MONDAY, 20 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem:"Lines to a World-Famous Poet Who Failed to Complete a World-Famous Poem; or, Come Clean, Mr. Guest!" by Ogden Nash, from Verse from 1929 On.© Little, Brown, 1959. Reprinted with permission.

Lines to a World-Famous Poet Who Failed To Complete a World-Famous Poem; or, Come Clean, Mr. Guest!

Oft when I'm sitting without anything to read waiting for a train in a
    depot,
I torment myself with the poet's dictum that to make a house a home,
    livin' is what it takes a heap o'.
Now, I myself should very much enjoy makin' my house a home, but
    my brain keeps on a-goin' clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click,
If Peter Piper picked a peck o' heap o' livin', what kind of a peck o' heap
    o' livin' would Peter Piper pick?
Certainly a person doesn't need the brains of a Lincoln
To know that there are many kinds o' livin', just as there many kinds o'
    dancin' or huntin' or fishin' or eatin' or drinkin'.
A philosophical poet should be specific
As well as prolific,
And I trust I am not being offensive
If I suggest that he should also be comprehensive.
You may if you like verify my next statement by sending a stamped, self-
    addressed envelope to either Dean Inge or Dean Gauss,
But meanwhile I ask you to believe that it takes a heap of other things
    besides a heap o' livin' to make a home out of a house.
To begin with, it takes a heap o' payin',
And you don't pay just the oncet, but agayin and agayin and agayin.
Buyin' a stock is called speculatin' and buyin' a house is called investin',
But the value of the stock or of the house fluctuates up and down,
    generally down, just as an irresponsible Destiny may destine.
Something else that your house takes a heap o', whether the builder came
    from Sicily or Erin,
Is repairin',
In addition to which, gentle reader, I am sorry to say you are little more
    than an imbecile or a cretin
If you think it doesn't take a heap o' heatin',
And unless you're spiritually allied to the little Dutch boy who went
    around inspectin' dikes lookin' for leaks to put his thumb in,
It takes a heap o' plumbin',
And if it's a house that you're hopin' to spend not just today but
    tomorrow in,
It takes a heap o' borrowin'
In a word, Macushla,
There's a scad o' things that to make a house a home it takes not only a
    heap, or a peck, but at least a bushela.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Edgar Guest (books by this author, born in Birmingham, England (1881). He was one of the last poets who wrote primarily for newspapers. He published a poem a day, almost every day of his adult life, totaling more than 11,000 poems. He is perhaps best known for having written, "It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home."


It's the birthday of Jacqueline Susann (books by this author), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1918). She was 44 years old and a failed Broadway actress when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1962. So she went to a wishing hill in Central Park and made a deal with God. If He gave her 10 more years, she would become a success.

Four years later, Susann published her novel Valley of the Dolls (1966). It's the story of a woman struggling to become an actress, and it describes the sex lives, drug abuse, and catfights of starlets. When her publisher first read it, he thought it was awful. But then he gave it to his wife, and she loved it. The book went on to become the best-selling novel ever published at that time, selling more than 28 million copies.

Susann developed a system for promoting Valley of the Dolls that helped to revolutionize the way books are marketed. She went on coast-to-coast tours, appeared on local radio and television stations, and made personal appearances in bookstores to read and sign autographs, becoming one of the first modern celebrity authors.


It was on this day in 1977 that Voyager 2 was launched by NASA to explore the planets of our solar system. It was the first of the two spacecraft launched for that purpose, and it's a mystery why Voyager 2 was launched before Voyager 1. Both Voyagers went on to take the first up-close photographs of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Each of the Voyagers were each equipped with a gold-plated phonograph containing a variety of earthly sounds, including a heartbeat, a mother's kiss, wind, rain, surf, a chimpanzee, footsteps, laughter, the music of Bach and Mozart, and the Chuck Berry song "Johnny B. Goode." There are also greetings in 55 languages, including ancient Sumerian, and a message from then-President Jimmy Carter.

Today, the Voyagers have traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made objects in history, more than 5 billion miles away from the sun. Voyager 2, which launched on this day in 1977, is currently headed toward Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.


It's the birthday of a man who would have shuddered at the thought of the Voyager missions into space: H.P. [Howard Phillips] Lovecraft (books by this author), born in Providence, Rhode Island (1890). At a time when most horror stories were about ghosts and vampires, Lovecraft began to write a new kind of horror story, based on his fear of modern science. His work had a big influence on Stephen King.

H.P. Lovecraft said, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."




TUESDAY, 21 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem: "Why I Have A Crush On You, UPS Man" by Alice N. Persons, from Don't Be A Stranger. © Sheltering Pines Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.

Why I Have A Crush On You, UPS Man

you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you're like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present
(why, it's just what I've always wanted!)
and then is considerate enough to go away
oh, UPS Man, let's hop in your clean brown truck and elope !
ditch your job, I'll ditch mine
let's hit the road for Brownsville
and tempt each other
with all the luscious brown foods —
roast beef, dark chocolate,
brownies, Guinness, homemade pumpernickel, molasses cookies
I'll make you my mama's bourbon pecan pie
we'll give all the packages to kind looking strangers
live in a cozy wood cabin
with a brown dog or two
and a black and brown tabby
I'm serious, UPS Man. Let's do it.
Where do I sign?


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet X.J. Kennedy (books by this author), born Joseph Charles Kennedy in Dover, New Jersey (1929). He added an X to his name the first time he sent out a poem for publication, because he didn't want to be associated with more well-known Joseph Kennedy. The New Yorker published that poem, so Kennedy felt that the X had brought him luck and he kept it.

He originally wanted to be a cartoonist, but he had trouble drawing the same character twice. So he switched to poetry. At a time when most poets had given up rhyme and meter for free verse, he continued to write in traditional forms, and he wasn't afraid to be funny. He is now better known for his nonsense children's poetry in books such as One Winter Night in August (1975), The Phantom Ice Cream Man (1979), and Drat These Brats! (1993). His book The Lords of Misrule came out in 2002.


It's the birthday of novelist Robert Stone (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1937). He never knew his father, and only learned when he was an adult that his parents had never been married. His mother suffered from schizophrenia and had trouble keeping a job, so Stone grew up in a series of cheap rooming houses, welfare hotels, and an orphanage. At one point, he and his mother were so poor that they slept on a roof.

He got a job with the 1960 census, going door to door, and he said that experience taught him more about ordinary people than almost anything else he's ever done. In 1967, he published his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors, about a broadcaster for a right-wing radio station in New Orleans. The book was a minor success. The Vietnam War was on everyone's mind at the time, so he decided to go find out what was going on there. He got a job as a foreign correspondent in Saigon, but instead of focusing on the combat, he uncovered a vast illegal drug trade, which became the subject of his first successful novel, Dog Soldiers (1974).


It was on this day in 1858 that Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln began a series of seven debates during the Senate campaign for the state of Illinois. At the time, the country was deeply divided over the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana territories, and the debates were covered by newspapers across the country. One Washington, D.C., newspaper said, "The battle of the Union is to be fought in Illinois."

Stephen A. Douglas was the incumbent Democratic senator, and he supported expansion of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the Republican candidate, and he opposed slavery expansion. They met seven times, outdoors, in village squares, county fairgrounds, college campuses, and vacant lots. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people showed up at each debate. People in the audience cheered for their candidates and occasionally fired off canons after an especially good point was made.

Douglas had the advantage of a loud voice, which was important in the age before microphones. Lincoln's voice was shrill and high pitched, but he spoke in simpler language, and used shorter sentences. And after that first debate, the two candidates were evenly matched. By the end, many observers thought Lincoln was the winner.

At one of the last debates, Lincoln said, "Whoever teaches that the Negro has no humble share in the Declaration of Independence, is going back to the hour of our own liberty and independence, and ... blowing out the moral lights around us ... eradicating from the human soul the love of liberty."

Douglas ended up winning the election by a slim margin, but the debate made Lincoln a national figure. Two years later, Lincoln ran for president. His campaign collected and published the transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which became a national best-seller and helped Lincoln win the election in 1860 that started the Civil War.




WEDNESDAY, 22 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem:"Earl" by Louis Jenkins, from North of the Cities. © Will o' the Wisp Books, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Earl

In Sitka, because they are fond of them,
People have named the seals. Every seal
is named Earl because they are killed one
after another by the orca, the killer
whale; seal bodies tossed left and right
into the air. "At least he didn't get
Earl," someone says. And sure enough,
after a time, that same friendly,
bewhiskered face bobs to the surface.
It's Earl again. Well, how else are you
to live except by denial, by some
palatable fiction, some little song to
sing while the inevitable, the black and
white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling
toward you out of the deep?


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (books by this author), born in Waukegan, Illinois (1920). When he was 12 years old, a traveling carnival came to town, and Bradbury met a magician named Mr. Electrico, who talked to him about reincarnation and immortality, and those ideas excited Bradbury so much that he withdrew from his friends and devoted himself to his imagination. He said, "I don't know if I believe in previous lives, I'm not sure I can live forever. But that young boy believed in both, and I have let him have his [way]. He has written all my stories and books for me."

One night, Bradbury was out for a walk when a policeman pulled up on the side of the road to ask what he was doing. He said, "I was so irritated the police would bother to ask me what I was doing — when I wasn't doing anything — that I went home and wrote [a] story." That story became a novella called "The Fireman" and eventually grew into his first and best-known novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), about a man named Guy Montag who lives in a future world in which books are outlawed and burned wherever they're found. Montag is one of the firemen whose job it is to burn the books. One night he takes a book home that he was supposed to destroy and reads it. The act of reading persuades him to join an underground revolutionary group that is keeping literature alive.

Ray Bradbury said, "I don't try to describe the future. I try to prevent it."


It's the birthday of cartoonist George Herriman (books by this author), born in New Orleans, Louisiana (1880). He became a cartoonist after he fell off a scaffold and couldn't paint houses for a living anymore. The basic plot of his Krazy Kat and Ignatz strip was simple: a love story — Krazy Kat loved Ignatz Mouse, but Ignatz just threw bricks at him. Offissa Pupp loved Krazy and tried to protect him and throw Ignatz in jail. The strip appeared in the papers of William Randolph Hearst for more than 30 years and became a classic. Herriman was a big influence on animators such as Walt Disney, Charles Schulz, and Art Spiegelman, and intellectuals like E.E. Cummings loved his work. The author Michael Chabon said, "One could argue the claim, confidently, persuasively ... that George Herriman was one of the very great artists, in any medium, of the 20th century."


It's the birthday of Annie Proulx (books by this author), born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). She was virtually unknown until the early 1990s, when she burst onto the literary scene, publishing her first novels, Postcards (1992) and The Shipping News (1993), in her late 50s. She said she doesn't regret becoming a writer later than most people because, she said, she knows a lot more about life than she did 30 years ago. She said, "I think that's important, to know how the water's gone over the dam before you start to describe it. It helps to have been over the dam yourself."

When Proulx was starting out, she supported herself writing nonfiction books about how to make things like apple cider, custard, cheese, a house, or a salad garden. Her freelance writing jobs taught her how to research almost anything, and she has since made a career writing fiction based on her extensive research. After she finished her novel Postcards (1951), she stumbled upon a map of Newfoundland. She said, "Each place-name had a story — Dead Man's Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd fallen in love." She explored the island, examined maps, and went to bed every night with a Newfoundland vernacular dictionary. The result was her novel The Shipping News (1993), which became a best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.


It was on this day in 1942 that the Battle of Stalingrad began. While most Americans think of D-Day as the turning point of the war, military historians often point to Stalingrad as the real turning point.

The German army had begun the invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941, and they assumed they'd be able to take Stalingrad before the winter. But they got bogged down in a lengthy siege of the city. The German commanders had been so confident of success back in August that they'd never been fully equipped with winter gear, and as the temperature dropped, they were still fighting in their summer fatigues. On November 19th, the Soviets attacked in the middle of a snowstorm, driving the Germans back and encircling their army.

By February, all the German soldiers had surrendered or been killed. It was the first decisive defeat of Hitler's army. About 800,000 of Hitler's soldiers were killed in the battle. But even though the Soviets were the victors, they actually lost more men. Official Russian military historians estimate that more than a million Soviet soldiers died defending the city.




THURSDAY, 23 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem: "To My Yugoslavian In-Laws" by Debra Gingerich, from Where We Start. © DreamSeeker Books, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

To My Yugoslavian In-Laws

If we could speak,
I would tell you that we have
trees here too, and rivers.
I know how to hammer
a nail. Transatlantic phone calls
are expensive, even for us
with our two cars, dishwasher
and American salaries. That he
will not get lazy or forget
about the ways he needed to make money
during the war, the merchandise
exchanged in dark corners of Turkey.
He is still thankful for good health.
He passes on every kiss
you tell him to give me.
I would admit that he misses
the stone beaches of the Adriatic,
he accepts the Atlantic's murky water
as part of the compromise. He thinks
Lancaster's streets are too vacant
at night and there is no place
to ride a bike. Also, that I wouldn't take
your name and will never
believe the wine in the cup
turns to blood. That he and I can't
agree on a slipcover for the couch.
That there is no perfect place
for anyone.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Edgar Lee Masters (books by this author), born in Garnett, Kansas (1869). He was one of the first writers to portray the American small town as a place full of secrets, lies, and shocking scandals in his book Spoon River Anthology (1915), a series of poems in the voices of the dead citizens in a fictional graveyard. He published Spoon River Anthology in 1915 under a pseudonym, because he thought it would be controversial, and he was right. The book was hugely scandalous, full of more frank detail about sexual matters than any other book published in America at the time. The critic Amy Lowell wrote, "Spoon River is one long chronicle of rapes, seductions, liaisons, and perversions. One wonders, if life in our little Western cities is as bad as this, why everyone does not commit suicide."

But the scandal made the book a best seller. Spoon River Anthology went through 70 printings, and it allowed Masters to retire from his law practice. It changed the way Americans thought about small towns, which had been considered merely innocent or boring places. American writers had focused almost exclusively on big cities. But Edgar Lee Masters turned small towns into places of intrigue, and American writers have been exploring the closets and bedrooms of small towns ever since.

The people in Masters's hometown were angry for decades about the slanderous things Masters had written about their citizens. It took more than 50 years before the town where Masters went to high school stocked Spoon River Anthology in its library.


It was on this day in 2000 that 51 million Americans sat in front of their television sets to watch the final two-hour episode of a strange new game show called Survivor. It was the second most watched television broadcast that year, coming in second only to the Super Bowl.

The show took 16 ethnically and demographically diverse Americans and put them on a deserted tropical island, where they had to live in the rough, compete as teams for privileges and prizes, and vote one person off the island each week. The last person remaining would get $1 million.

The show caught on in part because of the backstabbing intrigue between the contestants. Everything they did or said was filmed by one of eight cameras. Each one-hour episode of the show was edited down from more than 100 hours of video. So viewers of the program got to watch as the residents on the island became friends with each other, then formed alliances, and then slowly double-crossed and betrayed each other down to the last person standing.

On the final episode, viewers were horrified when the show's most treacherous and seemingly heartless contestant, the man who had orchestrated many of the conspiracies and lies, Richard Hatch, won the prize.


It's the birthday of humorist and literary critic Will Cuppy (books by this author), born in Auburn, Indiana (1884). He said, "All Modern Men are descended from a Wormlike creature, but it shows more on some people."


It's the birthday of dancer, choreographer, and film director Gene Kelly (movies by this creator), born in Pittsburgh (1912). He tailored his dance to fit the camera and its movements. He danced with an image of himself in Cover Girl (1944), an animated mouse in Anchors Aweigh (1945), and in a downpour in Singin' in the Rain (1952).




FRIDAY, 24 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem:"Forgiveness" by Terence Winch, from Boy Drinkers. © Hanging Loose Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Forgiveness

Father Cahir kept us holy.
He smoked cigars in the confessional.
He had a distracted air about him,
as though he wasn't sure what
he was supposed to do next.

I don't remember what he taught.
History, probably. It was his
liberal attitude as a confessor
that made him a legend.

No matter what you confessed to,
he always barked out the same penance:
"Three Hail Marys and a Good Act
of Contrition. Next!" So we tested
this leniency, confessing
to rape, murder, burglary.

Cahir paid no attention.
He knew we were a bunch
of high school punks.
Puffing his cigar,
he'd issue his standard
penance and absolve all sins,
real or imagined,
with godlike aloofness,
his vast indifference to
or total acceptance of the darkness
within the human soul
exactly how I hope the deity
regards us. Take forgiveness
any way you can get it.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of short story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges (books by this author), born in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1899). After studying in Europe, he moved back to Argentina and got a job at a small municipal library, and eventually he worked his way up to director of the National Library of Buenos Aires. He was able to complete his library work in one hour every morning, and he spent the rest of the day wandering the stacks, reading, or writing.

Surrounded by books in that library, Borges began to write strange stories, often about imaginary books. He said, "It is a laborious madness ... the madness of composing vast books — setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them." One of his stories, "The Library of Babel," is about a man who works in a library that contains all the books that have ever been written, as well as all the books that could ever be written, as well as an infinite number of books filled with gibberish, and nobody knows which books are worth reading.

Borges published many collections of stories, including Garden of Forking Paths (1941), Ficciones (1944), and In Praise of Darkness (1969).


It was on this day in 79 A.D. that the one of the most destructive volcano eruptions in recorded human history occurred when the volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupted, burying the Roman city of Pompeii. Pompeii was a resort town for citizens of Rome at the time, located on the Bay of Naples. People there probably didn't even know Mt. Vesuvius was a volcano. There hadn't been a major eruption in 800 years. But there were frequent earthquakes, and in the two weeks leading up to the eruption, there had been thin clouds of volcanic ash drifting down from the mountain, which people had been sweeping off the streets.

Then, on the morning of this day in 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius exploded with a force 100,000 times that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The explosion sent a cloud of ash 12 miles into the air, completely blacking out the sun. The mountain was almost five miles away, so some of the people in the city didn't evacuate right away. They thought they would have time to flee if necessary. What they didn't know was that the volcano had spewed toxic gasses along with molten rock. Birds began to fall dead from the sky, and then the city was blanketed with volcanic rock and ash, at the rate of six inches an hour. By the end of the day, not a single living thing remained in Pompeii. The city was buried under more than 20 feet of debris.

The molten rock that covered the city kept it preserved for more than 1,750 years, until the mid-1800s, when stories began to circulate in the area that you could dig around in the dirt and find treasures. After years of pillaging, an archeologist was finally hired in 1860 to perform an official excavation of Pompeii. It turned out to be one of the most important sites in the history of archeology.

Most of the city was preserved exactly as it had been at the moment of destruction. Archeologists could examine what pictures ordinary people had painted on their walls, what cutlery and cookware they kept in their kitchens. They found graffiti written on bathroom walls and legal documents written on wax tablets. Most of what historians know about everyday life in Ancient Rome is based on what archeologists found in the perfectly preserved city of Pompeii.

And archaeologists also found the bodies of the people who died in the eruption. The volcanic ash had molded to the bodies of the victims, leaving a perfect imprint before the bodies decayed. Archaeologists poured plaster into these molds, and the result was detailed replicas of the victims at the moment of death, down to the wrinkles in their clothing and the expressions on their faces. On the floor in a house they found a father and son. The young boy was on his back, looking up at his father, and they were holding hands. They found adults with their arms outstretched trying to protect children, a family of eight rushing toward the sea, and dogs straining against their leashes.


It's the birthday of poet Robert Herrick (books by this author), born in London (1591), the author of the lines, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying, / And this same flower that smiles to-day / To-morrow will be dying."


It's the birthday of novelist A. S. Byatt (books by this author), born Antonia Susan Drabble in Sheffield, England (1936). She wrote the novel Possession (1990), about a pair of literary critics falling in love as they uncover the story of two Victorian poets who fell in love more than a hundred years in the past.




SATURDAY, 25 AUGUST, 2007

Poem:"A Considerable Speck" by Robert Frost, from The Poetry of Robert Frost. © Henry Holt and Company, 1969. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)



Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (music by this artist), born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918). He is one of the few people in American musical history to have been a success as a composer of serious music, as a composer of popular songs, and as a conductor of a major orchestra. He originally intended to become a pianist, but he became more interested in composing and conducting while he was studying music at Harvard. But even as he got more and more interested in serious classical music and avant-garde modern music, he also occasionally played piano with nightclub acts in Greenwich Village.

In 1943, Bernstein got a job as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, and he got his big break a few months later when he had to fill in at the last minute for a Sunday afternoon concert. He was just 25 years old, and it was almost unheard of for someone so young to conduct a major orchestra, but the performance that day got rave reviews in all the New York newspapers.

He went on to become the youngest music director ever to take charge of the New York Philharmonic. He also wrote scores for many musicals, including On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and West Side Story (1957).

Leonard Bernstein said, "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."


It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis (books by this author), born in Oxford, England (1949). He is the author of the novel Money (1984), about a man named John Self who directs TV commercials and wants to make a Hollywood film. He winds up collaborating on the screenplay with a mysterious writer named Martin Amis, who seems to know everything about Self's life.

Amis has written many more novels, including London Fields (1989), The Information (1996), and House of Meetings (2007), about a love triangle between two brothers and a Jewish girl in Stalin's Russia.


It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Frederick Forsyth (books by this author), born in Ashford, Kent, England (1938). He's best known for his novel The Day of the Jackal (1971).


It was on this day in 1944 that Paris was liberated from four years of Nazi rule. After the Allied invasion of Normandy, many people hoped that the Allies would liberate Paris, but Eisenhower made the decision to go around the city, to avoid getting bogged down. Then, as the Allies approached, Nazis ordered a 9:00 p.m. curfew on the city. All windows had to be shut at all times. If civilians disobeyed, German soldiers could use their weapons indiscriminately.

Parisians could endure occupation, but they wouldn't stand for a curfew. On August 18, the Paris police force seized a building across from Notre-Dame and began collaborating with the resistance fighters. Fighting broke out in the streets. Mobs of Parisians, including many women and children, attacked German soldiers and tanks with small pistols and rocks. Hitler ordered that the city be destroyed, but the German commander in the city refused.

Charles de Gaulle persuaded the Allies to change their plans and take the city. Eisenhower agreed to let a division of French troops enter the city first. They took the city on this day in 1944. A war correspondent who rode into the city with the troops wrote, "[I heard] a low murmur at first, it gathered momentum and built into a gigantic roar of hysterical joy ... hurled from all directions, echoing off buildings, rattling windows, deafening eardrums. And then there burst upon us a wall of humanity — I remember its being mostly female and young — yelling, screaming, waving, cheering, clambering up the sides of the trucks, kissing us, pressing flowers and wine on us."




SUNDAY, 26 AUGUST, 2007
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Poem:"Fixer of Midnight" by Reuel Denney, from In Praise of Adam. © The University of Chicago Press, 1961. Reprinted with permission.

Fixer of Midnight

He went to fix the awning,
Fix the roping,
In the middle of the night,
On the porch;
He went to fix the awning,
In pajamas went to fix it,
Fix the awning,
In the middle of the moonlight,
On the porch;
He went to fix it yawning;
The yawing of his awning
In the moonlight
Was his problem of the night;
It was knocking,
And he went to fix its flight.
He went to meet the moonlight
In the porch-night
Where the awning was up dreaming
Dark and light;
It was shadowy and seeming;
In the night, the unfixed awning,
In his nightmare,
Had been knocking dark and bright.
It seemed late
To stop it in its dark careening.
The yawner went to meet it,
Meet the awning,
By the moon of middle night,
On his porch;
And he went to fix it right.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the inventor and aviation pioneer Joseph Montgolfier, born in Annonay, France (1740). He and his brother Étienne made a bag out of silk and lit a fire under the opening and watched it take off. They thought it was the smoke that caused the bag to rise. So in 1783, they made a huge bag out of cloth and paper and held its opening over an extra smoky fire of sheep's wool and damp straw. The bag slowly inflated to a height of about 110 feet. When it was full, the brothers released it, and it rose more than 3,000 feet into the air.

The big day for the Montgolfiers' invention came on November 21, 1783, when the first human beings in history took flight. Joseph and Étienne decided not to be the pioneers themselves. Instead, they sent up two volunteers, one of whom was a major in the French army. Almost half a million people came to watch the takeoff from Paris.

At first, there was so much smoke that the two pilots could barely breathe, but slowly the blue cotton cloth balloon inflated, showing its gold embroidery pattern. And once it was full, the crowd of spectators watched as the first human beings ever to fly rose into the air. They floated over Paris for almost a half and hour.

One of the people watching the takeoff that day was Benjamin Franklin. When asked what practical purpose this new flying contraption might have, Franklin replied, "What use is a new born baby?"


It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood (books by this author), born in Cheshire, England (1904). He's best known for the novels he wrote about life in Berlin, just before the rise of the Nazi party, including Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935), Sally Bowles (1937), and Goodbye to Berlin (1939).


It's the birthday of novelist Julio Cortázar (books by this author), born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentine parents (1914). He wrote dreamlike, fantastic stories, collected in books such as Blow Up and Other Stories (1956). In one story, a man reading a mystery novel becomes the murder victim in very novel he is reading. In another, a man staring at an animal in a zoo suddenly realizes that he has become the zoo animal. And in another, a man in a hospital dreams that he is about to be sacrificed by Aztecs, only to realize that he actually is about to be sacrificed by Aztecs, and has only been dreaming that he was in a hospital.


It was one this day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, was declared in effect. After the Congress passed the amendment, it had to be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. The state that tipped the balance was Tennessee, and the man who cast the deciding vote was the 24-year-old representative Harry Burn, the youngest man in the state legislature that year. Before the vote, he happened to read his mail, and one of the letters he received was from his mother. It said, "I have been watching to see how you stood but have noticed nothing yet. ... Don't forget to be a good boy and ... vote for suffrage."

At the house, supporters of suffrage sat in the balcony, wearing yellow roses. On the house floor, those who opposed suffrage wore red roses. When Burn entered the room, he wore a red rose and the anti-suffrage camp thought they had his vote. But when he was called on to say aye or nay for the ratification of the 19th Amendment, he said, "Aye," and the amendment was ratified by a vote of 49 to 47. A witness there that day said, "The women took off their yellow roses and flung them over the balcony, and yellow roses just rained down."




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