Thursday, December 29, 2011

8 A Latvian Latvia for Latvians? Mimesis or Alterity?

Because his earlier bankruptcies in the hardware business had made AB, my grandfather, unable to sign on as a publisher of the newspaper, and, therefore, the million of his dreams let him get but a whiff of it—with the substance of the money going into the personal account of Emilija—AB’s first wife and mother of his four children was, so to say, “not happy”.

At the time when AB first came to Made Jurjane and pleaded with her for her signature that would permit him to divorce her and marry Emilija, my grandmother was, one “angry” Latvian countryside woman.

Among other things, the documents that AB and Emilija had exchanged between themselves with regard to who owned what and who would get what if one of them were to die, was one known in the family at large as the “Testament” or “Will”. According to the Will, in the event of Emilija’s death, all the material substance, proceeds, and monies of “Jaunākās Ziņas” (The Latest of Latest News) would go to her heirs, these heirs being her mother, two sisters and their descendants.

On her lawyers' advice, Made Jurjane did not agree to release AB from his obligation to her and the family that he had left in her care as he, first, went bankrupt as a shopkeeper; and, second, was willing to sell out the principles of egalitarianism of the Herrnhuters in a Faustian deal to make “a million” by sacrificing his own.

If the link to Emilija  is correct, that AB and Emilija started living together in 1911, Made Jurjane let them both feel that they were not to get away with their under handed deal to do in Blankenstein, owner of Rigaer Tagesblat, and her and her children for their benefit alone. On the advice of her lawyer (one Liepins), my grandmother held her will against that of Emilija for over a decade, thus allowing all of Riga know that AB, her husband, and Emilija were “living in sin”—as such live-together arrangements were known in those days.

To this writer’s surprise and delight, a friend sent him a photograph, taken in 1922 at the wedding of AB and Emilija. The photograph had been hidden among family possessions for near ninety years. According to the sender, the family was doing house cleaning and burning old stuff found in the attick, and had come across the picture. The reason it was not consigned to the fire was because one family member remembered that their late mother had said that the photograph ought to be saved, because it was of certain well known people and apparently had some social significance.

There are a number of interesting features about the photograph. The most significant is that of Emilija—her appearance, her looks—in 1922; and her appearance in subsequent years (see link above). The appearance of Emilija today is known through a hastily written and sensation seeking book (probably the only way a book can be sold in Latvia with some profit these days) , “Mīla”, written by the Maija Muktupavele  It is interesting for me to see AB all these years ago. While AB (62 at the time; his 150th birday anniversary was celebrated with a display at the Missinu library last year, 2010) is immediately identifiable by his nearly bald head, Emija (41) looks a completely different woman from the one being presented to the public today.

Photo Copyright Eso Anton Benjamins.

First Row (from L to R): George Aicher (Juris Benjamins), son of Annija Aichere (immediately behind), Ede Usiņa (Peter’s grandmother and Emilija’s mother), AB, Emilija, and Theatre director Eduards Smilģis.

Second Row (from L to R): Annija Aichere, Mina Usina (stage name Tusnelda), Rudolph Aicher, unidentified young woman.
Both Emilija and AB display their wedding rings.

What is striking about the photo is how different Emilija Benjamins looks in 1922 from the way she looked in later years.

The photo shows at least five theatre professionals (AB, the sixth, became associated with the theatre as a result of his efforts to become a playwrigfht in years before his association with Emilija (He won an award for his play, called “Fog” (Migla)—something of a do-it-yourself moralizing and educational play about why stay sober to make it in the world. In restrospect the number of actors present 9 (in retrospect) in the photo includes almost all shown. However, as ‘reality-theatre actress’, Emilija topped all.

Let us now compare the faces as projected in the following two photographs:

Emilija Benjamin, photo said to be taken in the 1920s, possibly around 1928, 29.
It is certainly post-1922.
In this first picture is Emilija as we are used to seeing her presented today in books or media.

Copyright Eso Anton Benjamins. Emilija on her wedding (2nd) day in 1922.

Here  is Emilija’s face in the photo on the day of her wedding in 1922.

I have no other photographic evidence of AB’s and Emilijas wedding day.

The other side of the family (AB’s children)  was also present, but is out of the picture. My father, John (Janis) Benjamins, who under less stressful family circumstances would have been in Rudolf Aicher’s place as his father’s, AB’s, “best man” is not in the photo. It is interesting to see Eduard Smilģis, a theatre director, act the role of Emilija’s father, the one who gives the bride away. Perhaps, in a symbolic sense, he was her father: that is, we may guess that he introduced Emilija to AB ten or more years (1904 or a little later) before.

Incidentally, the design of the photograph is that of two hands, cupped, fingers spread, both hands facing the viewer . If we attempt to re-enact the positions in the photograph with our hands, the R hand overlays the L. This may not have any significance, but perhaps it does. Emilija enacts the role of the index finger, while Smilģis is the R hand’s thumb, and AB the middle finger, Ede Usiņa the ‘ring finger’, and Juris Aircher-Benjamin (4) is the ‘pinky’.

The photograph also reveals some other things. But suffice unto the day.

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