Thanksgiving Starts In September

It all started in September.
I was marketing with the Boyfriend, and at one point I stopped in mid-aisle to exclaim, “Where are the roasting pans?  It’s late September!  Where are the cranberries?”
You see, with the beginning of September, the first of the blessed quartet of 3-syllable months, my mind will turn to Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving, and all of its lovely panic-strewn preparations.  Thanksgiving, the fear, the food.  Thanksgiving and butter.  Thanksgiving and the only marathons that count – the ones on TV.
Now, previously, the holiday would either be a restaurant meal, where one could not ask for seconds, or ask why the gratinee on the potatoes was so flimsy.  (Such a crisp, cheesy roof should be in danger of crushing the entire building, for goodness’ sake.)  And if not at a restaurant, the other Thanksgiving alternative would be one at a relative’s or friend’s home – there, seconds would be available (possibly encouraged, depending on the friend/relative).  But there  one would pay for one’s boldness by helping to Clean Up.  Both of these meals would be full of thanks to be sure, but they would also last only a few hours: a mere nibble out of the year.  For me, when Thanksgiving is in someone else’s hands, the celebrations are always far too brief.
So, years and years ago, I decided to have the meal at my apartment.   And this brought about a paradigm shift in my perception of Thanksgiving.  Between shopping, cleaning and cooking, my prep work begins in October.  And I will begin to sniff around for new recipes in September (doubling my annoyance with the Halloween menus on the covers of all the cooking magazines.  What’s to plan?  Give me – or anyone, for that matter – a a vat full of Heath bars and I’m happy).
I trust the people I invite, so I use the good silver.  Fashion-shaming could make people uncomfortable, but I invariably will greet them at the door wearing a tiara and petticoats, but I mean no harm – so everyone gets a corsage or buttonhole.   Oh, and the secret handshake, obviously.
So, it is therefore safe to say that my Thanksgiving lasts for 3 months.  As a result of this elasticization of the holiday, of this metaphoric conversion into an easy-fit stretch band, I will be sore, weak, and often ill from being maid-of-all-work for such a distance of time.  My sciatica will be erupting.  But it is still glorious.
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Now, I hope this won’t frighten people away from Thanksgiving.  Because no matter how you choose to celebrate this peculiarly American and hedonistic day, please make sure that you do.   For this day was not made to be joyless.

Walking Through The Poppies

Flower collapsed and defeated
Crushed in curling despair
A scarlet splash
That once grew from a distant wreath
Resting against a foreign plinth
Begging one to remember
A bright and bloody symbol
That told a story
Of thunder and tanks
Of Flemish mud grown thick with gore
Of barbed wire that wore tattered flesh
Like fabric swatches
A smeared cruel banner
Rooted in honor
A dying icon
A forgotten call to arms
Trampled and silenced across the heel
Of a discarded shoe
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poppy1

Searching The Sky

Irene Rich stands like a subdued bride.

She holds a silken bouquet behind her, drooping yet hopeful. The coat she wears is of white mink, and there are three rows of severed tails at the hem, decorative and barbaric.  Hidden shoes – satin, undoubtedly, with curving Cuban heels – tap the floor with delicate impatience.  The floor bearing the brunt of Irene’s disquiet bears the terse design that typifies the beginnings of Art Deco.

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The photo must therefore date before 1925, before L’Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes.  This was Paris’ months-long introduction of the new symmetries to a world still dreaming in the Ophelia-like embrace of Art Nouveau.  The old sentimentality and weak femininity had expired on the killing fields of Europe and the Middle East, and in the choking factories of the home front.

Irene has not cut her hair – not yet – but the curls have been piled into a soft volcano, until neck, back and shoulders show white and bare, an anthem to the new exposure of the 1920’s. She is not a beauty – there is a thickness to the neck, and a suspicion of fullness to the torso which might have been harbored within a corset in her younger days.  For Irene was born in 1891 and her body would therefore have known fashion’s shackles as well as its liberation.  She would be in her late 20’s when she stood for this photo and an actress for almost 10 years.  Later she worked in talkies, in radio, on the stage.  Her acting career would span three decades.

But Irene had another career, albeit a more emotional one. She had a marital calling; one that was more lengthy than her dramatic one.  Her first marriage was in 1909, a pre-emptive jump to the altar to presumably escape the plans of boarding school which her parents had for her.  One daughter and two years later, she divorced.

There quickly followed another wedding, in 1912. The end of this marriage led to Irene seeking work in the new frontier of Hollywood in order to support her family.  This fortuitous decision would promise that bauble in southern California a future of selfish hostesses, gallant frontierswomen, and strong-willed housewives.

When this curiously bridal photograph was taken, Irene stands waiting for her third husband, whom she would wed in 1926. Once more, it would not last long.  But finally, in 1950, she married a New York business executive; a union that lasted until the end of her life, in 1988.

But shortly before this final, stolid relationship; there was one more – a volatile and deadly one.

In 1949, secretary Agnes Elizabeth killed her employer: politician and business owner John Edwin Owen.  According to the sheriff’s report Garnier shot Owen and blamed Irene Rich for coming between them.  According to Garnier’s story the gun had gone off accidentally, as she took the gun from an intoxicated Owen as he was going to bed.  Rich claimed an innocent friendship, Garnier plead innocence.  In the end, Garnier was convicted of manslaughter, serving one and a half years out of her “one-to-ten” year sentence.  And Irene by then was very happily married.

I had found Irene some time ago, I forget where. I was taken with her face, her slightly debauched cloak, her sprite’s modesty.  So I bought her and framed her, and so she has hung in sepia glory in my hallway for many years.  Her photo was one of a few that I own where the image comes with an autograph – a key ready-made for any owner to use who is willing to research the past of a new possession.

So I had only recently decided to find where her name led me: a history of unions – most unsuccessful – one calamitous relationship based on conflicting stories, explanations and affections…and a body of work in television and radio which led to her two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

In a way, I think, such research is like looking into the sky – the things that suddenly come into view when you look into vistas that most people will ignore.

 

Wonderland

The sounds of America in the 1930’s and ’40’s were nearly drowned out by the din of footsteps.  Of running, of a mad escape from a quaking society and economy, from a fear in Europe that was supposedly ground into the earth in 1919.

People ran in the 1930’s:   from the miasma of the Depression that wrapped around and suffocated the good lives that they had struggled for and for which they traveled from foreign slums to the processing plant of Ellis Island. They ran in the 1940’s:  from war, from death lists, from the bloody desecrations they thought had ended with the war that had promised to end all wars.

People needed to escape.  They wanted to hide beneath the comforting shadow cast by the home front.  They needed entertainment – entertainment that was brash, garish, unsubtle.  They wanted to bask in the exotic and exciting, without being troubled by historical accuracy or possible cultural misrepresentation. They wanted to see things they could not hope to see in their frightened lives.

So it was no surprise that these decades witnessed the birth of the dance/supper club.  No more hidden 1920’s pillboxes, folding up and relocating like an army barracks after the most recent police raid – these clubs were lush and madcap, catering to the whims of a saddened population.

These havens were often built around a theme:  New Orleans, San Francisco, The Orient, The Islands.  There was one in particular:  “The 7 Seas” – located on 6904 Hollywood Blvd.  It opened the mid 1930’s, under the ownership of Ray Haller, as a ‘tiki’ bar:  decorated with native portraits, breathless tropical plants, lava rocks; with walls layered in coconut matting and fish netting and Polynesian floor shows led by Sam Koki and his band.

7seas

There was a hula comic.  A Polynesian knife dancer (who also performed the Samoan Slap Dance:  an ‘island’ theme could be very convenient).  Drinks prepared by bartenders stolen from Don The Beachcomber.  But most famously, was its ‘rain on the roof':  a nightly tropical rainstorm – created by sprinklers and a recording of a thunderstorm – which dappled the corrugated tin roofs that sheltered the extensive bar.

7 seas

But time did pass – and cruelly so.  In the ‘50’s, young adults listened to their music in more crowded, less creative venues.  Cocktails were no longer de rigueur.  Older – though not by much – adults married.  Had children.  Created a booming generation.  Clubs like the 7 Seas were forgotten; and through the 1970’s crumbled and decayed, their decorations and trinkets crushed into the sidewalks.

However, during the following decade there was a resurgence of dance clubs.  Very few of them were pretty, or deluxe; there were no themes – save for those drawn from the music that was played, and from what the dancers wore.  At the 7 Seas, from the early to mid-‘80’s, I was one of those dancers.

I remember it very well – a great drafty room, surrounded by a ring of tables occupied by a crowd of hopefuls in the dark, eyeing the dance floor with feline curiosity.  We were dressed in our vintage best:  attractively seedy.  I recall one night I wore black leggings, black pointy boots, a black turtleneck and a black-trimmed gold lame men’s smoking jacket.  A boy much younger than I asked me to dance, and when I recounted this vignette to my friends, they breathlessly asked me what happened next.  And I was bound to say that nothing did.

I went to the 7 Seas to dance.  To dance until muscles and bones ached; to come home with smoke-stained hair.  I loved that ugly, dubious place.

For dubious it was.  I did not know that at the time it was referred to as the ‘7 Sleaze’.  Then, around 1984, it was closed down, because – rumor said – of drug dealings in the parking lot.  I didn’t believe this:  certainly the people loitering in the back were rather skeevy, but this accusation seemed rather unfair.  I didn’t even get to use my free pass, which I still keep in my wallet:

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Recently I read what had happened while I was dancing.

On July 1, 1981 the Wonderland Murders, or the Four on the Floor Murders (for that’s how many bodies were found, and where they were found), were committed.  The details were grotesque and depressing.  It began with a robbery perpetrated by porn star John Holmes to settle a debt to Ron Launius, cocaine kingpin of the Wonderland Gang.  He invaded the home of Eddie Nash – the owner of the 7 Seas.  Two days later Launius and 3 members of his gang were found bludgeoned to death in their home, at 8763 Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles.  Nash had intended to have Holmes killed as well, but decided to spare him, to teach him a lesson by allegedly forcing him to partake in the murders.  Officers from the LAPD remarked that the scene was bloodier than that of the Tate-LaBianca murders.  Holmes and Nash were tried and acquitted in 1982 by a hung jury, 11-1.  Nash supposedly bribed that one juror with $50,000.

The 7 Seas, where all I wanted to do was dance, was owned and run by a criminal.  The club that began as a wonderland would end with The Wonderland.

Theda Bara

The twilight came

Shuttering like an eyelid

Cobalt and kohl stained

Theda Bara stretched across the sky

 

Her golden cobras

Spat and curled into the sunset

Her venomous hair crawling

Her dark vanity and vampire perfume

 

Sparking through her curls

Stars pierced her dangerous skin

Blood dripping towards the sun

And bubbling like a witches’ brew

 

Then the moon came

To scold her wayward minions

For making her rise

To defend a fellow goddess in pain

theda

 

Stand and Deliver

The 17th century always had the appearance of a ripe old bawd:  good-natured, boisterous, and with a penchant for a pretty rogue.  Overflowing the stays of the 16th century, and with no interest for the baroque frippery of the century that would follow, the 1600’s were born out of taverns and plague, plots and intrigues, typhoid and flowers.

It was a lively time; one that welcomed audacity that was tempered with grace – a type of messy elegance that was not out of place on a muddy road, balancing instruments of persuasion, bullets primed.

It was the time of the highwayman.

These ‘gentlemen of the road’ were common to all centuries, but they seemed to thrive with a guilty panache during this one.  And as the 17th century seemed to possess a special bravura, it saw the blooming of a special kind of flower, ragged yet fragrant:  the highwaywoman.

There was the shoemaker’s daughter, Mary Frith:  ‘The Roaring Girl’, branded four times for thievery, escaping the gallows by the fortuitous means of a 2,000 pound bribe.  In her supposed ‘Confession’ she stated:  “I held very good Correspondence now also with those Grandees of this function of Thievery”.
Mollcutpurse

Joan Phillips, respectable, beautiful and “…eminent for picking of pockets and shoplifting at all country fairs and great markets…”  Hung in 1685, her body was gibbeted:   left to rot in a cage to serve as a deterrent to all would-be miscreants, as well as making sure that it could not be removed for proper burial by her friends.

The ‘Wicked Lady’, Lady Katherine Ferrers, was an aristocrat and an heiress – her portrait shows a face framed with curls and pearls and  a smile that was both dangerous and discreet .  Married at 14, she took to the road in her husband’s absence – whether out of boredom or in order to build up her stumbling fortunes it has never been said.  A whimsical combination of the two situations would be the best guess.  Legend has it that she was shot during a robbery and later died of her wounds.  She was 26 years old.

Katherine_Ferrers

Now, there is a ballad from around this time – known as “Sovay” or “Sylvia” or “Sylvie” – that tells a very pretty story.

It is about a young woman, about to be married, who is determined to test the loyalty of her fiancé.  She comes upon an idea, one that is typically robust, born from the earthy and daring mindset of the 1600’s.

Her lover, who has been away, is traveling back into town – she knows when, which coach he will be taking, down which rutted path it will be traveling.  The clever lady has decided to dress as a highwayman and waylay this vehicle, shivering with harness and brass traces protesting, and demand all goods that are held inside.

Should her young man willingly give up all his possessions, including his engagement ring, she would shoot him dead.

It is easy to imagine her standing thus:  the sweeping velvet hat, feathers curling to her shoulders, a dark cape reaching to her chin, heavy boots obscuring the feminine sweep of calf and thigh.  Brazen lace cuffs cowered in the breeze that raced unimpeded across the flat coaching road, obscuring hands that fingered two flintlock pistols.  It is easy to hear the clear, brave voice state the iconic demand, both romantic and criminal:  “Stand and deliver!”

Her lover did not.  And they lived happily ever after.

“I did intend and it was to know
If that you were me true love or no
For if you’d have give me that ring she said
I’d have pulled the trigger I’d have pulled the trigger and shot you dead.”

Stand and Deliver

The 17th century always seemed like a ripe old bawd:  loud, boisterous and with a penchant for a pretty rogue.  Overflowing the busks of the 16th century, and with no interest for the baroque frippery of the century that would follow, the 1600’s were born out of taverns and plague, plots and intrigues, typhoid and flowers.

It was a lively time; one that welcomed audacity that was tempered with grace – a type of messy elegance that was not out of place on a muddy road, balancing instruments of persuasion, bullets primed.

It was the time of the highwayman.

These ‘gentlemen of the road’ were common to all centuries, but they seemed to thrive with a guilty panache during this one.  And as the 17th century seemed to possess a special bravura, it saw the blooming of a special kind of flower, ragged yet fragrant:  the highwaywoman.

There was the shoemaker’s daughter, Mary Frith:  ‘The Roaring Girl’, branded four times for thievery, escaping the gallows by the fortuitous means of a 2,000 pound bribe.  In her supposed ‘Confession’ she stated:  “I held very good Correspondence now also with those Grandees of this function of Thievery”.

Mollcutpurse

Joan Phillips, respectable, beautiful and “…eminent for picking of pockets and shoplifting at all country fairs and great markets…”  Hung in 1685, her body was gibbeted:   left to rot in a cage to serve as a deterrent to all would-be miscreants, as well making sure that it could not be removed for proper burial by her friends.

The ‘Wicked Lady’, Lady Katherine Ferrers, was an aristocrat and an heiress – her portrait shows a face framed with curls and pearls and a smile that is both dangerous and discreet.  Married at 14, she took to the road in her husband’s absence – whether out of boredom or in order to build up her stumbling fortunes it has never been said.  A whimsical combination of the two situations would be the best guess.  Legend has it that she was shot during a robbery and later died of her wounds:  she was 26 years old.

Katherine_Ferrers

Now, there is a ballad from around this time – known as “Sovay” or “Sylvia” or “Sylvie” –  that tells a very pretty story.

It is about a young woman, about to be married, who is determined to test the loyalty of her fiancé.  She comes upon an idea, a typically lively one, born from the earthy and daring mindset of the 1600’s. 

Her lover, who has been away, is traveling back into town – she knows when, which coach he will be taking, down which rutted path it will be traveling.  The clever lady has decided to dress as a highwayman and waylay this vehicle, shivering with harness and brass traces protesting, and demand all goods that were held inside.

Should her young man willingly give up all his valuables, including his engagement ring, she would shoot him dead.

It is easy to imagine her standing thus:  the sweeping velvet hat, feathers curling to her shoulders, a dark cape reaching to her chin, heavy boots obscuring the feminine sweep of calf and thigh.  Brazen lace cuffs cowered in the breeze that raced unimpeded across the flat coaching road, obscuring hands that fingered two flintlock pistols.  It is easy to hear the clear, brave voice state the demand, both romantic and criminal:  “Stand and deliver!”

Her lover did not.  And they lived happily ever after.

“I did intend and it was to know

If that you were me true love or no

For if you’d have give me that ring she said

I’d have pulled the trigger I’d have pulled the trigger and shot you dead.”

“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.

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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.