A tale of two Junes
"How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before its afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flown.
How did it get so late so soon?" Dr. Seuss
Words that suitably match my somewhat ambiguous feelings about the month of June. And therefore about life really.
Today is the first of June. A special month in this family because it hosts three birthdays - mine, David's and our daughter-in-law's. And hers is one of those special decade ones this year. So celebrations all round.
However, June is also special to the entire world, for it is a solstice month. The month the earth turns away from the sun in the north and towards it in the south. Two very different seasons in those parts of the world where there are the four recognisable seasons of winter, spring, summer and autumn. Not all of the world cares about the solstice of course. If you live on the equator there is no solstice - just day and night. And in the tropics the difference is minimal.
But I was born somewhere and now live somewhere on the opposite side of the earth in every respect, where the four seasons reign, changing what we eat, how we feel and what we do. And yet because I spent the first twenty six years of my life in the northern hemisphere June always and still, in my head, is summer. And Australia doesn't do winter in quite the same way as England either. The trees being the main indicator of this, in that they do not drop their leaves in autumn, so that they are bare in winter. They are still green - well green grey mostly. They are never as vibrantly green as the deciduous northern hemisphere trees. And of course we have those too. The homesick British colonisers brought them with them to make them feel more at home.
June 1st is the official first day of winter here in Australia. Which is not really correct. It should be the 21st - the solstice - as it is in England. But here in Melbourne today is definitely wintry. It is cold and it is wet. I just took this picture from my desktop window and you can see that there has been so much rain that it is beginning to run down to the River Yarra, which is just beyond the fence that you might just be able to see beyond the trees in the foreground. It's frankly a miserable day, although as you can see there are occasional glimpses of blue sky. It's a day for comfort food. Something warm, with depth. I see that Woolworths, for their June edition of their magazine has given it the theme of "Warm from within". In summer - June in the northern world we become "warm from without".
"Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly." Pablo Neruda
Neruda was a southern hemisphere man too - from Chile - and those words perfectly describe today at least and the whole month really. Winter, here in Melbourne, although cold is not cold enough for snow, and only the very occasional frost, and is capable of producing beautiful crisp and clear blue-sky days. But it has to be admitted. Today is wintry.
To cheer ourselves up we have just ordered a 'Mercers Cooks With You' dinner for Saturday. We shall be drinking bubbly with it. We are especially looking forward to the entrée - Thick onion soup laced with Brandy and a Gruyere crouton. The rest of the menu is not especially wintry - a tuna mousse, a salmon dish with risotto and a cherry clafoutis. Which is perhaps what we Australians do - we sort of acknowledge that it is winter, but like to remember summer at the same time.
June has another significance for us in that it is the month that we arrived here at the bottom of the world. On June 12th - the Queen's birthday weekend. Australia celebrates this as a holiday which is slightly weird.
And one of the first things I remember doing with our new friends - who mostly came from David's work - was clustering around a fire and a barbecue somewhere out in the country, and feeling very cold. Perhaps kidding ourselves that it was really summer.
It's the time of the big bike races in Europe, and the cyclists are out in force over here. Once again we have Australians in contention and so we, well lots of us, shall no doubt be sitting up very late, taking in the gorgeous French summer, cheering our man on, as the Tour de France progresses around the beautiful D roads of La France.
Before COVID our June birthdays were often celebrated in France - and Italy too. This year alas not. And so June also becomes a month of mourning of those lost events - sometimes out in local restaurants - mostly with friends, sometimes a special meal cooked at 'home' by the friends. Here are three of the more recent ones - France, Italy, France. Memorable occasions all.
And I can remember many more. I can also remember some at university. Indeed I may well have met David for the first time at one of them at the end of my first year. It came to nothing that meeting, but I do remember it. Well not for a while anyway. Of childhood birthday parties I have no memory, although I am sure that there would have been parties, however small and humble.
David sadly usually misses out on much of a birthday celebration when we are overseas on holiday, but he has done rather better than I in the big decade parties. I think we have had one for every decade since arriving here.
So June - a special month. Celebrated by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream - which is a little bit special for me for two reasons - my birthday is on the 20th, which to my mind is Midsummer Eve, which I guess is not quite the same as Midsummer Night, but almost, and because it was the first Shakespeare play that I ever read/studied at school. Like most English schoolchildren probably. It was fun and we acted out the workers' play at the end of the year. And because it's 'my' month, I tend to think it's the loveliest month. In England it's all strawberries and cream and Wimbledon, and the end of the school year almost. The trees are green, the sun seems to shine more than in summer proper - the school holidays. I loved it.
"Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June." Al Bernstein
June in France and Italy is glorious. It rarely rains and the tourists have not quite come in their hordes. The cherries and asparagus are abundant, as are the melons and tomatoes. And here in Australia it is lovely too in a different way. We actually love the rain - well not downpours and floods of course, but for us here in Melbourne they tend to happen in the summer around Christmas. Rain is life-giving. Rain is soothing to the soul when it just patters down gently. And the farmers need it.
Food - so much to enjoy in winter - all those green things - cabbage - yes cabbage and Brussels sprouts too, spinach, onions - more onion soup please - cauliflower, pumpkin, carrots, apples and pears and oranges - it's almost marmalade time again. Stews, pies and pizza. Soup and warm bread. Winter time is comfort time and we all need comfort in this day and age.
Ambiguous though. The words below are written from a northern hemisphere perspective, but they could actually just as easily apply to the far south without changing the names of the months.
"To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June" Jean-Paul Sartre