Saturday, June 26, 2010

A visit to Long Beach California

We just came back from visiting our daughter in Long Beach, California. Because of this trip I am behind in my posting and commenting on my friends’ blogs. It was nice to be in the cool California weather – low 70 degrees (21-22 centigrade) instead of our hot and humid Georgia weather – which has been in the mid 90s (33-35 degree C.) Our daughter Céline does not live far from the Pacific Ocean, so there is always a cool breeze.

Photo courtesy Bob Pote

Céline has been living in Long Beach for seven years now. We visit her at least once a year and she always finds new places for us to explore. Long Beach is quite large, in fact it is the fifth largest city in California and has almost ½ million inhabitants. It is about 20 miles (32 km) south of downtown Los Angeles. The port of Long Beach is one of the world’s largest shipping ports. It also has a large oil industry – and oil wells can be seen in various places in town. Below is a postcard showing a map of Southern California with Los Angeles, then Long Beach below it.

Long Beach is a vibrant, world class city with a long history. The first residents were a Native American tribe known as the Tongva – which means “the people of the earth.” Then the Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and his crew landed on its shores in 1542. It took another two hundred years for Spain to be interested in this coastal area. In 1784, Manuel Nieto was awarded a 300,000 acre land grant by Spain. His daughter, Manuela Cota inherited his ranch “Rancho Los Cerritos.” We visited it last year and it was the subject of my first post- you can read it here.

Rancho Los Cerritos garden (click on picture to enlarge it)

Long Beach grew out of the Nieto tracts and was incorporated as a city in 1897. Because of its perfect climate Long Beach was known as the motion picture capital of the world until post World War 1, then Hollywood was developed. Until then the Balboa silent-film studios were very successful. They were located in Long Beach and used Signal Hill for outdoor locations. Many movie stars like W. C. Fields lived along Ocean Avenue. Below is a postcard showing Ocean Avenue which is still a large avenue where many hotels, restaurant and trendy shops are located. It is bordered by tall palm trees.

modern postcard, photo by Tim Sumner

Elizabeth Taylor spent her first honeymoon at one of the Long Beach’s hotel, the Breakers’. It was built in 1925. When she was there it had been bought by the Hilton Corporation. Now it is a retirement home and a historic landmark. Below is a vintage postcard of the Breakers.

Oil was discovered on Signal Hill in 1921 and soon after the hill was covered with over 100 oil derricks. Here is a vintage postcard showing Signal Hill.

Signal Hill is now a small incorporated town totally surrounded by Long Beach. It is very close to our daughter’s home. On top of the hill is a park called Hilltop Park. In the 1500s Native Americans used the hill to signal to their relations on Santa Catalina Island, 26 miles away. The smoke signals could be seen for miles and the hill became known as “Signal Hill.” We were there on a sunny day and could see panoramic views of Los Angeles.

There are plaques with data to explain the history of the hill.

Click to enlarge

A chimney still burns symbolically of the top of the hill.

In 1947 Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, a H-4 Hercules aircraft, took off over the Long Beach Harbor and made its first and only flight. At the time the Spruce Goose was the world’s largest airplane. It is still the largest airplane made of wood. Below are pictures of the H-4 Hercules and of Howard Hughes inside the cockpit, the night before the flight in Long Beach.

Last Sunday my husband, daughter Céline, nephew (who is studying for his PhD at the University of California Los Angeles) and his girlfriend and I went to the Long Beach South East Farmers’ Market, a small certified farmer’s market.

It is located in a lovely harbor area of Alamitos Bay Marina about 2 miles from Céline’s condo. The organic fruits looked juicy and tantalizing – prices a bit high though. (Georgia peaches are 99 cents a pound here in Georgia.)

A stand displayed many varieties of potatoes – some I had never seen. All the vegetable looked super fresh.

There were also breads for sale, jams, olives and beautiful flowers. Even puppies were ready to be adopted.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on individual pictures

At the other end of the farmers’ market was another market selling crafts, clothes, creams, jewelry and more. I purchased some locally made cream - gardenia fragrance. The vendor, Alex, kindly posed for a photo.

It was difficult to make a choice as all the creams had sweet scents.

Belly dance anyone?

While our group was walking closer to take a look at the puppies I wandered toward the marina.

I walked down the small dock as I could see a couple of ducks and my camera was ready…

Then I heard footsteps behind me – I had not seen anyone. I turned around. A small child with a painted face was looking at me. I asked his name “Frederick” he said. I took his picture

then I turned back around as the ducks were swimming toward me.

I looked back to tell Frederick to look at the ducks. He was gone. I never heard him leave. I saw my husband, my nephew and his girl friend watching me from afar. Later on I asked them if they had seen the kid. No they said, they never saw a kid. My daughter said it must have been a ghost as there were no kids around. I have his picture though…

Now it was time to drive another mile to take a walk in the Japanese Garden. Such a perfect day – sunny, warm, blue sky, palm trees…. it would be nice to walk in a peaceful garden - but that will be for another post.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recollection: Mother’s Youth and Carlos Gardel

Above is a rose from a rose bush I planted this year. It is an English rose named Pat Austin. It has a lovely coppery tone and sweet fragrance but its stem is not very strong. It could be that we planted it in an area which does not get enough sun. Below is another charming rose; it is a postcard from my vintage postcard collection.

rose postcard. It is signed Ruth and mailed to Mary Binkey in Harold, Pa (circa 1910)

As mentioned in my last post I am continuing with my mother’s youth – in the early ‘30s she was working in the high fashion business in Paris.

Grandmother and mother

Some parts of Paris are now gone like the old palace of the Trocadéro. For the 1878 World’s Fair a large building was constructed in Paris where meetings of international organizations took place. It was called the Palace of the Trocadéro. It was demolished to make place for the Palais de Chaillot for the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. Below is a postcard showing the old Trocadéro through the feet of the Eiffel Tower.

Below is an inside view of one of the large meeting rooms in the Trocadéro.

Mother had learned to dance the Charleston, but by then another dance was getting very popular worldwide, a dance from Argentina, the tango. Mother loved to dance – she went to many tea dances, as they were called, and danced the tango.

Tea Room Tango, by Jullius Müller-Massdorf, German, 1863-1963

She often reminisced about dancing Carlos Gardel’s tangos. He had come from Buenos Aires to Paris in 1928 and then again in the early ‘30s both in Paris and on the French Riviera. He was Argentina’s superstar and the best of all the tango singers in the world. He had a distinctive baritone voice and a great sense of rhythm. He was very elegant, impeccably attired and always smiling.

Carlos Gardel was born in France but since he is still so famous in South America, Uruguay has been trying to establish that he was born in their country instead, but he was not.

He was born as Charles Romuald Gardes in Toulouse, France (south west of France) on 11 December 1890. His mother Berta Gardes was single, and his father was declared as unknown. His French Government birth certificate is on the web. He lived with his mother at no. 4 rue du Canon d’Arcole in Toulouse.

(click on picture to enlarge)

Berta immigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina with Charles in 1893 to join a French friend of hers who had a laundry business there.

Vintage postcard of Buenos Aires harbor.

Charles, who by then was called Carlos, spent his childhood in the “Mercado de Abasto” area where they nicknamed him “El Francesito” (the French man.)

Vintage postcards of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top: Avenida de Mayo, bottom: Palacio de Gobernia

By 1905 he started his career by singing Argentinean folk songs. Then he formed a duo with a Uruguayan folk song tenor. At that time he changed his French sounding surname Gardes to the more Spanish sounding Gardel. The duo was successful but when his partner withdrew because of throat problems, Gardel went ahead with his career, singing tango songs alone. By 1917 these songs were very popular.

Illustration of tango dancing in the early ‘20s by Barbier

In 1923 Carlos Gardel went to Europe for the first time and had a triumphal visit in Spain.

Picture of ballroom tango from the web, author unknown

In early 1924 Carlos Gardel visited his family in Toulouse. He went on to Paris where he performed in music halls and theatres. His success kept growing and he acted in several movies. But he would visit his family in Toulouse at least five or six more time until 1934.

Photo of Carlos Gardel with his French family, taken on 18 September 1934 near Toulouse. He is standing next to his uncle Jean, who he called Juan, and aunt Charlotte Gardes, who he called Carlotta.

Around that time my mother left the House of Worth to start a business with a friend, rue de la Paix – a famous area of Paris, not far from the Opera.

Marchande de Fleurs place de l’Opera by Victor-Gabriel Gilbert, French, 1847-1933

She also did some free-lance in the high fashion business.

Style of dresses from that era

Mother told me many times though that she would often go with her girl friends to dance the tango, which was more popular than ever. Carlos Gardel was one of her favorite.

Whenever Carlos Gardel paid a visit to Paris Mother always tried to attend his performances.

(copyright on all these photos has run out)

In the early 1930s Carlos Gardel starred in several movies, some made in France the others in the USA. One of his movies was a musical along with the American singer Bing Crosby. Carlos Gardel was very famous by then, a living legend at that time. There certainly was a tango craze in Paris.

Tango, by René Gruau French , 1909-2004

Unfortunately on 24 June 1935 Carlos Gardel and several of his band members were killed when their aircraft collided with another on the airfield of Medelin in Colombia. Gardel left a will where he indicated that he was born in Toulouse, France. A partially burnt passport was found, bearinghis name, but from the country of Uruguay. This is the reason Uruguay is claiming Gardel as its own.

I read a lot on Carlos Gardel, mostly in French.

I also read some Spanish booklets (which I translated via Google translate.)

I even found on the Net a postcard that he had sent to his French family.

Postcard which says: ‘Dear grandparents Happy New Year I send you this little postcard to remind you that I always remember you with love and I also remember my good aunt Carlota and my good uncle Juan. Here we are very happy to know that you are in good health. We are all right and soon if God allows me I'll spend some time with you.
Your grandson that loves you and does not forget you. Carlos”

What I found out though in my research is that French men who lived in foreign lands were exempt from military duty in time of peace. However when the First World War started they were called to serve France. In the Argentina’s census of the time it showed that there were 20,924 eligible French men living in Argentina. Only 5800 went back to France to fight in the war. The easiest way not to go to war was to change nationality. Still in his soul Carlos Gardel was from Argentina, not from France or Uruguay. He was formally naturalized as an Argentinian in 1923.

From my readings it is quite obvious that Gardel was born in France. First of all there was the authenticated birth certificate and witnesses and also, why would an Argentinian singer stop in Toulouse on five different occasions to see the Gardes family? Gardel’s chauffer, Antonio Sumage confirmed in 1944 while being interviewed by a magazine that he had driven his boss to Toulouse because Gardel wished to visit his mother’s siblings.

In 2009 UNESCO declared the tango as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage.” They have also classified Carlos Gardel’s voice a human patrimony where they officially state that Carlos Gardel was “a French Argentinian singer born in France.

There has been a renewed interest in the dance and it is easy in summer to find places to dance the tango like in Paris, New York and other large cities. Dancing the tango has many health benefits. It has been linked to better balance, increased heart health and improved memory. My mother taught me the tango and I love it. I have many CDs of tango music, including Carlos Gardel’s.

When Carlos Gardel died in the plane crash on 24 June 1935 his fans were numb with grief. His body was returned to Buenos Aires and more than a million came to his funeral. To this day Carlos Garel’s tomb is visited by a large number of fans from all over the world and they bring flowers still.

Just like Valentino, Carlos Gardel in the 1930’s was the epitome of what a fashionable man should look like.

I am not sure if that was the type of man my mother liked.

My mother in the mid '30s.

Below is my father, the man she met in 1935 and married in 1936.


Face of Tango, Perez Fabian, Argentinean born in 1962

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...