m wood pen

illustrator of books, cocktails, travel + more

i’m messing around in somebody else’s memories.

a few weeks ago, while wasting time on e-bay, i was compelled to bid on, and then subsequently, pay for, two hundred slides, circa 1965.  from england.

what can i say?  i actually thought it would be super cool to see europe from that era through the lens of a stranger.  and i love vintage cars.

i kind of forgot about it, and today popped into the post office to see what treasures awaited me in my po box.  it was jammed with a bunch of stuff, and i had to give a good tug to pull out the goods…a new yorker, some very important envelopes from my very important client, and shiny grey package from 59 nightingale road, south croydon, england.

omg!

so, here it was.  my slide show.  well, not mine, per se, but you know what i mean.  i drove around taking care of some errands, but honestly, couldn’t get home fast enough.  those slides were burning a hole into my brain, i was so curious.  i didn’t know what to expect, sort of when you choose the gum ball machine ‘surprise’ plastic thingy that has a ‘mystery toy’ inside…and when i impetuously bid on these, i figured that, at a minimum, there would be some great architectural shots to add to my arsenal of inspiration for future illustrations.

clearly, work was going to have to wait.  i’d already blown most of the day being a very nice mom, so determined that i’d proclaim today an official play day, right?

first thing: find a slide carousel, dump out the slides (sorry kids, i’ll put them back), and fill it with the yellowed “kodachrome transparency” slides.  done. second order of business: find the slide projector.  this was a bit trickier, but when i put my head to it, i zoned in on the exact spot and was lucky enough to find not one, but two of them!  hauling it back to the dark place in my house to set it up and plug it in, i had my first bit of bad news: the bulb was burned out!  so, unplugged it (a lot of reaching underneath things to do this, i wasn’t going to be thwarted on this mission).  wrap up the cord, carry it back to it’s friend, projector #2, and set that one up.  eureka: the bulb worked…it was show time!

i guess i’m not the only curious one here: the darned cat and my needy dog wandered over and stood in the way.  so, i got back up, opened the door, and tossed them both outside for some fresh air.  then decided that i wanted to enjoy the show with a fresh cup of coffee.  (work was really out the window at this point!)  the aroma somehow evoked europe, and short of bringing in an accordion player for mood music, i was as ready as i’d ever be.

the magic first click of the automatic slide putter-innerer brought back decades of memories.  the silent easy as pie maneuvers of my laptop and it’s world at my fingertips ease didn’t escape me: this was a labor of love, of things long gone, of a world that you can only find in, well, kodachrome transparencies.  and the recreations generated out of the land of hollywood.

i sketched the first slide.  rome.  well, sure, at first i didn’t know that it was rome, but that’s the part of this whole wonderful afternoon of mine: i became a sleuth, a travel-mate who was going to piece the memory back into this jumbled pile of forgotten flea market slides.

just when you get a good gig going, of course, there’s always time for a snafu: in my greed to pull out that first lovely image to set it into a ‘keep’ pile, i ended up bundling up two slides into one slot.

damn.

tweezers.  unplug the projector.  put on glasses.  find a flashlight.  get a shish-ke-bob skewer.  poke around.  swear.  let the barking dog in.  try to remove the tray.  several times.  aggressively.

i had two choices: lump the whole delicious slide show experience, or temporarily leave 1965 and let google help me.

“clearing a gate jam”…did anybody else know that there is a secret, second carousel release button?!!!

crisis averted, and back to the show.

now, what i found was terrific.  but my cavalier curiosity quickly turned respectful.  don’t get me wrong: i had a lot of fun, and i also was impressed with my european architecture know-how to place these shots.  but, most importantly, this was a family and these were their memories, and the fact that i now own them means, most likely, that they’re not alive anymore…and so, i did feel suddenly that i had a duty to be careful.  with their story.  so, here it is.  as interpreted by me, my imagination, and a bit of google to fill in the pieces.  oh, and i made up the names.

bob and dolores lived in england.  by the time the mid 60s came around they were the proud parents of one daughter, jean, who dutifully posed by docks, fountains, topiary and machu picchu.  well, actually, here she had a little bit of a temper fit: all of those stairs!

on the home front, jean had a lovely siamese cat who liked to sit on top of the stove.  she also had a grandfather who was a very proud gardener, and was especially fond of his roses.  jean’s grandmother had three sisters, it was hard to tell them apart!  jean was a blond.  she favored her father.

jean’s dad, bob, was a looker.  and he was also a dapper dresser: sport coats, a camel turtleneck, overcoat, and a dashing doug mcclure kind of a smile.  jean’s mom, dolores, was of italian descent and resembled the movie actress, annette funicello.  dolores, who was sometimes called dottie, also enjoyed fashionable clothes, and often wore a stylish hat, especially when visiting the vatican.

bob’s career had gone ‘his way’, and to celebrate, he surprised his lovely wife and sweet daughter with tickets for an around the world, 10-week tour aboard one of the p & o “biggest blooming ships sailing the seven seas” orient line.

*authors note: they took the cruise, but some inland venues test the accuracy of whether or not this was actually one trip…plus, jean aged about 4 years through the entire process, bob grew longer sideburns, and dolores grew out her hair.

with much fanfare, the family boarded the ship on the shores of england, and were off to taste the exotic, historic and rustic flavors of the world.

welcome to paris: luxembourg gardens; the pantheon as viewed through the sky window of a tour bus; notre dame and it’s glorious flying buttresses; versailles where the focus of the lens was the opulent gold-covered interior; and a special treat for good girl jean: stuffing a fresh croissant into her mouth atop the eiffel tower.

during a side trip to verdun, bob was compelled to take a photograph of the welcome sign, written french, german and english: “visitor remember!  you are entering the actual battlefield.  this earth has been drenched with the blood of thousands of heroes.  they demand the homage of your SILENCE.  ‘those of verdun’.”  (google filled in the blanks for me: the deadliest battle of world war one, over 700,000 died there.)

verboten, welcome to germany: just twenty years after the end of the second world war, bob, dottie and jean enjoyed the toothpick spires of churches and the refreshing fare at an outdoor bierstube.  venturing over to the ‘other side’ of the brandenburg gates, young jean grew troubled while viewing the charred, melted cathedral and rows and rows of barbed wire.  they decided to go back to the bierstube.

italy was a welcome reprieve after the heaviness of germany.  dottie, of course, felt gleeful to visit the land of her people, and bob was a big fan of the pizza. highlights included visits to bernini’s st. peters & the fountain of the four rivers. jean tossed a coin over her shoulders and made a wish.  (probably to never return to germany!)

after a lovely lunch in sienna, the family boarded the ship, next port: spain.

the exotic, byzantine architecture wowed the whole group.  dottie was especially drawn to the deep reds of the oriental carpets of the covered lounge at the alcazar gardens, while jean dreamt of aladdin’s genie and flying carpets. bob took special note of the myriad of patterns played out in the glazed tiles adorning buildings & finery.

greece was the next spot, featuring a lovely shot of a domed, whitewashed church atop a dusty hill.  the girls took a swim in the mediterranean sea, while bob tried his hand with some fishing.  the friendly locals were generous with their stories and fishing equipment.  dolores loved the ouzo.  jean stayed away from the squid.

in one of the moves, bob lost most of the slides from the orient.  only one survived.  this somber soldier in a woolen overcoat seemed to be guarding this ornate fence, or the mountains behind him.  it’s a mystery, unless that costume can be googled.

the mighty ship crossed the atlantic, and our family discovered both north and south america.  jean, as was hinted at earlier, didn’t have good things to say about peru and machu picchu, but dolores did look fetching when she posed at the base of the great pyramid.  a donkey and some lovely shots of mexican towns surely pleased them all, as well as the cerveza to help beat the heat, although the p & o orient lines ships were all outfitted with air conditioning!

you haven’t seen america until you’ve experienced the wonders of both the grand canyon and niagra falls.  jeans parents made sure she saw them both. rounding out the trip to the u.s. of a. was a picturesque visit to the americana outpost: maine.  jean and dolores are all smiles as they pose by some jaunty, colorful buoys and lobster traps.

well, all good things come to an end.  the grandmother ship to the princess & carnival cruise lines made it’s safe passage back to jolly old england, and our globe trotting family wrapped up their slide show with a lively group shot of jean’s 8th grade graduation.

smiling from ear to ear.

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