Friday, September 30, 2005

Bonnie is GONE

I tied her up in a strait jacket and stuffed her into the closet.

I left her in there with a television and a whole season’s worth of LOST re-runs. Hope that makes you happy, dear!

I’ve commandeered this blog, but don’t expect me to waste my damn time waxing poetic like Bonnie does. I’ve got no f**king time to waste.

I was tired of Bonnie’s bellyaching, her constant distractions. Worrying about finances, paying bills, housework, hurricanes, television shows, tickets for the King Tut show next month, travel next week, the trip to Honduras for the day job next month, hubby’s upcoming surgery, all those trivial matters. Oh, and the day job. The strain of writing about the suffering poor, the lack of appreciation at work, how they expect her to constantly deliver time and again. I do believe it has caused the poor dear to tip over the edge.

She’s lost her damn mind, as a friend would say.

I don’t give a crap about the day job or the suffering poor. The house can become a declared disaster zone as far as I’m concerned. If the parrot screeches, I douse him with water. Dogs need food? Too damn bad. They can stand to lose a little weight. Hubby needs attention? Tough. Here’s Penthouse.

I have one focus. To write. That’s it. And I’m damn well going to do it.

Bonnie is gone temporarily. Look out world. I’ve taken over. My name is Blair Valentine and I’m going to finish this damn western proposal even if it kills Bonnie. That is, if watching all those ridiculous episodes of LOST doesn’t do it first.


Blair

http://www.blairvalentine.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blair Valentine is a pain in the ass

We got into a fight last night.

She was struggling with the synopsis for the western romance. Wasn't getting much done. DH was at dinner with a friend. So I wanted to watch LOST. If Blair wasn't getting any work done, why not relax and watch a good show?

No. She insisted on writing. And then the B**tch has the nerve to turn on TOMBSTONE. Said it would "inspire" her.

What kind of crap is that? I wanted to watch LOST. She won.

She's such a diva. I just read her blog. It's boring. She hardly ever updates it. She only posts glowing reviews of her books and it's all ME, WONDERFUL ME, LOOK AT ME!

What a bore.

All she does is nag me to write. I don't admire her anymore. I just want to kick her in the shins.

B**tch!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Orleans romance

And now, a little plug for a NY Times best-selling author whose work both Blair and Bonnie admire.

Last night Heather Graham held a fund-raising event at Completely Canine, a dog grooming facility. She very generously gave away autographed copies of her NEW book, GHOST WALK. Donations went to the ASPCA disaster relief fund to help pets displaced by Katrina and Rita. A co-worker attended and picked up a copy for me.

GHOST WALK is a ghost story. Here's the back cover blurb. I think I'm going to like this one, even if it makes me sad for a city that is in tatters. New Orleans WILL rise again!

Ghost Walk by Heather Graham

This is no dream . . .

Nikki DuMonde's newest employee is standing at the end of her bed at four o'clock in the morning begging for help. It's a joke, right? Besides, as manager of a successful New Orleans haunted-tour company, Nikki doesn't scare easily. But in the light of day, harsh reality sets in as a police officer informs her that Andy was brutally murdered -- at the exact time Nikki swears the distraught woman was in her room.

No one believes her except Brent Blackhawk, a paranormal investigator desperately trying to forget his tragic past. Half Irish, half Lakota -- and able to communicate with the dead -- Brent is used to living in two worlds. But when he realizes the ghost of a slain government agent is also trying to reach out to Nikki, he knows that she, too, must listen to the dead . . . if she wants to keep living.

Author schizophrenia

Today is the release date for my Ellora’s Cave quickie, written as Blair Valentine. Surrender the Night is a vampire tale. Lots of hot sex, some humor, the usual weird combo.

Writing erotic romance under a pseudonym is changing my personality. Once I was a mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper…whoops! That Clark Kent, my OTHER persona.

Blair is different. She writes whatever the hell she wants and doesn’t give a flying pig’s fart if it gets published. She writes because she has these crazy story ideas in her head she must get out. She loves writing for Ellora’s Cave. Her editor is great, the response time is amazingly fast, and the publicity staff sends out her books for review. She’d like to sell lots of books, but if that doesn’t happen, she’s okay with it.

She doesn’t look at other authors and cringe, thinking, “Gee, I wish I could write like Twanda Tittles, the NY Times best-selling author whose last tome, CRAVING THE HAIRY SCOT, got a starred Publisher’s Weekly review and is optioned now for film! Twanda is such a terrific writer, even if she can’t conjugate her verbs. Why can’t I be more like Twanda? Will I EVER get another book published? Will Romantic Times EVER recognize one of my books as a Top Pick? Will Kathryn Falk EVER remember MY name?”

Blair thinks Twanda is a blithering idiot whose last two brain cells are fighting each other. Blair doesn’t sit by the phone, watching it grow cobwebs, waiting for her agent to call. Blair doesn’t keep up with industry news and fret because she’s not part of it. She loves to write for the sake of writing, not for the sake of putting out another book and trying to advance a career that’s gasping in ICU on a ventilator.

Blair loves the good reviews she receives, but if someone shreds her book, she doesn’t care. Blair enjoys the relative anonymity she has, for it frees her to write whatever the hell pleases her. She’s not worried about crafting a book to please her fan base, because she has no fans. She’s not worried about delivering a book to meet her publisher’s expectations. Blair is free from author branding, a publishing tool that can advance a career, but can restrict an author's writing.

Blair is writing a proposal about a sexy, very alpha ex-gunman and the virgin he’s determined to tame. When she sends it out, she’ll bid it adios and forget about it. She won’t anxiously watch her mailbox every day, praying it doesn’t contain a rejection letter. She won’t even worry that she wasted energy and anguished over writing the proposal because she didn’t. She’ll mail the proposal and move on.

Blair’s biggest nemesis is an author named Bonnie Vanak. Bonnie keeps threatening to unhinge Blair’s peace of mind. Bonnie worries. Frets. Agonizes over everything. Bonnie is an obsessive author.

Blair keeps telling Bonnie to shut up, get her writing booty into a chair. Tell the world to shove it, and just CREATE. WRITE. Bonnie admires this.

Bonnie likes Blair. She’s glad she has another book out. She wishes to emulate her.

Hell, it’s worth a try.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Banned Books Week

Good news. My friend Janet in Houston is fine and has power! Woo hoo! I’m so happy all is well. In her honor, since she’s a librarian, I’m asking everyone who reads this blog to pick up a "challenged" book and read it.

It’s Banned Books Week. The American Library Association has posted the list of the most challenged books of 1990-2000. They define a challenge as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school asking a book to be removed because of content or inappropriateness.”

Beth Ciotta has a list of the Top Ten most Challenged books of 2004 on her blog. Check it out. Read one today. The list includes Harry Potter.

I browsed through the
100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.

What a shocker when I found these gems:

The Outsiders by SE Hinton
Go ask Alice, by Anonymous
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Cujo by Stephen King
Carrie by Stephen King
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Of these, only the Stephen King books weren’t on my school’s reading list. I discovered Stephen King on my own with Carrie, and have read him since. The horror fascinated me, but his writing skill as an author kept me hooked.

Go Ask Alice is the diary of a 16-year-old drug user who chronicles her unhappy teen years and how she got hooked on drugs. It’s a riveting, true-life tale that kept me away from hard drugs when I was growing up. So why would anyone challenge THAT? Tell it like it is, folks, instead of trying to hush up the truth. “Alice” writes in her diary about typical teenage woes, such as trying to lose weight and eating 6 french fries, knowing it’s blowing her diet. Her loneliness in moving to a new town and trying to adjust leads her to the wrong crowd.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton… I can’t recommend that book enough. It was written by a very young S.E. Hinton in 1967. It’s Ponyboy’s tale, a story of gang violence between the greasers and the upper class socials, and the hope that barriers can be crossed. Stay Gold, Ponyboy, is a classic quote from that book.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Fascinating. Written in 1931, long before the advent of test tube babies. Set in 632 A. F. (After Ford), people aren’t born. They’re hatched in jars and programmed to various levels of intelligence. Sometimes I amuse myself by cataloging people around me. Is that co-worker a Delta or the moronic Epsilon minus minus who can only flash a goofy grin and press an elevator button?

I feel blessed to have not only read these books in school, but encouraged by my teachers to do so. They were only part of my reading list, but through them, my horizons were expanded, my world opened up beyond the ordinary, tree-lined streets of Randolph, New Jersey. Support Banned Books Week today. Read a book others say you shouldn’t. Don’t be afraid to widen your horizons. You never know what kind of brave new world you’ll encounter.


http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane relief

Need a throw for your bed? Can this one be put on lay-away?

Thanks Lesley, for sending this!

http://www.bonnievanak.com

I'm a damn good writer

Even if no one else thinks so

Even if no one else says so

I am a damn good writer. I just wrote a page of copy in ten minutes, words poured out in angry frustration onto the screen. It flowed like the tide that rushes onto the sands each day in Petite Anse, Haiti.

I'm not looking at the television anymore. I can't. I can't watch New Orleans flood again, can't watch the misery, the suffering any more in this country.

I'm going home tonight and writing an erotic romance about a wicked, wild gunmen who seduces an equally wild virgin.

It's going to be a damn good story.

Even if no one else says so.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

My friend in Houston

“I’m scared,” my friend Janet told me.

I’m scared for her.

Janet lives in a suburb of Houston, a city people are trying to leave. She’s staying put. Her elderly in-laws are living with her now. They lost their home in New Orleans to flooding from Katrina.

Now Rita looks like it may slam into Janet’s area. Her street never floods, but she’s worried about the fragile-rooted pine trees in the front yard. Will they withstand the 150-mph winds? She does live near a river. It’s never flooded her neighborhood. Hopefully it won’t now.

Evacuation just wasn’t a possibility. And looking at the lines of cars leaving Houston, running out of gas and running out of time, I don’t blame her.

She thinks she has enough food and water. Batteries were gone at the store. A friend is Fed Exing her some. Hopefully they will get there tomorrow. Janet was running to the store to buy cat food when I called.

I asked if she needed anything. She gave a little laugh and said, “I forgot to get peanut butter.”

What about chocolate? Chocolate is always good, she agreed.

Janet and I have been friends for years. We met over the internet. We’ve never met in person. She’s a huge fan, always talks up my books to friends. She’s one of those rare people, genuine, sweet and caring. Janet has this adorable Texas accent. She says "sugah" instead of "sugar." We almost met a couple of years ago when I was going to visit Houston and give a talk to a reader’s group. But life and the job got in the way and I couldn’t make it.

I’m sending her a big Fed Ex package I hope will arrive by tomorrow. It contains chocolate, peanut butter, a flashlight and batteries, hand sanitizer so she won’t waste water washing her hands, cat treats, crackers and a Stephanie Bond novel. Janet loves to read.

I’m also sending prayers. Those won’t be sent Fed Ex.

I sure hope the prayers prove more effective than the Fed Ex package. She’s really scared.

So am I.

Time for a little humor...

Having saved Middle Earth, Aragorn & co. journey to Texas to engage a bitch named Rita while Gandalf tracks down Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel and tries to transport him to Alaska in an attempt to divert the enemy to another destination. Their battle answers the burning question: Do hobbits float?

Rita


I just can't bear to watch the news... it's a nightmare all over again... only worse... how did I get so lucky to miss this and get only a little wind when it's going to level parts of Texas?

Katrina three weeks ago... now Rita. When will it end????

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Talk like a church pirate

Because I'm too morose to post anything cheerful and this blog is beginning to resemble the woeful Perils of Pauline, here's a link to a funny blog.

Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Apostle John posted a blog on pirate talking in church. Vocab. entries include this gem: Booty -- treasure, AKA the offering.

Argh. Just don't get my foul-mouthed parrot involved. He'd shiver your timbers with his cuss words.

I want to return to Colorado

I’m tired of hurricanes, bad news, and looming disasters.

Today a co-worker who’s worked here 16 years died. You might call it hurricane related. He was on the roof of his church, fixing it. He took it upon himself to help out with projects around the church after work and went there when we had the day off because of Hurricane Rita. I guess he thought it was safe because though we got some gusty winds up here, it wasn’t that bad. But he fell off the roof and died. Because of the hurricane, no one was around the church. He lay there until a passer-by spotted him. He died this morning after being in a coma.

I saw him two weekends ago at Cracker Barrel. He was there with his family, and saw me and said, “Hey Bonnie!” in passing. Funny how you remember those little things…seeing a co-worker you’ve worked with for 12 years out of the office makes more of an impression than seeing him around the building.

And now Rita is marching toward Texas… another disaster blossoming… and all I can think of is Colorado and how peaceful and quiet it was. In the mountains of Colorado, no one talks of hurricanes. Katrina is a distant disaster you give money for, but it didn’t really affect you.

The locals talk of working weekends, the aspens turning, how the elk are coming down from the mountains into the valleys for rutting season. There’s no talk of hurricanes, storm shutters, people turned homeless due to storm surges. You don’t wonder if your insurance really sucks or if the tree limbs you forgot to trim will be the ones crashing through the roof.

You don’t think about co-workers dying from falling off church roofs during winds caused by a hurricane miles south.

I want to return to Colorado. I know the snow would drive me back to Florida. But for now, I want my lake and my mountains back. I want to sit on that porch and write for the sheer joy of writing. I want to forget about hurricanes, the stress of not having another book out, or the frenzy to promote a book once it is out and the stress of having a snarky person gleefully rip it to shreds in reviews, the tension of working for a charity and seeing starving kids again and again.

Knowing some of them will die and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. I'm tired of death and grief and sorrow.

I just want to return to Colorado and write. Maybe get a job in a stable mucking out horse dung.

On Sunday, DH went horseback riding in Colorado. I decided to join him. I got as far as climbing onto the back of this horse that was probably 15 hands high, seeing the rocky, steep mountain trail we would climb. That was it. My gut said, NO. I got off. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I wouldn’t relax, being up that high, coming down a steep mountain on a horse, not knowing how to control the horse.

Dh went by himself. I watched him ride off, feeling deeply ashamed and embarrassed. Then I drove off to the lake by myself and cried because I was such a chicken. I wanted so badly to ride a horse, to feel what it was like, as my Khamsin warriors do. And yet I panicked.

And then I come home and realize there are things in my life that would freak out the cowboys who run the stables. Like living with the tiny fear each time a hurricane marches close to your doorstep. Of losing your house, your job, everything in your life. Or the stress of traveling to countries where you can get kidnapped, tortured and killed… and seeing poverty that most people see only on television, and then they flip the channels. Or the stress of being a writer, period.

Come to think of it, I’m not such a chicken after all. But I still want to return to Colorado. Mucking out a horse stall is looking pretty good right now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Lake


I love this lake.

Today's weather: Rain, wind

Rita is a hurricane, but we won't get much up here. I have a "snow" day, a "hurricane" day. Work closed. I'm home, playing and trying to keep writing. So I'm looking at photos of Colorado instead of the dreary rain outside my window. Here's the irony: I wrote in the cottage's guest

book, "What a welcome retreat for my weary soul
to escape from the never-ending conga line of hurricanes that keep hurling toward Florida."

And then I come home to... another hurricane. Sheesh. At least this one for me isn't going to be bad. Rita's belching up by me, not blowing wind.

Aspens were just starting to turn. The photo of me clutching my alpha smart is by Lily Lake, a quiet, peaceful lake off Route 7.



http://www.bonnievanak.com

Monday, September 19, 2005

Good-bye Colorado, hello Tropical Storm Rita


Hurricane? What hurricane?

We spent four days in the mountains, no TV. Got on the rental car shuttle bus at 4:20 a.m. to catch our 6 a.m. flight when another Florida-bound couple told us about this storm named Rita?

WTF?

Sigh... came home and it's the usual madness. In the meantime, here's a photo of what I did all day Saturday. It was great. It was fun. I discovered the joy of writing again.
http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Buh-bye



Leaving tomorrow. Still sick. Too busy to blog tomorrow, so here is some eye candy to enjoy while I am gone.

he's saying, LOOK! I CAN COUNT ALL MY TOES! WOW, WONDER WHAT I SHOULD PLAY WITH NEXT??

Um, waiter? I'll take one of these on the rocks. Make it a double...

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Horoscope

Very interesting today...

Taurus (April 20-May 20). Today is a 10. You'll soon have an opportunity to further your career. Make the move only if it will also increase your enjoyment.

Beat me up, God

Crying can be a good thing.

I'm still sick, but had to drag myself into work because the project I'm writing is due, like, NOW. Rush job. So I went to work and I'm writing it to raise money to buy food and feed starving little boys who cry because they are hungry.

As I'm writing, I feel my eyes burn with tears. And I read over what I wrote and I realize, if I can make myself cry, me the hard, cynic who's seen a lot, there's a good chance others will cry too. And give money to feed these poor kids.

Tough as it is to travel to Haiti, see the poorest of the poor, the hunger, despair, suffering and get my emotions in a wedgie, I realize how necessary it is. How can I make others, who have never been to Haiti, care if I don't care? I guess God wants to use me for his purposes. I guess this is a good thing, though I really do NOT like it at times, especially when I feel beaten up, worn, and emotionally drained. So beat me up, God. Use me. Grab my feelings and twist them in an emotional wedgie. If it means these kids will be fed, it's worth it.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Send me to the homosexual heaven

I honestly don't understand how religion can justify hatred and killing.

TI'm thinking of the television show where a rabbi said he justified his ex-wife’s murder because she was an enemy of Israel. A “Christian” I know who said she was glad God created AIDS so it would kill the homosexuals. And of course, Muslim extremists killing Americans saying it is Allah’s will.

Of all these, the second bothers me most because I know this woman. She comes across as a very religious person, very righteous, always carrying her Bible, always reading her Bible, preaching, etc. So where in the Bible does God say, “Hey, let’s kill gays.” And it was a good thing. I must be reading the wrong bible. I’m not reading the Religious Righteous Intolerance and Hatred Bible. (It wasn’t on sale at Wal-Mart that day, I guess).

What is it about gay people some Christians can’t stand? Some gays I knew were gentle, caring souls whose only crime was they happened to love the same sex. They didn’t take up arms and kill other people. Or express joy at suffering.

I don’t get this woman. I don’t want to be a member of her religion, or any religion that thinks a horrible disease that causes millions to suffer and die is a good thing. Whose God created such a disease just to kill a certain segment of the population. I know this woman must never have meant Stephania, the little girl I met in Haiti years ago who was dying of AIDS. Stephania was too young to know about homosexuality. She only knew she was six years old and dying.

My friend, whose family was flooded out of New Orleans, got great news last week. A rich, compassionate developer is offering apartments, fully furnished and rent free, for a period of months to hurricane victims. He gave one to my friend’s family. (That to me is being more Christian than ranting and raving about Jesus and not lifting a damn finger to help those in need). Last week, my friend called a couple of area Catholic churches, begging for help. He’s Catholic. One of the churches he called was “our” church and thank God they did offer some help. But the other, one I used to attend, told him, “We already gave to the Red Cross and that’s all we are doing.”

More or less, they slammed the door in my friend’s face. So much for Christian charity.

I guess this is why I have no patience with organized religion, even my own, anymore. I don’t go to church, except when I travel. Give me a rip-rousing, gospel-singing Haitian or Jamaican church any day over the snoozing congregation at “my” church where the pastor rattles off a sermon faster than a bookie reciting betting stats so he can watch the football game, but not on days when he’s begging for money to get a new carpet for the church.

I think the old carpet is just fine. Sorry, but in my heart, I can’t hand over money for a new church carpet when I’ve been to churches where the kneelers are broken, the pews are little more than benches but the people aren’t turned away when they ask the priest for money and their songs of praise are heart-felt and glad. Where the priest doesn’t rush through his sermon so he can watch television but one who drives elderly parishioners home because they are too poor to afford transportation. A priest who spends his days helping the people, who happen to live in a slum and are hungry.

When I die, I don’t want to go to the heaven where the religious, gay-hating intolerant Christians are. And I certainly don’t want to go the Paradise where the Muslim extremists who killed others for their religion are screwing all those virgins. Because that’s not my God. My God loves people, all people. Especially those dying of a disease that causes other people to rejoice. I think I’d rather go to the homosexual heaven. Send me there, God. Send me to the place where all the rejected, those forsaken, kicked in the guts, hated, mocked, and scorned are hanging out. Send me to the place where the poor people are, not where the new carpets are. I’d rather be there. At least I know I’ll get some rip-roaring music, caring, compassionate people and be around those who won’t judge me by anything but what’s inside my heart.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Monday, September 12, 2005

Good-bye Egypt

I realized today what a lousy blogger I am. I've been told by others you should blog to promote your books. All I do is talk about what's on my mind.

So let me talk about my books. Someone asked me this morning when my next Egyptian novel is coming out.

I told her, "It's not."

I've given up on any more Egyptian books. No news on that front. And you know what? I don't even really care anymore. I have no energy left to care.

What energy I do have left is reserved for a muscular 6- foot, 4", 220 pound male who shapeshifts. His name is Marcus. He keeps nagging, "Write me. I need to have sex now."

Marcus is going to have hot, wild sex in the first chapter. He's a character created as a result of Surrender the Night, my Ellora's Cave book being released later this month.

I want, no I NEED to get back to writing romance. Just for the fun of it. Not to sell a book, but to divert my mind from the angst of the day job. Which is why I started writing romance in the first place. I don't have a career, and never will, in romance writing.

But I do need to have some fun with writing. So, oh yeah, Marcus is going to have some hot, intense action between the sheets. Actually, not even. He's going to take the heroine on top of the sheets. She doesn't want him... He scares her. He's too big, too powerful and dangerous.

But once he peels off his shirt, hmmmm, she's changing her mind.

More notes from Haiti from last week

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2005.

We drove to Petite Anse, a nice little hellhole on the seashore. Petite Anse is a slum of twig and mud shacks sitting directly on the beach. A sort of no-man’s land. Prime beachfront property, with assorted junk littering the sands, from rusting car parts to trash to discarded bleach containers. Pigs freely wander along the surf. A surreal sort of tableau. Pork chop a la brine.

I talked with two families. The first was a sad-faced, weary mom who lives a bit inland, meaning, she lives more than five feet from the shoreline. Her son sleeps under the bed sometimes. It’s his refuge. He likes to hide there. They also put him under there when it rains to keep him dry because the house, like all of them, leak. Drip, drip, drip on the bed while the son beneath it sleeps and stays dry.

I discover later that this beachfront area of Petite Anse is in higher land and isn’t as bad off as the area we will later. That area is built on a mangrove swamp and floods. The beach is littered with human and animal feces, trash, you name it. This thick, sluggish stream oozes through the sand and dumps out into the ocean. It’s sort of greenish.

Visited a family living in a house built right on the shoreline, less than two feet from the surf. Waves crash alongside it when it storms. One mom says she asks God to make the storm go away because she’s scared.

This section of Petite Anse is a mess. No drinking water, no sanitation, trash everywhere, feces, animal and human. We wander along the sands, trailed by a crowd of curious faces. We are the pied pipers of humanitarianism.

I think of the coastline of my country, the smashed timbers of broken houses, the smashed lives, people crowded into the Superdome in New Orleans like animals to ride out the hurricane. Squeezed together in those conditions, they lived for five days like these people. When you take away basic human services, like food, water and sanitation, this is what happens. I am walking along a disaster area, except this is a man-made disaster area existing for decades. Naked children run besides us naked, staring with curious eyes.

Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. We return to the hotel. I realize a foul odor is clinging to my shoes. I stepped in feces. Human or animal, or both? I clean it off with stoic sadness, thinking of the filth in New Orleans, people living in survival conditions. People here in Haiti have endured them for years. The silent cries of the poor and marginalized go ignored, and so life goes on along the prime beachfront property. Surviving another day in the little hellhole by the sunny shore.

Trying not to get depressed. The arched doorways and little wood entranceways and inner courtyards remind me of New Orleans. Creole to Creole. Palms and tile work, cool blue floral tile and serene yellow paint. Haitian art hangs on the walls. An ironwork candle sconce adorns a polished oak table. There’s a blue glass vase filled with birds of paradise on the coffee table set up in the lobby.

I feel utterly drained, as though someone siphoned the life from me. I don’t even have enough energy to feel sad anymore. I wonder what will happen to my writing. Will it wither and die, like lost hope?

Okay, I need to write about the place where I am instead of my own personal woes. The hotel. The crisp swish of a straw broom against the street. The stillness of the morning air disturbed by a cool ocean breeze. Sunlight pooling on the blue and red tile floor. Quiet murmurs of people breakfasting in the dining room next to the lobby, the clink of silverware against china. The slam of a door upstairs, tread on the stairs. The everpresent acrid smell of morning fires in the slums preparing meager meals.

A painting. Three blue faces hanging on a wall before me. Heart faced, pursed red lips, sultry eyes staring sightlessly. Three faces encapsulated in a blue shell, human flowers caught in a vase. Seeds are planted. Ideas, sperm, revolution?

4 p.m.?

I had thought that anything I could see could not equal the misery and suffering taking place now in my own country with the post hurricane disaster.

I was wrong.

There is worse. There is living with it daily. Red-headed children suffering from protein deficiency who live in houses that are virtual islands cut off from everyone else because of water rising from the ocean each day. A 12 year old girl with old, wise eyes and her two little sisters, with their extended bellies and their reddish orange hair.

A narrow twin bed covered with a blue bedspread that sleeps four. A table inside an airless shack neatly piled with tins, glasses and plastic kitchen ware. A dirt floor that slopes downward, and blue plastic chairs next to the bed.

The glazed look of children who are hungry. Three days without eating is the record for them. How do you record memories in your life? Three days without eating. Orange hair sprouting on a small skull, sad colors reflecting suffering and hunger.

All the people in Petite Anse are displaced refugees, displaced by poverty, hunger and looking for opportunity. A polar opposite of the hurricane refugees in Louisiana. Those people fled their smashed homes and flooding in New Orleans. These people fled their smashed lives in the barren countryside and came to an area where there is constant flooding. Yet they keep hoping for a better day, a better life.

We asked one woman, “Why did you leave don don? Is this better for you?”

She said, “Not yet but it could be. There is nowhere that living is not hard. Everywhere you go life is hard.”

Strep

Sick with strep throat and sinus infection. The munchkins in Haiti must have passed it along somehow. They were all wheezing and coughing. Every time I return from Haiti, I get sick. At least this time it's not food poisoning like the last two times. At least I'm lucky enough to get meds. They don't.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Haiti photos


Decided to post more Haiti photos after all. I think it's therapy for me.


These girls we met at the flooded beachside swamp called Petite Anse. She's12 and looks after her sisters while her mom's at the market. Note the orange hair on the girl she's holding on her lap. It's a sign of protein deficiency.

The 12 year old was shy, but she talked with us. All the while she talked with us outside, she was picking at the chips of cement plaster on her home. Chip, chip, chip as she talked of how she hated living in this house and wanted a pretty concrete house. She told us she can always find food somehow, scavenge for it, but she could never afford to buy a new, pretty house. She's 12 years old and all she wants is a new house. Not a stereo, or clothing or cosmetics. Just a house.

Here's an interesting shot. Love the torpedo pointing directly at the mermaid on the boat.

This is one of the fishing boats we saw on our trip.

There are many boats, some submerged, along the coast. The submerged boats stay half-sunk, like ghost ships. Never remove. Some grow rust and weeds.

This is Petite Anse an hour after high tide. Some of the houses turn into small islands.

Horoscope comes true

Went to Target. Bought a shiny plastic garbage can. Then I read this:

Taurus (April 20-May 20). Today is a 7. A careful shopping expedition can lead to awesome treasures. Move quickly.

Awesome. And only $11.99.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wild


I had to post this... a photo from last year in Gonaives, Haiti of flood victims living on their roofs. Looks like New Orleans, doesn't it? Sigh...

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Wet


I could post more on Haiti, but I need a break. Here it is. Complete with champagne. Hell, I'd even settle for Asti and not Dom if the package deal came with him. :-)

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, September 09, 2005

Notes from Haiti

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2005:

This morning, I talked with a woman who lives in Petite Anse, the slum in Cap that floods. She tells me she lives there with hope that life will improve. “You have to look for life where it is. Only God knows if it will get better.”

When we arrived, traversing through the muck, winding our way around the houses to her home, she was sitting in the shade on a milk carton, breastfeeding the baby. Her little girl was sitting on a small wooden stool near her mother. The house is made as the others are, from twigs and cement stuffed into the chinks like a log cabin.

Her little girl starts crying. The boy lifts her into his lap to comfort her. He is a good big brother, taking care of her as the mother talks with us. We go inside the house. Ben is taking photos. She sits on the bed. She is a soft-spoken, articulate woman who is friendly, but she doesn’t smile a lot. I guess she has nothing to smile about. She tells us that when the baby cries at night, she lights up the hurricane lamp at night. The keroscene costs for the lamp costs more than a day’s wages. As she is talking, the priest’s cell chirps. It sings and chirps like an annoyed parakeet, an odd sound in this crammed space of babies crying and adults murmuring in Creole.

Inside it is airless, humid and stifling. The whole ceiling is lined with blue and white plastic to catch the dripping rain. The rain is the least of her worries. The tidal surges during storms are far worse.
“My biggest fear is for my children is the flooding, that the water will take my children away and they will drown,” she tells me.

We talk with some others and then take off for another section of Petite Anse. At the space where the driver parked the truck, a small group of UN soldiers walk past, patrolling the area. Their badges indicate they are from Chile. Ben chit chats in broken Spanish with them. He discovers they are here only two months and they spend at least half a day walking around this area. They say it is very quiet. We like hearing it’s quiet. Quiet is good. One soldier takes his water hose, attached to the canteen strapped on his back, and squirts water into the mouths of the delighted children. It’s brutally hot.

We walk along the shore, water lapping upon the sand, seeing more and more houses just like the one we left. And talk to more people.

5:30 p.m. Back at the hotel and leaving again. We are heading back to Petite Anse to see if the mom of the two orange-haired kids is back from the market.

I honestly don’t know what it is… that has left me feeling so numb this week… maybe I’ve just been doing this kind of work far too long or maybe it’s the grinding poverty I see time and again … I told myself before I came here that no one truly cares what happens… and part of me feels that is indeed true. And yet that is no excuse for me not to care and not to do my job. Sometimes I feel like I am a scribe writing in the wilderness. The trash-hewn streets, the pot bellied children with their blank stares, the oppressive heat and brutal sun, blaring horns, bleating goats, shouting voices, screeching music…does anyone really care?

The priest says the houses we have built already in this city are like a drop of water, but drops combined with other drops do make an ocean.

So what do I do? Can I in good conscience ignore the sufferings of a child who is in obvious need? God gave me a talent to write and help raise money for these people and put me here. I think he put me here for a reason this week… In a way I am sort of a translator of poverty… Do I turn my back on all this…and walk away? Can I turn my back on all this and walk away? What is the answer? I have none for now.

6:30 p.m. I have the answer. It’s a little boy. He is two years old and severely malnourished.

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005

6:15 a.m.

Sunrise over the flat ocean in Cap Haitian. I am sitting outside my hotel room looking at pink streaks of sun glinting off the shimmering ice blue ocean. About 1 million mosquitoes have decided I am lonely and joined me. There is music playing in the restaurant downstairs and the sound of silverware being set out for breakfast.

To me Haiti is all about sound. This morning, it’s the quiet raspy tones of Creole, the whump of lumber being unloaded, the clink of ice against glass, the huffing of joggers running down the waterfront street. The whirl of a bicycle passing. Slam of a car door. Metal tunes of brass playing on the stereo downstairs.

In the slums there is a different orchestra playing. Children chattering, grown ups murmuring, the wail of a hungry baby, the slush of the water lapping at the shore, the shuffling of feet in the sand, the slosh of legs moving through water, the sucking sound of feet lifted in and out of thick, fermenting mud.

Yesterday when we returned to Petite Anse, the ocean breeze had shifted. It was thicker and pungent, heavy and swamp laden. In the morning it is fresh, as if blowing in a brand new start to a hopeful day. At day’s end it is thick, sluggish and oppressive, veiling the slum with an oily coat of air. As if it too, has resigned itself to yet another day awash in misery and hunger.


But tomorrow, there is always fresh hope. And another cooling ocean breeze.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Haiti, part deux



This is the toddler we had transported to medical help. The good news is he received free medicine, food, and medical help.

The bad news is, there are thousands more like him.

I don't want to think about them. I'll think about this one that has a fighting chance. I tell myself, big deal. I had not much to do with it. So why do I still keep doing this? Why?

Because how can I, in good conscience, ignore this child? What kind of person am I if I turn my back on his silent cry for help?

I need to hide from the world for a while to lick my emotional wounds. Usually I return from Haiti, and seeing the worst of the worst, again and again, and can take refuge in routine.

I saw this slum and it reminded me of the graphic images of New Orleans. A city under water. A slum that floods each day. The people have nowhere else to go. This is this little boy's house. Each day the tide washes in sea water up to his door. Four times a year at least, storms flood the community so much that people flee their houses, fearing for their kids. They take refuge in the local school until the water recedes.

No one should have to live like this. It's inhuman.

My return to "normal" life now is disturbed by images of refugees in my own damn country, by dramatic stories of suffering here in my backyard, of lives lost and homes and property. I leave a country of suffering and return to a country of suffering. I need to shut down my computer, turn off my television and retreat for a while.

A long while.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Haiti

Back from Cap Haitien, in Port-au-Prince. Country is very quiet now, a refreshing change of pace. Unreal poverty we saw this week... homes built on a mangrove swamp by the sea that flood twice a day at high tide. Yet the people remain because they are desperate. "I have nowhere else to go," this one woman told me. The women told me they get terrified of the water during storms and pray their children won't drown in their own houses.

I got this chill down my spine when she told me that.

We saw some malnourished children including this one baby that was horribly malnourished. I'd say stage three. We came back to a house at about 6 to see if a mother was home and she wasn't and suddenly Ben swears. He rarely swears. I turn around and he says quietly, "Look at that baby."

OMG. The baby was two years old, huge pot belly from parasites, and his ribs were sticking out. His short-cropped hair was orange. He had matchstick legs and arms. A walking skeleton. The mother wasn't home but we talked with the father. We made a promise to come back this morning before our plane left for Cap Haitien, so we could visit with the mother.

We did... and took photos, interviewed the mom and then promptly told her to dress the baby and come with us, we were taking her and the child to a hospital. She accompanied us, walking along the sands back to the truck. Sat in the truck, the baby started fussing. She had said they hadn't anything to eat yet. The baby cries all night. He's been sick for three months. Her greatest fear was her son was going to die. She knew how sick he was.

Before we told her we were taking her son to the hospital, she told me, "I've been praying for money to get him to the hospital. I ask God, God, can you please protect us and protect the baby. I don't know why this is happening to us, but please can you do something?"

Today, he did something. He sent us. It's ironic. Yesterday as we are driving to Petite Anse, as this beachfront area is called, I was mentally questioning why I have done this kind of work for 12 years. It makes me weary, sometimes very depressed, and drained of energy. As we are driving in the car, I asked God, is it time for me to quit and chuck it all in and do something else for a career? Am I really doing anything good? Then we arrived at Petite Anse and Ben spots the sick baby.

If we hadn't returned to see the mother, we never would have seen the baby. Or gone back this morning. I'm sure the baby would have eventually died. God used us to answer this woman's prayer to send her son to a hospital. I guess he answered my prayer as well.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Why, America, WHY?

I am weeping for my country right now

America, why? Why?

Why did three babies in the Superdome have to die from heat exhaustion waiting to be evacuated? Why did a man’s mother have to
die in a nursing home, pleading for help from her son for five days until she drowned to death Friday night?

Why are Africans wondering what the hell happened
with the post-Katrina disaster?

Why? I want answers. I work for a charity. Yeah, we’re sending help. We’ve got the trucks delivering food, water, other aid. Yeah, we’re praying.

Prayers aren’t enough. I want answers.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew left south Dade looking like a nuclear explosion. I saw Katie Hale, then director of emergency operations for Dade County, scream on television that she needed the federal troops.

This week, I heard New Orleans mayor do the same thing. Only difference is, the victims of Andrew weren’t trapped in homes and buildings surrounded by rising water, waiting and praying for help.

Help that arrived far too late. Hurricane hit one week ago today. Five days later… the federal troops arrived.

Why wasn’t there a law created AFTER Andrew that sent in federal help IMMEDIATELY after such a disaster? Why? If there’s a law that says the federal government can’t intervene unless asked, because then it is martial law, then who gives a crap? SEND THEM IN. Hello people? There’s going to be lawlessness, shootings, you name it. It’s not rocket science.

Better to send in the military, haul these people’s asses the hell out of there and face criticism later than to let them die. I can’t imagine the horror of that poor woman in the nursing home, waiting and waiting, pleading with her helpless son to get her out of there. And then watching the flood waters rise and rise…and drowning…

And what is it with this blaming the victim crap I keep reading? "Those people in New Orleans should have evacuated. They knew better." Excuse me. If you had NO car, NO money, NO real way of getting out, what would you do?

And the mayor of N.O. himself… he’s not blameless in this. WHY did he issue a mandatory evacuation on SUNDAY when the hurricane was due to HIT MONDAY? Why didn’t he do it on Saturday? Saturday was only a voluntary evacuation. Let me tell you from living in an area where hurricanes hit down here in Florida, there is a BIG difference between a mandatory and a voluntary evacuation. Voluntary you think, "Ok, it's not going to be that bad. Maybe I'll board up."

Mandatory is, "Oh crap, they are serious!"

Did he really think it wasn’t going to be that bad? Why didn't he call in for help for buses to evacuate the poor and marginalized before the hurricane hit?

Let’s do the math… 12 foot levee facing 15-20 foot storm surge… equals…

You’re SOL.

I've heard the stories, how the federal funding for building the levees for New Orleans got cut. Or how this and that and this and that. I’m disgusted with the politicians saying blah blah blah. I’m disgusted with the finger pointing, the photo ops, the horror stories… and most of all…

I’m sick because this should not have happened. They knew what could happen to New Orleans. They knew those levees would not have held. They knew after Hurricane Andrew that local and state governments simply cannot handle the overwhelming magnitude of a catastrophic hurricane.

Why wasn’t a plan formed? Haul in the troops immediately after a hurricane to restore order. The police can’t do it (many are dead). Call it martial law. Who cares if it means lives are saved?

I’m weeping and disgusted because I work for a charity and the disaster I saw a year ago in Haiti, after 2,000 died from flooding from Hurricane Jeanne, is going to be nothing compared to this. Because I live in the greatest country in the world, and I love my country and people should not have died waiting and praying for help that arrived too late.

I’m sick of ALL politicians, Republicans and Democrats. I have a solution. Build a 12 foot levee around Washington, D.C. Get the Red Cross out of there (their base is in D.C.) and other humanitarian organizations. Then pump water slowly and steadily into Washington. See what happens. Let them call out on the phones, pleading for help.

Let’s see how fast the military can be mobilized then.

It’s too late for the victims of Katrina now. They died, waiting. It should never have happened. Tomorrow I leave for Haiti. I know people are going to look at me, an American, and ask the same question I’m asking myself.

Why, America? Why?

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The missing

Apparently Rexanne Becnel is fine, because Vicki took that story off the database for missing authors. But there are still lots of authors unaccounted for. Please, if you know anything about these authors, contact Vicki at vkhinze@aol.com.

My friend's family is safe and living with him now. They lived in New Oreleans in one of the parishes that got totally submerged. Lost everything. Parents, aunt and sister-in-law staying with him down here in Florida. I think there will be lots more refugees in Florida in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Water rising for author in New Orleans

From Vicki Hinze's web page for authors to check in who have been affected by Katrina.

Note on REXANNE BECNEL: Rexanne et al survived the storm but are still stuck in New Orleans and now the water is rising. Up to her porch. Situation is volatile at 10:30 A.M. Sat. 9/3/2005.

Scary stuff. From Vicki herself posts a very frustrating situation her poor aunt, a heart patient who had to be evacuated, faced in trying to get her meds. The bank she uses is under water and the druggist refused the check. She called vicki in tears... Come on people! this is ridiculous...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

News flash: Reinquest dies, CNN changes headlines on web page

CNN finally changed the headlines on their web site when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died tonight.

When all this is over and done with, you have to hand the media covering the Katrina disaster a medal. I mean, you have journalists, hard core reporters who have covered wars, watching people die in front of them, ferrying people to help, getting the word out, helping to reunite families. Telling us what's really going on. Those who say, "Oh, they're just being dramatic" are saying that to comfort themselves. There's no need to be dramatic when the drama is played out right before your eyes...

Some of those journalists are going to have emotional scars that will last a lifetime. They're human too. And thank God we live in a country with freedom of the press. If this happened in Cuba, the headlines would be, "Katrina gently brushes against coast, one or two may have stubbed their toes. Fidel blames US."

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Hurricane Relief


Here's some relief from hurricane images for you...

This weekend is the Labor Day telethon. Firemen in my area are doing a boot drive to collect for MDA and hurricane relief. Spare some change, if you can.


http://www.bonnievanak.com

News Flash! Black people helping out!

Okay yeah, I'm beginning VERY sarcastic. Read this post on Kate Rothwell's blog about a guy in N.O. who is helping rescue people from the flooded city. He has wonderful stories and I totally support his POV in spreading positive messages, but I find his tone in one entry condescending. "This was in a really rough neighborhood and we came across five seemingly unsavory characters."

He goes on to talk about how they risked themselves to save other people.

Well, guess what? Last year in Haiti when we tipped over into the flood waters in our Montero and were stuck for nearly an hour, guess who finally rescued us? The nice white UN boys? Nope. The black people.

See America, black people do save white people. Sheesh. It's pretty damn sad when someone like this dude, who is in the thick of things, saving lives, has to stop and make a point that all black people do NOT carry guns, loot stores (I'd loot a &#@*&# Walmart and carry off food, clothing and water too if I were stuck there! But NOT TV sets and the other stuff. Hello people? THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY!) and create havoc.

On a personal note, friend of ours down here in Florida is driving to Atlanta to get his parents. They used to live in New Orleans. They're homeless now. Mom and Dad coming to live with him.

On the bright side of things, we had dinner with friends tonight we sheltered last year during Hurricane Frances and did NOT talk about what's happening on the Gulf Coast at all. What a welcome break it was! And God bless Lt. Gen. Russel Honore in N.O. who is hustling others to move their asses and help those poor people. Can we clone him? Let's hear it for our military guys, who know how to respond to a crisis and can clear the way for relief trucks to arrive.

It's about damn time.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Friday, September 02, 2005

This goes beyond politics

Just in case anyone who reads my last blog entry thinks I'm being political, I'm not. The link I got was from someone who voted for Bush in the last election and is a Republican.

This crisis goes beyond politics. I don't care if the federal government is Republican, Democrat, Independent, or run by little green aliens in purple suits. These people in the midst of New Orleans need help, NOW. How can aid organizations deliver the food and water they have to a city that is engulfed in total anarchy?

I'm so upset I can't work. I can't write. I can't even think beyond this.

What's going in New Orleans?

Click onto this link to listen to a powerful, deeply emotional radio interview with the mayor of New Orleans. Where the hell is the &#*&@*# federal aid? The &#*&@*# troops?

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Help with housing refugees

Got this email tonight from moveon.org. Passing it along to someone who might be able to help. Hey, in a crisis like this, political affiliations don't matter. People do.

Hurricane Katrina's toll on communities, homes and lives has devastated the nation. Now victims must face the daunting question of where to go next—and we can help.


Tens of thousands of newly homeless families are being bused to a stadium in Houston, where they may wait for weeks or months. At least 80,000 are competing for area shelters, and countless more are in motels, cars, or wherever they can stay out of the elements. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross are scrambling to find shelter for the displaced.

This morning, we've launched an emergency national housing drive to connect your empty beds with hurricane victims who desperately need a place to wait out the storm. You can post your offer of housing (a spare room, extra bed, even a decent couch) and search for available housing online at:
http://www.hurricanehousing.org

Housing is most urgently needed within reasonable driving distance (about 300 miles) of the affected areas in the Southeast, especially New Orleans.

Please forward this message to anyone you know in the region who might be able to help.

But no matter where you live, your housing could still make a world of difference to a person or family in need, so please offer what you can.

The process is simple:

· You can sign up to become a host by posting a description of whatever housing you have available, along with contact information. You can change or remove your offer at any time.

· Hurricane victims, local and national relief organizations, friends and relatives can search the site for housing. We'll do everything we can to get your offers where they are needed most. Many shelters actually already have Internet access, but folks without 'net access can still make use of the site through case workers and family members.

· Hurricane victims or relief agencies will contact hosts and together decide if it's a good match and make the necessary travel arrangements. The host's address is not released until a particular match is agreed on.

If hosting doesn't work for you, please consider donating to the Red Cross to help with the enormous tasks of rescue and recovery. You can give online at:
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=859

http://www.bonnievanak.com

More post hurricane stuff

Found a great link if you want to help other than through Red Cross, etc. Like if you live in the area and want to help, or places that need donations of medical personnel, oxygen, etc. Or if you're searching for missing family members, friends. Or if you have a room you want to let out to a hurricane refugee. Found it through the comments section of the Smart Bitches blog.

Yahoo has a link for Network for Good. It lists Red Cross, Salvation Army AND organizations like Noah's Wish that help stranded/abandoned pets post storm. Check it out.

On a deeply touching note, if you want to read a personal account of this tragedy, check out writer Larissa Ione's blog. She left her cat at the vet's because he was sick and she had to evacuate in a hurry. The vet's office is flooded now, and she fears he may have drowned. Her home is flooded and she can't go back AND her horribly expensive hurricane insurance does NOT cover floods, so they've lost EVERYTHING.

Alison Kent and others are
doing an online auction to help her out. Here's the link to Larissa's blog:

God bless everyone suffering in this tragedy.


http://www.bonnievanak.com

Well, here's some good news for a change

Americans offering up spare rooms in their homes to refugees for very very cheap rent. I love this country's generosity!

My friend in Mobile, AL is okay, her family okay as well. Limited phone, but no power, roof damage, power will be out for weeks. She's sweltering in the heat. I
just bought this and I'm going to mail it to her.

Mobile has limited mail service.
Check this link for all hurricane affected areas to see what postal codes have mail service.

http://www.bonnievanak.com

Deja vu

The scene was out of a ghastly nightmare. Bodies stacked up, dead from raging flood waters. People homeless, begging for food, water. Makeshift hospitals attending to the sick. Thousands dead, lawlessness raging as gunmen shot at relief vehicles intending to help. Looting. Riots for food.

New Orleans? No, Gonaives Haiti, nearly 1 year ago.

I went there after Tropical Storm Jeanne killed more than 2,000, shifted into Hurricane Jeanne, smacked my house and moved on. It was utter chaos. Dangerous.

Today I turn on my TV and see a replay of the same scene, only in my backyard. I watched Harry Connick, Jr. with a dazed look in his eyes tell Katie Couric, "We're supposed to turn on the Today show and see something like this happening halfway around the world. It's not supposed to happen here."

It did. And the meltdown of civilized society has begun. The looting boils my blood. The shooting at rescue vehicles in New Orleans outrages me, yet it proves that reduced to the most primitive levels of living, some people turn into animals. The men, and women, shooting at rescue vehicles and looting are no different from the ones in Haiti last year. You can't point a finger at Haiti like some people I know and say, "Oh it's THOSE people. You know, they're like that. We're not."

Well, wake up and smell the anarchy, chum. We are.

Last year in Haiti, we had to avoid driving down certain roads because minutes before, hijackers jumped onto a CARE truck and stole it. They didn't steal it because they were hungry and the truck carried food. They stole it to get money. Pure selfishness.

Today, I watch scenes on television I saw in real life last year in Haiti, only now in my neighboring states. I have to keep reminding myself, for all the hellish nightmare of post-hurricane survival, there are good people. Willing to help out. Put themselves on the line for others. There are good people out there helping, trying to get control.

I just wish they'd show more of them on television.