I got my first hate mail. Well, not actually mail and not my first, but I’ll explain that later. My first hate comment since I began writing this blog on LGBTQ topics in January was short and to the point: “Dirty fag.” I can’t say I was surprised, except perhaps that it took so long. (In seven months I’ve had over 3100 views by visitors from 67 countries.) One friend even noted it was a sign that I’m “reaching the right audience, and not preaching to the converted.” True enough, and an apt metaphor.
The cowardly act of schoolyard name-calling was hidden behind a curious Twitter handle: Girolamo Savonarola. In case you’re not up on Italian Renaissance history, Savonarola was a 15th century Dominican friar who castigated the rich and powerful in Florence with fiery apocalyptic sermons. His reform campaigns included the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities, in which objects deemed “occasions of sin” were burned – masks and carnival gowns; playing cards and musical instruments; “immoral” books by Ovid and Boccaccio; paintings by Botticelli.
Amsterdam turned gay overnight. That’s what happened in 1998 when 250,000 gay and lesbian athletes and fans descended on a city with a population of only 720,000 in one fell swoop. Not only was it the first time the Gay Games were held outside North America, Amsterdam was the smallest city thus far to host the Games. So for eight days packed with countless events the European capital was clearly, and never more visibly, the Gay Capital of the World. It was unprecedented in every way.
A week before Kris van der Veen was arrested in Russia, on suspicion of “promoting gay propaganda” to minors, he was reading about Ivan Dusak, or Ivan the Fool. A popular figure in Russian folklore dating back to the 16th century, Ivan is the youngest of three brothers who set out to seek their fortunes. Fairest of hair and bluest of eyes, Ivan is seen as simpleminded by his greed-driven siblings. But he follows his heart – always eager to help others, even if it puts himself at risk. Ivan’s naïve derring-do vanquishes the dastardly deeds of villains and wins the happily-ever-after love of princesses. Not such a fool after all. Kris van der Veen would be perfect casting.
Rite of Spring, Joffrey Ballet
(1913 costume design, Nicholas Roerich)
Paris, 29 May 1913
Everything was beautiful at the ballet. Romantic melodies by Chopin, graceful sylphs shimmered in white, Russian dreamboat Nijinsky danced in the moonlight. The first act at the brand new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was what everyone expected. But as the music of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) began the second part of the program, the audience twitched, twittered and turned hostile.
“One literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music,” said Gertrude Stein (who actually saw the second performance four days later.) Popular composer Puccini (also attending the second night) called the music cacophonous, “the work of a madman.” Suddenly everyone who was anyone in Paris wanted to see what kind of ballet had caused a riot in the theatre on its opening night.
“You wonder how these things begin…” muses El Gallo, the handsome narrator in The Fantasticks, the world’s longest-running musical. (The original off-Broadway production opened in 1960 and ran for 42 years, so Les Mis and Phantom don’t even come close!) It was based on Edmond Rostand’s burlesque romantic comedy Les Romansques, which opened at the Theatre Francais in 1894 on May 21st – how’s that for serendipity? “You wonder how these things begin…”