Friday Musings: Dioramas

Friday Musings: Dioramas

I have a very vivid memory of spending a day with my mom at the Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia when I was somewhere around ten years old. It was summer and very warm, and we had taken the PATCO train into the city. I’m sure it was my first time ever riding it, and it may very well have been hers too. I remember the feel of the museum so well. It was cool and dark, and it had a particular smell that was a combination of pine, lemon, wood, and old things. The dioramas fascinated me. I loved the way the light seemed to bring them to life, I loved the size of the animals and how real they looked, and I loved the landscapes in the background that made me feel like the scene in front of me went on forever. My memory of that day is completely magical, from riding the train through its dark tunnels and over the Ben Franklin bridge, to the quiet of the museum itself with its long, winding hallways. It remains frozen in time for me like its own diorama in my mind, but the most precious part of the memory is the time spent with my mom. Truth be told, she and I didn’t get many days like that together. She was so preoccupied at that time in her life, dealing with a difficult relationship with my dad, and having few choices available to her if she contemplated making any kind of change. It didn’t matter though; I loved her so much, and on that particular day she was all mine.

Years later when I was in high school I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. And then I read it again and again. When I was a senior, I wrote a comparative essay between it and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that I considered to be the equivalent of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In short, it was my life’s work, the greatest undertaking and accomplishment of my seventeen years, and I threw my heart and soul into it. I knew The Catcher in the Rye so well, and I loved everything about it, but there was one passage that had always grabbed hold of me in a certain way. I thought of it recently and the meaning that it had for me. In the most simplest of terms, The Catcher in the Rye is a story about growing up, and the way in which Holden Caulfield resists that process. He yearns nostalgically for his childhood, seemingly wishing that he could have remained in that place forever. There is a scene in which Holden contemplates visiting his own Natural Science Museum, where he reflects on the fact that the dioramas in it will always remain the same, but he will change every time he looks at them. It’s all part of the inevitable process of growing up, and growing older, experiencing life and loss, and the constantly evolving process of being human. Holden laments these facts and says, “Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad anyway.”

Isn’t it true, however, that memories are quite a bit like dioramas that exist in our minds? I’ve already admitted to feeling like that particular day with my mom will be forever preserved behind glass for me. I’m sure that you all have many moments that exist in your mind’s eye in much the same way. In that regard, memories can seem like very static things, but what about the other part of Holden’s theory? I know that I’ve returned to the Museum of Natural History many times since that summer day, and it did indeed stay the same. The cool darkness, the long hallways, the unmistakeable smell, and the dioramas were all exactly as I remembered them. I was the one who changed with each visit, depending on where I was in my life. Does this hold true for our memories too? I think it does. I certainly looked at that day with my mom differently as I matured and evolved as a person. Once again, I’m sure that you can apply this idea to your memories as well. What is it that we gain as time goes by? I believe that it’s quite simply a change in perspective. As Holden said, it’s impossible for things to remain constant, and if we resist that change as he does, then we will find ourselves engaged in a continuous struggle. We have to embrace the movement forward and allow it to enlighten us. I view my mom in a totally different way now than I did as a lonely child who longed for her company, or an angry teenager who couldn’t always understand her wanting to stay in a situation that seemed to be so hopeless. As I had children of my own, I began to understand the sacrifices that sometimes need to be made, and the way in which certain dreams and wishes can seem impossible. And now, as I enter into a new phase of my life, I find myself longing for her company once again. Oh how I wish I could tell her that I now understand her distance, and her choices, and that I think she was courageous and strong, and that on that particular summer day with my hand in hers, my world felt insular and complete in a way that would go on to elude me for most of my adult life. I’ve recently regained that sense of completion and insularity, but I’m only able to recognize those feelings because of the diorama of that day with my mom, and my willingness to allow the way that I see it to continue to evolve.

For today’s cocktail, I wanted to close out Negroni Week with one last variation. I had two goals in mind as I approached making this drink. First I wanted something that would have the aroma and flavor of pine and lemon and things that were woodsy. Secondly, I wanted the photo to capture that certain way in which a diorama lights up an otherwise dark space. To start, I infused Bluecoat gin with rosemary and mint, both for their flavor and for their symbolism. Rosemary represents what we remember, and mint stands for the things that are most precious to us. I used Dolin Blanc as a substitute for the sweet vermouth, and Clear Creek Distillery’s Douglas Fir eau-de-vie as my bitter component. I had to adjust the ratios slightly because the Douglas Fir is so potent, and I added a dash of DRAM bitters for a bit more citrus, but the flavors harmonized in exactly the way I wanted them to. As for the photo, I felt as though it did indeed capture the light in just the right dioramic way. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday!


1¼ oz Bluecoat gin infused with rosemary and mint*
1¼ oc Dolin Blanc vermouth
½ oz Clear Creek Distillery Douglas Fir eau-de-vie**
1 dash DRAM citrus medica bitters***

Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir until cold. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over one large cube. Express a lemon peel over the drink and garnish. Enjoy!

*Chop up several rosemary and mint sprigs and place them in a container with 16 ounces of the gin. Allow to sit over night and then strain.

**Check website for availablity

***DRAM bitters are available online at Amazon or DRAM’s website, or locally at the Art in the Age store in Philadelphia.

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2 thoughts on “Friday Musings: Dioramas

  1. Love the article! As a fan of gin martinis I’m excited to try this one, although I thought, surely, that the story woukd lead to a rye base Manhattan! Thanks for a thoughtful melancholy trip through time!

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