(Many years ago, when this blog was on Blogger rather than WordPress, I had a similar post talking about the history of my nom de trivia. I seem to be repeating myself a lot lately. Sorry. Most of you haven’t been reading me for ten years, so would not have seen the earlier post.)
I have started an “Art of the Day” project on my Facebook timeline. Each day I post a different picture — usually, but not always, a painting. (I have, however, shown the Lewis chessmen and a Faberge egg.) This week, since my birthday is on Friday, I am going to show some of my very favorite paintings, the paintings I would be willing to go out of my way to a museum to see. (With two exceptions: I have already posted “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper and “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer, which may be my favorite painting of all.)
One painting I will post this week is not really one of my favorite paintings — it’s not even my favorite portrait — but a portrait of one my favorite historical figures, and an intellectual hero of mine. Anna Louise Germaine Necker de Stael led an adventurous, fascinating, exciting life, and falls into the category of “why isn’t this woman better known?”
Many people are working to get more recognition of all the women in STEM fields that have been ignored: Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Lise Meitner, etc. This is a good and very necessary thing. However, women in other fields have not gotten their due, either.
Germaine Necker de Stael — usually referred to as Madame de Stael, was a late eighteenth and early nineteenth century intellectual badass. She influenced political thought for decades, even after her death. She ran the best salons in all of Europe and was friends with the brightest cognoscenti. She furthered the spread of Romanticism. She had three kids who survived to adulthood (as well as two daughters who died in infancy), and it is thought they were by two different lovers. (Gotta love the French.) That’s only a part of her life.
Today, most people remember her (if they remember her at all) for her quite quotable observations of people. Most notably, she once said “The more I see of men, the better I like my dogs.” (To be honest, I don’t speak French, so I am not sure if she meant people or males. Either way, it’s a great quote.)
Two centuries later — the early nineties — AOL came into existence. The Rocket Scientist and I were early adopters: I still remember getting messages saying “We’ve added our 50,000 member!” As a relief from the stress of parenting two young children, I became a host in the Trivia chat room. It was a lot of fun: in addition the actual hosting, I had to write games, which was intellectually challenging. I ran a game named (rather prosaically) Trivia with Pat and one that was dedicated exclusively to history called The Time Machine. (Pro-tip: depending upon how you word the question, everything becomes about history.)
I wanted to run a game on more serious lines. As I define it, trivia are things people might or might not know, but generally speaking are things people really don’t need to know. I wanted to run a game about information, things that people should have already learned, in my opinion. (For example, in my other games I would never ask about the Kristallnacht, but in this game I did, mainly because people need to know about it. I hoped, probably unrealistically, that those who didn’t know what I was talking about would go find out.)
I needed an alter ego. Madame after the indefatigable Madame de Stael–how could I not? I needed an name (after all, Madame is merely an honorific). I had recently watched a miniseries on the life of Guiseppe Verdi. I was taken by his second wife, an opera singer named Guiseppina Strepponi. She did end up marrying him (after they had been living together, much to the consternation of the small Italian town they were living in). After that, she was Signora Verdi.
Thus was Madame Verdi’s Information Parlor born. It ran for a little while, until I was overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a pre-schooler and a toddler, one of which had special needs. I was sad to let the gig go, but writing the games took too much time, and as AOL’s numbers increased it became more difficult to get into the chat room and the regulars were often crowded out.
I kept the name though. I had an email address that incorporated it, and when I started playing trivia, that was the name I played under. (At least when I was playing by myself; I have played under several team names when playing with others.) I even have a t-shirt with my team name and a picture of Madame de Stael on it.
I like her. Madame Verdi is smarter than I am, and tougher, and oftentimes snarkier. She knows what she’s doing — or least seems to. She tries to be nice to people however; no matter what persona I adopt that matters to me a great deal.
I hope she’ll be around a long time.