Palm Sunday has come and gone and with it, we’ve entered Holy Week. We will begin our preparations for our Easter celebration, buying provisions and baking, but at the same time we enter into the greater solemnity of the days toward that end. In our house, the soundtrack for this week is “Lamentations: Holy Week in Provence” by the Boston Camerata. It is beautiful music, and it feels appropriate for the mix of emotions this week brings. The week will bring us Good Friday, of course, but before it, Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, one of the most beautiful nights each year, when Seth and I make our pilgrimage to three churches in the late hours of night, a custom taught us by my grandmother, Assunta, who also taught us to light candles in each church we visit, though on Holy Thursday, usually you cannot, for often the saints are covered in purple cloth and the only candles lit are the ones that were lit for the night watch. There is a palpable melancholy in the air that night, as we sit and visit and wait. But I like melancholy sometimes. At the night watch on Holy Thursday, all that’s asked of us is to be present, and there is something so lovely about that.

And so this is my wish for us all for this week: simply to be present in our preparations for the celebration of spring and renewal that is to come and open to the beauty. Be it in melancholy or in joy, or hopefully in some melding of the two. This week teaches us, perhaps better than any, that it is necessary to set the stage for joy if we are going to be authentic about singing its praises, and this is something I value immensely.


Image: A nighttime image taken one Holy Thursday pilgrimage on the courtyard at St. Edward’s, Palm Beach.


If it Ain’t Got that Swing

I know, the weather’s been odd. Snow’s been falling snow on snow in much of the country all this month. Here in Lake Worth, where we had a warm February, the nights this March have been cool, and our first day of spring will be a day of swing: It’s forecast to reach the upper 90s this afternoon (wha?) and then drop down to 62 tonight.

But March is like this: all over the place. We know this. One thing is certain, however: the almanac brings us today the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a time of balance, the equinox is, even if the weather does not seem to agree, and twice a year we experience a period of general equality of sunlight across the planet. Come tomorrow, the Northern Hemisphere will be a day closer to summer, the Southern Hemisphere a day closer to winter. But for today, balance and equality.

If some measure of precision is important to you, the equinox arrives here in Lake Worth at 12:15 in the afternoon. That’s Eastern Daylight Time, “Daylight” because we’ve just last week set our clocks ahead by an hour. There is a movement afoot in the State Legislature here in the Sunshine State to keep us Floridians perpetually in Daylight Saving Time, and I am not so sure how I feel about that. It’s funny how our representatives can’t get anything done about more important matters, and yet there was an almost universal agreement that it is a good idea to rob us of an hour of daylight in the morning by sticking it on to our evenings all year long. All in all, I am more of a roundabout sort of guy, not very precision-oriented. So when you get right down to it, it doesn’t matter all that much to me. But I do know that when I was in high school, classes started at 7 AM, and it was tough enough getting to school on time without it being dark out. If anything, I’d be more inclined to keeping us all in Standard Time.

But wait. (How did we get here? This whole concept of time and its measurement and the tools we’ve invented with which to do so––and then we get folks like Albert Eintstein telling us we can go backwards in time if we travel fast enough––well, all of these things perplex me and make my head hurt.) Let’s return to spring. When I lived in Alabama, learning how to print and make paper and bind books, eating barbecue served with sliced white bread once a week and occasional gifts of Hamburger Pie from the neighbors, there was one season I particularly loved: Spring. The trees erupted each spring with flowers blooming like nothing I had ever seen growing up in Florida. They bloomed and when they did it was like snow was falling, except the sun was warm on my skin and the petals drifted passed my shoulder in slow motion from the trees to the ground. I remember white blossoms, in particular, and pink ones, too. Spring in Alabama was so beautiful. It arrives there today by the almanac and everywhere in this great hemisphere as our warm and gentle summer season approaches, one day closer now in our planet’s yearly circle round the sun. May your springtide be just as beautiful.


I’m sorry, things have been hectic, and I missed writing to you for St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday and for San Giuseppe, St. Joseph’s Day, yesterday. I hope you had cabbage and I hope you had zeppole. We did. Easter is fast on the approach and we have some really wonderful new things in the Convivio Book of Days Catalog for Spring, all of them traditional handicrafts from Europe. There are a whole bunch of new designs of our handmade paper maché egg containers from Germany, new hand painted pysanky from Ukraine and from Poland, and more. Take a peak, won’t you? Spend $50 on these items (or anything in the catalog), and we’ll ship your domestic order to you via US Priority Mail for free. How great is that?

Image: “Čeština: Jaro” (or, in English, “Spring”) by Eduard Tomek. Watercolor on paper, 1958 [Creative Commons] via Wikimedia Commons.


St. Urho’s Day (Dream Waltz)

We’re in the final stretch of Lent, and in the midst of it each year come three celebrations to take a bit of the edge off of all that spareness. They begin today with St. Urho’s Day, when we are all perhaps a little bit Finnish. I wrote this piece for St. Urho’s Day a couple of years ago. Since then, Finlandia Days has returned to Bryant Park here in Lake Worth, though it has a new name: Midnight Sun Festival. Fair enough. I love the photo of Viola Turpeinin, whose large septa toothed coral, the one she found on Lake Worth Beach, is on display at the Museum of the City of Lake Worth, right downtown between Lake and Lucerne Avenues. And I love her “Dream Waltz”–– Unelma Valssi. I’d like you to love her, too, which is why I’ve chosen to reprint her story today for St. Urho’s Day. And so here we go.


Viola Turpeinen

Here we are in the midst of one of the most interesting weeks of the year, at least in terms of quirky holidays. We have not one, not two, but three saints’ days to celebrate, and while saints’ days are not all that unusual, each one of these is important to a particular ethnic group, which makes for some very big celebrating, especially welcome in these more somber days of Lent.

There is of course the granddaddy of saints’ days: St. Patrick’s Day, on the 17th. Everyone, it it said, is at least a little Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Two days later brings St. Joseph’s Day: not as widely celebrated, but immensely important to Italy and the Italian American community, and we’ll be eating zeppole, pastries made especially for the day. But ahead of St. Joseph’s Day and ahead of St. Patrick’s Day both comes today’s celebration: St. Urho’s Day. And today, perhaps, everyone is at least a little bit Finnish.

St. Patrick may have driven all the snakes from Ireland, but it was St. Urho who drove all the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the vineyards and the the grape harvest and thus the wine. This he accomplished by proclaiming Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen, or in English, “Grasshopper, grasshopper, go to Hell!”

Perhaps you are thinking, “I’m not familiar with this story.” This is because you do not live near Finns. I first heard about St. Urho many years ago here at the local Finlandia Days celebration, which back then was held at Bryant Park on the lagoon here in Lake Worth. In that same park there is a memorial to Finnish war heroes. Up the road on Lake Avenue in the Allstate Insurance Office is the Finnish Consulate. Across the town line in Lantana is the Finnish American Rest Home and Suomi Talo (or Finland House, the Finnish social club) and Palm Beach Bakery, one of a couple of Finnish bakeries in the area. Between Lake Worth and Lantana, we have more Finns here than anywhere else save Finland. And so in this land, where it is so easy to come across folks speaking Spanish and Creole and Portuguese most any day of the week, it is just as easy to hear some Finnish, too. And Finnish tales, like the legend of St. Urho.

And so at Finlandia Days celebration years ago, somewhere in between the Wife Carrying Contest and a performance by the Finnish Accordion Orchestra, I heard the story of the saint who drove the grasshoppers from Finland. He is honored the day before a certain more famous saint who drove the snakes from Ireland. The Irish may wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but on St. Urho’s Day the Finns wear green and purple, too. Chances are good they’ll be listening today to the music of Viola Turpeinen, the legendary Finnish American accordionist who lived here in Lake Worth in the 1950s. She called her house “the home that polka built.” Unelma Valssi is a favorite Viola Turpeinen recording: “Dream Waltz.” So fitting for a spring day in Lake Worth or in Lapland or in Michigan, where she was born in 1909. It’s the kind of music that floats out onto the air through the open windows in this gentle season and lulls us all to springtime dreaming.

Image: Viola Turpeinen and her accordion.