The Man Who Would be King

…if or when his mummy hands off the sceptre to him in the British monarchy relay.  Nobody is in any hurry, I think.  At the time of writing, Her Majesty is 89, and due to turn 90 in April of this year (2016), as would my own mummy, had she lived beyond age 87.  Her Majesty was born April 21, 1926, and my mother was born April 16, 1926.  Both remarkable women.

Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, has taken some hard knocks, due largely to his disastrous first marriage to Lady Diana Spencer.  I also feel some sympathy for her, in view of the humanitarian work she did, but this is tempered by an inability to understand the more ill-advised choices she made.

Even looking back on the Cinderella days of their courtship and marriage, it’s possible to see that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance of making a happy life together.  So different in every way.  And she was so young…only 19 when they announced their engagement.  She had turned 20 on July 1, 1981, and married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981.

In retrospect, a superstitious person might consider the muddle Diana made of Charles’s names during her wedding vows an ill omen.  She put ‘Philip’ first in his list of names, but it was perfectly understandable under the circumstances.  Her wedding day would have been a good deal more nervous-making than most, as was her subsequent role as the Princess of Wales.

I suppose Prince Charles’s choices for a marriage partner were narrowing down considerably, and at age 32 he must have been feeling intense pressure to find a suitable mate…someone with aristocratic connections, ideally, and someone who did not have ‘a past’ in order to satisfy the older, more traditional members of the U.K. and Commonwealth citizenry.  British royalty was still expected to hold to a particular standard, and this standard could only be relaxed for royal family members who were not direct heirs to the throne (I’m thinking of Prince Andrew’s marriage to Sarah Ferguson—the standards went on to become very relaxed, indeed!)

So we know that the marriage made sense on the face of it, even with some inherent difficulties.  Such an onerous adjustment period for Princess Diana, “Shy Di” in the public eye, but I suppose that she, like most other 19-year-olds in the world, before and since, thought that she could handle it.  The Royal Family probably had misgivings, but maybe they expected that, being young, she would be adaptable and perhaps grow into the role expected of her.  I’m sure they couldn’t foresee that she would be an international sensation of nuclear proportions.  For anyone raised on stories of fairy tale princesses, she was a fascination, and we couldn’t get enough of her.

Later on it would be claimed that Prince Charles and the Royal Family did not give her enough support…but I have to wonder if anyone could.  There has never been a ‘star’ amongst aristocrats or Hollywood actors or musicians and performers whose celebrity rivalled hers, and we know what happened with many of them:  self-destructive behaviours, multiple marriages, and strange lifestyles.  The pressure on her must have been enormous, and the bulimia that resulted was therefore not surprising.

Much has been made of Prince Charles’s offhand response to a television interviewer at the time the engagement was announced.  When he was asked about being ‘in love,’ Prince Charles jokingly replied, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”  Diana laughed at that at the time, in response to his tone of voice if not to the words themselves.  This tiny moment on tape was raised to the status of an epiphany and endlessly replayed at the time of their marital breakdown.  It was seen (again and again and again) as a moment in time when Prince Charles supposedly revealed the true nature of his feelings–or the lack thereof–for Princess Diana. That’s how the media presented it, and so that’s what it became.

A couple of quotes from Marshall McLuhan’s writings might be relevant here:

“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”

and

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

I see that remark, “Whatever ‘in love’ means” as something integral to Prince Charles’s nature–that he might seriously have questioned what exactly it means to be ‘in love’…the physical, mental or emotional nature of it.  He was, and is, an intelligent man who thinks about many things beyond their surface values.  In any case, it was an idiotic remark on the part of the reporter, and really deserved nothing more than the reply it got.  So whether Prince Charles’s response was philosophical or flippant, it certainly shouldn’t have taken on the level of importance it was later given.  Many of us say offhand things without considering the full effects on the listener, but our remarks are rarely immortalized on film and replayed ad nauseum.

Even Princess Diana herself took this as sign that he didn’t feel the same way she did at the time of their engagement; call to witness her voice coach’s (Peter Settelen’s) 1992/93 videotapes of his sessions with her.  In the Settelen tape she says that Charles’s remark ‘really threw’ her and ‘absolutely traumatized’ her; but at that point in time, many years after that engagement interview, I suspect she had simply absorbed the media’s magnification of Prince Charles’s casual remark, and elevated its status in her own mind–and perhaps for her own purposes.

In the Settelen tapes she talks unguardedly and at length about many intimate details of her marriage, and it’s quite a performance, if one is a bit cynical.  I find it difficult to believe that she could reveal so much to a man whom she knew on very short acquaintance–while being videotaped–and then keep the tapes instead of destroying them, as she should have done unless she intended using them at some point.

“A lot has been made of the fact that the footage was never intended for public consumption. Diana had possession of the tapes and could not have known she was going to die so young and they would end up first in Paul Burrell’s attic, then in Settelen’s hands […] By her early thirties, the age she was when the tapes were made, did Diana feel she existed away from the cameras? Did she do or say very much that wasn’t ultimately intended for public consumption? ” (Barbara Ellen in The Guardian, December 12, 2004)

And did he love her?  I would guess that he did in the beginning, in spite of what he later said.  When he came out with the confession that he never loved Diana in his Dimbleby biography of 1994, his marriage was an unrecoverable shambles, and he was firmly committed to Camilla.

It seems that the marriage to Diana failed in part because she and he could not find a common intellectual ground—a shared interest of some sort, apart from their children and their work.  He was a little bit opera and she was a little bit rock n’ roll.  Their differences could only be magnified over time, and since Charles evidently never lost his attachment to Camilla, the inevitable happened.

Also, if one were to believe Wendy Berry, who wrote, The Housekeeper’s Diary, Charles and Diana before the Breakup, there were serious personality conflicts at work as well.  I have only read Amazon reviews of this book, myself, but they seem to agree on that point.  Wendy Berry was the housekeeper for Charles and Diana, and it seems that her purpose in taking the supposedly low-paying housekeeper’s job was to write this book about them.  Did she embellish her observations to boost book sales?  Probably, but there must have been some truth to it, judging by subsequent events.

And then there’s Diana’s collaboration with writer Andrew Morton (a poor choice on her part…if she had to write an exposé of her life in the Royal Family, at least she could have chosen a less heavy-handed writer), and her interview with Martin Bashir (another poor choice, in my view).

Here’s a quote from ‘The Guardian’ newspaper of February 7, 2003,

“Michael Jackson yesterday made an official complaint to TV watchdogs over the controversial documentary on his life, and angrily accused interviewer Martin Bashir of “utterly betraying” him.”

[…]

“The 44-year-old star said in a videotaped statement yesterday: “Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him that his would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life, and told me he was ‘the man that turned Diana’s life around’.”

Bashir’s remark about his impact on Diana’s life was a bit egocentric, and not entirely accurate, since what he did was to encourage her to say things that resulted in her divorce–not really a positive thing, IF there was any hope at all of reconciliation.  I really wonder why Jackson would have chosen Bashir after watching Bashir’s Panorama interview of Princess Diana on November 20, 1995.  Bashir was quite obviously out to milk her for every scandalous, damaging remark he could get.  I think she was very foolish to cooperate with him to the extent that she did–if only for the impact it must have had on her children–and that Jackson should have been forewarned by it.

I watched Bashir’s interview of Jackson, and agree that it was patently a betrayal of trust, and a total manipulation of Jackson’s revelations to highlight anything that might be construed in an unsavoury light.  Jackson’s naïveté was so much in evidence throughout that I can readily believe the allegations of Jackson’s impropriety with children to be false.  Granted that a grown man should not be sleeping with children, even if it is or was all completely innocent, but in Jackson’s case it appears to be no more than a flouting of societal conventions–through ignorance, it must be said.  Society will accept an adult sleeping with a child if the adult is the child’s parent, and there to comfort a child who is ill or upset.  If there is no parental relationship, suspicions are aroused.  It can be said that because Jackson’s life and upbringing were so far from ‘the norm’ of a regular childhood, and his adult life so far removed from the average person’s experience, we can probably allow for the fact that he would have no concept of this.

Diana interviewed by Martin Bashir in Panorama Nov 20, 1995

In any case, within a month of Diana’s interview by Bashir, her press secretary had resigned and the Queen had sent Charles and Diana a letter urging them to divorce quickly.

LONDON, Dec. 20— Queen Elizabeth II has written to Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and to his estranged wife, the Princess of Wales, urging them to agree to an early divorce, Buckingham Palace said today.  (The New York Times, Dec. 21. 1995)

Bashir revealed himself even more clearly in later years; the following is from a December 5, 2013, online article in the Independent:

“Bashir, 50, described Mrs. Palin as a “world-class idiot” and “America’s resident dunce”, before suggesting that someone ought to defecate in her mouth – a punishment historically administered to slaves by particularly cruel slave-owners.

He later backtracked, apologising to Mrs. Palin for what he called his “ill-judged” and “deeply offensive” remarks.”

Yes, Mr. Bashir.  Deeply offensive indeed.

And then there’s Andrew Morton, who was interviewed by journalist Deborah Ross in the Independent, November 30, 1997, three months after Princess Diana’s death in the car crash in Paris:

“We now know that Andrew Morton’s Diana, Her True Story was based on the Princess’s own words. He has the six C90 tapes to prove it, plus the hastily updated and snappily retitled Diana, Her True Story – In Her Own Words, which will earn him a second fortune for practically no extra work, the cheeky little monkey.”

[…]

“But is Andrew being true to himself – or to Diana, for that matter – with this new, updated version of the book, which includes 69 pages of her own, transcribed words? The Red Cross was not impressed. It refused to accept a donation from him. Bob Geldof was even less impressed. He called Andrew “a loathsome creep gorging on the memory of the woman who handed him his cheque”.

[…]

“He began researching his Diana book in the winter of 1990. Of course, he did not expect Diana to collaborate. But, even so, he asked Dr. James Colthurst – a mutual friend – if he would ask her to consider answering some questions. Amazingly, she agreed. Why? Because, he thinks, “she wanted to get her retaliation in first.” Retaliation against whom? “Charles, for going back to Camilla shortly after their marriage. Then Charles got his own back by doing the Dimbleby thing, which was actually promoted as the complete riposte to Morton’s book. Then Diana retaliated by doing Panorama …” He says that any accusations that he might have further wounded Princes William and Harry with his revelations are ludicrous. “Their parents had said it all in public already.””

Well, I guess they wouldn’t be the first couple to ‘have a go’ at one another when their marriage went sour.  Charles’s response to Morton’s book was to participate in the writing of Jonathan Dimbleby’s book (an authorized biography), which stated that he never loved Diana…”Buckingham Palace said yesterday that Charles had no regrets about cooperating with the biography, which describes him as trapped in a nightmare marriage with a bored, bulimic, self-absorbed and obsessively jealous young wife.” (Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1994).

It was unfortunate that all these accusations, recriminations, and extremely hurtful remarks should appear in the public forum, and in the hands of such as Martin Bashir and Andrew Morton.  There can be no mitigation or retraction of words that are published in print and recorded on film.  I question Charles’s departure from the stoic, stiff-upper-lip and stony silence on personal issues that the Royal Family has always maintained in the past.  His revelations in the Dimbleby book were ill-advised, in my view.  And I really question Princess Diana’s judgement in choosing Morton and Bashir, if she absolutely had to fire a salvo across the Royal Family’s flagship.  So I have to wonder about some of her other choices.  Dodi Fayed?  Hmmmm…

Dodi Fayed was famously described as a Muslim playboy and film producer, who was the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed.  He was engaged to model Kelly Fisher at the time of his ‘fling’ with Princess Diana, and had bought a house in Malibu for Kelly and himself, reportedly with his father’s money.  Kelly Fisher later sued Dodi Fayed for breach of promise.  Evidently Princess Diana, who believed herself to be a betrayed wife with a ‘third party’ (Camilla) involved in her marriage, didn’t scruple to be the third party in someone else’s relationship–and not for the first time.

Mohamed Al-Fayed, to all appearances, was a little bit obsessed by the British Royal family, and had pretensions to aristocracy himself (he added the ‘Al’ to his name to indicate this, and some of his family members followed suit for a time and later dropped it).

“In 1986 he signed a 50-year lease on the Parisian villa of the duke and duchess of Windsor, which he promptly restored.”  (Encyclopedia Britannica)

I know that I’ve read somewhere (and can’t find the source at the moment) that he wanted the Royal Family to use their influence in getting him British citizenship, and he was rebuffed.  Maybe that was speculation on someone’s part at the time, but it fits.

“Although frustrated in his efforts to be accepted as a British citizen—his application was first denied in 1995, and subsequent attempts were also unsuccessful—Fayed continued to play an influential and highly controversial role in Great Britain. Fayed had numerous feuds with the British establishment and helped wreck the careers of several Conservative politicians.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“Fayed’s contentious relationship with the British establishment was well documented. In a rancorous takeover in 1985, he beat out mining giant Lonrho to purchase the House of Fraser, the holding company that controlled Harrods department store.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Of course, after the deaths of Dodi and Diana, his relationship with the Royal Family was open warfare, as is clearly seen from his court action against them and the security services (Feb 18, 2008), and in this article from the Daily Mail, June 27, 2011:

“Mohammed Al Fayed has burnt the royal crests that used to adorn the wall of Harrods as part of a TV documentary on the death of Princess Diana.

Al Fayed also brands the Duke of Edinburgh a ‘Nazi’ in the film, which will not be shown in Britain because it is far too libellous.

In the controversial scene Al Fayed is pictured standing in the grounds of his country estate near Oxted in Surrey.”

al-fayed burning Harrods's royal warrants

In any case, in the 2008 court case Al-Fayed charged that MI-6 murdered Dodi and Diana on the orders of Prince Philip, and branded the Royals “Dracula Family.”

He believes that Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child at the time of her death.  Wishful thinking, I believe, since this was very likely his aim…to connect his family to the Royal Family.  Any child of Diana’s would be a half-sibling to an heir to the throne (William).

There really can be few other men who would have been less desirable as a connection in the Royal Family’s view than Dodi Fayed.  Easy to see how it all came about…Mohamed Al-Fayed no doubt saw an opportunity for his son with Princess Diana after her divorce, and the invitation he extended to her, William and Harry for a holiday in the south of France in 1997 was a calculated move that paid off.

“Diana and Charles divorced in 1996. Diana was hosted by Al-Fayed in the south of France in the summer of 1997, with her two sons, the Princes William and Harry. For the holiday, Fayed bought a 195 ft yacht, the Jonikal (later renamed the Sokar).  Dodi and Diana later began a private cruise on the Jonikal and paparazzi photographs of the couple in an embrace were published. Diana’s friend, the journalist Richard Kay, confirmed that Diana was involved in “her first serious romance” since her divorce.” (Wikipedia)

And of course Dodi and Diana died in a Paris car crash while being pursued by paparazzi on August, 31, 1997, a short time after their relationship began in that same summer.

Naturally there was a shocked reaction from all quarters, and an outpouring of public grief at the tragedy.  Even though I shared in the shock and grief, I remember seeing on the news broadcasts all the notes to ‘Dodi and Diana’ amongst the flowers piled at the gates of Buckingham Palace, and wondering how people could possibly imagine that they were Romeo and Juliet.

It was so obviously a match orchestrated by his father for reasons of his own, in which Dodi collaborated–in spite of his engagement to another woman, and likely because his wealthy father held the purse-strings.  Diana could no doubt see the affair as a spectacularly effective retaliatory measure.  Or perhaps she was just making another poor judgement call?  After her affair with James Hewitt, and publication of the book he collaborated on with Anna Pasternak, Princess in Love, (1994), one would think she’d be more cautious.  But she seemed destined always to misplace her trust in a rather grand way.

As for her trust in Andrew Morton, I think we can see how that went wrong.  Immediately after her death, he re-published the book he wrote about her, with additional transcripts held back from the first publication, and he openly revealed her cooperation.

Very sad that two little boys should have been exposed to all this about their mother just after her death.  What a rocky few years it was for them.  Did she ever pause to consider the effects of her revelations on her children?  Had the boys been foremost in her thoughts, would she not have done her utmost to protect them from all the animosity between their parents, and the ugly publicity that fed on it?  If she had to make a life for herself separate from her husband’s, why wouldn’t she just get on with it?  It would have been the better choice for herself as well as her children.  I suspect that if she hadn’t made the attack on her husband–their father–and a play for public sympathy in that first book of Morton’s, it might not have set the wheels in motion that brought her life to a crashing halt in a Paris tunnel.  A sad waste of a life that was capable of so much good.

The following is an excerpt of a New York Times review (March 5, 1999) of a more recent book written by Andrew Morton about Monica Lewinsky.

‘Monica’s Story’: Tawdry and Tiresome, By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

“Like Morton’s two Diana books (“Diana: Her True Story” and “Diana: Her New Life”), “Monica’s Story” reverberates with the cloying sound of the talk-show confessional. All three books also share an annoying, and sometimes inadvertently amusing, propensity for Gothic melodrama and romance-novel prose. Describing the hopes of Ms. Lewinsky’s mother and aunt that her infatuation with the president was winding down, Morton writes, “Over the next few weeks, however, like blood seeping out from under a closed door, the awful truth began to dawn.””

I haven’t read the Dimbleby book Prince of Wales (yet), but that one was apparently a retaliatory move prompted by Morton’s book, and contained Prince Charles’s remarks  about feeling pushed into a loveless marriage by his father.  Those two books really put an end to the marriage, if it wasn’t already dead, and everything that happened subsequent to that was the flogging of a dead horse.

If one can put aside all the drama and tragedy of his marriage to Diana, accept that she is gone, and allow for the happy marriage to Camilla that resulted, I like it that Prince Charles is interested in urban planning and organic farming and environmental issues and architecture…

At the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (May 30, 1984) he said, “Why can’t we have those curves and arches that express feeling in design? What is wrong with them? Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles – and functional?”

He also said that a proposed extension to the National Gallery in London would be a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend.”

And apparently he got up everyone’s nose with that remark, but what’s the problem?  If he has no power to dictate to people about what they can and can’t do, why should they mind that he says what he thinks?  I think his views are worth listening to, and I think he would do very well as king…someday in the distant future, I hope.

What I remember about Prince Charles during all that difficult time his and Diana’s marriage imploded before our eyes was the fact that he kept a speaking engagement at a U.S. university shortly after the ‘Camillagate’ tapes were being played on radio and television. (Were the ‘Squidgygate’ tapes prior to, or subsequent to that?  Oh…I don’t really care.)   In them, two people who were apparently Charles and Camilla, were having an intimate conversation.

I watched a news report around this time which featured a reporter who went to the university campus and interviewed some of the students there prior to Prince Charles’s arrival.  One young fellow with a purple Mohawk haircut and multiple piercings and tattoos was very disapproving of Prince Charles, and I remember thinking, doesn’t it just beat all that this strange-looking article should criticize Prince Charles, whom I thought was very brave to continue to honour his public engagements in spite of all the sensationalism and public censure.  It was very “Keep Calm and Carry On” of him.

I realize that that motto from the days of the London Blitz is overworked these days, but it was very heartening to see it in practice.

 

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Gutenberg.org–and my other Favourites

What a joy to this bibliophile’s frugal heart is the gutenberg.org website! FREE offerings of electronic books of all sorts (books which are no longer protected by copyright law in the U.S., that is), available to readers with no registration necessary.  Book choices may be read online, or downloaded in various formats.

This is from their website:

“Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and his memory continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today.”

https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

And the online books are organized in various ways to make searching for something in particular a breeze. Additionally, we can see which books are popular downloads for our fellow readers by clicking on the “Top 100 Books and Authors,” or we can click on “Recent books” to see what has been added to the inventory since we last visited the site, or visit the “Bookshelves” to see groupings of related books, or access the online catalog and “Browse by Author, Title, Language or Recently Posted,” and so on. There also appears to be some sheet music on offer, and audio books, etc. I haven’t explored it all, but there’s a vast and growing body of literature available to readers—with no strings attached. Needless to say, I support the Gutenberg project with my donations. It’s a worthy and worthwhile endeavour.

I also support the ‘Brainpickings.org’ site and the ‘Wikipedia’ site. These are also places that I visit regularly, and whose benefit to me is immeasurable.

https://www.brainpickings.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

I only have to look at sites supported by ads briefly to feel assaulted by their intrusiveness and junk content. I never stay in them long.

‘MSN’ is a prime irritant.  I sometimes end up there, like it or not, because I use hotmail.  Today I saw a headline flash by on the MSN page:  “Four dead, male suspect held in Canada school shooting – RCMP”.  I was shocked by the headline, and wanted more information immediately, but by the time I’d clicked on it, the photo and headline had moved on, and when I clicked, I ended up in some dog and dog-owner lookalike article.

How infuriating to suddenly find oneself in a rubbishy article like that, when one is trying to get information on what is apparently a terrible, tragic event of national proportions.  So I exited the dog-lookalike article, and scrolled back through the MSN items until I found the “Four dead…” headline again.  When I clicked on it, I found myself being forced to watch a car-sales ad, while a ‘McCafe’ ad, with whipped-cream-topped coffee mug and stacked chocolate cookies flashed some animated characters to attract my attention at the side of the screen.

So here’s a newsflash for MSN from me:  I did not click on the news item to be sold a car.  I did not click on the news item to be told by McDonalds that ‘Love is Everywhere’ and that I should have a cookie.   I needed to know what happened in a Winnipeg, Manitoba, school for four lives to be lost in a shooting.  Throwing obstacles in my way will not improve car, coffee or cookie sales.  It will merely cause me to grind my teeth and growl.

I realize that the user of these commercial sites is just ‘a mark,’ and fair game for anyone.  But I have to wonder whether the advertisers would persist in allowing their ads to be played indiscriminately on MSN if they were aware that they risk attracting the viewer’s enmity and disgust.  I might now have an AVERSION to their products as a result of this experience.

By contrast, my favourite websites are oases of calm and repose.  Nothing jars my sensibilities or impedes my access to the information I want.  These sites do not aggressively ram links to other sites down my throat; force-feeding me ads ‘here,’ scrolling photos rapidly across the screen ‘there’ while frantically running videos ‘someplace else’ on the same screen.

Giving Project Gutenberg, Brainpickings, and Wikipedia a few dollars now and again to support their efforts is an obligation that I gladly fulfill.  If everyone gave them a few dollars regularly, I’m sure their operating expenses would easily be met.

Imagine what the internet would be like if every site needed advertising dollars to keep it going–an internet with no respite from interference.  We’d find ourselves continually waiting interminably for our screens to unlock while some video ad that requires all our computer and communication resources loads something we have no wish to see.

Hideous thought.

That said, the reality is that websites require funding to continue their existence; and, for some, advertising dollars must be the way for them to sustain themselves.  We must hope that they can find a happy balance between service to readership and service to commerce.

I won’t make a habit of visiting them until they do.

 

Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye

I had a dream about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis the other night.

I was manning a table at a charity bazaar when she approached.  Can’t remember what I had ‘on offer,’ but I remember a display of doll-size Bentwood rockers, with elaborate wicker scrollwork on the sides.

Since I was pretty sure she had already given a donation in support of the charity–and probably attended the bazaar on the observance of good form alone–I thought she was entitled to take whatever she liked, and any necessity to pay was superfluous.

She looked at the miniature Bentwood rockers, and I told her to take one.  She hesitated a moment, and then unfastened the clasp on her handbag and quickly dropped a Bentwood rocker into it.  I judged at that point that I might be inhibiting her shopping experience, and so I made myself scarce.

A little while later she came over to where I was, and she was modelling some lovely gold-finish bracelets and a necklace.  She held her arms out with a flourish for my admiration and comment.  I said that they looked lovely, and appeared  quite authentic–not being too brassy-looking in the usual way of costume jewellery.

She gave me a cheque for $209-plus-change (I can’t remember the exact amount), and that’s all I remember of my dream.

I have no idea how miniature Bentwood rockers came to feature in my dream.  As for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, there could be a variety of reasons for that, I suppose…dusting my bookshelf and noting the location of the Pierre Salinger interview CDs (couldn’t remember where I’d put them), or watching a documentary about JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette on television recently.  Or was it perhaps that I’d rooted-out my Camrose Jacqueline Kennedy reproduction jewellery to wear during the festive season just past?

I also have a book entitled, “Cooking for Madam, Recipes and Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” (1998) by Marta Sgubin (and Nancy Nicholas).  Marta was the family cook in the post-presidential years, and apparently her book was encouraged and endorsed by Caroline  and John Kennedy Jr.  I was very interested in what food was served in the household–and how Jacqueline maintained her weight so successfully!  (She loved chocolate cake?  Really?  Hmmm…perhaps as a table decoration.)

thin Jacqueline

Am I a fan of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?  To a degree, I suppose.  I admire her style, and the way she managed her public persona.  But I’m not a devotee.  If I could admire her unreservedly, I’d probably never give her another thought.  (Sad to say, but  I never think about Mother Teresa–there are no questions in my mind about her.)  I thought that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was very wise to  guard her privacy as much as possible, and try to give her children as normal an upbringing as possible.

Some might say that she avoided publicity in order to attract people through her mystique.  At least one cannot look at her and say that she was professionally packaged for sale to the celebrity-market consumer.  She apparently gave them nothing, and what would be the benefit to her if she did?  Granted that there were third-party benefits:  newspapers, magazines and television programs attracted consumers when they featured articles or segments about her–due to her history and her glamour and her aloofness.  And perhaps in some sense she (and they) understood the laws of supply and demand.   If a commodity is rare, it is intrinsically more valuable.

Then there are her marriages…JFK was an exceptional man from all appearances, who appeared to handle power judiciously.  But evidently he was a philanderer, being unfaithful to her and their marriage with a number of women.

Let’s compare Jackie’s marital experiences with Princess Diana’s for a moment (Diana is another complex topic).   Diana collaborated with a writer in producing a book about her husband’s infidelity with another woman.  Just ONE other woman.   The fact that it was only one other woman doesn’t make Diana’s circumstances any better, but one of the two betrayed wives laid out her problems for the public, and one didn’t.

I’m sorry in both cases that they were disappointed in their husbands, but I have to say that Jacqueline Kennedy was the wiser one for not inviting the public to judge or to comment on her marriage.  I’ve read somewhere that Jacqueline’s silence on the topic of her husband’s infidelity was bought with her father-in-law’s money.  Seems unlikely.  Just speculation and gossip–who could ever know?

Maybe she didn’t care, anyway.  Perhaps she really had no deep feelings that could be outraged by her marriage partner’s betrayal.  I’ve read it somewhere that she might have been impervious to emotional hurt in this way, having experienced the results of her father’s infidelity and her parents’ failed marriage.  So she may have been desensitized.  Was it that…or did she merely have a sense that she would not wear martyrdom well?  It simply wasn’t done, and especially for someone of her class in society.

What a background and history she possessed…such glamour and elegance, good taste and style.  She had all the privileges of an upper-class American upbringing, but spiced (or spoiled?) by a dashing father, “Black Jack” Bouvier, who was a source of drama and insecurity in her life.  Jacqueline’s stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, had to walk her down the aisle at her wedding when her father was reportedly in ‘no fit state’ to perform his father-of-the-bride duties.  But there’s no mistaking where Jacqueline got her striking good looks…

Black_Jack_Bouvier

Jacqueline, as we know, married an American politician who became the first Irish-Catholic president, and the youngest president in the history of the United States, at least to that point in time.  They created the new ‘Camelot’–a brief, shining moment in time when younger people led the country and encouraged the arts to flourish:  a dîner français after the stodge of the Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower years.

Photo of Jackie Kennedy

And there followed his tragic, public murder and her dramatic, heart-rending part in the events that followed.

Johnson oath after assassination

But consider that the funeral was orchestrated by her (according to reports), and it became a national event of great future historical importance.  How did she muster the strength of mind and character to put her imprint on a national event that was such a huge personal tragedy?  Think of the imagery from the funeral:   little John Jr.’s salute as his father’s coffin is carried by, and later the black-veiled widow walking with the late president’s brothers, Robert and Ted Kennedy, to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  This was the first time that a first lady walked in her husband’s funeral procession.  Very dramatic and memorable–she seemed to epitomize the strength and endurance of American womanhood.

Jacqueline in JFK funeral

Later in her life there was her marriage to the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and all the public opinion against that, and all the subsequent trouble–conflict with his children, and so on.

Why did she marry Onassis?  Such an unlikely pairing, on the surface of it.  After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination it was popularly reported that she said something to the effect that if ‘they’ are killing Kennedys, her children would be prime targets.  I don’t believe that she said anything of the kind.  Why would she imagine ‘they’ wanted to kill her children?  I can more easily believe that she was simply attracted to Onassis’s wealth, power and personality.  Of course, she no doubt  knew that there would be a public outcry from Americans who would have great difficulty letting go of their idealized image of her–the assassinated President’s tragic widow–and accepting her marriage to a wealthy Greek.

IF she did say that she thought her children were in danger after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, possibly she thought that saying so might provide an acceptable explanation for marrying Onassis–essentially trading on public sympathy in connection with the assassinations to buy acceptance for her decision to marry Onassis.  If anyone were foolish enough to believe that the Kennedy children were in danger from assassins, they would likely be capable of believing that this would be the reason for her marriage to Onassis.

And then at her death we read the synopsis of her life in the People Magazine article of June 6, 1994.

Among other things, we are asked to believe that she was a shopaholic who once bought 200 pairs of shoes in a single foray, running up a tab of $60,000.   Consider for a moment that $60,000 in 1973-ish (approximately the time this event might have taken place, since Onassis died in 1975, and they were separated prior to that) is equivalent to around $320,000 today.  This is a time before Manolo Blahnik became popular, as well.  I cannot imagine the sort of wild-eyed, frenzied, frothing-at the-mouth shopper who might be able to buy TWO HUNDRED pairs of shoes in a single shopping trip.  And at that cost?  If I could imagine this poor, demented creature, I’m quite sure that she would in no way resemble Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  I suppose she never said that she didn’t buy those shoes–but why would she?

It might be something similar to the royal family in Britain not taking the time to deny every outlandish accusation levelled at them in the popular press.  Once you start that, you can never stop.

But ultimately we cannot know anything for sure.  Her children seemed to be level-headed people, for as much as they have shown themselves in public (prior to John Jr.’s tragic death).  And I was very impressed with Caroline in her explanation of the early release of the 8.5 hours of the Salinger interviews of her mother (it was intended to remain ‘sealed’ for a much longer period of time, but Caroline authorized the release to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of her father’s inauguration as President of the United States.)

I liked Jacqueline Kennedy in the Salinger interviews, which were done only four months after the assassination.  She was so candid and open, and natural.  What follows is a quote from the transcript of the interview, this being a comment on the events shortly after Nixon conceded to Kennedy in the presidential election.   She said:

“And then–oh, then I had to see the press in Ethel’s house–all those women saying, “What kind of First Lady will you be?”  Those horrible women.  And then we all had our pictures taken together in the big house.  Then we were all going to go down to the Armory and Mr. Kennedy didn’t want to come.  So sweet, he always tried to stay in the background.  I remember just grabbing him and saying, “You have to come now.”  He was so sweet.  And we all went down to the Armory.”

I love it that she said the press (women for the most part, I suppose) were ‘horrible.’  That’s an honest assessment!  And saying that her father-in-law was ‘so sweet.’  I have to believe that that was an honest remark as well, because it was something he would never hear.  There cannot have been any self-interest behind it.  We all make these assessments of one another (hard for some to admit), and I find it so refreshing that she said exactly what she thought, and felt.

I believe that, ultimately, the best indicator of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s character might be the type of people John Jr. and Caroline became as adults.  They appeared to be her primary focus, and she did pretty well there, I believe.

I’ve read somewhere that Jacqueline was very much opposed to her son’s enthusiasm for piloting small airplanes.  After her passing, he supposedly devoted more time to this hobby, and of course it lead to the tragic accident in the summer of 1999.

Was Jacqueline prescient, or is the story of her concerns about John’s airplane hobby apocryphal?

Just something else that we can’t know for sure.

Jackie and John Jr

 

Live it Through

I was just cruising through the contents of my hard drive, looking for anything that might be of interest to you, and found a poem entitled, “Live it Through” by David Ignatow.  I could not remember anything about it.  So I re-read it, and thought, yes, I must have liked it when I saved it to my computer, and I still like it.  I then found a link that talks about David Ignatow (1914-1997), and it’s below the poem that follows…

LIVE IT THROUGH

By David Ignatow

I dreamt a huge liner stood in the desert, its crew leaning

over the railing looking down as though the ship were

plowing through the waves of sand. I was afraid to ask

how a ship could come to rest in the desert. I was afraid I

might hear of a monstrous happening that would set my

heart to beating wildly and kill me with its fear. The world

itself was strange enough and that was all I cared to know,

and so I hailed the crew from my position on the sand and

asked where they were sailing to and was answered, Into

the desert. I was glad to get such an absurd answer, since

I could assume it masked their own fears.

 

Can I climb on board, I then asked and was answered Yes

promptly and a rope ladder dropped down. Eagerly I

climbed it. We would go through with this madness

together, think of it as real as life itself and help each other

live it through.

 

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/david-ignatow

In an interview of David Ignatow by Gerard Malanga in The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 23, Ignatow says that the poem of which he is the most proud is Rescue the Dead.

Rescue the Dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,

is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,

is to respect fire,

is to study man’s eyes and his gestures

as he talks,

is to set bread upon the table

and a knife discreetly by,

is to pass through crowds

like a crowd of oneself.

Not to love is to live.

 

To love is to be led away

into a forest where the secret grave

is dug, singing, praising darkness

under the trees.

 

To live is to sign your name,

is to ignore the dead,

is to carry a wallet

and shake hands.

 

To love is to be a fish.

My boat wallows in the sea.

You who are free,

rescue the dead.

 

I pulled the quote below from the biography of David Ignatow on the poetryfoundation.org site:

“Ignatow commented on another significant difference between his earlier and later work; regarding “my early concentration in my poetry on injustice and cruelty,” he once told Contemporary Authors, “these poems were written with the assumption that somewhere, somehow there was a social system, idealized in faith by me, that practiced justice and decency consistently and with pleasure. I was wrong. At seventy-five years of age, I no longer have such hopes and expectations, though my heart still leaps at any and all pieces and fragments of good news.”

Ignatow died in 1997 at age 83.

 

Peacock-Blue Ink

It has been hovering in the back of my mind for lo these many years that I must yet again make an effort to write a journal–with diligence and a firm resolve to continue it faithfully into the future.  ‘Diligence’ and ‘resolve’ are provisos that must accompany this intent, because I have started a journal, or diary, many times previously, and somehow it has fallen by the wayside.

I think perhaps my problem is that once I start to write, I cannot easily stop before the sheer volume causes my writing hand to cramp up.  This would not be a bad thing (the pain aside), if time constraints did not thereby become an added obstacle to my journaling time.  At some busy time in my life, I will look at my journal and have to say to myself that I do not have an hour or more to write in it.  As subsequent days go by, the tendency to avoid taking up the journal intensifies, and it gets relegated to a place on a shelf instead of my bedside table.  Moving it from where the sight of it nags my guilty conscience is a necessary step for the promotion of a peaceful night’s sleep.  And so I forget about it entirely.  But thoughts of it lurk in the back of my mind, and I know that one day–oh yes–I will try again.

Why do I want to write a journal?  Lousy memory, partly.  I could use a source of reference for remembering things and events.  Also I find that when I record the events of the day, I can feel that I have accomplished something with my time.  I always appear more useful and productive on paper, for some reason.  (Fiction?  Probably.)   Also, some thoughts that are irritating, annoying or worrying can be offloaded in writing, and thereby cease, in some measure, from disturbing my mental balance and emotional harmony.  I really believe that I think better in writing.  It was always a way for me to see issues more clearly, and settle on future actions with more confidence and determination.

In past years, I have used ‘the New Year’s Resolution’ as a way of resuming journaling, but hadn’t intended that this year.  My thought to begin yet another journal started with a view of some beautiful handwriting in a historical document which I saw on television in a program presented by historian Dr. Lucy Worsley.  I’ve tried my hand at calligraphy, and believe that I might have some aptitude for it.  Be that as it may, I do enjoy trying.  So the writing tools one requires for making beautiful handwriting came to mind in connection with this–and also something that I remember from my elementary school days, when we used fountain pens (ballpoint pens not being sold in those days; oh dear, that dates me):  peacock-blue ink.

I wondered whether it was still possible to buy peacock-blue ink, so I searched on the internet, and found some bottles of it on Amazon, where it’s called ‘turquoise’ ink.  There were two bottles available, and I bought both of them.  Then I wondered about a pen.  I have cartridge fountain pens with a calligraphy kit, but obviously I now needed a fountain pen that could be refilled from a bottle.  Found a nice-looking Pilot Metropolitan pen on Amazon (a Japanese make, apparently), with a lovely gold finish, and some decent reviews from previous purchasers.  Am waiting for it to arrive at my door.

When it does, I shall begin my journal again–or, rather, a new edition.  And this time I will enforce a quota on the amount of writing to be done at one sitting.  No more ‘writing until my hand cramps.’  I shall write a single page a night, just before bedtime, with my shiny gold fountain pen and lovely peacock-blue ink.

 

How Did I Get Here?

Well, I’m a little bemused at the moment.  I had no intention of starting a blog site, but it seems that starting a blog site was in the cards for me today.

“So what happened,” you say?  (A little flight of fancy on my part–imagining that someone, somewhere, will read this and want to know how my blog site came about.)

I started out reading a story written by a member of the writing club wherein I lurk–since I’m on their e-mail distribution list–and wanted to lend my support to her effort by ‘liking’ her story, since I enjoyed reading it very much.  (So I liked her story, and I wanted to ‘like’ it, if you know what I mean.)

The link to the story is above, and she won third place, tied with another writer, in the contest she had entered.

Anyhow, as I said, I wanted to ‘like’ her story, and when I clicked on the ‘like’ button below it, I was presented with a signon screen for WordPress.  Well, that’s fair enough, one cannot just ‘like’ things without being members or subscribers to a particular site, so I tried to register.  And I found myself signing up for this blog site.

Not that I mind.  I have a website domain and have been trying to get back to working on the design for it.  Was side-tracked earlier this year by my father’s illness.

All that effort to develop my own website; signing up for web design courses and javascript courses, and here I’ve just dropped onto something ready-made, apparently.

Am writing my second ‘bit’ for my new blog site, and feeling mildly perplexed that I’m sat here doing this.  I still must try to ‘like’ the story I set out to support, if I can find my way back there.  And while I don’t know how I got here, following the path of least resistance has been my ‘modus operandi’ throughout life.

No point in stopping now.

Navigating Through the World of Literature

One of the things I like to do is to read criticism by people whose own writing I admire; say, for example, Philip Larkin’s essays in Required Writing or Clive James’s essays in The Pillars of Hercules.  For me they provide a bit of guidance without, I hope, too much affecting my own opinions on the works or the authors they discuss.  In some cases, they introduce me to an author I might never otherwise have considered reading.

Take for example Clive James’s essay on Raymond Chandler, entitled, “The Country Behind the Hill”–this title referencing a remark of Chandler’s:  “He used to say that he wanted to give a feeling of the country behind the hill.”  I was of the opinion (out of ignorance, it must be said) that Raymond Chandler was a writer in the pulp fiction genre whose works were firmly and permanently lodged in the 1940’s.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I thought that all I needed to know about Chandler could be accessed through a Bogart movie.  I never thought of reading him.  Clive James tells me that Auden wanted Chandler to be regarded as an artist.  That endorsement certainly raises Chandler’s status in my mind, and piques my interest.

I once sent a note to Maria Popova (of the ‘Brainpickings’ site, which I enjoy enormously), thanking her for her critiques of nonfiction literature, and telling her how much I admire her writing.  She wrote back, thanking me, but saying that she doesn’t write criticism, only recommendations.  In other words, she will only review or discuss works that she personally likes and can recommend to others.

I like it that Maria gleans the wheat and discards the chaff, and I will continue to read her recommendations with great pleasure.  But I also like it that Clive James will give an opinion on something he doesn’t like, by an author who does not ‘hit the mark’ in his view.

In his essay on Lillian Hellman, entitled, “It is of a Windiness,” James says, “We are asked to believe that her own feelings about the McCarthy period were welling up to block her speech, just as the Russian friend’s experience of the recent past had blocked hers.  The two communed in silence.  That this equation was presented as a profundity seemed to me at the time to prove that Lillian Hellman, whatever her stature in the theatre, possessed, as an essayist, an attitudinizing mind of which her mannered prose was the logically consequent expression.”

James’s negative opinion about Hellman does not deter me from exploring her work, however, and I believe I can do so without his comments colouring my own thoughts.  It adds another dimension to my reading, in fact, that I can take another person’s thoughts along with me as I read, and consider whether or not I agree with him/her as I go.

And I suppose that I also do this when I read Maria’s recommendations and then follow-up by reading the original text discussed in her articles.  I’ve found that most of the time, I am able to agree with her, but there has been at least one author on whose work our opinions differ.

I suppose that reading another person’s praise or criticism is a bit like participating in a book club, which is something I have never done.  I have abstained out of fear that the quality of my fellow clubmembers’ minds might disappoint.  Perhaps that’s egotistical, but I think that if I’m engaging in an activity intended to improve my own mind, I must interact with people who can contribute something to that endeavour.  In choosing to read critiques or recommendations, I can select essays by people whose own writing and opinions I admire.

I look at this as a way of guiding my reading towards authors that justify the expenditure of my time–a way of navigating through the world of literature, with my chosen ‘book club members’ in print.  The advantages are manifold:  my book club is well attended, no one is ever absent for illness, conflict of schedule, or even death (in the case of Philip Larkin), and I choose my own time for ‘hearing them’ discuss their reading.  And usually, if these intelligent writers have given their own time to a discussion of a particular book, my time will be equally well spent reading both their opinions, and the work itself.