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Posts Tagged ‘spring’

Farewell to Meat

April 15, 2015 | by

At Masopust, the Czech festival for spring.

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Photo: Carleen Coulter

In February, I took the night bus to Prague for Masopust, the old spring festival—abandoned under Communism—that has made a steady resurgence in the Czech Republic in recent years. The bus pulled into a neighborhood adjacent to the Vltava, north of Old Town, late on a Thursday evening. According to centuries-old tradition, Czech farmers would have slaughtered pigs earlier in the day to make blood sausages, headcheese, and other treyf dishes for the coming feasts. At the bus station, though, there was only a Burger King, a McDonald’s, and, beyond them, the famous Prague spires. Pill-shaped tramcars rumbled along the quiet streets, their interiors as bright as roadside diners.

Saturday morning, I boarded a local bus bound for Únětice, a village about five miles outside the city. With its muddy streets and modest Brueghelian cottages clustered alongside a wide, frozen lake, Únětice presents a fairy tale, or at least preindustrial, vision of Central Bohemia. It was bright and cold, the streets still empty save a few Lycra-clad joggers puffing out steam—Brueghel’s rotund peasants, slimmed down for the new millennium. Cracked and faded village walls suggested an attentively maintained desuetude, and the local tavern was selling strong black beer brewed locally for the occasion. Inside the tavern, I found the tables full of locals eating little open-faced sandwiches called chlebíčky and waiting for the festival to start. Read More »

Folk Wisdom

March 2, 2015 | by

Unalion

Briton Rivière, Una and Lion, nineteenth century.

“In like a lion, out like a lamb” has always seemed a straightforward enough proverb: when March starts, it’s still winter, and by the end of the month spring has begun. True, in many climates the weather hasn’t quite reached the lamb stage by the end of the month—it’s more like a surly cat, maybe, or one of those awful territorial honking geese. But we get the idea. I have seen the phrase referred to as an “eighteenth-century saying” in more than one unreliable Internet source, while Wikipedia calls it “an old Pennsylvania” saw.

As it turns out, there are a few origin theories. There’s the stars, for one. At this time of year, Leo is the rising sign; by April, it’s Aries. (“Kid” just doesn’t have quite the same ring as “lamb,” though.) Some have pointed out that Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah. Which, weather-wise, means a false spring. Read More »

Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”

April 10, 2014 | by

daffodils

Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

It is spring now, and very hard not to feel in clichés. Especially with daffodils everywhere—and very cheap they are, too. “Telephone flowers,” a friend of mine calls them. I buy them by the armful; don’t you?

When I was thirteen, I wrote my first and last piece of fiction. It was about an old woman in a nursing home suffering from dementia and planning her garden through the winter. It was called “Living Time.” Even by thirteen-year-old standards, it was mawkish and I knew it. Because—the silliness of that act of ventriloquism aside—what new is there to say about spring? Read More »

Michael Bruce’s “Elegy—Written in Spring”

March 27, 2014 | by

Marianna Saska, Edinburgh Castlehill in Spring

Edinburgh Castlehill in spring. Photo: Marianna Saska, via Flickr

Michael Bruce has a purchase on the springtime. He was born on March 27, 1746, just as spring was coming to Scotland, and his most enduring poem is “Elegy—Written in Spring.” The guy knows greenery.

Bruce—a Scotsman, as you may have guessed—was the son of a weaver; growing up, “his attendance at school was often interrupted because he had to herd cattle on the Lomond Hills in summer, and this early companionship with nature greatly influenced his poetry.”

And so it did: “Elegy” is a plain-and-simple celebration of companionship with nature; it’s unadorned and all the more beautiful for it. Bruce wrote the poem toward the end of his life, and its last stanza, which turns to gaze at death, is quietly devastating, especially since it comes after so many words devoted to the bliss and beauty of pastoral Scotland. The images here are classically, achingly bucolic: flowers, plains, furze. Verdant ground, ample leaves, and dewy lawns. On a day like today, when, in New York, the new season struggles to shuck off the dreariness of the last, “Elegy” is an ideal balm. If only it could bring the balmy weather with it. Read More »

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The Equinox Reality Check

March 20, 2014 | by

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Image via Giphy

Feel that? It’s the vernal caress of the equinox, its breeze seeming to whisper, There, there, your misery will soon fade, spring is here, the world is in bloom, cast off your gloves and scarves, put down the whiskey, lower your firearm, you’ve made it out alive.

In 1968, The Paris Review published a poem for just this occasion, kind of. Diane di Prima’s “Song for Spring Equinox” does indeed celebrate the first day of spring—it begins, “It is the first day of spring, the children are singing”—but it also boldly admits, and indeed seems to bask in, a truth most of us are trying to ignore: things are still really brown outside. As di Prima puts it, “nothing is blooming / nothing seems to bloom much around farms, just hayfields and corn / farms are too pragmatic.”

Well. Bummer. It’s probably no coincidence that this poem appeared in a fall issue, not a spring one.

Still, you can and should read the entire poem, which unfolds in a kind of free-associative frolic, touching on crossword puzzles, hydrangeas, and pioneers. Consider it a corrective, not a rebuke; any poem that includes the line “will I hate the Shetland pony we are buying” won’t harsh your springtime buzz too much.

 

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Notes from a Bookshop: April, or Spring Fever

April 23, 2013 | by

daffyapril

Just before dawn all is blue: I barely see the lark bunting light on a fence post. I stop to admire its white, plump breast, and for a moment the two of us are alone in this world, and at peace.

The bunting flies away: white on black on white on black.

—“Weather Report: April 14,” from Dakota, by Kathleen Norris

After working the day at the bookshop a few weeks ago, I pulled into the long driveway of our old 1860s farmhouse about thirty miles outside town. The light had started to go that dusky blue-gray, turning the hills around us the ruddy red of new buds. I stepped out of my car and a wave of noise came at me from the swamp just beyond a stand of trees in front of our house. This time of year, the northern green frogs are so insistent, so loud, like the twang of thousands of rubberbands snapping, snapping, snapping, and the bullfrogs and peepers complete the chorus. It is eerie, and it is wonderful, and up here in northeast Pennsylvania it is our signal that spring has begun.

Our little collective of shops at Maude Alley also burst into spring this month in its own way. Named for one of the owner’s grandmothers, the alley reminds me of the kind of meandering wooden walkways you find at the beach, but instead of winding toward the ocean ours ends in a sweet secret garden along with a cheese shop, a gallery, and us. On either side of the alley is Milkweed, our anchor store, whose fanciful window displays alone are worth the trip. Hoping to catapult us far from the long winter, the Maude Alley shops decided to throw a party.

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When Mark and I lived in the city, we threw crazy cocktail parties in his painting studio down on Great Jones Street. We’d buy cases of pinot noir and chardonnay from Astor Wines up the block and drag bulging bags full of Camembert, manchego, and pecorino from Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker. Filmmakers and hairdressers and painters smoked on the fire escape, uptown collectors mixed with writers from Brooklyn, burlesque dancers bartended and choreographers gulped whisky with bankers, and usually at some point in the party I would lock eyes with Mark across the room and worry the crush of people was about to get out of hand, though it never did. Read More »

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