Oct. 3, 2010

Marilyn in Paris

by Rafael Campo

Below the Place de la Sorbonne, we heard
them playing—bluesy jazz from a duet—
an old piano, and a clarinet.
A woman, housed in something like a shroud
of plastic bags, looked on with sadness,
and joy the paradox is understood
in Paris, capital of the unfairly good.
It's later, when we wander along side-streets,
hands clasped for just a moment, that I wonder
exactly how that bruised piano landed there,
cramped sidewalk of a busy thoroughfare,
and why its tender music seemed an answer
to questions more keen. In her studio,
the master writes her poems: She would know.

"Marilyn in Paris" by Rafael Campo, from The Enemy. © Duke University Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1932, Iraq gained independence from Britain. Iraq had been under British control for the past 13 years, from 1918 to 1932. Before that, Iraq was under the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had sided with Germany during World War I — and after the war, victorious Britain took control of Iraq.

When the U.K. granted Iraq sovereignty on this day in 1932, Iraq officially became the "Kingdom of Iraq" and was governed by an Iraqi family called the Hashemite dynasty. Britain kept military bases there and some other land use rights.

But in 1941, just nine years after independence, there was a coup. It was led by a group of Iraqi military officers called the "Golden Square" who disliked the British influence on Iraq's ruling monarchy. Britain was fighting World War II, and invaded Iraq in May 1941 because it was worried that the new Iraqi regime would align itself with Germany and cut off oil supplies to Britain.

That conflict, called the Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941, was over within a month. The Golden Square coup leaders fled, and the Iraqi monarchy that had been ousted was now restored. Britain occupied Iraq for most of the rest of the decade.

Then, in 1958, there was another coup by the Iraqi military, called the 14 July Revolution. Once and for all, it overthrew the Iraqi monarchy, which many Iraqis saw as puppets of the British government. Iraq became a republic, led by a military general. A new constitution for the new nation was written up right away.

But in 1963, that Iraqi government was overthrown by a different Iraqi military leader, and then, five years later, that new government was overthrown by the Arab Socialist Baath Party. In July 1979, Baath Party member Saddam Hussein seized the presidency, even though his own party was in power. He stayed in power until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A new constitution for Iraq was approved in 2005; it replaces the 1958 constitution written up when Iraq first transitioned from monarchy to republic. U.S. troops are supposed to be fully withdrawn from Iraq by December 31 of next year (2011).

From the archives:

It's the birthday of Thomas Wolfe, born in Asheville, North Carolina (1900). He wrote autobiographical novels, including Look Homeward, Angel (1929). In that book, he fictionalized his hometown and the people he knew in it. He cast himself as Eugene Gant, a kid who grew up reading history and adventure books.

Wolfe spent many years trying to become a playwright. But he was convinced to become a novelist by Aline Bernstein, a married woman 20 years older than Wolfe, with whom he had a five-year love affair. He dedicated Look Homeward, Angel to her, and made her the model for several characters in his novels.

Many of Wolfe's writings were published after his death at a young age from meningitis. Before leaving on his last trip, he left an eight-foot-tall crate of notebooks and writing with his editor. This included outlines for his next two novels. After his sudden death, the editor went through the writings and created two novels, The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940).

It's the birthday of American novelistGore Vidal, born Eugene Luther Vidal, in West Point, New York (1925). He's the author of many novels, including Washington, D.C. (1967) and Duluth: A Novel (1983), a satire of Dallas.

It's the birthday of historian and statesman George Bancroft, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1800). George Bancroft lived to be 90 years old, so he saw most of the 19th century. He taught Greek at Harvard. Then President Polk appointed him Secretary of the Navy, and during his tenure, Bancroft established the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was later appointed the U.S. diplomat to Britain. While he was there, he wrote his 10-volume History of the United States.

He said, "By common consent gray hairs are a crown of glory; the only object of respect that can never excite envy."

And he said, "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another."

It's the birthday of Emily Post, born in Baltimore (1873), whose marriage broke up when her husband lost his fortune in a stock panic, and then it came out that he was having an affair. Post became one of the first divorcées in her high-society circle, and she started writing to support her two children. She published several novels, and an editor suggested that she write an etiquette manual when he noticed that her novels were full of observations about etiquette. She thought etiquette manuals were awful, so she set out to write a different kind of etiquette manual, more about treating people decently than just following rules. The result was her book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home (1922), and she wrote about etiquette for the rest of her life — Emily Post, who said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

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