October 22

Amber pages

Franz Liszt, Hungarian composer and pianist, born today in 1811

Doris Lessing, Botswana's greatest writer, born today in 1919, in Iran as it happens

Timothy Leary, psychologist and LSD advocate, born today in 1920

Robert Rauschenberg, artist, born today in 

Sarah Bernhardt, French actress, born today in 1844, and if I've placed her out of chronological order, it's only because I so much like that pairing of her with Derek Jacobi, born today in 1938. Bernhardt was the Vanessa Redgrave of her day, the first woman ever to play Desdemona on the stage - until then, in France as in Britain, only men were permitted on the classical stage, and all female parts were transvestised. Apparently she was brilliant, and even better as Cordelia in "Le Roi Lear" - that's where I imagine her and Jacobi partnering, with him equally capable of playing the King or the Fool - though that may actually be the same role, as he also demonstrated with the imbecilic simpleton turned great Emperor Claudius, in the BBC adaptation of Robert Graves' histories (and funnily enough, the other great Jacobi role was Hamlet, another instance of a highly intelligent man feigning mental lassitude in order to survive in a despotic era).

The links are to Pathé News footage of "La Divine Sarah" - click on the numbers: 1) 23); the first desperately brief, desperately hammy, and silent; the second, also silent, may not even be a film but just a private filming; the third is a collage of photos with music over. If anyone knows of any footage with her voice audible, please share the link in the comment box, below.

General Sam Houston sworn in as the first President of the Republic of Texas, today in 1836. Hmm! Texas, as an independent state, like Hay-on-Wye or Achziv (click here to find out why the Israel-Palestine problem requires a three-state solution). The current governor of California has apparently been considering secession from the Union, ever since the birdbrain was elected President. Might Texas follow - there is going to be a huge fight over building that stupid Mexican wall; who knows, maybe... and then, what happens to Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Washington State...

And today in 1975, the Russian spaceship Venera 9 sent back the first photographs of the surface of Venus - which turns out, and hardly surprising, to be an empty wasteland of dried up rocks.

The almanacs also tell me that, today in 1797, the first parachute jump was made, by André-Jacques Garnerin; that, today in 1911, an airplane was used in war for the first time; that, today in 1938, something called a Xerographic copier was invented, by one Chester F. Carlson, a machine that I take to be the Xerox; that, today in 1934, "instantaneous phonograph recording was made possible", all definitely worthy of a place in the basement of the Science Hall of Fame, but unlikely to achieve more than this brief mention here.

Unlike: "1962, John F. Kennedy ordered the blockade of Cuba" - thereby setting in motion the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the head of the CIA mission to the Bay of Pigs may or may not have said: "I shall return".

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