Sunday, 1 May 2016

A farcial pizza

My blog's been quiet of late because I've been off gallivanting but it's back to business now! Today is my day to post my every second Saturday post at Writing Wranglers and Warriors blog.

There's part of the post featured there but you'll find my whole article here.  

"It could only happen in Rome.

Picture this: I’m sitting on the plane last Wednesday 27th April 2016, during my return flight to Edinburgh after my utterly fantastic 3 day break in Rome, wondering what might be the requirements for doing some travel writing. I’ve never considered this type of writing before since I have to admit it’s not the kind of book or magazine feature I would normally buy.  Nevertheless, a quick Googling has given me this:

Have a clear storyline; Have a goal; Edit your experience to fit your story; Write an irresistible first paragraph; Include dialogue; Show and tell; Aim to entertain, not impress; Use vivid language; Leave signposts; Give yourself time to finish    or…

Clear writing style, without affectation; Strong sense of the writer’s personality; Use of the writer’s personal experiences; Vivid reporting; High literary quality and the accurate use of grammar and syntax; Meaty, practical and accurate information that is useful to the reader; Be Fresh; Be Personal; Be Funny; Be Surprising; Be Balanced; Be a Quoter; Think Like Your Reader; The Big Picture: What is the Main Point You Want to Get Across to Your Reader?

All of these are pretty good ideas, but I don't quite know if that's the kind of writing that I'm cut out for. However, I'm writing my own version using some of those skills noted above... 

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Monday 25th April 2016: After a foot-numbing and leg-louping day of traipsing around the seriously gob smacking Vatican Museums collections; a tour of the Basilica of St. Peter; and a visit to the Sistine Chapel (You know that place where the artist Michelangelo literally lay flat on the top of scaffolding, for 4 whole years whilst painting a majestic ceiling N.B. it's the only room that you aren't allowed to take personal photographs of) my husband and I decided we deserved a lovely meal to round off the day before limping along to our little hotel, a perfectly appointed place for our short visit.

The Raganelli Hotel is on the Via Aurelia, a venerable ancient road which was first constructed about AD 240. Thankfully, the road surface has moved on to a flatter tarmac these days, so the ride on it isn't too bumpy on what was originally a 15 feet wide road built to have two chariots move past in opposite directions. The cobbled, extremely narrow pedestrian pavements (sidewalks) about 2 and 1/2 feet wide are not exactly comfortable, though, and seem pretty old on the feet to me though they aren't originals. (BTW- if the tour information says that your hotel along the Via Aurelia is about 3 kilometres from St. Peter’s Square, don’t believe it! A bus ride of 3 long stops and a Metro ride of around 5 stations definitely doesn’t seem to equate to 3 km)

An optimistic lanky waiter, wearing an aging yellow toothed tobacco stained smile, enticed us in to a pizzeria which was conveniently situated right beside the bus stop where we dribbled off the bus about 50 yards from the Raganelli Hotel. (N.B. - In typical Mediterranean style these canny waiters check their watches for the arrival of said bus so that they're in sentinel post outside and ready for passenger disembarkation.) Professionally ushered into what would normally be the kerbside patio area - except that it was late April, raining, and only around  40 deg F - we were given a free table tucked neatly into a corner of the tightly packed tables layout.

We looked longingly into the main restaurant behind the brick wall but in limited  English (which we were thankful for since we don't speak Italian) the very agreeable waiter gestured that the whole empty inside room wasn’t available to us. If we hadn’t been so knackered, we might have gone elsewhere but being unfamiliar with our surroundings we couldn’t contemplate another totter along the road to find another eating establishment and the patio heaters were blasting out sufficient warmth around us.
Room of the Animals

Pizza; the largest size bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water; and a carafe of local red wine was ordered as I surreptitiously removed my shoes. Whilst awaiting our food, I gobbled down about three glasses of water as we ruminated over the mind boggling Vatican treasures we’d just experienced.
Surprisingly quickly the pizza arrived. We smiled at the excellent service as we rehashed the absolutely breathtaking ceiling paintings in the rooms that we visited before we eventually reached the Sistine chapel (The Vatican Museums have many, many beautiful rooms to sample).  

My pizza was delicious - a thin and crispy stonebaked base with a Capricciosa topping. Yum! I knew I was starving but acknowledged it really was a very excellent pizza.
After pouring our wine, the solicitous waiter hovered. Instead of asking if all was well with the meal he gestured that we might have a little move coming.

“A little move?” asked my husband somewhat hesitantly.

“We move your table. Through door.”

You can imagine there was one of those still moments of utter dread. It was raining outside. The waiter was pointing to the exit door of what would be the lower semi-glazed patio protection in summer time since the upper part was plastic windows beneath the retractable waterproof roof awning.

What on earth could we have done to offend that deserved being put outside?

Well… The waiter continued, apology dripping from him. “People coming!” Circular gestures with fists and arms made sense when we saw a stream of people being ushered through the sliding doors, many of them being helped by carers. The coach parked across the very busy road was disgorging many more of their party.  

“No problem,” we assured the waiter as we ate the last of our pizza. The needs of the wheelchair passenger were greater than ours as we began to slip our table free of the exit door, which was clearly not used during spring inclement weather.

More flapping gestures from our very tall and thin waiter, who had very interestingly large feet shod in white trainers that must have been at least a size 15, indicated that we didn’t need to move quite yet.

The restaurant owner appeared and unlocked the door next to me which led to a bijou off street parking slot in which a large car was already parked. The traveller to Rome quickly realises that every single inch of parking space is valuable and to my uninitiated eye no traffic laws seem to apply when it comes to double, triple and imaginatively designed street parking of cars.

Aha! I thought. They were going to reverse the car away to make room for the wheelchair. Wrong! 2 other cars were parked across the rear making that plan impossible.

Italians are wonderfully inventive, though, and naturally very expressive with body gestures. Not a word of the Italian did I understand but the manager baked orders at a junior waiter  some  20 feet away to fetch something which appeared to be scissors if the hand clipping gestures were read properly.

Scissors? What could he do with scissors?  

While sipping some more the 1 litre carafe of delicious red wine, further inspection told me that the manager had a plan! Being a gardener myself, I realised he was going to cut the unruly window boxes which lined the outside patio wall. The wayward thyme needed a good chop anyway, and I reckoned he wasn’t too bothered about  the other winter- tired herbs which were looking pretty droopy in the rain as he scythed them back with supreme gusto!

A quick inspection by the manager led to some noisy, grinning, self gratification but that soon dwindled to despondency. He had only managed to make the space between parked car and wall become about 20 inches. Would that be enough, I wondered while sipping more of my delicious wine, my tiredness evaporating as the events unfolded and a good degree of surrealism creeping in.

Nope. Not nearly enough. The manager decided that the parked car needed to be shunted over a bit. A tiny Italian Fiat the car was not! It was a fairly lengthy vehicle. A burly chef was summoned from the kitchens, his apron and chef’s head covering a bit of a give away to his profession. Manger and chef bounced on the car front to shunt it over with absolutely no effect at all.

I had a huge problem by this time in containing my mirth! The nearside front tyre was flat so not a lot of shifting was happening. As I drew my attention away from the farce outside I realised the stream of bus passengers was continuing through the main entry door. Two coaches were disgorging a lot of people, all of them headed into the restaurant. The problematic car, however, wasn’t budging an inch no matter the jumping on it. Italian restaurant manager dogmatism prevailed.  A team of 5 heavies was summoned and the car front was bodily grunted a few more inches away from the space.

Hallelujah! The deed was done. Our table was shoved aside with more apologies for the disruption to our meal. We protested that it wasn’t a problem to waiter after waiter who traipsed back in the door, flexing their, no doubt aching, shoulder muscles.

I watched from my displaced spot as the wheelchair bound diner was hurtled across the teeming road, the escort running the gauntlet between the howlingly tooting car horns of four lanes of drivers who had no clue of the drama unfolding around me.

Nope! The very large gentlemen in the oversize wheelchair still couldn’t gain access. After a lot of noisy Italian, again totally not understood by me, the wheelchair was reversed back towards the road. 

Was the poor wheelchair bound traveller going to be denied his dinner?

Absolutely not.  More frenetic activity and ingenuity in gestures drew my concentration.

I’m sure my eyes must have born a totally horrified look when a rather large hammer was next produced. Can you imagine my sheer relief when the window boxes were hacked from the wall, a fluttering waiter with broom and dustpan at the ready to instantly clear away the debris. 

A lot of smiles ensued when the massive wheelchair was escorted all the way into the door and past our table which was by then wedged into the aisle area between the rows of set tables. The drama was over. 

My bemused husband and I didn’t know if clapping was a suitable gesture to show our appreciation of the dedication the manger went to. As the tour guide came over to profusely thank us (in Italian) I noted that there was a stream of other wheelchairs being pushed past us. I counted at least five more but I may have missed a few! Eventually the whole two bus loads were inside and seated. 

“Would we like anything else?” asked the waiter as the curtain on the pantomime descended. Our wine was consumed by then.

“Just the bill please,” my husband grinned.

About 2 nanoseconds later a bowl of delicious profiteroles appeared for me - compliments of the house. Totally delicious deserts! My husband got the bill.

Needless to say we had a wonderful saltimbocca veal dish there the following night but with sadly no new drama unfolding. We did, however, get complimentary and very generous limoncella liquors.

We totally recommend the place, except all we can remember is that it’s on the Via Aurelia, Rome

Only after that drama do I properly realise that guided tours with a large number of disabled people isn't the simplest thing to organise. I'm very glad that they all got their meal that night! 

I hope you enjoyed my travel story. Look out for lots of the 600+ photographs I've taken on my Rome trip...when I get around to processing them! 


Friday, 22 April 2016

All Roads lead to Rome... via the Celts

It's a Fantastic Friday for me!

I'm heading off for a quick trip tomorrow. My road will eventually lead to Rome, by way of Edinburgh, though I'm not quite intending to follow the exact route taken by the Ancient Romans who appear in my historical adventure novels.

Agricola- Wikimedia commons / Bath
In my Celtic Fervour Series Gnaeus Julius Agricola is mentioned as being superior to my character, Gaius Livanus Valerius, a tribune of the Legio XX.  The Taexali Game has Emperor Severus and son Caracalla as minor characters. Those real live Romans made their way to my part of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, by way of the Roman roads that they laid down or on the rudimentary campaign trails that they also created all the way north in what for them was the island of Britannia. They all, probably, travelled the roads in reverse - except if they made use of the Roman Classis for part of their journey. Since the fleet played quite a role in the northern campaigns, I'm guessing it's possible that they may have used them in part.

Agricola returned to the Emperor Domitian in Rome after his campaign in north east Scotland and was awarded honours for his endeavours as Governor of Britannia, and for his part in the so called victory over the massed iron age tribes of the north at the 'Battle of Mons Graupius' (according to the writing of Tacitus).

There is no fabulous marble arch of Agricola for me to visit in Rome, since only an emperor got those structures, but there is the Arch of Severus for me to definitely visit and the Baths of Caracalla.
Arch of Severus -Wikimedia Commons

I can't say how excited I am to now go and see the ruins of what were absolutely magnificent buildings created at the time of the 'Romans' who are in my novels. Before I wrote my historical novels, I had a mild hankering to visit Rome but it never happened. Now I can't wait to see all of the splendours of Ancient Rome.

But first...before I even step on an aeroplane which will deposit me in Rome in a matter of 3 hours, I will be visiting another fabulous venue. I'm setting aside a few hours before I head off to Rome to visit the 'Celts' Exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. This is a spectacular event that I don't want to miss. My main sadness is that I won't be able to take any photographs at the exhibition (not allowed) but I'll work out something to remind me of what are the most exciting parts of the displays.

I'll not be on this blog for a while and I'll be having Facebook withdrawal symptoms since I don't intend to log on much - if at all! Updates to follow later...


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Stella Birrell visits!

My Welcome Wednesday guest slot has been silent for a while but I'm absolutely delighted to say hello to Stella Hervey Birrell today.

Stella Birrell
She's come to tell us about her writing passion and to share her new chick-lit novel with us. 
Stella's Crooked Cat published debut novel was launched recently - How Many Wrongs make a Mr. Right? 

It's a great title and it's sitting waiting on my kindle TBR pile since I bought it at her Facebook launch party. 

I'm off on a jaunt soon and hope to read it then. You know that I like to read...and write... of happy endings as well! 

Welcome to my blog, Stella, and over to you...

As a writer of chick-lit, even my own gritty brand of it, of course I’m a big fan of ‘happily ever after.’ Rainbows, sunsets, wedding bells, the whole lot.

When I first attended a writer’s group, they were scandalised. I had appeared with
a) commercial fiction, and
b) a story with a happy ending.

They are poets, short story writers, serious novelists, all lovely people, but confused: why would I want to write such a thing?
Happily ever what?!
courtesy of Stella Hervey Birrell

They say you should ‘write what you know,’ and since University I have read women’s fiction almost exclusively. My favourite authors draw you in, confuse you with multiple possibilities, but almost always wind round to a wonderful ending: Jenny Colgan, Isla Dewar, Katie Fforde, Jane Green, Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella. These guys are the masters of the rainbow, the sunset and the wedding bell.

Courtesy of Stella Birrell - her copy of Bookends
Here's my much-read copy of Jane Green’s Bookends.
And what is so wrong with a story with a happy ending, anyway? It does happen.

When I was in my mid-twenties I had all but given up. Men were a complete mystery to me, none of them behaved like the good guys in my books, they all behaved like the ‘other’ guys. The ones the heroine falls for, but eventually realises is already married/big headed/mean/not serious. I wasn’t even very good at working this out, regularly clinging on to dead-end relationships. I hated people who said ‘it’ll happen when you least expect it.’ Or ‘if it’s right, it’s right.’

Of course, it did happen when I least expected it, and it was right when it was right. There were sunsets and rainbows and wedding bells, and… well, maybe not as much romance as a novel, my husband is Scottish after all, and he hasn’t read any of the same books.

Now it turns out that love was the easy part.

There is a lot of laundry after sunsets. The house still needs hoovered even if there are rainbows outside. There are often children after the bells are silenced, and as lovely as they are, they don’t leave much room for all that canoodling that got them here in the first place.

Creating a life together, choosing each other every day, maintaining love, is even harder, but far from impossible.

I’m so lucky, and I know I am. When I started to write seriously, I had all the support I needed from my man. I’m out a lot, at writerly things. I’m in a lot, doing writerly things.

Here is the product of all those writerly things.

He’s the one picking up the slack, laundry, hoovering, childcare.
And there is nothing more romantic than that.

Thank you for reading! My debut novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right?, is available from the following places:

Search ‘How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right?’ in the iTunes Store

How to find me: please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a writer’s page on Facebook here.

I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.

Thank you for coming today, Stella and I wish you the very best for How Many Wrongs make a Mr. Right.