Author Archives: Joanna

Spinalonga : Venetians, Ottomans, Lepers

Spinalonga is a tiny island off Crete, next to a much larger peninsula, also (confusingly) called Spinalonga. It (the little island) was one of the really interesting places we visited on my recent trip to Greece. It was a beautiful day when we went there, as you can see from the image below, taken from the boat.Spinalonga, off Crete, from sea

The island has a long history and was strategically important during the wars between the Venetian and Ottoman Empires. The Seventh (and last) of the Ottoman Venetian Wars was in 1714-1718. That was when Venice finally lost Spinalonga to the Ottoman Empire.

Strategic importance?

Map of Greece, Crete, SpinalongaThis is where Spinalonga lies (circled in red on north-east of Crete in this map of Greece and the Adriatic):

The island was part of Venice’s extensive fortifications against the Ottoman Empire. They acquired Crete after the Fourth Crusade in 1204. They began fortifying Spinalonga in 1578, with blockhouses at the highest points and a ring of fortifications. This map shows their work.Spinalonga, Venetian fortifications

One of the huge bastions (highlighted yellow in the early Venetian map above) is named after Luca Michiel, the engineer who planned it in 1579. It has seven cannon ports. The half-moon-shaped (mezzaluna) Bastion Michiel is still impressive, both from the landward side and from the sea. Definitely not the place to attempt a hostile landing.

Spinalonga, Basion Michiel, land side Spinalonga, Bastion Michiel, from sea

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Art or Porn? The Pompeii Poser. Joanna Reprise

Unfortunately, after her return from Greece, Joanna has 
Covid. So she's not up to writing a new blog. 
Enjoy her reprise! She'll be blogging again soon…

Warning: this blog contains images of full-frontal female and male nudity; if you are likely to be offended by those images, please do not read on.

On a recent TV programme on BBC4, Andrew Graham-Dixon mentioned (just in passing) that, in the nineteenth century, it was illegal for a woman to pose in the nude for a male artist. Really? Didn’t anyone tell Ingres?

Ingres: Odalisque with a Slave (1839)

Ingres: Odalisque with a Slave (1839)

Graham-Dixon was showing TV viewers nude paintings of ordinary Danish women. He said they would have created a scandal if they had been shown in public. So it was OK to put nude figures into classical poses, but not into modern-day, realistic ones?
Ingres’ Odalisque or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus was art but a Danish working woman was not? Continue reading

Spring means Yellow Daffodils. Or does it?

Daffodils in Liz's gardenOn Friday 5th April, driving to Monmouth for a Society of Authors’ meeting, I was ambushed by yellow daffodils. Everywhere. But then, Monmouth IS in Wales and the daffodil is the flower of Wales.

However, the ones shown right were in Liz’s garden. Thank you for the pic, Liz. They’re lovely.

As you drive down the A40 dual carriageway from Ross-on-Wye to Monmouth, there are daffodils, thousands of them, on the verges. In places, the central reservation is both wide and steep—we are blessed (?) with loads of hills round here—and even those vast banks are covered in yellow daffodils.

Be quick if you want to see them, though.
They’re starting to go over, especially where they’re in full sun.
Sun? Wot’s sun, I hear you cry? We only have rain 🙁 True. More on that later.

Yellow and only yellow?

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Cautionary tales of indie authors and editors

“Your editor is your first, best reader.” So said Sophie Weston in a Libertà post on editing and editors that bears rereading. And it reminded me of a few recent instances related to indie authors and whether or not they employ a professional editor.

I’m not proposing to preach at you in this blog. (Sighs of relief all round?) I’m just going to set out a few cautionary tales and let you reach your own conclusions. Continue reading

Escapist romance : must it always be set in Italy or Greece?

woman overlooking seaToday (Friday) I finished reading a romantic novel featuring a heroine who finds love over a summer in Italy. Classic escapist romance. It’s not a genre I read much—more on that later—but this one was from an author I admire and I hadn’t read any of her books for a while.

So it was timely. And I enjoyed the story very much.

There are, as you probably know, loads of books in this genre. But my reading got me thinking and asking questions.

Why are they so popular?
And why are they mostly set in Italy or Greece?
Aren’t there other places for a heroine to find love? Continue reading

Divided by a common language? Britspeak vs USspeak

divided by a common language, half and half apple“Divided by a common language” was, I thought, something that Churchill (more from him below) said in relation to the UK and the USA. Checking, I found I was wrong. It was George Bernard Shaw, echoing Oscar Wilde. Never mind who said it. This week, I’ve been finding out how right it is.

It happened like this…

I had submitted a contemporary urban fantasy novel to a New York publisher. The editor came back asking for the full MS. (Cheering in Maitland Manor, natch.) But this publisher specifically asked that all submissions be in US spelling. That made me think.

question markWhat if the US editor doesn’t understand my Brit language? After all, my MS had pavements and lifts instead of sidewalks and elevators. I decided I’d go through the MS and change all the offending words and phrases from British English (BrE) to American (AmE). Wouldn’t take long, I thought.

Er, no. Continue reading

Christmas and New Year Greetings with Christmas books

The Libertà hive has got into the habit of relaxing over Christmas and New Year. Probably reading Christmas books! Which means no blog, sadly. The next “proper” blog will appear on Sunday 7th January, 2024.

In the meantime, we hope all our readers had a very happy Christmas and we wish you a prosperous and healthy New Year. Busy fizz

And if Santa didn’t bring you any Christmas books, there are some that the hive would recommend. (Since hive members wrote them, we would, wouldn’t we?)
What’s more, our cute cat loves them… Continue reading

Mosaics: just a few coloured stones laid on the ground?

Roman mosaic Nennig, Germany

Vibrantly coloured Roman floor mosaic, Nennig, Germany, 3rd century AD

In my recent travels, mostly exploring Mediterranean history (including Romans and Greeks) I’ve seen an awful lot of mosaics like the ones in Italica. I’ve even watched curators working to restore a mosaic in Pompeii.

But I’d never thought much about the fundamentals of creating a mosaic.

Mosaics are just a lot of coloured stones laid on the ground in a clever pattern, aren’t they?

Nope. There’s much more to it than that.

Engineering mosaics to last

If the coloured stones (tesserae) were simply laid on the ground, even if they were grouted together with mortar, they wouldn’t have lasted long. And many of them, as we know, have lasted for thousands of years. They had to be hard-wearing. They were going to be walked on.

semi-dome, christ pantocrator, capella palatina, Palermo

Capella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily

Not all of them, of course.

Some mosaics were for wall decoration as you can see in my earlier blog showing some of the incredible religious mosaics in Sicily.

Like this one here where the colours and all that gold really sing.

Hidden layers

Floor mosaics have lots of hidden underpinnings. (Wall mosaics probably have a lot less. Not sure on that, but it sort of stands to reason, doesn’t it?) In the museum in Ecija near Seville (called Astigi by the Romans) there are wonderful floor mosaics plus an explanation of how they were made. In pictures, I’m glad to say. Continue reading

Olive Oil in Spain: the Romans started it…

The Romans started it? Really?

olive trees from 13th century with olive grove behind

A pair of 13th century olive trees, Medinat Al-Zahara, Spain

My post title is a bit of an exaggeration, I admit. Southern Spain had been growing olives and making olive oil long before the Romans arrived. (I posted about the first Roman city in Spain in a recent blog.)

But the Romans turned olive oil into an enormous industry. It’s an industry that still continues today. Drive through Andalucia and you will see mile after mile of olive trees. Nothing but olives. Mostly not nearly as old as the ones in my picture here, though olive trees can live for millennia.

Olives as monoculture

olive monoculture between Granada and Malaga

olive monoculture between Granada and Malaga

It’s a monoculture. With all the risks that monoculture brings. Of course, it can bring great prosperity if the product is in demand—there was huge demand for olive oil in the Roman Empire and there still is, worldwide—but that monoculture is vulnerable to weather, to disease, and to pests.

Remember what happened to French wine as a result of phylloxera in the mid-19th century? Growers wonder whether the same, or worse, will happen as a result of new diseases, especially Olive Quick Decline Syndrome spread by insects. OQDS has been in Italy for the last 10 years or so and has recently been detected in Spain and Greece. Those 3 countries plus Portugal produce about two-thirds of the world’s olive oil. Spain is by far the biggest producer, with between a third and half the total.

olive oil with Italian label

Image by moerschy from Pixabay

As a cynical aside, I was told that in the USA, people don’t buy Spanish olive oil. They buy Italian oil. (All those Italian immigrants?) So a very large amount of Spanish olive oil is shipped in bulk to Italy for bottling. It is then sold as “olive oil bottled in Italy” or “imported from Italy” which allows buyers to assume they are buying olive oil grown in Italy. Looking at the figures, I can well believe it, since Spain produces 4 or 5 times as much as Italy does.

Romans needed olive oil for…?

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