprised that Donna Leon’s novels are so popular!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 22, 2021 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the sad divorced detective has been clichéd beyond endurance.
      Brunetti’s wife, an English literature academic with a passion for Henry James, is terrific too – a very modern woman – professional, domesticated, opinionated, fiery and quite a role model. He’s no intellectual slouch either as he’ll come home after a difficult day and lie on the sofa reading Marcus Aurelius or Pliny. a glass of Grappa (disgusting stuff!) beside him.

  4. Janet
    Posted February 22, 2021 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    5 inch beetles , called by us British people, rhino beetles, could be found in Ghana when I was a child there in the 1950’s. One landed on my sister’s back when we were coming home one evening. Although huge, they are harmless to humans. Apparently smaller rhinoceros beetles are found in Britain and Europe; they are the same family as stag beetles. I occasionally see stag beetles in my garden here in Southampton , usually in summer. I love the purple one applied above.
    Re travel, I think it is not so much Brexit that is causing problems, as the restrictions around Covid, with the demands for testing, quarantining and so on that is a major halt to travel at the moment.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 22, 2021 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Of course, Janet you are right, if we saw more of these giant but harmless beetles, we might not find them so horrific. Even the much smaller English ones are impressive when you come upon them in the garden – but I still prefer them to stay in the garden. Haven’t seen any rhinoceros beetles here though.
      You’re right about the restrictions on travel being Covid led at the moment, but I think there are many little niggles surrounding Brexit that time will iron out – and we’re in no hurry to go anywhere yet.

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