Le Bal Black & White

1966: Truman Capote, prodigious writer much celebrated on his mother-continent,  throws a party that instantly has him conquer the lavish high society worldwide, a ball whose promise of superlatives makes invitations paramount concerns of elites across both America and Europe (no wonder he gathered 5 thousand friends but gained 15 thousand enemies when anyone known as someone vied for a possibility to attend).

The New York Plaza Hotel, meticulously decorated, reaches its zenith.

After a period of seclusion dedicated to laborious preparations, Capote returns with repetitive “I’m beside myself! Beside myself!” to take it over and welcome the masqued guests nevertheless recognized by the photographs galore who fenced in the red carpet.

party

Glittering names as those of Frank Sinatra, Cecil Beaton, Mia Farrow, Jacqueline de Ribes, Oscar de la Renta, Marlene Dietrich, Maharajah and Maharani of Jaipur,  Vivien Leigh, Shirley MacLaine,Baroness Cecile de Rothschild, Baron and Baroness Guy de Rothschild, Mr and Mrs John Steinbeck, Andy Warhol, Tennessee Williams and even the expatriated Duke and Duchess of Windsor figured on the privileged guest list. It was indeed the egocentric celebration of a silver age, a kaleidoscope of savory juxtapositions of class, titles, secular manners and social status to garrison the last remnants of decadence.

Half the Hall of Fame and Best Dressed list attended Capote’s hubristic feast in the most mesmerizing costumes possible (note: I’m far from resorting to hyperbole for that depiction)…

If in Truman’s shoes, is there anyone you would’ve coveted to see there but was not, caught in various circumstances, able to come?

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As most of us, desolate singles, keep complaining there’s no person out there fitted for us , no suited pair to cast away our solitude or lust, thus having to endure massive hopelessness and subsequent depression, I thought I could write an amusing post about two gentle giants (yes, you read well: giants) who’ve found love against the odds.

In the time when future Queen Victoria was still a young Douchess over-protected by her mother, Kentucky registers record the birth of Martin Van Buren Bates (1837-1919), an average infant from a normal-sized family, who suddenly, with no motive whatsoever, developed into one 7 feet 9 inches (2.36 m) tall man due to an accelerated growth spurt which evidently astounded his parents and the small community where they lived. Mayday! mayday!a Gulliver landed in Lilliput!

Parallelly, in a Canadian nest of Scottish immigrants, Anna Haining Swan (1846-1888) first saw the light of day on a mild August noon, peculiarly big for a new-born child with ordinary ancestors (18 punds!).  Throughout her childhood, she proportionally grew up to 8 feet, a stature nobody could have foreseen from a seventeen year old girl whose brilliant intelligence, musical inclinations and acting talent were supposed to award Anna the label of good-match. But she was literally out of every man’s reach, popularly considered more of a circus exhibit than an emotive girl with her sensibilities and issues.

Anna Haining Bates

People were tolerant with Anna’s odd presence and sustained her amiably when she played Lady McBeth or gave a piano concerto, even rescuing her from a fire at Barnum’s museum despite her injuring, from a haste injected by fear,  some men sent to help. After all, she was a tourist attraction in her own right, an iconic figure increasing the flux of  snoopy excursionists who traipsed the streets just so they could describe a meeting with the “Giantess”  and implicitly make profit to the local shops. No wonder Anna was reputedly never bullied, on the contrary, treated kindly, encouragingly.

Remotely happy, she was least contended to have been approved, no, embraced by a society which, if habitually merciless with wierdies whom they reckoned to find exclusively at fairs, in the Victorian Era was the tidiest climate she could have found.

Well, of course she did her share of touring and entertaining curious audiences, at one point succeeding to be invited for private presentations at court, for pretty good money (a five figure number…), while her  preordained Prince Charming, Martin, quitted being a schoolteacher and joined the Confederate Army where he facilely climbed at the rank of captain thanks to his height.

Martin Bates

Faith scheduled their encounter in Halifax: Anna was exceptionally attending a circus spectacle as a mere onlooker when the promoter spotted (such a strenuous job as her head popped up from the crowd…) and instantly hired her to supplement their main “exhibit”.

Little did she know her alleged partner, non other than our Martin (coincidence?), would prove to be her eternal soul mate (not that she had many giants to choose from)… It didn’t take much for love to intervene.  Partly because of their difficult dimensions which diminished the possibility of bumping into a more becoming spouse, partly as a result of Cupid’s arrows, on 17 June 1871, while in London, Reverent Rupert Cochrane united their destinies, and Anna, who had had lost all  hope of ever being somebody’s lawfully wedded wife, became Mrs Bates.

Ocular witness (meaning half the London’s population) confirm Queen Victoria’s presence, who, apart from providing the gown, sent  generous diamond-studded gold watches  of $1,000.00  as gifts, a jeweler projecting them especially to correspond with the unique measures of the couple. Royal favorites indeed.

Martin&Anna

Throughout the 1860’s, Anna and husband Martin crisscrossed Europe with their company, giving adorable representations which drew the endearment of people no matter the country, language or religion. Their broad, sincere smiles and cultivated demeanor were genuine magnets for the flock everywhere.

Returned to America, the Bates continued to oscillate with the circus between the 37 states that time, and, proceeded by their newly acquired fame, made a huge furor. Business was greater than ever and the manager ought to have congratulated himself for employing Anna, back in Halifax. A true success.

the Bates

The couple had 2 children, both unfortunately dead before passing  infancy, one stillborn and one, who presently holds the record for the largest newborn ( 23.12 punds, 30 inches), survived only 11 hours.`”It was on the 19th day of May, 1872, that our first child was born only to die at birth. Doctors Cross and Buckland were the physicians in charge. It was a girl weighing eighteen pounds and being twenty-seven inches tall. This loss affected us both, and by the advice of the doctors I took my wife upon the continent. There we traveled for pleasure, only giving receptions when requested to do so by Royal Command.” says Martin, in his autobiography, about the incident.

Anna Bates

“We journeyed west. While in Ohio, I purchased a farm in Seville, Medina County.”  he pursues. “I built a house upon it designed especially for our comfort. The ceilings have a height of fourteen feet, the doors are eight and one half feet in height. The furniture was all built to order and to see our guests make use of it recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift’s traveler in the land of Brobdignag. I had determined to become a farmer.”

Despite the tragic adventures of having descendants, the colossi lived quite lovely together and, more importantly, they were still in demand, to better or worse.

“My rest was not to last long, for yielding to the soliciations of managers, I consented to again travel. The seasons of 1878, 1879 and 1880 found us leading attractions of the W.W. Cole circus.”

Soon afterwords, though, the two decided they had had enough of both money and celebrity, thus retreating in the coziness of their enormous home for a double family life, far away from the spotlight which had earned their existence the past 20 years. Anna insisted they attend religious services on Sundays at the local Baptist Church she’d joined in 1877, where a pew had to be modified so they could sit adequately. She also taught Sunday School there.

Perhaps that was the happiest period of their relationship, sharing a romantic intimacy and relishing the country life with its simple pleasures.

Sadly, like all good things, it didn’t last much: Anna died one day before her forty-second anniversary, in 1888, succumbed to heart failure.

anna

Martin erected a titanic funeral monument to honor his wife, with a 15 foot Greek Goddess inspired by her dominating upon the tomb, but Anna’s corpse wasn’t placed there at once because of a problem with her coffin, which delayed the burial.

the Bates grave

Despite conjoining with a normal woman, Lavonne, in 1897, and having a peaceful, monotonous marriage, Martin’s true love remained Anna.

bates and wife

Nephritis killed him in 1919 and he was inhumed near her and their children in Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville, Ohio, where they’re supposed to remain together for eternity.

In the end, tell me, what was the chance for two giants, of opposite sexes, to coexist in the same Era and fortuitously meet? Anna was presumed doomed to endure abstinence, yet found a man with which to indulge in the most delightful attachment. Isn’t it like a message from the Providence: there’s-someone-for-everyone type?

You judge.

 

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