I’m not a fan of Sarah Palin’s political views, but I really like her rimless eye glasses. I admit I do love hearing her talk, with her colorful similes and folksy homilies in that accent that is identical to the one I had when I left Minnesota at 18.
Fifty years after that, last month, my eye doctor gave me a new prescription for my driving glasses—saying I had the beginning of cataracts and I need prisms in the lens and some sort of special film on them to improve my increasingly fearful night-driving vision.
I took the prescription to the optician and said, with some embarrassment, that I wanted glasses like Sarah Palin’s. He didn’t blink. He told me that Sarah had provided a terrific boon for Kawasaki (“Like the motorcycles”), the Japanese company that produces her high-style eyewear.
Sarah has square lenses, I chose ones that were more of a trapezoid. When the optician added the cost of the prisms, lenses and special film to the $250 skeleton of the glasses, the bill came to $465. Ouch!
But I loved my new glasses, which made everything pop into 3-D. At night I could see the road without being dazzled by oncoming cars. I even made a quick sketch of the glasses (above) in my drawing class last Monday when the teacher, Andy Fish, said to draw some small object in detail in our daily sketchbook.
Then, on Thursday night, I went to another class at the Worcester Art Museum and had to park a block away because of the crowd. The temperature hovered around zero and the wind was gusting over 50 MPH.
At 9:30 p.m. I left class, carrying my computer case and lots of other gear, and when I reached my car, I realized I no longer had the new glasses. There ensued an hour of fruitless searching in the snow while I suffered the first stages of frostbite. By now the parking lot was deserted. I couldn’t ignore the nearly full moon overheard —the Wolf Moon-- which is the brightest and biggest of the year. But it did not light my way to find the glasses. I drove home with one eye closed, trying to see the white line on the side of the road.
The next morning I decided to drive back to the Museum before anyone came. I arrived at 8:45 to see, with a sinking heart, that the parking lot had been freshly plowed and sanded.
There the glasses were, ground into the sand and snow; they had been run over. One bow (correctly called a "temple") on the side was entirely missing, and the skeleton was bent out of shape. Unbelievably, the super-strong Polycarbonate plastic lenses themselves were not broken—just badly scratched.
I headed straight for the optician, who shook his head and told me that the lenses could not be saved, the missing temple would cost $75 but the rest of the skeleton could be restored — so the new pair of glasses he ordered for me would cost $280 instead of $460. By then, this seemed to me to be a happy ending to the saga. Sort of.
For the past few days, at the end of the first month of 2010, there has been an epidemic of people losing things. My friend Cookie lost her checkbook and it finally surfaced at Trader Joe’s. (I had to pick it up.) My friend Chris in Florida lost her wallet with a lot of money and all her credit cards. Daughter Marina in Los Angeles, on the same night I lost the glasses, was given her boss’s expensive camera to take to an important event and lost it. Not until the next day, after a sleepless night, did she manage to reach so far into the rented van’s middle console that she could feel where it had slipped.
I spent most of last week trying to find the four high-school yearbooks that Marina had packaged in a box at Christmas, asking me to mail them to her in LA by Media Mail. (Big mistake. You can’t track Media Mail.)
After weeks of stalking the USPS by car, fax, internet search and phone, I got a letter from “Loose in the Mails” at the Los Angeles Network Distribution Center, saying that the box had arrived empty. When things become separated from the parcel they’re in, they’re sent to the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta.
I spent Thursday and Friday filling in forms, taking photos of similar yearbooks, and writing detailed descriptions in hopes that the AWOL high-school yearbooks will find their way back to my daughter, who is heartbroken at the loss. But I feel optimistic that the yearbooks (which all have the title “Blue Moon” on the cover) will be found, as my Sarah Palin glasses were, although perhaps in an altered state.
I’m blaming the Wolf Moon of Friday and Saturday for this epidemic of lost objects. Full moons really do affect things—if you don’t believe me, just ask a doctor or nurse who works in an emergency room.
The Native Americans called this brightest of the full moons the “Wolf Moon” because, in the bitter cold of January, they could hear the wolves howling forlornly as they crept closer to the warmth of the tribal fires.
Maybe they should have called it the “Lost and Found” moon.
New England is dotted with picturesque villages, each with its own Common or Village Green surrounded by white church spires, an ornate town hall and imposing Colonial and Victorian mansions. Every Yankee will argue that his own village is the prettiest and most historic.
I want to nominate MY village of Grafton MA , which is celebrating its 275th anniversary in 2010, and to share with you what may be one of the earliest photographs taken of the Grafton Common.
But first some of Grafton’s history: *Grafton, incorporated in 1735, was originally called “Hassanamesit”, a Native American word meaning “place of small stones.”
*Four acres were set aside as common land in 1728. The present town Common is so typical of New England that MGM filmed parts of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness there in 1935. MGM built the bandstand on the spot where Grafton’s first meeting house stood. It has become the town’s trademark. The Common holds a big Independence Day concert annually and the Bandstand is the site for prom and wedding photos and festivals year ‘round.
*In the 1800’s Grafton became a national leader in leather tanning and currying and in boot and shoe production, specializing in work boots for slave use in the South. By 1866 there were 10 boot-making shops, two tanneries and several other leather goods establishments around the Common.
*In 1806 Jonathan Wheeler built the Wheeler block, which still houses the Grafton Country Store and other businesses.
*The Congregational Church at the west side of the common has steeple and gallery clocks made by the Willard family, the famed Grafton clock makers. Their original house and clock factory is now a museum, a few miles north of the Common.
*Shoe manufacturer Samuel Wood built the Grafton Inn, the oldest structure on the Common, in 1805 at the intersection of key stagecoach routes from Boston to Hartford and from Providence to Worcester.
Last week the Grafton News, our small weekly newspaper, stated: “As part of this yearlong celebration, the Grafton News is compiling a virtual scrapbook of the town’s history at www.grafton275.org….If you have a historic tidbits or photos that you would like to share, please email them to us.”
Just last year I acquired a wonderful cased image-- an ambrotype of the Grafton Inn, which has functioned as an inn on the Common for its entire 205 years. It’s one of the favorite images in my collection of antique photos. So I scanned it (above) and e-mailed it to the editor with the following letter.
Dear Grafton News,
I am attaching two views of what probably may be the earliest photograph of Grafton you receive.
It’s an ambrotype of the Grafton Inn. Ambrotypes were introduced in 1854 and were popular until 1861. An ambrotype is a negative image produced on a glass plate which becomes positive with the addition of black backing.
(The first kind of photograph, introduced in 1839, is a daguerreotype –an image produced on a silver-coated copper plate. Both daguerreotypes and ambrotypes must be protected by a piece of glass and then a brass mat and then they are kept in a case which opens like a book.)
This is a 1/6 plate ambrotype, which means it is about 2.5 by 3 inches in size. It has black paint behind the image and the paint is damaged. I am attaching one view of the image with the protective mat and one in which I took away the mat so you can see more of the scene. Clearly the image needs cleaning and restoration but I am not expert enough to do this.
This image of the Inn could date from anytime between 1854 and 1861. If you look carefully you can see the figure of a little boy holding the horse and carriage (while the owner of the carriage, inside, is probably taking some refreshment.) There is also a figure in white clothing in the side door, watching the boy. I think it may be a woman with a white apron.
The editor of the Grafton News, Don Clark, wrote back the same day that he intends to publish it both in the newspaper and on the website. So I thought I’d give a sneak preview to the readers of ”ARollingCrone”.
The color photo above is one I took a few years ago, showing the Inn and the Bandstand as they look today.
I fell in love with this oil painting the minute I saw it hanging on the wall of a couple of friends in Cambridge. This (above) is a snapshot I took with my camera, that I keep pinned to the wall near my computer. The flash washed it out a little, but you can see it pretty well.
My friend Caroline found this painting some years ago hanging in a crowded antique shop in Vermont. She asked about it and managed to buy it for a reasonable sum. (She didn’t say how much.)
Turns out this is not really the work of an unknown artist—the painting is named “Last Respects” and dated 1984 and is signed by Eugene A. Fern, who was, according to his obituary, “a writer and illustrator of children’s books.” But as far as I can tell, he’s not a listed artist nor did he ever acquire fame or fortune from his paintings. He is best known for his children’s book “Pepito’s Way.”
Here’s his New York Times obituary in its entirety, dated Sept. 11, 1987.
“Eugene A. Fern, a writer and illustrator of children’s books, died Sunday, apparently of a heart attack, at his home in East Hardwick, Vt. He was 67 years old.
“A professor of art at New York City Community College, now New York City Technical College, for 29 years, Mr. Fern retired to Vermont in 1975.
“Over many years, he wrote and illustrated a number of children’s books, including “Pepito’s Story,” “What’s He Been Up To Now?” and “The King Who Was Too Busy.”
He is survived by his wife, Claire; a son, Arnold, of Manhattan; a daughter, Marcia Boston of Cambridge, Mass., and a granddaughter.”
As I said, I fell in love with the painting at first sight and I didn’t need to know anything about the artist, because it was all there on the canvas. In my mind this was clearly a painted autobiography of a man who had been a fair-haired little boy, a dark-haired teen, a soldier, a groom in a tuxedo, who grew a beard and lost his hair in his later years.
The ghosts of his former selves, transparent and each wearing a golden halo, are clustered around an open coffin that allows us a small glimpse of a white-bearded corpse of a man—the only full-color flesh-and-blood person in the painting of eight individuals.
But the ghosts of the old man’s departed selves are not looking at the corpse; they’re looking at us, the viewer. Perhaps their intense regard is meant to tell us what often was written on tombstones: “As I am now so will you be.”
I find this painting moving and brilliantly composed and painted.
I know that this will cause truly hip and knowledgeable art experts to curl their lip in scorn, because I am aware that realistic and figurative art is not “in” at the moment. Reading reviews of a recent Venice Biennale, I got the feeling that there was not a single painting in it, abstract or not. From what I read, everything seemed to be a video tape or a light show or an assemblage or an installation or a pile of found objects on the floor.
But I’m pretty old-fashioned, and when I went back to painting at the age of 60, I started with flowers and landscapes and stuff, painting en plein air in the hot sun of Greece, but pretty soon I discovered that a painting that has no human figure or face in it tends to bore me. So now I concentrate pretty much on genre, portraits, and figure drawing. All very out of style, but I keep watching and hoping for a return to representational art.
I like to share from time to time my favorite paintings by other artists and I particularly wanted to share this one, because I feel it must have been Fern’s masterpiece and his memoir. He painted it in 1984 when he was sixty-four and he died three years later. He died young, but he evidently saw his death coming and it inspired him to painting this “Last Respects” as a summary of his life and a warning to us.
Today's local Florida paper, the SunSentinel, Jan. 19, has a photograph of Mireille Dittmer, whom I wrote about yesterday. She's now in Boca Raton Community Hospital after being trapped in the wreckage of a supermarket in Haiti for more than five days. Luckily, she has no serious injuries beyond bruises. "It's amazing she didn't sustain serious injuries," said her doctor.
Mireille told a reporter that she had no sense of day and night in the wreckage. Steel bars formed a cocoon around her and she was in a kneeling position for 108 hours. Doctors said a person can survive six to eight days without water. She was trapped more than five days, although she guessed that it was eight or more.
Mireille said that the only thing that gave her hope was her Catholic faith,. During the days of darkness she spoke and prayed with five other trapped people, although she never saw their faces. She remembered a family--a man, woman and child. "We just kept singing hymns in French," she said.
When she heard rescuers on the fifth day she called out "Help. I'm thirsty." A firefighter from Fort Lauderdaler, Lt. Jeremy Rifflard, taped a bottle of water to the end of a stick and passed it to her. Ultimately she discovered he was her neighbor in South Florida.
Mireille told the reporter --concerning the family trapped in the rubble with her--she knew that the woman did not survive but thinks the man and child were saved after she was.
It's terrible to think of those who will be dying now after so many days without water, but every rescue like Mireille's is a solace and proof that miracles do happen.
Yesterday (Sunday) I learned from my friend Patricia Butler who lives in Puerto Rico but grew up in Haiti, that her niece, Mireille Dittmer, had been found alive in the ruins of a Haitian Supermarket. She had been trapped in a kneeling position between two walls for five and a half days. She was dazed and had some injuries to her legs but seemed otherwise okay after that incredible ordeal. If you type her name into a news search you can see a video of her sons in South Florida talking about their mother's miraculous escape. As the news from Haiti grows increasingly grim, it's inspiring to hear about the occasional miracle like this one.
The local papers here in Florida list all the places you can wire money and help and warn to beware of scammers and use only organizations you've dealt with in the past. I'm going to use projecthope.org.
Here's the news story about the rescue of Mireille:
For five days and 12 hours, Michael and Ricky Dittmer had been waiting for word from their mother in Haiti.
"Just five days and 12 hours. I couldn't sleep. We couldn't eat. It was a horrific experience. Definitely, the worst five days of my life," Ricky Dittmer told CBS4's David Sutta.
The family in Haiti found her car parked in front of the Caribbean Supermarket – all five floors collapsed in the earthquake and there were reports that indicated that more than 60 people were inside. There were no doubts their mother -- Mireille Dittmer -- was one of them.
"It just horrified me to think about it," Ricky Dittmer said.
Sunday morning, however, brought news reports that brought hope. On CNN, they saw a picture of her dazed, but alive.
"After all this time to be in there and still be alive and well is a miracle, definitely," Dittmer said.
Mireille's miracle gets even more incredible. The rescuer drilling his way through concrete walls and floors was a firefighter from Pembroke Pines and her neighbor.
"I heard she's on her way," said Michael Dittmer.
South Florida firefighters put Mireille on a flight home Sunday afternoon. Her son immediately turning to Facebook, the social networking site, to express his joy.
"I'm just going to tell her how much I love her. How much I've missed her. I can't wait to see her. I really can't wait," Michael Dittmer said. "Just keep the hope. Don't give up. To the firefighters don't give up either."
Ricky Dittmer said he hopes his story will give hope to other families in waiting.
"I just want this to be an inspiration to those who are waiting, those who have friends and family who they haven't heard from because it can happen," Dittmer said. "Miracles do happen and they are working around the clock. They are doing the best they can."
”Comatose iguanas tumbled off trees. Countless native and exotic fish floated to the surface of ponds and estuaries. Manatees huddled at power plant outfalls. Sea turtles, seized by the cold, bobbed like beach balls. Even the elusive pythons, the tree-trunk-wide snakes that infest the Everglades, have slithered out of hiding to soak up the sun.”
This was the lead to an article in “The Palm Beach Post” today --Thursday, Jan,. 14—with the title “Exotic, Native Species Clobbered by Cold.”.
All of the front page of the paper was taken up with the disastrous earthquake in Haiti and the desperate attempts of Haitians living in Florida to get news of their loved ones. Seven of a group of 14 local students from Lynn University on a goodwill mission to Haiti have been accounted for but the other five students plus two professors are still missing. They were staying in the Hotel Montana outside Port-au-Prince, which collapsed with 300 people inside. Imagine what their parents and loved ones are going though as they try to obtain news from the disaster area.
God seems to be beginning 2010 with the kind of natural disasters that remind us how tenuous is existence and how randomly disaster can end lives. We can also stop to reflect on how spoiled we have become in this age of instant communication—always connected through texting, e-mail, cell phone, computer news.
On Sept. 11, 2001, on a boat near Santorini, Greece, we learned that a plane had hit the World Trade Center before the second plane hit. But all the parents on that boat who had children living in New York City spent the next three days trying to get through somehow by phone to learn their loved ones’ fate.
Just a few years before that, we didn’t have cell phones that could tell us how our children were when they were, for example, traveling through Europe on a EurRail Pass. I always ponder the plight of the parents of the immigrants who came to our country in the 19th century—including our Swedish, Norwegian, and Greek ancestors. Imagine the mothers saying good-bye and god-speed to their sons and daughters, knowing that they would probably never hear their child’s voice again.
Here in Florida, where we are visiting friends, the desperate attempts to learn news of the Haitian disaster seem particularly heartbreaking. Evidently phone and all other methods of sending news are down, and the only ones that work are Twitter and Facebook. Young computer experts are setting up social networking sites on Facebook to share news of who survived and who died. I don’t understand why Twitter still works in Haiti when phones and e-mail don’t, but perhaps one thing that will emerge from this tragedy is a lesson to us in how to communicate with each other in the 21st century when disaster strikes.
We all remember how, in September of 2001, cell phones became useless because of too much traffic (while cell phones and voice mail were used by the victims trapped within the buildings as the only way to say goodbye.)
While my kids constantly text each other and are grimly trying to teach me to do the same, I can barely manage to send a text and cannot seem to transfer my swift typing skills from the computer keyboard to my Blackberry with its itsy bitsy keys. But one of my resolutions had better be to perfect this skill before disaster renders my phone and e-mail lines useless.
* * * * * *
I apologize for letting my blog, A Rolling Crone, disappear from the blogosphere for the last few weeks. The pressure of the holidays—decorating, cooking, Christmas Cards, gift buying and wrapping, driving people here and there—coupled with the death of a member of our extended family-- have played havoc with our usual holiday routine and my plans to blog more frequently were the first to go. I have been scolded by my revered computer teacher, Andy Fish, and, considering that I will be returning to his classes in about a week, I will add to my list of resolutions for 2010 the following: I resolve to blog more frequently—ideally daily, ( but I don’t think I’ll ever make it)—And I further resolve to make my blogs a forum for the interests and concerns of women over sixty who are, like me, Rolling Crones. If you have any suggestions as to how I could best do this, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After 40 years as a journalist, I turned 60 and decided to return to my first love--painting. I’ve exhibited watercolors and photographs in Massachusetts and have a slide show of paintings below. My photo book “The Secret Life of Greek Cats” can be purchased by clicking on the cover below.
I collect way too many things, but my great passion is antique photographs, from the earliest—daguerreotypes (circa 1840) up to 1900 (cabinet cards, tintypes.) I approach each one as a mystery to solve, and in unlocking their secrets have met some fascinating historic figures. For some of the stories, check the list of “The Story Behind the Photograph”.
My husband Nick and I live in Grafton, MA and recently celebrated our 41st anniversary. We have 3 children, now amazing adults. And on Aug. 26, 2011, we greeted our first grandchild, Amalía-- world’s cutest baby. But this blog isn’t about grandparenting (although photos of the grandkid sneak in). As it says up top, it’s about travel, art, photography and life after sixty. And crone power.