What is your experience with the setting of the book? Have you visited or lived in the area? If ‘yes’, what about the area inspired you to use it as the setting?
I have lived in all the major settings of “Crimson Clouds”: New York, Paris, London, Rome but also in the lesser known ones, like that house by the lake (Lake Trasimeno) in Umbria (a lovely region right next door to Tuscany) – and the house I describe in the book is in fact a house I know intimately (it’s my own). Unsurprisingly, the book cover uses one of my photographs of the lake at sunset: the island you see sketched out in black against the sinking sun is Isola Polvese, a nature reserve, largely uninhabited at present, but with the ruins of an ancient church – very romantic. And of course I have traveled many times to Palermo, Sicily (my husband is Sicilian!) and visited the Abatellis museum, one of my favorite places in Palermo because of the art it houses, in particular that extraordinary painting I talk about in the book, the famous Triumph of Death.
What are some of local culture nuances you describe in the book that you want readers to pick up on, and why are they important to the region and/or story?
The book is about a couple buffeted by a contrasting culture – she’s American, he’s European – and they are torn by their differing views on art, money, family and life in general. I am personally fascinated by the differences, being born in Belgium
from Belgian parents but having moved to the US as a young woman, living there 13 years (I studied economics at Columbia University and once married to an American, I lived two years in Chicago, before divorcing and moving back to Europe). But the book is not about me and I hope I’ve succeeded in staying back in the shadows and that the story and the characters speak for themselves.
What are three things from the story that a reader should try or see when visiting the region? (e.g. a specific food, landmark, etc.)
1. Go to Sicily, go to Palermo and don’t miss out on the Museo Abatellis, a 13th century palace in the old town near the port: it houses what I consider an absolute masterpiece done by an unknown painter in the 14th century, the Triumph of Death, a huge fresco-like canvas traversed by Death, a skeleton on a galloping horse that has clearly inspired Picasso (the horse in Guernica is remarkably similar) – and that’s the painting evoked in a key scene of the book. And of course, that is also the place where you can see an unforgettable Madonna by Antonio da Messina.
2. When in London, don’t miss out on the Tate Modern, go visit the Turbine Hall, it’s huge! Imagine the installation Robert (my book’s main character) has had to devise for it, and imagine the drama that happened there …
3. When in Paris, same advice and for the same reason: go to the Grand Palais and you can see how large it it, the reason why Robert had to double the size of his installation … with unexpected, tragic results! But I stop here, no spoilers!
When is the best time of year to visit? Are there any unique festivals or holidays that are specific to the region when a reader should pack your book and take a trip there?
For Sicily, I recommend Spring and Fall, not the dead of winter (too cold and rainy) or the height of summer (too many people).
For Umbria and Lake Trasimeno, Spring and Fall are fine but even summer is good, the area is still not overrun by crowds of tourists. And there’s an advantage in coming in summer, there are lots of outdoors concerts given in small, medieval towns, for
example Umbria Jazz in Perugia, and villages, one after the other, run week-long food festivals centered on local specialties, for example, truffles or snails or a local vegetable or lake fish etc where you can eat good food very cheaply and see how the locals enjoy themselves.
As to London, Paris and Rome, they’re good all year round! I would just add with respect to Rome (where I live) that there are certain areas that are regularly overlooked by tourists, yet they are well worth a visit. For example, the Aventino area where Robert stays with his lover; the neighborhood, mainly villas and low-rise, luxury apartment buildings dating to the 1920s and 1930s, covers one of Rome’s seven hills, the Aventine Hills. Stop there, walk around the streets, go to the lovely municipal Rose Garden overlooking the Circo Massimo (it’s got a super show in May when all the roses bloom), visit the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, and be sure to take a peek through the keyhole at the Order of Malta’s Villa del Priorato, you’ll see straight through to St Peter’s that appears floating in the distance, as if by magic. In fact, it’s truly magical!