Whilst I might not be able to be in Florence at this time, at least my book can be. Thank you to Andrea, the manager of the historic Hotel Annalena in Via Romana, who enjoyed reading my book and kindly took these photos of it in the reception. My book feels truly at home in this place; after all it was here that I was first inspired to write it. The hotel stands upon part of the the site that was once occupied by the convent that Annalena Malatesta founded in the fifteenth century. I can't wait until I can return to Florence, but until then I rest content knowing that my book is in its rightful place. I am certain too that Annalena would also be very happy.
Any visitor to Florence will have noticed the small shops selling beautiful handmade marbled paper in a kaleidoscope of mesmerising colours and patterns. Usually these shops incorporate a workshop and some even offer a demonstration as to how such papers are made. The art of marbling paper probably originated in China and flourished in Turkey in the 15th century where it was reserved for religious writings. They called it Ebru or ‘the art of the clouds’ which so magnificently conjures up the swirling free-form nature of the resulting patterns obtained. The art of ebru entered Europe via Venice through trade and actually became widespread in Italy in the 19th century. The art of paper marbling lingers on in Florence today.
How is marbled paper made? Basically, a resin or glue is added to a basin of water and pigments are dropped on to the surface. The resin or glue mix is used to attach the floating pigments to the paper. The paper is lowered into the basin with the added colours and adherents and then gently lifted from it and rinsed in cold water and allowed to dry.
We are once again experiencing a Lockdown in England and I’ve made a list of things I intend to do during this period when we are encouraged to stay at home. The art of paper marbling has always been something I would like to try and so it features near the top of my list. Many years ago I purchased a very basic marbled paper kit however, sadly I never got round to using it. I knew it was still around somewhere in my house and so I endeavoured to hunt it out. Before long I found it still lurking in the very depths of the cupboard where I’d stashed it all those years ago. I must admit inspection of its contents didn’t fill me with much hope since most of the components including both the pigments and glue looked well past their ‘best before‘ date. I am not looking for any excuses but I knew before I began that the final result may not be exactly what I would have hoped for.
I followed the instructions and prepared the size then squeezed out dollops of gungy pigment in a variety of colours and watched as they congregated into a collection of individual pools. I then used the small flimsy plastic comb supplied with the kit to hopefully create the lovely effects I had seen in the workshops in Florence. Unfortunately, instead of creating the ‘art of the clouds’ the pigment just amassed into what seemed like an island of ‘gloopiness’. Next I tried using a wooden skewer and very carefully tried to draw down patterns; this appeared slightly better. I was able to create elongated feather-like effects however, sadly almost as quickly as they appeared they dissipated into the size. I dipped a sheet of paper into the basin and carefully lifted it out to reveal a colourful pattern of ‘sorts’ but certainly not the desired effects I would have liked. I was determined to create at least one aesthetically pleasing sheet of marbled paper, so I kept trying. Soon I was surrounded by several dripping wet sheets of colourful paper, only one of which had an effect that resembled some form of pattern. I carefully pegged the sheets on to an indoor washing rack to dry.
This below is my very poor attempt!
It had certainly been an interesting Lockdown activity, albeit one that had left me with a great appreciation of this art. I know that I for one will be leaving it to the experts!
This past week has been a whirlwind which found me signing and writing dedications in pre-order copies of my book: In Search of Annalena a Life of Tragedy and Triumph in Renaissance Florence. I’ve hand-delivered copies to friends and acquaintances close-by and I’ve written copious emails to those who have expressed an interest in purchasing my book. Within three days of receiving it from the printers, a few copies were already embellishing a shelf in my local bookshop. I watched on with pride as the manageress of the shop carefully placed ‘Local author’ and ‘Signed copy’ stickers on their pristine front covers. I have lived in Thame for over thirty years and I could never have imagined that one day I would be an author and have a book for sale there.
My achievement has also been swept up by local on-line news sites that featured articles about me. I’m thrilled to say that news about my book had even spread further afield and I’ve become a regular customer at our local post office where I have waited patiently in socially-distanced queues to send copies off to places both near and far. Additionally, in a very short space of time I’ve had to become accustomed to using the many channels of social media the likes of which I barely knew existed before. It really has been amazing and so rewarding to read the multitude of good wishes expressed by people from all over. I am also extremely grateful to those who have taken the time to share news about my book. I’m delighted to say that I have also received good response from individuals and establishments in Florence who have invited me to hold book presentations there next year all being well with the current pandemic situation.
The ‘pièce de résistance’ was being able to celebrate with my family (albeit virtually!). The balloons and banners were in place, champagne was popped and we enjoyed a special ‘Annalena dinner’.
Tomorrow marks the official launch date for my book and uniquely on this occasion I hope that this whirlwind will never end!