“If you listen close, you can hear them whisper… Go on, lean in; you hear it? Carpe diem, seize the day, make your lives extraordinary.” Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society
“Remember 3.17 is a date to celebrate—not your targeted blood alcohol level.” Will Farrell
‘Spring is sprung, the grass is riz; I wonder where dem boidies is? They say the boid is on the wing; but that’s absoid, the little wing is on the boid!’ Anonymous
Some still cringe when they hear your name, like those that know Salem Witch trials commenced March 2, 1692, those that beware of ides and portents, and those that eschew leeks on David’s day…. Are you a mad or madcap month? Bard Dylan Thomas called you ‘ornamental winter.’ Do you start blustery and brusque, then allow the vernal equinox to mellow your boisterous bleating? Are you as fierce as Mars or is the hype just Pi in the sky? Mind if I try to figure out which and why?
Tattered tomes tell us prior to 46 BCE, Mensis Martius was the first month of the year. France kept it that way until 1564; the UK didn’t switch until 1752—it took an act of Parliament. You’re still a month of many firsts: 1702 lst daily paper in London; 1718 first smallpox vaccine; 1852 first anti-slavery book by a woman to sell millions of copies; 1938 first time Hitler announces Austria is now part of Third Reich…and a few lasts. In 1492 Queen Isabella issues her first/last decree that all Jews and Muslims must convert or leave. Daylight savings goes into effect in USA March 1918 and lasts until now. On March 30, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama is given political asylum in India—alas it doesn’t last, and Latin pop singer Selena sang her last note March 31 1995, murdered by a fan.
The expression March (on) or Die was well known to Foreign Legion recruits. It has another meaning as spring, which officially begins March 21ish, is when suicide rates peak. Mr. Mad as a March Hare, the White King’s messenger and bro to the cotton tailed nose twitcher Alice observes is always checking his watch—and the Mad Hatter, who didn’t realize mercury nitrate (used to treat felt hat fibers) caused mood swings and drooling, were besties. It’s rumored the hare could manipulate time. March madness then, is more than a sports expression. It sets your tone—March dearly. It gives you and those passing through a sense of urgency. Sometimes it’s hard to catch ones breath.
Many celebrate a wheel turning event in March, the vernal equinox. This year I’m celebrating every month and all seven days of the week after finishing Interpretation of Death, which takes place (in the Smokies) during one epic week. Have you ever taken Pirsig’s (Zen and the Art) writing challenge, but instead of writing about one brick on a wall—described one ordinary moment, one decision made, one road taken? Caesar had one of those moments in March, so did Saladin in 1193, Cesare Borgia in 1507, abolitionist Harriet Tubman in 1913, revolutionary Sun Yat-sen in 1925, and author Terry Pratchett in 2015. They went somewhere over the spectral staircase, or became dust in the wind. If they’re still writing, it’s not getting through. Shall we check the dead letter office?
I appreciate words like vernal, meaning youthful or vigorous, as I’m no longer either. March, if you were a time of day, you’d still be morning. Perhaps that’s why you bellow carpe diem… Romanian poet Nina Cassian once asked morning to take pity on her. She said that was always her 2nd thought as she clambered from bed—to spend her day as if that thought was never said. Will you be kind March or will madness prevail? The year, while not waning, is gaining on us, slipping away, like melting snow, like lover’s afterglow… Carpe mensem, carpe futura.
If Mardi Gras and Paddy’s Day have you pleading like Oliver Twist for more seasonal revelries please, take a stab at getting licentiously festive with Romans honoring goddess Anna Perenna (Anna as in annually and Perenna as in perennial renewing) on the Ides of March. Anna’s linked to the Haruspex (seeress) Spurinna, who warned Caesar in February 44 BCE the next 30 days were fraught with peril, until the Ides of March. Romans didn’t use sequential numbering; they counted backward from three events in the lunar month, depending on the month’s length. One event was the Nones (around the 5th), the 2nd was Ides (13th-15th as determined by full moon), and 3rd was the Kalends (lst day of following month). Caesar didn’t heed warnings from his physician and wife Calpurnia (who’d had bad dreams) to skip the Senate meeting either. He should have listened to himself ‘the greatest enemy will hid in the last place you would look.’ Later, Shakespeare summed up Caesar’s fate ‘the fault, dear Brutus, in not in our stars, but in ourselves.’
It sounds as funny as daffy-o-dilly (official flower of March), slang that described the king’s spear, the handy ‘affodyllee.’ However, I suspect men weren’t laughing during day four of the Hilaria, a post equinox festival honoring Anatolian Goddess Cybele. This eight day festival included a day of abstinence and a day of joy. Unfortunately the day before joy was called Sanguis (blood); its main events included scourging, whipping, and castration rituals.
Roman god Mars (twins Romulus & Remus absentee dad) is often confused with unbeloved Greek Ares, god of war and fierce, unquenched passions. Mars was a god of agriculture, guardian of hearth and field, driven to violence only to protect his home. Okay, he was a chauvinist, encouraged sacrifices and the blowing of war trumpets, as well as horse racing and betting. The twins’ mom Rhea Silvia, vestal virgin, didn’t beware of being alone in the sacred grove. Mars raped her–and her father, King Numitor, was overthrown by bro Amulius who wanted her babes killed. You know the rest—they were left on banks of the Tiber, and raised by she-wolf Lupercal. When grown, they helped their grandad regain his throne. Alas, Rhea drowned herself in the Tiber, and the former bosom bros fought over molehills so to speak. Remus was killed. Romulus founded Rome. In Mars defense, had he not raped Rhea, her uncle would have ruled and the glory that was Rome might never have been. At least that’s the story that was sold.
Depending on where you live, March can feel lush. Its raw beauty and wild winds might even make you blush. The intriguing poet Emily Dickinson of Amherst paid homage to March, noting its breathlessness, expressing how glad she was to hear spring’s messengers and greet hue turning hills and daffodils. Contemporary poets call March a jokester, turning skirts and umbrellas inside out, snickering at pubescent pussy willows…Someone should remind them about the Hilaria. Then again you might chuckle knowing George Hudson, NZ Astronomer and Entomologist championed creating daylight savings (3/13 USA; 3/27 UK) so he’d have more time to study and collect insects.
I’d be amiss to end here without mentioning March 17, aka Paddy’s Day, though I’ve had issues, worn black, and celebrated that the man for whom this day is named failed his mission to wipe snakes from the Emerald Isles and plant christianity everywhere he found fertile soil. Snakes were code for pagans, Druids, and anyone else that didn’t conform. I’m proof he failed and the legacy of the crooked path continues. You can read my thoughts in an earlier blog To Ireland in Coming Years. How fabulous folks celebrate the Irish in March—and Cajuns Mardi Gras’ing in Louisiana, Arab heritage in April, Cinco de Maya in May, indigenous people days in Oct/Nov, African culture in February & December… The goal, a day of celebration and remembrance for every person that calls America his/her home.
What will blow your way in March: answers, information, more questions? Will you go a bit mad—and get it out of your system? This is the month grannies of old whipped up noxious smelling, bitter tasting batches of Spring Tonic. It got rid of worms, fleas, and whatever ailed you. Perhaps that’s why March’s full moon (on 3/18) is called worm (or sugar sap) moon. Go fly a kite; drink happy thoughts but perhaps forgo the bouquet of Daffodils, a symbol of sadness and unrequited love.
Instead watch Cyrano. Not the 50s Oscar winning version with Jose Ferrer, 90s version with Depardieu, or Steve Martin’s Roxanne, but the latest (ill cast as musical) period piece starring Peter Dinklage. Its ending is neither lion nor lamb. There’s a whif of Nightmare Alley, a flash of Hussey’s Juliet, and a smidgen of Dangerous Beauty panache here. Dinklage’s dry wit and understated comic delivery shines. The requisite oversized schmoz is replaced by a leading man small in size but large in everything else. There was a real Cyrano, born March 6, 1619. He was gifted, flawed, audacious, self-conscious, and sometimes supercilious. Cyrano is kind of like you March, blustery, sad and slap happy, brave and beautiful, but in reverse.
I’ll end this missive to March and its heirs and hares here, before it becomes too long winded. I’ve tried to figure you out—your longing to be both flowing fish swimming in opposite directions and a willful, impulsive Aries ram; ‘I may as well have tried to catch the wind…’ ###