The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

Hw r u ts mng?, and Other News

May 12, 2015 | by

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Ethel Wakefield, a Western Union telegraph operator, June 1943.

  • “Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge,” a 52,438-word dissertation by a Ph.D. candidate named Patrick Stewart (not that one), “eschews almost all punctuation. There are no periods, no commas, no semicolons … ” Stewart “wanted to make a point about aboriginal culture, colonialism, and ‘the blind acceptance of English language conventions in academia.’ ” He conducted his oral exam last month; his teachers questioned him for hours. But in the end, he passed.
  • What someone ought to do is write an entire dissertation using turn-of-the-century telegraphy abbreviations, as decoded in this 1901 book: “Wr r ty gg r 9” means “Where are they going for No. 9”; “Is tt exa tr et” means “Is that extra there yet?”
  • Disclaimer: the remark above was not intended to senselessly valorize an outmoded technology. “I’ve heard many a nostalgist say there was something more, well, effortful, and therefore poetic, in the old system of walking for miles to a record shop only to discover they’d just sold out. People become addicted to the weights and measures of their own experience: We value our own story and what it entails. But we can’t become hostages to the romantic notion that the past is always a better country.”
  • For the second time, the avant-garde company Elevator Repair Service is mounting a theatrical adaptation of The Sound and the Fury: “Even if Faulkner isn’t your thing, or if confusion of characters and time frames aren’t, either, it’s important to see the piece, if only to understand how scripts work—and how they transform the actors in the space of the stage.”
  • In which Ottessa Moshfegh tries mayonnaise: “Mayonnaise, to my mother, was like peanut butter to the French: disgusting, uncivilized, and impossible to find. On a scale of respectability, a jar of mayonnaise came in somewhere between a vat of pig fat and one of those plastic pails of Marshmallow Fluff.”

Heartbreak

March 3, 2015 | by

Its legacy lives on.

One day, when I was around fourteen, my dad was invited to a black-tie fund-raising dinner. And so he broke out the tuxedo my mom had found for him at the Salvation Army and clipped on his bow tie, and took the Metro-North into Manhattan. He returned bearing gifts: the favor bag included a cookbook of light French cuisine and a gadget that was the most wonderful thing we had ever seen.

It was a wine stopper. Two, actually, identical to each other. Its bottom section was conical, covered in rubber, and its top was a large metal heart. It was indisputably ugly, we all agreed—but how ingenious! My mom was delighted. “If we have leftover wine,” she explained, “we won’t need to jam the cork into the bottle, or use tinfoil.” (Screw-tops were still a novelty in the midnineties.) What a marvel of thrift and engineering! Read More »

A Night Out in the Twenties

January 6, 2015 | by

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Ruth Gordon in 1919.

In The Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa refers to “that most absurd of emotions, retrospective jealousy.” He’s talking about sexual jealousy; in the way of new lovers, a young woman finds herself bitterly resenting her fiancé’s old flames, real and suspected. But the phrase has wider application. I’d guess most of us have experienced a longing for past times, places, eras, that bordered on resentful. Possibility and idealism and cheap rents—it all comes together to burnish just about any time but our own. 

Romanticizing is the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes it seems like our current brand of nostalgia doesn’t take skill or imagination, just a modicum of dissatisfaction, a sketchy grasp of history, and enough brain space to remember your last pass around the fishbowl. Very pernicious, too; if you don’t watch yourself, you wake up one day and you’re Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time. (Well, okay, that’s an extreme case.) 

I tell myself this. And yet, sometimes, you are reading Arthur Schwartz’s magisterial New York City Food and you come across this description, by Ruth Gordon, of a night on the town in the twenties, and there is nothing for it but to give in. Read More »

Peel

December 19, 2014 | by

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From the cover of Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl.

The past, as we know, is another country, and from the age of four or so, I wished passionately for dual citizenship. What old-fashioned meant, I couldn’t even have told you. But for most of my early life I worshipped the idea devoutly. To me it meant inheritance, placement, being part of something larger. 

I think I envisioned this vague past as a world where I belonged. Other children were kind and wholesome; clothes were strange and modest; I was not ridiculous. Paradoxically, my communion with the past made me wholly ridiculous. Sporting bloomers to the third grade has rarely been a road to modern popularity. 

As might be clear, my family had no particular veneration for ritual, but I still cleaved to the idea of holidays as a tradition-steeped idyll. I baked and decorated and played carols, and my homemade gifts were very strange. The primary reason for this is that I got all my ideas from a series of vintage books with names like Let’s Make a Gift! and Fun and Thought for Little Folk, and the youngest of them dated to the late 1930s. As a result, my parents were treated to pen wipers and blotters, a pipe cleaner “embroidered” with the word Father (my dad did not smoke a pipe), and, on one particularly lackluster occasion, a “brush for invalids” that involved wrapping a stick in a piece of flannel so the bedridden individual did not need to wash her hair. Read More »

Story Time

September 11, 2014 | by

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From the cover of a “Fun with Music” disc.

Ann Rachlin, storyteller, MBE, and pioneer of music appreciation, has been working for years—she’s now eighty—but she really came to prominence in the mideighties, when she started teaching little Prince William. I wonder if that’s when my mom bought her records. Whatever the reason, her “Fun with Music” series was in heavy rotation at our house, and the distinctive, lilting rhythms of her idiosyncratic narratives was the sound track of our childhoods. I think if you’d asked me between the ages of four and six which celebrity I would have most liked to meet, the answer would have been Ann Rachlin. (Well, Ann Rachlin and Jeff the mannequin from Today’s Special.)

The records (and later tapes, for playing in the car) featured narration over classical music pieces. Sometimes, as in the case of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, or the deeply distressing Swan Lake, Rachlin based her tale on a preexisting story. Others were wholly original, and often unabashedly bizarre. (I am thinking especially of Lost Coin in a Fountain, set to Respighi.) To call Rachlin’s style “expressive” is a vast understatement: her voice rises and falls dramatically, she takes on all characters with gusto, she evokes laughter and tears and bafflement. She is so wholly uninhibited that it’s shocking even to a child. Maybe especially to a child. And while her tales are all designed to capture a child’s imagination, she does not shy away from sadness and even, occasionally, tragedy. (See: Swan Lake.) Read More »

Field of Dreams

August 19, 2014 | by

Chasing down one grand slam.

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From Baseball ABC, 1885

It was my 3,664th day on Earth, as I later calculated, and I was in a Little League fantasy scenario in Princeton, New Jersey. Play-offs, bases loaded, up at bat against an intimidating pitcher with a gnarly high kick. For an instant, my Louisville Slugger met with the ball, the leather and rubber shape-shifting against the aluminum. A roper up the middle into deep center—I can still feel the smack off the fat of the bat. I’d hit an inside-the-park grand slam. This was my finest moment as an athlete. It’s forever seared into my brain, scored by the cacophony of yelping mothers and fathers loud enough to drive kids away from the ice-cream truck to investigate.

This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Little League’s existence, culminating in August’s Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Williamsport’s Carl Stotz founded the league in 1939 by rounding up his nephews and their neighborhood friends. With the added attention to Little League this year, I began considering my brief moment of glory and how many children over the decades have received such a jolt of confidence—or the opposite—on ball fields nationwide.

The league has since ballooned into an international behemoth, with more than two-hundred thousand teams in all fifty states and more than eighty countries the world over, from Uganda to Kyrgyzstan. Each year now, more than two million boys (and some girls) play ball—their teams often sponsored by local businesses and larger corporations—and get schooled in triumph and failure, sometimes life and death. (The year 1956 marked the first on-field death in Garland, Texas, when Jerry Armstrong hit the twelve-year-old Richard “Rick” Oden in the head with a pitch.)

Our own conquests may not occur in front of the forty-five thousand live fans and more than a million TV viewers the Little League World Series attracts, but they mold our characters nonetheless, before modest collections of parents and siblings. Still, I realized how little detail I actually recalled from my big day. Who was the pitcher? What was the weather like? How old was I exactly? Read More »

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