Monday, February 28, 2011

Montaigne, Brian Jones and crossing Niagara Falls on a Tightrope

What I like enormously about my little project is that it leads me in such wonderfully diverse directions, ferreting around for information across centuries and disciplines. Today is a sublime example of why I am having such fun with this.

Also I must issue a pre-emptive apology, today there will be a mini rant, I will try to keep it short, but today is the birthday of someone who has provided joy, enlightenment, inspiration, solace and guidance since I first discovered his work when I was seventeen  - Michel de Montaigne ( 28 February 1533 - 13 September 1592 ).

Today is the Feast Day of St Hedwig the Blessed, the daughter of King Louis 1 of Hungary, she assumed the throne of Poland at the age of thirteen following her husband's conversion to Christianity and would actively promote her faith throughout Lithuania.

Brian Jones ( Lewis Brian Hopkins Jones ) was born on this day ( 28 February 1942 - 3 July 1969 ).

Today National Science Day is celebrated in India in honour of C.V. Raman ( November 7 1888 - November 21 1970)  - who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1930  following his discovery of the now known Raman Effect: 'when light traverses a transparent material some of the light that is deflected changes in wavelength.' I found a great deal of information on Raman and his work on Wikipedia if you would like to find out more, I won't include a specific link here.

O.K. Montaigne. During his life Montaigne was known for his work in public office when he came to write his wonderful work 'Les Essais'. The title translated as -  'attempts' or  'tries' - leading us I assume to the student 'essay' - are his way of exploring ideas and issues and trying to make sense of some of the more puzzling and intriguing issues of his time. How to live ? How to deal with the loss of a loved one ? How to make your dog behave ? Yes I paraphrase here but I can't select an individual essai to highlight !

I studied 'Les Essais' for French 'A' level and they have been a huge part of my life ever since. I am currently reading a wonderful biography of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell, she writes of her work in the The Guardian if you care to have a look Sarah Bakewell - Montaigne.

On this day in 1953, two Cambridge scientists, James Watson and Frances Crick, announced that they had discovered the double helix structure of DNA. If a small child asks you what DNA stands for or the big one how to spell it, I have been asked, here's the answer : Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid.

In 1982 the Getty Museum in California became the 'wealthiest' museum on earth following the bequest from the late J.Paul.Getty of $1.2 billion dollars. It's a fascinating museum, I've visited a few times. Getty left the museum an extremely broad remit, giving the instruction that the money should be used 'for the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge.' Have a look Getty Museum.

As the title suggests, Charles Blondin was born today in 1824 ( February 28 1824 - February 22 1897 ). He was extremely taken as I understand with the idea of crossing Niagara falls on a tightrope and did so successfully in 1859.

I am thrilled to say the brilliant King's Speech did superbly well at the Oscars  -   congratulations all round. I had a very quick forage around for Fanny Craddock recipes - I came across Gateau l'ambassadeur and some complex dessert dish involving turning meringue into swan shapes with pipe cleaner necks....haven't quite got around to trying out either. In honour of India's National Science Day I plan to make a delicious cauliflower and aubergine curry and very well played to all in the cricket. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Steinbeck, Elizabeth Taylor, Byron and The Tower of Pisa

Today the life and work of George Herbert ( April 3rd 1593 - March 1st 1633 ) are commemorated  in the Church of England. George Herbert was educated at Westminster and Cambridge and went on to become an Anglican priest. His mother Magdalen was a patron of John Donne among other poets and Donne would become godfather to George following the death of his father. 

He became rector of the rather wonderfully named parish of Fugglestone St Peter in Wiltshire and produced essentially religious poetry. As he lay dying of tuberculosis he reportedly gave a copy of his work to his great friend Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of a monastic Anglican community at Little Gidding. T.S. Eliot would later write his 'Four Quartets' - 'Little Gidding' the fourth and final one. I digress a bit but it's a fabulous poem, here's a  bit: 

'And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.'

Herbert also wrote 'pattern poems' the idea I believe being that the reader should admire the shape of the text as well as the poem itself, I found an example on Wikipedia:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia, from the Noroton Anthology of Poetry.

There is a window in Westminster Abbey in his memory and a statue in Salisbury Cathedral. If you would like to discover more about him have a look here

On this day in 1812, Lord Byron first addressed the House of Lords, he spoke in defence of the Luddites and their  protestations against the pervasive growth of industrialism.

Today is the Saint Day of Saint Leander of Seville.

February the 27th 1900 saw the founding of the British Labour Party.

John Steinbeck was born on this day in 1902. As was Constantine 1 in 272.

Elizabeth Taylor and Lawrence Durrell also share this birthday - 1932 and 1912 respectively.

The first public performance on Holst's Planets was given on this day in 1919 in London, although incomplete, five of the seven pieces were played.

In 1964 the Italian government asked for help in order to preserve the Leaning Tower of Pisa - there was much concern that it would topple over in an earthquake or strong storm. Building of the Tower was undertaken in August 1173; it was intended to be vertical, currently it is at an incline of 10%. It was re-opened to visitors in 2001  after extensive renovations. 

I read The Grapes of Wrath at school and haven't looked at it since. Maybe I will. Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962.

Now, what's  for breakfast.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26th

So far - following a super quick swizz online, I have discovered that Victor Hugo and William Cody ( aka Buffalo Bill ) share the same birthday, today  - 1802  &  1846, Besancon and Iowa, respectively. 

Valentinian the First was made Emperor of Rome in 364 on this day.

John Harvey Kellogg, a doctor and inventor of the eponymous cereal, was born on this day in 1852.

Today is the Feast Day of Saint Isabel of France. The daughter of King Louis VIII, she devoted her life to caring for the poor and destitute and founded the Franciscan Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Mary, Longchamps, Paris.

Christopher Marlowe and Fanny Craddock too share this birthday, 1564 and 1909.

Now that has got me thinking, I am going to look up one of Fanny's recipes.....and dig out my copy of Le Pere Goriot - it's a great book, not by Victor Hugo obviously but Balzac, but that's the joy of the wandering mind.

That'a my lot for today, I'm cooking mussels.

I know it's not March the 17th - yet

So  - a selection of interconnected yet unrelated events brought me here. I was thinking about luck. I had lunch recently with a very good friend who is an actress - she has spent years studying, auditioning and putting herself in essentially the 'right' place yet 'luck' - that is to say the random act of fate that can change lives, outcomes, futures in a stroke, has eluded her. She firmly believes in luck. I think I do too. More to the point I think I want to. That's why I went for March the 17th.

That's one reason I am here. Secondly my sons are currently researching a project on William the Conqueror - in some depth I have to say and they are really enjoying it - we are currently drawing up a family tree  - he had nine children. That got me thinking - my son was asked to write a story, from the perspective of an Anglo Saxon farmer, detailing how his life  changed after the Norman Conquest. He loved the assignment and did a great job. It inspired me to try to make these great historical characters and the man on the street equally into 'real' people - living, breathing, surviving, flawed, happy, in good health or sick.    

Reason number three. I am having my rather late New Year 'house audit' - that is to say blitzing overly bountiful cupboards and wardrobes, weeding out forgotten toys, duplicate books ( how do I seem to do that  so very successfully, buy the same thing twice I mean ? ) and trousers that now graze chins as opposed to feet. During my audit I came across a book I read at Christmas, pretty much in two happy bites and loved. The book is "The Year 1000" by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. Not being overly entropic it does as it the title might suggest, describe what life was like at the turn of the first millennium. I absolutely loved the book and must have ferreted it away during a tidy session. I was thrilled to come across it again and sprinted immediately to the page that had  first grabbed my attention, in fact pages, 18 - 19, discussing the relevance and importance of saints:

"In the monasteries, morning prayers were said to that day's holy figures. Prayer was a way of asking a saint to pay attention to your own particular worries."  (p 18 )

"Each hero or heroine had their own lesson to teach. It could carry you through the day, a psychic talisman of encouragement and the geography of the saints' adventures - from Antioch to Seville, then north to Paris and Ireland - provided a lesson it itself about the varied shape and character of a world which extended further than we might imagine."( p19 )

Another, perhaps more flimsy reason, I often read with uncommon interest, the 'On This Day' section in The Times. 

So I decided on a project ( let's be honest also a mild diversion from what I should be doing which is finishing my book...). I wanted to gather small snippets of information about each day as it started, perhaps think about those various bits of information - births, inventions, saints, historical events, have those ideas permeate my ideas and learn new things too.