15. 7. 2020

English version | L'amour fou

by Sara Andrade


Love notes in kindergarten and mixtapes filled with slow songs in high school? The following passionate manifestations make everything else seem like child’s play.

“All love letters are ridiculous”, said Álvaro de Campos, a Fernando Pessoa heteronym. Because “love letters, if there ir love”, have to be ridiculous”. But what’s ridiculous is to think small when it comes to love. Intense, unreasonable, insane. When love os mad, showing it can only be done in an over the top way - some times in a good way, other times in a not so good way. Because not always there’s a happy ending when the heart beats stronger than the mind. When devotion is bigger than a thousand love letters, how ridiculous is it? When it implies moving mountains and exaggerate desire, how ridiculous is it? It’s ridiculously extravagant. When proving your loved one that he/she is the soul mate that completes us, and ink over paper seems like a euphemism, saying “I love you” can only done with massive constructions, company buying and diamonds - as well as deepness pockets. In these examples, from History, we are both with our hearts full and our minds blown.

Truly, madly, deeply: Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal & Taj Mahal

The marble mausoleum, dated from 1653, in the south bank of river Yamuna, near Agra, India, today a world monument, was ordered by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It’s one of the New Wonders of the World, but even more wonderful is the love story printed in each and one of its stones. A testament of the love of Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal, whom he met in 1607, he was then 16 years old. Grandson of Akbar, the Great, this Prince Khurram (as he was called before becoming an emperor) was known for browsing local markets, charming the girls on the stalls - it was in one of those he found 15-year-old Arjumand Banu Begum, daughter of the soon-to-be prime minister and whose aunt was married to the father of Prince Khurram. Love was at first sight, but marriage wasn’t: Khurram had to marry first with Kandahari Begum and only after could he wed Arjumand, which he did on March 27th, 1612. She became Mumtaz Mahal, “the palace chosen one” - which is relevant, considering Shah Jahan had several wives - and was adored by the emperor and the people, for her generous side, heart and intelligence (she made lists of widows and orphans to make sure they get food and money). The couple had 14 children together, but Mahal died shortly after giving birth to their last offspring. In 1631, three years after Shah Jahan took over the realm, the emperor went from Agra to Deccan, to fight a rebellion led by Khan Jahan Lodi. Mumtaz, about to give birth, accompanied her husband, and had a baby girl amidst the military camp, in a well and ostensively decorated tent. Even though seemingly well, her health condition took a turn for the worst, she ended up passing away at the arms of her husband, 24 hours after giving birth, on June 17th. She was buried immediately after, near the camping sight, in Burbanpur, as per islamic tradition, even though her remains were afterwards moved, as soon as battle ended. They say Shah Jahan heartbreak was such that the emperor cried for eight days straight, in his tent, and when he came out, he had aged considerably, showing up in great hair and with glasses. The escape for his heartache was dedicating himself to drawing a mausoleum so complex it would shame all mausoleums to date. Unique for several reasons, but also for being the first with such dimensions dedicated to a woman, it is believed that it was Jahan, an architecture lover, to conceive the planning for the building (counting on the help of several experts in the field, nonetheless), whose purpose for this Taj Mahal, the “crown of the realm”, was to represent Heaven - Jannah - on Earth. And he would do it - and did it - without limiting expenses. Through the 22 years to took to build it, and because Jahan wanted to be finished quickly, h recruited about 20 thousand workers (which were lodged in a city, Mumtazbad, built purposely for it) to rise from the ground up this white marble mausoleum over the tomb of Arjumand Banu Begum. The marble used was collected from a quarry over 300 kilometers from Agra, in Makrana, and it is said that over a thousand elephants and a countless herd if bulls were necessary to bring the prime matter to the site. Starting with the base, then the building with its dome, four pillars 43 meters tall in the corners of the octogonal base, then a mosque and the jawab (a fake mosque to balance it out). Inserted in a 17 acres area, which includes the main mausoleum occupying 3,600 square meters of land, surrounded by 90 thousand square meters gardens, a guesthouse and the mosque, the 73 meters high walls of the building over the base that’s almost 100 meters wide are also intricately adorned and sculpted with bas-relief decorated with semi-precious stones (like yellow marble, jade, polished quartz, amongst others) in styled designs of flowers, fruits and other vegetables. There’s quotes from the Koran engraved all over, written by the Persian calligraphist from the Mughal court, Amanat Khan, in letters incrusted with opaque quartz. The total cost of the project Is estimated to have reached 50 million Indian rupees, something like 1,400 million euros (with an error margin, with conversions being outdated and all). Still, an undeniable fortune. It is also said that Shah Jahan wanted to build a black version of the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum for himself right across the one for his lover - in a kind of a reflection, a yin version for the yang of Mumtaz - but he failed to accomplish it because his fourth son, taking advantage of his father distress and distraction after the death of Mumtaz, killed his older brothers to take over the throne. And he was successful at it, imprisoning his dad in the Red Fort of Agra, where he sent his final years looking at Taj Mahal, finally being buried next to Mumtaz, by his usurper son, upon his death on January 22nd, 1666. Even though many archeologists believe the Black Taj Mahal is just a myth, with or without that half, Taj Mahal remains an unquestionable madness - one of those with which one paints the most beautiful love stories. 

Shine on you crazy diamond: Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton

If a diamond is a girl’s best friend, it is also a testament of a great love story, at least when it’s one with the nuances of the passionate one between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The pair met in Cleopatra’s set (1963): she was playing the lead, Cleopatra; he was playing her romantic partner, MarK Antony; together they played one of the most torrid affairs, on and off screen. At the time, Taylor was married with her fourth husband, Eddie Fisher, and Burton was in his first marriage, with actress Sybil Christopher. The affair took the world by storm, was blown our of proportion as scandalous and was even condemned by the Vatican - which was no deterrent for Liz to marry Richard, on March 15 1964, days after getting her divorcee - engaging in what would become a whirlwind love story that started and finished more often than we’re able to tell. In 1974, the couple eventually broke up but, like in a movie, walked down the aisle once again a year later. Only distance between love an hate was too short, and Taylor and Burton went their separate ways in 1976, forging, nonetheless, a union forever remembered (until the end of her days, she said she never stopped loving him), and symbolized by an iconic diamond, known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond: in 1969, Richard Burton gave the actress this polished precious stone of 69 carats, valued in one million dollars and cut by Harry Winston himself. The relationship might not have been eternal, but this symbol marked forever all romantic gestures. After all, it’s not just diamonds that are forever; the crazy gestures you do for love are forever too. 

Stone Cold Crazy: Anna Ivanovna Romanova & Frederick William

It’s possible that Elsa, from Frozen, may be inspired in this Anna of Russia - then again, maybe not. Says Jennifer Wright, in her book It ended badly: thirteen of the worst breakups in History, that this empress of Russia, known for her cruelty and reigning from 1730 and 1740, never truly recovered from her husband’s death, Frederick William, shortly after they married. Even though she had lovers (amongst them, Ernst Johann von Biron), the author suggests Anna resented the fact that, along with other things, never being allowed to remarry, hating matrimony and love in general. That’s why, when Prince Mikhail, from one of the most revered Russian houses, married an Italian catholic woman - she despised catholics even more than she did marriage - to say that the empress wasn’t very fond of the union is putting it mildly. When Mikhail’s wife passed away, shortly after they were married, the Prince’s heartbreak wasn’t enough to appease Romanova, which ended up naming him as the court’s jester. The job description? He had to pretend he was a chicken and fake-lay eggs in a nest, on the throne room, whenever Anna had a visitor. The end? Far from it: she wanted to make an example out of him and his association with catholics. So, in 1739, she had an ice castle built with a honeymoon suite totally made of ice. Why? Because she forced Mihhail marry her unattractive maid, “old and ugly”, they’d say, to point out this was no compensating union for the prince, both dressed like clowns, and then spending their wedding night in that ice castle. Naked. Revenge is best served cold, and, apparently, so is insanity.

The gods must be crazy: Nero & Poppaea 

When the roman emperor mistakenly killed (some modern historians disagree, stating contemporary historians of Nero may have exaggerated the story because they were no fans of the ruler) his second wife, Poppaea, in a rage tantrum - they were fighting because Poppaea, pregnant with their second child, complained about the time her husband was spending on the race tracks; the kick he took on her was fatal-, the angst was such that Nero embalmed the empress’ body and, instead of cremating it, put it in Augustus mausoleum. Taken by heartbreak, it’s also said that he murdered Poppaea’s only child, her closest allies and acquaintances and ordered the castration of a slave named Sporus, who he though had similar features to the late empress, even marrying him later on. Other times, we’d say. Times when insanity was reasonable…?

Like crazy: Sam Newhouse, Mitzi & Vogue

What does a woman want? Amongst other things, to be heard. And attention to details. After that, the grandeur of the gesture will depend on the (financial) disposition of whoever takes it forth and that will be determinant for the entry in this list, of course - never downplaying every time your better half put all his efforts into a gesture that can be as simple (and the notion of simple can vary from pocket to pocket) as thoughtful. If you don't know what that is, stay tuned to the next few lines: when Mitzi Newhouse kissed her hushand, Sam Newhouse, goodbye on his way to work, on the day of her birthday, in 1959, Mitzi asked him only one thing - “Buy me Vogue”. And he did. But not the magazine, the whole of Condé Nast, which at the time had not only that title, but also Glamour, House & Garden and Young Brides. Newhouse already co-owned and founded a publishing house, Advance Publications, which had been established, throughout the years with his brothers, as one of the biggest newspaper chains in the country, acquiring several journals a bit all around the territory, though ambitioning the quality associated with the glossy magazines. What’s the saying? Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish, and he’ll never go hungry again? Newhouse upgraded the expression: buy your loved one a magazine and she’ll feed her should for a month; buy her the publishing house and she’ll have an insane love story to tell her whole life. 

Crazy in Love: examples History doesn’t tell (yet), but the internet does.

Not only kings and queens and Hollywood royalty have big gestures to show their love. Some Stories go beyond the limits of sanity in the world of common people. For instance, Alexey Bykov’s marriage proposal to his girlfriend, in 2012, in which he faked his own death in front of her. “We arranged to meet in a certain place, but when I got there, there were destroyed cars everywhere, ambulances, smoke, a carnage.”, recounts Irina Kolokov, the girlfriend, in an interview with the Daily Mail. Bykov had hired a director, stunt doubles, make up artists even a writer to create the whole apparatus. “Then, when I saw Alexey covered in blood on the road, a paramedic told me he was dead and I just fell apart in tears”. That’s when the leading man ”resuscitated and asked her to marry him. “I wanted her ti realize how empty and meaningless her life would be without me, if I wasn’t a part of it”, confessed the Russian man. It worked: she said yes. Hopefully, out of love and not out of trauma. And speaking of faking deaths, this story comes from Brazil: when Carlos Roberto de Jesus, an unemployed ex-con, was hired by housewife Maria Nilza Simões, in the village of Pindobaçu, outside Salvador da Bahia, to murder the lover of her cheating husband, the shooter could never predict he would fall in love with his target. In 2011, Carlos Roberto was supposed to kill, on June 24th, Erenildes Aguiar Araújo, aka “Lupita”, for about €400, tells The Guardian, but realized that Lupita was, in fact, a childhood friend of his and was unable to proceed with the homicide. After confessing everything to her, they faked Erenildes death with a very bloody image of her - also yummy: he used to bottles of ketchup to mimic the blood. It worked (really?!). Simões believed the mock up picture and paid. Five days later, when she was passing by the local market, Maria Nilza saw the two of them getting cozy and pressed charges for robbery on the ex-con. The investigation revealed the whole bizarre story and the three of them ended up facing charges: Simões for the attempted murder for hire; the couples for extortion. A love triangle that has less of romance and more of madness… with a little stupidity on the side. But there’s also madly in love stories that are just plain romantic: over half a century ago, Liu Guojiang decided to exile himself and his better half, Xu Chaoqing, to a cave in the middle of nowhere, and the footstep of a mountain, in the county of  Jangjin, south of Chongqing, China. The boy fell in love with Xu, who was 10 years older than him, in June 1942, the day Chaoqing was getting married. He was six and had just lost a tooth. Chinese tradition says that kissing a bride is the way to go if you want your teeth to grow back, so Liu gave the kiss it would seal the love of his life forever. Fourteen years and four kids later (from Xu), the boy grew and the woman widowed. The proximity between the two are, but their romance was frowned upon by the community, so Liu preferred to say no to the modern life privileges - like plumbing, electricity, easy access to food - rather than not having the woman he loved. Sound like an extreme version with slow living, no sacrifice involved? You’re wrong: so Xu could move around in an easier way, Liu hand sculpted six thousand steps, with little more than a chisel and his profound love. It was a group of adventurers that found the stairs and the couple, in 2001. They had seven children and remained together until the end of their days, In 2007, when Liu passed away in the arms of his beloved (he was 72), they say their love was so strong he couldn’t let go of Xu’s hand, even after his death. The widow, it is said, spent days repeating to herself “you promised you’d take care of me always, that you’d stay with me until the day I died, but you were gone before me, how will I live without you?”. Xu died in 2012, but the local government decided to preserve the steps and the spot they lived in as a testimony of their love story. So that it - they - can live happily ever after.