Author Archives: mickeyhoffman

About mickeyhoffman

Author of School of Lies, a murder mystery. Published by Second Wind Publishing,LLC.

Vanishing Architecture: Kula, Turkey — by Mickey Hoffman

The town of Kula has a population around 25,000 and is located south of Istanbul and SE of Izmir. Several years ago, I participated in an Earthwatch project which was designed to catalog traditional Turkish houses and make recommendations for preservation. The architects in charge had already made contacts in town, so we were able to get access to the buildings where we’d do the surveying.

First a little about Kula. I found it took some getting used to, as the saying goes. The town could, I guess, be described as rather laid back, and the residents I could see on my way into town that first night appeared quite conservative in appearance. Our hotel faced a busy street lined with interesting shops. Arriving late, I didn’t get to explore much that first night, but I did notice there seemed to be a mosque every few blocks, each festooned with loud speakers to broadcast the call to prayer.

As I was to learn, the broadcasts from the various minarets aren’t synchronized. One begins, then a few seconds later, the next, and then a second later, another, until all within earshot are going. My first morning in Kula, I was jolted awake. My ears were being assaulted with a cacophony of strange sounds bursting through my open windows. It took me a few seconds to remember where I was. Staggering to a window in quite a temper, I stared at the nearest minaret–bristling with its megaphones–and directed a few most uncomplimentary statements in its general direction. Feeling better for having spoken my mind, I happened to look down and to my horror, one story below was a flat roof on which a dozen or so men were playing a game of soccer. Two of the young men glanced up at me, but their faces were blank. Whoops! I quickly ducked back into my room and thought the issue was closed. Until two hours later.

I’d joined my fellow Earthwatch project members in the hotel dining hall for breakfast and had just finished eating when the door opened and in came the entire soccer team, still wearing their soccer shirts. I’d already told one of the women about my little gaff and when she saw the men arriving she began to laugh. In a panic, I pretended to have dropped something on the floor and ducked under the table until the men passed by. When their backs were turned, I quickly left the room. Fortunately, I never ran into them again. Needless to say, I felt quite embarrassed and ashamed of my cultural insensitivity.

For the next two weeks we surveyed, measured and sketched old houses. We walked the streets and talked to people in our spare time. Women often invited us into their homes and insisted on feeding us. Turkish food is absolutely wonderful. Few of the women spoke English and none of my companions spoke Turkish but we managed with sign language and travel dictionaries. When their children were around, some of them were able to translate.

On one of our walks around town we ran into a little parade. Turns out, the celebration was for a boy’s circumcision, which they perform here at age eight. The family immediately invited us to join the festivities. They rode the boy on a pony and the women showed me the room they had prepared for him to rest in after the procedure. He’d be treated like a prince for a few days.


Cir2Here are the women preparing for the party.


IMGAnd the room is ready for the boy.

Cir5Here are some photos and sketches of the town and of the homes we surveyed in Kula. In these traditional homes the second floor juts out over the street and the window are screened so women can look out without being seen by strangers.


KulaHouses2Here I am, about to go inside. If my posture looks wilted, blame the 100 degree F. temperature!


A sketch from inside and a few photos:

kula3The unfurnished rooms were cleared for our survey.


KulaHouses5This room would be used as a living area and for sleeping. The seating would be on moveable raised cushions along the wall. As you can see, there is a lot of beautiful carved wood in these old homes. Here’s an exterior and the view from the home’s upstairs window.


I ran into this man on the outskirts of town.

And no trip to Turkey would be complete without seeing a Turkish bath house. This one, regrettably, has been closed for years, but this is the way they used to look.

I have to confess the only thing I know about Turkish baths comes from Mark Twain’s account of a visit in his wonderful book,”Innocents Abroad.”Turkish Bathhouse Kula

This concludes your tour of Kula, Turkey. Please leave a comment if you enjoyed the trip.


Mickey is the author of two mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic published by Second Wind, LLC. She is one of the contributing writers to an online serialized novel, Rubicon Ranch III: Secrets.


Filed under Art, life, Travel

A Glimpse at Istanbul by Mickey Hoffman

I wanted to visit Istanbul because I just had to see the Aya Sofya. Ever since I first learned of this incredible building in an art history class, I felt a pull toward it. And a few decades later, I managed to get there. Also known as the Hagia Sophia, this ancient structure is one of the marvels of the ancient world.

There are many other things to see in Istanbul, of course, but didn’t spend time in the usual tourist pursuits. For example, I only looked in at the huge bazaar from the outside entrance near a flower market. Carpet and tile stores didn’t interest me either. In fact, the only things I bought inTurkey were a fist sized, stuffed crow that I hunted down after seeing one hanging from the rear view mirror in a taxi and a beaded hanging symbol from a local soccer team. I did some great sketches and took some photos. I spent a lot of time inside the Aya Sofya, speaking to the walls.

In order to enter the Aya Sofya you first have to negotiate a gauntlet of carpet, leather and trinket vendors. All male. They reminded me of the merchants who used to try and pull you inside their stores on Maxwell Street in Chicago. They don’t take refusals easily. Perhaps because I was female and by myself, the interactions weren’t as pleasant as they might have been. I’ll never know. If I was polite they persisted and got into my personal space until I felt uncomfortable. If I got rude, the men’s tempers flared and scared me.  I would not recommend this walk to unaccompanied women of any age. More on that topic later.

The building, originally a church, dates from around 525 AD, or CE as they say now. The walls are about four feet thick and are heavily supported by adjacent smaller rooms and buttresses. This is the only way they knew to support the huge dome on top, which awed the citizens of the most advanced city in the western world. It still awes people today. The building has been a church, a mosque and now is a museum. It’s filled with gold leaf mosaics as well as gorgeous marble floors and many other adornments. The interior is just dark enough to be mysterious. Outside it’s salmon pink. Not a faint salmon, but a full-hearted orangey pink that’s shocking if you don’t expect it.

Aya Sofya6

The minarets were added when Aya Sofya became a mosque. To give a better sense of the enormity of this building here is another view.Aya Sofya 9

Aya Sofya5These side chambers support the roof.  And they’ve done this for centuries in spite of many large earthquakes. The building is brick and cement, and many much newer buildings made of these materials have collapsed from far less trauma. If you continue along the side you come to a rear courtyard which holds a beautiful covered fountain.


The inner roof right over the fountain looks like this:



Now let’s go  inside the Aya Sofya:

Aya Sofya 8

Aya Sofya 10

And this:

Aya Sofia

There’s a ramp that goes up to the balcony.  Not stairs, a ramp in a narrow and dark passage. It has bricked walls and a heavily cobbled floor. The balcony is decorated with Byzantine style mosaics. Here are two of them. The first is of Empress Theodora, who led an interesting life. She tried to expand the rights of women and had a lot of influence with her husband, Emperor Justinian. She is shown here in a saintlike pose which is rather amusing when you consider her early life as an “actress.” Enough said.

Aya Sofia3

Aya Sofya 9_0001

There is another ancient building in Istanbul which is called Little Aya Sofya. It was built by Constantine in 550. It’s a community mosque now. The day I went there only a few men were present, but even though only one man was praying inside, gaining entry wasn’t easy. Although the place is said to be open to the public, the caretaker seemed skeptical about my request to enter. He was completely unimpressed when I told him I’m an artist. Finally, he decided I could go in if I went right upstairs and didn’t make any noise. I took a only few photos and had just started to get my sketch pad out when the men decided my presence was too immodest and asked me to leave.

Little Aya Sofia 550 AD

If you’re wondering what that hanging thing is, it’s a light fixture. It hangs low over the floor. There will be a better view of one later in the Blue Mosque. This interior is much simpler and I like it better than the Blue Mosque. The simplicity is pleasing to the eye.

Little AYA2

The Topkapi palace is world famous, perhaps for its cache of jewels. I found it rather boring, but here are a few photos you might like. The courtyard shows you what traditional Turkish architecture is like.

Topkapi courtyard

Topkapi 4

Okay, okay. You want some bling?

Topkapi Jewels

The hand isn’t someone stealing the jewels, it’s there to show you the size of the emeralds.

Cleric davvening

In one of the museums they had a library which wasn’t open to the public. A Cleric was in there reading the Koran and singing. He sounded exactly like a Jewish cantor praying. Once again, I found it perplexing how two religions with so much in common can be in such interminable conflict.

The Blue Mosque is very famous and popular with tourists. This is the entrance. First a photo and then an etching. The day I stood there sketching, two women came and sat on the steps. They’d obviously been shopping but all their fine clothes were covered.

Blue Mosque1TheBlueMosque

A view of the entire mosque:

Blue Mosque3

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque2

Below the city lie the Roman cisterns. Wow. Creepy and amazing. Those Romans were so clever.


Having never been to Italy, I was most interested in seeing the Mosaic museum which exhibits art from the time of the Roman empire. Unfortunately the museum was closed. I ran into a young city police officer standing nearby who spoke fluent English. He said he could get me in and went to speak to the man in the ticket booth. I think he was the caretaker. He spoke no English so I’m not sure but he reluctantly agreed to let us in. I have only one photo to show you and this one isn’t very good.

Mosaic Museum

The reason for this is that once we got inside the deserted building, the policeman decided it would be more fun if he treated me like a date. A hot date. I slipped out of his grasp a few times and told him to stop and when he didn’t, I started to run. I ended up running full speed out of the building, zooming past the old ticket seller. I caught a mix of sadness and guilt in his eyes. He might have known what the policeman was like but didn’t know what to do about it. Anyway, I hadn’t expected this from a police officer, especially since I certainly hadn’t indicated in any way I wanted a romantic interlude. And I was wearing very loose loose clothes that covered me from wrist to chin to ankle in spite of the heat because I hadn’t wanted to stand out or offend anyone.

As much as I loved Istanbul, after this incident I was more than ready to leave the city. In my next blog we’ll visit Cappadocia in south central Turkey with a short side trip to Ankara.


Mickey is the author of two mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic published by Second Wind, LLC. She is one of the contributing writers to an online serialized novel, Rubicon Ranch III: Secrets.


Filed under musings, photographs, Travel

A Day in Turkey with the Hittites by Mickey Hoffman

One of the most fascinating ancient cultures (and given a few lines in the Bible) is the Hittite culture. But many details about that civilization are unknown. This makes them all the more fascinating, I think.

Several Years back I had the good fortune to be taken around the Hittite ruins of Hatussas by a university student from Anakara. The ruins are a few hours from Ankara and situated looking over some rugged hills. The site is still being excavated and studied, but is thought to have been important in the metal trade around 2,000 BCE. They worshiped many gods, about 600 in total and built several cities, now all gone to ruin. What follows are photos I took at the Hatussas site.


The first area is a religious site about a mile from the main ruins. This sanctuary with carved rock walls is called Yazilikaya. You can see a sign telling visitors not to jump around.

You enter through a very narrow and dark gap.


From the outside, it doesn’t look like there’s any point in going in there and I said as much to the patient student who knew better.


These guys are the warm up act for the big guns. Their attendants, really.


There I am, standing in front of them.  That rope, uh, I guess it’s to keep you from touching? But the student told me to go ahead and have a feel. I realize now I shouldn’t have because those gods should be preserved. To my right is my favorite, the Thunder God. He has an eagle. Below is a close up. Sadly, he hasn’t weathered the last three thousand-plus years too well. A few hours later, the bus that was taking me back to Ankara became trapped in a scary dust storm. See, you can’t touch them!


Below are examples of Hittite script. Because it’s almost impossible for an untrained eye to make anything out of the relief carvings, there are two examples of the writing below.



If any of you have students or kids who complain about their writing assignments, show them this and ask them what they have to complain about  :)


There once was a huge temple here with many associated buildings. Above is a drawing of the gate and environs. Below is what’s left of the gate. There were lions…


And guardians.

TemplegateTwoBelow is the view looking over the surrounding area. These ruins are old storage rooms and contain huge pottery jars. You can see the sign asking people not to jump in them. *sigh*


A close up shot of these amazing vessels:


And now for a really mysterious place. A tunnel built to go under the city walls. Still intact after 4,000 years, it takes a bit of courage to walk through the 70 meter length. Just because it’s been standing that long doesn’t mean it won’t fall down “now”…



This stone stands in an area of fallen walls. An altar? I hope not to sacrifice maidens. Actually, I hope it’s wasn’t used to sacrifice anything.


I hope you enjoyed the tour. My next blog will be about another fascinating place in Turkey, Istanbul. Here’s a preview and an etching I did later using part of the photo.




Mickey Hoffman is author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies.  Please leave comments here!


Filed under Art, photographs, Travel

What the Heck is an Etching? by Mickey Hoffman

This blog will take you step by step through the graphic etching process. Etchings are usually smallish in size, black on white paper, and intended for viewing at close distances. They could be large and colorful and created to look good with your drapes, but most etchers are a) too poor to afford large metal plates–especially copper– and b) could care less about matching your decor. The comment I get the most from viewers is “That must be a lot of work.” They think so because there are lots and lots of lines, but they really have no idea what’s involved in making an etching.

You can scroll through this post and just look at the photos if you’re only slightly interested. Then maybe you’ll come back to read the explanations. I hope so.

Etching is a printing process using metal plates. It’s sometimes called intaglio, which means the inked lines on the paper come from lines that lie below the surface of the plate. A woodcut is the opposite; the inked parts of a wood block are those that stick up. That’s why to print an etched plate you have to have a strong printing press that will exert a lot of pressure on the plate and suck the ink from the etched lines. Etchings are often confused with engravings. No acid is involved in making an engraving (at least no caustic acids like nitric–I can’t speak for the ingested kinds). Engraving tools are sharp and the artist digs lines straight out of a metal plate. The inking and printing steps of engraving, however, are the same as with an etching.

First step: prepare the plate. The next two photos show my grinder and the plate. It’s an eight by ten inch, 16 gauge copper plate, weighing about 1.5 pounds. The edges have to be beveled so the roller of the etching press will glide over the plate and not get hung up on the edge and rip the paper during printing. It’s possible to file the edges by hand, but a grinder makes it a lot faster and easier. I then hand file the edges smooth with metal files and sand paper.

filed plate
Next, the plate has to be cleaned. A quick method is to submerge it in a tray of vinegar and salt. Copper polish works, too, and so does bathroom cleanser, but these leave residue. After cleaning, it’s necessary to wash the plate under running water until the water cascades down the surface without leaving too many droplets. This ensures the etching ground will adhere uniformly to the copper surface. The next photo shows the plate soaking in the vinegar/salt. Shiny isn’t it?

Cleaningwith Polish

Once the plate is dry, it’s time for messy fun! This step is only semi-toxic, but it’s a smart idea to have plenty of ventilation! I’m showing you the liquid ground method. The alternative is to use “ball” ground, which looks like a piece of dark brown candle and usually does have some beeswax in it. (The stench makes me wonder why people living in the middle ages thought beeswax candles were so much more fragrant than tallow. I usually associate the adjective fragrant with nice smells…) Anyway, if you use the ball ground, you have to use a hot plate and heat the plate and melt the stuff on the plate and roll it across the plate so it coats evenly BEFORE it gets burned to a crisp. That’s a whole world of trouble all its own and everyone within 50 feet of where you did it will be grouching about the stink for an hour afterward. So my photo shows the tin of liquid ground, a funnel with filter material stuck inside (coffee filters actually work better than what’s shown) used to screen out larger lumps that lurk in the etching ground, the tray I use to catch the excess, and rubber gloves. Note the layers of newspaper which will be immediately thrown out afterward! It’s really not possible to screen out all the darn lumps and if too many make it through, there’s no remedy except to use a solvent to wipe the plate clean and try again. Ventilation is very important!

ready to pour ground

This next photo was taken with one hand holding my heavy camera so don’t complain if the focus isn’t great. In fact, don’t complain about any of the photos as long as you aren’t complaining about this one! See the etching ground pouring on the plate. Don’t see it running off the plate all over the newspaper… Once there’s enough of it, I tilt the plate at an angle to get coverage of the entire plate, letting most the excess drip off into the tray.

pouring ground

When the plate is coated evenly, I can let it sit against a wall for a few more minutes to drip off even more excess. Note the contact paper on the wall. Note the etching ground on the bulletin board… But hey, you should see the floor.

Drip off excess ground

In five or ten minutes, the plate has to be placed horizontally to dry which takes about an hour. Then it’s time to draw on the plate. There’s no reason the entire drawing can’t all be done freehand, but I generally trace areas of a composition because it’s not easy to erase a line drawn into etching ground. It’s possible to use a paintbrush and go over a mistake with some etching ground, but chances are the filled in part won’t really keep the acid away later. It’s as if the acid knows you drew a line there and doesn’t care you no longer want it. There’s a lot of luck and chance involved in etching. Anyway, I use a type of “transfer paper” that comes in different colors. I use yellow because it’s very visible on the dark etching ground. The photo shows an enlarged detail, part of a tracing on the etching ground. The dark spots are areas where the etching ground looked too thin and I beefed it up with a thicker ground called asphaltum.

Now the actual drawing is started–FINALLY–using etching points. Below are the main tools used in etching. The etching point used for drawing is on the right. The two tools on the left are the scraper to remove mistakes after etching and a burnisher to further remove the mistakes and polish or for removing little scratches. There are several kinds of etching points, including diamond points. I mostly use the low tech, cheap one shown. This steel point is kept sharp with a grinding stone and elbow grease.

etching tools

The next photo shows the equipment necessary for the acid bath. I use Ferric Chloride etching acid.

gas mask, acid, etc

Nitric acid can be used but the fumes are very, very, very strong and nitric makes lots of bubbles which can interfere with the clarity of the lines when it’s biting the plate. In fact, even with the special gas mask (seen in photo) and doing it outside, I can still smell nitric. So I don’t use that stuff very often. Once when I was just learning the etching process, I had to grab a foaming tray which was rapidly heating up and run outside with it. In my panic, I regret to say I dumped the whole thing into the snow. Nowadays I take used acid to the city’s toxic waste collection site. Anyway, in less than three minutes the nitric had etched more than I wanted. I’ll show you the difference later between those lines and more gently etched lines. Both ways are acceptable, but it’s nicer to have it planned.

I usually draw the main areas of the composition first leaving out details, then put the plate into acid. Every time a plate is etched in acid, and a print of this is made, it’s called a “state.” Until you get an actual paper print, it’s difficult to see what you’ve got and where you want to go with the etching. If you go to a print gallery in a museum you’ll see on the label, “third state” or even “fifth state” quite often because most artists work a bit at a time. A famous etcher named Rembrandt often went as far as to scrape away major areas of a plate and redo them. He must have had very strong fingers. If you believe copper is a “soft” metal, try scraping out etched lines.

Here’s the etching plate sitting calmly in the Ferric Chloride, which hardly fumes. The gas mask is more for the solvent than the acid in this case. In fact, this type of acid doesn’t sting or burn either if you touch it, but will dye skin or clothing an ugly shade of gold. It will also permanently stain a sink or a bathtub, as a friend of mine found out once to his landlord’s great chagrin. You now know one major reason I’ve never gotten into home decorating. I tend to be a very drippy artist even though I try to confine inks, chemicals and paints, etc. to one area. I came to realize: “Nope, can’t live there, it’s too NICE and I’ll wreck the place.”

In acid bath

How long does the copper plate have to stay in a tray of acid? Ah, here’s a true difficulty of etching. If the acid’s used more than once, the usual situation, with each use it becomes slightly weaker. Temperature also affects the strength of the acid. How wide the lines are drawn (tool type) and how many of them there are in close proximity also affects how the acid bites into the copper. Also, as the acid eats the metal away, the metal bits lie there and build up in the lines and then the acid won’t bite evenly. My preference is to remove the plate from the acid every few minutes and wash it off to get rid of any build-up and then put it back into the acid bath.

Ballpark time estimate, using Ferric Chloride, is between 8 and 15 minutes to bite a copper plate. Zinc plates are much quicker to bite but they don’t print completely clean and I don’t like the lines as much. The longer in the acid, the darker and thicker the lines will print on paper. It takes a lot of closeup squinting under a bright light to see how the lines are biting. When my eyes and inner sense tells me it’s time to stop (this is an art, not a science) I wash the plate off again and remove the etching ground with solvent. Photograph below.

Removing ground after acid

This is when I really get my first look at what I’ve got. There are various ways to get a variety of lines in a print. One is to remove the plate after the minimum time to etch any lines at all and “stop out” the lines you wish to be the lightest with a heavier type of liquid ground. After allowing this to dry well, the plate is put back into the acid. The lines that will print heaviest/darkest will have been in the acid for the longest time. There is some guess work involved. So, I usually draw only “main” lines first, bite the plate and print it for the first state and take a look at what I really will have. So, next step, printing the plate!

Finally! I am very fortunate to own an etching press which was given to me by an artist friend who moved to Japan and didn’t want to take his etching press. I’m so glad he’s never asked to have it back. It’s big enough to print plates that are 11 inches by 14, and I usually don’t work larger than that. Fortunately, the press can be taken apart and has thus moved around the country with me several times. If you’re the inquisitive type and you’re trying to figure out what’s on the wall behind, it’s Yankee stuff, a vent, a light switch and a corner of a very bad acrylic painting. The press is shown here:

etching press

Etchings have to be printed on damp paper, so before I ink the plates, I soak the paper. After a sheet is thoroughly soaked, it has to sit between blotters to have excess water removed. Etching paper is special and expensive. Cat hair and other extraneous materials should be excluded from the water. Easier than it sounds.

soaking paper

The ink is applied to the surface of the plate, then rubbed into the lines. The trick here is that the surface of the plate has to be wiped clean but the ink that’s caught in the etched lines has to stay put.

ink on plate

Here are photos showing the ink being applied and the beginning of the gradual removal of the ink. I use a stiff type of cheesecloth to wipe the plate.

Wiping plate two

Wiping plate two

When the surface of the plate is clean enough (not shown) it’s time to print. The plate is set on the bed of the etching press and the moist paper is laid on top. Then a few felt blankets are laid over the top and the whole thing is cranked through the press. Just once. Then the damp print is lifted off the plate. The plate can be inked again and more prints made without cleaning the plate. One copper plate can print about 150 prints before it gets worn out.

Plate on press

The wet print has to be either pinned up flat or pressed in blotters to dry flat. Then it’s DONE. Below is the second state of the etching. It’s not finished yet.
Second State

This is the etching printed from the plate I had to dump into the snow.


This is a print done from a plate with normal acid biting. See the difference in the line quality?
Copy of Beijing

Hope you enjoyed or endured my exposition.


Mickey Hoffman is author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies.  Please leave comments here!


Filed under Art, How To

Thailand and the Death Railway (zombie free)

I spent most of my time in Thailand under water off the island of Kho Phi Phi. The only way to get there is a ferry ride and at times the ocean can be very, very rough. Fortunately, the boat’s narrow shape gave the passengers a quick path to run and lean over the side. I didn’t need to do that, but the three hour trip won’t be forgotten. The photograph below shows the boat nearing the island. Finally!
Ferry to KoPhiPhiWell, not exactly “there.” From the ferry we got into a small outboard taxi boat for a short ride to the hotel. The waves were crashing around us, soaking us and our packs. When we got near the shore within sight of the hotel, the boatman told us the good news. He couldn’t go closer to shore in those conditions. We’d have to jump out of the boat and wade in. So we jumped out into chest high water and he handed us our packs. We waded in to shore holding our bags above/on our heads. Then we slogged across the deserted beach and into the hotel lobby, dripping copious quantities of water on the beautifully polished wood plank floor. The hotel workers greeted us cheerfully and gave us some juice before asking us to check in. They obviously were used to this type of arrival.

When I recovered my equilibrium, I realized there was a full sized Christmas Tree in the corner of the lobby and Christmas music–American style–playing softly over loud speakers. Well, it was Christmas Eve, but I found this scene rather disturbing, actually. What’s the point of going to out of the way places to experience different cultures only to find the same things you’d find at home? Oh well. So much for the war on Christmas?

But I digress. Anyhow, welcome to the island of Kho Phi Phi! Such an idyllic spot. (Unfortunately for the residents, several years later a tsunami completely trashed this island. I used that event as character background for a family in my second novel, Deadly Traffic.) Anyway, Here’s the island as I saw it.


After a week of diving and snorkeling, I spent a few days in the city of Bangkok. It reminded me way too much of Los Angeles, but with ten times the air pollution. There are some interesting byways there, however, smaller canals with a local character. Welcome to the suburbs! The only way to get around is by boat.

Bangkok8Bangkok7 Vendors paddle around and people visit.


Bangkok5As in Kho Phi Phi, the spread of American culture continued in Bangkok. I do wonder why our junk/fast food spreads around the world so much.

DairyQueenI decided not to try the frozen treat. Instead, I bought some food from a street market. The woman dumped the food into plastic bags, and I took them and watched the bags slowly leaking the lentils and seafood juices on to my feet. Luckily, I was on my way to a place where they’d have dishes!






Here’s the restaurant, the roof and the ceiling inside. They supplied tea and plates! Odd “restaurant.”



You’re probably wondering by now, “Where does the Railway of Death come in?” Okay! Here!



During World War II, the Japanese forced prisoners of war to build a railway through the jungles and at the terminus, set up a camp to hold them. If you’ve seen the movie, “Bridge on the River Kwai” you might be familiar with the location. It’s a museum and memorial cemetery now. You’ll see the real bridge in a moment. It’s still there and the train goes right over it.

The jungle is so dense, it’s easy to see why escaping meant death. Staying in the camp also meant being worked and starved to death, accompanied by possible torture.

Railwayto Bridge3On the train we were offered snacks.


Upon arrival, there’s a museum to visit. There are upsetting photographs of the prison camp inmates and descriptions of the harsh and inhumane conditions. Right outside, there’s a bridge. Yes, THAT bridge!


The woman walked right down the tracks after a train came. I’m glad it was after… Here’s the etching I composed later from sketches and the above photo.


The cemetery is sobering. When I see one of these, after the sadness comes anger about the endless wars we humans wage.BridgeCemetery


And back to the city again. I don’t think the prisoners who built this expected people like me to be riding it decades later. What are we leaving for our descendants?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic.










Filed under writing

A Tour of Bagan, “lost” city of Myanmar

The country of Myanmar, or Burma as the British called it, has been in the news for political reasons, but most people don’t know anything about its splendid cultural heritage. We went there when it was controversial to visit because some people viewed tourism as a support to the military dictatorship. In reality, tourism was and still is a way for ordinary people to make a living and their exposure to the “west” can only help.

Bagan is an ancient city (located in the center of the country) which is both changed and unchanged from its golden past. If you have a good imagination, Bagan is more interesting than a tour of palaces and temples that still have their golden domes. Take a walk with me through the fields and enjoy! I’m also including some sketches and a few etchings from the site. At the end of the blog, I’ll show you a few temples that don’t need your brain to finish the picture.

Please leave a comment. It gets lonely here!

Above is the overview of one area of Bagan.

And below, the sketch:

Most of the temples are brick with stone carvings and some have been plastered and painted white. We were told some contain jewels. The golden domes are long gone!

There I am, before climbing to the top. Fortunately, I’m wearing shoes. This wasn’t to last. In Myanmar, you can’t go into any temple or even the courtyard wearing shoes OR socks. I was there in winter and the temperature was in the 50s. Because I’m a wimp, I cut out moleskin and stuck the pieces on the soles of my feet. It was still cold!!!

The next photo gives you an idea of the countryside around Bagan. There is only one small town nearby.

Now for a ride to Yangon. Here’s one that’s all shiny and bustling with people.

The woman is pouring holy water on the head of the statue. This will grant her wishes or give her good luck. It’s also good luck to rub your hand on one of the many designated statues around the country and it’s said to be even better to buy a piece of gold leaf (thinner than normal paper) and transfer this on to a shrine.

Here’s an etching. Do you recognize anything? There are real gems and that’s real gold you’re looking at. Lots of bling, eh?

I have more photos to share, some of the more mundane aspects of life in Myanmar, but I will save those for another time.

Check out my website or better yet, my mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies.


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The pencil is mightier than the lens? — by Mickey Hoffman

My camera died on the 6th day of my travels in France. I’d never been there before and the loss of the camera hit me hard, especially since it broke on a Sunday when the stores were all closed. Of course they were. I soon learned there wouldn’t be a way to replace it until Tuesday because, at least in this area of SW France, stores are closed on Sunday and Monday. Of course they are.

Fortunately, I have a bit of artistic talent and, given enough time, could sketch some of the same things I would have photographed. So, I ditched the useless camera and went out with my sketchbook. The sky soon clouded over and soon it began to rain. Of course it did.

There’s nothing quite like trying to hold a sketchpad vertically to keep the paper dry while simultaneously attempting to keep your eyes on the scene you’re sketching. This means holding the paper below eye level. Along with the issue of holding a pencil at an awkward angle, it’s very hard to get a peek at the lines you just drew. The first sketch would have been more detailed, but my sketchpad showed signs of becoming a blotter and I had to run for cover in a nearby church. The second one is a bridge in the town where the camera was laid to rest. I believe the town’s name is Samur. Don’t ask me how to pronounce this, but probably ignore at least the last two letters.

Two days later, I bought a new camera. The instructions were in French. They don’t have multilingual product booklets in France. As the shop clerk said, “You are in France!” Couldn’t argue with that. Had to get some help from a hotel employee. Once I got the camera working–sort of–I could both photograph and sketch. What follows are some of each.

The next photo and sketch are of a wonderful old building located just down the road from Monet’s famous house.

This is one view of the old city of Carcasonne in SW France. The sketch was done somewhere inside… Pen lines were added later, not sure why I did that, but it’s too late now.

Mickey Hoffman is author of two Kendra Desola mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies, published by Second Wind Publishing. See her website (same as her name) to view some more of her art.


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Dalai Lama’s White Palace by Mickey Hoffman

The Potala Palace is perched high above Lhasa, Tibet. This is where a long line of Dalai Lamas resided in comparative splendor until the current Dalai Lama left under circumstances variously described as a forced exile or a chosen one. The palace is divided into two sections called the Red Palace and the White Palace due to the color of their outer walls. The photo below shows mostly the White Palace with some of the Red Palace in the upper right. To get inside, you have to negotiate a long series of ramps and stairs, not an easy feat in the very high altitude.

Below is a photo taken from a lower ramp, looking down at a neighborhood of traditional style homes. If you look closely, you’ll see some colorful window frames and lots of prayer flags. The prayer flags look much different when you see them blowing in the stuff winds coming off the Himalaya mountains. In fact, the quality of light at 13,000 feet gives everything a different sheen. Hard to explain.

Up top, the site feels more like a maze of disjointed rooms than a cohesive structure, giving the impression it began small and expanded over time. One entrance to the White Palace is via a steep wooden staircase, almost a ladder. Below is a painting I did from a sketch looking up at this entryway as two local women came out.

Now, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama or his religion, but I love art and architecture. And of course, there’s the location of consider! However, not everything in the palace is glorious. Two things I have not shown you are the huge drum (think three feet wide) made of human skin, and the trap door covering a pit–which used to be filled with scorpions–where the Lamas used to throw people who didn’t pay their taxes. I tried to keep my eyes on the beautiful decor and not think of those things. Don’t look down, Look up!


Filed under Art, photographs

Route 66: High Desert Minds by Mickey Hoffman

Driving Route 66 through southern California takes you through miles and miles of high and low desert, but civilization has chewed away at the magnificent solitude.

The old highway has many fans who gather yearly to celebrate and discuss the ways Route 66 changed our country. These photos were taken at a Route 66 festival in Victorville, California. I have to admit I went to publicize my books, and you’d think mystery novels have no relevance to this topic, but read on. So let’s go back to the festival for the moment. For obvious reasons, automobiles were a focal point.

A bunker like building was filled with army vehicles and old weaponry. As I wandered through dark rows of gigantic trucks and guns, I suddenly gasped in surprise. My first thought: “Honey, someone shrank the tanks.” Then I realized I was looking at a section devoted to models. To give you a sense of scale, the little humans are about 18 inches tall. The doll-like quality of these little arrangements seemed incongruous when compared with the real and deadly tanks sitting only a few yards away.

All those little bullets, someone went to a load of work putting these together.

Although I missed the main beauty pageant, here’s a preview:

And then, back outside, and not far away, to the stillness of the hills.

So, standing there in my publisher’s booth at the festival, wondering how to connect my novel, Deadly Traffic, with my surroundings, the local paper did it for me with this news article.
One of the plot lines in my novel is about human traffickers who prey on high school girls. Once again, life and fiction meet.
I just didn’t expect it would happen in the high desert.
Mickey Hoffman is the author of Deadly Traffic and School of Lies.


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Feed Your Head with SPAM

One morning as I grimly clicked DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, DELETE ALL, I came to a realization. Yes, SPAM is infernally annoying, but it won’t make me sick, homeless, or fat and only if I let it control me will it alter my personality. Instead of being annoyed at the SPAM in my inbox, what if I use the weirder subject lines to inspire, to nourish my creativity?

So, here are five of the best lines from my inbox, collected over a period of ten days and listed randomly. All grammar, punctuation and spelling oddities have been preserved. When the sender isn’t detailed below, the name wasn’t particularly notable. Oh, and I did not open any of these so my ideas of their content is pure speculation. After you read this, should you be similarly inspired, please leave a comment and share some favorites of your own.

Hello! I gotta something to say…
My first thought here is Godfather, or at least a mid to senior level fella from New Jersey. If I open this one  I’m thinking it’s friendly advice about a great investment opportunity—one I can’t refuse. Waste removal and processing is very profitable these days.  Maybe this is an offer for cut-rate burial services. I seem to get ten of those a week. In this case, only the very best concrete used. Or, perhaps some public-minded group wants to give me the real scoop on candidates running in the next election. With that folksy, down to earth wording, I can tell whatever it says in the email would be the solid truth.
Bare your legs with confidence.
The sender here was identified as Right to Bare Legs Ad. I commend the sender for outright telling me this is an ad, but I have to take off points because the honesty decreased the anticipation. Plain old Right to Bare Legs could have gone so many interesting ways. Before I saw the sender was merely an advertisement, my imagination whisked me to a beach where scantily clad, older women pirouette at the water’s edge, boldly exhibiting all their veins and spots while horrified adolescent grandchildren look on. From that scene, I am riding in a convertible down Sunset Boulevard and I look up to see a billboard of a very hairy, Russian women sunning herself on lawn chair in front of the Berlin Wall. She wears a bikini in a style popular circa 1963. She’s being guarded by two KGB types. In huge print, the billboard announces, “They hate us for our shaving!” Dear Spammers, don’t ruin my fun with too much information up front!

Buy Nice Medicines Today
This one made me want to whip out my credit card and buy every single one of their pills and potions. After all, wouldn’t a nice medicine make me feel, well, nice? Don’t I want to feel like that? Don’t you? Wow, if I took some maybe I’d even become nice. That is one description seldom given me. No, wait, the subject line doesn’t actually say anything about what the medicines do when you take them. It only says they possess the quality of being nice.  I bet they remind you to take them and then thank you afterward.

I have found you by accident…you look catching…
This email came from Emmie Longhorne. A curious name, I’m not sure whether it makes me think of a stripper or a character from Little House on the Prairie. She didn’t just find me, she has found me, indicating to me she put extra work into the search. How flattering! Anyway, how does Emmie know what I look like? And how can I look “catching”–unless I’m catching a cold? Is she trying to sell me some nice medicines? All those ellipses, maybe she’s a stutterer, In any event she certainly has a difficult time expressing herself. Although a name like Emmie sounds English, I doubt the sender is a native speaker. Perhaps Emmie would like to get some personalized English lessons.  If she uses catching to mean fetching, alluring, captivating, what x-rated activities might Emmie want to discuss with me? Does she know what sex I am and does she care? I think not.

Change Your Spots
The sender is From High Speed Internet. Yes, in case they believe I didn’t understand that the SENDER is who is listed inside the email’s SENDER box, they went to extra trouble to tell me they, the sender entity, is on the FROM end of the transaction. Perhaps, in their very high speed system, they’re using a quantum computer where one can send things and, if anyone’s watching, the email might simultaneously sit at the destination point. To avoid confusion, they felt it necessary to let me know they didn’t receive it, I did. Wow, the Spots could be electrons or photons! Casting aside such ideas, on a macro level, what do Spots have to do with my internet connection? Spotty connection? Spots to plug in a modem? I know one thing for sure; at times I’ve been so angry with AT&T I’ve seen spots.

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mysteries, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic published by Second Wind Publishing.


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