Naguib Mahfouz in AcapulcoThursday, August 31, 2006
Today August 31 is my birthday. It has always been a sad day as birthdays always meant large birthday cakes that I loathed and many children coming to our Buenos Aires garden with the prospect that all would have to go into the house (and break all my toys) as August 30, 31 meant rain. August 30 is the day of Santa Rosa de Lima and on her day it always rained. The storm was called la tormenta de Santa Rosa.
Today I am even sadder. Naguib Mahfouz, a friend I never met died yesterday. I first discovered Mahfouz in the desk drawer of the chief of the judicial police of Acapulco. In 1989 I spent a week with the chief, Felipe Ferrer Junco. He had been my neighbour in 1973 in Mexico City. His wife was the bodyguard to the wife of the president of Mexico and Felipe was a lawyer. Somehow by 1989 Marcela Ferrer Junco had retired the gun in her purse and Felipe was now dealing with scary crime in Acapulco. I can attest to the fact that it was scary. On my first day Felipe told me, "I know that you are writing about me for Vancouver Magazine and I will give you access to everything I do here. You can photograph anything. But please remember, when you write this, that my job could be on the line." Felipe was true to his word and I saw everything from the creative use of Salsa Búfalo (a very hot sauce) mixed with soda water that could make any alleged criminal sing on the spot if the concoction were to go up his nose to the setting up and the "doing away" of a man (with a 22 revolver) who had killed one of Felipe's men.
My biggest surprise was finding Naguib Mahfouz's book in that desk drawer next to a grease gun and the State of Guerrero Penal Code. It was an odd revelation to read about the heat of Egypt at night in the heat of Acapulco while spending time with my urbane and mostly gentle chief of police.
It was Felipe who on August 31, 1974 (before I moved to Vancouver in 1975) who took me to a house of prostitution in Veracruz for a drink. "You need to see one of these before you move to clean and respected Canada, "he told me with a smile. I watched a very young and beautiful woman dancing very closely with a man who looked of ill repute. Felipe whispered in my ear, "Don't even look in that direction, he is the chief of police here."
As for Felipe's fondness for Naguib Mahfouz's books it could be partly explained by his Arab "connection". "You know," he would tell me often, "I am the spitting image of Muammar al-Quaddafi."
Jerry, Gerry and Oodles of NoodlesWednesday, August 30, 2006
Jerry Hulse was tall and redhaired. He looked like Gerry Mulligan. I didn’t know this because I didn’t know who Gerry Mulligan was. This was 1963 Mexico City. On Monday nights my friend Robert Hijar and our mutual girlfriend Judy Brown (her claim to fame at the time was that her father played tennis with Charles Schulz in Redwood City, California) would attend the jazz sessions at the Benjamin Franklin Library. The library was a propaganda arm of the United States Information Service. There were two residents spies who sat in the back to watch us. They wore pink shirts and white ties. I guess they thought they were invisible. We all took advantage of the free Nescafe. Jerry Hulse presided and he would carefully remove records from their album sleeves and play them on equipment I had never seen before. Robert was familiar with the stuff. He had one and many reel to reel tape decks at home. Many years later he confessed that his mom and dad had worked for the CIA from a backyard "garage" full of electronics. When the evening began Jerry would screw on a Shure cartridge shell to a tone arm with reverence. The sound was superb. This was high fidelity! In his serviceable Spanish (his parents were missionaries) he would explain a bit about the music we were going to listen to. Thanks to Jerry, I discovered all the greats of jazz and why he liked, in particular, Gerry Mulligan.
Around 1964, Robert and I went to that other arm of the USIS, the Instituto Mexicano Americano de Relaciones Culturales to a free Dave Brubeck Quartet concert. While I had seen the quartet some years before in Austin, I would never forget this concert. At the intermission we were informed that Paul Desmond’s father had died and that Mr. Desmond might not come back to play. He did. He played Audrey. This was the first time I ever heard my favourite Brubeck and Desmond tune, Audrey written to honour Desmond’s infatuation with Audrey Hepburn. Henceforth I would be hooked on jazz with a preference for the melodic saxophone styles of Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Bill Perkins.
While in Argentina in the middle and late 60s I would play André Previn’s My Fair Lady when I was happy and Miles Davis Kind of Blue when I was depressed. Even today when I listen to this latter album I can feel the damp Buenos Aires cold creeping into my bones. I remember of Susy leaving me for the principal violinist of the Teatro Colón, or of Corinne going to England for her career in art. I saw her at her boat in Puerto Nuevo and went home to Miles Davis.
But now, even though I have many more jazz albums that I can ever play in one long weekend sitting, I listen to the same stuff over an over. I listen and compare Stan Getz and Kenny Barron’s version of Charlie Haden’s first song (for Ruth) with Haden’s own from Charlie Haden Quartet West – Angel City. I enjoy André Previn and J.J. Johnson Play Kurt Weill's Mack the Knife & Bilbao Song and other music from the Threepenny Opera Happy End Mahagonny. But if I had to go to a desert island I would probably take my 10 versions of Gerry Mulligan playing My Funny Valentine. I have several with Chet Baker on trumpet and one where he even sounds like he is playing a mariachi trumpet. I have one with Bobby Brookmeyer on valve trombone. But my favourite of all is from The Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say with Art Farmer on the trumpet. This recording from 1959 (a perfect stereo record, sax on the left, trumpet on the right) has one of my favourite jazz photographs (the photographer is not credited). Gerry looks just like Jerry. On the left it's Art Farmer, and on the right it's Dave Bailey on drums and Bill Crow on bass.
I have been playing a lot of Mulligan to Rebecca. Because she is learning to play the piano, I am explaining to her the Mulligan concept of the pianoless quartet. She can already tell the difference in sound between the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Perhaps she is ready to listen to the first jazz album I ever bought ( I bought it in Austin in 1958 and I still have it). I will have to play her Dorsey's Oodles of Noodles from Herbie Mann's The Magic Flute of Herbie Mann.
While that André Previn/J.J. Johnson record title may seem long, my guess is that the longest is from that other fave of mine:
Lalo Schifrin The Dissection and reconstruction of music from the past as performed by the inmates of Lalo Schifrin's demented ensemble as a tribute to the memory of the Marquis de Sade, Verve V/V6-8654
Gottschalk & The Turtle Shell FanTuesday, August 29, 2006
Even though I was forced to learn to play the alto saxophone as a teenager I may be the least musically inclined member of my family. My mother played the piano, my Aunt Dolly the violin, my Uncle Tony was a fantastic tenor and my grandmother Lolita was a coloratura soprano. She was never able to launch an opera singer's career as she would have scandalized Manila. Proper girls did not sing in public. But this did not stop my grandmother's aunt, Buenaventura Galvez Puig (at right seen with Lolita, left) from being a concert pianist of note in the Philippines. It is only because I have perused her old sheet music that I came to know the existence of the New Orleans composer L.M. Gottschalk and appreciate his music.
Buenaventura's favorite niece was my mother Filomena. Before bed, she would brush my mother's long, thick hair. My mother cried. Buenaventura told her, "Alas, if you are to be a woman and a lady you will have to get used to suffering pain." My mother loved Buenaventura. Many years later, one of her tourtoise shell fans covered in the semi transparent jusi cloth, with her name incrusted in large emeralds and diamonds, became a bone of contention in the family. Both my mother and my aunt Dolly wanted it. My mother, in a Solomonic gesture, suggested a division of the prize. Dolly was to keep the gems and she would have the fan. The gems were sold or pawned many years ago, but the fan is still around. Here you see it in Rebecca's hands. Rebecca is taking piano lessons with Nikolai Maloff. Perhaps some day she will play Gottschalk's Morte! Lamentation pour Piano O.P. 60 for me.
Un Verde ( A Green One)Monday, August 28, 2006
I previously touched on this subject a few months back: El Mate but with Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich in Buenos Aires until December I cannot drink a mate by myself. It is a social drink. So I must write about it.
When I cradle my father’s 75 year-old mate in my hand and sip the hot and bitter tea my imagination takes me away from Vancouver to the middle of a the Argentine pampa where the horizon is never broken by anything except maybe an Ombú, under whose shade a mate may best be enjoyed.
Ilex paraguayensis is a South American relative of the common holly. The bush grows in Paraguay, Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina. In the beginning of the 16th century the Jesuits, who were proselytizing in what today is Paraguay, watched native Guaranis sip a hot tea from gourds using a hollow reed. Since this happened with great frequency the Jesuits decided the tea was a drug and tried to ban it by even threatening excommunication. But it didn’t take long for the crafty Jesuits to figure out that the beverage, called mate (the gourd and the herb are both called mate) and made from yerba mate would enable the Indians, they often overworked, to keep on going during the day without much sustenance as long as they were given their “mate breaks”.
In my two year stint as a conscript in the Argentine navy during the mid 60s I learned to tolerate and eventually enjoy a beverage that Argentines call mate cocido or boiled mate. The tea is boiled for hours with milk and lots of sugar. The thick concoction resembles swamp water and the taste is definitely one to be acquired. At 6 AM at our barracks at the Arsenal Buenos Aires (in the very spot where the captain of the German battle cruiser Admiral Graf Spee, Hans Langsdorff shot himself in 1939) we were served mate cocido and galleta, a hard unleavened bread. This sparse breakfast kept us on our feet until lunch late in the afternoon.
It has taken some time for North Americans and Canadians to catch up to the Society of Jesus and to catch on that mate is a hunger suppressant.
But mate will never replace either coffee or tea in North America. This is because drinking mate is a combination of social pastime and a tertulia where the one mate is passed around (usually in a clockwise direction) and gatherers converse. While people collect mates (the gourds) only one is used at any given time no matter how many guests are around. It is rude to wipe the silver bombilla or straw once the mate has been drunk by someone else. The mate is passed back to the person in charge, the cebador; hot water is poured and the mate is passed back to you. Canadians would surely call this unhealthy.
Until about 20 years ago the mate was placed on a table with a container of yerba (the tea itself which is the whole chopped bush so there are leaves and bits of the stalk called palo) and a little pava or kettle would be brought in from the kitchen. There would be an option of bringing a sugar dish but most purists disdain the use of sugar in a mate. It was the more practical Uruguayan mind that figured out the use of thermos for carrying the water (it has to be hot and not quite boiling). This freed the mate drinker from the pava. So now, on Uruguayan or Argentine beaches, football matches and young couples in parks can be seen with their mate and thermos.
On any given day I may get a call from my Argentine friends, Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich. Juan might say, “¿Un verde?” I am out of the house like a shot.
De Capa Y EspadaSunday, August 27, 2006
There is no frigate lika a book to take us lands away.
The hot dry summer weather keeps my night table neat. There is an ordinary pile of books on it that I am reading or to be read. All this changes as soon as it gets cool and the rains come. Rosemary, my unusually understanding wife, will begin to question my sanity as not only will the night table lose its order but our living room floor will be strewn with turn-of-the-century hardcovers by Alexandre Dumas and Rafael Sabatini. On some days I may disappear to the basement TV room to see, in one sitting, Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate, Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (Up the rigging you monkeys!”), and Cutthroat Island with Geena Davis. On another day it could be Fairbanks in the Adventures of Zorro, and Ronald Colman in Prisoner of Zenda.
I have a special bookcase in our den where I keep my favourite swashbucklers. There I have Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger and Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma. On a visit to my official swashbuckler provider, Lawrence Books at 41st and Dunbar I obtained a prized Beau Geste by Percival C. Wren with a bullet hole clean through it.
My obsession for reading adventure novels of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th began some years ago at a garage sale. I discovered the book between the IBM Selectric and a glass coffee percolator. I knew what I would find before I even opened it to the first page much as the nose savours the scent of summer’s first sweet peas.
“He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad, “begins Scaramouche, Rafael Sabatini’s 1921 novel set during the French Revolution. That single and unforgettable sentence propelled me back to my childhood in Buenos Aires. It awoke in me nostalgia for the excitement and adventure that I once felt for books and movies that I thought I had lost in this age of blockbusters movies and run-away bestsellers.
“Alex, wash your hands and knees,” is how my mother called me into the house before taking me to the movies in 1948 Buenos Aires. That was the year we saw Beau Geste at the Cine Cabildo. I will never forget the film’s beginning, Fort Zinderneuf eerily defended by dead legionnaires, and that final conflagrant scene where Gary Cooper is given a Viking funeral (complete with a dog at his feet) in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Those scenes gave me my first bouts of insomnia. Soon after I began making swords from bamboo and swinging from a rope tied to our garden’s persimmon tree. I was Captain Blood boarding a prize from the deck of the Cinco Llagas.
Sometimes my grandmother would take me to Avenida Lavalle, where movies houses like the Splendid and the Ocean offered programa continuado from early morning on. After the marathon of bloody mayhem, my abuelita’s sweet tooth would lead us to the Roxy, the nearby soda shop for strawberry ice cream sodas. Other days, I’d be joined by my father who adored all things English and nautical. We skipped stones in the ponds of Palermo Park. He called it “schooning” as the stones imitate nimble, wave-riding schooners; together we saw Errol Flynn in Captain Blood. When we saw The Black Swan, I noticed the woman with red hair. Who wouldn’t? It was Maureen O’Hara first Technicolor movie. I remember, too, being taken to a movie with Katherine Hepburn where she wore pants. At eight I felt my manhood threatened and I feared her. What I found a consolation, then, was my all-time favourite adventure movie, Prince of Foxes. It features boiling oil poured on castle attackers and the fake blinding of Tyrone Power by a demonic Felix Aylmer who squeezed grapes near Power’s eyes to the delight of Orson Welles’s Cesar Borgia.
Recently, when I tracked down, via computer, the novel Prince of Foxes at my Oakridge branch of the Vancouver public library I was out of the house like a shot. I was not disappointed. The grape scene was there! And so I went in pursuit of Lawrence Schoonovers, more Sabatinis and as many Alexandre Dumases as I could find. After reading the close to a million and quarter words of Dumas’complete musketeer saga (The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragellone) I came to learn that they are as much fun as the movies they engendered.
Swashbuckling novels are a sub-genre of historical fiction. A buckle was a small round shield. Swarthy men could challenge their opponents by striking (swashing) their buckles with a sword pummel. The commonly held idea that swashbucklers are a lower form of historical fiction may be due to an attempt by Balzac to write them. He failed as he was unable to meet the deadline for copy. Few know that John Steinbeck initiated his literary career, but set it back, with Cup of Gold, a 1929 swashbuckler on pirate Henry Morgan.
Too easily, the whole genre is dismissed as juvenile reading. Consider Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, literature’s most famous case of an implacable and most un-Christian revenge. It features a female serial poisoner, two cases of infanticide, a stabbing and three suicides, an extended scene of torture and execution, drug-induced sexual fantasies, illegitimacy, transvestism and lesbianism, a display of the author’s classical history, the customs and diets of the Italians, the effects of hashish and all in about 1000 pages. Juvenile? I don’t think so.
Paradoxically, I find these extravagantly dramatic novels interesting because they ring true. P.C. Wren and Rafael Sabatini shared with Ian Fleming a stint in military intelligence. Alexandre Dumas went as far as running guns in his yacht for Italy’s Giuseppe Garibaldi. In his six-volume My Memoirs, Dumas describes his fondness for duels. One of those duels pitted Dumas against Gaillart, and Dumas’ friend and usual second, Bixio, insisted on taking the pulse of Dumas before and after, as an experiment. Bixio also wanted to verify the unproven belief that all men, when shot, turned before they dropped dead. Unfortunately, neither Dumas nor Gaillart hit his mark. Fourteen years later, in 1848 Bixio was shot through the lungs during a Paris riot. Dumas was there. Bixio turned around three times and fell but managed to cry out, “Without any doubt of it one turns around!”
For me the common thread in Dumas, Sabatini and others is lasting friendship. This theme has cured me from ever wanting to read another American serial killer novel. From 1625, when the Three Musketeers begins to 1673 when d’Artagnan is shot dead in The Man of the Iron Mask in the battle of Maesticht, the saga follows the friendship of four men. They grow old; individually change loyalties and political sides but they always follow the dictum, “All for one and one for all.”
It was best put by Robert Louis Stevenson who read the Vicomte de Bragellone at least five times. Of his second reading he wrote, “I would sit down with the Vicomte for a long, silent, solitary lamp-light evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I call it silent, when it was enlivened with such clatter of horse-shoes, and such a rattle of musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I call these evenings silent in which I gained so many friends. I would rise from my book and pull the blind aside, and see the snow and the glittering hollies checker a Scotch garden, and the winter moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence I would turn again to the crowded and sunny field of life in which is was so easy to forget myself, my cares and my surroundings: a place as busy as a city, bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and sounding with delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic into my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I rejoiced to lunge into the book again at breakfast, it was with a pang that I must lay it down and turn to my own labours; for no part of the world has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, and not even my friends are quite as real, perhaps quite so dear, as d’Artagnan.”
Sinigang, Rubber Gloves & FAB DetergentSaturday, August 26, 2006
My uncle Luís Miranda was born in the Philippines. He was the first cousin of my grandfather Tirso de Irureta Goyena. Before WWII he pioneered the production of Coca Cola in Manila, perfected Magnolia Ice Cream and invented such flavours as macupunó which is made from a very special coconut and Pinipig Crunch (a pre Nestle crunch type ice cream made from immature glutenous rice). Best of all he made sure that every bottle of San Miguel Beer was the best that could be had. He was prosperous and had a sprawling house designed by his architect brother Antonio Miranda. He had a beautiful wife, Fermina, who cooked with a perfection I have not ever seen matched.
When the Japanese landed in Manila, Luís made sure his beer would not be readily available to the Japanese. Perhaps the invaders found out of Luís's late night tinkering at the beer plant, because they commandeered the Miranda house as their headquarters. After the war the Miranda family managed to make it to Buenos Aires where Tio Luis again worked for Coca Cola. That's when I first met my Tía Fermina. I was 8 which is precisely the age of Rebecca seen here with Tía Fermina who is 94. On our way back from Morelia we stopped so that Rebecca could meet her.
I have always hated cake. But I was never ever able to turn down Tía Fermina's magnificent angel food cakes or her Spanish ensaymadas. I learned to enjoy her Filipino cooking. Even her white rice was better than any I have ever had. The only Argentine style pizza to be had in Mexico City was hers. When I married Rosemary 39 years ago in Mexico, Tía Fermina (who had also moved to Mexico from Buenos Aires) lent us her old white Peugeot 403. Only she could love a car with a hidden fourth gear (I drove it for a week in third) and with door buttons that had to be pulled up to lock. We often visited the Mirandas at their house on Miguel Cervantes Saavedra. My Tío Luís would nag Rosemary into eating more. I never had to be nagged. Many of our family, and the Filipino community in Mexico made it a habit of going to the Miranda's for weekend lunches or dinners. Tía Fermina would set many tables in her large dining room and living room with extra ones in her patio garden. Various generations of children experienced the delight and honour of stepping up from the little children's tables to finally making it to the head table. Christmas was never Christmas until one saw the tree decorated by Tía Fermina's eldest daughter, Carmencita or tried the cookies made by the youngest, Rosario. In a short time my favourite aunt became Rosemary's favourite aunt.
At 94 Tía Fermina is all energy, memory, wit and her appetite for sweets has not diminished. She presides over her great grand children, admonishing them gently with her beautiful Spanish or switching into her accented Filipino Spanglish that even Rosemary has learned to speak.
While in Houston for a day, we had the privilege of having sinigang, a Filipino soup and a dessert, both made by the supreme cook. I will never forget her in Mexico washing her vegetables with FAB detergent while wearing her rubber gloves. That Rebecca will some day be able to re-tell these events gives me a joy to be alive and to wish my Tía Fermina many more years.
I am only sad that Rebecca sat at the head table and will never experience those wonderful days of table hopping at Miguel Cervantes Saavedra
Un Inglesito En CoghlanFriday, August 25, 2006
Desde Vancouver, British Columbia, de vez en cuando leo mi vieja edición Tor del Corazón de Edmundo de Amicis. Me recuerda de mi niñez en Buenos Aires y del misterioso Manrique que cargaba una 45 en el sobaco. Era amigo de mi papá y nunca supe si Manrique era su apellido o su nombre propio. Un día me regaló el libro.
Desde el 1949 (cuando tenía 7 años) hasta el 1954 viví en Coghlan. Mis amigos del American Grammar School sobre la calle Freire, a unas dos cuadras de la estación de Belgrano R, no lo sabían. Cuando me preguntaban donde vivía les decía que en Belgrano. Como mi mamá, Filomena enseñaba física y química en el American High School, también sobre Freire, yo no pagaba por el privilegio de ir a un colegio privado. Me avergonzaba admitir que vivía en un barrio que mis compañeros de San Isidro o Acassuso, no sospechaban que existiera. Me avergonzaba vestir pantalones argentinos, imitación Levis. Mis compañeros, cuyos padres trabajaban para la General Motors, la Lincoln Library y demás agencias del departamento de estado de los EEUU, lucían auténticos Levis. Me regalaban chicle Double Bubble o Bazooka, con los cuales aprendí a soplar enormes globos que se me pegoteaban al pelo cuando explotaban. La industria argentina, la del Pulqui 1 y el Pulqui 2 aún no había descubierto la fórmula de los Levis y del chicle de globito. Yo quería ser un conboy como Gene Autrey.
Mi casa, en Melián 2770, casi esquina con Nahuel Huapi, tenía en su angosto pero largo jardín dos enormes palmeras, ciruelos de cinco variedades, un níspero, un caqui, una glicina y una frondosa higuera a la que nunca me pude encaramar por su resbalosa corteza. En la fría casona, la única pieza que nos brindaba calor en los inviernos de la “generación de los sabañones” era la cocina con su vieja estufa de gas.
Fue allí donde mi papá, George conversaba a menudo con su amigo Julio Cortázar. Nuestra mucama y cocinera, Mercedes Bazaldúa les batía unos Nescafé con azúcar y gotitas de agua a cucharita que George y Cortázar disfrutaban con sus cigarros. Mi papá fumaba Players Navy Cut que conseguía de la embajada de la India en donde trabajaba como traductor. Cortázar aborrecía los tabacos ingleses de mi papá. Me mandaba al boliche de la esquina ( en frente del almacén de Don Pascual) para comprarle Arizonas. Un día Cortazar me vio deslizarme en la barandilla de las escaleras de la casa. Se acercó y me susurró, “¡Cuidado Alex, que un buen día esas barandillas se convertirán en una Gillette!” Nunca supe, y peor, nunca tuve la curiosidad (hasta que fue demasiado tarde) de preguntar como mi papá, un periodista del Buenos Aires Herald, había conocido a Cortázar.
Mi papá se ausentaba con frecuencia. Cuando le preguntaba a mi mamá me decía que estaba en Villa Devoto porque había escrito algo en contra de Perón. Los vecinos de al lado eran peronistas. Cuando Perón hablaba desde su balcón de la casa rosada prendían la radio a todo volumen. Cuando se le iba la voz, Eva Perón tomaba su lugar. Yo no tenía gran amor por ella. Me decían que los juguetes de madera inútiles que nos daban el día de los tres reyes eran regalos de ella. Yo prefería un Meccano.
Al otro lado de la higuera vivían los calabreses. Mi amigo Miguelito y su familia, gritaban, se peleaban, se reían y comían en el patio. El papá, Fernando di Gregorio era nuestro peluquero. Su peluquería estaba sobre Nahuel Huapi. No paraba de hablar cuando me cortaba y siempre me regalaba un globo por mi paciencia. Miguelito y mi amigo judío alemán Mario Hertzberg (vivía en el 2773 en frente de mi casa) jugábamos en la calle. Jugábamos a las figuritas. Cuando llovía, las cantarillas no podían con los aguaceros, Melián se inundaba y nadábamos en la laguna que se formaba. Como estábamos muy cerca del Hospital Pirovano, las pompas fúnebres, carrozas laqueadas a un negro brillante y estiradas por cuatro caballos negros con plumetes sobre la cabeza, pasaban vacías en camino al hospital. Siempre esperábamos la vuelta para poder espiar el ataúd detrás de los cristales biselados.
En tiempo de carnaval las murgas marchaban por Melián hacia el corso de la calle Monroe. Manteníamos nuestra distancia para que no nos mojaran con los pomos de agua perfumada. Por Melián transitaba el ropaviejero, el afilador, el cloaquero y la Vascongada. Cuando venían las gitanas nos metíamos en la seguridad de nuestras casas. El hielero, a partir del 52, ya no paró en nuestra casa. Mi mamá había comprado una heladera eléctrica (la primera de la cuadra) de un alumno norteamericano que volvía a su país. Lo primero que hice con la heladera fue preparar una gelatina de lima marca Jell-O. Ya de niño discernía, como buen argentino, la superioridad gringa sobre el producto local Royal.
La hermana de Mercedes, Enilse vivía con nosotros. Como trabajaba cerca, en la fábrica Nestle (sobre las vias del tren) los dulces abundaban en casa. Su novio Juan era un conductor del tranvía 35 que me llevaba desde Nahuel Huapí al apartamento de mi abuela a la calle de Roque Saenz Peña en el centro. Cuando Juan venía a casa en su uniforme, en la mano siempre traía la manija niquelada con la cual conducía su tranvía. En una gloriosa ocasión me dejo tenerla unos momentos en la mano. Miguelito y Mario casi se murieron de envidia.
Anterior a Mercedes vivieron con nosotros una pareja de negros, Zelia y Abelardo. Zelia cocinaba muy bien. Un día, un vecino, el Sr. Hinch, me invitó a comer un asado de lomo. Esa noche Zelia me sirvió un asado de tira. Me quejé. Zelia se quitó el delantal y en pocos minutos, con Abelardo y las valijas se marcharon. Mi mamá de dio una paliza con su chinela filipina.
A los 9 años hice la primera comunión en la Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Carmen a la vuelta en Roque Pérez 2760. Cuando pasaron la canastilla para la limosna mi papa que estaba ebrio depositó un paquetito de pastillas Volpi, gusto de mandarina. Me avergoncé. Unos meses después mi papá se fue de la casa voluntariamente y me venía a ver una o dos veces al mes. En una de sus visitas me llevó al Schubert Hause en la calle de Rivera. Me acuerdo haber subido las escaleras de la glorieta interior donde un pianista y un violinista tocaban un tango. Mi papá me presentó y al verme tan rubio el pianista le dijo a mi papá, “Tu hijo parece alemán.” Mi mamá se enfureció con George por haberme llevado a un bar y no vi a mi papá por un tiempo. De todas las visitas que me hizo la que me acuerdo con mayor placer es cuando me llevó al Cine General Paz en Cabildo a ver Beau Geste con Gary Cooper y Ray Milland.
En el Ideal Monroe conocí las películas de Carlitos Chaplin. Pero a partir del 1950, Año del Libertador General San Martín, prefería ir al cine de los padres franciscanos capuchinos que estaba a un costado de la aun no terminada parroquia de Santa María de los Ángeles. A los capuchinos les deleitaba entretenernos con las películas de Tarzan con Johnny Weissmuller después de un corto sermón de cómo deberíamos ser buenos pibes e ir a misa.
En diciembre del 2004 volví a mi barrio. Volví como tenía que ser, por tren desde Retiro. Al pasar por Belgrano C me imaginé el colegio en donde mi mamá enseñó. El puesto en donde vendían licuados de banana con leche o con agua habría desaparecido hace años. Al cruzar el empalme hacia la estación de Drago sabía que había llegado a Coghlan. Todo estaba igual con la excepción de las plataformas más altas. Crucé el viejo puente al otro lado y las cuatro cuadras a mi casa me parecieron más cortas. Mi casa, aunque ya sin las palmeras, era como me la imaginaba. Con el tiempo ya no tengo rastros de Miguelito o de Mario. La peluquería ya no está. Todo ha cambiado, como tristemente debe ser. Pero hay un cambio que me llena de alegría. ¡Soy del barrio de Coghlan, y con mucha honra!
The English Boy From Coghlan
In Vancouver, every once in a while, I read my cheap 1938 Thor edition of Edmundo de Amicis’s Corazón. Reading it reminds me of my Buenos Aires childhood and of the mysterious Manrique who packed a 45 under his left armpit. He was a friend of my father’s. I never found out if Manrique was his first or last name. One day he gave me the book.
From 1949 (when I was 7) until 1954 I lived in Coghlan a neighbourhood by the Ferrocaril Bartolomé Mitre train station. My friends from the American Grammar School, on Freire Street close to Coghlan but in the upscale barrio of Belgrano R, did not know I lived there. My mother Filomena taught physics and chemistry at the American High School which was also on Freire. I did not pay for the privilege of attending a private school for children, whose parents worked for General Motors Ford, the Lincoln Library or other agencies of the American State Department. My friends, who lived in San Isidro and Acassuso, would not have know where Coghlan was. I was ashamed of my Argentine imitation jeans. My friends wore the real thing, Levis. They often shared their Bazooka and Double Bubble Gum with me. The advanced Argentine industry had managed to build advanced Pulqui 1 and 2 military jets but could not get jeans right or find a formula for decent bubble gum. I wanted to be a cowboy like Gene Autrey.
My house on 2770 Melián Street, almost corner with Nahuel Huapí, had a long and narrow garden with a couple of tall palm trees, five different varieties of plum trees, a loquat tree, a persimmon my father called a kaki, a fig tree which I could never climb because of its smooth bark and a purple/blue wisteria. The only warm room during the damp Buenos Aires winters was the kitchen with its old gas range.
It was in the kitchen where my father George would converse with his friend, Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. Mercedes Basaldúa, our housekeeper, would whip up Nescafe with sugar and a few drops of water with a tiny spoon. George and Cortázar would enjoy the frothy coffee with their cigarettes. My father smoked Player’s Navy Cut he obtained from his translator’s job at the Indian Embassy. Cortázar hated English tobacco. I was sent to the corner store to buy the locally made Arizonas. One day Cortazár caught me sliding down the banister. He whispered into my ear, “Watch out, when you least expect it, that banister is going to change into a Gillette razor blade!” I never found out, and worse, I was never curious enough to ask my father, a journalist who worked for the Buenos Aires Herald, how he had befriended Cortázar.
My father disappeared frequently. I would ask my mother who would reply that he was locked up at the Villa Devoto prison because he had written something against Perón. Our next door neighbours were peronists. When Perón gave his 25 de mayo and 9 de Julio independence day talks from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, they had their radio at full blast. As soon as Perón lost his voice, his wife Evita would take over. I had no great love for her. On los Tres Reyes (three kings day) Eva Perón gave us all hideous wooden toys. I wanted a Meccano.
The calabreses (Calabresi) lived on the other side of our backyard fig tree. My friend Miguelito and his family, shouted, fought, laughed and ate in the patio. Miguelito’s father, Fernando di Gregorio, was our barber. His shop was around the corner on Nahuel Huapí. He liked to talk. I was rewarded, for my patience, with a balloon. Miguelito and my German Jewish friend Mario Hertzberg (he lived across the street on Melian 2773) and I played on the street. Mario was El Ruso (Jews are always called Russian in Argentina), Miguelito was El Tano for Italian and I was El Inglesito, the little English boy. We played with little round football cards which we threw against a wall. The closest figurita from the wall took all. When it rained, the cobblestone street would flood. We would swim in our Melián swamp. We were very close to the Pirovano Hospital. So beautiful black-lacquered hearses, drawn by four shiny black stallions with black plumes on their head, frequently passed by, empty, on their way to the hospital morgue. We always lingered in the hope of spotting the coffin behind the beveled crystal windows.
During the pre-Lenten carnaval, murgas , costumed marching musicians, headed down Melián to the corso , the carnival festivity on Monroe Street. We kept our distance since the merrymakers like to soak us with their perfumed pomos (metal containers that could be squeezed) of water. On Melián we had a rag man, the ropaviejero , a knife sharpener, the man who reamed our drain pipes, and the horse drawn wagon (with car tires) of the Vascongada that delivered our milk. As of 1952 the ice man stopped coming to our house. We were the first ones on the block with a refrigerator. My mother had bought a used one from a departing American diplomat. The first thing I did was to prepare some lime flavoured Jell-O. Even as a kid I could already discern, like the good Argentine that I was the superiority of American goods specially over our local Gelatina Royal.
Mercedes’s sister, Enilse, lived with us. She worked in the nearby Nestle factory (by the railroad tracks) so we had sweets at home all the time. Her boyfriend Juan was a tram conductor. His Number 35 tram took us from Nahuel Huapí Street to my grandmother’s apartment on Roque Saenz Peña street, downtown. On the way I would spy the crenelated walls and towers of Villa Devoto and I would wonder if my father was in residence. Often Juan would visit in his uniform. In hand he had the special nickel plated tram control handle. In one glorious occasion he allowed me to hold it. Miguelito and Mario were envious.
Before Mercedes, we had Zelia and Abelardo, a married black couple living with us. Zelia was an excellent cook. One day our landlord and neighbour, el Señor Hinch invited me for an asado lunch. I was served an expensive cut of meat called an asado de lomo. That afternoon Zelia offered me a cheap asado de tira. I complained. Zelia removed her apron, told Abelardo to pack the bags and they were gone that evening. My mother gave me a spanking with her Filipino chinela or slipper.
When I was 9, I had my first communion at the Nuestra Señora del Carmen chapel, around the corner on Roque Pérez. When the nuns came to collect our contributions, my father who was drunk, placed a package of Volpi, tangerine flavoured losenges in the basket. I was ashamed. A few months later my father voluntarily left the house. He would come to visit twice a month. In one of those visits he took me to Schubert House on Rivera Street. I remember going up a spiral staircase on the upper floor. A pianist and violinist were playing a tango. My father proudly introduced me to them. I was so blond then, that the pianist told my father, “Your son looks German.” My mother was furious with George when she found out he had taken me to a bar. I didn’t see him for a long time. Of all of my father’s visits I remember best when he took me to the General Paz Theater on Cabildo Street to see Beau Geste with Gary Cooper and Ray Milland.
At the Ideal Monroe I first saw the films of Carlitos Chaplín. But beginning in 1950 (we had to write, on Peron’s orders, on the top right of every page of our school notebooks, “I950 The Year of our Liberator General Don José de San Martín) I liked going to the movie house that was run by Franciscan Capuchine monks and priests. The movie house was helping raise revenue to finish the Virgin Mary of the Angels parish church. After a short sermon, when we were told to be good boys and go to mass, we watched Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller.
In December 2004 I returned to my neighbourhood. I returned in the only way I could return, by train from Retiro, downtown. When I passed Belgrano R, I imagined the school where my mother had taught. The little stand, where they sold banana smoothies with milk or with water (my choice), had long disappeared. When the train crossed the Drago station barriers I knew I was almost in Coghlan. Everything was the same. I crossed the old iron bridge from one side of the platform to the other. The 4 blocks to my house felt much shorter. My house was there, minus the palm trees. The barbershop and Miguelito were gone and nobody could tell me where Mario now lived. Everything had changed. But there is one change, which fills me with joy. I once lived in Coghlan and I am proud of it.
In The Footsteps Of My Mother's FeetThursday, August 24, 2006
Fie, fie upon her! There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip; Nay, her foot speaks. Her wanton spirits look out At every joint and motive of her body.
William Shakespeare, The History of Troilus and Cressida
No matter how hard I have avoided them, feet have followed me all my life. I tell the people that I photograph that the ugliest part of the body is a foot. As a portrait photographer, for me, the coup de grâce for feet is that they are so far from the face.
About 5 years ago on a trip to Pensacola, Florida, I was offered either a massage or a pedicure at a luxury resort development. I was much too shy to risk the total unveiling of my body for a massage so I decided to accept the pedicure. There I was sitting among 10 beautiful women who were talking about intimacies that made me blush! My pedicurist told me that no matter how old I really was my feet were young and perfect. I have never had any bunions and I have worn 8½s since I can remember. The shoes of Mark's Work Warehouse fit me perfectly. I don't remember my father's feet but I certainly inherited my mother's who were lovely. She said we both had swimmer's feet.
In 1992 I began noticing feet in earnest when I started taking pictures of ballerinas and modern dancers. Evelyn Hart's feet looked like Spain's Torquemada had been at them while trying to determine if her talent for dance came from the devil. Ballet BC dancer Laurie Stallings was embarrased to show her feet and only did so after I pleaded (right). Yet I could watch at a Ballet BC performance and I could tell, from the ankles down, which one was Stallings.
Peggy, the young dancer I photographed for the Straight some years ago, proved that the feet need not be so far from the face (above, left).
Theobroma cacao - The Food Of The GodsWednesday, August 23, 2006
It was 1973 and Rosemary, Ale (6), Hilary (3) and I were trying to breakfast in the fancy St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Hilary was screaming and we were being stared at. The waiter, in a dinner jacket, asked my wife, "Madam is there anything we can do for the little girl?" Rosemary answered, "I don't think so, she wants tortillas, beans and Chocomilk." Since Hilary had been barely over one year old in our home in Mexico City, the only way she would drink her milk was if we added a generous portion of powdered Chocomilk. It wasn't until she was almost 5 that we weaned her away. Hilary today (34)still loves chocolate. We returned from our trip to Morelia with a large can of Chocomilk. I was tempted to buy one of the newer flavours like chocolate/banana but in the end I knew what Hilary wanted.
It was at the Morelia airport, on our way home that the kind Mexican security agent suggested that Rosemary take out her Carlos V chocolate bars from her carry-on and place them in the luggage. It would seems that some alien and demented soul could possibly doctor the chocolate with some Prague plastique.
They have been making Carlos V chocolate bars in Mexico for years. Some say that since Nestle bought the company the flavour changed. If it did Rosemary has not noticed and she loves them. Only Spaniards would name a chocolate bar for a King (Charles V) who reigned before Charles III. Call that Latin logic.
35 years ago I was teaching English at the US pharmaceutical firm, Richardson Merrill in Mexico City. The company, which at the time made Vick's Vaporub, had recently purchased a Mexican chocolate company. They manufactured Chocolate Express which was a competitor to Hilary's Chocomilk. Richardson Merrill also made all sorts of wonderful Mexican chocolate bars but some cynical Mexicans stayed away from the chocolate covered mints - Vick's Vaporub filled chocolates, perhaps? My star student was Jan VanDyke a Dutch petroleum engineer who had lost his job with Shell in Indonesia when the Dutch were booted out. He was a chocolate expert now and was the plant engineer for Richardson Merrill. From him I learned the ins and outs of chocolate making and I will not bore you here with all he taught me. What is insteresting is while the chocolate plant(Theobroma cacao)was discovered in Mexico, Mexico lost the chocolate market in the latter part of the 19th century when they lagged behind in the art of blending beans from different cultivars of the plant. Africans, particularly the Ghanians, did well and most of the good raw chocolate today comes from Africa.
But then there are many of us who like Mexican chocolate, perhaps because there is always a hint of cinnamon, even in Mexican Hersheys. And why did Hilary like Chocomilk? Unlike other products, like the more expensive Nestle Milo, Chocomilk did not dissolve well in milk. The pasty mixture that floated to the top, was a delight to spoon.
Journey Back To The SourceTuesday, August 22, 2006
When you stop reading your native language you lose it. It wasn't until about 11 years ago that I re-discovered it through Manhattan Bookstore and its present incarnation as Sophia Books. Sophia Books has been taking my orders for books in Spanish since. I found treasures at the UBC Library. It has all the literary output of Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier who coined the "real maravilloso" or magic realism. I have read and re-read "Viaje a la Semilla" or Journey Back to the Source, a short story in which all action happens backwards. It begins with a wake in which the burning candles get longer and longer and ends with the nails on a ship tearing themselves out and zooming to their source, the mines.
At least half of what I read is in Spanish. While I cannot read Portuguese I delight in reading all of José Saramago, translated into Spanish by his wife Pilar. And Perez-Reverte's swashbuckling Capitan Alatriste novels are the closest I will ever get to living in Paris in the 19th century while waiting for Alexandre Dumas's next installment of the Three Musketeers.
I cannot imagine reading Spanish in Vancouver without being able to share my delights with others who speak and read the language. Alas, Juan Manuel Sanchez and Nora Patrich have gone to Buenos Aires until December and my music conductor friend Juan Castelao is in Oviedo, Spain working on his masters until next June. I miss them. I bought a slew of books in Spanish at Sanborn's in Morelia. A couple of them are by Spanish authors. Juan Castelao would know about the authors. Castelao reminds me of my Abuelita (grandmother). My grandmother was proud that her husband and my grandfather, Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena was one of the few Filipinos who had been inducted into the venerable Real Academia Española. In 1954 she gave me a Real Academia Dictionary and reminded me in the dedication how I should love the Spanish language as much as her Tirso had. When I showed Juan my money belt that I had purchased for a trip, he said, "Una faltriquera." Juan knew the exact word for it in Spanish. And of course the dashing Capitán Alatriste wears one right nexct to this trusty foil.
There are no more lazy afternoons at Juan and Nora's discussing in Spanish world events and art while sipping mate. Juan keeps assorted varieties of crackers and cookies in a tin and serves these with the mate. Nora is the one who prepares (cebar) the mate. To cebar a mate is close to making tortillas by hand. Inexplicably some people can and some can't.
I miss meeting with Juan Castelao at Nando's for extra hot chicken wings (he likes the chicken livers) or discussing the merits (unknown to me until now) of Bruckner.
I miss them and I consider myself so lucky that I do.
Real Academia Española
Who Shaves The Barber?Monday, August 21, 2006
I hate having my picture taken. Worst of all, since this is so infrequent, the shock on how I have aged is even more patently obvious. This self portrait I took at the Metropolitan in NY in the mid 80s. I was astounded that they allowed pictures on tripods there. There was no glass protecting Rembrandt's own portrait. I wonder if that has changed?
I would rather photograph my granddaughter Rebecca (Lauren, her younger sister is coming along). This one represents a second year of a series of photographs that I take at the entrance of Mexican baroque churches.
Brother Cadfael ( The Fragrant One)Sunday, August 20, 2006
Some many years ago British Airways offered me a trip to Shropshire that was labeled as literary. I ended up going to Byron's Newstead Abbey and went to 8a Victoria Street, Eastwood, Nottingham, where D.H. Lawrence was born. I visited Much Wenlock a town where novelist/poet Mary Gladys Webb (1881-1927) lived for some years. Most of her delightful books are about the Shropshire she loved. But it was in Shrewsbury where I had special fun. The paradox of this city for me was that Charles Darwin, its favourite son, had almost no presence while Ellis Peters's circa AD 1140 detective monk, Brother Cadfael, seemed to ooze out of every stone I saw and photographed. This was specially so at the Abbey of St. Peter & St. Paul. It was almost anochronistic to find a rack of Brother Cadfael paperbacks for sale inside the church! Shrewsbury is famous for its medieval (begun in the 12th century) church of St. Mary the Virgin. The church has beautiful stained glass windows from the 14th to the 19th century. I asked a taxi driver how he pronounced the name of his town. He was colourful in his answer, "Those with their nose up in the air make it rhyme with show . We taxi drivers rhyme it with the little nasty rodent." I tried to find one Aconitum (Monkshood) growing in the lovely church gardens. This extremely deadly plant is central to the murder in Monkshood. A Welshman and a crusader in the First Crusade, Brother Cadfael knew his poisons since he was also an apothecary. But there were no specimens (it usually has intensly blue flowers) to be found anywhere. Luckily Rosemary loves this plant. We grow it in the back of the borders and I have told Rebecca to be careful.
I was not interested in roses at the time so I chose not to visit David Austin's Shropshire nursery. I have made up for lost time. I now have at least 20 of his English Roses in my garden. Rosa 'Mary Webb'is stingy in repeat blooming but the near white (they remind me of whipped cream) flowers are huge and have the strongest myrrh scent of all of Austin's roses. I also have two extremely shade tolerant roses (a unique virtue in very few roses), Rosa 'Shropshire Lad' and Rosa 'Shropshire Lass'. A month ago I discovered Rosa 'Brother Cadfael'(above left). It was too late in the season to plant in the ground (I will do this in the fall) so I left him in the original plastic pot. Last night I scanned three of the fruity scented blooms. Mr. David Austin, when are you going to remember your favourite son, Charles?
Swimming The TangoSaturday, August 19, 2006
My mother could do the back stroke so beautifully that it seemed that she was swimming in the air. I never saw a ripple or the beginning of a splash. In the days before passengers entered airplanes in portable tunnels we would go the airport and would always know when my mother was coming down the airplane ramp because she had such beautiful legs. My mother often told me how well my father danced the tango and how when she and my father danced, people in Buenos Aires would stop to stare. I never saw my mother tango but I am sure it was no different from her swimming. She told me that one day I was going to dance the tango as well as my father and looking at my feet she described them as swimmer's feet. She was wrong (even though I inherited her beautiful legs). I swim without much style and my tango dancing is efficient at best.
Some years ago I was invited for empanadas salteñas at my half brother's mother's house. This was the only time I met her. I asked her if she had ever danced the tango with my father. She told me that she was unaware that my father could dance but asserted that my father George swam very well and had taught her to swim. Alas I never saw my father swim!
Rebecca shows a promising start in the family business. She has very nice, long and slim legs. She dances ballet with grace and loves to do the back stroke. When I see her swim it I recognize my mother.
Judge Me Not For I Am A Teapot - A Tempest In A StormnFriday, August 18, 2006
The Vancouver Rose Society has asked me to judge a competition of rose photographs this fall. They instructed me me to submit a photo of myself. Here you see me with Rosa 'Eglantyne'. Being asked to be a judge is one of the pitfalls of being a photographer although sometimes, as I will relate below, it can be a decided pleasure. I hate rose slides and the prospect of being invited to someone's home to view 100 slides of roses is my theological proof for the existence of hell. For the Vancouver Rose Society I will have to judge prints. Perhaps it will not be as bad.
Some years ago, photographer and custom photographic printer, Trevor Martin and I were asked to judge a photography contest at Vancouver's St George's private school. We silently looked at each other and we made three piles. On one pile we put the cat photos. On the second we relegated all the sunset pictures. We then only judged the photos that made the third pile!
But it was in 1983 when I really cashed in. I was asked to judge the Golden G-String competition in Las Vegas for what was the first ever stripper's convention. As a judge I was given an unlimited bar tab even though I only drank soda water. One of my fellow judges was a Las Vegas mafioso whose underarm bulge made me lean in the direction of my other fellow judge, who was the legendary burlesque queen, Tempest Storm (above, second from left). I was so in awe that I had few words with her and concentrated on judging the performances. When we declared our very own Tarren from Vancouver the winner, the hood gave me a look that suggested I make myself scarce. I did. But I will never forget the pleasure of being able to take photographs backstage. I remember, specially, the poised Laura Faye (right) who hailed from Peoria. She was a readhead, 23 and had danced since she was 19.
My grandmother often repeated, "Judge me not for I am a teapot," when I was critical but I never asked her where she had learned the expression. I wonder what she would have said about judging photos of roses?
Childhood's EndThursday, August 17, 2006
Rebecca is 9 today. When I photographed her by the Asian elephant in the Morelia zoo, a few days back, I was thinking for how long Rebecca will be interested in cuddly toys such as George the monkey. I would have been around 8 when I converted a crate in my Buenos Aires back garden into a car. I put a plank over one end. A broom stick with a paper plate was the steering wheel and two bricks propped over another brick became the gas pedals and the brake. I drove Fangio's races with great excitement. One day the car stopped being one and reverted back to the crate. I tried hard but the crate refused to become a car. Sometime in 1949 Robby Miranda ( distant cousin from Manila) moved with his family ( here with his mother Fermina now 94) to Buenos Aires. I remember vividly the first time I ever saw him. The door of my front garden opened and, with a big smile on his face, Robby ran in. He was two years older. He had experienced war under the Japanese in the Philippines so he taught me with toy soldiers how to "play war". We used firecrackers to make explosions. It was lots of fun. I counted the days when Robby would come to the house. He liked to come on Tuesdays as our housekeeper Mercedes made the best milanesas (breaded veal cutlets) in the world. Or I would go to his house in Belgrano and play there. One day Robby lost interest and I was never able to play toy soldiers with him again.
A couple of days ago we stopped in Houston on our way back to Vancouver to see Tia Fermina who is my favourite aunt and is a bundle of energy at 94. Robby was there (here with Tia Fermina) and I mentioned the toy soldiers. It was Robby who got tired of my complaining that I would never be a photographer in Mexico because I didn't have the proper equipment. One day he took me to a photo store and plunked an American Express card on the counter (at the time he was selling those new-fangled French Tefal frying pans) and asked me, "What do you need?" I am a photographer only because of Robby's help and faith.
Today, Rebecca is 9. Will she keep her interest in George and Chippy (the Canadian beaver, made in Indonesia that she bought in Sanborn's in Morelia)? Or will she grow up?
I Missed YouWednesday, August 16, 2006
All vacations must end, and on our last day in Morelia our depression was intensified when the very pleasant security people of the local airport (as opposed to the almost all surly Americans) told Rosemary that she could not board the plane with her Chocolate Carlos V bars (they instructed her to put them into the luggage) as they could possibly be plastique and explosive that is a phenol derivative from aspirin. Our depression lifted when we drove into Canada Customs at Blaine. While Mexico might have friendly people and ancient church doors where I can pose Rebecca, I like the "almost certainty" of Canadian life. I like the steady 110 volts and the unwavering 60 cycles; I don't fear cops, and most of us have to pay taxes. As soon as we were in Canada we wondered what the unpredictable Lauren (Rebecca's 4-year-old sister) would say upon seeing her sister back. Lauren said, "I missed you," and gave Rebecca a hug and a kiss. It's nice to be back in Canada.
Sip Swallow And King JamesTuesday, August 15, 2006
This morning we leave Morelia for Houston. We are sad that our stay in Michoacán seemed so short. One comfort is that a plane trip always gives one the opportunity to read.
A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
Sir Allan Patrick Herbert
In 1965 I was earning one dollar a month as a conscript in the Argentine Navy. When my father George W. Hayward collapsed and died of a heart attack in Buenos Aires, he had enough cash in his pocket so that I was able to pay for a cheap funeral at the Chacarita cemetery. He bequeathed me:
1. A King James Bible with its front title page torn so that only half of his signature showed.
2. Sip! Swallow! a 1938 Doubleday edition of essays by English author and Punch contributor A.P. Herbert.
Those books were the only intimate and tangible remembrance of my father that remained with me. Books have been very important to me since. I was saddened in 1968 when in a house move, a box containing Sip! Swallow! disappeared. It was then that acquiring books became a passion.
Last September I went to New Westminster in a mist-of-rain morning that made the going the more depressing. I find New Westminster gray. Robert Blackwood, purveyor of fine used books at Booktown on Columbia Street, says I have it all reversed. He gets the blues when he drives to Vancouver. In New Westminster he always makes me smile. He is a droll and funny man. My spirits picked up when he placed a 1938 Doubleday edition of Sip! Swallow! in my hands. It was exactly as I remembered it down to the Hindu snake charmer and his cobra on the cover!
I realized that all the good fun I have been having of late in buying books started as a result of an event in March 1999. That’s when Celia Duthie filed for bankruptcy and the 10-store chain was reduced to one. Getting a book in 1999 was simple. If you lived in Vancouver you went to a Duthie’s. If they didn’t have the book you wanted, your order took a month. Celia Duthie’s on-line virtual bookstore, Literascape, as pioneering as it was in Canada then, came too late.
In February 1987 I was biding my time in a fogged in Terrace, B.C. I had gone there to teach a weekend photography course. The fog was so thick that my flights out weren’t landing. With time to kill I browsed in the local bookstores. They lacked the Duthie Books inventories and only offered cheap paperbacks and used books. But gems could be found and I found two. One was Bunny Yeager’s Art of Glamour Photography and the other a very funny I Owe Russia $1200 by Bob Hope. I paid $6 for both. Not long after I got to photograph Bob Hope who was delighted to autograph my find.
It was in 1995 that two Victoria database analysts working on contract for the BC government came up with an idea that would crystallize as an on-line bookstore offering 40 million plus titles. Keith Waters and Rick Pura (and their spouses) launched, in May 1996, Advanced Book Exchange, better known as Abebooks. With two web sites in English, one in French and one in German they list more than 60 million used, out-of–print and rare books. This makes them the largest source of books in the world and they represent over 10,000 booksellers around the globe. Abebooks offers an ancillary service in that the prices of their books, their condition of wear described in great detail, reflect an accurate world-pricing for any book you can think of. You can think of them as an at-home book appraiser. My 1984 British first edition of William Gibson’s Neuromancer is listed at upwards of $1500 US while I Owe Russia $1200 will only fetch me $1.00. The Bunny Yeager book is now worth $50 US. A first edition of the Reverend Joseph Pemberton’s 1908 Roses – Their History and Development brings over $100 US. I paid $40 for it at McLeod’s Books in Vancouver.
Just about any other book I may want I can surely find at Abebooks. But there is more to just finding a book. The process is part of the fun.
And that process has become more fun as I have had to change my book purchasing habits. Chapter’s satisfies my ever-frequent cravings for good new novels at reasonable prices. All I have to do is remember the book reviews from the New York Times and soon enough many show up as remainders for under $10.
At Booktown I have the most fun. I also even get a cup of tea if I call ahead. When I have a hunch that a pristine first edition might be an investment, Blackwood will wade through his sources and find the right first edition for me. Because Blackwood (his curriculum is impressive, suffice to say that he was CBC Radio executive for 25 years and is in the board of many national arts organizations) has a fondness for good mystery books he has found me books by difficult authors like Charles Palliser and Arthur W. Upfield. Booktown has over 45,000 book titles in 60 sections labeled and alphabetized by author shelves with more books in countless storage areas. But Blackwood will tell you that he does not specialize in anything and that the largest part of Booktown is finding books he doesn’t have on his shelves.
I left Booktown with my treasured Sip! Swallow! and a smile. Blackwood (as much of a highbrow as my father ever was), who thinks of Picasso in every hot dog he never eats, confessed he liked it. He had told me, “After having lived with your book for some 48 hours I liked it well enough to get my own.”
Blue Tortillas, Black Rock & Captured SpiritsMonday, August 14, 2006
cementerio de piedras/
It was around 4pm on 20 February, 1943 when Paricutín volcano rumbled and was born in Dionisio Pulido´s corn field near the town of San Juan Parangaricutiro. Twenty four hours later the volcano was 7 metres tall. A week later it was 50 metres. In 1955 it reached its final height of 600. Of the town of Parangaricutiro only the towers of its church and the main altar survived. The rest of the church (the roof caved in and burned) and the town were buried in lava. A new San Juan was built and it is called Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro. Paricutín is surrounded by more than 2000 squat old volcanic cones. They and Paricutín will never likely erupt again. While the area is an intense volcanic zone, the craters are called monogenetic. They have a first and only phase and they die so that the volcanos are never big. But it is possible that at any time Paricutín could have some live competition.
Thirty two years ago, Rosemary, Ale and I departed from the little nearby town of Angahuan on horseback with a guide. We reached the buried church of San Juan. I barely had time to take some pictures (above & right) when a terrible rain unleashed on us. Our guide handed us three ponchos and when we returned to Angahuan our clothes were of multiple colour. The ponchos had run!
Today, it would seem that nothing has changed much. Access to the buried church and the volcano is still on horseback. One has the option of walking, but in the dry season the volcanic ash is very deep and in the rainy season (now) the ash is sticky mud. We went on horseback again. Rebecca's horse was called Chiquito , Rosemary rode on Sansu and my matungo (nag) was Cantarito. Florencio, our guide, made sure we were safe and when we climbed to the church, through the intense lava fields on foot, he made sure we didn't fall. The only change was a welcome one. We were greeted by a mouthwatering smell that came from a small collection of huts (right next to the edge of the lava field and very close to the church). Under the huts Purépecha Indian women, dressed in brilliant huipiles prepared the best flor the calabaza (pumpkin flower) quezadillas I have ever had in my life. The handmade tortillas were an intense blue from the just picked blue corn of the area. Hector and his wife Cass, Ilse and her husband Andrew (Ale's godfather and my friend of 40 years), Rosemary and Rebecca and I ate until we were more than satisfied. Five minutes after Florencio led us back to Angahuan it poured so intensely that the dirt roads of the town became rivers. When we finally arrived to Uruapan there was no electricity. In fact the storm was so large that even Morelia suffered Uruapan's fate.
When Florencio found out that I had been to the church all those years ago, he told me in his accented Spanish ( he speaks a Purépecha dialect), " You may have walked through the spirits of your wife, your daughter and yourself which have remained here all those years. Paricutín no suelta (does not let go)."
Rebecca & The Local FloraSunday, August 13, 2006
Morelia and its environs has been a botanical revelation for us. The frustration is that when we ask the name of a plant they give us the local ones which are not always correct. We have admired three oleanders growing together. One of them is the usual green one, a second one has gold edged leaves and the third is a startling yellow/gold. I asked the hotel gardener for their name and I was told it was a laurel. While the leaf may look like a laurel, I learned a long time ago as a boy scout, that every part of an oleander is deadly. In the evening and early in the morning the hotel swirls with the scent of the brugmansia or datura, which is sometimes called Angel´s Trumpet. The gardener told me it was a "florifundio". He was close, but not correct. When I first saw this magical (some say it is poisonous, others that it is psychedelic) plant it was in 1990 in the Lima garden of Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. It was he who told me it was a floripondio. I have a brugmansia in my garden (it goes inside for our Vancouver winters). It is an exotic pink but I heve never seen the double form (there are three in the hotel) before. Now Rebecca keeps pointing at plants and asks me if they are poisonous.
I have seen blue agaves growing next to red adobe walls of Michoacan towns. I have photographed Rebecca next to many of them. Would you be able to guess that this picture is of Rebecca in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver?
Tzararacua Falls & Red Mud Re-visitedSaturday, August 12, 2006
When Rosemary, Ale and I visited Tzararacua Falls, in the State of Michoacán, 32 years ago, we faced Michocán red dirt. It was all mud and we slipped and fell many times. Rosemary seems to remember more of what happened. I notice that in my photo I am using some new-fangled camera case. It was supposed to be easy to use but it never worked out. Many would object to my assertion that caves, falls and fireworks are exciting the first time you see a cave, a fall or fireworks. After that they are all the same to me. I will not put down here my opinion on sun sets.
Today we went with Hector and Caroline in their van to Tzintzuntzan. It was in the courtyard of the local, and very beautiful, church that I photographed Rebecca in one of the 500-year-old olive trees planted, so they say, by Bishop Vasco de Quiroga himself. I had photographed Ale there 32 years ago. When we got to Patzcuaro it began to pour. Hector pointed out that it was pouring so hard that one drop could thoroughly wet you. We ate at a restaurant at the portales and watched some children with old men´s masks dance the very famous local Danza de los Viejos. Hector complained of the lack of contrast in the rainy day light. It is no good for photographs of the beautiful old churches. My fave was the one associated with the Company of Jesus ( the Jesuits). We plan to return to Patzcuaro tomorrow, very early to see if we can get some contrasty sunlight. Somehow in our trip Rebecca found crickets and tadpoles to play with. We almost had a scene when she told us she wanted to take them home.
Homero's Monarch Pays Us A VisitFriday, August 11, 2006
Homero Aridjis has been in my thoughts since I arrived in Morelia. He was born, not too far, in the town of Contepec. Contepec, in a higher sierra than the 7200 ft of Morelia, is home to Abies religiosa a Mexican fir tree. This tree is being logged for its excellent wood which makes fine furniture. It also happens to be the winter homes of the monarch butterflies who fly all the way from Canada. It was Don Homero who first pressed and finally convinced Mexican President Lopez Portillo to create ¨santuarios¨ where logging would be prohibited. It is due to this poet and novelist that children in Ontario can wonder at the fluttering of Monarchs in the garden. Perhaps one less, as one fluttered by the swimming pool today. Was she lost? Was she sent by Don Homero to greet a bunch of Canadians? More likely she is back early from Canada escaping what could be a very cold and early winter.
Mexico - Las Momias & Homero´s GhostsThursday, August 10, 2006
My Argentine heritage is constantly in conflict with my love and fascination for Mexico. Unlike most Argentines, I appreciate very hot Mexican food, particularly chiles toreados which I discovered only last year in our trip to Guanajuato. The hot chiles are fried very quickly (they jump like angry bulls!) with some onion and served as a side dish. I have always admired a Mexican's acceptance of impending death and if I could only adopt fully their "ni modo" attitude of not worrying about things one cannot control, I would suffer less stress.
Not long after we arrived to Vancouver in 1975 I decided to send this photo of Guanajuato mummies that I took sometime in 1970 as our Christmas card. The idea was that these four represented our family with our two daughters Ale and Hilary. My wife was only mildly shocked at the idea. She, too, appreciates the richness and diversity of Mexican culture. When our Christmas card arrived I never got one comment from any of the Canadian recipients. I wonder what they must have thought?
My friend Ian Bateson used to object to my reply when he would call me to find out if I were available for lunch on a coming week. I always answered, "If am alive, I will be delighted." I am happy to report that Ian has now accepted his inevitable fate and he is no longer bothered when I repeat my proviso.
Re-visiting Morelia, after 32 years, with Rosemary and Rebecca I realize I remember little of that trip that we did with Ale (my eldest daughter and Rebecca´s aunt) when she was 5 or 6. In many ways both Ale and Rebecca are the same. Rebecca, without thinking twice had a sleep-over with Estibaliz last night. We missed her lots but we understand that Rebecca had a great night as the other little girl, Mari Fer came back from Guadalajara with her parents. The three little girls played until midnight and all slept together in Nora´s bed. I don´t have any idea where Nora may have slept. After three days Rebecca´s Spanish is excellent. I am sure that if Ale had had the opportunity she, too, would have taken advantage of the situation. Rebecca has learned from my stories of Michocan-born poet Homero Aridjis as she asked me yesterday as we walked under the portales of the Plaza Mayor if we could be walking through the ghosts of ourselves that we left in that very same place all those years ago. Perhaps in some far off future, Rebecca and Estibaliz might walk againg through those ghosts. Would that not be grand?
Rebecca´s FaceWednesday, August 09, 2006
Rebecca has a face that she has perfected with lots of practice. It is a serious- looking-into-space look that seems to penetrate the soul of those that look into it. Rebecca has made friends with Estibaliz who is a year older. Estibaliz has delightful freckles on her nose and greyish green eyes. She is from San Juan del Rio, Queretaro. Yesterday she and Rebecca played all day and swam in the hotel pool. While they swam Rosemary and Nora, Etibaliz´s grandmother chatted. I could not help but noticing that Estibaliz kept asking Rebecca for ¨la cara¨. It didn´t take long before Estibaliz could do it to perfection. It is a pity that I will have to wait until my return to Vancouver before I can see how my pictures of both of them making the face will look like.
There is some irony in that Rebecca bought a plush toy beaver she calls Chippy at Sanborns here in Morelia. Chippy, a version of Canada´s national animal was made in Indonesia. She carries Chippy everywhere and it remains to be seen when she will cross into Estibaliz´s age. Estibaliz would not be caught running around with a plush toy but she has that rare adult quality of not making fun or Rebecca and accepting Rebecca exactly as she is.
Morelia In The Rain and Michoacan DirtTuesday, August 08, 2006
Thirty two years ago Rosemary, Ale and I went to Morelia. We are making the same trip and will probably see the same places this August. This time we are taking Ale's niece, Rebecca. Rebecca's mom, Hilary we left behind as she must have been around three. Through Morelia in the rainy season all it does is evident. Rosemary insisted on wearing white jeans. Morelia, in the state of Michocan, has dirt the colour of Atlanta dirt. I cite Atlanta, as years later in the mid 90s when Rosemary and I flew to Atlanta to a American Hosta Society National Convention, we were struck that Atlanta was red from the air. Morelia and Michoacán dirt stays on white clothing forever. When we returned to our home in Mexico City there was nothing even the state-of-the-art detergent FAB with enzymes could do.
But it is because of the rainy season in Mexico that mountains are either green or ochre and brown. The eternal rains of Vancouver keep our mountains mostly green. While the mountains will be green in Morelia at least the dirt will be red. There is nothing like a warm colour to lift up one's spirits.
The rain has been most evident in Morelia this time around. Yesterday we went to meet the precocious little girl that befriended Rebecca at the zoo. Her name is Estibaliz. Her grandmother Nora and her little friend Maria Fernanda were waiting for us at Park 150. We wondered about the name and what kind of a park it would be. When we arrived we had to pay a 50 cent entrance fee and the girls played in all kinds of games including a trampoline. There was a slight chipi-chipi rain so we waited under a merry-go-round until the rain stopped. The girls played with a tan-coloured cat they immediately called Flan. We took a taxi to Sanborns which is the ultimate drug store, even beyond the very good American ones. Consider that every Sanborns, besides having an excellent restaurant, it also has one of the best variety of books in Spanish. While we were having our lunch it poured. It poured all night and Santiago, our friendly PR man at our hotel (Villa Montaña), explained that there have been recent floods because so many trees have been cut in the upper valley and on the mountains. The rain stopped this morning. Nora, Estibaliz and Mari Fer will arrive around 11 and if we are lucky they might swim in the hotel swimming pool. No matter what happens it has been a delight to listen to Rebecca speak in her very good Spanish. She has to, as blond, freckled-faced Estibaliz speaks no English.
Last night I was pointing out to Rebecca the fine scent of rain falling on the pink Morelia stone. Coincidentally Santiago mentioned his delight at the smell of rain on dry stone and dirt. Walking from our room to the hotel office is a walk through a complex combination of scents. My favourite comes from the trumpet-shaped brugmansia but only at night. Our hotel specimen is double flowered.
Galloping Ostriches & White Siberian TigersMonday, August 07, 2006
Coming into Morelia the other day we saw on one side of the road the cheerful tent of Circo Atayde y Hermanos. I went to this circus when I was 12 in Mexico City. I was keenly aware that this circus, unlike its American counterparts, only had one ring. But it had elephants, tiger, lions and clowns. It was a real circus. As a boy of 8, in Buenos Aires, I had gone to a local circus with a bad circus band (the wind instruments were all out of tune). But the little circus featured a boxing kangaroo.
My granddaughter Rebecca represents a little girl in a strange minority. She is a little girl who was splashed by a killer whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. Her sister Lauren will never experience that. So I wonder if I should press Rebecca to go to the circus ( a real one) and in spite of the fact that the animals are in captivity she will live an event that she can explain to her peers. She can point out to them that circuses are bad by having seen the real thing.
While Rebecca will not go to a circus, she does accept the importance of zoos and does enjoy going to them. Yesterday, Sunday, we attended the local and huge (600 acres) zoo that features a white Siberian tiger and a couple of albino lionesses. The zoo was spotless and the animals had to compete for attention with countless eating places. Some even featured mole poblano. We experienced one sight that will serve Rebecca for many years. We saw a couple of giraffes, a male and a female, gallop (as giraffes gallop,with their necks resembling the undulations of a swimming whale). They did this for ten wonderful minutes as African ostriches scurried to be out of the way. There is no way a National Geographic Channel giraffe could possibly compete.
The Hotel DickSunday, August 06, 2006
When you travel you often get the advice to consult taxi drivers. This is good advice. Our driver from the airport clued us in on the current electoral impasse in Mexico while driving through town on the way to our hotel explaining the lay of the land. Equally useful is to converse with the hotel dick. His name is Hugo and he told me of all the nearby stores where I can buy food so as not to be at the mercy of expensive hotel food. the best way to break the ice at a hotel is to wear my Rebecca T shirts. At breakfast, our waiter Julio kept staring at my chest and finally he asked me if the little girl with the yellow rose printed on it was my daughter. I had to tell him that while I may look well preserved the young girl on my chest is my granddaughter Rebecca.
For breakfast I had huevos divorciados. Divorced eggs are two fried eggs each one separated by re-fried beans with totopos (triangular shaped fried tortillas). One egg is smothered in green tomatillo sauce while the other is a spicy red sauce.
I had planned to insert photographs in these Morelia blogs but the hotel computer refuses to comply with my requests, alas!
Daniel Guridi Arregui - The Man On The LeftSaturday, August 05, 2006
When I travel I have the time to reflect. I remember a trip to Europe with Rosemary, Ale and Hilary. Our daughters were in their early teens and quickly tired of museums. The handsome bell boys of our Madrid hotel were a high point in their trip. By the time we got to Malaga all they wanted to do was to lie in the sun on the beach. While they did this I tried to mend a fence from my past.
It is too late to say to Daniel Guridi Arregui (the man on the left in photo) that I valued the friendship he tried to give me.
Daniel Guridi Arregui married Filipina Lilly Pardo de Tavera in Manila in the late 40s. Daniel, as we all called him had left his boyhood town of Mondragón in the Basque Province in Spain when he was 15 to play as a professional jai-alai player in the pelota (the name for the game that the Basque rather use and those who play the game are pelotaris) courts of the world. In those years this sport was played professionally in Hong Kong, Macao, Manila, Mexico City Miami and many more places. Part of its attraction, beyond its fantastic speed and beauty, was (you still can in Miami) that you could wager. Best of all you could even wager while games were being played. Daniel was a fenómeno a word Spaniards use for describing those few mortals that seem to have a talent that transcends reason. Lilly Pardo's mother, Doña Pacit was a friend of my family. Both my grandmother and mother had taught Lilly at school in Manila. Somehow when our family moved to Mexico in 1953, Daniel, wife, daughter, Dedé (Lilly's unmarried sister, third from left) and Doña Pacita were also there. I could not go to the frontón (another name for the sport) until a few years later when I was 18.They did not allow minors at the games. So I never saw Daniel play. I avoided him because I hated his daughter Marili (I was misguided then about women) who would come to the house to play!
When Daniel retired from the frontón he set up a gun shop on Avenida Insurgentes Sur, right next to the apartment where I lived with my mother and grandmother. On the other side of our apartment was a pleasant looking old mansion. To the horror of my grandmother, a gentleman buzzed our door bell one late evening thinkin he was buzzing next door. It was then that we found out that the mansion was of ill repute.
Daniel sold beautiful Breda over & under shotguns and Beretta pistols. He taught me a thing or two on these guns. Finally, when Mexican generals (the permit to have a gun store came from the Defense Ministry) abused the privilege of coming to the shop to ask Daniel for contributions to their fortcoming vacation in Acapulco, Daniel called it quits and moved to Málaga where he set up a VW dealership.
It was in Málaga around 1985 that Rosemary, and my daughters Ale and Hilary caught up with the Guridis. By then I had come to understand that Daniel, who did not have an education, but suffered chronic insomnia had educated himself by reading all night. Being a frontón player involved getting home very late at night and so as not to disturb Lilly he got into the habit of reading. I loved discussing literature with Daniel.
He was famous for his paella a la valenciana . The secret to his paella, many asserted, was his discrete depositing of his cigar ash while stirring the pot. So I arrived at Daniel's door with a box of Montecristo Claros and a bottle of the finest fino manzanilla I could find. While the women roamed the beaches Daniel and I caught up. We lit up our cigars and savoured our finos. I realized that while arriving a bit too late for his friendship, just a bit of it was enough to last me a lifetime.
Morelia, Bolillos, Tortas & Tri XFriday, August 04, 2006
Rosemary, Rebbeca and I finally arrived to Morelia tonight with enough time to post my daily blog. The Houston airport was hopeless for internet access if you didn't have a laptop with wireless connection. But our hotel does have a computer.
When I saw this scene on the main square (zócalo)in Morelia so long ago I had to struggle with my Pentax S-3s thread mount lenses as I quickly went for the 28mm wide angle. I was very much into the Ansel Adams Zone System in those days which meant that I had exposures sort of memorized in my mind. I remember that to take this picture I ran after the young man who was balancing a large whicker basket of bolillos on his head. I got him just before the portal ended at the street. Something has to be said of the extremely sharp 16x20 print that I have of this negative. And consider that this was Tri-X circa 1972.
I know the young man was carrying bolillos in his basket because I stopped him to have a look. Mexicans buy this "French" style bread fresh in the morning. The taste of this excellent bread depends on the saltiness of the individual bakeries. Nobody has confirmed the suspicions that many have, that this saltiness has all to do with sweat. Bakeries with their ovens are hot so bakers kneed the bread mixture without a shirt. As the sweat pours, it has been suggested that bakers will dry it off with the dough. From the same dough but in a less circular and more of a flat configuration the bolillo becomes a telera. The telera is used for making Mexican sandwiches buttered on one side and avocado spread on the other. These sandwiches are called tortas. My favourite is made from leg of pork or "torta de pierna."
There is a problem here with Spanish in that: Torta is Spanish for cake. So In Mexico a cake is a pastel. But a pastel in most other Spanish speaking countries is a pie. So Mexicans call their pies pays . They have to write it differently. Pies means feet! The Spaniards have tried to force Latin Americans to use the word emparedado for the sandwich. But we have never given in. It may have to do with our aversion to our former colonizers and admiration to English lords.
Miss Tink & English TrainsThursday, August 03, 2006
At precisely eleven minutes past eight marked by Roman numerals on the large round English platform clock, the electric train stopped at Coghlan Station on a Monday morning. A young boy in school uniform climbed into the train and deposited his books on the wrought iron luggage rack over the leather seats. Most of the seats were occupied by soberly dressed gentlemen reading The Standard or The Herald. Nineteen minutes later, after tickity-tacketing through brick tunnels covered with morning glory, crossing on iron bridges spanning rivers, and passing by polo and rugby fields, the train rolled into the cavernous Victorian station. Large billboards advertised Bovril, Horlicks, Old Smuggler Scotch and the latest offerings at Harrods. Only the soccer scores of Sunday's matches, boldly proclaimed from the front pages of sports papers on the newstands - scores like Newels's Old Boys 1 - Boca Juniors 2 - might reveal to a confused traveller that this was Retiro Station (the two yellow photos) in Buenos Aires, circa 1950.
Forty- four years later I stood on the platform at Crew Station, Chestershire. The rectangular digital clock read 12:18. The scene felt no different from the one of my childhood. As in Buenos Aires, I had to look to my right to see if the train was coming. The smell of iron rust on the tracks would have told me where I was, eyes closed. I could feel the comforting familiarity of the English train station. I was waiting for the 12:33, 225 Intercity, to transport me at over 200 kilometres per hour to Euston Station, London. This was exciting: riding an English train in England.
Looking out on the rapidly passing scenery, I saw green hills, interrupted here and there by English oaks. Under miniature clouds and a horizon so close I could almost touch it, sheep graze. Their backsides were sprayed with bright red or blue paint. A Turner on acid. By the time the train reached Watford, the scenery gradually turned urban. I could see dying vines on the old brick embankments. Could those be morning glory? Miss Tink, the childhood governess of Jorge Luis Borges, had to come from here. Perhaps it was she who made Borges a lifelong Anglophile. From her he had learned to read in English before Spanish. At seven he translated Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince. As an adult, Borges proclaimed that "English is the only language to be known. English literature contains and sums up all things."
At 14:20, five minutes early, my train arrived at a dissapointingly '60s-modernized Euston Station. A black taxi deposited me and my luggage at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street.
Oscar Wilde, while staying here, at his favourite Tower Room, was arrested in 1895 and taken to Reading Gaol. The poet Sir John Betjeman wrote:
"...Mr. Woilde, we've come for tew
Where felons and criminals dwell.
We must ask yew tew leave with us
For this is the Cadogan Hotel....."
I don't think Borges could have improved on that.
In 1995 I returned to Coghlan with my poet friend Rubén Derlis. I photographed him with his pipe on the platform. I could smell the iron rust on the rails.
Bull Pythons, Bugs & GolfersWednesday, August 02, 2006
Back in the late 70s when we lived in Burnaby I wanted to experience childhood through my daughters. I purchased a slot car racing set in the hopes that my two daughters would be as excited as I was about manifesting some sort of interest in the now forgotten desire for an electric train. As a little boy my parents could never afford the Lionels or American Flyers that my American friends had in their Buenos Aires homes. They compensated by somehow finding a large Erector set which was much more interesting (it was American-made!) than the boring English green coloured Meccano. I thought the slot car would be a contemporary replacement and would fill the void for the Lionels I never had. My daughters showed no interest and it didn't take long before the awful shag carpet of our house clogged the cars' terminals and I finally put them away.
Now Rebecca has provided me with the opportunity to revisit my youth. Unfortunately she is more interested in my contemporary pursuits. She loves to be in the garden with me and has a keen interest in roses and in strange rhododendrons like Rhododendron 'Golfer' with its white tomentum (a fuzzy white coating on the top of its leaves). I never had a penchant for musical instruments and I balked when my mother bought me a beautiful Argentine guitar and hired a teacher. Rebecca, on the other hand relishes going to Nikolai Maloff's house for her piano lessons.
But worst of all Rebecca will pick up and hold whatever insect, bug or worm she finds in the garden. At the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. she delighted in being able to hold 4-inch cockroaches and other insects that made me squirm particularly the spiders with their randomly independent moving legs.
And it doesn't end there. Rosemary and I had to take Rebecca twice to the reptile weekend at VanDusen Botanical Garden. While her sister Lauren (4) stood her ground as far from the reptiles as she could Rebecca held and draped every snake she could find.
Of Putos, Putas, Trolos, Tortilleras Y De Los 41Tuesday, August 01, 2006
When I attended Angels in America (Part 1) a couple of weeks ago I found the on-stage simulated gay sex difficult to watch. I realized that I can tell myself that I have liberal views but they must be a sham. It was all made palatable by the excellent male actors who had the demandingly gay roles. In the end good acting won out. I have been thinking a lot about gayness with all the gay pride stuff that has been appearing in local publications.
I remember a handsome man who wore eye makeup before metrosexuals made it fashionable. He was Raymond Burr's companion. I met him twice since I photographed Burr twice. I did not know of Raymond Burr's sexual persuasion nor did it seem to matter once I knew. Burr was charming. His companion wore an HMCS Sackville tie which conmemorated its saving (the last of the heroic Canadian Corvettes that helped turn the tide in the War of the Atlantic in WWII). The gentleman explained to me how Burr had involved himself in a campaign to rescue the ship from being broken up.
Back in the early 50s (I was 14), I used to bowl in the little bowling alley in the American Colony in Nueva Rosita, a mining town in Coahuila, Mexico. We used to snicker and circle any total of 41 pins. It seems that sometime in the early 50s, Mexico City cops broke up a raucous gay party and arrested 41 men. Since then the number has been used to describe gay men in Mexico. He is one of the forty one! In Argentina we call gay men trolos and lesbians tortilleras. I don't know the origin of the former and the latter confuses me as a tortilla maker in Argentina would make omelettes while in Mexico she would make tortillas.
I have a great aunt who may be a tortillera. My grandmother used to tell me of Pilar de Irureta Goyena who, "Dressed like a man and rode horses like a man." I met Pilar not to long ago in Vancouver at a large Chinese restaurant.The call came one afternoon. The woman on the phone with the mezzo-soprano voice had instructed me, "Alejandro bring your two daughters, I want to meet them." This mysterious woman has apartments in Manila, San Francisco and Vancouver. I asked her about her riding and she proudly showed me photographs of her posing with General Douglas MacArthur. "I won many riding awards," she told me.
But Spanish, and particularly Argentine Spanish can be peculiarly inventive. A couple of years ago when I visited Buenos Aires in November I noticed on the wall of the College of Philosophy of the the University of Buenos Aires this insult that described the dean as "Decano, puto, puta." In this context puto means gay while puta is a female whore. Try to figure that one out.
It is not proper for me to now write that I have many gay friends and I feel very comfortable with them. It will suffice for me to post my favourite gay photograph. In the photo you have the most passionate male dancer that ever danced for Ballet BC, Miroslav Zydowicz (holding the paint brush), and artist Tiko Kerr. In switching the role of the painter with the ballet dancer I asked Miroslav to gently use Kerr's brush on Kerr as if he were petting a cat.