LET US TURN BACK TO THE WRIGHT, BROTHERS AND SISTERS

PROLOGUE:
We had to go ahead and discover everything for ourselves.
–Orville Wright, 1901

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Friends, Readers, Countrymen —

If you have spent many a sleepless night
tossing and turning ’til dawn’s early light,
wondering if I’d e’er host another post,
take such worries off thy plate — they’re toast.

Yes, Brothers and Sisters, thy long wait is o’er.
I’m back, and who of you could ask for more
although I must confess
that most may ask for less. 😦

Never-the-less, Brothers and Sisters,
it is written in the stars that I must return to the scene of my rhymes and other crimes. It’s Kismet.

Notwithstanding the never-the-less, Brothers and Sisters, I digress.
I come here not to berhyme the Wrights, but to praise them.

Thus this follow-up to my May 17 post, THE DAY THE WRIGHTS DONE ME WRONG, because, by ancient axiom, it’s the Wright thing to do (If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again). And if this discourse has the unintended consequence of being the sleep-aid you need to catch up on those zzzzz, the added benefit comes at no extra charge.

But I doubt that will be the case with THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, which, it so happens, is the title of a book I just finished reading (by my favorite historian, David McCullough). It’s no less than you’d expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning author: a masterful biography which (quoting from the dust cover) “draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including personal diaries, notebooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence, to tell the human side of a profoundly American story.”

The Wrights spent years of trial and air working to construct the world’s first ‘aeroplane,’ but as reader Don Frankel noted on May 17, America paid scant attention even after their successful first flight Dec. 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (and Don wasn’t just whistling Dixie in his comment). Finally, in 1906, after numerous improvements (including a more powerful engine) and many test flights, “much of the scientific world and the press [began] to change their perspective on the brothers”, and they started to attract commercial and government–especially French, not American– interest.

To the latter point, President (and fellow Ohioan) Wm. Howard Taft spoke as follows in presenting the two brothers with Gold Medals on June 10, 1909, in Washington D.C.:

I esteem it a great honor and an opportunity to present these medals to you as an evidence of what you have done. I am so glad–perhaps at a delayed hour–to show that in America it is not true that “a prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” It is especially gratifying thus to note a great step in human discovery by paying honor to men who bear it so modestly. You made this discovery by a course that we of America like to feel is distinctly American–by keeping your noses right at the job until you had accomplished what you had determined to do.

There are many stories within the story of THE WRIGHT BROTHERS, many twists and turns and mishaps along the way. The Wrights weren’t ‘stick’ figures with no interests and little to commend beyond their mechanical genius. Wilbur, for example, wrote home from France in 1906 of long walks and “the great buildings and art treasures of Paris, revealing as he never had–or had call to–the extent of his interest in architecture and painting.”

Read this bio and you will surely be taken along for the ride, as was I, by “the human side of a profoundly American story” of two men most of us know only from dry history books.

So fasten your life jackets and come fly with me.

EPILOGUE:
We dared to hope we had invented something that would bring lasting peace to the Earth. But we were wrong. We underestimated man’s capacity to hate and to corrupt good means for an evil end. –Orville Wright, 1943 (during WWII)

 

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IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE….IT’S CHARLES LINDBERGH!

Taking off from my last post (where I left the Wright Brothers up in the air and me breezin’ along with the breeze), we come to May 20, a day second to none in aviation annals.*

On this May day in 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from New York for Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis (his monoplane), to begin the second (and most famous) nonstop transatlantic flight in history. Yes, I said second — the first was made by paired English aviators in 1919, from Newfoundland to Ireland (about half the distance of Lindbergh’s solo flight).

On this date in 1932, Amelia Earhart took off from Newfoundland for Paris, but due to weather conditions, she had to ‘pull up’ short in Northern Ireland, nonetheless becoming the first woman to make a solo nonstop transatlantic flight.

We now turn to the musical portion of the program. Faster than you can say “It’s a bird,” Lindbergh’s fame brought songwriters down from the clouds to cash in, hatching a flock of insipid pop songs. Not so with Earhart’s feat, not even a peep of a song….although her lost flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 did inspire a few songs that didn’t long survive.

OK. If I had to eat crow in my last post, can I now soar like an eagle with these jazzed-up Lindberg hit tunes soaring over treacly lyrics:

Ladies and gendermen, the Spirit of St. Louis is coming in for a landing — and if we’re Lucky, Lindy will be in the spirit for a rousing finish.

*In addition to the Lindbergh and Earhart flights, May 20 was also the day Congress passed the Air Commerce Act licensing pilots and planes in 1926, and the date of the first regular transatlantic airmail flight (Pan Am, NYC to Marseille, France) in 1939.

 

 

 

NOTES FROM THE ALLEY

Now that the madness of America’s interminable election season is over, it’s time to get back to the saner things in life. It has been a while since I devoted an entire post to a subject which is right down my (Tin Pan) Alley, namely the Golden Age of Popular Music (between WWI and WWII). I assume that, unlike me, few (if any) of you were alive during that era….but, since I feel reasonably certain you wouldn’t miss that opportunity again if you had the chance, I forgive you for such a lamentable shortcoming.

Speaking of lament-able, I’ll start with a song written toward the end of the era by a 15 year old wunderkind, Mel Tormé, who went on to decades-long fame as a jazz vocalist:

For those who are unfamiliar with the term TIN PAN ALLEY, I quote excerpts from a 1975 book of that title by researcher Ian Whitcomb about the beginnings of pop music:
The name “Tin Pan Alley” applied to the railroad flats around 28th and Broadway in NYC where the music publishing houses were clustered. Around the 1890’s a canny bunch of businessmen, keenly aware of the new mass-market created by the Industrial Revolution, decided to manufacture songs. They fed theaters and parlors, cafes and dance halls with their wares. By 1910 The Alleymen had pushed hundreds of songs into million-selling sheets. These tall piano copies, fronted with colored art-work and spotted with ads for other songs, were the sole pop moneymakers until records, radio and talking pictures became the chief pop vehicles.

This brings us to the period immediately following the end of WWI on Nov. 11, 1918, and to one of the biggest hits of the next year, when our doughboys were returning home by the hundreds of thousands from the battle fronts of Europe and the pleasure fronts of Paris. With un peu d’imagination, perhaps you can appreciate the question….

Two years later (1921), song writers were still asking questions, including this one posed by its composer Richard Whiting (whose birthday was three days ago, Nov. 12, 1891), sung here by his daughter and Bob Hope:

Of course, the above words and recordings have barely scratched the surface of  the sounds you would have savored had you been around in those days (and make no mistake, that music would have seduced you as much then as today’s music seduces you now). And so on that note….

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

 

 

15 THINGS 15 IS FAMOUS FOR

There is nothing I like more than a challenge (well, there is probably something I like more, but I needed a lead-in). After my posts “FIVE DAYS HATH NOVEMBER” on Nov. 5 and “TEN” on Nov. 10, it occurred to me to keep the gambit going with a “FIFTEEN” post on Nov. 15. However, other than the famous “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” it’s hard to figure what else 15 is iconic for that I could build a post around. So I challenged myself to compile a list of 15 famous fifteens, knowing that although most of what I come up with may not yet be famous, the mere mention of them here will make them so — thanks to you, my many adoring readers and viral instigators.

Without further ado, then, here are 15 things that 15 has been (or soon will be) famous for:

1.  15 minutes of fame
2.  15 minute coffee breaks
3.  15 humble politicians (coming soon to a universe near you)
4.  15 days of darkness beginning, coincidentally, Nov. 15 (another of those social media apocalyptic rumors, apparently started by someone who had been out in the sun too long)
5.  15 gun salute (for credentials rated six guns beneath the warranting of a 21 gun salute)
6.  15 things that look like Donald Trump:
http://onemorepost.com/donald-trump-hair-look-alikes/
7.  15 flavors of prunes
8.  15 minutes of unforgiving flatulence
9.  15 temptations (Satan’s answer to God’s 15 Commandments, of which Moses dropped five, while Satan’s temptations have multiplied like wildfire)
10. Etcetera
11. And so forth
12. And so on
13. And the like
14. Whatever
15. Last but lust, pure gold — this 15 from Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND:

NOTE: The Dead Man’s Chest referenced in the song is DEAD CHEST ISLAND (aka DEAD MAN’S CHEST ISLAND), a small, uninhabited island in the British Virgin Islands. The pirate known as “Blackbeard” is said to have punished his mutinous crew by marooning them on the island, each with a cutlass and a bottle of rum, with the expectation that they would kill each other. But when he returned after 30 days, he found that 15 had survived; thus —

Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest–
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Robert Louis Stevenson, by the way, was born on November 13, 1850 — two days shy of coming to this post on his 165th birthday….a shortcoming for which I absolve posthaste the author of such admired works as the STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, KIDNAPPED, and TREASURE ISLAND.

ADDENDUM: I was writing the first draft of this post when I heard of the terrorist attacks in Paris. To my friends/readers in France, may I express solidarité. In the aftermath, humor can seem out of place — but life marches on through (and past) the madness that does not know how to laugh. We cry at the mindlessness of it all, but we are human; we will laugh again….and we’ll always have Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRENCH LICKS / ROMAN WRINKLES

PARIS IS NOT NICE, & NEITHER IS NICE*

If we would please in society, we must be prepared to be taught
many things we know already by people who do not know them.
–Nicolas Chamfort, French writer

Beg pardon, Monsieur Chamfort, but since when have the French (even the
Nice* French) had a reputation for giving a damn about pleasing anyone?

*Nice (a city in France) is pronounced “NIECE” in French

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NOSING AROUND THE HILLY ROMAN EMPIRE

The Eternal City of Seven Hills
Has more holy grounds than a catacomb.
But — be it ever so rumpled —
“There’s no place like Rome.”

Ah….Roma!

Arrivederci Roma!