Sunday, September 29, 2013

Between Banquet and Cookbook

Some months back I posted my suspicion that Facebook knows all about me and targets its ads accordingly (senior residence, wrinkle cream, retiree dating…)  So what do I make of this illustration that appeared on my screen yesterday, positioned in appetizing fashion between a picture of the banquet at the North American Jane Austen weekend


and a review of cousin Mollie’s new cookbook?
They were offering me a free trial of something -- not sure what as I couldn’t bring myself to read the text.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Obsolete Apparel

 So what ever happened to house dresses, those washable cotton garments that needed ironing, never mind a light starch,  that were worn by every housewife when I was a girl? 
My mother and aunts probably didn’t dress them up with necklace and earrings the way June Cleaver did, but if you could see Beaver’s mother full-length, you know the standard kitchen outfit included stockings and heels.

And for that matter, what ever happened to housecoats – those dressed-up floor-length robes you could wear when you didn’t really feel like dressing, and still be decent for answering the door? This pattern could be made either way. I still remember fondly a long green cotton housecoat with little yellow flowers, that zipped all the way up.

And what about playsuits?  They were a sort of one-piece romper for grown-ups, and often came with a matching skirt.   I felt wonderfully dressed-up, the summer I was 14, with a brown-and-white checked gingham playsuit and its button-over skirt. Wish I could find a picture of it.  Wonder what ever happened to it? 
Probably ended up in a braided rug.  


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Arrives Anyhow

Here I just completed an eight-week course in Fall Prevention and I must have flunked -- Fall arrived on time today anyhow.
Lake Keuka, 1949 -- weren't Kodachrome slides great?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Warning: Contains photo that may distress you

Years ago, an exquisite woodpecker bashed itself against my window, and I picked it up and put it in the trash.  Ever since I’ve regretted doing that – wished I could look at the lovely creature again. So when a little puff of a wren met with disaster, I picked up the tiny brown ball of feathers, put it in a Ziploc bag and stashed it in the freezer.  The birds started to accumulate, and I had no idea why I was keeping them.  Just couldn’t bear to treat them as garbage. 
And then the other day a newsletter from the bird folks at Cornell featured a new exhibit of photographs by an artist who lives, it turns out, just a few blocks from me.  He seems to work with dead birds – and he came over this afternoon, just left toting an insulated bag.  There's an empty space in the freezer.
That red isn't blood; it's red feathers.

I ask you -- If you’d picked up that lovely yellow and black warbler, could you bear to dump it in the trashcan?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tourist Adventure in London

     Back in the 1970s, I went to England for a week.  No longer any kids at home, our youngest, Anna, way off  studying theatre at UCLA.  Norm couldn’t spare the time, but when a local group put together a cheap (“Mother, don’t say that, say 'inexpensive' ”) charter flight I couldn’t resist and off I went alone.
     One noon in London I found myself exploring Soho, in a narrow street of tall wooden houses all connected like townhouses.  In front of one entrance was a restaurant sign, offering “macaroni al forno” -- irrestible.
     “I’m afraid there are no seats on the ground floor” and I could see for myself  that the place was full.  “But if you’d care to try the first floor” --  so I started up the narrow wooden staircase.  Same story, full house, and that staircase doubled back on itself all the way to the top floor before I heard “Would you mind sharing?”  Well of course I wouldn’t; dining with strangers is a tourist adventure.  “The table in the far corner has an empty place, back there with the two young ladies?”
     I snaked between the tables, and the young ladies smiled a welcome.  Settling into the corner, I put off the moment when I would speak and reveal I was American.
     “Here I am in the farthest corner, five stories up, and the place is jam-packed" I was thinking. "Don’t see any exit except that narrow wooden staircase way over on the other side.  I’m all alone, nobody knows I’m here.  If this place catches fire no one will ever know what became of me.” 
     But another part of my brain was watching the young ladies, making a note to write Anna that girls in London seemed to wear a lot of eye makeup.  And then – maybe I wasn’t so welcome.  They were whispering to each other, jabbing elbows, “Go ahead!”  “No, you.”  “Just ask her”  and finally one of them said,
     “Excuse me, but we were wondering if you were an American.  Because you look like a friend of ours, Anna Lank.”
     They were from California, taking a summer course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
      I never did think Annie and I looked much alike.  Just dug up pictures from the early 70s -- what do you think?

Friday, September 13, 2013

And yes, I've visited the Bodleian

Friend Dana in California came across some photos of great European libraries in a magazine, thought of me, tore them out and mailed them.  In my e-mail thank-you I listed a few of the best libraries I’d ever seen on this continent.  One was the Library of the Canadian Parliament.  Years ago, when I was off to Ottawa for a Jane Austen weekend meeting, my sister told me I had to see it.  It seems  that when the rest of the Parliament buildings were destroyed by fire in 1916, some hero blocked off the Library, which remains today as a High Victorian survivor, complete with statue of the Queen herself. 

So here’s the weird part – the very next day niece Amy posted a picture of that library on Facebook.  Complete coincidence.  Startled me.
                                   Some of the most beautiful libraries I’ve seen –

The Beinicke at Yale – those exterior panels are all thin marble, and on the sunny day we visited, the interior was glowing.  The free-standing central glass tower, which was illuminated that day, rose like the shrine to the book it is – and as I happened to have my binoculars, I even located, about three stories down, a first edition of
Pride and Prejudice – three volumes, red leather.

The Peabody Music Stack Room  – back in the 1980s I when I was book-touring (“we have the author in the studio”), my escort in Baltimore said “I’m just going to park here, all I’m telling you is go in to this building  and turn to the first door on the right.”
Baltimore Surprise
The Huntington in Pasadena – that’s where I saw an original manuscript in the handwriting of Henry Thoreau, and its margin a penciled notation by a frantic printer – “CAN’T READ”.
J. P. Morgan’s Study – best spot in all of Manhattan.  One of his three (!) Gutenberg Bibles is displayed open in that dusky quiet room.  I believe it is still, after more than 500 years, the most beautiful book ever printed.




Sunday, September 8, 2013

Really Scary Movies

Never mind all the portentous music, and the big explosions as a car races through city streets.  If you really want your stomach to start churning,
 try these stills from the movies –
What’s going on in all these pictures?  These cars are moving.  These people are all driving. They’re having dramatic conversations with their passengers, making eye contact for ten seconds or more.
Don't you just want to yell? --

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Real Women Don't Order

In 1948, back in the village where I’d gone to high school and with no particular credentials, I was happy to earn an occasional $10 a day as a substitute teacher.  (Today’s equivalent in buying power, $98.)
Different world then – the principal told me “There’s still such a labor shortage, I’d be happy just to find a baby sitter for the day. " I remember that because I felt insulted. 
At that point I knew how to boil water but not much else, so I hesitated to take over the Home Ec classes.  (Do they still call it Home Economics?  Do they even still teach it?) Then the ailing teacher called me herself..“Just look in the second drawer down in my desk. There’s an assortment of menus. You can talk about what to do in a restaurant. Many of those girls have never eaten out.”

Turned out – I asked them – more than half the girls had never been in a restaurant. Ours was a central high school – kids bussed in from farm hamlets all over the county. They’d grown up with The War, shortages of everything including cars, tires and gasoline. Many had never been to Canandaigua, 25 miles away. Only a few had been to Rochester, a full hour away by car. So while they could have taught me a lot about Cooking and Sewing (many were wearing dresses they’d made themselves) I had no trouble stretching restaurant discussions into full 50-hour periods.
One’s purse, for instance, never goes on the table. And then there’s that confusion about the two sides of the menu – what’ are a la carte, prix fixe, table d'hote? --that one required some time at the blackboard, which was, as I remember, still black in those days.
We didn’t spend much time on the question of tips, because we all assumed you’d find yourself in a restaurant only when you were with your family, Daddy paying, or else out on a date.
In the finer restaurants, you’d be handed the ladies’ menu, the one with no prices listed. You and your escort discussed what you’d like to eat and then he alone would undertake to address the waiter: “The lady will have the trout…” If my granddaughters have trouble believing the world was once like that, I’ll send them to those old black-and-white movies. We’ve come a long way, baby.