Here is what Paula has to say:
A Russian summer night stays only long enough to shake the stars out of its hair before the gaudy sun returns and chases it away. Yet we were able to make the most of the night’s short visit, Greshenka and I, winding our way, candles in hand, down the long and sultry outdoor passage to the royal baths.
That’s the opening paragraph for Chapter 34 in my novel Sins of the Empress. When I was asked to write a guest blog about my idea of a perfect summer evening, those are the words that came to mind. You’ve just witnessed Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and her lover, Grigory Potempkin, whom she called Greshenka, on a summer evening at the palace in St. Petersburg in the 1770s. They will make love in the palace bath house on this night and on many more summer nights.
Later, on another summer night, they will steal away by boat and carriage, traveling separately to meet eventually in a tiny chapel in the country side. There, a priest will perform a secret marriage ceremony. Afterward, Catherine will return to her throne and Greshenka to his regiment because to allow their marriage to become public knowledge would spell disaster for both of them.
I have to confess that my idea of a perfect summer evening is much less interesting—a gathering of family and friends on our patio. Good food, a little wine to sip later while we talk, with the laughter of children coming to us from the lawn.
Ah, but Catherine’s summer gatherings were much more interesting. She hosted outdoor banquets, not just hamburgers on the patio table with the neighbors. This one, a mechanism in one of her schemes, occurred when she was still a mere duchess:
I was dressed as Helen of Troy in a slender gossamer gown…The weather was perfect—balmy with a slight breeze but not enough to disturb the elaborate hair styles most of the women wore. A trumpet herald called us to dine. . . The highlight of the evening began when we heard music from a distance, and the guests were compelled to turn toward the grand avenue leading from the palace grounds to my garden. . .Twenty oxen appeared at the end of the path, each ox festooned with garlands of fresh flowers. They pulled a large wooden cart I’d had designed by Antonio Rinaldi. The cart was enormous—large enough to hold an orchestra of sixty musicians and singers while twenty costumed male and female dancers cavorted around it as it moved. I’d had the music and songs composed especially for the event. . .(Later,) another trumpeter, this one dressed as a mountebank in flamboyant colors, called everyone to the opposite end of the garden where two tents had been set up, one to dispense free lottery tickets and the other to redeem the tickets for porcelain, flowers, gloves, ribbons, fans, and other finery,
It just never occurred to me to have twenty oxen pull a cart full of singers and musicians surrounded by cavorting dancers down my street and into my backyard. I’m afraid it would frighten Sydney, the two-year-old next door.
I also confess that I have never spent a summer night as Catherine did on this night when she seized the throne:
I rode out of St. Petersburg leading 18,000 guardsmen toward Peterhoff and Oraninbaum. We had hardly left the edge of the city when we saw horsemen ahead of us. Long before I could discern a face, my instincts informed me that it could be non other than a contingent of Peter’s guards. . . (The head guardsman) raised his sword and told me he would rally troops against me.
With a glance over my shoulder at the 18,000 troops who followed me, I said, “You are free to try.”
I’ve never spent a single summer evening leading 18,000 troops into battle to seize a throne, although I did once chase away a big dog who was snarling at my little mutt. But that was mid-day in winter, not a balmy summer evening
The truth is, my ideal summer evening is perfectly boring, but I will get up the next morning and create any number of exciting or sexy or poignant or hair-raising scenes on my laptop and hope that people will read them. You could start with Sins of the Empress.
**End of guest post**
Thanks for stopping by today Paula! I have to admit that I would not want to spend a summer evening leading troops into battle, but it sure would make an interesting journal entry.
Paula Paul is the award-winning author of 25 novels for both children and adults. She also had a career as a newspaper journalist and has won several state and national awards in that field. A native Texan, she grew up on a cotton farm/ranch in Bailey County, a county named for her ancestor who died at the Alamo. She loves playing the piano and learning how to or about just about anything. Oh, and big family get-togethers with her two children and their families. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband.