I always have fun with my yearly “Let’s cast my latest book as a movie!” blog post. But with my Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” I have a particular dilemma not faced before with any of my other books: there have been a LOT of movies already about the Borgias. Who to cast when so many have been cast already? Here’s my version, a mixture of old faces and new:
IL PAPA BORGIA
His Holiness the Borgia Pope has been played, among others, by John Doman and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons was excellent as always, but a bit too languid and refined for the explosive Rodrigo Borgia (in my opinion). John Doman was better, but that flat L.A. accent . . . I think I’ll go with Sergi Lopez, who not only can play both sensual and scary (“Him and Her,” “Labyrinth of Pan”) but is a Catalan Spaniard just like the Borgia Pope. Rodrigo’s Spanish pride, Spanish temper, and Spanish enjoyment in life’s sensual pleasures were defining traits.
Giulia La Bella was sweet, bubbly, petite, voluptuous, and extravagantly blond, so in the Showtime series she was portrayed as a moody redhead (Lotte Verbeek), and on the European series as a bitchy brunette (Marta Gastini). I’m going with Holliday Grainger, who played Lucrezia in the Showtime series. But doesn’t she look quite a lot more like the alleged Raphael portrait of Giulia Farnese? And after three seasons of watching her on The Borgias, we know she can show both sweetness and steel.
Giulia’s bodyguard is a dwarf, which does limit the question of who can play him. I wouldn’t want to shrink an actor down with CGI; dwarfism poses limits on the body–and on Leonello’s character–which are critical to his particular brand of cynicism, idealism, and courage. Peter Dinklage is the too-obvious choice, but he’s busy playing Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones.” Let’s find another fabulous actor with dwarfism and give him a great role as my knife-throwing butt-kicking dwarf with the love of books and the biting tongue.
My secondary heroine is a tall skinny Sicilian girl; a professional chef with a knife up her sleeve, a pocket full of secrets, and a biting tongue. How about Coral Amiga, who not only has the perfect sharp-edged face, frizzy curls, and lanky frame, but showed serious chops on “Rome” as Kevin McKidd’s embittered eldest daughter.
There’s nobody to play Cesare Borgia but Francois Arnaud. His sexy, sinister Showtime stint as history’s ultimate bad boy puts all others in the shade.
Lucrezia goes from twelve to seventeen, so we need an actress who can play both innocent child and sophisticated young wife. Kaitlyn Dever fills the bill–on “Justified” she plays a pretty but cynical fourteen-year-old, and nearly steals the show from Timothy Olyphant. Blond her up a bit and she’ll be a great Lucrezia.
David Oakes was Juan Borgia in the Showtime series, and he was fantastic: vicious, handsome, ultimately pathetic. No need to mess with a good thing here.
Jonathan Jackson would work as Giulia’s pretty but weak-willed husband. Orsino Orsini is just the type who would have a soul patch and no spine.
Not only is Eddie Redmayne a true ginger with plenty of freckles, just like Carmelina’s chef protege Bartolomeo, but he can play younger than his years. Good for a teenage apprentice who bides his time on his crush until he’s eighteen, then mounts a campaign to sweep his 7-year-older lady off her feet.
So, that’s my fantasy cast for my mythical movie. If you’ve read my Borgia duology and have your own casting ideas, I’m all ears!
I’m a foodie at heart–you can always count on there being delicious food in my books. (And the best part about fictional food? Zero calories!) My Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose” has the most mouth-watering food out of anything I’ve written, because one of my heroines is a chef: Carmelina, a tart-tongued girl with near-magical skill in the kitchen, who has the job as maestra di cucina for the Borgia Pope’s mistress.
Serving under her is teenage apprentice Bartolomeo Scappi, a historical figure who will grow up and become one of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance–his cookbook is still in print today! Now, it’s a curious thing that most of the world’s mega-chefs tend to be men, but ask any of them how they learned to cook, and it’s always a female name that comes out. (Most usually “Mom” or “Grandma.”) So when I leafed through Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook, I asked myself “Who taught him all this?” And the answer presented itself: “I’ll bet it was a woman.”
Fortunately we know very little about Bartolomeo’s beginnings, when he was born, or where he trained, so I was free to invent Carmelina as the girl who teaches the greatest culinary genius of the Renaissance everything he knows. When these two get together in a kitchen, sparks fly, knives are sometimes hurled, and magic happens–along with a lot of great food!
When “The Serpent and the Pearl” was released, I put together a virtual pot-luck with six fabulous food bloggers who combed the book for recipes and trooped off to their kitchens. The results were mouth-watering, and I know we had to host a re-match for “The Lion and the Rose.” Today I’m joined by Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her
recent smash-hit novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads: the Roman-style tenderloin Bartolomeo makes when Carmelina’s stuck in a convent with the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia.
Island Vittles: the candied nuts which all the Borgias are constantly snacking on as they plot. And as a bonus? The fried tubers from the New World, which feature heavily in a scene my readers have taken to calling simply �the aphrodisiac potato scene.�
Little White Apron: the salad of blood orange, fennel, and olives served to the Duke of Gandia, and the beef en brochette served at a very illicit Vatican party.
Lost Past Remembered: the fish pie flavored with oranges, nutmeg and dates which Bartolomeo whips up after changing Carmelina’s menu behind her back (and boy, does he get in trouble for that!)
Taking On Magazines did TWO posts! The venison in cream and brandy sauce served after Juan Borgia’s latest hunt, and the tortellini with basil and parsley filling with which Bartolomeo hopes to woo Carmelina.
Between The Sheets: the endives stuffed with cheese and drizzled in olive oil which are served at the Menagerie Masquerade Ball, and the pastries layered with honey and blood oranges on which Lucrezia nibbles while waiting for a divorce.
As for me, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a recipe from Chapter 17 of “The Lion and the Rose:” a walnut and pecorino cheese tourte Carmelina muses on to keep herself sane during a dull period stuck in a convent.
From the book:
“Three eggs, whisked together with a mixture three parts sugar to two parts strawberry honey,” I recited aloud as I swept the convent courtyard. “Add two cheeses, a soft sheep’s milk cheese and a very fresh pecorino cheese from Pienza, and then a double handful finely chopped walnuts . . .” The lay sisters were supposed to recite their prayers as they went about their work–a rosary, or perhaps an Act of Contrition if they were feeling guilty about anything. I recited recipes.
This is a recipe I got from a little volume of Vatican recipes through the ages, and supposedly dates from the days of Pope Pius II. Given that a handful of walnuts and a hunk of cheese are just about my favorite snack of all time, I was intrigued by the idea of putting them together in a pie, and dying to tackle this for the virtual potluck! I made a few modifications to the ingredients–Wegman’s does not carry strawberry honey–but the result is still delicious: a sort of early-Renaissance version of a classic cheesecake. The texture is identical, and the flavor mild and nutty, the saltiness of the pecorino melting into the honey and sugar. If you would like a bolder flavor, dust the top of your tourte with cinnamon instead of powdered sugar. The perfect holiday dessert for that one family member who isn’t big on sweets.
Serves 12 — Prep time 30 minutes — Cooking time 55 minutes, plus at least 2 hours for chilling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/3 cup very fresh grated pecorino cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
12 egg whites, whipped stiff (to avoid the mess of breaking 12 eggs, just use those egg whites that come in cartons for low-fat omelets)
Whole walnuts and powdered sugar or cinnamon, for garnish
Pre-made pie shell or short-crust pastry of your choice
1. Whipping egg whites into peaks takes both time and muscle if done by hand. If you don’t have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god (Carmelina does), then use a stand mixer and get your egg whites beating with a whisk attachment as you prepare the rest of the pie. If you do have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god, what on earth are you doing in the kitchen?
2. Make your pie-crust if you are making from scratch (use a pre-made shell if you’re low on time). Either way, pop the crust into the oven at 325 degrees and do a pre-bake for a few minutes, so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom crust once filling is added.
3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and honey in a large bowl.
4. Gradually add the pecorino cheese, ricotta, flour, and chopped walnuts, and blend together. When egg whites have been whisked stiff, add bit by bit to the walnut and cheese mixture, and blend.
5. Give mixture one final stir (the nuts will want to sink to the bottom) and then pour into pie shell. There will be enough for two pies.
6. Bake 55 minutes at 325 degrees, checking frequently toward the end. You want a nice golden top, not a burned blistered pie.
7. Let cool, sift with powdered sugar, and decorate with whole walnuts. Chill thoroughly before eating.
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Theresa, Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, and Deana – thank you all so much!
My secondary heroine from “The Serpent and the Pearl” is usually very tough to track down–as a working girl (cook to the Borgia Pope!) she’s always on the move and on the job. But now she’s at loose ends, and consented to be interviewed!
Carmelina: Ask as many questions as you want. As long as we’re held captive here, I haven’t got anything to cook.
Me: You know how many readers accused you of ruining their diets?
Carmelina: Diet? What’s that?
Me: It’s when people swear off butter or cream or pasta.
Carmelina: Why would anybody ever do that? Swear off pasta? Pasta is delicious!
Me: Well, it’s fattening. People stop eating it so they can be thinner.
Her: Who wants to be thin? My mistress Giulia Farnese is the most renowned beauty in Rome, and she’s a solid size 14 in your sizing charts.
Me: Jesus, I wish I lived in the Renaissance.
Her: No, you don’t. I’m the best cook in Rome, and I don’t even get paid for it because I’m a woman.
Me: Fair point. So, how are you faring in captivity?
Her: Madonna Giulia has managed to keep the French from raping us all, God bless her. If she can hold them off a few more days, the Pope should have us all ransomed and home. Can’t be soon enough for me.
Me: Leonello said that you . . .
Her: That little bastard talked about me?
Me: A little. He said he knows things about you . . .
Carmelina: How dare he!
Me: Look, I’m your creator. Believe me, I already know all your secrets. What people really want to know is this–are you really planning to poison Leonello before he outs you? Because you were looking pretty determined . . .
Ok, Carmelina just stomped out. Looks like you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see if she put hemlock in our hero’s wine or not!
My “Lion and the Rose” hero is still flat on his back on a stretcher, but he consented to an interview. 😀
Leonello: Consented, hah. You cornered me, woman. It’s not exactly like I can run away when I’m full of broken bones.
Me: Yes, I’m sorry about that.
Leonello: Nothing to do with you. I’m a bodyguard and I defended my charge, simple as that. My own decision, I assure you.
Me: Well, I am your creator.
Leonello: As if you ever made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
Me: Fair point. How are you feeling?
Leonello: Like a French army stamped all over me. Which it did. I’m probably dying.
Me: Surely not . . .
Leonello: If the blood loss doesn’t kill me, the cook probably will. She hates me.
Me: What did you do to her?
Leonello: Carmelina? I know a few things about her that could make life very uncomfortable. I may have rubbed it in, when I pointed that out.
Me: Was that entirely necessary?
Leonello: Just because I am small does not mean I am cute, kind, or cuddly.
Me: No, it certainly doesn’t. Not only do you have a tongue like a razor, you kick a surprising amount of butt for a person of reduced height
Leonello: Dwarf. Call it what it is.
Me: We’re more politically correct in this century.
Leonello: Dio, I don’t even want to know what that is. Am I done now?
“The Lion and the Rose: a novel of the Borgias” releases in just three days! Usually I’m nervous for my release days, but this time around I just can’t wait. Because this book is sequel to “The Serpent and the Pearl,” which came out last August and ended on just a leetle bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m delighted that this time around, I didn’t have to leave my readers hanging for too long. (I really am sorry, “Empress of the Seven Hills” fans.)
And my three main characters of “The Serpent and the Pearl” were all in a very tight spot on the last page–captured by the French army, with their lives very literally on the line! Over the next few days I’ll be interviewing each of my characters here on my blog as a promo. Today let’s welcome Giulia Farnese, mistress to the Borgia Pope and currently a French captive when she got waylaid by an invading army on her way home from a family visit . . .
Giulia: Do you have any of that stuff called chocolate which you introduced me to at our last interview? You left me in a very bad place, sticking me with the French between books, and frankly if a girl ever earned an out-of-her-century treat, it’s me.
Me: Yes, of course. Try a Snicker’s bar, you’ll love it.
Giulia: Thank you. I always eat when I’m being held hostage.
Me: I truly am sorry about leaving you in enemy hands for five months . . .
Giulia: Oh, that’s all right. It’s not as long as five months in my world. Snickers, why is it called that? Nothing to snicker about, being a French captive. They’re pigs.
Me: Are they really?
Giulia: Well, they’ve been relatively nice once they realized what Rodrigo–
Me: Can you tell the readers who that is, for the ones who didn’t read the first book?
Giulia: Rodrigo Borgia. His Holiness, Pope Alexander VI. I’m his mistress.
Me: Wow. Our current pope, um–well, he’s a little different. I don’t really know what would happen if he came out and told the world “Hi, I have a twenty-two year old girlfriend with floor-length hair.”
Giulia: Maybe he’d be more relaxed. It’s a very tiring job, being Pope.
Me: Well, anyway. The French?
Giulia: They’ve been relatively nice to me once they realized what the Holy Father would pay to get me back.
Me: So you’re going home?
Giulia: On page 1. God knows if it’ll be in time to save my bodyguard, though. Leonello, his name is, and he nearly killed himself protecting me–the French beat him so badly. I’m making them pay for it.
Giulia: I’ve acted like an utter haughty bitch ever since they captured me. I’m normally quite an easy-going sort of person, but I’ve been complaining and pitching fits for that French general ever since he laid hands on me. He’ll be quite glad to see the back of me, I assure you.
Me: Sounds like you have things well in hand, then. Good luck, Giulia!
Giulia: Can you do me a favor? Pray for my bodyguard. I’m going to be all right–I just want to get home to Rodrigo, who isn’t nearly as frightening as people seem to think all the Borgias are. But I really don’t know if Leonello’s going to live or not.
Me: I could tell you, but that would spoil the surprise. Thanks for dropping by!
“Write what you know” is probably some of the worst advice for writers ever. Even authors of modern-day fiction have their problems with that old chestnut. Tom Clancy may have set all his books in the same 20th century America in which he lived, but he didn’t write about writers, he wrote about spec-war operatives, even if he’d never been one. And historical novelists do a special kind of hair-tearing when we hear “Write what you know” because we really don’t know what we write about. No amount of research will make me know what it’s like to watch prisoners die in the Colosseum, and Margaret George will never know what it’s like to be Helen of Troy either, and that didn’t stop either of us from writing about it anyway.
I sometimes like to think “Write WHO you know” instead. As long as I can remember, I’ve indulged in an idle game called “When Should They Have Been Born?” Any serious fan of historical fiction harbors the conviction from time to time that we were really born in the wrong century. So whenever I was bored to tears in class, or weekly meetings, or family gatherings (which was most of the time), I’d go around the room deciding what century everybody really belonged in, according to their personality. And boy, did the book ideas start flowing.
My acerbic librarian mother who prefers dogs, books, and herbs to the company of people? A Benedictine nun in medieval England, brewing up herbal tinctures and illuminating manuscripts and breaking her vow of silence to coo at the dog she isn’t supposed to keep in her monastic cell. A great character for a Middle Ages novel.
My husband, a Navy sailor who’d have made a great Viking raider, swinging a sword over one shoulder and taking his longship out to the edge of the known world and never, ever getting seasick. A made-to-order hero for an epic battles-and-blood Norse tale.
My long-deceased feminist grandmother with her paisley scarves and her wry wit: a born reformer who should have been a 1912 suffragette. She’d be chaining herself to the railing of Number 10 Downing Street and going on hunger strike at Holloway Prison; a dowager in a fabulous hat and a Votes For Women banner who could have mentored Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey.
My much-tattooed kickboxing instructor has a streak of benign sadism that could definitely have belonged to a Roman centurion . . . my other grandmother is one of those Depression-era Steinbeck matriarchs in black and white who keeps her family together through disaster after disaster . . . my jazz musician father could have doubled for a handsome court musician under Empress Maria Theresa . . . how many book ideas have I gotten, just from looking around at a family gathering or a gym class?
Now, I may not end up writing all those books. I don’t really see myself writing a blood-and-battle Viking epic, largely because Bernard Cornwell with his Saxon Stories (among many others) has already covered it so well. But sometimes you do get a solid book idea out of a real person. Case in point, my husband’s grandmother: a fiery Sicilian whose cooking could make angels weep, and who would absolutely smack you on the head with a wooden spoon and threaten excommunication if you committed the crime of breaking the pasta into the pot instead of folding it. I had a eureka moment and transplanted her personality more or less intact to Renaissance Italy. My husband’s grandma ended up personal chef to the Borgia Pope in my last book–and she may be in her nineties now in the 21st century, but she’s absolutely tickled to think that in some alternate life she got to cook for a Pope, defraud a convent, and have a one-night stand with Cesare Borgia.
Don’t write what you know–write who you know. Look around you at the next boring board meeting or family gathering. What century do these people really belong in? Maybe you’ll find the hero of your next historical novel.
I don’t know about you, but I adore food blogs. I’ve got an entire list that I
drool over follow. And the fun part is how food and books are mixing these days: food bloggers are hitting the pages, cooking favorite recipes out of food-heavy books and blogging about it.
So when I wrote my own food-heavy book, I knew I had to at least try to set up a virtual pot-luck. I never dreamed the result would be so mouth-watering: six fabulous food-bloggers dove into “The Serpent and the Pearl” in search of recipes. Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her upcoming debut novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads – The crostata of summer peaches that Carmelina is making when Juan Borgia decides to make a pass at her. (Big mistake: cooks always have cleavers on hand.)
Island Vittles – The tourte of sweet cheese and Genovese onions that Carmelina cooks for Giulia’s wedding feast.
Little White Apron – The baked apples that Carmelina serves Giulia the morning after her wedding, and the capon with garlic, coriander and white wine that is her favorite chicken recipe.
Lost Past Remembered – The shoulder of wild boar that Carmelina ponders serving a visiting archbishop.
Taking On Magazines – The sugared biscotti that form a staple munchie throughout the book, and the elderflower fritters Giulia tries to make (and ends up nearly destroying Carmelina’s kitchen)
Between The Sheets – The asparagus zuppa and the zabaglione which Carmelina’s apprentice Bartolomeo whips up on a country trip to impress her.
As for me, I donned my sous chef apron and did a lot of “Oui, chef” fetching and carrying from the fridge as my husband (he’s the culinary genius of the family) tackled a recipe from Chapter 2 of The Serpent and the Pearl:
Hot Sops With Cherries
From the book:
It’s a bit tricky, knowing what to send up to the bride’s chamber the morning after her wedding . . . If you hear giggling and whispering through the door, you send up something light than can be eaten by two, preferably fed to each other with the fingers while making a great deal of mess that can be kissed away with more giggles. A hot sop with morello cherries works well–strips of butter-fried bread and a dipping sauce of cherries and sugared wine always goes down a treat with hungry young lovers.
This is a recipe I got direct from that classic Renaissance cookbook “L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi.” Hot sops are a dish that has gone out of fashion in the modern era: toasted bread with some kind of dipping sauce that could be meat-based or fruit-based; sweet or savory. It was a popular Renaissance snack, and a staple food for those who had trouble eating (the old, the ill, the very young). Happily, this dish is just as delicious in the 21st century for gourmets of any age. The cherries are both sweet and spicy, and the bread fries up crisp and mouth-watering. Carmelina is right: this is a dish to be shared between two, with kisses in between bites.
Serves 2 — Prep: 15 minutes
1 can cherries in water (NOT cherry pie filling)
4 slices good fresh-baked artisan bread
1 cup red wine
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1. Butter the bread slices on both sides, and fry in a skillet over medium heat, flipping once. Set aside.
2. Reduce heat to medium. Drain the cherries and add to a medium saucepan (we improvised with a wok) and add the wine plus 4 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid reduces down to thick syrupy texture, adding more sugar or spices to taste.
4. Serve in a bowl with fried bread for dipping. Messy in the best possible way!
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, Deana, and especially Theresa who was chief in helping put the whole thing together – thank you all so much!
For the fourth time in my life, I can type the words “I have a book coming out today!”
You’d think it would get easier. But no, I’m a mass of nerves. For over a year, you see, my book baby has led a sheltered existence: much like a real baby, it was tended by a doting mother, sheltered and cosseted in a loving environment, shown off only to a few close friends and family who could be relied upon to croon praise. But books grow up faster than real babies, and I’m once again standing in the doorway watching that book head out into the world like a kid heading off to college. My job is done, and I did the best I could–and I’m still nervous that it wasn’t enough.
I’m also thrilled, because I have the best job on earth, and I know how lucky I am. And hey, it’s my fourth rodeo, so at least I know how to combat the Release Day Jitters by now. All you need to do to survive your release day is follow these six simple guidelines.
1. Drink champagne. Drink lots and lots of champagne.
2. Enlist friends. Ideally writer friends who have suffered release day jitters of their own. Go out for lunch, get pedicures, do anything you like–but these friends must be given carte blanche to use any force up to and including handcuffs to keep you from obsessively clicking Refresh on your Amazon Sales Ranking. Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot are my
jailers pals today, bless you both.
3. This one is for the spouses of writers in question: flowers are nice. Also, repeated spontaneous reassurances that the book is not in fact complete crapola destined for the remainder table. My spouse excels at this.
4. Read somebody ELSE’S book. Nothing like a fascinating trip to somebody else’s fictional world to keep your mind off your own. I was lucky enough last year to share a release day with Elizabeth Loupas–her The Flower Reader saved my sanity. Elizabeth let me down this year (I’m counting days till her The Red Lily Crown releases) so perhaps a Harry Dresden reread is in order. Like all fourteen books.
5. Don’t check Amazon. I’m serious. Friends and spouses may want to consider disconnecting the internet for the day.
6. Did I mention champagne? Drink more.
So I guess that’s really only four rules, but you get my point. In any case, The Serpent and the Pearl is off to the hands of its readers–for a teaser promo, watch here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pop a cork.
My secondary heroine from The Serpent and the Pearl proved to be a bit hard to track down . . . in fact, I had to run her to earth in her kitchens, where she’s up to her elbows in a bowl of flour.
Her: Look, I don’t know about this interview business. I have a dinner for twenty to get on the table.
Me: Just a few lines for the readers? Your name, what it is that you do?
Her: My name is Carmelina Mangano, and I’m the best cook in Rome.
Me: You are?
Carmelina: Yes. They say a woman can’t be maestro di cucina, not professionally, but I was hired to cook for the household of Giulia Farnese, the Pope’s mistress. I’ve fed the Pope Himself, and half the illustrious people of Rome–I’ve carved my own place in the world with nothing more than the skill in my hands, and I’m proud of it. Hand me that bowl, will you?
Me: What are you making?
Carmelina: Elderflower fritters. Giulia Farnese eats them by the basketful; she’s a cook’s dream to feed. Loves food, eats everything, pays on time.
Me: Any bad parts about working for the Borgias?
Carmelina: That little bodyguard Cesare Borgia hired for Madonna Giulia. Leonello. He’s a devil.
Me: Because he’s a dwarf?
Carmelina: No, because he’s dangerous. And because he asks too many questions.
Me: Questions about what?
Carmelina (glowers): Hand me the butter, will you? These fritters need to go into the frying pan.
Me: Of course. Now, I have to ask–maybe it’s one of those things you don’t want to talk about, but what is that horrible shriveled up thing on the spice rack?
Carmelina: It’s a holy relic. The hand of my patron saint, the most blessed Santa Marta.
Me: You keep a mummified hand in your kitchen?
Carmelina: Of course. Santa Marta is the patron saint of all cooks. She prepared a meal for Our Lord while Mary and all the apostles were busy sitting at the feet of Christ.
Me: And for that she got made the patron saint of cooks?
Carmelina: Why not? Maybe Our Lord was happy to get a home-cooked meal for once, rather than everybody just looking at Him to provide all the food by transforming loaves and fishes. Besides, somebody had to get dinner going while everybody else sat around worshipping at His feet. I’ll bet not one of those apostles helped Santa Marta with the dishes, either.
Me: You know, I think you’re probably right.
Carmelina: Of course I’m right, I’m the best cook in Rome. Now, not to throw you out of my kitchen, but I’ve got to pay attention while these fritters fry. And if I burn them up because I’m answering questions, I’ll fry up your gizzard in white wine and coriander, and serve that to Madonna Giulia instead.
Me: I’m going, I’m going!
My her from The Serpent and the Pearl is a reclusive sort, but I dragged him to my blog today for an interview. 😀
Me: Why don’t you introduce yourself for the readers?
Him: My name is Leonello. (Props his boots up on my desk unasked)
Me: Leonello what?
Leonello: I’m distinctive enough that I don’t need a last name.
Me: You are distinctive, I must say. Dark hair, hazel eyes, about thirty years old, a sarcastic expression–
Leonello: Are we going to ignore the elephant in the room? I’m a dwarf.
Me: True, you are. How has your stature affected your life?
Leonello: I’ve managed so far not to get stomped to death by drunks, or have to take a job as a jester for layabout Renaissance lords. I count myself a success.
Me: What is it you do for a living?
Leonello: I used to be a card-sharp. Sit down at a game of primiera with me, and I will be very happy to relieve you of your money. But I don’t have to play cards for a living anymore.
Me: What is it you do now?
Leonello: The Pope’s son Cesare Borgia hired me. I’m to be a bodyguard for his father’s mistress.
Me: Aren’t you–wait, the Pope has a mistress?
Leonello: Why, doesn’t your current pope have one?
Me: Definitely not. Um, aren’t you a little atypical, as a choice for a bodyguard?
Leonello: Because I’m short? You can go ahead and say it.
Me: Ok, because you’re short.
Leonello: I may be short, but I’m dangerous. I throw knives.
Me: How well can you throw knives?
Leonello: I could put a blade through each of your eyes at ten paces, before you could blink your lids shut.
Me: Don’t demonstrate, please.
Leonello: Wouldn’t dream of it. I love being underestimated. Everybody underestimates a dwarf.
Me: I think Tyrion Lannister said something very similar on “Game of Thrones.”
Leonello: Now you’re being lazy. Just because we’re both dwarves doesn’t mean I have anything else in common with Tyrion Lannister.
Me: What’s the principal difference between the two of you, then?
Leonello: He wants to be liked, and he tries to make people laugh. That’s fine; it works for him. I don’t care if I’m liked, and I’m nobody’s jester, and that works for me.
Me: Are you always this sarcastic?
Leonello: You know I am. You invented me.
Me: Yes, but you’re not allowed to be sarcastic to me. I created you; you’re supposed to be nice to me.
Leonello: Dio. Am I done now?