A solo performance with Garrison Keillor at the Admiral Theatre. Doors 5:30 p.m.; show 7:00 p.m.
Garrison Keillor performs with vocalist Lynne Peterson and longtime A Prairie Home Companion pianist & band leader Richard Dworsky. One show at 5:00 p.m. and another at 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
“Riding the Red Line” by Eric Nixon. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
On the subway
On a hot summer night
Riding the Red Line
Outbound to Alewife
So is everyone else
Standing in the packed car
Staring blankly at the
Reflections in the window
Stealing looks every so often
At the pretty mid-20-something
Sitting on the seat near me
Noticing that she is
At the paper the person
Next to her is reading
Well not so much reading
Since he’s got his eyes
Looking to the side at
Someone else behind me
Everyone is pretending
To look somewhere neutral
Everyone is experiencing
Ulterior motives checking out
Everyone else around them
Trying to be all sneaky about it
With each stop
The people change
The dynamics change
Keeps the subway car
Fresh and interesting
Just as long as she doesn’t leave
I’ll be happy standing here
Packed among strangers
With wandering eyes
And stealing glances
On this hot, hot night
Today is the birthday of the Dutch dancer and spy Mata Hari, born Margaretha Zelle in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands (1876). She attended a teachers college and then married an army officer, Captain Rudolph MacLeod, in 1895. They lived in Java and Sumatra for a few years, and that’s where she picked up her eventual byname. “Mata Hari” is a Malay term for the sunrise, and means “the eye of the day.” The MacLeod marriage was marked by infidelity on both sides. He gave her syphilis, which was in turn inherited by their two children. After their son died, the parents began to hate each other. They returned to Holland and divorced, and MacLeod took out an ad in the local paper telling shopkeepers not to give his ex-wife any credit, because he would not be supporting her any longer. In order to make some money, she began dancing professionally in Paris in 1905, and occasionally worked in a high-class brothel.
The exact nature of her spy activities is not clear, but she probably didn’t engage in much actual espionage. She was well known by sight all over Europe. She had apparently sold some outdated information about France to the Germans in 1916, and then later made a deal with the head of French intelligence to spy on the Germans in exchange for a pass to visit her Russian lover in the eastern war zone. The French became suspicious that she was a double agent, and she never was able to provide much useful information, so she was tried, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1917. One of her prosecutors later admitted, “There wasn’t enough evidence [against her] to flog a cat.”
On this date in 1947, Thor Heyerdahl’s raft Kon-Tiki crashed into a reef in French Polynesia (books by this author). The Norwegian ethnologist had set out from Peru the previous April, determined to prove that early South Americans could have traveled across the Pacific and settled in the Polynesian Islands. Heyerdahl and his five-man crew did carry some modern technology, like a radio, navigational equipment, and watches, but the raft itself was made entirely of pre-Columbian materials. The body was made of balsa logs lashed together with hemp ropes, and had gaps between the logs for the water to drain out. The cabin was built of bamboo and had a thatched roof of banana leaves. The mast was made of planks of mangrove, and it held a square sail. It was a replica of the rafts that native Peruvians were using at the time of the first European contact in the early 1500s. Heyerdahl named it after a legendary Incan sun god who was believed to have walked off across the Pacific.
In three and a half months, the raft traveled 4,300 nautical miles, weathered two major storms, and proved that Peruvian Incans could have made the voyage themselves. Heyerdahl wrote a book about the adventure, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas (1948), and made a documentary film of the same name.
Today is the birthday of author and editor Anne Fadiman (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). Her father was the critic and essayist Clifton Fadiman, and she grew up in a literary household, making castles out of the books in her father’s library. She was working as a reporter when she got an assignment to write for The New Yorker about a young Hmong girl with epilepsy and her parents’ difficulty dealing with the American medical system. The New Yorker decided not to print the article, so Fadiman turned it into her first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1997). It took her eight years to finish the book.
She’s also written two collections of essays. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998) is about her deep love of books. She believes that if you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs. And in her other collection, At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007), she writes about her many obsessions, from her childhood butterfly collection, to the lost art of letter writing, to English essayist Charles Lamb.
At 7:15 in the morning on this day in 1974, a slight figure dressed in black stepped off of the edge the World Trade Center’s north tower and onto a wire he’d secretly strung across to the south tower. For the next 45 minutes, Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers a total of eight times as crowds gathered below to watch him span the void. Suspended a quarter of a mile in the air, Petit knelt and lay down on the wire, once even looking down to the courtyard below as he reveled in the culmination of six years of planning what he called “le coup.” Told that police planned to send a helicopter to pluck him from his perch, Petit finally surrendered himself to the waiting NYPD, later claiming that their rough treatment of him was the most dangerous part of his stunt.
Petit’s astonishing high-wire act made him an instant celebrity and garnered affection for the brand-new buildings, which had been criticized for a lack of character. A number of writers count Petit’s performance as an inspiration, including Paul Auster, who translated Petit’s book On the High Wire from French and helped him find a publisher. Recently, Petit served as muse to Colum McCann, whose novel Let the Great World Spin, winner of the 2009 National Book Award, took as its central, driving image that of a man balancing between two towers, seeming to walk on air.
On this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals officially and finally lifted the ban on the book Ulysses by James Joyce (books by this author). A serialized excerpt in an American literary journal had been declared obscene by the courts in 1921; when the novel was published a year later in Paris, it became a hot item on the black market. It remained outlawed until 1933, when Random House arranged to have a smuggled copy discovered by immigration officers, allowing the publisher to challenge the ban. The seized copy had been carefully doctored to include the rave reviews of important literary figures, since it would be the one submitted as evidence. The judge agreed that the book was not obscene or pornographic and struck down the ban, and an appeal a year later upheld that decision.
The two writers met at a sculptor’s studio in Paris. Colet was married when she and Flaubert began their wild love affair. She’d gotten married young, to a Parisian professor of music, in order to escape a life in the French countryside. Once in Paris, she became a famous poet. During the eight years of his affair with Colet, Flaubert wrote his masterpiece Madam Bovary, about a woman who seeks out adulterous affairs in order to escape from provincial life.
On this day in 1846 — 164 years ago today — Flaubert wrote to Colet:
“Separated, destined to see one another but rarely, it is frightful … and yet what is to be done? I cannot conceive how I managed to leave you … your image will remain for me suffused with poetry and tenderness, as was last night’s sky in the milky vapours of its silvery mist. This month I will come to see you, I will be with you one big whole day […]
“You are certainly the only woman that I have loved. You are the only woman that I have ventured to wish to please. Thank you, thank you […]”
The following day, Flaubert began another long intense letter to Colet. In it, he wrote:
“I’ll arrive some evening about six. We’ll set the night ablaze! I’ll be your desire, you’ll be mine, and we’ll gorge ourselves on each other to see whether we can be satiated. Never! No, never! Your heart is an inexhaustible spring, you let me drink deep, it floods me, penetrates me, I drown. Oh! The beauty of your face, all pale and quivering under my kisses!”
The first letter (Aug. 7, here beginning “Separated, destined” is translated by John Charles Tarver and appears in his Gustave Flaubert as seen in his works and correspondence, published in 1895.
The second letter (Aug. 8, beginning with “My Deplorable mania”) is translated by Francis Steegmuller and appears in The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857, published in 1979.