August 2, 2013
In my assiduous attempt to provide my intellect with quality lectures favoring the breeding of uncountable thoughts I genuinely consider a chief condition for one’s happiness to achieve substance, I rarely came across spiritual themed books. Mysticism’s not really my cup of tea and reading its adepts has yet to attract me, you should know, but while relishing a dose of Borges’ oral speeches the other day (Borges being quite a brilliant modern mind, if you’d ask my opinion) I became unexpectedly intrigued by the man he was talking about, a certain Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
Swedenborg who? Apparently, the guy was the proud possessor of a brilliant mind which Kant took some time in studying with expressed regrets he could never meet its owner, dead a decade earlier. Reputed scientist for the first half of one of those lives uncommonly long in the not so healthy 18th century (he managed to survive the age of 80), obedient student and offspring of a wealthy Lutheran bishop quite respected by the Swedish King, he was much appreciated himself for researches (truly ahead of his times) on human brain (developing the “neuron” concept barely occurred as an important matter to Swedenborg’s contemporaries), psychology and complex anatomy, although international recognition came with a treaty on similarities between metallurgy and philosophy. Later, he even took some time in designing a flight machine, reaching the sky otherwise than through death being a dream he had in common with da Vinci.
Great variety in preoccupations, do observe.
But not sufficient to conquer historic immortality.
Until Providence generously opened the gates of a new domain Swedenborg could usefully study in a wholly eccentric perspective: theology. Now, how he came to have the transcendent visions on which his following works were heavily based one may effortlessly find on omniscient Wikipedia without my mentioning it, yet I’d like sketching their content as it explains my decision of boring you with this particular Swede.
Upon experiencing an elevating journey of the type Dante made famous worldwide at the end of a swift adjustment, Swedenborg established a few marvelously novel religious ideas definitely surpassing, in context, Rudolph Steiner’s esoteric movement centuries later.
According to him, our souls are directly responsible for their entry in either hell or Paradise since, here goes the surprise, each man is let to decide where to spend his afterlife. Swedenborg explains that, after an interval spent hanging in a neutral zone where angels and demons could freely pass, we are put to chose the place of our eternity, the only space in which we’re able to find happiness. Shockingly, some actually desire to reside in the fiery depths of infernal terror, which he doesn’t interpret as punishment.
“The life of any one can by no means be changed after death; an evil life can in no wise be converted into a good life, or an infernal into an angelic life: because every spirit, from head to foot, is of the character of his love, and therefore, of his life; and to convert this life into its opposite, would be to destroy the spirit utterly.” Explained, it means a predominantly mischievous spirit, without being damned, can never pass Heaven’s doors because it would condemn him to tremendous misery; it’s not his nature to stay among those essentially good or graceful for he’s destined to hate, spite, breath in torturing vices alongside those assembling his temper, a theory most sophisticated in comparison with Bible’s old-fashioned variant -reminiscent, though, of Shaw’s “Man and Superman” third act.
Evidently, there’s much more to say about Swedenborg regarding his concepts and the authenticity of his mystical connections; I promise to incorporate sometime in a longer post if interested, probably subsequent to reading the “Heaven & Hell” work which won him posterity.
For now, what do you think about his rather strange philosophy? Heresy? Madness? A wild but nevertheless genuine hunch?
October 10, 2012
Shallow as it may sound, the ‘beauty comes first’ criteria to which my visual senses respond made me stop at this man’s intriguing story only after dropping an eye on his rather handsome portrait preceding it. One inexorably desires more information about charming characters; it tends to enhance their attractiveness and draw them to spheres of humanity easier to empathize with, still stressing the physical gorgeousness first to catch one’s attention. But I’m missing the point (thing I’m terribly good at).
The lad depicted above, a very flamboyant Italian named Vincenzo Lunardi, makes this very October 225 years since he first flew over Edinburgh in a hydrogen-filled balloon, stunning the curious mob gathered on the grounds of George Heriot’s School to watch the big event which The Scots Magazine later described with appreciatory words:
‘The beauty and grandeur of the spectacle could only be exceeded by the cool, intrepid manner in which the adventurer conducted himself; and indeed he seemed infinitely more at ease than the greater part of his spectators.’
A day to remember, really.
But the charismatic Vincezo had orchestrated numerous such occasions to leave his contemporaries in utter awe long before that October 1785 and could, at the mere age of 26, boast with the several aeronautic adventures alongside the famous James Tytler, whom he had met around the 1780’s during a diplomatic voyage. Because yes, the courageous Lunardi started up as a minor Neapolitan nobleman engaged in diplomatic missions to France and, elected Secretary to Prince Caramanico (a well respected Ambassador), to England. Let us not forget envoys in the Revolutionary epoch were people characterized by the most acute sense of action, having traveled enough to discover different habits and mentalities. Not to mention their varied education. In all sort of ways.
In London, Lunardi’s appetite for fame and the dandy allure so appealing to the English public facilitated his ascension as a ‘Daredevil Aeronaut’, the first to successfully experience the perilous balloon flight after de Morel’s failure in a time when the conquest of air was a hot topic. The novelty was there, waiting for a valiant one to affirm it, and the world stared impatiently. Easy times to become hero for audacious hearts.
So, eager to conquer a certain prestige, Vincenzo, native showman, immediately planned an ascension with a balloon designed by his partner, George Biggin, over the 200,000 heads of riveted Londoners among whom stood aristocratic figures such as the Prince of Wales. To make thing even more peculiar, Lunardi decided to give a cat, a dog and a pigeon the honor of traveling alongside himself, although with the cat’s airsickness one could contest it was indeed a good idea.
Setting off from the Artillery Ground to a northerly direction towards Hertfordshire, without poor Biggin, he eventually put the balloon to rest in Standon Green End which, to this day, bears the name of ‘Balloon Corner’ to commemorate the historical event.
This first balloon flight in Great Britain turned Lunardi into the hero of the hour, his main desire, and brought him before the ‘Mad King’ George III.
“At his command, a monument was erected on the spot where Lunardi landed for the second time; its popular name is Long Mead, and it is still there. Lunardi went on to build larger and better balloons and ascended once more from Moorfields. On this occasion his balloon was decorated with a huge Union Jack, in which manner he ‘wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word ‘British’ stands for’. His faithful friend Biggin and a Mrs Letitia Sage, an actress, were to have accompanied him on this trip, but once more the lifting capacity of the balloon was poor, so Lunardi started alone on 13 May 1785. Soon afterwards he had to come down again, near Tottenham Court Road, because the envelope turned out to be leaking. The well-tried patience of Biggin was finally rewarded later that year when, on 29 June, he was able to ascend himself, accompanied by Mrs Sage.’
”This trip lasted an hour and had the distinction of being the first time ‘a British female air travelers’ had gone aloft. This was the term by which Mrs Sage henceforth liked to be described. She was a beautiful lady, but from a ballooning point of view she unfortunately tipped the scales at 2001b. Lunardi made several more balloon ascents in Great Britain during 1785, but in August 1786 one of his young assistants lost his life in a tragic accident. During the preparations for an ascent at Newcastle upon Tyne, Ralph Heron was pulled aloft as one arm got entangled in the anchor rope when the balloon took off prematurely. The rope broke and the hapless youngster plunged to his death. Lunardi was not to blame, yet, after the incident, everywhere he went in Great Britain he was now persecuted as intensely as he had previously been acclaimed. He left the country for good, but continued his balloon ascents in Italy, Spain and Portugal. His health later failed, and he died in Portugal on 31 July 1806.”
I think him quite a curious human specimen. And Sir Laurence Olivier thought him so too when playing Lunardi in the 1936 film ‘Conquest of the Air’.
Any other opinions?
April 1, 2012
I’ve been trying to avoid the subject since I started to write on this blog regarding various interesting and undoubtedly eccentric historical characters but it clearly seems that my resolution wasn’t meant to be accomplished: I just have to tell you about my utter obsession with the fair Empress Elisabeth Amelie Eugenie of Austria you most likely know under her familiar nickname also used as the title of the Romy Schneider adapted biographic movie and for the popular cartoon, Sissi.
As a child I was tremendously mesmerized by the richness of the ancient Greek Pantheon whose artful reflection could be admired in the two major literary works of pre-christian times, Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” which were, coincidentally, as I was to find later on, Sissi’s favorite reads (we also shared the same infatuation with the legendary Achilles). No wonder I instantly fell in love with her character once I happened to catch some further information related to the Bavarian beauteous royalty depicted galore in the epoch novels I had barely begun to relish. We’ve so much in common despite being a century apart, from stylistic tastes to the hair color (chestnut with golden tints) and the day we were born in (Sunday…) that I couldn’t refrain avidly searching for more juicy anecdotes, stories, journals, poems and news papers columns to complete the figure I grew to contemplate daily, wondering how she did certain things the rigid court etiquette imposed at the same time managing to accumulate enough strenght for protecting her libertine and bohemian spirit from the obligations required as the consort of Austria’s Emperor, Franz Joseph. Her gowns were pure refinement and her habits awoke uncountable rumors amongst the high society smug chaps hence it was near to impossible my not being enchanted by Sissi. The more I found, the eager I became to stumble across new dimensions of her personality and learn fresh facts connected with her bizarre propensities the whole of Vienna and even Europe gossiped about. Enigmatic, a bit tragic, non-conformist: what is not to love?
Alas, a single post would never incorporate half of her deliciously vivid life, lyric works and, overall, persona so I’ll confine to discussing miscellaneous customs the Empress of Loneliness was renowned for throughout Europe and even parts of the other continents which couldn’t have been spared of her vitriolic existence.
Today I thought of apportioning you urban myths (surprisingly often true) relating Sissi’s flabbergasting pulchritude which alas defined the great woman in the eyes of most of her contemporaries and share some of her beauty obsessions which made the main topic of countless fashion magazines that were actual gospels for the wannabe socialite ladies in the 19th century.
One could correctly state that Sissi’s characteristic trait, concealing a high intellect and amazing linguistic capacities (she was fluent in 8 modern languages plus ancient Greek and the traditional Latin), was her unnatural appearance, the only thing with which she could fearlessly confront the world, concomitantly preserving her sensible ego and draw the benevolent attention of large masses of adorers. Her striking silhouette and the incredible long hair framing her vixen face were, in fact, the first factors to contribute to Franz Joseph’s shallow infatuation with a girl (she had barely turned 16 the summer they properly met) whom his mother, controlling Archduchess Sophie, thoroughly disapproved as she had had elected Sissi’s elder sister, Duchess Helene, to become her obedient daughter-in-law, the future Empress of Austria, a position requiring virtues the shrewd Archduchess pretended not to find in the childish Sissi. And perhaps she was right in the end, Sissi proving to be most incompatible with her newly acquired title, but this opens a whole other topic I don’t aim to debate here.
So Sissi was an animated piece of jewel possessing a profuse appeal: no wonder the mob worshiped her from day one, especially the Hungarians identifying their need of emancipation with her rebel attitude.
Enhancing her native handsomeness, she dissimulated a most sensitive core, faster gaining the endorsement of those who condemned the girl for not being subdued by the protocol (except the Archduchess- she was the average eternally displeased mother-in-law).
Tall (she had 172 cm, more than her husband despite being pictured smaller in the official portraits not to emasculate him), slender to superlative, her tight leather corsets diminishing a wasp waist Sissi managed to keep until death, moment when she was sixty, the Empress’s hallmark was categorically the Rapunzel-like brass hair inherited from the majority of the female ancestors in the Wittelsbach family. She could complain of it giving her headaches but it totally worth it, I think.
It took a whole day to wash it appropriately in the wanted essence of cognac and egg once every two weeks, being forced to cancel any formal obligation, and the routine care of her abundant mane lasted least 3 hours, quite a prone to bizarre ceremonial.
Than again, organizing her beauty ritual was the sole thing she could control in her otherwise oppressed early life, under the Archduchess’s directives, and continued as a rule during her later years. The rigorousness with which she practiced it only reflected a subliminal will to put some order in her chaotic existence and thus Sissi, often restless to the point of hyperactivity, very impatient, gathered the determination to sit passive at her “table which was moved to the middle of the room and covered with a white cloth”, “shrouded in a laced peignoir” to let the hairdresser Franziska (Fanny) Feifalik create her famous ornate hairstyles. She recognized: “I’m the slave of my hair.”
And because exclusively magic could satisfy her aesthetic exigencies, Fanny had to resort to tricks: knowing the Empress scolded her for each and every hair that fell out throughout the combing, braiding and pinning Sissi’s rich tresses, she stuck it to an adhesive band hidden in her apron, bypassing the rage of her mistress when she was supposed to present it in a special bowl at the counting. Well, that’s an obsession and it isn’t as if Sissi could spare herself from fallen hair by numbering it!
Contrary to the popular myths, she even tasked Feifaluk with tweezing gray hairs away but in her last months Sissi was reported to still have plentiful locks, “though streaked with silver threads”, a not so insignificant achievement.
Franz Joseph had the following paintings of his wife hanging in his private chambers at Hofburg Palace and it’s obvious he never ceased to be fascinated with the enigmatic Sissi despite being conventionally separated. They show her dramatic curls at their finest.
Yet this wasn’t the single thing she tended.
Devotee of natural looks, the refined Sissi disapproved cosmetics Parisians were mad to use galore, preferring instead tonics and nightly facial masks made of silk (presumably against wrinkles), raw veal to moisturize the skin or crushed strawberries. The favorite creme, ” Céleste”, was compounded from white wax, spermaceti, sweet almond oil and rosewater but she didn’t prized it as much as the previous treatments. Pretty wacko, right?
Wait till I tell you how she refused to part her lips while speaking because she found her teeth too yellow and deteriorated to be exposed!
Furthermore, for maintaining the hourglass figure she slept with cloths soaked in either violet- or cider-vinegar above her hips, taking both a shower every morning and an olive oil bath in the evening , luxuries only the affluent people could permit. Unfortunately, these harsh cures caused several major health issues decades later, aggravating her arthritis and nervous anorexia which forced Sissi to search milder climates, a perfect pretext to stay well away from Vienna and implicitly her husband. In the benefit of her beauty, she traveled with 40 tons of baggage and 90 servants, not at all a negligible quantity. As a matter of fact, haunted by the prospect of getting old and ugly, she would have done a lot more.
After age 32, Sissi vehemently rejected to pose for portraits, believing her fetching image had begun to fade and the world should remember her young, vivid. Ironically, she remained gorgeous yet another 20 to 30 years, information attained from eyewitnesses and the few photographs taken without her approval while she was strolling down crowded boulevards, her face screened by parasols or leather fans.
That’s what she said with her own sensuous mouth: “When I’ll grow old I shall retire definitively from public life for nothing is more horrible than watching how you gradually transform into an utter mummy, ending up crawling like a worm- absolutely dreadful! One day I’ll cover my face with a veil and nobody, not even my closest friends, will be able to gaze upon me.”
She kept her promise.
The photo above depicts her exactly as she wished: her hair is dressed elaborately to reassemble a coronet to “get rid of the other one” (the Imperial crown), her attire is simple but majestic and the look in her piercing, melancholic eyes just seizes the audience.
Her efforts to preserve this ephemeral pulchritude paid off eventually and I can’t help to stare at Sissi in silent marvel.
January 28, 2012
“We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire!”- I’ve just fully tasted George Sand’s quote; I bear its stigmatizing prints all over my flesh like a perpetual, cruel and eternal remembrance which oblivion could least veil. Fortunately, through huge narcissistic efforts supported by certain invigorating pride, I’ve survived the temptation of “throwing the whole book in the fire” even after ripping not only a page but an entire chapter I had so minutely developed. It took that to reveal me why most people can’t break up, can’t escape the worst self-admitted bound, why humans can’t decide to welcome freedom again if searing in crippled, withering relationships.
They’d rather die imprisoned than pass the page for building another (the imposed fidelity and desperate affiliation taught by society have some faults here). I now deeply understand this masochistic behaviour as I felt its bittersweet flavour; I learned how vague you accept the flaws, the ultimate separation, how confusing, bizarre and shocking is to confront the blank space your torn page left or the empty happiness none will cover. Struggling, compromising, you had made -in your world, in your time- a metaphorical nest sacrificed for the torn page which, lacking, unleashed that aching spatial void I previously mentioned.
Thus you plunge in tormenting abysses, always fearing the possible sorrow, and, following one antique animal instinct, choose the familiar ruin-relationship instead of healing, still painfully ambiguous, liberty. It’s a studied path you may very fast indulge in.
But all has alternatives: why shouldn’t I keep my integrity and let go the unhealthy intercourse? When I start acknowledging end’s arrival why shouldn’t I accept it properly? Not as a demission, nor as a cowardly retreat and definitely not without trying some amiable methods of conciliation -because none desires to be called a quitter-, avoid the perpetuation of sick tides held only for what they were. Never hang on such illusions: inexperienced, you’ll waste vain tears you’ll more often regret. Never turn back to beg forgiveness: you’ll get weaker and surrender to obsessive desires. Vacillating, you’ll get twisted in the vanity fair of ambiguity which equals a dangerous dance with the devil.
Best adopt the coldest dignity; allow the past to be past and you- part of the future.
Move with the world- humans have a prohibition to remaining stoned.
Tear out the page- you have plenty others ahead (if you’d only pacify with the concept proceeding from which you’ve earned the possibility of inaugurating fresh starts, fresh connections, fresh pages…).
Question yourself more about romantic (platonic?) expectations so you can check how well they’re touched by the relationship that momentary tortures you. These enquiries, sharply put, honestly answered, will guide any person to certain enlightenment in issues of love and hard choices- its trick accessibly lays in personal honesty and in developing a strong connection with your inner bean (without which you would fall from mistake to mistake, gathering the experience you had avoided). Therefore, the skeleton of breaking ups is basically simple, obvious and at hand for the willing, yet successfully hidden inside the self-knowledge few practice because a contagious blindness. Mind-training frequently, you’ll activate it, point after you’ll be wise enough to deal with mature questions.
Complications (the malicious ramifications of the main core) represent the real trouble- they’re the “ever-fixed mark”, the uncertainty you’ll encounter over and over for as long as you live, no matter how you try to mummify the simplicity of parting. Fake hopes, hesitations, the scarcely guessed psychological component of your partner…no wonder “we cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire”! Sometimes, the single possibility freezes your mind. And, sometimes, no advice, no theory, no self- knowledge may help but just ameliorate the downfall.
Still, bruised, ruffled, you’ll outlive it with the gift of moving on, rejecting the grave in which the ill relationship throws us every time.