Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's Special About This Week--April 20-24

April 20, 1859--The first installment of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens published. The story behind the work of Dickens is as fascinating as his stories. He figured out a way to get his stories to sell at a price that people felt that they could afford. The way he did this was to write his novels in serial form. He would get a few chapters published and leave the reader with a cliff-hanger that meant they would buy the next installment. This technique is now popular for many genres but at the time that Dickens was writing it was a unique concept. His stories were sold in paperback form in numbers that previously were impossible to imagine. Families would gather around to listen to the stories being read the first evening that they were published. An interesting side effect of this reading was that servants of the wealthy families huddled nearby to hear stories that they could not read for themselves. A Tale of Two Cities is a marvelous sweeping story of the French Revolution. When I was called to jury duty many years ago, I could not help but think of Madame DeFarge who sat and knitted as people were sent to the guillotine. Reading this long novel truly is "the best of times" and "the worst of times" because it is not a quick read though it is hard to wait for the next exciting chapter.

April 20, 1912--Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Fenway Park in Boston open. The final game at Tiger Stadium was September 27, 1999, but it has legions of fans to this day. Visit one of the many sites about the old stadium here. Fenway Park and its distinctive Big Green Monster is still very much in use (just ask my daughter who dreads taking the subway home on game days). Here is information on the history of Fenway Park.

April 21--Kindergarten Day Freidrich Froebel, the man who developed the idea of offering kindergarten, was born on April 21, 1782. He opened the first kindergarten in Germany in 1837. The word "kindergarten" is a German word meaning "children's garden". He was one of the first to think that children could and should learn through songs and play with lots of artistic endeavors and certainly a dose of healthy fun. What a concept! It was many years later that people realized that the most important things that we know in life we learned in kindergarten--resulting in a book, a play, and lots of introspection. I never went to kindergarten. My rural Montana school did not start until first grade. I wonder what important things I have never learned because I never went to kindergarten.

April 21--Tiradentes Day in Brazil Joachim Jose de Silva Xavier is a Brazilian hero who is still known as "Tiradentes", the tooth puller. He was born in 1748 and, in 1789, became the leader of the first movement to overthrow Portuguese rule in Brazil. Not surprisingly, the Portuguese rulers were not too pleased with Tiradentes who was well educated and worked as a doctor and dentist. Tiradentes arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. He was hung in Rio de Janeiro on April 21, 1792. His life and death have made him a national hero who is still honored every year. For more information about Tiradentes, take a look at

April 22--Earth Day, Sniff the Breeze Day, Sun Day--Whatever you call it, today is the day to celebrate the earth and do something to help keep it working with us to promote good lives for all living things.

April 22--Cat Lover's Day Just for the record, I love my cat, Tsunami. She is the best cat in the world, or at least in my world. Speak up, cat lovers!

April 23--World Book Day, UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day When my family lived in Madrid, Spain, we happened upon a giant book fair in Retiro Park in celebration of Book Day. It was Spain that began the celebration of books on April 23. The day was chosen because it marks the death anniversary of the most famous of Spanish authors, Miguel Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha. Since medieval times it has been a tradition for men in Spain to give a rose to their lady love and the woman gives a book in return. That seems like a very nice tradition to me, though, frankly, I would rather get a book than a rose any day. Since April 23 is also the birth and death date of William Shakespeare and the birthday of many other famous authors including Vladimir Nabakov and Halldor Laxness, it was a logical choice for a world wide celebration. The best way to celebrate is to set aside time to enjoy a good book.

April 23, 1992--McDonald's opens in Beijing, China. When McDonald's opened their first restaurant in China it was one of the biggest in the world with 700 seats, 29 cash registers, and two kitchens. Over 40,000 people were served the first day. That specific restaurant was torn down in 1996, but more McDonald's restaurants keep opening every day, now numbering in the hundreds. McDonald's was an official partner at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

April 24--Ambivalence Day While I could find many e-greeting card sites offering Ambivalence Day greetings, I could find nothing on-line about the creation of this day. I feel a bit--but not too much--ambivalent about that.

April 24, 1792--"La Marseillaise" written The French National Anthem has to be one of the most moving anthems in the world. I loved singing it in my high school French class, though I don't remember all of the words any more. (I can still ask if that is the monocle of my uncle and ask Mama if Papa is at home, but my French is not what it once was.)It was written by a captain of the Engineering corps of the French military. It was sung when the the National Guard of Marseille marched into Paris in July of 1792 so the Parisian gave it the name by which we we now know it. The song was adopted as the national anthem in 1795 but it was abolished in 1799. It was restored as the national anthem in 1870. The words are call for French citizens to take up arms and includes many bloody references. While there are those who have talked of changing the song to fit more peaceful pursuits, La Marseillaise is so linked with France that it is doubtful there will be any changes made soon. Visit this site to learn more about La Marseillaise and then surf around the site to learn about other national anthems.

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