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A guest post from author, Judith Works who placed her story in Rome, which I loved, and where she lived for many years.
The epigraph for City of Illusions is a quotation from Giotto, that great painter who set Italian art on its path to the Renaissance: “Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” Although these words were written sometime between 1266 and 1337, they perfectly reflect the Rome I know, my home for ten years and still a city that pulls me back time and time again. A city where I heard echoes of the past follow every footstep in the ancient city center, where change seems elusive when the streets are those the Romans designed or were originally footpaths between ruins, and where I yearned to know more about the past.
City of Illusions features locations and events in my life but embellished by a heavy dose of imagination. After my departure I have returned to the Eternal City many times on consultancies, to see friends, or to simply savor the boundless pleasures Rome can offer. Being a tourist is a completely different experience from that of living in the complicated and ancient place.
Both my characters depart Seattle on their journey carrying personal baggage like all of us, consciously or unconsciously, along with their high expectations. Laura, who sees her dull and childless marriage as stifling, hopes life and her marriage will be revved up by the change in scene. Passive Jake, who has drifted along for years after a difficult childhood, is willing to go along for the ride. He visualizes escape from a job for which he is ill-suited, and plans to take up painting, a vocation long unrealized. Both Laura and Jake find that Rome does not have la dolce vita waiting for them, nor do they find a life characterized by that delightful Italian expression, dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. How they react forms the plot.
Both the plot and characters are based my own experience as well as observation of some who have struggled with the joys and sorrows inherent in being an expatriate. The expatriate life, suspended between two worlds is both a blessing and a curse – you are neither a citizen of the host country nor an active participant of your native country. Basically, expats are on-lookers, free to take in as much of the host country as they wish. I knew people who cowered in their apartments in Rome, too overwhelmed to venture out beyond grocery shopping, declining to interact with Italians and longing to go home. I knew a few others who behaved badly, succumbing to impulses which might have been kept in check at home; and some who experienced family crises because of bored spouses or office temptations – activities that take place everywhere but are sometimes heightened in a foreign setting.
Many other expatriates, like my husband and me, embraced the opportunity to experience everything positive while ignoring the difficulties. We, like all expats, were changed by our adventure. We returned home to see the world with different and perhaps more nuanced and tolerant eyes than before leaving home. But, we also experienced the down side of absence where like many expats, there are new challenges to overcome when returning. Losing track of old friends, not keeping up with the constantly changing American culture despite the internet, and being cut off from cultural opportunities can take a toll. It is a rude shock to see friends roll their eyes and yawn at the mention of exciting events you have experiences abroad!
The novel is not a memoir like Coins in the Fountain, my earlier book where the narrative was intended solely as a tale about two bumbling innocents abroad. But City of Illusions has many scenes and locations from my personal experiences, like apartment-hunting, much of the wonderful Italian food and wine, and favorite locations such as the Borghese Gallery and the Appia Antica. My two favorite fountains, The Trevi and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, serve as a backdrop to important events as do the enigmatic obelisks that dot the Roman sky. And I know well the common feeling of too much of everything: food, art and history in the often chaotic city.
The element of antiquity theft, a problem that plagues Italy and other countries blessed with the remains of ancient civilizations, is not part of the “write what you know” rule. However, I did know some people with “interesting” artifacts, including pots, and rumors were rife about the infamous flea market, Porta Portese, where you purportedly can get anything you want if you know whom to ask. Newspapers and television reports frequently highlighted the problem of tomb robbing with photos of the Carabinieri art theft squad displaying recovered objects. There are many books and websites about the problem for those that want to dig further.
City of Illusions could have been set in a different location but I wanted to convey something of the singular complexities of an ancient city with its many layers of history that affect all those who choose to among ruins and relics. And Rome, a city that was my center of gravity and one that still exerts a pull to return, is a city like no other.
View book trailer here.
Judith Works; Life was routine until the author decided to get a law degree. Then a chance meeting led her to run away to the Circus (Maximus) – actually to the United Nations office next door – where she worked as an attorney in the HR department and entered the world of expat life in Rome. The ten years of happy and sometimes fraught experiences are the subject of her memoir, Coins in the Fountain. She continues to travel, having visited over 100 countries in between many journeys to Italy where she always tosses a coin in the Trevi Fountain to ensure a return to Rome. Judith and her husband now live near Seattle where she is working on her second novel.
To connect with Judith;
Facebook: Judith Works, Author: www.facebook.com/judithworksauthor
More information about her first book/memoir:
Get Your Writing Published: May 6, 2017
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