Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Kick-Ass Ladies

Bathing Suit Lizards

Have a drink with: Bathing Suit Lizards
Stockingless bathers!

Ask them about: Beachy fun, pig roasts, union cosplay.

Summer Fun!

If you’re thinking about ways to enjoy your summer, rest assured: the past can help. As it turns out, just like you, people in the early 20th century spent plenty of time thinking about things like bathing suit fashions, picnic etiquette, kid-friendly outings and water safety.

Bring the Kids!

At the annual Asbury Park Baby Parade in 1919, 75,000 people attended the annual pageant, complete with carriages, floats, pony carts, a Tom Thumb wedding and, for the first time in the history of the parade, an official contribution by New Jersey itself: the state being officially represented by two floats courtesy of the Bureau of Child Hygiene, “one a symbolization of the mother State protecting the children, the other a humorous float depicting ‘A Strike in Babyland.”

Paternalism! Tiny Teamsters! Ponies!

So. On to barbecue?

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Thomas Nashe

Have a drink with: Thomas Nashe
It was the merry month of February…

Ask him about: Valentine’s Day plans

Though he lived in Elizabethan England, Thomas Nashe was not an unfamiliar figure to modern thinking: in his twenties, Nashe was out of college, short on funds and trying to make it as a writer in London. It was a tough time for a writer without independent wealth or consistent patronage – plague outbreaks made life dangerous and, as a practical matter, often closed the theaters that called on writers for material. And while young Thomas was very talented, let’s face it: when you’re a freelance writer, no matter how good you are sometimes you’ve just gotta pay the bills. Sometimes having to “prostitute my pen in hope of gain” means writing corporate sales copy, sometimes it means ghostwriting, and yes, sometimes it means reluctantly writing raunchy poems about sex toys. Welcome to the Elizabethan Cialis ad.

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Agnes Rogers

Have a drink with: Agnes Rogers
The future is female.

Ask her about: Equality, dignity, good manners, mild snark.

The other day I was reading a lifestyle blog talking about the challenge of living a halfway sane female existence in the face of social pressures that demand women be simultaneously effortless, clean, intelligent, ambitious, authentic, confident and masterful. (Also pretty. Duh.)

Surely most could empathize with the featured image, and the look of quivering overwhelm on the woman’s face as she faces a swirl of demands:

“Spend more time with your children!”
“Leave your children alone!”
“Use herbs for gracious living.”
“Is your hair dull, stringy, lifeless?”
“How much do you really know about your candidate?”
“She’s thirty-five but men still turn around to look at her.”
“Are you letting your mind go to seed?”
“It’s up to the women of this town!”
“Learn Spanish in only five minutes a day!”

Oh. Did I say lifestyle blog? I meant 1940’s coffee table book.

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La Befana

Have a drink with: La Befana
Auguri. Va bene.

Ask her about: Getting stuff done.

La Befana vien di notte...

In Catholicism, January 6 is the feast of the Epiphany: the last of the twelve days of Christmas and the day on which the three visiting kings are said to arrive to meet the baby Jesus.

And in Italian legend, it’s when La Befana comes to visit. And trust me, your holiday life needs La Befana. Because say what you will about Christmas, but it’s a predictable holiday. Man in red suit; bizarre Bing-Bowie version of Little Drummer Boy; cookies for the man, carrots for the reindeer; cars winning the Giant Bow Invitational; gifts for everyone whether you’ve been naughty or nice.

BORING.

La Befana to the rescue: because if the Christmas season needs anything, it’s a cranky, elderly Italian lady with a heart of gold, a sack full of cheese, and an advance wine order for a nice red.
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Delia Bacon

Have a drink with: Delia Bacon
“…very wise in the doctrine of consequences.”

Delia_Bacon_Gravesite_MG_2519

Ask her about: fair and balanced journalism

Once upon a time, two crazies went head-to-head in a public challenge. It was a deeply partisan fight marked by high emotions and questionable discretion, and in the end the loudmouthed, cowardly male nut job won in a maddeningly close vote by going after his intelligent but awkward female opponent with sexism and misdirection.

This was 1847, by the way.  Have we learned nothing?

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Queen Isabella of Spain

Have a drink with: Queen Isabella of Spain
Queen, ass-kicker, Rules girl, working mom

Ask her about: kicking everyone out of Spain

Isabella Jan 2015

A few year-end lists recommended Kristin Downey’s biography of Queen Isabella, so lately I’ve been knee-deep in early modern Spain and a lot of questions about the famous lady.

What is image-making and what is truth?  Was Isabella the complete idealized ruler?  Was she calculating, maniacal?  Was she or Ferdinand more responsible for ills like the Inquisition or the expulsion of the Jews from Spain? What aspects did her piety carry?

All of this brings me back to one of history’s most prevalent and maddening problems: unless you were there (and in most cases you weren’t), you can’t know exactly how things went. And even if you were, your reaction is yours alone – and trying to get into the head of any person other than yourself is foggy work. It’s the police lineup problem, or like being in a family where everyone has a slightly different story of how that fight at Christmas dinner went down, and everyone except that one cousin thinks Uncle Steve’s a jerk.

Said more nobly by John Gaddis: “but the past, in another sense, is something we can never have. For by the time we’ve become aware of what had happened it’s already inaccessible to us: we cannot relive, retrieve, or rerun it as we might some laboratory experiment or computer simulation. We can only represent it…We can perceive shapes through the fog and mist, we can speculate as to their significance, and sometimes we can even agree among ourselves as to what these are.”

Put another way, how do we solve a problem like Isabella?

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Saint Teresa of Avila

Have a drink with: St. Teresa of Avila
Reformer, mystic, dreamer, smart lady.

Ask her about: that time she told the devil to piss off.

Teresa_Avila_07_14

I grew up thinking saints were terribly stodgy, righteous people who had somehow gotten themselves onto life’s “Do Not Call” list for doubt and temptation. It wasn’t until later in life, when I learned that hagiography is basically a template for fictionalizing the lives of remarkable yet messy people, that I realized many of them would probably have made excellent drinking buddies.

My personal favorite is Saint Teresa of Avila, the first woman doctor of the Catholic Church and a stone-cold sixteenth-century bad-ass. I own a St. Teresa coloring book. You can’t but be awesome if someone made a coloring book about you.

Teresa grew up in sixteenth-century Spain, smack in the middle of what we’d now call the early modern period in Europe and the Spanish (Counter-) Reformation. This is to say: Lots Going On. Europe had suddenly gone pro in hair-splitting points of church doctrine; academic humanism was on the way up; there was explosive growth in art, writing and theater; hybridization and tension thanks to Jewish and north African cultural influences in Spain; and also there’s the disturbing effect of inbreeding on the Hapsburg family jaw. Plus, iconoclasm and poop jokes.

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