Inspiration for GIOCONDA
I started to write GIOCONDA after a visit to a supermarket. It seems an unlikely font of inspiration, but I somehow fell upon a print of the Mona Lisa in the aisles. It set me thinking; it made me wonder who she was and why the portrait is so iconic.
Much later, when the first draft of GIOCONDA had been written, I made the pilgrimage to Florence and Anchiano, Leonardo’s birthplace outside Vinci. It’s a pretty, country path that takes you through the valley to his house. Leonardo’s father was the local notary, Ser Piero da Vinci, and the house registered in his name at the time of Leonardo’s birth stands on a hill overlooking the view that Leonardo sketched as a boy before his departure for Florence. Inside the thick stonewalls of Ser Piero’s old home, Leonardo comes to life: his bizarre reverse writing covers all the walls, and his sketches of the surrounding countryside lie in a glass cabinet in one of the rooms.
I booked into the Hotel Mona Lisa in Florence. It was hard not to and the hotel did not disappoint; Lisa was on every wall of the lounge: with or without a moustache, big breasted, small breasted, modern, retro and surreal. I had planned on finding Leonardo’s bottega, where as a young apprentice he first picked up a brush, but an inquiry at the tourist office drew a blank. ‘There were many bottega workshops during the Renaissance,’ they said apologetically, ‘but most are lost to memory.’ It took a visit to the archives and a long, confused conversation with the national library about membership, but by the end of the second day I had a tenuous indication. I traced the old address to the new one, and set off eagerly, driven by emotion. But when I finally found what seemed to be the place, instead of a bottega or museum was an old abandoned storehouse with a cafe on the end of it. The whirr of espresso machines – coffee, not art.