Saturday

May 10, 2003

Country Fair

by Charles Simic

SATURDAY, 10 MAY 2003
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Poem: "Country Fair," by Charles Simic from Hotel Insomnia (Harcourt Brace & Company).

Country Fair

If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
It doesn't matter.
We did, and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.


Literary Notes:

On this day in 1994, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa. He had spent 27 years of his life as a political prisoner of the South African government. He spent the first 18 of those 27 years in a small cell without a bed or plumbing. He was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. In his inauguration speech he said, "the time for the healing of the wounds has come." As president, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations under apartheid, and in 1996 he presided over the enactment of the new South African constitution.

On this day in 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was finished, when the last "Golden Spike" was tapped into place at Promontory Point in Utah Territory. It took six and a half years to link the two coasts with 1,800 miles of track.

It's the birthday of physician Charles Knowlton, born in Templeton, Massachusetts (1800). In 1832, Knowlton published the country's first book about birth control, called The Fruits of Philosophy: or The Private Companion of Young Married People. He was fined and sent to prison for three months before he was acquitted. After a famous trial against the book in England, sales rose from fewer than 1,000 a year to more than 250,000 a year.

It's the birthday of British romance writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, born in Leeds, England (1933). She writes books about strong women driven by work as much as love. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance (1979), has sold over 19 million copies. It's a rags-to-riches story about Emma Harte, who builds a clothing store empire and gets revenge on the family of a man who seduced and abandoned her when she was a girl.

It's the birthday of Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós, born in Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island (1843). He was called the greatest Spanish novelist since Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote 77 novels and 21 plays. Forty-six of his novels form a series called National Episodes (1873-1912), which retells Spain's history in the 1800's. Galdos used memoirs, old newspaper articles, and eyewitness accounts to write about historical events as they might have appeared to the people that lived through them.

It's the birthday of Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz, in Omaha, Nebraska (1899). He made dancing look effortless on screen and stage, and the writer John O'Hara called him the "living symbol of all that is the best of show business." He's famous for the movies he made with his dancing partner Ginger Rogers: classics like The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Swing Time (1936). They rubbed off on each another. People said she gave him sex appeal, and he gave her class. Their only on-screen kiss came in the movie Carefree (1938), in a dream sequence. He was a perfectionist who worked up to 18 hours a day. He said, "The only way I know to get a good show is to practice, sweat, rehearse, and worry." He demanded the same of his partners. He said, "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style."



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