Thursday, February 11, 2010

Image 214 -- The Origin of Valentine's Day

The title of this story is "The Origin of Valentine's Day." It is based partly on true events. When I downloaded the picture with an image processing service, it was assigned an image number at random, and by coincidence, it was named Image 214.

In 1775, Giuseppe Balsamo, a man who grew up in poverty in a small village in Italy, convinced a nobleman in Paris to entrust him with a valuable gem, which Balsamo claimed was in jeopardy of being spirited away by diabolic forces. Balsamo, a magician, caused the diamond ring to disappear. Balsamo followed suit. Balsamo took on an alias and became known as Count Allesandro di Cagliostro. He was known to have traveled widely. While in St. Petersburg, Russia, he met a concert pianist named Valentina Kotlyarova, whose sister, Tatiana, was serving a 15-year sentence working in austere conditions in a salt mine in Siberia. Tatiana had tossed two loaves of bread and a flask of red wine over a prison wall, and was sentenced to hard labor for aiding a prisoner. Cagliostro, who was deeply in love with Valentina, said to his love, "Take this ring and buy the freedom of your beloved sister Tatiana. And forever be my Valentina."

Then Count Cagliostro fled Russia on February 14, 1775 and returned to the South of France. In the vineyard country of Southern France, Cagliostro experimented with various libations, hoping to discover the elixir of life, a liquid that would render immortal those who drink of it. Several times he was arrested for public drunkenness and kept overnight in a holding cell, but he was always willing to sacrifice his sobriety in order to advance science. He seemed to be rejuvenated, and appeared to be in the process of reversing the aging process.

But Cagliostro was a wanted man, and soon he was apprehended by an officer of the law and tried in the French Court in Paris in the trial of the century, referred to for over two hundred years as The Case Of The Diamond Necklace. After he was found guilty, he was confined in a dungeon in Versailles, but appealed his conviction, claiming that the missing jewelry was not a necklace, but rather a diamond ring, even though he was in no way involved in its disappearance.

Tatiana Kotlyarova, strong and fit as a result of lifting 100 pound sacks of salt, overpowered a guard and escaped from Siberia. She traveled from Siberia to Versailles to visit Cagliostro at the dungeon where he was imprisoned. Tatiana was incorrigible and wasted little time in becoming a repeat offender. Tatiana wore a robe and a hood over her head that cold February day. She was able to visit Cagliostro in his cell at the dungeon by telling the guards she was his sister-in-law and that she had brought a hatbox containing presents from his Russian bride. Paris was in turmoil because of the Revolution, and a guard escorted Tatiana to Cagliostro's cell. In the hatbox was a robe with a hood. Tatiana gave Cagliostro a note from Valentina. It read, "I will always be your Valentina." When she wrote the note to her one true love, Valentina cried a tear, which fell on the edge of the missive, and changed the "a" at the end of her name to an "e". Tatiana called for the guard, and then quickly hid under Cagliostro's mattress. Cagliostro, wearing the smuggled garment, walked out of the dungeon and right past the guards, who assumed he was Tatiana.

The street in Versailles on which the dungeon was situated was renamed Rue de Tatiana in 1926. The love letter from Valentina to Cagliostro is hermetically sealed under a crystal display case in a museum in Venice.

A Writ of Commutation of Cagliostro's conviction for the theft of the diamond necklace was signed by King Louis XVI. Written on a single line at the bottom of the one-page document were the words "A pardon is hereby Recorded by the King at Versailles this 14th day of June, 1777." The vintage of French wine in 1777 was poor due to the harsh winter of 1776-1777. The ink used by the Royal Court, derived from red grape residue in wooden fermentation barrels, was weak in texture. The document signed by King Louis XVI exonerating Cagliostro, when discovered by historians in 1925 in French Court archives, had mostly faded, but the verbiage "Record" and "King" were still legible at the bottom of the document.

Cagliostro joined the French Army under an alias and fought in support of the American colonists as a mercenary during the Revolutionary War. At the war's end, Cagliostro remained in the United States, raising sugar cane on a 300-acre farm in North Carolina. In 1794, to commemorate the Oath of the Tennis Court taken at an assembly for government reform in Versailles in June 1789 that was an integral event in the French Revolution, Cagliostro, by 1794 known as the Record King, vowed to kick every top 10 women's tennis player in the world over a banister. To express his gratitude to King Louis XVI for his pardon in absentia, the Record King, in 1797, penned the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" that became a pop hit for the Kingsmen some 170 years later.

In early 2008, in Cullowhee, North Carolina, the Record King, whose ancestral land of origin is Italy, took a DNA test so he could find out if the family rumor that he is related to Al Capone is in fact true. When the results of the DNA test came back in February 2008 from the lab in Oxford, England, the Record King found out that not only is he a perfect match with Count Allesandro di Cagliostro, but that he in fact is Cagliostro. The Record King, who has a striking resemblance to Cagliostro, admits to having an imperfect memory, does not recall a tryst over two centuries ago with Valentina Kotlyarova, and is confused about his true age.

The portrait of Cagliostro was painted in 1785. If he walked into Ryan's, he would get the senior discount.

(c) 2010 by Hooknose McGee

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