Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The West Cork Landscape

I am in Ireland at the moment, in the West Cork village that inspired my second novel, The Music Lesson (which I am pleased to report will be republished in a nice new paperback edition by Three Rivers Press in January).

Because I didn't want to identify the village where we spent our honeymoon in 1976 and have owned a cottage since 1986, I didn't consider mentioning one of the most prominent and identifiable features of Glandore, the Drombeg stone circle. But I regret not setting a scene there. A country mile from my doorstep, the Drombeg stone circle, one of the most intact in all of Ireland, is an uncanny place where a sense of the past looms very large. Ireland has many pasts, from the mysterious culture that built these circles to the maiming hatred that has kept the troubles simmering for nearly a hundred years.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Out of Four

Many of the brands we think of today as classic or even iconic herald from the golden era of candy manufacturing, when there were hundreds of regional brands that were often short-lived. Here is a collection of four vintage candy boxes. One of these is not like the other: Tootsie Rolls. It succeeded while the other three failed. Why? The name, the flavor and texture, the packaging, the marketing? Maybe all of those things.

Chances are you have never heard of the Mars confection called Dr. I.Q., or the "delicious" Cabbage Candy Bar, or Guernsey Girl Malted Milk Chocolate Candy. I would have happily included these long lost confections in True Confections had I known of their existence.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Great Fire of Skala

I am in the final stages of writing a family memoir, The Memory Of All That. In my father's OSS personnel files, of all places, I have discovered information about his parents' origins that I never knew before. My grandfather Samuel Kaufman, a grocer, hailed from Rowno, Poland. My grandmother, Pauline Gottesfeld Kaufman, hailed from Skala in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a town which has had a 20th century odyssey of its own without ever moving, as it was then (1887) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but over the century was part of Poland, then part of the USSR, until 1990, when Ukraine was made independent, and so today it is in Ukraine.

In reading about Skala, I learned that there was a huge exodus of the Jewish population as a consequence of "the Great Fire of Skala" in 1899. The Gottesfelds arrived in America in 1900. Given that my novel Triangle has at its heart the Triangle waist company factory fire of 1911, I regret not having awareness that for a number of immigrants, some of whom were no doubt present that terrible day in March of 1911, there was a bitter irony, fleeing one fire only to meet this historic fire in the land of opportunity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Revisiting Pickaninny Peppermints

I discussed Thurgood Marshalls' ultimately successful crusade against Whitman's Pickaninny Peppermints in April, but the only picture I could locate was small and didn't have much impact. I have a better image now. Lovely, isn't it, the way the candy company best known for the traditional Americana of the beloved Whitman's Sampler box managed to work in the biggest traditional racist cliché about how a certain group of people jes' loves dey watermelon?