1600's, Arrant Nonsense, Colonial History, Early American History, History, New York City, NY, Revisionist History

Grub

 

Elegant al fresco dining & social distancing.

 

 

A few days ago, I posted some pictures of a young cardinal, and mentioned that even though the chick had left the nest, its parents would continue their GrubHub deliveries.

That prompted me to look up “grub.” Because reading the big dictionary, that’s the kind of excitement you can have, after months of quarantine.

I’d always thought that grub, in the sense of food, was cowboy slang – kind of surprising to find out, the OED lists its first use as 1659!

I took that as a Sign.

Thinking about 1659 + grub +cowboys . . .

I should write about Old New York, back when it was The Frontier.

 

 

Once upon a time, New York (then called New Netherlands) was the Wild West — a rip-roaring settlement, clearly no country for old men.¬† Like a colonial version of Dodge City – – cattle grazing, land barons, company stores, unprovoked attacks on Native Americans, gullible hayseeds from Weehawken, etc.

“Hayseeds” have been sticking around since 1577, to provide comic relief, and to hire on as Barney Fife deputies, the ones whose only line is “They went thataway.”¬† (“Hicks,” “yokels,” and “rubes” wouldn’t shamble along until much later.)

“Comic relief” wasn’t invented until 1783, and people pretty much just scowled all through the colonial era.

 

 

“Bandannas” didn’t mosey along until 1741. The Dutch proto-cowboys used to lament “How you gonna look tough / When you’re wearin’ a ruff?”

 

In those bucolic days of yore, Manhattan was a lush, verdant island, a little slice of Edam.

And the European settlers brought in livestock.

(Out-of-towners might say “Cattle drives?¬† in New York?!” and the locals reply, “Haven’t you ever been to New York?¬† They let anybody drive!”)

And I thought, they must’ve had cowboys.

But I was wrong.

It turns out to be an example, of Just How Badly History is Organized.

Because according to the big book, there weren’t any “cowboys” to eat the grub in 1659.¬† That word didn’t ride over the horizon until 1725.

Before that, those folks were saddled with a lame, generic job description, just lumped together with “herders” (1625, from a Dutch word), and shepherds tending their flocks, sometimes by night (without getting paid time and a half).

So, if there weren’t any cowboys, just who was eating this antique grub?

And prior to 1725, did the cows just wander around, running roughshod, unsupervised and untutored, in the streets?

I checked, often they did.

“Milkmaids” (invented in 1552) had a surprisingly strong union, and refused to do any “herding, wrangling, or bovine guidance of any kind.”

Cattle & swine roamed freely for centuries, rooting around in gutters, eating the nasturtiums out of folks’ flower beds, leaving hoof marks on the Bowling Green, and making the tavern floors quite a mess.

With no cowboys to keep order, it was just the Dark Ages, practically, and you really had to watch where you stepped.

 

 

“Howdy!” The greeting is derived from the old-time, cheese-loving cowboys of New Netherlands, from their salutation “Gouda!”

 

 

Even when History finally had cowboys, and could’ve gotten things organized, it wasn’t that great.¬† Turns out, the harmonica, which to me, is another essential part of the oater scene, wasn’t invented until 1821, so for almost a century, these old-time cowboys had to lug guitars around, and maybe harpsichords.

And History didn’t think of “chuckwagons” for another forty-five years, so they had to brown-bag it until 1866.

Without chuck wagons, there’s no chance of carrying eggs for a Western Omelette, or ranch dressing for your salad.¬† “Sandwiches” had been created in 1762, but after hours in a saddlebag, no way they’re going to be in good shape.

Kind of a personal night mare.

If it was me, I’d ride down the interstate until I found a “diner,” but that’s even more recent (1935).

You see what I mean about disorganized history?  Nothing happens in the right order.

 

 

If you’re planning on obtaining an animal this size, it would behoove you to actually read the operator’s manual, and go through an approved cow-owners’ training class, run by a professional cowboy. (“Behoove” from the Old English “behŇćf,” meaning, to not get underfoot or trampled by cows.)

 

 

Anyway, despite these obstacles, New Amsterdam had cattle grazing, out there in Big Sky Country (Manhattan), by 1625.

Amazon wasn’t around yet, but the West India Co. offered Free Cow Shipping, if you purchased land in the new colony (seriously).

There were even (honestly) honest-to-heck prairies in those days, in the Hempstead Plains region of Long Island.

And “desperadoes” (1647) roamed – this is a real reward notice from those days:¬† “And whereas complaints are made that the Gardens of many persons have been robbed and their Poultry taken away, if there be any one who can give information of the Thieves…he shall be paid five & twenty guilders…”¬† Yes, there were no trains or banks to rob, but chickens lived in fear.

 

 

Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim. When New Amsterdam was founded, these Puritans had been living next-door in Plymouth for four years already. The Dutch remembered them, living in Leiden for ten or twenty years, and had wondered where the heck they’d gotten to.

 

 

New Amsterdam was a company town, just like Durango, Colorado – full of fur traders & colorful eccentrics, a Wild Bunch, on the frontier. Only half this bunch was Dutch (there were Danes, Swedes, Germans, Walloons, Sephardim, Huegenots, Holsteins, etc.), and it was a tolerant place, by the standards of the time — a wrangling, polyglot-trouble-spot of the good, the bad, the ugly.

And there were all those cows – then and now, The Big Apple was all about the bull market and branding.

 

 

Each year, more people are killed by cows, than by sharks. Cowboys monitor and prevent gang activity, and keep ’em on the straight ‘n’ narrow.

 

 

So by 1659, when people started eating “grub,” New York had all the makings of a good western – prairies, cows, sheriffs (called “schouten” in those days, as in “Fill your hands, and come out schouten!”), soldiers fighting Native Americans, a stockade, and windmills.

As far as I’m concerned, you have to have a clacking, creaking windmill for the right atmosphere, whether you’re filming Hans Brinker or Rio Bravo.

 

 

 

The stockade, along what’s now Wall St, was actually to keep out English & Yankees, not Indians, but again, a great backdrop for a western.¬† The beer was weak in those days, but a “vaquero” (1519) could have a medicinal shot of Holland Gin, good for arrow wounds, lumbago & sciatica, which you’re gonna get after a long day in the saddle.

But tragically, in its disjointed way, poorly steered, History still lacked chuck wagons, diners, harmonicas, really portable harpsichords, steam locomotives, six-shooters, and cowboys.

 

 

Cowboy’s Lament – the end of free range beef and traditional windmills

 

Sorry to say a discouraging word, pardner, but it’s kinda sad, thinking of those early Dutch herders,¬† home on the range, making sure the windmills didn’t spook the herd, and yet not considered to be cowboys.

Maybe some of them, who didn’t have horses, would just take the Broadway stage to work.

Glumly setting around the fire, eating their “grub” – probably pickled herrings, maybe a bowl of succotash – washed down by a tankard of warm heiferweizen.

And those colonial range riders, darned if they didn’t feel kinda unappreciated somehow, kinda…undefined, you might say, because they weren’t just herders, they were cowboys…but the word just hadn’t sprang into existence yet.

Dang it.

History is just a mess.

 

Yep, lose the fancy duds, trade that lace ruff for a bandana, and this Dutch feller’s ready to ride.¬† That looks to be at least a ten gallon hat.

 

portrait by Fredric Remington (born in Canton, NY)

 

 

Big hats, big boots, horses, cows, prairies, an addictive tobacco habit, windmills, lack of concern for personal hygiene…they were all set for to be cowboys, just didn’t have the right word for it.

But on a happier note, in the morning, there’d be cardinals singing in the trees, beautiful birds which they didn’t have back in Holland – the cardinal chick was what started this whole discussion, remember?¬† And about exactly the same time in history that people started eating “grub,” the Dutch also started coffee plantations, in Ceylon, India, and then Indonesia, so the 17th c. cow-herders could at least have a cup of Java with their donuts.

They’d sing an ol’ cowboy lament from the Lovin’ Spoonful, accompanied only by guitar, since there weren’t no harmonicas yet:

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a cowboy in the city

 

Far as I’m concerned, it ain’t a real western without a few windmills.

 

 

When my relatives Out West, roughing it in the Wasatch Range, want to do some real cowboy-style cooking, they build a fire, shovel the coals into a pit, and do Cast-Iron Dutch Oven Cooking

 

A native New Yorker, and cowboy, of New Netherlands descent.¬† Teddy Roosevelt, at the chuck wagon. Lookin’ kinder ornery, like a man who spotted a saddle sore on his steak.

 

Yep, most a these here pictures are from The Nat’l Gallery of Art,
The Met & the U.S. Library of Congress.
I don’t hold with readin’ much, myself.
It’s jest a sight easier to make stuff up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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déjà vu, New York City, NY, statue, Uncategorized

Where do I know you from?

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.” ¬†William Faulkner

Visiting an art museum in a new city, I saw this little statuette, and liked it.

I also had an immediate and very strong feeling…like I ought to know her from somewhere.

I’d never been to Pittsburgh¬†before, so it was surprising to run into someone familiar.

There are countless statues like this, drawing on Greek and Roman religion and images, around the older cities of the U.S..  Our museums, public buildings, squares and galleries are pretty much an endless toga party in stone and bronze.  But somehow this one caused an instant sense of familiarity.

I don’t usually hang out with people dressed this formally. ¬† So where had I met up with her?

A  protest march against palm oil production?

A militant vegetarian crosswalk guard?

An advertisement for Ivanka’s new “Agent Orange” line of radioactive spray tan?

It was closing time at the museum, and we were hurriedly hiking out of the back forty, having wandered way out there, out of our comfort zone, way past the post-Impressionists, lost in the surrealist and abstract boonies.  Footsore, and in my case, eyesore.

There are never any restrooms in the wings with the more avant-garde art, have you ever noticed? ¬†And when there are, I always worry that the fixtures are just some sort of ironic statement, and not meant to be used. ¬†I don’t want to get arrested for relieving myself on the priceless “Empty Black Suicidal Despair & Soulessness of Modern Life,” thinking it was a toilet.

Anyways…it was closing time, and we were being flushed out by the security guards, and didn’t have time to read the little sign. So a quick photo with my phone, and two days later, saw the the picture, it instantly popped into my head, where I’d run into this lady, years ago – – walking in the park.

Central Park

She’d looked bigger then, a bit more weather-worn, but it was definitely her.

We’d met at the southeast entrance to New York’s Central Park, near the Plaza Hotel.

On that busy corner, called the “Grand Army Plaza,” which holds memories for many people of chestnut vendors and horse-drawn carriage rides through the park, she has a companion. ¬†Two, actually, if you count the horse. ¬†She’s walking in front of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union general from the Civil War.

She symbolizes “Victory” or “Peace” depending on what tour guide you read.

The turn-of-the-century monument was created by Saint-Gaudens, and was his last major work — a middle-aged William Tecumseh Sherman on horseback, almost sixteen feet high. ¬†It’s an excellent statue, like everything the artist did. He’d met with Sherman, and liked him. ¬†But by the time the monument was dedicated, on Memorial Day 1903, Sherman had been dead ten years, and Saint-Gaudens had only a few years left himself.

 

You would think, after all these years, the horse wouldn’t freak out, every time a bird landed on him.

 

Sherman is famous for pointing out the obvious “War is hell.” ¬†Well, the climate in New York ain’t such a picnic, either. Winters can be rough, even if you’re tough and brassy. ¬†At the time I took the photo, years ago, both figures looked like hell. ¬†Or I should say, like they’d been through the wars — peeling, patchy, leprous, badly in need of re-gilding. ¬† The ugly blotched look seems like a distraction from this post, which is about memory, but just as statues are a form of memorial, I suppose loss of memory is a type of corrosion.

 

 

My first impression when I saw this scabby-looking statue of a woman, was that she was Moira, Goddess from the Department of Health, warning of the oncoming Pestilence on Horseback.

The artist incorporated pine branches under the horse’s feet, to symbolize Sherman’s March through Georgia. ¬†Richard Brautigan wrote (with irony, I think) that the Civil War was “the last good time this country every had…” but perhaps the gold-leaf keeps flaking off, as a sign that the war¬†was not all that shiny and happy an experience for some folks.

Periodically, the bronze statues are restored to golden radiance, waxed and buffed, in celebration of civil warfare and burning stuff.

 

In its distressed state, where the gold leaf had come off, the bronze underneath had oxidized to a very dark color, closer to black, than verdigris.

Turns out, under the Greco-Roman robes and gold paint, Victory was a black woman.  The primary model for the statue was a southerner, named Harriette Eugenia Anderson.  She was born in Columbia, South Carolina, although she lived most of her life in Harlem.

Anderson also posed for the figure of “Liberty” on the beautiful $20 double eagle, created by Saint-Gaudens at Teddy Roosevelt’s request, and minted the year the artist died, 1907. I saw on a coin collector website, that it is often reckoned to be the most beautiful coin this country has ever created, but almost all of them were melted down, when we left the gold standard.

Another artist relied on her for the 1916 “Walking Liberty” half dollar, and again for the “Victory” in Baltimore’s “Soldiers and Sailor Monument”.

Anderson was almost forgotten for many years.  Hard to understand now, but apparently her identity as the model for these beautiful golden works of art was kept hushed up for many years, because she was a person of color.

 

an elusive memory

 

When I saw the statuette in the museum, and got that strange sense of something akin to “d√©j√† vu,” it got me thinking about what exactly happens, when we rack our memory.

We say, “if memory serves…” but sometimes, it just doesn’t.

Like a bad waiter, you can snap your fingers, slap your forehead, wave your hands in the air, but it continues to ignore you.

And yet, somehow, even when Memory has knocked off early and gone around the corner to have a drink, there remains a nagging sense of recognition and familiarity.

1870’s glass negative. LOC

People used to use the term “familiar” for witches’ little supernatural helpers, often disguised as cats. ¬†And there is a sense, when that nagging feeling comes over you, of something hovering near you, but unable to be grasped.

Like a ghost of a memory, invisible but nagging at you.

 

 

 

Nerve fibers in a healthy human brain, MRI. Credit: Zeynep M. Saygin, McGovern Institute, MIT. Wellcome Images

Studies of the brain find a real difference between our sense of “familiarity,” and our “memory”. ¬†They actually are completely different parts of the brain. ¬†So what I was feeling when I saw the statuette in Pittsburgh, was technically not ¬†d√©j√† vu, because we’re talking about a delay in recovering a little-used memory, rather than a separate brain function altogether.

Oliver Sacks, the famous neurologist and psychiatrist, described a man who had lost the memory of his wife, but who somehow still retained a strong sense of familiarity in her presence. ¬†(Sacks himself suffered from “prosopagnosia” or “face blindness,” the inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, even those he saw frequently.)

Sacks wrote: ¬†“Every act of perception, is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.” ¬†

Proust’s version: ¬†“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”

Random Factoid:  In reading about this sensation of déjà vu , one site indicates that the people who experience it the most frequently, are age 15-25.

Healthy human brain viewed from behind, Credit: Henrietta Howells, NatBrainLab. Wellcome Images

I’m fascinated by the scientific exploration of memory, but don’t know enough about it, to discuss it intelligently. ¬†All I want to suggest in this post, is that the next time you feel a sense of familiarity, or¬†d√©j√† vu,¬†take a moment. ¬†Pause, look around, breath in the air and its scents, identify the sounds you’re hearing, do a 360, treat yourself to a break from business & busyness for just a few seconds, to see if a memory floats to the surface.

 

Or “percolates” might be a better term. ¬†Like spring water that’s picked up minerals as it passes through the soil and rock layers, our thoughts flow through that mysterious, porous gray matter, and sometimes little particles of memory enter the stream.

 

 

For me, the little glinting crystals of memory in the flow, are generally images.

 

 

D√©j√† vu¬†literally means, “already seen,” and based on my limited understanding, it is generally a visual phenomenon.

 

Music, on the other hand, is preserved in our central brain, right down at the core, and long after all our phone numbers are disconnected and our passwords have passed away.  An old tune may bring back memories of a specific time and place, like the theme song from your high school prom, or that high whistling call a red-tail hawk gives, that evokes walking across the farm fields of Seneca County.

My father always talks about a particular train whistle, he’s never known which type of locomotive, that has a cast-iron association with childhood visits to a grandmother in Pennsylvania. ¬†Not so much the usual whistle blast, more of a deep hooting horn, echoing along the Lehigh Valley late at night, when he was in an attic bedroom. ¬†The vibration from the long trains, or from a thunderstorm, was always¬†joined by a faint chiming sounds, a very musical reverberation from old metal coat hangers, hanging on a hook on the back of the bedroom door. ¬†That train horn summons up a dormant memory, but not a mysterious one, since he knows the time and place.

Why do I always feel like I’ve forgotten something?

Our sense of smell is supposedly the most powerful prompter of memory, like Proust and his famous madeleines. ¬† Personally, I love sponge cake, but the baking smell mostly brings on a mind-clearing “YUM!” and instant salivation, more than a seven-volume remembrance. ¬† But every time I open a jar of thyme in the kitchen, the scent instantly carries me back to my grandmother’s house, where it grew in the¬†cracks of¬†her brick walkways.

Other sights may create a more diffused, vague sensation, not tied to a specific incident — the times when we never do recall or recollect a memory, leaving us with that puzzled or even spooky familiarity.

One article suggested it may be your brain discerning a visual pattern it’s seen before, even if you haven’t consciously identified the pattern, and aren’t conscious of the similarity. ¬†Another article discussed our brains experiencing something like a computer’s processing delay, so that by the time the thought is complete, it registers as a memory, rather than happening in the present moment.

Well, that’s all I can remember that I wanted to say.

I’d be interested and appreciative, if anyone has a¬†d√©j√† vu experience to share. ¬†If you happen to remember one, I mean.

 

 

 

 

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