Apr. 29, 1998

The Feast

by Robert Hass


Today's Reading: "The Feast" by Robert Hass from PRAISE, published by Ecco Press.

It's the Feast Day of SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, the patron saint of Italy. It was Catherine who in 1376 left her home in Sienna, Italy and traveled to Avignon, France to tell Gregory XI, the French-born pope, that he belonged in Rome.

The Nazi concentration camp, DACHAU, was liberated by the U.S. Seventh Army on this day in 1945, and nearly 32,000 prisoners went free. Dachau was one of the first camps Hitler set up after coming to power in the early 1930s. It was located in an abandoned WWI munitions factory in the little town of Dachau about 10 miles northwest of Munich.

The anti-war film, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, was premiered on this day in 1929, New York. The movie was made in America, but told the story of a young WWI German soldier who gets sent to the front to defend the Fatherland and has all of his illusions about the glory of battle shattered. Universal Pictures spent over a million dollars on the production, hired 2,000 former doughboys to act as extras, and turned 20 acres of a California ranch into a battlefield.

It's the birthday in Berlin, 1913, of journalist TANIA LONG, who wrote for the New York Herald Tribune from London and broke some of the biggest stories of the war: a British liner that was sunk transporting refugee children, the conditions of London's poor during the war, and what it was like to be caught in the middle a bombing raid. She was staying at the Hotel Savoy in 1941 when bombs struck the front and back of the building; and she won all the newspaper awards that year for her report that said, in part, "When one hears bombs hit that close there is no time to do anything. One hasn't time even to be afraid, that comes later."

It's the birth in Tokyo, 1901, of HIROHITO, the longest-ruling monarch in 2,500 years of recorded Japanese history. In 1926 he ascended the throne of Emperor, where he remained 63 years until his death in 1989. By Japanese law, the Emperor was divine; when Hirohito went on the air, August 15, 1945, and told his people to surrender to the Allies, it was the first time an emperor's voice had ever been heard outside the imperial house or the inner circles of government.

It's the birthday in Washington, DC, 1899, of EDWARD KENNEDY ELLINGTON, "Duke" Ellington. His father was a butler at the White House and didn't want that life for his son, so got Edward playing piano at the age of seven. Ellington made his professional debut at 17 and moved to New York not long after, where he played at the Kentucky Club on Broadway in a little five-man band called the Washingtonians. Eventually Ellington even got tired of using the word 'jazz.' "There are only two kinds of music," he said, "good and bad."

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