January: The Dirty Mabel

Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962) is best remembered today as a patron of modernism, associated with Taos and writers such as D.H. Lawrence, but in her adolescent years she was a schoolmate of Mary Shillito, the younger sister of Pauline Tarn's childhood friend and neighbor, Violet. Mabel left an account of meeting Violet in her memoirs, one of the few sources of information about her. Violet would die young, of typhoid fever in Cannes in 1901, but not before introducing Pauline to Natalie Barney. Pauline would grieve for Violet for the rest of her life, weaving references to violets (the color, the flower, the name) throughout her work. This cocktail is a tribute to Mabel, who had a thing for breasts that would have made her, in the eyes of some of her more censorious contemporaries, "a dirty girl."

 

 

How to make a Dirty Mabel

 

This cocktail is served in a champagne coupe, since that glass is supposedly based on the shape of the breast of Marie Antoinette.

 

 

Step 1: Combine 1.5 oz Smirnoff* raspberry flavored vodka, 1 oz almond milk,

.5 oz rosewater (as used in Middle Eastern cuisine), 1 tbsp rose flavored simple syrup, and a dash maraschino cherry liqueur (for color) in a cocktail shaker, with ice.

Step 2: Shake gently.

Step 3: Strain into a champagne coupe

Step 4: Garnish with a raspberry

 

*Renée Vivien used the name Smirnoff for the character based on Natalie Barney in L'être double.

Dirty Mabel.JPG

"Devant la mort d'une amie véritablement aimée" (Faced with the Death of a Beloved Friend) by Renée Vivien (Cendres et Poussières, 1902)

French

Ils me disent, tandis que je sanglote encore:

"Dans l'ombre du sépulchre où sa grâce pâlit,

Elle goûte la paix passagère du lit,

Les ténèbres au front, et dans les yeux l'aurore.

 

"Mais elle a la splendeur de l'Esprit délivré,

Rêve, haleine, harmonie, éclat, parfum, lumière!

Le cercueil ne la peut contenir toute entière,

Ni le sol de chair morte et de pleurs enivré.

 

"Les larmes d'or du cierge et le cri du cantique,

Les lys fanés, ne sont qu'un symbole menteur:

Dans une aube d'avril qui vient avec lenteur,

Elle refleurira, violette mystique."

 

Moi, j'écoute parmi les temples de la mort

Et sens monter vers moi la chaleur de la terre.

Cette accablante odeur recèle le mystère

De l'ombre où l'on repose et du lit où l'on dort.

 

J'écoute, mais le vent des espaces emporte

L'audacieux espoir des infinis sereins,

Je sais qu'elle n'est plus dans l'heure que j'étreins,

L'heure unique et certaine, et moi, je la crois morte.

English translation

They say to me, while I am still sobbing:

"In the shade of the sepulchre where her grace is turning pale,

She tastes the fleeting peace of the bed,

Shadows on her forehead, and in her eyes the dawn.

 

"But she has the splendor of the Spirit delivered,

Dream, breath, harmony, bloom, scent, light!

The coffin cannot contain her entirely,

Nor the earth drunk with dead flesh and tears.

 

"The golden tears of the candle and the cry of the canticle,

The withered lilies, are but a deceptive symbol:

In the dawn of an April that arrives slowly,

She will flower again, mystical violet."

 

Me, I listen amid the temples of the dead

And I feel the warmth of the earth rising up to me.

This overwhelming odor contains the mystery

Of the shade where one rests and of the bed where one sleeps.

 

I listen, but the wind of the open spaces carries off

The audacious hope of serene infinities,

I know she is no longer in the hour that I hold close,

The unique and certain hour, and me, I believe she is dead.

A few things to think about in this poem (by Melanie Hawthorne)

This poem was published in Vivien's first volume of poetry, Etudes et préludes (1901), a collection inspired by her whirlwind affair with Natalie Barney. If the date of publication were not enough, several details of the poem itself make it clear that it was inspired by Barney. The eyes that take their icy blueness from the north, the smoky blond hair that reflects the misty rays of the moon, these are the ways Vivien describes Barney over and again (she sometimes even uses the nickname "Moonbeam" for her). Barney was probably Vivien's first lover, and the poem is clearly written in the first flush of love (and lust).

 

Vivien published this first volume of poetry under her pseudonym, but with just a first initial – R. Vivien—so she was still letting herself pass for a male author when she presented this poem to the world, but it would not be long before everyone knew that "R. Vivien" was a woman, and anyone with eyes to see could read that the "promised night of love" was going to be between two women. There was no mistaking the kind of love being described: it is not an intellectualized meeting of two minds, not a cerebral encounter, but an explicitly carnal union that is anticipated. 

 

That kisses have already been exchanged is clear from the first two lines, but the 4th stanza makes the physicality of the relationship quite explicit. The speaker of the poem looks beneath the dress of the "Beloved" to make an inventory of the physical pleasures that await: breasts, the golden hair of armpits, hips and legs are all mentioned. In the last line of the stanza, the language is a little more euphemistic—"ventre" is usually translated as "belly," while "reins" are kidneys—but in the language of nineteenth-century French literary description these are pretty explicit references to the pubis and the buttocks respectively. If a male writer were using these words (as Zola does when he describes Nana, for example), there would be no mistaking the meaning. Vivien is describing a sexual encounter in the clearest language her time could envision.

 

The sensual message is underscored by other verbal images in the poem, for example in the "moiteurs d'alcôve." An alcove (to use the English cognate) is at one level merely a nook or corner that could be anywhere, but in the libertine language of the 18th-century, it is always taken to mean a bedroom, a cosy place where intimate encounters took place. That it should be a place of humidity is highly suggestive in the context of this poem, and readers who caught the allusion might have found it quite scandalous. Similarly, the breeze that carries warmth from other beds, far away, adds another image that makes it impossible to overlook the blatant sexuality of the poem, to argue that it is somehow about some chaste, disembodied, intellectual love. Vivien is talking about having sex and wants the reader to know it. Not a smutty sort of sex, to be sure—the language is reverential, even religious in its imagery (the Beloved is a divine Goddess)—but it is clear that the presiding god is Eros.

 

A more subtle clue to the subject matter is also given in the form of the poem. That third line in the middle of each verse is a dead give-away. Not to modern readers, perhaps, but to Vivien's contemporaries drilled in the rules of verse and its finer points (caesuras and "rich" rhymes), the short lines are a "tell." Anyone who aspired to be taken seriously as an intellectual and connoisseur of poetry in Vivien's day would have known the rules of versification in detail (Vivien studied them assiduously), and would be accustomed to reading for these markers. The half line ("hemistich") is characteristic of the work of the Greek poet Sappho, who gave her name to a form of poetry, the "sapphic" meter, characterized by such a "hanging" line. (There is, or can be, a bit more to sapphic meter than this, but to keep the explanation from getting too technical, let's leave it at that for now.) So for anyone who was "clued in" to the underlying implications of verse form, this meter underscores the manifest (verbal) message of the poem: female same-sex eroticism.

Bonus

The "Bosom caresser"

 

If, like the young Mabel, you are still not satisfied, you could try a cocktail recipe from turn-of-the-century Paris that is recorded in Louis Fouquet's cocktail manual Bariana. Fouquet was head barman at the Criterion (on the rue Saint Lazare opposite the station) and later bought a café (also initially called the Criterion) on the corner of the Champs-Elysées and avenue George V. It was renamed Fouquet's in his honor (he died in 1905), and has since become a famous venue in French culture, but it started out catering to coachmen who wanted a place to hang out while their employers were at the horse races at Longchamps, not far away. Like the restaurant Maxim's, it gradually became popular with a wider clientele. Fouquet published his cocktail manual (one of the first), subtitled "Recueil de toutes boissons américains et anglais" in 1896, and it included the following recipe for a "bosom caresser." It is made using an improvised cocktail shaker made up of two silver "goblets," one large and one small put together. To make the drink, take the smaller goblet, and add ice, mix one fresh egg yolk with one teaspoon of grenadine and one of maraschino, one tablespoon of Curlier cognac, and top up with sherry. Cover the top of the goblet with the other (larger) one, shake well, strain and serve. The recipe can be found on page 31 of Bariana which is available in facsimile or on line in digital form.