Thursday, March 11, 2010

THOSE AWFUL SNOWBANKS! 34th installment

Scene from Those Awful Hats, a short played before the start of the main features to remind women to remove their big hats. At this Nickelodeon, people are seated at chairs, and the piano is on the right. The movie is up at left. (I imagine 'the movie' was not a motion picture, but real people for the purposes of this film.

The 1908-1913 era was the Nickelodeon Era in Toronto and Montreal and other big cities in North America. With the young middle class people like Marion and Edith moving to the city, there had to be suitable entertainment. Supply and demand.

According to the Cinemateque Quebecoise website, there were 180 entertainment venues in Montreal's city center in the 1910 era, including two fancy theatres and many lesser establishments that played movies, (whoops, motion pictures. The term 'movies' seems to have been used by the Nicholsons only since 1917) or housed vaudeville acts, or cabaret acts, or musical acts and maybe all of the above within any given stretch of time. The first silent showing in Montreal was in 1897.

Movie halls were just plain rooms with small touches added to make them seem special, such as painted proscenium arches around the screen. Some venues were very steep, unlike the one in the Those Awful Hats. They would often have gawdy exteriors though, to attract viewers.

Flora was in the sitting room finishing her hat, trying out arrangements of ribbon and feathers, pieces of which were all lined out on the top of the piano. She had finished her practicing early.

Margaret came in to ask why she had stopped playing, for Margaret enjoyed Flora's music each evening as she worked in the kitchen. Today she was scrubbing out the sink with salts of lemon.

"Why have you stopped? Flora," she asked. "You were sounding so nice."

"Oh, because I know the piece now and I thought I'd work on my hat, but I can't decide where to put the orange wings, on the one side or at the top.

Margaret eyed the hat suspiciously. "Bella brought a Ladies' Home Journal. She seems to think you will find some inspiration there," she slyly said.

"No, I have been looking at Delineator Magazines for ideas. The hats are very big this year, in the city. Marion says. Did you read the letter she sent me? About her trip to see Man in the Box, at the Lyric Theatre? She said they started the evening's entertainment with a short film asking women to remove their huge hats so other people could see the screen.

It was hilarious, she said. A big hook came down from the ceiling and grabbed the hat off the woman in the seats, or grabbed the woman, I'm not sure."

Marion would find that amusing, Margaret replied. No, she only wrote me about coming home next weekend. And about the giant snowbanks lining every side street and how she fell in a snowbank running for the streetcar on her way to work and how she caught her heel in her hem, how she needs me to repair her skirt as it was a nasty tear.

Who did she go to the nickel with? asked Margaret, forgetting about Flora's hat-making. You know, in some places in the States, these places are open on Sunday! It's appalling.

Flora smiled up at her Mother, who was wiping a stain off the woodwork around the door with the cloth she kept thrown over her shoulder.

With the Clevelands. Dr and Mrs.

Ah, well that's fine then. It must have been a proper establishment. It's wonderful to have such good and respectable friends in Montreal. I wish they lived closer to her school, then Marion might be persuaded to board with them for the rest of the year.

The Dr. drives Marion crazy with his demands over his family, you know that. And Marion is far too independent.

Yes, I know, said Margaret, with a hardening expression.

But there are so few suitable places for young women to live in the city, even for workers with good salaries, and Marion was, finally, making a very good salary. She sent money home every month.

So it was an exchange, with one worry gone, another popped up elsewhere, like dandelions in the garden, in summer.

She decided to sit down and write Marion a letter and send it tomorrow along with her daily letter to Norman. She walked to the secretary, positioned her pad, picked up the pen and poked it into the inkwell.

"My, you are very gay, going to see Man in the Box, at the Nichol," she wrote for her first line. Misspelling Nickel. Not thinking that the word reflected the 5 cents it cost to see a motion picture. But Marion would get the message anyway, that it would be nice if she kept her mother better informed about her social life in the city. Especially since Edith was keeping uncharacteristically silent, lately.