Month: July 2012

From Camden Town to Istanbul in a Single Stride: Vintage Memorabilia

I was unlucky in my quest for vintage photographs for a while – the local market has been yielding nothing but black and white photographs of cats and dogs and some tacky birthday cards. But my luck turned just as soon as I paid a visit to Camden Market, London. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Camden Market?

A view of Camden Market

I believe I would be capable to walk around that place aimlessly for hours (actually, that’s probably what I usually do anyway), just enjoying the atmosphere: the music – reggae, blending into death metal, blending into rap, blending into synthpop, and so on, seamlessly and exquisitely; the smells – of all the various wayside cuisines, from Japanese to Turkish to Ethiopian to Dutch; and most of all, the people – gaping tourists clicking hurried photos, guileless schoolgirls in uniforms, intimidated and always sticking together, the amalgam of stall owners and customers, each of them parading their own style unabashedly. Anyway, I love it all.

Near Camden Lock
I’ve always liked stairs and bridges. This snapshot was taken, believe it or not, from the ladies’ loo (I don’t know why that was so important, but I had to say it).
Down the stairs, towards the food stalls

So yes, Camden Market is probably my favourite place in all of London, that city just wouldn’t be the same without it. And it was there, a few days ago, that I stumbled upon a small store selling old odds and ends (I’m sorry I didn’t think of taking a photo of it; maybe next time round), where the shopkeeper kindly ignored me for about half an hour, as I was nosily rummaging through ALL the tin boxes and even between the shelves and under tables and coffers. Also, I believe I may have browsed through her assortment of vintage photos and postcards for more than good manners would have allowed (I probably went through the same stack at lest three times, trying to decide). Finally, I settled for only two photographs, which I found particularly appealing (and the shopkeeper even gave me a small discount for them, in spite of the fact that I’d bought so little and that it took me so long).

The first one is a carte de visite type photograph, which I, in my blissful amateurishness, would tend to date around the late 1800s. It depicts a young girl in a gorgeous checkered dress, wearing what looks like a discreet crucifix on a necklace around her neck. Here is the photo, front and back:


Sadly, I haven’t been able to find out anything about P.H. Bau’s studio, but Christiansfeld is a town in Denmark, apparently “founded in 1773 by the Moravian Church“. How it made its way to the UK I again have no idea, but I presume it must either have been sent to some relative, or brought over into an immigrant’s bag of precious memories. The only thing the shopkeeper intimated when she took a peek at this particular photo was: “Oh, isn’t this so beautiful!” and “That dress is gorgeous, almost like a Lolita dress, isn’t it?” I, of course, nodded and smiled in assent to both her remarks. I really wish I had more info about this photo, so if there’s anything anyone can add about it – probable date, identity of the person depicted, more details about the studio – please do leave a comment.
Late edit (11/11/2012): After some more wandering about vintage photo websites, I am now pretty sure that this particular photo must be from the late 1860’s (the wavy, intricate signature stamp on the back, the girl’s posture – standing, leaning on a table, faux classy studio backdrop). If that is correct, then the girl must have been between 12 and 14 years of age when this was taken, since, according to this diagram from Harper’s Bazaar 1868, she is wearing the appropriate hem size dress for a young adolescent lady.

The second photograph is this one:

This photo, as you can see, was pasted onto a carbdoard frame; there is no inscription on either side of it, so I suppose there is no telling the date and place for sure. My opinion is that it is a turn-of-the-century view of an alley in Istanbul, Turkey. There are a few (quite frail) reasons why I identified the place as Istanbul. Although the scan I’ve posted is of pretty bad quality, in the original photo it seems as though the men are wearing fezzes; one of the signs hanging on the buildings, although the writing on it is pretty faded, seems to me to say “VIEWS OF THE BOSPHORUS” (although of course, it is not legible enough for me to be quite sure); and finally, the landscape, narrow cobbled streets and architecture, as well as the use of donkeys as beasts of burden indicate a Mediterranean country, such as Turkey. Does this seem plausible enough? Do you agree with my assumptions? Once more, please do leave your opinions in a comment, they would be very much appreciated.


I remember summer.

Short nonfiction piece, triggered by my nostalgia for childhood summertime. It was inspired by this post, which I heartily recommend. In fact, I recommend the whole On the Borderland blog, it is a fabulous read.

I remember summer. The slow breeze of the hillside, the warm rain, the soothing perfume of linden flowers and playing messily in short-lived mud puddles. I remember the faint ache of cuts and bruises which I barely even noticed – they were always unreal emanations from another me, in another universe. I was not my skin. I was the imaginary wild horses which I rode in my mind, and the ships sailing on waters I had never seen, and I was the laughter and the lightheartedness, and the sheer amazement. I remember the immense poplar I wished I could climb, the rhythmic creaking of the metal swings, their chipped green paint, and the nursery song I used to hear in the collared dove’s call – Streptopelia decaocto, most common in the Balkans, it seems. I remember the sensual tickle of snails on my arm, snails I used to pick up after rain, snails I loved to hold, snails which I could look at for hours. I remember I used to wish summer would last forever. The heat was never scorching, the air was never too humid. I remember the exquisitely lazy afternoons when I would hide in a corner and read. I always picked thick books, and it never took me more than a week to finish reading them. I remember wearing mostly hand-me-downs, colourful shorts and tees, and plastic flip-flops. The hand-me-downs would always hang loosely on me, partly because I’ve always been skinny, but partly because they were boys’ clothes. I remember being cruel to flies when I caught them – I always caught them alive and never killed them straight away; I enjoyed plucking their wings and then making them swim in rainwater puddles. I remember leaving bread crumbles for the ants; I loved to watch them carrying loads ten times bigger than them, but most of all I loved watching them seeking out their dead and carrying them away – where to? Did they bury them somewhere? Did they have a sense of loss and propriety?

I remember wanting to live an adventure, but never daring to venture more than a dozen yards away from the playground. I liked to draw my own board games and invent ridiculous words. I liked to tell ghost stories to my friends late in the evening, just after sunset, but I was scared of going back home on my own, scared of the lightless staircase and the hoarse howl of a diseased stray dog in the distance. But later, from the safety of our open balcony, with the comfort of the chandelier light shining steadily from the living-room, and the soft hum of familiar voices chatting about nonsense, I loved to watch out for bats, plunging swiftly after prey, screeching occasionally, fuzzy spots of blackness in the translucent darkness of the summer night. I was not scared or disgusted of bats corpses. But I was afraid to distraction of spiders, of their variety, and their intelligent schemes to capture and kill other insects with more physical mobility. Some things I learned in summer and then steadily forgot over the other seasons: fencing with long sharp sticks, jumping like squirrels, running in the rain. At the beginning of summer, I enjoyed going for solitary walks around the block, hoping to find stray cats I could play with. At the end of summer, I loved to organise tedious and lachrymose festivals with my friends in the garden pervaded by the sugary scent of slowly wilting red roses. My earliest memory of summer is being left by myself in the deserted playground and not knowing what to do with all that freedom. The last I remember of summer is wanting to leave and never once look behind.