Maria Catalina Vergera Egan, or MCV Egan as she’s known in the world of readers and authors, is one of my favorite people. Thoughtful, spiritual, kind and damned interesting – I first met her quite accidentally online because we haunted the same esoteric sites. We also both come from families filled with adventurers and ideologues – folks, who through their determination and courage, made it possible for us to sit around and write about those things. Her debut novel, The Bridge of Deaths is quite simply fascinating, and for those of you who don’t know it, I want to bring it to your attention.
In The Bridge of Deaths, we follow Bill and Maggie in London, 2010, as they explore the events of August 15th 1939. When at the brink of World War II, an English plane crashed and sunk in Danish waters. Five deaths were reported: two Standard Oil of New Jersey employees, a German Corporate Lawyer, an English member of Parliament, and a crew member for the airline. Bill and Maggie find a conceivable version of the events.The Bridge of Deaths is a love story and a mystery. Bill and Maggie travel through the world of past life regressions and information acquired from psychics as well as Archives and historical sources to solve “One of those mysteries that never get solved”. Based on true events and real people (although Bill and Maggie are not real), it is the culmination of 18 years of MCV Egan’s tireless research, sifting through sources and finding a way to help the reader feel that he is also sifting through data and forming their own conclusions. The journey takes the reader to well known and little known events leading up to the Second World War, both in Europe and America. The journey also takes the reader to the possibility of finding oneself in this lifetime by exploring past lives. It is a deeply personal story for MCV Egan, as her grandfather died in the crash or the G-AESY. That’s him pictured above.
5.0 out of 5 stars “An unusual yet much recommended read”, By Midwest Book Review – so don’t just take my word for it.
Please join us here on COLD as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the crash of the G-AESY (which is recounted in full in Mcv Egan’s THE BRIDGE OF DEATHS) and the start of World War II with a month-long history-laden event that will entertain, educate, and enlighten you! As part of this event, a revised version this award-winning and highly-acclaimed account of the events of that fateful day in 1939 will be re-released.
You can purchase and read more about The Bridge of Deaths here:
M.C.V. Egan is the pen name chosen by Maria Catalina Vergara Egan. Catalina was born in Mexico City, Mexico in 1959, the sixth of eight children, in a traditional Catholic family. From a very young age, she became obsessed with the story of her maternal grandfather, Cesar Agustin Castillo–mostly the story of how he died. She spent her childhood in Mexico. When her father became an employee of The World Bank in Washington D.C. in the early 1970s, she moved with her entire family to the United States. Catalina was already fluent in English, as she had spent one school year in the town of Pineville, Louisiana with her grandparents. There she won the English award, despite being the only one who had English as a second language in her class. In the D.C. suburbs she attended various private Catholic schools and graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland in 1977. She attended Montgomery Community College, where she changed majors every semester. She also studied in Lyons, France, at the Catholic University for two years. In 1981, due to an impulsive young marriage to a Viking (the Swedish kind, not the football player kind), Catalina moved to Sweden where she resided for five years and taught at a language school for Swedish, Danish, and Finnish businesspeople. She then returned to the USA, where she has lived ever since. She is fluent in Spanish, English, French and Swedish. Maria Catalina Vergara Egan is married and has one son who, together with their five-pound Chihuahua, makes her feel like a full-time mother. Although she would not call herself an astrologer she has taken many classes and taught a few beginner classes in the subject. She celebrated her 52nd birthday on July 2nd, 2011, and gave herself self-publishing The Bridge of Deaths as a gift.
On August 21st, 1968, the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in a highly successful attempt to halt democratic reforms that had been taking place in that country since January of that same year. The implementations of these reforms – things like freedom of speech, press and movement, and a proposed mixing of planned and market economies – were called “socialism with a human face” by then Czech President Alexander Dubček.
They were called The Prague Spring by the rest of the world.
And to the Soviets – still stinging from the Hungarian uprising a dozen years earlier – they were an intolerable challenge to their power.
Czechs were shocked and heartbroken to watch some 2000 tanks roll into their streets, along with 200,000 Soviet troops. My Czech mother and grandparents gaped in horror from their Chicago home – my mother had fled her native country the year before. While her two sisters, my Aunts Viki and Helen, had front row seats to that devastating event.
Days later, during a brief opening of the Czech borders, my aunts joined thousands upon thousands of their fellow countrymen and left the only home they’d ever known.
My Aunt Helen departed by automobile for Switzerland, where she and her family still reside.
And my Aunt Viki took her exit by plane. She had a one-way ticket to Chicago, where she was to join my mother. The two of them were and are very close. They’d gone through a lonely, persecuted childhood together, and had clung to each other after the death of my young brother from the flu. My aunt had loved him as if he were her own, and she and my mom still go hand in hand to Catholic mass on the anniversary of his death every year – my aunt flying back to the Midwest from her home in Florida for the occasion.
Lighting a candle in his honor at my mom’s church, the sisters whisper a prayer for his soul.
I can’t imagine how excited they must have been to see each other on that day in 1968. Especially since they’d come to fear they’d never lay eyes on one another again.
What I can imagine is my aunt’s fear. Not of leaving her homeland – honestly, she couldn’t wait to get out of there. Both the Czech government and her fellow citizens had treated her and her sisters atrociously after my grandparent’s defection, so she felt no lost love for the land of her birth. Not then anyway.
What scared my aunt was that she wouldn’t get to leave at all. That a man smoking foreign cigarettes and sporting dandruff on the shoulders of his polyester suit could intercept her at the airport and take her back to the prison cell she’d occupied after my mother’s defection. Czech officials had been sure my aunt “knew something” and interrogated her for days. My aunt distinctly remembers a dossier on my mother – about two feet tall – that began with the line, “Although she is only twelve years old, she thinks like an adult, which makes her even more dangerous.”
Twelve. Years. Old.
When my aunt finally boarded her plane to Chicago, she had to pee really badly. But she was terrified that if she moved, got up – even to go to the toilet – that she would feel the grip of a hand at her elbow and hear a gravelly voice saying, “Just where do you think you’re going?”
So, she sat in her seat for some twenty hours – sweating, digging her knuckles into her seat cushion and refusing food, along with countless offers of wine, soda or juice. Weary of spies, she spoke to no one.
To this day, my mother wags a finger at my aunt and teases, “You know what was the first thing you said to me when you got off the airplane? Not “I love you, sister, I’m so happy to see you,” but “Get me to a toilet – now!”
I raise a glass to all of those who left Czechoslovakia – uncertain, but full of hope, and to those who stayed – muddling through the mess of “normalization,” when all reforms were reversed and dissenters were punished. And to the final triumph of democracy twenty-one years later in the Velvet Revolution – Salute! Your streets have been renamed in honor of political prisoners, inventors and Kings – not pretenders in cheap suits dressed in “brief authority,” if I may quote Primo Levy.
May all tyrants take notice that they’ve hitched their wagon to the wrong star.
May all those who live in freedom take a moment to feel gratitude – true, unqualified gratitude – for having won one of life’s great lotteries.
It’s not that Czechs and other East-ish Euros don’t go on the same vacations we Americans go on – Disneyworld etc. It’s more that they have a different notion of what summer is all about.
There is a back to nature quality to the warm months. A stripping down from the complexities of modern life that manifests itself in a total re-imagining of simple living.
It’s about running around naked as much as possible. And bathing in the sea or any other body of water that is not a bathtub. Why open the tap when there’s a “natural” water source around? Spelunking, climbing trees, chewing on onion grass straight out of the ground and picking wild berries and mushrooms – especially mushrooms. Cooking your own meals, wherever you are. Even if you’re in France or Italy, where they will do it decidedly better than you ever could.
Lakes are a very big deal, particularly on weekends.
My Czech uncle will strip naked and dive into any old lake he happens to come across – even dubious ones just off the highway that might have signs reading “No Swimming.”
He’s suffered insults – “Hey,a**hole, what are you doing?”, warnings, “Sir, you’re not actually going to swim in there are you?”, and directives “Put some clothes on, there are children present!” Not to mention his having been escorted away from many a body of water by our friends in uniform.
But that’s never deterred him.
“It’s hot! What is the water there for if not to swim?” he says. And he’s got a point.
Some years ago, when my husband and I were visiting Prague together, he caught a glimpse of a tiny RV with a big sign posted onto the rear bumper. It read in German, “Hotel betten? Nein danke!” [Translation: Hotel bed? No, thank you!]
“What’s that about?” he asked.
I went on to explain to him that refusing a nice, comfortable hotel was often not a matter of thrift, but ideology. We have all year to get all too comfortable in our overly-engineered lives – our Posturepedic mornings, filtered water, iPhones, multi-setting shower heads, and climate-controlled interiors. Summer, August specifically, is meant to remind us of what we’re made of. Our armpits should stink, our legs and faces should be unshaven, our beds hard and our creature comforts rudimentary at best.
It’s a time to visit family – even the people you can’t stand. And visit monuments to human achievement like the Eiffel Tower, as well as monuments to human eccentricity like the Corn Palace of South Dakota.
But we should play games like children, strum a guitar and sing our hearts out, lie bare-a**ed in the sun, walk barefoot, scratch our mosquito bites with complete abandon, make love under the stars, and really get to know one another again after spending much of the year working and running from appointment to appointment.
“Is that how you spent your summer vacations as a kid?” my husband asked.
“God no,” I said. “We loved the American way!”
I’ve been tagged by the dangerous and redoubtable Eden Baylee to partake in a tour involving my main character. And what perfect timing, since the summer has left me with little time to ponder Cold War mayhem, Nazi jewelry design, the insanity of the Slavic race and other topics usually covered here on Cold. It also gives me a chance to shamelessly plug my novel, The Bone Church!
(LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT AND THERE IT IS!!)
What are the rules? They’re simple!
I have to answer seven questions about a main character from one of my novels, then I nominate five other authors to answer the same questions. I nominated six because that’s just the kind of girl I am.
Please check out Eden’s blog (link below), where she answers some questions about Kate Hampton, her mystery-solving psychiatrist character. Kate’s a woman with a past, and Eden’s a woman with a future. And have a look at Stranger at Sunset as well (link below).
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Getting more serious now, here are my responses about Felix Andel.
1. Tell us a little about this main character. Is he fictional or a historic person?
Felix is like most fictional characters – a peppery goulash of one part truth and infinite parts imagination.
2. When and where is the story set?
Prague, Czechoslovakia, mostly, with a bit of the Vatican, too. As for when? At the end of World War II, with a good dollop of 1956 Cold War menace tossed in for good measure.
3. What should we know about him?
Felix is a hero who barely avoids being a tragic one. He suffers from intense spiritual visions, an incurable case of honor, a thirst for revenge, and an ache for a woman he had no choice but to leave behind.
4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Quite simply, war.
5. What is his personal goal?
To save the woman he loves. To save the world. To save himself.
6. What are the titles of your novels, and where can we read more about them?
The Bone Church is available exclusively on Amazon in digital and paperback form:
Here’s the link: http://buff.ly/VgDxQz
And here’s a picture from the real, live bone church:
7. When can we expect your next book to be published?
I’m finishing up edits on The Hungarian as soon as I get my three adorable children back to school.
As for The Hungarian, it’s an adventure, a Cold War spy-thriller and a love story that examines the intersection of three lives – a drifting ex-pat, a fugitive Russian diplomat, and a Hungarian assassin with a weakness for rich food and sadistic murder. It’s got Sputnik, murder by salt-poisoning, a Russian mystic, and a great roll in the hay inside an old, abanandoned chapel. What more could you want?
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Now I’ll nominate five other authors. All of them are terrific writers, so please visit them and give their books a read. And please take a look at Eden Baylee’s work as well. She’s great fun.
Bloggers I’m nominating: John Dolan (http://buff.ly/1uKvJDi), TW Luedke (http://www.twluedke.com), Amalie Jahn (http://www.theclaylion.com/blog), Christoph Fischer (http://www.christophfischerbooks.com) and Karen Prince (http://www.karen-prince.com), M.C.V. Egan (http://thebridgeofdeaths.com)
These are not only terrific authors, but really good human beings (I’m pretty sure), so do check them out.
So, while I’m eating copious amounts of goulash, being told I need to wear shorter skirts to keep my marriage happy and watching my children get ceremonially rubbed with holy water to ward off any potential evils they might attract throughout the year (when my mother can’t be around to shield them and they have to settle for little ole me and my paltry powers of witchcraft) you might get a case of COLD withdrawal or at the very least envy my time with the people of the Slavic race.
If that’s the case, please visit this wonderful website I’ve just discovered. It’s called, appropriately, Meet The Slavs!
Because, really, why should I have all the fun?
And if that’s still not enough – buy my book if you haven’t already. There are more than enough Slavs in those three hundred plus pages to keep you entertained or make you want to kill yourself. Or as we Slavs say – what’s the difference?
And it was nothing like what I expected.
Little of his incredible music was featured – which is strange considering his long list of hits, including Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Grandma’s Hands, Just the Two of Us and an impressive list of lesser known, beautifully written songs that hit the tops of the R&B charts. Music that confounded the record industry because it didn’t focus on the usual trinity of romantic love, sex and dance to seduce an audience.
Bill Withers songs were more often about friendship, grief, or an old lady he adored. But the pop-loving, disco-dancing public embraced them anyway.
“You have no idea how good you are,” he was told by one producer.
But the documentary focused on the man, not the art, and I found myself utterly moved.
Now, “moved” is not a word I most often associate with musicians and other celebrities. I’m not a fame junkie and I don’t think I’ve ever in my life been interested in obtaining an autograph from anyone living or dead.
But if there is one artist I’d like to share a coffee with on my porch, it would be Bill Withers.
Not because I love his music – although I do. I can just call up his music on the iPod, though, you know? It’s not because of his rural, hard-scrabble childhood in West Virginia – even if I do have a thing for West Virginia. Or the fact that he rose above a significant stuttering problem and the racism of his era. Those are all great things, mind you, but lots of successful people have had to overcome massive obstacles. Ones that make it hard for some folks just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone rise to the top of a hugely competitive profession.
What most impressed me about Bill Withers was his quiet demeanor. Here was a nuanced, unassuming man who wasn’t pretending to be humble – he wasn’t pretending anything. He just was what he was – a human being with soul-freeing talent that doesn’t come at you, but takes you into its arms.
As we sat glued to the screen, my husband and I saw no star sitting zen-like in his overly engineered life, spewing talking points about his commitment to the environment, or the rain forest, or other worthy causes his people have briefed him on. Causes that are actually being addressed hands-on by scientists, missionaries, companies and non-profits. Bill Withers doesn’t seem to go for that BS, but he doesn’t judge it either, or sit above it.
Bill Withers just sits in his comfortable, but homey house in California – watching TV and hanging out with his friends or his pretty wife and family. The only extravagances visible are the occasional Jacob Lawrence painting, which you’d swear was just a framed print given the unassuming nature of the house that surrounds it. And there’s a music studio, too, where Withers and his lovely daughter make music together.
When he hears her sing, he cries.
I was raised by two beautiful, captivating and gloriously insane Czech women – a mother and a grandmother who my husband affectionately calls “The Gabor Sisters.” As in Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor (who are actually Hungarian and pictured here with their mother). For those of you scratching your heads, Google them. It’s worth it.
As I was growing up, what struck me most about my mother and grandmother – apart from their uber-dramatic lives and their goonishly big-hearted gestures – was that neither of them thought “the rules” applied to them.
My grandmother had come to the USA in the early 1950s – not exactly at the pinnacle of the women’s movement – yet in my more earnest years, when I demanded to know what discrimination she’d suffered as a woman in the workforce, she looked at me quizzically.
I went on to explain what I meant -
“Barely gettin’ by
It’s all taken and no givin’
They just use your mind and they never give you credit,
It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.
-Dolly Parton, from the song 9 to 5
My grandmother still didn’t get it.
Finally, she lost patience with me and said, “Look, wherever I work, within five years I was always the boss of men.”
And it was TRUE!
Even by today’s standards, my grandmother had an amazing career running the business-end of three five-star French restaurants simultaneously. These were places that used to host Studio 54 regulars like Mick Jagger and other people my grandmother wasn’t particularly impressed with.
It’s not that she maintained discrimination against our sex hadn’t existed in her day – she was sure it had. She just didn’t see what that had to do with her.
I really couldn’t tell you why, exactly, the glass ceiling was more of light mist for her. On paper, she was an immigrant woman who came to America at twenty-eight years of age with $10 bucks between her and my grandfather and no English skills.
I can only say that my grandmother carried herself with a dignity and authority that said “watch out.”
Some years ago she even recounted to me a story of a millionaire boss who up and confessed his love for her one day after work and begged her to run away with him. She told him in no uncertain terms that she was a married woman and that if he continued to behave in this way she would be forced to find other employment.
Of course, he apologized profusely, pleaded with her to stay and the incident was never mentioned again. Until my grandfather found out and made her quit that job.
Which she did, moving onward and upward.
But I don’t mean to imply that her rise was always paved with rose petals. My grandmother was once fired for being Czech. She was working at a brokerage firm where she became, characteristically, the “boss of men.”
Until the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
A spontaneous, nation-wide revolt against Soviet policies, it was the first credible threat to the USSR since the end of the Second World War. Thousands of civilians were killed and it was a crushing defeat not only for Hungarians, but for democracy.
And the Czechs hadn’t stood with their Soviet-occupied counterparts. In fact, Czech tanks – on Soviet orders – made their way into Budapest.
When my grandmother went into work after this development, her boss screamed for her to get out and never return.
Devastated, she wandered outside, where she bumped into the owner of a rival brokerage firm and told him what happened. Long story short, she was hired on the spot because that broker had heard stories of how good she was – ironically, from the man who’d fired her.
My mother, on the other hand, has always been the Queen of the get-around.
Though a valued employee, she didn’t have quite the high-falutin’ success my grandmother enjoyed. She did, however, manage to get away with murder in other areas.
To my knowledge, my mother has never parked in a legal parking space. What is extraordinary about her experience isn’t her blatant flouting of the law, but the fact that she has never, ever, not once, paid a parking ticket. The tickets she has accrued have always been dismissed, ignored or torn up on the spot. In one case my mother waltzed out of her workplace to find a police officer actually putting his own money into her meter. Not finding anything in the least bit strange about this, she thanked him cheerfully, then drove away.
My mom can haggle her way into a designer dress at Saks Fifth Avenue that she couldn’t otherwise afford. She can get her hands on a brand new computer for a pitance. Whatever it is, she can find her way to it, around it, on top of it, through it or dig her way to the other side of it.
And though she is charming as h*ll, her way with a smile and a well-placed compliment doesn’t begin to make clear her ability to get what she wants – all the time. If it had merely been good looks and flattery, that wouldn’t explain why, at seventy and up about 40 pounds, she can still get the same results. I’m telling you, after an apocalypse, I’m sticking with her.
As a kid, I thought this Twilight Zone-y mind over matter experience was specific to the women in my family – you know, like having blue eyes or being left-handed. But once I moved to Prague and met other Czech women in their natural habitat I wasn’t so sure…
But I’ll let you decide.
The following are a list of 6 basic traits that have come to my attention over years of observing and interacting with women of the Czech persuasion – including, but not exclusive to the women in my family.
1. Czech Women Are Babes: Don’t take my word for it. Just check any list of supermodels, either from today or yesteryear, and you’ll find a disproportionate number of Czech women on it. Anyone from 80s sensation Paulina Porizkova to more modern day gals like Eva Herzigova, Eva Poloniova, Karolina Kurkova and so on and so on. My own husband can barely breathe when riding the Prague metro because of the bevy of beautiful women around him. Our son is already lobbying for a year abroad at Charles University there – and he’s only twelve.
2. Czech Feminists Look At Things a Little Bit Differently Than Their American (or British) Counterparts: A Czech girlfriend of mine, a passionate feminist with a PhD in biochemistry and a minor degree in Hindi that she got just for fun, I guess, once said to me, “Why do American feminists despise men? Don’t they enjoy making love?”
I nearly choked on my Pilsner.
Consequently, when Czech feminists start talking about, well, feminism – the equality and possibly superiority of women on both an intellectual and sensual level, the need of women to be heard, respected, whispered to, worshiped and given equal pay and a fair representation at the highest levels of industry and government. Well, let’s just say that by the time we get there, even the most hostile-to-the-concept alpha male will lean in and say, “I’m a feminist, too.” And he will mean it.
3. Czech Women (including intellectuals and even women on the mommy track) Are Sexy Dressers: I’ve known quite a few Czech female intellectuals (and they don’t mind calling themselves such), and not a single one of them dresses like a frumpy schoolmarm. Case in point, the above mentioned friend spoke her observation about American feminists with a full mouth of lipstick, a cigarette, a short pencil skirt and a tight shirt that showed-off a fabulous chest. It would never occur to her that such an outfit might render her “less serious” and her many professional accomplishments seem to agree. My fellow Czech mothers are never opposed to short shorts or stiletto heels – sometimes even worn together and while pushing a baby carriage (I kid you not – I’ve actually witnessed this on more than one occasion).
This was my doctor in Prague.
And my lawyer.
Okay, maybe more like this.
4. Czech Women Win Every Argument: And they’ll use any method within their arsenal to secure victory. This, of course, can be an unfortunate trait for those who love them or even cross their paths, but it’s one to be admired nonetheless. They don’t do it by shouting, or brow-beating or God-forbid withholding affection, but through a labyrinthine sequence of manipulations that leave their opponent scratching his (or her) head and wondering what happened. Yes, they are the women literature warned you about.
5. Czech Women Are Natural Athletes: Again – just look look up any old list of Wimbledon Champions, gold-medalist skiers, etc. For such a small country, the amount of World Class female (and male) athletes the Czech Republic produces is pretty amazing. Is anyone reading this old enough to remember how Ivana Trump skied backwards while berating her then-husband, Donald, over his tawdry affairs? You don’t want to mess with that.
6. Despite a Penchant For Six-inch Heels, Czech Women Are Outdoorsy, Even Back-to-Nature Types: A Czech woman will strip naked and dive into any old trout stream, climb a tree or chop one down if she has to. My own aunt can field dress a bear – often while wearing a push-up bra and rhinestone earrings. It may not be blind luck that Czech Supermodel Petra Nemcova survived the Tsunami of 2004 by hanging on for her dear life as a death current of debris rushed by her. Petra’s boyfriend, sadly, did not make it.
Czech women – no matter how pretty – are tough.
Now, I’m not saying that all Czech women have all of these qualities. In my own family – as far as I know – we have no supermodels. And my mom actually hates the outdoors. My grandmother, while she lived, wouldn’t be caught dead in pair of stilettos. But I have noticed a preponderance of these traits in women born in the Czech lands. And you have to admit, if you came across a woman with even some of these attributes, you might just put your arms in the air and back up – your heart pounding – and say, “Easy, lady. I don’t want any trouble. But I wouldn’t mind just a little…kiss.”