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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

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Simply cannot go back to them

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Life of Mary MacLane

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Entries in ellen copperfield (51)


In Which We Cook By The Recipes Of Paul Cézanne

Switzerland and Lemonade


"Talking about art is almost always useless," Paul Cézanne told an interviewer near the end of his life.

Either you see a picture immediately or you never see it at all. Explanations don’t help a bit. What good does it do to comment on it? All those things are imperfect, imprecise things. We talk as we do because it’s amusing, like drinking a good bottle of wine.

In spring of 1859, Paul Cézanne fell in love for the first time. Unfortunately the woman in question, whose name was Justine, was already involved with a classmate. He wrote, “What fantasies I built, as mad as can be, but you see it’s like this: I said to myself if she didn’t despise me we should go to Paris together, there I should become an artist, we should be happy." She never took notice of him.

To make himself forget the girl, he spent all his time at the Free School of Drawing. While there, you were forbidden to ever go to the bathroom. Cézanne disdained the nude models, and at first he shied away from depicting the human form at all. He was far from the best of the group.

That honor went to a painter named Jean-Baptiste Chaillan, who was also fond of fucking the nude models. "The love of art veils any over-excitement at all the nudity," Paul told his friend Émile Zola. Instead of finishing law school, Cézanne went to Paris. Zola was ecstatic to have his friend in town. With only a modest allowance from his father supplementing this venture, Cézanne ate cheap meals and only splurged on cigarettes. 

Chaillon had made a similar journey to the big city. Much to Paul’s chagrin, Chaillon painting from six to eleven and spent the rest of the day lazing about the Louvre and talking to girls. Cézanne was not much more productive, to Zola’s disappointment. "Convincing Cézanne of something is like persuading the towers of Notre Dame to execute a quadrille," he complained.

"Don’t think I’m becoming a Parisian,” Cézanne said by way of a response. He applied to art school twice, but was not accepted either time. He was terrible with women, and found all new relationship risky and threatening at their core. It was the work of Édouard Manet which finally gave him a model for his own varied artistic inclinations.

"It’s because I can’t capture my sensation at the first go," he said, "so I lay in some color, I lay it in as I can. But when I start I always try to paint with a thick impasto like Manet, giving form with the brush." Manet also took note of Cézanne’s early work. He was just seven years older than his admirer, but it took over a year before Cezanne was back to not being impressed by anyone. (Zola’s critique of the artist helped in penetrating Cézanne’s heavenly view of Manet.)

Thereafter Cézanne had finished with idol worship; he was not content to sit in admiration of any except himself. Sometimes Cézanne when painting the countryside would leave his canvas there "to be reclaimed by the natural environment,” explained Renoir. “I wanted to copy nature,” Cézanne explained, "I couldn’t. I searched, turned, looked at it from every direction, but in vain. It's invincible, from all sides."

By 1866 he had developed this persona completely. "Paul looks superb this year," noted a friend, "with hair thin on top and extremely long, and his revolutionary beard."

The paintings Cézanne managed in the following years found their way into the collections of the biggest names in art. According to Paul's biographer Alex Danchev, Gauguin owned seven canvases, Degas had another seven, while Monet was in possession of fourteen Cézannes, including three that hung in his bedroom. Renoir exchanged paintings with Cézanne frequently, and his wife even cooked by Paul's recipes. 

Where Renoir and Cézanne eventually parted ways was in their view of Jews. Renoir was aghast at Cézanne's association with the Jewish painter Pissarro. In the wake of the Dreyfus affair both Renoir and Degas refused to talk to Camille Pissarro or any Jew, while Monet, Gauguin and Zola supported their friend. This political conflict turned into an aesthetic one, dividing a close community. Cezanne found himself in the middle – for the most part, he avoided the politics. But he never abandoned his mentor and comrade Pissarro. 

It was Pissarro who taught Cézanne that painting was more a profession than a dalliance, and that a great deal of work had to go into it. Pissarro's background was far from the privileged European life Cézanne was used to: he was the son of a nephew who married in his aunt in the Virgin Islands. Pissarro's politics were left of left, and he had no use for the institutions of the art world. "Pissarro wasn't wrong," Cezanne later wrote, "he went a bit far, however, when he said we should burn the necropolises of art."

The Parisian world was shattered when the Franco-Prussian War broke out. Paul had no intention of fighting in the conflict. Instead he had intercouse with a nineteen year old named Marie-Hortense, and she gave him a son, which they also named Paul. He took years before telling his parents about this state of affairs, and they found out first from other sources.

What Marie-Hortense liked most about Paul was his money. "My wife only likes Switzerland and lemonade," he explained. He must have been drawn to her dirty blonde hair, which soon went completely dark. Cézanne rented a small house where Marie-Hortense was both his maid and lover. Using Marie-Hortense as his model meant not only was he flattering her form, but Cézanne could have hours of silence to himself. She spent her free time reading tawdry romances and he dashed off to Provence whenever he grew tired of her.

He did paint his new wife quite a bit, and all indications are that their relationship suited him just fine. After his death, she sold off plenty of his work to raise funds. There were so many paintings when so few would have sufficed. She never had a particularly high opinion of her husband's oeuvre.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording.

"Never Be Like You" - Flume ft. Kai (mp3)


In Which We Have Bound Our Feet To Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

This is the first in a two part series on the life of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Golden Lilies


Upper class Chinese women suffered through a thousand years of foot-binding. The feet of young girls were swaddled tightly in gauze in order to bend the toes into the sole. The malformed paws were called orchid hooks, and prevented women from fleeing their husbands.

May-ling Chiang’s mother, avoided the fate of other aristocratic women. Her father was no less modern: he had been converted to Christianity in the American South. He hoped to become a doctor, but missionaries prevented this, telling the small Chinese teenager that they already had too many healers. They sent him back to China, and paid him so little he eventually quit the mission. He never lost his faith in Jesus Christ.

Ching-ling and husband Sun Yat-sen

They gave May-ling, their youngest daughter, a Christian name along with her Chinese one. It was Olive. “I used to think Faith, Belief, Immortality were more or less imaginary, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek later wrote. “I believe in the world seen, not the world unseen.”

As the youngest daughter, she did not suffer from the imprecations directed at older sisters Ai-ling and Ching-ling. She was intelligent enough to take just about the right amount of advantage of this.

Ai-ling with her husband H.H. Kung

For Ai-Ling, and eventually for his other children, their father purchased a passport stating that the girl had been born in the Portugeuse colony of Macao. This was the best way of avoiding restrictive U.S. immigration laws exclusive to the Chinese.

When Ai-Ling met Theodore Roosevelt, she asked him this: “America is beautiful, and I am very happy here, but why do you call it a free country?”

May-ling meeting with FDR

The three sisters went to America like their father before them. May-ling was just ten years old. She enrolled at a New Jersey boarding school, where she stayed until eighth grade. After that, she was sent to public school in Piedmont, Georgia. Many of her classmates were impoverished; some were adults who had saved for years in order to afford education.

When she graduated, she went to Wellesley to be close to her brother T.V., who was attending Harvard at the time. She only went out with Chinese boys, breaking off one egagement and spending a summer with her sister in Martha’s Vineyard. She had spent her entire adolescence in America, but she never, not even for a moment, thought of staying.

Returning to Shanghai, she was tasked with running the family home. Her mother was shocked by how much weight May-ling had gained on milkshakes alone. She joined a film censorship committee and avoided any serious committments. A change in diet brought about severe acne, and she became nervous, both for her future and for that of China, which was deep in an industrial revolution.

May-ling with Eleanor Roosevelt

Her middle sister married a powerful politican her oldest sister had rejected. Sun Yat-sen was the man who founded the Republic of China, but at thirty years her sister’s elder, he was fighting a losing struggle for his position in the government. Ching-ling was the first wife of a politican to appear in public with her husband. All the daughters had been trained to encounter different types of people throughout their time in America. “You know how I dread publicity,” she complained to a friend.

May-ling met Chiang Kai-Shek through her sister’s husband. At the time Chiang was a prominent general and statesman, and May-ling noticed his eyes first of all. He had been through three previous marriages, and was rendered sterile from a bout of gonorrhea from a concubine between wives. May-ling invited him to her mother’s birthday party.

Chiang asked Sun Yat-sen if May-ling would be interested in him sexually. Sun deferred to his wife, and Ching-ling explained, “I would rather see my sister dead” than married to a man who had already been married. Chiang didn’t let his attraction for young May-ling go: he brought up the subject again and again. The woman served so many of his purposes. She was beautiful, she spoke English, and she was highly connected.

Military campaigns separated the two for long periods, but May-ling and Chiang wrote each other letters. He was still married to his third wife, of whom the Soong sisters disapproved immensely. The sisters planned to end Chiang’s marriage. “No one,” Ai-Ling said later, “ was as clever as May-ling Soong.”

on the return from Chiang Kai-Shek's kidnapping, 1936

Ai-Ling demanded that Chiang Kai-Shek sent his wife Jennie away. Chiang mused on how to accomplish this and began referring to May-ling as his “third brother” in his private writings. Eventually, he settled on the idea of telling Jennie he would send her to America for seven years while he married May-ling for "political purposes." To his amazement, Jennie actually bought this story, and so did his wife's mother, who commented, “Oh my dear daughter, you are such a good wife.”

Jennie sailed for San Francisco on board the SS President Jackson. By the time she had crossed the Pacific, she was able to read for herself that Chiang was denying she was his wife at all. The Times wrote that “political enemies are blamed by Chiang Kai-shek for what he denounces as false reports concerning the young woman now in the United States who is said to be his wife.” Jennie went to the edge of the Hudson River to throw herself in, but could not bring herself to do it. 

May-ling on her wedding day

May-ling and Chiang were married during a public ceremony at the Majestic Hotel attended by 1300. A small Christian moment had preceded the traditional Chinese wedding. "When I saw my beloved wife slowly walking in just like a floating cloud in the glow of evening, I experience such an unprecedented feeling of love that I hardly knew where I was," Chiang later wrote.

The next day he reported, "Today I stayed at home, holding my beloved wife and chatting together. At that moment I realized nothing can compare with the happiness of being newly married."

Two months later, May-ling wrote, "I have been married almost two months, and just as I started this letter to you, again the question flashed across my mind whether marriage has made any difference to me." She explained it this way: "I do not think that marriage should erase or absorb one's individuality."

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.

"Anatomic" - Opus Orange (mp3)


In Which We Recommend You Take A Job Typing



Manny Streisand was her father, known in Flatbush as the instructor of troubled men at the Brooklyn High School for Specialty Trades. The E. 7th street tenement he was born into charged a rent of $15 a month. Heading into Manhattan for the only honeymoon he could afford, Manny Streisand banged his head against the windshield when the car in front of him stopped short. Five years later, he began to suffer the first of many seizures. On August 4th, 1943, he was dead.

His daughter Barbara was almost a year and a half. She was not yet Barbra, she was still Barbara. She did not cry as a child, despite the fact that her grandfather was a malicious tyrant. Her mother Diane, unable to cope with her husband's early passing, was keen to drop the girl off with a caretaker whenever she could.

When she was old enough for school, she was old enough to experience its displeasure. Her peers called her Big Beak and drew attention to her lazy left eye. The Yiddish word for an ungainly misfit was "mieskeit," and everyone knew that was her.

Her mother was attractive enough to find a second husband, and young Barbara did not care for her suitors. Barbara tried to turn them away like Penelope. When these strange men kissed her mother, Barbara thought they were trying to take Diane from her.

A neighbor in her Brooklyn building knit the young girl a sweater to wrap around her only toy: a hot water bottle. Her mother became concerned by Barbara's lack of interest in eating. The only time she paid attention to the girl was when she was force-feeding her something or other, possibly a knish.

She sang for the first time at the age of seven. She rushed breathlessly into her mother's embrace afterwards, eager for her approval. Her mother told her, "Your arms are too thin."

Her mother found another man, one in the garment business. He impregnated her but refused to get married for some time. Diane Streisand moved into a one-bedroom on the corner of Nostrand Avenue. The rent was $105 per month.

Barbara's new father Louis Kind hated her, would criticize her clothes in front of her friends, brought no money to the family, beat his new wife. When one of her friends asked why Kind owned a different last name, she told the girl, "Oh, he uses that name for business."

On the plus side, her new father possessed the only television set she had ever had. She imitated everything she saw, showing her mother the correct way to hold a cigarette for the first time at the age of ten. Lucille Ball was generally regarded as the best.

Her first band in elementary school was Bobbie and the Bernsteins. She was Bobbie, backed by twin sisters, her closest friends at school. She never invited them over to her house out of fear. One of her classmates told her, "Barbara, please don't sing anymore."

For her fourteenth birthday, her mother nixed the idea of going to see My Fair Lady. Instead, her and her friend Anita Sussman saw The Diary of Anne Frank. At first she cried at the bracing similarities of her own existence, but afterwards it occurred to her as if there had never been a question: that part was made for her.

With her family in tatters, she sought a second home and found it in Jimmy and Muriel Choy, a Chinese couple who owned a restaurant on Nostrand Avenue. Kosher food had the disadvantage of being associated with her awful parents; Chinese food meant magnificent life in comparison. She schlepped from table to table as a waitress, the only Jewish one they had.

High school was a different matter. Her desire to perform became a singular force of will, the only one she required. She had never been identified as gifted in school, but a mandatory IQ test quickly revealed the truth. With a quotient of 124, she was quickly shuttled into the honors classes. Still, she did not fit in with the smart students, and she ate alone. One teacher called her "self-centered."

Sex was taboo in her home. Information had to be attained through other avenues. She asked Muriel Choy whether the man was always on top during intercourse. Muriel responded, "Not necessarily."

Her first romance was with the best-looking guy in her theater troupe. She had always been considered the ugliest girl in school. He did more than admit she wasn't: he told her she was attractive, the first person who had ever done so. Her second boyfriend was a black guy named Teddy. People were absolutely flabbergasted.

The pace of things began to pick up, even if the world wasn't exactly to her liking. She auditioned for Otto Preminger's cinematic version of the Joan of Arc story, Saint Joan. They chose a gentile. Her mother separated from her abusive stepfather and had to sue for a measly $37 a week. To make ends meet, her mother sold undergarments in her building's laundry room and asked her daughter to steal milk bottles from where they sat outside their neighbor's doors.

A theater near her home would play Italian films. She did not understand the language. When Jerry Lewis movies filled the theater, she imitated him in the lobby for other patrons. Her mother let her use their college savings ($150) to fund an apprenticeship at an upstate New York playhouse. Her first part was as a Japanese child leading a goat, and the role meant she had to clean up the animal's droppings after every performance.

She continued to lie about her age, hoping she would be accepted into a year-round program at the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Her mother trashed the clothes that her theater friends gave her out of kindness, and accused them of enslaving her daughter. She adopted a new style: skirt, stockings, shoes, leather bag, all blacker than black.

Some time later on, in her aspiring actress days, another student spotted Barbara and took notice. James Spada's 1995 biography of Barbra, Streisand: Her Life, has him remembering his first vision of the girl: "I remember this funny-looking girl on the stage sitting cross-legged...she had a very small part, she didn't have many lines. But boy, by some magic wave of her wand she was making everybody look at her," Dustin Hoffman said. "Did you ever see those pictures of a mother bird with the worm and there's a bunch of baby birds with their mouths open? Somehow there's one that's straining more than any other to get that worm from their mother. That would be Barbra."

She met Warren Beatty, five years her elder. She rejected him for the moment, put off by his strategy of chasing every tail he saw. Her own early rejections were brutal one casting agent wrote over her photo, "Talented. Who needs another Jewish broad?" When she invited her mother to watch her perform a particularly moving scene in acting class, her mother told her to give up and take a typing job.

Until then, her name had been Barbara. But she decided that there were a million Barbaras, and if she removed the 'a', only one Barbra.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

with Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford

"Fight or Flight" - Sonya Kitchell (mp3)

"Lucifer" - Sonya Kitchell (mp3)