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A Writer's Life in Rome & Tuscia

Books and Travel, A Review

Books and Travel

One day, when I was about ten years old, my parents brought back a children’s book in French from the Kingsport Public Library. This thin red book, whose title I cannot remember, told the story of two children about to set sail from New York to France on an ocean liner. In the first chapter, they packed up their things into a steamer trunk. Successive chapters dealt with boarding the ship, departure, misadventures on board, and finally arrival in port followed by a Parisian escapade with croissants. Throughout the voyage, the children wore blue-and-white-striped French sailor shirts and although they were American, spoke French.
Of the hundreds of library books for children transiting our home, this one has stuck in my mind for more than fifty years. It galvanized my play sessions: for months afterwards, I enacted scenes from the book and the most exciting part was the preparation for the voyage. There was an old steamer trunk in the spare bedroom in our house. Emblazoned with the initials of my mother’s maiden name, smelling of mothballs, it was crammed full of memorabilia–faded photographs of her Polish relatives from before the war, a Mexican tooled-leather handbag wrapped in plastic, purchased on her honeymoon. These items too held a trace of the exotic, of other places and times. I picked the lock with a hairpin, unpacked the contents, and used this trunk as the main prop in my playacting. I would spend hours happily filling it with my clothes, shoes, books, dolls, pretending I was about to leave on a long sea voyage to Europe, with Paris as my final destination
Fifty years later, I find myself a confirmed Francophile, living in Europe, speaking another language than the one I was born to, and a passionate fan of sea journeys. That little book which had come into my life quite by chance shaped my conception of travel and aroused in me an implacable desire for visiting foreign places, influencing my entire existence.
The power of books to transport us elsewhere, inspiring us to travel and framing our experience of place, is the topic of an intriguing, multidisciplinary study by two Australian academics from La Trobe University, Warwick Frost and Jennifer Laing, entitled Books and Travel This broad study investigates the nuanced ways that reading and day dreaming about places stimulate our imagination and construct our idea of travel. The English travel writer Vernon Lee, friend to Henry James, would have heartily agreed. She once wrote:
“For the passion for localities, the curious emotions connected with the lie of the land, shape of buildings, history and quality of air and soil, are born, like all intense and permeating feeling, less of outside things than our own soul… The places for which we feel such love are fashioned before we see them by our wishes and fancy; we recognize rather than discover them in the world of reality.”
The relationship between literature and travel, the tourist’s gaze, the history of literary tourism, travel as self-actualization and liminal experience, literary/ heritage tourism and territorial branding are among the many subtopics discussed in this fascinating study which draws on theoretical perspectives from many fields.
The authors offer a detailed analysis of diverse tropes and plot structures underpinning much travel literature (quest, adventure, pilgrimage, hidden worlds, time travel, escape, transformation) applied to dozens of classic and popular works of fiction and nonfiction for which short synopses are given. Although all media — photography, film, television, social media, computer games — may contribute to constructing our sense of a given place, it is the more immersive and intimate act of reading that lets us lose ourselves completely in an imagined place, recreating characters, stories and settings in our minds through a deep, solitary process of identification, often predisposing us towards a transformative conception of travel.
The process starts early. The authors argue “that the genesis of adult travel behavior can be traced in part to the books we read as children, and their influence is profound and long-lasting.” Many classics of travel literature both for children and adults have strong mythic or archetypal structural elements related to the hero’s journey. “Far from being lightweight fare, these books…start us on an imaginative pathway where travel is mysterious, magical, and often life changing,” they write.
This book is a must-read for anyone involved tourism studies as it provides a brief but perceptive analysis of the diverse motivations and aspirations that compel us to travel and an illuminating glimpse at how literary – cultural heritage tourism attempts to satisfy, exploit, and sometimes deny those aspirations and desires. I also highly recommend this book to all writers whose work, fiction or nonfiction, deals with travel and place. Frost and Laing’s discussion of transformative travel and the tropes associated with texts of this type provides rich insights into the magic and craft of story-making and into the psychological rewards readers hope to find in an absorbing book.
BOOKS AND TRAVEL will inspire you to reread many old classics and revisit your own personal mythology of travel and imagination, to decide for yourself if travel has been a transformative experience in your own life and to understand the factors which have shaped your sense of elsewhere.
If books you read in childhood have influenced your experience of travel, please leave a comment below and tell us how.
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The Tarot Garden of Niki de Saint Phalle

Strength
As you drive along the Via Aurelia towards the sea, near the turn off for Capalbio, a flash of psychedelic color catches your eye, emerging from the silvery blur of olive groves and ilex trees on the scrubby, Maremma hillside. Prominently displayed are the tip of a red rocket aimed at the sky, a decapitated tower with a bicycle wreck at the top, and a huge, blue laughing clown face with a waggling hand growing straight up out of its head. Other gaudy figures peep out from beneath the tree tops, resembling the rides of some crazy carnival that has just pulled into town, but instead this phantasmagoria happens to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest landscape artworks, the Tarot Garden created by the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 -2002). For Saint Phalle, this garden was a corner of paradise achieved through an inner itinerary of sacrifice and spiritual growth.
The giant figures, some of which are inhabitable buildings, represent the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot, refashioned according to Saint Phalle’s understanding and experience of them over the arc of a lifetime. The tarot is not just a card game, Niki claims, but conceals a philosophy of life. Key cards for her are the Hanged Man, Strength, the Magus, the Sun, the Empress ( manifested in the garden as a sphinx whose breasts are rooms you can live in – where indeed Niki did live while working on the garden), and the Angel of Temperance, who became her spiritual guide.
Entering the austere enclosure of tufa walls that form a barrier to the outside world, you step into a dream, inspired not only by the Tarot, but by fairy tales and the art works of Matisse, Miro, and Picasso. The figures are covered with mosaic tiles, mirrors, and ceramics in lollipop colors, arranged in kaleidoscope patterns, bedazzling and bewitching, changing by the minute in sun and shadow.
The spark for creating this garden came when Niki visited Gaudi’s Guell Parc in Barcelona in 1955, an experience so overwhelming that it made her tremble with a sense of destiny. “ I knew someday I would make my own Garden of Joy,” she wrote. She dreamed of her garden for years, seeking the right spot, which she thought might be Africa or South America, a place that would contrast starkly to the urbanization of contemporary life. By chance or fate, the chosen spot turned out to be a former quarry in the Tuscan Maremma, on land belonging to the brothers of a friend.
There could have been no better place than here in Maremma, just over the border from the province of Viterbo where several of Italy’s greatest esoteric gardens are located : Villa Lante, the Sacred Grove (aka the Park of Monsters) of Bomarzo, the gardens of Villa Farnese in Caprarola. By placing her garden here, Saint Phalle had connected up with the local tradition of landscape narratives and healing gardens. In the mannerist tradition of the sixteenth century, those gardens were to be “read” with the heart and mind as much as they were to be enjoyed by the senses. The placement of fountains, trees, and sculptures obeyed a narrative strategy that might reveal a secret doctrine, heal an illness, enhance political power, point out the route to spiritual enlightenment, or simply alter fate. Such gardens were magic books hewn in stone, in which the visitor, while wandering about, became the actant or performer of an ever-changing story, a necessary element in the garden’s magic.
As you explore the Tarot Garden, you will note allusions to Bomarzo. For example, the Empress who greets you with melting, blue mosaic stairs flowing from her open mouth, -- vividly evokes the Hell Mouth, the signature sculpture of Bomarzo. Unlike the Bomarzo cavern carved of dark tufa with its unsettling tomblike atmosphere, this is a gushing fountain of life. The glassy green dragon guarded by a maiden, representing the arcanum Strength, resembles the dragon of Bomarzo. But here the atmosphere is playful and joyous, the beast is kept in check and does not threaten us. By contrast, the Sacred Grove of Bomarzo seems steeped in a twilight gloom, yet it too was meant as a healing itinerary for its original creator, Pier Francesco Orsini, suffering from deep depression after his wife’s death.
Niki de Saint Phalle financed and built her Tarot Garden, costing millions of dollars, mainly by herself, although she was helped by fellow artists, workmen, friends, local people, lovers, admirers, and enthusiasts. Along the way, she encountered many obstacles, including illness. Severe rheumatoid arthritis disabled her from working for long periods. She also struggled with the fervent opposition of local residents who objected her project, which, it turned out, had been undertaken without first receiving official building permits from the town government. In the end, a white knight appeared as in all fairy tales to rescue what is good and true: Mitterand saved the garden from Italian bureaucratic censure – and possibly from being torn down -- by declaring it a national monument of France, and therefore not subject to the Italian building code.
Paths seem random through the Garden, and, at Niki’s request, there are no guided tours. The point of this garden is to discover it yourself, and while doing so, discover yourself. There are however two main routes to explore – one departing from the Sun, takes you up a wide, easy, well-paved path. The other is harder to find. You must climb over the dragon’s tail, then follow a narrow, slippery trail. From here you encounter more directly the Moon, the Devil, and Death, with whom the artist had to come to terms. Hardship, love, enthusiasm, obsession went into making this garden, writes Niki, but above all, faith. “Nothing and no one could have stopped me.”
This garden engenders joy and delight in children and adults, and teases our thoughts as to its meaning. But upon exiting her magic world, you will also feel a deep gratitude to the artist for never giving up until the garden was done, and for her generosity in sharing her vision.
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MEDITERRANEAN DREAMING: Great Summer Reads!

Here is a list of favorite books for a summer read, at the beach, or under a shady tree in a piazza, or sitting @ your favorite taverna watching fishermen return from the island... Highly recommended fiction and nonfiction with a Mediterranean setting

Domini, John, A Tomb on the Periphery Mystery and Suspense §
Durrell, Lawrence The Alexandrian Quartet postmodern classic of literary fiction
Forster E.M., Where Angels Fear to Tread modernist classic literary fiction
Forster E.M. A Room with a View modernist literary fiction
Hazzard, Shirley The Bay of Noon literary fiction
Hazzard, Shirley, The Evening of the Holiday literary fiction, romantic
Hellenga, Robert The Sixteen Pleasures § contemporary literary fiction
Jess, Walter Beautiful Ruins contemporary fiction
Lappin, Linda The Etruscan § mystery and suspense, literary fiction, gothic
Lappin, Linda Signatures in Stone § mystery and suspense, gothic
Leyland, Joanna The Goddess Trilogy fantasy –thriller with irony
MacDonald, Elizabeth House of Cards : literary fiction- short stories

Non fiction
Bedford, Sybille Pleasures and Landscapes contemporary classic
Durrell, Lawrence Bitter Lemons postmodern classic
Durrell, Lawrence Prospero’s Cell postmodern classic
Kalfopoulou, Adrianne, Broken Greek contemporary memoir
Kalfopoulou, Adrianne, Ruin : Essays in Exilic Living contemporary memoir
Lawrence, D.H. Sea and Sardinia modernist literary travel writing
Lawrence, D.H. Etruscan Places modernist literary travel writing
Gilbert, Sari My Home Sweet Rome contemporary memoir
Wilde-Menozzi, Wallis Mother Tongue literary memoir
Wilde-Menozzi, Wallis, The Other Side of the Tiber literary memoir
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DH Lawrence and The Etruscan Door of the Soul

An Etruscan Tomb in Tuscia
D.H. Lawrence returned to Italy in 1927 after a soul-searching pilgrimage through Mexico, the American Southwest, Ceylon, Australia, and New Zealand. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, unaware of how little time he had left (he died three years later at the age of 44), Lawrence sought an ideal land where he might flourish as a "whole man alive" and find an antidote for the alienation of industrialized society.
Lawrence's last pilgrimage led him to the Etruscan ruins north of Rome. His idea was to write a travel book about the twelve great cities of Etruscan civilization. (The Etruscans were a sophisticated people who settled in the Italian peninsula between 900 and 800 B.C. and brought with them commerce and industry, greatly influencing the rise of the Roman kingdom.) Lawrence rejected the contemporary, scholarly views of the time: that Etruscans were inferior to the ancient Romans. Lawrence's approach to the Etruscans was highly personal and unscientific, yet his book, Etruscan Places, has shaped modern readers' ideas of this vanished people more than any other text.
Traveling on foot and by mule cart, Lawrence explored Tuscia-a wild, wooded area between Rome and Tuscany, where the center of Etruscan culture was located. He visited the frescoed tombs of Tarquinia and the rougher rock tombs of Cerveteri, as well as the sites of Vulci and Volterra. In the Etruscans, Lawrence found a life-affirming culture which exalted the body and which saw death as a journey towards renewal. The art decorating their tombs, eloquently described in Etruscan Places, bears witness to their faith in an unending joy.
The tombs Lawrence admired are easy to visit today, well-connected to Rome and Florence by a system of trains and buses. In Vulci and Volterra, museums offer informative displays on Etruscan history. In the frescoes of Tarquinia, pipers play on as red-skinned dancers perform to the delight of thousands of tourists per year. And copies of Etruscan Places are for sale everywhere. The mystery Lawrence relished may best be found off the tourist track-in the rock tombs carved along the ravines at Cerveteri and neighboring areas.
To get a sense of what these sites were like in Lawrence's time, while doing research for my novel. The Etruscan set in Lawrence's era, I recently visited one of the lesser known areas-out in the countryside, off the main road. Covered with ivy, the huge tombs carved in cliffs face out upon a ravine. Wandering through the tall weeds, I approached a tumulus where a tall doorway led into a chamber hollowed in the rock. There at the back stood the fake door, which Lawrence called the door of the soul, as it had no real opening and was only painted or carved on the wall surface. I think of Lawrence sitting in a chamber like this one, contemplating the door of the soul-a barrier for the body, but not for the imagination. More than a travel book, his Etruscan Places is a spiritual testament celebrating the power of the imagination to carry us into other dimensions in search of the source of life. Read More 
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A Sign in the Labyrinth

a labyrinth on Crete
1. I stroll barefoot on the beach at Spinalonga across the crushed luminescence of tiny abalones. Scanning the shore for pocketable souvenirs, I note a cube of rock, striped with bands of red and green. An inscription appears as I look closer: spidery white script engraved upon the bands of red, and thick, black gothic strokes across the green. The inscription runs along four sides of the chunk in an unbroken stream of notation.
I dip the rock into the sea to refresh its colors. A few letters leap out, unmistakable: alpha, theta, but the rest are illegible. On the lowest band is a row of white triangles resembling a highly stylized delta, all identical and evenly spaced, as if punched in the rock with the same carving tool. I am standing only a few feet from the crumbling Venetian bastions of the last leper’s colony in Europe, shut down over a half century ago. Could this have been scratched by an inmate on those dilapidated walls? Or has it been washed up from some far more ancient, sunken ruin of Byzantium?
Excitedly, I show it to my husband who stares at it amused and says I am imagining things. He sees nothing but the scribbling of sediment and sea worms on metamorphic rock. The inscription I see is merely an illusion, not archaeological artifice, he claims, and points out the rough edge where this piece has clearly broken off from a larger slab. The squiggles I call writing also appear on the part which would have been inside the slab. If you break this piece in half, he suggests, you’ll find the same squiggles and triangles inside, too.
I consider this argument and gradually yield to his logic. The shapes of the letters are transformed beneath our scrutiny, becoming less regular and defined, indeed less like writing. What I imagined as an inscription is not a text to be read by human eyes.
Not willing to give it up completely, I drop the rock, weighing about ten pounds, into my beach bag and drag it back to the car where I toss it in the backseat, along with piles of salt-stiffened beach towels, bricks of olive oil soap, bags of pungent oregano and mountain tea. As we drive around the Crete, I take out the rock whenever we stop, douse it with water and examine it anew. Sometimes the signs align themselves into script, but mostly they elude recognition. When the water dries, the markings fade.
2.
We are on our way to walk a labyrinth. This being Crete, what better place? This is the home of the labyrinth, the maze built by King Minos’ architect, Dedalus, to imprison the Minotaur, his monstrous stepson, who demanded a sacrifice of Athenian youth every nine years. To put an end to all that, Theseus slayed the Minotaur and escaped the labyrinth, thanks to Mino’s daughter, Ariadne, who had taught him how to find his way out using a ball of thread. Abandoned by Theseus, Ariadne was courted and wed by the god Dionysus. Dedalus emigrated to Sardinia, where he imparted the art of spiral architecture to the native people there. The labyrinth remained bereft of its celebrated resident, but continued to resurface in art, dance and narrative in every continent.
Mythologists, archaeologists, philosophers, and mathematicians have debated the meaning of the labyrinth for centuries. The myth arose, claim some, from the thick mesh of passageways and cubbyholes beneath the palace of Knossos, laid bare in the last century by the excavations of Sir Arthur Evans. No claim others, it is a model of an anthropomorphized universe, a map of how nourishment moves in our entrails or of how synapses fire in our brain. By no means, claim the symbolists, the labyrinth is a universal symbol of gestation, death, rebirth, or a depiction of the underworld. Above all, it must be experienced in movement. Its meanders were designed to guide dancers along a ritual path, poised between sky and earth, beginning and ending in the same spot. Lastly, the labyrinth is associated with the Mother Goddess, she with the naked breasts and conical skirt, gripping two writhing serpents in her upraised fists, icon of Minoan culture.
For years, I came to Crete nearly every summer, to traipse through the mazelike rooms of Knossos and pay my homage to a small ceramic sculpture of the goddess on display in the Heraklion museum. From there I took a bus to the same village which over twenty years grew from a cluster of stone houses unwired for electricity to a sprawling town of air-conditioned supermarkets. A hiatus of ten years followed, during which I sought shores closer to home – Sardinia, Etruria, then one day woke with the obsession that I had to go back. In the meantime, I had heard, a group of German women had built a labyrinth there, assembled out of stones gathered from those sun-scorched hills laid out in the pattern of the Chartres cathedral labyrinth. I knew I had to walk it. So we packed the car, bought ferry tickets, and set off from the Italian port of Ancona.
A friend has told us where to find the labyrinth: not far from a threshing floor on the barren hillside on the outskirts of the village. There were several circular threshing floors in this village once, slabs of concrete edged with paving stones, last used perhaps thirty years ago at harvest time. On summer nights I often sat within that magic space stargazing at the frothy spirals of the milky way and in the day time, sometimes, I danced. No other landscape had ever inspired me to dance with joy as Crete did when I was twenty-five. Observed by no one but the rocks and a friendly donkey tethered nearby, I whirled in a purple granny dress and flung my arms out towards the cobalt sea in gestures of longing, benediction, and pure delight. I did not know then that dance was a form of worship in ancient times, but something in the landscape spoke directly to my body and my feet.
3.
Today, we scour the hillside in search of the rocky spiral, and at last find it, though heavy winter rains washing down the mountain and grazing goats have wreaked havoc of its pathways. Goat droppings sully the sacred center. Under the blazing sun, we set about reconstructing the trails, brushing away rubble and debris with fragrant twigs of thyme, lining up the scattered rocks to mark the turnings. When it is complete, we begin our walk.
The first few steps draw me near the center, creating the expectation of easy arrival, but then I must rotate on my axis , as I am propelled to the outermost edge and spun a hundred and eighty degrees to the far side, like a drunken planet wobbling in and out of an uncertain orbit before being drawn swiftly back towards the sun. You cannot really see the pattern when you are inside it. What feels like a deflection, a wrong direction is only one folding of the weft.
As I walk the loops, I try to bear in mind the three phases of the labyrinth prayer. Concentrate on a question or need as you wind towards the center, open yourself to higher forces when you reach the heart, release your desire or need to the cosmos as you exit the boundary back to ordinary space where answers shall be forthcoming. I am uninspired it seems, I have come thousands of miles to thread this labyrinth yet no illuminations rush in. But when I step across the line back into linear time, I know that I must leave the strange rock I found in Spinalonga here inside in the labyrinth. I return to the car to fetch the rock, reenter the loops and seek a place to put it, noting as I do that in the strong sunlight, the inscription seems to have disappeared.
Poets and philosophers have often remarked on the sublime solitude of the Greek landscape, where, despite desolation, you feel you are not alone – you are watched, sometimes scrutinized, protected, recorded even, as if you were a piece of narrative unfolding in its terrain being read by a greater eye. This sensation of being observed comes to me as I set my rock in place and slip a newly minted EU coin underneath, wondering when, if ever I will be back to look for it. Perhaps it is then that the illumination comes. I have added a small sign to the overall design, participated with those women who first assembled it years ago, who have moved on to other things in their lives, as I will, too when I leave this island. We are part of a story although we can’t see the design, intended for a reader whose consciousness infuses these rocks, hills, stones, the crows circling overhead. Although I move more slowly now than I did thirty years ago, now I see the meanders linking far flung places and people in my life to this one spot, and although it seems I have traveled far from the center, the next turning will surely bring me back to the core of pure delight. Read More 
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Rediscovered Readings on Bomarzo

Several readers of my mystery novel, Signatures in Stone, winner of the 2014 Daphne Du Maurier Award for mystery writing, have asked about the sources for some of the concepts concerning the Sacred Grove of Bomarzo that I incorporated into the story. Below is a brief glimpse at some of the books and ideas that influenced me.

Since its creation in the mid 16th century, the “Sacred Wood” or “Monster Park” of Bomarzo near Viterbo has continued to astonish visitors and puzzle scholars who continue to debate such key issues as the precise dating, artistic attribution, and meaning of the bizarre sculptural composites it contains – a hell mouth concealing a secret room which resembles the interior of an Etruscan tomb, sculptures of giants, dragons, elephants, sirens, and a small leaning palace designed to throw you off your balance. No certain evidence remains to document the names of the artists and workmen who designed and sculpted these creatures or, more importantly, to testify to their creator’s intention, and a number of interesting questions remain open to interpretation. Was the garden the brainchild solely of its patron, prince Vicino Orsini, a fanatical hemeticist and alchemist, or was the whole designed by a single artistic genius? Were the individual sculptures executed by rough local workmen, by Turkish prisoners , or by a group of artisans connected to an illustrious school in Rome? Were these strange beasts plucked from Vicino’s imagination, or perhaps, from some of his worst nightmares? Or are they meant to be symbolic? Various scholars have interpreted them as: representations of the seven cardinal sins, illustrations of Italian epic poetry, witty allegories of important political events of the period, pictograms of the milestones in Vicino’s personal life and career, alchemical symbols linked by an esoteric itinerary of initiation.
Another mystery concerns the relationship between the sculptures. How are they to be read? Is there a prescribed order to follow in viewing them? Do they conceal Christian meanings or are they rebelliously anti-Christian and pro-pagan? These are only some of the unresolved issues, but several recent and not so recent publications offer curious angles of interpretation which are worth exploring to anyone who has fallen under the spell of this place of dark enchantment.

Enrico Guidoni’s Il Sacro Bosco nella Cultura Europea, (Vetralla, Davide Ghaleb Editore, 2006: www.Ghaleb.com ) is bound to shatter some conservative views of the Sacred Wood. Guidoni has painstakingly pieced together textual and iconographic evidence which would suggest that the Sacred Wood was by no means an isolated experiment sprung from the maniacal imagination of its princely patron, but a complex sculptural composite conceived and designed by Michelangelo and technically executed by a group of artisans closely linked to the era’s greatest sculptor. The text includes an alphabetical “bestiary” with entries dedicated to each of the sculptures and major decorative elements, explaining their basic symbolism. The book is handsomely illustrated with photographs from diverse periods dating back fifty years,offering a rapid glance at the deterioration to which the garden and its environment have been subject. Given the importance of this study, one hopes that the publisher will bring forth an English edition.

Maurizio Calvesi instead, in Gli Incantesimi di Bomarzo: Il Sacro Bosco tra Arte e Letteratura, (Bonpiani, 2000) reads the sculptures in relationship to the poetry of the era. His research focuses on literary allusions incarnated in the weird figures and explores the significance of the many cryptic inscriptions which appear throughout the park and in nearby palazzo Orsini.

Whereas the focus of Peter Lamborn Wilson’s essay, "Oneiriconographia: Entering Poliphilo's Utopian Dreamscape," in issue 5 of the review Alexandria , is Francesco Colonna’s emblematic Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (The Strife of Love in a Dream), he relates his reading of this cryptic text to his explorations of Bomarzo and other sites outlying Viterbo, which had been suggested to him by a Roman alchemist as stations in an initiatory journey. For Lamborn Wilson, the absence of Christian symbols in the garden ( with the exception of the octagonal temple) would confirm Vicino’s rebellious attitude towards the ecclesiastical hierarchy. His garden is written in an alchemical code which makes use of the language of emblems, bypassing linguistic discourse to communicate meaning to the unconscious mind. Francesco Colonna’s emblems invite the reader to interpret their meaning on multiple levels simultaneously, and to read himself/herself into the narrative, to become a performer of the text, reenacting Poliphilio’s dream- quest. This intriguing idea could be applied to the Sacred Wood itself, in which each visitor plays the role of quester, re-enacting the search for the philosopher’s stone amid these giant emblems hewn in stone.

One wonders who Lamborn Wilson’s Roman alchemist might have been, but one possibility is Elemire Zolla of the University of Rome, author of many works on archetypes, hermeticism, and alchemy, including “Bomarzo: Il Santuario Neoplatonico” an essay offering a guide to the park as an arena of initiation. Art history scholar Antonio Rocca picks up this thread in his Bomarzo Ermetica: Il Sogno di Vicino Orsini, with an intriguing analysis of the park’s symbolism read within the context of Giulio Camillo’s theatre of memory.  Read More 
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Story of an Old Tuscan House from Postscards From a Tuscan Interior

This little corner outside Siena is a microcosm of Italian history and culture. The hill on which the tower stands was once an Etruscan necropolis, not far from Sienavecchia, an early Etruscan settlement situated near copper and iron deposits. In those days a network of roads connected the mining areas with the valley of the Merse river, winding all the way to the Tyrrhenian coast. Pieve is one of many pulse points along that ancient road. The Etruscans were succeeded by the Romans, although little trace of them is left, some inscriptions and tombs ; a few coins, vases, and iron weapons of Roman manufacture lying in a dusty museum. More traces remain of the early medieval period when a few abbeys and churches were first being built in the area, while, not far away in the woods outside the town of Rosia, just down the road from here, a community of hermits dwelled, seeking union with God. With the eleventh century came a building boom spurred by the expanding population and the need to cultivate more land to enhance the food supply.
The oldest buildings in Pieve have been standing here for over one thousand years, and date back to just prior to that moment of expansion. The main theory of their origin is that they were part of a monastery complex, one of many throughout the area, which were established at the time of the first millennium. The tallest building of the complex is a squat tower, four stories high, poised on the crest of the hill overlooking the plain, where the lights of the town of San Rocco can be seen twinkling at night. The hillsides of central Italy were once covered with towers like this one, which served not only as defense and as a nodes in a communication network, but as status symbols representing the power and economic prosperity of the villages and their leaders. They were emblems of the consolidated and ambitious self, an “I” erected towards the sky.
Thick walls once extended from the base of this tower to gird the whole complex within their protection. Those walls tumbled away centuries ago. The large rectangular building opposite the tower has gothic windows, a typical feature of sacred architecture which suggests it might have been a monastery. One of the old timers who lives in the newer village below Pieve tells the story that his own grandfather claimed he could remember a time back in his childhood when two very ancient and emaciated monks with beards down to their navels, dressed in ragged robes were living there, growing cabbages and turnips. A rough calculation would place that period back to the mid nineteenth century, or perhaps earlier.
There is some debate as to the origin of the building where the apartments of Alice and Duccio are located. Duccio claims it once housed a community of nuns in the late middle ages. After all, documents exist proving the presence of monks in Pieve, so why not nuns? For hundreds of years the whole territory was teeming with religious activity. In medieval times, the woods were full of hermits living in caves, like San Galgano and San Leonardo al Lago, whose rustic dwellings were incorporated into the crypts of churches built to honor them, and later Cistercian abbeys and Benedictine monasteries began to spring up like mushrooms all over Tuscany. Over a dozen ruined chapels, convents, and monasteries are scattered throughout the woods, including the hermitage of Santa Lucia not far from here. All these places were under the jurisdiction of the nearby abbey of Torri, just down the road, and probably served as major stations in the pilgrims route connecting France to Rome, the Via Francigena once traveled by thousands of people on foot each year.
Alice’s kitchen was probably the refectory, says Duccio, and proof of this was supplied by Guido, a neighbor recently deceased at the age of ninety, who could remember years ago during his childhood having seen a stone relief above the fireplace showing people eating at a table, which may or may not have been a representation of the Last Supper. The relief disappeared sometimes after the Second World War, when the house was occupied by German soldiers. Only religious buildings would have had such sculptural decorations, unthinkable in the house of peasants or simple laborers. Besides, Duccio claims, he hears ghostly bells at night, haven’ t I heard them? He pierces me with his wandering eye. I smile and shake my head, then remember the wind chimes that woke me before dawn on my first night in this house.
Nonsense, counters the engineer, who has published a book about the history of Pieve and loves to talk about his research. There are no nun’s ghosts fretting in Pieve. The building where Duccio and Alice live was not a convent at all, but a workshop of the wool-workers guild. Siena, unlike Florence, had no rivers or streams to provide energy, thus its industries developed outside the town, in the Val di Merse, an area rich in water resources. The monks of Torri, master hydraulic engineers, quickly harnessed the Merse, draining the marshland, creating canals, and building the mills whose ruins lie hidden deep in the woods today. When these works were completed, the monks made a deal with the craftsmen of Siena to allow them to use these facilities. In return the City of Siena promised to protect the monks and their land. The masters of the art of wool were based in Stigliano just down the road, where fulling mills operated along the streams, to clean and thicken wool. The houses in Pieve may have served their guild as homes, storage areas, or workshops.
Of a more romantic vein, I like to think of the nuns in this house : a handful of women living according to Benedictine rule. Saint Benedict ordered his followers to spend seven hours a day in manual labor, either in the fields or in a library transcribing books, and two hours of spiritual study. Here perhaps these women lived tending cabbages and carrots, pursuing a life of inner search, although their spiritual and intellectual instruction was probably imparted orally, for most women during the middle ages could not read. Perhaps they sat in this very kitchen, taking their meals together after the day’s work.
Once again I wake in early morning to the faint, far away yet distinct sound of chimes. Ding ding ding and then all is silent. Is it the nuns rising for prayer in the early hours of the morning?  Read More 
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A Review of Prospero's Kitchen --Greek Island Cooking

Review of PROSPERO’S KITCHEN: Island Cooking of Greece
Author: Diana Farr Louis and June Marinos
Published by I.B. Tauris Hardback, 2012, 252 pp.
Price: $28.00
Isbn 978-1-78076 -1367


The Ionian islands are a string of seven rough gems lying southeast of the heel of Italy’s boot, stretching down towards the mountainous coast of Epirus and the Peloponnese. You see them in the offing as your ferry chugs down from Ancona or Bari on its way to Patras, taking shape in the mist one by one –glistening blackish green above the astonishing blue: Corfu, Paxos, Antipaxos, Lefkada, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Zakynthos. Further down to the south, wedged between the middle toes of the Mani, lies Kythera. Greece is a magic country, where myths, stories, superstitions and miracles permeate the landscape, and, as Patrick Leigh Fermor once suggested, “thicken round the traveler’s path at every step.” The Ionian islands, the birthplace of Venus and the home of Odysseus, are no exception, steeped in stories, ancient and new. Among them is one told by Lawrence Durrell in his memoir, Prospero’s Cell, according to which Corfu was the model for Prospero’s island in the Tempest, and Shakespeare may have actually visited there.
Diana Farr Louis and June Marinos pay homage to this myth in their enchanting literary cookbook Prospero’s Kitchen : Island Cooking of Greece a new, revised, third edition of their pioneering classic of 1995, which was the very first book either in Greek or English on Ionian cuisine. In the two decades that have followed the original publication, there has been a renaissance of interest in local Greek cuisines, previously “unchartered... unknown and unsung.” Ionian food products and wine, such as Cephalonia’ s prize white wine, Robola, now enjoy greater distribution within Greece and Europe and like the islands themselves, today top tourist destinations, are much more widely known. Ionian cuisine is particularly deserving of such interest : it is a melting pot of flavors thanks to the many cultural influences which it received through the vicissitudes of its history: under Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, French, British rule – only Lefkada , so close to the mainland, fell to the Turks. In no other area of Greece is the Italian influence on food felt so strongly.
The first half of this book is a rich compendium of the islands’ history, folklore, festivals and food traditions, drawn in part from the writings of nineteenth- century travelers to the islands, along with a section of detailed notes on basic ingredients and condiments used in Ionian cuisine. The recipes that follow were lovingly assembled from scribbled notes or treasured family recipe troves transmitted by Greek housewives, friends, relatives, and acquaintances of the authors, then tested back home in more modern kitchens. “There was always the fear that some key ingredient might have been left out in the telling,“ claim the authors. In other cases, lists of ingredients were exhaustive, but instructions abbreviated. “We had to cope with such vague directions as ‘add as much water as necessary’ or ‘as much flour as it will take.” Oven times and temperatures, rarely specified in the original sources, had to be laboriously worked out.
Readers will find plenty of simple, hearty everyday recipes for vegetable bake with okra, cuttlefish, stewed rabbit, bean soups, and spinach pudding, along with the more elaborate Venetian Pasticcio, Venetziàniko pastitsìo, with layers of pasta, meat, chicken, hardboiled eggs sandwiched between a leaves of sweet pastry
( pasta frolla), and unusual dishes such as Partridge Pilaf, Woodcock Salmi, Octopus Pie from Cephalonia, Bobota from Zakynthos - a spicey corn bread made with orange juice, walnuts, and currants - and a delicate tangerine cake, all of which bear the stamp of authenticity .
To know a place and its people, you must taste its food, and the authors of Prospero’s Kitchen : Island Cooking of Greece, give you the opportunity to do that whether you are seeking to recreate flavors and textures encountered on a trip to Greece, or simply experimenting with something new. The words “Island Cooking” evoke the pristine if limited ingredients of island life according to season: things that you grow, raise, catch, forage, and preserve yourself; others that must come by sea from far away and carefully be stored for months to be used on a special occasion. Much of this cookbook is about the sacred bonds that link people, food, and festivities to the cycle of seasons and the soul of place.
In Peter Greenway’s film of The Tempest, Prospero’s Books, huge, fantastical volumes open to reveal palaces, landscapes, visions, and celebrations happening on the island. Similar magic happens when you open Prospero’s Kitchen - unleashing strong flavors, redolent of sun - honey, goats milk, wild herbs grazed with salt spray, thick- skinned citrus, piquant tomatoes, fresh fish, and charcoal grilling; parsimonious winters and abundant summers, the quintessence of Mediterranean life.
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My Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Geneva-based mystery writer, JJ Marsh , creator of the exciting Beatrice Stubbs mystery series, for including me in this blog tour on the writing progress. See her insightful updates on the writing process and follow her interviews with contemporary writers here .

For this blog tour, I was asked to answer the following questions:

The Writing Process: What am I working on now?
Currently I am involved in a project I never dreamed I’d do: a screenplay of my first novel THE ETRUSCAN and I am finding it very hard going. Firstly because my novel presents multiple points of view on a central love story that has an open ending. In the book, there is a narrative frame constructed from a shifting third person point of view with a first person narrative / diary inserted at the core. This device allowed me to maintain an ambiguous status for the central story narrated by the main character, Harriet: is the text found in her journal a true account, a dream, an allegory, a roman a clef, a work of fiction? Who is the shape -shifting count, Federigo del Re, really? Different readers have had very different reactions to the characters and storyline. In working with the screenplay, I find that I cannot keep the same ambiguity and maintain multiple viewpoints with the same flexibility that you can in fiction. So that, along with the general compression of time and action required, is quite a challenge. Working on this screen play may influence my fiction technique in the future, too.

I am also involved in other projects too: a final draft of my writing textbook based on the Soul of Place, for which I am still thrashing about for a proper title. Exercises from this book have begun to appear in places like The Writer ( Katabasis, Your Journey to Hell and Back, June 2013; Crafting a Quest Narrative: Pilgrim’s Tales upcoming in March) and editing of my memoir, Postcards of a Tuscan Interior, sections of which have appeared previously on my website. One section was recently nominated for a Pushcart prize. I have two novels in different draft stages. The Brotherhood of Miguel a spiritual adventure novel set in Rome and elsewhere is in its final draft. I am doing a sequel to my recent Signatures in Stone entitled Melusine, in which the heroine Daphne must solve a mystery related to mermaids in Bolsena lake.
Last but not least I am working with Southwestern artist Carolyn Florek of Mutabilis press to create a Tarot deck based on my mystery novel SIGNATURES IN STONE, set in Bomarzo’s monster park. Pieces have been posted on Signatures Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/SignaturesInStone

How does my work differ from that of other writers working in the same genre?
One aspect of my work is that it combines genres or sometimes spills over borders . The Etruscan is literary fiction, but also a mystery, and to some, an intertextual puzzle with elements of pastiche. Some readers find in it a Rebecca –like atmosphere, with modern gothic overtones, others find it nineteenth-century. And yet its unreliable narrator, open ending, ambiguity, metafictional aspirations and altered chronology at the end are meant to be “experimental,” or at least deviate from the forms of mainstream fiction. I was pleased that one critic likened it to The Magus, as it was partly my intent to create a strange story with surreal elements.
Katherine’s Wish, based on the last five years of Katherine Mansfield’s life, was the product of much research and piecing together of fragments. It has been called “fictional biography,” “creative scholarship,” “creative nonfiction,” and a work of historical fiction. Signatures in Stone, instead is definitely a mystery story: but is it a house mystery, a murder mystery, or an art history mystery? It is a bit of all three, there being at least three separate mysteries, existing on three different levels, that must be solved. I like to work with different forms and bend them in new shapes.
Why do I write what I do?
I am inspired by places, by the soul of place. For my books set in Italy, I have had years to absorb influences and crystalize them into fiction or nonfiction. It was a very short visit to the Prieure, outside Paris where Katherine Mansfield died, that set in motion a process that would end in Katherine’s Wish. I guess I find myself stumbling over or into what some critics might call landscape narratives, stories embedded in places which we intersect from time to time.

How does my writing process work?
After an initial spark of inspiration, I work in spurts, sometimes spending long uninterrupted periods at the computer and not stopping until I am satisfied. But I try to leave something out at the end, to have an idea where I am going to go next when I pick it up again. Once I have something substantial, several pages of something that hangs together, I print out and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, but first I need some kind of draft to work with. I find it very hard to schedule time every day for fiction writing, although I do write most every day – essays, reviews, blogs, etc. but I need a special kind of psychic compression to work on fiction

Now I would like to introduce the three writers who will be continuing this blog tour next week : Click on their names to visit their websites.

Patricia Borlenghi, published by Bloomsbury, is the author of children’s books, adult fiction, and food memoirs highly praised by Jamie Oliver, and now publisher of Patrician Press, a small independent and courageous literary press located in Essex. http://www.patricianpress.com/bookauthor/patricia-borlenghi/ She is about to publish her historical novel Zaira about a peasant girl coming of age and improving her status through self-education in late nineteenth century Northern Italy. See her blog @ Patrician Press Blog

Adrianne Kalfopoulou, poet, critic, and essayist, lives in Athens where she teaches at the Hellenic American University. She is also adjunct professor of creative writing for NYU and teaches in several international workshops. Her poetry collections are available from Red Hen Press. Her blog, Greek Voices, Inside
offers an insider’s perspective on the current turmoil in Greece.

Teresa Cutler Broyles has been writing professionally since 1992, traveling to Italy regularly since 2000, and teaching writing (and film) classes since 2001. In 2008 she combined these three passions and started her business, TLC Writing Tours, and leads Writing and Cultural Tours to Italy. When she’s not traveling and teaching, she writes Young Adult and historical novels, travel essays, and creative nonfiction. Twitter: @TLCWritingTours. Facebook
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How Not to Eat a Sea Urchin

The fisherman was clad in ragged cutoffs soaked in sea water, the only garment, I believe, he owned. His tangled hair, shoulder- length, had been streaked by sun with strands of almost hennaed blond. The setting: an islet off the coast of Crete whose only inhabitants were wild goats; whose only structure, four poles erected on the beach, thatched with twisted boughs of wild thyme. There beneath its fragrant yet insufficient shade our companions on this excursion were laying out a picnic on a tattered, tar-stained sheet.
We had set off at dawn from a nearby village across water as smooth as oil. Seven of us packed in that little boat, the Eleutheria, without a single life-jacket: my friend, Pandelis; his fishing partner, Vanghelis; Vanghelis’ wife, two sons and mother-in-law who looked askance at foreign girls in scanty tops spending their summers here. While Vanghelis and the boys secured the boat, the women unpacked the lunch: tinned sardines, home -pickled olives from their trees, like tiny, shriveled raisins; tomatoes; slabs of goat cheese; thirst-quenching cucumbers; green- fleshed melons. Beer, water, and the ubiquitous raki.
Pandelis turned to me. “Come . We get food. ” With fishing knife strapped to his waist, a bucket swinging from one hand, he led me teetering along a slippery shelf of rock above the tidal line. When I lost my footing and splashed down into a pool, he jerked me up with stern warning.
“Watch out! There may be …..” he paused, searching for the English word, “Morays. Your toes --- their lunch,” then grinned, waiting to see the effect of his announcement.
The crevice in the cliff wound down to a grotto where low tide had exposed row on row of glistening purple sea urchins. He plunked down his bucket to observe them with approval. “A man not starve here,” he said. Unsheathing his knife, he pried a first specimen free, sliced it through, and held it out to me . A black and orange gelatinous mass quivered in its spiny cup. Stooping to the water, he dunked it once, swirled the tip of his knife inside it, then scraped the slimy contents into the palm of my hand . “Freshest food in Greece, “ he said. “Taste.”
I never cared for sea food except scallops when I was younger. Even the sight of the shucked oysters my father relished used to make me nauseous as a child. How was I going to refuse food from a Greek for whom hospitality is sacred? If only I had a slice of lemon.
He frowned at my hesitation. “Eat,” he commanded.
I pushed the salty, spongy stuff into my mouth, then spit it out, unrepentant.
Producing a hip flask from his back pocket, he offered it to me. The searing taste of 40 proof raki removed all trace of the offending substance. I wiped my lips with the back of my hand.
Pandelis shook his head in feigned disgust. “You will never be a Greek.”
End
This essay originally appeared in Alimentum Literary Journal, Winter 2012
http://www.alimentumjournal.com/current-issue/
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