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Monday, June 28, 2010

Maximilian's Saddle Auctioned Off for 200,000 Dollars

From my Austrian correspondent in Los Angeles:

"A fabulous saddle made for the last Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I sold at auction on January 30, 2010. The stunning Imperial saddle, consigned by the heirs of the Julius Skilton family who acquired it shortly after Maximilian's execution by the forces of Benito Juarez in 1864, was lavishly adorned with multiple imperial crests and sold for a record setting $200,000 (estimate $100,000 - $150,000) propelled by animated bidding from the audience and all six telephone lines."

Watch the video:
Madam Mayo says: This 3 minute video is a hoot. The first two minutes are a bit boring, then-- just when I was tempted to turn it off-- it gets wild. At the end of the video you'll see a close up of the saddle.

P.S. Read my blog post with more information about this saddle and its previous owner.

Konigsdrama in Mexico by Arthur van den Elzen

Isn't this cover striking? Archduke of Austria Maximilian von Habsburg and his then fiancee, Charlotte, Princess of the Belgians, some years before they came to Mexico as Emperor and Empress. Alas, I cannot read Dutch, but I do know how to select, copy and paste, so herewith a description of this new book about Maximilian and Carlota by Arthur van den Elzen:

ISBN: 9789059119253

Verschijningsdatum: maart 2010
Prijs: €24.95
Van 1864 tot 1867 regeerde een jong Europees koningspaar over Mexico, te weten Maximilian von Habsburg, de jongere broer van de laatste grote keizer van Oostenrijk Franz Joseph, en zijn echtgenote Charlotte, de eerste prinses van het jonge België. Vol idealen waren ze vertrokken naar hun droomzetel in de “Nieuwe Wereld”. Hun zit op Moctezuma´s troon was vanaf de start echter gedoemd te mislukken en uiteindelijk ontliepen beiden het noodlot niet. Maximilian werd na een felle eindstrijd en een showproces in het noorden van Mexico geëxecuteerd. Charlotte zou haar “Max” bijna zestig jaar overleven. Waanzinnig - zich nog altijd keizerin van Mexico wanende - sleet ze het lange resterende deel van haar leven tussen de koude muren van de kastelen rondom Brussel. Dit boek vertelt hun levensverhaal, een waargebeurd drama.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Blogs Noted: Oil Drum, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, John Oliver Simon, Anne Sinclair, Shiva Nata

Alexandra van de Kamp
Read her guest-blog post for Madam Mayo.

The Oil Drum
(And along these lines, not related to Oil Drum, but about the spill, a video about booming. Stay with it for 2 minutes; that's when it suddenly turns wacky. Not for the church ladies and laddies.)

Joanne Leedom-Ackerman

John Oliver Simon
An outstanding poet and translator, sharing some new work and reflections.

Shiva Nata Blog
(Dig the duck)

Le Blog d'Anne Sinclair: Deux ou trois choses vues d'Amerique

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Guest-Blogger Alexandra van de Kamp on 5 + Inspiring World Museums

Along my journey of editing Tameme, one of the most delightful and talented people I had the priviledge meeting was Alexandra van de Kamp, a fellow translator, editor (of the bilingual journal Terra Incognita) and a very accomplished poet. Her new collection is just out from CW Books, and -- DC poets take note-- she'll be reading in the prestigious Café Muse series later this year. Over to you, Alexandra!

5+ Inspiring World Museums

My recently published book of poems, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs evolved over a 10-year period in my life. In this period, I lived abroad (in Spain)— traveling, at times, to other European cities— and then moved back to the States to live in New York City for five years. One constant in these geographical shifts was my love of museums, as places both in themselves and as gateways into the other “places” and “worlds” provided by their displayed pieces of artwork. I love the hushed, contemplative, almost monastic atmosphere of most museums—the cutting-off from your regular life-routine that they can provide. After all, museum comes from the Greek word mouseion, which means “place for muses or for study”. In a museum, I feel I am given more permission than usual to just be quiet and look at what is around me, and that quiet has inspired many a poem. I love to simply plant myself in front of a sculpture or a painting and lose myself in the textures, colors, perspectives and unanswered questions it conjures up. Needless to say, I often make such pilgrimages alone— just ask anyone who has gone to a museum with me and they will testify to how long I can stand before one captivating piece of artwork. Of course, a museum need not always be a place with four walls and dim lighting. Certain locales have played a similar role in my life—as places which provided an unworried enough pace of life so that looking and observing came to the forefront. Thus, one of my links below is not a traditional museum but a village that I lived in for one year— Chinchón, Spain.

1. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Madrid is famous for a triangle of museums that exist at the bottom end of The Castellana— the wide avenue that cuts through the city and flaunts most of Madrid’s major banks and businesses. The Prado is one of these three museums as well as the Reina Sofia—famous for Picasso’s Guernica. However, the third museum that completes this triangle is no less delightful. This is the Thyssen-Bornemisza. With art spanning from the 13th to the 20th century and a modern, well-lit interior, I found myself visiting it quite often. In fact, this museum was where I first began to write ekphrastic poetry—poetry about other works of art. In the mid-1990’s, the museum featured a temporary exhibit on “The Golden Age of Dutch Landscapes,” and, out of my experience with this exhibition, came a whole section of my book, “Winter Landscape.”

2. Zwinger Palace, Dresden, Germany
This is a complex of galleries that gracefully occupies different arms of an extensive, Baroque palace. I discovered this museum when visiting a friend teaching English in Prague. She suggested, as an ideal day trip, taking the beautiful three-hour train ride along the Elbe River to Dresden. Once in Dresden, I found myself spending most of the day in this palace, stumbling from gallery to gallery. My favorite was The Porcelain Gallery, which displayed the most delicate figurines and vases, each a world in miniature: clasping lovers, musicians playing their flutes, scribes hard at work, bent over shining tables.

3. The Frick Museum: New York, NY
Located on East 70th Street right across from Central Park, this private collection was the actual home of the industrialist and art collector, Henry Clay Frick, and was built in the early 1900’s. I find this museum a refreshing alternative to the more sprawling Metropolitan, fifteen blocks uptown. It exudes an intimacy rarely found in a museum with exquisitely furnished rooms, painted ceilings, a quiet courtyard and then, of course, the paintings!!! There are works by Bellini, El Greco, Vermeer and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, to name just a few.

4. The Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY
Living in New York for five years gave me the luxury of being able to return to the Metropolitan Museum over and over again. As a result, I was able to explore, in a more relaxed manner, the various galleries and corridors. I would find myself, on one visit, mesmerized by a gilded pair of leather shoes (A.D. 300-700)— survivors of the Byzantine Empire— and, on a next visit, fascinated by a charcoal study by Degas, depicting a lone dancer.

5. Museum Folkwang Essen, Germany
This is the only museum I have not yet physically visited— although I feel I’ve been there in spirit! Through the generous help of its staff, I was able to get access to a digital image of the 1918 Paul Klee painting, Sunken Garden, that eventually became the image featured on the cover of my poetry book. Such a positive experience with this museum made me curious about it. The first museum of contemporary art in Europe, Museum Folkwang (opened in 1902) is now one of the best known museums of the classical modern era. It can boast paintings by such artists as Gaugin, Manet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir and Klee.

6. Chinchón, Spain
A Castilian village 45 minutes outside of Madrid (if you don’t mind some rather hilly, swerving roads to drive along), Chinchón is a rugged yet elegant village, with a run-down castle propped up on its hill, winding roads, and vineyards dotting its fields. Situated on the wide open terrain of Castile, it has an untouched quality to it that helps you forget you are so near Madrid! My husband and I had the pleasure (and adventure!!) of living there for one year and even managed to get married in its 16th-century church, La Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (a Goya painting hangs above its altar). Its plaza doubles as a bullring in summer, and it can flaunt several impressive restaurants, which serve delicious food and, of course, the famed Anis de Chinchón, a sweet liquor made from Anise seeds and licorice and manufactured in the factory outside of town. Several types of anis are available only in this area of Spain. One is them is Anis Seco (“dry” anis). A little less sweet and more potent than regular anis, there is nothing quite like a snifter of that on a cold day!

-- Alexandra van de Kamp
---> For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.

P.S. Here's a link to a video of Alexandra reading three poems from her previous collection, back in 2006.

Monday, June 21, 2010

José Luis Blasio, author of Maximiliano íntimo (Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico)-- a few notes and reflections

Read this same post on the new Maximilian and Carlota blog here.

Having just finished reading María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez's splendid 1998 thesis for the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México's Department of History, "Don José Luis Blasio y Prieto: Historia de vida a través de documentos personales", a few notes and reflections:

José Luis Blasio (1842 - 1923) was the author of Maximiliano íntimo, a memoir of his years as the Emperor Maximilian's private secretary (and also, an intermediate period, serving the Empress Carlota in Europe in 1866, which coincided with her spectacular psychotic breakdown).
Published in Mexico City and Paris in 1905 and in English nearly three decades later as Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico (Yale University Press, 1934), Blasio's lushly vivid memoir is, without a doubt-- and never mind its less-than-correct political stance-- one of the literary treasures of Mexico.

As Bernal Díaz's True History is to the Conquest, so Blasio's Maximiliano íntimo is to Mexico's Second Empire. Yes, it's that good.

In Mexico's Second Empire (1864 - 1867), as in all periods of history, many people witnessed events of importance, or found themselves close to key personalities, but never, even if they lived into the ripest of lucid old age, bothered to share them in a memoir. ("Who has time?" they probably said. "Why should I care what people I don't know think?" "When I'm dead, I'm dead." & etc.) As for those who managed to put pen to paper, most cobbled together something useful for the interpid researcher but, alas, boring, and / or shot though with displays of personal vanity. Blasio opens his heart, but with the most gentlemanly consideration for the reader, and it is this informative spirit, this deep generosity, elegant in its simplicity, that lifts Maximiliano intimo into a realm beyond that of the other memoirs of the period.

To be fair, I should note two other superb memoirs: Sara Yorke Stevenson's Maximilian in Mexico and Charles Blanchot's L'Intervention Française au Mexique.

Just to give a taste of Blasio's memoir, here is his description of the Moorish room in the small castle on the grounds of Maximilian's Miramar Castle in Trieste, which Blasio visited in 1866 (my translation):

"[It] was upholstered in dark damask and its walls almost literally covered with exotic weapons that the emperor had collected and catalogued with his exquisite taste. The walls also had verses of the Koran handwritten in gold. In the center of the room a beautiful fountain played almost to the ceiling, a thin crystalline thread of water that refreshed that residence worthy of an oriental magnate. From the ceiling hung a canopy made of ostrich eggs enclosed within nets of green silk; the seats were plump pillows of red velvet, and the floor was covered with Turkish carpets of many colors. Everywhere magnificent censers let out plumes of perfumed smoke, and there within the visitor's easy reach, were to be seen long Arab pipes, the kind used by those refined smokers of the Orient."

Blasio's memoir informed many scenes in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, among them, the chapters set in Mexico City in November 1865, Cuernavaca in January 1866, and Rome in September 1866. Blasio himself appears as a minor character in these chapters. As for Blasio's treatment of the subject of my novel, Agustin de Iturbide y Green, the toddler Maximilian made an Imperial Higness and brought into his Court: alas, Blasio makes some serious mistakes, mainly, that the child was 5 (he was only 2 1/2 years old), and that his father was dead. In fact, the child's parents, Angel and Alicia de Iturbide, were both quite alive and, after the mother changed her mind about the arrangement, wild with grief at having been separated from her child, Maximilian's response was to arrest her and have her and her husband expelled from Mexico. From Washington DC and Paris, they got up quite an intrigue against Maximilian, which is amply documented in various archives, including the Iturbide family archive in the Library of Congress (click here for a podcast about that research), the Agustin de Iturbide y Green archive at Catholic University, and in Maximilian's own archive in Vienna, which contains a file of letters from the Iturbides, including the child's father, Angel de Iturbide. My guess is that Blasio did not know much about it, as Maximilian's correspondence with the Iturbide family was direct-- without an intervening secretary-- or else through Castillo, who handled the Civil List. Blasio would have handled official correspondence, and I suppose, neither then nor later did he have the wish or the wherewithal to investigate this ugly episode.

But this is a mere quibble.

Until Cuevas Pérez's thesis, little was known about Blasio other than what he himself wrote about his few years in Maximilian and Carlota's service, which ended with Maximilian's execution by firing squad in Querétaro in June of 1867.

Cuevas Pérez's thesis is based on her research into Blasio's personal archive, which had been inherited by her father, who had been all of ten years old when Blasio died in 1923. They had lived under the same roof, for Blasio, a childless widower, found lodging with his distant cousin, Cuevas Perez's paternal grandmother. As Cuevas Pérez writes (my translation from the Spanish):

"When I was a little girl, my father, Ernesto Cuevas Alvarado, always told me about a man named José Luis Blasio, who had been the godfather at his baptism and, many years before that, had served as the private secretary for Maximilian von Habsburg, for almost the entire time he was emperor. At that young age, it seemed to me a story and after a few years, it didn't make sense because I couldn't see the people of that time in relation to my father. It was not until I was in highschool that I began to wonder, and then, when I began to major in history at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and moreso when I began my studies as an archivist at the Iberoamerican University, that I truly understood the importance of this archive, which my father had so carefully guarded. I decided to write my thesis based on these papers that no one, other than my father and Blasio himself, had read. And now I began to read.... "

María del Carmen Cuevas Pérez describes her own father's memories of Blasio, as told to herself (my translation):

"He was affable, with great political and social tact. Despite his well-known versatility, he never entered into any place, even if he found the door open, for he was very reserved, very polite and above all, noble and above rancor and vanity. He was an impeccably well dressed man. He would not go out to the street without his top hat, cane, jacket or frockcoat, or his most formal suit."

Epecially notable is Blasio's correspondence with his cousin, the Mexican diplomat and novelist Federico Gamboa (1864-1939). Writes Cuevas Pérez (my translation):

"Jose Luis Blasio and Federico Gamboa were very close; they were more than family; they were very close friends... From Washington [Gamboa sent Blasio] congratulations for having finished his work about Maximilian von Habsburg and told him how sorry he was to not have been able to offer his help with as a writer, and that he was very happy that, having advised him many times to write the book, he had finally conceded."

Ah, the labyrinths of literary fame. Here I couldn't help thinking of Guiseppe di Lampedusa's relationship with his cousin, close friend and and literary colleague, the poet Lucio Piccolo. In their lifetime, Piccolo was the senior on the literary scene. Guiseppe di Lampdusa, of course, was the author of one book, the beloved and now classic novel of the fall of Sicily's 19th century aristocracy, Il Gatorpardo (The Leopard).

In Cuevas Pérez's thesis, which you can read on-line here, there is more detail about Blasio's subsequent career as a bookkeeper for the Ferrocarril Mexicano (Mexican Railroad), the Blasio family, his spouse Adela, friends, and other details about his years in Mexico City after the fall of the Empire and up until his death in 1923. Cuevas Pérez's also includes a complete catalog of the archive, extensive notes, and a bibliography.

More anon.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blogs Noted: Delia Lloyd at Politics Daily, Broken Teepee, Edible Geography, Free in DC, Thomas Cowan, Deborah Batterman, Chico Lingo, Mary J. Lohnes,

mirror mirror
New blog by poet Brian Clements.

The Constant Conversation
The blog of the Quarterly Conversation.

The Things She Thinks About
By writer Deborah Batterman. And Check out her interview for Marshal Zeringue's very fun blog Coffee with a Canine. and his other blog, Campaign for the American Reader.

Chico Lingo
By writer Sergio Troncoso. Check out his post on the new issue of Literal.

Delia Lloyd at Politics Daily

Numero Cinq
Translation contest ends June 30th!

Gherkins and Tomatoes
(but don't scroll down so far as to see the piece about eating cats...)

Edible Geography

Free in DC

Broken Teepee
Reviews my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. Bless you, Broken Teepee.

Apifera Farm
I've noted it before, I note it again. Donkeys dancing with raggedy pie!

Mary J. Lohnes

Dr. Thomas Cowan
Raw milk manifesto.

Dr Amen's Brain Blog

More anon.

Monday, June 14, 2010

E.T. Links: Workshop, NPR, Sparklines

Those of you who have been following my blog know what a ginormous fan I am of the work of Edward Tufte, aka "E.T." I recommend his brilliant and all-around fun one day workshop on presenting data and information to anyone and everyone with a functioning frontal cortex. Just a few days ago there was a story on National Public Radio about his wide-ranging work, "The Many Faces (And Sculptures) of Edward Tufte," which you can listen to on-line here. The story mentions his work for be sure to check that out. And you can read more about his ingenious "sparklines" here. More anon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Guest-Blogging: 5 Favorite Guest-Blogs

No guest-blogger this Wednesday, but coming up soon, I'll be running three guest-blogs by three wonderful writers with new books: by poet and translator Alexandra van de Kamp, poet and writing teacher Karen Benke, and novelist Christina Baker Kline.

Apropos of the new May 5th paperback edition of my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I've had plenty to say about guest-blogging as a genre unto itself over at First Person Plural (the Writer's Center's blog), and then re-run in slightly different form at Christina Baker Kline's A Writing Life. Not mentioned in those guest-blogs: I've recently spotted Tracy Kidder guest-blogging for the DailyBeast and, Holy Moses, is everyone now blogging for Huffpost?

Herewith five of my favorite guest-blog posts for Madam Mayo:

Regina Leeds 5 + 1 Resources to Make a Writer Happy in an Organized Space

Joanna Smith Rakoff 5 Favorite Books of New York Stories

Marjorie Price 5 Inspiring Women Artists

Christine Boyka Kluge 5 Favorites for Hybrid Writing, Collaborations and Experimental Work

Sandra Gulland 5 Top Research Sites for Historical Novelists

Basil White Top 5 Laugh Links

More anon.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Ron Hogan on Book Blogs (The Meaning of it All)

Ron Hogan, host of the book blog (for which I recently contributed this guest-blog), gave a fascinating speech at the Bloggers Convention at Book Expo America. Tune in here. More anon.

The iPad Has Finally Arrived: The Review

After multiple attempts to buy an iPad from two different stores, I finally gave up and ordered it on-line. It took 2 weeks to arrive. Behold. My verdict? Fabulosity incarnate.

Not that it's perfect. First, the drawbacks. It cannot drive the car. It cannot walk the dog. It does not mix martinis nor make coffee. Futhermore, it does not have a camera, it does not play YouTube videos (unless you go directly to, then it does, and other times, for no reason I can fathom, it doesn't), and it only opens one app at a time. But what it can do is a paradigm-changer of jaw-dropping proportion. It's the touch-screen, it's the elegance of the design, it's the apps, apps galore, apps-a-looza, apps-o-rama, apps like Maps, Betty Crocker Cookbook, NPR, BBC, WSJ, the Financial Times, New York Times, Bloomberg, El Pais, The Weather Channel, eBay, Netflix, YouTube, and a never-ending parade of wierd little surprise-os such as Jumbo Calculator, Magic Piano, Drum Meister, White Noise, Bowls HD, DiscoBaby, iFish Pond, Gravitarium, Dice HD, and Swine Flute. (OK, some of the apps are pretty crappy. There were several I installed that, after two seconds, I gladly deleted.) But with thousands of apps to choose from already, who's complaining? Not Yours Truly. And an iBook in the iPad makes the Kindle-- a wonder in its moment-- look like, well, something dreamed up in the back end of a Neanderthal's cave. The iPad is that much better: a more reader-friendly design, in color, connected to the Internet (not just that Sprint thing), so you can, zip, zoom over to whatever website, zap, play the Swine Flute (if you should feel so moved), diddle "Fur Elise" on the Magical piano, work on a Keynote doc, check your e-mail, check the NYT, and so on and in multitudinous so-forth. You might come up for air at, say, 4 am.

P.S. Amusing iPad video (ipad + velcro = love)

More anon.

Coctel a Beneficio de Haití

Passing on a message from Nick Gilman in Mexico City:

Como sabemos, la tragedia en Haití ha dejado alrededor de 75 mil muertos, 250 mil heridos y un millón de personas sin hogar. Este país, considerado el más pobre de América Latina, sigue necesitando de la ayuda internacional.

Con este fin, el restaurante Casa México junto con el convivio Slow Food Condesa-Roma, han organizado un coctel a beneficio de la hermana República de Haití. Contará con la presencia del grupo musical Haitiano Konbit y su excelente vocalista Silvie, se disfrutará botanas preparadas por el restaurante Casa México, mezcales y vino de honor.

Todo lo recaudado se destinará a Haiti Clinic, Inc. Esta organización sin fines de lucro, destina la totalidad del dinero que recibe a la compra y distribución de medicamentos y no a los gastos administrativos, viajes, alimentos o alojamiento de sus voluntarios.

¡Apoya esta buena causa y súmate al evento!

Fecha: 9 de junio de 2010 a las 20:00
Lugar: Casa México. Génova 70, Zona Rosa. Tels. 5525 4997, 5525 1196
Costo: $350 sencillo, $600 por pareja

Nicholas Gilman, Slow Food Condesa-Roma (

Friday, June 04, 2010

G-Speak, the Point and Touch Interface

A 15 minute TED talk, well worth watching. The last minute is especially jaw-dropping. More anon.