The New Year

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit when the New York Times posed the question of if we were indeed not just starting a New Year, but perhaps a whole new decade I was a tad overwhelmed. Suddenly the teens have slipped away and we are launching ourselves into the ’20’s. How on earth did that happen? It was a busy decade – in fact it was a busy year – and it is almost hard to look at the stretch from where we started to where we ended and consider it all of a piece.

I start by sharing a New Year’s card today which I have purchased, but will not reach my mailbox until later in January. (Technically this bends if not actually breaks a Pictorama rule about having items in hand when I write about them, but we know about rules and how they are made to be broken. I claim that privilege today.) I love this somewhat ambiguous image of one cat welcoming the other two, senior and youngster into the New Year, gesturing to the road, a mysterious half-smile on his face. The scene is a snowy one, but the path is clear. The elder cat seems to be saying, “Oh yes, let’s head on into this year!” (Not sure why this is Bonne Annéel rather than Bonne Année. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know or get the reference.)

The French can be depended on for New Year’s cards and I believe the art on this postcard is by Maurice Boulanger – a French artist for whom there doesn’t seem to be much biographical information.  Boulanger’s cards were being produced as early as 1903 – or at least there are some postmarked that early according to one website I found which attempts to catalogue the several hundred cards that were produced. (The postmark on this one is obscured, shown below, addressed in this beautiful neat hand.) Working during the same time as Louis Wain and clearly influenced by him – his cats seem to belong to, if not the same universe, certainly a neighboring one of slightly more sane felines. This card is not signed by Boulanger, but certainly seems to emerge from his stable of kitties.

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Highlights of this decade for me include this blog which came into existence around the halfway mark of the decade, August of 2014. In the wee hours today Pictorama hit 125 subscribed readers – thank you readers! (And a special hello to new subscriber, Ver It’s Peculiar.) I never seem to have the right moment to thank you all for signing up; please know that I am always encouraged by it. A new reader is the very most cheerful thing to discover attached to a ping! on my iPad. For those of you who have meandered around the archive you know that there are more than 600 posts, virtually every Saturday and Sunday. Many of you show up directly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well and your interest is no less appreciated!

One of the most significant changes during this decade is that back in 2010 I was still working at the Metropolitan Museum, leaving the Museum wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. 2017 saw that surprising change after thirty years, when I moved to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue fundraising but overseeing it. I write about Jazz more than I did the Met. Working at the Met after so many years was like breathing – it was hard to take a step back until after I left. They were family to me however and always will be. (My post about leaving the Met can be found here and some of my posts about my work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra can be found here and here.) They too have become family – I find that Kim and I have been slowly absorbed into that, albeit very different, clan.

Most notably, I lost Dad in the latter part of this decade, having lost my sister Loren in the previous one. The loss of loved ones creates its own relative time – all time gets divided into before and after. (I wrote about my last days with Dad here and a bit about my sister here.) Those are the markers that live large in our mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, a look back on posts of 2019 reminds me that this year kicked off with recreating my grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake (I’m sort of itching to make it again – perhaps it is to be a New Year’s tradition for me – yum, that post is here), covered authors Edna Ferber to my continuing obsession with the ever prolific Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Too many posts for me to list for those!) Work took me to the west coast (post here), Johannesburg (here) and most recently, Wisconsin (here). We started renovation on the apartment (too many of those posts to list as well), and best of all Kim’s book Reincarnation Stories was published in October. (Today it is on the Best Comics of 2019 list published in the New York Times Book Review. At the time I write this it can be found here.) I wrote my own two-part, very biased wifely review of Kim’s book which can be found here and here. Some posts this year were good and were well received, some less so. Thank you to those of you who continue to read regardless.

Looking forward is more important than looking back and in that vein Kim is hard at work on his next book, How to Make Comics, even as he continues to do appearances for Reincarnation Stories. I am not really a hardcore resolution maker, but it is my hope and plan to continue, and complete, the work in the apartment, fulfilling a dream of creating a wall of built-in bookcases for increased storage.

I would like to travel a little less for work, but I am not entirely sure that is an attainable goal as I already know I will be in London and Paris with the orchestra in the spring, and maybe Florida and maybe a trip back to Madison, Wisconsin also loom this winter. I would also like to take more time for myself – spend more time with Kim and my mom, get back to a more orderly exercise routine. (I have never written about how beloved my exercise routine is to me, but it definitely keeps me sane as well as fit.) This job seems to require endless time so that will be among the challenges of 2020.

So, for now, a toast of the writerly glass to you all, and my Bonne Année wishes to all for 2020. See you on the other side!

 

 

 

 

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

Sewn Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I type I pause to consider if today’s post was a Pictorama Toy post or not, because while I think of this little fellow as a toy, he isn’t. He is a sweet little practical item from a time more or less gone by days – a sewing pin cushion and tape measure. Now, I admit it is hard to imagine sticking pins in this fella (making him perhaps more hedgehog than kitty), but he would be very cheerful and perky to perch on your sewing table or to find in your sewing basket. When grasped you can hear the crunch of his kapok or sawdust filling (aren’t pin cushions filled with something to sharpen the pins though?), his eyes are glass and his cheerful red tongue can be pulled out for a tape measure. (I cannot not display this as it no longer can be made to retract.) He has a tag on his tummy, but any manufacture information printed on it has long faded away. I like his red plastic collar which has remained firmly in place.

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I have already opined previously on my inability to sew. (That post which features another pin cushion cat can be found here.) My maternal grandmother didn’t sew a lot, however she did have a sewing basket which I now only remember as round and I believe covered in fabric, although most I see from the same period are wicker so perhaps my memory is flawed. As a child the magic of the sewing box was all about the rare occasion of when it was opened and I could peer into the interesting bits and pieces inside. Sewing baskets make tremendous sense, housing all those sewing necessities in one place so that one can quickly get down to the task at hand. However, as I do it so seldom I seem to be loathe to spare the shelf or table space and instead have to scramble each and every time I sew a button on.

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The pleasant jumble inside this sewing box reminds me at least a little of my grandmother’s.

 

Crammed inside there were scraps of fabric, thread of course and fascinating tools whose use I had no idea of – nor have I necessarily learned about them since. The exception was the shiny coin-like needle threaders which always interested me – so bright and tempting! They are an exception because I eventually learned to use one and ultimately became utterly dependent on them for threading needles, especially as I get older and my eyes get more frustrated with the difficulty of this task. Wikipedia tells me that these have been around since the late 18th or early 19th century and that a head of a woman is generally stamped on them, which is how I think of them. I show the classic version as I know it below. Genius!

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Additionally, I am familiar with this model below of porcelain doll as sewing kit although I cannot remember who used one. Perhaps my father’s mother who sewed less than my other grandmother, but I have a very specific tactile memory of these. I think I was very small and slightly afraid of it.

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If I had discovered this little kitty along the way I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from nabbing him for my own. As it was, he was one of my very first black cat purchases from a now defunct antiques annex in Red Bank, New Jersey. He sits proudly among the other black cats where to my knowledge no one remarks on his utilitarian beginnings.

Drinking with Fat Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the chaos of renovation here at Deitch Studio today, I am focusing on this odd recent acquisition. It was purchased for a few dollars on a whim – Kim and I liked the logo, a sassy Sylvester type kitty with a fat cigar hanging out of his mouth.

I generally do not purchase new items and I do not own any beer or soda cans – although I believe I have bid on an early Felix soda bottle in my life and lost. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, Fat Cat, is a popular name. As a result I am having a bit of trouble making sure that all the information offered is about this particular company. For example, there is a Fat Cat brewery in England which seems to be tied out to a pub there and distinctly different. I see some different logos for it and remain unsure if they all belong to this product.

As Deitch Studio has a professed interest in beer bottle cap collecting (Eleanor Whaley makes her first appearance in Kim’s bottle cap collecting tale published in Deitch’s Pictorama) which harkens back to Kim’s own childhood bottle cap collecting, I checked out the internet to see if Fat Cat beer had a good one. It does not appear to be sold in bottles, however I did find this rather nifty golf ballmarker below which admittedly probably does not have its genesis with the beer, although it turns up with a search of Fat Cat beer cap. (Yep, had no idea about ballmarkers in general and I gather it is just as it sounds – marks where your golf ball landed which I gather is occasionally needed.) If I played golf I would want one of these.

 

The can itself reveals that it is brewed and canned by MOII, Monroe, WI. In addition, it proclaims the following about contents, Malt, hops, water, bla bla bla, what more can I tell ya? It’s just plain ol’ good beer! We will have to take their word for it as I purchased this can pre-emptied, from the bottom as I guess collectors prefer? In addition, not sure who or what MOII might be.

The ratings for it online appear to my unschooled eye to be about average, sadly not living up to the exuberance of the can. Citrusy seems to be a popular adjective, but also bitter and “average hops” whatever that really means. It seems that there was a brewery that you could visit in San Diego until recently. Yelp has marked it closed however.

Generally speaking, I like beer in a rather unspecified way – such as in a cold one on a hot day. I generally prefer a light lager such as this one more or less proclaims to be, although bitter does worry me. Even more than wine, I have never really ventured into the world of beer and the various aspects of tasting it and what I might like best. (When I was in training to be a chef I was taught a bit about wine tasting so I have a point of reference for that.) In high school I knew several guys who started making home brew from a kit and then started taking it very seriously. One went on to be come a brewmaster professionally. It was very dark beer and I confess I never liked it. I am a Corona kinda girl.

Kim no longer drinks (stopped long before I met him – as he says, he did all of his drinking early on) and although he doesn’t mind having liquor in the house I don’t keep beer since I think it is what he misses most and not having it is no hardship for me. However, there’s usually wine around and currently a somewhat exotic bottle of Jack Daniels that I got at a work event recently as well, but the fact is I don’t drink much, especially at home, either. I do cook with wine however and I was taught that you should only cook with wine that is a quality that you would drink – hence the presence of wine in the house.

In the end I just applaud this jolly can and commend it to my crowded shelves. Certainly given the opportunity I would order it in a bar or restaurant out of curiosity. Meanwhile, as their can proudly proclaims, We gottit made!

 

 

 

 

Kitty Paw

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post kicks off with this lovely item a colleague gave me recently. My reputation as a collector of all things (frequently black) cat she scooped this little item for me while away for the weekend. Reader’s may remember that I chose to hang some of my cat sheet music in my office when I started my job, two years back now. (Some posts devoted to that sheet music cat can be found here, here and here.) Other cat related items have snuck in over time, a white cat here (I wrote about my sub-collection of white cats here in my post The Lore of the White Kitties) and a few black cats there. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Patricia produced this little gem for me, but I sometimes forget how evident my cat office theme is.

As you probably realize, this item (the mini emery boards are very handy indeed as well) is a nod to the popular Cat’s Paw advertising design below. I’ve included a nice example of their advertising, but an even nicer photo of one of their heels. (These from a A Brief History of Cat’s Paw Heels which informed me that Amelia Earhart supposedly died wearing a pair of Cat’s Paw-heeled loafersAmazing!)

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The most important feline acquisition for my office may be this lucky gold cat I picked up in Washington last fall. I am not an overly superstitious person, but I must say the financial fortunes at work began to improve substantially after acquiring him which I credit, at least in part, to this happy waving fellow. I tracked the history of these Chinese waving pusses awhile back (you can read it here in my post Come Hither Kitty) and this one, painted bright gold, has a big job for a little guy but he seems to be up to it. As a struggling fundraiser I embrace all avenues of revenue.

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And as I write, today is June 30, the last day of our fiscal year at work, my second at this job. It has been a squeaker, but I would say we will just about make it over the bar this year. It hasn’t been the least bit easy – in fact there have been times I would say it has been quite grueling and I have been awake many nights running numbers in my head and wondering if it was possible. My colleagues have made it easier and of course in fact have made it possible so a big tip of my hat to them. Tomorrow morning we will drive a wooden stake in the heart of fiscal ’19 and kick off the coming year with some champagne (it’s in the fridge now guys) and bagels. I will cheerfully pay off a $10 bet to Ed who had more faith than I did in my ability to drive this one home. (Thanks Ed!) The coming year will not be easier, but with lots of hard work and what Kim likes to call some average good luck, hopefully we’ll be celebrating again this time next year. Gold lucky kitty, keep on waving!

Yummy Tummy

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is an actual photo, not a photo postcard, which weighs in at only about 3.5″x 3″. It was taken from an album which it had been glued into, black paper stuck to the back. It is an interesting photo when studied – the woman in the background is wearing a fully long dress, as I guess the woman with the cat is although that is a bit hard to see. This dates it early in the 20th century. Meanwhile, a man with a cap, somewhat obscured, is seated behind the woman and cat.

Of course I have purchased it because of this wonderful tabby. He appears to be an orange tabby – which means he is likely to be a he as Google informs me that males outnumber female orange tabbies about 80% to 20%. This photo has an interesting immediacy. When it is blown up large you can see that what the woman holds is a toy on a string, not food which was my immediate thought.

I have had close association with several orange striped cats in my life. My mother has a rather magnificent one named Red right now, who was devoted to my father and who presents his toys and acts as ambassador cat when I overnight in New Jersey.  Pictorama readers my remember my childhood cat Pumpkin, an enormous and dog-like kitty who used to follow me to the bus stop in the morning growing up. He was much larger than this fellow, but had an amazing fluffy striped tummy and tail. He would roll and display his tummy in a come hither way – and then chomp down on your arm with all his considerable force when you tried to pet him. Bad kitty! We had to warn guests and even delivery folks not to be taken in.

Therefore, I can only say I was shocked with Cookie and Blackie arrived here with a very canine desire to have their tummies rubbed – since kittenhood they roll over and demand tummy pets multiple times a day. Cookie in particular needs some tummy rubs every morning to start the day. She will meow and stretch and roll with happiness when you comply. Blackie also invites an occasional tummy pet, but it is as if he likes the idea more than the reality and tends to roll over after a rub or two and send you on your way with a paw push. No biting though.

Our resident cats also perch on their hind legs more than any felines I have ever known. Like the cat in the photo I have had cats that would stand and reach for something, but not as willing to perch that way, sometimes for minutes, as our Cookie and Blackie seem to be. Occasionally they entertain me with their version of cat boxing this way. (If there is anyone out there who has not seen this video of cats boxing in slow motion doing patty cake with commentary – or if you just need a chuckle – have a look here.)

Kim and I have speculated that this is a form of kitty evolution, especially the hind leg standing. Shortly after Kim and I started dating I made him a Valentine drawing of my cats Otto and Zippy, them holding forth in a riotous anthropomorphic party scene while we were out of the apartment, but presumably to disappear magically somehow as we approached the front door. Oh to know the secret life of cats!

Just a Song at Twilight

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This postcard sat on a watch list on my eBay account for quite awhile before I noticed it one day and snapped it up. Sometimes, it seems, our attention wanders here at Pictorama. The nice fat black cat on this card first attracted me because he reminds me of one of my first stuffed cat purchases, a cat of similar proportions and girth. (While we strive for svelte, calorie calibrated real felines here at Deitch studio, who doesn’t love at least the image of a pudgy puss? And Cookie and Blackie would love to explore the possibilities of unfettered eating, I assure you.)

This card was sent on February 20, 1913 from Waterman, Illinois I cannot quite make out. It is addressed, in a childish hand in pencil, to Mrs. A.H. Seibert, Pecatonica, IL, RR no. 1. To the best of my ability it reads, Waterman, Ill. Feb. 20. Hello ma. Well I got here all right. Jennie was in Rochford. She had to go to the dentist. She has another wisdom tooth on the other side now it is not thought but hurts her. She did not get all she wanted but will probably have to come back to Rochford again. Well I will write you again. Good bye from…feel pretty good. WS. Clearly at the time such a card sent in the morning and received in the evening or the next day, rather than a phone call, would comfort a mother to know her child arrived safely to their destination.

Just a Song at Twilight refers to a popular song of the day and I would offer a link to it on Youtube if I could find one that wasn’t decidedly lugubrious. While Kim and I both believe such a thing exists I cannot find it so I will not tax you with what is readily available. (Dear readers, feel free to supply if you find differently.)

Since we live in Manhattan you would think we might be experts on nighttime noise, but I must say I mostly adjusted to the type of nocturnal life of the city without any trouble and rarely hear it now. As many readers know, I grew up on the water in a New Jersey suburb and therefore my earliest memories are of going to sleep with the sound of water lapping outside (a sound I love and one that immediate lulls me) and later, even though where we lived could hardly be called the country, everything from screech owls to the fluttering of bats under the eaves were some of the noises of the night. Returning to New Jersey those sounds are now more likely to wake me as I am no longer used to them.

Cats of course are nocturnal animals and this is true whether they live inside or out, although I do suspect that living in a small space with us in our apartment has perhaps had some impact on their circadian rhythms, aligning them a tad with our own. Gratefully, Cookie and Blackie seem to devote at least some of their more than a dozen hours of daily sleep to the evening. (Although if you want to read about our wake up kitties and their routine, which starts quite early, I wrote about it recently and it can be found here.)

However, cats raising their voices in nighttime song has long been a part of their modus operandi. Here in the city I occasionally hear mournful meows at night via an open window and it makes me nuts as I worry about the little fellow or gal. (Recent decades spent on the 16th floor means this happens less often than when I lived on the 6th and faced a garden, complete with low wall, which was well, like catnip to kitties.)

Cats howling for the sake of howling has long been memorialized in cartoons and song. I have two pieces of sheet music within eyeshot right now that allude to this. I have written about them before, I show one below. (Those posts can be found here and here.) I also wrote about a strange, pre-Photoshop somewhat mysterious collaged image of kitties on a back fence that I purchased and love (post can be found here) which I offer again.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Meanwhile, this reputation for nighttime cat carousing is indeed one that is justly applied and has not fallen out of fashion with felines. Cats fight at night – in fact Cookie and Blackie have a date to fight at the front door of the apartment every night, usually at 10:00 PM, complete with strangled noises from Cookie which often result in my having to break it up. I have known a number of cats, I want to say mostly if not exclusively male, who have wandered the house caterwauling in the wee hours of the morning – a habit which is hard to live with and would be hellish in a studio apartment. My mother’s cat Red is a current practitioner. I refer to it as existential kitty angst – and it would probably get us thrown out of our co-op if Blackie ever takes it up.