Daily Update: Friday, March 20th, 2015

Vernal (Spring) Equinox and 03-20 - Uncle Tom's Cabin

With no Saints to honor (although today is a Friday in Lent, thus a Day of Abstinence from Meat for the Faithful), we note that the Vernal Equinox occurs today, which makes today the First Day of Spring. On this date in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly, an Abolishment tract that helped make the abolishment of slavery a key cause (in the eyes of the public) for the Civil War.

On this date (and on the date of the Autumnal Equinox) the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, with night and day being of roughly the same length. When Julius Caesar established his calendar in 45 BC, he fixed the Spring equinox on March 25, but the date was changed with the advent of the Gregorian Calendar to March 21 (although the actual date is usually the 20th, as it is this year). The Jewish Passover usually falls on the first full moon after the Northern Hemisphere vernal equinox, although occasionally (7 times every 19 years) it will occur on the second full moon. The Western Christian churches calculate Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the March equinox. The official church definition for the equinox is March 21; however, as the Eastern Orthodox Churches use the older Julian calendar, while the Western Churches use the Gregorian calendar, both of which designate March 21 as the equinox, the actual date of Easter differs. The earliest possible Easter date in any year is therefore March 22 on each calendar, and the latest possible Easter date in any year is April 25. In Japan, Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日 Shunbun no hi) is an official national holiday, and is spent visiting family graves and holding family reunions. Finally, in Annapolis, Maryland, boatyard employees and sailboat owners celebrate the spring equinox with the Burning Of The Socks Festival. Traditionally, the boating community wears socks only during the winter, and these are burned at the approach of warmer weather, which brings more customers and work to the area. Officially, nobody then wears socks until the next equinox. (I doubt that anyone checks.) Turning to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe, a Connecticut-born preacher at the Hartford Female Academy and an active abolitionist (her little brother was the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher). focused the novel on the character of Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave around whom the stories of other characters—both fellow slaves and slave owners—revolve. The sentimental novel depicts the reality of slavery while also asserting that Christian love can overcome something as destructive as enslavement of fellow human beings. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible. It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. In the first year after it was published, 300,000 copies of the book were sold in the United States alone. The book’s impact was so great that when Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln is often quoted as having declared, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” The book, and even more the plays it inspired, also helped create a number of stereotypes about black people, many of which endure to this day. These include the affectionate, dark-skinned “mammy”; the “pickaninny” stereotype of black children; and the Uncle Tom, or dutiful, long-suffering servant faithful to his white master or mistress. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom’s Cabin have, to an extent, overshadowed the historical impact of the book as a “vital antislavery tool.”

First, last night our #1 ranked LSU Baseball team lost the first game of their away series with Arkansas by 1 to 5. Our LSU Men’s Basketball team lost their opening round NCAA Tournament game with #15 ranked North Carolina State by the score of 65 to 66. (Our Tigers had a season that was 22 and 11 (11 and 7 in SEC play), and we have to wait until November for the new season now.) And our New Orleans Pelicans lost their away game with the Phoenix Suns by the score of 72 to 74.

Today I did my Bathroom Devotional Reading, and we brought the nuts Richard purchased on Wednesday for Deborah for when she makes Amish Friendship Bread for us. On our way to work I did my Internet Devotional Reading and said the Fifth Day of my Annunciation Novena. (We have Parishes (known as Counties most elsewhere) named for the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary, but none named for the Annunciation.) The Total Solar Eclipse was today, but in our location was from 1:41 am to 5:39 am, so we did not see a thing. Once we clocked in, Richard was on Mini Baccarat, while I was the Relief Dealer for Mini Baccarat, Pai Gow, and Three Card Black Jack. On my breaks I ordered new contact lenses from 1-800-Contacts, and the New Moon arrived at 4:39 am. I also sent a text to Michelle asking if she wanted to meet us to eat crawfish for dinner.

After work I went to the Pharmacy and picked up two prescriptions. On our way home I continued reading The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell. Once home from work I read the morning paper while eating some Amish Friendship Bread, and Richard mowed the back yard. I also heard back from Michelle; she said she was working today until 7:00 pm. I then took a nap from about 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. At 4:30 pm I watched Jeopardy!, then Richard and I went to Mudbugs, which is the current name of what everyone in town calls College Junction (right across from the St. Thomas More cemetery). We each had three pounds of crawfish, plus corn and potatoes (they were running at $4.29 a pound, with a volume rate of $3.99 per pound for 15 pounds or more); we also each had 22 oz Coors Light bottles, and since I drank some of Richard’s bottle in addition to my own, I had two normal beer and possibly more. As we were finishing our meal the Vernal (Spring) Equinox arrived, at 5:45 am; next year’s Vernal (Spring) Equinox will arrive on March 19th at 11:30 pm. Later tonight our #1 ranked LSU Baseball team will play the second game of their three-game away series with Arkansas (Geaux Tigers!), and our New Orleans Pelicans will play an away game with the Golden State Warriors. (I will report on both scores in tomorrow’s Daily Update, and hope to have better news than I did with yesterday evening’s games.)

Tomorrow we have no Saints to honor, but on tomorrow’s date in 1804 the Code Napoléon was adopted as French civil law. We will return to the casino to work our eight hours, and either on my breaks or on our way home I will finish reading The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell. (Due to my used book buying, I have the next ones in the series, up through the ones published in 2012 or 2013.) After lunch I will go to the Adoration Chapel for my Weekly Hour of Eucharistic Adoration; after my Hour I will get my lottery tickets. And I hope to stay awake on Saturday afternoon after my Hour so as to do my Book Review (assuming I finish the book) and to do my Daily Update. Our #1 ranked LSU Baseball team will play the last game of the three-game away series with Arkansas tomorrow afternoon, and late tomorrow afternoon our LSU Women’s Basketball team will play #25 ranked South Florida in the NCAA Tournament.

On this date of the Vernal Equinox our Parting Quote comes to us from Risë Stevens, American operatic mezzo-soprano. Born as Risë Steenberg in 1913 in New York City, her father was of Norwegian Lutheran descent and her mother was Jewish (of Polish and Russian descent). She studied at New York’s Juilliard School for three years, and with Anna Eugenie Schoen-René. She went to Vienna, where she was trained by Marie Gutheil-Schoder and Herbert Graf. She made her début as Mignon in Prague in 1936 and stayed there until 1938, also singing in guest appearances at the Vienna State Opera. She was engaged as a member of the Vienna State Opera ensemble at the Teatro Colón in 1938 (as Octavian) and was invited to the Glyndebourne Festival in 1939 where she was heard as Dorabella and Cherubino. In 1938 she made her début with the Metropolitan Opera in Philadelphia as Mignon. Three days later at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, she sang Octavian opposite Lotte Lehmann. In 1939 Stevens married Walter Surovy, an Austrian stage and screen actor she had met during her European years, after he fled the Nazis to New York. He took over the management of her career and skillfully planned publicity to move her into areas of the business they both felt would advance her career. The film industry in Hollywood produced several films for her, including The Chocolate Soldier (1941) with Nelson Eddy. She played an opera singer in Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby, wherein she is credited as a contralto; she is featured performing Bizet’s aria “Habanera,” “Going My Way” with the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, and “Ave Maria” with Bing Crosby and the choir. In 1945 Surovy insured Steven’s voice by Lloyd’s of London for $1 million. For over two decades (until 1961) Stevens was the Met’s leading mezzo-soprano and the only mezzo to command the top billing (and commensurate fees) normally awarded only to star sopranos and tenors. Her most successful roles there included Cherubino (recording on EMI), Octavian, Dalila (two separate discs of excerpts on RCA Victor), Laura, Hansel (complete recording on Columbia) and Marina. Other roles included Fricka in Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, Marfa in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, and Prince Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus. As a singer grounded in 19th century roles, she had a surprise success as Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, under the musical direction of Pierre Monteux, which was immediately recorded for RCA Victor. Above all, she was especially celebrated for her Carmen. She had an enormous personal triumph at the Metropolitan in the role in the famous Tyrone Guthrie production in 1951, becoming the Carmen of her generation. Her RCA Victor recording of the opera, conducted by Fritz Reiner and co-starring Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill and Licia Albanese, became a best seller and has never been out of print in some format. She also appeared in Paris, London, The London Palladium and at Glyndebourne. At La Scala in Milan, she had a great success in Virgilio Mortari’s La Figlia del Diavolo in a version of the Salome story where Herodias is the leading character. Stevens sang, acted and danced the role in a notable tour de force. Her farewell performance at the Metropolitan was as Carmen, in 1961. A hallmark of Stevens’ career was versatility. She sang opera, excelled on radio and television (much of which was recorded) singing from what came to be called The American Songbook, proved to be an accomplished film and television actress, and handled Broadway material (Anna in The King and I, Lisa in Lady in the Dark) with glamour and star quality. She toured the U.S. annually for several decades singing recitals. In 1962 she recorded the voice of Glinda for Journey Back to Oz, but the production ran out of money and was halted for more than four years. It was only after the Filmation studio had made profits on their numerous television series that they were able to finish the project (which was copyrighted 1971, released in 1972 in the United Kingdom and in 1974 in the United States). After her retirement from the opera stage, Stevens served as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera National Company until 1966 and later coached the new generation of singers at the Met. Stevens made occasional television appearances too, including a guest-starring role on NBC’s The Martha Raye Show. On October 22, 1977, Stevens was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. Established in 1964, this award sought “to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression”. She was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1990. Her husband died in 2001 at the age of 91; she herself died only three months short of what would have been her 100th birthday (died 2013): “While I was a young singer, people always talked to us about a golden age of opera. Now they tell me that I was part of a golden age. It’s all a little ridiculous. We are actually living in a golden age right now, an age of great American voices.”

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