There was once a past so bright
it blinded me
and now I walk down the streets begging
and my soul is a carcass
and my eyes are a desert
Yesterday night words visited me.
There was once a past so bright
it blinded me
and now I walk down the streets begging
and my soul is a carcass
and my eyes are a desert
Yesterday night words visited me.
bram stoker, carmilla, dracula, edward cullen, fashion, gender, gender issues, joseph sheridan le fanu, lumikko thinks, stephenie meyer, tanya dziahileva, through the looking glass, twilight, vampire, vampire fashion, vampire fiction, vampire movies, vampires, vlada roslyakova
There was a time when vampires weren’t this cool. When I wrote my Bachelor thesis on vampire literature vampire fiction wasn’t definitely a suitable topic according to most of my Professors. While vampires never ceased to be a hot commodity in fantastic literature and cinema, they were not popular with the masses. I am not here to state the obvious, but Twilight obviously changed that. I have no intention of beating the dead horse, Twilight sucks, we all know it. Still, it definitely changed the perception of such a long-lived archetype. What I find the most interesting is that it did, somehow, revolutioned what vampires stood for.
Vampires were sexy long before Edward Cullen (not that I find him sexy, mind you, but lots of people disagree with me). However, they embodied a type of sexuality that was considered deviant. Carmilla by Le Fanu, one of my favourite books, is a delicate love story between two girls, Carmilla and Laura, and a perfect example of the Victorian fascination with death and beauty. Women in vampire fiction have never looked more beautiful than when are close to death, so pale, so frail, so dainty. Carmilla, even with her pointy teeth, is beautiful, so easily fatigued, languid like a cat and desperately in love with poor Laura, who will spend the rest of her life longing for her lost friend.
You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”
― Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla
Dracula is another great example of deviant sexuality in the contest of vampire fiction (I am obviously talking of deviance in the sense of “not conforming to social norms of the time”). Homosexuality, necrophilia, hypersexuality, sex with multiple partners, infidelity, non-procreative sex, blood play are all represented or hinted to in the book. Johnathan Harker is subjugated by both his strong-willed host and his vampire wives; Lucy, whose beauty and spirit had to be punished with death, becomes a temptress and needs to be metaphorically castrated, Mina is attacked by Dracula in her marital chamber, her sick husband unable to move, and almost forced to drink blood from the vampire’s chest.
Virgins are always unable to resist their vampire suitors, whose mesmeric power defeats social conventions and human will. Their weakness is almost pleasurable, and their descriptions of being bitten by a vampire are often eroticized, in a St. Teresa fashion.
Modern vampires do not need to seduce their partners: most people promise they would jump at the chance of immortality and marble like lovers. Besides, vampires in movies do not look that menacing anymore, they are sexy creatures and more than run away you should chase them and beg to be bitten.
I have a few ideas on modern vampires and how they would look like.
And two models I really like and would make perfect vampires, Vlada Roslyakova and Tanya Dziahileva.
So, what about Twilight? For the first time in history vampires are not the epitome of sexual deviance. They are beautiful, but chaste. Their sexuality is as conventional as possible. Now, they are dangerous because they promise wedding at 18, eternal fidelity and romance in unhealthy doses. Gone are the days of dread and terror, the conflict between God and the dark realm of these cursed creatures, the risk of death for one orgasmic dream. For girls who have been told they could be anything (even though the world hasn’t made it easier for them to fulfill those promises) Bella and Edward’s romance is a safe heaven without responsibilities (the future husband is rich, apparently believes his girlfriend is due to break at any point and should be carefully protected) and without having to face fears related to their first sexual experiences. Edward is adamant: no sex until marriage. But when sex finally happens it’s a disaster. The message being told is that men are going to harm you (=Bella waking up covered with bruises in a destroyed bed). Wasn’t Lucy’s dreams preferrable? Weren’t Carmilla’s kisses sweeter? Let’s not talk about Bella’s pregnancy. That’s a horror comparable to the shivers Victorian readers may have experienced while reading Varney’s adventures.
Bella becomes a vampire in the end, something that usually doesn’t happen to women who are pursued by vampires, but she is a victim nevertheless, unable to be saved by her heteronormativity and “good-girliness”. Edward Cullen is a far more dangerous example that any other vampire, since he is presented as a dream come true and never questioned about his controlling behavior. While readers of vampire fiction from the past were constantly told that enjoying those tales was morally disputable (but still oh so exciting) and reassured by the ending, where the vampire usually dies, girls reading Twilight are encouraged to think that Bella’s fate is enjoyable and desirable.
This is why Stephenie Meyer ruined vampires: not only because she made them sparkly and with teenage angst, but mostly because she took a subversive archetype of fantasy literature, which subtly introduced forbidden themes in our cultural memory, and she made it a repressive tool of conservatism and sexism.
I have an obsession with swans. I think they are beautiful creatures and they play a big role in my imaginary.
One of my favourite things is tracking down swans in fashion. Of course, the first example that comes to mind is the infamous Bjork dress.
But many fashion designers have used swans in their designs. The latest example comes from Giles spring/summer 2012 runway.
and even red swans
But Giles Deacon wasn’t the only one drawing inspiration from swans. Here it is Miu Miu spring/summer 2011 swan dress
and Givenchy haute couture spring/summer 2011
And Marc Jacobs
For a more casual look Emily Temple cute recently came out with swan dresses and jewels
Swans have a big role in art, too. One of the most common themes is Leda and the swan, telling the tale of Leda’s rape by Zeus, who used to disguise himself in various forms to commit his acts of adultery/violence, and took the form of a swan to violate her.
William Butler Yeats retold the story in the poem “Leda and the swan” and he didn’t shy away from the violent and disturbing connotations of the myth as many artists did when choosing how to portray the story.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
As many other popular themes of classical and Renaissance art, Leda and the swan was reinvented in the 19th and 20th century. I am particularly fond of Louis Icart’s Leda and the swan, which shows a Leda completely in control, a sensual woman, a tempress, and a black swan rather than a white one. There is humour, and this painting looks more like a consensual act of passion rather than rape/a woman submitting herself to the mighty God who wishes to take pleasure with her.
A modern take of the myth was issued in Love and titillates us with its ambiguity. Is she a victim? Is she dead?
My favourite costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, who sadly passed away in January, realised this swan gown for Mirror, mirror.
And an honorable mention goes to Black swan, who made Swan lake popular with the masses.
Swan lake is one of my favourite ballets and if you haven’t seen Svetlana Zakharova telling the heartbreaking story of Odette you definitely should check youtube, they have the whole ballet up.
My favourite photographer, Tim Walker, often uses swan imaginary in his photo shoots, and I made a little photo set of the best examples of his work concerning swans.
The swan maiden tale is very popular in folklore: a girl who is able to transform herself into a swan, thanks to her swan skin or a magical vest, is taken captive by a human man who hides her magic robe, forcing her to give up her powers and swan-form and to marry him. After many years and after having born children to her husband, the swan maiden finds her garment again and flies away. It is again a tale of violence and coercion. A creature that doesn’t belong to the mundane life of common human beings is forced to give up her freedom, her homeland and her family by a man too smitten with her to ask for her opinion. She submits but never stops longing for her lost powers and when given the chance abandons the world she doesn’t belong to without remorse (and why shouldn’t she? she has been raped and forced into marriage by a complete stranger).
The wild swans by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a beautiful princess who sacrifices a lot to be able to rescue her eleven brothers from the curse that transformed them into swans. A story about sacrifice, siblings’ devotion and a virginal heroine who defies all odds.
The other famous Hans Christian Andersen fairytale involving a swan is The ugly duckling, which is not the story of how any humble duck can become a beautiful swan, but how your fate is set the day of your birth. You can only become what you already were at birth, no matter if it may take some time to reach your full potential.
After this journey in Swan land it seems like these graceful animals are often associated with the most gruesome aspects of life, social injustice, rape, violence, death. Is is only a volative impression? Are our tales concerning other animals more forgiving? Probably not. In the end, our tales tell something about who we are, more than being appropriate reflections of animal behavior.
Better end on a humorous note with these crazy swan shoes by Kobi Levi
This morning snowed again. They were tiny, almost invisible snowflakes but they were still there. Any hope of a real spring gets crashed every time. Like Finnish doctors, seasons are skittish. After so much time spent indoors I should mind more than I actually do, but I have come to appreciate this kind of weather. I’d love some sun, sure, but still, grey sky and rain fit my melancholic mood of the moment. I may be born in Sicily but it seems like I can keep up with cold and ice just fine. My mentor says it’s because I am affected by the Northern spirit, and it’s not meant as a compliment. Truth is I have always craved for forests, snow, a landscape as far away as possible from my homeland. My imagination was fueled by tales of far away imaginary lands, ice palaces, magic crystals, archers and berserk warriors, Ludwig II and Mitteleuropa, royal families and gold, decadence and metaphysical horrors. Finland is nothing like my childhood fantasies, but I still love it. And just to prove my mentor wrong, a song that I have been listening to obsessively in the last few hours, a piece of home, and a homage to my Mediterranean roots.
So, I finally decided to start a blog. My first blog adventure was largely unsuccessful, mostly because I only used my blog to leave passive aggressive messages to my friends and was totally unable to understand html (that hasn’t changed). But I thought that it could be fun to have a blog again, so here I am.
so, why Lumikko? I am living in Finland at the moment, and, even though I haven’t made any progress at learning Finnish, I fell in love with this word. I think it has the cutest sound ever. A lumikko is actually a type of weasel, and I have come to identify with this little animal. In my imagination, they are sly and secretive, but also curious and lively, and even my mother couldn’t help but finding similarities between me ad this little creature when presented with photographic evidence. Plus, if you apply Italian grammar rules to this word (please bear with me Finnish people), lumikko in plural would be lumikki, which means Snowhite. As a fairytale fanatic, it made me appreciate the word even more.
My adventure in Finland started, as many other things in my life, in the most random way. I really love Scandinavian countries, so I was more than happy to have the chance to spend a year of my life (and maybe more, who knows?) in Tampere. The -30 degrees long winter didn’t scare me, I have survived winter in New Paltz, U.S., Urbino, Italy and Copenhagen, Denmark. A lot of people are surprised at how cold winters could be in Italy, and Urbino, where I spent 6 years of my life, was regularly covered in snow every winter. So, despite being born in warm Sicily, I was no stranger to snow. And to be fair, this year Italy suffered the worst winter in many many years, and while I could walk in Tampere without any problems, my friends in Urbino couldn’t leave their houses due to the exceptional amount of snow.
However, on 22 February, after only one month in beautiful Finland, it was snowing again and I had learnt the hard way not to trust fresh snow and its slippiness, so I was walking very carefully. I was going to my Finnish language exam and while approaching the bus stop (I couldn’t be bothered to walk under the snow, laziness has always been my downfall), I slipped on fresh snow, which had gently covered up a massive slippery bulk of ice. It wasn’t that bad of a fall, but apparently my leg twisted the wrong way and suddendly I was in a lot of pain. I can only be grateful there were people at the bus stop. They helped me sit on the bench, and after a few minutes of “Ok, maybe this pain will go away, it’s nothing serious aka me trying to be stoic/not wanting to ruin my stay in Finland” they called the ambulance for me. This woman in particular was so nice to stay with me while we waited for the ambulance, and another one gave me a painkiller. The ambulance came, along with paramedics who looked like Thor and were probably younger than me. When I got to the hospital I found out that I had indeed broken my tibia. I am still on crutches on this day and hopefully I will be able to ditch them completely in a month. As one of my professors put it, at least I was having the chance to experience Finnish health care, which, trust me, is very different from Italian one.
My mother listed all the things that made my stay in a Finnish hospital much better that what my grandmother experienced during her 40 days stay in a public hospital in Sicily. The list included: being given pyjamas and slippers, eating in real plates and with real cutlery, being able to shower 3 times in a week (while my grandmother couldn’t shower at all during those 40 days), being escorted to the bathroom by nurses every time I needed to, having a physiotherapist come to me to help me with exercises and walking, being given printed copies of x-rays on demand and being able to talk to the doctor. Anyway, this isn’t a post to complain about Sicilian health system (there are some very good hospitals and doctors as well), but to point out what I seemed to detect as a very specific feature of Finnish doctors.
Let’s put it this way: all Finnish health workers I encounted seemed to be extremely optimistic, to the point that transcends “positive encouragement” and goes into “straight out lie to you”. It all started with the nurse promising me that if I got IV I would be able to get all my painkillers directly in my blood. Of course, I found out afterwards I would get painkillers as pills and IV had nothing to do with it. The best one was the surgeon, assuring me that if I had surgery I would be able to walk after 3 days. I am ashamed of myself, but I believed him. I am still happy I had surgery but there was no way I was able to walk after 3 days. At that point I was suspicious, and I didn’t take it too badly when I found out my physiotherapist instructions (walk at least every hour/do these exercises hundreds of thousands of times a day- I am not exaggerating, these were her exact words) were impossible to follow for the first weeks. So, when the dentist told Snufkin that he would be ok after wisdom tooth surgery in just 3 day I knew the deal. And I was prepared when it took over 10 days for him to fully recover. At my last check in, when the doctor told me I could be off crutches in 2 weeks I simply smiled.
I won’t be tricked anymore. May it be their stoic attitude to life and discomfort? May it be some unwritten comma in their Hippocratic Oath? I have no idea, as a foreigner living here I can only take it as a fact. Finnish doctors surely believe in you. Or in magic.