St Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

Outside the town of Gubbio, there was a wolf that was so ferocious that he not only consumed animals, but people as well. Anyone who crossed the wolf’s path would be killed and consumed. The town sent out hunting parties to try and capture the wolf, but none ever returned. The people of the town had become terrified to leave the city walls.

When St Francis of Assisi heard of this, he resolved to go out of the city and make peace with the wolf. The townsfolk begged him not to, fearing that he would be killed as well. Nevertheless, St. Francis and his party went out from the city. The wolf was ready to pounce when St Francis made the sign on the cross and the wolf stopped suddenly and lay down before him.

The wolf and St Francis discussed matter and the wolf came back into the town with St Francis, where he told the townspeople of the pact that he had made with the wolf: The wolf agreed to stop eating people if the townsfolk took care of him and fed him regularly. The townsfolk too agreed to this. From then on, the wolf lived peacefully with the townsfolk. Eventually, when he dies of old age they mourned him greatly.

St Francis and the Wolf


The Birth of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renascence”

Edna St Vincent Millay’s start in this world was inaupicious. She was born in Maine in 1892. In those days, that was a hard life. The winters would have been cold and bitter and Vincent (as she was known to all her friends and intimates) and her family were not well-off. Their financial and social position was not helped when Vincent’s progressive mother Cora managed to divorce her ne’er-do-well gambler father. Cora fearlessly brought up her three daughters by herself would travel from town to town to make her living as a hairdresser.

Vincent was intellectually precocious, but a social misfit. Though a poet from a young age, the family’s precarious financial position meant that college would be out of the question for her. Were it not for the cause celebre caused by the publication of her poem, “Renascence”, Vincent would never have gone to college. At the urging of her mother, Vincent submitted the poems to a national competition hosted by “The Lyric Year”. She was confident about the poem. She knew that it was good and she won fourth prize. There was no prize associated with coming in fourth, but after the poem was published there was a huge furor, with amateur and professional poets defending Vincent’s expansive meditation on death and rebirth.

What followed was a scholarship to Vassar. Vincent was over the moon and she aggressively pursued the opportunities her college education gave her. She became a socialist, a feminist, and an Child of the Twenties. Certainly, she is not a major poet. Harold Bloom considered her to be rather inconsequential. She doesn’t have Emily Dickinson’s passion or depth, or William Blake’s astonishing vision, but she is delightful all the same.

“Renascence” itself is astonishing, not so much in and of itself but for the fact that it was the product of the imagination of a teenaged girl. It’s about vision, being buried alive, death, resurrection, and the vastness of the universe.

ALL I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line 5
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood. 10
Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small 15
My breath came short, and scarce at all

And Later

Long had I lain thus, craving death,
When quietly the earth beneath
Gave way, and inch by inch, so great
At last had grown the crushing weight,
Into the earth I sank till I 95
Full six feet under ground did lie,
And sank no more,—there is no weight
Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll,
And as it went my tortured soul 100
Burst forth and fled in such a gust
That all about me swirled the dust.

Newland Archer in “The Age of Innocence”

I think if most thinking men were to describe their ideal woman they would describe Ellen Olenska: beautiful, intelligent, cultured, kind, practical, sensitive, considerate, and generous. It’s difficult not to love her. She is so open, but at the same time so fragile. Her plight is so cruel and unjust. She was married off to a Polish count at a young age, who spent her money, kept lovers (both male and female), and beat her as he pleased. The scandal broke when Ellen escaped from him with his secretary, and in breaking so completely and publicly with tradition, earns of approbation of her conservative American family.

Ellen’s being fascinates Newland. She has been raised in faraway place among peculiar people with different modes and mores. Newland sees her wearing a dress “with a fur collar in the evening” and is shocked. Of course, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with wearing a dress with a fur collar in the evening, but it’s shocking since nobody has done it before. Ellen understands the fundamentals of life: duty, love, responsibility. She is trapped in her marriage by social convention. Despite being thousands of miles away from her husband, she is still a married woman. Newland asks her “But aren’t you as free as air as it is?” The statement is ridiculous as soon as he says it. Of course, she isn’t free. With every breath she takes, she is still chained to her loathsome husband, and will be so long as the family has anything to say about it.

It’s this notion of freedom, this notion of love that beguiles Newland. The thing is Newland is too conventional; he can’t bring himself to act as he believes. Newland has everything in the world: respectability, a fiancee that adores him, youth and good lucks, but he’s chained to society too. Chained to destructive thought patterns, chained to passing judgement on people. He knows it’s wrong, but he thinks he’s better than everyone else. He isn’t — and his failure borders precariously on hypocrisy.

The best and worst part about Newland Archer is that he is so painfully real. He’s so fundamentally decent, painfully so, tragically so, actually. He grasps helplessly at the concept of freedom, the kind of perfect freedom that doesn’t exist in real life. If real freedom came up and said: “Here I am, come with me. He would run for the hills.” He’s one of Gatsby’s phantasms. Drawn back into long-ago fantasies of perfect happiness. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”

William Blake’s “The Poison Tree”, Martin Sheen, and Teresa of Avila

This one is my favourite:

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

I was listening to an interview with Martin Sheen with American Catholic Radio. He was promoting his new film called “The Way” which was directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. He plays a widower whose only son (who is played by Estevez) is found dead on El camino de Santiago, the Way of St James. The father decides to pick up where his son left off and finish the pilgrimage for him.

Anyway, Sheen was discussing with a lot of gusto (he seems like a pretty effervescent guy) the spiritual effects of the pilgrimage, and ancient and revered tradition dating back over a thousand years. Pilgrims come encumbered with gear and realizing that they don’t need any of this stuff, leave it by the wayside. At the time time, and Sheen takes a leaf out of St. Teresa of Avila, the pilgrims themselves open up, learn to forgive. St Teresa said that, with people we do not or cannot forgive, it is if they are locked up — imprisoned in our hearts. The pilgrimage, the spiritual journey, is the process and setting them free and likewise unencumbering ourselves from the heavy weight of our fear, our jealousy, our resentment, and becoming freer people, happier people and closer to God.

Isabella Rossellini’s Effervescent Charm

I’ve been a big Isabella Rossellini fan for about a decade. I think she gets even more beautiful with each passing year. She’s had a very strange career for an actress: She started out as a journalist, became a model and then suddenly she’s an actress. At an age when most of the best parts for actresses are starting to dry up. The role that shot her to stardom was David Lynch’s perverse “Blue Velvet”. Rossellini was 34-years-old. Her co-star was a fresh-out-of-rehab Dennis Hopper, playing Frank, a drug-addicted psychopath. Who would have thought?

Rossellini never suffered from the disadvantages of having been an ingenue. She never had to play the bimbo-girlfriend-love interest. She didn’t take uninteresting or uninspiring roles. She was always a mature and commanding presence. If Isabella is onscreen, she is usually the only thing you notice. There are few actors commanding enough to match her: Gary Oldman certainly is one and Dennis Hopper certainly was one.

What really keeps her fresh is her relentless vibrancy, creativity and gentle good humour. She did a series of short film about the sex lives of insects called “Green Porno”. She, of course, dresses up in green and black bodysuits to portray the insects herself. the effect is delightful as Isabella explains insect reproduction in her gently accented English. It’s all completely ridiculous.

“The Night of the Iguana”: The Darkest Hour Just Before Dawn

“The Night of the Iguana” the story of the last desperate hopes of the humanity’s most desperate people. These are God‘s Lonely Men. They’re Eleanor Rigby’s people. These are people looking for a place to hangs their swords, who have at last wearied of fighting the relentless battles of fear, dread, depression and loneliness.

The film is based on a Tennessee Williams play, adapted by John Huston. It’s a peculiar source material for Huston, though Huston was game for pretty much anything. It has the best of both worlds: Huston’s ruggedness and muscularity combined with Williams’ refinement and sensitivity. The film’s bravado is entirely Huston, who dragged a film crew and a bunch on celluloid superstars into the infernal, tropical heat of Mexico and managed to not only prevent them all from killing eachother, but also produced a fine, moving, melancholic film.

The opening scene is a killer. While the rest of the film takes place in sunny Mexico. The first scene takes place in an ordinary Anglican church (Episcopalian to Americans) in an ordinary American town during Sunday services. Richard Burton is the Rev T Lawrence Shannon. He starts off in his mellifluous voice, in the typical way: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your eyes, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer”. He begins his sermon

Shannon is an alcoholic, and a self-aware one at that. He’s terrified of the very real power that booze has over him. There’s a disconcerting, frenetic energy in him. He’s wound up like a spring. We’ve seen addicts like this before, trying to do everything, anything to keep themselves from whatever they’re addicted to. The danger is when they reach that breaking point, when that gasping, convulsive, relentless, sorrow drives them right back. Shannon knows that he‘s on his way there. He fears he won’t survive another relapse, another failure. At this point, death seems better.

Ava Gardner is fabulous, simply fabulous. In the play she is described as a “stout, swarthy woman in her middle forties”. I don’t think this a phrase that anyone would use to describe Ava Gardner, probably one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen. The thing is, Ava owns the part. She looks like she was born to play Maxime. She’s casually dressed, unglamourous, and barefoot. There’s definitely that South Carolina girl there. In her first scene, she strides out of her hotel, hands on her hips. Her gait is very masculine and exclaims “Shannon. Ha!”. She’s so cool and non-plussed about him, about the unwelcome guests, even about her husband’s death (“Fred caught a catfish and the catfish won.”) Of course, she’s at the end of her tether like everyone else, stranded at a Mexican hotel in the middle of nowehere and using her handsome Mexican houseboys just to get through her days.

A Dark Night in Switzerland and the Birth of Frankenstein

It was a dark and stormy night…Mary Shelley’s monster was born not on Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory but in the fertile imagination of a 19-year-old girl in a castle on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was the summer of 1816. It was remembered for being much cooler than normal (much cooler because a volcano had erupted pouring billions of tonnes of ash into the atmosphere, but nobody in Europe knew this at the time). Anyway, since the weather was so terribly Shelley’s party which consisted of herself, her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, and verse’s enfant terrible, Lord Byron.

The whole situation was perverse beyond all normal comprehension. Claire was having an affair with Lord Byron and may or may not have been having an affair with Mr. Shelley himself. These are people who openly professed to free love, though in practice free love didn’t really work out according to plan. Mary Shelley was the daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstoncroft (who died giving birth to her) and anarchist philsopher William Godwin, who despite being a proponent of free love himself, threw Mary out of the house when she ran off with Shelley, a married man with two children.

Mary Shelley, despite her youth, had lived many lives by this point. She was 16 when she ran off with Shelley. At 17, her baby daughter died. In her journals, we can witness her coming to terms with her child’s death. At first, there is simply shock. She writes of the day her baby died: “Find my baby dead…Send for [Thomas Jefferson] Hogg — talk —miserable day” She would write on March 19. 1815 about a dream she had of her child coming back to life: “little baby [comes] to life again — that it had only been cold & that [they] rubbed it by the fire & it lived. Awake and find no baby”. the seed for the idea had already been planted in her.

So the next year, after Mary had given birth to a healthy baby boy, this odd group of four: Mary, Percy, Byron and Claire end up Switzerland and as a dare, ask eachother to write up ghost stories. None of the party takes the dare too seriously except for Mary herself. After a few nights she hasn’t been able to come up with anything and then she sees, in a waking dream, a vision of Victor Frankenstein creating the monster: “the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together”, giving the “spark of life” to a “hideous corpse” This has been the most famous image from the novel.

Death was a constant presence in Mary Shelley’s life. She gave birth to 4 children, two before the age of twenty. Only one survived to adulthood. The longing that Mary writes about for her dead children is overwhelmingly painful. Most women at the time could have reasonably expected to lose one or a couple children, but statistically probabilities didn’t diminsh the mourning process. How many of us have looked a dead loved one and thought “he looks so alive, still. If only”

At the same time, “Frankenstein” is about the futility of trying to tamper with fate, and with death. Mary wanted to bring back her dead baby, but Victor Frankenstein wants to create an artificial man, cobbled together from bits and pieces of other men. Victor’s experiment doesn’t go awry because he screwed up. His experiment fails because it is successful, except that he failed to love his creation. He plays being God, but is unwilling to accept the responsibility, as God does, for loving his creation.

No Sale: “Butterfield 8”

Elizabeth Taylor apparently hated this movie. Hated her character. Hated that she had to do it in the first place. “Butterfield 8” was part of a picture deal that her husband, Mike Todd made with MGM studios. When Todd died in a horrific plane crash, Taylor thought that the studio wouldn’t press the film on her, a grieving widow with three young children, but they forced Taylor to honour the contract. She was bitter about it for the rest of her life. Bitter about the film. Bitter about the experience. IThe horrendously ironic part is that she won her first Oscar for this film.

That Oscar was an achievement in itself. By the time she received it, it had practically been an epoch since Todd’s death. She had stolen Eddie Fisher away from Debbie Reynolds creating a national scandal (sort of the Brangelina of their day). She was villified in the press across world. Then, she came down with pneumonia and underwent a tracheotomy. She nearly died and garnered the world’s sympathy in doing so. She was now poised to become even more famous, through her dazzling affair with Richard Burton and her subsequent dumping of Eddie Fisher

Gloria Wandrous is a call girl who would never in a million years call herself a call girl. She a fashion model and a classy businesswoman, according to her own words. She believes that she is in charge of her fate because she chooses the men that she sleeps with. She isn’t, of course, but she lives the illusion. Taylor, at this point in her career, and at this point in her personal life was sick of playing sexpots and tramps. Gloria was exactly the kind of role that she didn’t want, but it was exactly the kind of character that the period needed.

Gloria is a proto-Helen Gurley Brown, the proto-Sex in the Cities chicks. The thing is her rampant promiscuity and fear of intimacy aren’t played up for glamour or for sexual thrills, but a reflection her deep-seated self-loathing. Gloria is the product of childhood sexual abuse. She was molested by her mother’s boyfriend when she was a girl, and is doubly ashamed because she is forced to admit that she’s liked it. It’s one of the few strong plot points in the film, and it’s used almost as a throwaway line. The rest of the film is essentially stylish, overacted tripe, but that point was gold. Maybe they couldn’t go forward with it because of censorship. It makes Gloria instantly sympathetic, because otherwise, especially considering that the film was made in the late 50s, Gloria would seem like a slutty, selfish gold-digger.

This film’s first scene is probably more famous than the film itself. Taylor emerges from a strange bad bed looking dishevelled. It’s this masterclass of sleaze. He’s gone. She works her way around the room, looking for a cigarette. Brushes her teeth with whisky. Washes off yesterday’s makeup. Steals a lynx trimmed coat from the closet because her last night’s cocktail dress is ripped. When she sees that last night’s guy has paid her $250 for services rendered she storms off in a huff and nicks his wife’s mink coat, worth thousands of dollars, while she’s at it. Very classy.

There’s a lot of really bad stuff in this. The fact that Eddie Fisher is even in this movie is laughable. The fact that he plays her sexless guy-friend, whose fiancee bears a suspicious ressemblance to Debbie Reynolds is pathetic. You can see why Taylor hated this movie. It’s really trying to exploit her star image, and it was poking fun of her. She wasn’t even getting much for it. She wouldn’t really hit paydirt until the overruns from Cleopatra made her a gazillionaire.

This movie is like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. It’s too clean and cutesy to let its subject matter make an impact. It’s as hard to imagine Elizabeth Taylor as Gloria Wandrous living a life of degradation and drudgery as it is to imagine Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly. Prostitution was a tricky subject back then. Hey, it’s still a difficult subject. With both these women, there’s a certain awareness. They don’t define themselves by what they do for a living.

Anais Nin: Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Remember that whole controversy about James Frey writing “A Million Little Pieces”. They were called memoirs, even though large portions of the story were later revealed to be untrue? People were up on arms: that criminal! That fraud! However, in many ways, Frey was part of a great tradition of memoirists essentially making things up. How many memoirs have been absolutely, 100% factual? Probably none. Nowadays, memoirs are probably more factual than they used to be. Fabulists are simply unappreciated in the 21st century.

The memoir is by its very nature, self-flattering, selective and self-justifying. It’s only the most arrogant of narcissists who writes his memoirs before the age of 65. Before that, nobody should have the gall to assume that posterity gives a damn about what they are trying to say. It’s probably the oldest money-making ploy for over-the-hill anythings: actors, businessmen, TV execs. There’s a certain dignity associated with not writing one’s memoirs. You don’t have to justify or conspicuously ignore your adultery, shady business practices, criminal record or delinquent children.

Anais Nin was a writer of middling talent. With the exception of her Erotica, she is little read today. She was very much a product of her time, artisically speaking, drawing considerable inspiration from both Surrealism and Modernism. There’s a lot of sense memory, psychoanalytical probing and reverie in her work. It makes for a slow read. She writes impressions rather than novels. Her novels don’t really have plots either, as they are more or less chronicles of the interior lives of her characters. She wrote a five-novel cycle called “Cities of the Interior” where she has a bunch of characters who run around ruminating about love and sensation.

While her Erotica may be more widely read, Anais is most famous for her journals which are deeply fictionalized but highly fascinating. They are essentially her novels but with plot. Anais goes to parties, discussed psychoanalysis with her uber-artistic friends (Henry Miller was part of her set), her travels, her experiments with LSD and so on. Anais omits her real life as much as possible, including her husband of many decades, Hugh Guiler, who did some illustrations for her novels under the name of Ian Hugo. She also omits her second husband, Rupert Pole. The thing is that she was married to both husbands at the same time, making her a bigamist, an unglamourous fact that she probably didn’t want to make public.

I read an actual biography of Nin several years ago and there is a marked difference between biographical information gleaned fom friends and family, Anais’ published diaries, and what are called the unexpurgated diaries. Those too are edited in a way. All writing, especially writing about oneself is self-editing. Because, there are so much private and semi-private information about Anais available it gave rise to rumours. The most persistant is the rumour that she was bisexual. Though she frequently alluded to homosexuality and pansexuality in her novels, Anais herself was 99% heterosexual. Her lovers were nearly all men and there probably weren’t as many of them as is commonly supposed. The second, more shocking rumour is that Anais had an affair with her father, a talented concert pianist who abandoned her when she was a young child. There is a good chance that this one is actually true. Nin’s selfish, self-absorbed father wanted this information kept secret to protect his reputation so there are merely hints of what went on between father and daughter in her published works. He was apparently furious when she called one of her novellas, “The House of Incest”, thinking it was an allusion to him!

I think Nin like to believe that her life was more interesting and glamourous than it actually was, that she wasn’t the privileged wife of a dillitante-artist-bank manager, who was playing at being bohemian and who would go back home when she was finished. If she ran out of money, she always had the option of returning to her husband. This means that she had a certain artistic freedom, to write things that were avant-garde and deeply uncommercial, simply because she felt inspired to do so

The Murder the Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin

This guy, he was the Terminator of Imperial Russia. Nobody could actually kill him. Because he became so difficult to pop off, it only reinforced all these grotesque stories that he was the devil’s acolyte. Maybe he was. He definitely looked it. Walk down the street with this face, and convince people that you aren’t demented.

No, I don’t think it would work. Rasputin was a character who could only exist in Russia. He’s is certainly historical evidence that Russians will believe anything. Rasputin was a real snake in the grass, this mad monk who managed to do what no body else could: manage the tsarevich’s delibilitating hemophilia, and in doing so, ensure the Russian succession. It wasn’t that Rapustin had magical, mystical powers or anything. He simply had a calming effect on the boy. While most people would have become hysterical, Rasputin was the opposite. He won the tsarina’s trust and favour, as well as the emnity of the Russian nobility.

Not the first thing I'd want to see in the morning

Alexandra was not a woman of any great sophistication or political insight. She was a housewife queen of average intelligence, one of the many granddaughters of Queen Victoria. She was dogged and could hold her own, having turned down many decent marriage proposals for Nicholas, the man she loved. For her, the obscure daughter of an obscure German duchy, Russia or not Russia meant little to her. Her family played nations like other families played checkers. Alexandra’s greatest happiness derived from her beloved husband and from bringing up her close, tight-knit family, consisting of four daughters, and her precious son and heir, Alexey, who had inherited his hemophilia from the Grand Old Empress of India herself

Rasputin was a poisoned mushroom. Born into a peasant family in Siberia, he underwent a religious transformation in his teens and become an itinerant, religious zealot, the “Mad Monk” (though he wasn’t a monk at all, and was actually married with children). Rasputin’s form of Christian religion, whatever it was, was not supported or endorsed by the Russian Orthodox Church. His ideas were his own. He became attracted to the Khlysty sect (Хлысты), a breakaway sect from Orthodoxy which rejected the priesthood, practiced ascetism and participated in ecstatic rituals. Rasputin was not actually a member of this sect. It’s hard to imagine that any sort of organized religion could contain as wild and destructive a figure as Rasputin. His crudeness, lack of personal hygiene and debauchery became legendary all over Russia

So unpopular he was, and so suspiciously woven into the fabric of the Russian Imperial family, that a bunch of Russian aristocrats finally conspired to do him in for good. So, on December 29, 1916 (December 16 under the Old System) a bunch of guys, most of whom were members of the Imperial Family decided to assassinate him. One was Prince Felix Yusupov, married to the tsar’s niece, popular, sexy and handsome and rumoured to have some peculiar sexual fetishes of his own. The second was Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, who was Yusupov’s friend, the tsar’s cousin and had once been engaged to the tsar’s daughter. The third was Vladimir Purishkevich, a anti-Rapustin member of the Duma, the Russian Parliament. The fourth was Lieutenant Sukhotin and the fifth was Dr. Lazavert, a friend of and physician to Purishkevich. They thought, surely with their ingenuity and force of numbers, that they should be able to get rid of that crafty Rasputin once and for all. It turns out that it was Rasputin who would give them a run for their money.

They first thought that they should poison him with cyanide, quick, painless and easy to administer. The good Doctor Lazavert “put on rubber gloves and ground the cyanide of potassium crystals to powder. Then, lifting the top of each cake, he sprinkled the inside with a dose of poison, which, according to him, was sufficient to kill several men instantly” (According to Yusupov’s 1953 memoirs). The gang was deeply impressed with itself. They even thought it prudent to poison the wine Rasputin drank as well as the cakes. However, after nearly an hour of eating and drinking the “merry” Rasputin was just as alive as he was when he crossed the threshold. Yusupov said, “we were seized with an insane dread that this man was inviolable, that he was superhuman, that he couldn’t be killed. It was a frightful sensation. He glared at us with his black, black eyes as though he read our minds and would fool us”

Alarmed and growing impatient, one of the party (most agree it is Yusupov) came down and shot Rapustin in the chest. Having never murdered a man in their own living room before, the group dispersed to allow the Mad Monk to die alone. But then Lazavert adds “suddenly, we heard a strange and unearthly sound behind the huge door that led into the library. The door was slowly pushed open, and there was Rasputin on his hands and knees, the bloody froth gushing from his mouth, his terrible eyes bulging from their sockets. With an amazing strength he sprang toward the door that led into the gardens”. Maybe everyone was right. Maybe he actually was the Devil. A mere mortal man would have been dead several times over.

Rasputin then collapses outside, suffers from death spasms, and finally Lazavert declares that the old Devil is finally dead. They bundle up the body in an old sheet and stuff it into Lazavert’s car, who drove deliberately slowly so as now to arouse police attention. They took the body and threw it into the Neva River. The next day, ice had formed overtop of it and it was only discovered two days later when a policeman walking across the ice noticed a fur coat caught beneath it. They cut open the ice and voila –Rasputin — dead as a doornail.

Interesting factoid: Rasputin’s daughter Maria married a conman who fancied himself Rasputin’s successor. They escaped to Bucharest where she worked as a cabaret dancer and later as an animal tamer, but her career came to an abrupt end when she was mauled by a lion in Peru. Her husband died and she emigrated to the US where she claimed to be psychic and that Betty Ford visited her in a dream. She has always defended her father and called him a “simple man” with a “great heart”.