Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write this I am back on the ferry, in stormy weather, heading back to NYC. Rough seas this morning and I am reminded that you have to have a good inner ear for ferry travel in this kind of weather.
We are bouncing around a bit. I am reminded of my father telling me that you never know when sea sickness will catch up with you. This before I took a trip through the Patagonia passage where I was bounced out of bed one morning with waves over the bow. I gratefully chewed up the Dramamine he insisted I bring! Yay Dad!
Meanwhile, I am going to challenge my technical expertise and see if I can post this from my phone. (Incidentally, if you were wondering no WiFi on the ferry, but I never lose a signal.) I cannot say it is a beautiful holiday weekend at the Jersey shore! Bear with me if this is a tad sloppy!
I think most people had some equivalent of the curio case that lives in my memory from childhood, and which housed these beloved objects, first at my grandparent’s house and then our own when I was growing up.
These were nearly given away when a friend rescued them for me (confusion around a great deal of stuff being sold and given away at one point in the multiple moves of my parents) and I almost cried when I saw them again. They now reside in a different bookcase, upstairs at my mom’s house.
This small collection of Inuit objects were collected by my father – I believe he purchased them when in the Arctic with the army in the 1950’s, where he was reluctantly serving during the Korean War. He didn’t talk a lot about this mandatory hitch with Uncle Sam except it was when he discovered his vocation as a cameraman; he was trained to film maneuvers in the Arctic and used the GI Bill later to study film at Boston University after he returned.
There were two stories he told in connection with his time in the army. One was that he was lowered onto ice flows to film and the only way to return to the ship was to climb up the rigging, heavy camera equipment clinging to his back. The other was that they ran food experiments on them, dying their food all sorts of odds colors to see if they would eat more or less – green bread not so attractive. When he was in the hospital at the end of his life he made some references to it. I think the hospital and being trapped in his body and at the nursing facility at the end reminded him of that time.
As for me, I have longed to touch and examine these objects since I was a small child. Obviously there is much to delight a child about these precious objects which remained in a locked cabinet and of course which we were forbidden to ever enter. I think it is probably safe to say that until I unpacked them most recently I had never actually touched any of these items.
Some were evidently taken a number of years ago, but I cannot remember what those objects were. My father always had a very good eye for art and always purchased interesting things in his worldwide travels later as a cameraman for ABC news.
These statues are familiar to me, but also new as I pick them up and examine them carefully. I have not had the chance to do more than unpack them and look them over as I put them into a cabinet here where I decided they would be safe.
I apologize for the ad hoc photos. They deserve better and perhaps I will spend some time drilling down on each object in the future. They are beautiful objects, but most beloved because of their history and what they meant to my father. As I bounce along the bay today I am thinking of him and how he would have liked this note as well as my perch on the ferry today, despite inclement weather.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am writing from mom’s house in New Jersey. It is Memorial Day weekend and I am reminded that Memorial Day (much vaunted in this beach community as the start of the summer season) is almost invariably cold and wet. This weekend is a great entry in the annuals of lousy weather on Memorial Day weekend.
In high school there was a small town parade (which has continued with the exception of last year; I don’t know if they are returning to it this almost post-pandemic year or not) which required the services of our high school marching band and drill team. This means I know something about standing around in the wet and chill in a brief uniform, toting a faux weapon. (That alone is probably news to Pictorama readers – yes, drill team. Loved the noise the fake rifles made as we slapped them and hit the ground in unison!)
Most importantly in a summer community like this it means the opening of the beaches and the green light for tourists and after our last (pandemic) summer I am sure they are quite anxious to get back to it here. We’ve had some glorious days recently so even old hands were tricked into a false sense of security, but man, that Jersey weather is having a good laugh at us. We Jersey shore folks remain ever optimistic however.
Upon arrival in Fair Haven, I paced the backyard while taking the remainder of work calls that needed winding up. Meanwhile I enjoyed my mom’s absolutely gorgeous garden. She is housebound and enjoys it via the windows, and what gets brought in, but Mike who works on the tiny garden and yard does a great job. The peonies below are from plants I gave her in 2019 and they have grown nicely!
I am actually not technically here to celebrate the launch of the season. I arrived yesterday in time to attend a live gig with Wynton Marsalis and the septet for work. I invited three friends and it was a dinner club set-up, much like we did in the fall. (You can find that post here.) The ferry ride was very cold (and the water rough) yesterday morning. I chatted briefly with a young man with a bike who was preparing to ride to some area north of Philadelphia. (Yeah, I don’t think this must have worked out too well for him.)
The concert promoters assured us that the concert would happen rain or shine so we bundled and layered up and off we went. True enough, there was a tent and we were protected from the (hard) rain and wind, at least for the most part. I did see the music start to blow off the stand on stage until secured. It was 51 degrees and despite having spent the past year dressing for outdoor dining in all weather, I was layered but cold in my scarf and down liner. (My friend Suzanne lent me a large waterproof outback hat which helped keep the rain off.)
I felt for the guys playing and knew they must be freezing in their suits. (Let’s face it, brass instruments can be cold!) The music was great despite the inclement weather though and it was a real treat to hear them in person again. In particular, our pianist Dan Nimmer was having a memorable night.
I came back to the house, got rid of my soaked clothes (trousers still wet this AM) and had some hot tea. Soon I was happily ensconced in pj’s in bed watching television while the storm raged around the tiny house. Gale force winds and rain were pounding when we heard a loud bang and the entire neighborhood went pitch black. I decided it was my cue to head to sleep and luckily this morning the power has returned, although the storm continues. Sadly no running here today, but a day with mom ahead so enjoy and more tomorrow.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: My collection of folks posing with Felix grows at a rate which I have no control over. My search for them is constant, but they turn up at their own pace. Sometimes several appear in a short time, other times it might be a year. I was writing about them just a week or so ago in passing and realized that I had not purchased one in awhile – and as if by request this one turned up. It always pleases me very much when a new one finds its way to me.
Like many of these photo postcards, this one turned up in Great Britain. (The others hail from Australia and New Zealand – seems American born Felix only posed in those countries in the guise of a giant stuffed doll.) The Felix in this one is interesting and looks unlike the critters in the other photos I have.
Instead he is a bit pint-sized and reminds me more of a specific kind of small stuffed ones in my collection. I have dusted off this little guy below who is on my shelf and bears are fairly interesting resemblance to the Felix in the photo.) While I have some ideas about it I have never definitively labeled which sort of Felix came from where, but they do fall into categories and this sort of tri-pod stance is one of them. He is vaguely off-model (these large dolls are for the most part), has many nice whiskers, and he is the right height to look engagingly right at this little fellow who is largely ignoring the whole process. Felix even appears to be holding an arm (paw?) out to him in greeting.
As best as I can figure it out, no one company was churning out these large photo op Felix-es anymore than any single one was making the stuffed ones I collect. The majority fall into a generally similar appearance, and by that I mean the almost human sized ones which even an adult can sling an arm around. However, over time I have seen a number of much smaller models – and of course there were a number of large wooden ones for the photographer who decided to go that route. (I would happily acquire either a “life-sized” large Felix or a wooden one – should any readers come across them. I especially ask you readers in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand to keep an eye out!)
This beach-y area is typical of where you might get such an opportunity to pose with Felix for a postcard. This card came to me from Rowland’s Castle but there is no indication of the original resort town it was taken in. Behind this little fellow is a baby carriage and some other children which makes me think this was a kid’s area of some sort at the water. There are some wooden stands, presumably vendors of one kind or another.
This tyke sports a pretty nifty cap and knitted outfit of his day. He looks remarkably unimpressed with Felix or having his photo taken, but is stopping short of outright rebellion.
Like most of these cards, this one is unmarked and never sent, but was instead a treasured family photo which has found its way to me here at Pictorama.
The other evening our usually dependable Wifi sputtered during a meeting. I was able to get back on it, but yesterday we woke to the realization that we didn’t have Wifi. After two calls to our provider, RCN, our “box” was declared dead (well, dying, it has a few meager lights blinking) and a technician requested for later today. It was also, as it would happen, Kim’s birthday and so thoughtful wishes are piled up, as I write, in the world online, an internet connection away.
Kim, who is immersed in the latter stages of his next book spent yesterday tracing off pages which will then be tightened and eventually inked. (A post with the specifics of Kim’s process can be found here. It is a great favorite!) I still had online access, via my phone (and my ipad which decided it could operate off my phone) which meant I could do some work including attending meetings with my little Italian Felix toy avatar in my stead.
I have my own policy of trying to be on camera for most Zoom meetings, at least at the beginning of each, and I try to stay on for all meetings with staff. I think it is more humanizing even if I am just in from my run and admitting that I only make it to even nominal make-up about once a week these days.
Nonetheless, the lack of Wifi slowed me down mightily – if you are reading this it means either I posted it via my phone (a skill set that may well be beyond me), or the technician has come and restored us to full function. It makes me realize how much I depend on the internet for casually adding things to these posts as well. My fingers twitch to check references and add links and photos.
In case the day needed more complications, I had an appointment to get a new phone. Like many people, I beat the heck out of this thing over the past 18 months. The screen is cracked from dropping it from the elliptical at the gym, years ago now. (There was a time when I didn’t take my phone into the gym, preferring to listen to a tiny and somewhat finicky ipod instead, but when my dad was began his decline and was hospitalized I started bringing it with me to workouts. It bounced off the moving machine hard and it is lucky it didn’t hurt someone.)
It has been giving me warning signs that it is breathing its last (screens turning into strange shadow screens, no longer holds a charge) and so while making another change to my account recently (prophetically changing my date plan), I committed to a new phone. Suffice it to say, given the day that yesterday was, after more than an hour at the Verizon store, I left sans phone transfer complete – alas, I must return later today.
Evermore than even a year and a half ago however, I am tethered to the internet like it is a favorite child!
Simultaneously, this week I was encouraging my office to help inform a return to work plan and being met with recalcitrance, fear and assorted resistance which evinced an insurmountable level of exhaustion in me. Like many managers, the decision about a return to the office is an institutional one and Wynton Marsalis has made his feelings very clear throughout this period – we will not be an organization that operates remotely. We need to be together and to see each other as humans again as soon as is safely and reasonably possible.
Like a good manager, I have been trying to gently exercise the muscle of in-person meetings and discussing our return. Our policy is to return to the office in person two days a week over the summer and then moving to full time mid-September. Having to decide on dates was like ripping the band-aide off for many folks though. It is hard to balance their variety of concerns, an institutional mandate while keeping any of my own feelings to myself. I am impatient with my own impatience.
The day finally concluded with Kim and I eating some excellent Vietnamese food which greatly restored me. Then, with the premiere of a concert for our virtual season, our full Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, with the founder and head of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson. It was a great marriage of spoken language and jazz and spoke very directly to the topics of freedom and inequality and history. (Freedom, Justice and Hope is available on-demand until May 26 and you can purchase tickets to watch it here). It is in my opinion by far the best concert we have produced for online viewing and I am so proud of my colleagues who created it and how far we have come. It left me with the very real hope that we will come out of this period with a new way of continuing to reach audiences far beyond those in our hall and on our tour destinations.
Afterward, I watched the first part of a PBS documentary on the Metropolitan Museum. Long-time Pictorama readers know that I spent most of my career, thirty years, there before leaving for my current gig. (I wrote about my departure in a post called Leaving the Met which can be found here.) I gather that the documentary was originally meant to follow the museum through its 150th Anniversary Year. Instead it is half about that and half about how 2020 played out with the pandemic and the closure of the museum, the ultimate re-opening and then grappling with the new re-emerging world.
It was moving for me to see many former colleagues as well as some objects I know like they had spent years in my own living room, so they too are like old friends. But overwhelmingly for me it was so touching to see the conservators, curators and other colleagues I had worked with for so many years. I was graphically reminded that yes, despite our discomfort, Wynton is right. In the end it comes down to the people. People make organizations like these great and that will suffer if we do not make the effort to come back together again to work with each other in person. When I interview people I always ask them, what will you miss most about where you work now and almost to a one they say it is the people.
In her remarks, Carolyn Riccardelli, one of the conservators, kept coming back to the metaphor of the conservation work that had been done on the Tullio Lombardi statue of Adam. Many years ago, it famously fell spontaneously from its base and smashed into an almost infinite number of pieces, fragments, and some reduced to dust. Like a crime scene, the pieces were photographed in situ and logged where they fell to aide reconstruction. That reconstruction took ten painstaking years (it has been documented in a video called After the Fall and can be found on their website here) and is back on display. It looks flawless, but of course as part of the team who restored it, Carolyn must see her years of handiwork beneath the surface every time she looks at it. She talked about how sometimes you just need to move forward, even if you have no idea how you are going to do it, making progress and claiming small victories until finally, you are there.
Shown at top: Tullio Lombardo (Italian, ca. 1455–1532). Adam, ca. 1490–95. Italian, Venice. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1936 (36.163)
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My hair went gray when I was thirty. It started with an interesting streak in front which grew in rapidly over time. My maternal grandfather, Frank Wheeling (aka Poppy), went gray in his twenties so I suspect it is his genes at work – most of the rest of that generation in my family never had more than a few strands even as they reached very advanced ages, my father’s mother not withstanding as I believe she did dye her hair as part of her weekly visits to a salon where she had her 1940’s updo style managed weekly.
I have never dyed my hair. Despite hitting my twenties during the height of the punk era I have never done anything except shave it down to a crewcut periodically and that usually reflecting more function than form – such as anticipating a lack of showering facilities while camping in Tibet. Not only have I never dyed my hair a radical color, I have never highlighted it or dyed it at all. I don’t have anything against it, I just never did it and so when I started to go gray the question of dying it was a bit bigger, dye never having been a go to, nor something I had ever played around with. I always figured that it would be easy enough to try if I changed my mind, but acknowledge it would be a huge pain to grow out and as it became more and more gray the fact that it would be a significant commitment of time and money (not to mention the reality of heavier, more chemical dyes) to maintain became clear.
Also, as I can be about such things, I was curious to see how it would grow in and what it would look like. I always figured that dying was something I could decide to do (although certainly it would have been pretty radical after a point) so there was no compelling reason to rush to do it. So, I just didn’t. My hair guy, David Smith (he opened his own salon pre-pandemic, Smith and Morgan on West 80th Street) always liked my gray and never encouraged me to dye it – despite the fact he would have made a ton of money over time if I had, which always made me love David a little more. I met David just before my wedding, a good friend recommended him when the person I had been seeing shutdown abruptly and until he opened his own place I followed him across a variety of locales on the westside of Manhattan.
To be frank, there is a very real prejudice against being young and having naturally gray hair (yes, some folks are dying their hair gray now which is a bit different) and I am only just getting old enough now where it is less of an issue. People immediately assume you are older than you are and sometimes express outright confusion over a younger face and gray hair. At its worst I have on occasion been met with a certain kind of aggression, as if my deciding not to dye my hair was a statement about other people’s choices. It seems to annoy some people. I am a bit confounded sometimes when people talk about it – after all I think my choice of hair color is a bit personal and I have trouble imagining the same person asking someone why they dye theirs brown or blond for instance. And, I will admit that there was a time when I thought if I were to look for a new job that I might consider dying it. In the end, it has become very much a part of who I am and in my case it would seem false to change it. As Popeye would famously say, I yam what I yam!
My sister Loren hated that I was letting my hair go gray. She would bully and rage about it in the way only she as my older sister could. Frankly I considered dying it when she was in treatment for cancer and bored, sick. I was looking for ways to entertain her – I know, it sounds crazy, but I thought about it. She would tell me that when her hair grew back it was going to be dark brown again (during a pause in treatment it had grown in completely gray) and only she and Lady Clairol would know the truth about the color. If she had lived I don’t know if I could have held out against her indefinitely. (I have written about Loren a few times and two of those posts can be found here and here.)
By the same token I have enjoyed many random compliments from strangers – literally sometimes getting stopped on the street – about my hair. Love your hair! Great hair! Occasionally it was another woman with naturally gray hair and we would give a sly smile between us and pass a compliment. Other times women would opine that they didn’t think theirs would grow out as nicely and I always admit that if I hadn’t liked the way it grew in I probably would have dyed it. My hair had the good grace to come in with streaks of gray against the dark brown. In addition, the texture changed for the better once it was mostly gray. It had always been thick, but slippery, heavy and difficult to keep up or back. I enjoyed manageable hair for the first time as the gray grew in.
Enter Covid however and suddenly many women have let their dyed hair grow out and are reemerging into the world as gray. It was of course a great time to let your hair grow out – or have a baby I guess. (Newborn down the hall this week! Evelyn Grace Deitch – yep, we have a Deitch down the hall! Pronounced Deetch however.) While some of the gray-goers are friends and colleagues, I see many women making the transition to gray on the elevator or in the street. I get the feeling they are checking out my hair, taking notes as such.
While I have no advice about growing out dyed hair I do have some about living with gray hair. Until Covid I was very careful about trims and keeping my hair tidy figuring that it was such a standout feature that I needed to pay extra attention to it. Early on David showed me how to mix a bit of baking soda in clearing shampoo (for example Bumble & bumble makes what they call a clarifying shampoo, theirs is called Sunday Clarifying Shampoo, which is designed to clear out old product from your hair, Neutrogena makes one too) and leave it in for about twenty minutes before washing out. This is drying so I would do this once or so a month to keep the gray white. (I have started using a sea salt scrub instead which is a bit less trouble. The one I currently use is by Christophe Robin. Although during these Covid days I use very little hair product so it is less of an issue.) Oribe makes Silverati (disclosure – it is crazy expensive) which is in a class of colored shampoos to bring out highlights, specifically of gray in this case and goes alongside a group of purple shampoos which are designed to counterbalance the yellow in gray hair. All of these work to a greater or lesser degree, but in my opinion, nothing like the scrubs to brighten the color.
I am also a bit maniacal about products and styling and pre-pandemic I would joke that there wasn’t a styling product that I couldn’t be induced to try and had settled into a routine of potions as part of my hair care. Meanwhile, although gray wasn’t an issue for me I have let my hair grow crazy long during the months at home. I have only had it cut once since the onset of lockdown and that is now getting to be close to a year ago. I wear it up each day and it is easy to forget about although I do feel like an aging Rapunzel when I take it down. I will also confess that in a sheer contradictory way, I thought about dying my hair during the lockdown out of sheer boredom. I thought it would be fun to emerge as a totally different person. Maybe that’s what women growing their gray in is all about. We are all deciding what our post-pandemic reset is going to be and what it will look like.
Featured photo by my good friend photographer @EileenTravell!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is kicking off with this great little advertising card I bought on a whim sometime over the last few months. I like a good cat advertising card and this kitty couple caught my eye. I love that they are holding each other’s paws and their curled tails. They walk on tip toed hind legs – Cookie and Blackie only stand this way in order to box with each other, or perhaps a bit of a stretch when something above interests them. Her expression is sweet and his a bit concerned – concerned being a bit of a go-to expression for kits I find.
She sports the human attributes of a parasol and bow. They are both nicely striped tabbies and the pattern creates some visual interest. Oddly, Doggett, Bassett & Hills Co. was a shoe company and these kitties are decidedly shoeless. Doggett, Bassett & Hills was one of Chicago’s first shoe dealers and manufacturers under the name of Ward & Doggett, founded in 1846. By the early 1870’s they had peaked, but then declined and disappeared in the 1880’s. (All this from an online encyclopedia of the history of Chicago which can be found here.) The website mentions a Lake Street address, but this card is for one at 214 & 216 Madison Street, Chicago.
Despite the fact that I think of Chicago as a city that has done an excellent job of maintaining many of its old buildings, a quick Google image search shows no extant old buildings at this address now. I am always hoping when I search for an old address I find that I will find the building intact even if its former moniker is long gone. I don’t believe I have achieved this to date.
These pre-printed advertising cards abounded in the period and cats were a favorite subject so they are a bit of a sub-genre here at Pictorama. Merchants must have gone to printers that had endless examples to pick from and chosen a card image to then have their text added at the bottom and sometimes also on the back. I often wonder about how you knew that you weren’t choosing the same one as your competitor just purchased yesterday.
I have written about some of the others in my collection (above and below) and those posts can be found here, here and here. (All of these examples have their advertising text on the back.) Still, seems a bit odd that the folks at D,B and H would choose these barefoot felines, but who am I to tell them how to sell shoes?
There are marks on the back from where this card once resided in an album of some sort, the way and reason many of these have survived. People did seem to hang onto them though – much more so than the boring business cards we generally see today – a few tucked under the plexi cover on my drawing table converted to desk and littering the surface remind me. No one is going to be saving the card from the pest control folks residing there. (Moths!) Cats sell and Madison Avenue has never entirely forgotten that lesson.
Pussy cat postscript: Ah, Caturday at Deitch Studio! Cookie is rolling and stretching at my feet and meowing for attention as I write this. She still chases her tail and was at it earlier, even at seven years old. (I must say, it does have a sort of come hither twitch at the end.) She is by far the chattier of the two kits and wants to converse every morning at some length – we are charged with responding or are subject to her wrath. (Meanwhile, if Blackie ever chased his tail it is a long forgotten practice and he snoozes most mornings after he’s eaten. The difference between boys and girls?) Kim is discussing how awful it would be if he were married to Cookie (I’m pleased I get a higher rating), and it would quickly end in divorce court with a sharky kitty attorney (one a bit smarter than Cookie he added) he says. We’ll have to see if there’s ever a story about Kim and his cat wife – and divorce court kitty!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Time marches forward and it was brought to my attention today that I have published more than 760 of these posts. (That seems impossible actually, but I will take the word of the fine folks here at WordPress since they seem to be keeping count.) Topics have sprawled over time and the nature of it has morphed a bit. As a general rule they have gotten longer and increasingly personal, although cats, photographs, toys and Felix remain the banner headline for the majority of weekends.
You all, my readers, have increased in number over time too – more in recent years than at first. And inevitably some very interesting things have come in over the transom from you all. A wonderful cache of Felix photos came to me that way – I remember I was in a hotel room in Florida having a miserable trip for work when it found me and cheered me immensely. (That post can be found here.)
One man in India was very interested in a rare book I had acquired (and cannot find in the miasma of our apartment post renovation to scan for him but will eventually) and I have heard from the descendants of folks I have uncovered, such as the grandchild of Alfred Latell, who have had occasion to write about more than once. (Among my most popular, those posts about his career as an animal impersonator can be found here and here.) Usually I let the stuff I have acquired lead me down the rabbit hole of memory or joyfully research or speculate on its past a bit, although occasionally I have taken you on trips across the country and world for work, recipes I have created, or whatever else is on my mind on a given day.
My original dream of organizing my Felix photo postcards into a book seems as far away as ever – folks start muttering about copyright when I mention it – but nevertheless, it remains of interest to me. Alas, I will find a way I hope and of course I continue to add to it.
Earlier this week, a reader reached out to me to ask about a post I did where I mentioned a lost cousin of hers, Bruce Rogerson, someone I knew in Britain when I was living in London in my earlier twenties. It arrived in the midst of a work week which can only be described as our annual budget hell which has been escalated in intensity by the pandemic – such is fundraising for a performing arts organization that hasn’t been able to perform in public for more than a year! However, I did take some time to answer her and dredged up memories of Bruce the best I could on short notice.
Annoyingly, at the time I could not find my post she referred to and it was only this morning that I realized that it was the briefest of mentions in a super long post I wrote while returning from a work trip to South Africa in 2019. (It can be found here.) That post was primarily about African Highlife music and musings on my early relationship to it while living in London in the mid-1980’s. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra had played with local musicians as part of the Joy of Jazz Festival and the strands of the more indigenous African music woke the sound memory in my mind.
This morning I received an email from her and thanking me for writing along with the information that she had about her cousin. The combined gathering of my memories of Bruce for her and then reading her notes have him very much on my mind today.
Bruce Rogerson owned a coffee house in Britain called The Troubadour (still in existence at 263-267 Old Brompton Road, London). It would have had recognized bona fides and probably something of a cult following when he acquired it in 1970 from its original owners, Michael and Sheila van Bloemen who established it in 1954. The Troubadour made its name in the heyday of the coffee house live performance culture on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950’s and ’60’s. It is said that it is the first venue in London where Bob Dylan performed has have Paul Simon and more recently Adele.
At the time I knew it the basement was used only infrequently for music or performance and I can only remember being in it once. Subsequent owners have expanded it and it is a live music venue once again – or presumably was pre-Covid. However, living down the street in a series of rented flats in Earl’s Court – which was rundown and affordable at the time although even then you had to know it was on the edge of gentrification.
The Troubadour was to me a rare place for a good cup of coffee – at a time when that wasn’t easy to find in London and I was already coffee addicted. It was also warm in winter (my abodes were anything but) and light food was available – a good soup comes to mind and quiche. The pastries were dubious and occasionally we joked about those. I was chronically a bit broke at the time so eating out was a matter of budget, although I was willing to pay for coffee. It was a sort of a cappuccino served in thick white ceramic mugs. (Liquor, wine and beer were not sold there during my time although I believe a license was acquired later.)
A coffee or two could buy you a lot of time at the Troubadour and soon I was doing my school assignments and writing letters from there, and my few recently acquired friends joined me there occasionally, making it our clubhouse of sorts. However, I was the most constant resident and as a result I got to know Bruce and also a number of the other regulars.
I now know that Bruce was born the same year as Kim which made him twenty years older than my 21 years at the time. Over time I was to learn that he had a degree in mathematics, an advanced one I believe, although I only remember touching on it once. He was a tall, lanky man, always dressed in a uniform of neat denim jeans and an open-necked, button down Oxford cloth shirt, light blue or blue and white stripe for the most part. Bruce wore his hair a bit long, disheveled and was balding when I knew him.
He stood behind the low, ancient wood bar counter at The Troubadour, stairway that went up to the apartment where he lived above just in back of him. The kitchen, painted a really bright, surprising sunshine yellow, was at the end of the long narrow space and beyond the counter. One usually ordered from the counter although occasionally a waitress might stop at a table and ask if you needed anything – or not. The seats were hard wood, all of them. Former church pews lined the walls, at least in retrospect that is what I think they were, and wooden chairs made up other table seating throughout. Music played ongoing and the Blue Danube Waltz was played nightly at closing to usher us out the door.
Michael van Bloemen, the founder, was known for his ability to find trash and turn it into treasure. (After selling The Troubadour he and Sheila moved to Sarajevo and my father was ultimately introduced to them while traveling there and they struck up a friendship.) So The Troubadour was chock-a-block full of odd ancient and interesting bits and pieces that spoke volumes even to a young Butler blogger and future collector of detritus even at the time. In retrospect it seems odd that Bruce would be so devoted to the place when his own taste actually ran to the modern and his apartment reflected this and was a bit of a shock in contrast. Michael stayed friendly with Bruce and was a close friend of Don’s and would stay with one or the other on trips to London, where he turned up periodically to pick up his money from the dole.
I met and became good friends Don Bay there, it was Don who introduced me to High Life music as he owned an African music company, Sterns. (Ironically Don tried to pick me up by taking me to a classical music concert I had been reading a review for when we met. It was the only time I would associate Don and classical music.) Don and Bruce were close friends and over time I tagged along and was enmeshed in their lives for the time I lived there.
Let it be said, these guys drank a lot. At 21 I was capable of drinking a fair amount myself so I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I know it was a lot of drinking. Bruce consumed endless bottles of white wine while tending to the counter evenings, always in a short water glass. Meanwhile, Don and I had a love of cooking in common and he had a large kitchen at his house in Putney so we would spend whole weekends making exotic fare and inviting friends to eat it. Those cooking weekends including consuming bottles of scotch while we cooked (my mind reels thinking about it now), not to mention while we ate, and those parties generally went all night long sometimes with leftovers being finished in the morning.
Bruce and Don both knew about food and enjoyed eating out and would sometimes take me along to the various restaurants they knew, some where they were regulars themselves. With Bruce it was always a late meal, after The Troubadour closed, which I want to say was 10:00? Seems so late now, but there was a French restaurant across the street where he went on a regular basis and there was also an African restaurant in a basement up the street where you could get a late night meal. Again, I was very broke and a good meal was always memorable and appreciated. (I was acquiring my own cooking chops as well and this was the time I really started to figure out cooking.) I was just starting to leave off eating meat, but still did. Bruce’s cooking achievement was a traditional cassoulet.
Generally Bruce, who was a very reserved man, made much of looking askance at my young (probably somewhat outrageous and loud) American ways and would often use a certain look of horror, eyebrows raised when I shocked, which was frequent – sometimes just looking at what I was wearing; I had a fondness for very bright colors at the time and at one point shaved my very long hair into a boy’s bob in response to my less than efficient shower at the flat. However, he generally also had a bit of a twinkle in his eye as well. In retrospect, he was fairly rigid in his ways and was very set in a routine; he needed the structure he created and wasn’t comfortable out of it. He stuttered a bit, something that is just coming back to me now in an effort to really remember him.
Bruce generally surrounded himself with a series of stunningly attractive waitresses whose skills had to include making the coffee (a large and somewhat erratic machine was involved) and at least assembly as well as serving of food. I still remember one woman named Emma who remains one of the most attractive women I have ever known and once told me a wild tale about having been a nanny for a famous German film director, who in addition to hitting on her, one day took her to a major film premiere without telling her where they were going. The Troubadour provided Bruce with both a social life and an endless line of attractive women, both customers and staff.
He was a kind person and to his cousin I related a story about a mutual friend, my age, Hedwig Dumangier, who suffered terribly from epilepsy – she would have “tremblies” as she called them, several times a day and throughout the night. Specialists were unable to control it, although she tried a variety of medications and I believe had seen doctors across Europe. She was unerringly cheerful about it and took it in stride, however, when Hedwig failed to find employment due to her disability, Bruce gave her a job waitressing at the Troub for as long as she needed it. (This was very hard on dishes and occasionally food ended up in the lap of customers, but Bruce never really cared that much about the comfort of his customers!) On another occasion he invited my friend Sue to spend Christmas Eve with him and Don when she was alone in London. She was Jewish so the midnight mass they attended (sharing a flask in the back of the church) was I believe, memorable indeed.
Bruce was the one who was interested in classical music and I remember him trying to impress upon the young me that the sound quality of CD’s was inferior to LP’s. He had an elaborate turntable and a record collection which seemed substantial at the time, although I now know that a large record collection is generally in the thousands. If I could go back in time I would ask him if he didn’t also collect 78’s, maybe he did. Of course, even better sound quality there – but I knew none of this at the time and it was my first introduction to the concept. He played me the same recordings on both to make his point, but my untrained ear failed to really catch on at the time.
Although I knew Bruce had died back in 2014 (at age 69) I did not realize that he had been in nursing care for dementia in the last years of his life. He had sold The Troubadour in 1998 and retired in the Chelsea area. His cousin tells me that growing up his parents ran an inn where his father would have held forth behind a bar much as Bruce would later in life at the coffee house, although his family’s preoccupation with running the inn meant that he was sent away to school early on as well. Bruce lost his mother to cancer when in was just 17 or 18 and purchased The Troubadour when he was only 25. Knowing his background, growing up with parents running an inn, that makes more sense now – he grew up in the business. He was estranged from his mother’s side of the family after she died. My favorite bit of information is that he was nabbed for smuggling Swiss watches into the country. Bruce would have been attracted to Swiss watches and their fine mechanisms!
For those of you who made it through this very long post, thank you for staying the course. I hope this gives a bit more color to my description of him to his cousin Sara, who made the inquiry. It made me think hard about that time in my life which I haven’t really in a long time and so it was very much on my mind. I hope you enjoyed the trip, but hope to return to Felix and finds next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Let the cat post begin! It has been awhile since a new cat item wandered into Deitch Studio, but this one was worth waiting for. It came to my via one of my favorite Instagram vendors, Mia @ The Ruby Foxes, or you can find her wares at therubyfoxes.com, but then you wouldn’t be treated to her frequent posts which not only have great stuff, but showcase her two cats (Enid and Astrid) and take the viewer on glorious, daily five mile runs through the British countryside. Her account says she resides in Arundel, Sussex and let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful.
This pandemic year has given me a vast, new appreciation for glimpses of other folks lush landscapes as an armchair traveler of sorts – and for what it is worth I try to treat my Instagram followers to my East River views, park foliage and wildlife in my IG stories as a reminder of our urban pleasures. Some of you know that I recently made the acquaintance of a young hawk who insistently swoops in front of me as I entered the park each morning. (Look at me!) Just yesterday he was hunting about a block from the park and I saw him as I headed over, soaring high above me, being chased by wary, angry crows and sparrows. (An interesting example of warring bird factions who wouldn’t typically otherwise unite for a specific cause.)
Mia, on the other hand, has hedgehogs in her garden and she has rigged up a camera to film the pudgy little fellows at night! They are delightful! The other day she gave some instructions for encouraging them back to British gardens as they no longer thrive there the way they once did. We all do love the hedgehog footage.
Mia is an accomplished runner and shared views of her muddy track shoes through spring – extra muscle building, those muddy paths I would imagine. She ticks off five miles daily and is very diligent. While I suspect she is younger than yours truly it does inspire and impress me mightily, as my sort of sloppy, very slow and approximately three miles has taken a long time to achieve. Mia sent encouragement early on when I told her I was trying to start running which was also very kind, and she and her five miles in the English countryside are a sort of vision board for me and my nascent, slow and urban, efforts.
However, this is all to say that I found The Ruby Foxes because she sells antique jewelry and other antique bits and pieces on Instagram and I like to see those too. I have written some about my fascination with early 20th century British jewelry and vintage clothing as it is a sort of a parallel universe to the same period in the US. I am enjoying the baubles and bits of their bygone age and as it is slightly different than our own, it has renewed my interest in this sort of thing. (My other posts about this can be found here and here.) I considered it a sign of good mental health when I got interested in jewelry again – proof that some part of my brain was thinking about a future where I would again be out in the world someday. I am developing a fascination with lucky horseshoe pins and insect pins.
Recently I purchased a tiny moonstone ring from her. I have long been a fan of moonstones and have had my eye out for a simple, early ring like this one. It is a tad small, even for my littlest finger, but after some to and fro we decided that it could be made a bit bigger if needed. However, best of all, Mia reminded me that ages ago I said I wanted a cat door knocker which she had subsequently tucked away for me until such time as we added something to the order which I guess didn’t happen. I don’t know how I let this little fellow slip my mind because he is wonderful!
He is quite small, the size of the palm of my hand so what, about five inches? As a door knocker he is small, although solidly made of brass and I would imagine he would emit a suitable knocking on your door. (In size he reminds me more of a mezuzah than a door knocker.) Still, I can’t help but feel he is somewhat apartment sized and really would be ideal for a door like ours here where you are never more than half a room away from the front door.
Living in a large apartment building which has restricted front door access (in our case a rotation of doormen) means that not a lot of knocking goes on here. Oddly though, we have a new, shy porter who has instituted the practice of leaving some of our packages at our front door and he quietly knocks when he does it. It made Cookie hiss the first time, which seemed like an extreme reaction. Still, we were all a bit surprised and of course now when you go to open your door you have to find your mask first and chances are you are on a Zoom call for work at the same time and carrying the ipad or phone around with you. It doesn’t happen often and so it is a bit of a big deal.
Our NYS regulation fire safe metal doors also seem a tad knocker unfriendly. We technically have a doorbell built into the door although it broke within weeks of my moving in here decades ago and I wouldn’t begin to imagine how to have it replaced or repaired. There is also a bit of press tape with the prior owner’s name stuck in (J. Radigan, whoever and wherever you are) where the broken bell is. We have lived here incognito for several decades. (Yes, I have always been a bit casual about some aspects of home maintenance.)
Meanwhile, I don’t foresee putting this great little fellow out in the hall. For one thing, I like to look at him. He has tiny holes for thin nails and I cannot imagine somehow drilling him into our fire-approved metal door. Since we live in one room, doors are in short supply here, so I think he will grace a wall or shelf instead.
I have found some of his feline grinning brethren online – a few identical and a few kissing cousins, likely of the same origin. The general consensus is that he is British and Victorian. The variation that is perhaps more available seems to be just his head, with the bow the actual knocking part, shown above, and identified as the Cheshire Cat. I wouldn’t mind assembling a few more cat knocker variations if the opportunity arises and am a bit tempted by the eBay offer although that one does look like he has been poorly polished at some point.
I like my guy best I think, with his full cat body, smile and big bow tie. Hard to see but his grin is a bit toothy and there is an almost worn away whisker or two. The smile is a slightly enigmatic one, his toes tucked together and somehow the knocker gives a sense of a tail which does not exist. He will do a nice job of guarding our house, even if it is from the inside and not out.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As I write this it is developing into a soft spring day here in New York City and if it doesn’t cloud up too much I hope to get out for a run in a bit and enjoy it. There is something about this photo of women playing softball or baseball, which makes me yearn toward summer. On the back of the photo, in pencil script, it says only, Backyard NH Aug 1945. The stately farmhouse in the background and all these trees, it is a regular idyll. It fed directly into my desire for the outdoors this spring as I observe every new sign of growth and progress toward summer daily. (I snatched it up via a sale by @_wherethewillowsgrow_ a favorite photo friend.)
I am very fond of the suspender style shorts worn by the pitcher and the short skirt of the catcher is pretty cute too. There is a protective fence between them and that lovely house so this is a well-used baseball diamond. The photo has a haziness, as if some how the humidity of that August afternoon and the visual incarnation could reach out and frizz my hair a bit, all these years later. The trees seem to fade right into the whited out sky. It is trimmed with those wonderful scalloped edges, the way photos often were at that time.
By August of 1945, I guess WWII was just about to be declared over officially. Of course people would have had a pretty good sense that it was ending, but I wonder if after all those long years they really believed it. Were things already hopeful in August of 1945 or were they just beyond exhausted by it all? Probably both by turns and that six years and the devastation of millions dead is among the world events that greatly overshadows even our current world-wide woes.
Yesterday I made a trip to the East Village for the first time since fall, to see about getting my eyeglasses repaired – they broke just as I was leaving for New Jersey a few weeks ago and I have been living in my spare pair. It was a riotously beautiful day, sunny but windy and still jacket weather. There is a wonderful glut of tulips this spring – speculation in the paper about if New Yorkers are just enjoying them more or if there are more. As a tulip lover I would vote for there are more of them – but we are definitely loving them all.
Meanwhile, East Village residents were out in force on the streets and packing every outdoor hut and cafe. Manhattan has changed I believe for the long-term, in this way, and New Yorkers have claimed the sidewalks and streets. I think it has given birth to a new sort of cafe society outdoors. Temporary huts gradually giving way to more permanent structures and perhaps like Paris, our restaurants will largely open onto the streets.
Looking more carefully however it is easy to gloss over the vast number of empty retails spots, like a growing gap-tooth smile. Some old friends are among the missing. A favorite toy store has disappeared after 38 years, heart breaking, but not unexpected. I wrote about them in a prior post which can be found here.
I stopped in at a clothing store on the same block on 9th Street, DL Cerney (@dlcerny, their site can be found here and I have written a little about them before) which I am very fond of. Their men’s trousers have been the only “hard” trousers I have worn since March of 2020 and it is them I will look them to dress me in some sort of return to the world clothing. Their designs, fabrics and tailoring is exquisite. I found them in a little storefront tucked between McSorley’s and a friend’s apartment on 7th Street many years ago. At the time I could only afford the occasional item and they were selling a mix of vintage and their own designs. (I had a pair of heavy, men’s black Cuban heels I wore, resoled and wore through again in my 20’s. Maybe best shoes ever.) Eventually, sadly they disappeared and it was literally decades later that I rediscovered them in a storefront on 9th, further east by a block, having taken over a storefront from another shop I frequented.
Since then, over the past several years, I have been happily clad in their lovely button down shirts and men’s trousers which make me feel a little like Katherine Hepburn, or sometimes just a well-dressed man. My feeling is that I am always perfectly attired (if also very comfortable) in their clothes. I have taken the trousers to London and Johannesburg and worn them endlessly. Having said that the trousers are fairly indestructible and my elderly tailor admires them each time I bring a new pair in to be hemmed with cuffs. For me they are a reasonable starting point for a transition out of daily workout clothes, thinly veiled with sweaters and the occasional necklace or earrings for a shoulders up appearance on Zoom.
As I tried on a few things I talked to Linda St. John, who along with Duane Cerney, are the principals of the business, and a bit of shopping there is also a nice visit with whoever is in the shop that day. We talked a bit about where New York seems to be in the recovery process, and for them it is still a bit discouraging I think. Like those of us in the performing arts (trying to re-open our hall and our club Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center), retail continues to lag and in their case the loss of tourism and students (not to mention the subtle migration out of small city apartments to bigger digs for those who could afford it) continues to erode business. They have challenges with suppliers. We are all trying to stay afloat until we reach the shores of better times.
We discussed, as I have with Wynton and my colleagues, whether we are poised at the beginning of the end of this long pandemic haul or not. We may be or is it just the next bend in the road? The end of the beginning rather than the end – I hope not! However, none of us knows what our corner of the world will look like in six months, let alone another year and I think we’ve learned the hard lesson that we only thought we knew before anyway.
It wasn’t too difficult for Linda to talk me into a spring dress, although I had arrived hunting a linen version of the trousers I love, but in a slightly larger (post-pandemic) size than I am in possession of currently. Nonetheless, a dress, even a casual one, is like a stake in the ground, hopeful that there will be summer meals and drinks outdoors and maybe even days at the office as we inch our way forward.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Preemptive apologies for those of you who don’t share my passion for early 20th Century young adult literature, because today I am posting about the Campfire Girls as they head into WWI. Also, a warning that I give away some key plot points so be forewarned if you are reading as a review and perhaps come back later after reading if that concerns you.
I have written about this series before (those posts can be found here and here), but this series is a bit hard to get your hands around because as I can best piece it together several authors were contributing books published at the same time so you think you are reading them in order, but you have picked up another story line. Also, many of the sources have listed the order of the books incorrectly further confounding my efforts to read them in some sort of order. The good news, and there is a lot of good news, is that they are widely available by free download, although I have been forced to read them on a variety of platforms – some decidedly less friendly than others, but after all, free is free. Most are available on the very user friendly Project Gutenberg website.
My best effort to rectify this was to find one author and follow her and I have been reading the books of Margaret Vandercook, aka Margaret Love Sanderson (warning however, that nom de plume was also used by a Emma Keats Speed Sampson), who was known as The Queen of the Camp Fire writers according to a brief Wikipedia entry, one which is especially useful in correctly listing her books. (Love you Goodreads, but you don’t have it straight and neither does the Wikipedia entry under The Campfire Girls overall.) There are 21 Camp Fire Girls books to her name (although oddly Wikipedia only lists 14) and she also wrote the Ranch Girls, Red Cross Girls and Girl Scout novels.
Her bio is brief, born in 1877 in Kentucky, she lived until 1958. Married for eight years to John Filkin Vandercook who eventually became the first President of the United Press Association, so we will assume he was a writer too. After his death in 1908 she started to write professionally and, man, she was prolific – churning out several of these novels a year. Strangely though, she appears to stop writing abruptly, at least in this genre and as far as I can tell, in the early 1920’s. I wonder if she remarried at that time and no longer needed to support herself and her son? A mention is made of magazine work, articles, poems and stories. Also, perhaps they run longer since as I pointed out the list I am working from appears to be incomplete.
There’s a lot of charm in these books and I really took a bath in the lore and accoutrements of the Camp Fire Girls as outlined in the early books – rings, costumes, poems and all. While this remains a backdrop Vandercook stealthily moves us into other territory and as the century turns from the early and mid-teens to 1918 and beyond she is writing stories that are almost contemporaneous accounts of the country preparing for and entering in WWI. There is a strange sense in reading them one after the other, that perhaps they were written in larger chunks and then parsed into pieces that make up the novels. The story continuity from one to another is seamless and more like the next chapter in a book than a new book in many of these.
Much to my surprise in The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail (1917) Socialism pops up. The Camp Fire Girls have been out west for a volume already (also, we are on the second generation of girls here and Vandercook wised up and they age a bit more slowly in the second half of the series) and the younger brother of one is sent to stay with them to recover from the sort of mysterious wasting diseases that seemed to permeate the pre-antibiotic world. He is portrayed as an usual young man, only about 15 years old, and among his peculiarities it emerges that he is a Socialist.
In the first volume of their time out west there is an effort to address the situation for Native Americans which I think was sincere, if ham-handed and wrong by today’s standards. Socialism, which is addressed in the form of young Billy getting involved with railroad union organizing. Seems Billy had gotten an earful of Socialist propaganda from a Russian immigrant working on his father’s farm in New Hampshire. He finds his way into an enclave of railroad workers and becomes a leader among them – but pushing a non-violent agenda among. It ends badly, with violence, for which he is ultimately blamed, but in a glossing over it is quickly remedied by his family’s wealth and connections. It manages to be both sympathetic and yet illustrate what was probably the more accepted feeling of the day about unions and Socialism. While it seemed a bit surprising, again, these were novels that were addressing the current events of the day in almost real time.
Without ruining the plot, I will just say that his pacifism is treated with some thoughtfulness considering how enthusiastically we are told Americans generally geared up for that war. It is fair to say it is presented as an untenable view, but not without sympathy for his position. Frankly, I was surprised and would have expected these books to be full only of endorsement for our entrance into the war.
Vandercook wasn’t done with this character yet and uses him to address pacifism in the next volume as the country tunes up for entry into the war. Published in 1918 The Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines still has them in the West, but now near a newly established army training base in the country, somewhere in Southern California. Billy has been joined by his brother who is anxious to enlist. Billy, on the other hand, is a vocal pacifist and decries the military approach to solving the world’s problems. He wiles his way into working at the army base and makes friends with the fellows working there, becoming very popular with them. It would seem he intends to infiltrate them and then convert them to his way of thinking, but again, things take a very different turn in the end.
In case you are wondering, these are just sub-plots in these novels which still very much manage to be about this clutch of Campfire Girls and told from their perspective.
Finally, I found myself at the group of novels which deal directly with the war and takes a slightly smaller group of girls to France to help with the reclamation work which evidently began there even before the war ended. First I will volunteer that I thought this was likely where I would get off this trolley because this seemed like an absurd idea and this sort of girls in the Red Cross thing was profoundly uninteresting to me. (As I said to Kim, these kinds of books going to war is a bit like most series going out west, the beginning of the end.)
However, I learned that there is historical precedent for a small number of self-financed women who actually did this – driving cars (a skill which many of their French counterparts did not possess), bringing first aide, childhood education to a generation of orphans and semi-orphans, and all sorts of similar endeavors – a small but determined league of women did do this work taking on six month hitches at a go. (All of the photos snatched here can be found on Mashable, 1914-1918 Working Women of WWIhere. A rather excellent entry about some of this history can be found here on the Morgan Library site from one of their exhibitions.)
Therefore the storyline was an acceptable one and doesn’t entirely stretch credulity as I originally thought. (Learning these somewhat forgotten bits of history along the way is one of the decided byproducts of reading these books.) Again, these books were written almost in real time so I would think she did know what would be believable and acceptable to her audience. If the idea that the Campfire Girls were establishing their first roots in France this way has any historical reality or not.
Perhaps more to the point Vandercook makes these compelling stories and her descriptions of war torn France have the ring of truth and reality. Although well traveled there is no indication that she actually was in Europe during or immediately following the war and I assume it was newsreels and news accounts that informed her writing – and the tales of these women abroad must have captured her imagination.
Not surprisingly, there is a strong underlying patriotism to these stories, as to be expected. Then again though, there are details which we get from this real time account – the feeling of Paris on the day the armistice was declared; the reaction to Wilson as part of the Peace Conference there which is fascinating and wonderful. She writes about a post-war ambivalence between American and French troops which must have been a real issue. of the day. Incidentally, my pandemic pals, the 1918 Influenza epidemic is entirely ignored.
It is a bit painful to read about as their hopes for a lasting world peace is detailed and never suspecting that we would be back at war a scant twenty plus years later. Sadly we know what the future held and that these hopes for a lasting world peace were not to be.