Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Lives and Loves of Frida Strindberg

“Life is a cruel banquet. You pay for food and board with your blood,” Frida Uhl Strindberg.

I was tweeting while watching the first episode of the new series Mr. Selfridge on PBS a few weeks, when Evangeline Holland from Edwardian Promenade mentioned that the character of Delphine Day might have been inspired by Frida Strindberg who opened the Cave of the Golden Calf in London in 1912.  I immediately looked Frida up on Wikipedia to see if she was one of the playwright August Strindberg’s wives. Bingo! So of course I went on a research binge to find out more about her. In the end, while I admired her courage and her intelligence, she must have been an incredibly difficult woman.  

Her biographer, Monica Strauss, points out that Frida was ill-equipped for the life that she pursued. Higher education was not an option for her. While her father had set her up in a career in journalism, it was never meant to be a career. It was just a temporary measure until she eventually married and had children. He never realized that, in a sense, he’d opened Pandora ’s Box. Having tasted freedom and independence, Frida was reluctant to give it up. When Frida pursued the same sexual freedom as a man, she was condemned for it.

Frida Strindberg was born Frida Uhl on April 4th in 1872.  Her father, Friedrich Uhl, was the editor and drama critic of the Wiener Zeitung, one of the oldest, still published newspapers in the world, at the time it was the official government newspaper in Austria. Her father championed progressive ideas and writers, but not in his daughters. He expected them to live conventional, middle class lives, with no scandal. Frida came from a broken home. Her parents had an arranged marriage which broke up discretely when she was 7.  Her parents marriage had been an attempt to gloss over some of the more unsavory elements of their backgrounds. Although she converted when she got married, Friedrich’s mother was born Jewish. Frida’s mother Maria had been born illegitimate. 

After the separation her mother moved back to the country, while her father lived in his office at his newspaper.  While her older sister was off at convent school, Frida spent two years living alone with a governess in Mondsee outside Vienna.  Left to her devices, she spent hours in the library, devouring books, developing a mind of her own.  She saw very little of either of her parents during her childhood. After leaving school, Friedrich arranged for her to have a job reviewing books and theatre in Munich. Although Frida lived with a family friend, she had been given a taste of freedom. Although it probably wasn’t in his plans, her father gave Frida a great gift, the ability to fend for herself. This knowledge made her stubborn, it gave her confidence, and it made her life difficult.  Soon Frida was off to Berlin in pursuit of the married playwright her father had introduced to her the previous summer. It was the beginning of her life long obsession with difficult geniuses. Starved of affection by both parents, Frida would often find herself attracted to older men.

It was in Berlin, that she met Strindberg. The playwright was 43, recently divorced, with three children he hardly saw.  He was not only broke, but suffering from writer’s block and depression. He had published a semi-autobiographical novel about his first marriage that had caused a scandal in Sweden when excerpts were published in one of the newspapers. Not exactly son-in-law material. Frida was twenty, beautiful, headstrong and independent. While Frida had an ‘Electra’ complex; Strindberg’s issues were a bit more complex. Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, he was a misogynistic bastard. Although he was attracted to strong, independent women, he also felt emasculated and threatened by them. He longed to find a woman like his mother who had died when he was a young boy.  When Frida tried to pay the check (she had invited him out to dinner), he freaked out.  He once told Frida’s sister that he didn’t think of her as a woman because she was clever. Clearly Frida and Strindberg were two people who should never have gotten married.

The marriage was immediately in trouble. On their wedding night, Strindberg tried to strangle Frida in his sleep, thinking she was his first wife. When Frida tried to help promote Strindberg’s career by writing articles about his work, he resented it.  He became verbally abusive, accusing her of being a whore. Then Frida discovered that she was pregnant. Given their precarious financial situation, Frida considered abortion which angered Strindberg. Since Strindberg didn’t want Frida to work, they had to move in with her grandparents. A move to Paris didn’t help mend the cracks in the marriage.  Strindberg wanted her to be a wife and mother.  Any ambition to be more would not be tolerated. The couple separated after 18 months and the marriage was eventually annulled. Strindberg would never see Frida or their daughter ever again.
Now 24, Frida moved back to Munich, determined to somehow make a living. Her daughter Kerstin was left behind in Austria with her mother.

On the rebound, Frida fell into the arms of another playwright Frank Wedekind, author of the controversial plays ‘Spring Awakening’ and the Lulu plays (Pandora’s Box).  His relationship with Frida was his first with a woman of his own class. That should have been her first warning. Just as she did in her relationship with Strindberg, Frida threw herself into promoting Wedekind’s career. As a thank you, Wedekind knocked her up.  So now Frida could add unwed mother to her resume.  When her son was born she named him Max Friedrich. Since he was conceived before her marriage to Strindberg was legally over, Frida could legally give him her husband’s last name. Although Frida meant well, this caused her son problems in later life.

Her affair with Wedekind now over, Frida dropped her son off with her mother, and continued her career in Munich. Freed from the shackles of marriage and motherhood, Frida pursued her new life with a vengeance.  Over the years, she constantly reinvented herself, from cultural impresario to art dealer to scenario writer.  With her lover, the poet Hanns Heinz Ewers, she started the first German cabaret in 1900. For a time, she was closely involved with several writers of the Young Vienna movement, such as the poet Peter Altenberg and the journalist Karl Kraus, whom she convinced to sponsor a reading of Wedekind's Pandora's Box.

There were more love affairs, but Frida was never able to find that one man who could truly understand her.  She would try to bind her lovers to her by making herself useful to them by promoting their work. But while they were happy to avail themselves of her help, in the long run, her difficult geniuses chose less complicated women.  Her affair with the writer Werner von Oesteren was a particularly stormy period in her life. On more than one occasion, she threatened him with a gun. In 1905, she sued him for harassing a detective that she had hired to follow him.  In London, she pursued the painter Augustus John relentlessly, until he brutally broke off the relationship.

She seems to have never really gotten over her marriage to Strindberg. Her discovery that her mother had interfered with their relationship behind her back seems to have softened her feelings towards him.  In her eyes, he almost became a saint after his death. From hating and resenting him, she created an idealized image of her ex-husband that little to do with reality. After his death in 1912, and her move to New York in 1914, Frida continued to promote his work, even directing a production of one of his plays. Later on, she wrote the memoir Marriage with Genius which was published in 1937.  Her relationships with her children were strained. Years would go by when Frida neither saw her children nor wrote to them. Years later, Frida tried to make up for the years of neglect, particularly with Kerstin but it was too late. She would never have a particularly close relationship with either of her children.

Returning to Austria after the First World War, Frida spent her last years in her family's summer residence at Mondsee and died there on June 28th 1943 at the age of 71.

Further reading:

Monica Strauss, Cruel Banquet: The Life and Loves of Frida Strindberg, Harcourt Inc., 2000

Thursday, April 10, 2014


I'm delighted to welcome Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw from the fabulous blog Number One London to talk about their fabulous fall tour. If you love English history, you need to definitely check out the blog. And if you love to travel, and England is your spiritual home, you could ask for no better guides than Victoria and Kristine. Kristine is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England from 1811-1901, (one of my favorite research tools), and Victoria is the author of several regency novels.

EKM: Tell me about the Duke of Wellington Tour.

VH:  The Tour begins in London on September 4th and ends in Windsor on September 14th, 2014. We’ve designed a wonderful variety of exciting experiences for readers and writers – all those who love English history and romance. For example, we’ll explore the neighborhood of St James’s, which is rich in history that runs the gamut from trollops to princesses, dustmen to dukes. After  spending three full days in London, we’ll travel around southern England exploring castles, palaces, and stately homes.

KH:  Being readers, writers, and history lovers ourselves, we combined all the things we love and found a perfect theme for our first Number One London tour: the 1st Duke of Wellington. He lived from 1769-1852, so his life spanned the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras and allowed us to fill the itinerary with the best bits of each period. Wellington was a great military hero. He triumphed over Napoleon at Waterloo, spoke his mind, and continued to serve his country for the rest of his life. The Duke was brave, loyal and true, but he was no boy scout. We’ll be regaling our tour companions with lots of historic tidbits along the way.

 EKM: Tell me more.

KH:  We have many special treats in store. We’ll have a private dinner at the Grenadier, a famous London pub once used by Wellington’s regiment, where ghosts are said to appear from time to time, ghosts I’ve seen for myself.

EKM: You have got to be kidding!

KH: Not at all, and thankfully I wasn’t alone when they appeared and so I have witnesses!  The Grenadier isn’t our only opportunity for specters, as we’ll be visiting the Tower of London, said to be haunted by many famous shades, such as Ann Boleyn, who lost her head there back in the 16th century.

VH: And don’t forget the Curse of the Mummy!  We have a very exciting and unique opportunity to visit Highclere Castle, where many of the treasures Lord Carnarvon brought back from Egyptian tombs are on display.  Of course, most of us are more enthralled with the settings for Downton Abbey than the remnants of that encounter with King Tut’s tomb. In fact Highclere Castle has become so popular that access is limited only to tours like ours for the next several years.

EKM:  Most of us cannot get enough of Downton Abbey.

VH: We can’t wait to see it ourselves. Kristine and I are very excited about visiting the Castle and its gardens. The interiors are a splendid example of the Victorian High Gothic.

KH:  We’ll see several stately homes during the Tour and, best of all, discover more about the families and stories behind them. Speaking for myself, I am most eager to see the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.  Public access is limited and we actually planned the tour to accommodate the opening schedules of both Highclere Castle and Stratfield Saye.  The two estates are not very far apart, just a dozen or so miles, and the Duke and the Lord Carnarvon of his era served together in the House of Lords.

VH: Our history will not be confined to the last several hundred years, however. We’ll go back much farther than that – to the days of 1066 and William the Conqueror when the Tower of London and Windsor Castle were begun. We’ll be visiting both. 

EKM:  How about the Tudors?  Those sagas are very popular.

KH: The Tower of London has Tudor history in spades.  Not to mention a newly restored, working drawbridge. We’ll also visit Walmer Castle, built by Henry VIII to fortify the Kentish Coast against the Spanish Armada. The Duke lived – and died – there. It was his residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, an appointment that dates back to the 12th century.

VH: In much more recent times, Winston Churchill was the Lord Warden, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was Lord Warden from 1978-2002.  We’ll also be visiting the rose garden she planted at Walmer.

KH: Yes, we love all kinds of English history and it comes alive for us via our research. Sometimes, it feels as though the personalities we research have only just left us.  When we visit Apsley House, we almost expect to see Wellington himself stroll into the drawing room.

VH: As for illustrating the entire last millennium of English history, nothing can compare with the experience of Windsor Castle.  The Royals still spend a great deal of time there, but the state rooms are open to the public, beginning with the room that holds Queen Mary’s charming Dollhouse.  There’s also Medieval and Tudor armor, Jacobean interiors, and the brilliant state rooms designed by John Nash for George IV, including the Waterloo Chamber where the Queen still entertains at official State functions under the larger-than-life portraits of the Allied heroes of the Battle of Waterloo.

EKM: I can feel your enthusiasm for the trip. It sounds wonderful.

VH: Thank you. We wanted to create an experience that would let tour goers, whether they be readers or writers, to get up close and personal with their favorite eras of history. And we’ve allowed for ample time at each site for everyone to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy each at their leisure. For example, we’re both looking forward to revisiting the Prince Regent’s Royal Pavilion in Brighton in order to investigate the period kitchens further.

KH: And the hallway.

EKM: The hallway?

VH: Yes! The Duke of Wellington took part in blanket races at the Pavilion. The ladies would be seated upon a blanket that was then secured to the shoulders of a gentleman. Then, the men would race each other up and down the hallways.

EKM: Anecdotes like that certainly serve to bring history to life

KH: They do, and we’ve got plenty more of them in store. For us, the most important aspect of the Tour is that we intend to have a good time as well. We’ll be traveling to our favourite spots with likeminded people – that alone guarantees that fun will be had by all! And to that end, we’ve taken the work out of travel by including all accommodations, private coach transportation, baggage handling, guides, and most meals.

VH: We hope many of your readers want to come along.  The highlights of the Tour we’ve already discussed here are just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll also be visiting Horse Guards, the White Cliffs of Dover, the Regency Town House and Frogmore House. And we’ll be wrapping up the Tour with a boat ride up the Thames at Windsor. And just in case we’ve forgotten anything, you can find the complete itinerary and details for The Duke of Wellington Tour on our website.  

Thanks so much Kristine and Victoria for stopping by!  If you have any questions or wish to make reservations, you can email them at

Or join their Facebook page.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April Book of the Month: The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

Title: Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
Author: Ruth Hull Chantilien
Publication Date: December 2, 2013
Publisher: Amika Press
Paperback: 484 pages

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.

Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.

Watch the Book Trailer


Buy the Book
Amazon (Paperback)
Amazon (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)

About the Author

Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her specialty is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is her first published novel.

She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.

Connect with Ruth Hull Chatlien at her website or on Facebook.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Publication date: 3/18/2014

Edition description: (2 volume set)

Pages: 384

What it’s about:  A royal ward, Mary is like a daughter to the Virgin Queen, and, like any mother, Elizabeth wants to make a fine match for her girl.  The Earl of Oxford seems to be exactly what the queen has in mind, but Mary knows him to be villainous and cruel.  Instead, she finds the charms of a lowly courtier, Sir John Skydemore, more to her liking.  But he’s poor and he’s a Catholic at a time when the Old Religion is banned.  Indeed, because of traitorous plots against Elizabeth sanctioned by the Pope himself, being a Catholic has become dangerous.  Will Mary risk the queen’s wrath and marry her love?  If so, what will become of them?
My thoughts: When I was offered the opportunity to review the book at Scandalous Women, I was a little wary. I’ve gone on record about the overload of historical fiction set during the Tudor era. And the title gave me pause as well. QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER? Was this going to be some sort of alternative history where Elizabeth and Robert Dudley have a child who is smuggled away and doesn’t learn of her heritage until later? (I’m pretty sure that someone has written this book!). However, when I read the summary, I was intrigued. While I had heard of Madge Shelton, I had no idea that there was another Mary Shelton who had a connection with the Tudors. My interest was piqued.

Orphaned at the age of 3, Mary has grown up at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Mary is not just Elizabeth’s ward, but she is also her cousin through the Boleyns. The Queen is the closest thing to a mother that Mary has ever known but she is also her sovereign which makes for a complicated relationship. We meet Mary when she is fifteen and just blossoming as a woman. Her childhood nemesis has finally noticed her as a woman, and she experiences her first love. When Elizabeth learns that Mary is in love with a young man of little fortune, she sends him away from court. The Elizabeth that we meet in this book is just entering middle-age, experiencing the first signs of aging, and having to deal with the wandering eye of the love of her life, Robert Dudley. And then there is Mary, Queen of Scots who is a constant threat through the machinations of the Duke of Norfolk and other Catholic nobles. Feeling that her life is spinning out of control, Elizabeth tries to control the things that she can, namely the love lives of her maids of honor. This Elizabeth is not always admirable or likeable, but Barnhill does an excellent job of letting the reader into to her psyche through her talks with Blanche Parry. These sections of the book come between chapters and are narrated in the first person while the rest of the book is told in third person, mainly through the eyes of Mary Shelton.

I really liked Mary; she is hard-headed, stubborn but also loyal and intelligent. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, but she also has her sweet and vulnerable moments and at times she’s wise beyond her years. The love story between Mary and Sir John Skydemore (or Scudamore according to Wikipedia) is touching, tender and funny. I truly believed their love story. The relationship between the two grows slowly. Sir John is a widower who is twelve years Mary’s senior when the book starts. I confess that when he first expressed his interest in Mary, I had to remember that 15 was not too young to be married. There are no villains in the book per se, although the Earl of Oxford comes across as a thoroughly despicable character. Barnhill’s portrait of him will convince you that there is no way that this man wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare! He has about as much depth as a wading pool.

The last section of the book kept me on tenterhooks as events spiraled out of control. This was the section where I really had difficulty liking Elizabeth. Her motivations were incredibly petty and could have cost and innocent man’s life. One can see echoes of her father, Henry VIII, in her actions. She proves to definitely be her father’s daughter.

The book is filled with minute details of the lives of the maids of honor, the enormous preparations need for the Queen’s summer progresses around the country, her nightly beauty rituals, and the clothes. At times, I felt that these details slowed the book down, and were repetitive. The reader is told over and over again, how draining it is, and how cramped the quarters often are.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant way to spend the last few days of winter, curled up in bed with a good book, or a good Nook in my case.

About the author: Anne Clinard Barnhill ( has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Anne Northup: Slavery and the Birth of American Cuisine

Two of my favorite things are history and food, when I can combine them both, I’m in heaven. I dream of doing an American version of the BBC TV-show Supersizers Go. Imagine getting to time-travel through almost four hundred years of American cuisine. I enjoy reading about restaurants such as Delmonico’s and the lobster palaces like Rector’s that used to litter Times Square around the turn of the century. When I travel, I actively search out places, where it’s a café, a pub, or a restaurant that has a sense of history. In New Orleans, I once ate at Antoine’s (which is pretty much a tourist trap now) just because my boyfriend wanted to sit in the same room where they filmed a scene from JFK. So when I learned that the Morris-Jumel mansion had planned an event involving Solomon Northup’s wife, Anne, I quickly signed up.

With “12 Years A Slave” nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, it seemed appropriate to have an event that celebrated the woman that he unwillingly left behind, when he was kidnapped into slavery. Anne Northup was born in 1808 in a town called Sandy Hill in upstate New York. Like Solomon, she was born free. She was of mixed race, African, Caucasian and Native American. From a young age, she apprenticed in the kitchens of the taverns in the nearby towns. She worked at the Eagle Tavern & Sherrill’s Coffee House, eventually becoming not just a skilled cook but also a kitchen manager. She was an ambitious, independent free African-American woman in 19th century New York. In 1828, she married Solomon with whom she had 3 children, Margaret, Elizabeth and Alonzo. The couple owned a farm in Hebron in Washington County, but they also worked at various jobs to provide a better life for their children. After they moved to Saratoga Springs, Anne worked from time to time at the United States Hotel and other public houses, gaining a reputation for her culinary skills. At the time that Anne and Solomon lived in Saratoga, there were about 65 free black families that lived in the area, providing a growing labor force.

While living in Saratoga, Anne Northup made the acquaintance of Eliza Jumel, who spent her summers in the resort town. After Solomon’s disappearance, Eliza invited Anne and her children to come live and work in her mansion in New York City where they lived for several months. Alonzo worked as an apprentice to Madame Jumel’s coachman. No doubt Elizabeth and Margaret helped Anne out in the kitchen. After a few months, Anne moved back upstate, where she worked for several families and establishments in the area. Anne eventually worked on and off for Madame Jumel for three years. No doubt she felt that if Solomon could manage to smuggle a letter out, which he did at least three times, he would contact her there. Historians know that Anne worked for Madame Jumel for a few months, because she later testified during the struggle over Madame Jumel’s will, which was a regular Bleak House affair.

The day started off at 3 pm with a talk by Professor Jane Lancaster from Brown University, who is writing a biography of Eliza Jumel. She discussed the relationship between Anne and Eliza Jumel. According to Professor Lancaster, because Eliza had grown up in a multiracial brothel run by madam of color, she had a more tolerant attitude towards race relations than was common at the time. Eliza inviting the family to come to New York wasn’t charity by any means. Anne, no doubt, worked hard for Madame Jumel. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eliza used what influence she might have had to try and help Anne find Solomon.

After Jane Lancaster’s talk, local historian Greg Washington took us on a brief tour of the mansion and the local neighborhood as Anne would have experienced them in the 1840's. Unfortunately it was cold as hell outside, so most of us just stood around shivering while he talked. He talked briefly on the differences between slavery in the North and the South. While both Solomon and Anne were born free, Solomon’s father was not, although his father was freed in his master’s will. Slavery had only been abolished in New York in 1827. The South’s economy was mainly agriculturally based, with slaves providing the labor force, whereas in the North, manufacturing and industry began to become major players. Most families in the North, if they had slaves, probably only had two or three.

At the end of Greg’s tour, we gathered in the kitchen where food historian Tonya Hopkins shared with us a little bit of what Anne’s life would have been like working in the kitchen. The kitchen at the Jumel mansion currently looks more colonial than Victorian. Anne, however, would have had access to the latest invention, the stove by the time she came to work for Madame Jumel. The kitchen is quite small although larger than most New York apartments. I tried hard to imagine what it would have been like for Anne in the kitchen, roasting a chicken in the hearth, baking bread in the oven. It must have been incredibly strenuous. Her only help probably would have been her daughters.

Finally at around 6 pm, came the highlight of the evening, dinner. Curated by food historian Tonya Hopkins, the dinner recreate some recipes that would have been familiar to Anne, for a three-course formal dinner, while leading a conversation about Anne’s life and career. The meal was prepared by Chef Heather Jones and a staff pulled from ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) and the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). Tonya explained to us that menus, as such, didn’t exist back in the early 19th century. Guests would have found out what was for dinner until they sat down at the table. While talking about the influences on Anne’s cooking, Tonya mentioned that most of the black population in the North would have come from the West Indies. This lead to what could be called a “creolelization” of food. Tonya pointed out that soul food is actually American food, all American food essentially is fusion food, a mélange of tastes and recipes from all the immigrants to this country.

Indian Meal Bread
Our first course was Indian meal bread and pepper pot soup (which was George Washington’s favorite). The bread, which tasted a lot like corn bread, was made with white corn meal and lots of molasses, baked in a skillet. It was delicious and reminded of the corn muffins we made in social studies class in 3rd grade when we were studying The Iroquois. The pepper pot soup, which is West Indian in origin, was made with collard greens, allspice, oxtail, and habanero or scotch bonnet peppers. I only had a taste, since I don’t eat red meat, but it was quite peppery. We were also given the choice of hock (white wine like a Riesling) or claret (Bordeaux). I chose the hock since the tannins in red wine give me a headache.

Pepper Pot Soup

There was a bit of discussion of whether or not Anne would have been able to support her 3 children as a cook in the 19th century. Apparently a critic of the film suggested that it wouldn’t have been possible. Tonya told us that she believed that since Anne had a reputation as a chief, and was in high demand, that it would have been possible but that Anne might have been paid in room and board, and her children probably went to work at an early age to help make ends meet.

Our second course was a dandelion salad with lardons and a hit of balsamic. I had never had dandelion greens before, as far as I was concerned they were weeds, but they were quite tasty if a bit bitter. Tonya informed us that Anne’s recipes were not written down because she was illiterate. All of her knowledge would have been in her head. Our dinner was based on dishes that she might have cooked at the establishments where she worked. Her only known recipe is for something called cracker toast. You take crackers, spread them with butter and then soaked in milk, then toasted in the oven until the milk is gone. To create the menu for the dinner, Tonya examined all the menus and recipes from the places that Anne had worked, the Eagle Tavern, the United States Hotel, also regional cooking in the area in upstate New York where Anne lived.

The main course was ham in a Madeira sauce and roast chicken with apple sauce, glazed turnips, and mashed potatoes. I normally don’t eat meat, but I was starving, so I hate the chicken which was delicious, as were the turnips, a root vegetable that I don’t normally eat. And finally for dessert, we had something called a jumble (another word for cookie) that was sort of like a spice cookie. It was flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and rosewater.

It was such a fabulous evening, and the people at my table were wonderful, that I didn’t want to leave. I hope that the Morris-Jumel mansion does more events like this. I would also love to do my “Noted and Notorious New York Women,” lecture for them as well.  For another account of the evening, here is a link to an article written by my tablemate Sylvia Wong Lewis.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

REIGN: "For King and Country" & "Sacrifice" SPOILER ALERT

You guys, this show is twisting itself in knots to try and figure out ways to keep Mary and Francis from getting married.  As you probably recall, Nostradamus predicted that marriage to Mary will be the death of Francis. And Henry, for some reason, decided that it's vitally important that Mary stake her claim to the throne of England. Diane de Poitier's plot to have Bash legitimized was discovered, so she convinced Bash to leave the court.

I can't even begin to recap these episodes.  Both of them hit new heights of ridiculousness.  "In For King and Country," Mary decides that there is only one way for her to keep Francis safe.  She tells King Henry that she will stake her claim to the English throne but there is a catch.  Henry has disinherit Francis and legitimize Bash, who she'll marry him instead. Henry hesitates for only a minute before agreeing.  Seriously? This plot is so ridiculous, I can only imagine the writers were smoking something when they came up with it.  Henry immediately decides to head to Rome to have a confab with the Pope about divorcing Catherine and legitimizing Bash.  First of all, the idea that the King had to go to Rome himself is absurd. That's what you have emissaries for! Did Henry VIII go to Rome for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon? Nope!

Of course, Francis ends up learning about the prediction. And of course he pleads with Mary not to throw away what they have on silly superstition.  Clearly he hasn't seen this show. Finally Francis just washes his hands of the whole thing, and decides to hightail it out of Dodge to go have a life now that he's not the heir to the throne anymore.  Catherine ends up being held prisoner in the dungeon.

Meanwhile, the man of the hour, Nostradamus is stabbed in the neck by Clarissa, the girl in the burlap sack. And we don't even find out what happens to him in the next episode! Is he lying dead in the basement? I guess everyone is so busy with the whole "Bash will be the next king," idea that Nostradamus has completely been forgotten.

The next episode, 'Sacrifice,' was all about whether or not Bash really has it in him to be the next King of France.  The episode opens with him having to listen to people's grievances.  A young woman is brought before him who is accused of being a traitor.  She's also heavily pregnant.  It's clear that Bash knows her, and Mary immediately jumps to the conclusion that he's knocked her up.  It turns out that she's his sort of cousin, her father was executed as a traitor but it turns out that he was really one of the heretics.  Oh, and another woman tries to kill Bash but only ends up nicking his new bodyguard/fencing instructor.

Of course this is all part of one of Catherine's plans to ruin Bash.  She's like the Wiley E. Coyote of the French court. Apparently if anyone finds out that Bash is related to this traitor, he will never be able to be King. Mary, who is nothing if not helpful, decides to help Bash escort Isabella somewhere safe before she gives birth. After taking away all of Catherine's luxuries, Mary leaves the Three Stooges aka Lola, Greer and Kenna to watch Catherine to keep her from pulling any funny business.

Bash, Mary, and Isabelle ending up getting stuck in The Dark Forest where evil lurks aka heretics. They set up a tent for the night and Bash puts up protective symbols to keep them safe which Mary tears down thinking they were put there by the heretics.  She then realizes that Bash's family are also heretics.  She and Bash argue about the whole thing which was pretty boring, and Mary was incredibly judgmental (wait until she gets back to Scotland and has to deal with Presbyterians!). Frankly by this point, I was bored with the entire episode.  I didn't care about Isabelle and her baby, or the pagans in the woods.

The only interesting bit in the whole episode was Catherine de Medici taunting Kenna. The best line of the night, of course, belonged to Catherine. "Where are you going? I'm not done abusing you yet. You're taking away all my amusement." And then Lola, who is the only one of three to really have any brains, tells Catherine that they have forged letters from her plotting against the King which she threatens to make public if any harm comes to Bash or Mary.

The sad thing about this show is that if the real Mary, Queen of Scots had been this strong, decisive, and level-headed she might have kept her throne and not ended up on the chopping block. She even offers Bash a way out, telling him that he doesn't have to marry her and become King, that she would understand if it was all too much for him. Bash, to his credit, tells her no that he's willing to go through with it if only so that he has a storyline on this show.

Nothing of real historical significance happened in either of these two episodes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Night with Madame Jumel

The Morris-Jumel mansion at night taken by Leanna Renee Hieber
Last November, I decided to do something different for my birthday. Instead of going out for dinner or having drinks at one of my favorite bars, I decided to invite a few friends to join me for a paranormal sleepover at the Morris-Jumel mansion here in Manhattan. The mansion, which is located less than twenty blocks from my house, is one of the oldest structures in Manhattan. It is a jewel of a museum, a pre-revolutionary mansion once owned by Roger Morris, a loyalist who left New York to return to England. The house was then used as George Washington's headquarters for a few months before the British took the city.

Later the mansion was bought by a wine merchant by the name of Stephen Jumel, who lived in the mansion with his much younger wife Eliza. You can read guest blogger Audrey Braver's post on Eliza Jumel Burr here. Eliza Jumel was a piece of work to say the least. Not many people know her name now but she was the subject of several historical novels over the years. I'm amazed that there hasn't been a major biography about her. I've become a little obsessed with her myself.

The paranormal sleepover was the night of my birthday, November 2nd, which also happens not only Marie Antoinette's birthday, was also All Soul's Day or the Day of the Dead. It was the perfect night, when the veil between the living and the dead is supposed to be at its thinnest.  I didn't own a sleeping bag, (I'm a total Bloomingdale's camper), so I moseyed on over to Target to pick one up. For the grand sum of $21, I was fully equipped for my night in the mansion.

The evening started at around 8 pm. It was kind of eerie walking up to the mansion from Broadway. I'd only ever been up to the mansion in the daytime. I could imagine horse drawn carriages pulling up the drive to drop guests off for an evening supper and dance at the mansion. Tea, coffee, and snacks awaited us. My friends, paranormal author Leanna Renee Hieber and her husband, and bookseller Stacey Agdern joined me for the adventure.

I've been fascinated by the paranormal since I was a child. I've done past life regressions (and no, I wasn't anyone famous!).  I watch Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures on TV. There have even been instances in my life that I can't explain, the feeling that my parents, who are deceased, watch over me.  So I guess you can say that I'm a skeptical believer. Still I wasn't sure that we were going to have any sightings at the mansion.

“Acoustic Archives” presented their findings from previous readings at the mansion. One of the docents then took us on a tour of the mansion, giving us details of the various sightings of Madame Jumel over the years. From there we went down to the kitchen and there's where the magic happened.  EVF meters were handed out for those of us who wanted to measure any paranormal activity.  There was a clear presence in the kitchen near where Stacey, Leanna and I were sitting.  I'm not kidding you, the meter went off the charts where we sitting on bench in the back, and when we moved to a different bench, the presence (whatever it was) followed us. And it was distinctly chilly where we were sitting which shouldn't have been the case given how many people were in the kitchen. Normally, the more people, the warmer the room. We weren't even sitting near the back door.

Eventually we joined the men (we had kicked them out earlier because  we thought they were inhibiting any women spirits who might be in the kitchen) upstairs in Eliza Jumel's bedroom. And that's when s*%t started to get real.  One of the guys from Acoustic Archives set up a flashlight in the middle of the floor.  The idea was that if there was any spirit or entity in the room they would answer our questions by making the flashlight flicker. Well Madame Jumel was quite talkative, (perhaps she knew it was my birthday and didn't want to disappoint me!) particularly when the subject of children was mentioned.  All of a sudden the flashlight went crazy. One of the stories that the docent told us was how Madame Jumel had appeared on the balcony of the mansion during a school visit. There was also a rumor that Madame Jumel had an illegitimate son during her years as an actress. After her death, a young man appeared claiming to be her son.  He went to court to try and overturn her will, trying to claim a portion of her estate.

Overall it was an exciting night although I'm a little old to be sleeping on hardwood floors, especially hardwood floors that are over 200 years old. Castles, Secrets & Legends on The Travel Channel recently did a segment on a séance that was held at the mansion in the sixties which you can see below:

Murder in the Mansion Video : Castle Secrets & Legends : Travel Channel

Also, apparently Ghost Adventures also did a segment at the mansion but they haven't shown it yet. I'm interested to know if anyone has had any paranormal experiences while visiting a historic home or site.