August 5, 2021:
Like Jews before her time and after, Rebecca is a refugee. Naturally, in concert with the overarching theme of her search for a safe place to be her home, this chronicle of Rebecca’s adventures after Ivanhoe has a distinct geographic flavor. Most of this book takes place in Salerno, now a part of southern Italy—but during Rebecca’s time, it was part of the Kingdom of Sicily. I was fortunate to be able to spend a day in Salerno in Oct. 2015, and got a taste of the place where Rebecca resumed the pursuit of her life goals.
According to the guidebooks, Salerno today is a city that doesn’t have much to offer any tourist. In fact, Salerno sounds kind of depressed. While touring the tourist meccas of Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast, my husband and I figured that spending the day in a depressed city was not a terrible sacrifice for research purposes.
Depressed? The vibrant city we got to explore came as a pleasant surprise—and did not match any definition I’d give credence to of “depressed”. The eleventh-century cathedral was breathtaking (the courtyard can be seen in the banner of my website, above)—with mosaic tiles and gold in almost overwhelming displays.
Despite its difficult past—a Lombard city conquered by the Normans and the Hohenstaufens, later dominated by Spain, site of Allied landings during World War II, and hit by devastating earthquakes and plagues, Salerno is nonetheless alive and flourishing.
In my novel, what drew Rebecca to Salerno was its medical school. In medieval times, this school was unique as a place where men and women—Christians, Muslims, and Jews— could study together. Started in the eighth century by four men who followed these diverse faiths, the school lasted until the nineteenth. What then drew me to Salerno was the new interactive museum about…the medical school! At that time, it was open only a few hours several times a week and had a small number of interactive exhibits. According to my latest forays on-line, the museum is open a few more hours and is still very much a work in progress. http://www.museovirtualescuolamedicasalernitana.beniculturali.it/uk/home
While there, I asked the young woman guide questions. Though I’d been studying Italian, my command of that language and her English did not suffice to accomplish any real exchange of information. She summoned the museum’s director. Fortunately, we found a common language in French, and I learned a lot. One of the museum’s challenges is that over the centuries, much of their material and artifacts were dispersed to other museums, which are not cooperative about returning them to their home. The director graced me with a lovely book about the museum.
In addition to enjoying the museum, the gorgeous cathedral, lively streets, and some delicious morning pastries, Lee and I strolled along the seaside promenade. We enjoyed a bistro lunch served by an ex-pat waiter from Boston, who’d come to and settled in Salerno several decades before and reconnected with family.
For me, most of all, it was a thrill to be on streets, seeing sights that my Rebecca may also have viewed. If you’re ever in that part of the world, I totally recommend a visit to “depressed” Salerno.