Tuesday

Apr. 1, 2008

Montana

by Gary Johnson

A great many small failures have brought me to this
Dark room where, against the teachings of the church,
I lie in the forgiving dark with you and we kiss
And loosen our clothing and feel the hot urge
Toward nakedness, man's natural destination,
The slow unbuttoning, unclasping, until at last
We lie revealed. The fine sensation
Of you on my skin. A slender woman as vast
As Montana and I am now heading west
On a winding road through the dark contours
Of mountains and into a valley, coming to rest
In a meadow that I recognize as yours.
    This is what I drove across North Dakota to find:
    This sweet nest. And put all my failed life behind.

"Montana" by Gary Johnson. Used by permission of the poet.

Today is April Fools' Day, a holiday celebrating practical jokes of all kinds. Some people say that April Fools' Day began in France in 1582 when the Gregorian replaced the Julian calendar, making New Year's Day fall on January 1st instead of April 1st. At the time, news of such things traveled slowly, and it took many years for everyone to get up to speed. People who continued to celebrate New Year's on April 1st came to be known as April Fools.

The news media have been responsible for some of the greatest April Fools' Day pranks in history. In 1977, the London newspaper The Guardian published a seven-page supplement commemorating the anniversary of the independence of San Serriffe, a completely imaginary small island nation located in the Indian Ocean. The article described the geography of the nation — it consisted of two main islands, which together formed the shape of a semi-colon; the northern one was called "Upper Caisse" and the southern one, "Lower Caisse."

The island's natives were of "Flong" ethnicity, but there were also the descendents of Europeans settlers who had colonized the nation: "colons." The two groups had intermarried over the years; their offspring were "semi-colons."

The capital of the nation was Bodoni and the national bird, the "Kwote."

In the supplement, there were even advertisements from real companies. Texaco announced a contest whose winner would receive a two-week vacation to the island's Cocobanana Beach. Kodak placed an ad saying, "If you have a picture of San Serriffe, we'd like to see it."

The day it ran, The Guardian was flooded with calls for more information. Travel agents and airline companies complained to the editor because the news had been disruptive to their businesses — customers refused to believe that the islands were only imaginary.

The Guardian has reused the prank on a few other April Fools' Days — in 1978, 1980, and 1999 — and each time the island has changed location, moving from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea to the North Atlantic.

On this day in 1992, National Public Radio announced that Richard Nixon was running for president again. The news came on the show Talk of the Nation and included excerpts of Nixon's speech announcing his candidacy, in which he said, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." It also featured analysis from real political experts.

Masses of people called in to express their surprise and indignation. In the second half of the show, host John Hockenberry revealed that the announcement was a practical joke, and that Canadian comedian Richard Little had impersonated Nixon.

It's the birthday of playwright Edmond Rostand, (books by this author) born in Marseilles, France (1868). He's best known as the author of the play Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), based on an actual person. In the play, Cyrano is the most dashing, brave, and romantic man in France, able to compose sonnets while engaged in a sword fight, but he also has the largest nose anyone has ever seen. Because of his huge nose, he decides he can never win over Roxanne, the love of his life.

It's the birthday of novelist Francine Prose, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1947). She wrote Judah the Pious (1973), a novel based on Hasidic folklore about a rabbi who tries to convince the king of Poland to reinstate Jewish burial rituals. Her most recent works are the novel A Changed Man(2005), and nonfiction book, Reading Like a Writer (2006), which is subtitled "A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them."

It's the birthday of the pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, born in Novgorod, Russia (1873). He was a halfhearted student in his early days at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his teachers felt he probably did not have much of a career ahead of him. He grew to be a tall, imposing man — Igor Stravinsky called him "a six-and-a-half-foot scowl" — and his hands were so big they could span an interval of 13 keys on the piano. He escaped from Russia just before the Revolution and spent most of the rest of his life in the United States. When Vladimir Horowitz arrived in New York City, the two pianists sealed their friendship by going down into the basement of Steinway and Sons and playing Rachmaninoff's own Third Piano Concerto (1909). Horowitz played the solo part on one piano, and Rachmaninoff the orchestra reduction on another. His famous works include various piano concerti, Symphony No. 2 (1907), and the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini (1934).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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