I'm sitting on my redwood deck in very sunny, hot and dry California, planning my fantasy Banquet table. I look out over lioness-colored hills to a sky glaring blue, and I imagine being in London in September. I've never been to London, but heaven knows the pictures are plentiful this Olympic week, and it looks lovely.
Lovely and cool, and a little damp. I will have to revise my wardrobe.
I usually write about 17th Century Mexico. My book, Josefina's Sin is a novel of love, duty, lust and poetry in the shadow of the Inquisition. Josefina, a sheltered landowner's wife, goes to the Vice-Royal Court of colonial Mexico, where she meets Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Mexico's most famous poetess. She also falls in love with the wrong man, attracts the lust of the powerful and depraved Marquis, writes her first poem, and learns just how far from Spain the tentacles of the Inquisition can reach.
The theme (and the cover) of the book speaks in colors of orange and brown. How will my guests fit into the grays and blues of London? I will have to include some natives to help the rest of us acclimate.
Claudia's Banquet Guests
Of course, I will invite Juana Inés de la Cruz She's Mexico's most famous poetess, the Tenth Muse, and she is known for her scathing wit and genius. Oh, the things she said in the 1690s! And she was so beautiful--speculation about her love life, before and after she joined the convent, ran rampant then as now.
I want to sit next to Sor Juana, she's the historical figure in Josefina's Sin, and it's my table after all! And so, on my other side I shall place the brilliant and charismatic statesman whose love life has occasionally overshadowed his brilliance: President Bill Clinton, whose very name makes me shiver with delight. I get to sit next to him!
Holding my own with President Clinton will be hard enough without a diner on his other side to distract him, but there is no possible doubt that next to President Clinton we will seat Cleopatra. I believe Cleopatra will be gratified to see how highly she is thought of two thousand years after her death, though truth be told she expected nothing less.
She will challenge me for President Clinton's attentions, no doubt, but she will also be finely entertained, if he's busy with his other dinner companions, by Amelia Peabody. No nonsense from her, and she is quite self-sufficient, thank you, as well as happily married. Her discussions of Egypt, its artifacts, history and politics, will make for a lively anchor at that end of the table. Peabody, as she prefers to be called, will pepper the antique Queen with endless questions, and sparks will fly.
Next to Peabody, I am going to put that genius of detection, Nero Wolfe.
His prodigious appetite will be whetted by Amelia's investigative observations, and she will find amusement in his outlandish habits and his deep knowledge of orchids. But on his other side, the acerbic fellow New Yorker, Dorothy Parker, will keep Mr. Wolfe from lapsing into bored complacency, although she may terrify him with her mordantly witty comments.
Oscar Wilde, we shall seat on her other side. Mr. Wilde can talk to anyone, whether a Queen or not, and we shall be awed as he adds his comments to her topics. Ms. Parker will find him a suitable sparring partner. But he too is entitled to some kindness and so I have invited Sherlock Holmes, the detective to begin, or end, all detectives. The great detective may find himself challenged or amused by the presence of Amelia Peabody and Nero Wolfe, but he will be able to tell Oscar Wilde so much about himself that he never knew before.
And finally, the choice of dinner partner for Sor Juana will bring the table round. It must be Jane Austen to her right. How many times have I read everything she wrote? She's the standard by which we all measure that certain kind of fiction: calm, droll, and deeply affecting. Like Sor Juana, she wrote of her times, in ways few women did, and like Sor Juana's, her works have stood the test of time. Will we be read 150 years from now?