Ire en’d at year end

You’ve been Irened

A year-end video for those who’ve been Sherlocked.



(Better in HD and full screen)


Trvia: The name “Irene” is derived from εἰρήνη—Greek for “peace”

The legend of Eirene:


From the Gipsy Geek archives: Elementary, Dr. Doyle.


About the usual incorrect portrayal of Miss Adler on film, a good analysis: Why can’t any recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation get Irene Adler right?

Why can’t any recent Sherlock Holmes adaptation get Irene Adler right?

– by Esther Inglis Arkell

“Irene Adler only appeared in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but she’s considered a pivotal figure in the Holmes canon, nonetheless. And we’ve seen several of the latest Sherlock Holmes interpretations debut their own versions of Irene Adler in recent years. On the plus side, these 21st Century Adlers are more action oriented — but in several key ways, they actually seem more old-fashioned than Doyle’s 19th Century original.

Why is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler so much better than the versions crafted by Steven Moffat and Guy Ritchie?

Note: Spoilers for the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies, for the TV seriesSherlock, and obviously for the original Doyle stories.

Irene Adler is exceptional to modern audiences because she was exceptional to Holmes himself. He refers to her as “The Woman,” because to Holmes — described as a “chivalrous” misogynist in the novels — she transcended and “eclipsed” the rest of her sex. To us, she briefly eclipses Holmes, since she sees through him at one point in her story and fools him at another. Although she only features in one story, “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is probably remembered by readers of the Sherlock Holmes adventures more than any other character except Watson and Moriarty.

It’s no wonder, then, that her character tends to be included in any modern Sherlock Holmes franchise. She’s appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, and she’s turned up in the episode of the Sherlock TV series entitled, “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Modern creators translate this exceptionalism into something more sensational and action-packed than Doyle ever wrote, but in most modern stories, Irene Adler’s character is far more old-fashioned than she was in Doyle’s day.

What’s the first tip-off scene, in both modern versions? When she takes off her clothes in front of Holmes to rattle him into making a mistake. This is very much in the “feminine wiles” vein, which looks great on camera, but doesn’t make too much sense. The original Irene was far more progressive and canny. She knows the best way to throw Holmes off — and it’s not sex.

To talk about that original Irene Adler, and how the modern versions differ, we need to summarize what happens during “A Scandal In Bohemia.” Holmes is contacted by the King of an unspecified country. The King is engaged to a woman who is politically perfect, but this is not his first engagement. His first engagement was to Irene Adler, a singer and actress. She managed to get a picture of them together during the happy times, before he dropped her for being “not of his station.” He fears that she will release the picture, scuttle the engagement, and bring turmoil to his country. Holmes needs to get that photograph back. Although the King is no prize, Adler is painted as a gold-digger and a dangerously scorned woman. Holmes dresses up as a clergyman and arranges a staged scuffle and a light injury so that she’ll bring him into her house to be treated. Watson fakes a fire, and Holmes watches as Adler, hearing the alarm, rushes to the hiding place of the photo. Holmes excuses himself, and goes home to organize a group of people to come to Irene’s house the next day and seize the photo. Just as he’s going into his home on Baker Street, a young man greets him in passing. Holmes nods, clearly confused, but dismisses the incident.

The next day, Holmes, Watson, and the King come to Adler’s door, where they find a servant who is expecting them. She hands them a note. The note reveals that Adler realized something was wrong with the disappearing clergyman the night before. She’d heard of Holmes, and made the obvious conclusion. To confirm it, she put on some men’s clothes, which she says she sometimes wears because she enjoys the freedom they give her, followed the “clergyman” home to Baker Street, and called Holmes’ name. She, and a man she has just recently married, decided to flee the King’s influence and leave the country. The note concludes with Adler saying that, as she loves and is loved by “a better man” than the King, she promises never to publicize the engagement. She will only keep the photograph in order to make sure the King never moves against her. Holmes apologizes to the King, but the King exclaims that Adler’s word is “inviolate,” and he’s perfectly satisfied.

“A Scandal in Bohemia” outlines the strong points that Irene Adler possesses as a character. She’s not the great detective that Holmes is, but she is able to assess a situation critically, notice what’s fishy about it, and act quickly. She’s also, thanks to her stage work, such a dab hand at disguises that the great advocate of observing instead of just seeing can’t recognize the face and voice of a woman he saw only an hour before. Throughout the story, she’s in command of the situation, initiating the threat to the King, finding a man she loves better, marrying him, and heading out of the country when she wants to break off the game with Holmes and his royal client.

The story also shows how Irene and Sherlock have an intellectual kinship. They’ve both unmasked a fraud (the King, at first, came to Holmes in disguise), they both know a set-up when they see it, and they both have a flair for dramatic disguises. What’s more, the story exposes Holmes’ weakness as a detective — he tends to assume the worst of people. This is also shown off in his greatest failure, “The Adventure of the Yellow Face,” where he gets the solution to a case entirely wrong because he didn’t figure on dealing with honorable people.

And that’s the big twist in the Irene Adler case — that she’s a completely honorable person. Even the King, who has every reason to fear her, has complete faith in her decent nature once she’s promised to him that she won’t interfere with his life. This is what launches Doyle’s story well ahead of its time. Much is made of Adler outwitting Holmes, and that’s fair enough. What’s more impressive is Doyle showing that unconventional habits, self-determination, and a history of impressive romantic conquests — Doyle makes a point of mentioning that Irene Adler enchants just about every man in sight — are just that. They do not imply low character, criminal tendencies, or inferior intellect. They aren’t the tools of a gold digger or an opportunistic seductress who’s waiting to unleash her apparently lethal sexuality on the hero. A clever, unconventional, take-charge, and seductive woman is, unreservedly, a good thing.

Not so in the modern day Sherlocks. In both media series, Irene Adler is not simply an admirable person with a taste for sleuthery and adventure. In the movie series, she’s both a woman who marries rich men for a living and a thief — though why she’d need both professions is never made clear. In the TV series, she’s a dominatrix who dabbles in blackmail and international terrorist intrigue (on the side of the terrorists). Both characters lean very heavily on sexuality and criminality. Both characters aim their sexuality squarely at the hero, to their inevitable cost.

And both modern Irene Adlers have an even bigger strike against them. While the original Adler was independent, they’re both pawns of Moriarty. The movie Adler is a sort of cross between a messenger girl and sexual bait for Holmes. The TV Adler is part of a convoluted deal to reveal state secrets to terrorists and then blackmail the British government into paying her to keep all the other information she has gathered under wraps. It makes her sound evil, but smart and in command — until in her final villainous speech, she reveals that she didn’t know what to do with the information she had, or how to deal with Holmes, until Moriarty told her.

It’s certainly possible to sympathize with modern Holmesians. A virtuous, happily married lady who walks out of Holmes’ life the moment she recognizes him is hard to weave into a web of intrigue. And it’s understandable that Adler is a tough third ally to add to the narrative when the goal of a series is to focus on the team of Holmes and Watson going up against the world’s greatest criminal genius. But surely a female master of disguise who can fool the most brilliant detective of the time and switch her apparent gender at will could be of use in a narrative. In the second Holmes movie, the climax of the film revolves around Team Holmes trying to uncover a perfectly disguised man. Doyle’s Irene Adler could have been perfect to slot in there. As for Sherlock, it’s early on, but is the best use of Adler as a woman with a hopeless crush on Holmes, especially considering they already have one of those in the series?

It’s true that Doyle’s version of Adler isn’t entirely modern. There’s no doubt that he uses her marriage to signify that she’s safely sorted out, as far as liaisons with men are concerned. And the use of male drag on women, though probably unusual in everyday life, is not a new thing in literature. That easily dates back to the plucky heroines of Shakespeare’s time. But the modern Irene Adlers are morally bankrupt puppets deploying their sexual wiles to lead men into the power of an infernal master – and are justly punished for it. That goes all the way back to Eve. These are deeply, deeply old-fashioned women in deeply old-fashioned stories. Letting them throw a punch or carry a whip doesn’t update that archetype. It takes something stronger. But why bother with that when Irene Adler can get naked on camera, bat her eyes at Sherlock Holmes, and be rescued at the end?”


(to view in HD, go directly to the Vimeo site)


Live long and prosper!

When I was in high school, girls my age used to fawn over and have posters of and crushes on rock stars and sportsmen. I must have had some  “norm-chip” missing, as the only two men I was fascinated by – heck, even related to – were two fictional characters: Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes.  To use a cheesy movie phrase – Spock had “had me” at “It’s logical, Captain,” and Holmes about whom I’ve written (or rather gushed) about in an earlier post – had had me at “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts,and of course, much more.

So, it gives me great pleasure, and in a sense, a form of therapeutic closure that characters for which I was teased about for having crushes on back in school (and college) have now proven to be timeless icons of intelligence, poise and “cool.” Why is it that in life, those who were considered “uncool” for not following any trend, nor buckling to any peer-pressure or fashion-du-jour find out years later that they had just been ahead of their times in their individualism, and years later when more prominent figures reveal that they too liked trend-buckling oddballs – it is considered “cool?”

Why is it so important to be “cool?” Really, who cares? In fact the people who are really cool are those who never cared about trying so hard to be “cool” in the first place but the guts to face the snickering for not being afraid to like what they themselves could relate to – not what everyone was following. Also, trying to make a great show of going completely in the opposite direction of trend-following, and thereby joining anti-establishment groups – is quite simply following something else in the opposite direction – so that’s not being too different either. The true individualist doesn’t really care too much about being popular nor unpopular and that’s what makes them different, without even trying. There is freedom is just being. Being you. Knowing yourself. 

Some people wrongly assume that loving or possessing a Vulcan sense of Logic or stoicism must mean that Emotion is alien to such possessors. I do not understand why there is such an either/or approach. Having a logical and analytical mind does not mean that that person is devoid of deep, indescribable emotional magnitude. In some, the Apollonian and the Dionysian does not come at the expense of the other. It is best described in the words of Spock’s father Sarek when he explains to his young half-human half-Vulcan son the basis of their calm self-assuredness on the surface while a wide spectrum of emotional depth churns underneath. (For some reason when I watched that scene in the 2009 reboot movie, it made me cry. For some reason I could relate too well.) Sarek’s words to a very young Spock: “Emotions run deep within our race. In many ways, more deeply than in Humans. Logic offers a serenity Humans seldom experience. The control of feelings, so that they do not control you.”

Anyway – on the eve of the release of Into Darkness, a photo of me and Jack Black – who is doing his own version of Spock’s hand sign. Both of Black’s parents were satellite engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. This was during a spontaneous moment after which Jack and I did a silly Star Wars laser hand-fight but with Spocky hands.

Live long and prosper, those who loved/love Spock – especially the few girls who were open about it and thereby faced ridicule for making choices which were  different than those of their peers…..

Actor/comedian/musician Jack Black & yours truly, bonding in geeky, Spock salutes

Actor/comedian/musician Jack Black & yours truly, bonding in geeky Vulcan salutes (click to enlarge)

Actor/comedian/musician Jack Black & me doing geeky, Spock signs


The new May 2013 Audi commercial featuring both the old and new Spocks


Star Trek fan President Obama flashes the Spock sign:

Aaah….therapeutic indeed after those early years of being teased for being the oddball girl in school who loved Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes…….and who still thinks they are timelessly awesome.


Here’s one more – moi and Scott Ian from Anthrax (Thanks, Alex Skolnick)

Scott Ian (Anthrax) and the Gipsy Geek backstage

Scott Ian (Anthrax) and me both making our respective ‘signs’ (Thanks Alex Skolnick for taking this!)


Elementary, Dr. Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930)

22nd MAY is a date I have never forgotten since my 9th birthday. Because six months before at the age of eight and a half (remember how kids never forget to mention the ‘half’ in their ages?) I had been bitten by the sleuth the man born on 22nd May had breathed life into through his pen.

There was no Wikipedia when I was 9. You had to make do with libraries, encyclopedia and book stores to find the biography of any person you found interesting. Or ask your parents and older uncles, cousins or siblings. Except for an uncle, no one was as crazy as I was about the man born on 22nd May 1859.

From what I would read of him in the one-page biography in the cover of each of his books – he sounded incredibly versatile. A medical doctor, an avid sportsman of cricket, golf and football, the introducer of skiing in Switzerland as a sport, inventor of the army helmet and the naval life-jacket, an activist against miscarriages of justice if innocent men had been wrongly imprisoned, and a pretty darn good writer of books on historic romances (Brigadier Gerald), an adventurous science fiction Professor (Prof.Challenger) and of course, my first platonic infatuation/muse (before my first crush on the logical Mr. Spock) – the eternal, eccentric, brilliant, one and only and possibly the most famous fictional detective of all, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

By the time I was 13, I had read and re-read every single one of the short stories and the full-length novels of Holmes, memorised “facts” about his life, been depressed over the fact that I was too young to join the “Sherlock Holmes secret society” and read every other book his creator had ever written. I was in love with Holmes, but more so I was in awe of the man who created him: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I did not believe in astrology at all, and was much more invested in astronomy, but in this case I was suddenly fiercely proud that I shared the same sun-sign as Doyle. (A Geminian – as I’d later find out that Steffi Graf, Bob Dylan, Prince, Blaise Pascal, M.C. Escher, Anne Frank, Walt Whitman, Herge (the creator of Tintin – in fact same day as Doyle b. 22 May), Ian Fleming (James Bond’s creator, b. 28 May), J.F.K., Frank Lloyd Wright, Natalie Portman and of course quite a few other people also are/were.) But Doyle was so far removed from my present time that a sun-sign seemed like a good though weird common point. Of course years later I’d find that Conan Doyle had his weaknesses – he held sexist beliefs typical of his time, did not support the women’s suffrage movement, despite being very close to his  mother, and most unfathomable of all actually believed in fairies! But darn – could he write!! (though I wonder how confused I’d have become had I known these other facts about him much earlier.) I not only loved the stories of Holmes, I had  faithfully soaked in everything from dates, to addresses to character names. Even the featured names of the dogs that helped him. I even had a Sherlock Holmes quiz book. I wished I could travel back in time to the period when he lived and meet Sherlock and ask him to make me his apprentice. I wrote an essay on Conan Doyle for a school report. (You can see why there was a reason I was called the Victorian Geek.)

Many years later in my 20s when my French boyfriend would write in one of his opening love letters that he wished he and I would have “adventures like Conan Doyle” (true story – he was an avid fan too and instead of writing some mushy moon-and-roses-wish, he wrote an “you-and-I-can-have-adventures-like-Conan-Doyle” line,) he melted my reserve to move to the east coast to join him – in retrospect that was the degree of faith I had in the power of Doyle.  (It’s quite another story that the closest we did get later to any “Conan-Doyle-adventures” was just that many people including sitarist Ravi Shankar would nickname that boyfriend ‘Conan’ due to his partial physical resemblance to the ‘Conan’ of  Schwarzenegger. Albeit, in reality, he looked closer to Dolph Lundgren.)

But what more can I say? Anyone who’s been sucked into the stories of Doyle knows that power of plot lines and mysteries, knows his tremendous skill and most of all the fantastic clarity and style through which he pioneered the “science of deduction” through Holmes’ character. The logic,  the methods, the reliance on evidence and facts, on groundwork – the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes had won me mind and heart and soul. He was even more eccentric, weird, bohemian than the stoic Mr. Spock who would appear in the Star Trek re-runs.

While my classmates would dote on rock stars and sportsmen, I  held my torch for Holmes and Spock. My best friend at that time in my adolescence got jealous as hell when I announced that some day I would grow up and marry Holmes and not him. “How can you like both the futuristic Spock and the Victorian Holmes at the same time? That’s too paradoxical,” he pouted. In 2009 I almost squealed in delight when Zachary Quinto as the new Spock spouted the line: “An ancestor of mine maintained that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” I felt like jumping up and down and wishing I could go back in time and tell Steffen – See Holmes IS Spock’s ancestor – so it DID make  perfect sense why I loved them both!! That same logic, the scientific mind, eccentricity, deep emotion underneath calm rationality, insanely brilliant, versatile, an oddball….I knew my “type” even back then!

Anyway, this is a post I wanted to write as an ode to the  fascinating Conan Doyle. There is a ton of information about him out there. A good book that I’d read of him long back was The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes by John Dickson Carr. And this is a good detailed site about him :

And for some of the best quotes of Holmes, Wikiquote has done a good job here:

“Any truth is better than indefinite doubt.” – Sherlock Holmes

I still have the book that Steffen gave me the Christmas before he returned back to Germany.  He would die 6 years later. Ours was a story filled with a deep childhood friendship and innocent love and tragedy –  unfortunately due to the deliberate malice of a person who hid his letters. It is a long story and one which will never be placed on the screen of a computer. 

That was the last Christmas we would spend together. He had scouted  the stores to find a book of the quotations of Sherlock Holmes. After considerable mulling and deliberation we decided that our favourite was this rather objective one: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.We each wrote it down on a piece of paper and  carried  it around in our pockets at all times, feeling very wise and solemn. 

Though as life goes by, I think this one contains much wisdom: Everything in this world is relative, my dear Watson.” And many years later I had the immense pleasure of working on a few projects with a brilliant structural engineer who was arguably one of the best in the world. When I asked my architectural mentor why he’d always pick the same engineer even though he was so busy and reclusive, his reply brought back the old chills of the clear cut words of my fictional hero: “When you want the best, you pick the best. And if you don’t do it right the first time, it’ll have problems sooner or later. As Holmes would say: “Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself. But talent instantly recognizes genius.” I may not be a genius, but at least I have talent. And the talent to know that that man I want is a genius.”

And last year when I visited the newly opened Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street, which had not been established during my years in London, I soaked in every nook and corner of the apartment, every artifact and iconic  item and got lost once more in my pre-teen years when the thrill of the stories of possibly still the world’s greatest detective had enthralled and bewitched me, and transported me into a time of horse carriages and cobble-stoned alleyways, sinister murderers and corseted ladies, Watson and Hudson, Mycroft and Moriarty, and a period of Victorian London and other lands that were immortalised forever in the pages of a physician whose imagination and quest for the logical science of deduction had given the world one of the most intriguing and analytical characters of all time. Happy 151st birthday, Dr. Doyle.

Holmes - as Doyle & Sidney Paget had visualised him

Holmes – as Doyle & Sidney Paget had visualised him

Holme's bedroom in 221B Baker street

Holme’s’ bedroom in 221B Baker street

The Baker street living room with an actor playing Dr. Watson

Sherlock Holmes wax figure on the 3rd floor

The revolver from 'The Solitary Cyclist'

The revolver from ‘The Solitary Cyclist’

The famous lens of the detective.

The famous lens of the detective.

Outside the door of 221B Baker street with the trademark ‘deerstalker’ cap and the ‘pipe’ with my friend who works for the museum and plays the role of the ‘policeman’.

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