"Only through art can we get outside of ourselves and know another's view of the universe which is not the same as ours and see landscapes which would otherwise have remained unknown to us like the landscape of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world, our own, we see it multiply until we have before us as many worlds as there are original artists."
Marcel Proust (1871-1922) "The Maxims of Marcel Proust" (1948)
I was born with a gypsy soul. I've always been a wanderer. My mother used to tell of my hair-raising adventures while I was still a toddler. So it stands to reason that I am still a wanderer and that many of my wanderings have been time-travels, fantasy journeys, and that many more have been real journeys. If I were rich, I'd have covered the world by now. But I'm not, so I go where my heart leads me and my pocket-book allows. And many more times I go where my mind takes me, astral-travelling into those worlds that I have read and dreamed about. These are the worlds that I write about too, and some I've been lucky enough to actually visit.
I started writing historical fiction when I was twelve years old. I used to write about the pioneers that crossed this vast country of mine by wagon-train and lived in log cabins on the Prairies or mountains. Then, because my Dad was a minister, and I had been brought up on Bible stories, I developed a keen interest in those mysterious countries of the Middle East and the sunny Mediterranean. I still have a collection of novellas with these settings. The Romans interested me too. That is, until I discovered Alexander and the Greeks.
So most of my time now is spent in Greece whenever I can, physically visiting the places I write about, or when I can't -- mentally visiting. And, because I am also a travel journalist, I can combine both my historical fiction and non-fiction writing. (I became a travel journalist in order to get publishing credits and experience, cashing in on my early dream of being a reporter, and validating my penchant for travel.)
I'm usually fantacising about ancient Greece. But last week I ventured into another world. Just as I used to write about pioneers, I still find that subject of interest, and last summer I visited what was once the largest ranch in my Province, the O'Keefe Ranch. I decided to write a travel article about it but needed more research. So I spent several hours at the library delving into the world of pioneer ranchers. How fascinating! Cornelius O'Keefe was a young Irish immigrant who left his home in Ontario and came west, via New York, the Panama Canal and San Francisco hoping to find his fortune in the Caribou gold mines. The ranch dates back to 1867 when he and his two partners discovered good grazing pastrues for the cattle they were driving up from Oregon, and decided it would be more profitable to buy the land and raise cattle themselves. The ranch, located near the north end of Okanagan Lake, was at one time 20,000 acres. It has since been sold off and only 50 acres are left which are now a heritage site including the O'Keefe mansion which contains furnishings of the period, and many of the original ranch buildings, general store, barns etc.
Last week, my memoir group was treated to a tour of a heritage house downtown in the west end of my city. This lovely Queen Anne style house was designed and built in 1893 by the famous architect Francis Rattenbury (who also designed and built the Parliament Buildings in Victoria B.C. and was later murdered by his wife's lover. Quite a story!) The Roedde House was once occupied by a German pioneer immigrant family and is furnished with original items as well as others from that period that have been donated.
I just love roaming around heritage sites whether ancient or recent history. I'm particularly
fond of these magnificent old houses and once I had the privilege of living in one of them when I rented the upstairs of a Victorian house, one of the first houses built in Vancouver. The smell of the old wood, the layers of paint and wallpaper covering oak bannisters and panelling. What stories those old houses could tell!
So, for the last week I've been back in pioneer times. But today, once again, I retreated into Alexander's world and spent the whole afternoon roaming around the agora in Athens (in my mind, though I was recently there researching the site.)
Tomorrow I'm going to time-travel up north to Pella, the royal city of Macedon. And soon I'll be heading west into the mountains and dark forests of Epiros.
I love those other worlds, imagining I am there in those times. Having seen so many of the ancient sites, recording what it was like then, using what I know about the terrain and details of flora/fauna, the fragrance of herbs, the colour of the sea, it's easy to let my imagination wander so that I am actually 'there'. And hopefully that is what I will convey to my readers, so they they too can visualize those worlds just as I do.
"Although we are mere sojourners on the surface of the planet, chained to a mere point in space, enduring but for a moment of time, the human mind is not only enabled to remember worlds beyond the unassisted ken of mortal eyes, but to trace the events of indefinite ages before the creation of our race, and is not even withheld from penetrating into the dark secrets of the ocean, or the interior of the solid globe; free, like the spirit which the poet described as animating the universe." Sir Charles Lyell "Principles of Geology" Vol 1, ch12 (1830)