Saturday, July 26, 2014

Little Demon In The City of Light: Guest Blogger Michael

Little Demon in the City of Light--Steven Levingston
On this day, 125 years ago in 1889, a well-heeled, silk-hatted boulevardier named Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé was murdered by Michel Eyraud and his accomplice, Gabriellle Bompard in Paris.  Gouffé was lured to his death by the beguiling young Gabrielle to the scene of the crime set like a theater piece, fully in keeping with the spirit of the Belle Epoque city. (I would add the month of his death, Gouffé had already slept with 20 different women. Il a obtenu environ.) 
This small murder mystery was to become a sensation in the City of Light.  It started with a lost, gamine girl of 21 who was a remarkable hypnotic subject and became an international man and woman hunt, ending at the Bois de Justice and Monsieur Guillotine.  This case evolved into an early tabloid fueled celebrity murder (concurrent with Jack the Ripper activity in London) and had bouche et des oreilles buzzing.  It was an early example of a "hypnotic" defense as well as the emerging sciences of forensics and neurology. 
Cube is currently reading Cesare Lombroso's The Female Offender from the late 1800's.  A text given serious use for it's time, and a huge piece of misogynist clap trap. According to Lombroso, men steal from basic need, women from the desire to gain material wealth.
As the Little Demon crime carousel revolves, it passes The International Exposition with it's gallery of machines to usher in The Industrial, erection of The Eiffel Tower.  Sigmund Freud, The Moulin Rouge, electric lights, telegraphs, while café society and Toulouse-Lautrec sipping absinthe...the green fairy.

Toussaint-Augustin Gouffé and a real lady killer until a lady killed him.
All of this and more in a new book called Little Demon in the City of Light by Washington Post journalist Steven Levingston, the story of murder and mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris. This story would make a great movie or HBO series.  I've already fantasy casted Gerard Depardieu as Marie-Francois Goron, the mustachioed head of the Paris Sûreté.  A man who stubbornly refused to give up the chase until the suspects were in custody. 
Michel Eyraud

 The Little Demon
Gabrielle Bompard
The traveling coffin and infamous trunk

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Apocalypse Now: Why We Really Love Zombies

Who's Your Stylist?

I have questions about zombies after watching World War Z last night:

 What happens when everybody becomes a zombie (an apparent zombie goal) or do they not even have a goal…are they just zombies?   They don't seem very organized.

What is worse: having a zombie on the plane, or snakes on the plane? If zombies are on the plane, can you ask for their peanuts since they won’t be eating them--just you?

This harkens back to the question, "What if everyone is now a zombie?"  It seems when people become zombies, they have a radical weight loss and are wearing rags. So if everyone is a zombie, THEN what do they do…just stagger around…or open Zombies R’ Us? Zombie toys. “The flesh tears away in a realistic manner.” Zombie boutiques. A zombie buying a McDonald’s franchise and calling it McDead?

The zombie glass where you will drink...what else...Zombie cocktails!

 Zombies are dead so they can’t die. So what happens if everyone is now a zombie and there is a lack of living flesh? Do they starve? They can’t die. They can’t reproduce and having tiny zombie babies. But. If there were zombie babies, the zombies could open milk bars and call them “First and Last Latch.”

Just what the heck are zombies so pissed off about anyway? Being undead? Get over it. 

 I remember reading that Brad Pitt had a difficult time with studio heads in selling the idea of this movie, and consequently, getting funded for it. A studio executive argues, “World wide domination of zombies? Think of what that would cost to cast, or the special effects?” Would Brad Pitt counter with, “Zombies are a growth industry.”

The new Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday

 How could Brad Pitt work at the United Nations with that hair and be taken seriously?  His boss, even though he was fighting a world war zombie epidemic, had on a suit and tie the entire time. What is Brad Pitt going to say? “I need time off for low lights?” (For zombies: that’s a hair highlighting technique.)

 One zombie survived the plane crash and was twisting and snarling held in by his seat belt. If he can’t open the seat belt, and Brad Pitt doesn’t help him, which he didn't,  does that mean he spends eternity stuck in seat 12A?

 Brad Pitt figures out we need an inoculation of viruses and bacteria to camouflage us from zombie interest, but don’t we carry those things around in our bodies anyway?   And…would this be a productive counter argument to those parents who are anti-innoculators. “Your child will become a zombie.” 

 Why don’t the zombies like Nova Scotia and Wales? What do they know that we don’t know.  At one point, looking for a safe destination, it was said, "India?  Forget it.  It's a black hole."  I thought, "Whoa. Calcutta, maybe." I heard the populace of India yelling "HEY!"

 In the book “The Last Myth,” by Matthew Barrett and Mile Gilles, the authors postulate that allowing the challenges of the 21st century to be high jacked by the apocalyptic story line, we find ourselves awaiting a moment of clarity when the problems we must confront will become apparent to all—or when those challenges will magically disappear, like other failed prophecies about the end of the world. 

The real challenges we must face are not future events that we imagine or dismiss through apocalyptic scenarios of collapse—they are existing trends. Collapse of the economy, the arrival of peak oil, global warming and resource wars. The evidence suggests much of what we fear in the future has already begun. We can wait forever while the world unravels before our eyes,  or we can wait for an apocalypse that won’t come.

You think this is bad?  Bring on the zombies!

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis I : First "To Do" List

The Beautification of Run-D.M.C. I'm putting this on the new Pope's "First To Do" list: Declare Sainthood on Run-D.M.C. 

 1) First, you have to die. Jam Master Jay died in 2002. 

 2) Once you have been dead at least 5 years a cause for sainthood can be opened. Done...and the cold case file on Jam Master Jay is still open 'cause they never solved his murder. 

 3) The local bishop or other religious leader will assign someone to collect all sorts of documents and conduct interviews about the life of the candidate. Joseph Simmons aka Rev. Run has got that covered. The Adidas, the chains, the snap brim fedoras. I offer as my own proof an English muffin bearing the image of Jam Master Jay holding aloft his gold record.

 4) Once they have all the information, the file will be sent to the Sacred Congregation for the causes of Saints in Rome. They will study the file and, if it seems the person exhibited some form of heroic virtue, that person will be declared a Servant of God and an official Cause for Sainthood will be opened. Reeling from their first taste of failure, personal problems began to surface for the trio. McDaniels, who had been a heavy drinker in recent years, was losing control to alcoholism. Jay was involved in a life-threatening car accident and survived two gunshot wounds after an incident in 1990. In 1991, Simmons was charged with raping a college student in Ohio, though the charges were later dropped. He was also battling depression and would frequently mix poison with Coca Cola—his signature drink—later coined "The Jimmy Simmons". They survived depression, car accidents, shootings, alcoholism. The early saints would starve for their faith? Run-D.M.C. drank POISON for theirs. 

 5) More investigations and interviews will be conducted and if the person passes all favorably, they will be named as Venerable. With so much personal chaos and professional uncertainty, the members turned to faith to try to steady their lives. Both Simmons and McDaniels joined the church, with Run becoming especially devoted following his legal troubles and the toll it took on his finances. There are no atheists in foxholes, Son. 

 6) Next, more investigations and at least one miracle must be confirmed and verified due to the intercession of the candidate. Again, I submit Exhibit A. Got that covered. I've already wrapped and gotten it ready to go to: "The Pope - Vatican City - Italy."

 7) If all goes well, the candidate will then be Beatified by the Pope and receive the title of "Blessed." "Blessed Rev. Run." "Blessed Run-D.M.C." Could chart...with a bullet.

 8) In the final stage, more investigations and at least one more miracle must be verified. Once all that has been done, the file is turned over to the pope who will make the final decision. It will be up to the pope to declare a person a saint and then arrangements are made for the official canonization ceremonies. This process can take many years, even centuries. Of course, the person became a saint the moment they entered heaven. The Church just needs to investigate to make sure the candidate is worthy of emulation and makes a good role model for future generations. The Pope is Francis I.  I wanted him to come out and sing "My Way."  Either that or "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." Don't they make Adidas in Argentina? 

 I'll go to the Immaculate Shrine today and light a candle in petition. "We praise and bless you, Father, for having enlightened the mind of man to discover new musical techniques. Its mission is to uplift and educate men and society both materially and spiritually. Lead us not into temptation, oh Lord. Deliver us from the temptation toward ruining the gifts given to us by You with such wisdom and love. May they sing to your Glory. Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, grant this prayer.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

You've Got To Fight For The Right To Party...Into Old Age

I am in the final stages of finishing My Life  by Sofia Tolstoy.  She continues to amaze me:  how much she accomplished, and how she remained so supportive of her husband and family which at times was a thankless task.  

She wrote of the celebration of a great poet, nearing the end of his life, and the community was going to hold a fete.  She arranged for garlands and wreaths to be sent in her family's name, and many of her family members (minus her husband) participated in the celebration.  She wrote, "As for me, I simply found it a pleasure to organize and take part in the event.  As a rule I am quite fond of celebrations, glamour, fun, beauty, the company of pleasant people, although apart from the latter, I do have the company of pleasant people.  I was destined to live my life completely outside of that whole (sphere.)  On this occasion, too, fate robbed me of the very celebration I had organized."  (She had to remain home nursing sick children.)

Later, she found in her husband's diary, his comments on that event: "Everybody's terribly silly, overeating, overdrinking, and singing.  Even gross!  Vainglory, luxury, poetry, it's all quite enchanting when one is filled with the energy of youth, but without youth or energy, with on the dullness of old age permeating everything, it's gross."

Sofia reports, "For some reason, however, I did not find it gross.  I was happy to bring what might have been a final pleasure to this celebrity poet.  Life is too hard, grey and complicated and that it's good when one sees flaring up from time to time, if not sunlight, then at least a tiny star!"  I agree with her.  This has been on my mind lately: the process of aging gracefully and not falling prey to the undertow of jadedness and negativity.  It's an easy way out.  You don't have to make much effort to be a curmudgeon.   I hope I can keep striving for that light, or at least a tiny star.

Postscript:  The photograph that I used was the last taken of the couple on their anniversary, September 23, 1909.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My 1,125 Pages. Suivez-Moi

Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya Wedding Portrait, 1862

In 2010 I learned that Sofia Tolstoy’s writings called My Life had finally been published.  I knew it existed in Russian archives, but it had never been translated and published.  What puzzled me  in 2010 was why it wasn’t turning up in any local libraries so that I could read it. …and that would be Sofia Andreevna Tolstaya for my Russian friends.

 My fascination with Russian culture began as a teen, and I still have most of the books I started gathering then. A copy of Anna Karenina that I probably read first at 16 or 17. Then, I strongly identified with the character of Kitty who was based strongly on Sofia Tolstoy when she was a teen. I would read the book at the start of any snowfall in subsequent years; always with Anna visiting her wayward brother Stefan, trying to make peace in his family with his wife. As I re-read, and matured, I grew to identify with all of the characters.  Multiple copies of War and Peace, books on history, on politics, my old Russian grammar books…

I should tuck in here that I don’t think there has ever been a successful version of Anna Karenina on either film on television. Keira Knightley, the latest, is grossly miscast as Anna. Anna is a sensualist. Keira is all teeth, jaw and angles. Too brittle.

This year I finally started tackling my 26 page reading list, most of the books having to be acquired by intralibrary loans. It was by this means I finally acquired a copy of My Life, and upon receiving it, I can see why most libraries wouldn’t have it.   It was published by the University of Ottawa.  It weighs a ton. Not the sort of volume you want propped on your chest for bedtime reading. It runs 1,125 pages. That would stop most in their tracks.

The writings reflect back to her childhood, living within the Kremlin walls, into her teen years and throughout her married life. Leo (Lev Nikolaevich) Tolstoy was a family friend, many years older than Sofia. Her older sister Liza had thought Leo would marry her, so there was a great deal of discord within the family when he proposed to Sofia. She writes with an honesty that is painful, including what she viewed as a rape in the marriage carriage on their way to Tolstroy’s country estate, Yasnaya Polyana.

 In those few years where she entered society, prior to her young marriage, she speaks of the freedom she feels within herself, that spreading of wings that most teens experience in some degree. She loved the city, she loved culture, she loved learning, and she loved her finery. That is what I wanted to focus on now.

The year before she was married, she was trying to remove her presence from Tolstoy by leaving the house before he was expected, trying to give her sister Liza a chance at winning his love. When Tolstoy would discover that Sofia wasn’t present, he would sometimes storm off, which, as you can imagine, created even greater familial problems.

 Sofia writes about one of Lev’s visits where she was wearing a white and purple barège dress. (Barege is defined as a “light silky gauze fabric made of wool.”) On the shoulders were “bright purple bows from which long ribbons hung down called Suivez moi. (Follow me.) From a book called Mode and Manners of the Nineteenth Century I learned that in 1853, a fashion was introduced where hats, chignons, or dresses were adorned with two long narrow ribbons (often velvet) that hung all the way down the back to the ground and were called “Flirtation ribbons” or in Paris “Suivez moi” or “Jeune homme.” (young men).

 The "Anna Karenina" ring that Tolstoy had made in Moscow for Sofia of diamonds and a ruby--for her sacrifice and multiple copyings of Anna Karenina

 Seeing her with her ribbons, Tolstoy said, “I’m disappointed that you didn’t dress up this fancy at Auntie’s."  He was smiling.  “And you’re not dancing?” I asked. “No, what’s the sense?” he replied. “I’m too old.” If only she had heeded that comment.  Sofia knew, from the time she was a teen, that she loved being in a large city, that she loved gorgeous clothes and she loved "sparkle."  When Tolstoy wrote his farewell letter to her in 1910 he stated “I can no longer stand living in these conditions of luxury.” Yet, he returned to those conditions after his pilgrimages and wheat cuttings with the peasants time and again.

She said about her husband, “Everyone asks: ‘But why should a worthless woman like you need an intellectual, artistic life?’ To this I can only reply: ‘I don’t know, but eternally suppressing it to serve a genius is a great misfortune.”

Suivez moi? I’m up to page 472, Sofia. There have been many births and several deaths of children. Ultimately you bore him 13 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. You could write. You could paint. You could play music.  You sewed almost all of your family’s clothing.

And just in the past few pages, I learned your husband (feeling pressured) dumped the entire business of your family into your hands: the estate, the multiple properties, the hiring and firing of employees, his book deals and publishing rites. You would even travel to Moscow to choose the paper for the book while squeezing in pleas to the government for people your husband felt should be pardoned. I don’t know how you did it and kept your voice, or your mind.

Sofia's bedroom at Yasnaya Polyana.  Her writing desk is in the far right of the photograph.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Egyptian Avenue

Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery

I just finished reading Necropolis: London and Its Dead, by Catharine Arnold. It covers burial practices in London from tribes through the Romans and the Plague. Ornate Victoriana and into the present. The premise (in a nutshell) is that London sits on centuries of its dead...and here's how they did it. 

Years ago, longer than I care to remember, I used to live for long stretches in London. I knew it like a native; sometimes better than a native. There is an old early 19th century cemetery in the northern part of London called Highgate (for the community where it is located.) Karl Marx is buried there. Charles Dickens' wife. Many notables. The cemetery had to be closed to the public in the 1970's when neglect was rampant and grave robbing was occurring (mainly from a local warlock in the neighborhood.) In 1975 an organization called "Friends of the Highgate Cemetery" was formed, and I contributed and participated for many years. In the autumn I would be there with my trowel or clippers, taking away ivy (but leaving it in more artistic array,) and general overall care giving to the acreage.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Now you can visit the cemetery yourself, although the West side is still tour only. They even have events there. Much changed over time, and more open:

One unique feature, among many, about the cemetery, and Highgate in general, is that it sits at the top of London and in certain spots you have an overview of the city, looking down. It's rather unique and very lovely.

At the end of Necropolis, the author quotes from Ford Madox Ford's The Soul of London.  When I read the passage, it reminded me of that view:

 "For all of us it must be again London from a distance, whether it be a distance of six feet underground, or whether we go to rest somewhere on the other side of the hills that ring in this great river basin. For us, at least, London, its problems, its past, its future, will be at rest. At nights the great blaze will shine up at the clouds; on the sky there will still be that brooding and enigmatic glow, as if London with a great ambition strove to grasp at Heaven with arms that are shafts of light. That is London writing its name upon the clouds. And in the hearts of its children it will still be something like a cloud--a cloud of little experiences, of little personal impressions, of small, futile things that, seen in moments of stress and anguish, have significance so tremendous and meanings so poignant. A cloud--as it were of the dust of men's lives."

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hic Hoc, You're A Dronk


I’m reading a book entitled Complete Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl: An Anecdotal History of the Original Monarch of Mixed Drinks, with More than Forty Historic Recipes, Fully Annotated, and a Complete Course in the Lost Art of Compounding Punch by David Wondrich.

In quoting from Thomas Dekker’s 1623 tragicomedy “The Welsh Ambassador,” there is a scene where several characters drink to the King of England’s health, each in the preferred tipple of his people. Eldred, the king’s brother, is disguised as a stereotypical Welshman and therefore choses metheglin, a spiced honey wine especially prized in Wales while another brother, disguised as an Irishman, will pledge “in usquebagh” or nothing. But the Clown is an Englishman and, as he says, “I’ll pledge it to ale, in aligant, cider, perry, metheglin, usquebagh, mingham-manglum, purr, in hum, mum, aqua quadquam, claret or sacum, for an English man is a horse that drinks of all waters.”

 For the record: 

 “Algiant” is a Spanish wine.

 “Minglum-manglum” is an adulterated wine of any type.

 “Purr” is a weak cider.

 “Hum” is a fortified ale.

 “Mum” is a strong beer.

 “Aqua Quadquam” is strong water of any type.

 “Sacum” is sherry.

 “Metheglin” is a spiced honey wine favored in Wales.

 “Usquebagh” is an Irish or Scottish whiskey.

 I’ve been learning so much from this book, and I haven’t even hit my first punch recipe yet! The author reports he has listed only historically documented punches and not (he notes) “…Wassails, Eggnogs, Possets, Negus and Bishop, Sangaree, Flip, Whiskey Toddy, Claret Cup, and Maitrank.

 …I think I’m going to be on the Red Eye for Drunkistan by the time I’m done reading this.

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