When Groupon first came out, I hestitated to run a coupon with them for my bellydance studio, but I went for it anyway. When the promo came out, I was mortified at the copy that they invented to go along with the class coupon. Rather than talking up bellydance classes for fitness or fun or femininity, their script was about how the first bellydancers were spies shimmying down drainpipes and seducing their way into the secrets of officials and how you too can learn the art of seduction and espionage. I’m not kidding.
I wrote them a very upset email about their sarcastic portrayal of my chosen profession that I take very seriously. They didn’t care, and said that it was all showmanship to get attention from readers and that I had no choice in the matter.
I didn’t realize at the time that their copywriters must have gotten their image of what the ‘original bellydancers’ were like by studying the images and life story of Mata Hari.
All I knew about Mata Hari was that a google search of images of vintage bellydancers always turned up dozens of her image. Dancers reproduce her costumes constantly and use her images in marketing materials (myself included). But I honestly never really researched who she was or what her life and dancing was really all about until I read Paolo Coelho’s recent biography of her, The Spy.
Now, if you’re a Coelho fan, this book may not actually be in your wheelhouse as it doesn’t have as much of the philosophizing as most of his books. In fact, there aren’t many good reviews of the book on the internet, including this one from Ryan Vlastelica who says,
” Coelho, a dime-store philosopher whose work is beloved by those who find motivational posters motivating, hasn’t written a thriller with The Spy, nor is it a feminist manifesto or bit of scholarly history. (At 184 tiny pages it is roughly as illuminating and informative as a skim through Hari’s Wikipedia page.) Instead, it’s merely the latest of Coelho’s surface-level narratives to be stitched over with “insights” that only sound profound if you’re not really paying attention.”
Well, it was a fast read, I’ll give him that. And it wasn’t nearly as fun or exciting as some of my other favorites by him, like Brida or the Witch of Portobello. And it definitely shows the very vain side of its subject. But for me, it was a fascinating perspective, full of intimate details I never knew about this woman (though technically, you could find every bit of it out by reading the Wikipedia page about her, which I had just never taken the time to do.) Abuse. Crappy marriage. One child murdered by her nanny and the other taken away from her in the divorce. I honestly didnt even realize that she was sentenced to death by firing squad. Wowza.
Anyway, I always love reading about the turn of the century, the Orientalist movement, the World’s Fair, etc. Mata Hari was fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough) to come to age in that unique era. You just have to remember while you’re reading it that we don’t know exactly which parts are quotes from Mata Hari taken from her final letters written in prison to her lawyer, and which are bits of fiction by the author.
So, whether you abhor her for being nothing more than a stripper in pretty costumes, lying about her “exotic” nature and inventing culturally-insensitive “oriental” performance pieces OR you applaude her courage and heroism for creating the best life she could out of a crummy hand dealt… I’ll leave that for you to decide. Either way, it’s cool to see her story revived in mainstream media.
And….I look forward to seeing the movie as well!