Wanderlust Wednesday: A Speedy Trip to Ottawa

Work took me kicking and screaming to Ottawa this week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Canada. It was just a chock a block week and I managed to miss being in-country for a presidential election again.

Parliament in Ottawa from the Musee de la Civilisation in Gatineau. RL Fifield 2012.

What I didn’t realize until this trip was arranged that the greater city straddles Canada’s two identities. On the southern side of the Ottawa River is Ottawa proper, with its iconic Parliament building and other Canadian government buildings. On the other bank is Gatineau, a hodgepodge of apartment buildings, hotels, magnificent museums, paper plants, and so forth. As I tried to describe Gatineau for the first time to Ottawa locals R & K, they remarked “that’s Quebec for you.” It’s akin to how Americans might talk about West Virginia. Walking across the Alexandra bridge from Gatineau to downtown Ottawa, the people spoke French and English in turn.

Obama cookies! Byward Market, Ottawa. RL Fifield, 2012.

The Alexandra bridge puts you at the foot of an older area of town, the Byward Market. I was cheered to see Obama cookies for sale in the market building; I learned that 83% of Canadians would vote for Obama if they had the chance. The market area had little left of what made it a market. Within the market building were stalls mostly for tourists. I was a bit early for lunch so I don’t know how many locals fill those booths, but there were a lot of tourist items for sale, rather than fruits and veg. It contrasted sharply, say, with Cleveland’s West Side Market, which still operates as originally intended. I popped down the hill below Parliament to see the stack of five locks through which boats would exit the Rideau Canal, into the Ottawa River. And then I had to get to work.

Rideau Canal at the Ottawa River, below Parliament. RL Fifield, 2012.

I expect a bit of Europe and a bit of North America when I visit Canada (see my post on the streetcars of Toronto here). Ottawa, however, struck me as an Americanized city. Streets where I thought there would be streetcars were full of buses and cars. R & K drove me by the impressive and central Ottawa Union Station, abandoned for a suburban station in the 1960s so that railroad tracks could be removed from alongside the Rideau Canal to be replaced with a parkway. As Ms. K mentioned, “they talk about bringing a GO Train (Canadian commuter rail) to Ottawa to help with traffic, but they’ve been talking about that since I was 9.” That would be since the early 1970s. Read an amusing if heartbreaking website about removal of rail service to Ottawa here.

R & K indulged me with a visit to L’Oree du Bois, a French restaurant in the countryside near Old Chelsea. I had a cream soup with mussels, Chapeaux de Paris (“Paris Hats”) mushrooms with green peppercorns and puff pastry, duck confit served with a parsnip and sweet potato gratin, and oh yes, a bavarois cake. Who could resist? It was a great way to wrap a rapid trip north.

Museum Monday: User Theft of Collections

Yesterday, The Baltimore Sun reported that Jason James Savedoff was sentenced to one year in prison for his supporting role in the theft of over sixty documents from the Maryland Historical Society. The man who convinced him to do it, collector Barry H. Landau, was discovered hoarding 10,000 documents in his Manhattan apartment, over 60% which were suspected stolen. The National Archives and Records Administration is now assisting in the return of those documents. Landau was convicted in February (read it in The Sun here).

See a brilliant little clip from a Maryland Historical Society press conference in which library staff note how they became suspicious of Landau and Savedoff, upped their monitoring of the pair, and gained visual confirmation of the theft here. Three cheers for vigilant museum staff.

Episodes such as this trouble me deeply. As a collection manager by profession, I daily walk the line for both collections and our researchers, a mantra of “preservation and access.” The idea is that if you don’t preserve collections, that part of our cultural heritage is lost and nobody can benefit from them. If you preserve collections but don’t let researchers use them, then what is the point of preserving them? As both a museum professional and a researcher, I experience both sides of the coin. It isn’t always comfortable visiting fellow institutions and learning yet another set of visiting room rules. You have to put your coat and bags here, fill out these forms, state the nature of your research, make sure this copyright notice appears in all photos, you can request so many documents at a time, use only pencil, there’s a limit on the number of photographs, museum staff will examine your belongings upon your departure, etc. But I know that each one of these rules is important to the mitigation of risk to collections. I saw that Landau and Savedoff often plied museum staff with cupcakes and cookies as one of their methods of distraction. Where was the no food/no drink in the research room rule?

When you finally clear the hurdles (always administered by friendly archives staff, who I find are some of the most patient people on earth), you sit and you wait for your requested documents to arrive. For a researcher, that moment when the cart rolls up to you and into your hands come indentures, court records, photographs, wills, 18th century newspapers, and so forth, you count yourself among the very fortunate. Most researchers (and some thieves, certainly) are fueled by passion for their subject, rather than greed and a callous disregard for our nation’s joint ownership of history.

Museums want their collections to be used and written about. But scum like Landau and Savedoff ruin it for everybody when they steal documents. It requires museums to place more restrictions around access in order to preserve their collections. Heritage thieves cause us all to lose.

Hurricane? Oysters Will Travel

The Long Island Express, otherwise known as the Hurricane of 1938, was a category 3 hurricane when it made landfall. It swept away communities, flooded New York City, and cost between 600 and 800 lives. An article on sewage contamination of oyster beds on NPR’s The Salt brought coincided with my finding this article about contested title over oysters that had been displaced by the hurricane of 1938.

New York Times, Nov. 1, 1938.


A Visit to the Drugstore, 1786

Halloween’s passed us by, but here’s a tale of horror from the late eighteenth century: a visit to the drugstore. This advertisement appeared in The Maryland Journal on August 11, 1786. Particularly note the “Calomel, and all other well-prepared Mercuries” and the “Artery-Needles.”


Hurricane Sandy: Resources for Museums, Libraries, Archives, and other Cultural Institutions

It’s been a busy week. As the Chair of Alliance for Response NYC, I’ve been busy trying to connect affected institutions with helping hands, information, and people in the government who can answer their questions. Below are some sites and opportunities for more information as we work through recovery, return to business, and begin again the planning and preparedenss phase.

Heritage Preservation has a number of emergency resources online available for free download. The Emergency Response and Salvage app (formerly known as The Wheel) is available for free at the iTunes Store.

Alliance for Response NYC is collecting information about affected museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions in NYC, upstate, NJ, and CT. Contact rebecca.fifield@metmuseum.org.

On Sunday, November 4, from 1-2pm, a workshop for recovery of water-damaged artworks will be held at the Museum of Modern Art’s Celeste Bartos Theater, in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, 4 West 54 Street, New York. This workshop particularly aims to assist artists and galleries affected by flooding from Hurricane Sandy.

See information on how to salvage collections from MoMA’s website.

I promise to get back to the blog as soon as I have two seconds to rub together.

Photo: Memories of Summer

Marylanders recognize this scene. The wet smear of spice-reddened shattered carapace across moist newspaper says it all: it must be the end of a crab feast. This was the end of a half-bushel of medium blue crabs back in August. With a chill now settled firmly in the air, it warms me to think about the smash of crab mustard, sweet flesh, butter for the corn, and Old Bay seasoning, leading to serious mouth burn by the time all the shells have been emptied.

RL Fifield, 2012.

Living Small – Microunits

I read Allison Arieff’s New York Times Opinionator article “How Small is Too Small?” with a somewhat familiar perspective. I live in Manhattan, in a 450 square foot apartment. I get small. But I’d be hard pressed to get smaller.

I grew up in a standard 80s era suburban house on about 3/4 of an acre. I started living in cities at age 24, occupying a 9′ x 10′ room in a 3 bedroom apartment I shared with two guys. The housing struggle is not unique to city dwellers – but the prices are higher for urban space where people line up for housing.

Microunits, dwellings of 160-350 sq feet have been proposed. Many a New Yorker drools over Tiny Amazing Eclectic Spaces videos on YouTube (try this one featuring a 500 sq. ft. apartment): it’s the design that makes the small space palatable. It also can run circles around my budget before one cabinet is installed. In many of the microunit examples in Arieff’s article, design plays a big part. Without the cabinetry and custom pieces to make a small space palatable, pressing a person’s possessions into shrinking apartments speedily turns microunits into the crowded tubercular tenements of years past.

I like her tie-in to the National Association of Home Builder’s growing appetite for additional but meaningless square footage since the 1980s. Sarah Susanka  promoted the Not So Big House which kicked off a movement, promoting living in better space, instead of more space (see my post on the Not So Big Movement). A generation has been sold on the idea that large homes make for happy families. Do you remember Frontier House on PBS, when wealthy family returned from the frontier and moved into their mansion, how detached they all became?

You can tell when a New Yorker arrived in the city. Those who came in the 1960s and 1970s might live in multimillion dollar lofts, those in the 1980s live in 2 bedroom tenements, those who arrive today squash into studios – rent control makes this possible. Good, small space can also begin to address the loss of SROs in some cities (Single Room Occupancy – see my post SRO – The Acronym for Hotel Living). Many SROs were targeted during the early twentieth century as unhygienic and amoral, and their closure led to homelessness for many on the edge of the housing struggle.  Small space can make a good home. Occupy small space, live big.

Fall Vegetable TKO!!

Fall vegetables: the bounty at the market threatens to overwhelm the Manhattan apartment suggestion of a kitchen. Mine’s 24 sq. feet. Stick a bunch of kale in it, and there’s no hope of doing anything else until that kale has been knocked down. Due to kale in the kitchen at breakfast this morning, Dr. V and I left the house and went to Bagelworks (1st Ave and 67th St – jalapeno cheese bagel with garlic poppy cream cheese!).

The best way to make sure those vegetables get eaten is to cook them as soon as possible, and get them in the fridge where you can pick at them. Roasted cauliflower makes a great snack, and is divine sauteed with some curry powder, and mixed with some rice, peas, protein of choice, and mango chutney (makes a great wrap too!). I sneak the sauteed kale into burritos, mix it with wheat berries, and use it on chicken sandwiches.

Here are my TKO recipes:

Yes, my oven is only 20″ wide. Get it a little more brown than it is here.

Roasted cauliflower

Break the head into florets. Toss with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Bake at 400 for about 30 min, tossing occasionally, until the florets are soft and a little toasty brown.




It’s dead, Jim. Sauteed kale TKO.

Sauteed kale (AKA “The Foul Leaf” to Dr. V)

Tear the leafs off the stems. Soak 2-3 times to wash and spin dry in your salad spinner (or don’t, I won’t tell). Stack several leaves, roll into a tight cylinder, and slice thinly (chiffonade). Repeat with all leaves – the little ones are too fussy for this, so just chop them up. Olive oil in the pan, in goes the kale and some salt. Knock that stuff down until it looks like it won’t knock down any more.

Wanderlust Wednesday: The Johnstown Inclined Plane

People generally know one thing about Johnstown, PA: the flood. The Johnstown Flood National Memorial is located on the rim of the former recreational lake that burst on May 31, 1899 and spilled 20 million tons of water into the town below, killing 2,209. The local Johnstown Flood Museum is located in a former Carnegie Library, a building built to replace the original library destroyed in the flood.

Johnstown Inclined Plane – whoa! RL Fifield 2008.

The Johnstown Inclined Plane, a motorized lift scaling the steep hill in the center of town is not the primary reason people visit Johnstown. Built in 1891 to develop the upper part of town, the Inclined Plane provided transit to workers in Johnstown’s steel mills.  It’s the steepest vehicular lift in the world – the cars can take an automobile. It’s also fun to ride – I was surprised how quickly the cars careen up and down the hill.

On the day I visited with Ms. McC, and Mr. and Mrs. S, I noticed town residents using the Inclined Plane to return library books and reach the park on the top of the hill. You pay your fare and then enter the large car. A narrow space with a church pew accomodates riding passengers on the left. A large pen to the right holds a vehicle or other equipment. The Inclined Plane feels handwrought, of another era, and yet one of the most solid pieces of engineering I’ve seen. It is specific to this place. It’s one of those many things on the way between Point A and Point B.



The cars move in opposition to each other, passing with a swoosh mid-hill. RL Fifield 2008.

Transit Tuesday: City Hall Station

On the top of my list of cool things to do in New York City: visit City Hall Station, the abandoned star of the New York city subway system.

Opened in 1904, the one way loop station’s design and close proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge station doomed it for obsolescence from the beginning. It was closed in December, 1945. Today, it’s used to turn around downtown 6 trains and deposit them back on the uptown bound local track.

City Hall Station. RL Fifield photo, 2010.

You can tour the station by joining the New York Transit Museum and taking one of their special member tours – the next one is November 4. Joining the Transit Museum is a worthwhile thing to do, but if you want to just see the station, you can stay on the downtown 6 train while it turns around through City Hall station.

File:City Hall Subway station.jpg

City Hall Station, New York City. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection: LC-D4-17293