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A Writer's Life in Rome & Tuscia

The Birthday of Jeanne Hebuterne

Today is the birthday of Jeanne Hebuterne.  She was born in 1898 in Meaux in Seine-et-Marne. Ever since I saw an exhibition of her artworks over 20 years ago, she has stuck in my mind. Muse, model, soulmate, and pupil of Amedeo Modigliani, she fell backwards thru a window in 1920, just 48 hours after he died.  I tell Jeanne's story as rebellious teenager, woman, artist, and ghost in my novel Loving Modigliani: the Afterlife of Jeanne Hebuterne. As for the afterlife- it's an important part of the myth of Jeanne H, for her identity as an artist wasn't really known until 2000, when her extraordinary sketchbooks were first exhibited. I was lucky to stumble upon that show. Since then, the value of her work – once considered mere memorabilia – has skyrocketed. In creating the character of Jeanne, and fleshing out the sixteen year old art student—one of the tools I employed was her horoscope.


A Quick look at her horoscope gives us some insight into Jeanne's personality.
Aries sun with Scorpio rising— makes Mars powerful in her chart. Jeanne is much more a woman warrior, determined to get what she wants -- than her family imagined, when she began to divide her time between Modigliani's studio and her parents' cozy apartment near the Pantheon.  Jeanne was headstrong, insistent, devoted, passionate, moody and deep. Her parents didn't even know she was in a serious relationship until she became pregnant.
The sun and venus in the 6th house, near the cusp of the 7th,  gave her a profound sense of service, which she expressed in her relationship with Modigliani and with art. Mars in the 4th house indicates conflict in the family, square to Saturn— disagreements with her father, which, given her gentle nature must have made her suffer. But it also shows her conflict wiht authority and convention.  Uranus and Saturn in the second house show the rapid shifts of her economic status, once she had taken up with Modi. Her moon in the twelfth house – the house of sorrows and spiritual trials – is an indication of her emotional depth, pronounced spirituality, and of her creativity that sprang from the unconscious. Opposite her sun, it suggests an inner struggle between romance and reality, between her dreams and the practical details of daily life.  The square of Mars, Saturn, Neptune also indicates conflicts with the men in her life and the disappointments and deception they bring.
 Lastly, the presence of Pluto and Neptune in the 8th house is significant. The eighth house is the house of death and may describe the circumstances of Jeanne's death – as either planet in this house suggest an unusual manner of death. But this is also the house of what is shared with one's partner, and shows us how deeply Jeanne fused her identity with that of her partner, Amedeo Modigliani.


Why was her afterlife so important? For eighty years, her artworks were kept hidden from the public in her brother's studio. All the while, Jeanne's daughter, Giovanna/Jeanne Modigliani was trying to negotiate with the Hebuterne family to have access to Jeanne's artworks and other documents in the family's possession. She also rewrote Modigliani's story and the story of Jeanne, disspelling many myths concerning Modigliani's life, in two separate biographies of her father. Overtime, Jeanne's talent and her role as an artist in Montparnasse has been revealed. But as is always the case with Modigliani, myths and legends cannot completely be stripped away. We have records of a diary and of letters written by Jeanne, which so far have never surfaced. We have some extraordinary sketches by her, and others that are clearly fakes. Even her original place of burial changed, when she was moved from a small suburban cemetery to lie with Modigliani in Père Lachaise cemetry.  It is also this aspect of her afterlife I try to recreate in the latter section of Loving Modigliani.


For more about Modi & Jeanne see my posts 


and https://magiclibrarybomarzo.wordpress.com/2023/11/24/in-search-of-jeanne-hebuterne-modigliani-then-now-part-2/




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My Romance With the Tarot

Me in my cape, hanging out in esoteric junks shopts and bookstores,1972

Rainy afternoon, November 1972— Skeletal trees near the square, dripping with rain. Wearing an ankle length paisley dress and a black wool cape sewn by my mother, I knocked on the door of the Theosophical Society Library in London. I don't remember who suggested I go there – or even how I got the address, but one gloomy day, I rang the bell and was admitted to the inner sanctum.  I stepped into a lounge where a few pale-looking older people, very conservatively dressed, were sitting on sofas, browsing through magazines. They didn't at all look the way I expected them.
 A woman at a desk seemed quite puzzled by my request to use the library. She deferred to an older gentleman in a worn beige sweater and gold rimmed spectacles— who after a few minutes, informed me that although the library was usually only for members, they could make an exception – because they liked me. Never  had I received such a generous comment before. They made me feel at home
I was shown into a huge room with many tall bookcases packed with leather-bound tomes, a midnight blue Chinese rug, a huge lacquered table, and a few comfortable arm chairs.  I said I was looking for books on the Tarot, and a kindly lady brought me a couple to peruse – and thus began my romance with this archaic set of characters who point out a path of initiation and self-knowledge.
One of the books mentioned that the Correr Museum in Venice had a few 17th century cards in their print cabinet – so a few weeks later, traveling in Venice with my artist boyfriend, we stopped off at the print cabinet and I asked to see the cards. The attendant seemed rather astonished that I knew they had these cards in their possession and even their precise location numbers. They were brought to me in a manilla envelope – and just dumped out on a desk – four magnificent cards of the minor arcana – on thick pasteboard and covered with rich gold leaf. The rest of the deck had been lost.  It was humbling and thrilling to think how the missing deck had been used, and in what hands it had passed, and where the missing cards might now be. Here I was holding them in my hands, and tracing the great gold ace of coins with my finger.
A few days later, I bought a deck of my own at an esoteric bookshop near Chartres cathedral and from then on became a collector and reader of tarot cards.
 I bought a few other decks over the years, including a facsimile of the Visconti Sforza deck, which was the one I preferred, purchased in Florence at a bookstore that no longer exists.
So I became a reader of cards, and after a decade or so, simply stopped, put my cards away in a little Tibetan bag, and stopped thinking of them. I gave all the other decks away.  But the Tarot and its images were always in the back of my mind.
In writing my novel, Signatures in Stone, A Bomarzo mystery, I got the idea that the sculptures in the garden were similar to Tarot cards, that is – figures with a specific divinatory and psychological meaning. I worked out a path of eleven figures – and Sante Fe artist Carolyn Florek drew them for me. Some are based on the statues in the Park of Monsters/ Sacred Wood. The others are drawn from the story itself. The eleven tarot aracana are interwoven with the heroine's discoveries in the garden.
Recently, asked to contribute an essay on Niki de Saint Phalle's Tarot Garden for a publication by Mary Jane Cryan, I took the little Tibetan purse off the shelf, and opened it for the first time in over a decade.  Researching Saint Phalle's concept of the Tarot has been fascinating, because she sometimes uses traditional imagery from the classic Rider deck, and other times deviates with her own interpretation and depiction.  I find I can read them more fluidly now. Here you'll find a report of my research on Saint Phalle's Tarot symbolism.


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Disguise, Masks & Carnival -- with writing prompts

Carnival Time

Disguise is a timeless literary device reaching back to the earliest recorded myths.  In ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, gods were known to assume the semblance of human beings for sport or seduction – to investigate  what  mortals were up to, offer them advice or protection, procreate a semi-divine offspring, or change the course of human events. In Japanese legend, fox spirits, kitsune, disguised themselves as alluring, mischievous women, bringing fortune or ruin to their husbands and  lovers.  Variations of the shapeshifting bride or bridegroom exist all over the world. Another universal trope is the disguised traveler – the priest, sage, nobleman/woman  – or in the  Christian - Judaic heritage -- an angel or demon, who joins a band of travelers to guide them safely or lead them astray.
Homer uses disguise extensively in the Odyssey.  Shakespeare also exploits the convention of masquerades and  mistaken identities in several plays, for both comic and  tragic effects, sometimes crossing genders. He generally clues the audience in, so that we, the spectator, know a character has put on a disguise, but the other characters don't, creating irony and suspense while helping us anticipate developments in the plot.
The loss, concealment (even  to oneself)  and  reinstatement of  identity, is a common plot in fairy tales and Elizabethan drama.  Eighteenth and nineteenth-century English novelists re-appropriated it for middle class heroes, such as Tom Jones, Evelina, and Jane Eyre, all of whom regain a lost status of which they were unaware.  The search for birthright and true identity is one of the major themes of  the novel form.
When a disguise is ripped off  or a false identity discarded,  a shock ripples through us, creating electrifying  moments in literature and film. Daniel  losing his Mrs. Doubtfire make-up while his ex-wife and children look on; Edgar in  King Lear,  finally dropping his disguise as a madman to reveal himself to his long-suffering father;  the Wizard of Oz, stepping out from behind his steam-powered oracle to show Dorothy who he really is: moments such as these give us  the jolt of recognition which literary critics call "Agnition."  This act of revelation and  recognition  may be tinged with humor, pathos, or terror.
An innocuous appearance concealing evil intentions is another popular disguise trope. Consider Norman Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho darting across the screen in his mother's clothes,   Stephen King's malevolent Pennywise, peering out at children from his jolly clown face, or the pixie- hooded figure in  Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now, whom we imagine to be a child, but  then turns out to be a  murderous dwarf. As a plot device, disguise guarantees excitement and  suspense while agnition  provokes extremely powerful feelings  -- laughter, horror, fear, joy, catharsis, denial, and, in the case of the Duke of Gloucester in King Lear, even death.
The easiest way to assume another identity is simply to put on a mask, to change one's face for another's. In the history of ritual objects, masks hold a place of honor. Some of the earliest artworks  we know portray hunters wearing animal masks.  In cultures all over the world, such masks were used by shamans to reinforce the links between  animals and  humans. By donning a mask, the shaman symbolically acquired the powers that the animal represented, like flight, night vision, invincibility, ferocity, or cunning.  Masks could also represent natural forces, like winds, fire, or storms.  The shaman could use his new powers to heal sickness, defeat an enemy, ensure abundant crops or a successful hunt, and  in general bring prosperity and well-being to his community.
Masquerade nowadays is often considered to be an entertainment for children, usually at Halloween, when we impersonate spirits and ghosts.  In earlier times, however,  ritual masquerade was  primarily for adults and performed  important social and spiritual roles especially in the period known  in the west as Carnival. This tradition lives on today in Catholic countries in a few world-famous celebrations such as the carnivals of Rio de Janeiro and Venice, and Mardi Gras of  New Orleans. In some areas, it has blended with local traditions – as in Sardinia where indigenous folklore combined with vestiges of the earlier Phoenecian culture  to create a unique Carnival parade known as the Mamuthones . In this festival,  zombie –like creatures dressed in sheepskins and wooden  masks march through the streets, while brightly- clad figures capture onlookers with lassoes. To be lassoed during the parade is considered a lucky event , but this custom is thought to derive from a Phoencian ceremony in which  sacrificial victims were chosen.  Many contemporary gothic novels, like David Pinner's Ritual, make similar connections between archaic costumed festivals and  ritual sacrifice.  Yet, Carnival  can be a period of self-discovery, of putting aside an old self to take on a new one, as happens to Binx Bolling during Mardi Gras  in Walker Percy's acclaimed first novel, The Movie Goer.
The Christian tradition of Carnival situate it sometimes right after Christmas lasting till the day before Lent, Ash Wednesday.  These weeks were a time of feasting and transgression, when the vital needs of the body, the flesh (Carne) were celebrated and gratified without restraint.  The origins of Carnival are much older, dating back to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, a fertility celebration when people of all classes could mingle and slaves and masters changed places for a day. Businesses, public offices, and schools shut down as the routines of daily life were set aside.  Gambling, drunkenness, licentious behavior were allowed.   All this served to help drive out the winter spirits of darkness, revitalize the natural cycles, and prepare the way for the sun to return.
The Christian Carnival tradition borrowed three practices from the ancient Roman Saturnalia.  Firstly, a focus on food  –with pancakes or fritters being a typical dish -- along with the overconsumption of meat , sweets,  and alcohol. Secondly, an emphasis on sex  and fertility. Social rules regarding sexual behavior were temporarily loosened.  People were free to indulge in promiscuous acts without censure or guilt.  Lewd pranks and bawdy humor set the tone for popular entertainment in street circuses and pageants where fertility symbols were prominently displayed. Thirdly, "misrule" – the suspending of social hierarchy.  Breeches of propriety, etiquette, and piety,  insults, and challenges to authority --  all were permitted.  Political satire was, for this brief time, not subject to censorship and control. People of different classes mingled freely. The world was turned upside down.
Misrule played a key role in maintaining public order – for those few days the more oppressed classes could vent frustrations which might otherwise have festered into social rebellion.  The Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who has studied the carnivalesque  in literature, held that
 the impious and free-thinking attitudes permitted at Carnival  unleashed powerful creative forces into western culture that were later manifested in art, literature, and politics.    
The sexual, political, and social freedoms of Carnival were made possible by yet one more custom inherited from the Romans: the wearing of a mask at this time.  However, this had some negative consequences: while wearing a mask,  it was easier to conceal  signs of disease from others or to  perpetrate crimes anonymously. Narratives set in Carnival time often involve criminal acts committed in disguise, or sometimes death by transmittable diseases, such as the plague, which happens  in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Mask of Red Death." 
Disguise and masks remain a popular form of adult entertainment. We may play out fantasies by donning a wig or a domino, the hooded cape of the Venetian carnival,  used by both men and women, hiding the whole body in voluminous folds. Stanley Kubrick's erotic thriller,  Eyes Wide Shut, adapted from  a novel by Arnold Schnitzler,  employs dominos and other iconic Venetian masks to portray darker instincts hidden beneath facades of propriety.  Lawrence Durrell, describing the carnival in  his masterpiece, The Alexandria Quartet, writes " What stamps the carnival with its spirit of pure mischief is the velvet domino – conferring upon its wearer the disguise that each  man in his secret heart desires." 
Masks can be  receptacles for the  projection of  what Jung called the shadow  -- the darker sides of ourselves – fear, loathing, desire, impulse, transgression, otherness, which we cannot acknowledge openly and which appear in our nightmares. Masks  may also express emotions in a pure state – like the Greek comic and tragic masks, or  idealized icons of  beauty or ugliness.  They may embody the spirit of a place or people. They may manifest archetypal figures or character tropes. As ritual objects they may serve to connect us to other levels of reality:  the underworld,  the world of animals, magical beings. As vehicles of impersonation, they allow us to take on the identities of celebrities or imaginary characters we admire or envy.  Masks are power-charged artifacts:  Hannibal Lecter's iron muzzle invokes in us an instinctive fear.  The white Guy Fawkes  mask popularized by the movie V and adopted by protest movements everywhere - speaks of challenge to tyranny  and the  vindication of the rights  of the oppressed.
Writing Exercises
 It can be frightening to see a masked person when we don't expect it.  The recent panic over clown sightings in the US and Eu rope is an example.  We may imagine  the worst if we find a masked person standing on our doorstep – but we may have got his  intentions wrong.  Write a scene in which a masked person , intending no harm, turns up in an inappropriate place.
It can be equally unsettling to be the only unmasked person in a crowd of disguised ,costumed , and anonymous revelers.  Write a scene in which an unmasked person  tries to recognize or find someone in a crowd of masks.
In carnivalesque literature, the rules of daily life don't apply – as in Midsummer's Night's Dream.  Write a scene involving two couples who are matched with the wrong lover.
Write a scene in which a natural or supernatural force shapeshifts into a human being.
Write a story with a disguised traveler as the narrator.
Write a scene in which a person removes a mask or disguise while being observed by a stranger.
Write a scene in which a person removes a mask or disguise while being observed by a spouse or family member.
This exercise is best done with any form of mask made to be worn on the face, and not a merely decorative object.  It can also be done with a mask you have made yourself.
Ask yourself these questions and jot down your responses
§  What is it made of? Where  and when was it made – in what context was it created?
§  What powers or feelings does it evoke?
Take some time when you are alone. Put the mask before you on the table. In a passage of free association ( or speaking out loud),  address the mask directly asking it a question  ( for example : Tell me your name?)  and ask it to reply.
Write down its answer. 
Put the mask on and look at the world through the slits of its eyes, then at yourself in the mirror.  What do you see?  Be prepared for surprises
Write down your response. Take as long as you wish for this exercise
1.      Human beings anthropomorphize their environment.  We see human faces wherever we look – even on the surface of the moon. Children perceive facades of houses as faces, with windows for eyes and doors for mouths, as does the practitioner of Feng Shui. Nature at times sculpts granite or limestone into amazing humanlike semblance.  On the northern coast of La Maddalena island in Sardinia is a giant granite boulder  which resembles a giant grinning  human skull  - the effect is so uncanny, it looks as though it has been carved like the heads of Mt. Rushmore, but it is merely the work of  erosion.
Find a face created by nature in your environment.  Try to draw the face , then free write a conversation between yourself and the face.  Use this material in a story.
2.      We populate our solitude with projections of ourselves. One of the funniest yet most poignant  moments in the film Cast Away  is when Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks takes a basketball salvaged from the plane crash of which he is the sole survivor, draws a face on it, names it Wilson, and begins to talk to it, carrying on a conversation half of which we cannot hear.  His ongoing dialogue with Wilson is what keeps him human during his long stay on the island.  When Wilson floats out of reach as Noland paddles through monstrous waves in an attempt to return to civilization, the audience weeps, for during  Noland's time on the island, Wilson was real.   Look around your own environment and find something  inanimate with which you might engage a dialogue.
Hold a conversation with it and write it down.

For more writing prompts, see my book THE SOUL OF PLACE: A CREATIVE WRITING WORKBOOK:  Ideas & Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci 


All texts & prompts copyright Linda Lappin

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Coming Soon on March 8 2022 A Public of Two

March 8, 2022 -- YORICK RADIO PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS “A PUBLIC OF TWO” in celebration of International Women’s Day

In the summer of 1920, the writer Katherine Mansfield received a frequent visitor to her London home: Virginia Woolf. Once a week, Woolf would take the train from Richmond, disembarking at Hampstead Heath, and walk the rest of the way to Mansfield’s house at 2 Portland Villas. In Mansfield’s studio overlooking the garden, these two friends would discuss the craft of writing, sipping tea prepared down in the kitchen by Ida Baker. Though both Woolf and Mansfield noted in their diaries how much these conversations meant to them, we have no record of what they actually said to each other, and must glean what we can reading between the lines of the comments they have left. Powerful attraction, mutual identification, and sharp rivalry united them.

At summer’s end, Mansfield traveled to the continent, returning to London only very briefly before setting out on her final journey. Virginia and Katherine would not meet again. Mansfield died in France, outside Paris at the Prieurè of Fontainebleau in January 1923. In A Public of Two, I try to recreate the atmosphere, conflict, and conversation unfolding in Mansfield's studio during their last encounter.

“A Public of Two” has been adapted from a chapter of Katherine's Wish, which deals with the last five years of Mansfield’s life. The novel was a finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year in 2009, winner of a IPPY Gold Medal, and an honorable mention in the Hoffer Award. David Lynn, editor of the Kenyon Review, praised Katherine’s Wish as “a dazzling bit of fictional sorcery, conjuring to life the bright and talented swirl of modern society in the 1920s.”

This Radio Play has been produced by Rosemary Beech, founder of Yorick Radio Productions and is performed by four brilliant young actors with whom it has been a pleasure & privilege to work.

Ellisha O'Donnell in the role of Katherine Mansfield. Ellisha is a Glasgow-based actor with a history in theatre, and since graduating (with a HND in Acting & Performance) has been exploring voice acting.

Rosemary Beech in the role of Virginia Woolf. Rosemary graduated from Glasgow University with a Masters in Theatre and Performance. They are a Voice Actor and Podcast Manager with a passion for radio plays.

Alice Gold in the role of Ida Baker. Alice is a graduate of Guildford School of Acting with an MFA in Musical Theatre. She aims to continue to work across musicals, plays, and television.

Jonty O’ Callaghan in the role of John Middleton Murry. Jonty is a recent graduate of Guildford School of Acting, achieving his MFA with distinction. He says he is delighted to make his voice acting debut in ‘A Public of Two’!

It's so exciting and humbling to hear your writing come alive through voices other than your own, and I want to give heartfelt thanks to Yorick Radio Podcasts for giving me this opportunity. Yorick Radio Productions is a podcast dedicated to performance and creativity – with special segments dedicated to theatre theory, radio play performances, creative writing, and interviews with performers and writers. It is available on all major podcast platforms. You can sign up at buzzsprout

Katherine’s Wish ISBN 9781877655586 is available in paperback from amazon


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Pasolini's Tower

Pasolini's Tower
Along a busy stretch of highway north of Rome, near the town of Viterbo, a solitary tower thrusts up among the trees overlooking a deep gorge. This 13th century tower, known as the tower of Chia, was once the writing studio of Pier Paolo Pasolini, novelist, poet, and film-maker. Purchased by Pasolini in 1970, the tower served as a retreat for the writer and his entourage until his death in 1975. He would come here to recharge, interrupting his intense work schedule in Rome, and spend a few days relaxing in one of the wilder areas of Italy, known as “the Tuscia,” once the heart of Etruscan territory.

Pasolini discovered the ruined tower in 1964, while filming The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, several scenes of which were shot in the surrounding area. Six years passed in bureaucratic red tape before he was allowed to buy this historical building and have it restored. The tower was not remodeled to make a modern living space — he merely reinforced its structure, and had a small two- room studio built at the base, with huge windows facing out on the gorge. To Pasolini, who had traveled widely, the landscape was breathtaking. It was here he sought inspiration while working on his last, unfinished novel, Petrolio. It was here, friends say, that he desired to be buried.

Although the tower is usually inaccessible to visitors — with a huge iron gate blocking the entrance, it is still a place of pilgrimage for Pasolini’s many admirers. After parking outside an improvised garbage dump for building materials, I follow a well- beaten track leading through the woods to the tower. Boars must frequent the trail at night — the soft mud is covered with hoof tracks . Crows squawk in the naked branches overhead, while cars zip by on the superstrada. Although visitors cannot enter the gate, I walk around the walls but decide not to hike down the steep trail through the gorge to the stream below, immortalized in Pasolini’s film as the River Jordan.

There is a peculiarly Pasolinian flavor to it all — the stern, archaic tower, sheep grazing nearby, the superstrada with its gas station in view, the only signs of the encroaching urbanization Pasolini deplored. Pasolini’s work explores the social problems created by the industrialization of a society rooted in a rural, agrarian culture and his views have even greater relevancy today in this era of globalization. Pasolini had deep respect for Italy’s peasant origins and for the medieval traditions springing from those origins. Here in the people and the landscape of the Tuscia he found that rough peasant vitality still intact.

Nov. 2021. Years have passed since I wrote the above blog. The countryside surrounding Pasolini’s tower hasn’t changed much in these years. The fenced off dump has expanded, and for a time—incongruously-- hosted an ostrich farm. You’d see the huge birds picking about piles of rubble as you drove past on the superhighway. It was a lonely place of ghosts and decay, visited rarely by hikers or porcini hunters. The solitary tower and its mysterious, darkly enchanted setting served the model for Federigo del Re’s tower in my novel The Etruscan which celebrates the eerie, archaic atmospheres and ruins of Tuscia. A decade ago or so, not far from the tower, a murder suicide took place, when a jealous husband shot his wife, then himself in a car parked near the entrance.

Pasolini relished the rough-edged, rowdy mentality of the medieval period, with its strong passions, irrepressible instincts, violence, and wonder. But his later work is also pervaded by a grim pessimism. The tower was his refuge, from which he surveyed the crumbling fabric of our culture, devastated by the bourgeois consumerism eating away at traditions, language, vitality. One wonders what he might have made of the covid-19 crisis, the catastrophic deaths in India, a country that he loved. I imagine him gazing down upon the apocalypse with the dark, fiery gaze of a Savonarola.

For decades after Pasolini’s death, the tower was occasionally used as a small conference venue and library, but the heirs put it up for sale in 2020. Both the Regional government of Lazio and the town government of Soriano del Cimino – to which the area belongs –considered purchasing it, but the 800,000 euro price discouraged them. The tower is now in private hands, and in September 2021 was finally opened to visitors. For information, contact ufficioturistico@comune.sorianonelcimino.vt.it
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The Ulysses Trial - Margaret Anderson & Jane Heap 101 Years Ago Today

Jane Heap & Margaret Anderson, Editors of the Little Review, stood trial on obscenity charges for publishing chapters of Ulysses in their literary magazine.
From "Jane Heap & Her Circle" Late one morning in February, 1921, two women followed an Irish police officer through the corridors of the Jefferson Market Police Court in Greenwich Village. The men bustling about the offices lifted their heads to observe these two unlikely criminals on their way to be fingerprinted. One was a lady of high fashion, wearing a tailored blue suit and a cloche hat, a string of pearls looped upon her satin blouse, and a pale silk rose pinned to her lapel. She walked with self-confidence and poise, as if striding across a stage to take a last bow. Indeed, she was a gifted pianist accustomed to smiling down upon admiring audiences, but today her face was a mask of disdain: arched eyebrows finely tweezed, nose discreetly powdered, dark red lips. Her right hand was gloved, the left bare. Behind her walked a short squarish woman with close-cropped hair, sporting a man’s jacket over a broad black skirt, a black bow tie, and deep scarlet lipstick.

Led to a desk where another policeman awaited, the chic lady in blue baulked at the ink into which she was invited to dip her fingers. All morning, on her lawyer’s instructions, she had sat docilely through her trial, but now lighting a cigarette in her ungloved hand, she announced that she could not possibly comply unless they assured her no irremediable damage would be done to her person or her manicure. Her requests for fresh towels, scented soap, and a clean nailbrush sent the officers scurrying obediently.

Her companion observed this farce with restrained amusement. Her own hands, calloused and muscular, the nails rimmed with printers’ ink and oil paint, were certainly no stranger to stains, and managed carpentry tools or embroidery needles with equal skill. Perhaps she even sympathized with the men flustering about her friend, whose jasmine eau-de-cologne added a piquant note in the warm room above the smell of stale tobacco and perspiration.

Beauty has power, as she knew, for she herself was subject to its sway, but so do good breeding and the look of money which her elegant companion radiated in any circumstance. Surely no one could have guessed that the cash in their possession amounted to less than five dollars. Indeed they had no idea where to scrape up the $100 to pay the fine they had been charged for distributing pornography through the US mails.

After they had duly deposited the prints, they were escorted to the exit. The man whose charges led to their conviction in court tipped his hat as they passed. John Sumner, head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, had never met such original ladies before. It was a pity they had let themselves become entangled in this dirty business. These criminals were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the editors of the Little Review, and the pornography they had purveyed through US mail consisted in copies of their magazine in which excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses had been printed— the first chapters of Joyce’s masterpiece to be published in America. The bone of contention that morning in court had been the Nausicaa chapter. Sumner, speaking on behalf of the good citizens of New York, feared this text might corrupt the minds of young girls, and wanted all publication stopped.
Anderson was disappointed they had not ended up in jail, from where she might have circulated some useful propaganda for Ulysses, which despite their ardent promotion in America had not yet received critical acclaim. She blamed her own innate refinement for the missed opportunity. During the trial, one of the judges remarked that it was obvious merely by looking at her that she could have no idea what the words she had published actually meant.... The whole essay may be downloaded from the home page of this website Jane Heap & Her Circle complete essay
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A Paris Memory, Reading at Shakespeare & Co. and David Applefield

In 2006 and 2008, I had the pleasure of reading from my novels at the legendary Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Co.  thanks partly to the late David Applefield, Paris writer and editor whose scintillating literary mag, FRANK, was once published in connection with the bookstore, and included works by Raymond Carver and Mavis Gallant. David, who had been encouraged by Lawrence Durrell to found his own publishing company, was one of my writing mentors and a constant source of inspiration,  as he always had some new cultural  project on the stove. In the nineties, at the age of 39, he was profiled in the NYTs, who praised his unique combination of a "heart for poetry and head for business."
David was about to leave Paris when we last met in January 2019, on his way back to NJ to run for Congress. But his dreams to reconnect culture and politics were not to be. He died unexpectedly in the spring of 2020.  My memories of Paris are bound up with our quick visits and long chats over lunch in a tiny, dimly lit Tunisian restaurant near his home in the suburbs, or coffee near the Sorbonne.
The following blog was written in 2006, while I was in Paris for my first reading @ Shakespeare & Co, which took place in the library upstairs.




Just across the bridge from Notre Dame on Rue de la Bucherie,  Shakespeare and Company,  bookstore, library, shrine, and  make-shift hotel, welcomes readers, writers, and drifters. Officially recognized by the City of Paris as part of its cultural heritage,  the shop was  founded in 1951  by George Whitman  and is now owned and operated by Sylvia Whitman, daughter of  this amazing gentleman who was born in 1912.  Named in honor of  the  bookstore founded in the 20s by Sylvia Beach  in Rue de l'Odeon, which first promoted the works of James Joyce  and Ezra Pound, Whitman's   bookshop and "reading room"  was a gathering place for the  expatriate writers  who streamed into Paris in the post-war  period.   Shakespeare & Company still offers hospitality to writers  and students  who are allowed to stretch out their sleeping bags  after closing time and to read their works to the public on Monday nights.  George Whitman,  sharp, spry and frail, invites me to stay the night as a Tumbleweed, but unaware of this option, I have made other plans. (Later I will regret missing this opportunity.)
Shakespeare and Company is open from noon till midnight, and the setting up of the store for a day of business is a ritual to behold.  Shortly before noon, a small crowd gathers on the pavement, huddled in the cold,  waiting for permission to enter this temple of the English language.  Lodged in  what was once  part of a 16th century  monastery, with a faded  portrait of the Old Bard above the green- shuttered windows – the place looks more like an old English pub until the great shutters are folded back   to reveal book-crammed windows – with first editions of Anais Nin and  Lawrence Ferlinghetti displayed in front.  The bustling staff scurries about,  dragging  boxes of second-hand books out to the street,  filling up empty shelves outside the shop. They remind me of stagehands preparing for a performance.
Returning later in the evening for the reading, I am ushered up a cracked and narrow wooden staircase to the upstairs rooms.    The low ceiling beams are pockmarked with woodworms, charred  by the fire which devastated the place in 91. Everywhere there are musty  books packed onto sagging shelves and yellowing photographs of Whitman with his close friend, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  Yet this is no museum, but a living library  with people, young and old,  sitting on benches or even on the worn arabesque rugs, browsing through volumes not for sale, but feely accessible to anyone who would like to consult them. It is, as Henry Miller said, "a wonderland of books."

Headlights of cars along  Quai de Montebello  flash by in the night  but inside  this sanctuary, people sit ,quiet and attentive, waiting for the reading to begin.   To read here is to take a place in a chain, to participate in a tradition.  The emphasis is not on selling books  but creating an exchange.  The atmosphere is layered with the palpable presence of writers,  famous or obscure,  who have read or spoken here,  of  audiences who have gathered to listen over an arc of fifty years.  --2006


2020 POSTSCRIPT: Like many bookstores around the world, Shakespeare and Co. has been hit hard by Covid and lockdown, with an 80% drop in sales. To face the uncertain future, they have founded an association to help support the bookshop through members' donations. Please see their site and consider a small donation. https://friendsofshakespeareandcompany.com

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Islands are for Writers

There are people who find islands irresistible -- Lawrence Durrell

There are people “who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication.” -- Lawrence Durrell

Greece is our ancestral home– we were born to its sun, sea, and islands – to its penchant for speculation, exploration, philosophy, and myth – its relentless searching for the essence of things, and its celebration of the mind, body, and senses. The great Greek myths probe the depths of our psyche to reveal the conflicts and energies that fuel our lives. Greece is a storied territory. As Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor once claimed, you cannot walk across its terrain without tripping over some sacred spot drenched in history or myth. Each of its six thousand islands is a world unto itself.

Places inhabit us just as we inhabit them. They have personality, emotions, agency, and transformative powers. This is particularly true of Greece and its islands.

Islomania was the underlying theme of a recent writing workshop I taught at the Aegean Arts Circle Workshops on the island of Andros.

During our sessions, we explored islands and their meaning. Geographical islands and psychological ones. Islands as setting, protagonist, myth, and metaphor. The enormous gap between the popular image of islands as places of pleasure, escape, the natural life, and utopia and the bleaker,cruder reality they often are. We explored “islomania” and insularity and what these things have meant in our lives and work. In addition to working with The Soul of Place – A Creative Writing Workbook, we elaborated several exercises with island themes to use during the workshop.
1.Write about water as a medium, an element, as distance, emotion, music, or as part of your body.
2. Write about an island in your life, interpreting “island” from any point of view desired.
3. Connect the islands in your life in a personal essay.
4.Write about collecting islands or a collector of islands.
5. Make a deep map of the islands in your life or of your ideal island.
6. Write about an island creature, from any domain – including imaginary, mythological,or culinary! Or write about a (sea) food as a form of alien life.
7. Write about a culinary experience as a rite of passage. (See MFK Fisher on the oyster).
8. Write about a house or room from which you are(or the main occupant is) absent.
9. Write about an object that transports you to another time or place.
10. Open the door to a place you once loved, but haven’t been for awhile…
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Books and Travel, A Review

Books and Travel

One day, when I was about ten years old, my parents brought back a children’s book in French from the Kingsport Public Library. This thin red book, whose title I cannot remember, told the story of two children about to set sail from New York to France on an ocean liner. In the first chapter, they packed up their things into a steamer trunk. Successive chapters dealt with boarding the ship, departure, misadventures on board, and finally arrival in port followed by a Parisian escapade with croissants. Throughout the voyage, the children wore blue-and-white-striped French sailor shirts and although they were American, spoke French.
Of the hundreds of library books for children transiting our home, this one has stuck in my mind for more than fifty years. It galvanized my play sessions: for months afterwards, I enacted scenes from the book and the most exciting part was the preparation for the voyage. There was an old steamer trunk in the spare bedroom in our house. Emblazoned with the initials of my mother’s maiden name, smelling of mothballs, it was crammed full of memorabilia–faded photographs of her Polish relatives from before the war, a Mexican tooled-leather handbag wrapped in plastic, purchased on her honeymoon. These items too held a trace of the exotic, of other places and times. I picked the lock with a hairpin, unpacked the contents, and used this trunk as the main prop in my playacting. I would spend hours happily filling it with my clothes, shoes, books, dolls, pretending I was about to leave on a long sea voyage to Europe, with Paris as my final destination
Fifty years later, I find myself a confirmed Francophile, living in Europe, speaking another language than the one I was born to, and a passionate fan of sea journeys. That little book which had come into my life quite by chance shaped my conception of travel and aroused in me an implacable desire for visiting foreign places, influencing my entire existence.
The power of books to transport us elsewhere, inspiring us to travel and framing our experience of place, is the topic of an intriguing, multidisciplinary study by two Australian academics from La Trobe University, Warwick Frost and Jennifer Laing, entitled Books and Travel This broad study investigates the nuanced ways that reading and day dreaming about places stimulate our imagination and construct our idea of travel. The English travel writer Vernon Lee, friend to Henry James, would have heartily agreed. She once wrote:
“For the passion for localities, the curious emotions connected with the lie of the land, shape of buildings, history and quality of air and soil, are born, like all intense and permeating feeling, less of outside things than our own soul… The places for which we feel such love are fashioned before we see them by our wishes and fancy; we recognize rather than discover them in the world of reality.”
The relationship between literature and travel, the tourist’s gaze, the history of literary tourism, travel as self-actualization and liminal experience, literary/ heritage tourism and territorial branding are among the many subtopics discussed in this fascinating study which draws on theoretical perspectives from many fields.
The authors offer a detailed analysis of diverse tropes and plot structures underpinning much travel literature (quest, adventure, pilgrimage, hidden worlds, time travel, escape, transformation) applied to dozens of classic and popular works of fiction and nonfiction for which short synopses are given. Although all media — photography, film, television, social media, computer games — may contribute to constructing our sense of a given place, it is the more immersive and intimate act of reading that lets us lose ourselves completely in an imagined place, recreating characters, stories and settings in our minds through a deep, solitary process of identification, often predisposing us towards a transformative conception of travel.
The process starts early. The authors argue “that the genesis of adult travel behavior can be traced in part to the books we read as children, and their influence is profound and long-lasting.” Many classics of travel literature both for children and adults have strong mythic or archetypal structural elements related to the hero’s journey. “Far from being lightweight fare, these books…start us on an imaginative pathway where travel is mysterious, magical, and often life changing,” they write.
This book is a must-read for anyone involved tourism studies as it provides a brief but perceptive analysis of the diverse motivations and aspirations that compel us to travel and an illuminating glimpse at how literary – cultural heritage tourism attempts to satisfy, exploit, and sometimes deny those aspirations and desires. I also highly recommend this book to all writers whose work, fiction or nonfiction, deals with travel and place. Frost and Laing’s discussion of transformative travel and the tropes associated with texts of this type provides rich insights into the magic and craft of story-making and into the psychological rewards readers hope to find in an absorbing book.
BOOKS AND TRAVEL will inspire you to reread many old classics and revisit your own personal mythology of travel and imagination, to decide for yourself if travel has been a transformative experience in your own life and to understand the factors which have shaped your sense of elsewhere.
If books you read in childhood have influenced your experience of travel, please leave a comment below and tell us how.
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The Tarot Garden of Niki de Saint Phalle


As you drive along the Via Aurelia towards the sea, near the turn off for Capalbio, a flash of psychedelic color catches your eye, emerging from the silvery blur of olive groves and ilex trees on the scrubby, Maremma hillside. Prominently displayed are the tip of a red rocket aimed at the sky, a decapitated tower with a bicycle wreck at the top, and a huge, blue laughing clown face with a waggling hand growing straight up out of its head. Other gaudy figures peep out from beneath the tree tops, resembling the rides of some crazy carnival that has just pulled into town, but instead this phantasmagoria happens to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest landscape artworks, the Tarot Garden created by the French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 -2002). For Saint Phalle, this garden was a corner of paradise achieved through an inner itinerary of sacrifice and spiritual growth.
The giant figures, some of which are inhabitable buildings, represent the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot, refashioned according to Saint Phalle’s understanding and experience of them over the arc of a lifetime. The tarot is not just a card game, Niki claims, but conceals a philosophy of life. Key cards for her are the Hanged Man, Strength, the Magus, the Sun, the Empress ( manifested in the garden as a sphinx whose breasts are rooms you can live in – where indeed Niki did live while working on the garden), and the Angel of Temperance, who became her spiritual guide.
Entering the austere enclosure of tufa walls that form a barrier to the outside world, you step into a dream, inspired not only by the Tarot, but by fairy tales and the art works of Matisse, Miro, and Picasso. The figures are covered with mosaic tiles, mirrors, and ceramics in lollipop colors, arranged in kaleidoscope patterns, bedazzling and bewitching, changing by the minute in sun and shadow.
The spark for creating this garden came when Niki visited Gaudi’s Guell Parc in Barcelona in 1955, an experience so overwhelming that it made her tremble with a sense of destiny. “ I knew someday I would make my own Garden of Joy,” she wrote. She dreamed of her garden for years, seeking the right spot, which she thought might be Africa or South America, a place that would contrast starkly to the urbanization of contemporary life. By chance or fate, the chosen spot turned out to be a former quarry in the Tuscan Maremma, on land belonging to the brothers of a friend.
There could have been no better place than here in Maremma, just over the border from the province of Viterbo where several of Italy’s greatest esoteric gardens are located : Villa Lante, the Sacred Grove (aka the Park of Monsters) of Bomarzo, the gardens of Villa Farnese in Caprarola. By placing her garden here, Saint Phalle had connected up with the local tradition of landscape narratives and healing gardens. In the mannerist tradition of the sixteenth century, those gardens were to be “read” with the heart and mind as much as they were to be enjoyed by the senses. The placement of fountains, trees, and sculptures obeyed a narrative strategy that might reveal a secret doctrine, heal an illness, enhance political power, point out the route to spiritual enlightenment, or simply alter fate. Such gardens were magic books hewn in stone, in which the visitor, while wandering about, became the actant or performer of an ever-changing story, a necessary element in the garden’s magic.
As you explore the Tarot Garden, you will note allusions to Bomarzo. For example, the Empress who greets you with melting, blue mosaic stairs flowing from her open mouth, -- vividly evokes the Hell Mouth, the signature sculpture of Bomarzo. Unlike the Bomarzo cavern carved of dark tufa with its unsettling tomblike atmosphere, this is a gushing fountain of life. The glassy green dragon guarded by a maiden, representing the arcanum Strength, resembles the dragon of Bomarzo. But here the atmosphere is playful and joyous, the beast is kept in check and does not threaten us. By contrast, the Sacred Grove of Bomarzo seems steeped in a twilight gloom, yet it too was meant as a healing itinerary for its original creator, Pier Francesco Orsini, suffering from deep depression after his wife’s death.
Niki de Saint Phalle financed and built her Tarot Garden, costing millions of dollars, mainly by herself, although she was helped by fellow artists, workmen, friends, local people, lovers, admirers, and enthusiasts. Along the way, she encountered many obstacles, including illness. Severe rheumatoid arthritis disabled her from working for long periods. She also struggled with the fervent opposition of local residents who objected her project, which, it turned out, had been undertaken without first receiving official building permits from the town government. In the end, a white knight appeared as in all fairy tales to rescue what is good and true: Mitterand saved the garden from Italian bureaucratic censure – and possibly from being torn down -- by declaring it a national monument of France, and therefore not subject to the Italian building code.
Paths seem random through the Garden, and, at Niki’s request, there are no guided tours. The point of this garden is to discover it yourself, and while doing so, discover yourself. There are however two main routes to explore – one departing from the Sun, takes you up a wide, easy, well-paved path. The other is harder to find. You must climb over the dragon’s tail, then follow a narrow, slippery trail. From here you encounter more directly the Moon, the Devil, and Death, with whom the artist had to come to terms. Hardship, love, enthusiasm, obsession went into making this garden, writes Niki, but above all, faith. “Nothing and no one could have stopped me.”
This garden engenders joy and delight in children and adults, and teases our thoughts as to its meaning. But upon exiting her magic world, you will also feel a deep gratitude to the artist for never giving up until the garden was done, and for her generosity in sharing her vision.

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