Pam’s Pictorama Post: These are strange days for me as spring arrives in New Jersey this year. I am here for a stay of indeterminate length during what appears to be my mother’s lingering last illness. I have written before about the sense of being in a liminal space – between two periods in my life that in many ways will define the before and the after. That sense has only increased recently as I perch on the threshold of this personal sized seismic shift.
I miss my daily life in Manhattan: my husband, my cats, my bed (we have an unbelievably hard mattress), and I miss actually sitting down with my co-workers daily. Still, it is human nature to make things as pleasant as possible where we are and I have done this by largely by dint of cooking and running. (I have written about that previously in posts that can be found here and here.) Earlier this week a friend dropped flats of pansies off for me saying it was nice to do do something for the future and today I added planting to the list.
While I have been around a lot of gardening as an observer, I have in fact never gardened. I suppose this is not surprising given that I have lived my entire adult life in Manhattan without so much as a fire escape. Kim has a green thumb and under his casual attention plants do seem to thrive in our bright living room window. Still, if my ability to keep houseplants alive was anyway indicative of my ability say, to care for pets or people it would be a not-green thumbs down I am afraid.
However, in her day my mother was a superb gardener. One of my earliest memories is of a huge rock garden in the back of our house in North Jersey and watching her work in it, our cat and dog sniffing around. I must have been just three or four.
When I was a tad older we had moved to the shore and I can remember my mother coaxing vegetables and flowers out of the sandy and salty soil, and fighting a freakishly high water table. I had a child’s joy over the immensity of sunflowers which towered over us and tomato plants which delighted me . Laawn never interested mom and hers was nominal. (Dad traveled for work and never really had anything to do with the yard. Mom did it all.) She was and is all about plants and trees.
In the house subsequent to that one, but still on the waterfront the garden was somewhat more elaborate with herbs, strawberry and grapevines. Bunnies and squirrels helped themselves liberally to those edibles as well as dandelions and other delectables .
So earlier this week the same friend took me to Lowe’s where I assembled a cache of potting soil, a spade, some clippers and a lone adolescent tomato plant – Jersey tomatoes being a summer delicacy for this Jersey girl. Shop Rite (as big as several city blocks) produced a length of lightweight hose. The Dollar Tree provided some lightweight garden gloves. It seems I was ready to plant some pansies.
Luckily this project was pretty low stakes as said pansies were already in bloom and just pleading for soil and water, a straightforward assignment for the rookie me. However, the pots I thought I would use proved too small and too deep. Luckily rooting around in the basement coughed up some appropriate vessels. The nozzle on the new hose proved unexpectedly challenging I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, but we came to an agreement without my getting entirely soaked.
Somehow, all the plants found their way to pots, fit appropriately and were watered – which was good because the promised rain never showed. Mom was pleased with my efforts on behalf of the yard and a rakish stake with a whirligig red bird stuck in the tomato plant container for a finishing touch.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It is an intensely foggy morning here in Manhattan and we can see nothing but a sheet of white out our 16th story window. It is a bit doom and gloom so I have dug into my photo archive for a jolly one and have come up with this calmly happy one of this full-on flapper and her canine friend on a porch swing.
It is printed on photo paper, not a photo postcard, and bears signs of black photo album paper on the back. It is a very good shot with those interesting shadows I couldn’t have resisted either and the porch railing, the swing she is on, and trees behind create a nice frame of geometric shapes. However, the printing is a bit disappointing, not enough contrast and the blacks sink together although a careful look indicates that there was information there. They have cheated a bit and there is a white line added behind the dog’s hind quarters which I can see on the original, but you probably cannot in reproduction of the photo above. Nonetheless, despite any flaws, she takes us right to a time and place and holds us there for a moment.
I don’t know why, but it is her shoes that interest me in particular. As a collector of vintage clothing and photographs, you rarely get to really see shoes and while these aren’t notable, I just find myself looking at them and thinking, well, hmmm that’s what women’s shoes really looked like.
Recently a seller on Instagram has had a few pairs of women’s shoes from this period (@witchyvintge or witchyvintage.com) and they are surprisingly modern. There was a pair with kitten heels – or perhaps really more French heels – from this period that I commented I could slip on today and happily wear – if of course I ever wore anything but sneakers and slippers these days. (As an aside, @witchyvintage posts and sells some of the most remarkable vintage clothing I have ever seen in my years of collecting it. There are everyday pieces from the 1800’s, everything from long calico work dresses to corsets and dress clothes, the likes I have never seen outside a museum exhibit. It is fascinating to see them and know there are collectors out there who are sourcing and purchasing such early pieces actively.)
Her hair is styled in the signature Louis Brooks bob of the day and it does a fair imitation. I wonder if it went up in the back the way Louis’s did. Her embroidered dress is perfectly of the time and so is the long strand of beads which was a length popular in the teens through the thirties, but not beyond.
This doggy is a large fellow to be even a partial lap dog, but canine affection knows no bounds. Dogs species are not well developed asset in my toolbox, but this seems to be an Airdale. I have never known one personally, but he seems very likable and clearly devoted to her. I remember when I was a kid our German Shepard couldn’t understand that she was no longer a puppy and would try to climb into bed with my parents, up between the headboard and their pillows. This of course was more possible for a pup than a seventy pound dog and caused some chaos – among the kids and cats that were also likely climbing on my folks at the time.
It’s hard to see the stages on the leaves on the trees, but I am going to gamble and call this an early spring photo, with the trees just starting to bud, about the same as where we are now in the process, maybe a week or two behind. Just warm enough to sit on the porch a bit in the sun without a coat and cuddled up with your dog.
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 Photo Post: I bought this photo from an IG sale, probably several months back. Apologies to the vendor, but I have forgotten who exactly I purchased it from. It doesn’t look like a photo postcard, however it is. It was never mailed, but on the back, in pen, Julia Severson, is written in a clear hand. I assume one of these women is Julia. Perhaps she is the one holding a box camera – was there another photo taken that day of the woman and the dog?
Most of these photo purchases hail from sellers in the Midwest, but I have no idea where this was taken. The outfits are from the teens I think, a period of clothing I am especially fond of as both attractive and yet comfortable looking. These women wear hats for the sun (and also probably because women, like men at the time, generally did wear hats) and they have this lovely, fluffly canine companion who seems to be enjoying himself immensely. The edges of the image are a bit diffuse (an effect I am also enamored of) as is often the case with photos from these early simple cameras.
This photo looks like a glorious spring day and we are hungry for those right now and that was why I plucked it from the pile today. In this year, which has the unusual distinction of having been a very strange one for pretty much everyone, the promise of spring seems more alluring than ever. As we start to contemplate, quite literally, coming back out of our homes as the weather turns warm and vaccines are on the move throughout the country and the world, we are like larvae that has been crystallizing for a year too long now.
This past Thursday marked the one-year mark for many of us to have started working from home here in New York City, as the pandemic began to rage, quietly at first and then quickly rising to a roar. Our assumption that this would be an inconvenience of a few weeks at most – I had envisioned myself running back to the office as needed and really didn’t pack up very much – gave way to the reality of a city that rapidly emptied out creating an enduring silence, broken it seemed only by the litany of ambulance sirens day and night.
As it turns out I have only been to my office four times in the past year and one visit was just this week. And of course it was a year filled with myriad loss and fear for everyone.
As it happens this past Thursday was one of those rare March days with temperatures rising into the 70’s and it delivered a walloping dose of spring fever, which in my case came in the window as I did not have a chance to leave the apartment. It had an intoxicating effect nonetheless.
I sat on the couch by the window on the phone most of the day and while conducting business part of my brain was also roaming over memories of spring visits to the beach growing up – especially as a teenager, the first few warm days, no matter when they came, planted the seeds of allure for upcoming beach weather and that bell rang in my head. I have not thought about stretching out on a beach in a very long time indeed, but my brain was on a loop toying with the thought. Suddenly a former world of wearing spring dresses and shoes that are not sneakers seemed real again. A haircut (I had one last summer) seems like a good idea and a coffee outside with colleagues or friends is a real possibility – let’s make dates and kick up our heels and frolic!
Of course, as it is only March, snow and cold rain are on the way for the coming week, the temperature has already dropped back into the 40’s. The reality of managing the return to our hall and offices along with rules and process to keep everyone safe is daunting and the next bit of slog ahead is still very real.
However, the glimpse gave me hope for resilience, like spring itself. The season of renewal is almost upon us. Easter and Passover are on the horizon and chocolate bunnies and matzohs dot the stores – the food harbingers of early spring. An idea for a vegan matzoh ball soup is playing around in my head and memories of homemade matzoh brie make my mouth water.
Like many people I think, I learned a lot over the past year and I am still mulling over what lessons are likely to stick going forward. (I hit my four year anniversary at Jazz at Lincoln Center this week as well – remarkable!) I have recently seen several colleagues opt for dramatic changes in their lives, impacted by this year at home.
I know I was weary from travel and late nights at work when I plunked down on my couch with a laptop a year ago. I do know I don’t want to be that tired again – maybe the only thing I know for sure. I may not make it home to make dinner every night, but I want it to be more the rule than the exception. I want time to run in the morning before work. I want to go spend a week in New Jersey with my mom. Somehow I need to figure out how not to work during all my waking hours.
Meanwhile, I know I am better at my job and find I am flexible in ways I had not imagined before which gives me some confidence that there is a path to be found. My reluctance to leave the house is likely to return with the bad weather (sometimes March can’t get its lamb and lion thing straight it seems), and a daily subway commute and days in an office in a mask remains a hurdle. But like the daffodils and crocuses in the park which are starting to poke up, it seems like the urge to do it will return on schedule if I look for the signs and go with it.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: For any Pictorama devotees who are less than enchanted with my collection of photos of people posing with outsized Felix the Cat dolls, the next several weeks may present something of a challenge. So sorry! While today’s post focuses on one that I have pulled off our wall and have owned for years, I have acquired two more that are winging their way toward me even as I type. Yes, pleasantly enough, I have a small wall devoted to these and frankly I have about as many I could hang and have not yet. I could cheerfully fill a room with them.
Frankly my appetite for these photo postcards remains utterly undiminished. Even I am a bit amazed that I remain as enchanted with acquiring each new one as I was by discovering my first. My reaction is the same every time – I love it and I’m amazed and gratified that it even still exists. That’s not to say some of these aren’t better than others – I especially love the one I am sharing today – but in the end each has its own charm for me. Each person, couple or group, frozen in time, the remembrance of lovely day gone by. Everyone with a different version of an over-sized Felix.
For one thing this is a well composed photo and not every wandering picture taker who bought a huge Felix (and still I ponder – where are those dolls?) knew how to put a photo together. This photographer certainly did, although some of it was luck. I love the composition in front of these columns – the striped dress on the one woman is somehow happily repeating that pattern. The bricks provide another pattern, as do the fabrics of their clothes and hats. I like the little slice of action behind the other woman and the long look behind them of other columns giving it great depth. It is my single regret that somehow it is the tiniest bit over-exposed and the one column disappears a bit at the top. We could use the tiniest bit of line there and over the white hat.
These women are dressed in lovely spring-summer costumes for their day out. White shoes and stockings! Pretty dresses and hats! It makes me want to go out and buy a spring dress. (Honesty compels me to confess it is not a hard inclination to create – this time of the year I positively yearn for spring dresses.) They are holding this enormous, slightly tipsy, lop-sided Felix up by the arms. He looks like he’s has a decided list to one side and his arms are very long indeed. Still, he has a great Felix face and large nicely pointy ears. Unlike some of these fellows, he’s in good shape and doesn’t look as if he has been dragged over hill and dale as much as some I have seen recorded. There is a mysterious form – shadow? – in the lower right corner and if you look carefully, bits of developer down at the bottom which has left some white spots. Although this is a very nice photo, those are a reminder that these were done in haste, somewhat sloppily, unlike a studio photo.
Anyway, I offer it to you today, on what is one of Manhattan’s first truly spring-like days. Cats dozing by an open window, winter on the run at long last. A visual reminder of another perfect spring day, somewhere in Great Britain past.