NOVEMBER 5, 1605: AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

Please to remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow…

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido, was a protester some four hundred years ago, a member of a group of English Catholics who were dismayed at having a Protestant as King of England.  Their protests eventually moved beyond the verbal assaults (“Hi de hay, hi de ho, King James the First has got to go”) down the slippery slope to gunpowder, treason and plot.

Guy Fawkes was born in England in 1570 but as a young man went off to Europe to fight in the Eighty Years’ War (not the entire war, of course) on the side of Catholic Spain.  He hoped that in return Spain would back his Occupy the Throne movement in England.  Spain wasn’t interested.

Guy  returned to England and fell in with some fellow travelers.  Realizing that the Occupy the Throne movement required removing the person who was currently sitting on it, the group plotted to assassinate him.  They rented a spacious undercroft beneath Westminster Palace  where they amassed a good supply of gunpowder.  Guy Fawkes was left in charge of the gunpowder.

Unfortunately, someone snitched on them and Fawkes was captured on November 5.  Subjected to waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods, Fawkes told all and was condemned to death. (Evidently, James I was not amused.)  Just before his scheduled execution, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck and cheating the English out of a good hanging.

Since then the English have celebrated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 with the November 5 celebration, an integral part of which is burning Guy Fawkes (and sometimes others) in effigy.  Seems like a long time to hold a grudge.

 

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NOVEMBER 4, 1702: PURSUING THE FRENCH

PURSUING THE FRENCH

John Benbow was an admiral in the British Royal Navy at the turn of the 18th century. Known as Old Benbow, he is mostly known for his misfortunes during one of England’s endless kerfuffles with France.

It was 1702, and the pesky French were threatening English interests benbowin the West Indies with a squadron of five ships. Benbow sailed after them with seven ships. Upon overtaking the French, Benbow gave the signal for his ships to engage, but nothing happened, and Benbow was forced to disengage. It seems Benbow’s officers were in a bit of a snit over Benbow’s offensive manners and thought disobeying his orders would teach him a nice lesson.

The following day, Benbow once more gave the order to advance, but the captains of five ships continued to defy him. Pissed but undaunted, Benbow had at the French with just two ships, battling for the entire day until one ship became disabled and was forced to withdraw.

The following day Benbow resumed battle with just one ship against the five French ships. Three times Benbow boarded the French admiral’s ship, and three times he was driven back. He suffered severe wounds to an arm, a leg, and his face. But still he persisted. He had his cot brought upon deck and continued to bark orders as he lay bleeding. When one of his lieutenants expressed regret at his shattered leg, Benbow replied: “I am sorry for it; but I had rather lost them both than have seen the dishonor brought upon the English nation.”

The French moved in for the kill, and Benbow was just able to extricate his ship and sail to Jamaica. There he ordered the ship captains arrested and court-martialed. One of the captains died before trial, two were convicted and shot, one was cashiered and imprisoned, and two were acquitted due to extenuating circumstances (one having been drunk during the initial insubordination, but repentant when sober).

Even though Old Benbow was shown to be blameless for the escape of the French squadron, he was despondent. His wounds grew worse during the following weeks and on November 4, 1702, he died.

 

OCTOBER 29, 1636: HERMIT OF GRUB STREET

HERMIT OF GRUB STREET

Henry Welby was a gentleman of fortune, education and popularity in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth who suddenly secluded himself from all public life – not as a hermit off in the Grub_street_hermitwilderness but right in the middle of London. His irrevocable resolution to live a solitary life followed an incident in which his younger brother, displeased over some trifle or another, attempted to shoot him at close range, certainly with the intent to kill.

To fulfill his resolution, Henry took a house at one end of Grub Street, known primarily for bohemians and impoverished hack writers. He occupied three rooms himself – one for dining, one for sleeping and one for study. The rest of the house was given over to his servants. A technical quibble here perhaps: can a man truly be a hermit with servants?  But it would seem that he managed. While his food was set on his table by his cook, he would wait in his bedroom. And while his bed was being made, he would retire into his study, and so on – thus avoiding any actual contact with his servants.

He ate only a salad of greens and herbs in the summer and a bowl of gruel in the winter. He drank no wine or spirits, only water or an occasional cheap beer. Occasionally, on a special day, he might eat an egg yolk, no white, or a piece of bread, no crust. Yet he provided a bountiful table for his servants.

And in these three rooms, he remained – for forty-four years, never ever leaving them until he was carried out on a gurney.  Not one of his relatives or acquaintances ever laid another eye on him – only his elderly maid Elizabeth ever saw his face. And she didn’t see much of it because it was overgrown by hair and beard. Elizabeth died just a few days before Henry’s death on October 29, 1636.

Books were his companions for those forty-four years, and not once did one of them shoot at him.

Alice in Donaldland, Part 8: Stipulations and Legal Briefs

“Is this the Queen’s court?” Alice asked the two funny-looking men blocking the big iron gate.

“Who wants to know?” they chimed together.

“I’d like to join the Queen for some golf,” answered Alice.

“She’d like to join the Queen,” they taunted, looking at each other. “Do you have a nondisclosure agreement?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, but I’m not the sort of person to disclose things. Are you the Queen’s guards?”

“Guards?” They looked at each other and laughed. “Do we look like guards? We are the Queen’s personal lawyers — Tweeedledum and Tweedledumber, attorneys-at-law. Here, sign these.” They each pushed a pile of papers at Alice.

“What are these?”

“Sworn statements that the Queen didn’t grab you, wouldn’t grab you, and was miles away when the grabbing occurred.”

“But the Queen probably won’t — ”

“Of course he will. The Queen has big hands and — ”

“– a big heart. I know, I know.”

“You also stipulate that grabbing isn’t a crime if the Queen grabs,” said Tweedledum.

“It’s not even naughty,” added Tweedledumber.

“And Collusion isn’t a crime if the Queen colludes. Obstruction isn’t a crime if the Queen obstructs. Subtraction isn’t a crime —

“Okay, I stipulate,” said Alice impatiently. “And the Queen isn’t a witch, and doesn’t grab girls and is making Donaldland great again.”

“I think she’s got it,” said the twin lawyers. “And what about the White Knight?”

Alice began to recite: “The White Knight and his nefarious throng of 98 — ”

” — 125 — ”

” — 125 dastardly democreeps are out to destroy the good Queen.”

“And the Queen is cooperating fully with his witch hunt and is willing to answer any number of questions. As a matter of fact, we have provided a list of answers to the questions the Queen is willing to answer.” Tweedledum handed a piece of paper to Alice.

She read: “Yes. No. Maybe. I couldn’t say. Fourteen. Uruguay. 1492. None of your damn business. Never. Maybe tomorrow. Gilligan’s Island. Wayne Newton. Crooked Hillary.”

“What more could we possibly do?” said Tweedledum.

“Legal is as legal does,” said Tweedledumber.

“Hand me the briefs, said Tweedledum.

“No,” said Tweedledumber. “It’s my turn to wear the briefs.”

“No, it’s my turn.”

“My turn.”

“My turn.”

“I’ll sue.”

“I’ll sue first.”

“I’ll counter-sue.”

“I’ll counter-counter sue.”

And off they went, arguing and leaving the gate for Alice to enter. Which she did.

OCTOBER 27, 1666: I DID IT WITH MY BOX OF MATCHES

I DID IT WITH MY BOX OF MATCHES

When the ashes settled after the great Chicago Fire, folks looked to assign blame and pointed their fingers at a cow.  The English were fire-of-londonalso looking to fix blame for a fire some two centuries earlier.  In early September 1666, a major fire broke out in Pudding Lane in the City of London and within days had destroyed 80 percent of the old city.
Accusations were flying in all directions — strangers, the Spanish, Dutch, Irish and most particularly the French, Catholics, even King Charles II.

Enter one Robert Hubert.  Hubert was a simple watchmaker who wasn’t quite wound up  — and he was a French Catholic.  He obligingly confessed to being the culprit, telling authorities he deliberately started the fire in Westminster.  He was arrested, but one little problem cropped up: the fire hadn’t even reached Westminster, let alone started there.

When confronted with the fact that the fire originated in a Pudding Lane bakery.  Hubert adjusted his story, saying that he had actually started the fire there, tossing a fire grenade through an open window.  What’s more, he did it because he was a French spy in service of the Pope.

Hubert was hauled before the court.  His story turned out to be riddled with problems.  The bakery had no windows, and Hubert was judged to be so crippled that he could not have thrown the grenade.  An even bigger problem:  he was not in England when the fire started, according to the testimony of the captain of a Swedish ship who had landed him on English soil two days after the outbreak of the fire.

Nevertheless, the court found Hubert guilty, and on October 27, 1666, he was hanged at Tyburn, London.  A year later, the cause of the fire was quietly changed to ‘the hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season.’

Don’t You Be a Meanie

Oh, Mr. Paganini
Please play my rhapsody
And if you cannot play it won’t you sing it?
And if you can’t sing you simply have to . . .

Mr. Paganini, aka (If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It became a paganinifixture in Ella Fitzgerald’s repertoire back in the 1930s. The Mr. Paganini to whom she refers is composer and violin virtuoso Niccolo Paganini who was born on October 27, 1782. During the height of his career, the legendary “devil violinist”  set all of nineteenth-century Europe into a frenzy. He was a headliner in every major European city.  His technical ability was legend, and so was his willingness to flaunt it. His fame as a violinist was equaled by his reputation as a gambler and womanizer.

Alas, his grueling schedule and extravagant lifestyle took their toll, and he suffered from ever increasing health problems. He died in 1840.

OCTOBER 25, 1642: MEDICINAL WONDERS OF BRANDY

MEDICINAL WONDERS OF BRANDY

Sir Hugh Ackland of Devonshire in England was seized with a violent fever, and having apparently died during that afternoon of October 25, 1642, was laid out as dead. A nurse and two footmen were assigned todeatbed sit up through the night to watch his corpse, lest it be stolen. Lady Ackland sent the night watchers a bottle of brandy to add a little cheer to an otherwise dreary task.  One of the footmen, a bit of a rogue, said to the others: “The Master dearly loved brandy when he was alive, and now, though he is dead, I am determined he shall have a glass with us.” The footman then poured out a glass and forced it down Sir Hugh’s throat. The corpse immediately made a deep gurgling noise, and its neck and chest shook violently. In a panic, the watchers rushed downstairs, the footmen stumbling and rolling head-over-heels, the nurse screaming in terror.

The noise awakened a young gentleman who was sleeping in the house. He immediately jumped out of bed and raced up to the room where the body lay. There, he found Sir Hugh’s corpse sitting upright with a look of confusion on his face.  The young man summoned the servants and ordered them to place their master in a warm bed. He then sent for Sir Hugh’s medical attendants. Sir Hugh was restored to perfect health, and lived many years afterward, recounting his strange story frequently enough that Lady Ackland regretted having sent up the bottle of brandy.

The footman received a handsome annuity.

Well, dinner would have been splendid… if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the Duchess.  — Winston Churchill

OCTOBER 21, 1772: A BIRD ROUND THE NECK IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH

A BIRD ROUND THE NECK IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the major literary voices in England at the end of the 18th century. He was born on October 21, 1772, and died on July 25, 1834. Along with his good friend William Wordsworth, he helped to pioneer the Romantic Age of English poetry.  He’s best known for Kubla Khan (In Xanadu did Kubla Khan /A stately pleasure-dome decree) written, according to Coleridge himself, in “a kind of a reverie” as a result of an opium dream, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seafaring epic, sort of like Mutiny on the Bounty without the mutiny or Titanic without the glitz or the the sinking.

The poem begins at a wedding, where one of the guests, hoping to get into the open bar before it closes is distracted by an old salt “with long grey beard and glittering eye.” This, of course, is the titular ancient mariner – no surprise, since Coleridge identifies him as such in the very first line – who begins his tale:

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

 

Even though the mariner has a nice way with words, the wedding guest is thirsty and he has spotted the bride leading other guests to the bar. But –

 

“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot choose but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

 

The mariner describes his journey which takes him into some rather nasty, cold (Vermont-like) weather:

 

“The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around:

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound!

 

We can only guess what a swound is – but it is a pretty nasty sounding thing and it does rhyme nicely.  Enter the albatross, seascape left:

 

“At length did cross an Albatross,

Through the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

We hailed it in God’s name.

 

The albatross leads the ship and its crew to warmer waters, and a perfect spot for the mariner to conclude his tale as  the wedding guest suggests, nervously checking his watch. But the mariner drops a bomb instead:

 

“‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

 

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the fair breeze that had delivered them from the cold disappears, and they are becalmed, unable to move, and now it’s getting hot:

 

“Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

 

The crew members blame their plight entirely on the mariner. They hang the albatross around his neck and give him the cold shoulder. Eventually they spot a ship in the distance, and they watch for several verses in anticipation. As the vessel draws near, however, they discover that its passengers are Death (a skeleton) and the “Night-mare Life-in-Death” (a deathly-pale woman). These two are playing dice for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner. He will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.

One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on:

“The many men, so beautiful!

And they all dead did lie:

And a thousand thousand slimy things

Lived on; and so did I.

 

Eventually, left alone with them, the mariner begins to appreciate the slimy things and even begins to pray for them.  And then the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks again, leaving only the Mariner behind.

But his penance for shooting the albatross is not finished. He is forced to wander the earth annoying wedding guests with his story, a lesson for all those he meets:

 

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.”

 

Unfortunately for the wedding guest, he has missed out on the open bar and his dinner (he ordered the chicken) is cold.

OCTOBER 17, 1814: THIS ROUND’S ON ME

THIS ROUND’S ON ME

An unfortunate incident involving beer – aged porter to be precise – occurred in London back in 1814.

The central London parish of St Giles was, as slums go, one of the slummiest.  Although it has since been rather gentrified with theaters, Covent Garden and the British Museum nearby, it was then mostly squalid housing where immigrants crowded into its ramshackle buildings, often more thanbeer one family to a room. Near one end of the parish stood the massive Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery, its giant vats filled with thousands of gallons of aging porter.

One particular vat which held over 135,000 gallons had seen better days. Like the shanties surrounding the brewery, it suffered from age, and on October 17 it succumbed, bursting and letting loose enough precious liquid to give all of St. Giles and then some a pretty good buzz, although the fury with which it was released made tippling difficult. Like giant shaken cans of beer, nearby vats ruptured and joined the game of dominoes.

Within minutes the brick structure that was the Meux and Company Horse Shoe Brewery was breached, and the deluge roared down Tottenham Court Road, flinging aside or burying in debris anyone or anything in its path.

Homes caved in. A busy pub crumbled, burying a buxom barmaid and her ogling patrons for several hours.  All in all, nine people were killed by drink that day. Those who didn’t lose their lives lost everything they owned to evil alcohol. Soon after the suds subsided, survivors rushed in to save what they could of the precious brew, collecting one or more for the road in pots and cans.

St. Giles smelled like the morning after a particular robust party for weeks. The brewery was later taken to court over the accident, but they pleaded an “Act of God,” and the judge and jury bought it, leaving them blameless. The brewery even received reparations from the government.  God, it would seem, has a soft spot for brewers.

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Alice in Donaldland, Part 6: A Grinning Cat

Read Part 1

Alice stood at a crossroads, wondering which way she ought to go. As she pondered, a large Cat appeared on the branch of a tree a few feet away. When the Cat spotted Alice, it grinned at her. She had never known a Cat to grin before and didn’t even know a Cat could grin. It looked rather good-natured, but it had very long claws and a great many teeth so Alice thought it wise to treat the Cat with respect.

“What sort of cat are you?” Alice asked. “You must be happy, smiling like that.”

“I’m a Cheshire, “answered the Cat. “And I always smile.”

“Cheshire? Wouldn’t that make you a cheese?”

“Have you ever seen a cheese smile?”

“I guess not. Well Mr. Cheshire Cat, sir, I wonder if you might tell me which way to go?”

“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where — ”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

” — so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added.

“In that direction lives a Hatter,” the Cat said , pointing. “And in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either; they’re both mad.”

“Oh dear, I don’t want to go among mad people.”

You can’t help that. We’re all mad in Donaldland. Speaking of which, are you going to play golf with the Queen today?”

“I should like to,” said Alice. “But I haven’t been invited.”

“Oh you needn’t be invited. All that’s required is signing a nondisclosure agreement.”

“What would I not be disclosing?”

“Oh I can’t disclose that.”

“Where would I find the Queen’s Court?”

“There are several courts. There’s the Tennis Court, the Basketball Court, and the Supreme Court. At the Tennis Court, the Queen’s subjects serve.”

“What do they serve?”

“Why the Queen of course. At the Basketball Court, everyone runs about madly, stealing chickens and turkeys and partridges. When they’ve collected five fowls, they get to sit down. The Supreme Court is where things are decided; it’s divided into three wings.”

“Chicken wings?”

“No, no, no. Groups of deciders. There’s the liberal wing, the conservative wing, and the sexual predator wing and they all make decisions. But the Queen tells them what their decisions are.”

“It sounds like a Kangaroo Court,” scoffed Alice.

“Kangaroo Court, that’s rich. I like that.” The Cat’s grin widened. “Perhaps I’ll see you there. Ta ta.” And with that the Cheshire Cat began to disappear until only it’s grin remained. Alice, having already forgotten who lived which way, picked a path and started off. As it turned out, it didn’t matter which path because she came to a clearing with a large table, and both the Hatter and the Hare were crowded into one corner. A Dormouse sat on the table between them.

Part 7, Coming Tuesday

SEPTEMBER 22, 1761: GEORGE, THE SEQUEL

GEORGE, THE SEQUEL

With the usual pomp and circumstance, the marriage and coronation of King George III of England and Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz took place on September 22, 1761. The couple were married on the day they met, but remained married for 50 years and 15 children.  George was a notable monarch for several reasons, the most familiar being the loss of the American colonies and his supposed madness. Although many people see a link between the two, it’s a stretch. He was also the longest reigning monarch at 60 years until the reign of his granddaughter Queen Victoria.

George didn’t really lose the American colonies any more than George Washington found them. But independence “happened on his watch” a phrase Americans in the future would delight in applying to practically anything gone wrong. Also on his watch, Great Britain defeated the French in the Seven Year’s War and once again many years later the French under Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.

In his later life, George III had recurrent, and eventually permanent, mental illness. Finally in 1810, a regency was established, and George III’s oldest son, George (coincidentally), ruled as Prince Regent. On III’s death, George Jr. succeeded his father as George IV.

The subject of George III’s mental illness was explored in the play The Madness of George III which inspired the movie The Madness of King George. The name change was supposedly for other reasons, but some maintain that it was because American audiences would think The Madness of George III was a sequel and wonder what happened to the first two movies.

O Mighty Caesar

“He is blessed with a kind of magic truth, the uncanny ability to project the core and humanity of the character he is playing. Beneath the surface humor there is a wry commentary on the conventions and hypocrisies of life.”  Sid Caesar was born on September 22, 1922. He lit up 50s television with his incomparable humor on Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour as well as many movies during his long career.

SEPTEMBER 11, 1680: THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

Seventeenth century England was not without its share of eccentrics, folks who were not the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Roger Crab may certainly be categorized as one of them, although his misfortune at having his skull split open while serving in the Parliamentary Army might provide some excuse for his eccentricity. The unfortunate Crab was sentenced to death after the incident (for having his skull in the wrong place at the wrong time?), but his sentence was later commuted and, upon his release, he became a haberdasher of hats.

His wandering mind somehow happened upon the idea that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to pursue a biblical way of life, Crab sold all his hats and other belongings, distributing the proceeds among the poor. He then took up residence in a makeshift hut, where he lived on a diet of bran, leaves and grass (the 16th century equivalent of a kale and edamame diet), and began to produce pamphlets on the wonders of diet.

“Instead of strong drinks and wines,” he wrote, “I give the old man (referring to his body) a cup of water; and instead of roast mutton and rabbit, and other dainty dishes, I give him broth thickened with bran, and pudding made with bran and turnip-leaves chopped together.”

mad-hatterJust as Crab persecuted his own body, others began to persecute him. He was cudgeled and put in the stocks. He was stripped and whipped. Four times he was arrested on suspicion of being a wizard. He bounced from prison to prison until his death on September 11, 1680.  Fortunately, our modern society treats its vegetarian eccentrics much more humanely.

Some scholars believe Crab was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 1: Bessie and Cora

I really don’t know why my mother took me to see Bessie and Cora.  Perhaps she was worried about the future, my future, and the future was Bessie and Cora’s forte.  These two sixty-something ladies shared a bungalow on the upper end of D Street, a bungalow from which they told fortunes, mostly to the young women whose husbands were off trying their best to wind down World War II.

Bessie and Cora were twins as well as fortunetellers.

Although they looked very much alike, they were not identical, which made life much easier for Wilhelm, Cora’s husband, who also shared the bungalow and whose eyesight and mental prowess had been waning since about 1939, so that it was difficult enough for him to identify his wife as it was.

Bessie and Cora each took a slightly different spin on divining the future:  Bessie was an avowed palmist; Cora dabbled in tarot, tea leaves and the other trendier methods.  Bessie was pragmatic; she gave her clients nuts and bolts information to help them cope with the near-term future.  Cora was a blue-sky seer; her flights of fancy took her clients into a distant romantic future filled with dark strangers and great wealth.

My mother took me to see Bessie and Cora twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays while she went to do her part for the war effort — I was never sure exactly what — I always assumed it was riveting airplanes, but that’s probably just a romantic notion I picked up later in life.  And so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my future was in the hands of Bessie and Cora.  It didn’t take too many Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to completely read their meager library of children’s books and lose interest in the fortune telling paraphernalia that had outlived its usefulness and had been consigned to a cardboard box in the back hallway.

And how many times can you hear your future foretold?  I would be a good student, and if I studied hard, become very smart and eventually successful  — that’s what Bessie saw in my palm.  She held my palm tightly, looked at it sternly, her features as hard as the marble bust of Beethoven that watched from an upper bookshelf.  (I could never understand Wilhelm’s confusion.  The sisters did look very much alike, but even though their physical features were the same, Bessie’s were hard and Cora’s were soft — an incredible difference that should have been obvious to everyone, even Wilhelm. Bessie looked just as much like Old Marble Beethoven as she did like Cora.  At least I thought so.)  Bessie’s divination of my future never wavered; it was exactly the same on the third Thursday as it was on the first Tuesday, so I quickly gave complete control of my future to Cora.

Soft-featured Cora spread out her tea leaves and told me that someday I would fly in very fast airplanes to faraway places where I’d meet fascinating people — kings, queens, archdukes, emirs.  She consulted her cards to discover that I would, when I reached a proper age, have rendezvous with women as beautiful as Rita Hayworth, as lively as Carmen Miranda, as mysterious as Marlene Dietrich.  The bumps and contours of my ten-year-old head revealed that adventure also lie ahead — hidden treasures, Himalayan treks, maybe even a trip to Mars.  It was a wonderful life that Cora had planned for me, but even her big wide wonderful world of the future grew tiresome in time.

Wilhelm wasn’t particularly impressed by his wife’s or his sister-in-law’s prowess at prognostication.  Whenever the subject came up, he’d just snort and say:  “The future.  It’s just a bunch of tomorrows, pretty much the same as today.”  For a while I enjoyed sneaking up on Wilhelm to see how close I could get before he knew I was there.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories

SEPTEMBER 9, 1754: ET TU, FLETCHER?

ET TU, FLETCHER?

When little Billy Bligh, born on September 9, 1754, joined the British Royal Navy at the tcirca 1817: English naval officer and victim of the celebrated mutiny on the bounty William Bligh (1754 - 1817) is cast adrift. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)ender age of seven, he certainly never thought he’d grow up to haul breadfruit around the world. At sixteen, he became an able seaman, then a year later a midshipman. And in 1787, Bligh became Captain of the Bounty.

The Royal Society was offering special prizes to those who would travel to Tahiti, pick up a bunch of breadfruit trees and haul them back to the Caribbean as a source of cheap high-energy food for slaves. It sounded simple enough on paper, but getting there was far from half the fun. First, there was Cape Horn. The Bounty tried to get round it for a month before giving up and taking a longer route. Then Bligh and his crew had to sit around in the tropical sunshine for five months waiting for the little breadfruit babies to get big enough to travel. And when finally they set off for the Caribbean, didn’t Fletcher Christian and his cohorts, having grown fond of the Tahitian ambiance, up and mutiny.

Bligh and his loyalists were loaded into a launch with nary a breadfruit tree and set adrift. Amazingly, they survived and sailed over 4,000 miles to Timor, from where they returned to England. And two years later Bligh headed another expedition and this time successfully carried a load of trees to the Caribbean. However, the slaves refused to eat the breadfruit, wanting no part of a fruit that tasted like day-old bread.

The Ballad of Breadfruit

Once upon a time, according to Hawaiian legend, Kū , the war god, for reasons known only to Kū, decided to live secretly among the common folk and pass himself off as a mortal. He posed as a farmer and even went so far as to marry and have a family. Kū and his family lived quite happily, but being a war god Kū wasn’t such a hot farmer, and famine struck (as famine will). When everybody got pretty darn hungry,

Ku posing as a farmer

Kū realized it was time to shed his disguise and do some god thing. One would think his action would involve a battle of some kind, his being the god of war and all. Instead he disappeared into the ground right before his astonished family’s eyes. They were quite distressed by this, so they stood around where he had last been seen and cried day and night, thus watering the ground until a tiny green sprout emerged. The tiny sprout grew into a magnificent tree heavy with fruits that looked like big ugly green footballs. After tossing one around for a bit, they wondered if they might eat it since they were starving. They tried it, and it tasted awful. But they ate it anyway, saving themselves from starvation, and always remembering that this tree was their beloved Kū, finally providing for his family.

 

The Wisdom of Charlie Chan

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