Monday, December 30, 2013

A 'NEW YEAR' IS JUST A DAY;
A 'NEW LIFE' CAN START ANY DAY...
ANY MOMENT

For all those who love the special congested, loud, and clear celebrations to mark the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another, I absolutely do not mean to take away from such demonstra- tions of joyfulness; go out and be as joyful and crazy as you want (but please drive care- fully). My retrospective is merely that, a different look at the symbolism of the day, at what it could mean…WHENEVER we truly want it to.


It all began with thoughts of yet another New Year’s Eve on my own; not that I’m complaining all that much. I’ve done the big hoopla, the wild club scenes to the house parties with the hats and whistles. From my own perspective, I have always found those whistles to trill hollowly…found those celebrations to be so forced…too desperate.

That’s when I realized…there are few people who aren’t desperate to change their lives, or at least some aspect of their lives, (myself included) and these boisterous fêtes are merely the external form of an internal desire.

And while the last 15 years of my life have been extremely challenging (hell, most of my life), I don’t need the big celebration to wish it to be better, I don’t need one particular day to turn it around…I only need the will to make it happen and the belief that I have the power to do it.

I have never been more willful about anything ever before. 2014 will be my pivotal year. I will be making changes in aspects of my life that some may find shocking. But most of all, I will be the master of all facets of my life…I will take command. And in doing so, I will create in me the power to do it.

So what is this rant really about…that we, as individuals and as an organic being called a society, possess the control to live the lives that we want, and the power to make it happen, for ourselves and those around us. Our desires for better lives should not just be for ourselves but for those with whom we share this world. And we can start on ANY DAMN DAY WE CHOOSE. We just have to make the conscious choice to do it!

After writing all this it occurs to me that New Year’s Day has done exactly what it is meant to do: I’ve looked at my life ‘from both sides now’ and I can see clearly what I want it to be, what I’m willing to do to make it happen, and how joyful I will be when it does happen. I wish to all who read this the same, no matter how you wish to celebrate it, I wish for your lives to be exactly what you want them to be and, most importantly, I wish you the inner power to make it happen.


Happy New Life!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CHRISTMAS: ITALIAN RENAISSANCE STYLE

There is perhaps nowhere on Earth more Christian/Catholic than Italy, the home of Vatican City. How surprising it is to learn, then, that the early Christmas celebrations, specifically those of the Renaissance, find their genesis in the fusion of pagan, Jewish and many other traditions. Despite claims by each contingent, it is near impossible to determine which came first: was it the Norse and the Yule Celebration, or the Jewish ceremonies of Hanukah, or perhaps it was the Continental Celts’ celebration of the Winter Solstice. Most certainly it was a combination of all these festivities, influenced just as strongly, and perhaps more notably, by those of the Pagans, those from whom the Christians absorbed many traditions and holidays, those they ultimately eliminated.

The two most prominent of the Pagan holidays to hold sway over the Renaissance Italians were Saturnalia and Mithra.

The most common image of Mithra
Spoken of in the Zend-Avesta, or sacred Zoroastrian scriptures, Mithra was known as the chief spirit, the ruler of the world, specifically, in the Zoroastrian he is delineated as "Mithra of wide pastures, of the thousand ears, and of the myriad eyes.” The scriptures continue to praise him as "the lofty, and the everlasting...the province ruler," Yazad (divinity) of the spoken name" and "the holy.” Ancient Romans as well as modern scholars trace Christianity’s origin to Zorastrian, for many reasons, the least of which is their physical location, for they hail from the land of Abraham and Daniel and many other Biblical figures. In fact, there is an abundance of evidence asserting the three Magi, or wise men--Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar-- came from the land of Zoroastrian, according to a mosaic from around 500 A.D. from a church in Ravenna, Italy, to visit the Christ child.

The Ravenna Mosaic
After the 6th and 7th centuries, after the Assyrian conquests, the Greeks adopted Mithra, calling him the god of the Sun, categorizing him with Helios, while simultaneously the Romans integrated Mithra into their mythos. Enter Saturnalia.





The holiday celebrated in December, beginning on the 17th and lasting until the 23rd, Saturnalia was the most popular of Roman holy days, paying homage to Saturn, the god of agriculture. These seven days were a blur of feasts, revelries, and intense merry making. Children were given gifts of wax dolls, a macabre reminder of the human sacrifices the ancients would make to Saturn. Other gifts included boughs of certain tress and other plants in representation of bounty and good harvest. As the ending of this festival coincided with the Winter Solstice, the merging of the celebrating of Mithra became a natural evolution, a celebration of the lengthening of days, a blessing from the sun god Mithra.

Emperor Constantine
It is a fairly universal acknowledgement that Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicea (the first ecumenical council held in 325 AD), in their efforts to stave off the warring between the Pagans and the Christians, to somehow keep both parties happy, landed on December 25 as the date to celebrate the birth of Christ, the true birth date of the Son of God (sounding so similar to ‘the sun god') is unknown.   

In time, Christmas took the place of the pagan celebrations, though they cannot be said to be familiar to those of modern day. In truth, a more accurate representation of the events would be those found in Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night. The festivities began on the 25th and lasted until January 6, the Epiphany.  

During the Renaissance, an era as characterized by the upheavals of the Catholic religion as by the enormous advancements in art, architecture, literature and the sciences, the festivities began to take on a more subdued mien. And yet, there is still much evidence of merrymaking, in the form of Mystery Plays, in which it is documented that the powerful and noble, such as the Medicis themselves, took part, playing the roles of the Magi. Gift giving honored the Magi and took place on the 6th of January.

The use of Evergreen mirrors the giving of boughs in the Saturnalia celebrations.
In addition, Evergreens, which in ancient Rome were thought to have special powers and were used for decoration, symbolized the promised return of life in the spring and came to symbolize eternal life for Christians. The value of evergreen spans a variety of cultures, including the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. The worship of trees was intrinsic to European druidism and paganism. In Christian tradition, trees were often put up in December to serve the dual purpose of warding off the devil and to provide a perch for whatever birds still remained. Evergreen trees decorated with apples and wafers were also used in Christmas Eve plays during the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance to represent the tree figuring so prominently in the tale of Adam and Eve. The first evidence for a decorated Christmas tree emerges from German craftsman guilds during the Renaissance. Trees enjoyed a surge of popularity among Protestant households after the Reformation as counterparts to the Catholic nativity scene.

Now such a divisive matter of controversy, nativity scenes (also known as manger scenes, or in Italian, Il Presepe) became a popular outward honoring of the season. The first recorded appearance was indeed in Italy, created by none other than St. Francis of Assisi in 1225. The preacher and friar created his presepe, a live one, with the precise intentions of bringing the emphasis of Christmas to the birth of Christ and not on gift giving (it would seem that greed crosses centuries). Nativity scenes are especially popular in Naples where hundreds are displayed every year.

And even in the Renaissance, Christmas was celebrated with the raising of voices, in faith and in hope:

 Tu scendi dalle stelle,                  From starry skies descending,
O Re del Cielo,                            Thou comest, glorious King,
e vieni in una grotta,                     A manger low Thy bed,
al freddo al gelo.                          In winter's icy sting;
O Bambino mio Divino                 O my dearest Child most holy,
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,                 Shudd'ring, trembling in the cold!
O Dio Beato                                Great God, Thou lovest me!
Ahi, quanto ti costò                      What suff'ring Thou didst bear,
l'avermi amato!                            That I near Thee might be!
A te, che sei del mondo                 Thou art the world's Creator,
il Creatore,                                   God's own and true Word,
mancano panni e fuoco;                 Yet here no robe, no fire
O mio Signore!                              For Thee, Divine Lord.
Caro eletto Pargoletto,                    Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant,
Quanto questa povertà                    Dire this state of poverty.
più mi innamora!                            The more I care for Thee,
Giacché ti fece amor                       Since Thou, o Love Divine,
povero ancora!                               Will'st now so poor to be.





Monday, December 9, 2013

DEBUT AUTHOR HEATHER WEBB
TAKES A SEAT
INSIDE THE WRITERS' STUDY

Heather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time novel writing and freelance editing. Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE releases December 31, 2013 from Plume/Penguin.

When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world. She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb) or via her blog: http:www.HeatherWebbauthor.com


What is your favorite word?  
Flutter or maybe shimmers.

What is your least favorite word?  
I can’t say it here.

What turns you on?
Poetry, fine conversation, mystery.

What turns you off?   
Stupidity, meanness, taking advantage of others.

What sound or noise do you love?  
Ocean waves.

What sound or noise do you hate?  
Screeching of any kind.

What is your favorite curse word?  
F--k.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  
A great chef.

What profession would you not like to do?  
Work in a prison.

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?  
It’s better than you hoped. Come on in!



In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release
Becoming Josephine is a novel about the woman who stole Napoleon’s heart and enchanted an empire.   Heather Webb


Friday, November 15, 2013

JUST ANNOUNCED!
THE KING'S AGENT HONORED AS A FINALIST
IN THE 2013 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS
CELEBRATING WITH A GIVEAWAY!

I am so delighted and honored to have my latest release, The King's Agent honored as a finalist in the historical fiction category of the USA BEST BOOK AWARDS sponsored by USA Book News.

In celebration, I'm giving away TWO copies of The King's Agent! 

To enter, comment with your email. For a share on Twitter and/or Facebook, receive an additional entry. Three total entries per person are possible.

The contest is open until November 30 (opened internationally; winner announced December 3). You must follow and friend to qualify. If you're already a friend or a follower, complete the other to also enter.

I'm also posting one of the my favorite scenes from the book, starring none other than the great Michelanagelo.


*****
A rooster crowed in the distance, a raucous laugh at those who thought to stay abed, and the soft bells of morning called the faithful to mass. Aurelia snuggled into the stillness of daybreak, one unlike any found at other times. Dawn built a bridge for her, one out of her body, one allowing the stillness to enter her, to cleanse her thoughts of clutter.

Gliding down the stairs, slipping silently into the dark kitchen, she took a long draught of mulled cider and threw open the shutters, breathing in the unsullied lush air of a new day. Mourning doves cooed in the trees between the house and the studio, and Aurelia closed her eyes, letting the soothing sound fill her. Curling up in the well-worn stuffed chair before the window, she tucked the layers of her homespun gown beneath her legs. As the sun crept over the horizon, the enveloping blanket of light and warmth tucked her in.

The strange sound pulled at her, a low but insistent scratching. Aurelia struggled to open her eyes, so deeply had she fallen into meditation, the surface of consciousness lay far above.

Aurelia peered across the room through the hazy slits of her eyes and glimpsed Michelangelo, perched on a corner stool, almost hidden in the opaque shadows the room accommodated, hand flying furiously across the paper he hunched over, eyes jumping from her to the creation of her he conceived and back. She should stop him, but each stroke felt like a caress, as if he brushed her jawline with his fingers instead of rendering it with his charcoal. It was a wondrously soothing feeling, and she luxuriated in it, banishing all thought of consequence, allowing him—and the birth of the day—to continue without disruption.

Too soon the floor above them creaked as others in the household awoke; groggy, companionable voices passed outside the window as men made their way to the studio. The day had commenced against both their desires.

“No one will ever see it, donna mia,” he spoke without lifting his eyes, using the finest point of the charcoal now, making only the minutest movements with his hand.

She chuckled softly, but didn’t move. “Ah, so you know it is forbidden.”

Michelangelo shrugged one shoulder, but continued his work. “I knew when the vision came to me all those years ago in the Chapel. And I know it now. But my adoration will not allow me to stop.” He shrugged again. “Of course it is forbidden, or else you would not be on this quest, sì?”

He looked at her then, head cocked to the side, brow furrowing as his hand stilled.

“Why did you come? Surely there are others who would be, should be, charged with this task?”

Aurelia opened her eyes, calamitous thoughts barging their way into her mind; there would be no turning back, not for this day.

“You will think me frivolous and selfish.” She hung her head, unable to look him in the eye.

She heard his scuffling steps approach, found his kind face appear in her downcast gaze. Michelangelo knelt at the side of her chair, one hand taking hers, the other holding his parchment.

“I should not have a bad thought of you, Aurelia.” He breathed a laugh. “Who am I to judge one such as you? Or anyone, for that matter.”

“I came,” Aurelia found the words in his unconditional empathy, “for me.”

He tilted his head yet again. “Scusi?”

Aurelia patted his hand with a smile. “I had, of late, found the burden of my position difficult to bear, the isolation of it most especially, the terrible sameness of it.” Her smile fled. “I wanted to experience this life, not just be a witness to it, but the lighter side of life, not that of duty and responsibility.”

“The lighter side of life?” Michelangelo’s raspy voice fairly squeaked with incredulity. “And you have chosen this…this quest…to find the lighter aspect of life?”

Aurelia threw back her head and laughed with unadulterated delight. Michelangelo, jaw dropping for half an instant, joined her, dancing with her in the irony.

Their laughter flittered away, the lark on a soft spring breeze, and he placed her drawing in her lap and released his charcoal to the floor. Taking both her hands with his, he kissed them.

“You and those who will follow you have my heart, my fealty, and my silence, Madonna Aurelia,” he whispered his pledge with formality. “Now and forever.”

Tears came to her eyes; she found the feel of them strange. In all her years, she could not remember a moment so breathtaking, so heartbreaking, as to bring her to tears. Whatever the consequences of her impetuous actions may be, to know this man, to experience him and Rome and all he had shown her, was a joy worthy of it all.

“I ask but one thing.” Michelangelo lowered his forehead to the knuckles of her hand, voice muffled into the puffed and worn fabric of the chair arm. “That you bring no harm to Battista, to amore mio. That I could not bear.”

Aurelia sniffed a sigh, it was a difficult request, but one she had already pledged herself to. How much easier things would have been were Battista not the man he was, possessing such beauty, of every incarnation.

She picked up the parchment in her lap, studied the face so skillfully etched upon it, one so familiar and yet alien. “I must do whatever I must, but I can promise you no hurt shall befall him, least not while our lives intersect, for he is m…my love as well.”

She gave him a conditional answer, and she saw the edge of dissatisfaction in his honey-colored eyes. His throat throttled a swallow and his ethereal smile peeped out at her once more.

“I shall come with you, then, if I may,” he requested with a giddiness more suited to a child. “I would see the end of this, at least from Firenze.”

“A wonderful idea,” she assured him. “You shall be marvelous company on the journey. It will be well that you are near, once—”

“Buongiorno.” Battista popped his head into the kitchen, face bright with glee. “Frado has returned. We make for Florence.”

Just as quickly, he darted out, leaving Aurelia and Michelangelo warm in the wake of him. Michelangelo stood and took the parchment, gaze roving over it with a critical though pleased eye. As she stood and joined him, as they headed for the door, he stepped to the low house fire, no more than burning cinders not yet stoked for the day, and placed the thin drawing material upon the glowing embers.

They left the kitchen, Aurelia’s likeness turning to fluttering ash behind them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

THE MEDICIS
AT THE BIRTH OF THE RENAISSANCE

Francesco Petrarch
There are, and always will be, moments in history in which the course of all life, as we know it, is affected…for the very essence of existence to undergo major changes that are ever-lasting. Such a one is the Renaissance. Many historians cite April 6, 1341, the date Francesco Petrarch was crowned Poet Laureate upon the Capital in Rome, as the birthday of the Renaissance. A movement that would last for nearly two hundred years, this period of ‘rebirth’ is marked by an evolution and a turning away from the medieval life of the Middle Ages, life and beliefs dominated by the church and its values. It is defined by an embracing—a rediscovering—of the humanism and its philosophical principles, those grounded in the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans. And nowhere was the power of this movement greater than in Italy.

Such was the cradle into which the next generation of Medicis was born. And yet, due to the actions of their ancestors (specifically the revolt of the previous generation), their purpose was to heal the family wounds; they had not the time to embrace the new waves of thought sweeping their peninsula, but they paved the way for succeeding generations to do so with almost fanatical obsession.

Of the three branches sprouted by the first two Medici brothers to leave Mugello and make their home in Florence, Charissimo and Bunigunta, only one branch of the Medici tree is still alive, still thriving…that of Charissimo’s grandson Averado. And though this generation was born under trying circumstances, more than one made their mark and forwarded the prestige and power of the family.

 Though there is more than one member who did little to bring individual distinction, they were, no doubt, part of the overall family efforts to redeem the family name and expand their holdings and business in Florence. Talento, son of Salvestro de’ Averado and Lisa Donato appears to have done nothing of note, including remaining unmarried and childless. Marco de’ Medici married twice, both times into power families, which could only have lent power to the rebuilding efforts of the Medici.

His first wife was a Bardi, a powerful banking family, owners of the Compagnia dei Bardi, this family, in conjunction with the Peruzzi Family Bank, lent England’s Edward III 400,000 gold florins. Edward defaulted on his debt, causing the collapse of the Peruzzi Bank. The Bardi family, however, continued to prosper, and played a notable role in the financial banking of the early explorers including Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.

Marco’s second wife came from the Strozzi family, a family whose history is deeply entwined with the Medici; from rivals to combatants to return once more to family by marriage.

 The title of indisputable forerunner of his generation belongs to Giovanni di Conte de’ Medici, a great condottieri (soldier/knight) and statesman. The very lofty titles held by Giovanni include gonfaloniere (governor) of Florence in 1349, 1353, and 1356; vicario (vicar) in Pescia (a city in the Provence of Pistoia) in 1346; and podestà (police chef) of Prato in 1365. Giovanni carried out many a military and diplomatic mission outside of Florence, including Pistoia, Piedmont, Lucca, Sienna, and Milan. As Captain of the province of Muguello, a rank awarded in 1351, Giovanni, along with his uncle Salvestro, defended the Castle of Scarperia against Visconti siege. The next year finds him among the ambassadors in Naples sent by the Florentine Republic to pay homage to Queen Giovanna I. In 1355, this obvious type-A personality rode at the head of 200 Florentine Knights as the escorted Charles IV to Rome to be crowned Emperor. It is a wonder he had any time for anything else. And yet he did.

Ponte Vecchio
With his brother Filigno di Conte (who, though widely unknown would in 1375 pen a biography, Libro de Memorie, providing the world with valuable information on his family dating back to the 12th century) and his cousins, Giovanni saw to the vast property expansion of the Medici family. Between the years of 1335 and 1375, these men paid over 9000 gold florins for the purchase of 170 plots of land, much in the Muguello area, but not all. They purchased as well great portions of Florence itself. From 1348 to 1373, they acquired several houses and workshops in the districts near the Mercato Vecchio (the old market) and the Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge). At the time, they still lived in the area of the Mercato, as their family had for generations, where they also owned the Torre di San Tommaso and a loggia, but at some point in these booming years of acquisition, they decided to move the family to a palagio or palazzo on the Via Larga. In 1361, this generation of blossoming moguls bought the eleven remaining parts of the house (more accurately described as one complete side of the city block) to serve as the family headquarters.

For all Giovanni’s contributions to Florence and to the Medici family, including siring a son, his accomplishments would not turn out to be the most lasting.

Averado de' Medici
One of the leading members of the family carried on two of their important names; Averado de’ Medici married twice. Evidence, or the lack thereof, of his first wife Giovanni de’ Bonaguisi, indicates an early demise; little is known of her and there were no offspring from this marriage. Averado’s second marriage proved more productive; while deeply entrenched in the efforts to raise the status of the family and acquire property, he and his second wife, Giacoma di Franceso Spini, gave birth to three children, a girl and two boys, one of whom will become known as the true father of the Medici fame and glory.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"MRS. POE" AUTHOR LYNN CULLEN
STEPS INSIDE THE WRITERS' STUDY



Lynn Cullen, author of Mrs. Poe (chosen as one of Oprah's Books of the Week) as well as other award-winning works including Creation of Eve and Reign of Madness pulled up a chair in the Writers' Study!
What is your favorite word? 
Shampoo. It was my dad’s favorite word.  He used to demonstrate how lovely it sounded when rolling off the tongue.

What is your least favorite word?  
Phenomenon—for some crazy reason, I can’t say it or spell it right.  Had to use spell-check to get it right just now.

What turns you on?   
When ideas come out of the blue when I’m writing.

What turns you off?  
Negative people.

What sound or noise do you love?  
My grandkids calling my name.

What sound or noise do you hate?  
When my daughters cry.  

What is your favorite curse word?   
S**t

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  
Art historian

What profession would you not like to do?  
Garbage collector

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?   
Come on in.  Your dad has been waiting for you.

In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release.  
MRS. POE traces Poe’s rise to prominence with ‘The Raven,’ to his utter ruin within the space of one year, through the eyes of his lover, poet Frances Osgood.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

REAL ESTATE AND FINANCIAL MOGULS:
THE SIX BROTHERS OF THE MEDICI,
THE DONALD TRUMPS OF THEIR AGE

Tracing family heritage of a historically potent and important family is not as easy as one may think. As previously mentioned on numerous occasions, even in the case of the Medicis it has proven a daunting task. As with most ‘history,’ true records and expansive details begin with the family member who brought the family into the limelight. But were it not for the shoulders such a person stands on, they would start from the ground…from nothing.

In an effort to track down information on the brothers of Salvestro di Averado de’ Medici, who served as Florence’s envoy to Venice (see previous Medici post), very little could be found. It is documented that the vast property owned by their father Averado was divided evenly between the six brothers. Vast is a drastic understatement of the property acquired.

View of the Campiano Valley from the Tramigna
Over a sixty year period, this branch of the Medicis signed fifty-nine contracts, purchasing property in Villanuova, Campiano (a hamlet in the town of Cazzano of Tramigna), San Piero a Sieve (a commune in the Province of Florence), and San Giovanni in Petrolio.


While the previous Medici post told of the exploits of brother Sylvestro di Averado, little is known of his siblings. Of brother Conte, we do know that he married and served, on more than one occasion, as a Lord Prior of Florence. Of Jacopo, nothing could be found. His brother Giovenco married a woman named Nucciana Ruccelai and gave birth to a son, Giuliano, a name he would share with one of the most famous Medici of all. The same is true for brothers Francesco and Talento, nothing of substance is known about either of them. However, one can only assume, with the amount of prime property owned by these six brothers, that those of little public notoriety were greatly involved in property management. Considering the number of buildings—historic castles and newly built villas—the family would come to own in these areas (more on this in a later post), the family, once again, has much to thank for the less ‘illustrious’ for their quiet support of the family and its growing wealth and acquisitions.
Castello del Trebbio in San Piero a Sieve; foundations
date back to the 9th Century; would one day become
one of the Medici Villa.

In addition, these six brothers set up a flourishing banking activity, founding the company filii Averardi, (Sons of Averado), though records of this organization continue only until 1330, after which time it appears there were no more financial undertakings by this generation of the Medici as an associated group. There are signs of frequent disputes and disagreements between the brothers, seemingly triggered by details of inheritance and property (brothers fighting over toys). There is distinct evidence that money lending continued as a business practice by more than one brother.

As the other two branches of the family have, for the most part, died out by this point, and this generation is in a state of dysfunction, we must look to the next in line for either its destruction or its reformation.


Monday, September 30, 2013

STEPPING INTO THE WRITER'S STUDY:
AWARD WINNING AUTHOR
JULIE K. ROSE

Julie K Rose's books have garnered great critical acclaim as well as award honors. Her first book, The Pilgrim Glass, was a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Her latest work, Oleanna was short-listed as a finalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition. Let's see what she has to say...Inside the Writer's Study.


What is your favorite word?
Well, in terms of definition, it's compassion. For pure joy of reading or saying it, it's susurration. But, sadly, for regular daily use, it's f—k.

What is your least favorite word?
There's plenty of concepts I don't like, but no actual words I don't like.  Except maybe sausage? It just sounds weird and kind of gross.

What turns you on?
Intelligence, humor, and compassion.

What turns you off?
Selfishness and entitlement.

What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of wind in the trees, the ocean, my purring cats, my husband's voice.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Booming car stereos. See: selfishness and entitlement.

What is your favorite curse word?
F—k. Closely followed by sh!t.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Counselor/therapist, art historian, or national park ranger!

What profession would you not like to do?
Telemarketer (been there, done that, awful).

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Welcome. Great job, kid.

In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release.
OLEANNA is the story of a woman's quest for freedom set against the backdrop of Norway's independence from Sweden during the summer of 1905; based loosely on the lives of my great-great-aunts it is a character-driven story of finding one's path and persevering in the face of change and loss.

You can learn more about Julie and her books at www.juliekrose.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

UPRISING AND REVOLT:
A CASE OF TWO SALVESTROS DE' MEDICI
AND THE CIOMPI

The fifth descendant generation of Charissimo de’ Medici, one of two brothers who migrated to Florence in the Middle Ages, finds outstanding individuals with both lasting and significant contributions to history, the evolution and expansion of Florence, as well as the broadening of power and riches to the Medici family itself. So substantial were the accomplishments by so many of this branch and generation, they are deserving of their own accolades.

All family trees are only as strong as the roots upon which they stand. And yet in the profusion of source material on the Medici family, most point to Giovanni di Bicci de Medici (1360-1428) as the patriarch of the family. These series of posts (now at number seven) prove that many prior branches and roots provided a strong base for the powerful family; each one growing sturdier on the deeds of those that came before. Unfortunately, it also makes the information on these early branches both spotty and contradictory (the custom of using a significant ancestor’s name, such as Charissimo, finds the two men in question in this post--highlighted in red in the family tree above--both called not only Salvestro but Salvestro Charissimo…a recipe for confusion). In an effort for clarity they will be called by their name and their fathers, hence Salvestro di Alamanno and Salvestro di Averado. Since the previous post, it became clear that Salvestro di Alamanoo (1331-1388; Gonfalonier of Florence 1370, 1377/78) and not his cousin, Salvestro di Averado, was, in fact, the Salvestro intricately involved with the Ciompi Revolt and its resolution. That distinction does indeed belong to Salvestro di Alamanno.

Circled: carding brushes
The revolt was sparked by the wool carders (a brushing process to remove imperfections and align the fibers). Not only were these workers unrepresented by any Guild in a society in which there were Guilds for almost every profession (what in modern terms would be called Unions), they were some of the poorest, and most radical, of workers. They resented the growing power of the other Guilds, especially those within the textile community, such as the Arte della Lanna (the wool guild, one of the seven ‘great’ trades of Florence). And they grew ever more fearful as rumors of a takeover were in the air…the manufacturers and bankers were planning a coup d’état on June 24, Saint John’s Day, a major holiday.

Scarperia Castle
Salvestro di Alamanno had already distinguished himself in prestigious public offices and as a powerful condottiere (soldier) in the war against the Visconti to defend the castle of Scarperia. A wealthy man and member of the upper merchant class, he did, however, sympathize with the unrepresented workers, and as the sitting governor, spurred the ciompi to take action with an eloquence that would come to mark the Medici through the ages:

 "If we had to deliberate now whether to take up arms, to burn and rob the homes of the citizens, to despoil churches, I would be one of those who would judge it was a course to think over, and perhaps I would agree to put quiet poverty ahead of perilous gain. But because arms have been taken up and many evils have been done, it appears to me that one must reason that arms must not be put aside and that we must consider how we can secure ourselves from the evils that have been committed... You see the whole city full of grievance and hatred against us: the citizens meet together; the Signoria is always on the side of the magistrates. You should believe that traps are being set for us and that new forces are being prepared against our strongholds. We must therefore seek two things, and we must have two ends in our deliberations: one is to make it impossible for us to be punished for the things we have done in recent days, and the other is to be able to live with more freedom and more satisfaction than we have in the past... If we wish that our old errors be forgiven us, [we need] to make new ones, redoubling the evils, multiplying the arson and robbery-- and to contrive to have many companions in this, because when many err, no one is punished, and though small faults are punished, great and grave ones are rewarded." (Florentine Histories, III, 13)

In June of 1378, the ciompi, these disenfranchised and unrepresented workers, took up arms and attacked government buildings. By July 21, their successful efforts found Michele di Landio, a wool carder who in the midst of the riot took up the city’s banner and ran with it (literally) through the heart of the assault, seated as the gonfaloniere of justice (basically the Governor of Florence). They brought the popolo minuto (the lower class) some much needed influence; it was a time of great democracy in a land always ruled by an upper class republic oligarchy. During their short tenure of power, the ciompi elected three of their own as members of the Prior (a small but powerful arm of the government), instituted tax reforms, and reduced judicial corporal punishment.
Michele di Landio
Under Landio’s reign, Salvestro di Alamanno was not only given revenue of shops on the Old Bridge (the famous Ponte Vecchio) he was also knighted, along with 63 other Florentine citizens.

Their blaze of glory was but a flash of a flint.

The revolt traumatized the upper classes of Florentine society and it was not long before a counter-strike was in the offing. As a the ciompi gathered in the main city square, the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the government building, they were attacked by members of the major and minor guilds, outraged men led by the guild of butchers (that in itself conjures a frightening image). Though they were ousted from any positions of power, the reforms put in place by the ciompi remained in effect…but only until 1382.

Florence's magnificent Duomo
For Salvestro di Alamanno’s support of the marginalized, the privileges incurred upon him by Landio were revoked and he was exiled from the city in 1382. The government did not lift his exile until 1387. He died a year later, never having married or borne any children. Salvestro di Alamanno did receive the privilege of entombment within the great Duomo.



His cousin, Salvastro di Averado de’ Medici did not live his life without distinction of his own however. Born circa 1300, Salvestro di Averado served as Florence’s envoy to Venice for a year, 1336, perhaps more. In 1326, he married Lisa Donati, daughter of Sinibaldo Donati, one of Tuscany’s powerful families, forging an importance alliance that would last for generations. This Salvastro and his wife, Lisa, would also become grandparents to none other than Giovanni di Bicci de Medici. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

THE TALENTED STEPHANIE LEHMANN,
VISITS THE WRITER'S STUDY

San Francisco born, now proud New Yorker, Stephanie Lehmann takes a turn Inside the Writer's Study!



What is your favorite word?
mommy (editor's note: awww)



What is your least favorite word?
vulva

What turns you on?
cotton

What turns you off?
polyster

What sound or noise do you love?
A person laughing at something I've said that's meant to be funny.

What sound or noise do you hate?
The neighbor's dog howling with loneliness

What is your favorite curse word?
poophead

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Supreme Court Judge

What profession would you not like to do?
Judge on America's Got Talent

If Heaven of the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source or whatever Deity you may believe in say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
"The flea market is open year round."

In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release.
ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE is a novel taking place in Manhattan during two time periods with intertwining stories of a department store shop girl in 1907 and a vintage clothing store owner in 2007.











Wednesday, August 21, 2013

PREMATURE DEATHS,
THE RISE OF HOMOSEXUALITY,
OR SIMPLY CONFUSED HISTORY:
ANOTHER MEDICI BRANCH WITHERS

The branch of Medici perpetuated from Charissimo (the second) gave birth to many children. Though he gave birth to two sons, only one of those sons, Filippo, married, giving birth to four sons, two of whom married, producing five sons in total. That generation: Andrea, Bartolommeo, Salvestro, Vieri, and Giovanni were part of the Florentine population during the middle years of the 14th century. The two with confirmable dates, Salvestro (1331-1338) and Vieri (1323-1395) would, given the average life expectancy of men during this era was 50 years, allow for the theory that all the brothers lived and died near to the same years. Could have…were it not for the upheavals Florence—and the Medicis—underwent during those years.

Traveling along the Silk Road, it is believed the Black Death originated in China and Central Asia, carried to other parts of the world by virulent rodents. It reached its peak in the two year period of 1348-1350. Known then as the Great Pestilence, the Great Plague, or the Great Mortality, the Black Death as it now known (a moniker given by Dutch and Swedish chroniclers of history) was
responsible for reducing the European population by thirty to sixty percent, depending upon location. In Florence, the numbers are narrowed to twenty-five to fifty percent. It can easily be theorized, then, that one or more of these Medici sons for which there are no records fell to the horrific disease.

But there were other powerful forces at work in Florence at the time.

These five men, these sons of Medici, were the first to be born during a recently established Renaissance, though they, like all of their contemporaries, could not know what they were witnessing. They would have been among the first to read the works of Dante and Petrarch as established masters in literature…the first to see the works of Giotto, bringing painting into the new realm of realism.


The Renaissance (thus named in the mid 16th century by Giorgio Vasari in his work The Lives of Artists) was an explosion of discovery and exploration, both in the external world and in self-enlightenment, an explosion including a change in sexual mores. In Daily Life in the Renaissance, author Charles L. Mee, Jr. states, “Sex was not a taboo subject, and sexiness, both female and male was widely admired in their lives and in their art.” And though sodomy was an act punishable with death, it too was explored like never before. Donatello’s feminine David is an example of the gender bending art of the age. It is possible then that the lack of progeny from some of these five brothers could be due to their sexual preferences.


Of the brothers Andreo and Bartolommeo, there is nothing of record in the many book, studies, and programs on the Medici, other than listing them as a brother to Salvestro. And while often confused with a later (and greater) Giovanni de’ Medici, this particular offspring shows no discernible contributions of note either.

Vieri de’ Medici, while not receiving the attention his brother Savlestro does in history, might well have made the most important contribution to the clan to date. Though many of his ancestors and contemporaries became embroiled in conflicts and rebellions, Vieri kept himself to irreproachable conduct, beginning the high esteem Florentines would feel about the Medici, for the most part, for the duration of the family’s existence. Additionally, Vieri was a prodigious businessman, amassing a great fortune. There are morsels of fact left on the trail of history that indicate Vieri established a structured banking system (the original and lasting source of the Medici empire). Some sources, however, site that Vieri’s banking trade eventually failed. It does seem conceivable, however, that he retained a fortune that would allow succeeding generations (though not his own children, of which there is a vague mention) to begin the true dynasty of the Medici.

As for Salvestro there exists a great deal of confusion, perplexity stemming from the repetition of name in generation after generation and among first cousins themselves. Charissimo (the first, one of two brothers to immigrate from Mugello to Florence) would eventually have two, three-times great-grandsons named Salvestro, one Salvestro di Alamanno de’ Medici, and one Salvestro di Averado de’ Medici (the middle names indicating the names of their fathers). While many ‘quick’ histories place Salvestro di Alamanno as the political revolutionary involved in the Ciompi revolt (see next post coming early September), it is the overwhelming consensus that such a life belonged to Salvestro di Averado. Di Alamanno, however, did serve as Gonfalonieri of Florence from 1370 to 1378. And, once again, there is mention of a wife and children, though not confirmable by the rule of three.


It seems unlikely that if Vieri and Salvestro did have children, that there would be no impression of them left on history, especially in light of their cousins’ contributions, not only to Florence but to the world, accomplishments so vast that they will have their own unique posts here…when The Medici Series continues.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

KATE QUINN, NATIONAL BEST SELLER
INSIDE THE WRITER'S STUDY!

As talented as she is witty, National Best Selling author, Kate Quinn (Empress of the Seven Hills, Daughters of Rome, and Mistress of Rome) gets delightfully real...Inside the Writer's Study:





What is your favorite word? 
Can I have two? “Check enclosed,” to borrow a bon mot from Dorothy Parker. 

What is your least favorite word? 
Mew.” I read a book where a character mewed with passion, and it scarred me for life. 

What turns you on? 
Men with swords.

What turns you off? 
Men with tapered pants. 

What sound or noise do you love? 
Falling rain

What sound or noise do you hate? 
The crack of the bat as any Yankee hits a home run in Fenway Park. 

What is your favorite curse word? 
Scheisse. German for shit—swearing in German is much more satisfying.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 
Opera singer. I trained as one, and I've still got the high C's. 
What profession would you not like to do? 
Anything involving sewage or bureaucracy. 

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates? 
“Let me introduce you to all those historical figures you've been writing about.”
In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release. 
Take a vivacious blonde with floor-length hair, add a cynical dwarf on the hunt for a serial killer, toss in one fiery cook with a dangerous past, then stir to a boil, light on fire, and serve for a hell of a read! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

THE MEDICI SERIES:
A BRANCH DIES OUT
IN A BLAZE OF GLORY

The years of war (see previous post on the Medici, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines) left the people of Florence fearful of both tyranny and despots. For many years, the Florentines shuffled their cards furiously in an effort to retain control of a neighboring city of Lucca whose territory, at this point in history, extended from the Magra to Pistoia to Volterra. On the death of Castruccio, the Duke of Lucca, Louis the Bavarian, conferred Lucca on Francesco, a relative and enemy of Castruccio. The Lucchesi, however, ceded themselves to John of Bohemia who, in 1333, pawned the city to the Rossi of Parma, who gave it to Mastino della Scala (1335), who sold to the Florentines for 100,000 florins (1341). The angered Pisans then occupied the city (1342). Far crueler to Florence was the decision of Milan, Mantua, Parma and, eventually, Padua to side with Pisa to keep Lucca out of Florentine control, an act especially egregious as Milan and Mantua had been decidedly allied to Florence, a city still functioning within a communal hierarchy of authority. Their pleas for help to Robert of Naples and the Avignon Papacy were rebuffed, both urging Florence to make peace, and the years of battle for the locality, and huge unpaid debts by the English to Florentine banking houses had left the great city bankrupt.

In May of 1342, the civic government of Florence appointed as its new captain and as 'conservator' of the commune, one Walter of Brienne, duke of Athens (whose titles also included Count of Brienne, Conversano, and Lecce), who had, in 1326, acted as vicar of Florence for Charles of Calabria. As the grandson of Huge of Brienne, Walter was heir to property in many parts of the Mediterranean as well as France. He spent the majority of his life traveling between them, involving himself in the politics and wars of each location.

Instead of bringing Lucca under Florentine control, one bought and paid for, Walter of Brienne did nothing as Lucca negotiated its own surrender in 1342. Walter then, knowing Florence's weakened condition, used the military forces entrusted to him and took control not only of Florence, but of Pistoia and Arezzo, declaring himself 'lord for life' over these territories.

Florence put up little fight at first, too disabled economically to do little else. It is theorized that support for the duke's 'tyranny' came from the upper and lower classes, the grandi (the landholding noble families of the country side) and the popolo minuto (the craftsmen and laborers who were forbidden to organize into guilds and consequently to hold any political office). The grandi support came for obvious reasons, while that of the minuto blossomed in hopes that Walter would break the power of the group in the middle, the popolo grasso (the wealthy and influential professionals and guild members who controlled trade and civic administration, the nouveau riche, who created their own aristocracy as the old feudal nobility died out).

But Walter tried to curry favor for too much with the popolo minuto, allowing them to form guilds as well as persecuting and executing those of the grassi, including one Giovanni de' Medici. It was not long before his light began to dim. No fewer than three conspiracies were plotted which merged to form a unified uprising against the despot in July of 1343; Walter of Brienne's 'reign' had not even lasted a year. After an eight-day siege, Walter came to terms with the insurgents and renounced all and any authority on the condition that he and the men he had brought with him to Florence were allowed safe passage out. They showed him the door of the city gate and let it slam shut in his retreating face.

A new government formed out of the patricians who led the revolt, one formed of a council of fourteen, seven from the grandi and seven popoloni. Of the seven drawn from the two lower classes--a mixture of the newly rich merchants and the craftsmen, one name stands out, Francesco di Ardingho de' Medici.

Francesco played a major role in the revitalization of his beloved city, the reinstatement of the Ordinances of Justice and the four quarters of Florence. In addition, the  new government instituted rule by Lord Priors and of a Gonfaloniere of Justice, but this time, all of whom must come from the popoloni. It was a major advancement in the republican rule of the great city.

Francesco prospered personally as well, marrying none other than the Contessina Adimari. The Adimari family finds historical mention as far back as the Middle Ages, mention in works by Dante as of 'small descent' (not noble) but becoming part of the nobility when one of them married a daughter to Bellicione Berti, a noble and wealthy Florentine. Considering Francesco's own social standing, it can be fairly well presumed that their's was a love match.

One that would not last very long.


The outbreak of the Black Death in 1348 reduced the population of the city from over 90,000 to less than half that. All indications point to the demise of both Francesco and his contessina in its rampage before they could produce any children to carry on their legacy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

LAUREN WILLIG:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
MAKES A VISIT TO THE WRITER'S STUDY

Bestselling, Yale graduate, and multi-award winning author, Lauren Willig spent some time Inside the Writer's Study. The author of the extremely popular Pink Carnation Series--a collection of Napoleonic-Era British spy novels inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel--reveals her uniqueness through the distinctive questions of the Proust questionnaire.



What is your favorite word?
Ontomatopeaia: the sound of falling peas and tomatoes.

What is your least favorite word?
Huh. That’s a tough one. I’ve seldom met a word I didn’t like. I guess I’d have to go with “classy”. Because the word “classy” by definition isn’t. 

What turns you on?
What if. Anything that gets me speculating about characters or ideas—it could be seeing a play where the characters don’t behave quite as I expect or overhearing a chance conversation in the street. Anything that gets me thinking “what if you took that concept and transposed it in such and such a way….” And I’m off and running. 

What turns you off?
Anything administrative. I go to incredible lengths to avoid accomplishing routine tasks. 

What sound or noise do you love?
The clip clop of horses’ hooves. I live right across the street from Central Park and on quiet nights, when there aren’t too many trucks backfiring, I can close my eyes, listen to their steady tread, and imagine myself back in the nineteenth century. 

What sound or noise do you hate?
Whatever vehicle it might be that makes those really loud noises outside my window at three in the morning. Garbage truck, perhaps? 

What is your favorite curse word?
Drat. (Although, after a memorable Deanna Raybourn interview—Deanna knows what I’m talking about!—there was a time when it was briefly supplanted by a vehement “bugger damn!”) 

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Is reigning monarch an option? I’m all about the tiaras, and I love court intrigue. 

What profession would you not like to do?
I’d really rather not go back to being a lawyer…. Wait. Was that my outside voice? 

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Welcome.” (Infinitely preferable to, “Would you mind lining up by that down escalator over there? And you won’t be needing that pashmina down there. It’s rather… warm… where you’re going.”) 

In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release.
Hailed as “a reader’s treat”, THE ASHFORD AFFAIR is a sweeping family saga stretching from the inner circles of Edwardian society to the red-dirt hills of 1920s Kenya and the skyscrapers of modern Manhattan. To read an excerpt (or listen to an audio sample), just pop by my website at http://www.laurenwillig.com/books/ashford.php.





Thank you, Lauren, and a big congratulations of the birth of your daughter, Madeleine Elizabeth Radcliffe, July 24th!

Monday, July 22, 2013

THE FAMILY—THE POWER—GROWS:
THE MEDICI SERIES CONTINUES

The next generation of Medici, the sons of Bonaguinta, Filippo, and Alamando (those born in the late thirteenth/early fourteenth centuries) number no less than seven; among there number were many hard working, devoted Florentine citizens, contributing to the growing glory of the city, including two men who served as priors and, ultimately, as Gonfaloniers…Governors of Florence.

 Bonaguinta’s son Ardingho boasts a most impressive resume, including the first of the clan to hold the office of Gonfaloniere of Justice. The name itself derives from the early Italian medieval word gonfalone and from the ancient word confalone. In both cases, the word described a type of heraldic flag or banner (pictured here the gonfalone of Florence). As Gonfaloniere it came to imply the ‘banner’ of authority. Ardingho also held the post of Prior twice, once before and once after his election to Gonfaloniere in 1296. The Gonfaloniere of Justice was elected from the nine citizens who formed the government, specially the Priori, positions held by different men every nine months. However, once a gonfaloniere, the prestige would linger forever, on both the individual and his family. Thus began the true political influence of the Medici family.

With Ardingho, we find, for the first time, the name of his wife (though pictorial family trees ‘connect’ offspring to the mother, previous historical records give no indication of the names of the wives and mothers; a telling omission in and of itself). Though little, in truth nothing, is known of Gemma de’ Bardi herself, the Bardi would become an influential family in Florence, in the realm of banking, no doubt influenced by the Medici themselves, though never reaching the Medici scope and power. Known and interesting is the fact that one of Gemma’s familial descendants, one Simone de’ Bardi would marry one Beatrice Portinari (pictured), the Beatrice of Dante’s unrequited heart and the inspiration for his Divine Comedy.


Little is known of Ardingho’s brother, Guccio who was birthed late in his mother’s life and lived for only seventeen years.

Filippo was the busiest of his generation, giving birth to four sons, the jackpot for a medieval Italian family. The oldest, Arrigo, appears to be a persona non grata, as does his closest sibling, Alamanno (please keep in mind that these men are not to be confused with men of the same names in subsequent generations of the Medici, men who would make their mark on the world). Third son, Giovanni—one of the first of many by that name—held the office of Treasurer of the Commune; he did not marry or reproduce.

Cambio de’ Medici, the last-born son of Filippo seems to have lived a quiet life out, perhaps holding the position of Prior at some point, but doing so with little merit.

Alamanno’s only son Averedo I would be the offspring of his generation to esteem the most distinction; making great use of his short life of thirty-three years. Serving once as a Lord Prior, he served as Gonfaloniere not once but twice, in 1299 and 1314. He also married well, to Mandina Argucci, a prominent and long established Florentine family. Averedo was also the first Medici to begin purchasing land, launching a vast operation of acquisition in the Mugello area of the Florentine district, completing the circle of the Medici family that began there. With Mandina, Averedo I would make the greatest contribution yet to the Medici clan…giving birth to men who would not only change the fortunes of the Medici family, but who would change the very landscape of Florence itself.