Jun. 18, 2009

Old In The City

by Anne Porter

You grow geraniums
And crochet baby-bonnets
But you walk slowly
Every day more slowly
As if there were a rock
In your poor belly

You stay away from doctors
They'd send you to the hospital
Where pieces are cut out of you
And after that you die

Instead you walk to the park
Where there are oaks and elm trees
That stream up to the sun
With triumph in their branches

Where there's a secret nation
Of squirrels who find it convenient
To set up their nests in the treetops
Like vendors who set up their stalls
By the steps of a great cathedral

And sometimes you sit in the playground
Waiting for the children
Who come when school is out

They rush in all together
Throwing their books on the benches
And racing to the swings

Over and over again
Their feet in their battered sneakers
Fly up into the air
And their hair too is flying
A wordless and intent
Delight is in their faces.

"Old In The City" by Anne Porter, from Living Things Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Gail Godwin, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, Alabama (1937). She's the author of A Mother and Two Daughters (1982) and The Good Husband (1994). Gail Godwin said: "I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publisher's desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way."

It's the birthday of film critic Roger Ebert, (books by this author) born in Urbana, Illinois (1942). He dropped out of graduate school at the University of Chicago to become a journalist for the Chicago Sun Times, and he became the newspaper's film critic. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism. He's the author of many collections of movie reviews, including I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (2000). He said, "No good movie is depressing, all bad movies are depressing."

It was on this day in 1983 that Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, aboard the Challenger for a six-day mission. She said: "The thing that I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun I'll ever have in my life."

It's the birthday of Amy Bloom, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). She's the author of the novel Love Invents Us (1997) and the collection of short stories A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You (2000). She is a practicing psychotherapist and began writing fiction in her spare time. Many of the characters she writes about suffer from mental illness. She says that psychotherapy and writing are both about using small details to find out what's going on as opposed to what people say is going on. She says that both fiction and psychotherapy are about putting your hands on people lives, to be intimate.

It was on this day in 1953 that Egypt was officially declared an independent republic. It had been occupied by various foreign powers for 2,000 years, including by Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks, Napoleon Bonaparte-led French, the servant-king Mamluks, and most recently the British.

A nationalist movement started in Egypt in the late 1800s, and by the early 1900s it had gained support among most people in Egypt. Nationalist Egyptian leaders were elected to the local legislative assembly, gaining more than half the seats, which prompted Great Britain to expel these leaders from Egypt, shipping them off to Malta in 1918. The people of Egypt rebelled, and their protests and revolts were so intense that Britain decided it was too much to handle, and in 1922 simply declared Egypt independent from Great Britain, without discussing it with Egypt.

Egypt wrote up a constitution and democratically elected a prime minister (the head Nationalist leader that the British had earlier exiled to Malta), but Egypt was still in many ways controlled by the British. And despite having a prime minister to govern it, the country was still ruled by an Egyptian king and British-style parliamentary. For the next three decades, it was unstable. In 1952, there was an official revolution, where a military coup overthrew the monarchy. Then, on this day in 1953, the Republic of Egypt was officially declared. A military general was made the first president of the new republic, but within a year, the president was forced to resign and put under house arrest. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who masterminded the revolution of 1952, became president of Egypt, declared complete independence from Britain and nationalized the Suez Canal, so that Egypt would get the income from ships passing through. This quickly led to the Suez Crisis.

Nasser ruled until his death in 1970. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Egypt was constantly in wars with neighboring Israel. But in 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty, under the condition that Israel pull out of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which it had occupied since the Six Day War of 1967. The vast majority of Egyptians supported the peace accords, but much of the rest of the Arab world was furious with Egypt, and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League. But now the Arab League is headquartered in Cairo, and because Egypt has diplomatic relations with Israel, it often serves as mediator during disputes, most recently between Israel and Hamas during the Gaza conflict.

In 1981, a fundamentalist soldier assassinated Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed the peace treaty. Sadat was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, who is still president of Egypt today. Though the president is in theory elected in a democratic manner, it's been the case that in every election for the past 50 years, the president has been the only candidate on the ballot. Mubarak is serving his fifth term, and he's been in office for 28 years. The last challenger to make a real bid for the presidency was put in jail, and his supporters were subject to police brutality and violence. Most Egyptians have little faith in their democratic process of elections, and less than a fourth of registered voters showed up to the poll for the last presidential election in 2005. Right now, there's a proposal being considered that would change the constitution to limit a person to two terms (seven years each) as president.

Egypt is the most populated country in the Middle East, with about 83 million people. It's about 90 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. Cairo is considered the Hollywood of the Arab-speaking world, producing the vast majority of Arabic-language films, and other forms of media and entertainment as well. The first Arabic-language writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature was an Egyptian, Naguib Mahfouz.

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