December 6


" now there you are like it or lump it he thinks nothing can happen without him knowing he hadnt an idea about my mother till we were engaged otherwise hed never have got me so cheap as he did he was 10 times worse himself anyhow begging me to give him a tiny bit cut off my drawers that was the evening coming along Kenilworth square he kissed me in the eye of my glove and I had to take it off asking me questions is it permitted to enquire the shape of my bedroom so I let him keep it as if I forgot it to think of me when I saw him slip it into his pocket of course hes mad on the subject of drawers thats plain to be seen always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels even when Milly and I were out with him at the open air fete that one in the cream muslin standing right against the sun so he could see every atom she had on when he saw me from behind following in the rain I saw him before he saw me however standing at the corner of the Harolds cross road with a new raincoat on him with the muffler in the Zingari colours to show off his complexion and the brown hat looking slyboots as usual what was he doing there where hed no business they can go and get whatever they like from anything at all with a skirt on it and were not to ask any questions but they want to know where were you where are you going I could feel him coming along skulking after me his eyes on my neck he had been keeping away from the house he felt it was getting too warm for him so I halfturned and stopped then he pestered me to say yes till I took off my glove slowly watching him he said my openwork sleeves were too cold for the rain anything for an excuse to put his hand near me drawers drawers the whole blessed time till I promised to give him the pair off my doll to carry about in his waistcoat pocket..."

James Joyce's obsession with women's underwear (he allegedly kept a pair of doll's underwear in his trouser pockets and liked to put two fingers through them and walk them across the table as a joke), is only one reason why his "Ulysses" was banned in America, until today that is, December 6th 1933, when the ban was finally lifted.

The list of other great works of literature banned at some time in the United States of Constitutionally Guaranteed Free Speech is not itself illegal to reprint here, though I will no doubt be challenged, like Tony Morrison's "Beloved" on innumerable occasions, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (at the Baptist College in South Carolina in 1925), like Alan Ginsberg's "Howl" in 1956. None of these challenges were upheld however, so they are banned from my list of actually and formally banned books, which runs as follows:

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" first received the Roman thumbs-down in Concord, MA in 1885; it was described as "trash" and "suitable only for the slums".

Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 on the grounds that it might be polemical, that polemical may equal controversial, and that controversial is not something that we want in our schools (as this is a blog about personal history, can I note that I once played Chief Red Cloud in a school production of Arthur Kopit's play "Indians", which was based on Brown's book, much acclaimed in Britain as a work of considerable historical and sociological importance; but please don't tell that to the man in Wisconsin).

Jack London's "The Call of the Wild," achieved almost universal conflagration, finding itself banned in Italy and Yugoslavia, burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany, and prohibited at home in the USA.

Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" was subjected to literary Macarthyism by a school board in Strongsville, OH in 1972. Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" was suggested in its place, but this too was rejected. A 1976 District Court ruling (Minarcini v. Strongsville) overturned the ban.

J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" has been removed from classrooms and school libraries so often it would require another list. Reasons for the ban have included "unacceptable""obscene""blasphemous""negative""foul""filthy", and "undermines morality". Completely phoney, if you want my opinion. The truth is, "people never notice anything."

Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" never even made it to the banning stage, having been printed overseas, and declared non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office. Two other Hemingway works also achieved the Index, though not in America; "A Farewell to Arms" and "Across the River and Into the Trees" in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" is a particularly interesting case, because the reasons for its banning were precisely identical to those given in the citation when it won the Pulitzer Prize, its realism in portraying post-bellum life in the southern states.

John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" achieved a different sort of distinction, not being banned generally in the USA, but only in one place; which happened to be the very place, Kern County, California, where the book is set. Profanity and sexual references were the complaints, though surely "East of Eden" should then have qualified as well.

Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was withdrawn after the parent of a student in an AP English class in Savannah, GA complained about its sex, violence and profanity. The ban was imposed, but quickly overturned. Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" did for the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction what "Gone With The Wind" had done for the Pulitzer, though only locally, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington state.

Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" enjoys a special place in this list, being banned in places where no other books had managed to be banned before, on the Star Ship Enterprise of our voyage into the black holes of intellectual space. In his case it was an unlikely quartet of Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea (South, not North!) and Boston (at least they didn't throw it into the harbour).

Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" joined the elite at the hands of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who bullied booksellers in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania into advising their patrons not to buy the "filthy" book.

Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick; or The Whale" seems a fair case for banning by the anti-whaling lobby and other animal rights groups, and one can even imagine, at a pinch, the estate of Robert Lowell being secretly delighted if it were banned, thereby encouraging people to think Lowell and not Melville when anyone mentioned Nantucket. But what actually got the book thrown out of school was quite simply "community values". No one knows what community values are, but they go alongside the equally meaningless "blasphemy" as the two major causes of prohibition across world literature.

Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" was voted off Big Literary Brother, by the agents of a rather smaller-minded and anti-literary Big Brother, in 1986, which was more than 110 years after its publication; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" took rather less - two years - and lasted longer; in many parts of the USA it is still banned today, generally for being "pornographic and obscene", though whether this is a branch of "community values" or of "blasphemy" or both, remains unclear.

Have you noticed how many of these books are not about sex or religion, but about the position of Black and Native peoples in America (and how come neither of those two descriptions have evaded banning?)? More than a century after the law was passed abolishing slavery, and they still haven't started implementing it properly (Americans still have reservations about how to deal with the Native peoples)! Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is obviously on this list (though no one, save only the author, who was over-ruled posthumously, has thought to ban the sequel); and Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" would sit there beside it, but unfortunately the rules of banning require them to be segregated. 

A third category involves books expurgated, or Bowdlerised, of which the two I would like to mention, if you will allow me, are Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" - ironic because it is a book about the banning and burning of books; even more ironic in that the Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA did not actually ban it, but simply employed an expurgated version of the text, which presumably astute middle school students were able to get around by finding their own unexpurgated copy of the book in the town library - and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire", which was subjected to a prudent Director's Cut in the film version... did you hear that Stella, they left half our story on the cutting room floor.

What do all of the works listed here have in common, besides their subjection to the stupidity and bigotry of the narrow-minded? Answer: every one of them is now regarded as a classic of American Literature, expected knowledge of anyone who considers themselves cultured, sophisticated and intellectually open-minded; but then, those who advocate banning do not aspire to those achievements anyway.

My thanks and congratulations to the organisers of the 2014 Banned Books Week, not just for making the event happen, but for allowing me, unchallenged and unexpurgated (and unknown to themselves), both to construct my own (very slightly air-brushed but not actually Bowdlerised) version of their list, and to use one of their illustrations (top right). May I suggest that, next year, they provide us with a festival of banned music, banned paintings, banned scientific papers, banned journalists and cartoonists, banned opposition politicians; and perhaps they would also consider using my rewrite of Heinrich Heine's famous remark about banning and burning, that "where they begin by banning books, they will end by smashing statues and burning flags".

Amber pages

Monroe by Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt, photographer, fully approved, commencing today in 1898

Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist, took his first five today in 1920

And today, banned for more than a thousand years, first by the Anglo-Saxons, then the Normans, then the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Cromwellians, the Hanoverians, the Parliamentarians of the 18th and 19th centuries, today, at last, minus six provinces but nevertheless a start, the Irish Free State, now called the Republic of Eireland, was officially proclaimed, today in 1922. 

James Joyce's "Ulysses", it occurs to me, was published on February 2nd of that same year. But Joyce's views on Irish independence are best read in his short story "Ivy Day", in the collection "Dubliners" (Am I allowed to mention that on this page, given that "Dubliners" was never banned? Oh, it was? By the printer, and then the publisher, before it even reached the streets, let alone the courts? Are you serious?)

July 7


Of all my musical heroes, and singing Happy Birthday to him in his favourite key of D major, Gustav Mahler in particular demands a place in this collection.

"If you think you are boring your audience, go slower, not faster." 

Words of wisdom from the Maestro who, according to one biography I have read, was born not at Iglau but at Kalischt, a fact which I could easily confirm or disprove in an instant of web-searching, but which really only interests me because his Bohemian Kalischt is vaguely similar enough to claim, at a stretch, coincidence with the Polish Kalisz from which my own grandparents came; the town of Praszka being located in that province, and Praszka itself completing the coincidence because, in Slovak, Prague is Pražská, only a minor spelling variation on my name, and actually the same word, both meaning village.

"I am homeless," Mahler once remarked, as though he had been reading that last paragraph, "as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian amongst Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." He could have made that fivefold (pentateuchal?) by adding: as an artist amongst ordinary men and women; and sixfold, as a genius among artists.

Two wonderful anecdotes.

Charpentier came to the rehearsal for the premiere of his "Louise". He hated the sets, the costumes and Mahler's conducting. So Mahler cancelled the première, redesigned everything, and had Charpentier teach him note by note how he wanted the score performed.

Strauss had his "Salome" turned down for reasons of salaciousness. Mahler had advised him not to write it, and didn't like it when he saw the score. But he hated censorship even more and fought to have his rival's piece performed, arguing that "in matters of art only the form and never the content is relevant, or should be relevant, from a serious point of view…"

He called his works "assaults upon Heaven". I have this whimsical notion of a sophisticated and cultured God, secure enough to open up the windows of the Heavenly Palace, utterly unthreatened, in order to listen better to the finest music he himself had ever inspired.

But that also poses an ironic question: which piece would God like best - remember, this was Christian Vienna, so this is definitely God, not YHVH? Probably it will be the Eighth Symphony, because that has the oratorio "Veni, creator spiritus", and God is bound to prefer religious pieces, especially ones that mention him by name, even if they are written by a Jew who had only converted to Christianity because the job required it. 

I hope it's the Second Symphony, not simply because it's my favourite, but because Mahler subtitled it "Resurrection", and he didn't mean Jesus, first or second time, he meant something far more individually human, something capable in each of us. 

And what if it were the Second? What would it have been like, that day when Mahler arrived in person at the gates of Heaven, May 18th it was, in 1911, a lapsed Jew who had converted for expediency to a Catholicism in which he did not believe, an atheist with tendencies towards pantheism? Did God let him in (with additional trumpets high up in the gallery), or turn him away to eternal homelessness through the back-stage door? Or perhaps, and the evidence of his immortality back here on Earth seems to endorse this view, perhaps he was granted the privilege of a resurrection of his own, first by God, and then, after half a century of being totally ignored, by the critics and conductors too.

Autograph m/s of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”), dedicated to Guido Adler, black ink on 18-stave paper, including notes, corrections, performance instructions (“etwas fliessender - aber nicht eilen - a little more fluid - but do not hurry”). Given to Adler as a birthday present in Vienna, November 1st 1905, sold at Sotheby’s on 21st May 2004 (Lot No 107) for £420,000 by a Mr Tom Adler, presumably mishpucha (family) who needed the cash (the grandson, if I’m not mistaken).

The second instruction is my favourite: “Nicht schleppen!” "Do not drag" is the literal translation, but this is surely Yiddish, not German. "Don't schlep!"

Amber pages

C Днём Рождения - Sz dnum rozhdeniya - which is Happy Birthday, in Russian, to another homelessly Jewish atheist and genius, Marc Chagall, painter of fiddlers on rooves, or roofs, if you insist, today in 1887.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

June 27

"Tilting at Wind-Farms" - a new concept for a new age

This tale should have been told in "A Journey In Time", which attempts to record the entire (known) history of this date; but the book was long written by then, and this particular event had never once appeared in any of the almanacs or other sources that I had consulted. Until now.

I found it in Alberto Manguel's absolutely splendid "The Library At Night", in which he undertakes his own somewhat quixotic journey, not so much into the texts as into the business of collecting them, especially in libraries. On page 182 he records the following:

“In Valladolid, readers of Don Quixote can stroll through the house occupied by Miguel de Cervantes from 1602 to 1605, the year in which the first part of the novel was published, and experience a voyeuristic thrill. The house has melodramatic associations: on the night of 27 June 1605, a certain Gaspar de Ezpeleta was walking home when, just outside this house, he was assaulted by a masked man and mortally wounded. Ezpeleta managed to cry out, bringing to his assistance a neighbour who in turn summoned Cervantes, and the two carried the dying man to the address of a well-known lady. The mayor of Valladolid, suspecting Cervantes (or one of his relatives) of being responsible for the attack, ordered that the writer and his family be imprisoned. They were released a few days later, after proving their innocence, but historians have long debated the question of Cervantes’ involvement in the murder.”
I read this story in Toronto, at the end of 2007. It was, as I have noted above, the first I had ever heard of the incident, or the allegation. My own murder story about Cervantes ("The Knight’s Story" in "The Captive Bride", page 15), which chose Cervantes entirely randomly to illustrate a literary conceit, was written in Bristol, in 1992:

The Knight's Story

Because of Don Miguel and his childlike imagination - his tilting at the windmills of literature - all the world today believes that the Quixote was, yes a comic figure, but essentially a gentle, honest, good, well-meaning man, whose failing virtue was simply that he dreamed beyond his stature and aspired to heights of human chivalry that he could not possibly hope to scale. Supreme faults! Laudatory vices! Immaculate failures! Who more noble than the Quixote - unless perhaps Don Miguel himself, for imagining him?
But it was, truly, imagination. I, Don Pedro de la Santa Milanerva, I alone know the truth, I alone knew the real Quixote - the one who raped the twelve year old Dulcinea Castillano and robbed the house of Don Sancho Panza - a bad, a wicked, a truly evil man, no fool either, but a cruel schemer, who drank, and whored, and stole, stole even from the very poorest and from the whores that he himself had bought.
I knew him, and once I might have killed him and been thanked for it, when I came upon him in the barn of my own villa, forcing his will at knife-point on a serving-girl. But I did not kill him. The young Miguel and the by-then middle-aged Quixote were both guests in my house, and I knew the Quixote, but I knew the young Miguel much better, a mere boy still, but with an imagination of extraordinary fecundity, one that bent towards goodness quite as keenly as the Quixote’s bent towards licentiousness. I let the Quixote live, allowed him a further month in my house to seduce the young Miguel’s imagination with half-truths and concocted tales, or tales from which he had stripped the vilest details like a highway corpse.
Would the world really have thanked me for killing him? No, it would have been better to kill the serving-girl, to stop her doing what eventually she did - inform the magistrate of what the Quixote had done to her. So he was condemned to die, and his body ascended into the ephemeral fire, and his soul descended into the eternal one; but by then it no longer mattered. Already my young protégé was practicing his craft, already his imagination had begun to reinvent, already his pen had begun to weave its magical fables; already the authentic Don Quixote was being supplanted by the mythical one. No, I was right not to interfere when I came upon him in that act of sin. Much more than that - for in that moment of not killing an evil man, did I not, myself, give birth to a truly saintly one?

Regrets that I am unable to acknowledge the maker of the splendid cartoon at the top of this page. I found it, by random google-search, here. If you know who the cartoonist was, please contact me and I will happily update this page with a full congratulation. The caption beneath it belongs to me.

You can find Don Quijote, in his Spanish spelling, on a journey through modern America, by clicking here.

And two more dates that didn't make it into "A Journey In Time":

Edward Gibbon completed "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", today in 

Route 66 was decertified, today in 
1985. Last kicks here! 

September 30

Originally the Bevis Mark synagogue

History (which is all-too-often incorrect) records that Antonio Fernandez Carvajal was the first Jew to settle in Britain after the expulsion of 1290. He came in 1632, fleeing from the destruction of the community in Rouen, and was technically an illegal immigrant for the next twenty-two years.

The official date of the return is the Whitehall Conference of 1655, the year in which Menasseh ben Israel came to London from Amsterdam to argue the case for Jewish admission. In fact, the Whitehall Conference was unproductive, and it was only in 1656 that the prohibition of Jews in England was repealed. On December 19th of that year, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, approved an agreement between Carvajal and the wardens of St Katherine's Cree Church to lease 5 Cree Church Lane for use as a synagogue, for an initial period of twenty-one years, at £40 per annum; space was provided for a cemetery soon afterwards.

Unaware that it was Simchat Torah, the joyously partying festival that marks the end of Sukkot with the dancing of the Torah scrolls around the synagogue, Samuel Pepys and his wife attended a service at the Cree Church Lane Synagogue on October 14th 1663, and noted the occasion in his diary:
“After dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue… Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing. And in the end they had a prayer for the King, which they pronounced his name in Portugall; but the prayer, like the rest, in Hebrew. But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service… would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this”.
But I have come to this date to record the dedication of the oldest surviving synagogue in Britain, which is not the one on Cree Church Street, but the Bevis Mark synagogue in Heneage Lane (no one is quite sure when Mark became Marks, or why), just a few minutes walk further north, at the eastern corner of the City of London, just inside the ancient Roman wall, built to replace the by-then-inadequate Cree Church Lane synagogue in 1701.

My delvings in those various libraries, book and electronic, that are available, have thrown up a sixty-page pamphlet entitled "The Mitzvot of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, London - a guide for Parnasim", published "for the society of Heshaim at the University Press, Oxford, 1969", which is obviously a reprint of an original work, and the original, dating from the period of the community's revival, confirms its strength from its earliest days.

A.M. Hyamson's "Sephardim of England" (the same Albert Hyamson whose scholarship determined that the Mansion House, home of the Lord Mayor of London since its erection three quarters of a century after the Great Fire, was previously the site of another Jewish synagogue, destroyed in the fire), as well as E.N. Adler's "History of the Jews of London", have provided a list of fascinating names (as opposed to a fascinating list of names, which would not be the same thing) of the key figures of the resettlement.

Portrait of Rabbi Jacob Ben Aaron Sasportas
by Isaac Luttichuys
Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698), a North African Rabbi and passionate opponent of the Shabtai Zvi, who was sacked from his ministry in Tlemçen in 1647, arrived in London in 1664, but fled again the following year because of the plague, thereby avoiding becoming one of the significant number of Jews whose homes were destroyed in the Great Fire of the following year, and finished his life as Rabbi of Amsterdam. Sasportas is best remembered for his anti-Shabbatean polemic "Zizat Novel Zevi", a title which I take to be Arabic. A portrait of him in the Israel Museum in Jersualem shows a characteristically Rembrandt Jew with Fagin's beard and eyebrows, and a forehead as high as civilisation.

Next, Jacob Abendana, scion of an illustrious Dutch family, Marrano Jews with branches in the three principal Sephardi cities as far as Western Europe became concerned: Amsterdam, Hamburg and London. David Abendana, who died in 1625, had fled the Inquisition in Portugal. Isaac Abendana (1640-1710) taught Hebrew at both Oxford and Cambridge. Isaac Sardo Abendana traded diamonds in India. Jacob ben Joseph Abendana served as Rabbi in London, before moving back in the same capacity to Amsterdam. Was Abendana originally ibn Danan? And if so, are they the ancestors of the Danan family, now resident in Leeds, whose son Benjamin I taught in the early years of this century? Highly likely. It was a most distinguished pedigree, even before the London branch was established. Sa'adiah ben Maimon ibn Danan was a physician, poet and halachist in Granada and Oran in the 15th century. Samuel ibn Danan was Rabbi of Constantinople in the first half of the 16th century. Later the family produced the Av Beit Din of Rabat in Morocco (Solomon, 1848-1929), and the Chief Rabbi of Morocco, Solomon's son Saul, was the very last Chief Rabbi, the one who led his people to Israel after Independence in 1948.

The list contains the names Joshua da Silva, Solomon Ayllon and David Nieto, all worthy of biographising. Da Silva was not, alas, Antonio Jose da Silva, the Portuguese playwright who came from Rio de Janeiro to die a victim of the Lisbon auto-da-fés, but the Rabbi whose wife published his "Discursos Predycaves" after his death, in Amsterdam in 1688. I am only guessing, but I suspect that Rabbi da Silva was not one of the Jews who came to London at the time of the resettlement, but in fact the son of da Silvas who were already there, and who had been well established for more than a century already: the hidden Jews of London and Bristol whose story is told in more detail in my novel, "The Plausible Tragedie of Roderigo Lopes", scheduled for publication very soon.

Next, Solomon ben Jacob Ayllon, who was born in Salonika in 1655, moved to Zefat (Safed) in Israel in 1680, then came to London as "chacham" - the community's "wise man" - for eleven years between 1689 and 1700, before finishing his days - where else? - in Amsterdam. With him too the Shabbatean battle took centrestage, and he a centrist stance. Controversies are particularly recorded with Zevi Ashkenazi, likewise an erstwhile Salonikan, though in his case not by birth; Zevi also became an Amsterdam Rabbi later on, and it was probably the controversy with Ayllon that led him to leave Amsterdam and settle in Lvov, in 1714.

Finally, David Nieto (1654-1728): philosopher, Rabbi, dayan, physician, defender of the oral law, author of "Matteh Dan". This was the era of Spinoza, and Nieto was accused of being a disciple - it was Zevi Ashkenazi who publicly exonerated him, saving him thereby from excommunication.

I wish there were a clearer and more detailed map, but at least this one is of the right date. It reveals several strata of an extraordinary tel, for it is precisely the same area of London, just outside the city wall (just inside the ancient Roman wall, but just outside the Norman delineation of the City of London), on the eastern side which had provided habitation for Jewry in the Norman epoch, and which now did so again at the resettlement, and would a third time, when Jews were again permitted to settle in England, in the middle of the 19th century. My own family were among that latter group, arriving maternally at the turn of the 20th century and settling at the easternmost point, where London properly becomes Essex, my paternal grandfather establishing his dress factory and warehouse on Mansell Street and Petticoat Lane, my Uncle Max his clinic on Leadenhall Street, right there by the Aldgate, yards from Cree Church Lane and what by then was known as Bevis Marks, with a final "s". A thousand years of Jewish settlement in the same tiny quarter. A thousand years, except for the two separate three hundred year periods during which they were prohibited.

Bevis Marks may not be the oldest, but it is the oldest surviving and still in regular use. Once the Sephardim had begun to settle, Ashkenazim quickly followed, especially from Amsterdam and Hamburg. The first Rabbi, Judah Loeb ben Ephrayim Anschel ha-Kohen, moved on again to Rotterdam because he couldn't take the communal squabbling (plus ça change!). The first Ashkenazi synagogue was established alongside that first cemetery, in Alderney Road, by one Benjamin Levy, five years before Bevis Marks, in 1696; but it is long vanished. Sandy's Row Synagogue in Spitalfields is London's oldest surviving and still-in-use Ashkenazi Synagogue; founded in 1854 on what had previously been the site of a French Huguenot Church, itself built in 1766.

A fuller account of the (extremely bizarre) events leading to the resettlement in 1656 is told in my story "The Hidden Jews of Cartagena", scheduled to be published in "Travels In Familiar Lands" in 2018. And the tale of another Carvajal, who may or may not be related to this one, coming soon on December 8.

Amber pages

Hans Geiger, German physicist, born today in 1882; the co-inventor of the Geiger counter, but its name only remembers his half; the Sherpa Tenzing on this occasion was Walther Mueller...

Truman Streckfus Persons, born today in 1924. Never heard of him? That was how the young Harper Lee knew him, the teenager she renamed Dill in "To Kill A Mockingbird". Truman Capote when he started penning his own books. I wonder if "Persons" was originally a Portuguese name, like Merrick and Reis and...

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust witness, born today in 1928

Today in 1946, the verdicts of the Nuremberg trials were announced, and three years to the day later the Berlin Airlift ended

Independence Day in Botswana, formerly Bechuanaland, today in 1966 - click here.

And how odd a coincidence, that today should begin with the Geiger Counter and end with the Richter Scale, Charles Francis Richter, who developed it, died today in 1985

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2016 David Prashker
All rights reserved

The Argaman Press

August 21

1893, 1923

Working at that point of the Book of Psalms for TheBibleNet, I went hunting for a musical adaptation of Psalm 130, and came upon Lili Boulanger’s setting. Psaume 130, in her world. She entitled her piece "Du fond de l'abîme", though for some reason it has been Latinised into "De Profundis" in several renditions that I found. And I wanted several, because I wanted to hear it again, and then again, to hear what different choirs and orchestras had made of its quite extraordinary gorgeousness! Found entirely randomly, I had never even heard of her, though I thought I had; I mean, I recognised the name Boulanger, and associated it with classical music, but the one I vaguely knew turned out to be her sister Nadia, not Lili.

Both composed, both were protégées of Fauré. Lili died on March 15th 1918, ridiculously young, aged just 24, and Nadia was so shattered that she gave up composing and took up teaching instead – counting Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Thea Musgrave, Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass among her pupils.

But it is Lili that I want to know more about, in this centenary year of her death. Full name: Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger; Lili was a pet-name. Born today, August 21st 1893. Friend-of-the-family Gabriel Fauré recognised that she had perfect pitch when she was just two; the same age at which she contracted the bronchial pneumonia that would wreck her immune system and lead to such an early death.

She was born into an extraordinary family, so her surfeit of talent was only to be expected. Mum was a Russian princess who fell in love with her teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Ernest Boulanger, and both her grandparents (on the Boulanger side) had been musicians. Besides singing, Lili played piano, violin, cello, harp and organ – not surprising, with Fauré guiding you. She also composed; in much the way that Michelangelo, despite his protestations, also did fresco – it was her cantata "Faust et Hélène" (strongly Wagnerian, hints of Debussy, according to the experts; and extremely lush harmonies) that enabled her to become one of the first two women to win the Prix de Rome – which sounds ungrammatical, but it was shared that year, 1913, between her and Claude Delvincourt.

The Naxos site where I found one of the recordings has an obit, which is much better than my prose, and contains everything one could possibly need, and more, to compose an "In Memoriam Lili Boulanger". But why compose it, when there is already this: Lili Boulanger, as remembered by her sister Nadia:

Music was second nature for my younger sister, Lili, born on 21st August 1893 in Paris. She had perfect pitch and a love of singing even as a child. Fauré himself used to come to our home to read his latest songs with her. From the age of six to sixteen, she studied harmony, played a little piano, violin, cello and even the harp, while discovering new scores, such as Debussy’s Pelléas. Her very poor health kept her away from school, as well as from practicing too hard. In fact, she mastered composition with Paul Vidal and Georges Caussade in only three years. At the age of nineteen, she made history by being the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Premier Grand Prix de Rome for composition. After the great Parisian success of her cantata Faust et Hélène, she travelled through Italy and wrote some of her best works in the Villa Medici in Rome.
These happy times were interrupted by the war. Back home, she devoted herself to caring for wounded soldiers. Knowing that her days were numbered, she worked feverishly. Towards the end of her life, she dictated to me her Pie Jésu. On her deathbed, her strong faith gave her a sense of serenity. She died on 15th March 1918.
Though there are no technical novelties in Lili’s writing (she lived in an age when intellectual speculation had not yet arrived), she was able to find the necessary elements for expressing her own very personal message, leaving a short but lasting mark in musical history.
Nadia Boulanger Paris, 1968

So I went on hunting, in hope of finding lots and lots more by this virtually anonymous great talent. But there aren’t lots and lots more. "D'un soir triste" turned out to be the very last piece that she wrote before she died. You can listen to several of the best by clicking here.


Not a newspaper that I generally read, I am nonetheless grateful to The London "Daily Telegraph" for providing this list of "stupid laws" to supplement my story "The Edict", on page 141 of "The Captive Bride". As my tale related to a law passed on Monday August 21st, 1923, I am placing it here under the same date.

These are the stupidest British laws, according to a percentage share of public vote.

1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament (27%)

2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down (7%)

(like this, just in case you weren't sure what it meant precisely)

3. In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store (6%)

4. Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day (5%)

5. In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter (4%)

6. In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet (4%)

7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen (3.5%)

8. It is illegal not to tell the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing (3%)

9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour

10. In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow (2%)

Most ridiculous laws from other countries:

1. In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk (9%)

2. In Indonesia, the penalty for masturbation is decapitation (8%)

3. In Bahrain, a male doctor can only examine the genitals of a woman in the reflection of a mirror (7%)

4. In Switzerland, a man may not relieve himself standing up after 10pm (6%)

5. In Alabama, it is illegal to be blindfolded while driving a vehicle (6%)

6. In Florida, unmarried women who parachute on a Sunday could be jailed (6%)

7. In Vermont, women must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth (6%)

8. In Milan, it is a legal requirement to smile at all times, except during funerals or hospital visits (5%)

9. In Japan, there is no age of consent (5%)

10. In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon (4%)

It should also be pointed out that, on September 5th 1698, Peter the Great of Russia announced the imposition of a tax on beards, which some have suggested was an anti-Semitic ruse to rob the synagogues and yeshivahs of their tzedakah boxes and to force all the Rabbinic Samsons to defile their Nazaritic status, but was probably just a phobia that he had about beards, and the need for extra revenue. The Poles also banned Jews from having beards, in 1921 it was, but they called it "compulsory conscription".

Amber pages

Nat Turner led a rebellion of negro slaves, today (actually well after the sun set, and over night, which is why many history books record it as happening on August 22nd), these two days if you prefer, in 1831 - see October 2 for the full story

The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, today in 1911

And today in 1968, the end of the "Prague Spring", the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces.