Isabella d’Este, Giovanni Cristoforo Romano, 1500.
There is a tradition in “my” branch of the Estey family that we descend from the d’Este of Italy. The d’Este clan were rich and powerful and influential. They married well which – yes – brought the infamous Lucrezia Borgia into the family when she wed Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
My father had a reproduction of Alfonso’s sister, Isabella, readily at hand. Isabel was a name for at least one daughter in every generation of Esteys. Lucrezia attempted to befriend Isabella, but to no avail.
The town of Este is in Northern Italy, in the Veneto region, about a two hour car ride from Venice. It’s most recent population figure of two years ago was around 17,000. I have a special fondness for this part of Italy and have sprinkled references to it in some of my novels. Indeed, my whole historical onion trilogy is centred around a town in this area.
So, Este was certainly a destination when I travelled through Europe. And the surrounding area. Este was suitably medieval in tone, with its ruined Este castle and wonderful flower beds and bowers and stone bridge over river and walled town and as happily historic as all get out.
I looked to see how many Estes were in the phone book (a respectable number) but I didn’t phone anyone. I would be more thorough and stay longer on another trip. I doubt there is any way to fix up that castle.
I enjoyed all of Italy that I visited (and the rest of Europe held no less enthusiasm from me). But to stick, as it were, around the old homestead, the most enjoyable places were Venice and Florence. I was most surprised to see cruise ships looming from the Venetian waterfront.
I sighed on The Bridge of Sighs – from such beauty to such terror those prisoners were lead. A stunning memory was boating on the Grand Canal at dusk and seeing rooms in a passing mansion ablaze with chandeliers.
Florence was my favourite. It is, of course, awash in museums and galleries and art art Art. To chose the one which stunned me most was Botechelli’s Birth of Venus – and that’s saying a lot, considering. The Ponte Vecchio over the Arno lives up to all its billing. Alas, I bought no gold.
Also, a memory is walking along certain streets and assuming I was near riding stables because of the permeating smell. However, I was in the leather good quarter. There was also the ancient, wire mesh and gated elevator,the type I had only seen in movies, wheezing me aloft to my lodgings. And the lady who left her room key on my table after breakfast. And don’t get me started on the markets and the food. Don’t.
However, there is one golden memory which consists of neither history nor ancient art. This happened in Verona. I was walking along a busy street and looked into the interior of a news vendor. The building also had an array of paperback books. And there, looking back out at me, was my own novel, L’INGANNO BONNER, recently produced in an Italian translation. That was a most pleasant delight indeed.