Oct. 21, 2001
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Poem: "Directions," by Jim Barnes from Paris (University of Illinois Press).
On my way back from the Tabac
two Dutch businessmen stopped to ask
which way and how far to the Metro.
I tell you it felt fine: I felt
Parisian and tried to sound it.
Walking to the Crillon, Caroline
and I were stopped by a chic couple
who asked if they were near the Ritz.
We pointed diagonally toward
place Vendome, then shared our Michelin.
Only in Paris, as they say,
can an American be so French
that Europeans ask directions
and seven strangers wave at you
from cars and waiters read your mind
and offer Chateau Neuf du Pape.
It's the anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1959. It's the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in New York City.
It's the anniversary of the Fall of Aachen, 1944, the first German city to be captured by the Allies in WWII.
It's the birthday of writer Ursula Le Guin, born in Berkeley, California, in1929. She's the author of science fiction novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. She intended the four books in The Earthsea Series to be for children, but they attracted adults as well. She has published over 80 short stories, two collections of essays, 10 children's books, several volumes of poetry, and 16 novels. Le Guin says, "Sure, it's simple writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up."
It's the anniversary of the light bulb, first demonstrated by Thomas Edison in 1879, in his Menlo Park, New Jersey lab. The problem was finding the right material for the filament, which needed to be super-hot to give off light. Edison finally hit on the idea of using a carbonized cotton thread for the filament, since carbon can be heated to over 6,000 degrees without melting; later he tried carbonized bamboo strips, which worked even better.
It's the birthday of chemist and industrialist Alfred Bernard Nobel, born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1833. In 1867, he obtained a patent for a safe and manageable form of nitroglycerin, which he called dynamite. He eventually wound up with a total of 355 patents, created an industrial empire, and became one of the wealthiest men in Europe. His scientific research took him to many countries, and he had a keen interest in social issues, taking radical positions on many contemporary problems. After his death in 1896, he left the bulk of his estate to fund annual prizes to persons whose work had been of the greatest benefit to mankind. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901.
It's the birthday of poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born in Ottery St. Mary, County Devon, England, in 1772, whose work marked the beginning of the Romantic movement in English literature: poems in praise of love, nature, and the individual, all written in everyday language. In his early 20s, Coleridge planned to build a utopian society on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania; the plan fell through, and Coleridge stayed in England and soon met poet William Wordsworth. From that relationship came Lyrical Ballads, which opened with Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner and ended with Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey. As he grew older, Coleridge suffered from a variety of pains and from an addiction to opium, which had been freely prescribed by his physicians. His famous poem, Kubla Khan, was inspired by an opium dream: He woke from three hours of sleep with a clear image of the poem in his mind.
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