November 28, 2012

DIFFERENT WOMEN ?


At first glance you notice our differences. Her dark, straight hair peeks out from her headscarf. My blond hair curls toward the sun. She wears a long-sleeved knit shirt and peasant skirt. I wear a shiny purple blouse and slacks. She is an innkeeper’s wife, I a woman on a research mission. I came across this picture recently and it drew me back into the moment it was taken in Cappadoccia, Turkey in 2010. For me it represents a moment when two dissimilar lives merged.

While I explored the fairy chimneys, hermit caves and churches hewn from rock, Biset swept and washed and cooked. When we went down to breakfast in the morning, she was standing over a wood-stoked stove, turning out eggs and meats to accompany plates of cheese and olives. The men served the tables and she stood silently in the background, orchestrating everything without speaking a word.

Biset was shy around the men and did not speak to them, neither those who ran the inn nor the guests, but when I went out to sit on the porch to read, she approached me timidly. With her halting English and my almost total absence of Turkish, we still managed to share the facts most important to women: the numbers of our children, their genders, their ages.

On the second day, I had my camera with me. She pointed to the camera and to herself, but when I pointed my camera toward her, she shook her head. Waving her arm toward me in an inclusive motion, she indicated that we should both be in the picture. I stepped into my room and secured the services of my husband to snap our photograph. When we two women stood side by side, with our arms around each other, I could have been embracing my sister. 

November 7, 2012

Elena Piscopia’s Mother




     There is an adage that “History is written by the winners.” This might be more precise if we added that the winners were men of means. I am in the midst of drafting a novel centering around Elena Piscopia, the first woman to receive an academic degree (in 1678). The protagonist in my novel is Elena’s mother, Zanetta Boni, and I have been struck by how little is known about her. 

Loggia for Theatre
Zanetta Boni's Padova Home
     Historical records about Elena’s father, Giovanni Cornaro, are easy to locate in Venetian archives. He was a nobleman with an extraordinary library and the means to hire the best tutors for Elena. He served in government, as did all wealthy Venetian men, so his exploits are documented in official records.

     Elena’s mother, however, was a not a woman of the noble class and is not much more than a footnote. Historical records do not even give us a record of her birthplace. Of course, a dearth of historical records is actually a blessing for a writer, justifying the fabrication of facts, so I should not complain. It does make me think about how history is not only colored by the winners rather than the losers, but by men rather than women, and by powerful nobility rather than ordinary citizens.