Sunday, June 27, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: There Is More Than One Toledo

(Our latest contribution to the Magpie Tales. The rest are here.)

As Willard Markley applied the sienna dye to the wheat colored brush, he realized the bristles were the same color as the thin moustache above his thin lips. Certainly there were plenty of farmacias off las Ramblas and Passeig de Gracia where he could buy mascara or simple tubes of beard dye, but he preferred his own concoction -- a mix of Kiwi shoe cream, soy sauce, corn starch, Noxema and Old English floor furniture polish. These familiar products always in the pantry of his parents home in Toledo, Ohio, created a horrible stench but a sturdy color that would last up to six weeks.

He had since visited the "real" Toledo many times, carrying the term "citadel" in his head on his journey back north. But, tonight, with his facial hair now artfully restored, he felt freedom and ventured off to Placa Catalunya where he would tip his fedora to certain familiar Catalan gentlemen who returned his discerning stares but never spoke, first smiling at his rat terrier, Wilma, but then flashing a disapproving scowl as he managed a weak smile. After more than fifteen years, he had feigned a passable Catalan accent that ultimately showed its artifice not unlike his mustache that looked like synthetic wig hair when the Mediterranean sun poured onto hit, exposing his fakery.

Returning to his flat and carefully placing his keys in the Lalique vase in the foyer, he strolled to the kitchen to fetch a dinner of poultry soft food and kibble for Wilma who sat patiently and looked up at him with a reverence he had seen from the eyes of young Catalans on his first trip here 30 years ago. As Wilma devoured her evening meal with great gusto, Willard recalled boots clomping on parquet entries years earlier that turned the corner to a sitting room with glorious anticipation. If only that moment before the turn could be captured and pressed in a book of memories forever. Before he could even complete this thought, Wilma had completed her meal, turning to her water bowl lapping in the drops with great enthusiasm that brought Willard back to the immediate and content knowing that she would soon be next to him in their favorite large armed chair by the double windows facing the street.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Ney and the Glory of Male Divas.

In the movie Party Girl, when Parker Posey learns the joys of the Dewey Decimal System and starts organizing the 12-inch singles of her DJ roommate, she picks up a Sylvester album and says, "Divas, male."

Add to that list Brazilian legend Ney Matogrosso. Though not that well known in the U.S., imagine my delight this afternoon when I turned the corner from around my house and saw the above handbill in front of the Brava Theater. If you've never experience Ney, here is a clip of him in action.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh, Great Day!


It's the Scene!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sodium without Fear

Although he prefers to write books with one syllable titles, I hope Mark Kurlansky will consider writing one called "Salad".

Depending on your source, salad was not an integral part of U.S. mealtime until the mid-twentieth century thanks to Lawry's. They claim that they were the ones to introduce it as a prelude to the evening meal at their Beverly Hills location.

My grandfather Ralph considered no meal complete without Lawry's seasoned salt which he always referred to simply as The Lawry salt or just Lawry's.

The Lawry's was always kept on a lazy susan on the table. There were lazy susans in the cabinets as well where there were back up bottles of Lawry's should the one on the table go empty during a blizzard or nuclear holocaust.

Sodium was something we studied in chemistry and did not dread as part of our diet back in those days. My grandfather died at 62, but the impact of Lawry's was never discussed.

I think the orange color on their logo was totally co-opted by MUNI in the 1970s.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: The Sad Fate of Claudette Opinel

(Magpie Tale 19. The others are here.)

Just as Mrs. Remington, wife of the inventor of the rifle, was accused of shifting from eccentric to outright batty in her dotage, similar stories have circulated about Claudette Opinel. And just as the Remington rifle was invented for hunting and self defense, it and the practical Opinel knife would also fall into many a criminal hand that would lead poor Madame Opinel into her final state of madness.

Of course, much of this has long been circulating as myth, rumor and legend in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne where the handsome and efficient knives have long been manufactured in the shadows of the French Alps. Stories started emerging in the late 1890s as people speculated about the logo, designed by Henri Louis Vourbrant, long rumored to be Claudette's love toy who began as an office apprentice to her husband, Joseph, but soon became a member of the household. The crown on the knife is the crest of Savoie, and the hand is said to represent the hand of John the Baptist, three fingers of which were brought back in the Fifth century crusades by Saint Tecla as holy relics. This seemed a fitting emblem on the knife, since it is said that Joseph cut off two of Henri's right hand fingers when he caught Claudette in his embrace in the summer kitchen. "J'accuse, Henri! Now your hand shall never bear a wedding ring nor steal the embrace of another married woman."

Relations between Joseph and Claudette slowly chilled while their fortunes increased. Claudette became despondent, retreating to the tower room of the north wing of their mansion, supposedly reading love letters from Henri who had long since retreated to Cherbourg where he opened up a profitable chain of pastry shops and wed a Latvian woman who showed no disdain for his missing digits.

When Joseph died in the early teens on the eve of the great war, Claudette assumed leadership of the now massive knife firm that had sold millions of those sharp tools. Yet she became obsessed with reading obituaries and once was said to have subscribed to 3,200 newspapers from around the world, hiring Aymaran and Cantonese translators, scrounging for obituaries and murder reports in which the weapon was a knife. Even if the Opinel name was not mentioned, she would send a small stipend, eventually bankrupting the firm that would go into receivership by the mid-1920s. Claudette was sequestered to a sanatorium on the shores of Lake Como where she was secluded in a distant cottage and never allowed to read anything but old volumes of Plato, Dickens and Grimm's tales for tots. In her late 80s when the Second World War broke out, she was oblivious to the meaning of German bombers flying above the lake. She peered from her window at the massive machines of steel in the sky, crying, "The knives have taken to the sky! The knives have taken to the sky to claim their latest victims!"


Who Is That Junk Thief

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day of the Dad


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Father's Day

Though there are thousands of photos I could post of my father (1922-2006) these are two of my favorites. The one at the top is from around 1927 when he was transitioning from Kindergarten to first grade. He is the boy second boy on the left on the far top row . I love this picture if for now reason other than the flaming flapper teacher on the far left. For years I've wondered just what she is reaching for deeply in those pockets. Way far left. This is the only photo we have of him from between 1922 and 1937.

The second photo was taken with my sister around September 1952. There is much that is "wrong" with it as far as lighting, contrast, and shadows. Those mistakes are what make me love it and the memory of my father. Mistakes, memories, shadows and mystery are what makes Father's Day worth remembering, even though there is no tangible address where I can send a card.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Makes Us Happy


Friday, June 11, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Private Life, Family Life

(Our contribution to Sepia Saturday. Check the others here.)

This week I finished Jane Smiley's great new novel Private Life. Besides being a compellingly written story, I was struck by how the life of its central character Margaret Mayfield could have been any number of my female ancestors. Moving from Missouri to California, she suppresses her own aspirations and dreams in order to be a dutiful wife.
In a recent interview, Smiley mentioned that the story was inspired in part by a distant relative she knew little about and ended up inventing her fictional character from that base. I've said more than once that some of the most fascinating family photos are of those I never met and knew little about.

Born in 1874, Lulie Ann Fleming was the youngest of the nine sisters of my great-grandmother Eva Bell whom I chronicled in this post.
Like Margaret Mayfield, she married at 27 in 1901. In that era, I am sure that her family worried that she was on the road to be an old maid. Seen here with her husband Charlie on their wedding day, I can imagine the guests whispering "I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen," as she walked down the aisles. I am always drawn to the hankie delicately placed in her lap.Although they lived in Kansas, not Missouri, Charlie and Lulie left for California sometime during World War I. I am sure that this was devastating to my great-grandmother since she had no other family there, all the other siblings still in Quebec. This shot is of Charlie on the Kansas farm sometime before their departure to California.
Taken in 1911, this shot shows four of their six children, including the youngest, Bessie, and Lulie's parents Spencer and Elizabeth visiting from Montreal. One son died as an infant, and another was on its way.

This final shot is from 1948 at Knott's Berry farm with Bessie and Lulie. Notice that nearly five decades after her wedding, she still had a hankie in her lap. Having been born in the days of horse drawn wagons as the main means of transport and much of the American west still a frontier, Lulie must have found it bemusing to pose for this re-enactment of it.

Looking at the photos of Lulie, I see so many familiar aspects of her face that remind me of the women in my family -- especially the position of the nose above the mouth. Seeing just that portion of her face, I could think it was my mother, sister, niece, aunt, grandmother and other women in the family. I can even see a bit of it in my own face.

I have never met any of Lulie's offspring, those surviving likely being fourth, fifth or sixth cousins. But I am curious where they are in California, if our paths may have crossed without us knowing it. I know that having these photos of Lulie was a great comfort to my great-grandmother who felt so alone in Kansas, and it is intriguing to look back at them and try to guess the fuller story.

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Monday, June 07, 2010

Today's Carol Lynley Moment


Sunday, June 06, 2010

And to Think It's All Here in Spokane

Every great city longs for its moment in the global spotlight, and for Spokane it came the summer when Richard Nixon yielded to pressure of scandal and resigned. You can learn about Expo '74 over at the Expo Museum. Though it hosted over five million people and turned a profit, Expo '74 is often discredited as being the beginning of the end for World's Fairs.

When Peter Max was commissioned to design the stamp commemorating the event, there was much excitement. That cooled when on an interview he pronounced the name of the host city as "Spoke cane."

spō·kăn, Please!

Just as St. Louis had a theme song to herald the fair, so did Spokane. From Bolder to Boston, kiddos were humming the Bobby Bellows huge hit "Yes, You Can in Spokane". Take a listen to it here. Building on momentum of the enormously popular single, fair organizers brought in diminutive singer/songwriter Paul Williams to compose the score an entire musical of the same title. Starring Liza Minelli and directed by Bob Fosse, it was meant to echo the themes of "Meet Me in St. Louis" with a closing shot of a coked out Liza looking out at the fair declaring, "And to think it's all here. Right here in Spokane."

Sadly, backing did not come in time for the filming to commence before the end of the fair's run and it languished in storage at Paramount for years until the early 1990s when it was adapted for Tina Yothers and Eric Estrada for a skating version of the show called "Spokane on Ice".

Though generally a family attraction, like all fairs it had its share of ribaldry. Mirroring the famed Sally Rand fan dance of the Golden Gate International Exhibition, the "Northwest Naughties" turned the tables in those gender equity conscious days. Billing itself to have the "most beautiful lads of the greater Pacific Northwest" it featured acts like The Boise Boyz in "Mormons Gone Wild". The undisputed hit, however, was 15-year-old Matt Lattanzi from Portland who would go on to have a bit role in "Xanadu" and a break out performance in "Rich and Famous" and "My Tutor" before becoming Mr. Olivia Newton John. Sadly, like Stacey Q, Matt has been reported missing since the mid-1990s.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Saturday Afternoon on Stow Lake


Today's Visit to the SF Botanical Gardens

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Today's Carol Lynley Moment

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Christmas in June

(Here is our contribution to this week's Sepia Saturday. Check out the others here.)

I am fortunate to have a wonderful sister, but for much of my childhood I longed to have a brother and can see ways that plays a role in my life to this day. The above photo is from the Christmas of 1965 when I was nine and my cousin Jeb was three. Jeb lived with us at different stages of his first eight or nine years, and it fulfilled part of my longing to have a brother.

Today we see each other at best once a year, and we are about as different in appearance and temperament as could be possible. But, looking back at these photos (and the one of me below in 1958 during my second Christmas), I am amazed as how similar we looked. That may be one of the great gifts of participating in Sepia Saturday -- looking back at one's own past as something of an outsider and being surprised by the insights that come from the view.

That Christmas was the first Christmas spent by our family at the digs called "Lazy Acres" built by my grandparents and later the home of my parents. It was in the family for exactly 50 years. For the Christmas of 2006, our family gathered there one last time, and I did a multi-part slide/video/music show for the experience. Below is the "finale" that featured the various "cast members", many of whom have appeared in here in past Sepia Saturday installments.

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Today's Carol Lynley Moment