Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


On the evening of May 29, 1913, the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, the newest venue in Paris, open for just over a month, was packed.  According to a newspaper report: “Never. . . has the hall been so full, or so resplendent; the stairways and the corridors were crowded with spectators eager to see and to hear.” What they were eager to see and to hear was a ballet program celebrating the works of many of the leading composers of the day. Ticket sales were priced accordingly.

Parisian ballet audiences of the time fell into two distinct groups: the wealthy and fashionable set, who would be expecting to see a traditional performance with beautiful music, and a “Bohemian” group favoring anything new and nontraditional because it would annoy the snobs in the boxes.

The evening began tranquilly with Les Sylphides, in which Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina danced the main roles, followed by the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts) in which, after various primitive rituals celebrating the advent of spring, a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death.

There is a consensus among eyewitnesses and commentators that the disturbances in the audience began during the Introduction, which was greeted by derisive laughter, and grew into a crescendo when the curtain rose on the “Augurs of Spring” with its pipers piping and dancers stomping. The terrific uproar, along with the on-stage noises, pretty much drowned out the performers.  The two factions in the audience began attacking each other, but their anger was soon diverted toward the orchestra, and anything not tied down was quickly thrown in its direction. The plucky orchestra played on. Forty or so of the most energetic offenders were forcefully ejected by the police who had arrived somewhere toward the end of Part I. Throughout all this the performance continued without interruption.

Things grew somewhat quieter during Part II, and by some accounts the final “Sacrificial Dance” was watched in reasonable silence, albeit with a certain amount of muttering.  At the end there were several curtain calls (as opposed to catcalls) for the dancers, the orchestra, and Stravinsky before the evening’s program continued.

Press reviews called the work “a laborious and puerile barbarity” on one hand and “superb, with the disturbances, being merely a rowdy debate between two ill-mannered factions” on the other.

Paris survived.  The Rite of Spring became a classic.  And puerile barbarity is alive and well.


Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac


Cape Disappointment is a headland at the mouth of the Columbia River at the southwesternmost tip of Washington State. Its main claim to fame is its fog. At 106 foggy days a year, Cape Disappointment is the foggiest spot in the United States. And then there’s the name, one that surely must put the Cape Disappointment Chamber of Commerce through its paces. Where did it get that name, you query? Good of you to ask. It just happens to have been named on April 12, 1788.

John Meares was an explorer, navigator, fur trader and a bit of a scoundrel. His first expedition to the north Pacific ended in failure. Sailing with false papers claiming Portuguese registry to avoid licensing and duties and with inadequate provisions, he was forced to winter in Prince William Sound. All but ten of his men died. Meares and these men were saved by the arrival of a British trader. To show his gratitude, Meares sued the trader, claiming he had been overcharged for the supplies that saved their lives.

In 1788, he was back in the north Pacific collecting sea otter furs to sell in China. Sailing southwards along the Washington coast, he ran into nasty weather at that unnamed headland at the mouth of the Columbia River. Forced to turn back, he called the place X#!##X!&!! which was later cleaned up to Cape Disappointment.

A few years later, Meares would bring Britain and Spain to the brink of war, but that’s a story for another day.

Magic Kingdoms Here and There

It was a Big Apple Fantasyland. Finishing touches were still being put in place on New York City’s Hippodrome just hours before its April 12, 1905, opening. Seating 5300 people, it dwarfed the Metropolitan Opera with its 3000 seats. A marvel of theatrical architecture, its stage was 12 times larger than any existing Broadway house and was capable of holding a thousand performers at a time or, perhaps, a full-sized circus complete with clowns and horses and acrobats and a flying elephant or two.

Speaking of Flying Elephants (a Clever Segue to 1992)

Could Mickey Souris really cut it among continental consumers? Would the rodent empire have the necessary je ne sais quoi to win those jaded Gallic hearts and minds? No more guessing or advance planning or idle speculation after D-Day (as in Disney) — April 12, 1992, the day Euro Disney opened its gates in Marne-La-Vallee on the outskirts of Paris. Gladstone Gander or Goofy?
The lucky duck prevailed. The royaume magique became one of Europe’s leading tourist destinations with some 15 million annual visitors. Disney had created another Fantasyland.



Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac



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.