Category Archives: Nativity of Mary

Driving Down, or Your September Book of Days

I’ve put on my overalls and my hat made from sabal palm fronds: September is here and it’s planting time in Lake Worth. Mind you, this is not why your newest Convivio Book of Days calendar is late. It’s late for a number of reasons. Be that as it may, here it is: your Convivio Book of Days calendar for September. Cover star this month: Swiss chard and okra from the summer garden.

Summer is not the time of year we’re supposed to be growing vegetables here in South Florida. It’s a topsy-turvy place in many ways compared to the rest of the country (no laughing, please) and gardening is one of them. We plant in September, harvest all winter long. But come May, conventional wisdom says we lay down the hoe and take a break. But it’s been a strange year, to say the least, and Seth and I, we figured if we’re going to be spending so much time at home, anyway, we may as well plant an experimental summer garden and tend to it best we can. Some crops were an utter and complete failure within a few weeks of sowing seeds: squashes, cucumbers, pole beans, celery. Others, however, well… let’s just say the okra is thriving, as are the beets and the rocket and that Swiss chard. Swiss chard, of all things! How can something so alpine-sounding do so well in the heat and humidity of a Florida summer? Things botanical will always amaze me. And I couldn’t be more pleased: I love Swiss chard. I cook it up like my mom and grandma did (and probably their moms and grandmas): chopped and boiled up in a bit of garlicky tomato, olive oil drizzled on top, seasoned with salt and pepper. Serve it up with some crusty bread, and you have a meal fit for royalty (certainly of the alpine variety).

Speaking of alpine things, it is Drive Down Day today, this 8th of September, in Switzerland and Austria: it is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary and this is traditionally the day that the sheep and cows are driven back from their summer grazing in the mountain meadows to their winter quarters in the valleys below––another sign of summer’s waning. This is done with great pomp and celebration, the animals all adorned in flowers and bells. Across the border in Italy the folks like to eat blueberries today: blue, the traditional color of Mary’s cloak, at least in Italian Renaissance paintings. Lights are illuminated in windows, and bonfires blaze. In France, Mary is celebrated today, in the midst of the grapes ripening on the vine, as Our Lady of the Grape Harvest. Bunches of grapes are brought to churches for the priests to bless and you’ll find lots of grapes this day in the hands of statues of Mary, placed there by Marian devotees and by lovers of wine and by traditionalists like me.

In this house, though it’s not traditional, but because there is so much of it, the day will certainly involve Swiss chard. I can tell you there’s nothing in the world like opening the garden gate, gathering an armful of chard, and cooking it up for lunch. A great sense of accomplishment and self sufficiency accompanies the meal, making it even more delicious. Plus it is a great portal to memory. I think of Grandpa, who always kept a garden each summer, and I think of Grandma, who cooked the harvest with Mom, and I think as well of Maria, the farmer on Franklin Avenue near our home, an old woman from Italy with rough weathered hands. We would enter her dark wooden farm stand on the driveway, Mom and me. If I remember right, the stand was painted green. Mom would gather what she wanted, and sooner or later, Maria would walk down from the house or the fields to chat as she wrapped Mom’s purchases in newspaper and jute twine. Grandpa just grew the essentials: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, flat leaf parsley, rocket. But Maria: she grew the Swiss chard.

This is September, the first of the “Ember” months, as I like to call them. Seth and I, we wish you a fine one.

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 beautiful embroidered patterns, made for us by an extended artisan family in Chiapas. When their traditional source of income––tourism to Mexico––dried up this past spring, things were looking bleak. But the patriarch of the family came up with the idea of devoting their skills toward making masks, and we’re really pleased to say 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 pleased 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. $16.50 each plus Free Domestic Shipping with discount code BESAFE. 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:


Drive Down Day, or Your September Book of Days

Hurricane Dorian kicked us a bit out of sync as we transitioned from August to September, but here, finally, is your printable Convivio Book of Days calendar for September. We are fine here in Lake Worth, though that is not the case with our neighbors in the Bahamas. Just 75 miles east of us is the western point of Grand Bahama Island, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scanned the horizon at the coast when I was a boy, looking for the Bahamas because they’re right there, but 75 miles is a distance sometimes. Enough of a distance to see no sign of land from here, and enough of a distance for us to emerge unharmed by Dorian’s course.

That’s how I got to Maine the first time I went to that fair state. I was going to Penland, North Carolina, but I had some artwork to bring to a gallery in Vermont––my first non-academic art show––and, on the map, at least, Vermont seemed to be just a little further away. Why not bring the artwork there myself? And if I was going to Vermont, I figured, certainly I should go to Maine. This is the way my mind works. You can see how someone like me would be looking out over the Atlantic, hoping to see Grand Bahama from my tiny strand of sand.

Way over in Switzerland, it’s the time of year the cows come home from the Alpine meadows. They were there last July when Seth and I were driving along the Splügen Pass on the way from Austria to Italy, high in Alps, their bells ringing through the mountain air as we drove, and now that winter is setting in, it’s time for them to come down to the valleys. Typically this happens now, in early September, and especially on the 8th of September, which is the day we celebrate the Nativity of Mary, which is known as Drive Down Day in some parts of Switzerland. The return of the cows is not without some pomp and ceremony: they’re dressed up and decorated and so are their human companions. It’s a sight, I’m sure, but it’s the bells I love best. If you’ve never heard them, well… it’s the most peaceful sound. One of those bell-wearing Swiss bovines is the cover star of your September Book of Days… and while we’re at it, here’s a video we took when we were in Switzerland of the cows and their bells, not long before we reached the top of the Splügen Pass:

Across the border in Italy the folks like to eat blueberries today: blue, the color of Mary’s cloak, at least in Italian Renaissance paintings. Lights are illuminated in windows, and bonfires blaze. In France, Mary is celebrated today, in the midst of the grapes ripening on the vine, as Our Lady of the Grape Harvest. Bunches of grapes are brought to churches for the priests to bless and you’ll find lots of grapes this day in the hands of statues of Mary, placed there by Marian devotees and by lovers of wine and by traditionalists like me. This is September, the first of the “Ember” months. Seth and I, we wish you a fine one.


We’re popping up at Hatch 1121 in Lake Worth on Saturday for the big “Catrinas: The Festival” event and I’m teaching a workshop at the Armory later this month.

Saturday September 14 from 4 to 9 PM
Hatch 1121 (the old Lake Worth Shuffle Board Courts)
at 1121 Lucerne Ave in Downtown Lake Worth’s West Village
Our favorite time of year is fast approaching! Here, to kick things off, Lake Worth meets L.A. in a unique festival that revolves around an exhibition featuring works by Lake Worth artist José R. Mendez and Los Angeles photographer Gus Mejia. Admission is free and plentiful parking is nearby. In the Hatch courtyard, live mariachi, food, crafts, and low riders… and we’ll be there in our usual spot with a preview of this year’s Convivio Bookworks Dia de Muertos collection. You’ll find your old favorites plus lots of new items not yet in our online catalog, all of them made by hand by artisans in Mexico. It’s all about authenticity.

Saturday September 21 from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM
The Armory
at 811 Park Place in West Palm Beach
Printing and bookbinding are at the core of the Book Arts, and in this one day workshop, you’ll get a foundation in both. Learn a bit of letterpress plus the techniques behind a range of handmade book structures that you can create anywhere on your own without special bindery equipment. We’ll print one of our book covers from handset type, and you won’t just leave with blank books: one of the books you’ll bind is a letterpress limited edition story that was printed by your Convivio Bookworks boys in years past, and you’ll get to bind your very own copy.


Our Lady of the Grape Harvest

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!