Happy July!

July is an important month for me because of the celebration of our country's independence. Because our daughter is in the Marine Corps, as well as her husband, I've seen firsthand the sacrifices our military men and women and their families make for our country. I would like to appreciate them in this correspondence.
July is also the beginning of the Tanglewood season ­ the music festival that my husband, Joe is a part of. In fact, it is his 50th summer playing with the BSO in Tanglewood. I love the concerts that unfold throughout the summer, with the Boston Symphony playing in an outdoor setting. Soloists and conductors from all over the world travel to Western Massachusetts and I'm always astounded by their artistry. Joe and I especially look forward to a concert conducted by the talented Stéphane Denève, with superstar Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in August. The concert is named in honor of my mom, Jean Brett, who was a wonderful teacher and a lovely person.
I love letting my mind wander and be directed by the music ­ I find lots of creative ideas are sparked by the complexity an extraordinary art of the live concert.
My books are inspired by events and places. We planned a trip to St. Petersburg in order to gain knowledge about Russian culture, hoping it would add to the setting of my chicken Cinderella story I'm working on right now. We spent about a week in St. Petersburg with a trip to the city of Novgorod on an additional day. We were guided by a most knowledgeable and professional guide, Tatiana Ivanova, who was in addition a lovely travel companion. We visited Peterhof, Catherine's Palace and the Hermitage which were awesome in their scope and representation of Russian culture. But it was the living arts that made the trip a lifelong memory. We heard a magnificent concert in the Grand Hall of the St.Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor Yuri Temirkanov and piano soloist Vladimir Feltsman. The musicians were incredible, and the Hall was intimate and invoked the different era. We also went to a ballet, Parc, it was one of the most indelible and moving performances we have ever seen, with dancing that was so natural and compelling that we were limp with wonder. Because, in my book the chickens wear Russian folk costumes, we attended a concert and folk dance recital that was also at the upper limits of performance art, and will be a great resource for the characters in my book. I can't even begin to describe the Russian character and culture from our small trip but our experience of the performing arts was explosive, and romantic and proud in a way that I deeply respected and admired. I have a lot of pent-up excitement about our sampling of the arts in St. Petersburg which will surely come out in my book CINDERS!
Probably the most significant time I spent in St. Petersburg was at the Russian Museum of Ethnography. There were many traditional clothes on display as well as handicrafts and samples of houses and unique decorations. There was a bookstore that was like a treasure trove for me, with outstanding books of photos of Russian dress and others about traditional dwellings. Photography was allowed, and the Russian safe keepers of the collection even allowed us get behind some of the barriers to get certain angles of the artifacts. There was one huge volume I brought back showcasing the work of a Russian whose life work was documenting the traditional folk dress across the country. It is truly a labor of love, and I will find it inspiring and authentic for use in my story. It is by Serguei Glebushkin, and it has an English translation. I spent almost every night paging through the book, amazed by the extraordinary traditional dresses.
We took a far drive southeast of St. Petersburg to the wooden shingle style old settlement of Novgorod . It was a thrill to be in these old structures with the gingerbread woodcarvings and onion domes. On the way we passed the most lush, unspoiled farmland and countryside, at this time unused because of the collective farm model of production.
We also visited a dacha or summer cottage by the Baltic Sea, in an arts colony. One of the dachas once upon a time belonged to the composer Shostakovich, another to Ivan Pavlov the famous scientist. Our hostess was from a famous acting dynasty and she entertained us with the traditional dinner including a yummy dish called “Herring under a fur blanket”, and let us use her banya or Russian sauna. I loved steaming in the Birch enclosure, but I have yet to master the stoicism of not screaming out loud when the freezing cold water is poured on you! This will probably be the one Russian experience I will not put in my book!
Now that I'm home, I'm looking long and hard at all my chicken’s expressions for use in my story. The body language is ever changing and never fails to make me laugh. I have lots of baby chicks, and there is high drama with their mothers, and in one case, a father who take their jobs very seriously.
Between a trip to Russia and many new additions to my flock, I have lots to be inspired by. As I settled in to put the pieces together, my thoughts go out to all of you and to all of the creative minds out there that I hope will join me in creating your own unique and wonderful stories.
Bye for now, your friend,

Jan Brett