Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recollections and some news

What with trips to New Orleans, New York, Nashville and other places, spring went by very quickly. But spring is still here, even though it feels like summer already because of the warm weather. The start of summer is on June 20th. I was going to write a post on spring flowers but we have been home for a few days and I caught up with the news. I still would like to show our very pretty hydrangea shrub. We bought it at a The Hydrangea Festival in LaGrange, a town in mid-Georgia. It has white star-like flowers on the outside and a bunch of tiny blue buds inside. I believe it is called “Blue Bunny” a cultivar of the species involucrate or bracted hydrangea (hortensia in French.) I showed the flower in my top picture and here is the little shrub below.

This spring there was some sad news and some good news. Some of the news made me nostalgic; I’ll explain why. Growing up I was surrounded by music. There was the radio or my father playing the piano. My mother loved dancing and taught me how to dance when I was 4 years old. When she heard a tango or a Viennese waltz on the radio she would call me and we would dance. My father having been badly injured in WW2 could not dance with her anymore. I loved all the Johann Strauss, Jr. waltzes we danced.

The Viennese Waltz by Vladimir Pervuninsky, Russian, born in 1957

Later on, as a teenager I really enjoyed listening to all types of music – the dancing music, opera and classical music, and most of all jazz. I also bought many records, 45 rpm and 33 long players of French singers, like those shown below: Joe Dassin, Georges Moustaki, Demis Roussos, Hughes Aufrey, Georges Brassens, Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf and many others.

One of my favorite singers was, and still is, the French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour. I had many records of his songs and now I have CDs too.

I brought all these old records with me when I moved to the US. When I met my husband in San Francisco, he introduced me to the music he liked, which was folk music like Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Collins, Richard and Mimi Fariña, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others. He also listened to bluegrass music. So these were other genres of music I started to listen to with him. It was with sadness that I heard that one of the great musicians we listened to, and still do, just passed away. His name was Doc Watson. He was a guitarist, singer and songwriter. He won seven Grammy awards and several others. He died on May 29, 2012 – he was 89 years old. He played traditional folk, bluegrass, blues and gospel music. Below is a picture of him, courtesy Getty Images.

Doc Watson was from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and like so many people from that area he was a born storyteller. He was blind since one year old of age. Doc Watson was an authentic artist. He had a flat-picking style for playing his guitar - his fingers were so quick and the sound so smooth. We spent many hours listening to him.

Just one of the People2011 Sculpture in Boone, North Carolina created by Alex Hallmark (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In the clip below of an old video he sings “Deep River Blues.”

In 1982 I started working in an aircraft manufacturing company and for the first 14 years, until 1996, my position was to be the “liaison” between the company and foreign trainees who came to study and to learn how to maintain the aircraft their governments or companies had purchased. Three weeks after I began working there sixty trainees came from Algeria. None spoke English – just Algerian and French. I had to find housing for them, take them to driving school, doctors, show them around our town and be like their “big sister.” Here I am below in an old photo with a group leaving for an end of year vacation. I think about 50 of them left that day but I am shown here with only 14 of the trainees.

At first, and until they started to speak some English, I would go with them to movies or discos. My husband did not come because he does not like to dance, but my assistant and I would often dance. The singer who really made our crowd dance was Donna Summer. Here is a photo of her below (author unknown.)

She won the Grammy Award five times because of her innovative style and beautiful mezzo-soprano voice. In December 2009 she performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway. Donna died on May 17th, 2012 at age 63. She had a tremendous voice as well as class and style. Her funeral was held in Nashville, Tennessee. When I heard about it I still could see us dancing in Atlanta while she sang her hits like “Bad Girl” and others. Another era is gone. Below is a clip of Donna Summer singing “Hot Stuff.”

It is so hard to see such talented artists leaving us. Another one who passed away on May 8th, 2012, was the author and illustrator Maurice Sendak. He was 83 years old. His book “Where the Wild Things are” published in 1963 was a classic. Even though he said that he did not write for children, he told stories that delighted children. He wrote and illustrated dozens of books as well as operas.

Last January Maurice Sendak appeared twice on the TV comedy show “The Colbert Report.” I watched both segments then. It was brilliant. Sendak was gruff, grumpy and funny with a dark sense of humor – a unique fellow. He had great repartee to Colbert. When Colbert asked him if he liked writing children’s books he replied “I don't write for children, I write, and then someone says, 'That's for children.'" Below is Maurice Sendak with his dog Herman, named after Melville (photo courtesy of Annie Leibovitz and Vanity Fair.)

Here is another line from Sendak : "I didn't set out to make children happy or make life easier for them ... I like [children] as few and far between as I do adults. Maybe a bit more because I really don't like adults at all." He may sound mean but he was very charitable. After his 50-year longtime companion, the psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, died Sendak donated $1 million to the clinic where Dr. Glynn treated young people. When people we like and admire leave us, a little bit of us goes away with them too. Here is a rose for their remembrance - the rose Mister Lincoln flowering in our garden this week.

But there were some good news too, such as the election of the new president of France Francois Hollande. Well, the future will tell if he can redress the mistakes that former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a good friend of George W. Bush, made with his conservative regime. The best news, of course, is that the current president of the United States, Barack Obama, has declared that he supports same-sex marriage. This is not a religious or moral issue; this is an issue of equal rights. The law does not say “equal but separate” or equal unless the Bible says…, or the Koran says… or any other religious book says… something to the contrary. Hatred based on religion is not admissible in a “free” country. When America affirms that there is liberty for all, then simply - there should be liberty for all, equal rights for all, with all citizens enjoying the same benefits. That’s it.

All men are created equal Line from the Declaration of Independence (public domain)

In North America, Canada has legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. I have not read on Canadian blogs that it has harmed heterosexual marriages in any way. Many states are trying to legalize bigotry and hatred – this should not be a state issue anyway - same-sex marriages should be legal under Federal law. When I became a US citizen I read the Declaration of Independence and remember that it says : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.….” All US Citizens, regardless of sex, color, religion, age, national origins have the same rights to happiness – it is equal protection under the law. In a 1967 decision the Supreme Court said that no state could prohibit mixed-race marriages because “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man.’ And it is – it is a civil and human right.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, American 1756-1843

Friday, May 25, 2012

From the Big Easy to the Big Apple

As we left New Orleans a while back I wondered why its nickname was “The Big Easy.” I found several explanations for the name. Some say it came after Mark Twain wrote that New Orleans was “The City that Care Forgot” because of the easy-going nature of its inhabitants. Others say it was because a dance hall was called “The Big Easy” in the early 1900s and also because it was easy for musicians to find work there. Another version is attributed to a columnist from the local newspaper the Times Picayune who gave the city this name in the 1970s and finally there was a film in 1987 entitled The Big Easy which was set in New Orleans. In any case I found out that many of the locals don’t like that name. Below is a vintage postcard of the skyline of New Orleans or The Big Easy.

Several days after our return home from New Orleans we flew to New York to see a special exhibit – I’ll have a post on it later. I started to wonder why New York was nicknamed “The Big Apple.” I found that it was first used in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He wrote articles on New York horse-racing and would call New York the “big apple.” Other writers began using the nickname and when in the early 1970s the New York tourist organization launched a marketing campaign they promoted the city as “The Big Apple.” Below is a vintage postcard of the skyline of New York City or The Big Apple.

We left for New York City on 16 May, 2012. This was the big day when the Atlanta airport opened its new International Terminal. Until then everyone had to pass through the domestic terminal. We came early that day as we thought this celebration would create delays, but it did not. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is already rated the busiest airport in the world – based on the largest number of passenger annually and most aircraft movement annually. (Please click on any collage to enlarge the pictures and then on each picture.)

The flight from Atlanta to New York La Guardia Airport takes about 1 hour 40 minutes or so (distance is 748 miles or 1204 kms.) It had been raining several days prior to our arrival but during our stay we had perfect weather, sunny, in the 70s F (24 C) and low humidity – the same weather as we had in New Orleans. I had a window seat and could see the landscape as we approached the airport.

This time our taxicab used the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge to bring us to our hotel. We had not been on this bridge before. It goes over the East River and Roosevelt Island and was completed in 1909. Below is a vintage postcard of the bridge

I tried to take pictures with my little Panasonic Lumix camera, but the cab was moving fast and it was not easy.

At our budget hotel in New York upper West Side we were given a room with a view of the Hudson River. Last October our room was on a higher floor so we could see more of the river and New Jersey from our window. This time we saw more greenery.

It was still early so we went out for a walk. The American Museum of National History is only 4 blocks away and we took another peek inside (to be in a future post) then crossed the street to enter Central Park. We walked in Central Park last October down toward Strawberry Fields and the memorial to John Lennon (I took many pictures then and will have to make a post later.) This time we walked up and stopped to take a picture at Bank Rock Bay.

We also stopped on the newly restored Oak Bridge at Bank Rock Bay. It was originally built of white oak, in 1860, and restored in 2009 to its original look. Historic photographs and records were used to copy the decorative cast iron set in the railings. Below is a collage of the new bridge and a stereoscopic view of the original bridge I found on Wikimedia Commons.

Standing on this bridge I could see many turtles swimming in the small bay below. Some were quite large.

Every time we visit New York City we go to Central Park. It is so large and varied with such a rich ecological community that it is a joy to walk on its many paths. In 1857 the city selected Frederic Law Olmsted and the British architect Calvert Vaux to design and create the park. More than 3 million cubic yards of soil were moved and 270,000 trees planted by 20,000 workers to create the pastoral landscape. To blast out the rocky ridges more gunpowder was used than was later fired at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. It was opened in 1859 and by 1865 more than seven million visitors came yearly to the park. Below is a vintage postcard of Central Park.

In 2006 I purchased the Central Park Conservancy map and guide. It gives a lot of information on the park such as: every season 17,600 pounds of seed are used to reseed the lawns.

There are over 9,000 benches in Central Park. If placed end to end they would cover seven miles (11.2 kms.) They are a diverse lot crafted from wood, iron in different sizes and styles. I have taken many pictures of the benches over the years like the unique semicircular marble bench created by Waldo Hutchins below (1822-1891.) This year I took pictures of old wooden benches set among peaceful areas and flowers.

There are 55 sculptures and monuments in the park viewed by 38 million visitors per year (more than the annual combined attendance of Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and the Bronx Zoo.) It is the most visited urban park in the US. Pedestrian pathways cover 58 miles (93.3 kms.) Below is one of the pathways we used.

Central Park is home to many birds and more than 270 species of migratory birds stop in the park as well. Below are a couple of birds I photographed while resting on a bench.

There is so much biodiversity in the 843 acres of Central Park (3.41 km²): plants, trees, wildlife, ponds, lakes and a multitude of flowers. It is a great escape from the noise and the crowds on the streets of Manhattan.

We walked up the path to Belvedere Castle, which we had not seen before. This small Victorian castle was created by Calvert Vaux in 1869. Below is a vintage postcard of the castle.

This charming Gothic-style castle sits on Vista Rock. It was designed as a landmark for visitors to the park. The views from the balconies are spectacular. It was too late for us to enter the building which is now a visitor’s center and never was a castle. Inside is a collection of skeletons, microscopes, telescopes and papier maché birds. It is called The Henry Luce Nature Observatory. We’ll have to come again another time.

It was almost 6:00 pm so it was a bit dark to take pictures, but I kept at it as I really liked the old stones and the view from this high point in the park.

My husband was also looking at the view, but when I came closer to him I saw that he was looking at a duck perched on a rock in the pond below.

Before leaving the park we sat on a bench in a small area empty of people. We watched the New York skyline visible behind a wooden fence. Then a couple of people came across the path carrying a radio. We could faintly hear some baroque music. They never looked at us and started dancing. Another couple of people introduced themselves to the first couple and they started to dance with them. Then a man with a small child came and introduced himself to them and they all curtsied and went on dancing like in a farandole. Perhaps they were rehearsing a show? We watched them for a while, and then we left.

We had seen so much in just a few hours in New York that we felt we had been there a full day. We went back to our room in time to watch the sun go down.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Blog Spot in Romantic Country

Several months ago I received an e-mail from Mary Forsell, the editor of Romantic Country magazine. She was asking me if she could include “Recollections of a Vagabonde” in their forthcoming summer issue. The magazine is a lifestyle magazine for women featuring interiors, gardens, artists, shops, and inns. In the magazine there is a page called “the blog spot” where they highlight several blogs. I was quite surprised that she had found my blog and pleased that she thought it was good enough to be included in her magazine. (Please click on collages to enlarge and then click on each picture.)

Mary requested that I send her several photos from my posts for the article. She selected four photos from the eight I had sent her. They are: on the left a picture from Savannah, Lafayette Square and a Wedding. The first picture on the right is my French cousin’s cheese platter, below is a scene from Hawaii and below a selection of pastries in a Vienna, Austria shop (I don’t remember from which posts they came.)

Mary sent me a copy of the summer issue of Romantic country and it was strange to see my little blog in such a beautiful magazine – page 20 – under the blog spotTraveler’s Tales and Getaways.

The magazine is widely available. I saw it at the grocery store in Nashville and here, too. It is full of great tips about decoration and has good articles and creative ideas. As I was reading through it I enjoyed an article called “Rosy Outlook” about a home in Rhode Island decorated with many roses.

I like the rose sofa and it looks well with all the rose paintings on the wall. My mother loved roses - we had climbing pink roses, beautiful white roses and cabbage type old fashioned roses in our garden outside of Paris. Her bedroom walls in her parents’ house were covered with roses wallpaper. She had decorated my bedroom with wall paper with tiny roses. I would give her greeting cards covered with roses and accompanied with rose scented hand lotion, cologne, etc. Sometimes my father would say “enough!” (I did mention in an earlier post that when I visited my grand-parents my grandfather would place dried rose petals in my bath water….)

I used to have a garden here in the 1970-80s with 150 rose bushes, before I started to work full-time. But they are gone now. I only have 5 rose buses but with all the shade and tall trees they are not very floriferous. Right now there is only one rose flowering - the one below.

My husband has been planting flowers in pots and they are looking quite vigorous so we do have pretty colorful flowers.

Two weeks ago we went back to the Smith-Gilbert Gardens about which I wrote several posts. Their roses were in full bloom and I took many pictures (will be in a future post.) We volunteered to go back every Monday morning to be part of the “Rose Warriors” group who prune and weed the roses. So it does not feel so bad not having a large rose garden anymore.

Yellow Roses by Allan R. Banks, American born in 1948

While in Paris last year we saw many gardens with roses. I took a lot of pictures. Below is one of the pictures I had sent to the magazine. I need to write a post about these gardens. I am so far behind writing my posts because we travel faster than I can write them. The picture below was taken in the Jardins du Palais Royal in Paris.

I could keep talking about roses for a long time. Just one more rose painting…

Roses by Abbott Handerson Thayer, American 1849-1921

Another article in Romantic Country caught my attention. It is called “Souvenir Postcards.” I have been a postcard collector since I was a wee child and have a large number in my collection.

The article says “Maybe it’s the rich colors. Or the fact that they remind us of a simpler time. But there’s something so evocative, soothing and perfectly delightful about vintage picture postcards…” So very true. I went and gathered some of my old postcard albums and brought them to our garden. Here they are below. The one on the right with a rose on the cover is the very first postcard album my grandfather gave me when I was a child.

I opened it so the postcards inside could be seen. Here are some vintage Valentine cards.

The one below contains vintage postcards of wild animals.

Old French postcards are in the album below.

Another one has many old pictures of Turkey.

The album below contains some of my Tuck postcard collection.

Raphael Tuck & Sons, England, was a prolific publisher of early postcards. They started in 1899 to sell chromo prints which were made in Germany. They have beautiful colors. Here is a close-up of two of them – the Canadian Rockies on top and Guy’s Tower in Warwick Castle in England.

I have also boxes and large binders full of cards. I keep them by categories - for example I have a “Royalty” section. Below are four cards from this binder. Top left is Tzar Nicholas II, next to HRH Princess Elizabeth. Below left is Queen Alexandra on her Coronation in June 1902 next to “Her Majesty The Queen” by Tuck & Sons, Ltd. I bought these cards years ago and they were not expensive. I think the most I paid for a vintage postcard was one of Queen Victoria. I paid 5 pounds ($8) for it in London in the early 1980s. Then I forgot and bought exactly the same one – I need to exchange it with a collector.

Some of my all time favorite cards are those I call my “pretty ladies.” I have a binder with maybe 100 of them or more. The ones I like the best were done by the Fidler sisters, Alice, Pearl and Elsie. They illustrated cards in the early 1900s with lovely American beauties. The two top cards are from Alice Luella Fidler, 1911.

I like some of the cards for the quaint message on them.

“Don’t worry about the future. The present is all thou hast; The future will soon be present, And the present will soon be past.”

Do pick-up a copy of this magazine if you can. It may make you reminisce just like I did. I’ll end with a postcard for my mother. Her birthday was May 12th, the day before Mother’s Day last week. She would have been 102, but she passed away in 2002. I miss her.

(Far from the eyes, close to the heart.)


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