October 22, 2007
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Dear Mr. Kapur—we are formal where I come from,
As an art historian, artist, and writer I looked forward to and loved your new Elizabeth. I quickly realized that beyond the fascinating period details, a sea of colorful wigs, dramatic music, and powerful acting lays the shocking thought that we people never learn from our past.
Lust for power, wealth, all in the name of God.
Whose God and what’s new?
While the Spanish Armada is crushed a mere decade after the naval victory at Lepanto, a battle that took some thirty thousand Moslem and Christian lives, the Elizabethan world is bathed in peace and prosperity. In the new century, again the Catholics fight the Protestants, while the militant Turks gather at their doorsteps.
Is America, or the world in fact, heading in the same direction—is that what your movie is about? Or is Elizabeth: The Golden Age a prayer for peace and tolerance—in a world far from utopia? I can think of several Verdian operas with a new setting, to escape the contemporary references.
A tolerant queen of all Christian souls. I loved the movie full of symbolism, fascinating angle shots, deep thought. But I ask: why do authors, writers, and brilliant movie directors turn again and again to the same subjects? Is it because the world of entertainment can’t birth a new idea, or is it fear of an untried story?
Maddalena, my novel set in roughly the same period, focuses on Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the rich grandson of Pope Paul III. I took a decade to glue the story with 24 illustrations. Each man took several decades to take his sacred vows, a mere gesture to keep the wealth and retain power! The two great supporters of the newly-founded order of Jesuits never knew the meaning of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the humble motto of Christ’s soldiers. The real cardinal, like his grandfather, was a womanizer and the fictional love for a Jewish woman of Arab origin who converts to Christianity unfolds in the same turbulent era as in your movie. I do wonder so what you’d do to the setting.
Thanks for the new Elizabeth. A vision that moves.
Posted by Eva Siroka at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)
July 16, 2007
A Family Who Had It Flaunted It
"CARDINAL ALEXANDER FARNESE liked to boast that he owned the three most beautiful things in Rome --the family palace near the Tiber; the Chiesa del Gesu, the church that he built for the Jesuits; and his daughter, Clelia."
Thus opens David Laskin his colorful story in the weekend travel section of the New York Times about the grandson of Pope Paul III Farnese, one of the greatest nepotists in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. If I didn't know beter, I'd say Mr. Laskin sat on my 55Plus well-attended lecture on The Cardinal Who Wanted to Be Prince.
In the article, we learn many interesting tidbits about the womanizing prelate, even if there is no mention that Alessandro's daughter Clelia became a mistress of another powerful cardinal nor that his father, Pier Luigi Farnese, a "notorious homosexual predator of handsome clerics" ended his life with a dagger in his back.
Don't we love all this dirt? Now we have politics and Hollywood. Then it was the Farneses.
There is lots to write about the Gran Cardinale: the generous prelate was indeed one of the few Renaissance men of influence to treat Rome's Jews humanely. But did his blood cool in his middle age, when he became devout as well?
Let's get serious.
If the thickening, balding, middle-aged man stopped loving women in their flesh, he "endured" Titian's nude, lascivious Danae right in his private apartments until his death. Oh, and when the Gran Cardinale prayed from the most famous book of hours, painted by Giulio Clovio, the miniaturist made sure that Alessandro looked at the faces of his mistresses. I love the illustration for the Annunciation to the Shepherds for its antique patina: a tangle of lithe nude shepherds awaiting to hear about the birth of Christ. Wouldn't Pier Luigi have enjoyed that?
Devout? Ask again.
The life-time Vice-Chancellor of the Church, like his papal grandfather, took his sacred vows after three decades, and only to save his precious post and wealth. As for Alessandro's generosity, when his final hour came he indeed gave -- more than ever before. Apparently worried about his celestial trip, he had himself buried in a simple tomb. Surely that sufficed. The magnificent piece of new architecture for the first Jesuit church in the world was the grandest tomb of all. Today's humble visitor sees the proud Farnese name carved across the imposing facade, lest he be mistaken about who built it for his own glory.
My protagonist fell in love with a Jewish woman whom he baptized Maddalena. The same man ravished his own servant, Padre Carlo, and became intimate with his young ward. History reflects in fiction. And blood is thicker than water, a trite but true way to summarize the character.
Here's an excerpt from my book, at a point where I paint the man's final picture for the reader:
"God was a link to the world beyond, where Alessandro's life would continue unimpeded. He tried to be a good bishop but was too rich, too influential. His sermons were noble, but the nobility needed little comfort, and he thought not of the poor. Ready for a far more important mission, he considered what the world, not just Rome, thought of him.
"One thing mattered, the one unfulfilled dream. He had to become Rome's new shepherd. Having lost the woman he loved through divine intervention, he was sure the Lord would finally help. Still he missed Maddalena, his other dream, and when he wanted her most, he hated his thirst for fame, knowing that without her, life was unreal.
"The price was too high. More than Maddalena, Alessandro loved fame."
As I write this, the newest church scandals taint its history and the front pages of all papers and news reports. The funds paid out by the Los Angeles diocese makes the Boston settlement paltry.
Six-hundred and sixty million.
There is so much more in Maddalena.
Art, music, history, and beaty of a mushrooming Renaissance city, the navel of the world which overpowers that which titillates human mind: scandal. There is plenty of the latter. Meet Berti Spranger, the historical painter of cardinals, popes, and emperors, known until recently as the painter of erotica.
Posted by Eva Siroka at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)
January 03, 2007
Micawber Books: A Sad Story
Our old-family book store is leaving town soon and the lovely "architectural details incorporated into Micawber will be bulldozed." Thus points out the owner Logan Fox in today's Arts section of the New York Times.
Can you feel the knots in my stomach growing to the size of Mt. Everest? All independent book stores across the country are suffering with the publishing houses wanting only book celebrities to write "home-runs."
How many Princetonians really want Rachel Ray's Express Lane Meals? I am a foodie, as you read in one of my previous blogs, but thanks very much Rachel. I don't know anyone in Princeton who will rush to buy her cookbook, although there may be some. And when Julie Andrews decides to write a fairy tale, no lesser artist than Gennady Spirin becomes the illustrator. Will he do one for Katie Couric?
Do you sense sarcasm here? I'm just rephrasing today's New York Times article with a bit of my own color. And it's not that the problem rests only with the birth of mega-bookchains and internet venues. Indeed, life has changed and today's young generation is speeding forth forgetting old values.
Family life? Rearing children? Cooking for the family? Cleaning houses? Let's compute. Let's exercise. Let's have fun.
I did last night. I pulled out a Slovak translation of a book I loved as a teenager: James Oliver Curwood's Nomads of the North and read it in one stretch. I loved it just as decades ago and bought the English translation for my grandchildren--if I have any. You see, when my son was little, I tried to buy it, but that was before Amazon and I didn't succeed. I ended up reading it aloud while translating the book back into English. Would a young career woman do that now for her child?
Umm. Let's watch a reality show instead. I joined my own reality show when Maddalena was published and Logan Fox wished me good luck with a tight face. He had already explained that he couldn't do a book signing at Micawbers.
(Here I share another bibliophile's lament in the link.)
I know, I nodded to myself. People would rather order it on Amazon.
Should I say anything else? After all, I'm equally guilty. I ordered the Curwood book on Amazon. I had to. I've no time to walk into town. Too busy blogging so that people would buy Maddalena.
Sad. Isn't it?
P.S. The real truth is that I ordered my book on Amazon because to date I haven't found the right words of symphathy for Logan, the man who brought so much happiness with his old-fashioned bookstore.
Posted by Eva Siroka at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)