Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pillaged From The Village

      This pair of old, seemingly unworn Bass Weejun penny loafers were the only item I returned home with after a day in New York City with my lady friend that included a long afternoon of checking out as many thrift and vintage stores as possible, mostly around the East Village.

      I saw a lot of things that I almost bought, but wound up leaving behind for one reason or another, (didn't fit just right, too expensive, girlfriend threatened to refuse to be seen with me in it, etc).  It was fun, but it seems that in NYC even the Goodwill and Salvation Army operate like fancy boutiques.  The ones we went into seemed insanely sanitized and sparse.  One even had obnoxious electronic dance music pumping at top volume through the place; it felt more like a Hollister or something than a thrift shop, and so did the prices.  It seemed to me that better value was to be found in some of the vintage resale stores we went to, where the prices seemed fairly reasonable for what they had to offer for the most part.

      The Weejuns ran me about $25, cheaper than a new pair from the Bass outlet on the Cape and made in the U.S.A.  I'm not sure exactly when they were made, but I would guess probably late 70s or early 80s maybe.  They aren't so old or rare that I feel bad actually wearing them, but they are old enough to be nicer than the current Weejuns in my opinion.  I wore them out today for a little while to start breaking them in.

     I'm glad I didn't splurge and spend a ton of money on anything in New York.  It's time consuming and dangerously addictive, but I really enjoy finding my vintage clothes for really cheap by digging through real thrift stores.  As for New York itself, I have the same mixed feelings about it I've always had.  There is an awful lot going on there, and visiting can be fun, but I can't imagine I would enjoy living there.  It's just too hectic and expensive.  With so many people crammed into one place I'm sure it's easy to feel lost, and also the place just feels dirty to me, I couldn't wait to take a long shower when I got home.  On the upside though, whatever you are into, no matter how obscure, it can be found in New York; along with a bunch of other people who are into it as well.  The food is amazing if you go to the right places, and there's a lot of history there, sartorial and otherwise.  I definitely plan on going back some time in the near future to see the Ivy Style Exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Friday, July 13, 2012

In Fact, You CAN Go Home Again

WARNING: This post contains heavy doses of me waxing nostalgic, sentimental, and every other sappy emotion.  Also there are pictures.

       I was born and raised on Cape Cod.  When most people think of the Cape they imagine neighborhoods full of old-money mansions overlooking picturesque sand dunes, private golf courses, and trust fund kids in go-to-hell pants driving around from swanky bar to swanky bar in their Dad's Mercedes, paying their way out of OUIs.  While those things do exist there, they are far from the norm.  Like most year-round residents, my family was, (and is,) middle to lower-middle class.  There were many things I hated about living there when I was younger: the sense of isolation, the small-town mentality of many people, the depressing bleakness of life there in Winter.  Now, after living in the Boston area for several years, I've come to appreciate the good things about Cape Cod, and I thoroughly enjoy being able to visit now and again, especially in the Summer.

       I've just returned to my apartment in Somerville after several days visiting my parents, who still live in the house I grew up in.  Although I have not lived there for a long time, it is still the place that immediately comes to mind when I hear the word "home."  Every inch of the place is saturated with signs and traces of the things that make me who I am.  There are shelves upon shelves of my Father's books, the margins of the pages full of notes- sometimes several sets from different reads at different times, evidenced by different colored ink.  Thankfully I inherited some small parts of his analytical mind, great respect for the English language, and wide-ranging academic curiosity, all things that helped me to struggle through my bachelor's degree later in life than usual.  Every corner of every room has some evidence of my Mother's artistry; her eye for aesthetics, love of old things, and appreciation for simple beauty, all of which she has tried to pass down to me as well.

     While I was there I took every opportunity to visit thrift stores and antique shops, and on the bus ride back to South Station I lugged bags and an old suitcase that were much heavier than on the way down.  In fact the suitcase itself is a new acquisition, rescued by my Mom from the Salvation Army.  A hulking leather thing of the old-fashioned sort without wheels.  The tag inside says, "Skymaster by Universal: Custom Crafted Luggage."  It's a little beat up, but I think it has character.

     I took a lot of photos while I was down there, and will share some of them here.  Apologies if they are not the greatest, I took them all with the camera on my phone.

     A walk around the yard of my parents' house.  Evidence of my Mom's green thumb and eye for interesting objects.

     Below are a few of the sartorial treasures I plundered from the thrift shops of Olde Cape Cod.  While my thrifting skills pale in comparison to Giuseppe's wizardry, I think I did pretty well for myself.

     This shirt and shorts were my first two finds, and I wore them the next day, as you can see by the last garden pic, and this one, which I snapped on the back deck as my Father and I enjoyed a cocktail and a chat while he grilled one of the freshest and, (as I would soon find out,) most delicious pieces of swordfish I have ever had.

     That drink which matches my shorts is pomegranate lemonade with a healthy dose of vodka in it.  The cheap stuff.  My Dad is the kind of guy who will spend the extra couple of dollars to get a good German beer, but when it comes to liquor, he buys whatever is on sale.  When it's going in a mixed drink I'm mostly inclined to agree with him.

     A few more glimpses of thrifting finds:

This navy wool blazer had to come with me.  I already have a few navy blazers, but this cost $2, fit perfectly, (as the little old ladies working at the shop where I found it loudly proclaimed when I tried it on,) and came from a now-defunct local shop.

     The jacket of this handsome glen plaid suit also fit like a glove, though the pants will have to be taken in.  The wool is soft and fine and lightweight, and comes from a familiar place, Louis of Boston.

      I figured I ought to bring it back up here and get some use out of it, although like the aforementioned Giuseppe, (whose territory I hope I'm not infringing on too much here; he does do this much better than I,) my suit-wearing is currently for my own pleasure only, as my job does not require me to wear one.  In fact, in many ways it is prohibitive of wearing one.  All the more reason to get this next one as well, right?

     Here is a true enigma.  A beautiful grey nail's head suit.  Standard 2-button, with darts.  From J Press.  I may just be new at this, but I have never seen a jacket from J Press that is not an un-darted sack with a 3-2 rolled lapel.  I suppose they have to vary things a little bit, but I was shocked when I first saw it.

     One in blue and one in white....

     Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button downs.  The old US-made ones with the unlined collars.  I almost left them behind, as they were in a chain thrift store, (since I try to be a gentleman I'll not name names,) which has decided to create a "boutique section" where they put anything that they think is fairly nice and quadruple the number on the price tag.  These were $12.99 each, and I left them there and then went back and got them the next day, after I decided they were well worth it.  They are in great shape and are made with the sort of quality construction that has become very difficult to find.  I prefer them to anything available in BB right now if only for the simple fact that they were made domestically.

     In closing, here are a few more somewhat random shots of textures, colors and old things mostly taken from around my parents' home. 


 I hope that as I get older and older I'll continue to find new ways to enjoy and appreciate my environment, and I hope anyone reading this will as well.  It's a nice thing to be able to go home now and again, and to relax surrounded by memories of youth, enjoying good company, food, and drink.  For me that means sitting on that back deck and breathing deeply the air that smells of the sea, the earth, flowers, and the Summer.

Over and Out,


Monday, July 2, 2012

Davis Square Flea Market

I love my little neighborhood in the Davis and Porter Square area of Somerville.  More and more often these days I find that there is always something interesting going on right around the corner.  This past weekend I was very excited to see a flyer for the Davis Flea posted in the square, and rose early, (for me on a Sunday this means before noon,) to drag my lovely lady friend along while I reveled in dusty old junk/treasure.

She was a good sport, and even found a few things she liked, including a vintage dress with a yellow floral print and some "vintage deadstock" sunglasses which she brought home.  Both look great on her and cost very little.  I bought a few things as well, though I probably shouldn't have.  Nothing I'll be making a fortune reselling or anything, more just cool old stuff to add to the whole "disheveled professor's study" vibe my room is slowly beginning to embody.  I'll snap a few pics and post them later on.  For now, here's just a few snapshots that offer a tiny glimpse of the assortment of antiques, junk, and antique junk that awaits you should you venture to the parking lot on the left side of Holland St about a block from Davis Square on any given Sunday between 10 AM and 4 PM from now through October:

I have a weakness for boxes, chests, footlockers, etc., and this guy had some especially nice ones.  I may or may not have spent a few bucks at his tent.

Wooden box guy also had an assortment of vintage and antique tools.  Those small wooden sawhorses really called to me, they were well-put-together, and screamed to be made into a footstool or something.  Sadly we didn't come to a deal on them, maybe next time.

Shoes, hats for the bold, a reprint of an old map that I made an offer on but left behind, and some unsettling vintage photos of dudes in good shape posed in some err... compromising positions.  Not my cup of tea, but to each their own.
I really like the small fan in the center, the card cabinet thing, and the typewriter, but they were outside my available budget and I'm having to get creative with my use of space as it is.  Don't want to cross the line from charmingly cluttered to hoarder status inside my little apartment.

Come check it out next Sunday if you find yourself in my neck of the woods.  I'll probably end up finding myself a tent and paying the very reasonable fee to set up shop for the day and sell some vintage clothes and other stuff before October rolls around.

Over and Out,


Monday, June 25, 2012

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With . . . Well . . . Packing Tape, but Still, (Or: My New Favorite Things)

Recently I splurged and spent what is for me a large amount of money on something totally unnecessary.  It was a good deal on a thing I've wanted for some time.  I noticed this thing up for auction from a favorite ebay seller.  I watched, waited, timed my bid with surgical precision, and I won.  I'm so very glad I did, even if it means I'm going to be on the ramen and easy mac diet for a little while.  Today as I trudged down my street on the way home from a job that is unpleasant for me on several levels, I spied a brown cardboard package on my doorstep, positioned just under the little overhang and looking dry despite the thunderstorms that have been rolling through periodically all day.  I knew immediately what it was.

My Tansu chest!

This tansu dates from the early Meiji period, (1868-1912,) considered by many to be the golden age of tansu-making.  It is a small, simple wooden box called a suzuribako, which roughly translates as "writing box," or "calligrapher's chest".

The top compartment is held closed with a simple, effective push-button latch, which still functions as smoothly as I imagine it did when it was constructed over 100 years ago.

When I opened it I found three bonus treasures in the ink-stained compartment it revealed....

                                                                             ... A small cardboard box containing about a quarter stick of sumi ink, a brush with tapered bristles of the type used in traditional East Asian ink wash painting, (embellished with some tasteful, colored polka dots that made me hope there might be a matching pocket square in one of the other compartments,) and a rather plain, utilitarian inkstone; just the type I would choose were I a long dead Japanese painter or calligrapher.

***As a side note, in most cases the line between painting and calligraphy was not a clear one in traditional Japanese culture, as in other East Asian cultures.  In fact, the Japanese verb 書く, (kaku,) can mean both "to draw," or "to write," depending on context.  This makes sense, since Chinese written language, on which the Japanese writing system is heavily based, is made up of characters that originally began as pictograms.  Side nerdery complete.***

While probably the brush, and almost certainly the chunk of ink stick and its box are from a much more recent time than the suzuribako, the inkstone is almost certainly its contemporary, as the two objects were made for each other.

I suppose it's possible that the false-bottom-like piece was added later, but it matches the rest of the wood remarkably well, so I doubt it, and it fits the inkstone so perfectly that it must have been cut for that specific one, to prevent it from sliding and banging around inside the compartment while being carried.  The wood, by the way, is paulownia, (Japanese: kiri,) throughout.

The drawer-pulls for the two lower drawer compartments are, in keeping with the overall design, simple, practical, and ingenious.  They are made up of three pieces of what I would guess is brass, and essentially the middle piece works like what my Parents used to always call a brad, you know, the brass-colored things that hold manilla envelopes closed.  Drawers slide smoothly and easily.

I could go on for days about the pattern of the wood grain, and the knee-weakeningly perfect patina on everything, especially the hardware.  The joinery is also simple and masterful.  Japanese carpentry is well-known for its advanced use of joinery techniques, and they are visible here on a small scale, with the drawers as well as the outer structure of the box constructed using a Japanese variation of what we in the West would call a dovetail joint, as well as the use of wooden or possibly bamboo pegs, (mekugi,) rather than nails.

Check out how this dovetail-esque joint is almost invisible because of the way the craftsman has followed the contours of that interesting knot in the wood grain.

Beautiful.  The best $70 plus shipping I've spent in some time, I think.

Now I'm off to make another cup of ramen noodles and browse craigslist for a better job before I hit the sack.

Over and Out.