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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

When the day at last comes that we win our right to live and work free from state violence, you will know that you helped that happen.  –  “Luck Has Nothing To Do With It

red umbrellas by daylightToday is Friday the 13th, which as longtime readers know is the day I ask non-sex workers to speak up for us.  Some years have as many as three of these special Fridays, but this is the only one this year; if you need suggestions on what to say, I suggest you consult this column I wrote for the occasion way back in 2012.  And if you do write something, please let me know and I’ll add a link to it below (and tweet it as well).  I do, however, recognize that some people simply can’t stick their heads above the parapet enough to write or speak openly about this, despite the fact that it’s quickly becoming more socially acceptable to do so; if you’re in that position, you can still help by donating money, something sex worker rights organizations are always in need of.  There are such organizations in every country; since I firmly believe that charity begins at home, I urge you to donate to help sex workers in your own land first.  In the US, SWOP can always use help, and I recently called attention to SWOP Behind Bars, which accepts donations of books for incarcerated sex workers.  I don’t understand why she felt the need to adopt such a critical tone, but Melinda Chateauvert published a good list of sex worker organizations in need of all the funding they can get, and Red Light Legal is down to the last few days in its attempt to raise $15,000 to provide legal assistance to sex workers.  Of course, there are plenty of individual sex workers you could assist, such as the heroic Heather Saul, who took out a serial killer who would otherwise have killed many other women.  And if you can’t think of anyone else, you could always send me a little something via PayPal.  It doesn’t so much matter what you do today, as long as you do something to promote sex worker rights; write, speak, donate, spread the word or all of the above.  And I’m going to try to spend as much time as possible retweeting today, so if you write something or have a sex worker fund you want promoted, please mention me on Twitter so I can promote it for you!

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May Day 2016

Gaea

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May Eve 2016

Chernabog

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

Ostara
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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