Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Augustus Caesar & Me, Together Forever (I Love August)

I was born in August so maybe that is why it is my favorite month. But there is so much to like about this month that it seems unlikely that just my birth could account for how wonderful it is.

Above are some of the things most commonly associated with August. Its flowers are gladioli and poppies. Its birthstones are peridot and sardonyx, a type of agate. Its astrological signs are Leo the Lion and Virgo the Virgin. 

I loved taking the subject ancient history in college. Augustus managed to outwit Marc Antony in his maneuvering which was no small feat. He was called Octavius before he rose to his full power. If you remember Liz & Dick playing Cleopatra and Marc Antony in Cleopatra, it is Augustus who brings them down. The Roman Empire hit its zenith under his rule. It was unusual to have a politician and a military leader be one and same person. But Augustus got it done. He is the only such person to have his own month. I am glad no one in America has caught on to naming months after our leaders because we may have had to live through months' names like Clinton, Bush, Obama and Kennedy. Imagine writing Bush 15, 2014. But no, it thankfully stopped with the August one.

Early art works of August. Below leftis an illustration of August, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry showing a group of travelers and the Duc's Château d'Étampes in the background, created circa 1412-1416. Below right, is a calendar page for August, the zodiac sign for Virgo is depicted as a young woman holding a martyr's palm. The men are finishing the harvest of wheat. circa 1480s.

In the early part of the twentieth century you could also celebrate each month by the gorgeously illustrated magazine covers. Instead of Kim Kardashian being on the cover of Vogue for her wedding (in 2014), Erté illustrated the most glorious covers specific to each month for the fashion magazines. Below are his interpretations of August. I relate to each image as me in my month.

If you have been a long term therapy patient, you may dread August as it is the month psychiatrists flee in droves to their summer vacations. Judith Rossner wrote an excellent novel about this, August, plus Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus made a movie about it, What About Bob?, which I previously recommended in my weekend entertainment recs here.

If you are a vegan or a vegetarian, August is a big month for you because early harvest food becomes available. The farmers' markets and local stands are at full throttle. It is also when Lammas occurs, the ancient Anglo-Saxon festival celebrating the first harvest. Lammas is the mid point between summer solstice and autumn equinox. Those of us who are flexatarians also enjoy the August harvest. Jim made plates of great vegetables yesterday from the early harvest.

However in the heck Marilyn Monroe died, the one thing that can be agreed upon is that she did die in August of 1962. Astoundingly, that other great icon of pop culture, Elvis, also died in August.

The humanities like August too, relying upon it for book titles. Tuchman's famous book The Guns of August told us that World War I started in August with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, one hundred years ago this month.

Then there's the weather. While June can't fully warm up to summer and July is overheated, August anticipates change in the air. It cools down but only so much as you have the best days for swimming, sunning, beaching and the best nights for sleeping.  It is hard for me to believe that in half of the world, south of the Equator, August is the equivalent of our February.  below, August in Australia.

With all this talk about global warming, which is now called extreme climate change, I wondered if the climate had shifted that much since 1948, my birth year, to 2014. There is actually a website devoted to that study called the National Climatic Data Center (owned by government). I used its interactive Weather at A Glance to answer that question. The below is what I have experienced living in Ohio during those years. I don't see anything particularly jarring on this chart but if someone else does, please let me know. For the moment, I am going to assume I have not been experiencing extreme climate change personally. You might want to try out your own area interactively.

When I was in school, it started in September. That has changed so that now school starts in August. This encroachment into August was not appreciated but who can argue with the schools?  For all of you retired teachers, I'm sure you love your completely unfettered Augusts.

If I'm lucky, maybe I can sneak to the beach on Lake Erie after August. It can be glorious after August but one takes one's chances. Left, a 1943 August cover for the Post. That's how the generation before us looked on the beach. This depiction for me represents August incarnate.

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