Before I get back to the story in Providence, a very Happy Valentine's Day to all Open Saloners!!!
The date was January 28th, 1977 and we were enjoying a one day heat wave with a break in the frigid weather. 40 degrees was in major contrast to the recent miserably cold weather and we took advantage of the warmth to make some pleasant shopping errands that involved some distance from the apartment.
The Roman Vishniac lectures and presentations were almost over and I had a box filled with extra posters and mailbox stuffers sitting the apartment in the aftermath of his multiple presentations over the past few weeks. Apparently by popular demand Roman would be back on February 17th to give yet another lecture. That was also the first week of the second semester.
In one week, February 5th, Maria's parents, Alice and Dan, would be in Providence for one night and the plan was to have dinner with them at our apartment. The day after that Maria would be heading home with them, just a few days short of the end of our school's Wintersession period. The mid-winter break was so short--just three weekdays and a weekend which meant it wasn't worth the trek home for many students who lived a long distance from Providence. For us, Maine and New York were practical for the short break. I'd be leaving two days later on February 8th. At the latest we'd both be back in Providence by Sunday, the 13th.
Meeting her parents would be a major milestone for all of us. Even though we had spoken on the phone several times that didn't close to a face to face get together. At this point in time they already knew so much about me that the only mistake I assumed I could make was some extremely embarrassing faux pas during dinner or anytime during their brief visit.
Looking for something to cook for her parents we decided that Quiche Lorraine was the way to go for the main meal and since neither of us had prepared it before we'd have a dry run one week ahead.
One of three cookbooks we had on hand provided us with an easy recipe. The bacon that was one of the ingredients was decidedly not vegetarian, but we had already broken with our meatless diet on numerous occasions during December and January and felt the dish would not only be a crowd pleaser, but easy to eat since at least one of us would have to sit on the edge of the bed while the other three sat at the table--one of the problems of having a small dining table and only three chairs.
A trip to Star Market and also to Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill that afternoon provided us with the ingredients for the dish plus our food supply for the next few days. We'd resupply our kitchen around Thursday of the coming week.
Our resident French cookbook at that point in 1977, plus the recipe just in case you'd like to try it...
A sketch of Maria putting the quiche into the oven for the dry run of the recipe:
The quiche worked out well and beyond that we had a salad. Since the quiche was the main dish and not an Hors-d'Oeuvre we'd have crackers or something simple beforehand next Saturday along with white wine.
Mission accomplished so far and the feeling one gets from listening to The Who's Overture seems an appropriate musical accompaniment, and the cover art looks like a blue version of the cherry pie with lattice crust we were considering for the upcoming dinner dessert, too:
The regular cold weather returned the next day, Sunday, and the day had nothing remarkable about it other than more household chores and the rest of the general weekend routine.
Monday at noon found me in the RISD snack bar with one of my teachers and a friend who had graduated the year before. My friend had left a graphics job in Providence and was considering working in New York. The three of us had run into one another in Market House, the graphic design department building and in a nice, impromptu way we said let's talk about the New York City job scene over a light lunch. Naturally, I was interested to hear more not only for the sake of my friend, but I'd be entering the job market in the summer or fall, as well.
I bought a Dannon strawberry yogurt, which was my favorite flavor, and I remember it tasted a little odd so I started to turn it over to check the expiration date not thinking I was about to dump the contents on my food tray. The other two spotted this before my brain engaged and called out before it was too late.
The discussion about New York City didn't yield much that I didn't already know, but what really caught my attention was my teacher telling me about a design studio in Connecticut owned by someone he used to work with and the implication was they did top corporate work and they were just a few towns away from where I lived in upstate. What's more, the owner of the office was a RISD alum. I wrote down the name and planned to get the phone number from the Litchfield County area phone book that was part of the reference department in the Providence Public Library. In fact, I didn't wait long and I walked downtown that afternoon. I found the office number and I also located their location on a USGS map that was part of the reference department, as well. I had traveled through the town they were in a few times in the past, but I didn't know the town well. There was no way to know at this time how significant my teacher's information on this particular design studio would be.
Checking the expiration date of my Dannon yogurt and almost dumping the contents on the table while doing so:
Tuesday, the 31st, rolled in and I now had seven days left before Wintersession ended and I left for upstate New York. I returned to working on my degree project that day and had a fruitful discussion with my degree project advisor. What I took away from his advice helped to transform what I was doing. He spoke of looking at the project from the viewpoint of the final product as a way to invigorate my thinking and eliminate a type of "writer's block" that could keeping the project from entering its final stage. Degree projects were due in mid April and once the new semester started I wouldn't have the same amount of time that I had just been experiencing during Wintersession.
After lunch I headed downtown to pay January bills for the phone, the gas, and the electricity. All three offices were relatively near each and I got in some exercise and saved three 13 cent stamps.
The electric bill included this flyer:
Most likely next month's bill would be higher after we finished baking two Quiche Lorraine's...
One idea I had involved the use of plastic sheeting to simulate water. Later in the afternoon I bought a roll of clear plastic at the RISD supply store and took over the empty lecture room on the second floor of Market House, the graphic design building. No one was using the room so there was no conflict. I shot one roll of 35mm film showing the plastic being unrolled and spread out. I wasn't overly excited over what I was doing, but I deferred judgment until I printed the negatives as 8x10 prints.
Below is a partial group of the photos taken that afternoon:
That evening after supper we spent about two hours in the RISD library. During this part of the school year there were few students using the library in the evening and we figured we'd use the free time we had to look over interesting books in the reference area stacks of artists and photographers. Once second semester started up time would become more scarce for devoting a chunk of time at library. I will note here that the RISD library we knew is not the huge RISD library that current students and faculty use. If 30 students were using it at any one moment it would have felt crowded.
Sitting in the far end of the reference department looking at photographer's and artist's books...
Two memorable books included:
Ed Ruscha's Royal Road Test, which showed a Royal typewriter being thrown out of a moving car and the photos of what was left...
The photographs of Chris Burden. The most memorable and dramatic of the series was this photo of him crucified on a VW bug...
Because it was so quiet in the reference stacks and no one was back there we had a spontaneous and long hug/kiss before we left. It was the first time we had ever done that in the back of the library and it felt like we were in high school again...even though we didn't know one another in high school. Considering how out of place this was made it all the more special in a sacrilegious way, and therefore all the more memorable.
Neither of us had been sick so far that winter and we hadn't had flu shot, as well. In October, my mother had sent a New York State health department flyer which contained a Q & A about getting a flu shot (her pencil written note to herself and to me can be seen in the upper right hand corner). Perhaps we had built up some immunity to the illnesses by all of our kissing. Whether we maintained our healthy streak or suddenly became really sick with the flu during the remainder of the winter was yet to be determined.
Wednesday involved more degree project work on my part and Maria was wrapping up the loose ends on her printmaking class. We reviewed the past five weeks worth of prints later that day...
Thursday and Friday brought more time spent on my degree project, plus shopping for the end of week's meals including Saturday's dinner with Maria's parents. Thursday evening also found Maria setting up the photo floodlights and started taking color slides of her prints from printmaking class. All of this was possible portfolio work for a future job.
There are truly countless scenarios by which Saturday's meeting of Maria's parents would never have happened which relate to all the ways we might never have ended up together during our time in Providence. A very basic scenario would have had Maria at Brown, but never taking the Photo I class where we met and not transferring to RISD a year later.
When one looks back in time they can be reminded of close calls, accidents, and decisions made.
In my case, just a random sampling includes the following:
A day of sailing on Long Island Sound in 1966 when the keel of the sailboat hit "Executioner's Rocks" in Long Island Sound and the boat came to halt. To a sixth grader it was a scary moment with the thought of drowning in the cold waters of the Sound. Fortunately, after a few disturbing minutes the boat was free of the rocks and the keel apparently was undamaged.
It was all smiles a few minutes when my father took this photo just before we hit the rocks near the Throgs Neck Bridge (I'm second from the left, with a friend from the 6th grade class to my left):
I might have attended another college. For example, I was seriously looking at SUNY Purchase and Parsons...
My transcripts arrived at the school after the deadline, the admissions department could have opted to have disqualified me:
Our hop scotch looking years of attendance at college could have easily resulted in a situation where we never ran into each other again:
Benson Hall, the photograpy department's building, where Maria and I had our Photo I class and where I met her in September, 1972:
Where I first met Maria as shown by the lower square and the upper square indicates where I first met her parents:
It would be on Meeting Street where I first see Maria's parents. "A meeting on Meeting Street"...what a coincidence! Below are Google Street View photos of the street in recent times. The apartment was on the third floor:
Our back door on Meeting Street:
Maria's parents called just as they were leaving the Holiday Inn across town and we kept looking out the studio window at the street below for any sign of them. It was around twenty minutes later, just around 5:00, when their car pulled up and parked. We hurried down the back stairs and met them before they had a chance to leave their car. I was already on a first name basis with them from our phone conversations so there was no formal "Hi, Mrs. *** and Mr. ***, but rather a greeting like we were old friends, etc.
Rather than have them go up the bland back stairway we had them walk around to the front of the building so they could see the landscaping (covered by snow) and enter the apartment from the front door:
In about two minutes time they saw the entire apartment. The cardboard exhibit modules from the graphic design department show in the fall were still part of the decor and Maria's mother commented on it being the first time she had seen an apartment so decked out with cardboard and she liked the modern look of it. Given how little furniture there was the cardboard helped to fill out the space nicely.
Again, for any readers who missed the post last year with photos of the cardboard modules in the apartment here is one of the pics showing the living room area:
The studio space had a lot of our work on the walls and was organized looking for a change...
Maria and her mother stayed by the window that had the best view and talked for a while.
In a repeat of an earlier post last year that had photos of the city views from the studio window, here are the photos shown again:
On a clear day one could see about two miles I am figuring. The Who's song came to mind on some days, just for the part of the lyrics related to "I can see for miles and miles."
While Maria was talking with her mother in the other room I was engaged in a conversation with her father in the living room end of the room that was also the bedroom. I wondered beforehand if there would be any one-on-one conversations with me and one of her parents and here I was already in one with her father.
Since it was clear from a few of our phone calls that everything was copacetic I wasn't expecting him to say he hoped I had enjoyed Maria's company because effective tomorrow she's moving out of here and back to her apartment. Rather, it was a conversation about how happy Maria had been since coming back to Providence and how complete she expressed her life as being at this point in time. He spoke of the contrast with her year off from school that had some ups and downs including the death of her grandmother--all of which I knew, but it was great to hear it from him, nevertheless.
The conversations moved into the kitchen as we turned our attention to cooking. The kitchen was about big enough for two people and with four it was a bit cramped, but enjoyable as the discussion stayed upbeat...
Finally, the quiche was loaded into the oven. The cherry pie would be baked just after the quiche was finished.
We could only comfortably seat two at the small table so Maria and I had trays that we found in a pinch at a combination antique/junk shop just a block away on North Main Street earlier that day.
We had a toast to my meeting her parents and to good times ahead...
Dan, Maria's father, as remembered from that evening during dinner...
The two of us sitting on the end of the bed with our meal...
There was lots of discussion about our plans for moving to Manhattan after graduation and her parents said I certainly had to plan for a week to visit in the summer. It would be a very busy summer.
They had lived in the city for a half dozen years when they were in their '20s, as well. The city they had known had changed a lot, but it had always had its challenges in the many decades leading up to the '70s.
Because of the long drive back to Maine the next day her parents left around 10:30. They'd be back around 9:30 to pick Maria up along with a few boxes of things she was taking home.
We stayed up until sometime after midnight talking about the conversations that had just occurred and comparing notes about what her parents had said over the course of the evening. We didn't come up with any negative comments they might have inadvertently made and that was a huge plus in our favor.
From Bill Withers' 1977 album Menagerie, the instrumental version of Let Me Be The One You Need. I couldn't find this version on YouTube and had to upload it myself. It conveys musically the tone at this point in the story...
With Maria in Maine until the 13th it would be lonely over the next few days in Providence and I was thinking of leaving for New York a day earlier than planned. The first day of second semester would be Valentine's Day...
More stories to come and the previous installments of the series leading up to this point are here:
The winter of our big-content:
Art school senior year chronicles:
Roadkill brought us closer together:
Story, drawings, and personal photos are © 2013 by B+Co., Inc.