Friday the 13th, Harvest Full Moon and Notorious Events!

 

Happy Friday the 13th!

As some of you may know, today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. We are also blessed with a full moon, known as the Harvest Moon (so christened by Native Americans and coinciding with the September harvest.) The Harvest Moon is said to be so bright, farmers could actually go out at night and reap their summer harvests beneath it.

A full moon occurring on a Friday the 13th is a bit of a phenomenon in itself. We haven’t experienced this since October 13, 2000, and there will not be another one until August 13, 2049. So be sure to celebrate this rare occasion, harness this full moon power and perform whatever festivities you so choose.

September 13th is no ordinary day either. Some pretty rare and phenomenal events have happened on this day, and some significant characters share this birthday. For example:

On this day in 1224, Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have been affected with a stigmata. Forty year old Francesco went off to pray at the lonely mountain of Alvernia. He planned on undertaking a 40 day fast in order to prepare himself for the Feast of Archangel Michael, the most powerful of angels.  It was during this time that Francesco received the condition known as “stigmata” — the Sacred Wounds of Christ appearing in his hands, feet and side.

According to Catholicism.org “The wounds Jesus gave him stayed in his hands, feet and side, and continually bled for two more years.” When the bleeding finally ceased, Francsco died, at the age of 42.

Speaking of famous Italians, Cesare Borgia, Italian nobleman, politician and spy, was born September 13, 1475. Cesare was the bastard son of  Pope Alexander VI, child of the Pope’s long term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. (It was pretty common back then for popes to have children.)

Cesare grew up to be unscrupulous and terrifying in his quest for power. He was groomed by the Church and originally held a position as Cardinal of Valencia at the tender age of 18, but he abdicated to become a war strategist. He is said to have murdered his own brother Giovanni. The two men shared the same mistress, Sancha of Aragon. (Sancha was actually married to their other brother, Gioffre Borgia! You can’t make this stuff up!) It was rumored that Cesare may have been jealous Giovanni’s involvement with her, and also his military position.

Interestingly, Sancha, also known as the “Jezebel of Naples” was thought to be a witch. After being imprisoned in 1503 she somehow charmed her way out of an execution and went on to live a productive life as the guardian of her young nephew Rodrigo, son of Cesare’s sister Lucretzia.

Cesare was promoted in the military and given the title Duke of Valentinois, which led to his nickname “Valentino”. He ruthlessly commanded mercenaries and Papal armies, bloodthirsty and horrendous in his ambitions.  He was the  inspiration for Niccollo Macchiavelli’s novel The Prince, which has been a toolbox for power mongers ever since (including King Henry VIII!)

For his notorious spying activities, Cesare is often called James Bond of the 15th century.

Who doesn’t love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches? The author of these children’s classics, Roald Dahl, also entered our world on this day, September 13, 1916. Born in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, young Roald was educated at the Cathedral and Repton schools. He was no stranger to the barbaric practices of canings and hazings, often receiving punishments for his pranks, or subject to bullying by upperclassmen. After graduation, he worked for the Shell Petroleum Company, and during WWII served in the Royal Air Force.

Dahl’s books are known for their unsentimental outlook, use of the macabre, and their dark comedy. They often feature villainous adults and sweet underdog children who are victorious in the end. Perhaps they are a bit reminiscent of his caning and hazing days at Repton, where he was often the victim of cruelty.

Beware the Weird Sisters and their book of spells!

Speaking of chocolate factories, today is also the birthday of Milton Hershey, the chocolate tycoon and founder of the Hershey Company. Milton was born on September 13, 1945 in Derby Pennsylvania.

Gotta love Hershey!

And don’t forget the music! Also born on this day in New Orleans, 1953, was Larry Shields, an American jazz clarinetist. Larry was one of the players in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

So there you have it! Today is no ordinary Friday the 13th. Tonight would be a great time to do some moon gazing, eat some chocolate, listen to jazz and read a copy of The Witches.  Braver souls may want to channel the spirits of Cesare Borgia or Saint Francis. Whatever you do, have a safe, healthy and happy Friday the 13th.

 

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Remembering Franco Zeffirelli

 

I was saddened yesterday to hear about the death of one of my favorite film directors, Franco Zeffirelli. He was ninety six.

I owe a lot to this man. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know about my Shakespeare obsession. However, I probably would never have had that obsession if it had not been for Zeffirelli, who really made Shakespeare accessible to American audiences through his awesome films.

Zeffirelli was the director The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet. He also directed Brother Sun, Sister Moon (about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi), Jesus of Nazareth, Tea With Mussolini, Jane Eyre, Callas Forever, and several operas, including La Boheme and La Traviata with Placido Domingo.

Of course, in my opinion, his biggest masterpiece was his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli’s genius in this film was that he decided to use teenage actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey to play the roles of actual teenage characters Romeo and Juliet. Zeffirelli’s production was the first ever to use teenagers in the roles, as Shakespeare had intended.

The movie was a massive hit. The iconic film critic Roger Ebert called the movie “the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made.” (That was a pretty great compliment, because if you remember Roger Ebert, he was sort of a discriminating snob! But he knew his movies.)

I have always loved Romeo and Juliet,  it is my all time favorite film. Luckily, Zeffirelli lived long enough to be part of its 50 year anniversary last year, in 2018.  I wrote a tribute to the movie, which can be read HERE.

Gian Franco Corsi Zeffirelli was born on February 12, 1923 in Florence, Tuscany. He was an illegitimate child, the product of an affair between fashion designer Florentine Garosi, and Ottorino Corsi, a wool dealer. Interestingly, the name “Zeffirelli” was totally made up by his mother. It was taken from Mozart’s opera Idomenco, which Florentine was fond of. The actual word was “Zeffiretto” which apparently means “zephyr” or “gentle breeze” in English. However, the name was misspelled on Franco’s birth certificate, and was ever after recorded as “Zeffirelli”.

It was a strange beginning for a man who would become such an important figure in the art world. However, there is a bit of poetic justice, as Zeffirelli’s name was taken from an opera, and he became a director of operas.

As far as being a “gentle breeze” I would say Zeffirelli was not only a breath of fresh air in the film world, but a force to be reckoned with.

FUN FACTS

  • Zeffirelli’s father was a wool dealer. Shakespeare’s father was also a wool dealer (an illegal one! John Shakespeare got in a lot of trouble and went bankrupt in later years for his criminal activity.) However, it is ironic that the man who would help immortalize Shakespeare had this unique connection.
  • Shakespeare was an Englishman who spent his entire life being obsessed with Italy. Zeffirelli was an Italian who spent his entire life being obsessed with England. That is why they fit together so well 🙂

  • When young Franco was six years old, his mother died. As an orphan, he went to live with is Aunt Line. Through his aunt, he met and was largely cared for by a group of upper-class, rather eccentric English women, expatriates living in Italy. These women were known as the “Scorpioni” — so named for their stinging, scorpion-like outspokenness.
  • Young Franco was given English lessons and came to love English culture.
  • The Scorpioni were arrested during WWII under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.
  • Zeffirelli wrote and directed the 1999 movie Tea With Mussolini (starring Cher, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) which was based on his own experiences with the Scorpioni.

  • Zeffirelli’s Taming of the Shrew (1967) starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Burton and Taylor wanted to be in the film so badly, they paid for part of the production and gave up their own salaries. (Both were mega-stars at the time. They could well afford it!)

  • Although Zeffirelli considered himself a conservative Roman Catholic, he received criticism from religious groups for his so-called “blasphemous” portrayals of biblical figures in Brother Sun, Sister Moon and Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Zeffirelli served in the British Army during WWII.
  • In 2004, he was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.

Franco Zeffirelli, thank you for making me love Shakespeare.

Rest in Peace, sweet knight!