Sunday, April 13, 2014

Understanding a rebel's psyche (Guest post by Marina Julia Neary)

Never Be at Peace

A pugnacious orphan from a bleak Dublin suburb, Helena Molony dreams of liberating Ireland. Her fantasies take shape when Maud Gonne adopts her and sets her on a path to theatrical stardom - and political martyrdom. Swept up in the Gaelic Revival, Helena succumbs to the romantic advances of Bulmer Hobson, a Fenian leader with a talent for turning friends into enemies. After their affair ends in a bitter ideological rift, she turns to Sean Connolly, a married fellow-actor from the Abbey Theatre. As Ireland prepares to strike against the British rule on Easter Monday, Helena and her comrades find themselves caught in a whirlwind of deceit, violence, broken alliances and questionable sacrifices. In the words of Patrick Pearse, “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”. For the survivors of the Rising, the battle will continue for decades after the last shot had been fired. 


This week I'd like to welcome M.J. Neary (Marina Julia Neary), whose novel Never Be at Peace was recently published by Fireship Press.  Her book has been hailed as "a gripping and intense tale of Ireland in the thick of revolution" and "meticulously researched and boldly-written."  (See my own review here.)  In today's guest post, Neary talks about what goes into the making of a rebel - not the external and political causes of rebellion, but the psychology that underlies a rebel's predilections. 

The remarkable drawings shown here are by Alissa Mendenhall,  illustrating some of the most dramatic moments in Never Be at Peace, and Neary is using them with the artist's permission. 

A few words about the author:

A Chernobyl survivor adopted into the world of Anglo-Irish politics, Marina Julia Neary has dedicated her literary career to depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade to the Easter Rising in Dublin. Her mission is to tell untold stories, find hidden gems and illuminate the prematurely extinguished stars in history. She explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.  Her debut novel Wynfield's Kingdom: a Tale of London Slums appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. With the centennial of the Easter Rising approaching, she has written a series of novels exploring the hidden conflicts within the revolutionary ranks.  Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels is a companion piece to Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916. 

M.J. Neary

Understanding a rebel's psyche

"To free his country, he enslaved his family". That is a tag line for my novel "Brendan Malone: the Last Fenian", the first one in my Irish nationalism series. My ongoing mission is not merely to depict certain tragic events that took place in the early 20th century Ireland but also to provide insight into the psyche of a revolutionary, regardless of his or her nationality. With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising approaching, there is a surge of interest in the subject among historians, politicians, novelists and general lovers of Irish history.  I position my work as an antidote for those whose vision was blurred by the one-sided romanticism of "Braveheart" or "Michael Collins".  The image of a pan-Celtic hero against the evil English oppressor. 

The most liberally dispensed advice is "Write what you know".  And I just happen to know rebel psychology.  I grew up with ethnic tension in my house.  It doesn't matter that the conflict I witnessed as a child was Russian-Polish instead of Anglo-Irish.  There are many parallels involving linguistic, territorial, religious and socioeconomic components.  My mother is Russian and unabashedly pro-imperialism.  It is her philosophy that big fish eats small fish, and large objects attract smaller objects.  In her mind, there is nothing wrong with one nation dominating its smaller neighbors.  In fact, she believes that some nations just cannot handle independence.  They actually benefit from being dominated. Her first husband and my biological father, on another hand, held a diametrically opposite view.  He was outraged by Russia's oppression of her smaller neighbors and actively championed de-russification of the Baltic states, Ukraine and Belarus in favor of restoring the native culture.  A prominent operatic coach who had produced several world-class singers, he was somewhat of a public figure, so his voice was definitely heard, at least on a local level. Both my parents are very intense and opinionated people, so you can imagine our dinner conversations.  Strange as it sounds, but those ideological conflicts, were not all that uncommon within families.  Yes, you can sleep in the same bed and still be on the opposite sides of the barricade.

Sean Connolly's Death (Alissa Mendenhall)

Some individuals find the glamor of martyrdom more enticing than the very Idea they defend.  My birth father fell into that category.  He would experiment with his own psyche, work himself up into a fanatical frenzy, until his blood pressure would reach 180/130, his pupils would dilate and his ears would start ringing.  He had this peculiar talent for repressing his self-preservation instinct. 

Years later, working as a research assistant at La Salle University, I learned that many of the key figures of the Easter Rising also came from mixed families.  Many of them had one English parent and were afflicted to some extent with an ethnic identity crisis.  I remember asking myself this question: "Whose side am I on? Am I Russian or Polish? If I agree with Mom, will Dad disown me?" Now that I am an American citizen, and my parents are no longer together, those questions seem irrelevant.  But when I was a child growing up in the former USSR during the late 1980s in a politically divided family I had a dilemma on my hands. This dilemma was by no means unique to me. There were other children in the same situation. So when I started reading the works of Patrick Pearse, who grew up with an aloof domineering English father and a submissive Irish mother, his experiences spoke to me.  Even though Pearse and I are separated chronologically and geographically, his sentiments resonated with mine. Patrick Pearse went on to embrace his Irish side, became an ardent Gaelic revivalist and ultimately gave his life for his cause.  Historians and psychologists have shared their theories regarding the cause behind that switch. The consensus seems to be that Pearse, being an awkward, shy, clumsy child, frequently ridiculed and excluded by his peers, was inclined to side with the outcasts.  I would not go as far as suggesting that Pearse's awkward adolescence was the only reason for his conversion to Irish nationalism, but it certainly did play a part.

Execution of  James Connolly (Alissa Mendenhall)

Interestingly enough, the man who had sworn Patrick Pearse into the Irish Republican Brotherhood came from a totally different walk of life.  Born into a prosperous Quaker family, Bulmer Hobson was handsome, well-spoken, athletic and confident.  His father was an Ulsterman of predominantly English stock, and his mother was from Yorkshire.  In short, he did not have blood links to the Irish culture.  Nevertheless, he became one of the most notorious advocates for Irish independence in Ulster.  To him it was a question of morality and human rights.  He sided with the underdog, even though he came from privilege himself.  Eventually, Hobson and Pearse went their opposite ways.  It's interesting how they came from different walks of life, walked side by side for a brief period of time, and then went in the opposite directions.  Pearse loved the idea of an armed rebellion, even if it had no chance of success, and Hobson was disgusted by the idea of vain bloodshed.  "No man has the right to risk the lives of others to carve for himself a niche in history", Hobson stated in a public speech just a few days before the Easter Rising.  That bold phrase got him kidnapped by his own former comrades and held captive until the rising was well underway.  (See illustration)

Guarding Bulmer (Alissa Mendenhall)

In many circles it's still blasphemous to question the sainthood of certain "martyrs".  Incidentally, "Martyrs & Traitors" is the title of my second book in the series.  There is a combination of pathos and sarcasm in that title.  These two seemingly polarized concepts that represent black and white in reality jumble into one grey mass. 

Shortly after announcing my novel "Brendan Malone: the Last Fenian" on Facebook, I started getting many friend requests from various Sinn Fein groups.  Before long, I started getting requests from individuals with masked IRA members as their profile pictures.  I won't get into the difference between the original IRA in the 1920s and what the organization has become. That subject deserves a separate blog entry. To make a long story short, I became awfully popular with the IRA online.  Apparently, none of my new friends had read my books, or if they had, clearly they hadn't picked up on the ambivalent tone in which I described the actions of the Irish republican leaders.  One time I asked a gentleman from Belfast why he endorsed that particular cause, and his reply was: "Because so much Irish blood was already shed in the previous generations."  No further questions.  Can't argue with a rebel's logic.


I'd like to thank Marina for sharing these insights with us, and to wish her well with her book launch.  

To learn more about Marina and her books, see her Fireship Press page.

To purchase Never Be at Peace, Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian, or Martyrs and Traitors, click on the cover below:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Little Free Libraries - a good cause, and possibly good PR

Little Free Library in Madison, WI

Author friends, here's an idea you might want to consider:  donate one (or more) of your books to the Little Free Library nearest you.  Not sure what this is, or whether there is one near you?  Read on.

Little Free Library in Baxter Springs, KS

The Little Free Library organization is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization whose mission is to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world.

A Little Free Library in Lithuania

The Little Free Libraries themselves are small structures, usually handcrafted, that contain a constantly rotating collection of books donated and shared by people.  The idea is, you donate a book, and you choose a book to take for yourself.  The libraries are purchased (or built) by individuals, communities, businesses, and nonprofits, and they can be found in front yards, parks, public gardens, outside businesses, and in many other publicly accessible places.

They need to be weatherproof (Patty Kosley, Traverse City, MI)

The designs can be quite sophisticated:

Melody Moore, Mazomanie, WI

Rick Schroeder, Atlanta, GA

 And if you're wondering how giving one of your books to such a library might be helpful in spreading the word about your work, take a look at the numbers:

According to Rick Brooks, one of the founders of the Little Free Library organization, a conservative estimate of the number of Little Free Libraries in the world as of January 15, 2014, is 15,000, in at least 56 countries.  On average, each library goes through at least 25 books per month, ; if no new libraries were added (not likely, as new ones spring up every day), at the current rate that would mean 4.5 million books exchanged in 2014.  The LFL Facebook pages have more than 46,000 "likes," more than two million people have searched the LFL map (see website, below), and at least 200,000 people have watched YouTube videos about LFLs.

With a solar panel (lights up at night)

My community, Madison, WI, is pretty much where the idea got started, and it has no fewer than 100 Little Free Libraries, located all over town.  My novel, A Thing Done, is tucked happily into the one pictured at the top of this post (unless someone has taken it by now), complete with my signature and a promotional bookmark. And the book I brought home with me was a historical novel I've been wanting to read for a long time, so I'd call that a win-win situation.

This one matches the house behind it (Whitnee LaChappelle, Redmond, WA)

To learn more about the organization, check out their website:

Repurposed refrigerator, Coalmont, British Columbia
It was a microwave in a previous life (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

The Little Free Library organization got started in 2010.  Todd Bol of Hudson, WI created the first one in memory of his mother in 2009, but the idea started to spread when Bol teamed up with Rick Brooks of Madison, WI in 2010.  In an email, Brooks tells me about how authors can contribute to this effort, and what's in it for them:
A growing number of authors and publishers are contributing promotional copies, most of them signed... The best way is for them to put their books in Little Libraries close to them, or to give them to friends who will put them in the Libraries.  If they have five or more copies, they can send them to our studio and office and we'll put the books in Little Free Library Originals we send out. ... The ideal, for us and for authors, is to provide Little Free Library a small number of copies along with promotional information about the book, the author and any details that we might be able to use on our blog or website. ... You'll be seeing mentions of authors and books that are using this approach in our blog and Facebook pages soon.

Emily Hamilton, Fort Dodge, IA

When you donate one of your books, it's a very different thing from having a book giveaway on a review blog, or on Goodreads, where the people who try to win a copy presumably are already interested in the book.  You're putting it out there among strangers - much like tucking a note into a bottle, corking it, and tossing it off the ship into the ocean.  You cannot possibly have any idea of what its fate will be, but you've done your part.  That in itself may result in introducing your book to someone - or several someones -  who might otherwise never come into contact with it. 

Mariah Hess, Davis, CA

So think about it.  Would your publisher send them a batch of books?  Could you spare one or two to drop off at Little Free Libraries somewhere near you?  Can you think of other ways that you could use this organization to share your book with others and perhaps get a bit of publicity at the same time?  I think it's worth a try.

Cindy Schurich, La Mesa, CA

Images in this post (except the picture at the top, which is my own) are used with permission of the Little Free Library organization.  Photographers, when their names are available, are credited in the captions.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Club Questions (slightly irreverent)

When my first book was published (in late 2012, by Fireship Press), I didn't include a list of questions for book clubs.  Silly me, I was new at all of this, and I just figured that people in book clubs could probably think up their own questions.

Well, since then I've been seeing lists of questions for book clubs every time I turn around.  So, on the assumption that "better late than never" applies here, I have turned my attention to compiling a list of appropriate questions for any book clubs that might happen upon my book.  I can see a trend when it hits me over the head with a sledgehammer.

First, I browsed online for a couple of minutes -- oops, I mean I did extensive research on what should go into such a list.  I did find one site, LitLovers, which had a list of general questions that could apply to any novel, and my first thought was to gently parody it, but it actually turned out to be a really good list, so I dropped that idea, even though this is my close-to-April-1 post and therefore you can't expect me to be entirely serious.

Instead, I have come up with this list of 10 questions, specific to A Thing Done.  If you've read the book, I'm sure you'll be able to answer them all brilliantly.  If you haven't -- well, you didn't think I could get through a post like this one without a buy link, did you?  Try here.

1. When you picked up this book, did you realize that it didn't contain a single Tudor?  or even a Borgia?  Be honest.

2. You have just read a historical novel that does not have either a female protagonist or (probably) anybody you've ever heard of.  Did you survive this experience?  Would you consider repeating it with a different book?

3. Does the fact that this period has not been featured in a television miniseries suggest to you that it counts as unusual, or off-the-beaten-track?  Discuss.

4. Did you think the Fool was a reliable or unreliable narrator, or some of each?  If he was unreliable, on what topic(s) did he fail to give us complete and accurate information?

5. Who were the good guys, the proto-Guelfs or the proto-Ghibellines?  Did you know that's what they were?

Proto-Guelfs and Proto-Ghibellines

6. Did you notice that the tower the Fool is gazing at on the cover looks a lot like the Palazzo Vecchio (which wasn't even built yet in 1216)?  Do you care?

Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio
7. How would you cast the movie?

8. Did you figure out the significance of the title, or did you forget to space back on your Kindle to get to the Dante quote at the beginning?

9. Do you think that sometimes survival is as close to a happy ending as life is gonna get? 

10. Would you like some more wine?  Red or white?

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the picture of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is licensed to JoJan via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license,  and the picture from the show The Borgias, author: Showtime, licensed to IraqChurch via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license, both via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Filling in the [brackets]

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who occasionally has to leave a few little gaps while writing an early draft.  We all have our different ways of dealing with this; my own preferred method is to put something inside brackets to remind me later that I need to check something, or decide something, or add something.

Using brackets makes it very easy to search for these once the draft is otherwise complete.  Otherwise, you risk missing some, and leaving in some quite inappropriate things.

For example:  When my protagonist, early 13th-century Roman noblewoman Giacoma de' Settesoli, was traveling from Rome to Assisi, she would probably not have spent the night in [Peoria].

Not this...

Fortunately, I now have a plausible routing for her (see previous post), and so I can decide instead to have her spend the night in Spoleto.  Which is not very much like Peoria.

... but this.

And in the scene where Francis arrives in Rome in 1212 with six of his brothers, the friars are not called [Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff].  I had to look up when certain of his early followers joined him, to figure out who might have been along on that trip.  Nothing difficult there; I just didn't want to interrupt the momentum of writing to do it right at that moment.

Not Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff

A slightly different problem with nomenclature emerged when I needed to figure out names for five minor female characters who are fictional, not historical.   I keep a list of period names, drawn from literature, legal documents, chronicles, and a lot of other sources, and also I have a couple of scholarly studies on Italian naming practices in the 13th and 14th centuries.  But naming characters requires some care -- not too many similar-sounding names, not too many beginning with the same letter, none that are unpronounceable (unless they're also well known historical figures and you don't have much choice).  So I often fill in minor characters' names  later.   That left us with these lovely ladies:

[Annabelle, Jennifer, Maybelline, Sister Muffy, and Sister Carolyn]

In a recent post I mentioned having Giacoma look out the window of her new husband's tower for the first time while he pointed out to her the [Starbucks] nearby.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that there wasn't really a Starbucks outside Giacoma's tower (though I did once see a tower in Pisa - not the tower in Pisa, but another one -- and by the way, several towers in Pisa lean, not just that one.  But I digress.  I did once see a tower in Pisa where a man and his family were locked up and starved to death, the unfortunate Ugolino della Gherardesca, and noticed that there was a snack stand underneath it with a large Coca Cola sign.  Also, there's a castle in Ghent where if you actually shot an arrow out of a particular arrow slit, you'd hit a Chinese restaurant.  But now I really digress.)

But that was now, and this is then.  (That was a real historical novelist's kind of sentence, wasn't it?  I justify it by quoting science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who took some pride in having written "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.")

I have several excellent books on Rome in the middle ages, including a modern translation of an actual guide to Rome used by pilgrims and tourists in the 13th century (Mirabilia Urbis Romae), so this one should have been a shoo-in.  It wasn't.  Those books are fine for the better-known monuments and the ones that survive, but Giacoma's palace, which incorporated the ancient Roman Septizonium, was razed for building materials in the 1500s.  (It's possible to use Google Maps Street View to look at the foundations, though.) 

Arch of Drusus

It looked like she might have gazed down upon the Arch of Drusus, but finding same on the map convinced me that wasn't likely.  I found a nearby church that might have been within sight, which was handy because I needed the name of a church in the neighborhood, but I wasn't quite certain of what would be visible from up there.  It would depend on what else was around at the time.  But I did finally come up with two things:

One, the location where the body of Saint Sebastian (he of the many arrows) was supposedly stuffed into a sewer.  It's right across the street.  And I'll bet that in the 13th century that meant there would have been a shrine there. 

And two, she would have been within sight of the Circus Maximus, which at that time was controlled by her husband's family (the Frangipane) and was largely taken over by vines and other agricultural plantings, and by a mill.  But it also contained this tower, known as the Torre di Moletta:

So that takes care of the view.   I still had a few items to fix, however.  For one thing, I knew that cardinals were not yet called "Your Eminence" at that date, but I had to find out what they were called ("Lord," or "Your Lordship").  Not, as I had it, [Your Redness] -- a doubly unfortunate choice, as cardinals were not yet wearing red except in a limited way and under certain carefully defined conditions.

Also, I needed to choose a virgin martyr (did that), figure out which nearby small town a certain character came from (check), and decide what would replace the phrase [something dessert-ish], referring to a food prepared by Giacoma's cook, Amata.

[something dessert-ish]
There are moments when I wonder why I spend so much time on this sort of thing.  After all, is anybody who reads this book going to know what Giacoma could see from her window?  Or which virgin martyr has a story appropriate to what I want?

Yes.  I'll know.  And because I can be very pigheaded about these things, that's enough.  So I'm not going to just say that she could see the Tiber from her window, however tempting and easy that would be.  In Puccini's opera Tosca, the heroine is often said to throw herself from the parapet at the Castel Sant'Angelo and wind up in the Tiber.  When I finally saw the Castel Sant'Angelo, I realized that wasn't going to happen.  Not without a hang glider, she doesn't.  And I didn't want to create something equally silly. 

Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the photo of Peoria, which is licensed to Rklawton (Robert Lawton) via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, the photo of Starbucks, which is licensed to Elvert Barnes via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, and the photo of Castel Sant'Angelo, which is licensed to MarkusMark via the Creative Commons Atribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Research diary: Part 2 of 2

Last week on this blog I posted Part 1 of my research diary, covering a six-day week and giving examples of the kinds of problems I find myself pursuing in the course of writing my work-in-progress.

My story takes place in Rome and Assisi, beginning in the year 1210.  It has proved fiendishly difficult to pin down verifiable dates for events in the life of Saint Francis, and if we can't be certain even of the saint's history, you can imagine what it must be like trying to track down the details on anyone else of that period.

Naturally, that's what I'm trying to do.  My quarry is one Roman noblewoman, Lady Giacoma (aka Jacoba, Jacoba) dei Settesoli, an early friend and follower of Saint Francis.  So far I'm juggling two different death dates (several decades apart), four or five different combinations of names and dates for her sons, four dates for when she was widowed, another four dates for when she met Francis, and at least two different political orientations for her family - although, given the times, that last one is actually believable.

Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli (fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi)

I gave you my research problems for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday last week, so now I bring you Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  (Sunday I went to a movie.  You can only do so much of this...)


Research problem:  My storyline requires Giacoma to visit Francis in Assisi.  This visit has to take place between 1212 and 1215.  I need to find a timeslot when Saints Francis and Clare will both be present in Assisi.

Saints Francis and Clare

What I find:  This is harder than you might think.  I've compiled a timeline for Francis, drawing on perhaps a dozen different biographies and going with my best guesses when they conflict; another for Clare, also doing some guessing; and one for Giacoma, again pulling together my best guesses based on everything I can find about her, which isn't much.  Then I merged the three timelines, using a different typeface for each of the three, so I can see at a glance what's going on with whom at any given time.

So far, so good.

This visit can't occur in 1212, because there's just too much else going on.  Francis makes a journey to Rome early in the year, before Palm Sunday in March, at which time Clare escapes from her house and joins Francis and his brothers, takes her oath of obedience, and Francis cuts her hair.  He places her first in a Benedictine convent, and shortly thereafter moves her to another house of women, near Assisi (which may have been a convent or possibly more of a beguinage); meanwhile her sister Catherine joins her, taking the name of Agnes, and their family makes repeated attempts to get one or both of the girls back.  Eventually the sisters (and by then other women who wish to join them) are moved to a humble house at San Damiano, a church that Francis himself has restored. 

Courtyard at San Damiano

During the spring and summer of that year, Francis is preaching in various places around Umbria, and in September he leaves for the far east (doesn't get there, not this time, anyway, but that's another story).

So with both of them moving around, that pretty much axes 1212.  How about 1213?  Well, Francis preached in the villages of the Apennines in the spring, and he went to Spain that summer, and probably wasn't back in Italy until late 1214 or even 1215.  Thus, Giacoma can't make her trip in 1214.  Clare, meanwhile, was either in a holding-tank sort of convent, or in San Damiano.

Do you think the sources will agree on how long it took her to move from one to the other?  Of course not.  She arrived in San Damiano "soon," "in a few weeks," "in several months," or "in 1216."  1216?!  I don't think so.  She took the title of abbess in 1216, but it seems likely she was in San Damiano well before that. For one thing, with their irate family aggressively trying to get Clare and her sister to come back to the family fold, the women they were staying with would probably have wanted their guests to find another place, so they could get their peace and quiet back.

So I get arbitrary.  Giacoma is going to arrive in Assisi in the early summer, during that brief moment when Francis must have been back from his preaching tour and not yet departed for Spain.  (There had to be such a time, didn't there?)  And by then, I arbitrarily say that Clare is in San Damiano.

Star rating: ***  I've done what I can with it; my position can't be proved, but it is plausible, and I don't think I've neglected anything.  Not satisfying, but it's the best I can do if my characters are going to be running around all over the place and refuse to stay put.


Research problem:   Actually, I misspoke last week (misblogged?) when I said I was going to research Christmas in Greccio (by which I meant Saint Francis's setting up the first nativity scene there in 1223).  I've already done some of that in an earlier blog post, which you can find here.  But it was a Greccio question I wanted to explore.

Santuario, Greccio

In the oratory connected with the convent in Greccio, there is a painting of Saint Francis.  It shows the saint dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief, the result of the painful eye ailment that plagued him for much of his adult life and resulted in his eventual blindness (or near-blindness).  The tale is that the painting was commissioned, during Francis's lifetime, by Lady Giacoma, so naturally I was interested in it and hoped to learn more, including the name of the artist.

What I found:  Not much.  For one thing, it's a copy - some sources say 14th century, some say 15th.  It may well be a faithful copy of the original, but we have no way of knowing.  I can't find any hint of an artist's name anywhere, which I suppose is not really surprising, but I had hoped that something would turn up.  And I can't find any proof that Giacoma commissioned the work, though I don't see anything to say she didn't, either, and the sign with the painting says she did.

I do learn that this was Mother Teresa's favorite depiction of Saint Francis.  And I learn that the sign under the painting translates to something like this:  "Real portrait of Seraphic Patriarch San Francesco d'Assisi, commissioned by the pious Roman woman Giacoma de' Settesoli, when the patriarch was alive."  That's it.

Star rating:  *  Oh, well.  I still really like the painting.


Research question:  I want to discover the route that Giacoma would have taken when she went to Assisi, and that Francesco and his brothers would have taken when they went to Rome.  And I wanted to find out to what extent it overlapped with the ancient pilgrimage route called the Via Francigena.

Photo by Laurom

What I find:  The Via Francigena is the pilgrims' path to Rome.  It's usually associated with France (or the Frankish lands), as the name implies, though a version of it going all the way from Canterbury to Rome was laid out by Archbishop Siguric around the year 990.

Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

In those days Assisi was off the route (or routes; I learned that the Via Francigena was more than one route, encompassing as many as three or four different points for crossing the Alps or the Apennines, depending on one's starting point).  Now, thanks to Saints Francis and Clare, Assisi is itself a pilgrimage destination, so it's not surprising that even today pilgrims are walking between the two cities.  And that made it relatively easy to plot out a plausible route for Francis going to Rome, and for Giacoma going to Assisi.  As a walking route, it involves 14-16 stages, averaging 10-12 miles per day, and much of the terrain is mountainous.  But the total distance, 150 miles, is dwarfed by Archbishop Siguric's route:  1,100 miles. 

Photo by Sailko
It was almost ridiculously easy to put together the information I needed, particularly since I've traveled in this part of Italy and (sort of) know where things are.  Companies that serve tourists and pilgrims, many of whom still make the journey on foot, offer detailed itineraries and maps, and that, plus the records of some of Francis's journeys -- where he stayed, where he stopped and preached, etc. -- make this a fairly simple task.  And I find my point of overlap between the Rome-Assisi route and the Via Francigena:  it's Rieti.

Pilgrims bound for Rome, carved on the Duomo in Fidenza (near Parma)

Star rating: *****  Finally, an easy one!

Now, maybe it's time to address all the things-in-brackets in my draft which still need to be filled in.  I usually use something modern and obvious, so I won't accidentally leave in something inappropriate.  Thus we get things like "She gazed out the tower window, looking down on [the Starbucks] below..."  and "The beggars, [Tiffany and Mortimer], were becoming more insistent."   Not to mention the cardinal who is currently being addressed as "Your Redness," because "Your Eminence" wasn't in use this early.  But that's another topic, for another time.

Images in this post are our own (Giacoma, San Damiano), in the public domain, or licensed as follows:  pilgrim silhouette on rock licensed to Laurom via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; collage of signs licensed to Bjorn Christian Torrissen via the same license; signs posted on stone wall licensed to Sailko via the same license.