Some Fun in Seattle

When Eloisa James told me she’d be in Seattle in January for a few days, and invited me to join her there, I immediately set about rearranging my schedule. And since I’m retired, that required almost no work at all. I’ve only been with her twice, once at an RWA conference and when I stayed with her in Paris in 2010. So.

I caught an Amtrak train at an ungodly early hour–my car was full of young women curled up on the seats, and fast asleep. It was like being in a dorm, dark and quiet, and very nice. I had borrowed my dh’s new MP-3 player, and was tuned in to Il Divo while I watched the soggy gray landscape outside the window.

I arrived around noon on January 7 in cold, cloudy, Seattle, and noticed from my hotel room that I had a wonderful view of the Space Needle. That became my afternoon project. Despite my acrophobia, I ventured on the elevator to the top level, and found the viewing gallery and restaurant very comfortable. Everything was so well enclosed that I couldn’t possibly jump. The view was interesting but not fabulous–see above mention of clouds. And there were  skyscrapers not that far away that were considerably taller than my viewpoint. The Space Needle will be 50 this year, and it’s been well-maintained, but a lot of the area surrounding it needs or is involved in urban renewal projects. But the views of the water were wonderful–soothing and serene.

My evening’s treat was shopping and dinner with one of my authors, Stefanie Sloane, who lives in Seattle. I had requested her to scout out a store where I could purchase some of my beloved Mariage Freres teas, and, voila! she took me to Watson Kennedy in the Pike Street Market. The store was filled with foods, toiletries, and other wonderful gift items, lots of them French. As I was paying for several tins of tea, I remarked that Mariage Freres also sold teabags. The guy at the counter said the teabags were at their OTHER store, and gave Stef directions. So we trooped there, and I bought even more tea. Stef led me through several of the most interesting stores in the market. Wow. If I lived in downtown Seattle, it would be a wonderful place to spend time and money. Even this late in the afternoon, hoards of shoppers were still clogging all the stalls. We finally ended up at Cafe Campagne, and had a lovely dinner. We both ordered the same items–a complicated salad and a tart/pizza-like starter, though we did get different desserts. Stef is one of my favorite people to talk to, and we had much catching up to do in the year since we’ve seen each other. Also, she’s a friend of Julia Quinn, and volunteered to ask Julia if she could drive me to the brunch on Sunday, so I didn’t have to wrestle with public transportation to get to Bellevue. And yes, she came through.

Very early Sunday morning, I looked out my window, and there was a fabulous view–the Space Needle, lit up, elegant and graceful, and right next to it, a huge full moon. Then some clouds drifted by, and the view became even more intriguing. My little point-and-shoot camera couldn’t begin to capture this magical scene, but it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

space needle and full moon

So Sunday morning (yes, I cheated and had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel first) I climbed into Julia’s car, found Eloisa already there, and off we went to Via Vita. More treats awaited us there. Connie Brockway was there, and Christina Dodd, and Lisa Kleypas. Wow. Lotsa heavy hitters in the romance world. I had met Julie briefly, years ago, and worked a bit with Connie, also years ago, but had never met Christina and Lisa. Our hostess, Flora, was there with her son and husband, and a fabulous time was had by all. These are some very delightful, interesting, funny women and I had a wonderful time.  I told Connie about my rescue kittens, talked to the host about artichokes, and explained to Christina how I found my name, Franzeca. And the food was great, too. Much appreciation for the potatoes fried in duck fat.

After brunch, we trooped, well, drove, but half the party became hopelessly lost and arrived via Idaho, methinks, to the University of Washington Bookstore in Bellevue. As a Eugene Duck, I was slightly uneasy surrounded by all the purple Husky gear, but the bookstore staff were welcoming and competent. Folks had already started to arrive before us, and soon there was an appreciative, happy crowd of readers that asked questions, shared laughs, and expressed their enjoyment of these authors and their books. After an hour of Q&A, the book signing began. I, always a bureaucrat, found a job helping Christina’s assistant fill out the tickets for the drawing. It was all so successful that they ran out of books. One sad attendee, driving all the way from Montana, had the wrong time, and arrived at 3:30 for what she thought was a 4 pm. event (actually, that’s when it ended.) The authors fussed over her, and found some extra books for her to take home. whew. Being famous is exhausting. Even being close to someone famous is tiring, and after Christina kindly drove me back to my hotel, I spent the evening watching “The Good Wife” and went to bed. Early.

The next morning was my breakfast date with Eloisa. I arrived at her hotel, bearing a box of her favorite teabags, and over fancy egg dishes we caught up with personal news, future adventures, and The Ugly Duchess, her WIP that I’m having so much fun with right now. Connie joined us, for breakfast and talk, and it was great to reconnect with both of them. Just as we finished breakfast and were heading out to the lobby, Julia Quinn showed up. So those three went upstairs to work on the second book of The Lady Most Likely and I walked down to the water, and back to my hotel, to prepare for my trip home and another lovefest with Il Divo on Amtrak.

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Cleveland, September

Over the summer I read the wonderful book by David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, dealing in part with the huge numbers of Americans, especially medical and art students, who ended up in Paris to pursue their education and hone their craft, as the very young United States had no real facilities for them in the early 19th Century. One of the artists that particularly caught my attention was Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Irish-born sculptor who began his career carving cameos. So I was totally thrilled to learn that Cleveland has not one, but TWO of his sculptures, and immediately informed my hostess Ann that I had to find both of them.

And yesterday I had my wish. First, we found the statue of Marcus Alonzo Hanna in a traffic roundabout, and I was so pleased to see the name:

HPIM0330.jpg image by zecainfrance

You can also read the date, 1907. That was the year Saint-Gaudens died, so I presume this is one of his last works.  And this is what the statue itself looks like:

HPIM0332.jpg image by zecainfrance

Perhaps not the most glamorous of subjects for such an inspiring sculptor, but Ann and I found much to admire-the individual pages of the books he held, the tailoring of his coat, the size of his hands, the perfect shape of his fingernails.  Hanna had been a prominent politician, and opponent of Teddy Roosevelt, and not entirely a statesman in his political dealings–some feel Karl Rove has adapted his general tactics, but he was certainly a man of power and influence in Cleveland. But I was totally pleased to find the statue. It was also fun that Ann was seeing it for the first time, too.

Then across the lawn, and the little lake, to the Cleveland Museum of Art for another Saint-Gaudens. Here’s my less-than-fabulous photos of the fabulous sculpture:

HPIM0338.jpg image by zecainfrance

The title is “Amor Caritas” (it’s also on the tablet the angel is holding) and addresses the difference between romantic, sexual love and a more general, idealistic, universal love. Look at the angel’s wings, framing the entire upper half of the carving. Again, much to admire in toe- and fingernails. I was especially drawn to the pre-Raphaelite strong, asexual beauty of the angel’s face, though I admit to being mystified by the garland of floppy daisies around his (her?) neck and waistline. I felt like I’d won the sweepstakes when I found it. What a total treat.

McCullough also discussed the stellar career of painter John Singer Sargent, and there was one of his paintings in the same room as the angel. Here’s a portrait of another type of angel:

HPIM0339.jpg image by zecainfrance

This was painted to commemorate the model’s wedding; they were both friends of Sargent. I’m sorry it’s so tiny, but it was the best I could do at the time.

Ann and I have a “Regency Hero” game, looking for portraits of men handsome and dashing (and time-appropriate) to be on the cover of a Regency Romance. She was very excited to show me this wonderful portrait of Jean Halford David by Thomas Sully. Jean was a young Frenchman (only 21, and I think this painting was done to celebrate his marriage) who was a lieutenant in the US Army during the war of 1812, and serving as a paymaster.

What Ann pointed out, and I, and my dh agree, is that the model bears a striking resemblence to my own very handsome son. Wow. I wouldn’t have seen it, but now it seems obvious.

Before we made it to the Art Museum, we had made a quick stop at the University Circle United Methodist Church. It’s a wonderful Gothic structure, with an improbable but perfect skylight. The church had been finished in 1927, and I had to get a couple photos of some very art-deco angels, perhaps beginning my angel quest of the afternoon.HPIM0336.jpg image by zecainfrance

HPIM0335.jpg image by zecainfrance

After all this art, we were in need of sustenance, and retired to Presti’s in the Little Italy neighborhood of Cleveland. Wow. It is SO HARD to choose between a square of tiramisu, or a chocolate cannoli, or lemon square, or any of the utterly fabulous offerings they had. Tough decisions were eventually made. A perfect end to a wonderful adventure.

Interview with moi…

My trip to France last year was with Elderhostel, (aka Road Scholar) a way-cool non-profit that organizes wonderful trips all over the world. Originally structured just for seniors, the parameters kept shifting, and now some of the most alluring trips are aimed at seniors and their grandchildren. (I can’t wait. No. I can.) There is a definite educational aspect to the tours, and local experts are available at each stop to accompany the tourists. The group I was with was fabulous. My fellow travelers were intelligent, educated, funny, articulate, and engaged. They were always up for new adventures (though, truth to tell, the risk factors for seniors in Southwest France probably top out at shaky stone castle steps.)
 
So when Road Scholar had a contest: send a photo and answer some questions, of course I entered. The photo I sent was this one:
 
Maison Drouin
 
That’s me in front of the house in Normandy where my ancestor, Robert Drouin, was born in 1607. I figured the house would make me a winner. And it did. So in January, I met at the University of Oregon Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art with Lisa Teso, a Portland photographer, and she took many photos of me. Then we went off to my house and she took photos of Lucy and Bubba, my Norwegian Forest Kittens. Here’s my favorite photo of them: (to say they were uncooperative doesn’t begin to address it.) 
 
here’s a link to a wonderful photo of me that Lisa took:
 
So my photo and a short interview were published in the most recent Road Scholar brochure of international programs. The full interview was on the website, and I’ve copied it here. Enjoy.
 
As a freelance researcher and editor for authors of historical fiction, Franzeca Drouin can, as she puts it, help “select the proper carriage for a dowager, compose an authentic menu for a dinner for the Prince Regent, furnish a duke’s bedroom (in London or his country estate) or arrange an elopement to Gretna Green.” As a student of history, Franzeca chooses to explore the world with Road Scholar. We asked her a little more about her experiences as a Road Scholar participant.
Q: Why do you choose to learn with Road Scholar?
A: I want to submerge myself in a culture, its language, its cuisine, its art and architecture, and especially, its history. I love learning how a culture develops and evolves. I find it incomparably rewarding to study the artifacts of a society, in situ, while living amid the current citizens of that culture.
Q: Describe your favorite memory from a Road Scholar program.
A: The day on Southwest France when we visited the cave paintings, at Lascaux 2 and at Rouffignac. That evening found us at our favorite restaurant in Sarlat, feasting, practicing our French on the reluctant waiter and sipping the local walnut wine. We had an impassioned discussion of the cave paintings. We had been deeply and thoroughly moved by the experience, and it was made infinitely more precious in the sharing.
 
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned on a Road Scholar program?
A: As a history student, I felt utterly compelled to visit every old church that I found. The varieties of architecture never failed to delight me. For instance, the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, basically a rectangle, totally blew my mind, and it did the same for my fellow participants when we visited it together. The Spanish pilgrims singing multi-part hymns while we were there enhanced the experience. The 12th century untouched church of St. Leon in St. Leon sur Vézère was entirely different, though just as fascinating. Then, finding the mighty cathedral of St. Front in Perigueux on my last day in France brought the magnificent adventure to a satisfying end.
 
Q: We offer 8,000 learning adventures in all 50 states and 90 countries around the world. If you could pick just one of those programs, what would it be? Why that one? Why does that program speak to you?
A:As a medievalist, I would be thrilled to visit and explore any medieval site in Europe. So, for me, almost every Road Scholar program in Europe sounds absolutely fabulous. I find visiting ancient churches an especially moving experience: the cathedrals are the epicenter of the historical, artistic, and spiritual heritages of medieval society. Most of the cathedrals are still cherished, lovingly preserved, and completely accessible. Even recent changes or deterioration of the fabric of the building is a record of history’s progress within the culture.If I had to pick one program, it would be Walking the Hill Towns of Umbria. My husband doesn’t share my passion for history, but he would enjoy long walks in beautiful Italy and authentic Italian meals, while observing Italian life, and people, and cars, on the route. If he could find a local soccer game to watch, he would be in utter bliss.
 
Q: Outside of Road Scholar programs, how do you like to challenge your mind?
A: I’m a freelance researcher and editor for authors of historical romance novels, and my authors find ways to challenge my mind on a daily basis. Currently, I am researching early 19th century contagions in England, medical training in France in 1800 and Georgian kitchens. I find the research utterly fascinating, and it’s very rewarding to see how cleverly my authors have integrated the information I’ve provided into their books.

Regency Hero 2

As you might know from another post or two, I am a total Il Divo fan. Just love those boys. But they haven’t come out with an album for almost three years. There is an album coming out later this year, but it’s been a long vacation for them, and a difficult wait for their fans. The American Divo, David Miller, has spent his free time wisely. He married his long-time sweetie and occasional singing partner, Sarah-Joy Kabanuck, in August, 2009. And he’s still singing. Here’s a photo of him as Tamino, the delightful hero of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which he’s performing with the Michigan Opera Theatre in April. I almost had my friend Ann in Cleveland talked into taking a road trip to Detroit to see him, but reality intruded, including the fact that I’m stuck in Oregon.

Tenor David Miller and soprano Katherine Whyte in Michigan Opera Theatre's "The Magic Flute."

The lucky soprano is Katherine Whyte. Isn’t he gorgeous? ahhh! And he sounds as good as he looks.

Tracey Devlyn

Last year, author Tracey Devlyn asked me to help her with some research. She had a group of international spies she was trying to find a home for, either in the War Office or the Foreign Office. We spent quite a bit of time digging around, and found Elizabeth Sparrow’s book Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792-1815 and a couple of Sparrow’s articles on the same subject (annotated in my History Resource section.) Tracey decided she’d have her rascally group of British agents working out of the Alien Office, the historic hush-hush command center for British spies in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. It was totally fascinating, and I could see how wonderfully this would work in a romance. Which, of course, left me very curious to see how Tracey wove this intriguing information into her story. So I was totally pleased when Tracey asked me last month if I would help her with A Lady’s Revenge, her first book chronicling the operations of Nexus, a clandestine group committed to thwarting Napoleon’s dreams of empire. “Romancing History, One Defiant Woman at a Time” is the irresistible series tagline on Tracey’s website.
 
My professional, restrained, response to Tracey’s invitation was, basically, “GIMME!!! Toute de Suite!” Tracey obliged, and I am very pleased to report that A Lady’s Revenge is an excellent book. Tracey has assembled an amazing collection of characters, and is letting them tell their stories in true page-turner fashion. Tracey also has a profound knack for exquisite poetic images, though I can’t tell you my favorite because it’d be a spoiler. Too bad. You’ll just have to read the book, which is due for publication next April. You’ll be glad you did.
 
In addition, Tracey has invited me to blog at Romance University later this summer. I’m already pondering what I’ll write about. I know it will include something about my oldest reference book, which is 200 years old this year. Stay tuned.

Mr. Darcy, I presume?

This week I met with my dear friend Ann and her mother at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. This was only my second trip to the Festival, which is truly appalling. I stayed at the Ashland Hostel, a delightful spot, if a little close to the main road, and we managed two plays and one lecture in under 48 hours. The first night we saw a stage version of Pride and Prejudice. And loved it. The entire dialogue seemed to be straight from the book. Settings were simple, with cast members, mostly servants and soldiers, bringing in a few pieces of furniture to change a scene, and one lovely costume for each character, with traveling cloaks, gloves, bonnets to change with the scene. This minimum of visual distraction meant the focus was on the words and the characters, just as it should be. All the characters looked and played the part. For once, Charles Bingley looked and acted exactly right. I loved the Gardiners, as I always do. The Gardiners and Lizzie, moving in unison to mimic the motion in a carriage, was a wonderful bit of theater.

And Darcy. Gorgeous. Fuming. Restless. Sexy. Swarthy skin, dark flashing eyes, lots of dark curls, impressive sideburns, Ann and I were swooning in our seats. He added a swirling traveling coat for one scene, and we were riveted. Instead of simply handing Eliza the famous letter, he recited it to her as she read along, and we listened as if we didn’t know it almost as well as he did.

 

Fast forward to the next day. We had emerged from our lecture, and were debating the plan of action: first lunch, then the gift shop, or reverse the order. While we dithered, I noticed a most attractive man sitting on a low wall a dozen feet from us talking to another man. hmmm. I noticed the bulky shoulders in a worn T-shirt, long legs emerging from shorts. more hmmm. Then I frantically started clutching Ann’s sleeve–“Look! It’s him! It’s the actor who plays Mr. Darcy!!” Ann stared at the dark curls, the sideburns, and agreed. I didn’t have my camera, and she grabbed for her cell phone, and decided, “Let’s just look. And remember. We don’t need a photo.” The actor, Elijah Alexander, in the meantime, gathered up his papers, finished his conversation, and scampered away, across the street and through a doorway. But we knew. We were that close to him. OMG, indeed. Maybe we should have curtseyed. OMG.

Kittens!

We have two new residents at our house. I’m not sure “resident” is the best word; surely, the term used should indicate the master/servant relationship that we have entered into.

In March, we had to have our elderly tortie kitty put down. After a long and very happy life, sweet Tesorita developed a couple of very problematic conditions, and we had to cope with dealing with her long-distance. Our house sitter was extraordinarily supportive and patient, but we finally had to make the call that This Was It. And we mourned, deeply. But on the day we picked up her corpse at the vet’s, we learned that a former playmate of my son’s had died of a heroin overdose at age twenty-one. An event like that puts the death of an elderly, ailing much-loved kitty in perspective. The latter is sad; the former is truly tragic.

Soon, I was thinking of a new feline in the house. I thought about getting a young adult, a year or so, as there seem to be plenty of those who need homes. But my husband was adamant: he wanted kittens, so he could raise them properly, and he wanted two. I thought it was an utterly fabulous idea, and set out on my search.

The kittens were born in Fall Creek, Oregon, to a young cat that had been abandoned in the country, and found shelter living under a cabin. A young woman, the daughter of a friend’s co-worker, adopted that cat and another also living under the house. The kittens, four girls, were born April 11. I put in a request for twins, and received photos of two adorable tabbies.

Photobucket

The kittens came to live with us in mid-June, and we were instantly and totally smitten. My son was tasked with naming them, and, showing his lack of religious training, chose two devilish names, and they received the nicknames Lucy and Belle. During the first trip to the vet’s, we found out that Belle needed a new name, and he became Bubba. They are now almost 4 1/2 months old, very active, very affectionate, very, very adorable. Last night Bubba was visiting my husband in bed, and climbed under the covers and attacked certain body parts. Bubba was banished back to the laundry room.

exhausted

Bubba is bigger than Lucy, chunky and good-natured, with a wonderful tennis-ball sized tummy. Lucy is long and very thin, with a triangular, bony, face. She has a big appetite and lots of energy, but remains skinny. She is extremely affectionate, and loves to sleep on a pillow next to my laptop. I think she likes to listen to Il Divo, too.

Lucy in the wild

On the second trip to the vet’s, the technician announced that they were part Norwegian Forest Cat, pointing out the fans of fur covering their ears and their big feet. We found that enchanting, too, and point out any obvious trait to support the theory of the exotic parentage–Bubba likes heights, his tail is getting long and elegant; Lucy has a lovely long coat of outer hairs.

Bubba's stuck!

So look at the photos here, and some more linked to my photobucket site from here. Don’t you agree? Aren’t they utterly enchanting? Friends often stop by to hold and cuddle them. They agree: just perfect.