Saturday, May 29, 2010

Recollection: Mother’s Youth and the House of Worth

Sunday May 30th is Mother’s Day in France. On this occasion I used to give my mother a hydrangea plant (hortensia.) One year it would be a white plant, the next a pink then a blue.

Click on any picture to enlarge it

She liked this flower, in any color, and planted them later in the back yard.

This year would have been her hundredth birthday as she was born in May 1910. Last year, on her birthday, I wrote a post on my grandparents and my mother’s childhood. This is a continuation of that post – you can read it here.

Avenue de l’Opéra, Edouard Léon Cortes, French 1882-1969

1910 had not started as a good year for Paris. After much rain in the fall the river Seine in Paris flooded in January 1910 its height raising to 8 meter 68 (28.30 feet.) The city as well as many suburbs were paralyzed. Twenty thousand buildings were flooded and 150,000 left homeless. The metro, trains and public transport stopped; people used boats. There was no clean water, electricity, gas or telephone. My grandfather who collected postcards gave me about 16 postcards on the Paris flood. Below are some of them:

From left to right: Porte de Bercy, Gare St Lazare, Quartier de Javel, Rue de Verneuil, Bois de Boulogne, boat ferrying passengers for 5 cents between Rue Alboni and Pont de Passy. Click on the pictures, and click on each picture again

My mother was born in Paris about 3 months after the water receded. My grandmother, as it was done in those days, sent the baby to Normandy to stay with a wet nurse. Mother is with her wet nurse in the picture below.

She rejoined my grandparents when she was about 15 months old. She had pale red hair and light blue-green eyes, a shade of aqua. Here is a picture of mother when she returned to Paris.

Last year on her birthday I talked about mother’s childhood until she was attending school in Paris. Her parents would have liked her to keep studying but after receiving her Certificat d’Etudes (a primary school certificate abolished in 1989) she decided to go into apprenticeship to become a dressmaker. Because of World War I my grandmother had lost her dry cleaning shop and my grandfather’s job was not paying much. My grandmother dreamed to have a small house built and saved on everything to that end. Mother, an only child, loved sewing and wished to help her mother achieve her dream. My grandmother had started to work as a drycleaner specialist in the clothing department of the Galeries LaFayette, a large department store in Paris. She had a degree in chemistry which helped as at that time there were not many dry cleaning products available. Below is a picture of grandmother in 1925.

Both my grandparents liked politics and grandmother joined the French suffragettes. Her group organized a strike in front of the Galeries LaFayette in 1925 to demand voting rights as shown in the picture below. It was not until 1944 though that French women obtained the right to vote.

Grandmother and her suffragettes on strike, grandmother is in the middle, second row, feather on her hat

Mother started her sewing apprenticeship as a “petite main” (little hand) in a high fashion house in Paris. She explained to me that at first the only thing she did was to pick up stray pins. She then went on to learn how to cut, apply trim, beads and laces, sew a variety of styles with different fabrics, how to drape and finish. She worked her way up in the workroom to hand finisher and then Première d’Atelier. (Top person in the high fashion studio.)

Atelier de Couture, Brindeau, French, 1867-1943

Not all designers know how to draw, cut and sew. The Premiere d’Atelier, who heads the studio, is the designer’s right hand and the link between the workroom and him. It is a very important position as it is her job to take the designer’s original sketch and translate it into a prototype pattern that can be made by the dressmakers in the workroom. She must know all the techniques required to execute the design and have the ability to translate the designer’s idea into the right fabric, buttons, etc. Mother worked hard but she also went out dancing often with her friends.

1920s’ flapper (from the internet, unknown author)

Mother worked for the House of Worth, one of the top high fashion houses in Paris at the time. Charles Frederic Worth came from England and in 1858 opened a high fashion house in Paris. His original idea was to present his collections to his clients by having models wear them in a live show. The fashion from his house was identified by his name. He had a new fashion show each year. Since then almost every high fashion house has continued to organize their business like Worth. He is known as the “Father of Haute Couture.” Frederic Worth’s clients included Queen Victoria, The Russian Tsarina and many high celebrities. By the 1920s, when my mother worked there, the House of Worth was operated by Worth’s grandchildren, Jean-Charles and Jacques. The clientele still included the international nobility, celebrities and wealthy high society of the time.

Below are some of Worth’s creations from the ‘20s. Drawing by George Barbier.

The House of Worth's creations were dramatic, elegant and superbly crafted with a high quality finish. They were works of art that could be worn.

With mother’s help my grandparents were finally able to have “un petit pavillon” (a small detached house) built in Courbevoie, a small suburb then 5.1 miles (8.2 kms) from the center of Paris. Below is the house upon completion. Later on when I visited my grandparents there were many shrubs and plants around the house. But years later, their house was condemned by the government as was the whole neighborhood to make a business park. Later on the Arche de la Defense was built close to where their house once stood.

Mother went to the French Riviera, in Juan les Pins, at that time (the late ‘20s) on a special high fashion assignment. There were many wealthy patrons living there. The designs were created on the human figure to fit the client’s measurements and then manipulated for a perfect fit. She still had time to go to the beach and dance the tango some afternoons.

Mother is on the right

My grandparents drove south to visit her.

I believe she stayed on the Riviera for 6 months, then came back up to Paris and to her parent’s home.

She loved her job but she also had fun with her friends. She would go with them to the “Thé Dansant” (tea dancing.) These took place in many dance halls in Paris for a couple of hours in the afternoon and were quite popular. The king of tango from Argentina, Carlos Gardel , had played in Paris several times and become very successful. Everyone danced the tango. In my next post I’ll continue on mother’s youth – and tango.

Mother with one of her friends (mother is on the right)

Paris was a wonderful place in the early 1930s for a young woman. It was a time of freedom and many experiences. Mother was surrounded with sophisticated people, the jet set as well as the little Parisian dressmakers. Everyone had fun. The radio and cinema were popular. Jazz had arrived from America accompanied by many American expat writers. Paris had become the capital for freethinking intellectuals and avant-garde artists.

Arc de Triomphe, 1932, by Tavik Frantisek Simon, Czech, 1878-1942


The hydrangeas on this post were photographed two days ago in LaGrange in Georgia. There are many types and colors of hydrangeas in this town which will celebrate its 10th year Hydrangea Festival the second week-end of June as explained here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Returning home through Alabama

On a clear sunny morning, we left our friends from the ‘60s in Tennessee -see my last two posts here and here - and decided to get back to Georgia through Alabama. We did not take the big highways so we could stop anytime to look at the scenery and take pictures.

click on any picture to enlarge

Some friends left comments on my last posts saying that the '60s and ‘70s had not been agents for change. But my reply is that if there had been more of us we could have taken responsibility for the ‘80s and ‘90s but we were a minority, even though the media made much fuss about the movement of peace, love and universal good. The “Silent Majority” was the numerical majority in this country and they took over along with the “establishment” and the large corporations. Instead of more understanding, they created more polarization and instead of a lasting peace, more wars. There is more division now - a world study last year found that the US has the largest gaps of inequality between rich and poor compared to all the other industrialized nations – the top 1% receives more money than the bottom 40% and the gap is the widest in 70 years. The ‘60s conservative boomers did not want social change and they won. Unequal societies create more tension, unhappiness and crime. Money is powerful and has been changing the country. It will continue to do so. I read that Karl Rove, President’s Bush top adviser, has helped in the creation of a new soft money organization which has already received commitment of $30 millions. They are seeking to raise more than $60 millions to quietly alter the next elections in favor of their chosen more conservative candidates, using dirty tricks if necessary. So, money and big corporations will continue to be all powerful. But this is not a political blog, just my observations, so let us return to our trip through Alabama. Luckily we left Tennessee before the terrible storms which caused so much flood and misery.

We drove by peaceful country scenes like the one on the little rural road below.

Click on this picture, when enlarged, click again

I stopped for a few minutes to take some pics of the soft bovines looking at me.

Then we rode along the beautiful Guntersville Lake located on the Tennessee River in Alabama. It received its name from John Gunter, an early Scottish settler who was an adopted member of the Cherokee tribe. The town was established one year after the American Revolutionary War ended.

In Scottsboro, Alabama, we went back to visit Unclaimed Baggage Center. We had been there a couple of times and stopped by to see if there was anything new of interest. Their merchandise comes from unclaimed baggage. When the airline cannot track the owners, the baggage is declared unclaimed. You can see more information on this here

Last year I purchased a Chinese watch, with Chinese characters, for $10. It works like a charm. I also like to look at their books as they often have cheap mysteries, bestsellers or foreign books. They also sell lost freight I think because they sell linens, dishes, etc. Here are a few things I purchased there –

Apart from the books all this merchandise was brand new

After driving up a curving Appalachian Road we found a spot to admire a pretty view of Guntersville Lake and took some more pictures.

From our vantage point we could see how long this lake is – the shoreline measures close to 950 miles and the lake is spread over 70,000 acres.

Many visitors come to these clear waters for good fishing, camping or picnicking in the beautiful Appalachian Foothills.

Twenty five miles further on, towards Georgia, we crossed the bridge over the Little River Canyon. It was such a sunny afternoon and we were in no hurry so we decided to park and get down closer to the river.

The Little River Canyon is a National Preserve, part of Alabama’s DeSoto State Park. It is 14,000 acres in size and very scenic. It actually begins at a 45 ft waterfall which has been a landmark for thousands of years. Centuries before European pioneers entered the area Native Americans knew of this fall. During the Civil War both Union and Confederate troops passed through this area.

Many millions of years have cut into the heart of Lookout Mountain to create this canyon, one of the deepest in the Eastern USA. The canyon is about 11 miles long and more than 700 ft deep. It features sandstone cliffs, forests, caves, boulder fields –

crystal-clear waters,

diverse forests, rock cliffs, caves, and boulder fields.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries a mill was built above the waterfall and the rushing water was used to create power. The Edna Hill Community as it was known then also comprised a store, a church and several homes. But they are all gone now.

A steep scenic drive runs close to the canyon and allows visitors to stop by and admire the splendor of this canyon in a series of overlooks. We did not take this drive. We walked on a trail along the canyon for a while before returning to our car.

When we arrived home we saw that one of the little squirrels in our yard had eaten all the bird seeds.

He was showing no sign of remorse as he kept munching on a sunflower seed and letting me take its picture.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Visiting our friends from the ‘60s at The Farm community

My posting is behind as we spent a week in Baltimore, Maryland, then when we came back I read all the interesting posts my blogging friends had published on their blogs. Now I am continuing the narrative of our visit at the Farm community in Tennessee where we visited our friends from San Francisco – see my last post here.

We had not seen our friends in many years – it seemed so long ago but at the same time just like yesterday. I came over from Paris in the summer of 1961 and we left San Francisco at the end of December 1969. Many have demonized the decade of the ‘60s – mostly conservatives and corporations. The Right has been campaigning misinformation about the ‘60s and the general public has come to believe it. But something significant happened in the sixties. We did not want the drab conformism and materialism of the ‘50s, we had hope, enthusiasm and the desire to make life better for everyone.

Collage graphics from free fractual wallpapers

The Vietnam War was a tragedy with 67,000 American casualties (58,000+ killed in the war and 9,000 as suicides) and up to 5 million Vietnamese casualties, not counting the millions in Laos and Cambodia. We walked against it, many, many times. The Right would like to erase the memory of the half million US deserters or the more than 100 underground antiwar newspapers published by soldiers. Even repentant Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam War, later said that it had been “a fatal mistake.” So we wanted peace, unity, understanding, kindness, economic and social equality.

Peace buttons and flowers were everywhere. We became more concerned about our health and the environment. The environmental movement gained popularity and organizations like the Sierra Club became popular. After reading “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson we joined cooperatives to buy healthy and organic food – you had to join a cooperative to find healthier food then as it was considered “subversive” not to eat regular or junk food. Ralph Nader published “Unsafe at Any Speed” which created the consumer movement. The Peace Corps was also created in the ‘60s. We just did not want to live; we wanted to experience life with all our senses.

The sixties were a decade of change and they had lasting effects. There were some excesses but much general good has resulted. Students coming from the complacent and comfortable ‘50s created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1960-66)in North Carolina and worked very hard to bring civil rights to the US South (you can read about it here: “Black is not a Vice nor Segregation a Virtue.” We had great ideals, and we worked on them. The growth of the women’s movement started then because women felt they should do away with the rigid subordination to men (The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published in 1963.) We questioned racism, the government, religion, dress codes and dull popular music.

We were married on 17 June 1967 (called the Summer of Love) and went to the Monterey Pop Festival on the 18th as a honeymoon, where we saw Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Who, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, Simon and Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Otis Redding and watched Jimi Hendrix smash his guitar while singing “Wild Thing.” The June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was one of the greatest, if not the greatest rock concert ever.

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. -Jimi Hendrix, American Musician, Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter, 1942-1970

Joan Baez singing “Where have all the Flowers Gone?”

As I mentioned in my last post The Farm is no longer a commune but a cooperative intentional community. They have dues and laws just like an owner’s association. In addition to many gardens outside their homes, there is a large community garden on the Farm. Also, as a community, they tend about an acre of blueberries and 6 to 7 acres of apple and pear trees. They also have multiple businesses. During the Caravan travel from San Francisco to many states in 1971 several babies were born in buses. Women on the bus helped with delivery and some became professional midwives. They published a book “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin which has been sold to almost ½ million readers. Along the years they have helped deliver 3500 babies and never lost a single one. You can read about it here.

The public can come to The Farm for “The Farm Experience Week-end” which takes place several times a year. The few days we were there everything was quiet and we encountered hardly anyone. Our friend took us to the Farm Store. It stocks a good variety of groceries, vegetarian snacks, books, etc.

Then he showed us a large domed structure where they hold meetings, concerts and other entertainment.

Click on picture to bigify

We toured the Farm in his electric golf cart. We saw the prairie which is a wildlife habitat,

and the eco village area below -

Along the way we saw some of the old buses -

In the early days additions had been built on some of these buses and vans as housing

Some of the previous residents who made careers on the outside are now coming back and building very nice “green” houses, energy efficient and built in a more sustainable way. We went to the creek which has an adjacent beach in summer.

We came back and took another walk with our friend’s dog, looking at flowers on the way and breathing the pure country air.

The next morning it was time to return back home and we were sorry to leave our friends from the ‘60s. But happy that, as many of us from that decade, our friends and us have not sold out. Some of us took regular jobs but carefully, like my husband who received a masters’ degree in environmental planning and made a career in the protection of wildlife. We followed a life of simplicity and recycling, keeping our radical ideas of equality with us. We made friends with people of different races, religion and cultural ethics and tried to help whenever we could.

We traveled frugally and kept our fuel efficient small car. We did not adhere to the “me” generation of the ‘80s and ‘90s but kept our non materialistic ways. The ‘60s never died for us, we are still rebellious and refuse the new general apathy to the polarizing and more oppressive ways of our government. So we left the old buses painted with flowers. But then… in Baltimore my little grandson unexpectedly showed me his new little car … well, you may say I’m a dreamer…

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
John Lennon, 1940-1980 “Imagine” lyrics

“…the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
-Edward Kennedy, US Senator, 1932-2009

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