Friday, May 29, 2015

Today, enjoy the sun going down on you

Today and tomorrow, it's Manhattanhenge time again. For all of you Illuminati conspiratorialists, ponder the fact that many of Hip Hops multi-millionaire performers are New Yorkers .

Manhattan's grid was originally proposed in 1811, by Gouverneur Morris, surveyor John Rutherfurd, and New York State Surveyor General Simeon De Witt, four years after the city council appointed them "Commissioners of Streets and Roads," charged with master-planning the city's expansion from its dense base on Manhattan's southern tip.

Because of the work of the The Commissioners' Plan of 1811, the orderly plan of the grid like layout of most of Manhattan occurred, we were able to see the spectacular setting of the sun which aligns with the east-west streets, fully illuminating every single cross-street for the last fifteen minutes of daylight (best bet according to Neil deGrasse Tyson is actually tomorrow at 8:12 P.M. EDT.)

May 29, 1936 -
Fritz Lang's
crime thriller, Fury, starring Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy, opened on this date.

This was Fritz Lang's first film in Hollywood and he wasn't accustomed to labor laws that require meal breaks. Shortly after filming began Lang took a quick lunch between set-ups and resumed filming. Some of the crew members wondering about their lunch break asked Spencer Tracy, who in turn pointed out to Lang that it was "1:30 pm and the crew had yet to take their break". Lang replied that it was his set and "that I will call lunch when I think it should be called". Tracy, knowing that it would take at least 90 minutes to set his make-up, subsequently took his hand across his face and smeared the make-up hopelessly, yelled "Lunch!" and promptly walked off the set with the crew.

May 29, 1942 -
The movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney, premiered at a war-bonds benefit in New York on this date.

Despite failing health, the real George M. Cohan acted briefly as a consultant on the film. He lived long enough to see the finished result and approved wholeheartedly of James Cagney's depiction of himself.

May 29, 1954 -
During the first 3-D crazy of the 50's, Alfred Hitchcock releases his masterpiece, Dial 'M' for Murder, on this date.

During the attack scene according to the script, Grace Kelly was to get out of bed, put her robe on, and answer the phone when it rang. Grace Kelly contended that no woman, being at home, would put a robe on to answer the phone. Alfred Hitchcock agreed, and so the scene was shot with her in her nightgown.

Today in History:
May 29, 1453
Constantinople was taken by Ottoman Turks on this date, after a fifty day siege led by Sultan Mehmet II. The city defense of 10,000 men was no match for a force of 100,000 armed with heavy artillery.

It is the final gasp of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Why is this important, you may well ask - it really isn't (this event is considered the end of the Middle Ages) but then again, neither is most of history.

Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736. Mr Henry was an American patriot best known for never having been able to make up his mind. Asked the simplest question, Mr Henry found himself befuddled for days. It therefore came as no surprise to anyone who knew him when, given the choice between liberty and death, he famously pronounced that either would be welcome.

History records his vow at St. John's Church in March of 1775 as "Give me liberty or give me death!" Eyewitnesses and other contemporaries claim he actually said, "Liberty, death, whatever, let's just wrap this puppy up."

May 29, 1913 -
Imagine, if you will, you live in Paris and that after a hard day of not working and drinking heavily (it's what most of the idle rich did in Paris at the time, in between bouts of sodomy, while they waited around for Marcel Proust to finish writing that damn book he was working on - but that's another story), you were dragged to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Tonight, the Ballets Russes was going to perform a new ballet, Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) with the international star, Nijinsky, the choreographer. You might have been expecting a brief snooze but what you got was a full out boxing match (not unlike an evening at the Boston Pops).

The complex music and violent dance steps depicting fertility rites first drew catcalls and whistles from the crowd, and there were loud arguments in the audience between supporters and opponents of the work. These were soon followed by shouts and fistfights in the aisles. The unrest in the audience eventually degenerated into a riot. The Paris police arrived by intermission, but they restored only limited order. Chaos reigned for the remainder of the performance, and Igor Stravinsky (the composer) himself was so upset on account of its reception that he fled the theater in mid-scene, reportedly crying. Fellow composer Camille Saint-Saëns famously stormed out of the première, (though Stravinsky latter said "I do not know who invented the story that he was present at, but soon walked out of, the premiere.") allegedly infuriated over the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet's opening bars.

I hate when they misuse the bassoon.

Stravinsky ran backstage, where Sergei Diaghliev, was turning the lights on and off in an attempt to try to calm the audience. Nijinsky stood on a chair, leaned out (far enough that Stravinsky had to grab his coat-tail), and shouted numbers to the dancers, who couldn't hear the orchestra (this was challenging because Russian numbers are polysyllabic above ten, such as eighteen: vosemnadsat).

Although Nijinsky and Stravinsky were despondent, Diaghilev (the ballet's impresario) commented that the scandal was "just what I wanted". The music and choreography were considered barbaric and sexual and are also often noted as being the primary factors for the cause of the riot, but many political and social tensions surrounding the premiere contributed to the backlash as well.

It was quite an evening.

In the early morning hours of May 29, 1914, the Canadian Pacific ocean liner Empress of Ireland was cruising the St. Lawrence, headed for Liverpool. Traveling the opposite way was the Norwegian collier Storstad, weighed down by a full load of coal.

The British passenger ship collided with a Norwegian freighter and sank, taking 1012 passengers and crewmen with her, within fourteen minutes. At the time, it was considered one of the worst disasters in maritime history.

John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, and is best remembered for telling Berliners "I am a jelly-filled donut" speech, delivered in Berlin (either that or "I am a small brimmed hat, usually worn in early spring" or "I like cheese"), an axiom that many Americans found problematic in the face of increasing cold war tensions, imminent nuclear war, an escalating presence in Vietnam, the troubled state of race relations, and the ubiquitous threat of poisonous snakes.

Mr. Kennedy should not be faulted for his mangling of the phrase, he was a pill-popping, philanderer (banging Hollywood starlets, two and three at a time) in constant pain from Addison's disease and shouldn't have been expected to stay on point in a foreign language with so many other things on his mind.

Born on the same day but several centuries earlier (in 1630), England's King Charles II was best known for the saying, "Give me back my throne."

May 29, 1953
Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay were the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, on Tenzing Norgay's (adopted) 39th birthday.

Following his ascent of Everest, Sir Hillary devoted much of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded. Through his efforts many schools and hospitals were built in this remote region of Nepal.

And so it goes

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