REVIEW and INTERVIEW
The Sins of Castel du Mont
by Rosemary Bracco Greenbaum Kohler
Author Rosemary Kohler stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from The Sins of Castel du Mont. You can also read my review.
Dirty Little Secrets ...
If centuries of sex, sin, violence, romance, and heresy echoed within the walls of your childhood home, would you dare spill the secrets now solely in your possession?
Based on true Italian folklore, The Sins of Castel du Mont unfolds in the actual castle in which its author and this epic tale was born. In 1964, feeling the lure of the castle and the legends that surround it, the author was drawn to her birth place (where she was the first legitimate child born there) to unravel the mystery of Castel du Mont. Conducting intensive research, interviewing only local citizens over eighty years old the author collected the four epic tales artfully woven into this monumental novel. The haunting stories surrounding The Castel were given to her in the dying dialect of Piedmontese.
For centuries the Castel has kept its secrets. For over five decades, these unorthodox accounts, based on folklore that was whispered from generation to generation simmered in translation until the time was ripe for the sins to be revealed ...
“Clara!” Giovanni, the miller, turned with an excited expression and called again, “Clara, come here. Splendid news.” His hands trembled and his thin face was creased into furrows of delight, slightly shaded by a soft white powder from his millwork. His daughter appeared in the doorway. She paused, surveying her father’s black boots, completely covered by the white dusty flour.
“Father, you’re quite untidy, you know,” she observed as her dark skirt brushed lightly against his dusty boots, picking up some of the white flour. Then she stepped cautiously close to him. A fond smile curved Clara’s mouth as she approached her father without mishap, and her heavy lashed violet eyes deepened with affection. “What’s the good news father?”
“The Padrone wants me to mill the special fine bleached white flour for him for a very special party he is giving.”
Dusty spectacles balanced on the tip of Giovanni’s nose and his blue eyes were sparkling with glee as he tapped a finger on the table. Reaching out, Clara smoothed back the thinning brown hair that straggled onto his forehead.
“Papa, you really must take better care of yourself,” she scolded. But there was no censure in her tone. “You’ve been working so hard at the mill for weeks and not getting enough to eat or enough rest. Your eyes must rest before you take on any extra work. Are you certain this extra request is good news?”
Waving an impatient hand, Giovanni cut off her rambling scold. “Of course it’s good news. The Padrone will pay me handsomely for this.”
Since her mother’s death, Clara had taken over the job of looking after her father. He told her, “None of that matters. The Padrone expects me to do it, and I will do it. Being the only miller in town, the responsibility falls on my shoulders, with no sons to help me and all others have their own work to do. I must do it all, and that is final.”
Clara’s delicate brows arched in faint surprise, “I can help you, Father.”
“True, but you are a woman and women do not work in mills.”
“Well, this woman will,” she said with grim firmness, and he just smiled.
“Let me think about it. We will see, we will see.” His voice was dry.
“I should think not, Papa. Never mind thinking about it, this is definite. Tomorrow morning I will be at the mill.”
A slight frown puckered Giovanni’s brow, but he was too tired to argue and he went to bed.
She knew her father was right. There had never been a woman working in the mill, but the Padrone expected too much from one old man. All that wheat and corn—he could never finish it in time. She was determined that tomorrow she would go to help him.
Another sigh slipped from between her lips. She closed the door behind her and returned to her tiny room. After all, her father was in his late fifties, an old man, others would claim. He was a man accustomed to hard work, but lately he suffered from erratic health and she feared all this hard work would cause him harm.
“Foolish old goat,” she murmured fondly. Her violet eyes softened as she pushed back a strand of curly hair from her forehead. Sometimes she felt more like a caretaker than a daughter. After her mother’s death, he seemed to be prone to forget about food or time when he was working. If she didn’t take him some nourishing food or insisted that he rest, he might have perished from starvation long ago. She was the only person he would allow to bully him into resting. If her father was so determined to finish this work, she would have to help him.
Although these affairs took place numerous years before the Marquis De Sade, they were just as notorious and bizarre—orchestrated orgies. These exercises, it has been rumored through the years, took place in the master bedroom, centuries before, in the room where my mother had given birth to me. The events took place far away from the curious eyes of those unsuspecting relatives and parents of the young women and of their young men.
The few who were aware of these facts respected the Padrone and their religious officials. And although their own were involved, they were determined that the Padrone and the priest were good men on whom they depended for their food and shelter. They justified their unusual behavior as just suffering from “Libertine Demerit.” After all, sex was a natural phenomenon and they were men!
A very few who were aware of the actual facts argued that Count Lomelleux (the Padrone) had prepared the way for his own behavior. He came from an old noble family in the Province. His taste for luxury and libertinism ate into the family fortune, while his lack of judgment ruined his reputation.
He kept systematically aligning himself with the wrong side in the French Court and had to retire in disgrace. His family, completely up in arms, forced him into army life where he made a sincere promise of obedience and good behavior to them. In his early army years, he tried to keep to himself, hating every pious man around him meanwhile suppressing his strong, internal sexual emotions. He prayed constantly to God for help and tried to drown himself in reading religious books to reshape his mixed erroneous sensibility. Life went on dull and unrewarding.
It was not until he reached thirty-five that he had been made Count and sent to be the head of The Castel Du Mont. By this time he had married an older widow who asked nothing from him but to be a husband in name only. During the one and only single night of complete drunkenness, he sired a daughter who turned out to be the only reason his wife was satisfied to live with him. He continued with his numerous, most discreet liaisons with his wife’s blessings.
The daughter, unfortunately, had a disfigurement that ran in his wife’s family. She was cross-eyed and there was nothing anyone could do for her. He hated having her grow up like this.
When the boys started calling her, and there were very few, it ruined the girl’s confidence from puberty on. Realizing her affliction, she refused to go out and spent most of her time with her mother or in her room. She knew she only had two choices in life—to marry an old widower or to remain single. She chose the latter for she knew men were only interested in her dowry.
After her mother’s death, she took over her mother’s household duties. She suspected her father’s sexual deviations, but never spoke to anyone about it. It was not the proper thing to do; after all, family was family.
During the nights of indoctrination, she made certain to keep to her bedroom which was located in the farthest part of The Castel Du Mont. Her father was most thankful for her kind filial understanding and was truly grateful for such a daughter, who, after his departure from this world, would inherit all of his riches.
Although seven years younger, Father Francesco, second in command in the church, had a similar upbringing and was the Padrone’s partner in crime. At the age of ten, while living with his mother in Cannes, the only son and inheritor was recalled by his father to Paris where he was enrolled in the school of the best and brightest of the upper classes.
At school, the young Francesco learned the pleasures of theatre and also those of flagellation, sodomy and masturbation. In school whipping was, after all, a noble punishment, and the adults were frequently accused of practicing sodomy, among themselves and with their pupils. Francesco was a very handsome child and an innocent, willing candidate. Hence, he became a lifelong devotee of passive penetration and sadomasochistic scenarios.
After only four years of this schooling, which ended for him at the age of fourteen, he was completely hooked on sex. He woke up every morning looking for pleasure, and when he experienced sex with young women, he was in complete glory. To outsiders he was a complete good-for-nothing, incorrigible individual. His father, now on a trajectory toward an old age of religious contemplation, worried about his son’s prospects for marriage, given his rapidly growing reputation. In desperation, he gave his son an ultimatum: he either had to marry an elderly, wealthy widow he had chosen, or join the church. Only then would he inherit the considerable fortune his father was holding.
Two years later, after much soul searching, Francesco found that his father had donated all the money to the church upon his death, with the understanding (by papal decree) that, if his son were to become a man of the church, he would be extended special privileges. And so it came to pass that, through destiny, these two well-versed, corrupt men of faith both found themselves at The Castel Du Mont.
As two comfortable peas in a pod, they gained the villagers’ faith and began the town’s atrocities in the name of the church. It began with simple ways, such as the Padrone sending some food to the bereaved, who in turn went in person to The Castel with their ever-so-thankful attitude. The Priest, on the other hand, would pay a consoling visit to the very young widows. Being experienced men, they recognized the body language of these innocent, uneducated maidens and acted accordingly (and always in the name of God). Grateful for their services, some of the lonely widows were willing to accept them.
After a while, it was the young virgins for whom they craved, and so they devised “the night-before-the-wedding indoctrination.”
The Padrone had now reached the age of fifty, with ugly narrow shoulders, a big belly, scrawny legs matted with black hairs emphasized by silken tight pants, and shoes of the styles of the day. His body, after so many years of abuse, seemed to be sinking into the sinkhole of evil. His stomach bulged like a swollen bullfrog and he had the puniest of all his manhood. For all his strutting and boasting, after years of over-indulgence it had been turned into a useless hanging object, no longer able to partake in the usual sexual encounters he had so often enjoyed. His only sex toys these days were enjoyable hours of voyeurism. He was now content and received a great deal of satisfaction at being an active and true voyeur.
With the help of Father Francesco and the indoctrination rituals, he was able to enjoy every fantasy he had ever imagined. This ritual, from all accounts, lasted about a dozen years—one of the gloomiest darkest, and most sinful eras of The Castel Du Mont’s history.
It was an affair that was whispered about and transmitted verbally, from one generation to another for centuries, but never dared to be written down, until now. NOW IT HAS TO BE TOLD!
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING
Tomorrow was her wedding day and she was so happy. Clara was so fortunate to have found the most wonderful young man who truly adored her, and he was so good looking all her friends envied her. From tomorrow on he would be hers, and they would live in the one-room house located just in front of the church, near the back moat where his family had lived.
Both of his parents were now dead. He was an artisan with a piece of land that he cultivated for the Padrone. But he was young and a good worker and although most of the products went to the Padrone, he was smart and clever enough to keep a good amount for himself. She knew they would never starve as some of the other families did.
She was a bit nervous tonight. This was the last ritual before the wedding. She knew she had to go to The Castel to spend the night for her indoctrination into her religion. Why was she so jittery? Every bride before her had gone, and who believed those silly stories some old women told? They just wanted to scare you.
After all, she was going to her Padrone, who was always so jolly when sharing a few drinks with the men—the Padrone, who took care of them. And her priest, Father Francesco, a handsome and pious man, would be there. All the other girls swooned over him and wished he was a normal single man! He was always so kind and helpful when you went to confession and always seemed to understand your problems.
She had just finished filling the large wooden tub with hot water that her neighbor had lent her for her bath. Someday I will have a large tub of my own, she thought. She scrubbed her skin with the home-made soap and dried herself with the heavy linen towel she had loomed herself as part of her trousseau. She rubbed her skin so hard that it had taken on a very rosy color.
She took her comb and began combing her hair. It was the color of coal, shiny as a pool of ink. “It is your pride and glory,” her mother had told her. How wonderful it would have been if her mother and father could share tomorrow’s ceremony with her. But her mother had died of smallpox when she had been only ten years old, and her aunt had helped out as well as she could. Her father had died just six months ago as life had finally caught up with him.
She was five feet tall, youthful and blooming with the charm of a bisque doll. She loved her young man, with his broad shoulders, strong honest face and brown eyes, large and shiny with curious liquidity that left her seething with improper thoughts and emotions, which she dared not put to words.
His smile flashed quickly and it was genuine. There was about him a forthrightness—a lack of pretension—she never found in other young men. He had a certain exotic aura. He was marvelous, and tomorrow he would be hers forever and ever. She slowly dressed and set out for the 11:30 p.m. appointment she had at The Castel.
Dante arrived to accompany her. Most people in the village were afraid to enter The Castel, especially at night, but she was not a superstitious person. She had said her prayers and was certain that God would protect her.
Upon arriving in front of the moat, she noticed the bridge had been lowered. Trembling, she kissed her fiancée lightly on the lips, with a promise of seeing him early on the morrow. She bravely walked over the moat bridge and noted that it remained down after she walked over it.
She walked up the marble staircase and pulled the large chain. Old Man Maurizio, the guard-door lackey, answered the door. The guard, it had been told, was deaf. He had long ago saved the Padrone’s life in battle and was now permanently set in his employment for life.
He never heard the door bell, but someone had set up waving red ribbons that swayed each time the bell rang and he knew then to open the heavy front door. She entered into the very large kitchen, a room with many ceramic ovens for charcoal. She bet you could cook at least forty dishes at one time.
She followed the guardsman to an upstairs room, and here he left her. This was a warm dark, almost stuffy room, with two windows that overlooked a private churchyard. It was decorated with heavy dark furniture and two large stuffed tapestry-covered couches. For such a small room, they looked out of place. There was a desk by the window with a chair, an oil lamp and papers, and a bookcase on the opposite wall. She did not like this room; she felt she could not breathe easily here.
The door opened and Father Francesco entered, “Good evening child, have you said your prayers and cleansed yourself this evening?” he asked.
“Yes Father, Cecilia lent me her wooden bathtub and I prayed for one whole hour. I am ready for God’s blessing.”
The Castel du Mont from a distance.
Praise for the Book
"A totally engrossing book that will leave the reader wanting more ... the author shares secrets of her mysterious birthplace, a castle in Italy ... starting with the fact that she was the first legitimate child born there ... part memoir, part romance ... the book is a page turner you won't want to see end." ~ Randeegfeld
"Four stories that are brilliantly crafted and woven together as each character will learn within the pages of his/her story many lessons that they should have learned before. Greed, power, fear, hunger and deceit will fill the pages as you meet the victims and those that inflict the pain. [...] Castel du Mont: secrets, lies, betrayals, loves, hates and revenge revealed. Would you want to visit? Would you live there? Enter the Castel and hear the voices of those gone by and the ghosts that haunt each night and decide as the author did whether you would ever set foot inside." ~ Amazon Customer
By Lynda Dickson
This is a fascinating account of the history of The Castel du Mont, where the author grew up with the dubious honor of being the first legitimate child to be born there. The author presents us with a history of The Castel, interwoven with three different stories pieced together from many years of painstaking research and interviews with the old villagers. There is the story of Bianca, who has an affair with Percivalle, the son of her husband, Count Di Massimo; the story of Clara, the miller's daughter, who undergoes an "initiation" at the hands of the Padrone of The Castel and his priest, Father Francesco; and finally, we have the heart-breaking story of Roxanne and young Father Claudio.
Each story is an account of the sex, lies, and scandals surrounding the aristocracy of The Castel and senior members of church. There are a number of editing errors in the manuscript but, overall, it is very well-written and the author has a great style that lends itself to historical fiction.
A real-page turner, this one will leave you wanting more.
Warnings: sex scenes, violence.
Interview With the Author
Hi Rosemary, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, The Sins of Castel du Mont.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
I would recommend this for 18 and over, adults essentially, because there is some explicit content in it. It was dictated to me this way, and of course I wrote it down as it was told to me. So I feel that at least 18 or over.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Very simple, this was a castle that I was born in and everyone kept telling me that it was haunted. It just bothered me all my life; I wondered what caused it to be haunted and I took it upon myself years later and interviewed all the people over ninety years old that still remembered the folklore. These people actually remembered the stories; the new generation did not remember.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
In my case, the characters came first; these are stories, folklore, which allegedly really happened centuries ago.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
The hardest part was hearing these senior citizens in their eighties and nineties tell me about this explicit content. I never heard people this age talk this way, and that’s why I thought it was important to put it in the way they dictated. Another tough part was that I had to translate this from Piedmontese, which is the only language the older natives of the town spoke.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I’m a believer of folklore, and I strongly feel that folklore is our personal stories of who and where we came from. I believe if someone loses that folklore, they are really losing a part of themselves. I think my birth town should be aware of this folklore.
One of the folk stories in my book is one they reenact every year at the town festival. They are not even aware this is their history, however. I asked one of the younger residents in the town where he thought the story came from and his answer was, "I don’ t know."
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took about ten years because I had to collect all of the stories through interviews in Italy first - I was living in the US.
I had a travel agency at that time and I was able to travel back and forth from Italy free of charge to get these people to tell these stories. I strongly feel that these stories are the truth. It’s what people believed and it has everything that a reader would want; it has history, geography, terrible atrocities, explicit sex, and some laughter, as well.
It's certainly an interesting read! What is your writing routine?
Having traveled around the globe, gaining life experience and learning so many stories, I have so much to tell. I can just sit down and work. I work about four hours a day. I feel that at ninety years old, I don’t have so much time left.
How did you get your book published?
I did research and I found what I felt in my heart as the best person to handle it for me. I had to find somebody that I trusted and I felt I trusted Barry, my publisher. I felt he was an honest man and we seemed to understand each other.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Like everything else in this world, you have got to learn to be dedicated to your goals and allow nothing to stand in your way. If you really believe in what you do, you’ve got to go for it.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love life; I like to do everything in this world. I like to read and I like to paint. I like people; I like learning about their culture, their lives, their folklore - everything. I just love life.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family is so accustomed to hearing my stories. All of them, since they were babies, would hear me tell them about the castle in which I was born, and they were always fascinated about the stories I told them. They encouraged me to tell more, and they always urged me to write it in my own words because they loved hearing them.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I think I had what I call a fairy-tale childhood. Being born in a castle which was haunted gave me an extra outlook on life. It opened up my life. The first thing when I opened up my eyes at birth must have been all the frescos on the wall and the art, and that must have stayed with me the rest of my life. I’ve always been interested in my past. I was fascinated with folklore.
After living in a castle for ten years, I led a normal family life until I got married, and it was a wonderful marriage for 47 years. It was a wonderful life. I’m so thankful for it that I want to give back.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, in fact I not only liked reading, but I won a contest in first grade! My first grade teacher in Italy gave each person a notebook, and each morning when I went to class I had to write something. At the end of the year she collected these books. In those days Mussolini was a leader and he collecting them from all the children of Italy. My books won and I was given a bicycle and 100 dollars. I always loved writing and researching.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think from my first book - the one that I wrote when I was nine years old in 1933. But I was also told that I was a wonderful artist, so I knew I had to study painting.
So, your childhood experiences influenced your writing?
Definitely. My whole life has, having traveled around the globe twice. Everything affects my writing and my thinking, my way of living, and hopefully keeps my brain going.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
The classics. All the classics. I don’t have any favorites. Traveling the world, every place is my favorite when I’m there.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Well, yes, I do hear from my readers. A lot of them are people that I know, and I received a letter from one that said, "Rosemary, I loved your book but I think you misnamed it; it should be Fifty Shades of Rosemary because it wasn’t as repetitious and I enjoyed it more. We knew you could do it, we’re glad you did and we can’t wait until the next one."
Fantastic. So what can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m working on a couple of novels. I am going to do back-to-back stories that are very different from each other. They are going to include everything that people enjoy. And I really think they will be well accepted, especially people who want to pick up something and read it fast and also people who are traveling. They are funny stories. Flashbacks from my life, they might be called. They have anecdotes and things that happened to me while I traveled around the world.
Sounds good! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Rosemary.
This video interview with author Rosemary Bracco Greenbaum Kohler really brings out her character. Don't miss it!
About the Author
Rosemary Bracco Greenbaum Kohler was born in a castle in northern Italy, near the French border. The historic edifice was owned by her grandfather. She attended preschool at "The Asilo" at the age of two. At age three, she learned to paint in watercolors, personally guided by the Mother Superior. She attended public school in Italy, where she wrote and illustrated her first book when she was nine years old. The teacher, Mrs. Rita Di Benedetto, entered the book in a contest that reached across all of Italy and won one of the first ten prizes.
Greenbaum continued her education after her arrival in the United States, including private art lessons with the Bohemian artists during the Great Depression (1934). She became a graduate of a four-year course in dress designing at Washington Irving Art School in New York City.
Greenbaum worked for Fleisher and Disney Studios as a pen and ink artist on such films at Betty Boop, Little Lulu, Popeye, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She was president and art teacher at her private art studio for thirty-five years. She traveled around the globe learning and expanding her knowledge of art and the understanding of people and customs. For four years, she counseled senior citizens at Manhattanville College in Rye, New York, on techniques of “How to Write Your Memoirs.” In the end, all had enough material ready for their book printing.
After eighteen years of hard work, she had her first book published, A Life of Mosaics: A Photo Album/Autobiography, which goes back four generations from paternal great grandmother, who was an Italian Saphardic Jew, to her maternal great grandmother, who was Native American (Iroquois.) The book is the family tree for her three grandchildren. Her second book, The Sins of Castel du Mont, is the folklore of the castle that was her birthplace.
At age seventy-nine, she developed macular degeneration in both eyes and lost fifty percent of her eye sight in one week. Presently she receives, from her ophthalmologist, a monthly injection in each eye to retain what eyesight she has left. She is also hearing impaired. Yet at the age of ninety, she is always ready to take on new challenges in both art and writing, and keeps busy lecturing on her books and her art, including another book she has written, There is Life After Macular Degeneration. In her own words, "I find that I am busier than ever and enjoy every minute I am alive."