Sunday, 28 March 2010

Easter Parade in Florence

Florence – the heart of the Renaissance in Italy – has two wonderful processions on Easter morning. One has an 18th century chariot drawn by two white oxen with gilded hooves and flowers on their heads. The chariot is blue, burgundy and gold and contains flint-stones from the Holy Land. At the end of the procession it is placed in a central position between the Cathedral and the Baptistry and the oxen led away.
At the time of the Resurrection a "dove" (a rocket), which is connected to the chariot, is lit and sets off a deafening explosion. The chariot is full of fire crackers!
This is the "Scoppio del Carro" (explosion of the cart), the roots of which go back centuries. To the times of the First Crusade in 1099. Several Florentine knights, led by Pazzino de' Pazzi, joined Geoffrey of Bouillon on the Crusade to Jerusalem.
It was supposedly de' Pazzi who hoisted the standard of the Cross on the battlements of Jerusalem. He was rewarded with fragments of stone from the Holy Sepulchre. On his return to Florence his family had the privilege of carrying the blessed fire (lit with these precious relics) around the City, on Holy Saturday.
This privilege was withdrawn in 1478 when the family was banished from Florence. They were implicated in a conspiracy to murder Guiliano de' Medici: a particularly horrible crime as it was committed in the Cathedral during Mass.
Now the city fathers are in charge of the mainly symbolic ceremony which is held on Easter Sunday.
Like all ancient traditions, the Scoppio del Carro has good and bad omens. If the fireworks explode as soon as the rocket makes contact then there will be good harvests and prosperity for the City. Everyone cheers. If the explosion isn't immediate the air is filled with groans.
During the rest of the year the chariot is kept in Via del Prato and the flint-stones at the Church of SS. Apostoli.
The other parade is made up of church and civic dignitaries - a wonderful sight with people in colourful medieval costumes. Both processions meet at the Cathedral where entertainment includes the famous flag throwing.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Getting Around in San Francisco

I had some good news this week - an American magazine called Mature Living has published one of my articles. It is about San Francisco and the best way of getting around.
San Francisco has a fantastic transport system quite apart from the Cable Car. There are plenty of buses, the Historic Trolleys on the F Line and BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transport). Did you know that you can take this train from the airport to downtown? Much cheaper and quicker than taxis.

A Novel Excerpt.......

How's this for the opening of a crime novel?

Trudi couldn’t believe it! She’s done it again! she thought as she listened to Marcia reading the opening of her new book idea. Looking at the rest of the group of American ladies as they sat around the table she wondered if anyone else recognised the story. It seemed not, for when Marcia finished, carefully avoiding looking at Trudi, the other members of the writing circle proceeded to make their comments. Some praised, some suggested. And all agreed that it was a great idea for a book.
Yes, fumed Trudi, my idea, which I read out to you last month.
While everyone else around the table had their attention fixed on the tall red-headed Marcia, Trudi slipped her file from under the legal pad and put it on her lap. She then ‘vented’ on the pad in her own form of shorthand.
“You’re very quiet, Trudi,” Brenda, the middle-aged leader who had begun the New Arundel Writers Circle a couple of years earlier, commented. “Any comments? I saw you making some notes.”
Nothing you’d like to hear, the Englishwoman thought, “Same as everyone else. Good idea,” she said aloud. And she caught sight of Marcia’s sly grin as the woman bent down to pick up her document case and slip the pages inside.
Trudi Johnson tucked a stray strand of dark blonde hair behind an ear and worked to keep the wrath from showing in her hazel eyes. Honestly, wasn’t there something they could do to stop the plagiarism? she wondered.

Outside in the car park and under the hot Florida sun Trudi really got up a head of steam as she and her close friend, Lucia, headed for their cars. “She really has a nerve! That’s the second time she’s done it to me!”

Until someone publishes the book you'll have to read about it in dribs and drabs! What is usually called serialisation which is how many well known authors of the past were first published.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Micanopy a Small Town in Florida

This is the oldest inland settlement in Florida and was discovered by the Spanish in the 17th century then in 1774 the American naturalist, William Bartram, discovered a Seminole Indian Village. Soon after Florida became a US territory in 1821 a settlement was established here and Edward M. Wanton was hired to promote it. In 1823 Moses Elias Levy established a trading post called Wanton, after the first post office established in the County in 1826, not for its proclivities! The name was changed in 1834 to Micanopy after a Seminole Indian Chief.

To visit Micanopy is to step into a serene corner of Florida. With its antique shops, the oak trees dripping Spanish moss and giving plenty of shade, it is a delight to stroll and browse. As well as antiques the shops also offer collectibles.
There is a small Museum which is in what was originally the Thrasher Warehouse. The warehouse was built in about 1890 and was a stop for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad until the 1950s. It was used to store farm equipment, hardware, lumber and supplies.

Across from the museum is the Herlong Mansion which looks like a typical “Deep South” plantation house complete with balconies and pillars and set in a lovely garden. Originally it was a simple two-storey “cracker style” farmhouse built in about 1845 by the Simonton family who were some of the original settlers in Micanopy.
In 1910 Natalie Simonton married Zeddy Clarence Herlong. He was a prosperous entrepreneur and rich enough to remodel the original house into the present day Greek Revival mansion. Although the outside of the house looks like a model for “Tara”, inside it is of the Arts and Crafts style with leaded-glass windows, wood panelling and beautifully patterned floors in various woods.

When Natalie died in 1950 she left the house to her children but their father was to be allowed to live there until his death which occurred ten years later. The house fell into disrepair, none of which was helped by the ensuing eighteen year family feud until Inez Herlong Miller inherited her husband’s estate and was able to buy out her brothers and sisters. The money also allowed her to restore the house to its former beauty. Inez was a diabetic and at sixty-eight was found in a coma in her old childhood room. She died a month later.

It is a rumoured that her ghost is in the house.

Her son inherited the house but let it fall into disrepair until, in 1986, it was purchased and converted into a bed and breakfast. In 1990 a local businessman bought and restored it, including the attic and the cottages.

Visitors frequently feel that they already know Micanopy. That may be because they have seen it in films. It has been the backdrop for films such as “Doc Hollywood” (Michael J. Fox, Woody Harrelson, David Ogden Stiers, Bridget Fonda), and “Cross Creek” (Mary Steenburgen, Peter Coyote, Rip Torn).

Incidentally, I never did see the ghost!