Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Living Jane Austen

Louisville, Kentucky Annual Jane Austen Festival


It is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. In honor of such an occasion, Novel Travelist will be offering travel itineraries for all of Jane Austen’s beloved novels.



If you are able to travel to England this year, here are a few Jane Austen festival dates to tantalize your trip planning.

Bath, England


The Netherfield Ball, however not in Hertfordshire, but in Bath. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013, 6:30 – 11pm.

The ball is a costumed event  in the style of the Regency, late 18th century. Women’s attire is actually comfortable - the gowns have a high waist, just below the bust. Men get to wear tight breeches with button panels and flattering coats with long tails.

And yes, there is dancing. There is so much dancing that a “Pre-Ball Dance Workshop” is offered just prior to the ball (1:45 – 4:15pm). This particular year, to honor Pride & Prejudice, they hope to dance Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot; that is the version that was danced in the Netherfield Ball in the BBC 1995 adaptation. Go dust off that DVD because this is a very complicated dance.   



There is an Annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath every September.
Sept. 13 – 21, 2013
Tickets available in July.

The jovial Festival features costumed promenades, talks, tours and theatrical performances throughout Bath. The festival usually ends with a performance by the Jane Austen Dancers. (No giggling. Be honest, you know you harbor a secret desire to be a Jane Austen Dancer.)

Louisville, Kentucky

The 6th Annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville is HUGE! 
July 20 – 21, 2013
10am – 5pm

Includes Regency Emporium, the Shoppes of Meryton, music, entertainment (play, bare knuckle boxing, fencing & duel), Four Course Afternoon Tea, workshops, a Grand Ball and Regency promenade on Saturday to break the Guinness Book World Record number of people in Regency attire. (So… Were the Guinness Record people not around during the Regency era?)


Here’s a calendar of Jane Austen events around the world, including in Ireland, Australia, Czech Republic, Maryland, North Carolina, Minneapolis, and Louisville, Kentucky.

(Who knew Austen was so popular in Louisville?)






In the LA area:


Jane Austen Unscripted is currently running in the Carrie Hamilton theater at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 14. Tickets are $25 and the best deal in town. I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe. This is a reminder of what theater should be. 

It’s an entirely improvised play, in the style of a Jane Austen story, all based around an audience suggestion, like “Kidney Pie,” or “Purple Ribbon.” The ensemble is brilliant and they miraculously bring about a marriage with every show. If you’re an Austen fan – this is a must. Even if you’re not an Austen fan – this is a must. Just go!

They also offer improv workshops for normal people, and yep, Wes & I signed up! I’m a scientist with horrible stage freight, so this should be amusing.

For those not able to travel this year:

Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster is a Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. It’s excellent, silly fun. You play Elizabeth Bennet, and your adventure begins in Pride and Prejudice, but your decisions along the way will lead you into the plots of Austen’s other works. I escaped Mr. Darcy, rejected Colonel Brandon, and ran off with Willoughby only to have him killed in a horrible carriage accident. 

If you'd like to visit Pemberley, Mansfield Park, or other great homes, I (Sara McBride) will be posting travel itineraries through out March. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Don't Let These Obstacles Keep You From Travel Drawing


The biggest obstacles to drawing while travelling have little to do with artistic skill. Don’t let these common obstacles keep you from giving it a try.

Drawing in Public


It can be embarrassing to draw in public. Strangers will be fascinated by you. They will walk right up to you and look over your shoulder, completely oblivious to the fact that they are making you nervous. Skill can help you feel more confident, but the only thing that will really help is experience. Over the years I have come to realize that curious strangers simply enjoy watching me draw. They are far from critical. They praise my worst drawings, and I get the feeling they would like to sit down with me and draw as well—If only they had the confidence. This will happen to you. Maybe not at first, but if you stick with travel drawing, eventually someone will walk up to you and instantly become your number one fan. You will never forget the first time someone drags their fascinated child away from your sketchbook.


Travel Companions

Travel companions are trickier. Unless they like to draw, they will not understand your desire to sit in one place for the better part of an hour. Shared experiences are one of the great joys of travelling. Drawing is solitary. Your companions cannot join in that experience. It isolates them. Besides, there are so many other things to see than the thing you are drawing. And you are wasting their time.

You owe it to your companions to be honest and upfront about your desire to spend time drawing. You do not owe your companions all of your time and attention. Usually, you can work something out. My wife keeps a list of alternative sights in mind in case I suddenly decide to draw for a while. But most of the time, I schedule my drawing time with her. This means I miss the chance to draw some things during the day, but it is easier for us to coordinate. This works both ways. My wife likes to write on location, and will warn me when I should plan to fend for myself for a while. 

Drawing Supplies & Comfort

You won’t draw much if your drawing kit is so cumbersome you keep leaving it in the hotel room. Travel light. At home I have a large sketchbook—so large I usually work at an easel. I love this sketchbook, but it would be ridiculous to travel with (it doesn’t even fit in my largest suitcase). For travelling and sketching around town I have a small sketchbook that fits in a bag I don’t mind carrying everywhere. If you won’t carry your sketchbook everywhere, get a smaller sketchbook.

Pick materials you already enjoy drawing with. I don’t recommend trying to learn new drawing techniques while travelling. Learning a new technique or medium takes a different kind of attention than sketching. This can take you out of the moment and make it harder for you to appreciate what you are seeing. Having said that, you don’t have to be a master by any means. You should, however, enjoy using the materials you bring with you. 

Consider bringing a portable chair with you. Nothing is worse than drawing in an uncomfortable position. The downside of bringing a chair is that you have to carry it around. However, a comfortable chair can be worth the extra weight in certain situations. I definitely wish I had brought my chair to Pompeii. I wasn’t comfortable standing up that day, and I feel like I missed the opportunity to draw some amazing stuff (sometimes it is hard to draw standing up, no matter how fit or young you are). I was only able to draw this column because there happened to be a comfortable stone in a good position. There is rarely a good place to sit in front of something you would like to draw.


Monday, February 11, 2013

The Buried Books of Herculaneum: A Novel Travelist Mystery

The instrument that unravels a 2000-year-old scroll
In a glass case within the Naples Archaeological Museum is an instrument that resembles an old, battered loom.  Long, knotted strands of a charcoal-colored substance hang suspended from it.  The cluster looks more like meat curing in a slaughterhouse than what it actually is.  It is paper.

This display is dedicated to the Villa dei Papyri, an ancient Roman residence buried and immaculately preserved in the 79AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  The villa just happened to be owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar.

Inside the Villa dei Papyri was a large library containing approximately two thousand papyrus scrolls.  Since their discovery in the 1700s, scientists and historians alike have repeatedly undertaken the unwinding of these precious artifacts.  Once unwound, they are still legible.  

A papyrus scroll from the Villa dei Papyri
In addition to the large Greek library already uncovered, it is believed that there was probably an entire section of the library dedicated to works written in Latin, which of course may have included those of Julius Caesar himself.  It may also contain the works of Octavian, the great nephew of Caesar and his sole heir, who went on to become the first Roman Emperor, Augustus.  And the Villa dei Papyri may contain the writings of Caesar's lover and the mother of his only known son: Cleopatra, the enigmatic, powerful, multilingual, highly educated queen from whom no single writing has ever been discovered.  

But if these works do exist, they are still buried.

The majority of the villa was never fully excavated.  Over the centuries, the treasure within has been sought by the likes of King Charles of Campania, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benito Mussolini.  Tunnels have been excavated and then back-filled.  The villa has been bombed, excavated, and bombed again.  But the majority of the library remains intact, beneath meters of hardened ash from Mount Vesuvius.

I pose here the question: why?  Why, when the Villa dei Papyri may be one of the most important archeological finds, and resources, in European history?  Why, when many other areas of Herculaneum have been fully excavated for centuries?  Why, when today's technology can readily bore into the depths of the Earth?  

You are invited to join us in solving this Novel Travelist Mystery: Why was the Villa dei Papyri never fully excavated?  On March 14, 2013, I will present part 2 of this mystery, in which I will begin to reveal my own hypotheses and the rationale behind them.

Look here for clues:

The Naples Archeological Museum, Naples, Italy
The Getty Villa, Malibu, California
The Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, Egypt
Pompeii Awakened, by Judith Harris

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, a new novel by Kristen Elise. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 



Monday, February 4, 2013

Siena, Italy - Find the 17 contrada

From left to right: Dragon (Drago), Forest (Selva), Tortoise (Tartuca), She-Wolf (Lupa)

TRAVEL QUEST - Photograph or draw the 17 animal mascots of Siena, Italy
By Sara McBride

A Travel Quest will enliven any trip and help a novelist to seek out the small details of a location. If you're an artist, this particular quest will give you plenty of fun images to draw.

The Tuscan town of Siena, Italy, found itself at the crossroads of several major 13th century trading routes. It grew so prominant that it had to form an organized militia in order to defend its independence from Florence. The city originally created 59 districts to organize military units. Those districts have since been consolidated into 17, and in the 15th century, each district adopted an animal related symbol for games and events. 

Today’s only surviving game is the Palio, a dramatic horse race in the central campo of the city held every July 2 and August 16. The winning rider escorts a hand-painted banner to their contrada home, where it is hung in the district museum. Then there’s an epic party! 

Your quest is to photograph or draw each of the 17 contrada symbols. Above are examples I’ve found. Below is a map of Siena with the 17 contrada districts. Each district has its own church, baptismal font and museum. HINT - These are often locations where you might find a contrada symbol. 



While strolling the narrow walkways of the city, keep your eyes peeled for the following symbols:

AQUILA (Eagle) a double-headed eagle holding an orb, sword and/or sceptre.
CHIOCCIOLA (Snail) a snail.
ONDA (Wave) A swimming dolphin wearing a crown.
PANTERA (Panther) A rampant panther.
SELVA (Forest) A rhinoceros bearing a huge tree hung with hunting implements.
TARTUCA (Tortoise) A tortoise. 
CIVETTA (Little Owl) An owl.
LEOCORNO (Unicorn) A unicorn.
NICCHIO (Shell) A crowned scallop shell, often flanked by two branches of coral.
TORRE (Tower) An elephant with a tower on its back. 
VALDIMONTONE (Ram) A crowned ram.
BRUCO (Caterpillar) A caterpillar, often crawling on a rose.
DRAGO (Dragon) A flying dragon, often carrying a banner with the letter ‘U’.
GIRAFFA (Giraffe) A giraffe, often led by a Moor.
ISTRICE (Porcupine) A Porcupine.
LUPA (She-Wolf) The Roman She-Wolf suckling twins.
OCA (Goose) A crowned goose with the cross of Savoia round its neck.

Bonus symbols - In 1729, 23 contrada were consolidated into today’s 17. Can you find symbols for the forgotten 6 contrada?
GALLO (Rooster) Near the Little Owl, Goose and Forest districts.
LEONE (Lion) Near the Porcupine district.
ORSO (Bear) Near the Little Owl district.
QUERCIA (Oak) Near the Snail district.
SPADAFORTE (Strong Sword) Near the Unicorn & Tower district.
VIPERA (Viper) Near the Tower district.

Here’s a great site with an interactive Contrada google map so you can locate your hotel and learn what district you’ll be staying in.   http://www.explore.it/maps/palio_contrade_siena.html

Writing Prompt: 
Several of the districts have long time rivalries. Write a story involving a district rivalry.