Sunday, June 25, 2017

Re-opened: St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Paterson

An intriguing story in The Record reported on yesterday's dedication ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, NJ -- a church that has been closed for renovation for six years.

The church is 152 years old, and after portions of the ceiling began to fall, the Diocese of Paterson embarked on a $17.4 million project to restore the structure to its previous grandeur. A priest who attended the dedication said, "It's the closest place to heaven there is in New Jersey."

After a packed house for the 1 p.m. Spanish Mass filed out of the church on the first Sunday after its re-opening, I filed in and took these photos.

The place was gorgeous -- and full of life. I was hardly the only one taking cell-phone photos (although I was the only one to sneak up the metal spiral staircase to the choir loft, where I took the photo at the top of this page).

The church holds special meaning, because my uncle was ordained there. Then-engaged Mom and Dad had eagerly attended this ceremony, since they wanted Julian to officiate at their wedding. The proudest person in the church that day was Nonna, my grandmother, who turned to her husband in the parking lot and insisted, "Varry (my grandfather's nickname, an abbreviated form of Varettoni), you CAN'T sit in back of the church today. You have to sit up front with me!"

I believe he did, too -- although I have no photos to prove it. On a recent visit to Fr. Julian's house, I had combed through his old photos, and the closest I found was this:

It's a vintage Holson Stereo Slide Viewer, battery operated, with slides and a storage case. I looked at a few of the slides and happened to take a photo through the viewing lens of my uncle, dressing for his ordination at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in 1955.

I suppose, 62 years from now, the album I posted today in Google Photos will seem just as quaint and curious as the Holson viewer... or, maybe, the things we send to the cloud today will become irretrievably buried in a sea of data. Perhaps all will be lost, because it isn't tangible.

At least our cathedrals should survive.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Happy Birthday, New Milford

My hometown -- New Milford, NJ -- quietly celebrated its 340th birthday this month. Looking through photos I've taken in recent years, here are five things I've noticed about the place:

1. Time doesn't stand still. Sometimes its passage is marked by the side of the field house at the high school track (see above). Or, in early summer, when the sun aligns with the pink flamingos on the lawn of the municipal building...

2. We're always prepared. Thanks to the Scouts. The photo above of "New Milford-henge" was actually a "Get Flocked" fundraiser held by the Boy Scouts last year. At the other end of town a little less than five years ago, the Girl Scouts installed a permanent mural dedicated to New Milford's veterans on Merschrod Bridge. And, this year... like every year... before Memorial Day, Boy Scouts placed flags on the graves of veterans at the historic French Burying Ground across the street from Borough Hall.

3. There's something about Mary. More common than pink flamingos -- or ADT home-protection signs -- or even the sometimes colorful lawn decorations (I call this one "potheads")...

...are the devotional Marys that adorn many lawns and gardens. Here are 15 examples:

Meanwhile, near the Post Office (which is currently advertising itself for rent), at the Gloria Dei Church, there's still also worship space available for rent...

4. Speaking of signs, there's something about small business. Whether it's the Boulevard Funeral Home advertising for business during Small Business Saturday...

Or, a personal favorite, the extraction of a lawn tooth (before, top; after, bottom) on River Road:

5. There's something about baseball. Little League baseball is very big here... whether it's the bleacher sign in homage to "Bad News Bears," or the magical realism of an ordinary game night.

Happy 340th birthday, New Milford! Here's to many more Memorial Days.. and Tree Lightings... and Nights Out... and inflatable penguin sightings...


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Rutgers Gardens

Here's a photo of the iconic giant green Adirondack chairs at Rutgers Gardens. I spent yesterday there, wandering around with photographers from #NJspots and my former Verizon colleague Jerry Rizzo.

The gardens -- located at 112 Ryders Lane on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick -- include a pond, a bamboo grove and a collection of giant pine trees. I kept looking up in wonder... which is a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.

I've posted additional photos in this shared folder on Google Photos.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Media Advice for Mascots

I love Mr. Met and, knowing that he can’t use his own voice to defend himself, let me offer the following media advice.

Don’t Make Excuses. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Everyone knows that Mr. Met has only four fingers, so how is it, exactly, that he is accused of using his middle finger?

It doesn’t matter, though. If the entire Twitterverse, and the back page of the Daily News says you’ve flipped fans the bird – and there’s an incriminating photo to back it up – you’re guilty.

Apologize for Yourself. The Mets organization immediately issued an apology, and I realize that Mr. Met can't (or doesn’t) actually speak – but, to all appearances, it looks like Mr. Met is hiding behind someone else’s statement. I advise the mascot to issue a video writing out his own apology, or issue a photo holding up his own statement.

Make Amends. This is where Mr. Met has been served a softball he can hit out of the park. Community service is his strength. There are countless photos of Mr. Met helping out at recycling rallies and other events, brandishing his t-shirt cannon, posing for fans with Mrs. Met… the possibilities here are endless. Mr. Met, with that permanent smile on his face, should get back to doing just those things that made him loveable in the first place.

I stand by my friend.
Yes, there should be a cooling off period where Mr. Met stays out of the public eye. Three news cycles – which equates to about 24 hours, in today’s world – should do it.

The public always wants to forgive you. There’s no better story than a fallen hero who redeems himself. I look forward to the day (later tonight or tomorrow) when Mr. Met can quietly resume doing what he does best: putting smiles on the faces of children or, I admit it, grown-ups who work in PR.

Originally posted on my LinkedIn page.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Laurel Grove Cemetery, Totowa

Before posting a photo of Totowa's Elk on Instagram, I did some research on Laurel Grove Cemetery, which I visited with Mom yesterday so she could decorate Dad's grave for Memorial Day.

I found, for one thing, that there is another blog called "Lost in Jersey," which has, like much of its subject matter, been abandoned in recent years. Still, it's wonderfully done and actually focused on the Garden State... rather than what we have here, the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind.

Wandering through that site on this raining morning in 2017 has led me to discover many things about Laurel Grove, including the related legend of Annie's ghost (also here). So thank you,, whoever you are.

For myself, having grown up in Totowa, I would say that the gravestone that holds the most interest to locals is the light bulb belonging to Sal Giardino, the "World's Greatest Elecrician."

Set high on a hill and surrounded by gravesites adorned with American Flags for #MemorialDay2017 is Totowa NJ’s famous Elk – which to travelers along nearby Route 80 is often mistaken for a grazing deer. The statue’s rectangular base is engraved with the words “Charity,” “Justice,” “Brotherly Love” and “Fidelity” – the mission of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. As the saying goes, once a member of the B.P.O.E. organization (my Aunt Helen used to tell me that B.P.O.E. stood for “best people on earth”)… always a member. So this is among the number of lodge-owned cemetery plots around the country, called Elks Rests. The one in Lauren Grove Cemetery is owned by Elks Lodge No. 60 in Elmwood Park, a town which until 1973 used to be called East Paterson. . . . #memorialday #graveyard #njhistory #njphotographer #njisntboring #just_newjersey #weirdnj #wildnewjersey #jerseycollective #njshooterz #njspots
A post shared by Bob Varettoni (@bvarnj) on

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday in Teaneck

Earlier this afternoon, I was in the back row of The Puffin Cultural Forum, a non-profit performance space in Teaneck, NJ, listening to pianist Karine Poghosyan perform the nearly 40 minutes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 (the one beginning da-da-da-DUM, arranged for solo piano by Liszt).

A few rows in front of me sat a man wearing a baseball cap with the plastic store tag still attached. It looped over his head like a small halo, bouncing to the music. The minor saint and I were both enjoying one hell of a performance, played with much spirit and without sheet music by Ms. Poghosyan, who has performed often in the New York area, as well as in her native Armenia.

It was just another Sunday in my native New Jersey -- which, to me, has always offered these various and beautiful moments.

At intermission, I took photos in the sculpture garden outside the main entrance. Here's a few I liked, starting with "Victim of War," by an unknown artist.

Here's "Roots of Empathy" by Nitza Danieli Horner.

And here's the Warrior of Cadmus, a large sculpture that dominates the garden, with the setting sun glinting off his mighty blade.

This was my favorite: "Distress" by David Adler. From behind, as photographed here, it looks like an angel. From the front it looks very different, but just as majestic.

How so, and why is it called "Distress"? Visit the sculpture garden of The Puffin Foundation and see for yourself. Follow the link for directions and additional information. The organization hosts various cultural programs, such as its "Classical Sunday" series. 

Explore New Jersey. I promise you, it will surprise you. Today, I took a small detour on my way home and discovered a tiny corner of the state filled with saints and angels and inspiring music. Not bad for an ordinary Sunday.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Quantum Physics of Eternal Beauty

Since everything on the internet is deathless, I'd like to share this photo of Mom.

In the mid 1950s she was known around Passaic, N.J., as “the girl in the photo shop window.”

For several years, a photographer had displayed a large portrait of her -- a print from his series of her engagement photos -- in the front window of his shop on Main Avenue.

As a result, Mom was a local celebrity: the Belle of Passaic. People would stop her on the street, or call out from a passing commuter jitney bus, or tap the glass while she was at her job decorating the storefront displays at Kresge’s – and ask if she was the girl in the photo shop window.

My Dad, her betrothed Navy officer, kept a 5x7 version -- the same print Mom keeps in an oval gold frame by her bedside today -- in his bunk aboard the U.S.S. Midway as it toured the Pacific. He even entered it into a Miss Midway contest, where Mom took second place. We reminded her of this every time our family played Monopoly and someone picked a yellow “You have won second prize in a beauty contest – Collect $10” card from Community Chest.

Fast forward to 2017, with Dad having died a dozen years ago.

At dinner last Sunday with the extended family, Mom told the story of visiting Dad's grave that morning and finding a scrap of garbage there. It was a box top from a line of hair-care products called "Forever Beautiful."

With a tear in her eye, she carefully pulled the torn cardboard from her wallet. None of us around the table understood what she meant. She explained that she thought it was a message from Dad calling her "forever beautiful" from beyond the grave.

I felt a little sad no one had picked up on this. Mom has always been beautiful -- and I know Dad would have told her so that day, if he could.

And then, the very next day, he did.

He did so through my youngest daughter -- who was always so close to him that they evidently developed a quantum entanglement. Their energy states are one, no matter how far apart they are. Even death does not separate them, and what happens to one can influence the other. It's the nature of love.

My daughter had spent the weekend decorating her small New York City apartment. While she was at work that Monday, my wife stopped by to pick up a ladder we had lent her for the chore. My wife texted me a photo of the finished project: My daughter had hung family photos over a faux fireplace, and in the place of honor was the portrait of the girl in the photo shop window.

I believe that photos, like words on a page, are all part of a grand experiment in quantum physics. It's why I love photography and why I love writing. It's impossible to predict with certainty the impact of anything we create and place out into the world.

In the case of my mother, the existence of this photo still influences our world after more than 60 years.

In a small apartment in New York City there's incontrovertible evidence, to this very day, that Mom is forever beautiful.

Sunday, April 9, 2017