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It is 1933 and two young women from very different worlds face an uncertain future. Both are in love, but both are faced with an impossible choice.
Marie Helder is a butcher’s daughter in a little town in Bavaria, as Germany begins its love affair with Hitler and National Socialism. She has a schoolgirl crush on a boy in her class. His family is rich, well respected – and Jewish.
Far away in Palestine, the centuries-old rhythms of sleepy Rab’allah have been disturbed by the building of a Jewish kibbutz on the swamp in the valley below. The Jews are the future, the twentieth century. The Jews are the enemy.
Sarah Landauer does not think of herself as anyone’s enemy – and neither does the young man she loves, Rishou Hass’an.
But his father is muktar of the Arab village, and he can see the future sweeping towards them, and it fills him with dread.
From the snow-hushed winter streets of Nazi Bavaria, to the burned hills of Palestine, from the Alte Post to the Al-Aqsa, four very different families prepare for the deadly conflicts to come.
Should Marie Helder and Sarah Landauer turn on those they love?
From the holocaust to the bloody creation of the state of Israel in 1948, romance and terror collide in a novel of ancient hatreds and forbidden loves.
She was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, the daughter of a wealthy Creole sugar baron in Martinique.
But after hurricanes destroyed the family plantation, she was married off to the Vicomte de Beauharnais in Paris in October, 1779, in order to preserve the family fortune.
It was an unhappy marriage, but it produced two children, Eugène and Hortense.
He was a man of ruthless genius, a Christian crusader possessed of unparalleled greed, even for those times – but his achievements were breath-taking.
He conquered what is now Mexico with an army of less than 500 Spaniards, not all of them soldiers and not all of them loyal, while ostensibly on a simple scouting mission from Cuba.
He did not defeat the Aztecs with Spanish force of arms – they were a nation of a million people – but with an astonishing bluff.
The story of the invasion is one of the great epics of history, a triumph of human endurance and determination.
It was also an unmitigated disaster for the indigenous population and resulted in unimaginable misery for hundreds of thousands of people.
Her exact origins are unclear –she was thought to have been a Mayan princess by some – but her place in Mexican history is unparalleled.
Without her, Cortes would have got no further than a Yucatan beach.
Her name was corrupted by history to Malinche; and five hundred years later her name is still reviled. Even today the word malinchista is shouted across the floor of the Mexican parliament as a deadly insult – it means a traitor to the Mexican people.
She was also his translator, the only one who ever knew what was being said by both sides, the only one who spoke both Spanish and nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
Her motives, what she said, how she said it; these things will always be a matter of debate – it is what makes hers such a gripping and intriguing story.
What is certain is that in almost every contemporary drawing and painting of Cortes’ entrada, she is at his side, whispering in his ear.
And every night she shared the conquistadore’s bed.
Did she love him? No one can say.
Did he use her for his own purposes and then cast her aside? Of course he did.
These days his ancient bones molder in a walled-up in a casket by the altar in the Church of Jesus Navareno close to the place where he first met the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma.
No one knows what became of her. It is believed she died an old woman in Spain. Cortes showed his gratitude by marrying her off to someone else.
Foreign authors who dare write her story still get assaulted with man bags (see previous post.)
The story of Malinali – it was worth getting attacked by a man bag …
The city contains roughly the same population as the whole of Australia and twice as many cars as people. They say that one day walking in the streets of El DF is equivalent to smoking a pack of forty cigarettes.
I was there for a week a few years back to promote a book I had written about the conquest of Mexico. I had not read the book myself on anything except my laptop and the Australian edition was still in editing.
They made a movie about her with Ingrid Bergman in the starring role.
Disney had a huge box office success with a full length animated feature.
She embodied the legend of the lost princess. We all so wanted to believe that she somehow survived.
What really happened?
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was born in 1901, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia.
She was the youngest of four sisters, Olga, Tatiana and Maria; she had a younger brother, Alexei.
She was not raised as a Disney princess; she and her sisters slept on hard camp cots without pillows, had cold baths every morning, and were expected to tidy their own rooms.
She was short, and a little chubby, and more than a little mischievous. Anecdotes tell of her deliberately tripping up servants and climbing trees and then refusing to come down.
She once rolled a rock into a snowball and threw it at her older sister Tatiana, knocking her down. Her distant cousin, Nina Georgievna, called her: “nasty to the point of being evil”.
Well not entirely. During World War I she and her sister visited wounded soldiers at a private hospital in the grounds of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, near Saint Petersburg. Too young to become Red Cross nurses like their mother and elder sisters, played checkers and billiards with the soldiers.
In February 1917, she and her family were placed under house arrest in the Alexander Palace. Her father abdicated the throne soon afterwards. But after the Bolsheviks seized power, they were moved to Yekaterinburg.
She and her sisters sewed jewels into their dresses to hide them from their captors. Locked away in ‘The House of Special Purpose’ Anastasia and her sisters performed plays for her parents.
One of the guards said of her: “She was a very charming devil! She was mischievous and … lively, and was fond of performing comic mimes with the dogs, as though they were performing in a circus.”
But the conditions of their captivity, took its toll. On July 14, 1918, local priests conducted a private church service for the family. They said that the girls had become despondent and desperate.
“Something has happened to them in there.”
What did happen to them? That we shall never know. There were rumours that the girls and even their mother were assaulted.
By now Russia had descended into civil war. By the time anti-Bolshevik forces captured Yekaterinberg the Romanovs had disappeared.
It was assumed they had been murdered, but how and when was never really certain until the “Yurovsky Note” was found in 1989. The document was Yurovsky’s report to his Bolshevik masters of what had taken place.
On the night of 17 July the family were woken and told they were being moved, because of the fighting. They and their small circle of servants were herded into a basement and a few minutes later Yurovsky came in and told them they were to be shot.
They immediately started firing.
Thick smoke from the ancient revolvers filled the room. And the girls would not die – unknown to their executioners, the jewels hidden in their corsets acted as bullet proof vests. The executioners resorted to bayoneting and clubbing their terrified victims to death.
The bodies were then thrown on trucks. On the way to the proposed burial site the trucks got bogged. The bodies were hastily buried, then reburied again the following night.
The Bolsheviks tried to keep the executions secret but stories soon got out but these were complicated by other rumors of trains and houses being searched for an “Anastasia Romanov”, and eight witnesses even reported seeing an injured girl who answered Anastasia’ description at Cheka headquarters in Perm.
Anastasia’s supposed survival became one of the most celebrated mysteries of the last century. At least ten women claimed to be her. Her best known Anastasia impostor, Anna Anderson, appeared in 1922.
She said that she had feigned death among the bodies of her family and servants, and was able to make her escape with the help of a compassionate guard who noticed she was still breathing.
Her legal battle for recognition which was begun in 1938 became the longest running case ever heard by the German courts, where it was officially filed. Her claim was rejected in 1970.
She died in 1984 but it was not until ten years later DNA testing proved that she was an impostor.
The Romanovs’ burial site remained secret until the communists fell from power. It was finally excavated in the woods outside Yekaterinburg in 1991. Incredibly it held just nine of the expected eleven remains.
Finally, on August 23, 2007, a Russian archaeologist announced the discovery of two burned, partial skeletons at another site nearby. Further DNA testing confirmed they belonged to the Tsarevich Alexei and one of his sisters.
Like the solving of all mysteries, it was of itself bittersweet.
The lost princess had finally been found, but not in the way that we had all hoped. Yet Anastasia is yet to be united with her family.
Last October she and her brother were supposed to be buried in the Romanov tomb in Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg but the ceremony was blocked by the Russian Orthodox church.
And so our lost princess will have to wait a while longer before she finally comes home.
James Cameron, the writer and director of ‘Titanic’ actually based Kate Winslet’s character, Rose du Witt Bukater, on American artist Beatrice Wood.
Like Rose, Beatrice was the daughter of wealthy socialites and defied her parents to pursue a career as an artist. She lived an extraordinary life, earning accolades as an actress as well as pioneering the Dada art movement (she was called the ‘Mama of Dada’).
She also gained a great reputation as a sculptor and potter and her private affairs – she was reputed to have had a love triangle with artist Henry Duchamp and his friend Henri-Pierre Roché – scandalised America.
Then, when she was 90, she took up writing. Her 1985 autobiography was called ‘I Shock Myself.’
She was 105 when she died – when asked the secret of her longevity she said:
‘I owe it all to chocolate and young men.’
There were two Roses who were and who survived the sinking: one was Rosa Abbott, a third class passenger, who jumped into the water with her two sons. She the only woman and the only passenger to be pulled from the water and survive – the rest were crew.
Sadly, her two sons died in the water.
The other Rose was Miss Rose Amélie Icard, who was a maid to Mrs George Nelson Stone. She and Mrs Stone were rescued by the Carpathia in lifeboat 6.
There was a J Dawson on the Titanic, but the ‘J’ stood for Joseph, not Jack and he was a member of the Titanic crew.
He had grown up in the notorious Monto tenements slums of Dublin and when he was twenty he escaped by joining the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was posted to Netley, one of the largest military hospitals in England – just three miles from Southampton.
It was there that he met a man called John Priest, a coal trimmer on the White Star liner, Majestic.
After leaving the Army, Dawson joined Priest in the boiler room of the Majestic, before they both signed on for the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
When they hit the iceberg, Dawson had the foresight to put his National Sailors and Firemen’s Union card – his card number was 35638 – into his dungarees before going topside. The card was found on his body the next day.
His friend John Priest survived; but tragically his sister Nellie lost her sweetheart.
Dawson was buried in Nova Scotia where he rested in relative obscurity before finding world fame 85 years later after the release of the film.
His grave is number 227 in Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Halifax, Nova Scotia and has since become a shrine to many of the movie’s fans, who leave photographs, cinema stubs and pictures of themselves on the grave.
Some even leave hotel keys – though I wonder what they’d do if they heard the key turning in the lock at night, as Jack has now been dead a hundred and four years?
Would getting on the door have saved Jack?
On the night of the sinking, the sea temperature was around 28° F.
Our bodies lose heat about thirty times faster in water than in the air and when our core temperature falls under 89° F, we start to lose consciousness. Under 86° F and heart failure can occur, which is the most common cause of hypothermia-related deaths.
So Jack could have survived for up to an hour, as he was young and fit and not trying to swim – people who move around in the water lose heat much faster.
However several people died from cold that night even in the lifeboats, so even if Rose had helped him up onto the door – and I still think, after all he’d done for her, she could have had a better go – there were no guarantees.
It is believed there were about thirty cars in the Titanic’s hold, all but five belonging to first class passengers returning from touring holidays in Europe – but only one is actually listed on the manifest.
It belonged to Titanic survivor William Earnest Carter, and it was a 1912 35 HP Renault Coupe de Ville.
Cameron looked for Carter’s original documents for the vehicle so that the car could be recreated almost exactly in the film. But what Cameron didn’t show us is that it was almost certainly packed in a wooden crate so unless Jack had a claw-hammer with him, the answer to the question above is – ‘probably not.’.
Besides, even if the car wasn’t in a box – I don’t believe our Jack would ever have cheated on Nellie.
Everyone loves a love story. Love can bring out the worst in us, but it can also bring out the very best. Like this …
But enough about Mel Gibson – let’s talk about Sophie’s Marceau’s character in Braveheart, the beautiful French princess who is also Edward Longshank’s daughter-in-law. In the film she has an affair with Mel and then gets pregnant to him, breaking the royal English line.
It is a tale of adventure, romance and terrible butchery – with English and Scottish history being mutilated beyond recognition.
But who was the REAL Isabella of France?
She was born in 1295, so she was ten years old and still living in France when Mel Gibson – William Wallace – was executed, so she certainly never met him, or have an adulterous affair with him.
The facts of her life are far more spectacular.
Isabella in fact succeeded where Wallace didn’t; she raised an army, invaded England and deposed Longshank’s son, Edward II, and ruled as regent for four years.
Isabella’s father was Philip IV of France – Phillip the Fair.
Yes, she was beautiful, but she was royal, and raised to be more than Mel Gibson’s love interest.
She was highly intelligent and had great diplomatic skill.
At 12 she was married to Longshank’s son, Edward II, as part of a political alliance.
But Edward soon became notable for his lack of aptitude for kingship – as well as his lack of interest in women.
That doesn’t make him the bad guy in the story either – but for a bright and politically astute woman, it was a terrible match.
Isabella is starved of affection and has been sidelined in the political arena by her husband’s “favourites”. Were men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger just his advisers – or were they more than that?
Whatever the truth, by the time she was thirty, she faced a stark choice; retire to the country and spend the rest of her life with her needlework – or rebel.
She chose: Freedom!
When I went to school in England, I was told the last person to invade England was William the Conqueror in 1066. This was actually not true.
In 1326 Isabella and her lover, Roger Mortimer, raised a mercenary army in the Low Countries – by marrying her oldest son off to a the daughter of the Count of Hainaut.
The fleet got lost and landed miles from where she and Mortimer had planned.
Not that it mattered; by then, her husband Edward was so deeply unpopular that the barons of England welcomed her and Mortimer with open arms and the invasion became more of a bloodless coup.
She named herself Queen Regent and she and Mortimer assumed the rule of England – and not once did she have to wear a kilt and paint herself blue.
Four years later Mortimer was himself deposed by Isabella’s own son and she was retired to Castle Rising in Norfolk and lived on for many years in considerable style, until her death in 1358.
Braveheart was really the final insult.
And Edward II? Although he was an accomplished warrior – if not a very able tactician – he has similarly been portrayed as weak and effeminate.
Was that really how it was? It seems trite, doesn’t it?
I always imagined the truth to be less simple, and far more intriguing …
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