Sep. 1, 2014

Recipe for a Salad

by Sydney Smith

To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen-sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soup-spoon of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
Fate can not harm me, I have dined to-day!

"Recipe for a Salad" by Sydney Smith. Public domain. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1939 that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and World War II began. The day before, Nazis wearing Polish uniforms staged a fake attack on a German radio station. Hitler used this as a justification for war, announcing: "In order to put an end to this frantic activity no other means is left to me now than to meet force with force." A week before the invasion, Germany and the Soviet Union had signed a nonaggression pact and agreed to divide Poland between them. Once Germany no longer feared a Soviet retaliation, it was ready to attack Poland.

The Nazis invaded with more than 1.5 million troops, including more than 1,000 planes and 2,000 tanks. They bombed airfields, supply lines, railheads, and cities. Warships attacked the Polish navy. Tanks and motorized infantry broke through lines and isolated troops, then encircled and destroyed them. The attack was sudden and overwhelming, a strategy known as "blitzkrieg" or "lightning war."

France and England declared war on Germany on September 3rd, but they didn't launch any major offensives until the following spring, so Poland was more or less on its own. Although Poland had an army of more than 700,000, it was no match for the organization and superior technology of the Nazi invaders, and Poland surrendered after a few weeks.

After that, for months, there were no major military actions. An American senator named William Borah declared, "There is something phony about this war," and the American media started referring to it as "the phony war."

W.H. Auden wrote a poem about the outbreak of World War II called "September 1st, 1939," which contains the line: "We must love one another or die." It became on of his most famous poems, but he was embarrassed by it and said that he considered it trash.

San Francisco's first cable car began regular service on this date in 1873. Andrew Smith Hallidie was an English ex-pat who had immigrated to San Francisco during the Gold Rush in the 1850s. On a typically damp, foggy day in 1869, he saw a team of horses struggling to pull a horse-drawn car up a steep, slippery cobblestone street. The horses were being brutally whipped, but to no avail: they lost their footing, fell, and were fatally dragged by the car as it raced down the hill. Hallidie determined to find a better way. His father was an inventor, and held a patent in England for "wire rope" cable. The younger Hallidie was already using the wire rope in the construction of suspension bridges and mine conveyance systems; he figured there must be a way to couple a steam engine and a cable to get a car up San Francisco's famous hills. He signed a contract to form the Clay Street Hill Railroad, and construction began in May 1873. Three months later, the cable car was operational. Hallidie made his first successful test run from the top of Nob Hill at four a.m. on August 2. The cable car began public service on the first day of September, and it made Hallidie a rich man.

It was on this day in 1773 that 20-year-old Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (books by this author). It was the first book of poetry published by an African-American. Wheatley was born in West Africa and brought over as a slave when she was a young girl. She was purchased by a Boston family, who taught her to read and write, and eventually gave her her freedom. She went to London when her book was published, and she met many important people there, including the Lord Mayor, who gave her a copy of Paradise Lost. George Washington praised her talents, and she published numerous poems in magazines. But her husband fell into debt and then abandoned her when she was pregnant, and she died in childbirth, in a boarding house, when she was only 31 years old.

It's the birthday of American novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs (books by this author), born in Chicago (1875). His first Tarzan story appeared in 1912, and Burroughs followed it with the novel Tarzan of the Apes (1914), the story of an English nobleman who was abandoned in the African jungle during infancy and brought up by apes.

Today is the birthday of comedian Mary Jean "Lily" Tomlin (books by this author), born in Detroit (1939). Of her adolescence in the 1950s, she once wrote, "There were only two kinds of women in the world then, good women and bad women. So there were two kinds of magazines. Those about good women that used words like meatloaf, budget, mending and curtains and those about bad women that used words like throbbing, lurid, sordid and seamy ... We were a good woman if we were economical in our cooking and loved our homes more than ourselves. And we were a bad woman if we weren't happy being a good woman."

Tomlin started doing stand-up comedy after college, and made her TV debut on The Garry Moore Show in 1966. Her big break came when she joined the cast of the sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in 1969. She created some memorable characters during her time on the show, including Edith Ann, a precocious six year old; and Ernestine, a snarky telephone operator who snorts when she laughs. Laugh-In launched her career, which has spanned television, Broadway, feature films, comedy records, and even children's programming. She got a lot of work, she said, because she preferred the quirkier supporting characters. "I wasn't competing for traditional kinds of roles," she told Salon. "I wasn't one of seven young actresses between 18 and 30 competing for the lead."

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