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3.21.2012

How the Digital Revolution is Changing Publishing: The Good and the Bad

publish #01Publish and Perish! publish #101 (Photo credit: mediamolecule)
In the three years since the Digital Revolution started, it has already changed publishing in many ways, good and bad. It's early days to pass a final judgment, but some of the impact is already very clear.

First, the Digital Revolution has opened the doors to indies, i.e. self-published authors, bringing a measure of respectability to self-publishing.  Authors found they no longer were the prey of so-called "vanity presses": they could take the jump and go to Smashwords or Amazon's KDP Select (the easiest way to do this) and several have made it big - notably Amanda Hocking, Konrath and John Locke. 

That was good. 

Unfortunately is had a bad result: so many would-be authors rushed to self-publish that what was once hidden from view - the infamous "slush pile", i.e. all those (often half-baked) manuscripts send in by aspiring writers to literary agents and editors - is now published for all to see.


Result? A lot of awful fiction from indies. Yet it keeps rolling out and selling, mainly because of the window of opportunity that traditional publishers have unwittingly created with the "agency model", imposing on all e-book sellers, from Apple to Amazon, a high price on e-book versions of their titles published in print. These high e-prices (generally around $15 to $17) were meant to protect the publishers' profits on printed books but opened the door to low prices for self-published authors. Indies were quick to take advantage, competing for readers by offering low prices for their books from 99 cents to a maximum of $4 or $5 - not to mention the use (and abuse) of free promotions.


The US Department of Justice has recently launched an anti-trust action that could eventually close that window of opportunity for indies, forcing traditional publishers to abandon the "agency model". When that happens, the playing field will be leveled and indies won't be able to compete with traditionally published authors merely through low prices: they will have to fight the good old fight on grounds of literary quality - not price.


Book "discoverability" is the other big victim of the Digital Revolution. Traditional publishers had book discoverability down pat, linking it to various strategies like participation in national literary awards (eg. the Pulitzer Prize), obtaining reviews in respected journals, placing books on best selling lists etc. Indies have none of these options opened to them. And in the vast and growing tsunami-like market (over a million titles so far - probably more like a million and half by the latest count), this problem will only grow more acute.

There's a lot of hype about how digital authors thanks to the Digital Revolution can at last connect directly with their readers. Sounds good but it only happens if your readers know you exist and have found your book and liked it. 

There's no doubt that traditionally published authors have an advantage over indies, assuming of course trad publishers do flex their marketing muscle and organize tours, contact reviewers etc etc - but of course we know that many don't and tend to reserve their marketing efforts to their star writers and other celebs.


There's also the theory that the market will naturally weed out the bad from the good - that the good, like cream, will float to the top. This is however just a theory that still needs to be proved. There's a lot of enthusiastic talk about the digital "long tail", that books are not on shelves for a couple of months the way they used to be in physical bookstores, but that they are up on digital shelves forever (or just about). 

However, being up there in the ether forever isn't going to do you any good if nobody knows you're there. The only advantage of the "long tail" is that you can plan your marketing over a much a longer time - much more than the 3 to 6 months max that is standard for traditionally printed books. Print-on-demand books of course do away with the distribution and storage problems and are theoretically much closer to e-books than to printed books (though production costs are naturally higher than for e-books that require no printing at all). So, if your books are only e-produced or PoD, you've got plenty of time to do your marketing...years even, to fill your shelf with your books, grow your blog, multiply your contacts on social media, make yourself known in reading communities, first among them Goodreads. 

Time is on your side, but don't kid yourself, it could take years and years, decades even...

So far, the real winners of the Digital Revolution are mid-list authors who have decided to go digital and e-publish their back list. Compared to indies, these authors already have a name and a fan base: that gives them assurance that they will sell a minimum of books from day one. And once the ball gets rolling, it just rolls...Much to the delight of readers who have never had it so good, especially genre readers (romance and sci-fi) that have almost a limitless choice of titles at their fingertips. Oh, the joys of the Digital Revolution!


There is a way however that the Digital Revolution has made a change that could be really good for authors: it has turned short stories and novellas into lucrative market propositions. Before the Digital Revolution, short fiction was a clear non-starter: no agent or editor worth her salt would look at a short piece unless you were already a well-known author and/or a celebrity. All you could do with your short story was to sell it to a specialized magazine and hope to be paid (with luck) two or three hundred dollars. 

However, with e-readers, the length of a book is not readily apparent - it doesn't really matter. Amazon was the first to realize the change and it was quick to launch its Kindle Single program with considerable success. In the 14 months the program has been running, Amazon reports it has sold more than 2 million Kindle Singles (see article below). Other publishers have followed suit - especially in the non-fiction area - and the format is gaining ground every day.


For writers, this is a bonus, a veritable God-sent. Short fiction is obviously less time-consuming to produce than a full novel. You can populate your virtual shelf with short stories and novellas, with non-fiction essays - all at "natural length" as touted by Amazon for its Kindle Singles.


But, there's a but (there always is), short fiction is not that easy to pull off. A lot of writers are more comfortable with the long form. A short story requires absolute control over every single word that goes into it. And (as I've blogged before) short stories for the Digital Age have to meet some pretty steep requirements to be successful. 

Just to recap here:

1. A fast and snappy opening, a maximum of ten words to grab the reader's attention

2. A well-paced plot and a minimum of back story, enough to give the reader a clear image of who the protagonists are and why they're doing what they are doing. The suspense should never flag.

3. A surprise ending, good and short, no elaboration, the reader's imagination should be set for flying. It has to leave the reader thinking about the story and wanting to read another one. 


These are demanding rules for creating model short stories. Do they cover flash fiction? Yes, but shortening should not be brought to extremes: a short story should not be so short that it leaves the reader with a feeling it is incomplete.  The satisfaction of reading a short story must be total. It is successful both for what is in it and for what is not.  




Why is it this way? Why can't short stories be the way they used to be, impressionistic, mood-catching, almost pieces of poetry...Well, of course, no one says they can't be that way still, but your average stressed out, multi-tasking citizen can't get immersed in it. No time for it when you stand in line at the post office, you wait for your doctor's appointment or you're catching your daily commuting train. 

Also, there's something else at work: you're bombarded with news. Since you're forced to participate in this globalized world, you welcome something that will take you out of it and make you think. You need to set a distance between the daily avalanche of information and yourself: 
"stop the world, I want to get off"! 

That is the feeling a short fiction writer should try to address.That is the feeling I tried to address in my collection of short stories, DEATH ON FACEBOOK - subtitled and that was deliberate: Short Stories for the Digital Age.


When I read short stories, those are the rules I judged them by...Whether I've lived up to my own rules, I'll let you decide. If you want to check them out, click here to get my short story collection:
Death on Facebook, Short Stories for the Digital Age



Short fiction, in my view, is uniquely adapted to our Times and could well become the next Big-selling genre...
What is your take?


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3.19.2012

When the State Acts Like a Jungle Capitalist: How to Make Money From Collecting Taxes

acqua privatizzataacqua privatizzata: he forgot to pay the water tax (Photo credit: vignettando con Dario Levi)
Privatizing tax collection - a major State function - has been done in Italy in 2011 through Equitalia, basically a State Holding in private hands. Equitalia collects taxes on behalf of the State using a private business model that was meant to deliver superior results, the idea being that a privately managed firm would be better at collecting taxes than the stodgy and inefficient State bureaucracy.


That is the kind of ideology that is currently driving proposals to "privatize" water distribution in Italian cities, with results like in the vignette, where the poor citizen forgot to pay his water tax...


Collecting tax funds is certainly something Equitalia is good at, but it seems to be especially good at it for its own benefit. As a result of Equitalia's activities, a small priviledged group of little known private citizens have managed to make money from all the other hapless tax-paying citizens. 


Talk about the 1% controlling the 99% tax-wise, and making a fortune to boot!


An Italian blogger friend of mine, Giuseppe Bonanno di Linguaglossa, decided to investigate the matter and made an eye-opening report. For those who don't read Italian, here it is in a nutshell:


1. Equitalia is managed not by one but by three management boards (for the North, Centre and South): presumably a simpler structure would not have allowed enough people to eat at the Equitalia trough;


2. Equitalia's profits shot up by over 15% in 2011, making € 67 million in profits - distributed to...who knows, we are not told in what private pockets these millions ended.


3. The President of the "Agenzie delle Entrate" (the State tax collecting structure still exists) is present on the boards of Equitalia and his accumulated yearly income is higher than that of the President of the Italian equivalent of the Supreme Court, the Corte di Cassazione, even though that should be in principle illegal: no State employee, not matter at what management level, is allowed to earn more - and certainly, as in this case, much more than Prime Minister Monti himself.


4. Equitalia, like all private enterprises, has an insurance against risk setting aside €50 million to face bankruptcy risks and now raising that sum to €190 million: in short, this is a financially solid business, and no wonder since the major risk it faces is that citizens won't pay taxes...


5. And like all so-called serious businesses, Equitalia uses an international firm, KPMG, a major US audit, tax and advisory services firm with headquarters in New York and major offices across Canada and Europe. So, in essence, Italian taxpayers are audited by a US firm... 


5. For full information on the accounts of Equitalia, click here.


And below is Giuseppe Bonanno's blog post - those of you who can read Italian are in for a treat! Bottom line, this raises a serious question for Prime Minister Monti, one that Giuseppe himself asks in his blog:


What are you going to do, Professor Monti, with Equitalia? How long will it be allowed to rip off Italian taxpayers? 


EQUITALIA S.p.A., Sulla pelle del cittadino


E pensare che Prodi si era dato tanto da fare per smantellare le Holding di Stato?

Fu una catastrofe! Se si riflette che per far contenta la sinistra italiana e far mettere
nelle mani del Compagno Colanino (ma dov'era D'Alema?)  la Teleconm Italia, 
ha dovuto smontare tutto il Gruppo STET che dava al Tesoro le uova d'oro 
dei tre divedendi STET,Telecom It ed Italcable.

E poi dicono male di Putin e del suo capitalismo di Stato.

Tra le altre cose in Equitalia ci sono tre Consigli di Amministrazione  
(Uno non bastava! Bisogna creare e  ripartire le cariche il più possibile): 
Equitalia Nord, per la Lega? 
Equitalia Centro ( per chi?) ed 
Equitalia Sud per l'Agenzia dell'Entrate?

Navigando su Internet uno trova tutto; anche qualcosa di strano:
infatti il Consiglio di Amministrazione di Equitalia Sud risulta così composto: 

Presidente:                               Antonio Mastrapasqua,
Vice Presidente                        Attilio Befera  (per caso è il 
                                         Direttore Generale delle Entrate ?)
Amministratore Delegato           Benedetto Mineo
Presidente Collegio Sindacale    Claudio Boido
Sindaco Effettivo                       Luigi Orlando
Sindaco Effettivo                       Giulio Palazzo
Società di revisione                   KPMG  S.p.A. (Come è stato                    
                                               dato l'appalto?) Vedi sotto.

KPMG Headquarter on 345 Park Avenue in New Yor...
KPMG  N.Y.Image via Wikipedia
Ho voluto conoscere  la Voce 
"Compensi agli Amministratori
specialmente mi sono preoccupato per
il Dr. Attilio Befera che ai sensi della 
legge 244/2007 dovrebbe avere un 
obbligo per gli incarichi il cui trattamento 
economico supera quello di 
primo Presidente della Corte di 
Cassazione.

Ma poi qualche tempo fa spuntò sui 
giornali che il Presidente di Equitalia 
guadagna più del Presidente del 
Consiglio. Sarà vero?

Caro Professore Monti, ha tutta la mia 
comprensione: come è difficile quando
si ha come Lei, una educazione 
Mitteleuropea, smantellare tutto questo!

Equitalia dichiara che "attualmente 
non sono in vigore incarichi assoggettati
alla comunicazione in oggetto". 
Forse perchè la struttura è una S.p.A. 
e quindi privatistica? Mah? E per il 2011?

Stiamo creando la via italiana alla  nomenclatura di Stato?
Cittadini allo strozzo! A davenì Putin!

Risultati ed andamento della gestione 2010 di Equitalia S.p.A.

"L’esercizio 2010 rileva un risultato economico positivo che conferma 
l’equilibrio economico dell’attività di holding di Equitalia S.p.A.  (Poveri Cittadini!)

In particolare nel 2010 sono stati distribuiti dividendi per un importo di
 67,1 €/mln. (A chi?).

Ci sono degli azionisti? No ? si? Saranno contenti come i Cittadini Italiani? 

Quanto prende la KPMG? Ci sono incarichi di Italiani nelle sedi KPMG di N.Y 
o in Canada? o in Europa?

Relazione di Bilancio Equitalia 2010:

In continuità con gli scorsi esercizi, è stato effettuato un accantonamento a
Fondo Rischi Finanziari Generali per 50 €/mln per far fronte al rischio generale
 d’impresa.

Tale presidio patrimoniale risulta ora adeguato a 190 €/mln
( Che i Cittadini non si lamentino possono contare sul rischio d'impresa! 
Pagate pagate e se non pagate c'è il rischio che pagate!)

Seguono gli schemi riclassificati di bilancio per margini e attività. 
Analisi per margini 
Conto Economico (Valori  in €/mgl) 
Descrizione 31/ 12/ 2010  Dividendi 67.106
                   31/12/ 2009    51.393
Variazioni  + 15.713 
Proventi finanziari (al netto degli oneri) 1.811 
Altri proventi di gestione 28.276 ,
Il margine operativo lordo al 31 dicembre 2010 è pari a 54,1 €/mln. 
La variazione positiva del MOL è ascrivibile all’effetto combinato:
- dell’incremento dei dividendi distribuiti dalle Partecipate 
rispetto al 2009 (+ 15,7 €/mln), che tiene conto della politica di 
patrimonializzazione del Gruppo; (Bel gruppetto!) dell’aumento dei 
costi operativi (KPMG?) riferibile ai maggiori costi sostenuti 
dalla Holding nella propria attività di coordinamento, con particolare 
riferimento alla fornitura di ulteriori servizi infragruppo nell’ambito della 
gestione dei progetti informatici, dei progetti di formazione e dello sviluppo 
del servizio centralizzato per visure a supporto dell’attività di riscossione di 
Gruppo. ( Un bel servizio al Cittadino!)
                     -                            -                            -   
Costi operativi (spese amministrative ) E. mln per il 2010: 
E. mln 43.039  + E. 4.304 

MARGINE OPERA TIVO LORDO (MOL) 54.154 
Ammortamenti 1.255
Stanziamenti a fondi rischi e oneri (1.700) 
MARGINE OPERA TIVO NETTO 51.199 
Oneri finanziari su debiti verso cedenti 2.270 
( E poi accantonano  E. mln 50 mln?)

Se volete sapere di più andate sul sito EQUITALIA S.p.A.

Un Cittadino comune si domanderebbe perchè creare questa sovrastruttura?
Per avere altri posti per i Boiardi di Stato? Ma non erano scomparsi?
Anche questo è un costo della nostra Casta Politica?

Ma l'Ufficio delle Entrate con tutto il personale che ha, non poteva strutturarsi 
da solo invece di creare altri posti di lavoro ed altri incarichi remuneratissimi?
Ed i Comuni, con tutto il personale che hanno perchè non lo fanno lavorare 
al recupero delle somme dovute comprese le contravvenzioni per 
le violazioni al codice della strada?

Il Cittadino non capisce perchè e non capirà mai: i soldi dello Stato sono i suoi 
e non vanno in tasca agli amministratori per diritto divino.

La prossima volta parliamo delle Società dell'Energia.

For more of Giuseppe Bonanno's blog posts, click here.


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3.16.2012

The Pleasure of a Printed Book: An Old Time Simple Joy!

We're all so deep into the Digital Age, flinging ebooks on our ereaders, that the simple pleasures of the past, like holding a printed book in your hands look quaint and old fashioned...Yet, when my novel FEAR OF THE PAST came to me yesterday through the mail, I was so happy!




Yes, I'm squinting! But that's meant to be a smile... The sun of Umbria is really hot even though we're still in March - very unusual weather this time of year...How do you like the cover? You can tell I like the color BLUE! It was printed by Amazon's Create Space and I think they did a superb job.


Here's the inside, the start of a chapter:




Nice print, very easy on the eyes. Yes, for the first time I felt my book was real - goes to show I'm old fashioned even though I love Internet, in particular for the ability to connect with readers - a wonderful opportunity for us writers to get out of our ivory towers...


If you're addicted to printed books (I have some close friends who are and won't touch an e-book with a ten foot pole, much less a computer), here's the link you need to purchase it:


Fear of the Past, a novel


When it opens, click "paperback" and you'll see it costs $19.99 - not much considering it's a book of some 525 pages...


But my promo is still on TODAY 16 MARCH and you're in time to get your FREE e-book version of it - until tonight 12 pm Pacific Standard Time! Click here: Fear of the Past, a novel


All this raises a question in my mind: why doesn't Amazon start a "bundling" campaign? It's well positioned to do so since Create Space is a division of Amazon. Bundling involves selling a printed book together with its digital version for a preferred price: say, in this case, $21. With one dollar more you'd get the digital version (which costs $5.99 once the promo is over). Or you could launch promos on the printed book with a free digital version attached. There are really many ways to do this...


Don't you think that would be a good idea? What's your take on launching a bundling campaign?


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3.14.2012

The Sicily of The Phoenix Heritage



Sicily evokes the worst and the best in Man: the brutality of the mafia and the beauty of its art and landscapes. The corruption of its governments through the centuries, the gentleness and dignity of its people. To travel to Sicily is like taking a world tour around the human condition.


In many ways that's what the first two books in my New Adult series, THE PHOENIX HERITAGE is all about. It's a coming of age story together with a family saga spanning 900 years of Sicilian History. 

It is a travel novel that makes you discover a Sicily you didn't know existed.


When the protagonist, Tony Bellomo, a gifted American video game creator, goes to Sicily looking for his family roots (his deceased father is a Sicilian aristocrat), he first visits the Museo Bellomo in Ortigia (that's the old town of Syracuse founded by the Ancient Greeks). Here it is:






A forbidding medieval fortress, right in the middle of the old town! The museum was the home of the Bellomo family for centuries before it was turned into a city museum around 1914. Alas, the museum held no family mementoes for Tony and, disappointed, he wanders down an old narrow street like this one:





Rounding a corner, he discovers an intriguing building, blue and white (this also exists - but it is in Ragusa, an hour away from Ortigia...Ah, call it creative license, but this is the place that actually inspired me to write THE PHOENIX HERITAGE when I first saw it some 15 years ago):




On the frontispiece, you can read the name of the building:






"Circolo di Conversazione" - the Conversation Club: in the 19th Century, every important town in Sicily had such a club, patterned after the men's clubs in Britain (the Sicilians have always followed British fashion in so many ways, including in viewing themselves as islanders, and calling the rest of Italy "il continente", the continent). 


Here's the lion head that inspired the book cover for my original publication (back in 2011) when the series was still called Fear of the Past:




And here's the book cover:






Pretty close, right? I love that hieratic, menacing look, the past can be an unbearable burden...When Tony walks in the Circolo, he finds the ghosts of all his ancestors milling about, waiting for Judgment Day. To while away the time, they re-enact for each other the high points in their lives in a small theatre - and, mind you, the real Circolo has something quite close to a theatre room, here it is:





You'll find all that red velvet, gilded mirrors and chandeliers in the first book of the Phoenix Heritage series: Flying in the Past. You'll also find real historical characters, like Ferdinand I, King of Two Sicilies (he preferred to live in Naples but ran away to Sicily when the Napoleonic armies, headed by Murat, invaded - he was helped in his escape by Admiral Nelson):




And here's his wife, Queen Maria Carolina (she's the sister of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France) with whom he has a memorable clash. The two just didn't get along, although she gave him 18 children - but she ran the Kingdom in his stead, something he didn't appreciate:




This is an official portrait by their favorite painter Angelica Kauffmann (actually both paintings are by this very talented woman). Unfortunately, neither portrait is realistic: both Ferdinand and Maria Carolina were incredibly ugly. He had a huge nose - he was known as "Re Nasone" (King Big Nose) and she was incredibly Teutonic and harsh. Here is a later portrait of her that was undoubtedly closer to the model:


Source: google.com via Claude on Pinterest


A tough lady! When she spoke in her raucous voice, it sounded like she had a potato in her mouth - at least, that's what the Neapolitans said of her and the King had a habit of chasing pretty women and leaving his wife to go hunting days on end. Who can blame him?


He fell in love with the beautiful Duchess of Floridia and later married her as soon as Maria Carolina died (creating a scandal at court). Here she is, in 1814, just after marrying the King:




She looks beautiful, doesn't she, considering that she's 43 years old in that picture (the King was 64). The King went crazy for her: he had a fantastic villa built for her, the Villa Floridiana, overlooking Naples and he stocked the park with lions and tigers and imported from Australia the first kangaroos that were ever seen in Europe. Here's the Villa Floridiana:




The Duchess, before marrying the King, had, it seems, many affairs, including a secret English lover - Francis Leckie, an adventurer who settled in Sicily in the 1800s. Okay, I made that one up for the novel. We do know however that they were neighbors. Leckie had set up a modern farm at Tremilia not far from the Duchess' properties around Floridia, a small rural town founded by a Bonanno (an ancestor of the Duchess - and that's how I got a lot of the historical information, through the Bonanno family archives).There is no proof but they could easily have met...


Things become complicated when Tony discovers he shares with Francis Leckie both his looks and his emotions - no doubt the result of a quirky genetic inheritance. When Tony meets the Duchess in the Circolo, she mistakes him for her secret lover and Tony finds himself unaccountably attracted to her...Can he outgrow this impossible love and escape the deadly grip of the Circolo?


But the Duchess of Floridia is not the only beautiful woman haunting the Circolo. There's also the Countess of Castiglione, known as the Divine Countess, a spy at the service of Cavour who became the mistress of Napoleon III and helped obtain France's support for Cavour's policies to unify Italy:


Source: url.it via Claude on Pinterest


This is a famous photograph made by Pierson, the Countess' favorite photographer in Paris. He took hundreds of photos of her over a period of 30 years in all manner of dresses and also...undressed. Her naked legs were a matter of scandal...Why is she in the Circolo? Because there was a rumour that she was the granddaughter of the Duchess of Floridia. What is her role in the novel? Spoiler alert, I won't tell you!



You've guessed, the plot involves many more people and periods of History before Tony finally gets hold of himself and starts living his own life. As one reviewer put it: " a rogues' gallery of heroes and sinners"...  In the third book of the series, Out of the Ashes,  Tony has left the past behind him and works as an assistant in the IT Department of Catania University. 

Catania University? You probably think of it as an ancient, venerable institution and you'd be right. It was founded in the 15th century and boasts some beautiful buildings in the centre of the old town:


Source: flickr.com via Claude on Pinterest


But on the outskirts of town, it's very modern. Here is the Department of Physics and Astronomy:


Source: google.com via Claude on Pinterest


Surprisingly modern for Sicily, isn't it? But Catania is known as the "Silicon Valley" of Italy. It's in just such a building that Tony works on a new social media network. With the help of students, he creates the "Chat Club" that soon becomes wildly successful but, alas, it also attracts the appetites of both the Russian and Sicilian mafia. The woman he loves is kidnapped...How can he save her and his creation, the Chat Club?


Want more pictures related to the book? Go take a look at my board on Pinterest where I pinned many more pictures than I can show here: click here. I find Pinterest hugely fun, you should join it!


And why don't you plan a vacation to Sicily and prepare for it reading THE PHOENIX HERITAGE? You'll know more about Sicily than your tour guide! Or if you can't go to Sicily, dream about it reading the novel...


English: Flag of the Sicilian Region Italiano:...English: Flag of the Sicilian Region  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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3.12.2012

When a Hospital Turns into a Fairy-Tale Castle: It Could Only Happen in Italy!

If you drive out of Rome going to the airport, you pass by what looks like a modern hospital: Romans call it the Ospedale della Magliana and it is run by the Knights of the Order of Malta. Built in the 1960s, it's one of the most modern hospitals in Italy, well known for its neurology service taking care of paraplegics and endowed with a fully equipped state-of-the-arts coma recovery room.

What is not so well known is the hidden gem behind that modern, efficient façade: a medieval castle turned by a succession of Popes in the 15th and 16th century into a a magnificient villa they used as a hunting lodge. Here's the main entrance to the hospital:


Yes, crenellated walls! And the surprises don't end here. Look at the entrance gate, leading into the inner courtyard:


I couldn't resist, I ran up to that arch:


I walked through and this is what I discovered:



This is the heart of the ancient Renaissance villa-castello della Magliana, as it is called. Restored by the Order of Malta, this part of the hospital is used to house the administration offices and a school for training nurses and voluntaries. The flag of the Order, a white cross on a red background, floats near one of the entrances:


But the main entrance is this one:


And the staircase leads to the main reception room:


A grand room - the ceiling is at least 10 meters high, and on the right, there is a portrait of Charles V, the Spanish King who donated the island of Malta to the Knights of the Order. The frescoes have been taken off the walls to be restored.

At the end of a series of offices, there's this beautiful loggia (the two people conversing here give you an idea of the size of this loggia - indeed of the whole building):


The view from the loggia, looking out on the courtyard is breathtaking:


And just across from the villa, here is the old barn, gigantic and...looking like a military fortress:


This building is of course a part of the actual hospital (operating rooms etc) and here are the bedrooms for the patients (250 beds):


Yes, very modern, with all the rooms looking onto this garden that was filled with white spring flowers when I took the pictures (I took them on 9 March). In fact, because of the requirements of the Italian Belle Arti - the Ministry that acts as a watchdog on the Italian patrimony -  permission for additional, permanent buildings are difficult to obtain. As a result, the chapel has been housed in a vast tent. You can see it here:


Since it is so vast, it also serves as a meeting room, a screening room for films and even a place to sing and hold Karaoke events! Here is the inside, note the altar in the centre and a video screen on the right:


There are also other temporary buildings, including a Day Hospital:


And yet, because Italy is the way it is - there's always something falling apart and that needs to be rebuilt - there is still one building on the grounds, an old farmhouse (probably built in the 1920s) with a roof that has fallen in and that could surely find some appropriate use:


It's quite a large place, and right in the middle of the hospital grounds. Here you can appreciate how big it is and how far the roof has fallen (right side of the picture):


You can also see some of the lovely trees (in the back) that dot the hospital grounds...Surely the Italian Belle Arti will allow restoration of this house and make the hospital a perfect place?

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