Saturday, March 19, 2022

Wilmette Notes: The Entertaining Nature of People

     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. 
      I had no idea, when I asked about an image of German comedienne Charlotte von Hagn at an estate sale recently, that I was set to learn about great dramas of the 19th century. I was on my way out of the sale after helping coordinate donations to 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.


  1. What is love? Five feet of heaven in a ponytail...
    The cutest ponytail...that sways with a wiggle when she walks...
    --The Playmates (1959)

    "Women flocked to the stage after his concerts, picked up spent cigarette butts and inserted them into their cleavages."

    I was expecting that last word to be something else.
    And it wasn't cleavages.

    Frankly, I'm surprised it was cigarette butts, because cigarettes didn't become popular until the the first decade of the last century. Liszt died almost two decades earlier--in 1886. I'm confused...

  2. Exotropia is a form of strabismus (eye misalignment) in which one or both of the eyes turn outward, away from the nose. It is the opposite of crossed eyes, or esotropia.

    I have learned so much from reading EGD every goddamn day.
    Thank you, Caren. (And you, too, Mr. S...)

    1. Thanks for reading Grizz! And I stand corrected. Neil will edit from cigarette to cigar.

    2. Actually, that was the detail I jumped on yesterday, going online trying to find out exactly what Liszt smoked. Then became lost reading about him and forgot why I had set out. Cigars makes more sense.

    3. He’s fascinating! And I listened to him all afternoon yesterday too.

  3. Several random thoughts on today's column that I have no hope of tying together into one, so here goes:

    I don't know if exotropia is rare because we know how to treat it or because it's just, um, rare, but in my life I've met precisely one person who had it, a nice older salesman named Ray who worked for our company many years ago. Every conversation started with a little uncertainty about which eye Ray was using on you at that moment, or whether he switched back and forth depending on the weather or the lighting or something. Ray had the honor of being the first employee to get into a minor accident with his rental car, and one can only wonder what the other motorist must have thought while exchanging paperwork: "Didn't you see me coming?"

    I am a long-time fan of estate sales because it lets you do a deep dive into someone else's life, loves and career, and you never know what you will see and learn. While my preference is to hit the estate sale so early that there is still a pair of legs sticking out from behind the couch, I have found that going on the last day can make you study the weird and wonderful things that everyone else has missed, and you can come home with a novel treasure at half-price.

    My all-time favorite quote on breathing is not connected to love but to life itself, from Douglas Adams, who had the great skill of dropping bits of truth into his comic sci-fi novels: "There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath."

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andy. I have have had 3 friends with extropia and even though one explained that I needn’t worry about which eye to look at, I always do. Something I’d like to get more comfortable with.


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