MAY 5, 1862: VAMOS A CELEBRAR

VAMOS A CELEBRAR

Today is Cinco de Mayo. It is sometimes mistakenly thought of as a major Mexican holiday; it is, rather, a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride by people of Mexican descent living mostly in the United States – and, of course, non-Mexicans looking for an excuse to drink tequila.

 

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated primarily in the state of Puebla where it is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (The Day of the Battle of Puebla) observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. France, under the leadership of Napoleon Number Three, sought to establish a Gallic empire in Mexico (possibly because things had gone so well for Napoleon Number One in Russia back in 1812). In 1861, a large French force landed at Veracruz sending the Mexican government into retreat. Moving toward Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance near Puebla from a poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,500 men. The Mexicans were able to soundly defeat the 8,000-strong French army, considered the best in the world.

 

Although there’s not much happening in Mexico City on May 5, there’s plenty of action elsewhere as celebrations everywhere honor Mexican cuisine, culture and music. In addition to the many U.S. events, Windsor, Ontario, holds a Cinco de Mayo Street Festival, and a club near Vancouver, British Columbia, holds a Cinco de Mayo skydiving event. In the Caribbean, there is an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition in the Cayman Islands and a celebration at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Cinco de Mayo events are held in Australia, New Zealand, London and and even in Paris (where it’s sometimes called, Cinco de Mayo, Merde).

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APRIL 26, 1970: FLAUNT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

FLAUNT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Shine up your sneakers, grab your party hats and noisemakers. It’s a day to cast off your inhibitions and get wild and crazy. Yes, today is World Intellectual Property Day, the day set aside to “raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on dailyparty life” and “to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe.” And get pleasantly pickled of course.

It’s not quite as over the top as say Fat Tuesday but it’s close. Celebrating the contributions of creators and innovators with two guys in clown suits and a person of unknown gender wearing nothing but a rubber chicken puts a fair amount of zest into a gray day in late April. And coming as it does on the heels of World Book and Copyright Day – well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Why April 26 you ask? Because it’s the date on which the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization was established in 1970.  Perhaps you missed it.  What is intellectual property you ask? That’s the beautiful part. It’s anything you want it to be. What you are reading here at this moment by very elastic definition could be considered intellectual property – especially after three Harvey Wallbangers. So live it up; National Defense Transportation Day is nearly a month away.

MARCH 26, 47 BC: WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK

WITH A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK

Ptolemy XIII was Pharaoh of Egypt from 51 to 47 BC (remember we’re counting backwards here), his reign pretty much demonstrating the bad luck associated with the number thirteen (in fact he could have been nicknamed Ptolemy the Unlucky or Friday the XIII).

Ptolemy XIII succeeded his father Ptolemy XII, becoming co-ruler by marrying Cleopatra who was his older sister at the time. She was Cleopatra VII, but she was the Cleopatra we all know about — the one of Antony and Caesar and the asp and all that. Since XIII was only 11 at the time, he had a regent — and should you be thinking about the regent’s duties vis-à-vis Cleopatra, we’ll point out that the regent’s name was Pothinus the Eunuch.

Still with us?

Cleopatra, it turns out, was a bit of a grandstander, strutting about as Queen, putting her image on coins, and generally hogging the Egyptian spotlight. Thus in 48 BC, XIII and his eunuch tried to depose her, but she ran off to Syria and raised herself an army.

Enter Roman general Pompey, seeking sanctuary from Julius Caesar.  XIII pretended to welcome Pompey but had him murdered instead.  When Caesar arrived, XIII gave him Pompey’s head as a little welcoming gift. Caesar was unimpressed and took Cleopatra as his welcoming gift instead, giving XIII a cold Roman shoulder and killing his eunuch for good measure.

While Caesar and Cleopatra kept busy trysting the night away, XIII in cahoots with another sister (it’s great to be able to toss in another sibling when things are beginning to slow down) tried again to dump Cleopatra.

XIII and his other sister were no match for Caesar and Cleopatra and in the ensuing Battle of the Nile, XIII was forced to flee. Unfortunately, Ptolemy the Unlucky was drowned as he attempted to cross the Nile.

Strong to the Finish

Crystal City, Texas, has a long tradition of spinach – in fact, it is the self-proclaimed “Spinach Capital of the World.” And it has a statue to prove it. Unveiled on March 26, 1937,  just in time for the city’s second annual spinach festival, the larger-than-life statue of Popeye the Sailor Man with his trademark can of spinach stands proudly in front of City Hall. The first annual spinach festival was okay, but it just lacked something – a Popeye statue perhaps.

Granted a post office in 1908 and incorporated two years later with a population of 350, Crystal City became a farming center with the arrival of the railroad which allowed produce to be shipped to northern markets. Onions were the first crop of choice for Crystal City farmers, but spinach soon replaced the onion crop. By the 1930s, the Crystal City Cannery was pumping out 10,000 cans of spinach daily and shipping them off to those lucky northerners.

As popular and downright exciting as the spinach festival was, it was abandoned during World War II when Crystal City became home to the largest of the nation’s internment camps, housing American civilians of German, Japanese, and Italian ancestry (and introducing them, it would be surmised, to the wonders of canned spinach). Festivals were not resumed until 1982. And by then, the pent-up passions were palpable.

There are other Popeye statues, one in Illinois and three in Arkansas – most notably a bronze 2007 statue in Alma, Arkansas, which also claims to be the spinach capital of the world. And in fact, the shiny fiberglass Popeye effigy in front of Crystal City Hall is no longer the real statue, but a clever fake. The real statue is tucked safely inside City Hall to keep it safe from teenage vandals and those pesky Alma, Arkansas, wannabes.

 

 

MARCH 25, 2018: WAITER, THERE’S A LOBSTER ON MY WAFFLE

WAITER, THERE’S A LOBSTER ON MY WAFFLE

Today is International Waffle Day, a tradition that is celebrated worldwide but mostly in Sweden. It’s a day to enjoy – guess what? – eating waffles. The day may have arisen out of confusion. Waffle Day in Swedish, Våffeldagen, sounds a lot like Our Lady’s Day,Vårfrudagen, (you really have to be on a street in Stockholm to get the full effect), a Christian holiday also WAFLOBknown as Annunciation (the third Monday after Pronunciation), when the Archangel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was pregnant. Mary was understandably upset and did what any virgin would do upon being told she was pregnant – stuffed herself with waffles. Waffle Day also coincides with the beginning of Spring, another traditional day for eating waffles in Sweden. Therefore, if you see a Swede eating waffles today, you don’t know if it’s religious or secular or just hunger.

More interesting facts:

Waffles were made with cheese and herbs in ancient Greece.

The familiar grid pattern of today’s waffles originated in the Middle Ages. Some waffles had fancier designs such as coats of arms,  landscapes and portraits of Middle Age people.

Waffles were so popular that they were even sold from street carts (by strange looking men who eventually switched to selling chestnuts and large pretzels).

In the late 1800’s, Thomas Jefferson returned from France with a waffle iron.  It’s unclear how he got it through security.

Many folks in Britain celebrate International Waffle Day by eating rutabagas which are known there as Swedes.  There is no International Rutabaga Day.

There is, however, a Lobster Newburg Day – and it’s today!

Lobster Newburg, lobster with a sherry and cognac infused, egg-thickened cream sauce, was first served at New York’s Delmonico’s in the 1870s. Delmonico’s was not only the first formal dining restaurant in the United States, it was the first to serve hamburger, the creator of Baked Alaska, the creator of Eggs Benedict, and of course the creator of Lobster Newburg.  A waffle topped with Lobster Newburg, anyone?

The Lobster Quadrille (from Alice in wonderland)

“Will you walk a little faster?”
Said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us,
Treading on my tail. ”
See how eagerly the lobsters
And the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle –
Will you come and join the dance?
So, will you, won’t you, won’t you,
Will you, won’t you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion
How delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us,
With the lobsters, out to sea! ”
But the snail replied, “Too far, too far!”
And gave a look askance –
Said he thanked the whiting kindly,
But he would not join the dance.
So, would not, could not, would not,
Could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not,
Could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?”
His scaly friend replied,
“There is another shore, you know,
Upon the other side.
The further off from England
The nearer is to France –
Then turn not pale, beloved snail,
But come and join the dance.

Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, won’t you,
Will you, won’t you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

 

MARCH 17, 461: IS THAT A SHILLELAGH IN YOUR POCKET?

Is That a Shillelagh in Your Pocket?

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a major holiday for the Irish and for non-Irish hangers on who irishjust want to drink green beer. There is precious little celebration of jolly old St. Patrick himself who died on March 17, 461, which is a pity for he was an interesting guy, turning Druids into Christians with a wave of his shillelagh, hurling blarney stones and sham rocks at unrepentant heathens, and playing his pipe to drive all the snakes out of Ireland.

He was, however, a bit of an enigma. Some believe there were actually two Patricks. That might explain some of the contradictions – a good Patrick and a bad Patrick. The good Patrick worked among the poor, feeding them corned beef and cabbage, encouraging them to be chaste and follow a righteous path. The bad Patrick worked among young women, pinching them if they weren’t wearing green, encouraging them to be unchaste and look at his shillelagh. It was the good Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland; the bad Patrick, who when he didn’t get enough recompense, stole all the Irish children to feed to the English.

How high’s the water, mama?

Some medieval calendars suggest that St. Patrick shares his day with a Biblical superstar name of Noah.  They have him boarding his ark on March 17 and disembarking on April 29.  And in religious plays of the time, they give Noah and his wife rather more down-to-earth personalities than depicted in the original source book — particularly the wife who is painted as somewhat of a shrew (which would make three shrews aboard the ark).

In one such play, when Noah brings her the news that God has recruited him as a sailor, she sneers at him, calls him a gullible fool, and complains that he never takes her anywhere, let alone on a cruise with a bunch of animals.  Noah tells her to hold her tongue, she refuses, and they come to blows.  He sulks away to build his ark.  She changes her tune when the waters start to rise, jumping aboard at the last minute, only to start complaining about the ambiance.  They continue their fighting ways — frequently beating each other around their heads with their shillelaghs — for forty days and forty nights.

 

Shaking His Shillelagh at Prairie Dogs

Legendary mountain man Jim Bridger was born on this day in 1804. He was not Irish. Bridger explored and trapped throughout the West during the mid-1800s which is what mountain men do. Were they on beaches instead of in mountains they would be beachcombers or, worse still, ho-dads. He was one of the first white men to see the geysers of the Yellowstone region and the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake which he misnamed the Pacific Ocean. Most everything else he discovered he named after himself. He was a bit irascible, shaking his shillelagh at prairie dogs and playing his pipe to drive the Mormons out of Utah.

 

February 14, 278: Roses Are Red, Etc., Etc.

How did St. Valentine’s Day become a day associated with hearts and flowers and all things romantic? One account puts a definitely sinister spin on the origin of this holiday. It begins back in the third century with a fellow named Claudius the Cruel. As you might guess, Claudius is not going to be the hero of this tale.

Claudius (II, if you’re counting) was the Emperor of Rome, a barbarian that proved that any young boy can grow up to be emperor if he believes. Valentinus, or Valentine, was not a saint at the time, but he was a holy priest.

Claudius, in addition to his barbarianism and cruelty, was a bit of a be_my_valentine_coloring_pagewar-monger. Continually involved in bloody campaigns to destroy upstart nations throughout the region, Claudius needed to maintain a strong army.  But it was a constant battle to keep his military at full strength what with Christianity gaining a toehold and everyone  into family values. The men for their part were unwilling to be all they could be in the army because of their annoying attachment to wives and families.

Claudius had a fairly simple solution; he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, part of whose livelihood was the performing of marriages, thought this decree unjust and defied the emperor by continuing to marry young lovers on the sly.  Claudius, as emperors will, got wind of Valentine’s doings and, true to his name, ordered that Valentine be put to death. Valentine was arrested and condemned to be beaten about the head, and then have said head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, 278.

Legend has it that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, with whom he had had a brief relationship (that will not be explored here), and signed it “From Your Valentine.”  There may have been other cute little Valentine poems as well,  but they have been lost to history.

For this, Valentine was named a saint and had a holiday created after him, though not a legal one with school closings and such. Conspiracy theorists will naturally jump up and down, saying there were several St. Valentines and the holiday could have been named after any one of them. Or it could have come from the pagan festival Lupercalia, a day of wanton carrying on. They should mind their own business.

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February 13, 1937: No Prince Valentine, This One

Hal Foster had been drawing the Tarzan comic strip based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs for several years, but itched to create his own original strip. He began work on a feature called Derek, Son of Thane, set in Arthurian England. Before the strip had its coming out party on February 13, 1937, it had gone through a couple of name changes, first to Prince Arn and eventually to Prince Valiant.

Prince Valiant was five years old when his story began, a continuous story that has been told through 4,000 Sunday episodes. Without a whole lot of deference to historical accuracy, Val’s adventure’s take him throughout Europe, Africa, the Far East and even the Americas in a time frame covering hundreds of years. He does battle with Huns, Vikings, Sorcerers, witches and a slew of monsters from prehistoric to modern, but always big.

Foster drew the strip until 1971 and wrote the continuity until 1980. Since then, other artists have kept it alive. Foster died in 1982, at age 89.

Thaw Out the Holly

With the giving and getting of gifts growing to a crescendo in late valentines-day3December, it is to many a glass of cold water in the face when the merriment suddenly gives way to a bleak long winter with scarcely a box or a bow in sight. The people of Norwich, a city on England’s east coast, a couple of centuries ago found a way to keep on giving by elevating February 13, St. Valentine’s Eve to a Christmas-like celebration.

According to an 1862 account, this Victorian tradition was evidently peculiar to Norwich: visitors to the city were often puzzled to find the shop windows crammed with gifts in early February and newspapers full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.

As soon as it got dark on St. Valentine’s Eve, the streets were swarming with folks carrying baskets of treasures to be anonymously dropped on doorsteps throughout the city. They’d deposit a gift, bang on the door, and rush away before anyone inside could reach the door. Indoors there were excited shrieks and shouts, flushed faces, sparkling eyes and laughter, a rush to the door, examination of the parcels.

Practical jokers  were everywhere as well, ringing doorbells and running off, leaving mock parcels that were pulled away by string when someone attempted to pick them up. Large parcels that dwindled to nothing as the recipient fought through layer after layer of wrapping, and even larger parcels containing live boys who would jump out, steal a kiss, and run away.

As with most holidays that involve children out after dark and mischief, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Eve fell out of favor, to be replaced by the Hallmark-inspired and saintless Valentine’s Day.

February 13, 1971

Golf is thought of as relatively safe sport.  But for the safety of others, there are just some people who should not be allowed on a golf course.  Vice President Spiro Agnew had the dubious distinction of beaning not just one but three spectators on this day during the Bob Hope Desert Classic.  On his very first drive, he sliced into the crowd for a two-bagger, bouncing off a man to nail his wife as well.  On his next shot, he hit a woman, sending her to the hospital.  The previous year, Agnew had managed to hit his partner in the back of the head.

 

 

January 14, 1500: For the Ass Was a Donkey, You See

The Feast of the Ass held on January 14 from around 1100 until 1500 was meant as much as teach-in as a party-in, a way to present religious doctrine to the illiterati who had no books or Internet access. This festival, held primarily in France as a cousin to the Feast of Fools, celebrated the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus into Egypt.

Traditionally, the most beautiful young woman in the village splendidly attired in gold-embroidered cloth, carrying a small child and riding a donkey would be led in a solemn procession through the town to the church. The donkey would stand beside the altar while a mock Mass was performed. Instead of the usual responses to the priest, the congregation would “hee-haw.” At the end of the service, instead of the usual benediction, the priest would bray three times and the congregation would respond with another round of hee-hawing. The choir would then offer up a hymn and everyone would bray along — except for the ass who thought the whole thing rather ridiculous and that these people were all making you know whats of themselves.

Another story from these Years of the Ass featured King Henry IV (of France not England as in yesterday’s post). The king was visiting a small town where he found himself listening to and growing tired of a long and rather stupid being delivered by the mayor. As the mayor spoke a donkey brayed loudly and the king with a tone of the greatest gravity and politeness, said: “Pray, gentlemen, speak one at a time, if you please.”

How Cold Was It?

January 14 is also St. Hilary’s Day which honors 4th century bishop St. Hilarius who sounds like a pretty jolly fellow.  In England, the day is considered the coldest day of the year, probably because of the great frost that began on this day in 1205 and lasted through March.  In many subsequent years, folks would hold festivals with thousands of them stomping around on the frozen Thames.

. . . pickpockets were sticking their hands in strangers’ pockets just to keep them warm.

. . .  politicians had their hands in their own pockets.

. . . the squirrels in the park were throwing themselves at an electric fence.

. . . when I turned on the shower I got hail.

. . . mice were playing hockey in the toilet bowl.

 

January 5, 2018: It’s My Bean, It’s My Bean

January 5 marks the last of the 12 days of Christmas, also collectively known as Christmastide, although some folks would have January 5 the 11th day of Christmas with January 6 being the 12th day of Christmas, their having started counting on the day after Christmas rather than Christmas Day. For these folks, Twelfth Day comes after Twelfth Night, which one would think might be rather confusing. The confusion is easily mastered for Twelfth Night is celebrated with a prodigious amount of drinking.

Once everyone is pleasantly plastered, they all head out into the fields where they toast oxen and trees and rocks until they get cold and decide to go back inside only to find that they’ve been locked out and will not be admitted until they sing a few songs. Those that don’t sing freeze to death. Everybody else goes back inside where they divide up a cake that someone has baked a bean into. Whoever gets the bean gets to be King or Queen of the Bean and boss everyone around until everyone passes out.

And the twelve drummers finally stop drumming.

An Ode to Snow

Warning – the following is quite lyrical.

O glorious snow surrounding me with immense drifty mounds!  What do thy mounds conceal?  How many cocker spaniels, small children, miniCoopers have you swallowed, not to be seen again until May.  I am quite conscious of those mounds surrounding me, looming, as I go to fetch the mail, keeping close to the shoveled path lest I too be lost in the mounds ‘til May.  But the path is icy (for that’s what winter is about – snow and ice, ice and snow) and my feet, which have been more accustomed to soft earth, grassy carpeting, fly out from neath me. I fall to the cruel ice.  And here I am in a place from which I never thought I’d be needing to shout:  “Help me.  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”  But I’m not going to shout, for it seems my mouth is frozen to the icy path.  O glorious ice!  Ice that holds me close to its vast but damn cold bosom.  I wait, hoping that someone will come along – a girl scout  peddling cookies, a hot dog vendor, or the UPS man delivering a package of lip warmers.  Or have they too been swallowed by the shifting, whispering mounds of snow?  I tell myself it could be worse; I could be in Chicago.  It doesn’t help.  Now my life flashes before me, especially the part where I’m on a beach in the Caribbean.   But what’s this?  My face is stuck in the sand.  Children frolic nearby, pointing and laughing.  “Hey, mon, why’s your face in the sand?”  Tanned beauties stroll by at a safe distance whispering about senility and too many pina coladas.    A sand crab sidles up and pinches my nose, and I’m suddenly back in frozen Vermont.  But help seems to be at hand.

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses approach.   They look down at me and ask,  “Are you ready to be saved?”  “Doesn’t it look like I’m ready to be saved?” I shout, but no words come out.   They chip me free from the ice with their Watchtowers.  I thank them, accept an armload of their publications, and they ask me if I’m ready for the end of the world.  You betcha.

January 4, 2018: Come Down, Come Down from Your Ivory Tower

If you’ve been keeping track of the Christmas season, you’ll be fully aware that January 4 is the eleventh day of Christmas, kind of an also-ran as far as days of Christmas go, although eleven pipers piping does make a rather dramatic gift from your true love (especially this year as frozen pipes are busting out all over).

In addition to celebrating plumbers, the eleventh day celebrates a saint, as each of the twelve days does. Day eleven is dedicated by those folks who dedicate such things to Saint Simeon Stylites also known as Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder to distinguish him from Simeon Stylites the Younger. He is known primarily for spending 37 years on a platform atop a pillar outside of Aleppo in what is now Syria (one could make a pretty good case that in Syria on top of a pillar might be a good place to be).

Why did Simeon choose to live up there like an Arabian Rapunzel, you ask? Simeon was very likely a wise man or at least people thought he was, because they kept coming to him for advice. Many folks would be honored to be sought out for guidance. Not Simeon. Seekers annoyed him. He wanted to be left alone to pray his private prayers and possibly entertain other thoughts as well.

So he went out and found a pillar. His first pillar was a mere nine feet tall and he soon realized that people could easily shout their entreaties to him. He thus began a series of relocations, each pillar being taller than its predecessor. His final pillar was really up there, some 50 feet above the ground and its many pests.

Sort of gets you back in the Christmas spirit, doesn’t it?

Party Hearty

If the twelve days of Christmas are not exciting enough for your celebratory desires, party1 January is pregnant with potential excuses for partying, no matter how far one has to push the envelope.

Already we’ve had, in addition to New Year’s, national days devoted to both hangovers and Bloody Marys. You no doubt caught sight of the festivities as hordes of devotees took part in National Fruitcake Toss Day or sat on the sidelines during National Humiliation Day. Perhaps you were one of the three giddy participants in National Mew Year for Cats Day. And will you observe the dining protocols today as pasta lovers birdseverywhere pig out on National Spaghetti Day. Those of us who prefer cheeper pursuits, can flock together on National Bird Day, January 5. And National Feed a Bird Spaghetti Day is surely waiting in the wings, possibly coming to a January 6 near you.

If you think that most of these holidays created by people with little else to do are a tad trivial, you’re in luck. Today just happens to be National Trivia Day. Get out the pretzels and beer, the party hats and noisemakers, and contribute a nugget of trivia (one person’s trivia is another person’s essential information, you know).

 

If, at the close of business each evening, I myself can understand what I’ve written, I feel the day hasn’t been totally wasted. ~ S. J. Perelman