What’s the link between the woollen jacket I bought in Madrid on our recent holiday, and The Fire and the Rose by Robyn Cadwallader, longlisted for the 2023 Ara Historical Novel Prize? Okay you’ll never guess because it’s a stretch.

First the book: Set in 13th century England, it brings to life characters from the medieval walled town of Lincoln. Eleanor, the feisty protagonist, whose prospects are limited due to a port-wine birthmark on her face, meets Asher, a Jewish spice merchant. It’s a love story set in dangerous times divided by religious prejudice. Selected as Fiction Pick of the Week in the SMH earlier this year. Here’s their review.

So, the tenuous link to my jacket? My one shopping goal while in Madrid was to find the Italian clothing store Falconeri, recommended by a friend, where I ended up buying a woollen jacket. That was a double success for me because I’m not a good clothes shopper and I have no sense of direction – even with Google Maps (when sightseeing, I tend to just stumble across things). That night, reading in bed, I learned that one of the characters in the book (Eleanor’s employer), a wool merchant, hoped to sell his wool to the Falconeri family of Italy. I sat up in bed. This was a novel, sure, but is it possible that the Falconeris had been in the rag trade for eight hundred years?? Turns out no. The brand was named as a tribute to Scottish botanist and explorer Hugh Falconer after whom the Falconeri goat was named.

As for stumbling across things, on my first day in Madrid, while Martin was catching up with a mate, I wandered along the magnificent streets near our hotel, mouth agape at the architecture. Every building looks as if it should be the most important building in Spain, until you turn a corner where there is something even more impressive. In this sort of trance, I realised I was standing in front of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, originally a fine arts academy. From my guide book, I knew that Dali and Picasso were among former students, that a whole room is devoted to Goya who was once a director, and that it held an impressive collection of old masters. And best of all, it’s small. There was a guard on the steps, but curiously, no queue. Still jet-lagged, I thought I must be missing something. I asked if it was open. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and Tuesdays is free admission. Come in.’ I wasn’t allowed to keep my bottle of water but he said he’d look after it for me. I spent several hours wandering through this crowd-free, very manageable three-storey museum displaying art from the 15th to the 20th centuries. And at the end, the guard, still minding my water bottle, waved me off. You don’t get that at the Prado!

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Gotta love a near-miss synchronicity!