Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
The Way West
by Raphael Kosek
My daughter is driving
across the continent, eating cheddar
in Wisconsin, waking to a cougar’s yellow
rasp, sleeping tentless
in a corn field where a mysterious
insect leaves a sore story of welts
over her face, her neck—
she is off my radar, and it feels like
part of me is floating off the map,
past the flannel of sleep, the safety
of novels—I hear the wind over her phone,
constant. The wind, her voice
informs me, never stops blowing in South Dakota
where the Black Hills are not really black
but green and grey like Cezanne’s mountains.
Her hair glistens with a mid-American
sweat I have never felt, her car
runs into the different hours
of a different night. We have
lost the clock between us, the familiar
gone strange. Prairie, so flat, she says,
you can see the sun for a long time.
I feel something flatten out between us—
and ease into a rhythm where the plains
of her life, of mine, drift
buoyant, open, rising without words,
hours, or habits—
“The Way West” by Raphael Kosek, from American Mythology. © Brick Road Poetry Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is the anniversary of the maiden — and only — flight of the Spruce Goose, made on this date in 1947. It’s technically known as the H-4 Hercules, and it was made of birch, not spruce. Dreamed up by shipping magnate Henry Kaiser, and designed by Howard Hughes, it remains the largest airplane ever built, by far: It’s five stories tall, it boasts a wingspan of 320 feet, its cargo area is large enough to hold two railroad boxcars, and it has eight engines with 17-foot propellers. It was made of wood because metal was at a premium during the war, and Kaiser wanted to see if aircraft could be built using other materials. He and Hughes landed a government contract to build three prototypes. Hughes micromanaged every aspect of the design and production process, and the project fell way behind schedule. Kaiser eventually walked away from the whole thing. The plane hadn’t even been assembled yet by the time the war ended, and the government began to feel as if it had been swindled. Finally, Hughes completed the plane and, as was his practice, took it out for its maiden flight himself. He reached an altitude of about 70 feet, went over a mile in under a minute, and never flew it again. Some people thought it was because the plane was unsafe, but most likely there was no reason to fly it anymore. He’d proven he could do it, and besides, the war was over, and there was no more demand for behemoth seaplanes.
It was on this day in 1960 that Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in a landmark trial over the book Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel by D.H. Lawrence. It’s the story of a young aristocrat, Lady Chatterley, whose husband is paralyzed and impotent, and she has an affair with her gamekeeper.
Today is the birthday of the monarch who is popularly believed to have said, “Let them eat cake.” That’s Marie-Antoinette, born in Vienna (1755). She was the 15th child of Maria Theresa, the Hapsburg empress, and Emperor Francis I.
In order to strengthen the alliance between her Hapsburg relatives and the French Bourbons, her mother betrothed her to Louis-Auguste, grandson of King Louis XV, when she was 10 years old. Three years later, the king sent a tutor to Vienna to educate the young bride-to-be. He reported that she was of above-average intelligence, but lazy and somewhat frivolous. “Her character and her heart, are excellent,” he added.
Marie-Antoinette didn’t meet her future husband until the day before they were married when she was 14 and Louis was 15. She was terribly unhappy for the first few years of her marriage, and suffered from bitter homesickness, crying over every letter her mother sent her. Word got around soon after the wedding that the young couple had never consummated their marriage after the wedding. Finally — after seven years and some coaching from Marie-Antoinette’s older brother, Joseph, who called them “two complete blunderers” — Louis XVI and his queen made the marriage official. The first of their four children was born the following year.
Although they were genuinely fond of each other, Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI could hardly have been more different in temperament. The king was an indecisive introvert who preferred to spend his free time alone, reading or metalworking. In contrast, the queen was a vivacious extrovert who loved parties, gambling, and the theater. Easily bored, and given very few official duties, she spent lavishly on elaborate amusements, including a miniature farm that she ordered built on the grounds of Versailles so that she and her ladies could pretend to be shepherdesses and milkmaids. She ordered 300 new gowns every year. Her hairstyles were extreme and often included props. She commissioned a wig featuring a serpent struck by a club — representing the victory of science over evil — to celebrate her success in convincing the king to be vaccinated against smallpox.
Royal excesses were nothing new, but France was in debt due in part to its involvement in the American Revolution. The monarchy and nobility paid almost no taxes, so the economic burden fell on the shoulders of the commoners, who were hit hard by crop failures and food shortages. Even though motherhood and maturity had dampened much of Marie-Antoinette’s extravagance, she still became the scapegoat for everything that was wrong with France. Pamphlets began circulating, accusing the queen of adultery, out-of-control spending, and corruption.
Louis XVI was too indecisive to take action, so Marie-Antoinette stepped in, sending coded letters to foreign powers and making secret arrangements for her family to flee in 1791. The plans were thwarted when revolutionaries captured the royal family halfway to the border, and they became the prisoners of the Revolutionary government. In September 1792, the National Convention declared France a republic and abolished the monarchy. Louis was found guilty of treason and executed the following January; Marie-Antoinette was the subject of a two-day show trial, at which she was accused and convicted of treason and the sexual abuse of her son. She was beheaded in October 1793. The priest who heard her last confession implored her to have courage. She responded, “Courage? The moment when my ills are going to end is not the moment when courage is going to fail me.”
Marie-Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” The phrase was first penned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, years before Marie-Antoinette ever came to France; he was describing another foreign-born French queen, Marie-Therese of Spain, who was the wife of Louis XIV.
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