Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

 

The very name evokes images of crumbling Gothic mansions, black cats, inescapable diseases, live burials and of course, the iconic Raven.  Where would we be without the Master of Macabre, the Denizen of Death, the Harbinger of Horror? I, for one, would be lost!

Edgar Allan Poe was born on this day, January 19th, 1809 at a boarding house in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, Baltimore-born David Poe and London-born Eliza Arnold  Poe, were both actors then performing Shakespeare’s King Lear on a Boston stage. He was the second of three children, with an older brother Henry and a little sister, Rosalie.

Bleak Beginnings

Edgar’s parents didn’t last long. David Poe, reportedly an abusive alcoholic, abandoned the family in 1810 when Edgar was just one year old. The very next year his mother Eliza, sans husband, gave birth to a girl, Rosalie.  Eliza died of tuberculosis that same year, at the tender age of twenty-four.

David Poe also passed away in 1811, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Little Edgar was taken in by his godfather, a wealthy Virginia merchant named John Allan, and his wife Frances.  Allan made his fortune from a variety of trades including tobacco, cotton, wheat and – yes – slavery.

In 1815 the family sailed to Britain. Young Edgar attended school in Scotland and England. His foster parents placed him in the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School at Stoke Newington, near London where Edgar stayed for three years.

So far, it may seem like a rags-to-riches childhood that should have had a happy ending. Not so. Dark forces were at work all throughout Poe’s life.

John Allan was a bit of a ‘schizophrenic parent’, alternately spoiling and then severely disciplining his foster son. He reportedly had a bad temper. (Don’t forget the man was a slave trader.)  Edgar had had a bad enough beginning – but being shipped off to boarding school probably didn’t help his self esteem. Edgar returned to live with the Allans in 1820 when he was just eleven.

In 1825, John Allan became even richer when his uncle William Galt died, leaving him an inheritance of around  $750,000. (That is the equivalent to $17,000,000 in 21st century money!)  But John Allan was apparently a stingy millionaire.

In 1826, Edgar enrolled in the University of Virginia, with the intention of studying languages. He claimed that his step father did not send him enough money for books and a decent dormitory.  He also began gambling and raked up a lot of debts, which John Allan refused to pay. Within one year, Poe dropped out of school.

Military Life

Left to fend for himself, Edgar worked a series of odd jobs. He was unable to support himself and so, in 1827 he joined the US Army. He lied about his age, claiming he was twenty-two when he was in fact, only eighteen. He also used a fake name, “Edgar Perry.”  That same year, he released his first book of poetry, Timberland and Other Poems.

The army did not sit well with Poe. He  left in 1829 (skipping out on what was supposed to be a five year stint). Apparently, he came clean about his age and name. John Allan then helped him out — but also devised a plan that Edgar be enrolled in West Point Military Academy.

Edgar did not fare well at West Point. As a matter of fact, he hated it so much that he maneuvered a way to get himself thrown out! By behaving consistently badly, Edgar knew he could become eligible for court martial.

On February 8, 1831, Poe was tried for “gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders for refusing to attend formations, classes, or church.”  Poe pleaded “not guilty” knowing all the while he would indeed be found guilty and subsequently dismissed.

Clearly, Edgar was not cut out for military life.

A Teenage Bride

Having been officially abandoned by his foster father, Poe moved to Baltimore and reunited with some of his blood kin. He lived with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia (Poe’s first cousin who would later become his wife), his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe.

Death still surrounded him. His brother passed away in 1831, due to complications of alcoholism.

Edgar then began working in various writing jobs, including assistant editor for the Southern Literary Messenger and contributing author for the Baltimore Saturday Visitor.

On May 16, 1836 he married his cousin Virginia Clemm. She was thirteen and he was twenty-seven.

This was not so shocking back then as it would be today. Marriage between first cousins was legal in all states before the Civil War, and not frowned upon. Plenty of historical figures married their cousins — including Johann Sebastian Bach, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Queen Victoria herself , who married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840.

And don’t forget Jerry Lee Lewis, who somehow got away with marrying his thirteen year old cousin in 1957!

In the 19th century, the age of consent for girls in most of the United States was (astonishingly!) just TEN years old! In Delaware it was actually SEVEN years old! Some of these laws were in effect until the 1960’s.

However, the stark age difference between Edgar and Virginia — although technically legal — would have raised a few eyebrows.  For this reason, Virginia lied on her marriage certificate, stating that she was twenty-one years old. (Lying about their ages seems to run in the family…)

Edgar and Virginia were married in church by a Presbyterian minister. Biographers believe their marriage was a happy one. Perhaps Edgar, having been so abandoned in his past, was finally free to enjoy the company of his wife. The couple shared a love of music, poetry, cemeteries, and — believe it or not — playing leap-frog! During their brief years together, it was not all doom and gloom.

Poe the Poet

Poe published his first novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket  in 1838. That same year he became assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. He published numerous articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing his reputation as a critic. Also in 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes.

He wrote some of the first literary criticisms, as well as some of the first short stories. He is considered the inventor of crime novels and detective stories. Some of his most famous works include: The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Telltale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

On January 29, 1845, his poem “The Raven” appeared in the Evening Mirror and became an overnight sensation. It made Poe a household name almost instantly, and is still arguably his most popular poem.

But even in the midst of  his publishing successes, death and disease were not far behind. In The Raven, Poe may have already been mourning the inevitable death of his wife.  “Lenore” of the poem, who would be seen “Nevermore” can easily be compared to Virginia, who had, by then already begun to exhibit symptoms of tuberculosis.

One winter evening in 1842, while playing the piano, Virginia began a fit of spewing blood. She would never recover.  Edgar tended and cared for her devoutly for the next few years as the disease progressed. Virginia passed away on January 30, 1847.

Sadly, and creepily, Poe’s wife died of the same disease, and at the same age, as his mother.

 

On the Streets of Baltimore

Needless to say, Poe never overcame Virginia’s death. His behavior became increasingly erratic and unstable. He tried to court other women but had difficulty sustaining romantic relationships.

Poe’s own death is shrouded in mystery. He had traveled to Richmond where he visited a woman named Elmira Royster, to whom he became engaged. He left Richmond on September 27, 1849 and was heading back to New York, where he had purchased a cottage in what is now The Bronx. Poe never made it home.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found “delirious” on the streets of Baltimore outside  a pub called Ryan’s Tavern. He was “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker, a printer, who found him.

Walker sent a letter requesting help from an acquaintance of Poe, one Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass. His letter reads as follows:

“Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.”

Snodgrass’s first-hand account describes Poe’s appearance as “repulsive”, with unkempt hair, a haggard, unwashed face and “lusterless and vacant” eyes. His clothing, Snodgrass said, which included a dirty shirt but no vest and unpolished shoes, was worn and did not fit well.

Dr. John Joseph Moran, who was Poe’s attending physician, gives his own detailed account of Poe’s appearance that day: “a stained faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat”.

Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in this condition. It was believed the clothes he was wearing were not his own, as wearing shabby clothes was out of character for the usually well dressed Poe. (While promoting The Raven, Poe was known to show up at readings wearing a black cape, a top hat, and other elegant clothing.)

He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. The true cause of his death is still unknown. Some have speculated he may have had a brain tumor, diabetes, an enzyme deficiency, syphilis,  apoplexy, delirium tremens, or epilepsy. Still other speculate his death may have actually been a suicide due to depression. (One year previous, Poe nearly died from an overdose of laudanum,  which at the time was easily available as a tranquilizer and pain killer.)

Or perhaps he simply reunited with his one true love, Virginia.

Some sources say that Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul”. Suspiciously, all medical records have been lost, including his death certificate.

 But he leaves behind an amazing legacy — a body of literature that includes Gothic tales, dark romanticism and phantasmagorical poetry. The man who spent his life shrouded in death now lives on as a never-out-of-print horror icon.

Happy Birthday Edgar!

 

 

 

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Anne Rice, Mother of Vampires

 

She is the mistress of the macabre, the weaver of witch tales, a native New Orleanian who may never have made her mark in the world if it weren’t for her near blood thirsty curiosity about what it would be like to interview a vampire.

We are only twenty seven days away from Halloween, and no countdown would be complete without a tribute to Anne Rice, my all-time favorite living author!

Luckily, today happens to be her birthday.  (I’m sure it is no coincidence that this woman came into the world so near to Halloween.)

Anne Rice was born on October 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the second of four daughters. Her parents, Howard and Katherine O’Brien, were of Irish Catholic descent. The family lived in the hard-scrabble, impoverished section of town known as the Irish Channel, where they rented a 3-room shotgun house. Most of Anne’s childhood was spent dealing with the hardships of poverty and her mother’s alcoholism.

Curiously, Anne is not her real name – her parents actually named her Howard, after her father.  Regarding her unusual name, Rice has said:

“My birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father’s name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.”

In their defense, it is true that women with androgynous names sometimes do get certain advantages in life. This idea of boy-girl names for little girls became more popular in later decades. Consider Taylor, Beau, Ricki, Sammie, etc.  In the 1940’s, however, it must have been a pretty shocking thing to do.

Little Howard did not like her name at all. When she went to first grade at St. Alphonsus School, the nun asked her name and she replied. “Anne.”  It stuck. Her parents agreed to legally change her name in 1947.

New Orleans is a spooky and beautiful town, known for its ghosts and cemeteries. The dead are famously “buried above ground.” This is not so appalling as it may sound – it simply means that New Orleans adapted the French-Catholic custom of burying the dead in above ground in tombs and mausoleums, rather than underground coffins.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are legendary, hosting tales of folklore sure to fire any imagination. The Louisiana government takes no part in maintaining the tombs, so the upkeep of a deceased loved one is purely a family affair. This leads to a certain beauty – each tomb is personal, a work of art.

Here I am with my niece at St. Louis Cemetery #1 in the French Quarter.  In the tomb behind us lies none other than New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau!

New Orleans Cemetery

The O’Brien family lived right around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery #1. This was Anne’s childhood playground. It was in Lafayette that Anne would later place the tombs of her characters Lestat the vampire and the Mayfair witches.

Anne’s childhood was heavily influenced by her Catholic religion.  Black cloaks, dark confessional booths, rosary beads, candlelight vigils and marble statues that seemed to come to life were all part of her sensibilities. Not to mention symbolic blood drinking as designated by the sacraments.  Mix that with extreme poverty, family dysfunction,  cemeteries, voodoo, hoodoo, Mardi Gras – and we can easily see what fueled Anne’s wicked imagination.

When Anne was just fifteen years old, her mother died due to complications of alcoholism. Her father, unable to cope with four daughters, placed the girls in foster care at Saint Joseph’s Academy.  According to Anne, Saint Joseph’s was: “something out of Jane Eyre … a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.” Charles Dickens was Anne’s favorite author, and it seems her own childhood was a bit of a Victorian Bleak House.

Saint Joseph’s Academy

Two years later, in 1958, Howard Rice retrieved his daughters and moved the family to Richardson, Texas. There, Anne met her future husband Stan Rice, while both were students at Richardson High School. Although Anne left Texas after high school and moved to San Francisco, she remained in touch with Stan.  While Anne was in California, Stan sent her a telegram asking her to marry him.  She said yes! The two were wed in Texas in 1961 when Anne was twenty and Stan was just eighteen. They were married for forty one years until Stan’s death in 2002.

While living in San Francisco in 1973, Anne wrote her first novel Interview With the Vampire.  She has stated that vampire literature was nearly nonexistent at the time, but she thought it would be “fun to interview one.”  The novel was published in 1976 and quickly became a best seller. Anne then wrote The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. The Vampire Chronicles had begun!

In 1988 Anne moved back to New Orleans with her husband and son, Christopher. Having become wealthy from her book sales, Anne purchased a mansion in the garden district. She then began writing The Witching Hour, the first of the Mayfair Witch Trilogy. The house that Anne lived in was located at 1239 First Street. It is the coolest house ever! It became as much a character in the books as the Mayfair witches themselves.

Here’s me in front of the magnificent house — a must-see if you are ever in NOLA!

New Orleans Anne Rice House

In 2004, after the death of her husband, Anne moved back to California and has lived there ever since.

Interview With the Vampire was made into a movie in 1994. It starred Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kiirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. The movie received critical acclaim. Three more of Anne’s novels were made into movies – Queen of the Damned, Exit To Eden and The Feast of All Saints.

For many years, Anne had given up film rights to her own novels, because movie studios had optioned them.  In 2015, Anne regained the rights and set about trying to turn the entire Vampire Chronicles into a television series. In 2017, Paramount Television and Anonymous Content optioned the rights to 11 books. The series was picked up for broadcast on Hulu, and should be premiering sometime in 2019. I can’t wait!

Fun Facts:

  • To date, Anne has written 41 novels.
  • In addition to Gothic and horror, Anne also writes erotic novels under the pseudonyms A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling.
  • Cosmopolitan magazine called her “the queen of sexy vampire fiction”.
  • Although her vampires are known for their charm and sensuality, none of them actually have sex. Because they are, you know, vampires…

  • Anne tried reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a teenager and was too terrified to finish the book. As an adult she attempted it again and loved it.
  • Anne became a self described “Atheist” after leaving the Catholic Church at age 18.
  • In 1998, Anne returned to the church. After twelve years as a practicing Catholic, she renounced Christianity, stating: “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.”
  • Anne almost joined the world of the dead herself, in 1998, when she fell into a diabetic coma. She came close to death once again in 2004 when she suffered a bowel obstruction and surgery.
  • For several years, after her return to New Orleans, Anne held an annual Halloween vampire ball at the mansion on First Street. The ball is still going strong, now operated by the Anne Rice/ Vampire Lestat Fan Club.

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  • The Rice’s first child, a daughter named Michele, died from leukemia when she was just six years old. The loss devastated them.
  • Anne, a self-described ‘alcoholic’, stopped drinking in 1979 after the birth of her son Christopher. She has stated that she did not want him to have the same childhood she did, in dealing with an alcoholic mother. Anne has made public service announcements regarding alcohol and sobriety.
  • Anne has stated that she chose vampires as her means of self expression, because she was facing painful issues which she could not discuss directly.
  • Regarding the movie Interview With the Vampire, Anne claims “Brad Pitt played me, because I am Louis.” Louis, as you may recall, was the most ‘human’ and conflicted of the vamps.

Happy Birthday Ms. Rice! Wishing you Immortality 🙂

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Mick!

 

Happy Birthday to Michael Phillip Jagger, my all-time favorite Rock & Roller!!!

He was born on this day, July 26th, 1943 in Dartford, Kent. He hails from a long line of teachers, but young Mick became enamored with music and singing at an early age.

Believe it or not, he started out as a choir boy,  singing in his local church.  This little tyke got no Sympathy from the Devil — or perhaps he did!

Mick Jagger first met Keith Richards  when they were just little lads attending Wentworth Primary School in Dartford. The year was 1950. The two lost contact as children, but ten years later, as teenagers, they would reunite again in a chance encounter on a train platform in Dartford.  They began a conversation about music. Each had a deep love for rhythm and blues — probably a bit unusual for English kids at that time.  Needless to say, a life long friendship was born.

Jagger and Richards, along with Brian Jones would go on to form  The Rolling Stones, arguably the best ever Rock & Roll band. Their first appearance was on July 12, 1962 at the Marquee Club in London. Their name ‘The Rolling Stones” was taken from a song by  Blues legend Muddy Waters, a favorite of both Mick and Keith.

Years later, they would perform with Muddy himself (in my home town, Chicago! 🙂 )

To date, the Rolling Stones have released 30 studio albums, 24 live albums, 25 compilation albums, three extended play singles, and 120 singles.  The band has been together for fifty six years! (So much for fickle break ups and the questionable longevity of rock bands…)

Reportedly, the relationship between Mick and Keith has not been without its stresses. Best friends are often constant competitors. Keith has called Mick “an unbearable snob”  but also states: “I still love him dearly … your friends don’t have to be perfect.”

Whatever their relationship, no one can deny that these two are an amazing force of musical talent.

FUN FACTS:

  • Mick Jagger became an official “Sir” in 2003 when he received a Knighthood from Charles, Prince of Wales.
  • Yes — he received the Knighthood from Charles because Queen Elizabeth II refused to award him in person! (Sorry Mick, looks like you can only get so “Respectable”.)
  • Mick returned the snub by being absent from the Queen’s 50 -Year  Golden Jubilee pop concert, which commemorated her 50 years on the throne. Ouch!
  • He is an avid supporter of music instruction in schools. His pet projects are The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford and The Red Rooster Programme.
  • He has eight children by five women, five grandchildren, and one great- grandchild.  Some of the Jagger family tree:

  • His oldest child, Karis Jagger, was born in 1970. His youngest to date, Deveraux Octavian Basil Jagger, was born in 2016. Go Mick!
  • Regarding Mick’s Knighthood, drummer Charlie Watts sarcastically commented: “Anybody else would be lynched: 18 wives and 20 children and he’s knighted, fantastic!”
  • He has been immortalized in evolution! A 19 million year old species of long legged pig was named after Mick. In  2014, the “Jaggermeryx naida” (“Jagger’s water nymph.”) was officially christened by the scientific community.

  • Sir Mick is a very wealthy man, with a net worth of $360 million.
  • This rock legend has become the subject of many a pop song. Don McClean immortalized him in “American Pie” as did Carly Simon in “You’re So Vain.” He is the subject of Maroon 5’s  “Moves like Jagger”, Kesha’s  “Tik Tok” and the Black Eyed Peas’ hit “The Time (Dirty Bit)”.
  • He had tremendous respect for his parents, calling his father, Joe, “the greatest influence on my life.” Joe Jagger lived to the ripe old age of 93.
  • Still a fashion icon, Mick was listed as one of the “50 over fifty” best-dressed by the Guardian in March 2013.

Hey Mick, you’re seventy five!  Recently back from tour in Europe and the U.K., “Moves Like Jagger” is showing no signs of slowing down yet!

And finally, here are the Stones performing their 1972 hit  ‘Tumbling Dice’, which contains the best Rock & Roll line ever written —

FEVER IN THE FUNK HOUSE NOW” 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

 

 

 

Nicola Tesla — Where Credit is Due

 

Born on this day, July 10,  electronics engineer Nicola Tesla is perhaps one of the most overlooked inventors. Although we credit Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison with the discovery and implementation of electricity, it was really Tesla who had the most innovative ideas and contributed the most to modern electronics.

Although he later became a US citizen, Tesla was born in 1856  in what is now Croatia. Some biographers claim  he was born — appropriately — in the middle of a lightening storm. He was educated at the Higher Real Gymnasium in Karlovac.  There he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics professor.  He wrote that the demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force”.

As a child, Nicola reported having strange visions of light which he could reach out and touch.  He had a vivid imagination and was never sure whether these light visions were real or not. He had an unusual ability to visualize his inventions in his head, and even claimed to see, with his inner eye, the entire electromagnetic field of electricity.

In his early years, Tesla showed signs of mathematical genius. He was able to  perform integral calculus in his head. This prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

 Tesla finished a four-year term in three years, graduating in 1873.

The most famous of Tesla’s inventions is the alternating-current (AC) electric system. This provides a fast current of electricity, able to travel long distances, as opposed to the  slower and weaker direct current( DC)  system. Without the AC system we would not be able to power modern cities and our landscape would be quite different — cluttered with small power plants and electric chambers on every corner.  In fact, AC is still the predominant electrical system used across the world today.  He also created the “Tesla coil” which is still used in radio technology, and several other inventions.

Nicola came to the United States in 1884. He briefly worked with Thomas Edison, whom he had greatly admired, until the two parted ways.  A case can be made for “good inventor/ bad inventor” with Edison in the latter role. While Tesla tried to develop his ideas for incorporating the AC system, Edison  — who was already using the DC system — jealously guarded his own interests through aggressive marketing and slanderous propaganda.

Edison convinced the public that Tesla’s AC electronics were dangerous and impractical.  He used underhanded and inhumane methods to prove this.  In his efforts to instill fear in people, Edison even electrocuted a few animals, including elephants!

Tesla abandoned Edison and went to work for George Westinghouse.

Westinghouse Electric  won the bid to light the Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893. They asked Tesla to participate. It would be a key event in the history of AC power.

At the Exposition, Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to AC as well as his wireless lighting system, using  demonstrations he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.  These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.  He demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated AC system,  thus proving that Edison was wrong. 

Throughout his lifetime, Tesla suffered from mad/ genius syndrome and all the impulsiveness that went along with it. He was known to gamble and accrued several exorbitant debts. Sadly, to pay his debts he ended up selling several of his patent rights to Westinghouse, including those to his AC machinery. The success of the Westinghouse Electric company was almost entirely based upon Tesla’s work, although Tesla never got monetary credit for it.

Having become obsessed with the wireless transmission of energy,  in around 1900, Nicola set to work on his boldest project yet: to build a global, wireless communication system — to be transmitted through a large electrical tower — for sharing information and providing free electricity throughout the world. Sounds familiar, right? But this was only 1900 🙂

With funding from a group of investors that included financial giant J. P. Morgan, in 1901 Tesla began work on the project in earnest, designing and building a lab with a power plant and a massive transmission tower on a site on Long Island, New York, that became known as Wardenclyffe.

However, doubts arose among his investors about the plausibility of Tesla’s system. As his rival, Guglielmo Marconi — with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison — continued to make great advances with his own radio technologies, Tesla had no choice but to abandon the project.

It’s too bad. Had investors believed in him, perhaps we would have had the Internet a lot sooner!

The closure of the project affected Tesla emotionally. He suffered a nervous breakdown. After that his work was mainly as a consultant. Radically ahead of his time, his interests after that were considered outlandish and a bit crazy. For example, he devoted much time to the care of wild pigeons in New York City’s parks. (Who knows what he had in mind — as carrier pigeons were a well known and reliable source of communication.)  Tesla even drew attention from the FBI for some of his so-called dangerous ideas.

Tesla died on January 7, 1943 at the age of 86. Like many eccentric geniuses, he was poor and virtually unknown. Sadly, American education does not incorporate him into the curriculum, so most kids learn very little about him. Recently however, more attention has been brought to his name by billionaire businessman Elon Musk, who named his electronic automobile company “Tesla”.  According to Musk, the mission of Tesla is “To accelerate the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future.”

The legacy of the work Tesla left behind him lives on to this day. Every time we turn on radio, watch a live stream, plug in a device or use wifi, we should remember who we have to thank!

Happy Birthday Nicola!

 

 

 

 

A Mad Tea Party

 

Today, April 21 is “National Tea Day” in the UK.  It also happens to be the 92nd birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. It seems a day could not be more authentically British. In honor of this I am wishing all my friends in the UK (and tea drinkers everywhere) a Happy National Tea Day!

No tea celebration would be complete without stopping by what is perhaps the most famous tea drinking occasion in history – Alice’s Mad Tea Party.

After chasing the White Rabbit down his hole, Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat,  who tells her she will definitely be meeting up with mad people. It’s unavoidable.  ( “We’re all mad here,” the Cat assures Alice. “I’m mad, you’re mad.”) Alice  asks the Cat how he knows she is mad. “You must be,” he replies, “Or you would not have come here.”

Alice then wanders upon a tea table in the middle of the forest.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

*** We know right away there is going to be trouble. The March Hare is a wild animal, known for his crazy antics during mating season. The sleeping Dormouse seems pretty benign, but watch out for the Hatter, as they were known at the time to have some mental deficiencies due to mercury exposure involved in the process of making hats.

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

`Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

***  Alice is only seven years old. Good thing the Hare did not actually have any wine to offer her. Today he might be arrested for child endangerment.

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

*** Again, the mercury exposed Hatter is known to be wacky.

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

*** The study of “meaning what you say” and “saying what you mean” is an interesting one. Carroll shows us how just a few words of juxtaposition can give a completely different meaning. Try it yourself, just for fun! “I know who I am — I am who I know? I believe what I see — I see what I believe? We are what we eat — we eat what we are?” Yes, it should drive you a bit mad 🙂

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

*** The riddle is never actually solved, but I heard a possible answer: Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because Poe wrote on both.

What follows is a discussion of time in which the Alice states she must beat time in order to learn music. The Hatter insists that time is a ‘he’ not an ‘it’. Furthermore: ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

Finally Alice can take it no longer. She gets up and leaves.

`At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

Contrary to Alice’s belief (and providing we don’t dine with Hatters) more tea drinking would probably be good for us. Tea is full of anti-oxidants and is known to boost our immune systems. According to sage wisdom, tea with honey is great for soothing sore throats. Besides that, many cultures celebrate tea drinking with particular rituals and ceremonies.

A tea ceremony is like a meditation — time set aside for rest and contemplation. In fact, tea drinking could probably bring about more civility, peace and sanity for us all.

Whatever you do today, take some time out to enjoy a nice cup of tea 🙂

a mad tea

 

 

 

 

 

Hans and the Scary Fairy Tales

 

He was a weaver of tales who brought us The Little Mermaid, The Wild Swans, The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Ugly Duckling.  In the course of his lifetime he wrote novels, travelogues, and over three thousand fairy tales which have been translated into 125 languages. His stories have universal appeal, transcending age and nationality. He created a unique mythology which continues to  haunt us and remains part of our collective consciousness.

Hans Christian Andersen was born on this day, April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark. His own life story is a classic rags to riches that could have been one of his fairy tales.

His father, also named Hans, was a struggling tradesman and his mother Anne Marie a washerwoman.  Hans Sr. died in 1816. Two years later Anne Marie remarried. It was then decided, for some odd reason, that  Hans Jr. should no longer be allowed to live in the house. At the tender age of eleven, Hans was sent away to a boarding school. (Evil stepfather, banishment. Do you see a pattern here?)  Although the family was poor, Hans was somehow allowed to study and receive a good education. (Fairy godmother perhaps?)

At boarding school, the boy was expected to fend for himself and he earned money as a tailor’s apprentice. He showed a natural talent for singing and at age fourteen, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theater.  However, as luck would have it, Hans hit puberty that year, experienced the voice change, and could no longer sing the soprano part he had been assigned.  But all was not lost — Jonas Colins, the theater director, saw something special in Hans and made arrangements that he could  attend prestigious school in Elsinore. (Fairy godfather?)

Young Hans might have been considered privileged, but his story goes a bit dark here. He was sent to live with a school master who routinely abused and bullied him and discouraged him from writing. He went into a deep depression, and later wrote that his days at Elsinore were the darkest of his life.

The story, however, has a happy ending. Andersen graduated school in 1827 and almost immediately became successful writing short stories, plays and poetry. King Christian VIII of Denmark was so impressed with his work that he gave Andersen a grant to travel around Europe. Hans felt most comfortable on the road and later wrote, “To travel is to live.”

All these fairy godmother type favors may not have been an accident. There was a rumor that Hans Christian Andersen was actually the illegitimate son of King Christian. This rumor, however, has not been substantiated by any reliable source. (If true it would make a great story!)

It was during his travels across Europe that Andersen began writing fairy tales.  In 1838 he wrote Fairy Tales Told for Children. New Collection. First Booklet. This book earned him immense popularity when, in 1845 it was translated to English and other languages. It became a world wide best seller.

Andersen’s tales were often dark and creepy. His heroes and heroines often go through enormous difficulties. Although the endings are usually happy, they pay great prices for that happiness, often undergoing physical, mental and spiritual changes. For example:

— Karen, the protagonist in The Red Shoes, loves to dance and wear her beautiful shoes. However, it gets to the point where she cannot stop dancing and eventually her feet must be cut off!

 

 

— The Little Mermaid trades her fish tail for human legs. In the process she undergoes excruciating physical pain,  is betrayed by  a handsome prince, and even commits suicide before she is freed to the Daughters of the Air.

 

— In The Wild Swans,  Eliza wants to free her brothers from a terrible curse, but to do so she must knit sweaters made of poisonous nettles that cause her fingers to bleed.  To make matters worse, she has taken a vow of silence! During this time she is arrested for witchcraft and thrown in the dungeon.

And the list goes on. These stories remain popular because they entertain in a way that enables problem solving — while giving kids the scare of their lives! 🙂 The message is always that virtue will be rewarded.

Andersen never married, although he courted several women and wrote a few love letters to men as well. Some historians believe he was bisexual. He seems to have harbored terribly romantic ideas about love and often chose partners that were either unavailable or inappropriate.  At one point he proposed marriage to the Swedish singer Jenny Lind.

She turned him down, but this did not stop Hans from writing a fairy tale which was inspired by her. It was called The Nightingale, about (you guessed it) a precious and beautiful bird that serenades the emperor.  After that, Jenny Lind was given the nickname “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Andersen had a long and prosperous life. He died in Copenhagen on August 4, 1875,  His death is thought to be caused by complications of liver cancer.

Andersen’s stories are still widely read. Many have been adapted as Disney features, including The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and Frozen — adapted from The Snow Queen. In the original story the Snow Queen was an evil kidnapper, nowhere near as kind as Elsa!

Tribute statues to Andersen have been built all over the world, including New York’s Central Park, California, Sydney Australia and Rosenborg Castle Gardens in Copenhagen.

And of course, if you ever happen to be at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, you can say hello to The Little Mermaid herself!

Happy Birthday Hans!