Here we are now in the middle of August, and in the midst of some of my favorite days each year. This has been the weekend of Obon, the summer festival of Japan that honors the dead. In some prefectures of Japan, Obon is celebrated in July, and in others, in August, always around the 15th. For me, growing up in South Florida, it was August, for that’s when the Morikami Museum, west of Delray Beach, used to celebrate it. It was always hot, and we would smell of pennyroyal, to keep the mosquitoes at bay. There were often thunderstorms in the afternoon, because that’s the typical weather pattern here in summer. But there was something unforgettable about the dark grey sky behind the tall pine trees mixed with the heat and the humidity and the thundering sound of taiko drums, the electric lanterns hung between the trees, and the elevated yagura platform, painted in red and white stripes, around which the dancers would dance their mysterious Obon dances, like the Coal Miners’ Dance, in which the dancers journeyed around the yagura with a shoveling motion, taking a few steps forward and almost just as many back. Their progress around the yagura was always very slow and languid: the rhythm of late summer.
At nightfall, fireworks, and then the setting sail of hundreds and hundreds of floating lanterns on the water: these are the ancestors, returning home as the festivities conclude, home to their distant shore.
I seem to have an affinity for any holiday / holy day that connects us to those who have passed. Cemeteries and church yards do not bother me and I talk to my beloved dead on a daily basis, which all may have a lot to do with the way I was raised. The dead never seem very far away. Just a slight shift in manifestation; but these people are all still very much part of my daily life.
And so I love Dia de Muertos, which has grown so popular, and I love Obon, which is not quite as popular, but which serves a similar purpose. The Fifteenth of August also brings my maternal grandmother’s birthday, and since she was born on this day, the Feast of the Assumption, my great grandparents named her Assunta. American neighbors sometimes called her Susan or Suzy, but that just never sounded quite right to me in naming a small, feisty Italian woman who spoke broken English. Grandma always was Assunta, or, as Grandpa would call her, Assu. The traditional meal for the day in their old village in Lucera––a tradition my grandparents brought to the States when they moved here––is a late summer recipe made with cucuzza longa, a long edible gourd that is simmered with egg, parmesan, and parsley. It can be made with zucchini, too. Sound intriguing (especially at this annual time of zucchini abundance)? Click here for the recipe.
The Feast of the Assumption, which marks the ascent of the Virgin Mary body and soul into Heaven, marks other days, as well: this is the time of the great Italian summer holiday known as Ferragosto. The waters at Ferragosto are blessed by priests and so most Italians close up shop and head to the sea, some to soak their aches and pains in the blessed waters and others just to swim or float or get a suntan. One thing is certain: work is not a priority in the middle of August. There are more important things to do, and more important connexions to maintain.
Please save an upcoming date with me!
August 24 brings a great celebration with an odd name: it’s the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, and I’ll be hosting the online, virtual Library Wayzgoose Festival for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University Libraries. It’s a video event full of good stories and great music. The Bartlemas Wayzgoose is an old printers’ celebration that comes about every 24th of August with the waning summer. My featured guest is activist letterpress printer Ben Blount of Evanston, Illinois, with a special Wayzgoose Concert by the wonderful Jay Ungar & Molly Mason, the Grammy Award winning musicians famous for their song “Ashokan Farewell” from the Ken Buns documentary The Civil War. Perhaps we can add that to the soundtrack of summer, too. Lots of great Wayzgoose fun is in store for you. The video premiere will be at www.jaffecollection.org and at the Jaffe Center’s Vimeo Channel, too, and at the Facebook pages of Convivio Bookworks and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts (essentially, we’re making it really hard for you to miss). The premiere is on Bartlemas night, Tuesday August 24th, at 7 PM Eastern Daylight Time, with video available anytime after that, from wherever you are in the world. I think you’ll really love it. I’ll be posting more about it as Bartlemas approaches, so watch the blog and our social media pages at Instagram and Facebook (@conviviobookworks).
At our online shop, our Summer High Five Sale continues: All summer long, use discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your purchase of $35 on everything in the shop. Take it to $50 and earn free domestic shipping, too. Click here to shop! Our favorite new thing in the shop? Millie’s Tea Towels, embroidered by hand by my mom Millie, under our new Linens & Textiles category.
Image: Lanterns sailing across the water on Morikami Pond.