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Did you all watch Moana? That movie was amazing! It may be my favorite Disney movie (and I am a big fan of hand-drawn animation instead of the computer rendered stuff, so that is really saying something). The eponymous hero is brave and truly heroic, yet her strength does not come from magic or violence (or a marriage proposal from some foppish prince), it comes from constant striving to go farther and understand things better. That is a rare thing in our entertainment world.
There is an amazing revelation early on in the movie. Moana longs to leave her island paradise and sail the broad oceans, but society forbids anyone–even a hereditary princess–from sailing beyond the reef. Then, in a scene of breathtaking wonder, Moana discovers the secret history of her people. They were not originally from that island…once they were fearless explorers who sailed across the Pacific Ocean on enormous exploration canoes. Yet they have become insular—obsessed with rules, hierarchies, and the past. Not only have they become fearful and small, but they have caught all available fish and their fruit groves are dying…
Naturally, the talk about Moana has largely centered around two things: (1) whether it is secretly an allegory of American politics (I don’t think it is…exactly…but clearly there are uncomfortable parallels); and (2) whether it bowdlerizes Polynesian culture (it does, but, come on! kids’ cartoons flatten and distort every story and the movie presents Polynesian culture with respect and wonder). “Hercules” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” destroyed those stories: in Disney’s hands they literally ended up with opposite meanings (and endings) than in the original versions, but you don’t hear French people and ancient Greeks complaining.
Lately, in our world, everyone seems to be becoming ever more tribal. We are swift to find (or imagine) insult about anything concerning our group or worldview, and strangely unable to perceive the wonder and possibilities of the bigger picture. I have been writing about princesses because I want people to stop being so stupid and tribal. We need to re-examine the leadership archetypes we grew up with so that we can make some better choices.
There are two antithetical reasons we sell the concept of princesshood to little girls. The first reason is about making children behave. If you master rules and norms, people will like you and you will succeed. The other is about true leadership, not by coercive means like threats, lawsuits, or bossing people around, but by generosity, and imagination, and beautiful example. If you making your life into something remarkable and amazing, other people are drawn towards you and want to follow you.
Everyone has to tread the line between these two poles– whether you have to submit to the whims of the great masters and the weight of society–or whether you can build a life of beauty, meaning and worth on your own terms. Moana masters both, and is able to lead her people beyond the reef back to their true heritage of exploration and discovery.
People worldwide are growing dissatisfied with the self-satisfied conclusions of the post Cold War era of globalization and automation. They ask whether we should turn back the clock to make society more insular, static, tribal, and impoverished (yet more safe), or whether we should instead keep growing, learning, and discovering—even if it puts us at danger. It strikes me that there can only be one answer: the insular society of the 50s was not really all that safe. The only way is forward; there actually is no road back. We will keep exploring this idea, but in the meantime watch Moana, and tell me your opinions about princesses (or share some favorite childhood memories). We are starting from the beginning in rediscovering what is best about leadership and how to move on to a future which is worthwhile. Reexamining some cherished archetypes is a good place to start, but there is a lot we need to talk about concerning where we want to go and who we want to be.
Kings and Queens wear crowns. Great Lords wear coronets. Emperors wear diadems. Princesses, of course, wear tiaras. Ferrebeekeeper could not let princess week pass without featuring a beautiful historical head-dress worn by a princess. The Iranian crown jewels (which are too-my eyes the most stylish) did not quite suit the theme and so I chose to look to Great Britain. Princess Margaret, late sister to the Queen of England was simultaneously a classic princess and a scandalous modern one. This is her signature tiara, which she wore on her wedding to a photographer, or in the bathtub (to impress on people that she was a classical princess and a scandalous modern one too).
Although the Poltimore tiara is emblematic of the nineteen sixties because of princess Margaret and her jet-setting (but slightly sad) lifestyle, the Poltimore tiara is actually Victorian crown. It was originally made by Garrard for Florence for Lady Poltimore, wife of Baron Poltimore, in the 1870s. Because of the jeweler’s ingenuity, it can be broken apart into brooches and a necklace, and the full tiara set also includes a little screwdriver. Aside from the screwdriver, which I perhaps should not have mentioned first, the tiara is all diamonds set in gold and silver floral scrollwork patterns.
Of course this history doesn’t really get us closer to answering the question of why princesses wear tiaras to begin with. Since the dawn of time, a glistening hat has betokened status, but why? The ancients believed that the form of a crown—rays emanating from the head denoted celestial importance—divinity and the Christians likewise elided the form with the halo of saints and angels, however it is possible there is an earthlier answer.
After her death, Princess Margaret’s heirs auctioned off the Poltimore tiara for more than a million pounds. Nothing shows off status like being able to wear decades worth of a person’s income to a party, and aside from its obvious prettiness (and the fame of its most famous owner), the Poltimore tiara wasn’t even really a valuable tiara….
OK…for a second Valentine’s Day post, I wanted to post a beautiful crown with a heart at the center, however, although that concept certainly exists in cartoons and illustrations…and as endless rhinestone costume crowns (see example above), the actual item proved difficult to find. Yet, in the end, I did find such a crown. This is the Milford Haven Ruby Tiara, a real golden tiara with a real heart shaped ruby. It has found its way to the United Kingdom, but its history starts in Russia and runs through European nobility.
Here is a quote which describes the head spinning history of the piece: “A gold tiara in kokoshnik form, set with faceted and cabochon rubies and diamonds in the form of stars and crescents, fleurs-de-lys, trefoils and a central radiant heart. Several of the motifs can be detached and worn as brooches. Made by Bolin, for the Grand Duke Michael Michaelovitch, grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, for his bride Sophie de Merenberg, Countess Torby. It passed to his daughter, Countess Nadejda of Torby, who married Prince George of Battenberg (later the second Marquess of Milford Haven).”
Whatever the provenance, it is a splendiferous headdress! The ruby heart is beautiful, but the overall balance of the composition is the real treat. It looks like a magical spirit garden in heaven. Who knew something so ostentatious could be so subtle?
We haven’t had much of a winter so far…which is fine with me. I dislike the cold part of the year and I was happy today when it was unexpectedly sixty and I got to bike in to work. And yet there is supposed to be a blizzard tomorrow!
So, to celebrate the season of snow and ice here is a little gallery of crowns which are meant to resemble snow and ice. Some of them are really pretty—especially the ones which are actually made of icicles (which I have always loves for their otherworldly frightful beauty).
I wish that more of them looked like snowflakes though—they really have their own disturbing alien allure. Anyway, I hope you are inside enjoying a bog mug of your favorite hot beverage and nestled by a fire. And for my tropical and southern hemisphere readers, why do you guys never invite me to come visit?
Happy blizzard. I’ll see you all tomorrow.
It was another killer week, so it’s time for a lazy lazy post which beguiles the brain with pseudo content (and allows the gentle blogger to feed his cat, draw his flounders, and go to bed almost on time). And yet, some commenters say the most terrible truths shine forth from the simplest entries…
Behold a gallery of animated gif crowns. Each sparkles like brilliant jewels however each is actually worthless–a shiny bauble to distract your attention. They are not gold or precious metal: they are made of bits and bytes in cyberspace. And despite that, somehow here we are looking at them.
Crowns really have no place in modern life at all. They come from a different era when we worshiped loud ostentatious leaders who dazzled people with purloined riches or tortured the ones who did not bend their knees. We want no kings or queens any more…especially not in America. It is a bad idea…which somehow keeps on lingering in our collective consciousness. When I looked for animated crowns online, there were so very many. Terry Pratchett once wrote… “It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: ‘Kings. What a good idea.’ Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw.”
See how they glisten and do the same thing over and over! Contemplate their emptiness and vainglory. There is so much hollow content on the web–pure junk which is just meant to aggrandize someone else… This last one seems almost like a fool’s hat.
Ferrebeekeeper has a great love of space-themed art. Yet the beginnings of western art as we know it today were not about space, but instead about religion. Christian iconography dominated: the heavens were not the literal heavens but instead the supernatural …uh…actually, never mind. This is a fresco by Giotto from the Arena Chapel. Giotto single-handedly reshaped the classical and medieval precepts of art (and remade our notion of visual culture). The Arena Chapel is his masterwork–a project where Byzantine opulence, Christian devotion, linear perspective, and new Italian realism converged to give birth to the European artistic tradition (although, to be sure, Western art had many grandparents…and lots of weird uncles that were an influence before–and after–Giotto).
Here is the birth of art…showing the birth of Christ, and there, proudly in the center of the composition, right above Jesus and the adoring Magi, is a comet which would not look out of place in nineteen-sixties space art. The flying ball of fire points directly into the manger where the astonished kings (and their even more astonished camels pay homage to the new-born savior who has appeared as a refugee child). It is a beautiful picture–and an unexpected appearance of outer space imagery right at the dawn of the 14th century as art began to manifest itself in familiar fashion.
Here in America many of our Christmas habits descend from English…and Old English…and pre-English traditions. Yet among the mistletoe and fruitcake and holly boughs, one key element of English gifts is clearly lacking: explosive gifts.
The people of the UK have this gift-style thing called “a cracker.” Now in America, a cracker is either a flat disk of inedible starch meant to be fed to a parrot or a racial insult aimed at poor southern whites, yet in England it is something rather more magical and surreal. The cracker, or more properly the “bon-bon”, is a paper or cardboard tube painted with a low-lever explosive like silver fulminate (!) and covered in a twisted wrapper of festive paper. The end-result looks rather like a giant fake tootsie roll (insomuch as tootsie rolls have any valid realness of their own). Two holiday celebrants grasp the respective ends of the cracker and pull, whereupon the silver fulminate detonates with a pop. like a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly and one party is left with the gift, whereas the other has nothing. So not only does this thing sound dangerous, it also sounds like it would cause lots of friendship-ending fights.
However the purpose of this blog post is not to judge the British for their toys (indeed, this cracker business is starting to reveal where some of the cantankerous, alarming, or over-the-top elements of America’s national character come from). Instead we wish to concentrate on a particular aspect of the gifts inside the cracker. In addition to candies and little toys, crackers traditionally contain tissue paper crowns which are worn during holiday feasts. I have no idea what the symbolism of this is (at Christmas, everyone is king for a moment), but I really like the hats! I wish there were some real vulture hats like in Harry Potter–that would be even more magical!
For various reasons, I have been thinking about manufacturing and small American towns and communities in the hinterland. We’ll get back to these thoughts soon, but first here is a winsome artifact of this bygone age: a glass pageant crown from Dunkirk, Indiana. This crown was part of an annual tradition: it was used to crown the annual “Cinderella, Queen of Glass”, during “Glass Days” a local festival in Dunkirk, which had an amazingly robust craft glass industry (not unlike some of the small cities and towns I know from West Virginia). Cinderella’s crown was lovingly handmade and has some of the finer stylistic elements which I like in American glass. You can find it these days in the Glass Museum at Dunkirk, which sounds like a pleasant excursion, and not nearly so forboding as the palaces, vaults, and cathedral tombs, where some of the other crowns we have featured here are located.
Condolences to the people of Thailand. Today (October 13, 2016) we bid farewell to world’s longest reigning king, Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, also known as Rama IX. Born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bhumibol became king in June of 1946 and has continuously reigned since then.
Ferrebeekeeper blogged about the king of Thailand before. He was the richest and most powerful monarch in the world (with the possible exceptions of the king of Saudi Arabia or Vladimir Putin). His subjects treated him as a living bodhisattva or god and he lived in vast palaces and rode on huge golden dragon barges. To a citizen of a Republic, it seems obscene for one man to personally control so much of a kingdom’s wealth (although frankly America has been falling short on our own austere Republican virtues these days). It is strange to think that all of this power and wealth was going to go to Bhumibol’s brother, King Ananda Mahidol —before Ananda was murdered by being shot in the forehead. Fortunately a privy court hanged some random low-status servants after a shabby show trial—thus laying any questions about the exceedingly mysterious events to rest forever.
King Bhumibol was a very loyal friend to America for 7 decades. It startles me how swiftly the Cold War is passing from everyone’s memories, but Bhumibol helped the Western Democracies to win it. His intelligence, forbearance, and natural political savvy helped Thailand stabilize South East Asia and prevent communism from spreading there (it also made Thailand the preeminent regional power). Bhumibol, a constitutional monarch eschewed direct levers of power. He was tremendously beloved by his subjects, which has always been difficult for a leader and is even more difficult in today’s wired world.. People who met him praised him as warm and sincere.
Rereading this obituary I realize it sounds like a backhanded compliment. It isn’t meant to be. The papers today are full of claptrap which obscure Bhomibal’s political skill, his adroit ability to run Thailand from the shadows while ministers and generals came and went, and–above all–his iron will. He will truly be missed. It will be majestic to see the Great Crown of Victory come out of its vault so that the playboy Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn can set it upon his own brow (for nobody else has sufficient status to grant the throne of Thailand to him) and become the new king. However it is sad to bid farewell to such a stalwart ally, gifted political player, and interesting man. It also raises worries about the stability of Thailand once a period of national mourning has passed.
This is Las Lajas sanctuary in Colombia. It was built on a bridge 50 metres (160 ft) tall which crosses the Guáitara River not far from the Ecuador border. This beautiful sanctuary, a gothic revival mini cathedral, was completed between 1916 and 1949, but previous chapels have existed at the site for a long time. According to folklore, the Virgin Mary appeared to a woman, Maria Mueces, and her deaf-mute daughter, Rosa, at the site in 1754. The two were passing by the Guaitara River when a storm broke out. They sought shelter by a waterfall coming from the canyon wall. Suddenly Rosa began shouting to her mother that the Virgin was calling to her and the pair witnessed the goddess above the gorge. Later when Rosa unexpectedly died, Maria went back to the canyon to pray, whereupon her daughter was restored to life. The modern church also features its own “miracle”: there is a fresco of the Virgin mother behind the altar…and nobody knows who painted it! To an artists, this latter miracle seems a little less like a miracle and more like an improperly executed PR plan. Also look at the Virgin’s enormous crown!