The three dates for this article are:
2, 9, 22 and 30 November
This time, since I live in Spain, let’s begin by looking at some anniversaries that relate to Spanish-speaking people or their countries. One of my favourite composers is Joaquin Rodrigo, who was born (22) in 1901; the premiere of his famous ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ took place (9) in Barcelona in 1940. [He died in July, 1999 and a nation mourned this socialist composer of the people.]
The rather spooky ‘Day of the Dead’ - el dia de los muertos - is held in Mexico to celebrate dead ancestors (2). On All Saints Day (1) they generally honour the dead children - angelitos, little angels; All Souls Day (2) is the turn of the adults when families gather round their family burial plots and eat special food, offering to the departed too. And of course there are fireworks.
In 1966 the Cuban Adjustment Act came into force (2), allowing 123,000 Cubans the opportunity to apply for permanent residence in the US. This was four years to the day after the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis (2) when Kennedy announced that the Soviet nuclear missiles were being withdrawn from Cuba.
Gibraltar was captured from Spain in 1704 and subsequently was under siege several times afterwards. The Treaty of Seville in 1729 was signed (9) by France, Spain and England and confirmed that England owned Gibraltar. Political self-serving skirmishes occur from time to time, as has happened recently, regarding the sovereignty of the Rock.
At the Cabildo building in New Orleans in 1803, the Spanish representatives officially transferred the Louisiana Territory to the French representative (30) and twenty days later France transferred the same land to the US as the Louisiana Purchase.
France got rid of other places as well, whether Charles de Gaulle liked it or not: he was born (22) in 1890 and was President of France from 1958 to 1969; he was certainly a mite taller than many of his successors! In 1943 Lebanon (22) became independent from France, as did Cambodia (9) ten years later.
Other land changed hands or identity this month in history too. Barbados (30) became independent in 1966 and a year later the People's Republic of South Yemen became independent, both from the UK.
As far back as 1917 the Balfour Declaration proclaimed support (2) for the Jewish settlement in Palestine. The United States gained (9) rights to Pearl Harbour in Hawaii in 1887 and eventually became the fiftieth state in 1959.
Of course John F Kennedy, the thirty-fifth president of the US, was assassinated (22) this month in 1963, in Dallas, Texas, ostensibly by Lee Harvey Oswald. As it will be fifty years ago, I imagine there will be much discussion about this and the subsequent conspiracy theories. Those of us who were old enough will always remember the grainy film and newsflash, as potent an image as the much later Twin Towers atrocities.
JFK - assassination - 22 November 1963
All brought to us by the immediacy of television. In fact the BBC started (2) the world's first regular high-definition television service in 1936.
Two of the biggest early TV stars were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who were married (30) in 1940; there were 180 episodes of the I Love Lucy show, starting in 1951.
In 1974 a rather older Lucy was discovered in Ethiopia (30) - a 3.18 million years’ old female hominid, Australopithecus. About 40% of her skeleton was found and it was estimated she died aged twenty-five. The skeleton was christened ‘Lucy’ because on the night of the discovery, during the celebrations, the Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was played repeatedly. The name stuck.
Six years earlier, the Beatles released (22) The White Album and one of the tracks was ‘Back in the USSR.’
Once-communist Czechoslovakia is proud of one of its greatest athletes, Emil Zátopek.
Emil Zátopek, one of my father's heroes
In the 1948 Olympics he won the 10,000m race. The following year he broke the 10,000m world record twice and in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki he won gold for the 5,000m and 10,000m races and the marathon, the first time he'd attempted it; he broke Olympic records in all three events. While an ardent communist, he advocated reform and supported the Prague Spring so was ultimately sent to work in a uranium mine as punishment. He died (22) in Prague in 2000.
Communist-controlled East Germany opened the checkpoints in the Berlin Wall in 1989, allowing its citizens to travel freely to West Germany (9). Ten years earlier, Pink Floyd released (30) their famous rock opera, ‘The Wall.’
Another wall came tumbling down – the wall of an Egyptian tomb – in 1922. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon opened the last resting place of Tutankhamen, untouched for three thousand years (22).
Perhaps walls didn't fall for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act that came into force (30) in the UK in 2000, but it provides for greater access to moor, heath and common land than hitherto. Not that the idea is original – Sweden has given free access to all land for years.
Swedish King Christian II executed (9) over a hundred nobles in 1520 in what is known as the Stockholm Bloodbath. Christian II of Denmark successfully invaded Sweden and, despite declaring an amnesty, ordered the execution of all the nobility and clergy who opposed him. Swedish soprano Jenny Lind was born in 1820 and after touring with the showman P T Barnum, she was dubbed the ‘Swedish Nightingale.’ She was a great hit with Queen Victoria and became a philanthropist, living her later years in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, where she died (2) and was buried in 1887.
On the same day (2) in 1961 the Canadian singer k d lang was born while the female singer Dorothy Dandridge was born (9) in 1923. Dandridge went on to star in Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess and Island in the Sun. She lapsed into alcoholism and died from barbiturate poisoning, aged forty-one with about two dollars in her bank account.
Where would singers be without lyricists? Lorenz Hart died (22) in 1943 and was the writer of the words for Richard Rodgers’ musicals, such as Babes in Arms whose songs included ‘Johnny One Note’, ‘The Lady is a Tramp’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘A Connecticut Yankee’, based on the book by Mark Twain, who was born (30) as Samuel Clemens in 1835.
The following year, the British politician Lord Frederick Cavendish was born (30). A protégé of Gladstone, he was appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland and almost on arrival in that post he was assassinated by the ‘Irish National Invincibles’ in Dublin’s Phoenix Park in 1882.
In fact, November is an interesting month for British politicians. Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald and Neville Chamberlain died on the same day (9), in 1937 and 1940 respectively. And Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigned (22) in 1990.
Possibly our greatest Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill was born (30) in 1874. Serving in the Nile Expeditionary Force in 1898 he fought hand - to hand with the Dervishes at Omdurman. Later, acting as a London newspaper correspondent in the Boer War, he was captured and escaped with a £25 price on his head.
In 1899 the Boers started (2) their 118-day siege of the British town of Ladysmith, the town being named after the Spanish wife of Sir Henry Smith, the British general governor of Cape Colony.
Africa is an immense and beautiful continent that has been torn apart by warfare and slavery for centuries. More recently however there was the massacre in 2002 in Nigeria (22) when over a hundred people were killed in an attack aimed at the Miss World contest.
Africa was referred to as the Dark Continent, somewhere for intrepid explorers to investigate, while risking their lives. They didn’t come more intrepid than Sir Martin Frobisher, roaming the seas for new discoveries and booty from Spanish galleons. Wounded at the siege of Crozon near Brest, he was brought back to Plymouth where he died (22) in 1594.
Forty-nine years later Robert Cavelier de La Salle was born (22). He was a French cleric and explorer who ranged over the Great Lakes region, the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the entire Mississippi basin for France. He must have turned in his grave when the Louisiana Purchase went through for fifteen million dollars, less than three cents an acre. If you scan a gazetteer of North America you’ll find many townships named after La Salle. During one of La Salle's expeditions he lost several ships to pirates.
One of the most notorious pirates in the Caribbean was Blackbeard, Edward Teach, who died on the same day (22) as Frobisher, in 1718: a Royal Naval sloop engaged the pirates and Blackbeard was stabbed a score of times and killed in the fighting, his head subsequently seen hanging from the sloop’s bowsprit. In 1996 Blackbeard's ship was discovered off North Carolina.
Then there’s Captain Vallo, the fictitious pirate played by Burt Lancaster in the film The Crimson Pirate, a 1952 light-hearted adventure involving prison breaks, battles, lots of sword-play and Lancaster's considerable athletic skill. Burton Stephen Lancaster was born (2) in 1913. Another fun adventure film of his was His Majesty O'Keefe.
Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate
In 1541 Her Majesty Catherine Howard was demoted from her position as Queen (22) and confined to her rooms, being charged with adultery with Thomas Culpepper. Having been tortured, Culpepper confessed and he was executed, his head staying on a spike on London Bridge until 1546. Catherine went to London Tower and was beheaded in February 1542.
London’s Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 Great Exhibition, was destroyed (30) in a fire in 1936, twenty years after the death (22) of Jack London, the author of the classics The Sea-Wolf, The Call of the Wild and White Fang. He was a socialist and wrote about the poor of London in The People of the Abyss.
Another writer with a conscience, notably in The Travels of Gulliver, was Jonathan Swift. He generally employed criticism by means of satire. This Irish writer was born (30) in 1667, the same day as Irishman Oscar Wilde died in 1900.
We’ve all heard of Anne Frank’s Diary, but there is another Dutch girl who wrote a diary too - Etty Hillesum. In her family, knowledge was admired and she often cut back on food in order to buy books. In March 1941, a year after the German occupation of Holland, she started her diary while helping Jews at the internment camp there. In September 1943 she and her family were sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed (30). Her letters and most of her diaries were saved and published after the war.
An Austrian actress who hated the Nazis was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler. Born (9) in 1913, she was notorious for the first nude scene in films in the 1933 Czech movie Ecstasy. When she moved to America in 1937, she changed her name to Hedy Lamar and seemed to exude sexuality in Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature.
Hedy Lemar (9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000)
Hedy Lemar also co-invented an important technology for radio communications called ‘frequency hopping’, a secret communications system involving the use of carrier waves of different frequencies, initially to aid remote-controlled torpedoes against the Nazis. This system also proved difficult to discover or decipher. Nowadays, this is ‘spread spectrum’ wireless communication, used by GPS devices, cordless and wireless phones.
I’d better hang up now.