WEEKEND BRIEFINGLadies & Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones
Aug. 1 - I need to finish this Prague blogging and get on with my life so today I'm just going to cut to the chase. (And if that requires that I stoop to the occassional cliché, so be it.)
I'm going to skip all the stuff about the city's beauty, friendliness, and optimism. I'm not going to relate the story of our $40 cab ride late Saturday night, even though it gave us an alternate view of Prague—as a blurry and terrifying city of fast-approaching objects and skittish pedestrians.
I'm going to get right to the Stones concert.
As I mentioned earlier, Mick Jagger had turned sixty the day before the concert, so this was the first Stones concert for a sixty-something Mick. I don't know why I thought that was important, but I did.
In the event, it wasn't. Some fans sang happy birthday, Mick smiled and waved, and that was about it. But that was much later.
The interesting thing happened before the Stones took the stage and after the last of the warm-up bands had retired backstage.
The interesting thing was the introduction. A man of about Mick's age came somberly out of the wings. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He began addressing us over the P.A. in Czech. The giant screens mounted on the stage scaffolding showed a face that seemed somehow familiar to me.
It took me a few minutes to realize that the Rolling Stones were being introduced by Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic.
I realize Mr. Havel is not your ordinary president. I realize the Czech Republic isn't exactly a world power. It's hard, as an American, to acclimatize myself to smaller countries. The former Danish Prime Minister, for example, works out at our gym. The DMB has seen him there twice in the past week or so. (I may have seen him also, but I wouldn't know him if I saw him so it's hard to say.) No secret service detachments. No advance teams running background checks on us. Just a retired head of state working up a sweat on the stair-climber.
So, as I said, I understand there's a different scale involved with smaller nations.
I also realize the Stones have tremendous cross-cultural and cross-generational appeal. They're a marketing force unto themselves. I can't think of many public figures that would lose by letting a little of the Rolling Stones "brand" rub off on them.
With all that in mind, I've been rummaging through my thoughts for some kind of appropriate philosophical generality or sociological observation to make about Havel's introduction. I haven't found any. That's not because there aren't any there—it's because I'm an idiot and can never see the forest for the trees. Hell, I can't even see the trees for the trunks I keep walking into.
But surely there's something going on when a band that made its name on rowdy countercultural antics (and good music), a band that could be, or could once have been, held up as an icon of capitalist "decadence," is personally introduced by the first democratically-elected president of a former police state.
But then again, maybe there's not.
August, The Sixth Month
It's August, which means it's National Catfish Month. It's also National Golf Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Water Quality Month, Romance Awareness Month, Peach Month, and Foot Health Month.
How did a single month become so important? Like almost everything else that's difficult to understand, the history of August begins in Ancient Rome.
The Roman calendar was a mess. Not just because there were VII days in a week and XXVIII days in a month, but also because the calendar was being managed by a high priest. In 46 BC, for example, autumn began in January. This irritated Julius Caesar, who demanded that the calendar be reformed to make sense—and that the priests assigned to manage it stop getting high.
Caesar's new calendar went into effect on January 1, 45 BC. The fifth month of the year, Quintilis, which was actually been the seventh month of the year, was renamed July—short for Julius—in honor of his work on the calendar. (Calendar professionals still refer to July as the "Caesarian section.")
Years later, after Caesar's grand-nephew defeated Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and became emperor of Rome, the Senate decided to name a month after him. They chose the month of Sextillus, the sixth month (and therefore eighth), and renamed it Gaius Octavianus. Fortunately the Emperor renamed himself Augustus before any calendars had been printed.
The Emperor was not entirely pleased. His month had only 30 days, whereas his grand-uncle's had 31. The Senate immediately added another day to August, removing it from February in the hope of losing one day of winter to gain one of summer.
The Wild Kilo
On August 1, 1793, the kilogram first appeared in France. Developed by priests and scientists, the kilogram flourished as soon as it was released into the wild and can now be found thriving throughout the world. The kilogram can be found in parts of the United States, but has encountered too many indigineous predators to establish dominance.
El Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula
In 1769, Spain sent an exploratory expedition from San Diego to Monterey to survey the area and identify places worth sending more people. The expedition was led by Gaspar de Portola, nephew of the celebrated Spanish comedian Uncle Porky, and included a number of religious missionaries assigned to impose afternoon naps upon the heathens.
Camping on some fertile ground beside a river on August 2, Father Juan Crespi suggested they name the river El Rio de Padre Juan Crespi. As the laughter subsided, he suggested El Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula, "The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Uncle Porky." It was agreed, and the merry band continued on their way.
Twelve years later Mexico's Spanish Governor, Felipe de Neve, began dispatching settlers to establish pueblos in the name of the Spanish King. These settlers were called "Los Pobladores" on account of their penchant for Poblas. One such group, led by Captain Rivera y Moncada, settled in the area by the previously mentioned river. They named their new community "Our Pueblo by the River of Our Lady of the Angels of Uncle Porky."
The settlement grew, and came to be known as "The City by the Pueblo by the River of Our Lady of the Angels of Uncle Porky."
In 1822, Mexico took California from Spain. In 1846, following two years of hostilities, the United States took it from Mexico. Many Americans were injured attempting to pronounce the name of El Ciudad del Pueblo del Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula, which they therefore renamed Los Angeles in 1850.
California was admitted to the Union later that year.
Los Angeles retained that name until the middle of the last century, when even that became too difficult for most American tongues, at which point it finally became L.A.
On August 2, 1887, Rowell Hodge patented barbed wire. Mr Hodge had been inspired by the maxim that "good fences make good neighbors." He believed that barbed wire fences would make good neighbors even better while shredding the flesh of bad neighbors to bloody ribbons.
Half an hour before sunrise on August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus famously set out to cross the ocean blue in a fleet of three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula.
Holidays and Birthdays
August 1 is Independence Day in Benin and National Day in Switzerland. It's also "sometimes" Wattle Day in New South Wales, Australia.
August 2 is the Anniversary of Uprising in Macedonia.
August 3 is Independence Day in Niger and National Watermelon Day in the United States.
August 1 is the birthday of Jerry Garcia (1942), Yves Saint Laurent (1936), Dom DeLuise (1933), Herman Melville (1819), Francis Scott Key (1779), and William Clark (1770).
Born on August 2: Victoria Jackson (1959), Judge Lance Ito (1950), Peter O'Toole (1932), James Baldwin (1924), Carroll O'Connor (1924), and Myrna Loy (1905).
Born on August 3: John Landis (1950), Martha Stewart (1941), Martin Sheen (1940), and Tony Bennett (1926).
Enjoy the weekend!
© 2003, The Moron's Almanac