I just spent five days in the studio recording audio tours. They’re designed for iPod users visiting the dozen most important museums and sights in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Reading the scripts out loud into a microphone for literally eight hours a day was a slog. But the idea that our work will help thousands of travelers made the chore a joy.
I have never been so immersed in reading, and I had two great coaches: Lyssa Brown (editor and professional voice for Cedar House Audio Productions) and Gene Openshaw (co-author of many of my guidebooks and editor of these tours). It was a fascinating week filled with quirky factoids, pronunciation challenges, and wording decisions.
As we’re investing lots of time and money in these tours, I wanted to get the pronunciation and wording just right and produce tours with a long life.
“Menagerie” (of beasts from all over the Roman Empire) has a “szh” sound in the middle. The first syllable of “obelisk” rhymes with “Bob.” Should I roll the rr’s in Buonarroti? Lay-en-ar-do or Lee-en-ar-do? …sometimes the correct pronunciation is distracting and sounds pretentious to me. I no longer struggle with “gesture” (jes-jur). How on earth should we pronounce the sculptor Pollaiuolo? I went with a Sam the Sham “Wooly Bully” accent: “pole-ay-woe-low.” Just when I got that, I came to the main pedestrian drag of Florence: Via Calzaiuoli (“kal-tsie-wolly”…take, it Sam).
While you write “A.D. 312,” we say “312 A.D.” At what point can you dispense with the “A.D.” and just say the year? We decided that while Constantine became Christian in 312 A.D., Rome fell in the year 476.
Reading the tours had me marveling at the variety of information we concern ourselves with: The Colosseum is likely named for the 100-foot-tall “colossal” statue of Nero that once stood out front. Roma spelled backwards is Amor (“love”) — and the temple of Venus (love) and Rome had a sign that said two different words with the same four letters (depending on the viewer’s vantage point). With licensed casinos and a reputed 20,000 courtesans, Venice was Europe’s Sin City. (And what happened in Venice…stayed in Venice.)
We labored over wording questions that probably didn’t matter much: Was Roman concrete made of cement and “light rocks” or “rubble”? (We said rubble.) Did exotic animals from Africa “herald” or “celebrate” Rome’s conquest of distant lands? (We went with celebrate.) Did Rome grow from a small band of “tribespeople” or a small band of “barbarians” into a vast empire? (We said tribespeople.) Should we say “The Jews of Israel believed in only one god,” or “The Israelites believed in only one god”? (We said the former.) Were they slave “marketers” or “traders”? (Traders.)
Do people care that the pavement stones in the Forum were made of basalt? Do people need the word “capital” defined (the top of a column)? Affirmative.
How did the street-corner preacher actually sound when he cried out, “Beware the Ides of March!” And how did dying Caesar utter, “Et tu, Brute?” Joking about how mean Emperor Caligula was, should we say, “He even parked his chariot in handicapped spaces” or “disabled spaces”? Is this even a sensitivity issue? (We went with handicapped at the risk of not being PC.)
Do we need to introduce Bernini by saying his entire, difficult-to-pronounce name: Gian Lorenzo Bernini? And what about Leon Battista Alberti? When noticing the tiny cross atop the towering pagan obelisk, do we say, “Here we see Christian culture is but a thin veneer over our pagan roots” or “pagan origins”? (Our choice: roots.)
The Vatican is an independent country with a few extra bits of land that come with its lead churches. Are these Vatican-owned properties called “territories”? Exactly what do people expect to gain from touching the toe of the statue of St. Peter? Can you say “ecumenistic spirit” rather than “spirit of ecumenism?” Is it too crude to say, “While seventh-century Constantinople flourished, Dark Age Europeans were still rutting in the mud”? (Yes.) Must I say “friars” rather than “monks”? (There is a difference, but “friar” makes you think of a big fat Tuck.)
Did Giotto’s tower “set the tone” for Michelangelo, or “inspire” him? Does Donatello hold his “hammer and chisel” or hold his “trusty hammer and chisel”? Do you say “The Vatican” or simply “Vatican”? (We went without the “the.”) Do people know what a tanner is, or should I say “leather tanner”?
All the decisions have been made, the recordings are finished, and the post-production work has begun. These 12 audio tours will be available here at ricksteves.com (and on iTunes) within two months. (When they are finished, we’ll let you know.)
P.S.: This summer, I ranted on this blog about how un-Christian it seemed to keep the Vatican Museum hours so short with all the tourists baking in lines for hours trying to get in. Travelers’ prayers have been answered: I just heard that the Pope will stretch the museum’s opening hours. In 2008, we can expect it to be open almost daily from 8:00 until 18:00. Hallelujah!