Thursday Oct. 19, 2017

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One Ambition

All I ever really wanted
was to whistle with my fingers—

I knew I would never
be the one up on stage

blowing everybody away
with beauty, brilliance, virtuosity…

But to be the lightning
inside the thunderous applause,

to have the audacity
and the manual dexterity

to make a siren screeching
through a dark auditorium,

to be the killer hawk
in all that parroting, pattering rain,

to be, finally, the very best at praise—
now that was something

I thought that if I gave my life to
I might attain.

“One Ambition” by Paul Hostovsky from Is That What That Is. © Future Cycle Press, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the anniversary of the surrender that ended the American Revolutionary War, in Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781. George Washington had had a difficult spring. His troops were low on supplies and food, their clothing was in shreds, and there had been a steady stream of desertions from his ranks. By summer, Washington had only a few thousand troops camped at West Point, New York. The British expected Washington to attack New York City, which he had been planning to do for most of the spring. But when he learned that the British forces under the control of Lord Cornwallis were building a naval base on the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia, he decided impulsively to march his army from New York to Virginia, in the hopes of trapping Cornwallis and capturing his army.

Washington's plan to move his army 400 miles in order to catch his enemy by surprise was a bold move. He had to march his troops toward New York City first, to scare the British into hunkering down for an attack. Then he quickly moved south. Washington's men and their French allies marched every day from 2:00 a.m. until it grew too hot to continue. It was a hot summer, and on one day, more than 400 men passed out from the heat. Few armies in history had ever moved so far so fast.

Lord Cornwallis learned of Washington's approach before he arrived, but Cornwallis chose not to flee, because he thought his troops would be evacuated by the British navy. He didn't realize that the British ships had already been routed by a French fleet from the south. So in the early weeks of October, he watched as Washington's troops surrounded the city and began a siege. After several days of bombarding the city with gun and cannon fire, Washington received word that Cornwallis would surrender.

Washington requested that the British march out of the city to give up their arms, and the surrender began at 2:00 a.m. on this day in 1781. The one soldier who didn't surrender was Cornwallis himself. Instead, he sent his sword with his second in command to be offered to the French general, signifying that the British had been defeated by the French, not the Americans.

In didn't matter though. England didn't have enough money to raise another army, and they appealed to America for peace. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the war was officially over.

It's the birthday of the spy novelist David Cornwell who writes under the name John le Carré (books by this author), born in Poole, England (1931). In his novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), he's known for writing realistically about spies who aren't sexy or daring, like James Bond, but tired, lonely men, who barely trusted their own government more than they trusted their enemies.

His father was a con man who made money from fraudulent real estate deals and then racked up millions of dollars in gambling debts. Cornwell's mother abandoned the family when he was five years old. His father was in and out of prison for various fraud charges, so he was raised mostly by his father's various girlfriends. He never forgave the man. He said, "I think that my great villains have always had something of my father in them."

Today is the birthday of Tracy Chevalier (books by this author), born in Washington, D.C. (1962). After college, she moved to London to stay for six months, but she fell in love with a British man and she has never left. She was a reference book editor for several years before she started writing historical novels. Her first novel, The Virgin Blue (1997), was a moderate success, and her second book, Girl With a Pearl Earring (1999), was a huge best-seller. Chevalier’s latest novel is New Boy (2017).

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