Porta de le bonbarde

After finishing the “final edit” of my novel last week, I realized that 1) the ending sucks; and 2) there’s not enough pent-up tension throughout to sustain the reader through 33 chapters and 126,000 words.

So I’m going through it again one last time – because novelists shouldn’t let their novels suck.

At the end of Chapter 7, our heroine leaves Istanbul from the southeastern end of the district of Galata. Old maps of Istanbul call this gate the “Porta de le bonbarde” – the Cannon Foundry Gate – seen below at the top right of the image.

Galata_CannonFoundryGate

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‘I have learned from your letter of the wonderful agreement that allows you now to blow fire out of your sweet little Anna’s ass’

Lucas Friedrich Behaim was a young man recently returned to Nurnberg from four years of “bachelor journeying”. It was 1612, less than a decade before the continent would explode into thirty years of war, and Lucas wanted to get married.

His story is told in the book, Flesh and Spirit: Private Life in Early Modern Germany, by Steven Ozment. Love letters and other correspondence between family members and the betrothed take us back in time, and into the minds of the long-dead lovers.

Lucas is a passionate Lutheran, but he is also a man who has experienced the world. His youthful travels took him to Paris, Venice, Crete, Tripoli and Jerusalem, among other cities. He only missed seeing Constantinople because his ship was rerouted due to a report of plague.

His letters to his beloved, Anna Maria Pfinzig, are — as Ozment says — full of  “lust and piety”, a fact which did not much surprise me.

Dear Maiden Bride, in my solitude, I contemplate your good and faithful heart intently and I am comforted by it alone. I rejoice in it with my whole heart, and yes, I kill most of my leisure in such pleasant thoughts of you. … Therefore, I ask you very kindly, my darling, to send me a portrait of your beautiful physical form, so that I might, from time to time [by looking at it], know true consolation and singular joy when such sad thoughts arise.”

Unbeknownst to their parents, Lucas and Anna had exchanged private vows before their wedding, a fact which thankfully remained hidden from Nurnberg’s disciplinary Committee of Ten. The agreement was known to several of their family members, notably Lucas’s cousin Albrecht who wrote Lucas a letter of his own, the text of which did surprise me.

“I have learned from your letter of the wonderful agreement that allows you now to blow fire out of your sweet little Anna’s ass, something I would also dearly like to do to her myself, if only my own dear maiden would give me permission. Were she to do so, I think it could not be better done than by inserting my self-extended reed into her from the front and then blowing bravely into it, whereupon the coals and excess heat generated in her hind quarters would sail forth. If this plan of mine pleases you, perhaps you could write to my maiden [Juliana] and ask her if I may be allowed to try it. For were I to proceed without her foreknowledge, the soup would surely turn sour and kind words become dear. I am also pleased to learn that your penis is loyally standing by you, giving you your first wakeup call of each day. I shall make this happy news known to Anna Maria on Sunday, Capis Casari, when I console her and counsel fond patience [during your absence].”

Clearly, the pious Lutherans of the Early Modern age were not as pious as we sometimes believe.

Nurnberg

Nurnberg, from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, 1572

Mapping the History of Istanbul

My forthcoming novel begins in the Istanbul of the 1630’s. Murad IV is Sultan. Coffee and alcohol are evil, and their consumption is punishable by death or worse. Mina, a slave girl captured by Ottoman troops in Hungary, tries to escape after years of captivity.

She kept her head down, but her mind was alert to the people and sounds around her, especially for the distinctive sounds of soldiers and their swords. The city was shutting down for the night. Stopping at the intersection where the Grand Bazaar ended and the Beyazit Mosque formed a barrier to the park beyond, Mina looked backward down the boulevard and gasped at the beauty of the Aya Sofya. Minarets jutted like spears of light into the dark sky, the circular dome was lit by a thousand lamps, the square perimeter dotted with more, and she knew that even this impressive display would be nothing when compared to the Night of Power as three thousand slaves would set afire twenty thousand oil lamps and all of Istanbul would witness the power and might – and the humility, she thought, remembering how she and her fellow captives were incessantly reminded of the humility – of Allah’s greatest servant, Sultan Murad IV.

Old maps of Istanbul, Anatolia, Cappadocia, Armenia — and beyond — have been critical to my novel. Here are a few maps of the city known by many names through the ages: Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, Stamboul, and the Sublime Porte. For more maps, a good starting point is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but three years of research have yielded many other troves of digital mapping deliciousness. Leave me a comment if you’d like me to post them for you…

Update: Scroll down for the maps. But first, a few links in response to a comment asking about the historic architecture of Istanbul.

Update: Cartography web sites. Not all of these sites contain maps of Istanbul, but I’ve found that one resource often leads to another. In my research phase, I had some very specific goals; and although I bookmarked most of the places I found, I didn’t (couldn’t) review every site thoroughly.

Update: Documents. A collection of old and new documents describing Istanbul.