Posted in: #fiction, Baldacchino, Bernini, St. Peter's

Italy in mind and on the page: my novel-in-progress

You might remember that I’ve been working on a novel about time travel and Renaissance Italy. And if you know me, you know I’m a fast writer (though not one to complete a novel in a month!). So you might be wondering where it is — where’s The Renaissance Club, as my novel used to be called. And might again be. Long story short, it’s become a play AND a novel. I’m told you can do this. And to prove it, below is a short excerpt from the novel.

But because I’m used to writing plays, I took the detour of fleshing out my story’s arc in the compressed intensity of what was to be a one-act play. Should be quick to write a 20-minute play, right? Unless it becomes a two-act, 90-minute multimedia play. It’s had one table reading, and I’m now at work on a revision, which I hope will eventually be seen on a stage near you! Or at least a stage.

In the meanwhile, the novel is not forgotten! Their plots have diverged, though the essential elements remain. Elements of Light, you might call them. Which is now the novel’s working title. Here’s the excerpt — comments always welcome!


Chapter Two – Excerpt. Bowled Over at the Baldacchino.
As she finishes her note, May hears a far-off clang. The Swiss Guards are closing the front door. She hadn’t noticed them before, which was surprising, with their bright red and gold medieval costumes.
            Tourists scurry past as the great doors of St. Peter’s swing shut. Where are the club members and George? She looks around, then she looks for a side door and sees it closing, too, trapping her alone inside St. Peter’s.
            Panicking, May dashes toward the Baldacchino and nearly collides with a man in a frayed doublet and hose who had been standing so close to the bronze pillar she hadn’t seen him. He’s holding his hands up, framing the Baldacchino like an architect. He looks a little like Bernini in his seventeenth-century costume—the dark eyes, full lips, and long, curly hair. Odd to find someone in costume, she thinks.
            He turns and sees her just as she stops before plowing into him.
            “Boy, watch where you’re—oh, excuse me, Miss, I took you for a fellow in those pantaloons. What are you doing here? No one’s allowed to watch me working.”
            “Working? Are you a restorer?”
            May looks at his doublet and hose, a good period outfit in shades of gray and black, frayed around the cuffs for authenticity.
            “Who are you?” they say in unison.
            “May Perl. I got separated from my tour group and I need to get out.”
            “Signorina Pearl, I am Gianlorenzo Bernini, at your service.” He bows.
            “Using the name of St. Peter’s architect, very funny. Are you in a pageant? Costume’s very good.”
            She sniffs. “Do I smell candles? When did they light those?”
            They’re burning on the altar—immense candles. There’s something different about the Baldacchino. She hears the sound of a lute.
            “Are you rehearsing something? Is it for a concert?”
            “I always have music playing when I work, Signorina. It aids the flow. They light candles of course every day. How can we see without light?”
            “Um, electricity?”
            “I don’t know this term. Signorina, you have to leave. I can’t work with a gawker. A female! My work is based on my meditations on the Virgin and saints. The crucified and risen Savior. You make the atmosphere unsuitable.”
            May finds his characterization overdone, with the archaic diction.
            “And who do you think I am?” she says.
            He looks at her up with contempt.
            You’re clearly not a lady. I could have you arrested. The dungeon, you know, is no place for ladies.”
            “Chill, dude. I’m an art historian. I’m studying this place. I’ve even studied you!”
            He laughs. “Historian? A woman? Impossible!
            “I’m a historian of art and architecture. I know all about your creations.”
            “You’re just a skinny, strange-looking girl with golden skin. A whore from the street and half-starved, it seems. Who told you to say you’re a historian? Your madam, to entrap me? Or the Devil, for the same reason?”
            May laughs. “You’re kidding, right? Harsh.”
            “Then tell me, Historian of architecture, what is the Golden Section?”
            “The Golden Section is the division of a unit of length into two parts so that the ratio of the shorter to the longer equals the ratio of the longer part to the whole.”
            He stares for a moment and then laughs uproariously. His baritone laugh seems too big for his slim, short body.
            “Very nice! Your madam has schooled you well. But she should have put you in skirts to catch a gentleman.”
            He walks toward her and then walks around her, as if assessing her as a potential model.
            “Where do you come from? Your almond eyes and golden skin are not Roman.”
            “I’m half Indian and half American. I suppose you’re all Roman.”
            “Neapolitan by birth, half Florentine by family. So we are both made of halves. Twins.”
            “Twins of an odd sort, you could say.”
            “This pants costume does nothing for what little figure you have. Even with your very nice hands and eyebrows.”
            He stops in front of her, too close. She leans back.
            “Oh, I see. You find me so very unattractive, except for hands and eyebrows. What are you, a priest? I’ve read Bernini’s biography. He hardly led the life of a priest!”
            His dark brows purse together and he compresses his full red mouth.
            “I am an artist, Signorina. A delicate instrument of feeling and a vessel for inspiration.”
            “I only wish you really were Bernini. You’d be quite an artist, yes. And this would be the interview of all time!”
            The Bernini man looks pained. He has been well cast; he really does look like the petulant artist, from his self-portrait at about twenty-six.
            “I create portraits of saints,” he says. “I must understand their experiences and witness their transports. So Saint Ignatius Loyola tells us.”
            “Method acting?”
            She walks away to look closely at the changed Baldacchino as he replies, “Methodical, yes. I am nothing if not methodical. Everyone says so.”
            Even with her back to him she feels him scrutinizing her, as an artist will, taking measurements automatically to translate them.
            “I have just been asked by the Pope to create the altar canopy for this great church, so your pathetic body, what little of it there is, those small breasts and thin shoulders, tempts me not at all.”
            He sounds so defensive she forgets he’s an impostor and feels sorry for him.
            “Thanks for not liking my breasts. So what are you thinking for the canopy?”
            She knows what the canopy design is, though somehow he has managed to make it appear not to be there. Perhaps a holographic illusion?
            “I have to work with the idea of the ciborum,” he says, “the traditional canopy covering a sacred spot. In this case it’s the grave of the Apostle. But I want something new. Something that lifts it toward Heaven.”
            She walks back, interested now in the game.
            “Something with a structure above the canopy perhaps.  You did it that way. At least a minute ago, that’s how it looked.”
He looks puzzled.
“No, I plan to top two intersecting ribs from the columns with a statue of the Resurrected Christ carrying the Bannered Cross. My concept is that the bottom of the structure begins with His sacrifice and rises up to His triumph, ascending to the top of the dome where His heavenly enthronement is portrayed.”
“Sounds too heavy to be supported.”
How did he create that illusion of the unfinished Baldacchino? It looks convincingly empty to her. She begins to feel queasy.
“You know, you really do look like Bernini.”
“You are an odd woman. Yes, the weight is a problem.”
“Try something else? Some volutes?”
He’s startled.
“I was thinking the traditional canopy won’t work.”
“Maybe think outside the box? “
“What box? There’s no box in my plans.”
            Without thinking she says, “It’s just an expression in my time.”
            He really does look like Bernini. And he knows about the problem of the ciborumand traditional canopy. Impressive method acting.
“What about light, curving volutes above the canopy, meeting at the center?” she said, testing him to see if he would recognize his own idea. “And maybe topped by a small orb and cross?”
“You have some interesting ideas.”
“I’m just echoing your own ideas. I saw them a moment ago, four centuries after you created them.”
Bernini looks at her with curiosity and says, “My friend George says time is … what was his term? Relative. Relative to what, I don’t know.”
“You know George St. James?”
Bernini smiles. May thinks there’s no mistaking the famous smile, full-lipped and outrageously confident.
“Signor Giorgio and I are drinking buddies. That is, when I drink. Which is seldom. I must keep the instrument vigorous.”
            “I’ll say. I read that you almost never slept or ate.”
            “Why do you speak of me in the past tense?”
May feels dizzy now, as if gravity has ceased to work well.
“I think I’m from your future.”
            She looks past him at the Baldacchino. It would have been impossible even with holographic images to create the canopy’s absence. It’s easier to believe in a fold in time.
“What’s the matter with you? Are you so hungry you’re delirious? I will give you some of my wine.”
            He offers a small flask, but she shakes her head. The lute player seems to have been joined by a flautist and they harmonize a high melody with warm tones.
            She reaches out and instead of taking the flask touches his arm.
“What are you doing, strange girl?
“Trying to see if you’re real. You don’t feel solid. I can’t touch you.”
He ignores this.
“You have good ideas. And your face is somewhat beautiful. I could use you as a model. You’d have to unbraid your beautiful black hair.”
He touches the top of her head, maing her flinch.
“I felt that!” she says.
            He strokes her hair down to her ear, saying, “Let me loose it, I want to.”
She shrugs away.
            “Listen, I’ll just leave you to your meditations, if you tell me the way out.”
            He smiles.
            “I could call the guards and have you dragged to the dungeon. That’s a way out.”
            “Is that a dare? Remember, I know all about you.”
            “Really? And you may call me Cavaliere. I have been knighted, as anyone in Rome knows. Tell me about my life, then.”
            May smiles. “Hang onto your hat, Bernini. You were born in Naples in 1598 and are credited with creating the Baroque style. You have captured in marble an iconic image of Teresa of Avila, a narrative moment of religious ecstasy that changed the way art is made. Some art historians called you the successor to Michelangelo. You died in—”
            “Stop! Don’t blaspheme. And I have not sculpted Teresa of Avila.”
            “You will. It’s next on our tour.”
Visit for more information and writing by Rachel Dacus.