Dapper Couldn’t Make Me Happier

First, this is a submission of an admission:  I have a  Facebook page.  On a “suggestion” by my boss, I set up a page a few days ago.  My initial impression is that FB is a time waster sans pareil, and that as one spends hour after hour exploring it, one feels the onset of increasing stupidity, the tiny dips downward of the IQ quotient.

But hey, golly, friend me, won’t you?  I have wresting kittens, surfing dogs and everything!  You’ll even know my real name!

Still.  One thing of value/interest I did mention.  This past Friday, I attended “Dapper Day” at the L.A. County Museum of Art.  The event merely encourages visitors to dress beautifully and come to the museum, look around, look at each other and listen to some jazz music that is free to all.  It wasn’t asking a lot – surely we all have beaded gowns or two-toned loafers tucked away in our closets?

But upon arrival, it seemed that everyone had given in to the wretched heat, foolishly choosing comfort over style.  I was considering aborting the mission, but happily decided against it.

I had chosen evening dapper – floor length gown, long gloves, evenings.  Most of the women I saw elected the look I prefer to call “1955 hausfrau chic”.  But en masse – and as the evening wore on the masse did seem to appear – the overall impression did border on the dapper.

And I must say that people were very kind and generous…I did get some compliments. Some wanted their pictures taken with me though one seemed to do so as one would take a selfie with a circus animal.  No matter.  It was all rather fun.  And all the attention was much needed – as needed as the cup of wine I purchased immediately upon arrival.

I met a lovely woman – Debra – who was kind enough to take some pictures of me:

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And towards the end of the evening my trepidation had actually transformed to confidence:  and it was as wonderful as it was unexpected.  The next Dapper Day is in November; and while lightening wouldn’t dare strike twice, I do have this sequin and taffeta trapeze dress…

Milky Lady

Her heart was made for freedom and scandal. It carried her far from her English home, for there were many willing takers, daring to stand up to her spirit, thinking they could face her beauty unmoved. When her career took her to Syria, she was called Shaikhah Umm al-Laban (Shaikhah Mother of Milk) for the color of her skin, poured over her bones like a white ganache. She was also called “Aurora” for she was as bright and golden as the goddess who flew across the sky, gilding the air to prepare for the arrival of her brother, the Sun.

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Lady Jane Elizabeth Digby was a young woman in the early 19th century, when ladies’ gowns rode low on their shoulders and curved gently across their backs. This was fortunate, for Lady Digby had a swan-like neck which merged with a pliant spine, its vertebrae fluttering just below the skin’s surface. Her hair was a deep honey color which dripped in corkscrew curls as was the fashion. And her eyes were pale blue, rimmed with a darker blue – they glowed like cathedral glass.

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She married the 2nd Baron Ellenborough in 1824, when she was 21, and he a decade older. But she was too romantic for marriage, and quickly embarked on an affair with her maternal cousin, Colonel George Anson. He was handsome and subtle – a dangerous challenge for a girl just sprightly enough to pick up the gauntlet through down by a charming reprobate.

But she did not care about the fluffy judgements of her peers. In 1828 her attentions turned to Prince Felix of Schwarzenburg, slim and swathed in military severity, when he was still a London attaché for the Austrian embassy.

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After two years he deserted her, leaving her pregnant with their second child. The affair left Jane to face scandal, divorce and society’s shocked, albeit fascinated twitterings, and it left the Prince with a new title: the “Prince of Cadland”. Outside of a few brief visits, she never saw England again.

In Munich Jane became the mistress of King Ludwig I, who despite his quiet shabbiness attracted such luminaries of the demimonde as the dancer/courtesan Lola Montez.

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It is not known who felt the urge to move on first – Nancy or the King. But one of the partners did and in 1833 Jane had married the Baron Karl Von Vennigen. They had two children, and her mettle was calm for five years.

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But a roving eye cannot be shuttered for long. In 1838 Jane fell in love with the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis.

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Baron challenged Count to a duel, and though wounded Vennigen agreed to set Jane free but kept custody of the children. They remained on friendly terms for the rest of their lives.

Though not legally divorced until 1842, Jane converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in 1841. Oddly, Jane showed a particular lack of patience for a lack of loyalty, and when Theotokis returned to his old habits – which were the very antithesis of fidelity – he and Jane were divorced.

Jane then turned not to her old friend Ludwig I – perhaps getting up in years – but to his son, the far more dashing King Otto of Greece.

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However the King was married to a fierce and politically formidable woman – Amalie of Oldenburg. The Queen wouldn’t have her dark and slim-waisted husband sleeping with this adventuress and Jane was forced to leave Athens.

She turned next to the hero of the Greek War of Independence, Christodoulos Chatizipetros, who had led the rebels under King Otto with flamboyant and successful distinction against the Ottoman forces.

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He rose to the rank of Major-General, but his debauched habits attracted Amalie’s disapproval. Her fury must have been intense upon learning that one of those habits included Lady Jane Digby.

Christodoulos continued to lead a guerrilla campaign, with Jane acting as queen of his rough army, living in caves, riding horses and hunting in the sparse mountains. They roamed the Thessalian plains, where Odysseus once visited; where Jason and the Argonauts launched their search for the Golden Fleece, and now where a lady who did know her place could journey at will.

But Christodoulos’ weaknesses, long offensive to Queen Amalie, now became an annoyance to Jane and she walked out on him for his numerous infidelities. In the late 1840’s, Jane continued her journey East, stopping in Syria.

Jane Digby in Syria

She was now forty-six, and her soft beauty had become resolute and mature. She would fall in love one more time, and he, though twenty years her junior, was not seeking the pretty follies of a young girl.

He was Sheikh Abdul Mijwal al-Musrab, sheikh of a sub-tribe of the Anizzah tribe of Syria.

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The two were married under Muslim law and Lady Jane Digby became Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab. Jane added Arabic to the eight other languages in which she was fluent. She adopted Arab dress which buried her face beneath sheaths of fabric so long they erased her footsteps from the sand as she walked.

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Half of every year was spent in the nomadic style of the Bedouin, while for the rest of the year they lived in a palatial villa she had built in Damascus.

Their marriage was a happy one and lasted until she died in 1881, twenty-eight years later. She died of fever and dysentery – the nightmares of soldiers and other adventurers who find themselves in faraway climates. At the funeral her name was written in Arabic on a block of limestone by her widower and then carved into the rosy granite by a local mason. The sheikh then rode alone into the desert and sacrificed his finest camel to honor her departure and her memory.

But maybe he should not have grieved; perhaps he should have spared that most excellent beast. For Aurora returns to the quickening of every morning, when dawn stirs between day and night. And then one can look into the sky and watch the stars as they spiral through the Milky Way, outlining the Milky Lady’s eyes and lips; her curving, radiant profile.

No Distinguishing Marks

In 1897 Max Beerbohm wrote a charming little bon mot entitled ‘The Happy Hypocrite.’ The titular character was a shocking, shameless dandy. He enjoyed a graceful, debauched life.

Until he fell in love.

However, she was a strong-minded innocent and repulsed by his approaches, by his face made ugly by a dissipated life. The man she marries, she declared, must have the face of a saint.

Distracted, this dandy found a very specific artist, an architect of masks. He had one made with the face of an angel, and it was molded to his face. He searched out his love once more, unrecognized and beautiful. They married.

But a woman from this rake’s past approached him and demanded that he remove his painted visage. Reluctantly he did and was amazed – along with his former mistress – to find that contentment and true love had wrought a remarkable change on his face. It was now indistinguishable from the mask.

Similarly, the street sign stood engulfed – it too was indistinguishable. It was obliterated by a curling garden that climbed like parasitic filigree, lissome and hungry. The steel marker was devoured, its banner threatened by a graffiti of roses and jasmine. Never had there been such a bower of vandalism, never had there been such delicate destruction.

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But this was not a hostile takeover. Rather, it seemed as if the metallic defenses of the city’s indicator welcomed the latticework of vines and the starry, chaste flowers. It must have been a ticklish business, feeling the tiny green movements and blossoms as fragrant as a boudoir.

The ascending growth dripped chlorophyll onto the cut and perforated metal. Butterflies visited to feast, dappling the structure with frost from their illustrated wings. The sign, blinkered by a bouquet of leaves and petals, had succumbed to a higher power.

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And perhaps, in the fullness of time, the invasive borders will be cut away. But the unknown gardener will be confounded, for he will find that the sign will have vanished, the street doomed to anonymity. All that will be left would be a single green sapling.

Maybe that is the way of all cities, to be replaced by networks of forests. Perhaps it is their destiny, to return to their earthly dominions, to dissolve into the twisting labyrinths of their fertile homes.

On Holiday

“Let us speak of the revels which are accustomed to be made on St. John’s Eve…”

– the monk of Winchcomb, 13th century

During the summer, the sky swerves and tilts on a new axis. It slides on its equinox like a child sliding down a stairway banister. Summer Solstice, bronzed as any sunbather, lingers high overhead, lingering in Cancer’s Tropic. The shadows of St. John’s Eve leach into the stones of Stonehenge and then are cast across the grasslands of Wiltshire. The stories and thoughts of the prehistoric builders are revealed – but no one has yet been able to read them.

At twilight, the whimsical sky is crowded with revelers. Constellations, long absent from the carnival stage, begin to arrive. A menagerie of holiday visitors – eagles (Aquila), swans (Cygnus), foxes (Vulpecula), horses with starry wingspans (Pegasus) dance an orbit to an astral harp (Lyra). The trace work of their steps pierces the indigo fabric in a metallic frost.

The astrological wheel turns along the summer ecliptics and celestial equators. When it stops, Sagittarius the centaur is rearing against the sky, pocked with nebulae and stars, shouldering his quiver of arrows. Scorpius, bright with novas and poison, waits. Libra, outlined with a distant harvest of blue, orange and red stars, prepares to carry its scales of justice and good behavior during the liveliest of seasons.

Sunsets are very gala. They are the color of sweet cocktails – honey and Benedictine, sangria with plums and nectarines, champagne and peach. They are warm and melting – coating the horizon with an invitation to an evening of celebrations.

During the carnival evenings, planets are eager to crowd into the sky. If the moon is curved into a crescent, they hang from her geometric grace like jewels. If the moon is full, wearing her summer colors – Strawberry, Rose or Red – she casts a cherry-colored cloak across her new neighbors. Mars and Saturn ride lowest on the horizon, drinking in the last of the sunset’s sugared alchemy. But Jupiter is bold and bright, sailing like a radiant ship towards the moon’s blushing presence.

When summer’s hot allure is exhausted, the sky revolves once more to reveal unfamiliar populations and landscapes that bend over a ripe solstice, a golden equinox heavy with crops. Constellations float in the thin, cold air: dolphins (Delphinus), fish (Pisces), whales (Cetus) swim in oceans kept full by the Aquarian water bearer. The full moon dons her working garb: Harvest, Hunter’s.

Breezes as chilly as lace curl like a fichu across the diamante bosom of the modest sky. They kick up gusts of meteors and shooting stars: the Orionids, the Taurids, The Leonids – even the final sweep of the Perseid meteor shower.

Stars that did not take these giddy rides are left behind, glittering and lonely in the cinnamon sky. They are scattered like the ribbons and furbelows of the departed revelers’ indulgences. They were the madcap reminders that tickled the crooked backs of the workers in the fields, the residues of warmth that whispered of the pleasures they had missed.

Marvelous

I have heard many conflicting anecdotes about my father. Can I believe them all? May I? Please? Because never before has conflict been so delightful, so life-affirming, so marvelous.

For instance, there were the stories of drinking. Much drinking. There was a time when hotel guests would leave their boots outside their doors to be cleaned. I’ve left my room service trays – without a morsel to implicate all the carbohydrates I’d ordered – left outside my door. It’s my right as a visitor to Las Vegas.

But some people, during the 1940’s on their visits to Catalina Island, leave empty liquor bottles.

IMG_20160521_0001And some people meet ladies who were not my mother in Catalina (even though it would be a decade before such a happy chance would occur)

IMG_20160521_0001 (2)Father has had his ears pierced. During the war. On his ship. Old school – with a needle and thread. Could this better than getting a tattoo and risk a decades-later visit to Dr. Tattoff?

My father wore a zoot suit.

I have mentioned many times before that he was a disc jockey. Perhaps I will mention it many times more – it is a splendid fact. But also splendid is the fact that he played Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and was told by Management to please cut that out – the song was in poor taste (20 years after it was written!) and the viewership of San Bernardino must be sheltered.

Not long ago I purchased at a flea market a whimsical menu/flyer from a venue called ‘The Colony Club’, located in Gardena, CA. Dating from the late ‘40’s the menu advertises, even proclaims, ‘Burlesque As You Like It’ in addition to a ‘Famous Battle of the Burlesque Queens every Tues. Nite’. Years earlier, when I was assembling my parents’ scrapbook, I came across a group photo of my father with some friends, out on the town:
IMG_20160523_0001 (2)And looking at the cover, I made the wonderful connection:
IMG_20160523_0001I don’t judge, but do recall the ‘empty liquor bottles’ comment above.

Yet, some comparisons beg to be made. In fact, I can barely see above the piles of supplications. I have all these memories and memoirs which have the tiniest blush of dissoluteness and yet there are the other things. Things from home. Things of the home. Things in the home. Like these:

IMG_20160521_0001 (3)Seven Emmys for work done on the Wide World of Sports’ Olympics Coverage (before channel 7 gave up the rights – BOO KNBC) and on variety specials for such varied souls as Julie Andrews and Alice Cooper. Seven gilded women in their plexiglass cage; their figures arched with pride, holding aloft an atom crisscrossed with ribbon-like orbits. In a group photo with other winners from the Wide World crew, he wore a ruffled tuxedo shirt. Such are the hazards of leading the visual life in the 1970’s.  And yes, those are pictures of the Infant Aubrey in the background.

There are other rewards for jobs well done: a thank you letter from Joan Crawford. A medallion from Ms. Andrews. A cigarette lighter from Jerry Lewis, given from one expectant father to a brand new father. A gold watch from Diana Ross.

I remember trips to the library, getting lost in the rows of books – towering over me like forests full of stories: some that were of this world, some that were not. Father would then take us to the adjacent playground, swathed in the sunset’s colors and shadows and the threatening twilight. And then he would make us dinner (tacos or lasagna please!!!!)

There were fishing trips, long before the days of ‘catch and release’. Father spent the evening before making sandwiches that were stacked like cord wood, for a day of fishing with two children is wearying and hungry work. I remember the thrill of feeling a taut line, fighting and pulling. There was the first sight of silver, the mysterious life curling in the spectral, watery darkness. There was the transistor radio playing, I particularly remember, The Four Tops. And always there was father, commandeering our fishing poles, the bait, the hooks, lunch. Would a former DJ rebel against such moderate outings? Not this one.

There are other gentle, genteel things of the home: gardening, restoring (along with Boyfriend and I) his 1956 Willys pick-up,
022collecting and organizing family mementos before carefully filing them away in what must be a minimum of 15 notebooks.

So what wrought the change from riotous to responsible? Was it fashioned out of maturity? Marriage? Was it just the cunning and subtle passage of time? A person could argue that such a change is just the natural progression of adulthood, hypnotic and subtle. However, this person, this writer, confirms that there is no change. Because I know for a fact that my father is as capable of cooking massive vats of spaghetti and meatballs as he is of playing at a Vegas blackjack table for lengths of time that are positively James Bondian. Complexities are constantly being added…one does not forget, simply to make room for new feelings and experiences.

I therefore believe that when considering both present and precedent, all historical striations can happily co-exist. A person never loses his memories. They remain: the heart’s blood, the building blocks that create the ideal individual, a father of many depths and myriad distances. Everything, from The Colony Club to the Emmys, has made their own contribution and as Elizabeth Tudor said (and Psalms 118:23 too, if you insist – but Aubrey has always been an historian at heart), on being told that she was finally Queen, “it is marvelous in our eyes.”

I love you, dad.

Happy Father’s Day.

A Parade For Aubrey

The school child who always finds herself seated next to a classmate who is prettier, more popular, more personality laden has a terrible cross to bear.

It’s the same with birthdays.  They are all wonderful fun, but when it is the next birthday that all eyes automatically turn to, the number becomes a little problematic.

So my celebrations for this year will be kept a little low-key.  It will be an introverted time, spent speculating and internalizing.  It will also be a thoughtful time, celebrated with a select few.

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But next year I will be 60.  Things will be a little different.  In fact, I have a list.

I want a parade.

It will have many horses – Frisians in particular.  Aubrey loves those proud and gentle creatures.

Marching bands are fine – but I want all formations to show an obvious Busby Berkeley influence.  All routines must be submitted for approval.

Floats must be of a very specific kind.  No themes.  No flowers.  No prizes.  All animals.  They must feature surfing cats, skateboarding dogs – vice versa, if possible.  Entire floats with nothing more than groups of kittens or puppies.  One float must have an aquarium, filled with otters.  This is an idea of what I’d like to see.

The route of my parade will be undetermined.  I think it should be improvised.

I will be at the end, like Santa Claus.  On my Frisian, riding English style and dressed in a riding habit, ca. 1898.  Top hat, veil drawn.   I’ll be ignoring everyone, because that’s part of my charm.

And then we’ll have a party.  I’m pretty sure of what the menu will be, but nothing is confirmed.  Pizza, potato salad, and a possible mile-long mezze.  Aubrey loves her hummus.

Unlimited drinks.  Guests are free to choose an existing cocktail, or compose their own.

Anyway, you have your year’s warning to begin strengthening your stomachs.   Because I don’t think there’ll be room to construct a vomitorium.

If you’re reading this you are probably already on the preferred guest list.  I am working on a new method of inviting – not arriving via mail or the internet.  With this new method, the invitation – date and time – will suddenly be in your thoughts.  It will be as if a pleasant idea suddenly appeared in your memory.   But if this doesn’t work, maybe I’ll employ talking birds.

The start of the celebrations will be indicated.  But the end will not be specified.

Because the party never ends.

 

Coquilles St. Jacques

 

The scallop flutters through the water like a fan.  Its shell is dappled with coastlines that ripple with earthly colors – russet, gold, ivory and bronze.  It is pleated with ridges and striped with growth lines that mark its childish development.  The scallop also has the curious attribute of 100 blue eyes that are draped along its mantle like a string of Christmas lights.

The scallop’s muscle is a firm propellant, urging the mollusk on its erratic explorations.   It is also delicious, a dense and tender treat, with a sweetness that is tempered with the bite of the ocean.  It is not surprising therefore, that whenever I discover a scallop shell on the beach’s littered table, it always looks to have been licked clean.   On our own tables, under the moniker of Coquilles St. Jacques, it swims in butter and wine and then, with irony, is returned to the shell so recently vacated.

The literal translation of Coquilles St. Jacques is “St. James’ Shells”.  St. James is the patron saint of Spain, though he was born by the Sea of Galilee – site of miracles, sermons and battles. He was beheaded in 44 AD by Herod Agrippa of Judea, possibly the first apostle to be martyred.

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Legend says that his body was then taken by angels and disciples then placed in a rudderless, untended boat.  Its bleak journey came to an end on a coast thick with rock and shale known by the ancient name of Galicia.  The remains were taken inland for burial in Compostela.

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Centuries later the relics were rediscovered, sometime in the early 9th century.  Compostela became known as Santiago de Compostela (from the Latin ‘Sanctus Iacobus’) and as history progressed, would flinch under attacks from raiders that ranged from the Vikings to Napoleon’s armies.  Despite the danger, The Way of St. James became the most famous route of pilgrimage in the Christian world.

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A tangle of paths, worn smooth by the feet of the devout, circulated through Europe to arrive at the gilded heart off the northern coast of Spain.

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For an assortment of reasons, the scallop became a symbol of the saint as well as the journey.  With every step pilgrims rustled with the shells that were stitched onto the hems of their coarse shirts and caps.  The uprooted mollusks dangled from their walking staffs, their frothy outline was embroidered on their pockets.  The pilgrim would also carry a scallop with him – so that on presenting himself at church or castle, farm or shack, any tenant could fill the shell with food or drink without turning him away, sparing him the shame of declaring poverty.

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Yet why the scallop?  Its pretty lines and patterns appear in both myth and symbolism, and explain the scallop’s status as a sacred metaphor. The grooves in the shell, arching from the blinking mantle to meet at the hinge are emblematic of the various pilgrimages that ultimately meet at a single destination:  the tomb of Santiago de Compostela.

Two closely related stories exist as well:  when James’ body was being shipped towards the Iberian Peninsula, the vessel was clouted with a heavy storm and the body was lost to the tall waves and deep troughs.  However, in time it washed ashore undamaged, covered in a protective cloak of scallops.

In another version, as the ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on shore.  The groom (some stories have dubbed him a knight) was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, the animal spooked, plunging into the sea along with its rider.  But again, both emerged from the sea alive, covered in compassionate scallops.

The seashore is its own pilgrimage.  I follow the row of shells rooted in the sand, the cracked ribbon that continues to unwind for as long as the ocean’s generosity endures.  I am not a pilgrim, but many times at the end of my journey my pockets are rattling with shells, as if the Atlantic breaths of Galicia were sighing just around the corner.

 

“The Power Of Maniacs”

“O young Caraboo is come out of the West,
In frenchified tatters the damsel is drest;
But, save one pair of worsted, she stockings had none,
She walk’d half unshod, and she walk’d all alone;
But how to bamboozle the doxy well knew–
There never was gipsey like young Caraboo.”
(The Bristol Mirror, 1817)

She was an inspired liar; a clever little vagrant. Mary Baker, a cobbler’s daughter, was born in 1791, in Witheridge, Devon – a tiny village, made of granite and gray. She had no formal education; composed of a wild and uncontrolled disposition, Mary was beyond the control of any teacher. She ran away from home. She was a servant girl, but her roaming ways wouldn’t let her stay in one house for long. She traveled with gypsies. She worked in a pub – calling herself Hannah – and developed a reputation for telling strange stories. She was as opportunistic as a seagull.

In 1817, a disoriented young woman wearing exotic clothes and speaking a mysterious language was found wandering in Almondsbury, Gloucestershire. Seemingly lost and of an itinerant nature, she was taken from the Overseer of the Poor to the local magistrate, Mr. Worrall. He and his wife Elizabeth – being of a sympathetic nature – arranged for the lost one to spend the night in a local public house, with a maid to see to her still obscure needs.

Once in the house’s parlour, she was taken with the dated Chinoiserie carvings and the framed print of a pineapple, calling it “anana”. She ate no flesh, but expressed a desire for tea, over which she prayed, covering her eyes and bowing her head. She could not write her name, but would cry “Caraboo, Caraboo”, pointing to herself. She slept on the floor.

Despite her beguiling eccentricities, Worrall toed the line: she was taken to Bristol where she was tried for vagrancy, then imprisoned at St. Peter’s Hospital “a receptacle for vagrants”. During this time a Portuguese sailor, Manuel Eynesso, claimed he could speak her still unrecognized language and so was introduced to her in the hopes that her history could be discovered. And the story he decrypted would fool the rural upper classes for months.

The oddity they had in custody was Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu, close to Sumatra. She spoke a mix of dialects stirred within the East Indies. A woman of rank, she was a great prize, and was kidnapped by pirates – bound hand and foot, gagged – though her father in desperation swam after her. After eleven days she was sold to the captain of the Tappa Boo and sailed to Europe. Upon reaching what turned out to be the Bristol Channel, she unloosed herself and swam ashore. In better days she wore a crown of peacock feathers. Her mother wore gold chains, and her nose was pierced with a single jewel – decorations she thought suitable for her daughter, but her father would not consent.

Out of solicitation and fascination, the Worralls set Caraboo up at their home. For ten weeks, she became the favorite plaything of gossips, writers, society hostesses and local dignitaries. She used a bow and arrow, fenced, swam naked and prayed to her god, Alla-Tallah, watching over her from Salem (heaven). According to a witness, “upon giving her some calico, she made herself a dress in the style she had been accustomed to wear… She wore no stockings, but open sandals on the feet with wooden soles.”

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The authenticity of her speech was confirmed by Dr. Wilkinson, who – led by his “love of the marvelous” – identified her language using Edmund Fry’s Pantographia, a work 16 years in the making, describing every existing alphabet. He also stated that the odd marks on the back of her head were surely the work of oriental surgeons. (Bristol Times, June 6, 1817)

A craniological description was even taken: “She has SPACE exceedingly developed–in other words, she must be of a roving disposition, and prefer liberty, and “the whole world before her, where to chuse,” to good cheer and a collar, even although it were of gold–that is, she is fitted for a Gypsey–to which she will return.”

Her self-control was even tested. A gentleman, possessed of both humor and curiosity, drew his chair close to her and declared, “You are the most beautiful creature I ever beheld. You are an angel.” But she remained unmoved, her apparent serenity disturbed by neither blush nor smile.

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Then suddenly the Princess disappeared. Mrs. Worrall – decidedly more sympathetic than her husband – began a frantic search for her royal on the run. Not surprisingly, Princess Caraboo next appeared in Bath: with its history of the Prince Regent, the Royal Crescent, the Pump Room, beaus and dandies, it was the closest to high society that Gloucestershire got.

By the time the Princess was discovered, she was already the center of the fashionable attentions of the Georgian haut ton. One lady knelt before her; another took her by the hand, begging for a kiss. But when Elizabeth Worrall hurried into the room, the witty girl fell to her knees, embracing her benefactress with such gratitude and grace that her new spectators were captivated. She was able to claim, with great subtlety and conviction that it was the desire to return to Javasu which induced her to run away.

But the truth – sometimes an enemy, sometimes a challenge to the devious personality – eventually came out. A boarding-house keeper, Mrs. Neale saw the princess’ portrait in the Bristol Journal and recognized a former boarder. She immediately informed the Worralls.

More embarrassing facts came out: her strange language was an invention, a sampler of made-up and gypsy words she had picked up from her wanderings with them. The marks on her head were scars from a ‘cupping’ operation she endured in a London poorhouse: the skin would be cut then covered with boiling-hot glasses to draw the blood out; a primitive and painful cure for brain fever.

The British press crackled with glee at the duping of society. In a Sporting Intelligence Extra, raunchy with italics and capitalizations, the Bristol Mirror announced:

‘CARABOO is entered to run for the Knole plate! She is thought by all who have seen her to be the cleverest mare in this part of the country, being very perfect in all her paces, an easy pleasant goer, and of great speed. She is well bred, shews a good deal of both blood and bone, and has an admirable forehand. She is 5 feet 2, and rising 26. Caraboo’s pedigree is warranted to be true Circassian; got by the Chinese Corsair, JESSUE MANDUE, out of a Devonshire Gipsey… It is acknowledged, that she is fond of playing at hide and seek, and is very apt to bolt.This match has excited uncommon bustle amongst the Greeks, Malayans, Chinese, Shanscritians, Arabians, Persians, Sumatrans,–and ALLAH TALLAH only knows how many Ans besides.’

Upon receiving the true details of Mary Baker’s life, via letters from her parents, the Worralls procured a passage for her to America. She was furnished with clothes and money as well, perhaps the very assistance she would have received should she have initially been sent on her way months ago. She departed June 28, 1817.

But perhaps Mary Baker was destined to be surrounded by delicious rumor. In September 1817 a letter appeared in the Bristol Journal, supposedly from the official in charge of the exiled Emperor Napoleon. It claimed that the ship bearing the beautiful swindler was caught in a storm and driven ashore an island lying close to St. Helena. Supposedly the princess pretender cut herself adrift, came ashore and so enthralled the emperor that he had requested from the Pope a dispensation to marry her.

Yet maybe not. Or possibly Pius VII simply refused the request. For records state that she left America in 1824, bound once more for England. Once in London – then in Bath and Bristol – she tried again to play the part of Princess Caraboo but with considerably less success than before. She married. She had a daughter. And she made her living selling leeches to the Bristol Infirmary Hospital until her death on Christmas Eve, 1864. She lies buried in an unmarked grave.

This covert burial is ironic, a bleak satire: that such a restless personality who made an art of the alias, collecting names like charms…should finish her life hidden in a disregarded and ignored slumber.

“We have heard of the power of maniacs to concert deep-laid plans with the greatest subtlety, but I recollect no one being carried on so successfully, for so long a time, and under such a variety of circumstances.”
(‘Caraboo. A NARRATIVE OF A SINGULAR IMPOSITION, PRACTISED UPON THE BENEVOLENCE OF A LADY RESIDING IN THE VICINITY OF THE CITY OF BRISTOL,
By a Young Woman OF THE NAME OF MARY WILLCOCKS, alias BAKER, alias BAKERSTENDHT, alias CARABOO, PRINCESS OF JAVASU.’ – John Matthew Gutch, 1817)

A Cat Can Also Look At A Queen

My parents own a cat, flatteringly named Aubrey.  Mother dotes on Aubrey and Aubrey – as much as a cat is willing to do – dotes on her.  In fact, I think this goes beyond a mutual affection – that it is a grasp that extends all the way to a shared personality; a subtle similarity of look and act.

Theirs is a gentle, simpatico relationship, the stuff of closeness and companionship although there are times when Aubrey feels obligated to bite.  I believe this is merely an example of feline frustration:  she would love to have a discussion with mother, but simply cannot.

Both are very lovely ladies – arrestingly so:  the entrapment is that complete.  However, I will limit this shared prettiness to the face only.  For Aubrey on her own part – and her own part only – is sizable.  Should she jump to the floor, or from table to chair, such a move would be heralded by a tremendous thump.  Now, I’ve never heard of mother jumping from various items of furniture (though a tempting thought?).  However, should she ever attempt this I am sure that any resultant sound would be soft and petite.

Once earth-bound, both move silently and gracefully – with motions that are light and small:  small enough, I think, to be held in the palm of one’s hand.

Mother often mentions the many times that Aubrey will stare into her eyes in a silent, gold-smudged inquiry.  Unnerving certainly, but respectful as well.  Most cats would not waste their few waking hours surveying the minds of their owners.

But I believe that Aubrey senses something too:  recognition, a wary perception, a realization that here was an equal – someone as refined and ornamental as she.  She would, in fact, be perfect in every way if it weren’t for that meowing issue.

I, however, don’t meow, so this issue doesn’t influence me.  I do not suffer from any such impediment, or restraints of judgement.  Mother is perfect to me – no matter what the family cat says.  She is unique, endearing and possesses the most silken and lovely of cat-like qualities.  The comparison is obvious to me.  I have – after all – always been a cat person.

A princess blithely unaware of the pea

Resting in regal contentment

Folded and serene as a gift

A cat’s cradle

With delicate lines that trace a feline femininity

Eyes bright and rare

Silken colors

The icon I’ve lived with

And live for

 

I love you mother.

Happy Mother’s Day

The Stuff Of Dreams

The pearl is my birthstone. I have always been proud of its history, of its oblique beginnings at the bottom of the sea. I have always been proud of its fame: of La Peregrina (“priceless and incomparable in this world”), La Huerfana, Hope, Arco Valley. They’ve done time hanging from the necks of royalty, aristocrats, and criminals. I’ve seen the pearl featured in paintings: resting against the trussed chests of Isabella of Portugal

IsabellaOfPortugalPearl

and Mary I;

MariIPearl

hanging from a young woman’s ear in astral splendor in “The Girl With A Pearl Earring”.

vermeer-670-girl-with-a-pearl-earring

Pearls symbolize innocence and decorate the veils of brides; yet they also decorate the chariot of Neptune, raw and swarthy. Pearls have traditionally symbolized the tear drops of the moon: a delightful thought.

On the other hand, I’ve always had pity for the lapis lazuli birthstone. The name is unwieldy and unpronounceable. Uncomfortably foreign, I was never even sure of its color. It is the birthstone of December, and I have since learned that it isn’t even its primary gem – losing to the turquoise and blue topaz in an azure competition. I knew nothing of its meaning, its worth, its use.

But I know now, and I am somewhat ashamed to have held such a noble stone in contempt for so many years.

First, there is the look of it. Its color is a rich, royal blue; it sparkles with pyrite, giving it a look of a twilight sky dazzled with golden stars. Its color was of such intense opulence and rarity, it was mined as far back as the 7th millennium BC to be used as the finest jewelry. Minutely carved scarabs and beads have been found in Neolithic burials in the Caucasus and Mauritania. The Babylonians and Assyrians used it for jewelry as well, for amulets and cylinder seals, the small engraved cylinders used to roll impressions onto clay. Invented around 3500 BC, they have been found in gravesites, to provide good fortune for the dead.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 17th-18th century BC, is recognized as one of the oldest known works of literature. Many times lapis lazuli is mentioned, the first time, many agree, a precious stone has appeared in a narrative:

From the prologue:
“Pick up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travels of Gilgamesh, all that he went through…”

Ishtar beseeches Gilgamesh:
“Be you my husband, and I will be your wife.
I will have harnessed for you a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold”

Gilgamesh declares in “The Flood Myth”:
“Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them!”

It was saved for the most exclusive of adornments. Powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra. It was used to embellish the funeral mask of Tutankhamun.

tutlapis

Royal and priestly garments were shamelessly dyed with the mystic blue in order to designate their status as gods. Catherine the Great used lapis lazuli to decorate The Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace, saturating ceiling and furniture with impenetrable majesty.

lyon_hall_6

By the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli was being ground into the most valuable of all blue pigments, ultramarine “the most perfect of all colors”. It found its way into lush Baroque skies, Renaissance frescoes; it was an exalted color, used for Annunciations and the Virgin’s cloak. It was even used to color the turban the young woman wore, as thick with light as her celestial earring.

So in history, art and literature the lofty excellence of lapis lazuli has played a significant part. But its fame does not stop there; it has one more role to play: the leading one, the force that drives the tangled mythos of alchemy.

Lapis is the Latin word for “stone”. And every transmutation, equation, calculation and alteration that burns in the alchemical retort is for one purpose: to purify the “dark matter” the earthy “chaos” that had putrefied the four elements since the fall of Adam and to elevate them once more towards the celestial belt, the Elysian “lapis”.

lapis1

It is the “lapis philosophorum”, the Philosopher’s Stone, the sun and moon tree, the Treasure-house of Wisdom “from there that wisdom rises” (Umail at-Tamimi, 10th century), and described by Hermes Trismegistus in The Emerald Tablet: “the father of it is the Sun, the mother of it is the Moon; the wind carries it in its belly; the nurse thereof is the Earth”.

emerald

Now, it is true that the surname of ‘Lazuli’ does not appear in these obscure teachings, but the lapis lazuli is universally known to represent truth, enlightenment and inner vision – perhaps a nod and a wink to the twisted logic and bizarre mathematics of its alchemic ancestry.

In “The Tempest”, Shakespeare wrote the words, ‘We are such stuff/As dreams are made on’. They were spoken by the magician Prospero, as he reflected on the similarity between the spiritual and the corporeal, the confrontation between the dreaming and waking states. In very different circumstances, a rumpled cynic contemplated the statue of a dark falcon, naming its strange appeal as ‘the stuff that dreams are made of’ – the futility, the greed, the desperation, the hopeless competitive spirit that keeps people reaching for what they can never grasp.

But I still insist that the stuff of dreams are buried in the earth, that they are swimming beneath the waves. They have complexities of color and shape; they shine in the darkness. And they were born out of the most extraordinary circumstances: from the irritation of a grain of sand to the formative power of sediment, rivers and volcanoes.

But it was the caprice of humanity which gave the gemstones added meaning and value – long after they were pulled out of their earthly homes. But we can’t help it. We will always dream.