Archive | April 2013

Reflections on Reincarnation

I’ve made up my mind. If reincarnation exists and I have to come back as a woman, I’m coming back as a woman with absolute power — like Catherine the Great of Russia, or Empress Wu of China. These gals knew how to get what they wanted and were willing to go to great lengths to acquire it. What’s more important — they also knew how to have a really good time.

A Youthful Catherine the Great

A Youthful Catherine the Great

Catherine, born in l729, was married to Peter III, the future Tzar. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Nonetheless, Catherine was expected to produce an heir, and this she did, although no one knows for sure who the father of her son Paul actually was. Ahem!

After Empress Elizabeth’s demise in l761, Peter III, her designated heir, did become Tzar. Not one to waste time, within six months, Catherine, along with her lover at the time, Gregory Orlov, overthrew Peter in a coup. Peter did resign, but whoops, within a few days he was strangled. Now how did that happen? No matter. It was convenient — Peter was safely out of the picture and could never be a problem for Catherine again. (That’s what you get for not being nice to your wife.) For good measure, his mistress was done away with as well.

Tzar Peter III, quickly eliminated

Tzar Peter III, quickly eliminated

Later, some nut declared he was Peter III and managed to gather an army of rag-tag believers. (There are people who will believe anything.) He caused some disturbances, but was duly caught and publicly executed and that was that.

But never-mind the history lesson. What I really dig about Catherine is that she was able to have as many lovers as she pleased — and she pleased. As the most powerful woman in Russia, she could have any man in her realm. Whatever guy chosen to be her “favorite” obliged. Who would/could say no? Besides, she was generous. Her “favorites” and their families were all well rewarded for their services to their sovereign.

Once, as I was reading a biography of Catherine, I learned that, already in her sixties, she chose a handsome, well-built young man of 27 to be her lover. My daughter Susan came by. I expressed my surprise that Catherine, at such an age, would be interested in a relationship with a 27-year old — I couldn’t see it for myself.

“What would she have to talk to a kid like that about?” I asked.

“Mom, she didn’t need him to talk to. She corresponded with some of the greatest minds in Europe. Talk was not what she wanted him for.”

At times, Susan can be a real pragmatist…..

Would I want to be like Empress Wu???

Would I want to be like Empress Wu???

Well, if I can’t come back as Catherine, perhaps I could come back as someone like Empress Wu, who was born about 625, although I admit I have some problems with how many people she “eliminated” in order to get ahead and protect her territory.

Emperor Li Zhi who made Wu his Empress

Emperor Li Zhi who made Wu his Empress

This gal, who became one of the Emperor’s concubines when she was all of 13, probably ‘knew’ his son in a biblical way, for after the Emperor’s death, although she was expected to spend the rest of her life as a nun in a convent (as concubines of Emperors were supposed to), she ended up as one of the concubines of his son, Li Zhi, who became Emperor when his dad died. Now, how do you think she managed that? Especially since at that time and place Li Zhi was something like her step-son and her relationship with him was considered incestuous by Confucian principles.  Tsk, tsk.

The Empress Wang was childless. Wu gave birth to a daughter, and it is said she strangled her baby to get rid of the Empress by blaming her with the murder of what was, after all, the Emperor’s own child. It worked! The Empress was brutally murdered and Concubine became Empress. (Keep that in mind should you find yourself in similar circumstances).

Anyone considered a threat to her position of power was done for, and so were their sons. Wu wasn’t squeamish, she slaughtered real and/or imagined adversaries with abandon. Family members who made this Empress uneasy were not any safer. Nephews, uncles, close and distant relatives were ‘eliminated’; even her own oldest son was murdered in a power struggle with his mom. They were poisoned, strangled, ordered boiled in oil, or accused of treason and put to death in most horrendous ways.

Some believe she ultimately poisoned her husband, the Emperor. Doesn’t seem far-fetched to me. Such was the nature of Empress Wu. After his death, she ruled China. Then, in spite of it all, the lady died of natural causes in her own bed.

Would I really want to be like her? Well, now that I think of it, perhaps not. But, what I do get a kick out of is that Empress Wu, like Catherine, knew how to have a good time. Apparently, at the palace, she unabashedly maintained a ‘stable’ of amusing, naughty, and entertaining guys for her ‘pleasure’. Now, that wouldn’t have been so bad when I was younger and had more energy, and if, in that future life, I had a few less scruples than I’ve had in this one.

The young beauty, Alma Mahler

The young beauty, Alma Mahler

Oh, but both these powerful women were able to kill and/or order the death of others. I’m not sure I have that in me, and would I actually want to be like that in a future life? Well, I could, perhaps, settle for another option.

Husband #1, Gustav Mahler, famous in his own right

Husband #1, Gustav Mahler, famous in his own right

A man once told me that sex appeal in a woman doesn’t come in any look or shape or size, that ‘it’ is something that just oozes out of her pores. Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler’s wife, obviously had ‘it’ and she was a beauty as well. By the time she married Mahler, 19 years her senior, he was the Director of the Vienna Opera and extremely successful. She was young and pregnant, and had already had several ‘flirtations’ with prominent, talented admirers. Her dad was a well-known painter, and the men surrounding her were well-to-do and gifted. Gustav Klimt was amongst her ‘friends’ prior to her marriage.

Walter Gropius, lover during Alma's first marriage and husband #2

Walter Gropius, lover during Alma’s first marriage and husband #2

Not one to take marriage vows too seriously, Alma met and had an affair with the young architect, Walter Gropius, who later became the founder of the famous Bauhaus School of Design. She did remain with Mahler, however, until his death in 1911.

Artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma had a mad love affair between hubby #1 and #2

Artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma had a mad love affair between hubby #1 and #2

From 1912-1914, Alma had a wild, passionate love affair with the painter Oskar Kokoschka, who depicted her in his well-known painting “Bride of the Wind”. Alma found this tumultuous relationship trying, so off she went to Germany to find Walter Gropius, who married her in 1915. They had a child or two, but the military was keeping Gropius away and Alma required attention.

She began an affair with the well-known author, Franz Werfel. Everyone in Vienna knew the child she was carrying was not fathered by Gropius, and when Gropius found out, he wasn’t as understanding as Mahler had been when Gropius had had an affair with Alma during her marriage to Mahler. Well, just what did he expect? Gropius and Alma divorced in 1920.

Author Franz Werfel, lover during marriage #2, and husband #3

Author Franz Werfel, lover during marriage #2, and husband #3

Not hindered by any of this, Alma continued to live with Werfel, marrying him in 1929. Werfel, who was Jewish, and Alma were helped to flee to America in 1940. Werfel was a great success in the U.S. as well. His book “The Song of Bernadette” was made into a Hollywood film in 1943.

Later in life, Oskar Kokoschka, who apparently never stopped loving Alma, wanted to visit her during a trip he was planning to the U.S. Alma refused, writing him she preferred him to remember her the way she had been when they were lovers. Still, age wasn’t a deterrent for this lady. Still married to Werfel, Alma was having yet another affair in the U.S., this time with a man of the Church. Her adult daughter, who resented her mom, (We can’t be everything, Alma wasn’t a great mother.) complained to Werfel, saying it was a disgrace. Werfel is said to have replied “Oh, leave her alone. She’s having her last fling.” Guess it didn’t bother him….

I read that Alma never wore panties. Was that part of her magic? Is that why she was so popular with men? And, is it what I did wrong? If I had only thought of that perhaps I’d have been more popular. Shucks! I could have had much more fun! My whole life could have been different!

I was taught to be a good girl by my mother and I listened to her. Perhaps in my next life, I should do it all differently……

My mother-in-law’s wartime experience with potatoes

When I was young I read many a diet book and tried many a diet. For years I avoided potatoes, pasta and breads, believing a real weight-loss diet had to be high-protein, low-carbohydrate. Anyway, that’s what they used to tell us.

Nature's gift -- potatoes

Nature’s gift — potatoes

My late mother-in-law, Annette, knew better. On one of her visits from Paris, as our family sat down to dinner, she asked why I was not having any potatoes, which I had served to everyone else. I explained I was trying (as usual) to lose weight. Annette suggested that by excluding potatoes, I was making a mistake.

She told me about her experience with potatoes during WWII. As a French citizen who happened to be Jewish, she had been arrested by a French policeman for not wearing her yellow star while she chatted with a neighbor outside her apartment building. (She lived in the Maurais district in Paris, which I have since learned was a Jewish neighborhood at the time.)

Subsequently, Annette was interned in a German concentration camp where she, as well as all the other inmates were starving. When the Americans liberated the camp, she said they were shocked at and didn’t know how to deal with the horror they encountered. They also, apparently, didn’t have enough food with them to provide for the emaciated prisoners they had to deal with. (Nor did they have enough doctors or medicines to immediately care fo the sick and dying.) The Americans could not bring themselves to allow the miserable survivors to remain in the camp where the conditions were far from suitable for human habitation. So it was that Annette was one of nine weak, hungry women who were billeted in a small nearby cabin, which belonged to local Germans who fled as the Americans advanced.

Naturally, the first thing these women did was search for food. In the cellar, they discovered potatoes and onions. A cabinet held some oil. There was nothing else to be found. Still, they were delirious with joy. Annette’s eyes lit up years later when she remembered how excited they had been.

“We boiled them, we fried them, we baked them, and oh, I shall never forget how wonderful those potatoes tasted!”

The womens’ legs had been swollen, their stomachs were distended. All nine were suffering from severe malnutrion.

“Within a few days,” Annette continued, “Just from the vitamins in those potatoes, the swelling in my legs started to subside. We all began to feel better, even though we had nothing else to eat. The potatoes and onions did wonders for us all. Potatoes are very healthy. You should never eliminate them from your diet, they are very good for you.

Even now, I think of Annette whenever I bite into a potato….and I no longer do so with any guilt.

The late beloved Canadian singer Stompin’ Tom Connors also knew a thing or two about potatoes. He praised them in his song “Bud the Spud”.

“It’s Bud the Spud from the bright red mud

Rollin’ down the Highway smiling

The Spuds are big on the back of Bud’s rig

And they’re from Prince Edward Island

They’re from Prince Edward Island.”