Rosemary

We’ve been buying trimmed rosemary plants at the market for several years as pre-Christmas trees for use right after Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, in our wood-heated home, they won’t last all holiday season, so they are in the house for about two weeks and then get moved out to the greenhouse.
When we began doing this almost a decade ago, we didn’t have an inkling of how the plants would do inside for extended periods, and the results were dead rosemary plants being stripped of their leaves and getting tossed.

There is so much volatile oil in a small rosemary bush that, technically, you might consider one a dangerous fire hazard. But, of course, all those rosemary leaves are full of volatiles and oils, making them an excellent herb. Those branches and stems are as well. And they are great to put on fire. Safely, please.

I am confident that the one I bought this year was about half the size of the previous rosemary plants. Yeah, everything is smaller and more expensive this year. Usually, I can put a string of lights or two and some decorations on without the plant looking like it was hung about with strange holiday excrescences. As you can see from the photo, it’s a bit overwhelmed by just two sets of lights. But it looks attractive in a darkened room.

In about two weeks, we’ll take the lights off and place it in the greenhouse for the winter. Then, in spring, I’ll repot it, and the six or so large rosemary plants we’ve grown will line the garden edge. We never have a shortage of rosemary, and the plants make attractive additions to the garden.

Musing on the question on decorating the holiday home? Try one of these rosemary plants with some lights and decorations,
Don’t have a greenhouse? A sheltered porch should do. And you’ll gain an ongoing source of rosemary for your kitchen.

Lotto

Thanksgiving has a pretty well-established routine around my house. There has been minimal variation in it for about thirty years. My wife is a night shift nurse who typically works on or around holidays, so the ritual is that I cook and the family eats. Some of you might favor the argument that this is a pretty awful deal for me. But I am delighted with our arrangement. I love the stability. We could go so far as to say I am Thankful for it.

I vastly prefer my routine to the madcap carrying on of the 1960s on Boston’s Beacon Hill when, while interesting, Thanksgiving could be a madcap exploration of the bizarre. Or the later staid experiences along the coast of Maine, where Thanksgiving was a somber affair under the stewardship of the Cap’n – my first father-in-law. The former experiences were one crazed nutty experience after the other, and the latter was its serious reflection in a strange mirror.

Things didn’t settle in until I married my wonderful night shift nurse, and we began to create stability out of the chaos.

A type of lotto game originated among Chinese working in the gold fields called Packapoo Ticket. The game was popular from Australian Gold workings to California. Twenty Chinese characters are on each card, each a potential winner or loser. But, of course, only the creator of the pack of tickets knows the winning character. There is a lot to be said about excitement in life. And a lot to be said for new experiences. But life as an ongoing Lotto game wears on you.

So I am about to prep the birdie, make the stuffing, and get the sweet potatoes ready. Happy Thanksgiving.

On Tattoos

I do not sport a tattoo, and by force of habit will never put an arm or chest under the needle. Why? I had a Merchant Marine father who wore a large one on his right arm and firmly discouraged tattoos. Once again, you ask, Why? According to my father, tattoos were used by police to identify suspects. And being so many people either have unique designs that are easy to spot, ” it has the names and dates of the last Rolling Stones Concerts.” Or have the same dozen designs, ” he had a big Harley-Davidson tattoo on his right arm.” You become easy to either identify or misidentify.

From his history as a seaman visiting hundreds of ports, my father believed that police were reductionists; you have that tattoo; therefore, you did the crime. While disagreeing with my father on many issues, I had a high opinion of any statement he made regarding seamen and life at sea. The Carreras clan has always been salty and wet, and our oral tradition on things maritime is strong.

I do not object to tattoos for others; they can take their chances being pulled in by the police in Samoa as suspected pedophiles, thieves, or drug-addled purveyors of disputed political platforms. But until they enact legislation banning the darned things, it’s an individual choice.

As you can see, I have no strong opinion on the matter at all.

The Great Turkey Piñata

Over the years, I’ve seen some funny stuff done to Thanksgiving turkeys. Big birds with extra legs “grafted” on, toy aliens breaking through the breasts of the turkey, and birds with potent marijuana rubs. Delivered to the table for carving, these holiday turkeys distract from anything that might have been done to side dishes.

All these thanksgiving turkeys were spectacular, yes, but safe. I recall one Thanksgiving in the sixties when the turkey was weird and almost lethal.

To start with it has to be remarked that holidays were not big at the Folkie Palace. Most habitues went home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so there was usually only a cadre on hand who couldn’t afford the trip, were unwelcome at home, or had other pressing reasons to stay on Beacon Hill. The principal winter holiday was New Year, and the less said about that, the better. Not that many of our recollections of those blowouts were very clear.

However, it looked like we’d have a pretty full house in one year. I was unwelcome at home after a fight with both parents. One of my friends had moved back in due to marital problems, and most of the other regulars similarly had reasons that they’d be around. This encouraged our erstwhile chef and sometimes spiritual leader, the Monk, to plan a great blowout of a feast. Wishing to involve as many of the residents of our little end of Grove Street as possible, he thought big. Yes, there’d be an incredible dinner, but with a crew of our “experts in spectacle,” the plan was to make an impressive thanksgiving display.

The idea developed was a gigantic turkey piñata filled with candy for the neighbors, their kids, and passersby. For days we mulched newspaper, smeared and mixed white glue, and molded the birdie. It filled the living room, and eventually, the project had to be completed on the roof because it was too large to fit through the window – our original plan.

After a while, our experts conferred and concurred that the bird could not be broken apart to release the candy by normal means. In making it so large, we had structurally reinforced the construction. It would take a bazooka to blow this birdie to bits. This was where our pyrotechnics experts got involved and the beginnings of all our woes with the project. The Folkie Palace was ransacked for every firecracker, cherry bomb, or other fireworks available. We placed charges strategically, ensuring that the birdie would blow when lit.

We stuffed the paper mache bird full of candy on Thanksgiving morning and prepared to lower it into the street below at sunset. Then, completing this task and believing we had covered all our bets, we went downstairs for the feast.

The Monk had gone for traditional for the feast, no extra legs, aliens, strange sauces, or tricky devices. So there would be plenty of leftovers for days to come. The dinner was anti-climatic, considering that all the while we were eating, we imagined the fun that turkey piñata would be.

As soon as we finished, we hurried to the roof and checked our preparations. The Canary acted as the official timer and started a ceremonial countdown to sunset. At that precise moment, we lowered the giant piñata towards the street, and the crowd waiting below to beat at it with baseball bats.
It was, of course, the battleship of piñatas and barely yielded to the assault. So we decided to ignite the charges. The following events are disputed among the witnesses, but the consensus is that fire and smoke first came out of the turkey’s mouth. Next, the wings appeared to flap, and a giant puff of exhaust was emitted from the tail. Finally, the bird seemed poised to fly off but exploded into a shower of paper mache and candy. The crowd had begun to panic at the smoke and flames but thoroughly enjoyed the barrage of candy. Our giant exploding Thanksgiving piñata was a great success.

Someone ratted on us. Later that evening, Officer Cappucci knocked on the door. While he had no proof, he strongly suspected we were behind the great piñata explosion. It was suggested, firmly, that the City Department of Sanitation find Grove Street in a state of extreme cleanliness on Monday morning, or unavoidable repercussions for littering, shooting off fireworks, creating a public nuisance, etcetera, etcetera would be lodged. And that’s how we spent the weekend following Thanksgiving, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning our block of the street. When the police cruiser swept by Monday morning, Grove Street gleamed.

Freebie

“if you don’t want to do time, don’t do the crime.” This was the advice given to street punks in New York City when I was growing up. I often heard this take on the law from Freebie, a local hustler, sometimes dealer, and loudmouthed critic of everyone else’s behavior. Freebie was called this in the Village because he always sought a free meal, coffee, place to stay, or “touch.”

Now the streets of the Village teamed with people whose intent was to make it big somehow. There were “no talents” who thought a good enough hustle would take them someplace. There were also the wannabees, who believed imitating someone else would allow them to ride the coattails to success. Of course, there could only be so many Joan Baez or Bob Dylan clones, but they seemed not to notice.

But to get back to Freebie, he had his favorite bits of advice, which he’d soulfully share while looking you square in the face. He’d get this intent and piercing look while reciting something like, “if you don’t want to do time, don’t do the crime.” Freebie, it should be mentioned, did enough time for minor offenses in the Tombs, New York City’s infamous jail, that he should have followed his own advice.

On Sunday’s Freebie could be found on stakeout in Washington Square, participating in the free-for-all music, poetry, and political rant that was the Washington Square experience in the early sixties. He’d wander the crowd looking for young people with that lost look in their eyes, offer to take them under his wing, and show them the “real” Village.

I think I fell into a different category than the wannabes or the no-talents. I eventually settled on second-rate talent performing in third-rate dives. After a few months in the Village, I had adopted the same world-wise point of view as all the other habitues of the folk music clubs and coffeehouses. We were all seventeen or so but thought we had seen it all. But at our inception into this life, we had all had our doings with Freebie or someone like him. Freebie gave us our first real tour of Bleeker Street, explained the differences between West and East Village, and introduced us around. We “outgrew” the Freebies and wanted little to do with them after we had become hip. But there was a relationship.

If we wanted a quick drug connection, we would go to Freebie. If you needed to know about local law enforcement, you went to Freebie. It wasn’t like someone like Freebie was a favorite or favored individual. It was just that Freebie was so indisputably useful.

People like Freebie came and went, just like many of the rest of us. We’d sweep into the neighborhood one fall and hitchhike out one spring a year or two later bound for Boston, the Haight, Denver, or Yorktown. For Freebie, it was the luck and bad luck of being a known conduit of information and goods. Sooner or later, something or someone will catch up with you.

In the spring of ’65, I headed for Boston. A year later, I revisited my old digs, and the word at the Rienzi was that Freebie had been caught with his fingers too deep in a drug deal. He was now doing a stint upstate in New York State’s exclusive prison for the incorrigible Sing Sing.

That Sunday, I went to Washinton Square Park to watch the performers, political ranters, and the crowd. Working the mob were Freebie wannabees, ” Hey! You from Uptown? Never been to the Village before? Wow, what a great time you can have. Hey, can I offer a bit of advice?”

Some things never get old, and some roles will always need to be filled. Erase one person filling the role, and another appears.

Saturday Driving

It can be embarrassing to admit that you’ve come to be thankful to people and events for which you felt little thanks when things were fresh. Unfortunately, this happens to me quite often while driving down the highway. Some obscure corner of my mind is turning over the bits and pieces of the past. It can be a bit of a confessional moment when you realize that while you still dislike someone, they inadvertently did you a good turn.

I stop to pay a bit more attention, most of my mind still on the road, ” OK, it’s true that if that hadn’t happened, I’d have never gone to college. But let’s not get down on our knees in adoration, for Christ’s sake. It’s not as if it was done out of concern for my well-being!”

My wife is napping beside me. The downside of shopping with a night shift nurse on Saturday is that she sleeps while we are out driving. But at least she’s not awake to see me mutter, deliver snide asides to myself, and reexamine past events for the thousandth time.

Saturday Morning

A Stream of Consciousness morning ramble

Saturday Morning, and here I am up at quarter of six. The diabolical Empress has done her work of stepping on my face to climb over to her mother, my wife. Loud purrs of contentment wake me further. My wife had her booster and is sore, so I won’t roll over for a hug. Xenia, H.I.M. looks smugly at me from her perch on mothers shoulder. She seems to be saying, “There, now. Why don’t you just get up and feed me? It’ll be easier that way. I’ll leave mom alone, and you can feed the wood stove. See, kitty knows best!”

I stumble downstairs, rake the coals, add wood, make coffee, and get the cat food. The dog has already been fed but begs for a “…second breakfast; I’m a growing puppy!”

The cat stares at me imperiously back upstairs, ” Where have you been? Giving the hound food rather than taking care of my dire needs for sustenance; incredible?”

My wife is now wrapped in the covers and takes up the center of the bed. It looks like I’m up for the day. It’s too early to get to work in the shop, I guess I’ll check out my blog instead.

Maybe just a bit of a nap this afternoon?

Vocabulary

It’s interesting to examine where and when we pick up items of speech, the words and turns of speaking that pepper our conversations. We pick up some from literature and some from individuals we interact with.

Dudgeon was not a word in my family’s vocabulary for expressing anger or upset. I was living along the coast of Maine, and my mother-in-law introduced me to it. She was the main entry point for new vocabulary items like being “highly permuched” for being very pleased with oneself. Living in Maine proved a revolutionary period for phrases and terms I’d utilize continuously.

My history teacher in high school made a significant contribution when he told me that if I didn’t start working harder, he would “grease your skids.”I had to go to my merchant marine father to find out what he meant about greasing my skids. My teacher had started as a shipyard worker, and to hurry the launching of vessels, the skids under them got greased to make them slide into the water quickly. He was offering to fail me rapidly unless I worked up to expectation. I was soon expelled from school, but the expression stayed with me.

I picked up a bunch of Royal Navy terms from a favorite professor in grad school who instilled them with the Pussers rum we drank at gatherings.

I think my speech would have turned out to be boring without the occasional interference and influence of others.

Small

a Flashback Friday presentation from 2019

There I was in a cab headed to Brooklyn. The Pakistani cab driver asked me where I was from, and I negligently gestured out the window, “here.” “No. that can’t be. you don’t sound anything like us.”

I had been away for a long time.


It’s true. There’d been a lot of influences in the fifty years since I lit out for New England. I’d lived in Massachusetts and Maine long enough as a young man to influence my speech patterns. But not enough to fool professional linguists who chuckled, and told me that my New York could run, but could not hide. So I laughed with the cabbie on the matter of our relative origins. He’d lived NYC for most of the fifty years I had been gone.
By the time he dropped me off, we had discovered a bond. We were both “from” the same neighborhood – Washington Heights- in Manhattan. He lived less than four blocks along Saint Nicholas Avenue from where I grew up.
The City isn’t only big. It can be small too.

On Style

We were at a tavern in the Seaport district in New York. I had just won a bet on recognizing a carver’s work based on their tool cuts. It was an easy win; the carvings I had identified were by a carver whose work I was familiar with. Carvers have habits like everyone else, ways we like to do eagle feathers, eyes, or our taste in how fancy the volutes are ( those carved spiral designs that you often see on violins, columns, or holding up figureheads). See enough of this, especially if it’s your professional interest and you recognize the style.
Of course, the most carving is anonymous. Whether in stone, wood, or other media, most of us and our carvings will be nameless. An occasional mentor of mine had trained in France before the Second World War and told me that daily, hundreds of feet of exquisite trade carved molding and detail were produced in his master’s shop. All of it was destined to be nameless.
So yes, I can recognize the styles of Samuel Robb, Bellamy, Rush, or Skillin in many cases. But museums are full of unattributed work. Some of this is happenstance; the carver was in a small harbor and attracted little notice. Or, in the case of Bellamy, he was located in space and time when his work attracted attention. Bellamy also developed a distinctive and unique style that captured much attention.

Friends who’ve been with me on visits to the Peabody Essex Museum or the Mystic Seaport have to stifle yawns if we pass a particularly lovely piece of carving. Then, my whole demeanor changes, and I begin to discuss the style and execution of the design. Then, getting deeper into the weeds, I discuss if the carving represents a particular regional style. Please don’t laugh; when it comes to volutes on billet heads, there is a regional difference between, say, the Chesapeake and New England.

I imagine two old ships carvers in the 19th century getting snookered and getting into a fight over the curves on a volute to the disgust of their wives. The marine trades are full of passionate people.

%d bloggers like this: