The April Fool

 

court jester 3

They called me Jane the Foole, but it was they who were foolish, believing as they did in the atrocities of government and church. At Court I stayed close to my Lady Catherine Parr, yet closer still to Elizabeth Tudor, for I knew it was Elizabeth who would one day conquer all.

I juggled, danced and told many a story.  In my raiments of motley and purple, I entertained the greatest of statesmen.  I was merely a jester, yet it was my good fortune to have a room of my own, a canopied bed, the finest of costumes and best of all, access to the royal kitchen.

Truth be told, I did not care much for King Henry. He was an old lecher and I had watched him behead many a woman. In the last days of his life I know he suffered, for the Fates cannot be kind to any man who takes a woman’s love and devotion so lightly.

The poison I gave to Henry’s cook was unknown to all but me. It was an act of mercy, for the man was obese to the point of vulgarity, his leg ulcer constantly inflamed. To make matters worse, he was deranged of mind and smelled badly. Trust me, death was a blessing.

When Henry died his son Edward, a mere boy of nine, took the throne. I disliked Edward, yet I stayed in his household. The boy was not much of a leader, taking counsel from greedy sycophants, lords and earls.  It was only my Lady Elizabeth who was fit to lead, that I knew, sure as I knew the bells on my own headfrock.

At age fifteen the boy king took ill. His symptoms looked to the world like the consumption, but I knew better. Edward was a mere cog in the wheel, a false ruler to be disposed of. And so, when I gave the poison to his cook I was left unfazed. This was my duty to the Crown, a step in my own advancement.

When Edward died,  his cousin, the Lady Jane Grey became queen. Of necessity, her reign was short, lasting only nine days, for she had been placed on the throne against her own will in a conspiracy.  She was declared treasonous and sent to the block. My work in her demise was therefore minimal.

The sweetcake I brought to Lady Jane Grey in her jail cell at the Tower would serve only to ease her pain. “Eat it right before the beheading,” I told her.

She nodded in agreement, for the poor child was bewildered, having served only as a pawn in this deadly game of thrones. I watched her eat the sweetcake, then blindfolded, she faced her executioner. Death enveloped her just before the ax hit her nubile young throat.

Jane Grey

The Lady Mary, Henry’s oldest daughter, then took the throne.

The Queen Mary kept me yet at the palace where I continued to amuse and delight.  In the meantime, my Lady Elizabeth was placed in the Tower on treasonous charges against her own sister.  They were false of course, Elizabeth a mere victim in a political plot designed by Mary’s enemies.  Amateurs! The true business was always best left to me.

I made it my duty to visit Elizabeth in her damp and murky chamber. “Fret not my Lady,” I told her. “Plans are set and in place.” I then gave her a sly wink and she knew, in the way only a secretive and powerful woman could know, of my intentions. I dared not utter them, for the Tower was filled with ears and spies.

I bided my time, waiting and watching.

The good of England was only ever in my thoughts. Tho’ I was but a foole, I knew a disaster when I saw one. This monarchy was a disaster, many slaughtered under the reign of Bloody Mary, many brought to the pyre.

There were burnings of devout Protestants, the likes of which the country had never seen before nor would ever see again. I watched it all. The flames as they crept high over the stakes, the victims as they wailed in terror.

burning-at-stake

The lucky ones were given a pouch of gunpowder, so to end their misery sooner. Such uncouth barbarism, never had I witnessed before!  And all in the name of religion, politics and other things, much too foolish to abide.

The Queen Mary was ill of health, a tumor in her chest that grew to large proportions. I watched as she became weaker.  I suspect her conscience was troubled also and her health reflecting it. The poison I gave to her cook was an act of mercy and one I have never regretted.

And so it was, on a blustery day in November, the year 1558, the Queen Mary finally breathed her last and my Lady Elizabeth took the throne.

“I’ll keep you close Jane Foole,” Elizabeth whispered to me, flashing the royal ring in my eyes.  “For I know your power is not merely to entertain, but to dole death as well as life.”

Elizabeth was the one, the only one, who never underestimated me.

The reign of my Lady Elizabeth was long, lasting nigh fifty years. I stayed with her through it all. None noticed, save for Elizabeth herself, and a few of the other servants, that during this time I aged not a day. I watched with amusement as those around me withered and fell. Even the great Queen was unable to stave off the wrinkles of time, much to her dismay. She was a vain sort and begged me give her the potion of youth. Instead I spread her face with crushed eggshells which served to hide her age spots nicely.

Painting of Queen Elizabeth I of England Elizabeth 1_original.j

I told her (and rightfully so) that my potion of eternal youth was not for princes nor noblemen, but only to be used by we, the Fooles, born into this life of jesting and merriment.

When my Queen could no longer kick her heels in a dance, and my Lord Cecil of the privy council had wasted away before us, I continued my jesting. My jokes and story telling, as well as my face were much same as they had been in the court of King Henry years before.  None bothered to question me, for it was assumed I could not possibly be that same Jane. None examined a fool too closely, for we were but ornaments; the entertainment, amusement and artifice taken for granted.

The Queen grew fragile, debilitated by her long years in office. Finally, on a rain soaked day in March, the year 1603, she summoned me with her last request.

The poison I slipped to Elizabeth’s cook was unknown to all but the Queen and myself. Still a troubled soul, she remained standing and fully awake, biting her own fingernails until she took her last breath, the poison finally doing its work.

As for myself, after Elizabeth’s reign I vanished from court. I had no desire to serve under her cousin James.  My work was done. Besides, the golden age of the jester was fading and would soon be forgotten, replaced by the stage, the works of Master Shakespeare and all that would later take to to the fine art of merriment.

My Queen, ever faithful, had left in my name an enormous country estate, the deed and keys belonging to me only.

estate 2

There I have lived quietly ever after.  I have seen the turn of some four hundred summers. Laughter and my own elixirs  being the best medicine, I still have not aged a day.

I have taken seventeen husbands and birthed seventy-one children. All of them became fine entertainers as was appropriate to the eras in which they were born. They scattered to all corners of the earth, bearing offspring of their own who carry on my traditions.

court jester 6

Yet I grew weary of this world.

And so it was.

On April 1st, 2017 in the Year of Our Lord now called Common Era, on the day they have named specifically  for fools, I Jane the Foole played the last of my (very practical) jokes. The poison I gave to my own cook was only known by me. I passed quietly, painlessly, and peacefully into the night.

All I will tell you of the realm I entered is that it is beautiful, a land of summer where the flowers bloom quite indecently. There is always much laughter and merrymaking. There is no poison, no aging, no politics, no religion, no kings nor queens.  And there is, most certainly, never a need for the employment of fools.

flowers 4

 

** NOTE: The real Jane Foole, pictured below in this 1545 portrait, was the only female court jester ever recorded in history. She is believed to have served three generations in the Tudor dynasty.

jane foole

The full painting below features (left to right) jester Jane Foole, Mary Tudor, Prince Edward, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (posthumous), Elizabeth Tudor and another jester Will Somers.

King Henry

 

 

Póg mo thóin

 

greenfairy

The river is green, the Guinness flows freely, the leprechauns are out and about. You never know what may be at the end of their rainbow.  However, it would not be Saint Patrick’s Day without music from the FABULOUS POGUES!!!!

pogues

This Celtic punk band was formed in 1982 by front man Shane MacGowan (aka Shane Hooligan), a rabble rousing displaced Irishman who had plenty to say about politics, prejudice and poetry.

The band was originally named ‘Pogue Mahone’, which is the phonetic pronunciation of the Irish phrase Póg mo thóin. Translated to English it apparently means “Kiss my ass.”  🙂

Shane chose the name as a joke and figured no one in English speaking countries would be able to figure out the meaning, but au contraire.  The name caused a massive uproar.  The BBC banned performances by Pogue Mahone and they could not get a record deal, so they shortened their name to ‘Pogues’. (This was acceptable, the Irish word póg meaning ‘kiss’.)

Shane had the last laugh though, when the Pogues released an album called ‘Rum, Sodomy and the Lash’. Reportedly the title was a quote by Winston Churchill. When asked about the state of the British Navy during World War 2, Churchill allegedly replied “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition!  It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash!”

 

captain jack

 

At any rate, you won’t find a better band to celebrate Paddy’s Day. Here are two of their classics, ‘If I Should Fall From Grace of God’ and ‘Waxie’s Dargle’.  Break out the whiskey, kick up your heels and have a listen!

Lá Shona Fhéile Pádraig! (or Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)

If I Should Fall From Grace With God — an Irish patriot grapples with his own sins and mortality. “Let me go down in the mud where the rivers all run dry.”  Worth listening just to hear Shane’s banshee scream mid song. I dare you not to dance, or at least toe tap!

 

‘Waxie’s Dargle’ is a traditional folk song, made punk by the Pogues.  A Waxie (candle maker) wants to go to the party (dargle).  Sadly she is so poor she cannot raise the money to go, not even by selling her husband’s suspenders.  “When food is scarce and you see the hearse you know you died of hunger!”

For such a morbid song, this version is hilarious! Sorry about the poor quality of this video, but nonetheless —  you can’t beat their loopy energy.  Sláinte!

 

 

 

 

“Beware the Ides of March.”

 

julius-caesar-assassination

So warned the soothsayer to Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s famous play.   Alas poor Julius — he did not heed the advice, went against his own instincts and was stabbed to death in the senate. The bloody, infamous event occurred on March 15, 44 B.C.

Have you ever wondered what the ‘Ides’ of March actually means?

It was a designation for the middle of a month. Apparently, the ancient Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from first through last day. Instead, they divided the month and counted days from three specific points. These points were called the Nones (5th -7th of the month) the Ides (13th to 15th) and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

The divisions were determined by the full moon, which normally occurred between the 13th and 15th of the month. Thus the Roman senate would have actually gone ‘loony’ under the full moon. (We just had our full moon on March 12, so the 2017 measurement is not too far off!)

After the death of Caesar, the 15th of March seemed to carry its own specific dark cloud. Many other tragedies have occurred on this day. For example:

 A Raid on Southern England, 1360
A French raiding party began a 48-hour spree of rape, pillage and murder in southern England. King Edward III interrupted his own pillaging spree in France to retaliate.

king edward

 Czar Nicholas II Abdicated His Throne, 1917                                                              Czar Nicholas II of Russia signed his abdication papers, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty. Enter the Bolsheviks!

bolshevik

 Germany Occupied Czechoslovakia, 1939
Nazi troops seized the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map. The beginning of Hitler’s destruction.

 A Deadly Blizzard on the Great Plains, 1941
A Saturday-night blizzard struck the northern Great Plains, leaving at least 60 people dead in North Dakota and Minnesota and six more in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

 World Record Rainfall, 1952
Rain fell on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion—and kept falling, hard enough to register the world’s most voluminous 24-hour rainfall: 73.62 inches. Reportedly, no arks were built 🙂

 CBS Cancelled the “Ed Sullivan Show,” 1971
CBS-TV  cancelled “The Ed Sullivan Show” after 23 years on the network. Ed brought us the Beatles!

beatles

But it need not be all doom and gloom.

If you are looking to brush up on Julius Caesar, or just want to view some beautiful cinematography and great acting, I recommend this (somewhat lengthy) but very entertaining film. Shown as a miniseries in 2002, it stars Jeremy Sisto as Caesar, with a supporting cast that includes Christopher Walken, Richard Harris and Christopher Noth. Running time is 3 hours. Hope you get a chance to watch!

 

Happy Ides of March!

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac!

 

Kerouac quote 2

He was a wide spirit, a dazzling voice that revealed a landscape of art and metaphor, a believer in humanity, a dreamer, a doer and an explorer of metaphysical consciousness. He was also a recluse, socially awkward, a drug abuser, an alcoholic and a man who became so overwhelmed with his own fame it ultimately destroyed him.

Yet to my thinking there are two types of people in this world; those that ‘get’ Kerouac, and those that do not. I am in the first category, of course 🙂

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (aka Jack) was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell Massachusetts to French Canadian parents who had emigrated from Quebec.  Little Jack spoke French as a child and reportedly did not learn English until he was six years old. Yet he went on to become one of the most prolific and controversial American  writers of the 20th century.

Kerouac’s childhood was a mix of working class roots and Catholic spirituality. When Jack was just four years old, he lost his older brother Gerard to rheumatic fever. He never quite recovered from the loss and believed Gerard followed him around as a guardian angel. After meeting  Neal Cassady in the late 1940’s, the two developed a close bond and Jack always felt that Neal was possibly the reincarnation of Gerard.

Jack played football and earned a scholarship to Columbia University. It was there he met fellow writers Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

Jack-Kerouac (1)

Jack broke his leg playing football, lost his scholarship and dropped out of school but nevertheless he, Ginsberg and Burroughs became known as the founders of the Beat Generation. Jack went on to serve in the Merchant Marine and the Navy, later taking a series of odd jobs. All the while he was writing, writing and writing more. Some of his early books were not published until after his death.

Ironically, when people think of the word Beat, they associate it with Beatniks — those cool-cat-hip beret-wearing bongo players who eventually took over the poetry cafe scene. This idea was, however, not what Kerouac & company intended. The true meaning of Beat, Kerouac insisted, was the feeling his generation had after being ‘beat down’ by World War 2. It also referred to beatific, as in the Beatitudes of the Bible. The Beats were a marginalized segment of American society; leftover hobos, shell shocked veterans, ramshackle misfits — the exact types of characters Jack met during his cross country adventures. They shared a longing for the Divine.

His masterpiece novel ‘On The Road’ was published in 1957.  It brought him almost instant fame and success. That success was, in reality, hard earned, as Kerouac had spent most of his life as a poor drifter and outcast bum. Fame and fortune overwhelmed and eventually devastated him.

A restless heart, often accused of misogyny, Kerouac was married three times and had one daughter. His life followed a nomadic pattern that he could never quite resolve.  He made his home in various places around the country, never truly settling down. On The Road is a thinly disguised memoir of his trips between the East and West coasts. He often traveled with best friend Neal Cassady.

The Beat movement represented a certain type of freedom, patriotism and love for the land. Apple pie diners, Colorado cowboys, Frisco jazz clubs, purple mountains, red rock deserts and the tranquility of nature.  Jack began to study Buddhism in his quest for spirituality.  In later years, the peace loving Hippies of Haight Ashbury would pay tribute to  the Beats.

Jack may have had a guardian angel, but his demons never left him.

Jack-Kerouac

After he achieved literary success, his privacy became a thing of the past. He was now a celebrated author, the spotlight forced upon him.  Still socially awkward, Jack took to heavy drinking. He once told his friend and fellow poet Fran Landesman that he would have liked to commit suicide, but because his Catholic faith prevented him from doing so, he had decided to simply drink himself to death.

It worked. Jack Kerouac died on October 21, 1969 at the young age of 47.  The official cause of his death was internal bleeding due to alcohol abuse. Jack had once said he wrote his novels because “we’re all gonna die.”  Luckily for us, his words live on.

Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs wrote this musical tribute ‘Hey Jack Kerouac’:

This short documentary (30 minutes) captures some of the most important parts of Kerouac’s life. Hope you enjoy it!