Sunday, January 31, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Remembering Mitchell Street Boston: Richard Brignoli born January 29, 1939
In August 2009, I went to Boston to an exhibition on sixteenth-century Venetian painting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. A breath-taking show where three giants of western art were featured: Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. The premise of the show or one that was high-lighted was competition among these masters. Titian was obviously Zeus, but Tintoretto and Veronese were his younger brothers; all were divine. This trip was a needed break, brief as it was, from a summer of hard labor, writing, physical ailments, and the medical problems of our Scottish terriers, Aesop and Emma. Each had cancers and Emma, as we were to learn shortly, was diabetic. The weather was idyllic and a Cambridge hotel overlooking the Charles River was my resting place. On this trip, I also had unfinished business. I wanted to go to Mitchell Street where Richard grew up and where his family resided. Although I had been in Boston on numerous occasions, I had no inclination to revisit what was last seen about 50 years earlier. Memories were distinct enough, but now I wanted to test to what extent the mind’s eye, memory itself, was reliable. What did I recall physically of the street and the neighborhood? A narrow street bordered by neatly kept houses that were largely tan. The Brignoli family resided in three of these buildings. Richard’s father and stepmother in one; this is the building where Richard had lived before he moved to New York City, and where I stayed on several occasions; and farther down the street, his grandmother and great aunt resided in another dwelling. On the other side, a cousin had a house. He, I believe was a postman. The street exited at one end on Dorchester Avenue, and it was directly near the bay, from which islands were visible. Richard explained that that was where he had learned to sail. Curiously, during our relationship, before marriage and during the marriage, he did not talk about his love of sailing. Perhaps I did not hear him if he did talk about a future where sailing would eventually take him to distant places and which would be central to his life. What I did hear about, however, were his stints as a merchant marine and as a member of the navy. The navy brought him into contact with Stanley, a Yale ROTC graduate, if I recall correctly. Stanley encouraged Richard to go to New York and to study at Columbia University. Their friendship was close and supportive and was essential to Richard’s success at Columbia’s School of General Education. Stanley was brilliant and a handsome young man but he also had severe medical problems that ended his life abruptly. Richard, I am sure, never forgot him. And Richard’s father Joseph and his stepmother? We got along well and both were generous to me and tried to help me understand Richard better. Likewise his great-aunt and I took an instant liking to one another. In time, I painted a portrait of his grandmother, under the curious eyes of his family. My picture was not traditional exactly and I worked directly from the model without a preparatory drawing. Yet it may still exist, and, as Richard told me, but I had forgotten, I had painted a portrait of his grandfather from a photograph. Perhaps this exists as well among his Boston relatives. And one more memory because it dates the relationship in a particular historical moment: we sat before a large-screen TV as Ted Kennedy addressed the public for the first time, during his run for Massachusetts senator. The speech was received well, I believe; most likely Richard’s parents voted for Kennedy. Although Richard and I may have walked to the bay, I vividly recall going out of the house to see the bay for myself. At that time there were wooden wharfs, all in excellent condition. Today the wharfs are gone and a lovely sand beach has replaced them. When this change occurred I do not know. As for the cousins living on the other side of the street, it appears that their home was razed and now nondescript brick buildings replace the smaller structures that once stood there. One event that occurred that was discordant occurred in that house and has remained with me, a kind of historical memento. The cousin’s wife said to me that she had never had a Jew in her house before. I was the first. She was a plain-spoken woman of Polish heritage. I was shocked then, but time has taken the sting away and life has brought me to understand what caused a comment that was so unexpected, especially 50 years ago. Richard did his best to soften and explain. More would bore the reader and it has little to do with my quest: to compare and contrast past and present. What I found revisiting Mitchell Street was that my memory served me well. The street is narrow, in fact, and it is located off busy Dorchester Avenue and is close to the bay. Except for the “new” brick building, the houses are as they were then except that they have been updated; the types of facings used then are no longer popular. When vinyl siding took the world or at least the USA by storm, the structures on this street were sided too. In the early 1960s the neighborhood was working-class, blue collar; today it appears to have been gentrified, and some apartments are or were in the million dollar range. Census/voting records for Ward 11, precinct 1, reveal a laboring population. Women are listed as housewives (a dagger sign); few have a profession, one example identifies the woman as a clerk. Men are laborers, butchers, teamsters, painters, ironworkers, and so forth. These men are no longer emplyed or, better yet, the USA of today has lost these professions, these skills, and the income generated by them Women are not by necessity housewives; they are free to choose (almost) what profession they desire. In some accounts of Richard Brignoli’s early life he is said to have lived in a slum. Hardly. McDonald mansions these buildings are not but they testify to a period in US history that was about to change but where the families worked hard and aspired to send their children into the world with skills to support themselves. This street, Mitchell Street, is a microcosm of the “world of our fathers;” certainly not one to be disdained. This post has pictures of Mitchell Street taken in August 2009; a subsequent post has photos of the Ward Books, wherein the inhabitants over 20 years old were recorded. Incidentally, Richard lived at 16 Mitchell Street.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
On Tuesday, at about 5:00 pm in the afternoon, I walked along the Tenakill Brook path in Tenafly. I began to smell a noxious odor that made me feel almost sick: the odor was caused by gasoline fumes. At first I did understand how this was possible; then I looked at the brook's water, which was fast flowing due to a heavy downpour on Monday, January 24, 2010. The surface was carrying a coating, obviously the gasoline that I was inhaling. This water eventually goes into our water supply. Aside from the obvious damage to the area around the stream, how is the gasoline finally removed from drinking water and household water? Evidently the downpour caused gasoline from a nearby site to flood into the Tenakill. Our public health is at risk by such a situation; it is time that the state of New Jersey, Bergen County, and Tenafly work together to end this appalling situation.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Emma will die shortly from bladder cancer. As the cancer grows within the the bladder it creates a smaller "container," and the bladder is unable to retain her urine. In addition, the urethra narrows, becomes inflamed, and opportunistic infections occur. This post is to assist other dog owners to understand what happens when their pet contracts this cancer and what to expect. The medicine cabinet is now bare in her case; antibiotics have been exhausted, unless higher doses are used. This would cause inflammation of her stomach lining and cause considerable abdominal pain. We must accept Emma's circumstances; she has soldiered on, suffering the loss of her older brother some months ago. In addition to bladder cancer she also has liver cancer and active diabetes requiring 2 injections daily. Still alert, still curious, still enjoying the company of other dogs, but we will soon have to accept the inevitable and help her through the last days of her life, giving her comfort as best we can.
Our beautiful Emma
Our beautiful Emma
Sunday, January 3, 2010
June 3, 1987---January 3, 1997
Fala, named after FDR's dog, the first dog that I ever "knew," was Kate's "brother," and loving friend: tussling over a stick, running in fields chasing hares or one another or lying proximately in felicitous comfort or eating with enthusiasm, Fala, after he died, was sorely missed by Kate. Liver cancer was the disease that killed him. Today we know better about end of life and recognizing its signs; had we known what we now know, we would have intervened to prevent the suffering he experienced. We did not understand or recognize that his trembling was a sign of severe pain; no one did, not even his vet. And so when he when he trembled--his abdomen bloated (cancer which we did not recognize as such and fluids)--we would place him near a radiator in a thin "sweat suit" to alleviate his "coldness." The day before he died the weather suddenly warmed; it was in the seventies, and the sun was cheerful. Fala seemed to pick up and when he came home from a walk in a field he ate a bagel with enthusiasm. Again we missed the signals of oncoming death: before death an organism rallies and seems healthy. That night he curled up and slept. As best as I could [als ich kan] I quickly sketched him, showing his eye in particular still aware to that he was alive. No time for feet and other body parts and his beard, which was white in his later years, was emphasized. In fact there was some brownish hair in his beard by then, again a sign of his overwhelming illness. That night we slept: he in his bed, Kate in hers. About 4:oo am I felt pressure alongside the bed, as if one of our scotties was pushing it. I did not wake up until a fearsome howl, Kate's signal that Fala had died, woke us. That howl, which I written about before, was unique. I had never heard it before and never since then. Grief, the epitome of loss.
Fala was a peerless dog, sweet and faithful, who enjoyed his life but had many ills. He suffered greatly from flea bites, tearing his hair from his body. To assuage his pain, Kate would lick him, lick him on the flesh where he had pulled out his hair. Today, thanks to medication, no dog need experience this allergic reaction. Neither Aesop or Emma have had this awful experience.
Fala's nickname was/ is "Wiggy." His tail signaled friendship and love. However, if another dog, actually males only, approached, he became aggressive, barking to protect Kate, as well as us.
But this was not commonplace behavior.
Fala was almost killed by another dog in the field behind Tenafly High School. He met a Schnauzer and as the two were sniffing one another, the schnauzer grabbed Fala, who was much shorter, by the neck and began to shake him. This was a prelude to breaking his neck. When I realized what was happening, I intervened and separated the dogs--all others were onlookers. While saving Fala, I was inadvertently bitten on my right pinky by Fala. He was saved; the schnauzer was tested for rabies--and thankfully was found healthy, and I had to go to the emergency room. To this day I have a bump on that finger and it swells on occasion. A reminder forever for me of my Fala's close call. After that experience we were especially careful when the dogs played with others of their kind. In fact we stopped their play unless the dog was very well-known to us and to the doggies. Too bad, because Kate, for instance, socialized with adult dogs when she was a very small pup and enjoyed the experience, so it seemed to us. And she taught Fala. But it may well be that the behavior of male and female dogs are different
Fala is now in his doggy heaven with Kate and his younger brother Aesop. This "story" helps us with the sorrow we experience. Unlike mankind, "creatures" do not deliberately cause pain or perhaps more appropriately, they are not malicious and do not connive. Yes they do plan, yes they do think, and yes they do have emotions, and yes they have cultures. Genes can account for certain behaviors, violent and otherwise, but when I contemplate the deliberate harm that people visit on others (and of course on animals), I do not see the rational, planned violence or "mind games" people engage in.
Fala, now that your sensate life here has ended, we imagine that all pain has ceased and that you enjoy the joys of canine existence in a better world.
Friday, January 1, 2010
the goddess Iris took her brush and her pigments and with a broad brush swept in through the heavens. Neptune took the goddess' sketch and fixed it in his element for but a moment