Disney Detour

I was going through some 2011 photos and found this. The Casey Junior Train is the best thing in Disneyland (there isn’t one at Disney World). It epitomizes everything I wanted to visit at Disney theme parks when I was young, and it is pretty much all that is left of the Disney magic that I can embrace. I didn’t really want to go to Disneyland (crowds, lines, heat) but my son was hell bent on seeing this train, and he was right – it’s the coolest thing there.  I’m amazed that the Disney merchandising juggernaut has not capitalized on the train mania – aside from a pin, you cannot find any models or memorabilia related to this train anywhere in Disneyland. I’m not complaining (okay maybe I am) but it’s so discouraging when you can buy princess everything and Goofy sweatshirts in size XXXL but not a toy train.

The Casey Junior song from Dumbo is my all time favorite sequence in Disney film – every hue and detail perfect. (The colors in the VHS format are actually richer than the DVD, I think.)

And you know what else I love about it? See the patchwork quilt that makes up the landscape? Those are all succulents, planted by Walt Disney himself, in every hue imaginable. Oh, and my boys rode around in the monkey cage. I loved that, too.

Another Glimmer of the Gilded Age, and then some

The Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York, is a rare find, a time capsule preserved and put on display for we, the generations that followed. What’s more, it is just down the road from Springwood, the Roosevelt home that is birthplace and burial site of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself was instrumental in keeping both homes intact and open to the public, donating his own home to the National Park Service upon his death and persuading the Vanderbilt heirs to do the same when it was clear that no one would buy the estate and its Italian Gardens even at a tiny fraction of its value. It was the foreclosed McMansion of its day, even though it was by far the smallest of the Gilded Age mansions built by the many grandchildren of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, it didn’t even last through its own generation before it became impractical to live in or care for in the economic devastation of the Great Depression.

Two seasons of the above and below stairs drama of Downton Abbey (and a knowledgeable young guide) helped to bring this gently faded and stuffy house to life for us as we walked through. The windows are closed and shaded to preserve the furnishings and keep it cool, but he reminded us that the home was intended as a summer cottage and in its day the windows would have been thrown open to the sumer breeze off the river and every room filled with flowers from the row of greenhouses just across the lawn.

And while its contents are largely intact, the gardens are only now being revived. Having only come recently to gardening I understand now that it is always the garden that is the first to go when a property loses a caring, resident owner. Architecture may take time to show wear, but it only takes a single season to destroy a garden – and in a year like 2012, punctuated by drought and torrential rain, even tended gardens can be decimated. The Park Service had an interest in preserving Sara Delano’s rose garden – FDR’s and Eleanor’s burial sites are situated next to it – but the Vanderbilt’s more elaborate tiered Italian garden with it vast greenhouses did not merit thefunds for preesrvation – the current restoration is funded by private donations, and the volunteers were hard at work when we visited. I didn’t expect it to be so romantic, with heart-shaped beds of pink petunias and so many of the trees flowers I recognize from my own garden, but then I remembered that even then they had to cultivate plants that could survive in New York rather than the warmer climes of southern Italy.

I don’t know if it is a sign of the times or my own skewed sense of history that fuels my current fascination with the early Twentieth Century. Sometimes there are too many parallels, sometimes too few. From my admittedly untrained perspective, Hyde Park reflects the convergence of the styles that dominated the previous and coming centuries. The old money, sober Dutch influenced but early American style of the Roosevelts at Springwood (their walls adorned with family portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart) looked down its nose at the Gilded Age, with the decadent, new-money European obsessed opulence of the Vanderbilts (their walls covered with tapestries of the Medici family crest) and finally followed by the more eclectic, earthy arts and crafts style adopted by Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill (very little fine art on the walls, decorated almost exclusively with photographs of people and events of their own time).

 

The house at Val-Kill itself is a harbinger of trends to come, a factory building converted into a home, and it’s dropped ceilings, galley kitchen and folding chairs are testament to the fact that not all progress is forward. Part of all of these styles endure, their longevity or re-emergence dictated by the changes in the American way of life. Just like the start of the last century, war and excess are steering us back to the small-is-beautiful after many years of bigger-is-better. Contraction and preservation in the face of uncertainty is not such a bad thing, if such appreciation brings wisdom and, with it, hope.

When your birthday and Mother’s Day are always in the same week, it messes with your head a little

Yesterday one of my sisters sent me an early birthday e-mail that said “enjoy your last year of being the only sibling under 50.” Let’s just let that one sink in for a minute on this Mother’s Day. I have a lot of siblings (think Stephen Colbert) and my life has been punctuated by the rewards and trials of being the youngest in a large family (mostly rewards). Because I am the end of the line and my mother worried a  lot about being an older parent with a young child (every time she left town she would say, “Now, if I die…”), I do measure annually  how old I was when my mother was the age I am turning this year. If I were my mother, I would have an 8 year old right now. How lovely to have a sweet little second grader right now. How exhausting. I have three children and this is the first year I do not have to attend a spring concert and I am overcome with joy.  Mom, thank you for the science fairs and Christmas concerts and Girl Scout flying up ceremonies. And I want you to know that I totally forgive you for not coming to my junior high volleyball and softball games.  Most of the time I didn’t even want to be there myself so I didn’t exactly stew about this for 30 years but really, thank you for all of the stuff you actually made it to because no parent could possibly be prepared for the purgatory that is some school events – and then multiply the times you have to sit through it it by 10. You never know when one is going to count and give you that incredible moment, though, so I will be there for every one that I can get to that’s left for me. So thanks to my siblings for breaking Mom in on some fronts and making her paranoid on others and for reminding me that being the youngest is just as much of a mixed bag as it ever was. I love you all.

Look! Here is the hill I am almost over!

Wade Zahares: Window Music

Now and then I post photographs of windows because I suppose I like what symbolize and how they gave composition to an image or structure to an otherwise unstructured world – I love the implied order of right angles.  Wade Zahares is an artist who loves windows even more than I do, I think, and he creates art that portrays windows in ways and colors in I can only dream about. And the more of his art I see the more it matches up with times and places in our lives, including this Boston area triple decker from the ’80s and his more recent coastal New England landscapes and harbors.  There is even what appears to be a midwestern plainscape – I have never felt so validated by another person’s art.

And as if that isn’t enough, he portrays trains and rolling vistas in prints and illustrations for wonderful books.  We first discovered Zahares’ art though the 1998 book, Window Music, which delighted my young children and still delights me.

And for all of the sharpness of the images and vibrance of color, he works in pastels; I love the juxtaposition of sharp angles and bold landscapes – sometimes with the turf rolled back to reveal fantastic infrastructure – with the occasionally gently smudged pastel.  It is fine art that stands up to the cacophony of the garish digital age, paying homage to some great pop art but keeping a kind of hand-forged integrity.


Zahares’ art, in its way, turns LettersHead on its own head, offering up 21st century art in a 20th century way.  He does in images what I try to do in words, and the time he has devoted to his craft has produced spectacular results.

Thank you to Wade Zahares for giving us permission to use his art in this post.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: