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Friday, July 26, 2002

Being earnest

From time to time I get disgusted with the inflated snobbery and overt self indulgence that oozes from the stacks of magazines that I’ve kept over many years. The smugness and intricate peer group signage that keeps radiating off these pages remains a constant irritant, and makes me feel fortunate in being unable to comply.

Social suicide

I order the ocean
I mince on Munch
I summon the vodka
Caviar’s punch

I fancy the fearful
I dote on dates
I cajole the spirited
Different ways

I shoulder the canon
I foul on fame
I start the fracas
None to blame

© 2002 Walter van Lotringen

posted by Walter at 7/26/2002

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Say who?

What are you telling me that Steven Hawking and Enrico Fermi are not Jewish. Are you sure?

Nate (editor): Yes I’m sure

As I was checking references about the French/Italian singer Yves Montand, I came across a link that offered an explanation to Montand’s alleged Jewishness.
Yves Montand was born by the name of Ivo Livi, and shortly grew up in the Tuscany town of Monsummano. His father was a militant communist who fled the fascist regime for the comparatively safe haven of France in 1921. Apparently Montand the cultural hero still causes debate about his cultural allegiance.

The link: offers answers to likewise questions as the one above, plus general information, humor, personals and trivia like for instance:

What is Bob Dylan’s full Hebrew name?

Jewhoo: Shabtai Zisel ben Avraham v’Rachel Riva

posted by Walter at 7/24/2002

Tuesday, July 23, 2002


As I stood waiting in the throng of saturday afternoon shoppers in the big underground supermarket area; I scanned the vast space around me waiting for my turn at the teller, until my eyes locked to N.; standing not very far away from me two queues down. She seemed to have noticed me as well, but had instantly recovered her composure.
I had met her on two separate occasions, through a mutual friend, a theatre actress. Though not personally introduced to her on those occasions, the meetings had left an impression. N. is an actress herself, and a budding movie star. Her body is petite; she has the tiny frame of variety artists, dancers and acrobats.
N. has an exotic appearance, half Indonesian, with an impish face and eyes that travel the gamut of briskness and submission. N. has an uncanny gift for making herself unseen; and when caught, appearing like an agile child; narrowly escaped from a nightmare.
N. tempts me: she and I share an unspoken rapport, and fathom uncharted depths, together and alone.

posted by Walter at 7/23/2002

Monday, July 22, 2002

La Belle Menken

From “Mazeppa” by Alfred Lord Byron

Bring forth the horse” – the horse was brought:
In truth, he was a noble steed,
A Tartar of Ukraine breed,
Who looked as though the speed of thought
Were in his limbs: but he was wild,
Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,
With spur and bridle undefiled.
‘Twas but a day he had been caught:
And snorting with erected mane.
And struggling fiercely, but in vain,
In the full foam of wrath and dread
To me the desert-born was led:
They bound me on, that menial throng,
Upon his back with many a thong:
They loosed him with a sudden lash-
Away!-away!-and on we dash!
Torrents less rapid and less rash.


From the original Playbill at 1866 of the Astley Theatre:

"This elegant theatre is open for the season with the favourite drama 'Mazeppa!' with splendid new scenery and stage effects!
Every evening till further notice, the performance will commence with the double-bedded room!

I found a more recent poster in an archive of stationery that I’ve kept since the late 80’s. It is an announcement of a forthcoming play, running from the 16 June -16 July 1988, written and directed by Rodney Archer and Powell Jones of the London Operating Theatre Company.
The play is loosely based on the life and times of Adah Isaacs Menken, actress and poet.


“The naked Mazeppa”

Adah Isaacs Menken was born Dolores McCord but the first of her five marriages was to a Jewish music-master
and she kept his name which she used on the title-page of the pamphlets of verse she had printed. She had been actress, model and provincial salonniere but never openly a prostitute, and had traveled a great deal in the United States and Europe. She had a predilection for writers and in 1866 had a notorious affair with Alexandre Dumas the elder.

In theatre and circus, she was billed as “The naked Mazeppa”, wore pink tights to simulate naked flesh and had herself strapped upside down to the back of a horse which ambled round circus ring or stage. The act had originally started as a melodrama adapted from Byron: its name caught the Victorians in their thousands and suggestive posters did the rest. She appeared in London at Astley’s in 1864 and 1865 and again in 1866 and 1867.
Menken seems to have been a kindly, vulgar, not unintelligent creature with a passion for literature and literary men, Swinburne was just what she wanted, a famous man of letters who appeared to adore her.
They spent a great deal of time together, including several whole nights, but without satisfactory result, Menken reporting to Dante Gabriel Rosetti that she “hadn’t been able to get him up to scratch”, and adding plaintively,
“I couldn’t make him understand that biting is no good”.


Thusfar the text on the poster. The text stirred my curiosity and after some research I’ve concluded that it contains but a skeleton of the complex personality Adah Isaacs Menken must have been. Facts and fiction are narrowly interwined. A rich cast of characters emerges though: some of whom I’ll introduce:

Alexander Isaacs Menken, orchestra leader; first husband to Menken

Alexander Isaacs Menken was a musician and the son of a prominent Jewish family in Cincinnatti. While during her relationship with Alexander Menken, Adah adopted the Jewish faith, and remained steadfast so during the rest of her life. It is said of her that she would always have a Hebrew-Bible under her pillow. Alexander Menken worshipped Adah and became her first manager. However he also harbored conservative ideas about family life, seeing his wife as the central domestic hub therein. Adah was a free, roving spirit, who loved the limelight, the audience and the adoration of her countless male admirers. The final straw broke when she insisted on smoking cigarettes in public, and so Menken left her.

Johnnie Heenan known as “Benicia Boy”; prize fighter, second husband to Menken

Heenan's appearance was once described as: “He had thick, black hair; heavy, black eyebrows; a thick, black mustache, and a brutal punch”. Born in the small Californian town of Benicia, and since then known to the world as the Benicia Boy; he was the (bare-fisted) boxing champion of America.
Once he fought a bout set in London against the international champion Tom Sayers. In the classic fight that ensued, and that took thirty seven rounds and more than two hours to complete; Heenan knocked Sayers down more then twenty times. The fight was finally called off and declared a “draw”, by frustrated British promoters.
Rumor has it, that Menken while on her honeymoon was taught how to box by Heenan. In good-humored domestic skirmishes Menken stood her ground, but soon marital dispute took the better of their sparring practice: Heenan made it a habit of beating Menken every night after dinner. Resulting her to divorce him.

Charles Blondin known as “The Little Wonder”, “The Prince of Manila”, “The Great Blondin”; her lover

Blondin was of French origin, born in St-Omer; a funambulist (tightrope-walker) prodigy; hence his first nickname “The Little Wonder”.
Blondin took his “nom d’artiste” while performing with a French circus company "The Ravel Troupe". His original family name of “Gravelet” was changed to “Blondin” for the color of his hair, but also as not to confuse with the act of two likewise named brothers in the same circus. Blondin and the troupe made an American tour, during which he visited Niagara Falls in 1858, where the idea struck that would make him world renowned. He would cross the Niagara Falls gorge on a tightrope. After much hassling and controversy he managed to accomplish the famed feat on June 30th 1859, witnessed by a 100.000 plus crowd.

Alexandre Dumas Pere, literary giant of his time; lover

As “Mazeppa” was staged in London and Paris, Menken was introduced to many eminent Europeans,
One of them Alexandre Dumas sr: author of "The three Musketeers" and "The count of Monte Christo"; both books written within the space of a mere two years. Dumas was a representative of a literary genre called the “Roman feuilleton”, or serial novel. He was a pre-eminent bestseller author, who amassed an enormous fortune, at one time employing 73 assistants, producing a wealth of 250 books. Despite formidable gains, he also spent his money faster then he could replenish. Dumas was part Creole, his grandfather, a nobleman and general in Napoleon’s army who had settled in Santo-Domingo married Marie-Cessette; an Afro-Caribbean. Menken and Dumas are featured on a well known photograph taken during their relationship. Though originally intended for private distribution, the picture later became a token of scorn and jest by the Parisian demi-monde.

Algernon Charles Swinburne, aristocrat, poet and poseur; lover

Swinburne was small (just over 5 feet), and though frail of health, an excellent swimmer and experienced rock climber; who posessed of an addictive and excitable disposition. He eschewed moderation, drank excessively, and reveled in public exaltation.
Swinburne had a mania for masochism and flagellation, and was introduced to the works of Marquis de Sade and the adventurer Richard Burton by his friends during his education at Eton. Oscar Wilde called him “A braggart in matters of vice”. Swinburne was keen to exploit further personal mythologization by engaging in a relationship with Menken.
His friend, the painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti; naively offered to introduce Swinburne to heterosexual love. Subsequently Swinburne was “returned” by Menken to Rosetti; because she couldn’t make him understand that biting “was no use”.

-To be continued-

posted by Walter at 7/22/2002