Sunday, March 31, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carlota's Jewels

A few historic pieces.


Though brightly colored eggs remain a traditional Easter element in many countries, they do not figure prominently into the celebration of Pascua (Easter), one of Mexico's most important and solemn religious holidays. Curiously, however, eggs--in the guise of cascarones-- are a popular feature of Carnaval (Mardi Gras), which marks the opposite end of the Easter season, as well as a variety of other Mexican festivities. 
In their most common form, cascarones are empty egg shells that have been washed out, painted on the exterior, filled with confetti and closed again with a small square of tissue paper pasted over the opening. They may sometimes contain small toy prizes or sweets as well. Early variations, connected with the customarily riotous pre-Lenten celebrations, were filled with either perfumed or rank-smelling colored water and sealed with a plug of wax. 
Cascarones figure heavily into local fiestas in towns and cities all over the nation, as fellow revelers enjoy playfully cracking the eggs over one another's heads, unleashing showers of confetti that help heighten the sense of merriment. The practice has long been favored among adolescents who still may be observed engaging in this innocent form of flirtation with members of the opposite sex during Sunday evening paseos around village plazas. (Read full article)

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Sad Anniversary

Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of the exiled King Umberto II of Italy, the husband of Marie-José, the beautiful, intelligent and free-spirited daughter of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 1983 must have been a very hard year for Marie-José. Within six months, between March and September, she lost not only her husband, but also her two brothers, Leopold and Charles. She herself would go on to live another 18 years. 

Below is a clip of Umberto's funeral ceremonies at the Abbey of Hautecombe, on the shores of the Lac du Bourget in Savoy, France. In attendance are not only the widowed Queen and her children, but many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Marie-José's nephew, King Baudouin of the Belgians, with his wife, Fabiola.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Death of Princess Lilian of Sweden

Since yesterday, this blog has been absolutely inundated with hits searching for information about Princess Lilian of Sweden, who passed away on Sunday at the venerable age of 97.  Like Princess Lilian of Belgium, she was a commoner who became a royal bride as a result of a wartime romance. Unlike Lilian of Belgium, who was encouraged to marry King Leopold III by Queen Mother Elisabeth, however, Lilian of Sweden was prevented by dynastic considerations from marrying her lover, Prince Bertil, for decades. On the positive side, though, it seems that the Swedish Lilian was much more kindly regarded by the Swedes than the Belgian Lilian was by the Belgians. May they both rest in peace.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ghost Queen?

I have noticed that there was quite a tradition of depicting Queen Astrid after her death as a spirit watching over her family. Above is one of the more successful portrayals of this kind, I think. Others, such as the one below, strike me as decidedly creepy.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vers l'Avenir

I posted the Belgian national anthem, the Brabançonne, a long time ago, and here is another famous Belgian patriotic song, about facing the new twentieth century with "confidence, pride and high hopes for the future," as I said in my last post. The song also makes allusions to Belgium's colonial ambitions at the time. I am sorry that this version is only in French. The poet urges the Belgians: "March joyfully, energetic people, towards destinies worthy of you; God will protect free Belgium and her King."

Four Generations of the Belgian Royal Family

A dynastic portrait showing young, intense Princess Elisabeth of Belgium, the future Nurse-Queen of the Great War, with her sons, Prince Leopold, future Leopold III, and Prince Charles, the future Regent. Behind Elisabeth, from left to right, are her in-laws and patriarchs of the Belgian royal family, Leopold I, Leopold II, and her own husband, Prince Albert, future Albert I. The portrait commemorates the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence in 1905, and suggests that the new kingdom is entering the new century with confidence, pride and high hopes for the future. 

Of course, not all the figures appearing in the picture actually met in real life. Leopold I, the founder of the Belgian branch of the Saxe-Coburgs, died in 1865, ten years before Albert's birth and eleven years before Elisabeth's. Leopold II only overlapped briefly with his great-nephews, Leopold and Charles. In L'éducation d'un prince (1984), a collection of interviews with Leopold III, he describes only a few childhood memories of meeting the very controversial Leopold II, on holiday at the seaside in Ostende. The sensitive, rather fragile-looking little boy had a recollection of his stern, bearded great-uncle pinching him on the cheeks and telling him to eat heartily and get strong! Leopold III also remembered that his parents never spoke of the scandals in their uncle's personal life that gave rise to so much gossip in Belgium and beyond. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Argenteuil: Pour garder intacte la mémoire du domaine royal

This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. Published by the late Prince Alexandre of Belgium, son of Leopold III and Lilian Baels, it is a magnificent pictorial history of the estate of Argenteuil. Superb photographs, in black and white, and in color, help to trace the development of Argenteuil, from the construction of the mansion in the Sonian Forest by American entrepreneur William Tuck in 1930 to the sale of the property to industrialist and philosopher, Jean-Marie Delwart, in 2004. Purchased by the Belgian government in 1949, Argenteuil was placed at the disposition of Leopold, Lilian, and their children from 1960-2002. 

The arrival of this politically inconvenient, rejected, but richly talented branch of the royal family inaugurated the golden age of the chateau. Lilian's lavish but exquisitely refined tastes transformed the bare and dilapidated mansion into a distinguished and elegant home for the former King of the Belgians. Here, with energy and passion, yet with discretion and delicacy, the royal couple devoted themselves to scientific, cultural and humanitarian pursuits; Leopold to his Fonds Léopold III Pour l'Exploration et la Conservation de la Nature and Lilian to her Fondation Cardiologique Princesse Lilian. 

After Leopold's death in 1983, Lilian cherished his memory and hoped to preserve the royal heritage of Argenteuil for future generations. In her Will, she requested that she be buried on the estate and that the chateau be maintained, essentially, as she left it, as a memorial to her husband and as a centre for scientific and cultural reunions. She hoped that, in the future, her descendants would be able to visit Argenteuil often, on their vacations. After Lilian's death in 2002, the Verhofstadt government respected none of these rather poignant last wishes. Instead, Lilian was interred at Laeken and the mansion was stripped bare and sold to the highest bidder. Nonetheless, books like Prince Alexandre's help to preserve at least the memory of the legendary royal estate.