Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Manning Archive": Narrating a Family's Life Through What They Saved UPDATED for video

Back in the old days, when I was an academic, a good deal of my scholarship had to do with narrative,  One of my interests was in narrative and identity.  That is (using scholarship and theory), I thought about the ways people “story” or “narrate” their lives.  Out of all the things that have happened in a lifetime, one chooses those events thought to be most salient and puts them into a sequence that is both temporal and causal to suggest “who I am.”. 

When my mother died, she left a letter in which she designated for each child, what items she specifically wanted each to have.  The rest was for us all to share.  Part of what she wanted me to have were the family papers and pictures, “so that they would stay together.”

I have thought about why she felt it was important that these documents and mementos “stay together.”  It was almost like these papers were a collection, or an archive, that had coherence and meaning.  But what kind of an archive was it?

I think many of us have such family “archives,” and the documents collected in those archives will tell stories of families that are both familiar and unique.  In my case, the objects saved by my mother (and before her my grandmother) included letters, pictures, diaries, scrapbooks, autograph books, telegrams, recipes, and other artifacts.  I have named this informal collection “The Manning Archive.”

“The Manning Archive” tells the multiple stories of my mother and her family in Manning South Carolina, as well as those of my mother and father, brothers and sister while we grew up.  These stories include our history as a particular family: marriages, births and deaths,  life in a very small town in the American South, Jewish Americans, people who valued certain accomplishments and education.  The collection was not put together systematically; indeed, it survived as a jumble of papers in the bottom drawers of a sideboard.  But it does represent objects that were chosen and saved, and it consequently narrates a history.    

What follows is a short video in which I tried to document this archive and suggest its significance.  It was given at an academic conference on narrative and identity.  Because the narrative I wanted to describe and consider was constituted by material objects—the things my grandmother and mother thought worth saving—I wanted to find a format or a medium that would suggest these objects not just in my words but in some version of their in material selves.   

(Two formats: one on Blog; other on Youtube)

#Family Stories

Friday, July 15, 2016

Whither Summer?

What happened to summer?  Between the weather and my hamstring, it has been a very indoor season.  We have had lots of rain, and when the sun does come out, the weather is cool, the water is COLD, and it is difficult to believe we have reached the middle of  July.  (Today we are in the fifties, and we are still sleeping with three blankets.)

My garden looks ragged and unkempt because I can’t bend down to work in it. 

My hamstring and also my piriformis (which I didn’t even know I had) are still acting up.  I started Physical Therapy, but the stretching exercises the PT gave me made it worst . We agreed I probably over-stretched; I am not a patient patient. I am supposed to avoid anything that hurts, which includes walking, sitting, and eventually standing if I stand to long.  Which basically means lying down.   We discussed that these things take time, and we regretfully agreed that everything happens more slowly as you age.  (Just insert your favorite expletive here).

Luckily, there is reading. 


Monday, July 4, 2016

Budapest Art Nouveau: Janos Bach's Schmal Udvar

Since not much is happening in Lake Life, I am returning to Budapest for a bit.  I turn, in particular, to a relatively unknown but nevertheless but remarkably beautiful building: Schmalz Udvar, built by Janos Bach on Raday utca 26 between 1909 and 1910.

This building, like so many grand Art Nouveau constructions, was oriented to the corner with two flanking sides on the diagonal.  Corner orientation was a favored site because the intersection of two streets with their respective two facades makes the building more visible, and hence more “important.” It also allows for a dome, one of the most visible and typical features of Hungarian turn-of-the century architecture.

 The colorful decoration, which consists of ceramics tiles by the famous manufacturer Zsolnay, provide both symmetry and variety.

The house is entered by a beautiful glass door with stained glass insets.

Upon entering the door one sees a remarkable stained glass window with art nouveau motifs, surrounded by ornaments. 

The stained glass is above a doorway into the courtyard (udvar) with ornamental wrought iron railings

Tile work and figural (plaster) ornamentation continue in the entrance hall. 

As with most large buildings, such as Schmalz Udvar, the first story is designated for shops and the higher stories for apartments surrounding an interior courtyard.  Schmalz Udvar is not unusual for a large imposing building (though it is in unusually good shape), and Janos Bach is not a particularly well-known Budapest architect.  His building, though, illustrates the degree to which Art Nouveau values can become incorporated in an organic and cohesive manner.