Wednesday Wander – Bridge of Sighs, Venice

My wander this week is to Venice, Italy. I’ve written a little bit about Venice before, but this time I wanted to focus specifically on the famous Bridge of Sighs, so called because it was the bridge over which prisoners were taken before being executed or exiled from Venice. It is said their sorrow was such at their last view of Venice that they sighed, giving the bridge it’s name.

The bridge was designed and built in 1600 by Antonio Contino, and connects the interrogation rooms at the Doge’s Palace with the prison. Made from white limestone, it is ornately carved – even the bars on the small window are made from stone. As for the name… to be honest, and hopefully I’m not bursting too many bubbles here, if I were being taken to be executed I think I’d be doing more than sighing. Also, sandwiched between two buildings as it is, I wonder how much of Venice could be seen. I suppose it was one last look at the blue waters, at sunlight and fresh air, before being taken to their final destination – that, I can understand.

However, further research definitely bursts the bubble – apparently, by the time the bridge was built the days of interrogation and summary execution were over, so it was mostly small-time criminals heading over the bridge to spend short stints in the attached cells. Apparently Lord Byron, among others, is to blame for the more romantic notion, inspired by the beauty of the bridge on his travels to Venice in the early 1800s.

There’s also a Bridge of Sighs at Cambridge University, built in the 1830’s – whether there’s a similar tradition there, I don’t know.

There is a sweeter tradition associated with the bridge – that if you kiss someone while standing under the bridge at sunset (which you can only do in a gondola) you will love them forever. Perhaps the romantic setting has something to do with it. It is possible to tour the Doge’s Palace and cross the bridge and perhaps, even, sigh a little. However, the short time I had in Venice meant I missed out. Sounds like the perfect excuse to go back…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you again next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#Monday Motivations – The Bench

Esther Newton does a great writing prompt series called Monday Motivations, and her latest prompt is this lovely photograph. When I saw it a little story came to me, and so here it is:

She remembered when he’d put the bench there. He’d been young then, and strong, muscles firm against his skin, his flesh sweet against hers in the night.

Together they would sit, gazing through the trees, dreaming into the darkness, her head on his shoulder. Sometimes they would bring the radio and dance, holding each other close and swaying like the treetops above. Other times they would talk, making plans of family and home and love so strong it still left her breathless at his loss.

She still went to sit there every day, leaving the house they had built together, her old knees creaking as she negotiated the steps from the back porch. Sometimes she would take a handful of nuts for the squirrels or seed for the birds, especially when winter held the land in an iron grip, her breath misting the air.

Through the seasons she sat, as leaves turned and the evergreens dropped green needles that turned slippery brown under foot. And she would talk to him. ‘Come back to me,’ she would say, tears cool on warm cheeks, or hot against frozen skin. She would tell him her plans, tell him of the family, of all that had passed since the dark day he had left. Eventually, she would stop talking, and lose herself in a dream of summer darkness, of his arm strong around her. She would return to the house and sleep well that night, as though all the hard years since his passing had never been.

There was joy still, in her life. She brought their first grandchild down to meet him, small hand waving from the warm bundle in her arms. Then the second, and the third, speaking their names so he would know them, and they him.

Her family had tried to get her to sell up, to move on. To a place further south where the sun shone all the time, where old joints could feel young again. But she couldn’t leave their special place and, in the end, they came to understand.

And so it was, on a night toward summer’s end, while fireflies danced and the air still held the warmth of the day, that she made her way down to the bench once more, her breath catching as she negotiated the slope. It was silent under the branches, twilight sweeping the sky like soft wings.

She sat down. ‘Come back to me,’ she said, half smiling at her fantasy, dreaming of his touch.

‘I have never left you,’ she heard him say. She looked up, tears in her eyes, to see him standing just a little way down the slope. All at once lights were strewn through the branches, as though the fireflies had been bottled and shaken out along the leaves, glimmers of gold lighting his face, his dark hair, as he smiled at her, holding out his hand.

She stood, and it was as though she shed her skin, all the things that had weighed her down leaving her, so she was light as a soap bubble, rising through the air. She half ran to him, not slipping on the dry needles, her footing sure. She took his hand. ‘Oh!’ Her exclamation was soft, a whisper in the night, as she felt his warm fingers around hers once more.

‘I have missed you,’ she said.

‘And I you,’ he replied. ‘Even though I could see you, and hear you, it wasn’t the same. But now…’

‘Now?’

He said nothing, just looked past her, back to the bench. She turned and, when she saw the slumped body there, like a pile of old clothes, discarded, she understood.

And there was lightness all through her and around her, a thousand fireflies in the night, as she danced with her love once more.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Snow Day

img_4919It snowed here on Friday. And Saturday too. Proper snow, like fat feathers falling from the sky, swirling around and settling on trees and pavements and rooftops. The schools didn’t close and life continued pretty much as usual, but it snowed.

I love snow. If you’ve ever watched the Gilmore Girls, you’ll know that Lorelei Gilmore can sense when the first snow is coming. She smiles in anticipation, hugging herself as she says ‘I can smell snow,’ like it’s some wonderful gift she’s about to be given. I feel the same way about it, though I don’t quite have the same snow sense as she does. Snow is soft and, when it falls, if the wind is just right, you can stand there and watch it float and dance around you like specks of magic. I don’t feel the same way about rain at all. You can’t make rain angels.

img_1020I lived in Ontario for many years and it only takes stepping on a frozen puddle and hearing it crack to take me back to the first winter we lived there, when the temperature dropped well below zero and snow was piled so high at the end of the driveway we dug into it and made a snow cave. I remember the novelty of heavy boots and all-in-one snowsuits, of ice skating on a frozen pond, tobogganing at night and putting on my cross country skis to ski around my neighbourhood. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my brother listening to the radio, waiting to hear whether school was closed and we had a snow day. I also remember being at work one day and coming out to find my car almost completely buried in snow, and another day where I’d left the window slightly open and ended up with a snowdrift on the back seat.

img_4910I met my husband at the snow. Both of us working at a ski resort, the violet lit slopes and winter cold a perfect backdrop to romance. And so when the clouds gather and the first flakes start to fall I’m taken back. To a time as a child when snow seemed to last forever, lit with fairy lights. To a time when my life changed in wonderful ways. Oh, I know snow gets dirty and slushy and tedious after a while, but there is wonder in the first fresh fall, the glitter of light and the unique beauty in each and every snowflake.

I hope it snows again soon.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Wednesday Wander – Whistler, BC

As it’s been so warm here these past few days, for my Wednesday Wander this week I wanted to go somewhere cold. I had a few options – the mountains of Australia or Andorra, inside a glacier in the Swiss Alps, or a view across a frozen Lake Ontario, taken from high above in the CN Tower. But in the end I decided to go with this photograph:

Me in WhistlerThis is me, back in the days when I used to go snowboarding, standing at almost the top of Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, BC. I’m wrapped to the gills because it is freezing up there, early January when the snows run deep. You can see the line of the valley below me, and the Cascade mountains stretching beyond towards the Rockies.

I met my husband in Whistler. He was an Aussie on his big world trip; I’d just finished university and had headed west, wondering what to do next in the face of a major recession and dwindling job market. A friend decided she was going to Whistler to work for a season, then invited me up as well, to meet her new roommate. One thing led to another and within weeks he and I were sharing a small room in a house (how small? Let’s just say the bed was half in the wardrobe, as it was the only way it would fit in the room). It was destiny, obviously 😉

So, as I sit here in sticky heat, the sun setting golden outside my window, I can remember fresh cold air, the sun glinting off frost, the crisp bite of snow squeaking under the edge of my board. And for a moment, I’m a bit cooler.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!

 

#writephoto – Mine

Sue's Mine photo

Sue’s chosen another great shot for her #writephoto challenge this week, and here’s my take on ‘Mine’:

‘Funny place for three holes. D’you think that’s where they hung the prisoners?’ His voice echoed up through the topless tower as though we were at the bottom of a well. I tilted my head, wanting to show him how much I knew about this stuff. Still not quite at ease with him, our relationship something new.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘the big hole – there could have been something there. Like a display of weapons, or something. The two smaller holes, I don’t know-‘

I felt his hand push hard on my shoulder, then he was up on the old wooden platform, the timber creaking alarmingly under his weight as he made his way, sure-footed, to the holes. He turned, winking at me, whisky brown eyes crinkling.

‘Only one way to find out,’ he said. Then he placed both hands inside the smaller holes, putting his face up against the larger one.

Then he jerked, screaming. I screamed too, the sound sending pigeons flying up, flap of wings against ancient stone. I scrambled to get on the platform, my hiking boot catching on the edge, banging my knee in my haste to get to him.

Then he started laughing.

‘Ass!’ I laughed, too, though more out of relief than anything else, sitting back and rubbing my knee. He jumped down, still chuckling.

‘Come on.’ He held out his hand. I took it, feeling that connection, the electricity I got from him and no-one else. He pulled me to my feet, then into his arms.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.’ Then he kissed me, and I knew.

He was mine.

For more entries, or to add one of your own, head on over to Sue’s blog 🙂

#BlogBattle ‘Trace’

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It’s Tuesday, it’s wet and rainy, and it’s the first of the month – March has come in colder than February, that’s for sure. It’s also #BlogBattle Day, courtesy of Rachael Ritchey, and this week’s theme is ‘Trace’. As has seemed to be happening lately with these challenges, another scene has appeared from my vampire story. And here it is:

The hallway was dark, the moon only a pale sliver against the velvet sky, glimpsed through long windows. Faintly I could hear music from below, the laughter of my parents and their guests.

But I didn’t care about any of that.

Kyle was behind me, walking two paces back as was proper, as befitted a Guard. Then the hallway turned and I felt him take my hand. I stopped, remembering the kitchen, blood and a kiss in the dark.

He came around to stand in front of me, his eyes a silver gleam. He said my name, the words dropping like stones into the deep pool of night. I held my breath. Then his fingers began to move along the soft inner skin of my arm, tracing the path of my veins. Sensation rippled from his touch, his breath hot/cold on my skin as he bent close. His eyes closed and he inhaled, breathing me in as his fingers moved higher.

I froze, my breath coming in short gasps as his hand reached my shoulder and the strap of my gown, sliding under the fabric. He was so close to me, the scent of violets overpowering, heady like wine. Was I ready for this? I managed to turn my head and he kissed me, a quicksilver touch of the lips.

‘There is a vein just here,’ he murmured, his lips millimetres from mine. ‘And it is oh, so sweet.’ His hand left my strap to slide up the side of my neck, so gentle. I curled into his touch, my hair slipping across the bare skin of my back, every nerve ending alive as he continued to trace my human frailty, pulsing through my skin. I felt as though I might fly, or explode, screaming into the night, dissolving to dissipate like sparking embers, gold flickers against the dark. Every hair stood on end, an ache deep inside me. I reached up, his hair slipping like silk through my fingers as I pulled him in for another kiss.

He let me, and I felt him smile against my mouth, diamond sharp teeth nipping me. His other hand came up between us, sliding over the silk of my dress to rest against my pounding heart. ‘And here is where they meet, where your life pulses strong,’ he said, his lips moving across my cheek and down, past my jawline to my neck, his voice a rumble against my throat, his hand heavy against my chest.

I was gone. Caution thrown to whatever wind passed by. He could have done anything in that moment and I would have let him. How would I stop him, anyway? He could kill me before I even moved.

————————————————————————————————————

Now, once again this is a very ‘lovey’ sort of scene. So, lest you think this whole book is going to be just a vampire love-in (which, while fun, would make for a fairly boring book), here is another scene I wrote for last week’s battle, the theme of which was ‘Pure.’ Obviously I’m a little late for that one, so please don’t consider this as an entry – rather, it’s just a bonus scene if you’re interested:

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‘And then the great families were formed, each with their own bloodlines, their own magic.’

Mistress Galena’s voice droned on and on and I tried not to roll my eyes. Mainly because she would have seen me do it, her vampire eyes no less sharp because of her age. Plus I was sitting in my own little pool of light, the lamp I needed when taking lessons perched on one corner of the small table.

Galena kept well back from it, of course. The latest in a long line of teachers, she sat in the corner shrouded in stiff dark taffeta that rustled as she moved, careful not to let my light touch her skin.

‘And they grew in number, careful to choose those with whom they shared the blood magic, wanting to keep the lines pure.’

Yeah, right. Pure. Whatever. I leaned my head on my hand, pretending to make notes in my book, but all I was doing was doodling. And thinking. About the kitchen, steel gleam in the moonlight. And Kyle, leaning against the cupboards, all muscled black and silver.

‘Of course there were aberrations, throwbacks, our old blood resurging in impure ways. Such children were usually abandoned-‘

What the actual f*ck? I sat up as though stung, frowning. I’m right here. She can see me, right? She knows who I am, what I am? I mean, I got it, that I couldn’t go to regular school. My parents had tried to send me but I’d refused, not wanting to have a guard with me at all times. As if I wasn’t going to stand out enough already.

I’d heard there were schools in the human safe zones. Open during daylight hours, the children given a chance at a normal life, an education. My mouth twisted. Right now, they seemed a much better option that this. Hell, vamp high school with a whole battalion of guards seemed better than listening to this. Galena’s wrinkled mouth curved up as she spoke, her eyes glittering more than usual as they focused on me.

‘-their families finding them difficult to feed and care for, the shame of such an impure birth an unwanted burden. There were some who kept the children, of course, but hid them from sight, their existence unacknowledged outside the home, as it should be-‘

‘As it should be?’

My head whipped around. Mother. She was standing in the doorway, her pale beauty even colder than usual. Her voice was calm, but I could see her nostrils were flared, her iridescent gaze fierce.

‘Do I hear you correctly, Galena?’ she went on, sweeping into the room in a cloud of deep red silk.

‘My lady,’ Galena rose from the chair and sank into a deep curtsey, the taffeta folding like paper around her. ‘I’m sure I did not mean-‘

‘I’m sure you did.’ My mother’s voice was clipped, sharp as she cut Galena off and the teacher bowed her head. ‘Is this what she has been teaching you?

Her voice softened as she came close to me, her violet scent enhanced with spice and flowers curling around me as she reached to smooth my hair, so like her own. I nodded.

‘Well, pretty much,’ I said. ‘It’s history, after all-‘

Her mouth twisted. ‘History.’ She paused then swallowed, her hand soft on my hair. The light must have been hurting her – I could see her pale skin turning red – but she did not move away. ‘History is something we can learn from, I suppose. Mainly not to repeat the mistakes of the past.’ She returned her focus to Galena. ‘I trust you take my meaning? Such thoughts are of the old ways, and I will not have you poisoning my daughter with your prejudice.’

‘My lady.’ Galena bowed her head once more, still holding the deep curtsey, vampire strength making it seem so easy. ‘ I am sorry.’

‘You will be, if I hear of any further such talk. They are always in need of new fighters for the pits, you know.’

My mother’s voice was like steel and I glanced up, wide eyed. The pits? Galena would be destroyed in a night. I mean, she was a nasty old bitch but still, it was only words. I’d heard worse. Galena trembled, the taffeta creaking around her ancient form.

‘I am sorry, my lady,’ she whispered, her voice rough as she sank even lower. ‘I will not-‘

‘You will not indeed. I think perhaps it is best if you go. I do not think you have anything of value to teach. Guard!’

As she called out a guard entered the room. Kyle.

I blushed all over.

His silver eyes widened briefly and he took a sharp intake of breath, as did my mother and Galena.

And once again I cursed my human nature, the embarrassment of my unreliable body, my surging blood letting me down once more. I stood up too quickly, knocking the table so the little lamp rocked and flickered. I reached to steady it.

‘Ow!’ My hand burned as it touched the hot metal shade and I snatched it back, feeling the blood pulsing even more against my skin, my blush endless. I knew it must be torture for all three of them. Even though I couldn’t smell it, I knew the scent of my heated flesh was filling the room, overpowering their violet perfume.

All at once it was too much. I turned and ran for the door, hot tears burning my eyes, clutching my sore hand to me. Kyle reached out a moment too late, his long fingers just brushing the velvet of my sleeve. I didn’t stop, running down the long hall, my mother calling after me. She sounded worried. I knew she loved me. I knew I loved her. But it was too hard. I just couldn’t deal with any of it right now.

But you can’t run from vampires. She was there, all at once, catching me in her arms and holding me close, her hands on my hair, rubbing my back.

‘My darling girl, I’m so sorry.’

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Three Quote Challenge, Day 1

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The lovely Eilis Niamh has nominated me for the three quote challenge, the rules of which are as follows:

First, you thank the person who’s nominated you.
Then, you post a quote you love.
Finally, on each of the three days you post a different quote, you choose another blogger to carry on. (ooh, not sure about that last one – however, we shall see)

Thank you Eilis! Okay, here is my first quote:

‘Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of the lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music.’ Kahlil Gibran

I found my copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet in a charity shop – it’s a 1972 edition, still with $2 marked in pencil on the inside cover. I was already familiar with some of his quotes, the above one in particular, as it was part of a reading I had at my wedding. It’s pretty popular for weddings, I guess, but I believe that’s because it speaks a truth all couples can heed.

In a world where we are constantly sold a happy ending based on the idea that, once you find your soulmate you’re set for life, never to part, Gibran offers an alternate viewpoint. That, while we should love each other, we should also love enough to let our significant other be alone. To let them grow as a person, just as we grow too. That, while we may share a life, we don’t have to share everything. Though our strings may quiver to the same music, we don’t necessarily have to play together all the time. Whether together or apart, it makes no difference, for you do not depend on anyone else to make you complete – you are a complete person already.

I love the first metaphor – ‘a moving sea between the shores of your souls’. It’s just so poetic and romantic. That’s what love feels like to me. Water flowing endlessly, tides waxing and waning under a silver moon, a force of nature you can only follow along with, not control.

So that’s my first quote, two more to go. I would like to nominate Stephen Baird, if he doesn’t mind (though it’s up to you whether or not you wish to take on the challenge, Stephen!)