Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

May Eve 2016


Though most outside the Germanc & Scandinavian countries have forgotten, May Eve (AKA Walpurgisnacht) was once considered the springtime counterpart to Halloween.  In fact, Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” describes a legendary occurrence on May Eve, the demon-king Chernobog’s summoning the spirits of the dead to dance for him.  This legend is of course the basis for the last sequence in Disney’s Fantasia, but since Disney pursues “unauthorized” videos fairly aggressively I prefer not to deal with it; besides, I’m not really fond of the fade into an excerpt from Schubert’s “Ave Maria” at the end.  So I’m just going to share some concept art from Fantasia with a recording of the unedited “Night on Bald Mountain” below.  If you’d like to celebrate with some other creepy stuff, take a look at last year’s “Tricks and Treats“, my most recent thanatopsis “A Necessary End“, and the horror tales I’ve penned in the meantime, last month’s “Windows of the Soul” and  this month’s “Knock, Knock, Knock“.  And if you’ve never seen The Wicker Man (1973) or would like to rewatch it, now’s the time; it’s also set in the days leading up to May Day.

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No Fooling

1434So, did I fool you yesterday?  If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, try Googling Bérénice, Madame de Pascal.  And don’t feel bad; with the exception of 2013’s “Mulberry Street“, which was obviously a parody, I’ve managed to fool a large fraction of my readers every April 1st for the last 6 years.  Which is a roundabout way of saying “April Fool!”

I guess what allows these annual tricks to succeed is my reputation for scrupulous honesty (it’s right there in my blog’s title!) coupled with an utterly deadpan presentation; unless you were actually looking for it, yesterday’s faux harlotography looked and sounded a lot like every other specimen of the feature I’ve ever done.  Of course, there’s a good reason for that; it actually was every other specimen of the feature I’ve ever done.  What I mean by that is, I just clicked on the “harlotography”  category, scrolled down, copy-pasted the last sentence of the most recent harlotography, then the penultimate sentence of the next one, etc.  When I was done I had a hodgepodge of sentences which more or less delineated a composite whore’s life, then all I had to do was edit it until it made some semblance of sense, et voilà!  A credible-sounding biography of a harlot who never existed, complete with links to the lives of real people who never heard of her.  Even her name was a composite created by borrowing letters from all the different ladies’ names, and then hammering on it a little until it looked like a real name.  The reason she turned out French was because I’ve written about so damned many French whores, and she ended up in the 17th century because it looked right and nestled in well with Cardinal Mazarin’s name, which ended up in the text in the sentence borrowed from Hortense Mancini’s bio.  Even the epigram was created from bits belonging to the epigrams from the Empress Theodora, Mata Hari and the Madame de Pompadour.  And the pictures?  Pure serendipity; I just looked up 17th-century French portraits whose subjects are not definitely known, and happened on two who looked alike (but probably are not actually of the same woman).

So there you are:  the anatomy of a fairly effective (at least, I hope so) hoax.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed fooling y’all!

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While I am your mistress, I will treat you like a king.  But once we part ways, I care not where you may go. – Bérénice, Madame de Pascal

Portrait of a Lady as Diana by Nicholas de LargilliereIt may be that Bérénice was only a stage name, but there’s no way to be sure because it’s the only one any record discovered to date ever uses for her.  She was born in a village near Naples somewhere around 1640, and though she always claimed her father had run off soon after she was born, it is entirely possible that her mother, a waitress and casual prostitute, actually had no idea of his identity.  Like so many courtesans she was noted for her precociousness, married too early, created an exotic stage persona which won her the attentions of wealthy men and died far too young, but unlike many she died in a high station and very wealthy, having amassed a personal fortune equivalent to about $360 million in 2016 dollars.

Bérénice’s mother appears to have been as bereft of parental instinct as her unknown father, and vanished from her daughter’s life before her 9th birthday.  She left the child in the keeping of her own mother, a rather dour old woman said to have been of Moorish descent.  In the 17th century, Italy was not as hospitable to courtesans as it had been a century before, but young Bérénice’s exceptional looks would have attracted attention even in a time of far more repressive sexual morality; by the time she was 13 her grandmother had married her off to the relatively-wealthy Lorenzo Gordini, a man some four times her age.  And there her story might have ended had her husband not died some four years later of an unnamed disease, probably some kind of cancer, leaving her the heir to a modest fortune; unfortunately, Gordini had three adult children from a previous marriage who contested the will, and Bérénice was forced to sign most of it over to them to avoid a long and protracted court battle.  Even so, she was left with far greater resources than the average 17-year-old in any century, and so made a decision perhaps not out of character for a fairly-well-off teenager with nobody to answer to: she moved to Paris.

Bérénice arrived in Paris late in the summer of 1658, and though she had neither experience nor reputation as a courtesan her stunning looks and quick wit soon attracted the attention of Alexandre de Crécy, one of Cardinal Mazarin’s important lieutenants; she became his mistress and accompanied him on his various missions for the Cardinal to various parts of France and other nearby countries.  While de Crécy certainly enjoyed her company, he had an ulterior motive for taking her everywhere with him: he was insanely jealous and wanted her where he could keep an eye on her. Bérénice soon tired of his controlling behavior, and since she had means of her own was not highly motivated to endure it; while he was en route to Spain in 1660, she abandoned him and fled back to Paris, where she traded on her well-known connection to de Crécy to install herself into the social scene.  Not that she needed much help; she was petite, charming and very beautiful (with black  eyes, lustrous black hair and an 18-inch waist), and her first husband had bequeathed her something far more valuable than money: an education.  She soon began to prosper as a courtesan, catering to the elite of Louis XIV’s court, and by 1664 had saved enough money to purchase a large, tasteful maison of her own, to which she always retreated when she wanted solitude; she only rarely entertained there.

Portrait of a lady, said to be Marie Angelique de Scorraille de Roussilles, Duchesse de FontangesThough Bérénice’s charms were many, it was her skill as a storyteller which set her apart and won her a devoted following; she embroidered upon her own background and life experiences so heavily that, with the exception of details that can be fixed by records such as her first husband’s will, it is impossible to know which are real.  Many of the details of her early life (that lovers had fought duels over her, that she had traveled from Naples to Paris alone on horseback, that she had shot a man who attempted to violate her) recorded by biographers sound more like tall tales than probable events, and even her dramatic escape from de Crécy (perhaps even his jealousy) may have been exaggerated for effect.  One thing is certain:  it was in 1666 that she attracted her first VIP client, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the Minister of Finance.  He was the perfect client for Bérénice; though he was very generous with her he prized discretion above all else, and never interfered with her social life.  He saw her regularly, probably several times a month, until 1676, and though he had apparently grown tired of her by that time he ensured her future by not only securing her an allowance from the royal treasury, but also arranging an important marriage for her.  It was through this marriage, to Louis, Vicomte de Pascal, that Bérénice finally received the title by which she is known to history, only six years before her death.

In the summer of 1667, Bérénice met and befriended Ninon de l’Enclos; the older courtesan had stopped taking clients by this time, and referred some of her younger patrons to Bérénice.  She also advised her to establish a salon, which soon become wildly popular with a certain artistic element; it went on for some five years, but after that Bérénice (who despite her education was rather bored by intellectual pursuits) lost interest.  Still, it had served to make her many important friends; chief among these was Molière, who is said to have based one of the characters in Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) on her.  Whatever faults may have been Bérénice’s, indiscretion was not among them; though she must have known of the enmity between her friend and her patron, there is no evidence Molière knew that she was sleeping regularly with Colbert.  Another of her friends was the poet Jean de La Fontaine, whom she helped through some financial difficulties after the death of his patron in 1672.

After her marriage, Bérénice slowed down somewhat; her husband was not politically powerful, and since the two of them appear to have viewed their union more as a business partnership than anything else, he encouraged her activities as a means of making connections.  But around the end of 1677 she began to suffer frequent periods of weakness, later aggravated by abdominal pains; she died on May 8th, 1682 of her chronic illness, which may have been cervical cancer.  She left a daughter, Aimee, who herself became the mother of a beautiful daughter named Adelais, who would later become one of the many mistresses of King Louis XV.  In a world where social mobility was nearly always restricted by the circumstances of birth, women like Bérénice were nonetheless able to trade upon their natural gifts to rise from the lowest ranks of society to the highest; her latter-day sisters can do much the same, though the gulf between rich and poor is not so great as it was under the Ancien Régime.  Yet prohibitionists wish for you to view us as victims, and to believe that Bérénice would’ve been better off dying as a monogamous peasant’s wife than a wealthy and well-respected noblewoman.

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Easter 2016

Ostara by Johannes Gehrts

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Vernal Equinox 2016

The apparent path of the sun crossed the equator moving northward at 4:30 UTC today, which means today is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the Southern.  Enjoy the milder weather to come, and Blessed Be!

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No matter how strenuously our enemies fight to hold us down, and no matter how many cops and politicians they conspire with, we must still win in the long run.  –  “Hands On

Savannah shirtWhen I first wrote about International Sex Worker Rights Day five years ago, it was to lament the fact that it was only barely observed in the West, and to call for it to be more widely observed.  In the intervening years, I’ve gotten what I asked for; the occasion is now celebrated by sex workers in North America and Europe as energetically as it is in Asia and Africa.  As I wrote two years ago,

…Though the day caught on fairly rapidly in Asia and Africa, it was still virtually unrecognized in Europe and North America in 2008, and only barely recognized the first time I wrote about it in 2011.  But it’s quickly gained ground since then; by 2012 a number of Westerners were writing about it online, and last year it seemed to get even more attention than Whores’ Day

Last year, I observed it with my sisters by protesting outside the Washington state capitol in Olympia; since then I’ve testified against bad laws before that same legislature twice, and otherwise annoyed Seattle, King County and Washington state officials, calling them out on their lies and tyranny both in print and on television.  And this week, I’m participating in Seattle’s Annual Sexwork Symposium (SASS), which we decided works better centered around this day than around December 17th (which was when the first one was held, in 2014).  Last night Savannah Sly and I co-hosted a panel discussion featuring Conner Habib, Kristen di Angelo, Deon Haywood and Monica Jones, and today we’re protesting both the court proceedings against the people arrested in the TRB raid and the awful prohibitionist policies of the city, county and state in general.  Tomorrow we have a health fair, on Saturday a sex worker social and Harlot’s Ball, and Sunday an art show and silent auction (in which one of the items up for bid is a dinner date with yours truly).  Last year I told you that I was going to be doing a lot more hands-on activism, and as you can see I’m as good as my word.  And this year I’m telling you that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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Four Years Ago Today

The title is a phrase you won’t see around here too often; after all, even though I call attention to posts from past years every day on Twitter, that retrospective stops at three years.  But given that leap day only occurs every four years, I don’t have much choice if I want to refer back to my last column on the subject.  And when I was thinking earlier today about what I’d like to do with this essay, I realized an awful lot has changed since the previous one; frankly, I’m hoping that the next four years doesn’t see quite so much change, unless it’s because I marry a billionaire or something.

On Leap Day of 2012, this blog wasn’t even two years old yet; I was still doing a daily feature called “One Year Ago Today”, and I had just started reporting sex work news on a weekly basis rather than a monthly one (now, of course, it’s semi-weekly).  I was still months away from a regular links column, and though my traffic was increasing it wasn’t anywhere near what it is now; I was still half a year from my first million pageviews, and now I’m at four and a half million.  I hadn’t yet made any public appearances, and didn’t show my face on the internet at all; indeed, it would still be more than two years before I would do that clearly.  I had been on Twitter for only two months, so my follower count was in the low hundreds rather than approaching 8000 as it is today (and if you want a laugh, take a look at this column I wrote about it).  I was still quietly living on my ranch in Oklahoma, hoping against hope that my husband and I (who had already been estranged for almost two years) would be able to reconcile our differences; I had returned to work part-time soon after starting the blog, but I didn’t dream I’d ever be back doing it full time again (and under the name “Maggie McNeill”, no less).  I could never have guessed that in only two years I’d have published a book and be preparing for a national tour, that in three years I’d be divorcing my husband and moving to Seattle, that I’d soon have a whole new circle of wonderful friends, and that I’d become a minor celebrity.  And that’s only the stuff I care to mention publicly; there are a number of other things, equally major and at least as radically different from my life in February of 2012, that I think it’s better not to publicize too widely.

Where will I be on February 29th, 2020?  Will I still be posting every day, or will I have wound down somewhat?  How many new books will I have written?  Will I still be living in Seattle?  What will my income be like?  What new experiences will I have had?  How well-known will I be?  Will the “sex trafficking” hysteria be over, as I predicted just before that last Leap Day?  Will I even be alive?  There’s no way to know, or even to guess; the only way to find out is to wait.

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