Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O'Connor

The other day I participated on a panel -- this is the traditional Mexican format for such things-- presenting Anne Marie O'Connor's wonder of a new book, The Lady in Gold, at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes. Fellow panelists were Irene Hemer, Alberto Hijar and Luz Maria Sanchez, and serving as moderator, my favorite biographer, Michael K. Schuessler. In the audience: (wow!) Elena Poniatowska.

Here's the English version of what I said in Spanish:

I don’t remember the first time I saw Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Probably, I was in highschool in California, probably I saw it in a book or as a postcard. It would have been titled, as the Austrians had retitled it during the Nazi period, Lady in Gold, with no further ado about its subject.
Of course I remembered the painting. Who could forget the Austrian Mona Lisa, stunning as a Byzantine icon, and that face – the face of belle époque Vienna—so elegantly intelligent, poised above a river of eyes of Horus?
My generation was born into a world where the adults had lived through World War II.  In 1941, my father was a little boy in the suburbs outside New York City and, as he told me many times, he was with my grandmother, as she was hanging up the laundry to dry, when the radio blared out the news of Pearl Harbor.
Veterans, survivors of POW camps, survivors of the Holocaust—these might be family, neighbors, a teacher, the owner of the shop on the corner. They were scattered everywhere, though these terrible times, the terrible things, were not subjects for everyday conversation. I never dared to ask my godfather, who was strangely calm, what he witnessed as a medic with General Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. I did not know until she was very elderly and had suffered a stroke, and I could no longer ask her about it, that my highschool French and German teacher, who had loved to sing "La Vie en Rose" on her guitar, had served as one of Herman Goering’s translators during the Nuremburg Trials.

For those of you young enough to not know, Hermann Goering was commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, the Third Reich’s Air Force, and Hitler’s designated successor. Condemned to death by hanging for his war crimes, in 1946, he committed suicide in his cell by taking cyanide.
So, though I was born 16 years after its end, as it has been for many of my generation in many countries, World War II was always very close, very vivid. But now that so many of its eyewitnesses have passed away, the vividness is moving from living memories to containers of memories, that is, to books.

Books: the capsules that carry the information, the stories of what it means to be human, across time and space. 
The literature on World War II, already almost unimaginably vast, continues to grow. Just to give you an inkling, my father, Roger Mansell, after retiring, dedicated some 20 years to amassing a library and data base on the POWs of the Japanese in the Pacific. Many of these horrific stories of torture and slave labor for Japanese corporations had been suppressed by the U.S. government and by the 90s, the Cold War over, many of the by then elderly survivors were avid to talk. The collection of books and documents and interviews took over his office, and then the house and the garage and I am quite sure my mother breathed a sigh of relief when Stanford University’s Hoover Institution accepted the donation of his archive. Since my father passed away in 2010, uncountable numbers of books have been published on the war in the Pacific, and his own, titled Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam, will be published this fall by Naval Institute Press. The POWs of the Japanese in the Pacific was but one subspecialty: World War II touched almost every corner of the planet, including, of course, Mexico. And not to go on about my father’s very interesting and important research. Where I’m going with this is to say that in the ever-flowing Amazon-sized River of literature about World War II, its many theaters of action and its many genres and topics, Anne-Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold, about the creation, theft, fight for, and return of an Austrian masterpiece, has a very special place. 
Not only does The Lady in Gold read like the best of novels, with polished prose and a well-structured narrative—richly delicious—  oh! I cannot resist the comparison—as a Viennese pastry— but it’s author, a seasoned journalist, dedicated many years to original and exhaustive research. Having spent some seven years researching my own book, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire or, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, a novel based on the true story of Maximilian von Habsburg’s court, I know the tedium—and the joys—of fingering through archives, and mulling, sometimes over weeks, months and even years, puzzles, questions that themselves sometimes take eons to even formulate.
Know that when you hold Anne-Marie O’Connor’s book is your hand, you are holding a treasure. A treasure about a treasure. 
It might seem curious that we are here today in Mexico speaking in Spanish about a book written in English about an Austrian work of art. And yet, as every Mexican schoolchild knows, Mexico’s history intertwines with Austria’s. The French Intervention,  which installed the Austrian Archduke, Maximilian von Habsburg, as Emperor of Mexico, is the the elephant that lumbered through the middle of Mexico’s 19th century.
Gustav Klimt was born in 1862—the year the French were still battling for Puebla and Maximilian, in his castle in Trieste, recently removed from his position as commander of Austria’s navy—  and only 5 years from his death in Mexico— looked out over the gray Adriatic and mulled over his mysterious future. 
The Vienna of Klimt, of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her family, the cosmopolitan, highly cultured Vienna that would be a shadow of itself after World War I: This would have been the Vienna of Maximilian, had he lived.
Maximilian was born in 1832 in Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna—next to the Café Tivoli, where, but a few decades later, Gustav Klimt would take his daily breakfast before heading off to paint in his studio. Maximilian would have been 30 years old when Gustav Klimt appeared in this world, into his Vienna. Habsburg Vienna. Let us keep this simple fact in the forefront: 
It was Maximilian’s older brother, Franz Joseph, who ruled the empire from 1848 until his death as a very old man on the eve of World War I 
O’Connor evokes the old Vienna in so many ways… For example, her description of Adele Bauer-Bloch’s heir, the elderly Maria Altmann, as she appeared on television only a few years ago:
p. 236 

“She spoke the poetic, Italian German of the Habsburg empire, with flourishes, courtesies, and the instinctive impulse—even in open conflict—to be charming. It was like a magic spell, this lilting, delicate dialect, and it was all but extinct now.” 
It is not hard to imagine Maximilian, by his brother’s side, as Franz Joseph awarded the young Gustav Klimt the Golden Service Cross. I can imagine Maximilian admiring Klimt’s early murals for the Empress Elisabeth’s Hermes Palace—for the Empress Elisabeth, or Sisi, was not only Maximilian’s sister-in-law, she was Maximilian’s friend. Shortly before sailing to Mexico, Maximilian had escorted Sisi on a cruise to Corfu.
Maximilian loved art and music, he spoke many languages, traveled afar—Egypt, Portugal, and to his Habsburg cousin's empire, Brazil. He relied on an entourage almost as eclectic as the Habsburg empire itself, and famously, his last doctor, Samuel Basch, and one of his closest advisors, Baron Stefan von Herzfeld, were Jewish.
Had he lived, I think Maximilian would been charmed by – and perhaps even championed Klimt’s work, and, at the age of 76, brilliantly white-bearded and perhaps leaning a little on his cane, gazed upon The Portrait of Adele Bauer-Bloch, as I do, with genuine wonder, genuine admiration. 
My one and only criticism of Anne Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold, which is really more an expression of admiration and enthusiasm, is that it is not already available in Spanish.
--Read in Spanish, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, September 18, 2012

Ruth Levy Guyer's "A Life Interrupted: The Long Night of Marjorie Day"


A few weeks ago I happened to be wandering around Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington DC's venerable go-to place for the latest chewy policy tomes, when, in the second room, I came upon Opus, the book-making contraption. It struck me rather as a beached whale. Not breathing. But there was a little stack of books that had come out of its maw... I picked up the one on top, A Life Interrupted by Ruth Levy Guyer, and began reading. By the time I got to page 10 or so, I realized, ah, time to buy it and go finish it over a cup of coffee. Or three. Or four.


First of all it's beautifully written, very deeply researched, and strange. It's the true story of Marjorie Day, "Daysey," a bright Wellesley graduate studying in England in the 1920s who came down with sleeping sickness which left her zombie-like and beset by delusions. And then... seventeen years later, after a horrifying odyssey of hospitals and mental institutions, she woke up. Permanently. She then proceeded to have a very nice and very long life as a teacher and then retiree in Georgetown, DC. Even more bizarrely, she never knew that what she'd been suffering from all those years was encephalitis lethargica-- neither her doctor nor her family told her.

The author wrote to Oliver Sacks, whose book and the movie based on his book, tell the story of the victims of sleeping sickness who were woken up, decades later, but only temporarily, by L-dopa.

I asked Sacks if he had ever seen a patient like Daysey, who had recovered completely and permanently.
"I have never seen anything like this in my own practice," he wrote back.

(What in blazes is the state of U.S. publishing that a book of this quality is self-published?)

More anon.


Fulgora's Illumination: works in neon and luminous glass by Aaron Ristau and Tony Greer, The Do Right Hall, Marfa

And three stills, screenshots from the video:

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Conversation with Sergio Troncoso, Author of From This Wicked Patch of Dust

A new and, of course, free, podcast in the Conversations with Other Writers series:

A conversation with Sergio Troncoso on Chicano literature, the book ban in Arizona, the US-Mexico border, 911, writing for New York, blogging, the culture of reading, and much more.

>>Read my review of Troncoso's From This Wicked Patch of Dust and Crossing Borders: Personal Essays for Literal Magazine, reproduced by permission here.

>>About the Conversations with Other Writers podcast series

>>Listen in anytime to previous conversations with:
Michael K. Schuessler
Edward Swift
Sara Mansfield Taber
Solveig Eggerz

>>So what's up with the monthly Marfa Mondays podcasts? Just slightly delayed due to unexpected developments... two more, for August and September 2012, will be very posted soon. Stay tuned on the home page. Ditto the iBookstore interactive ebook, Podcasting for Writers.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lone Star Reviews

I suspect that one of the reasons most people who start writing a book never finish is fear of criticism. Book critics were never a cuddly group, but the denizens of cyberspace, whoa. Would you be brave enough to face this gauntlet?

(If all else fails, I guess you could hire someone from or some such to give you top stars, as many authors apparently do. Which would be sad, but not as sad as many things on this earth, I mean, like the plight of homeless dogs in Calcutta or something. Or having only such readers in your book group. I wasn't referring to the dogs.)

Ye Olde "Revillagigedo" Featured on Leslie Pietrzyk's REDUX

My writer amiga, novelist, essayist and short story writer and blogger, oh, and writing teacher, Leslie Pietrzyk, has now donned another hat as editor of the online literary magazine, Redux, which features "work worth a second run." The latest is my short story, "Revillagigedo," which was originally published in Turnrow back in (gulp) 2001.

Speaking of Leslie Pietrzyk and her blog, she's been blogging consistently and very interestingly for a few years now. I started blogging back in 2006 and yep, for reasons known only to myself, here I still am. Seems every writer with a book to flog starts one... then walks away. Not many of us  keep at it consistently. Leslie, let's start a club.

More about Leslie: She's the biggest fan in the USA of The Great Gatsby so if you're a fan, too, put your seat belt on and get ready to read her blog posts about the movie.

More anon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guest-Blogger John B. Kachuba on 5 Literary Ghosts

John B. Kachuba is the author of seven books-- four of them about ghosts and ghosthunting. A Certified Ghost Hunter, he is also a frequent speaker on paranormal topics on radio and TV and at conferences, libraries, and universities. Kachuba teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University and Antioch University Midwest and is also a faculty member of the Gotham Writers Workshop. Recently, Kachuba entered the world of e-book publishing with his paranormal novel Dark Entry and a collection of four short stories in Ghost Stories

So we've got the ping pong thing going with the guest-blogs. A while ago, Kachuba contributed a guest-blog post for this blog on Top 5 Spooky Sites; just last week, I guest-blogged for his blog, The Metaphysical Traveler, on table tipping, according to Don Francisco Madero (yes, that Madero, Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy"). 

So now, back to you, John--  and just in time for Halloween!



When my good friend C. M. Mayo asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest blog I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s almost Halloween! What better time to read a few creepy tidbits from the Ghost Professor? Since I’m now working in paranormal fiction and exploring the role of ghosts in literature down through the ages, I thought I’d share with you five of my favorite literary ghosts, including one of my own creation.

So, here they are, not necessarily in order of creepiness:

JACOB MARLEY – Although there are Three Spirits of Christmas in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, technically none of them are ghosts since they were never flesh-and-blood mortals as the rest of us (at least I’m presuming you are all flesh-and-blood mortals). Poor, miserly Jacob Marley, the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge is the only true ghost in the story.

Weighed down by the chains of greed he forged in life, Marley’s role is to warn Scrooge to amend his avaricious ways before it is too late. Despite Scrooge’s initial belief that the apparition before him is nothing more than “a slight disorder of the stomach . . . an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” Marley’s piteous moans and chain-rattling soon convince Scrooge that his unwelcome visitor is indeed a haunting ghost.

Marley’s visitation fits neatly into the rationale we ghosthunters use to explain why ghosts haunt us. Earth-bound because of transgressions and crimes committed while they were in the flesh the ghosts must somehow make amends for those trespasses before they can “cross over” into a place of eternal rest.

Thurber House
“BIGFOOT” – The ghost in James Thurber’s funny short story, “The Night the Ghost Got In” is both unseen and unnamed, but since it loudly manifests itself by “walking around the dining room table downstairs,” Bigfoot seems like an appropriate name for it.

What I like most about this story is that it really happened. Thurber swore until his dying day that on the night of November 17, 1915 a ghost stomped around the table downstairs and then “started up the stairs toward us [Thurber and his brother Herman], heavily, two at a time.” I’m not going to give away the ending; you’ll just have to read the story, but it’s definitely worth the time.

The house in which the haunting occurred still stands in Columbus, Ohio, where it is now part Thurber museum and part literary center. I visited the house and wrote about its ghost—which apparently, is still there—in my book, Ghosthunting Ohio: On the Road Again. The TV ghosthunters from TAPS conducted an investigation at the house with inconclusive results. It would have helped had they read Thurber’s story.

PETER QUINT and MISS JESSEL – Two of the Ghost Professor’s favorite phantoms, this spectral duo is at the heart of The Turn of the Screw, penned by Henry James. Fascinated as he was by ghost stories, James tried to elevate them above the stereotypical “screamers” and “slashers.” In the Preface to his final ghost story, “The Jolly Corner,” James wrote that he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality—"the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy."

What is fascinating about The Turn of the Screw is that only one character, the unidentified Governess, sees the two malevolent ghosts, although she suspects that her two wards, Flora and Miles, also see them. The Governess discovers that her predecessor Miss Jessel had engaged in a sexual relationship with Peter Quint, also employed at the manor and it seemed likely that Quint had also abused the young Miles and other members of the household. But Quint and Jessel are dead as doornails, so why are they still hanging around?

The reader begins to wonder whether the ghosts are actually there or whether they are the mental projections of the Governess’s own emotions and feelings of sexual repression. In other words, are the ghosts all in her head? This is a question that every ghosthunter has to ask whenever a ghost is alleged to be present. It is not at all uncommon for one person on a paranormal investigation to “see” a ghost, while the others in the group do not. The mind is completely capable of creating ghosts where none exist and a competent ghosthunter must rule out that possibility before declaring a location haunted.

Ghosthunter or not, if you have not yet read The Turn of the Screw, run—do not walk—to the nearest library and read it. I’ll wait.

MR. SIMMONS – I included the ghost of Mr. Simmons from my short story “Home Is Where the Spirit Is” because in this story we see the ghost experience from the ghost’s point-of-view. Everything we know, or think we know about ghosts, comes from our own perception and we never pause to wonder what it is the ghost is feeling or thinking (assuming ghosts feel or think). None of my ghosthunter friends seem to think outside the coffin, as it were, and treat ghosts as though they were creatures alien and exotic.

But ghosts are simply people without bodies. Shouldn’t we treat them with the same respect we treat other people and shouldn’t we care about them as we care about other people? Consider their circumstances. One day they’re among their friends and loved ones enjoying everything the world has to offer and the next day they find themselves cut off from all the people they knew and loved, in some place that is not the natural world they once knew, a place where the laws of science and nature that once governed their lives have been dramatically altered. Can you imagine the fear and confusion they must feel? I tried to imagine those feelings in Mr. Simmons, the ghost in my short story, which can be found in my e-book Ghost Stories.

I don’t know how well I’ve captured the thoughts and feelings of the ghost but maybe someday I’ll come back and let you know.

ARTURO  CRUZ– My late friend and mentor Louis Owens wrote several wonderful novels in which his Cherokee/Choctaw heritage plays an important part. In Nightland an old Cherokee named Siquani finds himself dogged by the ghost of a young Navajo named Arturo. The young man had been involved in drug smuggling when a double-cross resulted in a murdered Arturo being tossed from a plane over the New Mexico desert. His body comes to rest in a tree.

Arturo stumbles across Siquani’s trailer in the desert and an unlikely—and funny—friendship is formed as the old man teaches Arturo how to be a ghost. At one point, Siquani engages the ghost in a game of checkers:

“You play checkers, Arturo Cruz?”
“Damn right. But I think one of the rules of being a ghost is I cannot move things.” He pushed at the chair, but his hand went right through the wood. “I could perhaps tell you where to move my pieces, and you could move them for me.”
“Good. I’ll get the board.”
As Siquani started back into the trailer, Arturo Cruz shouted after him, “How do I know I can trust you to move my pieces?”

This passage brings up a question that continually haunts us ghosthunters: what are the rules of being a ghost? It seems that ghosts can make noises (footsteps and rappings in particular) but they can’t speak. They can blow out candles and seem to be able to move small objects, but not larger ones. They are supposedly incorporeal yet they have the ability to scratch, pinch, or touch ghosthunters. The Ghost Rules seem vague, at best. Even the Ghost Professor is perplexed.

*Nightland by Louis Owens, published 1996 by Dutton: New York.


---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here. 

---> Recent guest-blogs include author Joan Young on 5 Unexpected and Inexpensive Tips for Healthy Living; Ellen Cassedy on 5 Links to Learn Yiddish; and Dylan Landis on 5 Magnetic Spaces.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Links: DosankoDebbie, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Seth Godin, Carla Marina Marchese

DosankoDebbie's Etegami Notebook In the beloved Japanese tradition, Debbie's etegami are both gorgeous and charming. Seriously, click on that link and feast!

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman on North Korean Writers in a Land of the Rising Sun

Seth Godin on Choosing Your Own Category (Before They Choose for You)
P.S. This is why I maintain a website with an author bio. (Ayy, people come up with the nuttiest ideas. Now there's another novel...)

Watch this brief and well-done video about backyard beekeeper and honey sommelier Carla Marina Marchese.

P.S. Now that we're all educated about artisanal honey, the next step is providing quality transparency in beeswax. A lot of the beeswax out there is recycled (hives are often stocked with starter frames) and plumb packed with fungicides and such. None of it is labeled.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Table Tipping a la Mexicana with the Metaphysical Traveler

I'm very honored to be guest-blogging today over at ghost-expert John Kachuba's blog, The Metaphysical Traveler on, ho ho, table tipping. P.S. Check out John Kachuba's guest-blog for this blog, Top 5 Spooky Sites.

***UPDATE Dec 2013 My book, Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution, is now available***



Of course I'd heard of Ouiji boards, but table tipping?  It was not until I happened to translate a very rare and obscure book published in 1911, by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911- 1913, no less, that I first came upon the term. Here is what that long-ago author, Don Francisco Madero, had to say about it in his Manual Espírita, or Spiritist Manual:

Of course I'd heard of Ouiji boards, but table tipping?  It was not until I happened to translate a very rare and obscure book published in 1911, by the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico from 1911- 1913, no less, that I first came upon the term. Here is what that long-ago author, Don Francisco Madero, had to say about it in his Manual Espírita, or Spiritist Manual:

Q. Now I beg you to tell me, what is understood by table tipping?
A. This name designates the phenomena produced by small tables, or similar furniture, in transmitting messages by means of raps, as at a door.

Q. Of what importance is this phenomenon?

A. It was very great in the mid-19th century, the first days of Spiritism, and it still serves to confirm the Spiritist phenomenon in one of its most interesting phases; but as a means of communication, it has fallen into disuse as mechanical writing mediumship has proven both easier and faster.  [CONTINUE READING]

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Is Anybody Else Tired of Owning Stuff?

Check out this blog post by Charles Hugh Smith.

I do enjoy beautiful and useful things. Alas, most of the rest of it is made in China. I think that's much of the problem. Not that there are not many beautiful and useful things made in China! But scads of what we buy today -- clothing and household electronics, especially-- is just junk, poorly made, and more likely than not by people who are either close to slavery or maybe even, and once you're done with it, unless you want to pay to store it because you've got some pesky chakra attachment to it, it's not worth $5.

At Goodwill recently in Silicon Valley, I was there when a woman drove up in a late model open-roofed Jeep ferrying the great sausage roll of an oversized Oriental carpet. The Goodwill worker told her, "It's too large, they'll probably recycle it." She pouted. "I should have Craig Listed it!" But in a split second she said, "Oh well." Then she hopped in her Jeep, and blazed out of the lot.

P.S. How to Declutter a Library: The 10 Question Flow Chart, ye olde blog post by Yours Truly.
And: Decluttering Your Writing Or, The Integrity of Design.

Monday, September 03, 2012

September Newsletter

Just sent out the third newsletter for the year about my upcoming literary travel writing workshop, new articles for writers, podcasts galore, the best from the blog, and more.

If you're a subscriber, you got the password to download the free ebook, C.M. Mayo on Creative Writing, the Best from the Blog. More free ebooks for subscribers will be offered soon.

To receive the next newsletter, which will probably go out in mid November, and will include news about several new iBookstore interactive multimedia ebooks and more Marfa Mondays podcasts and Conversations with Other Writers podcasts and who-knows-what, sign up right here.

Visit the newsletter archive here.
Read my take on writers' newsletters here.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Source of Inspiration: A Film by Linda Blomqvist

From the website:

SOURCE OF INSPIRATION is a 14-minute documentary portrait about Roland Pantze, a Sami artist living alone in the untouched wilderness of Lapland in northern Sweden. Remote living allows him the undisturbed space for his philosophies on life and a continuous source of inspiration for his art. Roland represents a generation that in its time has transitioned from the ancient to the modern world; lavvus (Sami alternatives to tipis) have become houses, skis have become snowmobiles, and oral tradition the Internet. In this new world he has found his own oasis, and through him we explore the possibility to live a life in another pace and rhythm, in which convenience has been replaced with an unbroken connection with nature. 

Watch it here.

(This reminded me so much of far West Texas's Big Bend.)