A Sense of Place

The Italian version of Early One Morning is coming out this month – Una Mattina di Ottobre  – and I am in Rome to welcome it into the world that inspired it and to celebrate its arrival.

A photograph of the front entrance to a horse butchery in Rome

Its imminence and being here again stir up sensations and memories and a kind of consciousness of little things, half hidden things that inspired different parts of EOM but of which I was previously hardly aware. 

For example, walking to the library this morning, as I passed the horse butchers on Via Damiani and glimpsed the neatly arranged slabs of red meat inside, I experienced a sort of satisfaction and sense of things being right with the world. I realized that I have felt this feeling before in the very same spot. 

Walking on, I found myself thinking of the EOM scene in occupied Rome 1944 when my heroine Chiara Ravello and her young charge Daniele are queuing for meat. The scene leads to two cheering moments amongst the blighted stuff of Chiara’s life: that she made a nourishing spezzatino di cavallo and that she met properly for the first time the woman who would become her dearest friend. 

So, through the interaction between the fictional and the real and despite the fact that to my knowledge I have only once eaten horsemeat (by accident in France many years ago) and have no intention of ever repeating the experience and am more of a chickpea person these days anyway, the sight of a horse butchers can fill me with delight! 

It’s a multi-layered thing, this interaction, a sort of palimpsest where the original place is over-written with the fictional reinvention of it, marked by the invisible trace left by the invented characters’ sojourn there and thus enhanced.  The effect is that of revisiting a place of memories and it allows me momentarily to experience the novel as if I hadn’t written it, being on the outside of the fictional world looking in rather than the other way round.