Summer Rains, Weeping Saints

St. Swithin’s Day, if thou dost rain, for forty days it will remain. So the story goes for today, the Fifteenth of July. It is St. Swithin’s Day, a very British traditional weather marker concerning rain, based on the old story of St. Swithin, the weeping saint. St. Swithin was a 9th century Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester. The source of the weeping comes from after his earthly life, for it was the good bishop’s wish to be buried in the churchyard and not in the chancel of the church, as was the custom for bishops. His wishes were followed when he died, but after his canonization, the monks decided the open churchyard was a rather disgraceful place for a saint to be buried, and so on the 15th of July in 971, they planned to move the relics of St. Swithin indoors to the choir, in a solemn procession. A great downpour began during the procession, though, and continued for forty days. The monks took this is a sign from St. Swithin himself, and so they let him be there in the churchyard, although they did eventually erect a chapel over his grave.

Of course, it could very well be sunny today. The weather lore for the day, in its entirety, is actually this: St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain; St. Swithin’s Day if thou be fair, For forty days ’twill rain nae mair. As in: “for forty days, it will rain no more.” Here in Lake Worth, where we are knee-deep in the summer rainy season, rain is a safe bet today and certainly for the next forty days and more. And while mango season has ended and we grow no apples here, there is, as well, another old belief that when it rains on St. Swithin’s Day, the saint is blessing the apple crop. Here are a few lines from Poor Robin’s Almanack, July 1697:

In this month is St Swithin’s Day;
On which, if that it rain, they say
Full forty days after it will,
Or more or less, some rain distill.
This Swithin was a Saint, I trow,
And Winchester’s Bishop also.
Who in his time did many a feat,
As Popish legends do repeat:
A woman having broke her eggs
By stumbling at another’s legs,
For which she made a wofull cry,
St Swithin chanc’d for to come by,
Who made them all as sound, or more
Than ever that they were before.
But whether this were so or no
‘Tis more than you or I do know:
Better it is to rise betime,
And to make hay while sun doth shine,
Than to believe in tales and lies
Which idle monks and friars devise.

Poor Robin was not a fan of the monks and friars (or the Catholics), to be sure, and obviously valued hard work more than a good story. One last mention of the legend: John Gay, in his poem “Trivia,” gives a few lines to our weeping saint:

How, if on Swithin’s Feast the welkin hours,
And every penthouse streams with hasty showers,
Twice twenty days shall clouds their fleeces drain,
And wash the pavements with incessant rain.

He certainly had a way with words, John Gay did. He was known to have labored incessantly, much like St. Swithin’s rain, over his poems, searching for just the right words, searching for beauty. Which is why he is a great poet, and I am a reporter, giving you the news of the day, news that involves a saint who weeps. But that is my pleasure and my joy.

Back in 2014, when I first wrote about St. Swithin’s Day in this Book of Days, reader Laurie Jo Wright left a beautiful comment on the post, which makes me think that she, too, labors over words searching for beauty. Laurie Jo was welcoming the rain, but was pleading with the good saint to let her get the hay in first: Just let me get the hay in first – we had a couple of very light sprinklings this morning so I am not quite sure what to make of that in terms of the 40 day forecast, but fingers crossed – lets hope for mild clear skies. At least until Friday when the baling is finished and hay off the fields. But these are the best weeks’ sleep of the entire year: that sweet drying smell of freshly mown hay somnolent – if Angels wings had a scent this would be it!

She is right about the smell of freshly mown hay, and if I could find a way to use the word somnolent more than I do, I would. Now, lest you think this all is hogwash, there actually is some truth, it is said, to the weather lore for St. Swithin’s Day, for the jet stream over Britain tends to follow a regular pattern at this time of year, dictating the weather patterns for the next five to six weeks. Should the jet stream lie north of Britain, the weather will typically be clear and mild. Should the jet stream lie across or south of Britain, stormy weather may be expected as rain moves in from the Atlantic. And so science seems to confirm the weather lore. Or else St. Swithin really does love a rainy day.

SUMMER SALE
A rainy day is a perfect day to shop our Summer High Five Sale, in which you can use the discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your order of $35 or more. Take it to $50 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too.

That’s my mom in the Summer Sale photo (click the photo to make it larger). It’s her name day tomorrow: the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; her name is Carmela, but most often she goes by Millie, which I think is a great name. Thoroughly modern and all that. And at 94, Mom has begun a new cottage industry at home this past spring: each day she hand embroiders a flour sack towel. Millie’s Tea Towels (that seems to be the company name) are now on our website, available for purchase. They’re adorable. I’m so proud of Mom’s efforts. They are part of a brand new part of our online catalog we’re calling “Linens & Textiles.” Millie’s hand embroidered tea towels focus on three different themes: there are a whole bunch that deal with coffee (“Java Jive”) and more that deal with baked goods (“Baking Day”), and then another whole bunch that offer bits of wisdom of a culinary nature (“Kitchen Wisdom”). And she’s been working on more. Check back after this weekend and you’ll find towels with beach and tropical themes, another collection that’s perfect for your summer lake home and camping trips, and a whole lot more related to wine (you spoke, she listened).

I think you’ll be as impressed as I am with Mom’s handiwork. Her tea towels make wonderful gifts for yourself or someone else and Millie’s getting every penny we sell them for. I figure I owe her at least that for all the effort she put into raising me. You’ll find other lovely hand embroidered textiles there, too, from the extended family in Chiapas who make the protective face masks we’ve been selling since last summer. Prices on those masks, by the way, are reduced to $10. We got our last shipment of masks from them a few weeks ago, and now, I’m happy to report, they are focusing again on their traditional wares. (Hurrah for science and vaccinations!)

Everything in the catalog is part of the Summer Sale, so go, have some fun there: Click here to shop.

Image: “Spring Rain” by John Sloan. Oil on canvas, 1912 [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons.

 

Tagged

To the Sea, or Your Convivio Book of Days for July

It’s certainly been a hot summer for folks across North America. Here in Lake Worth, this is something to which we are accustomed, and it’s rare we have extremes… it’s just always a high in the low 90s this time of year, unless it’s been raining a lot, which it has. It’s constant and steady all summer long, and even well into fall. What does us in is the humidity. I remember a story that Bailey White wrote in which she and her mother decided to try their hands at making sun-dried tomatoes from some of their South Georgia garden bounty. South Georgia is not all that different from South Florida this time of year: hot, humid, languid. The recipe for drying the tomatoes ended with these words: Store in a cool, dry place. Bailey and Mama looked at each other. “What do they mean?” they wondered aloud.

Anyway, here it is now, July, and here is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month. The Dog Days of Summer, ruled by Sirius, the Dog Star, officially begin on the 3rd, as Sirius begins its annual period of rising and setting with the sun. The Ancient Greeks, watchers of the sky, observed this and deduced that Sirius, shining as brightly as it does, was amplifying and contributing to the heat of the sun, making these days the hottest of the year. In reality, it is our planet’s thermal lag; it’s a massive place, the Earth, and the Northern Hemisphere has been gradually storing heat all through the year as the days have increased in length, and though we’ve passed the solstice of Midsummer nearly two weeks ago now and days already are shorter, it takes a longer time for the planet’s temperature to balance out. And so our hottest days go on for many more weeks, despite diminishing sunlight, while in Antartica, days are growing longer, but the penguins are still huddled together, trying their best to keep warm.

What with all this heat, it seems to me a perfect time to escape to the sea. If I get up on my roof and look east, I can see the Lake Worth Lagoon, and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean, and yet I still can’t seem to manage to get to the sea. But I’d like to, perhaps today, or tomorrow. Hence this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar… it’s a printable PDF document, and our cover star for July is a 1932 painting by Clarice Beckett called Beach Scene. My hope is it will cool you off some just to look at it.

SUMMER SALE
My mom, Millie, was keeping it cool when she was captured in a photograph fishing off a rowboat, circa 1950 or so. She’s another cover star of ours this summer, in this case for our Summer High Five Sale, in which you can use the discount code HIGH5 at checkout for $5 off your order of $35 or more. Take it to $50 and you’ll earn free domestic shipping, too. (Click on the photo to make it larger; I love her smart sunglasses and the fact that she brought her pocketbook with her.)

Mom, God bless her, has begun a new cottage industry at home this past spring. Each day she hand embroiders a flour sack towel. Now, you can call this towel what you wish: dish towel, tea towel… but Grandma, she would have called it a mappina… and not pronounced that ending A. And still to this day, in the English we speak, peppered as it is with Italian dialect words, we speak of the “mop-peen”: an essential element of any good cook’s kitchen. I tend to go through two or three mappini (the plural of mappina) each night as I cook supper: a mappina hanging on the oven door handle to handle hot pots, a mappina on the counter to wipe up spills, a mappina slung over my shoulder to dry my hands.

And so today I’m writing to let you know about our Convivio Book of Days calendar for July, but also to let you know that these mappini that my mom Millie has been embroidering by hand, stitch by stitch, since Easter: they are now on our website, available for purchase. They’re adorable. I’m so proud of her efforts. They are part of a brand new part of our online catalog we’re calling “Linens & Textiles.” Millie’s hand embroidered tea towels focus on three different themes: there are a whole bunch that deal with coffee (“Java Jive”) and more that deal with baked goods (“Baking Day”), and then another whole bunch that offer bits of wisdom of a culinary nature (“Kitchen Wisdom”).

I think you’ll be as impressed as I am with Mom’s handiwork. Her tea towels make wonderful gifts for yourself or someone else and Millie’s getting every penny we sell them for. I figure I owe her at least that for all the effort she put into raising me. You’ll find other lovely hand embroidered textiles there, too, from the extended family in Chiapas who make the protective face masks we’ve been selling since last summer. Prices on those masks, by the way, are reduced to $10. We got our last shipment of masks from them a few weeks ago, and now, I’m happy to report, they are focusing again on their traditional wares. (Hurrah for science and vaccinations!)

Everything in the catalog is part of the Summer Sale, so go, have some fun there: Click here to shop. If you can shop while you’re drifting on a pool float, I’d recommend that.

Calendar image: “Beach Scene” by Clarice Beckett. Oil on canvas, 1932 [Public domainvia Wikimedia Commons. It’s my birthday today. Here’s a memory I have in my store of such things: My guess is it’s 1970. It is the night of the 30th of June, and it is approaching midnight, and Mom & Dad have let me stay up to bring in my birthday. The Twilight Zone is playing on the TV, black & white. I’m sitting on the couch, on top of the back cushion, where clearly I should not be sitting, but they let me anyway. I’m incredibly excited that my birthday is arriving. That’s it, that’s the memory. I don’t get that excited about birthdays anymore, but maybe I should. Perhaps we all should. It might do us good.

 

 

Old Father Midsummer

We honor our fathers today, both those we were given and those we have chosen. It is Father’s Day in the US. More on that later. First, let’s look to the sky, for with this particular pass around the sun, this day also brings the solstice. That solstice moment, when the sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky, comes late tonight, at 11:32 PM here in Lake Worth, which currently is in Eastern Daylight Time. It is now (and again six months later, in December) when the sun appears to stand still (hence solstice, which in Latin breaks down to something along the lines of “sun stand still”). For six months now, the sun has been climbing higher and higher in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere, and now, with the solstice of Midsummer, we reach our longest day. Now the climbing ceases, and in a couple of days, the opposite begins: the days will grow shorter and shorter as the sun sinks lower and lower in the sky each day, until we reach the solstice of Midwinter again in December.

The sun, of course, is not climbing and sinking. The sun is just shining, doing what it does. The climbing and the sinking (and the seasons that result) are thanks to our planet spinning on a tilted axis of about 23.5 degrees, which keeps the northern half of the globe tilted toward the sun for half the year and the southern half tilted toward the sun for the other half of the year. Each day the balance shifts slightly: this is our Constant Rearrange. After this brief couple of days of “sun stand still,” we’ll begin shaving off a bit of daylight each day, while the Southern Hemisphere daily adds more to its sum of light. These are the beautiful celestial mechanics of our planet and its spinning dance with the sun.

Now, on to Father’s Day. My dad, he loved to tell stories, and he’d tell them over and over again, like you were hearing them for the very first time. That used to bug me a bit, when I had less patience, but eventually I came to love that about him, like he knew he wouldn’t be around to tell the stories forever, so I came to look at it as instruction: Remember this. You’ll have to tell this story for me one day. And so sometimes I repeat stories, too. This next part of today’s chapter of the Convivio Book of Days is a reprint of the Father’s Day post I wrote in 2018, the year after my dad died, because the fact is days like this are not easy for us all… sometimes we have to face loss and grief and a whole host of things, especially on a day like this, a day like Father’s Day. So… here’s my story, again, about my dad, who was a bit like a rock star to me, but perhaps most especially when he’d walk into a place and call himself by another name. It’s a good story. Here we go:

*    *    *

I couldn’t tell you why, but my dad had a pseudonym that he used for things like dinner reservations or those occasions when you’d get to a restaurant and have to wait for a table. “It’ll be about 20 minutes. Name please?” “Monte,” he’d say, sometimes adding on, “John Monte.” Where the name came from I have no idea, and why he needed it is anyone’s guess, too. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that “Cutrone” is sometimes not an easy name for folks to say or spell here in the States, so that might be the reason, or it may have had something to do with a calculated disassociation from a more infamous John Cutrone, a Mafioso in Brooklyn who met his untimely end in 1976. Whatever the reason, like an actor or sports star attempting to throw off the paparazzi so he could just have a quiet meal, it was accepted fact that when we went to a restaurant, my dad, the auto mechanic from Valley Stream, was John Monte.

I think about that sometimes when I make dinner reservations or call in to order a pizza. I half expect the name “Monte” to come out of my mouth someday, as I become more and more like my dad as the years pass. A good example: telephones. I hate calling people on the phone and I greet incoming calls with suspicion. This was my dad, too. To this day, my mom calls people up, just to chat. Dad, on the other hand, would announce whenever the phone would ring, “I’m not home.” Back then phones had no caller ID; they just rang and you picked up the receiver and said hello and if it was you who picked up the phone and if the person at the other end of the phone line asked for Mr. Cutrone and if you caved, if you said, “Hold on a minute,” and motioned to him, Dad would glare at you and then after he got off the phone he’d give you hell. No one ever just called to chat with Dad; they called because they wanted him to help them do something, like fix a roof or move a wall, or because their car battery was dead. It’s no wonder he disliked the phone.

Dad worked up until he was almost 90. We worked at the same university, and sometimes I’d call his extension, usually because I needed something, and sometimes just to say hello. I’d dial 7-2295, and if he didn’t pick up in two rings, I knew he wasn’t at his desk. But when he did pick up, he’d answer with a somewhat singsongy hello, where the first syllable went up as the second syllable went lower. And then I’d say hello, and then he’d say what he always said when we were at work: “Hi guy.” He never said this at home, just at work. It’s what he said to all the guys who worked with him, and at work, I was just one of the guys, which I liked. The guys who worked with him thought he was in his 60s, maybe 70s. He certainly did not look like he was 89. It was probably a decade or two that Dad would tell his fellow workers, if they asked how old he was, that he was 65. Sometimes that’s just how Dad was. He’d tell you what he thought you wanted to hear. That he was 65. That he felt fine. That his name was John Monte.

It’s our second Father’s Day without him. Days like Father’s Day are never easy when your dad is no longer here to wish a happy Father’s Day to. But we’ll gather all the same, my mom and my sister and Seth and me, and we will eat together. At the table, I will sit in Dad’s seat, because this is what I do now. I’ve done it since the day he died, and it felt odd then, and sometimes still does, but I know I am meant to sit there, and that I am meant to remind everyone that whenever we wished Dad a happy Father’s Day he’d always reply, “You mean Jack Ass Day,” and we will laugh. His father, Grandpa Cutrone, taught him that, and all my uncles said it, too. This year will be not as bad as the year before. Each year, some measure of sadness is replaced by a greater measure of… not sadness.

In Italy, Father’s Day is celebrated on the 19th of March: St. Joseph’s Day, and there is something particularly beautiful about that, as we celebrate a saint who cared for his family, protected them, provided for them, taught his son good, practical things. It is a perfectly logical day to celebrate all fathers, those we were given and those we have chosen. It certainly was the model that my dad followed. Perhaps if we celebrated on that day, too, when we wished Dad a happy Father’s Day, he would have simply said, “Thanks.”

Image: Summer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Oil on canvas, 1573 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.