Monday, March 31, 2003

Cats and Fairytales

31 March 2003 Cats and Fairytales

For Cherubino, my beloved cat

Cherubino is the young courtier in Nozze de Figaro. The role is played by a mezzo-soprano and falls into one of Mozart's confused gender roles, because Cherubino as a mezzo-soprano lavishes affection on the Countess, but eventually becomes infatuated with someone more his age.

After going through a whole range of names, I decided that Parsifal and Gotterdammerung were not much good for cats. Ditto for Siegried. Octavian was impossible because he would get called Octopus instead. Nearly all the other masculine roles that were counterparts didn't fit the roles I knew; but the Marschallin and the Countess both are plagued by young admirers scarcely out of their acne stage. The cat didn't know whether he was male or female. Nearly everyone identified him as female, including himself. So he got the wonderful name of Arabella Cherubino after Richard Strauss' delicious opera and Mozart's Nozze. Like Cherubino, his gender role seemed confused. Like a female, he sat and loved playing with other cats' kittens. And his valentine face made him a sweetheart for admiration.

Like the tabby cat in Grimms' story or the tom in Puss N Boots, he was my sole companion through years of incredible hardship and at least once, saved my life. Like the youngest apprentice or the lad in Puss N Boots, I had nothing. Nothing that is save the cat. In January 2000, my landlord with two of his friends, broke into the flat where I lived and vandalized it, stealing everything of value. Unfortunately, one of the men caught me on the street. Waving a police badge in front of my nose, he grabbed onto my arm and forced me to return into the flat where the furniture was already tossed.

There I was cornered and threatened. When I tried to escape, I was hit and when I tried to use my cell phone, it was taken from me and beaten against the table in an attempt to break it. More threats were made and I was struck several times. Eventually I realized that I was inside a surreal drama; I had to escape or probably get killed.

I escaped, but had nothing but my purse and a thin jacket in minus nine degrees Centigrade weather. An acquaintance came belatedly, complaining that I ruined her night. She didn't understand why I was begging for help to go to the police. It took at twenty minutes of arguing with her before she realized that the landlord had attacked me with two men. We spent the night in the police who refused to take a report until 3:30 in the morning. They didn't bother to spell my name correctly and denied that I even lived it never happened.

Trying to hire a lawyer to break open a flat on Saturday morning in Prague is impossible.

Late that afternoon, we entered the flat. Everything of value was stolen, including all my legal documentation, jewelry, wine, dinosaur computer, and diskettes that held five manuscripts for an ESL program I had written. Everything destroyed in one night. The walkmans were gone. So was the Henkel Champagne from a recital in Vienna. Nothing of value remained behind. Even dictionaries and eyeglasses were taken.

And the cat... the cat was hiding in the tiny space behind the oven. It took three hours to coax him out and bring him into the new flat.... But he was seriously traumatized. Anytime I walked past the oven, he panicked. If I opened my oven, he disappeared. The behavior was abnormal. Before he knew that oven was for food. Perplexed I picked him up and carried him closer to it. His claws ripped my shoulders as he fled to the next room. They had tried to cook him alive. Now he was terrified of plastic bags which had been a favorite game for hide-and-seek. If the oven was on, he was gone.

Within after a short time we moved to the new flat, someone shot him. He was an excellent shot, but Bino's fur was so thick as a Czech wild cat that the pellet lodged in the rib. The vet said it was too risky to take out. He would die in surgery.

Bino was my companion through all hardship. We shared this terror together. When he was shot, he was comatose for two weeks. I watched over him without sleeping, afraid of the person on the other end of the gun.

In February, he was afraid of somethig outside. He went out and a few minutes he would be begging at the window to be let in. I didn't understand the danger out there. His death was horrific. There are no dead birds or other dead cats out there... Just my cat who was my sole companion through all the hardships that I faced. He made my life bearable. Trained to be an opera singer, I was forced to teach English. I studied in Vienna, but Prague defeated me.

The stories are to honor the closest friend and companion I have had in twelve years.

The cruelty of my cat's death horrifies me, and leaves me awake in the night. He was a friend, a good companion who was with me when I could not sit or walk without struggling in geat pain. He knew how to open doors, drawers and windows. Like the Prince or Hans, I was lucky to have him as my Katerprinz.

Cats in Fairytales and other literature
please note the short preface before Poe's Black Cat

however, I cannot read the story as it gives me the goosebumps, yet when I saw the horror and agony that my cat suffered from strychnine poisoning, this was indeeed the story that I first remembered.

Madame la Comtesse de Aulnoy, The White Cat

Puss N Boots
a simplified version from 1909

Charles Perrault, Puss N Boots

Grimm, The Poor Miller's Boy and the Cat

Grimm, The Poor Miller's Boy and the Cat
M Hunt, Grimm's Household Tales 1857 free ebook download for the story : The Cat and Venus : The Fox and the Cat

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Jorinde and Joringel

4 March 2003 Jorinde and Joringel

Jorinde and Joringel

A simple story, Jorinde and Joringel, offers hope to the reader that which was lost shall be found. So close in spelling and sound, the reader assumes that the names represent two parts of a whole rather than independent entities. Consider a story presented by the master of comedy, Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium.

In the beginning man did not appear as he does now. Indeed, he was quite different. Round, he had four arms, and four legs, one head and came in three sexual forms. Some were male-male, female-female and a part, male-female. Born of the sun, earth and moon, man wanted to ascend into the heavens to dwell with the gods. With immense physical strength, he threatened to ursurp the gods, themselves. Zeus, worried about the situation, didn't dare to exterminate him from the earth, because the gods are dependent on humam sacrifices and his devotion. After a while, Zeus came up with a solution to relieve the gods of becoming an extinct species on Mt Olympus. Using his thunderbolt, he split the creature in half. This created the diversity of preferences that exist on earth today and explains why some people search for a partner which is a reflection of themselves, while others are attracted to opposites.

However, in splitting the people apart, Zeus created a new problem which had no easy solution. When the two parts were split, the halves miserably sought to re-unite. When they did not succeed, they succumbed to grief, desisted from eating and languished until they perished. Not only that, but the noise that they caused by their wailing was so loud that it impeded the gods' rest so that Zeus was compelled to scatter the parts over the earth. Therefore, it evolved that people seek their other half, and this we call "love."

Shakespeare, the Bard of all Seasons, succinctly writes:
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of an imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is the madman; the lover, all as frantic
Sees Helen's beauty in the Brow of Egypt...
Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.7

Indeed, in Midsummer Night's Dream, we come upon the pair of confused lovers who seem to be identical with each other. The confusion of identity and pairing also appears in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutti where the two women accept a bet that they can remain true to their lovers when they are sent off into the military. The opera infuriates many a feminist, but the two women are seduced into switching partners by a ruse from Mozart's clever librettist.

The story of Jorinde and Joringel seems to be a surreal dream that could appear on a Saturday morning cartoon show and disappear as quickly. Is it a warning regarding personal relationships? What is the witch who transforms into an owl or cat to prey on the unwary and what is the stone castle? Why is Joringel transformed to stone only to be freed when the moonlight falls upon him? Or Jorinde becomes a nightingale? A dreamscape, the story offers no easy answers in interpretation except that upon revival, Joringel realizes the terrible loss of Jorinde and pledges to recover her. In this sense, it is similar to the theme found in Cupid and Psyche, that the lover must endure physical hardship and search the universe for the beloved. Joringel becomes a shepherd in a strange village before starting on his quest to find the blood-red flower with the pearl in the center.

And although the witch transforms other maidens into beautiful exotic birds, Jorinde is only a plain nightingale. Pass by a nightingale sitting in a bush and you'll not recognize it.

It is nothing remarkable like an eagle or parrot. It wears drab feathers, but the voice outsings even the sparrow and the blackbird with a repertoire of some thirty different songs. Andersen uses the bird for his famous satire, The Nightingale, parodying the snobbishness of aristocracy and the futility of imitating natural ability.

Perhaps the story hints at things subliminal that we can only glimpse. Although beautiful, it was not her physical charms that caused Joringel's grief, but her hidden spirituality and creativity. Warned not to stray too near the castle in the evening, the two are caught in the woods as darkness falls. The symbols hint of legends long past, of Athena-Artemis with the moon and the owl. Or perhaps the woods connote unknown danger that can surround a person in daily life, similar to the woods in Robert Frost's, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Yet the time element was crucial to Joringel's transformation into stone. Perhaps the warning is that he should not wait too long or he may lose the thing he loves most. Love comes easily when young, but when a couple dally, it also fades with the evening.

How often have you inquired about George to hear the reply, "Oh George? That was last year. I'm over it now," as lovers separate and follow different thorny paths. How often do you read about a reunion? Very seldom? A blood-red flower with a pearl in the middle endows Joringel to transform the situation. Blood-red must be his sacrifice and dedication to find the pearl that he treasures, and through the persistence of his efforts, eventually he is able to break down the stone walls of communication to recover the lost relationship. Perhaps, Jorinde only seems to be transformed from a beautiful girl to a bird as a result of vicious gossip and social animosity surrounding the pair. Similarly the dewdrop inside the flower appears to be a pearl. Nor should it be forgotton that a pearl is only formed from grit and friction. The things most cherished are often those that cause the greatest hidden pain, that demand the greatest sacrifice and risks. Surreal, the story seems dreamlike encouraging the reader to hope for re-union with the beloved.

An Enchanted World: Jorinde and Joringel

Bird news: Nightingale Profile

Luscinia megarhynchos: nightingale, pic
commonly found across Europe

Crocker Farm: Nightingale page
has photos, sound file and John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
ou can see how small the bird actually is

Grimms Fairy Tales
All Family Resources
full text based on Margeret Hunt's Grimm's household Tales but origin unknown
209 stories 1.4MB for complete download

20 June 2005 The Nightingale Art vs Artifice

18 June 2005 HCA The Nightingale