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.

All in the Family

Pam (Family) Photo Post: As I sit down to write today I am unsure really what I want to say about this photo. I was fascinated by it when I saw it for the first time over Thanksgiving. I have no memory of seeing it before. It is a photo of a photograph which is in very bad condition and over-exposed in part (I took it on my phone and Kim has darkened it slightly for us here), but it manages to be fascinating nonetheless.

This photo was taken in the yard I grew up as knowing to be my grandmother’s, but it was a home (and yard) that at one time housed several families and generations of my family. My mother grew up in the two story house attached to it, with her brother and parents on the ground floor and an aunt, uncle and cousin on the second. One of the grandmothers lived with them there at one time too. I wrote about the house aways back when some photos of it came my way. (That post can be found at My Grandmother’s House here and I also wrote about my maternal grandmother, and her kitchen in Ann’s Glass which is here.) However, here is the familiar yard, several generations before my childhood, recorded on the advent of the wedding of my great-aunt Rose (Ro’ or Ro’ Ro’ to me as a kid) and a glimpse of this opulent, if homespun, backyard celebration.

My mother tells me that this table, impossibly long and which literally disappears into the photo horizon, is set up under a grape arbor decorated here with festive bunting, which supplied this (very Italian) family with the grapes to make wine. The arbor was long gone by my childhood, my mother says it was the victim of a jolly rodent population attracted by its bounty and the nuisance convinced the later generation of denizens to dismantle it. Every inch of the yard, less than an acre by my reckoning, was devoted to producing food for the family – fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens. This yard, hunting and fishing, extraordinary cooking and preserving skills, kept this family fed through thin times, including my mother’s childhood which includes the far end of the Depression.

The family owned a bar which the women of the Cittadino family (at a minimum my great-grandmother and her daughters) cooked for, in addition of course to feeding and taking care of the family. When I look at this photo my mind reels with thoughts of the days (weeks really) of work that must have gone into this celebration. I would imagine that many hands helped in a variety of ways, but there’s no way to imagine it wasn’t an enormous job for those at the heart of it. As I look at it I am fascinated by how the men are grouped at the end of the table closest to us. No one has identified any of them specifically. Frankly, it looks like a tough group!

In general the men on this side of the family are dim in my memory and mind. They seem to have largely died on the young side (a variety of reasons, inherited heart issues among them) and therefore my childhood self never met them or at least didn’t know them long enough for there to be much of an impression. On the other hand, the women, an undeniably strong group of women, loom large and Ro was the oldest of that clan. I have vivid memories of them. As I unpack more of these images in future posts I will likely write more about these strong willed sisters and what I know of them.

These photos come to me via a cousin (second cousin to me) who has unearthed them as she starts cleaning out her own version of an ancestral home. She has lost her mother and significant other over the past year (the latter quite unexpectedly), and she has drifted to staying with my mother, who since my father’s death over the summer is largely alone in her house – although so many friends come and go I often think it is her own version of Grand Central Station. Nonetheless, family is different and it is a poignant reminder that it is an interesting thing, which can at times expand and contract as needed. It unfurls further than the eye can see, back into the past, and indefinitely into the future.