Monthly Archives: September 2020

Angelic Days

This week, September transitions to October. An ending and a beginning in the midst of autumn and it is a week overseen by shining beings, for these are days traditionally given to angels: In three days’ time, on October the 2nd, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angels, and today, the 29th of September, brings the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel––a day better known as Michaelmas.

The one that comes later is more personal, a day set aside to honor our personal guardian angels. It is a very old tradition, one that dates to the Fourth Century, when folks began setting up altars in their homes on the feast in honor of their angelic protectors. The one that comes today––Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus)––begins with Michael the Archangel but has come to honor angels in general. Michaelmas is traditionally a night for a dinner of roast goose, and afterward, roasted nuts. But it is the humble blackberry that is most traditional for this day: In Scotland, there are Struan Micheil, Michaelmas bannocks, somewhat like a scone but more of a flatbread, cut into wedges, comprised of equal parts oats, barley, and rye, and traditionally made without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic bowl, baking stone. The bannocks are served with blackberries or blackberry jam, for it was Michael the Archangel who battled Satan, the fallen angel, and when Satan fell to Earth, it was in a bramble patch––a blackberry patch––that he landed. Legend has it that each year after Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon, which is not so surprising: Bramble patches are thorny and painful. You’d probably curse and spit upon them, too, if you fell into a bramble patch. Be that as it may, many people will not eat blackberries after Michaelmas for this reason, and so they’ll eat their fill of the plump, juicy berries today.

My favorite part of this particular day, though, is that it is a chance to recite a litany of names––while Michaelmas is another old feast that comes out of the Catholic church, various traditions will honor today Michael as well as his companions, Gabriel and Raphael. Still others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names; they roll past my lips in an ancient and mysterious tongue, and the further down the roster we go, the more mysterious the names become. To speak them is to cross a fascinating linguistic bridge to the past. The “-el” suffix of these angelic names is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining,” names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The list goes on: Camael, Jophiel, Zadkiel, and Anael, Simiel and Oriphiel, then on to Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. It is a walk across an ancient bridge of etymology that connects to the Akkadian ilu (radiant one), Babylonian ell (shining one), Old Welsch ellu (shining being), Old Irish aillil (shining), Anglo-Saxon aelf (radiant being), and English elf (shining being).

Please join me tomorrow, 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday September 30, for Book Arts 101: Home Edition… it’s Episode 23 and this one is titled “Calling all Angels” and it is all about these angelic things, and more. Watch on Facebook Live and if you can’t make it at 3, worry not, video is posted immediately after the broadcast at our Facebook page.

A reminder, too, about our new embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas. Straight to the point: they are made by an extended family there whose traditional income source (tourism to Mexico) vanished with the pandemic. But in August, they began making face masks and they are just exquisite and you’ll love them and we love the fact that every purchase directly supports the family. They appreciate every order, and so do we. Click here to see them and to order… and yes, there are specials and free domestic shipping offers! (International orders? Write me at <> and we’ll see what we can do to get you a great price for shipping, too.)

Image: Detail from “Christ in the Arms of Two Angels” by Juan de Juanes. Oil on panel, c. 16th century. [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.



Giving Balance its Due

And now autumn comes to the Northern Hemisphere. It is, by nature, a time of balance: balance of day and night, balance of light and dark. Across the planet. No extremes. Pure balance. Look for the sunrise due east. Look for the sunset due west. Straight and true.

I had a long essay written about balance and how so many things in recent months, weeks, days, feel completely out of that state of equilibrium. I feel it, and I think many of you do, too. Place it where you wish: within, without, in your home, in your nation. I get it. I ditched the long essay because you know exactly what I’m talking about and I think you know that for me, balance is along the lines of kindness, integrity, respect. I hope we can reclaim these things and know again that we are well.

The Autumnal Equinox comes to Lake Worth and the rest of the US Eastern Time Zone this morning at 9:30 AM Eastern Daylight Time. Image: Justice Holding Scales by Parmigianino. Pen and ink on paper, early 16th century. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Sweetness & Light & 918

My sister, Marietta, has been searching for candied cherries, but I don’t think she’s had much luck. They are an ingredient in the fruitcake we make at Christmastime, and in a biscotti recipe handed down to us from an old family friend, Genevieve Marchione. We didn’t make fruitcake last Christmas, but Cummara Jenny’s biscotti have been in high rotation in the family kitchen, and, alas, all the candied cherries in the pantry were used up in the biscotti. But today, Marietta wanted to make teiglach, the Rosh Hashanah delicacy that remind us so much of the struffoli we make at Christmastime, too (and while it’s ok to skip the fruitcake, you can never skip the struffoli). Struffoli and teiglach both begin the same way, as small balls of dough. The struffoli are fried; the teiglach are baked, so they are healthier. Both are covered in honey. The teiglach are mixed with chopped almonds and candied cherries. For Jews at Rosh Hashanah, they represent sweetness for the new year ahead, and Rosh Hashanah this year begins tonight, with the setting sun, and with the sounding of the shofar, a hollowed out ram’s horn, which gives the day another common name: the Feast of Trumpets. The celebration of the new year concludes ten days from now with solemn Yom Kippur; these are the high holidays/holydays of the Jewish calendar.

Micah 7:19 reads, “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” and you may find people at the water’s edge during Rosh Hashanah, casting bread into the sea, each bit of bread carrying some of those sins. And with dinner tonight: a round loaf of challah, round to symbolize the circle of the year (as one year ends, another year begins), and, of course, apples dipped in honey… and, with some luck, teiglach, too. L’shanah Tovah.

Tomorrow, the 19th of September, brings the Feast of San Gennaro, which typically manifests as a huge street festival in New York’s Little Italy. This year, no––just a small, socially distanced celebration is taking place. I imagine there were many times in the Old Country, during times of plague and the Black Death, that the street festival for San Gennaro was canceled, too. San Gennaro is St. Januarius––but even in the United States he is mostly known by his Italian name of Gennaro. He is the patron saint of Naples, Italy, and when so many Napoletani migrated to New York at the turn of the last century, San Gennaro became big there, too. The first celebration of the Feast of San Gennaro on the streets of New York City was on his feast day, September 19, in 1926. It is, typically, Little Italy’s biggest feast, and its longest running.

My mother remembers going to the feast when she was a girl. She went for the music and the food and the cute boys (especially the ones in the bands), but she remembers also the procession with the statue of San Gennaro hoisted up on the shoulders of men. Pious observers would pin dollar bills to the saint’s cloak as he was paraded through the city streets, on his way to the church.

I was at one or two San Gennaro feasts myself, when I was a little boy. What I remember most are lights strung up in the night sky, decorations that spanned from pole to pole above the street, sausages and peppers on crusty Italian bread, music and people all around me, and big balloons filled with sand that a kid like me could punch up and down into the air. The balloon was attached to my wrist with a rubber band. It was the best thing ever to the me that was 6 or 7 years old. Better than the lights, better than the food, better than the mobs of people.

One last thing about today: It’s the 18th day of the 9th month, and here in the States, we write that in numerals as 9/18, and 918 is an important sequence of numbers to us letterpress printers, for .918″ is the height of all the types we use in the printers’ trade: all the metal type, all the wood type, all the images, too, be they linocuts or woodcuts or wood-mounted copper plates––everything we print has to be .918″ tall from the base to the printable surface. And so we celebrate today Letterpress Appreciation Day. A fine celebration of the day would involve watching the virtual online Library Wayzgoose Festival I produced for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. It features Miami designer and letterpress printer Catalina Rojas, music by the Lubben Brothers, and me, I’m your host. Coming in at just over an hour, it’s an event: you’ll want to make some popcorn and pour yourself a little something: make it a grand time. I’m so proud of it, and honestly, can’t believe how well it turned out. I hope you’ll watch today or tonight or anytime you can.

Beautiful Protective Face Masks from Chiapas

We’re so excited about these new additions to our Convivio by Mail catalog: protective face masks, in all sorts of traditional Mexican embroidered patterns, made for us by an extended artisan family in Chiapas. When their usual source of income––tourism to Mexico––dried up this past spring with the COVID-19 pandemic, things were looking bleak. But the family came up with the idea of devoting their skills toward making masks, and we’re pleased to report that the family are now doing well and they are very busy making masks. They appreciate every order that comes in, and we are so happy to help them get their wares out into the world. Visit our catalog and you’ll find the family’s embroidered masks in floral patterns, as well as other traditional Mexican designs: Calavera (above), Frida Kahlo, Maria Bonita, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Sugar Skull, and Otomi-Inspired patterns. We just received a new shipment from them on Wednesday. Masks are $16.50 each plus Free Domestic Shipping with discount code BESAFE (even if you buy just one). Bonus special when you purchase four masks: we’ll take an additional 20% off and ship your domestic order for free (no discount code necessary for that offer). International orders? Contact us and we will see what we can do for you to make shipping expenses as low as possible:


My apologies for neglecting to click PUBLISH before going to bed last night… the result is subscribers won’t get notification of the post until the wee hours of the morning on September 19. Chalk it up to human error (and this human’s tiredness). Image: Teiglach, as it should look. Purists, you may want to stop reading now, but as it turns out Marietta could not find candied cherries anywhere, so she made this year’s platter of teiglach with chopped dried apricots. Still sweet.