October 16, 2013
I only celebrate the birth of artists who, through the utterly sublime value of their work, make me think of them as being still alive at the other end of the reader-writer wire, continuing infinitely to transmit a message, an idea, an aesthetic truth beyond a tomb’s earthly limit. Really. And dear boy Oscar Wilde’s just the persona to illustrate my idea of immortal writer.
His “Picture of Dorian Gray”, a flabbergasting compilation of epigrams brilliantly woven with the actual plot, was the object of my first genuine literary infatuation after finishing Homer’s heavy Iliad and has continued inciting my imagination ever since. Needless to confess I can’t eschew reading it least once a year and am actually unable to expel it from my frequent-comparison-terms list (together with David’s Michelangelo and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando). Its amaranthine aspects keep exerting a seemingly imperishable fascination which I always invariably bite. The wit, the beauty, the whole philosophy of dandyism and vanity in a decadent age: my pronounced affinity for them all has rendered my senses, well, sensible to Oscar’s only novel although I’m perfectly aware plenty other books surpass it in their overall value. Alas (or perhaps not), I am a voluntary victim of Dorian Gray’s witchery.
But enough about the creation: I say happy birthday to the marvelous wordsmith Wilde perfectly embodied and especially to the shrewd observer, the keen intellectual, the lobster-walker, the astute social animal and incorrigible fop coexisting within his fleshly borders. So incredible a man as he deserves the most bona fide greeting on these anniversary days despite being, physically, a mere pile of bones devoid of the possibility of hearing them. However, I wouldn’t refrain from wishing the man a formally expressed “happy birthday” before his tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery (an occasion I’ve simply missed the last time I’ve been to Paris). There’s something very captivating in paying your compliments to a beloved author before their grave and I’m planning on capturing a drop of the respective feeling with the post you’re currently reading.
To commemorate Wilde I’m dedicating today to watching all the ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ movies ever made and contriving a top of related subjects I could write about here. Nothing grand or equally off-the-wall to his deeds, unfortunately, but rather a good, valid excuse to do what I’ve been yearning to for a while now. What can I say: nice justification, a dead man’s 158th birthday… 🙂
Ah, and furthermore exploiting the occasion, I’d like heading what’s (if any) your relationship with the defunct yet still lively Oscar; associations, opinions, life stories, practically all you’re kind enough to share.
March 13, 2013
One could never guess what genuinely amusing event devoid of any anticipation turned Wagner’s Tannhäuser première in a complete fiasco. It is the prerogative of the haughty19th century Parisian aristocracy to surprise both poor Richard, the contemporary and modern auditory with a reaction that changed the faith of an opera now considered one of Wagner’s best.
Facts are comically of an elementary character.
On this very day, 13 March 1861, the Salle Le Peletier was meant to host the first representation of Tannhäuser in France after exhausting months spent with a consuming number of over 160 thorough rehearsals which Wagner never failed to attend given that he was exceedingly keen to impress the public. A public composed from such characters as Emperor Napoleon III and Pauline von Metternich one cannot simply afford to disappoint.
And with the dozens of preparations undertaken, it shouldn’t have been the case . In fact, everything was arranged for Wagner to repute a success.
But what actually happened?
Here’s the account almighty Wikipedia gives:
‘Wagner had originally hoped the Parisian première would take place at the Théâtre Lyrique. However, the première was at the Paris Opéra, so the composer had to insert a ballet into the score, according to the traditions of the house. Wagner agreed to this condition since he believed that a success at the Opéra represented his most significant opportunity to re-establish himself following his exile from Germany. Yet rather than put the ballet in its usual place in Act II, he chose to place it in Act I, where it could at least make some dramatic sense by representing the sensual world of Venus’s realm. ‘
This midget alteration of the custom gave way to a veritable disaster.
‘There was a serious planned assault on the opera’s reception by members of the wealthy and aristocratic Jockey Club. Their habit was to arrive at the Opéra only in time for the Act II ballet, after previously dining, and, as often as not, to leave when the ballet was over. They objected to the ballet coming in Act I, since this meant they would have to be present from the beginning of the opera. Furthermore, they disliked Princess von Metternich, who had arranged the performance, and her native country of Austria.’ [any recall of the French revolution, anybody? any analogy to the way they treated Marie Antoinette? or perhaps your mind goes back to the Vienna Congress in 1815?]
‘Club members led barracking from the audience with whistles and cat-calls. At the third performance on 24 March, this uproar caused several interruptions of up to fifteen minutes at a time. As a consequence, Wagner withdrew the opera after the third performance.This marked the end to Wagner’s hopes of establishing himself in Paris, at that time the center of the operatic world.‘
In a nutshell, this is the story of how a genius was ruined by frivolous manners.
January 16, 2013
From those titivated descendants of the sanguinary mob that had relentlessly witnessed the guillotine at work with victorious sneers and shouts of “death to the ancien regime!” what is to expect? After such macabre an episode as the one unleashed in the years after the 1789 revolution could we not suspect a massive change of mentality which would eventually give sense to why people enjoyed promenades to the morgue?
I couldn’t say for sure, giving the other explanations more entitled historians have for this grim pastime, but I bet there’s a bit of the Terror exerting its effect in the melange. Why else would professedly educated men and women, spruced, dandy (even snobbish) and often haughty, top-hatted and faultlessly dressed, feel the urge, or least the curiosity, to stare at the corpses exhibited for identification? Apparently, they’re doing it so persistently the very word “morgue” reveals it: in old French, “morguer” translates “to gaze”. Yet why?
A mid 19th century edition of the “Fraser’s Magazine” provides a fairly pertinent answer, glazed with poetic metaphors too:
“The Morgue possesses a constantly recurring and constantly varying story, involving equally new scenery, new actors and new passions; the dead play the leading parts in every drama of fear or guilt or suffering and the living are made subordinate accessories in the shifting panorama of horror with which every spectacle is wound up. The Morgue is the Omega of humanity, the grave without the coffin, the sleep without the shroud. Its interest is not the interest of this world, its scenes are not those out of which human ingenuity can weave” royal palaces, conventional art, et cetera.
Thus, the morgue is a resource of both cruel realism and the romantic mystery fashionable in the epoch, attiring, maintaining a vivid fascination Dickens himself (a foreigner, not an eccentric Parisian) experienced:
”Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible force into the Morgue. I never want to go there, but am always pulled there. One Christmas Day, when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was attracted in, to see an old grey man lying all alone on his cold bed, with a tap of water turned on over his grey hair, and running, drip, drip, drip, down his wretched face until it got to the corner of his mouth, where it took a turn, and made him look sly. One New Year’s Morning (by the same token, the sun was shining outside, and there was a mountebank balancing a feather on his nose, within a yard of the gate), I was pulled in again to look at a flaxen-haired boy of eighteen, with a heart hanging on his breast–‘from his mother,’ was engraven on it–who had come into the net across the river, with a bullet wound in his fair forehead and his hands cut with a knife, but whence or how was a blank mystery. This time, I was forced into the same dread place, to see a large dark man whose disfigurement by water was in a frightful manner comic, and whose expression was that of a prize-fighter who had closed his eyelids under a heavy blow, but was going immediately to open them, shake his head, and ‘come up smiling.’ Oh what this large dark man cost me in that bright city!”
The account he gives in the “Uncommercial traveller” I feel is a veracious completion of the previous record, pretty much elucidating the psychological enigma behind the outstanding number of people who payed a visit to the anonymous dead per year:more than 1 million by 1892. Fancy that! Someone could’ve gotten exceedingly rich if the idea of introducing a fee ever occurred to them… Unfortunately for the empty wallets, nobody exploited the opportunity.
But what’s your opinion on the subject? and Would you try a delightful promenade to similar destinations?
I believe it’d be a gripping experience to register…
November 27, 2012
There’s a tangible truth in Proust’s quote, the sort whose veracity each of us can test in relation with our most intimate perception of paradise and the first experience of loss, which somehow comes right down from John Milton’s famed poem but also, somehow, doesn’t. To explain it would mean the beginning of a baffling, perplexing row of philosophical reasoning I’ll refrain unleashing here although, at the same time, it needs mentioning.
Subliminally, congenially, we’re all subjected to nostalgia over a period of life (that often seems to be our enchanting and enchanted childhood), whether consciously or less, to which we associate divine proportions and images distorted positively. In this regard, our judgement is no greater than a child’s, affected by the tendency to aggrandize. Interesting to remember the above statement belongs to one who lived amongst the patented masters of megalomania, the haughty, highly dramatic Parisians, in a century itself grandiose. I don’t think it changes anything substantially, though.
Don’t you find we’re as prone to do it now, modern as we are, this exaggeration of the past/paradise time’s elapsing made us lose?
November 3, 2012
I have never made a secret from my numerous peculiarities, not ever refrained sharing them if the opportunity emerged, hence I trust the subject in which I’m about to decree, today, right here, I have utterly reveled, should not rise any doubts about my mental health for I’m neither a satanist nor an apostle of the Marquis de Sade, just so you know. And hopefully, since this matter is now settled, you’ll also better understand the reason behind my depicting how quite perfectly impressed I was by the horrid acts a certain Gilles de Rais man became (in)famous for a mere 600 years ago. Hopefully.
Because this post, “concocted” 15 minutes before my realizing it’s vital to walk out the door if I plan on attending school, is quite short of arguments to sustain why a gruesome child murder transfixed me thus. Extensive explanation are going to come from Huysman’s exquisitely written “Là-Bas” in electic quotes that, during one white night, wildly incited the more macabre parts of my imagination.
So here it goes:
“Gilles de Rais was born about 1404, in the château de Mâchecoul. We know nothing of his childhood. His father died about the end of October, 1415, and his mother almost immediately married a Sieur d’Estouville, abandoning her two sons, Gilles and René. They became the wards of their grandfather, Jean de Craon, ‘a man old and ancient and of exceeding great age,’ as the texts say. He seems to have allowed his two charges to run wild, and then to have got rid of Gilles by marrying him to Catherine de Thouars.
Gilles is known to have been at the court of the Dauphin five years later. His contemporaries represent him as a robust, active man, of striking beauty and rare elegance. We have no explicit statement as to the rôle he played in this court, but one can easily imagine what sort of treatment the richest baron in France received at the hands of an impoverished king.”
He fought alongside Jeanne d’Arc and was named Marshal of France, at the age of twenty-five.
“What is certain is that Gilles’s soul became saturated with mystical ideas. His whole history proves it.
He saw the Maid fulfil all her promises. She raised the siege of Orléans, had the king consecrated at Rheims, and then declared that her mission was accomplished and asked as a boon that she be permitted to return home.
At any rate, after losing track of him completely, we find that he has shut himself in at his castle of Tiffauges.
He is no longer the rough soldier, the uncouth fighting-man. At the time when the misdeeds are about to begin, the artist and man of letters develop in Gilles and, taking complete possession of him, incite him, under the impulsion of a perverted mysticism, to the most sophisticated of cruelties, the most delicate of crimes.
For he was almost alone in his time, this baron de Rais. In an age when his peers were simple brutes, he sought the delicate delirium of art, dreamed of a literature soul-searching and profound; he even composed a treatise on the art of evoking demons; he gloried in the music of the Church, and would have nothing about his that was not rare and difficult to obtain.
He was an erudite Latinist, a brilliant conversationalist, a sure and generous friend. He possessed a library extraordinary for an epoch when nothing was read but theology and lives of saints.”
And now brace yourselves.
“There was no transition between the two phases of his being. The moment Jeanne d’Arc was dead he fell into the hands of sorcerers who were the most learned of scoundrels and the most unscrupulous of scholars. These men who frequented the château de Tiffauges were fervent Latinists, marvellous conversationalists, possessors of forgotten arcana, guardians of world-old secrets.
To sum up: natural mysticism on one hand, and, on the other, daily association with savants obsessed by Satanism. The sword of Damocles hanging over his head, to be conjured away by the will of the Devil, perhaps. An ardent, a mad curiosity concerning the forbidden sciences. All this explains why, little by little, as the bonds uniting him to the world of alchemists and sorcerers grow stronger, he throws himself into the occult and is swept on by it into the most unthinkable crimes.
Then as to being a ‘ripper’ of children—and he didn’t immediately become one, no, Gilles did not violate and trucidate little boys until after he became convinced of the vanity of alchemy—why, he does not differ greatly from the other barons of his times.
He exceeds them in the magnitude of his debauches, in opulence of murders, and that’s all. It’s a fact.
And assuredly, the Marquis de Sade is only a timid bourgeois, a mediocre fantasist, beside him!”
To give an illustrative example:
“Vampirism satisfies him for months. He pollutes dead children, appeasing the fever of his desires in the blood smeared chill of the tomb. He even goes so far—one day when his supply of children is exhausted—as to disembowel a pregnant woman and sport with the fœtus. After these excesses he falls into horrible states of coma, similar to those heavy lethargies which overpowered Sergeant Bertrand after his violations of the grave. But if that leaden sleep is one of the known phases of ordinary vampirism, if Gilles de Rais was merely a sexual pervert, we must admit that he distinguished himself from the most delirious sadists, the most exquisite virtuosi in pain and murder, by a detail which seems extrahuman, it is so horrible.
As these terrifying atrocities, these monstrous outrages, no longer suffice him, he corrodes them with the essence of a rare sin. It is no longer the resolute, sagacious cruelty of the wild beast playing with the body of a victim. His ferocity does not remain merely carnal; it becomes spiritual. He wishes to make the child suffer both in body and soul. By a thoroughly Satanic cheat he deceives gratitude, dupes affection, and desecrates love. At a leap he passes the bounds of human infamy and lands plump in the darkest depth of Evil.
He contrives this: One of the unfortunate children is brought into his chamber, and hanged, by Bricqueville, Prelati, and de Sillé, to a hook fixed into the wall. Just at the moment when the child is suffocating, Gilles orders him to be taken down and the rope untied. With some precaution, he takes the child on his knees, revives him, caresses him, rocks him, dries his tears, and pointing to the accomplices, says, ‘These men are bad, but you see they obey me. Do not be afraid. I will save your life and take you back to your mother,’ and while the little one, wild with joy, kisses him and at that moment loves him, Gilles gently makes an incision in the back of the neck, rendering the child ‘languishing,’ to follow Gilles’s own expression, and when the head, not quite detached, bows, Gilles kneads the body, turns it about, and violates it, bellowing.”
He was eventually discovered and sentenced to death, not unexpectedly and certainly not undeserved. But, passing over the horrid slaughter he had conducted, don’t you find him starkly intriguing? He was the average good fellow and the next thing history records, Gilles decimates innocent children! What do you think of this leas crazy situation?
October 22, 2012
Ashamed as I am by the blatant imperfections of this most recent drawing of mine I couldn’t help submitting it here, in the end, all praying the critique will ensue mildly. With studies demanding most of my otherwise highly distributive attention and the perpetual pursuit of one of those whimsical goals (reading over 100 books until the New Year’s Eve) consuming the rest of my remaining time no wonder the above composition is rather hastily made and clearly wronged in several places. Nevertheless, I hope it brings the sense of tension which first fascinated me upon embarking the little project. Shadows are not enough emphasized and one buttock needs urgent repairing but I fancy it decently reassembles Bouguereau‘s men from ‘Dante And Virgil In Hell’. It’s a mere imitation, though; the original’s far more dramatic and infinitely more powerful in its effects on the viewer, there’s no denying that. Yet I seem to helplessly desire molding with my own fingers a character, a movement, a curve, a shade I like gazing. Whenever I recreate one I feel connected to it in a way beyond an observer’s range since, through the process, I come closer to understanding the artist’s vision regarding the work and the many subtleties of the work itself. As a secondary author, my senses indicate, I’m indirectly part of the act of creation which produces the praised masterpiece. But we’re entering tedious territory now.
What do you think about the above charcoal on paper thingy? These two cannibals are sort of alluring, don’t you believe? I remember being intrigued by them when I first saw Bouguereau’s painting at the Orsay Museum… Does it least capture a tint of the original’s appeal?
May 20, 2012
Once upon a time, approximately a century plus relatively 20 years ago, when Lady D and Grace Kelly had yet to become international royal icons, fascinating generation after generation with their undeniable and utterly awing charisma, Europe celebrated as divine exponents of , well, a sex-appeal cumulated with fantastic physical charm, two renowned sovereigns contemporaries of elder and less prettier Queen Victoria. Empress Eugenie de Montijo (shortly named Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales) and Bavarian wacko, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (or Sissi), were, judging by the public opinion which papers never ceased to express, the crowned dignified beauties of late 19th century (otherwise somehow inferior to the peculiar pulchritude of a Lola Montez or a notorious Countess di Castiglione). Noble dames followed their fashion, copied their hairstyles, queued to steal their secret tricks and ultimately spread conspicuous rumors regarding the eccentricities so much talked about in journals across the old continent. A week couldn’t pass without both nasty and flattering news being published all over the Austrian, French, English or German Empire, constancy which eventually lead to their defining as legends, to the shared dismay of their husbands. To gossip on topics concerning the beauteous Empresses was an irresistible occupation of aristocrat high-put ladies while at quite tedious court balls, and, through this jealous rivals, the two made the elevated scandal of the day.
No wonder that, despite the tensed political circumstances and the wrong presumption of natural rivalry between elegant style icons, they developed a friendly relationship originated in an official meeting with the occasion of the Salzburg reception offered to Napoleon III by Franz Joseph after his younger brother’s, Emperor Max of Mexico’s death on foreign lands. Agreeably not the most proper setting yet nonetheless an opportunity for the enchanting women to get in contact.
The city of Salzburg competed in comparing the two so to realize who was most loved by Aphrodite and the state affairs passed to the second position on the common scale of interest as Elisabeth and Eugenie were placed in the center of everybody’s attention. One witty, emanating confidence, the other sensitive, even timid; one blessed with symmetric features, one decidedly the owner of magnetizing allure: to chose a winner troubled the referees of this indirect contest. Implicitly, they were believed to be unquestionable enemies, still weren’t.
A funny anecdote recorded by the rich Count Wilczek unveils the intimacy shared by them in that short period. He reports how Sissi, habitually traveling incognito, visited the French royalty in the evening to “speak of certain things” while he was supposed to guard the room entrance to prevent the prospect of someone interrupting them which proved justifiable when Napoleon III himself insisted on seeing his spouse. The Count was then obliged to “cross two empty chambers of the apartment, even the bedroom, to reach the boudoir whose entry had been carelessly left ajar. Before it was placed a cheval glass and the couple of Empresses were treating the door beneath which I remained with their backs, busy to measure, with some ribbons, the probably most beautiful legs in Europe.” He was never able to forget that unimaginable scene until the end of his days… Lucky man!
May 14, 2012
Today I was browsing through some charming old magazines which have mysteriously piled up near my desk the past few years when I found this incredibly ingenious and obviously purely French pictorial of Yves Saint Laurent Rives Gauche (meaning “for men” branch of the exquisite fashion house) from 1998, proposing an artsy way to broadcast the then newest (and implicitly hottest) winter collection, something exclusively the Parisian designers could come up with (if we remember the Chanel parfume commercial with sensuous Vanessa Paradis posing as one of Ingres’ girls).
I liked the ideas so much I just had to put it here, comparing the original painting with the distorted and modernized vision which seems to exploit the very essence of our society through the light of the previous, sharp, smart, fine, luxurious but nonetheless glazed with a foam of sexuality meant to attract, to spellbound the potential viewer. Well, this and the generous resolution to serve you the names of the YSL team’s original inspiration.
Le Dejuner Sur L’Herbre (1863) by one of the most brilliant innovative figures in the quite innovative itself 19th century, Monsieur Eduard Manet, whose present equivalent suggested in the YSL representation I have elected to become my own inspiration for a thematic drawing I suppose I’ll show in a future post with the condition of coming up well. It’s too much a harem assembly for me to resist sketching it my style.
Olympia (1863), also by Manet, the outrageous icon of the expression succes de scandale.
Les Trois Graces (1792), relatively dull painting in comparison with Boticelli’s three beauteous girls (but, hey, the French are highly chauvinistic about art, as Deborah Davis once said) by Jean Baptiste Regnault
Rockby Venus (1651) by an admirer of curvacious women, Spanish prodigy Velasquez.
Jeune Homme au Bord de la Mer (1836), little romantic work done by Hyppolite Flandrin.
Gabrielle d’Estrees et la Duchesse de Villars (151594), an extremely tasty Louvre masterpiece whose symbolism vies conventional translation, leaving the intrigued spectator weave his own, profoundly personal, story relating to the weird hand-gesture the dark haired noble does… I know I have my imagination titillated by it…
Le Sommeil (1866), the pronouncedly erotic Goustave Courbet painting somehow brought to a less morally-offensive state in the eyes of heterosexuals, if you know what I mean.
There was also a Latour inspired photo of the following “Fortuneteller” yet its size was terrible and the resolution so poor that I couldn’t decide on putting it here, amongst the others.
So I assume I’ve made my opinion pretty clear by testifying that I’m presently going to draw the first Manet sample but what do you think? Which has the honor of having captured your attention best?
May 13, 2012
I’ve always though of the renaissance French nobles as illustrative epitomes of bawdiness mixed with incomparable lascivious tastes draped in luxurious silk and velvet, never short of nightly lecherous affairs or adulterous depravations inspired by the Holly Pope’s own bed adventures. They seemed to me quite a colorful exponents of a highly artsy and bohemian world where culture tangled with unrestrained vices as naturally as the members of debauched lovers. So yesterday, when I ‘ve stumbled across this very delineative paragraph on the less innocent revels at Francis I’s court in my current reading revolving around Henry VIII’s second foxy wife, notorious Lady Boleyn, titled “Mistress Anne” by Carolly Erickson, my favorite biographer of the Tudors personalities, I knew I just had to reproduce it here.
It’s a juicy story about a vulgar goblet passed from hand to hand and table to table with a very specific meaning…
Everywhere they looked the courtiers saw reminders of sexual passion- even in the platters they ate from and the goblets from which they drank their sugared wine. One goblet in particular was handed around at the French court as a sort of touchstone of sexual sophistication. The goblet’s interior surface was engraved with copulating animals, and as the drinker drained it he or she saw, in its depths, a man and woman making love. It amused the prince who owned the goblet to have his servants present it to various women to drink from, so that he could watch their reactions. Some blushed, others whispered to one another in mild astonishment, still others tried to keep their eyes closed while they drank- while at the same time trying to ignore the loud laughter of the prince and the other men present.
Newcomers to court, or the youngest and most innocent women, Brantôme recorded, “maintained a cold smile just at the tips of their noses and lips and forced themselves to be hypocrites” about the goblet, realizing that they had either to drink from it- for the servants refused to serve them from any other- or perish of thirst. But those who had been part of the courtly circle for even a short time laid aside their scruples and drank from the titillating chalice greedily enough. And often it was those who protested vehemently over the unseemliness of the goblet who were observed to take longer and deeper drinks from it than anyone else. “In a word,” Brantôme wrote, “there were a hundred thousand jokes and witticism tossed to and fro between the gentlemen and the ladies at table about the goblet,” and no doubt it served to when the appetites of all present for the love play that went on after the banqueting was over.
(Carolly Erickson, “Mistress Anne“, 1984)
Isn’t it charming?
March 20, 2012
Due to my intermittent research of Belle Epoque material to make me apprehend further the mentality Parisians had in those glamorous prewar days and charmingly apply it to confer my novel some welcomed authenticity, I recently made a pragmatic habit from reading the happily online-available old French newspapers like Le Figaro and Le Gaulois, courtesy to Gallica . Not because I’m tired of consulting the Times and the Sun, with which I’m proud to announce that I’m completely up to date, but the calculated browsing through such original and reliable materials genuinely provides good information on gossipy subjects both useful in my work and juicy enough to relish even a century after they were printed, not to say it improves my lame knowledge of French grammar in the most pleasant of ways.
This being said limiting to one acceptable introductory paragraph whose utility my English teacher would seriously doubt though we’ll refrain it, imagine what I’ve found in a 5 May, 1897 Le Figaro edition I just stumbled across while really checking some hot Dreyfus Affair opinions right from the horse’s mouth and no, nothing regarding assassins, expensive jewelry or the kind of things I regularly post here, on the contrary, quite a Christian happening (to a certain extent…).
It all started one fine evening the benevolent Paris elite ladies dedicated to pious philanthropy work at the annual Bazar de la Charité which was decorated to reassemble a medieval nonetheless picturesque street with vivid theme ornaments and chic boutiques borrowed from Théâtre du Palais de l’Industie to aesthetically attract the rich and generous all events implying charity need. A rudimentary cinema was installed and, for the sake of accuracy, most of the fake colorful buildings and even the ground, covered with dark pine planks, were made of a material so loved by fire: wood, which surprisingly nobody seemed to consider inappropriate or life-threatening despite numerous previous conflagrations, denoting a completely French spirit: let us not be practical but delectable because what’s the chance for a tragedy to occur? You’ll see, dear organizers, you’ll see…
Things went on nicely, half the high society eleemosynary couples gathering on the 60 meters of historical setting eager to considerately help humanity with disputably large sums of money before the eyes of all good reporters and tattlers taken as witnesses to their altruism. Aristocrats and wannabe grand dames of bourgeois background mingled with all sorts of common people, pretending more holly than the Pope in the splendor of their charity. It was the busiest afternoon since the bazaar had been opened last Saturday on the popular rue Jean-Goujon, a domain offered gratis by gracious Mr. Michel Heine and modest satin Worth gowns lead by top hats, if you understand the allusion, blended beautifully…
When suddenly things gone wrong.
Whether it was an issue from the cinema installation or an oil lamp which set fire to a curtain nearby, at 4:20 p.m. sharp the whole ensemble was ablaze, flames covering the planks and obstructed the frenzied mob to safely escape the place though Duchess Sophie Charlotte d’Alençon, perhaps the most impressive woman present, struggled to establish an approximate order, refusing to exit until the frail children and alarmed ladies were securely out. Le Figaro declared that two hundred persons hastily passed the exit door, dezoriented, startled, leaving as many behind in a horrific context, men burning alive, shouting, contending to reach the gate with overwhelming desperation in the 8 minutes the destruction lasted.
Many Baronesses, Countesses and highly esteemed women terribly died then but the one I’m most fond of, Duchess Sophie, was by far the most important and regretted, her story being extremely misfortunate as she could’ve survived effortlessly if she hadn’t been so religiously zealous, sacrificing herself to let some ordinary girls escape, pretty damn magnanimous of her. It’s ironical Ferdinand d’Orléans, her husband, who was also attending the fair yet stood in the opposite part of the bazaar when the inevitable happened, tried to find Sophie, rushed to where he last saw her and, only a few steps apart, being informed by an idle citizen that she was out, got away. Barely there did he realize his utter stupidity, a mistake deplored for the rest of his days.
Sophie had been trapped between several wood boards, enveloping a scared kid with her steady arms and, serene as if having a tea, calm, dignified, she faced the cruelest of deaths, slowly, excruciating, definite… In the end, her earthly remnants were degraded to such extent that only her dentist could definitely identify Sophie by analyzing the skeleton’s teeth, important limbs of her body, one hand and a leg, missing. She had perished like a veritable martyr, faith relatively fitted for her spiritual aspirations and very similar to her ex-fiancee and sister’s, all whom were bounded by a gypsy’s prevision that Sophie would die by fire, King Ludwig II by water (the mad Swan King was supposed to marry her, yes) and Sissi by steel (the Duchess was also Empress Elizabeth’s younger sibling). The eccentric trio had a story of its own, an absolutely tragic one, that is.
Basically, Ludwig, fascinated with Sissi’s character (they had a long-term allegedly platonic relationship across the years and he called her “dove” while she nicknamed him “eagle”), knowing he’d never be satisfied having another woman as his companion, engaged the virginal Sophie (Sopherl for family) mostly because she reassembled her older sister, fair-haired, blue-eyed, gracious and an enthusiastic admirer of Wagner’s compositions, wasted considerable sums of money on wedding preparations but had to dissolve the betrothal when the unconscious Sophie risked a love affair with photographer Edgar Hanfstængel . The dangerous liaison all keen mothers fear would’ve went really smooth if the smug Edgar had helped bragging about his substantial score which he didn’t, obviously, resulting in her humiliation. Later in Saxony she met Ferdinand and the tale continued.
At the time of Sophie’s death, one of the three, Ludwig, was already buried for a decade, indeed drowned, like the gypsy figure foretold, in a controversial situation it’s better to elaborate in other post, so it’s easy to imagine how Sissi felt when she heard her sister, a continuous source of consolation subsequent to the distressing Mayerling incident, followed in the predicted circumstances. “We all die of violent deaths.” she muttered, scarcely opening her mouth as she didn’t want people to gaze upon her yellowish teeth , when receiving the news and, in truth, she was assassinated at Geneva the next year.
Returning to Duchess Sophie, a kind, ethereal being nonetheless lacking human vices (let us not forget she was sent to an asylum after attempting to elope with her lover/ gynecologist Dr. Glaser to Switzerland), she was sumptuously inhumed at the Royal Chapel of Saint Dreux at the end of a stupendous requiem mass. Up to now, she’s very popular in France, a symbol of kindness and dedication.
Finally, the Fire at Bazar de la Charité was both a personal and public “catastrophe” as Le Figaro titles it, claiming many brilliant lives and creating a funny paradox between its destination and the known outcome.
Ah, the decadence of Belle Epoque…