If you gaze into Lauren Bacall’s eyes as she walks away from the dim-lit room where she just kissed Bogart and tells him: “It’s even better when you help …” turns around and with the classiest of attitudes states: “You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing … or maybe whistle… You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together … and blow”
… one has to admit there is something about these old time actresses …. and the characters written for them! that continues to fascinate. They certainly don’t make them like her anymore!
But Lauren Bacall is one of those rare (it seems) Hollywood starlet good-ended-story. She went off to marry (at 19!) Bogart, played great rolls, win an Academy Award and have her own place in Hollywood history.
There are other fascinating dames, especially from the 1910’s and 1920’s that did not end that well.
Silent film has always fascinated me. Not only Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton who I find both to still be ahead of their time even today, but also the rare, obscure silent reels, forgotten by audiences and enjoyed by very few. Check “Pandora’s Box”, “Below the Surface”, “The Idol Dancer” , “It”, or “The Flapper”.
The silent film era is plagued with stories of excess and raucous behavior, many that would make great films or Netflix series today, like the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal or the mysterious death of Jean Harlow’s husband: writer/producer Paul Bern.
Harlow herself died at a very very early age of a kidney infection that could have also been avoided with proper medical care. Some say that “kidney infection” or “appendicitis” were excuses made by studio executives in the 20’s for the early deaths of their stars like Harlow, Valentino and many others.
Major Scandals of the Silent Film Era:
Olive Thomas – She was a famous actress known for her scandalous behavior and drug use. She married Jack Pickford, Mary’s brother. During a second honeymoon in Paris, Olive drank poison in a confusing episode and the story was covered in every newspaper in the world as a possible suicide, drug overdose or even murder …
Paul Bern – Paul was a writer and director, married to the most beautiful woman in the world at the time: Jean Harlow. A few months into the marriage, his body was found with a shotgun wound in the head in a house in the Hollywood Hills (9860 Easton Drive in Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills – where Sharon Tate once stayed …) (For the creepy story click here: http://creepyla.com/2017/10/04/did-paul-berns-ghost-warn-sharon-tate/)
Bern’s death was ruled a suicide but many claimed it was murder. Other theories stated that it was in fact a suicide because he was impotent or a bigamist. In fact, two months after his death a woman in Sacramento committed suicide. Soon it was known that the woman was in fact still married to Bern
Fatty Aurbuckle – This could be a good biopic! Roscoe Aurbuckle was a comedian, loved by thousands, he entertained men, women and children alike, but his private lifestyle was not as PG. He was an alcoholic and a “user of cocaine” who partied hard and liked the company of starlets and prostitutes. At a hotel-room party, where Arbuckle spent the night with two male friends and several women, one of them, Virgina Rappe, fell ill and was taken to the hospital. One of her friends told the doctors that Arbuckle had raped her … and … in try Weinstein-gate style, that was the end of Fatty’s career. The truth is that there was never any proof and most of the witnesses denied it, but to add to Aurbuckle’s misery, William Randolph Hearst was selling so many newspaper with the scandal, that public opinion even sentenced Arbuckle to death. He went to trial several times and by the end of it, he was ruined and completely shunned by everyone in Hollywood.
Alma Rubens – If excess had a name it would be Alma Rubens. She married 3 times, acted in more than 30 films, was hospitalized in mental asylums dozens of times, became a worldwide celebrity, a drug addict and a convict, all of this before her death at the early age of 33! She plays a Southern Belle in D.W Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”, Giulia in “The Ghost Flower”. After years of heroine, cocaine and morphine abuse … she died of a cold in 1931.
Wallace Reid – Handsome and talented, Reid died of a heroine overdose when he was only 31. His story is the typical sordid tale of the Hollywood producers exploit of their stars, for he became addicted to cocaine when the studio bosses administered it repeatedly to keep him working and shooting long hours. When he fell from a horse (some say a rooftop) doing a stunt, in came heroine and morphine and his days were numbered. He tried the only known rehab method at the time, lobotomies and electroshocks performed at mental asylums, where he died after a short stay.
One of my favorite books touches upon many of these tragic Hollywood stories: Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger.
Although most of us think about silent film as an antiquated form of acting or story-telling, they are usually done with incredible artistry and many deal with very heavy subject matters like syphilis, child abuse, adultery, sex and drug use.
It is also interesting to watch how stories were told in a visual manner and the acting – exaggerated at times – only used by the filmmaker to show key moments in human behavior, like suffering, jealousy, treachery, flirting, love, or loss.
It is also interesting to watch how they would solve problems in the story telling when they needed sound – for instance Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” when the girl “hears” the door of an expensive car and assumes that The Tramp is rich … –
I leave you with a sequence from Buster Keaton’s “The General” and the famous “Cyclone” sequence from “Steamboat Bill Jr”. which he co-wrote, co-directed and stared performing every stunt himself. The filmmaking mastery of these sequences are like watching Spielberg or Scorcesse 80 years earlier … or even better ….
For International Women’s Day 2018 I want to share some thoughts that have been haunting me since the latest presidential election, the Women’s Marches and the whole Weinstein-gate.
In a nutshell, my review of the 2017 #MeToo and #TimesUp movement is that we went from silenced victims accepting sexual harassment as a milestone in our professional and economic evolution, to loud, mean, angry witches … nothing in between.
That nothingness is my problem right now. That nothingness leaves women in a limbo where we are still not “seen”, “heard”, or “treated” for who we are as HUMANS. Our condition as women is still the sign above our heads seen miles away today, more than ever. The only difference is that before we were overlooked, controlled and diminished simply for being women and now, we are feared, we are about to become something uncomfortable, a “minority” boiling in a pot that is supposed to be forever steaming. A group that new laws need to accommodate… a political issue.
Not individual human beings.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS PURGATORY
This polarity can only leave us hanging from a pendulum, swindling between exclusion and forced inclusion. 2017 became the year were we moved up (or down?) a latter inside this purgatory where we are still supposed to look fabulous, young, fresh and smiley forever; be better than men at what we do, keep our shit together no-matter-what, wearing lash extensions, gel manicured hands, making time for yoga and workouts, never asking for a dime and cooking homemade gluten-free-animal shaped cupcakes
…. Exhausting, right?!
DEMAND TO BE ALLOWED TO BE IMPERFECT. DEMAND TO BE HUMANS.
2017 was the year that women demanded equal pay, demanded respect, demanded to be heard. We should be careful, and make sure we don’t have to keep doing all of this…to be relevant.
Now we get to speak our minds only if what we have to say is as shocking as a a tell-all-interview, revealing another one of Weinstein’s advances or fully proven harassment in the workplace … Now it seems we are allowed to tell stories from our point of view only if we are going to prove that we can do the same things men can do (a biological impossibility) kick ass, shoot guns or throw a shield to save Batman …
In the year of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it feels as if we should rejoice by our “progress”, wear a pink beanie and clinch our fists at an annual march, share stories of abuse and harassment and jump at our opportunity in history to speak up, be considered, seek justice… As if “now is the only time we have and we should rush before everyone forgets and we go back to being objects, servants, “the mother of my children”, the teacher, the old wise grandma; or bitches, crazy witches, the “Snowflake” feminist etc, etc, etc. Now that we are a political issue is the time to get everything we’ve been denied of in society for centuries ….
The truth is, that we – women- still navigate the archetypes that have forever silenced us and catalogued us since biblical times:
But what if … we are all of the above?! All of those female energies in each one of us? Now that ….. is where power resides and by labeling us either the “Virgin”, the “Bitch”, the “Weaker Sex” “The Object” … we have been something more manageable for men. As if they brake us down into small tasks!
The news update- the 2018 Woman- the real “female empowerment” comes with the realization that we are all of these energies in one package and we are here to evolve, to grow, to change the world as Objects of Beauty, Servants, Bitches, Crazy Witches, Warriors, Mothers, Teachers, Grandmothers, Daughters, and Wild Women. We are all of those archetypes each one of us at different times of our lives (…or the menstrual cycle!)
CARL JUNG AND THE ARCHETYPES
Carl Jung (my psychology hero, my go-to reference for any ailment- more to come about him in another post!) defined archetypes:
“The archetype concept- Jung writes – derives from the often repeated observation that myths and universal literature stories contain well defined themes which appear every time and everywhere. We often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions of persons living nowadays”.
Jung’s groundbreaking work on the subconscious and the unconscious mind took him to deeply explore the significance of archetypes and symbols in our psyches and how much they influence us as well as how much they can tell about a patient. These archetypes plague almost every form of storytelling ever invented, from The Bible, to Walt Disney. (Both succeed masterfuly at teaching girls how to remain in their stereotypical role of innocent submissive maidens with no self esteem or place in society!)
THE 4 BASIC FEMALE ARCHETYPES
The Virgin or The Innocent Maiden– Her innocence is so pure that it is the only thing that defines her and which makes her respectable, worthy of male care. (Virgin Mary topping the list! Cinderella, SnowWhite, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Eyre)
The Wife/ Nurturing Mother – Loyal, obedient, ever supportive, submissive and readily available. Sacrifices her own life, interests and evolution for the good of the family. She makes no mistakes. She can be a “good mother” or an “evil/destroyer”. She symbolizes Mother Nature itself. (Good Mothers: Marge Simpson, all your Fairy Godmothers, Penelope from The Odyssey, Isis -the Egyptian Goddess-)
The Temptress/The Wild Woman – Dangerous, flat character, seductive, leads the hero to his downfall, secretive motives, destroyer. Eve who destroys Adam’s chances at life in Paradise and for whose actions we are all doomed. (Jessica Rabbit, Salome, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Jezebel)
Crone/ The Wise Woman – The old lady with the good advice we fail to listen. Her childbearing days are behind her and so is her value as an object of desire. She is associated with compassion, transformation and healing. There are negative Crone archetypes as well, but they go back to a similar type of witch, the green and ugly one, not the seductress. (The Cat Lady, the Spinster, Hestia in Greek mythology)
2018- THE FUTURE
What if we use this feminine archetype idea, this female power to INCLUDE men in the change we seek. To SET THEM FREE as well of their own suffering within stereotypical male roles, help them embrace their male archetypes ….
What if we can set examples of the real beauty or wisdom that lie inside each woman through our work, our parenting style, our stories, our art … What if we focus on what we do best: CREATE NEW LIFE, CREATE CHANGE, CREATE A NEW HUMAN… As a “group” a “minority” we are called to CREATE A NEW HUMANITY and we are the best ones for the job …! But don’t forget that to create humans … we need men. Thus, doesn’t it take both “groups” to create a New Humanity? A New Era?
Here’s to progress. To a time when we can ALL roam this earth having truly equal opportunities and we are not judged by our beauty, our bodies, our bank account, our objects, our choices, our color, gender, religion, nationality, race or sexual preferences.
To a new era where we look at men in the eye and see ourselves and vice-versa … 🙂
Of course, I’m not the only one, but the reason I call him “King” is because to me, he’s like the Elvis of words. He knew how to use words to change a world drowned in fear, intolerance and ignorance. Leading a non violent revolution, he knew that the only and most effective tool were words and he used them with talent, passion and enlightenment.
He was a superhero at the time. A modern messiah who not only African Americans responded to, but also the rest of the world. A humble, oppressed boy from Atlanta, he was so brilliant, that he was accepted into college at 15. He suffered segregation -( a very famous story of King is when he had to stand up on a bus to give his seat to a white passenger, he said that it was the “angriest” moment of his life)- Martin Luther King Sr, his father, was a role model. A Baptist Minister himself, who did not yield to the unfair “Jim Crow Laws” of the south and inspired Martin Jr, to stand up in front of injustice and fight for his dignity.
He led over 200, 000 (!) people to march in Washington for civil and economic equality, where he gave his world changing “I Have A Dream” speech. He mobilized hordes of people, traveled the country, shook hands with celebrities, kings, presidents, union leaders, religious leaders, the poor and the oppressed. He got the right to vote for african americans, protested against poverty, unfair work laws, the war on Vietnam and the Cold War.
His Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is probably his least known or quoted speech, not because it didn’t matter – it is actually an outstanding love letter to humanity, a sort of prayer for peace – but because he was so focused in not drawing attention to himself and away from the Civil Rights Movement, that he left any theatricality or his singular passion of deliverance out of it.
As I sat through “Selma” the Ava Du Vernay film about King’s life during the arduous times of the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, something seemed to be missing. I had been waiting eagerly to see it and expected to be moved once again by the words and the life of someone so admired and inspirational. But, I wasn’t moved. I was informed, yes: I didn’t know about so many people that worked with him and the minor logistical details of his marches, especially the Selma march. In my opinion the movie falls flat at times, especially in the scenes depicting his personal life and his marriage -as if the filmmakers were afraid to dig too deep into King’s infidelities – failing to show us what it must have been for these two people to stay married in the midst of constant public scrutiny, attacks, doubt and long periods of time apart. I was engaged too. Nowadays, Hollywood screenwriters seem so focused on this aspect of storytelling – keeping the audience engaged – that they’ll stretch biographies and real events beyond their truths, to have the forever captivating fight against good and evil and a clear “compelling” conflict between a protagonist and a villain. So, Paul Webb, not having enough antagonism in George Wallace and J.Edgar Hoover as comic book villains – which they probably were! – turns Lyndon B Johnson into a conflicted patsy, so dangerously pressured for decisions , that he considers again and again, terminating the Civil Rights Movement and MLK altogether. By the end, this L.B Johnson needs a clearly vindictive line, while failing to convince the despicably racist George Wallace to let African Americans vote in Alabama: “I’ll be damn if I let history lump me in with the likes of you”.
It is said by many a conspirate theorists, that LB Johnson was involved or responsible for the assassinations of J.F Kennedy and MLK. Maybe. … But, in terms of the Civil Rights Movement, Johnson was King’s firm all. So much so, that when MLK began to fervently -and very publicly- oppose the Vitenam War, Johnson felt betrayed. (A clear motive for both assassinations?….((??))
One of the main reasons I think I wasn’t moved by “Selma” is because throughout the film, the real words that King used in his speeches, letters and sermons are not heard – or acted by that matter. The most compelling aspect of Martin Luther King’s legacy is left out, a legacy that reached far beyond the Civil Rights Movement – his words. Paul Webb and Ava Du Vernay had to write every scene where King is delivering his speeches and sermons, paraphrasing his real words because everyone of King’s words -oral and written- is copyrighted by his descendants and usage in any form of media can cost thousands and thousands of dollars – DuVernay said that they didn’t even want to appeal to “Fair Use”, which would have allowed them to use short portions of King’s words; probably because Steven Spielberg already has the license of many speeches for an upcoming Warner Bros biopic on KIng and the matter would have gotten “dirtier” – for Hollywood’s “political correctness”.
Even if Selma is not a biopic, per se, since it centers in the very specific few months of the Selma march, let’s be honest: a movie about MLK without his speeches?! –
Seeing him give the “I Have A Dream” speech in front of a massive crowd at the Lincoln Memorial Center, it is impossible not to be moved by the cadences of his oratory, the emotion in his voice, the passion in his eyes and the unwavering conviction that Truth was on his side. He knew all too well that he was making history – he actually says so during his speech; and that he was willing to die for Justice and Equality. During the speech, he doesn’t lecture, he doesn’t preach, he doesn’t try to convert or agitate a crowd. No. He is there to inspire. He appeals to the good within those who are listening, to rebuke bigotry and join him in a perpetual stand for Civil Rights. King was there to inspire the world into hating racism, xenophobia and segregation and to understand that the “American Dream” is un-dreamable if there is injustice “anywhere”. He took this concept so literarily and seriously, that not contempt with wining battle after battle for the Civil Rights Movement, he began campaigning against the Vietnam War for its injustice and wrongness: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” or “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” or- one of my favorite moments of MLK’s life-: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal”.
All of his speeches are life-affirming. They calling to people of all colors, all nationalities and all generations to live together in love and tolerance. They are legendarily lyrical, even musical and filled with hard hitting metaphors.
MLK’s use of rhetoric is masterful. He takes his audience on a ride through history – alluding to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in “I have a Dream”- literature, citing Dante in the “A Time to Break Silence” speech, or the Bible in the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech; and he takes us into the depths of our own selves, looking for the right course of action in front of major moral decisions. In the “I Have A Dream” speech he says that he is coming to cash a check … a “promissory note” written by America’s Founding Fathers, who wrote in the Declaration of Independence- : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
His most important legacy- aside from his words- is the unyielding opposition to violence. Freedom, equality, justice, human rights, had to be achieved through peace.
He was intimidated, bullied, assaulted, mocked, teased, provoked and spied on. His friends and followers were harassed, abused and killed on the streets. His family was cornered and threatened.
He tirelessly traveled the world and gave speech after speech, he campaigned for worker’s rights, freedom of speech, poverty, justice, equality and peace. He faced doubt and never feared for his life. He knew his life was not his own and never feared death, for he lived a life that wouldn’t be wasted, even if he died before his time.
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the most racist and violent cities in the country at the time, where he had gone to support a sanitation workers strike. He was staying at the Lorraine motel with members of his staff – and one of his mistresses, they say- and had gone out for a smoke, a habit he kept secret from the public and from his children.
“A single .30-06 bullet fired from a Remington Model 760. The bullet entered through King’s right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord, severing the jugular vein and major arteries in the process before lodging in his shoulder. The force of the shot ripped off King’s necktie. Unconscious, he fell violently backwards onto the balcony” (from Wikipedia)
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” —Anton Chekhov
I had a great teacher, one of many, who used to say that Chekhov was an “impressionist” writer. As such, I believe my teacher meant, that Chekhov was trying to emphasize his own perception of a subject, more than the subject itself. Like an impressionist painting, conveying the “feeling” or the “emotion” of a sunset, more than the exact image of a purple skyline on a landscape.
Chekhov’s subject is the interaction between people and society. A society created by man against itself. Products of the remnants of the Industrial Revolution, the men and women of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s navigated the desperate need to cling to the social and religious mandates that gave them their place in society and life itself. For Russia, the times were particularly confusing and convoluted if you were an aristocrat, who now, had to deal with ex-slaves who had become bourgeois. The rigid structures of nobility life were shaken by a new social class of people, who now interacted in politics and influenced social life. Planting unknowingly, the seeds of socialism, these people believed more in sacrifice and hard work than pedigree and bloodline and shattered the lives of the unprepared upper classes.
Chekhov was a protagonist in the changing russian society and a privileged observer. He knew how to translate the changes of a society emerging into modernity and industrialization with brilliant lucidity and a genius sense of comedic timing and since his “subjects” are human beings, it was through the use of dialogue and silences that he chose to expose these impressions, producing some of the most compelling dramatic pieces in theatre history.
His dramas expose the immense impossibility of the modern man to act upon his desires. His plays are usually set in rural homes, where the characters suffer boredom and monotony, clinging to a way of life that has lost its purpose. They feel like the last cultural stronghold against the vulgarity of modern ways. To expose this, Chekhov was brave enough to present the banality of boredom and ordinary daily life as a dramatic problem and he has been tremendously criticized as well as praised for it.
He defended his style once: “Men eat, sleep, smoke and say banal things, yet, they destroy themselves”.
His dialogues seem to have no purpose or motive, yet they are extremely revealing of the characters emotions and passions.
He revolutionized both theatre and literature by writing stories about people’s inner lives through ordinary conversations, silences and the impossibility to communicate. He examined illusion, disappointment and failed dreams in all of his works, clearly exposing his own disillusions and the heartache of the ones around him, exposing the cruel irony of ordinary living. Chekhov used humor above all to magnify the banality of people’s concerns and the inconsequential details of their lives, as if he wanted to laugh at the inevitable tragedy of human insignificance.
Anton Chekhov was born in a sea village, Taganrog, that influenced his writing and way of life, forever needing the tranquility of the country or a small beach town, but yearning for the excitement of Moscow’s urban life. His family led a privileged life and all the children acquired education, but when his father went bankrupt, part of the family had to flee to Moscow, where they lived in poverty. Anton stayed behind, studying to become a doctor. He received horrifying news about the economic debacle of the family, the country and his mother’s psychological stability. To make ends meet and pay for his education, he tutored and wrote short sketches for the local newspaper, which quickly made him a household name. When he graduated, he joined his family in Moscow, but unlike today (!) he found that he could make very little money as a doctor, compared to the money he was making as a writer, which even allowed him to provide for his whole family.
Although his short stories were celebrated and praised all over Russia, his first play “The Seagull” was a horrendous flop when it opened in 1896 in St Petersburg. Theatre goers and critics booed and scared Chekhov’s confidence as a writer for the rest of his life. He was ready to give up the theatre forever, but a certain theatre director named Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was impressed and called upon (now) legendary actor/director and teacher Constantin Stanislavsky to give it another try at the new and innovative Moscow Art Theatre. Stanislavsky’s attention to the character’s psychological subtleties not only fascinated Chekhov and revived his interest in the theatre, but also made “The Seagull” a success. “Uncle Vanya”, “The Three Sisters”, “Ivanov” and “The Cherry Orchard” followed, all to great success and earnest artistic pleasure for Stanislavsky and the daring actors of the Moscow Art Theatre. Chekhov would never sit through an opening night ever again, though, afraid of failure and criticism, he awaited feedback isolated in his country house.
The Moscow Art Theatre had changed his professional life but also his personal life. After years of indulging in the pleasures of bachelorhood, dismissing married life as the death of an artist’s development, he met Olga Knipper, The Moscow Art Theatre’s most prominent actress, the first Irina of “The Seagull”. The correspondence between the two reveals a relationship of deep trust, love and respect for each other. Their letters are all addressed with “Dear Writer” or “Dear Actress”. They spent long periods of time apart, while she lived in Moscow attending to her acting career, he wrote his masterpieces in the solitude of the country assisted in household matters by his dedicated sister.
I only found out recently that he was a doctor. After many years of reading him and studying him as one of history’s most innovative writers, I now find the fact that he was a doctor a fascinating detail.
“Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other” – A.C
In his letters, one can grasp the inner suffering of Chekhov himself, going through the untimely death of his alcoholic brother, the suicide of several of his friends and the private lives of many of his patients. The sensibility of the writer, made the doctor in him care for his patients beyond their physical symptoms, unknowingly linking psychology with physiology. He suffered for them, for his friends and family.
“A doctor has terrible days and hours. I would not wish them on anyone. Among doctors, it is true that there are ignorant and rude people, as also among writers, engineers and people in general. But these terrible hours and days that I am speaking of only happen to doctors. And for that I say much will be forgiven them. A country wife was carting rye, and tumbled head first off the cart. Smashed herself dreadfully. Concussion of the brain, strain of the neck muscles, vomiting and great pain and so on. They brought her to me. Moans and ohs and ahs. She implores God for death. Yet her eyes are fixed on the peasant who brought her in and she mumbles” “Have done with the lentils, Krylla, thresh them later but get threshing the oats now.” I tell her that talk about oats could be put off for really there’s something of a more serious nature to talk about, but she tells me “He’s got very good oats.” A bustling greedy country wife. Such people find it easy to die.” Anton Chekhov Letters.
Many believe that the real reason why Chekhov wouldn’t marry was because after his first coughing spit with a lung hemorrhage in 1897, being a doctor, he knew that his end was near. In a letter in 1888 he wrote: “I noticed a couple of times that I was bringing up blood, sometimes in large quantities so that I could taste it the whole time and sometimes more slightly. Each winter, autumn, spring and especially when the weather is humid I cough. But all this only frightens me when I see blood. There is something very ominous in the slow trickle of blood from the mouth, seen in the glow from the fire. But when there is no blood I am not worried and do not threaten literature with “yet one more loss.”
He saw his brother die of tuberculosis, a niece and many friends and patients. Long before the invention of the X-ray or antibiotics, people died inevitably of what today is known as TB and for which there is not only a cure, but also a vaccine.
Chekhov spent the last few years of his life traveling to warmer climates, outliving his disease for much longer than anticipated, writing his masterpieces in a race against time. In 1904, while staying at a health spa in Germany the disease caught up. In between coughing blood and a delirious fever, he sat up, drank champagne and told his wife: “I am dying”. Then he turned on his side and passed.
Raymond Carver’s short story “Errand” narrates his death in fascinating and truthful detail. You can read it in The New Yorker Archives June 1st, 1987 issue.
He left behind an impressive body of work, changing playwriting, literature, acting and theatre history forever. His characters, trapped in deep desolation within their silent misfortunes, speak up for his tremendous sensibility and concern for humanity’s role in modernism.
“You often complain to me that people “don’t understand” you. But even Goethe and Newton made no such complaints. Christ did, true, but he was talking about his doctrine, not his ego. People understand you all too well. If you don’t understand yourself, then it’s nobody else’s fault.” Letter to his brother, 1896 .
The Lascaux Review is a literary online journal that publishes short stories, poetry and essays from emerging and established writers and authors. They conduct annual short story, flash fiction and poetry contests. I recently braved up and entered their Flash Fiction Contest Lascaux 250 – The premise is to write a story in 250 words or less and they give you a picture as a prompt.
I didn’t win…:(
BUT! I wrote a nice little piece and got to read hundreds of other great stories. The winning story: “Counting” by Jodi Barnes, haunted me for days. You can read it here: lascauxflash.com
I would have edited more… I would have used better sentences … I would have… I would have…. but sometimes, no matter how protective or insecure I could be about my writing or my stories… sometimes, the need to let them go overpowers me.
Getting images out of my head and into words, is one of the most fascinating and arduous activities that I have ever attempted. Luckily, it is the fascinating part that always wins.
I don’t write because I have something incredibly important to say or because I can say it better, I write because the loneliness of a blank page incites me to reconsider the obvious, to transform the emptiness of any ordinary day trying to reach out to the ethereal meanings of life.
I write because I would be too lonely if I leave that page forever blank. I’d be isolated from my divinity and too crowded on my inside if I couldn’t use words to make up a world, a person, a glimpse of humanity …
Here’s “Free At Last” – The prompt was this picture.
#50 Free At Last
by Mariana Santangelo
The first time that I tried to end it, Isabel cut her face with a razor. She said that she needed to rend her skin, vibrate in physical pain to ease her heartache. I ended up pleading for forgiveness and implored her to take me back. This time around, I would follow the Three Golden Rules of Break Up that my roommate had trained me on and I would remain unattached, especially to my own emotions. Rule #1: A neutral place. I asked her to meet me at The Blue House. Rule #2: Honesty Technically impossible with Isabel. Some women cannot handle honesty. Rule #3: Don’t let it linger. Precise words. Crucial. I showed up early, made my way through the bar, gulped down a double Scotch and plodded through the lengthy hallway reclaiming my bravery. I sat on the blue chair by the window. I recognized her worn out combat boots as she stepped down the stairs; her bare, scrawny legs storming down erratically. She stood by me looking frail, drunk and broken. Beautiful for a moment. “Where were you?” “I got a drink at the bar. I thought I was early.” “You are late. Too late…” She walked away as in a numb stupor. Down from her leather jacket’s sleeves, two strings of blood framed her steps. As she walked along the white and blue tiles, leaving her life behind with a crimson trail, we were both released from her turbid snare and the agony of her existence.
As I watch Disney’s precarious sense of womanhood evolve, I am finding deeper messages in fairy tales. Like “sacred texts”containing symbolism and moral meaning, they seem to speak to our unconscious selves, our primal minds, with precise imagery and universal morals.
Fairy tales – like folk tales – are charged with popular wisdom. A wisdom that doesn’t necessarily come from a God, a saint or a myth, but from the deepest parts of the collective human psyche. They are in a sense, humanity’s practical way of understanding the meaning of life and death, the inevitability of change, the presence of danger and the despair of tragedy. They aim at deciphering two fundamental concerns from the beginning of times: Why do we suffer? Why is there evil in this world?
The Bible, the Torah, The Quran, the Vedas, among thousands of thousands of sacred, mythological and religious texts, have delved into these two questions. And so do Fairy Tales. Over and over in every single one of them, the quest for happiness, the transcendence of the human spirit through hardship and the face of evil, emerge with the simplest of morals: growing up in this world is dangerous and it hurts, but if you navigate the dark forests with integrity and a pure heart, you can achieve happiness. Virtue pays off.
Folk and later on fairy tales, were about teaching people – especially children going into adolescence, how to deal with necessities, passions, fears, selfishness, jealousy, sexuality and social behavior, maintaining a moral order. They tackled the need of children to adapt to the social world while navigating complex, psychological problems such as Oedipal conflicts, narcism, frustration, dependency and sibling rivalry. Because of these aspects of the fairy tale, both Piaget and Jung considered fairy tales to have a therapeutic effect on children.
“Hansel and Gretel” – Reflects upon incest and cannibalism. It originated in the Middle Ages, when famines were frequent and cannibalism a very real danger. But like “Little Red Riding Hood”, it is also a story of cautionary awareness for children. At a time when orphans were a common population within communities, people took to themselves to “socially raise” these children, to fit into society (A practice humanity has seemed to have forgotten unfortunately) and used these folk tales to address growing up issues.
“Cinderella” – (originally a Chinese tale from the 9th century hence the importance of small feet to preserve virtue) is the quintessential fairy tale story. Even though the magic of the tale presents us with the optimism of believing that dreams do come true, Cinderella is actually about low self-esteem and dealing with – very common in childhood feelings of unworthiness. In the original story, Cinderella doesn’t sit and cry in rags, waiting for a Fairy Godmother. She goes to her mother’s tomb and reconnects with the time in her life when she was “loved”, when she was “appreciated” and this gives her the strength to overcome and “come out from the ashes”. She takes HERSELF to the ball, not once, but three times. The first night dressed in silk, the second in silver and the third in gold. Each night, leaving before midnight, each time being more desirable to the Prince. She finds her own value in this ritual and the more she values herself, the more the Prince values her. (Take THAT Walt Disney!) Cinderella addresses sibling rivalry, helping children cope with secret fears that parents love their siblings more. Children undergoing sibling issues, experience feelings of unworthiness and dirtiness and Cinderella serves as a vehicle for catharsis.
“Sleeping Beauty” – My least favorite fairy tale as a child. But now, as I became a woman, a mother and a wife, leaving my adolescent self behind, I see the importance of this tale, that addresses the sacred feminine and the “beautiful” cycle in a woman’s life.
From baby to girl, to young lady to woman. A flower that blooms for the sole purpose of reflecting the beauty of life. A flower that blooms to give life. The pricking of the finger, symbolizes the coming of menstruation. The time a girl becomes a woman. Originally, the fairies giving gifts to baby Aurora (from the latin word for “dawn”) were 12. Like the 12 months of the year and the 12 years it takes for a girl to have her first bleeding. The king wouldn’t invite a 13 fairy because of the bad omen, so the snubbed fairy turned evil. Enter: Maleficent, who curses the child to prick her finger and fall into a deep hundred years sleep, a sleep she would only be awaken from by the kiss of a prince who comes in true love. The witch is not cursing Aurora only, she is cursing the king by not letting him have a descendant. A clear moral to young beautiful girls, who menstruate at the ages of 12 to 13, that when the time comes to find love, they should remain pure and chaste and wait for true love to share the reproductive powers of menstruation.
Once Upon a Time- an indicator that the story is not to be taken literary, that the core moral of the story is the message to learn, but at the same time, that the story did happen “once” and if it did, then it can happen again.
Forests- forests in fairy tales evoke our inner world, conscious and unconscious, our deepest emotions. Forests are a representation of the darkness one has to overcome to evolve as human beings: the ultimate meaning of existence.
Witches, Evil Stepmothers and the Like– there are many theories regarding the evil sorcerers, narcissistic, cannibalistic witches in fairy tales. My first reaction to these, was that it seems as if evil is always represented as women in fairy tales, but when you look into the complete works of the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Anderson, you see that there are a lot of lesser knowns stories, where sometimes, not that many, but sometimes, evil characters are men, wolves, etc. Witches and the figure of the sorcerer is an ancient archetype of the female personality. One that is not easy to unravel and would take a whole blog post of its own, but the idea that a woman has secret powers or a “6th sense”, which can turn dangerous when she is wronged or angry … is a well-known archetype that we all got to witness at one point or another. But the moral in these characters lies in the fact that they are evil because their motives are selfish, narcissistic and materialistic. In Jungian psychology, the witches symbolize the destructive power of our unconscious. They are in the story telling us that if we go for the wrong motives, if we let our fear, passion, narcissism, greed posses us, those can destroy us.
What if you were a small town peasant, born out of marriage, at a time when being an illegitimate offspring was the same as having been born to a prostitute with ties to the devil? What if you jumped on a train and moved to the big city and became an actress, at a time when being an actress meant that you were – pure and simple – a prostitute… but, you don’t care about that anymore, because you come from a town where you were doomed to be a prostitute WITH ties to the Devil, anyway? What if you made it in the big city and met this charismatic-socialist-well spoken-handsome man with the destiny of a world leader? Well… I bet in those circumstances, by that time, you would have the balls to slip a piece of paper with your phone number and insinuate your availability for a tete-a-tete. … Or maybe not. But, that is what Eva Duarte (later Peron) did and that was the single moment that changed her life forever. A life that would divide a country, touch idolatry and be the target of passionate hatred, fostering enigmas and doing it all with the style of an icon. Broadway musical filled with errors included…
Evita – as she was called by her followers and then, by the rest of the world was born Eva Duarte on May 7th, 1919 in a small town called Los Toldos, 200 miles and a different planet away from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her father was a wealthy rancher from a nearby city with a family of his own and her mother, Juana, a poor country woman who sewed clothes for neighbors. Stigmatized as “the bastards”, Eva and her brother Juan, were ill-treated by their father’s wealthy family and thrown out of his funeral, in an act of cruelty that would scar Eva for the rest of her life. Her hatred for the rich and aristocrats can be traced back to that single event. In the midst of the harsh reality of a poor peasant bastard, Eva still dreamt with acting and being in movies and even though the circumstances are confusing and shrouded in secrecy as to how she did it, she did make it to the big city to pursue her dream of acting. She faced difficulties and extreme poverty, but made it into the theatre and eventually became a radio personality.
Enter Juan Domingo Peron. A high ranked colonel, he was the Minister of Labor and in the summer of 1944, he was organizing an “artistic fundraising gala” for the victims of a devastating earthquake, that had hit a far western province of Argentina. At this gala, Eva and Juan met. He was 48 years old and a widower, she was 24 and her past, already so heavy on her shoulders, that it had to be rewritten for different purposes from then on. She became his mistress, at a time when a politician wouldn’t even dream of being photographed next to an actress with a dubious past. It was a meeting of two controversial, passionate visionaries, who needed of one another to change the course of history. Peron had found what he later called his: “second “I”. Eva had met her destiny and was cast in the role of a lifetime. For his leap of faith in her, Eva would work herself out for Peron and enthrall the masses to his worship.
Her true nature, her metaphor and legacy, was work. Work validated her. Work was her cause. She worked tirelessly. She worked herself to death, some said. She found a religion within the confusing and cynical hallways of politics, a game she learned how to change. A game change that would bring her the adoration of thousands and thousands of poor working class people like herself, who proclaimed her a saint (and they meant it) as well as the ardent hatred of the right-wing upper classes, who claimed she was a “whore” and an evil manipulator of masses (and they meant it too).
Either way: She did change the course of history, even though, her megalomania and paranoid control of affairs, caught her wearing expensive designer clothes and indulging in vanity, she did turn the tables on the country’s politics forever.
She didn’t only get women’s vote approved, but she also engaged them in politics by creating the Women Peronist Party. When not invited, as it was traditionally expected for a First Lady, to lead the Women’s Society of Beneficence, because its aristocratic members didn’t approve of her background and past, Eva cut the government funding for the Society and created the Eva Peron Foundation, instead. With that money and more, raised in tireless “fundraising opportunities”, where she is said to have forced donations from the rich, she helped the unemployed, the homeless and the poor. She worked 22 hour days. She organized unions, created laws that protected children born outside of marriage, campaigned for civil right equality in marriage, legal job rules and regulations, she helped passed a law for free and mandatory elementary schools throughout the country and many more social and minority oriented laws, as she inaugurated hospital after hospital and school after school. All this, while fighting against the aristocratic class, dealing with political conspiracies within her own house. Her passion was such that it surpassed her gender and even her own principles, turning her into a tyrant towards those who opposed her and her views. Her almost mystical belief in the working class’s need for her, was the card she played against any obstacle, no matter who had to die, go to jail or leave the country on the way. But her power became too dangerous and when asked by the unions and the citizens to run as Vice President in Peron’s second term campaign, she had to resign the honor, forced by the strong opposition of the military, the congress and Peron’s fear to lose support. In her speech to turn down the Vice Presidency, tears of impotence break her voice and she can be seen crying on Peron’s shoulder. She was loosing her battle with cancer and with the opposition. In her weakest moment, defeated by her enemies, she tells the people over and over, to stand against Peron’s enemies, the enemies of the poor, her enemies…
But every human saint has to have a dark side, right? Evita’s demagogic idea of justice, her lavish lifestyle and dress code or her brutal hatred for whoever opposed her, are a child’s game compared to her (and Peron’s) foreign policy. A policy based as much in nationalism and megalomania as in unscrupulous greed. Now, many decades later and when almost anyone that can be held accountable has died, documents of her ties to fascism and Nazism are being released. Documents that recount her well publicized trip to Spain, where she bonded with Franco and her not so well publicized trip to Italy, France and Switzerland. These documents describe her negotiations to help Nazis “emigrate” in safety to Argentina in exchange for their looted treasures. Treasures that were owned by unnamed jewish victims and war torn european citizens, with which many Nazi’s paid for their escape from justice and a new life in South America.
Eva died when she was 33 in 1952, at the very top of her popularity, consumed by uterine cancer and a possible inept doctor. She weighed 36 kilos (some 80 lbs) and kept a working desk, a radio, daily newspapers and microphones to give out speeches in her deathbed until the very end. The sadness of those who loved her was unbearable and they demanded sainthood for “Evita” to calm the desolation. Peron was said to have been devastated and some very intimate household workers saw him crying by her side at the time she passed. But he was a mastermind politician nonetheless, and saw the need to preserve her image for those who cried for her and voted for him, hypnotized by Evita’s passion. So, he decided to embalm her body. He called on renowned Spaniard pathologist Dr. Ara, a man whose work on embalmed bodies was famous around the world. Dr. Ara worked on her body for the State Funeral, but is said to have worked on it for more than a year after that. In his dairies, he recounts how he extracted her blood and replaced it with alcohol and after that with glycerine and paraffin wax, to preserve the body with all its organs and the skin’s translucency. He was paid $100,000 and nervously guarded the body until Peron would transfer it to a mausoleum in her honor.
A State Funeral that lasted for days was organized and the nation cried by the mummified body of their “Saint Evita”. The silence of those who hated her, was what built the macabre story that came ahead. Expressions of hatred were heard in the palaces and estancias of the rich. The middle class, who opposed her, made their views heard as well, and graffiti reading: “Long Live Cancer!” were scattered throughout Buenos Aires. In the 1955 military coup they had their chance to spit on the memory of Evita and see Peron in exile. “Peronism” was banned, the image of Evita removed from every household, school or hospital. Peron escaped to Spain before finishing a mausoleum for Eva’s memory, where her body would be placed and her memory honored for centuries. Instead, the military dictators took the body from Dr. Ara’s hands and hid it, afraid to bury it and to exhibit it. Afraid to raise fanatics against the regime. Afraid of Eva even more than when she was alive. The next chapter is obscure and macabre. It involves necrophilia and the tragic death of everyone who ever handled the corpse.
When the news of the body’s disappearance broke, hundreds of citizens, union workers, women and children took the streets appalled by the sacrilege of disturbing Evita’s eternal sleep, claiming for the return of the body. The de facto President Aramburu, who had given the order to take the mummified corpse, afraid of the people’s fury, went back on his orders and the men who had taken it were stranded in hiding, never to be contacted by the president again. Strange happenings were reported. Everywhere the body was hid, candles and flowers showed up mysteriously, as if some fervent admirer of Evita was following them. The major in charge of the body, Colonel Koering took to drinking and was said to be “in love” with the dead Eva and went into long rants against “the bitch”, that alternated with sexual infatuation with whom he called “my woman”. His behavior was so out of control, that it got back to the president’s ears, who immediately took him off duty and put someone else in charge of the corpse. This new colonel, not knowing what else to do with “the hot potato”, shipped it to Italy. When officials in Italy opened the wooden box to corroborate that it was, in fact, the body of Eva Peron, they all fell to their knees, yelling “Milacoro! Milacoro!”. It took several minutes for the Argentinean commission to convince them that it was only Eva’s body with a masterful mummification makeover…..
From then on, it is not clear what happened to Eva’s corpse. In the early 70’s the military dictatorship was failing. The “peronists” were back and in a revolutionary episode that touches terrorism, they kidnaped and killed president Aramburu. Peron was to return to Argentina, claimed by the people as the new president. In an attempt to regain peace, he asked the Montoneros (extreme peronists – armed- but peronists) for Aramburu’s body; in exchange, he would be granted Evita’s body for proper burial.
A few more years went by. Peace tried. Peron died. His third wife, Isabel, another actress – now allowed to be Vice President, but not the shadow of who Evita was – kept the body. A new military dictatorship, with an even deadlier agenda came along. In 1976, before they massacred 30,000 civilians and anhiliated the country’s civil rights, they buried Eva Peron’s body at the Recoleta Cemetry. It is buried 8 feet under. Sealed in marble and forever in mystery.
Eva wrote her autobiography. An invention of her politically correct self, but a passionate exposition of her philosophy and legacy.
Another book on her life, death and the journey of her body, was written by and argentinean journalist and author Tomas Eloy Martinez in 1995. “Santa Evita” tells another part of Eva’s world wide known Cinderella story. An epitaph if you wish. The fictionalized, yet well researched, story of her embalmed stolen body, that was said to carry a curse and was smuggled halfway around the world, before it was properly buried 20 years after her death. The grotesque episode involves politicians, military officials and thugs from three countries. It was even suspected that it is not really Evita’s body the one that rests in the famous Recoleta Cementery, in Buenos Aires, where every year thousands of tourists come for a glimpse.