A Symphony of Bells, or Your September Book of Days

In the previous chapter of the Convivio Book of Days, the one about the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, I gave brief mention to the fact that the printers’ Wayzgoose festivities that come out of St. Bartholomew’s Day on the 24th of August are rooted in an acknowledgment of the waning days of summer giving way to fall. I know many of you were not keen on hearing that, and yet today we have a deeper acknowledgment of the turning of the wheel of the year, for it is now September, and once we get to these Ember Months, which is what I like to call these last few months of the year, since they all end with -ember, save for October (and even October ends in something much like -ember)… well, once we get to these Ember Months, there is no denying that summer’s days are few indeed and autumn will soon be made welcome: welcome or welcome not.

In the Swiss Alps, the cows who wear such distinctive sounding bells around their necks have been up in the mountain meadows all summer long, but come the Feast of the Nativity of Mary on the 8th of this month, they will begin their journey down to the valleys in a centuries-old cattle drive known as the Almabtrieb. The feast day, also called Our Lady of the Grape Harvest, for vintners are now beginning to harvest grapes and make wine, is also known as Drive Down Day, and the driving down is done with great ceremony as the cows are decorated with flowers and greenery and beautifully woven textiles and yes, there is a symphony of bells as they walk and lumber their way alongside their humans down the roads, down to their winter quarters in the farms and villages of the valleys.

Seth and I were in the Swiss Alps in 2019. Not for Drive Down Day––we were passing through in July, in the Alpine grass-grazing season of high summer, on our way from Austria to Lake Como in Italy. Seth was at the wheel and at one point he made a right turn off the main road and me, I thought we were stopping for ice cream, but no, he kept driving into the woods and suddenly we were ascending up and up and there we were, driving along a switchback two-lane road up into the mountains. We were on the Splügenpass. (That’s what it’s called on the German speaking side of Switzerland, and as you descend down toward the Italian speaking side, it’s called the Passo del Spluga.) I had no idea this would be happening, and instead of ice cream, I got to enjoy the most spectacular vistas. Every now and then, we had to pull over and stop and just take it all in. And what enchanted me most was the sound of bells. Each bell came from a single cow, grazing the green mountain meadow grass. A beautiful sound in complete harmony with the mountain we stood upon. I could listen to Swiss cows grazing all day long and never grow tired of it.

All this to say: Now it is September, and here is your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month. It is, as usual, a printable PDF that you may print out and pin to your bulletin board or stick to your refrigerator or prop up on your desk, or just keep it handy digitally. It’s a fine companion to this blog and will give you more holidays than I will have time to write about… but even if I don’t write about them, you might find something about each of them if you do a search for each particular day on the blog page. Cover star this month: one of those lovely cows, dressed to the nines, at rest in a grassy field on Drive Down Day. Aside from Almabtrieb beginning on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, it’s also the month of several important holidays in the Jewish calendar, and of Johnny Appleseed’s birthday (his 249th!), as well as Letterpress Appreciation Day on 9/18 and, of course, the autumnal equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere. CLICK HERE for the calendar.

Thanks to all who came to shop at the Wayzgoose last Sunday at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. Now, pop-up market season is beginning in earnest! Here are a few of the markets we plan to attend in the coming months:

OKTOBERFEST MIAMI at the German American Social Club west of Miami. Two weekends: Friday October 13 through Sunday October 15 and then again the following weekend: Friday October 20 through Sunday October 22.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS LAKE WORTH BEACH at our hometown community art center, Hatch 1121, just west of the tracks between Lucerne Avenue and Lake Avenue (just west of City Hall). Saturday October 28 from 3 to 9 PM.

FLORIDA DAY OF THE DEAD in Downtown Fort Lauderdale on Saturday November 4. The Convivio Bookworks tent is usually at the gathering point for the procession, which is Huzienga Plaza (or Bubier Park), 32 East Las Olas Boulevard. Details still to come, but we are usually there from about 3:00 until the procession leaves to cross the New River.

You may also expect to find us at the German American Social Club’s Christmas Market in Miami on Saturday December 2, the Sankta Lucia Julmarknad in Boca Raton also on Saturday December 2, and the American German Club in suburban Lake Worth for their Krampusnacht celebration on Friday night, December 8, followed by their Christkindlmarkt on Saturday & Sunday, December 9 & 10…. and perhaps more than this.


Image: A cow dressed up for Almabtrieb, photographed by Evelyscher, 2014. [Creative Commons] via Wikimedia Commons.


Bartlemas Wayzgoose: First Shift toward Fall

If you are longing for cooler weather, here’s a celebration you’ll be pleased about: It’s Bartlemas today, St. Bartholomew’s Day, and his feast day is one that provides a nod of acknowledgment to the subtly shifting wheel of the year and, in particular, of summer beginning to yield to autumn. St. Bartholomew also happens to be a fellow of high importance to book artists like myself: he has his hands in all the major aspects of the Book Arts, these being hand papermaking, letterpress printing, and bookbinding. And it is through these crafts that St. Bart brings his reminder of summer’s waning. If it sounds like the makings of a good story, I’d say you’re right, and how I love a good story! Let’s delve into it, shall we? (I also have an invitation for the locals to an actual St. Bartholomew’s Day Wayzgoose (just a few days after his feast day) at the end, so do read on.)

First of all, St. Bartholomew is one of the patron saints of bookbinders. 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.

And then there is the connexion to papermaking, and for this, we need to go back to the days before glazed glass windows. Back then it was only the wealthiest people who could afford glass windows, while the rest of us, and I’m sure my ancestors are firmly planted in this group, simply had openings in the walls and shutters, perhaps, so that all summer long the shutters would be open, letting in the cool nighttime breezes. As we approach the end of August, though, you’d certainly be thinking about preparing for the chillier days to come in fall and winter, and it was the local papermakers who came to your rescue: they began making special waxed paper this time of year and it was this paper, heavily infused with beeswax, that you would install inside your shutters, to help keep the elements out and the warmth in, and the day to do this task was traditionally today: Bartlemas. Waxed paper windows: they didn’t offer much in terms of warmth, but certainly they were a better alternative than nothing at all. Once this St. Bartholomew’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.

And now for those printers: It’s the printers who really made a big deal of Bartlemas, especially in England, for it became a day of great celebration. (I might add: no surprise there. I’ve worked with hand papermakers, I’ve worked with bookbinders, and I’ve worked with letterpress printers, and it’s the printers who generally seem most ready to raise a glass with you.) For along with those waxed paper windows came the reality of less natural light. Suddenly it was time again to work by the light of candles and lanterns, and there was no more potent reminder, perhaps, that summer was waning and winter was on its way. And so, all good print shop proprietors would make a celebration of the day, and this celebration came to be known as a “Wayzgoose.” The reason for the name is, sadly, lost to time. But 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 continue to gather our stores for the coming winter, it is traditional, too, to bring in the honey crop on his feast day.

My favorite bit of Bartlemas Wayzgoose lore is this: 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 and why we have personnel in print shops with names like Printer’s Devil. Here’s the story: Johannes Fust, Gutenberg’s business partner, took several of the printed bibles from Mainz, Germany, which is where Gutenberg had his shop, to France, where he sold them, 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. This story always fascinates me!

Prior to the printing press, we mostly got our news through rumors: travelers bringing tales from far off places, neighbors discussing things, embellishing where they saw fit. It was the printing press, though, that ushered in an age of knowledge and literacy and enlightenment, kicking off what came to be called in European history the Renaissance. In the last few decades, we’ve moved beyond the printing press in terms of the dissemination of information and well… progress brings its own set of problems. Now we spread rumors through social media––especially people who hold positions of power––and trusted news sources are overridden, or deemed “fake,” and we find ourselves, nearly 570 years post-Gutenberg, 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. My suggested toast: “Free the books!” We don’t need Big Government––and our Florida government is as big as it gets, folks: school kids here can’t even have nicknames now without their parents’ written consent on file with the School Board (yes, this is state law)––deciding what we should or should not be reading. A free press and the freedom to read and discuss what we see fit: More than ever, the Black Art might just be more important than we think.

If you’re here in South Florida, I hope this Sunday you’ll join us at our local Wayzgoose: It’s Florida Atlantic University’s LIBRARY WAYZGOOSE FESTIVAL in Boca Raton, happening from 12 noon to 6 PM at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and throughout the 3rd Floor East of FAU’s Wimberly Library, which is the Jaffe’s home base. Free admission, free parking. There will be print demos all day with Ellen Knudson of Crooked Letter Press, live music all day (Abasi Hanif and Livin’ the Rhythm drum circle from 12:30 to 2, followed by bluegrass and folk with The Lubben Brothers from 2:30 to close), and the Wayzgoose Makers Marketplace (we’ll be there offering some of our wares–– we’re thinking a shift to autumn in our offerings might be nice, too). There will also be a free paper moon photo booth, a telegraph office, an Exquisite Corpse story project inside a quilted contemplation tent, and doughnuts and coffee and tea. No ale or mead, sorry. CLICK HERE for full details and come see us Sunday!

While we’re on the subject of shifting toward fall, our next big event currently on the books after this Sunday’s Wayzgoose is Oktoberfest! This year, we are participating in OKTOBERFEST MIAMI at one of our favorite places: the German American Social Club in Miami. Two full weekends of fun: October 13 through 15 and October 20 through 22. We were there last December for their Christmas Market and everyone was so nice to us and we had such a lovely time, we decided to spend Octoberfest with them, too. (The fact that this is an indoor/outdoor Oktoberfest and that our Convivio Bookworks boutique will be located indoors, in air conditioned comfort, is an added perk.) It’s the longest continuously-running Oktoberfest in the country and the largest German cultural event in South Florida, and we’ll be there with tons (perhaps literally, and if not, it’ll certainly feel like it) of our traditional German handicrafts and specialty foods, plus my mom’s Millie’s Tea Towels. You also happen to have just 7 days left to purchase tickets at the reduced pre-sale price: CLICK HERE for details! I think it’s going to be grand!

Happy Bartlemas, everyone!



Feast of the Assumption

I’ve been reading A Poem for Every Night of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri, since the year began and doing just that: reading one poem, each night of the year, just before I shut the last illuminated lamp, before I say goodnight to all the people in the photographs on the bookcases and bureaus on my way to bed. My nightly ritual. It’s a big thick book, hardcover, lovely dust jacket, and as I sat there in my corner chair in the close and holy darkness late last night and read, it struck me that I am most definitely more than halfway through the book, and that the year is more than half done, and that even though summer here in this strange green land goes on and on, it will eventually be packing its bags, headed off to more southerly climes on the other side of the equator. We still have a lot more to get through, but the facts are plain: the Dog Days have passed (they ended on the 11th of August when Sirius, the Dog Star, ceased rising each morning with the sun), and in Italy, Ferragosto has begun. It is the height of the summer holidays, and most Italians will take off from work or close up shop and head someplace cool for a few days: to the sea, or to the mountains. It is annual pilgrimage that has its roots in Ancient Rome.

Most people in Catholic Europe will be off today, anyway: It is the Feast of the Assumption on this Fifteenth of August, so why not take a few extra summer days off, too? It’s the day my grandmother was born, in 1898, and so her parents called her Assunta. How lovely: to be named for a holiday, no? I think so, anyway. Most years, Grandma’s birthday meal would be the traditional Ferragosto supper of cuccuzza longa––an Italian edible gourd very much like zucchini––simmered with egg and parmesan and parsley with a hint of tomatoes. It can be made with zucchini, too. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try (especially at this annual time of zucchini abundance): Click here for the recipe. Have a nice summery wine on hand, like a crisp vinho verde from Portugal, and a crusty loaf, and you’ve got a summer meal that’s fit for a king (even if originated with the hearty peasantry).

I’m thinking of going to church at noon for Grandma’s birthday and for the Assumption. I’ve not been for a long while, and it’ll be time spent with Grandma and with everyone else who has come and gone in my life, and I’ll get to sing along with other folks in the congregation singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria“, and there are worse ways to pass an hour on an afternoon in late summer.

Images: Two photographs we took at the shore of Lake Maggiore in Arona, Italy, when we visited there in the summer of 2019 with my cousin Fabio, who lives in nearby Oleggio. Lake Maggiore would be an excellent Ferragosto destination!


We’ll be at the LIBRARY WAYZGOOSE FESTIVAL at Florida Atlantic University Libraries’ Jaffe Center for Book Arts on Sunday afternoon, August 27, from 12 to 6. Print activities, a paper moon photo booth, and live music all day. Free admission, free parking, and we’re supplying the doughnuts, which will also be free. I’ll tell you more about it soon, for the 24th of August (St. Bartholomew’s Day) is the traditional date for a Wayzgoose, but in the meantime, mark your calendars if you’re local and come have a good Wayzgoose time!