Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Recently, a UK magazine asked me to name three things I couldn’t live without, and then relate them to my book. It was a challenge.
I remembered that after my Italian publisher launched The Book of Unholy Mischief with a gorgeous feast in a Venetian palazzo, I convinced myself—briefly—that I would never again be able to live without adulation, a hovering sommelier, and my blue velvet Renaissance gown. But in fact, I groaned with relief when I finally loosened the laces of that bodice, tossed off the heavy tiara, and sank into bed. I’ll take jeans, thanks anyway.
Sometimes I think it might be fun to be one of those women who can’t live without designer clothes, $500 haircuts, and a villa in the south of France but, honestly, I don’t want to bother keeping up with fashion trends or maintaining a second home. The constant dieting, managing the servants…pah!
I truly would not like to live without my comfy writing chair and my new MacBook Air, (sooo skinny) but I could if I had to. I’d also put up a pretty good fight to protect my favorite cotton nightie and a fresh cup of strong coffee in the morning—the coffee is very, very important—but in the end it’s all just stuff. So let’s get real.
Like everyone else, I literally can’t live without food, but not just food to survive. I can’t live without good food. I come from a big Italian family in which good food is the centerpiece of life. To gather without good food is unthinkable. To celebrate or mourn without good food would be a travesty. Bad food is an insult to body and soul. I curse bad food!
No surprise then that The Book of Unholy Mischief is full of delicious, lingering food metaphors. Readers talk about my food descriptions as if they were soft porn, edible panties or some such, because food, like sex, appeals to all the senses—if it’s done right. I’d rather be celibate than have bad sex—all that bother for nothing—and I’d rather skip a meal than eat bad food.
I also can’t live without water, and not just water to quench the thirst but all the water in the world. My skin feels better in slightly humid climates, the sight of large bodies of water calms me, and getting caught in the rain makes me laugh. The tide going in and out reminds me that life has its ups and downs and nothing stays the same, so it’s no good getting too worked up about any of it.
I set my book in Venice because her watery mystery and decaying opulence suits the story, but it was a bonus to be able to write about the sluggish green canals, the salt air, greedy swooping gulls, and lush, well-watered gardens spilling over old, stone walls.
After body and soul are properly sustained by good food and plenty of water, I must have knowledge. Knowledge enriches life and grows exponentially; it has taken us from squatting in caves to sending e-mail. To live without learning is for broccoli and rocks. We learn from those who have gone before and, with any luck, we build on it. One of the characters in my book says, “Civilization is built on the bones of the dead,” which is why I dedicated the book to teachers.
Knowledge means books and I go through them like a drunk with a six-pack. A beloved uncle wrote in my high school yearbook, “Never stop learning.” He was an uneducated man himself, but very wise. He was also the one who fostered my love of reading and writing. Today, I not only read and write books, but my novel, The Book of Unholy Mischief, is about a book.
I hope to die with a dark chocolate truffle in one hand, a bottle of cold water in the other, and my head in a good book. Now that’s living