The problem with calendars this year is that they are not content to simply tell you the year, month, date and day and let it go at that. Oh, no, they are bent upon giving you useful information, of one sort or another, whether you like it or not.
Indeed, the great danger is that you will never remember what day it is because you'll become so fascinated with finding out that on Feb. 19, 1926 Ross Thomas was born in Oklahoma City, Okla., and that on April 3, 1893, "Leslie Howard, who portrayed the Scarlet Pimpernel on the screen in 1935 and more than likely suggested to the young creators of Superman (1938) the fictional possibilities inherent in a hero masquerading as a weakling, was born in London . . ." (The Mystery and Suspense Engagement Calendar, 1978, compiled by the Main Street Press/Universe Books).
Probably the finest calendar ever printed was the one the Metropolitan Museum of Art published one year for people who didn't want to know what day it was - each month's day and date were written upside down, downside up, in circles and whiplash curves. It was the definitive calendar for the tomorrow that never came. But sadly, wiser heads have prevailed at the Metropolitan, perhaps an example of the general trend these days to a new conservatism, a return to fiscal responsibility and a general fuddy-duddying of the world.
So this year, sad to say, you not only can easily read the basic information, but you are provided with space each day that will shame you into writing down "things to do today."
However, there is hope in the theme of one calendar: Great Escapes. Conceived and produced by Robbie Rogge, and designed by Marleen Adlerblum, each month offers a possible place to run away to. January is illustrated with "Ia Orana Maria," a detail of a painting by Paul Gauguin, and carries a quotation from a letter by the painter to his abandoned wife in 1890:
"There in Tahiti, I shall be able to listen to the sweet murmuring music of my heart's beating, in the silence of the beautiful tropical nights. Ishall be in amorous harmony with the mysterious beings of my environment. Free at last, without money trouble, I'll be able to love, to sing and to die."
All the same, the subversive element is still at work at the Metropolitan, with the publication of a calendar that has neither year nor days. The Birthday Book, designed by Peter Oldenburg, is supposed to be used to write down the birthdays of people you want to remember, noting as you do what artist was born on that date. To fill out the days, some people appear as artists who might surprise you: Lewis Carroll is listed as a photographer, Paul Revere as a silversmith, Thomas Jefferson as an architect and Samuel Morse as a painter.
What you will actually do is sit down and read it and wonder, as the introduction by editor Robbie Rogge points out, whether there is perhaps, after all, something to astrology: "Dior and Balenciaga were born on the same day, as were Eliel and Eero Saarinen, father and son, who were both architects. While the several clusters of artists' birthdays may excite astrologers, the lack of artists on other days should not distress anyone. Dec. 16, for which we have no artist, is the birthday of Jane Austen, Beethoven and Noel Coward."
The handsome illustrations are as diverse as the days: from "Study of a Nude Man" by Theodore Gericault to a very dressed-up manniken in a 1938 Elsa Schiaparelli cape inspired by the Neptune Fountain, Versailles.
The Metropolitan's engagement calendar this year is "The Castle of the Unicorn," that is the museum's Cloisters, built on Fort Tryon Park to house its collection of medieval art. The Photographs of the collection are by Malcolm Varon, designed by Oldenburg and edited by Shari Lewis.
The Museum of Modern Art's 1978 engagement calendar "Faces," designed by Ira Howard Levy with Ben Kotyuk, is not as good as last year's "Rooms" in my opinion. Still, along with photographs and paintings of actresses and comic-book heroines, the book includes and envelope in the back of the book. The MOMA'S wall calendar, taking a name from the Met, includes the birthdates of famous artists by the days as well as space to jot down those evils that ate sufficient unto the day.
"The Smithsonian Engagement Book" centers on animals depicted in fearful and wonderful ways, all drawn from the Smithsonian's wild and woolly collections by Ann McClellan.In this paper zoo are the wonderful animals penned at the Freer Gallery of Art and the drawing by Margaret Brown of Ling-Ling, the giant panda. Diffusing knowledge in line with the Smithsonian's prime directive, the book gives comparative calendars so you can learn that coming up may be the Gregorian Year 1978, but it's the Hejira (Arabic) year 1398/9, the Jewish Year 5738/9 and of the Chinese Republic 66/67. (Obviously their years don't begin at the same time as ours. The pictures in the Smithsonian wall calendar, in the main, would lead you to believe the year is 1918.
The National Gallery of Art here has a wall calendar with a painting for each month and ample room by each date for you to note the dates of upcoming events.
Other museums across the country are into calendars, as well, many of them printed and distributed by Universe Calendars. "In Detail, a Closer Look at Old Master Paintings," is from the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The Floating World," a collection of delicate Japanese woodblock prints, is from the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Kibi in China, Tales From a Japanese Scroll" is in co-operation with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The "Islamic Miniatures 1978," drawn from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has 12 paintings so full of intricate and devious beauty that indeed you're likely to forget what day it is and lose yourself in these fantastic rooms.
Universe, by far the busiest of the calendar publishers, has not been content with touring the museums. Not them. "Vanity Fair" is a collection of the unforgettable art moderne covers of that magazine in its vintage period, beginning in 1915 and going thorough 1930. Fans of moderne , often debased by the term art deco, will be surprised to see how early the style manifested itself.
A new profession, or subcatagory, the calendar writer, has been given employment by Universe. To wit: "In Celebration of Flowers," by Lois Sherr and Theodore Dubin; "The Sea," by Eric and Linda B. Schwelkardt; "A Pride of Cats," by Jean Moss; "The Pet Calendar," by Barbara Burn; "Sailing, '78" by Eric Schweikardt; "The Food Calendar," by Carol Schneider with mouth-watering photographs by Murray Alcosser, "The Indian Arts and Crafts Calendar" by J.D. Smith.
As we pointed out earlier in the strange case of "The Mystery and Suspense Engagement Calendar," it is difficult to come away without learning something from your calendar other than the fact that today is not Saturday and therefore tomorrow you will have to rise early. "Native Voices, a Calendar of American Writers," by Marjorie Zelko Goldstein and Seth Goldstein (Universe), has a writer of the week for you with a particularly pertinent thought for New Year's week from Ring Lardner:
"I had forgotten what terrible things World's Series were, so I consented to cover this year's. I got drunk three days before it started in the hope and belief that I would be remorseful and sober by the time I had to go to it. But when I got to Pittsburgh, it seemed that I was the only newspaperman in America who had reserved a room; all the others moved in with me and there wasn't a chance to eat, sleep, work or do anything but drink. The result was two fairly good stories and seven terrible ones out of a possible nine, including rainy days."
"The Movie Fan's Calendar," by Harold P. Burbage Jr. and Michelle Jaal, includes such gems as this on Jan. 25:
"In case you think John Garfield does the violin playing in 'Humoresque,' listen to this. A violinist's hand - slipped through a hole in Garfield's coat - fingers the violin. Isaac Stern prerecorded the music. Joan Crawford does her own sobbing, though."
"The Crafts Engagement Calendar," by Lorraine Bodger and Delia Ephron (University) is possibly the most guilt-making of all. In the first week of January, they want you to learn crewelwork; in only the second week, they expect you to be good enough to make a crewel chair cushion. And my heaven! By the third week, they're teaching you zoetrope, which they define as a way to make a mechanical movie. At that rate, by December you'll be a nervous wreck after being taught all those things you haven't learned.
To make matters worse, the calendar lists all sort of craft exhibits taking place around the country, which you will feel guilty about not flying to.
"Maggie Baylis Purple Thumb Calendar and Guide to House Plan-keeping" (surprise, not by Universe, but by 101 Productions) is also of the nagging kind - seasonal thoughts to ruin a day. Jan. 19: "Plant defoliating suddenly? Could be cold draft." July 25: "Palm said? Too much sun can cook leaves crisp." July 26: "Stop feeding cacti, water very sparingly."
In this year's orgy of selfimprovement, they have even reached down to the tender tots with "Science Fun, Every Day in Every Way, a Total Enrichment Calendar," published by the Acropolis press here in Washington, compiled by Amy Benham and Doris Ensminger of the Baltimore County Public Schools, edited by Phyllis Marcuccio and illustrated by Jeanne Bendick. On one side of the page are ideas for science projects; on the other side, by each day, more Little Known Facts (though after this year's crop of calendars there will be no Little Known Facts left unknown.)
For instance, on Sept. 27 you can learn that the first book matches were patented in 1892. And in November, on the 22d, that: "In 1906, SOS was adopted as an international distress signal. The letters are not an acronym, but rather a convenient and easy-to-remember signal to send by wireless." On the other page, it is suggested that the class learn the Morse Code. Now who would have thought of that?
The ultimate is no doubt "The Phenomenon Book of Calendars." For four years it has been published in London, but this is the first time it has been brought out in the United States (by Anchor Press). For one thing, it gets us straightened out of the difference between the Chinese, Jewish and Islamic calendars (lunar) and the Gregorian calendar (solar) that we mostly use in these parts. In the Chinese and Jewish calendars, some years have an extra month. In the Gregorian calendar, of course, we have an extra day every fourth year. "The Hindu calendar," the book says, " is also solar, but each month begins around the day when the sun enters a new astrological sign." And, if you'd like to go around the world celebrating multiple New Year's Days, it gives you the schedule: for the Greeks, its the midsummer solstice, for the Hindus and Egyptians, the spring equinox.
Names of the days come both from the Teutonic and Roman: Sunday, of course, is obvious, from the Latin Dies solis; Monday, of moon's day, from Latin Dies Lunae; Tuesday, after Tiw, Teutonic god of law; Wednesday, after Woden, principal Teutonic god; Thursday, after Thor, Teutonic god of war; Friday, after Fria, Teutonic goddess of love, Saturday, after Saturn, Roman god of agriculture.
Giuseppe Maria Sesti, A.T. Mann IV, Mary Flanagan and Painton Cowen are the "creators," as the editors/writers somewhat lordly title themselves (comes from dealing with galactic concerns). Oh, yes, the book covers the period between the spring equinoxs, from 1978 to 1979. Finally, there's "The Wretched Mess (last S backwards) Calendar" or "Canines, a Calendar for Dogs AND People." This calender is the end.
Most stationary stores in and out of department stores sell calendars. Franz Bader at 2124 Pennsylavania Ave. NW and Rizzoli in the Foundry in Georgetown have probably the town's largest supply of European art calendars. All the museums carry calendars, both their own and others. Brentano's has a diverse collection, as well. Buy your calendar this week. A great many numbers are already sold out. Though some shops say people still buy calendars and diaries at the middle of the year - to back-document expenses for the IRS.