AUGUST 24, 1850: MEET ME AT THE FAIR

MEET ME AT THE FAIR

London’s Bartholomew Fair, a wild celebration on the eponymous saint’s anniversary, died not with bartha bang but a whimper after enduring for more than seven centuries, Although originally established for legitimate business purposes, the fair had become all eating, drinking and amusement (for shame!) and a bit of a public nuisance with rowdiness and mischief.

Serious pursuits, uplifting exhibits, and dramatic entertainments had given way to shows and exhibits catering to the lowest common denominator of British fair-goers tastes – conjurers, wild beasts, monsters, learned pigs, dwarfs, giants. A prodigious monster with one head and two distinct bodies, a woman with three breasts, a child with three legs. A mermaid with a monkey’s head and the tail of a fish. Puppet shows, pantomimes, and coarse melodramas. A pig-faced lady and a potato that looked like King Henry VIII.

Eventually the fair grew less curiouser and curiouser, and on August 24, 1850, when the mayor went as usual to proclaim the opening of the fair, he found nothing to make it worth the trouble. No mayor went after that, and in 1855 the fair rolled over and expired.

I went to the animal fair,

The Birds and the Beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey, he got drunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk, the monk?
The monk, the monk, the monk.

— Minstrel Song

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AUGUST 17, 1978: GIVE ‘EM HELIUM

GIVE ‘EM HELIUM

Three Americans from New Mexico completed the first transatlantic balloon flight, landing in a barley field 60 miles from Paris, 138 hours and six minutes after lifting off from Presque Isle, Maine. The helium-filled Double Eagle II covered 3,233 miles in its six-day journey.

Almanac devotees will remember (having most certainly taken notes) that Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel to great fanfare some two hundred years earlier.

Balloonists began attempting the Atlantic crossing in the mid-1800s, with 17 unsuccessful flights, balloonresulting in the deaths of at least seven balloonists. Two of our three balloonists gave it their first shot in September 1977, aboard the Double Eagle I, but were blown off course, landing off Iceland after 66 hours.  After recovering from bruises, embarrassment and frostbite, they were ready to foolishly rush in again.  A third pilot was brought in to spread the pain.

The Eagle Junior was a big balloon – 11-stories of helium.  It made good progress after blastoff, but during mid-trip, plunged from 20,000 feet to a hair-raising 4,000 feet, forcing them to jettison ballast material and many of their inflight amenities.  Among the items chucked overboard was evidently all of their finer cuisine, for they were forced to finish the trip dining only on hot dogs and sardines. Toward the end of the trip, one balloonist was heard to remark somewhat testily: “Skip the bun; just grease up my hot dog with mustard real good and I’ll shove it in my ear.”

Panic set in when the balloonists couldn’t find the Eiffel Tower.  Blown off course, they touched down just before dusk on August 17, 1978, near the hamlet of Miserey, missing the wine and ticker-tape parade in Paris. Parisians, not wanting to give up a celebratory occasion, amused themselves in honor of the storming of the Bastille.

 

JULY 15, 971: JUST LYING IN THE RAIN

JUST LYING IN THE RAIN

‘St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.’

     St. Swithin is the British counterpart to America’s Puxatawney Phil, except that the former is a ninth century bishop and the latter is a ground hog.  And just how did the good St. Swithin get his meterological stripes?  Here’s how:

ST-SWITHIN-DUDLEY-MAXIMSSt. Swithin was noted for his great humility, a quality that some may say he carried to excess. On his deathbed, he asked to be buried, not in the church or in some shrine, but outside where his corpse might be watered by rain from the church eaves and his grave stomped on by passers-by. Folks rolled their eyes a bit but complied with his request.

     And his remains lay wet and walked on for a good hundred years, until a more modern generation of clergy (those 10th century radicals!) took umbrage at one of their own resting in such a lowly spot. They decided at once to relocate Swithin, who could not object, to a great cathedral.  However, on July 15, 971,  just as a ceremony with great pomp and circumstance was about to begin, as if on cue, a heavy rain burst forth and continued with nary a break for 40 days (40 days is a popular duration for great rainfalls).

     The monks interpreted this tempest as a not-so-subtle warning from on high that their nasty little undertaking was a bit of blasphemy.  They immediately abandoned the project. And even without the help of modern social media, word spread throughout the land, and a tradition was born: if it rained on St. Swithin’s Day, it would rain for 40 days.

St. Swithin also planted apple trees (like Johnny Appleseed, who never predicted weather) leading to the popular description of rain: “St Swithin is christening the apples

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 3: Solomon Grundy et al

Early that evening, after helping herself to a steak she found in the refrigerator, Bridget poured herself a tumblerful of Monty’s gin and returned to the bedroom to console his sick aunt.

“Seen a lot of people die,” said Bridget. “Usually they do it more quickly.”

Aunt Agatha gurgled.

“Simon Walters took the last count back in ’06. He was about the longest, three days. Course, unlike yourself, he was young and healthy. ‘Til the tractor hit him. Now Lucy Beaconsberry was a lot like you, old and frail, withered, look of death all over her. Gurgled just like you been gurgling. Turned her toes up in less than twelve hours. Just figured what good was she doing anybody, just lying there and gurgling. Thoughtful of her, I’d say.”

Aunt Agatha stirred slightly, but didn’t open her eyes.

“Yes, I’ve seen a lot of folks go. Joshua Higgins gave up the ghost just last week. Eighty-seven he was. Nice ripe old age. You’re close to ten years older than that, aren’t you, dear? Pretty old. Good long life you’ve had. When pneumonia took old Frances Cartwright back in October — just a week after her ninetieth birthday, she said ‘ I figure anyone that lives past ninety is stealing space from someone younger.’ Interesting way to look at it, wouldn’t you say? Smart old lady, Frances. Had some pain though. Just feel lucky you don’t have the pain. At least not yet.”

Bridget gave her charge another nasty look, then got up and left the room. When she returned with a refilled tumbler of gin, she thought for a moment that Aunt Agatha had stopped breathing. But several short hacking coughs dashed her hopes. Damn you, old woman, Bridget thought. What good does your hanging on do you or anyone else? “How about a little verse, my dear?” she said.

“Solomon Grundy,

Born on a Monday,

Christened on Tuesday,

Married on Wednesday,

Took ill on Thursday,

Worse on Friday,

Died on Saturday,

Buried on Sunday:

This is the end

Of Solomon Grundy.

“You see, dear, it’s just a matter of pace. Jeremy Lockless held on bedridden for almost two years. Did you know that? Well, let me tell you, his family grew to hate him so much for just lying there so long that, when he did finally bite the dust, they wouldn’t even bury him. They just threw him in the woods out back for whatever wild animals wanted his carcass.”

Sunday evening and two more tumblers of gin made Bridget frantic. Now she was really losing money. Maybe she could just hurry things along with a pillow. Don’t be foolish, Bridget, she told herself. Use your head. And with a third tumbler, now vodka — Aunt Agatha was still here but the gin was gone — Bridget got an idea.

continued

 

JULY 14, 1789, 1973: BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

Every écolier and écolière knows that the breakup of France – Révolution française – began in 1789, its defining moment the storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14. 1789. This storming_the_bastille[1]medieval fortress in the center of Paris represented royal authority. That the Bastille housed only seven inmates – all with good reason to be there – was unimportant. It was a symbol of the abuses of the absolute monarchy, and the French had had it with monarchs, aristocrats, and pretty much anyone in power. Bring on liberté, égalité, fraternité.   King Louis XVI, exit stage right

 

Bye Bye Don

Another momentous breakup took place on the evening of the same day, nearly 200 years later, in 1973, at Knott’s Berry Farm in California (Knott’s Berry Farm was America’s first theme park and probably the only one devoted to grapes and strawberries and such things). Every schoolgirl and schoolboy knows that the Everly Brothers were one of America’s most successful pop duos, lending their sibling harmony to such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “All I Have To Do is Dream” and “Wake Up Little Susie”, a franchise that would seemingly go on forever. Well, forever is a long time, and brothers Don and Phil had, by the end of the 1960s pretty much had it with liberté, égalité, fraternité and most definitely with each other.

The defining moment of their breakup came in the middle of their set when the stage manager told the audience that the rest of the show had been canceled because brother Don was “too emotional” to play.  In reality, Brother Don was too drunk to play. His skipped guitar notes and bungled lyrics sent brother Phil into a real snit. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage into a solo career, promising he would “never get on stage with that man again.”

 

Phil and Don reached a sort of detente a decade later.  Louis XVI, on the other hand, was beheaded.

(Phil Everly died in January 2014).

I have no intention of sharing my authority. — King Louis XVI

Death Visits Aunt Agatha, Part 2: A Bargain Is Struck

Monty hated the thought of paying Bridget Berman seventy-five dollars a day to do practically nothing and eat his food in the bargain. What if Aunt Agatha held on for three or four days? No matter how bad she looked, she was a tough old bird. She could rack up a couple hundred dollars while he was in the city.

By the time Monty bit the bullet and finally contacted Bridget Berman, he had already devised a scheme to avoid paying the old hag more than what he considered appropriate remuneration for her services. Emphasizing how sick the old lady was, how she probably wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours, Monty proposed a flat fee for Bridget’s sitting services. “Ninety dollars,” said Monty, “It’ll be like getting paid time and a half most likely.”

Bridget didn’t trust Monty at all; she assumed right off that he was trying to procure her services on the cheap. But if the old woman were really dying . . . Bridget also hated to pass up something extra for next to nothing. She expressed doubt about the arrangement. “But I will consider it. Mind you, just consider it. First I must see your aunt for myself.” Bridget had watched a good many people check out of this world and felt confident that she could reasonably judge the amount of time a person had left.

Later, as they stood at Aunt Agatha’s bedside, Bridget, after carefully studying the dying woman for several minutes, concluded that here lay one very sick woman and that she had better get an agreement quickly, before Aunt Agatha expired. “I don’t know,” said Bridget, “She doesn’t look all that bad to me. But I understand your situation, and I want to be as agreeable as I possibly can. One hundred and fifty dollars.”

Monty stood silently thinking. Aunt Agatha groaned.

“One twenty-five,” said Bridget.

“You’ll stay until she dies,” said Monty.

“Or until you return,” said Bridget.

“Agreed.”

Ten hours passed. Monty was in the city, Bridget sat bedside, and Aunt Agatha lay there still looking as though the next minute would be her last. Bridget sighed and dozed off. She awoke Saturday morning to find Aunt Agatha just as ill and just as alive as she had been the night before. For eight hours, Bridget stared at the bedridden woman just lying there, continuing to breathe without consideration for others, taking money from Bridget as though she were a common pickpocket.

continued

MAY 25, 2006: GEEK NIRVANA

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 25 May 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.

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).

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.