Solstice of Midsummer

Busy week! Bloomsday last Tuesday, Juneteenth yesterday, and now here comes the Midsummer solstice this evening of the 20th. It is the moment when the sun reaches its zenith at the Tropic of Capricorn, and this time around, it occurs at 5:44 PM Eastern Daylight Time. More or less––the precise moment will depend upon where you’re at within your time zone. But you get the general idea. It brings the arrival of summer by the almanac, though in traditional circles we think of this as midsummer, for once this moment passes, already the days are beginning to decrease in daylight, and in the constant rearrange––each day being slightly different than the one before and the one to follow––we are on the way now toward winter.

The calendar will continue to be busy. In Sweden and other Arctic countries, it is the annual Midsommar celebration. Here in the States, it is Father’s Day on Sunday. And the celebration of Midsummer in other places is set around St. John’s Eve on June 23 and St. John’s Day on June 24, celebrations you might think of as opposite sides of the coin from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact, the early Church assigned the birth of Christ to the days that follow the Midwinter solstice, and the birth of St. John the Baptist to the days that follow the Midsummer solstice. This was done by design: Christ is depicted as the Light of the World, coming in the darkness of Midwinter. Legendary magic attends both: at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals are said to speak or kneel and pray, and St. John’s Eve is the setting for William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some will say it’s set at May Day, but I would disagree, and so would Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is currently closed due to Covid-19 quarantine, yet streaming for free, online, until June 28th, its 2013 production of the A Midsummer Night’s Dream… the photo above is a promotional shot from the play (and please join me in making a donation there, if you can, in exchange for the performance––the Globe operates thanks to the support of those who visit, and right now, no one is visiting).

Glad Midsommar to you, solstice greetings. A very happy Father’s Day to all our fathers––those that were given to us and those that we’ve chosen. My dad, he used to joke about it, calling it Jack Ass Day, a habit he picked up from his own dad, my grandfather, Lazzaro Cutrone. I never got to meet that grandpa––he died long before I was born. I think of that sometimes. I see pictures, and a few home movies, and he looks like a great guy. I think about the children of my nephews: how they all knew my dad, their great grandfather, and that makes me happy. And then I get to wondering about the great celestial workings: our planet spinning on its axis, orbiting the sun, the sun spinning as well, the Milky Way spinning, too, in the even greater mechanics of the expanding universe. Sometimes it makes my head hurt, and sometimes I have a fleeting grasp that it’s all connected: you and me, the people we love, the planets and stars to the edge of the universe, and even the parallel ones, as well.

If I can, I’ll write again come St. John’s Eve. Happy Midsummer.

 

Juneteenth, Now More than Ever

I imagine many of us have long understood and valued the significance of Juneteenth, but perhaps never as much as this year. In light of all we are learning in just the last few weeks––about ourselves, about our society, and about systemic racism––it is incredibly apparent that the time to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized federal holiday is now.

Juneteenth originated in Texas, where the day was first celebrated in 1865. The Civil War was over; Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomatox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. But things were not resolved throughout the land that day. It took a long while for Union forces to bring all the states that had seceded back into the fold. In Texas, this process began more than two months later, on the 18th of June. Union troops arrived on Galveston Island and the next day, June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read a proclamation from a Galveston balcony:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

Newly emancipated slaves rejoiced right there in the streets of Galveston. By the year that followed that original proclamation in Galveston, Juneteenth celebrations were sprouting up all over Texas and continued spreading, mostly among African American communities, throughout the country. These earliest Juneteenth celebrations brought folks out in their finest clothes for parades and barbecue and music. Juneteenth now has become a celebration of hard-earned freedoms, and a celebration of African-American culture. A day for family and friends to gather, a day to share stories, and to learn. The road has never been easy, and so it is as well a day to reassure each other against adversity and challenge. The fact that the road is still being forged is all too evident these days, as we continue to work through our troubled history and find paths forward, paths toward complete equality, and toward the elimination of racism at levels to which society seems at times blind. We all could do with a reassessment. We all have lots to learn, and hopefully, on June 19th, you’ll see the Juneteenth flag flying beneath the American flag in your town.

 

Folks often confuse our Lake Worth hometown with Fort Worth, which is in Texas. One great thing Fort Worth has that Lake Worth doesn’t is Opal Lee. Ms. Lee is 93 years old. She has devoted many of those years toward her dream of making Juneteenth a national holiday. Twice she has marched from her home to Washington to make her cause known. She’d probably do it again this Juneteenth, but quarantine is forcing her to march only the two and a half miles from the Will Rogers Colliseum to the Fort Worth Convention Center. Behind her are expected to be hundreds of vehicles in support, while maintaining social distancing to keep Opal and others safe and healthy. She’s doing this for all people, not just for George Floyd, not just for all who have died unjustly, and not just for the sake of Juneteenth. There’s a fine interview you can read with Ms. Opal Lee, and I encourage you to click on her name to read it. I also encourage you to join me in signing her petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

 

Y E S

June 16th and now it is Bloomsday, a holiday born of a book. Some consider it the greatest book written in the English language: Ulysses, by James Joyce. The book takes place all on the 16th of June, 1904, in Dublin, following the lives of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom. Notoriously difficult to read, full of Joyce’s invented Stream of Consciousness writing technique, Ulysses is an affirmation, a yes, of the everyday. And here I am, a guy who encourages you to say yes to the ceremony of each day. An English major, to boot. Of course I love Bloomsday.

And so Joyce enthusiasts the world over today will dress in Edwardian garb and quote Joyce and if they are in Dublin, they will follow the June 16, 1904 route of Leopold Bloom. Our celebration here is a simple one, and I encourage this. My suggestions: Read some Joyce; it doesn’t have to be Ulysses. You might try instead something shorter, like The Dead, the story that closes Joyce’s short story collection titled Dubliners. Ulysses may get the accolades for best book written in the English language, but The Dead may just be its best short story. It takes place at midwinter, not midsummer, but still you get that beautiful James Joyce way of telling a tale. And if you’d rather not read, there is an excellent film adaptation of that same story. It’s directed by John Huston (1987). Music for the day: something Irish and Edwardian would be appropriate, but each year at this time of June the soundtrack inside my head inevitably turns to Kate Bush and a song she recorded in 1989, called “The Sensual World.” It’s based on the closing words of Ulysses, a soliloquy by Molly Bloom, Leopold’s wife.

And Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Love this day. Like all others. Yes.


The Sensual World, 1989

Many thanks to Giovanna Cimino & Silvia Fausto of Cosa Duci Bakery & Café, who made the mustache butter cookies that Seth and I are sporting in the photo above. They baked them for Father’s Day, but we thought they were perfect for Bloomsday. This brilliant mother/daughter team are shipping cookies these days, while they keep their café closed for quarantine (despite what our silly governor says). They are deserving of your support.