Monday, April 28, 2008

Your palazzo or mine?


In response to readers who encouraged me to discuss the settings and other background material of Your Scandalous Ways, today we're taking a house tour.

“Ah, Venice,” James said as he took in the view--such as it was--in front of and behind him. The buildings and gondolas were merely darker shapes in the grey haze. “A fine place, indeed, but for the damp.”

Baedekers_1913_venice I don’t know about the rest of you but I didn’t, really, know all that much about Venice before I embarked on Your Scandalous Ways. Casino Royale inspired my British agent hero. "Hmm,” I said to myself. “What would 007 be like in the early 19th century?” The film inspired my setting, too. Those climactic scenes in Venice awakened my curiousity.
I did not realize, for one thing, that Venice was built on a bunch of islands in a marshy lagoon.
Canaletto_veduta_del_palazzo_ducale Originally, it was where people from the mainland fled when the barbarians attacked in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. It was a safe haven because the lagoon was very dangerous and tricky to navigate. After a while, they quit going back to the mainland and started building. How they built is the miracle of Venice.

“All this, on top of water,” Sedgewick said, shaking his head as he looked about him. “What sort of people is it, I wonder, goes and builds a city on stilts on a swampy lot of islands?”
“Italians,” said James. “There’s a reason they once ruled the world, and a reason Venice once ruled the seas. You must at least give credit for a marvel of engineering.”

Grand_canal_ch_salutew Here's a view of the Grand Canal and some of the case (houses) or palazzi (palaces). You’ll find “ca” and “palazzo” used interchangeably. Until the fall of the Republic (i.e., when Venice surrendered to Napoleon in 1797), only the Ducal Palace (that building to the right in the painting above this one) could be a palazzo. All other houses, no matter how grand, were simply houses, case. Afterward, the restriction went away. And so the same house might be a “ca” in one book and a "palazzo" in another.
Ca_dorow These magnificent structures were indeed built on stilts packed close together. From my Eyewitness Travel Guide to Venice & the Veneto: “Pinewood piles were driven...25 feet...into the ground....They rested on the solid caranto (compressed clay) layer at the bottom of the lagoon.” On top of these were laid layers of brick and stone. The foundations were of Istrian marble, which resists damp. This book has some wonderful cutaway illustrations that are well worth a thousand words. But one need only look at the buildings and consider how much labor was involved--not to mention ingenuity--to appreciate the accomplishment.

Yswfrontsm200dpi They followed Zeggio up a staircase to the piano nobile, and found themselves in a vast central hall. This portego, as the Venetians called it, ran from one end of the house to the other.
It was clearly designed for show. The line of magnificent chandeliers down the center of the ceiling and rows of immense candelabra standing on tables along the wall--all dripping the famously magnificent glass work of Murano--would, when fully lit, have made a dazzling display of the gilt, the plaster ornamenting the walls, the sculpture, the paintings.

Here for your delectation are lots of pictures of Venetian palazzi.
Barbarigo_pisani_pal Getting pictures of the exteriors was easy. Finding interiors was another matter--and for Your Scandalous Ways, it does matter, since many of the scenes Happily one of the Wench readers suggested Venetian Palazzi (ISBN 3-8228-7050-1--that's the English edition), which offers the proverbial visual feast. Copyright prevents my sharing those images with you, but there is some material online.
Here's one of the many internet sites I perused in the course of my research. This "Ceremonial Stair" in the Ca' Rezzonico is a fine example of the magnificent interiors. This site provides a floor plan of the Ca’ Rezzonico, too.
Pal_cavalliwVirtually all Venetian palazzi have the same basic layout. A great hall runs from the side of the house facing the canal to the side facing land, usually overlooking a courtyard. The hall on the ground floor is the andron. The one on the main public floor or piano nobile, is called the portego. Rooms extend from either side of these central halls. Some buildings have interior staircases and some have exterior ones. Sometimes the building was extended to surround the courtyard. Side rooms open into other side rooms. But if you keep in mind that big central hall running from the front to the back of the house, and doors leading into rooms on both sides, you’ve got the general picture.
Byron_at_the_pal_mocenigo This shows the floor plan of the Ca’ Mocenigo, where Lord Byron lived, and the picture is of the poet at his leisure in his humble abode.
You can picture my hero James Cordier in a room like this, though he’s more likely to be gazing out of a window at Francesca’s palazzo across the canal than lounging on a sofa.

That brings us to the end of today's tour. Don't forget to tip the guide on the way out.

Originally posted at Word Wenches.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Worst job ever

Barbie_starI’m just back from a writers' conference, which reminded me, once again, that I have one of the best jobs in the world. My personal favorite best job ever of my whole experience was being an English major in college, which is at least partly because of the Lack of Responsibility Factor. But being a writer definitely qualifies as a Best Job.

I have had worse jobs, believe me.

L_metermaid As some of you already know, once upon a time, many, many eons ago, I was a meter maid. People screamed at me, made fun of me, and some even threatened me with bodily injury. The downtown characters--the drunks and extremely demented people--raved at me or demanded money or insisted I arrest figments of their imaginations. We had to wear polyester--and this was the old style polyester that did not breathe at all--and we courted heatstroke in the summer and frostbite in winter. Downtown Worcester, wherein lay our “beats,” is small but very hilly. In the beginning especially, I ended the day with aching legs and feet so sore I wept . I wore the ugliest possible shoes for the comfort factor. No matter. I still got blisters. I got sunburned and windburned and broke out in mysterious rashes. When people fought their tickets, I had to go to court, which terrified me. And I had to communicate with police officers almost daily. I was in one of my college dropout phases at the time (these went on for about a decade), and in those days college youth tended to view the police with extreme mistrust. Trusted or not, they were a species of which I had no experience, let alone understanding. For me, it was like talking to Extra Terrestrials, all of them heavily armed and some of whom thought meter maids a far lower and more repellent life form than the drunks & crazy people.

This, however, was not the worst job I ever had, not by a long stretch. I actually kind of liked it a good part of the time because our bosses and the office staff were really nice and the other meter maids were fun to hang with. Bonus: Within a few months, I was in amazing shape. With very strong legs.

L_folds_clothes The worst job I ever had looked really glamorous. I was hired to sell groovy clothes and shoes in a boutique. I loved fashion magazines, so this seemed to be the ideal job for moi, at the time, a college dropout (again). But as those who’ve watched the reality shows know, what goes on behind the scenes is not always pretty. I got blisters from having to wear fashionable platform shoes for 8-10 hours a day on a concrete floor thinly covered with carpeting. We had to climb up and down ladders while carrying stacks of jeans for the shelves. We used seam rippers to take out the manufacturer’s tags from the clothes and then we hand-stitched in the store’s tags.

Yswfrontsm200dpi But hey, I worked in a jewelry store over the course of several years, and learned the art of writing codes & numbers on price tags barely visible to the naked eye (the kind that went on expensive jewelry of the type my heroine in Your Scandalous Ways would wear). That was tedious, too, but I didn’t mind. It appealed to the fussbudget (now called OCD) in me. I don’t mind detail work. It’s retail that gets to me.

The problem, in short, was Dealing with the Public for 6 days a week, 8-12 hours a day. I’m not an extrovert. In fact, others would find it a considerable challenge to be less extroverted. My Personality Type came out INTJ--at 93% Introverted. Let’s add in the facts that I was still more or less college age (read Immature) and had an Attitude. So I didn’t deal really well with people who needed size 12 and insisted something was wrong with the clothes I was selling because size 8 didn’t fit or the ones who tried on ninety-eleven sweaters only to leave with nothing, telling me the clothes were too expensive or the ones who flung silk blouses on the floor for the menials (us) to pick up, etc., etc. Then there were the shoplifters. And the drunks & crazy people who wandered in, thinking we were--what? The bus station?

Guys_in_ties Plus, I really didn’t have confidence in my ability to put the right shirt together with the right tie, so I always had a small panic attack when I had to wait on a male person, even though they were less likely than female persons to infuriate me. Too, we had to keep the place shipshape, folding clothes, endlessly folding & even ironing. We had to keep the glass display cases sparkly clean and dress up the dummies. Then there was the behind-the-scenes backbiting and stabbing and alliance-shifting. All of which happens everywhere, but for some reason it felt more like Purgatory there. Looking back, with the advantage of age and wisdom, I think it was simply a matter of a horribly wrong personality fit.

Woman_ironing It was useful in terms of giving me a degree of understanding of what it was like to be a servant in early 19th C London.

But it was MY WORST JOB, ever.

Meanwhile, there are those, I know, who’d run screaming from my present job: Sitting alone all day in front of a computer listening for voices in your head? There are people who couldn’t, wouldn’t do it. They are not tempted, even though it means not having to wear pantyhose and being able to work in one's pajamas.

My best job could be your worst job and vice versa.

RevMelinda won a Loretta Chase book because she asked the question, “What was the worst job you ever had?” And I answered it.

What was your worst job ever?

Originally posted at Word Wenches.