“Imperfect Animal”

Her face curved with a creamy allure. Cheeks were pinched into a shocked rose, the blood rising towards a blushing palettte. There was a delicate valley beneath her full and coral-stained lips. It was dangerous, exotic country.

A galaxy of pearls sparkled throughout her hair in starry glamour. They hung from her ears and were wrapped around her neck in a tight, luminous collar. She wears a hat the color of early twilight that rides like a ship, tilting and brave with silk and feathers.

She is dressed in the style of the maja, a woman from the lower class of Spanish society whose exagerated style was equally charming and saucy. Her peasant silhouette is rich and exuberant, with ribbons cutting into her plump arms in tight bows. She plucks from her bouquet a flower the color of her lush skin; a garland she might have found during her rustic, luxuriant travels.

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Earthy yet elegant, Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli, Duchess of Pastrana had the look of slow, seductive femininity. Her jungle poise was cat-like, with muscles that rolled like velvet. And her beauty was not marred, but rather accentuated, by a small, glossy square which covered one of her eyes. One eye was hooded by a heavy, languorous eyelid, but the other was covered in a silken shadow.

La_princesa_de_Éboli

Stories vary as to how the Princess became came to be afflicted with this rakish flaw. Some say that she lost her eye in a mock duel with a page when young. But others say that the patch hid a squinting or wandering eye: a defect just as damning as an eye pierced by an overzealous opponent’s foil.

This pretty girl, this well-formed and dainty aristocrat, was a marriageable pawn, and any damage had to be covered with as much wit as possible. She was married in 1553 at the age of thirteen, on the recommendation of Philip, Duke of Milan – whom would be crowned King of Spain the very next year. Her husband, Ruy Gómez de Silva, had been page to the young Philip and rarely strayed from his black-clad, tightly ruffed master. He became a diplomat, and eventually was made a Grandee of Spain.

Because of his duties in England and the Netherlands – possibly brokering Philip’s unpopular union with Mary I – the Eboli marriage was not consummated until Ruy returned to Spain in 1558. Ana would endure 15 years of childbearing, bearing 10 children from 1558 to 1573.

Ana spent most of her married life at court, living in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid: Philip’s remodeling of the doughty Muslim fortress into a sparkling Renaissance aerie. It was there that she capered like a shadow, a pretty sprite that sparkled in cloth of gold and slippers embroidered in silks the color of gardens and forests.

After her husband died in 1573, Ana deserted her bright home, retiring to a Carmelite convent under the name of Sister Ana de la Madre de Dios. But the king was determined that she return to take charge of her children and the family estates.
At about this time, in 1576, Ana’s life once more became a reflection of her manic spirit and blithe intelligence. There was political intrigue – irresistible to her restless nature. There was romantic intrigue – with Antonio Perez, the royal secretary and possibly with Philip II himself. It was her relationship with Perez which led to her eventual imprisonment.

Under orders of Philip II Perez kept watch over the wayward royal half-brother, Don Juan of Austria. He employed Juan de Escobedo – a politician with a taste for deception – as his spy. It is also possible that during this time, around 1578, Antonio and Ana became entangled in secret negotiations with Protestant rebels in Flanders and the anarchic arguments over the Portuguese succession. Escobedo would have known about their conspiracies, and when he fell in with the mettlesome half-brother, Escobedo became a dangerous inconvenience.

Perez seized reports and documents, doctored them until they became indictments, leaving the king with no choice but to recommend the death of Escobedo. He left no further instructions. Perez recruited swordsmen for the assassination, turning away from the subsequent, fatal act.

A death in secrecy; the general murkiness of Perez’ motives; gossip and suspicion led to the arrest of Antonio Perez and the Princess in 1579. Perez escaped prison numerous times; ending his days in England, trying to make a rogue’s living by selling state secrets to Elizabeth I.

Ana spent the rest of her life under house arrest in her place in Pastrana, until her death in 1592. Legend has it that she was allowed to stay in the Palacio Ducal for an hour each day, where she could gaze, with eloquence and resentment, from its single window onto the town square which came to be known as La Plaza de la Hora (“the square of the hour”).

Like all women of dangerous talents, Ana de Mendoza was described with hostility as well as admiration. Antonio Perez referred to her as a “Cyclops”, but Don Juan – possibly out of disgust, possibly out of regret at such a wild perfection spoiled, called her an “imperfect animal”.

Foolishness and Silliness

Ever since WordPress had been foolish enough to make a citrus fruit out of one of my posts and feature it on their “Freshly Pressed” page a year or so ago, I have been inundated with followers.  And for the most part they have been a motley crew.  However, amongst the tech companies, exterminators, travel agencies, Australian mattress stores (true) and people with MORE THAN FOUR NUMBERS IN THEIR WP name, there have been some people of worth, and whom I have been glad to have made acquaintance.

One, however was not so much a blogger – though he was – but an online publication, “Calamities Press”.  I read it through, was impressed, and in a gust of silliness submitted three poems.  Not only were they accepted, but I was offered the chance to be one of their poetry contributors.  So I took it. 

Read my column here (and remember, though I don’t like to admit it, my name is not really Aubrey).

The Web

It was as bright as diamante.  Its silken anchors wrapped around a horizon of leaves; and though its expanse was only a few inches it sparkled in the dark like a galaxy.

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Heavy with prisms, magnified within each trembling star a forest pressed against its curving, liquid facets.  Across the knitted veil these baubles were scattered, each containing a panorama multiplied far beyond its original, tiny landscape.

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Hidden in the fragrant shadows, its creator waited, admiring her handiwork through her multiple eyes.  Her kaleidoscope vision took in the huntsman’s swath of webbing which a gracious morning had turned into an expanse of crystal droplets.  It was a dazzling and deadly expanse; a countryside woven for capture, even as it had captured the water squeezed out of the cool air.

It was a dainty veil pulled from Nature’s hair, a pretty thing much at variance from the tiny monster that was its architect.  The glistening jewels woven into the silk were useless to the huntress.  Yet they astonished the legions of tiny flying things that lived there.  And in their dumbfounded ignorance they flew blithely into the clinging constellation.

Jacaranda

Like a lavender propeller

As capricous as a feather

As focused as a stone

It fell in a dismal spin

Into gravity’s hypnotic embrace

 

From a canopy that spread like a garnet cloud

A feminine twilight

In filigree flight

Flagrant and fragrant

It was detached, still in its summer youth

 

And I watched the tiny, delicate descent

A silent and subtle thing

Blossom before the tree

Child before the parent

In gentle acquiescence

Resting beyond my troubled hands

jacaranda

The Unknown

They are a ghostly population.  They have no identity, no heritage, no family.  Nameless and winsome, they stare from rooms or gardens bound with sculpted wood.  Their eyes reflect the artist’s gaze, their own secrets and the fey knowledge of a story that has not yet been told.

Their names and titles might have once been written on the canvas, by a brush that was bound with only a few silken hairs.  Shields quartered into patterns and designs that spoke an ancient heraldic language might have hung in a corner.  Allegories painted along hillsides, played like a surreal fete galante.  Battles tucked into the background, violent and silent.

Unknown Man, style of Jacob Huysmans, 1717

Unknown Man, style of Jacob Huysmans, 1717

These things would have given a coy hint as to the subject’s identity or accomplishments.  But often the stories lie buried under centuries of varnish the color and consistency of syrup.

But there could be other promptings too:  armor lying discarded like unsuccessful letters at a warrior’s feet, a bower of curving vines, architecture rising from pastel mists,

Unknown Man, by Isaac Oliver, 1595

Unknown Man, by Isaac Oliver, 1595

and once – tantalizingly – a metaphor of flame rising like a wall behind a dark-eyed, ardent courtier.

Unknown Man Standing Before A Wall Of Fire, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590's

Unknown Man Standing Before A Wall Of Fire, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590’s

And yet they try to communicate with us, to escape their silent anonymity and reach beyond the two dimensions of their unsatisfactory worlds.  As a shadow is never black but actually full of color a portrait is never a complete enigma, for it possesses a bounty of allusions.

The portrait was the haven of the aristocracy.  Jewels, glittering ornaments that reflected light long since extinguished were eloquent centerpieces that spoke of the wearer’s affluence.

Unknown Lady In A Plumed Headdress, unknown artist, 1633

Unknown Lady In A Plumed Headdress, unknown artist, 1633

They wrapped around throats, dangled from waists and hung from ears like luminous satellites that had been captured and contained.  Pearls were especially costly, but the wealthy wore them in thick ropes, were harnessed in capelets planted with seed pearls and wore them nestled in gardens of metallic lace.  One would think the oysters happily scattered their nacreous offspring into the waiting hands of jewelers before accepting the grain of sand that would start the painful, nurturing process all over again.

Unknown Woman, by Cornelius Johnson, 1636

Unknown Woman, by Cornelius Johnson, 1636

This lavish, uncomfortable dress made a mockery of the body’s natural silhouette…only the lower classes dressed for comfort, allowing them to accomplish their ugly tasks quickly and efficiently.  The aristocracy dressed for its lovely agony, with only their hands allowed freedom of motion – to finger a pair of perfumed gloves or to let a chain flow like a flaxen rivulet.

Unknown Woman, by unknown artist, 1570

Unknown Woman, by unknown artist, 1570

But if dress did not indicate a class, it could signify a calling, such as a bright rose tucked inside of an unlaced bodice:

Unknown Woman With A Rose, by Dmitry Levitzky, 1788

Unknown Woman With A Rose, by Dmitry Levitzky, 1788

Or the déshabillé costume of a shepherdess, a dimpled arm draped about the neck of a member of her flock:

Unknown Woman, studio of Sir Peter Lely, circa 1675

Unknown Woman, studio of Sir Peter Lely, circa 1675

Sometimes gems would be cradled in a sitter’s hand, as if to draw the viewer’s attention to it.

Unknown Lady with a rose and a jewel-encrusted diadem, in the manner of Gerrit von Honthorst, 18th c.

Unknown Lady with a rose and a jewel-encrusted diadem, in the manner of Gerrit von Honthorst, 18th c.

Engraved within the yielding, opaque facet, as if it was a tiny canvas,  would be portraits, symbols or stories from myth or religion.  Pelicans, hares, dogs, cats all spoke in zoological code.  Intaglios and cameos of Minerva, Apollo, Zeus and Venus boldly claimed a relationship to the wearer.  Images of the Virgin and Child, stories of saints and martyrs were carved on stones which the owner wore proudly as if they were vindicated from their profane sumptuousness.

Portrait of an Unknow Man Holding A Medallion, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480's

Portrait of an unknown Man Holding A Medallion, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480’s

 

Unknown Woman, in the style of Holbein, 1540-1560

Unknown Woman, in the style of Holbein, 1540-1560

Occasionally, however, it is not the scenery – not the allegory or battle kindling in the distance, or even the clothes thick with decoration and parable that is the viewer’s most trustworthy confidante.  Sometimes the secrets are kept – and revealed – in the expression.  It is up to the wit of the artist to portray those mysteries – in the dark eyes as lowering and perilous as an oncoming storm,

Unknown Woman, by Ivan Kramskoi, 1883

Unknown Woman, by Ivan Kramskoi, 1883

in a face dimpled with barely concealed mirth,

Unknown Woman (the 'Turkish Slave') by Parmigianino early 1530's

Unknown Woman (the ‘Turkish Slave’) by Parmigianino early 1530’s

or in one overcome with a devouring melancholy.

Unknown Man, by Moretto da Brescia, 1542

Unknown Man, by Moretto da Brescia, 1542

These extraordinary people had decided to have their emotions preserved for eternity, rather than the proofs of a successful life well spent.  They mock us, they share joy with us, they seek our sympathy:  but most of all they communicate.

The art world, in a fit of pique, has given this impenetrable society its own surname:  ‘unknown’.  Experts, teachers, scholars have thrown up their hands in frustration; cancelling all research, they have instead christened each resident with the title that symbolized their investigative failure.

But there are those who have the leisure to wonder.  They look deeply; they retrieve meaning from the depths, a fish that shows twisting and luminous as it is drawn to the surface.  They are attracted to the humanity of the portrait, the philosopher’s stone of artistic endeavor.   They are not content to abandon a face pining for recognition.  And most of all they remain tempted by the lure of the unknown.

The League of Extraordinary Ladies

I am fortunate in that many people follow this sorry blog.  However, at the same time it is true that several of these followers are IT Companies, Bedbug Exterminators, Travel Agencies, etc.  I would dearly love to boot them out of my neighborhood, but it seems that I am unable to, and for that let me thank WordPress for standing by me.

But I digress.

Many followers are quite extraordinary – actually daring to not only be extremely, even Agressively talented, but to be successful with that talent as well. A truly extraordinary league. Two of them – hailing from my old Vox stomping grounds – are published authors.  One has published a novel, a mix of snowboarding, coffee, paranoia and the internet (a recipe that can only be cooked up in the fearful 2000’s).

The other has brought to un unsuspecting public a story of mythology, reality and naughtiness – OK, in her words, smut – and has future plans for icons of American history and legend…all equally unsuspecting, I assure you.

I must admit that even I have done my best to join this league, as well.

But I have fairly recently met someone who has also been published.  And for that I will seriously thank WordPress.  Her book reads like “The Jet Set” episode of Mad Men, when Don finds himself immersed in the desert, in a world of modern glass, pools and morals, peopled by lovely, languid denizens whose talents lie in false conversation and relaltionships.  Yes, the book is about Hollywood.

The story is cynical, with varying scruples carrried in each character’s pocket for all to see and steal.  There are innocents, there are the guilty, and most interestingly there are those that try to stay innocent or to hide their guilt.

And to finish, let me just say that I had not read 10 pages before I came across this line of dialogue:

“Could you be angling to be my muse, Mr. Nelson?”

Muse-status just isn’t being discussed enough nowadays.

lady writing

Why I Swim

I love to swim.  I love to feel the cooling, therapeutic resistance of the water.  I love to feel the fluid strength of the ribbons of currents as they wrap around me.  I love the gentle struggle against the challenge of the water’s pressure, goading my muscles into movement and future strengths.

I swim the way I dance; with little style but with great enthusiasm.  Remnants of distant lessons still remain: breast, butterfly and side stroke combine to provide an extraordinary passage through ocean or pool.   And when I float, I still listen to the water gurgle and whisper in my ear, like the faint dialogues of naiads and sylphs.

When the water splashes around me, I can visualize its disruption.  I see it freeze for a moment into a crystal palace of waves before it dissolves into itself to await the next interruption.  It is like being surrounded by a lithe mosaic, which glitters into life only briefly before its diaphanous vanishes.

In the swimming pool, it amuses me see my arms and legs beneath the water, distorted by the fun house trickery of the mischievous water.  The effect is heightened by the sunlight, melting like diamonds in the tiny valleys between the chattering ripples and curls.  Light and water join together in a conspiracy of delight and deceit.

But when I swim in the ocean, I can only imagine what is below the surface.  I visualize my legs, reaching out with toes en pointe, hovering over the turrets of grottoes and the sea-swept dunes of sand and shell.  I glide and tread in dark colors, my skin awash in mystery.

When in the throes of summer, swimming is my cold comfort.  During the thick, enervating days and the nervous, sweaty nights the thought of its cooling recklessness is all I have.  Swimming is innocent and disruptive, guileless and graceless, childlike in its joy in the water’s benign acceptance.  It invites and encourages nothing but spontaneous happiness.

I really do love to swim.

BB

My Father’s Garden

Every year, during the final days of Spring – when the soil is gentle and rich – my father is in his garden.  It is a warren of vines, seedlings and latticework and there until high summer he grows and encourages a flock of tomatoes.

My father takes great pride in his heavy summer crop.  Sultry globes of many sizes hide within galaxies of green, starry leaves.  My father kneels on the dirt and reaches into the verdant haze to harvest the recalcitrant blend of fruit and vegetable.

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His care, patience and indifference to heat and insect would be expected of a farmer or a grower – not of a 6-time Emmy winner and former jazz disc jockey.  He does not have to grow tomatoes.  He does not have to tend a garden.  He chooses to.

I believe that there is something in the nurturing of the earth; to witness the seasons pass through it like varying shadows that influences his choice.  The wonder of change and growth:  the relief at its simplicity, the happy confusion at the wonder drives the noble gentility of my father in his garden.

When he worked as a video tape editor for the local news, every year he’d bring a collection from his harvest.  Once, the weatherman went on the air with a sunset of tomatoes arranged on his desk:  red, yellow, orange, purple.

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I remember that my father used to walk through the yard with my brother and I.  Together we would peer into flowers and hedges, looking for spiders and for the worlds spinning through leaves, twigs and their earthy darkness.  Even now, he will watch honeybees hover in oblique, filigree flight over the blossoms of his tangerine and nectarine trees.  I will even watch:   though at a safe distance, respectful of the bees’ reputation for suicide by sting.

My father’s garden has brought him modest fame:  amongst co-workers, neighbors, friends, family.  Within the smothering city,  it is a source of cultivation and unpretentious culture.  It is a creation of my father’s:  from his hands and his heart.  It is quiet, gracious and humble – just as he is.

I love my father, and from the heart I wish him a Happy Father’s Day.

From Harvesting Hops In Santa Rosa (1946) To Raising Tomatoes In Los Angeles

From Harvesting Hops In Santa Rosa (1946) To Raising Tomatoes In Los Angeles

But I will always hate tomatoes.

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane

Wingspan Couldn't Fit On My Camera Screen!

Wingspan Couldn’t Fit On My Camera Screen!

It’s pelacanus occidentalis!

It’s both!

The Birthday List

Whenever the first week of June approaches, I once more hear the footsteps of another year, the arrival of another birthday.

I hear the knock at my door, and there it stands – an unwelcome salesman – with an updated catalogue of wrinkle creams, dyes, diets, medications and a new list of anxieties, depressions and furies.  Everything, of course, at a reduced price:  a special deal for the birthday girl.

I slam the door in its face and yell out the window to get the hell off my lawn.  I am not interested in these inferior gifts.

But there are others to which I have given some thought.  Now, I am not registered at any store – Crate & Barrel will not have any of these, trust me – but I thought I would list them here, for your buying comfort.  Please note that I have given you an entire week to complete your shopping.

Aubrey’s Birthday List:

Aubrey would like to see the extermination of all insects.  Butterflies are exempt, because they are pretty and show no interest in invading my apartment.

The death penalty for any person guilty of animal cruelty.

Aubrey would appreciate the elimination of Summer.  Just allow Autumn to be awesome for a few extra months.  Easy.

Aubrey would like Daenerys Targaryen Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, and Lady of the Seven Kingdoms to cross the Narrow Sea, already.

A swimming pool.  There isn’t much room in back of the Aubrey apartment complex, but have a word with the Lovely Landlord.  He’s very nice.

A year of potato salad.  Each month, a different recipe.  Some with bacon, some with mustard, some with mayonnaise, some with Miracle Whip, etc.  And in December ALL ingredients would be used.

A few days ago, Aubrey saw a whisper-thin young man dressed in skinny black jeans.  He wore a baseball cap with the bill turned not to the front, not to the back, but sideways.  Find him and have him arrested, please.

The daily fumigation of all buses – and most bus riders.  Yesterday Aubrey watched a young man scratch his ears, scalp and rub his eyes for nearly 10 minutes STRAIGHT.  It’s not that she wanted to watch, yet at the same time she couldn’t look away.

Aubrey would like an audience with whomever decides on the choice of exhibits for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Dear Whomever:  stop trying to be clever.  Featuring artists that inspire discussion is good; featuring artists that merely inspire a dialogue as to whether that artist is good or CRAP is bad.  Also, Aubrey does not like Impressionism.  Let this be your guide.

Aubrey would like to have dinner with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Aubrey does not like working in Culver City.  She would like her job to be moved somewhere prettier.

Now, obviously Aubrey wishes for world peace.  As to that, she believes that certain representatives of the world kitten population has that in hand.  Do you think I kid?  What war can commence/continue in the face of this?

My Parents' Cat:  she's put on 7.5 pounds since this picture was taken

My Parents’ Cat: she’s put on 7.5 pounds since this picture was taken

So this is my list.  I hope you don’t find me too unreasonable!  My lovely landlord has given me a new floor and carpets, so the Aubrey residence is looking most palatial.  My party will be shiny and witty and will be, like dragons or any other type of magic, hard to ignore and difficult to forget.

I do hope you can attend.   I long to see you.

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