Friday, September 4, 2009

One More Overtly Self-centered Posting


In 1961, when I came home to Berkeley from two years in Greece, to finish my dissertation, I found an apartment in an old school building at, as I recall, 2437 Haste St. That is to say, it was entered from its row of mailboxes there, the building being right in the middle of the block bounded by Telegraph Ave. on the east, Dana on the west, Channing Way on the north, and Haste on the south. The building had two storeys above a basement (where my apartment was). Many of the renters were Fine Arts students. If we went out the back way, and across a parking lot, Kip's was handy; according to Google, it has morphed into a real restaurant with a liquor license, but I think the one-mile-radius dry zone, to keep alcohol off campus (though there were deliveries to fraternities and beer was OK at restaurants that sold food) was still in effect in my days. Kip's made the best cheeseburgers (real aged cheddar, broiled on coals, buns toasted on the perimeter of the grill; horseradish and other condiments available self-serve) in the world. There on a rented L. C. Smith typewriter I wrote and typed my dissertation (three carbons).

Long before, in Alameda, I had had a black cat called Midnight. When I went to the Pound now I chose a very tame and gentle black female and called her Persephone and let her have kittens (spaying being too expensive for graduate students with impoverished parents).

It was at this time that I got the aegipan chair. It was brought into my grandparents' shop by my mother's high-school English teacher, preparing to enter a retirement home. Her parents had gotten it new when they were married, and a date ca. 1885 seems likely. Chairs to the same pattern, except that some have lion's faces instead of goat Pans decorating the back panel, could be found all up and down the west coast in antique stores in the 1960s (they certainly are factory-made chairs), most of them stripped, the revelation of bare wood being part of the Nature sentiment of that generation. All of those I've seen are of oak, and so is mine, visibly on the arms where the finish is rubbed thin. Perhaps the only rare thing about mine is that, always in one family house, it retains its black Japalac finish. Seekers on line will find the name Japalac highjacked by a Group, but Mrs. Sollers, when she brought in the chair, said that she liked the Japalac, which my grandfather pronounced a varnish with opaque black, such as lamp black, added to it. It seems to have been sprayed on. I like oak as well as anyone, but its grain pattern fights with carving.

If anyone knows where and when these chairs, which look like ornaments for men's clubs or library-smoking rooms, were made, I'd love to know.

I still have it. My students always have liked it (or else were politely silent, if they supposed that I thought it older or valuable or hand-made); when my students came by with their children in due course, the children loved to put their fingers in the lion finials' mouths. With a cushion added, it is remarkably comfortable and serves as a reading chair. After about a century and a quarter and several moves, it is only a little loose jointed.

When I bought my present house in 1986, the things too large to have been brought here in a car, or kept in a housekeeping room on campus, the Aegipan chair and some other pieces that my younger sister had kept in Davis, CA, came South. For a while they were almost the only furniture in this now overstuffed house. Not all cats like this chair, but Lydos came when there was no sofa or rugs, and he liked it. Moving into a house newly painted largely dark rose (and perhaps recalling Kittredge Street), I acquiesced in the color scheme. The floor was already dark, and I added black mini-blinds. The Aegipan chair fit in perfectly. Lydos was called Lydian because of his luxurious fur and nature. He was a found cat: wandered into my friend Denise's parents' yard, wounded and already middle aged, but he looked like a real "Russian Blue". The only flash I had was the tiny one on a tiny Olympus XA, which did the best a pocket film camera could do. You still can't see the Goat Pan face very well. I once had a photo that my grandfather took in his front yard in full sunlight, but it was in a box of especially treasured photos and negatives that my younger sister's husband dumped out when they moved; that photo was taken to show me the chair to ascertain that I wanted it. It wasn't expensive; Mrs. Sollers hadn't found another taker for it.
A tiny digital camera with a digitally controlled flash shows the chair better, only about a month ago. My present cat is quite leery of it. I could not begin to go into the autobiographical content of the rest of this snapshot. The Aegipan chair, which I've now owned for nearly a half century, still as you see preserves its Japalac finish. It normally sits in the other front room of this double shot-gun house. I never, I swear, painted a room dark rose pink (I dislike, besides, the process of painting my living space as much as any cat does), but my friend David did the orange water color, which he said showed his parents in a snowstorm, in January 1954 (it is dated at lower right) in the days of the housekeeping room on Kittredge Street, and it is just as much at home here. The friend who gave me Lydos (her mother did not want him inside) gave me the photographs of her own cats. The drypoint below the watercolor came from my friend Nina in Sofia. That's enough. I may find a picture showing the lion's-head finials of the chair.
Like all the other images this one can be 'clicked' to zoom it.  If I hadn't seen so many I'd wonder if these chairs were made for photographers' studios.  In this case, with a Nikon F2 on a tripod, we were holding still for seconds on end and still couldn't achieve Julia Cameron's effects.  But it is better than flash, and it shows the lion's head whose teeth fascinate small children.