Working It Out

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Deitch Studio followers may already know that Kim is well-documented for his commitment to a daily work out routine. On the other hand, I think I have only touched lightly at best on my own devotion to a work out regime which I am reflecting on a bit today.

Let me start by stating that my interest in anything athletic was desultory at best growing up. If I swam, it was never laps; I might hit a tennis ball around with someone, but rarely really played a game; I would walk to get somewhere, but never was a runner. Like many little girls in the suburbs, I took ballet lessons when little, but while interested was not promising in this area and my parents deftly moved me on from it.

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Loren’s rugby trophies from Princeton.

 

Was it because I grew up in the shadow of my older sister who was captain of every team, winning a myriad of varsity letters? Loren did it all – swim team, tennis, and track in particular, but the only thing that precluded her from joining a team was another that took place at the same time. She was a restless bundle of energy and needed to blow off steam daily and it was a rare day when she didn’t have workouts of one kind or another morning and evening. (I wrote about her rugby adventures here.)

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and I began a program of yoga, developed specifically for me, that was a daily constant in my life for many years. It did a fairly good job at keeping my joints functioning. (My workout was designed by a brilliant man named Allen Bateman who appears to have disappeared entirely off the face of the earth, Google cannot find him.) I turned Kim onto it and he incorporated some of it into his workout, some things that he continues with today. There came a time however when some of the practice was getting a little risky with the advance of the arthritis and gradually I fell away from it. A few years later a sore shoulder which blew up into a frozen shoulder lead me ultimately to Pilates. I loved Pilates and it always makes me feel good about myself and my body.

However, at some point I wanted more exercise than I could afford via Pilates and the instructor of that studio sent me to Harris Cowan, personal trainer (@livestrongernyc), who I have seen pretty much every single week of my life (a few work trips notwithstanding) for the past 9 years. I have followed him to a myriad of private gym spaces – some nice, some just not – over the years. In many ways, I would have considered myself the least likely person to enlist the help of a personal trainer, but the arthritis meant certain concerns if not actual limitations, and as I had never walked into a gym in my life I wouldn’t have known what the heck to do. I joined what passed for an inexpensive gym in Manhattan and set a commitment to myself of a minimum of three days a week in addition to seeing Harris on a fourth.

Harris probably deserves his own future post as a regular and important feature in my life, but for now I will just say that he has always been superb at pushing me just beyond comfort. I am rarely actually sore the next day, yet progress is achieved. He is sensitive to the issues my body has, but generally has a can do no nonsense approach. When setbacks (such as foot surgery) occur he has helped me reset and again we build and move forward. He slowly restored first one shoulder, and then eventually the other, to full usability.

No one could be more surprised than me that it turns out I love lifting weights. Left to my own devices it is all I would ever do in a gym, eschewing cardio (back in the pre-quarantine days when I actually did some), and tedious but necessary things like squats. Actually, I adore the gym. I relax immediately upon walking into a gym. I find that if you are going to hold weights over your head you had better focus your mind on that and nothing else which means it is a method to clear my mind of the constant demanding chatter of work and life.

When I traveled for work it was always the most centering thing I can do. No matter where I am in the country or the world, if I can drag myself out of bed early and to the gym I am the better for it. The first thing I check about every hotel in advance and when I check in is the gym.

I happily stuff earphones with a bit of contemporary fiction via Audible playing in my ears and I am in a blissfully focused, quiet place for 60 to 90 minutes. Exercise does as much (if not more) for my mental state as for my physical one. (Strangely, passages of those novels replayed, bring me right back to where I heard them first, either my own gym here on the east side of Manhattan, or a hotel in San Francisco where I traveled down the block to use a gym for a workout, back when I was still at the Met.) I have a mental image of hotel gyms across the world (they are lousy in most of Europe) and the country – some that were quite nice and others a bit less so. Some crowded, many (most) fairly empty.

My first gym was a small local chain of a few gyms. I went from feeling like an alien there to slowly becoming a fixture there, among a small devoted clutch of folks who were there upwards of four days every week. In the first years of working out I often found myself there six days a week. Because I often only found time to work out before going to the office, I kept a locker at the gym and would shower and get ready for work there. I considered a locker essential as not only did it mean that I could carry less on those mornings, but it also meant I could leave clothes and sneakers there, enabling me to stop by for a workout I had not planned. When the gym eventually did away with lockers as part of a renovation, I somewhat regretfully moved a few blocks up to the more upscale Equinox.

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In Manhattan Equinox is somewhat in the upper echelon of gym chains. While I had enjoyed the decidedly low rent aspect of my first gym, I ultimately felt that for someone who spent as much time at the gym as I did I probably could pay more and I sunk happily into the relative luxury of it, although I admittedly missed some of the regulars at my old establishment.

Not that I ever much spoke to them. In my mind I had names for them such as Man Who Reads the Paper on the Bike, but Never Pedals or Woman With Red Hair Who Runs. I never felt the need to really talk to people, although after a few years some of us might nod at each other. One day I ran into one of these folks on the crosstown bus and we actually had a conversation. We commented on how strange it was to see each other fully clothed, ours was a locker room acquaintance and I’m sure the other passengers thought we were very odd. One of them (Thin Man Who Lifts While Biking) turned up at Equinox and we had a happy nod hello to acknowledge the reacquaintance.

Starting three years ago my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center took a ferocious bite out of my time and it has been harder to make it to the gym on weekdays in the past few years. My six and seven day habit became more of a three and four day one with work being a starting very early and ending very late sort of thing. I was still very relieved to get there and let everything else fall away.

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My view of Cookie from the floor while working out the other day.

 

So, of course, living our quarantine lives has meant no gym and I miss it very much. (So much that I dreamed about working out on machines last night – probably the inspiration for this post.) Even the gym in our building (which I also belong to in order to grab more workouts on the fly, yes, I belong to two gyms) is closed by order of state law, unable to open until some future post-phase 4 re-opening. (I occasionally fantasize about breaking into the one in the basement and making off with a few weights and the Bosu ball.) Gyms in New York are in a suspended state in much the same state as our concert hall, awaiting such a time as it is safe for us to return.

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Cookie looking a bit critical during a recent workout, perched on Kim’s work chair.

 

On the other hand, exercise continues at Deitch Studio as a daily ritual. Like so many people these days my new work wardrobe consists primarily of workout clothes – mine starting to get a bit ragged from the constant rotation. Kim and I vie early each morning for time on our 10’x 4′ (or so) space on yoga mats, our designated work out area in front of the flat files and blocking the entrance to the bedroom.

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Yep, gym equipment piled up next to DVD stacks and some of Kim’s comics reading.

 

I have slowly accumulated a variety of weights (luckily I had some from a former period of at home rehab which was a good thing because there was a shortage of them and price gauging online if you could get them at all), a ball, some bands, a foam roller. Cookie in particular is interested in this daily ritual (she is wildly fond of a paint pole we use for shoulder exercises and also comes running if I am using the green band). Blackie, ham that he is, only shows up to say hello to Harris during my Facetime workout however. (Blackie has discovered his inner actor and extrovert tendencies as a video call cat star during these work at home days.)

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Yummy corn muffins in progress last weekend.

 

Harris appears on my iPad weekly, where he watches some random portion of me visible to him, and I work out to his instruction. Not ideal, but it works. And despite missing the gym and a broad variety of equipment there, the good news is that I am back up to five or more workouts a week, biceps gaining ground and abs attempting to keep up with my renewed interest in cooking. (See prior posts herehere and here.) As mentioned above, cardio is a bit of disaster despite the occasional trip up the 16 flights of stairs here; I find myself huffing and puffing when I attempt to walk more than a mile. I am slowly adding in daily walks to offset this until such time that more walking and even elliptical machines are a part of my life again.

However, I often joke that I will emerge from the bunker days with a prison pallor, oddly buff, but a bit puffy and overweight – perhaps sporting a Deitch designed cat tats on each bicep. Perhaps I will work some of that good cooking weight off biking to work in the coming new post-Covid world. I will let you know.

 

Quite a Kitty

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am possibly one of the last people in this country to actually buy something off of Instagram. Somehow, all this time, Instagram has remained sort of pure – few if any ads hit my stream, just an endless stream of mostly interesting and often happy making, (frequently) feline. I follow a few vendors, DL Cerney, maker of vintage inspired clothing (I once wrote about them in a post here), notably among them.

However, for the most part, cheerful consumer though I am, until recently I had never purchased anything off of Instagram. I know people do, I was talking to a friend from North Carolina who said she has spent a fortune on Instagram while grounded from traveling from her job in banking.

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I only add people to the feed occasionally, mostly keeping away from politics and famous folks, and I try to put out in the world what I like to see myself. There are photos of the cats, my neighborhood, toys, art and music. When I traveled for work I posted those photos and I frequently posted from Dizzy’s and other shows.

Like this blog, I do it purely for pleasure and therefore focus on what makes me happy. I have happily watched fostered kitties, Rupert and Pumpkin, join the two glorious gray Persian kits, Bam Bam and Mr. Biscuits, in the cheerfully chock-a-block filled home of the people known only to me as fatfink and Motivated Manslayer. (I knew from day one those kits would join that household permanently. Like my father used to say about my mom, What foster? Cats come into this house but they never leave.) I follow the conservation studios at the Met and keep an eye on what they are working on, see what my friend Eileen is doing in Vermont during the quarantine, and keep track of Eden out in Santa Barbara.

However, I acquired a follower recently who had a nice Halloween cat head as her avatar and the moniker of missmollysantiques. A look at Miss Molly’s account showed a glory of rather interesting item images, including several black cats, and so I made a rare add to my feed. What I didn’t realize is that she is a seller of such items and shortly after adding her she had a sale.

Well, my somewhat latent buying gene kicked back in and I purchased this beauty of a black cat-o-lantern almost immediately. (Several photographs followed subsequently and perhaps you will see those in coming weeks although I am a bit slow for the fast pace of purchasing this way. As I hesitate a minute or two too long an item is snatched away. This is speed buying.) Miss Molly appears to be a young woman from St. Louis, Missouri and she is evidently selling out the holdings from her space in an antiques mall there.

I have known for years that I wanted a specimen example of one of these early paper mâché Halloween cat heads. I remember the first time I saw them was in Cold Spring, New York at an antique store that had a fabulous display of early Halloween items and toys. They were priced far beyond my means, but I was fascinated by them – the jack-o-lantern pumpkins as well as the black cats. I believe it was awhile longer before I saw one of these heads that still had the paper insert and that was sort of another kick in the head revelation too.

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Halloween collectibles are a deep and heady genre to themselves and have always been pricey. Despite a prevalence of black cats I have only nibbled around the edges of it. I bought a number of reprints of the turn-of-the-century, do it yourself holiday decorating books by the Dennison paper company. (I wrote about them in a popular post that can be found here.) The arrival of eBay softened the Halloween market somewhat, but at the high-end objects remain dear. I paid up for this item, fair market value anyway I would say. I think it was in part pent up desire, but also it was just there for the buying and bam! It is mine. No buyer’s remorse here.

 

 

On one hand these jack-o-lanterns (I think of this as a cat-o-lantern) are somewhat primitive by the slick standards of today. However, the paper mâché is strong and these have held up to decades of use with only signs of wear around the edges and ears. It is fragile, yet oddly sturdy too and the inside smells of age and paper glue. I believe this kitty was likely made in the 1930’s, a generation or so after the introduction of such items, some coming from Germany and others made in the United States.

I cannot imagine how putting a candle in this did not result in a fire, but it is early for there to have been another light source option. (There is no evidence of candle use inside this one. As you can see if you look carefully, I have employed my cell phone flashlight here.) Miss Molly was offering this cat and another, cat head on a fence design which I liked, but the condition on this one won me over.

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Inside the cat-o-lantern, no evidence of lit candle use.

 

I might have given him a few more whiskers if left up to me, but he is nicely molded around his eyes, nose and mouth and the back of his head is shaped like a pumpkin. (Imagine a line of these and some pumpkin heads lighting up a nighttime window while you trick or treat.) I might have been tempted to lavish more orange paint details on him, but once you see him with a light inside you realize all that is unnecessary. He is in his glory in the dark and lit up from the inside!

July 4

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is more of a rumination on the past post so you might want to get out early if you don’t like those. I don’t own either of these firework labels, but I like the idea of industrious kittens preparing your firecrackers for you, yet still playing – kittens will always be kittens! Letting them play with your fireworks is probably a bad idea however, needless to say.

Pictorama readers know I grew up on the Jersey shore (one post, about the other end of summer and the local fireman’s fair can be found here), and by this time in the summer a beloved routine of maximized daily beach going would have already commenced. Waking to an overcast and potentially rainy Fourth, such as I see out my window right now, would have equaled tragedy indeed, but then again every day missed out in the sun and water during those summers was a catastrophe. In this way I feel deeply sorry for the kids who, due to the virus, won’t be able to go to the beaches and pools this summer. It was a precious release valve of my childhood.

Meanwhile, my parents shared a deep aversion to crowds. For my father as a news cameraman it may have been the daily need to fight his way through them, his more than six feet four inches enabling him to make his way so he could get the shot he needed for the news. My dad was appalled when he discovered that I used to routinely go to see the Thanksgiving balloons blown up each year. He always said it was one of his least favorite assignments, along with shooting the parade on Thanksgiving Day. Just shook his head in amazement like how could he have failed so as a father. Needless to say, much from my kid-perspective disappointment, we never went to see the parade either.

Mom just doesn’t like crowds and will do anything to avoid them. And when I think about it, summer crowds in that shore town meant long traffic jams. I can see being in a car with a bunch of kids in the oppressive summer heat (our cars did not have air conditioning back in the day – yes, I am that old – and we frequently had ancient automobiles as well); stuck in traffic, waiting for the drawbridge, or just in a mass of cars released or heading to the local race track, Monmouth Park and the beach – was not attractive. But also, my parents eschewed large group gatherings.

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The drawbridge between Rumson and Sea Bright which figured largely into my childhood, causing traffic chaos and which I crossed on foot with some trepidation.

 

Anyway, it was a fact and that meant that no amount of wheedling and cajoling or nudging would get them into a car to take us to see fireworks on the Fourth. They even avoided the small town parade that took place early on the morning of July 4, except for a year I vaguely remember being pressed into service to march with my Girl Scout troop, Brownies most likely. For my folks it was a weekend to stay home which they took to with a certain fierceness which was unlike their usual casual willingness to comply with our simple childhood whims.

As a kid this was nothing short of a grave injustice. I loved fireworks with the strangely delayed boom, boom, the cascades of color and the patterns of the lights. Seeing them on television, or off in the distance from our backyard, just didn’t cut it when I knew a few miles away I could have, in theory, had a front row seat. We had a sailboat and we might have, like hundreds of others, taken it out and watched them over the water. (River traffic on those nights was easily as bad as land traffic however, and frankly my father’s somewhat dubious skill as a skipper may not have qualified him for that tricky night maneuver, heading to a different river and involving two drawbridge openings. Of course I didn’t realize that as a kid.)

Therefore, I have no memory of viewing fireworks in person with my parents as a child. I don’t remember discussing this parental failing with my siblings, although I must have talked to my sister about it. It must not have concerned Loren much or I would have remembered – she was the more vocal of the two of us. Edward was much younger and did not weigh in on the debate either. Perhaps he remembers something of it I do not.

Adolescence brought some independence and I routinely imposed firework attendance on a long line of boyfriends. Most complied with some enthusiasm – we picnicked in parks, swatted mosquitoes and took the displays in, shrugging off the crowds and the parking problems. The best was going out on a motor boat with friends of friends one year and parking more or less right under where the fireworks were going off – close enough that the curling hot little bits of burning paper falling from the sky landed around us in the boat. It remains the peak firework viewing experience of my life.

I probably should have stopped there, but human nature being what it is I continued to pursue firework watching through my early adulthood. Displays switching here in Manhattan from East River to Hudson, and I would head over to the East River on those designated years (for some mystical reason I never tried to see them from the westside), to watch them on the FDR. Even here in Manhattan the density of humans thronging over to the viewing area meant a long, hot walk and wait for crowded viewing, followed by a still hot and very crowded walk back to packed subways and buses. A bridge would always seem to obscure your view. It took years for me to get it out of my system.

Somewhat like my childhood home on the river, Kim and I live with a view of the East River, although we face northeast and see the river as it turns a bit toward the north. And much like the backyard of my childhood, we have only partial and obscured views of the fireworks in Queens in most years and a very poor one (high rises in the way) of those set off over the East River. Early on I made nascent attempts to head over to Carl Schurz Park, or to scamper up to the roof with a pint of ice cream to have a look. Although I gave up on it years ago, I still have a small itch most years, to see them.

This year the fireworks are canceled in New York, although illegal ones have strangely abounded since early in the spring, occasionally waking us and rousing the cats to head for safer ground, such as under the bed although it is such a regular occurrence that they generally ignore it. Kim woke to a cacophony of car horns at Gracie Mansion a few weeks ago, protesting the illegal fireworks which also set off car alarms. (I slept through it, but read about it and the point of it days later.) Although I prefer fireworks to the sirens of ambulances that we heard throughout the nights of March and April, it is far from soothing and there are nights when it tests my already frayed nerves.

Because going out for groceries in our pandemic pounded city still seems like a big deal – our newly introduced outdoor dining seeming radical to my pasty housebound self – it would have been unlikely that we would deviate and embrace public Independence Day celebration. I have finally become my parents and avoid crowds.

Meanwhile, as a fundraiser for organizations that end their fiscal year on June 30 and begin anew on July 1, in recent years I have generally found myself exhausted over this holiday, the end of a final long sprint to the financial finish line, and in other years I have extended it with vacation just to catch up a bit.

Vacation days are going begging this year though as Jazz at Lincoln Center battled through the end of last fiscal year, having already gone more than three months without earned income, our hall dark and our orchestra unable to play. We hit our marks for last year, but now go barrel headlong into an even more difficult year, facing at least six months without earned income and trying to charter an unknown course ahead. Not to mention that it is also unclear what vacation means now, without leaving our 600 square feet and computer screens. Still, we’re slowing to a halt for a day or so here at Deitch Studio, pausing and catching our collective breath, before heading back into it.

 

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Egged On

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a bit of an unusual post – this egg carton presented itself in my inbox early Saturday morning and captured my imagination. The folks at Ruby Lane make sure I get a daily email with a cat purchase option. These range from cat theme pins even your grandmother would be embarrassed to wear to things I want, but are already sold (um, what is that about?) and yesterday, this egg carton. Now, devoted though I am, even I couldn’t really see spending $25 on it, but it stayed with me and perhaps one of you Pictorama readers will feel differently and purchase it.

First, I was just tickled that an egg company actually had the inclination to plop Felix on their carton, contributing to the idea that Felix could and did sell anything and everything. Then I realized that, hard to read, down in the right corner below one dozen it reads Felix T. Wright, Silverton, Oregon 97381. So he played with his name and added this jolly off-model (free-hand we might say?) Felix. A nice way to get around any copyright issues should they have arisen.

I have to say though that it was the term cackle fresh under the eggs which made me chuckle and made this a little irresistible. The lines emanating from the eggs lend a pleasantly cartoon-y feeling to this happy little Faux Felix who is presenting them for our consideration. (Kim suggested that perhaps instead small black cats would come dancing out of the hatched eggs – an image I love.)

Additionally, even as a saver and a keeper, the idea that somehow this egg carton survives entertains and surprises me greatly. Of course there is no way of telling how old (or not) it is, but an internet search does not turn up a surviving company by this name. And, really, who keeps an egg carton? Even a really fun one?

As someone who stopped eating meat decades ago, the question of eggs is always in play. While I currently eat eggs there were times in my life when I did not and I remember having a discussion on an airplane where my vegetarian breakfast was eggs and I pointed out that eggs are not a vegetable. (There are so many things about this memory that seem unimaginable as I sit here – eating breakfast on an airplane meaning they served food – and when will I be on a plane eating breakfast again?)

This leads up to the oddity of dairy – animal product, yet eggs somehow pushing a line in a way let’s say cheese does not. Kim, a generally utterly intrepid and un-fussy eater, does not eat eggs and therefore I rarely have them in the house.

This self-imposed egg moratorium has lead to some creative alternatives for my recent baking experiments (posts about my poor man’s cake, a one-bowl chocolate cake and most recent rather splendid cheesy olive bread can be found herehere and here, complete with recipes) which have largely grown out of quarantine cooking ennui. All of these have egg alternatives and at least two could be made vegan. I have, for the first time in my life, realized the value of buttermilk and yogurt as binders. (Thank you Google!) I will consider a vegan version of matzoh ball soup in the fall with miso broth. Fascinating.

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One-bowl chocolate mayonnaise cake.

 

Meanwhile, I was taught a thing or two about cooking eggs. As a culinary school graduate I can remember omelet lessons where the class went through a truly extraordinary number of eggs as we were trained on proper execution. It was a French restaurant school and they took their omelet technique very seriously and assured us that even master chefs were tested for their omelet making skills when interviewing for positions. You can imagine at first how many misses there were in omelet flipping. Yikes!

After graduation I narrowing missed taking a position in a hotel on Fifth Avenue as an omelet line chef, standing around making omelets to order for guests. I occasionally wonder how taking that position might have changed the course of my life Instead I ended up at another hotel, the now extinct Drake Swiss Hotel, as the garde manger for a young Jean-George Vongerichten and his first restaurant there, The Lafeyette. For all of that, I am sure whatever omelet skill I had (I was middle of the pack at best) has long deteriorated and I also prefer mine more thoroughly cooked than the French seem to preach.

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Overgrown dumplings, made with pancake mix, in a yummy root veggie stew early in my quarantine cooking adventures.

 

I am thinking more about my nascent cooking career these days as I dust off some of my skills and tools in the interest of entertaining myself and Kim a bit with pantry provender and a new house cuisine à la Pam. I made a (very) nice angel hair pasta the other day with a lemon juice sauce. In the process I scrounged up a zester I purchased during my cooking school days and hadn’t used in decades. Cooking again, with zest no less, a turn of quarantine events I had not anticipated.

At Night All Cats are Gray

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a French postcard post about a card I purchased on eBay from a French seller. Something about the illustration appealed even if the drawings of the cats are a bit too stylized for my taste, it works in this context. The card was offered with two color variations – the other being predominantly pink and is still available as I write this.

The title is a Google translation (I use these handy, if occasionally mechanical, translations throughout this post), but sort of romantic nevertheless. I have frequently tripped over cats at night in our apartment and wondered which one I stepped on often enough, although as Pictorama readers all know, our cats are black to start with so I might argue the point. Not to mention that they meow differently so one is sure to know who you have offended.

This wonderful smiling moon (which is what first attracted me to this card and is very Deitchian) peers out from the parting clouds on this late night feline fiesta, atop a shingled rooftop in France, and shines down on this scene. This card was never mailed and is covered with writing (in French) on the back which I share below, but is beyond my limited means even to get the gist of – please share if you are a French reader and can translate! Meanwhile, I especially like the jolly pink roof.

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In the lower left corner our singing fellow is identified as Music Lover Pussy. (I believe I wrote last week about caterwauling kitties, in my tribute to my dad’s cat Red which can be found here.) He sings a little tune, Mi-mi-la-re-do-si! Blackie has this tendency to vocalize and was just working his howl on me the other morning. He likes to get me out of bed at  a specific time each morning so he can immediately curl up in my spot while it is still warm. I suspect that only I could think that is cute rather than strictly annoying.

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Blackie, annoyed and waiting for the spot, the other morning after howling at me. 

 

The next cat over is a Black Cat (who) loves jazz enormously. Appropriately as the jazz kitty he is the most dynamic of the group and has the traditional black cat, back up pose. Below him N’aime pas le mou! translates roughly to doesn’t like it soft. Meaning, I gather, that he likes his jazz loud!

The truly gray cat in the middle is identified as Gutter Cat (gosh – seems like an unkind moniker) and he is growling and muttering about jumping? Below Angora, elderly cat, labeled cat it says, long and silky coat is the passion of old men. As the senior member he has a nice perch atop of the chimney stack and draws the viewer’s eye to the windmill, on a hill, in the background. Tiny lights from the town below twinkle and I realize that this card is actually a tight little composition.

Lastly we have the only woman in the group – White Cat (who) responds to the sweet name Minette and spends her time on success. I take this to mean she only pays attention to big spender boys? She is aloof in the lower corner. I am not sure any of these fellows is worthy of her attention. So there.

Nocturnal feline visitors on rooftops and fences make up an entire genre of cat sheet music (see my post of some here and here); postcards such as the great Louis Wain version I featured here; and even photographs, as below and posted about here. While I always find the plaintive evening howl of a cat outside distressing (yes, we do hear them even on the 16th floor where Deitch Studio is perched), the nighttime howling of pussy cats is a long-standing kitty archetype. Me-ow!

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Red Buttons

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a sad cat post so, given that it is Father’s Day and you may already have your own issues you may want to skip this one. However, having said that, I always remind myself that we do the best we can for our feline friends, give them a home and hopefully a great life and we should be happy about that when they depart this world. With some luck they lived out their years granted in comfort and beloved – after all, what more can any of us really ask? Therefore, I will just say that today I am celebrating and honoring Red.

Red was my father’s cat, which is why I have chosen to mark his recent passing today on Father’s Day. Decades ago now, my parents had been in the habit of feeding a few neighborhood cats – one or two proper strays and probably a few wise guy neighborhood ringers who were just grabbing some extra food on the hoof. At one point Red, a sweet faced orange tabby, joined the passing parade. At first it wasn’t clear that he was homeless, but over time it became evident.

My folks were already well endowed with indoor living cats and were not looking to expand the tribe. However, a day came when there was a terrible snow storm and Red pressed himself up against the backdoor window. Abandoning all caution my parents decided to let him in and that, as we say, was that. Red, so named by Dad, immediately became a member of the Butler cat colony and family. Quickly, he distinguished himself as an especially well-natured fellow and over time as my father’s particular fast friend. (My Dad’s memory deteriorated in his final years and dramatically in his last few months however one day out of the blue he told me the story of acquiring Red with details I had never heard before. I was stunned that such a detailed piece of memory would land like a gem in my lap.)

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Red came along about the time my father was retiring from his decades-long career at ABC News as a cameraman and although he had always liked the cats, Dad became a bit more involved in the life of cats in the house as a result of being home more. Notably, Dad liked to eat smoked salmon and a smart cat could sidle up at the right time and in the right way and get cut in on it. Red did but was never aggressive or pushy, a gentleman cat. (By contrast Blackie comes running every time he hears the toaster in hopes that it might lead to smoked salmon, loudly demanding. It does occasionally enough pay off that hope lives eternal.) My father was the only one who also called him Red Buttons.

He was among the best behaved cats I have ever known, which Pictorama readers know covers a swath of cats. I never knew him to chase another cat or misbehave. The only flaw I can report is that every few years he’d get a crazy notion and shoot outside when a door was open and no one was looking. It would then take considerable work and wooing to get him back in the house. No idea what he was thinking.

That is the thing about strays, right? You don’t know their history or why they might react the way they do to things. Red had clearly been a house cat, not on the streets for long when he came our way. He understood the ways of houses – litter boxes, refrigerators meant food and the like. My parents notified the local SPCA and animal control in case anyone had reported him missing. We were all relieved though when no one claimed him.

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Red on Dad’s lap many years ago now.

 

He enjoyed his position as Dad’s cat and would happily sit on his lap for hours while Dad read or listened to the radio, and generally slept with him at night. Oddly though, when I came to visit he would take it upon himself to be my temporary cat during the course of my stay and escort me to my room and curl up on the bed with me. It reminded me of the Japanese hotel cats I have read about – rent a cat with your room for the night, but self-initiated.

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Red acting as hotel cat, early one sunny morning

 

Another interesting aspect of Red was he had toys he called his own, a clutch of no fewer than six or eight toy mice (and some large ones made by a friend of my mom’s that could only be described as rats) which he was very proprietary over. He liked to carry them around and line them up in patterns that only (but clearly) divined something to him. When I stayed over in recent years he would bring them upstairs to me and line them up in front of my bedroom door, usually in a line from there to the bathroom or the nearby stairs. He meowed and muttered loudly to himself while undertaking this activity. Busy with cat business.

 

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The mysterious line up of Red’s toys.

 

Those of you who have co-existed with cats know that there are a few (I want to say exclusively the boys) who roam the house meowing and bellowing at night and Red, as a very verbal fellow, would indulge in this occasionally. The regular denizens of the house had long trained themselves to sleep through it. I will admit, that combined with my father’s rather maniacal fondness for clocks which would chime throughout the night, overnight visits to Jersey were not my best rested.

When my father eventually became so infirm that he was confined to bed, Red kept a constant vigil, sleeping on the bed next to him. When I would come in he would come to me and try to tell me a long story about it all before settling back on the bed with Dad. When eventually Dad was moved to a hospice I would go down on the weekend to see him and I would show him recent photos of Red and we would talk about him like the old mutual friend he was.

Dad and Red

Arriving back at the house after visiting at the hospice, Red would be sleeping in Dad’s chair off the kitchen, but he would come running to see me and talk to me about my visit. I think he could smell my father on me, through all the hospital smells. After Dad died I couldn’t shake the feeling that Red knew the difference. I was there but I had not been to see Dad. He would come to me and stare into my eyes all knowing, meow and we’d have a conversation.

About a year and a half ago, following some tragedies in her own life, a cousin began spending the nights at my mom’s house. The cats all love her, but Red in particular adopted her and became very devoted to her, bringing her his toys and sleeping with her as he had my Dad. However, as before, when I came to stay he would instead spend the night with me, still ever the host, hotel cat style.

 

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Sleeping on Dad’s chair

 

We became aware over time that he had cancer and he lived with it without much incident for a several years, eating fairly well and only losing a bit of weight. Sadly though, about a month ago he developed a terrible infection in his mouth. The vet got him through surgery but he died about a day later.

While in the midst of a pandemic, with so much loss all around, it is hard to confess my deep sadness about the death of an elderly cat. And it is tempered with what I said at the beginning, Red had an excellent life with us and although we cannot know his actual age, he must have approached the two decade mark. Still, his passing marks a final link to my Dad broken. On Father’s Day I will raise a bowl of ice cream in Dad’s honor (a favorite, although he liked a dry martini too, but not quite my style), but I am thinking about Red too.

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Glorious Food

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have generally always had a good relationship with food. Despite a few allergies in early childhood, eventually resolved on their own – horrifyingly chocolate was briefly among them, followed by a reaction to animal fat triggered by a vaccine as a toddler. However, I was never an especially picky eater (it should be noted that I did have an odd and specific loathing of meatloaf, to my family a well-known aversion), although the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in suburban New Jersey did not exactly encourage fearless experimentation. During my college years, I eventually wandered toward eating only fish and dairy on the animal side of things.

I did grow up around good cooking (some of my posts about my ancestors, their restaurants and cooking here and here), and despite coming of age in an era of tv dinners and frozen vegetables, the local bounty of the Garden State plied us, at least seasonally, with fresh vegetables (nothing like a sun warmed Jersey tomato or corn right off the vine), and locally fished seafood right off the boat.

Even the sandy soil of our backyard, not immune to fall and winter’s hurricane flooding of salt water, still managed to provide us with a not insignificant annual bounty of tomatoes and herbs at a minimum. Strawberry vines grew wild and these were generally tiny, but sweet – however, you had to beat the bunnies and birds to them and in later years we surrendered them to that cause. Sunflowers grew even taller than my father and there was often a strange annual surplus of squash. Corn and cucumbers would not grew there, despite my periodic attempts. We Butlers were casual farmers at best however – our interest waning as the summer grew longer and hotter, however by that point everything pretty much ticked along as long as you were attentive about watering during the long hot days.

My mother reduced her efforts largely to containers in later years and even then the luxury of fresh herbs from the garden, only picking what you needed, spoiled me when I was visiting and cooking there. By that time I had already had a (albeit brief) career cooking professionally. However, despite having been around it plenty as a kid, I really learned to cook by doing it with friends who knew more about it than me – eventually fueled by a very real interest in cookbooks which at one point in my life I read on my long daily subway commute during an internship while living in London.

If I have a talent for cooking (and I would volunteer mine is modest at best really) it is that having grasped the fundamentals of a recipe I can then riff on it and make it my own with variations on a theme. (For me this is less true in baking which I approach as alchemy and a science not to be messed with – although there are people who are amazing at this, I have long recognized that I am not one of those magicians.)

My interest in cooking has long been submerged and drastically subdued over the years by long hours and travel for my job in fundraising. Without really being aware, our food needs were increasingly being met by a variety of easily made or semi-assembled meals. Kim is not a fan of eating out (and back in normal days I ate out a lot for work), and we generally limit even our take-out eating to Friday night. Until recently that was Mexican food. Taco Today, owned by a Korean family and less than a block away, was our Friday night destination after a long week. I would sometimes meet Kim there after working out at the gym, although gym after work not happening in the past year or so as my hours at work grew ever longer.

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View of First Avenue from inside Taco Today, waiting for our Friday night order last year.

 

Those were of course the sylvan pre-pandemic days. Taco Today closed for renovation in early March and therefore avoided the dilemma of deciding whether they could stay in business. We have stuck to our Friday night take-out and supported our local pizza place (love you Arturo’s!) and first one and now another Mexican establishment somewhat further afield. There was briefly a sandwich shop on First, just opened pre-Covid, owned by an Indian man who would occasionally slip some native Indian fare into the offerings. He closed sometime in late March, but I just noticed yesterday they seem to have re-opened.

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Arturo’s Pizza is the best and we are very grateful for their effort to remain open during the Pandemic. This fellow greets us each time at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Yorkville establishment.

 

Working from home has involved even longer hours, but well, at home. I have already written some about the beehive of activity here in this one small room we call Deitch Studio and home. (I outlined some of the details in my recent post, We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont. which can be found here.) Thankfully our kitchen renovation (which still gives me horrors, the details can be found in a few posts that start here) was completed last fall. It has been put to excellent use.

It should be noted that I have always indulged in eating copious fruit and working from home during a pandemic I have allowed an unfettered consumption of oranges, apples and berries. Meanwhile, slowly the cooking memory muscle has begun to grind back to life. First a renewed interest in how to use leftovers, then wandering over to pastas. Fish fillets now enjoy blankets of sauce and dinner rarely has fewer than two vegetables. I replaced my broken food processor. Kim’s birthday saw the production of an actual, if simple, chocolate cake (recently documented here) and suddenly the itch to bake and cook is beckoning. (And yes, for those of you who are paying attention, I really only have one size of loaf Pyrex so everything is uniformly coming out the same size and shape!) I think I feel gazpacho coming on next.

The ever present worry about health living in quarantine during a pandemic has presumably fueled this interest beyond the additional time spent at home. What greater defense has there ever been against falling ill than eating right? Concerns about dieting seem absurd when considered in the context of pandemic, people falling ill and dying all around. While I have controlled a nagging desire to let loose with a barrage of baking (visions of chocolate chip cookies lurk in the corners of my mind), I made a decision early on that if I was going to be in quarantine I was doing it with dark chocolate and good ice cream. (Other folks thought this way and for a time ice cream was hard to find here.)

Frankly, if you are going to be marooned somewhere for several months, having continued access to excellent bagels (shout out to Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue) and pizza (another huzzah for Arturo’s, also on York) goes a long way to making up for the lack of access to outdoor space and well, space in general. Yay Manhattan!

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Messy crowded counter which I did not have time to clear off when the urge to make this cheesy olive loaf yesterday. 

 

Meanwhile, this week the desire manifested itself in another recipe from The New York Times, this time for an olive cheese bread. Bread in general presents a problem for me as I have arthritis in my hands and kneading has been out of the question for decades already. I more experienced baker might be able to substitute some aspect of the Cuisinart for this activity. (If you are one of those folks and want to enlighten me, please do.) I have not figured it out. This sort of faux bread skips that step and requires only a firm hand with a spatula mixing.

I have long thought that if I had stayed in the professional cooking business I might have moved into baking and not fancy pastry, but more down to earth things like bread, muffins and loaf cakes. I have never had a significant sweet tooth really and it is those savory items I might have spent my time concocting in another life. These are more forgiving than the French pastry of my training as well and allow even my somewhat ham-handed invention and variation.

Back to the cheesy olive bread. It is very simple and it is really delightful. Somehow it reminds me of my grandmother’s somewhat cake-y loaves. Kim is not a fan of eggs so I replaced them by doubling the buttermilk (I could have done the same by using yogurt and doubling it, but I couldn’t find yogurt I liked at the market) and it worked just fine, better than expected. (Now I have half of a container of buttermilk to use – any ideas out there?) I went the route of rosemary for herbs and included the suggested fresh ground pepper.

The smell while cooking was heavenly and a bonus is that you experience it all over again if you heat your slice before consuming which I also recommend – although oddly it doesn’t seem to actually toast. Might be my lack of eggs in the recipe but not sure. Meanwhile, mmmm! I am looking forward to slicing up some tomatoes, perhaps with some fresh basil, to put atop of slabs of this.

The recipe can be found on the NYT site here or as below. Thank you Melissa Clark!

Savory Olive and Cheese Loaf by Melissa Clark

2½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour (or a combination of all-purpose and some whole-wheat or rye flour) 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil 1 cup/240 ml fermented dairy product (buttermilk or plain yogurt) 2 eggs ¾ cup/110 gr sliced pitted olives 1 cup/8 ounces grated cheese cup/8 ounces grated cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar or other hard grating cheese), divided (7 ounces & 1 ounce) 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram or rosemary OR 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan (or line it with parchment). In a large bowl, whisk together dey ingredients. In a large measuring cup, whisk together olive oil and buttermilk/yogurt. (If using thick Greek yogurt, thin it down with a little water, milk, or whey from yogurt-making.) Whisk in the eggs. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry to form a heavy, thick batter. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pitted olives and ¾ cup/7 ounces grated cheese. Finally, add the herbs and seasonings. Spread the batter in the pan and scatter the remaining ¼ cup/1 ounce grated cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is browned and the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm as soon as you can unmold it (about 30 minutes after baking).

Teed Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I dust off an item I have owned for so many decades that I do not remember exactly how or where I acquired it. However, given the time period I came into possession of him I would guess I found him at a street fair.

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Manhattan had street fairs, spring through fall, almost every weekend and all over the city. Unlike what they became later, in those early years there were a lot more tables of mom and pop types set up selling old stuff, semi-flea market style. (Meanwhile the beloved flea markets were being chased from their real estate so that new, towering condos could be constructed.) I followed them religiously around the city, taking in each new neighborhood along the way as I was fairly new to the city still, and purchasing odd items.

The street fairs were eventually taken over by corporate entities and the small time sellers pushed out and with that I stopped going. These days I would guess they will continue to be paused entirely during our coming pandemic colored summer and fall and who knows if they will come back and in what form. However, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, all of Manhattan is developing a sort of a free for all, al fresco attitude with street vendors selling food and every establishment with a liquor license selling wine, beer, sangria (think diners trying to make that extra dollar) and mixed cocktails for consumption on the street. Protesters close down streets with marches daily, but the city has comparatively few cars in it, at least in my part of town. I realized recently I haven’t seen a yellow cab in months.

I believe this china, smiling, cart-driving, solid citizen was purchased in a nod to my then boyfriend, Kevin, who always had a nicely decorated, very 1950’s style bar in his tiny apartment on I think it was 10th between Avenues B and C. He was my street fair partner in crime and his taste in bar tchotchkes and decor definitely had an influence on me and my collecting in those days.

We drank as well and would explore interesting old New York lairs on the weekends. In that way we explored all of the still extant Yorkville bars, some almost private clubs like Elsie Renee’s Oke Doke Bar, where the elderly owner studied each person via a small window in a wooden door before deciding if safe to allow them into the charming, if barren, bar – not much decoration here; some dusty liquor bottles and plastic flowers as I remember. Her apartment was behind it through a small outdoor courtyard you could see from the bar if it wasn’t dark. Elsie was a stout, gray-haired, no nonsense kind of German matron. I think she served more or less two kinds of (German only) beer. I believe I drank Dinkelacker and Kevin maybe Spaten. A second woman of a similar age helped her and I would see her in the neighborhood, a bright kerchief over her hair, shopping in the remaining German markets of the neighborhood.

Then there was another tiny hole in the wall one called The Toy Bar in the East 70’s, around 77th and Second I want to say. It was ablaze in twinkling Christmas lights and was heavily decorated in toys that were from the 60’s and 70’s, that decade or two largely dating them to my own childhood. They weren’t great toys as such (I was just at the very dawn of toy collecting interest), but the overall effect was splendid and it was a friendly bar. Sadly it drifted out of existence fairly quickly. I often thought if I had lived a bit closer I would have frequented it more.

There were others – a strange subterranean piano bar in full 50’s regalia attached to a restaurant in the East 50’s; another neighborhood piano bar further east; the Top of the Tower Bar perched atop of the Beekman Towers on First Avenue on Mitchell Place (where First Avenue meets Sutton Place) with the most splendid views up and downtown and of the enormous Coca Cola sign across the river. I think we knew that we had a finite amount of time to experience all of these and took advantage of it, to the extent that our limited resources allowed.

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My Bar Caddy would have fit right in at most of these places I think. I find his smile just a tad smirky – the tiniest slip of the brush contributing to that. There is strangely detailed straps and bits hanging off of his cart and bags which being golf ignorant I know nothing of – but I am impressed by the detail nonetheless. (My eye-hand coordination, or lack of, made me such a remarkable failure at golf that I never tried after that first time in gym class, although I sort of admire tell of its Zen qualities. I have a golfing branch of my family however, on my mother’s side, and my great-aunt once won a car at a tournament with a hole-in-one. Notably, she made a second hole-in-one at the same club a few years later. Her granddaughter, a successful eye surgeon, was also splendid at the game and still plays.)

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Finally, tucked into the back of this chipper fellow is a single drink stirrer. In the shape of a golf club (a putter? Kim who did a stint as a caddy says yes.), it has lived, appropriately, in the back of the caddy as long as I can remember. However, it is my memory that it was purchased separately. It is evidently from the Highland Hotel, in Springfield, Massachusetts and on the reverse side it declares, Every Meal a Pleasant Memory. In parting I share a postcard of the Highland Hotel and their menu below. More meals and drinks gone by although in another time and place.

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Drive-in and Take-out

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s post comes again from the magic box of photos from Tom Conroy, stored on my desk, and which I am now exploring more fully during these continued quarantine days. I chose this one because it made me think of the early drive-in’s of my childhood – a summer source of great delight, although not as old as this beauty.

Carpenter’s Sandwiches clearly had a vast menu. A close look shows that in addition to a myriad variety of bbq, they offered bean chili, burgers, beer and stein churned buttermilk. Located at 6285 West Sunset Boulevard, other photos of its unusual architecture are available online. An early automotive blogger has documented it with six publicity photos, those attributed to the libraries at USC. My photo seems to have come first from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (at 5520 Sunset Boulevard – there’s an enormous Target there now) and then a movie still archive in Santa Fe, New Mexico – stamps from both are on the back.

My photo could have been taken at the same time, but appears to show another side of the building. Sandwiches ranged from the high end, sirloin at twenty-five cents, to the low end of fifteen cents. (That blog post, mentioned above, with six additional photos of Carpenter’s can be found here.) My side of the building seems to feature the desserts and coconut custard, french apple and berry pie were all on offer. I like the snappy uniforms of the carhop attendants. It had a sharp, come hither look at night as well.

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While I cannot find the ultimate date of demise of Carpenter’s it is easily traced as far as the early 1940’s. Founded by Harry B. Carpenter and his brother Charles, they continued to build their venues with distinctive architecture and a later version is shown below.

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My own memories of ancient drive-ins is fairly foggy. There was a Stewart’s in a neighboring town, Atlantic Highlands, which seemed to feature the root beer brand and, visited only occasionally, seemed exotic at the time. Although originally a west cost chain, a quick search says that thirty such ones still existed in New Jersey in 2019. I have better memories of an early Dairy Queen which served burgers. It was located in Long Branch, New Jersey and near my grandmother’s house so it was a more frequent stop. It merged in my mind with MacDonald’s which was a slightly later entry but eventually took over more or less entirely.

Diary Queen eventually became a mostly ice cream only franchise near us and the one in my hometown was the very frequent scene of post-dinner visits with dad. (You could easily talk him into it – visits usually resulted in a vanilla cone with chocolate sprinkles for me – although a rare chocolate dip, or rainbow sprinkles could sneak in and an even more rare vanilla sundae with strawberry glop would lure me in. Dad was generally a chocolate cone man, as was my sister Loren. Edward, I can’t remember what you or mom ordered. I think mom often took a pass.) There was a time when a job at Dairy Queen would have been a pinnacle of a certain kind of success for me. I never achieved it, sad to say. My job as a short order cook and sub sandwich assembler at a pizza establishment was as close as I came.

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This Crazees ice cream is on the site of and in the original building of the old Dairy Queen in Rumson, New Jersey where I grew up.

 

As we make our first cautious moves into post-quarantine life here in New York City we are embracing eating outside – spontaneous evening cocktail strolls seem to quietly have taken hold, and I find myself fighting hard to resist the siren beckon of the Mr. Softee truck (Pop-Goes-the-Weasel playing over and over) in our neighborhood, late in the evenings. A bit further out, a variety of new drive-ins are springing up – I have read about films in diner parking lots, old drive-ins taking on new life. (Perhaps a live jazz show in at a drive-in? Could happen.) For now, on the cusp of this particular summer, we are in the middle of our first phase of getting back to life, not as it was but as it will be.

Blue

Pam’s Pictorama Post: One of the facts of living in a small space is that you routinely have to make decisions about what you can and cannot acquire or keep. Since I have lived my entire adult life in studio apartments, this is pretty much just the way it is. The very existence of this blog, chock-a-block full of toys and other precious detritus, proves that I have never wanted for stuff, but despite that decisions are constantly required. A few years back I wrote a post bemoaning some rather large items that had crossed my path which I was unable to provide a home for, much to my chagrin. (That post, Close Quarters can be found here.)

Most disappointingly, living in a small space meant that when my grandmother and then my parents, were moving to smaller quarters I was not able to absorb more of the familiar and treasured items as I might have otherwise. You could, probably rightly, argue that I saved myself a lot of trouble by not accumulating more things than I would ultimately be able to use. In particular though, I smart a bit over the cuckoo clock that I loved as a child which I considered taking. The reality of it was that it was much larger than I remembered and also had the potential for being quite loud. Sort of anathema for a tiny space.

Instead, I gathered a smattering of items. I have already written about a glass made of red and white spatterware that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen and was beloved by the entire extended family.  (That post Ann’s Glass can be found here.) Unlike that glass, some of the items that turned up were not ones I was familiar with from my childhood in her house. Among those was a small set of these glasses.

I assume these were meant for cordials of some kind as they are fairly tiny. The color would have been irresistible for my grandmother who loved all things blue. I wish I knew the story behind her acquiring them because I can barely remember her consuming a glass of wine. I can only imagine they were from a long ago time when the family might have gathered and a variety of drinks served. Or perhaps they were just too pretty to resist, although frankly that was not her style – things were practical and got used.

Cinzano? Vermouth? The former seems possible for that Italian side of the family, the latter less so. These were not sophisticated, nor even regular drinkers. Sherry? Perhaps. Somehow I had reached a ripe adulthood before an elderly friend gave me a bottle of Tio Pepe sherry, her favorite.

The first time I ever had sherry was at her house. It is, in my opinion, an acquired taste but it did grow on me. And, upon the receipt of that bottle I decided that this was an ideal use, as such, for these glasses. However, following largely in the footsteps of my ancestors, I am not a regular drinker and therefore these glasses languish a bit in my cabinet, as does the sherry. However, just to see them each time I open the cupboard gives me pleasure and although it vaguely violates my use it or lose it philosophy around dishes. They are exempt.