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.
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.
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?
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.
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
Cryptic version of the Zimmermann telegram
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
Lee Miller, Self-portrait (variant on lee miller par lee miller), c. 1930.
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.
Lee and Man together
LEE MILLER PORTRAIT, 1930 BY MAN RAY
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.
Lee Miller: Oasis village, 1936, Egypt; photo in the archive of George Dunkley
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.
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.
I am reading a book, it’s called “Letters to the lost” by Iona Grey. It’s a beautiful love story, set in London during WW2. As I was reading it, I came across this passage that’s happening in St. Paul’s Cathedral. This sent me back to the time when I was inside it.
I didn’t know about the Whispering Gallery. I wish I knew; I would have climbed up there.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a magic place that goes back in time. I thought this building was the start, but no!! The cathedral building has been destroyed several times and there is so much history behind it! The first on this site was a Roman temple to Diana, but the first Christian cathedral there was dedicated to St. Paul in AD 604. That cathedral burned and its replacement (built 675–685) was destroyed by Viking raiders in 962.
In 1087 a third cathedral erected on the site also burned!
The fourth one, now known as Old St. Paul’s, was constructed in the late 11th century. Its spire stood higher than the dome of the present cathedral. In 1561 the spire was destroyed by lightning (and a resulting fire) and never replaced. Then this building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666), when it was caught in the flames. The lead on the roof melted and poured down on to the street like a river, or so they say. The building collapsed.
The present cathedral, dating from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope! It has survived the WW2 Blitz as it is (with repairs) . What was the Blitz? It was the German bombing campaign against the UK, in 1940 and 1941. Not only London, but also provincial UK was bombed. Much of London was lost, including many iconic buildings. St. Paul’s survived probably through a miracle (or maybe because it was protected somehow). Below it’s a picture after the bombings, with St. Paul’s towering over the ruble of London. Since then, this building had become associated with the British resilience.
Who was Christopher Wren and how did he came to build St. Paul’s
After the year of the Great Plague in 1665, The Great Fire of London came! The fire happened in 1666 destroyed many of the city’s public buildings, including 88 of its churches.
Christopher Wren was commissioned to build 51 replacement churches, and that included St Paul’s cathedral. Although Wren was personally responsible for all these, probably not all of them represent his own fully developed design. Only a few are in Wren’s hand, including St. Paul’s.
Wren was many things, not only an architect. He was a scientist and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society (president 1680–82), the oldest scientific society in the world! His work was highly regarded by Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal.
The cathedralis heavily influenced by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The construction of the cathedral took more than 40 years. In 1708, Wren’s son, Christopher Wren Jr, placed the final stone on the lantern, watched by his father below.
I think the most notable feature is the dome. The dome framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated London’s skyline for over 300 years. It is still among the highest in the world.
Internally, the church is beautiful ,with impressive arches and naves.
There are famous people buried here.
The first person to be buried in St. Paul’s Cathedralwas its creator. Christopher Wren died in 1723. His tomb is on the south aisle in the east of the crypt.
Here you will also find the tombs of Lord Nelson, Florence Nightingale, William Blake, Lawrence of Arabia and many others.
Sunday mass, under the Dome
Picture snapped by my friend while going to the mass
I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral on a Sunday morning, with my friends. We were there for the mass, and it was wonderful.
I don’t like sermons that much, I don’t like when people tell other people what to do or not do. But I like when people learn from each other and I also like when people stand together, united in good thoughts.
Probably that’s why I felt overwhelmed, when the chorus and then everybody started to sing. Under the dome, our voices together sounded powerful, uplifting and hopeful. I think that is the definition of being human.
Together we stand, together we can do great things, each of us doing our own bit.
By Thames River, very close to the London Bridge, lies The Tower of London. This is a place where about 1000 years of history have been written, a place where medieval kings and queens have lived and a place where many people have found their death.
I went to see it in an August summer day. I was lucky; the weather was just beautiful!!! But what do you know! The occasional London showers didn’t spare me! While I was waiting to see the Crown Jewels the rain was pouring down like crazy. I was lucky a man next to me came more prepared and offered to shelter me under his umbrella. Thank you!
The Tower is a big place and you should take your time visiting. You will need at least several hours. If you don’t plan to take a guided tour, you should get an audio guide, it’s really useful and gives you a lot of information as you move through the different buildings and exhibitions.
The Tower! I was fascinated …….and then horrified as I discovered the place of burial for Anne Boleyn! I’ve seen the Tudors series, and this movie gave flight to my imagination about the love story between Anne and Henry VIII…. He was so in love with her and then….he ordered her decapitation.
A fortress and a palace
The construction of what is now the Tower of London started in 1070s, when William the Conqueror wanted to build a mighty castle to defend and proclaim his royal power. The Tower took around 20 years to build.
Then Henry III (1216-72) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded William’s fortress, adding defensive walls with a series of smaller towers.
The Tower was a fortress, e medieval palace and a prison. It also controlled the supply of the nation’s money. All coins of the realm were made at the Tower Mint until 1810. Kings and queens also locked away their jewels here and even today, the Crown Jewels are here, at the Tower.
The Crown Jewels
The jewels are displayed in the Jewel House. Waiting to see the Crown Jewels can feel like waiting in a cue for a Disney ride. It can be crowed and it can take some time to get inside, so be prepared. Also, you cannot take pictures inside; you can’t take pictures of the jewels.
This is the Jewel House, at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are sheltered
The Crown Jewels have been stored and displayed at the Tower of London since 1661! They are under guard and still in use…..
A royal guard by the Jewel House, Tower of London
I’m not sure what to say about the crowns and everything that it is found inside the exhibition. They are beautiful, of course! Especially the ones with the cullinan diamonds, which are the largest diamonds ever found. Cullinan I is the largest diamond in the world and is mounted in the head of the Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross and Cullinan II, the second largest, is mounted in the Imperial State Crown.
This is a picture of the Imperial State Crown, Queen Elizabeth II is wearing it.
These diamonds were discovered in Culling, South Africa in 1905 and they were named after Thomas Culling, the mine’s chairman.
To me, the jewels were not as important as the history behind them. The stories of all these people that have worn them, their lives and what happened in England during their reign. Out of all the royals that have worn these jewels, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Tudors, and about their most famous king, Henry VIII.
The White Tower and Henry the VIII
The White Tower is the main building of the fortress and it is the very first building that was built for this place.
The White Tower has four floors. The entrance to the White Tower is made on the first floor by a door accessible only by a wooden staircase. They say that at the time of construction instead of the wooden staircase it was probably a ladder….
The wooden staircase that leads to the entrance of the White Tower
“The Royal Armories” is located on the lower floor of the White Tower.The present collection took shape in the Reign of Henry VIII (1509-47).
It features many royal weapons and armor, real-size wooden horses and depictions of the different kings, set in a situation. There are few armors of King Henry VIII and also the armor of King Charles I and James II.
I cannot imagine how it must have been to be under this mountain of iron, how could you more….how could you fight!!!
The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula
In front of the chapel is the place where scaffolds were built. Statistics say than more than 400 people were executed here.
The Chapel is perhaps best known as being the burial place of some of the most famous Tower prisoners. This includes three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, all of whom were executed within the Tower in the 16th century.
Anne, was Henry VIII greatest love, or at least one of them… She was accused of adultery and treason and she was decapitated at the tower. The place where you see the green book, it is thought to be the place where Anne is buried.
The Tower Ravens
A group of at least six captive ravens are resident at the Tower of London. These days I think there are seven. They are tended by a Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, who is clipping their wings and feathers in order not to allow them to fly off the grounds. The Ravenmaster releases the birds from their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.
I haven’t read any books about Russia for a long time. Russians have beautiful literature; they have Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gogol and many other wonderful writers. I did not stop reading their books because I didn’t like their stories; I did like their literature. Though, I guess my rebellious mind unconsciously protested against anything that had to do with Russia because I grew up in a communist country and I blamed communism and everything that had to do with it on Russia.
Indeed, by the end of WWII in the countries that the Red Army ‘liberated’, communist-dominated governments took power. By 1949, all the governments of Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia, became Stalinist regimes.
The map of Europe looked like this….
Romania became communist in 1947. I wasn’t born back then but my grandparents were. Unfortunately we were a noble family and that was really bad! The Communists took everything my grandparents had, all the lands and….everything. Later on they sent my father and my uncle to a correctional school because they had to “un-noble “ them and they had to be educated in the “communist spirit”. Appalling ….but other people had it worse….
My grandparents never talked much about this past.
I don’t really have a feel of what was life before communism but I do know what was like growing up under communism. Here are some things that I remember:
–It was allowed only 2 hour per day to watch television between 8 and 10 PM and usually they will put just news or documentaries about Ceausescu and his wife. As kids, we would only have cartoons 10 minutes a day and in the weekends it was half an hour. I remember all of us kids running from outside where we were playing to go in front of the TV so we can watch some Tom and Jerry….
— The communist party was trying to denigrate the image of Christmas, as it was considered too religious. So we did not have Santa Claus, Santa was banned! Instead we had Mos Gerila, a kind of slim, funny version of Santa. They wanted kids to believe that this guy was bringing presents from the state…..and that it wasn’t a magical creature. We still believed though, because our parents somehow managed to nurture our imagination…..
This is a picture of Mos Gerila from a newspaper in 1947. Still, our image of it was the one with beard and it pretty much looked like Santa, because our parents, the ones who dressed up like it, never looked so hunky :))).
–When my aunt who moved to Germany sent me a pair of jeans it was a miracle. In communist Romania, almost nobody owned a paired of jeans because that was a luxury.
–I remember my parents planning to go in vacations or visits during the weekends. The planning was a whole production! Why? Because depending of your license plate you could only drive your car two weekends a month! They would alternate between even and odd license plate numbers! In some weekends you could only drive your car if the license number plate was ending in 2, 4, 6 e.g. and in others the ones ending in 1, 3, 5, 7 e.g. If they caught you with wrong plate number you would have been arrested. How weird is that!!
–Every month you could only use 20 L gas, that is about 5 gallons a month!! Yes, that was all you had! So you had to plan your travels carefully and save gas if you wanted to take a longer trip! Also, we had a car but to own a car back then was a complete luxury. In 1989, before the revolution, in Bucharest there were only about 200. 000 cars. Now there are millions of cars in Romania…..
–During communism the borders were closed. Nobody could go outside the country. We never imported many goods, so imagine when after 1989 when finally products were imported! Juices, cigars, sweets were things nobody tasted in their life!
So yes, I remember all these things and others too. Russia, communist rule, our lives. I never wanted to go back, not even in my mind. And apparently I kept everything away, even the wonderful Russian novels that were completely unrelated with the spread of communism and what it did to us……
I’ve bought these three books from my neighborhood bookstore, in California. I think what attracted me most were the covers and the old feel! These books are over 50 years old; they were published in 1953. Who knows who left them in this bookstore ….
This author is not Leo Tolstoy, but some sources say that they were distant relatives. I don’t know much about their relationship, but whereas Aleksey was not an influential global writer as Leo Tolstoy, he did leave an interesting legacy that includes many wonderful works.
And so, I read them….
The story revolves around 4 main characters, 2 sisters and their husbands. Dasha and Katya are the sisters and Telegin and Roshkin are their husbands. I was swept by the true love between these people but most of all I was swept by how the turmoil of historical events shaped people’s lives and their destinies.
This trilogy traces the development of the Russian society during the critical years of WWI, the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war in Russia.
Russia fought WWI on the Eastern Front. As many other armies, Russian army too lost a lot of soldiers, and more …because the Russian Army had about one doctor for every 10,000 men. Thus, many wounded soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated on the Western Front.
This is a map of Europe in the year of 1914, drawn by a German graphic artist, Walter Trier
Then the Russian Revolution started in March 1917, the monarchy was abolished. The Civil War followed….
The Civil War was between the Red Army, known as the communist Bolsheviks and the White Army, who greatly favored nationalism and monarchism. And in between, there was also the Green Army that rose from the peasantry. The Greens grew tired of the Red Army requisitioning their livestock, food, and able-bodied men so they rose to protect their communities.
As the history of Russia was being made, people’s lives were turned upside down to the point that soldiers and officers that fought together in the WWI ended up fighting against and killing each other in the revolution and in the Civil War.
Reading these books made me think about a distant past and about these people, about how much they went through and about how much they suffered. Then about the Russian Revolution, the spread of communism and what it did to people living in Eastern Europe…
People and places, our lives
You see, we create meaning through the exchange between spheres of different rationalities. Depending to what we are exposed to, we create our identities and shape our life trajectories.
During communism, people were in a deeply flawed position. They learned gobbets of information and wrong teachings and information were stored in the society’s collective memory banks. Thus how could one give a reasoned critique to what was really happening?
I saw what happened to my family, what they took from us, how they transformed our lives. But I was just a child. Human mind displays great ingenuity and so I blocked everything that had to do with Russia, even their literature. Looking back, this was crazy……..
I will have to ponder about it more, but one thing that comes to my mind now is that are all people, we are individuals with similar fears, needs and desires. We are all living histories; we are told or untold biographies. We have to take time to learn about the world and about other’s views of the world. Our lives are our own and we have to keep learning.
Since tomorrow is Christmas, let’s try to give our best to the ones around us! Peace and love from me to all of you.
Perhaps because I’m fascinated with people that have left traces in our history, I feel compelled to write about Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale.
Who are these two English writers that lived in England in the 1700s?
Samuel Johnson is the one that created the first comprehensive English dictionary (it wasn’t the first English dictionary, the very first one belongs to Robert Cowdrey: Table Alphabeticall—in 1604). It took Johnson more than 8 years to complete it. Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used 22 years to compile his American Dictionary (for good reason!)
Hester Thrale is probably one of the earliest cases of British feminism. Some sort of an earlier Jane Austen!
Both these writers have made great contributions to the English literature and they were linked by friendship or also by love?
Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London
Hester Thrale is part of the early women writers and her case is a classic feminist Cinderella story. Perhaps the reason why I like her is that (like other the other women I admire) she was able to move from an image tailored for her by the social norms of the time to a self-made image of a woman with an independent way of expressing herself.
What does it take to be like that? I think it takes the same courage and determination that you would need nowadays to go do something, write something, build something to leave to the posteriority. Women or men, we’re all the same. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have choices. We can easily get entangled in meaningless lifestyles or we can all be founders or supporters of something that matter for “Tomorrow”.
Back to Hester. She was born January 27th, 1741 at a farmhouse in Wales, UK. I don’t think she was raised for intellectual stagnation because she was encouraged early on to read and learn foreign languages. She was writing and translating French, Italian, Spanish and before her marriage she was contributing poems and political satires to newspapers.
Then she married a rich brewer Henry Thrale and she was constantly pregnant. They had 12 children…..yes, 12! Her husband was not very nice, he neglected her and he had numerous love affairs.
I think her wits saved Hester from total misery. She continued writing. After the birth of her first daughter she started documenting the various moments in her daughter’s life in a “baby book” called The Children’s Book.
Then she met Johnson, who moved into her family estate. He was much older than her, but they had literary and other intellectual affinities. She also took care of him. Despite being so much older, he became a sort of adopted child.
Thrale narrated her life experiences throughout her work. Her writings are marked by her personal conflict between her public image of the wonderful salon hostess and the private sorrows for her husband’s infidelity.
Thraliana, her first book, is a collection of her diaries, which are focused on her experiences with her family, on the society’s life at the time and it also contains anecdotes and stories about the life of Samuel Johnson. This collection wasn’t published until 1942.
Her works, among which are Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788), challenged the gendered conventions of writing of the time and the traditional masculine discourse. I think she was kind of an early Jane Austen! She used a “feminine” form of writing, by introducing in her narratives her observations and experiences that evoked sensations, sentiments and feelings. Imagine that, an early 18th century woman evoking her feelings in writing ….it seems scandalous :-).
Her pen remained active until her late years. She continued to publish works that revealed her intellectual vivacity, works that presented her ideas, opinions and interesting stories.
Photo credit: Artepics/age fotostock
Samuel Johnson, also often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, biographer and as a lexicographer. His most prominent work is A Dictionary of the English Language. You can access it online here: https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com
Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 173 years later, his dictionary was viewed as the pre-eminent English dictionary. He took more than 8 years to complete it! Even today, Johnson’s Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language.
Here are some interesting facts about his dictionary:
He left out the letter X! he says that “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language.”
His definitions weren’t always so scholarly, in fact some were really funny:
oats is “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”
luggage is “anything of more weight than value.”
Ah, I shall remember his definition of “luggage” when I will pack my bags for future trips : ).
3. He left out a lot of words. His dictionary of 42,000-words vocabulary is impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755.
Johnson was nearly blind in his left eye and suffered from tics that may have been indications of Tourette syndrome (back then nobody knew anything about this, and this disease was not even defined).
He married an older woman, who was the wife of a deceased friend. At the time they got married he was 25, she 46. I think they were happy, he nicknamed her affectionately “Tetty”. Her marriage settlement provided with enough money to open a school in Edial, near Lichfield.
He had a long association with The Gentleman’s Magazine, often considered the first modern magazine of the time. He published here many works, including a series of a series of speeches purporting to represent the actual debates in the House of Commons.
Johnson died in 1784 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.
This is a picture of the Abbey that I took this summer
Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale relationship
He lived at Thrale’s estate for many years. In theory, their friendship was platonic. However, some letters from Johnson to Thrale were found, in florid French that suggest something more. Rumor has it that there is evidence of a masochistic element, as Johnson letters to her include images of bondage and restraint, and he entrusted to her a padlock …which she was supposed to use on him.
What do you know! The private lives …. many times they’re not always what they seem!
Also, the way he severed his ties with her after she decided to marry her daughter’s singing instructor, point to feelings deeper than just camaraderie. When he got the news she will get married he was appalled. He wrote to her:
“ Madam, if I interpret your letter right, you are ignominiously married; if it is yet undone, let us once more talk together. If you have abandoned your children and your religion, God forgive your wickedness: if you have forfeited your fame and your country, may your folly do no further mischief. If the last act is yet to do, I who have loved you, esteemed you, reverenced you, and served you, I who long thought you the first of humankind, entreat that, before your fate is irrevocable, I may once more see you. I was, I once was——Madam, most truly yours”
— Samuel Johnson
I wrote about them because I wanted to revive the memory of both these writers. I like them both, him, for his writings and her, for her literary work and also for her keen sense of herself as an autonomous woman and writer, which not an experience that many 18th-century women were able to enjoy.
Photo: “Portrait of George Sand” by Charles Louis Gratia (c. 1835)
George’s Sand real name was Armandine Aurore Lucille Dupin; she was called by her family and friends “Aurore”. Born in Paris in 1801, she was the most popular writer in Europe in mid 1800s, more popular than Victor Hugo and Honore the Balzac. Her work was appreciated by many famous poets and writers: the American poet Walt Whitman cited Sand’s novel Consuelo as a personal favorite; Dostoevsky translated some of her work; she inspired Virginia Wolf, Marcel Proust and many others.
A not so common 19th century French woman
She grew up in the French countryside, in Nohant, near La Châtre in Berry. At age thirteen she was sent to a convent in Paris. Her grandmother was afraid that Sand will become a nun so she brought her back to Nohant. She became the mistress of the estate after her grandmother died. At 19 she got married with Casimir-François Dudevant and they had 2 kids together.
I guess she was bored or grew wings because at 27 she decided that she wanted more and she moved to Paris in search for independence and love. She first worked for Le Figaro.
It didn’t take long for her to create her own identity: George Sand the writer. At that time, when a woman that demanded respect was supposed to be a dutiful wife and mother, she broke social barriers by becoming a writer.
She wore male attire in public….yes, pants, shirts and men’s hats! She also smoked in public. You might think, well, what’s so special about that? It is, because in France back then women were required to have a permit in order to wear male clothing! Some women applied for permit but Sand was one of the women that wore men’s clothes without it.
She started wearing men’s attire when she wanted to go to the theatre and didn’t have enough money. She loved entering intellectual and artistic venues where women were forbidden. AH, if I was to live during these days I would have done the same!!!
Also, the fact that she was smoking in public was scandalous. While more than a few raised their eyebrows at her rebellious behavior, others found her admirable and were not bothered by it.
Victor Hugo for example said that:
“George Sand cannot determine whether she is male or female. I entertain a high regard for all my colleagues, but it is not my place to decide whether she is my sister or my brother.”
– Victor Hugo
She was a romantic soul that always found consolation in her writing. I think that George Sand might be the most prolific woman writer in the history of literature. She wrote 130 volumes of fiction, political and other writing and 25 volumes or more of letters are coming to light. That’s impressive! I wonder when she found time to do anything else…..
All her novels are love stories in which her romantic idealism unfolds in a real world.
Her fist novel, Indiana, brought her immediate fame. This novel was a passionate protest against the social conventions that made a wife dependent on her husband and a plea for a heroine who abandons an unhappy marriage and finds love. Sounds familiar? Of course it does! The story is very similar to her own life story…..
The cover of Indiana by George Sand – WikiCommons
Yes, she was a “dream lover“
She was and did many things: she was a writer, a mother, an unhappy but trying hard to make it work wife, a lover, a caretaker, a “politician”. But she also had a sensible soul. She was forever searching for love, moving from one lover to another “ searching endlessly for a way to stop searching”( “The dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg). I wish she didn’t have to have that many lovers……but each of us has his/her own story. From her relationships, most remarkable to me were the ones with Alfred de Musset, Frederic Chopin and last….Gustave Flaubert. She loved each of them and each man loved her in their own way.
Her longest relationship was with Polish pianist and composer, Frédéric Chopin. He wrote much of his work during their 9 years together. I cannot imagine what would have been like to hear this man playing piano everyday! I love his Nocturne op.9, No.2; it’s my favorite. I also love Spring Waltz and so many other of his compositions. You can listen to both if you click their names because I attached the youtube links for each.
George Sand and Frédéric Chopin by Alquiler de Coches – Flickr
She and Gustave Flaubert meet after the publication of his book “Madame Bovary”. She was 53, he was 35. Some say that they were not lovers but friends. They wrote letters to each other; their correspondence lasted for 10 years, until Sand’s death. You can now read their correspondence if you check out these books The George Sand – Gustave Flaubert Letters and Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence.
Books and movies about her
There are a lot of books about her, but the one I have read is “The Dream lover” by Elizabeth Berg. One must appreciate this writer because of the sum of all feelings and insights you get while reading her work. Berg includes a lot of dates, places and famous people in Sand’s life. I have read some reviews and many people didn’t like this book, but I did! To me it had a lot of depth and feeling.
Impromptu (1991), with Hugh Grant and Judy Davis, is a very special movie. A young Hugh Grant and Judy Davis play Chopin and Sand.
The Children of the Century (1999) with Juliette Binoche. This movie focuses on Sand’s relationship with fellow author, Alfred de Musset.
Chopin: desire to love (2002) is a Polish movie. It is definitely one of the truest-to-life depictions of Chopin on the screen. Danita Stenka is also hands-down the best George Sand I’ve yet seen.
Movie poster for the 2002 movie by Jerzy Antczak titled Chopin: Desire for Love
Some final thoughts
George Sand lived her life as she pleased, which was very rare for any woman at that time. May we all learn from her courage. And may we all strive to be as creative as she was and be even half, a third or a tenth as productive as she was.
What about love? With all the distractions, tv’s, iPhones, internet and such, our fast pace of life makes us feel that we are racing to the unknown without deep feelings. We are forever rushing through. It feels like we are citizens of a land of banality, brushing shoulders with each other, chasing money, power, success….. But no! This is just an illusion, because deep inside each of us there is something that asks for love, and that is what motivates us to go on and on.
There are so many things we take for granted, such is freedom. Being free to speak our minds, to pursue our dreams, and to do the things we want to do. But what if you lived in a different place or in a different time, what if you had to fight to be you everyday?
Lou Andreas Salome was an extremely bright woman, one that Nietzsche, Rene Maria Rilke (a famous German poet), Paul Ree (a German philosopher) fell in love with. She was also a confidante of Sigmund Freud and a sort of a godmother to Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud. That’s an impressive list of fascinating people, isn’t it?
She made herself free of the society rules and became immersed in her work. She ignored her family’s and the general social expectations, which held that the purpose of a woman was to get married, have children and be dependent on her man. Pressed by everyone around her to undertake a conventional life, she constantly refused to do so.
She lived in Germany, where under the influential Prussian civil code an unmarried woman remained under the ward of her father and a married woman under the ward of her husband…and the husband, until 1860 could take his wife to the police station to be beaten….Imagine that!
I think she was a larger-than-life figure. Besides these top thinkers that were entwined in her life, her accomplishments in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and her published writings as a poet, essayist, and novelist are extraordinary. She was one of the first female psychoanalysts and one of the first women to write psychoanalytically on female sexuality.
How did she remain under the radar?!
She was born in Russia, Sankt Petersburg in 1861. She was curious and wanted to learn, so she persuaded a Dutch priest to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions and German literature. The priest, who was married and 25 years older than her, fell in love with her and proposed. Of course, she wasn’t interested and the lessons stopped. She was only 17 years old…
After her father’s death she moved to Zurich; then because she developed a lung disease they moved to Rome. She was 21. Here she met Paul Ree, a German philosopher than happened to be Nietzsche’s friend. Paul Ree is not that famous, but Nietzsche’s (1844–1900)philosophy has been and still is of influence in present time. Nietzsche’s way of thinking was fresh; he challenged the traditional values and I like that about him. With the risk of being deterred from the subject, I’m going to include here few of Nietzsche’s quotes:
“ There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth”
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
Lou, Nietzsche and Ree spend time and were planning to all move together, in a kind of brotherhood-sisterhood living, where they would all concentrate on their work.
This is a famous picture the three of them took in Luzerne, with Lou holding a whip and Nietzsche and Ree pulling the cart. It symbolizes the power she had over them…
Nietzsche and Ree were smitten with her and both proposed. She rejected their proposals. The relationship with Nietzsche ended up first, partly because of his possessive sister, Elizabeth Nietzsche, who in my opinion was a not very nice(I’ll just say this to keep the language of my writing clean). Some scholars say that Nietzsche wrote his famous book Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a response to his broken heart. Ree left her when she agreed to enter into a sham marriage (meaning no sex) with a linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas. They stayed married this way for 23 years, until his death in 1930.
Then she became deeply involved with Rene Maria Rilke, a German poet. I read his poetry and it’s beautiful. She persuaded him to change his name from Rene to Rainer. He was the first man that she got involved with sexually, she was around 30. She felt that she and Rilke were so well suited because he was in touch with the feminine side of himself. She often referenced herself as “androgynous” and she said that everyone should find the opposite sex within themselves. I find this a bit odd, a bit puzzling! If I am a woman, can I also find the man in me?! If you’re a man, can you also find the woman in you?!
This is a picture of Lou and Rilke
Last, in 1911, Salome went to Vienna, to undergo psychoanalysis with Freud. Her ideas were inspirational to Freud, specifically on the topic of narcissism. They were actually linked by their common interest in narcissism. While Freud studied narcissism from outside, she studied narcissism from within. They had opposing views. For Freud, narcissism was a formation of one’s own self-image, for Salome narcissism broke out from the framework of the “I” and went beyond the boundaries of “love for oneself”. For Salome narcissism was a maniacal condition of love towards oneself and towards the surrounding world. Interesting, isn’t it!!! She became a psychoanalyst, and practiced until the Nazis came to power. She was five years younger than Freud and despite the rumors about their romantic involvement their relationship was mostly intellectual.
There is a good movie about her, in German: Lou Andreas Salome and the audacity to be free. This is where I got the inspiration for my title. The movie made me a bit sad, but we should always follow our dreams and always think about what do we want to be remembered for.
Why do I find her inspiring ? I find her inspiring because she was a woman who managed to live a self-determined, independent life. She went against all odds and became who she wanted to be.