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Love Letters & War

The Plaza Hotel in New York City circa 2009. Photo by Nicolette Mallow.

Sometimes, writing can be a lonely art that isn’t as instantly rewarding as dance, music, film, photography or fashion. When artists sing or dance on stage, we can immediately feel whether the artwork was loved or unappreciated. Film is similar because you can watch and feel the audience as they regard the screen. Fashion is right in front of your face, too, and you can see people wearing designer clothes and colorful makeup. There is an instant reaction, a reward of your hard work that fills the soul and the ego, mostly the heart. Even if they hated it, you were acknowledged. Plus, if you’re really lucky, the art will fill your wallet, too.

Sometimes, not all the time, I have doubts about being a writer. Only because it can feel as if most people don’t enjoy reading anymore. Sometimes, being a writer is like writing alone in a cavern, and all you hear is your echo. Vast chunks of time pass by in silence, and you have no idea if the investment will pay off. As a writer, there’s no arena of fans cheering with signs, no applause or standing ovation, no festival of people waiting in line. No one dancing to your music while you’re on stage. But I know what it’s like to be on stage, and while I love being in the spotlight and can’t wait to get back at it after this Coronavirus lockdown ceases. I chose writing above dance, music and theater arts. Years ago, I put writing before these other artistic talents. Sometimes, even with my awards, publications and artistic skills: I need reminding that writing isn’t a waste of time. Because without art, I am lost and without life purpose, just like I am lost without love in my life. And I don’t just mean romantic love; I mean a passion for life and all that it entails.

The Plaza Hotel in New York City circa 2009. Photo by Nicolette Mallow.

Speaking of love, a few years ago, while I was restless with insomnia. I watched a documentary titled “Surviving Hitler: A Love Story,” and it’s about two individuals in love: a Jewish girl, Jutta, that joined the German Resistance⁠—and an injured German soldier, Helmuth, that rebuked Hitler and became part of Operation Valkyrie. The documentary filmed by Helmuth with an 8 mm camera is about the love story between the two and their attempt to assassinate Hitler. Before the film reaches that part, there is a scene where they share a letter of his. And Helmuth reads his note to Jutta that he dreamt of her (his love) and will continue to write each time he dreams of her. It was so deeply romantic. I wanted to hear more letters about his dreams. Did she ever write him back about her dreams? … I love telling people about my dreams, and I love hearing about others’ dreams… Dreams and visions, awake or asleep, can be some of the only positives that keep us going when life is bleak, such as times of war. Ultimately, this documentary about finding love in a time of war and how art preserved this story reminded me that writing (storytelling) is an ancient art that I am blessed and grateful to be part of.

When I really think about it though, I’ve always enjoyed reading old love letters. In fact, I have several books at home that are only filled with historical copies of love letters. Written by great men and women from all over the world from centuries past. Many romantic enthusiasts and those that saw the first “Sex & the City” movie heard or read about Ludwig Van Beethoven’s famous line to his anonymous lover: My Angel, my All, my very self, my Immortal Beloved. And while you can feel a deep, deep love from this man in his words, and I’m sure that woman was worshipped like an Egyptian goddess. For me, anytime I received a love letter like that from a man that entailed such all-consuming, eternal devotion as if I were the only woman in the world: I ended up being disappointed because there was usually number two, number three and maybe even number four⁠ of others ladies getting similar letters—despite the fact I was number one. Regardless, I share the same birthday as Beethoven and I adore his music, so I mean no disrespect to him. But, I am a romantic and a realist when it comes to love. We all have light and dark in us, so in order to really love someone, we have to know both faces and not just the want we want to see. True, I believe few men in the world could write such lines, like Beethoven, without sounding like they’re Dracula. It’s just, my favorite love letters often have two elements in the diction: the love between the two people and also the humanity of it all. The many masks of love we wear and not just the prettiest or most handsome façade we show the world.

“I’ve crossed oceans of time to find you.” – Bram Stoker (Dracula)

Below, I’ve copy and pasted one of my favorite love letters. This particular note is fairly well known yet easily forgotten. Written by the General and Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, to his wife and Empress, Josephine de Beauharnais; the two married in March 1796. My favorite line: “Josephine, beware, one fine night the door will break open and I will be there.”

Napoleon wrote this letter to her whilst far away from home. Shortly after their marriage he was anointed commander of the French forces in Italy, followed by serving in the Austrian War. One aspect I like about this letter is that I am fascinated to see such a tender, emotional, even melancholy side from such a great, powerful and controversial political figure. This man rampaged, killed and destructed his way to power. Some say he was a hero, others describe him as an immoral and corrupt monster. Yet, he loved this woman in a way that his heart showed little mercy to others. However, while he may have loved his Empress: Napoleon also loved his mistresses and he was quite possessive of Josephine, probably because he knew what he was doing whilst away and assumed the same of his wife. He was a control freak, requesting her not to bathe while he was gone. Oy!

This letter is not one of my favorites because it’s the most romantic, nor does their love embody the most healthy elements of love. I like it because it’s real.

To Josephine at Milan

Sent from Verona,

13 November 1796

I do not love thee anymore; on the contrary I detest thee. Thou art horrid, very awkward, very stupid, a very Cinderella. Thou dost not write me at all, thou dost not love thy husband; thou knowest the pleasure that they letters afford him, and thou dost not write him six lines of even haphazard scribble.

What do you do then all day, Madame? What matter of such importance is it that takes up your time from writing to your very good lover? What affection stifles and pushes on one side the love, the tender and constant love, which you have promised him? Who can be this marvellous, this new lover who absorbs all your instants, tyrannises, your entire days, and prevents you from being solicitous about your husband? Josephine, beware, one fine night the door will break open and I will be there.

In truth, I am anxious, my good amie, at not receiving your news; write me quickly four pages, and say those amiable things which fill my heart with sentiment and pleasure. I hope before long to press you in my arms and shall shower on you a million burning kisses as under the Equator.

Bonaparte

Over time, Napoleon divorces his Empress Josephine because he needs an heir to secure his power in France, and she couldn’t produce an heir, let alone a male heir. Josephine was a widow when they met, six years older than Napoleon, and already had two kids from her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais and couldn’t produce more children. It was a sad affair for them both, but they wanted to save France. Even though they were still in love, she agreed to the divorce and remained in good graces with Napoleon after a bitter parting. But he always remained in love with her and was dedicated to his first wife. The two had a very intense love story that takes a book to describe because so much was going on in the world. But the evidence doesn’t lie because Napoleon wrote Josephine so many letters and time has preserved such love in the form of writing. Nonetheless, years later after Napoleon lost the war, lost his title, his power and the crown. When he was exiled to Elba, Napoleon found out through the grapevine that his former Empress and one true love died in France. She died in France after returning home from a long trip with Emperor Alexander I of Russia and her children. Upon hearing the news, Napoleon Bonaparte locked himself in his room for days and spoke to no one… A few years later when Napoleon passed. It’s said his last word before death was her name, Josephine.

The Plaza Hotel in New York City circa 2009. Photo by Nicolette Mallow.

Published by Nicolette Mallow

‡ Nicolette Mallow is an Artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian, model, and (amateur) photographer. Writing is Mallow’s strongest artistic skill. Internationally published in the United States and Europe, Nicolette has obtained 110+ publications thus far. Mallow has interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies and PR teams from Texas Monthly, National Geographic, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, The Hollywood Reporter, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently her portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Working with Press and Publicity teams from companies like Sunshine Sachs, Fons PR, Frank PR, and CW3PR — Mallow can liaise with publicists, entrepreneurs, and their brands. Since 2005, for 17 years, Nicolette Mallow has covered numerous press, corporate and red carpet events as a (dyslexic) writer. Mallow has interviewed talent far beyond her years, including Jimmy Chin, Greta Gerwig, Bob Roth, Dr. Travis Stork, Joan Lunden, Larysa DiDio, Lauren Handel Zander, James White, Jay Roach, Naomi Whittel and Roc Chen. Once, she was a public speaker for a national business conference. Her career is diverse and transcends a vast array of industries, but the focus is always on the arts. Nicolette Mallow does enjoy all forms of writing, but her favorite writing genres to create entail editorial, arts & entertainment, literary journalism, travel, magical realism, nonfiction, technical and promotional publicity. Over time Nicolette has attained Press Credentials to events like Texas Film Awards (hosted by Austin Film Society), The Mexic-Arte Museum, Austin Film Festival, Euphoria Music Festival, and The Blanton Museum of Art. She also wrote for Savannah Magazine, a radio station operated by EMMIS Communications, District newspaper, and the Thinkery (formerly Austin Children’s Museum). In her spare time, Nicolette creates a magical realism novel and turns her nonfiction memoirs into short story novellas. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), she has a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration (a graduate degree now recognized as Creative Business Leadership) and a B.F.A. in Writing. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—Nicolette Mallow is also a world traveler that lives for art and loves to learn. “L’art Pour L’art.”

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