By early September, the Northern Hemisphere is well on its way toward autumn by the almanac, and the first big feast of the month is one that looks back toward summer and ahead toward fall. Not widely celebrated in the US, it is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, celebrated each year on the 8th of September and mainly through two fruits: the summery blueberry and the autumnal grape.
In Italy, it is a day for blueberries, for their blueness serves as a reminder of the blue that is traditionally considered the color of Mary’s cloak. Across the Alps in France, it is a day for grapes. Farmers will harvest their finest grapes and bring them to church for blessings, and folks will place bunches of grapes in the hands of statues of Mary throughout the land. No wonder, for the feast is also known there as Our Lady of the Grape Harvest, being that it falls at the height of the grape harvest.
Just a few days ago, with the Convivio Book of Days calendar for September, I included in the blog a short home movie, circa 1950, of my dad and grandparents making wine. (To be honest, the movie clip is less about making wine than the fun that went along with it––it ends with my Grandma and the neighbor, Mamam, dancing with pizza pans.) Though my family is from Italy, I don’t know for sure if they did much with blueberries for the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. But considering it’s September, and considering each September Grandpa was busy at his winemaking… I suspect there were always grapes involved. For old times’ sake, here’s the home movie once again, and, as well, a link to the Convivio Book of Days calendar for September, should you have missed it. It’s a PDF, easily printed on standard letter size paper. Enjoy!
And here it is now, September. Just like that, we’ve entered the Ember Months, as I like to call them, for they all fall at the end of the year and they all have the same ending (–ember), save for October, of course, which has a variant of it, but still falls neatly into the Ember Months category. September, October, November, December: these are the months named for numbers: seven, eight, nine, ten… which described these months well before Julius Caesar added July and before Caesar Augustus added August to our calendar, both of them smack in the middle of things. And now they’re out of place a bit, these great months, the numbers that gave them their names out of sync with their calendrical places.
It was in September that my grandparents, both sets of them in their own respective places, even before my parents met, made their wine. My father would describe cleaning out the barrels each year with chains, which sounds like a heavy job and certainly it was. As were all the tasks of winemaking. Dad thought he would make a clean break from winemaking by marrying my mother and moving in with her family. But of course they made wine, too, each September, and so his work continued. There was the washing of the barrels and there was the trip to the market to buy all those grapes––crates of them, Zinfandel being Grandpa DeLuca’s grape of choice. And then the washing and crushing and barreling, the prelude to the magic of fermentation. The first tasting would not come until St. Martin’s Day in November, but what a great and exciting day that would be each autumn.
I never got to taste the wines that any of my grandparents made. By the time I was born, they were all buying their wine in bottles. But there is one connexion to our vintner past still in the family home: a ceramic vessel from Lucera, our ancestral homeland in Puglia, that belonged to my great-grandfather, Raffaele DeLuca. Grandpa’s sister Adelina brought it from Italy and gave it to my grandfather, and there it is in the photo above. Perhaps someone else gave it to Raffaele, for on the wooden stopper are carved and inked the letters T’C, and there are no T’Cs in our ancestral lineage that I have found. Perhaps the letters refer to the potter who made the vessel. Perhaps we’ll never know. It is the oldest thing we have from our past, this vessel that we’re not even sure what to call. It seems particular to the region of Puglia, from which my grandparents hail. My mom and aunt both remember Grandpa calling it a biretta or a fiasca. Fiasca translates neatly to “flask,” but biretta is not an easy word to translate and probably was part of Grandpa’s Lucerine dialect. Oddly enough, biretta is also the name of the hat that is commonly worn by many clergy in the church, from priests to bishops and cardinals. You know it. It’s the square hat, black for priests, red for cardinals, with the four peaks or horns. If you look squarely down on the top of Raffaele DeLuca’s wine vessel, it, too, is shaped just like one of these hats. So maybe that’s where the name comes from. No one knows.
But anyway, all of this is to say that Grandpa’s biretta reminds me always of wine and winemaking, and September reminds me of these things, too… and so perhaps it is only natural that that biretta is the cover star for your Convivio Book of Days calendar for September. The calendar is our monthly gift to you: a printable PDF on standard letter size paper that you can pin to your bulletin board. It’s a nice companion to the blog and with any luck, I’ll be writing about each of the days mentioned in the calendar. And if I don’t, know that I’d like to. It’s a busy time of year––and I’m not even making wine.
Have a wonderful September.
You can find a handsome photograph of Raffaele & Maria DeLuca, my great-grandparents, at our About page. And finally, to send you off, here’s a home movie of winemaking at my grandparents’ home in Brooklyn in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Mom is probably filming the event. Dad is hammering a barrel at the start; Grandpa is holding a barrel hoop and turning it around. The neighbor, Mamam, initiates the Dance of the Pizza Pans with Grandma, who always seems to be saying, “Turn off the camera!” I love all these people. They are the reason behind the Convivio Book of Days.
You’d think I’ve been on summer vacation, what with your Convivio Book of Days calendar for August coming so late, but no. Life has just been hectic, nonstop, go go go, which is not the way August is supposed to be. August is supposed to be sandwiches at the picnic table out back and trips here and there, big trips or maybe just little excursions. And so that’s the August we’re giving you this month on the calendar. Cover stars include my mom, Millie, and my Aunt Anne, when they were little girls. The year is 1930 or so and they are sitting in the backyard with Grandma, eating sandwiches, just as August beckons us to do.
It is the month of Lammas, which has passed, but still to come are Obon, the traditional summer holiday of Japan, which in some prefectures comes in July and in others in August, but I have always been more of an August Obon kind of guy, for that is the time we celebrated it here (though even that has changed). And still to come as well is Ferragosto, the holiday of Italy that comes with the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Fifteenth of August. It is the day that same grandma of mine was born, back in 1898. Each year for the Assumption we would eat the traditional cucuzza longa, the odd long squash that actually is a gourd. So far this month I’ve had no luck finding it in the markets but my hopes are high, for there are still a good many days to go before the 15th.
And later this month, the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, a day of great importance to all of us book artists. Whether we be papermakers, letterpress printers, or bookbinders, St. Bartholomew is relevant to us all, and so his feast day is one we have been known to honor and honor well. Locally, here in South Florida, the place to do this this year is at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts in Boca Raton, at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library. We’ll be part of the big Library Wayzgoose Festival that is taking place there on Saturday, August 25, from 10:30 to 5:30. One of my favorite printers, Ben Blount from Evanston, Illinois, will be featured with print shop demos and a gallery talk, and there will be live music all day (I know, libraries are supposed to be quiet… but not on Wayzgoose day) and we’ll be making printers caps from paper and there will be games and fresh baked artisan breads for sale from Louie Bossi’s in support of the Jaffe, and the works of about 20 local makers and small creative companies like ours will be on display, too, for your small-shopping pleasure. It’s going to be a lot of fun, which is only natural: “Wayzgoose” is a fun word to say, so what else would it be but fun? The St. Bartholomew’s Day Wayzgoose connection to book artists goes back many centuries… something I’ll certainly tell you about on the blog later this month. For now, get out there and enjoy what’s left of summer. It won’t be long before we start thinking thoughts suited to cooler months.