In researching for my latest novel, I discovered an interesting website which tells the story of German brewing. Surprisingly, I learned that the enterprise of beer making was intertwined with the politics and religion of Germany from as far back as Caesar’s time, when his legions were menaced by brewers in the forest clearings.
Louis Pasteur’s interest in fermentation led to a discovery that saved countless lives, and it all began with his experiments with beer and wine. To read further, and trace the development of ale to lager, and learn who controlled the brewing of beer during specific time periods, go to www.germanbeerinstitute.com/history.html
Today I welcome Stefanie Pintoff, author of historical mysteries. Last week I reviewed her debut mystery, which won a coveted Edgar award for Best First Novel. Today, she’s giving away signed copies of her latest mystery, Secret of the White Rose, to TWO lucky people who leave a comment.
I’ve asked her to give a brief summary about the statuary that appears on the cover of one of her books. Even if you live far from New York, as I do, I found the story fascinating. Here it is, in Stefanie’s own words.
Throughout my historical mystery series, which began with In the Shadow of Gotham, I regularly include several major New York City landmarks. While my early 1900s setting can sometimes feel far removed from 2011, these places can be strikingly familiar to readers – and help develop a sense of being connected with the past. But it’s important to realize that New Yorkers of a hundred years ago sometimes viewed these landmarks very differently than we do today.
One such landmark is the Angel of the Waters, who appears both on the cover of my first book and as well as in its chapters. In cover artist David Rotstein’s creation, she is a dark figure bathed in light, yet clothed in ice; reaching out, yet remaining aloof as cold snow swirls around her. The UK edition kept her as their cover figure, but accentuated her darkness as well as the heavy snow surrounding her.
In real life, she was one of the few sculptures commissioned specifically for Central Park. Her creator, the sculptor Emma Stebbins, was the first woman to be charged with creating a major work of art in New York City. Stebbins wanted to celebrate not only Central Park, but also the new Croton Aqueduct that fed the fountain and gave New York City its first dependable source of clean drinking water. So Stebbins’s Angel, who presides over Bethesda Terrace, carries a lily (the symbol of purity) in one hand and reaches out with the other to bless the water of the lake (which represents all New York’s fresh water supply). Stebbins may have been inspired, too, by a biblical passage about the healing powers of the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. As Sara Cedar Miller has suggested in Central Park, An American Masterpiece, this aspect of the Angel perhaps came from the sculptor’s personal life. Stebbins’ companion, the famous actress Charlotte Cushman, battled breast cancer until her death – and sometimes sought water treatments during her illness.
Yet the Angel of the Waters was reviled when she was first unveiled in Central Park on June 1, 1873. The New York Times stated: “All had expected something great, something of angelic power and beauty.” Instead, the crowd’s disappointment was palpable. According to the Times, the angel looked like nothing more than a “servant girl” from the rear, and a “girl jumping over stepping stones” from the front. Her head was judged to appear male, but the rest of her body was a mix of male and female parts. And her wings were “unconnected” to her body, put on like a “ballet costume.” In short, “the revulsion of feeling was painful.”
That’s a 19th-century sentiment I don’t share. Her area of Central Park is one of my favorite landmarks in all of New York City. It’s why I set one of my key chapters in the book around her.
And I'm not alone. Today, she’s one of the most photographed fountains in the world – a celebrity who has appeared in key scenes in Ransom, Bullets over Broadway, Angels in America, Enchanted, and countless others. Each testament to the fact that even landmarks, apparently, can be late-bloomers – especially as generations pass and artistic values change.
My reading list is an eclectic one, first, because I belong to two book clubs. Secondly, because I need an occasional fix for my historical novel habit, and lastly, because I need to do research for my own writing. Here are my latest reads in no particular order.
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson
The Tsarina's Daughter by Carolly Erickson
Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Isabella D'Este: A Study of the Renaissance by Julia Cartwright
All Other Nights by Dara Hora
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Sarah: A Novel by Marek Halter
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Outlaws of Medieval Legend by Maurice Keen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Without Reservations: The Travels of an
Independent Woman byAlice Steinbach
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to
Santiago by Ashley and Deegan
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The Miracle of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz