The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

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The Move to Paris

It took a lot of moxie to get her here to Paris

but it is her faith in God that keeps her going.

Leaving Toronto with its familiar

haunts, a job she loved, family and friends

to settle in a city she had only visited once

wasn`t an easy thing to do at all.  She didn`t

think she had it in her.  Her friends rooted for her,

and already made plans to visit her in the

summer but her family was a different

story.

 

Her mother didn`t like the idea of her being in

Europe all by herself and was fearful of terrorist

attacks.  Mia had to remind her that she was old

enough to take herself.  And she assured her that

God would protect her.

 

Her father warned her to be careful of the

French men.  And her sister, well, she was glad

to see her go because it meant that she didn`t

have to share the bath-room with her anymore.

And she could move into Mia`s room which

was much bigger and nicer than hers.

 

Mia paused to look at the Eifle Tower.  She was

here to begin a new life, on her own.  It had

always been a dream of hers to live in Europe.

She had considered London, Rome, Barcelona

and Lisbon but she decided on Paris.  She could

speak French fluently and she loved the food.

And besides, she could always take the train or

the Hovercraft to London any time.

 

Upon her arrival in Paris, she applied for a

job to teach English and was accepted.  Her first

day on the job was tomorrow.  Her heart did

a little somersault.  The thought of standing

in front of a classroom was daunting.  Then she

heard the words, “Fear not: for I am with thee.

Peace filled her heart and she offered a silent

prayer of thanksgiving.

 

She asked one of the people standing nearby to

take a photo of her.  Her first Sunday afternoon in

Paris.  She smiled broadly into the camera.  Paris

is a beautiful city and she had all the time she

needed to enjoy it.  For now she was content to

stay here a little longer and just soak up the

atmosphere and admire the view.

 

Asian woman in Paris

Florence

She sat at a small table outside of the local cafe set in the maze of

streets near Piazza Antinori.  One could get lost in Florence but won’t

mind at all.  It was a beautiful, bustling and exciting place.  There was

so much to see.

Around her mingled the sound of dishes cutlery, the clink of

glasses as people toasted each other and the voices and laughter

of tourists and locals alike.  She heard French, Spanish, English, Italian.

Whiffs of cappuccino, hot bread and pasta filled the air.  It was early

afternoon.  She had spent the morning visiting the Duomo and the

Antinori palace.  Now she was at this little cafe buzzing with locals,

and enjoying a glass of wine after having delicious Ravioli, drinking

in the friendly ambiance around her as she watched couples, friends,

students on summer break and the locals walk by.

This was her first time in Florence.  She loved it.  She loved the

cobbled streets, the history, the people and of course, the food.

She will definitely stop by this delightful cafe again and try their

Beef tagliata.  Hopefully, she would get a table inside.  Not that

she minded eating on the sidewalk.

This was her first trip alone.  Usually she traveled with her

Sister, June.  June got married a couple years ago and her life

was not wrapped up in her husband and their two children.

No plans for Travel any time soon.

She signed.  Being alone in a city like Florence wasn’t so bad.

She could get used to it.  She could just lose herself in the maze

of streets that now seemed to be beckoning her.

She finished her wine and grabbing her handbag, she

got up and headed to the nearest street.

 

This trip could be her own personal adventure.  Who knows….what

could happen in the city of love…

woman in Florence

Sources:  Tripadvisor; Antinori Palace

Ingrid Bergman

I just read in the Stabroek News that the 68th Cannes Film Festival unveiled its official poster featuring legendary actress Ingrid Bergman in a tribute to what would have been her 100th birthday this year.  I think that’s wonderful.  She was an actress I truly admired and appreciated.  She had gentle beauty and an air of quiet refinement.  She was very classy.  I remember her in films like Casablanca, Gaslight, Anastasia and For Whom the Bells Toll.  She acted with some of Hollywood’s A list male stars–Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper.  It would have been interesting to see her star opposite Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster.

Acting was something Ingrid always knew she wanted to become.  Her father, a Swedish artist and photographer wanted her to become an opera star and had her take voice lessons for three years.  She wore her mother’s clothes and staged plays in her father’s empty studio.  He documented all of her birthdays with a borrowed camera.  He died when she was thirteen.  Her German mother had died when she was two years old.

After her father’s death, Ingrid was sent to live with an aunt who died just six months later from a heart disease.  She moved in with another aunt and uncle who had five children.  Her aunt Elsa was the first one who told Ingrid when she was 11 years old that her mother may have “some Jewish blood”, and that her father was aware of this long before they got married.  Her aunt cautioned her about telling others about her possible ancestry as “there might be some difficult times coming.”  This reminds me of Queen Esther who was intially cautioned by her uncle not to let anyone know that she was a Jew.

In 1932 when she was 17, Ingrid had only one opportunity to become an actress by entering an acting competition with the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.  For Ingrid it was a terrible moment.  She recalled:  As I walked off the stage, I was in mourning.  I was at a funeral.  My own.  It was the death of my creative self.  My heart had truly broken…they didn’t think I was even worth listening to, or watching.”

This couldn’t have be further from the truth as she soon learned after meeting one of the judges who told her, “We loved your security and your impertinance.  We loved you and told each other that there was no reason to waste time as there were dozens of other entrants still to come.  We didn’t need to waste any time with you.  We knew you were a natural and great.  Your future as an actress was settled.”  What a thrill and relief that must have been for the aspiring actress.  She received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School where Greta Garbo had earned a similar scholarship just years earlier.

Ingrid’s dream was now a reality.  She was given a part in a new play and over the summer break, she was hired by a Swedish film studio which led to her departure from the Royal Dramatic Theatre a year later to work full-time in films.  She starred in a dozen films in Sweden, including En kvinnas ansikte which was later remade as A Woman’s Face, starring Joan Crawford.  Ingrid made one film in Germany in 1938.

Then it was off to Hollywood…Thanks to David O. Selznick, she starred in Intermezzo:  A Love Story, her first acting role in the United States.  It was a remake of her 1935 Swedish film, Intermezzo.  Ingrid didn’t plan to stay in Hollywood.  She thought she would complete this film and return home to Sweden to be with her husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom and their daughter, Pia.

Selznick had concerns about Ingrid.  “She didn’t speak English, she was too tall, her name sounded too German, and her eyebrows were too thick.”  However, Ingrid was accepted without having to modify her looks.  Selznick let her have her way because he understood her fear of Hollywood makeup artists who might turn her into someone she wouldn’t recognize.  He told them to back off.  Besides, he believe that her natural good looks would compete successfully with Hollywood’s “synthetic razzle-dazzle.”

Selznick, who was filming Gone With the Wind at the same time, shared his early impressions of Ingrid in a letter to William Hebert, his publicity director :

Miss Bergman is the most completely conscientious actress with whom I have ever worked, in that she thinks of absolutely nothing but her work before and during the time she is doing a picture … She practically never leaves the studio, and even suggested that her dressing room be equipped so that she could live here during the picture. She never for a minute suggests quitting at six o’clock or anything of the kind … Because of having four stars acting in Gone with the Wind, our star dressing-room suites were all occupied and we had to assign her a smaller suite. She went into ecstasies over it and said she had never had such a suite in her life … All of this is completely unaffected and completely unique and I should think would make a grand angle of approach to her publicity … so that her natural sweetness and consideration and conscientiousness become something of a legend … and is completely in keeping with the fresh and pure personality and appearance which caused me to sign her.

Not surprisingly, Intermezzo was a huge success and resulted in Ingrid becoming a star.  She left quite an impression on Hollywood.  And Selznick’s appreciation of her uniqueness made he and his wife Irene remain important friends to Ingrid throughout her career.

Before making Casablanca, Ingrid made one last film in Sweden and appearing in three moderately successful films, Adam Had Four Sons, Rage in Heaven and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  According to her biographer, she felt guilty that she had misjudged the situation in Germany.  She had dismissed the Nazis as a “temporary aberration, ‘too foolish to be taken seriously.’ She didn’t believe that Germany start a war because the good people of the country would not allow it.  Sadly, she was wrong.  She felt guilty for the rest of her life and when she was in Germany at the end of the war, she had been afraid to go with the others to witness the atrocitites of the Nazi extermination camps.

In 1942, she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, a movie famous for its wonderul lines and the famous song, “As Time Goes By”.  I was surprised to read that Ingrid did not consider it to be one of her favorite performances.  She said, “I made so many films which were more important, but the only one people ever want to talk about is that one with Bogart.”  I thought she and Bogart were great together.

I think I only saw For Whom the Bell Tolls once but really liked it.  My sister and I liked how she looked with her short, blond, curly hair and a “sun-kissed complexion”.  I read that Ernest Hemmingway wanted her to play the part of Maria.  When he met her, after studying her, he exclaimed, “You are Maria!”  When Ernest told Ingrid that she would have to cut her hair to play the part, she was quick to respond, “To get that part, I’d cut my head off!”

For Whom the Bell Tolls, was the film that saved the song, “As Time Goes By” from being removed from Casablanca.  Warner Brothers wanted to substitute the song and planned to re-shoot some scenes with Ingrid but thanks to her hair-cut, they had to drop the idea as there would be a problem with continuity even if she wore a wig.

A year later, Ingrid won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gaslight.  It was a gripping and suspenseful movie of a wife being driven to madness by her husband, masterfully played by Charles Boyer.  She next starred as a nun in The Bells of St. Mary opposite Bing Cosby, garnering her third consecutive nomination for Best Actress.   She came in a succession of Alfred Hitchock movies, Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn (I never heard of this one).

During her marriage to Lindstrom, Ingrid had a brief affair with Gregory Peck.  This affair was kept private until five years after Ingrid’s death, when Gregory revealed in an interview with Brad Darrach of People, “All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that’s where I ought to stop…. I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work.”

Unlike her affair with Gregory Peck, the one with the Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini was a very public one.   Although Ingrid received another Best Actress nomination for Joan of Arc in 1948, the film was not a hit, partly because news of her affair with Rossellini broke while the movie was still in theatres.  It was her admiration for Rossellini which had led Ingrid to write him a letter, expressing her admiration and suggesting that she make a film with him.  She was cast in his film, Stromboli and during production, she fell in love with him and they began an affair.  She became pregnant with their son, Bergman became pregnant with their son, Renato Roberto Ranaldo Giusto Giuseppe (“Robin”) Rossellini and this affair caused a huge scandal in the United States.  She was denounced on the floor of the United States senate and Ed Sullivan chose not to have her appear on his show despite a poll showing that the public wanted her there.  However, Steve Allen had her on his equally popular show, noting, “the danger of trying to judge artistic activity through the prism of one’s personal life.” 

The scandal drove Ingrid back to Italy, leaving her husband and daughter.  She went through a very public divorce and custody battle for their daughter.  She and Lindstrom divorced a week after her son was born and she married Rossellini in Mexico.  In 1952, Ingrid gave birth to twin daughters Isotta Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini.  Five years later she divorced their father and the following year she married Lars Schmidt, a theatrical entrepreneur from a wealthy Swedish shipping family.  That marriage lasted until 1975 when they divorced.

In 1956, Ingrid starred in the movie, Anatasia. It was her return to the American screen and her second Academy Award for Best Actress which her best friend Cary Grant accepted for her.  She made her first appearance in Hollywood since the scandal when she was the presenter of the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 1956 Academy Awards.  She received a standing ovation after being introduced by Cary Grant.  In 1969, she starred opposite Walter Matthau and Goldie Hawn in the hilarious and delightful movie, Cactus Flower.  It was nice seeing Ingrid take a turn in a light romantic comedy.

In 1972, US Senator Charles H. Percy entered an apology in to the Congressional Record for Edwin C. Johnson’s attack on Ingrid 22 years ago.  In 1974 she won her third Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express, earning her the distinction of being one of the few actresses ever to receive three Oscars.  Her final role was as Golda Meir in A Woman Called Golda.   She was offered the part because, “People believe you and trust you, and this is what I want, because Golda Meir had the trust of the people.”  This interested Ingrid and the role was greatly significant for her because she still carried the guilt of misjudging the situation in Germany during World War II.  Ingrid was frequently ill during the film although she hardly showed it or complained.  She was a real trooper.  Four months after the film was completed, on her 67th birthday in London, Ingrid died of breast cancer.  Her daughter, Pia accepted her Emmy.

Ingrid was a  woman of grace, natural beauty who brought realism and dignity to her roles.  She was a star with no temperament, making her a delight to work with, unpretentious, unique, hard-working, “a great star” who “always strove to be a ‘true’ woman.”  She was not a saint but a woman with real emotions.   She was not afraid to speak out against racism.  During a press conference in Washington, D.C. where she was promoting, Joan of Lorraine, she protested against the racial segregation she witnessed firsthand at the theatre where she was performing.  This drew a lot of publicity and some hate mail.  In a news column in the Herald-Journal, she is reported as saying, “I deplore racial discrimination in any form.  To think it would be permitted in the nation’s capital of all places!  I really had not known that there were places in the United States–entertainment places which are for all the people–where everybody could not go.”

Notes to Women salute this remarkable woman and actress who won our hearts and deepest admiration with her grace and courage.  We celebrate one of the greatest leading ladies that ever graced the silver screen.  She once said, “I am an actress and I am interested in acting, not in making money.”  Dear Ingrid, we are so very thankful that you chose acting over opera.

I have no regrets. I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I did if I was going to worry about what people were going to say.

I can do everything with ease on the stage, whereas in real life I feel too big and clumsy. So I didn’t choose acting. It chose me.

I don’t think anyone has the right to intrude in your life, but they do. I would like people to separate the actress and the woman.

Time is shortening. But every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.

If you took acting away from me, I’d stop breathing.

ingrid-bergman

Sources:  Stabroek News ; Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes; Herald-Journal

Zora Neale Hurston

Dubbed “America’s favorite black conservative” and “Genius of the South”, Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.  She is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora was born on January 7, 1891.  She was was the fifth of eight children.  Her father, John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter and her mother, Lucy a school teacher.  She was born and grew up in Notasulga, Alabama.  When Zora was three, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Life was great in Eatonville.  It was the place Zora felt more at home and sometimes called her birthplace.  It was the town where her father became the mayor and the place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society.

In 1901, some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Zora a number of books which opened her mind to literature which explains why she sometimes describes her “birth” as taking place in that year. She spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”.

Three years later in 1904, Zora’s mother died and her father remarried.  The immediacy of this second marriage to Matte Moge caused a bit of a scandal and it was even rumored that John had relations with Matte before his first wife died. Zora and her step-mother violently quarrelled.  She was sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.  Eventually her father and step-mother stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled.  To survive, Zora worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, Zora attended Morgan Academy, the high school division of the African American Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was at this time that the 26 year old began to claim 1901 as her date of birth possibly to qualify for a free high-school education and to reflect her literary birth.  She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.  That same year Zora began undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper.  While she was there,  she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate’s Degree in 1920.  In 1921, she wrote a short story, John Redding Goes to Sea, which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.  Zora left Howard University in 1924 and a year later she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, Columbia University where she was the college’s sole black student.  In 1927, at the age of 36 Zora received her B.A. in anthropology.  She worked with the likes of  Franz Boas of Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After graduating from Barnard, Zora spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

On a more personal note, Zora was married twice.  In 1927, she married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931.  In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only seven months. 

Zora’s love for anthropology took her on some extensive trips to the Caribbean and the American South.  In 1936 and 1937, she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation from which her anthropological work Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.  She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés from October 1947 to February 1948.  She travelled to Central America fuelled by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or ruins of an undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of “Florida Crackers” at the turn of the twentieth century.  Zora was noted for writing primarily about blacks in Florida yet in this book, her characters were a “cracker” couple.  Perhaps it was being in a Honduras, surrounded by a culture different from her own that inspired her to write this book.  She was interested the Miskito Zambu,  a mixed-race (African-Indigenous American) population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border.and Garifuna, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

Little did Zora know that when she returned to her native country in 1948, she would face a terrible scandal.  She was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy (another writeup says there were three boys) and even though the case was dismissed after she presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the alleged crime took place in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Zora was a Republican.  She supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft.  They both were opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and Roosevelt’s and Truman’s interventionist foreign policy.  In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she compared the United States government to a “fence” in stolen goods and to a Mafia-like protection racket and thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy … wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals…. We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She had a lot to say about those who sought “freedoms” for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his Four Freedoms, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

She opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 because she was of the opinion that if separate schools were truly equal, educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education.  She worried that integration would bring about the demise of black schools and black teachers which were the means through which cultural tradition would be passed on to future generations of African Americans.  She wrote of her opposition in  in a letter, stating, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”.  She opposed preferential treatment for blacks.  “If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”  She opposed what is now referred to as Affirmative Action.

Zora has had her share of criticism from her literary contemporaries, most notably, Richard Wright. In his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God, he wrote: … The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.  For decades,  Zora’s work slid into obscurity due to a number of cultural and political reasons but thanks to Alice Walker’s article,  “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine interest in Zora’s work has been revived.

Zora spent her later years as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.  When she moved to Fort Pierce, she took jobs where she could find them, such substitute teacher and maid.  During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Zora was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she suffered a stroke.  She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.  What a sad end for this remarkable woman whose true happiness came from her work.

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salute Zora Neale Hurston who had the courage to disagree with the philosophies supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance.  Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, celebrates her life in an annual festival.  Her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.  In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.  She poured herself into her work and left a legacy of literary work that would hail her as one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

“I don’t know any more about the future than you do.  I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. . . I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston; http://zoranealehurston.com/; http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=zora-neale-hurston-genius-of-the-south&id=211

Audrey Hepburn

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
 For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
 For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
 For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
 For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
 People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
 As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”
Audrey Hepburn

We adored her as Eliza Doolittle and Sabrina.  She starred opposite some of Hollywood’s top notch leading men–Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Fred Astaire, Henry Fonda and William Holden.  There was a sweet, endearing quality about her and such grace.   She was a delight to watch.

She had such a lovely British accent.  However, I learned that she was not born in England.  She was born in Ixelles, Belgium.  She was the only child of an English banker of Irish descent and his second wife, a baroness and Dutch aristocrat.

Audrey spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World War. Her parents divorced when her father, a Nazi sympathiser, left the family.  Hepburn referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin, Ireland, through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, she stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.

In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum.

In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an “English sounding” name was considered dangerous, with her mother feeling that “Audrey” might indicate her British roots too strongly. Being English in the occupied Netherlands was not an asset; it could have attracted the attention of the occupying German forces and resulted in confinement or even deportation. Edda was never her legal name, also it was a version of her mother’s name Ella.

Audrey studied ballet in Arnhem and then moved to London in 1948, where she continued to train in ballet and worked as a photographer’s model. She appeared in several European films before starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi.

She starred opposite Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday for which she won the Academy Award  That was the first movie I saw her in with her short, sophisticated hairstyle.  I loved the part where Gregory Peck’s character put his hand in the mouth of the statue, La Bocca della Verità (in English, “the Mouth of Truth”) and when he pulled it out, it looked like he had lost it and Audrey’s character screamed.  He then popped his hand out of his sleeve and laughed. It turned that Audrey’s scream was real.Gregory Peck decided to pull a gag he had once seen Red Skelton do, and did not tell Audrey beforehand.  The gag worked and for me it was one of the most memorable moments of the movie.  When my sister and I visited La Bocca, I couldn’t help but think about that scene.

What I admired about Audrey Hepburn was  her work with UNICEF.  Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work and, although she had worked for UNICEF since the 1950s, during her later life she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, Hepburn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. 

Audrey was grateful for her own good fortune after enduring the German occupation as a child and for this reason she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations. Hepburn’s travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; besides being naturally bilingual in English and Dutch, Audrey also was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars… I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering”. (Wikipedia). 

I always have the image of her with African children and the way she was loving and playful with them.  You could see that her heart was in what she was doing and that being there made her happy.

What a classy lady Audrey was.  She was a true leading lady not only on screen but in real life. 

The Benefits of Education

I am so thankful that I was born and raised in a country where education was easily accessible.  My gender was not a factor in the quality of education I received as it is, unfortunately in some countries.  I learned History, Geography, Social Studies, French and I loved English.  My interest in writing began when I was in school. 

I read a post today about the benefits of education.  On a recent visit to the UAE, Penny Low, Singapore’s People Action Party member, explained how women can become productive members of the society through “education, empowerment and enhancement” that will benefit the community at large.

She said it is the realisation that what one makes of circumstances and situation that makes life fulfilling, especially changes for the betterment of all, specifically the marginalised.

Low then explained what social innovation is and how women can contribute to the social cause to strengthen the community and the civil society. 

Low said that women can only contribute to the social cause when they are open to their surrounding and observe what is going around them, adding that there is a rise of a global concern for “green and ecologically-friendly” lifestyle. 

Low used Florence Nightingale, a celebrated English nurse, to demonstrate how her nursing care during the 1850s Crimean War evolved into the nursing profession today.  I can think of another example–Eva Smith. 

Eva Smith was a community outreach worker and counsellor who knew and understood people in despair, particularly youth. She was a woman of action, determination and persistence.

In 1987, she helped to found the North York Emergency Home for Youth. Her work and advocacy resulted in the construction of our first shelter, Eva’s Place, which was named in her honour. Eva Smith’s mission was to use her skills and her knowledge of how the social services system works to help people find solutions to their problems (http://evasinitiatives.com/who.php). 

“Each one of us has potentials inside,” Low said, pointing out that with social innovation comes the responsibility to propagate the three “D’s” namely education, empowerment and enhancement.  She urged women to use their potential.  “People work for a living and live for a cause. Woman or man, find your cause, and live it to the fullest.” (http://gulftoday.ae/portal/1cb93e89-b52a-444a-80d0-0b3cdb88fbe3.aspx).

There is the old adage that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”.  I urge the women to educate themselves, find interests, passions, causes, keeping in mind that they are building themselves up to be pillars of strength and inspiration for their communities.  Take Eva’s initiative and use your skills and knowledge to make a difference.