Watch Your Planes. Know Your Rectangles.

During the Christmas hiatus, I hung out with my family and did what I always do.  I took a lot of pictures.

One night I was explaining to my dad how I take pictures with my 50mm lens, because he has a similar one.  You always know the planes of your photograph and you just compose within that plane.  You have to have a line in your photograph that is either horizontal or vertical and if you have a curve, well, that’s magic.  That’s photography distilled down to its basest elements.

We’re sitting in a restaurant while I’m explaining this and I start flailing my arms around like a flight attendant showing where the emergency exits are.  The people I had just photographed kinda noticed but they didn’t say anything.

Wow, I’m embarrassing.

Anyway, I got some good photos.  I hope!!!!!

northampton tea house 2northampton tea houserhode island people restaurantrhode island restaurant people 2

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Well, it’s 2019 and still no flying cars but I can access all the information mankind has ever produced from thin air.  The future is, um, interesting.

Anyway, that’s not what the fireside chat is about this evening (morning, afternoon depending on your time zone).  I spend the part of the holiday hiatus in old New York.  I was going to entitle this entry “sometimes I don’t hate New York, part the second,” but then I couldn’t get a narrative thread around that and the pictures I took so I chose the title up there.

Of course part of my time in New York was spent at the Metropolitan museum.  I’ve always wondered if I actually like going to museums or if it’s just kind of become part of my life.

But the Met is different.  I kind of grew up there and I do love the place.  And whenever I go to the Temple of Dendur, I say “Joan Rivers carved her initials into that when she was a little girl.”  No, that’s not original.  I got that from Chris March on Project Runway.

Anyway, on this visit I went to the Petrie sculpture garden, to see the Faberge eggs and to a Delacroix exhibit.  I know.  It sounds like the itinerary of a louche aristocrat.

First the Faberge eggs.  We’re about to go off on a long tangent about the Romanovs here so keep scrolling if this doesn’t interest you.

So you decided to keep reading.  I’m very happy.  So the Romanovs.  I blame YouTube for this particular obsession.  I watched a documentary about King Christian IX of Denmark.  I know.  A normal sort of thing to do I guess.  He was a Danish King so this was two obsessions of mine united.  Then YouTube decided that I should watch a documentary about the Romanovs.  And then another.  And another.  I had no choice.  YouTube decided for me.

So I had heard about the Romanovs over the years.  Czar Nicolas was first cousins with King George V of England.  Czar Nicolas’s children were related to Prince Philip in some kind of crazy, circuitous manner.  Somehow someone with the colorful name Marchioness of Milford Haven is involved and related here too.

I always wondered why the Russian czar was related to the King of England and at the same time Prince Philip and my favorite royal rascal and First Sea Lord (best job title ever) Louis Mountbatten.

Here’s a picture I’ve always found to be really haunting:


The kings look like twins.  That’s the young Edward VIII, who would leave behind the trappings of monarchy, into a life of exile with Wallis of Baltimore.  And poor tragic little Alexei.

Anyway so off I went into this deep dive into (kind of) contemporary Russian history.  So Czar Nicolas’s mother was Danish (a daughter of Christian IX) and his dad was Russian but really he was German and Prussian and probably a mix of other things.  Czar Nicolas spoke Russian with a German accent and communicated with his (kind of) German wife in English.  How could you have a monarch of a country that didn’t have a drop of the country’s blood in him?

It seemed like Queen Victoria and Christian IX ran a kind of royal intermarriage study abroad system where the various royals were married into the thrones of Europe, interconnecting them.  What could possibly go wrong???

The deeper I got into my investigating, the stranger it all seemed.  Czar Nicolas’s children, about whom much has been written, were the first cousins of all the major thrones of Europe.  There’s even a story of how the great Sea Lord (again, best job title ever) had a school boy crush on Grand Duchess Maria.  Oh how history could have been different if that match had come to pass.  Here they are, Maria forever young and the fresh faced Sea Lord:


Welcome Sea Lord to my blog.  Hope you find your stay welcoming and comfortable.

As everyone knows, the end of the Romanovs story is shocking and incredibly sad.  Again, connected to my new obsession, I’ve been looking at photos of the young family.  They look like 19th century figures trapped in a 20th century world.

Ok ok ok back to the Met.  If you’re here and you avoided the Romanov tangent, there will be photos upcoming.

So at the Met there is a small collection of Faberge eggs.  Peter Faberge produced jewel encrusted eggs and knick knacks for the royal family.  In one, there is a picture of Grand Duchess Tatiana.  What I find to be so remarkable is that these relics of Imperial Russia are just in a corner.  They are on the way to the elevator to the roof garden.  Until my obsession with the Romanovs was in full swing, I must have passed them a million times.

What strikes me as even more remarkable is that my mother, in the midst of my spelunking into the Romanovs told me that my grandfather’s family, her father had had to flee Russia because of the Revolution.  My great grandfather was a customs officer in the Czarist government and when the Czar fell, the family had to flee.  I had never known this and I’m pretty sure I would have spent a lot of time quizzing my grandfather about what life was like under Czarist rule.

I bet Grand Duchess Tatiana never imagined that a person whose grandfather had had to flee Russia because of the abdication of her father would be looking at her picture on a Faberge egg in a corner of a museum in New York, of all places.

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I purposely avoided the bit in the Romanovs’ story about the entanglement with Rasputin.  There was though a picture of Princess Irina Yusupov in a separate jewelry exhibit.  The name Yusupov also figures into the Romanov story as the assassin of  Rasputin was Prince Felix Yusupov.  I wish I had more time to delve into him.  That was a baller before the word baller was even used.  This was a guy whose father gave his mother the tallest peak in Armenia as a birthday gift.  Yusupov went to Cambridge with a retinue of servants and a French couple to cook all of his meals.

What struck me as well was how small and insignificant these two individuals were, how they were footnotes in history.  How very very very sad.

Ok, history lesson over.  This part will be more pictographically centered.

First, Petrie Court and the Greek and Roman statues.  The place where I play this game where I try to find people to “react” to the statues.  Was I successful?  You be the judge:

Then my other favorite game.  The exhibits are full of people and I prefer to focus on them when I photograph the exhibits.  Sure the Delacroix exhibit was lovely and the Armenian exhibit was interesting, but for me, people watching is much better:

And let me throw this last one in there because — THIS GUY IS SO HANDSOME!!!!!!!  Yeah.  We started with a deep dive into Russian history and at the end we’re here gawking at a guy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Well, you made it to the end.  Congratulations, although there will be a history quiz soon!!!!!!!

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Thickest New England

So warm up Christmas is upon us and by that I mean, Thanksgiving.  Uh, that holiday could not come soon enough.  I am very tired and I haven’t had any vacation in nearly a year.  Five days off.  Five days when I don’t have to work or lesson plan or worry if I’m going to make it to my next job on time.  HEAVEN.

Usually during an extended holiday with the family, we go on a little road trip, usually to some thickly New England destination.  Salem, Gloucester or Newburyport.  Now let me back track here for just a second.  My parents are the most New England Yankee Brahmin Polish people on the planet.  Sometimes I truly believe that they are both the reincarnations of some long lost Lowells or Cabot Lodges.  More on those folks in a bit.

Anyway, we’ve made this road trip many a time to Newburyport and hey I like it.  I’m pretty thickly New England at this point as well.  I proudly wear my New England Patriots hat now and I occasionally even drop an R here and there.

We visited our usual haunts.  The bookstore with the cafe in it.  The British store with the insane Cadbury selection.  The olive oil store.  This time though we added another stop.  We went to the Maritime Museum in Newburyport.  Of course there were remnants and reminders of Newburyport’s glorious past as a global whaling power, but there was also a room dedicated to son of Newburyport John Marquand.  Who was he?  Well read on.

John Marquand is a novelist who I learned about in the early 2000s when I was still living in Washington DC.  On my way to work in the morning, every morning, I would read the Washington Post.  One day there was an article about forgotten novelists.  John Marquand was on the list, so I purchased one of his books called HM Pulham Esquire about this Brahmin who suffers in quiet desperation.  Like they all do.  Anyway, it was a rip roaring yarn.

I knew there would be things about John Marquand when they mentioned novelists.  His at home library had been reconstructed in the maritime museum.  I knew some about his background but I decided to look up his biography on wikipedia and boy, was I not disappointed.  Oh, I was not.  I can’t even paraphrase it.  It is THAT GOOD.  I’m going to copy and paste it below and copiously credit wikipedia for providing me with this bio:

Marquand was the son of Philip Marquand and his wife Margaret née Fuller, he was a scion of an old Newburyport, Massachusetts, family. He was a great-nephew of 19th-century writer Margaret Fuller and a cousin of Buckminster Fuller, who gained fame in the 20th century as the inventor of the geodesic dome. Marquand was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and grew up in the New York suburbs. When financial reverses broke up the family’s comfortable household, he was sent to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he was raised by his eccentric aunts, who lived in a crumbling Federal Period mansion surrounded by remnants of the family’s vanished glory. (Marquand’s ancestors had been successful merchants in the Revolutionary period; Margaret Fuller and other aunts had been actively involved with the Transcendentalist and abolitionist movements.)

Marquand attended Newburyport High School, where he won a scholarship that enabled him to attend Harvard College. As an impecunious public school graduate in the heyday of Harvard’s Gold Coast, he was an unclubbable outsider.

Thanks wikipedia. Thank you very much.  I mean that first paragraph is normal, normal.  Yeah, he was born.  Financial reversals.  Not great.  Eccentric aunts.

But that second paragraph and we are off to the races so to speak.  “Impecunious public school graduate” — you mean he’s poor.  I mean he was poor.  “An unclubbable outsider” — OK did someone’s tea sipping sarcastic Brahmin grandmother write that?  That got more than a chuckle from me, let’s just put it that way.

So yeah, so translation Wikipedia to English is that dude, dude did the work and got himself a scholarship to the Harvard and zoomed back into the elite.  What made Marquand different though was that he choose to satirize the group from which he had come.  A blue blood satirist who had been in the club but had become impecuniously unclubbable but was back in the club to make fun of the club.  Delicious.

I was trying to describe him to my mother and I finally said — he’s like Truman Capote but with less venom, not in need of the venom transplant midway into writing a novel.  Now even I’m tempted to read another Marquand novel.

Anyway, there are photos because there are always photos, that are what else?  Thickly New England.  I wonder what the Brahmin grandmother would say about me.  A foreigner who picked themselves up by their bootstraps?  I mean how unclubbable!!!!!

Every little narrative

I have the best schedule.  There I said it.  One time I heard Tom Friedman, the New York Times editorialist say that he has the best job.  He visits different countries and gets to write about them.  Well, fair enough, but I really have the best schedule.  I work Monday to Thursday and I have Friday off to just kind of do whatever I want or what I call rejoining the land of the living.  Now the days from Monday to Thursday are long and I do work on Saturday but its a very good schedule.

A few Fridays ago, never mind how many, a very dear friend asked me to join her on a small road trip to New Hampshire.  Usually I just see it covered in snow, so I thought it would be nice to see it just regular.

Off we went to this antiques shop in the middle of nowhere.  I mean I’m sure it was in the middle of somewhere but I didn’t even really know where we were.  It was raining but as soon as I walked in, I found the shop really fascinating.  Of course I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures immediately.  I quickly asked if I could take pictures in the store and the owner said “just don’t take pictures of me.”  It was kind of funny.  He said it in this dry, droll kind of way.

It struck me that every single object in the store had some kind of separate story.  There was a door that I thought was a door to state legislature because it had the same kind of font on it that I had seen in the Massachusetts State House.  It turned out it was a door that had been used in a TV show to supposedly be the Rhode Island legislature.

There were countless claw footed bath tubs and even a stand up shower.  There were these little bottles that doubtless has some kind of turn of the century wellness medicines in them with names of companies that are far out of business.  There were entire sections with just doors in them or just bannisters, all of different architectural styles and from different time periods.

It was really interesting because truly, every object tells a story about us, who we are and who we were:

The Full Snow Report

The flakes from the sky.  I thought I’d have more time with the fall, but winter is here.

The first snow of the season is again something I have grown in appreciation for since I moved to Boston.  The snow is such an integral part of living here that the first snow is cause for celebration or consternation or whatever.  I know what it means for me.  Time to get my skis waxed and prepare for the best six months of the year.

Today when I saw the snow falling I decide to take a little turn around North Station, where I usually end up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Per usual, I was only going to walk a block or two.  My days are exhausting, particularly Tuesdays and Thursdays.  But I kept walking, all the way over to Government Center.  The Soviet city hall is actually more attractive by night, covered in snow.  Oh and I went over to photograph the little area between Haymarket and Faneuil Hall that I call the one block of Europe, covered in snow.  That stretch gets yet more beautiful in the snow.

Let it snow!!!!!!!!

I’m Polish, Right?

Yeah, that title is funny and here I’m going to muse for a while.  Scroll down if you just come for the photography and not the unstructured musings.

So this past weekend, I visited the Riot again in Pennsylvania.  Those visits are so fun and somehow recharge me and make everything OK afterwards.

So Riot-Mom told me that she had an invite to a birthday party and the name was really long and full of consonants.  I asked if they ended in “ski” and Riot-Mom couldn’t remember.  It was Riot 6’s friend whose birthday it would be.

We get there and I hear Polish.  Everywhere.  Everyone at the party was speaking Polish.  Every single person.  I started joking with Riot-Mom that she’s in the minority this time because we all speak Polish and she doesn’t.  More shocking was the fact that Riot-Mom, despite our 23 year friendship, she had never heard me speaking Polish.  She probably had no idea that I spoke the language as well as I did.

But here’s the thing when I’m around Polish people.  They are always nice enough, but we really don’t have that much in common.  There’s small talk in Polish but we really don’t have that much in common.  It’s a few minutes of fun but then there’s no connection.  I guess that’s kind of sad, but I guess it’s an illustration of how I feel about being Polish.

Every time I teach a class, I come in to the room and I write my first and last name on the board.  There’s always laughter because my last name is so long and full of so many consonants.  Then I tell the story.  Yes, I’m American.  Well now I’m American.  I came to America when I was a little kid and I learned English in nursery school.

But every time I tell the story, it rings hollow.  I know I learned the language because my mom told me I did.  I don’t remember it and as a kid, I didn’t even think moving to a new country was all that usual.  I watched a documentary once about Gloria Vanderbilt, whose life is a million times more interesting that mine and she said if you grow up in a jungle, you think everyone grows up in a jungle.  My parents left their country when I was little and we settled elsewhere.  I mean don’t everyone’s parents leave their country?  I mean isn’t that normal?

I think I was an adult in my 30s when I realized that that isn’t normal.  But the Poland thing has always been there.

As a kid, I had one dream.  I was going to go to the Olympics in 1992 as a gymnast and win a gold medal, but in my dream, the US National anthem is playing in the background, even though as a kid, we were waiting to get our green cards.

For the first seven years that we lived here, Poland was part of my home life but rarely my outside life.  I saw the country on maps and my parents spoke the language but I had no idea about the place.

Then we went to Poland in 1988.  That was the first time I had seen this country in a way that I could even remember.  I remember being shocked that everyone was speaking this language I had only ever my mother and father speak.  We spent time with so many relatives and I spoke my poor Polish with everyone.  Well, tried to.

And we took my favorite photo of all time:


I remember the day really clearly the day this photo was taken.  It was the last day of our visit and my mom decided to take some photos of us together.  There was a thunderstorm outside.  The thunder was freaking out the dog and he started shaking.  In the picture, my grandfather is pushing us together.  I was really afraid of the dog.

Still though after the visit and subsequent ones, I never really felt all that Polish.  A couple of times a year, the Polish thing would sort of pop up in my normal life.  A name or a historical event.  I’d meet another Polish person.  Some awkward conversation would ensue.

One time I remember my dad opening this book and telling me about Poland as a country and then closing the book.  That’s kind of how it always was with that.

When I look at Facebook now, I see all the names of my family.  Mirek, Waldek, Gosia, Halina, I mean it’s all so Polish.  And then there’s me posting stories about turkey sightings in Brookline and professing my undying love for Big Papi.

I’ve never even had a really big group of all Polish friends.  Obviously, I’ve been in places with a lot of Polish people, but I’ve never been in a situation with a lot of Polish people I’m not related to or they are of my choosing.  Among my regular friends, I get to choose but with the Poles, the contact is so sporadic that there’s not a chance to choose the people I really want to be friends with.

At my age now I’m not sure if I’ll ever really feel Polish.  I’ve sort of resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have my name to entertain people with and the language comes in handy when I’m learning cognates in other languages.  I speak the language a couple of times a year, but in a way I feel like some people are the places they adopt, not the identity that has been assigned to them.  That’s where I am, I guess.

Well, let’s see some pics of the happy Polish and non-Polish tots from the weekend:

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All the Right Moves

As a kid I channeled my love of movement into gymnastics, a sport I love to this day.  As an adult, I always feel like I want to infuse my photographs with a sense of movement, like I just caught the person mid jump or mid move.

I hope I have all the right moves (in the photos that is):

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