Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Coco Chanel, Kubla Khan and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

On May 5th, 1921, Coco Chanel introduced the perfume she called Chanel No. 5. She was 37. It was 1926 when she created her signature "little black dress." Later, an attractive, fashionable woman in her fifties, Chanel managed to survive World War II by living with a Nazi officer at the Ritz Hotel. Chanel appears on pages 80. 134, 165, 213, 250 and 275 in A Book of Ages.

On May 5th, 1260, Kubla Khan ascended the throne of the Mongol Empire. Five centuries later, in the autumn of 1797, Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium and dreamed a poem about it. "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure dome decree/ Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/ Through caverns measureless to man" Sadly, just as he was writing it down, a man from the neighboring town of Porlock stopped by and interrupted him. Coleridge was 25. He would never remember the remainder of the poem he'd dreamed, and by 1800 he'd written himself out.

Coleridge was brilliant, but uneven, prone to interruptions, depressions, manias and addictions. At the age of 42 he moved in with his doctor and spent the rest of his life there. At age 60 he entertained the great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson at his doctor's home in Highgate, London, squeezing six names into one very small room. He died a year later. Samuel Taylor Coleridge appears five times in A Book of Ages.

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