Tag Archives: sad

Broken

The painter is unknown, but it is probable that the tiny subject is the Dauphine Louise-Louise, oldest daughter of Francis I.  In a time heavy with symbolism, little sense can be made of the work.  It is a portrait of a young girl, a child not yet grown out of her childish fat; the laces of her bodice strained across her chest.  The ribbon of her kerchief disappears beneath her chin – laces and ribbons trying to force a child into a woman’s shape.

Possibly this is a posthumous work, for the little girl died at the age of two, convulsing uncontrollably in front of her dismayed parents and doctors.  This would explain the background of funereal black, so unlike other children’s portraits from the 16th century:  no furniture, no books, no toys.  No memento mori symbols of a brief and risky life unfettered by hygiene; no baskets of fruit presenting the child as the fruit of a sacred union; no cat to symbolize lust or dog to imply loyalty.  There is nothing to soothe a little girl’s loneliness.

The only other object in the painting is in the girl’s hands.  It is a dead sparrow.  Death has loosened its muscles:  the beak gapes open, the neck extended, the wings limp.  This might be a thought for the vanity of life – all must die, including small birds – but the girl’s expression is not accepting, or knowledgeable, or serene as would be expected.  Instead, she is startled:  her blue eyes seem to pale with amazement.  The diminutive corners of her mouth twist downward.  Whomever this painter was, he or she has made a subtle and intuitive study of a child on the verge of tears.

She will cry out of grief and confusion.  She will cry because she does not understand why her beloved pet is so quiet and acquiescent, why its throat does not flutter with sound.  Its eyes are dull; the opaque lids have turned them away from her, far from her girlish affection.

The girl holds the sparrow in the gentle bowl of her hands, her fingers searching for the quick heartbeat, the thin, complex pulse of her little pet.  She holds the creature as gently as a hunting dog – retrieving its prey with its soft mouth; careful not to press with tooth or tongue the still surface of its broken prize.  Both are careful not to harm it, though it be dead.

Louise of France. Oldest daughter of Frances I and Claude of France. Died aged two, of convulsions. Engaged to Infante Charles of Castile from birth to death.

Hopeful for the Holidays

I am not a strong person, nor am I a violent one – but if I were, this year would not stand a chance.  It just happens that I am a staunch believer in just punishment…so can one hang a year in effigy?  Give it a little Guy Fawkes taste?   Perhaps there is someone I can talk to about this.

So if I am so disgusted, why do I even bother celebrating the holidays this blighted year?  Because I must – to ignore the celebrations would be despair’s definitive high-five of victory.  The erasure of joy is the key that locks the door and, my friend, just guess which side of that door you’ll be on.

Therefore we must be happy.  Find a way to lift our spirits.  Secure a remedy for petty annoyances. No matter what, there is still so much to welcome and embrace.  For instance, I will be going to a holiday dinner tonight, and I fully intend on wearing my Christmas tree earrings – tannen-baubles – and getting spectacularly drunk.  You see, sometimes it is just the small things that can keep us hopeful.

Is anyone up for a group hug?  Let me know.

Happy holidays, my little ones.

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Bedtime Story

There was once a king who, when he was about to be married, summoned all of his carpenters and decorators to gather around him in a single, expectant battalion. He wanted them to use all of their skills and dainty armaments to build a marriage bed. And he wanted it to be decorated exclusively in pearl. He wanted it to be rich and rare, chaste and pure – as pure as his young bride.

The king was Henry VIII, and he was in love. Not politically, physically or intellectually in love – but foolishly and blindly…a doomed emotion, short-lived yet fraught with danger. The year was 1540: he was nearly fifty, and his bride-to-be was eighteen. Her name was Catherine – soft and curved, stupid and immodest, madcap and pathetic.

Catherine - an unconfirmed portrait, however

Catherine – an unconfirmed portrait, however

Her king was fat and clumsy, with suppurating legs which kept him immobile and irritable. He was over a foot taller than Catherine, and at their wedding ceremony stood next to her like a reeking colossus.

Yet court witnesses all attest to his inelegant caresses and embraces: he would crush her to him like a fragile bouquet, pink and white, petals undamaged: and upon releasing her was himself unharmed – she was indeed his ‘blushing rose without a thorn’.

He gave her jewels and enameled beads tipped with gold; gowns of twilight-colored silks and amber brocades. He gave her French hoods which perched saucily on the back of her head, revealing a daring view of forehead and hair. And he gave her a glowing, pelagic bed.

It flourished in the evening, a shining lake as translucent and pale as a saucer of milk. It was so pale that the moon, as curious as a cat, hovered low on the horizon to look at this reflection, this simulated echo. And when the inquisitive moonlight spread across the earth, it embraced the nacreous ornamentation as well, to create a radiance that was depthless and alive.

However, it wasn’t long before the King began to retire alone to his personal chambers – whether drunk, incapacitated with overeating or dulled with pain: he was no fit occupant for the dainty bed. And soon after, courtiers, whose only job was to lurk and listen, would hear the queen’s tiny hands open the door to welcome a new resident.

Eventually Henry found out about his flower’s guilty and treacherous secret. And when he did, Henry VIII – the proud, feared behemoth – broke into tears. He then gathered his wits to order her immediate execution. At one point he picked up his own sword and threatened to exact the punishment himself.

But he allowed the cruel laws of the 16th century to progress. Adultery and treason coiled into a single deadly helix with only one penalty: another queen was to be beheaded. (Catherine’s cousin was Anne Boleyn – they were buried in the same unmarked grave.)

She died early in the morning, in February 1542. She knelt in front of the block, her neck showing white against the wood, dark and scored by the marks of earlier condemnations. Courtiers and advisors had assembled, as well as ambassadors and spies who would write accounts for their masters, scattered across Europe.

Very few of them were sad. But in the distance, the moon, which would not be setting for another hour, watched with pity the little girl who each night had laid like a pearl in her oyster bed.

There is no other record of the pearl bed. It could have been sold, forgotten. It could have been destroyed, so that no memory of the shameless queen and the king’s humiliation would remain. But perhaps there came a night when the moon decided to linger before floating upwards like a ship through the twilight currents. And within that winsome pause she decided to embrace the lonely nacre to her, so that they could journey together – leaving only a pile of abandoned quilts and splintered wood behind.

The Invitation

The dead seagull lay huddled in the rocks                                                                                 Its head curved beneath its wings                                                                                                 In a solemn, moribund prayer                                                                                                       The air pricked at its feathers as if the bird still lived                                                           And could feel the salty, impudent fingers

Nature tried to interrupt the corpse’s devotions:                                                                   The air, the ocean                                                                                                                                 Refused to let the deceased blood,                                                                                                 The slowly evaporating DNA                                                                                                           Disperse amongst the shoreline’s lonely cathedrals

I did not take a photograph of the body                                                                                     To create a memory of its sadness                                                                                                 But the grief stays with me:                                                                                                               Of the soft creature prodded by the wind                                                                                 Inviting it to join its salty ranks once more

 

“Our Lady Cannot Govern”

Although born to proud and devious parents, none of her portraits beheld a lady of any haughtiness – there was no richness, none of the sumptuary honor which only a royal child could wear.  Instead, her eyes were shadowed with religion and the various arts of an heiress.  Her face was as round, as meek, and as pale as a saucer of milk.  And in time that milk would sour:  for history – with all the cruelty of the schoolyard – would always know her as "Juana La Loca."

What lurked beneath that white modesty?  What monsters in her DNA traveled down a weakened ancestry, down broken and diseased stairs?  Did sickness and incest weave through her lineage, a worm eating at a threadbare tapestry?

But maybe the myriad condemnations of birth weren't to blame – and names could be given to the people who drove Juana, the trained Iberian Infanta, to despair.

In 1496, when she was 16, Juana married Philip, the Duke of Burgundy.  Her flaxen, Flemish husband was called "The Handsome" – and although only a teenager like his bride, there was already a cruel seduction in his lush mouth and swollen eyes.

Juana had to accept the courtly abuses inflicted upon a woman born into royalty:  infidelity, political resentment…a jealous husband.  Soon stories of her depression and neuroses – dark, invisible wings beating in her ears – began to circulate.  It was even said that she was  imprisoned by hyer husband – annoyed and embarrassed by such a petty annoyance as a wife in torment.

By 1506 Philip was dead.  But Juana would live for almost 50 years more.  Affairs of state coiled about her like snakes – a Medusa's head of government and greed.  When her mother, Isabella I of Castile, died, Juana became Queen, but found herself battling with both her husband and her father for control of that arid and medieval province.  Her father, Ferdinand II, convinced the Castilian Cortes to admit that Juana's "illness…is such that the said Queen Dona Juana our Lady cannot govern."

But she remained defiant – her thoughts cloudy and dim, a vague storm.  Juana would not sign the Cortes' demands, and for her courage was confined to the Santa Clara convent by her father.  All of her servants were dismissed.  She was alone, save for one person – she still kept her faithless husband's corpse with her.  It was 1509.

In 1516 her father was dead.  The following year, Castile went to Juana's son Charles I.  Officially it was his mother's, but a kingdom can't be given to a woman who is unable to change her own clothes.

Juana, raised on the rules of religion, the grace of languages and the gentility of her birthright, now found it difficult to eat, sleep or bathe.  She tasted poison in her food, felt it in her subconscious – her body was awash with it.  She even believed that the convent nuns wanted to kill her.  Charles confided in them, "It seems to me that the best and most suitable thing for you to do is to make sure that no person speaks with Her Majesty, for no good could come from it."

Juana died in 1555, at the age of 75.  She was still in her holy prison.  She had been betrayed by her father, her husband, her son…her heredity.  No good had come from it. 

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“What Is This Thing Called Amway?”

When I was job-hunting, in late 2004-early 2005, it was extremely important that I cultivated happiness.  I was depressed and a tiny bit frightened:  I needed just a little froth of gladness. 

Every morning I would spend about 3 hours on the computer, searching opportunities on Monster.com (useless) and CareerBuilder.com (uselessuseless), researching various companies – usually the ones that had resident pets got my resume automatically whether they were looking for people or not – and emailing resumes.

But this was sad, wearisome work.  To counteract this I would play music while I researched and searched and sent.  And more often than not I would be listening to this (click on the little arrow, to the left), played loud.  I could only hope that one day I will be so passionate about my work.

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