The Journal in its Habitus

10994771_10205904845078981_1927312103_n (1)The nature of the journal is its closeness in proximity to the writer. Unlike the keyboard, whose unnatural clunk is never there when you need it, or the napkin which does not offer enough space for prose, the journal gives you space and access to write at a moments notice. In its nature of closeness to me it spends its time in my bedroom in the upper left side of the house I share with two other girls. While not being used I place it on one of my bookshelves beneath my mirror next to all the wonders and worlds it wishes to emulate. Sometimes, after writing in bed, it rests beneath my side table, an antique cigar cabinet inherited from a great uncle. It will sit there for days on occasion when I have little time for casual personal writing.

11006213_10205904843598944_866819490_nI’ll admit that I am a bit of a mess when it comes to my room. There is not usually one place that any given object is subject to stay. Currently there is a hand held vacuum next to my journal on top of my dogs’ kennel among an array of other objects that have landed in the vicinity for the moment. Becoming aware of this mess, I quickly move the journal back to the book shelf and the vacuum to the hall closet. My older border collie, Ruby, places a paw on my keyboard and drops a half chewed rope toy in my lap. They are as much a part of the habitus of my journal as any other object.  Their hair gets caught in the pages and surprises me when I’m opening its leather cover in the backs of coffee shops.

Once filled the journal will stay permanently on the shelf where the others of its kind rest. Besides these recollections are my most prized possession (besides the dogs of course), my books. They are the ones I cared to buy, gifts, and found. Each one is an old friend, or a friend I’ve yet to meet. I haven’t read all the books I own, but if I have them it’s for a reason. I remember how I came about each one and what compelled me to its pages. Some have histories that span to a time before I was born. My copies of T.S Eliot’s Collected Poems and The Shorter Poems of Robert Browning were both printed in the 1930’s. But there is no rhyme or reason to the way these books are displayed. I’ve tried to keep them orderly, but the best I’ve been able to achieve is to try and keep works by the same author in the same section. The condition of some of the soft covers reflects their use. The first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series, The Gunslinger, has been chewed thoroughly and is missing both the front and back cover. I have thirty-one Stephen King books, the entirely of the G.R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series, most of The Wheel of Time Series (there are fourteen), and of course Harry Potter.  I have four book shelves and one pile. Although I would sooner give away a book than I would my journal, they are nonetheless, very close to me. Like the journals I have, they tell a story of age and transformation through my tastes and what I’ve retained. As you can tell I went through a big fantasy phase, but I’ve never stopped loving the horror and psychological suspense that a Stephen King book offers, On Writing has recently been given away as a birthday gift to my cousin who I know will make the most of it.gunslinger

My favorite gift to give is a book; this is often most people’s least favorite to receive. In the same way that I can recall where and when I received a book, I know where, and to who they’re going to be with next. Last week I gave away my copy of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass at a baby shower where children’s books were asked to be brought in lieu of cards. It was one of my favorite books as a pre-teen and I remember the day I got it very clearly. I was reading underneath my desk one day during social studies class, like I always did, and my teacher approached me afterwards. I had a hard time connecting with teachers when I was younger, but this one in particular seemed to understand me. Instead of reprimanding, or calling my mother, he came up to me and handed me a copy of this particular novel and said, “If you like that, you’re going to love this.” It was a defining moment. Never before did an adult take an interest in my tastes or connect with me on my own level, and it was through a book. I was touched, and he was right, I did love it. When I think about why I want to be a teacher I think about this moment.

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You cannot hide from the truth, because the truth is all there is.

“I realize how much I care about how this hard-and-soft, losable object has survived. I need to find a way of unraveling its story. Owning this netsuke – inheriting them all – means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them. I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie.” – Edmund de Waal [pg. 13]

How do you rewrite a story that’s already been told? Moreover, who am I to take it upon myself to sift through these words, to explain them in any other way than they are already laid out? Everything my Nana has written is fact; these letters were (and still are) a record of her experiences, and unlike movies, books, or lectures, nothing about those experiences was omitted.IMG_3901

“The steak we had was delicious, the waiters wore frog tailed coats, carried huge silver trays, poured wine into delicate, long stemmed glasses, called me, “My lady” and it was all just like the movies or a dream. If this happened to me about ten years ago I would have thought I reached the heights of success, now I can see why everyone drinks too much and all the women are rank conscious (most of the men are too.)” [Sept. 1, 1946]

What then can I, having not even been alive for WWII and the American Occupation, offer to this incredible perspective? I know that these letters have been passed over as my responsibility for a purpose, but my biggest difficulty in confronting them has been deciding what I must do to honor that obligation.

“Marilyn cut her hair and made an awful mess of it. I had to take her to the barber yesterday. She had to have bangs and have it all cut very short. Red [my great-grandfather] hates it, he says she looks like one of the displaced persons or D.P.’s as they are known here. That is no compliment… They go where they please and try to dress like we do but somehow you can always spot them. Many of the D.P.’s coming in now are Jews. We can’t thrust our way of life upon these people because they are still shiftless and dirty. All they look for is a place to sleep, simple food, plenty to drink and lots of love life. Red says there are hundreds of babies born in the camps each week, many of them black. These nigger soldiers can be seen with nice looking German girls all the time.” [Sept. 1]

Initially I thought I would be able to simply cut and paste the pieces of my great-grandmothers story that seemed the most interesting; I was planning on whittling it down to the most historically poignant of comments and then doing research into specific places and people that she mentioned. I figured if nothing else, I could tell an interesting story about the American liberation of Germany and pull upon my family’s experience as textual support; I thought it would be simple, black and white, just like her cursive script against the page. How completely ignorant I was.IMG_3898

“Father O’Connor is having a hard time just now. All the defendants in the war trials are allowed to have their families visit them for the last time this week. He has all these wives crying on his shoulder after they see their husbands. It’s a comfort to those condemned men to have such a fine man as Father to console them. The wives are brave when they see their husbands but break down later and of course Father does what he can to comfort them. I guess his biggest worry just now is, that he will have to go with them to the gallows. Red is having it pretty tough just now too. He has been given the job of protecting each one of the participants in those trials so that they will not be harmed in any way. Not only that, he must see to it that the press does not get ahold of the verdict before the officials say so. If he wanted to, he could make some beautiful money on that alone. Last but far from least, he has under his personal supervision some of the notorious Nazi prisoners who would like very much to commit suicide just now. He also has been given the honor of providing Gen. Eisenhower with a Guard of Honor while he is here in Nuremberg next week. Last week one woman tried to get poison capsules to one of the prisoners. She had the palm of her hand hollowed out so the pellets were placed under the skin. All this is not common gossip but probably will be after the verdict is announced. We certainly live in a hot spot just now. The newspapers would love a story like that but don’t dare give it to them or I’ll lose my neck in a hurry.” [Sept. 21]

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Karl Brandt (standing, middle) was one of 23 defendants in the first trial at Nuremberg (aptly nicknamed the Doctors’ Trial because 20/23 defendants were medical doctors being accused of Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia).The indictment was filed on October 25, 1946; the trial lasted from December 9 that year until August 20, 1947. Of the 23 defendants, seven were acquitted and seven received death sentences; the remainder received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment. Keeping Karl Brandt and the other 22 defendants alive for the duration of the trial was my great-grandfather’s direct responsibility.

With every day I spent poring over this stack of letters, it became more and more difficult to figure out what I could leave on the page, and what I could take for the blog, for my new story. It felt wrong, to separate even one of her sentences from the one before it, as if I were taking her thoughts and ripping them into awkward, incoherent pieces. What I was unraveling here was an overwhelming number of truths that I was not prepared for; the truth that the luxurious lives of U.S. Army Generals bore an eerie resemblance to those of the Nazi’s before their demise, the truth that racism was alive and well even at the center of a culture claiming to liberate Europe from the dangers of prejudice, and the truth that my great grandparents were participants at this pivotal moment in history. I felt as if I had discovered a twisted treasure, a manila envelope full of tainted gold; these words were so abrasive and so honest that to share them would be dangerous…but at the same time they were so important that to hide them seemed implausible.

After days of simmering in self-loathing, pacing my apartment and weighing the morality of each option (do I hide her truth or do I expose it?), I decided I needed to share my Nana’s letters, blaming my duty of inheritance.

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The Palace of Justice (“Justizpalast”), Nuremberg, 2012

I called my mom and we discussed a publication. I was immediately shut down. “There are family legalities that you just cannot mess with, Cait. It’s not ours to publish.” Hearing that was discouraging, I will admit. After days of committing to this idea, I was back at the beginning. I still do not know how I will tell my great-grandmother’s story appropriately. I’m unfortunately not satisfied with summarizing it in a few blog posts, and I am certainly not satisfied with my mother’s reaction, but I honestly don’t know what comes next. 

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The Palace of Justice, Nuremberg, 1946. This is where the Nuremberg Trials were carried out and where Red spent most of his time with the prisoners. 

“I don’t expect Red home at all for a few days. This city is closed up tight as a drum. No one gets in or out. We can’t drive or walk within blocks of the Palace of Justice. Whenever we leave the house we have to be sure we have our A.G.O. cards with us. It has our picture, finger prints and name on it and we can’t offer any excuse if we are stopped and do not have it. The verdicts have been announced at last. Until these Nazi’s are sentenced and sent to wherever they are going, this city will be a hot seat. The mystery and intrigue seems to hang over this area like a heavy cloud. Remember how we felt when we were kids and some notorious criminal or lunatic escaped from Auburn or Willard? That’s how I feel now only Ma isn’t around to cuddle me when I get scared. We wives have been staying together nights. We play pinochle until midnight so the night won’t seem so long. This would be an ideal time for another robbery. These Germans know our men are busy and the M.P.’s are all working in the city or on the road blocks. Its exciting to be living where history is being made and even though I sound scared, I wouldn’t miss all this excitement for all of the security back home.[Oct. 1]

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“Remember how we felt when we were kids…I wouldn’t miss all this excitement for all the security back home.”

For now I will immerse myself in the process, get to know my ancestors more deeply, and perhaps even discover my own truth along the way.

A Humble Home for Objects of Sterling Worth

I’m switching gears for this weeks blog post as I was hesitant to get super meta about the habitus of the ring I’ve been writing about that always lives on my hand and how I am its habitus or something along those lines. It could be an interesting way to approach the topic but I think it’s best for all of us to examine something a bit more tangible.

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The Towle Sterling Silver Full-Service Set. You can see that it’s a bit worse for wear as it’s been in the family for over 60 years!

Instead I’m choosing to focus on a sterling silverware set that is often tucked away in my family home’s red dining room. This is a “full service” set that contains utensils (forks, knives, and spoons) for 12 people as well as serving utensils, such as large spoons for dishes, a meat fork and knife, and a small ladle for sauces and gravies, among other things that somehow get used though I never really know what they’re used for until they’re in use! I didn’t realize how special this silverware set was until I started doing some research on the company, Towle Sterling and saw the prices for a set such as this one. Towle Silversmith was founded in 1690 in Massachusetts and has since expanded to become “the proud guardians of America’s silver heritage”, according to their About Us section online.

On the website you can browse sets by their style of the hand for the silverware and I selected the one that looks the most similar to the style we own and found out that a 12 piece, full service set costs over $11,000! I was absolutely floored. Now, I have no idea how much our set would be worth now and I had a tough time figuring out the price of sterling silverware like this from 1952. That was the year my grandmother (who gave me the claddagh ring on my 13th birthday), got married to my late grandfather, William Rooney. Colleen Ryan, or Nan as my sisters and I call her, was gifted the set of sterling silver as a very generous wedding gift, possibly from my great aunt Greta who my dad tells me was very wealthy at the time. Nan passed this down to my mother and father when they got married in 1984 and it’s been a part of my immediate family since.

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The China Cabinet, truly filled to the brim!

I’m not sure if the sterling silver set is the reason why we somehow got the role of Christmas dinner hosts over the years but it certainly helps that we have all that fancy utensils! The brown wooden box that houses all the individual pieces only comes out of hiding three times a year. It travels with us to my uncle Paul’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and is used in our own home for Christmas and Easter. These holidays apparently call for the good stuff, so out comes the sterling silver along with the china and the crystal glassware. Objects such as these are a part of a tradition–the occasions that they resurface for seem to require their usage or else would it really be Christmas dinner without the sterling silver?

I realize I’ve rambled on a bit about the items and not about their place in a habitus. But that’s what struck me about this sterling silver set. That I almost always forget about the chest that contains the shiny objects until they are called upon when a year has gone by and its time for them to fulfill their dutiful service. It’s a bit sad really–the chest gets filled with the silverware once its been cleaned and polished after use and is closed up and put under our large china cabinet that rests in our dining room. The china cabinet itself is an antique that houses both expensive, delicate items as well as little knickknacks and unique objects my sisters and I have made over the years. The chest doesn’t even have a place within the cherished china cabinet as it doesn’t fit amongst all the other objects that have already been placed within.

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Family and friends at Christmas Dinner, 2015

Under that cabinet that is nearly filled to the brim is the silverware chest that remains their inconspicuous, nearly hidden from sight. I find its existence is our dining room quite humble when I think about it now. Something worth so much and cherished so much lives such a modest life 362 days of the year. It’s nice though, that it’s used for such joyous occasions, when everyone is around the table, eating and drinking and engaging in mirth and merriment. But that too comes to an end and we resume our everyday lives and the wooden chest filled with the sterling silverware is placed gently on the floor and slid under the cabinet, where it quietly rests, destined for a fine layer of dusts until it is to be retrieved again and revealed in all its glory.

Examining the Nest

The meticulous mind of an artist, arranges a space unlike any I have ever seen. The inhabitant of this unique, nest like environment is one of my closet friends Alexa. Had I not known her and I walked into her room, I would be wildly confused. Seemingly none of the objects make sense together. There are twinkly lights hanging from branches, that rest alongside tiny Swedish flags and pumpkin lights. Along the walls are dark paintings with obscure subject matter, children of my friend’s vastly creative mind. The room is warmly lit, candles of every color line the book shelves and the distressed armoire. Perhaps one of the more striking ornaments to this living space are the mannequin limbs that hang from the wall and sit on her otherwise pristine and organized bookshelf.The bookshelf itself is full of wicker baskets that house everything from camera film to toiletries. There are book stacks of Renaissance Art and Swedish Folktales. And a record player sits on top. As the Talking Heads vinyl spins slowly, bobbing up and down ever so delicately.  The words “The world was moving and she was right there with it” hauntingly linger in the air as I sat watching this room I have spent so much time in.

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What may sound like an erratic display of Halloween paraphernalia actually functions as a work space, befitting of a creative and scholarly mind. And amongst the knick-knacks and tree branches is a large bed, that sits like a cloud in the near center of the room. It’s a place friends have congregated to discuss our rather mundane grievances during our college life. A sort of refuge for us all as we’ve filtered in and out of our friend’s home. As the bed is the most normal looking thing in the room it was a good place to sit and take it all in. And as I looked around I realized, everything in here has a purpose. The tiny bats and pumpkin lights that hang from every corner of the room, serve as a reminder of Alexa’s love for the whimsical and perhaps the spooky. The small Swedish flags and wicker witches that hail from the same country are telling of her heritage, and the love she has for those family members that come from Sweden. As far as the rather psychotic sounding mannequins that live in her room, her grandfather does sculptures from these very items. It’s safe to say my friend lives among these items, not the other way around. She explained that although these things seem like they have no use, they do for her. They are all, in some small way a part of her which she projects into her living space. There is a certain darkness to the room, it’s true. But there are points of the romantic throughout. Lace curtains, nostalgic photos and large earrings hanging from a heart shaped holder also live here. It’s a kind of representation of the many sides of Alexa, The seemingly rough exterior houses a more delicate side. Perhaps I can only take this away from the room because I know her well. As I said, the room as a whole, may be confusing if you don’t know her. It’s just fascinating how much a living space can say about a person.

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The Shift to the Vernacular: From Church to Home, a comment on the French Missal

For this week, I chose to focus my research on my objects and ‘habitus’ by researching the greater history of missals in France. Since I don’t have the privilege of visiting my great grandmother’s apartment to view the habitus of her French Missal, nor do I have access to photos of her apartment, I can only imagine where she kept the missal. Most likely, she kept the book in a very special place. I imagine the leather-bound book resting in the living room, atop a table. Easy to get to but not in harms way. I also imagine the Missal by her bedside. Maybe she enjoyed reading prayers before bed. The Missal must have provided some level of comfort  and security to her for she lived in the apartment alone in her later years. Alas, that is just speculation.  So, I’ve decided to research in what is factual and known about the greater history of liturgy moving from Church to home.

The Council of Trent (1543-1563)

The fact that my great-grandmother held this Catholic Missal in her home, did not strike me at all. Until, Professor Mulready pointed out that this symbolized quite a phenomenon in Catholicism. Professor Mulready suggested a text that provided of great assistance with my research, “The History of the Vernacular and the Role of Translation” by Keith Pecklers and Gilbert Osdeik. Prior to the rise of the vernacular and translation, missals strictly only included Latin texts. Mass was said in Latin, for it was seen as the pure and old language of the Romans. The Church viewed mass and the text of mass to be a hierarchal and unchanging fact. There had been several attempts throughout history to shift mass to the vernacular and promote translation. At the Council of Trent in 1545, bishops split over the proposition to translate missals into the vernacular. Surprisingly, a majority of bishops accepted the translation of the liturgy into the vernacular but the proposal ultimately was shot down. The extremely important council of Trent concluded that “out of pastoral concern for the faithful, it was not the proper moment to shift from Latin to the vernacular; more time for catechis would be needed.” The liturgy and the Mass was viewed by the Church in a hierarchical order. The word of Jesus could not be translated–that was sacrilegious. Change, no change.

 

Fast Forward to 1937, where my great-grandmother was living in a suburb of Paris in Gagny. To view the world my great-grandmother grew up in, view the video about which features footage from the turn of the 19th century. My father sent me this video the other day as a resource because he knows I’m doing this project on the French missal. For my great-grandmother to own a missal truly represented a major shift in the Church’s view of the liturgy. Caught in a world on the eve of a second World War, and a complex and changing society, the word of the Lord was translated into French. The liturgy moved from closed off and intangible, to a very fluid and open text. The significance of my great-grandmother’s missal involves the fact that the majority of the text is in French. A major shift is happening here in 1937: faith and religion for Roman Catholics was becoming personal, in a tangible and physical way. The greater context of the missal, being incorporated into everyday life and easily accessible by the greater public is momentous.

The 1937 World Exposition in Paris. The increasingly international city my great-grandmother lived in.

The missal, in it’s small dimensions, was widely available at this time. It could be brought around and easily fit in a pocketbook. Rather than having one habitus, to borrow from Miller, the book was constantly on the move. The habitus of the missal was vast and endless. The novelty of the French missal in 1937 reflects the international shift and increasingly world view of Paris at the time. Housing a major international arts exposition in 1937, Paris was continuing to be a city of arts and culture. The popularization of the missal reflects the modern city where no longer could bishops in antiquated dress dictate faith for those city dwellers. For my great-grandmother, the missal did not sit in her apartment but rather accompanied her to mass and into the city. Fitting perfectly into her hands, the book was picked up, touched, and used for song and prayer. For my great-grandmother, a woman who valued her faith so strongly, the missal must have provided great expression. The increased availability of the French missal is something that is hugely important for process and intimacy of faith. I’m humbled to know that such a small object provided my great-grandmother with such inspiration and strength.

 

The Books’ Niche on the Shelf

I am continuing to investigate the four little Shakespeare plays I have for this post. They currently rest on the second shelf of my bookcase (the middle shelf) in the front. I specify “in the front” because I have acquired too many books for the sanity of my tiny yard-long, foot deep, and yard-high bookcase. I have begun “second” rows in front of the first rows on both the bottom and middle shelves. It is on this middle shelf, in the front, towards the right hand side of the shelf that my plays rest.

Their placement is quite important. They are nestled in among the rest of my Shakespeare plays, and my small collection of “the classics.” Namely, between T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and The Tempest (a Norton edition). Ironically, I did not place this eloquent collection with my complete collection of Shakespeare’s plays – the Norton Shakespeare – which is similarly bound in red cloth and also has the thinnest paper imaginable. Instead, it is placed with the other individual editions of plays, most of which are used Signet editions – how fitting considering I originally purchased the collection in a used section of a bookstore as well. The other end of my Shakespeare collection is marked by a playbill of Othello – the play I saw on opening night of The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival this past summer (it was June 28, a Saturday night). That is the only other *important* piece of writing on that shelf.

This spot on the bookcase does hold some value, however. The books that I place in my created front row are ones that I am either currently working on, or I wish to see as a reminder to read them. For instance, Daniel Deronda and The Grimm Fairytales are a few books down on the same shelf, also in the front row. I haven’t reached past page 24 of the first, and have only glanced at stories of the latter. Quite honestly, I am not all that intrigued by Daniel Deronda, but I would like to return to it someday, and so, I must remind myself that I have it.

The top shelf of my bookcase only has one row of books, mostly hardcovers, and all ranking top on my list of novels. The entire Harry Potter series takes up about half of the shelf. I chose this because the weight of the hardcovers is heavy enough to steady the overused lower shelves without causing the shelves to become top heavy and tip forward. You see, I am cautious about this for fear of my books becoming damaged in the case that they should topple forwards.

I believe that the placement of the books reveals a bit of my personality, but mainly my reading interests – I like the classics and I like used books. It makes the classics seem a little bit more realistic in my mind as the older editions help to bridge the gap between the time the books were written and the year in which I am reading them. It almost tells me that the books have lived.

Another aspect of where the books rest has to do with where the bookcase is. It sits in the corner of my bedroom, between the two outer walls, is at the foot of my bed, and is nestled between two windows. I call this my reading corner because the natural light is always best here. The windows face south and east, so morning light is ideal. And I actually considered this when rearranging my furniture a few months back. My bookcase used to sit next to the door of my bedroom, which wasn’t very inviting.

I am partial to morning light – sunrises are beautiful, and the light is much stronger than afternoon rays to me. Allowing the sun to shed light on my books keeps me looking at them, my eyes follow the sun’s rays.

I also chose this corner of my room because of the height of the bookcase. As a mentioned, the bookcase is about three feet high. I have painted my walls, and the wall that sits behind the bookcase is painted sky blue with brown tree branches that only have a few leaves on them. Also on the branches are funky owls that I hand-painted in a modernist interpretation of Athena’s symbol (the owl). The lowest branch is three feet high, and I didn’t want to block the branch from my view, so I placed the bookcase in front which sits perfectly below the branch. It has become a bit of an ode to her, being that she was the goddess of wisdom, it’s fitting that books should rest below her.

The entire corner that houses the Shakespearean play collection is evidence of my interest in literature, especially the classics. From my ode to Greek gods (I have another tribute to Neptune on another one of m walls) to my unread copies of classic works that are begging for my return, I have undoubtedly created a challenge for myself – to expand my knowledge. This is quite telling as I love challenging myself with books I hope to eventually read, or with learning new painting techniques and interpretative skills, or simply with engineering my arrangement of books to obey the laws of physics.

I think that most of all, this corner reveals that I like to give things a purpose – my walls are for self-expression, for remembrance; my books are for enjoyment, yes but also to repurpose (since a great deal of them are used), by bookcase is being pushed to its limits rather than me just throwing it out for a larger one or adding one to my room. Perhaps it’s evidence of my ability to adapt – making the bookcase work for me, or adopting someone else’s books into my own hands and having them adapt to a new life, or making my walls personal and making the room m own (my brother and I switched bedrooms a few years back). The placement of the Shakespearean plays is one of my own – they aren’t given special privileges over the other books – they are still housed on the same bookcase, with the other editions of used Shakespeare plays. They are being used as partly as a book should be, but partly as this particular edition was intended – for collection. I recognize their nature as gifty, but have made them part of my own collection.

Vassar Hospital Room 436

Considering how much I have been in and out of Vassar Hospital this past weekend, I’ve decided to use that as an inspiration for this week’s blog post. My grandmother entered the hospital early last week, which was enough time for her to make the space her own. Her hospital room consisted of a single bed, two chairs and a bathroom. Over the course of a few days, my grandmother managed to make it her own.

She had the comfiest chair in between her bed and the windows, so that she could look out at the view of the Hudson River. That chair, although already lined with cushions to make it as comfortable as possible, was then covered with various blankets that she would use to drape over herself for warmth.

For most of her visit, the food tray was in front of that one chair by the window. It held all of the necessities like a tissue box, a water pitcher, and sanitary wipes. However, it had also accumulated various items that she determined necessary for life. This included Hershey’s chocolate bars, sugar packets (hidden of course), and Mallomars. The essentials were always hidden in the various drawers of this tray table. Although this table was mostly stationed in front of her window seat, it traveled over the bed for the occasional breakfast.

Now, the bed was definitely her personal space by the end of her hospital stay. At the foot of her bed we tied extra slipper socks around the bed handles to make sure that she always had a pair available. At the head of the bed, which only ever had one pillow, there was also a lengthy scarf that I gave her for her birthday last month. When I went to visit her on Valentines Day she was wearing it around her neck and although she did look a little ridiculous draped in this long red, white and green scarf, it brought color into the otherwise white hospital room. When she the scarf is not keeping her warm, it remains at the top of her bed with that single pillow and somehow manages to brighten up the horribly drab room. On top of both the scarf and the pillow rests a tiny plush puppy that she recently received as a gift for Valentines Day. The small dog barely left her pillow in the day or so since she got him except to follow her to chair this morning. Regardless of its placement in the room, it also seemed to lighten the air in the room.

This morning when we packed all of these individual items into a plastic hospital bag they lost some of their importance. Then the room became just another messy, unoccupied room on the fourth floor of the hospital. While her stay may have been short, thankfully, my grandmother made the small space they gave her into her own personal living area. Now that room is just another blank slate, waiting for someone else’s relative to lie in the bed and move in their important belongings.

I hope that once this week is over I will not have to step foot in Vassar for a fairly long time. However, if another one of my family members goes in, I have already compiled a list of the essential items they will need with them during their stay in the hospital.

Passatini Press

The passatini press currently lives in the kitchen cabinets of my mother’s home on Long Island. Other cooking tools surround it within her white cabinets. Now, it is used in her kitchen on Sundays to make soup for my grandfather who misses my grandmother’s cooking more than anyone. For years, a passatini press was used in my grandmother’s kitchen to make traditional Sammarinese meals. In San Marino, I realized how the passatini press had made its way through not only two generations of my own family but through generations of so many other Sammarinese homes.

While in San Marino, I went on a couple of hikes. On our last hike, our coordinator, Leopoldo, took us to see the old water mills that had run down and we ended our hike with a tour of the Museum of Agriculture. The museum was established in what is assumed the oldest house in San Marino dating back to 1770. The house had been restored to display the way of life from the past. The museum contains hundreds of ancient items that relate to agricultural life and work such as copper pots, flat irons, looms, and so much more.

The museum preserves these items that relate to the Sammarinese customs and traditions of rural life in the past. When walking through the museum, I remember seeing certain items in the historical kitchen that looked familiar. I saw an old cheese grater similar to the one in my grandmother’s cabinets. On the mantle of the museum, it was placed with others of varying sizes with wooden drawers to catch the cheese and a handle that turned the grater on the cheese. On the opposite wall of the mantle, I also saw an assortment of passatini presses hanging. They looked a little different from the one I have today because it was more of a flat iron sheet with holes and handles on the side. It was explained to us that all of these kitchen tools had been used in Sammarinese households for centuries to make the traditional Sammarinese meals.

I really enjoyed this museum because it showed us the way that our grandparents lived and generations before them. The press has lived in the homes of Sammarinese for centuries. In their kitchens, it waits amongst other cooking tools to bring the flavors and textures of a home cooked meal to a family just as mine does. Without certain kitchen tools, cooking these traditional Sammarinese meals would be impossible. While I know my press is only one of many,  the museum made me realize that the passatini press has been a staple in the kitchens of Sammarinese homes for generations and will keeping being in them through the efforts of the new generation.

Where the jersey sleeps…

When i’m at home for the summer, I typically take all of my sweaters, jackets, jeans, pants, robes, etc. out of my closet here at school and stow them away in my weird attic closet at home because for the past couple of years I’ve always had a lease that was up or I couldn’t stay in the dorms because I was transferring schools. But for the first time ever, I now have a place where all of my outerwear and other accouterments can hang and sleep forever. Or at least until my lease is up here at this apartment too.

Right now, the double-doored sliding closet that’s to my left is seven feet tall on the outside and about nine or so on the inside and each of the doors are offset from each other so they can easily slide back and forth. Inside the closet are like I said, a good portion of my jackets, sweaters, robes and whatever else I happen to have brought up to New Paltz. Being that I wear alot of sweaters, I’ve had to leave some at home so my closet is currently a little lean but from where I’m sitting right now, the left door is open and everything seems to be perfectly in place; my jeans and pants are all hung accordingly in how often I wear them, then there are a few unused plastic hangers, then of course my red wings jersey, next to that is an incredibly itchy sweater that I got from a roommate, and as far as I can see right now, my “dad” robe is clinging to the wool sweater. Below those things are my laundry basket which I’ve had since the beginning of college and next to that are my current pair of jeans that I’ve been wearing for the past few days.

In the closet there are two shelves, the one closest to the hanging stuff has my laptop case, a pair of relatively unused track pants, and my also relatively unused winter hat laid on it. Above that is a shelf with some shoe boxes which I should really get rid of at this point and a terribly uncomfortable “summer” backpack that my current roommate convinced me to buy. As of writing this, all these sit comfortably in their respective places and “sleep” until I decided to wear them or pick them up. As a kid, I always personified objects in this way and for whatever reason, I never really questioned it. I never really named any of my possessions and oddly enough I always thought it was weird when people did. As I got older, I always was worried that things like that; the personification of objects I mean, was a sign of some weird neurological disorder but apparently it’s a relatively normal phenomenon.

Besides all this, I like to imagine that all these objects in my closet are just like I described, sleeping until I choose to pick them up or use them. In some bizarre way, it encourages me to wear everything I have here with me and never neglect what’s all but three feet away from me.

Sargent Joseph M. Chodrow

I have a new object. It’s an old smelling, maroon, hardcover book with faux leather patterning titled Poems on Evening and Night. It’s small, about an inch shorter than your standard Moleskine. Upon opening the cover, on the first page inside, written elegantly is “Sgt. Joseph M. Chodrow / Tokyo, Japan / 14 November 1945.” The inside pages are annotated in pencil, not with personal notes, but with definitions of words copied from the glossarial notes in the back of the book. These same words have been checked off in glossarial section, definition read and learning accomplished. Also in the back of the book is a page in Japanese, the only one in fact, which i suspect is a copyright page since there is none in the front. On this page a price of ¥3-00 has been crossed out with black ink, which bled onto the page before when the book was closed before it had a chance to dry. Opening the back cover, on the last page, is “Tokyo” in both Japanese and English, along with the date 1945 in both Arabic and Sino-Japanese numerals. Finally, on the back cover, is The Hokuseido Press logo.

My roommate bought the book in Boston after she saw the inscription. When I told her I needed a new object, I thought it was funny that she gave me this one, since both Febergé eggs (the subject of my last post) and WWII Soldiers in Japan were mentioned in DeWaal’s book. I had a hard time finding information on this book and it’s owner. At first I assumed Joseph was an American, but as we were looking through the poems we noticed the authors were mostly English, so we tried looking at U.K. data bases too. The U.K. sites turned up even less information than the American ones, so I believe that he was in fact American. Here is a possible profile of Joseph based on my research:

  • Name: Joseph M. Chodrow
  • SSN: 106-12-0340
  • Last Residence: 8816 Saturn Street. Los Angeles, CA 90035-3320
  • Born: 15 Dec 1920
  • Died: 20 Apr 2003
  • Bank: First Republic Bank (He filed a claim for $136.80 from lost interest checks)
  • Phone: (310) 277-6606

His wife (most likely) was:

  • Ruth Rebecca Chodrow
  • Born: 1 Apr 1923
  • Died: 30 Apr 2009

And that’s about it. I tried calling the number and all I got was weird tones. The publisher and author are also shrouded in mystery. According to imcbook.net The Hokuseido Press, “established in 1914, is one of Japan’s oldest publishers of English books” which today focuses on textbooks to help Japanese students learn English. The height of their publishing occurred during the late 1930s to the late 1980s. The author, or compiler, does not give a first name, and signs only Y. Otagiri or Y.O. The prefatory note to Poems on Evening and Night states that the book had it’s origin in the lectures delivered on the same subject at Hōsei University, Tokyo, during the third term January-March 1926. Otagiri intended it as a study guide of texts to be finished in one or two terms.

In terms of changing use, instead of ending up in the hands of a Japanese student, this book lands in the ownership of an American soldier. Possibly, like Iggie, Joseph was deployed in Japan, and unable to read Japanese, he finds (and can pay for) the available books in English. As we read, wartime inflation hit the Yen hard from 1941 to 1949, and the internet tells me no true exchange rate existed. Then, in 1949, the U.S. gov. fixed ¥360 to equal $1. Using the 1949 rate, ¥300 is equal to 83 cents, which with inflation rates is equal to $8.31. Not bad for someone who is well off, but maybe too expensive for the Japanese who were selling off their precious belongings just to survive. Or maybe the Japanese didn’t need so many books to learn English anymore with the influx of English speaking soldiers during this time period. Either way the book seemed to fulfill it’s purpose. Otagiri wanted people to learn from his book, and I think Joseph’s notes show his wish came true. I may not be learning about William Blake, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, or John Keats (who was possibly Joseph’s favorite), but I sure am learning something.