October: Vampire Sangria

This is October, the birth month of Natalie Barney, Renée Vivien's most famous lover, the one she never really got over. Barney was born on October 31, which made her a Scorpio, and she used to host a party every year to celebrate her own birthday and that of all her other Scorpio friends. Consider having a Scorpio party as an alternative to a Halloween party, and raise a glass to Natalie and the members of her legendary salon. Or, listen to an audiobook set during one of Barney's parties. Author Francesco Rapazzini wrote Un soir chez l'amazone in French (2001), but now the novel is available in English as a delightful audiobook (print version to follow), read by Suzanne Stroh. The cultural elite of Paris in the interwar years gathers at Barney's salon for a Scorpio party, and adventures follow. If you like movies such as Midnight in Paris that recreate the atmosphere of that era, or you want an introduction to the gay and lesbian "who's who" of that time, this is the audiobook for you.

More information at https://www.audible.com/pd/A-Night-at-the-Amazons-Audiobook/B08KQF1XZZ

Note that all proceeds go to Stonewall National Museum and Archives.  https://www.dropbox.com/s/3lh7ssklaxigilc/A2_Ch-19_Sample_Violets.wav?dl=0

 

On the other hand, October is nothing if not a spooky month, and the decadence of Renée Vivien's fin de siècle is gothic-adjacent, so this must be the time for an appropriately Halloween-themed cocktail, the vampire sangria. Time to sip some blood! Sangria is named for its resemblance to blood ("sang") to begin with, but we'll take it one step further and start with some bull's blood... Not the real thing, of course,* but the basis of the sangria is the Hungarian wine known as "bulls blood," Egri Bikavér. And sangria is all about the fruit, so in addition to blood orange, of course, we'll be using lychees, which always look disgusting (though they taste great) at the best of times.

*For a gruesome description of drinking the real thing, see the beginning of Rachilde's novel La Marquise de Sade

How to make a Vampire Sangria

 

sangria is usually made in a pitcher, starting with a whole bottle of wine, but the following is a by-the-glass recipe to give an idea of the ratios of wine to other ingredients

 

Step 1: fill the glass with about 6 oz of red Egri Bikavér wine

 

Step 2: add about 1 oz of Calvados (you can use any brandy, but the apple-y flavor of Calvados sits well with the other fruit flavors)

 

Step 3: add 3 oz of blood orange soda (such as San Pellegrino)

 

Step 4: add a couple of tablespoons of the syrup from a can of lychees

 

Step 5: garnish with slices of blood orange, and several lychees (these will sink to the bottom, so you can enjoy the look on your guest's face when they get to the end of the drink and wonder what these freakish looking things are)

 

Step 6: serve at room temperature (sangria is usually chilled, but this is a fall recipe for cooler evenings, and besides, blood is best drunk while still warm)

IMG_1200.JPG

Treize (Thirteen) by Renée Vivien (La Vénus des aveugles, 1904)

French

 

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Fendent la nuit d'hiver, massive comme un roc,

De leurs ailes et de leur souffle de fournaise,

Et, sur les murs lépreux de Suburra, Moloch

De son pouce sanglant trace le nombre: treize.

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Ont tracé sur les murs lépreux le nombre: treize.

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Protecteurs souriants des hyènes en rut,

Vantent aux Khéroubim la majesté du spasme.

Ainsi qu'un alchimiste anxieux, Belzébuth

Mélange savamment le parfum au miasme.

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Hument, comme un parfum délicat, le miasme.

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Versent le vin fumeux du festin nuptial.

Ils ont paré le front de l'Epouse niaise...

Archange ennemi des naissances, Bélial,

Sur les ventres féconds trace le nombre: treize.

 

Ashtaroth, Belzébuth, Bélial et Moloch

Sur les ventres gonflés tracent le nombre: treize.

 

Car Bélial, Moloch, Belzébuth, Ashtaroth

Font surgir, sous les yeux scandalisés de Loth,

Les marbres de Sodome et les fleurs de Gomorrhe.

Et, mariant l'amante à la vierge, Ashtaroth

Ressuscite les nuits qui font haïr l'aurore.

 

Car Bélial, Moloch, Belzébuth, Ashtaroth

Font triompher Sodome et claironner Gomorrhe.

English translation

 

Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch

Cleave through the winter night, massive as a rock,

With their wings and their furnace breath,

And, on the leprous walls of Suburra, Moloch

With his bloody thumb traces the number: thirteen.

 

Astaroth, Beelzebub, Belial and Moloch

Have traced on the leprous walls the number: thirteen.

 

Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch

Smiling protectors of hyenas in heat,

Boast to the cherubim of the majesty of orgasm.

Like an anxious alchemist, Beelzebub

Cunningly mixes perfume with miasmas.

 

Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch

Sniff, like a delicate perfume, the miasma.

 

Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch

Pour the smoky wine of the nuptial feast.

They have decorated the brow of the stupid Bride...

The enemy archangel of births, Belial,

On the fruitful bellies traces the number: thirteen.

 

Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch 

On the swollen bellies trace the number: thirteen.

 

For Belial, Moloch, Beelzebub, Astaroth

Bring forth, before the scandalized eyes of Lot,

The marbles of Sodom and the flowers of Gomorrha..

And, marrying the female lover to the virgin, Astaroth

Resuscitates the nights that make dawn hated.

 

For Belial, Moloch, Beelzebub, Astaroth

Make Sodom triumph and Gomorrha trumpet.

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

This poem comes from the collection La Vénus des aveugles of 1904. It's a provocation that takes some of the stereotypes of the period (the fin de siècle and the Belle Epoque) about lesbians and other sexually non-conforming women and pushes them to their logical conclusion: "deviant" women are in league with the devil(s).

 

This satanic image was popularized and explored in (among other things) the pulp novel Méphistophéla by Catulle Mendès of 1890. Though this is a long novel (the Séguier reprint in the Bibliothèque Décadente series of 1993 stretches to 585 pages), the title says it all: this is the story of a female Mephistopheles. The meandering adventures of Baroness "Sophor" d'Hermelinge cover a lot of ground (literally and figuratively), but one of the more sensationalized chapters in her life tells what happens when she joins a coven. After an enthusiastic orgy, the women gather for a Black Mass at which they summon up a female demon (a "Démone"), complete with hairy arms and legs and cloven feet, yet seductive in her long hair and her red lips "fraîches comme un baiser" (fresh as a kiss).

 

This female Satan is "Ennemie des noces, malédictrice des lits féconds, à qui plaisent les ventres lisses et les gorges sans rides," in other words she shares some of the interests of the devil figures in Vivien's poem. The "enemy of marriage" in Vivien's poem hexes the bride, while the "one who curses fertile beds" damns the swollen belly of the mother-to-be. Smooth bellies (des "ventres lisses") are ones that show no sign of reproduction.

 

Thus, it's tempting to see Mendès's novel as a possible source for Vivien. The four demons in her poem are named as Astaroth, Beelzbub, Belial and Moloch, various incarnations of gods and devils as they appear filtered through Christian doctrine: Astaroth, perhaps a corruption of the pre-Christian Semitic goddess Astarte or Ishtar, becomes a Duke of Hell in demonology, while Beelzebub is a common alternative name for the Devil himself. Belial, a biblical word meaning "worthless," came to be understood as yet another name for the Devil, while Moloch was a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice.

 

In Vivien's poems, these demons take turns writing the ominous number thirteen on various sites: Moloch writes it on the wall of Suburra, a notorious neighborhood of Rome associated with prostitution and other dissolute pleasures. Beelzebub poisons the atmosphere by using perfume to disguise miasmas, the mythical bad air believed to cause illness and death. Belial curses fruitful wombs, leading, one supposes to barrenness, miscarriage, and fetal death. Astaroth (the "ennemie des noces"?) perverts marriage by pairing the boys with the boys (Sodom) and the girls with the girls ("mariant l'amante à la vierge"), leading to the kind of night that makes the participants cringe at dawn when it's all over.

 

The diabolical women in the Black Mass in Méphistophéla, as well as the readers of the novel, have plenty to cringe at when the service in Mendès's narrative culminates in a communion during which baskets of palpitating "virilités des mâles nouveaux-nés" (virile members of male new-borns) are fed to wild pigs who swarm the altar.

 

Vivien knew better than to go this far. For her, it's enough that her "perverts" take pleasure in sex, and shun marriage and childbirth, a much tamer agenda when put in less sensational terms. Which perhaps is Vivien's point: her contemporaries make women out to be evil incarnate (times four) just for wanting something other than pleasure-less marriage and motherhood. And if that's all it takes to scandalize polite society, and if you are going to be an outcast for merely contemplating such a thing, why not go the whole way, embrace the identity, and use it to empower yourself, if only because everyone fears you? (This is a little bit the idea that Per Faxneld explores in Satanic Feminism.)

 

Vivien was all too well aware of traditional Christian doctrine regarding homosexuality (both male and female), and was nostalgic for a more tolerant, pre-Christian time, before the notion of "sin" was invented, hence the appeal of ancient civilizations such as that of Greece. Hellenic civilization was much admired by Vivien's peers, as the birthplace of democracy, and as a culture that valued wisdom, philosophy, science, and the arts. Everyone praised ancient Greece, and conveniently swept under the rug the awkward fact that this civilization also not only tolerated, but encouraged, male pederasty. (Not quite everyone ignored this; many young men were eager to know more and there was considerable interest on the part of young Oscar Wilde and his peers in places like Oxford in the 1880s and 90s; see Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford for more.) Vivien's cousin, William Woodthorpe Tarn, was a renowned classics scholar, for example, and Vivien herself was eager to learn Greek and revive interest in Sappho as a role model, as numerous critics have noted.

 

Formally, the poem consists of four five-line stanzas with a couplet refrain after each stanza that repeats the first line of the stanza (the list of names that varies only slightly) and reprises the last line of the stanza. The reprise summarizes what the devils do and repeats the last word of the stanza (treize, miasme, treize...) except for the last refrain, in which "Gomorrhe" has the last word (echoing "aurore"). The twelve syllable alexandrine lines have a repeating rhyme scheme of AABAB, with the refrain echoing the AB. The choice of five lines per stanza is somewhat unusual in being an uneven number (poetry often favors regularity), but it perhaps harks back to Paul Verlaine's poetic manifesto that recommends the "impair" (odd-numbered) and also underscores the emphasis on the unlucky and odd number thirteen.

 

Leaving the reader with the parting image of "Gomorrha," (which, along with triumphant Sodom, ends the poem with the trumpeting sound of victory), the poem affirms the endurance of the biblical city associated by many with female homosexuality. Far from being destroyed in punishment, this city of the plain is at the height of its power, and some might see a parallel with turn-of-the-century Paris, sometimes characterized as "Paris-Lesbos."