The Moon and June

Sunday (5/14) is Mother’s Day in the US, and with deep love and devoted admiration for my mom who is now 88, I would like to share some paintings from her journal entitled ‘June’s Favorite Prose and Poems and Wit. Truth–Goodness–Beauty’, 1985.

Here is a poem she included in the journal, by one of her favorite poets (mine too)…

The days are clear
day after day
when April’s here
that leads to May,
and June
must follow soon.
Stay, June, Stay!
If we could stop
the moon and June.

Christina Rosseti (1830-1894)

And from the last page of her journal…

Once upon a time

I planned to be an artist

or celebrity.

A song I thought to write one day

and all the world with homage pay.

I longed to write a noble book,

but what I did–

was learn to cook.

For life with simple tasks is filled,

and I have done not what

I willed!

June M DiGiacomo

My mom at nineteen

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Let’s Go A-Maying

This is a repost, but why not? Hope you enjoy it again or for the first time! And that May brings beauty to your eyes, warmth to your heart and rebirth to your spirit!

On May Morning

Now the bright morning Star, Day’s harbinger,
Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
The Flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
Hail bounteous May that dost inspire
Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.
~ John Milton (1608-1674)

 

The first of May, by all its names and traditions, is a day marked for its flowers and frolicking, even if, as Shakespeare wrote: “Rough winds do shake” its “darling buds”.

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‘May Day Morning’ by Edwin Austin Abbey (1852 – 1911)

For the Druids of the British Isles, Beltane was celebrated to honor the sun, marking the halfway point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Bonfires were lit, usually on the eve of May 1st, smoke and ashes thought to have a cleansing and protective influence. Like Samhain (November 1st), it was a very important festival. Some say the tradition of a pole decorated with flowers, dancers weaving its ribbon streamers intricately together until knotted, began with the pagans. As innocent as it seems, the May pole is a phallic symbol, which ties in with the day’s theme of the fertility of spring for plants, animals and humans. The May bush, made of hawthorn, rowan or sycamore, was decorated with flowers, ribbons, cloth streamers, even eggshells and candles. “Long life and a pretty wife and a candle from the May bush.” Yellow flowers, like primroses, gorse and marsh marigolds, were tied into crosses to be hung over doorways and laid on windowsills and doorsteps to encourage abundance. The Green man was a masculine ‘face’ covered in leaves and shrubbery, often carried through towns and villages. Feasting took place, food and drink offered to the spirits of nature like fairies or elves.

raising-the-maypole

May’s beginning was a celebratory time for the Romans, too. They called it Floralia: five days from April 28th through May 2nd with much wanton gaiety in honor of their goddess of flowers and fertility, Flora.

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Triumph of Flora by Tiepolo (ca. 1743)

In Medieval times, ‘a-maying’ welcomed the dawn with the gathering of flowers and foliage, and women washing their faces in dew to improve their looks and encourage men to pursue them. A Queen of the May was crowned, a blending of her origins as the flower bride, queen of the fairies, the Roman goddess of springtime (Maia), and Maid Marion from the tales of Robin Hood; in all these guises generally representing purity and the potential for new life.

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‘Queen Guinevere’s Maying’ John Collier (1850 – 1934)

In the puritanical mid-17th century England, May Day was outlawed for a while, a censor the Puritans took to America. The Catholic Church attempted to outlaw the May initiations, but eventually absorbed its pagan rites into its own in order to win converts.

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May Day as ‘Labor Day’ and “International Workers Day’ is marked by a bank holiday in many parts of the world, but not in the US or Canada (instead moved to the first Monday in September), probably because of its association with communism and socialism, which certainly doesn’t prevent Americans and Canadians from welcoming and appreciating this day that, no matter sunshine or showers, warm or cold winds, insists winter is finally over.

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“There not be a buddin’ boy or girl, this day, but be got up n’ gone to bring in May.”

All day she had tried to ignore what was going on out-of-sight but not earshot, unable to deny the appeal of laughter, lively music and singing inspired by the beribboned pole she had watched going up the day before. She didn’t take part, except to secretly act out one of Martha’s reminisces of being young and wanting to look her best for any possible sweetheart. “Wash in dew from the hawthorn tree, and will ever after handsome be.”  Martha also suggested collecting it from ivy leaves or the grass under an oak, emphasizing that it had to be done at or just before sunrise.

“Also prevents freckles, sunburn, chappin n’ wrinkles.”

Donatella took a bowl outside before Martha had arrived and Mama was up. It filled a little as she shook the ivy that hung along the cottage’s front door, the leaves of some kind of thorn at one end of the garden, and the grass she pulled up from under the oak tree at the other. Not sure the dampness everywhere wasn’t from overnight rain, she felt silly and hoped no one saw her running around barefoot and rubbing her face and neck.

~ From my Historical Fiction To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Spring flowers in woods

Wroxton Abbey Woods composite with Spring Flowers by DM Denton

 

 Wishing all a very Merry Month of May!

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back tobardessdmdenton. Thank you.

For Easter: Music by Stradella and Purcell, Words by Anne Brontë

“My music began. A mixture of harmonious voices, poetry & fine instrumentalists.”
Alessandro Stradella ~ A House Near Luccoli, a novel by DM Denton

Alessandro Stradella’s sacred cantata for solo alto and instruments Crocifissione e morte di nostro signore Gesu Cristo – the Crucifixion and death of our savior Jesus Christ. Performed by Baroque and Renaissance Choral

 

Purcell performed the music with his eyes & a delicate finger in the air.
~ To A Strange Somewhere Fled a novel by DM Denton (Sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

Henry Purcell’s Hear My Prayer · Sheffield Cathedral Choir · Neil Taylor · Peter Heginbotham
Crux Fidelis – Music for Passiontide and Easter

 

And as I have just completed my novel about Anne Brontë …

… here is Anne’s poem/hymn Believe Not Those Who Say, which was put to the tune Festal Song by William Henry Walter (unfortunately I couldn’t find a recording of Anne’s words put to the music. I did find an organ instrumental of Festal Song and it’s easy to “hear” how her words fit in.)

Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou should stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure.
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight,
What matter who should whisper blame
Or who should scorn or slight.

 

Anne wanted to make the music she loved compactly portable, even without access to a pianoforte, available for performances in her head, preferably so, for then her fingers were agile and her voice wasn’t weak.
~ Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit © 2017

Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Happy 378th Birthday, Alessandro Stradella!

April 3rd is the 378th anniversary of the birth of the Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella: inspiration for and subject of my novel, A House Near Luccoli, and haunting figure in its sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled

If you’re interested in knowing more about this once famed, talented, legendary, long neglected Baroque Music figure, I hope you will read on. Also check out the page on this blog devoted to the novel and Stradella … and on my website.

Alessandro Stradella, April 3, 1639 – February 25, 1682

 

When and how was I first introduced to Alessandro Stradella?

I first heard Stradella’s story and—knowingly—his music while driving to work in 2002 and listening to a Canadian classical music radio station show called In the Shadows. By the time I arrived at work, I could only remember his first name. Later I googled composers named Alessandro, scrolling down all the entries for Scarlatti to finally find a very few mentions of … Alessandro … Stradella!

In time I found out why Stradella, a celebrity in his time who produced a body of work that set him alongside the greatest Baroque masters, was, at best, a footnote in music history. Unfortunately, in the decades and centuries after his death, Stradella’s alluring story took on an almost exclusively cloak-and-dagger slant in novels and operas, eclipsing his importance as a composer until his music was rarely performed. Only recently, thanks to a dedicated biographer and cataloger and some enlightened musicians, that has begun to change.

One of the most beautiful distinctions of the sun is to disburse the mine of its golden splendors not only over the nearest countries but also to the most remote lands.
~Alessandro Stradella, from his dedication of La forza dell’amor paterno, Genoa 1678

How did my interest in Alessandro Stradella grow to the point of wanting to write about him?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

From the first I was drawn to him because of the contradiction between the discipline of his work and recklessness of his behavior. It evoked a special connection for me, for I had personally seen the potential of talent and purpose sabotaged by incautious, even self-destructive behavior. The more I learned about Stradella’s triumphs and failures, and all the hard work and missteps in-between, the more I became fascinated by a personality at once charming and creative, intelligent and indulgent, cultivated and itinerant—an adventurer who made a few messes but also many masterpieces along the way.

Finally, in the summer of 2005, I really met Stradella in the intimacy my imagination created: observing him behind the scenes in great and small ways, surrendering to his charisma, and enjoying his self-determination while exploring why he so often put his career and life at risk. I often thought how much easier it would have been if there were more details available about his appearance, personality and the events of his life, but I also realized his obscurity offered an opportunity to discover him in less public ways: through his letters, even his handwriting, and especially his music that knew the rules but pushed the boundaries.

Before her was a gracious creature, especially his hands composing in mid-air and his eyes shifting slowly in observation and expression … without music’s influence he might not wander like a prince among his subjects, though who could think that was all there was to him?
~from A House Near Luccoli

Is the house near Luccoli of the novel’s title an actual residence?

There is the possibility that the last place Stradella lived in Genoa was a house near the Luccoli district. The house was most likely owned by Guiseppe Maria Garibaldi, one of the Genoese noblemen who supported Stradella. I couldn’t find any specific details regarding this house—such as its exact location or whether it still existed—but for the purpose of the novel I put it on the map and set to ‘building it’ based on what my research and imagination came up with. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create a domestic setting for the developing relationship between Donatella, my fictional female protagonist, and Stradella; one that allowed the reader behind the scenes of his career and persona. The novel does, at times, escape such close quarters into the magnificence and mayhem of Genoa, but essentially remains an interior study of character and circumstance.

Their landlord, one of the Falcone’s managers, announced that Signor Stradella would be moving into their quiet world … It was assumed Signor Stradella would use the apartment for composing as well as sleep and light refreshments. Otherwise he would be out for tutoring and rehearsals during the day and church performances on Sundays, his evenings planned and unplanned with meals and diversions in more and less respectable settings.
~from A House Near Luccoli

What surprised me the most in my research for the novel?

One of the most surprising things was discovering Genoa as a fascinating place and perfect setting for the story I wanted to write. Up until then I knew it as Christopher Columbus’ birthplace, otherwise—if most travelogues of Italy were anything to go by—for passing through on the way to somewhere else or avoiding altogether. La Superba (The Superb One) is a vertical city, back-dropped by the Apennine Mountains, surrounding a bay looking out past its famous Lanterna (lighthouse) and the Ligurian Sea towards the eastern Mediterranean. It has splendid churches, palaces and villas. Also, in its medieval center, there’s a labyrinth of narrow caruggi (alleyways) full of poverty, danger and sudden beautiful entrances to half-hidden palazzi. It’s a conflicted place with, as Stradella’s chief biographer, Carolyn Gianturco, wrote, “a climate of public puritanism and private crime.” The novel is about human contradictions, too: Stradella’s, of course, but also Donatella’s. Genoa has been called “the most English city in Italy”, and so proved an apt location, as Donatella is a ‘daughter’ of both countries.

Of course Genova had a conceit she couldn’t have, knowing its purpose and hiding or flaunting its features of beauty. Once she saw all its wonders and woes from the esplanade of Castelletto, the mountains closer and the Lanterna further away. Perhaps she made out her house; if not its signature portal of Saint George and the Dragon, then a signifying shine on its roof’s slant. It was a prestigious place to live depending on how she looked at it, whether connected up to a parade of palaces, across divides or down crooked stairways to the port.
~from A House Near Luccoli

Was I tempted to write myself into any of the characters?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew I was there from the opening lines, disguised and revealed in the character of Donatella. Like me, she is Italian and English, a writer and artist, gardener, companioned by cats, wrapped up in solitude, contradictions, moods, and memories, and addicted to music’s presence in her life. Certainly, I could understand her struggle with surrendering to Stradella’s charm, talent and impetuosity; how it felt to be amazed, flattered and bewildered by such an attraction; and that in the end so much and so little changed for her through knowing him. This was a very personal story for me to write. Even more so once it was published, life imitating art when Donatella’s quiet grief and onward journey became my reality, too.

There was no unloving him as he was, available and irresistible, artful yet authentic, larger than life but vulnerable. Making his acquaintance was unforgettable, seduction unavoidable, consequences bestowed like blessings.

She was an artist, seeing him gracefully off balance like the orchid she was painting, bending left and then right, one arm behind a hip and the other lifting and falling at the same time, neck slightly turned, head back, and face flowering into a smile and wink.
~from A House Near Luccoli

How did I write about music and am I a musician myself?

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

I knew the most important thing to do was listen—constantly listen, Stradella’s music a soundtrack to the conceptualizing, researching, and writing of the novel until I was living with and even haunted by it like an invisible presence. Of course, I did refer to academic sources, and the notes on CD sleeves were also a great help. I used some musical terminology as it offered imagery the poet in me found too lovely to resist!

I have played the piano, guitar and Celtic harp, and sung a little. The pleasure I find in trying to translate music into words might come from my regret at not having pursued a musical career. I suppose writing about music is another way of participating in it. I found it very satisfying. I never set out to try to imitate, explain or even describe music, but somehow convey its elusive existence in the heart and spirit.

This question makes me think of the 1991 French movie about the 17th century composers Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe, Tous les Matin du Monde that asks: “What is music?” Sainte-Colombe insists words cannot describe it—that it is the sound of the wind, a painter’s brush, wine pouring into a cup, or just the tear on a cheek. I agree that it is impossible to express the essence or the effect of music in words, but I hope my readers experience something of its beauty and power through what I have written, especially as it is inexpressible.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

“… I am glad to have had the opportunity of spending these many years uncovering the actual Stradella, a fascinating and lively man, who wrote excellent music of a personal stamp. Had circumstances given him the possiblity, he would surely have been surprised by my continued refusal to give up the often discouraging and elusive task; I like to think that he would have been pleased that I did not.”​
~Caroline Gianturco, Alessandro Stradella, 1639-1682: His Life and Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994):

A House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, are available on amazon.com in paperback, Kindle and Audio Book editions; and at barnesandnoble.com in paperback and NOOK Book editions.

Read the first chapters in these Kindle previews:

A House Near Luccoli

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (Scroll past the first chapter of A House Near Luccoli)

Since I wrote and published A House Near Luccoli, there has been increasing interest in his music.

Alberto Sanna is “a musicologist and violinist from Sardinia, Italy, who specialises in early modern Italian music. ​He recently released the first-ever complete period-instrument recording of Alessandro Stradella’s beautiful yet neglected Two-Part Sinfonias.

​Please visit his website for more information on and samples of his work, which as well as Stradella also shine light on Corelli. Dr. Alberto has served as the Director of Music on the BBC 4 Drama How To Flee From Sorrow.

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Poem: To Éire with Love

Writing the last few pages of my novel about Anne Brontë in-between working the day job, dealing with wind storms, power outages and a snow storm, means I haven’t had the time or energy to come up with a new post for St. Patrick’s Day. So, once more, I’m sharing this poem and illustration inspired by one of three trips I made to Ireland in the 1980’s. (There are also some allusions to a couple of traditional Irish folk songs…curious if anyone knows what they are) The painting was actually never quite finished. I decided to leave it so.
As a side note, as some of you may know, the Brontë’s had Irish roots through their father Patrick Bronte (nee Prunty, Brunty or Bruntee), born in a two roomed cabin at Emdale in the parish of Drumballyroney, County Down.

 

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

I traveled there a woman

and came back a child

with my eyes full of the clouds

coming over the mountains

so I could never tell

how high they were,

the rivers going on

forever,

the irises

floating down to the sea,

the fuchsias so wild

but not really.

All along the way

cowslips lived

where meadows survived

and milkmaids didn’t mind

the rain

so sudden

as suddenly gone.

The fields were greener than any

in France

through the glass of our visit

going down to the sea,

everywhere surrounding,

only my heart brave enough

to go on

into the waves,

a lonesome boatman calling me

to come live with him

forever.

1983

 

March 17th is also ‘St Gertrude’s Day’, the Patron Saint Of Cats. Bless all the kitties, here and in the hereafter. The one in this illustration looks like my Gabey, who I very recently lost and miss so deeply. It makes me sad but, also, comforted.

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

A Home Where Heart and Soul May Rest

My mom turns 88 today/tomorrow, depending on where you are when you read this: March 10th. 

We have lived together since my return from England in 1990 (my father died in 1986) after we had been apart, except for a few visits one way or other, for 16 years. It’s difficult to remember when we were so estranged from the everyday of each other’s life – even though we acted as though this was meant to be, we knew, in our hearts, it wasn’t.  As the French Philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “When friends are far apart there is no separation.”  

Yes, we are mother and daughter, but I think, what has been more affecting in my life is our friendship: the best I have known because it has been honest and difficult and, yet, supportive and enduring, especially as it has tested our ability to remain friends, loving friends. As with any close relationship, there have been tricky moments (and still are), and it has evolved and required adjustments and a fuller appreciation that giving and receiving love is not for making us feel better but BE better.

I first posted the piece below for Mother’s Day a few years ago, when I had no idea I would return in more depth to what she wanted us to have in common, obliging then through my reading and now through my writing: a novel about Anne Brontë, which is very near to being finished, Without the Veil Between.

Happy Birthday, Mom …

You gave me many gifts, like the gods and goddesses gave Pandora: a sense of beauty, charm, music, curiosity and persuasion. In particular there was a book, large and beautifully bound, its writing in columns and essence carved in wood.

Wuthering Heights

You were as naïve as I was.

For it was also a box of unknowns, like Pandora’s, that unleashed more than either of us bargained for. I preferred the version of the myth that claimed good things were allowed to escape. All except for one.

We never lost hope.

You put the faraway in my hands, so how could I not want to go there? Of course, you meant for me to travel pages not miles.

You said you would never forgive me.

How many months we didn’t speak; how many years we paid dearly for conversations in such different time zones, trying to being ordinary when it was all so impossible.

We were both alone with our mistakes.

I never thought it would be that difficult to be away from you. My youth was lost, not to romantic discontent but missing what was true.  

Could you ever forgive me?

Perhaps you did a little. When you traveled as I did, because I did: over the sea, to another country, to places you had and hadn’t visited. You walked up the hill, heard your heels on the cobblestones and voices of the dead, inhaled the mist, saw the parsonage, the windswept trees and moors, and turned the pages back.

I didn’t see if your eyes sparkled, but I like to believe they did.

Bronte Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England
Painted in the 1970’s.
Copyright 2013 by DM Denton

Though solitude, endured too long,
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue,
And overclouds my noon of day;

When kindly thoughts that would have way,
Flow back discouraged to my breast;
I know there is, though far away,
A home where heart and soul may rest.

Warm hands are there, that, clasped in mine,
The warmer heart will not belie;
While mirth, and truth, and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly, then,
The joys of youth, that now depart,
Will come to cheer my soul again. 
~ Anne Brontë, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

 


donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’

Carnival occurs before the liturgical season of Lent. The main events typically occur during February or early March, during the period historically known as Shrovetide (or Pre-Lent).

Carnevale di Venezia 2017 runs February 11th through February 28th. Click here for a list of for top 10 Italian towns that celebrate carnival.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
from a letter Alessandro Stradella, protagonist of my novel A House Near Luccoli, wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

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It was actually a few weeks later that one of the most legendary, talented, and yet long undervalued Baroque composers arrived in Genoa, highly welcomed despite the scandals and even crimes that forced him to flee Rome, Venice and Turin. It would be where he would not only spend Carnevale 1678, but also make his home and more masterpieces and messes for the next four years.

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Old Painting of Genoa

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
stradellwide~ from a letter Alessandro Stradella wrote to
Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678

 

According to the Christian calendar, Carnevale occurs between January 6th (Epiphany/Three Kings Day) and the day before Ash Wednesday. Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) is the final and often most excessive festival of Carnevale—a last opportunity to make merry and even immoral before Lenten prohibitions.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

Old Illustration of Carnival in Venice. Created by Janet-Lange

Carnevale found popularity in the city of Rome in the seventeenth century, a rider-less horse race down the Via del Corso eventually abandoned for slightly less dangerous activities. Viareggio a city on the Ligurian Sea is known for putting on one of the longest celebration, holding parades with elaborate floats.

Carnevale is about being there,” the face of the disguise was surprisingly soft against hers, its ribbons tied at the back of her head, “as anyone but yourself.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

To this day every town in Italy, even the smallest, has its Carnevale parade along with dancing, masquerading and feasting.

Traditionally, Carnevale offered the opportunity for role reversals: between men and women, nobility and commoners. A key element was the class hierarchy set upside-down, so those that normally didn’t have power might temporarily take on the identities of those that did.

Pierrot was at his own pace ahead. Alessandro never expected his servant to behave dutifully and wouldn’t have enjoyed him as much if he had, making fun and opportunity of his negligence.

“Hey, Maestro. I’m higher than you.” Golone’s voice was victorious at the top of the tower Alessandro had failed to conquer.

 “Yet I have farther to fall.”

~ A House Near Luccoli

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The origins of Carnevale itself can be traced to ancient pagan rites involving face and body painting for dancing and chanting in honor of the transition from winter to spring. The Egyptians enjoyed similar revelries held in honor of Isis. In Italy Carnevale hearkens back to the practices of the ancient Greeks in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine, and the Roman Empire’s homage of Saturn, the god of agriculture and the harvest. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church’s attempts to eradicate the festival were unsuccessful and, eventually, it was assimilated into the Christian calendar as a last celebration before Lent. To this day, many local customs are based on pre-Christian rituals as well as medieval folk culture.

They might have flown down to the street, trailing the parade less and less distinct from the crowd swollen like a woman with child who couldn’t avoid shame whether legitimate or not. Suddenly Alessandro’s handling of street songs in his confident tenor drew more attention and applause.

“Sing. As I know you can,” he demanded of her.

She couldn’t refuse him anything, not even the embarrassment of singing in the midst of more people than she had seen in her entire life. There was nothing familiar about the songs everyone else seemed to know, the dialect one she had rarely heard and barely understood.

Bravo my gattino.” Alessandro’s carnival face leaned close to hers.

Before she could be pleased he gave into his proclivity for trying to seduce all the ladies open to him, which seemed to be the youngest and prettiest, although painted masks, high feathers, and low dresses might have made them more attractive than they were. It was amazing she didn’t lose him there and then, the surge even more chaotic on its way back towards the ducal palace and into its square that embraced everyone and anyone on Martedi Grasso
~ A House Near Luccoli

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Art Comedia

Commedia dell’ Arte: Improvisational Theatre

The Commedia dell’ Arte masks were popular from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, traveling troupes setting up a stage to perform improvisational plays that touched upon political and social issues, often by satirizing the human frailties of adultery, jealousy, old age, and love. The masks used in these performances have become part of the Carnevale tradition.

Bravo! Bravo! All the city is a stage.” He directed common chaos with more investment than a cantata, enjoying the artlessness in the strumming, plucking, piping and cranking, banging on pots, and singing from throats. He was even more excited by jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers, fire-eaters, monkeys, magicians, pickpockets, and pimps keeping a close eye on their harlots but also virgins with crowns and bouquets of flowers.

 arlecchino

capitano

pierrot

pulcinella

zanni

dottore-peste

Nothing personified the spirit of Carnevale more than the Commedia dell’Arte characters of Pulcinella, Zanni, and Arlechino like puppets on strings.

“I should’ve brought my violino. Then we would be the cat and the fiddle.”
~ A House Near Luccoli

 

blue_cat_mask

She was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air. Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again.

“And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.” Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ A House Near Luccoli

venice-carnival-history-masks-auto-europe

There is a saying:

A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale.”

“Anything goes at Carnival.”

Carnevale is a time for letting down one’s guard, for mischief and pranks, for Fare uno scherzo (pull a joke on someone). In A House Near Luccoli, the reckless composer Alessandro Stradella discovers that even in disguise during the playful mania of Martedi Grasso, ridiculing the wrong person creates consequences.

Command as much as invitation hurried them across a marbled floor and up a double staircase, at the top a privileged and premeditated Carnevale custom-made in the finest fabricated layers, cock feathers and conceit sweeping and strutting and posing. The loggias were crowded with an entitled few increased by association. Shamelessness was bulging and dazzling, hedonism heightened and ambivalent in hair and shoes and sexuality, thin laughter and heavy scents. Music was a background to drinking and talking and dancing. There were even more daring activities in public rooms where heads lifted, shoulders turned, masks stared gorgeous and grotesque; a sense all the underhandedness of the city was there.
~ A House Near Luccoli

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Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of Silence Happens and Being Human: Little Thoughts of Love, Nature, Peace, Freedom, and Love

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It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey
To A Strange Somewhere Fled.

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donatellasmallest© 2017 Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.