Sunday, January 3, 2010
In the immortal words of James Brown, "It's a new day, so let a man come in and do the Popcorn." Good God.
Are you going to say "two thousand ten" or "twenty ten"? Just wondering. I would like to start saying twenty ten because it's shorter and punchier. But who really gets to make these decisions so that one thing catches on over the other?
Of course the idea that it's a new year is merely an artificial construct, shaped and refined over centuries by kings and popes and the occasional astronomer who didn't get burned at the stake. Until the European world went over to the Gregorian calendar, New Year's Day was celebrated on March 1st, and from the standpoint of weather, this made sense. Who would ever mistake January 1st for the beginning of anything new if it weren't necessary to hang a different calendar on the wall on that day? It also explains why the last four months of the year as we observe it now are named for the Latin numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten. They were never intended to be the last four months of the year. Duh, as the kids say. Nevertheless, though we are stuck with these names for the months that don't match their ordinal positions, there's something to be said for the idea of starting the year off close to the time when the days begin to lengthen. Pope Gregory XIII and his guys evidently thought so back in 1582 when they hatched this current deal we have, although it took several hundred years for everyone to get on board with it. For instance, the English-speaking world didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, believing for a long time that the change was part of a Catholic plot. By the time they did it, it was necessary to skip eleven days to bring them even with the rest of Europe. This was because one of the reasons for the change in the first place was that the leap year thing, which had been around for a long time, wasn't quite keeping even with the actual solar year. So they decided that three times in every four hundred years there shouldn't be a leap year where there had previously been one. Some of you who were around in 1900 will no doubt remember that it wasn't a leap year, unless of course you were living in Russia, where it was, since the Russians didn't get around to changing over until after their revolution, in 1918. This is why the glorious October Revolution of 1917 is celebrated in November. Or was celebrated. I'm probably the only one who still celebrates, and some years even I forget. So they could as easily have called their submarine Red November, and then who knows what would have happened? Maybe Alec Baldwin would have done more Tom Clancy movies, which wouldn't have been a bad career move on his part, not that he's done too terribly, what with TV and everything. But we might have been spared so much of Harrison Ford, whose emotive range runs the gamut from A to B. Alec Baldwin does pissed off in a so much better and more nuanced way, for my money.
It's probably because he is pissed off, which might have something to do with having a bunch of brothers who look like cavemen. Hell, the Baldwin brothers should be doing those Geico commercials. They wouldn't even need to put on makeup--just tell them not to shave for a day or two.
The French did experiment with a new calendar during their revolution, and it really was revolutionary. They started the year on the day of the Autumnal equinox (around September 22). Then, not only did they begin to renumber the years (starting with Roman numeral I), and rename all the months, but they also changed the weeks, days, and hours. Each month had three ten-day weeks, and each day had ten hours, divided into one hundred minutes, which were divided into one hundred seconds. This was way too cool and sensible an idea, and of course it didn't last too long, and the French went back to doing what they really excel at, which is figuring out how to make almost anything that grows or moves into something really delicious to eat. Like the Chinese, but much more expensive.
Prior to the French Revolution, New Orleans had been ceded to the Spanish under the Treaty of Paris, in 1763, and didn't return to French control until 1801. So it was spared the disruption of the French Republican calendar. Then two years later Napoleon dealt it off, along with about a third of the continent, to the United States, for $24 worth of beads and trinkets, or five magic beans, or something. Anyway, I think we got it cheap.