Happy May Day // a Sappho poem for you

Today is May Day, a day I have recently associated with spending time with my sisters, usually putzing around the Bronx Botanical Gardens and eating takeout, or reading my favorite books. May is my favorite month of the year; somehow it always seems magical to me, and May Day is an ancient, pagan ritual that goes back centuries. Now, we celebrate it for fun, but it used to mean a lot to a lot of our ancestors.

It was originally a celebration of spring and a day to worship Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. It was also associated, at times, with witches and the occult, whether it was positively skewed (as in healers and mystics) or negatively (during Puritan times).
But that’s all in the past. Anyway, I digress. I would like to share a poem here from one of my favorite poets, Sappho. Her work only exists in fragments, but her capacity to describe love, desire, heartbreak, and the strength of nature is undiminished despite the works’ brevity. Her work reminds me of spring, so it seems fitting to share here on May Day.

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Novella #2: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz

“Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.”

Second in my novella-a-day reading challenge was another Fitzgerald, the fantastical, dreamlike The Diamond as Big as the Ritz. This book is like no other I’ve ever read. It’s a modern Fitzgerald fantasy.

the diamond as big as the ritzThe premise also shows themes of American luxury and privilege, but it’s much less depressing than my previously-reviewed May Day. Imagine you’re a privileged teenager at a fancy prep school and a fellow student brings you home for the holidays. On the way there, he tells you that his father owns a diamond “bigger than the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.” A single diamond bigger than a building. What would you think?

That’s the situation John T. Unger finds himself in when his friend, Percy Washington, brings him home to the “only five square miles of land in the country that’s never been surveyed.” It’s a long story, and I won’t spoil it for ya, but the Washington family basically has hidden itself from the rest of America, protecting this gigantic single diamond that is the size of a mountain and camouflaged as one.

The overwhelming wealth of the Washington family means indescribable luxuries that take on the quality of magic. Percy is pampered and petted by the descendants of pre-Civil War slaves who never learned they had been freed. Percy is mesmerized by the opulence around him, further heightened by the fact that no one knows this place exists.

“Afterward John remembered that first night as a daze of many colours, of quick sensory impressions, of music soft as a voice in love, and of the beauty of things, lights and shadows, and motions and faces. There was a white–haired man who stood drinking a many–hued cordial from a crystal thimble set on a golden stem. There was a girl with a flowery face, dressed like Titania with braided sapphires in her hair. There was a room where the solid, soft gold of the walls yielded to the pressure of his hand, and a room that was like a platonic conception of the ultimate prison—ceiling, floor, and all, it was lined with an unbroken mass of diamonds, diamonds of every size and shape, until, lit with tail violet lamps in the corners, it dazzled the eyes with a whiteness that could be compared only with itself, beyond human wish, or dream.”

There are so many themes at play here but now is not the time to parse them. It’s a different Fitzgerald than the one to which I’ve become accustomed, but this book, more than anything, makes you feel like you’re floating. It’s like a dream, sometimes morphing into a nightmare, but never real, hovering on the fringes of your sparking imagination.

I don’t really ever rate books here but—5/5 stars. Amazing. Buy it for $9 at this link.

Novella #1: F Scott Fitzgerald's "May Day"

“All crowds have to howl.”

The first book in my self-imposed novella-a-day challenge was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 novel, May Day. This novel lacks a lot of the finesse that is so obvious in Gatsby, but I think it’s a lot more refined and readable than, say, This Side of Paradise, which I found too apologetic and juvenile. This skinny book is about postwar despair and the conflict between the rich, moneyed classes and those who have fallen below that level of luxury. The Roaring Twenties have just begun.

The first paragraph is nearly flawless:

There had been a war fought and won and the great city of the conquering people was crossed with triumphal arches and vivid with thrown flowers of white, red, and rose. All through the long spring days the returning soldiers marched up the chief highway behind the strum of drums and the joyous, resonant wind of the brasses, while merchants and clerks left their bickerings and figurings and, crowding to the windows, turned their white-bunched faces gravely upon the passing battalions.

Gawgeous! World War I soldiers have returned to a hostile world and among the ruins of the war, New York City rises like a phoenix from the ashes. “Never had there been such splendor in the great city…”

9781933633435An interesting ensemble of characters populate this concentrated novella. There’s the main protagonist, Gordon Sterrett, a Yale man who finds himself in very dire financial straits after the war, and who calls upon his old friend, Philip Dean, for financial assistance. Dean is a privileged former soldier whose only thoughts concern parties, booze, women, and the next thrill. He’s the quintessential 20s man.

Then there’s Edith Bradin, Gordon’s former sweetheart, moved on but never quite forgotten. This is a novel about the past and present, what could have been, and the ghosts of our former selves. There’s an energy that runs throughout the novel, an anxiety about the future that each character touches upon but never fully grasps emotionally. Edith is eager to make a good match but is constantly feeling nostalgic about her glory days as the most sought-after girl among Yale men. She’s seeking something that has already vanished.

These characters are set against a backdrop of growing American luxury, but also a changing political landscape. Fitzgerald described his novella as illustrating a “general hysteria…that inaugurated the Jazz Age…” I think that’s a succinct and almost chilling description of a haunting novella. It really did feel like a subtle setup of all the themes that Fitzgerald revisits in his later work: luxury, despair, love, a changing world. I didn’t love any of the characters which sort of separated me from the novel, but the ending had me reeling, and pondering the effects of a grand despair.

Get your copy here! I would definitely recommend this book to any lover of modern literature or of Fitzgerald. It’s a must-read.

Fashion // Embrace the Mess

Maxi skirts make me feel like a princess. This gorgeous, cranberry chiffon one is a couple years old. I wore it when I visited Paris a couple years ago and now it always reminds me of that magical trip. I wore this outfit on May Day, just strolling around town with my sister, shopping and enjoying the sun. It’s been an amazing spring so far!

My sister and I have been celebrating May Day every year for the past few years because of some obsession with paganism. Sometimes we go for a picnic or visit a museum, or do something simple like visit the New York Botanical Gardens (across the street from my alma mater, Fordham University). It’s really an opportunity to celebrate spring and pretend we’re cooler than we are. (Is paganism cool?) Anyway—

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skirt from Piperlime (old), woven sandals from Charade, crop top from Garage

What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. – Nora Ephron

Fashion: May Day

Happy first of May! Hopefully there’s some sunny weather soon now that spring has finally come.

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woven sandals from Charade, skirt from Forever 21, necklace from Forever 21, purse thrifted

“I am a restlessness inside a stillness inside a restlessness.” 
― Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle