Friday, March 30, 2012

Saint James the Great

Yes, the same Saint James whose pilgrims still trek to Santiago de Compostela:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Frontier Heights in Fremont, Michigan 1962-63

WmJ and his siblings spent their formative years growing up in a home on Iroquois Street in "Frontier Heights," then a brand-new subdivision on the edge of Fremont, Michigan. Aside from their historical value, what makes these photos truly special is that we are not only seeing Fremont nearly 50 years later but seeing it through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. After nearly a half-century of life's ups and downs, WmJ held on to these moments of innocence, the carefree life of the child.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The French Tarte gets her equipment

This past Friday Dick and Dorothy met up with Susie, AKA the French tarte, to keep her company while her equipment was moved in.

Memorial Day 1965 in Fremont, Michigan

Fremont Christian Junior High School marching band with WmJ as the Drum Major.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

William J. VandenBerg 1950-2012

Two weeks ago tomorrow my brother-in-law, William Jay VandenBerg slipped quietly out of this world and into the next. He passed away in his own home, surrounded by loving family. Fondly known as WmJ, he was tenderly cared for during his final days by his mother, two sisters and a genuine friend. Having to watch a loved go through the final hours of death was painful in the extreme but such loving care helped make his  passing, a journey as inevitable as the sun setting that evening, so much less painful for him, so much easier to bear.

My first recollection of WmJ goes back to 1982 in the basement of the VandenBerg home on Iroquois Street in Fremont, Michigan. He had a quiet strength about him and said few words as he went about the business of cleaning my proverbial clock at pool.

Over the years I saw little of him after we left Michigan, nearly 20 years ago now. But he was almost always at his mother's house for dinner whenever we would come back to Grand Rapids. We would usually chat about motorcycles -- I had a Honda Shadow 1100 that I loved but not with the same level of attachment that William developed for his Excelsior-Henderson bikes.

It's probably safe to say that I really know very little about the man. I certainly don't possess the insight into his character as some of his IT co-workers at Spectrum Health , where he was a programming legend for over two decades, or his motorcycle friends, who knew him as rock-solid, and as a reliable and dependable a friend as there ever was.

The one thing I did know, because I could see it in his face every time we came back to Michigan: he loved his mother truly and deeply. He was a wonderful son and, in his own inimitable, quiet way, he was a good brother.

At his memorial service at Zaagman's Funeral Home it was standing room only, as family and friends came to learn so much more about WmJ that afternoon.

Over the next few days I hope to post a series of photographs, taken at random from his own personal collection. I'd like to start out with one of my favorites: it was taken during the Memorial Day parade, 1965, in Fremont Michigan and WmJ is the Drum Major for the Fremont Christian Junior High School Band. You can see him leading right out front and center, a man set apart but with his eyes on where he's going. I look at that young man and can just feel that he knows he's responsible for those following behind. And so we are.

His suffering is over. I can only hope he is at peace now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Strange Tale of My Discovering Harrison W. Bennett

It seemed like such a small thing, so trivial and unimportant, and yet that's not how I see what happened to me recently. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, at least not that I can recall and I wonder if such "connections" don't in fact occur more frequently, that we don't really see the small details that swirl and engulf our lives.

Here's the tale.

I've been spelunking around cemeteries in the United States and Europe for some years now. It started with a casually obsessive need to learn more about the lives of a particular group of civil war veterans in western Michigan and over the years the obsession grew, evolving, and I eventually found myself documenting some of the most exquisite funerary sculpture in Florence, Italy and then Paris, France -- in cemeteries ranging from the quiet and neglected rural burial grounds of the Midwest to the gardens of stone in France and Italy.

So, at a little before noon on February 26, 2012, I found myself in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts, wandering around section 4 looking for one Edwin W. Allen, formerly of Company D, 3rd Michigan Infantry. Now it so happens I know a fair amount about this man, and what's important for this story is that I knew he died on May 27, 1924, at the National Military Home in Togus, Maine, just outside of Augusta. I also had pretty good reason to believe his body was returned to the "family" home in Goffstown, New Hampshire where it was interred in Westlawn Cemetery. I just hadn't been able to confirm this last detail. However, it recently came to my attention that the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War graves registration project had listed him buried in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, an easy drive from Providence.

So here I was braving the cold wind but appreciative of the strong sun as I searched high and low for Edwin. It was while I was searching section 4, in one of the older parts of the cemetery that I came across a headstone that immediately caught my attention, Harrison W. Bennett.

Having spent several months tromping around Paris Cemeteries snapping off thousands of photos I was naturally intrigued by the little note on Harrison's stone, but after shooting a handful of images I moved on to the task at hand. I should say that after about 20 minutes or so in section 4 I reviewed my information on where Edwin was buried and concluded that I had misread the location -- I really wanted section 23 and so off I went.

So I found an Edwin W. Allen indeed, in section 23 but as it turned out it was NOT the man I was seeking.

But it was a lovely day to be in a cemetery and as I pointed the gray ghost toward Rhode Island I felt the trip was certainly worthwhile. And so it was.

Once I got home I put the camera aside and it wasn't until the next day when I uploaded the images to my desktop and starting my reviewing and tagging process (I had taken a number of sculptures in Hope Cemetery that day as well) that something very curious indeed began to dawn on my feeble mind. Re-reading the Bennett headstone now on my monitor I was struck at once -- at last! -- by the singular realization that I knew this name! I quickly opened up my image archive drive and the closer I got to my folders of images from Paris cemeteries the more I realized I knew who this person was, or rather where he was buried in Paris.

Sure enough as I navigated to my collection of images I focused on Passy Cemetery in the 16th arrondissement, and there was Harrison W. Bennett, buried along with Prince and Princess David Tzouloukidze and Charles and Harriette Mattan. I had snapped the photos and moved on.

I'm not sure why I took the photo in the first place -- none of the names were familiar to me nor were any of them obviously famous like Manet or Debussy or Pearl White, also buried in Passy Cemetery. I hadn't come across any of these names in my Paris cemetery guides. There was no intriguing sculpture or unique stone marking the grave. But the collection of individuals buried together seemed somehow inriguing, and, I suppose the beautiful stone architecture and flowers at the grave caught my eye. Maybe I took the photo because I knew I was going to be in Hope Cemetery someday. Who knows?

Whatever brought me to that same man in those two very different places, thousands of miles apart yet inextricably connected somehow and someway, whatever led me to those places allowed me to experience something truly amazing; a connection that is, to me anyway, utterly incomprehensible but utterly fascinating.

Whether Harrison W. Bennett is the same Harrison W. Bennett who was a well-known opera singer in the late 19th century, I don't know, but I like to think so.

And the other names on the tombstone? Well,  curiously enough the princess, that is Emma Dunbar was, as I understand it, Harrison's wife; she remarried after his death. "Harriette" was Emma's daughter.

So many stories untold tightly packed into those stones.

Three of our favorite eateries in Providence

For a week or so in early March we hit three of our favorite eateries here in Rubetown: Ama's on Luongo Square near home, Duck and Bunny on Wickenden Street in the Fox Point area and Broadway Bistro on, you got it, Broadway at the corner of Pallas Street.

Ama's is small and intimate, what one reviewer on Chowhound styled as a "jewel of a place," right across from one the city's more popular watering holes: The Avery. Run by Mike Sears, one of the most underrated restauranteurs in Providence ("Lili Marlene" to "Loie Fuller" to "Ama" and coming soon an honest-to-God diner one block from our home), with some of the best tasting and best priced food in the city, this was our umpteenth visit to Ama's and, as always, a pleasure.

Three of us started out with a new app, lightly fried edamame pods with a scrumptious dipping sauce. While I love the succulent peas themselves, edamame pods have never been one of my favorite foods, I usually find them tough and barely edible. But these were tender, tasty and cooked to perfection. We also ordered our standard app, the house green beans.

As usual, Susie and Andrea each had the Bento boxes while I went for the fish and chips. A bottle of sparkling accompanied us throughout.

After a long Friday at work for one and an even longer day at home for another we were feeling an urge for a taste of crepes in a cozy setting. And crepes here in Greater Gritworld pretty much meant Duck and Bunny. Billed as a "snuggery," Susie and I had recently gone there for the first time for Valentine's Day dinner and were eager to return and try their regular menu on for size. We weren't disappointed.

For an aperitif, we each had the "mojitoph," a delicious concoction of fresh mint, sugar, lime juice with a splash of fruit puree, topped with champagne. The salads are fresh, flavorful and huge -- Susie and Andrea split one as an app leaving enough to take home. The crepes were equally substantial and equally delicious. Susie had the "Distinguished Lincoln" crepe, ham & Gruyere with caramel mustard; Andrea had one of her favorites, the Mazzy Star, with Portobello, Fontina with rosemary and truffle oil. I had "Creperito", stuffed with brown rice, black beans, cheddar, onions, spinach, and house made salsa and guacamole with sour cream. Whoa! What a meal!

Service was friendly, attentive and the ambience cozy and inviting -- at least in the fireplace room near the bar.

This past Monday evening Susie and were in need of comfort food (trust me on this), and that meant our neighborhood favorite: Broadway Bistro for ribs 'n grits. It was quiet when we arrived so we picked out a choice spot in front overlooking the street life. We started with two glasses of Italian prosecco, followed by celery puree soup for Susie and a bean stew for me. Although billed as an appetizer, we each had ribs n' grits for the entree -- plenty of food believe me, washed down with a nice, comfortable palate-pleasing Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Once again, and again and again, great food sensibly priced.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two works by Thomas Cole

Landscape with Tree Trunks, 1828:

Genesee Scenery, 1847:

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Irish Famine Memorial in Providence

Even though we have no real tradition of public sculpture in the US, every so often we do manage to capture just the right sense of emotion in stone. This grouping is a moving tribute to the thousands of Irish who settled in the greater Providence area to escape certain death at home.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The American Rooms at RISD

Two views of the American Rooms at the RISD Museum:

 left to right: John Whit Alexander's "The Blue Bowl," Winslow Homer's "On a Lee Shore" and  "Lady in Pink" by William Merritt Chase

Center: Winslow Homer's "On a Lee Shore"

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Friday, March 02, 2012

Verrazzano stopped in Providence

. . . and he didn't even bother to go to Atwell's Avenue for dinner. Not that I blame him, of course; we don't either.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Jean Carries by John Singer Sargent

The well-known French sculptor and miniaturist (buried in division 12 of Pere-Lachaise if you must know):

From John Singer Sargent