Barefoot in Iberia…

A friend of mine, Sue Burke, recently posted a link to this article:


Now, Sue lives in Madrid, working away at translations of old Spanish texts into English and her own fiction as well, so she knows how the Spanish operate. And apparently, most of these are true.

Fortunately, when we were in Spain a couple of years ago, we didn’t violate any of these.  We struggled with eating dinner late. (We’re early eaters here in the US, too. Early to bed and early to rise, you know.)  As tourists, we looked kinda scruffy ALL the time, making it obvious we weren’t Spanish.  They really don’t dress down.

The one of the ten that I know I broke?  The Barefoot thing.  Not in the streets, of course, but in the apartments we rented.  I’m sure I must have walked around barefoot a bit.

I didn’t know about the barefoot thing.  Just a cultural tidbit that I missed.  I hope I didn’t offend anyone.

My next thought was, How does this affect my writing?

I asked myself that because there are a few references to bare feet in my books.

Oriana and Duilio meet in the hallway at one point, both without slippers (his because his valet is hiding them and hers because she’d rushed out of her bedroom without thinking.) In Book 3 there’s a bit where Joaquim says something about being comfortable with bare feet (on the islands, where bare feet are the norm due to mild weather.)

Now, at the time, barefootedness in Portugal was pretty…well, normal.  Especially in the more rural parts on the country. Why wear out the single pair of shoes you had when you have feet?portugal2

The cities were a different matter, and after the founding of the Republic in 1910, the cities began several rounds of campaigns to get people to WEAR SHOES.  a+pe+descalco

(Rough translation:  Shoeless Feet become Lost Feet.)

It was always an uphill battle. But the government argued that bare feet were not only dangerous, but that…

Everybody must wear shoes because the sight of an unshod foot and leg is repulsive to many foreigners, is unhealthy and unesthetic. It furthermore suggested backwardness in the country.

(Click on the photograph  of the two women above to go to the source of that quote: a barefoot running site, Ancuah).

Yes, we want to look classy, so put on some shoes, dang it!

After all this checking, I’ve decided that I’m not going to worry overmuch about my tiny little references to bare feet.  After all, if the government couldn’t get people in the city to wear shoes on the streets, I’m not going to force my characters to wear them in the bedroom!


On wrapping things up…

I’ve said several times that I’m working on the third (and final) book in a series.
Joint Cover2

It’s been an interesting learning experience for me. So here are some of my conclusions:

1) Getting every minor plot line cleared up is tough.

I now feel a lot more sympathy for J. K. Rowling’s 7th HP book, where she tried to include the fate of EVERY LAST CHARACTER mentioned in the previous 6 books. At the time, I recall finding it clunky and contrived. Seriously, we’re trying to include the bus driver?

Now I better understand that desire to include the bus driver. It’s hard to balance what’s an extraneous plot line, and what really needs to be included in your book.

2) At the same time, you’re getting ready to step away.

I feel strange about this, almost traitorous. Yes, I’m planning to do a couple of novellas in this setting (one’s already written), but I don’t have plans to do another novel here.

And yet, I also can’t wait to move on. As soon as I turn this book in, I’m turning around and working in a second-world setting. My brain is already trying to go there a lot, as things from that proposed world seem to be cropping up in my daydreams a lot more than what I’m suppose to be working on.

3) You’re working a couple of books ahead of what’s published.

That’s one of the things that’s become crystal clear to me in this process. I might be turning in Book 3 two months before Book 2 even comes out. As the author, that means to me that if someone asks me a question about Book 1, I have to think back to what I was writing 3 years ago. Seriously. There’s an incredible lag…which also means a disconnect for the author.

4) I’m so very happy to have gotten these out. Seriously.

Not every writer gets to write all the books they want in a setting. Sometimes your publisher just doesn’t think there’s a market for the later books in a series. I’ve got a very good feeling that I’m going to be able to finish this series….so that makes me happy.

Anyhow, I’m reaching the ‘done’ zone, which is nothing like the Senior Slump save in its awareness of eventual separation. Soon my Portuguese babies will be in the bag, and I’ll have moved on. Perhaps I’ll even get rid of some of my Portuguese research books, stop listening to Fado, and stop wearing all my lucky Portuguese jewelry….

Nah, probably not.


Using a Baedeker

Book 3, The Shores of Spain, is the first in the series to show my characters traveling across Iberia. And to get the historical details of the travel as correct as I can, I’ve turned to the same book that an American making this trip would have used in 1903…Baedeker’s Handbook for Travelers.

If you’re not familiar with the name “Baedeker” then you probably haven’t read E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, where an entire chapter deals with the heroine’s bafflement after being separated from her Baedeker while in Italy.

Chapter II: In Santa Croce with No Baedeker

Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes partly because Miss Lavish had jilted her, partly because she had taken her Baedeker. How could she find her way home? How could she find her way about in Santa Croce? Her first morning was ruined, and she might never be in Florence again. A few minutes ago she had been all high spirits, talking as a woman of culture, and half persuading herself that she was full of originality. Now she entered the church depressed and humiliated, not even able to remember whether it was built by the Franciscans or the Dominicans.

Or, on a sadder note, you might not know about the Baedeker Blitz.

These little red books provided travelers with all the tiny details they needed to know (and also drove them slavishly to the sights deemed important in any foreign town).
Here’s my 1901 Baedeker for Spain and Portugal.

In the front there’s a handy chart for changing money:

There was a large fold out map of Iberia in the front of the book, but it was the only thing that was damaged when I received it. But inside there are several fold out maps that the user can (probably with a magnifying glass) use to get around the city.

In addition to the city maps, there are a lot of small, special interest maps, like this layout of the Alhambra in Granada:

But the book also has a wealth of info that the traveler needs to know when entering a city: Here we have addresses for sporting venues, bookshops, banks and baths, doctors and apothecaries, the consulates and the insurance people (Lloyds), the English church.

On this page (folded up map of Barcelona to the left) we have all the transportation info, including cab locations and how much a normal fare should be. (Note also the addresses for the Post Offices, Telegraph Offices, and Telephone Offices.)
(And at the bottom of the page, the info on the bullring.)

As a resource, these are invaluable for anyone writing in the period from the late Victorian to Mid-20th century. The amount of detail on travel is very hard to come by otherwise. (Later in the 20th century, it gets easier.)

What’s also interesting is that they tell you what WASN’T important. A visitor to Barcelona today would surely make plans to visit the Sagrada Familia, right? Not back then. Back then it was under construction and not even worth mentioning among the sights of Barcelona at all.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons). Sagrada Familia c. 1915

So if you’re researching late Victorian or Edwardian travel in the U. S., Canada, Europe, or Russia…this is a good place to start.


Urban Centers…

I was researching Barcelona, and ran across several videos, which brought other videos to mind. In the first decade of the 20th century, it was common to make a film of a city while riding through on a tram.

Each city here looks a bit different–the buildings and the scenery, I mean–and the vehicles vary, but it’s interesting to note how similar all the people are. Because, after all, these are urban areas…

(SUGGESTION:  Turn your sound off and watch more than one of these at the same time.  If you scroll up and down, it’s easy to forget which is which…)

Belfast, Ireland, 1901.  Notice the horse-drawn trams.

Bradford, England in 1902

Manhattan (Broadway) in 1903. Because it’s Broadway, it’s very crowded.

San Francisco in 1905. Notice HOW MANY automobiles there are.

This is Barcelona in 1908…notice how many bicycles there are ;o)

Porto, Portugal in 1912 or so. Very few automobiles in this video (the first dealership only opened there in 1909.) It’s rather long and much of it is scenery, but in the sections with people, the similarity to the others is marked.

What interests me most about these is how similar the people within them are. Most go about their business, a few ham it up for the camera. The dress of the time for city dwellers was fairly similar from country to country (Europe and America, I mean) and even throughout the 11 years that these videos span.


Best of List/Historical Research Follow-up

I’m honored to say that Library Journal has selected The Golden City as one of the top 5 Fantasy and SF novels of 2013.

That’s a nice boost to the confidence ;o)

In a follow-up to my earlier posts about King Solomon’s Mines

I earlier noted that the writer who translated the book into Portuguese, José Maria Eça de Queirós, took quite a few liberties in his translation. Among other things, he smooths over Haggard’s rather unpleasant view of the Portuguese in Africa. But he also interjects things that don’t appear in the original manuscript, some of which have nothing to do with that. (I’m reading the original and the translation side by side, which makes it clear.)

In trying to figure this out, I ran across this academic article: Versions of the imperial romance: King Solomon’s Mines and As Minas de Salomao (Sorry, I can’t seem to find the full article now.)

Among other things, this article discusses the underlying political pressures of the time of the translation (1889-90). The powers of Europe had just met to partition Africa, slicing it up into colonies under the control of various European countries.

Long story short, it seems that Portugal lost a lot of African territory to England in that conference (the Berlin Conference of 1884-85) followed by a 1890 ultimatum by the English that the Portuguese should get out of certain territories. Portugal said “Hey wait, we were there first!” while England said “Yeah, but possession is nine-tenths of the law. Get out.”

So that’s the atmosphere behind the translation into Portuguese of an English adventure story set in Africa.

It seems that both Haggard and Eça de Queirós were in Berlin around the time of that conference. In fact, I think I recall seeing that Haggard was inspired to write the book during that conference.

And when you’ve got a wildly popular English book that hinges on the fact that the Portuguese were in Africa first, wouldn’t it make sense to translate it into Portuguese? Among other things, it reinforces the popular perception that the Portuguese were wronged in the conference by being forced to give up territory that should have–by antiquity–been theirs.

(OK, I’m flattening this out a bit, but that’s a simplified version behind the reasoning.)

So some of the mystery behind a) why this is the only English book that Eça de Queirós ever translated, and b)why he made some changes to the text during that ‘translation’ is now solved.

(Not all of it. Some of the changes just seem to be Eça de Queirós’ personal taste…)


Historical Research, More Observations on Translation

OK, it’s definite: Eça de Queirós took liberties in his translation of King Solomon’s Mines.

For example, in one place where Quartelmal talks about meeting a witch, Eça de Queirós adds in that the woman is almost 100 years old. This isn’t in the English text at all. In one scene where Haggard mentions a bulldog, Eça de Queirós adds that the dog’s owner is Irish.

I’m not sure why Eça de Queirós is doing these things. I suppose he just thought that Haggard’s text needed a little more oomph.

If my stuff is ever translated, I’ll be curious to see what gets changed.

An additional thought: This is the ONLY book Eça de Queirós translated into Portuguese. Why this book? What is it about King Solomon’s Mines that made it worth translating?


Historical Research, Translation Issue

In Book 3, I have a woman reading a book to a boy, so I tried to chose a novel that would be appealing to boys and available in Portugese at that time.

I settled on King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard. It was translated into Portuguese by Eça de Qeirós in Porto in 1903. Perfect.

At the time I thought I could just pick out some English passages and quote them (since it’s out of copyright), but then I discovered I had a problem: the translation.

If you look at that photo above, all that text between the brown brackets is what we see on the page in the Portuguese version (on the kindle). About half the number of words.

It turns out the Portuguese translator abridged it considerably. (Not that I really blame him.) So I’m going to have to be careful about randomly picking out a line and expecting the Portuguese version to be the same.

Here’s an example.
From the Portuguese translation:
O homenzarrão passou a mão pelas barbas,–e distinctamente, muito distinctamente, o ouvi murmurar: “Ainda bem!”

Here’s about how that translates:
The big man passed his hand over his beard, and distinctly, very disctinctly, I heard him murmur, “Thank God!”

Here’s what the original says:
The big man made no further remark, but I heard him mutter “fortunate” into his beard.

Those two aren’t particularly close. The translator captured the idea there, but I expect that ‘muttering into his beard’ is an idiom that doesn’t exist in Portuguese…so the translator had to change it to a version that would make sense to Portuguese readers.

So my current fit of researching is talking me through the two versions of this novel. It’s a real lesson in how translation works!


Historical Research: This is how it works…

While working on The Golden City, I tried to get all the details about the city right. At the same time, I had to balance how much time I spent researching little bits and pieces. I try to limit myself to an hour on a single fact…I figure if I can’t find the data (or a solid lead) in an hour, then it’s something very very few people would know anyway.

I hunted for the name of a department store in Porto in 1900. Or just a big store that sold women’s ready-to-wear clothing. I spent well better than an hour.

I ended up fudging. I settled for making a comment about Oriana buying perfume at the Bolhão Market (which still exists today, although it’s primarily a food market. She -could- conceivably have gotten some sort of homemade perfume there, but I truly would rather have found the name of the department store.)

The day AFTER I turned in the page proofs…I found on-line a page from a catalog for Grandes Armazéns Hermínios (via Facebook, not Google).

This doesn’t translate as ‘Hermínios Department Store’, but rather as ‘Big Warehouse Hermínios’, which is probably why I couldn’t find it in the first place.

But it was the store I was looking for all along.

And I found it right after turning in page proofs.

Of course.


Historical Fudgery/ Writing Process

I was recently surprised to discover that July 4th was next week. I’ve lost track of time yet again. I have no plans, mostly because it’s hot this time of year.

But holidays are a part of any setting. I was researching Catalonia (while waiting on the car guys to fix my car) a few days ago and ran into this terrifying statistic:

“The working year was interrupted by a plethora of official and religious holidays, one hundred and twenty in all….”
(Robert Hughes, Barcelona)

Seriously? 120 holidays?! This is about as UN-American as it gets.

Now, given that 52 of those were Sundays, that’s not as bad as it could be. But if you take the remaining 68, you end up with at least one extra holiday per week. Businesses closed, and people in Barcelona formed castells and had big parties.
(This is what they do at their festivals. I don’t know why. But they do it.)

So what does this have to do with me as a writer?

Well, my characters are in Portugal and Spain in early summer. That time of year is rife with religious festivals, many of which involve parades and street parties. So this time of year, there’s a better-than-2/7s chance it will be a day off work and the streets will be packed with revelers…


So between this draft and the second, I will have to set the date for each scene, and then determine whether I’ve set the scene amidst a festival. This may turn out to be a problem, or it could turn out to be helpful. Only time will tell.

(The first two books were set in October, which is a time with a dearth of festivals. The only one in the books (All Saints Day) occurs November 1…but is a big deal.)


Historical Fudgery: The End of the Tunnel

I’m currently writing the third book in this series, all set in 1902-03 Portugal (and Spain). Book 1 and Book 2 are already sold, and Book 3 is on option.

But I told my husband yesterday that I’m not planning any books past #3 in this series. I do intend to put out a couple of follow-up novellas, one involving Rafael and one involving Cristiano (yes, I know you don’t know who those people are.) But I haven’t plotted out any more novels in this series.

Admittedly, there’s lots of room to expand in this setting. I’ve got some great secondary characters who are full of mystery and would be a blast to write about. But I haven’t planned for them.

So this is beginning to look like the end of the tunnel for researching this setting.

That seems surreal.

My husband suggested that we go to Lisbon again next year (on the way to London), but that would be too late for research. It would only be for…well, fun.

That begs the question, “What are you going to do after Portugal?”

I’ve got a couple of series of novels outlined in second-world settings that I wouldn’t mind pursuing. And I also want to do that 1933 Saratoga Springs novel. But that’s all several months away.

So for now I’m still in the ‘researching Portugal’ tunnel. For now…