A Word in Edgewise 2/3/20: A Month of Purification

Producer/Host: R.W. Estela

There were technical difficulties with the audio. Here is a transcript of this day’s feature:

Good morning, Everyone — I’m RW Estela with A Word in Edgewise.

Today is the 3rd of February, leaving us 332 days in this Leap Year of 2020 . . .

The name February is derived from the Roman month Februarius, from the Latin term februum, which connotes purification by means of the purification ritual known as Februa, held on February 15, the full Moon of the old Roman calendar.

Early on, the Romans considered winter a month-less period, so that after December came March and the beginning of the planting season.

But around 713 BC, Numa Pompilus, the legendary second King of Rome, added January and February.

King Pompilus’ calendar ruled the day, no pun intended, for several hundred years, until the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar took effect in 45 BC.

And that calendar would work for a little over a millennia and a half until the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory, began gradually becoming adopted over the course of a couple of hundred years.

Therefore the Gregorian calendar, in an attempt to maintain March 21st — or closely thereabouts — as the date of the vernal equinox, interposed every four years a leap year, a year of 366 days instead of 365, that extra day being known as Leap Day, a day I’ve always wished I had been born on, so that I would be only a quarter as old as I am . . .

To the south in the night sky the star Aldebaran — brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull — will be shining just below our burgeoning Moon, and faintly above to the right will be the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters.

In Japanese, subaru means unite — and also refers to the Pleiades.

Astronomically, tomorrow is the birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, born in 1906, and who 24 years later on the 18th of February discovered Pluto.

Today in 1690, Massachusetts issued the first paper money in the American colonies.

Today in 1894, the first American steel ship, the Dirigo, was launched from the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

Today in 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, granting Congress the authority to levy income taxes, was ratified.

Today in 1995, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, in this instance the Discovery.

Today in 2005, American lawyer and judge Alberto R. Gonzales was sworn in as the Attorney General of the United States, the first Hispanic to occupy the post.

And today in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race and intending to ensure, along with the earlier Fourteenth Amendment, the civil rights of former slaves.

In Allegheny, Pennsylvania, today back in 1874, Gertrude Stein was born.

Biographer Ed Morrow tells us that her prosperous parents were restless people, spending long stretches in Vienna and in Paris before settling in Oakland, California, by which time Gertrude was fluent in German and French.

Of Oakland, she said, “The thing about Oakland is, that when you get there, there’s no there.”

When Gertrude’s mother died in 1888, Gertrude’s domineering father took charge of her upbringing and insisted she study medicine.

Although he died when Gertrude was only 17, he left her with a lasting unfavorable opinion of men.

Nevertheless, she attempted to fulfill his ambitions for her, entering Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Unfortunately, she flunked out after four years when an unhappy lesbian affair disrupted her studies, so she set off for Paris, to live with her brother Leo, an art critic.

Gertrude and her brother set up a salon, where notables such as Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, and Matisse became friends, despite Gertrude’s much-noted egoism.

Gertrude also began writing, using a unique style that drove critics nuts. Her most successful work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was an autobiography of Gertrude Stein told from the point of view of her companion, Toklas.

Hemmingway, whose friendship with the brusque Stein was sometimes strained, once said, “Gertrude Stein and me are just like brothers.”

The philosopher William James, brother of Henry James, taught philosophy and psychology to Gertrude Stein at Harvard.
The famous story of the unwritten examination paper unfolds as follows and shows the quality of their relationship:
It was a very lovely spring day, and Gertrude Stein had been going to the opera every night and going to the opera in the afternoon . . . and been otherwise engrossed, and it was the final exam period, and there was an exam in William James’ course.
She sat down with the exam paper before her, and she just couldn’t begin to work.
“Dear Professor James,” she wrote at the top of her paper, “I am sorry, but really I don’t feel a bit like an exam paper in philosophy today,” and then she left.
The next day, she had a postcard from William James saying, “Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel. I often feel exactly that way myself.”
And underneath it, he gave her the highest mark in his course.
Today is also the birthday of Felix Mendelssohn, in 1809; of Horace Greeley, in 1811; of Norman Rockwell, in 1894; of James Michener, in 1907; of Joey Bishop, in 1918; of Fran Tarkenton, in 1940; of Blythe Tanner, in 1943; and of Morgan Fairchild, in 1960.

From Orono, Maine, I’m RW Estela with A Word in Edgewise: Here’s to a fine February morning!

rwe edgeword @ 2019