Veleno Is Here!

Veleno, my newest novel and one eerie historical-fiction thriller, has arrived! I sincerely hope you enjoy my creepy new tale…

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There once was a great Venetian palace. The name of which, everyone did know. Inside its walls dwelled an esteemed noble family. All revere, ’tis the House of Orso!

Its patriarch, a rich and powerful merchant. With a wife very clever, such a beautiful sight. His daughters, four, a precious gift. How unfortunate now, each should meet their plight…

Orso dead? Perhaps by plague! Mirella turned strange, a widow made.

Fina gone, for a courtesan’s life. Noemi must escape, or make a woeful wife. Mafalda will rise in a cold, cruel pit. Paola sent off to a nunnery, might lose her wits.

Venice’s year, 1575. Pestilence arrives, Venetians fear for their lives! But in Orso’s house, strong daughters were made. Yet can courage be enough, to escape the grave?

Available now on Amazon and Amazon Europe!

Welcome To The Venetian Carnival…A World of Wonders!

The Venetian Carnival 2017 begins in just 3 days, running from February 11-28! Though I will not be attending the glorious festivities in person, I can still reminisce upon my past attendance and cherish Carnival from afar. Perusing photos from when my costumer mother Lita and I attended in 2005 (a trip that inspired my book Venice), I was treated once again to the sight of remarkable raiment…

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What I have always found fascinating about the mask and costume culture of the Carnival (namely throughout Venice’s illustrious history), is the anonymity it gives the individual and the new guise it may offer them. It empowers one to cast away social pressures, and become whoever or whatever they wish. The pauper mingled freely with the aristocrat, the infirm beamed with good health, and the old were filled with youth once more…

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Here was a pearly queen with her court of incandescent unicorns and magical beings. They glittered in the sun while their glimmering attire swirled in the breeze. During the Carnival, anyone can transform themselves, moving even into an otherworldly realm…

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What exotic rulers, from a distant palace filled with riches, shine like gold itself just beneath this marbled portico?

When researching this culture of mask from Venice’s history, one discovers that the majority of coverings translated into commonly known characters. This sometimes still holds true today…

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As you amble through Venice during the Carnival, inquire with the exquisitely attired and ask them who they are. Unique characters may reveal themselves (some with a wink to history and tradition). Only, don’t be offended if many remain mute. The right of anonymity belongs to the masked, and some don’t prefer to even share the vibration of their voices…

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Many don the brightest colors, covered in drifting sheer fabric and an eddy of soft feathers. Mysterious tropical birds, descending upon the city to outshine the average sea bird of the lagoon…

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And many couples (sometimes even groups) display themselves in carefully created, matching garments. I dare say, this pair would have had a hard time losing one another in the crowd! They remind me of the wind and water that are as much a part of Venice, as its majestic palazzi are…

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Wouldn’t it be fascinating to add up all of the hours spent creating such works of wearable art each season? The numbers would be telling of the passion a great many patrons put into their costumes. I thank them for keeping the magic and tradition of the Venetian Carnival, alive!

Here’s to the 2017 Carnevale di Venezia and to the city and people of Venice! Here’s also to remembering to add a bit of wonder and magic to each of your days, whether or not it be a festival day!

The Carnival of Venice

The Carnevale di Venezia 2017 is but 7 days away! Hundreds of visitors are preparing for the event, which this year falls between February 11-28. I’ve perused the calendar of this year’s events with wide-eyed wonder…what delights await all those who will have the privilege of attending…

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I took these photos when I attended the Venetian Carnival in 2005 with my costumer mother, Lita. We wore our gowns and ambled about the calle, along the waters of the lagoon and through St. Mark’s Square each day. There is nothing more enlivening than the energy in that square as crowds watch for the very best costumes on display (such as those worn by this impeccable couple above)…

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Cameras flash. People ohhh and ahhh. Laughter and chatter abound while the clamor from the lively crowd vibrates your sternum. It is very exciting. Music floods through St. Mark’s, amplified beats by day, live vocals at night…

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With pomp and mask, wig and powder, the fascinatingly antiquated carry themselves elegantly toward frivolity in every corner of the city. I swoon, I die…as I watch the parade go by…

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There is so much to entertain…cafe sittings, gondola rides, boat races and water parades, street entertainments, Festa delle Marie, The Flight of the Angel, mask and costume contests, masquerade balls and festive dinners. Along with the striking beauty of the city of Venice, its delicious fare, musical offerings and art exhibits, Carnevale could certainly overwhelm anyone with its sheer splendor…

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Though I will not be in attendance (deep sigh), I wish anyone attending this year the most enchanting time of their lives! As for me, I am anticipating the wonderful photos and videos that will soon be posting during this carnival season. They will ignite my dreaming for the next occasion when I too, will amble once more in costume through the labyrinth that is Venice!

My Pretty Venice

Absolutely charming! That’s what I think about My Pretty Venice: A Girl’s Guide to True Venice by Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and illustrated by Beatrice Campagnol. This lovely book put a smile on my face at the turn of every page…

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To begin with, I greatly esteem writer Isabella Campagnol who is the author of Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents which I previously reviewed here. With her being a fashion, textile, and decorative arts historian who writes on Venetian topics, who better to co-author a modern guide directed toward such themes, with rich history weaved in?

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What do I love about this book? First, Rainer and Campagnol have written an uncomplicated, selective guide to Venice, directed toward delights that ladies might enjoy. That hidden garden, that charming bookstore, a place to pamper your toes or find elegant trappings. However, it isn’t just dry information, it’s playful and delightfully accompanied by Beatrice Campagnol’s darling illustrations (also including illustrative, well placed photos by Lorenzano Di Renzo). A thoughtful guide for the travel-minded, adventurous spirit that is also endearing to the imagination!

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I really enjoyed the cameos and curiosities throughout the book as well, which retell interesting histories and share snippets of important ladies from Venice’s history!

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For you gals who love Venice (like me), or have a friend who does, My Pretty Venice is an absolute treat! Whether or not you’re heading to that magical city anytime soon, a flip through this book’s pages will sweep you away on your own little holiday!

Beds Bequeathed, Linens Lost

Take a moment to imagine something special that you own, something that you’d like to pass along to someone close to you after you’re gone. Is it a precious piece of jewelry or a fine watch? Is it an antique car or unique collection that took you years to build? Well, if you lived in the Renaissance, one of the things at the top of your list would have been your bedding

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I have a bed sheet that’s just worn through from regular wear and washing, gaining a large rip beyond repair. In this case, what can be done but to put it on the shopping list that a new one is needed. This got me thinking about some research I’d been doing lately…

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As I’ve been doing a little writing about settings within noble Renaissance homes, I needed to be careful not to assume that the beds looked anything like the fancy ones I would dream up for a wealthy lord and lady of the 16th century, or the humbler nests I’d assume their household slept upon. I had to ask, what were beds really like?

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If you were indeed very wealthy, a large and sumptuous bed might have been a reality. Mattresses filled with downy feathers, soft sheets and a bolster (liken to our pillows but a long tubular one to be shared). Richly fabrics might have hung around it (used to keep out the cool draft and give the sleepers some privacy).

These beds however, and the linens and hangings around them, would have been considered one of the finest things you owned. Further, the area where this bed would have been displayed was far more likely to be viewed publicly, in a room where your guests might look upon it. You would have been proud for others to see these luxurious furnishings. Further still, an honored guest might even sleep in it so that they would be comfortable during their stay…with you. Further, further still, you and multiple family members might sleep in it altogether. And in your will, scribbled out with your quill and ink, you’d be certain to pass these goods on to the most beloved of those near to you. These items were regularly passed along through multiple generations.

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The household (servants) of those affluent families, had a different reality, one much like cottage dwellers. You might all find a place near the fire in the kitchen, sitting or laying where there was a spot to be found, on a handful of grasses or hay. You might have had a pallet (thatched grasses and hay). Or quite often, you may have simply slumped where you could find a seat, snoozing upright. You were fortunate to own a good cloak, or covering of that nature, for you weren’t likely to own a coverlet and it would act as one.

This would of course, not have been very comfortable at all. Vermin were rampant (and historically speaking, this was even true for the nobles’ bedding, no matter how fine). So, you’d have fleas, bedbugs, little mice too. If you lived in a cottage, leaks and bird excrement and insects would drop on you as you slept (and at all hours of the day), for all of nature would have lived in your grassy roof. Things would have been damp, drafty, dirty, uncomfortable…

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Knowing my own temperament, I can say that I would have been miserable living during the Renaissance as concerns this topic. My need for 8 hours of undisturbed, comfortable, quiet sleep each night, would have been foiled. I’d have been one grouchy lady.

Researching the topic has been fascinating however, even looking back at different centuries. For instance, during the 18th century in Europe, affluent people regularly treated their bedrooms like meeting rooms. Sit in bed, have your meal, with all your visitors hanging around. Venice’s treasured 18th century artist Pietro Longhi documented such scenes on canvas…The Morning Chocolate:

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I was very intrigued too, when I read Casanova’s memoirs. They told of his day-to-day dealings and during these memoirs, you see how quickly people fell from money into complete destitution. People commonly sold their belongings as a means of survival and when bill collectors came calling, there was always the possibility that they’d act upon the law to collect a few of your furnishings to settle what was due. Casanova repeatedly sold his belongings, regularly linens, for his own survival.

Nowadays, I couldn’t get hardly a dime for my bedsheets if I needed to. Things have changed. Unless you own priceless art or gilded furniture, in most cases the public doesn’t look upon your furniture (and especially not your bed and linens) as a part of your ‘estate’. No, it is more likely land/house/cars, that show what you’re *worth*.

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If I lived during the Renaissance, I’d march my butt upstairs right now and pull out a needle and thread and start fixing that sheet! There would be no tossing it out, and running down to the store for a new one. For its worth, would have been viewed very differently.

Check out my previous post about people’s relationship with their things in history. I twitter about how acutely different our reality is from those people of the past, as regards to our stuff. It makes you think a little differently about why and how we value what we own.

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When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, and snuggle up beneath the soft sheets and blankets, I’ll be taking a moment to remember how very rich I am, for once upon a time, these items were considered the greatest of luxuries. Even to sell them during hard times, might have delivered me and put food on the table, when I needed it the most. I may not live in the tempestuous times of the Renaissance, but for all the comfort these items give me today, I value them still…even if they’ll only give me a penny for resale!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway Part III.

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First an excerpt from Veleno…a terrible tale, soon to come!

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Standing before her, he held out a large mollusk, far more generous in size than the ones they regularly ate. It was a fine catch, a basket of those would fetch an excellent price, especially on a feast day when the noble houses were entertaining guests and wanted to impress. Pulling a sharp knife from his belt, he sliced between the shells and carefully pried the animal open, discarding the top of the creature’s case to a table. Skilled, he swiftly cut beneath the meat and detached its membrane to make it easier to consume. He smiled once more and carefully handed over the plump, briny offering. Mafalda was embarrassed, the oyster was rather big and she felt hesitant to swallow it before Baldovino. Oysters were said to cause passions in the eaters; she was certain he knew that. As well he stood closely enough that she swore she could feel the heat radiating from his body, though it could have just been the kitchen blaze. He watched her expectantly, almost eagerly, standing tall enough to look over her. She wanted to move away, but only far enough so that she could spy on this man unnoticed; he was very desirable. He wiped the knife in his alternate hand upon a rag hanging at his hip and slipped it back into his belt.

Tentatively accepting the halved shell, the size of which completely engulfed her hand, she looked meekly up at Baldovino and then slowly brought the shell closer to her lips. Just as she was about to tilt the creature’s vessel up to slide the oyster into her mouth, he whispered for her to wait. She paused short and her eyes grew large. She began to blush. Why had he stopped her? She didn’t want to prolong this. Martinella would be back soon, or Tonia might catch an eyeful of the two and Mafalda felt that the man was standing too close, too familiarly. Carefully taking back the shell from her, he again pulled out his knife and scrapped gingerly at the flesh, quickly exposing a large and glistening white orb. It was a pearl, a very large pearl.

Today’s the day, the day for a pearl earrings giveaway! As you know, I’m nuts about pearls! Renaissance Venetians were too, such as the noble lady Mafalda in my soon to come Veleno…one terrible tale! You can check out Inspired by Venice‘s past pearl giveaways here and here.

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These delightful fresh water pearls are drop shaped, and white-yellow-peach depending on the light. Dainty and so lovely! These sweet earrings are by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire!

To enter the giveaway, get your imaginations brewing and write a sentence or two to describe what happened next after the pearl was discovered in Veleno‘s excerpt above. Write it in the comments! Does Mafalda gasp and greedily snatch the pearl right out of the oyster? Does Baldovino get called away, leaving the gift on the table for her to discretely take? Does she tell him she prefers diamonds? Does a kitchen maid accidentally spill something on them both, tripping as she walks by, and they all laugh? Be funny, or romantic (keep it classy), silly or serious…it’s for fun!

I’ll choose a winner at random from the entries, one week from today (on Monday, March 7th, 2016 at 9:00am Chicago time) and will announce the winner here! Please share news of the giveaway; the more fun entries there are, the merrier for all!

Here’s to smiles and laughs, good stories, and pearls of happiness in each and every day! Enjoy your adventure today!

Mangia! Mangia!

We had a delicious Italian meal at Convito Cafe in Wilmette, just up the street from home last Friday evening. We love finding new places for date night, and feel doubly lucky when we discover a great place right where we live.

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I smiled when they sat us in the coziest enclave, white linen on the table, soothing flameless candles, and this print of Venetian canals. If Venice is in my view, how could a meal ever be unpleasant?

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I’m a sucker for beet salad! If it is on the menu, I order it. Some soft goat cheese and spicy arugula, earthy chilled slices of beet…this salad alone made my night.

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No helter-skelter mussels arrangement here! Didn’t you know that mussels taste better when they are arranged this nicely? The Prince Edward Island Mussels with San Marzano cherry tomatoes, white wine, parsley, marjoram (a type of oregano), butter and crunchy garlic bruschetta was delicious!

Is it just me, or could you also eat an entire loaf of ‘crunchy garlic bruschetta’, dipping it into the sauce until there isn’t a drop or crumb left, only to ask the server for a second loaf?

Fun Fact: Bruschetta is actually just grilled bread rubbed with garlic, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. You can put toppings (like diced tomatoes, onions and basil) on it, but bruschetta doesn’t mean its topped. I’m always learning something new!

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Pasta heaven! My date had the Campanelle Tonnato: bell shaped pasta, Italian poached tuna, grape tomatoes, picholine olives, capers, fresh basil, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, and a touch of chili peppers. Was it delicious? I ate his leftovers and mine the next day.

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I enjoyed every bite of the Penne Integrale: whole wheat penne, butternut squash, kale, leeks, pumpkin seeds and parmesan butter sauce. Mmmmm…parmesan butter sauce. I dug this dish! The hearty kale, soft sweet squash, flavorful leeks and crunchy pumpkin seeds made it a pasta plate to remember.

A slice of sticky sweet apple tarte and vanilla ice cream was just the right ending to our meal. That was handsome’s espresso, but I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled divine. I would have taken a sip, only my eyes would have been wide open all night and this gal needs her eight hours.

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Convito Cafe was simple in the very, very best way. The food was delicious without being overly rich, the restaurant was classy yet warm like home, the service impeccable without being stuffy. We truly enjoyed our dinner.

But there’s more! Convito Cafe has a market on one side of the restaurant, filled with delectable, take-home meal options. We just picked up some butternut squash lasagna (for me), and meat lasagna (for him)…and some potato gratin (for him) and some cannelloni (for me)…and some roasted brussels sprouts (for us) and a lemon bar (for him…but I’m going to steal a bite when he isn’t looking and blame the cat). Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs…well, maybe not mine.

If you live on Chicago’s North Shore, take a little ride up Sheridan along the lakefront and enjoy a table at Convito Cafe. It’s a gem! We’ll see you there!

Reflecting on the View

How lovely to stick one’s head out of the window and get a view, whether in Venice or anywhere else! Here, I was listening to the gondoliers’ barcarole, watching them float by, observing folks as they ambled across the bridge. I couldn’t help smiling at the pigeons rising from the rooftops with their usual cooing. The air was cool, with that hint of the sea.

What is your favorite view, and what are its signature sights, sounds and smells when you poke your head out from the window to observe it?

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Here, I was mesmerized by the reflection of the buildings in the canal. It almost looked like there was an underworld beneath the surface, an exact replica of the one above! Or even that I was way up stories high (with the building opposite looking much taller than it was because of its reflection). Can you tell when the building across from mine met the water?

Here’s wishing you’ll find the charms in the view just outside your window today, wherever you may be! Trees, birds, corn fields, lapping blue waves? People alive and dancing past one another on their way to somewhere? Neon lights and that city buzz? There is beauty to be found in every view, go look!

All Good Things!

I am very excited to announce the arrival of The Fairy Woods, released yesterday and available here! I hope all the kiddos will enjoy the adventure of my three fairy friends, Whisper, Wish and Wind, as well as the magical moments that take place in their wooded realm! For any child that can’t get enough fairy tales, this is a special book for them!

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I would also like to thank Johnny Jet: The Travel Insider! If you enjoy travel, this site is for you! I was interviewed for their popular Travel Style segment and hope you’ll enjoy it! You can read the interview here!

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I’ve not only had the opportunity to do some wonderful traveling in my life so far, something that I love, but my book Venice is inspired by the adventures life brings when you grab your suitcase and hit the road (or jump on that vaporetto)! For all of you who dream of the places you’ll see, I hope you get there and soon!

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I would also like to send a special thank you to La Venessiana (meaning the Venetian woman), one of the absolute best blogs about all things Venice! Several times (here & here), very kind mentions were made for my book Venice and site Inspired by Venice. For anyone who wants their dose of dreamy Venice, its food, beautiful photography, and an insider’s delightful stories, you must visit La Venessiana and often!

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I am also excited to share that 2016 is going to bring some very exciting adventures! Veleno  is just around the corner (for you adult readers looking for a terrible tale), and The Itty Bitty Littles too (a sweet, funny adventures for the little ones), but there’s more! Wonderful new adventures for every age and I can’t wait for you to see what’s next! Queen of the Elves is just one sneak peek!

The Costumer, The Artist, The Inspiration

My mother is a very talented costumer and artist. I’ve had the great fortune of watching her sew all of my years, and being able to wear some dozens of her creations: just for fun, in theatricals, and for historic reenactment. And though I am going to share a great many photos of her spectacular works on Inspired by Venice, I wanted you to first, meet the artist!

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This is Lita, my precious mother and best friend! Here she is wearing one of her own 18th century style day dresses in Venice during the Carnival.

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She wore a silk hair net covered in gold corded weave, with a gold mask and veil. The Venetian Carnevale tends to run at the end of January through the start of February, so it can be pretty chilly. Thankfully the sun shone beautifully that day, so a shawl and hand muff kept her warm enough while we took a stroll.

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We soaked in the sun with coffee in Piazza San Marco. The air was crisp and fresh, with a hint of the sea.

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On another sunny walk, she wore this piece, covered by a beautiful cape. If I’d had the sense, I would have gotten some closer photos so that one could really see some of the detail; the perfect pleated fabric over the small hip panniers, the feathered headpiece and veil, the lace at the elbows.

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Even now, I remember what it felt like to be able to walk about the city of Venice in costume (this excursion was in 2005). For me, it is the ultimate excitement to pretend for a moment that I’m visiting the 18th century and going about my business. For every occasion that I could actually wear a costume in public and ponder what it might have been like to live in another time, it is such a treat!

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Though we’d traditionally have worn a mask at all times, we sometimes went without. Our Carnival visit was also a tour of Venice, and we wanted to see everything (which a mask can sometimes hamper). I had a particular thing for veils at the time. But next time, I’m going to wear an enormous pompadour and a glitzy mask! We kept things very simple; Lita’s designs allowed us to walk about the city and enjoy the cafes without cumbersome costumes.

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We paced slowly over bridges and down lanes, peered in windows and walked by the lagoon. We laughed a lot and chattered like birds. It is rare to have the time of loved ones all to yourself for a whole week, it was lovely!

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We enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest in the midst of a mesmerizing Carnival and one beloved city. If it hadn’t been for this beautiful artist, who makes every part of the costumes I’m going to share with you (often even the jewelry), I would never have been inspired about history the way that I am, and I would never have written Venice.

Venice is dedicated to Lita, for being such a patient and generous person who taught me to be creative, be joyful, and to be inspired! Thank you!

Venice’s Fish Market

I don’t need any excuses to reminisce about Venice. However, we had a terrible snow storm yesterday that for me, led to one of those white knuckle driving experiences. There were cars stranded on the roads in what was a pure ice storm. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I was shaking from cold, or the stress of being out at a dangerous time.

This morning, safe and sound as the world outside recovers, I fancy that I live in Venice where I don’t ever have to drive in dangerous conditions, because there are no cars. Where would I go, car-free this morning? The pescheria!

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Living in the middle of the U.S., I crave fresh seafood. So whenever I travel close to the sea, all I want to eat is fish and shellfish.

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With its place on the sea, Venice draws in fresh seafood every day for its restaurants and citizens to pick from. The variety of creatures for sale are amazing, leading to endless dishes!

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Always clean beds of ice; assured that your seafood is kept cool and fresh.

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I’m attracted to food displays where colorful fare is laid by type in heaps. The bounty and organized clutter looks like art to me! I always have to pull out my camera, whether tables of cheese or piles of shrimp.

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Those long crustaceans to the right are canocce, a kind of shrimp. They look like they have big black eyes, but those spots are actually at the end of their tails…maybe to frighten predators with?

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These are seppie (cuttlefish), which produce black ink to ward off predators when they are disturbed. In Venice, you can order spaghetti nero di seppie, which is pasta mixed with the ink of the cuttlefish. The pasta turns black, and though I haven’t tried it, it is said to make pasta whisper fresh flavors of the sea. Cuttlefish dishes are abundant in Venice; the animal is often stewed in its ink and served with pasta or risotto.

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Seafood heaven, what more can I say? I’d learn how to cook it all if I lived near a market like this.

What I especially love about seafood is how simple it is. When it is fresh, it doesn’t need a lot of fancy cooking and sauces. A little roast or steam, a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of green garnish; let me sit to that table for a while!

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Ah well, I’ve enjoyed this momentary respite from the weather by thinking of Venice’s fish market. But alas, I must now bundle up and see how much ice remains on my car.

A chapter of Venice is dedicated to this fascinating place, where the boats pull up from the Grand Canal to deliver such bounty. If you want to take a stroll through the market, but can’t get to Venice just now, I hope you’ll enjoy my storytelling as you amble through the market in my book.

And as for those of you in Venice just now, please share something special about the market in the comments! We’d all like to know your favorite part about this spectacular, cultural, Venetian jewel!

A Beautiful Clutter

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The disguises, the puppets, the paper dolls staged in boxes, the mirrors…CIMG0883.JPG

There are lamps, wall hangings and sconces…smooth leather gloves, lace and pearls, soft embroidered pillows too…

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Ornate headpieces, gowns, feathered wings and crowns, sumptuous accessories and glorious scenes that move one’s imagination…CIMG0953.JPG

You are in this gondola heading toward a masked ball during Venice’s Carnevale. Which of the masks in that beautiful clutter are you wearing? In Venice, the choice is yours!

Only For A Pastry

Oh heavens, I don’t want to get moving today, but the day is planned out and I’ve got to shake a tail feather! I’d get moving much, much faster if I could relive this moment…

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Once upon a time, that latte in Venice had my name on it…I believe I drank two. Look at those tarts, one filled with custard, the others covered in thin slices of pear and apple with a sweet glaze…

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Oh yes, here is that second latte and that second plate of pastries. That creamy tart topped with tiny, fresh strawberries and that puff pastry dipped in semisweet chocolate…

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If I were just around the corner from this pastry shop in Venice once more, I’d already have my lipstick on and be out the door with a smile and a skip in my step! Wouldn’t you!?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Consider The Mask

For hundreds of years, the citizens of Venice wore masks. That statement sounds so simple, so natural, right? After all, it’s one of the images we associate with that city. It is intriguing, beautiful, mysterious…

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But after all of my research for my book Venice, and while currently reading Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic by James H. Johnson, I’ve realized how absolutely amazing, bizarre, intense and committed the notion of mask wearing in Venice really was.

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Consider this…it’s Halloween, you pick out a disguise and you put it on for one evening to join in the fun when you hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. What happens after about an hour? “Ugh, I can’t see in this thing. Ugh…this mask is making me hot. Ugh…I feel claustrophobic.”

Now imagine that you are an 18th century Venetian at a time when the Carnival season lasted for months. Every single time you stepped out in public, whether to shop for your vegetables or visit a friend, you covered your face in a mask. Whether a simple disguise for walking around town, or an incredibly intricate mask for an evening of palazzo entertainments, you always had a different identity plastered to your face, and you were anyone but yourself.

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People placed masks on their babies. Yes, it’s true. Beggars on the bridges who were going without food, wore a mask. It’s true. Everyone was masked. And when you mingled with the crowds, whether on the street or at a masquerade, if you recognized the voice or mannerisms of someone you met, you never said so. To bring someone’s identity to light was considered rude.

I’m fascinated from a communication standpoint, of what that might have really been like. An entire city masked for months (and a great portion of the city masked all the rest of the year as well during the great heights of this trend). How did your personality change when you put that mask on, and depending on which mask you put on? What was it like trying to discern the real message behind someone’s words when all you had was a faux face and a voice, with no facial expressions to evaluate? How did you know whether anyone was ever being themselves? It’s dizzying to think about.

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These masks weren’t all blank disguises. There were a great many designs and characters to choose from. Wouldn’t the mask someone selected mean something? But what? Who the wearer thought they were? Or, was it how they wanted others to see them? Or, were they choosing identities that were the very opposite of their true selves? All of the above. Tricky, tricky.

Some masks didn’t allow for speech at all, removing even more of one’s personal identity. Consider the Moretta mask that was worn only by women. For the Moretta (also called the Muta because you’d be mute), a woman put it over her face and instead of securing it in place with a ribbon around her head, held it to with a button in her mouth. Can you imagine? A button in your mouth for hours on end, in silence? Talk about “Ugh…I’m getting claustrophobic.”

These thoughts hardly even scratch the surface when I actually try to consider the reality of this mask culture. And though I would merrily embrace an evening at the Venetian Carnival in mask, and though researching this Venetian trend fascinates me, for all its beauty and intrigue, I personally prefer the truth of a human face…

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!

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.

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…

Virgins in Venice by Mary Laven

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Above, Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588). Painter Plautilla Nelli was a Renaissance nun in Florence who came from a wealthy merchant family. She was enclosed together with her sister in the Santa Caterina da Siena convent. She taught herself how to paint while living in the nunnery. She is the first female painter in Florence to be documented during the Renaissance.

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As promised, another book that delves into a particular detail of Venetian history, specifically Renaissance, is Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven. Fascinating! I read it twice in a row, and used a highlighter to mark half the book, and I’m not even a student. Yes, I’m a nerd. Nerdy for Venice! This work inspired a chapter in my book Venice; I had to write about this part of Venetian women’s history.

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In a nutshell, for hundreds of years in Venice (and all over Europe), women were forced into nunneries. Specifically here: noble born ladies. The rich and powerful families wouldn’t marry all the daughters they had. If they did, all their wealth would become watered-down within a generation or two. Instead, they’d marry one daughter, sometimes two. For the rest, to the nunneries they went. Marriages were about money, power, politics…usually everything but love. So for those gals who were married, they may not have had a grand time of it either, being wed to men not of their choosing. However, they were at the very least free from the convent.

Now of course, some ladies chose a pious, cloistered life. However in Venice, evidence leans toward the conclusion that most were threatened, forced and tricked into going. Imagine being a very young girl, entering a nunnery one day, and never going out again. Living within for a lifetime while the world forgot about you…just like prison. Yes, this book retells a history that will make you very sad.

Ms. Laven’s extensive research gives us insight into just what that may have been like. We are able to see what this enclosed life would have been, from the moment these ladies entered the nunnery, to the people and surroundings within, the rules, the schedules, the activities, the arguments, the deceit, the rations, the regulations for visits, the rule-breakers…the escapees. Oh man, oh man, oh man! Or should I say oh lady! Shut away women against their wills and they will find a way to aggress it, to continue reaching for life, love, dignity and freedom. Read this book and you’ll see why history will ever be more moving than fiction!

Venetian Noblewomen and their Terrace Living

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This painting is Vittore Carpaccio’s Two Ladies on a Terrace, painted in 1500. When I first saw this painting, it immediately inspired the first chapter of my new novel. I envisioned a group of noble Venetian ladies from the Renaissance taking their ease on the roof of a palazzo along the Grand Canal, playing games, laughing. In today’s Venice, affluent or not, ladies go wherever they please, dressed how they please. But in Renaissance Venice, aristocratic women did things a little differently.

According to Patricia Fortini Brown’s Private Lives in Renaissance Venice, young noble ladies, should they be out on the street, would have been covered in a veil. They didn’t run around the city just for fun, face uncovered. And in their homes, general visitors likely wouldn’t bump into one of these ladies; they would have been kept away to more private chambers furthest from the front door. For the most part, male servants kept to men’s quarters and female servants to the ladies’ rooms. Now, as for married Venetian noblewomen, they were far more seen and far less veiled, though still would have remained modest in dress and behavior.

So where did all the aristocratic women, married or unwed, go for fresh air and fun? The altane above their houses and palazzos! An altana was a covered roof terrace, though many terraces were also uncovered. Eat, play games, get some sun, sing, dance, tend to plants and play with your pets. Girl party!

I love this painting because it gives us a little glimpse into this sort of Venetian setting, from 1500! The lady that is sitting tall is said to be a newlywed. How do we know? Young brides wore those strands of pearls. Don’t ask me how you’re supposed to differentiate the long-time wedded from the newlyweds…as didn’t all Venetian noblewomen drip in pearls? We’d have to ask a historian. Look at those slashed sleeves, look at those six-inch chopines (those red healed clog shoes at the left). Look at the pearls beaded around the necks of their dresses. I wonder what that missive laying on the ground says. I bet it is an intriguing letter filled with scandalous gossip! What are they doing with so many pets altogether? Wouldn’t that toothy dog take a bite out of that parrot? Love it!

Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro

For my book Venice and a new novel I’m currently working on (which takes place in Venice, Treviso and Padua), reading a lot about the city’s history has been an important part of the research. But let’s be real, it’s hardly work when it’s just so fascinating! And though there is a lot to gain from general history books, I find that the more detailed works really help you understand the times and places one wants to learn about. There are a number of such books about Venice that I’m nuts about and have read multiple times. I’ll be sure to share them all with you!

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Today’s book is Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice by Joanne Ferraro. This one is a priceless gem!

The last thing Ferraro’s book is, is a dry account of marriage unions in Renaissance Venice. Her research shares detailed insight into women’s rights, property & ownership, legalities & politics, arranged unions & contracts, courtesans, infidelity, wedding dowries, domestic abuse, prostitution, and sex. What makes this work particularly moving is that it isn’t just a general description of the times and practices, but rather, it calls upon a lot of direct quotes and written accounts from the people who lived it and those legal institutions who documented and passed judgment on these marriage disputes.

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Now, this book doesn’t really give a whole lot of insight into happy unions. It’s really about what the title suggests, marriage wars. I’m not certain that things have changed much over the centuries as countless marriages end poorly today, and sometimes over similar problems that Renaissance Venetians encountered. However, as I read this compilation of marriage stories, I grimaced continually and held my breath for the outcomes of each individual dispute (some of which are lost to history, argh!). Forget gossip magazines and reality tv, read this book instead for your dose of marriage intrigue and history!

Further, Ferraro is a seriously professional writer. If I’d recounted these tales on paper, I’m not sure that I’d have been able to help but to make more direct judgments of those parties involved. However, she keeps an open mind and an eloquent pen as she recounts these folks’ situations, delicate with assumptions and name-calling. You’re a better person than I, Ms. Ferraro, and an awe worthy, even-handed teller of history.

Joanne Ferraro also wrote Venice: A History of the Floating CityNefarious Crimes, Contested Justice, Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557-1789…and Family and Public Life in Brescia, 1580-1650: The Foundations of power in the Venetian State. I’m cutting off the Netflix…these books are all the entertainment I need!

Daily Life in Venice at the time of Casanova by Maurice Andrieux

I love getting lost in a book. Lately, I’ve several times been reminded that to be a good writer, you must read a lot. I better keep with it! I’ve always wanted a room that was entirely dedicated to books, my own library. It would have a fireplace with a big chair before it, Edward Gorey sketches hanging crookedly here and there, and my cat. But, I wouldn’t smoke a pipe. I’m allergic. I wish there was enough time for all those books I want to read. And while I occasionally tackle lengthy, in-depth works of history, isn’t it just refreshing to have an approachable book that is as insightful as ever without crushing your lap with its 1,000 pages? In a conversation yesterday, the notion that it can be even harder to craft shorter messages than long ones came up. And I think that is often true, to be short and sweet as they say, takes work.

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When speaking of books that recap Venice’s history, for me, the best I’ve read so far for keeping it succinct is French writer Maurice Andrieux’s Daily Life in Venice at the time of Casanova (1969). If you are interested in getting your dose of Venetian history without committing to reading a large work, this one is as precise as ever. His chapters are so simply organized: SocietyLife, Manners and CustomsLove and WomenReligionArtistic and Intellectual Life…etc. The writing is so clean and digestible that even his coverage of the political climate during the 18th century (chapters I usually have to get my thinking cap on for) feels like a walk in the park. Further, his descriptions of life have a sense of humanity in them, not overly verbose or dryly factual, you feel connected to the Venetians he’s writing about.

Born in 1892, Andrieux has since passed on, but his book remains as fresh and appreciated as ever. He also wrote Daily Life in Papal Rome in the Eighteenth Century and two other Italian histories (of the Medici family and Sicily, though I don’t believe they have been translated to English). Je vous remercie pour vos livres M. Andrieux!

Barcarole of the Venetian Gondolier

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Do you know what a barcarole is? It is a traditional song that a Venetian gondolier would sing. The songs are sung in the Venetian language (not Italian) and sound much like opera, they flow with the oaring of the gondolier. Folk music meets opera; it’s lovely. Listen to the song “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”. This barcarole is from Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann. You’ve probably heard it before. Now imagine you’re lounging in a gondola and floating through Venice…serenity!

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I was sitting in the boat above. There was a gondola traffic jam…without the exhaust fumes, or road rage.

Now, these barcarole are based on traditional songs, not always what you’ll hear sung by gondoliers in Venezia today. As I describe in my book Venice, gondoliers get all kinds of requests for Italian songs that aren’t traditionally Venetian, and they aren’t happy about it. They often feel pressured to sing what is requested, because you’re paying for the ride. So if you want to keep things traditional and you’re inclined to request a gondolier sing for your float along the canals, be sure to ask for a Venetian barcarole!

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There is a lovely little book by Donna Leon, Gondola. It also comes with a CD of Venetian barcarole! I’ve played it over and over! Ms. Leon has designed a very special compilation of Venetian paintings filled with canal scenes overflowing with gondolas and snapshots of historic daily life, as well as short chapters to compliment, which give you insight into all things gondola. This book is a treasure!

Pearl Earrings Giveaway!

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Portrait of a Lady: Francesco Montemezzano. A Renaissance Venetian women of the house of Contarini!

Pearls…I LOVE PEARLS! In fact, I have a mild obsession with them. I’m not certain when this love for pearls started. Was it with all the history books and paintings I’ve looked at over the years? Was it with the gorgeous strands my mother has crafted for costumes I’ve worn? Was it after the first time I saw Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring? No, really…look at the pearl in that painting! Was it during my travels in China where pearl vendors were abundant and I was in pearl heaven? I don’t know, but I think they are the most lovely and I could wear them everyday.

As I write my new book (a historical fiction thriller taking place during Venice’s plague of 1576…scary stuff), I think a lot about what everyone was wearing during the Renaissance. Oh man, it’s just so tough looking at all those gorgeous old paintings filled with rich clothing covered in pearls, all in the name of research. Tee-hee! In Italy, pearls were it! And in Venice, a city in the sea, people were dripping in them (at least those who could afford it were). According to Jewelry: From Antiquity to the Present, Claire Phillips illustrates just how serious Venetians took their pearls! In the early 1500s, if you made a fake pearl and were caught selling it…your right hand would be cut off and you would be banished from Venice for a decade. Poor fellow wouldn’t be making jewelry after that!

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Because today is a beautiful day! Because every gal needs a pair of pearls! Because you are as fabulous as any Renaissance lady…I’m giving away a delicate pair of pearl earrings today!  Sterling silver, freshwater drop pearls (purplish-pink) by Brenda Duncan of The Black Pearl, purchased at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. To enter, all you have to do is write the name of your favorite gemstone in the comments for this post. Your name will go in a bowl and I’ll select a random winner one week from today! Spread the word ladies!

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Divino’s Gelato from Italy!

Do you know why I’m smiling in this photo? Well, there is the obvious reason…I was in Venice. Then there is the other obvious reason…I’m eating gelato. Actually we should say gelati (plural) as it appears that I am eating both a cone and a little cup, I like to live on the wild side when it comes to gelato.

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So imagine the look on my face when while perusing the grocery for something new and interesting, I found these!! Made in Italy, Divino. Fruity gelato served in the fruit! I bought one of each flavor…wild side, remember?

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Last night I tried the Black Diamond Plum. My first reaction was, “Oh, how pretty.” Then I bit in. Brain freeze! So, I looked on the package just now and it says to let the plum sit out for 10 minutes before you nibble. Ohhhhh! Suffering through my icy headache, my second reaction was, “This tastes like sorbet, not gelato.” Again looking at the back of the package, I see now that the plum fruit is in fact filled with sorbet. ‘Gelato’ on the front of the box, ‘sorbet’ on the back of the box…you’re confusing me Divino!

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There is a connection however…ancient Italians used to bring snow down from the mountains and top them with things like wine, fruit, honey…the first snow cones and sorbet! Gelato derives from that, with the added ingredient of milk. Divino’s Roman Kiwi is filled with gelato. Their Apulian Peach, Black Diamond Plum, Ciaculli Tangerine and Amalfi Lemon are filled with sorbet (it’s a go vegans!). Divino is also non-GMO verified.

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The plum was delicious, and the fruit shell edible. Refreshing! They are also served with cute little neon spoons…only I didn’t see that because I was too eager to receive my brain freeze. Today I’m going to try the Amalfi Lemon and I’m prepared having read the directions, you have to let it sit out for 20 minutes before enjoying. I’ll have to walk out of the room to avoid temptation!

Farewell, Summer Salad!

It’s getting rather chilly here in northern Illinois…brrrrr! I had a campfire with my folks last weekend, we must have known the chill was coming! Wasn’t it summer just yesterday? They’ve already had the pumpkins and potted fall mums displayed at the grocery store this last week and though autumn is my favorite season, I’m just not ready. In fact, I spent a greater part of this morning daydreaming about summer salads. Yes, I wake every morning and daydream about what’s on my menu for the day…don’t you? Below are three salads that I still swoon to remember from Ristorante Antico Pignolo in Venice…

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The fresh eggplant salad with ripe red tomatoes and chiffonade basil leaves drizzled with balsamic reduction and olive oil…faint.

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The traditional Caprese with soft rounds of mozzarella, tomatoes and bright basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic reduction and topped with black olives…insert heavenly singing here.

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And the simplest, yet most delicious salad ever invented…ripe melon and tender, slightly salty prosciutto…I’m seeing stars.

If you’d like to have a go at making the melon and prosciutto salad, you’ll find inspiration here with Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast. Her delightful site and cookbook are filled with splendid watercolors and enchanting forest arrangements that make her realistically simple recipes look oh so pretty!

For the Caprese salad, try Pioneer Woman’s recipe. She says she, “…love Caprese Salad so much it actually hurts.” I know how she feels!

The Politics Of Washing: Real Life In Venice by Polly Coles

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I’m currently reading The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles and enjoying every word! The book is Ms. Coles’ memoir of a move to Venice from England with her husband (who is Italian) and her kids (four of them). Though I initially expected a hilarious romp of an adventure, the author has a way of making the comic (of which there is plenty) understated and poetic, while describing the rougher realities of living in Venice, in a hauntingly beautiful way. It is a rich read, sharing her experiences around the school system, tourism, the seasonal acqua alta flooding, holidays, her interactions with the locals, and how the ancient architecture is (or isn’t) fitting in with a modernizing city. Reading it, I’m perpetually excited and sad, moved by Coles’ descriptions of that glorious city and its history while still nervous for how Venice is and will adapt to current threats (architectural destruction, flooding and the vise hold of the tourist industry). I heartily recommend this read. Coles keeps even the gloomiest observations playful, shares insight into a strangely aquatic daily life and provides an elegantly written memoir.

Venetian Artist Pietro Longhi

Much of my book Venice illustrates events, people and lifestyles from the 18th century. As the novel centers on a visit to present-day Venice during the Carnevale, where costumes and masks from the 18th century would be seen in abundance, it was important to share histories from the 1700s. Many serious participants look like they just dropped out of the Baroque era. It’s fabulous!

I love looking at clothing from history and I love exceptional costumes that mimic those long lost styles. Whether you are interested in Venice, 18th century history, or costuming, there is an artist whose work you must peruse. Pietro Longhi, Venetian painter, 1701-1785. His works are just amazing! Pretend you scampered around Venice during the 1700s, through the calle and into people’s homes and snapped a great many photos…Longhi’s works have given us a very special glimpse into the lives of Venetians of that century and he was a prolific painter, so he covered a lot of ground. If you are in Venice, be sure to visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia to see a few of his pieces up close.

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Here above is Longhi’s The Tailor. I could spend a lot of time zooming in the view, just to get an actual understanding of the finer details. What’s on that maid’s serving tray? What is that child taunting that puppy with? How did the lady fashion her hair? Love it!

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And here, The Dancing Lesson. Look at how wide the panniers! Look how lush the sitting woman’s fur trim! Look at that man’s wig! And, imagine the music.

If you would like a compilation of all of Longhi’s paintings, I suggest finding a copy of Longhi by Terisio Pignatti. I could page through my copy all day!

Venice is here!!!

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Venice is here!!! And I can’t wait for you to read the adventure! Whether you are a lover of Venice, Italy, intrigued by interactive fiction where you choose your fate, or scenic travel and history are your interests, I sincerely hope Venice will excite and delight every one of you!

Venice is available here! Also available on Amazon!

Thank you to all of my family, friends and colleagues for your advice, energy, ideas, patience and support! This has been the most fascinating yet challenging project and I could not be more thankful for all of you! Thank you to the readers, now and in the future, of Venice and this site. It’s a privilege to share my passion for all things Venice with you. And thank you, to Venice! For your warm and inviting citizens, for your pure beauty and mystery, for your amazing history! Thank you!

Let’s Have A Celebrazione!

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I took this photo at Ristorante Antico Pignolo located in the Sestiere di San Marco on calle Specchieri. The meals that I enjoyed there were some of the best that I have ever, ever had. While basking in the delights of one such meal, I looked at the empty table nearest my own where a group had just departed, guests who seemed to have had a wonderful time. I captured this photo because I thought the cluster of glasses represented the splendid celebrazione that had just taken place there…I also puzzled over the number of glasses!

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This was the divine chocolate mousse cake I enjoyed for dessert that evening. I thought the bright red currants, single yellow cherry tomato yet on its leaf, and the drizzle of chocolate and salty caramel sauces so picturesque. A crust at the bottom was made out of chopped pistachios. The sauces remind me of olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar drizzle.

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And this photo was my table at the end of the night. I could nibble on one of those Venetian bussola buranello cookies right now! Yes, I had cake and cookies for dessert!

Today, I have things in my life worth a celebrazione! Blessings to be thankful for and loved ones to cherish, accomplished milestones to celebrate! How about you? Here’s wishing you good things in your life today! For all of those things, celebrate! Saluti!

Dreaming of Tramezzini!

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I love sandwiches! I mean, what’s more pleasant than mindlessly chewing on good bread? You can fill a sandwich with just about anything, which is convenient when you’re running low on the conventional ingredients…haven’t I tried a sandwich with green beans in it somewhere? And, sandwiches are portable. You can munch on one while riding down the Grand Canal in a vaporetto!

I usually mash up my eggs and smother them in mayo for an egg salad sandwich, but today, I had one lone hard-boiled egg to work with. So, I cut it into pretty oblong slices and laid it into the sandwich. After cutting it in half and looking at it, my first impression was, “A tramezzino!”

If you haven’t tried tramezzini, you must try them in Venice! The first ones I ever gobbled were from the paninoteca (sandwich shop) called Bar all’ Angolo in Campo Santo Stefano. Tramezzini consist of two chewy slices of white bread with the crusts removed, are stuffed with delicious fillings and then cut into triangles. Just a regular sandwich you say? Not at all! Crab, asparagus, pickles, olives, prosciutto, shrimp, pesto, oh my! Look up Venetian tramezzini and you’ll see what I’m talking about. My sandwich today failed the tramezzini qualifications (wheat bread, crusts still attached), but it tasted a little like one and I was in Venice!

A Passage From Venice…

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The scene captures the essence of something otherworldly; the cautious stir of a minuet long forgotten, clinking crystal and the warm press of a perfumed crowd, flickering light and laughter unbidden. The masks are a category of amazement all their own, artistic creations of every conceivable face type. There are thousands of shimmering sequins, scenes of night and day, animals wild and demure and many fully painted faces with long lashes, glossy lips and tears of glass. Some are half, secreting just the eyes and others are complete, disguising one’s visage entirely. There is soft velvet and shiny tin, paper mache and coarse fabric, carved wood and delicate lace. This is the house of the mask, a museum of disguise both past and present. Here are all convened: libertines and lovers, ghosts born of the dark and angels exuding the light. Walking slowly along the edge of the ballroom, your spirits high and your chest heavy with excitement, you take in the splendor of the costumes of this night. The wigs are monumental in all of their glorious fashions. Men and women alike aspiring to the heavens with their cottony bouffants adorned with garish and magical additions: tinsel, stuffed birds, miniature model ships, bows, lace, gaudy gems. Each face is powdered and vainly made up with beauty marks, arched brows, penciled lips and rosy cheeks. And, how could one begin to enumerate the dresses: haughty, desirous, glorious and bold. Some women host panniers so wide, they expand the length of six persons side by side. Yet each of these ladies continues to move in every way elegantly, to your delight. All around are tight corsets, silky ribbons, strung pearls, tall heels and beautiful stitchwork that only could be found presently. The men are refined with expertly tailored tricorne hats, calf-flaunting breeches, lacy linen shirts, cravats and brassy buttons closing up fitted vests and fashionable jackets. The sight already bursting with extravagance and every unique detail, how can you be even more delighted with each passing entertainer? There is the court jester and his beloved dog donned in a belled collar; his merry yelps bring a jingle. A trio of women garbed as glittered wood nymphs clad in ethereal wings (blue, pink and purple) tiptoe about. There are characters of every sort: a magician, a storyteller, a fire handler and a gypsy who reads palms…

Enjoy the simple things!

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I was just thinking about this appetizer. I’m not sure why I’d be thinking about seafood before I’ve had breakfast, but I am known to think a lot about food! I enjoyed this little bite at Ristorante Antico Martini in Campo San Fantin right next to Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The portion in that little jar was all of three or four little spoonfuls of bean puree topped with a tiny grilled shrimp. The little jar came closed to keep the heat in and that isn’t a full sized spoon, it was a tiny coffee spoon. Those few little bites were so flavorful and delicious, a wonderful appetizer! I don’t know how they did it! How do chefs get so much flavor into such small portions?! Today, this reminds me how wonderful even the smallest little pleasures can be! Enjoy that five minute walk around the block or that little square of chocolate or that quick phone call from a friend today…it’s about the little things!

Extra…puzzled about the size of spoons, I checked out spoon types on Wikipedia. Who knew there were so many kinds?! Do you know what a stroon is? I do!

You Decide Your Own Fate In Venice!

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The release of Venice is fast approaching! Venice is a decide-as-you-go historical fiction and travel novel. As the reader, you are the main character in the book and are offered choices at the end of each chapter about what you’d like to see and do in Venice, Italy during the Carnival! The book includes diverging stories and alternate endings. And though written in a woman’s voice, anyone who is interested in Venice is sure to enjoy the tour!

What inspired me to write a novel in this style? As a kid in the ‘80s, I read quite a few books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series produced by Bantam Books. This series allowed you to be quite the globetrotter! And, how awesome was it to be the main character? Reading them, I felt nervous making choices at the end of each chapter and loved to go back and see what would have happened if I had decided on a different path. I wanted to write a story like that!

I had forgotten those adventures for a time, but one day after setting out to brainstorm a novel that took place in Venice (a beloved destination), I quickly realized a single linear story wasn’t the right style to explore the city on paper, to the depth that I wanted to. How could my main character see everything I wanted her to see in Venice, she was just one lady…or was she?

I hope this style of divergent stories will inspire readers to remember how great their opportunities are right now! So many wonderful things to learn, to see, to do!

Venice was meant to peak interest in a particular place, but I hope that it also encourages readers to get curious about the history and present day situations right where you are. If you find yourself asking how that old building on Main St. got there, dig for the answers; the stories behind it may surprise, delight…or even baffle! Or if you prefer current events to history, everyday is filled with opportunities to dig deeper into the causes and communities that you care about. Whatever fascinates you; go check it out!

Lastly, my hope is that Venice excites travel! For all of those wonderful places in the world that you want to see, I hope that you get there. In the meantime, enjoy reading about them!

Stay tuned for news about Venice, as well as photos, stories and forgotten histories about the city!

What Awaits You In Venice…

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PREPARE your mistress! I must bleed her…

Even before your eyes begin to flutter open, slowly exposing you to the soft candlelight in the room, you can hear a man’s voice. His confusing words repeat several times in your mind as you begin willing yourself to come to. The room is warm, your body damp and there is a pressing thirst in your mouth, but you are not terribly uncomfortable. As you open your eyes, you start to recognize the situation which continues to be ever more bizarre. You are lying in the bed of your hotel room and it is immediately clear that you have not woken from this inexplicable situation; you appear to be living and breathing in another century. Asking for water at a whisper, you snatch the notice of the lady who caught you in a faint. Startlingly, she is standing close to the door next to the figure of a tall man with the face of a white beaked bird. If you hadn’t recognized this beastly vision, you may have been worse frightened, but it quickly registers. It is only the unmistakable mask of a Venetian doctor, who afraid of contracting a deadly pathogen wore a long beaked mask stuffed with spices and herbs in the hopes that it would prevent contagion. Having clenched the distance, the ghoulish surgeon reaches out with one hand and places it tenaciously on her arm. Though he appears to be looking directly at you from beneath his disguise, he addresses the maid by entreating her to waste no more time. The release of blood will be the only way. In that moment, you sense that he would bleed you for his evil pleasure rather than as an honest cure…