Monday, March 26, 2012

Casanova: His Known & Unknown Life by Guy Endore

***  I intended to publish this post a few days back but the hubby got chest congestion which led to me battling a nasty sinus cold so my concentration on this was less than full on, to say the least. Thanks for hanging in there readers! ***

There's something appealing to me about one now obscure writer writing a biography on another. I have just a few of Samuel Guy Endore's novels in my library because editions seem to be so scare nowadays. If you find one, give it a try - he's got a brilliant smoothness to his writing. In this instance though, he puts aside the fiction and writes this scholarly work. But even this bio read like a novel for me! I don't know if that's due to Endore's skills as a writer or just because Casanova is such an intriguing subject. Maybe a bit of both.

Giacomo (Jacob) Girolamo Casanova (1725-1798) is most commonly known as the legendary lothario, up there with Don Juan. His accomplishments extended outside of 18th century boudoirs though. He also held the titles of hedonist, gambler, traveler, scholar, mathematician, philosopher, intellectual, librarian, government spy, Freemason, compulsive writer, matchmaker (he had a tendency to find new amores for his romantic liaison cast-offs), aristocrat (later in life), felon... others called him a magician, an imposter  -- the "imposter" label probably came from the old money types who didn't like Casanova's ability to earn and spend like a rap mogul and throw back a few with the social elite, kicking back at places like Chateau Chambord (a chateau mentioned in one of my Tour of France posts). There was even speculation that he may have been Jesuit. He liked to be one of a kind. He hated (or maybe just felt threatened by) fellow adventurerers who led similar lives of gambling, travel, numerous loves, etc. 

As far as the writing thing goes, I have a sneaking suspicion Casanova had a strong case of hypergraphia. It's not specifically noted in this book, but there are descriptions of Casanova's numerous books and pamphlets. Whenever money allowed, Casanova seemed to constantly be sending new works to printers though very few of these publications found many readers in his lifetime. Even now, though you can find works about the guy easy enough, it's a bit of a treasure hunt to find the stuff actually written by the man himself. The easiest title to find copies of is of the autobiography itself. Problem is, Endore points out that Casanova wrote four different versions of this book and each version is full of embellishments and chronological inaccuracies. It seems Casanova didn't like pesky or boring facts get in the way of a killer story ;-) . 

photo by Greg Gorman

There's a good deal of strangeness surrounding Casanova's autobiography. Aside from all the inaccuracies, there's also the fact that he dated the book "my life up to 1797" but the book stops at the year 1774. No one is quite sure why. Maybe he got bored with the project and quit writing (from what I've read of him, this seems unlikely but possible). It's also possible -- and theorized by some scholars -- that he did in fact finish up to the year 1797 but perhaps mentioned something someone else didn't want publicized, so the pages mentioning those years might have been destroyed. And the errors -- what were the intentions behind the errors, the blatant contradictions and flat - out lies? Was it out of carelessness? Forgetfulness? Was he trying to throw sand in the face of his enemies, hiding secrets out in the open? Or was it just that he wanted credit for events he was involved with but not blame lol. If only he was around to set the record straight!
Their cynicism passes all bounds...the more I write, the more I am convinced that my work is meant to be burnt.  ~~~ Casanova on his own memoirs

Giacomo Casanova
In his autobio, Casanova gives his height as 5'9 but Endore 
explains that by today's measuring standards, his height 
fell just under 6'2. 
Could've been part of his appeal, maybe?
Being the tall, dark guy in the room?

"Casanova would have been a splendid-looking man if he had not been so ugly. He was tall, built like Hercules, but with an almost African complexion; his eyes were bright and quick, frank and intelligent, but they indicated an uneasy susceptibility and a vindictive ferocity; it was easier to make him angry than make him laugh. In fact he seldom laughed, even when he brought everyone else to laughter. He had a way about him, a very charming way... he knew everything, except those things which he prided himself upon knowing -- such as the rules of dancing, of the French language, of good taste and breeding and of conduct in high society...He was touchy and grateful; but when he was displeased, he was grumbling, bitter and altogether detestable. With a million you could not have bought back his good will once you had offended him with a joke at his expense."  ~~~ Prince de Ligne on Casanova

haven't read this one by Endore mentions that Zola used 
incidents from Casanova's life as inspiration (in part) for 
this book

This guy seemed to be the Gene Simmons of his day. He lays claim to 116 female conquests! Okay, so maybe not quite in Simmons territory but still a pretty hefty number among men, even by today's standards. Even in his autobiography, Casanova tried to be careful about concealing the true identities of these women, only naming them by initials for the most part (though Endore points out a few spots where hints to identity were dropped).  A number of the rumored liasions were with noble women (though he wasn't too proud for the occasional literal roll in the hay with a mammarific milkmaid now and then). I wonder, if your wife sleeps  with someone of Casanova's reputation, does the husband get offended or is part of him flattered that his wife was thought so tempting? The funny part in all of this is that of all the conquests Casanova claimed, only one, Francesca Buschini, can be undisputably verified and that is through her correspondence with him  that survived both their lifetimes. 

Also, I was unaware that this sort of thing was documented very thoroughly in Casanova's time but in this book Endore claims that Casanova suffered from at least 11 different STDs! 

...for what causes the delights of my life has nothing to do with the place where I dwell. When I am not sleeping, I dream, and when I am tired of dreaming, I grind out black on paper, then I read and more often than not I reject all that my pen has vomited. ~~~ Giacomo Casanova
{life of a writer right there all summed up!!}

Casanova seemed to have a good deal of spiritual conflict for most of his life. He was an abbe during his early adult years but it seems he really had to fight his liking for the ladies. He writes in his autobio of these beautiful women who would see him as just an abbe, so they would sit casually next to him or feel comfortable laying languidly in his presence. His descriptions reminded me of that classic character in romantic comedies -- you know, the guy that pretends to be gay so women will open up to him but then it ends up backfiring with the girl falling for the guy, then exclaiming "But no! I can't!" 

In his later years, perhaps because his popularity with the ladies had waned, Casanova drifted back to his religious roots, often writing moral pieces that chastised the promiscuous. He preached more and more than chastity would bring people closer to their God, but I still say at least some of this proselytizing was due to his lack of action with the ladies. If he couldn't have his fun he could at least guilt people out of theirs!

Regarding his "felon" years, Casanova was thrown into "The Leads"  -- or Piombi by its Italian name -- Prison (nicknamed for the lead plates on its roof) for allegedly being a practicing Freemason in a Catholic community -- I'm guessing because of the mystery around the Freemasons, they probably seemed cult-like to the Catholic church, though to be fair, it's not like the Catholic church hasn't had their own rumors of secret, mysterious behavior over the centuries. He served some time there but eventually got restless, oddly enough lol, and managed to figure out a successful escape. Even more odd, no one went after him and he went on to write his memoir on the experience, Escape From The Leads. Some years later, he wound up in prison again, this time in Spain, but there he was made to stick out his term so he wrote letters to every high ranking person he knew. Surprisingly, those letters actually did bring about the first tricklings of prison reform in the area (even though by that time -- his time in Spain --  Casanova's appeal had started to fade, along with his looks. He was just starting to phase into the angry-old-man-constantly -writing-complaint-letters-type that few took seriously anymore). 

"Equestrian Portrait of Prince Wenzel Anton Kaunitz-Reitberg"
by Francesco Casanova, Giacomo Casanova's brother.
Francesco was hired as Prince Kaunitz's royal painter. 

Aside from Francesca Buschini, there are two ladies that Casanova mentions a bit more than the rest, the first being Therese Imer, who later became a beloved opera singer by the name of Madame Trenti. Casanova claimed that when he ran into her years after their initial coupling, Teresa swore he fathered her daughter, Sophie, even showing him a baptismal record with the girl's birthdate (I guess basically telling him "you do the math" lol). He acknowledged that he saw resemblance between himself and the girl but ...

As to that strange encounter with Therese Imer, wife of Pompeati, we have full records with exact dates that leave no doubt that Sophie was not Casanova's daughter. We do know that Casanova corresponded with the little girl  and had a deep fatherly love for her, for he sent her  at least one present to which she replied in a childish letter, thanking him... Casanova preserved this letter throughout forty years of stormy life. It was found lately among his manuscripts. ~~~ Guy Endore 1929

If that wasn't bad enough, Therese somehow convinced Casanova to take her son with him (who knows who the father of that kid was) and try to use his connections to introduce the boy to good society! It seemed she didn't really know what to do with a boy so she pawned him off on Casanova. Mother of the Year material there! But it's funny how Lady Karma ends up finding such people, given time. Years after pawning her son off on Casanova, Therese and Sophie set up residence in the Carlisle House (I tried to find a pic of this house but I'm not sure if the building still exists. There was a Carlisle House that was later named the London Inn which fit the time period of all these people but that building was demolished in the late 1800s with a new London Inn being built near the spot -- but I don't know if this was the same place). At the Carlisle House, Therese held 24 lavish balls and extravagant dinners per year, featuring music performed by such greats as Bach and Abel. Least until she went bankrupt that is. Girl couldn't balance an account to save herself and ended up dying in Fleet Prison (a common prison for debtors).

He then went on to give his fickle heart to Manon Balleti, one of many women he proposed. Manon was the closest he came to fulfilling the offer. They made plans to marry but then Casanova decided to go to Holland. Manon's family was under the assumption that he did this to build up some wealth before marrying Manon, but really I think it was just a case of cold feet, a "runaway groom" of sorts ;-) Casanova met up with a number of old flames and acquaintances, including Therese again (pre-Fleet Prison residency obviously).  He forgets about Manon until one night -- oops! -- he runs into her at a theater while trying to put his moves on another girl! This had been about a year since his leaving for Holland. I can just picture that moment him saying "oooh heeey gurl, how you been?" LOL. 

"Manon Balleti" by Jean-Marc Nattier (1757)
Manon was once engaged to Casanova

Not sure what he said, but Casanova was able to work things out with Manon, at least for awhile. They returned to Paris together, where he and Manon took up residence at Petit-Pologne (Little Poland) estate. Eventually the union fizzled out and they went their separate ways.

There was one other woman who had an interesting link to Casanova, though she was not one of his own love affairs. Guistiniana Wynne was bethrothed to an English nobleman in his 60s. She wanted out of the arrangement. She fell desperately in love with Andrea Memno and had a child out of wedlock with him (the baby was given up for adoption). There was such a scandal surrounding the whole affair that Wynne escaped from Venice,exhiling herself in London. She went on to marry Count von Rosenberg (who, by the way, was just as old as the original "icky old guy" she was engaged to), Austrian Ambassador to Venice, becoming respectable Madame von Rosenberg, allowing her to return to Venice with her head held high above those who previously scoffed at her youthful, romantic impetuousness. The count died shortly after the marriage. His widow, now a respectable titled widow, spent her later years devoting her life to literary endeavors, hosting salons in Venice for artistic and literary people, as well as writing moral stories for boys and girls. Her affair with Andrea Memno is the subject of the book A Venetian Affair  by Andrea di Robilant (just one of many on my TBR list). As for Casanova's part, he tried to help Wynne in the matter but was later imprisoned for his involvement. 

Casanova did some 18th century couch crashing at his brother Francois' place whenever the ladies had tapped his savings too hard. While he had other brothers, Casanova and Francois shared a "party hardy" mentality, constantly living outside of their means. Casanova decided to come up with a plan to save his brother's finances (to which I said... "Dude, what about your finances?? You're crashing at your brother's!"
The plan wasn't complex, but it worked. Basically, Casanova went all Joe Pesci on his brother's clients. He went after every person that had commissioned a painting but didn't pay or hadn't picked their painting up. He then went on a mission to drum up new clients. In no time, all debts were paid off. Casanova then pulled the "bros before hoes" card and convinced his brother to run off to Germany with him, leaving Francois' icy, frigid wife (or so she was described) to fend for herself. Things didn't end well for her, but according to Endore, it might not have been entirely her fault:

His wife {Francois'}, a pretty creature, told Giacomo that her husband's lack of virility was slowly killing her. Sexually impotent he yet loved her and she loved him, and she refused to take a lover. Casanova records that her continence soon caused her death. It was one of his staunchest beliefs , one that he retained to his dying day, that lack of sexual expression is followed by mortal illness. 

I can just see my husband trying to keep me busy after reading this! I can just hear him, "Mortal illness, Angie! Is that what you want for the man you love??" LOL... oooh boys. Still, if Francois' wife had mentioned to Casanova about her husband's condition, I wonder why she was still considered "icy" and deserving of being left on her own? Relationships are such layered things sometimes... 

Mario & Luigi visited with family in Germany but got restless so they headed to Vienna. Wonder if that's like when a guy and his crew hits up Vegas? :-P

"Stolen Kiss" 
by Jean Honore Fragonard 

In Vienna, they met Prince Kaunitz, Prince de Ligne, who hired Francois as his royal painter, but again Francois blew threw his salary pretty quick, even taking on a mistress (and it's like I tell my husband, if you have a windfall you don't know how to spend, all ya gotta do is ask me, I'm here to help ;-) ). By 1803 Francois was declared bankrupt by the courts and died a few weeks after the ruling from good ol' "consumption".

"Giovanni Giacomo Casanova Chevalier de Saingalt,
with the Young Comtesse at Venice "

by Auguste Leroux

Casanova's life can be considered a cautionary tale in relying on your looks to get you by in life. True, he had to have some wits and ingenuity, the way he was able to lose and gain massive fortunes over and over again. He was virtually penniless by the time he reached "old age" (he was 58 at the time, old for then but funny to think of it as such now).  He didn't fully accept getting older until he had lost his last real tooth and was forced to embrace porcelain dentures. 

Casanova was banned from his native Venice for 16 years thanks to the Inquistion going on there, being a "person of interest", I guess. He was allowed to live on a nearby island (not Poveglia ;-) ), writing to the Inquisiton board for years, essentially begging to be allowed back into the city.After many years, he was eventually allowed back in and even talked his way into a position as a government spy for the Inquistion Board! He held the position for 7 years until the Board finally caught on that they weren't really getting much better intel than your average Neighborwood Watch.

Monty Python Inquisition sketch

the "Inquisition Song" from 
History Of The World Pt. 1
gotta love Mel Brooks!

 He spent the last thirteen years of his life as librarian at Dux Castle, the home of Count Waldenstein. By 1793,  he became so depressed with old age, the loss of his looks, the deaths of so many good friends that he actually sat down and wrote down the pros and cons of suicide and the reasons he'd want to stay alive -- actually a productive way to talk oneself down I thought. Guess he had more checks in the "tough it out" box because he ended up having a few more years yet. Casanova died June 4th, 1798 at the age of 73. Carlo Angiolini (who was married to Casanova's niece) and Casanova's dog, Finette were the only ones present at the legendary lover's passing. 

On his grave a decent plinth was placed and above that a little cross of iron. It is related that the cross soon fell from its socket and lay on the ground half-concealed among the tall grass. And it is further said that on dark nights passing girls caught their skirts on its hooks. 
Hehe.. player to the end!

So I managed to get this post knocked out! I had to put my normally happy-to-be-eco-friendly self to the side for the time being and indulge in some nice hot showers (the steam cloud being the one place I can currently regain almost full sinus function!). Between that and a constant brewing of honey infused herbal teas to wash back the Coricidin and (again, I apologize for the non - green living here) a slew of tissue boxes practically fused to my hand, I am managing to remain semi-functional, so hang in there, more posts coming shortly!

Monday, March 19, 2012

An Instance Of The Fingerpost -- Iain Pears

If you're a avid fan of the BDB (the Big Damn Book --- as in "wow, that's one big damn book!"), then this one may be for you. I say may, because I will say right here and now this book will not be for everyone. I daresay some may even find it a bit isolating in that it's clearly written for the heavy duty science and history fans. I consider myself a pretty major history junkie, and this book even featured the topic of the early days of medicine (or Physik, as it's called in this book), another interest of mine. Still, I got bored in parts. But I read many reviews claiming it paid off in the end so I pushed myself over the hump.  I now join the ranks in saying that it did, in fact, have an interesting ending that made up for the dull part in the middle.  This story, as a whole, had a nice mix of history, science, mysticism, and what I would call an "almost romance".

I wasn't a fan of all the Latin phrases tossed around, as Pears makes no move to translate within the dialogue. That's on my list of peeves as a reader. To me, if  translation is not offered within the dialogue,  and the author knows they are referencing an obscure or dead language, then it just comes off as the author showboating. If we're talking about the early days of lit. when everyone was taught Latin basics with their regular English lessons then yes, I can understand the absence of explanations in books that date back to that period (because, quite frankly, back when Latin was in the school books, the average American's edumacation was just seemed more extensive than what students are given now). In modern times, knowing that Latin is not commonly taught in schools, not offering to help your readers out some just screams "I know something you don't know!" **Excuse the soapbox but what is a blog if not a virtual soapbox ;-)**

I doubt not that posterity will verify many things that are now only rumors. In some age it may be that a voyage to the moon will not be more strange than one to the Americas for us. To speak with someone in the Indies may be as usual as a literary correspondence is now. After all, to talk after death could only have been thought a fiction before the invention of letters, and to sail true by the guide of a mineral would have seemed absurd to the ancients, who knew nothing of the magnet

ANYHOOO... so how much of BDB is this? Not as much as some out there today but bigger than your average modern novel -- it falls just under 700 pages. Checking out the Shelfari reviews, I saw that a number of people who picked this up gave up about halfway through, so I made a little mental goal for myself to try to get to the end (though typically I'm not big on setting any major reading goals, I just go where my inclinations lead). I'm happy to say I did make it to then end though I will say that there was some uphill pedaling needed around the halfway point.  The story is that of a murder of a prominent English professor in Restoration England (the 1600s - 1663 specifically). Pears reveals the details of the murder from the vantage point of 4 different characters (the story is divided into 4 parts, each part being one character's story in first person -- each character gives their take on the last character's version and points out where they think the other people are lying).  There are numerous other characters throughout the story, a mix of fictional and real life historical figures, which helped make for fun reading, seeing some familiar names in history, learning about new ones.

Pt. 1 = Marco da Cola (fictional)
Pt. 2 = Jack Prescott (fictional, but based on real-life person Sir Richard Willys)
Pt. 3 = John Wallis (real person)
Pt. 4 = Anthony Wood  (real person)

~~There is a sort of 5th point of view, that of Sarah Blundy. She doesn't have her own section but her own story runs through all the other stories. Sarah Blundy is a fictional character, but the inspiration for her came from the little - known historical figure Anne Greene.

Much of the book moves around Marco da Cola, an Italian man from Venice who comes to England, so he says, for business, acting as a representative for his father's company. But is that so? Who is Marco really? Is he the innocent bystander he makes himself out to be? That's part of the mystery of the story! His fellow storytellers scream "Liar! Liar!" or at the very least claim he's gilding the truth with some wild embellishments. Through Marco's telling, we learn he goes to England, moving through famous streets like Drury Lane and Christ Church Street (a locale mentioned in some of Jane Austen's works), taking daddy's money, "makin' it rain!". Eventually, out of financial desperation, he randomly decides to enroll in medical school (basically because he thinks to himself, "Doctors make some serious money, don't they?"). He's looking for a career to bankroll his pasttimes but tries to act as if his intentions are noble. Either way, he meets up with some real life science legends (Descartes, Newton, Anthony Wood, Francis Bacon and John Locke are just a few of the notable names to pass through the course of the story), most of these meetings occuring in local coffehouses (scroll down to the coffeehouse pic below to see Pears description of an English coffeehouse in the 1600s - doesn't sound much different from Starbucks today!). The friendship most developed throughout the book is that of Marco da Cola and real-life physician, Richard Lower. Lower also has a friendship with Locke that Cola seems to feel threatened by.

And so I followed Lower back to New College, and the warden's lodgings, a large pile which occupied much of the western wall of the quadrangle. We were taken by the servant into the room in which Warden Woodward received guests, and found Locke already there, stretched out in conversation by the fire, as easy as if he owned the place. There was, I thought, something about the man which could always inveigle his way into the good graces of the powerful. How it was, I do not know; he was neither easy of manner nor particularly good company, and yet the assiduity of his attention to those he considered worthy of him was so great that it was irresistible. And, of course, he carefully crafted his reputation for being a man of the utmost brilliance, so that these people ended up patronizing him and feeling grateful for it. In later years, he went on to write books which pass for philosophy, although a cursory reading suggests that they do little but carry his bent for flattery onto the metaphysical plane, justifying why those who patronize him should have all power in their hands. I do not like Mr. Locke.  ~~ Marco da Cola

Marco, with occassional help from Richard, takes on a patient (despite still being a medical student). He meets Sarah Blundy, an impoverished housemaid who tries to seek help from another doctor (the one that ends up being the murder victim that propels the plot) for her mother who has a broken leg that appears to be going septic. Marco witnesses Blundy being denied help from that doctor, and perhaps out of pity or mere curiosity (since Blundy is suppose to be a major hottie), he agrees to help her.

Richard and Sarah were my favorite characters in the book. Richard was darkly funny, theatrical with maybe a twinge of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Dark and funny is my favorite combination in any sort of book character :-) Sarah was admirable in that she was desperately poor but didn't use it as a crutch. She worked hard and she refused to be bullied by any higher class people. She was smart, sassy but also deeply spiritual on the inside.  A glimpse at Sarah's character is displayed in this conversation between Marco and Sarah's mother:

"Your daughter does not earn enough?" (Cola) 
"Not to keep us out of debt, no. She has trouble with her work, for she has a reputation for being fiery and disobedient. It is so unfair, a better girl no mother ever had." 
"She is sometimes more outspoken than a girl in her position has a right to be." 
"No, sir. She is more outspoken than a girl in her position is allowed to be."
Sounds like she takes after her mother!

busy English coffe house
At this time, coffee in England was something of a craze, coming into the country with the return of the Jews. That bitter bean had little novelty for me, of course, for I drank it to cleanse my spleen and aid my digestion, but was not prepared to find it so much in fashion that it had produced special buildings where it could be consumed in extraordinary quantities and at the greatest expense...The clienteles of coffee houses choose themselves carefully, unlike taverns which cater to all sorts of low folk. In London, for example, there are Anglican houses, and Presbyterian houses, houses where the scribblers of news or poetry gather to exchange lies, and houses where the general tone is set by men of knowledge who can read or pass an hour or so in conversation without being insulted by the ignorant or vomited on by the vulgar... the company of philosophers supposedly in residence did not leap up to welcome me, as I had hoped. In fact there were only four people in the room and, when I bowed at one of them -- he pretended no to have seen me. 

Okay, who hasn't come across such a snooty-pants in their local Starbucks ;-) 

The element I loved most about this book was the mix of darkness, the battle of science versus religion (the case of Galileo being imprisoned for claiming the earth rotated around the sun is discussed), the subtle humor and all the famous faces of history popping in and out of the story, coming alive in a sense. I realize this is all fictional, but it gives the reader an idea of what the person, in reality, might have been like. Case in point, Anthony Wood,:

Anthony Wood

I have never met a more ridiculous creature than Anthony Wood. He was a deal older than myself, perhaps thirty or thereabouts, and already had the bowed back and sunken cheeks of the bookworm (bookworm haters even in the 1600s :-P). His clothes were monstrous -- so old and parched it was hard to see how out of fashion they were -- his stockings were darned and he had the habit of throwing his head back and whinnying like a horse when he was amused. An unpleasant, grating sound which made all in his company suddenly grave, lest they say something witty and be rewarded with his laughter. 

 So basically he sounds like that awkward friend in a group of friends, the one that makes everyone say WHY does he do that??? . People in Woods' group claim his intelligence can prove useful despite his social indelicacies, so I guess that's what keeps him at the "cool table". 

But by far, the humor underneath everything is what kept me reading. Instance is for the most part a dark, serious murder mystery, but the witty observations by the characters throughout are great! My favorites:

Jury Duty 

One would have thought that a learned judge would have been sufficient as it is everywhere else, but this is not the case. For, having appointed such a person, they give all his power to a group of twelve men, chosen at random and utterly ignorant of all law. What is more, they are inordinately proud of this most bizarre system and hold this jury in awe as the bedrock of their liberties.

Famous Mathematicians

It is generally known that, until Mr. Newton eclipsed him, Dr. Wallis was considered the finest mathematician this country has ever produced, and this reputation has obscured his occult activities for the government and the malice of his character. Frankly, I have never been entirely certain what either of them do that is so wonderful; I can add up and subtract to get the estate accounts in order, and I can place a bet on a horse and calculate my winning, and I cannot see why anybody should need to know more. Someone once tried to explain Mr. Newton's notions, but they made little sense. Something about proving that things fall. As I had taken a bad drop from my horse only the previous day, I replied that I had all the proof I needed on my backside. As for why, it was obvious that things fall because God made them heavy. 

Attempted Murder

"Do sit, sir," he said, after another silence when he had again examined me carefully, for I had, with my normal politeness, jumped up to bow to him when he entered. "And please be careful you do not impale yourself on your dagger."
All this he said with a wry smile, and I blushed and stammered like a schoolchild caught throwing things in class.
"What is your name? I believe I know your face, although I see so few people now that I trick myself into recognizing total strangers." He had a soft, gentle and educated voice, quite unlike anything I had expected.
 "You do not know me. My name is Prescott."
"Ah. And you have come to kill me, is that right?"
 "It is." I said stiffly, feeling more and more confused.
There was another long pause, as Thurloe sat, marked the page in his book, closed it and laid it neatly on the table. Then he placed his hands in his lap and looked at me once more.
"Well? Go ahead. I would hate to detain you unnecessarily."


She is a good woman, everything a wife should be, and brought me an estate, yet I wish I had never been constrained to marry. The services a woman provides in no manner compensates for the inadequacy of her company, and the liberties she curtails. 

"The Honeysuckle Bower" by Peter Paul Rubens
(a self portrait of him and his wife)

WOW. LOL that line still gets me. Yeah, I should probably mention that there are parts of this book that will come off as degrading to the female race in general. Keep in mind though, it takes place in the 1600s. Not the easiest time for us ladies! It was hard to read at times, but not because I was offended, more that it made me think of the women who actually had to live through that time and that kind of mentality. Pears including such details though, I thought, added a nice dose of realism. Alotta history ain't all that pretty! It's good to have a reminder from time to time. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books

Kaa's advice to Mowgli:
"A brave heart and a courteous tongue, they shall
carry thee far through the Jungle, Manling."
Ohhh so true!

After reading about all dem lions, I decided to revisit The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I still like the stories but it's funny when you re-read something as an adult that you remember from your childhood and it's not exactly how you remember it. When I was a kid, I just saw the stories as cute tales about jungle animals and that's about it. As an adult, I was surprised at how much moralizing is written between the lines! No wonder, as I read up and found that that was Kipling's plan all along. He wanted to take all these lessons he'd learned over a lifetime and write them down in a way that children might benefit from them early on in life. Seeing as how I didn't even notice that element as a child, it's hard to say if the morals took lol. Thinking about it though, aside from the usual struggles with temptation -- maybe consuming more sugar than I should, occassionally letting impatience get the best of me, that sort of thing -- I think in general I came out a decent person after all. So maybe there was something to Kipling's idea... hmmm... sneaky.

The "rules"  and hierarchy system the jungle animals set up for themselves are what I found most appealing as an adult reader. This is the kind of stuff I didn't really grasp fully as a child. Life lessons abound! For example:

  • Mowgli is a boy who wanders into the jungle one day and seems to be an orphan. He's taken in by the jungle wolves and over the years grows up learning that he is allowed to hunt anything for food except cattle because his place in the wolf pack was "purchased" by Bagheera the panther (who took up the role as a sort of surrogate parent) when Bagheera gave the wolf pack a freshly killed bull. {Acknowledge / Respect those who sacrificed for you}
  • The "Call of Protection" : Baloo The Bear teaches Mowgli this call, the wording of the call (which, in the story is basically a poem sort of greeting stated aloud) varying between species. It's used as sort of a truce or peace greeting. If Mowgli uses the Call of Protection towards a fellow jungle dweller, it is forbidden by jungle law for him to be attacked by that animal. This goes for all animals except for monkeys. Kaa the python says that monkeys have no hierarchy or language of their own, they just use bits and pieces of language and structure that they've stolen from other species, jumbling it all together until it's pretty much nonsensical.{We may all be different but there's commonality among all animals}
  • When a period of drought and famine hits the jungle, Hathi the elephant, considered Master Of The Jungle, calls a Water Truce, where "flesh eaters" (carnivores) are forbidden from hunting and are expected to eat plants until the truce is lifted. The truce is put into effect because Hathi sees that all the animals are too weakened from malnourishment, so in the heat of the night the carnivores and herbivores gather together at the Peace Rock with the nearly dried out riverbed (but the coolest part in the jungle, from the water that remains) and tell stories of better times or share hard time experiences. {Don't kick someone when they're down ; sometimes you hear it phrased as "There by the Grace of God go I" } 
    • Jungle Mural
      "And only when there is one great Fear over all, as there is now, can we of the Jungle lay aside our little fears, and meet together as we do now." ~~~ Hathi, Master Of The Jungle

    • During this time, Khan The Lame Tiger disregards the truce, deciding to hunt as he pleases. He kills a man in a nearby village and then comes back to the riverbed to basically gloat about the incident. He also rinses off his paws in the river, tainting the remaining water with the blood of man. 

In The Jungle Book, Kaa The Python believed that
 poison snakes were cowards! :-P

Mowgli had a bit of a tough time in the jungle. Bagheera, Baloo and Kaa developed a sort of system for watching out for Mowgli, keeping him safe and educating him about the ways of the jungle, but young Mowgli suuuure kept those guys running! He always seemed to be getting into some sort of scrape! The worst incident being when Mowgli gets kidnapped by those "evil mooonkeys" Kaa said had no hierarchy. The monkeys are not considered as part of the clan amongst the jungle animals partly because of the hierarchy / language thing and partly because they live up in trees instead of down on the ground (not sure how that's different from the birds or Kaa himself.. there's a ton of animals that live in the trees, but that's how Kaa explains it in the story). The monkeys carry Mowgli kicking and screaming to the "Cold Lairs" - ancient civilization ruins where monkeys and wild boars like to live. The other animals avoid the Lairs, except in times of drought when water sometimes pools there. Luckily, Mowgli manages to yell out a Call of Protection to a bird passing by, hoping that in his panic he's doing the right call. The bird takes the jungle SOS, tracks down Kaa and the guys and tells them what he saw. So then, they're in a mad race to get to Mowgli before the monkeys do something stupid.

In the book, it's said that monkeys have no hierarchy, 
but Disney, in their 1967 interpretation / watered-down version, 
created "King Louie" the boisterous orangutan.
Interesting addition, since orangutans are actually apes. 

"I Wanna Be Like You" song from The Jungle Book (1967)

Kaa, Baloo and Bagheera trying to save Mowgli from the monkeys turns into this epic jungle battle where pretty much any animal within hollerin' distance lends a hand to get the "Man-Cub" back. Mowgli, ducking into one of the ruins, uses the Snake Call (Call of Protection), bringing a swarm of cobras to his aid. Kaa is strongest opponent of the monkeys. He is the only animal they fear, because being a python, he sometimes steals monkey babies  or elders for food (now you might see why Disney rose-colored the hell outta this story, filling it with jazzy song and dance numbers instead of images like Kaa digesting baby monkeys or Khan The Lame Tiger mauling a guy!).

Generations of monkeys had been scared into good behavior by the stories their elders told them of Kaa, the night-thief, who could slip along the branches as quietly as moss grows, and steal away the strongest monkey that ever lived; of old Kaa, who could make himself look so like a dead branch or a rotten stump that the wisest were deceived, til the branch caught them. Kaa was everything that the monkeys feared in the jungle, for none of them could look him in the face, and none had ever come alive out of his hug.

Kaa and the guys win the battle and get Mowgli out of the Cold Lairs safely. Kaa tells Mowgli what's coming next is not for the young boy to see (hinting that he was getting ready to kill all the monkeys), so he sends Mowgli back home to rest. Later on in the story, more dramas hit Mowgli, such as being rejected by his Wolf Pack. He does a stint in a local village, trying life as a village youth but finds he's not too fond of having to spend his days farming and shepherding herds or being yelled at when he screws up rather than hunting, napping and scarfing bananas with Baloo. Can't blame the poor guy - who would relish that kind of transition?

Interesting little bit from the book - Mowgli is described as being able to walk 9 mph -- 
Well, I looked it up and, to date, the average walking speed
for humans is between 3-5 mph.... Dude can truck it! ;-)

Mowgli uses one of the herds he's left to shepherd to get back at the hated Khan. One of the other people in the village sees what he does and runs back to the village claiming Mowgli is really a witch who can summon the animals at will. The couple that had taken in Mowgli as one of their own are also accused of sorcery. The villagers decide to burn the couple at the stake (seriously!). Mowgli devises a plan that saves the couple and gets them to safety but because of the experience he develops a hatred toward man, except for Messua, the woman who acted as his foster mother in the village. Messua believed Mowgli to be her actual son she lost to the jungle years before, but after some questioning and figuring, Mowgli knows he's not the missing son. Still, she continued to accept him as such.

After guiding Messua and her husband to safety, Mowgli returns to the jungle but not to the old wolf pack. He feels he's been shunned by both foster families, so he decided to be a wolf pack of one (that's right, I said it Hangover fans). He goes off and lives around his old friends but more off by himself until Kipling hints that one day adult Mowgli goes off and gets married. Nothing else is really mentioned of it other than saying it happens, so not sure if he brought Mrs. Mowgli back to the man cave or what.

"Wolf Pack Of One" speech from The Hangover

Kipling gives a vivid description of what he calls the "jungle pheeal":
"It was what they called in the Jungle the pheeal, a hideous kind of shriek that the jackal
gives when he is hunting behind a tiger, or when there is a big killing afoot. If you
can imagine a mixture of hate, triumph, fear and despair, with a kind of leer
running through it, you will get some kind of notion of the pheeal that
rose and sank and wavered and quavered far away across the Waingunga."

So there's a bunch here as far as laws, hierarchy, friends having your back, etc that a reader could easily find relatable. There are some gruesome parts (again, must have blocked that out as a kid lol) but there's also a good deal of sweetness, of taking the cards you're dealt and appreciating what you have. A tippa the hat to Kipling for giving me that gentle reminder. 

So with that said, I want to leave you all with my favorite song from the Disney movie. I still remember being about 9 yrs old, going to the theater to see this movie with my Aunt Chrissy (not in the 60s of course but for a re-release in the 90s lol) right after she got back from her Peace Corps stint in Ecuador, and me humming this song in my head the rest of the day -- hell, I still sing this song on a bad day .. Enjoy:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Born Free Trilogy with Elsa the Lioness

After reading about Morrison's travels through Africa in From Lotos To Cherry Blossom, I decided to pull out my copies of the Born Free trilogy. They'd been on my "to read" list for awhile, figured I'd knock them out as all are pretty short reads. I remember my mom talking about these books when I was a kid, and I vaguely remember seeing the movie Born Free years ago. (I recently re-watched the movies Born Free and Living Free on Netflix, cute cubs but it was hard for me to get around the overacting that was prevalent in so many 60s films - the woman playing Joy seemed like she was constantly screeching at the guy playing George about everything. Seriously, not every moment in life is that epic lol). 

Virginia McKenna,
played Joy in the film adaptations of Born Free,
the role was taken up by Susan Hampshire in Living Free

Bill Travers
played George Adamson in Born Free,
went on to marry Virginia McKenna in real life. 
In 1984, McKenna & Travers, with their son Will,
established the wildlife non-profit  Born Free Foundation.
Travers also went on to produce a number of 
wildlife documentaries. 
The role of George was played by Nigel Davenport 
in Living Free. Not sure why the casting change was 
done on the two parts but the sequel was 
not received as well as Born Free
McKenna & Travers remained close friends with the Adamsons.

McKenna and Travers with lion in Born Free

Speaking of moments of "it's not that epic", I did feel some of that in the books themselves. I lost count of the number of times Joy described the lions (Elsa or her cubs) dragging meals to the river, nearly every meal it seemed. It reminded me a bit of when I go to a friend's home who has kids and they tell me, in minute detail, about something the kid did, that, to me anyway, sounds a bit cute but also pretty ordinary but the friend will be over the moon about it. Now, before I get attacked by mom readers, I KNOW, if you don't have kids you can't understand. The closest thing I can liken it to is when one of my pets does something that seems adorable to me but to my friends would probably be a pretty "whatever" kind of moment. For that reason though, I try to keep my pet gushing to a minimum around others lol. My point being, the first few descriptions of Elsa's feedings by the river were cute, but then it started to feel like OKAAAY. Think of it as like when someone shows you their albums of vacation photos or something. The first dozen or so are pretty, but after that you start to lose focus because it wasn't your trip so it all becomes an awkward "well, I guess you had to be there" moment. 

Joy's husband & Game Warden for
 Northern Frontier Province of Kenya in 1960s

that would have been cool to see!

I did like the series, and I've always had an interest in animal behaviorism as a science, one of the things that initially made me curious to read these books. I have to admit though, I found Elsa's mannerisms and antics a little more interesting than her cubs. That could be because her cubs ended up being raised more in the wild than herself so Elsa, through her environment, may have naturally picked up more humanistic characteristics than her children.

Okay, so here's a basic rundown on each book in the series:

Book #1 : Born Free (1960)

Author Joy Adamson, a writer (obviously), artist and botanist is living in Isiolo, Africa with her husband, George, who serves as senior game warden for the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya. George goes out one day to investigate reports of a lion that's possibly attacking locals. He returns with three lion cubs and explains to Joy that he had to shoot the mother lion (killing her) who lunged at him. Joy, with George's help, takes up the task of weaning and raising the cubs. She names the three girl cubs "Big One", Lustica or "Jolly One" and Elsa. Once they are old enough to be off the bottle and separated, Big One and Lustica are transferred to Rotterdam-Blydorp (or Blijdorp as it's known now) Zoo. Joy finds she's developed too strong an attachment to Elsa to let her go too, so Joy and George decide to put together an experiment to see if they can take a lion raised primarily in captivity (of sorts) and have it successfully re-released completely back to a natural state (judging from this book, I'm guessing this was when animal conservation and re-release, a common practice now, was still in it's infancy?). They find a spot on the reserve, not too far away from their home in Isiolo, and with the help of locals Nuru (their assistant), Makedde (armed guard) and Ibrahaim (jeep driver), they get down to acclimating Elsa to the wild. Elsa is left in the wild by herself just overnight at first, then for days at a time, until Joy and George start to find signs that Elsa may have found a wild lion to mate with. 

Elsa's sister, Lustica, as a cub
trying to open a bolt lock

Elsa and Joy embracing each other after a time apart --
who says animals don't have souls! :-D

I really felt for Elsa, thinking about how she had grown to be so dependent on humans and then seemingly out of nowhere to her I'm sure, she gets dumped by herself out in the wild to kind of just "figure it out". Yes, the Adamsons did camp nearby the first few weeks but they couldn't exactly tell her how to find and kill food like a lion if she was to be wild again. The Adamsons knew the importance of this work, and as hard as it was personally not to keep her has a sort of pet, they had to let go and let nature happen. 

To help fund her research with Elsa and other wild species, as well as contribute to species conservation efforts in general, Joy used the proceeds from Born Free to start the now defunct foundation she named The Elsa Appeal. Joy's friend, actress Tippi Hedren (famous for her role in Alfred Hitcock's The Birds) served on the board of The Elsa Appeal. 

Book #2 - Living Free  (1961)

For some reason, this middle book seems harder to come by and less publicized than the other two. I had to troll around on Ebay for awhile before I came across a copy in decent shape. 

So this book shows that Elsa did in fact find a wild lion to mate with, introducing the Adamsons to Elsa's new cubs, 2 boys and 1 girl. Joy dubs the boy cubs Jespah and Gopa and the girl Little Elsa. Not sure why, but there's not much talk about Gopa. Don't know if he just wasn't as interesting to watch as Jespah and Little Elsa? Maybe he was just the kind to sit there, wondering when the next meal was coming up and nothing else lol. Anyway, once she had her cubs, Elsa (whose inexplicable distrust of any and all dark African men was described in the first book) didn't seem to like any men of any kind, not even her lion mate, around those babies. In fact, the way Joy describes the father lion almost sounds like the stereotypical "deadbeat dad"

The way in which the cubs were developing into true wild lions exceeded our hopes, but their father was a great disappointment to us. No doubt we were partly to blame, for we had interferred with his relationship with his family -- but certainly he was of no help as a provider of food for them; on the contrary, he often stole their meat. Moreover, he caused us a lot of trouble. One evening he made a determined attempt to get to a goat which was inside my truck, and another time, when Elsa and the cubs were eating outside our tent, she suddenly scented him, became very nervous, sniffed repeatedly toward the bush, cut her meal short and hurriedly removed the cubs. George went out with a torch to find out what the trouble was; he had not gone three yards when he was startled by a fierce growl and saw the cubs' father hiding in a bush just in front of him. He retreated rapidly and luckily so did the lion. 

I thought it was cute that this story opens with Elsa hunting a honey badger ("for sport", Joy writes) - now a popular source of comedy thanks to the introduction of this clip:

San Diego Zoo needs to hire this narrator 
for their monorail tours ;-)

I was walking ahead but stopped dead at the sight of a ratel; this animal also known as a honey badger, is rarely seen. It had its back turned toward me and was so absorbed digging for grubs in the rotten wood of a fallen tree that it was quite unaware of Elsa's approach. She saw it and crept forward cautiously until she was practically on top of it.Only when their heads nearly bumped together did the ratel take in the situation; then, hissing and scratching, he attacked her with such courage and so savagely that she retreated. Using every advantage that  the ground offered, the ratel made a fighting retreat, charging often, and eventually disappeared none the worse for his adventure. Elsa returned defeated and rather bewildered; plainly she was too well fed to hunt except for sport, and there was no fun to be had with such a raging playmate.

I felt this book gave me, as a reader, a better look at Elsa's personality. Much of the first book was mainly about her care in the wild and the Adamsons' struggle to let go of their hold on Elsa. At this point in Elsa's story, everyone seems to have adapted to the changes and now true colors start to come through - and Elsa is feisty!!

... Elsa hopped up on my camp bed as soon as it was made ready and looked as if she thought it the only suitable place for someone in her condition {pregnant, at this point}. From now on she took posession of it, and when next morning, as I did not feel well, I had it carried down to the studio (a place on the riverbank, overhung by the branches of a large tree where I work), she came to share it with me. This was uncomfortable, so after a time, I tipped it over and rolled her off. This indignity caused her to retire, offended, into the river reeds til the late afternoon when it was time for our walk. When I called her she stared at me intently, advanced determinedly up to my bed, stepped onto it, squatted, lifted her tail, and did something she had never done before in so unsuitable a place. Then with a very self-satisfied expression she jumped down and took the lead on our walk.

Daaammn! Saucer of milk for table 2, eh ;-). I've had one of our cats pull a similar stunt on our bed before and I swear it feels like it's out of spite sometimes! There was another pretty funny incident of Elsa's Joy describes, taking place just after the time they guessed Elsa had given birth:

The next morning I woke up to hear Elsa moaning to the cubs in a nearby thicket. Since their birth, we had never used the radio when they were in camp, so as not to frighten them. But today George turned on the morning news. Elsa appeared at once, looked at the instrument, roared at it at full strength and went on doing so until we turned it off. Then she went back to the cubs. After awhile George tuned in again, whereupon Elsa rushed back and repeated her roars until he turned it off. 

Not an NPR fan, I guess lol. Or maybe she was a new mom trying to say, "OMG! Are you kidding me?? I just got them to lay down!! Shut that damn thing off!" It would have been even funnier if Elsa had come back the second time and knocked down the radio, breaking it in a million pieces as if to say "Oh, I KNOW you did not just turn that thing back on!" :-P

Living Free also shows what a badass Joy was out in the wild. Throughout the course of this story, she has a stand-off with a rhino, gets bitten by a scorpion and gets violently ill with her leg getting pretty scary looking from the way she describes it, she gets chased by poachers with guns and escapes AND survives powerful floods on the African plains! Speaking of poachers, these poachers (or maybe friends of theirs) destroy one of the camps of the Adamsons - I just found a smidge of irony in that. They're the ones breaking the laws but they destroy the game warden's camp. World's Dumbest material right there.

"How splendid these lions were -- aloof, but friendly, dignified, and self possessed. 
Looking at them, it was easy for me to see why the lion has always 
fascinated man and become a symbol of something he admires. The king of
animals, as they have called him, is a tolerant monarch; true, he is a predator,
but predators are essential to keep the balance of wild life and he has no wish
to harm, he does not attack man unless he is persecuted for his skin or when he
is too infirm to find other more active prey. He never kills except to satisfy his
hunger, as is proved by the unconcern with which herds graze around a pride
when they know that the lions' bellies are full."

The Adamsons had a bit of an uphill battle trying to bond with the cubs in the same way they did with Elsa. It seemed they took more after their brush-native father. The cubs, presumably by their mother's rule, would never try to harm the Adamsons, despite being more wild natured. I wondered if they only mimicked Elsa's non-threatening behavior or did she in fact have a way of telling them not to harm the humans?  They managed to make some progress in getting the cubs to listen to them in that they were able to successfully get the cubs to stop unruly behavior just by saying "No, No" a few times here and there (which reminded me of a mother's "count to three" method of discipline). Just as they were starting to make some headway, these incidents with the poachers came about. The cubs came dangerously close to being caught by the poachers. After escaping, the cubs' personalities seemed to flip - Jespah, who was the eldest of the cubs and more shy initially, was much more bold with Joy and George after surviving the poachers, while the other two became more guarded.

Elsa with Little Elsa 
Visitors sometimes came to visit Elsa in the wild, but it didn't 
always go how they might have imagined. In one instance,
Elsa makes a nighttime visit to one visitor's tent:
"... by the time he {George} got inside, Elsa had 
managed to clasp her paws around Billy's neck and 
held his cheekbones between her teeth.We had often
watched her do this to her cubs; it was a sign of 
affection, but the effect on Billy must have been
very different." OMG! What a way to wake up!

Oh yeah, and on the topic of rhinos - Joy mentions that large game animals such as rhinos were often killed by poachers with poisoned arrows but she also says that nearby lions fed on the leftover carcasses - I wondered that the lions were not affected by the poison? Wouldn't the meat be tainted? Also, a little factoid I picked up from this book - it seems that tapeworms, while making the average human cringe at the very thought, can actually be beneficial in the GI tract of a lion. Some studies have shown that certain parasites in certain hosts actually somehow alter the immune system of the host, making them less susceptible to diseases or more minor illnesses. Not sure how that works exactly but interesting nonetheless.. Still, don't want any in my system - I'll take my Vitamin C and echinacea and call it a day, thank you lol. I can't even sit through that show Monsters Inside Me!

Joy writes that one of Elsa's favorite treats was a mixture of
"brains, marrow, calcium supplement and cod liver oil"
yea... mmmm LOL but then, I'm not a lion. 
For all I know, a lion might hate the taste of shrimp 
when I can easily eat a big ol' plate of them :-D
The lions' regular diet consisted of lots of goat and guinea fowl.

Elsa & cub, 
taken before Joy could determine sex of cubs
so it's not certain which cub this is

Aside from the awakening of Elsa's real personality, the other thing that interested me most about this book was Joy's interesting observations and run-ins with other members of the animal kingdom. She found hippos to be ugly "but at least they had nice voices", liking the voice to "low notes of a cello". Is that like when people say a heavy girl has a nice personality or a sweet face?? Joy also mentions that elephants were the only wild animal that frightened her... Elephants. Not cobras, not rhinos or tsetse flies or scorpions. Not even spiders the size of baseballs. Elephants. I realize they're known to charge when alarmed and can run up on you in a hurry but it's not like one wouldn't hear them coming. These are creatures that fear mice. They do! Mythbusters proved it. I saw it. I'm just thinking if you're mingling with lions day to day, you can probably hold your own with an elephant. Another "umm" moment is when she describes a yellow blackheaded weaver bird nesting in the rigging of her tent and Joy finds herself trying to help the momma bird find food for the sick baby in the nest so Joy feeds the baby an egg yolk... yeah, a baby bird eating another baby bird embryo. Not saying it's wrong if it keeps the animal alive, just an unusual "we'll laugh about this later" moment in species preservation. But I wonder if the connection dawned on Joy in the moment? If she did, in fact, chuckle about it later? 

Book # 3: Forever Free (1962)

I think this was my favorite of the trilogy. This book really addressed the difficulties animal conservationists / activists face when trying to protect and preserve species. I'm not talking about the crazy conservationists that do more harm than good, but the honest, goodwill minded people who really just want to save animals, but with rational means. When people that approach environmentalism with rationality get blocked by governmental red tape and corporation greed, it is really aggravating. Reading Forever Free, the reader can feel how disheartened and frustrated the Adamsons must have been, trying to overcome such seemingly impossible obstacles. There's a lot of "1 step forward, 3 steps back" to this part of the story. 

Momma Elsa: "Next day, at teatime, Elsa showed me very clearly what a wonderful mother and companion she was to her cubs. The family appeared on the far bank of the river opposite the studio. I had seen a six-foot crocodile slither into the river at their approach and was therefore not surprised when the cubs paced nervously up and down the rocky platform by the river's edge, obviously frightened to jump into the deep pool beneath. Elsa licked each one in turn. then they all plunged in together and swam safely across in close formation. When the cubs relaxed and began to chase each other so as to get dry, Elsa joined in. She took Jespah's tail in her mouth and walked around in circles with him, obviously enjoying the clowning as much as he did. Eventually Jespah sat down closely to me, turning his back to me. This he did when he wanted to be petted; he seemed to realize that I was always a little afraid of being accidentally scratched by him because, unlike his mother, he had not learned to retract his claws when playing with human beings.

 Apologies to my readers here, I tried to think of a way around it but I have to put in a little SPOILER ALERT here - they're my biggest personal peeve when it comes to books and movies but in this instance, I just couldn't think of how else to discuss the book without it, so look away or scroll down if you'd rather not know. This book picks up pretty much right where the last one stopped but does backtrack a bit in the opening pages and give more details regarding how Living Free ended. This on focuses on the life and future of Elsa's cubs after Elsa's death from babesia, a blood born illness that stems from infected tick bites. Joy writes that Elsa's death was the first recorded case of babesia even being found in a lion, let alone killing one.  The real tragedy was that Elsa was only 5 years old at the time of her death! What's curious to me is Joy's observation, "her {Elsa's} nose was wet and cold, a sure sign she was ill." Initially this stood out to me because I think of how a wet nose on my dog or cat means they're well, not ill. Unless she's talking about when cats get heavy mucus flow down their face. I've seen my own cat get little colds here and there when he was younger, he displayed heavy mucus on his face then, but just being wet and cold is a bad sign? The other thing I wondered about is how further along in the book, Joy explains how they had the help of tranquilizers and sedatives when moving the cubs long distances. If they had that sort of thing available, why wasn't a sedative used on Elsa so she could be moved to a vet who could check her out like they do now? Would it have been enough to save her life?

Elsa's gravesite, Meru National Park, Kenya
In Forever Free, Joy describes the troubles they went through to get this stone engraved
and have a real memorial gravesite set up for Elsa, who came to mean so much for 
so many. 

Judging from Joy's writings, Jespah seemed like he had the closest
bond with Elsa, out of all her cubs.

Living close to wild animals for so many years, I have come to find that their instinctive reaction to fate is often very far superior to our own and that theirs is a wisdom I still have to learn. In this context, I had been recently much impressed by the way in which a spider I watched coped with her difficulties. I cannot feel any affection for these eight-legged creatures but I was fascinated to observe the spider remaking her complicated web  each time the rain destroyed  it or it was torn by a large insect; whatever the source of the disaster, she went to work at once to repair the damage and she had the courage as well as patience; she could often tackle beetles many times larger than herself, wrapping them in her silky thread until  they were tied up like parcels  and ready for consumption. Watching her, I hoped that we might be capable of learning from this low form of life how to show an equal determination and persistence in coping... 

After the death of Elsa, there was an even greater push to have the cubs put completely back in the wild, with human contact cut off. The Adamsons fought against this, reasoning that the cubs were less than a year old and had yet to fully learn how to hunt for themselves. There was also the added difficulty of the cubs seeming to retract even more from human contact after the death of their mother. Joy and George work out an agreement with the Kenyan government allowing the Adamsons to stay with the cubs until they are fully capable of being on their own, but still requiring the cubs to be moved. Over the course of many months, the cubs traveled all over the African serengeti, but the first trial relocation was at Lake Rudolph.

The transition was especially trying for Joy, because she was greatly worried about the future of the cubs:

If man, with all his capacity to reason often gives tragic proof of his inability to adjust himself to exile, how can one expect wild animals, who are more conservative and more dependent on their territory, to adjust themselves to something completely strange?

At Lake Rudolph, there seemed to be evidence that the cubs might be getting pushed off their turf by an old  foe of Elsa's, a lioness from a different pride. Joy dubbed this enemy "Fierce Lioness". Joy believed this lioness might have followed the cubs through parts of their travels and was trying to push the cubs out of their area, making the kids resort to finding food in and around local tribal villages and having them risk being killed just to avoid starving to death. Lions (not always Elsa's cubs) would sneak into villages and snatch livestock from the village pens or grab a stray one from a herder's flock. The kill was sometimes just out of boredom, but more often than not because the lions were left with no other choices for food sources. 

"Two Lion Cubs At Play" by William Walls (1880)

While Joy and George struggled to get the cubs to a decent level of self-sufficiency where the cubs could hope to have some chance of survival on their own, they were also in a struggle with the Director of National Parks in Africa who originally invited them to try out Lake Rudolph. The director tried the angle of "good works" to try to bring the cubs in and boost tourism to the park area, leading the Adamsons to believe they had an ally. Turns out his help only went so far. With each day, he was more and more persistent with Joy and George to either leave the cubs as is or decide to move them somewhere else. He claimed to understand their concerns but it was more like when someone says "You seem to be listening but do you really hear me?" Or as my parents use to say when I was a kid, "Don't try to understand me so fast!"

Hedonistic lions... too funny not to quote! This one goes out to the suckers that feel humans are so superior amongst the rest of the animal kingdom... see how familiar this behavior sounds to you!:

Quite close to the camp we passed the dark maned lion and his two girlfriends. We had always supposed that lions liked to pass their honeymoon in privacy and were therefore surprised to see this lion making love to one of the lionesses in the presence of the other. Not more than a mile farther on we saw a magnificent blond maned lion sunning himself on the open plain. He paid no attention to us or to the clicking of our cameras and stretched and yawned as though we weren't there. After that, I had hardly time to change my film before we ran into another pair of lovesick lions. They lay as close together as they could, seemed very tired and ignored us...After breakfast {next day} we went off to see more of the migration. On our way we passed the mating lion and his lioness again. Although they were lying in the open and must have seen us, they allowed us to approach to within twenty-five yards of them, and were so little disturbed by our presence that eventually the lion sired his mate, an act which lasted three minutes and ended by his giving her a gentle bite on her forehead to which she responded with a low growl. {Seriously, does that not sound like when a guy smacks you on the butt after he finishes? Don't act like you haven't been there ladies! If you haven't you might want to encourage your dude to let his freak flag flutter a bit more lol} After a quarter of an hour, he approached her again, but this time she dismissed him with a sweep  of her paw. This was repeated three times before she permitted him to sire her again and, as before, he bit her on the forehead. We continued to watch them and after about twenty minutes the lion sired her a third time, releasing her only after giving her a slight bite on the neck; after this both went to sleep. There was no sound to be heard and time seemed to stand still on this vast plain.  When we started up the car, the lioness raised her head and blinked at us through half-closed eyes, but the lion never stirred. Here {the African plain}the males being vastly outnumbered by the females, a good many of the lions we saw looked rather thin. We thought this was partly because a lion's honeymoon lasts 4-5 days and during this time the couple do not eat and seldom drink, and here there were not enough lions to satisfy the demand of so many lionesses so the lions often went hungry {Joy explains elsewhere that while lions on their own can hunt, in a pride the lioness typically hunts for the lion and the cubs}. 

A note to my husband when he reads this -- honey, I love you but don't get any ideas here -- you don't need to surprise me with a post - coital forehead munch lol. 

Okay, back to the cubs!

The risk proved to be too great for one of Elsa's cubs - Jespah, the eldest. He wasn't killed but he did get an arrow in the butt! By the time of Jespah's injury, the Adamsons were not left with an option. They were pretty much just kicked out of the reserve. The only way Joy could find to still keep an eye on the cubs was to buy a tourist pass onto the reserve and camp, but even then she was not allowed to touch or interact with the cubs she helped keep alive! Desperate, Joy (without telling George) goes to see a fortune teller to see if she can get any news about Jespah (who still had the spear head in his rear - the vet that checked out Jespah said it would cause less damage to let the spear head fall out on its own rather than have someone yank it out. The last time Jespah was seen, Joy noted that the wound did not look good and in fact she feared it might go septic and possibly kill him).

I was rather ashamed of myself and didn't tell George what I had done {to which I thought "So you just let him find out down the road in your book??}. The fortune teller gives Joy a date, telling her she is to find "unexpected success". He also instructs her to wear something blue for luck {if it's predicted to happen, why does she need luck?}. Joy goes back to the camp and on the day the fortune teller gave her, she and George go driving out trying to see if they can get any sign of the cubs' location, when they end up getting the truck stuck in mud on the edge of a lake bed. The truck starts to sink into the lake, the interior filling with water. Joy and George jump out and Joy notes In my hurry, I forgot my blue talisman, and when I looked back, I saw my handkerchief {the bit of blue she put on per instructions} floating away and with it, my belief in fortune tellers. 

Joy and George try to plan a more extensive trip with a wider search area for the cubs (who leave no definitive clues to their whereabouts after the Adamsons are forced to leave the cubs alone out in the wild). Their friend Billy (the same Billy who unwillingly had his head between Elsa's teeth that one time) comes to help but then it turns out he discovers he has an "allergy", as Joy describes it, to tsetse flies (after he's bitten by one). So travel plans are halted. Are there many people out there who wouldn't have an "allergy" to tsetse flies? I thought those things were suppose to be deadly to humans, or at the very least make you sick as hell, making you think you were going to die. Poor guy that Billy, but how many people can say they were bitten by a lioness and a tstse fly in the same lifetime and survived both! Along the lines of illness, I love how casually Joy tells of the day she wasn't feeling well, discovered she had a temp of 103 and "had no choice but to rest until the malaria passed"- she's so calm about it, she makes it sound like a passing headache! It's freakin' malaria - still something that is incredibly unpleasant even with modern medicine! Like I said, serious badass lol. 

Neat shot caught by Joy while they were searching for the cubs,
featured in Forever Free.

The Adamsons head in the direction of Mt. Kilimanjaro, once they had finally heard news that they thought might lead them to the cubs. Unfortunately, it turned out to be another dead end, no definite sightings.

From Lake Rudolph, the cubs out on their own in the wild,
drift toward this region

It was a lovely morning, and I watched last nights clouds disperse to disclose Mount Kilimanjaro rising above the early mist. Its cap of newly fallen snow looked so ethereal in the soft morning light that it was difficult to believe it was a glacier-capped volcano. I have often admired Kilimanjaro from a distance, and I have climbed to its summmit, but today more than ever it seemed a manifestation of glory, remote from the troubled world of man; part of the grandeur of an unspoiled creation of which animals were an integral part of. 

Joy and George move toward Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania where they meet a game warden who adorably had a porcupine named Ngugu, which just cracked me up because it reminded me of that Dane Cook bit about Mgugu!

Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

The story of Elsa's cubs is left open ended. They never actually find the cubs but they don't find evidence of them being killed off either. In fact, they occasionally get news of someone spotting a lion they believe may be Jespah, but nothing they are able to confirm. So in the end, the experiment worked I guess. Elsa was born in the wild, raised by humans, and has her children fully immersed back into the wild. Got you singing "Circle of Life" yet? ;-)

by Joy Adamson

After the work with the cubs ended, Joy and George drifted apart, almost as if they had actually suffered the loss of their own children (they didn't have any children together, as far as I've read, but that's what I likened the split to). They didn't ever officially divorce, and remained on friendly terms the rest of their lives, but George continued to work with other lions, while Joy went on to study cheetahs. 

Joy and George's story is compelling and educational just by their sheer dedication to wildlife preservation and education efforts. They dedicated their lives to to protecting and learning about these wild animals, much like Jane Goodall and, in the 1980s, Dian Fossey. Sadly, like Dian Fossey, George and Joy met untimely ends related to their endeavors. On January 3rd, 1980, Joy's body was discovered by her assistant. At first, due to the gruesome nature, it was assumed to be a lion attack, but upon further investigation, it was revealed to be murder by a labourer formerly employed by Joy. Joy was 69. Per her request, her ashes were divided and scattered between the graves of Elsa the lioness and Pippa the cheetah (adopted by Joy in her later solo years). Just 9 years later, Joy's estranged husband George was shot and killed by Somali bandits when he tried to assist a threatened tourist on the Kora Reserve where he continued his work with lions after parting ways with Joy. He was laid to rest on the reserve next to his favorite lion, Boy. 

If you've enjoyed reading about this family of lions, I recommend you check out the movie Two Brothers (if you haven't seen it already) --- BEAUTIFUL movie about two orphaned tiger brothers but I warn you, parts of it will break your heart!! So good though :-)