Monday, January 25, 2016

There is Magic Here

Annamaria on Monday

Period map of the area, found, of course, in the peerless New York Public Library

What would you call it, if a thing you saw in a dream was suddenly before your eyes and real?

My work in progress, which I began at my desk in New York, takes place in Siracusa, Sicily in the late 17th century and involves the life a young widow, mother of baby son, both of whom are threatened.  I had been to Siracusa a few times before starting to imagine how the tale would unfold.  But there was no certainty that the places I imagined were plausible, much less realistic.

The tale begins with the heroine on the roof her palace across the piazza from the duomo of Siracusa. From there she can see the harbour and the the moon reflected in the water.  But did the geography of the place allow that?

Here is the reality.  It seemed completely magical that what I had imagined was exactly right:

The Piazza del Duomo, and there at the end my Marchesa's palazzo on the
left, just across from the Duomo.

The facade of the palazzo, with no buildings behind, nothing to block
my character's view of the port.

Evening view from my room--the same point of view as from the palazzo's roof.
There, barely visible in the upper center, is the new moon.  And across the water,
the other arm of land that forms the port, which you will visit with me below.

An ensuing scene takes place in the duomo itself and involves the chapel of Santa Lucia, the patron saint of the city.  A revered statue of the early Christian martyr and resident of Siracusa graces the chapel, but I had never seen it face to face.  It is ordinarily enclosed.  I didn't know that it is kept on view for a month after the saint's feast day--December 13th.  By chance, I got there just in time to see it in person.  And to discover some more grist for my imagination's mill.

Santa Lucia in her niche, open and on view just when I needed her.

A close up of the martyr, nicely gruesome for local color
in a historical thriller.

On the left of this ancient Greek column, you see the entrance
to the chapel of Santa Lucia, and behind it....

...the perfect hiding place for a kidnapper.  I planned the
scene without knowing how perfect the layout of the
Duomo would turn out to be.

A grave in the church floor, just where I imagined it.

The following two days in the Ortigia afforded a close look at places I had chosen from a map.

Just enough room for a man on a horse.

My main character has a wise, old grandmother who lives in a castle at the end of the other peninsula that forms the great harbour of Siracusa.  I needed a way to put my feet on the ground over there across the water.  But I was off to visit my cousins in Solarino, a small hill town overlooking Siracusa.  At another time, I will tell you in detail of the warmth and joy that has always greeted me when I visit them.  For now I will concentrate on two darlings, who like a fairy godmother and godfather gave me a fabulous view of everything I wanted to see and much more.  I did not even have to ask.  They came to greet me and offered to take me anywhere I wanted to go.

Antonello Martorana and Anna Puglisi, teachers and warmest of cousins.
For me on this trip they were magic makers.

We spent a gorgeous, spring-like day investigating a place I had seen only on maps.

In trying to imagine what my characters would be eating in December and
January, I gave them oranges, not knowing if such would have been in season.
And here in January, I saw them ripe and ready for picking.

From the coast road, the two sides of the port entrance.

I had imagined that from the south arm of the bay, one might see the Ortigia
clearly enough to pick out the buildings.  And you can!
What I did not know is that you can also see Etna.
There is an old lighthouse just at the end of south arm of the bay.
I told Anna and Antonello that in my story there is a castle where the lighthouse now stands.  When I was finished photographing everything in sight and waxing ecstatic about how perfect everything was, they drove me along the coast road where my characters travel--a road I imagined but did not know existed.  We continued north, beyond Siracusa, to a town called Brucoli and parked next to this: 

It is the castle of my imagination.  I had no idea there really were castles like
this in the area.  It is the same size as mine and made of the same stone.
And it occupies a position on the edge of the sea!
And has a view of Etna!!
With my soul satiated with what I had seen, we then repaired to a gorgeous
restaurant just across from the castle, where we ate a FABULOUS fish dinner,
with wonderful wine.  
Here I am, as happy as I ever was!  And grateful to have such generous and wonderful
companions with which to share my joyful day.


  1. You're missing the obvious, Sis, you recollected from a past life, one in which you were almost as mischievous as you are now.

    Continuing enjoying the family!

    1. Jeff, It felt that way. Dreamlike and remembered more than experienced for the first time. It made me giddy with joy. As you have seen in this post, I am sure.

  2. Amazing when you have these experiences! We once imagined a campsite on the Linyanti river on the border between Botswana and Naimbia - tents set under Jackberry trees. A great friend in Botswana took us on a trip along the river and we stopped at a public camp site. It was exactly as we had envisaged it even down to the Jackalberries.

  3. Michael, if there is anywhere else where magic could happen, it would be the African wildernes! There was a point during those first two days alone on the Ortigia when my imagination was so jazzed and so many book thoughts were pouring into my head that I had to go back to my room and settle down. How great to have friends who understand. Many "nonbelievers" would suggest high dosage prescription drugs.

  4. Maybe this actually IS more than coincidence. But that discussion needs a bottle of wine to go with it!

  5. Wine and chocolate--my drugs of choice.

  6. All right, AmA, settle down, settle down. Hasn't anyone explained to you that the life of a novelist is lonely, grim, stressful, a pain-wracked experience of total selfless martyrdom?

    Oh, wait, you ARE willingly martyring yourself, solely for our benefit.

    Viva l'AmA!

    1. EvKa, it took me so long to get my first novel published that I have felt nothing but happy about my job since then. I sometimes feel that I should try to be angst ridden. But I don't think I could manage it. I'd much rather have fun with all my pals!

  7. If writers are lucky, we are "chosen" by the stories themselves, as has been your case. So glad you are living out your storyline!

    1. Right you are, Sujata. I don't think I could force myself to write a story. It has to grab me. Then, even when it gives me trouble, I feel compelled to tell it.

  8. I love Ortigia - you must finish this story!

    1. It's a big job, Cara, but I could not resist it if I wanted to. AND it means I will spend more time in Siracusa. Also irresistible. Maybe you'll come for a visit next winter. It has California weather!