When I go to estate sales, I invariably come away empty-handed, with only melancholy thoughts on the futility of acquisition and the sorrow of life. North Shore Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey, unsurprisingly, finds a whole lot more, including a word I had never heard before. Her Saturday report:
By Caren Jeskey
Was Liebe sei
Dichter! was Liebe sei, mir nicht verhehle!
Liebe ist das Atemholen der Seele.
Dichter! was ein Kuß sei, du mir verkünde!
Je kürzer er ist, um so größer die Sünde!
What is Love?
Poet, what is love? Will you not tell me!
Love is when the soul takes a breath.
Poet, what is a kiss? Do tell me, please!
The shorter it is, the greater the sin!
— Charlotte von Hagn
Franz Liszt is considered the world’s first rock star. He was 6’2” with long blonde locks and more than a hair of talent. Women flocked to the stage after his concerts, picked up spent cigar butts and inserted them into their cleavages. I was not expecting that. Humanity Relief. Other than the Japanese screen I’d already picked out and loaded into my car, I was not really drawn to anything else at the sale in Riverwoods, though the bright and sunny home with leopard print carpet was filled with gorgeous treasures. I noticed that a gentleman from Knee Deep Vintage was cleaning up, so there may be some cool finds on 18th Street.
Ms. von Hagn caught my eye. She was framed in a simple, velvet lined gold painted 14x12 inch frame, set back an inch or two from the glass. Her right eye revealed exotropia, giving the impression that she was seeking something better elsewhere. Her calm countenance, small smile and bemused eyes were pleasurable to behold.
What really got me was that her dark, ringlet-curled hair was adorned with real gemstones—well, more likely replicas but still—and her velvet and fur trimmed dress similarly bedecked. She sat on a sturdy wooden throne-like chair with brass screws and decorous bulbs indicating high class. That settled it. She was coming home with me.
I put her in the car and was excited to have a new friend from history to hang on my wall. I’d given her name a quick Google search before I decided to bring her home (to be sure she wasn't the wife of a German oligarch), and learned that she was a witty actress who was born and died in Munich in the 1800s. She lived a good long life and died four weeks before her 82nd birthday in 1891. Her father was a businessman, and her brother an accomplished artist.
Apparently, Liszt’s popularity gained him the disdain of the likes of Nietzsche, who gave the composer the nickname "Liszt, or the art of running after women." Ms. von Hagn (who was only married for three years of her life) was one of Lizst’s lovers. It’s said that she composed the poem "What Is Love" on the corner of a paper fan, and offered it to him after one of his shows.
In my quest to learn more about this interesting woman, I found that in addition to the philosophizing he is well known for, Nietzsche tried his hand at composing music as well. He wrote a piece that Wagner’s wife played at a concert, and for some reason (maybe it was bad? Maybe Wagner had a case of jealousy?) Wagner apparently left the show and literally rolled on the floor laughing. After that “Nietzsche later parted ways with Wagner, even writing an entire essay–Nietzsche contra Wagner –about why he had decided to metaphorically stop returning his once-friend and idol’s calls."
I like to sit around and wax poetic, myself. Here on my comfy velvet couch in a quiet and safe suburb, I have room to think, to write, to create, to grow. These days I find it unwise to more than dabble in the news. Yes, the world is crumbling in many ways. As spring approaches, my aim is to find fun things to talk about and I am sure that much of it will come in the form of art. I won't let myself ponder a day where Chicago is no longer safe and important landmarks like The Art Institute might be carelessly bombed like a children's library in Chernihiv. My nightmares belie this choice, for it's impossible (and unwise) to tune it all out. But that's a small price to pay.