Sunday, 20 July 2014

July Postbag

A recurring question from readers concerns names - the names of characters in The Door of Perarolo and also place names.

Annie in Hereford has asked me specifically about the
name 'Fortin'.  Fortin in French means 'little fort'.  Not that I would have known that if it wasn't for Nadia, a dear friend who lives in Paris.   My thanks go out to her and Veronique, both of whom helped me with so many things French while writing The Door of Perarolo, especially the proverbs and quotations.

A little fort
My thanks to Le Wooden Toy
 for permission to use this image

Xavier Fortin was one of those people historians never record.  He wasn't famous, he was just an ordinary person.  Someone for sure arranged the transportation of the masts  from the Dolomites to Venice, but it wasn't someone like Tupinier or Maillot.  People in positions of authority don't do donkey-work.  

So I gave this anonymous person a name: Xavier Fortin.  I needed to give him a surname that could be either a French name or an Italian one.  Knowing he was a strong man, I chose Fortin.  

There are many Italians whose last names that have that 'in' ending.  Pierre Cardin is one.  He was born in 1922 in a town near Venice, moving to France after WW2.

Johann Karl Freiherr von Hiller
When writing The Door of Perarolo I worked from my research notes keeping as close as possible to the known facts about Tupinier, Maillot, Salvini, Hiller, Bellegarde, Murat and all the rest of the real historical characters.  

For those Austrian characters that were fictitious I generally used real Austrian names: Reithoffer, Stumpf, Fingerlos, Prieler, Seidler, Erstweiler... and so on.  

For fictitious French and Italian surnames I often used names that had an amusing translation - did you translate them, I wonder?  

I also added one new separable verb to the German language (new additions to the language are encouraged in Germany) and one new collective noun to the English language.  Did you spot these, too?  If so - well done!

The exceptions I made to the rule of using real names as regards Italian surnames relate to those surnames belonging to families living in Codissago; the surnames of the zattieri di Codissago survive to this day, and I didn't wish to cause any offence to the good people of that town.  So I limited myself to the use of first names.
The church of Santi Pietro e Paolo in Tarvisio

As regards place names, over the years the names of many towns have changed.  In the time frame covered in the narrative of The Door of Perarolo Tarvis  was a town  in Austria.  Nowadays it is renamed Tarvisio and is part of Italy. 

Illyria, a province of the French Empire until 1814, in modern times is part of Slovenia and Croatia. Many towns have been renamed.  Karlstadt, for example, is now called Karlovac.  

Many Italian towns that have remained in Italy have had their names changed or modified during the last two centuries.  Some have been foreshortened.

Map showing the route over the Simplon
Duomo d'Ossola ('Cathedral of Ossola' - Ossola being a region of NW Italy) nowadays is called Domodossola.   

This is my map marked (blue arrows) with the route I took when hitch-hiking through Switzerland and over the Simplon in July 2000.

Below is an extract from my diary.  I was following the route taken by the Campbell family (recorded in Beaujolois Campbell's diary) in 1817 -  first mentioned in the New Year postbag.


For once Beaujolois doesn't say where they stayed in the town.  I booked into a hotel close to the station (, where I met  the owners, Sergio and Luigia BartoLucci,  and their daughter.  I explained why I had come to their town and they expressed great interest.  

We chatted in Italian most of that evening.  Their hotel, the hall virtually a museum, reflects their strong interest in the history of the region.   They showed me an original document signed in 1809 in Milan by Napoleon’s step-son Eugenio, commemorating the completion of the Simplon road.
Original [Simplon] document from 1809,  in the Hotel Eurossola, Domodossola  (P.A.G 2000)

I explained  that  I was looking for a hotel that would have existed in 1817, in the centre of the town within the old walls.

They told me of two old inns, one of these, now the Pizzeria Terminus, they felt  sure would have been the one.  I was hungry, so that evening I went there to eat a fine pizza.  As I ate I had plenty of time to survey the impressive 14th century vaulted ceilings, very similar in style to those I saw in the lobby of the Lion d'Or (where the Campbells stayed briefly before travelling to Brig to stay the night, before mounting the Simplon)  at Sion in Switzerland.

Beaujolois, in her diary: 'We slept at Duomo d'Ossola where I heard everyone talking Italian... The beds were large but dirty.  The people looked like rogues...' This is my photo from July 2000. To the left, under the striped awning, is the Pizzeria Terminus.    

The church of Santi Quirico e Giulitta, Castellavazzo (P.A.G. 2008)

Here's another example of the way names can change in Italy.  

The citizens of Castello Lavazzo held a referendum in 2011 as to whether to adopt Castellavazzo as their name, which they did!

The town is on the opposite bank of the Piave from  Codissago.  

That's enough about names!  Next month's blog will resume our voyage down the Piave.

PS: Thanks to you all for your comments and queries.  In grateful also to all those who have posted reviews on Amazon sites since the last postbag, the most recent being Mike in Hereford (thanks, Mike!).

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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