Cilento Dove:

Set partly on the Somerset and Dorset border and partly in Venice, spanning the years between the outbreak of World War II in Europe and events in the USA in November 1963, The Cilento Dove tells of two women, a generation apart, whose parallel lives unexpectedly begin to converge.

Cilento Dove - Excerpt

The old count paused in his chair before the glass cabinet containing the collection of birds. ‘These little treasures are all unique,’ he told her. ‘I have collected them for most of my life. I love Venetian glass. It has always been important to my city - important to my family - and there is nothing else quite like it anywhere else in the world.’
‘It is extraordinary, but I actually went to Murano only today.’
‘Then perhaps you can understand – a little.’
‘It was certainly a revelation. I could hardly believe that all those wonderful things were still being made by hand – just as they always have been. Nothing seems to have changed. There is such pride and dedication, isn’t there? How can I hope to grasp more than a tiny insight into all that history and tradition in a single afternoon?’
‘In that case, Annie, I think you do understand – a little.’ He was smiling at her as he retrieved a gilt key from a slender drawer at the base of the cabinet and inserted it into the lock. ‘Of course we are proud of the glass of Murano. It is the finest in the whole world, and it has been made just as it is now for more than a thousand years. The island has always had – I think you would say – a status in Venice - equal almost to Venice itself. The families – some I claim for myself - were very powerful - and their secrets were guarded jealously.’
‘Even to this day?’
Giovanni lifted a small glass ornament - a tiny, azure coloured bird - from the cabinet and handled it gently. ‘Certainly yes. It is still – how do you say? – clouded in mystery. It is a place of many secrets and intrigues and skills known only to the fathers and sons who have passed them down the generations. Venetian glass is unique. That is why I love it. For me it is the mystery that makes the magic.’
Annie gazed into the cabinet, afraid to touch any of the treasures, yet longing to look more closely. It was an extraordinary collection – each piece was truly unique and different from the rest. They came in bright plumage, some in millefiori multicolours, others opaque, milky and ethereal. There were deep shades of blue and green, some embellished with gold, and those of pure crystal clarity. She gazed at them enchanted. ‘They are very beautiful,’ she said. ‘But please tell me – why birds?’
‘Does there have to be a single reason to collect things of beauty?’
‘No of course not. I simply wondered…’
Giovanni laughed and put the glass bird into her hands. ‘Then you are right. You see there are many reasons.’

She sat looking at it. It was fashioned of deep intensely blue glass, and collared by a band of intricately engraved gold. The details of the plumage and the brilliance of the eyes seemed almost to bring it to life. It was, Annie thought, the most enchanting little work of art she had ever held in the palm of her hand. She sensed that it was very old, and probably as rare as it was beautiful.
Watching her he said, ‘the dove is a symbol of my family. You will see it everywhere in this house – in the Cilento arms – and in the carvings about the house – over our entrance – and if you look above you it is even here on the ceiling.’
And it was. It was there in the celestial sky of the trompe l’oeil, bearing an olive branch. ‘It is lovely.’
‘It was painted by Julius. Did you know he was a painter?’
‘Yes – but not that he was quite such an artist. It is stunning.’
‘I agree it is. So you see there are many secrets in the family.’
‘I’m beginning to realise that.’
‘There are also many legends, as you will also guess,’ he told her. ‘And many traditions. For generations each Cilento bride has been given a Murano dove, always one of a perfect pair, as a wedding token to signify the belonging of one to the other. Is that not a charming custom?’
Annie clasped the little bird and smiled at him. ‘Oh, it is. I can think of nothing more romantic.’
‘The little bird you are holding is one of a pair. The other I gave to a sweet English Rose who came to Venice and captivated me.’
‘I think you mean Julius’s mother.’
‘No, it was long after that – just before war broke out in Europe - and the young woman I gave it to was in my life so very briefly that it was extraordinary how wonderful it was, our little affair. I was enchanted by her. I remember giving her the little blue bird to make certain that she would return.’
‘And did she?’
‘Alas no. War came. I was obliged to leave Venice – and I lived in virtual exile for the entire duration.’
‘How sad. Why did you have to leave?’
Giovanni shrugged. ‘I cannot explain. Besides the politics of the past have no place in the present.’
‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.’
‘It is no matter.’ He smiled faintly. ‘We had no future together. We should have known.’ And gently he took back the little dove and returned it to the cabinet.

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