The Week That Was – 2020


There are some weeks when nothing happens – zip, nada, bupkis!  And then there are other weeks that just boil over with stuff going on.  Last week was the boiling kind, and here are a few events of note.

After three and a half years of dickin’ around, the UK finally left the EU.  And — no big surprise — the sun didn’t fall out of the sky, the Chunnel didn’t implode and Big Ben didn’t chime 13!  In fact, if you were asleep at midnight GMT, too bad — ya missed it.  Still, the Irish are offended, the Welsh are dismayed and the Scots are downright pissed off.  But let’s face it, if the English were offering free tea and crumpets, somebody on that island would bitch about it.  However, one part of Brexit does unite the various peoples of the United Kingdom: they all — boys, girls and baby squirrels – hate London.

Ground Hog Day was completely overshadowed (heh-heh-heh) by the Super Bowl.  Apparently, the game had over a billion viewers worldwide.  I don’t believe it.  Outside the good old U.S. of A, there are only about 12 people who actually understand American football, and they’re all Packers fans.  No, most folks watch the Super Bowl for the ads and the halftime show – and, this year, the halftime show didn’t disappoint.  What’s not to like?  A full 15 minutes of synchronized semi-naked women, bumping and grinding as if there were a 2 for 1 sale on orgasms; men dressed up as sperm; a pole dancer and a choir of children to prove it was all about feminism.  I don’t know about you, but after the final ass shakes, I was satisfied.  Anyway, the little rodent in Pennsylvania got second billing, and nobody cared if he saw his shadow or not.  However, according to folklore, since Kansas City beat San Francisco, we’re going to have six more weeks of dull, flat and boring.

Sunday was also 02-02-2020, International-Give-A-Nerd-An-Eyeroll-Day.  Despite all the Internet yipping about it, these “palindromic anomalies” are actually quite frequent.  The next one is – uh – next year on the 12th of February (12-02-2021.)  However, Americans are going to have to wait until December 2nd (12-02-2021) because, for some weird reason, they put the month first.  I guess these number games are kinda cool, but they do beg the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody count the leaves?”

And finally:

Faced with the uncontrollable spread of an incurable virus – again — the Chinese built a couple of hospitals in less than two weeks!  (You can see them do it on YouTube.)  Wow!  Meanwhile, in Europe the people of Barcelona have been working on Sagrada Familia since 1882, and they still haven’t finished it.  Lazy is such a hard word. . . .

The Much Maligned Mistress


Today, in North America, it’s Groundhog Day.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is the day when a select group of small-town politicians and business people get their 15 minutes of fame by torturing a rodent.  You can read about it here.  The day has no other redeeming qualities except Harold Ramis made a decent movie out of it.  However, and much more importantly, today is also Nell Gwyn’s birthday.  Again, for the unfamiliar, Nell Gwyn was the most famous of King Charles II’s numerous mistresses. (He had about a dozen.)

So, to hell with the rodent.  Here’s a brief look at one of the most forgotten heroines of history — the mistress.

Diane de Poitiers — She became Henry II’s mistress when he was 16 and she was 35 and basically ran the show in France for the next 24 years!  She even wrote most of his official correspondence and signed it HenriDiane.  When Henry married Catherine de’ Medici, a woman he didn’t even like, Madame de Poitiers practically pushed Henry into Catherine’s bed to ensure the continuation of the dynasty.  (They had 10 children!)

Aspasia of Miletus — There is a lot of speculation (from folks like Plato and Plutarch) that Pericles’ mistress Aspasia was such a brilliant conversationalist that she may have “helped” him write some of his famous speeches.

Alice Keppel — She became Edward VII’s mistress when he was 57 — old, fat, a closet alcoholic and grumpy with gout.  Why she put up with him is impossible to know, but even the British Prime Minister Asquith thanked her for her “wise counsel.”  Coincidentally, Mrs. Keppel is the great-grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who was Prince Charles’ mistress before, during and after his turbulent marriage to Princess Diana.

Barbara Palmer — She became Charles II’s mistress while he was still in exile and practically ordered him to accept the throne when Cromwell finally had the good sense to die.  By all accounts, Mrs. Palmer was bossy, bad-tempered and promiscuous.  (She even had an affair with her cousin John Churchill.)  However, she got things done, including “suggesting” Charles declare war on Holland in 1665 and pushing a lot of people around to get London rebuilt after The Great Fire.  Eventually, Charles had to dump her because she was Catholic.  Two of Barbara Palmer’s descendents are the late Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York.

Which brings us to Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn — As the mistress of Charles II, Nell Gwyn was the very soul of the Restoration.  She was witty and urbane, danced, sang, gambled and helped make England fun again after the dreary days of Oliver Cromwell.  Plus, unlike Barbara Palmer, she kept her mouth shut.  In fact, Nell Gwyn was so good at her job that she’s the only royal mistress ever publically immortalized with a statue.  It’s on Sloane Street, Chelsea.

These days “mistress” is one of those bogeyman words.  It upsets our puritanical view of female sexuality and makes us vaguely uncomfortable.  The problem is, because our society’s sexual sophistication is limited to Kim Kardashian flashing her ass across Instagram, we simply can’t get past the idea that a “mistress” could be anything more than a high-priced hooker.  Guess again!  Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, rodent, go back in your hole.  I’m celebrating mistresses!

Groundhog Day (not the movie)

groundhogToday, in North America, it’s Groundhog Day.  For the uninitiated, Groundhog Day is one of those folksy occasions when everybody from Malibu to Manhattan pretends we all still live in villages.  The irony is it’s almost exclusively a mass media event, and although some of us might see it on TV, the vast majority mostly miss it and literally nobody I’ve ever even heard of has participated in person.  Here’s the deal.

There’s no heavy tradition behind Groundhog Day.  It was born and raised in the mind of Clymer H. Freas, a newspaper editor in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Sometime in the 1880s, he cobbled together some German folklore into a midwinter event that would bring local people into his town to spend money.  From there, it swept across North America until it became woven into the fabric of our society.  That’s it!

So, on February 2nd, all over the continent, various local notables trot out a groundhog or a reasonable facsimile (Alaska uses a marmot: New Orleans, a coypu.) the cameras roll and everybody waits to see what happens.  According the Groundhog Day rules, if the groundhog sees his shadow (a sunny day) he will be frightened, go back into his den (cage) and there will be six more weeks of winter.  However, if he doesn’t see his shadow (a cloudy day) he’ll hang out for a while and spring is on the way.  There is absolute no mention of hordes of people scaring the crap out of him, or what happens if he’s a tough little bastard and shadows don’t scare him.  Meteorology by rodent is obviously not an exact science.

However, trying to explain the apathetic popularity of Groundhog Day to someone who didn’t grow up with it is like trying to explain baseball to a Borneo head hunter or McDonalds to the French.  They look at you like a Labrador puppy trying to figure out “Fetch!” (It’s the head tilt.)

But, despite the fact that virtually nobody in North America really cares about Groundhog Day — nobody wishes anybody “Happy Groundhog Day,” nobody marks it on the calendar (as in, “I don’t want to miss that action!”) or even makes any effort to attend the various ceremonies — we all still know about it, talk about it, and understand it.  It’s like Kim Kardashian’s bum: it exists in our collective consciousness, but for no apparent reason.  And that’s the magic of North American culture: most of it simply exists, without explanation, and Groundhog Day is a perfect example.