Tag Archives: Dog Days of Summer

Somewhere in the Stars: Tanabata

We are in the midst of summer and a period ruled by stars: Sirius, Altair, and Vega. Sirius, the Dog Star, entered onto the scene a few days ago: by July 3rd, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major, began rising with the sun. The sun occupies the same part of the sky as Sirius through the middle of August. It just so happens to be the hottest time of the year while all this is going on… and so we call these hottest days of the year, ruled by Sirius, the Dog Days of Summer.

That’s our story about Sirius in Canis Major. Meanwhile, here is an old story from Japan that relates to our other summer stars, Altair and Vega: It is the story of Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder, and Orihime, the beautiful daughter of the Sky King, Tentei. Orihime wove beautiful cloth on the banks of the Amanogawa, the Milky Way. Her father loved the cloth she wove, and so she worked very hard to make enough for him so that he would always have plenty of it. But Orihime worked so hard at her weaving that she never had time for anything else. And as much as Tentei loved the cloth Orihime wove, he knew she needed some balance, some time away from her work, and so he arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder, who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa.

And so Orihime and Hikoboshi met. They fell in love right then and there. The two soon married, and that was wonderful, but they became so enamored with each other that all else fell by the wayside. Orihime pretty much gave up her work at the loom, and as for Hikoboshi’s cattle, well, they were soon roaming all over Heaven. Tentei grew angrier and angrier over all this, until finally he had enough. He separated the two lovers on either side of the Amanogawa and forbade them to see each other. Orihime despaired over the loss of her husband and pleaded with her father. Moved by his daughter’s tears, Tentei relented. But he allowed the two lovers to meet only once each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. And so the story goes each year, and here we are today: the seventh day of the seventh month. It is the Japanese star festival, Tanabata.

As stars, the lovers are Vega and Altair: Vega, the Weaver Star, is Orihime, and Altair, the Cowherd Star, is Hikoboshi, separated always by the Milky Way, except, as legend has it, for this one night each year when they are reunited. Beneath the stars, here on Earth, we honor Orihime and Hikoboshi by writing wishes on strips of paper and tying them to the trees. Bamboo is traditional, and that’s what I tied my wishes to last year, but I would think any tree would do. Heaven and the stars, I am sure, grant us a bit of leeway in these matters.

Two or three of my wishes from last year remain still on the bamboo outside our back door. The ink is long faded. I know I wished for protection, and for good health for us all, and especially for my father. His health gradually faded over the seven months that followed, until his death in February. But I am grateful he did not suffer terribly, and so perhaps that was the best manifestation of my wishes for good health and protection. Will I write some wishes on paper and tie them to the bamboo this year? Probably, though it most likely won’t be until after dark. There are no rules about that, either, and if there are, well, again: Heaven and the stars surely can be flexible with us mortals.

Perhaps it is all these thoughts of stars, but there is a song that popped into my head last night, a song I’ve not thought of in years. In 1982, when my grandpa Arturo died, Rosanne Cash released a record called Somewhere in the Stars. I know the title track is a sappy love song, but even so, I was able to reinterpret it for my own situation. It meant a lot to me then when I was missing Grandpa, and it suddenly means a lot to me tonight, too, missing him again, and my dad, and everyone else who is somewhere other than where I’d like them to be (like right here in front of me). If it’s a little sappy, so be it. I’m a little sappy sometimes, too, and there are nights when we need stories about dog stars and star-crossed lovers and reminders of all the ones we love.

 

This chapter of the Convivio Book of Days was originally printed on the 7th of July, 2017. Three years later, the sentiment is the same. Top Image: A very particular Somewhere in the Stars. This is a Hubble Telescope wide field image showing the “Summer Triangle,” a giant triangle in the sky composed of three bright summer stars: Vega (top left), Altair (lower middle), and Deneb (far left). Can you make out the triangle? [Public domain] via NASA, 2009.

 

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Ferragosto or, Dog Days are Over

While in Japan it is the time of Obon, in Italy it is the time of Ferragosto. Woe to American tourists who travel to Italian cities at this time of year, for chances are good they will find the majority of shops and restaurants closed. Most Italians have headed to the sea for the Ferragosto holiday, a practice that dates back to ancient Rome where this time was known as Feriae Augusti, or “Holidays of the Emperor Augustus.”

The sea is the logical destination as these sultry Dog Days of summer, the hottest part of the year, ruled by Sirius, the dog star, come to a close. There are many schools of thought as to the meaning and the timing of the Dog Days, but if we have to choose one, I’ll subscribe to the version that has them begin each year in early July and end about now, around the 15th of August. For all these Dog Days, Sirius and our sun have been rising together in the morning sky. It was thought in times past that the combined heat of the two made for our hottest days. But in the constant rearrange of the stars and planets, now Sirius begins to emerge from the sun’s bright light and heat to rise independently. The two forces separate.

In the Catholic Church, the 15th of August is the Feast of the Assumption, marking the day of Mary’s ascent, body and soul, to heaven. Mary, human like us. It is also my maternal grandmother’s birthday. Because she was born on the Assumption, her parents named her Assunta, in honor of the day. Ferragosto and the Feast of the Assumption go hand in hand.

In Lavagna, Italy, yesterday brought a festival that features a cake that stands 21 feet tall! It is the Torta dei Fieschi, a wedding anniversary celebration that dates all the way back to 1230. Tomorrow, on the 16th, it is Il Palio in Siena, the famous horse race that runs through the entire city. This Ferragosto tradition is accompanied by celebrations throughout Siena and, of course, great quantities of food and wine.

In short, if you are in Italy, Ferragosto is not a time to stay home. But this seems not unusual. Some years ago, my mom’s cousin Tina visited from Italy. We had never met her before. She arrived in Miami for a one week stay with three very heavy suitcases, and while she was with us, she changed outfits more than once a day. One of her morning robes had feathers on it. We had never seen such a thing except maybe in glamorous old Hollywood films. Feathers floated into the air in her wake as she floated down the hallway. On Sunday during her visit, we did what we always do: Mom made a big dinner while Dad puttered around the house. Tina asked in Italian, “But what do you do on Sundays here?” Mom answered in the best Italian she could muster. “We cook, we read the paper, we relax.” Tina was not impressed. “In Italy,” she said, “we go out. We go dancing.”

This is what I imagine Italy to be like during Ferragosto, at least if you are in the right place at the right time. If you are in a touristy part of Florence or Rome during Ferragosto, you’re probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if you are in Siena, or in Lavagna, or in Napoli (where Tina is from)… well, there’s probably a lot of celebrating and dancing to be done. Get you to the sea or get you to a festa. Summer is coming to a close and it is time to send it out with a bang. Florence + the Machine have got that down pat. The dog days are over, the dog days are done.

This chapter of the Convivio Book of Days appeared originally on August 15, 2015. When Seth and I were at Elizabeth Ave Station last Saturday night for their Silver & Gold party, the band closed the night with their own rendition of the Florence + the Machine song. Did they know that the Dog Days were almost over? Hard to say. But hearing that song made my night. Hopefully it will do the same for you here. The blue girls in go go boots remind me of Dr. Morales, Haden’s veterinarian. I’ve never told her that.

In Lucera, the hometown of my maternal grandparents in Southern Italy, this past weekend was the Torneo delle Chiavi Lucera, the Tournament of the Keys of Lucera. It is an annual medieval festival, procession, and tournament. Over the weekend here, my mom made cucuzza and eggs, traditional for the feast of the Assumption and for Grandma’s birthday, and this is what’s for dinner tonight. It is hearty peasant fare; it requires a good crusty loaf of bread. Grandma was born in 1898. She probably ate cucuzza and eggs for most all of her birthdays, and still we do, too.

 

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Ferragosto or, Dog Days are Over

While in Japan it is the time of Obon, in Italy it is the time of Ferragosto. Woe to American tourists who travel to Italian cities at this time of year, for chances are good they will find the majority of shops and restaurants closed. Most Italians have headed to the sea for the Ferragosto holiday, a practice that dates back to ancient Rome where this time was known as Feriae Augusti, or “Holidays of the Emperor Augustus.”

The sea is the logical destination as these sultry Dog Days of summer, the hottest part of the year, ruled by Sirius, the dog star, come to a close. There are many schools of thought as to the meaning and the timing of the Dog Days, but if we have to choose one, I’ll subscribe to the version that has them begin each year in early July and end about now, around the 15th of August. For all these Dog Days, Sirius and our sun have been rising together in the morning sky. It was thought in times past that the combined heat of the two made for our hottest days. But in the constant rearrange of the stars and planets, now Sirius begins to emerge from the sun’s bright light and heat to rise independently. The two forces separate.

In the Catholic Church, today is the Feast of the Assumption, marking the day of Mary’s ascent, body and soul, to heaven. Mary, human like us. It is also my grandmother’s birthday. Because she was born on the Assumption, her parents named her Assunta, in honor of the day. Ferragosto and the Feast of the Assumption go hand in hand.

In Lavagna, Italy, yesterday brought a festival that features a cake that stands 21 feet tall! It is the Torta dei Fieschi, a wedding anniversary celebration that dates all the way back to 1230. Tomorrow, on the 16th, it is Il Palio in Siena, the famous horse race that runs through the entire city. This Ferragosto tradition is accompanied by celebrations throughout Siena and, of course, great quantities of food and wine.

In short, if you are in Italy, Ferragosto is not a time to stay home. But this seems not unusual. Some years ago, my mom’s cousin Tina visited from Italy. We had never met her before. She arrived in Miami for a one week stay with three very heavy suitcases, and while she was with us, she changed outfits more than once a day. One of her morning robes had feathers on it. We had never seen such a thing except maybe in glamorous old Hollywood films. Feathers floated into the air in her wake as she floated down the hallway. On Sunday during her visit, we did what we always do: Mom made a big dinner while Dad puttered around the house. Tina asked in Italian, “But what do you do on Sundays here?” Mom answered in the best Italian she could muster. “We cook, we read the paper, we relax.” Tina was not impressed. “In Italy,” she said, “we go out. We go dancing.”

This is what I imagine Italy to be like during Ferragosto, at least if you are in the right place at the right time. If you are in a touristy part of Florence or Rome during Ferragosto, you’re probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if you are in Siena, or in Lavagna, or in Napoli (where Tina is from)… well, there’s probably a lot of celebrating and dancing to be done. Get you to the sea or get you to a festa. Summer is coming to a close and it is time to send it out with a bang. Florence + the Machine have got that down pat. The dog days are over, the dog days are done.

DogDays

 

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