Tom's Book of Days
      July 11-20  

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July 11


feets don't fail me now

1804: US Vice-President Aaron Burr mortally wounds Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey (of all places).

1967: A drug bust at 42 Belvedere Street (corner of Waller) in the Haight turns up mink-clad Margot Fonteyn and dancing partner Rudolf Nureyev hiding on the roof; they are charged with possession of "12 joints, marijuana, two tablets of an unknown substance and two rolls of pornographic film." News footage of the dancers giggling uncontrollably while being led away adds to the Haight's growing national reputation. They will be released from jail a few hours later and will dance at the Opera House the same night. (I am in the Haight around this time but fail to make the guest list.) The image is a detail of a photo by Jennie Walton.

1975: 8,000 life-size ceramic soldiers and horses are unearthed from the tomb of the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, in China. Some will travel to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.


July 12



1389: King Richard II names Geoffrey Chaucer (his cousin John of Gaunt's brother-in-law) Chief Clerk of King's Works at Westminster.

1817: Tax resister, author, and "self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms" Henry David Thoreau is born in Concord, Massachusetts.

1873: It rains frogs in Kansas City, Missouri.

1904: Pablo Neruda is born in Parral, Chile.

1962: A garbage dump in Pennsylvania bursts into flame beneath the ground, spreading into nearby coal-mining tunnels. As late as 1984 the fire will still be burning.


July 13


wole soyinka


1568: The Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral perfects a way to bottle beer.

1798: William Wordsworth visits the ruins of Tintern Abbey on the River Wye in present-day Wales with his sister Dorothy and composes the poem known as "Tintern Abbey."

1934: Wole Soyinka is born in Abeokuta, Western Nigeria. He will be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1986.

July 14


BASTILLE DAY: In 1789 the prison, built in the 14th century, on the site of the present Place de la Bastille is razed.

1916: Tristan Tzara publishes the First Dadaist manifesto in Zürich.

If I cry out: "Ideal, ideal, ideal!" "Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge!" "Boomboom, boomboom, boomboom!" I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his own personal boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom: the satisfaction of pathological curiosity, a private bell for inexplicable needs, a bath, pecuniary difficulties, a stomach with repercussions in life, the authority of the mystic wand formulated as the bouquet of a phantom orchestra made up of silent fiddle bows with philtres made of chicken manure. With the blue eye-glasses of an angel they have excavated the inner life for a dime's worth of unanimous gratitude. If all of them are right and if all pills are pink pills, let us try for once not to be right.
      --from Dada Manifesto 1918
1921: A jury declares Sacco and Vanzetti guilty.

1926: Harry Dean Stanton is born.

1933: Author Raymond Roussel commits suicide.

1986: Jorge Luis Borges dies in Geneva.

The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary.... More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.
      --10 November 1941

The original is unfaithful to the translation.
      --On Henley's translattion of Beckford's Vathek, 1943

It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors.
      --from "The Fearful Sphere of Pascal"

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.
      --Afterword to El hacedor, 1960

Any time something is written against me, I not only share the sentiment but feel I could do the job far better myself. Perhaps I should advise would-be enemies to send me their grievances beforehand, with full assurance that they will receive my every aid and support. I have even secretly longed to write, under a pen name, a merciless tirade against myself.
      --autobiographical essay, 1970

There is no intellectual exercise that is not ultimately useless.
      --"Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote"

Whoever would undertake some atrocious enterprise should act as if it were already accomplished, should impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past.
      --"The Garden of Forking Paths"

July 15


Walter Benjamin

ST. SWITHIN'S DAY: According to popular belief, despite the request of Swithin, the Bishop of Winchester and a key counselor of Egbert, King of the West Saxons (d. 839), to be buried where the rain might fall on his grave, he was entombed in Winchester Cathedral. The resulting drought is said to have lasted until he was reburied. Rain on St. Swithin's Day means rain for the next six weeks.

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

1837: Smallpox epidemic reaches the Mandan in Dakota Territory, killing 1475 out of 1600 people.

1863: Three days of anti-draft riots end in New York, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.

1892: Walter Benjamin (shown) is born in Berlin.

1916: 22.22 inches of rain fall in Altapass, North Carolina.


July 16



1546: Anne Askew is burnt in England for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation.

1860: Emperor Norton I decrees the abolition of the United States of America.

1915: Henry James becomes a British citizen: "I have testified to my long attachment here in the only way I could--though I certainly shouldn't have done it ... if the U.S.A. had done a little more me."

1973: During the Watergate hearings, aide Al Butterfield reveals for the first time that Dick Nixon has not only been bugging the country but he has also been bugging himself. The tapes will prove his political downfall-but they will also be a financial windfall, as the US government will eventually reimburse his estate millions of dollars for them.


July 17


lady day


1453: Defeat of the English by the French at the Battle of Castillon ends the Hundred Years War. Enough is enough.

1938: Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan leaves from Brooklyn for LA (according to his flight plan) in a tiny single-engine plane; 29 hours later, he winds up in Ireland, claiming his compasses had failed.

1959, 1967: Billie Holiday dies in New York City, followed by John Coltrane on the same day eight years later, also in New York City.


July 18


Jane Austen


1817: Jane Austen dies at 41 in Winchester.

1900: Nathalie Sarraute is born.

1966: Carl Sagan turns 1 billion seconds old.

1981: Norman Mailer's literary protege Jack Henry Abbott stabs a young man to death in an East Village restaurant. The next day, the New York Times will call his collected letters from jail (he is a convicted bank robber, out on a work release program), In the Belly of the Beast, "the most fiercely visionary book of its kind in the American repertoire of prison literature ... awesome, brilliant."


July 19


Sitting Bull

Emile Zola, by Nadar

711: Rodric, King of Spain, is defeated by the Moors.

1374: Petrarch dies in Arquà, Tuscany, the day before his 70th birthday.

1553: Lady Jane Grey is deposed at age 15 as Queen of England after nine-day rule.

1876: Dutch Colonial Army enlistee Arthur Rimbaud arrives in the Sunda Isles and promptly deserts.

1881: Sitting Bull surrenders with 186 followers; the US Army breaks its amnesty promise and jails him at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory.

1898: Emile Zola flees France, after being sentenced to jail for criticizing the government's handling of the Dreyfus case. Captain Alfred Dreyfus of France had been accused in 1884 of selling military secrets to Germany; he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Evidence of his innocence emerged, despite an attempt by the military to suppress it. Zola was outspoken on Dreyfus's behalf: his famous J'accuse, an open letter to the president of the republic, revealed details of the cover-up. The affair exposed deep-seated anti-Semitism in the army and helped unite the French left and bring about a separation of church and state.

1969: John Fairfax rows a boat across the Atlantic Ocean.

2006: A fisherman in Texas catches a "freaky" fish sporting a set of human-like teeth. (The fish is thought to be a South American pacu.)


July 20


mark twain

1801: A 1235-pound cheese ball is pressed at the farm of Elisha Brown, Jr. It will be loaded on a horse-driven wagon and presented to President Thomas Jefferson at the White House.

1869: Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad is published. (The image shown is from 1864, when he was doing newspaper work in San Francisco (my old home town).

1979: Leonard Peltier escapes Lompoc federal penitentiary, California.

continue to July 21


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