It’s a red letter day for fair young maidens everywhere, for in addition to being January 20, it is the Eve of St. Agnes, a night in which, if they play their cards right, they’ll gaze upon the countenance of their true love. Naturally there’s a ritual that must be performed to make this happen. First the maiden must go to bed without her supper, having got herself buck naked and placing a sprig of rosemary and one of thyme (no parsley, no sage) each in a shoe at the side of her bed. She then lies with her hands under her pillow and staring upward chants: “St. Agnes, that’s to lovers kind / Come ease the trouble of my mind” whereupon she falls asleep and conjures up the lucky fellow.
St. Agnes was a martyr who was born back in 291, who died a virgin in 304, and is the patron saint of young women hoping to lose theirs.
The Eve of St. Agnes ritual was celebrated in an 1820 poem by John Keats titled, oddly enough, “The Eve of St. Agnes.” For 42 rather lyrical stanzas (read that steamy, no Grecian urns or nightingales here) Keats recounts the St. Agnes Eve adventures of Madeline and her paramour Porphyro. Keat’s publishers were uncomfortable with his lyricism and forced him to bring it down a few notches (to PG-13 lyricism).
Madeline’s family is all liquored up (another custom) so she scurries off to bed to perform the ritual, hoping to see Porphyro in her sleep. Porphyro hopes to see Madeline as well, but not in his sleep. He sneaks into her room and waits in the closet. From there, he watches her as she readies herself for bed and falls asleep, after which the naughty fellow creeps closer to get a better look. She awakes having been dreaming of him and sees him in the flesh. Naturally she assumes this is still as dream, so she welcomes him into her bed. When she is fully awake, she realizes her mistake and is a bit chagrined until he declares his love for her. They dash off together across the moors and we are left to wonder about their fate. (As anyone who’s ever read Hound of the Baskervilles knows, you don’t go out on the moors at night.
To Air Is Human
Here’s an idea for a television game show: Get four contestants – make them celebrities – have them stick their heads through a life-sized illustration of a famous scene or a song lyric and then take turns asking the host yes/no questions and try to figure out what scene they’re a part of. Just for insurance, get a big star to be the host. Sound like a winner?
The scenario played out for the first time on CBS at 9:30 pm EST on January 20, 1961, the evening of the inauguration on John F. Kennedy. The program was called You’re in the Picture. The guest celebrities were Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Carroll, Jan Sterling, and Arthur Treacher. The host was Jackie Gleason, who’d been around television for a while hosting his own variety shows and a little number called The Honeymooners. That first episode was also the last episode.
Talk about a bomb. “The biggest bomb in history” said Jackie Gleason, adding that it “would make the H-Bomb look like a two-inch salute.” Time later called it proof that the 1960-61 TV season was the worst in the history of U.S. network television.
Born January 20, 1922, Ray Anthony became a successful band leader during the 1950s, despite composing “The Bunny Hop.”
Mama Eu Quero, Part 2: Fantastic News
When Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha was sixteen, she was already an entertainer in her own small part of the world. She quickly became known in her own country, and in 1939, as Carmen Miranda, she sambaed to the United States for a part in a Broadway musical review. The tower of fruit above the slight five-foot-one Brazilian Bombshell became an instant trademark, which along with her musical exuberance carried her to super stardom. She appeared in many films, but Delia’s favorite was an outrageous Busby Berkeley musical in which she sang “The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat” while an army of dancers waved giant bananas. Why would a young teenager idolize Carmen Miranda when the other girls her age wished to be Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly? Perhaps it was because even though Carmen wasn’t so pretty, she was so vital. And they said she was really very shy. Just like Delia.
Jorge’s last words to her were: “We’ll be together soon, I promise.” His first words had been: “Another Norteamericano. Would you like me to lie on the floor so you can walk on me?” She had cried both times. His last words echoed for many months even as she realized that although they were probably truthful in intent, they were spoken in summer, in Cuba, and in youth. Jorge’s first words were quickly forgotten. They burned, made her feel a guilt that should not have been hers. But even though his words were mean and insensitive, Jorge was not, and as soon as he had uttered them, he felt shame at having hurt a person who had done him no harm, at having acted in the same manner as those he criticized. Spurred by her tears, his apologies rushed forth. And within five minutes they were sharing their first Cuban beer, their first conversation and the first day of a summer idyll that would careen through the hot weeks of June and July like a possessed Cuban taxi on an open road.
Many of those conversations would turn to politics, and Delia showed a naiveté about the affairs of the country that stood just 90 miles from her own country’s doorstep. At the center of such conversations stood Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, and Jorge would loudly decry his infamy. “Fulgencio cares only for Fulgencio,” he would snort. When on a soapbox, he always used Batista’s given name. “He doesn’t give a damn for the people. They hate him, too. And he knows it. But he has the army and the police, so he doesn’t need the people. Let me tell you how the great Fulgencio cares for his people. Two years ago, Fidel’s attempt at revolution was put down almost as quickly as it started. The gunfire that we could hear off and on through Saturday night had died down by Sunday morning, and my father insisted we go to church as usual. During the service, the police appeared at all entrances to the church, blocking our exit except through the one door that opened onto the square. Just in front of that door, close enough so that we must negotiate around it, the police had dumped a wagonload of bloodied bodies. As we passed by we could see movement within this noxious heap and hear low groans. Some of them had not yet died.”
Jorge turned his face away from Delia as the tears appeared in his eyes. She shuddered and cried with him. What seemed to bother him the most was the hopelessness. The people grumbled and cursed, but they were apathetic. The opposition made speeches, but they were meaningless; when in power, the opposition had been corrupt too. Fidel had been released from prison but was in exile.
As deep as Jorge’s anger was, Delia conquered and subdued it as their relationship grew. And for a time his country’s turmoil became as distant to him as Ike and Iowa were to her.
To Delia’s father, what was happening at home was infinitely more important than what was happening here in Cuba. As a result Cuban papers rarely found their way into the household. The New York Times did, however, although by the time it arrived the news was as cold as a Manhattan January. Nevertheless it served the noble purpose of convincing him that he had not fallen off the edge of civilization. And it was from this unlikely source that Delia learned the fantastic news.
“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.