Saturday, May 9, 2020

Strange Day in Grand Central

Since this below was written, so much is happening out in the real world, beyond my own personal experience of it. I keep thinking about the years I spent in New York City, and wanted to mention a few things here before all our hopes that this terrible nightmare of all the people will come to some resolution.

To go back to soothing memories of the untroubled past, a piece of music comes to my mind: Bobby Short, singing "I Happen to Like New York"...so shall give here a small view of my own New York feelings.

This is a reminiscence of a hot day last summer when I had gone in to New York on a Metro North train from Connecticut, not remembering what exactly I had done earlier that day but thinking it was most likely a stop to see my favorite Medieval gallery at the Met Museum, and visiting another place right nearby: Zitomer Pharmacy (where my daughters and I had all our prescriptions filled over the years when they were kids, and where they lavished attention on "Hello Kitty stickers", modestly priced at 35 cents, that had pleased them immensely.) I love going back to that neighborhood always,  especially feeling at home in the Met's Medieval Gallery, where I can visit certain 13th Century polychromed little figures as sweet to me as my little grand-dog Archie.

That day, I had been walking downtown on Park Avenue, having left the Met Museum and Zitomer's, to go back to Grand Central from whence I'd come earlier. It was a disgustingly hot day, and as I walked down Park Avenue, feeling depleted and dehydrated, all I could think of was ice cream, how it would revive me, but was reluctant to walk either east to Madison Avenue nor west to Lexington to find some place where I could find and have some ice cream. I kept thinking: I must persevere and keep on my way to the station so I can get on a train and get home. I continued walking downtown on Park through the 70s, the 60s, the 50s, then finally finding one of Grand Central's entrances, the one on Vanderbilt Avenue, and got inside the station,. Once there, I could find no signs of any available ice cream, then saw, miraculously, a small neon sign, subtle but elegant, perched just above the main marble floor of the station. It said Cipriani Dolci and I had just read an interesting article about it in the Times or the New Yorker, so made my way in hopes that they were open. I saw two little tables out on a porch-like little platform, a few feet above the station floor, and went up the steps to speak to a waiter standing there, asking him if they were open for someone who just wanted coffee and some ice cream. He said yes, and I sat down. So glad!

I sat admiring the majesty of Grand Central's extraordinary ceiling, so high above, and felt like I had made some heroic trek to get here, to the salvation of cold and delicious ice cream, that would revive me for the trip home. He brought the dish of vanilla ice cream and a cup of hot coffee. My plan was to spoon some of the coffee into the ice cream and refresh my being, feeling I had reached some safe way-station, when the worst happened: I tipped over my coffee cup onto the whole of my little table, drenching its white cloth covering (though my ice cream was still intact.) He removed the debris, and I finished the ice cream, saving my soul from the heat exhaustion and dehydration of the moment. Very embarrassed was I, but he, in gentlemanly fashion, made nothing of it. I paid my tab and went down the steps and on to search for my train track.

From this vantage point...I would give anything to be heading back to Grand Central, to be back in familiar neighborhoods, in the ordinary but wonderful texture of life. We all know, though, that this is now, and memory will have to suffice...but here's to what we will call normalcy and it is very welcome!




An online photo of Cipriani Dolci in its marble-walled environs at Grand Central Staiton.


Today,  Sunday, May 10, 2020, I found this picture below on the front page of  the Sunday New York Times, its caption reading:

         "Art Is Long. So Is Lockdown: Outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York"


                                                                       
                                 I,  too, with a million zillion others, happen to love New York.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Art of Framing Stands Alone



I was in my 30s when I first noticed among my pictures a small watercolor framed earlier which had stains permeating the paper on which it had been painted, apparently due to an unfortunate use of inappropriate adhesive applied by an unwitting but uninformed framer.

In those years, I was unaware of what are now standard procedures in conservation framing but everything that has been framed since then has been fine in its protection of the paper, the pigment and the essence of the image which, of course, should remain unchanged over time...the ideal objective in framing.

Here in my apartment there is a really wonderful collection of frames, in which reside paintings and drawings, some by myself, others by members of my family who are artists, and some by artist friends.

But there's also another dimension to the art of framing, beyond the holistic rightness of the methodology of framing, which has to do with the process that weds the image to its partner: the ideal frame.

My own preference is to paint on paper, not canvas, and have for years used a certain strong yet fine grained watercolor paper that comes in the form of watercolor blocks. It's a wonderful paper that can withstand multiple layers of watercolor and pastel and ink, and yet, like all paper, is vulnerable to the onslaughts of time, moisture and even so subtle an influence as air.

I like Instagram a lot, particularly when am able to post a photo of some small view of nature and then write a caption for it. I have so often found and posted leaves that were pelted by the rain and sent down to the ground before they've even experienced their season of summer days and nights. One caption describes photos of leaves flat on their backs on a wet pavement, the rain only bringing out more beautifully their extraordinary colors and delicate linework. So regarding a painting, fellow sibling to a leaf, its fate is not to be left to chance and the hazards of weather, but instead to find a comfy, permanent home in the two (yet also three) dimensional world called a frame.

I sometimes save favorite leaves in a book, an old and excellent dictionary that belonged to my aunt Connie, and think that once placed there, the leaf can relax and be safe from wind, rain, and life's general chaos. Likewise, a picture housed in its unique frame (chosen to surround it but also to harmonize with it) is in safe harbor just as its leaf siblings are in the dictionary. It can finally just be...be itself...and look out through the glass at a world that is otherwise unsafe for things made of paper.

After finding that sadly damaged watercolor (due to the unfortunate framing process years ago) I looked into Yellow Pages to find a shop in New York City that both did conservation framing and was open on Saturdays. My daughters and I lived in Roosevelt Island at the time, and my job, being Monday to Friday there on the Island, required going over to Manhattan on a Saturday to visit a framing shop. And of all the places called, only one said, yes, we're here Saturday afternoons. That was Hammerquist Gallery, and I was speaking to its owner, Bob Hammerquist, at the shop that was then on Third Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets. Bob and his wife, Cathy have had, over the years, several framing shops in the same neighborhood, the Rose Hill section of the city, just south of Murray Hill. Their earliest shop was on East 30th Street, with, as Cathy once told me, a lovely distinctive red door looking out onto 30th Street. The second shop was on Third Avenue at 29th Street, and this one now is at 529 Second Avenue Street, between 29th and 30th Streets (see the photo just below.)


The view looking toward the door on Second Avenue...
the wall covered with spectacular frames.




I went on to become a customer, proceeding to have a first small bunch of watercolor, ink, and pastel landscapes framed, a harmonious combination of moulding and mat and "breathing space" that have never ceased to admire, now decades later. Posted here is a photo of the corner of one of these first framings done back then. In those days they were often mouldings that Hammerquist Gallery fashioned themselves: buying wood from the lumberyard and developing their own beautiful wood stains and finishes, not to speak of the conservation mats and conservation methods throughout.




And then,  a few years later, I went on to work there at Hammerquist Gallery on Third Avenue for several years, in the office on the upstairs mezzanine,. It was such a pleasure to be in an environment where art abounded and the framing excellent. I'm hoping the pictures I post will attest sufficiently to the rarity of good framing: the "rightness" of a frame and a picture finding a perfect yin and yang relationship.

Earl Mayan


Earl Mayan, for whom this shop is named, was a teacher at Art Students League for many years, and an illustrator of Adventure Magazine covers in the 1930s, and of Saturday Evening Post short stories as well. And when he was in the army in Europe during WWII, he made a series of exceptional drawings of his fellow soldiers, which drawings he was able to roll up and keep until he could send them home to his wife. Many of these are now framed and hanging there at E. Mayan Studio, along with much more of his work, including two striking ship's paintings that were recently seen in the shop's front windows on Second Avenue, and a large painting of a restaurant in France which you will see in the photos below.

Earl Mayan was also a writer of poetry and biographical writings about the Impressionists, whom he revered. Will post more about this in future.


Here follow some Earl Mayan paintings on display in the shop...in their distinctive Hammerquist frames:
























Cathy Hammerquist


Bob's wife Cathy...and Earl's daughter:  Cathy Hammerquist is an artist in oils and acrylics, whose landscapes evoke the Hudson River school of painting, and whose imaginative subject matter, such as the frog seen below and other creatures of the natural world, can also be found displayed in the shop. Cathy's paintings are also housed in beautiful Hammerquist frames.


Some of Cathy's paintings:



























This last little painting of Cathy's is one I purchased and have hanging in my bedroom. It is tiny, and is housed in a little box frame which protects it and also harmonizes with the beautiful dark tones of wood and distant shore and water eddies.


Alexandra K. Sellon

Here follow some of my own watercolors and ink drawings, in Hammerquist frames. (Some of my work may also be seen there at E. Mayan Studio.)




This is one of a series of images drawn in the marvelous Medieval rooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which paint was later applied at home (but in this case, it remained an ink drawing.) A small corner of my living room is peopled with these Medieval figures, including several Madonnas with baby tenderly carried. This Hammerquist moulding is particularly ideal for the drawing...it has a copper bevel and an intricate carved design on the outside.

The first such drawing done at the Met was while I was an art student at Pratt Institute: it was a 13th century polychomed mother and child, about 12 inches tall, but enormously appealing to me in its feeling and simplicity and sweetness. My drawing was done on newsprint (as was the case for all the art students on field trips) but it was very considerately framed by my mother way back then, which accounts for its survival to this day intact. 




One of several fish drawings done on a particular day at Citarella Fish Market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a Hammerquist framing I love.



A Roman coin miniature, in one of the mouldings nestled in the flat files at E. Mayan Studio




Colorful Bird is in a frame with graceful lines carved into the moulding, graced further by a mat with an orange bevel, a special Hammerquist detail.


And my lovely cat, Luchy (Lucia), Cornish Rex, in her round gold frame:



Lastly, here are illustrations by my grandfather, Louis Fleming. He was born in the late 1800s, the youngest of five children, his mother having died when he was just a little guy. He went to school only through 8th grade, proceeding then to work almost as an apprentice, learning to do illustrations on a newspaper. He had assignments of things like fires and other happenings, this in the days before photography was used for papers. He and his brothers all were artists or in the world of printing. The two illustrations which follow were several of the many freelance jobs he did for years. The first below was for Mohonk Mountain House in 1925 and the second, for Texaco in 1929. At age 50, he became Art Director of Conde Nast Press, where he worked until he was 75. I always wished I'd known him to talk to when I was a student artist and a grownup person, but when he died I was still a kid and didn't realize what I would have liked to ask him about. Here are the illustrations mentioned above, and a couple of his ship paintings, all enhanced by their Hammerquist frames (except for the last one, see the explanation which follows.)
Louis Fleming












In all his ship paintings, he always placed the tiny red dot of color on the port side of the ship (as can be seen in the painting above, as per the world of sea travel.)

This last picture is also a ship painting by Louis Fleming which is inscribed, down in the left hand corner, to my aunt Connie, in 1937. Connie was also quite an afficianado of framing. She worked for years in New York City, and lived in Greenwich Village, where she found, way back, a wonderful framer on 6th Avenue. (I think his name was Buddy Adler, as I often heard her mention him, but will look into this to be sure I am correct about his name.) I think it was her love of framing (and my mother's as well) that influenced me to hold it in such high regard. She particularly loved a dark blue with a distinctive dark red, as this framing demonstrates. And note here also that Buddy Adler too liked to add a colored bevel to a mat, as Bob has done many a time....this is the real essence of good framing and should be hailed as an art to be cherished!




A final thought about the wonder of frame mouldings and what magic they can do to a painting. There are wonders to be found within the fabulous flat drawers at E. Mayan Studio, filled with these myriad, often vintage, mouldings...here, a small sampling:








But the wonders of a good frame do not automatically fly forth from the drawers into the reality of the final piece: this requires the artistry of Bob Hammerquist to bring together the art and its final realization in such a way that they seem inseparable (at least as I see it on my four walls here at home in Connecticut!)

Some views of the shop walls:





And the sign in the shop's window on Second Avenue:




Friday, April 19, 2019

MY AUNT, IRENE KITTLE KAMP



 About Renie...



Irene Kittle Kamp was born in 1910, and became a writer at the age of 18, when she graduated from high school during the Depression. My mother, her eventual sister-in-law, had great admiration for Renie for her resourcefulness at such a young age. My father, the oldest sibling of five, and Renie and her three sisters, lost their mother, Irene Rutan Kittle, to kidney failure at the age of 43. My father was 21 when it happened, about to marry my mother. The youngest of the sisters was 12 and the oldest was about 18, but the sisters were overseen beautifully by the wonderful Granny Kittle, whose 97th birthday party I later attended as a little girl. Due to the Depression, jobs were scarce for all, but Renie found a job at a newspaper in Long Island, the Daily Review, where she worked on the obituary pages, interviewing families for information for the listings. And she went forward from that job to Conde Nast in New York City, to Cue Magazine, where she did drama reviews, and to Glamor and Seventeen magazines (Editor and Editor-in-Chief.) In the 1950s and 60s, Renie wrote many short stories with her writer/artist husband, Louis Kamp, for the Saturday Evening Post. She then began writing for films, and in collaboration with other writers, had screenwriting credits for "Paris Blues", 1961, "The Lion", 1962, "The Sandpiper", 1965 (screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, Michael Wilson, Louis Kamp and Irene Kamp), "The Beguiled", 1971, and "The Possession of Joel Delaney", 1972. Renie and Louis both went on to write plays, and in 1966, Renie had her play, "The Great Indoors", produced on Broadway. Renie died in 1985 at 75. Her obituary can be found in the New York Times archives, titled: "Irene Kittle Kamp, Editor Who Wrote for Stage and Films." 



THis below, from the New York Times archive, is Renie’s article about her surgery for cancer in 1979:



The New York Times ARCHIVES 1979

Health; FACING A NEW FACE ‘When I was told I had cancer and that surgery would take off my nose, I was sure the only way I could deal with it was to kill myself.’

By IRENE KITTLE KAMP

SEPT. 9, 1979


About the New York Times Archive:

September 9, 1979, page 129 - This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to archive_feedback@nytimes.com.

A year and a half ago, I went into the hospital at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles and had my nose and part of my face removed by Dr. Harvey Zarem, head of plastic surgery at U.C.L.A. The operation is called a resection of squamous cell carcinoma of the nose, the upper lip and the jaw bone. I waited until I was quite alone to look into a mirror and see the great hole in my face. For a moment everything inside me seemed to lurch sideways and up as though all of me wanted to get outside of me. And then my stomach steadied and I swallowed bile. I stood forlorn in a bleak landscape. I had stayed too long at the fair.
When I'd been told that the lesion inside my nose was cancer and that if not removed it could spread and kill me and that the necessary surgery would probably take off my nose, I was quite sure that the only way I could deal with that was to kill myself.
I am 10 years younger than the century. I have, as a Chinese curse has it, “lived in interesting times,” and while I can't say that it has all been grand, it has certainly all been rich, wonderful and also terrible. Go now, I told myself, before it gets to be just plain terrible, all wonder gone.
But I didn't go. I had just been through a very good experience and I simply would not accept the possibility that my end was near. I had finished a rough draft of a new play, “Sashay Ladies, All Sashay,” that had two very affirmative readings at the little Los Angeles theater that Oliver Halley and Elizabeth Forsythe Bailey had established for playwrights, and I thought if I can hang around a while longer, I will see the play done big and then I will go quietly. I learned that while surgery was the preferred treatment for nose cancers, there had been some success with cobalt radiation; so I chose the radiation. I had six weeks of it; Louis Kamp, the man I live with (who is my former husband), and I went to New York to celebrate. On our return to Los Angeles, another biopsy showed the old squamous cell to be still very much there. Surgery was imperative.

As I looked at what had been my face, I was the little fox, cornered. I could not go now. I had neither the strength nor the courage nor the privacy necessary to do it. I had let myself get involved with people whose work it was to take off my face and give it back to me; I could not quit in the middle. It was just plain terrible at this point and there was nothing I could do about it.

I didn't cry, I didn't scream and I didn't turn nasty or difficult. I behaved very well and many people have called me brave. I don't call it bravery. For me it was simply a bitter estimation of my position. I was a hostage: to Dr. Zarem, his staff, the hospital people, to Louis, friends who care and call (or sometimes don't call). A hostage walks in a state of controlled and obedient terror; pathetic, pliable, paranoid and very quiet.
It all began, it seemed, with a prolonged cold in the winter of 1977. I've had various flus, but a common cold was rare for me. After the cold cleared up, I saw a tiny lesion inside my nose, in the septum area. I assumed it had been rubbed raw by too much nose blowing, so I ignored it. On a routine visit to my doctor, Morton Effron, I said, “This thing in my nose doesn't go away.” He looked at it and said, “You'd better have a biopsy, it could be a lowgrade cancer.
No bell sounded; no knell either. I'd never feared cancer. Never. Not me. I've had too many other fancy diseases killing, weird illnesses. Like the time I died as an ambulance delivered me to a hospital where they stomped on me and brought me back to life. I had had an acute coronary infarction, but in a few weeks was up and around and mildly sassy. Cancer, I was sure, would pass me up. It didn't.
Dr. Effron sent me to Dr. Robert O. Ruder, a nose and ear man. He took two biopsies. After the second one, he asked me to come in and bring Louis. We came in. He said: It is cancer. I think he called it by its rightful name: squamous cell carcinoma. Dr. Ruder and Louis looked very grave. I don't know how I looked. I just felt we mustn't break down now; we must try to be cheerful and pleasant.
I'm not sure whether it helps to have a handsome doctor, but it does give you something to look at instead of the gloomy future. Dr. Ruder is a beautiful young man, with a face you'd expect to see in an Italian movie, except he is tall and lean like a California basketball star. I went along with whatever he suggested, slightly numb but grimly determined to stay light and mocking.
He asked if I would mind letting a whole cabal of doctors—gathered in a seminar at U.C.L.A. — look up my nose. A second opinion, multiplied a hundred times. And free. I have always enjoyed being looked at, so I dressed carefully for an afternoon gathering of doctors at a lecture hall at U.C.L.A.
I was directed to a platform and seated under powerful lights. There, a dignified, whitehaired personification of your friendlyneighborhood highpriced specialist shone a light on my tiltedback face and began what to me was an incomprehensible lecture.
Now the young ones began to troop up on stage and stare at my nose. There was more discussion, many questions and I was dismissed. Later, Dr. Ruder gave me their conclusions. Have it out, or it could, probably would, within five years spread all over my face and kill me.
Louis asked many questions. Dr. Ruder was most candid. If he had the cancer he would have it cut out at once. Would the nose go? Some of it, surely. What other choice is there? Cobalt radiation. How successful is it? In some cases, completely successful, and, of course, it is not as destructive as surgery. Go home and think about it, Dr. Ruder said. We did that.
After I chose the radiation, I was directed to a private clinic in Los Angeles very near to where Louis and I live. I can't say that I made my choice out of laziness. I think anyone would choose any reprieve from losing one's nose.
I believed in the radiation, believed firmly, religiously, passionately. But the radiation didn't get rid of that old squamous cell. I had bet on my own luck; it had failed me.
Dr. Ruder was so distressed by the failure of the radiation therapy that as a courtesy to him I said I would go again to U.C.L.A. and let the plastic surgery head, Dr. Zarem, tell me about surgery.
Those were the days when Louis would say, “You can always kill yourself. But listen to them, at least, listen.”
Maybe it's California, maybe it's just my fate, but Dr. Zarem is also a very handsome man. Like an amiable Humphrey Bogart. Nice to look at while you listen. Also charming, gracious and, under the circumstances, even amusing. He also reminded me of my father as a handsome young man.
Dr. Zarem made no promises. We go in, look around, take out everything we think necessary. You can and probably will lose a good part of the nose, the bone ... After the examination, he summoned Louis, who had been waiting outside, and explained it all to him. He was patient, thorough, precise. Indeed, with Louis there, he added: “I must warn you, Mrs. Kamp, that after the operation you will look like you've been hit in the face with a grenade. We can also put things back to some degree.”
That was in February 1978. Dr. Zarem could put me into the hospital on March 5 and operate on March 6. I accepted the date, figuring that I could always cancel.
I never underestimated what was going to happen to me. My terror was that I could not handle the afterward and it would then be too late to get out.
I did not at any time feel sorry for myself. I did wish I could be out of it without doing anything, but I did not ask what many cancer victims do ask, “Why me?” Indeed, in this century of the Holocaust, I think it is obscene to ask such a question of any personal calamity. “Why not me?” I would snarl at friends who asked the question for me. I still didn't cry, but I think I took to snarling during this period. I was the cornered fox.
While I didn't feel sorry for myself, I never minded and I still do not mind other people feeling sorry for me. Go ahead, be my guest. Compassion sweetens the air. A small sorrow I permitted myself was the fact that at this time of my life I was betterlooking than I had ever been. Age had given my face something that youth had withheld.
The great medical and research conglomerate that is U.C.L.A. Medical Center is in Westwood, which lies between Beverly Hills and the sea. Unlike most southern California communities, you don't just see people on the street, you see lots of people, mostly young and golden and healthy. I noticed what beautiful noses they all had.
The Sunday afternoon of my first entry was most reassuring. The room was quite spacious for a hospital, furnished and decorated like a rather nice motel. The afternoon was taken up by trips to be Xrayed, to have an electrocardiogram and other tests. It did seem to me that everyone — nurse, wheelchair attendant, technician — seemed to know all about me, called me by name.
Louis went with me when Xrays were taken of my head and later he said to me, Those pictures of slices of your head went by satellite to the Soviet Union.” Oh, sure, I said, “they want to know what it looks like because they are suspicious of the fact that I was born on the day and the year that Tolstoy died in Russia.” Louis and I talk this way.
I sent Louis away, knowing at this point I was as ready as I'd ever been. I had moved into a state of strange, lightheaded euphoria — an abnormal feeling of buoyant vigor and health. I suspect there are many who call up euphoria as a way of dealing with terror. Soldiers going into battle must feel it, else they would run away, I should think.
As evening came, there was much coming and going of nurses, the anesthesiologist, the team of resident doctors and finally, Dr. Zarem, who tried to tell me what the procedure for the next morning would be. I did not really hear, much less understand, anything of what he said. But I nodded, nodded.
The soft voices of all around me reminded me of a scene in a great movie: On the eve of the battle for Agincourt, Olivier as Henry V mingles with his soldiers at the campfire, their voices low, contemplative; afraid but also unafraid, committed. Now, besides Bogart and my father, Dr. Zarem reminded me of Olivier as Henry V. As he said good night to me, there was in his eyes something I came to look for, to feel reassured when I saw it. There is a point where his eyes seem to focus on something deeper inside your own eyes, as though gauging at a very deep level your wellbeing, your stamina...your chances.
At what seemed dawn the next day, nurses slid softly in to wake me, remove my own nightgown and slip on the hospital gown. The anesthesiologist came and stuck some needles in me. I was rolled from my bed to a gurney and off we went, trundling swiftly, smoothly, silently to the dungeonlike lower depths to a room where there were already other patients with i.v. bottles hanging high by their gurneys.
I was sliding under by now. And then, my father's eyes, shining between the bluegreen cap and mask, came close and looked deeply at me. Dr. Zarem was here. I could safely sleep. I did.
But only for a moment. I woke up and a nurse came over and smiled down at me. I said, quite petulantly, “Oh, when do they take me? When do they start?” And she said, “It's over, Irene. It's all done.” That was Monday, March 6, 1978.
I remember very little of the rest of that day. I was probably thoroughly sedated. Whenever I came to, there was always a nurse hovering. Louis seemed to drift in and out, looking suddenly young and handsome. Later I was to wonder, did he look handsomer to me because I was sure I would look hideous?
By Tuesday I was well aware of the bandages over my face and the doctors and nurses coming in and peeking under them. I sipped liquids from straws, took the medications and slept.
On Wednesday 1 went home. Louis could not do enough for me. It distressed me to think of this 71-year-old man going up and down stairs all day long, carrying trays, bringing mail, books, flowers. So on Thursday I got up, got dressed and went downstairs and had some of my blessed filtered coffee. For the first time I really stared at the great hole in my face. Of the nose, only the bridge was left and the two outer nostrils.
I took to singing. “Goodbye, my lady love, / Farewell, my turtle dove, / Goodbye, oh, goodbye, nose that used to be.” A tiny graft of skin taken from my right leg had been laid in under the nose to connect the nose area to the lip area, but I could see how much of the tissue under the nose had been removed. Nothing hurt. Except the place on my leg from which skin had been taken to make the face graft. That place seemed to fret under the iodinesoaked gauze pad. Irritating, nothing more.
I was alive, I was as cancerfree as a great doctor could tell me I was, and there was good reason to believe that eventually — oh, a year at least — I would have a reasonable facsimile of a face. But felt I had made a terrible mistake. I did not see how I could get through what lay ahead. I quailed at the thought of the terrible sacrifice that Louis would now begin to make for me, my needs, my vulnerability. I was sure he would grow to hate me. I hated myself, this different, dependent, frightened unself.
I am a fantastically vain woman. Not a beautiful woman, not even really a pretty woman. But I have always managed to look good and I've taken great pride in that. I knew that some part of what I was feeling was simply vanity. But there was something else. The central fact of my life, I do believe, is my ability to communicate swiftly, easily. Some of this had been developed in childhood; I am one of five children, the middle child, but my grandmother always sent me out on the difficult errands, telling me, “Oh, laugh and say, laugh and say.” I was never told exactly what to say, but I did learn to say it with an open and merry face.
Later, as a young woman in New York, the depression sitting like a dirty gray bathrobe over the wounded city and Hitler's crazy screeching sounding on the radio, I joined the Communist Party. I was later expelled for what one of my judges called “bourgeois individualism.” But at that time the party seemed the only political group trying to deal seriously with either the depression or Hitler.
I was living on Bank Street in the Village and I would rise before dawn, put my little white gloves and my smart French beret in a paper bag and go to the New York docks where I sold Daily Workers to longshoremen. It was supposed to be dangerous, and for the male comrades…it was. They were usually beaten up. But the longshoremen accepted me, even bought papers or took the leaflets (asking them not to load supplies to Nazi Germany) I distributed. Afterward I would catch a cab, and once inside put on my beret and my gloves and go to work at the place where they published Vogue. I don't think this activity did much to promote any of the things I believed in. I think the men bought my wares to indulge a small and determinedly pleasant girl. But those mornings made me forever free with strangers. And even as a frail old lady I have not been afraid to move through the unknown, speak to the stranger.
But now, I could never do that again. My damaged face would interfere with any direct communication, would inspire a frightened stare or a turnedaway face. I have seen mutilated people being brave, determined, bold even in their efforts to communicate with others. Where did it get most of them? I knew I could not be that brave.
Fortunately, the man I live with, Louis Kamp, has always preferred a very private life. I had always chafed against this; it had been a contention between us. But now, I subsided into the quiet life, wary, skittish, but eventually comfortable.
Louis is a very good painter as well as writer. He had been in the 84th Engineer Camouflage Battalion, which operated in Africa, France and Germany during World War II, and had designed and constructed many things to fool enemy eyes. He now set himself to devising something to go under my bandages to hide the fact that there was no nose underneath. He would bring me little halfcone constructions of gauze and tape to try on. As we tried these out, we began to laugh, discussing the havoc we might cause if I went out without anything under the bandage. Or even a bandage. It was dark laughter an indulgence in a moment of cruel, nasty fantasy.
Around the house I did not wear a bandage it was all healing marvelously and one morning at breakfast Louis looked across at me and said, “You know, you look kind of cute with that hole in your face."
I did not encourage callers and I would not go near Beverly Hills or Hollywood. I did not want to run into anyone who did not know and would have to be told in the middle of the air. The only exercise I like is walking, so we took to driving to downtown Los Angeles and walking around the sweet old buildings there.
Everyone knows that we do not yet know what really causes cancer, yet when you get it yourself, you are sure that yours must have a cause which can be found. You ask, you search, you ponder. Dr. Zarem had this to say about my cancer: “We know that squamous cell cancers and basal cell cancers of the skin, the nose, the mouth can be caused by irritation. And a chronic irritation, a repeated irritation can cause a cancer of this type. We also see them when they come out of nowhere, so in any given case we can't be certain.”
He said cancer inside the nose is not common, but it definitely does happen. Asked if he has had to take off many noses, he said, “We have to do it frequently in this community because of inadequately treated skin cancers that involved the entire nose.”
Naturally, I asked if he had gotten to mine earlier would as much destruction have been necessary. His answer was: “From the description of what you had I think that probably it would have taken pretty much the same route, but that is speculation. We would rather not have had the radiation because a lot of the problems we are dealing with now [the tip of the nose has not yet healed properly) may be due to radiation.”
I've smoked since I was 16 years old, so all my nonsmoking friends think they know what caused my cancer. But once Dr. Zarem noticed some mottled spots on my throat under my ears, and asked what they were. Over 50 years ago I'd been told what they were. Because as a girl in her early teens, I'd had constant bouts of tonsillitis. And because I was always a frail child, it was decided that instead of an operation to remove the tonsils, I should have the great new thing, Xray. Every week, throughout a summer, my father took me to that gray pile, St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, where my tonsils were gradually removed by Madame Curie's magic rays. A few years later the marks began to show up.
Could those Xrays have caused this cancer? Well, Dr. Zarem said, if it had gotten to your nose...but it's speculation. We do know that children who were radiated in the neck for tonsils have an extremely high percentage of thyroid cancer later. We feel that anyone who's had their tonsils radiated should have the thyroid removed, period.” My thyroid had been removed 30 years before at what is now Memorial SloanKettering Cancer Center in New York. It had not been malignant.
Recently, a friend told me of a doctor in Birmingham, England, who has been doing research on nose cancer. Among his findings: There is a great deal of nose cancer in south China ; nose cancer may be caused by an airborne virus. I am subject to things that are more usual in distant places where I've never been. Like the encephalitis I had as a teenager, caught, it was assumed years later, from feeding my brother's pigeons. I had always heard that encephalitis is most common among female teenagers of India.
For a long while after the first operation, I was abnormally afraid that it would all start up again. When he learned of this, Dr. Zarem was very firm, almost stern. “Should that ever happen, you will be the first to know after I know.” Reassuring, as far as it goes, but I'm sure that everyone who has had any cancer of any kind carries the same fear forever after.
I was, at this period, in and out of Dr. Zarem's office at least once a week. Two months later, Dr. Zarem booked me into the hospital for the start of reconstruction. I was to learn that the taking off is nothing; the putting back is like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. I know, because Louis was working on a musical about Bosch, and books of his paintings were all over the house. Most of the Bosch grotesqueries looked better than I did. Reconstruction is a very complicated, strange series of procedures. Sometimes it has the rhythm of “one step forward and two back.”
To get skin and tissue to plug up the hole between the nose and the lip, skin at each side of my nose was taken and brought down to grow little tusks at each side; later, these were laid back and up to form an incredible graft. To get a tip for the nose, skin was taken from my forehead and laid down over one eye and caught at the nose; also later much of this was laid back. To get a bone for the nose, a sliver of my own bone was taken from my hip, slipped down into the nose through slits in the area between eyebrows.
Up until now, though the sight of my destroyed face saddened me, I had not thought much about doing away with myself. Up until now, the hope for simple survival had been enough. But as we embarked on the reconstruction, I was suddenly plunged back into the old “slough of despond” and I knew I needed something more than the need to survive to...survive.
So, before I went into the hospital again I got out the discarded draft of “Sashay Ladies, All Sashay,” and though I would put it aside every time I went into the hospital, soon after I'd get back I'd take it out and work on it.
I began to take a new technique into the operating room with me. No matter what was done sometimes with only a local anesthetic I would visualize my play in a great set by Peter Larkin, beautifully lit by Tharon Musser, being given that fourth wall that Geraldine Page carries around with her in a shopping bag. These three had once served me well and this time I added Katharine Hepburn playing the part that is an old lady like me. No matter what Dr. Zarem was doing to my face, as long as I was conscious I kept this vision of a small stage set in my head. It seemed to me that I would again hear an audience laugh and laugh and then fall into that intense stillness that tells you they are really listening. 
In a small shop Louis and I found some cards made of prints of the Magritte painting of a man's head with huge green apple blotting out the face. The way I felt. I used the cards for messages to people who wrote me or sent flowers. One was to Wally Reiss, the New York painter and art dealer. Soon after, I was told he had terminal cancer and just before he died he sent me a message. “Tell Renie she is one of the lucky ones — something can be done for her.” Whenever things became very dark, I would try to remember what Wally had said, to accept it as an obligation to hang in there.
After one of the most difficult of the operations, during which they could not keep me anesthetized, but could not stop what they were doing, I emerged kind of a heroine to all who were there. Later, Dr. Zarem said, “Irene, you are indestructible.” No, I wanted to say, no I'm not, but there's a little blue devil of an ego dancing up there beyond the surgical lights, saying act brave and you'll have them all fooled.
Act brave. It is a year since the grenade exploded in my face. The final operation, we hope, was done on the same day, March 6, as the first operation, only a full year later. I have walked this year of eight procedures (as they so euphemistically call surgery), sometimes bandaged, and though timid, able to go out of the house; other times with such monstrous grotesqueries composed of my own skin and bone attached precariously to my face that I wouldn't even sit in the garden for fear I might frighten the birds or the neighborhood cats.
I have a nose and a face. Not exactly what I'd had before, but not frightening. I am nervous when facing friends, but fairly easy with strangers. I can trade stares with the neighborhood cats and I don't think any member of the ninth generation of blue jays in our garden is apt to mistake my nose for a peanut. But I once did.
I really did fear the sassy jays. Blue jays have a shifty sideways glance. They look at you, they see you, but they seem to have turned away, as though to fool you. There are people who do that, too, but for some reason I've always pitied rather than feared them. The jays I feared. I would go out to the garden and sit there for a few moments and there'd be a jay, slipping through the trees like a thief and settling nearby quiet, turned away, as though not noticing me at all. But that sideways glance was riveted on my nose which, at this point, was composed of another part of me attached to my face, but a large and bulbous arrangement that looked just like a peanut. I would leave the garden and sit on a small porch near a back door. In a moment, the thief was perched nearby, glancing sideways at my nose. I would speak to it, trying to explain, but it didn't move, all the while keeping one eye trained on it.
Now when they see me, the jays make their clickclack sound asking for peanuts. I give the peanuts to them real peanuts. My nose isn't much to look at, but it doesn't look like a peanut.
I love being old, I told Dr. Zarem, at the very beginning of all this. Love it. love the relaxed, wry, amused knowledge which comes to the old that so much, so very much is of no importance whatsoever. I think and read and ponder small and large matters in a clearer, less agonizing way than ever. I do believe that the things of my head are in better order than they ever were. But the body — aye, there's the rub. You have all this lovely acceptance, affection, forgiveness, but you don't always have the strength to put it to work. Wallace Stegner, I think, wrote something to the effect that to be old was to be someone very young with something wrong with him. Like cancer?
Together, Louis and I are beginning to live a more normal life. Someday will try to write about a beautiful old man, Louis Kamp, who has a very young, inquiring, curious and wildly humorous mind. Without him I could never have come this far. With him, have tried to develop some of the strong, forbearing, ever accepting character that he has shown throughout.
And we actually went to a crowded social event, an auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet out here to benefit Dr. Zarem's cancer research.
There is an area at the tip of the nose that has not healed; indeed, it has its own spitting anger of sorts. This may mean more surgery, but we go along in hopes that eventually it will clear up and heal. There are little pillows of flesh that are not very attractive, but they diminish slightly as the days go by, or I become more used to them. There is a kind of tidying up procedure that comes when all surgery is over, and I must wait a while for this.
I can never again wear my hair combed back off my forehead as there is an area of my scalp where no hair will ever grow again, and the mid-forehead has a deep dent in it. However, I've worn bangs off and on most of my life, so now I will wear them till the end. Without makeup my face is scarred and blotched, but this may clear up.
I have a face of sorts and a play of sorts.
I am back at the fair.
A version of this archives appears in print on September 9, 1979, on Page SM129 of the New York edition with the headline: Health; FACING A NEW FACE ‘When I was told I had cancer and that surgery would take off my nose, I was sure the only way I could deal with it was to kill myself.’


This below is a photo of Renie interviewing Danny Kaye while she was at Cue Magazine: 



And this is Louie's inscription in purple marking pen from the back of the photo:






When Renie died, Louie began sending things in large mailing envelopes to both my mother and sister out in Long Island, and to myself and my two daughters. They were fascinating things pertaining to our common family history, which Louie knew we would appreciate. I think Renie found interesting family history information when she wrote her play, The Great Indoors, and also the screenplay for The Beguiled, because her grandfather (my great-grandfather) was a Union soldier in the Civil War, and his wife was Granny Kittle who grew up in North Carolina, the very wonderful grandmother who helped raise Renie and her sisters (and the young man who was my father.)  

Among the things that Louie sent us were photos like this above, and some wonderful notes and information about themselves, all revelatory of the intelligence and humor and creative inventiveness of these two people. 

Will post more pictures up ahead, but also note there is an earlier post on this blog, dated 12/2/2013, that is also about Renie and Louie, and is titled: "EVERYTHING...and its Opposite", a favorite concept of Renie's.