Friday, April 30, 2010

Wine Bar, à la 16th Century

A working replica of a sixteenth century wine fountain has been unveiled at Hampton Court. The fountain was modeled on those depicted in a painting of the Field of Cloth of Gold, the opulent meeting between Henry VIII and François I staged in 1520. Wine may be purchased from the fountain at a cost of £3.50 per glass from May 1. Now you, too, can "faire bonne chère" at Henry's pleasure palace. Articles, with photos, here and here.

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Ambition is the dung of glory."

Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), Italian poet and satirist

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's Never What You Pictured

From Mark Childress's hilarious and oh-so-true essay, "Fear of Finishing," in Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction (2007):

"Of course, the moment when a book is best comes before you have written a word of it. Let me repeat, a book is at its absolute best--and will never be better--than when it is unwritten. When it's only an idea. A shiny beautiful thing twisting and dangling in midair. A concept, a notion, a radical reinvention of the very idea of the novel. A shade, an arc, a passage of time . . . a big swath of pages easily written, in the naive and simpleminded imagination of the novelist imagining himself in the act of writing it.
After that, it only gets worse. Every page you write is in some ways a tiny death . . . of the illusion with which you began. Every clumsy, unstructured, redundant sentence that you apply to paper is one less deathless, tripping, dancing, rhythmical internally rhyming piece of brilliance like that you had in mind when you sat down at the piano and started to play." (191-192)

Thank God for ear-plugs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Museum-Residence Reopens in Venice

Venice's Palazzo Grimani, built in the 1520's by art collectors Domenico and Giovanni Grimani as one of the first museum-residences of Europe, reopens to visitors. The palazzo, visited by the French king Henri III in 1573, became a landmark stop on the Grand Tours of the 17th through 19th centuries.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Sale Treasures

Livres en vente par Peter Griffin

Our local library hosted its Spring Book Sale this weekend, and as dues-paying "Friends" we were able to attend the members-only opening night. What a haul, and all for under $30!

ARTEMESIA by Alexandra Lapierre
CATHEDRAL OF THE SEA by Ildefonso Falcones
CITY OF GLORY by Bevery Swerling
DEUX LO VOLT! Chronicle of the Crusades by Evan S. Connell
KATHRYN by Anya Seton
QUEEN'S OWN FOOL: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
SACRED HUNGER by Barry Unsworth
THE SEAMSTRESS by Frances De Pontes Peebles
UNICORN'S BLOOD by Patricia Finney

CATHERINE OF ARAGON by Garrett Mattingly
ON WRITING by Stephen King
MONTAILLOU: The Promised Land of Error by LeRoy Ladurie
NORA: The Real Life of Molly Bloom by Brenda Maddox
ST. PATRICK OF IRELAND: A Biography by Philip Freeman
WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKEN KNEW: From Fox Hunting to Whist--the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool

I'm sure I could have found more, but considering that I haven't even read all the books I bought at the last couple of sales, I considered it wise to stop. Haven't run out of shelf-space yet, but coming close. Any recommendations on which book I should tackle first?

(And despite my elation at snagging such great titles, I do feel guilty about buying used books and cheating the authors out of their royalties. I figure posting good reviews of their work might make up for it. Guess I'd better get busy reading.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

photo of Château of Blois by Christophe Finot

"[I]l n'y a roy ny monarche sur la terre qui soit logé en si grande majesté que le roy de France; ayant les roys qui luy ont succedé, les princes, prelats, grands seigneurs, riches gentilshommes, et autres gens de moyen de ce royaume, si bien fait bâtir à son imitation, que la France se peut vanter d'estre la plus decorée d'excellentes et magnifiques maisons, que tout autre royaume qui soit sous le ciel."

"There is no king or monarch on earth who is housed in as great a majesty as the King of France; and the kings who succeeded him, the princes, prelates, great lords, rich gentlemen and other people of means of this kingdom have built so well in imitation of him that France can boast of being more decorated with excellent and magnificent dwellings than any other kingdom under heaven."

Vincent Carloix, secretary to and author of the Mémoires of
François de Scépeaux, Sire de Vieilleville (1509-1571), French diplomat and ambassador

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stomping for Votes

I need help, especially from those of you who like shoes.

My daughter has entered the Vince Camuto Shoe design contest and has asked me to spread the word:

I entered Vince Camuto's shoe design contest! The winner gets to go to NY, meet him, and GET THEIR SHOES MADE! I really want this
and I appreciate any help I can get! Please help me out and vote for my shoes!
I ONLY HAVE 14 VOTES! Others have over 200! :(

When I last checked, she was up to 28 votes (page 12); it seems the entry moves closer to the contest's home page the more votes it receives (ie. the entries are continually reordered when votes come in). You might have to search a bit to find the picture. Her name is Madeleine Wright and she's a college student hoping to break into the fashion world. If you like her design, please click on the "Vote" box beneath her entry (it will prompt you for an email address, but you can choose not to receive any advertisements from the company). Voting open until May 15, 2010.

Here's the link:


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: WATERMARK by Vanitha Sankaran

Medieval woman's search for a public voice takes on a literal incarnation in Auda, the protagonist of Vanitha Sankaran's new novel WATERMARK (Avon A). Frightened by the newborn Auda's albinism, the midwife's assistant mutilates the infant shortly after birth, cutting out her tongue to free her of the devil's curse and prevent her from spreading his lies. Ironically, this cruel act facilitates the very thing the assistant hopes to prevent. Auda defies her imposed silence by learning to read and write and pens poetry that explores love from a woman's perspective. Her unsettling appearance, inability to speak, and unabashed feminism, however, make her an immediate target of Church inquisitors seeking to rid Narbonne of the sect. Auda's views on the equality of the sexes flirt too closely with the heretical theology of the Cathars to ignore.

The tie between poetry and heresy is strong in this book, forged in links of paper. Auda's father Martin is a scribe who manufactures rag paper, a new-fangled invention that has yet to prove its utility and longevity in comparison with increasingly scarce and expensive vellum. The quality of Martin's paper catches the eye of the viscountess of Narbonne, who hires Auda to copy boxes of decaying parchment documents onto paper for her library. In the course of her work, Auda discovers poems written decades earlier by troubadours. Inspired by the verse and her own blossoming relationship with an itinerant painter, she composes poems in which women make their own choices in love. Impressed, the viscountess distributes one of Auda's poems to the group of ladies which gathers regularly at the castle to discuss courtly love. Flattered to find an audience for her work, Auda fails to realize the danger of having her verse circulating in written form.

The viscountess is not the only one who appreciates Martin's paper. The Cathars, who buy large quantities of paper in order to copy and distribute their religious tracts, become interested in Martin's goods. Martin steadfastly avoids dealing with the sect, but when Auda commissions from a gypsy a watermark of the Narbonne bridge to identify her father's paper, she unwittingly entangles him in their snare. When someone steals her poems and the Cathar tract she has hidden in her father's house and delivers them to Church authorities, Auda finds herself fighting not only for her right to speak but for their very lives.

Ms. Sankaran does a wonderful job of evoking the nitty-gritty of medieval life, both the physical hardship of daily existence without modern conveniences and the inexorable sway religion and superstition held over the medieval mind. She provides a fascinating look into the process of making paper from rags and the cultural resistance that pitted the new medium against the established standard, vellum. As a student of literature, I was pleased to see her evoke the troubadour tradition and the Courts of Love of the previous century (although I wish she would have explored the contributions of trobairitz, or historical women troubadours, a bit more). I found the notion that Cathar theology promoted equality between the sexes intriguing and an interesting way to link Auda, a literate woman, to the sect. Most of all, I admire the way Ms. Sankaran animates the trope of the "voiceless other" to suggest that perhaps the most important truths of all are those that escape articulation.

(And kudos on the book's beautiful cover, designed to look like an illuminated manuscript. Auda might have lost her tongue in the story, but at least she didn't lose her head on the cover!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"L'homme en toute saison,
A gaigner biens pourchasse:
La femme en la maison
Les garde, & les amasse."

"The husband, in every season,
Seeks to earn goods;
The wife keeps and collects them
In the home."

Gilles Corrozet (1510-1568), writer and publisher
Hécatongraphie (1543)

[translation mine]

Monday, April 12, 2010

France Today: "Light & Lively Lyon"

photo courtesy of arno

A charming article on the history and character of Lyon, the setting of my first novel.

Love poetry contest winners

Robin Maxwell has announced the winners of the love poetry contest she sponsored to celebrate the publication of her novel O, JULIET. You can read the poems she selected here. Congratulations to the winners and to all who contributed their words on love!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Fortune is like the ladies, who generally scorn and discard their over-earnest admirers."

Attributed to Charles V (1500-1558),
King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor
by Francis Bacon (1561-1626),
English philosopher and statesman
The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book II

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing "Awe-Inspiring" Fiction

For all you writer-types, there's a very good article by Donald Maas on writing awe-inspiring fiction up at Writer Unboxed. He gives some excellent advice on how to craft characters readers care about, characters that MATTER. It's given me a lot to think about as I trudge through this second manuscript. Go check it out and let me know what you think. Let's get a discussion going!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Greetings

The Resurrection of Christ (c. 1516)
Oil on wood
Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538)
Austrian painter


Friday, April 2, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Mount Calvary. Second third of 16th century

"The heart of Adam lusted after the fruit, his hand took, his lips tasted; and now the Second Adam's heart is pierced, His hand is transfixed, and His lips are parched, in making amends for the transgression of the first Adam."

Antonio de Guevara (c. 1470-1544),
Spanish bishop, chronicler and court preacher
to Charles V
The Mysteries of Mount Calvary
Chapter XVII, "The Third Hour"

Translated by Rev. Orby Shipley