On a trip to Milan, I visited The Last Supper, which can only be seen by appointment and in small groups. After everyone had left the room, I remained, strangely drawn to the mural on the opposite wall, the Crucifixion scene by Giovanni Montorfano. In the lower right corner, witnessing the Crucifixion, are several Dominican nuns. This caught my eye, having been educated by the Dominicans in New Orleans. Who, I wondered, was the ghostly figure kneeling in prayer, virtually nestled in the skirts of the nuns?
Of all the women distorted by history and myth, Kleopatra is the most vivid example. Far from the sexual and treacherous archetype of feminine evil who lives in the popular imagination, Kleopatra was one of the ancient world’s most brilliant and powerful rulers. She survived blood-curdling family rivalries for the throne, single-handedly ruled a rich nation with an eye for turning a profit, and kept Egypt independent while all its neighboring countries had been annexed to the Roman Empire. She spoke nine or ten languages, patronized art, drama, athletics, sciences and other forms of scholarship, and had the loyalty of her subjects — rare for the members of her dynasty.
Photographs from an exhibition of Cleopatra in Rome.
Last week, I visited the site of the two-month Hong Kong occupation known as the Umbrella Revolution. In recent days, in violent clashes with the students, police have begun to dismantle a secondary site at Mong Kok. Yet this encampment, which has blocked traffic in the main city square for nine weeks , still stands.
KAREN ESSEX, TRAVELLING FOR DRACULA IN LOVE, OR HOW TO ADD NEW GEOGRAPHY TO AN OLD STORY AND RELOCATE A VAMPIRE
Readers often tell me that they take my novels on holiday as travel and history guides. I love giving readers an experience on the page, but I love it even more when they are inspired to leave their armchairs and experience the characters and the history firsthand. As an historical novelist, nothing informs my work like travel. I love to walk in my characters’ footsteps, breathing in the air that they breathed, literally sharing molecules with them.