Friends and neighbors: Rosa V. Latimer, painter, chef, collector
By GWEN OREL
Rosa V. Latimer, 85, has lived in Montclair for more than 50 years. She and her husband Robert met in Barcelona, and after living in Puerto Rico for two years, moved to America in 1960. They have been married for 62 years. Latimer, who rolls her r’s and speaks with a distinctive accent, went to Montclair State University when she was in her ’40s, and obtained a degree in psychology. She doesn’t practice, but now she has a deeper understanding of her husband Robert’s profession. “She was 13 in a class of 1,500,” Robert says. He works with the Mental Health Association of Essex County. She is an award-winning painter, and the author of a cookbook, “10 Catalan Recipes From My Childhood.” Her studio is in her large Montclair home, which is full of antiques from their travels, including Singapore, China and India, along with are some old pieces from Spain. One cabinet is 400 years old. Every corner and every view of the seven bedroom house is full of objects arranged as if they are still lives: “I’m a collector,” Latimer says. She mostly paints in watercolors, and is a longtime member of Studio Montclair. Many of her paintings are still lifes, and she also has a series on Betty Boop.
Why did you go back to school?
I felt very weird. I just wanted to. I majored in psychology and I minored in art.
Do you think of yourself as an artist primarily?
Yes. I guess I feel like an artist because I improvise things, and even when I cook I don’t follow the recipes. That’s why I am such a bad baker. I think in a sense it’s like an art, because I consider the painting in the colors, and the spices similar, because what makes a good dish is the spices.
What did you love about art?
When you finish there’s something there that wasn’t there before.
How did you get the idea to make a cookbook?
During the Civil War [1936-39], I saw my mother cook whatever we had which was of course nothing. It was a very meager time. I started cooking, I don’t even know how, and I wanted to do a little bit of a connection. I think the Catalan cuisine is different from the rest of Spain. I had been wanting to do this book forever. Not a big book. I just wanted to have memories of my mother. I wanted 10 recipes. Ten recipes are doable.
How is Catalan food different from the rest of Spanish food?
Because it’s local. For example, we eat a lot of potatoes. A lot of vegetables, green beans, green peas, because that’s what they raise in the north of the state. You eat what you have, and you learn how to use it better. And I like to eat. And everybody likes the way I cook.
What’s the secret to staying so young and active?
We have a gift. I don’t know the secret, because we are different. He was born in December, the shortest day of the year, and I was born in June, the longest day of the year.
How did you two meet?
ROBERT: In the street. I saw her, and I thought, ‘she looks like my mother.’ I fell in love with her, and I said to my friend sitting next to me, ‘you see that girl? I’m going to marry her.’
ROSA: He paid for whatever I was drinking and I said thank you and said my name.
ROBERT: And here we are! And she was engaged.
You were engaged to someone else?
ROBERT: At the moment they were having an angry spell.
I sent a bouquet of flowers that would not fit through the door. I bought her flowers the same day. I had to go to several stores because they didn’t have enough roses.
ROSA: I gave him my name and by the telephone book you can find out the number.
ROBERT: I called all of the Vilardells until I found her.
In “Friends and Neighbors” we spotlight interesting Montclairites doing interesting things. Some of them you might have heard of, others you might not. Answers have been edited for space. Got someone you think we should write about? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEET THE NEIGHBOR
Family: Husband, Robert. Four sons, George, Edward, Peter, Charlie; Six grandchildren [who call her Yaya]: Daniel, Andrea, Brian, Gabriela, Olivia, and Charlie.
Left or right-handed: Both.
Pets: Siggy here. I love dogs, cats, rabbits.
First job: At my father’s store, selling toys. I was 7.
Last job: I didn’t work after I married. With four kids, I couldn’t.
Beach, forest or mountain: mountain.
Favorite vacation spot: Cape Cod.
Favorite drink: White wine.
Favorite dessert: Meringue.
Favorite condiment: Salt. And pepper.
Last book read: A book about the lives of birds. Somebody gave it to me. I read very slowly. Castelilano is my first language. I speak French and English, and i can read and write in all of them.
Last TV show watched: “Homeland.”
If you could meet anybody, alive or dead: Mother Teresa.
If you were not you: Probably I would lie to be a man. I think they have it easier.