a lili by any other name

Danish painter Einar Wegener* (1882 – 1931) was a successful artist.

image found here

His life story is told in a book entitled Man into Woman, published in 1933. Einar was a perfectly normal boy, both physically and mentally. At the age of twenty he married; his wife Gerda was a painter too, and their marriage was a happy one. One day, an actress whose portrait was being painted by his wife was unable to come for her sitting. Einar’s wife persuaded him to wear stockings and heels and pose for the drapery and legs.

Gerda found here

Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda’s depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Einar.

example of Gerda’s artwork found here

In 1930 Einar went to Germany for surgery, which was only in an experimental state at the time. A series of five operations were carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

At the time of Einar’s surgery the case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. The King of Denmark invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Einar managed to get his sex and name legally changed, receiving a passport as Lili Elbe.

Lili by Gerda found here

The rest of Lili’s surgeries were carried out in the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third then fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Lili, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother. She soon after died of transplant rejections.

Gerda Wegener went on to marry an Italian military officer, aviator, and diplomat, Major Fernando Porta, and move to Morocco, where she would learn of the death of Elbe, whom she described to a friend as “my poor little Lily.” (By contrast, she described her second husband as “a magnificent, splendid and peerless hunk of man”.) After living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, the Portas divorced, and Gerda returned to Denmark, where she died in 1940.

image found here

Gerda is still recognised today as one of the leading art deco artists of the early twentieth century. Her book and magazine illustrations included both high fashion and lesbian and straight erotica. Lili was one of Gerda’s favourite models, wearing women’s clothes or nude. As a fashion designer in Paris, Gerda was influential in setting fashion trends. It is amusing to consider that the 1920s small breasted feminine ideal may have been influenced by Lili’s figure.

Gerda’s artwork found here

* As well as at wikipedia, information regarding Lili Elbe and Gerda was found here

comrade corbu

Nicolai Ceausescu was the leader of the Communist Party in Romania for over twenty years. In 1978 he caused a civil engineer to doubt his own sanity when he turned up for work one morning…..

image found here

A new underground station was being constructed in Bucharest and a vast hole — at least 12,000 cubic metres in extent — had been excavated as an entrance to the station. When the civil engineer in charge of the project arrived at work he found that his hole had disappeared. It had been there the night before, but now in its place were trees and park benches on open park land. The perplexed engineer asked one of the dictator’s aides what had happened. Apparently, Ceausescu had been planning to make a welcoming speech to new students at Bucharest’s polytechnic and wanted to use the park. So he ordered the hole to be removed until after his speech. All night hundreds of laborers worked at fever pitch. Trees were uprooted from other parts of the city and grass taken from the rest of the park to cover the hole. The job was finished by 6am, thirty minutes before the engineer arrived.

image found here

In 1966, the Ceaușescu regime, in an attempt to boost the country’s population, made abortion illegal, and introduced other policies to reverse the very low birth and fertility rates. Abortion was permitted only in cases where the woman in question was over forty-two, or already the mother of four (later five) children. Mothers of at least five children would be entitled to significant benefits, while mothers of at least ten children were declared heroines by the Romanian state. However, few women ever sought this status.

66 year old Romanian mother found here

Nicolai was also extremely paranoid that foreigners would poison his clothes or that he would catch a fatal disease from shaking hands. He started wearing only clothes that had been under surveillance in a specially constructed warehouse and even washed his hands with alcohol after shaking Queen Elizabeth’s hand. He took his own bed sheets to Buckingham palace.

Elizabeth’s hand found here

Ceausescu was popular in the West for being staunchly anti-Soviet, and was given many gifts by visiting dignitaries. Perhaps most embarrassing was an honorary knighthood bestowed by the Queen of England, revoked only hours before his execution when the appalling nature of his regime became apparent. Ceaușescu also received the Danish Order of the Elephant, but this award too was later revoked.

Order of the Elephant found here

Among other gifts was a black Labrador puppy from British Liberal Party leader David Steel. Ceausescu named him Corbu and became so enamored with the dog that Romanian citizens called it ‘Comrade Corbu’.

Corbu became part of the dictator’s fantasy world and soon the dog was seen being driven through Bucharest in a limousine, with its own motorcade. Corbu always slept with Ceausescu at night. During the day he slept in Villa 12A, complete with bed, luxury furnishings, television and telephone. The Romanian ambassador in London was under official orders to go to Sainsbury’s every week to buy British dog biscuits which were then sent back in the diplomatic bag. Corbu was also given the rank of colonel in the Romanian Army.

image found here

Ceaușescu created a pervasive personality cult, giving himself the titles of “Conducător” (“Leader”) and “Geniul din Carpați” (“The Genius of the Carpathians“), and even had a king-like sceptre made for himself. Such excesses prompted the painter Salvador Dalí to send a telegram to the “Conducător,” in which he sarcastically congratulated Ceaușescu on his “introducing the presidential scepter.” The Communist Party Daily published the message, unaware that it was a work of satire.

Dali and Harpo found here

One unresolved mystery that followed the deaths of Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu pertains to Romania’s Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon rock which was in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s possession at the time of his death, but has since disappeared. The rock was presented by the Nixon Administration to Romania and is said to be worth 5 million dollars on the black market.

when you’re tired of bacon and beer

Vincent M Holt published an excellent pamphlet in 1885 suggesting his readers look further afield than bacon and beer for delicious menu items

image found here

“What a pleasant change from the labourer’s unvarying meal of bread, lard, and bacon, or bread and lard without bacon, or bread without lard or bacon, would be a good dish of fried cockchafers or grasshoppers.

Fried grasshoppers found here

Cheese-mites, the grubs of a small fly, are freely eaten by many persons, whom I have often heard say “they are only cheese.” There is certainly some ground for this assertion; as these grubs live entirely upon cheese; but what would one of these epicures say if I served up to him a cabbage boiled with its own grubs? Yet my argument that “they are only cabbage” would be fully as good as his. As a matter of fact, I see every reason why cabbages should be thus served up, surrounded with a delicately flavoured fringe of the caterpillars which feed upon them.

Sushi caterpillar found here

At one time, insects being prescribed as remedies by village quacks and wise men made people, at any rate, familiar with the idea of swallowing them. Wood-lice, which conveniently roll themselves up into the semblance of black pills, were taken as an aperient; centipedes were an invaluable specific for jaundice; cockchafers for the plague; ladybirds for colic and measles.

Steelblue Ladybird found here

In Arabia, Persia, and parts of Africa there are regular locust shops where they are exposed for sale; and among the Moors they are highly valued, appearing in the menu at the best tables. Their method of cooking is to pluck off the head, wings, and legs, boil for half an hour, flavour with pepper and salt, and fry in butter. As I can myself bear witness, of which more hereafter, this recipe applied to our English grasshoppers renders that despised insect a truly tasty morsel.

cooked grasshopper found here

The Chinese, making use of “the worm, a thing that crept on the bare earth, then wrought a tomb and slept” as food, eat the chrysalids of the silkworms after the silk has been wound from off the cocoons. They fry them in butter or lard, add yolk of eggs, and season with pepper, salt, and vinegar.

male silkworm found here

Even Spiders have been relished as tid-bits, not only by uncivilized nations, but by Europeans of cultivation. For Reaumur tells of a young lady who was so fond of spiders that she never saw one without catching and eating it. Lalande, the French astronomer, had similar tastes; and Rosel speaks of a German who was in the habit of spreading spiders, like butter, upon his bread.

spider cupcakes found here

Wood-louse sauce is equal, if not distinctly superior to, shrimp sauce.The following is the recipe: Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found, and drop them into boiling water, which will kill them instantly, but not turn them red, as might be expected. At the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, a teaspoonful of flour, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish. Try it.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Comments (47)  
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he who turns the other cheek has the last laugh

Anna Ivanovna was Empress of Russia from 1730 to 1740. Anna was famed for her big cheek, “which, as shown in her portraits”, Carlyle says, “was comparable to a Westphalian ham“.

Cheeky Anna found here

She reigned for ten years and was, on the whole, not liked by her people. Anna also had an unhealthy interest in grotesque, foolish or malformed people. She even had her own private collection and liked to have a hand in the marriages of all her courtiers.

Todd Browning’s Freaks found here

And, it didn’t do to not ask her permission, as one poor prince was to find out. Prince Michael Alexievich Golitsyn made a terrible error when he fell in love with an ordinary girl and, in order to marry her, became a Catholic. A double faux pas because Anna herself was Orthodox. Unfortunately, his wife died not long after the wedding.

check out this Russian Prince here

Anna’s first punishment was to demote the prince to the role of jester, a great humiliation for him. She then decided to pick another wife for him. Looking to her strange entourage, she chose an ugly Kalmuk serving woman called Avdotia, who she had nicknamed ‘Bujenina’, after her favourite dish of pork and onions.

Recipe for onions stuffed with pork found here

Even this wasn’t enough revenge for Anna. She commissioned a palace to be built entirely from ice for their honeymoon. Though a cruel joke, the palace was an architectural marvel. It was the one of the coldest winters Europe had experienced for 30 years. All the major rivers had frozen over, including the Seine, in Paris, and the Thames, in London.

frozen Thames found here

The palace was designed, in a classical style, by the architect Peter Eropkin. It was 80 ft long and around 30ft high and located on the Neva River. The ice was specially picked for its transparency. Every block was expertly measured, cut and joined together with water, which froze instantly in the cold weather. Additions to the castle, also made of ice, included trees, some with ice fruit, birds and statues, and six cannons. Even the windows were sheets of ice. Inside the palace, the furnishings were made of ice – a four poster bed, mattress, quilt, pillows, a clock. There was even a life-sized elephant in the grounds, also made of ice. It spouted 24 ft of water during the day. At night, petroleum was used to make it spout flames.

ice elephant found here

On their wedding night, the couple took part in a procession to the palace. They were locked in a cage sitting on top of a real live elephant, and led by Anna’s entourage of strange people. 300 guests were invited to a fantastic feast and transported on sleds pulled by a variety of animals, including pigs and bears.

Russian car sled found here

When they arrived at the castle, they were taken to their ice bedroom and made to spend the night there. Guards were posted on the doors to make sure they didn’t escape. One story has it that the prince had drunk a fair amount and didn’t feel the cold as badly as his new wife. In another version she swapped a pearl necklace, which Anna had given her as a wedding present, for the guard’s fur coat. She used it to keep them both warm enough to survive the night.

pearl necklace found here

The couple found that they got on really well and lived a long and happy life together. Empress Anna died of kidney disease soon after the ice palace incident, at the age of 47.

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