Gung Ha Fat Choy – Gong Xi Fa Cai

dogpawtext [Converted]With the appearance of the new moon last evening a goodly portion of the world’s population welcomed in a New Year: the year of the Earth Dog – Wu-Xu, the 35th year in the 60 year cycle of the Chinese Calendar. And though we tend to think of it as Chinese Festival it is celebrated with many of the same traditions in other countries in Asia – Tết Nguyên Đán, the Feast of the First Morning of the First Day in Vietnam began today. And in one form or other the New Year is observed in Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia – and almost any place where there is a large Asian presence.

And of course people are turning to the Asian Zodiac for predictions for the New Year.

A left click will take you to your horoscope for the Year of the Dog – keeping in mind that the management is not responsible for what the future does or does not deliver.

You will notice that there are twelve animals in the Asian Zodiac.  However have you ever noticed that one animal is conspicuous by its absence:  the cat.  The dog, her traditional enemy is there as is the rat, her traditional prey.  But unless you count the tiger there is no tabby present amongst the sacred twelve.  Where in does lie a story.

At one time the Dog, Rat, and Cat were great friends – wherever one was seen the other two were sure to be nearby.  One day the Jade Emperor decided to create a map of the sky or Zodiac to guide his earthly subjects.  A message was sent out to all the animal kingdom commanding that they present themselves at the Celestial Throne.  It was further decreed that the first twelve animals to arrive would be honoured with stars on the Zodiac along with the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

All the animals were in a state of excitement and none more so than than the three friends.  Unfortunately the Cat had a bad habit of oversleeping but assumed that her two friends would wake her when the time came to set out.  In their excitement – and in their desire to be the first – the Dog and the Rat forgot about waking their friend and at the appointed hour set off.  Along the road to the Celestrial Throne they met the Horse, Tiger, Ox, Snake and other animals.  All the animals wanted to be honoured with a place on the Heavenly map;  however like many travellers a few got delayed or waylaid by adventures, or sometimes misadventures.  But those stories would be for another time as our concern is for the trio of friends.

Surrounded by his Celestial court the Jade Emperor awaits the arrival of the animals that will make up the Heavenly Map that decrees the fate of mortals.

The Rat noticed that the Ox seemed to be making the greatest progress and being a bit of a sly one he pleaded weariness and ask for a ride on the Ox’s back.  The Ox agreed provided the Rat would help the hours pass with singing (rats being known for their glorious voices and endless repertoire of songs and ballads).  The Rat, who loved to sing and indeed knew a number of songs, climbed on the Ox and proceed to entertain his burly transporter all the way to the portals of the Jade Emperor’s Throne Room.  Only once did he interrupt his carolling: he saw his friend the Dog and called out to him but the Dog was occupied with chasing a stick that was being thrown by a little boy and did not answer him.

Meanwhile back at their home the Cat aroused herself from her slumber, stretched, licked her paws, and looked around.  Where were her friends?  Then she remembered – the Zodiac, the Jade Emperor, the journey to the Celestial Throne.  Her friends had forgotten her!  Without even pausing to groom herself further she took off.

As the Ox approached the presence of the Jade Emperor he gave a little snort,  he was almost assured of first place as the other animals were lagging behind.  But as they reached the portals of the Celestial Throne Room the Rat jumped off his back and scurried across the room, ran up to the feet of the Jade Emperor and made his references.  The Jade Emperor declared him the first animal of the Zodiac.  The Rat, always a bit full of himself, resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the animals behind him as he was led to a place of honour.  The Ox was not pleased but it would have been impolite to snarl and stomp in the presence of the Celestial Gods and since he was a placid creature by nature he accepted his place with quiet dignity.  The other animals followed: the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Ram, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig.

An unique Chinese painting of a cat waiting in ambush. The painting is signed and dated by Ji Biao, on the fifth day of the New Year of jimao (30/1/1819).  It was believed that painting cats on this very day would ensure the protection of the household from pests throughout the year. V&A Collection

Our friend the Dog was a little disappointed when the Jade Emperor failed to notice the stick he had dropped at his feet but wagged his tail with joy at being amongst the chosen.  The Pig, who had stopped for final roll in a mud puddle and had to wash before entering the Celestial presence, had just placed his snout on the foot of the Jade Emperor when our friend the Cat came scampering across the crystal floor.  But she was too late, if only by a whisker.

Cat turned and glared at her two untrustworthy friends.  Dog, not always the quickest of beasts, approached his old friend expecting her to full well rejoice in his good fortune.  He was startled when she hissed at him and showed her sharp claws.  He made several other approaches but each time was rebuffed by his former friend. When Rat saw the greeting Dog was getting he scurried away hotly pursued by the Cat bent on having her revenge.  The chase caused a small uproar in the Celestial Throne Room and it was noted that the Jade Emperor was seen to frown.

We do not know if Cat caught Rat on that occasion but we do know that the bond of friendship that had encircled the friends had been broken.  Cat’s ancestors have never forgiven Dog and Rat for their duplicity.  To this very day when a dog approaches a cat they are often rebuffed in the rudest manner and fights have been known to break out sometimes with sad results.  And as for rats, well we know their fate if caught by a cat.


On this day in 1863: A group of citizens of Geneva founded an International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became known as the International Committee of the Red Cross.



Throwback Thursday

The brave knight Astolfo rides the hippogrif over the heads of the audience in Luca Ranconi’s 1969 theatre piece Orlando Furioso.

While looking through the Tulane University Carnival collection I found designs by Carlotta Bonnecaze for Proteus in 1897 that brought back memories of an obsession I had in my late teens. Her subject was Orlando furioso the great Italian epic poem of the 16th century by Ludovico Ariosto. It retells the exploits of Roland (Orlando) during the Crusades and was to be the source of many opera libretti during the baroque era. But what got me interested in this obscure (for North America at least) work was a review in one of the many theatre magazines I subscribed to at the time.  It spoke of a remarkable Italian environmental theatre production that was touring Europe in 1969-70. It was directed by a young Luca Ranconi, who had his audience move from area to area as the tale unfolded.  Often the spectators found themselves surrounded by brave Christian knights battling Saracens, sometimes fighting each other and often dealing with beautiful, but evil, sorceresses.  The brave English knight Astolfo even made his voyage to the moon on the back of the hippogrif to regain Orlando’s wits.  (As a sidebar according to Ariosto the moon is where all things that are lost on earth end up????). It all sounded fascinating.  I had to read this story.

Imagine my surprise (and indignation) when I discovered that my local library didn’t have a copy of this epic on it’s shelves!!  Fortunately a friend managed the W. H. Smith Bookstore at the airport where I worked and she ordered a copy – it was not amongst the material favourite by air travellers of the day!!!!!!  It proved to be a heavy tome of some 780 pages which in all honesty I made a brave attempt to read but stopped at page 320 when Ruggerio tethered his steed to a talking myrtle tree (Astolfo transformed by the evil…. oh never mind).

So what you ask, o gentile lettore, does this have to do with Throwback Thursday.  Well aside from various opera I’ve seen based on Orlando Furioso I was to run across the good Christian knight on several visits to Sicily and the rod puppet theatres in Palermo and Siracusa.  And with the often circuitous logic in what passes for my brain I went from the Tulane Collection to my teenage obsession to trips to Sicily to a post I did back in February of 2011 on the Teatro dell’Opera dei Pupi.  I thought perhaps it would be worth a revisit to see how these incredible puppets are made and a bit about their history.

A left click on my darling Emanuele Luzzati’s colourful Orlando astride a dragon will take you there:


On this day in 1923: Greece becomes the last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar.

Mercoledi Musicale

Trouthe – Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (c1343-1400) An anonymous painting from the early 17th century.

Yesterday’s final entry on the Golden Age of Mardi Gras included a reference to a short poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. It is one of his minor works and appears to have been sent to Sir Philip de la Vache, the son of a friend of his. Sir Philip was a well-placed and influential courtier during the reign of Richard II.  For a brief period between 1386 and 1389 he was out of favour and had lost his positions at court. It is thought that Chaucer wrote this homiletic ballad to encourage and comfort him.

And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede

It follows the seven-line ballade tradition six lines  with a refrain and includes an “Envoi” or address to the receiver – in this case Sir Philip.  Unusually the rhyme scheme is ABABBCC. There are several versions of the ballad including earlier ones without the “Envoi” stanza.

I had thought to post it in the original Middle English however that would be too pedantic even for me. So here it is in a translation by A. S. Kline from Poetry in Translation (PIT).

a ballad of good counsel
to Sir Philip de la Vache

Flee from the crowd, and dwell with truthfulness,
Let your thing suffice, though it be small;
Hoarding brings hatred, climbing fickleness,
Praise brings envy, and wealth blinds overall;
Savour no more than ‘tis good that you recall;
Rule well yourself, who others advise here;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

Trouble you not the crooked to redress,
Trusting in her who wobbles like a ball.
Well-being rests on scorning busyness;
Beware therefore of kicking at an awl;
Strive not like the crockery with the wall.
Control yourself, who would control your peer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

That which is sent, receive in humbleness,
Wrestling for this world asks but a fall.
Here’s not your home, here is but wilderness.
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beast, out of your stall!
Know your country: look up, thank God for all;
Hold the high way, and let your spirit steer,
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.


Therefore, La Vache, cease your old wretchedness;
To the world cease now to be in thrall;
Cry Him mercy, that out of his high goodness
Made thee from naught, on Him especially call,
Draw unto Him, and pray in general
For yourself, and others, for heavenly cheer;
And truth shall deliver you, have no fear.

But given this is Mercoledi (Wednesday) and I normally post something musical I thought the music of Chaucer’s language would suffice.

On this day in 1852: Great Ormond St Hospital for Sick Children, the first hospital in England to provide in-patient beds specifically for children, is founded in London.

I Love A Parade – IV

February 24, 1914 – New Orleans

During the Golden Age there was a set protocol to the order in which the rival Krewes paraded and held their tableaux balls.  Though some of the festivities began as early as 12th Night the four major Krewes saved their celebrations for the seven days prior to Ash Wednesday.   The Mardi Gras week began on the Thursday evening with the Knights of Momus parade and bal masque; Lunedi Gras evening it was the the turn of the Krewe of Proteus; Mardi Gras morning brought the Rex Parade; and that evening saw the last parade of Mardi Gras by Comus, the first Krewe to parade back in 1857.

In 1885 Comus decided not to parade.  For the next five years he did not make an appearance on the streets of New Orleans and Proteus appropriated the Mardi Gras evening.  When Comus resumed in 1890 the confrontation between the Captains of the two Krewes took place on Canal Street.  Though Comus won the night Proteus did insist on parading on Shrove Tuesday the following year and then went back to his traditional Monday night.

The 1890 parade – Paligenesis – was the only time that Comus used the designs of Bror Anders Wikstrom.  In 1891 the Krewe began a longtime association with one of the acknowledged greats of Mardi Gras design:  Virginia Wilkinson Wilde (1865-1913).  Jennie Wilde came from a distinguished Irish Catholic family of poets, artists, writers, and jurists.  Known as an illustrator, painter and poet, her murals adorned the interior of the long ago demolished Church of Notre Dame de Bon Secours on Jackson Avenue.  Her style was strongly influenced by the pomp and ceremony of her Catholic upbringing, and the Art Nouveau and Orientalism movements popular at the time.  Over the twenty-four years she was called upon by the Captain of Comus to design themes as diverse as Nippon, Land of the Rising Sun (1892), A Leaf from the Mahabrata (1903), Tennyson (1907), Familiar Quotations (1911), and Time’s Mysteries (1913)

The 1905 Carnival Edition for the Krewe of Momus parade – one of the most daring that Jennie Wilde created.  A click on the picture will take you to the Louisiana Digital Library image where you can zoom in for close ups on some of the gloriously exotic floats she designed for the scandalous Vahtek.

She also designed for the Krewe of Momus; one of her more daring themes was the 1905 Momus pageant based on Vathek, Ninth Caliph of the Abassides.  This wildly exotic and erotic fantasy had scandalized all England when William Beckford published it in 1786.  One has to wonder how much of her audience had ever heard of, let alone read, this rather obscure novel but it gave her great scope to combine her love of Art Nouveau and Orientalism.

Of all the Krewes Comus was the most secretive: membership and the identity of Comus and his Captain were closely guarded.  However unlike Charles Briton, Carlotta Bonnecaze, and Bror Anders Wikstrom whose Carnival histories were not revealed until long after their deaths, the name of Jennie Wilde was widely known and celebrated.  After her second parade in 1892 the Picayune carried a report of her being acknowledged at the Comus bal masque with the gift of a jewelled necklace and bejewelled cloak.  And on the occasion of the Comus Golden Anniversary celebration at the culmination of the Masque of Comus  parade and bal masque she was presented with a copy of Comus’ chalice in crystal with the date inlaid in silver.

To celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Krewe of Comus Jennie Wilde went back to the roots of their name:  John Milton’s The Masque of Comus.

As the 1913 festivities came to an end Jennie Wilde presented her detailed drawings for the following year: twenty float designs, one hundred and nine parade costumes and innumerable accessory, mask, and ball paraphernalia.  The theme was to be Tales from Chaucer.  When she left on her vacation to England that summer neither she nor S. P. Walmsley, the legendary Captain of Comus, could foresee that it was to be the last pageant she would design for the Krewe.  She took ill in late summer and died in September at a convent in England.  When her last parade took to it’s time honoured path on February 24, 1919 she had been laid to rest in the family vault at Metairie Cemetery.

When the Krewe of Comus returned to parading in 1924 choose to recreated Jennie Wilde’s 1909 spectacle Flights of Fancy.  On it’s first appearance the parade had been spoiled by a violent thunder storm.  A click on the picture will take you to the Louisiana Digital Library image where you can zoom in for close ups of floats that were acknowledged as amongst the best she ever created.

However when they failed to find a suitable designer Walmsley turned to previous parades and recreated Wilde’s most beautiful designs.  When Comus, still under Walmsley’s charge,  returned to parade after a seven year hiatus in 1924 they recreated the designs from her 1909 Flights of Fancy.  The original parade had been hit by a wild thunderstorm and had been viewed by only a handful of people.  Comus paid her a final tribute with that parade twelve years after her death.

But let’s turn our thoughts to more pleasurable pursuits and go to our familiar balcony on Canal Street near St Charles.  It is a clear but cool evening and the first of the flambeaux carriers is coming into sight.  The mysterious Captain (though we few in the know realize that it is Walmsley) has blown his whistle and the parade is rolling our way.

As always Comus leads the tableaux* extending his cup of good cheer and pleasure to all and sundry.  It is a salute to both us and the pleasures of Mardi Gras.

The Banner float tells us that we will be witnessing Tales from Chaucer (though unfortunately the designs for Float #4 The Man of Law’s Tale and Float #8 Sir Thopas are missing from the incredible collection at Tullane University).  Now I must admit that my knowledge of the grand-daddy of English authors is pretty much restricted to his Canterbury Tales and just the Prologue at that.  But he was widely known for his translations and poetry beyond that seminal work of Middle English literature.  There is some controversy as to whither the fragments of The Romance of the Rose (Float #3) are rightly attributed to him but Wilde treats the subject like they should be.  The Book of the Duchess (Float #7) is said to be written in memory of Blanche of Lancaster at the request of her husband John of Gaunt.  The other floats in this section are amongst those tales told on the road to Canterbury by the Shipman (#5), the Prioress (#6), and the Monk (#9).

Many of the floats derive from the Canterbury Tales  but in some cases Jennie Wilde identified them by the tale rather than the teller.  In this segment the Frankeleyn or  common land owner (#10), the gap-toothed Wife of Bath (#11) , a Squire (#13) and the Nun’s Priest (Chanticleer #14) tell their Tales  and Chaucer musings poetical on fame (The House of Fame #12).

The Clerke then tells the tale of Griselda (#15), Chaucer himself relates the rambling story of Melibee (#16) and in his Book of Good Women the legend of Pyramus and Tisbe (#17), the Second Nun recounts the legend of St Cecilia* (#18) and Anelida (#18) one of Chaucer’s short poems is the penultimate float.

The final float celebrates one of Chaucer’s minor works:  Trouthe  – Ballade de bon conseyl (To Sir Philip de la Vache).  Each of the three stanzas and the Envoy of this short homiletic poem ends with the refrain:  And Trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede (And Truth shall delivery you, have no fear.)  As the parade draws to a close Jennie Wilde’s float paints a magnificent picture of the virtue of Truth.  And it is a stunning swan song for one of the legends of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Truth - 20
Truth – “And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede”: Jennie Wilde’s final design for the Krewe of Comus

From our vantage point just as the parade turns on to Canal Street from St Charles we can see the grandstand in front of the Pickwick Club just a few blocks away.  Miss Mary Orme, who has been chosen Queen of Comus, and her four maids are awaiting Comus and his court to escort them to the ball.  All five ladies are daughters of prominent New Orleans families and are wearing evening gowns that indicate their fathers’ fortunes and the talents of their mothers’ French dress makers.  Miss Orme status as Queen of Comus is indicated by a crown, mantle, collar and jewellery that Jennie Wilde has created; while her maids wear short capes.

After Comus has saluted his Lady, he and his court will parade on foot through the French Quarter  The ladies will follow them in bedecked carriages into the heart of the French Quarter to Bourbon and Toulouse, and enter the French Opera House to begin the Comus Bal Masque. Fortunately we have our much prized invitation and a dance card so we can follow them and join in the dancing at the last grand event of Mardi Gras 1914.


Later in the evening the Meeting of the Courts, a custom that goes back to 1892, will take place.  Rex, his Queen and Court will arrive at the Opera House to pay their traditional respects to the the Court of Comus; greetings will be exchanged, presentations made, and the royal couples will promenade around the hall.  Soon the courts will depart and the Captain of Comus will bow to the assemblage and draw the curtain to announce that Mardi Gras for 1914 has ended.


*This series of Mardi Gras postings is dedicated to my own bright Cecilia who has the good fortune to live in the Crescent City and witness this year’s festivities at first hand.

As noted in previous weeks many of the images in the posts I am creating are from the exceptional Mardi Gras collection at Howard Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University and Louisiana Digital Library.   And a wealth of material on the history of Mardi Gras and its creators is available on the Internet as well as in the beautiful series of Mardi Gras Treasures books by Henri Schindler.

On this day in 1913: The 13th Dalai Lama proclaims Tibetan independence following a period of domination by Manchu Qing dynasty and initiated a period of almost four decades of independence.

Lunedi Lunacy

And just because we all need a little playtime on a Monday morning.  And what better playtime is there than a toy train.  And what better toy train than Thomas the Tank Engine.  Though he and I may have been born in the same year and some of us have lost our steam not our Thomas.  He has a few tricks that would make those skateboarder pups look like amateurs.

Okay playtime over time to get back to the workaday world.  Oh wait a minute I’m retired – I’ll play some more; the rest of you carry on!

On this day in 1984: Anarchist Émile Henry hurls a bomb into the Cafe Terminus in Paris, killing one person and wounding 20.