blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

An excerpt from my oldest--and newest--book: My Mozart. The young heroine began to speak to me during 1986 and did not stop sharing her secrets until a little more than a year later. She first came to me around the time (I would later learn) of her birthday, in late April. Every year, my Blumechen would return to fill in a little more. I've finally let her story go, out into the wide and noisy 'net.  Here are the first few pages...

* * *

"Most painfully affected of all by Mozart's fatal illness was Fraulein Nanina Gottlieb..."

From Joseph Deiner's Memoirs, related at Vienna, 1856

Chapter One

"Mozart, Ich liebe dich. I love you. Love you."

"Come here, Nanina Nightingale. Come and give your poor old Maestro some of your ‘specially sugary sugar."

My mouth on his‑‑the friction produced warmth and sweetness, with a decided undertone of the expensive brandy he liked, flowing from his tongue to mine. I slid my arms across the brocade of his jacket, none too clean these days, and swayed a slender dancer's body against him.

Let me assure you that my sophistication was assumed. It really doesn't matter - then, or now. I was young, foolish, and drowning in love. I was seventeen. He was thirty five.

He had once been boyishly agile, doing handsprings over chairs, turning cartwheels of joy at a prima donna’s kiss or a perfect performance of his own celestial music. He was never tall, and was, like most men of his age, working on a bit of a belly. Still, he kept more or less in shape by a daily regimen which included running from bailiffs, dashing out the back doors of taverns to avoid payment, and climbing in and out of the bedroom windows of adventurous (and talented) musical gentlewomen.

I believed he knew everything--that he could see right through me with those bright blue eyes. He probably could. He'd been my music master--and, more--my deity, ever since I'd met him, in my ninth year.

His jacket, now spotted and stained, must have been fine enough to wear in the presence of the Emperor. Bright blue, it perfectly matched his eyes. I can still feel the fabric sliding under my fingers as my arms passed over his shoulders and around his neck.

I can still see him‑‑a woolly frizz of blonde hair, long, aquiline nose--a ram that had once been an angel. Sometimes, when he was loving me in some exquisitely naughty way and joyfully smiling as he did it, I could almost see horns.

So you will understand exactly how I loved him, so that you will know that it was a real passion, I'll tell you that I adored the feel of him, the smell of him, the taste of him. They've tried to turn him into a tinkling porcelain angel, but I'm here to tell you, here and now--he was not.

Mozart's eyes were big, slightly protuberant, and as I’ve said, so blue. Alarming, those eyes! Once they'd shone with the pure light of genius, radiant and blissful as a summer noonday. Lately, they were simply wasted. My adored Maestro was mostly either drunk or hung over.

He'd fallen from grace. Everyone knew it. Creditors hounded him. There were too many wild parties, not enough money.  His wife had given up coping, had gone back to the Baden spa where she had an on-going romance with a big, handsome Major.

And who could blame her? Pretty Constance, in the last ungainly stages of yet another pregnancy, fleeing Vienna after a winter of freezing and begging for handouts...

Even a seventeen year old idolater could recognize her defection for simple self‑preservation. I didn't judge her. I didn't judge myself. I was simply glad to have her out of the way. When she was gone, he was restless, at loose ends, spending most of his time hanging around our theater. Of course, nothing could have suited me better.

Oh, I can still hear my painted Mama lecturing, telling me all about Wolfgang's debts, his drinking, and his wife. If I must go whoring, why couldn't I be sensible, make it pay?

Naturally, I knew that the lady who filled his mind was one of his damned piano pupils. She was struggling with a very real fear of her husband and with her own natural chastity. Dear Mozart always imagined that if a lady played his music with "taste and feeling", she belonged to him in a deeper and more complete sense than she could ever belong to a mere husband. The notion proved in every case disappointing, and, in the final exercise, fatal.

He often held forth upon "acting like a Kapellmeister/ dressing like a Kapellmeister", long after he'd been ejected both from the court and the wider world of gentlemanly convention. When sufficiently drunk, he used to amuse everyone at The Serpent, clowning with a violin like some impoverished, itinerant musiker.

One night, a pair of Englishmen who'd been dining there dropped a handful of kreutzers and asked in broken German if he knew the way to "the house of Kapellmeister Mozart." As the regulars roared, Mozart answered with the filthiest English curse he knew and haughtily stalked away, leaving the money on the floor. The waiter, Joseph Deiner, God bless him, scooped it up and applied it to Mozart's perennial bill.

* * *

It's hard to tell how you will like a true story, but to my mind, all the best tales grow. Have patience. This, I assure you, is a love story.

* * *

I was born a musiker, a poor, pretty, talented girl who could have become an actress or a singer, a dancer or a prostitute. When I was seventeen, with no parents and working for Emmanual Schikaneder, I'm afraid the latter was the fate most likely.

Today my beauty and voice are gone. Memories are all that remain. Except for my old friend Joseph, it was lonely for a very long time, but lately troops of well meaning Volk have been knocking on my door, bringing little presents and asking questions about the old days.

"Fraulein Gottlieb," they say, "you were the Magic Flute's first Pamina. Tell us about the way it was. Tell us about the great genius, Mozart."

I hardly dare speak. Once well begun, this old woman might ramble straight through from beginning to end. My adored, long dead Maestro has become famous, a kind of Martyr to Art. I have no wish to stain the marble purity of the image that his wife, with so much skill and determination, has spent the last thirty years creating. I understand the theater of life, this proscenium beneath the arching sky. Sometimes--paradoxically--honor requires a lie.

So, to such visitors, I say the obvious, about how poorly his talent served him while he lived. Then they reply, as if this makes up for the pain: "His music survives."

For a performer like me, it's the opposite. In that most present of present moments, we are the lark of song, the erotic geometry of dance, the drum beat of declamation. For a performer there's nothing beyond the flashing now, and when we grow old all that is left for us is the rusty rumination of some aged member of a long ago audience.

This being so, I'll tell you who I am, or rather who I was: Fraulein Anna Gottlieb, Nanina to my long dead friends. I was a performer once admired, first as a dancer, then as a singer, and last, when I grew older, as a comedienne who had learned all about getting belly laughs from those two great clowns of the Volksoper stage, Barbara Gerl and Emmanuel-The-Devil-In-Human-Form Schikaneder. I was the darling of the fickle Viennese for years...

* * *

~Juliet Waldron

Friday, June 15, 2012

A 19th-Century Female Soldier

In my Promise & Honor Civil War trilogy, I included a female soldier in the cast of characters. Over 400 women are known to have served during the war, but it's anyone's guess how many went unrecorded. While researching my first nonfiction title, A Fate Worse than Death, I came across a fascinating article about a female soldier. Very few have read her story since the 19th century. Unfortunately, I can't even tell you her name because the reporter in the 1863 Missouri Democrat article withheld it to retain her privacy. He described her in typical Victorian style, "... large lustrous dark eye... ruddy and fresh looking..." But from there on out, he let her tell her own story.
Even before the American Civil War, her story was far from mundane. She lost her parents at a fairly young age, and at fourteen she was married to a member of a minstrel troupe. Widowed after eighteen months of marriage, she was supported by her two brothers. Then, the war broke out, and both of her brothers enlisted.
Not knowing what to do with herself, she grew restless. She traveled to Baltimore to be near her brothers and became a nurse, caring for the sick and wounded. Before long, she got tired of being on the receiving end of "insults and ungrateful returns" from some of the recovered soldiers. An idea came to her, and she asked her brothers' permission to "dress in male attire and join their regiment."
Her younger brother brought her to some "rough places" for her to learn how to act more like a man. No one noticed, and she enlisted as the major's orderly. Shortly after, the regiment was sent to New Orleans. Her younger brother was wounded in a skirmish and later died. She had no time for grief. In the second assault on Baton Rouge, she received a "severe sabre cut on the right arm. A ball grazed one of the lower limbs, and a number passed through my clothes."
As a result, the inevitable happened. The major of the regiment discovered her gender. During the war, if a female soldier was discovered after she had proven herself in battle, she was often allowed to stay. So it was for this woman.
For the most part, she lived as any other soldier, doing her job as best as she could. Another man learned her identity and attacked her in a "out of the way place." Her would-be rapist failed to realize that a female soldier could defend herself. She shot him. "I meant to disable his arm, but he stooped... the ball entered his face and found its way under his skull-cap." Instead of being angry at him, she tended him until he was out of danger. He sent her a written apology "in such a manner that I forgave him."
Although the article is unclear as to how long she remained in the regiment, she continued working for the major until he resigned. When she went home on furlough to Michigan, she had every intention of returning to her brother. Unfortunately before she could get back, he died from a fever.
Alone and uncertain what to do with herself, she had a few non-military adventures before enlisting once again. In a familiar job as a major's orderly in Rolla, Missouri, she met a young officer from Iowa where she fell "desperately in love." He had no clue of her true identity until she finally told him. "The result was that we engaged to be married this fall."
I salute this 19th-century soldier, and truly hope that she lived a long and happy life with her Iowa officer.

"Genuine Romance in Real Life," Missouri Democrat, September 1, 1863.

Kim Murphy

Friday, June 8, 2012


This month, sixth of my 65th year marks a major transition: from working to make a living to working only when it suits me. This change has been anticipated with pleasure for my body has been saying "no" for several years. There must be, however, some recognition given to the other murkier emotions, the anxieties that ooze out of brain cracks in the middle of dark, sleepless nights.
What if there are more expenses than resources?
What if the free hours fill up with boredom and laziness?
What if the loss of laughter with my co-workers brings loss of life-joy?
My years as mental health counselor have taught me that what I tell myself about the story of my life will create the reality of my own experience. What is perceived, what is remembered, what is filtered out to be discarded are all choices made every moment of every day.
 Dread/Anticipation..  Fear/Anxiety… perhaps they are the meanders of the same river.
Working, even when interesting and rewarding, has often seemed to be a daily struggle to keep people afloat, and provide enough resources that they can reach their destination.
How is it possible to deliberately change direction from forging upstream to relaxing into the gentle flow of downriver? What skills do I need to navigate to calmer waters? Experience teaches lighter travel requires lighter watercraft.
Maneuvering is easier when the boat is empty of all except essential gear.
Some wise words of an old friend come to mind "there's too much stuff in my canoe of life". What weights are mine to jettison?

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Reluctant Wedding Guest

I have become a wedding curmudgeon. I used to think it was just because I don’t like getting dressed up and going to church. While that is true, it sounds like a very weak excuse - not a reason to avoid a wedding.  Another excuse is the idea that it’s boring. Weddings today are anything but boring. The ways to prolong and over-complicate the joining of two people into one social and financial unit are awe-inspiring. Consider this menu that I found online.
Lighting candles, mixing sand, throwing rocks, and filling a bowl with colored glass are all tributes to the uniting of people and families. The rock-throwing thing is not as transparent as the rest; the idea is that the stones sink into an eternal ocean where they will remain unchanged forever. I think this is laughably wishful thinking. Even stones change eventually. Besides, how often do people get married next to a body of water?
More alarming are the practices of releasing butterflies or doves. Forcing winged creatures to sit in a box for hours and then fly out in a display of ecstatic levity is not only ridiculous, it’s cruel. Having the couple face each other and wrapping a chord around their clasped hands is too close to bondage for my taste. A variant is looking at each others’ hands while saying that these are the hands that will help, and comfort and work for each other. I am pretty sure I would giggle if I saw that. Doing any two of these things in the same ceremony would be downright annoying.
The only idea I really liked on this list of possibilities was the children’s ceremony. I saw that done, recently. It seemed lost on the children, but it was a great reminder to everyone else that it isn’t all about the happy couple in blended marriages. Stepchildren are being married, too.  At the same wedding, the couple walked in together and sat down at the front of the church instead of doing the grand procession of the bride. That set the right tone, for me. Marriage shouldn’t be about the dress and the makeup and the graceful (yeah?) walk of the bride. In fact, I was happy to be at that wedding.
So – weddings are not by their nature boring. I still don’t like going. I have considered the idea that I am envious of the two people starting a new life together. I can dismiss that quickly by noting that I think they are in for a rocky road to comfortable cohabitation. And in spite of that, I am really very happy for people who are willing to try to love each other for life. After all, I was foolish enough to think a ceremony solidified true love. My love is true, but rarely solid. It waxes and wanes, flies and slogs along by turns. Fortunately, my husband is still willing to love me.
The kind of wedding I would really enjoy attending is one that is simple, on the short side, and emphasizes the personal transitions of these two humans. This woman will be putting her maiden self aside. She will rely more on wisdom and patience than on beauty. She may need help to keep from losing her self hood in this relationship.  And probably she will become a mother – the most profound transition in a woman’s life. This man will let go of selfish activities. He will mature to the point that his family’s welfare will be as important to him as his own. He will learn to defend his values, not his abilities. And he will multiply his inner strength and sense of responsibility by two or three or more in the years to come. 
Why don’t we say these things? Why do we cling to the notion of miraculous and effortless happiness right down to the moment when that fantasy ends? We could acknowledge the magnitude of this moment. We might make this a rite of passage as well as a celebration. It would bring a sense of reality and profound importance to a personal transformation that throwing rocks and releasing birds and lighting candles cannot pretend to signify.  I would be much happier to attend an nontraditional but truthful kind of wedding.   Even though I still don’t like to dress up and go to church.   
Lari Jo Walker
May 31, 2012