Monday, September 13, 2010

Roald Dahl: Always A Dahl Moment


Having already written a fairly thorough tribute to Roald Dahl on the anniversary of his death, I'm not sure what else I can say about the man on the anniversary of his birth that I haven't already said... Clearly I'm not alone in this, as today is widely celebrated in the English-speaking world as Roald Dahl Day, and indeed the month of September is considered (among other things) Roald Dahl Month.

Then again, there are those people whose accomplishments are so integral to my own life and career that I have no problem running my mouth or even repeating myself when it comes time to eulogize them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that without exposure to his works in those impressionable years before the age of ten I might not be a writer at all... Had he only ever written Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I would still find myself endlessly rhapsodizing about his literary achievements; as it is, he was also responsible for such masterpieces of kid-lit as James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, as well as the decidedly grown-up My Uncle Oswald.

Apart from his literary achievements, Dahl was a pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II, participating in the airborne battle to liberate Athens from the Axis menace. It was during this engagement that his friend, the distinguished flier Marmaduke 'Pat' Pattle, was fatally shot down. Fortunately Dahl survived, and his wartime adventures later provided him with rich fodder for his earliest works, a series of magazine articles and short stories relating these and other experiences; he'd also been employed during the war writing propaganda for the consumption of Allied forces. In fact his first work for kids, The Gremlins, was published while he was still enlisted in 1943, and concerns those mythical creatures well-known to the men of the RAF who fly and service airplanes.

Turbulently married for thirty years from July 1953 to the American actress Patricia Neal, together they had five children and their fair share of heartache into the bargain. Their first child, Olivia, died of measles encephalitis at the age of seven in 1962; then came Tessa, Theo*, Ophelia, and Lucy. It was while pregnant with Lucy in 1965 that Neal famously suffered three cerebral aneurysms, nearly killing her; thanks in large part to Dahl's persistence, Neal re-learned to walk and talk - and in fact only died in August 2010, at the grand old age of 84!

Born on this day in 1916, Roald Dahl died in November 1990; since June 2005 his home in Great Missenden has been maintained for the Nation as the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

*Whose childhood collision with a New York taxi caused the infant to develop hydrocephalus, and his father to develop the Wade-Dahl-Till valve still used to treat such conditions; ironically, by the time work on the valve was completed, Theo had recovered enough that he no longer required it!
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Now Showing: "La Molina" by Yma Sumac

The singer Yma Sumac sparked an unusual kind of controversy when she burst upon the world's music scene in the early 1950s; owing to the unbelievably exotic pedigree she offered as her own (namely that she was an Inca princess descended from Atahualpa) it was oft-rumoured that she was actually Amy Camus* even though they could never quite agree on the spurious place of her birth - some said Brooklyn, others Detroit, still others offered somewhere in Canada.

For the record, she was born in Peru on this day in 1922, although her name at birth - Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo - never would have fit on the sleeve of a 45 rpm record, necessitating the name change.  Yma Sumac died in November 2008.

*Yma Sumac backwards, guh!

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Pop History Moment: The Death of Tupac Shakur


On this day in 1996 Tupac Shakur - one of the last remaining of the socially relevant rappers - succumbed to injuries received on September 7th in a drive-by shooting after the Mike Tyson - Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas. He was 25. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his murder have been explored in the documentary Tupac: Assassination as well as in Assassination: Conspiracy or Revenge.

Shakur's gangsta cred did not end with a hail of bullets; after cremation his ashes were mixed with marijuana and smoked by members of Outlawz. I don't know if I'm more upset that a) a dozen years later police are no closer to solving the case, or b) he stole my idea for the memorial service I want, or c) I wasn't invited, since alive or dead I would have loved nothing better than to have smoked him myself.
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POPnews: September 13th

[Although not the only wall to span the northernmost extent of Roman Britain, Hadrian's Wall is much more famous than either the Antonine Wall or the two other unnamed fortifications those resourceful Italians built to keep the Pictish tribes in.]

122 CE - Legend has it work began on Hadrian's Wall.

533 CE - General Belisarius of the Byzantine Empire defeated Gelimer and his Vandals at the Battle of Ad Decimium, near the North African city of Carthage.

1501 - Michelangelo began work on David - essentially completing rough work begun by Agostino di Duccio; the work was unveiled in the Palazzo della Signoria in September 1504, just days shy of three years later.

1504 - Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand issued a Royal Warrant for the construction of a Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) to be built in Granada to house them after their deaths; both of their bodies had been interred there by 1521, where their remains remain to this day.

1743 - Great Britain, Austria and Sardinia signed the Treaty of Worms, a handy bit of political manoeuvering designed to separate Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII from French influence while resolving issues which had developed between Archduchess Maria Theresa and Sardinia's King Charles Emmanuel III over some of Austria's holdings in Italy.

1759 - British forces under General James Wolfe defeated the French troops of Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm near Quebec City at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham during the Seven Years' War*; both generals lost their lives in the hostilities.

*Which is better known in the United States as the French and Indian War.

1788 - The Philadelphia Convention set the date for the country's first presidential election, and New York City became the temporary capital of the United States.

1812 - A supply wagon sent to relieve the nine-day siege of the Indiana Territory's Fort Harrison was ambushed by a Potawatomi war party during the Attack at the Narrows; eleven soldiers and all the supplies were lost in what was nevertheless considered the first major American land-based victory of the War of 1812 - the larger action known as the Battle of Fort Harrison.

1814 - Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Sangled Banner, when he set his poem The Defense of Fort McHenry to the music of a British drinking ditty called The Anacreontic Song.

1848 - Vermont railroad worker Phineas Gage incredibly survived having an iron rod measuring 109 cm (43 inches) driven through his head following an accident with explosives during construction of the Rutland & Burlington Railroad; the reported effects on his behavior and personality stimulated thinking about the nature of the brain and its functions among Victorian scientists.

1850 - The first ascent of Piz Bernina - the highest summit of the eastern Alps - was made by Johann Coaz and his assistants the brothers Jon and Lorenz Ragut Tscharner.

1922 - The world's highest temperature was recorded at Al 'Aziziyah in Libya: 57.7 C (135.9 F) - one degree hotter than standing within arm's length of Luke LaRue.

1923 - Miguel Primo de Rivera was invited to be Prime Minister of Spain by King Alfonso XIII, setting up a dictatorship following a coup by that country's military.

1935 - A rockslide near Whirlpool Rapids Bridge ended the Great Gorge and International Railway in the Niagara Gorge.

1943 - Chiang Kai-shek was elected President of China.

1969 - Scooby Doo, Where Are You? made its television debut.

1993 - Late Night with Conan O'Brien made its television debut.

2001 - Iain Duncan Smith was elected leader of Britain's Conservative Party, replacing William Hague; he served until losing a vote of confidence in November 2003, following which he was replaced by Michael Howard.

2006 - Kimveer Gill killed 1, wounded 19 others, then committed suicide at Dawson College in Montreal.
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