Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Mata Hari, The Gatsby and The Grand Ballroom

*there are no puzzle spoilers in this post* :P

In the fall of 2005 SL had very little to offer in the way of organized entertainment for those who enjoy the polite companionship of another. Clubs were almost exclusively the kind where "Howlzzzzzz" are shouted, the music is hard, and the particle emissions and lag are extreme. I had searched the existing metaverse far and wide for somewhere I could simply dance with a lady.

At that point my land was in Olive which was home to an exceptional build created by Oliva Delvecchio, one of the most visually creative people I had or have ever met in Second Life. My studio was a cave beneath a tranquil pond. Its entrance was on the side of a cliff overlooking the bay in Slate. I had the beginnings of a gallery on the land, but preferred creating jewelry over setting up the gallery. I loved my location and I miss it still. Shack Dougal took some very good photos of the build and they are here, including a photo of the ballroom in mid-build.

One of my longtime friends at that point was PetMe Petunia, a highly intelligent, desirous, and rather exciting woman with the special gift of social ingenuity. Pet had always urged me to continue creating beyond the level I had ever gone before. To me she personified the existing club scene. She was also an avid collector of everything I made.

At the same time I realized the type of soothing venue that was missing for me, I met a beautiful friend named Feather. Feather is the creator and purveyor of The Garden. Search for it and enjoy. She and I shared our mutual love of the emotional journeys mapped out by Enya, Clannad, and other like musicians. I also have a deep respect for Spanish classical guitar and various classical piano pieces.

It was inevitable that the creative powers began to flow. When that happens permanency doesn't matter anymore. All that had been before were sandcastles for the waves. I stripped my land of the beautiful build Oliva had created. My studio was no more. The land was flattened and on the top of the cliff overlooking the bay of Slate I built, and Feather textured and influenced in many ways the RC Grand Ballroom.

I believe it was the first Grand Ballroom in SL, although shortly after its opening others appeared, some of which are astounding in their beauty. I like to fool myself into thinking this one inspired theirs, if only slightly.

The opening of the ballroom, which took 3 months to build, was anticipated for between Christmas 2005 and New Years day 2006. We had work to do.

For the ballroom opening I created the exclusive Gatsby necklace, earrings and bracelet, which set the mood for the venue. Everyone who attended the opening, male and female, received a set. Once the ballroom had been built and we were working on the landscaping I spent hours just looking around the building and soaking it in. The ballroom and its anticipated elegance inspired The Gatsby.

But I wanted content. A building and a piece of jewelry did not meet my definition of deep content. For this I looked to PetMe Petunia who had a way about her that could inject sensuality into even the most steeled minds. There was once a living woman who was well known for the same talent. She had made sexuality a whispered high society open secret. Her name was Mata Hari.

The more I studied Mata the more I saw the parallels between her and Pet. To this day I don't believe Pet knows she inspired the entire set. She holds Crimson Mata Hari #1, but feels I gave it to her because she had watched others receive a #1 even though she and I had been very good friends for a long time. She felt she was due. How Mata Hari like of her. :) #1 has always gone to the muse. If she reads this she'll probably hate me for saying this.

As an aside, I am of the opinion that Mata Hari was not at all guilty of spying. I came to believe she was, instead made a scapegoat for the failings of the French government during the war. And for bringing sexuality out into the open she was considered a threat to decent society. Her high profile life and media-exploited execution accomplished three things: 1) It put fear into any potential spies. 2) It put fear into any potential threats to decent society. 3) It made the French citizens think their government was doing something about the war - although it is questionable whether they actually thought that. I also think she liked to have high powered men at her whim and had no real political leanings. But that is just my take on it. I believe people see the truth, even if they don't dare whisper it.

I have to apologize to Feather here, since when I was creating these two sets and the puzzle, I was not able to give her my full attention and the well earned praises we had both come to enjoy during the ballroom building period. She was, and always has been, only gracious about that. She has always understood and accepted me at a very basic level.

The puzzle behind the Mata Hari became a bit of an obsession for me. The dates of the original letters are the be read in order, and I hope the fear I felt about her possible fate can be heard in the background. Also in the background I hope those who follow it can see that Mata had become a muse of the most untouchable kind and my hopeful romanticism, even a the risk of making a fool of myself, is glimpsed.

I did not want the puzzle to be easy. I did not want it to become impossibly difficult either. If a piece was found it had to be felt like it had been earned. This was not a free set at all. I don't think anyone but me has ever called it "free".

There has been some concern by solvers that the puzzle seemed to deviate somewhat from the original story. I have had many opportunities to change that but always come back to the thought that the puzzles themselves were between me and Mata, so they shouldn't reference anything but themselves, as their origins were between she and I. So I never changed it.

I should mention, before I confuse anyone further, the Mata Hari puzzle reward jewelry comes in silver and black and is unlimited. The limited Crimson Mata Hari, of which the entire set is limited to 10 in existence, comes in crimson and black. To me the crimson reveals the fate of the woman.

When the puzzle was created and "installed" in the ballroom, Feather helped make sure the permissions were correct. I placed it such that someone who just wandered around checking the contents of all the prims in the build probably wouldn't find more than a piece or two. Having never hosted anything, I was quite nervous and not looking forward to the opening night at all. I had invited everyone on my friends list at the time, which was about 100 people. I feared too many people would show up and I feared too few.

Dances at that time were mostly the kind where you held on to one another and spun in a circle, rather than actually moving across the floor with the stepping of the dancers. A couple of those existed, but not many. I spent day after day scouring SL to get as many and varied dances of appropriate action for the ballroom.

Tayzia Abattoir had provided me with the Grand Piano that stood on the stage at the far end. Classical paintings lined the walls.

When the night came I was delighted that the turnout was just right. Everyone had arrived in their suits, tuxedos and some of the most beautiful ballgowns ever created. It was truly a grand affair of high luxury and excitement.

From the stage I welcomed everyone and had three announcements to make which I had told almost nobody about beforehand. Thus the "There be surprises" statement on the invitation shown below. Those who came were there because they wanted to support the concept, not for any reward.

First, I gave every person in attendance The Gatsby as a memento they could enjoy long after the night was over. If an original Gatsby is in someone's hands today it is very likely they were at the ballroom opening that night.

Second, I announced the existence of The Mata Hari Puzzle built into the ballroom.

Third, I announced the recipients of the first 5 Crimson Mata Hari sets and I gave them out.
Then we danced like we had never been able to dance in SL before. :)

It was not long after opening night that the waves carried away the sandcastle. I donated the ballroom (with some major modifications to suit the alpha sim Taber) to Tayzia Abattoir to house her long operating Crescent Moon Museum, the oldest resident run museum in SL whose quality and rarity of inventory is rivaled by no other. To this day the Crescent Mooon Museum still holds a Sunday Night Formal at 7pm SLT and the Mata Hari Puzzle within enjoys a wide following of puzzlers who, surprisingly and wonderfully keep its secrets to themselves for others to discover.

Feather, PetMe, Oliva, Tayzia: each in your own way are loved and regardless of all else will always be remembered fondly for your contribution to that period in my life.

It is almost never about the jewelry at all.

Some reviews of The Mata Hari Puzzle and its unique concept as a virtual reality puzzle in a virtual reality world, and about the frustrations and rewards of taking on its challenges can be found at:
I want to thank the bloggers and the magazine writers, thinkers all, for their interest and their praise.

1 comment:

Georgette Whitfield said...

Random, how wonderful to read the full story behind the creation of that puzzle which drove me mad for weeks, but which I am now missing since I completed it! It's amazing to think that SL will be 4 years old soon and to read the stories of the things that have happened to you 'oldbies'. ;) I truly wish I had been in SL to attend the ballroom opening. It sounds like a magical evening!

P.S. If you like Celtic music, you should tune in to Rabbit's show on WUTC at noon to 2pm EST! Last week she played my request: "MacIain of Glencoe" by Moira Kerr. Slainte!