Friday, April 20, 2012

Romance in Unusual Places: St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

 The town across the river from where I live, Alexandria, is home of the Diocese of Alexandria. Which means we have a cathedral. St. Francis Xavier Cathedral downtown on Third Street. It's a beautiful brick building built in 1893 with gorgeous stained glass windows. These windows have a blue in them that was lost forever during WW2 when the German factory responsible for it was blown to smithereens.

Since Alexandria's water table is so high, the cathedral itself sits several feet above the ground and is one of the few buildings in the area with a basement. There's a sump pump in the basement that runs around the clock. Also in the basement you can see scorch marks on some of the bricks. The foundation was laid with the burnt remains of the big house at Tyrone Plantation a few miles northwest of town.

During Lent the Knights of Columbus sell fried fish on Fridays. My sister and I go as often as we can. March was very wet and blustery and this scene spoke to my inner romantic.

The building pictured above is on the west side of the cathedral. It was built in the early 1900's and at one point housed the St. Francis Xavier School. There was another building on the site but it's long since been torn down.

The bell tower in the background was added to the church in 1907 and has the most beautiful bells I've ever heard.

The other picture is taken from outside the school building, looking through one of the blown glass windowpanes at an interior staircase.

Most of the building is now used for storage. One section of it has been remodeled into a modern kitchen with a dining area and it is here the fish is sold and eaten by people from all over town. Whether we're Catholic or not. As Father Chad Partain is fond of saying, "During Lent, everyone in Alexandria becomes a good Catholic."

And it's all because of the fish at the cathedral.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blue Stripes

Believe it or not it wasn't the stripes that caught my eye on this one. It was the shawl collar. I've never seen anything like it on an 1850's dress.

It's at the Met, dated to 1854 and is made of silk. I'm guessing it was a dinner dress. It's a little too fancy to be a day dress and there are no under sleeves with it. Shoulders were usually covered up during the day.

Once I moved past the collar the careful attention to the diagonal stripes stood out. Click and make the picture bigger. I'll wait.

See the piecing in the middle? Amazing!

Here's a side/back view. As I thought it closes up the back. The collar has buttons on it over the arms. If you go to the dress's page on the Met's website, linked above, you can see details of the trim. I can't quite figure out what it's made of. I think it's cording of some kind woven and sewn together to make a kind of lace.

Whatever it is it's gorgeous and adds to the unique qualities of this dress.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday Musings: Rejection

Well, it's finally happened. I've received a rejection that punched me in the gut and left me in tears. Last Tuesday, the 10th. A beautiful evening with a great meal cooked by my very talented brother, that I wasn't able to truly enjoy because I was so upset.

This is where having other writer friends comes in so handy. I was able to cry it out among friends who knew exactly how I felt because they've all been there.

The email stung in a big way because it felt like my love of history and my state was being rejected, that I didn't know what I was talking about. Of course that's not true, it just means I failed to do all of my job as a writer and sufficiently set up my very unique story in my proposal. I've got some work to do on the historical background section.

I'm writing about the French Creole culture, a very unique group of people in a very unique state. Where interracial marriage--though illegal during the time I'm writing about--was still quite common. So common in fact that in 1855 the state supreme court felt it necessary to expand the 1825 statute banning black-white marriage within the state, to include black-white marriages conducted out of state. When the 1825 law was passed the French Creoles just went to Paris or a French Caribbean island and got married anyway.

This was almost entirely an upper-class thing too. Lower classes couldn't afford to go to Paris to get married or afford the legal costs to protect their children. There were also Catholic priests who would perform mixed race marriages and they were recognized by the Church. Just not the state. But in a heavily Catholic state, the Church's certificate carried as much social weight as a state-issued marriage license. This is also the same state where minister-conducted slave weddings were considered normal. You don't find that in most other states.

Was life hard for these couples? You betcha it was hard! Nothing came easy and the men had to pay special attention to their wills to make sure their children and wife were taken care of. Interracial marriage became legal again in 1866 and remained legal until the first set of Jim Crow laws. Here in Louisiana the ones pertaining to marriage were repealed in the 60's. Decades ahead of many other states. Alabama only repealed their ban within the last five years and became the last state to legalize black-white marriage.

During all of the 19th century interracial marriage was technically legal in South Carolina. I say technically because it wasn't specifically forbidden until the Jim Crow laws. My heroine is from South Carolina, the one other state in the country with a significant, free mulatto population that freely mingled with whites and had nearly all the same rights. Her backstory was carefully crafted to make it natural for her to fall in love with a mulatto man.

The interracial element is a crucial part of this story. I knew it would be a tough sell when I started it. In my head. I didn't know how much it would hurt the first I was rejected because of the interracial element.

But how else can I use the yummy Shemar Moore as a character template?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Charles Frederic Worth

I love 99% of the designs of Charles Frederic Worth. He got his start in the 1850's and one of his most famous clients was Empress Eugenie of France. But in my opinion, his best decade was the 1880's. So today, we're taking a stroll through some of my favorite Worth dresses.

As always, please click to make them bigger. You'll be glad you did.

This blue one is just amazing. It's an evening gown from 1883 made of silk moire. That's a fancy way of saying the silk looks like it's been stained by water. Beautiful. And the color!

I'm not sure if this is an evening dress or a dinner dress, but I love the understated elegance of it.

I love stripes too. This one is from 1884, silk satin and cut velvet. The blue is the satin, and the cream is the velvet. Here's the dress's page at the Chicago History Museum. It's well worth the click to zoom in and see the detail on the velvet stripes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Sancturay For A Lady

Sanctuary For A Lady
Naomi Rawlings
Barnes and Noble, Amazon

Every year it seems, another European setting pops up. This one is set during the French Revolution. Whoo!

I had the pleasure of watching this book sell, via one of my writers groups and got to meet her in person at ACFW conference last year. Naomi finaled in the Genesis last year and then had to withdraw because Love Inspired bought her book. Every writer's dream!

Naturally I was drawn to the book because of the setting, and also because Naomi is such a sweet person and it was so exciting watching it all happen.

This romance is built on the opposite sides of society thing, which I love. Isabelle de la Rauchecauld is the daughter of a duke, and Michel Belanger is a peasant with a hatred for all things aristocratic. Like most of the French peasantry, and for good reason. Their journey to love is poignant, bittersweet and perfectly paced.

The villain twist I did not see coming. Isabelle's journey to forgiveness of the villain eerily mirrored my own forgiveness journey of the last two years. The setting was masterfully crafted, with just the right amount of French sprinkled in to make it authentic, but not off-putting or confusing.

Another thing I found wonderfully refreshing is that Naomi pulled no punches in painting every viewpoint of the Revolution. I love it when bloody revolutions are looked at from every angle, and not just the one that's portrayed to us as the "right" side. Truth is, there was no right side in the French Revolution. It helped no one, and definitely not the people who needed help the most.

And as a descendent of a long line of woodworkers, both professional and hobby, I truly enjoyed seeing Michel's love of woodworking come alive on the page. It's not a profession seen often in fiction.