You can believe it or not, but I sat down at a beautiful scenic pool overlooking the gorgeous Connecticut River over the Fourth of July and had with me a welter of newspapers and tabloid magazines plus a copy of a little priceless book titled "1215: The Year of Magna Carta," written by historians Danny Danziger and John Gillingham.
Something I'd glanced at in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal had suggested that perhaps we over-celebrate the glorious Fourth and venerate the Declaration of Independence as premier in our lives, when what Americans should do over this holiday is think on the Magna Carta and the year of 1215, which may have been the most important day in our history. (Even though it happened at Runnymede in England under King John, against his will.)
So I went on to read how it all happened and how King John was forced into a less than despotic position. This is all so important, that when Britain made a memorial to John F. Kennedy, they gave an acre of land at Runnymede to the people of the United States and if you go and stand on it, you are officially in the United States.
(This book "1215" is full of fascinating adventurous history. It tells us among other things that the England of 1200 was vastly different from that of 1100. For instance, women wore no underwear though the temperature was higher than it is now, you could travel from Windsor to the Hampshire Coast without leaving the forest, ink made from gall was extracted by little pimples on the oak tree, you wrote with a left-wing goose feather if you were right-handed and a right wing if you were left-handed, the Crusades were in full swing, the rich grew richer and for the poor, life was hard, people had good teeth because sugar wasn't yet a staple of diet, the first universities came into existence, a few ruins from 1000 still survived, there were numbers of people who could read in French, English and Latin -- the monks weren't the only ones, literature was a'borning and most people in "civilized" Britain were Catholic. This is a wonderful book published by Simon and Shuster back in 2005.
So, after indulging in a little history while watching boats go up and down the Connecticut River and hearing the news that this and that celebration had been postponed because of high water to the north in Hartford, I was in a car with some teenagers. I happily heard them mentioning the Magna Carta. Then, on the radio came a rap song with that title by the new "King John," I guess, the man who rules over all he surveys and, of course, they were talking of the record "Magna Carta Holy Grail" from Jay-Z.
I was already behind the rap "music" scene, being scathingly told that this song, concert, whatever it consists of, had already gone platinum and had been out for a week. (It is the 12th solo album by Jay-Z of the Beyonce Jay-Z family.) He had introduced his monumental work and presented it next to the famous copy in Salisbury Cathedral. (People who weren't talking or thinking too much about history, already knew that Samsung had bought a million copies at $5 each to give away.)
SO I listened to Jay-Z's rap because I wanted to learn and I thought the marketing was pretty brilliant, even if I didn't recognize anything thrilling in the words.
I think it might be useful if Samsung gave away Jay-Z's "Magna Carta" in a turbulent Egypt, although I don't know if the Army or the Muslim Brotherhood would allow such a thing.
As one headline put it: "In Egypt, Mob Rule Is No Substitute for Democracy."
It took the United States revolutionaries a long time to react to the first Magna Carta with its ideas of democracy and freedom for everyone and we are still fighting in this great country for "equality and fairness." But at least, maybe we know what we are fighting for.
Anyway, I'm not bragging on my failure to keep up with Jay-Z and his version of the "Magna Carta." I was just surprised at the serendipity of all the Fourth's holiday reactions ... the international problems to be solved worldwide ... piling on ... lessons learned ... freedom commercialized -- and, why not -- it's part of freedom.
Perhaps one day the Middle East will join the west in worshipping international business, success, advertising, and all the rest of the advantages commercial freedom has laid on us -- and we can stop killing each other over religion.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)