Author Archives: John Cutrone

Little Ghostthings, or Your October Book of Days

It’s October, and here is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month. It’s the month of Halloween and tricks-or-treats, so for this month’s cover stars we went back to 1987, when the photo above was taken. That’s my nephew John as a little ghostthing. He would’ve been just about 4 years old there. We started our kids out young on the trick-or-treating and kept them going into the night as long as they could stand it. He and his brother Nick did pretty well each Halloween. We lived in a neighborhood with not many kids. One result was that neighbors for years were surprised to hear their doorbells ring on Halloween night. This resulted in a few things that could not be erased from memory (like the man who yelled out, “We can’t come to the door; we’re naked.”), but mostly it resulted in some of the best Halloween loot ever: whole Toblerone bars at times, or at others, the jumbo size candy bars you’d get in a movie theater. And always a pretty good haul of cash (“We don’t have any candy. But here’s 5 bucks.”)

I loved Halloween then as I loved Halloween when I was a kid and still I love Halloween. These days we are home as the kids come to us. Every year I worry we won’t have enough candy (and every year we have way too much left over). And once Halloween passes, we bring out our Day of the Dead decorations and plan on baking Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead. Halloween gives way to All Saints Day on the First of November and then to All Souls Day, the more populist of the two, on the Second. Our thoughts through all this shift underground, just as the trees shift their focus underground, too, growing roots rather than leaves. Our remembrance of all who have passed continues on to Martinmas on the 11th of November. And this is part of what I have come to love about Halloween, too, and perhaps especially: the mystery and the remembrance.

We’ve been adding lots of fun new items to our catalog pages for Dia de los Muertos, all of them made by hand by artisans in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This is where these traditions are born, and it is right, we feel, to support the endeavors of these traditional artisans––this is the Convivio Bookworks business model in a nutshell. New items are still arriving, and we offer free shipping on your order of $50 or more (not bad, eh?). Order through our website and we’ll ship to you in plenty of time for Dia de los Muertos, or come see us at any of these upcoming pop-up markets local to Lake Worth:

Sunday October 29, 2017 from Noon to 7 PM
AUTUMN WAYZGOOSE & HARVEST MAKERS MARKETPLACE
Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431 (follow the blue & white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs on main FAU campus roads)

Saturday November 4, 2017 from 4 to 9 PM
DIA de LOS MUERTOS LAKE WORTH
Hatch 1121 at 1121 Lucerne Avenue, Lake Worth, FL 33460 (the old Lake Worth Shuffleboard Courts)

Come say hello to us! Wishing you all a fine autumnal month.
John & Seth

 

Angels Abound

As September draws to a close, this 29th day of the month brings Michaelmas, the Feast of Michael the Archangel, and this year, in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur begins with the setting sun.

I am reminded every now and then that blogs are great but real books are still the cat’s pajamas, for me, anyway. We are in the midst now of Week Two of a period where our blog platform won’t allow me to upload new media and where updates to the plug-ins won’t install. This sort of thing has happened before and I’m sure it will happen again. Seth Thompson is my go-to man of patience in these matters, and while he figures out the source of the current mystery and tries to make things right, it may be necessary to revisit a few past Book of Days chapters for the days that come. This one, for Michaelmas, is from just last year, improved a bit, based on some books––real books, off of real bookshelves––that I’ve been reading lately. Enjoy.

 

the-bishops-wife

I wonder sometimes about the people who come into our lives just when you need them––the ones who drift in, do something good, then disappear. I am thinking right now of the random driver years ago who pulled in front of me on the road and slowed me down just long enough to protect me from the driver at the intersection ahead of us both who blew through a stop sign. Were it not for the slow guy suddenly in front of me, I would have been broadsided by that car that did not stop. So with thanks to that person I’ll never know, my fist-shaking and swearing became a sigh of relief. It does seem at times like I get through life with a measure of help from people just like this. What if it’s always the same person?

Today is Michaelmas (pronounced mick-il-mus). It is the Feast of Michael the Archangel, but angels abound in cultures throughout the world, we know this. And so it is fitting to celebrate not just Michael, but all angels, and various traditions will honor today Michael as well as Gabriel and Raphael. Others will include Uriel, Raguel, Ramiel, and Sariel. I love these names, names that come out of a long and complex etymological history, names that in their true form would be Micha-el, Gabri-el, Rapha-el, Uri-el, Ragu-el, Rami-el, Sari-el. The “-el” is Sumerian in origin, signifying “brightness” or “shining.” The etymology 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).

The list of angels continues, across Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and beyond to other cultures, too: Camael, Jophiel, and Zadkiel; Anael, Simiel, and Oriphiel; Metatron, Israfil, and Malak al-Maut. Perhaps they are not all cherubim and seraphim, winged beings. Perhaps they are right here with us, looking just like us, driving cars when they need to and getting in our way, slowing us down when we need slowing down.

As for Michael the Archangel: He is the first of the archangels and the leader of the hosts of heaven. He likes heights: he is a protector of mountain tops and high places. He is, as well, a patron of cemeteries. His feast day comes with increasing night: we are a week past the equinox now and our nights in the Northern Hemisphere grow increasingly dark as we shave off a few minutes of daylight with each passing day. Darkness can be scary. It is a good time to call down the power of archangels for protection.

Struan Micheil, or Michaelmas bannocks, very much like scones, are typically made in Scotland on the Eve of Michaelmas (that would have been last night) from equal amounts of oat, rye, and barley flour, but I don’t see why you couldn’t make those bannocks today or this weekend (that’s my plan for Saturday). Tradition would have us make our Michaelmas bannocks without the use of metal: wooden fork, wooden or ceramic mixing bowl, stone for baking. Dinner might be roast goose, for Michaelmas coincides with the migration of geese. We call down the goose as we call down the angel. In some places, nuts are roasted and cracked for Michaelmas (a tradition that is part of many celebrations during these days of harvest).

It is the humble blackberry that is the center of the culinary traditions of Michaelmas, and we would do well to have our Michaelmas bannocks with fresh blackberries or with blackberry jam. The story goes that Satan, after his battle with Michael the Archangel, fell to earth from heaven and landed in a bramble patch, and each year on Michaelmas, Satan returns to curse and spit upon the brambles that he landed upon. And so we eat them up before this happens. Many folks will refuse to harvest blackberries after the 29th of September. It’s just not worth it; they could be cursed.

Last year for Michaelmas I gave you a song and I think I will leave you with that same song again this year, for it is perhaps the best song you’ll find to honor and invoke angels. It’s called “Calling All Angels” and it’s by Jane Siberry, a song she wrote and recorded as a duet with k.d. lang for the 1993 Siberry album When I Was a Boy. And so here, for you for Michaelmas, are two of my favorite Canadians singing the song live in Houston. It’s a homemade video, filmed by someone who was there in the audience that night, and in the very last few frames of the video, a woman in the audience turns to the camera and it is in those last few seconds that we witness the emotional power of a song, of a poem. This is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Connexions across time and space, whether human or angelic. Do we protect others? Bring out their best qualities? Are we each others’ guardian angels? Do we create heaven on earth? Do we choose to turn coal into diamonds? Believe what you will about angels. These daily decisions are ours to make.

 

Image: “Have a chair.” “Thank you, I have one.” Sometimes our guardian angels slow us down with newly-varnished chairs. In the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife, David Niven plays a bishop who prays for help and receives it in the form of an angel played by Cary Grant. Seth and I watch it every year at Christmastime.

Since this chapter of the Convivio Book of Days was first published in 2016, Jane Siberry has released a new record. Its title? Angels Bend Closer. How fitting for today.

 

The Darker Half

Come 4:02 PM Eastern Daylight Time today, summer officially gives way to autumn: it is the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, with the opposite being true in the Southern Hemisphere, for there, this is the moment that spring begins. Things will be more or less balanced for a short time, but as we continue past this day, from this point forward we here in the Northern Hemisphere will have more darkness each day than light, while folks in the Southern Hemisphere will have more light each day than darkness. It is a gradual change, each day different from the one before, and it all has to do with the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth on its axis as it makes its yearly journey around the sun. Were it not for that 23.5 degrees, we would have no seasons at all.

And so the sun about now is rising pretty much due east and setting pretty much due west. We are in a brief time of balance, something worth seeking in our lives at least twice each year as the two equinox periods come and go. Not an easy task, to be certain.

It may be the first day of autumn by the almanac, but in traditional reckoning of time, the equinox is the midpoint of autumn, which began with the first of the harvest festivals, Lammas, at the start of August. Again, balance, as we find ourselves at the center of the season, half of it in the past, half of it yet to come, both sides of it on either side of where we stand now.

 

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