Friday 31 July 2020

What does the sky feel like?

Objects we use to flirt with the sky:
Ice skates.
Weather vanes.

In November, the last time I was on an airplane, it was a rainy day in the Northeast. As the plane picked up speed along the runway, we were pressed against the seats in a sensation I always associate with sex. I inhaled and held my good-luck rock. The moment when the whole heft of the airplane leaves the surface of the earth is a moment of enormous erotic charge. The rise and press and all-at-once feeling of elsewhere, a temporary reprieve from the regular pull. In liftoff, in the erotic moment, we are freed of something.

What are we freed of? Gravity’s tug, time’s nonstop forward surge. 

Time surrounds us, spreading forever in all directions. And gravity still applies, but we are entered into a changed awareness of weight. There is more and less of it at once. We are both relieved of it (I’m flying! I’m dissolving!) and under a stronger spell of its power (shoulders pressed against a cushioned place; gut in hips).

Diving boards.
Beach towels.
Wind chimes.

Like the sky, the wind has moods. Sometimes gentle; it caresses your neck, the back of your knees. Sometimes mischievous; it flings your skirt or thwaps your umbrella inside out. Sometimes angry; it snaps a branch and slams it to the street. Sometimes furious; it raises waves so they smash over seawalls and rush into roads and homes; it shatters glass; it hurls rain that floods the basement and wrecks the box that held the Christmas ornaments. Sometimes sorrowful; it flutes into your bones to make you cold and moans against the windows. Sometimes mean; it needles your cheeks and moves your blood away from your fingers to your organs, blackening those fingers and killing them dead. It kisses, claws, and bites. Wind is experienced through its interaction with matter. A flag whaps with force off the pole. Whitecaps spray their spindrift over the surface of the sea. Meat and onions get carried from a kitchen to the sidewalk to a nose on an evening walk. “Wind’s ontology refuses to take separateness as an inherent feature of the world,” writes Cymene Howe. I like to watch it bend the grass. Wind, writes Howe, “has an existential precondition that appears only in the context of contact. Wind is touching, mutual, moving.”

Not long ago I walked across the Mass Ave Bridge, which spans half a mile across the Charles River connecting Cambridge with Boston. 

Day-bright at seven in the evening, soft sky, and breezy. I wore a skirt and the wind rustled it around my knees. It flung it left and right, and pressed it against the front of my body, making it billow in the back. Not obscene, but a little flirtatious. Maybe more than a little. Touching, mutual, moving. I liked it. I liked the sky moving my clothes. I liked the wind up my legs. The river rippled below me.

When we feel the wind, we feel the sky. It’s an intimate touch.

The wind moved down my shirt and pressed itself between my breasts and traveled to my belly. It spread itself across my chest. 

The wind finds its way in. It touches where it wants. On the bridge, it reached in, whirling, and twirled around my nipples, I felt it there. Second base with the wind! There on the bridge! It pressed my shirt against me, it pressed against the whole length of me, the sky did, the wind, it pressed my clothes against me, revealed my body to the world, to the cars driving west across the river toward Cambridge. I felt my body. I was aware of my edges, of my contours. I was in the sky. The wind made me know.

It did not touch me all the way as I walked across the bridge, almost, but not all the way. I am alone. That is why I know about being teased and turned on by the sky. Is this lucky? I decide yes.

Laundry lines.
Swimming pools.

Not far from the bridge, on Mass Ave, the MIT Chapel sits set back from the street, a low wide silo made of brick. A place I’ve passed thousands of times and not quite noticed, it disappeared for years into the landscape of the familiar. One weekday afternoon, I looked.
Designed by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen and built in the middle of the twentieth century, it is surrounded by a moat, and a spire bell tower made of metal rises from the roof. Cast in the MIT foundry, the spire was designed by an artist named Theodore Roszak and looks a little like a rocket ship, upward-aimed, sleek and sharp, pinpricking at its highest point, like a lightning rod, an antenna, needle, probe. Something waiting for signal to come down. A phallus, a bell at the base, and I do not know if it rings, but what I hear in my mind is a chime that echos out to infinity, into silence, a slow spasm of noise, deep throb of gong, up and out.

Elsewhere, Roszak’s sharp sculptures allude to the crescent moon, bird beaks, macabre creatures in stretch and coil. A lithograph called Sky Divers from 1974 shows six figures. In the upper left, against an eggplant sky, a woman, blue purple, floats as though part cloud. Bottom right, a male falls, naked save a white belt. In the center, a thick woman splays herself, her spread legs pressed up against thin rods in a display of stilt-like acrobatics. Her left leg is torn and stitched, her body porcine, butchered. Ham hocks come to mind. Her anus is the focal point of the image. Of all body parts, the asshole is furthest from the sky, but here, Roszak defies the rectal darkness and in her spread opens that aperture to be tickled by the sky. There’s a slight absinthe tint to her skin, and her expression is blasé, almost lifeless. It is unclear, not in a nice way, whether these bodies are falling or flying. There’s a discomfiting sense of uplift and drop.

This was the brain that designed the spire on the chapel at MIT and we’re back to the erotics of rise, the erotics of moonward motion, the erotics of lifting off and being touched. The possibility of reaching the lawless weightlessness. Roszak’s spire rises to the sky, touches the sky, hopes for touch from the sky, touch from infinity, and connects us here, on earth in our pigpens, to all that’s beyond. “His interest in astronomy, his fascination with space travel and his excitement about the moon landing sparked bizarre, libidinous outer-space fantasies,” writes Isabella Kendrick.

Balsa-wood airplanes.
Skipping stones.

I have an outer-space fantasy, too. It doesn’t look like Roszak’s. I am above the earth, in the high night sky darkness, and stars are more and brighter than we have ever known. And I am six miles tall, taller, a thousand miles, taller. Chest as wide as Iceland, legs as long and as strong as the Rocky Mountains. Arms to embrace the up-and-down entirety of California, molars like boulders, teeth as long as diving boards, longer. Ten thousand miles tall, a light-year. And you, as large, larger, there in the high night-dark sky, and we join. We press together in full-body embrace, my legs wrapped around, your hands on my hips, one arm over your shoulders, so broad they’d span length of the Ganges, larger, so broad you could carry a planet. We thrum and throb, we are weightless, pressing together, and up and down become an irrelevance. We are massive, filling the sky, filling each other with each other and it is so simple to move. We press against the galaxy, gravitationless, joined, giants, via lactea, a surging new river of milky way. To fuck with no sense of up or down. To fuck with no weight. To fuck so large that we become time itself. To fuck so large we become the anticenter of the universe. To fuck in the middle of infinity.

Which is where we all are, all the time.

Flower beds.
Lightning rods.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Thursday 30 July 2020

Single-use masks and coronavirus waste end up polluting ocean

Environmentalists have warned that a global increase in use of single-use masks, latex gloves and other protective gear employed against the novel coronavirus could exacerbate marine pollution.

OceansAsia, a grassroots environmental organization based in Hong Kong, reported earlier in the month that disposable masks were found floating underwater and on seabeds, caught among ghost nets and other debris.

“A single face mask could take hundreds of years to break down into microplastic, the kind of microplastic is now being found in fish destined for human consumption, sea salt and even sea spray,” the organization said, recommending that people switch to reusable masks where possible.

Japanese coasts and waters have also witnessed an apparent increase in the number of disposable masks recently, said Masahiro Takemoto, a professional diver and environmentalist.
People walk in a street in Tokyo on Monday. According to environmentalists, Japanese coasts and waters have witnessed an apparent increase in the number of disposable masks recently. | AFP-JIJI

On the other side of the world, medical waste has been adding to the glut of pollution washing up on the shores of Turkey and Europe.

“Knowing that more than 2 billion disposable masks have been ordered (in France), soon there may be more masks than jellyfish in Mediterranean waters,” Laurent Lombard of Operation Mer Propre, a French environmental group, said in a Facebook post dated May 23.

Calling for citizens and governments to take action to protect the environment, the group, whose activities include cleaning up the Cote d’Azur, warned, “It’s only the beginning and if nothing changes it will become a real ecological disaster.”

While the economic slowdown brought by the virus pandemic has reduced carbon emissions, fishing and offshore oil drilling, and paused coastal development projects, such effects are only for the short-term, according to the U.N. Development Program and other organizations.

The temporary reprieve will not lead to a reduction in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, and is not sufficient for depleted marine life to recover from overfishing, experts said.

In fact, poaching in Africa and Asia is said to be on the rise as patrol boats and other surveillance have been unable to make their rounds during the pandemic.

Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, an environmental organization based in the Western Indian Ocean country, referred to a dire situation in Africa in a webinar in June.

With Seychelles’ marine sanctuary largely funded by tourism — practically nonexistent in the coronavirus crisis — many guides have been left without an income and have turned to fishing, leading to an increase in poaching, he said.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has stressed the need for countries to work together to ensure the conservation and sustainability of the oceans.

“As we work to end the pandemic and build back better, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity — and responsibility — to correct our relationship with the natural world, including the world’s seas and oceans,” Guterres said in a video message marking World Oceans Day on June 8.

(Source: JT)

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Where to buy face masks for kids as England makes them mandatory

The latest government guidance and the independent brands selling them

Face masks are set to become a part of every day life as lockdown restrictions lift and rules on coverings come into place.

After months of not being compulsory in England, the government made face coverings mandatory on public transport and for hospital visits from 15 June. Uber also made masks compulsory for customers and staff from this date.

As of 24 July, these rules have extended to supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, banks, and post offices and shops.

People who don't wear one will face a fine of up to £100, apart from those with certain medical conditions, children under 11 and those who lip-read.
The new government advice states that children under the age of two should not wear a face mask ( iStock )

If you're picking up a takeaway coffee or food in England, you'll also have to wear a mask, but this rule doesn't apply to sit-in meals. The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, confirmed: “If you’re going in to buy a takeaway, and leaving again, you’re treating it like a shop and you should be wearing a face mask.”

In Scotland, it's compulsory to wear one in shops and has been on public transport since June, except for people with certain medical conditions and children under five.

In Wales, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport from 27 July, including in taxis. The Welsh Government is also advising people to wear masks in crowded places where social distancing is not possible, but this is not compulsory. Face coverings are also compulsory on public transport in Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland.

If you have children, you may be wondering how this rule applies. This is what the government guidelines for children are.

What’s the age limit for children wearing face coverings?
The official guidance from the government's Covid-19 recovery strategy document explains that if your child is under the age of two, cannot put one on themselves, or has a respiratory condition, they don't need to wear a face covering at all.

All other children can wear one, but for those under the age of 11, it is not mandatory for them to wear a face covering on public transport.

The government was clear in its guidelines that face coverings are not the same as a face mask such as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers, and it reiterated that these supplies must continue to be reserved for those who need it.

When and where should they wear them?
As of 24 July, in England, face masks are mandatory in all shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, banks, post offices, takeaways and transport hubs. Since 15 June, the government has made face coverings compulsory on public transport.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also updated its guidance to recommend that governments ask everyone to wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk of transmission of COVID-19, in order to help reduce the spread of the pandemic disease.

However, it has stressed that face masks are only one of a range of tools that can reduce the risk of viral transmission, and should not give a false sense of protection.

It's also important to note that while valves are a common sight in some face coverings, avoid buying a face covering with a valve, as they do very little. Marisa Glucoft, director of infection prevention Children’s Hospital Los Angeles explained why they're ineffective: “When you wear a mask with a valve, people around you are not protected because the valve lets all of your breath into the air.”

Where to buy face coverings for kids
Ahead we've rounded up some independent brands who are making their own masks for children.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Founded by mother-of-three Jo Bates, Thumbsie creates fabric gloves to help children to stop sucking their thumbs. It has since started to create fabric face masks for kids in light of the pandemic.

While you can’t buy individual masks due to the high demand, you can still buy its two or four mask packs. The packs are available in three sizes, S, M and L, and are suitable for children between three and 16. A pack of two is £18 and a pack of four is £35, and they are available in prints such as pirates, flamingos and superheroes. 

Its masks are made from poly cotton and cotton and have an inner pocket so you can insert your own filter if you wish. The elastic straps are adjustable too.

This Midlands-based casual wear label has designed face coverings to buy, having diverted its manufacturing process to create a range of different styles for adults and children.

The masks come in two sizes, one for adults and one for children, and both are available in varying machine washable prints, such as camo and tie-dye, and can be bought individually or in packs of three starting from £9.99.

With elasticated ear loops and fabric made from polyester and elastane, some of the masks come with a built-in filter while others come without, we’re sure the funky prints will keep kids occupied long enough to keep them on. Plus, for some styles, all profits will go to the NHS to help key workers on the frontline.

In a surprising turn, stationery brand Vistaprint has manufactured a range of kids and adults face masks that are being dispatched from 28 May, costing £13 each.

There’s plenty of kid-friendly fabrics to choose from including colourful doodles, khaki green, baby pink, stripes, lightning bolts and hearts.

Every mask comes with a replaceable filter system that can be rewashed, a 100 per cent cotton anti-allergenic inner layer, a three-dimensional chin structure, adjustable straps and a nose bridge.

For every reusable mask bought, Vistaprint is also pledging to give 10 per cent of sales to local communities impacted by the pandemic.

You'll find adult and kids masks available in Rachel Riley’s signature prints of flowers, gingham and more.

Each one costs £19 and they are suitable for children aged three and above, and the same designs are available for adults, so you can match if you like. They are made with a cotton satin lining, polyester inner layer and cotton outer layer.

It will also be donating 10 percent of profits from the sales of its face masks to Best Beginnings, a UK charity that supports parents during pregnancy and the early stages of parenthood.

This indie US apparel brand has started making organic cotton face masks during the coronavirus crisis. Suitable for children aged between two and eight, the brand offers masks for adults too, and they are available to UK customers.

The masks are available in pink, blue, black or white and cost £17, however, if you buy two you get 20 per cent off, and if you buy four, you can get 25 per cent off.

Every mask is reusable and the brand recommends to wash it with soap and water before air drying or tumble drying on a low heat.

Made with two layers of a soft cotton blend fabric, Lancashire Textiles has made children's reusable protective face masks for £8.99 each.

There are three different prints to choose from: polka dots, stripes and gingham in pink and blue styles. Each one comes with elasticated straps to keep them in place.

For every mask sold, it is donating £1 to the East Lancashire NHS Trust too.

(Source: Independent)

The Baudelarian horsewoman

In Susanna Forrest’s Écuryères series, she unearths the lost stories of the transgressive horsewomen of turn-of-the-century Paris. 

Jenny de Rahden lies on the bed, half raised on an elbow. A gray-haired man who shares her elegant, strong-nosed profile—her father—stands over her, and behind him the room becomes shadow. 

In the photograph, Jenny lies on a strange counterpane, so great that it conceals the bed itself. Its overspilling edges are frilled, and it is white with large, dark, irregular spots. It has a curly, straggling tail: a horse in the invalid’s bedroom. She is thirty and she is blind, lying on the hide of the Hungarian stallion Csárdás, who carried her when she made her circus debut as a haute école or dressage performer. One day, she writes in her memoir, they’ll wrap Csárdás’s rough coat, the crackling hide that covered his aging, dipping back, around her and place her in her coffin. She hopes it comes soon.

Most of the écuyères or horsewomen of the nineteenth-century circus left no trace of their own thoughts behind. Jenny de Rahden wrote a book. Whether she did it because she needed money or needed to put down her own side of the story after years of being spoken for in the European press—or both—is unknowable but she called it a roman or novel. I can’t tell how much of it is genuine. Jenny lived in an era before fact-checking and though her life was undoubtedly tragic, her style is sometimes melodramatic. “Does life really throw up these bizarreries, of which novelists and playwrights seem to possess the only secret?” she asks at one point. Perhaps calling it a novel gave her freedom to rewrite a messier past and fit it into more conventional romantic feminine tropes, rejecting the saltier stories written about circus horsewomen by male writers of the period. She was, after all, writing in 1902 when the century had barely turned and respectability remained a stifling life vest for women. She’d known its constrictions and buoyancy since birth: Jenny was not circus-born and she had become an artiste to support her father when he bankrupted them by gambling on the stock exchange. As a performer, her reputation as a lady was constantly at risk, not least because she supported not one but two men with her earnings. This dance around sex, money, masculinity, and respectability deformed her whole life—and resulted in a murder in her name.

Le Roman de l’Écuyère tells a familiar tale of a girl from a good family whose mother, as in the best fairy tales, died on hearing her first cries on a stormy night full of omens, and a father who, like Beauty’s, ruined the family with foolish business decisions. The good heroine refused to sell herself in a marriage that would restore the family, and instead bought three magical horses with the last gift her mother left her: an Arabian, a Trakehner, and the spotted Csárdás. Aged just seventeen, she took her father and her faithful aunt Tantante from Breslau (then part of the German Empire, now Wrocław in Poland) to Riga where a circus director and his jealous wife cheated her and stole one of her horses, and a distinguished gentleman at a local newspaper came to her aid like an excellent fairy godmother and ensured her success. On she went on a path through the woods peopled by circus directors who pinched wages, by their wives and daughters who did not want her above them on the bill, and by men who threw roses at Csárdás’s hoofs and rattled the door of her dressing room.

From Riga she went to Moscow, from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, where she was adored. One local aristocrat presented her with a huge golden stirrup as a tribute to her skill and charm. Another Baron asked the circus director, “Is there a way of doing something with the little one?” He was told that she was a good girl with a father and aunt in tow. He stared at her with such intensity that she fell off her horse, and of course he was there to scoop her up and take her home.

Baron Oscar Wladimir de Rahden was the favored nephew of the empress’s lady-in-waiting, a rackety naval officer who slept with his colleague’s wives, ran up debts, and flew into duels at the slightest glancing brush to his honor. In Saint Petersburg, he was running out of favor, his aunt now dead. He liked Jenny. Respectfully, he visited and she found herself falling for this touchy hero. Her father disapproved, and his parents said they would disinherit him if he married an artiste. But they did marry, in Saint Catherine’s catholic church on Nevsky Prospekt. His parents cut him off. The Baron dedicated himself “to literature” and managing his wife’s career.

This Baron was built on a hair trigger, but he was a good man, according to Jenny the memoirist. It’s just that there were so many enemies out there when a woman was paid to perform before all eyes—the horse was no protection. There were men who did not always respect the écuyère’s art or wedding ring. In a portrait circulated by a photographer’s studio, she reclines, her bodice dabbed with stars, a feathered fan behind her head, looking more like an actress than a sober-suited horsewoman.

In Copenhagen, a young Danish lieutenant called Frederick Castenschiold befriended both Jenny and the Baron but fell in love with Jenny. The Baron could not withstand the insult, and a duel was called. Jenny was told the men were going duck hunting. When she arrived in the aftermath, breathless from a performance and a train ride, dazzling circles vibrating before her eyes, she found her Baron bandaged with a Turk’s turban, smoking and laughing with his friends. Castenschiold was the army’s best fencer and her sailor husband preferred pistols—he had taken a saber swipe to the temple from the Dane. The matter resolved, they proceeded to the actual duck hunt. The Baron gave Castenschiold a photograph of Jenny. Castenschiold was reprimanded in person by King Christian for dueling over a circus performer.


When Jenny first appeared at the Nouveau Cirque in Paris in October 1890, the critic and dramatist Jules Lemaître noted her conformation and that of Csárdás: “Very thin and very supple: a black thread; an elegant, dry little head, pale blonde hair tucked up under a top hat, with long kiss curls that cover half her cheeks and reach to the bottom of her ears, giving her pointy face a bizarre and disturbing air. She rides an equally bizarre big horse, pied as you’ve never seen before, riddled with ugly spots like ulcers, and which seems to be made of damp cardboard. She’s a Baudelairian horsewoman.”

Lemaître could not look away. “I don’t know if what she does is difficult, but it’s very arresting. At one point, the horse rears straight up, and the slender horsewoman bends right over backwards and dangles her head low … She has a bizarre fashion of saluting too, a composite of a feminine curtsey and a masculine salute. Go see her. In short, she’s very fin de siècle. I don’t know exactly what that means, but that’s what she is.”

Other commentators were keen to relate the story of the duel and the dramatic husband. The Baron wasn’t, as one writer later put it, the only “horse eating at the baroness’ manger.” There was also her father, David. Jenny paid him off when she married and sent him home. Then she called him back.

In Paris, the couple seldom went out. The Baron was always present, even at the circus—no one could talk to Jenny without him there. She was hotly applauded every night after her “brilliant” debut. From Paris, they went on to Italy, and in Milan they lost Tantante to blood poisoning, leaving just Jenny, her father and husband. Jenny earned the cash as the Baron wrote the odd article about Siberia and her father lagged along.

In Turin in May, the Baron managed two duels in one day after a count sent Jenny love letters “in the language of Dante” and, peeved that she did not respond, brought friends to her next performance and blew a whistle throughout. The Baron slapped him; honor was demanded. The Baron slashed the count’s neck with a saber (the count survived), refreshed himself with some marsala, then tackled the count’s friend, the best fencer in Italy, who caught the Baron’s face and then, after “halt” was called, stabbed the Baron in the shoulder. The Baron throttled him and knocked him over. Nobody’s honor was satisfied, but the duels were at least over.

At Asti, another man threw white roses into the ring as Jenny performed, and her horse, startled, leapt into the audience and landed on an old lady, who had to be paid off from Jenny’s meager buffer against destitution. In Lisbon, there was a man who was sure he could perform Jenny’s best trick. He came to the circus with his wife and son, strapped a Mexican saddle to his horse so he would stick, and up he and his horse went in a rear and didn’t stop till they were both on their backs and his leg was broken. So then all of Lisbon was angry that their best “sportsman” had been injured by a woman’s circus trick.

Madrid. Seville. On an afternoon’s outing, Jenny seized a man’s revolver and shot a runaway fighting bull that had disemboweled two mules and turned on her carriage. Malaga. Barcelona. Here, as Jenny joined the Circus Allegria, the Danish lieutenant Castenschiold reappeared like a bad penny, trailing tales of Monte Carlo debts and army discharges. He had been, he said, in Egypt and fighting rebels in the Sudan. He had no money and would like to work in a circus. When the Baron questioned him, he waved a knife at the Russian. The Baron turned his back, and the next day word in the circus said that Castenschiold had left for the Americas. He had not.

At Clermont-Ferrand, in central France, it became clear that Castenschiold was following them. He knew where Jenny kept her horses and lingered nearby. The Baron visited the police, who told him not to worry, even when he said he would defend his wife with his revolver.

August 23, 1890. Jenny was standing backstage beside her horse before her performance, the Baron at her shoulder, when Castenschiold materialized before them in the corridor that ran around the circus arena. The Baron, seeking to avoid what was barreling toward the three of them, turned and walked away around the curve of the corridor. Castenschiold spun on his heels and ran in the other direction, hurrying to meet him. They clashed. The Dane raised his stick and struck the Russian. The Russian drew his revolver and his fingers convulsed on the trigger. Jenny, buttoning her gloves, heard the two shots. Then two more.

She found the Dane bleeding on the floor, asking for someone to bring him two photographs—of his mother and of Jenny. The Baron walked past Jenny without seeing her. “Tell my wife I did my duty,” said his mustache, as he asked for an absinthe at the circus bar. The police took him into custody. Castenschiold died twenty hours later. In his rooms, they found a portrait of Jenny and a box containing unsigned letters from a woman, and more photographs of the Baronne de Rahden. In accordance with Castenschiold’s dying wish, this box was burned.

Now every circus director in Europe wanted Jenny, and her Baron, a tiger pacing in his jail cell, waiting for his trial, urged her not to lose her career. Those horses—equine and human—weren’t going to feed themselves. So she took on the best offer although it took her to Paris, which had caught scent of her scandals, and not a circus but a theater: the Folies Bergères.

Eight square meters is all the Folies Bergères gave her to perform on. They nailed coconut matting over the sloping boards and it shifted under the horses’ feet, making them uneasy. No barrier was mounted at the edge of the stage, just the flaring footlight reflectors, and at first the orchestra refused to perform with her, picturing a half ton of Csárdás smashing violins and skulls. When they saw her rehearse, they were won over, because Jenny and her horses were a miracle, a cavalcade on a pinhead.

Let me tell you about the duel Jenny undertook every night, as the men twirled flowers and pistols in the background:
She entered on a horse who bounded to the edge of the stage, his forehoofs thudding just above the heads of the orchestra as they played. Like dancers, she and and the horse stepped to the left and then to the right, the horse’s rigid frame flexing and his legs crisscrossing. They cantered around that eight-meter square space, then dashed across the ring, peeling back in tighter circles, once in each direction. Then she made him skip before they completed pirouettes and left the stage in a high-kneed Spanish walk.

She was back then on another horse, Da Capo, at a gallop, rucking up the matting as they halted. Across the stage and then another pirouette, and then with her hands and her stick she made Da Capo rear and then bow. There were four fences set in a square, and they leapt in and out of the box always, always in that eight … meter … square. The horse stopped dead in the center for a beat, then jumped out from a standstill. They ended with her most dangerous move: Da Capo walking on his hind legs like a bear, and Jenny bent back against the resistance of her corset and hung by her knee from the pommel of the sidesaddle, her head resting at the top of his tail. The first night, Da Capo toppled over backward onto her, pinning her for a second before she could pull herself clear. Miraculously she was only bruised. The barrel of the pistol had spun to an empty chamber.

She returned for her applause on foot and as she raised her top hat Da Capo careered on with neither saddle not bridle and took his own bow. He lay down at her feet and she sat on him. The audience was in raptures; the fee was 1,500 francs a month. Ten days after Castenchiold’s death, a critic wrote that he had seen her flirting with young men backstage.


The trial gives me a chance to break away from the strange, rhapsodic darkness of Jenny’s roman. Here, for once, there are other witnesses. The Paris papers sent their best men to cover the Baron’s trial, and when Jenny was fenced into another cramped space—the witness box—another story emerged in the questions the lawyers put to Jenny and her father. That tale splits away from the spare account of proceedings that Jenny the author later gave.

In this story, the Baron was a drunk who sank “cup after cup” of absinthe and cognac and treated his wife “like a filthy cow” and his father-in-law “like an old dog” (“He only drank when he got jealous!” protested Jenny in the witness box.) His eyes were small, his face “extremely hard.” The groom said he took out his drunken temper on the horses. In this story, Jenny brought her father back to live with them as protection, and her father confided in a maid that he would prefer rich, young Castenschiold as a son-in-law. In this story, Jenny might, just might, have written those burned letters to the young Dane and told him how to follow them to Clermont-Ferrand. In this story, Castenschiold was visited by a tall, slender woman in a white veil and heliotrope dress that his landlady identified as the Baronne de Rahden.

Jenny stood with her teeth gritted, refusing to answer most of the questions posed to her:
“You perhaps encouraged Castenschiold a little to pursue you?”
She lowers her head without saying yes or no.

“The evening before the murder your husband hit you and your father.”

“I don’t remember.”

The Baron was unmoved. When the jury withdrew, the reporters saw her go to him, “with the moist eyes of a beaten dog that wants to be beaten again,” and say a few words in German to her grim, furious husband. He smiled.

The judge told him off for letting his wife risk her life in the circus. One reporter suggested that he was defending his meal ticket as much as his wife’s honor. But the Baron was deemed not guilty—this was self defense, not premeditated murder—and finally, his composure cracked and he cried. The women in the courtroom swooned at the romance of it. Jenny nearly collapsed; she had leapt out of the square of fences once again, but where had she landed? One reporter saw the Baron as he went to collect Jenny after the trial: “They remained silent for a moment; he always glacial; her frozen, cheeks scarlet, eyes shining.” As he took a step toward her, she backed up in fear and ran away weeping.

Who is being melodramatic here? Jenny, the landlady, or the court reporter? Jenny sums up the court case in a brief chapter of her memoir and does not mention the heliotrope dress or her own interrogation. She is a faithful, distressed wife willing the jury to set her husband free. One journalist notes that the Baron was the “defender of her glory and her virtue,” and “she loved him in that role.”

That evening the couple—and her father—were on the train back to Paris so she could perform. Their life on the road continued, but the wheels were wobbling on their axles. Jenny performed as Leo in Pirates de la Savane —the role made famous by Adah Isaacs Menken thirty years earlier and for which Sarah l’Africaine was once touted—even though it meant swapping her respectable habit, the one buttoned to the neck, in favor of something scanty, and being tied to a galloping horse’s back. “She’s not scared of anything, La Rahden,” said someone leaving the theater. In her memoir, she doesn’t mention that the Baron tried to become a circus performer himself during this period—he was billed as a sharpshooter trained on the Mongolian steppe. He challenged Buffalo Bill Cody to a shoot off for his Paris debut. Cody ignored him, though the Baron did perform in the provinces instead. He made some money in a shooting match and they took it to a casino. The next year, Jenny pivoted to acting on the stage in Hamburg. This also went unmentioned in her memoirs.

In Jenny’s version, at this point, a deus ex machina of sorts appeared in Berlin. A Russian officer approached the Baron and said he would endorse his return to the Russian Navy, but only if La Baronne retired from the stage. A Russian officer could not be supported by an artiste no matter how meager his new salary. The Baron wished it; Jenny held back.

“I had my will, I had one goal in mind, that I was fixed on achieving. And I would not take a step away from the path that would lead me to this goal: independence,” Jenny wrote—shades of the teenage girl who had refused to marry her family out of trouble. But she would never say in her memoir that she could not rely on the dueling, gambling, tempestuous man she married to support her and her father for more than a month at a time, and that there was much, too, in the plaudits, in being the only one who could do that dangerous trick. The “little one” in the top hat on the expensive Hungarian horse from Maas. The horseshoe broach at her throat; the golden stirrups. But the Baron, while sympathetic, wanted to finally man up and rescue her from the circus. They made preparations to sell two of Jenny’s horses.

But what about Csárdás? He was blind. The flare of the footlights had permanently dazzled his great brown eyes. He still performed with Jenny, his trust in her and hers in him absolute, but on the Baron’s wages there was no money to feed the actual horse that had earned his keep for years. Jenny’s heart was wrung: “Ah! It’s cruel and hard to be obliged to separate oneself from a being you hold to heart … My life was intimately tied to that of this poor animal! And I must quit him now, as I would quit my past existence, my success and my career as an artiste.”


They did not return to Russia, in the end. Csárdás did not die. The Baron did—felled by a lung infection. Jenny sat and watched as the life rattled out of him and he turned to her and said: Ne tombe pas avec le cheval.

“Don’t fall with the horse.” She was, she wrote, now dead, too, as far as she was concerned. Her “good and loving” husband, so “wrongly judged” by many, was buried and her distress was so complete that the doctors tried to stop her riding. She was consumed with anxiety and headaches. “The life of an écuyère is neither a pleasure nor a joke,” she wrote, her health slowly breaking and her nerve faltering.

 But there was no one else to support her and her father if she wasn’t in the ring: the horses were not sold; Csárdás lived on. She was legged back into her saddle and on tour across Europe, losing nights to fever and fear. Then one morning, she opened her eyes and was blind. Her screams woke the hotel.

The doctors said that a surge of blood had ripped her retina and severed the optic nerve.

By now she was dogged, an arrow angled at fate; when that night’s circus director suggested that she could still perform, reading aloud the cost of lost receipts to her, she began to think that with dear, blind Csárdás she could trim their routine to satisfy the people who had paid to see La Baronne. Csárdás had never betrayed her, but she signed off fatalistically: “If this adventurous attempt fails, if God disapproves of my act, let his will be done! Better to die under the public eye in the course of my profession than remain condemned to a desolate life, a cursed existence. Death would be a deliverance.” The pistol was cocked; the duel with death was called.

In the wings, she heard the crowds but her focus was only on Csárdás as he moved under her. A wild energy surged through her in the blackness, and Csárdás felt it—he didn’t like it. The stallion froze. Jenny cued him. He began to resist. Csárdás had felt the sump at their feet, the deliverance Jenny sought, and now he backed away, “as if from an abyss.” And Jenny, for the first time, raised her whip. When it struck the stallion he reared up. He touched down and then leapt forward, and “I had the confused sensation that we were tumbling into the void, into a bottomless precipice, into the immeasurable nothing.” As she whiplashed off the saddle, Jenny struck a column at the edge of the stage and the blackness was absolute. It lasted for seven days.

Jenny dictated this roman from the bed in the photograph where she lies on Csárdás. She is glad, she writes, that her husband did not live to see her in this dingy room in Boulogne, this void with floral curtains. Csárdás is still her companion, she adds, and she has a letter from Castenschiold’s mother offering her deepest sympathy. 

What grace, what pure and grand consolation. She was not, she says, fitted with the lightness of heart required for the life of an artiste; her education and temperament forbade it. The golden age of the circus horsewoman was over by the early 1900s just as the era of the horse peaked and began a long, slow fade that filled the streets with automobiles. In Jenny’s future lay a brief, failed career as a singer, and when she died in 1921, the Paris papers remembered seeing her in her retirement, being steered around the Bois de Boulogne in a carriage, ignored by all the current belles.
I hope they wrapped her in Csárdás at the end, and let him carry her over to the other side.

Susanna Forrest is the author of The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History and If Wishes Were Horses. She’s currently working on a third book and a series of essays about circus horsewomen in nineteenth-century Paris.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Video witnessing of wills to be made legal in England and Wales during pandemic

Change in law forced by Covid-19 backdated to 31 January to ensure last wishes are fulfilled

Video witnessing of wills is to be made legal in England and Wales to make it easier for people to record their final wishes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Existing law requires a will to be made “in the presence of” at least two witnesses but stipulations on isolating and shielding during lockdown have led some people to turn to video platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime instead.

On Saturday, ministers said wills witnessed in such a way will be deemed legal, providing the quality of sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time.

The change in law, which will be effected in September, will be backdated to 31 January, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK, and will remain in place until at least 31 January 2022.
People will still be asked to sign their last will and testament in the physical presence of two witnesses where it is safe to do so. Photograph: Hailshadow/Getty

Emily Deane, technical counsel at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Step), which represents professional will writers, said: “We are delighted that the government has responded to the industry’s calls to allow will witnessing over video conference. By removing the need for any physical witnesses, wills can continue to be drawn up efficiently, effectively and safely by those isolating.

“Step also welcomes the move to apply this retrospectively, which will provide reassurance to anyone who has had no choice but to execute a will in this manner prior to this legislation being enacted. We hope the policy will continue to evolve and enable more people to execute a will at this difficult time.”

Wills still need to be signed by two witnesses who are not its beneficiaries, and electronic signatures will not be permitted. The government stressed that the use of video technology should remain a last resort and that people must continue to arrange physical witnessing of wills where it is safe to do so, pointing to case law which says that wills witnessed through windows are legitimate as long as they have clear sight of the person signing.

Simon Davis, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “The Law Society is glad to see that guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse. We look forward to working with government to ensure the reform is robust and successful.”

The justice secretary and lord chancellor, Robert Buckland MP, said: “Our measures will give peace of mind to many that their last wishes can still be recorded during this challenging time, while continuing to protect the elderly and vulnerable.”

(Source: The Guardian)

'My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves'

Amid the global debate about race relations, colonialism, and slavery, some of the Europeans and Americans who made their fortunes in trading human beings have seen their legacies reassessed, their statues toppled and their names removed from public buildings.

Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani writes that one of her ancestors sold slaves, but argues that he should not be judged by today's standards or values.

Getty Images
My great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, was what I prefer to call a businessman, from the Igbo ethnic group of south-eastern Nigeria. He dealt in a number of goods, including tobacco and palm produce. He also sold human beings.

"He had agents who captured slaves from different places and brought them to him," my father told me.

Nwaubani Ogogo's slaves were sold through the ports of Calabar and Bonny in the south of what is today known as Nigeria.

People from ethnic groups along the coast, such as the Efik and Ijaw, usually acted as stevedores for the white merchants and as middlemen for Igbo traders like my great-grandfather.

Several European nations had slave compounds in what is now Nigeria

They loaded and offloaded ships and supplied the foreigners with food and other provisions. They negotiated prices for slaves from the hinterlands, then collected royalties from both the sellers and buyers.

About 1.5 million Igbo slaves were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean between the 15th and 19th Centuries.

More than 1.5 million Africans were shipped to what was then called the New World - the Americas - through the Calabar port, in the Bight of Bonny, making it one of the largest points of exit during the transatlantic trade.

The only life they knew
Nwaubani Ogogo lived in a time when the fittest survived and the bravest excelled. The concept of "all men are created equal" was completely alien to traditional religion and law in his society.

It would be unfair to judge a 19th Century man by 21st Century principles.

Assessing the people of Africa's past by today's standards would compel us to cast the majority of our heroes as villains, denying us the right to fully celebrate anyone who was not influenced by Western ideology.

Igbo slave traders like my great-grandfather did not suffer any crisis of social acceptance or legality. They did not need any religious or scientific justifications for their actions. They were simply living the life into which they were raised.
That was all they knew.

Slaves buried alive
The most popular story I've heard about my great-grandfather was how he successfully confronted officials of the British colonial government after they seized some of his slaves.

The slaves were being transported by middlemen, along with a consignment of tobacco and palm produce, from Nwaubani Ogogo's hometown of Umuahia to the coast.

My great-grandfather apparently did not consider it fair that his slaves had been seized.

Buying and selling of human beings among the Igbo had been going on long before the Europeans arrived. People became slaves as punishment for crime, payment for debts, or prisoners of war.

The successful sale of adults was considered an exploit for which a man was hailed by praise singers, akin to exploits in wrestling, war, or in hunting animals like the lion.

Igbo slaves served as domestic servants and labourers. They were sometimes also sacrificed in religious ceremonies and buried alive with their masters to attend to them in the next world.

Slavery was so ingrained in the culture that a number of popular Igbo proverbs make reference to it:
  • Anyone who has no slave is his own slave
  • A slave who looks on while a fellow slave is tied up and thrown into the grave with his master should realise that the same thing could be done to him someday
  • It is when the son is being given advice that the slave learns
The arrival of European merchants offering guns, mirrors, gin, and other exotic goods in exchange for humans massively increased demand, leading people to kidnap others and sell them.

How slaves were traded in Africa

  • European buyers tended to remain on the coast
  • African sellers brought slaves from the interior on foot
  • Journeys could be as long as 485km (300 miles)
  • Two captives were typically chained together at the ankle
  • Columns of captives were tied together by ropes around their necks
  • 10%-15% of captives died on the way
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Resisting abolition
The trade in African people continued until 1888, when Brazil became the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish it.

When the British extended their rule to south-eastern Nigeria in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, they began to enforce abolition through military action.

But by using force rather than persuasion, many local people such as my great-grandfather may not have understood that abolition was about the dignity of humankind and not a mere change in economic policy that affected demand and supply.
The Missionary Society was formed in London in 1799 by British anti-slavery campaigners. Getty Images

"We think this trade must go on," one local king in Bonny infamously said in the 19th Century.

"That is the verdict of our oracle and our priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God."

As far as my great-grandfather was concerned, he had a bona fide trading licence from the Royal Niger Company, a British company that administered commerce in the region in the last quarter of the 19th Century.

So when his property was seized, an aggrieved Nwaubani Ogogo boldly went to see the colonial officers responsible and presented them with his licence. They released his goods, and his slaves.

"The white people apologised to him," my father said.

Slave trade in the 20th Century
Acclaimed Igbo historian Adiele Afigbo described the slave trade in south-eastern Nigeria which lasted until the late 1940s and early 1950s as one of the best kept secrets of the British colonial administration.

Adaobi's father, Chukwuma Hope Nwaubani, lives on land that was owned by Nwaubani Ogogo. ADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI

While the international trade ended, the local trade continued.

"The government was aware of the fact that the coastal chiefs and the major coastal traders had continued to buy slaves from the interior," wrote Afigbo in The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Southern Nigeria: 1885 to 1950.

He added that the British tolerated the ongoing trade on political and economic grounds.

They needed the slave-trading chiefs for effective local governance, and for the expansion and growth of legitimate trade.

Sometimes, they also turned a blind eye rather than jeopardise a useful alliance, as seems to have been the case when they returned Nwaubani Ogogo's slaves.

That incident deified Nwaubani Ogogo among his people. Here was a man who successfully confronted the white powers from overseas. I have heard the story from relatives, and have read about it.

It was also the beginning of a relationship of mutual respect with the colonialists that led to Nwaubani Ogogo being appointed a paramount chief by the British administration.

He was the government's representative to the people in his region, in a system known as indirect rule.

Records from the UK's National Archives at Kew Gardens show how desperately the British struggled to end the internal trade in slaves for almost the entire duration of the colonial period.

British traders were at the heart of the slave trade, before the UK government abolished the trade. Getty Images

They promoted legitimate trade, especially in palm produce. They introduced English currency to replace the cumbersome brass rods and cowries that merchants needed slaves to carry. They prosecuted offenders with prison sentences.

"By the 1930s, the colonial establishment had been worn down," wrote Afigbo.

"As a result, they had come to place their hope for the extirpation of the trade on the corrosive effect over time of education and general civilisation."

How the UK abolished slavery
  • 1833 Parliament outlawed slavery in most British colonies
  • 1834 Law took effect
  • 800,000 slaves were freed 
  • £20m allocated to pay for "damages" suffered by owners
  • compensation for freed slaves
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Working with the British
As a paramount chief, Nwaubani Ogogo collected taxes on behalf of the British and earned a commission for himself in the process.

He presided over cases in native courts. He supplied labourers for the construction of rail lines. He also willingly donated land for missionaries to build churches and schools.

The house where I grew up and where my parents still live sits on a piece of land that has been in my family for over a century.

Nwaubani Ogogo donated land to Christian missionaries. ADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI

It was once the site of Nwaubani Ogogo's guest house, where he hosted visiting British officials. They sent him envelopes containing snippets of their hair to let him know whenever they were due to arrive.

Nwaubani Ogogo died sometime in the early 20th Century. He left behind dozens of wives and children. No photographs exist of him but he was said to have been remarkably light-skinned.

In December 2017, a church in Okaiuga in Abia State of south-eastern Nigeria was celebrating its centenary and invited my family to receive a posthumous award on his behalf.

Their records showed that he had provided an armed escort for the first missionaries in the area.

My great-grandfather was renowned for his business prowess, outstanding boldness, strong leadership, vast influence, immense contributions to society, and advancement of Christianity.

The Igbo do not have a culture of erecting monuments to their heroes - otherwise one dedicated to him might have stood somewhere in the Umuahia region today.

"He was respected by everyone around," my father said. "Even the white people respected him."

(Source: BBC)