Monday

Jun. 11, 2012

Reading Hemingway

by James Cummins

Reading Hemingway makes me so hungry,
for jambon, cheeses, and a dry white wine.
Cold, of course, very cold. And very dry.

Reading Hemingway makes some folks angry:
the hip drinking, the bitter pantomime.
But reading Hemingway makes me hungry

for the good life, the sun, the fish, the sky:
blue air, white water, dinner on the line . . .
Had it down cold, he did. And dry. Real dry.

But Papa had it all, the brio, the Brie:
clear-eyed, tight-lipped, advancing on a stein . . .
Reading Hemingway makes me so hungry,

I'd knock down Monsieur Stevens, too, if I
drank too much retsina before we dined.
(Too old, that man, and way too cold. And dry

enough to rub one's famished nerves awry,
kept talking past the kitchen's closing time!)
Reading Hemingway makes me so hungry . . .
And cold, of course. So cold. And very dry.

"Reading Hemingway" by James Cummins, from Portrait in a Spoon. © University of South Carolina Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1935 that listeners first heard FM radio, when the American inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong gave a demonstration in Alpine, New Jersey. Armstrong demonstrated the clarity of FM compared to AM radio by playing classical music and the sound of water being poured.

It's the birthday of German composer Richard Strauss, born in Munich in 1864. He's known for writing what he called "tone poems" inspired by literary characters. He wrote Don Juan (1889) and Don Quixote (1897), and operas too, of course. In 1905, he wrote the opera Salome, based on the play by Oscar Wilde.

He said, "I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer."

It's the birthday of the novelist William Styron (books by this author), born in Newport News, Virginia (1925). He published just eight books during his life — novels, short stories, essays, and a memoir, including Lie Down in Darkness (1951), The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), Sophie's Choice (1979), and Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (1990). And since his death in 2006, three more books of his have been published. Letters to my Father (2009) is just that, written between 1943 and 1953, and The Suicide Run (2009) is a book of short stories, five fragments of stories about the Marine Corps. Havanas in Camelot (2008) is a series of personal essays.

It's the birthday of the poet and playwright Ben Jonson (books by this author), born in London (1572). He didn't want to be a bricklayer like his father, so he got a job as an actor and then began to write plays.

He had a notoriously bad temper, and once killed another actor in a duel. He was put on trial, but right around the same time, his first important play, Every Man in His Humour (1598), had its premiere, and William Shakespeare served as one of the actors in the company. Even though he was a convicted felon, his work was popular enough that he became a court poet and started hanging around with royalty.

It's the anniversary of the Broad Street Riot in Boston, on this day in 1837.

It was a hot, humid Sunday afternoon. Fire Engine Company 20 — made up primarily of Protestant "Yankees," descendants of the original English settlers — was coming back from Roxbury, where they had put out a fire. Most of the firemen went to a nearby saloon afterward to have some drinks. When they left the saloon, they started walking down Broad Street toward the fire station and passed a group of about 100 Irish immigrants on their way to join a funeral procession around the corner on Sea Street. Most of the firemen lived in the working-class districts of Boston where ethnic tensions were particularly high, and some of them were suspected of having been involved in the burning of a convent a few years earlier. But still, the two groups almost walked by each other without incident, except that a 19-year-old fireman named George Fay had a few more drinks than his friends, and he either insulted someone or hit someone, and soon the firemen and the Irish were fighting. In no time at all, it turned into a full-scale brawl, and then a riot. Other Yankees, many of them young men, broke into Irish homes, smashing and looting. At least 800 men were fighting in the streets, with plenty more onlookers.

Finally, the mayor of Boston, Samuel Eliot, intervened and sent in about 800 state militia with fixed bayonets to disperse the riot. Eighteen men were prosecuted, 14 of them Irish immigrants, and three of those immigrants were put in prison; the rest of the Irish men and all of the Yankees were let off.

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

 









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