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.
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.
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.
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.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As some Pictorama followers know, I have long favored Instagram as my favored social media poison pick. Kim is devoted to tending the curation of his Facebook page, but I prefer to pleasantly lose myself scrolling through my iteration of the universe which skews heavily into vintage jewelry and clothing, antiques, cat doings (go @sadieanddottie!), the antics of some real world friends, and of course early photos.
The viewing world in return gets a version of me (@Deitchstudio) which includes these blog posts and related photos, the comings and goings of Cookie and Blackie lovingly chronicled, story vignettes of my morning runs along the East River (walks for since my great fall, see my post Busted, here, for that tale of woe), and in the before times my occasional travels with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra as the fund raiser for that organization. I try to avoid any whiff of politics and try to keep the chaos of our tiny abode visually within bounds admittedly. Photos of Kim only with his knowledge and permission. Selfies rarely, usually just with friends.
When I look back on this time I think I will mostly vividly remember scrolling through IG and watching home renovation tv.
You all over here at Pictorama get more insight into the inner life of Deitch Studio, but the folks over on Instagram get a daily visual account of me and mine. Obviously there is crossover and I know many of you follow me there and a few of the folks who I “know” only from IG wander over to Pictorama on occasion. (There are some triple crown folks who are FB friends too!) It is a happy day when these parallel Pictorama worlds collide and today (and likely tomorrow) will highlight some finds attributable to those folks.
Today’s splendid photo find (you were wondering if I would ever get to it I am sure) was purchased on eBay. The listing made no mention of the presence of Felix in their midst (nor cat costume photo) so I wouldn’t have found it without the tip from @the_antique_lens. I only know them by that moniker, no name on the account or bio information. Unlike many of the folks I interact with the_antique_lens is a collector, like me, not a merchant.
Their exquisitely presented account reveals what seems to me to be a remarkably similar visual taste in early photos to my own (Felix notwithstanding) to my own, although less specifically focused than my heavily cat/toy related collection. It is with thanks to them that this little beauty found its way to the Pictorama collection. A thank you to their eagle eye and generosity in the tip.
The photo is oddly mounted on pieces of paper that have resisted the glue applied resulting in ripples. It does not appear to be from a photo album – I think maybe framed at one time, but there are push pin holes in the top corners and one side so it spent some time displayed that way. There is a bit of black tape across the bottom mystifies me which Kim has edited out in this scan. Nothing is written or indicated on the back.
It is an interesting photograph. At first glance you might think was taken for Halloween, but the Christmas tree makes me think not. Perhaps a school play? Felix is especially curious in this case (hard to think of what that story line might be, but he is front and center), however given that several children wear similar costumes school play gets my vote. The costumes have a consistent quality too, all of the same quality. I am sure I cannot imagine a story that might incorporate the kid dressed as a gift box, an Indian, the little girl with a burlap bag over her head and the imaginatively rendered bear in the lower right. I am especially enamored of the teacher’s fairy costume, and as Felix the Cat costumes go, that is one I want!
The photographer had a good eye for framing this, especially if he or she arranged everyone. However I also feel that the photo maintains the aura of the stage presence of the kids – they do not mug, or even mostly smile much. There is a look of shared purpose and focus to them and they gaze directly at us. I am especially fond of the rifle bearing soldier and bear on all fours holding down the composition on the right, while the white fairy costume draws you back to the left.
A careful examination of the writing on the blackboard (a credit to that instructor’s neat hand which I am attempting to read more or less a hundred years later) appears to list three clubs. Furthest to the left (and easiest to decipher) states, The Right Club, Lois Dickason, President, and a list of names. The center reads, Our Writing Clubs, Gold Highest Honors, Blue Standard, Red Below Standard. (Underlined twice!) I can barely make out what it says on the board behind the teacher, but it appears to be, Gold Star Club,Ellen Montgomery, President, and a list of names too faint to decipher.
The Right Club and the Gold Star Club names listed have one or two stars after each name. (I would like to point out with girl Presidents of each, clearly the girls here were doing an excellent job representing for the fair sex.) The scrawny Christmas tree with its star is a poignant seasonal touch.
This is one of those photos that allows you to time travel and I think wall worthy – a tribute here in the cramped environs of Deitch Studio. Hope you enjoyed the trip.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Time marches forward and it was brought to my attention today that I have published more than 760 of these posts. (That seems impossible actually, but I will take the word of the fine folks here at WordPress since they seem to be keeping count.) Topics have sprawled over time and the nature of it has morphed a bit. As a general rule they have gotten longer and increasingly personal, although cats, photographs, toys and Felix remain the banner headline for the majority of weekends.
You all, my readers, have increased in number over time too – more in recent years than at first. And inevitably some very interesting things have come in over the transom from you all. A wonderful cache of Felix photos came to me that way – I remember I was in a hotel room in Florida having a miserable trip for work when it found me and cheered me immensely. (That post can be found here.)
One man in India was very interested in a rare book I had acquired (and cannot find in the miasma of our apartment post renovation to scan for him but will eventually) and I have heard from the descendants of folks I have uncovered, such as the grandchild of Alfred Latell, who have had occasion to write about more than once. (Among my most popular, those posts about his career as an animal impersonator can be found here and here.) Usually I let the stuff I have acquired lead me down the rabbit hole of memory or joyfully research or speculate on its past a bit, although occasionally I have taken you on trips across the country and world for work, recipes I have created, or whatever else is on my mind on a given day.
My original dream of organizing my Felix photo postcards into a book seems as far away as ever – folks start muttering about copyright when I mention it – but nevertheless, it remains of interest to me. Alas, I will find a way I hope and of course I continue to add to it.
Earlier this week, a reader reached out to me to ask about a post I did where I mentioned a lost cousin of hers, Bruce Rogerson, someone I knew in Britain when I was living in London in my earlier twenties. It arrived in the midst of a work week which can only be described as our annual budget hell which has been escalated in intensity by the pandemic – such is fundraising for a performing arts organization that hasn’t been able to perform in public for more than a year! However, I did take some time to answer her and dredged up memories of Bruce the best I could on short notice.
Annoyingly, at the time I could not find my post she referred to and it was only this morning that I realized that it was the briefest of mentions in a super long post I wrote while returning from a work trip to South Africa in 2019. (It can be found here.) That post was primarily about African Highlife music and musings on my early relationship to it while living in London in the mid-1980’s. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra had played with local musicians as part of the Joy of Jazz Festival and the strands of the more indigenous African music woke the sound memory in my mind.
This morning I received an email from her and thanking me for writing along with the information that she had about her cousin. The combined gathering of my memories of Bruce for her and then reading her notes have him very much on my mind today.
Bruce Rogerson owned a coffee house in Britain called The Troubadour (still in existence at 263-267 Old Brompton Road, London). It would have had recognized bona fides and probably something of a cult following when he acquired it in 1970 from its original owners, Michael and Sheila van Bloemen who established it in 1954. The Troubadour made its name in the heyday of the coffee house live performance culture on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950’s and ’60’s. It is said that it is the first venue in London where Bob Dylan performed has have Paul Simon and more recently Adele.
At the time I knew it the basement was used only infrequently for music or performance and I can only remember being in it once. Subsequent owners have expanded it and it is a live music venue once again – or presumably was pre-Covid. However, living down the street in a series of rented flats in Earl’s Court – which was rundown and affordable at the time although even then you had to know it was on the edge of gentrification.
The Troubadour was to me a rare place for a good cup of coffee – at a time when that wasn’t easy to find in London and I was already coffee addicted. It was also warm in winter (my abodes were anything but) and light food was available – a good soup comes to mind and quiche. The pastries were dubious and occasionally we joked about those. I was chronically a bit broke at the time so eating out was a matter of budget, although I was willing to pay for coffee. It was a sort of a cappuccino served in thick white ceramic mugs. (Liquor, wine and beer were not sold there during my time although I believe a license was acquired later.)
A coffee or two could buy you a lot of time at the Troubadour and soon I was doing my school assignments and writing letters from there, and my few recently acquired friends joined me there occasionally, making it our clubhouse of sorts. However, I was the most constant resident and as a result I got to know Bruce and also a number of the other regulars.
I now know that Bruce was born the same year as Kim which made him twenty years older than my 21 years at the time. Over time I was to learn that he had a degree in mathematics, an advanced one I believe, although I only remember touching on it once. He was a tall, lanky man, always dressed in a uniform of neat denim jeans and an open-necked, button down Oxford cloth shirt, light blue or blue and white stripe for the most part. Bruce wore his hair a bit long, disheveled and was balding when I knew him.
He stood behind the low, ancient wood bar counter at The Troubadour, stairway that went up to the apartment where he lived above just in back of him. The kitchen, painted a really bright, surprising sunshine yellow, was at the end of the long narrow space and beyond the counter. One usually ordered from the counter although occasionally a waitress might stop at a table and ask if you needed anything – or not. The seats were hard wood, all of them. Former church pews lined the walls, at least in retrospect that is what I think they were, and wooden chairs made up other table seating throughout. Music played ongoing and the Blue Danube Waltz was played nightly at closing to usher us out the door.
Michael van Bloemen, the founder, was known for his ability to find trash and turn it into treasure. (After selling The Troubadour he and Sheila moved to Sarajevo and my father was ultimately introduced to them while traveling there and they struck up a friendship.) So The Troubadour was chock-a-block full of odd ancient and interesting bits and pieces that spoke volumes even to a young Butler blogger and future collector of detritus even at the time. In retrospect it seems odd that Bruce would be so devoted to the place when his own taste actually ran to the modern and his apartment reflected this and was a bit of a shock in contrast. Michael stayed friendly with Bruce and was a close friend of Don’s and would stay with one or the other on trips to London, where he turned up periodically to pick up his money from the dole.
I met and became good friends Don Bay there, it was Don who introduced me to High Life music as he owned an African music company, Sterns. (Ironically Don tried to pick me up by taking me to a classical music concert I had been reading a review for when we met. It was the only time I would associate Don and classical music.) Don and Bruce were close friends and over time I tagged along and was enmeshed in their lives for the time I lived there.
Let it be said, these guys drank a lot. At 21 I was capable of drinking a fair amount myself so I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now I know it was a lot of drinking. Bruce consumed endless bottles of white wine while tending to the counter evenings, always in a short water glass. Meanwhile, Don and I had a love of cooking in common and he had a large kitchen at his house in Putney so we would spend whole weekends making exotic fare and inviting friends to eat it. Those cooking weekends including consuming bottles of scotch while we cooked (my mind reels thinking about it now), not to mention while we ate, and those parties generally went all night long sometimes with leftovers being finished in the morning.
Bruce and Don both knew about food and enjoyed eating out and would sometimes take me along to the various restaurants they knew, some where they were regulars themselves. With Bruce it was always a late meal, after The Troubadour closed, which I want to say was 10:00? Seems so late now, but there was a French restaurant across the street where he went on a regular basis and there was also an African restaurant in a basement up the street where you could get a late night meal. Again, I was very broke and a good meal was always memorable and appreciated. (I was acquiring my own cooking chops as well and this was the time I really started to figure out cooking.) I was just starting to leave off eating meat, but still did. Bruce’s cooking achievement was a traditional cassoulet.
Generally Bruce, who was a very reserved man, made much of looking askance at my young (probably somewhat outrageous and loud) American ways and would often use a certain look of horror, eyebrows raised when I shocked, which was frequent – sometimes just looking at what I was wearing; I had a fondness for very bright colors at the time and at one point shaved my very long hair into a boy’s bob in response to my less than efficient shower at the flat. However, he generally also had a bit of a twinkle in his eye as well. In retrospect, he was fairly rigid in his ways and was very set in a routine; he needed the structure he created and wasn’t comfortable out of it. He stuttered a bit, something that is just coming back to me now in an effort to really remember him.
Bruce generally surrounded himself with a series of stunningly attractive waitresses whose skills had to include making the coffee (a large and somewhat erratic machine was involved) and at least assembly as well as serving of food. I still remember one woman named Emma who remains one of the most attractive women I have ever known and once told me a wild tale about having been a nanny for a famous German film director, who in addition to hitting on her, one day took her to a major film premiere without telling her where they were going. The Troubadour provided Bruce with both a social life and an endless line of attractive women, both customers and staff.
He was a kind person and to his cousin I related a story about a mutual friend, my age, Hedwig Dumangier, who suffered terribly from epilepsy – she would have “tremblies” as she called them, several times a day and throughout the night. Specialists were unable to control it, although she tried a variety of medications and I believe had seen doctors across Europe. She was unerringly cheerful about it and took it in stride, however, when Hedwig failed to find employment due to her disability, Bruce gave her a job waitressing at the Troub for as long as she needed it. (This was very hard on dishes and occasionally food ended up in the lap of customers, but Bruce never really cared that much about the comfort of his customers!) On another occasion he invited my friend Sue to spend Christmas Eve with him and Don when she was alone in London. She was Jewish so the midnight mass they attended (sharing a flask in the back of the church) was I believe, memorable indeed.
Bruce was the one who was interested in classical music and I remember him trying to impress upon the young me that the sound quality of CD’s was inferior to LP’s. He had an elaborate turntable and a record collection which seemed substantial at the time, although I now know that a large record collection is generally in the thousands. If I could go back in time I would ask him if he didn’t also collect 78’s, maybe he did. Of course, even better sound quality there – but I knew none of this at the time and it was my first introduction to the concept. He played me the same recordings on both to make his point, but my untrained ear failed to really catch on at the time.
Although I knew Bruce had died back in 2014 (at age 69) I did not realize that he had been in nursing care for dementia in the last years of his life. He had sold The Troubadour in 1998 and retired in the Chelsea area. His cousin tells me that growing up his parents ran an inn where his father would have held forth behind a bar much as Bruce would later in life at the coffee house, although his family’s preoccupation with running the inn meant that he was sent away to school early on as well. Bruce lost his mother to cancer when in was just 17 or 18 and purchased The Troubadour when he was only 25. Knowing his background, growing up with parents running an inn, that makes more sense now – he grew up in the business. He was estranged from his mother’s side of the family after she died. My favorite bit of information is that he was nabbed for smuggling Swiss watches into the country. Bruce would have been attracted to Swiss watches and their fine mechanisms!
For those of you who made it through this very long post, thank you for staying the course. I hope this gives a bit more color to my description of him to his cousin Sara, who made the inquiry. It made me think hard about that time in my life which I haven’t really in a long time and so it was very much on my mind. I hope you enjoyed the trip, but hope to return to Felix and finds next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I get to combine my love of early photos with family. While I was visiting mom in New Jersey last week, my cousin Patti took out a huge basket of photos we went through together. Some folks remained unidentified, but a core group appeared throughout. (I wrote about this side of my family back in a post around a photo of a very early family wedding celebration. It can be found here.)
These are entirely my mother’s side of the family, the Italian immigrants who settled on the Jersey shore and ran a series of restaurants and food stands in what was a popular beach community. I apologize for the reproduction quality – I was just taking pictures of these photos on my phone.
As far as I can tell the genesis of these food enterprises was my great, great grandfather – last name Cittadino, first name not known to me. He is shown below in two photos, with car and bike.
I especially like the one of him with a bike. Regretfully no one knew who the two hotsy totsy looking, well dressed young women were. They showed up in some other photos. None of these photos were marked and had largely at one point been in an album, but we realized what everyone does when looking at family photos which is there are a lot of people who were friends or folks they worked with who were like family, but sadly no one remembers now.
The Deli, shown below, seems to have been the first restaurant incarnation of the family. I only recently learned of this earlier version of the family food establishments. As per an email from my mom below, I gather it was a place to eat as well as the take out sale of food. Sorry to say, these two fellows in the photo remain unidentified.
My grandfather had a deli and related food sale place in Long Branch on the Main Street Broadway. Every morning he walked to the bank for day cash on the way passed the owner of the bar getting to the bank. They struck up a conversation the fellow told him he was tired and wanted out. My grandfather then struck a deal walked on to the bank and got the loan went back and gave him the cash and that was it. He walked back to the deli told my grandmother and the customers eating there at the time and agreed all would help move down the street and that is how he moved down to the building with friends and customers helping shortly after when they did.
Norwood was the name of a street in Long Branch, in fact the street where my grandmother and the extended family had a home. (I wrote about that house in a post that can be found here). As per my mother’s email, the deli and the bar that followed, were actually on Broadway, the long main drag of what was once the thriving downtown which I believe ends at the ocean where the Boardwalk once thrived. The family home was within walking distance of the Deli and Bar, I think probably 15 or twenty minute walk, of it.
The family also seems to have two food concessions on the Long Branch Boardwalk as well, one I had always heard about, owned by my Aunt Ro. However, another turned up in these photos and I am not sure who owned this stand, but the general consensus was that this was not Ro’s but another. Not sure who is pictured here either, although he resembles my great uncle Frankie, but is too long ago to be him. Perhaps the Al mentioned on the awning boasting a Quick Lunch.
The family’s bar is what is remembered best by my mom, run by her grandparents, her mom and aunts. Mom would go to their apartment above the bar after school as a small child. Although much of the family worked there – not Mom’s father, Frank, who was an engineer for Bendix. While it is always referred to by family as The Bar, it served a lot of food as well. In addition to the daily fare special Sunday dinners were offered to steady customers, all prepared by the women of the extended family. Mom remembers them cooking non-stop between the restaurant and family.
The photo below is the aforementioned Frankie, father of my cousin Patti who stays with my mom these days and found these photos cleaning out her house. I believe this shot was at the bar although I would have voted for it being one of the beach concessions. (I wrote about my sectioned blue Willoware plates which were the Blue Plate Special plates at the bar and are our everyday dishes. You can find that post here.) My mom and uncle were too young to work there, although my mother used her restaurant background to waitress her way through college later in life.
The establishment remains today, at 591 Broadway in Long Branch – currently Johnny Piancone’s, ironically also an Italian bar restaurant. I have never been – although once my father and I had pizza in the place next door which I gathered from him had been there as long as he has known my mother.
My uncle ate at the restaurant several years back and they allowed him to visit the apartment upstairs which he also remembered vividly from afternoons there as a child. I have shown the bar today below which I found on the FB page. The bar pictured may be the originally one, although I believe my uncle said it had been cut down. The restaurant appears to have survived the pandemic with outdoor dining in a backyard and I would think doing take out. It’s nice to know that it is still there, still going in its own way.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last weekend for the first time since October I headed out to see my mom in New Jersey. As I had in the fall, I hopped on the ferry at 34th Street and the East River. I say hopped on, but there is a lot of queuing up, appropriately distanced, and waiting to get on the numerous boats to go up and down the river and coast. The same ferry line that takes me to Highlands goes significantly further north, up to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. (Although perhaps the more substantial model boat that I took home at the end of the trip, more on that later.)
Like many people I have been hesitant to see my elderly mother and possibly inadvertently infect her. She has not been well and I have wanted very much to go, so I took a Covid test and hopped on the ferry last week. I sat on the upper deck outside and it was cold, but a gorgeous day. Like the trip in the fall, it felt strangely heady and almost decadent to be traveling. (I wrote about that first trip out of town in an October post here.)
For my fellow workaholics I will confide, it was the closest I have come to unplugging in more than a year. I only attended one meeting in two days and colleagues were very thoughtful and there were less emails than usual. I’m pleased to report that no major meltdowns occurred.
I thought I had dressed warmly enough, but was wrong again. I always forget how much colder it is on the water and on a boat zipping along that way. I layered on all of shirts I had with me, put Beethoven on my earphones and watched the scenery while perched outside reading the Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines which I have downloaded to my phone. (If you are curious about my Camp Fire Girls reading, I have written about those early juveniles from the teens here and here.) The trip is only about 50 minutes (an hour and a half on the train) – twice as expensive, but half the time. Since I don’t go that often it is well worth it.
As we enter the Sandy Hook Bay I start to get nostalgic for my childhood. I remember being in my grandfather’s small fishing boat, the Imp, or later sailing with my dad in that Bay. Not that often, but often enough that the sense memory kicks in when I see it. As we get closer to Highlands memories of walking on the Hook come back too. I have walked it in all seasons, the fall there being especially pretty and quiet.
Highlands and Atlantic Highlands are built into hills right on the water, making for some dramatic, virtually vertical roads leading up to wealthier inhabitants at the top, with commanding views of the water, river and ocean. Perched at the very top are the Twin Lights, important lighthouses in their day, now non-functioning and a museum. Erected in 1828 the existing structure is from 1862. It was a landmark I always looked for from car and boat growing up in the area.
At sea level there are tiny houses, mostly raised with garages on the ground level to address constant flooding. I have always had a yen to own one of these little houses. For some reason, although I grew up along another part of the river, this area always had the pull on my heart. If I had bought a house there it would have been in this area or in Sea Bright on the other side of the Bay.
Mom currently lives in a small town next to the town where I grew up, about 15 minutes from the ferry. After spending most of this year cooped up in our tiny studio apartment, her little house seems expansive – stairs! The surrounding neighborhood is in a glory of spring blooming and flowering trees, tulips and other flowers are just bursting all over.
I got up early for a run and took the route to a friend’s house, figuring I was least likely to get lost that way. It was Edenic. Just running without a mask was blissful. The cherry trees and magnolias were so beautiful (some shown above) I ordered one of each for Mom’s yard for Mother’s Day.
Another morning gave me a chance to walk on a virtually empty beach, a few miles from where the ferry dropped me, in the town of Sea Bright. It was a very warm day and the sand was hard packed for easy walking, the ocean lapping. It too was heavenly.
Meanwhile, in the past year my mother has acquired two stray kittens who are in the middle and latter stages of adolescence now. I seem to terrify and fascinate them both, Peaches and Gus. I missed my friend Red who died in the past year as well. (I wrote about him in my post Red Buttons, here.) However, these two keep things lively in the house, racing around constantly. (Gus on the left, Peaches – very worried – on the right.)
On the third morning it was time to head back to Manhattan. I stayed an extra night and took the 6:00 AM ferry back to the City. There were many more passengers than I would have expected and a larger, more no-nonsense ferry in use. The upper outside deck was closed off so I stayed warm inside and watched the sunrise over the river.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It seems safe to say spring is finally on the rise here in NYC and this month marks six months in my experiment with running so I thought I might give a bit of an update today. February threw down some serious snow which brought me to a complete halt for awhile, however after several weeks in captivity I forced myself to head back out (with some trepidation) to see how much ground I had lost. Much to my amazement I pretty much picked back up where I left off.
For those of you who missed my earlier post (it can be found here) I started jogging because otherwise during our long pandemic period, I found myself not moving from my home desk (Deitch Studio is also a studio apartment and our single room leaves little room even for pacing), and watching as many hours melted rapidly into days. I don’t have much time and I wasn’t able to get much walking done in the hour or so I can devote to it so in a bid for efficiency I began running.
I came to exercise late in life, but pre-pandemic was a happy gym rat, cramming it into early mornings, evenings and weekends. (I have written generally about my workout and that post can be found here.) However, I have always been a reluctant runner. I dislike treadmills (I don’t really imagine that will have changed when I get back to them) and running was sort of a final frontier of exercise I had not embraced.
My mother ran and was in fact a high school track and field star whose records there were only broken decades later. (I believe it was the long jump she excelled at.) She ran for a brief period when I was a kid, but she had largely given it up as an adult. My sister, Loren, ran. Loren was a bundle of hyper energy that needed to be released daily in large dollops or she was impossible to live with. Therefore it wasn’t unusual for her to run and bike, swim or play tennis together in combinations daily. She ran cross country, was on the track team in high school and generally distinguished herself as she did in most things. (Loren’s college rugby career in is mentioned in a post here.)
It can only be said that I did not inherit my mother’s genes in this area and it must be my more sedentary father I take after. I frankly cannot imagine my father running – it isn’t an image I can conjure if I did indeed ever witnessed it. He was a tall man, 6’5″ and skinny in his youth, but he filled out as an adult, muscled from his work carrying camera equipment for his job daily. Still, other than a daily work out of reluctant stretches for a bad back, executed on the floor of the bedroom, there are no memories of dad and exercise.
Frankly, I run badly and I am relieved that it is very unlikely I will actually ever see myself run. I run slowly – there may be people who walk faster than I jog. My strides are short and plodding. I seem to be a different animal than many of the folks around me, boasting their shirts from the marathons they have run, bouncing, gliding and zooming along. Young, old, women and men of all ages generally make a better job of it. It is only thanks to my long time trainer, Harris Cowan (@livestrongernyc) that I have managed to ease my unwilling body into running.
However, doing something with determination even if badly, is a good foil for the narrowness of our current cooped up state I think. I remind myself to be grateful to my body for what does achieve, not critical for its failure to do it better. It’s been good to put myself up against something hard that is concrete and which can be chipped away at. Running makes me use another part of my brain and gives a rest to the thorny problems of work and what needs to be done, or what has risen to the top of my agenda for fretting. Releasing the problems for a time allows me to better work through them later I think.
Strangely and unexpectedly I have started listening to classical music, largely orchestral, while running. I run along the east side esplanade, along the water (my brother Edward reminded me in my prior post that our East River is actually an estuary) which tends to be glorious with the sun rising over it in the early mornings. I will never tire of the various moods of the water – choppy with current one day and still the next. It reminds me of the river which was always in our backyard growing up.
However, not to be too romantic about it, on the other side of me each day is the FDR drive and a noisy endless bevy of cars, fighting their way to their early morning destinations. Therefore, it is not the glorious sounds of nature I would enjoy if I wasn’t plugged into my phone. Audio books were always my go to when exercising and I have listened to some wonderful things. Yet I was finding increasingly that they weren’t right for running, distracting but not in a good way.
I switched to a music mix I had used occasionally for workouts which ran I admit with some embarrassment heavily to Bruce Springsteen (can’t take the Jersey out of the girl I guess) which did the job but was a bit repetitive. However, one day it started with a curiosity about Beethoven’s 7th symphony and the feeling I had never really listened to it. I downloaded it and decided I would listen to it while running – which I did many times over several weeks. After that I wandered over to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which has long been a favorite, but I hadn’t heard in a long time. I welcomed spring with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. (Admittedly, I have pretty routine taste and I suppose if I want another challenge I could actually start learning about classical music.)
I listened to a Beethoven violin concerto and realized that after years of it making me sad after my sister died, more than a decade later now I love listening to the violin. Staying with Beethoven I was listening to a piano concerto yesterday and realized I have rarely listened to much piano at all and what an amazing instrument – one-stop shopping for a full orchestra in a single instrument. The education of my ear which I had been receiving with live music via jazz on the job in recent years, has taken a turn with classical music.
My experiment with running began with a combination of walking and running. Running as long as I could, followed by periods of walking which became shorter over time. I achieved a milestone the other day and did virtually the full run without a break. (There is a steep incline at a land bridge which I have yet to tackle at even a slow run.) I had dragged myself out that day which it turned out was a gentle spring morning not to be missed and was rewarded. For those who have followed my running via my IG stories, I am taking fewer photos now that I am walking less!
Frankly most mornings it is still sheer will that gets me into my sweats and out the door. (I wrote last time that I was doing the post simply to keep me from quitting the whole venture.) It is hard and drinking coffee at my desk or even lifting weights in the comfort of the apartment is more appealing. However, once I am out it is good for me and I am seeing spring unfold in the park where I start and end my jaunts. Earlier this week a hawk swooped right past me at eye level while I warmed up with a few moving stretches pre-run. (He was a big fella and I was glad not to be a small mammal or bird. Yikes!) Plants are beginning their persistent and riotous emergence and squirrels and birds are suddenly everywhere, feasting and frolicking. When I look back on this time I think it will be these mornings I remember best.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Those of us in the New York City area we were treated to an early and unexpected few days with temperatures in the high sixties and seventies. Windows were thrown open and thoughts of ice cream started to dance in my otherwise strictly diet-minded brain. Suddenly the idea of eating outside appeals rather than making us reach glumly for the long johns and down. I am rethinking my running attire which has been a many layered affair until now, knowing that soon it will be a question of stripping down rather than staying warm.
It is the end of March and we are sincerely hoping to hold onto the out-like-a-lamb part of the saying, but experience tells us that even early April can have some nasty weather surprises so I am trying not to get too attached. Nonetheless, we are like insects delayed too long in our larvae stage, now finally thrust into a metamorphosis. We were in a sense deprived of spring last year as it was the beginning still of our pandemic year – I know that the weather must have turned with the same appeal come hither temps, but the other aspects of last April have wiped spring from my memory. Only a long hot summer remains when I look back.
This year we emerge both tentative and with the power of pent-up desire. Discussions about how to build the bridge back to normal fill my work days now, although the terminus of this marathon is not yet really quite in sight. My brain struggles to work on a duel track of finishing the next leg of this quarantine period and setting an agenda and plan for moving forward. Part of me just wants to loll like a kitty in the sun by an open window, the other part is all business.
I don’t switch gears quickly so I am trying to allot time for this process and to imagine what that post-Covid life looks like. Twinkling reminders of the before time and the joys of it bounce into memory and then out. My brain gets swamped immediately though as I try to sort through and I can’t quite get a purchase.
I gently remind my office colleagues that being out in the world is a muscle, somewhat atrophied, that we must start to exercise, encouraging them to meet me outside but close to them, to begin the process. It is hard for me and it appears to be difficult for them too. So far I have very few takers. I understand their reluctance.
The upcoming advent of Easter and Passover are harbingers of the season and turn my mind habitually to thoughts of renewal rebirth as they do in any year – just as fall will eternally remain the turning over of another back-to-school type leaf.
This year though we relive the launch of the pandemic as the wheel of the year turns to our second one, meanwhile straining to see the end of it. Is everyone experiencing the same simultaneous desire and reluctance to cast off our cocoons? I feel like everyone wants me to go faster than I can and I admire the people who seem to be better at it. However, I admit I struggle with the mental exercise of being in two places at once and of two minds. And of course it isn’t going back to the before time that we are weighing now, but thoughtfully attempting to create an entirely new world after and what we want it to look like.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little object came across my path on eBay and I snatched it up. Corkscrews have become a popular collectible and I was afraid I might face some stiff competition. I was lucky that it didn’t appeal to the collectors and I acquired him unchallenged.
There’s something perfectly appealing about this kitty and his corkscrew tail, sticking up in the air. This little fellow (or gal) sports a big bow, an arched back and a slightly wide-eyed expression. He (or she – despite the big bow I’m feeling he I think though), has nice heft and stands well on his own. He is easier to hold and better designed (and to pull on) than you might think, although I find this kind of minimal opener requires a sort of brute strength I don’t have and ultimately leads to bits of cork floating in my wine. Therefore, despite being quite sturdy, this fellow is officially retired from the work of cork removal as far as I am concerned. I am eyeing a cabinet which I think he will be quite at home in.
As someone who both waitressed and cooked professionally I became committed early on to a very specific device to removing corks from wine bottles. One of the most useful life skills (aside from extraordinary patience) that waitressing provided me with was the most fail safe methods of opening wine and champagne.
One summer during college I worked in a high end French restaurant (which despite being called Harry’s Lobster House, had quite a reputation for its French seafood cuisine), and this was where I believe I was introduced to this style opener. (I was also given instruction in the careful opening of champagne table side – slowly and wrapped in a towel – so that it would of course pop! but with no spillage.)
For the most part I was a pretty lousy waitress. Friendliness was the best skill I brought to it (in addition to the aforementioned patience), which bought me a fair amount of forgiveness with the customers. Frankly though this made me better suited for working behind a counter, making sandwiches and serving coffee as I had the summer before,
I can still remember how befuddled I was by the specific names of the liquors when people ordered drinks – this was a high-end restaurant and Sea Bright in summer was a drinking beach town. I wasn’t familiar with top shelf alcohol brands and was decidedly unsophisticated in this regard. (Mom and Dad certainly had liquor in the house, but they were fairly mundane in their imbibing.) I did my best to write the order exactly, phonetically when needed, on my pad and report them faithfully to the bartender who, although nice enough really, in retrospect must have thought I was an idiot. Mom tells stories of working her way through college waitressing and it doesn’t seem to be a gene I inherited. (Incidentally Mom was also a record breaking long jumper in high school and a runner – these days while learning to run I often reflect on not having those genes either.)
To be clear, a superior corkscrew to me is a bit like the better mousetrap – you can try to make one, but the bar is high. It is a perfection of a certain kind of ingenuity and design. One should not tamper lightly with success.
Anyway, I have been using the same corkscrew since cooking school, mine came with an assigned kit of knives and implements. It has a red nail polish dot that I assigned to all my stuff so I could easily identify them quickly in a crowded kitchen. If you’ve never used one, you quite simply screw it in and then use the other, short, protrusion for leverage at the lip of the bottle and pull the handle – and voila! Bottle opened. Neat and tidy.
Growing up, the largely preferred bottle opener was the one below. I have a fairly good success rate with these as well, although clearly you can’t carry them around and use them as a waitress or cook. (The other folds nicely and lived in my pocket daily, handy for when needed.) This model has a bit less control than my preferred model (I’ve had more corks fall apart with these than the others), but I think one of these still also rattles around in my kitchen drawer. (Because of my former life as a cook, long ago though now that it is, there are some amazing things in that drawer that are rarely if ever used – things to make melon balls, pie crimpers to name a few. My zester recently came back into favor and my olive/cherry pitter lives there and is a much beloved item.)
Given all of this knowledge, opinion and lore, you would think that I would have successfully imparted this bottle opener knowledge successfully to my family at large. However, for some reason, my father became enamored of every possible variation of bottle opener to be found. He bought them in stores, at garage sales and they represented every conceivable variation on this theme. Some were quite absurd. Many were heavy and complex. Despite my protestations he would deliver them cheerfully to me as well. The fact is they almost never worked as well as my simple device – although in general I will grant you that they were more colorful and interesting, at least in theory.
Dad broke another rule of bottle opening and one evening opened a bottle of champagne which exploded in his hand, top breaking off, and cutting him badly enough that he had to trek to the emergency room for stitches. He did adopt my wrapped bottle technique after that.
For all of this, you would think we are popping a whole lot of corks over here at Deitch Studio, but mostly we do not. Kim doesn’t drink and I am currently on a diet. Until earlier this week at a belated birthday dinner (which as my IG followers know was eaten outside under a heater and was actually quite lovely, pulling at the memory strings of what eating out used to be) when I broke down and had a glass of wine; I had not had a drink since December, maybe November. (The alcohol calories don’t make sense for me when I am counting them carefully. I always like to say that being on a diet is not so much fun that I want it to go on any longer than necessary so I try to be extremely focused and swift!)
I do cook with wine (or vermouth – although that’s a screw top) and there’s usually a bottle of something around for that. Pre-diet I enjoyed an occasional glass of wine or Prosecco with dinner – I like an occasional ice cold vodka tonic with lots of lime in summer. However, I am not and will never be knowledgeable about wine beyond what I like and what I don’t. Red wine triggers migraines which eliminates me largely from the erudite pursuit of wine. Nevertheless, when needed I know exactly how I am going to open that bottle.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you not reading this in real time (or who missed yesterday’s post which can be found here) I covered the four Radio Girls novels which were subsequently served up as Campfire Girls novels, sweeping them into a decades long series of books which has its start in the early teens of the 20th century. The organization was founded in 1910, born out of camps in Maine and Vermont and in response to the Boy Scouts – realizing it seems the need for a nondenominational organization for girls.
The early volumes that I have read appear to take place in a somewhat nebulous part of upstate New York or New Hampshire. Girls schools seem to play a role in them and these must have proliferated in a way I wasn’t much aware of, boarding schools for middle and upper middle class girls which were a mix of academics and things like sewing and music.
Wohelo is the Camp Fire Girl pledge (short for Work, Health, Love) and serves many purposes in the novels. People shouted it in the woods when lost or searching for someone (this happens a lot in these novels) or someone might use it somewhat slyly to let another girl know you too were a member. There are songs and poems attached to it and I gather an award that the group gives at the highest level as well. As far as I can tell from the books the group was heavy on all of the above as part of their ceremonies.
There are a few warnings from the start that I should probably post on these early editions. A profound but casual sort of racism exists throughout and, despite being a movement which in a sense promoted independence for women, a young women’s goals were still largely tied out to what kind of wife she would ultimately make. I can only say that these are products of their time. I am not sure I would promote them universally without caveat to young girls today.
I myself made a lousy Girl Scout – which is what we had locally in New Jersey. Camp Fire Girls was an exotic other which was not an option. I entered a Brownie Troop because I was expected to, as did my friends. I fretted about memorizing the damn chants they made you repeat (why always with the chanting? seems creepy now) wore a little brown dress, always somewhat ill fitting, and beanie dutifully to school on the designated day.
By the time I graduated to Juniors, I was even less enamored. We never seemed to get to the more interesting things in the guidebook like how to build a fire. And even then I was drawn to the early uniforms which were still available although they were in the process of morphing into bad 70’s remakes, my preference for vintage clothing rearing its head early. I liked the sash and the embroidered badges fascinated. My mother, who had made it up into Cadets during her own high school career, had been talked into be a troop leader for a small group at that elevated level and she told me that I was going to be in Girl Scouts if she was and I accepted my fate.
My friends remained in it as well and my specific memories of those middling years were that we did go to camp once – no idea where in the wilds of New Jersey. I used a sleeping bag my sister had acquired for something and had become what we used for sleepovers. It was an army green-brown and the inside was a print flannel – maybe fishing scenes? It was my sole experience of a sleeping bag until I crawled into a down version in Tibet decades later – far superior. My only real memory of camping was that it was much harder to make pancakes outside over a fire than at home and I was bad with a compass. We learned about Indian sand painting and this must have made an impression because it was brought back to me in detail when watching Buddhist monks performed a sand mandala ritual which seemed remarkably similar.
Other than that clutch of memories I know we met first in an ancient wooden building in town which was called Bingham Hall. It was probably built as a church originally and must have been used for other things, but I’m not sure I was ever much in it for another purpose. It was a single room building with a small stage and no other permanent features like chairs or pews. Later we met in a church basement and that introduced me to the smell of church basements (I come from a non-religious family and this was my only early introduction to churches at all) and that smell of cleaning fluid, paper and something else, that brings those meetings to mind immediately. As you can see, the Girl Scouts didn’t contribute much to my moral fiber or overall improvement.
Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century was a different time and the idea of encouraging young girls to learn the skills needed to camp and to survive outside were downright controversial. It is years before women get the right to vote and even the need for more than a nominal education was a matter of debate. Very wealthy families had been sending their teenage daughters to European finishing schools and those existed in this country too. Colleges like Barnard (founded in 1889) and my own alma mater Connecticut College (founded in 1911) were somewhat experimental and controversial. One of the things that appealed to me about Connecticut College was its roots as an early women’s school which appeared to be born out of the Arts and Crafts movement and where wealthy families once sent their more creative offspring for secondary education.
In the first few books of the Camp Fire Girls series (as far as I can figure out the order) Ethel Hollister is the protagonist whose family pretends greater wealth than they have so she can make a good marriage match. Belonging to the Camp Fire Girls shows her another path which ultimately leads her leaving her finishing school and instead enrolling at Barnard – ensuring that she can make a living on her own – or ultimately help to support her husband as she states. Her going to college is part of the controversy making up the plot of these books and it was considered odd of her which causes some of her former friends to snub her. The series of four novels ends with most of the young women engaged or married.
There is an air of this around the early Campfire Girls and the Arts and Crafts movement seems to define its aesthetic as well as its roots in promoting the individual. In a volume from 1912 when a “camp home” is described it is in full blown Arts and Crafts style. It is therefore a bit frustrating when these independent young women drive home the point that these skills will ultimately make them better wives. This seems absurd today but is probably an important link in how women did gain their independence. These books are full of the fire of the converted however and in that sense it was a real movement.
The book series is odd in that, unlike the Stratemeyer Syndicate series I am familiar with main characters come and go. You get a few volumes devoted to a group of characters and then a new writer and new characters are introduced for the next few volumes. (Thus far all have been available on Google Play Books or other e-book sources and so far I do not own any of the actual volumes. They appear to be fairly available at low prices online from what I have seen however.) The underlying concept is very similar however and these volumes hew closely to laying out the tenants and driving home the concepts of the organization. These books are very much tools to bring new recruits to the ranks.
Now let me just say, the Camp Fire Girls had really cool stuff. It is described so lovingly in the volumes that I began looking it up immediately and they would have sold me on the splendid outfits and jewelry alone. What young girl wouldn’t be enamored of the silver ring symbolizing their entry point as wood gatherers? Shown above in its Arts and Crafts design glory, these are available in abundance online, showing how many women had them and kept them over time. A silver bracelet was to follow shortly as they became fire makers. I am saving that, the rather extraordinary outfits and some period photos for my next post devoted to this subject.