Nobody walked her path, She carried her sorrows with grace. Everybody starts somewhere different, But she had many judges, all of them wrong.
She put away rejection slips, Into a drawer full of pain. “ I’m not like the others,” she cried, Hoping that people will understand that passions Choose whom to embody and then never leave.
Her eyes danced, In this small moment in time she was becoming. “Your hair looks lovely, It must have taken many years to grow it so long,” said one “It did,” she thought, But it took much longer to be here And step into the stage lights.
With strong legs and a heart full of love, She took her limitations and her vulnerabilities And bought them to the limelight. The music started, And she did what she was born to do: she danced, She was a one-arm ballerina, Imperfect in a perfect world, And perfect in an imperfect world.
Note: this is a poem about the struggle of being accepted for what we are. Our society is not very kind as people are being judged against existent stereotypes that are hard to break. We forget that behind any skin color, any missing limbs….there is a soul with hopes and dreams. That soul did not chose how it would be embodied. Whatever you might be, fight for your dreams. Whatever they might tell you, keep going forward. You are worth it, everybody is.
The elephant and his baby Have passed by, Fresh, casual, cute. Among trees, flowers and clouds, She watched as the world was retaking its natural forms.
She was vulnerable and so was her world.
The plague has killed the ghost of separation, The cages have fallen Even as more cages were being built, They were all connected into the web of life.
The impulse and the fate Turned her into a bee, She wanted to make sure that flowers kept going And that so was the food for everyone around her.
She realized that others were doing the same, The lions, the horses and all others, Were doing their job, Protecting, pulling, healing.
Imperfect as they are, They’re all in this together. Things will get better And when they do They will each recount their stories of survival Gathered by the fire.
I wrote this thinking about all people in the world, in a world where you could be anything,who are you in this vast universe? Leave a comment with a word that would best describe you. Love and peace to you all.
Dream on, friends, Dream about the things you want to do, Dream about the feels you want to feel. I have no natural sixth sense, But I too, dream constantly.
How many great ideas have I got, That I just knew were going to make a difference…. How many dreams have I got, About my life, about my love….about everything…
Sometimes I see the future, As maze of tunnels highlighting the ways to different places, Which way do I take? What do I really want to do ….for now….forever?
I’m unsure, say the ghosts of my mind. I’m unsure, I hear a lot of young voices, I’m unsure, I hear older souls. It’s ok to be unsure! Don’t fret, don’t bite your nails as you write your bucket list. But write it and instead of writing “I will…one day” for your to dos Write “I will, today” at least for one.
Dreams are like clouds dancing in the horizon, Don’t just watch, they’ll dissipate…… You got to fly to them, fly though them, You may feel the turbulence, feel the rough air gliding, But place the faith in you and push the limits further.
Remember the childhood? When we were all pure and lively spirits Living in the moment? We can still do what our hearts desire, So no more waiting for something to happen, Dreaming is beautiful and necessary, But pointless if you don’t try to turn it into reality, Wake up….
Photo: “Bird Cage In The Garden”, by Linnaea Mallette
You are not perfect but nobody is, Everybody is chipped in some way, isn’t it?
Leave aside all people who are making lists of yes and no, Of good and bad, of worth and not worth. Perhaps I should tell you something of what is happening: Captivating stages of life, Are catching you becoming. From the young one, To the interesting, to the self-assured, You’re undoubtedly moving, Through the unexplained and unpredicted, Through idleness and excitement, Beating the drum in the rhythm of life.
Your only jailers are the attitudes or concepts you imprison yourself with, Not people! No locks can hold you from becoming you everyday. So sing a song and plant your dreams. Stop looking at me like that, Your cocked quizzical eyebrow makes me smile. Sing with no voice if you want, But still sing, Your dreams and then you, Will grow faster and taller if you sing from your heart.
Last night we were at the mall. It was past 7, it already got dark and but the artificial light was bathing this little place of the world with its sweet honey color. We were seating on a bench, waiting for a dinner table. We didn’t make dinner reservations and there was a waiting list. It was a beautiful night, calm, people were walking, kids were playing.
And then I saw her.
An older lady, in her late 70s or she might have been 80. I cannot accurately guess her age. She was elegantly dressed, all black, black pants and a black long sleeve top. She was wearing heels, not high but mid heel pumps. Over her black top she had a big piece of costume jewelry necklace. Her white hair was short, puffy, a bit like Jane Fonda. It was beautifully styled. I think it took a good 3-4 minutes as she walked past us. My heart broke and I’m not sure why. It is maybe because I saw it in her eyes or maybe because I felt that she was alone.
Me and my family had dinner and a great time, I forgot all about it. But then, at night, her image came back. I thought about her, I thought about myself and I thought about us people. I thought about the journey of life and about what we understand while doing it.
Thinking and perceiving
Nietzsche once said that:
“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.” Nietzsche
I am thinking…… Alone. But how alone are we? How much of me do you see and how much of you do I see? Do you see me the way I see myself? Do I see you the way you see yourself?
I don’t really know the answer. I do not want to engage solipsism or what other philosophical views are on this subject. I want a practical perspective.
Communication and understanding
Back to my old lady in black. What did I see? I saw grace, beauty, old age, her alone feeling. It truly broke my heart, because this was my image of her. In trying to process what I saw through my own lenses I applied to her my self-avowals and self-ascriptions.
But what if talked to her? Maybe the way I had perceived her would have stayed the same. But also, I might have found out that what I saw was not truly who she was. Maybe she had a family, maybe she had a full life and she was happy.
The way we see is not always the way others see. We all have our own truths. We all want to live in a happy world, but we each have our own definitions of happiness.
Do you see me the way I see myself? Do I see you the way you see yourself? These are questions that we should all think about. In the light of so many social problems, of so many differences in our society, on matters of gender, ethnicity and so many other differences, we should try to understand “otherness”. We are all prejudiced and have our own stereotypes. Some less then others, but we do have them, because who we are is conditioned by our experiences.
I do not know what kind of social structure will best facilitate happiness, but we are all together on this planet. Regardless of how singular our carapace of a body makes us, we are connected into something bigger. If we talk and try to understand each other, then we will live better…..and maybe when feelings of alone will hit, you will find the comfort of all these people around you, who are all the same: alone but together.
Miller was born in 1907, in Poughkeepsie, New York. Old fashion, old style! Most of us didn’t live during these times, when this woman was a fashion icon. Most of us didn’t hear the rattle of gun and didn’t feel the fear of war. But she did and she led a life that many times was out of the comfort zone of regular people. She knew how to wear elegant clothes and also muddy boots. Her photography has informed the world about the horrors of WWII and has also inspired fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci’s Frida Giannini and Ann Demeulemeester.
Why am I writing about her?
Because I was inspired by her metamorphosis, from a young girl that had a career in modeling, to an accomplished photographer and then to a war correspondent. Because I appreciate the bravery of a human, male or female, who is able to get out of his comfort zone to do things that would make a difference in our world. Because I like photography and because maybe not many people know that she was a part of the Surrealist movement, just as much as Man Ray, who is considered the pioneer of it.
Her father’s daughter, New York and Vogue
Her father was a bricklayer son. He was of German descent and his own passion was photography. He decided that his daughter was the perfect model and he photographed her since babyhood. He taught her about the technical aspects of photography. They had a close relationship and some say that this is perhaps why she didn’t hold long relationships with other men….
At 19, she became employed by Vogue. She was one of the most sought – after models and she was challenging the stereotypical images of women in the society of that time.
Her photo was used in an advertisement for Kotex menstrual pads and it was the first time that the image of a human being was employed for such a product. Needless to say that the ad ruffled a lot of feathers given the lack of permissiveness of the times. It is funny to look at the above photography now and think about the reactions that it caused back then.
Paris and Surrealism
In 1929 she travelled to Paris to meet Man Ray, a surrealist artist and photographer. She turned up at his table at Le Bateau Ivre café and she became his apprentice and lover. Together they lifted photography to surrealist art. They discovered the technique called “polarization” which then became Man Ray’s trademark( this is the overexposure of the photographic film in the camera through which you give photos a ghostly, glowing look). If you want to know more about this technique here is a link : how to solarize photos.
They worked three years together and they took extraordinary photos of each other. She became Man’s obsession and even if he photographed countless celebrities (among which are Wallis Simpson, Virginia Woolf, Picasso, Chanel) she was the one that was his muse. In their pictures of each other, you can see their erotic connection.
Photo:Man Ray, WikiCommons
Between New York, Egypt and Paris
Jealousy broke Miller and Man apart. She moved to New York during the Depression era and she started a business with her brother Erik. Here she fell in love with a rich Egyptian, Azis Eloui Bey. He came to NYC to buy equipment for the Egyptian national railway. They got married and together they moved to Cairo.
Here she took some of her most striking black and white photography. This above photo is one of them.
But I guess her wanderer spirit could not be tamed. By the end of the decade she will separate from Aziz and move to London. Here she’ll meet the love of her life, Roland Penrose.
London and WWII
I think what shines about her is her work and courage. In London, while married to Penrose, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue.
Unafraid, she took pictures of many important events during the war.
If you remember from one of my previous articles about St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the worst things that happened to London and Britain during the war was the Blitz. This was a campaign of bombing (almost daily bombing!) of London and Britain by the Germans.
Miller was there, with her Surrealist eye. She brought the tragedy of destruction in front of people’s eyes. If you see her photos, you can feel her empathy for the ones suffering, you can feel her compassion for the destruction that was going around. Her pictures were featured in Vogue asa way to show the American public the terrible tragedy Britain was enduring and also in the hope to influence the United States to enter the war.
I can’t bring myself to put many of her war photographies here, because they are sad. But, here is one of a bombed chapel.
Besides photography she also did combat journalism, sending cables from the most dangerous places.
She reported from St. Malo, which was garrisoned by German troops. This was a vital point for Germany’s defense along the Atlantic coast. While it was heavily bombarded by the Allies she violated the terms of her accreditation as a woman journalist and of course, covered the combat. As a consequence, she was later put under house arrest by the US army, but she was again not deterred to go cover further battles.
She went to Buchenwald and Dachau, two German concentration camps. The thought of these places makes my body hair rise and makes my body feel cold.
She also reported from the 44thEvacuation Hopital, Normandy, after D-Day.
Miller was the first person to enter Hitler’s Munich apartment as American forces were liberating the city. Here is a photography of her in his bathtub. Notice her muddy boots soiling the Hitler’s pristine white bathmat.
Then she spend time documenting the aftermath of Nazi rule, singling out female victims and perpetrators.
After the War, Miller suffered from what now might be recognized as PTSD, drinking heavily and retreating into depression. She lived in the UK with her husband , Penrose, and son. She died from cancer in 1977.
Her story inspires. I am inspired by her courage to be there in a war zone. I am inspired by her strength in the face of adversity, by her quest for truth and justice. Having worked with Syrian refugees myself, as I have a book project on the back burner, I have a glimpse of how emotionally difficult it is to be there for people that have lost close to everything. I hope that day by day, we all become better and we do our bit to make a good change in this world.
Photo:British author and archeologist Gertrude Bell, in Babylon, Iraq, WikiCommons
Ignored or completely unknown, Gertrude Bell was another remarkable woman who left traces in our history. I have written about her before, but that is being published somewhere else and since I cannot share it on my website, I’m still going to tell you about her ….in a different way.
She was a misfit, one that naturally went against the stereotyped woman of the early twentieth century. She was born in England, in 1868, into a wealthy family. Her mother died while giving birth to her brother Maurice and her father remarried Florence Bell soon after, while Gertrude was seven years old. Florence, now her stepmother, was also a woman with visions. She was a playwright and author of children’s stories and she instilled in Gertrude a sense of responsibility.
Getting an education
She studied at Oxford. In a time when women were not allowed to study almost anything, history was one of the few subjects they could tackle. Did you know that back then women at Oxford had to remain silent in lectures and could not interact freely with professors or male classmates? Ah, I wonder where did these women found grace to behave as they were asked. Anyway, it is said that Gertrude was the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford.
The wow Gertrude
A lot of records list her as an archeologist or as a writer, but for me the accent should be put on her travels, on her quest to uncover unknown paths and on her cultural and political power in the Middle East. A rebel against gender convention, she became successful in the male-dominated fields of geography, archeology and statecraft.
Yes, she climbed mountains! She started in 1899 and she changed her skirt in for pants to make climbing more comfortable. We heard of Tom Ballard, the king of Alps, but back in the very beginning of 1900’s, Gertrude climbed several famous mountain peaks in the Swiss Alps. Today, there is a mountain, the Gertrudespitze, which is named in her honor.
Middle East travels
Photo:Sgt. Reeves. A.F.M. Miss Gertrude Bell, Iraq; Repository San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive
Gertrude felt at home in the desert, here is where her heart was.
I’ve been in the desert myself. Despite what the word “desert” summons in our imagination and feelings, the desert is an astounding place. Its quietness goes down into your being and you feel more alive and more you than in any other place in the world. Here you’re undisturbed by the constant murmur of the world.
So Gertrude, I understand.
Her desert odyssey started in 1900 and she travelled across the Arabian desert many times. Many people thought of her as a specie of lunatic British explorer. I think the fact that they underestimated her was her lucky charm.
Her knowledge helped the European powers decide how to carve Arabia after the war. There is a movie made about her and her travels: “Queen of the desert”.
Under the cover of archaeological research, she traveled to Hail, to assess the Rashids, a historic Arabian House who were the most formidable enemies of the House of Saud. I don’t know what she saw or what she said but we all know that Ibn Saud was the one that became the founder of Saudi Arabia.
Many say that Gertrude was a spy. I don’t know how I feel about this, I guess if you’re not there, you don’t know the reasons, or if you didn’t read enough, you should not speak. So, I will not speak. I want to highlight her courage rather than the political games.
She was also involved and played a big role in the creation of Iraq, she played the role of mediator between the Arab government and British officials and later on she played an important part in the administration of Iraq.
Love…love….but not so much love….
Gertrude never married, but she had several love affairs.
Her first love was an Englishman, Henry Cadogan. She was so in love and wanted to marry him, but her father did not approve. Henry died nine months later.
Later in her life, she had a passionate affair with Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, a colonial administrator. I don’t know much about him, if you’re interested you can find more at the link above. I think he was a man full of life, as he remarried at the age of 89…
There are so many other many aspects of Gertrude’s life that made her remarkable: she volunteered for the Red Cross in France during the World War I, she worked for the British Intelligence, she helped form The Baghdad Archaeological Museum, now called The Iraqi Museum, she worked with archaeologist Sir William Ramsay in Anatolia and together they wrote a book….and I’m sure there are many other things that I cannot remember and hence I didn’t mention.
Remarkable woman; an example of courage and of YES, YOU CAN!
“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire Hotter than a fantasy, longer like a highway She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away Oh, she got both feet on the ground And she’s burning it down Oh, she got her head in the clouds And she’s not backing down”
That was Martha Gellhorn, a girl on fire! She was a girl that went to ground zero to cover the Spanish Civil War, one that hid in a ship’s bathroom to be able to go cover the Normandy landings, one that was among the first to report from Dachau concentration camp.
I think she is best remembered for her marriage with Hemingway, but she should be remembered for being one of the best war correspondents of her time and for being a fighter for justice and a fighter for the poor.
Should I pose the question: what is inspiring about her? I guess her strength and courage is unquestionable and so is her passion to pursue her dreams. But let me elaborate on that…….
She was born in 1908, in St. Louis Missouri. Her mother went to Bryn Mawr—with Eleanor Roosevelt—and became a founder and vice-president of the National League of Women Voters. Martha went to Bryn Mawr herself(this is an all women college, in Pennsylvania, with many famous alumni) but she did not complete her education. Instead she left to Paris, armed with a typewriter and $75 and determined to become a journalist.
She did eventually become a journalist. She moved from Paris back to USA and she wrote a book “The Trouble I’ve Seen” that vividly describes the hardship and the collapse of the American way of life during the Great Depression.
And then what did Martha do?
She went to Spain and covered the Spanish Civil War, in 1937. She crossed over the border from France into Spain alone, with $50 rolled and tucked into her boot. She lived among crumbling buildings; she went to the front. What was unique about her is that instead of focusing on tactics, generals and weapons, Martha looked at the people. She wrote about the makeshift hospitals, lines for bread, the smell of explosive, the war and its horrors.
She wanted to give a real account of the war and she said that : “I was always afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures which were special to this moment and this place.” ( this is an excerpt from her book,The Face Of War, by Martha Gellhorn).
This is the time when her affair with Hemingway started.
Photo:Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Photo public domain
Martha and Hemingway were married in 1940.She managed to stay married to him for about 5 years(1940-1945). They lived in Cuba.
She left to cover World War II, but back then the military would not accredit women to report from the front line. Still, she found a way, because where there is a will there is a way, isn’t it? She hid in the bathroom of on a hospital ship and this way she landed in Normandy. She went to the shore as a stretcher bearer….
She was there on the D Day and she was also one of the first journalists on hand when American soldiers liberated Dachau in May of 1945.
After World War II she and Hemingway got divorced. I’m not one that is assuming the worst so I don’t know if he was jealous on her achievements (because that’s what most historical accounts say) or if they just found out that they had different paths in life. There is a movie about their marriage, Hemingway & Gellhorn(2012) that portrays a restless, critical and violent Hemingway.
Martha also reported on Vietnam war, where she went to visit hospitals and refugee camps. She wanted to show people’s pain.
I love her for her courage, for her free spirit and for being a fighter for justice.
And I am going to close with an inspiring quote, one that should remind us to fight for what we think it is right, one that should remind us that not everybody is lucky and if there is anything that we could do, we should do it :
“I am certain that not one word ever did the slightest good. But I am a writer and know nothing else to do. It is tiring and unrewarding. On the other hand, complete silence is worse, so even if it’s only a mouse squeak it is better than nothing.” ( Martha Gellhorn)
Photo: cover of my book by Paula McLain, “Circling the Sun”
Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget about the people that were not a Napoleon, a Freud, a Plato. Figures that deeply marked with their knowledge or experiences life as we know it are always there, always referenced, always remembered.
But what about the other inspiring people? What about the ones that are not part of the main stream?
Today I thought about someone that I would have liked to know, someone that inspired me in my love of flying, someone that was a pioneer in many ways: Beryl Markham.
Why I like Beryl? Who was she? What did she do?
She was born in England in 1878 and when she was 4 years old, she left with her parents to Kenya, which back then was British East Africa. While she was still small her mom returned back to England and eventually married another man. Beryl lived with her father, adapting to the new culture and eventually blending into the Kenyan way of life.
Her life was an adventure; a true adventure in which she had to work and fight for her dreams.
We all know how great Amelia Earhart was. But not so many of us know about Beryl. Just like Amelia, Beryl was the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west, from England to America. Her experience is documented in a book I enjoyed reading: “West with the Night” (this is her memoir).
She flew in Kenya, on vast distances, delivering mail, medical supplies, carrying critically ill patients. The flying instruments back then were a far cry of what we have now! No radio, no GPS, no air speed indicator; she only had maps of navigations and a compass.
So yes…..I admire Beryl!
She also trained horses, she was the first woman race-horse trainer in Kenya.
She meet Ernst Hemingway on a safari trip in Kenya. Years later, he praised her book and said in a letter to a friend that “As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”( Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961, Carlos Baker ed. ,Simon&Schuster, p.541)
She loved. She loved and she suffered, she went through the emotional roller coaster that we all do. She was a nonconformist and in the eyes of many she had a “scandalous” life. She was married three times, but I think from her love life, two relationships were memorable to me: the one that involved Denys Finch Hatton and the one that involved Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of George V. I think the one with Prince Henry struck me because it was a scandalous affair and they were both married.
The other one with Denys Finch Hatton was a love triangle. Most of us have probably seen the movie “Out of Africa”, which is based on Karen Blixen‘s( also known as Isak Dinesen)memoir. Karen was also a strong woman and was the lover of Finch Hatton; she loved him deeply but so did Beryl! It is unclear when Beryl-Finch love story started (different sources have that it started when he was still together with Karen and that Beryl stole him from her, others say that their relationship started after he and Karen were not together anymore). So, I don’t really know…..and I guess we won’t really know , but what is certain is that Denys inspired Beryl to learn flying.
There is so much more to say about this woman. I have read a few books about her; my favorite two are “ Circling the Sun” by Paula McLain and “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham. Paula McLain ’s book is wonderfully written. You will feel as you are witnessing Beryl’s life, you’ll feel like you’re hunting in the Kenyan landscape with her and the other children, you’ll feel like you’re flying with her and you’ll also dream with her about Finch Hatton. “West with the Night” is a wonderful account of what Beryl felt and dreamed, in her own words.
So yes! Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman, one that should inspire and empower the woman of today.