“There is nothing more dangerous than misplaced whimsy.”
Today in 1926, the phrase “grace under pressure” was used for the first time in print. Ernest Hemingway used the phrase in a letter to F. Scott
Fitzgerald. The two met a year earlier in a Parisian bar called Dingo and
began a tumultuous, alcohol- and envy-fueled friendship, which Hemingway
wrote about in his memoir A Moveable Feast (1964).
Hemingway was a prolific
correspondent, and he probably wrote six to seven thousand letters in his lifetime, perhaps because he was an informal letter writer who believed letters should never be written for posterity. Write letters “for the day and the hour,” said Hemingway in a May 1950 letter to English professor and author Arthur Mizener. “Posterity will always look after herself.” In his letters, he regularly ignored apostrophes, rarely crossed a t or dotted an i. And while he frequently boasted that he was a better speller than Fitzgerald, he almost always misspelled certain words, including apologize (apoligize), responsibility (responsability), and volume (volumne). He would also drop pronouns and common articles (an and the) from
his letters (and sometimes even from conversation). He might have been
mimicking the language of cables and telegraphs, which he loved, but he also
thought the shortened, abrupt style was manly and down-to-earth.
In this particular letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway gossips, talks about what
he’s getting paid, offers facetious money advice, badmouths other writers, and asks Fitzgerald to read his new manuscript, The Sun Also Rises. He uses the phrase “grace under pressure” to describe what he means when he uses the word “guts”: “Was not referring to guts but to something else. Grace under pressure. Guts never made any money for anybody except violin string manufacturers.”
Today in 1939 that Billie Holiday recorded the song “Strange Fruit,” which describes the lynching of a black man in the South. The song began as a poem written not by Holiday, but by a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx named Abel Meeropol (using the pseudonym Lewis Allan) who was deeply disturbed by a picture he saw of a lynching. Meeropol set the song to music with his wife, Laura, and performed it at venues in New York City. (Meeropol and his wife are also noteworthy for adopting the orphaned Rosenberg children, Robert and Michael, after their parents, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, were executed for espionage.)
Holiday met Meeropol through a connection at a nightclub in Greenwich
Village. She wanted to record the song, but her record label refused to produce something so graphic and she was forced to record it on an alternative jazz label.
Holiday’s recording of “Strange Fruit” is unique in American music for its
unflinching look at one of the darkest periods in national history.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh
And the sudden smell of burning flesh! Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
Today is the birthday of Spanish painter Joan Miró, born Joan Miró i Ferrà, in Barcelona (1893). While he is considered a surrealist, he rejected
identification with any one artistic movement. Before he went into exile
during the Franco regime — Miró was Catalan and the Catalans were subject to special persecution by Franco — he traveled widely and visual references to Haitian voodoo and the Cuban Santería religion infuse his dreamlike art. He’s best known for his paintings The Harlequin’s Carnival (1924) and Dog Barking at the Moon (1926).
He said, “The painting rises from the brushstrokes as a poem rises from the
words. The meaning comes later.”
He said, “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain