SIENA’S PALIO: THRILLING TRADITION, COMPETITION, & PRIDE

Imagine that your hometown team will be competing in the biggest sporting event of the year, as it does every year, right in the center of town. Pack the venue with over 50,000 spectators, both local and international, all there to see your team participate. Now bring on all the fanfare and hoopla in the days leading up to the main event, including an open-air feast and a ritual blessing of the key player. Now imagine that this monumental sporting event lasts just seventy-five seconds…

Palio Aug 1995 news

For the people of Siena, Italy, this fantasy is a reality. Considered Italy’s most famous annual sporting event, Palio is a horse race that combines pageantry, competition, and civic pride. The Tuscan hillside town of Siena fans out from the central, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo town square, where the race is run. It extends outward, through the maze of cobblestone alleyways, stone houses, shops, and smaller piazze. Siena is divided into seventeen contrade, akin to the boroughs of Manhattan, in which neighborhoods aspire to a passionate regionalism based on centuries old tradition. Since the Middle Ages, ten of the contrade vie one another for bragging rights achieved by a victory in a bare-back horse race that’s one lap around the piazza. The first horse to cross the finish line, with or without the rider, wins.

The race, held twice a year on July 2 and August 16, is preceded by as much pomp and circumstance as the post-race victory parties. Participants and spectators have been brought to their knees over a loss, or a win. Every stage is critical, from the initial presentation of the horses, to the “tratta” in which the horses and jockeys are matched. It continues with the five preliminary runs, to the final rehearsal dinner, to the blessing of the horse and jockey inside the contrada’s parish church, and finally to the race.

Palio July 1981

I attended my first Palio with my dad when I was ten years old. With my Aquila scarf wrapped securely around my shoulders, I cheered parade flagbearers marching down the ancient cobblestone streets while my gelato ran down my arm. We watched a trial run. Serious business, as men in suits converged to hash out the players’ worth, similar to a football draft, only with horses. My favorite part was the pre-race dinner. I couldn’t believe that with all the eating, the drinking, the singing, and the cheering, they had yet to run the race! Though we missed the main race, I’d experienced something truly memorable.

Palio Aug 1995

Years later, my husband, Jamie, and I made it to the big event. We packed into Piazza del Campo with my cousins in early morning…and waited. For hours beneath the August sun, the piazza filled with spectators, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, or peering out from hotel windows overlooking the track. Fans from competing contrade would argue, laugh, make bets, and proudly wave their flags’ colors. At dusk, the tension was palpable. The crowds roared as the horses cantered into the piazza. The tradition of centuries past, and the competitive spirit roiling between the contrade, and the anxiety built up over days of preparation all came down to a race lasting just over a minute. In one mad dash around the track, colors blazed past us in a blur. Men, women, and children shouted and chanted the names of their contrada. Cameras flashed. Hoof-beaten dust flew into the humid Sienese twilight. I don’t remember who won. But I bet it was Aquila.

Like a good thriller, Palio’s suspense builds to a satisfying climax that resonates with fans until long after it ends. Want to live the thrill? Head to Palio. Want to read about it? My latest mystery novel, FORMULA, features Palio, and it’s coming soon!

Advertisements

Bostoniano publishes “Vinitaly: For the Love of Wine…and Verona”

Recently, the gorgeous and informative Bostoniano magazine, which celebrates Italian culture in America and abroad, published an article that I wrote about a spectacular annual wine exhibition in Verona, Italy.  I hope this prompts you to go!

Vinitaly:  For the Love of Wine…and Verona!

by Gina Fava

          Wine aficionados know that one of the best times to travel to Italy is Fall harvest season, when ripened vineyards carpeting the countryside are bursting with bountiful production, and just-uncorked reds and whites at roadside enoteche beckon to be tasted.  But I recently discovered a different kind of wine tasting adventure, set in glorious Verona, Italy during Spring, that’s sure to please any wine lover.  “Vinitaly” gathers renowned Italian vintners eager to show off the fruits of their labor, all under one roof.  

066

          Also known as the International Wine & Spirits Exhibition, Vinitaly spreads over 95,000 square meters and showcases themed tastings of more than 4000 exhibitors in various buildings dedicated to the official regions of Italy.  Just outside the stone walls of Verona’s city proper, the exhibition complex bustles with over 150,000 annual visitors per year, since 1967.  This past April, I accompanied my favorite wine expert (my husband Jamie, who’d been awarded the trip for his wine acumen by Horizon Beverage, a New England company) to the biggest, the oldest, and arguably the most popular wine convention on the planet.

          Vinitaly is a veritable Monte Carlo Grand Prix for an array of established wine producers, a place for them to really rev their engines and show what’s under the hood.  It’s also a proving ground for up and coming vintners, akin to the Indianapolis 500, where a good showing here might mean a shot for a run in the long term circuit.   For distributors and wholesalers, it’s a place to determine which wines and spirits will achieve superior pole position in a race to the finish.  Also, just like a race car driver woos a sponsor, vintners clamor to woo restaurateurs, caterers, and wine store owners with their wares, while the world’s journalists and opinion leaders take note.  At Vinitaly, tourists aren’t just spectators, they’re participants in the biggest wine and spirits tasting event of the year.

The event is kicked off on Saturday night with a stunning gala called “Vinitaly for You,” a wine bar event open to all wine lovers, sponsored by the international trade fair’s organizer Veronafiere, and is held in the historic center of Verona, in the alluring setting of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Piazza Bra.  With Verona’s colossal amphitheatre as a backdrop, the gala is but a starting point to an evening that spills into the restaurants and upscale boutiques lining the piazza and rambles down the marbled main thoroughfare, Via Mazzini, home to Gucci, Prada, Furla, and Cartier.  And that’s just the welcome wagon.

068

For the next three days of Vinitaly, registered attendees of the exhibition succumb to an overwhelming wine tasting itinerary with offerings from the finest producers, such as Cecchi, Banfi, Sartori, Villa Sandi, and Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, to name a few.  Accompanied by the president and select representatives of Horizon, as well as fellow vendors and restaurateurs from New England, Jamie and I sipped, swished, and spat some of the finest vintages, such as Sassicaia, Nero d’Avola, Amarone, and Franciacorto, along with better-known varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Brunello di Montalcino.  Our group would chat with vineyard representatives for close to an hour, and then we’d elbow our way through open-air corridors ripe with the aroma of sweet grapes, cured meats, aged cheese, and high-priced perfume until we arrived at the next bountiful spread.  At tables built into propped castles and fashionables bars, the bejeweled and Armani-clad vintners dazzled us with history and production methods, while Jamie and our group scribbled copious notes about acidity, tannins, and carbonic maceration, all Greek to me but critical in their business decisions.  For me, the event introduced me to rare and complex wines in which I’d otherwise never gain access.

Every day at Vinitaly is an education, a spectator sport, and a delicious carnival, all rolled into one.  Just when the day seems to squeeze the last bit of energy from a weary traveler, a brief respite at any one of the fine hotels dotting the city center or the convention roadway handily smoothes over the edges.  After that, nighttime inside Verona’s walls awaits.

Shakespeare wrote, “There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself…”  Verona is home to one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world.  Built in AD 30, it features plays, opera and modern concerts to a capacity of 15,000 during the summer months.  But, the lights stay on all year, and during Vinitaly, they appear extra bright.  Also of note–Juliet’s balcony, the setting for one of Shakespeare’s best known plays.  Lovers can sign their names or tuck a love letter into Juliet’s Wall that leads into the small piazza bearing her statue, whose right breast is worn from decades of luck-seekers.

087

Shops and restaurants cater to Vinitaly attendees, offering discounts to those who present their printed exhibition pass.  Reserve early for the dining experience of a lifetime.  Antico Caffe Dante, the superb restaurant located in Piazza Dante, after famed Italian author Dante Alighieri (Inferno, Divine Comedy, etc.), pairs rare wines with culinary delicacies that would make connoisseurs cry with satisfaction.  The famed restaurant, Antica Bottega del Vino, renowned since 1891 for its victuals, boasts one of the most extensive wine lists in Italy. It’s not a list so much as a chapter book of varietals over which any wine lover would drool.

No matter your expertise or your palate, Vinitaly has something to offer wine lovers of every caliber.  The next exhibition is April 6-9, 2014.  Plan now for the event of a lifetime.  For more information on accommodations, an exhibition guide, a list of vendors, and ticket registration for Vinitaly, go to http://vinitaly.com/

_______________________

 

   I travel to Italy often to hunt down my characters’ favorite wines.  The Race, my debut novel, about a car racing covert agent who rescues his son and saves Rome from an elusive international terrorist, features wines suggested by Jamie Pangione.  I met Jamie, my consultant and soul mate, and owner of Jamie’s Fine Wine & Spirits, while studying abroad in Rome.  Visit GinaFava.com to learn more.

 

 

 

 

Smash: Pope Benedict’s Ring Will Be Destroyed

Well, I knew the press would reveal this bit of Papal trivia sooner or later, but a day after my blog post?  Yesterday, I asked:  What Will Happen to the Pope’s Ring Once He Resigns?

20071121014546!Annulus_piscatorius

Today, media everywhere has provided the answer:  

RomaVeneziaCortona2011Uno 094

The Camerlengo, or the Chamberlain who presides over conclave operations,

will smash Pope Benedict’s papal signet, the Fisherman’s Ring, with a special papal silver hammer.

It’s the same special papal silver hammer that they use to ceremoniously tap the deceased pope’s head three times before conclave meets.  Bonus:  Pope Benedict will not have to endure this particular rite before he becomes Pope Emeritus.

_______________________

By the way, as soon as the Pope resigns, the Swiss Guard is officially relieved of duty until the next Pope steps in.

A little Alpine skiing, anyone?

RomaVeneziaCortona2011Uno 101

What Will Happen to Pope Benedict’s Ring?

 What will happen to the Pope’s ring once he resigns?

I’m talking about the ring that every Pope wears on the third finger of his right hand, the one that every member of the faithful must kneel down and kiss as a sign of respect upon greeting him.

Called “Il Pescatorio” or the “Fisherman’s Ring,” it’s an official part of the Pope’s regalia.  It was passed down through the centuries to every successor to St. Peter the fisherman, the saint upon whose very bones the Vatican foundation is built.

20071121014546!Annulus_piscatorius

When a Pope dies, the ring is ceremonially removed, and smashed in front of the College of Cardinals by the Camerlengo.  Following conclave, the new Pope is then presented a new gold ring, emblazoned with a personalized brand.

The reason that I’m so curious is that in my novel, The Race, set to be released in the Fall, a terrorist infiltrates the Vatican and removes the Pope’s ring, signifying a ceremonial, albeit tumultuous transition of power.  The intense scene is rife with potential ramifications.

RomaVeneziaCortona2011Uno 091

My question is:  Once Pope Benedict resigns his post, thereby transitioning to Pope Emeritus, what happens to his ring?  Does he continue to wear it, or will it be smashed in accordance with protocol?  Pope Benedict earned his ring once he became top dog, so should he retain it upon retirement? Granted, the new Pope will receive his own ring, but if the Pope Emeritus keeps his ring, will the faithful still continue to kneel before and kiss that one too?   

I’m sure the matter will be clarified sometime prior to the impending conclave, and most certainly thereafter.  In the meantime, whether you’re an expert or you just want to offer up a theory, I’d love to hear what you think…

My Vote for Fresh Ideas

There are 13 days until the United States National Election,

and many of you are planning to vote —

I salute you!

Across the nation, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, proud American patriots will exercise their right to vote for a President, and in some states for a Congressperson or other state office representative.

In addition, 176 ballot questions are certified for voting in 38 states.  Click on the link to determine whether your state has listed any ballot questions.

I urge to you to use the days you have left before Election Day to look up your state’s questions in advance, for 2 reasons:

  1. Understand what you’re voting on.  Take a few minutes to weigh the pros and cons of each ballot question and make an informed decision.  After all, it will affect your future.
  2. If you’re inclined to write fiction as I am, some of these ballot questions provide some juicy fodder for creative writing.

I am not declaring judgement one way or the other on any of the delicate and important issues, but the ramifications (aka story ideas) of many of them are endless.

Consider these examples found in some states :

  • Prescribing Medication to End Life
  • Medical Marijuana
  • Building an International Bridge
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Proof of Citizenship Requirements
  • Grounds for Impeachment
  • Labeling of Genetically-Engineered Food
  • Ending the Death Penalty
  • Casino Gambling
  • Smoking Ban

Ponder the exact questions.  Mull over the pros and cons.  You’ll be surprised how much you learn, and how many ideas these questions might give you for a story, or a scene, or a POV you might not otherwise have considered.

What unusual inspiration has fueled some of your story ideas?

Gina Fava Interview AND Obama/Romney Debate

2 things today:

1.  Presidential Debate Tonight

2.  Author Steven M. Moore Interviews Gina Fava

___________________

About the debate…

Click on the American Flag to learn more about How Presidential Debates Work

No matter your political affiliation, tune in tonight for the Presidential Debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney at 9pm, because if you vote uninformed, then you have no right to complain!

___________________

About the interview…

Visiting a Winery in Montalcino, Italy (research, I swear!)

The other day, I popped over for an interview with friend and colleague, Steven M. Moore.  You may remember that I interviewed him last week, and I published his interview here.  Well, Steve was kind enough to return the favor.  Here’s the link to Steve’s Blog where he shares with his readers what makes Gina Fava tick, and where you can learn more about his latest works.

Here’s the interview in its entirety:

Interview with thriller author Gina Fava…

 As a special treat today, I offer you an interview with fellow thriller author Gina Fava. A Buffalo, NY native, Gina lives in New England with her husband, Jamie, and their two children. A writer of award-winning short stories, Gina Fava is working to publish two novels, The Race and The Sculptor, both suspense thrillers based in Rome, Italy. She’s currently writing her next thrillers in both series. She travels to Italy often to research first-hand the red wines that her characters imbibe. An active member of MWA, ITW, and SinC, Gina’s a thrill-seeking bridge jumper, a Formula One racing fanatic, and a nut for blogging about skeletal recomposition. You can learn more about Gina at her website. Thank you, Gina.

 

1) Why, how, and when did you start writing?

 

I started writing to entertain myself in grade school. In high school, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot blew me away, and his Night Shift short stories prompted me to write to entertain family and friends. It wasn’t until I returned from studying abroad in Italy that I sent my short stories and feature articles out to the rest of the world. I think I needed to experience life a bit before I realized that I had novels clamoring to get out too.

 

2) What is your biggest problem with the writing process. How do you tackle it?

 

Characterization. I love my characters from inception, but it takes some development in their infant stages until I grow close enough to them to appreciate their true personalities.

 

3) Do you feel writing is something you need to do or want to do?

 

Both. Being a writer is a part of who I am.

 

4) Have your personal experiences (or situations) influenced you creatively? If so, how?

 

Yes, in one way or another, my personal experiences always infiltrate the pages of whatever I’m writing. But never more so than in my novel, The Sculptor, in which the main character meets her love interest in much the same way that I met my husband, while studying abroad in Italy, only without the serial killer (that we’re aware of).

 

5) How much of your creative ability do you think is innate and how much is learned?

 

I think everyone is born with a kernel of some innate talent. It’s how one chooses to cultivate it that decides whether it will pop or not.

 

6) What is the last book you read? What are you reading now?

 

Blue Covenant, by Maude Barlow was the last book I read, an excellent resource on the water crisis and water rights. I’m reading Preston and Child’s Still Life with Crows right now. I love anything by Preston and Child.

 

7) Whose writing inspires you the most and why?

 

Stephen King. His characters resonate for me. His style is like comfort food for my soul. Dean Koontz’s description is akin to poetry for me. Their fiction makes me strive to be a better writer. And, King’s On Writing, inspires me to figure out how. [Note from Steve: King’s On Writing is recommended for authors of all levels and all genres.]

 

8) Do you have a favorite genre?

 

Thrillers (especially suspense, historical, horror, and sci-fi thrillers).

 

9) Should writers read in their genre? Should they be avid readers?

 

Writers should always be avid readers, and reading outside their genre helps a writer to see life from a different perspective, which will ultimately give their own writing more depth.

 

10) How do you find your plots?

 

Dreams; headlines; twists on history; what-if extrapolations on real life; my husband’s genius spin on something he learned.

 

11) Are your characters based on real people?

 

Many of my characters are inspired by real people. Most represent an amalgam of bizarre and ordinary attributes peppered with gumption.

 

12) How do you name your characters?

 

I’ve always been enamored with interesting names, real and fictional (like Odd Thomas, Val Kilmer, or Benjarvis Green-Ellis.) I keep a journal of international names and unique words and mash them together until they fit a character’s personality and also reveal something about them. [Note from Steve: Odd Thomas is a famous Dean Koontz character; Mr. Kilmer is the actor who played Jim Morrison, among other roles; and Mr. Green-Ellis was a New England Patriots’ player—now with the Cincinnati Bengals.]

 

13) Which comes first, plot or characters?

 

Every story is different. My ideas start with either a unique character with something to say, or a twisted situation that needs resolution. Eventually, both meet up on page one.

 

14) Any comments about writing dialogue?

 

I love writing dialogue; it’s the flesh of every good story. I strive to convey volumes while using as few words as possible. My tendency is to spill my guts, but the lawyer in me is always trying to reign it in. What ends up in a scene is somewhere in the middle.

 

15) How do you handle POV?

 

 

 

Handling POV is just a matter of discipline. It’s like staying in one lane of a 4-lane highway. At times, you want to change lanes or even catch yourself veering into another lane, but you should never do it without signaling first because you’ll crash.

 

16) Do you find background material for (research) your books? If so, how?

 

Research for me involves Googling key terms and finding books, news articles, and blog posts on the relevant subject matter, and more often than not, I’ll learn something more that gives my original idea more bang for its buck.

 

Sometimes interviews are better than any written resource–a chat with an Army Ranger, or a drive-along with a police officer can provide invaluable insights.

 

Also, I return to Italy often (where my books are often based) and visit first-hand the best places to plant a bomb, abduct a victim, or taint wine.

 

Douglas Preston taught me a great lesson at Thrillerfest a couple of years back: Get into your character’s skin before you write the scene. So, I’ve shot the same guns at a shooting range; I’ve skied off the same Alpine cliffs; and I’ve toured the same wineries that my characters have poisoned. Research gives writing that proverbial edge.

 

[Note from Steve: Douglas Preston is part of the thriller writing team of Preston and Child mentioned earlier…an interesting collaboration, to be sure.]

 

17) Do you use an agent?

 

I’m actively seeking one.

 

18) Do you self-publish or traditionally publish?

 

I’m actively pursuing both.

 

19) What are your most effective marketing techniques?

 

Blogging; Twitter; Facebook; GoodReads; attending writer conferences and workshops; active membership in SinC, ITW, and MWA; attending book signings and launches of fellow authors; guest speaking at cultural events; reading excerpts at open mic events; etc.

 

20) Do you release trade paperbacks or eBooks?

 

I’m open to both.

 

21) What do you think of publishing services like Amazon, Smashwords, etc?

 

I’ve actively evaluating all publishing options.

 

22) What is your favorite place to eat-out?

 

Alden Park–excellent martinis and lettuce wraps.

 

23) What is your favorite drink?

 

It’s a tie between a lemon drop shot and Pinot Grigio Santa Margherita. [Note from Steve: I’ll second the Santa Margherita, especially in Boston’s North End or New York’s Little Italy–or in Italy, of course.]

 

24) What other interests do you have besides writing?

 

Traveling, movies, skiing, reading, political news, attending hockey and basketball games, etc.

 

25) What was the last movie you went to see?

 

Magic Mike

 

26) What would I find in your refrigerator right now?

 

Homemade pasta sauce; homemade chicken soup; homemade apple pie; open-faced pickle/Swiss cheese/rye bread sandwiches (just finished re-watching Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

 

27) If you could trade places with someone for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be?

 

At the moment, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. Her life intrigues me, and she can always chat with the Queen in her robe and slippers.

 

28) What is your favorite (song) and why? Piece of music?

 

“What a Wonderful World,” the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole Hawaiian ukulele version. Because life is too short and far too wondrous not to appreciate it. [Note from Steve: Good advice for us all!]

 

In libris libertas….

____________

Thank you so much, Steve, for the kind and generous interview. I appreciate your friendship, and, like your readers, I’m a fan of your writing advice as well as your talent. And to all of your readers, it’s great to meet all of you!

Is there a question you would have asked Gina Fava?  Is there a question you’d like to put to either debate candidate this evening?  Let me know!

Shark Attack: Top Five List of Shark Entertainment

Paying homage to the Discovery Channel’s 25th Anniversary of Shark Week, I’m offering up my Top Five List of Shark Entertainment.

But first, here’s what’s NOT on the list:

  • A list of the most recent shark sightings off Cape Cod (What media outlet hasn’t jumped the shark on that one?)
  • The episode of Happy Days, where Fonzie jumps the shark
  • Jaws movie sequels (They don’t even come close to the original.)
  • Sharks in Venice (2008, with Stephen Baldwin)–unless you’d like to see what is arguably one of the worst plotted movies ever made
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (2009, Jane Austen, and Ben H. Winters) It doesn’t make the Top 5 because I have not read it, but I’ve been told that Mr. Dashwood gets eaten by a hammerhead shark, so read it at your own peril.  At the very least, click on the link for the sick book trailer.

Top Five List of Shark Entertainment

  1. Jaws (1975)–From the actors, to the director, to the author, to the theme song, to the great lines, to the blood in the water, it’s a true movie classic.
  2. Peter Benchley‘s novels:  Jaws (1974, on which the movie was based); Beast (1991); White Shark (1994, on which a solid TV movie named Creature starring Craig T. Nelson was based); and Creature (1997).  Benchley was an author and an ocean advocate; click on this link for more information.
  3. Deep Blue Sea (1999, with Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Samuel L. Jackson, and LL Cool J)–great movie.
  4. Steve Alten‘s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (1997).  Listened to it as an audiobook; it would make a great movie.  Click on the link to check out a number of other related megalodon shark titles published by Alten.
  5. Shark Spotting:  When you’re done reading this post, and Discovery’s marathon of true shark tales has ended, you may be tempted to go shark spotting on your own.  Aside from getting up close and personal with sharks off the coasts of Australia and Cape Cod, consider spotting these awesome creatures from behind a pane of thick glass.  Check out the gigantic tank at the New England Aquarium in Boston, MA, plus here’s a link to some of the Best Aquariums for Shark Watching in the world, including ones in Las Vegas, California, Japan, and possibly one near you.

That’s just a small bite of the many shark-infested movies and novels that are out there.  I’d love to learn and share more.  What’s your favorite movie or novel about sharks that you just can’t shake off your tail?