Saturday

Jul. 19, 2014

I Meet My Grandmother in Italy

by Katrina Vandenberg

I find her where I least expect her,
Santa Marguerita, with yellow roses
in her hair. She laughs, deep

in the arms of that American GI,
her hair rolled like Hepburn's, her lipstick
red as tiled Verona roofs. Then I remember

the Saturday before she died, the way
we stopped at a greenhouse and she said,
I'll take for my granddaughter all

the plants you have with yellow flowers,
ignoring my protests until the Pontiac
was heaped with roses and verbena,

with lemon gladiola perfume I could gather
in my hands. She said, Take them
all; you need to have a happy life
.

"I Meet My Grandmother in Italy" by Katrina Vandenberg from Atlas. © Milkweed Editions, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day 60 years ago, the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was the sequel to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, which came out in 1937 (books by this author). Tolkien had written The Hobbit for his own amusement and didn't expect it to sell well. It's the story of Bilbo Baggins — a small, human-like creature with hairy feet — who goes on an adventure through Middle Earth and comes back with a magical ring.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote: "I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands. I smoke a pipe, like good, plain food, detest French cooking ... I am fond of mushrooms, have a very simple sense of humor ... go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much."

The Hobbit sold pretty well, partly because C.S. Lewis gave it a big review when it came out. And so Tolkien's publisher asked for a sequel. Tolkien decided the new book would be about Bilbo's nephew Frodo, but for a long time he had no idea what sort of adventure. Finally, he decided it would be about the magical ring, though the ring had not been such an important part of The Hobbit.

Tolkien spent the next 17 years working on The Lord of the Rings. He was a professor at Oxford. He had to write in his spare time, usually at night, sitting by the stove in the study in his house.

He was well into his first draft by the time World War II broke out in 1939. He hadn't set out to write an allegory, but once the war began, he started to draw parallels between the war and the events in his novel: the land of evil in The Lord of the Rings, Mordor, was set east of Middle Earth, just as the enemies of England were to the east.

The book became more and more complicated as he went along. It was taking much longer to finish than he'd planned. He went through long stretches where he didn't write anything. He thought about giving up the whole thing. He wanted to make sure all the details were right, the geography, the language, the mythology of Middle Earth. He made elaborate charts to keep track of the events of the story. His son Christopher also drew a detailed map of Middle Earth.

Finally, in the fall of 1949, he finished writing The Lord of the Rings. He typed the final copy himself sitting on a bed in his attic, typewriter on his lap, tapping it out with two fingers. It turned out to be more than a half million words long, and the publisher agreed to bring it out in three volumes. The first came out on this day in 1954. The publisher printed just 3,500 copies, but it turned out to be incredibly popular. It went into a second printing in just six weeks. Today, more than 30 million copies have been sold around the world.

The Seneca Falls Convention — the first convention for women's rights — began on this date in 1848. The seed had been planted eight years earlier, and grew out of the abolitionist movement. Lucretia Mott and her husband were traveling to London to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention. Aboard the ship, they met a pair of newlyweds — Henry and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — who were also on their way to the conference for their honeymoon. Once in London, the six female delegates, including Mott and Stanton, found that they would not be seated and could only attend the conference behind a drapery partition, because women were "constitutionally unfit for public and business meetings." Mott and Stanton were outraged, and together they agreed that they really should organize their own convention.

Eight years later, on July 11, they ran an unsigned announcement in the Seneca County Courier that read: "A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women will be held in the Wesleyan Chapel, at Seneca Falls, N.Y. [...] During the first day the meeting will be exclusively for women, who are earnestly invited to attend." Just a few days before, Stanton took the Declaration of Independence as her model and drafted what she called a Declaration of Sentiments, calling for religious, economical, and political equality.

Later in her life, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in her diary, "We are sowing winter wheat which the coming spring will see sprout and which other hands than ours will reap and enjoy." It would be 72 years before women would be granted the right to vote. Only one of the signers of the original Declaration of Sentiments was still living in 1920. Charlotte Woodward, who had been 19 and working in a glove factory in 1848, was too ill to cast her ballot.

It's the birthday of French Impressionist Edgar Degas, born in Paris (1834), best known for his paintings and pastels of ballet dancers and his bronze sculptures of ballerinas and racehorses.

After he became completely blind in one eye, and nearly so in the other, he began to work in sculpture, which he called "a blind man's art." Degas stayed a bachelor his entire life, saying, "There is love and there is work, and we only have one heart."

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

 









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