Wednesday, May 27, 2020

One unimpeded truth that slaps us consistently (if not maliciously) is that our experience as a collective has dissolved to an extent. We are all adrift upon the COVID sea, but increasingly isolated as we tend to the machinations of our own craft. So many are in grief or struggle, and that clang of agony reverberates for all of us, like a sickly puce glow on the horizon. Some are finding each day to be suffocating, others are mired in confusion. We awaken each day and glance for upcoming celebrations on our calendar – an experience likely unique in this flipped-askew year. But just because we immerse ourselves in manufactured mirth doesn’t mean we are blind to the fissures in the status quo, nor are we obtusely oblivious to the universal pain. But we’re coping the best way we can, with stuff like this:

National Wine Day

We had a puppy training class on Monday, so this got bumped to a day when we could appreciate it. Those who have been following our alcohol-related celebrations (and they have been among my favourites) have probably been wondering when wine would get center stage. We have already passed Moscato day (and I think we forgot to crack that bottle), as well as World Malbec Day – Monday was the day for plain ol’ wine. Any type, just pick one and drink it. And hey, we totally did! A day late!

The earliest evidence of wine consumption dates back to 6000 BC, so wine is even older than civilization itself. Wine is beloved around the world. It is sacred, a part of Ancient Greek and Roman cults, as well as intertwined with Christianity and Judaism. It’s the nectar of life and the favourite topic of memes shared by moms everywhere.

As an imbiber with average taste buds, meaning that I’m not a super-taster by any stretch, I in no way consider myself an expert on wines. I’ve looked into the jargon though, which is why I feel I would be ill-equipped to discern if a wine is herbaceous, grassy, fallen over, supple, round or reticent. To me, wine is either good enough to warrant another sip, or it’s not. I’ll leave the scrutinizing to the pros.

We didn’t do a heap of research for this one, we simply enjoyed a nice Shiraz with dinner, and then some more after dinner. What more does one need to do on National Wine Day?

National Wyoming Day

Due to the joys of pizza consumption, we bumped this from its Sunday spot to yesterday. We have no regrets; pizza is life.

What can we say about Wyoming? Jodie can say plenty more than I, as she has actually visited the state on multiple occasions. I’ve heard so much about this cowboy bar in Jackson Hole I feel like I’ve been there myself. And it’s a cowboy bar, so my presence isn’t likely.

There are 31 cities in America with more population than the state of Wyoming. The greater Edmonton area contains nearly twice as many people; in fact, the population of Cheyenne, the bustling capital, could fit in our football stadium. Two thirds of the state are blanketed in mountains. Almost half of this square of land is owned by the US government. It’s a state with an economy based on farming and coal, and as such it leans conservative almost all the time. That said, in 1869 Governor Campbell granted the vote to women, making it the first US territory or state to include women in the process. They were also the first to allow women on juries, to hire a female court bailiff, and to elect a female governor. It came to be known as the Equality State, which is a pretty damn fine nickname to have.

Wyoming has produced a rather modest list of folks who would achieve fame and fortune, but with a tiny population that isn’t a surprise. Jim J. Bullock, whom you may remember from ALF and Hollywood Squares, hails from Casper; artist Jackson Pollock was born in Cody; Cecilia Hart, of whom you’ve likely never heard but she was married to James Earl Jones from 1982 until her death in 2016, comes from Cheyenne; and if we’re going to stretch our ‘famous Wyomingans’ definition a bit, Matthew Fox of Lost fame was raised in Crowheart, while Han “Indiana Jones” Solo has a place in Jackson Hole.

The cuisine of Wyoming includes prairie oysters, which sound disgusting (unless eating bull testicles is your thing) but which we would totally try. Unfortunately we can’t find any around here – maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know. I also saw that bison was a big Wyoming treat, but even that can be hard to find in this weird year. Grilled steak also makes the list though, so I tossed some tenderloin on the barbecue and dug into that. It was a fine way to toast the Equality State.

Also, I forgot to take a picture of our steak dinner, so that’s a shot from National Barbecue Day a couple weeks back. Steak is steak.

World Lindy Hop Day

The lindy hop was a Depression-era phenomenon, a way beleaguered folks could blast their stresses out through the manic flailing of their limbs. Neither Jodie nor myself have any lindy hopping experience, but we did watch this video and did our best to simulate the action on screen. And by “action” I mean we simulated the movement of the inanimate objects in the background. Had we tried dancing like that, we both would have likely burst into flames. We have too many more celebrations to tend to this year to snuff ourselves out with the lindy hop.

There were a few dances calling themselves the Lindy Hop in the 20s after Charles Lindbergh made his big flight over the ocean. It was a staple of 1920s synergy to name a dance or a song or a type of soap after something in order to glom onto a fad. The one that stuck the name was created by George Snowden and Mattie Purnell during one of those crazy dance marathons up in Harlem in 1928. The roots of the dance can be traced back at least 15 years earlier, but it became a sensation once it secured the Lindy name, especially with a number of Lindbergh-based tunes that were popular at the time.

The craze lasted throughout the 30s and into the war; as mentioned yesterday for Tap Dance Day, the lavish MGM musicals freely adopted the style and blended it with tap. The Lindy Hop is hardcore. You can’t just up and learn that dance like you can with the waltz or the two-step. It’s part rhythmic adherence to the beat, part acrobatics, and part hyper-athletic improvisation. This is a dance for those who know what they’re doing. We are not those people.

But we do love watching gifted dancers perform, and the Lindy Hop makes for great viewing.

Sally Ride Day

Happy 69th birthday to one of the most awesome humans to have been born on this earth, only to blast away from it in epic fashion. Sally Ride was not the first woman in space – two Soviet cosmonauts beat her to that – but she was the first American woman to visit the other side of the atmosphere. She was also the youngest person to take the trip, taking off at age 32.

Sally was, as most astronauts are, an overachiever. She was a nationally ranked tennis player. She graduated from Stanford with a double-major bachelor’s degree, then a Masters, then a PhD. She helped to develop Canada’s great space achievement, the Canadarm. And despite being asked such moronic question as “will space travel affect your reproductive organs?”, Sally hopped aboard the Challenger space shuttle and reached outer space on June 18, 1983. Her fans wore shirts that aptly quoted Wilson Picket’s “Mustang Sally”: the shirts said ‘Ride, Sally Ride’. Cute.

She was getting ready for her third flight aboard the craft when the Challenger blew up in 1986. She was the one who figured out it was the O-rings that caused the tragedy. She became a children’s author, a professor, and she continued to work with NASA, notably as part of the investigation team after the Columbia explosion in 2003. We lost her from cancer in 2012. Because she kept her personal life quite private, it wasn’t until later that we learned that she had a female partner for 27 years, making her the first known LGBT astronaut.

Sally Ride is the epitome of human achievement. I don’t know who decided she deserved an official day, but I’m glad she got one. Happy birthday, Sally!

World Dracula Day

123 years ago yesterday, the world of fiction took a dark and twisted turn courtesy of Bram Stoker. Bram wasn’t specifically out to invent a genre, he was just cashing in on the current literary trend of the time. Fantastic adventure stories were the big fad, akin to blockbuster movies these days. I’m sure there were crotchety old readers who bemoaned the fantastic voyages of Treasure Island, the proto-sci-fi of H.G. Wells, or the detective stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. And those self-appointed purists probably scoffed at Stoker’s monster story. This is what happens when you scoff at culture – you run the risk of being laughed at 123 years later as being some schmuck on the wrong side of history.

Bram did his research. He was fascinated by an essay by Emily Girard about Transylvania superstitions, in particular about the vampire myth. He read folklore tales, and studied the life of Vlad the Impaler, the cruel Romanian leader who was also known as ‘Vlad Dracula.’ There were other vampire novels on the market too, including one called Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, which was a lesbian vampire story. But Bram’s was the one that conquered our imaginations. Maybe it was because he added some panache to the story, thanks to his years working in theatre.

Dracula leads us smoothly into the world of film, which was just starting to make a splash in the world when the novel dropped. Nosferatu is one of the most enduring German films of the silent era. Dracula with Bela Lugosi a classic Universal monster film. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a massive hit in 1992. Twilight… nah, never mind.

Congrats to the wicked count for harnessing those children of the night and enduring for well more than a century.

World Redhead Day

This is a day to reach out to all your friends with red hair and say, “Hey, you have red hair. Have a great day.” Sure, they get their own dedicated month in November, but we don’t get to every month celebration so we’ll tackle this one. This is a celebration with no known origin, but that’s most of the celebrations on our calendar. Someone simply decided this was a fine day to celebrate redheads, and here we are.

Less than 2% of all humans sport red hair, and given that it is not a naturally occurring hair colour in China, India, or most of Africa, that makes sense. 13% of Scotland’s residents feature an auburn mane, and 10% of Ireland’s. Again, no surprise. One thing I find interesting is that the percentage of left-handed people is quite high in the redhead community. They’re both recessive genes, and quite often those pop up in pairs.

Redheads are less likely to go grey, and they produce more vitamin D in a shorter time than their blonde and brunette counterparts. This is handy, since they also burn a lot quicker on a sunny day. Being a male with red hair may actually lower your risk of prostate cancer, a fact that will have absolutely no impact on my unfortunate dirty-blond life. But it’s interesting. It’s also kind of cool that redheads are one of the groups who are over-represented in the media, with about 30% of prime-time TV shows featuring a character with red hair.

So to those of you who sport a fiery cluster of locks atop your dome, happy day. We’ll chat again in November.

Another glorious day with another insistent batch of stuff to celebrate:

  • National Cellophane Tape Day. On the 90th anniversary of its invention, we’ll find something weird to do with the stuff.
  • National Grape Popsicle Day. A specifically delicious treat of a day.
  • National Sunscreen Day. I thought this was last Saturday, which would have been nice. I guess we wear sunscreen to the office?
  • Old Time Player Piano Day. No access to one of these, but they are somewhat fascinating. We’ll learn a little.
  • Nothing To Fear Day. Except, of course, that pesky beast: fear itself.

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