Next up on Place as Person we have Allyson Bird, talking about a rather wonderful place, the Convent of Bazzano. I had the pleasure of meeting Allyson when she moved to New Zealand recently. (Why are horror writers just so darned nice?) Check out Allyson’s latest release, ‘Isis Unbound’!
The Convent of Bazzano appeared in Wine and Rank Poison and The British Fantasy Society yearbook 2009.
Many of my stories arise out of setting. Adventure, bravery, finding the self, through place as character. Nature becoming personified in some ways. Also bringing history into the present and sending characters into history. Love it. I’ve travelled extensively and have a store of great memories…the feel of a place, and its impact on me. Who lived there? My story, The Convent at Bazzano, was set in an old convent in which I stayed in for two weeks.
‘The convent, built into the cliff face, loomed above them. Six enormous arched windows like dark hooded eyes looked out over the hamlet, farmland, and hills beyond. Mark showed them the small car parking place and then led them up the stone steps to the iron gates. A slightly rusty lamp hovered over the doorway to the building.’
The gardener lived in a house below the convent, his small boys declared war on my daughter, and left a dead snake on the doorstep amongst other things as a sign of contempt for us. It wasn’t long before my ghost story arose out of setting. The Orvieto Duomo and the ruins of Carsulae on the Flaminia Way, not far away, inspired me too.
‘When they got back to the apartment they found a dead snake on the doorstep. A small green viper. Perhaps a kitten had brought it to them as a present? Helen picked it up with a stick and threw it into the rosemary bushes. Then she noticed the two Italian boys standing at the bottom of the stone steps, motionless, side by side watching her with blank expressionless faces. She wondered if they had anything to do with it. As they turned she thought she saw four boys again, not pale shadows but now quite substantial ‘second boys’ who followed them back to the house. Behind her up on the cliff top, a dog started to bark, which interrupted her thoughts. She couldn’t see the dog but then it howled in pain as if something had just brought it down. Helen had read somewhere recently that there was a wild boar in the hills above the convent. She was beginning to think that it wasn’t the peaceful paradise she was led to believe.’
The fresco in the convent is from 1529, by Giovanni Del Pietro (Lo Spagna).
‘Once in the convent the first thing that Mark pointed out in the Lshaped room, with the six windows along the length of it, was the 16th century fresco on the far wall. It was by the artist Lo Spagna whose work adorned the Duomo in Orvieto and the Vatican. The painting was of the Madonna and Child. Helen had seen many versions of the subject matter before, but never had she seen the Virgin hold her baby so tightly to her, and never before had she seen that look on the face of the mother of Christ.’
A captivating place where the kitchen was carved out of the rock and black scorpions live under the cooker.
‘Black scorpions. Quite harmless. They live in the crack in the rock face. Vallerio and Francesco have two as pets.’
Inside the Orvieto Duomo.
‘Helen purchased a small booklet which described the chapel. Walking between two huge columns she looked up at the large painting before her. It was called The Damned are taken to Hell and received by Demons. She thought that the artist Signorelli had to be affected by his own personal demons when he painted it. It was a mass of naked bodies in hideous positions. A convoluted mass. Demons in near human form taunted men, women, and children who were all every colour of decomposing flesh. Above the creatures and humans a flying demon carried a woman. Suddenly, small black creatures scurried across the canvas. Helen blinked, and they vanished like the black spots that form in front of your eyes if you carelessly look at the sun.’
Allyson Bird lives in the New Zealand Wairarapa, with her husband and young daughter. Occasionally she is drawn to strange places and people and they are occasionally drawn to her. Her favourite playground, as a child and adult, has been the village graveyard. Once she wondered what would happen if she took one of the green stones from a grave. She has been looking over her shoulder ever since but has never given it back.
Find out more about Allyson on www.birdsnest.me.uk/news.htm