Wanderlust Wednesday: Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Redux

Better known as the PATH, the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad began shuttling passengers through its cast iron tunnels between Manhattan and points in New Jersey in 1908. My travels have been constrained in the last couple of months due to pregnancy. I haven’t been on a plane since October and my last trip out of the country was a 12 hour jaunt to Montreal in September. I’ve even turned down trips to Paris! Our radius of wanderlust has been increasingly contained within slowly shrinking circles centered on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Last weekend was our probably our last adventure out of the city for a bit, as we travelled over to Hoboken, NJ to see the expanding Family C-R in Hoboken, NJ.

I wrote a couple of years ago about the PATH and Hoboken station, before the damage of Hurricane Sandy. I will never forget my bleary eyed shift on my institution’s emergency response team, listening to news reports of fires in Breezy Point and flooding of train tunnels, including Hoboken’s PATH and NJ Transit (Lackawanna) stations. It was my first trip over PATH since the lengthy partial restorations to get them operational.

I find vintage photographs of the Hudson Manhattan tubes fascinating, polished, cutting edge before a period of stainless steel fluorescent decline. Compared to the utilitarian appearance of so much of the NYC Subway, PATH was built with the elegance of a turn of the century rail enterprise. What strikes me about old images of the PATH is the elegant finish of the cars and the ornamented capitals below the vaulted ceilings of the stations, still visible in stations not completely restored [read gutted] in the Port Authority era.

Postcard, Hudson & Manhattan Railroad at Hoboken Station. The capitals are still visible today. Anyone know of preserved Hudson and Manhattan cars in any museum collections today? 

I’m looking forward to getting out and about in the New Year with our little guy in tow!

Entrance to the tubes in the no longer extant Hudson Terminal building in downtown Manhattan. It was demolished to make way for the World Trade Center. I particularly like its advertisement of Pennsylvania Railroad connections, making it a PATH further afield. LOL.

Lincoln Highway Snapshot: Fort Wayne to Wooster

5/24/2005 Wooster, OH

I am bushed. 1:30am door pounding above at Regency Inn [Ft. Wayne] led to sleep scattering thoughts. Anxious and itchy literally to leave. Tonight treated self to much deserved night in a Best Western and meal at South Market Bistro of Fig & goat Cheese tart, Pinot Noir, and halibut on lentils with mushroom & spinach. Day started in depressed Fort Wayne. Stumbled onto beautiful stretches of country Lincoln handily marked with L’s. Wonderful time capsule towns gave way to those hard and eerily silent, not helped by the gray and chilling weather. Coffee finding rule is to go to a college town where there is bound to be a coffee bar, but we don’t shun the true experience and get at least one boiled cup a day. Mrs. G now more cognizant of how much of middle America leads simple lives, many near poverty. Onto Pennsylvania tomorrow. Burma Shave.

Old Sign east of Fort Wayne. Lincoln Highway. RL Fifield, 2005.

Old Sign east of Fort Wayne. Lincoln Highway. RL Fifield, 2005.

Small Living Isn’t Morally Inferior

What happened to “less is more”?

Dr. V and I are preparing for the arrival of our little guy Spud sometime in February (yes,  you can expect a good deal of silence from me about that time). As I’ve described in previous posts, we live in a 450 square foot one-bedroom apartment in the Cherokee Apartments, a landmarked apartment building on the Upper East Side. The building was constructed by Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt for working class families where at least one member was suffering from tuberculosis. Today, the neighborhood is a lot more toney, but families still cram into the small apartments to take advantage of good public schools and riverside parks.

Here is the best shot I could manage of one side of my 24 square foot kitchen after its renovation. The other side has a large bar sink and an under counter fridge, as well as cabinetry overhead. 2009.

Here is the best shot I could manage of one side of my 24 square foot kitchen after its renovation. The other side has a large bar sink and an under counter fridge, as well as cabinetry overhead. 2009.

New Yorkers spend a lot of time on Apartment Therapy and other blogs looking for that perfect storage unit, compact appliance, or remodeling idea. The idea of a nursery filled with saucers, bouncers, changing tables, etc. is absurd. When I renovated my kitchen in 2009, I was disgruntled to find that even in NYC, it’s difficult to find mid-range but small appliances and furniture. This is based on the assumption that if you can afford that extra 200 square feet, you’ll buy a 30″ range like any other decent, single-family house-dwelling American. Nor did I have the $16-17K quoted to me for special sourcing of appliances to fit my small kitchen by a designer. All I could find was a cheap and tinny Hotpoint, or a 24″ Viking range, out of my budget, and still too big for my efficient but 24 sq. foot kitchen. But it’s not that good quality in small sizes doesn’t exist; it’s just that only the bloated appliance sells in the US. I went to Cambridge, UK for a wedding in 2008, and saw my dream: a 20″ Electrolux range with double ovens and a glass cover over the burners so the space could be used when you weren’t cooking. Alas, my budget wasn’t so roomy that I could have the whole thing rewired for 120V current and shipped to the US. Check out the plethora of small, well-designed 20″ stoves (and the beautiful SMEG ranges while you are at it) at John Lewis.

There’s a linkage in the US between square footage and moral superiority; small is necessarily lesser. Small appliances assume “college,” “starting out,” or “poverty.” And therefore, in the US most of the offerings are necessarily cheap. Unbelievably, even Home Depot in Manhattan stocks the same appliance offerings as they do in their more rural locations.

I think of the US as the birthplace of industrial design. I saw a 1965 Rambler Marlin on the street the other night and its lines were out of this world. The modern cars around it caught no such attention, having no such detail or beauty. It’s difficult for me to find details to marvel at on many American-made mid-grade appliances and furnishings. Furnishings have continued to bloat in order to keep up with the average modern bloated development house. How do we get that heritage back? How do we continue to grow living smaller and better? (while you are at it, check out my post on the Not So Big movement)





Christmas Dinner on the Rails

Christmas generally takes us to Maryland. While the Amtrak train I take travels over the Pennsylvania Railroad into Baltimore’s Penn Station, here’s a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Royal Blue Line menu from Christmas Day, 1900.

The selections are fun and shine in comparison to what you can have on Amtrak today. Would you trust an oyster onboard Amtrak? Creme Yvette is a violet liqueur that incorporates blackberries, red raspberries, cassis, wild strawberries, orange peel, vanilla, and honey. Originally made in Connecticut in 1890, it was revived after a 40 year hiatus in 2009; it is currently made in Bordeaux, France.  The fresh lettuce and tomato salad, as well as the out-of-season eggplant and strawberries, already indicates the extent that the railroad was playing in shipping fresh vegetables from the South northward year-round, already suppressing seasonal eating. But nothing says Maryland like baked shad.

Wonder what was flavoring the Tuitti Fruitti Ice Cream? Merry Christmas.

What’s On the Menu? project, New York Public Library. Call Number 1900-5104.

18th Century Convicts Marched from Newgate to the Port

Convicts made up one of the significant immigrant populations to the American colonies in the eighteenth century. But try locating an image that says “convict” if you are preparing a presentation. This image from The Newgate Calendar, a tabloid-like publication about the goings on (read: executions and the like) at Newgate Prison, fit the bill. It depicts a crop of London criminals, convicted to Transportation, being walked through the streets on their way to ships bound for the American mid-Atlantic.

It was only when I enlarged it on the screen during a rehearsal for my talk at Williamsburg that I saw even more detail. The procession is shackled together at their necks and arms. The women, in whom I’m most interested, stand toward the back of the procession, or the left of the image. The artist depicted the defiant nature of one woman by having her assume an “arms akimbo” stance, with her hand on her hip. A possibly more repentant woman weeps into her apron.

Anybody have to work this weekend?

London Metropolitan Archive Bridgeman Art Library.

The Newgate Calendar. Public Domain. 

It’s An “R” Month: Maryland Oyster Pie

Though a chilled oyster sliding down your throat and followed with cold white wine seems perfectly apropos for the summer months, it was only recently that the old tradition “only eat oysters in a month with “R” in it” has been bucked. It’s oyster season, and winter family dinners of my youth were often trimmed with fried oysters. I thought them more akin to battered chunks of tire, barely edible when draped with ketchup.

Fifty Years in  Maryland Kitchen, first published in 1873, offers two recipes for oyster pie. Imagine counting out those 125 oysters, and how meaty they must have been before infections and over fishing blighted the Chesapeake Bay.

Oyester PIe

Fighting Writing: Musings on the Recalcitrant Pen

Does a battle assume there has been a victory?

Writing has a threshold that must be crossed, marking the departure from everyday life and its patterns. The space writing affords can be threatening to the underpinnings of everything else. Writing lives within a separate space that I must single-handedly fill. She is lazy and indolent. She crabs snittingly how little I visit. Is it ennui? Do I no longer care? Will I abandon her in this space with only the occasional roses and rumpled sheet? She doubts my constancy. I do as well, but I ascribe it to caring too much.

Let me not give you the impression that the room is empty every time I enter it. Greeting me are previous strings of letters, the past that distracts. Those old efforts sing their song, don’t create something new, play with our shapes that are so set, edit us and continue to luxuriate in our fixed plots. Those same old tunes are so difficult to alter, so difficult to amputate and create anew. They are the sirens in the room, the familiar bosoms of women you know are bad for you, dead end girls. Still, maybe something can be found there. You tarry. The clock hands move.

Business Writing is analytical and conniving. He is communication. That one there, he wears sleek worsted suits effortlessly, with fluid silk ties that are never stained. Struggle is barely known to him, except for those passages that must be massaged to convince, to not inflame.  Those formulas, his connections, he keeps them in a little book in his pocket. His puzzle pieces convince the naïve, the unaware. He coaxes the reader into a deep stretch; they cannot sense the coercion and reflexively open their wallets. Then he’s onto the next thing. He is not made of acid-free materials. That glass has been cleared and bill flaps in the breeze. This writing has a short life and checklist purpose, and is swiftly abandoned to obscurity. The file drawer will be emptied in a few years, and his existence forgotten.


Museum Monday: Collection Care’s Identity Crisis

You might have had it happen. You are working in the gallery, grimacing at the amount of dust that’s built up, gently stroking a brush across an object’s surface with vacuum in hand, and a well-meaning supporter or visitor mouths at you over the noise of the machine: “can you do that at my house?” It’s a great opening to talking about the bigger picture of collection care (read my post on museum dust). It’s worth stopping. But in five minutes it can be hard to talk about risk assessment, collections project management, preventive conservation, integrated pest management, and so forth. The visual of you dusting  is lasting.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Our supporters deserve a full explanation instead of a sanitized (ha) version of museum work. They can’t be expected to fund those activities of which they are not aware.  Here’s a short post on the Denver Art Museum’s website about gallery maintenance. If anyone needs to understand collection care and its necessity in preservation and continued access to collections, it is our supporters. But how do we get that message across in a way that doesn’t make their eyes glaze over or confuse them more?

We need to practice.

Collection care is the big picture of all those things we do to prevent damage. It can be difficult for those people not charged with it to understand its purpose.

Humans are by nature reactionary, not proactive. Curatorial projects generally take place over a few years, while collections managers’ work, while daily in nature, results in impacts over a hundred years. It’s difficult to institute proactive systems without knowing exactly what you are putting in and what you are getting out (and how that improves on the current system of just get it clean).Without education of our staff and supporters, they can only react to the dust they see, and naturally, we think “it’s dusty. It must be dusted!” Dusting artworks that get dirty is a necessity, but why did they get dirty in the first place? Are they under an HVAC diffuser not fitted with a filter? Do they have a fragile surface that would be better served under Plexi-glas, or at least a low plexi rail that prevents dust rising from the floor onto the platform? Is there carpeting in the gallery? And ultimately, how much ongoing damage is being caused by repeated brushing of dust from the surfaces of fragile works? Without proper documentation, we can’t see “is that red pigment in that photograph from 40 years ago? I don’t think that exists today,” because it was lost to the dusting brush.

Administrations like to staff problems (someone to protect liability, someone to fix the HVAC when it breaks) rather than hiring people to plan to avoid problems through research, planning, and assessment. Here, I’m speaking only about dust. But collection care incorporates mitigation strategies to myriad risks, including pests, environment, physical forces, light, proper documentation and security controls, and so forth. Without mitigation of any one of these risks, loss to collections, and our ability to interpret them and present them to the public, occurs.

Big Sweep. Claes Oldenberg. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Do Something Good for the Country on Black Friday: Don’t Shop Walmart

I don’t shop Walmart any day. I’m asking you not to shop it today.

In 1995, I started a personal boycott against Walmart that lasts until this day. If you revere small town America, then cut back on spending at big corporate America. It’s true that much of our choice in local retailers was obliterated by decades of white flight to the suburbs, the mall-based chain store, and mergers of large retailers. People liked parking lots for their cars and one stop shopping. It’s true; you will pay more at independent stores. But I’ve balanced this by buying less and trying to select companies that have fair worker compensation and a blue profile. Are we really getting back something good as a country by saving a few dollars at Walmart?

No. We are decidedly allowing Walmart to suckle local resources through tax breaks, welfare and food stamps for their underpaid staff, and road improvements to reach their stores. Don’t be fooled. This isn’t good business for our communities. This is destructive. Recently, the news of a Walmart-hosted food drive – for their employees to bring in food to donate to other impoverished employees – has kept the spotlight on their poor employee compensation. Stephen Colbert put the icing on it.

“Some critics out there say Walmart isn’t doing enough, but they’re wrong, because Walmart isn’t doing anything,” he said. “These bins are for Walmart employees to donate to other employees. And where can Walmart’s low wage workers find cheap food to donate? Walmart.”

Watch Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price for more information. Try to feel good handing over money at Walmart after watching.