Monday, September 19, 2016

Death and Doom

Herman Melville:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

Joseph Mitchell:
Every now and then, seeking to rid my mind of thoughts of death and doom, I get up early and go down to Fulton Fish Market. I usually arrive around five-thirty, and take a walk through the two huge open-fronted market sheds, the Old Market and the New Market, whose fronts rest on South Street and whose backs rest on piles in the East River. At that time, a little while before the trading begins, the stands in the sheds are heaped high and spilling over with forty to sixty kinds of finfish and shellfish from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Gulf Coast, and half a dozen foreign countries. The smoky riverbank dawn, the racket the fishmongers make, the seaweedy smell, and the sight of this plentifulness always give me a feeling of well-being, and sometimes they elate me. I wander among the stands for an hour or so. Then I go into a cheerful market restaurant named Sloppy Louie's and eat a big, inexpensive, invigorating breakfast—a kippered herring and scrambled eggs, or a shad-roe omelet, or split sea scallops and bacon, or some other breakfast specialty of the place.
Up in the Old Hotel

(Images from the South Street Seaport archives.)

Saturday, September 17, 2016


These photographs were taken from one of my favorite spots on earth, a dam that holds back a local reservoir. A couple of days before, the tiny rock shown in the second photo, the surviving remnant of what was once a hill before the area was inundated, was crowded with scores of resting cormorants. Following signals known only to them, as the sun began to fall they rose in clusters of five or ten and passed close above my head, their wings beating audibly as they headed towards the setting sun. By nightfall the rock was bare.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tourist advisory

This is why you should always keep a decent set of maps in your glove compartment: you're driving along, just hoping to get home by dark, but the road is looking more and more unfamiliar, was that a rice paddy you just passed?, and all of a sudden you're hurtling down the long hallway of an apartment building, there's laundry waving on lines above your head, you hit the brakes too late to stop the car from plummeting into the coal cellar. So you climb out your car door and look up at the woman who's leaning over the railing looking down at you, hands on hips and shouting "hey, here's another one," and soon you're running, running, but it does no good, they'll catch up with you sooner or later, and what's worse, your supper is cold.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Other Nations

Henry Beston:
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
The Outermost House

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Susan Goodnight

It might be your light, it might be your front door
It might be the last time, I don't know
Something's on your mind
Something's on your mind

I stayed away 'til I knew you'd already phoned
You're not out walking, nobody's home
Something's on your mind
Something's on your mind

Come by my house, stand by the backyard gate
Somebody's early, somebody's late
Something's on your mind
Something's on your mind

Susan, goodnight
Susan, goodnight
Susan, goodnight

Is there any vocalist more improbable, and more underappreciated, than Robert Ray, professor at the University of Florida and the author of titles like A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 and How a Film Theory Got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies? Here he sings the last cut from (to date) the last Vulgar Boatmen album, Opposite Sex. At a minute and forty-one seconds the song is easy enough to overlook, leaving aside the fact that since Opposite Sex was torpedoed by its own label shortly after its release in 1995 few people are likely to have heard it all. It doesn't assert much of anything, it doesn't manipulate the listener, and in a world that does far too much of both maybe the best reaction to the song is just to listen to it and leave it at that.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hills, evening

These pictures were taken on an overcast day from a secret (but not at all remote) location during an hour's hike after work. The world still has its little surprises.

Friday, August 12, 2016


This postcard portrait of a woman who signed only her first name was addressed to one Señora Doña Leonora de Esteban in Castro Urdiales in northern Spain. There's no date or trace of a stamp or postmark; the elegantly-penned inscription reads "To demonstrate once again the love that your friend professes for you, she dedicates to you this little memento." María was clearly not only well educated but possibly (if the desk is any indication) an educator. She wears heavy, dark clothing with an elaborate embroidered motif. I imagine her as unmarried, part of a nascent class of independent female professionals, writing to a former colleague who had married and moved away, but that's basically nothing but speculation. I'm not sure if this portrait was taken in a studio or (more likely) on location, but the use of the window to open up the background is an effective touch.

Rafael A. Idelmón, a native of Madrid, opened a photographic studio in Valladolid in January 1860 and another in Palencia four years later; his descendants were reportedly still in business at least until 1927, and a living descendant named Enrique del Rivero Cuesta is active as a professional photographer, continuing a family association with the camera lasting more than a century and a half. The portrait of María is presumably from the first decades of the twentieth century, and may be the work of one of Rafael's sons or an employee of the firm. I'm not sure what the initials G.I.F.A.G. stand for, though I'm guessing that they indicate membership in a gremio or trade association.