Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The REAL lifestyles of the rich and famous

Currently, I am reading a wonderful book, The Biography of Versailles, which gives accounts of the life of the estate, the workings of protocol, the advance of courtiers in a ridiculously detailed and tiered system. The Court, or the collection of nobles serving the King (Louis XIV, in this case), included delightful assignments like bringing the King's shirt to him in the morning when he was to get out of bed and get dressed. Another lucky noble might bring him his walking stick or ceremonial sword. But some had the sad task of delivering and then emptying the royal chamber pot (and that was an honor, if you can believe it). Even a man was "employed" to hold a candle while the King god each night. My! And, the King did not take off his wig until the bed drapes were closed, so that he wouldn't ruin his majestic image. Talk about vanity!

On staff was a gardener, an architect, a maître d'hôtel who arranged accommodations for the visiting nobles, cooks, food tasters, dog handlers for the hunting dogs, two stables and stable staff (one for coaches; one for hunting), chapel attendant. The list goes on and on.

It's fascinating to image the lifestyle. Of course, today we have celebrities who think they're royalty, but this was the real deal.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

One Man's Garbage

I was recently reading an article about a Victorian-era find of garbage, and what it revealed. It was mentioned that "rooting around in personal trash  dumps allows license to excavate a narrative about a specific family. You can work out what sort of illnesses they had, what sorts of luxuries they enjoyed. You can match the objects to the people."
How true that it! So I decided to look into the 18th Century garbage can, as it were. Following Industrialization and urban growth, the buildup of waste in the cities and its management became more and more difficult to tend to. Streets, for instance in London, became choked with filth, with poor clearance regulations. Calls for the establishment of waste removal began in 1751 for the health and well-being of the citizens. It was proposed by Corbyn Morris that city cleaning would be put into one public management system, the waste conveyed to the Thames River.
The first occurrence of an organized system appeared, with waste collection established around the "dust yards", the "dust" being coal ash, which had a market value for brick-making and soil improver. Dust-contractors recovered  100% of the residual wastes remaining after readily saleable items and materials had been removed by the informal sector in the streets ('rag-and-bone men'). Kind of a recycle of product.
But cities were filled with horses and their waste material. Raw sewage ran through the streets. People threw waste out their windows from chamber pots, and fruits, vegetables, spoiled meats were left out in the street to rot. What a different picture, when we love to romanticize about a sweet little muse on a London square! Butcher stalls in the marketplace featured the "lovely" sight of entrails scattered on the pavement.
I read once account stating, "In 18th-century London, water was delivered to the city's residents through hollowed-out tree trunks running beneath the streets. Wealthier customers could buy spring water from private companies, but most residents used the sluggish, murky water of the Thames. Like many European rivers, the Thames was both the source of the city's drinking water and the repository of its discharge. It was also crowded with boats and barges, since it served as the city's main thoroughfare for commercial shipping. No attempt was made to filter the water or protect it from pollution until the middle of the 19th-century." No wonder a huge gin craze swept over London!
The sewers in London were designed to carry rainwater rather than sewage, and the pipes were poorly constructed at that!
Basically, it's not easy to find trash left behind considering the urban landscape, but at Fort Williams in Lochaber, Scotland, in 2007 a treasure trove of domestic waste was found, which included fragments of wine bottles, pottery, clay pipes and buttons! The pipes were generally long in shape, and allowed a cooler smoke, but broke more easily so they were often just thrown away after use. There are many to be found, equivalent to smoking a cigarette and tossing away the butt wherever. Nothing's changed here. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fate of the Flora

I recently read a very interesting account of the Versailles gardens, and it prompts me to look in to those gardens during the 18th Century.

Of course, the land at Versailles as a long history. They cover nearly 2,000 acres, but during the time of Louis XIV, a goodly portion was transformed into formal gardens in the French style, which was perfected by Andre Le Notre, who became the King's landscape artist, planning special areas to suit the King's taste with bosquets of various themes. Bosquets, from the Italian word "bosco" or grove, are formal plantations of trees with walkways or paths of gravel or stone.

Upon the King's death in 1715, the palace and gardens entered into a time of uncertainty, and by 1722, the new Louis, the XV, reeled in the funds for non-essential things, including the gardens. The only significant addition to the Gardens was the Bassin de Neptune, built from 1738-1741. Louis VX was an avid botanist, and devoted most of his attention to an botanical garden on site. Botanical gardens generally have scientific, educational or ornamental purpose. But the King fell ill with small pox and died in 1774, and along with this death came the death of the formal garden in preference of a more natural, rambling landscape that the English garden offers.

But owing to the topography of the land, the attempts to convert Le Notre's work to an English garden failed. Louis XVI ordered palisades, the labor-intensive clipping of hedges that formed walls in the bosquets, to be replaced with lime and chestnut trees. He also had therotte des Bains d'Appolon built, a rockwork in the English style, designed by his landscaper, Hubert Robert.

In 1792 by order of the National Convention, a political assembly formed during the French Revolution, some of the trees at Versailles were felled, while some parts of the Grand Parc were parceled off and dispersed. Louis Claude Marie Richard, director of the botanical gardens, lobbied to save Versailles. He succeeded in preventing further dispersing, suggesting to use the gardens to grow vegetables and fruits for "the people". The gardens became open to the public, with people seen doing their laundry in the fountains! For shame, but as they say, c'est la vie!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Off with this Head?

Alas, poor William, I knew him, Horatio......well, at least when he was alive and well and had a head on his shoulders!!

Recently a team of archaeologists were claiming that William Shakespeare's head was probably stolen from his grave, where he was buried in Stratford-upon-on, in England. They have stated that in 1794, supposedly, trophy hunters took the head as somewhat of a prize. Kind of interesting to have the head of a genius in one's possession. Though the story of his missing head was long ago discredited,  new radar technological studies may prove the story needs further investigation.

Lead archaeologist Kevin Colls, of Staffordshire University, told The Guardian, British newspaper. "It was very obvious, within all the data we were getting, that there was something different going on at that particular spot. We have concluded it is signs of disturbance, of material being dug out and put back again."

Shakespeare, oddly enough, has an inscription on his grave that reads, "Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones." Who wants to play around with a threat like that? Look what happened with those who disturbed King Tut! The vicar of the Holy Trinity Church says that though he is not convinced of the grave robbery theory, church has no plans to allow an exhumation. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Taste worth Acquiring

With St. Patrick's Day approaching, I wanted to look into 18th Century Ireland, and one of is most important national treasures! And what might that be? Well, its Guinness Stout! Though of as the "national" drink of Ireland, it brings the Irish together, with both men and women enjoying it, with rich and poor wanting a glass, said to have health properties, and administered in hospitals at one time as a source of vitamins!

The brewery's founder was Arthur Guinness, son of a land steward, who was employed by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Cashel. Arthur most have made an impression on the cleric, because, upon his death, he left Arthur 100 pounds in his will! In 1755 Arthur invested the money in a brewery in Leixlip, and partnered up with his brother Richard.

By 1758, Arthur moved to Dublin to brew beer. He signed a 9,000 lease on St. James' gate Brewery for pounds per year. He was so successful that in 1766 he was named the master of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers.

In 1761 he married Olivia Whitmore, and had 21 children with her! Ten survived.
IN 1788 Guinness began producing a dark Porter beer, and had outlets for sale throughout all of Ireland. They say that during the Napoleonic Wars the sale of his Porter increased three-fold. The darker beer was so successful, that lighter ales were dropped.

During the political unrest in the 1790's, he was at odds with the United Irishmen because he supported the Union of Great Britian, and there was talk of a boycott of his black protestant beer. Arthur lived from 1725 - 1803, and was not only an entrepreneur but a philanthropist too.

His family is still held in the highest regard, and known for their charitable works done for their employees, Dubliners and Ireland in general. His descendents have been mayors of Dublin, baronets and peers. DNA testing reveals that the family is closely related to a branch of the MacCartin clan, in the baroney of Kinelarty.

This St. Paddy's Day, don't forget to raise a glass of Guinness. It's got wonderful particular flavor, said to be an acquired taste. I think it's a taste worth the acquiring.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Worthy Woman!

This week has been International Women's Week. In this day and age, personally, I don't see the need, but I guess some women still want to make a point. Nevertheless, I did see an interesting article about the so-called "female Paul Revere". Her name: Sybil Ludington. She lived from 1761 to 1839, but her most proud moment was her evening ride of over 40 miles  (more than twice Paul Revere's journey) to warn her father's militia that British solders were coming!

This is how it went down: In 1777, Someone had come to warn the Ludington's of looting going on in Danbury, Connecticut. The 16 year old Sybil sprung into action, volunteering to rouse the scattered militia. She rode from 9pm that night until daybreak with a stick in hand to ward off bandits. Though the militia was too late to save the town of Danbury, they helped drive the British back to their ships. General Washington thanked her personally. In 1935, a statue was erected in her honor in Carmel, NY.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What's in a Name?!

Recently we have been appalled, or at least should be, at the lengths to which negative campaigning has gained momentum in this year's political campaigns, especially on the Grand Old Party's side. It's been likened to school yard bullying, with juvenile name-calling, i.e. big ears, sweating like a pig, peeing in his pants, and on and on. You would think we are trying to elect six-year-olds. Being a long-time conservative, I am beyond saddened.

But I looked into the name-calling phenomenon, and actually it goes way back, and it was just as ugly, though we have the benefit of social media and television to further it along. Monarchies have been bashed, but out own country, going as far back as Washington's time, the mudslinging was on full display, and the political elite were not beyond calling poor old John Adams, "His Rotundity". Today, we'd call that fat-shaming.  

IN 1796 Alexander Hamilton, under the pen name "Phocion" (he didn't even use his real name), attacked Thomas Jefferson on the pages of the Gazette of the United States, a prominent Philadelphia Federalist-leaning newspaper. He resorted to the dirty politics of personal behavior, claiming that Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves. (Of course, it was true), but he went on to say that Jefferson was a "coward" and that "Mr. Hamilton was a pillar of virtue". Ahhh, remember bid Bill Clinton and his time under the Oval Office desk!

Adams said if Jefferson was elected, the country would descend into civil war, with the freeing of the slaves, and the implication that Jefferson was an atheist. Adams said Jefferson's supporters were “cut-throats who walk in rags and sleep amid filth and vermin.” Jefferson liked the personal, physical trait insult, calling Adams “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams.” Geez...these were men we have immortalized as statesmen!

By Andrew Jackson's election, a bit later on, handbills accused Jackson of being a cannibal after the massacre of 500 Indians, “the blood thirsty Jackson began again to show his cannibal propensities, by ordering his Bowman to dress a dozen of these Indian bodies for his breakfast, which he devoured without leaving even a fragment.”

Don't get me wrong, it doesn't make any excuse for today's bad behavior. You would think we have gone beyond these tactics, but I guess not. That's why it's so easy to see why folks choose to stay home on election day, but that's not good either. It's our right, our privilege , our duty to have our say. We may not like the choice, but we do have it, even if we have to resort to writing in a name on our election day ballot!

Friday, February 19, 2016

A New Kind of Swan

Last night I watched a wonderful program, PBS's Independent Lens, which featured a documentary about Misty Copeland, ABT's, (American Ballet Theatre's) principal ballerina, crowned  on June 30, 2015. But the most striking thing about her coronation is that Misty the first African American woman to be promoted to principal dancer in ABT's 75-year history.
It's quite an achievement when you think that the most compelling image we generally have of the ballerina is the White Swan from Swan Lake. And, indeed, the ABT and every major ballet company in history has thought that until now!
How lovely to see that someone can be acknowledged on their merit rather than their race, or nationality, or particular look. I find it so inspiring, as the ballet has always been close to my heart.

When I was little, my Mom took me to start lessons, as this was her passion from a little girl, and with that love of the art in mind, she took me to see what it was like. Though I loved it in general, I was too scared, too shy to try. I was about 5 or 6, and I cried my way out of it. Understanding me, she did not say you must, and so we left. It was not until much later, that I tried again, more as a form of exercise, and I found it a wonderful, ethereal experience, but now I was too old to pursue it seriously. And so, watching Misty last night, I thought I would look at Ballet in the 18th Century.

Of course, Ballet is a type of performance art that originated in the Italian Renaissance court in the 15th Century, with technique and a vocabulary all its own based in French. But by the 18th Century, the ballet had moved from the royal court to the Paris Opera, with the director Lully preserving the form, but moving it forward to a much larger spectacle with choreography and costuming that liberated the dancer. This also was the point in time (no pun intended) that pointework came into fashion: Wearing the heel-less shoe, with the box toe that you could stand on, known as the demi-pointe.

The mid-18th Century dancer Marie Camargo of the Paris Opera Ballet was the first to hear these shoes, making her able to leap and twirl like never before. Eventually after the French Revolution, the shoe further evolved into the shoe we know today, secured by ribbons and incorporating pleats under the toes to enable dancers to fully extend their feet. It's truly a beautiful and graceful look. But it is not without cost, and I don't mean dollars. Years of physical abuse do take toll on the foot's shape. But I think every ballerina would say it's worth it.

Interestingly enough, the first dancers to get up on toe did so with an invention designed by Charles Didelot in 1795. His "flying machine" pointe shoes helped lift dancers up with on their toes before leaving the ground. The look was so airy that choreographers started looking for more ways to employ the technique in the performances.

By the way, my Mom kept her old "flying machines" and one day gave them to my daughter to keep, because she too loves the ballet.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine's - 18th Century Style

That day of LOVE is coming around again, so I looked into some 18th century information and found the following: 

The Valentine's Day poem can be found in the collection of English nursery rhymes Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784):
The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

Sounds familiar, huh?!

Also, in 1797, "The Young Man's Valentine Writer" was published in England, which held many suggestions for sentimental verse. This was supposed to help out the lovesick, lovelorn, the passionate, the flirtatious, etc. printers had already started producing Valentine stock cards, but there's nothing like a handmade card, with a special, personal greeting.

Personally, I like to receive a personal card, but lately I like to give a Valentine dessert treat. I'm working on that now as a matter of fact, but if it all goes south, I may have to - last minute - resort to an email greeting?? haha
Thank God for the option.

Friday, February 5, 2016

May the Best Man (Woman) Win!

There's a lot of whoopla going what with the upcoming election, and selection of candidates. It's something that has evolved over time into the "circus" that it has become today.

By contrast, here is a bit of a time line for the first US election of a President:

  • July 2, 1788: New Hampshire notified the Continental Congress that it  ratified the constitution. Congress then began making decisions about the formation of a new government.
  • By September 1788: Continental Congress approved a timeline to install the government.
  • In December 1788 to January 1789: Election too k place for an electorate.
  • On January 7, 1789: Electors pledged to George Washington were elected through the nation.
  • In February 1789: The Presidential Electors met in  various states  to cast their electoral vote
  • On February 8, 1789: Messengers left their various states to present their certificates of vote to be read by the first Congress
  • By March 4, 1789: This was the Appointed day to have state votes read in Congress. But, neither the House nor the Senate had a quorum.
  • On March 4, 1789: This was to be the original Inauguration day, but, the electoral votes had not yet been counted, only eight of the 22 Senators and 18 of the 59 Representatives  were present.
  • On April 5, 1789: First day marked a quorum to count the electoral votes. Washington won the Presidency with a unanimous vote,  and John Adams was elected Vice President
  • On April 6, 1789: The Senate ratified the election; a quorum assembles in both houses and a joint session of Congress took place to count the votes.
  • On April 30, 1789: George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in New York City, the nation’s capital at that time.

Simple by contrast to today's elections, but there was some dissention to be noted as time began to pass, and candidates realized the importance of the office and the politics involved. In 1796, the Presidential election was Contested!
Washington had had two terms, and chose not to run again (which was possible then). He actually set the stage for the nation's first two party election! This election would test the system, and whether the government was by, of and for the people, in actuality.

Two main contenders for the office campaigned vigorously, establishing a political battle that would last through the next election of 1800. Two main issues were views on constitutional government and foreign policy. The French Revolution had its say within the United States, with John Adams and his party, the Federalists, supporting the Jay Treaty. Thomas Jefferson and the "anti-Federalists" who would later be the conservatives, opposed the treaty because it favored the British.The Federalist did not want to support the French because they did not want another costly war with Britain. The Jeffersonian party on the other hand felt that it was the duty of the United States to support the French because of the French assistance during the American Revolution.

The bulk of  campaigning took place in the newspapers. Adams had won the election by only 3 votes and Thomas Jefferson, who finished second, automatically became vice-president.The election of 1796 had exposed an inherent flaw in the Electoral College System. The Electors voted on one ballot with two names on it. The candidate, who had the most votes, won the election. The candidate who had the second most votes became the vice president. 

Can you imagine if that occurred today? Imagine if Trump won and Hilary became VP; or She won, and Cruz was her Veep, or Sanders won and Rubio was the 2nd man!? Or what if someone is drafted at the about Joe Biden and Jeb Bush?

Seriously, though, perhaps it's not a bad idea after all. They would be forced to work together, across the aisle as they say!  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Burns and Mozart: a January celebration!

Let's not let January go by without giving a nod to Robert Burns and Wolfgang Mozart. On January 25, 1759 the great Robert Burns was born, and on January 27, 1752, Mozart entered this world. Two creative geniuses: one literary, the other musical.
And, the world of fine arts would never have been the same without them.

Burns, a Scotsman, was a poet and lyricist, regarded as the national poet of Scotland, writing over 500 poems!
Wolfgang, our famous German composer, wrote, in various forms, including symphonies, concerti, sonatas, church music, operas, dances, marches, over 600 works.

Over the years, the celebration of Burns birthday has become a bit of a thing of its own. Known as the Burns Supper, there is the piping in of the guests, the host's welcome speech, the Selkirk Grace prayer, the soup course, haggis course (which receives its own piping in), the main course, toasts and more toasts, an address to the lassies present, a reply to the laddies present, and the hearing of some of Burns' work.  Wow!

Poor Wolfgang only receives our thanks individually, if someone choses to remember. I, for once, choose to make an evening of it with my friends, having German food, and a Sacher torte for dessert, though this year we are combining the two "events" and including a Scotch tasting. I think Wolfgang would have approved of this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Eyes have It!

January 10 marked the death of David Bowie, famous musician/performer. He was 69, and was really was the first to explore music, particularly rock music, as performance art, and hence "glam rock" was born. He sang, played guitar and composed some very catchy tunes over his 40 year career, but it was his unique and rather otherworldly quality to his voice and appearance that set him apart. He was truly one of a kind. Regarding his appearance, he donned outlandish and even futuristic type clothing which he changed like a chameleon over the span of his popularity, but there was also something about his physical appearance that gave him an "alien-like" quality. Yes, he was thin, tall and pale, but it was his eyes that were mystical and magical. They appeared to be of two different colors, one blue, one brown or at least very dark. But that was not it. He had a condition as a result of an injury, called anisocoria, that resulted in a difference in the size of his pupils.

Historically, Around 200 AD, Galen likened the iris to an elastic circular ring that was passively inflated or deflated by vital spirits sent from the brain to enhance vision. It was not until the first half of the 18th century that it became widely accepted that iris movement and pupil size were due to active interaction of 2 iris muscles: a longitudinal radial dilator and a circular sphincter muscle.

Unusual physical traits have always been fascinating. Some are repulsive, but some are mesmorizing, like Bowie's eyes. Eyes, as they say, are the windows to the soul, and anything odd or different about them can create suspicion, adoration, or obsession, or a definition of beauty depending on the era.

In the 18th Century, the women of Georgian high society looked beautiful in their satins and silks, but they hardly ever bathed.  Sanitation was still quite crude and they preferred to douse their clothes, their bodies and their belongings in toilet waters and perfumes. They wore scented pomanders and carried small scent bottles about their person.  They had false teeth, false hair, false bosoms, false calves and induced large eyes which they made to falsely dilate by using Belladonna extracted from the Deadly Nightshade plant.  They were a walking deception.By the way, from Latin, bella donna means 'fair lady', perhaps from the use of its juice to add brilliance to the eyes by dilating the pupils.