To start with, very close to home, we celebrate May 17 as the birthday of our little sister Carol, as well as the birthday, on the Stein side of the family, of our brother-in-law Bob, as well as the wedding anniversary of Richard and Arleigh Stein, as well as the 480th anniversary of the annulment of the marriage of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII of England.
Not only, not only. The very day of little sister's birth in 1954 is also known to history as the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, knocking the legalistic props out from under racial segregation in public schools, though of course failing to end racial segregation in public schools. And there's more, at least on a technicality: the Brown decision applied only to public schools run by the various state governments, not to schools in the District of Columbia, where everything was run by the federal government and also where, it so happened, our little sister was born. The Supreme Court needed to decide a separate case, Bolling v. Sharpe, to order desegregation of schools in Washington, D.C., but it efficiently took care of that detail on the very same day as little sister's birth. Eight days later, the D.C. School Board announced a desegregation plan, and thus, had little sister been smart enough to start school as a newborn infant, which she very nearly was, she might have enrolled in a newly desegregated classroom.
The photo above shows a bit of what Sis is up to these days: mosaicking the side of her garage to suggest a door and some pretty awesome windows.
Ms. Angel, the hen at left, poses with a colleague atop our niece Jess's henhouse in Tempe, Arizona. These two are Jess's oldest layers, we're told, and perhaps the best behaved of her dozen or so chicks and hens.
"I tried really hard to get them all together and have them smile for me," she reports, "but it isn't easy to get them to do what I want."
A couple of weeks ago, in the desert near Pinnacle Peak, outside of Phoenix, people who stepped out of their cars to savor the sunset felt the wind pick up suddenly, blowing hard and cold and carrying . . . raindrops? Really?
Careful examination of clouds in the distance revealed ragged curtains of rain showers swirling down just below the cloud line. Apparently, most of the rain evaporated long before moistening the dust, but we can vouch for several drops, perhaps even several dozens of drops, that fell all the way to earth.
After a few minutes, the wind died down, and the storm, such as it was, no longer was.
This is the front panel of a Nechada barrel organ, made in Odessa, Ukraine, in the early years of the twentieth century. It was often set up in the street outside a bar or brothel, in hopes that the popular tunes it blasted out would draw a crowd of potential customers. Sometimes, of course, the organ grinder had a monkey as an added attraction, or a troupe of very young girls, perhaps eight or ten years old, who danced and sang and turned cartwheels to entertain the drunks.
Odessa was home to a number of piano manufacturers, who made these organs as a sideline. No musical skill was required to operate them; the organ grinder just turned the crank on one side of the box, which pumped air through the organ pipes and also spun rolls of paper that had been pre-programmed with the desired musical compositions. The paper blocked air from entering the pipes except where holes had been punched; when a hole in the paper came in line with the opening to a pipe of the desired pitch, air was forced through the pipe, generating each note of a song.
Odessa street organs, called sharmankas, were sold throughout the Russian empire from about 1860 until they began to be replaced by more modern music machines, notably record players, in the 1920s. Even then, they remained in use by street buskers, particularly in Tbilisi and other Georgian cities, where street organs were popular well into the 1960s.
The inscription across the bottom of this organ gives the name and address of its maker. Ivan Viktorovich Nechada worked out of a piano factory on Balskovskaya Street, now Isaac Babel Street, in Odessa. This organ is in the collection of the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, but recently a very similar Nechada organ, said to be in perfect working order, was advertised in Moscow; "May be sold or exchanged for a car," wrote the seller, in an ad in Mechanical Music Digest.