During WWII, the not-yet-vanquished German army occupied the north of France, including the port of Cherbourg, which they heavily fortified against seaborne assault. As the only deep water port in the region, it was particularly desirable, so American troops encircled the city in June of 1944 in the Battle of Cherbourg, and handed the Germans their asses five days later, when they surrendered. The fighting left the city in a compromised state. However, in only a month, cargo ships known as Liberty Ships began to arrive, and it became the busiest port in the entire world, with twice the traffic of New York, until the war ended. It has since merged with an adjacent city to become Cherbourg-Octeville.* In this image, we see American soldiers in Cherbourg who appear to have stumbled upon some German wine stores. I’ll drink to that.
As you can see, illustrator Morgan was a master of movement, using his sketches to adeptly convey the energy and complexity of the speakeasy. Also called a blind pig or a blind tiger, a speakeasy was an illicit establishment that sold alcoholic beverages. I was today years old when I learned of the two blind terms. Now it makes sense that I went to a bar called The Blind Tiger in Shreveport 24 years ago, where I met comedian Mario Joyner, who invited my galpal and me to Harrah’s to gamble with him. But that’s another story for another time.
Contrary to the term, it was not a place where it was “easy to speak;” in fact, the opposite was true. It was a place that necessitated one speak easily or softly, as selling and consuming the bootleg booze was illegal. You can see the quiet conversations, imagine the hushed tones, of the clients, keeping it all on the downlow until sufficient intoxication raised their voices. That’s the power of the drink. We’ve all seen a gaggle of middle-aged women drinking margaritas at a Mexican restaurant. Speech is never soft.
From the last sip to a stolen kiss to gossip and entrances, Morgan was able to make the background just as engaging as the foreground.
When the comic was published, the country still had yet three years of Prohibition remaining.
But until then, speakeasies flourished. NYC claimed over 100,000 speakeasies alone. Saloons with player pianos and swinging doors made way for password-protected jazz-playing joints. Instead of aligning with the Prohibition moral compass, American women let loose with drinking, smoking, dancing, bobbing their hair, and donning shortened skirts. Make way the flapper. Gone were basic beer and liquor, as cocktails required mixers to make hootch drinkable. And once folks tasted sugary, fruity drinks, those who had never enjoyed beer and liquor found they enjoyed this new concoction. Organized crime soared. Cops couldn’t keep up with raiding and disposing. It was a losing battle. No wonder FDR repealed the 18th Amendment as soon as he was elected. The woman in the foreground clearly isn’t playing.
The coalminers above are relaxing with pints in a colliery club in Yorkshire, England. Colliery is a word I’ve never used, so I had to pull out my big, red Webster’s dictionary (no offense to Merriam) and look it up. A colliery is a coal mine and all the buildings and equipment which are connected with it. This building in particular served ale. And I couldn’t help but find the resemblance of this man (and his collapsed smirk) to a certain mid-century actor.
Do you see it? NORTON!
Ed Norton liked a good drink.
Enjoy this peek inside the post-war colliery and think about these men, how exhausted they must have been, lungs full of coal dust, and how they gathered to blow off steam.
While this pretty maiden humbly offers two bunches of grapes on sticks during a Roman Grape Festival, her old-fashioned costume betrays her. She is no country bumpkin. As the article states, her wristwatch shows that she is a modern woman, and chances were high that she was actually an extra from a nearby movie studio.
This grape girl wrapped her finest grapes in paper packages, while the salesgirl below sold roses in assorted colors.
If a flower girl could not carry her burden, she used a beast.
This donkey was piled high with daisies, violets, and chrysanthemums, brought in from the fields to Nemi, near Rome. With such plentiful bounty, vendors often gave faded flowers to children to beat on the pavement and watch the petals fly.
Those who weren’t selling got into the spirit by wearing provincial costumes to celebrate products from the many district vineyards, displayed in the Basilica of Constantine. That’s a serious middle hair part.
Once the Grape Festival got underway, 25 floats made their way down the streets. This one depicts Bacchus (Dionysus), the ancient Roman and Greek wine god. As the oxen moved, the tongue revolved as if lapping wine. Ew.