May 5, 2009

La Strada

by George Bilgere

A dollar got you a folding chair
in the drafty lecture hall
with a handful of other wretched grad students.

Then the big reels and low-tech chatter
of a sixteen-millimeter projector.

La Strada. Rashomon. HMS Potemkin.
La Belle e Ie Béte
, before
Disney got his hands on it.

And The Bicycle Thief, and for God's sake,
La Strada.

You can't find them
at the video store anymore. Only the latest
G-rated animated pixilated computer-generated prequels.

That's just the way it goes.

Even if you could,
you'd see them on DVD,
restored, colorized, scratch-free,
on a plasma-screen TV. With your wife,
your dog, your degree. You'd get up
to answer the phone, check on the baby.

You're just not young enough,
or poor enough, or miserable
enough anymore to see—really see

Les Enfants du Paradis, or Ikiru,
or The 400 Blows. Or, for God's sake,
La Strada.

"La Strada" by George Bilgere. Reprinted with permission of the author. (buy now)

Today is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico's defeat of French invaders at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo has actually become a bigger holiday in the United States than in Mexico, where it is mostly a regional holiday in Puebla. There are large Cinco de Mayo celebrations — with parades, music, and food — in Los Angeles, Denver, Portland, St. Paul, and other cities across the country.

It's the birthday of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, (books by this author) born in Copenhagen, Denmark (1813). He inherited enough money to be financially independent for his entire life, and he published many books, including Either/Or (1843), Works of Love (1847), and The Sickness Unto Death (1849). He was almost unknown outside of Denmark in the 19th century. But in the early 20th century, he was rediscovered by European writers and philosophers, and he is now considered the founder of existentialist philosophy.

It's the birthday of the novelist Kaye Gibbons, (books by this author) born in Nash County, North Carolina (1960). Her father was a tobacco farmer, and she grew up poor. She loved to read but the only books in the house were a Bible and a book on cattle castration, so every week she walked to the local bookmobile. Her mother committed suicide when Kaye was 10 years old, and her father drank himself to death a year later. The girl lived with a series of relatives. She said it was "the sort of childhood that encourages someone to either become a writer or to rob convenience stores."

So she became a writer. She won a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, and while she was a student, she started writing a novel based loosely on her own childhood, called Ellen Foster (1987). It got great reviews, and since then she has written many books, including Charms for the Easy Life (1993) and Sights Unseen (2005).

It was on this day in 1891 that Carnegie Hall in New York had its opening night. The performer was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

It's the birthday of Karl Marx, (books by this author) born in Trier, Prussia (1818). He got a Ph.D. in philosophy, but he couldn't get a job as a professor because of his involvement with radical politics, so he became a journalist instead. His columns critiqued local government practices, like a new law that made it illegal for peasants to gather firewood from the local forest. His writing made his newspaper so popular that the government shut it down. He was stuck without a job, so he decided to spend a few months analyzing the previous 2,000 years of world history, and he came to the conclusion that all historical events were caused by economic forces. He moved to Paris, where he was introduced to the basic ideas of communism, and he met Friedrich Engels. In 1848, they published Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei,the Communist Manifesto.

It's the birthday of journalist and social activist Nellie Bly, (books by this author) born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania (1864). She wrote columns about working women, she travelled through Mexico reporting on life there, she faked insanity in order to write an exposé of life in an asylum, and in 1890, in the spirit of Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days,she broke the world record for traveling around the Earth, which she did in 72 days.

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




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