Tom's Book of Days
      February 1-10  

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February 1


Mary Shelley

1793: Alexander Selkirk, the model for Robinson Crusoe, is rescued.

1814: Lord Byron's The Corsair, a poem in heroic couplets, sells 10,000 copies on the day of publication.

1851: Novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dies at 53 in Bournemouth.

1964: Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh attempts to ban the song Louie Louie by the Kingsmen as pornographic. When radio stations say the song's lyrics are "unintelligible as performed," Welsh asks why his "ears tingle" when he hears it.


February 2


CANDLEMAS: Also known as Imbolc, Oimelc, and St Brigit's Day, Candlemas is the first of the "cross-quarters," and consequently the first major solar celebration of the year. In many cultures the cross-quarters are of equal importance with the quarters.
      At this time of year we emerge from the stasis of the solstice. Suddenly the days begin to lengthen rapidly (you can verify this if you wish by calculating the length of your days--not counting ten minutes or so of atmostpheric refraction--according to the following formula, where L is latitude and T is tilt of the earth between +23.5 and -23.5:)
            24 [1 - 1/180 arctan (1/sin (T) { [cos (T)/sin (L)]2 -1} ) ]
      Here in the Bay Area, Candlemas truly marks the beginning of spring. The sap rises in the trees, blood rushes through our bodies, spirit fills our souls. Mornings are full of the chattering of birds, hills are green from winter rains, and the first pink and white blossoms appear on almonds, apricots, and plums.
      In many cultures lunar new year is timed for proximity of the moon's phase to the solar cross-quarter. In the Chinese calendar, for example, the first new moon at this time of year marks the celebration of the new year, the most elaborate and joyous of Chinese holidays. In Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom (1238 CE) scholar Sung Po-jen wrote, in the poem "Pepper Eyes":
            lavishing poems on the first spring dawn
            prayers for a thousand years
            conquering winter defying old age
            outlasting the ice and snow
      Translator Red Pine explains: "Black pepper arrived in China in ancient times as a trade good from Southeast Asia. In addition to its use as an incense in calling down ancestral spirits, pepper was infused in alcohol to warm the extremities and offered to family elders on the first day of the new year along with poems wishing them long life. The Chinese add another year to their age on New Year's Day, rather than on their birthday."
      In the Celtic tradition, Candlemas was called Imbolc (literally, "in the belly" indicating the first stirrings within the body of the earth) or Ewomeoloc ("ewe's milk," indicating the beginnings of lambing season). It was the day of the midwife Brigit, goddess of poetry, healing, and smithcraft, whose everlasting flame at her shrine in the Irish capitol of Kildare was tended by nineteen Daughters of the Flame, virgins who were not allowed, it is said, to be looked upon by any man. Her day was marked by Feile Bridhde, the first of the great Irish fire feasts. In the ancient Mosaic tradition, this was a day of the purification of the Virgin, as women could resume matrimonial relations forty days after giving birth. To observe this tradition, indulge in a mikveh, or ritual bath. (And in the Punxsutawney tradition, Candlemas is known as "Groundhog's Day.")
            If Candlemas Day be bright and clear
            There'll be two winters in the year.
      The Catholic church appropriated these traditions in Saint Bridgit's Day, or Candlemas. The return of the light was marked by the annual blessing of the church candles. To celebrate Candlemas, stoke up a warming fire and set a lighted candle in a window. (Witches mark the Candlemas sabbat by placing a lighted candle in every window of the house at sundown on Candlemas eve and letting them burn until sunrise.) It is a day for planning and initiating new projects. Give birth if you can; if not, write a fiery poem. And since Bridgit mastered the welcome trick of turning water into beer (so much harder than the inverse), you might mix a virgin drink for the kids and toast the goddess with a steam-brewed beer.

      For more on the seasons and the calendar, click here.

1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the The US-Mexican War. Mexico is forced to cede parts of present California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado to the US, in addition to giving up its claim to Texas.

1852: José Guadalupe Posada nació en Aguascalientes, México. (His All Night Reveler is shown at left.)

1882: James Joyce is born in Dublin.


February 3


Gertrude Stein
gaston julia

1468: Printing press innovator Johannes Gutenberg dies.

1863: In a Nevada Territory newspaper, Samuel L. Clemens uses the pseudonym Mark Twain for the first time.

1874: Gertrude Stein is born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Pittsburgh).

1893: Gaston Maurice Julia is born in the Algerian town of Sidi Bel Abbès. He would lose his nose during the first world war and would wear a leather strap in its place for the rest of his life. After the war he would apply himself to theoretical mathematics, working out the formula for the Julia set, popularized by Benoit Mandelbrot as fractal mathematics. (Julia would die in Paris on March 19, 1978.)

1916: Hugo Ball's Café Voltaire opens in Zürich, Switzerland. It will be a meeting place for members of the Dada movement. Legend will have it that at the Café Voltaire a group of young artists and war resisters including Jean Arp, Emmy Hennings, Richard Hülsenbeck, Marcel Janco, and Tristan Tzara will hit upon the word dada to define the movement by sticking a knife into a dictionary and seeing where it points.

1959: Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper ), and Richie Valens die in a plane crash near Mason City, Iowa.


February 4


emperor norton

1818: Keats, Hunt, and Shelley all write sonnets on the subject of the Nile. They agree that Hunt's is the best of the three:

            It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
            Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
            And times and things, as in that vision, seem
            Keeping along it their eternal stands ...

1819: Emperor Norton I of the United States (pictured) is born.

1861: The Confederate States of America are formed in Montgomery, Alabama.

1946: Dan Quayle is born.

1968: Neal Cassady dies along railroad tracks in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico, four days short of his 42nd birthday.

1974: Nineteen-year-old UC Berkeley college student Patty Hearst is kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. (See also May 14 and September 18.)

Communique # 3       February 4, 1974
Subject: Prisoners of War
Target: Patricia Campbell Hearst
Daughter of Randolph Hearst
corporate enemy of the people

Warrant Order:
Arrest and protective custody; and if resistance, execution
Warrant Issued by: The Court of the People

On the above stated date, combat elements of the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army armed with cyanide loaded weapons served an arrest warrant upon Patricia Campbell Hearst. It is the order of this court that the subject be arrested by combat units and removed to a protective area of safety and only upon completion of this condition to notify Unit # 4 to give communication of this action. It is the directive of this court that during this action ONLY, no civilian elements be harmed if possible, and that warning shots be given. However, if any citizens attempt to aid the authorities or interfere with the implementation of this order, they shall be executed immediately. This court hereby notifies the public and directs all combat units in the future to shoot to kill any civilian who attempts to witness or interfere with any operation conducted by the peoples forces against the fascist state. Should any attempt be made by authorities to rescue the prisoner, or to arrest or harm any S. L. A. elements, the prisoner is to be executed. The prisoner is to be maintained in adequate physical and mental condition, and unharmed as long as these conditions are adhered to. Protective custody shall be composed of combat and medical units, to safeguard both the prisoner and her health. All communications from this court MUST be published in full, in all newspapers, and all other forms of the media. Failure to do so will endanger the safety of the prisoner.

Further communications will follow.


1976: A violent earthquake levels Guatemala City, Guatemala, killing at least 24,000 people, injuring at least 50,000, and leaving more than a sixth of the country's population homeless (thousands more are killed by aftershocks in the following days). The most deadly items are the beautiful tile roofs prevalent throughout the country, which are very heavy and collapsed on people inside buildings. (I had left Guate days before the quake, after having lived and taught there for some time.)


February 5



St. Agatha's Day: Saint Agatha, the patron saint of bell-founders, firemen, nurses, and rape and torture victims, is usually depicted carrying her breasts (or loaves of bread) on a dish; sometimes she carries pincers, shears, or tongs.
      Perhaps more a figure of legend than history, she was young, beautiful, rich, and pure. As part of a policy of oppression against Christians, the magistrate Quinctianus tried first to blackmail her into sex and then, when she refused, turned her over to a brothel. There she again refused to submit, and her breasts were cut off. Brought to the judge, she said "Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breasts that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?" This landed her back in prison. An earthquake then punished her oppressors while releasing her from her pain (through death). In 1551 her intercession was credited with saving Malta from the Turks.
       Agatha makes an appearance in Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins by Carlos Fuentes, which I translated.

1816: Rossini's The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome.

1897: The world's most unlikely duelist, Marcel Proust, nonetheless engages Jean Lorrain to avenge a slanderous article written by the latter.

1927: Buster Keaton's The General is released.

1914: William Burroughs is born in St. Louis, Missouri.

1959: After grapes, oysters, souffle, and champagne, Carson McCullers invites Marilyn Monroe and Isak Dinesen to dance with her on a dining room table.


February 6


francois truffaut

1515: Aldus Manutius (Latin for Aldo Manuzio, though his birth name was Teobaldo Mannucci) dies. He had a classical education at the University of Rome, which motivated him to reprint the Greek classics. To do so, he established the Aldine Press in Venice (with his father-in-law, the printer Andrea Torresano). The press popularized italic type and pocket or paperback editions, and its dolphin and anchor design would be one of the most famous of printer’s marks and indeed of all commercial logos. An example of an impressa -- a pictorial representation of a saying -- it expresses a motto of the emperor Augustus, festina lente, "make haste slowly" (the dolphin represents speed and the anchor deliberation). One of Aldus’s type designers, Francesco Griffo, designed a face of Aldine’s 1495 publication of an essay by Cardinal Pietro Bembo. this was the model for the typeface known as Bembo. For more, see my Typehead Chronicles.

1968: Dwight Eisenhower hits a hole in one at a Palm Springs country club.

1932: Francois Truffaut is born.


February 7


Saint Amand's Day: Cheers! The 7th-century itinerant preacher Amand is the patron saint of innkeepers and bartenders.

1741: Henry Fuseli is born in Zurich, Switzerland. A detail from his Nightmare is shown at left.

1812: Charles Dickens is born in Portsmouth, England.

1812: The last in a series of four earthquakes, each estimated at more than 8 on the Richter scale, hits the Mississippi valley in SW Missouri. The quakes began on December 16, 1812 (more on this subject there). According to Norma Hayes Bagnall the quakes were felt from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast and from Mexico to Canada.

1867: Laura Ingalls Wilder is born in Pepin, Wisconsin.

1883: Eubie Blake is born. One hundred years later, he will say, "If I'd known I was gonna live this long. I'd have taken better care of myself."


February 8


Neal Cassady

1587: Mary Queen of Scots is executed at the command of Queen Elizabeth. She had left the safety of Scotland after roasting her second husband by having his quarters incinerated. (The Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme alludes to this incident in some oblique way.)

1926: Neal Cassady is born in Salt Lake City, Utah.

1933: The temperature in Seminole, Texas, reaches -23°.

2002: U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld states that Geneva Convention protections do not apply to detainees in Afghanistan.


February 9



ernest tubb

THE FEAST DAY OF ST. APPOLONIA: Appolonia is the patron of dentists.

1909: For the Miranda File: Carmen is born.

1914: The Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb is born in Crisp, Texas. A fan of Jimmie Rodgers, he would give up yodeling after a tonsillectomy. He wouldn''t get his first guitar until he was twenty years old (good news for late bloomers). His first big hit would be "Walking the Floor over You" in 1942, which is said to be the first classic in the "honky tonk" style, the style played in the joints of that name that sprang up during the Texas oil boom in the 1930s. Through Tubb the lineage of Jimmie Rodgers would be passed on to the great Hank Williams.

1950: Joe McCarthy accuses State Department employees of Communist Party affiliation: "I have here in my hand," he states, "the names of 205 men that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist party and who nevertheless are still working & shaping the policy of the state department." (He later admitted the paper was actually an old laundry list.)

1964: The Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan.


February 10


how pleasant to know mr. lear

1600: The Globe Theatre's clown, Will Kempe, an associate of Will Shakespeare, dances a jig all the way from London to Norwich to win a bet. (Thomas Sly plays the tabor, George Sprat supervises the wager.)

1616: Shakespeare's youngest daughter, Judith (Hamnet's twin), marries Thomas Quiney, a vintnor and tavern owner from Stratford (she is 31, he is 27). Soon after the marriage scandal would break out with the claim that Thomas had made another woman pregnant and the further revelation that he had not obtained a license needed for a marriage during Lent, with the result that both Thomas and Judith would be excommunicated (on March 12). On March 26 Quiney would be prosecuted for "carnal copulation" (the best kind?) with a woman named Margaret Wheeler. Both Wheeler and her baby would die in childbirth. On Thomas's confession he would be sentenced to public penance, but the penalty would be commuted to a fine of five shillings and private penance, perhaps as a result of the happy outcome of the death of the woman and her baby, thus restoring the little world of Stratford to its proper order.
Although Thomas seemed to be trying to do his part to populate a Shakespeare genealogy, none of his three children with Judith would have children of their own (the eldest, Shakespeare Quiney, would pass away in infancy), and Shakespeare's line would die out in two generations (he would have no great-grandchildren).

1749: With its tenth volume, the serialization of Tom Jones is completed.

1846: A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear (pictured) is published by Thomas McLean.

1893: Jimmy Durante is born.

1898: Bertolt Brecht is born in Augsburg, Germany.

1927: George Anthiel presents Ballet Mechanique and Jazz Symphony at Carnegie Hall.

1957: The styrofoam cooler is invented.

continue to February 11


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