Sep. 1, 2011

The James Bond Movie

by May Swenson

The popcorn is greasy, and I forgot to bring a Kleenex.
A pill that's a bomb inside the stomach of a man inside

The Embassy blows up. Eructations of flame, luxurious
cauliflowers giganticize into motion. The entire 29-ft.

screen is orange, is crackling flesh and brick bursting,
blackening, smithereened. I unwrap a Dentyne and, while

jouncing my teeth in rubber tongue-smarting clove, try
with the 2-inch-wide paper to blot butter off my fingers.

A bubble-bath, room-sized, in which 14 girls, delectable
and sexless, twist-topped Creamy Freezes (their blond,

red, brown, pinkish, lavender or silver wiglets all
screwed that high, and varnished), scrub-tickle a lone

male, whose chest has just the right amount and distribu-
tion of curly hair. He's nervously pretending to defend

his modesty. His crotch, below the waterline, is also
below the frame—but unsubmerged all 28 slick foamy boobs.

Their makeup fails to let the girls look naked. Caterpil-
lar lashes, black and thick, lush lips glossed pink like

the gum I pop and chew, contact lenses on the eyes that are
mostly blue, they're nose-perfect replicas of each other.

I've got most of the grease off and onto this little square
of paper. I'm folding it now, making creases with my nails.

"The James Bond Movie" by May Swenson, from New and Selected Things Taking Place. © Little Brown, 1978. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

This was the date, in 1859, of a massive solar superstorm. It's sometimes called the "perfect space storm" or the Carrington Event, after British astronomer Richard Carrington. He reported witnessing a massive white-light solar flare: a bright spot suddenly appearing on the surface of the Sun. At the same time, the Sun produced a coronal mass ejection, or CME: a large eruption of magnetized plasma. CMEs usually take three to four days to reach Earth, but the magnetic burst from the superstorm of 1859 reached us in just under 18 hours.

While Earthlings of 1859 didn't have any cell phones, GPS units, or television signals to worry about, they were growing accustomed to rapid communication over the telegraph, which had been in use for 15 years. Within hours of the CME, telegraph wires began shorting out, starting fires and disrupting communication in North America and Europe. Compasses were useless because the Earth's magnetic field had gone haywire. The northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii, and the southern lights — aurora australis — were seen in Santiago, Chile. People in the northeastern United States could read the newspaper by the light of the aurora, and the Sun itself was twice as bright during the event.

Subsequent solar storms have caused satellites, broadcast stations, and cell phones to malfunction; they've disrupted GPS systems on airplanes and have even knocked out entire power grids; in 1989, a storm much weaker than the superstorm of 1859 brought down the Hydro-Quebec power grid for more than nine hours. While scientists cannot predict the storms with any degree of confidence, some speculate that the Sun is expected to reach a period of peak activity in 2013, and the large flares often follow the peak periods. They're monitoring the Sun's activity closely, because with a little advance warning, power grids could be taken offline and satellites put in "sleep" mode for the duration of the storm, averting a global catastrophe from which it could take a decade and trillions of dollars to recover.

The Boston subway system opened on this date in 1897. Traffic was terrible — especially streetcar traffic on Tremont Avenue — and the public's complaints forced the governor to appoint a special commission to take up the matter in 1891. It was eventually decided to put in a combination of elevated railways for trains and subways for streetcar traffic, at a final cost of $4.4 million. There were some setbacks along the way, however. Workers were dismayed to find they'd cut too close to the Old Common Burial Ground, and they ended up accidentally exhuming more than 900 bodies. An explosion at Boylston and Tremont killed nine men. But the project was finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

The Tremont Street line was the first subway in North America; it served stations at Park Street, Scollay Square, and Adams Square. The trip took three and a half minutes and the fare was five cents. The single line grew into the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, known by locals as the "T," and it now boasts 181 routes and 252 stations. The old Tremont Avenue line now forms the center of the Green Line.

On this date in 1902, the silent film A Trip to the Moonwas released in France. It was written and directed by Georges Méliès and it was loosely based on two novels: Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and H.G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon (1901). It ran about 14 minutes, which was considered a long feature in those days, and told a fairly simple story about a group of astronomers traveling to the Moon and meeting a group of aliens. Their spacecraft is shaped something like a bullet, and is fired from a giant cannon. In the film's iconic shot, the rocket crashes into the eye of the Man in the Moon.

Méliès was the first director to think of using the new moving picture technology to tell a fictional story, and as a professional magician, he was especially interested in the way that the new medium could be used to create illusions. He made hundreds of fantastic movies featuring special effects, mostly using stop-motion photography: He would begin to film a scene with an object (or person) in it, stop the camera, remove the object, and begin filming again, which made it appear the object had suddenly vanished. But innovative as he was, it never occurred to him to change the camera angle, or move in for a close-up. He treated the frame of the film just like the proscenium of a stage, and the camera like a stationary observer.

Méliès produced a black-and-white version and a hand-colored version. A copy of the colored version was discovered in 1993, almost completely decomposed; it was restored over the course of the next 18 years and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year, with a new score by the French band AIR.

It's the birthday of Eleanor Hibbert (books by this author), born Eleanor Burford in London, sometime between 1906 and 1910. Most of her nearly 200 novels were historical romances, and her protagonists were women. "They're women of integrity and strong character," she said. "These women of mine are going to fight and show the world that women are every bit as good and serious as men."

She decided to be a writer at an early age, and tried to emulate her literary heroes — the Brontës, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Leo Tolstoy — but without success. She published some stories in newspapers and magazines during the 1930s and '40s, and an editor for the Daily Mail eventually suggested she write something more commercially viable, like a romance novel. She published her first novel, Beyond the Blue Mountains, in 1947, under the name of Jean Plaidy. She went on to write 90 books as Plaidy, most of them historical novels about royalty. She wrote Gothic romances as "Victoria Holt" beginning in 1960, and as "Philippa Carr" she wrote a series of novels that followed an English family through several generations.

"Never regret," Hibbert said. "If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience."

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show