THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR

Prince Harry And The Golden Dog Bowl

Or in cauda venenum

A fairytale*

By Elena Vassilieva

“O tempora! O mores!” – Cicero. Image is by Elena Vassilieva

“The night was well advanced, when he reached his own house, having met no interruption on the way, proud of his well-planned stratagem, elated by success, and flattered by the hope that he had extricated himself by his own energy from all the perils which had of late appeared so dark and difficult to shun. Duri magno sed amore dolores Pollute, Notumque furens quid faemina possit [Virgil].” – Henry William Herbert, the old Etonian, in The Roman Traitor (1846).

Once upon a time, Harry was a dashing British prince. He must have caught Meghan Markle’s eye on May 9, 2013, when the Prince was warmly welcomed by the First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the Mother’s Day tea party, at the White House. One needn’t be present there to feel the pleasant atmosphere and all the waves of fascination for the guest of honour, since all the TV channels seemed to be wrapped in a cloud of giddiness while broadcasting the event. Mrs Obama herself looked very jolly and lovely, clad in a romantic floral dress that matched her mood and hairdo. Enjoying the Prince’s company, the First Lady kindly invited children to the party, and the British Prince didn’t fail to charm them. Harry’s team’s win at the charity polo match, at the Greenwich Polo Club in Connecticut, only added to his success on this week-long visit to America. Prince Harry was also well received at the Russel Senate Office Building. The flock of giggling girls were delighted to be in such close proximity to the prominent guest. In fact, the young ladies were over the moon and, of course, they wanted to take home a souvenir that would mark the occasion. They photographed the Prince, who was sent on the Warrior Games mission to America, from all angles, but they also were eager to take a selfie with Harry. At that precise moment, the Prince had caught my eye as well because he happened to say to the girls, disapprovingly, that he was very much anti-selfie. He believed the quality of selfies was very low, and that one would get much better results if one asked someone for help. Not only was his remark reasonable, I thought, but he also made clear that he wasn’t afraid not to confirm to the fancies of contemporary fashion.

Meanwhile, Meghan Markle, about whose existence the world happily knew nothing, must have desperately wished she were at the tea party and most certainly envied Mrs Obama for being such an elegant First Lady who was to receive the Prince. Moreover, Ms Markle might have produced sigh after sigh after sigh, after all, Harry was out of reach at the time, the Prince was in a relationship with the beautiful and levelheaded Cressida Bonas, with whom the unknown American actress stood no chance to compete. Nonetheless, Prince Harry’s charming and smart manners at the White House inspired Ms Markle and boosted her aspirational power to get what she wanted. Precisely then, she must have started making her plans and tedious preparations for the future. Her notes on logistics would begin with the elementary, such as how to make herself visible to the Prince and how to meet the most eligible bachelor in person, how to present herself to him right after, and, finally and most importantly, how to dazzle him. She pondered what type of woman she would rather be and what she would rather not be for the Prince, dismissing the Duchess of Cambridge as a paragon of virtue resolutely and absolutely, but seriously considering Diana, the Princess of Wales, as a helpful book to study from cover to cover, so she decided. Also, she found in Wallis Simpson’s predatory brazenness an invaluable source of inspiration.

Ms Markle’s own hunting instincts dictated to her that, in the beginning, it would suffice to be perceived simply as American as apple pie: sweet and funny, outgoing and poised, practical and unceremonious, and, like a teenager, flashily in love with her Prince, clinging on to him as if he were about to be grabbed by an invisible other woman, the villain. But she’d better be in good standing, too, with as many good deeds on her resume as possible, even if the deeds would be done in a hurry and one time only, so she thought. Later on, however, she might want to shed the image of the cute and awesome American apple-pie-like woman, replacing it with that of the flamboyant femme fatale, who is capricious and demanding, ambitious and desirous of power and attention to such a degree that she would dare seriously think she could dismantle good old House of Windsor in a trice.

To everyone’s amazement, she showcased her inexhaustible stratagemical energy par excellence, when she had deployed every means available to her to reach the unreachable. She, somehow, connected with the right people who knew the Prince. She arranged an engagement at the UN (there weren’t too many details about it in the Netflix docuseries, just a photo of her at the UN headquarters was shown for a second so that we would know she set a foot there to corroborate that instance on her Curriculum Vitae). She also didn’t shy away from less credible enterprises that might have helped her get closer to her goal. Thus, she paid a visit to one wizard who emboldened her by predicting a grand wedding in the near future. It certainly makes one wonder whether the wizard’s job hadn’t ended with his prediction? Perhaps, he did more than that, who knows? Naturally, these are pure speculations of my silly mind, and for now, let us follow the Shakespearean logic of all is well that ends well.

Time will tell sooner or later what really happened. A love potion or not that might or might not have been prepared for the Prince, it shouldn’t matter at all, especially when people genuinely fall in love with each other, one reckons. But one thing that matters is how utterly busy Ms Markle must have kept herself before our Prince came to visit America for the second time, in 2015. President Obama was exuberant to have Harry as a guest of honour in October of 2015, in the Oval Office: “It is a great pleasure to welcome His Royal Highness Prince Harry to the Oval Office. I’ve had an opportunity to spend a lot of time with so many of his family members, but this is the first time we had a chance to talk directly. He has gotten to know Michelle very well, for a range of reasons, but in particular, he’s here to talk about the Invictus Games, an initiative that is bringing together the wounded warriors around the world, under the leadership of Prince Harry and others, to make sure that we see not simply the sacrifices they’ve made, but also the incredible contributions, strength, and courage they continue to display.” (President Obama’s speech is quoted as in the USMagazine, October 28, 2015)

Again, Meghan Markle must have been quite envious of the delightful Mrs Obama who visited the USO Warrior and Family Center at the Fort Belvoir military base in Fairfax County, VA with the Prince and seemed to have had a good rapport with His Royal Highness, as the President himself jokingly noted. During that visit, President Obama and Prince Harry had a private conversation about the 2016 Invictus Games, which were going to be played in America. Ms Markle must have realised precisely then that she ought to act, and fast, because Harry, then single and free as a bird, was publicly expressing his despair and concern whether he was, perhaps, doomed to carry on as an eternal bachelor, as there seemed to be no woman on this planet who would be willing to marry the poor thing. And to order and fetch a bride from another planet had still proved quite difficult, albeit the engineering genius, Elon Musk, had already, no later than since 2012, been sleepless while working on his beloved Spaceship-project. But Harry had no patience at all to walk on this planet as a lonesome bachelor till the day the Spaceship would be built and equipped to make interplanetary bride deliveries. Searching and waiting for the right woman, even for two years, seemed to Harry unbearably long. As it turned out, the Prince had a far more complicated task than Mr Musk. Little wonder that this period of bleak solitude quietly drove poor Prince if not to insanity, then definitely to desperation.

Now, in the circumstances, one would think nearly any woman would appear to a man as sweet and delicious as Turkish delight, no? So when, one day, out of the blue, Ms Markle had landed on Harry’s screen, disguised as a dog (sic! Cave canem!), our Prince couldn’t help but think she was heaven-sent. Despite the disguise, the dog-woman intrigued him at once and took his breath and sleep away. Hence, he didn’t hesitate to ask the friend through whom the dog-woman’s image flew to him: “Who on earth is this?” Not quite extraterrestrial, no, but rather appealing in her own trivial and bold way, he reasoned. He already imagined her being the incarnation of the promised bliss, not knowing that later, he would learn firsthand that ‘what Meghan wants Meghan gets,’ and that he himself would soon make not a very soft landing on the dog bowl in Nottingham Cottage, when his sensible brother would try to dispel the dense fog that had enveloped Harold’s impressionable mind. Prince William also hoped to shake off Harold’s naivety and gullibility, for the good of Harry himself, alas, to no avail.

This account comes from the Prince’s book, Spare (2023), so we can’t fully rely on it. The scene might have been dramatised by Harry’s ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, for the sake of the Shakespearean tension, which the melodramatic and gossipy book would have lacked completely, despite the Prince’s quite intolerable tendency to overshare. But if there had been any other purpose of that histrionic, blood-and-thunder scene, such as exposing his brother as a steadfast man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, Prince Harry succeeded in doing so, but he also, embarrassingly, placed himself into the dog bowl, not only making a laughing stock of himself but also presenting himself to his reader as a distrustful and immature man who, clearly, is in discord not only with his Royal relations, but also with his conscience and reality.

Prince William, on the contrary, if the wrangle occurred indeed, earns respect and even admiration from the reader like myself, because he chooses to stand up for all those who were callously reduced to tears by Harry’s wife, whereas Harry adamantly refuses to believe it. The argument should have been left behind the scenes, of course, but the book needed some sensationalism, after all, what was Harry paid for? Definitely not for his Hamlet-musings in the Frogmore gardens. “Good money can make one say anything at all, regardless of whether certain events happened or not, if the one is desperate enough and doesn’t play by the rules,” was the conclusion of the majority of Britons and a good deal of Americans, too. But if Harry just entertained his newfound home, America, with his opus, the prodigal son slapped his good old motherland, Great Britain, on the face, leaving their relationship at daggers drawn. By all accounts, not a very wise chess move. “Check, Harry!”

When the two Princes had disagreed at Nottingham Cottage in 2019, Prince Harry must have already been going through a rapid transformation from the Prince everyone used to be fond of into someone entirely different. The old Harry had been vanishing into thin air by the day. The dog bowl, metaphorically speaking, was turning into a gold-making machine and as well a trap for him into which he lured himself because of his poor judgement and estrangement from his brother who had dutifully looked after him ever since they were children, even if Harry diminishes his significance now, although, ironically, still looks up to William. Who would forget that moment when Prince William, while volunteering in Southern Chile during his gap year, in 2000, had Harry on his mind all the time? He said to the journalist that, after he had been done with his chores (at the moment of the interview, he was cooking and then cleaning a toilet), he would write a letter to Harry. Prince William has cared for his brother, probably no less than their mother, who was as strict as loving, not rarely at all scolding Harry for his naughtiness.

The Princess Diana’s reflection in the Prince William’s behaviour towards Harry is hard to miss. To this day, William handsomely resembles her looks, and that is, of course, merely a genetic coincidence, which, by no means, should be emphasised by Prince Harry, as if it were the wormwood and the gall to him. Harry allowed this rather fatuous comparison to see the light, but he blundered again, showing his own rough corners, not his brother’s. It might be that his ghostwriter either insisted on the passage or didn’t think it was awkward. I certainly thought it was maladroit. But, again, maybe those aren’t Harry’s own remarks? Has Harry been really that jealous of his brother’s looks? And if so, how preposterous! Didn’t Princess Diana joked once that William is destined to be a king, whereas Harry has more freedom of choice, and, besides, all the girls would be his?

But Harry didn’t want all the girls or any girl, he wanted ‘the List,’ ‘the love of his life.’ Fair enough, it’s his choice, but how could this love of his possibly dare to demand from the Royal Family to change their traditions for the sake of her vulgar caprices? Aside to being Harry’s wife, who is she, anyway? The book would’ve been more attractive, had it not contained various comments about Harry’s relatives, who, understandably, would dread any invasion of their privacy and intrusion into their personal space. And who wouldn’t? It does sound a trifle as if the Sussexes might have even resorted to chantage to negotiate the Megxit deal. They even expect the Royal Family to offer them an apology now. Most believe, however, that it should be the other way round. But the Sussexes, I daresay, have been debilitated by their wondrous gold-making dog-bowl-machine so much that they have completely forgotten which one is the left foot and which one is the right foot.     

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only instance in the book when Harry’s candid verbosity was hardly endearing but very much repugnant, despite some truly touching moments of self-reflective contemplation, e.g., in the preface-essay in Spare. There, he is sharing his emotions and thoughts from the gardens at Frogmore, on April 17, 2021, right after the funeral of Prince Philip. He is conflicted with Hamlet in himself. Oddly, he doesn’t pay enough attention to Prince Philip, given the circumstances, while waiting for his brother and father. I think it is as sad as the fact that Harry’s memory seems to deceive him, and his recollections are often truly equivocal. It’s unlikely, therefore, he would remember the care and love he received from his brother and father. Not now, after he had married not only ‘his List,’ his ideal woman, that is, but also, as some braved to utter, his ‘mother.’ I disagree with this point of view. Harry didn’t ‘marry his mother,’ he married an impostor with excellent calculating skills and with an ardent desire to reincarnate Princess Diana for Harry, in order to open the doors for them to everything they had been denied before.

But who said Diana wouldn’t disapprove of it and would support Harry’s wife’s demeanor? That’s very unlikely for a number of reasons. And it’s a great pity that Harry’s wife has misconstrued Princess Diana’s personality so grossly, and Harry allowed it. Despite her rebellious nature and just one or two public incautious moves, which by no means imperiled anyone’s life, Princess Diana was a conservative enough woman. She knew how not to cross the line and what was good and what wasn’t, unlike Harry and especially his wife, who sees the world through a very peculiar lens, that of her looking-glass self, which isn’t her true or authentic self at all. If one saw the Netflix documentary, one might have noticed how she is (re)imagining herself all the time, here she is the wannabe Gwyneth Paltrow, there the wannabe Julia Roberts, but rarely if ever her own self. Princess Diana didn’t have such a conflicting personality at all, she might have had a self-deprecating humour, but she knew who she was, and she fearlessly, to the heart’s core, defended her true original self, Lady Diana Spencer, not permitting others to influence her self-perception and identity. Harry’s wife wants to be this and that, and that’s fine, not fine is the means she chooses to achieve her personal goals. Hysteria and blackmail are favourite devices used by those who want, consciously or unconsciously, to harm others and make them suffer. The consequences thus from Meghan Markle’s actions are dire for others, but even more so for Harry and Meghan themselves. By the way, when one derives enormous pleasure from cruelty, what is one called, then?

Harry’s identity as a prince began to crumble the minute he met Meghan Markle. He, all of a sudden, became an enthusiastic selfie-taker, as the Netflix documentary paraded a bunch of selfies taken with his wife. Of course, it’s too miniscule a thing to mention even, compared to the fact that he abdicated himself as a prince, thus distancing from his blood relations, which Diana would’ve never done. She was proud of being Lady Diana Spencer, but she was also very proud and honoured to be part of the Royal Family. “I’ll never let you down,” she said to Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II. Her divorce from Prince Charles was a crushing moment for her, but not for her identity; she stood up bravely for herself, resisting negative emotions as much as she could, cultivating and elevating her kindness to the highest degree possible. And, as time tells us now, she didn’t cause any damage to the Royal Family at all. Also, it’s very unlikely that Princess Diana wouldn’t have noticed right away how manipulative Meghan Markle is. Would she have accepted it? I think not. There would’ve been an inevitable confrontation between the two women. Then, Harry would’ve faced the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to be or not to be,’ indeed.

Moreover, given that Princess Diana is not only Harry’s mother, but also Prince William’s, and that she is a beloved historical figure, it’s a Gargantuan carnivorousness not only to usurp Harry but also Princess Diana’s persona, commodifying her figure for their only benefit. But at the same time, Harry’s wife depreciates Diana’s significance (read: ‘unconscious bias’!), degrading her publicly to the role of Harry’s mother and their children’s grandmother exclusively, choosing to disregard that Princess Diana is a cultural phenomenon, an icon and an inspiration for others, and has been that for decades. I’m thinking of the moment in the Netflix documentary when Meghan Markel is holding their baby in her arms and looking at the portrait of the Princess in their Montecito house, cooing to the baby: “It’s your Grandma. Yes, it’s your Grandma.” She is enticing herself through this pseudo-mother construct into Harry’s personal space in the hope of replacing Harry’s memories of his mother with her own daily self, making him depend on her (not positively!), instead of his mother, the ideal-like, dream-like, mythical almost, human being, who had been, in fact, quintessential to Harry’s existence and personality, for Princess Diana could also be viewed as his conscience. He said it himself in the preface of Spare that she is to him like the Morning Star that has been guiding him. And attempting to take it away from Harry completely, is very dangerous for him, it would mean that part of his personality would suffer tremendously from this loss, a second time round, which he shall regret later. Of course, this gives Meghan Markle the opportunity to exercise her power over Harry, enslaving and even colonising him this way. She would prevent any other person to enter that space, where Meghan is striving to replace Diana for Harry, so that she could never lose control over him. And if that makes Harry happy, why not, after all, it’s his life? The problem is that the new guiding star of Harry’s, despite some good qualities, has serious shortcomings, most of them are of ethical nature.

It appears to be an attack with a vengeance on all levels of Meghan’s consciousness on nearly everyone whom Harry had known prior to meeting her. And bringing the class shifts into their relationship this way, she imagines herself and acts as Harry’s quasi-Empress, while publicly denigrating him and disregarding nearly every single one of his relatives, never mind their rank or historical and cultural significance. Harry, the slave, becomes a mere source of fame and material enrichment for her and that of notoriety and scandals for his Royal Family. The late Queen Elizabeth II is just Harry’s Grandmother to her, Prince William – ‘your brother,’ as she barks indignantly in the documentary, after Harry had showed her a text message from Prince William. One might forgive it if it’s done in a private conversation, but she does it publicly, as if she wanted to prove her superiority to the Royal Family. What would give her the right for such an unheard impertinence, many wonder? And what would ever justify such an insolent conduct?

However, it’s time for a flashback. When the Prince had found out that the dog-woman had also an interest in meeting him, he was oblivious of festina lente, alas, and rushed to hold on Fortuna’s hair as tight as possible, in order not to let the chance slip by. And if the wizard provided Ms Markle with a certain love potion (a rhetorical figure here only, God forbid!), the latter seemed to work like a magic wand. Prince Harry didn’t think twice, he just seemed to know instantaneously that she was that woman who knew how to charm him, and, sadly, she also knew how to mislead him, and, eventually, to destroy him as a prince, lowering him to her own level of incessant ruthlessness and never-ending acquisitiveness. Besides, she also knew how to stir the pot, out of jealousy, malice, Schadenfreude, fun, and what not, while trying tirelessly to glamourise and popularise her own image, making it a household name. One isn’t surprised at all, then, why Ms Markle was a professional social media influencer. And I object to this a great deal, because she happens to undermine the cultural and social values I had been introduced to as a child.

But then, in 2016, Harry found himself under her spell, having encountered ‘the love of his life,’ at last. To confirm his feelings, Harry took out of the drawer the list of all the traits he wished to see in his dream-woman and thoroughly went through it, making sure that the woman was not going to end up a mere mirage for him any minute. After studying the list carefully, he ticked all the boxes on the list and decided that the American actress happened to fulfill all his requirements, besides, she appeared to remind him of his mother, he said. The awesome American, apple-pie-like, woman was shortly offered the Prince’s heart and a ring that he designed for her by himself, the lavish wedding followed, the bride, yesterday’s divorcée, was even given permission by the ever gracious Queen Elizabeth II to wear a white dress and a veil, after all, Harry had never been married before. The couple seemed to have the endless train of all kinds of stories and demands surrounding their wedding preparations: the wrong tiara, the ill-fitting bridesmaids’ dresses and missing stockings, the bride’s father’s overjoyed heart that suddenly commanded him into hospital, the bride’s stolen letter to her father, her niece that was abruptly uninvited from the wedding, etc., etc. (One wonders what Shakespeare would have thought about this eventful Windsor wedding?) Our newlyweds started their married life at the historical Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, and at this point, the fairytale should have ended with the usual ‘And they all lived happily ever after,’ not this time, however.

‘Love wins,’ triumphed their supporters. ‘Harry is ruined,’ sighed their adversaries. ‘She’s a manipulative gold-digger!’ cried one half of the world. ‘No, she is Harry’s saviour!’ cried the other half. And all this time, with the poor Royal Family in the middle! One can rest assured that the Royal Family haven’t seen anything of the sort ever since the King Edward VIII’s abdication. Only it has turned out to be a much worse saga that seems to have no end. Neither its historicity nor the splendid entourage of roses around Nottingham Cottage were good enough for Harry’s wife, and like all nouveaux riches, she wanted more, much more, something that is larger than life, something that is colossal and ostentatious, something that would have her name on the deed to the house. Did it matter to her that good old Nott Cott is probably one of the very few properties in London that is still sui generis and has the original bones? Of course, not. Why would she care about that? Especially after the brash remarks of her dear friend, Madame Oprah, who, after visiting the Cottage, surprised by its modest size, exclaimed: “No one would believe it!” “No one would believe it!” repeated our heroes in tandem in their Netflix documentary shortly before Christmas 2022.

But the most likely truth is that, in a century or two, no one is going to believe how on earth such a petty individual with such low ethical standards became a British Duchess who wrapped the prince around her little finger, disrupted all his relations, and took him away from his country, blaming the British media and the Royal Family for all the sins of the world. And while Prince Harry and his wife try continuously to invalidate the Royal Family’s mantra, ‘Never complain, never explain,’ their own mantra seems to be ‘Stir the pot and cash in as much as you can’ at the expense of those whose credibility, nobility and kindness they are shamelessly exploiting. Responsibility of being a historical figure that had been instilled into Prince Harry’s mind ever since he was a little boy has been overturned by irresponsibility of his wife’s irreverent attitudes towards History. Somehow, they convinced themselves that, despite their scurrilous conduct, History would still grant them a privileged place when the time comes, forgetting that History can be as ruthless and unforgiving as they are themselves, when it comes to settling accounts with the historical figures. They also seem to be oblivious of the fact that glory, which may be gold and roses for them now, will eventually turn into historical soot and dust. Thus, they have already reserved a place for themselves in the chronicles of Time, and it’s not the most prominent or pretty one, in the Perifereia of History, thanks to all the noise they are making today. Also, the Hamletian dilemma of ‘to be or not to be’ has never been a matter of crucial importance for Harry, except on the first pages of Spare, because Harry’s new guiding star, his material girl, thought he’d rather be consumed by the conundrum of to have or not to have. And he chose ‘to have,’ of course, to Meghan Markles,’ great satisfaction.  

*This postmodern fairytale is a work of fiction. All the characters, events, incidents, and discourses are fruit of imagination and under no circumstances should be perceived as real. Any resemblance to actual events, places, names, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

(Written on the rainy night of January 14, 2023, in the Sky Control Room, on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2023 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

THE CULTURAL ICON

The Everlasting Enigma of Brigitte Bardot’s Star Power

Part one.

By Elena Vassilieva

Brigitte Bardot on the Shalako set in Almeria, 1968. Photo by © Jacques Héripret, © Groupe Eyrolles, 2013.

It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that the star power of Brigitte Bardot’s iconic persona had been evident already after her first appearance on the screen in Jean Boyer’s comedy Le Trou normand (Crazy for Love) in 1952. In fact, it was love at first sight with the ballet-trained, happiness inducing and affection inspiring French actress. Unwittingly, ever since, she has launched an enormous follow of admirers, among which have not only been men, but also women and children (most notably teenagers) who all literally seemed to have lost their sleep in pursuit of finding the key to the enigma of the French cultural icon. The enigma that distinguishes her so much from other cinema personalities to this day.

At the time when Brigitte Bardot made her movie debut, she had already been an accomplished ballet dancer who grew to be one of the brightest talents (she graduated forth in her class) at the Conservatoire de Paris. She later took ballet lessons from the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Boris Kniazeff. She said that her ballet studies made her a stronger and very disciplined person and her work ethic acquired at the Conservatoire has always been to her advantage. The photographer and her dear friend, the late Jacques Héripret, whom she met on the set of Shalako in Almeria, in 1968, wrote in the afterword of BB en liberté. Photos hors plateau (2013) that “[o]n set she was a great professional. She knew her lines by heart and, as we say in the film industry, she ‘was on the razor’s edge’. […] She was attentive to details given by the director Edward Dmytryk, focused, always in a good mood, remarkably nice to the technicians, friendly, courteous with her partners – Sean Connery, Stefen Boyd, Peter Van Eyck – never once was she difficult or temperamental during all those months. I wanted, for once and for all, to put an end to the rumor claiming she was unmanageable on a set.” (Héripret 2013, p. 153)

But not only wanted he the unfair rumour to be disqualified and to vanish, Jacques Héripret, like many others before him, also strived to comprehend what exactly makes Brigitte Bardot so utterly special and otherworldly. I doubt he had ever said that to her, not directly, anyway, unlike many other professional men, such as cinematographers and journalists, but none the less he received her permission to photograph her whenever he pleased on the Shalako set, and that was certainly proof of his curiousity and high regard for her. She, therefore, didn’t pose at all, all the pictures of her are spontaneous, “unbeknownst to me,” she said, and document the precious moments of that period of her life. When a trustful and friendly relationship between the photographer and the actress had been established, soon after, Brigitte Bardot seemed to have taken a fancy to photograph by herself, as there are quite a few shots of hers with a camera in her hands. By then Jacques Héripret must have realised that to the camera, she was a true and rare photogenic perfection from any given angle or vantage point, but had he been able to grasp the enigmatic side of her persona then? He photographed and photographed her endlessly during those four months, there had been total one thousand and five hundred photos of Brigitte Bardot: talking to her colleagues, sitting and waiting in her chair, playing a card game, dancing and singing, resting on the ground, riding a horse, or playing with her dog Hippy. She looks exquisite on each one of them, and, of course, for that she praised his talent. But there are also the pictures that are less traditional, such as a close-up of her hair or her hands or part of her face where one can see the wrinkles of the mortal when she is smiling. The naturalness and sheer liveliness of such images indicate that she, like anyone else, is a human being who may have wrinkles on her face, yet, despite it, she is not like any other human being. She is different, as Héripret’s pictures remind us. And that is exactly the paradox of the situation, the photographer must have thought; one can have all the wrinkles of the mortal, yet still be majestically surrounded by the impenetrable air of the goddess. But how is it possible?

The question still remains not fully answered, in spite of Héripret’s conclusion that it is her wholesomeness and personal traits that made her glorious and celebrated such that General De Gaulle would firmly believe “that Brigitte Bardot brought in more foreign currency to France than Renault.” (Héripret, ibid., p. 154) And who would dare to disagree with that? Her cultural significance is so great that one should never underestimate the influence of her personality that has contributed immensely to her iconic status. “She is a free woman. Her loyalty is legendary. She is straight as an arrow. Her word is a contract,” wrote he. (Ibid.) And this is what Héripret’s interpretation of Brigitte Bardot as an icon differentiates from the mainstream view. From the start, he refused to see her exclusively through the erotic lens and as a sex symbol. Clearly, upon meeting her in person, he understood quickly that the eroticism, as alluring as it seemed, was not enough to comprehend her persona fully and fairly. Moreover, it was simply too limiting because of the lamentable untenability of the erotic construction towards her whole personality. Instead, he chose to see her as “an anti-star, an unpretentious woman, a woman with her doubts, her joys.” (Ibid.) And by doing so, he did a magnificent job. (To be continued)

Written in the breezy hours of the night, on 27 September 2022, on the shore of Little Harbor, on Cape Cod.

Copyright © 2022 by Elena Vassilieva

THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR

The Queen Elizabeth II and Her Platinum Jubilee

by Elena Vassilieva

“Honestus rumor alterum est patrimonium.” – Publilius Syrus. The photo collage by Elena Vassilieva.

“It almost frightens me that the people should love her so much. I suppose it is a good thing, and I hope that she will be worthy of it, poor little darling.” – The Duchess of York to Queen Mary, autumn 1928.

Her Majesty the Queen has just set a record of being on the throne for seventy years. To reign successfully for such a long period of time requires good health, sound judgement and the mutual love and respect the Queen and her subjects feel for one another. Her Majesty has easily fulfilled all these requirements ever since she, still a twenty-one-year-old princess then, gave her famous birthday speech at the BBC in Cape Town, South Africa, on 21 April 1947: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

Later, after the death of her father, King George VI, on 8 February 1952, at St. James’ Palace, she repeated her vow: “By the sudden death of my dear father, I am called to assume the duty and responsibility of sovereignty. […] My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than that I shall always work, as my father did throughout his reign, to uphold the constitutional government and to advance the happiness and prosperity of my peoples, spread as they are all the world over. […] I pray that God will help me to discharge worthily this heavy task that has been laid upon me so early in my life.” That was a solemn promise to be a good queen, but also a circumstance forced by destiny that made both the young princess and the global audience experience her heartfelt new responsibility mixed with a touch of trepidation. One can sense here not only deep sorrow but also worry whether at such a young age she would be capable of doing the job the way it was expected. But in spite of it, she demonstrated bravely her steely determination to be a conscientious and devoted sovereign.

Today, if one were asked to describe her reign in just a few words and one were to say that it has been an act of selfless devotion, that wouldn’t be an erroneous statement at all. In fact, it is an exemplary devotion of the monarch who takes most seriously her duty rather than herself in this hereditary position, let alone her own persona, so much surrounded by an aura of the House of Windsor’s grandeur and mystique. In 1952 people must also have thought of her great-great grandmother, the Queen Victoria, who acceded to the throne even at an earlier age; she was just an eighteen-year-old, albeit very opinionated, teenager who consequently had been the Queen and Empress for sixty-three years which formed the Victorian era. If she could do it at eighteen, why wouldn’t the Queen Elizabeth II do it at twenty-five? – An obvious and logical reasoning must have been, not that the young Queen had much of a choice and not that she was the only British Queen who would be a monarch at twenty-five. The first Queen Elizabeth was also twenty-five when she became Regina in 1558.

Nevertheless, even her own grandson, Prince William, suggested in 2011, when in conversation with the Queen’s biographer, Robert Hardman, that “[i]t must have been very daunting,” indeed. He continued then, clearly awed and fascinated by his grandmother’s talent as a public servant: “And I think how loads of twenty-five-year-olds – myself, my brother and lots of people included – didn’t have anything like that. And we didn’t have the extra pressure put on us at that age. It’s amazing that she didn’t crack. She just carried on and kept going. And that’s the thing about her. You present a challenge in front of her and she’ll climb it. And I think that to be doing for sixty years – it’s incredible.” Well, the Queen has been doing it for seventy years now.

But seven decades ago, when the Prime Minister Winston Churchill was given the news, he gloomily said that he didn’t know her well and that she was only a child, the utterance that has now been quoted most often. However, Churchill’s first encounter with the then-Princess Elizabeth happened on 25 September 1928 at Balmoral. He wrote to his wife from there that “[t]here is no one here at all except the family, the Household & Queen & Elizabeth – age two. The last is a character. She has an air of authority & reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.”

The Queen has preserved the air of authority and reflectiveness to this day. And Churchill soon changed his view on her, after he had met her again in person in 1952. Afterwards, she had only won praise from the Prime Minister, and the feelings of great respect and fondness were mutual. According to Jock Colville, Churchill’s Joint Principal Private Secretary, the Prime Minister “was madly in love with the Queen and she got more fun out of her audiences with Churchill than with any of his successors.” (winstonchurchill.org)

Naturally, the Queen was deeply saddened when Churchill, perhaps her best and most valuable mentor, had to retire in 1955 due to his failing health. Born in 1874, Churchill was a child of the Victorian era and a national hero, who happened to have an enormously positive and formative influence on the young Queen in her role of head of state. The Queen was so much in awe of the Prime Minister that when he died, she broke the protocol by rushing to his funeral as the first mourning visitor, not the last one as it should have been according to the rule.  

Equally and rightly so, Queen Victoria’s great-great granddaughter’s reign is now regarded as the second Elizabethan era, which is hallmarked by the Queen Elizabeth II’s impeccable work ethic and her very tolerant and, despite the air of some mysteriousness around her, or, maybe precisely because of this, loveable personality. No wonder that she is perceived by so many around the globe as the epitome of stoical reliability and British goodness, a leader who has never put a foot wrong. But before that, in the very beginning of her reign, it was her youth and innocent and fresh outlook on the world that had charmed people in all corners of the Earth. Her great sense of duty, quick wit, placid disposition, and a total lack of haughtiness and arrogance have touched people in a very profound way.

“We grew up loving the Queen. To us, teenagers, she was a babe,” reminisced Sir Paul McCartney. Just recently, in January 2022, a certain Winfield Scott, @LtGenScott on Twitter, echoed this sentiment, saying that “she was a babe back in the day.” And I replied to him playfully that she still is! Once a babe, always a babe. At her noble age still riding, walking with her beloved corgis, wearing her dresses better than any other woman who is as much photographed as she is, and delivering her Christmas message (2021) full of love and warmth in the striking red outfit, looking radiant. At that respectable age, to the envy of many, even much younger, women, she is still displaying best complexion in town. The babe of the babes! Mr Scott seemed to approve of my laudatory, good-humoured remark.

But the Queen also inspires and motivates much younger generations. Not that long ago, after the Ashes 2021-22 were over, I did run into a tweet by Sam Billings, the English cricketer, who regarded the Queen as his inspiration. Similar moods prevailed on the crowded Londoner streets on the bank holiday weekend of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, 2-5 June 2022. “She is my Queen,” said one very proud woman in the crowd during the festivities. One can be certain that this sentiment is not singular, the majority would say the same or something similar. Regarding the festivities, the Queen replied:

“When it comes to how to mark seventy years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first. But I have been humbled and deeply touched that so many people have taken to the streets to celebrate my Platinum Jubilee. While I may not have attended every event in person, my heart has been with you all; and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family. I have been inspired by the kindness, joy and kinship that has been so evident in recent days, and I hope this renewed sense of togetherness will be felt for many years to come. I thank you most sincerely for your good wishes and for the part you have all played in these happy celebrations.”

Historically speaking, her only competitor is her own great-great grandmother, the Queen Victoria. Although their similarities start and end with a very young age of accession to the throne, their longevity on the throne, excellent reigning skills, and their happy marriages to their handsome cousins, they still invite comparison, particularly because they seem to be such strikingly opposing each other grand historical figures. When the Princess Elizabeth was about to turn eighteen, Lady Airlie, Queen Mary’s dear friend, quite charmed by the Princess, said that there was “something about her, that indescribable something which Queen Victoria had.” (Kate Williams, 2012, p. 184f) Queen Victoria was an expansive Royal entity, who, at the age of fourteen, after having learned that eventually she will be a queen, quite self-confidently announced: “I will be good.” (Britannica) She was the Empress, who didn’t shy away from glorifying her own regal persona and from commanding respect and control over her subjects, which, of course, coincided with the social and cultural norms of her era, whereas the Queen Elizabeth II is by nature a thoughtful, open-minded, tactful, and unassuming person, without sacrificing her love of tradition and heritage.

She had been fully aware of her social standing when she was already a little girl, and it might have induced a spirit of conceit and vanity in her childish imagination, but only until her prudent grandmother, Queen Mary, intervened. Thus, her biographer, Kate Williams (2012, p. 74f), recounts the following amusing story: ‘“Good morning, little lady,” the Lord Chamberlain said, encountering the Princess in the corridors. “I’m not a little lady,” she replied imperiously. “I’m Princess Elizabeth.” Later that day Queen Mary arrived in his rooms with Lilibet, announcing, “This is Princess Elizabeth who hopes one day to be a lady.’” And this unfavourable trait had disappeared without leaving a trace in the Queen Elizabeth II’s character ever since.

At the BBC, in 2005, Prince William described her ruling style as “more of a soft, influencing, modest kind of guidance.” She won the hearts of her subjects and those of the rest of the world precisely because of her humbleness, her utter wish to be enthusiastic and dutiful, yet unglorified, placing others into the limelight instead. “She cares not for celebrity, that’s for sure. That’s not what monarchy’s about. It’s about setting examples. It’s about doing one’s duty, as she would say. It’s about using your position for the good. It’s about serving the country – and that’s really the crux of it,” said Prince William.

She is also hardly ever judgemental or disgruntled, even when an arrow is aimed at her family and her institution by a close relative of hers, say, her own grandson, Prince Harry. Once widely popular, he has chosen the road well-travelled by the King Edward VIII, who foolishly abdicated the throne for the sake of his personal caprice or, as he claimed, his personal happiness with Wallis Simpson, in 1936. But even the Duke of Windsor and his arrogant and manipulative wife hadn’t been as viciously selfish and cruel as the Duke of Sussex and his self-obsessed and aspirational wife have been. It might have taken the Queen Elizabeth years to cease to think of her Uncle David’s act of the highest egotism, but it may have taken only a minute for those unpleasant memories of the childhood to be retrieved when the Duke of Sussex and his spouse had engaged their PR machine that would condemn and trash the Royal Household ruthlessly. Something the Duke of Windsor had never done, despite his bitter criticism of the establishment and especially the key political figures of the time.   

Now, imagine, how the Queen Victoria, after a similar peripeteia, would have reacted? She may have uttered in dismay that “recollections may vary,” but would she have ever graciously said: “I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family”, adding, “my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life?” Very doubtful, she would have. Some are even flagrantly tempted to exploit the Queen Elizabeth II’s delicate approach and heartwarming kindness.

Not only the Royal Family matters are being handled by her tactfully and with sympathy, but also those of the Commonwealth. She would never insist on being a queen or a head in a country that wouldn’t wish it, granting freedom of decision and choice to her subjects. The Queen Victoria might have never even contemplated this style of ruling, depriving her subjects of the freedom to choose. But those were different times, of course, colonialism was perceived not only as a form of the ubiquitous imperial power, but, unlike today, also as a means of gaining political authority on the global scene. Even to entertain any imperial ideas, let alone pursue them, is rightly regarded as very retrograde and uncivilised today, and the Queen is, naturally, far from such ideas. It is very modern and wise of her to wholly omit the norm and ambition of the far past.

But she is also not complaining at all about certain things that had been removed from her jurisdiction during her reign. Although the crown had begun to shift from a political role to an ambassadorial and ceremonial one already during the Queen Victoria’s reign, today, the crown’s political power has diminished even more. For instance, the Queen may no longer choose her prime ministers, and although, de jure, she has the right to dissolve Parliament, de facto she has little power over it. Similarly, in 1968 the Lord Chamberlain’s role as a censor of all theatrical works was abolished after the Theatres Act 1968 had been passed.

While political influence of the Queen is not as strong as it used to be in the times of her great-great-grandmother, the Queen’s influence as a moral compass and ambassador of good will, kindness and British heritage is stronger than ever. Some of the Royal Family’s younger members pursue very important and ambitious projects. Prince William’s Earthshot Prize has been an immensely impressive and successful endeavour to help heal the wounds the Earth is suffering from right now. The most remarkable thing is that it’s a continuation of the Royal Family’s tradition of caring for the environment. Both the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales have been untiring advocates for the nature and environment for decades.

At the same time and sadly, the Royal Family have been ascribed by society via mass and social media (understandably, to great annoyance of the Royal Family members) an additional role of some sort of forced entertainers. And since they are perceived as celebrities, the relentless and obnoxious media hunt for the Royal Family’s private moments has been an ongoing malpractice. In his book, Robert Jobson (2021) writes that already in 1947, when Prince Philip was courting Princess Elizabeth and when the glamorous couple were out for a ride in Prince Philip’s two-seat MG, one paparazzi photographer had been persistently following them. At that time, according to Kate Williams (2012, p. 202), the teenage Princess Margaret commented: “Poor Lil. Nothing of your own. Not even your love affair!” But the paparazzi hunt and social media pernicious and libellous fabrications had never been as intense and unpleasant as they are now. One can only sympathise and praise the Royal Family for enduring stoically this stressful ordeal. And one wishes the Royals would be granted their human and natural right to privacy and therefore normalcy.

It must also not be forgotten that the Queen’s incredibly successful reign is the fruit of collaboration, as she stressed it herself in her thank-you-speech during the Jubilee weekend festivities. The Queen and the House of Windsor are unimaginable without the support of the Royal Family’s members. With or without Prince Philip, the Queen would have been a splendid sovereign in any case, but the energy, optimism, wisdom, and authenticity of the longest-serving consort in British history and the oldest serving partner of a reigning monarch, enabled the Queen to blossom into a self-confident and self-reliant woman. He gave up his own brilliant career in the Royal Navy for the Queen. With his perpetual intellectual curiosity and good humour, the Duke of Edinburgh made the Queen’s strenuous job so much pleasanter, and she has always been very grateful to him for that. Having lost the Duke last year, the Queen is fortunate enough to rely on the Princess Royal, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who all have acquired the Queen’s high standards of public service. But she can also count at any time on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who have been tremendously active and diligent in the past years. Prince Edward and Countess of Wessex are willing to join as well whenever the Queen is in need of their help.

The Queen isn’t thus worried about the crown being transferred later to Prince Charles who, along with the help of the Duchess of Cornwall, has convinced the British pro-monarchy population that the monarchy will continue to remain in good hands. Although it is too early to predict anything right now, but it does seem more and more that Prince William would particularly excel at running the House of Windsor and at being an outstanding Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, given the fact that his cultural and moral values strongly coincide with those of the Queen. On the other hand, all the people who have been behind the scenes, yet helping the Queen run the Royal Household throughout the years, have also contributed enormously to her success. Just think of the Queen’s private secretaries and hardworking ladies-in-waiting, it seems that Lady Susan Hussey, also Prince William’s godmother, has never left the Queen’s side for a minute, she has always been there for her.

Or the Queen’s dresser and fashion designer, Angela Kelly, whose creativity and loyalty since 1994 have been astonishing. Needless to say how much the Queen, at her noble age, is still dazzling the crowd with her very unique style and her very independent sense of fashion. Moreover, the Queen beautifully encouraged Ms Kelly to apply her talent in the role of the Queen’s first ever in-house designer. This is an example of how the Queen graciously lets other people elevate themselves to the highest point of their abilities and then shine. Little wonder that in her book, Angela Kelly (2019) wrote that “[e]ven now, after twenty-five years, I still admire The Queen as a strong, powerful woman and I find great inspiration not only in her courage, but also in her humility and gentle humour. She has taught me so much over the years and has always encouraged me to stay true to myself while being open to the opinions of others, even if I don’t share them. I know that her guidance made me a better person, and for that I am eternally grateful.” Those are undoubtedly lauding notes the Queen’s designer is offering here, and I do share them with her wholeheartedly. Queen Elizabeth II’s unparalleled and superb work during seventy years of her reign can’t possibly be overstated. It is a most notable and extraordinary achievement by the ninety-six-year-old woman who has been inspiring people for the good for seven decades. Q.E.D.

The following books have been consulted here:

Bedell Smith, Sally (2012). Elizabeth The Queen. The Life of a Modern Monarch. New York: Random House.

Hardman, Robert (2022). Queen of Our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II. New York: Pegasus Books.

Howard, Alathea Fitzalan (2021). The Windsor Diaries 1940-45. My Childhood with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Atria Books.

Jobson, Robert (2021). Prince Philip’s Century 1921-2021: The Extraordinary Life of the Duke of Edinburgh. Boldwood Books.

Kelly, Angela, LVO (2019). The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins Books.

Shawcross, William (2009). Queen Elizabeth: The Queen Mother. London: Macmillan.

Williams, Kate (2012). Young Elizabeth. The Making of Our Queen. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Written in my garden of lilies on Cape Cod, on 10 July 2022.

Copyright © 2022 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW Essay

Dante’s Creative Personality and Wayne McGregor’s Ballet, The Dante Project (2021)

By Elena Vassilieva

“L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.” – Dante. On the photo: Edward Watson after his glorious performance. The image was taken by E.V. during the livestream from the Royal Opera House on 20 December 2021, © The ROH.

In 2014 Wayne McGregor turned to Thomas Adès, kindly asking him to write music for his new ballet. The British composer, haunted since childhood by the prodigious gruesomeness of the Divine Comedy’s imagery, must have thought then that it was his best chance to get rid of the fright he had acquired from reading the great poem in the young age, but also to bury those striking impressions inside the score for McGregor’s three-act ballet. He also must have believed that, after 30 years of creating “the poetry of the foot,”* the world-renowned choreographer wouldn’t fail to do justice to Dante who died on 14 September 1321. Adès’ logic didn’t mislead him, as Wayne McGregor had also been very much impressed by Dante’s poem, although it wasn’t the fright that moved him most deeply, but the beauty of Dante’s poetical word, which he initially feared not to be able to translate into the language of dance, but that natural fear lived one moment only; Dante’s overwhelming aesthetics and his creative genius commanded every single dance move in the new ballet triumphantly, leaving no trace of that conundrum the choreographer had in the very beginning.

There are others beside Wayne McGregor and Thomas Adès who are pivotal in the creation of the ballet: Tacita Dean was appointed as a set and costume designer, Lucy Carter and her assistant, Simon Bennison, as light designers, Uzma Hameed as a dramaturg, McGregor’s all-time collaborators. The ballet, somewhat drily called The Dante Project, a co-production with the Paris Opera Ballet (L.A. Philharmonic, a co-commissioner of Adès’ score), premiered on 14 October 2021 and was generously shown by the Royal Opera House to the audiences across the globe in December 2021. The world premiere was a very special and memorable event for several reasons. Firstly, the ballet lovers had already been aware of the tremendous success of the Inferno, performed by the Royal Ballet in July of 2019 in Los Angeles, and were eager to see all three parts of the new work, especially after the pandemic interruption. Secondly, the tragic consequences of the pandemic reminded us harshly how thin the line between life and death is, in fact, and how important it is, as was the case in the Classical Antiquity and then especially in the Middle Ages, not to forget the motto, memento mori, and do the right thing while here on Earth. Thirdly, it was an immensely courageous and significant most recent artistic creation that commemorated 7th centennial of Dante’s death.

Dante’s poem is not just a pleasing and at once repelling all senses colossal piece of artistry and a lengthy exposition of human nature that is prone to mistakes and flaws per se, but it is also a monument to a creative personality, whose role was fulfilled in the Divine Comedy with such an authority and wisdom by Virgil, whom Dante addresses affectionately as “my true Guide, my sweet Friend, my sweet Father, my Master, my good Master, my prompt Master, My Lord, My Leader, My wise Leader, My Virgil.” One can really feel the love and such an endless admiration Dante had for the Roman poet. The regrettable to Dante fact that both poets lived in different historical epochs and couldn’t possibly have arranged a meeting, was overcome in the reality of his poem, and Dante cherished and appreciated every second of it.

At the same time, it is also a monument to a woman, the beloved woman, Beatrice, who was neither Dante’s wife nor his lover, yet, she is the one who had captured his imagination ever since he had first seen her as a 9-year-old child. There are many scholarly speculations among Dantists on why Dante chose to place Beatrice and not anyone else on the very top of that otherworldly reality which he created according to the Christian code of ethics, but, alas, there isn’t one definitive answer to it. Some believe that it was just Amour Courtois which was a common thing in the upper classes in the Middle Ages, just think of all the troubadours who were writing the most dazzling poetry lines for their Dames of heart. But most of them stayed on the very surface of that highly coded pursuit. In fact, this much that the code and the codex itself ultimately mattered more than the essence of the relationship, e.g. the true feelings or the lack of them. Therefore, such strictly coded relationships often seemed to be driven by a game-like ardour rather than a deep-rooted feeling.

Although I agree that Dante might have been influenced by this cultural tradition indeed, for he mentions the French troubadour, Bertran de Born, in Inferno (Canto XXVIII), and it might well be a proof of that, but, in my view, Dante’s poetic explorations are much more captivating and fervent than those of the troubadours. He shares with us a profoundly touching experience of his life-long spiritual attachment to the woman he happened to see just twice, without selfishly reducing her, say, to a mere object of temporary fondness. Instead, he idealises, even deifies, and immortalises her, because she had had such an enormous power over him and had been an irreplaceable source of inspiration and creative energy throughout his life, and not only for writing poetry, but also for making him resilient and giving his life a higher purpose.

His everyday was far from being ordinary and was marked by turbulent political upheavals in his native Firenze where, in 1302, his property was seized, and he was condemned to death by fire, shall he ever be caught there. These circumstances forced him into exile, entirely separating him from his family, and Beatrice, the mistress of his soul, kept his spirits and hopes high. So in this context, Dante may be regarded even as one of the very first feminists who believed that it is crucial for an artist to have that special female presence in his life, which doesn’t have to be necessarily physical, but, rather, metaphysical. Eventually, as a wanderer throughout Italy, he could survive without his fortune, but he would hardly have done so without Beatrice’s spiritual guidance and support. It is thus the book that offers an incredible insight into man’s struggles and solace within the two realities, the one on the Earth, and the other one someplace else, depending on man’s deeds. In both realities, eternal dichotomies such as God and Satan, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, love and hatred, kindness and hostility, suffering and blissfulness, are central for Dante’s universe.

That’s true that his narrative is perceived foremost as theological, but it is by far not limited to it. On the contrary, Dante’s critique of the societal norms of that time is rather audacious and admirable, e.g. it is hard to miss his sympathy for the Florentine poet and philosopher, Brunetto Latini, whom Dante and Virgil encounter in the Seventh Circle of the Inferno (Canto XV) and who was sent there for just being a homosexual. The unfairness of Latini’s and his companion’s punishment leave Dante deeply disappointed and dismayed: “Ah, had I all my wish, […], you would not yet be banished from the world in which you were a radiance among men…” Latini himself says that it is hard to fathom for him why he and his troop (“all clerks, great scholars, and of great renown, by one same crime on earth defiled”), condemned and punished that unfairly and severely. He adds that, luckily, his life continues in his book, Livre dou Tresor: “I would say more but there across the sand a new smoke rises and new people come, and I must run to be with my own band. Remember my Treasure, in which I shall live on: I ask no more.” And Dante fully agrees with him. Moreover, he is grateful to Latini for teaching him the art of becoming eternal, meaning his creative pursuits. To Dante, Ser Brunetto remains dignified and victorious even in the Seventh Circle. Another of the many instances of his harsh critique is the scene in the Purgatorio (Canto XVI) where Dante and Virgil are moving “through that foul and acrid air” and one of the spirits, Marco Lombardo, complains about growing corruption and loss of spirituality in the circles of the Church.

These two examples throw light on Dante’s personality with his sentiments, viewpoints, and judgement. To many readers, he is first of all a prophetic poet, but I would also stress that, besides being a creator and a visionary, he is a remarkably compassionate and tolerant human being. Neither judgmental nor pious, he impresses us with his humanism, which is so much ahead of the medieval Zeitgeist. Dante is more congenial to a Renaissance man rather than to a man of the late Middle Ages, no wonder that he had chosen Virgil as his guide. With his humane values, sound ethics, and utter interest in man, the Italian poet appears to us surprisingly contemporary as for his worldviews, and that is what Wayne McGregor highlighted in his ballet so astonishingly well. He reconstructed the poet’s creative personality in such a beautiful and sensible way for us. To show Dante as a human being and not only to concentrate on the picturesque narrative of his poem is one of the strongest intentions in the ballet, in my view. And it turned out to be immensely advantageous to the conceptual side of The Dante Project. I could even forgive the dryness of the ballet title, as it shifts the focus to Dante’s personality and his inner life with all its struggles and hopes. The ballet does paint a very fair and colourful psychological portrait of the Italian poet genius, and this is doubtless a huge achievement by all those who had worked on it.

The first act, the Inferno with its nine circles, is the most spectacular one. Everything in this act is spellbinding: the music, deep and dark, had clearly inspired the intricacy and complexity of the choreographic movements, complimented by the austerity and elegance of Tacita Dean’s setting and costumes, and Lucy Carter’s and Simon Bennison’s very fine lighting design. The dancers seem to live in every movement and move, each playing his or her part superbly. One really delights in the usual sophistication of McGregor’s choreographic style. Edward Watson (Dante) and Gary Avis (Virgil) have a great rapport with each other while interpreting the Divine Comedy’s most glorious literary friendship on stage so movingly. Francesca Hayward and Matthew Ball portray the adulterous lovers (Inferno, Canto V), expressing the Divine Comedy’s passions so convincingly, one wishes their pas de deux lasted longer. Calvin Richardson’s Ulysses is adventurous in his sublime confidence and worldliness, as is his sharp wit, in the Inferno (Canto XXVI). Ulysses’ vivid and garlanded storytelling doesn’t escape Wayne McGregor’s notice. A very curious and unexpected dialogue between Dante and Satan (Fumi Kaneko) captivates one’s mind the minute we see them converse, and even more so, because Satan is being portrayed here as an attractive and dangerous female seductress, but Satan’s charms hold no allure for Dante.

The second act, the Purgatorio, surprises the audience with its postmodern touch and rather interesting musical and geographical solutions. The mountain of Purgatory is said to be located in the middle of the ocean in the Southern Hemisphere, just the opposite of Jerusalem, which is in the center of the Northern Hemisphere; Thomas Adès unites both geographical locations on stage: while Dante is reminiscing on his life during his Purgatory journey, psalms are being sung in Hebrew in the Adès Synagogue in Jerusalem. Tacita Dean also finds an unordinary way to connect Dante’s personality to our everyday, placing the picture of an enormous jacaranda tree on a car-jammed L.A. street that serves as a background for the ballet scenes of the second act. Lucy Carter uses the symbolism of illuminating the jacaranda tree in different colours, from greenish-yellow to violet or purple. The musical canvas has a folkloric base. Nearly in all its entirety the second act consists of the group dances typical of festive occasions.

Two scenes stood out here in particular. The first one when both poets reach the Garden of Eden (Canto XXVII) and Virgil has to leave Dante, as Beatrice is there to guide him further on; and when the two pilgrims say goodbye to each other, the farewell truly breaks one’s heart, Edward Watson and Gary Avis presented the painful moment so well. The second scene with Dante, who is, finally, able to see Beatrice, will make the audience recall it again and again, as Edward Watson and Sarah Lamb, while on their journey high up, to the Paradiso, made the pas de deux unforgettable. They both looked as if not only did their bodies dance but also their souls in this love scene. “Now be celestial!” Wayne McGregor commanded like a god during rehearsals, and such they truly were. That gorgeous is the choreography and its fulfillment in this scene. Tacita Dean thought of a traditional red gown for Dante and of a gauzy, spring-like dress for Beatrice, emphasising will, desire, and love of Dante’s, a newcomer to the Garden of Eden, and purity, grace, and repose of his beloved. The role of Dante was extremely difficult to dance and act, it required so many skills from the dancer: stamina, knowledge, emotional intelligence, and incredible technique, given how complicated McGregor’s dance vocabulary and stylistic are. Clearly, it’s hard to cast a better artist than Edward Watson for this role, which he danced with such vividness and brilliance. It’s a pity that it was his swan song because of his retirement, and his presence on stage will be missed greatly in the future.

I had imagined the third act, the Paradiso, to be the most striking one, but after having seen the ballet, I would still prefer the Inferno. As for the musical qualities, it seemed to me that music wasn’t leading the choreography in the third act; it was too autonomous, and, therefore, quite difficult to follow choreographically. Of course, it is an enormous challenge to create something we don’t really know what it is. All we know it must be a certain state of being, say, a bliss, but what exactly is that bliss, we are left speculating. It is hard to compose the paradisaical blissfulness and the purity of the spirits on a musical canvas, anyway. But one assumes, nonetheless, that a musical bliss should lift up the soul of man who is still here, on Earth, offering him something that would make him believe that he is in Paradise, whatever the latter might be. Alas, a rare living composer has been granted that gift. However, Tacita Dean and Lucy Carter did a magnificent job of (re)creating the image of the Paradise. I admired a great deal their choice of colours and hues and geometrical patterns. They both concentrated on the Light of the Paradiso, and that was the secret of their extremely successful setting. The elegant pearly white costumes reminded me of Frederick Ashton’s contemplative serenity of his classic, Monotones II, choreographed to the music by Erik Satie, Gymnopédies. Wayne McGregor accentuated the euphoria of the Paradiso in his choreography, and it was as complex as the Inferno, but for all the Royal Ballet artists it seemed to be a breeze. They made it look as if their bodies were happily dissolving in this Heaven on stage.

Thus, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the Dante Project team presented a creative piece of an extraordinary beauty and effort to the world. On 26 December 2021, on Instagram, Wayne McGregor said that “[c]oming back into the Royal Opera House to create, produce and perform a huge new 3 Act Ballet (after such covid havoc) was a massive challenge. All of the teams, across the house had to dig deep, working insanely hard to pull this off. Together we achieved so much and are very grateful for the reminder that each and everyone plays their individual part to manifest the whole. Collaboration at the heart of all that we do.”

It was a joy to see how carefully and sensibly Dante’s genius was treated in this work. The team’s decision to place his personality rather than the narrative of his poem in the foreground seems to be more challenging, but most appropriate. Not only aesthetic pleasure one finds in this work, but also solace and hope that unfavourable personal circumstances can eventually be overcome (just think of Dante’s life!), and so can the collective tragic circumstances that have recently sadly affected every single one of us. This makes all of us, not only the ballet lovers, appreciate this ballet greatly. Congratulations to the Dante Project team on such a brilliant work and many thanks to the Royal Opera House for the livestream of the ballet!  

Excerpts from the following editions of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri were cited here: The Carlyle-Wicksteed Translation. The Modern Library, 1932; Random House, 1944, p. 83. And The Divine Comedy, translated by John Ciardi. New American Library, 1954, pp. 122f; 1957, p. 420. *John Dryden (1664): The Rival Ladies.

Written on the night before Good Friday, 2022, in the Sky Control Room, on Cape Cod. Copyright © 2022 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

Essay Review

Wagner and the Secret of Success of the Australian “Walküre“

Notes on Die Walküre premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne on 9 February 2022

By Elena Vassilieva

Die Götter machen auch Fehler und deswegen leiden… Ach, übrigens – was hat für Sie mehr wert: Tugend oder Reichtum? – Words by Elena Vassilieva. The image was taken from the livestream of the opera from Her Majesty’s Theatre, © Melbourne Opera.

On 14 January 1870, King Ludwig II of Bavaria wrote to his beloved composer that Das Rheingold and Die Walküre might be onstage in Munich that year. Indeed, despite the King’s doubts, on 26 June 1870, Die Walküre had the world premiere at the National Theatre in Munich, leaving Wagner in a gloomy mood. Wagner, that Master of the Masters on Earth, was notorious for his capriciousness and rigorousness as for the production of his own works. He was very particular about how his music dramas should be mounted, and every single detail mattered to him a good deal. And if something in the production happened not to coincide with his fancy, he would fall into the bleakness of utter despair at once. He dreaded to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Therefore, every time, when as a spectator, I have a chance and privilege to participate in an event honouring the glorious heritage of Wagner’s, I keep this fact in mind and always play an imaginary guessing game during the event, wondering whether the Master himself would have loved the spectacle or not? And, suppose, he loved it, what would his words be? And if he didn’t, what would he be saying, then? But that’s a rather silly game, of course, pursued by the naïve and unwary mind of mine.

The skeptical Wagnerian in me would probably argue that it makes no sense at all to play such futile games, as it’s all about interpretation and reception of Wagner’s work, which, naturally, largely depends on the will, desire, and talent of those who are preparing the masterpiece for the audience. By no means it’s about his, a priori assumed, approval or disapproval. For goodness’ sake, and alas, the great man isn’t here anymore as a man of flesh and blood for more than a century, that same Wagnerian in me would rage. Why should it still matter what he would have thought or said? In any case, we can only speculate about his possible reaction, based on his writings. I don’t know, I would still disagree. It just matters to me, perhaps, because, like everyone else who loves him dearly, I know perfectly well how much he cared for the nuanced precision of the articulation of his artistic ideas. When one is working on his operatic masterpieces, one had better be mindful of that fact, in order not to upset his spirit. For this very reason, until now I had never uttered a word, not in exhaustive detail, anyway, on any production of his gems, fearing the responsibility of the whole endeavour, although I consider myself fortunate enough to have been able to see his work performed on the most interesting, old and young, stages.

One may remember how disappointed and crestfallen Wagner was after he had read an article about his music by Hector Berlioz, where the latter praised the German titan, but made a costly mistake ascribing to Wagner the notion of la musique de l’avenir in the sense of school in music, which Wagner denied harshly and offendedly, as he believed the term didn’t mirror his philosophy at all. On the contrary, it was misleading and misconstruing his very ideas of Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1849), which, for this reason, he regretted having published at all. Besides, he complained that the notion of la musique de l’avenir was not his invention, but Professor Bischoff’s, a music critic from Cologne and Ferdinand Hiller’s friend. The outrage led Wagner to dedicate many hours of his time to a thorough and exasperated letter to Berlioz in February 1860, in which he had not only scolded the French composer for being inaccurate and even gullible, while using the phrase coined by Bischoff, but also for lacking artistic understanding of the conceptual side of Wagner’s works and his artistic vision. He feared his texts could really be grasped only if read in original, which might have prevented Berlioz from the accurate and full comprehension of Wagnerian aesthetics. In his letter, Wagner tried to explain to Berlioz what his concepts were based upon. He had a great admiration for Berlioz, especially after a closer encounter in London in 1855 where Wagner had some concerts at the Philharmonic Society. One of them even included the Queen Victoria in the audience, who thought highly of his music and made an entry of the occasion in her diary.

Wagner said personal unhappy circumstances and his creative quest for a most wholesome and rounded art led him to the key concepts of his Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, a manifest of the philosophical ideas based on the inevitable and necessary interdependence of life and art. On the other hand, Wagner was tremendously bothered by the triviality and lack of depth of the performed pieces at the opera houses throughout the Old World at that time. He believed the theatres had distanced themselves from the genuine art that, like the classical Greek tragedies, is supposed to overwhelm (erschüttern) the audience on so many levels and make theatregoers want to connect to this art and consequently reflect on it on their own, without the help of critics. Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, or das Gesamtkunstwerk, should not be lowered and degraded by the artist to the trivial mentality and frivolous taste of the “Publikums großer Städte” (read bourgeoisie), he insisted, but instead be desirous and desirable, even by the above mentioned audience, cultivating a taste for a much finer and deeper art than the one this audience is used to.

He desperately wanted to avoid the superficial quality of the artistic piece. Therefore, the seeming simplicity of such a multifaceted Gesamtkunstwerk would appeal not only to a connoisseur of music, but also to an inexperienced spectator or even a simpleton without repelling and leaving the latter in need of a translator or a critic. The emotional and intellectual Erschütterung of the audience by the Gesamtkunstwerk’s aesthetics, so much relatable to any man’s life experience, can only be achieved through the synthesis of different arts, as he wrote it in the letter to Berlioz, “so frug ich mich auch, welches die Mittel zur Hervorbringung jener außerordentlichen Wirkungen waren, und ich erkannte, daß sie eben in der Vereinigung aller Künste zu dem einzig waren, großen Kunstwerke lagen.“ Aristotle’s notion of catharsis, obviously, was very important for him. The main purpose of his famous letter was to be understood by Berlioz the way he meant it, but by everyone else as well, as the context suggests.

I often, therefore, wonder if a performing success of Wagner’s work depends much on the prioritising of his immense desire to be interpreted the way he imagined it? It may well be the case with the most recent Australian production of Die Walküre which turned out to be victorious just because they seemed to have followed closely the Master’s script. Contrary to what Wagner’s music dramas may seem to require, say, grandeur and opulence of space, of décor and of costumes, Her Majesty’s Theatre’s modest size accommodated the opera so well that not for a second the audience missed the larger spatial scale of the setting. The proportions seemed to be just right, whether it’s the material and symbolic centrality of the giant ash tree in the opera, or the magical place where the gorgeous Valkyries dwell and fear no one but their powerful and yet vulnerable father, a victim of self-inflicted curse. The set designer (Andrew Bailey) even thought of a very clever trick to make the Valkyries look as if they were really riding, bravely crossing the stormy sky to and fro. Luckily, the real horses were left in their stables, but the ones they used so splendidly, featuring the two lovely sway pole performers, Emily Ryan and Ashlee Grunberg, not only made the space appear much larger, but also very multidimensional, where realism and magic blend so harmoniously.

‘Less is more’ seemed to prevail in the style of the Australian Walküre. I didn’t notice any unnecessary or superfluous details in the ornamental stylistics of the production. Every single thing seemed to justify the music and libretto of the opera. The lighting design (Rob Sowinski) was very smart, stressing the symbolism of the few main colours in the opera: the dark blue along with the imagined pitch black with the contrasting paleness of the characters’ faces and the red flame in the end. The only thing that might have been avoided, and whose absence wouldn’t have been noticed, was the occasional neon light thrown on the sword, Nothung, on the ash tree; the neon was a tiny drop of tackiness to my eyes. The costumes, designed by Harriet Oxley with great care and love for the libretto, accentuated the characters’ main traits, yet did not seem to overburden and weigh the opera singers down. For instance, Fricka’s fanciful dress reflected her attractiveness behind which wickedness was hiding. The Valkyries’ dresses were tremendously handsome with the right amount of gold and silver not to be considered gaudy or tacky, let alone the most charming headpieces. In fact, the costumes and accessories in the production, slightly reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelite style, were so elegant that I would love to wear them as a spectator to Wagner’s event myself if I could. No doubt, the decorative part of the production, aside to the plot, must have inspired the singers’ acting which was such a convincing and organic affair that it moved one to tears (speaking from my own experience), be it the first act when the twins (Lee Abrahmsen and Bradley Daley) exchange tender glances with each other and share love at first sight, or the second act where Wotan (Warwick Fyfe) and Fricka (the marvellous Sarah Sweeting) have their fateful argument, or the scenes with Wotan’s and Brünnhilde’s (Zara Barrett) tumultuous personal matters in the second and third acts. Those were very memorable moments.

It is a well-known fact that Wagner was a passionate perfectionist to the degree of being a rather intense and trying person at times, and he certainly knew how to move passions in his masterpieces as well. The subtle and romantic eroticism is another significant attribute of his music dramas, which certainly wasn’t overlooked in this production, but fulfilled with superb acting, both dramatic and vocal. The love duet, Sieglinde (Lee Abrahmsen) and Siegmund (Bradley Daley), excelled at it. Lee Abrahmsen effortlessly repeated her dazzling success of the last year’s Rheingold. The ease and beautiful crystal-clear freshness of her vocal style, complimented so nicely by Bradley Daley’s very attractive nervous sensibility, was great pleasure to watch. Sieglinde’s husband, Hunding, that insufferable exemplar of Wagnerian machohood, was portrayed very skillfully and brightly by Steven Gallop; he added so much dramatic energy to it. Wotan (Warwick Fyfe) and Brünnhilde (Zara Barrett), both immensely strong and perspicacious performers, impressed the operagoers a great deal, breaking their hearts with their remarkable vocal dialogue. The brilliance of the famous Ride of Valkyries (Walkürenritt) will stay with the audience long after they had left the theatre. Everything in this scene seemed to excite the spectator’s imagination to no end. Brünnhilde and the eight Valkyries (Rosamund Illing, Eleanor Greenwood, Jordan Kahler, Olivia Cranwell, Naomi Flatman, Caroline Vercoe, Sally-Anne Russell, and Dimity Shepherd), that captivating troop of the most sprightful warrior maidens, brilliantly showcased their mythological qualities with such an awe-inspiring singing and acting. The orchestra, led so gracefully and expertly by Maestro Anthony Negus, who today, after so many years of engagement with the German composer, probably knows every whim of Wagner’s as well as his own, did carry Die Walküre on their wings unfailingly and securely, producing an astonishingly genuine dramatic soundscape. The chosen tempo throughout this tempestuous and passionate music drama seemed highly suitable and desirable, keeping the operatic tension on stage appropriately high, yet, under control. Energising everyone, the singers and the audience alike, the orchestra played breathlessly from beginning to end.

Given his utter strictness, one is left guessing, of course, whether Wagner would have been as pleased as I, member of the lucky audience, was. On the other hand, his passionate nature might have been tremendously satisfied and thrilled, as this production was by no means short of delivering human emotions so tastefully wrapped in the right attire of the sound and spectacle. Besides, the opera seems to have been produced according to his precious ideas of Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft, keeping his heritage as much intact as possible, and that is the key for a successful performance of his masterpieces, in my – some would argue rather conservative – view. Also, it is a laudable, heroic even, achievement by Melbourne Opera to manage to raise funds for the production of the opera independently, from private sponsors, in such challenging times (Henkell Brothers, Lady Potter, Dr Alastair Jackson, The Ian Potter Foundation, The Angior Family Foundation, The Robert Salzer Foundation, The Sylvia Fisher Fund, Dr Douglas and Mrs Monica Mitchell, Roy Morgan). Thus, Wagner’s opera in Melbourne, with Suzanne Chaundy as a director and Greg Hocking as a producer and with all Australian cast, crew and creative team, is a Gesamtkunstwerk, a truly moving piece of art, but also a formidable team of talented and enthusiastic people.

One thing is certain: the audience left home wanting more. Luckily, we have something to look forward to in the future. Siegfried will already be onstage in September this year. And as Lady Primrose Potter, Melbourne Opera’s patron-in-chief and one of the principal sponsors, said, there are plans for three full Ring Cycles for March and April 2023. This is a marvel that would lure a whole lot of Wagnerians to Australia. For those who are unable to travel, I hope a livestream will be graciously offered by Melbourne Opera to the audiences around the globe, just like last (the spectacular Das Rheingold) and this year, for which we all are very grateful.

An excerpt from Wagner’s letter to Hector Berlioz from February 1860 was cited here from Wagner, R. (1871) Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, Leipzig, E.W. Fritzsch, p. 118.

Written on the windy night of Saturday, 12 March 2022, in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.

Copyright © 2022 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.    

The England’s Odyssey and the Dazzling Triumph of Australia

Reminiscing the Ashes 2021-22 from the spectator’s point of view.

By Elena Vassilieva

“Oh, the Ashes, you always lure and you always break hearts!” – The super wolf blood Moon, 21 January 2019. Image and words by Elena Vassilieva

Many cricket lovers might still be sitting and ruminating on what exactly prevented England from performing as well as during the Ashes on their home soil in 2019, when they found themselves as fit as their Australian rivals, or maybe even slightly better? This time, the quest to regain the Ashes turned out to be a series of unfortunate events for England, alas. It started when the English cricketers declared an interest in bringing their families along. Australia, unattainable to the rest of the world, allowing only very few Australians at a time to return to the continent, miraculously (and thank God!) had granted entry to the British cricketers and their families. Briefly, it became a matter of debate and controversy. I wonder whether the wives had ever been in the ‘should I stay or should I go’ quandary? In retrospect, it must have been helpful for the cricketers to have their loved ones nearby to console them, but I fear it was also very difficult for the wives to see their husbands suffer like never before. On the other hand, had they decided to stay at home, they would’ve been a true Penelope and her friends, praying and waiting impatiently for their husbands to return, no matter with the trophy in their hands or without. Perhaps it would’ve been even better this way, as their other halves would have concentrated solely on the series with no concerns for their families because of the constant threat of the virus, but with a stronger motivation to win the Ashes instead. Of course, it’s a private matter and it should stay private, after all, it was the cricketers’ own decision. All things considered, it went exactly the way, mitgegangen – mitgefangen (think of the then coach Silverwood); under the circumstances, the support Penelope and her female friends might have provided was invaluable. But had I been a Penelope, I would have refused to join Odysseus on his journey, out of fear to distract my beloved husband from already a difficult task. But I’m not the Penelope, so the worry is not mine, and thus irrelevant.

Once settled in Australia, it had been decided, as if by the one and only voice (Vox populi? Vox Dei? Guess whose?), that the best bowlers in the team, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, should be omitted in the first test. Whether they might have been saved for the later matches because of the injuries, wasn’t entirely clear. But the fact that in Melbourne, Jimmy fought like a tiger who had been kept in a cage for too long made it clear that he definitely should have been selected for the game already in the earlier test. Although Jimmy Anderson appeared at the very right moment of urgency, particularly at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, even his magic couldn’t spare England from losing the test. Stuart Broad felt sorrow about not having been able to influence the course of the game as much as he could or would have, had he been engaged in the game from the very beginning. “We’ve got a couple of caged tigers coming into this [Sydney] match, Ben being one of them and Stuart Broad is another,” the then assistant coach Graham Thorpe said. Eventually, Broad was able to apply all the preserved energy and impatience of his, flying over the field like a very dangerous osprey, handsomely supported by Jimmy Anderson, known as the King of Swing and the Burnley Express. It was a delight to see their elegant synchronicity.

The next unfortunate event came when the then head coach, Chris Silverwood, and his family had tested COVID-19-positive and were immediately sent into isolation in Melbourne, leaving the burden of logistics and tactics on the shoulders of Graham Thorpe and the captain. Thus England test captain was multitasking, very often taking a role of a coach and helping his teammates prepare for the next two tests, in Sydney and Hobart. I don’t think he or anyone else in the team had ever experienced anything of the sort, one blow after another, something that was completely out of their control, as if what they had been through at home during the pandemic weren’t enough, the circumstance that severely and fatally impaired their training, preparation and mindset for the series. For instance, the fast bowler Jofra Archer couldn’t join the expedition because of the injury, and everyone fondly remembers his swiftness and the diamond-cut precision of his throw in the last Ashes in England. He was as dangerous and unpredictable then, as he could have been here, and, of course, he was much missed during this Ashes.

Quite a few England cricketers came to Australia whilst still recovering from injuries and pandemic-induced maladies, yet hoping fully to contribute, even if it would cost them dearly in the end. Despite it, they managed to make a notable and respectable contribution. Think of Ben Stokes, who fought heroically, completely forgetting himself, despite his knee and badly strained side, in Sydney. “People will have seen me rubbing my knee from time to time when I was in the field, but rest assured I’m fine,” he said to The Mirror. No wonder the England skipper regards him as a superhero, which he is indeed. That fellow with the Hercules’ physique is always fun to watch, even when he’s just standing there and wondering how on earth the Kookaburra ball had just touched the stumps, but missed to upset the bails, while the astonished Steve Smith and David Warner had been inspecting the stumps, in case the bails had been glued onto them? Eventually, everyone decided it was Fortuna who had played a lovely trick on Ben that day in Sydney, lifting up his and his mates’ spirits. Think of Jonny Bairstow and his right thumb, that fellow had showcased a majestic century to such astonishment that many began to wonder whether his specialty shouldn’t be batting from now on? Think of Jos Buttler and his broken left index finger, Buttler had been in such an excruciating pain and with worries about his future before heading home after his devastating injury. And I’m not mentioning England captain here, as this topic deserves its own chapter. For now, one thing only: The captain had been there for his teammates, rain or shine, always the first to board the ship and the last to leave it.   

But despite all the misfortune and dark mood, England stoically continued to play, often engaging in truly beautiful and sparkling moments of joy with their rivals during the tests. At one point, Stuart Broad daringly confronted the roaming about FoxSports camera, then ran to the deep end and dived in, as if turning the pitch into the pool and making the stadium roar with laughter. The lustrous and agile Marnus Labuschagne, who is ordinarily focused to a T, decided to try a new idea of his, some intricate pas de chat, right in the middle of his batting, bringing himself out this way. Or when Steve Smith with a solemn expression on his face and a concentration of a gladiator did strike a pose, as if warning his opponent: “Now, you dare to slay me, you really do!”, cheering everyone up. Interestingly, the Kookaburra ball had been immensely attracted to Joe Root’s lower body this Ashes. He even was reported to have had a minor injury in his abdominal, yet was there to fight soon afterwards. And he really had to guard himself vigilantly, as the red ball kept flying into the forbidden zone. Mark Wood did his best to play breathlessly, driving the usually inaccessible Marnus Labuschagne three times, the seasoned Steve Smith twice and the canny tough cookie David Warner once out of the field. Wood impressed everyone in Hobart with a haul of the 6 wickets.

Not surprising at all that their strong opponents greatly appreciated England’s courage, persistence, healthy self-esteem, and unselfishness. “They’ve sacrificed quite a lot to come over here. Two weeks of quarantine, time away from families, some restrictions on what they can do, opposed to pre-pandemic. They’ve had some positive cases, the coach being away from this game, it’s been really tough for them. We are really thankful they are out here as part of the series.” The Australia new captain, Pat Cummins, commented after the game. I don’t think Australia could’ve dreamt of a more suitable captain than Cummins. The optimism and pragmatism of his response to any situation on the field is quite astonishing, and so are his ardour and firmness as leader. Not to say that the England captain is no good, on the contrary, as good as it gets: rational, resourceful, liberal, thoughtful, and sanguine. He is a dreamboat for any team. Throughout the years, Joe Root has established himself as an excellent and generous leader. During this Ashes, he had to endure so much criticism on top of everything else, yet remained faithful to himself and his teammates. Not everyone would be able to withstand such a storm of viciousness without being crushed, it requires enormous will and strength of character not to. But he had handled the difficult situation with pride and dignity. Judging by his actions, his motto seems to be “Here to help!” which means placing the needs of others before those of his own. At times, it might be too dangerous for such a generous personality, as it may easily distract him from the very priorities of his. Shall he decide to add some toughness of steel to his captain’s armoury, that would do, and it wouldn’t turn him overnight into a despotic beast, whose shadow is lurking in the minds of those who ruthlessly shredded Joe Root for his captaincy during the Ashes.

I wish all those who are given a voice in the media had kept silent, at least till the end of the series, in order not to demoralise and dispirit the team even more than they already had been by misfortune. Clearly, the critics are thirsty for a despot, an autocrat, a big macho tough guy-ruler, who, naturally, despises democracy, as if there were no other way of winning the next game. But that cruel captain wouldn’t do for the England cricketers or be the right man for me, the spectator. The England test players are too individualistic, they require a dialogue, a collaboration, not a monologue or slavery with orders given to them. On the other hand, the head coach might have been delegated too much power at the moment. That needs urgent reforming, so that he isn’t the only one to blame for the wrong selection of players or any other awkward moves on and off the field. He too needs good collaborators with clarity of their minds and positive attitudes. The appropriate work ethic in times of the pandemic should also be sought desperately. Australia may be a source of inspiration in that regard.   

And now back to the very beginning of the series of the unfortunate events. The preferred batting upon the toss win in Brisbane, is another thing, that was perceived by all the experts as a serious mistake, given the external conditions (e.g. heat and humidity about to kill) that appeared to be disagreeable to England. And thus it didn’t do at all, causing a chain reaction for the future events which prevented England from playing the game the way they did play in the 2019 Ashes, for example, and having as a result Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the most prestigious and legendary arenas in the world, their final coup de grâce. Filled with so many Australian cricket lovers, the MCG sounded like a great hive of bees with the deafening noise. One can only imagine psychological hardship of playing there as a visitor. Supported by the thousands of their fans, Australia took over the field almost immediately, bringing onto the field, as if straight out of the magical chest, some really frightful game changers, terminators, if you will, e.g. the debutant, Scott Boland, who must have meticulously studied the technique of the England cricketers, including their finest batsman. In fact, so much that Joe Root must have been on his mind even when Boland was sleeping like an angel after a hard day of training. This impressive and intimidating his aggression had been. He did attack his opponents, one after another, Bairstow, Root, Wood, and Robinson, with the might of Polyphemus who stood in the Odysseus’ and his men’s way. Even the usually very collected, sensible and steely, with the light footfall of his and with the air of the divine unreachableness around himself, Joe Root seemed to have been taken off guard. He also seemed to have been depleted of his mellow and well-balanced, pulsating and inspiring energy, as if he were battling insomnia, when not on the field, and that, sadly, affected his game, not allowing him to play fully to his capacity and known brilliance. He, nevertheless, played solidly well, and towards the end of the series, especially in Hobart, he had definitely found the right key how to respond to Boland’s bold attack and how to resist his almost cyclopean aggression. No doubt, Joe is going to work hard on that in the meantime.

After all, Boland is not as much a threat technically as psychologically. His style of bowling is very heavy, yet precise, and it seems as if he were throwing a cannon ball at his opponent. But once Joe goes through his routine with Boland strategically, the tactical moves will come on their own, and Joe Root’s air of magnificence will reign over the wicket and the field again in the future. It will be a pleasure to see them fight again. Amazing is how quickly Root had grasped Boland, that seemed certainly to have shaken Scott’s confidence in Hobart; at least, the England captain had tested the waters before the end of the series, and his memory won’t fail him to practice the defense in a proper fashion until it’s polished to become a reflex, let’s name it the Boland reflex for the next Ashes. Usman Khawaja, another very strong and interesting Australia player, straight out of the magical chest, made it look so easy to bat two centuries for his team. He looked as if he came there not out of necessity but out of idleness. He seemed to have surprised even himself. He and Joe Root had shared pleasant and funny moments together, when Root was in a really playful sort of mood, bowling the rockets. To his credit, Khawaja, even if not sure whether he would be selected for the Ashes, did his homework diligently, and it didn’t fail to pay off.

The new Australia cricketers must have staggered England quite a bit. But in turn Australia old-timers, e.g. Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, and Nathan Lyon, must have been equally startled by the difference of England’s preparedness and armoury for the game, compared to the Ashes two years ago, when England appeared to be, in my view, more confident than Australia, both technically and psychologically. Unlike this time, when not only the new skillful players had been put on display by Australia, but also how quickly they retained the Ashes, practically in the middle of the series, despite all the sincere efforts of resistance from the English side. Playing in the Ashes in Australia must be for England teams at all times quite a traumatic experience anyway, let alone in time of trouble, the pandemic. By no means am I an expert in the game of cricket and therefore have no right to give any advice on the matter, but as a spectator I believe the path to victory lies not only in a great deal of tiresome drilling with the red ball and in rejuvenating the traditional side of the cricket game in England, especially with the younger players, as it was suggested by the England captain and some other experts as well, but also with the focus on a mental readiness, which should eliminate any Angst of failure and any anxiety of error. A thorough and close examination of all the strategic tricks of their opponents and spending more time together as a team are the basic elements required for success which the pandemic has obviously prohibited them from practicing more intensely. On the other hand, I’m quite puzzled and amazed how on earth Australia were able to do all this, as they too had many months of restrictions for the very same reason? How wonderful it would be to see both teams equally fit, splendid and victorious again. The good news is that England exhibited their ability and talent to be competitive and zealous, they just seem to be in need of more confidence, togetherness, steadiness, and somehow find a way to have uninterrupted and focused training and haptic experience with the traditional red ball before the next Ashes, the finest form of cricket game that has ever existed. It’s very soon, and all I can say: “Godspeed, my dearest cricketers! There is no time to lose. Per aspera ad astra!”

Written on Sunday, January 30, 2022, the day of the snow storm, in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.

Copyright © 2022 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW Essay

Three Fictitious Days in the Life

On the “Spencer” film

By Elena Vassilieva

“C’est un conte vrai.” “Non, c’est un vrai conte.” “Vous êtes dans le vrai.” Image* and words by Elena Vassilieva.

The closest movie theatre where you could watch Spencer, a new cinematic opus about Princess Diana, was on Martha’s Vineyard. So on Sunday, the 14th of November, despite my utter aversion to any kind of biopics, I decided to head to the MV Film Society in Vineyard Haven and give it a shot. Who knows, the film might be good enough and worthy of my time, I thought. After all, Kristen Stewart said she was able to grasp Diana’s spirit, which should put both women in a favourable position, or so it seemed after reading an interview with the actress in the LA Times earlier this autumn.

Whilst on the boat, I couldn’t help but reminisce my frequent trips to Edgartown, to the Charlotte Inn, in the fall of 2020. The unique place I got so curious about from reading up in the island’s newspapers on the owners of the hotel, Gery and Paula Conover. The couple, almost religiously devoted to the Charlotte Inn, their chef-d’oeuvre and baby-like project for decades, had been an inspiration for a light-hearted movie, A Godwink Christmas, themselves. Little did I know whilst relishing the authenticity of the Edwardian style furnishings at the Charlotte Inn that Princess Diana was once a guest on the premises and their youngest son, Tim, was assisting the Princess with her daytime activities on the island while she was visiting her good friends, the Brazilian ambassador and his wife, Paulo-Tarso and Lucia Flecha de Lima, in the summer of 1994. Neither Gery and Paula Conover nor Tim had mentioned that fact to me, not even once. Had they done so, it would have been very much out of their characters of true New Englanders, reserved, of quiet disposition, yet, kind, friendly, and hard-working. I found out about the Princess Diana’s visit to the hotel’s restaurant from the book about the Charlotte Inn, but there was just one sentence stating the fact.

Cut off from the world and travelling in 2020, having cancelled all trips, including to England and Australia, I seemed to think the island nearby was a blessing-like. The hotel has staff from all over the globe: the chef at their well-liked restaurant comes from France, the maids are from Eastern Europe, I even met Kevin, a Melburnian, there who looks after the Inn’s antique furniture. After learning about Princess Diana’s vacation on the island, I wondered whether she was happy there? I didn’t dare to ask the Conovers about it, because I knew they would say nothing about their acquaintance with the Princess. But I found one public account going back to August of 2017 when Mr Conover was asked by the local NPR station to share his reminiscences of Princess Diana. Reluctantly, he kindly agreed to be interviewed by Marilyn Schairer. (The radio station wasn’t as lucky with their son, Tim, I’m afraid.) Gery Conover didn’t say much, just how memorable that encounter was when he was giving an excursion around the island to the Princess on his 1923 classic yacht. “It was just a nice experience chatting with her. […] [She was] just really nice in every way. Just very natural, and not at all pretentious. I guess the most significant thing is that she told Tim she had never had such a vacation, where the paparazzi were not always there, and wanted to do a little kind of a thank you party for him at the Inn, which was also very nice.” I did eventually ask the Conovers about their perception of A Godwink Christmas that was based on their personal story. They both were disappointed that some facts were misrepresented in order to satisfy the moviegoer and to justify the commercial interests of the production. For instance, nearly the entire film was shot in Canada, not Martha’s Vineyard, and Gery and Paula met on the island in the summer, not around Christmas, as it was stated in the film.

The moment I had disembarked from the boat that chilly November afternoon, I wondered whether the director, Pablo Larraín, and the script writer, Steven Knight, had done justice to Princess Diana and had sheltered her private persona in the film, given how much she suffered from the round-the-clock paparazzi and media surveillance throughout her life? Or, rather, had Larraín and Knight twisted or exaggerated the facts to the advantage of the conceptual side and the commercial success of the picture? Had they put pressure on the viewer about the complexities of her public and private life? And had Kristen Stewart, an American actress, who had blindly and audaciously, without even reading the script first, agreed to play the role of the Princess, had done a good acting job indeed, as she herself and Larraín believed she did, according to their interviews?

After the film, on my way back from the island, I had leafed through every scene one more time and had come to the conclusion that, sadly, once again Princess Diana fell victim to the professional people’s unscrupulous and brazenly arbitrary interpretation of her life and highly inaccurate depiction of her personality. Right after the first scene, I found myself repelled by the character Larraín, Knight, and Stewart created: a confused, frustrated, and upset woman who gets lost while driving, she swears and moments later enters a sort of cantina and asks for help. She looks depressingly disoriented and distressed. And the character remains in this state of self-destructive alienation and horrid Selbstentfremdung throughout the film. A striking contrast to this is the scene with the military men bringing none other than Christmas food provisions for the Queen’s family to her Sandringham House. The Queen’s character here is also far removed from reality: a woman, who is very conscious of her good looks and her social standing, basks in this glory of hers and with scorn and superiority of a bourgeois dame (!) looks down on Diana, who happens to compliment her dress rather than her speech. Now, think of the real Queen: would she ever be like this? I think not. She may seem reserved and deceptively aloof occasionally, but never self-important, haughty or snobbish like a bourgeois who only yesterday was promoted to a higher social rank and was still thoroughly enjoying this happening. On the contrary, she would probably be calmly compassionate, considerate, and very realistic, at worst, she would say to Diana, as she once did, “But what can I do? Charles is hopeless.” The romantic Diana perceived it at the time as a very tepid compassion, by the way, but that’s the Queen, who would doubtless prefer the bitter truth to the sweet lie, no matter what. Why would she give false hope to Diana, anyway?

The other characters from the Queen’s company, except for Prince Charles and the children, are just secondary and props-like, they have no significance in the film, whatsoever, and Diana barely interacts with them. For all that the intensity of Diana’s interaction with the servants and ordinary people is really striking. From the very beginning, she startles them with her unrestricted willingness to share her unhappiness and frustration. Most of them act well, and Major Alistair Gregory, played by Timothy Spall with ease and aptness, is perhaps the most sympathetic and interesting character in the movie. But even his company didn’t seem to have inspired Kristen Stewart with a vision of freedom from Diana’s persona. Had she freed herself from a burden of Diana’s personality, she might have done a much better job. The figure of Princess Diana may thus have prevented her from developing a deeper and more persuasive portrayal by imposing constraints on her acting. And the further into the movie, the farther the character is moving away from the real Diana. You see here a narcissistic, self-obsessed, cold, and repulsive woman who isn’t even that interested in her own children, let alone anyone else around her. Is that supposed to be the Princess Diana, who had “smothered [her sons] in love” (Prince William), who had great admiration and respect for the Queen, who adored Prince Philip and Princess Anne, let alone all the strangers she had inspired and embraced through her charities? Also, the stark Marxian social stratification in the film with the characters divided into two categories, quasi-Machiavellian villains and their prey, is too simplistic a view. The real Diana, smart and observant, grew up at the Park House, which is on the premises of the Sandringham Estate. By no means was she an outsider or a stranger to the Royal Family, and she knew very well from the very beginning all the peripeteias of her future life as a Royal member. It’s preposterous therefore, as the film quite explicitly does, to blame the Establishment for Diana’s eventual unhappiness. They didn’t insist that Diana had a proper protection after her divorce, and this is the only thing the Establishment could have been scorned for.   

It’s largely because of the Freudian construction of the main character that one is reluctant to draw any serious parallels between the movie character and the real and historical figure of Diana. Most Freudian constructs are destined to fail miserably, and they are known for their limits and dangers because Freud predominantly considered only two factors for his analysis of personality: childhood of a person and her sexual propensity. Spencer is flooded with so many obvious psychoanalytical objects that it’s hard to miss the coerciveness of their symbolism for the viewer. There are Chanel suits and bags, Porsche, pearls, a book about Anne Boleyn, a wire fence, and even a plier (at none other place than inside the antique drawer in one of the bedrooms at the Queen’s Sandringham House!), and what not. Overall, too much, just too much for one movie. On top of this, Kristen Stewart played rather unconvincingly, in my view, right from the start. In the scene at the cantina, she appeared mimicking Diana’s manners and her discoursive style too hard, looking rather awkward and helpless in the role. Clad in Chanel and despite her own attractive frame, Ms Stewart comes across as rough, irascible, and utterly unrefined throughout the film, which Princess Diana had never managed to be. Not even in the darkest moments of her life, when she was overwhelmed by the pressures of being constantly in the public eye. Although the real Diana struggled to hide her emotions, nonetheless, she had never been the way she was portrayed in the film, not in public, anyway, and I doubt very much, in private either, definitely not a conspicuously selfish character, like the one in the movie, she was. Had I accidentally seen a fragment from Spencer without prior knowledge that the main personage was supposed to be Diana, I would have never guessed that this laborious portrayal was that of her very persona.

Some would argue that if it’s a fictional account of the Princess, then it’s futile and senseless to even try to compare the real Princess to the played one, let alone to attempt to contest the intentions of the whole movie project. But I still strongly disagree with such a take on this. Yes, it’s a piece of fiction, indeed, but it’s based on the life story of the real person, the movie character has the name of that person, and not by coincidence. It’s also true that the person happened to be a public, historical figure, “a world icon,” as the director said himself. But nevertheless shouldn’t there be deployed at least minimal ethical filters and moral limitations as to what extent it is permissible to select the facts from this person’s biography and interpret them loosely, let alone misinterpret them, so that the viewer like myself isn’t left in total bewilderment and disbelief? To what extent the factual ground may be tackled and reinvented as the creators please in order to support the film’s main idea? In Spencer it is all about the social awareness of mental health, seemingly, if not this, what else, then? But it’s done at the cost of the one who isn’t here anymore to defend herself, and, clearly, the real Diana was no more mentally unstable than anyone of us who is in the midst of personal disillusionment and disappointment at how certain cultural things in our society function and how easily they may drive one to eating disorders, loneliness, and isolation. As for Diana, it got to the point in her life that she didn’t know whom she could turn to and trust anymore. Way too many pretended to be her friends, breaking the rules of basic civility in the end, when it comes to taking advantage of this “friendship” and capitalising shamelessly on it. But given the circumstances, such as the perpetual media’s attention, paparazzi’s hunting, and betrayal by many people, the trustful Diana had to deal with, it’s quite astonishing that she showed so much strength and grace and appeared to maintain more sanity than most of those who had been put under the similar pressures.

Oddly, instead of stressing this fact, the Spencer biopic highlights her eating disorder, which was the thing of the past for her, anyway, when she had disclosed it to the public, and yet, Larraín cynically dares to make a statement about the Princess Diana’s mental health in the film and his interviews. Besides, it’s not as if Diana lived centuries ago that no one remembers anymore what she was like in real life, and therefore we need another (alas, quite unscrupulous and bigoted!) opinion on her very private terrain, her soul. Diana had impeccable manners and a natural tact, but at times she could indeed spill the beans and let the cat out of the bag in such an unexpected way that one would be baffled for a long, long time, asking oneself why she would do something like this? But then, one would realise that she was young, inexperienced, sincere, and perhaps motivated by the desire to be heard, but one would never think she was self-indulgently wicked, narcissistic or mentally ill, as the biopic chooses to portray her. Very emotional – yes, but self-centred and mentally unhealthy? – Give me a break, Mr Larraín and Mr Knight!

Even during that infamous BBC interview with the disgraceful Martin Bashir when she might/must have been pressured somehow psychologically, she didn’t utter anything that would be offensive to the others. That’s my pure speculation, of course, as for the psychological pressuring, but it’s not impossible, the way Bashir tricked her into the interview, he could well have arranged that too, so that the Princess would feel very uninhibited to say whatever he pleased to hear from her; I’m not accusing him, as there is no proof, I’m just saying he had been capable of it, given the recently surfaced facts about how the interview was organised and obtained by him; however, any psychological pressure is very hard to proof. But the surprising smoothness of Princess Diana’s discourse during the interview despite the harshness of the discussed topics makes one want to know whether she hadn’t been indeed pressured, as she shared very private things about herself, which, normally, she would have never done, not in public. However, she told the truth, critiquing herself in the environment she was, not the environment itself, all of which, alas, backfired when her statements were taken out of context, then greedily expropriated and appropriated, and consequently used as a trump card by professionals in the journalism, biography, and cinema business.

Yes, she had showed her resentment, but you could still feel the love, care, and appreciation she had for Prince Charles, for instance. I found nothing of the sort in the movie. The Larraín’s Diana is a fictional character that has little to do with the real Princess Diana, despite the director’s disingenuous claims that he isn’t “chasing controversy,” he is “just trying to chase something that feels real,” in his own words. Then he continues in his interview with “The Independent”: “I think the movie does a proper depiction of Diana’s internal distress. And that’s what I care about. An eating disorder is never just an eating disorder. It’s a consequence of a mental health problem.” – Qui vous a constitué juge, Mr Larraín? The film focuses on the eating disorder, which was candidly acknowledged by the Princess herself, but Larraín forgets that she also said that she had successfully fought it. It’s unfair that those who might not know much about her (the younger viewers, for example) may believe that she was like that in real life. To me, it’s an unforgivable distortion of the facts when a public figure gets treatment like this in a creative piece. What a shame that the Spencer creators are no better than the paparazzi who stalked the Princess to the death.

“Princess Diana was like a Greek tragic character,” Pablo Larraín commented in that same interview in “The Independent,” priding himself on having done the deed. Is it why he decided to make a biopic rather than simply a film about an unknown princess? Had he done the latter, he wouldn’t have disclosed his poor ethical skills to his audience, of course. Diana endeared herself even more to people by disclosing her malady back then, making it clear that one has nothing to be ashamed of if one happens to be overcome by something like this, one just has to fight it instead of struggling in silence. Ethically, that differs a great deal from what the creators of Spencer did. It was her life and she had every right to make public whatever she thought would help her and the others. But do the movie creators have such right, especially for such a dubious portrayal of the Princess? I also wonder whether we are witnessing in the film not so much the awareness of mental health as that of potential commercial success? In that regard, Princess Diana is, no doubt, a hot ticket for such endeavours. If so, Larraín certainly wouldn’t be the first or the last one to capitalise on this, it’s a cultural machine of propagating certain social values and at the same time taking advantage of others.

The persistent commercialisation of Princess Diana’s persona or any other similar public figure who generates profit and has influence isn’t new, and it’s sad that people in cinema seem not to shy away from such an exploitative practice. Tragic is certainly not Diana, she transcended the tragic death by leaving her love for people and by becoming a beloved historical figure, tragic are the ethics and morals of the contemporary popular and celebrity culture and hence our society in general. Mentally unstable is not Diana, either, it’s our culture and society where utter desperation for celebrity status, fame, and profit, gained dishonestly at the cost of other people’s privacy and well-being, determine the “health” of its members. Alas, Pablo Larraín and Steven Knight have contributed to this with their own work ethic and moral standards, which all fall short of those of the Princess Diana. “It makes you feel dirty,” my librarian friend said when we had discussed the movie, and it certainly does.

And the last thing, my dear moviegoer, if you would like to see a film about a princess, you shall watch William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953) again and again, and, unlike Spencer (2021), it will not bring you into a state of mental discomfort, on the contrary, it will do good to you and those around you.

*Image: photographed are the books, “Princess” by © Robert Lacey, © NYTimes Books, 1982 and The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, © Random House, 1944.

(Written on Sunday, November 22, 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

THE CULTURAL ICON

La chevelure de Bérénice

Or the eternally inspiring power of Brigitte Bardot.

By Elena Vassilieva

“Approchez, que je vous embrasse.” – C’est ici que l’espérance nourrit l’amour. Image (the photo of Brigitte Bardot used in the readymade is by © Douglas Kirkland; the Cheetah fur is fake!) and words by Elena Vassilieva.

Recently, when I had been on the hunt for documentaries on Brigitte Bardot at the local library, the search engine delivered me a curious title that caught my eye at once. The book was called In an Elevator with Brigitte Bardot (2007) and was written by a Cape Codder, Michael Lee. Once, as a teenager, by the greatest stroke of luck, he rode with the French actress in an elevator at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. He doesn’t say when exactly, but he mentions that Brigitte Bardot was wearing a leopard coat then. So maybe it was in the 60s when leopard print coats became very popular? The memory of that brief (25 floors!) encounter hadn’t been revealed by him to the public for 40 years until one day, at the neighbourhood cocktail party in his house, while joining a company of the New Year’s resolutionists, he hesitatingly declared: “Well, ah, I’m going to give up Brigitte Bardot”. Naturally, his neighbours had a puzzled look on their faces, the minute he said that, as if he were a lunatic: “Give up on Brigitte Bardot?” One hardly has to be a madman or a stalker who finally came to his senses to say something like this, as the force of her aesthetic powers has been superior and ubiquitous throughout the years. Not only male minds and hearts she has held captive, but also those of women, children, and the elderly.

Many cinema appreciators would probably recall the film “Dear Brigitte” (1965) with James Stewart, Brigitte Bardot playing a cameo role there, and a child actor Billy Mumy, who was left in awe of the actress saying that he will never forget the lucky occasion of meeting her and seeing first-hand how not only otherworldly beautiful she was, but also very kind and warm. I have never met Brigitte Bardot in person, but I remember how my Grandmother took me to a department store on my 6th birthday, and there I saw one doll that took my fancy at once. Made in Germany and named Brigitte, she looked just like Brigitte Bardot about whom I had little knowledge at the time, but my Grandmother was overjoyed to buy this doll for me. I still have Brigitte, and she gladdens my heart every time I catch a glimpse of her. Another grandmother, a relative of my friends, was over the moon when her granddaughter of the kindergarten age resembled the French star with her long blond hair and her irresistible loveliness so much that she could have easily been Brigitte Bardot’s twin. “This is our little Brigitte Bardot,” the girl’s grandmother playfully introduced her to others. Alas, to her huge disappointment, later, when the granddaughter grew up, Brigitte Bardot seemed to have left her for good, the girl’s appearance was taken over by her own nature instead. But even if she had retained Brigitte Bardot’s striking looks, she would have lacked the singularity and the very essence of Bardot’s personality. If her animals could talk human languages, they would reveal to us too that their dueña has charmed every single one of them in the Animal Kingdom. Especially now, since she has been for decades such a fearless and persistent advocate of the animals’ rights. Hugh Lofting’s Dr Dolittle-series is a must-read in my household, and every time I read it to one of my very young relatives, Brigitte Bardot comes to mind, surrounded by her family of animals.

In his essay, Michael Lee reminds us that his fondness for the French actress was by no means such an out of the ordinary thing, because utter obsession with her was more than just a personal circumstance of one particular man, it was a cultural trend, if not craze, that had universal quality to it, sort of “a generational secret”: every American [and not American!] man who was born between 1943 and 1955, he writes, “has at one time or another been locked into a mental affaire d’amour with Brigitte Bardot”. And while he doesn’t disclose many details of the conversation with his guests that day, he shares, self-deprecatingly, his feelings with the reader how Brigitte Bardot, the Golden Goddess, in his words, had been burning his heart and occupying his thoughts for decades. Although based on strong and intense emotions, infatuation is a fleeting thing that lasts only a short period of time, particularly if one thinks of male preoccupation and adoration of woman’s flesh. What precisely was it, then? His wife thinks his “teenage crush with Brigitte Bardot is cute”, but he disagrees with her firmly: “Puppies are cute, not my relationship with Ms. Bardot”. Of course, it’s very audacious to call one’s obsession a relationship without quotation marks, if there is only one person in this game, as any relationship, by definition, presupposes the other, who exists not only on an imaginary level, but who also communicates with that other person in real life. However, it’s forgivable, since he implies it himself that it’s only his flights of fancy which aren’t transgressive or harmful, on the contrary, he finds them very satisfying, otherwise his feelings wouldn’t have lasted for 40 (!) years. As for his wife’s choice of words, the adjective ‘cute’ is a very tricky one, in the American social and cultural context at least, it may often contain pejorative undertones of judgementalism or even hypocrisy, according to my personal observations.

Obviously, it must have been much more than just an obsessive desire for Brigitte Bardot’s physique. It wouldn’t be completely wrong to assert that although he idolises and worships her persona, to his credit, he manages not to objectify her at all. His unceasing admiration for her had given him much more than only aesthetic pleasure and the phantasmagoria of the erotic dreamscape. And it’s hard to explain, why an ordinary person, who might have been in the same physical space with him, had been unable to do the same. Brigitte Bardot had been influencing him, a perfect stranger, so powerfully from a distance, from her unreachable to others space that was perceived by her admirers as sacred, untouchable, and hopeful, which was absolutely essential to them in order to feed their imagination and love, whatever love is, speaking with Prince Charles. That space was observed by them through the cultural lens of her movies, posters, and photographs. To most, that was the only way to get a glimpse of this alluring space of hers. The first row at the St George college’s movie theatre seemed to bring him closer to his heroine’s space, yet the physical obstacle of the movie screen made Brigitte Bardot an unattainable love aim, but simultaneously a highly desirable ideal. And even when, finally, he decided to abandon his idee fixe, surprisingly, he gave the impression of being not quite ready to part with it. Moreover, his own resolution saddened him a great deal, as if he were about to lose something very important, which had become a significant and necessary part of his existence. Even if the short accidental meeting in the elevator didn’t entirely change his life, and despite its randomness, it most likely made him feel special and chosen, the very sensation might have kept him afloat, above the monotonous greyness and tediousness of the everyday. It might have even given him indeed the strength to overcome difficulties in life. And, best of all, it inspired him to write the collection of essays.

La beauté qui le captive. Brigitte Bardot in Cannes, 1956. The photo by © Edward Quinn from his book “Stars, Stars, Stars off the Screen” (1997).

Brigitte Bardot had interested him prior to that momentous ‘togetherness’ in the elevator, since he was eagerly following all her artistic endeavours. Although her image depended on a movie role she was playing, there isn’t a single film where she would come across as false, vulgar or uninspiring, even when she had to play anti-heroines, such as Dominique Marceau in La Vérité (1960) by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jeanne in Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme… (1973) by Roger Vadim. And she played them superbly, without sacrificing her personal space. But the fact that he didn’t expect, let alone plan, to see her in person at the moment when the elevator door opened must have had a tremendously large effect on his teenage self. The sudden appearance of his idol out of nowhere neared a dreamlike experience, which transferred him into a state of spellbinding and disorienting trance to the point that he lost his ability to speak or to think for the entire ride. Brigitte Bardot blinded him with her smile and deafened him with her warm and kind ‘Hello’, and those were the only things she explicitly and deliberately did. He, on the other hand, was unable to return civility and politeness in the elevator until they were brought down to the lobby, and when the actress was about to step out of the elevator and disappear, in the last moment, he dared to transgress that sacred space of hers by timidly touching the sleeve of her coat, but found a way to rehabilitate himself discursively: “Ms. Bardot. Thanks. Thanks for everything. Everything. Thanks for everything.” Brigitte Bardot didn’t say a thing to this, she just smiled at him and left. He didn’t follow her, but returned to the confinement of the elevator space instead and, thinking she might have given him wings, was transposed straight back to heaven, figuratively speaking, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the brevity of this memorable elevator ride equaled timelessness to Mr Lee. Isn’t it truly amazing what two polite, but very sincere smiles and one ‘Hello’, uttered by the Golden Goddess, can do to the mere mortal?  

Brigitte Bardot’s inspirational powers will always be forceful: men will sigh and groan and fantasise the wildest things known and unknown on Earth, aside to writing songs about her and dreaming about encountering someone who would have at least her hair; women will always envy her and her hair, some lovingly, some rancorously, but everyone would agree that as a cultural icon she is par excellence, unmatchable and unreachable. She will always be longed equally as much by men as by women. Men will make their women have her hairdo, women will be desperate for the Brigitte Bardot look. But there will always be the one and only Brigitte Bardot, no matter how hard women continue their efforts to emulate her. She herself has never tried to imitate anyone, and she has never envied anyone, speaking only well of the men and women with whom she worked in the past. She will always lure and seduce people with her most exquisite beauty that has the power to melt the stars, along with the brilliance of her authentic persona, and with the straightforwardness of her strong and bright personality.

Brigitte Bardot’s hair, just like la chevelure de Bérénice, has become the entity in its own right, destined to be as legendary as her whole artistic persona. That topic deserves another round of musings, which I shall pursue in the future. Besides having Brigitte the doll, given to me by my dearest Grandmother, I have the Brigitte Bardot boots, almost identical to the ones she wore when she was performing the Harley-Davidson song, and I must say they are awfully unsuitable for a motorcycle ride. I also own a similar fake cheetah jacket from the Moon landing epoch when she wore her cheetah print coat, but neither the boots nor the coat will ever make me look like she does, not in the slightest degree, and that isn’t tragic at all. But in case I must ever make a New Year’s resolution using Mr Lee’s exact words, it would sound only like this: Well, I’m not going to give up Brigitte Bardot! Why should I, if she inspires me so much for the good of mankind? And I’m endlessly grateful to her for this.  

(Written on Cape Cod, in the Sky Control Room on the windy night/morning of Tuesday, September 28, 2021.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

REVIEW

The Foibles of the American ‘Prince’

Or the faux pas of the HBO Max series “The Prince”.

By Elena Vassilieva

“S’il vous plaît soyez bon prince !” “Oui, ma princesse !” Image and words by Elena Vassilieva

On 29 July this year, the HBO Max aired The Prince, a new series about a royal family. I’m deliberately using minuscule letters in a phrase ‘a royal family’, so that it’s clear from the start that this animated series has nothing to do with The Royal Family of the House of Windsor. Of course, Gary Janetti, the creator of the series, might have had them in mind while writing the script, as he had brazenly appropriated their names, and it may delude one in the first few seconds as if it were simply a cartoonish take on the Royals. However, any cartoon, particularly a satirical one, is based on good, solid humour and fine, substantial wit, and at least a vague resemblance to the reality that is being spoofed. But none of this you will find in The Prince, an idle fantasy that isn’t bright and sparkling, but rather dull and utterly unfunny.

Besides, it seems to rely heavily on the creator’s background, his own life philosophy, behavioural modes, ethical codes, and preferences rather than those of the Royal Family members’. Also, it’s so conspicuously un-British, in spite of the involvement of a bunch of the UK actors (Alan Cumming, Orlando Bloom, Frances de la Tour, Iwan Rheon, Lucy Punch, Dan Stevens, Sophie Turner) in the series, that one is left guessing why Mr Janetti hadn’t chosen one of the fabled American families, say, the Kardashians, these relentless publicity slaves, or even one of the crews of the White House (Donald Trump would do, but so would Joe Biden), instead of bothering with the House of Windsor? The utter un-Britishness of the discourse and manners of the supposed royal characters are so striking a fact here that one can’t possibly take this creation seriously, and even less so as a comic piece. The mode of the contemporary American popular culture, whose hegemony on the global scene is hardly deniable and whose social dress code of the ubiquitous and infectious ‘look at me’ and ‘gimme’ self-exposure, combined with the urge for everything royal, are very oppressive in The Prince, ad nauseam, indeed. And if there had ever been the spirit of the British monarchy in the creator’s mind in the phase of conceiving the series, it got quickly evaporated in the process of its preparations for the audience. I would be afraid to call it even a translation, possibly, “lost in translation” would be a better phrase in this context. Please forgive me the banality of this comparison.

Even Prince Harry, whose every article of value has been contaminated by Meghan Markle’s system of values, wouldn’t say things in real life the way he is uttering them in the cartoon. For instance, in the episode where he is sharing matter-of-factly, yet in a lazily detached fashion, his astonishment of how unlike all the palaces he had ever been to the dwelling in LA is. It does sound flat, doesn’t it? And it’s a factual inaccuracy, as Harry, clearly, is fond of his new home, but it’s also a psychological distortion of reality, because he is very proud of their beautiful house, and he stated that himself in the infamous Oprah-interview, unless the creator knows something we don’t know yet. Regrettably, the series is filled with such truly sad discordances throughout: the cartoon’s characters, very American in every imaginable way, absurdly, have the real British Royal names; the children, e.g., Prince George and Princess Charlotte, sound as if they were teenagers already, on top of the fact that it’s rather tacky, vicious even, and done in poor taste, having presented the children of that young age as very unlikeable and spoilt characters, who in true life are nothing of the sort, on the contrary, they are as good-hearted and lovely as any child of their age. If it’s an animated satirical film, naturally, the characters are allowed, in fact, supposed to have some features of exaggerated proportions, but they ought to be truthful to the nature of those who are being portrayed, they can’t be forged and reimagined as the creator pleases. If the latter is the case, it’s not a satirical or even comedic enterprise anymore. All of the heroes of The Prince without exception are ill-conceived, in my view, and don’t therefore meet that criterion.

One also is puzzled, for what audience precisely the series is being made? Since it fails to release comedic effect and a crystal clear concept of the series seems to be absent as well, it can’t possibly excite imagination of any adult who possesses at least minimal intellectual curiosity, and, at the same time, it’s way too nasty and unenticing for a child, even a teenager. Though the music (by a British composer Rupert Gregson-Williams), which might be here the only thing that deserves a round of applause, suggests the younger generations of viewers. Perhaps the cartoon was thought to suit someone who is consumed by any royal topic and who would be triggered to watch it, once he hears the word ‘prince’, sort of the Pavlov’s dog bell reflex? Maybe the writers (Gary Janetti, Alain Bala, and Tom McDonald) just tried to offer their, strictly American, view of the royal everyday where the nuances got carefully filtered through the American mentality of a typical well-to-do middle-class man, a bourgeois, and a prince-wannabe? But for the lack of the appropriate circumstances, this can happen only on the very primitive level of the creator’s imagination, of course. Not surprising is hence that the only characters that are being spared from the creator’s repugnant vision are the bourgeois members of the Royal Family, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, for instance. Janetti’s sympathetic attitude to the women could be explained through his capability of grasping their mentality, because they share the same or similar social background (and a bourgeois mindset).

I also have difficulty to define the series as for its genre. It doesn’t appear to be a comedy because it isn’t funny. Acidic as it is, it lacks all the sharp, fair points and all the right angles of the societal peripeteias to be regarded as a good satire. Travesty would probably be the closest notion that would do justice to the series. Willingly or unwillingly, the Royals have been the centre of attention and a magnet for creative minds continuously throughout the centuries, but until now, the discourse had probably never been instilled with so much unforgivable balderdash, if not to say rubbish, and tastelessness. The latest pop-cultural ‘royal’ endeavours, such as The Crown and this HBO Max series The Prince, confirm and exemplify it so poignantly. One only wonders which one of the innumerous Royal commentators and experts has consulted The Prince?

(Written on Sunday, 22 August 2021, the day of the hurricane Henri, here, on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

COMMENTARY

Fervour for EVs? Care for Earth and the Environment? Or Merely a Preposterous and Petty Political Game by President Biden?

Some speculations on why and how Tesla wasn’t invited to the party.  

By Elena Vassilieva

“Ladies and gentlemen, this exhibit is not only a valuable piece of American heritage, it’s also the mistress and plaything of our president,” said the tour guide. Photo and words by © Elena Vassilieva.

– Hello, the White House?

– Yes. Who’s speaking?

– This is Cadi of GM! Is Mr. President in? Calling to ask why for Pete’s sake Tesla isn’t going to party with us?

– One moment, please.

– Hello! Hello! Sir, are you there? What do you have against Tesla?

– Cadi, I’m sorry, Mr. President is spaced out. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion. Goodby!

(From the telephone conversation.)

Last night, just before going to bed, I had read that Tesla was excluded from the meeting of the major American carmakers held at the White House under the topical umbrella of EV and environment on 5 August 2021. How so, I thought, that doesn’t make sense at all? Tesla is the largest manufacturer of EVs on this planet, besides, it’s an American brand, despite being a relatively young one, it’s reputable and very well-liked. I stayed up late in search of the clue, but learned very little, except that the Tesla’s CEO himself hadn’t had the foggiest idea there was going to be a gathering in Washington, D.C., and he genuinely seemed as much taken by surprise as everyone else. “Yeah, seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited,” he responded on Twitter. You couldn’t mistake his perplexity for anything else here, even if you wanted to. However, it appeared that the environmental issues (the very reason for the meeting?) might have been of purely symbolic significance for the White House staff, or better to say, pro forma, unlike the political underpinnings, which might have been exactly the answer to this awkward and nonsensical riddle. After all, the problem of unions and unionisation at the automakers’ factories could have been discussed thoroughly with the Tesla representatives during the meeting, if that, of course, was indeed the issue and reason why Tesla was excluded from the list of the participants. In fact, it would have been a very good opportunity for the automobile giants to compare notes on both topics: how to be sustainable and local as for the production of EVs, and what it’s like to allow unions on their premises. Tesla has an impeccable record as a leading manufacturer of EVs, but Ford and GM, the iconic brands of the American automobile heritage, have a long experience with unions. And what had happened instead?

President Biden (on a whim?) decided he can go ahead and play a bad boy who is still at elementary school, say, first or second grade, not yet fully out of the lying stage where mischief is an irresistible lure. For the occasion, he transformed his staffers into a gang of reckless schoolkids, sort of the characters from that awful “Captain Underpants” series, while being very pleased with himself.

“La Boum!” He said.

“La Boum? Dancing, Mr. President, or what?” Someone asked him shyly, in utter surprise, as Captain, that is, President, wasn’t known by any means as an eloquent French speaker, let alone a Napoleon-like strategist.

“Party, my friend, party, and yes, dancing, too, afterwards!” The Captain was bursting with pride, like a peacock, then he lifted his forefinger, pointing at first at the one who dared to ask the question, then he got up, snapped his fingers, swung around, and said: “Let the honor students [Tesla, i.e.] break their heads guessing why they were left out from being invited to the party of the year. And may the true American car brands shine again, like in the far glorious past.”

The gang seemed to be playing a ‘smart’ game with the rules all too familiar to the members of their exclusive circle: “You all know the rules, my friends: a) Pretend you know more than you know; b) don’t feel belittled because of the hard facts under any circumstances, even if reality threatens to eliminate you as a political player in the long run, in the future, say, in 4 years; c) don’t be intimidated by the army of Musk’s fanboys and fangirls; d) don’t forget that Tesla has no PR-team, unlike everyone else, ha-ha, so there shouldn’t be much outburst or uproar at all; e) remember we are doing the right thing, friends, we are bulli…, shh, punishing the ones who excel at what they are doing, who are the best and who deliver the product all right, but who are uncompromising arrogant EV-tossers, I mean, we need to teach Tesla a lesson, they have to obey our rules of maneuvering and double standards, I mean high ethical standards of course.”

“But Mr. President, they are better than anyone else out there, in the field. They are popular. They are sustaining California, I know that first-hand. You can’t toss them like a coin in the air,” Kamala Harris argued sheepishly.

“Never mind, Kamala, forget about that for now. The rules are the rules,” disagreed the Captain and was ready to move on to the next point.

But inside the gang, there seemed to arise a small commotion, confusion, and disagreement nearly on every letter and issue discussed. “And what about me, Captain?” asked the secretary of transportation, fidgeting in his chair.

“What about you, Pete boy?”

“I, I, I mean suppose I’m being asked why we haven’t invited them? They aren’t invisible, you know. You can’t just ignore their presence on Earth, for Christ’s sake.” The transportation secretary tried to gain self-control and defend himself.

“Now, my boy, what did I just say: The rules! Repeat the rules, it’s under the letter b) Don’t let the facts fool or doubt yourself, don’t let the facts equivocate you! And why on earth are you talking about Earth? Who said anything about Earth?”

“Who? I thought you did, just minutes ago, Captain. Have you forgotten? ‘Isn’t it all about Earth and the environment? Let them assume that’s why we are having this grand party,’ you said.” Someone in the background reasoned.

“Who said that? Me? And which side are you on, anyway?” The annoyed Captain jumped from his chair and searched for the guilty one, then pointed his finger at her. “Don’t think, my friend, act, and don’t repeat what I said ages ago, I might have forgotten it or changed my mind ever since!”

“Shall I say then directly they don’t obey our rules? Or what?” Buttigieg interrupted the Captain again, still visibly preoccupied about what to say if journalists ask him about the party.

“You aren’t that stupid, Buttigieg, engage the gray stuff in your brain, and rehearse if you don’t want to lose your goddamn chair. And let me be clear: subject yourself to the rules and act! And let’s not talk about it anymore.” Solemnly concluded the Captain, in anticipation of having his favourite toy after these tedious preparations for the party.

“Act how? I’ll be the first one to be bombarded with all kind of questions,” ventured to ask the flame-haired woman who looked boisterous, but rather frustrated.

“Here we go again,” said the Captain impatiently. “Who is it?”

Someone, who sat closer to the Captain, whispered: “Jen Psaki! It’s Jen Psaki.”

“Is it you, Jen? Isn’t it your job to throw as much powder in the public eye as possible? Speaking of which, do you wear face powder? You are our PR-woman and you have no idea how to handle the powder, I mean the press? You must be kidding me. Wear your face powder! For best results, American brand, Estée Lauder.” The Captain was annoyed to no end, but on the other hand, seemed quite boosted with his own sudden energy of a 1st grader, and the idea to invite only the ‘good guys’ brought enormous satisfaction to him.

“So it’s all about the game, not Earth, then?” asked the woman matter-of-factly who had been criticised minutes before for stating that the party’s theme was Earth and care for it through the high production of EVs. It didn’t make much sense to her, but she didn’t want to be excluded from the mob of the Captain’s and agreed to play along, even if it went against the grain of her opinion, making Tesla an outsider for no good reason at all.   

On the day of the party, both the White House Press Secretary and the Secretary of Transportation, of course, were asked why Tesla wasn’t on the list of guests. How could they have not? Mr Buttigieg, to his credit, did rehearse his response diligently, but, nonetheless, was caught off guard in the first moment and said candidly: “I’m not sure.” For this tiny and very significant part of his reply he might have gotten reprimanded harshly by his boss. The rest of his message was well-rehearsed and probably taken from the depository of his political speeches, and one can hardly find any news in that piece. Reading between the lines would only corroborate what had happened during the preparations for the meeting, which I had the (dis)pleasure to describe above.

Thus, Pete Buttigieg said on CNBC: “I’m not sure, but what I know is you’re seeing so many leaders in industry. You’ve got newer companies and you’ve got legacy companies that are both saying we’ve gotta move in this direction. The industry structure obviously is complex, and partly what’s exciting is to see some of the oldest and more traditional names in U.S. auto manufacturers and some of the newest companies on the scene all acting in terms of the very core of their business to go electric.”

If Mr Buttigieg is talking here about EVs in particular, then how many leaders are there in the industry in America? And who is the leader of the leaders then? How many newer companies are as successful as Tesla? How many of the legacy companies are as successful as Tesla? Mr Buttigieg, I would gladly grade your work with F. Anyone who had done at least a minimal research on the topic would disagree tremendously with every single sentence, except the first one, in that paragraph of yours above. Your statement, as airy as a bubble, completely lacks a factual support, which almost makes one suspect that the tedious preparations for the party had been conducted, God knows where, anyway, not on this planet. Very few would doubt indeed that the auto industry is complex, but why make it even more complex by excluding the leading company in the industry, the very American young company, that fact would definitely baffle many. Why politicise it even more than it already is?

Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, was less candid than the Transportation Secretary, but as much confused as he, as to how to explain the absurdity of this political move: “Well, we, of course, welcome the efforts of all automakers who recognize the potential of an electric vehicle future and support efforts that will help reach the President’s goal. And certainly, Tesla is one of those companies. Today, it’s the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers and the UAW president who will stand with President Biden as he announces this ambitious new target, but I would not expect this is the last time we talk about clean cars, the move toward electric vehicles, and we look forward to having a range of partners in that effort.”

How odd that the President would set a goal, encouraging the economic activity of certain companies and discouraging the other, the company that is streets ahead of any other American carmaker and way above the level of simply ‘recognising the potential of an EV future and supporting efforts.’ The fact that Tesla is the leading EV manufacturer makes one wonder whether Ms Psaki would have looked much better if she told the truth right away and upfront, instead, she boldly implied that the political motive is behind the exclusion of Tesla from the gathering. Moreover, when asked during the press briefing about it, she flirtatiously stated: “I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.” Hmm, what kind of answer is this? Oh, I see, that was the move of throwing powder in the eye of the public. Now it’s clear. And mea culpa, I forgot that it’s La Boum à la President Biden, who tweeted with the energy and in a show-off manner of a 1st grader: “The future of the auto industry is electric – and made in America.” Now, Mr Biden, where are the majority of the EVs being made right now? On the Moon or Mars perhaps? Not yet. And by which company are they made? By the very one you had so brazenly and shamelessly excluded to invite to your party.

Everyone has his preferences for any product, let alone for the product one ‘marries’ for life, and Biden’s product is clearly the one made by the legacy carmakers, but who gives him as the President of the United States the right to exclude the young and successful American company? I hope this is not a strategy of “taking care” of the branch of the tree Biden is sitting on right now? It’s never a good idea to play against your own self, anyway, even a 1st grader knows it. What goes around comes around. No doubt that many would agree with the Tesla’s CEO who rightly perceived this absurd action as a sabotage (Note: another French word!). One also wishes the legacy carmakers stood up for their fellow Tesla, instead of just placating their pride, inflated by the unfairness of the President. See, for instance, Jim Fairley’s message, CEO of Ford Motor Company, tweeted on 5 August 2021: “Today is an important day in the fight against climate change and @Ford is proud to be part of it.” One also truly hopes the environment and Earth are the main incentives for their action. But isn’t Tesla Motors exactly the company that is ahead of anyone else in this regard? Besides, no matter, Democratic or Republican, isn’t it the President’s job to ensure that things are done without favouritism and discrimination, but with tact and reason instead? Or perhaps it’s not the age of reason for some? Or it might be a case of self-trapping in delusion of grandeur. Time will tell, of course.

Voila all the pieces of the puzzle of La Boum à la President Biden have been put together now. – Le voilà bien loti !

P.S. The most embarrassing thing in the whole story for me personally is that President Biden got votes of my personal circle, and I encouraged them to vote for him. He wasn’t my first choice, however, I hoped Mr Bloomberg would be at the wheel, as I respect him on many levels, including his attention to the planet, but, alas, he came too late to the party.

(Written on 6 August 2021, in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.