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: mail@conviviobookworks.com.


Wrapping Up a Bookish Week

Celebrations of the bookmaking craft began early this week, with the Bartlemas Wayzgoose on the 24th of August, and today, the 28th, we come to another bookish celebration: it’s the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, patron saint not just of printers…. Ah, but also of brewers. That’s a heady combination. As a printer myself, I have known many printers in my life; most of them are quite fond of beer and many of them, like myself, have dabbled in brewing. To have a day bestowed upon us that celebrates both of these things, well… it is clear that printers have long had two reasons to celebrate these waning days of summer. (And it is perhaps not the best week to take a delicate job to your local print shop.)

St. Augustine is a patron saint of printers and of brewers, and he is also the patron saint of Aviles, the city in Spain that was home to explorer Pedro Menéndez, who sailed to the New World in 1565. The day his ships arrived here at this continent also happened to be St. Augustine’s Day, the 28th of August. He and his crew sailed into the area around Matanzas Bay, up in the northeast corner of La Florida, and he named the new Spanish settlement there San Agustín, in honor of the day he first spotted land and in honor of his hometown’s patron saint. That town is St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the United States.

As for St. Augustine himself, he was born in Northern Africa, in what is now Tunisia, in 354, the son of St. Monica. He became a patron saint of printers thanks to his prolific writing. Books like his Confessions probably kept a lot of early printers in business. The confessions were easy to come by for Augustine: he was a fellow who liked a good time, at least early on in life, and this is the root of his patronage for brewers. His mother prayed for his conversion. Eventually he did convert and he began to write. He was long considered a Doctor of the Church and was canonized at the turn of the 14th century, about 150 years before Johannes Gutenberg perfected the idea of moveable type and ushered in the information and literacy revolution that came with the proliferation of printing. It is said that on a wall of his room St. Augustine had written these words, in large letters: “Here we do not speak evil of anyone.” Words of wisdom, worthy of writing on our walls or printing on our presses or sending to our elected officials, and words to live by in this week of celebrations print and book related––this week of Wayzgooses and related celebrations of papermaking, printing, bookbinding, brewing. All crafts of the human hand and heart, all, in their way and in proper doses, portals bridging earth and heaven, assisting us mere mortals to attain that graceful state of happiness in flow. I’ll take that.

Speaking of the Bartlemas Wayzgoose: now that the hustle and hubbub of the premiere of our Library Wayzgoose Festival has passed, we welcome you to watch it anytime, from wherever you are in the world. The online event video is posted for now to the website of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and if you happen to be reading this months or years from now, you’ll find the Wayzgoose posted, for posterity, at the Jaffe Center’s Vimeo Channel. I think you’ll really enjoy it: it’s chockfull of interesting bookish information, as well as some pretty breathtaking music by the Lubben Brothers, and you’ll even find me singing a little song, penned by my printer pal Vanya Gulkov, called the “Wayzgoose Wassail”––which sounds to me entirely like something that would go well with the handiwork of your local brewer. Cheers and huzzah!

Images: Above: Catalina Rojas printing on the Chandler & Price press she brought to Design Miami. Below: scenes from the 2020 Library Wayzgoose Festival: Catalina Rojas, proprietor of Puropapel; the Lubben Brothers; vintage film still in the Wayzgoose opening sequence; me, singing the “Wayzgoose Wassail.”


Wayzgoose with Us, Virtually

This month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar focused on print and letterpress, and now we come to the days that mark the reason why: It is Bartlemas on the 24th of August (St. Bartholomew’s Day) and on the 28th, it’s St. Augustine’s Day. Printers and brewers both find a patron saint in St. Augustine, but it is St. Bartholomew that brings the most bookish of celebrations, for it is Bartlemas Day that brings the traditional printers’ Wayzgoose… and tonight, here comes ours: Read on for your own invitation to the virtual Library Wayzgoose Festival that I am hosting for Florida Atlantic University Libraries’ Jaffe Center for Book Arts this very evening.

Bartlemas celebrates St. Bartholomew, who is a patron saint of bookbinders… but still, his day is just as important to the other two branches of the book artist’s craft: papermaking and printing––the one sometimes called the Black Art. The Wayzgoose tradition itself comes out of the shifting of the seasons and the recognition that summer, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere, is waning.

Not much is known about St. Bartholomew himself. He was one of the Twelve Disciples. He is thought to have traveled to India, but tradition says that he met his end in Armenia in the first century. His martyrdom was a gruesome one––one that by association made St. Bartholomew a patron saint of butchers (a common trade amongst my paternal ancestors) and of tanners and of bookbinders, who very often bind books in leather. I’ll leave the method of his martyrdom, based on those associations, to your imagination, but early bookbinders found it a worthy connexion, hence his patronage of their craft.

For papermakers, the connexion goes back to the days before glazed glass windows. Back then, it was waxed paper that was used to keep out the elements, and the arrival of Bartlemas was the signal that it was time to paper the windows in preparation for winter. Once this St. Bart’s window paper was made, the papermakers went back to making paper for the printers, clearing out the vats and recharging them with new pulp made from rags that had been retting all summer long.

But it is the printers who really know how to celebrate St. Bartholomew’s Day. Bartlemas, being a full eight weeks past the summer solstice, brings with it each year a certain reality: Sunlight, like summer, is waning, and the days are growing darker and darker. Along with the papering of the windows at Bartlemas came the necessity of illuminating the print shop with lanterns and candles. A good print shop proprietor would make a celebration of the day. Randall Holme, in 1688, gave us this description of the Bartlemas Wayzgoose:  “It is customary for all journeymen to make every year, new paper windows about Bartholomew-tide, at which time the master printer makes them a feast called a Wayzgoose, to which is invited the corrector, founder, smith, ink-maker, &c. who all open their purses and give to the workmen to spend in the tavern or ale-house after the feast. From which time they begin to work by candle light.”

To be sure, there was a good quantity of ale consumed as part of the Wayzgoose. In some places, mead, the delightful intoxicating beverage made from honey, was the beverage of choice. Especially in Cornwall, where a Blessing of the Mead ceremony takes place even today at this time of year. Continuing the road of connexions, our friend St. Bartholomew is also a patron saint of beekeepers, and as we gather our stores for the coming winter, it is traditional, too, to bring in the honey crop on his feast day.

Finally, here’s another bit of Bartlemas Wayzgoose lore that I love: It was on August 27, 2010, that the Jerusalem Post reported that Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-Line Bible, the first book printed from moveable type, was completed on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1454. Some claim, too, that that first printed book explains why printing has a history of being called the Black Art. They say that Johannes Fust, Gutenberg’s business partner, sold several of the printed bibles in France without explaining how they were made. When it was discovered that the books were identical copies of each other, Fust was accused of witchcraft and was briefly imprisoned for that crime. It was a different world back then, with information spread by rumors. It was the printing press, though, that ushered in an age of knowledge and literacy and enlightenment. Some would say, too, that we have reverted back to those medieval ways: there are those who claim time and time again that the printed word is not to be trusted, calling trusted information sources “fake news,” feeding us their own brand of misinformation through social media, which, when you get right down to it, is just the 21st century equivalent of medieval rumor. Here we are, 566 years after Gutenberg’s first books were printed, and we find ourselves again no wiser than Johannes Fust’s accusers.

One thing is certain: if you are a book artist or if you are a book enthusiast, St. Bartholomew’s Day is a very auspicious day for you. For this Bartlemas Wayzgoose, then, certainly we have cause to celebrate books and the people who make them: the papermakers, the printers, the bookbinders, the book artists. This Bartlemas, let us raise our glasses to St. Bart and to all of these good artisans… and to celebrate the printed word and make a pledge to value its importance to good living and to good citizenship. The Black Art may just be more important than we realized.

Perhaps you can join us tonight? I’d love it if you did. Here’s the official trailer (properly a good bit o’fun) that we created for tonight’s premiere:

I am, by default (I can’t imagine anyone else would’ve done it), your host for this virtual 2020 Library Wayzgoose Festival. The official premiere is at 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time, from wherever you are in the world, at the Vimeo Channel of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. And you may view the Wayzgoose video anytime after that, as well. I’ll be interviewing the delightful Catalina Rojas, the proprietor of Puropapel, a letterpress and design studio in Miami. We’ll have music by the Lubben Brothers, a West Palm Beach folk band of incredibly talented triplet brothers (and someday you’ll see them on a national televised broadcast of the Grammies and say, “Didn’t we see these guys on that Wayzgoose thing?”). And I’ve got some other fun surprises in store for you, too.

L O N G   L I V E   P R I N T !