Travels in Italy–Part Three

IMG_0409Pat here:

As many do, I fell in love with Umbria and Tuscany, the hill country of Italy. It’s hard to define why this area is so special. Perhaps because I’m not a fan of cities and the rural countryside with rolling hills and olive orchards appeal to my introvert self. But I think it’s also a matter of seeing the layers of Italy’s ancient history, largely untouched in some areas, that made it come alive for me.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall …

Christina here. I have always found mirrors fascinating and I’m sure that’s been true for most people ever since the first caveman/woman happened to catch sight of him- or herself in a still pond or lake somewhere. Therefore, a recent TV programme I watched (Raiders of the Lost Past with Janina Ramirez on BBC2) about amazing archaeological finds in the 9,000-year old city of Çatalhöyük in Turkey, caught my attention. The presenter held up a mirror that was 7000 years old! It wasn’t what we would call a mirror really, but a piece of obsidian – rounded on one side to fit nicely into the palm of your hand and polished flat on the other side to such a shine that you could see your face in it. I was astonished to think such a thing existed so long ago!


Janina Ramirez ©BBC Television

It made me start thinking about mirrors in the past and of course I went down a rabbit hole …

Clearly, still water must have been the first type of mirror, and if no ponds, lakes or puddles were available, some water in a dark bowl or vessel could have been used. But that’s not very practical if you want to see yourself from any direction other than leaning above the surface. Apart from polished obsidian, apparently volcanic glass was also used in pre-historical times, then came polished copper, bronze and silver, and later steel. These are not very satisfactory though as the reflectivity is poor and these metals also tarnished quickly so had to be polished often.

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Let There Be Light . . .


France 3Cara/Andrea here,
The summer equinox arrived this past weekend, which always puts me in a very travel frame of mind. Long days, glorious golden light, balmy nights—they seem to sing a siren’s song, beckoning one to set out and experience new sights, new settings.

Bonington Self PortraitNow, those of us traveling today just whip out our i-phones and snap away merrily, recording our peregrinations with the mere flick of a finger. Regency travelers required far more skill to capture the essence of a place—and so in homage to the art of travel, thought I’d share a small sketch of one of my favorite artists of the era.

“Had Bonington lived, I would have starved.” —JMW Turner

Despite his short life—he died of tuberculosis at age 26—Richard Parkes Bonington is recognized as master of the Romantic era. His brilliant rendering of light and his ability to capture the magic of a seemingly mundane moment earned him the highest accolades from his contemporaries—including Turner and Eugene Delacroix, with whom he shared a studio for a short time.

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Guest Author Ella Quinn

Ella QuinnCara/Andrea here,
Today I have the pleasure of hosting longtime Word Wench reader and now multi-published author Ella Quinn. (Four books out in eight months—she’s making me feel like a slug!) For those of you who haven’t had the fun of meeting Ella at one of the various writer conferences around the country, she is a font of interesting information, no doubt in part because of her “backstory”—here’s just one of the facts from her official bio: After living in the South Pacific, Central America, North Africa, England and Europe, she and her husband decided to make St. Thomas, VI home.

I always love hearing how authors made the journey to becoming a writer, so I asked Ella to talk a little about what inspired her to pick up the proverbial pen, so, without further ado . . .

Writing2Thanks for visiting with us today, Ella. And congratulations on your recent move up to PAN (Published Author Network) at RWA. That’s always quite a thrill. Here at the Wenches, we’re always interested in hearing about the journey of becoming a writer, so . . . when did you first decide “I am a writer!”

Ella: When finished my first book. I’ve never believed in being an “aspiring” anything.  

What drew you to the Regency as a genre?

PhaetonElla: My muse. I’d been wanting to write something, but I kept hearing, “Write what you know.” Unfortunately for me, I have no desire to write about what I’ve already done.  Then I read an author interview where the author said, “Write what you read.” The next thing I knew, I had a mental video of an angry Regency lady.

If you’re like me, you love researching all the fascinating aspects of the era. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered—and did you weave it into one of your stories?

Ella: I do love research. I thing the most interesting discoveries were the ones I suspected, but didn’t know for sure. The fact that over 50% of births in the upper class took place in less than nine months of marriage was fascinating. Also, that almost everything was custom made. That gave me a great ideas for everything from carriages to tea.

Sailing shipYou’ve lived all over the world, and are currently residing in the Caribbean. (Lucky you!) In your first book, The Seduction of Lady Phoebe, your hero had spent time in the West Indies, and your latest book, Desiring Lady Caro, which came out this month, is set in Venice—so I’m guessing you use “local knowledge” in your books? Do you like to do “boots—or sandals—on the ground” exploring?

CAROElla: I do use a lot of local knowledge, but I have to be careful; many things have changed in two hundred years. I love going exploring.  Although,  when I rope my husband into it, he’s not so pleased. A couple of years ago, when I was writing Desiring Lady Caro, I made him go back from our ski vacation in Salzburgerland by way of  Tirol and through the Fernpass just so I could refresh my memory of the old inns and road. For the next book, Enticing Miss Eugénie Villaret, I had to rely on Alison Stuart’s trip to Martinique for information, but I did go to Tortola to talk with the historian and find a church I needed.

Please tell us a little about Desiring Lady Caro.

Ella: Caro was injured by her then betrothed when she tried to break it off with him. Her mother quickly sent her to Venice to her godmother, Horatia, where Caro carved out a new life but shunned men.

VeniceHuntley is coming under pressure to marry, but decided to take a sort of Grand Tour before he did. In the process, he decides to visit his aunt, Horatia. He’s interested in Caro from the beginning. When a Venetian marquis starts harassing Caro they have to flee Venice to protect her, then circumstance force them into marriage, and he knows he has to find a way to make their marriage work.

Sounds wonderful! How about sharing a short excerpt?

Ella: My pleasure.

Caro tossed and turned before finally slipping into a restless sleep.

Hands grabbed her roughly and soft, wet lips pressed hard to her face. Her stomach revolted and she thought she’d be sick. She moved her head from side to side in a fruitless attempt to avoid the wetness. She tried to push him off, but he grabbed the bodice and ripped her gown, shoving her against the wall. Biting down hard on his lips, she tasted the sharp tang of blood. He muffled an oath, and his fist came at he
r. When she fell, her head hit the floor. She tasted more blood—hers. He got between her legs and she was still struggling when there was a sharp pain. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

Caro bolted up and cried out as Nugent reached her. “There, there, my little lady. It’s not but a bad dream. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Her maid cradled Caro and rocked her back and forth, as she’d done all Caro’s life. Sobs mingled with mewing sounds. “Nugent, when will it stop?”

She gently stroked Caro’s head. “I don’t know, my lady, but the dreams will go away in time.”

Finally, Caro’s heart stopped beating so quickly and she was able to calm herself. A knock came on the door, and Maufe said, “I have warm milk for her ladyship.”

“I’m coming.” Nugent tucked Caro back under the cover called a feather bed. “I’m just going to the door, and I’ll be right back.”

Caro nodded and lay staring up at the overhead bed hangings.

Her dresser returned and handed her the milk. “From his lordship. It has honey and cinnamon, like he used to have.”

“Please thank him for me.”
Nugent looked as if she would say something, and then shook her head. “I will.”

When Caro was finished, her dresser took the empty cup and set it on the small table by the bed. “You sleep now.”

She did. And this time, she dreamt of a kind man with brown hair, who made her laugh and fed her chocolate.

Now, let’s switch hats for a moment, as all writers must do these days. Even the most experienced authors can often feel daunted by the demands of promoting their books, but you’ve been very savvy at marketing, even before your first release came out. I know a number of our readers would love to hear what you think are the key things for a new author to do to establish a “name?”

Ella: I’d had a business before, so I knew marketing was going to be part of being a writer. The first year I was writing, I also did a great deal of research into the marketing aspect, and picked the things that seemed to be the most important. For example, one author I spoke with said her agent told her an author should have at least 2000 Twitter followers, and an active blog or website. I focused on getting the Twitter followers, I now have over 10,000 and setting up a blog with interesting posts.  Because I didn’t want to blog every day, I frequently reblog from other peoples posts. That’s a win-win for both of us. I honestly wasn’t keeping track of how many people were following my blog until one of my guest authors asked how I’d gotten 7,000 followers. I also became active on Facebook. So, by the time my first book released, I had a fairly large media platform.  Around a month before the release, I hired a media savvy assistant who was able to get me on several large reader blogs.

What’s the best advice you ever got about writing?

Ella: Treat it as a business, and don’t take rejection personally.

What do you like least about being an author?

Ella: At the beginning, the glacial pace. Although, to be honest I had an agent eight months after I started writing and my publishing contract eight months after that. Now, there really isn’t anything I don’t like about it. I even like the social media aspect because I enjoy interacting with other authors and readers.

So, Ella's question for all of you is, Do you like to interact with your favorite authors on social media, and what types of things do you like authors to do? One lucky reader who leaves a comment here between today and Tuesday evening will be chosen at random to win a copy of Ella's laatest release, Desiring Lady Caro.

Viva Venice!

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

Venice, Venezia, La Serenissima, the Queen of the Adriatic!  There’s a reason people rhapsodize about the city: Venice is as magical as it is improbable.  We got our first sight of La Serenissima when roaring across the lagoon in a water taxi.  Venice floated ahead of us in the morning mist like Brigadoon.  Way cool!

Venice is a city of church bells and stone tunnels, hidden courtyards and alleys that end abruptly at water’s edge.  It hints at deep, ancient secrets.  It’s also a modern city that’s a major cruise port, with ships large and small traveling through the lagoon to the open Adriatic. 

The city was settled around the fifth century when Romanized locals fled to islands in the lagoon to escape invading Germanic tribes.  Originally 117 islands, Venice was gradually built on millions of pine wood pilings driven deep into the clay and mud bottom of the lagoon.  Under water without oxygen, the pilings petrified and were covered with planking and stone that provide the foundation for buildings. 

Though now the city has only about 60,000 residents, its fame and romantic beauty Canal shot draw tourists from around the world.  In its heyday, the Republic of Venice was one of the great Mediterranean trading powers with an empire that stretched from the Alps to the Levant.  In the 13th Century, Venice was the wealthiest city in Europe. 

Crusades were launched from Venice, and a couple of Venetians stole the body of St. Mark from Egypt because they wanted a high-powered patron saint for the city.  <g> Now the winged lion symbol of St. Mark is everywhere in Venice.

We’d flown into the Marco Polo airport, and the water taxi was the most convenient (and expensive) way to get ourselves and our luggage to the flat we’d rented for the three days before our cruise began.  We were dropped off at a coffee shop near the flat.  (The flat has a courtyard that opened directly onto a minor canal which was, alas, too narrow for water taxis.) 

Venetian bridge Then we had to hump our bags along stone walkways and up and over a stepped bridge.  I love the bridges, and the way people trot briskly up and over them.  (The only place in the city where automotive type vehicles are found is at the end of the causeway from the mainland which allows trains and a few other vehicles to come over.) 

There were a lot of tourists pulling their wheeled suitcases and looking somewhat disoriented.  Plus, lots of dogs, mostly small and extremely well behaved.  The Mayhem Consultant was a little startled when dogs trotted into the coffee shop with their owners, but as I told him, this was Europe.  They do things differently here. <G>  Including eating breakfast—always some form Venetian breakfast of coffee and pastry—while standing at the counter.

Italian women wear scarves tied in complicated ways reminiscent of Regency dandies.  And—this is Italy!  Of course the food is good! <G>

Vaporetto It’s fascinating to see how thoroughly adapted the people and the city are to their watery matrix.  Instead of buses or subways, Venice had vaporettos (vaporetti) which scoot rapidly around the city and along the major canals. 

On the advice of a resident, we rode the #1 vaporetto, which travels up and down the Grand Canal so you can see all the amazing (and crumbling) palazzos built in the days when Venice was a major maritime power.  The #2 line took us to a more of the industrial side of the city.  The vaporettos are a great way to travel, and we never had to wait longer than ten minutes for one.

Gondolas 300 Boats fill all the transportation niches.  There were trash boats, boats that looked like pick up trucks, and even hearse boats carrying handsome coffins adorned with flowers as they made their way to San Michele, the cemetery island. 

The gondolas are mostly for tourists and very expensive, but a very similar boat called a traghetto carries people across the Grand Canal at several points.  Traditionally, passengers stand.  If you saw them sitting, you knew they were tourists. <G>

Even “acqua alta,” the high waters that cause regular flooding of parts of the city such as St. Mark’s Square are treated with equanimity.  People just put on their high Flooding in St. Mark's Square Wellington style boots and out come the duck boards—in this case, solid tables that are stacked out of the way until needed.  Here’s a blog about one of the highest tides in several decades. 

I loved Venice and want to go back, but I’m no expert on the city.  For a better understanding, I asked Jaclyn Reding, a writer friend who is the owner of the flat where we stayed, Ca' Venexiana, what she loves about the city.  Jaclyn was actually in Venice on one of her regular visits to make sure that everything is kept in first class shape.  Her reply:

Canal behind “I love…

The church bells ringing through my window (as they are right now),

The improbability of the city being built as it is on water, and surviving for as long as it has.

There are no cars, no noise, no traffic, no hustle and bustle.

It is slower, quieter, peaceful…so restorative for me.

It is its own little world.  You can walk without a map, you can wander at will without having to worry about getting hopelessly lost.  No matter where you wander, you will always…always still be in Venice.

I love that progress has not marked Venice.  The buildings have changed very little for centuries.  You can imagine Casanova, or Henry James, or even Marco Polo as they were, each of them, when they lived here.

I love that the gondola is still made by hand, even if it takes almost a year to make just one, and not mass produced in some Fiat gondola factory.

I love that the traditions carry on…in the regattas, the festivals, the way the city still marries itself to the sea every year in a ceremony that has gone on for centuries.

I love that the fish market is set up each day near Rialto, as it has been for more than 500 years.  That it hasn't been replaced by a dollar store, or a fast food place.

Last night, I went in to the little bakery around the corner.  The owner was there, who had made the tortas and breads himself, and I love that he took the time to explain to the woman in front of me every ingredient he used in his products, and that they had a friendly conversation with her about foods and families. 

I love that when I bought my own torta, the owner's daughter wrapped it in decorated paper, and tied it with a pink ribbon and even curled the end of the ribbon for me.  Who does that anymore?

I love that I can sit at my window, watching the gondolas and other boats glide by, and write and that if whoever is passing by my window somehow catches my Leaving Venice eye, he will inevitably wave and wish me "buon giorno."

Just reading her comments makes me want to go back right now! 

If you have dreams or experiences of Venice, please share. 

Ciao for now!

Mary Jo