Sunday, February 9, 2020

Another Saturday spent racing about, gathering supplies for the upcoming week’s celebrations. We’ve got peppermint patties, three kinds of cheddar, and everything we need for our second grand bagel-and-lox brunch. But we also had some celebrating to do.

National Boy Scouts Day / Boy Scouts Month

Having never been a member of any scouting organization, I am at a loss as to how best to commemorate this day and month. Perhaps my parents were put off by the Scout Oath, which mentions a duty to God that they may not have approved of. Maybe they didn’t want me to acquire survival skills in the event of an apocalypse, so that they could cook me and eat me first. Or maybe my dad was just reluctant to volunteer. I never saw the man even enter a tent, let alone go camping.

The Boy Scouts harken back to British war hero Lord Baden-Powell, whose 1908 book Scouting for Boys is the fourth-bestselling book of all time. Baden-Powell himself launched the UK Scout Association, which is currently led by TV adventurer Bear Grylls. The Scouts are a great organization, teaching honour, loyalty, duty, courtesy, obedience, and living in harmony with nature. Not a bad curriculum.

How many Scouts (and Guides and Brownies, etc.) are there around the world? More than double Canada’s population. There are over 17 million donning the uniforms in Indonesia alone. The Scouts have also been a pivotal part of history.

When the British were stretching their limbs across Africa and India they employed the Scouts as a means of teaching the local kids to stay in line with the authoritarian folks in charge. Sounds like a great way to corral the masses, except for that pesky Fourth Scout Law, which states that a scout was a brother to every other scout. Regardless of race. Eventually the locals were using Scouting as a way to challenge the regime in charge, turning it back upon itself.

Our kids were never that excited about joining the Scouts, though our son gave it a try. We’ll send a two-finger salute their way, however. And they can have dibs on camping; I was taught to stick with hotels.

National Kite Flying Day

We were prevented from celebrating this particular day, mostly by nature. We have a couple of kites stashed somewhere in the garage (I think), but we also have a climate besieged by winter in February. Every damn year.

Not that you need summer weather to toss a piece of tethered canvas into the air and watch it surf the wind. But you do need wind. And we had absolutely no wind all day, which would have left us running through a snowy field, dragging a kite behind us like idiots.

So, much as with the Scouts, our celebration will arrive in the form of education. The earliest depiction of a kite dates back to 9,500-9,000 BC: a sketch on a cave in what we now call Indonesia. The Chinese claim to have invented kites a lot later, in 5th-century BC, the work of philosopher Mozi and engineer Lu Ban. I like that – a recreational pastime concocted by a philosopher. Like finding out Nietzsche invented the hackysack or something.

Kites can also kill. Korean general Kim Yu-sin used flaming kites solely to scare the bejeezus out of the enemy. During the Song Dynasty, the Chinese came up with a kite that was rigged with powder, a fuse, and a burning stick of incense. They’d aim the kites at the enemy or their buildings and BOOM. This isn’t antiquated tech either – Palestinians were using similar technology in 2018.

But kites are also crucial to science. Ben Franklin got zapped proving you shouldn’t fly kites in a lightning storm. Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright Brothers all tried using huge kites to lift humans in the air. Kites were used to measure the weather. And apparently scientists are working on underwater kites to harness renewable power from the depths. We couldn’t fly one yesterday, but we certainly toasted their inarguable awesomeness.

National Iowa Day

Our journey around the 50 states continued yesterday with the Hawkeye State. Once a part of French Louisiana and Spanish Louisiana, Iowa has become one of the safest states in which to live. Why? Maybe it’s all the corn.

What do we really know about Iowa? By “we” I mean literally “we” – two Canadians who have never set foot in the place. Well, it has dropped from being 96.6% white to about 90% white since 1990, so hooray for diversity in Des Moines. We know they run the first presidential caucus in every election, and apparently sometimes keeping track of those votes is difficult. Iowa was one of the first states to make racial discrimination illegal, the University of Iowa was the first in the nation to admit men and women equally, and it was the third state to allow same-sex marriages. Not a bad record.

Cool people from Iowa? Well, there’s Johnny Carson, Lara Flynn Boyle, Steve Higgins, jazz pioneer Bix Beiderbecke, comedian Jake Johannsen, Ashton Kutcher, Ron Livingston (from the film Office Space), Glenn Miller, Kate Mulgrew, Donna Reed, Paul Rust, John Wayne, Elijah Wood, and of course Radar O’Reilly and Captain James T. Kirk.

Our celebration came in the form of the Maid-Rite sandwich, which is apparently an Iowa classic. It’s simply seasoned ground beef on a bun. But it’s not a sloppy Joe – the sauce is what sloppifies the Joe. Tomato sauce, and often ketchup – none of that in the Maid Rite. The result is still sloppy, but with bits of tumbling beef, not a dripping sauce. And the flavour is savoury instead of sweet. It is truly a fantastic piece of sandwichry.

Opera Day

Having zero connection to opera, despite growing up ensconced in music, this day posed a challenge. Do we venture to a local opera performance? Attempt to sing some ourselves, insulting an entire profession in the process? In the end, it was about listening to the music. Puccini’s La Bohème accompanied the creation of this article, and it was beautiful and impressive beyond words.

Except that it was just music. Operas have a narrative, and that narrative is remarkably difficult to follow when singers are blasting out their gusto-backed lyrics in a language I don’t understand. Jodie has seen opera live, I have not. Unless you count the man belting Klingon opera at the top of his lungs at the Star Trek exhibit in Las Vegas twenty years ago.

By today’s standards, opera is one of the most inaccessible forms of music to the average listener. But art speaks in its own language, and you don’t need a crash-course in Italian to feel the emotion and passion of opera on the underside of your skin. One day we may venture from baroque through bel canto, and uncover as many secrets as opera has to offer, but for now this day will remain an outlier.

Propose Day

I proposed to Jodie. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sure.” I’ve never been so happy.

An easy little day for a Sunday, which will leave us time to watch the Oscars and reflect on how tragically few movies we’ve seen in the last year.

  • National Bagel Day. Our second such day, and the one that used to be known as Bagel & Lox Day. We’ll be eating that.
  • National Pizza Day. Finally. The day reserved for nature’s finest food.
  • Read In The Bathtub Day. A fairly simple task that one of us will undertake.
  • Man Day. I’ll try to figure out what it means to be a man. I will most likely not succeed.

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