Dec. 12, 2012

After the Wedding

by John Daniel

After the white balloons were swept away
on the wind that had swallowed
most of our vows, after the embraces
and tears, the flung rose petals,
after new friends and old friends and aunts
from all over, after you tossed
the bouquet, and the cries of the children
raised coyote cries on the rim,
after chicken grilled on juniper coals,
cold beer from the cattle trough
and hours of hot dancing to Beatles and Stones,
the last of us swaying arms on shoulders,
singing ourselves hoarse,
                                              how good it is
to find you now beyond all
the loud joy, driving north in rain
and the lovely ease of our silence.

"After the Wedding" by John Daniel, from Of Earth. © Lost Horse Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of English novelist Patrick O'Brian (books by this author), born Richard Patrick Russ in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire (1914). He wrote his first book at the age of 12, and it was published three years later. That book was Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda-Leopard (1930), and he followed it up by writing several more stories of animals and adventure. His book Hussein: An Entertainment (1938) was the first work of contemporary fiction to be published by the Oxford University Press.

O'Brian is best known for his Aubrey-Maturin series. The series consists of 20 books of historical fiction set in the Royal Navy during the early 19th century and featuring two friends: naval captain Jack Aubrey and doctor Stephen Maturin. The first book of the series, Master and Commander, was published in 1969.

O'Brian was a private, methodical man. He lived in a secluded French village and wrote 1,000 words a day. He avoided personal interviews. He justified his reserve by quoting his own character Maturin, who says, "Question and answer is not a civilized form of conversation."

It's the birthday of Gustave Flaubert (books by this author), born in Rouen, France (1821). He was a notorious perfectionist in his work, and once said, "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it." In 1851, he began what would become his first published novel, and his masterpiece. Madame Bovary (1856) first appeared in La Revue de Paris in serialized form. It's the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor's discontented wife, who longs to experience the passion, excitement, and luxury she has only read about in novels. She has affairs, racks up debt, and ultimately takes her own life with arsenic.

A month after the final installment of Madame Bovary was published, the French government banned the book, and hauled Flaubert up on charges of offending public and religious morality. He claimed the novel was actually promoting virtue by exposing vice. Flaubert was narrowly acquitted, and Madame Bovary was published in book form two months later. All the scandal made it a big seller.

Flaubert said, "Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to while all the time we long to move the stars to pity."

Today is the birthday of painter Edvard Munch, born in Løten, Norway (1863). A sickly child himself, he lost both parents and two of his siblings to tuberculosis. Another sister went mad. "I inherited two of mankind's most frightful enemies — the heritage of consumption and insanity — illness and madness and death were the black angels that stood at my cradle," he wrote in his journal.

Munch tried to convey emotional turmoil through the use of color and distorted shapes. His most famous painting, The Scream (1893), influenced the German Expressionist movement of the early 20th century. Munch had a nervous breakdown in 1908, ending up in a sanitarium. He gave up drinking and managed to gain some tranquility in the second half of his life, but his art lacked the passion of his earlier, tormented period. "Without anxiety and illness," he wrote, "I am a ship without a rudder. [...] My sufferings are part of my self and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art."

The world's first motel opened on this date in 1925. Originally called "The Milestone Mo-Tel" (and later, the "Motel Inn"), it's located in San Luis Obispo, California, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As cars — and road trips — became more and more popular, architect and developer Arthur Heineman saw a business opportunity: a compromise between the rough "auto camps" — where people pitched tents or slept in their cars — and the more traditional hotels. He had the idea to place lodging near major highways, with easy outdoor access to the rooms, and a space to park a car. So he built a little collection of bungalows, each with a small garage, and rented them for $1.25 a night. He created a new name for his hybrid lodging, a portmanteau of "motor" and "hotel." And he had dreams of building a chain of motels up and down the West Coast. He planned to place them at 200-mile intervals, which in those days was about a day's drive, but the Depression put a stop to his plans. There were plenty of other developers who saw merit in his idea, though, and the Motel Inn's imitators were soon cropping up all along America's highways.

The Motel Inn went out of business in 1991, and many of the buildings were torn down in 2006, but a few of the bungalows are still there. Once in a while, people talk about restoring and reopening the motel, or turning it into a museum, but for now it remains boarded up.

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




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