Camperdown

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last night Kim and I made a trip off the island (Manhattan island that is) to attend the wedding celebration of a much beloved colleague of mine, Morgan Bakerman, to her splendid significant other, Ben Brown. The elegant and jubilant party was held at the Prospect Park Boathouse. The Boathouse turns out to be quite near the park Zoo, which Kim and I had just explored a few weeks ago on a mission to research it for a possible story idea, however we had not made it down and around the correct corner to see it on that trip. Therefore, we were not aware of the truly extraordinary, ancient and magnificent (and famous) Camperdown Elm that graces the entrance.

This behemoth was evidently planted back in 1872, a gift to the park from a Mr. A. Burgess, a florist from Brooklyn. The Camperdown Elm was discovered in Scotland less than 30 years before our Brooklyn tree was planted. It was discovered by the Earl of Camperdown who then reproduced it through cuttings. (This tree is only reproduced through grafting – it does not reproduce by seed.) The Brooklyn Elm was celebrated in the poem by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Marianne Moore, written in 1967 and published in The New Yorker. The publication of The Camperdown Elm was said to have rescued the tree at a time when a financial commitment was needed and the park was also in both disrepair and financial straits. The tree whose innate, quirky persistent desire to grow horizontally – like a giant bonsai of its own making – requires propping in places as gravity fights back, especially in one so old and clearly needs a certain amount of care and attention to survive.

This trip to Prospect Park reminded me that Olmsted and Vaux were playing their A game when they designed it – applying lessons learned from their initial foray designing Central Park. It is interesting to see their sensibility applied to this slightly different endeavor – the trademark arches in place, decorative tiles brightening interiors. The park is cared for by a conservancy group, but not with the precision of Central Park and this gives the visitor a different feel. Slightly overgrown, although also remarkably well-preserved in places. Below are some photos from last night – including a bonus photo of us!

As some of you might know, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy for two years and had an extraordinary opportunity to get to know that park very well. I acquired small amounts of knowledge about trees and plants – I do not have a great memory for those kinds of names and information. However, the Camperdown always fascinated me. Back in 2000 when I worked for the park, the Camperdown Elm near the East 72nd Street playground was still a very small young tree and I loved the quirky, downturned “weeping” branches.

I was told that if you plant a Camperdown Elm you were making a commitment to future generations – they are very slow growing, but can be extremely long-lived. You are unlikely to live to see it to true maturity. (This is of course true of all trees to some greater or lesser degree, but the extremity of this commitment is illustrated by our Brooklyn Camperdown example.) The Central Park one, shown below perhaps a bit larger than it was when I worked there, was a favorite of mine. Sadly Camperdown Elms are vulnerable to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease that has run rampant through the United States, killing generations of these beautiful and much loved trees before their time. So a close eye was kept on this little Camperdown, and it has responded to its care  and nurturing by growing into early maturity. I still route myself past it occasionally, making the long walk to work in Columbus Circle from Yorkville, still taking an ongoing somewhat maternal interest in it.

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Sittin’ on a Wall

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have already opined on the origins of Humpty Dumpty (see here for my post Humpty Dumpty where I discuss my version of the toy shown here, several amazing variations on it, and dip into Humpty’s humble beginnings) so I will not focus on that today. I admit that the weird toy attracted me to the card though. Even owning one, I remain fascinated by it’s strangeness and can’t quite get enough.

This Humpty wears a jolly beret! (Mine has a peaked cap, jaunty as well. Did Humpty always wear a hat? Did I miss something about that?) He and the little girl both hold their hands up in the air in an identical pose – she just wrapped in some illusion fabric rather than a dress, but seated on a little cushion and with those hotsy totsy shoes! They appear to perch together on more of a chimney than a wall, but perhaps we can say a piece of a wall? This card is clearly made by a professional studio and was never used, nothing written on it.

Hang on now because I’m afraid I am going to wander down that sort of meandering path I do occasionally when I have something scratching at my mind. I have been thinking a lot about the crucible of change and how I have gone through it at various points in my life. I wish today I had a story of how I went into it and came out the other side. While I know intellectually that there is always another side and I will eventually come out, I write today as I flounder in its midst; without even a glimpse of the far shore yet, trying to figure out to paddle my craft there.

Humpty Dumpty and his great fall are a good metaphor for this – man, once he fell all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. After the page has turned and change has begun, watch out because like Humpty, you aren’t going back to the old you. Last week I alluded to this (see Time is Flying) and the process I went through after my sister died years ago. More than I thought it would, my father’s death has propelled me into another catalyst for a transition that is roiling forward, somewhat of its own accord.

I feel like I am clutching a tiger by the tail, being thumped around as I try to hang on. This week I think I realized that you can’t fight it, despite a rather cat-like tendency of mine to abhor change I need to figure out how to embrace it. Transition and growth sound so positive that after the fact, you tend to forget the growing pains, but there is nothing now but to get on board. It is a tough path to be on and taking charge of it requires marshaling resources I will have to find. And it is hard to remember that it is not so much about putting the pieces back together – that ship has sailed – as it is about forging an entirely new whole.

 

Time is Flying

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Who among us has not been smacked by time running away on us? The image of the hourglass with the sand running low comes to mind – or if you are a Kim Deitch fan, maybe a bossy clock with a human face glowering while he stands over you, urging you on. This postcard features the tailless cats from the Isle of Man, the origin of this card, which was posted on May 15, 1909 – or so is my best read on the stamp cancellation. It was mailed from a place called Douglas and to a Miss H. Woodrich, 15 Manchester Road, Southport. The sender of the card wrote in pencil which has faded, but I can read the following, These are Manx cats without tails. What do you think of them, ask Libs. Hope you are well & jolly. Love to all. Sadly, the sender’s name is obscured.

I liked the exposed claw paws on these kitty fellows as well as their action reaction to the bits being thrown at them. (Each one getting conked on the head with a different item!) I especially like the one across from what turns out to be the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, soon to be hit with a flying slipper. The top of the card reads Time is flying (it struck me in flight), I’ve nothing of a ‘tale’ but hope you keep all right. Then, more subtle but humorous is the translation around the coat of arms which is, whithersoever you throw it, it will stand. (This translation from our friends at Wikipedia. It should also be noted that this is an older version of the coat of arms which was changed in 1994, according to the same source.)

A number of years ago, after my sister died, I decided that I wanted to take a less adversarial approach to time which suddenly seemed out of control, and attempt to consciously slow it down. As someone who has meditated I felt that there may be mindful activities which allow us to slow time down – or I guess more precisely to experience it differently.

I chose to learn how to make daguerreotypes – an early photographic process that is fairly complicated to replicate today. Because of the exposure time with the subject (or sitter) it literally meant recording time in a certain way. From that I started making other kinds of photographs, both early process and silver gelatin prints ultimately as well. I enjoyed it and it served me well for many years, the taking of the photos and then the slow repetitive process with a creative edge that meant I was also mentally alert. I stopped for a myriad of reasons I will not go into right now, but it has been on my mind lately. Not necessarily to go back to making photos, but an activity that will serve the same purpose. Working out at the gym has served this function to some degree in recent years, and I am considering swimming. I am not sure, but my guess is you, Pictorama readers, will be among the first to know.

Cat House

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo of a handsome shiny black cat seemed like just the thing the other day as I scrolled through eBay. Unfortunately, as I often find when trying to capture my kit Blackie, a black cat can be tricky to capture, especially if lurking the shadows. He is positioned perfectly in the doorway to his kitty abode however – eyes glowing, a feline watchdog, vigilantly overseeing the situation. This cat house is a good fit for him size-wise, and he even has a pot of flowers out front. Those are sprightly, the plant behind a bit more anemic, although the overall impression is that this is a neat and tidy corner of the world. I purchased it from Montgomery, Alabama, but there’s no indication about where it might originate from and it was never used.

Back in June I wrote about the dog house from my childhood. (It can be found here in the post Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) Our dog didn’t spend much time in her house and we never even considered a house for our cats, other than our own that is. Over the course of my childhood our cats largely roamed free, in and out of the house more or less at will, numerous times a day. We were never possessed of a cat door, but cheerfully did their bidding at the door. Somehow over time we joined the ranks of those who kept our cats entirely indoors, where they were safe from predators, and cut down on their own preying on birds and whatnot. At some point there was a town ordinance passed which served to severely curtail free range pet cats – I was shocked to find this out, but it meant the Butlers no longer had indoor/outdoor running felines.

I have not seen many cat houses firsthand. Recently though Kim was on a panel at his alma mater, Pratt Institute and I did notice that they had several cat houses on their campus. Unfortunately, I only have the photo below snatched off my Instagram account, the original photo a victim of my attempts at good phone hygiene and the ongoing purging of photos. The Pratt cat house, one of several as I remember, was a more downscale model than ours above. Yet was probably a more practical affair, plastic over the door to help keep the winter chill (not insubstantial that day) out.

cat house Pratt.jpeg

I didn’t see any cats in these houses on that day. In looking for a better or additional photos of the Pratt cat houses I discovered that Pratt has a well documented history of caring for stray cats. An article in the New York Times from May of 2013 describes the steam plant at Pratt as the heart of cat central at the art school. The strays tended may range in numbers from dozens to more than 100 – but whose counting really? They are (or at least were, that was a few years ago) tended by Pratt Chief Engineer, Conrad Milster who christened them with names like Dulcie, Landlord, Art School and Prancie. The article explains that these free range kitties are fed and cared for by Mr. Milster at his own expense. Clearly the cat houses are another of his contributions. The cats contribute to the well being of stressed out students and faculty and are unofficial mascots of the Brooklyn school.

When I was in college in Connecticut I had a cat friend who I referred to as Ranger Tom. I do not remember where that name came from, but he was a hefty gray and white fellow – spotty nose like I generally am drawn to in a cat. He was more of a visitor cat – seemed well cared for and just making the rounds to see what acquaintances he might make, and of course what food he might get out of it. As a vegetarian I wasn’t his best bet, but would occasionally keep this or that on hand that a visiting cat might approve of. We were only acquainted in my freshman year, but I missed my own kitties and he was a welcome diversion therefore I say excellent work Mr. Milster. Keep those cat houses going.

Tuxedo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a soft spot for tuxedo cats – those felines whose white paws look like spats, ankle fashion for men from a former day, and whose white chests look like the white bib of a tuxedo dress shirt. Often there is some sort of black and white mustache to complete the effect. I have written about my first cat friend of adulthood, Otto, who was a fine example of a tux – perfect little Chaplin/Hitler style mustache, four white feet, bib and tummy – and there has been a tux in the house ever since. (As a child I had a splendid love affair with a tortoiseshell, polydactyl name Winkie, but have never owned another kitty with either of those qualities to date. One of those posts with part of her story can be found here at Tom the Bruiser. With Otto I inaugurated a long line of Butler tuxedo cats.)

Once these photos arrived in the mail I was surprised to find that these were both were originally larger photo postcards that had been cut down, the backs of each bearing part of the pre-printed postcard indicia, nothing written on the back. And not to bury the lead – I adore the photo above of kitty in the man’s arms, but giving him a little cat shove. Obviously it was that manuever which inspired my purchase.

Those of us who live with these little darlings know the get away from me polite-but-firm paw shove quite well. (The same cat Otto mentioned above, disliked my then boyfriend at one time. She slept on my pillow at night, draped around my head – and if he came too close she’d reach out with one of those many-toed paws and give him a little cat shove. I will, however, go on record saying that she was devoted to Kim.) All of the participants in this photo, cat, man and dog, are looking right at the camera – man, cat nor pert dog distracted by the stealthy and comical cat-shove. They make a nice family, these three, and I have to assume the man thought of them that way and that’s why he gathered them up for this photo.

I felt compelled to buy both of these photos of this little fellow so that they would stay together. The second photo just gives us a better look at our slightly portly pal the cat – a solid citizen as we say in this house. His or her expression sans annoyance in this one. The fabric of the chair sets off the tuxedo markings and it is a nice picture, but you have no sense of his personality as you do in the other photo, which plainly shows that this little fellow was a real card. I bet there were stories that were told about him and his friends, the dog and the man.

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The Waining of Fortune

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: When we visited the postcard show in the spring of this year, a woman was selling mountains of very expensive Louis Wain cards and I have already written about some of my acquisitions at her table. (For more on my adventures and indulgences at the show have a look here at my other Wain acquisition that day We Are Getting Quite Attached and another buy of the day Crown.) However, this was the card that really got under my skin. The woman had purchased an entire set of these cards, all devoted to Fortune Telling, and was on the fence about selling only one from the group. They were vastly expensive so even one was a commitment and I certainly was in no position to buy, if I remember correctly, six or so. Also, for some reason it was this particular one I really wanted. Clearly I convinced her to sell it to me.

My card, You will be lucky in love, shows these two animated cats, one on bended knee proposing, claw paws bared in their excitement – the boy cat has a nice little white spot on his neck, just exactly like my Blackie, although everyone else seems to be an all black kitty, just some white hairs for highlight and texture. (The British didn’t seem to have this bad luck thing about black cats and even often said they were symbols of good luck, although maybe there’s some irony here.) Anyway, it is also all these other maniacal Wain cats popping out all over the room, watching the proposal, that make this great for me. Two grinning kitties, a sort of shocked one behind the chair, and that jolly one coming in the door – each cat could almost be its own tale. Somehow that set against this background of this sort of common sort of average room, table and chairs, stuffed armchair, just tickles me. Striped wallpaper and two mundane landscapes adorn the interior in question and make us quite at home.

The card was sent, from Bath to Paris August 10, 1906, but it is written in a tiny French hand that somewhat defies me. A woman seems to be asking her friend if the friend is enjoying her vacation and if she needs someone’s address which she can send. (With multiple mail deliveries a day, postcards were evidently the texts of the time.) It was sent to Madamoiselle Lina Paulier, 96 Rue La Fontaine, Auteuil, Paris, France. I cannot read the name on the signature. Sadly there is no reference to the great illustration on the front of the card.

I am a fan of fortune telling in generally and will indulge given an opportunity. I recently even took a swing at feeding a dollar into the Zoltar fortune telling machine at Ripley’s Believe It or Not in Times Square a few weeks ago, when Kim and I were there doing some research for his next book. Sadly, not nearly as nicely illustrated as my Wain postcard (and Zoltar is a wordy fellow), however I share a photo of my fortune below – for entertainment purposes only, as noted.

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Hanging Out

Pam’s Photo Post: This card was purchased at the April El Dorado of a postcard sale here in New York this spring. The screwiness of it attracted me to it. I assume this is not a one-of-a-kind card, but the back does not however indicate commercial production. The card was mailed to Miss Lilly – Lane M B Elliott Dillon Mont. Also written in a messy pencil script is, as written, This is a very nice winter so far & how I would like to see all you folks and Janes folks. Was all well last Heard from J Sam Bell & girls Last week. Will. This card was mailed on December 7 at 10 AM, 1907 from Ames, Iowa. (A quick look tells me that Ames, Iowa is where Iowa State University is. No evidence that our less than literate writer was attending however!)

Under close examination, these gents on the card do not appear to be hanging from this light pole. There seem to be lines run down from the top which affords some sort of foot hold, while holding on above. I will guess that this was officially a function of telephone line repair? Isn’t it odd that many places don’t actually have phone poles and lines now? There was of course a time when they were ubiquitous. I remember though at some point being aware that they didn’t have them and how odd that seemed. The town I grew up in has phone lines above ground and as a place which is prone to hurricanes, which routinely knock them down, you would think they might have committed to the cost of moving them underground, but perhaps more to it than that. In Manhattan they have of course moved them underground.

When I first saw this card I could not help, but reflect that it would have been an impressive amount of upper body strength if these guys were hanging from the poles. As an adult I developed an addiction to working out at a gym – I find it very relaxing and work out four or five days a week. However, despite developing more muscle than I have ever had in my shoulders and arms, I doubt I could do more than a chin up or two – especially with my arms facing forward – let alone hang from something like this. Ouch! I was abysmal at these sorts of things as a kid, rope climbing, pull ups, push ups and the like. I do occasionally wonder – what were they thinking testing us that way as kids? If I can’t do it now, why on earth would I, as a more or less average kid be able to do it then? It remains a mystery to me.