Excerpts From Sketchbook #1


I’ve been doing a bit of everything.

I am participating in a challenge—100 days of drawing—and for some reason I really enjoy drawing animals.

Here is an unusual blog post—a few glimpses into my sketchbook!

Happy weekend!

Mouse sheltering under a leaf! I don’t color all of them.
Mouse is cold. He found a candle for warmth. He should be careful or he’ll singe his whiskers!
Mouse has a friend, Rabbit, who has a balloon—I still don’t know what color it should be.
This is my personal favorite—some poppies. I’m afraid to color them & ruin them!

Update: Books I’m Reading In September


I can’t believe we are halfway through with September! I posted a list of books I was going to read in September, and I’m going to update you that. Some books I have read as planned, others are taking more time, and more crept in because my bibliophile self could not stick to the plan.

Stonehenge: A New Understanding is taking me the longest to read. I can’t quite name why—I bought it because I am interested in Stonehenge and its history, but the way that it is told in this book is slow and rather dry. Perhaps a person who is interested in obscure archaeological details would enjoy it more.

I am still going to finish it one day, but as it is, I’m reading a chapter at a time. I don’t want to speed-read something I don’t like and forget all about it. There is valuable information to be found in this book, but I’ve enjoyed other history books that were far more gripping.

I’ve read half of Dracula. At once upon starting, I remembered why it was my favorite book ten years ago. The book manages to be frightening without the notorious jump-scare that has invaded modern books and movies. You’re able to soak in the mystery. When they are frightened, so are you. I’m thinking that I’ll read the second half of Dracula in October.

As an aside, I’m reading the paper copy I enjoyed as a teenager; holding the pages is a great comfort!

Now, for the books I have finished so far in September:

In The Market For Murder by T. E. Kinsey

Oh, Lady Hardcastle! I think of this series and feel a thrill. Not since Harry Potter have I found a set of characters I am so fond of! In The Market For Murder can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, though I recommend you read the first installment so that you can appreciate why these characters are so great.

Lady Hardcastle and her ladies-maid Flo are not sit-on-your-hands Downton types who avoid trouble (or murder). In book one it is hinted that Lady Hardcastle and Flo were stranded somewhere in Asia where they escaped murderers, a deserted island, and other such atrocities after Lord Hardcastle’s death.

The first book, called A Quiet Life In The Country, is exactly that: Lady Hardcastle’s attempt to be a proper lady and find a quiet life in the country. There is murder in the country as well, disrupting her plans.

Lady Hardcastle and Flo are not damsels in distress. In book one, there is a scene where a drunken man touches Flo inappropriately. She ‘accidentally’ trips on the recently waxed floor and ‘accidentally’ hits him in the groin with her elbow. Then she warns him to be careful or she might ‘accidentally’ hit him again.

Read this series on purpose. You need these heroines in your life.

The Particular Charm Of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright & Cass Grafton

What would become of the world if Jane Austen had never written her books? What would a bookstore look like without Pride and Prejudice, in all its different editions, entire shelves? This comedy/romance, the first of a duo of books, insists that life without Mr. Darcy would be tragic.

The character of Jane in this book has the ability to travel in time. She is enjoying the costumes, tributes, and merriment at the annual Jane Austen festival in Bath, one of the cities where she once lived, when the necklace that lets her travel in time is lost.

Following its loss, her work disappears. There is no longer a Jane Austen festival. The main character, Rose Wallace, is frantic that she will never read about Mr. Darcy’s dysfunctional courtship again.

This book is a comedy, so I try not to be cynical that Rose’s first worry is not about Jane Austen being trapped in a century not her own. Instead, she’s going berserk about the fact that Mr. Wickham is no more.

I often wanted to scream at Rose that she was being a selfish entitled little—er, bookworm.

Because of all of these things, the book is hilarious. It’s a great twist on Jane Austen fan fiction, and it’s well worth the read. I won’t soon forget it!

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

I have just finished reading The Hidden People today. I might have written this update post because I needed a space to gush. The book is often compared to my other all-time favorite, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and rightly so. The setting is impeccable; I have literally had a dream in which I was staying at a bleak house exactly like the one described in Littlewood’s book.

It’s the second book that influenced my dream world with its magical setting and description. The first book to do so was Piranesi; I’ll talk about that sometime soon!

Halfoak is a little village in the English countryside where the people swear that Changelings are not only real, but they live in an oddly shaped hill and steal children. When main character Alfie’s cousin Lizzie is killed on suspicion of being a Changeling, he goes to investigate this murder and ensure that she is given a Christian funeral—which few of the superstitious villagers attend.

The magic in this book is that the ending doesn’t steal the wonder. Was it all a result of the villagers’ superstition, or are there really Changelings in Halfoak stealing children and corrupting wives?

It is not a happy ending for Alfie, but I consider it happy that the reader can ask themselves while unable to sleep, Could it be?


The Hidden People is a perfect Halloween read if you need something a bit lighter than Dracula. It’s also good for people who like fairy stories.

All of these books are ‘family friendly,’ though Littlewood’s book is Gothic and that is the magic of it. In The Market For Murder is a cozy mystery; there is a crime committed, but you spend more time laughing at Lady Hardcastle’s antics than dreading pools of blood. Miss Jane Austen is pure fun—if you want a light read, this is it!

What have you read this month? Please tell me!

5 Incredible Facts About Coco Chanel


Chanel is one of the most famous names in fashion. We have all seen the classic style of dress; we’ve heard of the famous perfume No. 5. It brings to mind thoughts of elegance and beauty.

How much do you know about the woman behind the name?

Coco Chanel was one of the most powerful women in the world. She worked her way out of a childhood steeped in poverty to create a fashion empire. Though her later life was darkened by controversy as war ravaged Europe, her determination and sense of dignity are things to be admired.

Normally I write blog posts about female authors, but my recent read of The Queen of Parisan excellent, though fictitious, novel by Pamela Binnings Ewen—inspired me to hunt out some facts that will shed some light on this iconic woman.

Coco Was Her Nickname

Though she was known by the world as Coco, the fashion designer was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883 in Saumur, France. Where did she get the nickname that was to become her identity throughout her life?

One theory is that it was inspired by a song she used to sing as a cabaret singer. Two songs became inseparably associated with her—Ko Ko Ri Ko and Qui qu’a vu Coco. She later said that Coco was a name her father gave her.

Wherever it is that she got the nickname, everybody knows it—this is the name that made her famous!

She Started With Hatmaking

Chanel is best known for her delicious perfume No. 5, but she did not begin her career as a fashion designer with perfume. In 1909 she opened a hat shop in Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Her hats were simple and notably lacking the fruits and flowers which had ornamented such accessories for years.

Her name became synonymous with simplicity and convenience. Her hats could match any color and style of dress; she upped her game by designing dresses that did not require corsets. These dresses were even so daring as to show the ankles!

Starting with the dignified, elegant hat, Chanel showed women that it is possible to achieve beauty in simplicity.

Pants For Women!

On the subject of useful fashion, we can’t forget Chanel’s trousers! Though she did not invent the idea of pants for women, she became a pioneer in the style after the first world war.

It started with her design for the hiking trousers that she made in order to get into gondolas in Venice. Soon followed her famous yachting pants which took the world by storm. Women could wear pants for their leisure activities and look as elegant as they would have in a skirt.

Chanel was not happy with unnecessary trifles that society forced into women’s fashion. She did more than make pants popular. She cut her hair into her famous black bob, which scandalized the world, encouraging her so-called ‘garçonne style.’

She Said What She Meant

The word bold describes Chanel in every imaginable way. Not only did she dress as she wished, but she was not afraid of stating her opinions on the competitors and critics who disdained her. This sometimes lost her friends, but never enough for her to sink into obscurity.

She accused Dior of dressing women like armchairs with all of the unneeded fabric that was hemmed onto his dresses. Balenciaga’s designs met her approval, but she did not like his ability to cut. Regarding Paul Poiret’s designs, she said they looked more like costumes than evening wear.

Designer Headstone

Coco Chanel designed everything in her life, so why would her headstone have been any different?

Her zodiac sign was Leo. She kept that powerful creature present in her designs throughout her life. Lions decorated her cigarette lighters and scissors. Lions were also engraved on the bottoms of her tweed suits. At the end of her life, she designed a headstone decorated with five lions.

Chanel did not have any known children. At her funeral, the front chairs were reserved for her models. She is buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.


Chanel was a woman with a strong personality who changed how the world looked. Her name remains synonymous with elegance and power. She inspired many leading ladies to carve their own ways with determination and creativity.

Next time you go out wearing No. 5 or cut your hair into an elegant bob, remember that these fashions are strong today because of this outspoken and fiery woman!

Guest Post: Raina Nightingale & Kingdom of Light


It’s always so exciting for me when a friend puts out a new book! It was thrilling when I found out that fellow writer and blogger Raina Nightingale had released a book, and I was eager to learn more about it.

I asked her to write a post telling us about her novel Kingdom of Light and what inspired it. It sounds intriguing! I’m happy she agreed to come on as a guest blogger!

About the Book:

A kingdom of darkness where soldiers guard the people against wicked glowstones that attract nightmare monsters and death…

A young girl, terrified of the darkness and drawn to the light. What if the glowstones provide the only protection against the monsters of the dark? What if everything she has ever been told is a lie?

What if the Kingdom of Light is not confined to the afterlife, but can be found even in this world?

With her friends, Louisa discovers that the real world is unlike anything any of them could have ever imagined, and thousands follow…

Find Kingdom of Light on Amazon and other retailers!


When I first conceived the initial idea for Kingdom of Light, it came out of the fact that I was thinking about how Jesus is good. He is the maker and giver of all good things, and when we meet Him and follow His call, we receive His best. I was more than a little annoyed by a cycle of reaction and over-reaction that seems to be going on. I’ve no need to name names, and little business doing so since in most cases I know little more than the names, and my knowledge of this cycle is imparted through some associations I had with some evangelism-oriented groups, but there is an unfortunate situation, where someone claims that if one follows Jesus, then that’s the end of material shortages or difficulties of any sort, and if one has anything that appears to be a disability that, too, will be healed, and so forth, and others are at pains to reject this and make a lot of statements like, “God doesn’t care about whether or not you’re happy; He wants you to be holy,” or, “You can choose pleasure and happiness now, and pain and misery forever after, or you can choose pain and misery now, and have happiness and pleasure forever after,” (I’m pretty sure these quotes are not word-for-word).

I’m not going to write a lot of philosophy or talk a lot about theology or dogma here. There’s a place for that, and I could do so (and even have, in other places and at others times), but there’s a place for other things, and dogmatic statements and philosophical discussions have their weaknesses. I’m a firm believer that there are large areas of human nature that have to learn and understand through other means, and that without context – without reaching these areas of our beings – dogmatic statements can sometimes be worse than useless, and that one of these areas of human nature responds strongly to stories. I’m going to write about stories, and a little about why and how I wrote this story.

I have found stories to be an important part of my thought process. I learn what things mean, I discover what I think, and I understand more often than not through stories. Stories unite the concrete and the abstract. In stories, ideas come alive and are put to the test. In stories, concepts and thoughts are made relateable to more than the intellect – and sometimes even to the intellect – and we are more than creatures of pure intellect and logic. To many of us, intellect and logic is not even our first choice of mode of operation, and there is nothing wrong with that: our Lord has made us all unique persons, capable of interfacing with truth and reality, and relating to Him and to each other, differently.

For me, I really know what I think when I can put it into a story, and I often have to put something into a story before I have even the possibility of communicating it elsewhere. Stories point me to other people’s thoughts and ideas in a way that dry, intellectual communication can’t. The images of a story, the fact that it is story, not one moment, but a development, something in motion, sometimes with more focus on characters, sometimes with more focus on symbolic imagery, are all capable of what other modes of communication fail, and its limitation is often its strength.

A story does not make itself out to be dogma. A story can be “truth, so far as it goes,” – far more than metaphor – but it does not make itself out to be, “the full truth, nothing but the truth, succinctly and accurately characterized,” about anything. A story is a journey, a discovery, an exploration, not a “teaching.” A story is personal. A story provides context, meaning, life. A story is flexible, and its limitations and the ways in which it is vaguer and less clear than other things are one with its ability to convey vision and value that can’t be communicated in something less opaque and more clearly defined. There is a saying that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and to a large degree what is understood by anything – a story, a philosophical essay, a dogmatic statement – is within the eye of the one who sees and the ear of the one who hears.

A story does not bypass that, and it does not pretend that it does – if anything, a story brings that out, and it is easier and more natural for people to know that when they hear a story, what they hear is in part determined by what they are prepared to hear, whether that comes from within their own hearts or from the contexts of their environment. At the same time, a story has an ability to provide depth, to frame and color, to be an environment and context, that these other things do not have. A story has the potential to suggest the value and richness of knowing Jesus, of living in the Light of the World, without falling so readily into the dangers of platitudes which quickly become meaningless and then get tossed to and fro in a storm of reaction and little understanding.

So, I naturally turned to a story to express what I saw, and to hopefully point towards the truth the general discussions I saw were missing and help people to see and articulate what they might really understand, instead of repeating platitudes and doctrinal statements that had become meaningless in their present context. Kingdom of Light was first born with a rather simple image including the setting of the story and the initial journey and discovery of Louisa.

Louisa’s village – and the entire known kingdom – lives in complete darkness, using crude torches for what light they must have, and sleeping and going about their work either in the poor light of the torches or in complete darkness. Everyone is taught that their steadfastness will be rewarded with an eternity in light, but that if anyone keeps one of the rare glow-stones – which provide a brighter and steadier light, without the difficulties of torches and which are to be destroyed upon discovery – will be pursued and chased by monsters and spend eternity in darkness. Louisa is terrified of the darkness, and scared of the torches, and one Warm Time, while doing what gathering she can with her torch, she finds a glow-stone.

That is how Kingdom of Light started. It remained that, but it soon became far more, for how can one write a fantasy about an abstract, generalized ‘experience of goodness’? It will quickly become far more, so Kingdom of Light developed, following the personal journey of Louisa and two others through a variety of mystical experiences wherein they discover the real world – and while they see the same Real World, their experiences of finding, following, and trusting the Light are also very different, even when they are parallel. It soon became very mystical and symbolic, in a similar vein as Phantastes and Lilith by George MacDonald (I don’t know of a genre label for works of that sort, but if I did, I would say that’s the genre of Kingdom of Light).

It was a fascinating experience to write, as usually I have some idea of where a story is going, a sense of the approximate order of the scenes and of how it will end. Kingdom of Light I wrote scene by scene – sometimes even line by line. Beautiful scene by beautiful scene, rich with imagery, every image thick with meaning often deeper than I myself perceived or can say I grasp. The Lady Lily (the lady in pink whom Louisa meets in Ch. 8 “Beautifying Light”) was inspired by a figure in an ancient dream I had as a young child of going to Heaven. Most of the dream is vague and half-forgotten, nothing but a faint lingering sense of the wholesome and indescribable, with only that one image still clear in my memory, and even that image representative of a sense of awesome bliss and other things utterly unnameable that lie beyond my comprehension or memory.

I think the story begins its long, deep dive into the mystical and symbolic about the time of that first meeting. From that point on, though Louisa does not see the fullness of the Real World, she sees everything in the Light. She does not see all of the Light, or all things fully in the Light, and there are times when the Light is very dim, but nothing can ever be the same again. Eventually, even the Darkness is transformed by the Light.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Thank you for having me, Mariella!


About the Author

Raina Nightingale has been writing high fantasy since she could read well enough to write stories with the words she knew (the same time that she started devouring any fiction she could touch). She especially loves dragons, storms, mountains, stars, forests, volcanoes, a whole lot of other things, and characters who make you feel whatever they do. When she’s not learning and exploring either her fantasy worlds or this one, she enjoys playing with visual art, among other things. She will always believe kindness is stronger than hatred.

3 Myths About Autumn


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.

Proserpine, Roman goddess of the Underworld, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Horae

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.

Thor went up against Jormungand by Charles Edmund Brock

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!

5 Witches in Mythology


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.

Hecate is often depicted as being one person with three bodies.

Circe

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.

Circe and ‘The unhappy Greeks turned into Swine.’

The Morrigan

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.

Crow II monoprint © Peter Gander

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!

If myths interest you, check out my post about butterfly myths–and another about star myths!

Pablo Picasso on Trial


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.

History is stranger than fiction. In 1911 France’s most famous lady was stolen–practically from under the noses of guards. The world was left reeling from the brashness of this theft.

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.

Pablo Picasso, Young Woman Drawing

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.

The Statue

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.

Pablo Picasso, Child with a Dove

Questions

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.

Betrayal

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.

Pablo Picasso, Mediterranean Landscape

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!

5 Surprising Facts About Jane Austen


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 Abbey as one of Catherine Morland’s favorite books.

Want to learn more about which books Jane read? Here is a list!

Portrait of Author Frances Burney

2- Jane Austen Hated School

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.

I found this article about Harris Bigg-Wither interesting.

Drawing of Harris Bigg-Wither

4- Charlotte Brontë Wasn’t a Fan

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.

Various poems by Jane Austen can be found here.


It’s always fascinating to do research about the lives of famous authors. This little post does not begin to cover Jane Austen’s life, but I hope it taught you something new!

Mona Lisa’s Romantic Disappearance


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.

1910 Map of the Louvre

Pre-Theft Louvre

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.

Alphonse Bertillon, detective. He pioneered in using photography to help solve crimes.

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.

Paris, France: MONA LISA THEFT, 1911. The gap on the wall of the Carre Gallery of the Louvre Museum, Paris, where the Mona Lisa was exhibited before it was stolen 1911. ©Mary Evans Picture Library / The Image Works

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.

Leonardo da Vinci: Unveiling the Genius


Every now and then we encounter humans with incredible abilities. I don’t mean superpowers–no one can fly without special equipment, nor can they turn invisible. These abilities are acquired through study. Mastering an art form, throwing oneself into a field of science, or sailing around the world–these can be done by any human.

They can be done–but not without study and courage.

We have little hope of reaching the expertise of Leonardo da Vinci. He dabbled in everything–art, science, architecture, and more. All of these were his superpowers. They were trades and disciplines that he had a firm grip on because curiosity drove him to tireless study. Though he is best known for having painted the Mona Lisa, you could spend a lifetime learning about his achievements.

How did Leonardo da Vinci stand out as the genius of his time? Since I’m covering La Gioconda, I have decided to limit this blog post to his life as a painter. Maybe later I can explore his other talents.

Self-Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci

Priceless Education

Leonardo da Vinci did not go to school.

It sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Since he was born to unwed parents, he wasn’t allowed to study in the parish school. This might have been his great advantage: he had the opportunity to teach himself. This allowed him to open doors that his ‘luckier’ peers never thought of.

Da Vinci learned reading, writing and arithmetic at home–three skills that were to be the foundation for his achievements later on. At the age of twenty, he left to become an apprentice at the studio of painter Andrea Verrocchio. He was taught painting, sculpture, and mechanical skills.

16th-century art historian Giorgio Vasari wrote a fascinating account from da Vinci’s time as an apprentice. Historians today believe that he embellished the tale, but there is something charming in pondering legend.

Vasari writes that da Vinci collaborated with Verrocchio to paint The Baptism of Christ (1474-1478). According to Vasari, Verrocchio saw the great talent of his own apprentice and was struck with despair. He allegedly threw down his own brush and never painted again.

Baptism of Christ, Leonardo da Vinci and Verrocchio

Enduring Art

Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath, possessing great talent in many fields that we consider difficult or obsolete today. Since this trilogy focuses on the Mona Lisa, I thought it appropriate to summarize da Vinci’s life and success as a painter.

Only 18 original paintings attributed to him survive. They fall into categories–those universally accepted to be his work, those traditionally accepted, and widely accepted. These categories hinge on existing evidence of his being the painter.

The Annunciation (1472-1476) is widely accepted to have been his first completed painting. The Baptism of Christ, his collaboration with the ill-tempered Verrocchio, is widely accepted as the third.

La Gioconda, or Mona Lisa, is universally accepted as his twenty-second work. He was in his sixties when he took on this commission. What you might not have known, though, is that Mona Lisa is an unfinished painting.

Historical accounts from visitors and acquaintances tell us that da Vinci had a stroke. This caused a paralysis in his right hand which frustrated him while he was painting La Gioconda. How did he manage to paint what can be seen of her now? He was ambidextrous, which must have come in useful, but the paralysis still troubled him enough for the work to be unfinished.

Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci

Where To Find His Work

Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings have taken on lives of their own long after the death of the master. Lovers of La Gioconda claim that her eyes appear to be following them. Stories exist of men who fell in love and brought her flowers.

If you want to see his most famous works of art, you’ll have to travel the world. Mona Lisa reigns in a chamber of her own at the Museum of the Louvre in Paris. The famous Last Supper is located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

His pen-and-ink drawing, Vitruvian Man, is an image that most people have seen. It was taken from one of the many notebooks that he filled during his mature years. It isn’t on display because it is so brittle that photographs would do it severe damage. Vitruvian Man is kept safe in the archive of the Venetian Gallerie dell’Accademia.

Do you want to go on a pilgrimage and see his surviving works? Here is a list of where to locate them.

Da Vinci’s Notebooks

Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are available for the fanatic to read and bask in his wisdom. Gutenberg offers them for free, but they can also be purchased in book form for more comfortable reading.

There has been a renewed interest in the journals themselves and how he wrote in them. This compelling article makes me wish I knew how to keep smarter diaries, because the article says:

It is estimated that da Vinci produced between 20,000 to 28,000 pages of notes and sketches spanning across 50 different notebooks about work related to whatever topics that interested him – painting, engineering, philosophy, warfare, engineering, physiology, landscape, proportion, perspective, geography, geology, light and shade, inventions and various other topics.

In my lifetime I have filled about 28 notebooks properly–meaning that I finished them cover-to-cover rather than skipping around. However, I did not cover all the topics listed above.

If you want to know more about da Vinci, I can tell you as a diarist that journals are a great place to search. With this useful footnote I will close my attempt to capture Leonardo’s brilliance in a blog post. I hope I did some justice to his life as a painter.


My first post about La Gioconda was an introduction to the mysterious lady and the controversy over who posed as her model. In my next article, I will review and comment on the book Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti.

Canvas could not keep La Gioconda from going on an adventure, and I’d like to tell the story. After all, how often do paintings go on vacation?

The Waltz of Song & Poetry: CHAMBER MUSIC by James Joyce


There’s music along the river
For Love wanders there.

– James Joyce, Chamber Music

The Waltz of Song & Poetry

It is common for well-loved songs to find their inspiration in poetry. Some are written with the goal of being transformed into music, including Chamber Music by James Joyce.

Our culture is laden with songs that underwent this transformation. We’ve all heard some of them–classics such as “Auld Lang Syne,” a traditional Scottish song derived from a poem by Robert Burns (1759-1796). “America the Beautiful” was the work of Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929).

Secular music has also been touched by poetry. A collection of songs exist based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. (Listen to Annabel Lee by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame). We can’t forget songs inspired by novels or poems about music and its power.

Seeking the link between music and poetry sends a person down a literary and musical rabbit hole.


The Words of James Joyce

Joyce himself was not very romantic when he spoke of the title Chamber Music. He said of it that he referred to the sound made by a lady using a chamber pot. Most literary experts consider this mere off-color humor.

When composer Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer (1882-1957) composed a tune for Chamber Music, Joyce was pleased with the outcome. Palmer was not the only one who gave a tune to Joyce’s verses, though Palmer’s was Joyce’s favorite attempt. Other composers took up the challenge, including Moeran, Bliss, and Charlotte Milligan Fox.

Joyce said in a letter to Palmer regarding the work, “(…) you may set all of Chamber Music in time. This was indeed partly my idea in writing it. The book is in fact a suite of songs and if I were a musician I suppose I should have set them myself.”

While casual readers can enjoy Chamber Music and the imagery within, it was not received with enthusiasm on its publication in 1907. Joyce was criticized for using many styles and forms, making the piece difficult to label.

What’s more, Chamber Music was published during a year of political turmoil in his native country of Ireland. Fellow Irish writers scorned that it did not “serve the cause.” Compatriot poet Yeats complained that Joyce had no interest in Irish politics.


What Happened in Ireland?

I wondered while researching why it was such an issue to Yeats that Chamber Music was not political. What was this strife in Ireland capable of turning talented writers against each other? IrishRep summed up nicely:

After nearly eight centuries under forced British rule, the late 1800s brought a wave of Irish nationalism in the form of The Gaelic Revival, which encouraged the reemergence of the Irish language, and the Irish Literary Renaissance, which revived Irish folklore and other storytelling tradition through new works by famed authors including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, and more.

read more

We then understand that it was a literary issue. Joyce’s apparent indifference in Chamber Music may have been labelled treason. We can’t forget that he was unique with his writing–anyone who has glanced at Finnegan’s Wake knows what I mean.

Ponder for a moment that this poem can be linked to pop-culture today as well as old political spats. A poem is never just a poem, a book never only a book! The poem’s troubled history is part of its legacy. All things considered, the imagery remains beautiful.

I’ve read a few literary essays by professors, but cannot agree that there is a flaw in Chamber Music. It makes me want to try my own hand at composing music for a few stanzas.

Enriched by the history of Chamber Music, we can enjoy it in all its depth. I live to dig up the “story behind the story.”

How do music and poetry mingle in your life? The two have waltzed for centuries as if in a forbidden romance. Search your Spotify playlist for tracks where they embrace for three magical minutes.