An interview for Elefant book fair, Bucharest, Romania

by Andrada Costoiu

Hello everyone / Buna ziua tuturor

I have recently realized an interview with Alina Costache, Niculescu Publishing House Bucharest, about my book “Under the Iron Curtain” that just came out this July 2021, in Romania. I have plans to publish this book in english version. I am not sure if youtube provides subtitles, because the interview is in Romanian language, but the link for it is below.

Va invit sa urmariti un interview realizat impreuna cu Alina Costache, Editura Niculescu Bucuresti, despre cartea “Sub Cortina de Fier” care a aparut in luna iunie a acestui an in limba romana. Cartea o puteti achizitiona de la librariile din tara, sau de pe site-ul Editurii Niculescu.

Warm regards,

Andrada

Sub Cortina de Fier

by Andrada Costoiu

My first novel it’s out! It was a long journey, as publishing the traditional way it’s a long process. The book is published in Romanian, by Niculescu Oxford Publishing House in Bucharest.

I am not going to tell you the plot, I will just say that throughout its 463 pages the story takes the reader through the most important events of the last 3 years of Ceausescu’s regime, 1986-1989, including the Chernobyl Disaster and the fall of the Iron Curtain. Besides being informative on that time period, this is a story of moral courage and of the beauty of human spirit that shines through years of hardship. It is also a story of millions of people, past and present, who have lived under oppressive regimes.

The Romanian version can be bought on-line from the publishing house https://www.niculescu.ro/sub-cortina-de-fier.html, or from the libraries across the country.

My grandma and I, visiting a Romanian monastery

By Andrada Costoiu

I am visiting my family in Romania ❤️

Today I took my grandma , 89, to visit a monastery that was built in the mountains , near the city where my family lives. The position of this historical place is really wonderful, on the spectacular Jiu Valley.
The monastery is called Lainici, and it was built in 1817, on the foundations of an older monastery, dated to the 14th century. 

This is an Orthodox monastery , with only monks. Throughout time, it went through a lot, as the place was destroyed first during the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 18th century, then during the WWI, when the German army destroyed the church, and also the cemetery and the archive.

March 1st

by Andrada Costoiu

March 1st is a special day in Romania as the country celebrates the arrival of the spring season. We celebrate it with snowdrop flowers and traditional gifts. It is a very old celebration, that dates back to our ancestors, In ancient Rome, the New Year’s was celebrated on the 1st of March. March (‘Martius’) was named in the honor of the god Mars. In Romania, according to archaeological research, this celebration traces its history more than 8,000 years ago, which some ethnologists believing that it has Roman origins, while others say that it is an old Dacian tradition.

We call Martisor a little talisman with red and white strings that is offered to women during this holiday. It is believed that the person who wears the red and white string would enjoy a prosperous and healthy year.

 Between March 1 – 9, the Romanians also celebrate „babele” (in translation: the old women): everyone has to pick a day in this time frame. You can pick your day randomly, but some use their birthday to choose their “baba”. SO, for example if you’re born on the 14 of June, your “baba” is going to be 1+4= 5 =March 5th. The weather on the day you chose will show your luck in the upcoming year. Warm weather means that you will have happiness and wealth, whereas cold, rainy weather brings adversities. The weather during this time is very unstable, so you’ll never know what you get:).

Romanians are generally very superstitious, perhaps the new generations less than the older ones, but many people will pay attention to these signs.

Beginning of slavery in the US

by Andrada Costoiu

Hello everyone,
Few people, including myself, have started at our university a reading group about the history of slavery in general and in the USA in particular. I am posting here a brief slide show, if you would like to learn a bit about what we know, according to the historical records, about the beginnings of slavery here in the USA. I think that we need to excavate deep into the history to understand more what is happening today. Not born and raised here, I was oblivious to race, religion and all kinds of differences. I still am. I do not like when people are called names or treated differently based on their origins and their other characteristics. We are all people and we all have souls. Period. For what is worth, we could all have been born in different bodies.

Have a wonderful day,
A. xoxo

My poem “A new Gertrude Bell for the Atlantis of the Sands” will appear in the Scarlet Leaf Review

by Andrada Costoiu

Another time, same wind gusts are witness,
to a world of ever changing, uncharted sands of red and tan. 
No tribal conflicts are troubling this place,
The hammer of the modern world has already been cast.

I hear the music of the shifting dunes
Chanting to worlds that have been here long before the present,
With a faint hum, low throated, drum like sealing sound.

Glowing under the moon, the lights of a thousand stars hanging from the sky,
Drench the desert like whiffs of wisdom.
I know, 
That I have lived my entire life in the company of them,
Kneeling together to the same universe,
Feeling the life force.

Some girls wear different hats, 
Mine is to thread the beads of civilization into the eternal loop,
and prove that that nothing disappears into the unknown.
I have been searching to make the Atlantis of the Sands real,
To find the lost city that was forgotten for thousands of years.
I keep planning my route,
And this is certainly the most spectacular adventure of my life.


My feet are aching, for days I’ve been begging for new feet, new arms,
stoic in my quest that I hope to carry through the next day and on.

Tonight, I feel so thirsty,
Drinking water from my canteen, barefoot,
I see my crew stretching, 
The feeble sounds of their hymn sung in unison
Express visions of life that undulate across miles of silent sand.
“We’ll go at first light”, says the main porter,
I nod, 
Knowing that the greatest honor bestowed upon us humans is survival.
Tomorrow is another day,
Neither bound nor free, we will keep walking.

We’re a band of loyal warriors fighting to assemble the puzzle that reveals the truth:
The past, the present, and the future are all connected,
We don’t own time, but we do own our history.

I believe in us,
Nothing is dust in the wind
And our songs will not fade mute.
Ancient flames of light flicker inside us,
Giving us purpose,
We will dive and emerge from the sea currents of time,
And trace past and present trails of human survival and civilization.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2020- . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

My new poetry book “Love poems: insights into the complicated mystery of love” is available on Amazon. You can get it here. Please write a review if you get around it. I would really appreciate it.

Because you’re here and you have read it, I’d like to tell you the story behind it. There are actually two stories, one is that of Gertude Bell and the other of a lost city.

I’ve written about Gertude Bell before. There is little written about her, but she was remarkable woman who left traces in our history. 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 when Gertrude was seven years old.She studied at Oxford. In fact, was the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford. 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. 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.

If you want to read more about her, I have written a small article that you can find here: Gertrude Bell at Andrada’s website.

So this is Gertrude’s story. Now, the Gertrude in my poem, it’s a combination between the way I see the real Gertrude and myself. I guess I must have some Indiana Jones DNA because I too, love adventure and I am fascinated by these things.

The second story behind this poem is the one of a lost city of Ubar, or the so called The Atlantis of the Sands. The quest to find this city started early on, in 1930. But it wasn’t until 1992 that they actually found something, that might be remnants of this city. Here is what they said about it :

“In February 1992, The New York Times announced a major archaeological discovery in the following terms: “Guided by ancient maps and sharp-eyed surveys from space, archaeologists and explorers have discovered a lost city deep in the sands of Arabia, and they are virtually sure it is Ubar. When news of this discovery spread quickly around the newspapers of the world, there seemed few people willing or able to challenge the dramatic findings, apart from the Saudi Arabian press. The discovery was the result of the work of a team of archaeologists led by Nicholas Clapp, which had visited and excavated the site of a Bedouin well at Shisr (18° 15′ 47 N” 53° 39′ 28″ E) in Dhofar province, Oman. The conclusion they reached, based on site excavations and an inspection of satellite photographs, was that this was the site of Ubar, or Iram of the Pillars, a name found in the Quran which may be a lost city, a tribe or an area.” A contemporary notice at the entrance to an archaeological site at Shisr in the province of Dhofar, Oman, proclaims: “Welcome to Ubar, the Lost City of Bedouin Legend”.[9]However, scholars are divided over whether this really is the site of a legendary lost city of the sands.

“A contemporary notice at the entrance to an archaeological site at Shisr in the province of Dhofar, Oman, proclaims: “Welcome to Ubar, the Lost City of Bedouin Legend”.[9]However, scholars are divided over whether this really is the site of a legendary lost city of the sands.” Source: Wikipedia

I think it is an interesting story, and there are a lot of resources on the web where you could read more about it.

One story

by Andrada Costoiu

American Progress, painting by John Gast, 2017. Image from Wikipedia.org, WikiCommons

In reaction of judge Ruth Ginsburg death, I wrote a poem, which I am sharing with you below. I am worried for what happens in our politics. I want peace, progress and a better future. This is what we are known for, we are a country of open minded, kind people that care about each other. People that came here to escape religious persecution (that doesn’t mean that you cannot be any religion you choose!), founders of this land who came here with their dreams, California’s gold diggers who came here to change their lives, immigrants who came on ships to follow their American Dream, ALL came here for a better life, for equal opportunities. This is who we are, this is what makes us different from other parts of the world, where you cannot speak your mind or where you have cast systems that will prevent you from achieving your potential, because you’re not born into it.

America means progress. America means equality. America means fairness and equal opportunity. America means freedom. America means gender equality. American means us, all of us.

And here is the story I wrote, it’s the story of our founding mothers and fathers. And that, unless your are a native American, lives in all of us.

One story

by Andrada Costoiu

She, born in the land of sewed mouths,
And tall fences,
Made it to the shore.
She touched her wings,
Bruised in her erratic flight 
To escape to freedom.

Guardians of the new land came and took her,
Some had assuming eyes and asked about her journey.
She looked up at the eagle flying in the sky,
And smiled.

She didn’t have a map to show her journey of yesterday,
But just like the eagle flight, high and free,
Her dreams and hopes were fearlessly flowing through her veins,
Holding promises of a shinier, better tomorrow.

She took the cotton rag strapped across her chest,
And kissed the picture of another 
Compressed in charcoal.
She folded its burned edges,
Still smelling like her mom’s cooking,
And stud up,
Until the guards let her follow the music,
Of the valleys and mountains of this newfound land.


The memory of her first step joined others,
Next to big and small footprints.
The dirt road looked like an eternal mosaic jigsaw puzzle,
With different colors.
She smiled as her mark added more meaning,
To its one big, and still in progress story.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2020- . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

My new poetry book “Love poems: insights into the complicated mystery of love” is available on Amazon. You can get it here. Please write a review if you get around it. I would really appreciate it.

The telegram

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: The envelope for a Western Union Telegraph, c. 1861 (Photo: Library of Congress)

I never sent one. I was born in the Internet era, so for me, the email was and is the standard. Though, sometimes I do like to send the occasional written letter, because there is nothing like it.
Maybe I am old fashioned that way, because I can’t trade the feeling of having a physical book in my hands for the Kindle. I still like the libraries and the smell of books, and one thing that has stayed with me throughout the years is the memory of the University of Chicago’s library, where I have spent a lot of time when I was a graduate student.
But this post is not about books, it’s about the old way people used to send each other information: The Telegram.

The postman fishing out a telegram from his satchel is an abiding image that many of us just saw in movies, isn’t it? I would think is not used anymore today, but…..strangely enough, when I did a bit of research I have found out that in some countries this kind of service is still available.

In the US,  there is the Itelegram: https://www.itelegram.com, in Spain there is SEUR, in Italy there is Poste Italiane, in Germany Deutsche Post. In some countries like India, UK, France, this service doesn’t exist anymore.
People still use telegrams for canceling contracts and sending legal notifications, because the message is retained for 7 years in the files and can be legally verified. 

Why am I writing about it? Because I think it’s part of our history. I know the telegraph maybe out of date or seem obsolete, but it represents a really important time period in human history, when humanity was advancing itself ….just as we do today.
Because I am imagining how it felt to have a long distance relationship back in the days when you had no Whattsapp, Facetime and other technologies. Because telegrams made and changed history, and I will give an example about one that changed America’s participation in WW2.

Do you know the heartbreaking story behind the most popular version of the telegraph?

Photo:Samuel Morse, c. 1840 (Photo: Public Domain/WikiCommons)

Born in Massachusetts in 1791, Samuel Morse studied mathematics and philosophy at Yale. But he was also an artist, a painter. A good painter, although in February 1825 at age 34, when he was invited to Washington D.C to pursue what could have been his big break, he was older than his heroes had been when they created their masterpieces. Here he was commissioned to paint Marquis de Lafayette, who was returning as a hero to the country he helped make free.
Morse’s wife, Lucretia remained in their family home in New Haven, Connecticut, expecting their third child.

While working on his painting in DC, Morse got a letter from his father: “My heart is in pain and deeply sorrowful, while I announce to you the sudden and unexpected death of your dear and deservedly loved wife.” 
Lucretia had died a few days earlier of heart attack while recovering from childbirth. He rushed back to his family, but by the time he got back his wife was already buried. 

SLOW communication. 

So this heart broken man has embarked in creating a technology that might have given him a chance to share a final few moments with Lucretia, or at least to attend her funeral. He wanted others to not have to go through same pain and sorrow. His endeavor took many years and many hurdles, but on May 24, 1844, he sent the first message, from the floor of US Supreme Court that said “ WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT.”

OK! But, we should also say that Morse had learned about telegraphy in Britain, where William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone had already developed a working electrical telegraph, in 1838 – some six years before Morse sent his famous message. Morse’s design did prove to be a more elegant solution, so while not the first, in time it became the most popular.

William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electric telegraph from 1837, which is now held in the London Science Museum
(Photo: Geni/WikiCommons CC BY-SA 4.0

Telegrams were expensive

Yes, they were very expensive!

In 1860, for example, a ten-word telegram sent from New York to New Orleans cost $2.70 (about $65 in 2012 currency). When the transcontinental telegraph opened, the cost was $7.40 for ten words (about $210), while a ten word transatlantic message to England cost $100 (about $2,600). Source: https://newatlas.com/last-telegraph-message/28314/

Stories by Titanic survivors, rescued by the passenger ship Carpathia, say that some of them sent radiograms from on board the Carpathia, but these were very expensive. Other survivors sent telegrams as soon as the Carpathia arrived in New York on the 18th of April. One survivor, Mrs. Dowdell recalled “One man, a barber, had but $1.25 with him, and he handed over one dollar of this to send the word ‘safe’ to his mother.”

Telegraphy – a Victorian version of the Internet

Telegraphy in the 1800s was the earliest form of electronic data communication. Telegraphers created a new language, one of strange abbreviations that only they, understood. 73, for example, meant goodbye; 30 was the number placed at the end of a news story to signify the end. 
Just like we today, we have LOL….emojiis and all kinds of other abbreviations. 

If you want to read more about how it all started, there is a book, which I know of : The Victorian Internet by Tom Standee. I personally did not read it yet. 

By the way, the first transatlantic telegram happened 14 years after Morse’s first message, when Queen Victoria sent a message of congratulations to the American president James Buchanan.

The Zimmerman telegram and WWI

Photo: Cryptic version of the Zimmermann telegram, WWI. Creative Commons

This is the telegram that brought America into the First World War!


Up until 6 April 1917, US remained neutral. Then it joined the Allies, and this is the course of events that lead to it.

Although wireless (radio) was used to send messages in the First World War, the principal means of diplomatic communication was via telegrams sent on undersea cables. In 1914 the Allies cut many German cables, forcing them to communicate via the cables of other powers. German communications were routed through the neutral US Embassy in Berlin, via their cable across the Atlantic. Yet this cable actually passed through the UK and could be tapped by the British intelligence services(source for this information : The official website for BBC History Magazine, History Extra)

British had broken the codes they were using, and so any messages could be read. On 17 January 1917, British intelligence intercepted the Zimmermann telegram. The Zimmermann message was passed to the British code-breaking unit in ‘Room 40’ and it took several weeks to decode. The  message was encouraging Mexicans to invade the southern US with the aim of re-conquering those states that were formerly part of Mexico: Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Germany would support this effort with money and arms.

President Wilson was shown the Zimmermann message on 24 February, and released it to the press on 1 March. The wave of anti-German and anti-Mexican feeling grew in the US.

The US entered first World War on April 6th, 1917.

So, yes, these are few interesting facts and stories that I thought to share with you! I hope that you enjoyed it, and that you have learned something new by reading this today!

Welcome to the British Museum

by Andrada Costoiu

If you are in London and a history lover, this is a place that you must visit. I went in a summer afternoon and I wish I took the whole day, because the museum is so large and so interesting. I think it’s one of the greatest museums in the world!

Where

Do not expect the museum to be on a big street, it isn’t! Its location is not on a little street either (as it’s Picasso’s museum in Barcelona), but it’s not placed on a big avenue. I used my Google maps to find it.

The address is Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom.

When you get there, there will be a line. They, of course, do security screenings and your belongings will be scanned as well as you. But the line goes fast, you wont be there for an hour; the wait is nothing like the wait for some Disney rides :).

The museum is open daily 10.00-17.30. Open late on Fridays until 20.30.

The museum is free, but there are some collections that you have to pay for (if you would like to see them!). I suggest purchasing an audio guide (there is a place to rent these, as you get in the big hall).

This picture show part of the big hall, after the entrance

The guide is very useful if you don’t have anybody else to explain the different exhibitions and to give you a tour. I used it not only to learn about the exhibitions, but also to learn about particular objects that interested me. You see, each display case has a number. If you click on your audio guide on that number, it will tell you a lot more than the written explanations on the displays (if any).

A bit of history

The British Museum was established in 1753. It first opened to the public in 1759 on the site of the current building. So yes, it’s that old! In fact, the British Museum is the oldest museum in the world!

The museum started with the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane.   He was a London-based doctor and scientist who married the widow of a wealthy Jamaican planter. He did not wish to see his collection broken up after death, so he bequeathed it to King George II. At that time, Sloane’s collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds. But since 1753 the collection grew to 8 million objects.

One of the funny facts about the British Museum is that it has been home a lot of cats over the centuries. They say that the most famous guard at the British Museum was a cat :). The cat name was Mike and he patrolled the gate from 1909-1929. When he died, the museum staff mourned him and his obituary was featured in TIME magazine.

The British Museum is popular in the entertainment industry. You might not know but many movie scenes were filmed here. The first movie scene ever shot in the Museum was for The Wakefield Cause, in 1921. Blackmail, by Alfred Hitchcock was also shot here and so were scenes from the Hollywood masterpiece, Day of the Jackal. Most recently, the museum was featured in the movie Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014).

Three of the most popular exhibits at the British Museum are the Oxus Treasure, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.

What I liked

HM!!! I am going to talk about only what I have seen, because I didn’t get a chance to visit all! 

Rosetta Stone

I stopped in front of the Rosetta Stone for a while and I imagined all these people making the inscriptions. What was it like then? Who were these people? They sure left us something so we can understand them.

The Rosetta Stone has ancient hieroglyphs carved onto it and its discovery was instrumental to the translation of Ancient Egyptian writing. The stone is dating from 196 B.C. .

The Egyptian Galleries, Room 4

This room houses sculptures and artifacts from about 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization. The exhibition is magnificent.  The gallery is located next to the museum’s main entrance.

Room 4 is one of the largest exhibition space and it display only 4% of its Egyptian holdings. That is because it is the place for monumental sculptures…and when I say monumental I really mean it. Everything is gigantic…

This is the colossal statue of Amenhotep III also known as Amenhotep the Magnificent, was the ninth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Look at how small people look in comparison to it…

And this is the head of the same Pharaoh Amenhotep III. This statue is dating from around 1370 BC…

This is a giant bust of Rameses II, also known as Rameses the Great. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom. This is why his successors called him the “Great Ancestor”.

Standing in front of these statues made me think about these people in real life like. What was it like to be a Pharaoh? What is amazing? : ).

And there are so many other great things in this room…….but I should’t put up more pictures. You just go and see : ).

The Elgin Marbles, the department of Greece and Rome

The Parthenon Marbles, the Elgin Marbles are a collection of medieval, marble Greek Sculptures. These sculptures were brought to Great Britain in the early 1800s by the Earl of Elgin, who acquired them from the Parthenon Temple in Athens. 

These sculptures were part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, built between 447 and 438 B.C.

The mummies

This exhibition is extraordinary …..large, many mummies. It is situated on the 4th floor.

I was looking at these mummies and I was thinking what life would have been like along the River Nile several thousand years ago. It does not take an effort of imagination to conjure back the ancient times. People, like today, believed in afterlife and the mummification was an extraordinary funerary tradition of preparing the body for the afterlife. 

They also have the pictures of the CT scans of the inside the mummies’ coffins. 

I was humbled while reaching the mummy of the Gabelein man.  Humbled by being a human, in front of another person that exited so long ago and that now is on display in a museum….

They named this mummy “Ginger”. They said he is called this way because of his….red hair?  He is placed in the fetal position which was the most common form for Egyptian burials of the time. 

What I would do when I will go again

I would map the exhibitions, because I went in blind and not knowing even the floors where certain exhibitions were. This place is massive and it helps knowing where what you’re interested in is located.

I would go there earlier, not late afternoon. You can spend so many hours in the museum…

I would read more in advance about certain pieces. The mummies, the Elgin marbles and the Egypt exhibitions I have seen are so amazing and I would want to know more before I stand in front of these pieces.

And I will go again…..I hope that you will too!

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lee Miller, from being seen to seeing

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: Lee Miller, war correspondent -WikiCommons

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 as a 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.

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