Friday, November 23, 2012

THE GAME ~ November 23, 1968

Frank O’Brien/Kino International
Sport was not listed as one of the various subjects of this blog. But occasionally, even I will delve into the topic, particularly when it has an historical or personal connection. When I started my freshman year at Yale College in the autumn of 1967, Yale hadn’t had a claim to football glory for at least several decades. We asserted that we were above it all, and didn’t care. Of course, that attitude lasted just until we had a winning team.
I recall one torchlight parade up Hillhouse Avenue to President Kingman Brewster’s handsome brick Georgian-style mansion (a re-facing of an earlier staid Victorian). It was just before the Princeton game in 1967 (or was it ’68?). Our team had had a great season. President Brewster stepped out of his front door, held up a large naval orange, squeezed it, spiked it, and stomped on it, and then proclaimed: “Fuck Princeton!!” The crowd went delirious. I was rather shocked. (Prude that I was, it took another two and a half years for me to utter that crude Anglo-Saxon expletive even to myself— and that was at the prompting of a psychiatric nurse.) But this is an example of how even Yalies of my era picked up football fever. That’s one reason why the Yale-Harvard Game in 1968 was so traumatic. I didn’t go to The Game in Cambridge, but many of my friends did, and I clearly remember the anticipation before and the somber brooding afterwards.

A documentary about The Game opened in New York three years ago. I can’t improve upon the review in the New York Times, so I quote it below.
Back in 1968, When a Tie Was No Tie
Published: November 19, 2008
For most of the world, I suspect, the year 1968 signifies upheaval, revolution, power to the people, Vietnam and My Lai, Paris in flames, Martin and Bobby, Nixon versus Humphrey. Another great rivalry played out that year in the form of a college football game. And while it seems absurd to include such a picayune event in the annals, the filmmaker Kevin Rafferty makes the case for remembrance and for the art of the story in his preposterously entertaining documentary “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29,” preposterous at least for those of us who routinely shun that pagan sacrament.

True gridiron believers doubtless know every unlikely, heart-skipping minute of this showdown. (The schools, like some others, honor their football rivalry with vainglorious capitalization, calling each matchup The Game.) On Nov. 23, 1968, the undefeated Yale team and its two glittering stars — the quarterback Brian Dowling and the running back Calvin Hill — went helmet to helmet against its longtime rival, Harvard, also undefeated. Mr. Dowling, a legendary figure whom grown men still call god (and the inspiration for Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury character B. D.), had not lost a game he started since the sixth grade, a record that well into the fourth quarter, with Yale leading by 16 points, seemed safe.

Everything changed in the final 42 seconds as all the forces of the universe, or so it seemed, shifted and one player after another either rose to the occasion or stumbled with agonizing frailty. Gods became men as the ball was lost and found and one improbable pass after another was completed. In front of the increasingly raucous packed stadium, each play became an epic battle in miniature with every second stretching into an eternity. As in film, time in football doesn’t tick, it races and oozes, a fact that Mr. Rafferty, working as his own editor and using the simplest visual material — talking-head interviews and game footage — exploits for a narrative that pulses with the artful, exciting beats of a thriller.

What’s most surprising about this consistently surprising movie is how forcefully those beats resonate, even though you know how the story ends from the start. (Take another look at the coyly, cleverly enigmatic title, borrowed from the famous headline in The Harvard Crimson.) One reason for the excitement is the game, of course, which remains a nail-biter despite the visual quality of the footage, which is so unadorned and so humble — and almost entirely in long shot — it looks like a dispatch from a foreign land. And in some ways it was: Football fans still wore raccoon coats to games and the women in the stands cheering for Yale could not attend the college. The same month, Yale announced it was (finally) opening that door.

This history helps explain why there are no women here, at least in close-up. “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” is very much about men, triumphant, regretful, defiant, sentimental, touchingly vulnerable men who are made all the more poignant with each image of them as young players. For some, the game was and remains the greatest moment of their lives — even better than sex, one volunteers, prompting Mr. Rafferty to ask off-camera if the man had then been a virgin (no). Mr. Rafferty, himself a Harvard man, films his subjects (Tommy Lee Jones, a Harvard lineman, included) with a lack of fuss in plain kitchens and cluttered offices. He lets them roam around their memories and, for a time, gives them back sweet youth.

As reviewer Manohla Dargis alluded to, Garry Trudeau’s comic strip Doonesbury started in the Yale Daily News and featured B.D., Brian Dowling, our star quarterback. Running back Calvin Hill actually had a decent football career after Yale, while Brian Dowling’s legacy remains in the annals of New Haven and on the comic page.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The fourth Thursday in November is the official national celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States. It hasn’t always been official, nor on the fourth Thursday.

In elementary school we learned that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1621. But seven years ago, when Dennis and I went to Virginia to visit Williamsburg, Monticello, and the hunt race at Madison’s Montpelier, we also visited some Charles River plantations, including Berkeley Plantation, which claims that honor. At this site in December 1619, a group of British settlers led by captain John Woodlief knelt in humble prayer and pledged “Thanksgiving” to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic.
Throughout the first century of the republic there were a number of Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations, but not necessarily on a regular basis. The first was issued by George Washington on October 3, 1789.

Then in the midst of the horrors of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863 proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and praise.” It was almost as if things were so bad, that it was necessary to look beyond the bloodshed to discern some greater purpose.

At the beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday and it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on. Most states followed Lincoln’s precedent and observed the last Thursday of November. But in 1939 there were two days celebrated a week apart. As a reaction to the Great Depression, Roosevelt decided to declare the third Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving. That was to give retailers an extra week of shopping before Christmas. (Of course today the Christmas shopping season starts almost before Halloween!) Most states, however, in 1939 continued to observe that last Thursday; so there were two Thanksgivings that year. (And World War II in Europe was already near the end of its third month.)

Franklin Roosevelt observed Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November for two more years, but the amount of public outrage prompted Congress to pass a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year, and that’s the way it’s been ever since. I don’t know how my grandfather Bob Rich voted, but he probably was in favor of it. Note that the vote was after Pearl Harbor, so the psychology may have been a little like Lincoln’s during the Civil War.


A few other countries have National Days of Thanksgiving. After observing several different dates, the Canadian Parliament on January 31, 1957 proclaimed “A day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed… to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.”

Great Britain likewise has a “Harvest Festival” Day of Thanksgiving held every year in the month of September, on a Sunday nearing the harvest moon. I attended such a Harvest Festival Thanksgiving service at Lincoln Cathedral in 1988. The preacher that day was Neville Chamberlain’s grandson, or great-nephew, I don't remember which.

(The week before I had seen a BBC revisionist documentary on Neville Chamberlain, which put a somewhat different perspective on his blame for, and contribution to the outcome of WWII. After being burned by Hitler’s occupation of all Czechoslovakia in violation of the Munich accord, Chamberlain ordered the building of the Spitfires, which eventually won the Battle of Britain. Had war started in 1938, the Germans would have had clear air superiority. Reality is frequently more nuanced than popular perceptions. Counter-factual history, though fascinating, guarantees absolutely nothing.)

[For the record, I prefer the British pronunciation of the word 'THANKS-giving'. To me it seems closer to the meaning.]
Anyway, have a Happy and thank-full Thanksgiving!

elements of text courtesy

Sunday, November 11, 2012

ARMISTICE DAY ~ November 11, 1918

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who had been killed in the Korean War.

1918 – World War I ends: Germany signs an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside of Compiègne in France. The war officially stops at 11:00 (The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month) this is annually honored with two-minutes of silence.

Veterans Day is an annual American holiday honoring military veterans. Both a federal holiday and a state holiday in all states, it is usually observed on November 11. However, if it occurs on a Sunday then the following Monday is designated for holiday leave, and if it occurs Saturday then either Saturday or Friday may be so designated. It is also celebrated as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other parts of the world, falling on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.

The holiday is commonly printed as Veteran's Day or Veterans' Day in calendars and advertisements. While these spellings are grammatically acceptable, the United States government has declared that the attributive (no apostrophe) rather than the possessive case is the official spelling.

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Today is also the birthday of Toki Murakami, mother of my late friend Gary Evans Mamoru Murakami. I will visit her at home this morning. Her daughter Janice moved back from Hawaii earlier this year to take care of Toki after a major stroke.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unhappy Coincidence: Floods in Florence ~ November 4, 1333 & 1966

Square in Florence with a white marker stone (circled in red) showing how high the Arno came. At this point the marker is more than 3 meters high.

1333 – Flood of the Arno River, causing massive damage in Florence as recorded by the Florentine chronicler Giovanni Villani.

1966 – Two-thirds of Florence, Italy is submerged as the Arno river floods; together with the contemporaneous flood of the Po River in northern Italy, this leads to 113 deaths, 30,000 made homeless, and the destruction of numerous Renaissance artworks and books.

November 3, 1966
  • After a long period of steady rain, the Levane and La Penna dams in Valdarno began to emit more than 70,629 cubic feet (2,000.0 m3) of water per second toward Florence.
  • At 2:30pm, the Civil Engineering Department reported "'an exceptional quantity of water.'"
  • Cellars in the Santa Croce and San Frediano areas began to flood.
  • Police received calls for assistance from villagers up the Arno valley.
  • The flood's first victim, a 52 year old workman, died while trying to reach a crumbling aqueduct
November 4, 1966

  • At 4:00am, engineers, fearing that the Valdarno dam would burst, discharged a mass of water that eventually reached the outskirts of Florence at a rate of 37 miles per hour.

  • At 7:26am, the Lungarno delle Grazie cut off gas, electricity, and water supplies to affected areas.

  • By 8:00am, army barracks were flooded.

  • By 9:00am, hospital emergency generators (the only source of electrical power remaining) failed.

  • Landslides obstructed roads leading to Florence, while narrow streets within city limits funneled floodwaters, increasing their height and velocity.

  • By 9:45am, the Piazza del Duomo was flooded.

  • The powerful waters ruptured central heating oil tanks, and the oil mixed with the water and mud, causing greater damage.

  • Florence was divided in two, and officials were unable to immediately reach citizens of the city past the Piazza Michelangelo.

  • At its highest, the water reached over 22 feet (6.7 m) in the Santa Croce area.

  • By 8:00pm, the water began to lower.


The flood has had a lasting impact on Florence, economically and culturally. City officials and citizens were extremely unprepared for the storm and the widespread devastation that it caused. There were virtually no emergency measures in place, at least partially due to the fact that Florence is located in an area where the frequency of flooding is relatively low. In fact, approximately 90% of the city's population were completely unaware of the imminent disaster that would befall them as they were sleeping during the early hours of November 4, 1966.

Residents were set to celebrate their country's World War I victory over the Austrians on November 4, Armed Forces Day. In commemoration, businesses were closed and many of their employees were out of town for the public holiday. While many lives were likely spared as a result, the locked buildings greatly inhibited the salvaging of valuable materials from numerous institutions and shops, with the exception of a number of jewelry stores whose owners were warned by their night watchmen.

Tragically, 5,000 families were left homeless by the storm, and 6,000 stores were forced out of business. Approximately 600,000 tons of mud, rubble, and sewage severely damaged or destroyed numerous collections of the written work and fine art for which Florence is famous. In fact, it is estimated that between 3 and 4 million books/manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 movable works of art.

Artist Marco Sassone, in an 1969 interview, recalled the impact of the flood on Florence's residents, "The only thing you could do was watch and be helpless. Nature was master...the women became crazy with fear. They began throwing things from the windows and screaming 'who is going to save my children?'" It was reported that 101 people lost their lives in the flood waters

  • Archives of the Opera del Duomo (Archivio di Opera del Duomo): 6,000 volumes/documents and 55 illuminated manuscripts were damaged.

  • Gabinetto Vieusseux Library (Biblioteca del Gabinetto Vieusseux): All 250,000 volumes were damaged, namely titles of romantic literature and Risorgimento history; submerged in water, they became swollen and distorted. Pages, separated from their text blocks, were found pressed upon the walls and ceiling of the building.

  • National Library Centers of Florence (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze): Located alongside the Arno River, the National Library was cut off from the rest of the city by the flood. 1,300,000 items (or one-third of their holdings) were damaged, including prints, maps, posters, newspapers, and a majority of works in the Palatine and Magliabechi collections.

  • The State Archives (Archivio di Stato): Roughly 40% of the collection was damaged, including property and financial records; birth, marriage, and death records; judicial and administrative documents; and police records, among others.
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Titian in the Frari (Venezia)