20 February 2011

Puss-in-Boots: The Trickster Cat


The fairy tale Puss-in-Boots has its origins in European oral traditions of the trickster cat as hero. One of the best known versions was written by French writer Charles Perrault (1628–1703). In The Master Cat, a miller dies leaving three sons, the youngest receives as his inheritance a granary cat. Out of desperation the young man thinks of eating the cat and making a muff of his fur. The magical talking cat makes a bargain that in exchange for a bag and pair of boots he would make his master's fortune. Through ingenuity and trickery, Puss transforms the miller's son into The Marquis of Carabas. The bogus Marquis marries a Princess and lives in a castle rewarding Puss with the life of a Lord.


An earlier version of the tale is found in Le piacevoli notti by Italian writer Giovanni Francesco Straparola (1480-1557). The story Costantino Fortunato casts Costantino as the third son of a Bohemian woman who leaves him a cat when she dies. This feline is really a fairy who aids his peasant master to become the King of Bohemia. The rag to riches story is repeated in Italian poet Giambattista Basile's (1575-1632) Pippo. Pippo is the younger of two sons of an impoverished old man. The cat he is left with when his father dies is known as Pusseyship. She transforms her begging master into Lord Pippo and through her wit and manners he acquires wealth and marries a princess. Pippo promises to honor Pusseyship with a golden coffin when she dies. The cat feigns death and her false master says to throw her body out the window. Pusseyship jumps up berating Pippo leaving him behind to fend for himself, exclaiming, "Heaven keep me from the rich grown poor, And from the beggar who of wealth gains store."


Felix Lorioux (1872-1964) was a French illustrator who began his career as a fashion illustrator, but because of his love of fables and fairy tales became a children's book illustrator. His Art Noveau influences with elements of modern and Japanese style can be seen in the colorful depictions of animals such as Le Chat Botté. German born silhouette animator and film director, Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981) was inspired by Chinese shadow puppetry. She shows Puss in a black and gold illustration with an evil magician; the clever cat tricks his foe into changing himself into a mouse that he eats. The third illustration by French artist Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981) is one of the many magical cats she created in both The Fairy Tale Book and My Big Book of Cats.

The Cat and the Fiddle: Queen Elizabeth I as the Cat

High diddle diddle,
The Cat played the Fiddle,
The Cow jump'd over the Moon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.


Originally published in 1765 as High Diddle, Diddle, the nursery rhyme that was written from oral tradition, is believed to be either nonsense or something more intriguing. One theory is that the Cat represents Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) who often played or fiddled with her cabinet members as if they were mice being toyed with by a predatory feline. The little dog signifies Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), the favorite of the Queen who she referred to as her lap dog. The Cow and Moon were nicknames for other cabinet members. An unknown artist rendered Elizabeth in a the of style Italian Mannerist painter Federigo Zuccaro c. 1580. English Golden Age illustrator Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) portrays the cat exotically dressed in his 1913 edition of Mother Goose. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941), the English Arts & Crafts architect, furniture, and textile designer created an equally whimsical wallpaper, Hey Diddle, Diddle.

11 February 2011

The Carnation Revolution: When Flowers Replaced Bullets


With the sea change in Egypt one is reminded of other countries that have transformed themselves. Portugal's Carnation Revolution started early on April 25, 1974. After being signaled by the airing of Zeca Afonso's song Grândola,Vila Morena, a group of army rebels drove tanks into the center of Lisbon. The left-leaning military coup was a reaction to the authoritarian dictatorship Estado Novo that was installed in 1933 by António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970).

Salazar was conservative, pro Roman Catholic and opposed to liberalism, socialism, communism and anti-colonialism. Because of him, Portugal was led into the unpopular Portuguese Colonial War fought in their African colonies between 1961 and 1974. Opponents of Salazar were persecuted by the secret police who used torture, imprisonment and death to repress elemental civil liberties and political freedoms.

Marcelo Caetano (1906-1980) replaced an ailing Salazar as prime-minister in 1968. Although Caetano made some attempts to soften the severity of the Estado Novo, he was ultimately an authoritarian who did not understand democracy. The Portuguese people wanted civil rights, freedom and an end to the Colonial Wars. On April 25, the Captains of April took over the airport, television and radio stations. Citizens placed red carnations in the soldiers' rifles to symbolize change without violence.

The day is celebrated for bringing democracy to Portugal and independence to their African colonies. Portuguese street artist Adres depicts a soldier firing red carnations into the air. Spanish painter Juan Pantoja de La Cruz's (1553-1608) beautifully severe portrait shows a young boy holding a single red carnation.

07 February 2011

Purple Reign: The Month of February

Amethyst is the birthstone for the month of February. In Greek mythology she was a beautiful virgin who on her way to pay tribute to the goddess Artemis became the victim of Dionysius. The god of wine having previously been insulted by a mortal vowed that the next human who crossed his path would die. Seeing the fierce tigers that Dionysius was about to set upon her, Amethyst prayed to Artemis who transformed her into a statue of pure crystalline quartz. When the god saw the exquisite statue he cried tears of wine, which stained the quartz purple. The gemstone is associated with purity; February’s birth flower the blue violet is symbolic of faithfulness. Both are believed to protect those who wear them from the intoxicating affects of Dionysius’ wine. The dissipated god is depicted in the painting by Dutch painter Paulus Bor (1601-1669). Amethyst was used for an intaglio portrait of the Roman Emperor Caracalla, which was later transformed to represent St. Peter. English Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Meynell Rheam’s (1859-1920) gives us a beautiful maiden offering a bouquet of violets on a winter’s day.