1. Which hairstyle did Joan of Arc inspire?
|Photograph: Mila Zinkova|
|Photograph: Mila Zinkova|
If you took that same journey in 1628, instead of taking less than a day the journey would take eight months.
That’s how long it currently takes for an unmanned space ship to travel to Mars.
But if you were on of the 4,000 intrepid souls who undertook the trip on a Dutch East India ship every year, it would in fact be very much like traveling to a distant manned space station.
After a seemingly endless and extremely hazardous journey you would arrive at your company’s outpost – in Batavia, now Jakarta – to be greeted by a sour and hard-bitten community of singular individuals, in an alien and hostile environment.
That is if you arrive. First, you have to survive the journey, which is so tedious and so uncomfortable that you will wish cryogenics had been invented. Imagine over three hundred people living and sleeping for eight months in a space not much larger than an interstate bus and you have some idea.
As part of my research I went on board a replica of one of those seventeenth century spaceships, the retourschip Batavia.
I couldn’t even stand up straight below decks. And then there are the bathroom arrangements; the best you can say about them is that they were … novel.
The bathroom was a platform extending from the hull below the stern, the toilet paper a long piece of rope with a frayed end.
During that eight months between Amsterdam and the Spice Islands you would travel through a dangerous and uncharted world.
It would be actually more hazardous than going to Mars today: our navigational systems today far exceed Dutch capabilities in 1628.
For example, skippers back then could calculate latitude with the aid of an astrolabe but had no reliable way to calculate longitude – distance east or west – and relied on experience and dead reckoning.
Often, the skipper’s dead reckoning was out by some considerable distance; it was how one East India Company ship came to be shipwrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, off the western coast of Australia, over 1400 nautical miles to the south of its intended destination.
But if you had come from the bustling port of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and then found yourself abandoned there, it must have seemed like being stranded on – well, the moon.
As unlikely as Matt Damon getting off the space station in The Martian.
But they did survive, somehow.
What was left of them.
You have to hand it to our ancestors, they were a tough bunch.
They had to be, because as they say – in space, no one can hear you scream.
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 …
But that wasn’t her secret.
Her secret wasn’t even that her name was Hedwig Kiesler and that her husband was one of the Nazi’s major arms suppliers.
So then – what was her secret?
Was it that five years before becoming a Hollywood star she had achieved a different kind of fame for her role in a low budget Czechoslovakian film where she appeared swimming in a lake, naked. Another scene featured a close-up of her face in the throes of orgasm.
The film – ‘Ecstasy’ – was banned everywhere, of course, which made copies of it extremely valuable.
Even the Italian dictator, Mussolini, used all his clout and his contacts to get a copy.
It wasn’t her intelligence but her beauty that caught the eye of the third richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer. He soon became her first husband.
But once he married her, he was less than enthusiastic about his new wife’s past, and tried to buy up as many copies of ‘Ecstasy’ as he could.
Apparently she tried to placate him by insisting that her on-screen orgasm was simulated, achieved with the aid of the director stroking her butt with a drawing pin.
Or perhaps not, because Mandl was a man with many things on his mind. At the time he was developing a new technology for radio-controlled torpedoes for the Nazis.
His wife, cute bottom now drawing pin-free, sat at his dinner parties looking stupid and beautiful while her husband entertained leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, and explained his new invention.
So in 1937 she decided it was time to stop being a trophy wife. She sold her jewelry, drugged her maid, put on her servant’s uniform as disguise, and escaped from Austria.
It was a good decision.
The following year the Nazis seized Mandl’s factory. Mandl, who was himself half Jewish, was forced to flee to Brazil.
Hedwig was now living in Paris and it was there that she met Louis B. Mayer, the Steven Spielberg of the age. Mayer was struck by her beauty and promised to make her a star.
The Most Beautiful Woman in the World signed a long-term contract with Hollywood’s Biggest Producer. She went to America and appeared in more than 20 films with stars like Clark Gable, James Stewart, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope.
Her secret was that she was smart. Very, very smart.
In 1942, at the height of her fame on the silver screen, she decided to do her bit to help the war effort; she developed a unique direction-finding device that could be used to help torpedoes find their targets.
At the time both the Nazis and the Allies were using single-frequency radio-controlled technology. The drawback was that the enemy could find this frequency and “jam” the signal.
Hedwig, remembering all the things she had learned at Mandl’s dinner parties, collaborated with her Hollywood neighbor, musician George Anthiel, on a system to solve the problem. Anthiel had just found a way to synchronize his melodies across twelve player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.
Applying this same technology they found a way of encoding a radio message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jammed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies – in effect making it unjammable.
On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey,” Kiesler’s married name at the time.
But the U.S. Navy would not listen. The technology was not adopted until 1962, after the patent had expired, when it was finally used by U.S. military ships during the blockade of Cuba.
Today, Hedy’s invention is the foundation of ‘spread spectrum technology,’ YOU USE IT EVERY DAY when you log on to wi-fi or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. The next generation of cell phones would not be possible without it!
You couldn’t take selfies in Time Square, sext your boyfriend or post Facebook pictures of your cat without the woman still only remembered for being beautiful.
Not bad for a girl who only had to ‘stand there and look stupid.’
Hedy was married six times – the last time to her divorce lawyer – and claimed to have made and lost thirty million dollars during her life.
In 2014 she was finally inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
I wonder if you have even heard of her.