Food and Crime in Italy
Patricia Winton and I met when we were on a panel together at Killer Nashville a couple of years ago and have since gotten to know each other better via the wonder of social media, especially Facebook. I am fascinated by her posts about life in Italy and was thrilled when she agreed to share some of her experiences with the readers of Birth of a Novel.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. She first went to Italy more than forty years ago, living first in Tuscany for three years. She has lived in Rome for the past ten. She has picniced on figs and wine among Grecian ruins in Paestum, feasted on wild boar in Bologna, shared a plate of tripe with a complete stranger in a Florentine market, and sampled newborn eel along the Tyrrhenian coast.
Her short story “Feeding Frenzy” appears in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press, 2011). You can read the story by clicking on the title. Caroline Woodlock, an Italian-American journalist covering international culinary scene, and Nino Nardo, a professor of Italian culinary history and traditions, first appear in this story and continue in Patricia’s two works in progress.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy chapter of SinC, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
And now, here’s Patricia:
My stories are set in Italy, and I try to spice my work with glimpses of the culture—the history, the art, the food, the traditions. Sometimes I begin a story with a setting in mind and build around the place. At other times, I lace the story with daily habits, such as the evening pre-dinner stroll that many people take, out seeing and being seen before retiring home for a family meal.
The book I’m working on at the moment takes place in Florence. The city’s museums, monasteries, and other buildings house many renditions of The Last Supper. From the early days of Christianity, the last supper has been a favorite artistic theme, and such frescoes often decorated monastery dining rooms. Some of these monasteries still fulfill their religious purpose while others have been converted to other uses, such as conference centers. Florentine museums hold tapestries and wooden panels devoted to the theme. Lorenzo Ghiberti even worked it into one of the bronze panels on the north door of the Baptistery. I first visited some of these works about 30 years ago.
Italian cuisine is the backdrop for my work. As I began planning this book, I saw connections between the cenacoli (as The Last Suppers are known in Italian) and the story I wanted to tell. I needed to go back to Florence to look at the cenacoli I had viewed earlier and to see others I hadn’t visited in the past. Many of the works are housed in private spaces with limited opening hours and days. Spreading a map, I constructed a chart with opening times and locations.
My friend Margaret, an art historian, and I booked rooms in a convent housing one of the cenacoli. Over the next two and one-half days, we viewed eight of the works. It was quite a pace to keep up because we worked in a bit of shopping and some good dining as well. We missed seeing one of the frescoes because the opening time listed on the website had been changed to another day—after we departed. At the Museo di San Marco, we asked several museum employees how to find the painting. We’d follow the directions only to see an exit ahead. Each time we passed through the gift shop. Finally, we sat down there to rest, and on a wall we’d walked past several times spread out a fantastic work by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
A couple of times, we asked about the best way to get to the AndreadelSartoMuseum at the periphery of the city, but we were always told it was too far. On the last day, Margaret left in the morning, but I took a later train. Leaving my suitcase at the convent, I boarded a bus for a short ride. At the next stop, a woman getting on asked if it was the bus for Piazza San Salvi. My ears perked up—that was the location of the delSarto. “Sì, sì,” said the driver. I stayed on board. At San Salvi, I looked for the museum to no avail. I found an 8th century church, I walked up and down the streets leaving the piazza, and I asked passersby where to find the museum. Nothing.
Now, in Italy the best place for information is at a bar, so I entered one, ordered a cup of espresso, and asked my question. Minutes later, I viewed the jewel in the crown of Florentine cenacoli. It gave me the setting for the opening of my novel. I’m glad I was listening to the Italian being spoken on that bus; otherwise I would have missed it. I’m weaving some of these works of art in the the book I’m writing.
To learn more about this interesting person:
Thank you, Patricia. Reading this is the next best thing to a trip to Italy