I’ve kept journals for as long as I’ve been able to write! It’s satisfying to put my thoughts into an elegant notebook. By sheer persistence I filled a shelf with notebooks of all sizes and colors. Flipping through the pages, I encounter myself in different stages of my life. These can be difficult times, calm times, creative times.
Since my journals tend to be wordy, it took me a while to get the hang of bullet journaling. It did not seem a good fit, considering the details I’m used to recording. Something changed this year. Perhaps it was the sense that, with the pandemic, it’s been a dull world; this pushed me to try new things.
I wanted to use colorful marker pens; I wanted to draw and use washi tape. Keeping a traditional diary is therapeutic, but the bullet journal gave me a way to learn new skills.
I’m still getting the hang of it; my journal is nothing close to the things you see on Pinterest! I have found some fun ways to use it as a reading journal. As I figure out which methods work for me, I’ll share them with you.
The Bookshelf Drawing
I have to admit that the popular practice of drawing books to represent the real shelf is what attracted me to this form of diary.
I’ve seen really creative shelf sketches with bears, flower pots, and paintings on a shelf. My shelf drawing was much plainer. I still enjoy filling in the colors of book spines when I finish reading them!
If you’re not an artist but want to have a reading tracker, I found this excellent print on Etsy! Isn’t it adorable? It’s full of color and personality; seller britishbookart is very talented!
What is the ratio of genres that I enjoy? Do I read more Mystery than Romance? As a writer, I would find it useful to see which genre I ‘know’ most about—it’d help me find my strengths and craft better stories.
Bullet journaling offers a great way to track habits such as study time, outdoor time, or tracking the glasses of water taken daily. In a like manner, I’ve made a genre tracker.
I keep my genres general—Romance, Mystery, Self-Help. Under Mystery I gather all of the “subgenres” like historical mystery or murder mystery, making the tracker quite simple. According to my BuJo right now, right now I’m I enjoying Mystery and Romance more than Fantasy–but that could always change!
Goodreads is a great place to save your favorite quotes from books, but my eyes are really sensitive to light. Unless I’m writing or blogging, I try to avoid computer screens; my phone light is really low.
For this reason, I prefer to keep my quotes on a page I can read comfortably.
You can make a “quote dump” page to gather these words of wisdom, or record them on the “sidebars” of your daily spreads. I’ve done a bit of both!
I’m crazy about this spread by She Doodles on Instagram; they can be used for words of encouragement, but also to keep track of quotes. It’s minimalist but catches the eye!
For the same reason stated above—my eyes are sensitive to light—I don’t use Goodreads to keep track of books.
Considering all of the eBooks on my Kindle, it’s easy for me to lose track of what I have to read when I can’t see them visually!
I printed out the covers of books I haven’t read yet and glued them into my bullet journal, trying to sort them by genre. I have my section on nature books, mystery/thriller, classics…it’s a bit of work, but when you see the books collected, the work is worthwhile!
Here’s a glimpse into my own journal! You can tell I’m a fan of historical romance!
I don’t post all of my reviews online, but I read quite a bit. I want to record my thoughts on each book so that I can reflect on them later. I reserved several pages in my BuJo with blue “tabs” on the edge. That way, I can easily find my personal book reviews.
It’s nothing special—I note the title, the day I finished reading, and up to three paragraphs of reflections. These are useful, because my reviews help me revisit them!
There are other fun ways to use a BuJo for reading. I’m eager to learn more as I continue this wonderful hobby! If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!
I often find authors’ lives more fascinating than the novels they write. I’ve written posts about Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott; in the process, I discovered there was more to these ladies than happy endings.
To make it as a writer all those years ago, you needed resilience and character—especially if you were female. Women so feared the ill repute of being a writer that they used pen names.
L.M. Montgomery, writer of Anne of Green Gables, is a woman whose life was not what I had expected. Her life was marred by tragedy, yet she pressed on with her books.
Here are five facts about L.M. Montgomery.
She Didn’t Like Her Name
An author is often connected to their character in personal ways. InAnne of Green Gables,Anne begs Marilla to call her Cordelia. She does not like her name, which is actually Ann, to which she added the e at the end.
L.M. Montgomery did not like her name, either. It was Lucy, but she always preferred to be called Maud—without the e, ironically. She combined these names in her pen name. In her journal she wrote, “I never liked Lucy as a name. I always liked Maud—spelled not ‘with an e’ if you please.”
Here we have a woman who took a pen name, not because she was afraid of what society would think, but because she didn’t like her name!
Her Family Wasn’t Supportive
One thing that doesn’t change over time is how writing is seldom considered a ‘productive’ career. I am fortunate to have a supportive family for my work, but I have many friends who don’t. L.M. Montgomery didn’t, either.
Montgomery’s family thought so disdainfully of her writing that she resorted to working at night by the flickering light of a candle. She did not let their opinions dissuade her from pursuing her passion, for which we are all grateful.
This passage from Lantern Hill is telling: “I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would ‘arrive’ some day.”
Anne Was Inspired By An Old Journal
Many authors keep journals in which they store ideas. So did Montgomery. She was paging through one of her old notebooks when she came across a note she made a decade before: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.”
Montgomery breathed life into her old idea. Her intention was to write it as a serial and submit it to a newspaper, but things did not go as she planned, and Anne took on life as a novel.
Her manuscript for Anne of Green Gables was rejected by every publisher she sent it to, so she put it away in a hatbox for a while. In 1908 she gave Anne another chance, and the book was published.
No Stranger To Tragedy
Montgomery was among the hundreds who caught the Spanish Flu in 1918. Though she survived and went on to write novels, she lost her best friend Frederica Campbell MacFarlane to the illness.
The Spanish Flu was one of many dark times she survived. She also lived through the First and Second World Wars. Every writer and artist knows how tragedy affects our stories.
L.M. Montgomery used her writing to cope with the darkness of war. This is evident in Rilla of Ingleside,my personal favorite in the series. We think of Anne’s world as one of comfort and meadows; in this book Anne’s family is torn apart by war.
She Had A Dark End
On April 24, 1942, L.M. Montgomery died in her Toronto home. Her body was laid to rest in her beloved Prince Edward Island, and a wake was had at the Green Gables House. The certificate blamed her death on coronary thrombosis, but that was not the end of the story.
In 2008, Montgomery’s granddaughter revealed a shocking truth. She believed that her grandmother had not died of thrombosis; she had ended her own life with a drug overdose. The beloved author had left a note apologizing to her family for what she was going to do.
The family decided to reveal this in 2008 to open up dialogue about mental health. It’s important to talk about our struggles, because life has no shortage of challenges to throw us. We should never feel alone.
L.M. Montgomery and her character Anne Shirley hold beloved places in our hearts. I did not read her books until last year; her description and storytelling made me believe in magic. If you want to see these stories from a different angle, learn more about the creator of Anne Shirley.
Are you doing Annetober this year? It’s a challenge in which we read the Anne books in the month of October. I did it last year (reviewing each as I finished) and might try again this year.
In my opinion, there is no better time to read about Anne than in the fall, when the leaves make golden carpets on the grass!
Autumn is kicking in—the best time to get reading done! Chilly weather, a cup of tea, and a warm blanket set the mood, making your journey into a story somehow more tangible. As the world outside begins to settle into its slumber, we find in the pages of books a way by which we can live even more.
Do you know what you’re reading this month? My September TBR includes:
Stonehenge: A New Understanding by Mike Parker Pearson
I started reading this in late August. It’s not the sort of thing to speed-read; you’d lose a lot of interesting information! I’ve been interested in Stonehenge since I was very young, but the shows on television—at least at the time—seemed to focus on the ‘spooky’ reputation Stonehenge has, especially around Halloween.
While I love ghost stories, in this case it is more interesting to learn about the archaeological aspect of Stonehenge. With October near, I get the best of both worlds this year!
Dracula by Bram Stoker
I want to make two resolutions: First, to read a classic every month. I keep meaning to read all of the best known classics but keep getting distracted. Second, to reread a favorite every month. Dracula falls into both of those categories. I’ve read it twice and enjoyed both times; this was almost a decade ago, so I’d be going into it now almost as if it were a new book.
C.S. Lewis said, ‘I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.’ While it’s true that there are many books to read, I’d like to revisit some favorites and remember why they’re favorites. Dracula is also fitting for the season!
Meadowlands by Elizabeth Jeffrey
I’ve become a big fan of historical fiction. It’s the genre lean to when writing. Though I’ve dabbled a bit in mystery/crime fiction, it doesn’t come naturally. Investigating the fine points of crime is not as fun as researching the past!
Meadowlands by Elizabeth Jeffrey is one of the books I most look forward to. It’s set during the years of WWI and was in a list of books to read if you enjoy Downton Abbey (which I do—I’ve been rewatching the first season and it never gets old!)
In the Market for Murder by T.E. Kinsey
I read A Quiet Life in the Country, the first Lady Hardcastle mystery, last month. The clever characters and witty writing style has me hooked! Combining mystery with historical fiction, it’s perfect–those are the two things I enjoy most in a book!
If you’re looking for a good series to get hooked on, I’m a huge fan of Lady Hardcastle and plan to read all of the books!
What are you reading this month? Do you have any go-to books that set the mood for Halloween? Let me know in the comments!
We are entering September, the beginning of earth’s slumber. Though we might still get some hot days in the weeks to come, soon it will be palpable when the trees shrug off their burdens–something we should learn to do.
A lot of people are melancholy at the thought of autumn, especially if winter is considered lacking in magic or wonder. To appreciate every moment, even in the colder seasons, it might help if we learned how our ancestors approached them.
Autumn and winter do not need to be boring. The right activities enable you to make as many memories as you did in the summer. Some people go out of their way for Halloween parties; others focus on recipes for holiday treats.
However it is that you celebrate the chill, these myths about autumn will provide context as foliage turns golden. Humans tell stories by nature; myths bring wonder to even the most sleepy of times.
Persephone & Autumn
In Greek mythology, the seasons revolved around Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Her mood determined whether days would be be sunny or chilly. It was not until Demeter suffered great heartbreak that the four seasons began.
Demeter’s daughter Persephone was a lovely child. Flowers would spring up in the earth wherever Persephone walked. As she grew into a beautiful woman, Persephone caught Hades’ attention. Her abduction is one of the most famous Greek myths; a great many stories hinge on this event.
When Demeter was unable to save her daughter from the spell of the Underworld, she fell into a depression. The crops died and plants dried up, causing farmers to go into a panic.
Zeus was forced to strike a deal with Hades that would allow Persephone to leave the Underworld for six months every year; that was when the cycle of four seasons began.
Also known as the hours,the Horae in Greek mythology were goddesses of the four seasons. They were also wardens at the gates of Mount Olympus.
They are mentioned in two groups. The first was associated with Aphrodite and Zeus. The Horae in this group are linked to the classical three seasons of the year: Thallo as the goddess of spring and blooming, Auxo the increaser of plants, and Carpo linked to the harvest.
The second group, associated with Themis and Zeus, focused on law and order. Dike was goddess of moral justice, Eunomia goddess of order and good laws, and Eirene goddess of peace and wealth.
It’s interesting that these virtues are linked with the seasons; good qualities are therefore considered necessary as the change in the weather for the health of society.
Norse Gods of Weather
Though not specifically about autumn, Norse mythology held that there were gods who had power over the weather.
Skadi was the goddess of winter and snow. She brought coldness to the atmosphere. Vikings feared her because a terrible winter would freeze the crops and they might starve. Some scholars believe that Scandinavia was named after her.
Thor was the god of lightning and thunder. He had a pair of goats pulling his chariot; whenever he rode across the sky, the sound of their hooves could be heard below.
Freyr was the god of summer and rain. Vikings believed that, if they made appropriate sacrifices to him, they would be given plentiful harvests and good weather.
This time of the year is great for storytelling. We can enjoy traditions that come with Halloween–like our favorite ghost stories. There also scary novels, poems, and even recipes to learn.
As I learn more stories associated with autumn, I’ll share them here. Do you have a favorite ghost story? A tradition you would like to pass on? Feel free to leave a comment!
When Mona Lisa vanished from the Louvre Museum in 1911, she became a worldwide obsession. In reality, it is just another instance of art theft. This remains a common crime, though it has never again shaken the world like it did with Leonardo’s masterpiece.
Every year, more than 50,000 art pieces are stolen around the world. The annual black market value for art theft stands between 6 and 8 billion.
After months of frantic search, the world lost hope that she would be found. Bigger tragedies took place: the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic went down on her maiden voyage, giving reporters something new to focus on.
Fifteen months after her disappearance, France formally abandoned hope of La Gioconda returning. The case was closed, and life in Paris resumed its fast pace.
Letter From ‘Leonardo’
It was Winter in the year 1913. Florence art dealer Alfredo Geri was anticipating a busy Christmas season. He had placed an ad in many Italian newspapers, offering to pay generously for fine artwork.
Responses poured in; Geri looked over them every morning, sorting out replies that sounded promising. One of them stood out from the others.
It was postmarked Poste Restante, Place de la République, Paris. It was signed “Leonardo.” Geri first suspected it to be a prank, but followed his gut and read on:
The stolen work of Leonardo da Vinci is in my possession. It seems to belong to Italy since its painter was Italian. My dream is to give back this masterpiece to the land from which he came and to the country that inspired it.
Geri took the letter to Giovanni Poggi, director of the local Uffizi Gallery. Poggi was skeptical of the letter, thinking it would be at best a well-done copy; nonetheless, he told Geri there was no loss in writing back. They told the thief that they would have to see the painting before they made an offer.
“Leonardo” wrote back quickly. He invited Geri to visit him. Poggi agreed that, when the day was set, he would go with the art dealer to examine the piece and determine whether it was a fake.
On December 10, Geri’s shop had a great deal of customers. One of them stood out from the others; he lurked in the shadows, waiting until everyone else had gone before approaching the art dealer. He introduced himself as the Leonardo from the letters and said that he had brought Mona Lisa home to Florence.
Geri and Poggi followed ‘Leonardo’ to the hotel where he was staying. It was the Albergio Tripoli-Italia, located blocks away from the house where Lisa del Giocondo had posed for the real Leonardo da Vinci in the portrait.
As they walked, Geri mentioned the payment. ‘Leonardo’ admitted that he expected the Italian government to compensate him “for the great service rendered.” He said he hadn’t taken the painting to make money. He had intended to return it to the land from which it had been stolen.
An amount was proposed. Geri would agree to pay only if Poggi could confirm the painting’s legitimacy.
They went upstairs into the room where ‘Leonardo’ had been staying. He opened his medium-sized suitcase, emptied it of its meager contents, and opened a false bottom. Inside waited Mona Lisa, wrapped in silk and marvelously preserved. Poggi studied the painting and confirmed that this was Louvre property.
Geri and Poggi contained their excitement in front of the thief. They fled the hotel with the painting and called the police. ‘Leonardo’ was napping when Florence officers came to take him.
He did not struggle, convinced that the government would recognize him as a hero.
Knight In Shining Armor
‘Leonardo’ cooperated with the police. He identified himself as thirty-two year old Vincenzo Peruggia. He lived in Paris, where he worked painting houses. He had worked at the Louvre as a glazier for two years.
Peruggia described himself as a patriot. He had stolen the Mona Lisa to avenge all the art pieces that had been taken from Italy by Napoleon during his painting plunder. Peruggia did not seem to know that, while Napoleon did steal many pieces of art, Mona Lisa was not one of them. She had been in France delighting kings and aristocrats long before Napoleon was born.
It was arranged that Mona Lisa would be given to the French ambassador. France allowed her to stay in Italy for two weeks. During this visit, thousands of Italians came on pilgrimage to see Leonardo’s most famous painting. Peruggia’s prediction that he would be a hero wasn’t far off: many Italians believed that he had done a great service to their country.
Vincenzo Peruggia was on the list of Louvre workers that French police had investigated when Mona Lisa vanished. How come he was not a suspect from the beginning?
Peruggia had been summoned at the beginning for questioning but never appeared. A detective went to his apartment, searched it, and asked questions. Peruggia said he had been at work the morning when Mona Lisa vanished; if they had checked his alibi, they would learn that he arrived several hours late.
What about fingerprinting? There had been a flaw in Alphonse Bertillon’s profiling. He only classified his criminal records with right thumbprints, and the print on Mona Lisa’s frame had been a left thumbprint. Peruggia was therefore never linked to it.
Peruggia was not brought to trial until June 4, 1914. France did not press for harsh treatment; Italy was not keen to punish the man who had brought Mona Lisa for a brief visit home. He managed to rouse the sympathy of his compatriots, which must have had an influence on his absurdly short prison sentence.
He was given a sentence of one year and fifteen days. On July 19, it was reduced to seven months and nine days. When this brief punishment ended, he went on to start a paint shop.
I have tried to cover the disappearance of Mona Lisa and do justice to the story over the month of August. It’s impossible to give all of the details in a series of little blog posts. If you want to know more about this insane event in history, I encourage you to read Vanished Smile by R.A. Scotti.
Everything about Mona Lisa has a story behind it. I will continue to read about her because few paintings have had such long, unique histories. I am wrapping up my August Mona Lisa Month with this post, but I am not done getting to know the Queen of the Louvre.
I hope my articles have been helpful to you; they were great fun to write!
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of those books that every child knows. The antics of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy stay with us long after we reach adulthood. It reminds us that a good life has its hardships, even in fiction. The resilience of the March sisters gives us hope that we can survive our trials.
This book has been made into movies and continues to inspire readers. Its characters live on as readers pass it down to their children. What do we know about the author, though?
Alcott was a unique woman for her time. A defender of women’s rights and fiercely independent, her life can inspire us as much as her book has done. Here are five amazing facts about Louisa May Alcott.
Mr. Condit was a prosperous manufacturer of silk hats. He proposed to Louisa in 1860. Her family was in a hard place financially, making it difficult to refuse, but she did not love him.
What was more, she feared that her career as a writer would vanish if she took a husband. In the end, she chose her writing over a loveless union.
2- She Was A Civil War Nurse
In 1861, the Civil War hit. Alcott was not the sort of woman to be idle in dire times. First, she volunteered to sew uniforms for the soldiers. Itching to become more involved, she became a nurse, going straight into the chaos.
Alcott saw horrible things while tending to wounded soldiers. In a Washington D.C. tent-hospital, she comforted wounded men as they died. These events left profound scars from which she found solace in writing.
Alcott recorded her experiences in journals and letters to family. She published Hospital Sketches in 1863. It is a fictionalized account based on her letters. The book became massively popular and was reprinted with more material.
3- She Didn’t Want To Write Little Women
Alcott wrote her most famous book, Little Women, after much resistance.
Her father was asked by an editor at a publishing house if she would write a novel for little girls. Louisa was not keen on the idea of writing for children. She refused and a year passed.
When her father was trying to publish his own book on philosophy, the editor once more requested a book for little girls. He would publish the philosophy book if Louisa agreed.
Giving in, she used her childhood with her sisters as a topic for the book. The first part of Little Women was published in 1868. It became a huge success—perhaps to her chagrin–and she went on to write the sequels, Jo’s Boys and Little Men.
4- She Adopted Her Niece
Alcott never had children, but was able to experience motherhood at the age of forty-seven. In 1879, her sister May died after giving birth to a daughter. On her deathbed, May told her husband that she wanted the child to go to Louisa.
He honored his wife’s last wish and trusted the baby to Alcott. She was named Louisa after her aunt and nicknamed LuLu. Alcott raised the girl during the final years of her own life.
Alcott died of a stroke when LuLu was 8 years old, and LuLu was sent back to Switzerland with her father. Though they were together for a short time, Lulu carried fond memories of her aunt Louisa.
5- She Was A Suffragette
Alcott advocated for women’s rights when the movement was in its infancy. She wrote for a women’s periodical in the 1870s and went door-to-door, encouraging women in Massachusetts to vote.
In 1869, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote on any issue involving education and children. Alcott registered and became the first woman in Concord to vote.
She and nineteen other women voted that year, initiating a great change. Alcott was passionate about making sure that women’s voices were heard. The Nineteenth Amendment was cast in 1890—decades after Alcott’s death.
Louisa May Alcott was a devoted writer. Though she is best known for Little Women, her collection of complete works is staggering. More attention should be given to this impressive and fearless woman.
Behind every great story is a greater story; in the case of Little Women, it is the writer’s life. She valued her independence, worked to support her family, and fought for the woman’s vote.
We miss out on a great deal when we don’t look at an author’s background. Timeless stories don’t come out of the blue; there is always a fascinating chain of events forming the foundation of a classic.
When I started research on magic in mythology, I did not realize the phrase would be so broad. Magic can explain many events in myths all over the world. We need to be more specific when learning about magic.
Are we thinking about women in the forest who collect healing herbs? Are we perhaps referring to revelations we found in tea leaves?
I changed my phrasing to witches in mythology. This is still a vague term, but most mythologies separate gods from witches. Greek mythology was the haziest for this article; however, I found these examples too intriguing to leave out.
Each culture has a different definition of witch. Some witches are dark and frightening figures; others are revered by their people. Collecting five stories for this post has been a welcome challenge.
Hecate, Goddess of Witchcraft
Hecate is one of the most controversial figures of Greek mythology. Because worship of her predates the writings we use for reference–for example, Homer–her origin is disputed. Nonetheless, she remains in their tales as a goddess of witchcraft.
She was also the goddess of boundaries—which in the physical world could mean entrances, borders, and crossroads. Spiritually, she stood at the boundary between life and death. Having this power, Hecate could cross into the Underworld and walk it freely.
When Persephone was taken by Hades, Hecate aided Demeter in the search for her daughter. Since Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seeds, she could not escape the Underworld forever.
Unable to release her from the spell of the pomegranate seeds, Hecate became Persephone’s guide to the Underworld whenever she returned to Hades.
Another figure of Greek mythology, Circe was a minor goddess. Some stories call her the daughter of Hecate and Aeetes, a king in Greek mythology. She is well known for her knowledge of potions and herbs.
She is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey when Odysseus visits her island, Aeaea, on the way back from the Trojan war. Circe turns most of Odysseus’ crew into swine. Her ability to change people into animals surfaces again in the fate of Picus. He was an Italian king whom she turned into a woodpecker for resisting her advances.
She becomes enemies with the nymph Scylla, whom I wrote about here. When the sea-god Glaucus preferred Scylla to her, she poisoned the water where Scylla lived, turning the beautiful nymph into a sea monster.
The Morrigan is not a witch in the traditional sense. Her ability to shapeshift into a crow is an attribute of witchcraft, and I thought she would fit in this list. She is one of the most famous figures of Irish mythology, linked with war, life and death.
She is one of three war goddesses featured in Irish mythology; the other two are Macha and Neman. The Morrigan is described as being able to predict the names of those who will die in battle. She would use this knowledge to influence wars.
The Morrigan would do this by flying over a battle in the form of a crow. Seeing this crow would strike such fear into soldiers that they would die of fright or fight for their lives.
Völva the Viking Witch
In Norse folklore, the Völva is what we would call a Seeress. The magic they practiced was known as Seidr, a word which literally means “to bind.” Men could also practice Seidr, but it was less common.
The Völva would have been the spiritual leader and healer in a Nordic society. She wore colorful dresses and carried a beautiful staff to help her carry out Seidr.
One of the Völva’s most important roles was communication with the deceased. She would perform rituals in which she would sing songs to attract spirits. The Völva would sit in a very high chair while singing. She might also be lifted into the air, allowing her to see into another realm.
Japanese Animal Familiars
In Japan, some people were believed to keep spirit animals as familiars. If you had an animal familiar, you were considered a witch. This was usually a family affair, and such families were called tsukimono-zukai.
Animal familiars could bring a family wealth and power, but there was a downside. Having an animal familiar made neighbors superstitious. It was difficult to keep friends, and if you were a woman, marriage was nearly impossible.
If a family wanted to be rid of the tsukimono, this could be attempted through exorcism by a Shinto priest. These rituals did not always work. To learn more about the fascinating myth of tsukimono, read this excellent article.
I am eager to do more research on witchcraft and ‘spooky’ myths as Halloween nears. It’s my favorite time of the year–not only does the weather turn crisp and lovely, but the air is full of mystery!
When I started my series of posts on the Mona Lisa, I wanted to tell the story of her disappearance in a manner that did it justice. I was captivated by Vanished Smile, a book that makes the painting come to life (more so than she reportedly does!)
In this post I will sum up for you an interesting chapter of the investigation which I learned of from R. A. Scotti. I have left out plenty of details; to enjoy the full scope of the madness, you’ll have to read the book.
It was a time of change in the art world. Pablo Picasso had begun championing a new form of art, modern and daring, a far cry from the styles of the old masters. His style brought together a group of enthusiasts determined to challenge tradition and redefine beauty.
Many members of Picasso’s gang were known for being loud and sometimes rude. They were labeled romantic renegades by those who admired them, ne’er-do-wells by disapprovers. It wasn’t until La Gioconda’s disappearance that something happened to pull them into legal problems.
During this interlude in the search for da Vinci’s painting, the police no longer saw these people as artists making a statement. Instead the police called them “foreign thieves and swindlers who have come to France to plunder its treasure.”
With dozens of theories but no clues about the painting’s whereabouts, Picasso’s gang gave police something to focus on. It all started with some badly timed letters, an apparent joke gone wrong.
Following Mona Lisa‘s disappearance, an explosion of fake copies and ‘sightings’ sprang up worldwide. Louvre experts examined the false paintings turned in by people hoping for a reward. They did not fall for the scams, but were no closer to an answer.
On August 29, the day the Museum opened again, a strange correspondent wrote to the editors of the Paris-Journal. This newspaper had promised a reward as well as anonymity to thief if they should return La Gioconda.
His first letter did not speak of La Gioconda, but it didn’t arrive alone. With it was a small statue the writer claimed was from the Louvre. He wrote about a series of thefts, his story raising as many questions as it answered.
Most of all, it rubbed salt into the wound of the Museum’s lax security.
It was in March, 1907, that I entered the Louvre for the first time—a young man with time to kill and no money to spend … I suddenly realized how easy it would be to … take away almost any object of moderate size.
The mysterious author explained how he had chosen the head of a woman, concealed it under his vest, and walked out. He sold the statue to an unnamed painter-friend for fifty francs ($200.)
The very next day I took a man’s head with enormous ears. … And three days later, a plaster fragment covered in hieroglyphs. A friend gave me twenty francs for this last. … Now one of my colleagues has spoiled all of my plans for a collection by making this hullabaloo in the painting department!
The next day, August 30, the paper reported a second letter from the mysterious writer.
… You will allow me a few words of protest against certain terms of abuse leveled at me in your issue of yesterday … A professional thief, lacking all moral sense, would remain unaffected by them; but I am not without sensitivity…
The letter was signed Baron Ignace d’Ormesan.
An examination by Louvre curators confirmed that the statue was property of the museum. It meant that the thief’s story was true: at least one statue had been stolen. The next day, ‘Baron d’Ormesan’ wrote another letter in the same mocking tone:
I do not want to leave France without once again sending you my thanks for the chivalrous manner in which you handled the little matter…
Then he finished:
I can only urge the person at present holding Vinci’s masterpiece to place himself entirely in your hands. He has a colleague’s word for it that your good faith is above all suspicion.
The morning paper had scarcely gone out before Prefect Lépine identified the so-called Baron d’Ormesan. It was a familiar name to Parisian literati belonging to a fictional character from L’Hérésiarque et cie, a collection of stories written by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
Apollinaire was a part of Picasso’s crowd. Police were soon knocking at the poet’s door.
Three days after Mona Lisa’s disappearance, Apollinaire had written in the paper L’Intrasigeant:
The pictures, even the smallest, are not padlocked on the walls, as they are in most museums abroad. Furthermore, it is a fact that the guards have never been drilled in how to rescue pictures in case of fire. The situation is one of carelessness, negligence, indifference.
Loosely known as la bande de Picasso, the group was famous for more than their loud opinions. They were outlaws of traditional art, set on breaking the rules to free art from art history.
Mona Lisa was the archetype of the dead masterpieces they rejected. If Picasso’s group had indeed taken her, no one would have been surprised. Prefect Lépine was convinced that la bande de Picasso was involved.
Apollinaire’s letters as the Baron placed him in the middle of the investigation–and in deep trouble.
Guillaume Apollinaire was transported in handcuffs to the Palais de Justice, where for hours he refused to provide any information. Only at the point of arrest did he confess that he was not the statue thief, but knew who was. He named Honoré Joseph Géry Pieret, a Belgian who had been living in his apartment as a secretary.
He admitted to knowing about Géry’s theft. He confessed to having bought Géry a train ticket to Marseilles on August 21, urging him to leave the country. Apollinaire thought that he would be released after giving the information.
Instead he was locked in a cell at Le Santé prison for being an accomplice.
La bande de Picasso was a guilty party to Prefect Lépine. He was confident that they were the gang of thieves he was after—and that they would be able to tell him Mona Lisa’s whereabouts.
It wasn’t long before he’d arrested the face of the movement, Picasso himself.
Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso, so often seen together as leaders of a band of rebels, faced one another in the courtroom. Their nerves caused them to trip on words, contradicting themselves and one another.
When asked about his friendship with Apollinaire, Picasso said, “I have never seen him before.”
Picasso confessed to having bought the stolen statues. He was released on his own recognizance and warned not to leave Paris. Apollinaire was returned to the Santé prison, but there was not enough evidence to link him to the theft of Mona Lisa. He was released on September 13.
The theft of Mona Lisa had found a likely culprit in la bande de Picasso, but it was a dead end. Géry’s theft of the statues was possible because of the poor security which enabled the theft of la Gioconda.
Unfortunately for detectives, this only proved that theft was easy at the Louvre, not that Picasso’s band had indeed taken the painting. The questions remained: who was the thief, and where was the painting? No closer to an answer, police began to lose spirit.
For years Picasso never spoke of the Mona Lisa ordeal. He continued being his larger-than-life self, leading the modern art movement with his bold colors and shapes.
It was 1959 when at last he mentioned Apollinaire during an interview:
When the judge asked me, ‘Do you know this gentleman?’ I was suddenly terribly frightened and without knowing what I was saying, I answered, ‘I have never seen this man.’ I saw Guillaume’s expression change. The blood ebbed from his face. I am still ashamed.
I wish I had read Vanished Smile before I went to the Louvre to see Mona Lisa. R. A. Scotti tells the story of her disappearance with more grace than I’ve been able to manage. If you like history, art, and true stories that sound insane, I encourage you to grab a copy and dig in.
Next week I’ll wrap up my Mona Lisa segment with her return to the Louvre–and the peculiar circumstances surrounding that. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this story as much as I did!
Despite having such a devoted fan base, Jane Austen’s life is shrouded in mystery. She was an unusual woman for her time, holding firm to her values. She believed in love matches; her stories are full of unlikely couples, yet she remained unmarried.
We don’t have much correspondence from which to learn her thoughts. Following the custom of the time, Jane’s sister Cassandra burned many letters after the author’s death.
Fortunately, not all was lost with those yellowing pages. Enough history remains to offer us a satisfying portrait.
Here are five surprising facts about Jane Austen.
1- She Enjoyed Gothic Novels
It’s not surprising that Jane Austen was well-read. She spent hours in the family library immersed in classics such as Shakespeare.
As always, literary tastes at the time were changing; she also enjoyed reading then-popular Gothic novels.
Her favorite authors included Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, and Maria Edgeworth. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho was mentioned in Jane’s novel Northanger Abbeyas one of Catherine Morland’s favorite books.
The Austens were unique in their belief that education was important for all children, not only boys.
Jane and her sister Cassandra attended boarding school as young girls. Jane was only seven when she first left home to study. There is speculation about why she left at such a tender age. Some think it was because she could not bear separation from her sister.
They attended Mrs. Cawley’s boarding school for girls, where they were taught sewing and French. Jane would later write about her time at school as a torment.
3- She Was Engaged—for a Night
On December 2, 1802, Jane accepted a marriage proposal from family friend Harris Bigg-Wither. The Bigg-Wither family owned a large estate; marriage to him would ensure Jane’s happy retirement.
The following morning, she’d changed her mind. She called off the engagement, a choice that perplexed everybody–she wasn’t getting any younger.
Why did Jane choose spinsterhood over a comfortable home? We know that she believed people ought to marry for love; perhaps that was her reason.
There has been a rumor circulating that Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre was inspired Austen’s character Jane Fairfax in Emma. This article criticizes the rumor, but it doesn’t deny that Brontë wasn’t a fan.
One can hardly blame her, seeing the big picture. Rare were female authors brave enough to publish with their names. They were generalized as lady authors, and Brontë was tired of being lumped in with Austen when their novels were so different.
I’m thankful that there is now room for different kinds of lady authors. It’s possible for us to write light-hearted romance or Gothic pieces–whatever we please!
5- Austen’s Last Piece was a Poem
Many famous authors have died and left novels unfinished. Jane Austen left two books unfinished—Sanditon and The Watsons—but her last complete work seems to have been a poem.
Titled Venta, it was dictated to Cassandra three days before Jane’s death. It’s a satirical piece about the people of Winchester, poking fun at their fervor for horse races. Jane wrote that they cared more for the races than they did for their patron saint, St. Swithin.
Humans tell stories to shed light on the unexplained, giving it a face we can imagine. It’s been our custom for centuries, and one of the most frightening mysteries our ancestors faced was the ocean.
Whether they were fishing or embarking on voyages into the unknown, they had no guarantee of a safe return. The ocean was a moody mistress; they personified her by giving her faces.
Now we know more about the world under the sea, but there remain mysteries that will never be explained. Stories make things interesting; why not learn some ocean folklore to uphold the ocean’s personality?
Not all sea monsters are giant squids of Jack Sparrowfame. The human imagination is adept at giving a shape to fear; something like water is impossible to keep in a set form.
Each-uisge is a sea monster of Scottish folklore. Its literal translation is water-horse. This monster is a shapeshifter; it can turn into a horse, pony, even into a handsome man!
Should somebody mount it while it is in horse form, they are only safe if the ocean is out of sight. A glimpse of the water changes the rider’s fate. The water-horse’s skin becomes like adhesive, making the rider helpless to dismount as the each-uisge dives into the sea.
Highland people are wary of wild horses—nobody wants to be drowned by a pony!
The Flying Dutchman
Ghost ships have marked ocean lore for as long as men have died at sea. Perhaps the most famous is the Flying Dutchman. Books and movies have been made about this spirit-ship doomed to sail on forever.
The oldest version of this legend originated in the 18th century. If hailed by another ship, the Flying Dutchman would attempt to send messages to land. At times, these messages would be to people long dead. Considered omens of death, sightings of the Flying Dutchman were dreaded by sailors.
Literary references to sightings of the Dutchman include a passage from Travels in various part of Europe, Asia and Africa during a series of thirty years and upward (1790) by John MacDonald:
The weather was so stormy that the sailors said they saw the Flying Dutchman. The common story is that this Dutchman came to the Cape in distress of weather and wanted to get into harbour but could not get a pilot to conduct her and was lost and that ever since in very bad weather her vision appears.
More literary references can be found on Wikipedia. A well-known sighting was reported by Prince George of Wales in 1880, the future King George V.
Scholars have placed this sea monster from Greek folklore in the Strait of Messina. Charybdis appears with the sea monster Scylla to challenge heroes such as Odysseus and Aenas. Later myths identify her as the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia.
Charybdis and Scylla lived under large rocks, one on each side of a narrow channel. There was no way to escape their trap; the term ‘to be between Charybdis and Scylla’ means being presented with two opposite dangers.
Charybdis created giant whirlpools three times a day. She did this by swallowing large amounts of water, pulling sailors to their doom. In some variations of the myth, she is simply a giant whirlpool.
Ocean mythology would be incomplete without mention of the Siren. Not to be mistaken with a Mermaid, Sirens exist in different cultures under different disguises.
Some cultures portray them as beautiful women who live in the ocean; others describe them as women with birds’ feathers and scaly feet. What all Sirens have in common is a wicked custom of luring sailors to their death, usually with their songs.
Ovid wrote that Sirens were the companions of Persephone as a young girl. After Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, Demeter gave them wings to find her. When they failed to locate Persephone, Demeter cursed them. They were destined to live only until the humans who heard their songs passed by.
Another legend says that Hera persuaded the Muses to participate in a singing competition with the Sirens. When the Muses won, they plucked the Sirens’ feathers as a punishment. Wingless, the Sirens fell into the sea of Aptera, where they formed the islands known as Leukai.
Ships are not the only ghostly bodies thought to dwell near the ocean. According to Japanese legend, Funayūrei are angry spirits of the sea. They appear in writings from the Edo period; they have not faded from modern folk customs.
Funayūrei are said to be the spirits of humans who died in shipwrecks. These angry spirits want to doom more humans to death at the bottom of the ocean. They would make ladies fill boats with water in order to make them sink.
Their appearances vary widely in the different legends. Some float above the water; others appear on ships to haunt sailors. They are more likely to appear when it is raining or during nights when the moon is full.
Maybe you’ve never seen The Flying Dutchman, but have you heard the sound of wind before a storm? Have you ever stared at an approaching wave and wondered if it was coming for you?
The sea is full of mysteries. Since humans can never control the sea, it strikes fear into our hearts. Coming up with stories gives us a fleeting grasp on it.
I’ve gathered butterfly myths and star myths. The stories of our ancestors are a great part of who we are as a race. Get to know those beliefs; you might find that a voice deep inside of you still believes.
Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti is a book that helps put Mona Lisa’s fame into perspective. Most people know her as Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.
We can get a better grasp of her fame after learning about the drama that took place in 1911.
In August 1911, the Louvre Museum was stirred from its routine by horrific news. Usually displayed in the Salon de Carré, where she was visited by artists and suitors, Mona Lisa had vanished. Under the spot where the portrait had hung was a plaque reading her name, but she was nowhere to be found.
Her empty frame was discovered in one of the corridors, as well as the glass case meant to protect her from outsiders. A broken doorknob indicated a route of escape that the thief might have taken.
How was this possible in a museum containing so many treasures? The ugly truth is that the Louvre Museum before Mona Lisa’s theft was lax in security. It was understaffed and too large for there to be guards everywhere.
The director of the museum was fired after Mona Lisa’s disappearance.
In 1911, the Louvre had more exits available for thieves to slip through. Visitors were allowed to grab paintings for photographs without written consent. Curators and guards were so busy that none of them noticed Mona Lisa’s disappearance for three days.
She was last known to have been in the Salon de Carré on Sunday evening; her absence was not discovered until Tuesday morning.
Parisians were outraged that it had been so easy for the painting to disappear under guards’ very noses. The greatest available detective would be required to solve such a mystery.
Alphonse Bertillon was called in the very Tuesday that Mona Lisa’s disappearance was noticed.
Sherlock Holmes’ Hero
Alphonse Bertillon was Chief of the Judicial Identity of the Paris Prefecture. He was the closest they could get to Sherlock Holmes in this most Holmesian of cases.
In a short story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of the Naval Treaty, Holmes tells Watson that he admires the French policeman Alphonse Bertillon. Naval Treaty was published in a collection of Holmesian short stories in 1893.
Sherlock uttered these words before the Mona Lisa disappeared. Was it a premonition?
Bertillon came with all of the tools of the trade. This included his magnifying glass, dusting powder, and a trail of assistants to photograph the scene. Photography of crime scenes was a new practice which Bertillon pioneered.
He examined Mona Lisa’s empty frame and the glass case that held her. Using his magnifying glass, he searched for evidence that could give a name to the heinous thief: fingerprints.
A perfect thumbprint was discovered on the glass case which had held Mona Lisa.
Salon Full of Suspects
Louis Lepine, Prefect of the Seine, arranged for the theft to be repeated by two groups on a different painting of the same size.
The first group to recreate the theft was comprised of ordinary gendarmes. They struggled to remove the art from the frames and did a clumsy job of it. The second group was made up of Louvre workers–people familiar with the museum and comfortable handling art in their cases.
The Louvre workers removed the painting from its frame and case in moments. This provided clues for Bertillon—and a great deal of embarrassment for museum staff.
It suggested that the theft had been committed by someone who worked at the museum. He must have been familiar with the halls and glass cases, so that they wouldn’t be such obstacles.
Could a thief have been mingling with curators and guards long enough to plan a heist?
Seeking a Match
Lepine requested that a list be compiled naming everybody who’d had access to the museum between that Sunday and Tuesday.
The long window of time was discouraging. Whoever had stolen the painting could have escaped France by the time guards noticed her absence. He might be on a ship halfway across the world.
Proceedings continued, though officers began to doubt that Mona Lisa would ever be seen again.
Each Louvre custodian, curator, workman and photographer on Lepine’s list was fingerprinted and interrogated. One guard confessed that Mona Lisa had been left alone from eight to ten o’clock on Monday morning. He had been called away from the Salon de Carré to help move paintings in another part of the museum.
This gave the thief two hours’ free rein to remove the painting from its frame and flee.
Mona Lisa’s Lover
The guard then confessed an unnerving detail.
He had been seeing a young man pay weekly visits to the Mona Lisa. Sometimes this man would bring her flowers, as if they were lovers. Could this obsessed visitor have been alone with the object of his affections that Monday? Was he deranged enough to have stolen her?
This revelation provided the Louvre with a way to save face. The thief was not necessarily one of their staff; it could have been one of her unstable courtiers. While police continued to question museum workers, the public was told about Mona Lisa’s admirer.
It was the sort of story that the media cannot resist. Chicago Tribune commented wryly on the matter:
So, Mona Lisa has another lover! … Now, after four and a half centuries, Leonardo’s subtle lady wins another lover, and her tantalizing discretion quite forgot, she flees with her wooer. Ten thousand dollars for her return, cries Paris. … No one man should have exclusive right to feed on that mysterious loveliness.
This ends the first part of my series on Mona Lisa’s disappearance. After I’d read Vanished Smile, I struggled for a way to sum up the story for my blog.
When Mona Lisa disappeared, the world reacted in outrage. When newspapers and the French government offered rewards for her return, false paintings were provided by people hoping for money. Billionaires like J. P. Morgan and artists like Pablo Picasso were pulled into the matter.
To leave out one surreal detail does this story a disservice. There is more to the Mona Lisa than her mysterious smile; there’s a reason why she now has a bulletproof chamber at the museum.
Behind every great story is an even greater story; the Mona Lisa’s is no exception. I will post more about the investigation in a few days.
Stars have aided us from the beginning. Before we settled on a common calendar, they told our ancestors when to plant crops. Navigators at sea used the stars to guide them on treacherous journeys. In uncertain times, humans sought messages from these celestial lights.
Though we have developed modern methods of navigation, the stars have not lost their significance. We yearn to see them, write songs about them, and study them from afar. They remind us of that which does not vanish; they remain above us, sources of wonder and romance.
It would be a shame if we did not learn what the stars meant to our ancestors. Here are five interesting myths about stars. These myths come from different parts of the world.
According to South African mythology, tribes anticipated the appearance of IsiLimela–the Pleiades–to warn them it was time to begin hoeing the ground. The Pleiades were called the ‘digging stars’ because of this specific role.
These were more than ‘digging-stars.’ Xhosa boys marked the beginning of their manhood from the Pleiades’ first June appearance. Their new lives depended on the appearance of IsiLimela.
The Inca culture in Peru also relied on the stars for agricultural purposes. Their belief was that everything in nature is sacred, so they worshiped various Gods such as Inti (the sun) and Chuqui Illa (the God of Thunder.)
Machu Picchu, the famous archaeological site, has long been a mystery. Who was it built for and why in that spectacular location? Recent studies suggest that, aside from being a ceremonial site, Machu Picchu was an astronomical observatory.
PeruforLess has a good article about Inca culture and their belief system.
Lost Viking Tales
Most of the known Norse mythology is found in the Eddas, though there’s little mention of stars specifically. If you’re interested in the Norse stories of creation, the Eddas provide a fascinating read. Find the Edda of Snorri Sturluson on Amazon.
In Völuspa the origin of the stars and planets are mentioned, as well as their end at Ragnarök. The world was created from the body of the giant Ymer. His skull forms the firmament and is held in place by four dwarves, where sparks from Muspellheim form the stars. Their place in the sky was determined by the gods and some were given paths they will roam.
Having depended on the night sky to guide their ships, it’s inevitable that the Norse people knew astronomy. They had their own constellations, though the names of most of these constellations have been lost.
As a writer I’m pleased to learn that, in Egyptian mythology, the stars were represented by the goddess of writing, Seshat. The Milky Way Galaxy represented the mother goddess Nut giving birth to the sun god, Ra.
We needn’t look farther than the Pyramids to understand the significance of stars to the ancient Egyptians. It is said that the Pyramids of Giza were built in alignment to Orion’s belt.
If this is true, it’s no surprise. According to their religious writings, they believed the gods to be descended from those three stars (read more).
Goddess of Falling Stars
Greek mythology is famous for the gods and goddesses who fought amongst themselves and caused trouble on earth. Among the lesser-known is Asteria, the goddess of dreams and of falling stars.
Asteria’s father was the Titan Coeus. He was the god of the northern axis of Heaven, around which revolve the constellations. From him Asteria gained abilities such as spelling messages in heaven with the stars.
Zeus could not resist Asteria’s beauty (nor can we expect him to, given his record). Once when he had caught her, she transformed into a quail to slip away. Refusing to be defeated, Zeus became a bird and gave chase.
Seeing that Zeus would never leave her be, Asteria dived into the sea and metamorphized into the Italian island now known as Ortigia. Learn more about Asteria.
Stars have captivated us from the beginning. Regardless of where in the world our ancestors lived, the stars did not escape their attention. Further research would reveal more stories about the cosmos from other ethnic groups.
I conclude this list with a beautiful quote:
“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”