Life is an illusion the World War I double agent Mata Hari confessed in 1917, as her eyes met a French firing squad. You know what they say about confessions on the way out; it’s the truth whether you believe or not. She lives in illusion. First, she seduced French officers into divulging, military secrets that she passed along to the Germans. Then she cajoled the Germans into giving her information coveted by the French. But the trouble with illusion, as the femme fatale discovered to her regret, is that you can’t keep it up forever. Mata Hari myth is dominated by the espionage. Over the years many historians have come to her defence. She was sacrificed – some say – because the French needed to find a spy to explain their succession of reverses in the war. She was a creation from beginning to end, a character in a play that she continuously rescripted. Her compulsion to spin tall tales about her background helped to make her an icon: a unique embodiment of sex, glamour, intrigue and danger. But it also led to her death in October 1917, at the age of 41.Mata Hari was an immediate sensation, not least because her daringly sensual dancing involved throwing off the veils she was wearing, one by one until she was naked but for a jewelled head-dress and breast-plate. If this taboo-busting display wasn’t enticing enough by itself, she insisted that she was demonstrating authentic Javanese temple-dancing, so audiences could tell themselves that they weren’t paying to see a striptease, but an educational glimpse of a religious ritual from ‘the mysterious East’. Nothing about Mata Hari was simple and clear, not then, not now. Rising from the ambiguity are a thousand legends and interpretations. Mata Hari -Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, a middle-class Dutch divorcée from Leeuwarden, died, but Mata Hari, femme fatale and exotic dancer, has become eternal. 100 Years Since Her Execution, Was Mata Hari a Sexy Spy ora Sexy Scapegoat?
This statue of Mata Hari stands in Leeuwarden today – she’s become a symbol of female empowerment and agency for many.
For the Poland is Independence Day. 11 of November at the end of the tragedy of World War I, it was a time the restoration of a sovereign Polish state after 123 years of partitions by Russia, Prussia and Austria. 11 of November 1918, 99 years ago, the Polish state was reborn and regained its independence with Marshal Jozef Pilsudski as head of state.
He had great charisma and great authority. The most famous is his saying: “The nation is just gorgeous people fucking.” The Polish Independence Day is interwoven with the celebrations of St. Martin name day on 11th November. In Poland, name days are widely celebrated and have traditionally been given a greater importance than birthday celebrations. Printed in every local calendar, these name days represent the feast days of Catholic saints. At the head of the procession is marching St Martin, whom the mayor of Poznań gives the keys to the city. Traditional goody on this day is delicious st. Martin croissante. Such a special holiday calls for a very specific treat to honour St. Martin, and that’s a crescent-shaped croissant-like pasty filled with a poppy seed and almond paste and topped with a healthy pile of sugary glaze. Legend has it that the tradition of crescent-shaped croissant began at the end of the 19th century when the parish priest of St. Martin’s urged the richer parishioners to help the poor as winter approached. A baker by the name of Józef Melzer prayed to St. Martin for ideas and turning to the street was inspired as the horse carrying the saint in the parade slipped a shoe – hence the crescent shape of the pastries.So just who was this Martin character, and why is he worthy of such sweets and fanfare (not to mention sainthood status)? Born in what is now Hungary in the fourth century, Martin was raised in Italy where he became a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the Roman army. Stationed in France he came across a shivering beggar and decided to cut his cloak in half to share with the man. That evening Martin, aged 18, dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak (in some stories, Martin wakes to find his cloak fully restored) and decided to be baptised.After being discharged from the army he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers (Saint Hilary nowadays), a proponent of Trinitarian Christianity that was at odds with the Arianism of the day. St Martin’s day (and St Martin’s Eve) customs perhaps unsurprisingly share similarities with those of Hallowe’en: In Germany, for instance, children going from door to door begging gifts of food, sweets etc in return for songs (Martinsleid) is associated with St Martin’s day (Martinstag). In Germany – as elsewhere in Europe – this custom was also associated with the medieval ‘souling‘ traditions observed variously on All Hallows day (1st November) or All Hallows Eve (31st October) as well as All Souls’ day (2nd November). In ‘souling’ people would go door to door offering prayers for the dead in return for the gift of ‘soul cakes’. This seems to have evolved into the modern Hallowe’en ‘trick or treat’ custom but was a feature of other festivals of the ‘winter quarter’, such as the Christmastide ‘wassailing’ and ‘guising’ tradition parties of ancient European tradition. Ritual begging was, therefore, an ancient and important cultural custom, and the idea of receiving divine favour in return for bestowing hospitality on the poor and needy was a key element to religious observances of the Christian and pre-Christian eras (for example, the Roman and Greek festivals of Saturnalia and Kronia).
Another legend tells how later in life Martin did not want to become a bishop so tried to avoid those looking for him by hiding among some geese. The noise of the geese apparently gave him away and Martin was made the Bishop of Tours. With Christians traditionally beginning a 40-day period of fasting on St. Martin’s Day ahead of Christmas Eve, the night before (St. Martin’s Eve) saw feasting where the roast goose was a favourite dish as it is at this time of the year when a goose is at its plumpest.So if you are in Poland, the Czech Republic or Germany keep your eyes out for restaurants offering St. Martin’s Goose. As bishop Martin continued to live a largely hermetic existence; his work included sowing Christianity among the Druidic heathens and promoting the interests of the Church at the Imperial court in Trier. One such example includes Martin’s efforts to save Priscillian, a Christian bishop he opposed, from punishment by a civil tribunal that accused Priscillian of heresy. Despite Martin’s efforts, Priscillian was the first person in the history of Christianity to be executed for heresy, and the sadly disappointed Martin died in Gaul in 397. He said “Lord, if your people still have need of my services, I will not avoid the toil. Your will be done. I have fought the good fight long enough. Yet if you bid me continue to hold the battle line in defense of your camp, I will never beg to be excused from failing strength. I will do the work you entrust to me. While you command, I will fight beneath your banner.” (St. Martin of Tours, Bishop and Confessor, Patron Saint of Soldiers)Freedom is something that money can’t buy, it’s the result of the struggles of many bravehearts. Let us honour them today and always.
Happy Independence Day, Poland!There are 50 days remaining until the end of the year. Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.