Private Lives In Renaissance Venice by Patricia Fortini Brown

If you are passionate about history like I am, then you may find yourself sometimes saying, “Yes, I see the dates and facts of what happened…but what was it really like to be there?”

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Since we can’t go back to experience history for ourselves, we can’t really know what it felt like, looked like, smelled like. The next best thing (besides historical reenactments, which I adore) is to review thoughtful compilation books, like Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.

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Within the pages of this monumental work are a review of dozens and dozens of paintings from the 16th century, as well as photographs of objects in museums and private collections that belonged to that period. Along with these images, the author weaves together an amazing historic illustration of what items were used for, the meanings behind intricate décor, an understanding of the architecture, what dress styles signified, and how Venetians in the Renaissance interacted with their environment. This book offers so much unique insight (with a strong focal point on the noble elite) that you can for a moment, truly visualize what it might have been like to be in the room, in that gondola or at that celebration.

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What is also very special about this work, are the areas where Brown points out the differences between this particular culture and other cultures from that time. For instance, I was fascinated to read within her book, that it was the noble Venetian men who did the grocery shopping (as Venetian men prided themselves on the savvy merchant qualities of their sex in that city and felt they knew best how to identify value in goods). And further, at receptions within a noble home that included visitors, the luxury you saw with your eyes was more important than what luxuries were on the menu. This meant, looking at the finery and decoration around the room took precedence over a table filled with food (unlike most every other city in Europe where banqueting meant gross overeating). I love you Venice, but I’m not sure I’m on your side with this one. This gal needs to eat!

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If you have an interest in Venice’s history, and-or of the Renaissance, I highly recommend adding this exemplary and artful book to your collection. This work, paired with a little imagination, and you’ll feel transported in time!

An Autumn Night In Evanston

“Brrrr mom, it’s getting chilly out there!”

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“I think the sun is setting, we better find a warm place.”

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“All set…please turn up the thermostat, would ya?”

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The evening meal is set…

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The house is cozy and warm…

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And the fireplace illuminates our evening…

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Happy Autumn!

The Golden Egg!

Today I’m buying a lotto ticket because I think it’s my lucky day! I had some boiled eggs for breakfast and definitely thought one didn’t quite look the same as the others. It was rather oblong and large. I thought the hen may have had a hard time laying that egg, and that was why it was shaped a little funny. But low and behold, two yolks!

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According to fresheggsdaily.com, there was about a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting the golden egg! And, it’s even more rare because egg distributors often throw away the odd looking eggs…what a waste!!! But if you raise your own chickens, you may see this once in a while. Pretty neat!

Oh heavens, Bennison’s!

In Evanston, we have a heavenly place called Bennison’s Bakery. They’ve been around since 1938 and are always packed with customers. Around the holidays, you really need to place orders early and prepare to stand in a line when you arrive. But it is worth the wait! And believe me, your eyes will have so many things to look at, you’ll wish the line had been longer so that you had more time to decide on what you want.

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Bennison’s has everything from delicious cakes, donuts, cookies, sandwiches (my favorite is the Caprese), pies, pretzels, French macarons, fruit tarts, artisan bread, cupcakes and so much more. It’s aways cheery and the bakery smells will put a smile on your face for at least an hour after you’ve walked out the door…and several more if you indulge in a few of their treats. We love this place (along with everyone else in Evanston), and it’s the perfect place to stop when you can’t think of a hostess gift or you need to bring a dessert to an event. Just stop there, the receivers of these treats will thank you!

All The Pretty Things Part II

Ugh, I’m injured! Nothing catastrophic, just a mean pulled muscle in my neck. Sleeping wrong? Lack of stretching before I exercised? Stretching my neck to look at the pastries in the bakery window? Who knows. And there’s a second injury…my foot slipped and I kicked the leg of the dining room table yesterday. One of those bizarre little accidents that don’t look too bad, until you start to feel some sort of painful internal swelling. So now I can’t turn my head without wincing and I’m limping. It’s my pretty look.

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Before bed last night, I had a heat pack on my neck and an icepack on my foot. But thanks to the very friend who I wrote about in my post All The Pretty Things, I heated up that pulled muscle in style!

This is her creation! Using fabric scraps, she sews a pouch and fills them with cherry pits! I’d never heard of this before until I saw one that she’d made. She said she’d been using them for years and they’ve been a comfort to her family. You place it in the microwave and heat it for a short time and all of the cherry pits soak in the heat and keep the pouch warm. When the heat runs out, you simply reheat. You can reuse the same pouch for years.

Last night, I was so thankful that she’d gifted me with one. It eased my neck pain before bed and I was able to fall asleep. For all those crafty folks out there, this would be an excellent holiday present! It’s a truly useful gift that keeps on giving! And it’s pretty too!

Excerpt From Veleno…Coming soon!

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“This is no plague m’lady. I’ve seen that devil run through a house.” The old woman paused and made the sign of the cross over herself. “Your youngest has been poisoned. Do you see her eyes, as large and black as ripe grapes.” Martinella scrunched her brows together until they looked like one line. “The lady Noemi found an assassin berry just before m’lord left for Treviso, in the house. I threw it in the lagoon. I imagine more found their way through the door. We best put her to bed madam, and see if she wakes in the morning.”

Mirella motioned to the second man, who immediately swooped in and picked up the little mite as if she were a piece of parchment. Paola clasped her arms around his thick neck and laid her head on his brawny shoulder. So this is what it feels like to sway in the branches of an oak, she thought. She’d normally have been mortified to be in the arms of a strange man, the arms of any man, but this was comforting. As the poison like a dagger slashed into her stomach, she cried out into the ruffled collar of his linen shirt. She’d never felt a pain like that before. The man held her more tightly as he carried her down the hall. Too agonized to push off the onset of another faint, the last thing she remembered was the smell of leather and wood smoke from off of the stranger’s doublet.

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Forbidden Fashions by Isabella Campagnol

A woman’s clothing, how she adorns herself, the makeup she wears, and her hairstyle…these things eternally hold very deep symbolism all the world over. It is often something that is controlled for the sake of modesty, honor and religious piety. What women wear, how they look, is the world’s obsession. It communicates whether she is of means or no, what she thinks about herself, what she wants others to think about her. It speaks of her personality and her beliefs. It speaks of a great many things.

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Isabella Campagnol offers us an incredible front row seat into what clothing and adornments meant for women in Venetian nunneries in her invaluable scholarly work: Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Venice (as with all of Europe) placed ladies into nunneries for centuries. You can read about it in my book Venice, as well as my other posts (Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven and Naughty Nunnery Parlors). Noble parents might have birthed 7 noble daughters, but inflated dowries meant only one, perhaps two of them could make an excellent match. The rest went into enclosure…forced, beaten, tricked, guilted into going. Yes, of course some went willingly and wanted this pious life. But most didn’t. Being a very young woman sent into a nunnery, to spend the rest of your life there completely closed off from the world, was a horrifying fate for many. And nothing could stop them from having worldly desires.

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As we see in Campagnol’s book, just because you’ve lost your worldly freedom doesn’t mean you’re going to follow the rules; Venice’s noblewomen broke them, again and again and again. From curling and showing ones tresses when they were to keep their hair completely covered, to transparent fabrics where solid ones should be, to hiding, coveting and wearing gems and adornments when these items were forbidden, to smuggling in or making and wearing every sort of item out of luxurious fabrics that were not allowed. Noble nuns even found ways to dye their hair in secret, wore makeup and furs. They wanted beauty, individuality, status, comforts, and freedom. Despite confiscations, punishments and shunning, the enclosed women pushed back.

Campagnol also shows us another side to the equation…a great many women who being disposed of, were left destitute of their basic clothing and linen needs. Once having lived in a comfortable world, they were now forgotten and left to suffer without a great many items, their urgent letters and requests falling on deaf family ears.

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Campagnol’s book is an eye-opening treasure. Undressing countless archives for the fashion facts, she gives us a glimpse into the sometimes dazzling yet often cruel world that many women experienced behind the veil.

The Pleasantly Palatable Menu at the Peckish Pig

My boyfriend and I make a particular effort to plan a date night each and every Friday evening. It is always something to look forward to and we often chat during the week about what we’d like to do. Shall we dress up and head to dinner downtown Chicago? Get tickets to the ballet or theater? Do we want to order in and have a comfortable couch night (best for those exhausting weeks)? Should we grab a casual dinner in Evanston and head to the movies? It’s so nice to have that special time together that we plan ahead for.

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And oh boy! Let’s just say when it comes to Evanston restaurants, we are becoming ever more spoiled! The perfect fall evening that it was, we cozied up at Evanston’s Peckish Pig this Friday. It was our first time dining there, and we loved it!

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To start, we had their Whipped Goat Cheese & Honeycomb on toasty little slices of bread. Oh heavens! I’m a cheese addict, this was delicious! We also had the Roasted Beet and Burrata with Basil Oil which was served chilled. It was so refreshing! We also sampled their Beer Pig Mussels Cooked with House Brewed Beer & Bacon.

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For our main course, handsome had the Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese, Mango-Lime Mayo and Cumin Fries. I’m pretty sure I ate more of his fries than he did…those perfectly crispy, seasoned, large cut fries! And I had the Chef’s Fish Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Whipped Avocado. To finish, we shared the Fresh Fruit with Creme Fraiche & Balsamic Reduction. Tart and fruity!

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The atmosphere at the Peckish Pig is awesome! We arrived for an earlier dinner and were very pleased to see all of the families, couples and bar folk, a very pleasant mix to the crowd. The lighting isn’t blaring and I particularly liked their use of candles, strung bulbs and ambiance lighting. Water is served in blue mason jars (which we also drink out of at home), loved it! Service is excellent and there is a great energy to the place. With a really nice selection on their menu, we can’t wait to head back! And I’ll make sure to be a little more than peckish when I arrive!

Why I love to write

There are of course, many reasons why I love to write. Primarily because storytelling makes me happy! It is so fun! It’s challenging! I’m allowed to make up really wild scenarios, fairy tales, and thrilling moments that usually don’t happen in real life and run with them! The characters are my puppets…Bwah-Ha-Ha! I can get lost in my own worlds! But do you know what is really, really, really special and makes all the hard parts about trying to write books worth it?

 

The readers! This is my cousin Macy, to whom my new children’s book Princess Liliana and the Dragon is dedicated. She enjoyed the first chapter last night. Her mom said she loved it! She brought her copy to kindergarten today to share with her friends.

I melt, I smile, I jump for joy, I’m filled with happiness! What could be better in all the world than to be able to share all those things that come from my imagination, with you…the reader!

Catnip Confessions Part 2

Also read Catnip Confessions.

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While out on another lovely fall walk, I just so happened to look down along the sidewalk and see not one, but three healthy catnip clusters. Yes!! As I’d just stepped into the grocery and exited with a few items for us humans, how could I walk past these green growths without bringing home some sprigs for Tiddo?

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I bent down and tugged out a big handful. As I stood up, I looked to see who owned the patch…it was a church. Thief, thief! I felt a little guilty. What if they were growing this catnip to donate to the homeless kitties at the animal shelter? Or what if the church had taken in a brood of needy kittens and this was their catnip. Oops! I stuffed the clump of green in my pocket and carried on, still feeling guilty that I’d stolen from a church.

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That was until I got home and Tiddo discovered the stash. It must have been pretty potent because he behaved more excitedly than usual this time. Cats’ noses are pretty impressive. Tiddo always seems to find the pilfered catnip before I offer it to him. I hardly have time to set down my things before he’s in the purse or pocket, sniffing out the goods!

VELENO…Coming Soon!

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In 1576, the Black Death knocked on every door in Venice, Italy and took with it, the lives of fifty thousand…just less than the entire population of Venice today.

But for those who lived in the House of Orso, the plague wasn’t the only predator. Veleno…a terrible tale, even for those who aren’t afraid of the dark…

Steak & Seafood at Pete Miller’s

Every morning, I stand outside and assess the weather. The Weather Channel, what’s that? Not for me, I like to walk outside and figure it out for myself. I admit, not exactly the greatest tactic for preparing for how the weather may develop as the day progresses. This morning, as I stood looking at the cloudy sky and felt the cold air, I thought to myself, “Winter is coming”. Yes, I imagine myself as one of the characters in Game of Thrones sometimes. But winter is coming, and in northern Illinois, it can be brutal.

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There is only one way to face it, cozy restaurants with good food. Preferably, they’ll have a fireplace, and serve heavy dishes filled with tryptophan and other endorphin releasing chemicals. How else will you manage to survive?

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It isn’t winter yet, but we thought we should do a restaurant test run just to make sure we’re ready. On Friday night, we went to Pete Miller’s in Evanston. We found the ‘food coma’ inducing tryptophan levels in the rib eye steak and king crab legs to be most satisfactory. Ok, I jest…we didn’t even get sleepy from feasting like kings. But we sure as heck left feeling pretty good!

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To start, we enjoyed warm bread & butter, East Coast & Blue Point oysters with LaMarca Prosecco and a fruit & burrata salad. Oysters are served with different condiments everywhere we go. I liked the traditional lemon and cocktail sauce (which was very tasty) here at Pete Miller’s. Burrata is a creamy Italian cheese (a little like ricotta and buffalo mozzarella). For this salad, they served the cheese with merlot-poached pears & balsamic drizzle. Oh heavens! For our main course, handsome had the rib eye with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed spinach. I had the king crab legs with truffle parmesan fries and asparagus with hollandaise; served with two glasses of Uppercut Cabernet. Delicious! We were far too full for dessert (but I enjoyed leftovers the following day).

It isn’t food alone that makes for a great dining experience however. Our server Vasi was cheerful, informative with the menu and very timely, as were all the staff that kept our table tidy and our water glasses filled. We appreciate this restaurant’s excellent presentation of steak, seafood and impeccable service! To get through the winter blahs, reserve a table at Pete Miller’s if you’re near Chicago’s North Shore!

Princess Liliana and the Dragon available now!

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The Kingdom of Heart is a peaceful place. That’s where Princess Liliana and her friends from the village of Tumble Down live! And when she isn’t horseback riding or taking lessons to learn how to be a great queen when she grows up, she loves to read. That’s how she learned about the magical creatures that once lived in the Forest of Fog, so very close to the castle!

Visiting the woods herself, Liliana is surprised to find that an enchanting dragon is still living within the realm! But before she can share the wonderful news, her happy discovery turns to sadness. Her new friend is in trouble. But how can she help him?

Join Princess Liliana as she finds a way to save her forest friend and teach the realm what it means to be brave and kind in the Kingdom of Heart.

Available here and on Amazon!

Sparrows & Mice

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This morning, I heard Tiddo the cat having a conversation in the bedroom. It isn’t uncommon that he meows to himself or sits and meows to me (for three hours straight), but just now it seemed he was talking to someone even though he was alone. I walked into the room to investigate, as it was ongoing. And this is why you need to keep your camera close…

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Tiddo and a White-Throated Sparrow having a little chat at the window. The moment was endearing, though let’s be clear, Tiddo would have eaten the bird if there wasn’t a screen. He was just pretending to be nice to lure the unsuspecting birdie closer. They were talking about the nice weather.

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I’ve seen my cat in action, like the field mouse he cornered into my boyfriend’s shoe last month. And here below is the mouse that Tiddo brought to me in bed at two in the morning last winter. He dropped it into the bed next to me and meowed like crazy until I scolded him to go away. It was dark, and now awake, I got up to go to the bathroom. As I did, something fell from the bed next to me onto the floor and my toes touched it as I put my feet down. Tiddo wanted me to be proud of his catch, so I turned on the lights and made a big deal of praising him. I don’t condone killing any creature in my heart, but once Tiddo’s deed was done (something that is his nature and for which it was clear he wanted to share with me), what can I do?

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After I praised him, I promptly threw the dead mouse in the waste bin. In the wee hours of the morning, I heard that trash can tip over…Tiddo found his mouse and got it out of the trash. I guess he couldn’t understand why I’d waste a perfectly good and delicious mousie.

Halloween Treats For All

It is the start of October and the leaves are just beginning to turn colors here in northern Illinois. Fall is my season! I love those chilly nights when you grab that extra blanket out of the closet, those first cozy uses of the fireplace, the campfires, warming recipes in the crockpot, and of course Halloween! And, what better than a good book to read as the days get shorter, cooler and that spooky holiday nears?

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I’m inspired by interactive fiction. That is why my book Venice allows the reader to decide at the end of each chapter, what they will see and do next (read more here). So what will I be reading as All Hallows’ Eve approaches? Death By Halloween by David Warkentin. This is “an adventure you choose”, just like Venice. However, I must warn you, this book is for mature readers (adults). It’s crreeeeppppy. I’ve read a few of the paths already and I got super nervous every time I had to turn a page (which is hilarious because I was sitting on the beach on a sunny day). I got goose bumps…and grossed out too (just depends on what route you select). In a way, I feel like Warkentin’s book is a gift to adults who have forgotten just how fun Halloween was when they were a kid. It allows you to get into the spirit once more!

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Now, as I said, I wouldn’t recommend the book above for the wee folk. But they need some interactive fiction fun too! I suggest ordering some vintage Choose Your Own Adventure books, such as The Mystery of Chimney Rock by Edward Packard…or embrace the season with Spooky Thanksgiving by R.A. Montgomery.

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And if they are really little, I suggest Jack Prelutsky’s It’s Halloween. Oh, memories! I had this book on tape cassette when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and still have it memorized in my Halloween loving, wacky brain. Listen to it here.

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Back to adult reads, if you like art as well…may I suggest the illustrated book The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey? He is my favorite artist and just about the creepiest storyteller and illustrator. When I was a little girl, I used to watch a program called Mystery with my grandmother. She’d pop homemade popcorn in the skillet and had a hidden stash of Squirt and grape Crush at the back of the closet that we’d pour over ice (a rare treat). And oh, my, goodness…I was entranced by the opening introduction for the program by Edward Gorey. You must watch them (here & here). For years, I’ve sent Edward Gorey holiday cards to my friends and family…because nothing says Christmas cheer like a creepy Gorey sketch.

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But if you’ve got the time for a longer classic, I’d say go for Bram Stroker’s Dracula. I’m nuts for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie version. However, the book is a little different from that adaptation and mesmerizingly written. Published in 1847, it was ahead of its time, a truly innovative and terrifying read.

All The Pretty Things

For some time, I had this blouse that was ill fitting. If I were honest, I don’t even think it fit properly the day I purchased it, but I loved the colors and the fabric so much that I bought it anyway. And every time I wore it, it just didn’t feel right. After many wears, I simply gave up.

For those who know me, I’m neither a shopper nor a keeper. I don’t like shopping for clothes at all, and when I’m through with a garment, I have no trouble throwing it away if it is ruined or giving it to charity if it isn’t. Only, I couldn’t part with this blouse! I’d look at it in the closet all of the time and knew that if I wore it, I’d just feel uncomfortable all day. But what to do with it?

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I have a lovely friend and mentor who is fabulous with a sewing machine. One day, she told me that together with her young daughter, they’d made little bags to give away as party favors for a birthday party, using fabric scraps. When I saw photos, I felt the outcome was exceptional…the kiddos at that birthday party went away with a very special gift to remember the event! And then, I thought of my blouse.

This photo is the result. This mother-daughter team repurposed my beloved blouse so exceptionally that I felt the quality was better than what I’d find in a shop. With what they were able to render from my top, there were three bags of different sizes made. I love them. I use them all of the time.

However, these are more than pretty bags. They embody re-use, and happily with an item I couldn’t part with. But also, they are caring craftsmanship by two ladies who were proud of the work of their hands, thus making something beautiful and useful. Rather than just another thing I own, they make me smile when I use them because they are special. They remind me of how lucky I am for the friendships in my life. And they remind me of what it means to not just gobble up yet another thing at the big chain store, but to value the good things in my life.

Snackin’ Like A Hobbit

Ok. I’m not going to lie. I’m an eater, a gal who loves food. You won’t find me skipping a meal unless I’ve got the stomach flu…and I’ve got a pretty good immune system. I’m like one of the hobbits from The Lord of The Rings (if you don’t know this schedule by heart you’re clearly not a hobbit, I’m sorry for you).

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Today, I had to skip a special part of my day because I was genuinely so busy, that I couldn’t even sneak an M & M in my mouth. I missed snack time and the day just wasn’t the same. See, I have a thing for making what I call ‘little plates’ in the afternoon.

What’s that? You think this plate looks like a big plate? Not for this hobbit! But even if you don’t have my appetite, remember what good that little break can do for you and take it! A walk around the block with your orange slivers and a soak of the sun, a nibble of chocolate on your warming coffee run, a slice of cheese on a baguette with a daydream of Paris, some salty olives and thoughts of Italy, or one of my ‘little plates’…everyone needs a break and a treat, hobbit or not. Take a moment for you!

Naughty Nunnery Parlors

Below, Pietro Longhi’s The Visiting Parlour in the Convent.

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Do you know what Veronese means? It means you hale from Verona, much like Venetians come from Venice. Just as I am an Evanstonian living in Evanston! I’m a sucker for these little worldly details. What are folks from your town called? Share it in the comments!

Giuseppe de Gobbis was a Veronese painter who spent some time in Venice between 1772 & 1783. Some find his works reminiscent of Pietro Longhi (see previous post here). View this work by Giuseppe: A music party in the interior of a Palazzo. This painting is so rich with details about Venice’s late 18th century. See the caged canary hanging from the ceiling, the spectacular capturing of the clothing, the gold mountings below the large mirror, that couple carrying on a rendezvous behind the gentleman’s tricorne hat? Where’s my magnifying glass?

With a chapter written in my book Venice about the enclosure of noble ladies in the nunneries over the centuries, and my applause for Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven, and also having read Casanova’s retelling of his visits to nunnery parlors in his memoirs, I am also intrigued by this painting by Giuseppe de Gobbis: Parlatorio delle Monache (The Parlor of the Nuns).

Comparing the two, I think many may find it ironic that both of the paintings seem so festive (one without the nunnery, one within). How so, when nunneries were a place of enclosure and pious, careful behavior? True to history, I think it really depended on the decade and the nunnery itself. Some Venetian nunneries closed in the ladies so rigorously, that they would brick off even the slightest view a nun may get of street life. And it was also in those places that you would only be allowed a visit from a proven female relative, say your mother, with still an extreme partition between you both, and a devout nun would be keeping watch. A little too much gossip and giggles and you might be chastised! Ugh!

But then, we also find many accounts of scenes like Longhi’s above, and Giuseppe’s. Perhaps the later 18th century was more lax, but again, it depended on the nunnery. There are plenty of accounts where rules were bent. Say, on festival days when your whole family would come (men and women) and you’d share good food between far less oppressive grates. Musicians would be hired to keep the nuns merry. Games would be played. Only, it was at such times where one nun may begin flirting with another nun’s visitor (say a brother), and then the intrigue and sneaky behavior and passing of secret letters began…perhaps even an exchange of a kiss between those grates. You get the picture, laxity got a bad wrap and allowed for naughty behavior. Casanova knew this, and took advantage. Certainly, this type of romance had serious challenges, but that made it more interesting for a man like him, and plenty of others. We’ve got the written proof.

This week, I’m going to share another one of my favorite books…Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents by Isabella Campagnol. Her excellent research in this particular history proves not only enclosed nuns’ need for independence, personality and beautiful things, but also something to grab attention…say on that festival day in the nunnery parlor!

Catnip Confessions

Ok, I’m letting the cat out of the bag (tee-hee). I stole from my neighbors, several neighbors. What did I take? I took some green. No, not cash. Catnip. Yes, I’m confessing. But, what cat mommy wouldn’t do the same? Just look at this handsome Bengal. You’d pilfer weeds from your neighbor’s sidewalk for this little guy too.

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Yes, I sometimes pick catnip when I see it along my walk path around town. But lets be honest, no one even knows they’ve got cat’s best friend in their yards. All they see are annoying weeds. Catnip can definitely grow out of control and though it smells and looks a little like mint (same plant family), it isn’t mint, so people think it’s useless and tug it out of their flowerbeds.

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Don’t worry Evanston…I’ll help you control your weeds. My cat thanks you!

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Fun fact…apparently you can make tea from catnip to help you sleep. Or so says the organic catnip vendor at the farmer’s market. Yes, Tiddo the cat is health conscious and prefers organic. And no, I haven’t made said tea. I’d probably have a wacky allergic reaction and then have to tell the doctor I was sharing catnip with my cat. That would be weird.

Birdie Buffet! Chirp, chirp!

It’s a lovely day here in Evanston and the cool fall weather we had a taste of several weeks ago has returned. Last night, we lit the fireplace and it was divine! I may have eaten an entire pizza while mesmerized before it, toasting my toes. This afternoon, I must take a long walk (darn you pizza) to soak in the outdoors since the snow will likely be here tomorrow (I’m only sort of kidding).

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We are very fortunate to live around a lot of green and trees. I’m a big fan of nature and wildlife, so I feel quite at home in my yard…except two nights ago when that skunk waddled through and the windows were open. I like to do a lot of writing on the porch. Studies show that getting outside does a world of good for your health in all sorts of ways, including making you a happier you.

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One of the things that make me smile and sing like a lark (tee-hee) are the birds in my yard! Now, I’m not sure, but I think living just a few blocks from Lake Michigan may have something to do with this; I believe we’re on some migratory route for birds. Most weeks, it’s just your usual Sparrows, Cardinals and Blackbirds. But then, on what seems like a single morning, the entire bird world descends on our yard and we see a lot of species we usually wouldn’t. It becomes rather chatty out there! Especially when the bird feeders are filled. Birdie buffet! Then a few days later, back to normal.

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Like this Indigo Bunting and his friend, a Red-Breasted Grosbeak.

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And this Goldfinch.

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Anyone know what this guy is? A Black-Headed Grosbeak or an Orange Oriole?

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I call this dude Helmet Head because I don’t know what he is, but he looks like he’s wearing a football helmet.

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And these two Woodpeckers that were searching for their meal on the same tree. My favorites are the Wrens and the Nuthatches…I just like how they flit around and walk upside down on the trees!

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My mother lent me her copy of Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim & Singer, which I always keep nearby. It’s a lot of fun identifying our little guests!