Saturday, December 1, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plums

Der Letzte Traum des Unsinnigen Königs—The Last Dream of the Mad King (inspired by the life and legend of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria) – Black wood-framed shadowbox; antique German mercury glass peacock Christmas tree ornament; antique square silver frame; genuine white swan plume feathers; vintage metal and crystal hanging embellishments; silver cording; colour prints of King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein Castle photographs by Angelika Schnell-Dürrast; negative print of Ludwig’s handwriting and signature

One-hundred and twenty years ago, American writer and literary critic, William Dean Howells wrote a short story titled, “Christmas Every Day.”
Ahhh, a child’s fondest wish!
But as the old adage warns, be careful what you wish for…
In Howells’ story, one little girl makes such a foolish wish, asking a fairy if it could be Christmas every day of the year. And, lo and behold, her wish comes true. Every day without cease—the Christmas tree, the Christmas carols, the candy, the presents, and the turkey dinner. It’s Christmas on Valentine’s Day, it’s Christmas on Easter, it’s Christmas on the Fourth of July!
And, as Howells penned:
“After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys—even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries—well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn't get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse….It was perfectly shameful!”
Of course, at the end all is set right again, with Christmas coming only once a year.
Excellent example, I suppose, of another old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
But the idea of getting everything one wants, every day still entices.
Still corrupts.
But that was only a story, I hear you saying. That’s fiction.
True, so now I will present a parallel tale—a real-life lesson…
Once upon a time, a baby boy was born into the royal family of Bavaria. His name was Ludwig. He was handsome, he was precocious, he was destined to one day be sovereign of his own fairy tale kingdom. But as in almost all fairy tales, Ludwig had been born under a curse.
He had inherited the taint of his lineage.
Insanity pulsed rampantly through the blue-blooded veins of the Bavarian royal House of Wittelsbach. Ludwig’s aunt wore only white, walked sideways down corridors, and was under the delusion that she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass (fight that one, Freud!); his younger brother, Otto, was so unbalanced that he was literally barking mad (his vocal impersonations of various members of the canine species at the most inconvenient moments got his leash yanked from public appearances); and his favorite cousin, the exceptional beauty, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, was a health fanatic, a peripatetic wanderer, and acute recluse, whose only son and heir to the Austrian throne committed suicide after murdering his mistress. Elisabeth herself would later die an appropriately eccentric death at the tip of an assassin’s stiletto (Ludwig almost married Elisabeth’s sister, Sophie, but the wedding bells never rang, probably because Ludwig’s companions in the boudoir were of the decidedly more masculine persuasion; a groom, an aide de camp, a chief equerry, and a Hungarian theatre actor were all known to have shared his bed). Even Ludwig’s grandfather, the notoriously shabby King Ludwig I, had been deposed of his autonomy due to his less-than-kingly habits of scribbling atrocious verses, daydreaming of the glory days of Ancient Greece, and carrying on affairs of the heart with the likes of the high-class courtesan Lola Montez when he should have been attending to affairs of state.
As Fate would have it, Ludwig’s father shuffled off this mortal coil far too early, leaving his inexperienced and distrait eighteen-year-old son to be crowned, Ludwig II, King of Bavaria.
And from the moment his imperial bottom touched the throne, not only did young Ludwig follow in his peculiar relatives footsteps, he outran them all, straight into a straightjacket.
Akin to his ousted grandpapa, Ludwig had no interest in the day-to-day tedium of running an empire; he was far more interested in making all of his private fantasies come true, losing himself in his own obsessions—chief among them, the operas of Richard Wagner. Ludwig saw himself as the new Lohengrin, the magnificent swan king of Germanic lore.
And such a magnificent swan king as he needed magnificent surroundings in which to nest.
And so, the castles rose—Linderhof, Ludwig’s secluded paradise, a place where he could be alone (well, as alone as a king could get); Herrenchiemsee, his island re-creation of Versailles on the largest lake in Germany (where Ludwig lived for only ten days during his entire reign); and the most famous, Neuschwanstein—the never-completed, turreted mountain palace that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland (it’s a tourist trap now, too, visited by over fifty-million camera-snapping visitors a year).
Splendid, glorious, superb, grand, impressive; garish, gaudy, vulgar, kitschy, ersatz—such adjectives fail to describe these architectural flights of fancy.
Sprawling gardens, gilded statues spewing water into marble basins, ornate throne rooms, sure every European castle worth its weight in gold had those—and so did Ludwig’s.
But, ahhh, let me tell you where they differed.
Ludwig’s castles came with Moorish kiosks; Indian temples; and halls of mirrors to rival his venerated Versailles. There were spun glass, Meissen porcelain, and ivory chandeliers; carpets woven of ostrich plumes, and heated bathtubs. There was a private grotto painted with backdrops from Tannhäuser, and equipped with multicolored lights, which changed the mood and atmosphere, where Ludwig was rowed about in his own gilt seashell swan boat while Wagner’s music resounded; and a massive indoor winter greenhouse on the roof of one castle, brimming with tropical flora and fauna, kept swelteringly hot no matter the time of year, illuminated by imitation rainbows and faux moonlight, and appointed with blue silk tents blooming with roses. (This iron and glass-paned structure leaked, causing the servants below to sleep beneath opened umbrellas; it was later demolished for safety reasons. A lack of safety was also the reason why one of Ludwig’s most fabulous imaginings never saw fruition—an elaborate gondola car that was to be suspended from a monstrous balloon, which would float him via a cable across the lake to Herrenchiemsee. The designer worried that the inflatable might get loose during a storm, thus carrying its royal passenger off to certain doom, leaving one Ludwig biographer to write: “The picture of Ludwig making his final farewell in this way is curiously appropriate.”)
Reality came to mean nothing to this “dream” king. Just as his gardens grew in spite of the season, so time itself was ignored. Ludwig now lived only by night, seeing himself as the “Moon King”, a romantic, though ever-increasingly agoraphobic, shadow of the earlier French “Sun King”, Louis XIV. Thus he grew to be a nocturnal creature, shunning the sun, wandering in solitude the resplendent marbled halls of his residences, losing himself in an incense-scented never-never-land of gold-leaf, crushed velvet, swan down, and peacock feathers, demanding sumptuous banquets to be prepared at two in the morning. But no matter how large, how extravagant the dining chambers, no matter how many chairs and settings had been laid, the table seated only one. Here Ludwig held sway engaged in conversations with the long-dead kings and queens of France, stuffing his face with lavish confections until his weight swelled and his teeth rotted. His only form of exercise, other than being rowed around his grotto, was being driven in the middle of the night at blinding speeds through the snows of the Bavarian Alps in his colossal gold-plated sleigh, attended by footmen in bright blue eighteenth-century livery.
The government was in disarray; the country’s coffers all but empty from funding its monarch’s latest whim.
Something needed to be done.
And something was.
Ludwig was declared insane and removed from the throne.
He was imprisoned and placed under a suicide watch.
And he died as mysteriously as he had lived—on the rainy night of June 13, 1886, Ludwig went out walking by Lake Starnberg with his appointed psychiatrist; they never returned. Both Ludwig and the doctor were later found face down in the brackish waters. No official explanation was provided. Although an autopsy stated that Ludwig met death by drowning, rumors persisted that he was actually shot, a story corroborated by the king’s boatman, and by a royal relative who would show her afternoon tea guests the gray overcoat Ludwig was supposedly wearing at the time, which had two bullet holes in the back.
The Swan King, the Dream King, the Mad King was dead at age 40.
His reign of perpetual Christmas had come to an end.
So, in the end, as wonderful as Christmas is, there is a reason why it only comes once a year…
Merry Christmas, everyone!



 "I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself
and to others."
                                                                 - Ludwig II

Monday, November 5, 2012


Screws from the Lady Madeline Usher’s Coffin (inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, The Fall of the House of Usher) – Antique nineteenth-century poison bottle; antique bronze doorknob; genuine nineteenth-century coffin screws; dried branches; pale pink “coffin-lining” satin ribbon; antiqued silver medallion

The table’s set.

Everyone’s got their own seat at it. Your mother sits there, dad here, grandma and grandpa down that end. Brothers and sisters scattered in-between, and the little kids have got one all their own.

And you?

You’ll take your place where you always have, the far left corner, where the dining room table leg will be jammed between your knees for the next couple of hours.

Comfortable, no?

But there’s not much to be done about it.

It’s tradition.

It’s family.

Everybody’s family tree grows a bit off-kilter. There are a couple of lemons, some nuts, and a few bad apples to be found.

What are you going to do?

Well, you could offer up a prayer of thanks that you’re not related to the Ushers.

Before you ask, I’ll elaborate.

The Ushers were once a fine, upstanding family, one passionately devoted to the arts, one lauded for their dedication to charitable causes. But as the years went by, the Usher bloodline became tainted, poisoned. The roots of their family tree had rot, the branches withered, becoming gnarled and twisted.

And, in time, the Usher coat-of-arms was no longer a shining shield, but one made from strong canvas that tied at the back—a straightjacket.

The last two pieces of bitter fruit surviving from a past proud lineage were a brother and sister—twins—Roderick and Madeline. He suffered from an acute sensitivity of the senses, eating only the most flavorless of foods, wearing only the lightest of fabrics, veiling his eyes from the brightest of glares, guarding his ears from nothing but the softest of sounds.

And she?

She suffered from a mysterious, wasting ailment and frequent bouts of catalepsy.

The Usher manse was just as pitiful, just as musty, mildewed, and moldy as its occupants. Its former glory turned to wrack and ruin, its lush grounds now nothing but a far-stretching, foul-smelling tarn, a veritable swamp of fetid decay.

Evenings there must have been so jolly, what with Madeline slipping in and out of consciousness upstairs while Roderick entertained, strumming his lute, singing such cheery ditties as “The Haunted Palace” or reading from his trove of books on humorous subjects—palmistry, satyrs, a treatise on the Spanish Inquisition.

In short time, Madeline shuffled off this mortal coil (lucky her), Roderick himself tightening the coffin screws. She was then relegated to the catacombs below, while Roddy took to wandering the corridors above, a mad hilarity seen in his eyes.

Things came to a head a week later. A monstrous storm assailed, the wind, the thunder shivering the walls of the already crumbling abode, the lightning illuminating the hideous lagoon from which a putrescent fog oozed. The rooms rang with strange noises, scrapings, scratchings, that culminated in one frightful shriek.

The storm blew open the door and upon the threshold stood…

…Madeline Usher, in a blood-stained shroud.

She had been interred while still alive, during one of her cataleptic fugues.

With a cry, she fell upon her brother, both of them hitting the floor as corpses—real ones, this time.

Outside a sanguine moon watched as the mansion split in two and collapsed, and the House of Usher sank forever into the dark waters of the tarn.

And you thought your family had problems.

Anyhow, tonight’s narrative has been brought to you by this month’s sponsor, the fervid imagination of American writer, Edgar Allan Poe. Entitled The Fall of the House of Usher, it was first published in the September 1839 issue of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. Ripe with atmosphere, with pervasive themes of melancholia, insanity, possible incest, and a great big dollop of taphophobia (the fear of being buried alive), it has come to be considered the epitome of the horror master’s genius, his ultimate tale of terror. It has been dissected and psychoanalyzed as a story of self-fulfilling prophecy (Roderick believes he is sick, so he is; he believes he will bury his sister alive, so he does), of opium abuse (Roderick’s hyper-sensitivity and hypochondria are both withdrawal symptoms of opiate-addiction), of an examination of the human psyche (with the house as the Unconscious, its central crack representing the duality of Roderick and Madeline), and of simple murder (Roderick bumps off Madeline and is tortured by his own remorse). It has also been suggested that Roderick, Madeline, and the House of Usher itself, share a common soul, so when one dies, they all must.

The sinister air of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher has gone on to infect the creativity of other artists. Claude Debussy never finished his 1917 opera based on it; seventy years later Philip Glass composed his own, as did progressive rock singer/songwriter, Peter Hammill in 1991. It’s been the inspiration for a 1976 pop instrumental from the Tales of Mystery and Imagination album by The Alan Parsons Project, while in 1984 Russian musician Nikita Koshkin composed a solo classical guitar piece entitled, “The Usher Waltz.” Filmmakers obsess over the story, with no fewer than a baker’s dozen of global movie and television adaptations known—from Jean Epstein’s 1928 silent art deco tour de force to Roger Corman’s 1960 visually influential version with Vincent Price to Jan Švankmejer’s 1980 stop-motion animation retelling, using everyday household objects in place of actors. Spanish schlockmeister Jesús Franco filmed it in 1983, British enfant terrible Ken Russell in 2002. In 2012, Canadian Joseph Naylor helmed the most recent remake, Usher’s Legacy, transplanting the story to contemporary Vancouver and making the Usher siblings two brothers who are just a little too close for comfort.

So, when you’re seated at the table this year awaiting the turkey and trimmings, take a good look around. Crazy may be a relative term—a true “relative” term, but think about this—maybe you’re the nut on the family tree…

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Return of...

Arcanifacts have slithered their way back into the River Edge Library!

The exhibition lasts until Wednesday, November 28th - don't miss it!

River Edge Library
685 Elm Avenue,
River Edge, NJ 07661
(201) 261-1663
Hours: Mon, Tue, Thu, 10am - 9pm; Wed, Fri, Sat, 10am-5pm.

Read about the exhibition below:


Town News

Just in time for Halloween, an exhibit of borough resident Scot Ryersson's unique works is returning to the River Edge Library.
The 20 new pieces will be on display in the library's three cases from early October through the last week in November.
The exhibit, subtitled "Something Nasty in the Nursery," includes works inspired by many beloved children's tales, such as Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking Glass," J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," as well as numerous Mother Goose nursery rhymes.
The pieces are part of "Arcanifacts," a project Ryersson began about five years ago. Each piece in the collection is an assemblage of found objects and pictures inspired by short stories, novels and folklore.
As a student, Ryersson trained at Chelsea School of Art and Design in London before beginning a career in motion picture advertising.
While living in Sydney, New York, Toronto and London, he designed multi-award-winning graphics for numerous major Hollywood and international films, including "The Silence of the Lambs," "Ghost," "The Hunt for Red October" and "Witness."
His work on "Evil under the Sun" and "Another Country" each garnered him an Art Directors of London Award.
In 1999, Ryersson co-authored a biography of Marchesa Casati, an eccentric Italian celebrity in the early 20th century, with Michael Orlando Yaccarino. The book, "Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati," has been adapted into a play and the fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano have each based collections on Casati.
An illustrated version of the biography was recently released by the art book publisher Abrams.
In 2010, Ryersson's book jacket design for "A Dangerous Man," a novel written by Anne Brooke, was nominated for both an Imperial Artisan and a Rainbow Award. He was commissioned specifically by director/producer John Borowski to create props for his documentary, "Carl Panzram," which is released this month.
Last July, Ryersson was interviewed for a segment on the local television program "Neighborhood Journal." In the spring he was invited to speak as a guest lecturer at River Dell High School. He said he showed the students a slide show and brought in several examples of his work.
"Some of them really got into it, especially the ones interested in film," he said.
His most valuable advice for a young artist beginning a career: "You have to create your own vision."
Ryersson created Arcanifacts, a term comprising the Latin words arcanus (secret) and factum (thing made) to describe an artifact containing both mystery and truth, to explore his "artistic obsessions with the arcane and phantasmagorical."
Asked which mixed media piece in the collection is his favorite, Ryersson said the question is akin to asking a parent to name their favorite child, but named one of his most recent pieces, a work inspired by the Ray Bradbury novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes," as a possible contender.
"Right now I'm still pretty proud of it," he said.
The centerpiece of the work is a death watch beetle – an actual "long deceased" beetle Ryersson purchased on EBay from a seller in France and installed clockwork under the insect's giant wings.
To learn more about Ryersson and his work, visit


Monday, October 1, 2012

Moths and Legends

Where Moth and Rust Doth Corrupt… (inspired by the legend of the Mothman) – Vintage wooden explosives crate; genuine 1967 West Virginia license plate; rusted construction screws, bolts, and nuts; rusted metal pieces and spring; shard of shattered safety glass; rusted screws; genuine desiccated moth; genuine gray and black bird feather; pair of red LED lights; hand-stained newspaper clippings


Damn bugs…

Oh, hello, kiddies, didn’t see you there.

No need to hide in the shadows—you never know what’s lurking around in there with you!

So, come closer round the fire. It’s that time of year again, and I know you’re all just dying to hear what I’ve chosen to regale you with tonight.

Last Halloween I introduced you to the Jersey Devil, Mother Leed’s thirteenth child—and what a bouncing bundle of joy he turned out to be, hmmm?

After thumbing through my encyclopedia of cryptozoology and its denizens there in—you know, such frightening “figments of the imagination” as the Loch Ness Monster, the yeti, and the Chupacabra. Not all of them are make-believe, kiddies—example, the okapi, the bondegezou, the koolakamba (no, I’m not making them up – go check your dictionary); they were once thought to be imaginary, too, but the skeptics were proved wrong. Then there’s those things thought long dead, completely vanished, that one day turn up very much alive—take the coelacanth, a fish from the time of the dinosaurs, deceased, so it was said, for sixty-five million years. Then one was caught off the coast of South Africa—guess nobody told him he was extinct. Next there’s those truly terrifying creatures one wishes was imaginary, but aren’t, like the IRS man…go ask your parents…

Seems I’ve strayed off subject…


Where’s that can of Raid?

Anyway, tonight I want you to make the acquaintance of—

—the Mothman!

He’s seven-feet tall with huge wings and great big, glowing red eyes—at least, that’s what those who saw him said.

The Mothman hails from the backwoods of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. He was first spotted in the fall of 1966 by two young couples out pitching a little woo by an old ammunitions plant—sounds like a dynamite evening, huh? Probably out way past ma and pa’s curfew, the youngins were racing home only to find that something real strange was keeping up with their car, a car that was speeding at almost one-hundred miles per hour! The scaredy cats darted straight off to the police, describing their pursuer as a “flying man with ten foot wings” whose eyes “glowed red” when the car’s headlights hit them.

The sheriff most likely had a good chuckle that night, shaking his head, wishing he was getting some backseat action, and putting it all down to too much moonshine, when the whole town went nuts. Over the next few days, the “Mothman” as he came to be known, was spotted everywhere. Two volunteer firemen saw it, claiming it was a “large bird with red eyes”. A Point Pleasant contractor alleged that when he aimed a flashlight at the thing its eyes shone “like bicycle reflectors”, and he went on to accuse it for the weird buzzing noises coming from his TV set as well as for the disappearance of the family dog. A woman saw it lurking on her front porch, peering in at the windows. Five gravediggers in an area cemetery said that something that looked like a “brown human being” lifted off from the trees and flew over their heads, adding that they were dang sure that it was no bird, but more like some guy with wings. Another woman maintained that she saw it rise up right in front of her car, calling it, “A big gray thing. Bigger than a man with terrible glowing eyes.”

Over one-hundred people claimed sightings of the Mothman from November 1966 to November 1967. Gossip was rife—UFOs were blamed, so was an eighteenth-century Indian curse. Some said that it was nothing but a big bird—possibly a sandhill crane lost on its migration route to or from Canada; they stood tall and had massive wingspans. Those with more active imaginations came up with the theory that it was not just a big bird, but that it was a big mutant bird, transformed into a monster by the fount of unknown chemicals leaching out of that old TNT plant, professed to be the creature’s lair. It racked up quite a rap sheet of disturbing the peace violations—screeching at hunters, and hovering and humming over the heads of fishermen, and it had a fondness for jumping on the car roofs of teenagers parked in the local lovers’ lane. Investigations were made, all clues scrutinized, but nothing was found, no concrete evidence ever turned up one way or the other to tell anybody just what in tarnation was going on.

A sense of unease gripped, good folk whispering that maybe, just maybe, the thing was a harbinger of doom.

And maybe, just maybe, they were right.

On December 15, 1967, during the height of the holiday evening rush hour, the suspension bridge linking Point Pleasant, West Virginia, with Gallipolis, Ohio, over the Ohio River, collapsed, taking forty-six people to a watery grave.


Cryptid, alien, sandhill crane, or harbinger of doom notwithstanding, you just can’t keep a good Mothman down. Like Nessie and Bigfoot, he’s become part of everyday lore. He’s the topic of a plethora of books—both fiction and non—the most famous being, 1975’s The Mothman Prophecies, by John Keel, which was the basis for the 2002 film of the same name, starring Richard Gere and Alan Bates. He’s also flitted across the screen in the 2010 movie, Mothman, and in episodes of the television series, The X-Files and Lost Tapes, and he’s the focus of two documentaries, Eyes of the Mothman and Mothman Country. “Mothman” is even the alias for a gravity-defying superhero in Alan Moore’s celebrated graphic novel, Watchmen.

Then there’s Point Pleasant’s Mothman Museum and Research Center, and the annual Mothman Festival, held every third weekend in September in Point Pleasant, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. There you can satisfy your Mothman cravings with Christmas ornaments, t-shirts, bumper stickers, Frisbees, and cuddly Mothmen of every size, shape, and material. You can chow down on Mothman burgers, Mothman pizza, and Mothman pancakes; drink coffee out of your Mothman mug, swig beer from your Mothman stein. The town’s actually dedicated a statue to their main money-maker, a twelve-foot, gleaming stainless steel tribute, at the corner of 4th and Main. It has football-sized clear, red eyes, which were supposed to light up at night, but funds ran a bit short.

Too bad.

Where else in America could you see such a monument to a monster?

He sure beats the World’s Biggest Washboard and the Pencil Sharpener Museum located not too far away.


There you have it, kiddies…


Well, don’t worry—just keep your wool sweaters in a closed drawer and put a box of mothballs under your bed tonight.

(Point) Pleasant dreams…

Happy Halloween!


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Later Never Comes

Die Verehrung vom Unerrichbarren—The Adoration of the Unattainable (inspired by Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, Der Tod in Venedig) – Vintage wooden frame with antiqued silver leaf embellishment; beach sand; colour print of Venetian Gothic arches; colour print of antique gilt Catholic monstrance; colour print of Venetian canal panorama; hand-tinted print of an antique carte de visite of a youth in a sailor suit

The advent of autumn is here—the closing of the seasons. Now starts that annual roller coaster ride, the beginning of school, the celebration of Halloween, of Thanksgiving, and the holidays, and then—slam—we’re into a whole new year.

Where does time go?

Good question, but we humans are masters at frittering away time; we’re just killing time, isn’t that the phrase—as if we have unlimited time to waste.

Time is a tricky thing.

Remember when you were a kid and time just seemed to crawl? The school day dragged, it was a haul to your next birthday, an eternity to summer vacation, forever until Christmas. The older you get, though, the faster time goes, moves forward—everything would be better, everything could be achieved if you only had the time.

We convince ourselves that life will be better after we’ve cleared a few hurdles, when we graduate, when we get married or after we have a baby, have a better income, or after we retire. So we pair off or marry and discover relationships are far more complex than we expected. We tell ourselves we’ll be happy when we“find” ourselves or when our spouse gets their act together, only to discover that we, he or she never quite does. Kids come and along with them the challenges of parenting. The perfect career eludes us. Retirement finally arrives only to find us in bad health, financial strain, or bored into depression.

What’s that old question?

If not now, when?

So stop waiting until you finish school, you go back to school, you sign up for the gym, you lose ten pounds, you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, you start a career, you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until the first or the fifteenth, until you get a new car or home, until your new car or home is paid off, or until you get a better car, a better job, until your ship comes in, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until death, to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy.

And here comes the Hallmark card cliché—Happiness is a journey, not a destination; a collection of choices, not a set of circumstances.

The ancient Greeks measured time in two ways—chronos and kairos.

The difference?

To quote author Sarah Ban Breathnach: “Chronos is clocks, deadlines, watches, calendars, agendas, planners, schedules, beepers. Chronos is time at her worst. Chronos keeps track. ...Chronos is the world’s time. Kairos is transcendence, infinity, reverence, joy, passion, love, the Sacred. Kairos is time at her best. ...Kairos is Spirit’s time. We exist in chronos. We long for kairos. That’s our duality. Chronos requires speed so that it won’t be wasted. Kairos requires space so that it might be savored. We do in chronos. In kairos we’re allowed to be ... All that kairos asks is our willingness to stop running long enough to hear the music of the spheres.”

It’s like losing yourself in a good book or piece of music or favorite film, or the time spent dreaming while gazing into a fire, or throwing a Frisbee around the backyard with friends on a firefly-filled summer’s night.

It’s taking time to smell those roses.

A moment to remember.

A moment in which your life changed.

Such a moment happened to Thomas Mann, renowned author of The Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, while he, his wife, and his brother toured Venice in the summer of 1911. The trio checked into adjoining rooms at the elegant Grand Hôtel des Bains on the beaches of the Lido. On their very first evening there, in between grumbling about his stomach-, head- and toothaches and waiting for the dinner gong to ring, Mann spied an aristocratic Polish family—a mother, her three daughters, and her young son. It was the young son, a sailor-suited, angelic ephebe with blond curls and blue eyes, who captivated, who enthralled, who cast a spell over the grim German writer.

That chance encounter inspired what is considered one of Mann’s masterpieces, one of the greatest literary masterpieces in the world, the novella, Death in Venice.

The deceptively straightforward plotline concerns Gustav von Aschenbach, a renowned, aging author, who, suffering from a severe case of writer’s block, decides to tour Venice, taking a suite at the elegant Grand Hôtel des Bains on the beaches of the Lido. On his very first evening there, Aschenbach spies an aristocratic Polish family—a mother, her three daughters, and her young son. It is the young son, a sailor-suited, angelic ephebe with blond curls and blue eyes, who captivates, who enthralls, who casts a spell over the grim German writer.

But unlike Mann in real life, the spell cast has fatal consequences for his fictional counterpart.

Fascinated, Aschenbach trails the boy, he watches him relentlessly, hoping for even the slightest crumb of attention. That crumb comes one evening, when the boy tosses a charming, insouciant smile in the writer’s direction. Struck to his very core, Aschenbach flees to an empty garden to profess in a whisper to the open air, “I love you.”

Fascination becomes obsession, but never a word of desire does Aschenbach declare to the boy. Moment after moment is lost, and in his romantic delirium, Aschenbach fails to notice the manifestations of death lurking everywhere—from the pathetic farcical old queen he stumbles upon who with black wig, false teeth, pasty make-up, and dandyish attire tries to recapture his faded glory days and display his virility to a group of jeering youths to the cadaverous gondolier who repeatedly intones, both carnally and ominously, “I can row you well” while ferrying Aschenbach Charon-like, within the confines of a long black coffin of a boat, through the Venetian canals. Aschenbach’s mal d’amour also strikes him blind to the seriousness of a cholera epidemic afflicting the city.

Rapt in his self-delusions, ignoring the fact that he is feeling more and more unwell, Aschenbach calls on the hotel’s barbershop, there to have his hair dyed black and his face painted, his cheeks rouged, until he resembles nothing less ridiculous than the pitiable letch he’d seen trying to catch the eye of any attractive young man days earlier.

Aschenbach’s dream is finally shattered when he learns that the Polish family is due to depart. Despondent, he makes his way to his favorite beach chair, his make-up, his hair dye running in the heat of the sun. The boy is there, standing alone in the sea, gazing out to the horizon. Then the boy turns toward his admirer. For Aschenbach, this is the invitation he’s been seeking, and believing that the boy is beckoning him, he attempts to rise, to follow, only to collapse back into his chair.

Gustav von Aschenbach is dead.

Thomas Mann wrote in his diaries:

“As it is, in three days I won’t see the boy anymore, will forget his face. But not the experience of my heart. He will join that gallery about which no literary history will speak.”

But Mann was mistaken—the boy did take his place in literary history, as did Mann’s alter-ego. Not only literary history but cinema history as well when in 1971, Death in Venice was filmed by director Luchino Visconti, starring Dirk Bogarde as Aschenbach, with the ethereally handsome, fifteen-year-old Swede, Björn Andrésen, as the object of his infatuation.

Since then noted British composer, Benjamin Britten turned the story into an opera and choreographer John Neumeier transformed it into a ballet. It also serves as the basis for the 1997 film, Love and Death on Long Island, in which a timeworn novelist, played by John Hurt, fixates on a young teen movie heartthrob, played by Jason Priestley. The film was based on a novella of the same name by Scottish writer and critic, Gilbert Adair. Clearly enamored of Mann’s original, Adair also wrote a short story about, as the author himself stated: “a visitor to a museum, one in which a Canaletto retrospective is being held, who furtively stalks an adolescent boy past one Venetian landscape after another.”

Death in Venice also inspired the songs “Grey Gardens” by Rufus Wainwright and “I Just Want to See the Boy Happy” by Morrissey, in addition to the short story “Gannymede” by Daphne Du Maurier. And there’s even the “Death in Venice” cocktail, a strawberry vodka martini, available at the Grand Hôtel Excelsior on the Venetian Lido.

All this because of a single moment in time.

Call it what you will—





Or simply dumb luck.

I’d like to end now with a quote from Dr. Seuss—yes, Dr. Seuss:

How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

Just think about that when next you’re killing time instead of making it on a cool September eve…

Happy Autumn to you all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues

Nepenthe (inspired by Greek mythology) – Empty antique medicine bottle with original cork; raffia cords

Poor August…

…considered possibly the worst stretch of thirty-one consecutive days of the year.

Newspaper articles have been written actually touting the banishment of the month entirely.


Well, let’s pick up our scalpels, class, and begin dissection.

Firstly, August foretells the waning of summer. The days are getting shorter, the once vivid foliage starts to exhibit that sickly gray-green pallor. The fruit trees are peached, plumed, and nectarined out, the last strawberry’s been picked, and the flowers’ drooping heads are losing petals. The cicadas, which sang so brightly in the leaves overhead only a few weeks prior, are now dropping dead at your feet. Mosquitoes are rife; the lightning bugs have been switched off. And every child knows that each hour brings them inexorably closer to hearing, reading, and living those three most horrible words in the English language—Back to School.

Vacations are over. It’s time to shake the sand from those beach towels and bathing suits and commence the clean-out of all that lightweight summertime wardrobe and fill the closet with jackets, and caps, and corduroys. The garden needs a good overhaul, too, setting it up for the dormant months approaching. Firewood needs cutting; the hammock’s coming down; and the pool needs to be winterized. No more baseball, fireworks, or carnivals. No more picnics or lemonade.

Yup, August is the one true month for the summertime blues.

And there isn’t even a single official or religious holiday to celebrate—nope, not a one, which has left poor August a victim dedicated to the observance of…

National Immunization Awareness Month
National Psoriasis Awareness Month
National Water Quality Month
Cataract Awareness Month
Neurosurgery Outreach Month
Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

and let’s not forget a personal favorite—Panini Month.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any weirder, the first seven days of August have been designated as World Breastfeeding Week.

August ain’t that hot in the history books either, think about—

Wild Bill Hickok was shot and killed at a poker table in Deadwood, South Dakota, in August 1876.

The first electric chair execution took place in August 1890, at Auburn Prison, Auburn, NY—the condemned having been found guilty of the hatchet murder of his wife. This also paved the way for the controversial August 1927 electrocution of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian immigrants convicted of a shoe factory payroll robbery during which the paymaster and a guard were killed.

Lizzie Borden made mincemeat of her parents with an axe (allegedly) in August 1892 and was later acquitted.

Judge Crater disappeared in August 1930, sparking one of America’s biggest manhunts; he was never found. (Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance missed August by only two days, he vanished on July 30, 1975; he’s never been found either.)

Anne Frank made her last diary entry in August 1944.

The Watts Riots began in Los Angeles in August 1965, causing 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.

In August 1966, Charles Whitman went down in infamy, after climbing to the observation deck of the University of Texas’ clock tower and shooting 48 people, 16 of whom died.

The infamous Manson Family murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and four others in Los Angeles in August 1969.

Marilyn Monroe died in August, so did Elvis, and President Warren G. Harding, and Florence Nightingale, and Babe Ruth, and Groucho Marx, and Brigham Young, and Charles Lindbergh, and Rudolph Valentino.

King Richard III was killed on August 22, 1485, deservedly so.
Princess Diana was killed on August 31, 1997, undeservedly so.

Cleopatra committed suicide by asp in August 30 B.C.

Napoleon was sent into exile in August 1815.

President Nixon resigned office in August 1974.

And, in no order of preference, historically or chronologically—

World War I began.
The Persian Gulf War began.
The Battle of Britain occurred.
The US entered Vietnam.
Both atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped.
The first bombs of the London Blitz fell.
John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 boat sank.
America’s very first income tax was levied.
The Berlin Wall went up.
Adolph Hitler became Fuhrer of Germany.
France’s St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place.
Hurricane Camille hit.
Hurricane Katrina hit.
Hurricane Isaac hit.
Mount Vesuvius erupted.
The Krakatoan volcano erupted.

And August 28, 476, was the last day of the Roman Empire.

Wow…rough month, huh?

So, to celebrate August this year I offer you—nothing.

Well, not quite nothing.

I offer you—nepenthe.

Nepenthe\ noun \ 1 : a potion used by the ancients to induce forgetfulness of pain or sadness  2 :  something capable of causing oblivion of grief or suffering

Figuratively, it means “that which chases away sorrow.”

In Greek mythology, it was said that every draught of nepenthe came from the Lethe, a river in the Underworld whose waters bestowed total amnesia of your former life.

Spencer mentions nepenthe in The Faerie Queen; Erasmus in his In Praise of Folly.

Edgar Allan Poe sites it in The Raven.

Homer, Shakespeare, and H.P. Lovecraft reference it, too.

And it’s the subject of both American writer, Henry van Dyke’s eponymous poem and Irish poet, George Darley’s Nepenthe: A Poem in Two Cantos. 

In 1653 famed botanist, physician, and astrologer, Nicholas Culpeper, offered a recipe for nepenthe in The Complete Herbal:

Take of tincture of Opium made first with distilled Vinegar, then with spirit of Wine, Saffron extracted in spirit of Wine, of each an ounce, salt of Pearl and Coral, of each half an ounce, tincture of species Diambræ seven drams, Ambergris one dram.

Brewed up my own batch—got a glassful right here.

First sip…

…hmmm…okay, a little bitter, maybe…an acquired taste, no doubt.

Second sip…



…hey, this stuff ain’t half bad.

Now, what was I talking about again…?

(written with profuse apologies to anyone—good, bad, or indifferent—who possesses an August birthday)

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Hajszál a sörény a ló metzengerstein – Hair from the mane of the Metzengerstein horse (inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s 1832 short story, Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German) – Ornate wooden frame; antique horse liniment bottle; genuine horse mane clippings; rusted tacks; colour print of fire; black paint

The summer furnaces are ablazin’. The sun is hotter than hell. Patience is waning, tempers flaring, everybody snapping. Perfect time for a yarn about a good ole family feud, don’tcha think?

Fact and fiction’s filled with them.

Let’s start with that prime example of fraternal devotion, Cain bashing in his brother, Abel’s skull in the very first chapter of the Bible and then move on to those oil magnet brethren, J.R. and Bobby Ewing, for whom the metropolis of Dallas, and even the entire state of Texas, wasn’t big enough to hold them without them fussin’ and fightin’. Sisters have their problems too, just ask Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, famous Hollywood thespian siblings who haven’t spoken a word to each other in almost forty years, or how about “Baby” Jane Hudson and her sororal devotion to her wheelchair-bound relation, Blanche, which comprised duct tape to the mouth, an occasional toss down the stairs, and lunches of rat, lettuce, and tomato on white toast sandwiches. And let’s not forget those crowned cousins, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, a political—and ancestral—rivalry that got way out of hand until poor Mary went and lost her head, completely.

Oh, well… Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters; grandmas, grandpas, and all those aunts and uncles all squabbling over something or other. Seems that familiarity—and sometimes simply being family—sure does breed contempt. Before you know it the whole neighborhood’s going at it tooth and nail—the Montagues and the Capulets clashing over Romeo and Juliet’s severe case of puppy love in mediaeval Verona; the Atreides and the Harkonnens battling it out in outer space over some silly spice; the interrelated Carrington and Colby clans bearing international ill will in high-style in the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado; the Corleones and the Tattaglias each holding up their end of a long-held Italian vendetta; the Jets and the Sharks staging terpsichorean territorial skirmishes for the streets of Manhattan; Heathcliff waging war against the Lintons from the manor of Wuthering Heights on the misty Yorkshire moors; and the Hatfields and the McCoys coming to blows over every dang thing.

Thus it was between the famous Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein dynasties, two proud and illustrious Hungarian houses, who have been at each other’s throats for centuries. And it just so happens that these two houses’ family manses share bordering properties, so I guess we can forget about any type of good neighbor policy. All this animosity is compounded by an ancient prophecy, which states: A lofty name shall have a fearful fall when, as the rider over his horse, the mortality of Metzengerstein shall triumph over the immortality of Berlifitzing.

Now the Bs are simply furious over this, since even Fate seems to be conspiring against them, favoring the Ms, and old Count Wilhelm von Berlifitzing can be seen all but foaming at the mouth astride one of his magnificent horses—those equines the only passion in his life, apart from his detestation of his next-door neighbors, of course. And during every one of his rides, Count Wilhelm is pursued, followed, and taunted at a distance by the mere presence of another horseman, the young Baron Frederick von Metzengerstein. The titled teen is the current head of the Metzengerstein line, and what a piece of goods he is!

Debauched, decadent, and depraved, the brat fritters away his time indulging himself, and becoming quite chummy with each and every one of the Seven Deadly Sins. You remember them, surely—Greed, Lust, Anger, Sloth, Pride, Envy, and Gluttony? They’re kind of like the anti-Disney Seven Dwarves—except we could probably add Dopey and Grumpy, too, to the list of Frederick’s catalogue of corruption.

Young Freddie’s hatred of old Willie explodes one day—literally. Word is brought to the Metzengersteins that the Berlifitzing stables are afire, rumor already rife that Freddie himself is the arsonist responsible. Responsible or not, Freddie’s reveling in every minute of the catastrophe, watching the conflagration from the tallest tower. Well-satisfied, Freddie muses on this fortuitous turn of events while studying the intricacies of an antique tapestry, one which depicts an enormous stallion, its rider about to strike a fatal blow on a rival fallen at the horse’s hooves (recall that prophecy written above, dear reader). Spellbound, Freddie swears he sees the needle-stitched steed move; it looks up and turns its great head, displaying is hideous teeth, the inferno kindling in its eyes.

At precisely the same moment, a massive horse, the color of flame, materializes in the courtyard below, its ferocity soothed by Frederick’s hand alone. The animal is said to be the sole survivor of the Berlifitzing fire, a blaze that consumed not only the stables and all within, but Count Wilhelm as well, who perished attempting to save his beloved thoroughbreds.

Fractious Freddie grows obsessed with his mysterious four-footed visitor. He ignores his duties, he ignores his debaucheries, all in favor of spending his time with the seemingly untamable beast, grooming it, mucking out its pen, and then saddling it up for rides out that last until the witching hours. Folks claim Freddie’s attachment “became, in the eyes of all reasonable men, a hideous and unnatural fervor. In the glare of noon—at the dead hour of night—in sickness or in health—in calm or in tempest—the young Metzengerstein seemed riveted to the saddle of that colossal horse, whose intractable audacities so well accorded with his own spirit.” The horse was, in fact, to Freddie, a living, breathing symbol of the triumph of the Metzengersteins over the Berlifitzings.

But the fickle Fates will have their way, and one stormy night, while Freddie is out upon his monstrous mount, the Metzengerstein palace catches light, the glow of the flames silhouetted against the blackened horizon. Panic ensues, the fire is too strong, uncontainable, nothing can be saved. Then Frederick appears, his charger driven on at a fantastic speed straight into the inferno. The storm subsides, all is dead calm, when there comes from the smoldering castle a burst of blinding white flame, and the ensuing smoke cloud billowing from the ruins takes the shape of—a gigantic horse.   

Metzengerstein was the first tale of terror ever to be published by a young American writer named Edgar Allan Poe. It was printed in January 1832, without his name attached, in The Philadelphia Saturday Courier. Four years later, it was to be found in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger, with Poe finally given his credit due.

The story begins with an apt quote from the sixteenth-century religious reformationist, Martin Luther: Pestis eram vivus - moriens tua mors ero - My life has been a plague to you; my death will be your death

It also incorporates the subject of possible metempsychosis, the passing of the soul at death into another body either human or animal. Is Count Wilhelm von Berlifitzing’s spirit inhabiting that horrendous horse? Or is it all coincidence, and Baron Frederick von Metzengerstein meets his demise á cheval simply as a result of his own guilty conscience (reference, please, Poe’s classic The Tell-Tale Heart)?

For all of its suspenseful storyline and macabre imagery, Metzengerstein has been filmed only once. Directed by Roger Vadim, the tale is the first of three of Poe’s works in Histoires extraordinaires (aka Spirits of the Dead), a 1968 anthology that also includes shorts helmed by Louis Malle and Federico Fellini. In it, the shapely, scantily-clad Jane Fonda (then Vadim’s wife) assays the gender-bending role of Federica von Metzengerstein, who gratifies her aberrant desires in pure eye-popping pop art fashion, all the while scorning, but at the same time being attracted to, the quiet, introspective Wilhelm Berlifitzing, played by none other than Jane’s own real-life brother, Peter. A pinch of the incestuous added to Poe’s already perverse concoction?

Winston Churchill is ascribed to have said: “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Somehow I don’t think Baron Frederick von Metzengerstein would agree.

"Metzengerstein" by Byam Shaw, 1909

Friday, June 1, 2012

'Til Death Us Do Part

La Clé de la Chambre la Plus secrète de Barbe-bleue—The Key to Bluebeard’s Most Secret Chamber (inspired by Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale, La Barbe-bleue) – Antique apothecary bottle; antique French bisque porcelain pin cushion doll; antique French cupboard key; dried rose buds; antique jet mourning cameo; embroidered French ribbon; black glass beaded trim; purple ribbon; sterling heart lock charm; vintage glass-beaded hatpins
‘Tis June—the official unofficial marriage month. Since the beginning of recorded time men and women have been dragging each other up the aisle and to the altar, there to pledge their troth before the eyes of God—and the legal system—sometimes for better, mostly for worse, or so it seems, given the current divorce statistics. Yup, as soon as they say, “I do,” it would appear that they don’t.

After all, marriage means commitment.

So does insanity.

Through the ensuing centuries, humans have always been seeking another way out from the ties that bind, another way of dropping that ol’ ball and chain, another way of getting free of that deadbeat, that philanderer, that shrew, or that battleaxe, and when that wedding ring starts feeling more akin to a noose, you’ll find that those newlyweds quickly become newly-deads.

Murder has got to be the second most common way of slipping the bonds of holy matrimony. It looks especially favorable when you want a surefire permanent solution—or should I say, dissolution—to the problem, or when you just can’t stand the thought of him or her getting half the house, half the car, half the dog, and, please, let’s not drag the kids into this.

History’s rife with cases of uxoricide (now you know the fancy label for husbands offing wives, remember that the next time you’re on Jeopardy!)—from the burly Henry VIII, who relieved two of his six spouses of their heads (legally, it must be admitted, even if the charges were trumped up, but, hey, who was going to be saying “um, ain’t that wrong…?” to the king?) to the timorous Dr. Hawley Crippen, who drugged his betrothed, chopped her up, and buried her in the basement so he could carry on with his typist to the jet-setting Claus Von Bülow, who may or may not have slipped his wife, Sunny, a couple of extra doses of insulin on his way out to skiing the Alps. Fiction’s got ‘em, too—from Shakespeare’s insanely jealous Moor of Venice who smothered his poor Desdemona upon their marital bed in Othello to the handsome hubby who sent his über-rich wife off with a bang—a gunshot to the head—while honeymooning in Egypt in Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to the unfortunate, bedridden Mrs. Thorwald whose other half’s nursing skills included not only providing an aspirin or two but showed a deft proficiency with one very large knife and a hacksaw as well, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Of course, there are many instances of mariticide (you can figure that one out for yourselves), but we’re dealing with the male of the species here today, class.

The most famous example of the uxoricidal complex just has to be…

…wait for it…


This charming little fairy tale of a homicidal lunatic (yes, you are supposed to read it to children) was written in the late-seventeenth century by Charles Perrault, the same author responsible for giving the world Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red-Riding Hood, and Puss in Boots.

Perhaps Monsieur Perrault had problems in his youth, perhaps he suffered from nightmares, or was afraid of the dark, or had separation anxiety, or wet the bed, whatever, and, yes, I know his stories are meant to be morality tales, ones to teach the kiddie-winkies lessons, but honestly—Cinderella’s clearly an abused child who’s having real difficulty fitting in with her, oh, what’s the current politically correct term?, oh, yeah, “blended family”; Sleeping Beauty’s cursed to snooze away a hundred years due to a minor oversight on some guest list; Little Red’s either a dim bulb or needs to make an appointment with the nearest ophthalmologist as soon as possible since she can’t tell that Grandma’s got not only big eyes, big ears, and big teeth, but black fur, a snout, and a big tail too; and there’s something, well, downright creepy about that well-shod, talking tabby who’s trying to coerce some young guy into taking off his clothes and jumping in a river…but I digress.

So, we now return to our regularly scheduled program…

Bluebeard is an enormously rich noble, feared by all, his visage made terrible by his great, bushy black beard—so black that it, in fact, appears blue. He has had many wives, all of whom have vanished mysteriously, and he is in search of yet another, setting his sights on three comely daughters of a neighbor. Petrified of his rumored reputation, the two older girls pass him onto their youngest sibling, who, after much wheedling and wooing, and much against her older brothers’ likings, agrees to accept his proposal. All goes well for the lovebirds, at least for awhile. Then, one day, the bewhiskered lord and master announces that he is leaving on business, and places in his young wife’s hands the keys to the kingdom—or their palatial chateau at any rate. With a smile, he tells her to enjoy herself while he’s gone, explore the house, use any of the keys you want—except this one, this small gold key.

Promise me you won’t use it, says he.

Of course not, answers she.

And he’s off.

Faster than you can say, “Pandora’s Box”, our little miss is scouring the manse to locate the one door that that small gold key will open. And once found, the key is inserted, the lock turns, and what lies beyond?

You guessed it, all of her husband’s former brides, slaughtered, in a room saturated in blood. Horror-struck, our little miss drops the key, which lands smack-dab in the middle of a puddle of gore, a stain she just can’t wash off—shades of Lady Macbeth, anyone?

When her husband returns prematurely, our little miss plays dumb. What key? What room? What stain? What bunch of dead bodies?

But her fate is sealed, and she’s destined to take her place on the slab alongside the prior Mrs. Bs.

Of course, since this is a fairy tale, folks, and everyone is bound by law to live happily ever after, our little miss’ brothers arrive miraculously and just in the nick of time save her, send Bluebeard to his much deserved bitter end, and all hasten en masse to the attorneys to claim the late-husband’s estate…

…the end.

We won’t go into the hidden aspects and psychological symbolism and metaphorical analysis of all of this—the phallic key unlocking the bloody portal—nope, maybe we should simply take a moment to point out that if the blasted girl had done as she’d been told, none of this would’ve happened!

Hey, as my great-grandmother used to say, if you go picking up rocks, don’t be surprised when something awful crawls out.

The tale of Bluebeard and his frequent self-induced widowerhood has been told and retold for centuries— from page to stage, from the faithful to the far-out, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Thackeray, Anatole France, and Shirley Jackson have repeated it. In the hands of Angela Carter, the story becomes one of lush lust and intrigue titled The Bloody Chamber; Margaret Atwood reweaves it as a dissection of a marriage in Bluebeard’s Egg; while Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard introduces a man who destroys all of the women he loves in one way or another; and in Joyce Carol Oates’ Blue-Bearded Lover, the last wife actually sticks around and mothers Bluebeard’s offspring. Poets Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, and Maya Angelou have transformed it into verse, and it has also been the source of grand operas by the talented trio, Offenbach, Dukas, and Bartók.

But it’s been on the silver screen where the fable has proved especially popular. There’s Georges Méliès’1902 silent nine-minute one-reeler and Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1944 cult film noir, and there’s suspense master Claude Chabrol’s 1963 thriller incorporating facts in the case of a true-life, early-twentieth-century Parisian serial killer and controversial French filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s recent cinema spin, which transports two young girls of the 1950s back to become part of the original seventeenth-century narrative. It has also become a romantic-farce as Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, first in 1923 starring Gloria Swanson and then Claudette Colbert top-lined in the 1938 remake. Even Charlie Chaplin took a stab at it in his 1947 black comedy, Monsieur Verdoux.

However, it’s Edward Dmytryk’s 1972 directorial effort that takes the cake as the campiest, most outrageous, most over-the-top—and possibly most enjoyable—adaptation. Updated to World War I Austria, it stars Richard Burton as the titular murderous madman and a bevy of bouncing-breasted beauties—including Raquel Welch, Virna Lisi, and ‘60’s sex kitten, Joey Heatherton—who get bumped off in utterly campy, outrageous, and over-the-top ways, from being guillotined, falconated, and a personal favorite, chandeliered. All this bloodshed is set to a musical score where someone is either playing a kazoo or repeatedly squeezing a duck.

In any case, if you are planning to dispose of your hymeneally-coupled yokemate, pause, please, count to ten, and remember Bluebeard’s tragic saga…

…I can always recommend a good divorce lawyer.

"Bluebeard" by Gustave Dore, 1862