Category Archives: Convivio Dispatch

Here Comes Halloween

Tuesday night brings Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, one of my favorite holidays. Looking back over the years, I find it strange that it is a holiday I’ve written so little about over the course of the history of the Convivio Book of Days, but I think I know why: Each year, I write a ghostly tale for the Convivio Dispatch, which is something much older than this blog. The Convivio Dispatch is an occasional plain text email that goes out to the world, often late at night, and very often it is a story. It has been this way since 1998, when the first Dispatch went out. It was known back then as the Red Wagon Dispatch, a reflection of our former press name, Red Wagon Press. Those were simpler days. I remember being amazed that I could click “Send,” and my words could be delivered to all 35 people on my mailing list.

These days the numbers are higher, for which I am grateful, but the delivery gets muddled in a barrage of media shouting for our attention. And though I have tried once or twice to meld together the Convivio Book of Days blog and the Convivio Dispatch, when it comes right down to it, I find that I rather like having the Dispatch as it is: a story that arrives in your inbox, and that is that. No pictures, no video links, just words that you can read if you want.

And so for weeks now, off and on, I’ve been writing this year’s Halloween Dispatch. This has become a bit of a tradition, this full immersion in writing a story, and I realize this is why I’ve yet to write extensively about Halloween on the blog. Perhaps writing extensively about Halloween will have to wait for the real book version of the Convivio Book of Days. Meanwhile, if you’d like this year’s Halloween Dispatch, which so far seems to be about two of my great-grandmothers, the great jazz-age Florida architect Addison Mizner, and the old Lake Worth pioneers whose graves are beneath a trap door under the stage at the Norton Museum of Art, then please, subscribe to the Convivio Dispatch email list now. And if you’d prefer to just get this one story and no other Dispatches, then just send me an email and I’ll send it to you when it’s finished. You can reach me to ask for the story at mail@conviviobookworks.com (I think you’ll have to copy and paste that into the address field).

Have a fine Halloween.
John

Image: That’s John & Millie, my dad and mom, at a neighborhood Halloween party, sometime in the 1960s.

 

 

Rare and Beautiful

If you like oysters, I’ve got a holiday for you: The 25th of July brings St. James’s Day, and oysters are the traditional meal. Me, I am not an oyster fan, and so I will pass on the oysters tonight, even though legend has it that those who eat oysters for St. James’s Day will never want for money for the rest of the year. I’ll just take my chances, thank you. In Galicia in Spain, where St. James is the patron saint, the evening meal might include scallops, too.

In England, St. James’s Day was in the past a day when apples were blessed by the parish priest, and this interests me more, for I love apples. I am my father’s son, after all, and he, too, was an avid apple eater. The apples on the trees, I imagine, are still quite green, even now as we inch our way toward autumn. And this is happening, of course, even as we melt daily through summer. Autumn is on the horizon.

Back when we were kids, it was always right about now, as July began to give way to August, that an annual warm weather melancholy would set in. School for us here in ended in late May, and there was still a bit of shock to May and the sudden end of school. It didn’t feel much more exciting than a long weekend. June was different: it was all ours. We were free and the days were long. There was the beach and then after there were TV shows and riding bikes with the other neighborhood kids. There were books, too––paperbacks that you could slip into your back pocket; one summer I read Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Most of all, there was no homework. When I was really young, when we lived in New York, we could stay up late and we could sleep late, although we never did, because Mom had us at the beach before 8, before the gates opened for the day and before the admission charge went into effect. I watched for dune buggies on the drive to the beach and then I’d eat my breakfast there once we arrived. Usually it was Cheerios in milk in a wide mouth Thermos. And coffee, even for us kids. The coffee, too, would come out of a Thermos, and there is nothing quite like coffee on the beach, early in the morning, with the scent of Bain de Soleil lingering in the salty air.

But it was right about this time, the end of July, that the realization crept in that summer was quickly fading. I know Northern schools start up after Labor Day, but here in South Florida, Labor Day was a school holiday. We’d be back at school by late August. August, we knew, was not ours. It was the month, already, of school supplies and homework and early rising of a not-so-good sort. Early July was as fine as June, but late July was the harbinger of August. By St. James’s Day, we understood that summer was almost done. Our ancestors had a grasp of this, too, for we are coming up soon on another of their major festivals: Lammas, which begins with the evening of July 31, is the first of the harvest festivals. It celebrates bread and John Barleycorn… and it brings with it the subtle transition toward autumn. For with Lammas, we’ll find ourselves midway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. The wheel of the year shifts again.

But Lammas is days away, and today, it is the Feast of St. James. The oysters for St. James’s Day and the never wanting for money remind me of the story of a couple, right here in Downtown Lake Worth, who were sharing a platter of steamed clams at Dave’s Last Resort & Raw Bar. It was just about Christmas time, some ten years ago, and in one of the clams on their platter, they found a purple pearl. Rare and beautiful… and worth thousands of dollars. Some folks don’t believe half my Lake Worth stories (and I’m not sure I do, either), but this one’s documented as fact. I don’t know what became of them, or their purple pearl, but perhaps pearls, purple or not, were a more common find in clams and oysters in earlier days, making the legend of never wanting for money after eating your St. James’s Day oysters perhaps not so legendary at all. Perhaps it is the stuff of truth and just a matter of fact.

 

Image: Detail from “Pearl Oyster Fruits” by Anton Seder. Lithograph, 1890 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

 

What We’re Listening To

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Here is St. Cecilia’s Day this 22nd of November: Cecilia, patron saint of music, musicians, and poets. She was an early Roman martyr; her day has been associated with concerts and music festivals since time immemorial, and composers and poets have honored her through the ages. And here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the English composer Benjamin Britten was born on St. Cecilia’s Day, 1913.

I am not particularly musical, but I like being around people who are. My grandfather taught himself to play guitar and mandolin; he would sit and play traditional Italian songs. His guitar is right here next to me. My aunt is also musical: she plays piano and organ and accordion. Her talents took her all over the country and the South Pacific during World War II, playing in the USO for the troops. Here at home, Seth has been teaching himself to play piano, too. We have no piano, but whenever we happen to find ourselves near one, he sits down and plays the songs he knows, mostly Yann Tiersen songs. He’s pretty good.

I am one whose mind is easily boggled, and music boggles me: how a mixture of sounds can have the power to transport and transform astounds me. The astonishment comes out of nowhere sometimes, like last night, as I drove home from work. The thought of traveling the 5-lane freeway at rush hour was depressing me, so I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to take the road less traveled. I drove the coastal highway home, with the vast Atlantic on my right. The night was chilly, so I had the windows half open and the heater on, and there was music: it was The Walking by Jane Siberry, in my CD player since the weather turned cooler. It is lush and cinematic and it feels in some way autumnal to me. My musical selections are like that, for the most part: in tune with the seasonal round of the year, sometimes subliminally, like this one. The Walking accompanied me the whole moonless drive home, up A1A through all the surfside towns, and across the lagoon finally, back to the mainland at Lake Avenue. In the booth at the top of the draw bridge over Lake Worth, which is the name of both my town and the lagoon, I could see my friend Clarence the bridge tender in the lamplight. I waved, but he didn’t see me. I knew he wouldn’t; I was just one of many people driving by. But still it felt right and necessary to wave and say hello. A few minutes later, I was in my driveway. Seth was already home; the lights from inside the house glowed warm and welcoming. The night felt about as perfect as it could be.

What we’re listening to now: some suggestions for the season.

George Winston: Autumn. My friend Kelly Sullivan (she makes the soaps we sell) and I saw George Winston perform at our university back in the 1990s. He played piano barefoot. We were only a couple of rows away from him. I listen still to his seasonal albums––there is December, and Winter into Spring, and Summer, and Autumn––and I wonder how he does that: how he manages to capture the essence of a season in sound. Autumn is, I think, my favorite of his seasonal recordings. Favorite track: “Road.”

Jane Siberry: The Walking. Autumnal, somehow. Cinematic, as I mentioned: the songs on this record are rich and deep, some 9 or 10 minutes long, moving pictures made of sound and imagery. We all have our desert island record, and this is mine. It has informed so much of my creative work. It is a sound track that plays in my head as I walk along my way.

Jane Siberry: Angels Bend Closer. Jane has spent years working on her latest recording, which came about at first with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. The result was a record called Ulysses’ Purse, which she sent to all of us supporters last January. It’s now out as her latest record, with all of the songs re-recorded and slightly different and many new songs added. Ulysses’ Purse is in my rotation now, simply because it is what I have, but Angels Bend Closer was released just a few days ago. “Morag” may very well be the most important song I’ve ever heard. You should listen; you can actually listen to Morag and all the other songs on this album at the link above. Right down where it says “Listen.” Sometimes the best gifts are right there in front of us. You’ll be the sound of the ocean before we see it.

Happy St. Cecilia’s Day.

 

Image: A recent Jane Siberry photo. I think it’s so striking.