Apr. 29, 2007

Reliving History

by Francette Cerulli

SUNDAY, 29 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "Reliving History" by Francette Cerulli, from The Sprits Need to Eat. © Nine-Patch Press. Reprinted with permission.

Reliving History

This must have been what it was like
the summer before the Great War,
quiet towns just like this, men and women
riding their bicycles through the streets
after dinner, no sound except their pedaling
and the squeaking of their seats under them,

the wet metal sound of grass being cut
always behind houses, out of sight,
all human voices murmuring or far away,
the pink and red zinnias blazing out at them
in that moment before dark,
the mix of the first woodsmoke
and the last apples so sharp
and sweet you could weep.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1954). He helped create the TV show Seinfeld, which was one of the first American sitcoms that was totally free of morality. He had two rules for every episode: "No hugging" and "No learning."

It's the birthday of poet C.P. Cavafy, (books by this author) born in Alexandria, Egypt (1863). His parents were Greek, and he wrote his poetry in modern Greek, but lived in Alexandria almost his entire life. In 1889, he got a job as an unpaid clerk at the city's Irrigation Office, and he stayed there until he retired 30 years later. He lived with his mother until he was 36, in an apartment just above a brothel, and across the street from a church and a hospital.

One of his few friends was the novelist E.M. Forster, who called Cavafy "a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe."

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Gottlieb, (books by this author) born in New York City (1931). As a kid, he would read three or four books every day, and he was able to read for 16 hours at a time. As a teenager, he read War and Peace in one day, and while he was at college, he read Marcel Proust's six-volume Remembrance of Things Past in less than a week.

In 1955, he applied for a job as an editorial assistant for Jack Goodman at Simon & Schuster. In his second year as an editor, Gottlieb received a manuscript by Joseph Heller with the working title Catch-18. Gottlieb suggested the title Catch-22, the book became a modern classic, and Gottlieb became one of the best-known editors in the country at the age of 26.

It's the birthday of Duke Ellington, born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C. (1899). After high school, he worked briefly as a soda jerk, and his first piece of music was called "Soda Fountain Rag," (1915). He composed it in his head before he'd even learned how to write or read music. When he first started playing with a band at local society balls, they would often play "Soda Fountain Rag" over and over again. Ellington said, "[We] would play [it] as a one-step, two-step, waltz, tango, and fox trot. Listeners never knew it was the same piece. I was established as having my own repertory."

After moving to New York City, Ellington expanded his band to 14 musicians. As pianist and composer, he began to produce musical compositions that went beyond the typical three-minute jazz tunes for dance clubs, and he became one of the first Jazz composers to get respect from the classical music establishment.

Duke Ellington said, "Roaming through the jungle of "oohs" and "ahs," searching for a more agreeable noise, I live a life of primitivity with the mind of a child and an unquenchable thirst for sharps and flats."

It was on this day in 1983 that Harold Washington was sworn in as the first black mayor of Chicago. He had been serving as a member of the House of Representatives, representing the poorest district in the state of Illinois, an area of Chicago that was 92 percent black. He won the Democratic primary, and usually in Chicago that would have meant that he would have become the mayor, because Chicago is a Democratic city. But he faced strong opposition from the Republican candidate Bernie Epton, whose campaign slogan was, "Epton: Before it's too late."

Washington won the election by just over 40,000 votes. But even after he took office, on this day in 1983, the Chicago Machine tried to stop him from taking power. The city council adopted rule changes, eliminating the mayor's control over city ordinances. Washington spent his first term fighting against members of his own party in the city council to enact political reforms that would end the Machine's control over city politics. He managed to be the first mayor of Chicago to treat all the wards of the city equally, to provide municipal services not just to his supporters, but also to all the citizens of Chicago.

He became a kind of folk hero among his supporters. Restaurants in Chicago's black neighborhoods put his picture up in windows. People carried tiny portraits of him attached to their key chains. When he ran for re-election in 1987, he got more than 99 percent of the black vote. He died of a heart attack a few months after the start of his second term.

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