Swanning

Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)

My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.

Undated snapshot of my mom.

A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.

One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.

For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)

While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.

Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.

Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.

Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.

Silver

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is Father’s Day and I had intended to ignore that fact as it just makes me sad since losing my Dad. (Some favorite posts about Dad can be found here and here.) However, this morning I saw a post on Instagram for a silver ring that caught my eye, offered by dealer in Australia who I follow (@madamebrocante), mostly for eye candy as her pieces are quite dear and generally more than I will spend on the internet where you can’t try things on – the best way to decide you must purchase jewelry. Nonetheless, a ring caught my eye as one that would go well with this cuff which has been a favorite of mine for decades.

Elliott Butler starting on a cross country trip by motorcycle.

Turns out the ring was a vintage one from the silver company of George Jensen, a Danish silversmith (1866-1935) whose designs my father loved with all of it. My father had a great eye and decided taste running toward Brutalist and modernist design in jewelry. He vastly preferred silver to gold and other than a good watch I cannot think of a piece of jewelry he gave me that wasn’t silver. (He loved silver in all things though and would buy sterling anything with impunity, wherever he found it. As a result silver services piled up in the house too over time.) He was not partial to gem stones liked his silver largely unadorned. (Meanwhile, I’m not sure who considers ring buying while recovering from broken fingers. I can hear my father saying, Well, that’s what you get for exercising!) His taste was consistently clean and simple lines in all things – from Shaker furniture to suits.

An example of Jensen’s Melon ring, not (yet) in Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

I have a small clutch of silver jewelry by the designer Art Smith pieces Dad bought Mom (a post about those can be found here), but my mother was never much on jewelry and doesn’t wear so much as a watch or wedding ring. (Weirdly I have ended up with a pile of wedding bands – grandmother’s, mom’s and unidentified.) Loren, my sister, had jewelry taste which ran very much to the traditional (gold, pearls, precious stones) and so when my father developed an interest in Native American contemporary silver jewelry I was the natural recipient.

Necklace by Art Smith

Among several pieces and most beloved is this silver cuff. I myself wear a lot of gold and this had been put away for awhile when I rediscovered it about five years ago. It is remarkably comfortable despite being hefty. My father used to purchase such pieces from a small gallery/shop neat Grand Central in a high rise with a public atrium and stores. The Whitney Museum had a space there for years. I wear this cuff very frequently – or at last did pre-pandemic, dressing for work.

When I started wearing the cuff again – after my mother had given me the Art Smith pieces – I decided to research the marks. It was made by an award winning artisan named Johnny Mike Begay. I cannot find a lot of information other than examples of his work. He was Navajo and died in 1976 which means my father purchased this more than a decade after Mr. Begay died. The design is one that he made many variations on – other bracelets, belt buckles and rings. I have long had my eye out for a ring, but haven’t found the right one yet. Although I pair it with some luscious turquoise rings and earrings what I want is something which, like the Jensen ring, speaks more to the simplicity of the design which is what appealed to my father.

The Jensen ring is a beauty and the craftsmanship and design are undeniably wonderful. Madame Brocante informed me that it was designed by Regitze Overgaard, maybe in the 1980’s, for George Jensen and is known as the Melon ring. Madame B’s example is way too small for my hands as it turns out – the ones available all run small – do Danes have tiny hands? Examples are available on the internet and it is tempting if the right size can be found. There would be no adjusting this design.

Regardless of whether or not I purchase one it gave me the pleasure of starting Father’s Day with a particularly fond memory of Dad I might not have had today otherwise. He would have loved that ring.

Inuit

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I write this I am back on the ferry, in stormy weather, heading back to NYC. Rough seas this morning and I am reminded that you have to have a good inner ear for ferry travel in this kind of weather.

We are bouncing around a bit. I am reminded of my father telling me that you never know when sea sickness will catch up with you. This before I took a trip through the Patagonia passage where I was bounced out of bed one morning with waves over the bow. I gratefully chewed up the Dramamine he insisted I bring! Yay Dad!

Meanwhile, I am going to challenge my technical expertise and see if I can post this from my phone. (Incidentally, if you were wondering no WiFi on the ferry, but I never lose a signal.) I cannot say it is a beautiful holiday weekend at the Jersey shore! Bear with me if this is a tad sloppy!

Out the ferry window as we prepare to leave Highlands, NJ.

*****

I think most people had some equivalent of the curio case that lives in my memory from childhood, and which housed these beloved objects, first at my grandparent’s house and then our own when I was growing up.

These were nearly given away when a friend rescued them for me (confusion around a great deal of stuff being sold and given away at one point in the multiple moves of my parents) and I almost cried when I saw them again. They now reside in a different bookcase, upstairs at my mom’s house.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

This small collection of Inuit objects were collected by my father – I believe he purchased them when in the Arctic with the army in the 1950’s, where he was reluctantly serving during the Korean War. He didn’t talk a lot about this mandatory hitch with Uncle Sam except it was when he discovered his vocation as a cameraman; he was trained to film maneuvers in the Arctic and used the GI Bill later to study film at Boston University after he returned.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

There were two stories he told in connection with his time in the army. One was that he was lowered onto ice flows to film and the only way to return to the ship was to climb up the rigging, heavy camera equipment clinging to his back. The other was that they ran food experiments on them, dying their food all sorts of odds colors to see if they would eat more or less – green bread not so attractive. When he was in the hospital at the end of his life he made some references to it. I think the hospital and being trapped in his body and at the nursing facility at the end reminded him of that time.

As for me, I have longed to touch and examine these objects since I was a small child. Obviously there is much to delight a child about these precious objects which remained in a locked cabinet and of course which we were forbidden to ever enter. I think it is probably safe to say that until I unpacked them most recently I had never actually touched any of these items.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

Some were evidently taken a number of years ago, but I cannot remember what those objects were. My father always had a very good eye for art and always purchased interesting things in his worldwide travels later as a cameraman for ABC news.

Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

These statues are familiar to me, but also new as I pick them up and examine them carefully. I have not had the chance to do more than unpack them and look them over as I put them into a cabinet here where I decided they would be safe.

I apologize for the ad hoc photos. They deserve better and perhaps I will spend some time drilling down on each object in the future. They are beautiful objects, but most beloved because of their history and what they meant to my father. As I bounce along the bay today I am thinking of him and how he would have liked this note as well as my perch on the ferry today, despite inclement weather.

Jersey Girl

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I am writing from mom’s house in New Jersey. It is Memorial Day weekend and I am reminded that Memorial Day (much vaunted in this beach community as the start of the summer season) is almost invariably cold and wet. This weekend is a great entry in the annuals of lousy weather on Memorial Day weekend.

In high school there was a small town parade (which has continued with the exception of last year; I don’t know if they are returning to it this almost post-pandemic year or not) which required the services of our high school marching band and drill team. This means I know something about standing around in the wet and chill in a brief uniform, toting a faux weapon. (That alone is probably news to Pictorama readers – yes, drill team. Loved the noise the fake rifles made as we slapped them and hit the ground in unison!)

Most importantly in a summer community like this it means the opening of the beaches and the green light for tourists and after our last (pandemic) summer I am sure they are quite anxious to get back to it here. We’ve had some glorious days recently so even old hands were tricked into a false sense of security, but man, that Jersey weather is having a good laugh at us. We Jersey shore folks remain ever optimistic however.

Ferry landing at 35th Street in Manhattan. Looks nice but was very cold!

Upon arrival in Fair Haven, I paced the backyard while taking the remainder of work calls that needed winding up. Meanwhile I enjoyed my mom’s absolutely gorgeous garden. She is housebound and enjoys it via the windows, and what gets brought in, but Mike who works on the tiny garden and yard does a great job. The peonies below are from plants I gave her in 2019 and they have grown nicely!

I am actually not technically here to celebrate the launch of the season. I arrived yesterday in time to attend a live gig with Wynton Marsalis and the septet for work. I invited three friends and it was a dinner club set-up, much like we did in the fall. (You can find that post here.) The ferry ride was very cold (and the water rough) yesterday morning. I chatted briefly with a young man with a bike who was preparing to ride to some area north of Philadelphia. (Yeah, I don’t think this must have worked out too well for him.)

The concert promoters assured us that the concert would happen rain or shine so we bundled and layered up and off we went. True enough, there was a tent and we were protected from the (hard) rain and wind, at least for the most part. I did see the music start to blow off the stand on stage until secured. It was 51 degrees and despite having spent the past year dressing for outdoor dining in all weather, I was layered but cold in my scarf and down liner. (My friend Suzanne lent me a large waterproof outback hat which helped keep the rain off.)

Wytnon Marsalis and the Septet last night in Eatontown, NJ.

I felt for the guys playing and knew they must be freezing in their suits. (Let’s face it, brass instruments can be cold!) The music was great despite the inclement weather though and it was a real treat to hear them in person again. In particular, our pianist Dan Nimmer was having a memorable night.

I came back to the house, got rid of my soaked clothes (trousers still wet this AM) and had some hot tea. Soon I was happily ensconced in pj’s in bed watching television while the storm raged around the tiny house. Gale force winds and rain were pounding when we heard a loud bang and the entire neighborhood went pitch black. I decided it was my cue to head to sleep and luckily this morning the power has returned, although the storm continues. Sadly no running here today, but a day with mom ahead so enjoy and more tomorrow.

Mysteries of the Easter Bunny

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I purchased this little guy a couple of weeks ago. I saw him on Instagram one afternoon and grabbed him (sold by @marsh.and.meadow antiques), and I was just delighted when he showed up. Continuing with yesterday’s jewelry theme I also purchased the lovely Czech glass necklace below from Heather @marsh.and.meadow antiques. It was new old stock and she had a fistful of them! When I wore mine, to a rare in person lunch earlier this week, it was the first it had ever been worn despite being decades old.

Photos snatched off of Instagram and from Marsh and Meadows Antiques.

I first met the proprietor, Heather, under the guise of her account, @_wherethewillowsgrow_, for the purchase of vintage photos and then I realized she sells other interesting stuff from her other account. She included this nice little photo of a family, shown below, in the package with the Czech glass necklace. I consider these folks as part of my Easter celebration in their spring hats and dapper clothes. (Also to say, she recently sold a necklace made of operculum which vaguely fascinated me, but I didn’t see it in time to pull the trigger. How is a necklace made of those somewhat ephemeral things? Find a post devoted to a pile of operculum here!)

Pams-Pictorama.com Collection.

Meanwhile, this great little Easter fellow presents this enormous spotted egg, tied with a big bow – and he sports a jolly big bow around his neck as well. I like this sort of frame he is in and I love that the back continues the design, bow, egg and bunny back. I realize that if you look carefully he does have a cotton tail which extrudes from the frame. He has a sweet face and expression and this is a very big egg he has. Although the pink in his ears is mostly missing, the tiny daubs of green and blue and gold in the flowers around the edge show a level of care in his making. He’s enjoyed a place of pride on my desk since he arrived and frankly I just like to have him there, pick him up and look at him.

There is a bale and he is meant to be a necklace. I would definitely wear the little fellow, although he is somewhat season specific, perhaps a thin bit of ribbon instead of a chain. No matter, I just like having his cheerful self around.

Admittedly I come at Easter from a largely non-ecumenical perspective. Easter for me will always be the launch of spring despite what the calendar or weather has to say about it. With a Catholic grandmother and Jewish grandparents, it has a mixed smattering of Passover thrown in and my childhood memories of this time of year are filled with Easter bread, matzoh brie, matzoh ball soup and of course chocolate. Easter and Passover are about food and family.

I am one of those kids who somehow subconsciously thought that bunnies laid eggs and that’s why the Easter Bunny brings eggs. At some point I realized that wasn’t the case and I admit it has always confused me. Yes, I understand the whole eggs and Christianity thing and the prolific bunnies of spring, but it was always remained a strange marriage in my mind. How did we end up with bunnies that deliver eggs? Chocolate eggs at that? And it seems to be a male bunny on top of it. Screwy.

I think I have touched on the big family Easter gatherings of my childhood in previous posts. (I wrote about the magic of my grandmother’s kitchen back in the 2015 post Ann’s Glass which can be found here.) I can remember Easter egg hunts in her generous yard – me in an Easter suit, white tights with baggy knees; I remember one in particular that was light blue and even had a little hat. (My mother was not prone to dressing us up as kids so perhaps that is why I remember the occasion, although I believe it is also documented in a photo somewhere. I think mom felt just keeping us clean and clothed and getting us to where we were going was generally sufficient when managing three kids.)

I always liked the stuff of Easter, the celluloid grass, small silky toy chicks, sugared eggs with Easter scenes unfolding within them. I liked the smell of Easter egg dye and vividly remember the messy joys of making those. (There was the year that our German Shepard, left unattended one afternoon, ate the better part of a dozen of our finished dyed Easter eggs. She didn’t get sick; she never did. Just took it in stride. However, I was very angry at her for robbing me of this ephemeral pleasure of the season.) Fluffy baby chicks, tiny soft bunnies, strange plastic eggs filled with toys and candy – what’s not to like?

Strangely Peeps creep me out and I have never eaten one. I know they have some intense fans.

I was thinking this morning that I have no memory of how we ultimately consumed all those hard boiled eggs each year, although we must have since mom didn’t waste food. My mother was not a maker of egg salad nor deviled eggs though and I do remember that the Paas dye seeped into through the shell and colored the inner eggs in places. I have specific memories of discovering egg salad and deviled eggs in adulthood. Maybe the dog got more of them each year than I knew. I will have to ask mom on the phone later.

My father, although Jewish, faithfully supplied us kids with baskets of Russell Stover baskets of candy every year, on into young adulthood, with amazing consistency. (My father was very good with the delivery of candy and there were equally consistent Valentine’s Day, heart shaped boxes each year. Those started with Russell Stover, but in adulthood morphed into Godiva and others as we got older.) The Russell Stover company still makes very similar chocolate eggs and baskets – they remained strangely constant over the years and I see them in the drugstore in the weeks leading up to Easter.

Most years I breakdown and purchase one of the chocolate eggs, filled with either strawberry or maple cream – the taste of childhood! Of course there were always the chocolate bunnies. I was a tad sad about consuming their cute selves – always ears first, eyes of hard sugar. Mom helping when they were solid chocolate and harder to break apart. It was always a somewhat inferior chocolate, but rapidly and joyfully consumed nevertheless.

For my father, non-observant though he was, this time of the year my mother would always make matzoh brie which we called fried matzoh. She had learned this from his mother, early in their married life I gather. Matzoh ball soup was a constant throughout the year, but would always be made too. In young adulthood I mastered both – my matzoh brie is a scrambled one like my mother’s; it tends to come more like an omelet when I purchase it in diners, usually on the Lower Eastside, and I like my matzoh balls a bit firmer than some people. (There is always a discussion of fluffiness.) Lots of salt and some pepper in the fried matzoh – I know exactly how my father liked it.

In retrospect it is a bit strange to think that we would have an Easter ham with my grandmother on Sunday, when we probably had matzoh brie for breakfast the day before. My diet (which promises to be a feature of my life well into summer at the rate I am going) and Kim’s aversion to eggs (he is probably turning green just reading about all this egg consumption) means alas, we will not celebrate the advent of Easter and Passover related food this year. Perhaps next year will be a different story and I will find the recipe for the glorious fat loaves of Easter bread my grandmother used to make and treat you to the story of baking them.

Out with the Old!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This year’s holiday card, drawn by me and inked by Kim, is a glimpse into the reality of Deitch Studio – it really looks exactly like this! (Full disclosure, no Christmas tree, not even a small one. There really isn’t a square foot for even the smallest one.) This year’s card is more of a New Year’s one – recognizing the year that has been as we hope to kick it aside in favor of the coming one.

I recently wrote for a Jazz at Lincoln Center member newsletter that 2020 was rare to reflect on a departing year that could be considered universally horrid, but that is what this year has been. Folks have suffered egregious pain and loss from the pandemic, howled with protest in the streets despite it, and went back out into it in order to stand on line for hours to vote. We saw dancing in the street here in Manhattan when the Presidential results were announced, but like all things in 2020, even that has proved to be a torturous and rocky road on the way to resolution.

Much will be written about the year 2020 in the future I think, but for now behind that everyone is still dealing with it and the additional backdrop of everyday struggles which continued apace – one friend reports bedbugs, another has a parent diagnosed with dementia, a third falls and lands in the hospital – and all this in the past week. For many, 2020 is the year that just won’t quit, even as we reach the bitter end. The backlash likely to sweep well into the beginning of the New Year.

There are undeniable bright spots though and commuting by walking ten feet across our studio apartment has been lovely. We joke about it and friends and acquaintances marvel at it, but really, if you have already lived in one room with someone for decades doing it twenty-four hours a day isn’t much different, at least for us. Last March I was deeply tired from too much travel and many late nights at work and I have been enjoying my regular routine and seven hours of sleep nightly – frankly being told I would have to stay home and cancel all upcoming travel was not entirely unwelcome. (Earlier tales of quarantine life at Deitch Studio can be found here.)

The Deitch Studio-Pictorama collaborative holiday card for 2020!

I resumed all cooking duties and we have not only eaten right, but we’ve eaten quite well and my newly restored interest in baking has packed on pandemic pounds which I am now seeking to banish. (It is hard to develop a sense of urgency about it however when my days are generally spent in work out gear from the waist down. Baking posts can be found here and here for starters. I am munching a spice cookie from last week’s cooking adventure as I write this.)

Cheesy olive bread – an early pandemic favorite.

I am fortunate to have a job and also to be able to work from home – Kim has of course always worked here and was the one who had to adjust and make room for me. Workdays have been long, sometimes starting at 6:30 AM and with the evening still finding me at my computer, iPad or phone, but without having to go any place it has allowed me to hone the work down to what is essential and a core fundraising message and method. Talking on the phone almost incessantly is a reality for me and, admittedly with a few bumps along the way, we have found accommodation.

Wynton Marsalis and I are on the phone so frequently that I joke that sometimes it is as if he is a third person in the apartment – asking after him always or shouting a jaunty greeting to Kim as he signs off a call, Kim tossing out the occasional comment when brought into the conversation. Kim now recognizes the sound of each person’s voice, not just on my team, but for the better part of the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center administrative operation. He listens to Susan and I discussing incoming funds and sometimes lack thereof; as Gaby and I working through a litany of media requests; me addressing my staff in meetings and sometimes even the weekly all staff meetings for the organization. Kim never thought he would know so much about how I spend my workday.

The flea market purchase of a Ruth Fielding novel that kicked off my reading of that series.

I think we will remember this year and shiver in remembrance of days and nights of ambulance sirens and deserted streets here, but I know we will also look back on it as a gift of time we never expected to have, tossed into our laps like a rough nugget of gold, waiting for us to figure out how to forge it into something. We have made good use of our time I think – been productive in our work – fundraising as always for me (if more urgently than ever), art as usual for Kim as he plows well into the next book. What downtime we’ve had has been spent reading – Kim finishing the last of the available Little Orphan Annie strips with regret, me working my way through wakeful nights reading escapist juvenile fiction of the early 20th century, Judy Bolton and now well into Ruth Fielding. (A post about my Judy Bolton pandemic days reading can be found here and here, and while a review of Ruth Fielding is in the works, I mention her in my post about the Miss Pat series and it can be found here.)

Early version of the lucky waving cats that adorn my desk.

Our two cats, Cookie and Blackie, have more than adjusted to the change in human habits and all memory of the “before time” has been erased from their respective tiny feline memories. A real ham, Blackie comes running for Zoom calls on camera, meanwhile Cookie sleeps under my laptop which sits on an elevated shelf which Amazon delivered (along with a world of other things) months ago when my back kept going out. She curls up under the warmth of the desk lamps and between the two waving lucky cats (one recently retrieved from my office), cat kissing them occasionally – and then mystically, in the late afternoon, I look up and it is Blackie there instead. (A post about the lucky waving cats can be found here.) The cats are frankly shocked if Kim and I leave the house for any period of time now. We find them waiting anxiously by the front door when we return.

Blackie and Cookie perched on my desk, awaiting dinner recently.

As I write this I am adorned in an ancient black hoodie that is years old, but has seen almost daily wear in recent months. I am wearing a wonderful pair of silky pj’s on the bottom, a recent purchase from the Gap, they are adorned with stars – a weekend luxury to be in them still so late in the morning, although I could live in them I actually make a point of getting fully dressed, as such, for workdays. Admittedly my “hard pants” and office clothes are now mostly providing nests for generations of moths I have not had the energy to deal with. (Moths are my version of the 2020 pestilence story.) I suspect by the time I get back to them I will chuck most of the whole lot anyway.

Blackie takes over the computer one morning.

What does 2021 hold for us and how will we adjust and meet the challenge of finding our way in the next iteration of the world? I think about it often. We have all changed in the crucible of these strange days and I don’t think anyone will emerge from it the same or unscathed. I remind myself that we will emerge from our cocoons at some point (we certainly hope in 2021), and as our new selves step out into the world to be whatever we have become during these long, hard but interesting months. Here we go then, out with the old and in with the New Year!

Abroad

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a short personal post – a report from my mother’s house in New Jersey. As I write this, for the first time since early March, I am spending the night somewhere other than our studio apartment in Manhattan. As Pictorama readers know, and like so many of us, I have spent the last seven months exclusively in our apartment.

This morning I went to a basement office of a medical center on East 65th Street and took a rapid Covid test. I felt I should in advance of seeing my mother; it was negative and made me sneeze. After returning home for a quick lunch and to pick up my bags I went to 35th Street where I caught a ferry and arrived for a visit with my mom, the first since February.

It was also my inaugural trip on this ferry – I tried taking it once a decade ago and it didn’t show up which sort of soured me on it. It is about twice as expensive as the train, but much faster. However, as the train seemed to have more germ potential than sitting outside on the water on this glorious October today I made my way to the FDR and the 35th Street.

As with everything these days, the capacity of ferries is lower and done on a first come, first serve basis so I arrived early. There was a huge line, but it turned out to be for the popular route that runs up and down the east side, to Queens and Brooklyn.

Chateau Woof, a dog friendly pub and coffee shop in Astoria near the ferry landing.
Heading home on the ferry near the 90th Street dock in September.

I had made my first trip on this route earlier this fall when visiting one of my staff in Queens. I made the offer that I would travel to see each of my direct reports at a location of their choice – outside, socially distanced, but near them. Two accepted the offer and the first thoughtfully planned drinks at a pub near the ferry in Astoria, just a few minutes from the 90th Street stop at the north end of Carl Schurz Park, near my apartment. It was a quick and lovely ride and inspired me to consider the longer ride to Highlands yesterday.

Folks lining up to get on the Astoria line ferry.

Suffice it to say that signage is very poor at the ferry terminal at 35th Street and no staff who were forthcoming with information. After wandering around and asking many people waiting in numerous lines, I found the one that was headed for New Jersey and parked myself in it. (As someone who has literally travel from Tibet to Patagonia you would think a ferry trip to New Jersey wouldn’t have required much thought on my part, but it actually did, at least this first time and not to mention being out of practice!)

Although the water had looked calm, it was very choppy getting onto the ferry – in retrospect this must have been the water traffic with the high speed boats coming and going because once we pulled it it was the most lovely day to be on the water you could imagine.

It made me realize how little I have actually been outside since we went into the initial lock down in March. I mean of course I am out, shopping or even just taking a walk, but living in New York City you usually spend a large portion of your life on the street – commuting to work, going out to meet people at offices, restaurants or for drinks. We are on trains, running errands, picking up lunch around the corner. Now there are weeks I only go out a few times if very busy with work. It was exhilarating to be not just outside but on the river, speeding by the landmarks of southern Manhattan. I couldn’t resist taking photos.

Quickly enough though, the landmarks became familiar on the other side – a small lighthouse, the buildings on the north end of Sandy Hook and eventually the beach at Highlands, remembered as seen from the shore growing up here – and even trips that were made by boat there many years ago now. Live music was playing just beyond where I could also see it. Kids were playing in the water and people were out, sprawled in the sun. It was like traveling back in time. Just seeing the beach and the water satisfied a craving I hadn’t really recognized.

Landing in Highlands, NJ

In addition to seeing my mom, I am here for an outdoor event with the septet made up of Wynton Marsalis and other members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. They are playing at the restaurant at Monmouth Park racetrack, The Blu Grotto. This is part of an outdoor mini-tour up the east coast, a drive-in located in Pennsylvania, then up to Yarmouth, Vermont and New Hampshire, ending in a week in Chautauqua, New York. This in a effort to be able to play together and fulfill the urge of our audiences to hear live jazz during this long hiatus while our hall and others remain dark indefinitely. They will be tested, masked and distanced during this time. It is onerous, but they are glad to be able to play again.

Morning at Mom’s.

I am looking forward to seeing them and hearing them in person later today. I travel home, on the ferry, tomorrow. Perhaps doubling up on the ferry and taking a second one to 90th Street to get home. Meanwhile, I am going to grab another cup of coffee and visit with my mom, cousin and cats here in Fair Haven.

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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