Category Archives: remembered

8 x 10

In the Spring of 1969 we spent most of a week in Death Valley with Kent and Shel and Jaca and her brother Kenny and his dog Pie. For us it was primarily a photographic expedition, and I have lots of as-yet-unscanned negatives from the adventure. Here are a few that have transitioned to digital:

Kentlee, Betsy and Jaca

Kentlee and Kenny

Shel and Jaca and Kentlee

Portrait of Jaca

At that point we had a half share in an 8 x 10 camera, with which I wrestled off and on (these photos by Broot, of course):


using the 8x10

using the 8x10

using the 8x10


What brought that to mind today was this marvelous little YouTube drama, the hilarity of which may not be fully obvious to those not deep-dyed in the mystical side of photography. It’s all there: the Equipment Fallacy that especially afflicts male photographers, the Resolution bugaboo, the sweaty palms of setting up and taking the shot, the agony of waiting for a result, the pretense… and zoodles.


Down Memory Lane

While quarrying boxes in the barn I ran across reminders of a delicious story from almost 43 years ago, Fall 1977, when Ron Brunton and I organized (and I use the term loosely, since neither of us had a clue what we were doing) a visit to Acadia University by Gordon Bok, a musician we both revere. We had to have a ‘sponsor’ in order to book the venue, so we created the Acadia Folklore Society on the spot and printed posters and tickets… Gordon arrived with Nick Apollonio (builder of his instruments and a marvelous musician himself) and the concert took place, but was only sparsely attended because of our incompetence as promoters. Gordon and Nick were unfazed, and performed marvelously for a crowd of maybe 50. Afterwards there was a delightful evening at Ron’s house, music played and stories told and whiskey drunk. We’ve been friends ever since.


Ah for the days of $3 concerts…

Here’s an iconic song of Gordon’s:

wordery

The first thing out of the gate in my RSS feed this morning was a pointer to www.thisworddoesnotexist.com/:

deuteroire
1. a legal document giving instructions concerning the legal rights and duties of a deceased person “he signed the first deuteroire for this subject”
2. a word that does not exist; it was invented, defined and used by a machine learning algorithm.

epimotor
1. relating to a mental process or the rate at which they develop from peripheral attachment to the cortex or nervous system “epimotor neuron activity”
2. a word that does not exist; it was invented, defined and used by a machine learning algorithm.

Link / New word / Write your own

Hm. I thought. The scrabble/clabbers player in the family will be amused.

And then I picked up the book that arrived yesterday, All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings from the Oulipo: 1963 – 2018 (Ian Monk and Daniel Levin Becker) and found this in Jacques Duchateau’s “Lecture on the Oulipo at Cerisy-la-Salle, 1963“:

…if all literature contains artifice, since artifice can be mechanized, at least in theory, does this mean that literature in turn can be mechanized as well? Literature and machines has a bad ring to it, it even sounds, a priori, perfectly contradictory. Literature means liberty; machines are syonymous with determinism. But not all machines are the kind that dispense train tickets or mint lozenges. The essential characteristic of machines that interests us is not the quality of being determined but that of being organized. Organized means that a given piece of information will be processed, that all possibilities of this piece of information will be examined systematically in light of a model given by man or by another machine, a machine whose model can be furnished by still a third machine, one whose model etc. etc.

…In the OuLiPo, we have chosen to work with machines, which is to say we are prompted to ask ourselves questions about these notions of structure. This is not new. Writers have always used structures…. From a structuralist perspective, shall we say, all that is evident is suspect. Those forms that are relatively general, accepted by all, and modeled by experience can conceal infra-forms. A systematic re-questioning is necessary to uncover them. A re-questioning which will lead, beyond the discovery of subadjacent forms, to the invention of new ones… (pp 15, 16)

So 55+ years between those two, exactly the time in which my own sentience has been firing on all cylinders, which I might date from my first introduction to hands-on with computers and lexicon, via awareness of Phil Stone’s General Inquirer project (a used copy of General Inquirer: A Computer Approach to Content Analysis [1966] duly ordered…)

…which is of course part and parcel of my lifelong engagement with words and word play. One of the early examples that squirted out when I began to inquire of the Mind for instances:

So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage leaf, [for] to make an apple pie; and at the same time [coming down out of the woods] a great she-bear /coming up the street/, pops its head into the shop. ‘What! no soap?’ So he died, and she [buried him and] very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with little round button at /the/ top; and they all fell to playing the game of catch as catch can, till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

([my version] /not my version/)
(see here for the marvelous backstory)

which my brother John quoted to me when I was 5 or 6, and I took to mind… along with many other snatchets of verse and balladry, from John and from records in the family library. My engagement with Ogden Nash and Edith Sitwell and Tom Lehrer all spring from the same font of lexical foolishment, and Archy and Mehitabel and of course Pogo are other ur-text examples. More will doubtless surface as the day progresses.

taking stock, May 10th

Today is Kate’s 50th birthday!


KBfirst1970

(see a Flickr album)

=====


My life seems to be a long series of fascinations, sometimes discrete and self-contained, but often braided and intertwingled with one another. They seem to come out of Nowhere, but of course there’s always some grit-in-oyster provocation, which I can only occasionally reconstruct once the pearl has begun to take shape as a new fascination. The last few months have seen a joyous succession, beginning with explorations of pareidolia in November 2019 [though off and on for at least the last 5 years], which led to discovery of Roger Caillois, and thence [not quite sure how] to an immersion in Walter Benjamin in December 2019, and to Maria Popova’s Figuring in January 2020, and to explorations of my library of word books in February and March, which may or may not have sparked a diversion to Georges Perec, which then seems to have led to what has become a continuing bout with Oulipo (and OuXPo extensions), especially via Daniel Levin Becker’s Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature, which provoked a reading of Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler… and so it goes.

It’s worth wandering into the lexicographical weeds to record the history of the Ouvroir [which I gloss as ‘Workshop’] in Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, as summarized in the [just-arrived] OULIPO: A Primer of Potential Literature, Warren Motte’s anthology of translations of oulipist texts:

…an ouvroir—a word that has fallen into disuse—once denoted a shop and, as late as the 18th century, a light and mobile shop made of wood, in which the master cobblers of Paris displayed their wares and pursued their trade. The word could also denote that part of a textile factory where the looms are placed; or, in an arsenal, the place where a team of workers performs a given task; or a long room where the young women in a community work on projects appropriate to their sex; or a charitable institution for impoverished women and girls who found therein shelter, heat, light, and thankless, ill-paid work, the result of which these institutions sold at a discount, not without having skimmed off a tidy profit, thus depriving the isolated workers of their livelihood and leading them (as it was charged) into vice. Later, and for a short time only, ouvroir denoted a group of well-to-do women seeking to assuage their consciences in needlework for the poor and in the confection of sumptuous ecclesiastical garments. Curiously enough, it was this last notion, the “sewing circle,” that prevailed in the minds of the Oulipians: just like those diligent ladies, Oulipians embroidered with golden thread… (Noël Arnaud’s Foreword to Motte, pg xii)

The lexical playfulness of Oulipo is what attracts me most (despite the lamentable impenetrability to me of the French texts), and what connects me to offshoots (or Potential offshoots) like OuPhoPo (Photography) and OuMuPo (Music). As Raymond Queneau put it,

The word ‘potential’ concerns the very nature of literature, that is, fundamentally, it’s less a question of literature strictly speaking than of supplying forms for the good use one can make of literature. We call potential literature the search for new forms and structures which may be used by writers in any way they see fit. (Arnaud again, pg xiii)

This exemplifies the OuMuPo connection:

Daniel Heïkalo’s comment:

Probably one of the craziest improvisation that we ever recorded. It was the last track we played during a week long session. We threw all the rules into the wood stove and blew out the windows. Robert Kehler came up with the title. But in fact, we do believe that children SHOULD be exposed to this sort of music, and especially the ones that are studying in conservatories…

Elsewhere I’ve noted my personal entanglement with OuPhoPo, to which constructions like this advance my claim:

Mr Belaker

and

4294x2adj2

and

AppShop7ix18005a

and

w

The Blue Ship Tea Room, et seq.

Last night’s evening woolgathering on the day’s activities and discoveries (which is usually an hour or so after 9, accompanied by something tasty in the liquid line) found me reminiscing about the Blue Ship Tea Room, an uber-funky restaurant on Boston’s T Wharf in the 1940s and 1950s, which I visited with my parents on several occasions. They had whale steak on the menu, and the whole experience was memorable: you parked someplace on T Wharf itself, then walked up an exterior staircase to the third floor of a rickety building. The view of Boston Harbor was remarkable. Some searching discovered a wonderfully redolent photograph:



(photo by Nishan Bichajian, ca. 1955, from https://dome.mit.edu/handle/1721.3/34856)

There’s also a 1961 article from the Harvard Crimson On the Waterfront by Michael S. Gruen (in the series Around the Hub) about the character and characters of that long-vanished waterfront:

A long, faded-yellow loft building now used for apartments, a few lonely fishing boats, and an occasional tourist are all that remain today of what in better days was one of the world’s greatest fishing wharves. Perhaps the only fish people could see at T Wharf in recent years were those they consumed off of the willow pattern china at the Blue Ship Tea Room, a popular seafood restaurant at the tip of the wharf.

Situated near the foot of State St., where it meets Atlantic Avenue, T Wharf was built sometime between 1708 and 1718 as a relatively unimportant appendage to adjacent Long Wharf, which, until 1868, extended all the way back to historic Faneuil Hall and docked the greatest schooners of its day along approximately one mile of pier…

and so forth, well worth reading in full.

My search also caught an advertising brochure and the tails of a marvelous tale of Massachusetts legal history, in Priscilla D. Webster v. Blue Ship Tea Room, Inc., which details a case that sprawled over the period 1959-1964 and turned upon questions of proper chowder. A few of the delicious chowdery bits:

The plaintiff, who had been born and brought up in New England (a fact of some consequence), ordered clam chowder and crabmeat salad. Within a few minutes she received tidings to the effect that “there was no more clam chowder,” whereupon she ordered a cup of fish chowder. Presently, there was set before her “a small bowl of fish chowder.” She had previously enjoyed a breakfast about 9 A.M. which had given her no difficulty. “The fish chowder contained haddock, potatoes, milk, water and seasoning. The chowder was milky in color and not clear. The haddock and potatoes were in chunks” (also a fact of consequence). “She agitated it a little with the spoon and observed that it was a fairly full bowl…. It was hot when she got it, but she did not tip it with her spoon because it was hot … but stirred it in an up and under motion. She denied that she did this because she was looking for something, but it was rather because she wanted an even distribution *423 of fish and potatoes.” “She started to eat it, alternating between the chowder and crackers which were on the table with … [some] rolls. She ate about 3 or 4 spoonfuls then stopped. She looked at the spoonfuls as she was eating. She saw equal parts of liquid, potato and fish as she spooned it into her mouth. She did not see anything unusual about it. After 3 or 4 spoonfuls she was aware that something had lodged in her throat because she couldn’t swallow and couldn’t clear her throat by gulping and she could feel it.” This misadventure led to two esophagoscopies at the Massachusetts General Hospital, in the second of which, on April 27, 1959, a fish bone was found and removed. The sequence of events produced injury to the plaintiff which was not insubstantial.

We must decide whether a fish bone lurking in a fish chowder, about the ingredients of which there is no other complaint, constitutes a breach of implied warranty under applicable provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code,[1] the annotations to which are not helpful on this point. As the judge put it in his charge, “Was the fish chowder fit to be eaten and wholesome?… [N]obody is claiming that the fish itself wasn’t wholesome…. But the bone of contention here I don’t mean that for a pun but was this fish bone a foreign substance that made the fish chowder unwholesome or not fit to be eaten?”

…The defendant asserts that here was a native New Englander eating fish chowder in a “quaint” Boston dining place where she had been before; that “[f]ish chowder, as it is served and enjoyed by New Englanders, is a hearty dish, originally designed to satisfy the appetites of our seamen and fishermen”; that “[t]his court knows well that we are not talking of some insipid broth as is customarily served to convalescents.” We are asked to rule in such fashion that no chef is forced “to reduce the pieces of fish in the chowder to miniscule size in an effort to ascertain if they contained any pieces of bone.” “In so ruling,” we are told (in the defendant’s brief), “the court will not only uphold its reputation for legal knowledge and acumen, but will, as loyal sons of Massachusetts, save our world-renowned fish chowder from degenerating into an insipid broth containing the mere essence of its former stature as a culinary masterpiece.”

and worth reading in its entirety, especially by New Englanders born and bred (and perhaps likely to be somewhat incomprehensible to others not so endowed).

Just one more bit of glorious serendipity in all of this: the MIT Libraries photograph above references György Kepes and Kevin Lynch (he of the still-essential The Image of the City). Kepes had worked with László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin and London, and “after immigrating to the U.S. in 1937, he taught design at the New Bauhaus (later the School of Design, then Institute of Design, then Illinois Institute of Design or IIT) in Chicago. In 1967 he founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he taught until his retirement in 1974.” (Wikipedia). He was also a colleague of Len Gittleman, our photography teacher at Harvard 1963-1965, and was himself a photographer. A few years ago, while exploring in Mount Auburn Cemetery, I came across his grave:

Gyorgy Kepes

department of co-incidence

During a visit to Vashon Island, a series of unplanned conjunctions took me to the Vashon Bookshop for a half hour of browsing before our reservation at the marvelous May Kitchen and Bar. This book leapt into my arms:




Stephen De Staebler was my 9th grade history teacher (1957-58), and offered a high-energy version of World History to a class of 15 or so engaged and eager students. He also taught a class in stained glass for 5 of us, with lead and solder and glass cutters, the real deal. He was only at the school for a year, but was unforgettable for his contagious enthusiasm. He went on to become a well-known sculptor and teacher at San Francisco State, and died in 2011. His website (stephendestaebler.com) represents his work quite well. I was something between delighted and gobsmacked to discover a gallery of masks that presage my recent work with lithic personalities. At the very least, we draw upon the same mysterious vein of mimetic imagery (“a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self” in its Wikipedia rendering). There’s also this quote to consider:

Much of art is play in the serious sense,
like magic, trying to restructure reality
so that we can live with the suffering.

-Stephen De Staebler, 1984

I’m not quite sure what to do with “the suffering” but I’m pleased to consider what he might mean. It’s the sort of responsibility one has toward one’s well-remembered teachers. Alas, there are only a couple of 9th grade classmates left who remember Steve De Staebler, and I wish I’d been able to convey my thanks to him for what he taught and what he Taught.

Remembering David Hutchinson, 1943-2016

I’m in Glastonbury CT for a memorial service for a dear friend.

David Hutchinson and I were friends for 60 years, ever since meeting in Grade 8 at Chadwick School in 1956. Our lives have many parallels, and we’ve shared quite a few enthusiasms over the years. Thinking back over our friendship has been a voyage of gratitude and deepening admiration for a cherished and unique person.

This photograph (taken by Tom Schaefer in Spring 1961) exemplifies the sort of foolishness we happily collaborated in, and it truly seems like it was just yesterday:

Tisket and Tasket

Mrs. Chadwick taught Advanced Placement English to a small group of Senior Boys, and every day would arrive in the classroom with her Basket, containing whatever materials she’d planned to use that day. More than once David and I made a Thing of carrying the Basket for her.

We were Mrs. Chadwick’s fair-haired boys and Prize Puppies, and both of us went Back East (as they say in California) for college, David to Yale and I to Harvard. David visited Cambridge several times, and this version of his smiling self was in 1965, when he visited Betsy and me after we were married:

Hutch 1964

We both developed interests in Southeast Asia, both joined the Peace Corps (David in Thailand, Betsy and I in Sarawak, Malaysia), and were in Hilo Hawaii at the same time for Peace Corps training.

We met up again in California in 1969, but then went our separate ways for 24 years, starting careers in distant places (David in Connecticut, Thailand, India, Zambia; I in Nova Scotia and then Virginia), and reconnecting in 1993. To the surprise of neither of us, we immediately picked up where we had left off, with lots more stories but still the same fundamental curiosities and engagement with the world. Thereafter we visited back and forth several times a year, and (once it was technologically possible) were in frequent Internet contact. A Skype or Google Video call would come in and continue for at least half an hour, full of rich reportage of doings and thinkings.

Over the years since 1993 there were several Reunions of high school friends, in which we all discovered that those 3-4-5 Chadwick years had been remarkably formative for all of us. It has been endlessly fascinating to unpack the remarkable experiences and relationships of that time and place.


Chadwick 1961 in Maine
(Port Clyde ME 2006)

Chadwick 1961 in Maine
(with Betsy and Kate, 2006)

Chadwick 1961 in Maine, September 2013
(Tenants Harbor ME, 2013)

It should surprise nobody that many of the pictures I have from the last 24 years show David in gleeful conjunction with food, in many different places and across a broad swath of the world’s cuisines. Here are a few:


Pia's pad thai
(Pia’s Pad Thai, 2008)

Hutch, Steve and Jim disgracing themselves with fruit pies
(pie buddies, Tenants Harbor ME, 2009)

Hutch is pleased to be at HK
(Home Kitchen Cafe, Rockland ME 2013)

Hutch shares a stickybun
(Home Kitchen Cafe, Rockland ME 2013)

David contemplates oat muffins
(Tenants Harbor ME 2013)

Kate adds several more from her archive:


091004_KateShannonMakeshiftHutchPia

Hutch and Pia's

080608_KHTBH

070916_KateBetsyShannonHutchHugh.JPG

Snowstorm aside, we made it to Portland in time to meet Hutch, Pia, and our new friend Nok for a delicious brunch.

and one by Shannon Riley:

High School Buds 3
Tenants Harbor, 2014

a ferry remembered

While hunting for historical photos of Boston’s Financial District, I happened upon the work of Herald-Tribune photographer Leslie Jones, archived at the Boston Public Library, and found this image of the Last Trip of the East Boston Ferry (1952), often called “the Penny Ferry” after the fare for passage.

East Boston Ferry on its last trip

another view

Hearing that the ferry would be ending its service, my father made a point of taking me to Boston to put MY penny in the turnstile slot and make the voyage to East Boston and back. I remember the event very clearly, even to the smell of the waterfront.

postcard