Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Celebrating a Flood

It may seem strange to celebrate a flood as very often floods leave devastation in their wake. But if you live in a country as dry as Egypt the flooding of the Nile can be seen as a good thing.

If it wasn’t for the Nile flooding there would be no Egypt. The floods provided the water and fertile silt essential for the growing of food. The Egyptians realised thousands of years ago that the Nile flooded at the same time each year and so they could prepare their crops and fields in advance. The arrival of this life-giving annual flood was celebrated more than the gathering of the harvest itself.

Egypt still celebrates this arrival of the annual flood with an annual festival and holiday which begins this week and is called Wafaa El-Nil.

Like every other aspect of Egyptian life the flooding of the Nile had its own god, an intersex dual god called Hapi. The two parts of the ancient Egyptian nation, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, had their own specific representation of Hapi. Upper Egypt had Hapi-Meht and Lower Egypt had Hapi-Reset. They were identical except for their headdresses. Hapi-Meht wore papyrus leaves and Hapi-Reset wore a lotus flower. They were often depicted together pouring water from a vase or tying together the two symbolic plants represented in their headdresses, as in the illustration below (though this particular illustration shows him wearing the same headdress).
The more ancient a deity is the more sexually fluid he or she seems to be. Time and time again I come across references to ancient gods having intersex or transgender qualities. This is possibly an indication of the attitudes which ancient cultures had to gender identity. When we move into less ancient times and the more familiar Greek and Roman gods gender identity becomes less varied and there is a move towards sexual preference.

Quite often, as in the case of Hapi, it is the actions of the gods which effect the way they are depicted in art. As an ancient god of the Nile floods Hapi was regarded as a god of fertility. His annual flood at this time of year brings life to the flood plains and fields. The universal symbol of life and fertility is the mother figure. Quite often creator deities are female and have total or predominantly female physical attributes. The Greek creator god Gaia, one of the most ancient Greek deities, and the modern concept of Mother Earth are female constructs of a universal life-giver. For this reason Hapi is always represented as a man with female breasts.

Hapi’s skin colour is also decided by the actions of his floods. He is either blue-skinned, representing the flood water, or green-skinned, representing the vegetation fed by the waters.

The cult of this ancient intersex god goes so far back in history that his name was probably the original name of the Nile itself (Nile is a Greek-derived name). Later he began to take on various functions of an even older go, Nun, the god of the primeval water from which the world was born. Hapi also took Nun’s wife as his own as a result of this.

The centre of Hapi’s cult was on the Elephantine Island at the First Cataract of the Nile, the white water rapids which reminded the ancient Egyptians of a mother’s milk, another factor contributing to the representation of Hapi with breasts.

With much of the world having sweltered in uncharacteristic heat waves this summer it is easy to see why an arid nation like Egypt would welcome the arrival of an intersex god and his floods at this time of year while other nations fear them.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 24) Stressed-out in the Park

In the previous “Another 80 Gays” : 48) Vaclav Fiscer (b.1954) and 49) Sir Michael Bishop, Lord Glendonbrook (b.1942) were airline bosses who sold their companies to Lufthansa, whose Senior Vice President, 50) Sadiq Gillani, previously worked for an airline in Rio where Lufhansa re-opened their routes to fly athletes to the 2016 Olympics, some of them competing in Flamengo Park, designed by 51) Lota de Macedo Soares (1910-1967).

Flamengo Park, one of its several alternative names, is Rio de Janeiro’s largest public park. It incorporates many sporting areas, gardens, a museum, an art gallery and a beach along Guanabara Bay in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain. In 2012 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 1960 the site was just a huge landfill area. It was where several hills had been flattened and the soil dumped along the bay in order to construct the ever-growing road network.

The Governor of Guanabara State, Carlos Lacerda, had embarked on a programme of urban regeneration. Almost immediately on taking up office he appointed 51) Lota de Macedo Soares to his administration. Lota was known as an influential figure in local architecture and design, even though she had no formal training. She had worked with one of Rio’s leading architects and was virtually self-taught. What Lota was especially good at was coming up with an idea, a design, and assembling a team of other designers, architects and builders to bring her vision to reality.

Governor Lacerda asked her what ideas she had for improving Rio’s less developed areas. The story goes that Lota was with the governor in his apartment when asked this. She pointed straight out of the window to the landfill area along the bay and said “Give me that and I’ll turn it into Central Park” (referring to New York’s Central Park, of course).

And so it was that Flamengo Park came into being. After designing the whole park Lota gathered around her a group of top architects, builders and landscape designers to put the fine details onto her plans. Among the design elements was an airport and the planting of over 11 thousand trees. Below is a Youtube video of a drone flight over Flamengo Park filmed in November 2016. It gives you a good idea of just how big the park is.

However good Lota’s vision and organisational skills may have been she was not a politician, and Governor Lacerda soon had other matters to deal with, leaving Lota to deal with the Rio city bureaucracy on her own.

Fortunately, in her private life Lota was not on her own, though she was not without her share of stress. In 1951 she met and fell in love with an American, 52) Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). The two met during Elizabeth’s travels around the world. She had only intended to stay in Rio for a couple of weeks and ended up staying for fifteen years.

When the two met Elizabeth was a well-known poet in the US. She had only published one book of poetry, “North and South” published in 1946 (though she had other poems published in student magazines when she was a university). Elizabeth found Brazil fascinating and began to study Latin-American literature and her was later was influenced by its poets. The first published work after moving to Rio was a “sequel” to “North and South” called “Poems: North and South – A Cold Spring”, published in 1955. The following year it won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

The Flamengo Park project dominated Lota’s life when it began in 1960. She spent a lot of time personally supervising the work but Elizabeth didn’t really like Rio city centre and remained in their Lota-designed home about an hour’s drive away. Despite her happiness Elizabeth was prone to alcoholic binges that put a strain on the relationship. Another was the stress Lota felt over her battles with Rio bureaucracy. Both problems were to lead to Lota’s bouts of depression.

In 1966 Elizabeth took up a post as Writer in Residence at the University of Washington in Seattle. To ease her loneliness she began a relationship with another woman. After Elizabeth returned to Brazil Lota found out and their relationship became tarnished. Elizabeth began to travel around Brazil before deciding to return to the US to find work.

However much Lota hated Elizabeth over her affair in Seattle she felt their own relationship was worth salvaging. The continuing stress over bureaucratic interference over the management of Flamengo Park seemed to be unbearable without Elizabeth. Lota travelled to New York to see Elizabeth and try to get their relationship back on track. Their meeting was friendly and promising, but short-lived. On the second morning Elizabeth found Lota collapsed in a coma. She was rushed to hospital but Lota died several days later. Suicide was the official cause of death.

Elizabeth was devastated, even more so after Lota’s family began accusing her of being the cause of Lota’s death. Elizabeth’s return to Brazil was not a happy one and she moved permanently back to the USA.

Elizabeth’s later career was spent mainly in lecturing rather than writing. For a major poet she wrote comparatively little but she received many fellowships and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize I mentioned above and also the Order of Rio Banco from the Brazilian government.

Perhaps the appointment which highlights the significance of her work to Brits like myself was that of Elizabeth’s appointment as Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1949-50. This title doesn’t resonate with the British as much as the commonly used alternative title of US Poet Laureate.

The US has been appointing its Consultants in Poetry/Poets Laureate since 1937. Among them have been Sir Stephen Spender, Robert Frost and Robert Lowell. Unlike the UK there have been more than one female US Poet Laureate. Elizabeth Bishop was the third. In the UK there has been only one, the current Poet Laureate, and the only openly lesbian one – 53) Dame Carol Ann Duffy (b.1955).

Next time : We have no time to rest on our laurels before going through the agony of singing.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Keeping Abreast of the Swimming Competition

One of the most consistently popular events at the Gay Games and other lgbt sporting festivals is swimming. There are currently 22 known male and female lgbt Olympic and Paralympic swimmers, 4 of them Olympic champions.

Do you ever think where and when the various swimming strokes were invented? People have been using most of them for thousands of years, but every now and again someone comes along who develops such a definitive method of performing a particular stroke that it is hard not to call him or her the “father or mother” of that stroke.

Such can be the case with Gen. Ernst Heinrich Adolf von Pfuel (1779-1860) who is often referred to as the Father of the Breaststroke.

Ernst was born into the nobility of the Prussia in the last years of the reign of King Friedrich II the Great. He was the son of 61-year-old Ludwig von Pfuel and his 24-year-old wife Sophie. Ludwig was Marshal of the Court of the Crown Prince and knew Friedrich the Great well.

As was customary for a young noble Ernst was sent at the age of 13 to a military academy. During his first years after graduating as an officer in the Prussian army Ernst met Baron Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), an ex-army officer and writer. An intense love affair began. From their surviving letters it can safely be assumed that the couple engaged in what we know think of as BDSM, with young Ernst von Pfuel being the Master.

During his military training Ernst became an enthusiastic swimmer. However, he later found military life uninspiring and applied several times to be discharged. This was eventually granted and he travelled around Europe with von Kliest. This was also the period of the Napoleonic Wars and Ernst was called upon to serve his nation again and he re-enlisted into the Prussian army.

In 1806 Ernst von Pfuel was present at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in which Napoleon defeated the Prussians. This defeat provides links to my previous two articles. To celebrate his victory Napoleon ordered that the statue on top of the Brandenburg gate, the figure of Victory driving a quadriga, the type of chariot said to have been invented by Erechthonius/Auriga, be taken to Paris, the location of the current Gay Games.
The 4-horse quadriga statue on top of
the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin.
I’ll divert from Ernst von Pfuel for a moment to explain the fate of the quadriga statue because it will play a part in Ernst’s later life. The statue was crated up and sent to Paris. Napoleon wanted it to put in a place of honour in front of what is now the L’Eglise de La Madeleine, not far from the Place de la Concorde. However, the statue was damaged in transit. Repairs were put in the hands of the director of the Musée Napoleon (now the Louvre) who asked Pierre Fontaine if it could be put it in the museum’s Orangery. Fontaine is one of the probably gay couple who created the Imperial Style so characteristic of the Napoleonic era (see the section about the 2018 Paris Pride march). It was eventually moved temporarily out to Versailles. We’ll leave the quadriga there for the moment and return to Ernst von Pfuel.

It was while serving with the Austrian army in Prague that Ernst von Pfuel came up with the idea of a swimming school, the world’s first military swimming school, in 1810. What made him so focussed on swimming was the fact that thousands of soldiers across Europe over the centuries had drowned crossing rivers because they were either not trained in swimming or because they were weighed down by the army kit they were carrying. There was no definitive swimming stroke. Soldiers got across rivers using any stroke they knew. Some strokes were restricted by the kit on the soldiers’ backs.

Ernst believed a special swimming stroke used by all soldiers would be safer and easier for the purpose of troop manoeuvers. The technique, the one still taught around the world today, was inspired by the swimming action of a frog. Ernst’s original training method didn’t involve water. The illustration below from 1841 shows how swimmers were trained, suspended from a leather strap.
Apparently, many soldiers found the new breaststroke training highly stressful. After learning the stroke in the harness they were attached to a pole and plunged into the water where they had to use the breaststroke to stay afloat. It sounds very much like the old witch’s ducking stool. Soldiers were terrified of this part of the training.

Before 1817 Ernst von Pfuel took part in several other battles of the Napoleonic Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Before that he was present at the defeat of Napoleon in Moscow in 1812. After the defeat England and Prussia took control of Paris. Ernst von Pfuel became Governor of the Prussian Sector.

It was at this point that the Brandenburg quadriga statue returns to our story. You may recall it had been languishing in Versailles awaiting repairs and for somewhere to display it. One of Ernst’s first actions was to see that the statue was returned to the top of the Brandenburg Gate. This single action turned him from a war hero into a national hero. He and his family were granted the honour of being the only people other than the Prussian king who was allowed to pass through the central arch.

In 1817 Ernst was appointed as tutor in war tactics in Berlin. It was there that he set up his second and most important swimming school. In its first 50 years this school trained 70,000 soldiers. Other schools were set up in Cologne and Magdeburg. They established Ernst’s breaststroke as the main stroke taught to German schoolchildren and it remains the main stroke taught in them today.

Ernst von Pfuel’s later years was characterised by high political and public office. At various times he was Prime Minister of Prussia, War Minister, and Governor of Berlin. He received many honours and hobnobbed with everyone from Chancellor Bismarck to Karl Marx.

He married twice and had a large family. He died on 3rd December 1866 in Berlin.

None of Ernst’s swimming school survive yet his legacy is still very much alive. Everyone now learns Ernst von Pfuel’s breaststroke, thankfully not in the original manner. Three lgbt Olympians have specialised in the breaststroke – Mark Chatfield, Amini Fonua and Theresa Michilak (Mark and Amini are also Gay Games breaststroke champions).

Before I finish I’d like to show you Ernst von Pfuel’s coat of arms (below). It has a symbolic connection to the lgbt community in that it contains not one but four rainbows.

Friday, 3 August 2018

City Pride : Gay Paris

The 10th Gay Games begin in Paris tomorrow. To celebrate let’s have a look at some of the city’s lgbt heritage. If you’re in the city for the games, or even plan to visit in the future, these glimpses into Gay Paris present just a small selection of its vast lgbt history. I’ll not cover the most obvious tourist attractions and sites but those that are less noticeable.

The map below gives a very simplified lay-out of the city. With a proper city map you’ll be able to home in more precisely on the sites I’ve chosen. I’ll give the current address of sites to make things a little easier. You don’t have to visit each site in numerical order.

First of all, there is the Parisian “gay quarter”, Le Marais (in orange on the map). This district has been a gathering place for many diverse and bohemian communities over the last century. From the 1980s the lgbt community has been making a more visible presence, and today it is claimed that 40% of lgbt businesses in Paris are based in Le Marais. It is also one of the most untouched areas of the city and still contains many historical buildings and streets.

1) No. 102, The Champs Élysées : This is the site of the terror attack of 20th April 2017. Three policemen were shot, one of whom, Xavier Jugelé, died. He was an active member of the French police lgbt group, Flag! Xavier’s civil partner, Étienne Cardiles, gave a moving eulogy at the national ceremony to honour him. Xavier was awarded a posthumous Legion d’Honneur, and he and Étienne were allowed to marry posthumously, France being a country where this is possible in special circumstances.

2) The Hôtel Regina : On 26th March 1903 the British war hero Sir Hector Macdonald was staying at this hotel. He went down into the hotel lounge after breakfast to read the newspapers. The New York Herald ran a front page story of him being charged with homosexual offences. Sir Hector then returned to his room and shot himself. Sir Hector was a massive hero in the UK and his suicide came as a shock to the nation, partly because they were unaware of the charges against him. It is believed that he is the army officer who still depicted on the label of Camp Coffee in the UK.

3) The Gay Memorial Stone : The intersection of Rue Montorgueil and Rue Bachaumont was the site of the arrest in 1750 of Bruno Lenoir and Jean Diot, the last men to be executed in France for homosexuality. They were strangled and burnt to death in front of the Hôtel de Ville (see no. 6).

4) The Museum of the Legion d’Honneur : Many lgbt people have been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honour. Among them are Xavier Jugelé (see no.1), artist Louise Abbéma and tennis player Amélie Mauresmo. International lgbt recipients have included Giorgio Armani, Lawrence of Arabia, Eleanor Roosevelt and Father Mychal Judge (9/11 victim, awarded posthumously).

5) Natalie Barney’s Salon : 20 Rue Jacob. US writer Natalie Barney (1876-1972) lived at this address for over 60 years. Many famous writers and artists flooded to her home every week to socialise and exchange views.

6) Hôtel de Ville : This will be the main social point for athletes at the Gay Games – the “athlete’s village”. Many events are planned to be held in the main square, including the start and finish of the International Rainbow Memorial Run (see below). This is also the site of the last execution of gay men in France (see no.3). The building is Paris’s city hall and the offices of its mayor. Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris 2001-14, was one of the few openly gay mayors of a national capital.

7) Convent of the Abbaye-aux-Bois : On the junction of Rue de Four and Boulevard Raspail the now-demolished convent was the home of a “lady boarder”, the enigmatic Henriette Jenny Savalette de Langes (d.1858). She claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of a Marquis and received favours from the French royal family. She also lived at several addresses in Le Marais (see above). After she died it was discovered that she was a man.

8) The Condé Cluster : This is my name for several locations on or near the site of the old Condé Palace which was split up into lots in 1779. The Condé Palace, or Hôtel Condé, was named after members of the French royal Family. It was the city residence of Prince Louis II de Bourbon, Duke of Condé, (1621-1686), the owner of the Condé Diamond, and I’ll write more about him later in the year.

Among the servants of the Condé family was the mother of the infamous Marquis de Sade, who was born in the palace.

The Théâtre de l’Odéon was built in 1782. Many lgbt singers, musicians, actors and performers have appeared here.

Pierre Berthier (1782-1861), geologist, lived and died at 2 Rue Crébillon. He discovered the mineral bauxite (the main source of aluminium) and invented stainless steel. He was put on the list of homosexuals kept by the police. For his scientific work Pierre was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, and is the only gay man of the 72 who are commemorated on the Eiffel Tower. Berthier’s home is currently the location of the publishers Bartillat.

The original Shakespeare and Company bookstore (see no. 9) was located at 12 Rue de l’Odéon and is commemorated with a wall plaque. It lasted until the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1941.

9) Shakespeare and Company : No. 37 Rue de la Bûcherie. The original bookshop was created by Sylvia Beach in the Rue de l’Odeon (see no. 8). This present bookshop was named in honour of the original in 1964. Both bookshops have been meeting places for many lgbt and bohemian writer and artists, including Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein and Allen Ginsberg.

Paris Pride Marches (Marche des Fiertés)
1977 : The first official Paris Pride march took place on 25th June 1977. Lgbt groups had taken part in previous annual marches organised by trade unions, but in 1977 they organised their own independent march. Around 400 people took part.

2018 : The route of the most recent march on 30th June 2018 was highlighted in rainbow colours on Google maps for several weeks beforehand. You may like to pause in the area around the Louvre. Much of what you see is the work of architects Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853) and Charles Percier (1764-1838), who were very probably a gay couple. They invented the distinctive Imperial style for Napoleon (I’ll mention Fontaine again in a couple of days).

International Rainbow Memorial Run – 4 August 2018
The Memorial Run was created in 1984 in memory of AIDS victims and, in more recent years, breast cancer victims. More information is in my 2014 article here. The 2018 Run takes places tomorrow (Saturday 4th August). It begins outside the Hôtel de Ville at about 10.40 a.m.

UPDATE : Less than a week after I wrote this article in which I mention the plaque commemorating the last two men executed for homosexuality in France, and this happens. There’s some very stupid people out there.