Wednesday, October 29, 2020

I have now written more than 300 of these intro paragraphs, ranging from the confessional to the esoteric, and occasionally meandering into pitiful whining. Some days, like today for example, I have no grand message or observation to impart, I simply need to fill the requisite number of lines before it’s time to dive into the guts of the article. One thing I know for certain: this final week before the US election, before the countdown to the end of 2020 dips below the two-month mark, has been crawling like molasses. I feel I’ve put in six or seven days since the last weekend, and I have no idea why. These aren’t sour, rotten days. They’re just… days. So many days. So many articles. So many damn celebrations. For example:

International Animation Day

This is fun – I love diving deep into cinematic history, and rarely get to do so in this project. I’d like to introduce you to Emile Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique. Back in the Magic Lantern days, while Edison was sitting in his lab, trying to figure out how to get his employees to invent the movie camera so that he could take credit, Emile was painstakingly building an elaborate animation system in Paris. The zoetrope and praxinoscope were already around – little devices with mirrors that allowed for a looping dozen or so images to give the impression of movement when you spun them. But you can’t charge an audience to gather around a little table-top device for 2.5 seconds of entertainment.

The praxinoscope, by the way, had been invented by Emile, so he was no stranger to this technology. He figured out a way to stitch together up to 50 meters of 6x6cm gelatin plates, each with a hand-painted image, and project those images onto a screen. Just like that, you had a 10-minute animation, which could be stretched out by slowing down the device, or winding it back and forth for a comedic effect, much like how a DJ will scratch a record.

Yesterday marked the 128th anniversary of Emile’s first public demonstration of his Théâtre Optique to a Paris audience at the Musée Grévin. He had three cartoons at the ready, and they were a huge success. People swarmed to see these shows for the equivalent of about $5 in today’s money. So why haven’t we all heard of Emile Reynaud? Well, the Lumière Brothers showed up three years later with their own invention: a projector that showed actual movies. Emile had been eclipsed by the advent of actual motion pictures.

But his legacy lives on, at least in this coveted celebration. I honoured his work by watching this video, a cartoon called Pauvre Pierrot, which was among the first shown on that day back in 1892. I also watched some more modern animation: an episode of Bob’s Burgers and the “Deep Space Homer” episode of The Simpsons. Oh if Emile could have only seen where his technology would lead us.

Ohi Day

Having made the obligatory cinematic reference to The Room in yesterday’s article, I’ll simply move on with the actual purpose of this day.

On October 28, 1940, some 80 long years ago, the Greeks received an ultimatum. Specifically, Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas received one, directly from Benito Mussolini, who was puffing out Italy’s chest in a demonstration of unwarranted cockiness. Benito told Ioannis that he’d better let Italy’s Axis forces move in and take over key positions in Greece, otherwise he’d take it as an act of war. Benito wasn’t fucking around.

Ioannis responded with one word: “Ohi” – which means “No.” Actually, what he said was,”Alors, c’est la guerre”, which means “Alright then, it’s war”, but close enough. No idea why the Prime Minister of Greece was speaking in French. I wasn’t there.

Anyhow, Italian forces stomped across the border and brought Greece into World War II the next day, and having heard the abridged version, Greeks stormed the streets chanting “Ohi” in protest. A couple years later this day was commemorated as a point of inspiration for the resistance. It’s still a big deal in Greece, and it absolutely should be. This was the day they stood up to fascists, fully aware of the consequences. It’s a day to reflect the impressive cojones of Ioannis Metaxas and the Greek people.

We celebrated with a delicious serving of lamb, and a proud salute to Greek fortitude.

Positive Attitude Month

We can do this!

October is a month unlike any other we’ve experienced so far this year, in that it has an unusual abundance of official national month celebrations. Keep in mind, we skip many of these every month (and even this month we’re skipping Rhubarb Month and World Menopause Month, among others), but October seems jam-packed with accessible weirdness. So let’s do a quick run-down of some positive things we should keep in mind:

  • The U.S. election will be over next Tuesday. We might not hear the results until a while later, but whatever happens, we’re coming close to the end of this mess.
  • If Trump wins, we’ll survive. America will survive. It will get shittier, but it will survive.
  • There may be a vaccine for Covid in the works that will drive this entire pandemic into the annals of history in the next few months. Maybe. If not – we’ll figure out a way to move forward with some sense of normalcy. Humanity always does.
  • Once this year ends, this project ends, and I get a whole bunch of free time to pursue other interests, like herring-juggling or inventing laser jai alai.
  • A north Texas 5th grader is looking to donate 100,000 meals to the needy before Thanksgiving, and he’s already 4,000 meals toward his goal.
  • Scientists recently discovered the a massive coral reef for the first time in 120 years, and humankind hasn’t messed it up yet.
  • We all missed the Jerry Lewis telethon over Labour Day weekend, but it still happened. Kevin Hart hosted, and they raised $10.5 million for kids with muscular dystrophy.
  • An 8-year-old in Canada (not sure where) recently received gene therapy to reverse his blindness. He got to see stars for the first time in his little life.
  • Ikea just announced that they will take back used Ikea furniture, provided it’s in decent condition, for up to 50% of its value in store credit for Black Friday. The stuff they can’t resell they’ll recycle.
  • One 14-year-old girl just won a $25,000 prize for a scientific breakthrough that could lead to a cure for Covid. Another 14-year-old girl built herself a prosthetic arm that shoots glitter. So our future generation of adults is looking pretty damn brilliant and fabulous.

I got most of these stories from goodnewsnetwork.org, a website that features heaps of positive news stories to counteract all the miserable ones filtering in from everywhere else. I strongly recommend bookmarking that site and checking it whenever you need a reminder that there is plenty of greatness on this planet. October’s end shouldn’t mean the end of positivity. We can get through this.

National Chocolate Day

Here it is. We have celebrated nearly 2,000 various foods and objects and people and animals throughout the year, but we have finally come across the big one: chocolate. The pinnacle of life for some, an unconquerable addiction for others, and one of the first words uttered when many people dare to describe their ideal dessert.

The Mokaya people in what we now call Mexico were not only drinking chocolate as long ago as 1950 BC, there is evidence that fermented sugars around the rim of the drinking vessel had turned it into an alcoholic drink. Mayans grew cacao trees, and also downed the stuff in beverage form. The Aztecs wound chocolate into their faith, believing Quetzalcoatl was cast out by the other gods for having introduced humans to chocolate. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs associated chocolate with human sacrifice, which thankfully no longer happens (unless you count the current plague of morbid obesity in our culture, some of which can be attributed to our love of chocolate).

Christopher Columbus learned about chocolate in his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502, and Europeans never looked back. Chocolate has become a mainstay of sweetness all around the world, and it’s likely nothing will ever take its place.

So next we approach the question of which is best: milk chocolate, dark chocolate or white chocolate. Naturally I’ll provide no conclusive answer because they are all great. I’m no chocolate snob. The only advice I’ll put out there is that milk chocolate lovers should marry dark chocolate lovers. Jodie and I never quarrel over chocolates when both are available, and that is most likely the secret to our 25-year successful relationship.

Yesterday we ate some chocolate, pure and simple. This is the pinnacle of this year of celebration. It can only go downhill from here.

So what awaits us on that downward slope then? Well, we’ve got a handful of possible weirdness to tackle today, such as:

  • National Cat Day. I know numerous cat-lovers who will be celebrating this day with verve and joy.
  • National Oatmeal Day. This is Jodie’s favourite breakfast food so I’ll let her tackle this one.
  • National Hermit Day. At last! A day in 2020 where I can stay inside and not see people…
  • World Internet Day. Finally a day for getting around to checking out this whole internet phenomenon.

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