Thursday June 29, 2017

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Waves and Wet Kisses

I had only seen my parents kiss twice.
The first time after my father’s ear surgery.
I was seven or so, don’t recall the nature of the kiss
but only that his hearing was bad
from his youthful years of lifeguarding.
Or was it after he tore the cartilage around his ribs
from lifting heavy glass bottles of milk?
I don’t recall.

The second time was after my mother’s mastectomy.
They rolled her out of recovery.
She looked sad without her glasses —
eyes, small and watery.
He bent over and touched his lips to hers
then turned away and shook his head.

So that is it; that is all.
Two small kisses
for me to coast on like a wave.

“Waves and Wet Kisses” by Ann Iverson from Mouth of Summer. © Kelsay Books, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1956 that President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act, which established the Interstate Highway System.

As a general during World War II, Eisenhower was impressed by Germany's autobahn system, and he decided that the United States needed something comparable. After the war, the economy was booming, and Eisenhower decided the time was right to push through the Interstate Highway System. It was the largest public works project in American history. It took longer than expected to build — 35 years instead of 12 — and it cost more than $100 billion, about three times the initial budget. But the first coast-to-coast interstate highway, I-80, was completed in 1986, running from New York City to San Francisco.

It’s the birthday of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900) (books by this author), born in Lyon, France (1900). Saint-Exupéry was a renowned pilot, but is best known these days for his classic children’s novella, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince, 1943), about a little boy who lives on a planet so small he can watch the sun set 44 times a day. He falls to Earth and befriends a stranded pilot.

He spent his childhood in a castle at Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens with a coterie of aunts, cousins, sisters, and nurses. His father had a stroke when Antoine was four and he grew up aristocratic, but impoverished. He was fascinated by airplanes and delighted in tying sheets to poles and attaching them to his bicycle so he could try to fly. He was conscripted at 21 into the French air force, qualifying as military pilot a year later. By 1926, he’d helped establish airmail routes over Northwest Africa, the South Atlantic, and South America, which made him a pioneer in postal aviation.

Despite injuries from numerous crashes, he continued to fly, and in 1935, while trying to win 150,000 francs by breaking the speed record in an air race from Paris to Saigon, he and his mechanic crashed in the Sahara desert. They wandered for four days with only a thermos of sweet coffee, crackers, and chocolate. They were so dehydrated they stopped sweating. A Bedouin found them and administered a native remedy to rehydrate them. Saint-Exupéry used some of this experience when writing The Little Prince.

In 1944, he flew a reconnaissance mission over France and never returned. It was assumed his plane had crashed in the Alps, but more than 60 years later, the wreckage was recovered from the Mediterranean seabed, not far from Provence.

The Little Prince is considered a classic of literature that examines loneliness, friendship, and philosophy. Saint-Exupéry did the watercolors for the book, which was published after his death. It’s been translated into over 250 languages and dialects, including Braille, and sells 2 million copies annually. In the dedication to the book, Saint-Exupéry wrote, “All grown-ups were once children — although few of them remember it.”

When he was asked how he would like to die, Saint-Exupéry chose water. He said: “You don’t feel yourself dying. You simply feel as if you’re falling asleep and beginning to dream.”

On this day in 1613, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned to the ground. The thatched roof caught on fire after a theatrical cannon misfired during a production of Henry VIII. Only one man was hurt; his breeches caught on fire, but the quick-thinking fellow put them out with a bottle of ale.

The Globe had been the home of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, since 1599; previously, his plays had been performed in a house known simply as The Theatre, but their lease expired in 1598. The troupe found a loophole: the lease was for the land only, and the company owned the building, so the Lord Chamberlain’s Men dismantled the old theater while the landlord was away for Christmas and brought it with them across the Thames from Shoreditch to Southwark. They used its timbers to build the framework of the Globe, which was also unique in being the first theater built to house a specific theatrical company, and to be paid for by the company itself.

After the fire, the Globe was rebuilt in 1614, and it was in use until 1642, when the Puritans closed all the theaters in London. The building was pulled down two years later to make room for tenements. It was rebuilt in the 1990s, and except for concessions made for fire safety, it is as close to the original Globe as scholars and architects were able to make it.

Today is the birthday of composer, librettist, and lyricist Frank Loesser (books by this author), born in New York City in 1910. His father was a classical pianist and a piano teacher who tried to discourage his son from pursuing popular music, but to no avail. Because his father didn’t approve, Loesser was largely self-taught. In the late 1920s, he became a staff lyricist for a music publisher, and none of his songs really went anywhere until Fats Waller recorded “I Wish I Were Twins” in 1934. Loesser also started performing in nightclubs in the mid-1930s; two years later, he moved to Hollywood. He got a job with Universal Studios, and then Paramount, and wrote lyrics for several notable popular composers, including Hoagy Carmichael (“Two Sleepy People” and “Small Fry”).

He was assigned to the Army’s Special Services as a songwriter during World War II; the first song for which he wrote the music as well as the lyrics was also the first big hit of the war: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” He wrote the official song of the U.S. infantry — “What Do You Do in the Infantry?” — and also wrote morale-boosting songs for the shows that soldiers put on in camps.

In 1944, he wrote “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which he sold to MGM in 1948 for the film Neptune’s Daughter. The song won the Academy Award and would become a perennial Christmas season favorite. He went to Broadway and won the Tony Award for music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls (1950) and for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), which also won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

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

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