A Whale of a Good Time

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: The fun and jauntiness of this snapshot caught my attention, probably from the teens judging from her dress. The large fish sign she is holding proclaims, Size of the One I Lost at Michigan City. One imagines that it was a photo op you were offered as part of a fishing trip package. I never thought about it, but fishing is a long-standing, major tourist attraction for Michigan, and a quick internet search turns up a thriving charter fishing industry. It makes sense that where there are enormous bodies of water there would be fishing.

Pictorama readers know that I grew up in a fishing family and photographs of family members with particularly enormous fish dot our family albums. I myself have not spent much time fishing – I am a bit too soft-hearted, although I eat fish and I have done my time cleaning them. I take no pleasure in the act of catching them. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my grandfather repaired outboard motors and he also kept a medium-sized, wooden fishing boat which was call The Imp. In retrospect it was a surprising name for him to have christened his boat with. I must remember to ask my mother where it came from, assuming she knows. Perhaps the way it bobbed around in the water – a bit impishly?

It spent the off-season in a spot next to his workshop garage, up on a wooden frame or trailer, keepin it off the ground and make it easier to work on. (Unlike our sailboat which wintered at a nearby marina.) I remember it seemed huge and high to me as a small child. The Imp was painted gray and I have memories of the seemingly constant scraping of the bottom (barnacles were a concept that fascinated me at a young age) and re-painting, as anyone who has ever owned a wooden boat well knows. Even in the 1960’s wooden fishing boats like her were becoming a bit old fashioned.  I remember she made delightful creaking sounds when you were out on the water with her and there was a smell of the sun-warmed, painted wood which I cannot really describe.

Despite being the daughter of a fisherman, my mother is cursed with a poor inner ear and she can only be on a boat on the calmest days without being seasick. (My mother used to say it could make her seasick to watch our sailboat bob in the backyard during stormy weather and windy days.) Therefore I did not go out fishing with dad and Poppy too often, as I don’t think my mom was entirely comfortable entrusting the small children to them without her own watchful eye. When we did go we wore the bulkiest of life jackets which impeded much actual movement although we certainly would have bobbed like a cork in the water.

Dad was a city boy born and bred, but he was fascinated with fishing and sailing and would go out with my grandfather and others as often as he could. He started a documentary film on it, but for some reason it never got off the ground. (Shooting film in those days was a real expense and editing was a bulky affair.)

As I alluded to yesterday, my grandfather died suddenly and young of a heart attack. The Imp was sold shortly after, with some discussion. I think a boat is a bit like an instrument which is meant to be played – we wouldn’t have gotten her out much, even our sailboat was idle much of the time. Dad continued fishing with other folks, neighbors, on boats or surf casting on the beach. (There was a nearby draw bridge that folks fished from, but I don’t remember my father doing that. I think fishing was more tied up with being on the water or at the beach for him.) Fishing poles were piled around the garage and house, the line getting tangled and caught in everything. Even when he wasn’t fishing his buddies, or my grandfather’s, would bring fresh fish by for us.

Although blue fish does not enjoy much of a good reputation, when grilled with lemon and pepper, fresh off the boat it is a very different affair than that which has been sitting in a fish market where it tends to quickly grow oily and strong. I grew up eating it all summer, along side of Jersey corn – maybe also grilled – and tomatoes from our garden. Blues are big, toothy fish and wrestling them while cleaning them was messy work. Generally in the cleaning was done outside, fish scales sticky and flying everywhere and sticking to me. Our cats in their glory, their noses in a fury of sniffing, as smelly fish guts piled up.

There were other fish too – crabs my sister and I caught in the backyard off our dock which were boiled and tediously cleaned. Scallops in butter and lobster of course, although I think the majority of those were fished a bit north of us. The river inlet I grew up on was known as Oyster Bay because it had at one time been thick with them. Pollution eliminated them, although they re-seeded the bed to some success in later years. Because of pollution my mother steered us away from the practice of eating raw clams, and even steamers, and I didn’t eat mussels until I was an adult.

I cook fish often. As a result of growing up with it I am comfortable working with fish and never really think twice about the nuisance of cleaning a pound of shrimp, and am always surprised by folks who are stymied by it. If we were entertaining guests over this (Covid so we are not) summer my grandmother’s faux bouillabaisse might be in the offing. Well known for being better for sitting overnight, it is a favorite for guests as it then only requires heating. My French food training showed me the difference – hers is more of a thicker Mediterranean-Italian fish stew which I cheerfully favor. I will write about it and lay out the recipe one of these days.

For those of you with access to a grill this summer I urge you to throw some fresh fish and corn on and enjoy it for me. It is one of the pleasure decidedly denied to us city dwellers.

Travel

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: An odd pairing of two recent photo purchases today under the rumination of travel. I am a homebody in many ways, but I have always also had a travel itch. I have been to Tibet (twice) and been lucky to travel all over Europe, to South America, and most recently South Africa for my jobs first at the Metropolitan Museum and then Jazz at Lincoln Center. (Notably the trips to Tibet were on my own, not for work and I have traveled in Europe on my own as well. Meanwhile, I have documented my conflicted feelings about home versus travel in posts that can be found here and the story of one trip gone very wrong here.) The contemplation of certain destinations have always inflamed this itch – Samarkand, Mongolia, Mustang and Vienna (oddly it has eluded me), remain on my to do list.

Dad traveled incessantly for his work as a news cameraman for ABC. He loved it and it is likely that I inherited the itch from him. (I am under the impression that my mother has only been on a plane twice in her life and perhaps her extreme is what counterbalances the desire to hit the road.) My sister Loren had the itch, although less so than me perhaps; she got engaged while traveling to Prague and made numerous trips to the south of Italy in the last few years of her life. I lost count of the number of times she drove across the country though and she exceeded me there. It felt like she would just do it at the drop of a hat. Although my brother has traveled some, he seems to have been largely free of the burning desire. I would say, after Dad, I get the family prize for wanderlust however, especially on an international scale.

Some of the photos I have been looking at and buying lately are a lot more random than my usual ferreting out of cat and toy photos. Many are clearly old photo albums being broken up and sold, the final refuge for such albums once they have outlived their useful family life. Mostly this just makes me a bit sad and although I am very glad if someone wants an old wedding photo or one of a family vacation. Most don’t speak to me but it pleases me if they can find a home. Sifting through the pile of recent purchases these two stood out for different reasons, but got me to thinking about these destinations as I look at them today.

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New Orleans

I love this photo of a couple on holiday in New Orleans. They are radiating a good time holiday here, posed in front of this horse and buggy tour operator, probably preparing to step on or having ended their ride. Happy holiday photos (or day at the seaside or in a photo booth) are a genre I pursue and this one fits nicely.

Just behind the horse is Sally’s Original Creole Pralines. (Sally is still selling those pralines and you can get them online.) The horse and buggy are jolly and perfect, but it is their holiday outfits I love. They are dressed to the nines in their late 40’s garb, especially her in hat, heels and spring weight coat. They are radiating a certain kind of posed for travel joy – having a great time and wanting to remember this being telegraphed into the future, and arriving even now.

Sadly nothing is noted on the back – I would like to have their names. The photo is small, only about 3″x4″ but it has this zippy boarder which declares Elko at each corner. There is a production number printed on the back and I assume that this snap was a requisite add-on as part of the buggy ride package, perhaps taken in the beginning and ready by the time you got back.

I have been to New Orleans, twice, and a very long time ago. I have always wanted to go back and spend more time as both trips were brief and rushed. If I really turned the apartment upside down (it is already upside down really as we are packed up in boxes for the installation of bookcases commencing tomorrow) I could probably locate a not very good photo of a 25 year old me in New Orleans, but I know it isn’t as good as this one. My mouth waters for pralines, beignets, and po’ boys just looking at it.

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Scan 4

The second is a sort of odd photo for me to have acquired. It is small, a snapshot. On the back it is identified as Moutrier, Riviera, 1944. Presumably this is a photo of Allied soldiers during the liberation of France in that year, probably enjoying the Bar and Dancing more than the actual Casino aspect of this establishment. I can’t quite make out the name of the establishment detailed with photos of the performers behind these gentleman.

I bought this one for a few dollars. I like the idea of these guys maybe having a good enough time (given how awful fighting the war must have been, they certainly had it coming) that they wanted to commemorate it – and then keeping this photo for decades. The last of this generation is mostly in their nineties and is going now – sadly the Covid virus having pushed more of them along. I have talked to men for whom being shipped there to fight in WWII was their first trip to Europe, for a few the only trip with no desire to go back, others whose lives would take them there frequently. I know at one who loved Italy so much he and his wife settled there for much of his life after the war, working for the army.

The final trip I took to Europe for the Met, in October of 2016, took me to the South of France and Monte Carlo. While the natural beauty of the coast is undeniable, I found the crowded nature of that city uncomfortable and commercial – every single square inch appears to have been built on. We visited the Casino there, briefly and during the day, but while interesting to see that building, gambling holds very little appeal for me and I don’t appear to have documented that part of that trip. (Photos were prohibited inside the Casino.) I offer instead a photo from the roof of my hotel somewhere on the Riviera – I believe I sent this unremarkable shot below to Kim to show him I was really there, landed and settled for the moment on the first day.

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Much of my travel for Jazz at Lincoln Center has been domestic. I was in both Milwaukee and Chicago just a week or so before March 13 and the stay at home order for New York City. Without that order I would have traveled to Boston, London, possibly Russia, Colorado and San Francisco in the intervening time. It is hard for me to believe thinking about it now. Admittedly it seemed like a daunting summer even then – albeit in an entirely different way than it has indeed been daunting.

Other than talking a little bit with Wynton about it, I have not had a chance to ask the orchestra members about what it is like for them to be grounded for so long. Not just no travel, but even more seriously no gigs at all of course, save those online productions we have managed. For them the rhythm of travel mark the coming and going of their work life each year and this interruption is an epoch. Most, like Wynton, have traveled and had gigs every single week of their working lives, starting quite young.

Even more than after 9/11 it is hard to imagine reformatting our lives back into this kind of travel. Taking off our shoes, stuffing our liquids in a small bag to be presented at the commencement of each trip, all quickly became rote annoyances we took in stride and seem like nothing now. However, in a world where folks are wearing gloves at the supermarket and we look a bit askance at the subway, even hopping on an Amtrak to Boston seems unlikely let alone something we have a craving to do. Having said that I do know people for whom either necessity or itchy feet have already gotten them on planes in recent weeks. For now I am taking it slow, with maybe a trip downtown on the subway planned for our vacation in August.

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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Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.

 

On Stuff

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As we remain packed (and dusty) during our renovation stint I find myself reluctant to go digging among my collections so today I am reflecting on that which I have recently packed up in the process. Life in our apartment is about maintaining status quo right now, with hopes of all returning to its rightful place in about ten days. The process of packing up was by necessity much quicker than I would have liked (tucked in after the window replacement packing and unpacking a few days prior) and unfortunately the thinning out of unnecessary items will have to occur on the unpacking side.

As I have opined – it is a very small kitchen and in general a compact, tiny really, apartment. Having said that I was amazed by how much I had managed to store in the kitchen cabinets. Like a clown car at the circus, it just kept coming and filling more (and yet more) boxes. I had honestly thought I could pack the kitchen in two hours and instead found myself searching frantically for additional boxes and packing well into the night. Boxes were piled higher and claimed more space in the living room until there was only a path through it.

What I found interesting was that in some ways it was like excavating through the layers of my life back to my much younger self, setting up my first apartment in New York City. As I measure the reality of my life against the sort of adult existence I imagined for myself, the difference can be divined through dishes rarely or never used.

I was launched from my home in New Jersey with access to generations of dishes and a certain wonderful excess of antique furniture. (As a result I have a truly unusual number of antique rocking chairs in a very small space, but we’ll discuss my family’s mania for chairs another time.) As I packed up wine decanters and covered serving dishes well into that evening I realized I had envisioned a life where I would entertain more, one where I would actually cook. I was unable to peer into a future where at most we would grab some pizza or take-out from the Mexican place across the street (run by a Korean family which makes for not quite authentic, but perfectly satisfying cuisine), move some piles of books and call it a meal.

In addition to the aforementioned decanters and covered dishes, I am in possession of a full set of sterling silver – I think it is service for at least eight. I had tucked away serving bowls, luncheon plates and some fairly esoteric baking devices such as a gram scale, which had not seen the light of day in decades. I will certainly send much of this on its way to a thrift store in hopes that it finds a home where it is trotted out and used more frequently and I am touched in some ways with gratitude that I was launched into adulthood with such largess. Nonetheless, I am also confronted with a ghost memory of a younger me, imaging a different sort of future where I would cook and bake and have a need for serving dishes. One that has never really reached fruition.

It isn’t like I have never cooked for friends, although admittedly it has not happened in recent years. I am a good cook – professionally trained as I thought that was how I would make my living at one time. It is a muscle I rarely exercise beyond weekend meals for Kim and I however and those more about dietary exactitude and convenience than creative cooking endeavors. (However, Pictorama readers might remember when I was seized with a desire for my grandmother’s poor man’s cake over the holidays last year and I recreated it with the help of the internet. I posted about it here. Incidentally I found the Pyrex baking dishes I knew I owned and could not find and which I ultimately replaced with a purchase from ebay.)

In part it isn’t just me but the world that has changed and I dare say there aren’t many people in New York apartments who are making much use of decanters or cake plates these days, even in larger abodes. Perhaps it happens in the houses in other parts of the country where HDTV home renovation television thrives – but even there the days of formal dining rooms seem to have faded away.

The question remains, how much of this will I keep out of a sense of nostalgia and perhaps promise. By this I mean, will our entirely new kitchen mean a renaissance of baking and cooking? It seems unlikely given my current job and priorities. Still, with the holidays on the horizon there is an itch for another poor man’s cake and perhaps even some of my grandmother’s spice cookies if I can locate the recipe.

Travel

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This little kid clutching (his?) toys is my jumping off point for a brief post before grabbing my roller bag and hitting Amtrak for a business trip this morning. This photo was part of the birthday loot from the great Antique Toy Shop (I like to promote my friends and a link can be found here!) in Chelsea. This little fellow in his winter togs has his toys so he’s ready to go wherever.

As a child who had to travel with a certain retinue of toys, I can remember that decision making process even now. There were, to some degree, toys which had to go with as I remember. Squeaky the dog was probably the primary one and there was a koala bear (and a successor one) that also did some road time. There were toys of the moment and toys to entertain (Colorforms anyone?) but those two toys were the mainstays of maintaining happiness abroad. Of course travel when I was small was rarely more than a trip to my grandmother’s house. The Butlers were not a traveling family for the most part. It is, however, all relative and leaving the house was travel when I was a tot.

I am a mix of contradiction about travel. There is an adventurous side of me that gets a gleam in my eye at the thought of a trip to a remote Buddhist enclave hidden in the Himalayas and only accessible via three days hike with our bags strapped to yaks. (I have been to Tibet twice and would love to go another time; Patagonia and Machu Picchu via a trip with the Met Museum, Russia and Europe. The Buddhist kingdom of Mustang has long been on my list.) And yet I am always conflicted about actually leaving home and routine – Kim! Kitties! Morning coffee at the computer with Kim and them. I am both the daughter of my father, who happily traveled world-wide in his job as a cameraman for ABC News, and my mom who has rarely left New Jersey and has only flown, to my knowledge, twice in her life.

I guess as a child I mitigated that travel anxiety to some degree by having my toys with me. As an adult you instead run through the plethora of bits you don’t want to forget – a myriad of charger cables, shoes for the event on Sunday, socks, a plethora of appropriate ID if flying, instructions for the hotel and restaurants. (I once showed up in Boston for a conference with only the name of my hotel, sadly a generic one like Hilton, and no address. The cab driver made a lucky right guess with the first try as there were several in town. Since then I always check that I have that.) It is a pity that there really is no adult substitute for toys.

I travel for business with some frequency, although as Pictorama readers know these days I sometimes also travel with the orchestra. (I have written about my orchestra adventures from Florida to Shanghai and samples can be found here and here.) There is comfort in being of that well oiled machine, and once I am under the purview of the great road manager Ray Murphy I am secure in the knowledge that I will get where I am going on time, will be well fed, and in general all will be good and run with military precision.

However often, like today, I will travel on my own and only meet up with them briefly for a concert. I am, of course, all competency and capableness once started – not to mention that these days I am blessed with an extraordinarily efficient assistant in the form of a human dynamo named Sandra. She has organized me almost in spite of myself for this particular trip which I paid almost no attention to in the fray of other work needing to be tied up. Thank you Sandra!

I will drag my heels about getting out of the house to some degree although not enough to endanger my actual schedule; I am too compulsive for that. The suitcase is half packed on the floor causing some distress among the cats already. Kim is off to the MoCCA comics con shortly and I am left with a nagging desire to be in two places at once. I am always good once I begin. Travel efficiency will kick in and I have people I am looking forward to seeing in Boston, as well as those I will enjoy meeting. A few days in Boston is largely an enjoyable outing.

Traveling with Kim is of course entirely different, although we don’t do it very often. For me in many ways, having Kim with me and going somewhere is sort of like taking my toys with me. I will have to write about that as well. Now if only we could figure out bringing the cats.

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Not my bear but one like it via the internet.

Squeaky in 2015

Squeaky the dog. He’s clearly worse for all that travel!

Maud Powell

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last week I wrote from my mom’s home in New Jersey as I occasionally do. Shortly after pressing the publish button on that post I decided to take on the task of going through some things that were unearthed and put aside for my examination during their move a little more than a year ago.

Numerous emotionally packed things spewed forth in that exploration, many small  sentimental items of my father’s – his penknife, passports and driver’s license among them. I am pleased to have them and over time I may eventually write about those, but there was also a box of my sister’s jewelry, mostly small things she wore when she was younger, and in most ways least really of all is a tiny item I am writing about today.

This button intrigued me in part because my sister Loren was not a collector of buttons. To the extent there was a designated button collector and wearer in my family it would have been me. I was the keeper of the political buttons my father gathered on the endless Presidential campaigns he trailed from start to finish as a news cameraman; I had a collection of early smiley buttons. Remember those? (I was a collector of things as I hatched out of the womb evidently. All these early collections have vanished incidentally. I didn’t really learn how to latch onto things until I was older.) Even in college I was still pinning interesting buttons to the old army jacket I wore, and on the labels of the thrifted men’s jackets I favored in 1986. (A friend’s Instagram post of her in college sporting one she bought when we were together in Red Bank, NJ reminded me of that.)

So I was surprised to find this early button saved with Loren’s things, except that it is of a woman violinist and she played and loved the violin. Few things take me back to my childhood faster than certain violin solos which my sister would have practiced endlessly, usually picking up her violin to practice starting around 10:00 pm, after finishing her homework, and playing well into the night. We all learned to go to drift off to her playing since Loren herself never needed more than a few hours of sleep. For years after she died I found I couldn’t listen to violin music without crying.

As it turns out, Maud Powell is not a footnote figure in the history of American classical music. She was a top drawer, famous musician, internationally ranked, and according to Wikipedia the first American violinist of either sex to claim that distinction. Powell was also the first instrumentalist recording star of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

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Born in a suburb of Chicago in 1867 she was a child prodigy discovered at the age of 9. When she was 13 her parent’s sold the family home to fund her studies and career which took her to Europe, and where she first debuted before returning to the United States. Several online sources site her as an advocate for music by black and women composers, including having commissioned a composition by Sierra Leone-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. She made a point of playing for underserved communities routinely. However, in 1919 she collapsed on stage with a heart attack and died the following year, age 52 while on tour, after a second attack.

A biography of her was published in 1986 and there is a Maud Powell Society which has an online presence. NPR did a short piece on Powell receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014. She was the first female instrumentalist of any instrument or genre to do so at the time. (A distinction I assume stands today, but I am sketchy on the Grammy awards.) Peru, Illinois sports a statue to her according to a Youtube fan of one of her recordings posted there. The Youtube selection of her music appears slim (you can sample it here) although several albums appear to be available in an online search.

The back of the pin helped to confirm that it was indeed old and not a later reproduction. you cannot easily read it in the photo here, but this pin was made by the Whitehead and Hoag Co…buttons, badges, novelties and signs Newark, NJ. (The company was extant until 1959.) I found it interesting that this company, established in 1892, in 1896 introduced and patented the pin back pin. For those of you who thrill to pin back or NJ manufacturing history and wish to explore it more deeply I refer you to a fellow blogger, Newark’s Attic and the post The Whitehead and Hoag Company.

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I will never know how Loren stumbled on this item as she was far less likely to meander through flea markets and antique shops than I was. However, it is easy to understand the appeal and why I would find it, tucked away, saved and waiting for me in a time capsule of her things.

 

 

 

 

A Real Parade of Toys!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Picking up from where I left off last week, Kim and I were literally waist deep in vintage toys at The Antique Toy Shop  in Chelsea when the owner Jean-Pol remembered me from my previous visit, and then put me together with Pam’s Pictorama. I had shared some Pictorama toy posts with him when I met him last year and he has kept up via Instagram.

It may surprise some of you, but Instagram and Twitter are in many ways my happy places. Everyone complains about social media, but to a large degree I have managed these accounts to be nothing but delightful escapism. With careful tending my Instagram feed is mostly art and interesting photos of places and things I look forward to seeing. My Twitter feed is also jolly photos and GIFs of cats and silent film stills and news. Jean-Pol is my only entry with vintage toys, although I would welcome others if I found them.

In exchange, for those who follow Pam’s Pictorama, I also share antique toys, interesting photos, snippets from jazz concerts, cats, and early film back out to the world. Twitter gets a feed of articles of interest as well, largely from the New York Times as I read it in the morning, but fun or interesting articles exclusively. (Mice singing to each other anyone? A Detroit greenhouse that turns into a mini-movie theater at night perhaps? Found here and here.)

Politics is verboten on my feeds for the most part. I chose to get my hard news other ways and I don’t feel the need to share it or my views on it with the world on social media. I visit Twitter each morning and insist that Kim come look at such things as the best of #jellybellyFriday kitties and keep in touch with the doings of a young woman named Fritzi on the west coast who seems to have a small menagerie of cats and dogs, is a silent film blogger and to my knowledge never sleeps. (She is better known to me as @MoviesSilently.) There is also Lani Giles (@4gottenflapper) who appears to live in Alberta and Mad Cat Cattis (@GeneralCattis). I am, of course Pam’s Pictorama (@deitchstudio) on both. This is where you can find me, coffee in hand, each weekday morning around 5:30; Kim grinding away at his latest page at the same long table in our living room. (Yes, we live in a studio apartment, but the space is divided and therefore a living room and a bedroom.)

I have a few real world friends who Tweet politically and while I have not exiled them I refuse to share them. The Dalai Lama makes occasional appearances to help remind us to have a mindful day. Pictorama has acquired a few readers this way, mostly via Instagram and occasionally connections I never saw before occur between Facebook friends and other social media – a spouse’s account on Instagram (who knew that Fat Fink was married to Motivated Manslayer?) sporting a name that is different. On Instagram I recently uncovered a real life connection to someone in Monmouth County, NJ, where I grew up. He and his brother knew my sister in school. (Shout out to Rob Bruce @popculturizm.)

Anyway, I have digressed. Because Jean-Pol remembered me he began producing photographs of children with toys. The one shown here is beyond wonderful and I knew I had to have it immediately. In the background there is both an early car and a horse drawn carriage so it dates from the period when these things co-existed briefly, a paved road however, and in what appears to be a wealthy enclave judging from the amazing toys on display. (Not to mention the appearance of the pet goat with cart, lead by the boy with the news boy cap. May I just state for the record that I think having a goat drawn cart as a child is a sort of pinnacle of happy indulgence?) I would say the photo hales from the late 1900’s or early teens? (Women’s dresses are still long.)

Of course, the main event is that every child in this affluent neighborhood has dressed up in their best bib and tucker, some even in costume, and brought out their toys and pets in a most splendid toy parade! The little girls are especially be-ribboned and heavily bowed, with a few crowns even thrown in for good measure. I am especially fond of the kid in the clown costume, head covered almost entirely by his top hat, with a remarkable stuffed dog at his feet. (I thought it was a real dog at first, but a careful look weighs toward toy.) Flags are aloft, and there is this bit of some kind of bunting that is keeping them lined up, at least for the most part. Dolls are on prime display and one doll stroller has a small banner that reads, The Flower Girl. I can only imagine that even without this photo it was the sort of event that lived on in imagination and memory for those who were there. A Little Rascals type slice of real life.

 

Peggy and Ruth

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I just found this photo, purchased a little over a year ago. Somehow it has been overlooked, but today seems like the right day for it finally. For many of us this past week was smacked with a weather front we now refer to as a polar vortex. While it plunged our compatriots in the midwest into negative double digit weather, closing offices and schools and terribly even killing a number of people, here in New York it was just very, very cold, requiring many more layers of clothes than we wanted to wear and waddling like down covered penguins as a result.

In the midst of it we experienced something called a snow squall, which I admittedly liked the name of very much, but the experience of a bit less. I saw it from a conference room at work, overlooking the south end of Columbus Circle and within view of the southwest most corner of Central Park. We could barely see out the window and the wind was so bad it snowed upward! For a little more than an hour it poured snow and pounded Manhattan. Visions of pioneers struggling through sudden deadly storms came to mind, although we remained safe in our office tower perch. It resulted in a sheet of ice covering all the sidewalks which somehow the denizens of buildings responsible for snow removal didn’t see fit to address.

Of course my relationship to bad weather was quite different as a child, as I am guessing is true for at least most of us who experience childhood in the suburbs. For me, childhood hurricanes brought floods caused by the nearby river and had a holiday effect, a cause for excitement as water rushed around the house and under the floors, chilling them, ducks quacking at the backdoor. (I think about that now and how my mother was often home alone with us, three small children, when it happened – Dad off at work in New York or traveling as often as not. Mom was and remains, one tough cookie.)

Snow was of course the best because it resulted not only in a day off from school, but in ice skating (that same river flowed into smaller tributaries that froze solid) and sledding. Now, before I create an image of a sylvan childhood of Rockwell-like jolliness, I will state that as a child the meteorological conditions seemed to rarely result in weather that both closed school and was prolonged enough and appropriate for skating and/or sledding. It seemed to be something you were always waiting for that rarely occurred – making it all the better when it did.

Born in February blizzard, I have experienced many snowy birthdays. I will not opine on them right now, but frequently canceled birthday plans created a love-hate relationship with the white stuff. However, I do remember getting a new sled for, I believe, my eleventh birthday, and even without snow on the ground that year it remains a splendid gift that lives in memory.

While this photo was taken twenty-one years before I popped onto the scene, it could very easily been me and my sister Loren, and our cat Snoopy. We owned this very type sled and peaked caps, just like Peggy and Ruth. Snoopy was white with black cow spots, instead of this nice tabby type, and I believe Loren and I at 19 months between us, were closer in age than Peggy and Ruth appear to be. (A nod to Edward who would have shown up on the scene later in the game.) I have trouble imagining a photo of us this angelically posed – I believe most of the snow photos of Loren and I have us fighting, appropriately enough. Still, I purchased it thinking of us.

Unsurprisingly, at the moment the long-range forecast has precipitation predicted for my February 11 birthday. Last year it was a torrential, icy rain – none of the jolliness of snow I am afraid. I am working next weekend, but taking my birthday off to enjoy with Kim and cats here, snow or not, at Deitch Studio.

 

Cat Ears

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I resisted this photo as long as I could because it was expensive, but had to purchase it. (Full disclosure: Kim has tweaked the contrast on this in Photoshop which improves it considerably.) There’s no explanation on the back of this card and it was never sent, but it does speak for itself. I must say, with perhaps one exception (second girl from the left end), as a group they don’t appear happy about what I consider to be their jolly cat costumes. And my goodness, poor #6, in his enhanced, darker costume doesn’t look happy at all. Even mom doesn’t look thrilled. It’s a glum group of kitties. (A careful look leads me to believe the adult is at a minimum related to the child whose hand she holds and #6.)

In addition to his number label, #6 is the only one sporting a nice set of whiskers and has a high contrast version of the cat suit. It is hard to see, but they do also sport tails – a pity that we don’t see those better. One set of ears was sewn to look more elfin that cat, third in. It is almost impossible to see, but each also sports a tiny horseshoe pin – pointing down I’m sorry to say, all that luck pouring out. Mom wears one too. There’s something I especially love about the line up of shoes peering out, the trouser legs sewn differently at the bottom of each. There is that reluctant version of hand holding that children do – with a complete refusal of the two on the end. Ha! Gotcha. Take that you grown ups!

Personally, I have long loved a good animal costume and I tend to think I would have been more than happy to have been dressed up like this, especially if I was #6 – I would have been jealous of those whiskers and sharper black suit if I was one of the others. A tail is a great thing too and I have often thought I would like one. For myself, I am very fond of a pair of cat ears on a hairband I own. (This combines a good hair look with, well, lovely pointy cat ears – if only I could make them move independently like Cookie and Blackie do in inquiry and annoyance.) Our cats seem to find my cat ears alarming and repugnant however.

I remember when I first got the cat ear hairband years ago and put it on to show my cat Otto – who shrank away and with an expression which could only be described as the sort of disapproval and disappointment she’d have reserved for my holding forth with a racist joke – how could you? Evidently cat ears are the equivalent of kitty black face. It also seems you have, in their eyes, been transformed into a huge monster cat. Frankly, they appear to find hats distasteful too in a similar way – although it must be said that Cookie and Blackie are forgiving of Kim’s outsized cowboy hat he wears daily. However, I get the kitty stink eye for a knit cap in winter on my way out the door.

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, it is interesting to note that many of the folks at Jazz dress up for Halloween. I was surprised the first year, but this past year I did bring cat ears to work. I only wore them for a short time, but it is clearly one of the perks of the job.