Monthly Archives: May 2023

On Being Well

Our friends in Germany and most other parts of Europe have a four-day holiday weekend that begins today, for today is Ascension Day, which is always forty days past Easter, so it is always a Thursday, and a holiday on a Thursday always makes for a good excuse for a four-day weekend, no? There is little point of returning to work just for Friday. It is yet another holiday of which we here in the still-to-this-day-Puritan-influenced US are deprived. “Work! Work! Work!” That’s what the Puritans decided was best centuries ago, before setting sail, west across the Atlantic, and still we do what they thought best.

The Ascension of the Lord is a moveable feast each spring based on the date of Easter. It marks the day of the bodily ascension of the risen Christ into heaven. It always strikes me how quickly the Forty Days of Easter go by, as compared to the Forty Days of Lent, which seem to drag on, no? It may be all that self-sacrifice in the dead of winter that we associate with Lent, but it may also be that the Sundays of Lent are not counted as part of Lent’s forty days, so Lent actually does go on for more like 46 days.

Be that as it may, here we are: advancing through spring and early summer and, officially, forty days past Easter. It is the day that water wells are traditionally decorated in England, and especially in Tissington. And by dressing we mean fancy dressing, dressing to the nines, as they say. At various times over the course of the summer, wells throughout England are decked out in flowers, moss, and other plant life in beautiful scenes… but at Tissington, it is always at Ascension Day. Clay is used to set flower petals and other items from nature into beautiful scenes. Traditionally they were biblical scenes, but nowadays the wells are decked out in all manner of interesting imagery.

The well dressings must be seen to be appreciated. I got an even better appreciation for them by reading how they are actually made… so hopefully the village of Tissington won’t mind if I share these three paragraphs with you from their website:

The Art of Well Dressing
Clay is dug locally and is mixed with salt and trod (like grapes!) to the right consistency. The design is prepared weeks before the event. For some days before the process of dressing begins, the boards on which the pictures are mounted are soaked in the village pond. After this they are plastered in clay.

Flowers are picked locally. The picture is traced onto the boards, using a pointer or a toothed wheel, and marked out with cones from the alder trees or with coffee beans. Then comes the delicate and laborious task of infilling with flower petals and other natural materials. No artificial or synthetic materials are ever used at Tissington. Each petal has to be put in separately and they overlap like tiles on a roof so that the rain will flow off the picture. This process takes many hours and occupies all of the three days preceding Ascension Day.

The dressings are erected on the eve of Ascension Day. This is the first time that those who have worked on the pictures see what the effect is really like, as the pictures appear distorted when they are horizontal. They are then ready for the ceremony of Blessing following the service in Church at 11am on the Thursday. The Clergy progress round the village and bless each well in turn. The dressings remain in place until the following Wednesday evening, during which time very many thousands of people will have visited the village to see the spectacle.

Aside from being the Feast of the Ascension this year, the 18th of May also happens to be my dad’s birthday. It will be our seventh without him here with us; he would have been 97 this year. Oftentimes we mark these celebrations in our family by gathering, for instance tonight, for Dad’s favorite meal, but Dad really had no favorite meal. He’d eat anything put in front of him, even if it wasn’t that great, which was rare but hey, not every meal can be stellar. He’d often say he wished he had a nice Porterhouse steak, and every now and then he’d get one… but then he’d usually say, “I think a plate of spaghetti would have been better.” Dad didn’t think very much about what made him happy. What made him happy, though, was the simple things: his home, his family. He liked to keep the lawn looking sharp; he liked to polish the stainless steel gutters so they gleamed. We still miss him terribly, but now when I think of Dad mostly it is a warm feeling I have. Less a sense of loss and more a feeling of warmth and understanding.

On the occasion of Dad’s birthday today, my sister Marietta will be having surgery to remove a stubborn kidney stone. She’s had the stone for years and years, and it’s only in recent months become problematic. Many of you know her; if you add your good wishes in the comments below, I will see to it that she gets them, and may she again be well, and may we all be well, on this Ascension Day with all its well-dressed wells and each day that follows.

We’ll be showing some of our summery wares at Johan’s Jöe in Downtown West Palm Beach on Saturday June 10 from 7 AM to 3 PM. It’s the Convivio Bookworks Midsommar Market at Johan’s Jöe! 401 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

At our online catalog, save $10 off your purchase of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping, too, when you use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout. It’s our May Sale, good on everything in the shop all month long. CLICK HERE to shop! And don’t forget to use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout if your order is $85 or more.

Image: One of the wells at Tissington, dressed in a biblical scene in 2019. Click on the photo to make it larger, then just look at the detail of all those flower petals and all that greenery! It’s amazing. The photograph is also from the village’s website.


Happy Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day here in the States, the lovely day each spring when we honor our mothers: those we were given, and those we have chosen, and indeed all the mothers in our lives. It’s been a long time since we’ve delved into the history of Mother’s Day here on the blog, but it’s a rather fascinating tale. The celebration is not a terribly old one, as holidays go. It was 1914 –– one hundred nine years ago –– when President Woodrow Wilson designated the Second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. Behind Woodrow Wilson’s action was Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia woman whose life, as it turns out, was consumed by Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis championed the establishment and recognition of the holiday with great passion. But once the day was out of the box, as it were, it took on a life of its own. By 1920, Mother’s Day was already far too commercial for Anna, and she spent the rest of her life militantly fighting that commercialism. It became a lifelong obsession, in fact.

Mother’s Day has its roots in the 1850s when Jarvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized women’s groups to deal with local community issues like disease and sanitation. When the Civil War began, the groups turned their attention to caring for injured soldiers on both sides, Union and Confederate. Anna Reeves Jarvis called these groups Mother’s Day Work Clubs. It was her hope that a Memorial Mother’s Day be established in the country to honor the many important roles that mothers play in their communities. After Ann’s passing in 1905, her daughter Anna picked up that torch. She sought to memorialize her mother with the idea that each person would honor their own mother, too, in a special Mother’s Day observance. She did this in Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. She was living there in Philadelphia, but Mother’s Day was also observed that year at a little church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna was raised, that same day. Anna began making the observance of Mother’s Day her life’s work, and she was a great success at it. It took only six years more before Mother’s Day was being celebrated nationally.

But Anna soon came to despise her creation. Florists, candy shops, and a burgeoning greeting card industry were all quick to jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon, and nothing irritated Anna Jarvis more. In her eyes, Mother’s Day was a day to go home and spend with your mom. Plain and simple. Anything more than that, she felt, was sacrilege and she grew more and more adamant about this as the years passed. She organized boycotts and public demonstrations and she was even arrested once or twice for disturbing the peace after crashing trade shows touting Mother’s Day gifts. Anna fought the commercialization of Mother’s Day with every last penny of her rather large inheritance, and she died broke and probably insane in 1948 at a Philadelphia sanitarium.

But this is what we do, no? We turn holidays into shopping events. Anna Jarvis, I imagine, might not be very fond of me, either. I write about all these holidays and offer all kinds of ways to spend your money with Convivio Bookworks, too. And while I’m not trying to get you to buy a bunch of unnecessary plastic objects or other impersonal factory-produced goods, I do still encourage you to buy things. I think, personally, that it’s a bit better in that what we offer are artisan-made goods that are authentic to their original regions and mostly handmade… but still, I’m sure Convivio Bookworks would be on Anna Jarvis’s hit list, were she around today. She would not be pleased.

Nowadays, Mother’s Day is the third biggest holiday for gift giving. Each year, Mother’s Day sales account for more greeting cards sold than any other holiday save Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It is one of the more impossible days to get a good table at a restaurant. But all that Anna Jarvis asks is that you go pay the mothers in your life a visit on Mother’s Day. Nothing more. When you get right down to it, it’s the best present.

Image: “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” an illustration by Joseph Martin Kronheim (for the nursery rhyme about the woman who had so many children she knew not what to do) from My First Picture Book. London & New York: George Routledge and Sons, publisher, circa 1875. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

A reminder, too, that these mid-May days bring the time known in many parts of Europe as the Days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Often this is the time of the final frost of the season, or at the very least, a drop in temperature. Read more about Die Eisheiligen by clicking here.




Roses, or Your May Book of Days

At the close of last Friday’s edition of Real Mail Fridays, the weekly online Zoom social I host for the Jaffe Center for Book Arts each Friday from 2 to 5 Eastern, artist Maria Surducan, who was tuning in from Romania, asked if we were all off on Monday for May Day. I had to explain that no, May Day was not a big deal here in the States, and not even acknowledged as a holiday, really.

But certainly some of you celebrated, and I hope you had a lovely Walpurgis Night and a fine May Day, too. And here, now, just a bit belated, is your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for May. Cover star: Roses, painted by Renoir. It’s a gorgeous painting and that alone is worth clicking for. And I will leave it at that. It’s late; I’m going to have a cup of English Breakfast and go to bed. Maybe I’ll dream of roses, and maybe you will, too.

SAVE ONLINE! At our online catalog, save $10 off your purchase of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping, too, when you use discount code BUNNY at checkout. It’s our Zippin’ Into Springtime Sale, good on everything in the shop, now until we decide it’s done. CLICK HERE to shop! And don’t forget to use discount code BUNNY at checkout if your order is $85 or more.

Image: “Roses” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Oil on canvas, circa 1912, Barnes Foundation. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.