Lately, say in the last year, there have been signs that the '40s are beginning to take their turn as the new la belle epoque. Things that we thought were unbearably tacky are appearing in all those smart brochures that stuff the mailbox every day. Like those awful ceramic figures of girls with helmet haircuts, holding their long skirts wide. Some of them are standing in front of fan-shaped pieces of glass that are lit from the rear. Awful.
One of the favorites is the thin girl in the cloche walking with a borzoi who is as thin as she is. These go with mission arches painted on velvet and suspended from wrought-iron rods with spear tips. Other favorites were overstuffed furniture covered in cut velvet. Maroon and beige was big. In front halls were silk prayer rugs brought back from an aunt's trip to Egypt. Gold fringe hung from velour draperies, again, mostly in that wine dreg maroon.
There were china cabinets in dining rooms filled with compartmented relish dishes and the liqueur decanters in Venetian glass and crusted with flowers thick enough to cut your lip. I have such a set on my kitchen hutch that has survived the years.
There seems to be some enchantment with things that were used a long time ago, or even a few decades ago. It does seem too bad that some of the worst stuff is the most faithfully preserved, like ceramic tomatoes that are really salt and pepper shakers.
A trip to a shop that says antiques in the window will show you stuff that isn't really antique. I seem to remember that an antique must be 100 years old. Most of this stuff is just somebody's old candy dishes that the youngsters are anxious to buy, fondly believing they are buying something old and lovely when it probably came in a box of oatmeal. Most of that stuff could go away and never be missed.
I have been reading and hearing ladies say that old-fashioned food is coming back. For example, on the end of the Balboa Pier is a restaurant called Ruby's, which must have been the name of half the coffee shops on Highway 66.
This is a tiny place and people wait to get a seat. Friends say the food is wonderful. Real hamburgers, milkshakes and fountain Cokes made with syrup--vanilla, chocolate, cherry. New-era coffee shops, apparently, are moving in on nouvelle cuisine, ready to offer meat loaf and chicken croquettes instead of all those things sitting in the middle of the plate in the center of a swirl of pureed raspberries.
The other evening we went to a restaurant called Beckham Place in Pasadena. It is named for the proprietor, an old Beverly High boy named Bob Beckham. He bought a London taxicab that stands in front of the building, which is fashioned after an English pub and country cottage. It is a charming place, serving roast beef and outstanding Yorkshire pudding. The pretty young girls who wait on tables would never fit in a place called Mom's Eats or the Cloverleaf Cafe. They wear serving wench costumes, with laced bodices, full skirts and mobcaps. The busboys wear short trousers cropped at the knee and buckled shoon.
The other night, one of the young ladies said: "Won't you try our bread pudding?"
I could scarce believe my ears. My mother used to make bread pudding. Now, in spite of all the sentimental pictures of mothers sitting and knitting, all mothers don't. My mother could not cook. She had great legs and a lot of friends but she could not cook. She was the youngest of three girls and there was always help in the kitchen, so she was told to run along, which she was glad to do.
I do not have any memories of wonderful, succulent fragrances pouring out of the kitchen. She could make divinity, which was in great demand at church bazaars because she put in candied fruit and chopped almonds, but you really can't eat divinity all the time. I do not say she didn't try to cook. It would just have been better if she didn't. So when the young lady suggested bread pudding at Beckham Place, I immediately remembered my mother's thin, tasteless and tough bread pudding. She served it with cream or whipped cream, which helped but not much.
Beckham's is a rare treat. It's a tall serving of luscious pudding, made with bread, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg and stuffed with raisins. It is served with a vanilla sauce made suave with a soft sherry. Each serving is large enough for at least two people. I should have known that bread pudding would be smart soon when I heard that rice pudding was being served forth with great ceremony in fine restaurants on the Westside.
I loved the bread pudding, but I don't want the table lamp made of the art nouveau lady with the borzoi. And I don't believe I'd care for any divinity, either.