Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, painting by  Alessandro Longhi

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, painting by
Alessandro Longhi

 

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova: Synonymous with lovemaking charm and persuasion, even since Casanova’s death in 1798, his name evokes and defines the same person to this day. In today’s vernacular, “Womanizing.” Despite his impoverished condition and position at his death in Bohemia, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova’s memoir fetched a stunning figure in 2010 by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France of $9.6million! He was the first to assert that the revelation of his sexual exploits were in the scholar Tom Vitelli’s words, an American Casanovist, “He only presented his love life because it gave a window onto human nature.”

Casanova was a very learned and dimensional figure who acquainted with the likes of Ben Franklin, Voltaire and Catherine the Great. He translated The Iliad into his native Venetian dialect, supported himself as a gambler and bon vivant.

 

giacomo-casanova-history-inside1

Casanova as a young boy, and later in his life

 

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born in Venice in 1725 to actress Zanetta Farussi, wife of actor and dancer Gaetano Giuseppe Casanova. Giacomo was the first of six children, followed by Francesco Giuseppe (1727–1803), Giovanni Battista (1730–1795), Faustina Maddalena (1731–1736), Maria Maddalena Antonia Stella (1732–1800), and Gaetano Alvise (1734–1783). Casanova’s father died while he was a child and his mother sent him to boarding school in Padua.  Casanova met a young woman there, the daughter of his instructor, Bettina she was “pretty, lighthearted, and a great reader of romances. The girl pleased me at once, though I had no idea why. It was she who little by little kindled in my heart with the first sparks of a feeling which later became my ruling passion.”  Here he was ignited with the stuff that drove him.  Casanova graduated from the University of Padua in law at seventeen.  Amassing significant gambling debts there, he scurried back to Venice.

 

Palazzo Malpiero

 

He began his lifelong pattern of finding a patron,  76-year-old Venetian senator Alvise Gasparo Malipiero, the owner of Palazzo Malipiero.  Malipiero was grooming Casanova as a ‘dandy’.  Casanova was tall (disputed heights between 5’9” to 6’), dark and  handsome with long, powdered and elaborately curled hair. Malipiero instructed him on manners, food and wine.

 

casanova_13-thumb-large

Casanova and the sisters, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

 

 

 

 

 

At this time, Casanova experienced his famous first sexual encounter with two sisters, Nanetta and Maria Savorgnan, then fourteen and sixteen. He claimed they instilled his lifelong passion for sex.  Scandals ensued, landing him in prison for the first time for a gambling debt.  In his memoir, blandly titled: Histoire de ma vie, (Story of My Life) he proclaimed that “I have always loved it [sex] and done all that I could to make myself loved by it.”

Failing in his law profession and his attempt to work for the Church as a scribe with the powerful Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome, he elected to buy a post in the military of the Republic of Venice.  In Casanova’s, Story of My Life, he described his effort so:

 

Casanova in Uniform, by

Casanova in Uniform, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I decided to dress as a soldier … I inquire for a good tailor … he brings me everything I need to impersonate a follower of Mars … My uniform was white, with a blue vest, a shoulder knot of silver and gold … I bought a long sword, and with my handsome cane in hand, a trim hat with a black cockade, with my hair cut in side whiskers and a long false pigtail, I set forth to impress the whole city.”

Casanova soon bored with this occupation, and at age twenty-one, he set out to become a professional gambler. Venice still sports some of his haunting grounds, Cantina do Spade, still one of the most atmospheric bars in Venice, is one. Stories here abound with his fervor.  Soon another patron surfaced, Don Matteo Bragadin, who showered him with funds and clothing. His swarthy complexion and prominent nose set off his regalia. He reflects in his memoir, “My currency was unbridled self-esteem.”  Few women could resist it.

 

Scandalous Casanova, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

Scandalous Casanova, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scandals continued to ensue, including an accusation of rape that was dismissed. One of his most famous liaisons took place at this time with MM., a ravishing, noble born nun, whom he spirited away from her convent on Murano Island by gondola to a sumptuous retreat.  Casanova recorded in his memoir that she “was astonished to find herself so receptive to so much pleasure.”  He continued this relationship with MM. (thought to be Marina Morsoni) for many years, including a ménage a trois with her older lover, the French ambassador; then a quatre with another young nun.

 

Casanova's seduction alcove, at Palazzo Merati

Casanova’s seduzione alcova, at Palazzo Malpiero

 

Strangely enough, Pierre Cardin purchased the palazzo in which Casanova lived during his prime.  He even created an annual literary prize titled the Casanova Award, to celebrate literary genius. Parenthetically, Cardin also purchased the chateau of Marquis de Sade’s home in Provence.

 

Casanova's Henriette? Adélaide de Gueidan, painting by Nicolas de Largillière

Casanova’s Henriette? Adélaide de Gueidan, painting by Nicolas de Largillière

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, Casanova fled his scandals in Venice to Parma.  Here he engaged in his most ardent affair, a  Frenchwoman, Henriette.  “No woman so captivated Casanova as Henriette; few women obtained so deep an understanding of him. She penetrated his outward shell early in their relationship, resisting the temptation to unite her destiny with his.”  (Childs, J. Rives, Casanova: A New Perspective. New York: Paragon House, 1988)  He returned to Venice after the smoke had cleared, had a winning gambling streak, and decided it was time for “The Grand Tour”…which was the mainstay for the upper class in 1750.

Casanova’s first stop was Paris. He joined the Freemasons and adhered to a secret cult, Rosicrucianism.  This is a philosophical secret society said to have been founded in late medieval Germany by Christian Rosenkreuz. It holds a doctrine or theology ”built on esoteric truths of the ancient past,” which, “concealed from the average man, provide insight into nature, the physical universe and the spiritual realm.” Rosicrucianism is symbolized by the Rosy Cross. After two years, Casanova moved on in 1752 to Dresden and encountered his mother. He wrote a well-received play, La Moluccheide, now lost. He then visited Prague and Vienna, where the tighter moral atmosphere of the latter city was not to his liking. Casanova finally returned to Venice in 1753. In Venice, he resumed his wicked escapades, picking up many enemies and gaining the greater attention of the Venetian inquisitors. His police record became a lengthening list of reported blasphemies, seductions, fights, and public controversy. Casanova finally hit the wall of convention.

 

The Invisible College of the Rose Cross Fraternity, from Theophilus Schweighardt, 1618

The Invisible College of the Rose Cross Fraternity, from Theophilus Schweighardt, 1618

 

At age thirty, Casanova was arrested again.

 

Casanova Placed Under Arrest

Casanova Placed Under Arrest

 

According to John Masters (who was a regular soldier in the Indian Army of Britain), (Casanova. MASTERS, John. London: Michael Joseph/Arcadia Press, 1970): “The Tribunal, having taken cognizance of the grave faults committed by G. Casanova primarily in public outrages against the holy religion, their Excellencies have caused him to be arrested and imprisoned under the Leads.” “The Leads” (Piombi in Italian) was a prison of seven cells on the top floor of the east wing of the Doge’s palace, reserved for prisoners of higher status and political crimes and named for the lead plates covering the palace roof. Without a trial, Casanova was sentenced to five years in the “inescapable” prison.  The building is the center of Venice today.   Casanova was soon moved to a more convivial cell according to Masters, spending fifteen months there.

 

"The Leads"

“The Leads”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I sat in my armchair like a man in a stupor; motionless as a statue, I saw that I had wasted all the efforts I had made, and I could not repent of them. I felt that I had nothing to hope for, and the only relief left to me was not to think of the future.”

Venezia_Venice-151

“The Leads”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Casanova made a daring escape with the help of his neighboring cellmate, Rev. Barbi. Employing a knife he fashioned from a piece of marble; he dug out through the roof.  Leaving behind a note that quoted the 117th Psalm (Vulgate): “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

After the convoluted escape through roof, windows and sheet ropes dropping into a 25 foot ceiling room, they convinced a guard they were locked into the prison by mistake after a party in the Palace, they escaped.  That day they made their way to Paris. Much controversy surround  this escape, but there was some physical evidence to corroborate it.  Thirty years later in 1787, Casanova wrote Story of My Flight, which became popular and was reprinted in many languages, describing the escapade.

In Paris, Casanova became a salesman for the lottery, very successfully selling many tickets. His words, “deceiving a fool is an exploit worthy of an intelligent man.” ( Casanova, Story of My Life. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2006).  Casanova climbed the social and political ladders in Paris, even sold state bonds in Amsterdam at a discount during the Seven Years War,  which made him a rich man.  Only to squander the funds and continue his disaffecting liaisons with his ‘harem’ employees, he again fell into destitution. And yet again, Casanova was imprisoned.

 

casanova-signature

An original signature

 

On the lam again, he traveled to Cologne, Stuttgart, and Marseille where he met Voltaire, then to Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Modena and Turin traversing one sexual romp to another. Casanova started styling himself as the Chevalier de Seingalt, a name he would increasingly use for the rest of his life. He endeared himself with Pope Clement XIII, who funded many of Bernini’s masterpieces, and awarded Casanova a regal ribboned-cross for his chest, Papal Oder of Eperon d’or, to add to his pomp.

 

Casanova and a moonlit assignation, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

Casanova and a moonlit assignation, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to England, he gained an audience with King George III to sell the lottery scheme. While there, he bedded a great beauty, Mistress Pauline. Due to his dalliances, he contracted venereal diseases and left England broke and ill.

In recovery, he traveled exhaustively on rough roads, in coaches for four thousand miles as far as St. Petersburg. He managed to meet with Catherine the Great in Russia and Fredrick the Great in Prussia, to sell his lottery scheme, which failed. He was expelled from Warsaw after a duel that wounded his hand over a lady. Off across Europe again, hitting the gambling salons, only to expelled from France by none other that Louis XV himself. His reputation now preceded him.   He appealed to Charles III but to no avail and then wandered around Spain where his debauchery was not well known. In Barcelona, he escaped assassination and landed in jail again for six weeks.

 

Casanova kissing the hand of Catherine the Great, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

Casanova kissing the hand of Catherine the Great, by Jules Marie Auguste Leroux

 

Casanova finally managed to return to Venice where even his adversaries wanted explanation for his daring escape from the Doge Palace.   Now a spy again for Venice, paid by piecework, he reported on religion, morals, and commerce, most of it based on gossip and rumor he picked up from social contacts.  After many miles and jails spells, his good looks were fading at age 49, where his nose and smallpox scar now became prominent. The females were now few and  far between.  He then published the translation of The Illiad to little financial reward.  In fact, Casanova got into a published dispute with Voltaire over religion. When he asked, “Suppose that you succeed in destroying superstition. With what will you replace it?” Voltaire shot back, “I like that. When I deliver humanity from a ferocious beast which devours it, can I be asked what I shall put in its place.”

Later that year, the Inquisitors put him on the payroll, after pardoning him, and sent him to investigate commerce between the Papal states and Venice. Back on the road again, he traveled to Paris and met Ben Franklin to understand his balloon flight design.  His welcome in Paris exhausted, he looked for another position. In 1785, his Foscarini died (his current lover and housekeeper who loved him dearly).  A few months later, he became the librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, a chamberlain of the emperor, at Duchcov Chateau, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).

Bored by his surroundings and duties, though well paid, he contemplated suicide but decided to dedicate himself to his memoirs. He managed some travel to Dresden, Vienna and frequently Prague, the center of Bohemia, where he met Mozart and viewed Don Giovani for the first time in 1787.  Word then arrived that the Republic of Venice had ceased to exist and that Napoleon Bonaparte had seized Casanova’s home city. There was no returning home, Casanova died on June 4, 1798, at age 73 at Duchov Chateau (The Castle Dux) where he was buried…his grave is unknown, now marked elsewhere in town by a fading wooden cross.

 

Casanova-Giacomo-old

His memoirs continued a life of their own.  Willed to his nephew, who sold it promptly to a German publisher, Brockhaus which then retained it for 140 years. During a WWII bombing that directly hit their offices housing the manuscript, a family member bicycled it across Leipzig to a bank vault. When the Allied forces captured the city, even Churchill inquired about  the memoirs. The memoirs were saved and returned to the German owners, to be first published in 1960 in French, and 1966 in English. Story of My Life (original title: Histoire de ma vie jusqu’à l’an 1797, (History of my Life until the year 1797)) is regarded by some to be one of the great autobiographies, some fourteen hundred pages long detailing over one hundred twenty liaisons. A man with no home, never married, no children, sometimes violin player, spy and astrologer and no apparent source of income until Duchov Chateau, he was a Boulevardier…a European gambler and a louse.

 

tumblr_lvhvzvNNOg1qhytqfo1_500

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova summarizes his life in the memoir in French:

“What pleasure in remembering one’s pleasures! It amuses me because I am inventing nothing.”

 

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova

 

NOTE: With special inspirational THANKS to my great friend, artist Alek Kardas…

 

More about Casanova at Fondazione Giacomo Casanova: HERE

 

Fair Cecily, and other fair-weather friends

by Sally Wilson

 

Rex Whistler; Cecil Beaton; Georgia Sitwell; Sir William Turner Walton; Stephen Tennant; Zita Jungman; Teresa Jungman, photograph by Cecil Beaton

Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Georgia Sitwell, Sir William Turner Walton, Stephen Tennant, Zita Jungman, Teresa Jungman, photograph by Cecil Beaton

All I want is the best of everything and there’s very little of that left.

Never in the history of fashion has so little material been raised so high to reveal so much that needs to be covered so badly.

What is elegance? Soap and water!

…quotes by Cecil Beaton

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1939

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1939

 

I have an affinity for everything Cecil Beaton, well almost everything (see Beaton’s humiliation & firing from Vogue here). Was there ever a more boulevardiering bad boy Boulevardier, that’s debatable? I envy his eye, and his wit, minus his “acidity”. What a life he lived. Beaton’s first camera was a Kodak 3A folding camera. Over the years Beaton used large format cameras, and smaller Rolleiflex cameras. Not known for his skill as a technical photographer, for Beaton it was all about the gorgeous moment. Truman Capote, “The camera will never be invented that could capture or encompass all that he actually sees.”

Bright Young Things, Costume Balls and Country House Parties: From the Roaring 20s to the Swinging 60s, is an extravaganza of never before exhibited Beaton works, featuring black & white prints from Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Studio Archive. The show is sponsored by Sotheby’s and Wilton House, designed & curated by Jasper Conran. “Providing a fascinating glimpse into a charmed age where Beaton and his posh friends frequently let the good times roll, capturing the spirit of country house parties and costume balls in Britain.”

 

Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton

 

 

Cecil Beaton photographing Marilyn Monroe, 1956

Cecil Beaton photographing Marilyn Monroe, 1956

 

“…renowned for his flair for fancy dress and costumery, his Academy and Tony awards for his designs, as well as the lavish, fantastical parties he threw at Ashcombe, his Wiltshire home. As fancy dress became the de rigeur dress code of country house parties, Beaton was able to integrate his high-society personal life with his professional one, persuading his aristocratic friends to pose for him in their exotic costumes, often designed by him, for photographs set against Britain’s grandest country houses…”

 

Edith Olivier, then Mayor of Wilton, as Queen Elizabeth I for a pageant in 1932, photograph by Cecil Beaton

 

Beaton: “For me, coming out of punk and the New Romantics, Ascot was a little like sleeping with the enemy. However much I might balk at conservative society, that was always balanced by the Ascot scene from My Fair Lady which was genius.”

 

Cecil Beaton photographing Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady

Cecil Beaton photographing Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady

 

Beaton, artist, photographer, illustrator, theatrical and film designer, diarist, bon vivant, troublemaker, war documentarian, creative genius, won an Academy Award for Costume Design in 1964 for his work on My Fair Lady.

From The Telegraph:

“In the course of his decades-long career as a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, photographer to the royal family, and a British war correspondent, Cecil Beaton documented lives famous and quotidian with his trademark theatrical panache.”

 

Cecil Beaton, contact sheet

Cecil Beaton, contact sheet

 

Beaton was born in Hampsted, UK, and said to have been instructed in photography and photo processing by a nanny. He attended Harrow and Cambridge, and was an office clerk in his father’s successful timber business.

The Telegraph: “Beaton – or ‘Fair Cecily’ as editor Diana Vreeland loved to call him – was born with a compulsion to respond to the world around him. Even as his second-floor studio in the former family home in Sussex Gardens teemed with debutantes and intellectuals queuing for their sittings (it was so crowded one could not move about, reported one visitor), he also found time to paint, to caricature, to sketch, to design theatre sets and a line of fabrics, and stuff the pages of his journals with delightfully bitchy comments.”

“By Beaton’s own account, his interest in photography began at the age of three, when he glimpsed a picture postcard of a beautiful Miss Lily Elsie, a popular actress of the time. Smitten, he began to collect all the cards of his heroine that he could find.”

“In 1937, Beaton – now well established at Vogue – was summoned to France by the Duke of Windsor on a PR exercise to counterbalance the unflattering pictures of Wallis Simpson appearing from Fleet Street. His success in softening her angular features led to a commission to photograph their wedding a month later, which became one of the most important series he ever produced.”

Following his dismissal from Vogue, Beaton served as a War Photographer/Correspondent for the Ministry of Information. Beaton became a Knight Bachelor in 1972. Following this, at the age of 68 he had a stroke that paralyzed his right side. Despite attempts at repurposing his left side and his photographic equipment, Beaton never escaped the stroke’s impact. Philip Garner, Sotheby’s legendary photographic curator undertook management and auction, from 1977 through 1980, of Beaton’s archives, minus all portraits of the royal family.

 

Wallis Simpson in Lobster Dress, photograph by Cecil Beaton

Wallis Simpson in Lobster Dress, photograph by Cecil Beaton

 

Dressing up has so many formal forms. Some say the tuxedo was invented by Boulevardier Pierre Lorillard IV. Headline of his obituary, from the New York Times, “PIERRE LORILLARD DEAD; Famous in Society, in Commerce, and in the World of Sport. First American to Win the English Derby — Other Triumphs on the Turf in Both Hemispheres.” Lorillard was step-grandfather to photographer Peter Beard.

At a formal ball, held at the Tuxedo Club in October 1886, Lorillard wore a new style of formal wear for men that he designed himself. He named his tailless black jacket the tuxedo, after Tuxedo Park. The tuxedo caught on and became fashionable as formal wear for men. As for Tuxedo Park, from Wikipedia, “What is now the village and the areas immediately surrounding it were first developed as a private hunting-and-fishing reserve by Pierre Lorillard IV in 1885. At that time it became known as Tuxedo Park. Lorillard IV initially built small cottages, renting or selling them to his friends and family. The project grew so popular that he organized the Tuxedo Club and the Tuxedo Park Association, and surrounded the property with a high game fence. This fence fairly accurately marked the present boundaries of the area restricted to use of the residents of Tuxedo Park. In 1924 the Tuxedo Securities Corporation acquired from the Estate of Peter Lorillard, deceased, all of the stock of the Tuxedo Park Association.”

According to English clothing historian James Laver, the idea of wearing black for evening wear was first introduced by the nineteenth century British writer, Edward Bulwer-Lyttonn who wrote in 1828 that “people must be very distinguished to look well in black.” A resident of Tuxedo Park, James Brown Potter vacationed in England in the summer of 1886. Potter and his wife, Cora were introduced to the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) at a court ball in London. Potter asked the Prince for advice on formal dress. The Prince sent Potter to his own Saville Row tailor, Henry Poole & Co. Potter was fitted with a short black jacket and black tie that was unlike the formal tails with white tie that was worn in the United States for formal occasions.

The new tailless formal wear was said to have been designed by the Prince of Wales. The Prince and his tailor drew inspiration from the British military uniforms of the time, which used short jackets with black ties.

 

The Tuxedo Club

The Tuxedo Club, Tuxedo Park, NY

 

The Tuxedo Club: “A Google search of Tuxedo will reveal more than sixteen million references. This would be a direct consequence of the dinner jacket, known around the world as a Tuxedo. The short-tailed dinner jacket as we know it today was first introduced to America by a member of The Tuxedo Club. There are differing reports of how this event occurred, but the account by Mr. Grenville Kane, founding member of The Tuxedo Club as told to J. Earle Stevens in 1929 appears to be the most authentic. In the summer of 1886, Tuxedo Club member James Brown Potter and his lovely wife, Cora, while on a visit to England, were invited by the Prince of Wales to join him at Sandringham, his country estate, for the weekend. Prior to going, Mr. Potter asked the Prince what he should wear for dinner. The Prince replied that he had adopted a short jacket in the place of a tailcoat for dinner in the country and that if Mr. Potter went to his tailor in London, he could get a similar jacket made. Mr. Potter did as the Prince suggested. When he returned to America, Mr.Potter’s friends at The Tuxedo Club were not only impressed by the account of his visit to Sandringham but also found the jacket Mr. Potter brought back more appropriate than tails for informal dinners, and so they had it copied by their own tailors. It then became the custom for members of the Club to wear this attire to informal dinners in Tuxedo Park. One evening, a group of members wore their new dinner jackets to a bachelor dinner at Delmonico’s. Their jackets attracted the attention of other diners who, upon enquiry were told “oh, that is what they wear for dinner up at Tuxedo.” And so, from that day forth, the name Tuxedo was forever associated with this style of formal wear.”

 

Edward, Prince of Wales

Edward, Prince of Wales

 

Cecil Beaton, in full regalia

Cecil Beaton, in full regalia, c. 1948

 

An Ephemeral Awareness — Death and the Coming of War

by Bud Abbott

BA ephemeral

Boulevardier Bud Abbott, far right

When we arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, in January, 1966, one of the most unusual thing that we saw were tanks in the streets and soldiers behind sand bags around government buildings.  In the following days we learned that some government officials, senior military leaders and the Sultan of Sokoto had been killed during a coup d’état. It seemed strange that in a coup d’état, a religious leader would be targeted.  But we Peace Corps Volunteers, new and old, really thought very little about the coup.  Everything was new, including the form of government.  Coups were regular news in South America during those years.   After all, we were PCVs and we had a job to do, and this killing was between the military and government officials and really had nothing to do with us. West Africa was known as the white man’s graveyard. But killings and death soon surrounded us all; white and African. This is my account of just some of the pain, suffering and deaths that most touched me during the prelude to the Nigerian Civil War.

 img351

 

A PCV DIES

The first person to die that I knew was a Japanese-American Peace Corps volunteer woman I had only briefly met.   She died in a wreck of one of the kamikaze Peugeot taxis that runs between major cities in West Africa.

 

ETHNIC POGROMS

News of pogroms of Igbo in the northern states of Nigeria was carried in the newspapers.  Over the next few months I noted that they were big Mercedes-Benz trucks filled with people and household possessions arriving at the taxi yards.  I recall many people standing up in the back of these trucks that normally carry items of commerce. I remember seeing a man with a dust covered white bandage around his head. I was told that these were people who fled from the north, that homes were burned and many people were being killed.

 

Igbo soldier, 1968, ndiigbo.tumblr.com

Igbo soldier, 1968

 

SOLDIERS BUSINESS

And about six months into my service I had a medical check up with the Peace Corps doctor in Benin City. He found a cyst on my left testicle. He recommended that I immediately go to the hospital in Ibadan, and have it removed because he couldn’t be sure if it was just a cyst or testicular cancer.  I made the trip to Ibadan the next week and stayed at the Peace Corps Guest House built on a hill, with a deeply rutted dirt road as the only access. The guesthouse was just across a wide canyon from a Federal Government military garrison.  In the evening before the operation I went down to the corner food stall at the foot of the hill, to buy a beer and snack food. I had arrived too late to be served dinner at the guest house.  Just as I arrived at the stall, the owner was briskly shuttering the stall doors.  He refused to sell me anything.  As I pleaded with him, a convoy of heavy military vehicles came slowly, rumbling down the road.  Some of the trucks were troop trucks filled with soldiers with rifles by their side.  I asked the stall owner what was going on.  He answered, “This is was soldier business.” I went back up to the guesthouse and got into my bunk bed.  Later in the evening the shooting started at the Garrison across the canyon. The gunshots explosions went on for several hours and then the screaming started.  It seemed that they were the screams of women.  The next morning we found out from the guesthouse staff that the truck were full of northern soldiers. They come down to Ibaden and attacked the Garrison because that is where some of the evil officers involved in the coup were staying with their families.   The soldiers killed all the Ibo soldiers, raped the women, cut open the bellies of the pregnant women, took their unborn children out and smash them against the walls.

 

HOSPITAL STAFF DIE

I got a taxi to the hospital early the next morning and checked in.  I was soon brought into the operating room.  The American trained doctor told me that they did not have adequate anesthetics because of military action going on, but they were going to go ahead with the operation.  I gave my approval.   Immediately I was surrounded by four very large Nigerian men,  with one man pressing down on each shoulder and one large man holding each leg. I was given a washcloth to bite down on.  I bit down hard when I felt the scalpel slice into my left testicle, and tears filled my eyes when it felt like the surgeon was scraping the tissue.  I remember opening my mouth to tell the surgeon that I could not stand much more of the pain.    He said he was done and showed me a small brownish, grey ball the size of a small marble.  The surgeon left abruptly and I was placed on a small, hard bed in an empty room.  There was nothing in the room and no one around.  I was soon in excruciating pain, and thirsty.  I called for assistance many times, no one came.  After about an hour I started having violent stomach cramps.   I called out again and again and eventually I rolled out of the bed onto the floor.  I walked on my hands and knees out until hallway, calling out as loud as I could, which was actually not very loud at all since I was cramping so badly.   Finally, as I crawled into an interconnecting corridor, a man and a women came, lifted me up, walked me out of the hospital down to a place on the road at the side of the hospital and flagged down a taxi.   The taxi took me to the road leading up to the Guest House and said he could not go up the steep, slippery, deeply rutted guest house driveway. By this time my testicles had swollen up to the size of a small grapefruit.  It was extremely difficult and painful to walk.  Every step pressed against my swollen stratum. I would make one step, gasp, pause, and then make another step. I got up the hill eventually, fell into my bunk bed and slept exhausted.  The next day I learned that some northern solders had gone to the hospital to finish off some wounded Igbo solders and that they were going room-to-room killing Igbo patients, doctors, nurses and technicians.  I was reconciled to never knowing if I had cancer or not.  I recovered soon enough and went back to my teaching job at Federal Government College Warri.  Months later I learned that the solders had not killed my surgeon or the lab technician and that it was a benign cyst.

 

Igbo snake head

Igbo carved snake head

 

 

 

 

 

SHORTY

I had became quite fascinated by all the snakes in the area.  A grounds keeper named Shorty, who had a powerful body and big smile, became a partner in my snake campaign.  He would bring me dead poisonous snakes and upon request live non-poisonous snakes he encountered when he was cutting grass.  He seemed to encounter snakes almost daily, when I started giving him small money for each snake.  I was particularly interested in teaching the students that the dangers from snakes was the mouth not the tail.  The belief that the snake killed by stinging people was firmly held by every Nigerian I met.  Even after showing them that I could touch the tail of a snake and showed them the teeth and fangs on some big snakes they were not convinced.   Then the snakes stopped coming and I asked about Shorty. I was told he had been killed in the town.  He was Igbo.  The Ijaw in that area hated the Igbo.

 

Igbo architecture

Igbo architecture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SULI

I had a personal night watch at that time.  Suli was a 6 foot-plus tall Housa man from the north with deep small pox scars all over his face.  He had a small wooden bow, a small quiver of iron tipped arrows and a sword pounded out of sheet mental and a long knife in his belt.  He was proud and elegant in his poverty.  I paid him a very small sum to be a night watch since small thefts were occurring at our homes during the day.  He watched over the houses of my neighbors and myself to drive away thief-men.  I did not know where he was at night since it was really very dangerous to be around our houses.   I never cleared his employment with the principal, and he came and went irregularly.  There were always a lot of insects hitting the windows when we had the lights on at night, and the bugs would drop to the ground dead or stunned.   And there were always numerous large toads around the house feasting upon the stunned insects.  Of course the toads were preyed upon by several species of snakes.   We all had a long, thick “snake stick” by our door so that when ever we walked out at night, we could push away any snakes we encountered.  One day, James, my cook, said that he saw Suli’s body in the street.  He had been killed by the local people who had been driven out of the north.

 

Biafran school children, 1969

School children, 1969

 

THE SCHOOL INSPECTOR

A very nice, well educated Afro-American woman who worked as a school inspector whose name I regrettably forget used to stay at my house in Warri from time to time.  I lived in a brand new, white cinderblock, two-bedroom house with nice furniture.  James, my cook and housekeeper lived in the servant’s room.  I had met her and her husband through other volunteers. Her husband was a tall, very happy, charming, upbeat guy who worked for the Benin Police Department. They met while she was a teacher in the Congo and he was part of an international peace keeping operation.  We partied with the teacher and her husband. They were a lot of fun.  I remember one evening when we were all dressed up in our best agbadas, sweating, drinking and dancing high life in a big circle for hours.

 

Igbo Ju-Ju Mask

Igbo Juju Mask

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was a school inspector and had to visit schools in the area around Warri from time to time.  Her per diem was abysmally low and forced her to stay in cheap local hotels.  These types of hotels were typically more brothels than hotels and she understandably loathed staying in them.  She asked me if she could stay with me some nights, her husband agreed and my girlfriend agreed and we had an excellent mutually supportive platonic relationship.  The following is pieced together from some brief statements by her and what I heard from others:  She had become fed up with her husband staying out late and carousing with other women and gave him an ultimatum.  He came home late, drunk, smelling of other women and she had her suitcase packed and ready to go.  She walked out to the car and started to drive away.  He jumped on the hood, slipped off as she was slowly driving and she ran over him and killed him immediately.  She was in placed in jail and the publicity swirled about the American who killed a policeman.  The trail was quick.  It came to the judge’s attention that another woman, a village women, jilted by the same policeman had gone to a famous and powerful Juju and placed a lethal curse on the policeman.  That was enough for the judge.  The village women and Juju were responsible and not the American teacher.   The teacher was removed from the courtroom, taken to the airport and put on a plane the same day.  I am sure there is much more to the story, but that is what I remember and it was logged as just another amazing event a time when amazing and unexpected events took place almost daily.

 

I loved taking my canoe out into the mangrove channels on weekends and some days after school.  It was always amazing what we saw.  Sometimes we would park the canoe, follow trails and discover small villages tucked away in bends of the river.  Bands of monkey would leap over the channels and it was just pretty trippy to paddle out to the main Warri River and see all sizes of boats from canoes smaller than ours, to ocean going freighters plying the river.  One day we saw a well-used trail but what was unusual was that some palm fronds had been woven and interlaced to form a woven arch over the trail.  We landed the canoe and walked under the arch and along the little trail.  We came to a clearing where some tree branches had been formed into a small platform like a church altar.  On the ground under some leaves and branches were some bones.  I cleared away the leaves and fallen twigs, and had a rush as I realized that they were human bones.  Two sets of human bones lying side by side.  They were human but there were no skulls.  You can imagine how fast we backed away from the place, and dashed back to the canoe.  I am sure that we had come across a human sacrifice site that had been used within the last month based on the condition of the palm fronds.  The stories about human sacrifice were common in Warri.  Reports of headless bodies being found were common in the local newspaper.  Albinos seemed to be the main target.  I was told by one of the locals that there was also a class of people that were dedicated for human sacrifice.  I was also told about a secret society that required human sacrifice.  I just took these stories in without judgment, sort of an, “Oh, really” attitude, until I saw those neatly lined up bones with no skull.

 

ika11

Igbo village

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Ugbongway village where I lived at that time, the headmen of the village sat on benches and a massive log near the entrance of the village in the afternoon and talked.  I would stop and greet the men and chat with them a bit practicing my feeble excuse for Yoruba/Ishikiri much to their amusement.  Small short legged goats and chickens roamed freely in the village and it was not uncommon to see the goats and chickens near where the men sat picking up food scraps.  A large rooster came pecking at the ground near one of the men and he kicked at it.  The roster jabbed the ankle of the man with one his long spurs.  A couple of weeks later one of the village people said that a man was sick and I should go see him.  My friend was lying rigidly on a woven mat on a wood plank bed.  His arms were tightly flexed near his side, and the small of his back was off the mat.  He was in the final stage of a soon to be fatal tetanus infection.  A table knife was wedged in his mouth so that his family could pour small amounts of water into his mouth.  He could not talk but did move his eyes.  I am sure he was in excruciating pain.  He died that night.   The village had a huge wake for him and I sat up with them drumming and practicing wild animal dances and drinking kai-kai.  It was a first class wake.  I do not recall crying but I did get pretty drunk.

 

ika18

Igbo carvings

 

There were two new Nigerian teachers who came to Federal Government College a few months after I arrived.   They were both educated in England and I enjoyed their company immensely.  They were both Ijaw from Calabar.  We joked around in the teacher’s preparation room between classes.  They lived in nice houses across the street from me.  In the morning we would stand in the street and gnaw on chewing sticks, talking for half an hour or so.  I think that my teeth and gums were better for that daily regime than at any other time in my life.  One day, without warning they disappeared.  My cook, James, an Ijaw, later told me they left to fight with the Biafran rebels because the Federal Government had invaded the area where they came from near Calabar.  A few days after informing me where they had gone, he told me they were both killed defending an island in the Delta near Calabar.   I was really shocked by that news.  But I was a teacher.  I had a projects at the village.  I had a good chicken project at the school and there were some competitions being arranged between Higher Schools in Warri.  James asked for final pay and told me he had to leave and go back to his village near Calabar.  I gave him some money and said goodbye.  I never heard from him again.

 

The war finally came to Federal Government College.  I could ignore it no longer when two Biafran soldiers with automatic rifles came to my house in the morning and told me to come with them.  They took me to the school principal’s office and a well-spoken Biafran army officer calmly told me I would have to leave since they were making the school their base of operations.  With little more than my passport and a brief case sized suitcase I was walked to the road by the solders.  They were very polite.   I somehow made it to the timber factory town of Sapele that night and met up with a small group of other PCVs who were being forced to leave the country.  We were directed to get on a large, open deck, metal barge.  A big tugboat pulled the barge down river most of the night and stopped around midnight.  The group of volunteers had no mosquito nets and a small amount of insect repellent. One women shared her insect repellent with me but it seemed to only attract the mosquitoes.  We were feasted on the rest of the night.

 

0b5d28c5-b639-48aa-9c32-1a93d0cbf0b9.img_1

Soldiers and tugboat

 

In the morning the tug started back down the river and just as we were near the port area we saw a piper cub fly over and drop a bomb towards a small Federal Government gun ship. The gunship fired some cannon at it and missed.  The plane then flew over our tug boat and tried to drop a bomb on a large Federal Government troop ship moving up river.  Both bombs missed.  The tug proceeded to Lagos and we were met by Peace Corps officials and sent to a college dormitory.  Some Peace Corps officials interviewed us and I was offered the opportunity to transfer to East Africa.  I declined.  I was exhausted.  I was sick.  I had boils all over my body.  I had had a bad case of hepatitis, nearly killed by malaria, tape worms, round worms, black fungus of the ear, and several bad cases of diarrhea.  I had lost a lot of weight. I was done with the Peace Corps.  I ended up flying to France and studying French in preparation for attending graduate school.  In Juan Le Pain, France, I ate well, rested and swam in the Mediterranean and got well over several months.

 

Throughout the 18 months of my service in Nigeria, and the swirl of deaths all around me, I never saw a dead body of anyone I knew, and never attended a funeral with the exception of the village wake.  

For me that wake was just another party.

 

I was in some way psychologically inured to the tragedies all around me.  These deaths were just part of the background noise in the cacophony of my daily life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a land on the cusp of war.   I was essentially, emotionally untouched until I left Nigeria.  Then I had time to reflect and wondered at the whole panorama of my service, and then dwell on parts of my amazing experiences.   The ephemeral nature of information on the deaths of others against the backdrop of daily survival trials never touched me. I was in the midst of the PCV experience.   I never cried for any of them, ever.  I thought about them a lot over the years and was amazed that I was so oblivious and yet survived it all.  I think that I suffered some PTSD in the years after and got well by indulging in my life long spiritual quests, alternating with periods of indulgence in drugs, sex, fishing and music. Now in the twilight of my time on earth, I can retell parts of the stories of those that died during that troubled time, and wish their souls well…thank them for teaching me to better appreciate my life and have an opportunity to share our collective stories.

 

Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Queen Elizabeth, Nigerian Independence Day

Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Queen Elizabeth, Nigerian Independence Day

 

Igbo carved head

Igbo carved head

Machu Picchu — “The First Tourist”

by The Boulevardiers

Machu Picchu, prior to excavation

Machu Picchu, prior to excavation

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

“The Explorer” by Rudyard Kipling, “Something lost behind the Ranges. 

Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

The Boulevardiers have been to the mountain, and climbed it. Machu Picchu, the Old Peak…and Huayna Picchu, the New Peak, to be exact. Sources noted below have reviewed its “discovery”. There is no clear and definitive history, however having just conquered the climb, altitude, and returned from Peru, our choice of title for this post reflects Peruvian characterization of the colorful scientist, Hiram Bingham III. Bingham’s photographs tell his story, ours add some current context, and we leave it to ours readers to connect all dotted lines.

 

Machhu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

Machhu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

THE LEGEND and THE TRUTH:

Britannica.com: Machu Picchu, also spelled Machupijchu, site of ancient Inca ruins located about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Cuzco, Peru, in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes Mountains. It is perched above the Urubamba River valley in a narrow saddle between two sharp peaks—Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”) and Huayna Picchu (“New Peak”)—at an elevation of 7,710 feet (2,350 metres). One of the few major pre-Columbian ruins found nearly intact, Machu Picchu was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

 

View of Machu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

View of Machu Picchu, photograph by Hiram Bingham III

 

“Although the site escaped detection by the Spaniards, it may have been visited by the German adventurer Augusto Berns in 1867. However, Machu Picchu’s existence was not widely known in the West until it was “discovered” in 1911 by the Yale University professorHiram Bingham, who was led to the site by Melchor Arteaga, a local Quechua-speaking resident. Bingham had been seeking Vilcabamba (Vilcapampa), the “lost city of the Incas,” from which the last Inca rulers led a rebellion against Spanish rule until 1572.”

Wikipedia: It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. The latter had notes of a place called Piccho, although there is no record of the Spanish having visited the remote city.

 

Hiram Bingham III

Hiram Bingham III

 

Smithsonian.com: Bingham’s persistent search for the fabled Incan capital culminated on July 24, 1911. Weary from hiking for hours, directed by a friendly pair of local farmers, he marched into the mountains accompanied by a local guide and a Peruvian policeman until “suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls,” he wrote in an account published in Harper’s Monthly in April 1913. Writing to his wife Alfreda, “my new Inca City, Mach Picchu … is far more wonderful and interesting than Choquequirao. The stone is as fine as any in Cuzco! It is unknown and will make a fine story.”

 

Hiram Bingham's Expedition Map

Hiram Bingham’s Expedition Map

 

“Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru,” he wrote. He had come upon Machu Picchu (“old peak” in Quechua). While there was evidence of graffiti left by a local mule driver, he added, “It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place.”

 

Hiram Bingham III, in front of the Sacred Mountain Rock

Hiram Bingham III, in front of the Sacred Mountain Rock

 

Bingham’s chronicle brought him acclaim (“The greatest archaeological discovery of the age,” the New York Times called it), but now archaeologists in Peru contend that he was not the first outsider to come upon the 15th-century Incan city’s ruins, as well he should have known.

“The presence of several German, British and American explorers is recognized, and that they had drawn up maps,” says Jorge Flores Ochoa, a Peruvian anthropologist. Bingham “had more academic knowledge…But he was not describing a place that was unknown.”

The contention is not new. For example, in a September 8, 1916, letter to the Times, German mining engineer Carl Haenel said he had accompanied the explorer J.M. von Hassel to the area in 1910, though he offered no documentation of such a journey. But even Bingham admitted that “it seemed almost incredible that this city, only five days’ journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown.”

 

Hiram Bingham lll, photographs of Machu Picchu from National Geographic Magazine, April 1913

Hiram Bingham lll, photographs of Machu Picchu from National Geographic Magazine, April 1913

 

Richard L. Burger, a professor of anthropology at Yale, where Bingham taught Latin American history from 1907 to 1915, says he’s skeptical of the Peruvian assertions. If others did visit, he says, they either came to pillage or didn’t recognize the site’s importance. Besides, he adds, Bingham “never claimed to have been the first modern person to have set foot in Machu Picchu.” In Peru, some people have called Bingham the “scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu,” Burger says. “I think that is fairly accurate.”

Yale, for its part, is embroiled in a dispute with the government of Peru over the artifacts and bones that Bingham brought home. In 2007, the university agreed to return most of them in exchange for keeping some for further research. In a lawsuit filed last December in federal court, however, the government of Peru said Yale must return the entire collection.

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

The grandeur of the site still stupefies the tourist today.  The remoteness of the site and the efficiency of the Peruvian government to protect it is a testimony to the spiritual power of the remarkable achievement of the Inkas.  The stone work is remarkable with the fine detailing and close fitting of the immense stones, as can be seen elsewhere in the Empire, particularly in their capital Cusco. Unfortunately for them, after only sixty years of the unification of their vast Empire ranging from Columbia down to central Chile, and the grading over 40,000 kilometers of pathways, more than the Roman Empire, the Spanish arrived and decimated their population with disease and genocide.

 

 

Macchu Pichu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Macchu Pichu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

Some Machu Picchu facts:

Machu Picchu is composed of over 150 structures that include, temples, houses, sanctuaries and baths.

There are more than 100 flights of stairs in the compound most of which are carved from a single slab of stone.

Machu Picchu was also used as an astronomical observatory and the Intihuatana, a sacred stone shows the two equinoxes. The sun shines directly on the stone without any shadow twice annually.

 

And, the disputed Mach Picchu artifacts:

The dispute was resolved through two separate agreements. The first, between Yale and the Peruvian government, established that the university would return all of the objects by the end of 2012.

The second established a partnership between Yale and the San Antonio Abad University in Cuzco to share stewardship of the collection. The schools will also collaborate on academic research. Keeping the antiquities in a scholarly setting was key, says David Bingham, grandson of the explorer who found them.

 

 

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

Machu Picchu 2014, photograph by Kim Steele

 

 

Black Mountain College ~ America’s Most Creative Art School

May 10, 2014

blind_accordion_player (1)

The New York Times has titled Black Mountain College as one of “six nodes of progressive culture in America.”  Founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice,  there were innumerable renowned artists that pasted through these hallowed halls for such a  limited period of existence, including Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, and Joseph Albers — who brought the […]

Read the full article →

Whitney Biennial ~ a meaningful surfeit

April 14, 2014

There was a time when the Whitney Biennial was the much-anticipated barometer of the state of American art…   Whether praised or reviled, everyone could be counted on to have an opinion. This year, as has been the case for some time, the Biennial is just another blur in the bombardment of art as excess […]

Read the full article →

Ironing One’s Shoelaces

April 1, 2014

Coco Chanel gown, 1938

  Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.  ~Henry David Thoreau Vintage has always been at the top of my list, the visual, touch, feel, quality. I would rather spend hours, weeks, months, years amidst the old wood cases of museum costume […]

Read the full article →

Laces of The Boot — Campania, Italy

February 25, 2014

View from Centola, Campania, Italy, photograph by Kim Steele

    The Cape of Palinuro is a delicious slice of timeless travel, it is a sight to behold along the Cilento coast…we hesitate a bit in saying this, as it is sort of a secret…   According to Virgil´s ancient legend, Aeneas´ unfortunate helmsman Palinuro fell overboard close to the coast, giving his name […]

Read the full article →

Да мы будет смотреть за — Sochi Olympics 2014, Yes we will be watching!

February 7, 2014

sochi

    “Жаркие. Зимние. Твои,” Translation: “Hot. Cool. Yours.”   OK, Boulevardiers & curmudgeons unite. Enough griping about the Sochi Olympics (scary sad story here from the Atlantic). Of course we are red, white & blue, through & through, and starting tonight, we will be watching with pride. Olympic events give us an opportunity to […]

Read the full article →

Gian Lorenzo BERNINI ~ The Great Sculptor

January 26, 2014

Rendering of The Louvre, by Gianlorenzo Bernini

~ Gian Lorenzo BERNINI ~   “He is so adept at imitating, without affectation, what was most perfect in nature that anyone who studied his works was left in doubt as to which was greater, his artistry or his mastery in hiding it.” Domenico An artist of such renown, that Gian Lorenzo Bernini is synonymous […]

Read the full article →