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Friday, June 11, 2010

R. Ann Siracusa’s Travelblog: Rome, Italy

My two favorite activities are traveling the world and writing fiction, and my “brand” is combining those loves into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue and foreign cultures, and make them laugh.

I travel because, as an architect, I’m fascinated by ancient cultures and the ways in which they manifest their natures in architecture, building systems, and design. Upon graduation from UC Berkeley with a degree in architecture, I lived and worked in Rome, Italy for a number of years and there married a Sicilian policeman. (That’s another whole story.)  After we came to the U.S., we made frequent trips to Italy and Sicily to visit family and friends, and that started the “travel juices” flowing. At the time, I had no clue that my interest would eventually inspire writing novels set in foreign lands. But here I am! 

Rome - The Eternal City 
Of all the places I’ve been, my favorite city is still Rome. Perhaps because I lived there, know my way around, and have many wonderful memories of falling in love and getting married. The smog can be bad, it’s miserably hot in the summer, the traffic is a disaster…and I love it.   

Actually, traveling in Italy (and most of Europe) is not all that different from traveling in the United States. You can always find someone who speaks English, and you can buy most of the same things there as you can in the States. Even many of the television programs are the same, including the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars. But, of course, Rome has a history that goes back nearly three thousands years (although the city itself was founded in 753 B.C.) and incredible architecture and art. (Sorry about the quality of the photos.  Most of them come from my private collection over the years, and I’m not that great a photographer.)

Rome as viewed from the Pincio

Vatican City
One of the highlights of Rome is a visit to Vatican City, which is actually a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory (110 acres) consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, the capital city of Italy, with a population of just over 800.

St. Peter’s Basilica, within the Vatican, is the largest church in the world (except perhaps the Basilica of Yamoussoukro). The Vatican museum and the church contain many art works worth seeing, including the Sistine Chapel. Both my daughter and oldest son were baptized in St. Peter’s Basilica.
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(St. Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo)                 

                                                        (The Pietá)                                               

                                                   (The Sistine Chapel) 

Your browser may not support display of this image.(The interior portico vault)          

                                 (The Pope after mass, Nov.2009)              


(Interior of St. Peter's dome)  

                                             (Exterior of the dome)      

The dome of the Basilica, designed by Michelangelo, was only partially completed when he died in 1564. The valuting was completed in 1593 by architect Giacomo Della Porta assisted by engineer Domenico Fontana. The dome is actually a double dome (an inner skin and an outer skin) made of brick, 138 feet in diameter (interior dome) and rising 393 feet above the floor.  Tourists used to be allowed to climb from the base of the dome to the cupola on top between the two skins. The space was about twenty inches wide, and you could only go up in one direction and down in the other direction. The last time I went up was in 1982 (I don’t think I could fit between the shells now), and I doubt that is still permitted. When I visited Rome in 2005, it was so crowded we had to stand in line for two hours to see the Sistine chapel, and then we were herded through like sheep. If you intend to go to Rome, go off season if you can. It’s very beautiful at Christmas time (but cold).  It actually snowed one of the winters I was there (the first time in fifty years). 

Other “Don’t Miss” places to visit 
Other “Don’t Miss” sights in Rome include the Fountain of Trevi, the Roman Forum and Colosseum, the catacombs, the Spanish Steps, and the list goes on and on.   
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The Fountain of Trevi at night                 


                                                  (S.Callisto Catacombs)  

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(Interior of the Roman Colosseum) 

                                                       (The Spanish Steps)          

(Piazza Barberini) 

Working in Rome in the sixties and seventies 
For several years, I worked for the Societá Generale Immobiliare, a land development company (owned by the Vatican) that planned and developed housing and new towns throughout Italy and other countries.  At that time, their planning and architecture office was just up the street from Piazza Barberini―that was where my bus stopped. Then I walked up a fairly steep hill in three inch spiked hi-heels that always stuck in between the cobblestones when crossing the streets. You can’t imagine how many heels I broke that way.
My office was directly across the street from the barracks of the Carabinieri (military police) who served as a special guard for the President. They had a division of mounted Carabinieri who kept their horses in the compound. There was no such thing as air conditioning in the 1960s, so in the summer we kept the windows open. Man, did it stink!  I remember one time my boss come into my office when I had tissues wedged up my nose because of the smell. He was not impressed. 

In those days, most Italians worked Monday through Friday from 8 am to 1 pm, had a three-hour lunch break, then came back at 4 pm and worked until 7 pm. On Saturdays we worked from 8 am to 1 pm (2 pm for many workers). During the summer, when it was hot, the lunch break was 3 ½ hours, and we worked until 7:30 in the evening. For most Italians, the heaviest meal came at mid-day and afterward, during the hottest part of they day, they took naps before going back to work. They ate a light dinner around 9 pm. That was fairly standard throughout southern Europe. 

In my opinion, the long lunch break was a disaster. All businesses, museums, shops, everything except restaurants, were closed during the three hour period so there was nothing to do except go home. That probably worked when cities were small and people lived close to their work, but not in modern cities. The result was four commute trips per day, rather than two, with only enough time to get home on the bus or subway (very few people drove their cars to work if they had a car), fix lunch, clean up the dishes, and catch the bus back to work. (No crock pots or microwave ovens, either. Lots of families didn’t own refrigerators.) Now, work hours are substantially the same as in the States and Italians have the same electronic conveniences as we do. 

                                                                                             (Piazza Esedra) 
Piazza Esedra, also called Piazza Della Republica, is one of my personal favorites because that’s where I met my husband-to-be on the first day I arrived in Rome.  Before air conditioning―which is still not common in most Italian homes―in the afternoons and evenings, Romans would sit and relax around the fountains because the water spray provided a bit of relief from the sweltering heat. The fountain in the center of the piazza, la Fontana delle Naiadi, also call the Fountain of Love, is where I met him. Truth be known, I sat down next to him because I thought he was so good looking. Two months later, I had to look up the word fidanzata in the English-Italian dictionary to find out I was engaged. It’s great to be young and in love!   
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(My husband and I met at The Fountain of Love in Rome) 

Even in the 1980s, all the upper floors of the buildings that form a semi-circle around the piazza were empty and abandoned.  There has been a rent control law in Rome since the early 1900s.  These buildings (condominiums where apartments/offices are owned by various individuals) are so old that the owners would rather abandon them than go to the expense of upgrading to a more modern standard of liveability and only be able to charge a limited amount for rent. 

That’s all for now. Come visit with me again some time. Just let me know where you’d like to go.

TRAVEL TO FOREIGN LANDS FOR ROMANCE AND INTRIGUE with a novel by R. Ann Siracusa http://www.rannsiracusa.com  

(The second book in a humorous romantic suspense series "Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire.")
Author: R. Ann Siracusa
Author Link

Publisher: Sapphire Blue Publishing
Buy Link

Format: E-book
Genre: Humor/Romantic/Suspense

I’m Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire.  At least, I thought I was worthy of that title.
My first mistakeAgreeing to conduct a private tour of Italy. Fourteen Italian-Americans from New Jersey? All family, for three weeks, with four teenagers? What was I thinking? Fate responds to my engraved invitation by placing one of the family under surveillance as a suspect in an assassination plot, and who is assigned to the case?  None other than my favorite drop-dead-gorgeous spy, Will Talbot.
My second mistakeAllowing Will to coax an invitation from the family matriarch to join the tour.  
And that was just the beginning. The matriarch, searching for the unknown location of her mother's grave so she can bury her brother’s cremated ashes (which have been smuggled into Italy wrapped in Cuban cigars), and her quirky family members sweep through Italy leaving chaos, hilarity, and danger in their wake. 

Author Bio:

R. ANN SIRACUSA is involved in many activities, but her two favorite are traveling the world and writing fiction.  This talented author combines those loves into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue, and foreign cultures, and give them a good laugh. 
After receiving a degree in Architecture from UC Berkeley, she traveled to Italy.  There she worked in Rome for an Italian architecture and urban planning firm and married the Sicilian policeman she met at the Fountain of Love on her first day there.  When she and her husband returned to the United States, they settled down to career and family.  But the travel bug never left her.  While working for over thirty years in her chosen career, she made time to travel and began to write fiction that incorporated many of her experiences and observations.

Today, she is retired, lives in San Diego, California, and writes full time (which is as many hours as an Italian husband, three grown children, and eight grandchildren will allow on any given day).  She has been active in Romance Writers of America since 1985 and recently served two terms as Co-president of the San Diego RWA Chapter and one term as Treasurer. 

(I hope that isn't too long.  I'm afraid I lack the "pithy" gene.  Each of the books in the series takes place in a different country where I've traveled.  I writing book 5 right now and its set in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana where I travel in 2008.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kick-starting My Muse by Gracen Miller

I’ve had it!  *plants inconspicuous bombs around my prickly muse* Consider this <i>war</i>, buddy-boy!  WAR!!!  Think you can keep me from writing? Think again! Even if it is gobble-d-goop, I’m still going to write without you!  *mumbles about the fickleness of muses*  
With a recent run of bad luck lately, instead of DM (an anagram for the name of my muse) going on a temporary vacation, I do believe he’s retired instead.  As I lay siege to DM’s iron-clad fortress known as writer’s block, I thought I’d contemplate a few ways that would cajole him back to his post and help me write.  Here are my five favorite bribes…erm...enticements to encourage him to return to his job: 

5 – Chocolate!  Chocolate cures all in large quantities, right? LOL  Well, it should!  *pouts over the injustice of life*  Unfortunately, I’ve gone on the B12 shots to help me drop a few pounds (honestly, quite a bit more than a “few pounds”) since diet and exercise haven’t worked, but only kept me stalled at the same weight for a year so that my cardiologist could fuss at my yearly checkup.  And now that I’ve eliminated 13 pounds in 4 weeks, I have no desire to splurge in my favorite pastime—eating chocolate.  Strangely, I haven’t even craved the stuff.  Hmm…ponders the disturbing thought that the real me has been transplanted by aliens with a cloned me. ;-)  Or maybe, the B12 shots hardwire your brain for healthy food!  *blink, blink*

4 – A weekend (or a week, whichever is needed…most likely a week is on the agenda) <i><b>alone</i></b>, without drama, family chatter, housework, taxiing sons between sporting practices, and juggling paralegal work!  Just a weekend (or week) to rest, relax and reboot my brain so that it can process all the stuff the muse normally throws at it.  Being a realist, I realize that’s not going to happen anytime soon.  I leave for vacation with my family soon, so I’m stressing pretty big.  Yikes!  Too much to get done before the vacation trip!!  And then when the vacation starts, there won’t be any alone time forthcoming until school starts up in August.  *whimpers at the feeling of muse doom* 

3 – Taking a defibrillator to DM’s cold, cruel, fickle heart!  *shudders*  Yeah, not a good option for the obvious reason that DM is in <i><b>my</i></b> head!  

2 – Meditating!  Actually, this is probably the best idea yet.  My meditation is informal, but it does help spark DM into action.  When I meditate, I pick the storyline I want to focus on, crawl beneath the covers of my bed and let the world drop away as the focal point transitions into a stream of information and ideas.  Sometimes I’ll hover in limbo between waking and sleep, BUT it always works!  And, best of all, it doesn’t require chocolate, a weekend of aloneness or painful electrical shocks!   

1 – Telling DM I will write whatever he wants without any interference or complaints on my end!  LOL  That should perk him up fast since we war often over the direction of a storyline.  A dangerous promise though. :-/  But one, I’m almost willing to make if DM will return to me and permanently remove ‘grumpy me’ from existence!

So, tell me what’s your cure all for a muse hiatus?  Or are you one of the lucky ones that doesn’t suffer from writer’s block? 
Thanks for letting me join you today, Rie!  Now, everyone go kick-start your muse into writing! 

Title: Elfin Blood
Author: Gracen Miller
Author Website
Buy Link
Publisher: Noble Romance Publishing
Genre: Paranormal/Erotic/Romance

Blurb: Scorned by her own kind for her half-breed elf status, Julija lives a lonely existence among her Ivory Elf kin. She is the only one the elves can trust when a magical book on elf lore is stolen. Relegated to steal the Book from the vampire thief, Landau Jamieson, she's surprised to discover he has the ability to walk in daylight. Refusing to be deterred by developing setbacks, she’s committed to executing the heist for an Ivory King who grows more desperate to possess the Book. Nothing about the vampire is as it appears and Julija begins to doubt her mission. Worse, she begins to worry she won't have the strength to guard her heart from her sworn enemy.

Landau is fascinated by the elf stalking him and baffled by the erotic hunger she elicits in him. After all, he’s been impotent for ten thousand years. Soon he discovers the lovely sprite is a pawn in a dangerous game—orchestrated by none other than a reviled enemy from his past. She blind-sides him with her beauty and her magical powers, the least of which is the spell she casts on his heart, as the sinister plot unfolds. What started out as folly to catch a thief, blossoms into a love that casts aside bloodlines and erases all boundaries.