Wine, sex and folk horror (and other things)
Despite the general sleepiness that comes with Spring, I’m trying to clear my desk of my backlog of stories, articles and translations I need to deliver to my clients, and in the meantime I’m trying to work on a pair of submissions and a couple of self-published things.
The new Buscafusco story is 75% done, and I’d like to nail its box shut by the end of the month.
Also, the Dean Wesley Smith book Writing a Novel in Seven Days is making me itchy to try. As I mentioned, I did it once already, and the novel I wrote in eight days later became The Ministry of Thunder, of which I am well pleased, as are my readers (eight 5-star reviews! hooray!)
Now I’m wondering if it would be feasible to try and do a 42.000 words story about Aculeo & Amunet.
And then there is the bit about local traditions and folk horror. About six months ago I promised a friend a novel a-la Dan Brown to stimulate interest in the territory and lure tourists in these hills. Part of that project became the Buscafusco series, but the idea of a horror story set in the Piedmontese vineyards sounds more attractive every day. And as per original plan, might make enough people curious to give a minimal boost to local tourism.
Now, as I think I mentioned, the local spook-du-jour are the masche sort of witches/hags of peasant tradition – and my friend Fabrizio Borgio is an expert on the subject.
BUT, in a twist of research madness, I decided to look at another tradition that might provide ample food for stories… even Aculeo & Amunet stories.
Because this is a wine country, and wine means Dionysus.
Now Dionysus (which the Romans called Bacchus or Liber) is usually associated with Bacchanalia – that in popular imagination were the sort of thing Jimmy Buffet had in mind when he wrote Why don’t we get drunk and screw, but actually there was a much darker side to the whole business.
Livy describes the cult of Bacchus as a threat to the moral fiber of the Roman nation, and even hints at the possibility of it being a conspiracy against Rome, as Wikipedia aptly sums up:
Livy says that Paculla Annia corrupted Rome’s unofficial but morally acceptable Bacchic cult by introducing the Etruscan version, with five, always nocturnal cult meetings a month, open to all social classes, ages and sexes—starting with her own sons; the new celebrations and initiations featured wine-fueled violence and violent sexual promiscuity, in which the screams of the abused were drowned out by the din of drums and cymbals. Those who resisted or betrayed the cult were disposed of. Under cover of religion, priests and acolytes broke civil, moral and religious laws with impunity. Livy also claims that while the cult held particular appeal to those of uneducated and fickle mind (levitas animi), such as the young, plebeians, women and “men most like women”, most of the city’s population was involved, and even Rome’s highest class was not immune.
And the interesting bit is that archaeological finds confirm that the Etruscans traded with the people of southern Piedmont and Monferrato in particular – they came here to buy wine.
You can guess where I am trying to go with this.
In his Greek incarnation, Dionysus was seen as a fertility god connected with the trees, and his court includes satyrs, centaurs and other half-human creatures, plus a wealth of goats, donkeys and leopards.
The old god of wine and carousing has a definite dark side.
Euripides used some of these ideas (hey, as the guys said, if you must steal, steal from the best)
The Bacchae is concerned with two opposite sides of human nature: the rational and civilized side, which is represented by the character of Pentheus, the king of Thebes, and the instinctive side, which is represented by Dionysus. This side is sensual without analysis, it feels a connection between man and beast, and it is a potential source of divinity and spiritual power.
There is fuel for a nicely twisted, slightly sexy horror story set in these hills where wine is the main source of income, the only cultural interest and a downright obsession to some.
And I find it interesting that Bacchus/Dionysus was picked up for publicity purposes by some wine producers.
The idea of old peasant traditions connected with the ancient rituals of the Etruscans sounds promising. What steps must be taken to ensure a fat grape harvest, what rituals and what sacrifices?
And there is also the bit about the local private resorts, hidden deep in the hills, where Ferrari-driving old men with stunning young women in tow retreat for weekends of “relaxation” out of the public’s eye.
And then the vague sense of uneasiness we all feel when we cross the vineyards alone, or we take a walk in the hills, with the sole company of foxes and boars.
And then there is a hint of heresy to it all that is twistedly fitting for a Catholic country…
I’m taking notes, and then I’ll try and do it as a seven days story.
And as I said, this being an old religion, there’s always room for Aculeo & Amunet taking some time to look into it in the Third Century.
I’ll keep you posted.