The Year Everything Important Happened

April 18, 1904

Oreste, 2013   
(Model: Staiv Gentis)  
Hand-painted photograph  
48 3/8 x 61 in. (framed)  
Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, through May 31

Charlie Ziegler (January 13, 1875 - April 18, 1904), professional baseball infielder for the Cleveland Spiders and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Mikhail Girshovich (April 18, 1904 - July 26, 1947), Major General of the Red Army. 

Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham (April 18, 1904 - December 13, 1981), African-American comedian, singer, dancer, actor.  His nickname derived from a stage routine in which he declared himself to be "Sweet Poppa Pigmeat."

With everyone we meet there's an opportunity for an encounter with the divine.  I believe that.  I also believe that, for me at any rate, fear almost always gets in the way, and so it's only afterward, maybe years later, that I look back and realize what I'd failed to notice in someone in the moment.  That there might have been something miraculous about him or her I was afraid to look at, or some magic out at the edges of consciousness I wasn't willing to acknowledge; an amazing message I dismissed as unimportant, that might have changed everything.

April 16, 1904

April 16, 1904, Montreal, Canada - December 2, 1983, Woodland Hills, California

Marie-Rose Angelina Yvonne Lussier might have been born in Montreal but she had dreams.  So at a young age she got herself to New York, auditioned for the Greenwich Village Follies, sang "Yes We Have No Bananas" in French, and told the director she was from Paris.  He believed her, changed her name to Mademoiselle Fifi (to which she later added the D'Orsay) and after a stint in vaudeville Fifi headed to Hollywood where she concentrated on perfecting her role as that naughty French girl from gay Paris. 

Of course, reinvention is routine in Hollywood; transformation goes with the territory.  In this season of rebirth and resurrection, then, how appropriate to think of that young girl who challenged Fate, took a risk, turned in one identity card and drew another, dodged a dull destiny in the frozen north and gave herself a whole new life in sunny California.  

Hope springs eternal, my darlings.  It's not over 'til it's over and not even then, if you play your cards right.  You can change your life, your past, your future.  You can be reborn.  Hallelujah.  

Yes, indeed, Fifi.  Courtesy of another Canadian: Hallelujah.

April 14, 1904

Leon Ockenden and Sam Heughan in Nicholas de Jongh's "Plague Over England," a story of scandal and fame and dangerous liaisons in the life of Sir John Gielgud (April 14, 1904 - May 21, 2000)   

April 1904: a month crowded with incident, rather like the great Sir John Gielgud's life was crowded with great loves: there was John Parry, an unsuccessful actor who went on to work for and live with the theater manager and producer "Binkie" Beaumont, Paul Annstee, theater designer and interior decorator, George Pitcher, a Princeton professor of philosophy, and Martin Hensler, "a possessive Hungarian."  

Do only great men have great loves?  Biographical evidence is often misleading at first, names and facts strenuously suppressed, the records purged and censored, the legacy whitewashed.  These noble men were saints, we are told in the "authorized" accounts; they were geniuses who sacrificed Love for Art.  Then the truth comes out and we learn just how busy they really were, burning that artistic candle at both ends as it were and no one safe, including the staff and the stable boys.  You wonder where they found the time or the stamina to keep their passion going - off-stage, off-the-page, off-the-canvas, depending on the mode of expression.

Now days, of course, it's quite the reverse; the young talent who arrive here in Hollywood seem more interested in getting it on than with getting on with their careers.  Or so it seems, a heady whirl of hook-ups and parties and play and fun until drugs thin the herd, or cash flow problems and misunderstandings with law enforcement kill the buzz. It's a lot of work either way, though, and one way or the other you have to pay the price.  And the rent.

We all just want to be loved, of course, but we want other things with it too: to be a star, perhaps, or to create something that will last - a performance, a script, a best-selling novel.  Life is a risky business, however, just like Love and Art.  And History can be misleading: "Over Night Success" could have been more like ten years.  On the other hand, it might not have been quite as lonely at the top as the biographers make it sound.

April 12, 1904

TERUKATA IKEDA (1883-1921)   
"A Great Victory for the Great Japanese Imperial Navy, Hurrah" 1904  
Japanese woodblock print on three sheets   
14 7/8 x 10 in. each sheet
MFA Boston, Sharf Collection
Detail showing the Russian Vice Admiral Stephan Ossipovitch Makarov on board the battleship Petropalovsk, sunk by Japanese mines in the blockade of Port Arthur, April 12, 1904.

Russia vs. Japan, the Imperial West vs. the Imperial East.  

Imperial, California
"First Auction Sale of Lots at Imperial, April 12, 1904" by the California Development Co., which controlled the water rights to the land.  Incorporated in 1904, Imperial is located in Imperial County, on the US-Mexico border.
Photo: Department of the Interior, photo National Archives and Records Administration (detail)

Call this post Borderlands.  The place between, what you want to get a piece of, or hang on to, or control, either the land or the shipping or the water rights, or maybe all of it.  Where we define the border between you and them, them and us, theirs and yours/ours.  The between-ness of place, which turns out to be either paradise or hell, depending.  

"Imperial, California," William T. Vollman writes, "is America.  Imperial is x.  Imperial is y."  Imperial is the "center of all secrets."

The secret between us, the place where you and I end, and we begin.

April 10, 1904

April 10, 1904, Queen Isabella II of Spain died, in exile in Paris.  Born in 1830, she came to the throne at the age of 3 but her troubled reign ended, one might say for the best, in the Glorious Revolution in 1868.  Described as bulky rather than stately, without dignity in face or figure and lacking the grace of majesty, Isabella was not a popular monarch; her marriage to her diminutive and probably homosexual double cousin the Duke of Cadiz was, not surprisingly, an unhappy union, and it is doubtful any of the 12 children she gave birth to were fathered by him. 

Spanish history of Isabella's time was messy, fraught with palace intrigues, scandals and inbreeding.
But fortunately Spain has made other important contributions to the world, like Spanish men and Spanish music.  For example the adorable and very talented Pablo Alboran, for which, on this sad day of remembrance for the dead queen, I think we can all be profoundly grateful.    

April 8, 1904

300 La Naissance d'un Empire (300 Rise of an Empire) [Trailer]     
Billboard, Cezanne Theatre, Aix-en-Provence, March 5, 2014   

On April 8, 1904 the United Kingdom and France signed the Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements about colonial expansion but more importantly an alliance against Germany, thus laying the groundwork for the First World War and pretty much everything that came after.  You could call it the Rise and Fall of Empire.  How you tell history tells your future. 

I am very glad I saw Frank Miller's bloody fantasy comic-book-turned-into-a-movie in French without subtitles, because it made it just that much more of an international mash-up.  At one point the Australian actor playing the Greek hero commander stopped the war with the Persians to go and have rough revenge sex with the French actress who was playing the commander of the Persian navy - and no Entente Cordiale there, I can assure you.  This scene must have been intended to make the film feel more like a date-rape movie and less like gay porn, but I might have missed something.  

On the other hand, I could not possibly miss Xerxes, played by the very talented Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro who turned into a giant god (not a stretch by any means) after he went to the baths in nothing but a piece of sheer gauze and emerged from the sauna pool with a shaved head and heavy eye makeup and many body piercings which to my mind seemed unnecessary for the transformation and sent rather a mixed message about body adornment, effeminacy and evil, but there was no denying he was huge and powerful, so perhaps there was a point being made here about power bottoms that somehow got lost in translation.  

Mostly what I wanted to know was how all the Greeks managed to keep their bare chests so beautifully waxed and their beards trimmed throughout the long ordeal of war when grooming and personal hygiene can be dangerously compromised, but some mysteries aren't meant to be revealed. 

French or English, though, as an interpretation of the past in order to help explain the present and predict the future, the film makes a powerful statement.  An alarming statement, it's true, but as a friend of mine said once, Hollywood movies are all about the fears and anxieties and insecurities of the middle-aged American males who finance them, which I think goes a long way in explaining the violence toward women and the gay-as-evil-foreign-enemy depicted in the film.   This is not the story of an empire on the rise, but one headed toward disaster, and frankly, the sooner the better.

April 6, 1904

President Nixon and West German Chancellor Kiesinger with the mayor of Berlin, waving to the crowd in Berlin, February 27, 1969

Kurt Georg Kiesinger (April 6, 1904 - March 9, 1988) joined the Nazi Party in February 1933, a few weeks after Hitler became chancellor.  On December 1, 1966 Kiesinger became Chancellor of West Germany.

All history is propaganda, stories that arrange and organize what we think we know to make ourselves feel vindicated or right or safe.  What do we choose to justify? What's easier to remember?

Yesterday I dodged the Marathon, admired a friend's new garden (tomatoes, lettuce, basil, kale, peppers), got a massage, washed the truck, made a budget, made plans, and reread Jean Gimpel on the industrial revolution of the Middle Ages (the clock, the water wheel, better plows, horses instead of oxen).  There's nothing like a clean vehicle, a well-thought-out list and orderly rows of plant life to make you feel as though Life is Under Control.  

But it's a constant juggling, a process of selection.  To some extent it's about managing Fear, of course; creating the illusion of Being in Charge. It's also how we predict the Future (see Gimpel). Because how we juxtapose the facts, sort the data, interpret the evidence, can make all the difference.  What's do we need to be conscious of?  What do we choose to remember?

April 1, 1904

Back cover of Into Deeper Water, The 1904 Press, 2013   
Model: Britni Stanwood   
Photographer: Rodolfo Martinez   

Sylvia Ashley (April 1, 1904 - June 29, 1977) was an English model, actress and socialite.  
She was married five times:

Major Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Lord Ashley (1927-34)
Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (1936-39)
Edward Stanley, Sixth Baron Stanley (1944-48)
Clark Gable (1949-52)
Prince Dimitri Djordjadze (1954)

On this beautiful spring day, let us be inspired by Beauty, by Love, and by Lady Ashley.  Hope springs eternal.  Never give up.

March 26, 1904

God of the Sea,  
Found in the Rhone  
Archaeological Museum, Arles  

JOSEPH CAMPBELL, March 26, 1904 - October 30, 1987.  American Mythologist, Writer.

Follow your Bliss.

Place Albertas, Aix-en-Provence.  

The first picture I took, the first place I walked to - instinctively you might say - upon arrival, just a few weeks ago.  Sometimes the most magical places are not the most ancient.  Or don't look like it.  This little courtyard dates from 1745.  

The past speaks to you in different voices, at different times.  There are myths playing out all around you.  There are ancient cities beneath the olive grove.  There are gods buried in the riverbed.

March 23, 1904

Art Deco folding screen, painted canvas on wooden stretchers, circa 1920  

Joan Crawford (March 23, 1904 - May 10, 1977)    

If you'd been born today in 1904 you would have been a teenager in the 20s.  You would have been too young for the First World War, but you would have been at just the right age for those dizzying madcap devil-may-care years between the wars. You would have had a marvelous time.

I was in Marseille just a couple weeks ago. The weather was heavenly, we had a marvelous time but there was so much to see, so much to do, we had to hurry.  If you have a camera and you are hurrying you find yourself editing before you've even begun, and you get sloppy, scatter snapping, guaranteed to be nothing but a slew of regrets and disappointments afterward but in the moment you don't care, you disregard details, you go for what you think is the money shot, ignore the display cards, you rationalize you'll exit through the gift shop, buy the catalogue, get the brochure, google it later.

Then you're home again and like so much that ends up happening in life, you find yourself wishing you'd looked harder, taken more time, paid more attention.  You realize in retrospect how much more it all matters now, when you're not there, not behind the wheel, not looking for a parking place or a break in traffic, not rushing to the next room and the next vista.  When you're not so busy being preoccupied in the present but trying to remember the past. 

Detail, another angle

Detail, another angle