Tag Archives: travel

An Ode to Florence: The Ponte Vecchio

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio (literally “Old Bridge” in English) doesn’t figure too much into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence (Simonetta sees it and mentions it in passing once or twice), but as it’s one of the most famous landmarks of Florence, I had to include it in my blog series!

The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River, and is lined with shops on both sides. Starting in the 13th century, the shops on the bridge were of all sorts: butchers, fishmongers, tanners, etc. Many years later, however, it was decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have shops on the bridge, to both show off the wealth and fine goods of the city and also eliminate the foul odors and waste that the butchers and tanners and such generated from such a well-traveled walkway. To this day, the shops on the bridge consist of fine jewelry stores and it is always a fairly crowded tourist attraction.

Running above all the shops is the Vasari Corridor. Built in 1565, this “secret” passage that connects the Pitti Palace – home of the Medici grand dukes – with the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. This way the Medici could get to their offices without having to walk among the common people.

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated from the city in August of 1944. The rest of the city’s bridges were blown up and later rebuilt in their original spots after the war.

The Ponte Vecchio at night, viewed from one of the nearby bridges, makes an excellent sight as you’re enjoying a post-dinner gelato 🙂

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An Ode to Florence: The Medici Palace

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

Properly known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (after the family that built it and the family that owned it later and added to it, respectively) this is the palace where Simonetta attends parties and dinners given by the Medici family throughout the novel. It is where she first meets Lorenzo, Clarice, and of course, Sandro Botticelli, and is also where her marriage takes place.

The first Renaissance building in Florence, construction on the palace began in 1444 by Cosimo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandfather) and was completed in 1460. It’s located just down the street from the Duomo on the Via Cavour, though at the time the street was called the Via Larga. The intention of the building was likely to convey power, wealth, and strength, and no doubt the facade communicates that message very well.

 

Above is the courtyard, where Donatello’s statue of David originally stood. It is one of the first things Simonetta sees in the novel upon entering, and it is her first glimpse of the beautiful artwork that the Medici family surround themselves with. Lorenzo’s office also originally stood off to the right of this courtyard.

This is the garden of the palace, just past the courtyard. This is where Donatello’s statue of Judith originally stood, which Simonetta also views in the novel. And this garden is the setting for the first dinner Simonetta attends at the palace, and where she meets the rest of the novel’s major players.

This room (which was undergoing some renovations while I was there) is from Lorenzo’s time (some of the rooms that are open to the public were added later). This is the room where I pictured the unveiling of Simonetta’s portrait taking place.

Above are some images of the (tiny) palace chapel, where Simonetta’s wedding service to Marco Vespucci takes place in the book. It’s a very small space on the second floor of the palace, but the frescoes are amazing.

I was initially a bit disappointed when I visited that many of the rooms from Lorenzo’s time weren’t open to the public (parts of the building are in use as a municipal building) but I was able to take what I saw and make it work for the novel. It’s a very cool building, and if you are ever in Florence I would encourage you not to miss it!


An Ode to Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Duomo

Similar to my An Ode to Venice series, in my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

Easily Florence’s most well-known and recognizable landmark is its cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers) or, as it is more commonly known, the Duomo. Despite what you may think, Duomo does not mean “dome” in Italian, but rather “cathedral”.

Construction began on the Duomo in 1296, and by 1380 the building was mostly complete, save for its massive and distinctive dome – for years there was simply a giant hole in the ceiling. Then, in 1420, architect Filippo Brunelleschi came along and was able to design and begin construction on the dome. It was completed in 1436. Even after its completion, many Florentines believed that something so massive simply could not stand and were constantly expecting the dome to collapse.

 

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta attends Mass in the Duomo and marvels at the great and terrifying fresco on the inside of the dome, a depiction of the end of days:

 

As she grows accustomed to her life in Florence, she also learns to navigate in the city by the great dome: something that visitors today, myself included, still do, as the dome is visible from almost anywhere in the city.

Today, not only can you go into the Duomo itself, but you can also climb the stairs to the top of the dome. At 400+ stairs (no elevator) and some pretty tight stairways, it’s not for everyone, but you get a wonderful up-close look at that fresco on the way up, and once you get to the top the view of Florence is unparalleled.


Having Fun with Research

No matter what kind of novel you’re writing (unless perhaps it’s high fantasy or extremely autobiographical) you are going to have to research some aspect of your story at some point. And obviously, when it comes to historical fiction, research is an even bigger part of the process. But research isn’t all pouring over history books or old letters or diaries – though reading all the information you can find about your time period/historical figures is, of course, something you will need to spend a lot of time doing. But reading isn’t the only research you can or should be doing. There are lots of other methods you can use to learn the historical information and details you need to make your work come alive, and some of them can be unorthodox and actually a lot of fun. Below are some things you can do – many of which I have done – to approach your research in a different way and get away from the books and the computer screen:

Look at paintings/artwork/photographs from the period you’re writing about: I’ve done this for both The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Looking at artwork and especially paintings created during the period you’re writing about can tell you SO MUCH: what the clothing looked like that people actually wore; what homes/buildings/churches looked like; what personal effects people may have carried or had in their space; what hairstyles were in fashion; jewelry fashions; what religious themes were chosen/depicted and what that might say about the artist or their patron, etc. Of course, for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence artwork was especially key as many famous works of art appear in the story, so I looked at many of those online, in books, and in person. But those paintings were also helpful for the clothing, hairstyles, etc. And if photographs were around in the period you are writing about, certainly take advantage of those wherever you can find them.

-Listen to music from the period: Obviously, this was crucial for writing and researching The Violinist of Venice, a novel about music and Antonio Vivaldi’s music in particular. But even if your novel doesn’t explicitly include music, listening to music that was written or popular during that period can help you get a better feel for the atmosphere of the times.

-Look at/consult other primary sources or artifacts: For me with Violinist, this involved looking at the actual scores of some of Vivaldi’s music, specifically pieces I was describing in the novel. I also went to several museums over the course of my research and saw musical instruments from the period, some of which – like the viola d’amore – are no longer in use in modern orchestras. Look into the collections of museums in your area or places where you may be traveling and see what they have. There may be furniture, articles of clothing, pottery, household wares, etc. from your period that you can go and see (and possibly take pictures of, depending on the museum’s photography policy).

-Travel to the location where your book is set: If your novel is set in a specific city or area, try to go there for at least a few days and get a sense of it. I’ve done this with both of my two novels, and have been able to see exact locations where scenes and events in the books take place. I found those experiences to be completely invaluable and, in addition to helping with historical accuracy, greatly improved my sense of place and sensory details in my writing. Learning your way around the city or area can help with logistics in the novel as well, such as how a character would physically get from point A to point B, if it would be feasible to walk, etc. Obviously not everyone has the time or means to make such a trip, especially if your novel is set farther afield, but if you can it is absolutely worth the investment.

-Look at maps and photographs of your setting: Whether you can travel there or not, studying maps of a city or area is extremely helpful, especially maps that were drawn during the period your novel takes place so that you can see what it looked like then. Again, photographs from the period are helpful as well if they are available, but if not modern photographs can still give you a sense of a place you may not be able to travel to. And if you do travel there, take lots of photos of places important to your story. I always do this in my research travels and refer to the photographs later as I’m writing to help sharpen my descriptions or just generally give me some inspiration.

-Attend historical reenactments: I have not done this myself (yet), but I know other authors who have. Depending on what period you’re writing about, there may be a battle reenactment or something along those lines not too far from you that you can go and see. This can give you a great sense of everything from military tactics to clothing to weaponry to surgical instruments and medical care. Along the same lines, look for living history museums (something like Colonial Williamsburg) that may be relevant to your setting/time period. Such places can be an absolute wealth of information on all kinds of details.

Research can and should be about more than just reading, and these things and more can help you expand and enrich your historical fiction by presenting information in new and perhaps unexpected ways and contexts. The more period details you can include in your work, the more it will come alive for your readers and make them feel as though they are actually there, and the more they will be able to understand and relate to your characters. Always be ready to discover new information, by whatever means are available, even those that seen unorthodox. Even things you never thought you’d need can come in very handy when writing, so the more ways you can go about acquiring information, the better. Your work – and your readers – will thank you for it.


An Ode to Venice: Santa Maria della Salute

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my fourth An Ode to Venice post, I’ll be talking about one of Venice’s many landmarks, the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

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I mentioned the Salute in my post about the Grand Canal and the Accademia Bridge – it is the massive, domed church that sits at the entrance to the Grand Canal. For as large and imposing as its Baroque exterior is, though, inside it is surprisingly small and simple.

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The church’s name translates to St. Mary of Health, and was built in thanksgiving for the majority of Venice’s population being spared from a bout of plague in the 1630s. It was designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, and was completed in 1687.

In The Violinist of Venice, Adriana comes here to pray and clear her head after something upsetting happens (I won’t give anything more away than that). It is a place of solace for her, as before her mother died she would bring Adriana to the basilica to pray. She is accompanied by Giuseppe, her servant and friend, and they have a conversation and brief argument.

This same scene originally took place in Piazza San Marco, where Adriana and Giuseppe take a turn about the square, and but I had to change the location upon learning about Venice’s tides and acqua alta, and realizing that at that time of the day in December (which is when that scene takes place) Piazza San Marco would be completely flooded. So I moved the scene into Santa Maria della Salute, which I had visited while in Venice and thought was so beautiful that I had to work it into the book somewhere. It was also fitting that Adriana would want to pray and reflect at that point in the story, so it was the perfect location.

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An Ode to Venice: Piazza San Marco

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my third An Ode to Venice post – which I know has been a long time coming! – I’ll be talking about what is arguably the center of Venice, Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square.

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One of Venice’s most recognizable and famous landmarks, Piazza San Marco was called at one time “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”. In many ways the center of public life in Venice, this largest public square in the city was where people congregated to meet one another, to do business, and for civic and religious holidays, among other things. The picture above was taken from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square, along with its campanile or bell tower.

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Just to the right of the Basilica one can see a corner of the massive Doge’s Palace, the home of Venice’s elected duke as well as the seat of Venice’s government: the palace, which faces the lagoon, also houses the chambers where meetings of the Grand Council, the Senate, and the mysterious Council of Ten took place in Venice’s heyday as an oligarchic republic.

During the seasonal flooding – caused by tides – that Venetians call acqua alta (literally “high water”), the square can be under several feet of water – including the floor of the Basilica and other nearby buildings. The acqua alta typically occurs most often in the winter, though it can happen at other times of the year as well based on the weather. The first time I went to Venice (in mid-May), there had been a big thunderstorm with heavy rain the day before, and the square had flooded. By the time I got there, there were still some big puddles, but nothing extreme.

Today the Piazza San Marco is perhaps Venice’s most densely populated tourist site. Just as it was once where native Venetians would congregate, today it is something of “home base” for tourists, as it contains many of the city’s biggest attractions. There are vendors selling souvenirs every few feet, and cafes rings the piazza’s edges, including the famous Caffe Florian, one of the world’s oldest caffes. In its day it was a hangout for the likes of Giacomo Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. The coffee and food is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth the experience, in my opinion.

How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Piazza San Marco is where Adriana and Vivaldi go for Carnevale entertainments in chapter 25, and indeed the square was host to numerous festivities during Venice’s annual Carnevale, when the populace went about in masks for months at a time, parties happened in every house and on every corner, and all sorts of scandalous and debauched behavior occurred. Later in the novel Adriana returns there with her friends for Carnevale again, at a very different time in her life.

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An Ode to Venice: The Rialto Bridge

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my second An Ode to Venice post, I am highlighting one of the landmarks of the city, the Rialto bridge.

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The Rialto Bridge (or Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest of the bridges that span the Grand Canal. Today it is usually mobbed with tourists walking across it, posing for pictures on it, and taking pictures of the view of the Grand Canal from the bridge (and it is a pretty nice view):

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Two rows of shops run up the center of the bridge, mostly souvenir and glass shops.

The Rialto area is one of the oldest sections in Venice, and was the site of the original food market, which necessitated the building of the first bridge on the site, a wooden one built in 1255. As Venice grew as a mercantile power, the Rialto district became the center of commerce and trade in the city as well. The current stone bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte and was completed in 1591.

Like much of Venice’s magnificent – and old – architecture, maintenance and restoration is conducted on the Rialto bridge. On my visit there this past May, half of it was covered in scaffolding as such maintenance took place. It’s a bummer not to be able to fully see such a wonderful structure – and I was especially disappointed for my father, who had never been to Venice before and was seeing it that way for the first time – but of course, whatever has to be done to preserve such wonderful pieces of our history should be done where possible, in my opinion!

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How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: During the time that the novel takes place, the Rialto was the only bridge that crossed the Grand Canal, thus my characters would have been using it a lot. The bridge and the surrounding economic/market district are mentioned a few times throughout the book. And the first time I visited it, as I walked across it I was vividly aware of the fact that Antonio Vivaldi would have walked just where I was walking. It was a very cool feeling.