Homing pigeons, historical novels, and Italy

In the author’s note of a historical novel I read this week, I learned that a homing pigeon named G. I. Joe saved the village of Calvi Vecchia, and the British soldiers who had wrested the village from German occupiers, during World War II.

G.I. Joe received the Dickin Medal for gallantry. He died in 1961, and is now displayed at Fort Monmouth, NJ.

Calvi Vecchia, about 25 km northwest of Caserta, was occupied by the Germans, and Allied air forces were requested to help dislodge them. British infantry were able to liberate the village ahead of schedule but weren’t able to radio the allies’ airfield to call off their attack.

G. I. Joe was released with the message, and carried it to the airfield twenty miles away in just twenty minutes, arriving as the planes were preparing to take off — just in time to prevent the bombing of Calvi Vecchia.

Award-winning author Kate Breslin features homing pigeons in her WWI novel, Far Side of the Sea. Her story, set in 1918, takes British Lieutenant Colin Mabry, struggling to recover from shell shock and injuries, back into France to help the French girl, Jewel, who had saved his life the prior year. With twists and turns like the Amalfi coast road, the plot pulled me along as Colin met Jewel’s sister Johanna. Together they searched for Jewel and her father, encountered spies from all sides, and questioned who they could trust. While Johanna longs to find the only family she has left, Colin seeks God’s purpose and plan for his life after military duty. Breslin’s colorful writing, and the satisfying conclusion, make this a book I recommend!

The book itself has no link to The Italian South, but I was intrigued by Breslin’s mention of G. I Joe in the back matter. I’m always delighted to find tidbits of southern Italy in unexpected places!

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Shopping guide for Italian travel!

Maybe, like me, you are dreaming of an Italian vacation in the fall.   And along with the terrific food and wine, cultural experiences, and history surrounding you, Italy has plentiful shopping, with its own specialties you can take home as reminders of your treasured travel memories.

Made In Italy Shopping overseas can feel risky. Is the cameo a phony? Is the leather price a rip-off? Is that blown glass really from Murano? Laura Morelli has help for you, in her newly updated (2019) 3rd Edition of Made in Italy.  You can check it out here on Laura’s website, or order from your favorite retailer.

Don’t want to haul a book around with you? Get the e-reader version, and you can have the book on your phone, an easy reference while you’re out shopping.

I met Laura at a Historical Novel Society conference a few years ago, and we share a love of Italy and historical fiction. We still cross paths occasionally, whether in the online world or in person, and I’m always happy to hear about her travels and writing successes. Take a look at Made in Italy.

And enjoy your Italian travels!

 

San Frediano and Saint Zita

San Frediano and Saint Zita

Every year or two my sisters and brother and I travel somewhere together. Our “sibling trip” for 2018 was a record-setter, though. Not a long weekend like most of those trips, this time we spent two weeks in Italy, and a few other family members joined us.

20180327_123832_002 (2)First stop: Lucca. First day in Lucca: a walking tour that included the Basilica of San Frediano. This Gothic church retains much of its early medieval character, something I love to find in Italy, where many Gothic churches have been rebuilt in Baroque style (often due to earthquake damage to the original).

San Frediano himself was Irish, and settled in Lucca after a pilgrimage to Rome in the 6th century. He became a bishop, and is said to have miraculously changed the course of the River Serchio near Lucca, saving the city from flooding.

My sister, Marlie, (above) doesn’t always share my medieval obsessions, but she was eager to see this church. She was fascinated with the “incorruptible St. Zita” whose mummified remains lie in one of the chapels there. As a servant girl in the 1200’s, Zita took leftover food without permission, and gave it to the hungry. One day  her master stopped her as she left the house, her apron filled with bread, and demanded to know what she was carrying. With her job on the line, she reluctantly opened her apron, and flower petals fell to the ground. When Zita died at age 60, the family she served had come to honor her. She was canonized in 1696. Her body was exhumed and found to have mummified rather than decayed.

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The basilica contains many Gothic details, as well as the largest candlesticks I have ever seen. The beautiful gold mosaic facade representing the ascension of Christ was added in the 13th and 14th centuries.

When Frediano came to Lucca, he built a church on this site, which was then outside the Roman walls of the city. The city walls have been rebuilt and expanded twice, and the current wall–another treasure of Lucca–survives from the Renaissance era. The basilica is now within the walls. More on the walls in another post!

Lucca proved to be a great location for day trips–we visited Florence, Cinque Terre, and Carrara. We also took a cooking class together–all seven of us! And spent some of our days wandering the historic center of the city, where the traditional silk weaving which made the city wealthy is still practiced, and gelato is plentiful!

Heading to Italy!

In one week, I’ll be flying off to Italy on a long-awaited trip with all my three siblings and a couple of other family members. Watch for updates. We’ll start in the north, but spend a few days in the south, Sorrento area, at the end of the trip. The crazy weather in Europe recently has had us all watching forecasts with some anxiety. We are hoping for some spring temperatures and sunshine, but are determined to have fun together regardless. Here’s a hint about my arrival city: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Good Friday in Lucca

Good Friday in Lucca

This year I will be in Lucca on Good Friday, March 30, with a family group of seven adults. As you might expect, a religious procession is usually held on that day, and I have read that the participants sometimes wear historical garb. That rings my bell!

I attended a (very long) religious procession in L’Aquila in 2004, the Perdonanza. Here are a few photos, culled from more than 300, which showed the costumes I especially liked.  Because the Perdonanza recognizes a medieval event, while Good Friday recalls ancient/Biblical times, the clothing will likely be different. Regardless, I plan to be there taking photos and contemplating those ancient events.

These are pre-earthquake photos of L’Aquila. Hope you enjoy them!

 

Pompeii’s art treasures

Pompeii’s art treasures

In a few weeks my sisters, brother-in-law, and niece will visit Pompeii for the first time. I can hardly wait to see their reactions to that amazing place! Here are some photos from my last visit there. Mosaic tiles, sculpture, fresco, and beautiful detail–imagine what a rich atmosphere this place had in its day!