You know how it goes when you’re doing research, maybe for something you’re writing? Google one thing, and end up in a totally different place. In my case, since my novel-in-progress is called “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” it started with looking up the Spanish iconic painter, Francisco de Goya. Coming across his 1700’s portrait of a prior Duchess of Alba sent me clicking.
Goya’s image, called “The Black Duchess,” portrays a young woman in mostly frilly black portrays a young woman in a mostly frilly black outfit that’s punctuated with a red sash, as well as a gold blouse, shoes, and accessories…
More clicking led to a modern-day Duchess of Alba. María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, the eighteenth Duchess of Alba, remains the most titled of aristocrats. Much was made of her socialite “joie de vivre” (here’s a video of her dancing flamenco at her last wedding) and how she married three times. Husbands two and three were “commoners” — gasp! — and the last one was twenty-five years her junior. When her kids fussed about her love interests, she told them that as divorcees, they ought to mind their own business….
It’s no business of mine what others think of their looks, and if they care, I encourage people to do whatever allows them to love themselves more. The reason I’ve brought this present-time duchess to your attention is because I’d love for you to fill me in on anything you might know about her. Her in-your-face boldness is something I’d give anything to pull off. More to her credit, she didn’t seem to take herself too seriously and she had a great sense of humor. At that flamenco wedding, she handed out whimsical party favors that were little sculptures of her face, broad-lips, deep-set eyes, and whirl-wind hairstyle.
Seeing photographs from late in her life, though, compels me to wonder why men don’t change their appearances as frequently and dramatically as women do? Sure, one need look no further than our orange-haired embarrassment of a former U.S. president, but men still lag far behind women when it comes to the extensive remodeling that induces a double-take.
Maybe it has to do with how girls and women are culturally and commercially targeted nonstop about how they appear. There’s a cruel power play that never ends, no matter how old we get. It’s as insignificant as when a yoga classmate gives me lip for favoring a little make-up and heels, and as weighty as when an influential woman is marked as a crackpot because she doesn’t look Wall Street enough.
Today’s guest shows us how ugliness and cuteness can blend together, certainly when it comes to elfins!
Birgit hales from Germany and blogs from Denmark. At her Stella, oh, Stella site, there’s always something uplifting, educational, beautiful, and fun, including videos of her and her gentleman making music…
Before I turn you over to Birgit, here’s my first try at a new bread recipe that I mixed and baked in under two hours, thanks to Jenny Jones! Khashayar confirmed (since my long-term post-Covid probs limit my senses of taste and smell) that…
Love can mean pain… but this time it’s the French definition!
A True Elfin Story by Birgit
That’s it, I cannot do anything else for now. I will have to continue in spring.
The beginning is done: the fireplace, the ladder, the tiled path, the area for gatherings … the rest will have to wait. A pile of firewood is also ready …
What I am talking about is, of course, the elfin dwelling place in the birch tree stump. I have marked the places for the entrance door and the windows, but it is getting too cold to accomplish artistic wood carvings.
The following winter is comparatively mild, but grey, rainy, stormy, in short: not cosy at all! The spring bulbs are slowly coming our with their first green.
At the beginning of May, my husband enters the kitchen and says enthusiastically that the door, which I have carved into the birch stump looks incredibly real, the windows as well. I rush into the garden right away. It is true! Where I have marked the door last winter, is now an intricate carving looking like Yggdrasil, the world tree from the Nordic cosmology. Further up I can see two windows. They do not look real, no, they are real, with frames and panes and everything. This is not my handiwork! I have not hollowed the tree stump and put in windows and a door. I believe my husband is playing a joke on me.
I take him to task, but he denies all knowledge of the matter. Very well then, I will let him have his fun!
The same night, around one o’clock in the morning, I take a last stroll in the garden, as I often do. There isn’t any wind for a change. I detect a light at the south end of the house. Has my husband lit the candles?
On the birch stump I discover a little figure, swathed in bright light. It is dressed in green cloth from top to toe. Furthermore, one can clearly see four wings on its back. Am I going crazy? Is my imagination running wild? No, my husband must be playing a practical joke. Somehow he is projecting pictures. I go back into the house to tell him that he cannot fool me. I discover that he is already in bed and asleep. What am I to think?
I look out of the southern window. The little figure is still standing out there and is looking directly into my eyes. I go outside again and head towards the birch stump. The elfin, and such a one it is, is not moving an inch.
This first night we only look at each other in silence. I do not remember, how long, but very long. During the following nights we start talking. The elfin understands me and speaks our language. Incredible! What did I expect?
Four elfins have moved into the tree stump, two couples. From my preparations they could see that they would be welcome here. They have embellished everything a lot. The door was too low, the gathering place too small, but then I did not know how tall an elfin was, did I?
It is wonderful to have the small creatures living in the garden. I could watch them for hours. But one day a devil is possessing me. I want to prove to other people that the elfins exist, that they are not purely spawn of my imagination.
So I take my husband’s camera and secretly take some photos. Only one of them is really sharp. But … what is that? Those are not the creatures that I photographed! The figures on the photo look like brown Goldsmiths; still dressed in green, but looking more like insects and with ugly, wrinkly faces. One says that a camera does not lie. I don’t know what to believe.
The next evening I confront the elfins with the photo that I have printed out. They are startled, and then sad, letting their shoulders sag. Slowly their appearance changes, until they resemble the creatures on the photo. But then they begin to whisper among each other, and I notice that their sadness turns into rage. They all look at me with very angry eyes. Can the small ones seriously harm me? I ask myself.
“You know what?” I say. “I will burn the photo. Nobody will ever know anything about this.” I take a match and burn the photo on the spot. The faces are looking friendlier already. They come to me and tell me that the elfin faces I have seen so far are only projections, because they have only experienced rejection with their real appearance. People had thought that they were big insects and had tried to kill them. As they are magical creatures, they had thought up the deception with the projection. They had given themselves the cutest possible appearance, so that they would be generally accepted. “Although it does not really matter so much anymore. Hardly anybody can see us nowadays, not even the children”, I am told. I am glad that peace is restored and the elfins don’t bear a grudge. All four of them have already changed into their cute version again. I wish them good night and go back into the house.
Before I go to bed, I want to delete the electronic original of the photo. My finger hovers a long moment above the delete key. This photo is my only proof of what elfins really look like. But does it really matter? What do those, who do not believe in elfins, care whether they are cute or not? I press the key; the photo is deleted. I will take the secret with me into my grave.
Twenty years have gone by now. The elfins are very comfortable in our garden. The furry animals stay away from them. Their only irritation is the clumsy pheasant that upsets everything and often tears the pile of firewood apart. I wonder what he expects to find there?
They do not care so much anymore about their projected image. I don’t care. I have grown fond of them; they are my friends, no matter what they look like. My husband also started seeing them after a while. Sometimes they make themselves invisible and pull his beard to tease him. From one second to the other the “cute little creatures” become an “irritating gang of mosquitos”. When we are alone, to provoke me, he sometimes calls them my “tame goldsmiths”. But it is all in good humour; everybody respects each other.
When the elfins have children, they urge them quite soon to find their own dwelling, so that the birch stump is not over-populated. They are six now; one more couple has moved in.
From under the roots of the birch stump they have dug a secret tunnel. Not even I was told where it surfaces. I do understand them!
How do you define beauty?