Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Saucer of the Week: Chinese Export Laurel Wreath

Well, enough about Marta and her shenanigans.  I'm now going to focus my attention on a topic more precious and pretty: porcelain!

This exceptionally handsome plate was made in China, circa 1790-1810, for export to the American market.  Unlike Chinese export porcelain destined for the European markets, this piece is not decorated with a coat of arms, but rather with painted initials.

I believe this dish was an "off-the-rack" piece, left blank in the middle and meant to be decorated after its production with the monogram of the American who ordered a service of it to be shipped home from China.

So, what is it that I like about this lovely little plate?  Although I like the gilded border around the rim—of grapes and grape leaves—it is the classical laurel wreath bound with a magenta ribbon in the center of it that sings to me.

Boy bought this sublime piece of porcelain at a New York Ceramics Fair during Antiques Week years ago when it was still held at the National Academy of Design, on upper Fifth Avenue.  I'm not exactly sure how much he paid for it, Dear Reader, but I don't think it was more than $100.

I'm rather fond of it, I must admit.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part V

An Unsettling Visit From the INS

When MD received the telephone call from the office of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service with a request for an interview about Marta, her stomach sank.  What could Marta have done to merit such a call?  Why was her employment by my family of any concern to the government?  What was this all about?

INS badge image courtesy of
the National Museum of American History

Several days later, a man from the INS came by our house to interview MD.  He explained to my mother that he was a case officer and was gathering information about Marta.  He informed MD that Marta was in custody and that the INS was preparing a case to deport her, for reasons that he would explain to MD once he had completed his interview.  With that agreed to, they proceeded.

"Mrs. Darling, what kind of employment did you provide Marta when she worked for you?"

"She was a maid and cook, and she took care of my children.  She and her daughter lived with us for about a year and a half.  I let her go a year ago."

"Why was that?"

"Well, although Marta was a nice person and a good worker, and I liked her, she had issues of truthfulness, and she got herself into hot water a few too many times."

"Hot water?  What do you mean by that?"

"She got caught shoplifting at Woodie's once, and she did some things that made me uncomfortable, and which I had asked her not to do."

"Such as?"

"She had a 'gentleman-friend' who would visit her, and he would occasionally spend the night in her room, even though I expressly forbade it."

"Who was this 'gentleman-friend'?"

"He was a chauffeur at the Ecuadorean Embassy, and we all called him 'Big Daddy.'  I don't know that I ever learned his full name."

"Were there any other things that Marta did that made you uncomfortable when she worked for you, Mrs. Darling, that you can recall?"

"Oh, there were other things, yes.  One problem we had with her toward the end, and which was all rather straining, is that she had too many visitors come by in the evenings, mostly her friends among the domestic staffs from the other embassies.  I had to put a stop to that, you see, because I felt my own house was being overrun!"

"Did you see these visitors, Mrs. Darling?"

"From time to time, but since Marta lived in a room in our basement and she had her own door to the outside, these people would come and go without us ever laying eyes on them, unless I or one of my children went downstairs to get something."

"What did they do, Mrs. Darling, during these visits?"

"As far as I can remember, officer, I think they mostly sat around talking, all of them, listening to Spanish music on the Hi-Fi.  Social stuff, really."

"Do you know how Marta's visitors got to your house, Mrs. Darling?  You live in a neighborhood that isn't exactly easy to get to from the embassies downtown, and these people typically don't have cars."

"Well, I suppose that some of them may have taken a bus.  But most of them, now that I think of it, would come with Big Daddy, who would give these ladies rides back and forth."

"What was it that led you to let Marta go, Mrs. Darling?  Was there a specific incident?"

"The final straw was that Big Daddy moved into our house when Mr. Darling and I went out of town on a trip, and they all moved upstairs, and made themselves right at home.  When I found out about it I had to let her go.  You see, I just couldn't trust her anymore."

"Was there anything else about her that you didn't trust, Mrs. Darling?"

"No, officer, that's about it.  That's all I know."

The man form the INS closed his notebook and looked at her.

"Mrs. Darling, as you know, we have taken Marta into custody, and we are planning on deporting her.  We have determined that she is an undesirable person, and we are sending her back home to Guatemala."

"Yes, I understand that, officer, but would you please explain to me why?"

He drew in his breath and paused.

"After Marta left your employment, Mrs. Darling, she set herself up in an apartment downtown, where she went into business performing abortions, mostly on maids and such from the embassies.  She worked with this fellow, whom you called 'Big Daddy,' and for a while they had a pretty active business going.  That is, until she mangled some of her customers, and the whole thing collapsed.  We picked her up just in time.  She was packing her suitcases when we arrested her."

MD was shocked beyond belief.  She had difficulty comprehending what the man from the INS had just told her.  It was all too horrifying.

"But—where is her daughter, Telma?" she asked, her head spinning.

"Nowhere to be found Mrs. Darling.  Also, her 'gentleman-friend,' the one you called Big Daddy?  He skipped town before we were able to get to him.  He's back in Ecuador now.  If he knows any better, too, that's where he'll stay.  We've informed the Ecuadorean Embassy about all of this."

MD sat there, dumbfounded.  As she processed the information her heart began to sink, though, for she realized that there was, more than likely, more to the story, and it was much closer to home.

"Tell me, please, officer, what does this have to do with Marta's time working for me?" she asked.

"Mrs. Darling, we have reason to believe that Marta had already set herself up in business when she was still here in your house.  While some of these 'friends' who would come by and visit with her may actually have been just friends, we believe that more than a few of them were actually customers.  This Big Daddy fellow acted as a procurer, where he put out the word in the Latin community here in the city, and he would ferry these poor girls back and forth to your house, where Marta would take care of them."

"Do you mean to tell me then, officer, that Marta was performing abortions in the basement of this very house?!"

"I'm afraid so, ma'am."

MD kept this sickening story from me and my siblings for many years.  It was not until I was in my early thirties that MD told me of her conversation with the man from the INS, while she and I were sitting in her living room one gray autumn afternoon, reminiscing of days gone by.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part IV

The Final Straw

I am well aware, Dear Reader, that I had promised that this installment would be the last in this series.  However, while writing this post I realized that it would take yet one more installment for me to complete Marta's saga.  I appreciate your forbearance.

One evening during my parents' out-of-town trip, Marta announced at the dinner table that she and Big Daddy were going to take me and my siblings and Telma to the beach the next morning.  We were going to leave at dawn and drive to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where we would spend the day taking in the pleasures of the beach and boardwalk.

Even though Rehoboth Beach was one of the closest seaside resorts to Washington, D.C., Hermione, Frecky, and I had never been there before.  That's because MD considered it to be a plebeian and down-market destination, and an out-of-the-question one when compared with our family's usual seaside haunts of Nantucket and the coast of Maine.  MD thought Rehoboth Beach to be, in a word, unsuitable, for people "like us."*

Furthermore, we had a perfectly nice country house in rural Maryland that we went to on most weekends, so why go to the beach in Delaware?

According to MD, "our kind" didn't go to Rehoboth Beach, as it was all rather honky-tonk, what with its cheap cotton-candy-and-salt-water-taffy boardwalk culture and throngs of sunburnt mid-Atlantic sorts who didn't know any better than to enjoy themselves there.

Needless to say, the prospect of our spending a day at Rehoboth Beach was terribly exciting, if not thrilling!

Marta told us that we could only go to Rehoboth on two conditions: the first was that we must never, ever tell our parents about Big Daddy's moving in with us, and the second was that we must keep secret our trip to the shore.

With that agreed upon, we all got up early the next morning and piled into Big Daddy's limousine.  My sister, brother, and I sat in the back, along with Telma.  Big Daddy and Marta rode up front.

A one-day round trip to Rehoboth Beach from the Cleveland Park neighborhood in Washington is a considerable undertaking, under any circumstances.  Today it takes about three hours to make the 125-mile one-way trip.  In the early 1960s, when we made the journey, it easily took four or more hours to drive each way, particularly on a busy summer weekend.

But how could one object to spending the better part of the day in transit when one was riding in the Ecuadorean Embassy's limousine, with Big Daddy at the wheel?  Riding in the back of the car was exciting, and it was highly entertaining to watch the people in the other cars staring at us with open mouths, as we drove by in the huge, black limousine.  We became giddy with pleasure and astonishment when Marta told us to throw our leftover food wrappers, soda bottles, and napkins out of the car's windows instead of properly putting them into a paper bag for later disposal, as MD had taught us to do.  I still remember the delight I took in flinging the trash out of the car's window and watching it fly away as we rolled down the highway.**

Our brief visit to Rehoboth Beach was a blur of sun, boardwalk rides, fried seafood, and saltwater taffy, sandwiched between the long car rides to and fro in Big Daddy's limousine.  On the journey home, all of us stuffed and sleepy, Marta reminded us of our pact.  We three Darlings promised, again, that we would never, ever tell.

My parents returned to find the house as they left it, with all its occupants in their proper places and Big Daddy nowhere to be seen.

Several days later, though, MD found out that all was not as it seemed.  She overheard a conversation among Hermione and me and our little neighborhood friend Antonia de Peyster, in which we talked about going to Rehoboth Beach and how much fun we had there.

MD summoned Hermione and me in front of her.

"What's this I hear about your going to Rehoboth Beach?"


"Come on now, you two, tell me!  When did you go there?  Who took you there?"

With the jig up, Hermione and I sang like jailbirds.  The whole story came tumbling out that we and Frecky had gone to Rehoboth Beach with Marta, Telma, and Big Daddy in the Ecuadorean Embassy's limousine.   MD further extracted that Big Daddy had moved into our house while she and my father were away, and that Big Daddy and Marta and Telma had made themselves comfortable upstairs for the duration of my parents' trip, with Telma sleeping in my sister Camilla's bed, and Big Daddy and Marta sleeping downstairs, in Marta's room.

MD was furious.

She angrily confronted Marta, who tearfully corroborated our story and begged forgiveness and another chance to redeem herself.  MD, however, had finally had enough of Marta's wayward ways, and she sent her packing.***

Hermione and I were beside ourselves.  We had betrayed Marta, and had gone back on our word to her that we would never tell MD what had happened while she and our father were away.  I had grown very fond of Marta and Telma while they lived with us, and the fact that they were being sent away because of our stupid blunder was extremely upsetting to me, and I bawled like the little boy that I was.

Marta and Telma moved out that very afternoon, driven away in Big Daddy's car, never to be seen or heard from again.

Well, not exactly.

One year later MD received a telephone call from an officer at the Department of Immigration and Naturalization with a request for an interview about a woman named Marta, who had once been employed in our household.

Marta had apparently got herself into very big trouble.  And a whole lot more trouble than any of us could possibly have imagined.

Next: An Unsettling Visit from the INS

Reggie understands that MD may well have been entirely wrong in her disapproval of Rehoboth Beach.  As he has written before, MD could be a terrible snob, and she had very strong opinions (not always entirely well informed) on almost everything.  Reggie spent several weekends at Rehoboth in his twenties, where he enjoyed himself immensely, and he understands that the seaside resort has been much improved since then.

** To the best of his knowledge, this was the only time in Reggie's life that he ever consciously littered, a practice of which he highly disapproves.

*** MD said years later that she had felt sorry for Marta and Telma, and that she gave Marta three months wages in cash, even though she felt she was under no obligation to give her anything, considering the circumstances.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part III

Hello, Big Daddy!

One day, several months after the shoplifting incident, Marta approached my mother with the news that she and her "gentleman-friend" were becoming serious about each other.  She asked MD's permission for him to visit Marta at our house one or two evenings during the week, after she had completed her domestic responsibilities for the day.

MD did not think this was a good idea.

"Marta, this is most unusual.  It is one thing for you to see a man during your day off, and I'm happy that you have found someone you are fond of.  However, it is another thing entirely for him to come by this house for regular visits during the week.  What about Telma?  What will happen with her when he spends more time with you at the house?  I'm concerned about her, since she lives with you in your room downstairs, and about my own children, too.  They won't understand who this man is or what's going on, particularly since you aren't married to him."

"Oh, but Señora, we plan to get married!  We must save up our money first so we can get a place of our own together, so he can become a father to my little Telma."

"Marta, is this the same man who would park the car on the street that Mrs. Westerfield called me about?"

The 1963 Cadillac limousine Mrs. Westerfield spied parked next to our house
Image courtesy of Cadillac by Bond

"It is true, Señora.  He has a good job at the Ecuadorean Embassy where he drives the cars, and he is a good man."

"Marta, he may be a 'good man,' as you say, but I'm concerned about the appearance of a strange man you are not married to spending time at my house.  What am I to tell Mrs. Westerfield when she calls me again, and what am I to tell my own children, or Mr. Darling, for that matter?"

At this point, Marta was in tears.  She promised that if MD agreed to allow Marta's gentleman-friend to come and see her, Marta would ask him to take her out if he was alone.  She would not invite him into the house.  She also promised my mother that she would only ask him in to visit with her if he was accompanied by one or more of her girlfriends, who would act as chaperones and keep an eye on Telma during the visits.

After thinking it over and talking about it with my father later that evening, MD reluctantly agreed to Marta's request.

And so Big Daddy came into our lives.

The present Ecuadorean Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

True to her word, Marta lived up to her side of the bargain.  Whenever Marta's gentleman-friend called during the week he would either take her out—if he was alone—leaving Telma behind in Marta's room, or he would arrive accompanied by one or more of Marta's girlfriends, drawn from the community of Central American domestics who worked in the city's embassies.  He always arrived and departed in the Ecuadorean Embassy's black limousine, ferrying Marta's girlfriends back and forth with him.

This arrangement continued for several months.  During that time my sisters and brother and I got to know Marta's gentleman-friend, who was known as Big Daddy, reasonably well.  I don't recall if I ever learned his actual name, because everyone called him Big Daddy, including Marta, Telma, my siblings, and me—and my parents, too.

Our basement became something of a clubhouse for Marta and Big Daddy and Marta's girlfriends, who would assemble there after dinner and spend several hours sitting around gossiping in Spanish, watching television, and listening to records.  While I was curious about what was going on downstairs, MD discouraged me and my siblings from visiting there, saying that we should leave Marta and her friends alone and not bother them when they were socializing.

On the other hand, MD would occasionally send me down to the basement to find out what was going on, asking me to report back whether the coast was clear for her to go downstairs to fetch something in the laundry room or get something from the freezer.  MD was not comfortable going down herself, unannounced, as it created a commotion among Marta and her friends when "La Señora" unexpectedly appeared among them.

This arrangement became increasingly trying for my parents, though, who felt their house was being overrun during the evenings by Marta's friends.  My mother informed Marta that she needed to limit the gatherings to no more than once a week, as things had simply gotten out of hand.  Marta was probably not all that surprised by this development and promised she would do so.

Several weeks later my parents went on a week-long trip out of town and left me and my sister Hermione and my brother, Frecky, behind in Marta's care.

An advertisement for 1963 Cadillacs.
Is that Big Daddy's in the rear?
Image courtesy of Cadillac by Bond

No sooner than my parents' car pulled away from the curb did Big Daddy arrive at our house in the Ecuadorean Embassy's limousine and move into Marta's room for the duration.  Telma was dispatched upstairs to stay in my sister Camilla's bedroom.

While Big Daddy and Marta may have slept in her room downstairs during my parents' trip, they spent all of their waking hours upstairs, making themselves at home.  They hung out in our living room,  watched television in my parents' study, and ate all of their meals with me and my siblings and Telma in our dining room.  Big Daddy sat in my father's chair.  Marta sat in MD's.  It was as if we were one big happy family!

But such happiness was all too brief, Dear Reader, and it came to an abrupt end only shortly thereafter . . .

Next: The Final Straw

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Nantucket Interlude

Over the Labor Day long weekend Boy and I decamped to Nantucket for a leisurely end-of-summer getaway.  That meant not only a vacation from the workaday world for Reggie, but also a respite from his regular blogging, Dear Reader.  I purposely didn't take my laptop with me on our Nantucket sojourn.

It was really rather liberating not to be hooked into the blogosphere during our visit to the island.  But it was also rather maddening, as I can't remember the last time I've gone a full five days without having the opportunity to tap away at my computer, doing this and that.

The entrance to the Cliffside's clubhouse

We stayed at the Cliffside Beach Club & Hotel, an intimate private club and hotel right on the beach, about a mile outside of the town of Nantucket.

We didn't rent a house on the island this year because I procrastinated doing so until long after the last berth was booked on the car ferries to and from the island during the month of August.  No berth = no car on island = an impossibility when one rents a house out of town, as we have done in years past.  Believe me, that is not going to happen again next year!

The Cliffside Beach Club in the 1930s
Image courtesy of Vintage Photo Works

We more than consoled ourselves this season, however, with a visit to the Cliffside Beach Club & Hotel.  The Cliffside has been around for a long time, more than one hundred years.  I'm not sure when they added hotel rooms to it, but I'm glad they did.  There are only twenty-seven guest rooms at the hotel, and it retains an intimacy that is most appealing.

An aerial view of the Cliffside Beach Club & Hotel today
Image courtesy of same

The Cliffside has a wonderfully old-fashioned look.  Very beachy.  Very New England.  Very Nantucket.  We loved it.

The view out to sea from the club's entrance

While the Cliffside is considered to be a luxury boutique hotel, one doesn't go there expecting a Ritz-Carlton, full-dawg resort experience.  There are no pool boys running around spritzing guests with Evian filled atomizers as they loll on chaise longues.  It's very low key—one spritzes oneself.

The covered loggia at the Cliffside,
perfect for admiring the ocean view

I'd say that the level of service at the Cliffside is up to any of the five star hotels I've stayed in, and there have been many, Dear Reader.  The Cliffside is intentionally understated and informal.  It's an American beach hotel.

The guest rooms and public rooms are purposely plain and straightforward, carefully retaining an informal, beachy feel.  Very well-appointed and comfortable, indeed, but not self-consciously so.

The lobby/great room at the Cliffside
Image courtesy of same

There is a small café at the hotel that serves a continental breakfast.  Food can also be ordered from from the restaurant next door (more on that later).

The beach at the Cliffside, set with umbrellas and chairs for members and guests
Image courtesy of CocoCozy

The Cliffside is famous for its colorful beach umbrellas, which are put up every sunny day during the season on the club's private beach.

The umbrellas are carefully placed and spaced along the shore every morning by the very helpful and accommodating beach staff.

The Cliffside's beach boys
Image courtesy of Facebook

The club's beach boys are more than happy to provide the Cliffside's members and guests with lounge chairs, boogie boards, and towels throughout the day.  It's all very cushy, comfy, and just so.

A view of the Cliffside Beach Club's umbrellas in the 1950s
Image courtesy of NHA

The Cliffside makes every effort to ensure that its guests have a pleasant, relaxing visit.  I was pleased to learn that cellphones are prohibited in the club's public areas and on the beach.

In addition to being in a fabulous location right on the beach, the Cliffside has all sorts of facilities for the enjoyment of its guests.  It has two marvelous swimming pools (one for paddling around in and one for serious lap swimming), and also an inviting, bubbling hot spa pool.  One can get massages and other treatments at the Cliffside, and it also has a very well-equipped gym.  Reggie looked in the door at the gym once during his visit, and was impressed by it, but he didn't actually use it.

Although we enjoyed spending time on the beach during our stay at the Cliffside, we spent more time in the pool area of the club.

The Cliffside's pool area was quieter and less windy than the beach during our end-of-summer visit.  And—more importantly—it had direct access to the club's café service, so daytime cocktails were but a telephone call away . . .

The ever-helpful Vanessa, provider of cocktails
and other comestibles

. . . and delivered by the charming and amusing Vanessa, who was all too happy to serve us whenever the need for beverages and snacks arose.  Which was often, I might add, Dear Reader.

The "morning" towel

One of the things that impressed us about the Cliffside was the attention to detail.  At the pool area they change out the towels every day at mid-day with a differently striped towel for use during the afternoon.  We liked that.

The "afternoon" towel

One of the great pleasures of the Cliffside is its proximity to the Galley Beach Restaurant.  "The Galley," as it is known, sits on the same property as the Cliffside and provides room service to the hotel's guests.  The Galley is one of the more expensive restaurants on the island and draws a glamorous, well-tended crowd.  Patrons run the gamut from carefully preserved matrons carrying lightship basket handbags, Hedge Fund families bedecked in Lilly and Nantucket Reds, and international jet-set types just off the enormous boats that line the Nantucket Harbor during the summer season.  It is the Swifty's of the island, as Boy has often remarked.

The Galley Beach Restaurant, as seen from the Cliffside's entrance

The Galley is one of our favorite restaurants on Nantucket.  Last year, we ate lunch there three or four times during each of the two weeks we spent on the island.

Matches and the card from the Galley

The Galley has a terrific raw bar during the day, and the restaurant's food is delicious, inventive, and . . . comforting.  They have an extensive wine list, and also mix very tasty cocktails.  The staff is friendly, welcoming, and extremely well trained.  The Galley gets it more than right—in fact, it is pretty much perfection, in my view.

One has the option of dining outside or inside at the Galley.  We generally prefer to dine inside, out of the sun's direct rays, in the restaurant's breezy, open-air main dining room.

The Galley's dining room has views both of the hotel and the ocean.  It is a marvelous place to go during sunset, when one is assured of having a front-row seat to the summer's sun setting over the ocean—a rare treat here on the East Coast of America. 

The beachside view from the Galley's main dining room

We ate all but one of our lunches at the Galley during our stay at the Cliffside.  We didn't feel the need to go anywhere else.  Why should we, when the Galley is such perfection?

We did muster leaving the compound for several dinners in town, though.  I would highly recommend Dune for its inventive, beautifully presented locavore fare; Ventuno for its superb Italian/world cuisine; and Cru for the freshest-of-the-fresh seafood.  (Cru occupies the choice harborside location, right at the tip of Straight Wharf, of the former and decidedly inferior Rope Walk.)  Thank you, PVE, for recommending Cru on your charming blog—it was because of you that we went there.

A view of the Cliffside from above, taken on our last day on Nantucket

And with that, Dear Reader, I conclude this post about our extended Labor Day weekend visit to the island of Nantucket, a place that I first visited as a very small boy nearly fifty years ago.

Please note: Reggie has not received anything in return for his review of the Cliffside Beach Club & Hotel or of the Galley Beach Restaurant, and he does not expect to do so.  He has written this post entirely for the enjoyment of his readers, which is the sole purpose of this blog.

All photographs, except where noted, were taken by Reggie on his BlackBerry

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