Some 2,000 miles west of California in the Pacific Ocean lies the land of surfing, hula dancers, lūʻaus and poke bowls. We are of course talking about Hawaii, and on this day in 1959, this group of breathtaking volcanic islands became the 50th US state, now affectionately known as the 'Aloha State'.
Hawaii, first inhabited by Polynesian voyagers who used only the stars for navigation and outrigger canoes to make their journey, was later discovered by British explorer Captain James Cook when he landed at Waimea Bay on the island of Kauai on January 20th 1778. In the years that followed Cook's discovery, Hawaii would see the fall of its monarchy, annexation of the islands as US territory and finally US statehood, some 60 years later.
Hawaii's path to statehood was fraught and prolonged, and we won't dwell on that here. Instead, we'd rather entertain with some fun facts about, in the words of Mark Twain, "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean".
- Hawaii boasts the largest dormant volcano in the world (Maui's Mount Haleakala).
- More than a third of the world's supply of pineapples comes from the Hawaiian islands.
- Hawaii is the only US state with two official languages.
- Only seven of Hawaii's 132 islands are inhabited.
- You can mail a coconut from Hawaii. Just add an address and pop it in the mail.
- Hawaiians greet with a hug, not a handshake. They're a friendly bunch.
Theft Makes Mona Lisa's Name
For all her famous smile, and for all Da Vinci's talents, it is intriguing that the Mona Lisa has become the world's most famous artwork.
It was on this day in 1911 that her status became assured, when Vincenzo Peruggia crept out of a broom closet in Paris's Louvre museum, unhooked the painting and carried it out under his clothes. The ensuing furore made the artwork globally famous, and by the time a Florence art dealer reported Peruggia, the Mona Lisa was an icon. A splendid excuse, we think, to enjoy a long and fruity Mona Lisa.
Today is also Count Basie's birthday
If you've listened to big band jazz, or swing, you've likely listened to Count Basie and his orchestra, or one of a myriad groups that Count Basie influenced.
One of jazz music's all-time greats, Basie brought the sound of the Jazz Age and Harlem to generations of listeners, played with everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Sinatra, and left a legacy of tens upon tens of recordings.
He was born on this day in 1904, to a handyman father and a laundry-lady mother, in Red Bank, a small town in New Jersey. We're celebrating his anniversary with The Harlem, quite possibly created at Harlem's Cotton Club, where Basie, like other jazz greats, played. Cheers!