Cabinet of Curiosities

When I was a kid, I imagined that there was a secret door in my closet.  On the off chance that a burglar entered the house, I planned to run into the closet, shimmy past the clothes rack, and squeeze through the child-size secret door to a safe room that only I knew about.  Perhaps most of us imagine secret places like these; I think this is one reason so many people are captivated by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I don’t think I have ever really left the idea of a secret place behind.  I like dusty attics full if boxes that haven’t been touched in years, forgotten corners of museums (like the Field Museum’s botany hall), and cozy places to hide away and read a book.

In the past few years, my apartment has become more and more like the places I used to imagine; part museum, part living space—a place to display collections and combine them in interesting ways.  My aesthetic is like a cabinet of curiosities in the Renaissance sense: a room filled with items that range from natural history to art to relics of the past.  As I’ve discovered, creating this collection hasn’t come at great expense.  When most things you enjoy are considered “old junk” by everyone else, you are in luck.

As I’ve worked on decorating my living space, I’ve tried to renegotiate my relationship to all this “stuff.”  I strive not to own anything so precious that it can’t be broken.  Unlike museums where most everything on display is for viewing only, I want my friends, family, and guests to open up drawers, pick things up, and possibly drop them if that is part of the discovery process.  I used to enjoy storing away my little collections for an imagined future when someone would open up my boxes and discover my “treasures.”  Now I find that future rather difficult to imagine, so I’ve moved most of my things out into the open.  Here are a few images from my little corner of the world.  And if you are in the market for an old roller skate key, let me know.


Reply by 4/1/1946

Wedding day: April 20, 1946

This week I tried out the “My Maps” feature in Google maps.  “My Maps” allows you to create custom maps and add your own content to specific locations including images and notes.  For my first project, I used the names and addresses of people who attended the wedding of my grandparents, George and Libby Krtouš, in 1946.

Most of the guests lived in Chicago’s Czech neighborhoods which included Little Village, Lawndale, and Pilsen.  The Czechs began to disperse beginning in the 1930s, many moving to the western suburbs.  You can see the spread of attendees and the beginnings of that shift westward. This isn’t a large dataset, but I think it is a nice illustration of a general trend, a snapshot of a community in transition.

Unhealthy snacks. A stuffed mammal. The powdered wig search continues.

Flying in a plane is like this photo in that you are not on the ground.  Flying in a plane is not like this photo in that you are off the ground for a long time and everything looks like a model railroad display from your window.  On my way to London, thousands of feet above the ground,  I ate a shrimp appetizer off of a china plate, linen napkin on my lap, glass of wine on my fold-out table.  It felt strange to be so civilized while hurtling through the air encased in a metal shell.   Outside my window it was night but I could see the lights of cities like the flames of thousands of bonfires far below me.  I thought about the light places and the darkness between them.  Some time in the past the light places were safe havens from the wilderness.  Today I wonder if the dark places are actually more humane and sustainable than the cities and their twinkling lights.

As promised, I finished my London scavenger hunt.  I’d give myself a B- in terms of success, but I certainly made an effort.  I couldn’t for the life of me find a dog on a bridge or someone in a powdered wig, but I give myself bonus points for showing up at Parliament on Fat Tuesday to watch members of the House of Lords and House of Commons run a relay race that involved running with a pancake-filled griddle pan.

Here’s the scavenger hunt list with links to photos.  Enjoy.

Stereotypically English/European

Ordinary Objects

Out and About

Extra Challenge

London Scavenger Hunt

Tomorrow I leave for London.  I haven’t traveled internationally since the introduction of body scanners, so I took a look at the TSA website to catch up on anything I had missed.  Have you ever looked at the list of items prohibited in carry-on luggage?  A few examples:
  • Meat cleavers
  • Sabers
  • Swords, including fencing foils
  • Bows and arrows
  • Cricket bats
  • Pool cues
I laugh at this list in part because I know that someone has tried to bring this stuff in their carry-on luggage.  After one such incident, someone at TSA probably had to send an email to the website administrator saying something like “Can you please add “meat cleavers” to our list of prohibited items?”  Come on people.  Do you think you can fit a pool cue in the overhead compartment? I don’t think so.  One item I would like to see added to the list is “curling broom.”  If “cricket bat” is on the list, surely “curling broom” should be too.

Curling. Don't even think about bringing that broom in your carry-on.

Traveling is an adventure, and what better way to enhance your adventure than with a little scavenger hunt!  I called up my friend betsy yesterday and asked her to create a list of items for me to find and photograph while I am on my trip.  Entertaining photographs earn extra points.  The gauntlet has been thrown down.  Will I be able to find each item on the list?  Find out next week when I upload the scavenger hunt photos.  Take a look at the list of challenges, organized by category, below.

Stereotypically English/European
  • a punk
  • a jar of marmite
  • a man in a powdered wig
  • a mini
  • a baby on the tube
  • the London Olympic mascot
  • a building pre-dating the London fire

Ordinary Objects

  • a key
  • a cup
  • a clock
  • a cake
  • a ticket

Out and About

  • a boat in use
  • train tracks
  • a scrap of paper found on the ground with something hand-written on it
  • someone in a large hat
  • a dog on a bridge
  • twins
  • an unhealthy children’s snack
  • a street sign that you don’t understand the meaning of
  • someone exercising
  • something you would buy if you had the money
  • something you wouldn’t buy even if someone paid you the price of the item
  • a street performer
  • a three-tined fork
  • an ear of someone you have never met
  • a stuffed mammal

Extra Challenge

  • a photo taken from a rooftop (you must be on the roof and it cannot be a roof for which you need buy a ticket to go on)
  • an autograph (from anyone you meet while in england.  preferably not anyone famous)
  • a photo of your feet in the ugliest shoes you can find

Where do you buy your hats? And other improper questions

As a kid I spent two weeks each summer at my aunt’s farm in Waupaca, Wisconsin.  The farm, like many old properties, was rich with the leftovers of life from the people who lived there in years past.  Though I never had the chance to go up into the attic of the old farm house before it was demolished, I heard that it contained election posters, a dried bouquet of flowers, and other items left behind by the first owners. The barn had relics inside that included a cream separator,  whetstone, J.C. Higgins bicycle (which I took apart a couple years ago and haven’t put back together—sorry Aunt Connie!), and a yellow refrigerator.

I was excited to find the book “Manners for Millions” by Sophie Hadida, published in the early 1930s, during one of my searches.  A couple years ago when I was up for a visit I typed up the manners quiz from the front of the book, unsure of what to do with it.  Below is the quiz with an answer key.  Quiz your friends! Quiz your enemies!  Good luck.  And if you want to learn more about manners, such as why you shouldn’t ask a woman where she buys her hats, then you’ll just have to buy the book.

From, “Manners for Millions: A Correct Code of Pleasing Personal Habits for Everyday Men and Women”
by Sophie C. Haida, 1936

pgs. 2-3 Intelligence Test

Pronounce aloud:
address (on envelope)
address (sermon)

Of the following sentences which are correct?
1. Was you there?
2. What kind of piano have you?
3. One of the boys were there.
4. The man who I saw was ready to pay refused at the last moment.
5. She did not like him telling her what to do.
6. The aunt and guardian were on the porch.
7. Mr. Roger’s s home burned.
8. The dress sets well over the hips.
9. Hens set.
10. I laid down for one hour this morning.

Here are two forms of introduction:
“Mr. Ogden, this is Miss Mannerly.”
“Miss Mannerly, meet Mr. Ogden.”
Which is correct?

With which hand is it correct to convey food with the fork to the mouth?

***Answer key***
right: kol-um
wrong: kol-yum

right: koo-pon
wrong: q-pon

right: a-dult
wrong: ad-ult

right: ad-DRESS
wrong: AD-dress

right: ad-DRESS
wrong: AD-dress

right: se-CRE-tive
wrong: SE-cre-tive

right: q-li-na-ry
wrong: kull-in-a-ry

right: lar-inks
wrong: lar-nyx

right: bron-ki-al
wrong: bron-i-kal

right: hy-DRAN-ge-a
wrong: hy-DRAIN-ge-a

right: sick-la-men
wrong: sigh-kla-men

right: sac-ri-LE-geious
wrong: sac-RE-LIG-ious

right: strenGth
wrong: strenth

right: hite
wrong: highth

right: mu-NIC-i-pal
wrong: MU-na-cip-l

right: ac-CLI-mate
wrong: AC-cli-mate

numbers 4 and 7 are correct

Neither is correct.  Both forms are considered atrocious.

Either hand is correct at times; but you have to know the times.

Hipster Dreams Explained!

Do you wake from a night’s sleep befuddled by your dreams of being a hipster?  Your concerns are not unfounded.  The average citizen is untrained in the art of dream interpretation.  The good people of The Star Series have created the Egyptian Dream Book to instruct you in the ancient practice of deciphering the phantasms that occupy your sleeping unconscious.

This book is not available in an ordinary five and dime store.  In fact, you may not be able to find it in your locality.  For the betterment of the reading public a selection of words that pertain to hipster dreams have been reprinted below.

The Star Series includes such tantalizing titles as “Selected Vaudeville Jokes,” “Tramp Jokes: Recitations & Monologues,”  “Irish Yarns: Fun Wit & Humor,” and “Funny Rhymes: A Choice Collection.”

Hipster Dreams as Interpreted by The Egyptian Dream Book:

  • Bar: To see in a dream a liquor-saloon, bar or wine-shop, gives assurance of a long life.
  • Beard: A very long beard seen in a dream means an unfortunate undertaking; if it is moderately long and white, honors are to be bestowed on you; if it is black, luck is in your favor; if a bearded woman appears in your dream you will soon be wed.
  • Beer: To see one’s self drinking beer in a dream is a threat of serious trouble.
  • Bicycle: Many troubles and losses will be the lot of whoever dreams of a bicycle.
  • Books: To see one’s self reading a good book in a dream, a promise of honors and fine position; if you are reading a wicked book, expect nothing but shame and disgrace.
  • Cigarettes: To see one’s self smoking cigarettes in a dream, or to simply gaze at cigarettes, is a sign of very short-lived joy ahead.
  • Clothing: A dream in which any kind of clothes play a dominant part, announces sorrows, illness, and death.
  • Coffee: To see yourself drinking coffee in a dream, means many disagreeable incidents ahead; if you are roasting coffee-beans, you will have arduous and ill-requited work ahead of you.
  • Glasses: Old fashioned spectacles or eye-glasses, in a dream, tell you that you are very blind and silly in your waking hours.
  • Music: In a dream, to make music or to simply hear some, is a promise of money and bliss in the near future.
  • Mustache: Many quarrels and insults will torment one who dreams of mustaches.
  • Reading: In a dream, to see yourself reading some serious work, means that you will soon be advanced in your profession; if the book read is a novel, you will enjoy fleeting satisfaction.
  • Tattoo: Regrettably, the authors of The Star Series were unable to reach their Cairo dream correspondent for an interpretation of this word due to recent governmental changes.

A Letter from Czechoslovakia, 1945 part 2

And this, readers, is where the letter gets depressing.  As I read it over again, I wonder where the writer of this letter, Lidka, received information about the Russians.  As opposed to the information that she wrote about in the first part of the letter which she saw firsthand, the Russians didn’t come to her village, so she must have heard this information from the radio, letters, or word of mouth.  It isn’t to say that what Lidka writes about is untrue, but I think that we must apply a layer of skepticism to a secondhand account.

Also, this part of the letter contains a lot of updates about people and their lives which gets a little confusing.  Mixed in with who got married to who and how old their children are are some very interesting pieces of information that are worth reading.  Don’t lose steam if the names get a little daunting!

On the other hand, places liberated by Red Army are not doing so well. It is sad that I have to write about it, but it’s true. They are stealing everything they can. People were hiding in the cellars for days, especially girls and women. They were raping them. They are very barbaric. They are robbing homes. They stole everything they could get their hands on from Slovakia and Bohemia. There is nothing left. They are acting very silly. Some of them are wearing twenty wristwatches, from their wrists to their elbows. When one of the watches stops, they throw it away, because they don’t know they have to wind them up. A few times, they brought a big chime clock to a watch master, and they told him to make them smaller wristwatches out of the big one. They are stealing water taps from homes. They are looking forward to sticking it in the wall, and they believe it’s going  pour them water in their houses. They don’t even know what a toilet is for, they are washing in it. I can write about this only because the American soldier is going to mail this letter for us, otherwise, we cannot write about stuff like that, “they” don’t want the truth about Russians to be revealed in the world. They are dirty, unwashed, stinky men, what they want, they take it, no matter what, if you disagree or protest, they shoot, simply like that. People in Slovakia and Bohemia are saying, they are WORSE then Germans. We’d like to see them  leave our country already, but it seems like they like it here, they don’t want to leave.

Now, I’m going to write something about our families. You already know about Karel. He is still sick. His leg his healing slowly. He had no skin on his leg, that’s why it’s taking so long to heal. Our Mana left her husband. She lives in a one-bedroom apartment. The boy is with her. He is nice.  He attends an elementary school. Her husband has to pay her 800Kcs a month as a child support.  She applied for a job in the factory, I hope she gets it. She is doing much better now, without him. Mother is going to stay at the hospoda (note: a hospoda is a Czech pub.  This one must have living quarters attached)  for now. It’s written under her name. It should belong to her anyway (because of some widower law). At least until Karel gets better. We’ll see, if he goes back to his old job in the office or he retires and take care of the hospoda.  Anicka and her husband are still in Susice, I think they are going to move to Plzen soon. She’s supposed to get a job there. Their boys are studying in Plzen, they can save a bunch of money by moving there. My husband is still working as a bus driver. He got a chance to get a better job somewhere else, but we don’t want to leave Susice. We like it here. We have been living here for the last twenty years.  He is going to be promoted next year. The guy who is above him right now is going to retire in a year. I’m in politics. Just like before the war. I didn’t want to do it anymore, but we are building new republic and we all have to work, otherwise there would be just one party, and that would be communists; we cannot let them to take over the republic. I’m a member of city hall, besides me there is another woman, she is a commy. I’m in a party National-socialist, that’s the  party of our president Eduard Benes. Before he became a president, he used to be the leader of the National-socialists.

I’ve already written something about our girls in my last letter, and they are writing a letter on their own to your Lada. They are looking forward to getting a letter from him. And now a little something about the Kyznar family. Jindra’s been married for 3 years now. His wife is teacher. She is not very happy. As every teacher, she doesn’t want to work, she just acts posh.  They bought new house. It is right next to the old one. It has three rooms and kitchen, a big yard and a garden. Aunt Kacenka likes it there a lot, especially the garden. Ota got married as well. He is a bank teller in Pisek. His wife is nice. Their newborn baby died after eight weeks. Lidka’s husband is teacher. Her boy is 6 years old. Something about Vlasta. Her husband is teacher as well. He is very nice. They have a girl. She is one year old. They live in Cukyne. They had to leave Vimperk six years ago because of Germans. They had to leave everything behind. They found a shelter in Cukyne. They are moving back to Vimperk now. Matilda is with them, she doesn’t look good, she is sick, she’s got  stomach cancer. The Pilars have two children, the boy is 10 and the girl is 3 years old. There was an old store in the house and Franta rebuilt it into a little apartment; a kitchen with one bedroom where Pilar’s mother lives. He also built a new barn. They were doing fine during the war. Everybody with farm had a better life then the people in the cities, they had something to live off of. Mana was writing to Bozena some news about the Zikmunds. Yesterday we went to visit the Zikmund family. My husband drove us there. Aunt Pilar was there too, we missed her for minute. She was at Vasek’s place. We couldn’t stay for long. I wrote them a letter about Bozena’s newborn girl. She was crying when she got the news. She is so happy for Bozena, she’d like to see them once again. She is sending a lot of hugs and kisses to them. The Zikmund’s are going to move in Pucherak’s sawmill. Bozena knows it there. Pucherak is German, he has to leave the country so the Zikmund’s are  going to take over.

Ok, now a little something about Zdikov’s  families (note: Zdikov is a small town in Sumava, and the place that the recipient of this letter, Agnes, lived). Horejsova Emila was collaborating with the Germans during the war. Now she is in jail in Volyne. The Bauer’s house and all their belongings were forfeited. Honza Horejs died last year, cancer in the face. Their son was a Germans soldier. Nobody knows anything about him. We think he died in the war. Finally, God punished her for all the bad things she did to us during the war. Anda Valdrichu lost her husband. He died. She lives in Konopice close to Randak’s forest. She is retired. Bozena Havelka’s son was in a concentration camp for four years. Now he is back at home. Lojza died in a  concentration camp in Terezin. Bozena lives alone, the old Havelkas are dead. Fuks is still alive. Tonka is taking care of him. Hadrava’s grandmother is alive too. All of the Novaks are dead–old Rosa, Roska, and even Novacek. The Harvariks are both dead. Their older daughter Anicka married a German; she was a big German fan during the war. I think she lives in Germany with him. I think Bozena is going to be more interested in this.

Cyril Degneru died, Tonda, Franta and everybody from Jirku are dead. Rataj is running his hospoda, he doesn’t work in city hall though. Pepik Buberle died. Chalupoj’s family runs a hospoda as well. They have a daughter. She married a teacher. Tonka Simkova and Adolf are very old and still hard working, but they don’t work for themselves, they work on somebody else, that is bad. They have nobody to live for now, when their Anka left them and went to the USA. Herman Zdekauer, his sister Marika and her kids died in a concentration camp. I don’t know what happened to their belongings. When the Germans took them away, they locked them up in a barn in Cukyne– all Jews were in that barn. Herman was crying and begging for some food, but they didn’t let anybody to bring them anything. All Vimperk’s Jews you knew and you used to go shopping with are dead. Zamecnikova Nany from Cukyne is dead. We went to her funeral two years ago. Pepicka got the house after her. She sold it at the beginning of the war. Then she regretted it. She let it go too cheap. She was going nuts all war because of that. Sieber died one week after Zamecnikova’s death. They had a house in Malenice. We got the obituary, we didn’t go to funeral though. Old Sieberova is still alive. Ela and Greta got married to Germans during the war. I think they are both locked up. I know nothing about Branc. Franta Pilar would know something. When we get together sometime in a year or two, we have so much to talk about. I left Zdikov 21 years ago. I don’t know anybody there anymore, the old ones are dead, and I don’t know any of the young ones.

I hope I’ve written something new, something you might be interested in. In your last letter, you asked me if we need some help or something. Well, we lost almost everything during the war. I know, you don’t live in luxury yourself, that’s why I don’t want to ask you for anything. We hope times will change for the better. I’d like to pack some dried mushrooms and a vase made of glass and send it to you. I have to ask the soldier if he could send it you. What we need the most is lard. Now, when the war is finally over, it is even worse. Everything we have goes to the Russians. We have to feed the complete Red Army. They have nothing, it’s not like the Americans.

Lidka from Pisek was here. She took your letter you sent us. She wants to read it to everybody in Kamence. Post services are improving fast. We can use airmail. All letters from the USA come to Susice by airmail. You wrote us that Jirik is getting married, don’t forget to send some pictures to our girls, they are really anxious to see an American wedding.  We’ve already have five weddings in Susice where the bride is a Czech girl and the groom is American. Today there was one. The whole city is celebrating these weddings. But what’s going to happen when the soldiers leave, nobody knows. I’ve heard soldiers (husbands) are going home first and their wives have to wait for their visas here, or something like that.

We are looking forward to hearing from you asap, and write us something more about yourselves.