Friday, November 13, 2009

blood oranges

in the court of the crimson orange.

In December 1436, on the occasion of his infant son's initiation into the Order of the Dragon - founded by the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund, and modeled on the Order of Saint George - emissaries of Vlad II, Dracul, were discharged over the Western Carpathians from Wallachia on a mission to secure a great gift.

Five years earlier - just prior to the birth of his second son and eventual heir - Vlad II, in concert with a select number of princes and vassals, had been summoned to the city of Nuremberg. Sigismund's primary motivation was self-protection; by eliciting a statutory oath of allegiance to the Cross, the royal house sought strategic defense against potential invasion by the Turks. Vlad Dracul's position was to impose control on those outlying mountain passes between Transylvania and Wallachia.

In return, Sigismund pledged to support Vlad's blood claim to the throne. An ambition f
ully realized by 1436.

"The original Order comprised twenty-four members of the nobility, including such notable figures as King Alfonso of Aragon and Naples, and Stefan Lazarevic of Serbia."

The insignia of the Order, appropriately, was a a coiled dragon with the red cross of Saint George seared into its back. The blood of the Cross sealed in the blood of battle: blood begetting blood.

Dracul, then - derived from the Latin 'draco' - and the Order of the Dragon was adopted as the family crest. Coins were struck under Vlad II's reign bearing the emblem of a winged dragon. By the end of his heir's reign, however - that of Vlad III, or Vlad Ţepeş (the Impaler) - the name 'Dracul' was synonymous with barbarity and the devil.

Dracul-a - son of the dragon - ascended the throne stained by a thirst to avenge the Order and restore the House of Basarab from which he was descended.

A mere six years into his reign, Dracul was deposed by factions in league with Hungary and was compelled to turn to the Ottoman court for assistance. Reneging on his oath to the Order of the Dragon, Vlad II paid tribute to the Sultan in return for military support and went so far as to send his two younger sons into exile as a token of his loyalty. While his brother, Radu forged a lasting alliance with the Sultan's heir, Mehmed, and flourished in this distant corner, Vlad III felt only disgrace at his father's betrayal and defied all efforts to groom him as a devoted subject.

Imprisoned much of the time and roundly chastised, the young prince brooded and plotted.

in 1447, at the age of sixteen, Vlad learned of his father's death at the hands of boyars in league with the Hungarian regent, John Hunyadi, the self-proclaimed 'White Knight'. His elder brother, the heir apparent, was blinded with hot irons and buried alive in Târgovişte, on the right bank of the Ialomiţa in what is presently southern Romania.

What ensued from there directly as an attempt to expand Ottoman influence by imposing Vlad III on the Wallachian throne is well documented. Dracula was impervious to all efforts to manipulate him from afar.

His contempt for the Sultan ran so deep that he gladly entered into an alliance with his father's assassin to reinstate the old Order. By 1456, Wallachia lay all but ravaged by decades of constant war. Agriculture was ailing, his subjects on the brink of starvation, and crime was endemic. Even as the Ottomans advanced through Constantinople into mainland Europe, Vlad Dracula declared war on the Boyars and refused tribute to the despised Sultan, Mehmed. Desperate to impose stability on the riven economy he inherited, the methods employed were at once necessarily cruel and a product of an all consuming wrath.

Thousands were impaled. Entire forests laid bare as his kingdom burned in a crucible of his own forging. Once clear skies roiled with smoke.

And the Christmas gift for a dragon heir ?

Blood oranges from Italy. A small, tart fruit of crimson flesh; withered on the vine.

Were it not for more recent events in Kosovo and Belgrade, Serbia and Bosnia, it might simply read as some dark elusive fairytale. Personal crusades and genocide.


Anto said...

excellent stuff - like a section from Focaults Pendulum.

The one time when we would have blood oranges about while i was young was Halloween. Given that this was 1970s Dublin, when something like a red pepper was the height of exoticnessness, it's surprising. But then the potential link with Dracula that you've outlined may be the reason behind this. They'd make your gob pucker up as tight as a nuns proverbial. A kind of pomegranate buzz offa them. Not nice.

ib said...

Thanks, Anto, for the comparison with 'Focaults Pendulum'. I had to look that up. I'm not a huge fan of Umberto Eco, but that's as much to do with sheer laziness as anything else.

Russell Hoban is more my cup of tea, in truth, and the link to Dracula is - as you rightly observe - pure fantasy. I'm sure I've even come across the idea in comic books of yore.

Thanks, too, for the unfavourable association with pomegranates. I know exactly where you are coming from as a result. A nun's proverbial! Yes. I don't enjoy pomegranates much, but I'm a sucker for anything sherbety or sour as fuck. From Wham bars to Sherbet fountains.

Much of this childish fondness for tooth-rot, of course, has translated in adulthood to a quest for the most exotic curry. In fact, I am poised over an lamb jaipuri as a type.

All well and good, but fuck me if I don't miss my Creamola Foam.

anto said...

well we've come full circle here man because a) i'm settling down to Thai Pork in oyster sauce meself and b) the fruit most associated with the condition of one's hoop after eating spicey food in Dublin vulgar parlance is, a blood orange.

Also - C'Mon the Boys In Green tomorrow against the French!

ib said...

The French will prove difficult over two legs, Anto.

Good luck in making it through. I have all but given up on Scotland in recent years.

The situation here this morning, excuse my Dublin parlance, is very much the blood orange.

Löst Jimmy said...

Wonderful post here ib, it has given me a welcome diversionary read this cold evening in the far north.

ib said...

Cheers, Löst Jimmy. Much of the factual content is merely paraphrased from a number of sources, including Wiki. The one direct quotation goes uncredited because I prematurely closed my browser and could not relocate it.

I was amazed while trawling through those factual sources to find re-occurrening reference to the "Battle of Kosovo" and "Belgrade".

I remember being fascinated by various accounts of Vlad Tepes as a youngster in the early seventies. I managed to cajole the matronly custodians at my local library into ordering - what would be regarded now, I'm sure - some very suspect material. It wouldn't happen these days, I don't believe, everyone is far too closely scrutinized. To the letter.

Back then, public libraries seemed big fun. And awful in the secrets stacked up on their shelves.

A good place to keep warm in those winter months.

@eloh said...

I really loved reading this. I'm always interested in old Vlad.

History of any flavor.

MikeB in NYC said...

I get back from a few days off and find this! Nicely played - you are on quite a roll as of late, all of the posts have been superb, the painting story is especially prime.

ib said...

Cheers, Mike B,

and thanks for planting this particular demon 'seed'. As for the fruits of my painting;

" they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall..."