Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 25, 2006: GEEK NIRVANA

2006 marked the very first celebration of Día del orgullo friki in Spain, local at first but now celebrated in such far-ranging places as Halifax, Nova Scotia; Timisoara, Romania; and San Diego, California; making it a truly international, sort of, event. The date commemorates the release of the first Star Wars film on May 25, 1977. (This was the second such commemoration for the movie; the first, Star Wars Day,  held on May 4 so celebrants could say “May the fourth be with you.”). The latest fest was the brainchild of a Spanish blogger known as Senor Buebo.

 

In 2008, the “holiday”was officially celebrated for the first time in the U.S., sporting its English translation, Geek Pride Day, its goal having become the promotion of geek culture. Today it has a manifesto and everything. Imagine if you will 300 proud geeks coming together to form a human pacman or, better still, a prime-number float in a Fifth Avenue parade.

 

As if this celebration wasn’t heady enough all by itself, Geek Pride Day shares the same date as two other similar fan “holidays”: Towel Day, for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on which true believers carry about a favorite towel, and the Glorious 25th of May for fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Dinner Leaps This Way

An English gentleman who identified himself only as a friend to the Poor wrote a letter to the Public Advertiser on May 25, 1772, describing a novel idea. The idea had occurred to him after reading a passage in a guidebook about a town in France: “There are three small rivers that run through the town, one of which is much frequented by frogs, though one would imagine that in time they would be destroyed, as they commonly compose a dish or two at each meal at the tables of both rich and poor; the latter mostly living on them.”
The letter went on to suggest that the poor of England could avoid the high cost of most kinds of food by procuring frogs as food for themselves, since the ponds and ditches of England were full of them. Although the letter writer had never personally tasted a frog, he had been assured that when fried in butter and parsley one could not distinguish it from fricassee of chicken. To those that worried that the ignorant might mistakenly eat a toad, he pointed out that the frog is light brown whereas the toad is almost black, that frogs leap, toads creep.
The gentlemen closed by saying let those that can afford it have roast beef every day, but to those poor wretches who cannot he offers this hint for their benefit.

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MAY 5, 1862: 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).

 

Everybody Loves Saturday Night, Part 2:  Let the Battle Begin

Caribbean-PartyNaughty Nora’s remained silent, except for the calypso tune on the jukebox which persevered, unaware of the current situation, surreally inappropriate. Under the table, Estelle crouched on hands and knees, waiting for the next blast, the one that would end it for them here and now. She heard a little scuffling, and a fair-haired man appeared under her table, also on hands and knees. He grinned and said: “We can’t go on meeting like this.”

“What happened?” asked Estelle, her voice quivering.

“Damned if I know,” said the man, who spoke with an English accent. “My name is Sidney Smith, by the way.”

“Estelle,” answered Estelle. Sidney Smith didn’t answer; he was staring at her breasts. The lights went out. Estelle screamed.

From behind the bar, the efficient Nora quickly produced several candles and distributed them among the tables. The tourists at Naughty Nora’s may have found a direct – and probably dire – link between the blast and the loss of electricity, but the locals knew that the electricity on the island was a fickle thing that would frequently take some time off. Saturday night was particularly prone to electrical problems since it was the one night of the week that everyone seemed to do things using electricity.

Everyone remained hushed in the flickering light of Naughty Nora’s, speaking only in whispers. It was silent outside as well, but as they listened they heard a low rumble in the distance that grew closer but remained low and steady. A few of the braver patrons crowded around the windows and looked out into the moonlit night.

The heavy tank of German manufacture, which was the centerpiece of the island’s defense forces, rumbled down Christopher Columbus Boulevard, followed closely by Her Majesty’s Royal Militia. Although the island had long since severed its relationship with Britain, the militia remained her majesty’s, and it proudly comprised the 37 islanders who owned guns. Accompanying them were another dozen paramilitary hangers-on wielding sticks. The great armored beast, its turret turning this way and that, had seen service in North Africa and was, therefore, the only member of the militia that had any combat experience. Nevertheless, to the tourists cowering inside Naughty Nora’s, this was no Veteran’s Day parade in Peoria. This militia confirmed their worst fears.

To the locals, now well under the influence of Nora’s rum, the militia stirred their latent patriotic souls.

“We’ve been invaded,” shouted Maurice, the bricklayer, breaking the silence that had held sway since the explosion. “The Americans are attacking.”

“We should join our brave countrymen and help to repel the North American hordes,” said Billy, the son of the mayor.

“We’ll fight the Americans to the death,” shouted Maurice, raising a fist in the air. Estelle, feeling very much like the wrong nationality in the wrong place at the wrong time, slipped behind Sidney Smith.

“What if it isn’t the Americans?” said Everette, the taxi driver and voice of reason. “How do we know?”

“Whoever it is, we will fight them to the death,” said Maurice, finishing off a glass of rum for emphasis.

“Yes,” said Billy. “The Americans or whoever.”

“But why would we want to fight to the death?” asked Everette, the voice of caution.

“For our honor,” shouted Nora, from behind the bar.

“But isn’t it better to be alive than to be honorable?” said Everette, the voice of cowardice.

“That’s the attitude that keeps the islands under colonialist thumbs,” said Billy. “What little we have is our honor, and you would strip us of that.”

“But if the Americans kill every one of us, what good is our honor?” said Everette, the only voice of hope as far as Estelle was concerned. “Who will even know of our great honor? Will the Americans tell the world how honorable we were? I think not.”

That was an argument that Maurice had to turn over in his clouded head, but in the meantime, he insisted, the tourists, particularly the Americans, were all prisoners of war. “We can’t let them aid the invaders,” he explained.

“Isn’t it exciting,” bubbled Penelope. “I’ve never been a prisoner of war.”

continued

Everybody Loves Saturday Night is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

APRIL 26, 1970: 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 daily 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.

These Aren’t Your Ordinary Old Bottle Rockets

An announcement in a London newspaper on April 26, 1792, described an upcoming special event in breathless anticipation: fireworks to celebrate the birthday of her royal highness the Duchess of York.

The fireworks display would depict the eruption and lava flow of Mount Etna on a scale never before seen. Under the mountain would be shown the cavern of Vulcan with the Cyclops at work forging the armor of Mars as portrayed in Virgil’s Aeneid. Music courtesy of Gluck, Haydn, Giardini and Handel.
As the work progresses, Venus and Cupid arrive to request armor for Aeneas. Mars arrives for his armor and is amorously distracted by Venus, annoying Vulcan. But at this moment the smoke thickens above, the crater on top of Etna vomits forth flames, and lava flows dreadfully down the side of the mountain. This continues with increasing violence until there is a prodigious eruption, punctuated by a tremendous explosion.

Coffee and tea are included.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MARCH 26, 47 BC: 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.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MARCH 25, 2018: 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?

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

MARCH 17, 461: 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 just 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. Bridger 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.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

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_pagewarmonger. 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.

valentine1

valentine-2

valentine3

Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 3: The Weigh-In

Quiet please,” said the judge, ‘or I’ll empty the class. .er . . Courtroom.” They obediently reverted to subdued snickering. “Well, gentlemen,” said the judge turning to the defendants. “I guess it’s time to hear your version of these strange events. Prisoner Rollo, I sense that you’re somehow instrumental in this curious business. Why don’t you go first?”

Rollo stood. “I was drunk, your honor.”

I was drunk, too,” Napoleon chimed in.

I know that,” said the judge. “Please continue.”

I am the owner of a drinking establishment known as Leeward Lounge. On occasion I purchase rum from Mr. Napoleon, because I know he needs the money and I try to help in my own little way.”

He pours it into bottles with fancy labels,” said Napoleon.

On the day in question,” continued Rollo, “he came into my place at about noon and called for two drinks which I served up. He said: ‘this one’s for you, dear friend.’ To be polite, I sat down and drank with him, and in turn I produced two more drinks. He did the same again, and I did the same again and so on – you know how it goes, your honor.”

No I don’t, but please continue.”

Well, it got to be evening and we were fairly tipsy.”

We were wicked drunk, your honor,” Napoleon interjected.

Napoleon starts getting very serious and starts talking about how he needs money for new equipment and he just doesn’t know what he’ll do. When I show reluctance, he suddenly says, ‘I’ll sell you my wife.’ Well, I was quite surprised. The woman is fairly unattractive, as you here in court can see, but I’ve been without a woman for some time and I was drunk, as you know. So I asked him how much he’d sell her for. He didn’t seem to have thought that part out. I suppose the whole idea had been a spur of the moment thing.”

And I was drunk,” said Napoleon.

He thought for a while then said ‘I’ll sell her for two thousand dollars.’ I told him I thought that was too much and we went back and forth a bit. We somehow reached the point where we agreed the price should be based on her weight, but we were both guessing at it, and we were a good thirty pounds apart. Being drunk, that didn’t discourage us. It just made the whole transaction more interesting, a gamble. We finally settled on the amount of fourteen dollars per pound. Being a devoted husband, Napoleon insisted that the price be higher than the finest cut of beef.”

Napoleon grinned and turned red.

continued

Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.