About Pompeii: A New Book

Day of FireSome of you kn0w, from earlier posts, that I think the ancient ruins of Pompeii are fascinating, and a “must see” for visitors to the Italian south. I have been there twice, and would not hesitate to see it again.

Sandy in Pompeii 2004

First visit to Pompeii, Feb. 2004

And now, in fiction, the ancient city can come alive for you in the 2014 novel A Day of Fire. The story (I should say “stories”) takes place in Pompeii on the day of the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., following the interwoven lives of several characters. Many are actual people who lived in Pompeii, some known by name and some only by the remains found as the city has been unearthed in the last 150 years or so. A few are fictional characters. All are brought to vivid fullness by the author–and here I really must say “authors” because this is a collaborative novel written by a team of six novelists: Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, and Vicky Alvear Shecter.

I don’t often read Roman era historical fiction, but was intrigued by the collaborative writing to begin with. Then the ‘anchor’ character drew me in, the teenage Pliny the Younger, whose writings provide the only eyewitness account of the disaster. Throw in some gladiators, prostitutes, senators, reluctant brides, pregnant women… Their fast-paced stories carried me through to the end, when the city is only a heap of steaming rubble, soon to be lost for more than 1,500 years.

While each author focused on one or two primary characters in the six sections, the cameo appearances of characters highlighted in other parts of the book made for fun reading, and the urgency of the disaster drove me on, wondering if and how any of them could escape.

I recommend this book to you! And please comment when you’ve read it to let me know what you think.

 

Capodimonte porcelain–a royal tradition from Naples

In the early 1700s, porcelain produced at Meissen became all the rage in Europe. The King of Naples and Sicily, Charles VII, married Maria Amalia, whose grandfather Augustus II of Poland had founded the Meissen factory, the first hard-paste porcelain factory in Europe.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

Pursuing his interest in the art, Charles VII founded the Capodimonte (top of the mountain) Porcelain factory in Naples in 1743. Production was well under way when Charles’ father, the King of Spain, died in 1759 and Charles took the Spanish throne and left the throne of Naples to his son Ferdinand. Before he left, however, he ordered the porcelain works demolished, and took the molds with him to Spain to found another factory there.

Ferdinand IV wasn’t so easily dissuaded–he had come to appreciate the porcelain art himself, and re-established the Capodimonte factory in 1772.  The detailed history (some found here) is more complex and involved a lot of experimentation with the porcelain “recipe”, hiring of various artists, chemists, directors, and so forth, and the establishment in Naples of an art academy.

Elaborate bisque figures, "The Triumph of Bacchus" from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Elaborate bisque figures, “The Triumph of Bacchus” from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Ferdinand was soon embroiled in Napoleon’s schemes for Italy, (I’ve posted about that before) and production of the royal sponsored Capodimonte porcelain ceased around 1818. The factory was purchased by Claudio Guillard and Giovanni Tourne, who continued to used the same mark as the royal factory. In 1834 the company was purchased by a Florentine, and about 1896 they combined interests with the Societa Ceramica Richard of Milan. They continue to produce porcelain in the Capodimonte style, and the style is widely copied today.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the 18th century products are in museums or collections of the wealthy today. Are you interested in buying some later pieces? Here are some listing from Ebay.com. Some claim to be 19th century pieces, and others are newer.

QUESTION: What is your favorite art or craft from southern Italy? Please comment!

A visit to Segesta–secondhand.

I have yet to visit Sicily, though a couple of my favorite books about Italy take place there. (See the book reviews here and here.) Today I’m sharing another writer’s experience visiting one of Sicily’s premier ancient sites, the Greek temple at Segesta.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The ancient Greek temple at Segesta. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Honestly, I just read about Segesta in another book yesterday. I was reading aloud to my mother as we sat in the car, waiting in line for a ferry across Puget Sound.

Then I saw that the Sicilian Housewife has a guest post about a visit to Segesta, along with wonderful photos. The journey to Segesta is as entertaining as the photos. So sit back and enjoy a mini trip to Sicily today! Just click here.

This month in history: King Ferdinand and Napoleon

Napoleon as King of Italy,  by Andrea Appiani

Napoleon as King of Italy, by Andrea Appiani

Napoleon certainly made his way around Europe, and he didn’t pass up the Kingdom of Naples. The Napoleonic Wars began in 1789. Ferdinand’s wife, Maria Carolina, was a sister of Marie Antoinette, and Ferdinand himself was a first cousin of the French king, Louis the umpteenth. When the French monarchs were executed in 1793, Ferdinand joined the First Coalition, and alliance of European monarchies opposed to Napoleon and revolutionary France.  

Despite the efforts of the alliance, by 1798 the French were in control of the northern part of the Italian peninsula, including Venice and parts of the Balkan coast of the Adriatic. 

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, III of Sicily, and IV of Naples--as you wish.

King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, III of Sicily, and IV of Naples–as you wish.

I am not a student of the Napoleonic era, and I’ll probably continue to find the chain of events confusing unless I really devote some time to it. Ferdinand, the King of Naples, is confusing enough on his own. His full Italian name is Ferdinando Antonio Pasquale Giovanni Nepomuceno Serafino Gennaro Benedetto. He is called Ferdinand IV as king of Naples, but Ferdinand III as King of Sicily, which he ruled at the same time. And after the defeat of Napoleon in 1816, he was known as Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies (the island and the mainland, which had been called the Kingdom of Sicily in earlier times).

With the French troops occupying Rome, in late 1798 Ferdinand took an army north to oppose them. He was far outmatched, and his Roman foray is summed up in the saying, “He came, he saw, he fled.”  He went back to Naples, and shortly departed for Sicily (of which he was also king).

Out of the anarchy that followed his departure, on January 23, 1799 the Parthenopaean Republic was proclaimed. Supported by the nobles and the wealthy middle classes, the Republic was strongly opposed by the peasantry, who fought valiantly for their king.

Within a few weeks, the French military was recalled to northern Italy, and Ferdinand immediately began planning to retake his mainland kingdom. An army led by Cardinal Ruffo was formed in Calabria and marched north, reaching Naples on June 13. After eleven days of fighting, a tentative capitulation was being considered, when Admiral Nelson’s fleet arrived in support of the king. By the end of June the Republicans were routed, mostly arrested, and on July 8, King Ferdinand resumed his throne in Naples.

The Parthenopaean Republic’s demise was not the end of Napoleon. But that’s a story for next month’s history post.

THIS LINK will take you to a fantastic interactive map on the Napoleonic Wars.

Where Francesco’s life began: Palinudo

Bianchi-Palinudo (960x1280)In family history, every answer, every discovery, prompts a new question or search.

My great-grandfather, Francesco Aruri, was born in Serra di Piro, and “frazione” or hamlet near Bianchi, Calabria, in 1846. Here is a summary of the recorded information about his birth:  The birth of Francesco Arcuri was filed on 1 August 1846 in Bianchi by his father, Pasquale Arcuri, age 47, a peasant farmer residing in Bianchi. His infant son was born at home in the Serra di Piro District, on this day to his wife, Maria Innocenza Perri, age 35, and was given the name Francesco. Francesco Arcuri was baptized on 1 August by the parish priest of the Church of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

I found the Serra di Piro area on Google maps. It is just north of Bianchi a mile or two, and very close to Palinudo, where Pasquale Arcuri was born. The records say: The marriage of Pasquale Arcuri and Maria Innocenza Perri was filed on 31 August 1830, in Bianchi. The groom was 26 years old, a peasant farmer born and residing in Palinudo. He was the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer residing in Palinudo, and Saveria Mancuso, residing here. The bride was 28 years old, born and residing in Bianchi in the Serra di Piro District. She was the daughter of the late Francesco Perri, a peasant farmer, and the living Concetta Cosco. The couple was wed on 3 October in the parish of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

So Francesco’s father, and both his grandfathers, were peasant farmers in little hamlets in the foothills of the Sila. What does “peasant farmer” suggest? I headed to Palinudo with that question in mind–would we find a group of huts along a dirt track? Scattered houses among hillside vegetable terraces? Both of Francesco’s grandmothers were cotton spinners. What kind of textile industry supported their work? Who paid them? How far away were the weavers who used their cotton, and what did they make from it? Was the cotton also grown nearby?

A simple home in Palinudo.

A simple home in Palinudo.

Of course, more than 150 years has passed since those descriptions were written in Bianchi’s town records. And whatever Palinudo was in the 1840’s, it is now a small but thriving ‘suburb’ of the town of Bianchi. In the half-hour or so we spent there, I saw a Mercedes, a BMW, even a Jag. The roads were paved (not fancy, but paved). There is a small, but rather desolate, church in the hamlet. I wonder if it was desolate even in 1846–is that why Francesco was baptized in Bianchi? What were the options and factors that went into the decision about where to baptize a child?

One of Palinudo's nicer homes.

One of Palinudo’s nicer homes.

All too soon after Francesco’s birth, this death was recorded: The death of Pasquale Arcuri was filed on 2 October 1846, in Bianchi by Emiliano Arcuri, brother of the deceased, age 22, a peasant farmer, and Carmine Mancuso, brother-in-law of the deceased, age 28, a peasant farmer, resident of the Serra di Piro District of Bianchi. Pasquale Arcuri, a peasant farmer, died at home in the Fiume Corace District on 1 October, at the age of 40. He was born in the Palinudo District, the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer, and Saveria Mancuso, both deceased, and was a resident of Serra di Piro. Pasquale was married to Maria Innocenza Perri.

At two months old, Francesco was left fatherless, and all his grandparents were already deceased. What did an widowed mother of an infant do to support herself? Various other family members are named. Maria Innocenza Perri had a brother who was living when their mother died in 1831. Was he still alive? Did her late husband’s family help her? Did she remarry?

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

Some of these questions can be answered with more research, but I’m sure many of my questions will never be answered. I recently read an article by Ian Mortimer, an academic historian who also writes historical fiction under the name of James Forrester. In describing some of the different challenges between writing history, and writing fiction, he observed: “You suddenly find that your evidence-orientated knowledge of the period is just not enough; it does not equip you to describe in detail how a man or woman passes one whole day, let alone a number of different men and women across the period of several weeks.”

Even the most detailed historical study won’t likely help me fully understand the lives of these ancestors. I may have to resort to fiction to make their stories come alive.