Tag: old photos

Collective Memory

Memory – in all its forms – is another topic that fascinates me, and since today appears to have been a good day for thinking about this, the token poem, unsurprisingly tackles the same theme. I hope you enjoy!

My maternal grandfather, somewhere in the Danube Delta.
My maternal grandfather, somewhere in the Danube Delta.

(DAY 16)


I don’t remember you,
but, writing down these lines,
my hand remembers:
the counterweight of your laughter,
the frail strength of your arms,
the ghost of tobacco
escorting your skin everywhere
like an old courtesan
adopted into the wife’s
household. I think
my hands remember, too,
the words you never spoke
to me, the veiled worry
and the sadness. There is
a prickle at the tips
of my fingers as I’m writing
this – that’s how I can tell
you’re there, even if
I don’t remember you.
Nevermind, you weren’t made
to scratch an image
in the mind, like other
people. Your memory is etched
beyond these things,
in the colour of my eyes,
in the motion of my hands,
and my butterfly effect
in the fabric of the universe.

Myths and Fairy-Tales and Bags

I haven’t felt very inspired to write today, so I had to push myself a little. The result was a rather heavy, bulky poem that reflects a lot of my wishful thinking. Especially the bit about the carpet bag – hell, I’ve been wanting a carpet bag ever since I first read the Mary Poppins series as a child! So, I suppose this is a “subtle” hint for people wanting to buy me birthday presents. Anyway, without further ado:

(DAY 2)


Photograph via the Costica Acsinte Archive
Photograph via the Costica Acsinte Archive


When you took me in I was a name and a face –
you knew nothing of the contents of my carpet bag,
even though you could see it was a tattered little thing,
shedding its flower motifs one by one, incontinently.
You didn’t ask me where I came from, or who my parents
were, or which parts of my soul I had been obliged
to sell for a living. You were my kind Bluebeard
for a while, and I, your inconsolable Lilith.
But all secrets have an incubation time, and sooner
or later they hatch, cracking skulls and rib cages
wide open, undoing stitches, spilling inelegantly
and with an inconsiderate sense of entitlement.


You took your scissors to my bag after a while,
when I had carelessly left you alone with it.
I found my bundled thoughts strewn all over
the place, and you poring over them with greed
and without affection. You had inspected
all my skins, sniffed all my perfumes. You had
an aversion to locks and keys and zippers,
you excused yourself. But it was too late by then.
I took my teeth and claws to you, flayed you,
carved you – you were my finest work of art.
I made a briefcase of your belly, and buttons
of your teeth. I crocheted your hair into flowers,
knitted your veins into a blanket, made a flask
of your bones. I left your ghost to wander
through the house where I had been your guest,
but took all else and went to find a host
with more words and fewer fears.

Ascension/ Day 8

Phew! Long day today. Very long. And not over yet, as I’ve still much work to do. The day 8 prompt invites us to

try writing in ottava rima — an Italian form that, in English, usually takes the form of an eight-line stanza of iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme of a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c.

I can’t think anymore, I can barely write, all my creativity has gone into my academic efforts of the day, so take this as an exercise in form.


In sparring steps we climb towards the sky,
Our temples taut with searing thoughts of flight.
We climb forever up towards the eye
That, dark with so much need, still gave us bright,
Melodic aches to feed on in our dry,
Obedient delight. And so, tonight
We sharpen bone on bone as high we must
Ascend, to places where we shed our rust.

Hallelujah! I’m glad I managed as much!

"The Ladder" by William Henry Fox Talbot
“The Ladder” by William Henry Fox Talbot

Added more ghosts to my ever-expanding collection…

Just about time I shared my new haul of vintage photographs with the world, isn’t it? I bought these in Bucharest, at a Christmas/ winter holidays fair, after some negotiations with the vendor. To be fair, though, he didn’t seem to mind my haggling. Actually, he looked quite happy to finally find someone who was interested to buy his stuff. And his stuff was good – loads of fin-de-siècle photos and postcards, I don’t think I’ve seen so many in one place for quite some time.

Apologies in advance if some of these scans are a bit weirdly cropped. That scanner that I had to use, and the soft that came with it – it has its own mind, I’m sure of it.


So, apparently, the fact that the girl is standing in this photo, that her full body is shown, and that she is posing against a studio background, leaning against furniture (chairs, tables) and possibly with books (there are two books behind her) are all possible indicators that this photo was taken in the 1860s or thereabouts. This is corroborated by the central, swirly design on the back, advertising the name (in this case, also the address) of the studio where the picture was taken. The design of her clothes, however, makes me think this was taken later, possibly in the 1880s.


This… I simply love this lady. Just look at her: elegant, confident, she’s like the ultimate feminist femme fatale. Medallion portraits like this, depicting just the bust of the sitter, were more common in the early 1900s. I’m not really sure though why this photo was stamped, both front and back, and double-perforated. It might have been used as a nominal I.D. of some sort.


This one’s pretty self-explanatory (if you can read Romanian, that is). The handwritten inscription on the front says: “Reghinul Sasesc. Year 1917. When I was 12 years old.” On the back, there’s a signature, presumably that of the sitter; I can only read the first name, which I believe is “Eugen”, a pretty common Romanian forename.


I believe there’s a special place in my heart for old family photos. They’re so intriguing, in so many ways. I wish I had more “know-how” to decipher them. I believe this particular one might be from the late 1800s-early 1900s.


Same with this one. Dress makes me think late 1800s-early 1900s, although the pose, background and style are specific to the 1860s. This young woman’s face reminds me of someone I used to know in my childhood, which is probably one of the reasons why I felt so compelled to buy the photo too.

And this concludes the batch I purchased on my latest venture. But I also rediscovered some old photos in the family archive at about the same time I bought these. Most of them, I have no idea who they depict, but I’d still like to share them here, because they’re all beautiful and they deserve to haunt more brains than just mine. 🙂


Photo-postcard dated 1917. I believe the message on the back is in German, which I sadly cannot read. If someone could translate it for me I’d be much obliged.


This probably dates from the 1910s or 1920s. The text on the back is mostly illegible, but I think it’s in Ukrainian.


I love this photo-postcard (I wonder whether the girl is holding any book in particular; might it be a religious text?). The text on the back is in Ukrainian? Polish? Marked Cernauti (today Chernivitsi), 1920.

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Marked Cernauti/ Chernivitsi, 1939.


This is a photo of one of my paternal great-grandmother. Definitely from Cernauti/ Chernivitsi. I’m not sure when this was taken. She died at about 40, I believe.


Again my paternal great-grandmother. Also in Cernauti/ Chernivitsi. Again not sure of the date.


Photo-postcard of, presumably, a mother and her son. I can’t read the handwriting on the back, I’m afraid, so I can’t even tell what language it’s in. Cernauti/ Chernivitsi, 23rd August 1921.


Message on the back in German(?). Dated 30th April 1916.


I don’t recognise anyone in this group photo. The text on the back is in Romanian, and it reads: “Memory from 14th March 1937. Party at the Hospital for the Soothed. Cernauti”. It’s very eerie, this photo. The name of the hospital makes me think it might have been an institution for those with terminal diseases or in very bad health condition. I may be wrong, of course, but still. The idea of a party in a hospital makes me uneasy.


A postcard I found along with the photos. The writing is mostly illegible, so apart from its being addressed to someone in Cernauti, I can’t really tell much.


I can’t read the handwriting, I’m afraid… Definitely not Romanian though. Dated 8th November 1923.


This wedding photo isn’t dated. There’s no inscription on the back.


The ladies in this picture don’t look very happy. The message on the back is in German. Not sure about the date…


Another photo-postcard I have nothing about. There’s a very faint stamp on the back that I can’t read.

And this is it, for now. If anyone reads German and/or Ukrainian and is able to translate some of that stuff for me, I’d be much obliged.






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.

No Smoke without Fire

NaPoWriMo day three. Today’s prompt was to go ahead and pen an epithalamium, but I just wasn’t up for the task, I’m afraid. Today was not a day for celebration. So I went and played with another form of poetry instead, the tanka, a traditional Japanese form that requires the poem to have 5 – non-rhyming – lines measuring 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. Here is my first attempt at such a thing (in my own interpretation of the original form, of course):


The fire was cackling
Greedily, watching his work.
He climbed the slick walls with ease,
Pleased with the towers of smoke.

I have no idea where this poem came from, actually, but as I was writing it I was thinking of Stefan Grabiński‘s dark stories about the agency and sadism of fire.