Our bodies, lucent under the bedclothes,
fit tightly like the pieces of a broken
terra-cotta vase now newly mended,
smooth surfaces, no jagged edges visible.
I’ve read that countries were so interlocked
before tectonic heavings, when the ocean
parted Mexico and Mauritania.
Brazil’s shoulder was hoisted to Nigeria,
Italy pressed Libya, Alaska
lay so close to Russia that fingers touched.
Our tremulous hands held fast in sleep at dawn;
legs, arms entwined, one continent, one mass.
“Hemispheres” by Grace Schulman from Days of Wonder. © Mariner Books, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this night in 1967 that a riot broke out in Detroit, marking the beginning of the decline of one of the greatest manufacturing cities in the country. An all-white squadron of police officers decided to raid a bar in a black neighborhood where there was a party to welcome home two recent veterans of the Vietnam War. The police stormed the bar, rounded up and arrested 85 black men and began loading them into vans.
The riot that followed raged for five days. Thousands of soldiers from the Michigan National Guard were called in, along with tanks. The National Guardsmen fired off more than 150,000 bullets over the course of the riot.
Forty-three people were killed and whole blocks of the city went up in flames. After the riots, many of the white residents of the city moved to the suburbs. Thousands of homes were abandoned, and the city's population plunged from 1.6 million to 992,000 in just a few years. By 1990, Detroit was one of the poorest cities in America, with one in every three residents living in poverty.
It's the birthday of mystery writer Raymond Chandler (1888) (books by this author), born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, before his Irish mother took him to England so he could get a proper education. Chandler's novels explored the tough, lawless, and luxurious side of Los Angeles through the sharp narration of his most famous creation, wisecracking, chess-playing private eye Philip Marlowe, who made his debut in Chandler's first novel, The Big Sleep (1939).
He was educated at preparatory school in England and studied international law in Germany and France before moving back to Britain. He mostly wrote poetry, managing to publish 27 poems and short story called "The Rose-Leaf Romance" before moving to Los Angeles (1912), where he found work as a tennis racket stringer and a bookkeeper at a creamery. Chandler enlisted in the Canadian air force and spent time on the front lines in France during World War I. When he returned to L.A., he took a well-paying job in the oil industry, but drank too much and had affairs with the office secretaries, so he was fired after a year.
Running low on money, he began reading pulp mystery magazines and studying the formula for stories. He said Americans were "a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it." He liked the lack of pretension in the pulps and the tight restrictions on word length and subject matter suited his style. He published his first mystery story, "Blackmailers Don't Shoot," in Black Mask magazine in 1933. It was popular, and he began churning out more stories.
It took him three months to write his first novel, The Big Sleep (1939), which was made into a film, with William Faulkner writing the screenplay and Humphrey Bogart cast as Philip Marlowe (1946). When asked about the character of Philip Marlowe, he said: "He must be the best man in his world and good enough for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things."
Chandler's second novel was Farewell, My Lovely (1940). His clipped British upbringing mixed with American vernacular proved popular with readers, who ate up lines like "He had a heart as big as one of Mae West's hips" and "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window." Poet W.H. Auden and novelist Evelyn Waugh were big fans, but critics found his work somewhat distasteful. A reviewer from the Washington Post called his books "rambling at best and incoherent at worst," and others cited the "moral depravity" of a fictional L.A. filled with crime, prostitutes, cheating spouses, and murder.
Raymond Chandler wrote eight novels, including The Little Sister (1949) and The Long Goodbye (1953) before he died in 1959. All of his novels except for one have been made into films. Philip Marlowe has been portrayed onscreen by James Garner, Danny Glover, Powers Boothe, and Dick Powell.
Chandler was nearly penniless when he died. He'd returned to drinking after the long illness and death of his second wife, Cissy. He wrote The Long Goodbye while she was dying and many consider this his masterpiece, due to its blend of hard-boiled cynicism and lyrical sentiment.
Chandler worked hard to improve his writing style as he aged, but he couldn't catch a break from the critics, saying, "The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem and murder, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time."
He and Cissy are interred side by side. Their shared gravestone reads, "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts," a quote from The Big Sleep.
On this day in 1929, the Fascist government in Italy banned the use of foreign words. Regional dialects were still so prevalent when Mussolini came into power in 1922 that no more than 12 percent of the population of the unified state spoke straightforward Italian. The regime wanted to promote unity and a strong national identity, so anything that was seen to undermine these things was a cause for concern. French and English words and phrases were particularly popular; where possible, the government required the use of the Italian equivalent, and if one didn't exist, they made the foreign word as Italian as possible. Wine from Bordeaux became known as Barolo; a movie, formerly known as "il film," was now called "la pellicola."