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!

 

 

 

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Thirty-Three: The Spooky Side

 

In just thirty-three days, the ghostly and ghoulish festivities of Halloween will be upon us! Are you prepared? In honor of Halloween I will be posting  Halloween countdowns to help get you in the mood. Stay tuned for all things Halloween —  the macabre, the mystical and the mythical, as well as the silly, the satirical and the sadistic!

I thought a countdown of 33 days would be a good place to start. Why 33?  Well…  The number 33 has a sacred and spooky history.  According to some numerologists, 33 is the most significant of all esoteric numbers. It is an important part of many spiritual, occult and religious practices.

First of all, three is a magical number. In Faerie tales, we get three wishes.

We are given three tasks, and the “third time is a charm.”  Baseball gives a chance for three strikes before you are “out”. Mother, father, and baby makes three, thus ensuring the continuation of humanity.  Three is part and parcel of our culture. In Tarot, three is the Empress, who gives birth to all human creativity.

Three is also significant to many religions. Christianity uses the Trinity of three — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Pagan faith involves the veneration of the Maiden, Mother and Crone, as attuned to a woman’s life cycles and the phases of the Moon. Three is great on its own, but two threes put together is considered extremely powerful. Two threes facing each other make a mirror-image design that is said to represent the ancient Hermetic maxim  “as above, so below.” The heavens mirror the earth; the spirit world reflects the human world. This maxim is often shown as the Tree of Life. (Note the outline, 3 and inverted 3.)

Thirty-three was also important in English literature. The number is often hidden within significant texts. Take Shakespeare, for example.  In Julius Caesar, Caesar himself is stabbed 33 times.  The ghost of Caesar visits Brutus in a passage that starts with a 33-character sentence: “That shapes this monstrous apparition.” Brutus recovers from the shock and addresses the ghost in a 33-word sentence: “It comes upon me. Art thou any thing? Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil, that makest my blood cold and my hair to stare? Speak to me what thou art.” 

In Hamlet, Horatio first questions the Ghost in a 33 word sentence: “What art thou that usurp’st this time of night, together with that fair and war like form, in which the majesty of buried Denmark did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak!”  Horatio also addresses the ghost in a 33 word sentence as he leaves: “O, speak! Or if thou hast uphoarded in thy life, extorted treasure in the womb of earth, for which, they say, you spirits oft walk in death,speak of it: stay, and speak!”  The number here is used to represent the link between normal, waking life and the ghostly realms.

Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queen is full of allegory and characters ranging from King Arthur to Gloriana (Queen Elizabeth I). In Book 3 Canto 3 (3 + 3 = 33) the opening line begins with a 33-letter sentence: “Most sacred fyre, that burnest mightily.” Spenser linked the number 33 with the concept of a human spirit and at the same time a mirror image in the celestial realm.

Fun Facts:

  • Jesus is said to have performed 33 miracles. He was crucified at age 33.
  • The mystic Edgar Cayce wrote that there were 33 incarnations of Jesus.
  • According to some Islamic teachings, when people reach Heaven they will exist permanently at the age of 33. (Sounds good to me!)
  • The Ancient Hindu text of the Rig Veda describes “33 deities”. 11 are of heaven, 11 are of earth and 11 are of the realm in-between.
  • In Buddhism, the goddess and bodhisattva Kuan Yin is said to take on 33 different likenesses.
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead tells of 33 heavens ruled by Indra (the Protector) and another 33 ruled by Mara (the Evil One.)
  • The ancient city of Babylon was very near the 33rd-degree latitude line, while modern Baghdad is on the 33rd parallel. This area was once thought to be the Garden of Eden.
  • Dallas, Texas, the place where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, is on the 33rd parallel. The date of his assassination, November 22, or 11/22 adds up to 33. (I know! Creepy…)
  • A complete sequence of human DNA contains 33 turns.
  • There are 33 vertebrae in the human spine. In India, it is believed that vital spiritual energy which must be awakened is located at the base of the spine. This coiled-up energy is known as Kundalini. Through Yoga practices, this energy ascends to the brain and beyond.

Pretty cool stuff, huh? I bet you’ll never think of 33 in a mundane way again! Enjoy this day as a “sacred countdown” to the sacred festival of Halloween 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Renaissance Faire

 

Ren Faire Mask (2)

“Are you going to Scarborough Faire?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lived there.
She once was a true love of mine.” — Traditional English Ballad

My favorite thing to do in summer is go to the Renaissance Faire!  As a matter of fact, the Ren Faire is sort of my idea of heaven on earth.  Luckily, we have one every year in Bristol, Wisconsin, which is only about a two hour drive from Chicago, so I get to go quite often.

A lot of people have never had the pleasure of attending one of these galas.  If you have never been, I suggest you find one, get your groove on and go! The Ren Faire has something for everyone and is a guaranteed good time for all.

Just ask these guys!

Ren Faire Lords (2)

In addition to the normal Renaissance festivities, each week the Bristol Faire features a different theme. These include cool things like pirates & swashbucklers, monsters & magic, heroes & villains, comic-con and steam punk! What’s not to like?

It usually starts out with a parade. These gypsy girls stole the show with their colorful costumes and bodhráns.

“If music be the food of love, play on!” — William Shakespeare

Ren Faire Gypsy (2)

But what exactly is the Renaissance, and why have a faire about it?

The word “renaissance” means “rebirth”. It generally refers to a period in European history spanning from the 14th to 17th centuries — although some folk claim that the 10th and 12th centuries qualify as well.  The Renaissance was a part of the Middle Ages that bridged culture into the Age of Enlightenment. Most historians consider it the beginning of the Early Modern Era.  It was a great time of innovation, open-mindedness and scientific discoveries. The invention of the printing press led to a flourishing of literature and the arts. This was Shakespeare’s time, and although the theater was still considered bawdy, it gained wide acceptance and was favored by Queen Elizabeth.

The Renaissance era is closely associated with the Elizabethan era. As a matter of fact, Queen Bess herself is often seen riding though the streets of Bristol!

ren faire queen close up

With a few courtiers on hand.

ren faire dudley close up

Of course, a Ren Faire is nothing without a bit of dancing and music. One of their catch phrases is “Party like it’s 1599!” 🙂

ren faire drum close up

Drums are especially popular!

Ren Faire Drums

And flutes!

Ren Faire flute

And my personal favorite, the harp.

The Ren Faire is a shopaholic’s dream, with all kinds of merchants eager to sell their wares.  You can purchase jewelry, clothing, nick-nacks, books, and all the necessities like drinking horns, blown glass, tarot cards and tapestries.

It is a great time to explore your inner Elizabethan persona, or add a wench outfit to the wardrobe.

Gandalf the Wizard takes time away from ring quests and journeys into Mordor to preside over festivities.

Ren Faire Gandalf 1

And then there is the joust!

Jousting was a martial game that originated in the Middle Ages. It was played between two horsemen wielding lances. The two opponents rode towards each other at high speed, with the goal of breaking each others shields and in some cases, de-horsing each other.  Medieval jousting was a fierce and bloody sport. It was banned in France in 1559 after King Henry II died of wounds inflicted in a tournament.  Nonetheless, jousting remained popular in many countries.

In England King Henry VIII was a big fan.  Unfortunately, he had a huge jousting accident which nearly killed him. The accident occurred at a tournament at Greenwich Palace on January  24, 1536 when Henry was 44 years old. Henry, in full armor, was thrown from his horse. The horse, also in full armor, then fell on top of Henry!  The King was unconscious for two hours and it was probably a miracle that he survived.  The accident left him with a terrible ulcer in his leg that distressed him for the rest of his life. Some historians think it was this incident that contributed to Henry’s tyrannical ways and all the beheadings he ordered in his later life.  Needless to say, the King’s jousting days were over after that, but the sport remained popular throughout the Renaissance period.

The modern day Ren Faire has a much tamer version of the joust. However, they still use real horses and real shields, and it is very exciting! Here, the Order of the Sun vs. the Order of the Moon. The tournament is presided over by Lady Cordelia.

Ren Faire Joust 1.jpg

The Ren Faire is something of a freak show, full of jesters, jugglers, stilt walkers, sword swallowers and mud eaters. You never know who you’ll meet.  This guy was eager to shake hands 🙂

Ren Faire joker 1

What would a country faire be without livestock? If you are thinking of bringing your children, please do!  Bristol has a petting zoo, complete with sheep, goats, llamas and Shetland ponies.

Ren Faire Goats

They even have rides! However, you won’t find any roller coasters or Ferris wheels.  All Ren Faire rides are powered by wind alone, along with some human elbow grease.  My nephew decided to give the bungee challenge a try, with the help of a friendly pirate. AARRGGHH!

Stevie Bungee 1

“My soul is in the sky.” — William Shakespeare 

Stevie Bungee coming down

Falling backwards over the trees!

Stevie Bungee flipping over

Upside-down 🙂

Stevie Bungee flip 2

Several more flips are involved.

Stevie Bungee descent

Descending…

Stevie Bungee 2

And back on land with our friendly pirate.

Stevie Bungee Grounded

Speaking of pirates, seafaring women are greatly underestimated! This gal was modeled after Grace O’Malley, a real-life female swashbuckler who led many raids along the coast of Ireland.

Ren Faire Me

Grace  O’Malley was captured by British forces and ended up in prison for eighteen months. However, after appealing directly to Queen Elizabeth, she garnered some sympathy.  The Queen allowed that Grace be given back her fleet and continue on to sail the high seas! Maybe Queen Bess took pity on Grace, another woman who sought to rule in a male dominated profession 🙂

Before closing time at the Faire, all gather for the big dance.  Marauders, invaders, Vikings, Saxons, Goths and pillagers of all stripes are welcome!

Ren Faire Weird 1

Finally, our revels are ended and the ladies of the court bid us good-bye.

ren faire parade lady close

An excellent time was had by all. I highly recommend the Renaissance Faire for historical fun. It is a blast from the fabulous past that somehow seems not so distant, but oddly reminiscent of our current time…

“Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have, to wear away this long age of hours?” — William Shakespeare

Ren Faire Dancing

 

 

 

International Fairy Day!

 

Shakespeare was a believer. Are you?

June brings a long line of holidays. Not only do we have the Solstice, but also Saint John’s Eve (June 23), International Pink Day (June 23) and finally, the grand slam, June 24, International Fairy Day!

It’s a heady time of year.  Everything is in bloom, the seasons are changing, the air is full of lush, hypnotic smells and the veils are lifted. Everyone gets a little crazy.  Poets dream and lovers love. June is still the most popular month for weddings.

Ever wonder where we get the name ‘honeymoon’? Honey that is gathered under the full moon in June is said to be the most potent. In Medieval times it was used to make a magical mead served at weddings, specifically designed to bless the newlyweds.  Hence the name ‘honeymoon’.

The magic of the month did not escape Shakespeare. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he created three weddings and a reunion between Oberon and Titania, the Fairy king and queen.

Shakespeare had a lot of inspiration.

In the sleepy, backwoods town of Stratford, fairies were never far away.  Folks believed in  all kinds of superstitions, including changelings. Fairies were said to kidnap healthy human children and in place of them leave a sickly ‘changeling’.  Boys were particularly in demand, and families took precautionary measures to guard them.

Terrified that the fair folk would come and kidnap their male children, mothers in Stratford kept their sons dressed in gowns and did not cut their hair till the child’s seventh birthday! (Seven being the age of reason.) The boy was then finally put in pants. This was called ‘breeching’. They even had a little ceremony for it.  (Apparently, they thought the fairies would somehow miss this…)

Have you ever wondered about those weird, overlapping, thatched Tudor roofs? Well, there’s a fairy superstition behind them!

Some historians say that overlapping roofs  were designed to block the moonlight. This was because people believed the fairies could manipulate moon’s energy to cause insanity — or at least pixie-lead them for the night. The fairies could cause illusion, make you mad, turn you into an animal or bring you into the Other-world.

And then you never know what might happen!  Titania has been known to trap a man or two in her bower…

But it wasn’t all bad. Shakespeare’s fairies may have gotten a bit mischievous, yet they always gave a blessing in the end. Indeed, some of the fairies were more humane than humans! (At least they did not stab Caesar in the back…)

TITANIA: “First, rehearse your song by rote 
To each word a warbling note: 
Hand in hand, with fairy grace, 
Will we sing, and bless this place.”

OBERON: “Now until the break of day, 
Through this house each fairy stray. 
To the best bride-bed will we, 
Which by us shall blessed be.” — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.I

For more about fairies, witches, aliens, and their symbiotic relationships, click here.

Have a fantastic fairy day, and count your blessings!

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers, Myth and Magic

 

Happy Midsummer (or Midwinter)  Solstice!  There are a whole bunch of cool flowers said to have magical properties which are associated with the Solstice.  I thought it might be fun to review a few.  First let’s take a look at WILD PANSY.

Queen Elizabeth I may have avoided a husband and maintained a life of celibacy as a result of  this little flower.

According to Shakespeare,  in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”,  Cupid once aimed his arrow at  “A fair vestal, throned by the West”  (meaning a western virgin queen). Cupid “loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, as it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.” The arrow, however, never made it to Cupid’s intended destination.

This “vestal” (or vestal virgin) was England’s reigning monarch, Elizabeth I.  Cupid’s arrow missed the Queen and landed instead upon a flower.  The flower  had previously been “milk white in color”, but now turned purple with the  wound from the arrow.

Because of this incident, Queen Bess was destined to never fall in love. Shakespeare says she “passed on in maiden meditation, fancy-free” forever known as The Virgin Queen. The flower, however, absorbed all the love potion from Cupid’s arrow.  On Midsummer night when Oberon the fairy king and his servant Puck decide to make mischief with star-crossed lovers, they of course use this flower.

‘The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid 
Will make or man or woman madly dote 
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”

The first creature Titania saw just happened to be a donkey 🙂

The flower ‘s technical name is viola tricolor. It has several fun nicknames, including heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, and Oberon’s favorite, love-in-idleness. 

In addition to being a love potion, wild pansy has been used in folk medicine to treat epilepsy, asthma, skin diseases, and eczema. It is a natural expectorant and is helpful with respiratory problems such as bronchitis, asthma, and the common cold.

HAWTHORN

Thomas the Rhymer was a 13th century  Scottish mystic and poet. He claimed he once met the Queen of Elphame (Elf’s Home) beneath a hawthorn tree.

“Her skirt was o the grass-green silk, 
Her mantle o the velvet fyne, 
At ilka tett of her horse’s mane 
Hang fifty silver bells and nine.” 

The Elphame Queen led him into the fairy Underworld for what Thomas thought was a brief visit. However, upon returning to the human world, he discovered he had been gone for seven years.

 “When seven years were come and gane,
The sun blink’d fair on pool and stream;
And Thomas lay on Huntlie bank,
Like one awaken’d from a dream.”

Themes of people being taken into the Underworld by fairy folk is common in Celtic mythology. The hawthorn tree is one of the most likely places where this could happen,  and Midsummer is one of the most likely days, so beware of standing near hawthorn trees today, unless you are planning a visit to fairyland!

The hawthorn is technically called Crataegus and is also known as thornapple, May-tree, whitethorn, and hawberry. It bears edible fruit, similar to small apples, which can be used in jellies or salads.

The fruit is quite healthy, containing phytochemicals such as tannis and flavinoids, valuable in purging toxins from the body.  In modern medicine, a salve made from hawthorn trees has been effective in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. (Further proving that the fairies give us some goodies along with their magical portals!)

FOXGLOVE

This lovely plant, which reaches full bloom at Midsummer is a favorite among fairy folk. Shaped like bells, it is said that the fairies designed them for foxes. One story tells of foxes wearing them around their necks. The ringing bells cast a spell to protect the animals from hunters.  The spots inside are made when fairies touch the flowers.

Another story tells of a fairy giving them to a fox to put on his toes so he could sneak into the chicken house and silently rob it without being caught.

The technical name for foxglove is Digitalis (derived from digit, meaning finger). They are also called witches’ glovefolks’ glove, (folk meaning fairy) and fey-glew, meaning ‘fairy music’.  (Listen closely to hear the bells!)

Foxglove was once thought to be effective in  epileptic seizures, but this idea has since has been debunked as quackery. Some historians believe that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from digoxin toxicity from the foxglove that was used at the time to treat his epilepsy.

It has been speculated that Van Gogh’s frequent use of the color yellow in his painting (art historians call it his “yellow period”)  may have been due to the disease. Victims often see the world in a yellow green tint, or surrounded by yellow spots. Cutting off his own ear may have been caused by grief and complications from the disease as well.

Also, Van Gogh painted a portrait of his doctor, Paul Gachet, holding a strand of purple foxglove, so the flower must have had significance.

At any rate, the plant is highly toxic and should never be eaten! Foxglove are also called Dead Man’s Bells. Consider yourself warned.

Have a safe, happy and healthy solstice!

 

 

 

 

When Bloggers Leave…

 

I was dismayed this week to discover that one of my favorite bloggers, HocusPocus13, a.k.a. “Jinx” has left the building.

Jinx was a voracious blogger and re-blogger. In addition to her own really cool and unique posts, she also scoured WordPress for the best of the best. Jinx often put up as many as 20-30 posts a day, all containing a bit of magic. Her motto was “path to a more productive life.” Her wise words were full of sound advice, scintillating spells, yummy recipes, beauty and creativity.

Over the past few days, I noticed there had been nothing posted by HocusPocus13 in my feed. This was unusual. Perhaps she was slowing down the pace? Maybe she was on vacation, or had taken a brief hiatus? (After all, blogging can be hard work!)

Upon further investigation, and much to my dismay, I found out that her site had been deleted. No warning, no reason, just disappeared like a result of the spell-work she so fondly purported.

Ah well.

This is cyberspace. Bloggers, Twitter posts, Instagram hits come and go, quickly as changing weather. Society in cyberspace is sporadic and erratic. We rely upon the fickle nature of satellites, nodes and WiFi crisscrossing to bring us together.

In reality,  what are we? A combination of electricity and Ram, motherboards and mother’s wombs, fragments of ethernet and memory.  Stardust.

And yet.

Just how ‘virtual’ is virtual reality? Some spiritualists and channelers now believe we are creating a new dimension within cyberspace, something between physical and non-physical, yet every bit as solid and real as what we have known before.  At any rate, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss when one of us leaves.

So Jinx, if by some chance you happen to read this, know you were appreciated, your blog was Important and you are greatly missed!

This goes for bloggers everywhere. Whatever message you are communicating into the great wide stratosphere, please know:  IT MATTERS.

Somewhere, someone is reading you. You are bringing a bit of insight, a bit of connection, a bit of horror or humor or courage or controversy into someone’s otherwise dreary day. Your unique perspective is contributing to our world.

Your thoughts matter. Your words matter. Your ideas and opinions matter.

WordPress Warriors, keep on bloggin’!  (And if you do decide to leave, for goodness sake, let someone know!)  🙂

“Words are, of course, the most powerful thing used by mankind.” — William Shakespeare