Princess Victoria Has Thick Ankles—Insults And Their Consequences

For my partner Johnny's  61st birthday, we took the train from London to the beautiful historic town of Bath. The last time I was there was in 1977 when my husband and I hitch-hiked and camped all over  Britain. It seems to me that apart from the modern thermal spa which opened at the beginning of the 21st century, this hospitable Georgian town has changed little throughout the ages.
We had an opportunity to sample the traditional hospitality when we arrived at the town center. Each day, apart from Christmas, the town offers free walking tours conducted by kind and knowledgeable retired volunteers. Our lovely tour guide Maggie took us to see beautiful Georgian buildings around town and told us their stories. But another kind of story stayed with me.
On our way we passed the Royal Victoria Garden, a small  beautiful park facing a formidable building by John Wood the Younger.* Maggie told us that for its dedication ceremony the 11-year-old Princess Victoria came to Bath. It is unclear if someone made a comment, or if it was written somewhere, that the princess wore a dodgy dress and had thick ankles. Apparently the young princess was so hurt that in all her years as queen she never once returned to Bath.
It is unclear whether it is a real story, but it made me sad; in my mind I saw this dejected little girl who, for no fault of her own, and  because of her position, was the  target of cruelty at such a young age. It also made me wonder about insults and their consequences.
We often make thoughtless  remarks, without considering their effects. The name “thoughtless” suggests that thinking would have prevented the whole chain of events. Those who commented on the princess’ appearance clearly didn’t regard her as a person, looking at her only as a product, or as we say today “a celeb.”  They may have thought it was funny or even brave to pass such judgment.
Perhaps Victoria heard (or imagined) people laughing at her, which would have augmented the whole unfortunate event and made her feel humiliated. Sometimes children are offended more by the reaction of the people close to them than from random comments by strangers, as they feel betrayed by their loved ones.
Very few women have achieved in their lifetime the power and the stature of Queen Victoria, but she was first a child and then a woman. Today it would take a life-time and hundreds of hours of therapy to erase childhood events that have resulted in traumas. Princess Victoria who grew up to be the Queen never forgot or forgave; apparently  whenever she was passing through Bath in the train the Queen drew the window shutters.
This seemingly simple story, like any good story, has universal qualities. It brings up many  issues on different levels: girlhood, insults, memory, femininity, cruelty, media, celebrity, consequences, forgiveness, and loneliness.
I visited Bath first as a young woman of 22 and returned after a lifetime,  hopefully I changed and learned something in those 35 years.
Buildings and architecture in Bath:                                                                     
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What Does A Fat Cat Do In The BBC?

Johnny and I were sitting  in the train when he drew my attention to one of the headlines in the freebie that was lying about. It took me a few seconds to decipher that title. Then it occurred to me that those  kind of titles were incomprehensible to many of the tourists who were travelling with us in that London train.
Teaching my students how to write the topic and the main idea sentence of a passage, I instruct them first to look at the title and the subtitle of the article. We usually practice this skill on articles from newspapers such as the New York Times and even The Guardian.
But this technique would never work with the Metro and the Evening Standard, which are full of puns, idioms and slang.  As they belong to the culture and the history of the people who speak the language, puns and idioms are the hardest to learn and to use correctly in a foreign language.
I was discussing with my students an article which appeared in several newspapers in the US, the title of which was, “Would your child pick up a gun? Don’t kid yourself.” Perhaps because of the gravity of the subject, some editions refrained from including the pun.  It seems to me that, in contrast to most American publications, the British freebies never resist a good pun.
When I first came to Britain in the late 70s I was fortunate to meet the grandfather of an English friend. He was a real Cockney who used to work on the Thames docks.  He taught me  some Cockney rhyming slang: a beer was “Pig’s ear” and a sister was “a skin and blister.” The issue became more complicated when a beer was replaced with “pig’s,” and a sister with a “skin.”  I had to know the whole phrase in order to decode the part which didn’t rhyme. Like Alice in Wonderland, I felt confused. It was a though I was introduced to a secret language, which in a way was what this Cockney rhyming slang was.
 London is full with tourists most of the year, and many of them have a good enough mastery of the English language. But  if they happen to look at the freebies they would  lose all confidence in their language skills. Perhaps this is the sweet revenge of the British, whose island is conquered every year by millions of foreigners: in their own quiet and understating way they make sure that we remain outside.
Oh, and I almost forgot, so what does a fat cat do in the BBC? She draws a fat-cat pay cheque of course.


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Lot’s Wife And The Danger Of Curiosity

At a conference devoted to the influences of the Old Testament on Hebrew literature, a speaker discussed Lot’s wife (Genesis 19, 26) as a source of poetic inspiration. In Hebrew that dramatic story is summed up in 6 short words: “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”
I have been so used to these words that their actual meaning was almost lost. But rexamining the sentence I thought about the danger of curiosity and the high price of the desire to learn.
We learnt  in school that Lot’s wife was punished because she disobeyed God. Yet, in Genesis 19, 17 God says to Lot: “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee.” There is nothing in the text about Lot's  responsibility to warn his family not to ldo so as well. Moreover, although God talks only to Lot, he is not held accountable for the actions of his wife, and she is the only one who is punished.
It is intriguing that the Bible states that the wife (who remains nameless) looks "behind him,” and not behind her. It seems that Lot is very much part of the action.
Curious, eager to learn, and independent: those have always been the qualities of women in pursuit of knowledge and education. They fought to advance themselves in their societies and strived to contribute to their communities. But those were also the exact reasons why Paternalistic societies have regarded education as dangerous.
Only yesterday I suddenly saw the source of and the justification for the zeal and conviction of those men who made sure that education would not be available to women. From the account of the Fall we understand that knowledge is synonymous with disobedience. But in the case of Adam and Eve they were both punished. I never before had traced the beginning of male oppression to the unjust act of God, who punished a woman for a non-sin, in Genesis 19.
Until fairly recently women  in Europe and in the US were denied education, in the introduction to Equality for Some: The Story of Girls’ Education, Barry Turner states: “The female intellect is a recent educational discovery. Traditionally Western civilization has distrusted and discouraged clever women, initially because they were regarded as a threat to the spiritual well-being of the community” 
It wasn’t thank to God of Genesis 19 that Western women won their battle for education, they did it all on their own.
But in other parts of the world, women and girls are not so fortunate, a good example is the  Saudi Arabian film Wadjda. It tells the story of  a bright girl who is determined to win money to buy a bicycle she’s forbidden to ride. She hopes to accomplish this feat by winning a Koran competition. Learning, she trusts, would bring about independence and freedom of mobility. But when she honestly and naively admits that she intends to do with the money, she doesn't get the prize.
Riding a bicycle has been a feminist symbol of self reliance since Victorian time: at that time the safety bicycle became available for skirted women. While bicycle gave them physical independence, education had given them some measure of mental independence and self control.
Wadjda is not different from the hundreds of school girls who were kidnapped on April 14th from the Girls Secondary School in Nigeria. In the name of God, His male executors on earth have taken upon themselves the mission to eradicate education from their country.
In the Biblical story Lot moved on leaving his wife behind, we could no longer afford to do so.
PS  And of course I should not forget Malala Yusafzai.
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Cervantes, Rimbaud, Chekhov, Yeats

Question of the day: How many writers keep getting better until the end? Or how maybe, how few? You could throw Shakespeare in there, since the Tempest is masterful. Truman Capote and Harper Lee don't count, since Capote could never finish another book after In Cold Blood and Lee could finish only one. Joyce disappeared into Finnegans and never reappeared. Who am I missing?

And I wonder why? Does genius require a physical vigor, or emotional, or both, lost over time?

Sorry, that's three questions.


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Thanks, Di.
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Pure poetry - very evocative - you are a painter with words..Di
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