Here’s a new YouTube video that takes you on a tour of the Pope’s palace in Avignon. We begin outside the west façade of the palace, where a busker is entertaining for coins, enter through the double portcullis, take a look around the courtyards, peer out of the Pope’s indulgence window. Then we join the secret palace tour to see inside a room with a decorated wooden ceiling and go up the corkscrew staircase, the only one that goes from top to bottom. We emerge on the roof, where the wind is blowing. From here, we see a 360 degree video of the city below. I had fun putting this together from my own photos and videos of the palace. I hope you enjoy it.
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Getting into the mind of a literary character is a gradual process, just as it is with real people. My biggest wow moment in my understanding of Solange Le Blanc in Muse came when I was on the secret tour of the popes’ palace in Avignon. I stared at the bare walls of a basement chamber trying to imagine the décor of the Pope’s bathing room as the guide was describing it . . . read more
Late-medieval Avignon was a city of men. A vast number of clerics were employed by the Pope and cardinals, and foreign merchants, craftsmen, and artisans swelled the ranks of local people providing services to the church. The city was a cultural and economic magnet, an attractive place to set up shop. It was also notoriously corrupt . . . read more
Seven hundred years after the popes lived in Avignon, we can read reports about their banquets and gain insight into their luxurious life style. The type of food people ate depended on their rank. Although there was a vast difference between the diet of a pope and a peasant, the poor did not starve, because the Pope gave out 6,000 loaves of bread daily. The staples of a peasant’s diet were grains, legumes, onions, garlic, vegetables, coarse dark bread, eggs, and milk products, with a little fish, meat, or poultry . . . read more
Muse is set in medieval Avignon during the period when the popes resided there, rather than in Rome. Writers such as Francesco Petrarch flocked to the city to seek patronage from the Pope and cardinals. The city was bursting with craftsmen, merchants, goldsmiths, and money lenders as well as the architects, master masons, and artists who worked on the Pope’s immense palace. Under Clement VI, who appears in Muse, the palais des papes became the most celebrated court in Europe, a salon for the artists, musicians, and intellectuals who were the avant-garde of the Renaissance. At the beginning of the 14th century, Avignon was a city of 5,000 people. It grew by a thousand a year as men came to the papal city to seek their fortune and curry favour with the Pope, who was centralizing religious power in himself. The Pope behaved more like a monarch than a spiritual leader. The main symbol of his opulence was the palace itself . . .
My novel Muse arrived, imaginatively speaking, when I was teaching a literature course in which we were exploring Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. We were riffing on that, looking at ways of describing a woman hero’s journey, when a student told me about Veronica Franco, an “intellectual courtesan” of 16th-century Venice. This discovery was one of the triggering ideas for Muse. From the poet Veronica Franco, who had unfortunately been written about, I made the leap to the walled city of Avignon, which I had recently visited, guessing that courtesans, as well as popes, had lived there in the 14th century.
. . .continue reading at Mary Novik’s website
Attractively situated on the southern Rhône in France, Avignon is a walled city with spectacular medieval sights. The historic centre has many charms to offer the tourist. Today Avignon is a UNESCO world heritage site, where tourists, not 14th-century clerics, throng the narrow, winding streets and visit the grand palace of the Avignon popes. The towers of the palais des papes are visible for miles as you approach on the fast train, the TGV from Paris. You must enter the wall through one of the twelve gates where medieval travellers were likely to be greeted by a traitor’s rotting torso or severed leg to warn against committing treason. Today, the main artery running north to the palace is as mercantile as during the time of the popes
The inspiration behind my novel Muse is the amazing town of Avignon in France, where the popes resided in the 14th century. I visited it five times to explore the popes’ palace, the city wall, the rivers and canals, and the surviving medieval streets and buildings. I went there to soak up the atmosphere and walk in Solange’s shoes. The late middle ages are so far back in time that facts are scarce and history blurs into poetry and myth. This made the city even more attractive to me, because I could gather many story-strands into a single character, the fictional Solange Le Blanc. Early on, I decided to tell the story from Solange’s point of view. This was a blessing, because it would have been drudgery to wade through the piles of information about theAvignon popes. Acres of worm-eaten parchment sit in the Vaucluse archives, not to mention the Vatican archives in Rome.
As the author of two novels, Conceit (Doubleday 2007) and Muse(Doubleday 2013), I often get asked “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Actually, I waited for years for my first good idea to come along. Finally, when I was about fifty, I stumbled across the story of Veronica Franco, a poet and “intellectual courtesan” in 16th-century Venice. What if someone dug up a lost manuscript by Franco? That would make a great book, but unfortunately, it had been written. Were there any courtesans in papal Avignon, a city equal in splendour to Venice? I had visited Avignon and seen the pagan frescoes in the Pope’s bedchamber. What sort of antics had gone on there? Avignon was a city of men, but not just ordinary men—unmarried clerics. I read in Peter de Rosa’s scandalous book, Vicars of Christ, that 14th-century Avignon had “spectacular whores.” Eureka. Avignon would be better than Venice.
It’s been a busy and exciting time for my new novel Muse. First the copyedits. Then the proofs. And now I have a book cover that I can share. What do you think about it? The designer chose two lively paintings and put them together, with the woman standing in front of medieval Avignon. She’s lively and larger than life, upstaging the city, just as I imagined Solange. Avignon continues onto the back cover, so there’s a panorama of the city from Saint Bénezet’s bridge to the papal palace. Just looking at it brings back memories of visits to Avignon, a wonderful UNESCO world heritage site. I’m in the process of talking to the British web team, pedalo, that designed my Conceit website. They’re going to come up with a site that’s even more vibrant and fun for Muse at www.marynovik.com. It will take a few weeks to pull together, but you can be sure that I’ll be shouting it out when it’s ready to look at! In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about Muse, please e-mail me, or visit the Doubleday web page, http://www.randomhouse.ca/books/196651/muse-by-mary-novik