Of Rats and Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Post: A admit to being a bit stuck on the New Year’s theme this year – I wonder what my subconscious is trying to tell me. However, I scarfed up this card recently as its somewhat three dimensional embossed-ness appealed immediately. I am taking this opportunity, therefore, to consider Chinese New Year and the upcoming celebration of the Year of the Rat.

Starting with considering this splendid card, I will note that this realistic puss has a toothy look that makes me think he would happily eat the rat or any rodent in question. The card was never mailed, but in a penned script on the back it reads, Bro Rob – Wishing you a very Merry Christmas Harry. It is undated. It is deeply embossed, making writing on the back a bit difficult, but contributing to its sense of depth.

I don’t know anything about the Chinese horoscope, but I do feel like I am hearing a lot about the Rat this January. The Rat takes us back to the beginning of the 12 entity cycle which gives me a sense of beginnings and the turning over of new leafs. (Perhaps like me, you have many leaves and are still considering which might be ripe for turning.)

I was walking home from the gym last Sunday, which was an incredibly unseasonably warm day for January, more like spring. As I strolled down 85th Street I noticed a rat in a tree well, dead, but oddly appearing like he was napping. I thought to myself that the Year of the Rat wasn’t working out for him – having missed such a very nice day, not to mention the commencement of his year. We’ll hope he did his time as a rat and was moving onto a better incarnation.

Generally rats terrify me. (Even this dead one made me scream a bit and jump.) I have an irrational fear of them. I am unsure if it was growing up on the water where water rats are enormous and fierce; we were warned about them as children, or just something about me and them. (I go into some detail about this in a post called Ratters and Mousers which can be found here.) Meanwhile, admittedly New York City rats are like large mice by comparison – the mice sometimes so tiny that they look more like spiders.

Everything is bigger outside of the city – the mice, moles and shrews of my childhood rodent catching cats were outsized by comparison. I was amazed when I moved here and worked in a restaurant kitchen with mice so small that sometimes they were just a blur of movement I would catch out of the corner of my eye.

My dead street rat victim notwithstanding, the rat and the year are considered to be lucky ones. I have a personal (and also frankly irrational) preference for even years. This applies equally to the year in question as well as to my age – they are in sync for me. I don’t remember when I developed this preference. A friend recently posted that her shrink says the even years are the ones for catching up.

I am a Dragon – the only imaginary animal in the Chinese Zodiac. I am told we have tenacity, courage and confidence, as well as arrogance and we are aggressive. I guess I can own up to most of that. My sub-set is Wood Dragon though, which is a tad less charming as we are tagged as introverted (I am guessing you all at Pictorama may not entirely agree) and less enthusiastic. However, I read that mine is a lucky career year in particular and I say, May the Year of the Rat begin!

 

 

New Year’s Wain-ing

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: This little gem turned up in my mailbox on New Year’s Eve – I guess in a sense I had mailed myself this New Year’s card by purchasing it earlier in the week. Somehow I ran across a bargain on a Louis Wain New Year’s card on ebay and snatched it up. Therefore, lucky Pictorama readers, you get a second New Year’s card post this year and it’s a pip.

Mailed on December 30, 1903 it is address to Master Thomas Couch Front Street Brampton and is simply from Mrs. Moore. The title of the card is When the Cat’s Away and these magnificent naughty kits are having a high old time, just as I have always suspected our cats do as soon as Kim and I are out of sight.

These kitties are in a schoolroom and I especially like the map of Catland on the wall. Careful study reveals that according to Wain Catland is made up of the following regions: Cats Dairy, Cats Meat Land, Mouse Home, Cow Corner, Rat Land, Beetle Lane and Persian Land. Wain and I see the map of Catland somewhat differently perhaps. (I am in fact the Queen of Catland as depicted by Kim on several occasions and therefore feel I have some authority on subject. One image depicting me in my Queen regalia can be in the form of a Valentine can be found here. Additionally I come pretty close in some of my finery as depicted in Kim’s Reincarnation Stories.)

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A book of Cat Tales is tossed on the floor and these kits are madly going at it. We’ll figure the one wearing the dunce cap is the ring leader, spilling the ink and assignment of the brown tabby next to him. Gray kitty is having a poke at his neighbor, who appears to have something nefarious going on in his desk – wonder what is in there? Meanwhile the maniacal look of the cat playing leap frog is pure Wain.

May I just state the obvious and say that Mrs. Moore had very good taste in cards? I would have liked to have known her. And we are so grateful to Master Couch for having the good sense to take good care of this card? Pictorama readers may remember that I came to Louis Wain late in the game for a cat enthusiast of the early 20th century. (Posts commencing the ceding of my Wain moratorium on a trip to London a few years ago can be found here and here.) My defensive posture was purely an economic one as the competition for his imagery, even the merest postcards, is extremely stiff and therefore costly. Nevertheless, I have abandoned that position and have traveled happily way down the Wain rabbit hole.

As some of you know, I am kicking off this New Year nursing my back which I seem to have pulled out of whack in the final frenzy of 2019. I tend to resent the reminder that I am human and have furiously thrown every imaginable treatment at it – although being flat on my back has resulted in numerous ebay purchases like this one. As Kim pointed out to me last night, time is probably what it really needs so I settle in for the long haul and contemplate the New Year – and dream a bit of what is yet to be discovered in 2020.

 

The New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Great Deitch Studio Card Reveal

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Ta Da! It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving running late it was a tight turnaround this year and apologies to anyone who hasn’t gotten theirs in the mail yet before I do the online reveal. (And that includes just about everyone at my office.) As some of you might know, the day after Thanksgiving is the day when I sit down and do the first go at the card. This year it pretty much fell together with that initial session and here we are.

Pictorama readers aren’t going to be surprised that the recently renovated kitchen played a role in the Deitch Studio pictorial summing up of the year. (Although I could have shown our window installation as an alternative. Cats installing new windows? Um, gives me vertigo to think about. Those recent renovation posts can be found herehere and here – just for starters.)

I have set Cookie and Blackie to stirring up a storm here. The kitties are very fond of the new kitchen (counters have been duly jumped upon, the floor rolled over and over on, and the cabinets duly sniffed and inspected) although disappointingly the new fridge is too high and narrow for Cookie climbing – she liked towering over everyone on the old one. Of course, in reality we rarely let the cats cook and discourage their use of the stove in general. (I don’t mind them using the microwave, but worry they will be careless and use aluminum in it. And Blackie was showing an unfortunate interest in jumping up on the stove early on which we needed to compel him not to do.)

Kim let me have my head on this one and the result is more Pam than usual in execution I think. Although he always neatens things up (especially lettering – I don’t do that properly at all) and the shading always makes things pleasantly Deitchien. (A phrase I may have coined earlier this year in my happily and totally biased spousal post reviewing Kim’s Reincarnation Stories which can be found here and here. Kim’s book is of course the other big news of the year – the cats could have been reading about themselves in it. Or complaining that they didn’t play a bigger role.) The cats’ expressions are a bit more Kim-ish than Pam too. He has given them a slightly maniacal mad scientist look – probably closer to their true expressions.

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From the opening of Reincarnation Stories.

 

As I believe everyone bemoaned this season, with Thanksgiving falling a bit late in the calendar the holiday season is a bit compressed. Kim inked quickly and the printer turned it around fast (a nod to Bill from Yorkville Copy, which no longer exists as a storefront – he comes from Westchester to pick up our original and copy, score and return annually), but that only left a week to get them in the mail. I hedged our bets by making it a New Year’s card.

As I write this part of my brain is taken up with the things that still need doing, the apartment is in a state of chaos, and I long to have a proper workout at the gym after an endless week of work related events. I know you, dear readers, are probably thinking much the same so thank you for spending a little time with Pam’s Pictorama today. A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and of course every best wish for the New Year from all here, feline and otherwise, at Deitch Studio.

Bonne Annee 2017

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have fallen for these European New Year’s cards before. The 2015 New Year’s installment was an array of French cards, also titled Bonne Annee, and I have owned this card for more than a year already waiting for the appropriate moment. (There was a post a French, April Fools card as well, April Fools? with goofy French cats fishing.) I purchased this card with the intention of giving it to my mother, she who is the protector of and interested in all things swan related. I promise to get it to her soon.

I am interested in the tradition of New Year’s cards. I had the extraordinary privilege of being present when John Carpenter, one of the curators at the Met, took someone through a collection of Japanese New Year’s cards and explained that at the time they were drawn, wealthy people commissioned these beautiful drawings as cards and on New Year’s Day they would go from house to house with them and present them as gifts. At each house they would be invited in for music and food. The drawings he was showing us were a recent acquisition at the time, and he hopes to do an exhibit of them. Somehow these rituals around New Year’s seem to suit me – better than freezing in Times Square I guess.

It appears the French have stuck with New Year’s cards as well – I am under the impression that they still favor them over any other form of Christmas or generic holiday card. Getting back to my card above, there is some strangeness in this image. First and most obvious, that little girl has that wicked smile on her face – is this the face of the New Year I want? I guess she is a variation on the baby New Year symbol. I have to admit that she actually looks a bit like my mother did as a kid as well. There aren’t tons of photos of her, but it does resemble the one photo I have of her at that age – minus the dangerous grin. Then there is the swan which a trick of photography has captured in between both two and three dimensional space. Stuffed swan or cut-out perhaps? It remains unclear to me. Also, I was always told that horseshoes should always go the other way so that the good luck would stay in, but I grant you, it is easier to hook on your arm this way and perhaps the French don’t subscribe to that theory. The swan can represent purity, but also strength and, clearly in this case, water – although I am not sure exactly what that says about the coming year.

When I was a kid I used to write the numbers of the outgoing year many times – thinking that I would soon miss writing it and in sympathy with the outgoing year. I have no such sympathy as I kick 2016 out and close the door on it today. Many of you were along for the ride while our apartment was torn up for months in the spring; we all suffered through the political landscape; and even the Met was plagued considerably which rocked my professional life. Saddest of all, in the closing days of the year Kim and I lost a good friend, Rich Conaty, to cancer; additionally a Met colleague, Ron Street; and heard of the illness of still another friend. We here at Pictorama and Deitch Studios are grateful to have scraped through the year of ’16 and will pull up our socks for a productive and best ever Bonne Annèe  and we wish the same for each and everyone of you!